“It’s colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra.” Takka grumbled. He again ran his gloved hands up and down his arms and watched his breath dissipate in front of him. Even though he was triple layered through extra gloves and jacket over his regular crewman’s fatigues, it was freezing inside the Merry-Go-Round
. He fidgeted in his seat yet again trying to create even the slightest modicum of heat from friction. After they had positioned the Von Luckner and shut down, the lingering heat from the tank’s environmental controls hadn’t lasted long. Aroxy was initially concerned about the prospect of their wide and fresh seventy-five ton tracks being visible, but the snow and the wind through the pass, the same that now gripped them in a shell of ice, had done a fair enough job of covering them up. The backup batteries kept only the most basic of systems alive within the tank’s hull and he checked the readouts between glances up through the periscope.
“Speaking of witches, I hope the main gun fires.” Ansel quipped.
“Cap let the dragon lady have her way with Merry,” Takka continued through chattering teeth though he defiantly rubbed the control column with a gloved hand. “I can tell she feels violated.”
“She should be good and angry then.” Helma chimed in from the auxiliary fire controls. Like the others, save for Aroxy, she hugged herself through multiple layers of heavy fatigues, lowering her helmeted head down into her collar.
“If yall don’t shut up, I’m gonna make you sit outside.” Aroxy growled. He placed his hand on the tank’s hull, feeling as much as listening through his own cold breaths and the howl of the wind outside. Moments passed again in silence until he felt the slightest tremor through the cold steel. The sensation in his fingertips grew until he was sure of the familiar march of battlemechs. “They’re comin, eyes up.’” He wasn’t in the mood for the crew's regular mischief today. The dynamic was much simpler now: kill the enemy, with prejudice
. Not the desperation of the stockpile raid or the confused shooting gallery of the dam defense. The mountain pass wasn’t tank country, but was most definitely ambush country and he aimed to even the score for Merry
’s drive gear getting mangled the last time they met the Fists.
Right on cue, the Firestarter
emerged through howling sheets of gray and white with the lumbering silhouettes of its cohorts joining in shortly behind as well as another light mech, a Panther
“Ohh, here kitty-kitty.” Takka grimaced at the additional mech in the lineup and sat up in his seat completely forgetting about the cold and looking through the reticle for the main gun as the unknowing figure of the slender mech passed through the elevation and range hash marks. They were still too far out for a high percentage shot, but lobbing a shell wasn’t out of the question.
“Missiles. Stream fire.” Aroxy said. He didn’t have to specify which missiles and Helma was ready by the secondary fire controls. “HE in the barrel.” Ansel nodded. Everyone understood. The Captain wasn’t going to waste a precious AP round on a lobbed shot, but they were most definitely going to send one down range. All that needed to happen now was for Daschke to spring the trap.
“No Warhammer?” Helma said, squinting through her own narrow glass on top of the hull.
“No.” Aroxy replied stoically. Even the single word carried a note of unspoken concern, but it was too late to worry about it.
“They haven’t spotted our position yet?” Ansel asked. Being the only one without a view outside, he was left to his imagination at what the others were seeing. Such was the life of a loader.
Aroxy watched as the Firestarter drew ever closer to Ramrod. He shook his head a bit. If nothing else, she had nerve. “They’re gonna get an education in about ten seconds.”
The furor started with a cloud of snow and light erupting from Susser Todd
’s position. The heat emanating off of the mech’s opening volley instantly turned the snow around its hot barrels into steam as the beams found purchase into the utterly stunned light mech before it. Aroxy bit his lip as a flight of LRMs came sailing overhead from the other members of the Knights’ lance, not remembering to give their scout a chance to train her TAG beam or land a NARC beacon. Despite this, there were good hits and there also was also a sudden noticeable rise in temperature within the Von Luckner’s hull as the crew heard the melee begin. This ranged fighting was not their strength, but Aroxy remembered how the Fists’ had foolishly overlooked the Merry-Go-Round
during their last engagement. As Alleycat’s Raven sprung to life seemingly out of nowhere, he saw the faint RF signal light for her TAG beacon light up among the basic sensors in front of him. What was even better, was watching her NARC beacon seek and angrily take hold of the Firestarter. It was almost a poetic reversal of their first encounter.
“Reactor, now!” Aroxy barked. Takka’s thumb had been hovering over the large starter button and the tank’s reactor ignited almost as soon as the order was in the air. The full array of systems came online just as he shouted: “Fire!”
Helma’s LRMs roared out of the launcher in a processional line or “stream” rather than taking flight as a singular cloud. The launch setting was preferred when taking on large, slow moving targets like battlemechs as the line of missiles more or less fell in a cascading column towards a mech’s center mass, pounding into the same point repeatedly rather than spreading over the whole of the target’s armor. Conversely, smaller vehicles or agile mechs could more easily dodge the volley.
Aroxy’s eyes immediately shifted to the Hunchback
, watching the stunned surprise of its pilot translate through the sudden hesitation and confusion in its step. It was still out of range, but he knew the pilot would more than likely fire out of reaction at what was directly in front of it before taking the time to realize the scope of the ambush. The “boombox” on the medium mech’s shoulder looked like the side of a barn through the periscope, nearly full broadside, but still a difficult shot at distance even for an experienced AC20 gunner. However, Daschke was the tip of the spear and they needed to give her a chance to continue to press the attack. “Takka! Hit that son of a bitch right in the ‘box.”
“On it!” Takka answered. Again the action came nearly in sync with the words. The turret’s drive gear whirred, rotating the barrel towards the Hunchback just as the Firestarter
took another pelting of LRMs. The crew were thinking and moving as trained- as one
. He could hear the LRM pod reloading and instinctively knew Helma would fire again just as soon as the cycle finished. Takka seemed to be happily talking to himself as the Merry-Go-Round
’s gun hovered over the Hunchback
and fidgeted vertically as Takka adjusted for the range and wind. “This one’s goin’ downtown!” He cackled and stomped the pedal. The tank recoiled from the shot, shaking off a cloud of snow that had settled on the hull as the sound of the AC20 billowed through the Hiyan-Chia Pass.
“HOLY SHIT!” Takka and Helma said the words simultaneously.
The shell howled out of the barrel like a banshee with such velocity that the drifting snow bands curled and whipped behind it in ghostly wisps. It streaked over the chasm and just clipped the top of the Hunchback
’s main gun enough to draw a visible spark along the leading edge of the weapon before it angrily carried on over the far distant chasm behind the Fists’ lance and buried itself in the side of the mountain in a great plume of orange fire that caused a wave of snow to fall over the impact.
“Fucking black magic bitch!” Takka cursed. He frantically began adjusting the sights to compensate for the stunningly noticeable increase in muzzle velocity.
“You fucking missed!” Helma howled.
“I wasn’t expecting it to shoot that hard!
“Load AP” Aroxy barked. “Probably don’t need to put so much arc on it, Takka.” He looked hard through the periscope. While he appreciated the newfound ferocity in Merry
’s main weapon, he wished they’d had time for a few test shots to allow Takka to adjust to the changes. It was like handing their cleanup hitter a new bat when the bases were loaded. “That was your practice swing, next one needs to be in the bleachers.” He said as Ansel hurriedly ejected the spent casing and began loading an AP round. “AP’s gonna be heavier, down angle some more.”
“I got it ‘Cap,” Takka tilted his head up to press his eyes harder into the rangefinder while his hands made a few more small corrections into the fire control. “Just not used to shooting a large laser, I’m a class twenty gunner.”