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That still counted! Abandoning a ‘Mech due to damage was basically an ejection, that was her kill with assistance and Marit would fight about it. She made a mental note of it as Tarak charged past, nimbly dodging the Hunchie’s kick - that ‘Mech didn’t look right kicking, with its stumpy little legs set far apart under a disproportionate torso - while Ziska and Ingrid made their retreat. ”Ramrod, Alleycat, use me for cover if you need to hide behind something.” She offered on Lance comms, Archie’s armor still barely scratched while the two ‘Mechs in question had seen better days and Tarak now moving ahead in a Medium. She would’ve approached, close quarters combat not being her favorite but she did have plenty of armor, but she couldn’t get the thought of the bridge out of her mind. Yes, the Fists had to cross it, but if they started losing they might decide to go back where they came from and shoot it out from under them out of spite. Maybe she should have worded it differently though, the word ‘hide’ may have precluded Ingrid from taking the offer entirely.

Raven’s suggestion had some merit to it, but at the same time what if using the environment would give the Fists the same idea? Regardless of Ingrid’s decision, Marit had her target, Ziska’s targeting equipment doing the aiming for her. She oh-so contemplated taking potshots with some of her lasers at the Hunchback, but she very much did not love the smell of cooked myomer in the morning, it smelled like excessive wear and reduced movement speed. She started walking Archie backwards and keyed her microphone twice to let Ziska know the order had been received and was being processed, about to let loose another 35 missiles when she noticed it. The range. The stationary target. Marit removed one of the LRM 10 launchers from the weapon group and instead selected two lasers for a second trigger. There would be a faint smell of mildly toasty myomer after all.

The first trigger sent 25 missiles toward the Crusader. She could see it between the Panther and Tarak’s Phoenix Hawk, watching with a smile as over half the missiles struck true. With no spectacular effects like limbs flying off or ammo detonations, she didn’t linger to watch and instead turned her attention to the Panther. With a slight adjustment of Archie’s torso, she moved her thumb to the trigger linked to the lasers on Archie’s arms and sent two beams of green light in the Panther’s direction. The temperature in the cockpit jumped higher than before, a notable increase remaining even as the heat sinks did their best. Her reward for the endeavor was an explosion and the Panther’s left arm flying away in a shower of actuator bits and shredded myomer, the armor on its left torso - already largely stripped by previous attacks - now completely gone, exposing the structure beneath it, including the SRM missile rack the laser sadly did not find.
Right, sea monsters. She didn’t take those into account when asking the question. ”Monsters of the deep? Oh, that’s easy: We don’t have any. Well, some are still left, but those stay in the depths. Either they live so deep down they can’t function near the surface or they learned that bothering us isn’t worth the trouble it brings. Humans have this tendency for disproportionate retribution: Countless times in our history, when one type of animal killed too many people or livestock for our liking, we nearly or completely eradicated that animal from that part of the world.“ And then had to airdrop Wolves into Yellowstone in early 21st century, once people realized they were important for keeping other animals in check. ”Many of the large sea creatures have died out on their own thousands of years ago due to there being not enough food for them, others died due to water pollution.” Vigdis counted on her fingers. Blue Whales were hardly monsters, if anything they had been known to protect other creatures and even humans from sharks and killer whales, if documentaries and Vigdis’ grade six biology teacher were to be believed, but the Orcas definitely counted. ”Plus we started building our waterborne ships from steel… 450 years ago? That would’ve helped too.”

”Hey, Captain, have you heard? There’s a fortune to be made shuttling explorers and settlers beyond mountains and oceans once we get the Jo airworthy again.” Now, Vigdis was clearly joking, even the locals would’ve recognized laughter by now, but in a pinch…

”So you never had someone who one day decided ‘I’m just going to sail West and see where I end up.’? We had people like that even back when we believed in sea monsters, magic and gods. A quarter of Earth’s landmass was discovered due to navigation errors. Everyone had been sailing to India due East, until one day one man decided he would find a Westward path. Found a new continent because it was in the way.” Bit of a simplification, but it got the point across. ”And how does magic factor into it? No life mage ever tried changing into a creature that would tolerate the harsh conditions during the overland crossing?”
Great, these tossers were about as stable as the Espian government and they weren’t even trying to hide it. True, she almost expected as much from someone willing to do what they did, but it was still nice to know how well put together the Knights actually were, despite their quirks.

And apparently, the true Knights were shit talking back. Can do. Switching comms to a short-range open channel, hopefully she’d reach the Fists without somebody else outside of the map Hex picking it up. ”Hey, look, I get it. It’s okay to be jealous of our talent and style, I know we look stunning, but dressing up your rattletraps to look like our ‘Mechs before you go catch up on your war crime quota is a serious no-go. Cut that shit out before we stop telling the duchess to be nice to you.” It was a little unfortunate that the duchess in question was retreating, on fire and about five degrees from busting her ass when Marit said it, but the lunatics probably didn’t know who that was, so all was in order except the ‘Duchess is on fire’ bit.

Right after that, the Crusader decided to give her some attention, a flight of missiles scratching Archie’s paint. With the way an Archer’s cockpit was placed, from where she was sitting it looked like the missiles were about to fall down the back of her neck. A quick check revealed nothing broken, allowing Marit to get back into the mix unburdened. As far as she and Archie were concerned, the most effective weapon the Fists had so far was the noise coming out of their faces. Maybe if they kept the Firestarter guy talking for long enough, his own lance would switch sides. Furthermore, they basically admitted to their false flag shenanigans, so that was a plus. Spurring Archie forward to get as close as possible to minimize missile spread on target, she stopped uncomfortably close to the edge of the ravine, ready to lean back at the first sign of losing balance. Falling on her back was preferable to falling a hundred meters.

Then the symbols of Ziska’s TAG laser and NARC beacon appeared on Marit’s HUD, and so did a broad grin on her face. Temporarily forgetting the stricken Panther, the missiles eagerly locked onto the marked Firestarter, almost quivering in the launchers to be allowed to fly with purpose. Who was Marit to deny them? ”Dodgy fucker, aren’t you?” Marit idly asked with an audible grin, addressing the Firestarter and setting all three launchers to top fire mode to avoid the Panther and Catapult it was hiding behind, Ziska’s TAG making sure their accuracy wouldn’t suffer like it usually did with indirect fire. ”Dodge this, Piss-colored Clown.” She transmitted as she fired all of her ordnance at the Firestarter.

And fly with purpose they did, riding the beam of Ziska’s TAG home and tearing chunks out of the Firestarter’s torso armor and structure. Its right arm flew off, the left one barely hanging on by myomer and prayers before ultimately joining its sister. Thermals picked up a heat spike through the holes in the Firestarter’s mangled center torso, Archie’s sensors reporting serious damage to its engine with 92% certainty. She liked that number. ”Get fucked!” She cheered off comms. She owed Ziska a drink. Forget that, if she kept the spotting up for a few more sorties, Marit would buy her a whole bar.
The mountain trek had been rough on Vigdis, the entire party having to adjust to her reduced pace, sometimes after less than an hour in that terrain. At one point she seriously contemplated asking J’eon for a ride, but daring herself to not insult one of their local guides, she gulped down a handful of the painkillers doc Feng had given her like they were red skittles and soldiered on.

Once they got on the boat, comfort ceased to be an issue for Vigdis. She didn’t have to walk, what more could she want? She’d lived in student AND military housing, in a pinch she’d fall asleep leaning against a running cement mixer and not even complain. Even sharing a confined space with someone with feathers wasn’t new to her, one of her roommates at university had been a furry. On top of that, the boat provided another distraction, Vigdis spending upwards of an hour on their first day on the barge watching the mages work the mechanism, examining it as closely as she dared approach and taking meticulous notes, muttering something about “transmission shifted under load”, “lamellar clutch”, “synchronizer gears” and “propeller” from time to time. The thought of the boat being essentially a giant child’s toy given what it was powered by was a little funny, but if it works, it’s not stupid.

”Aircraft are used when you need to move something fast. Ships and boats are more fuel efficient, cheaper to maintain, can carry bigger loads and their crews are more easily trained, so they still see frequent use on Earth. Mostly on big lakes and oceans though, river use is limited by dams in a lot of places.” Vigdis answered Kareet’s question, ”But Earth is the only planet we’ve colonized that has a lot of water on it. My home Venus, even the cities fly out of necessity, Mars’ hydrosphere is still in its infancy so overland trains made of self-propelled carriages are the name of the game and as far as I know no other colonized world is even capable of having liquid water on the surface.”

Then she realized Kareet only mentioned rivers. ”How much of K-A have you explored?” Have they already had their own Leif Eriksson, Columbus and Maghellan or not?
The Crimson Fists finally started lumbering into view, Marit keeping one eye out of the cockpit and one on the list she had written down, making mental tickmarks. They were all there except the Warhammer as advertised, it having apparently been replaced by a Panther.

Ingrid’s entree was an unmistakable go signal, even if she wasn’t doing too well at least the large lasers found their marks The Duchess probably had her hands full getting out of the snow. Quickly waking Archie up and opening the missile doors, she had a lock before Betty was even done with her usual spiel. Walking forward to get all of her weapons in range and to give herself at least some speed to get out of harm’s way, Marit thumbed the trigger linked to the three launchers set to staggered fire and Archie joined the fight. It was marginally better heat wise and the actuators would thank her for subjecting them to three smaller recoil impulses than one large one in the long run. Plus having a steady stream of missiles landing around you and on your head was also a mighty bastard of a morale sink.

Like the Crusader, the unannounced Panther was a long range ‘Mech, but it would take a lot less punishment to bring down and she wanted to capitalize on their surprise before it got moving, making landing any hits like trying to catch a cat that didn’t want to cuddle. Over and above that, a solid hit from a PPC would do far more than getting peppered by an LRM salvo. Half the ordnance from the first launcher hit home, pausing her song with a quietly muttered ”Yes!”.

She frowned as the second ten-piece salvo became more lost than double heat sinks, landing nowhere near any ‘Mech, nevermind the one she was shooting at. Only then did she remember she was going to wait for Ziska to mark a target. If there wasn’t a sticky note with ‘Use TAG, NARC & brain.’ stuck to Archi’s dashboard by the next sortie, she would be very disappointed in her ‘Mech Tech and his crew.

Marit frowned even further as 12 missiles from the third salvo veered off and obliterated the mountain snow, but that frown turned upside down pretty fast when the Panther wobbled on its legs uncharacteristically despite only being hit by three missiles at the time, indicating something’s gone in the gyro. A piece of machinery moving at very high speed coming loose inside the ‘Mech while at the same time impeding the ‘Mechs ability to stay upright didn’t bode well for the False Knight. If Ingrid forgot her origin and went caveman in the heat of the moment, she probably could have sat the Panther on its ass with a punch with minimal effort coming at them as fast as she was, the thought making Marit snicker. Not bad of an opening, despite room for improvement, and the freezing cold outside kept even Archie nice and comfortable, though he’d start cooking if someone got close and she had to start splitting fire.
Probably the longest running and definitely most stable game I've ever been in is three players and four characters. Also a modern military one, so personally I'd be fine with just the three of us and growing if more people come later.

Quality over quantity sort of thing.
Archie had been kneeling down in sector Hotel 10, arms and hands positioned to shield the canopy from the falling snow. It would all melt soon after the fight started, but she didn't want to risk some pileup taking longer to do so and obstructing her view. But the lambs were late to the slaughterhouse. Took a lunch break after a hard morning of wanton slaughter or what? Talk about being late to their own funeral... Trusting the MHQ to let them know when the tardy psychopaths would show up, Marit left the radio running on battery power, took off her helmet and set the volume to max so she would hear it and in the meantime she unbuckled her straps and put her feet up, working her way through the user manual and humming a happy tune. The House Steiner 2S variant featured a pair of SRM-4 launchers? Because what's better for a missile carrier 'Mech than more missiles. Couldn't fault that logic, really.

The Colonel's message jolted her from her reading, eyes darting to the cheat sheet on the clipboard strapped to her thigh. She scowled when she saw the classes of the Crimson Fist BattleMechs. A Crusader, a Warhammer… Who took that sort of power to slaughter civilians? Even she'd accomplished more with less!
"I didn't mean it like that, sorry." She apologized lightheartedly and stroked Archie's dashboard with her hand. "I don't need a Crusader. I would absolutely mount its arms onto you if I could though."
Target two was... The Warhammer. Two PPCs, some lasers and an SRM-6 removed from the equation, replaced by who-knows-what. It likely didn't matter to her. Her target was clearly the Crusader, unless Ingrid said otherwise, Archie being the only 'Mech that could deliver a meaningful amount of ordnance on if it chose to shoot from behind cover. Or maybe they should all focus on the Hunchback and the firestarter to ensure they never get the chance to get close?

Pulling her feet off the dashboard and stowing away the manual, Marit reconnected her cooling vest, strapped herself back in and donned her neurohelmet. Leaving the reactor off until the last possible second, she strained her eyes toward where they expected the Crimson Fists to appear, having to look out the corner of the canopy past Archie's left hand. With no conscious thought from her side, the happy tune from earlier was replaced by a much harsher one with lyrics to match.

“Round them up, look into their eyes; They beg for their lives;
Killing ground; Even though you surrender;
Turn around; You will never survive;
Killing ground; As the battle of Fraustadt turns.”

Still here if we're doing roll call.
”...breathing mask, spare air tank, spare wristpad battery, tablet, two spare batteries, pain meds, crutches.” Vigdis went over her packing for the fourth time since she collected all the items. The engineer didn’t know how much walking they’d be doing or how long they’d be gone, but she decided to ask doc Feng for some weaker painkillers he wouldn’t miss too much and a pair of crutches just in case. The two air tanks should also last them a while if they rationed it well, even if all four would share the second one. Finally, she took advantage of the fact that one of her roommates had galley duty that evening and got enough ground coffee for about six portions. She’d spent most of the previous day explaining menial tasks to the working party so that actual engineers had more time to do the things that required a better understanding of the ship or the discipline and sought out the two children who were on board and entrusted them with caring for Fritjof while she was gone. Fortunately neither one was allergic to cat hair.

She didn’t like leaving the ship while the clock was still ticking, but she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t looking forward to getting out. She wasn’t much looking forward to traveling with Lambert, the woman not growing onto anyone as far as Vigdis knew, but between the Captain, Kareet, Nellara and Shirik there’d be plenty of pleasant company to counterbalance and there was plenty of time to be killed by continuing their talk with the Seeker. With the Captain announcing departure in 20 minutes, she spent five parting with Fritjof, ten going around the ship to say goodbye to people she worked with and ask for souvenir preferences if the opportunity presented itself and went to wait for Zey at the ramp. ”Good morning ma’am. Did our new friends get us a map so we know where we’re going?” She asked when the captain returned.

You flying some late 1960s/early '70s fever dream that's still half-classified aren't you? :p
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