I'm feeling generous...here's Chapter Fifteen in its entirety
Arn and his team moved out of the woodland, aiming for the Dropship which hovered drunkenly near the city. Comm chatter painted a picture of the hell inside the craft; curses, screams and background noise indicated fierce fighting and death. He deliberately reined in Hauser who was all for shooting the craft out of the sky, his naturally bellicose nature reinforced by the detruction of the Mech.
As they approached, the lower left side of the ship shuddered, writhing and twisting as though sheltering an oversize child, more than ready for birth. Again and again the hull shivered, before exploding outwards. The figure of an Elemental could be seen amidst the roiling flame and smoke, thrown forcefully away from the skin of the ship. Lifeless, it eventually crashed to the earth.
“What are they doing in there?” asked Conn, as a bright beam shot forth, the metal to the side of the rent glowing white-hot.
“Dying?” broke in the voice of Hauser, more subdued than normal, “Can we help, Sir?”
“No, we wait,” replied Arn, “Elana is still in there.”
The Mech Bay was an inferno of sound and fire; the necessity for speed had been impressed on all the Elementals and they had obeyed to the letter. Missiles had quickly been expended, shattering armour and articulated joints. Machine gun and laser fire had downed semi-protected troops and added to the noise, but the biggest offenders had been the trapped League Mechs.
Initially, the fury of the attack had rocked the Hanseatic forces; there were no respected rules of engagement and they had been punished for their tardiness. They were, however, quick learners.
Medium lasers and PPC’s sliced through decking, storage crates and an occasional Elemental alike. Autocannon rounds hammered any available target, and even those perceived as being a threat. Burning equipment and packaging threw a pall of oily smoke in between the two forces and helped to reduce the overwhelming advantage of firepower.
The Elementals darkened armour blended in with their surroundings, but enhanced imaging still found them, until the flames themselves blurred their outlines. Teams of two and three attacked each of the semi-operational Mechs, whose pilots had determined that their best chance was to stand and fight together. LRM’s were useless and SRM’s a last, point-blank resort. It was one such desperate solution which had torn the ship’s fabric, allowing some of the smoke to dissipate.
The remaining Elementals huddled in two small groups for a last charge, their ammunition almost spent. None of the Mechs would be capable of leaving the Bay, but this had devolved to a purely animalistic level. It was kill or be killed.
They had taken the bridge; prisoners sat close to each other, their hands clasped behind their heads, but it did not feel like a victory. The ship shuddered under the concussive explosions from below and protested at the handling of the captured flight deck crew. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the Dropship in the air and Elana’s thoughts were with her people below.
“Get us on the ground!”
The Hanseatic prisoners rushed to obey.
“Once we are down, two of you will get these surats off,” the men detailed, nodded in agreement, “the rest of you with me.”
Her headset crackled, “This is Arn, we are holding outside, waiting to hear how we can help.”
“How many do you have with you,” asked Elana curtly.
“Two men are injured, apart from them we are at full strength. Our tanks will be of little use unless the Mechs punch their way out, which they seem to be intent on doing.”
“Ignore the Mechs,” said Elana, “get your team on board as soon as we settle on the ground. The tanks will be a safety net, just in case one of the Mechs breaks free.”
“Understood,” agreed Arn, waving his men forward and hoping that at least this once, Hauser would do as he was told. For a moment, he had a vision of the mad tanker driving up the ramp, his PPC frying everything and everyone in his way.
The two remaining Hanseatic League destroyers had finally joined up with their jumpships. It was no fleet now, the SDS, Caspars and Voidseekers had seen to that. No-one considered the possibility of renewing their attack, especially since the appearance of a new opponent, which sat spider-like in its geosynchronous orbit.
On the deck of their new craft, Captain Darling drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair in barely controlled agitation. Von Jankmonn was becoming more demanding by the minute. At first he had been satisfied with his new squadron, now he wanted action and he was pressing for the Captain to make a decision.
“There are only two destroyers and a few fighters,” he insisted, “between us we can easily see them off.”
“Jax was adamant that we remain here...” began the Captain, but was rudely interrupted.
“Who is this Jax?” he demanded, “a lieutenant? Mu understanding is that he holds a junior rank only, not even equivalent t your own. What gives him the right to command, circumstance only.”
The ex-Jade Falcon’s arrogance bubbled close to the surface. He hated inactivity and above all cowardice. It was important that he show his new Khan what he was capable of doing, and the man in command below was not his Khan. It was impossible to challenge him personally, but he could take action; they could meet in a Trial of Position later.
Darling’s hand now caressed the chair’s arm and his irritation had disappeared. A FedCom Captain initially, he also was missing a true Dark Falcon loyalty. And, after all, he had a ship to prove.
Captain Darling ignored the increasingly agitated communications from Jax; he had made his mind up now.
“Full speed ahead. We want to get to those destroyers before they change their mind!”
Von Jankmonn stood behind him, one hand resting lightly on the back of the Captain’s chair; his time would come, for now he was enjoying the adrenalin rush of disobedience.
“I want all weapons systems on line,” snapped Darling, “there will be no negotiation. We will show our comrades planet side exacty what we are capable of.”
His Exec Officer looked worried and after receiving another message from his communications suite, finally found the courage to interrupt.
“Sir!” he stood rigidly to attention in front of his Captain, eyes focussing on the bulkhead behind, “Lieutenant Jax has given us a final ultimatum. We are to return to our previously assigned position, or he will activate both the SDS and the Caspar drone and take whatever action he sees fit.”
“Let him!” snarled the Captain, “He will not attack us. This ship and Von Jankmonn’s fighters are too big a prize for the Dark Falcons.”
“Sir,” insisted the Exec Officer, “we already have confirmation that the Caspar is powering up and fighter drones have been launched from the Defence System. Lieutenant Jax is not known for his inability to take a hard decision.”
Captain Darling stared at the man, “I find your loyalty just a little questionable,” he hissed.
“Have no doubt, Sir,” replied his Exec, “I know where my loyalty lies...”
With one swift movement he drew and fired his pistol, the accelerated charge taking Von Jankmonn high in the shoulder and spinning him around. Before he could fire again, Captain Darling dove to the right, clawing at his own holster. One of the nearby Marines fired his autorifle at the Exec, its rounds stitching a bloody pattern across his chest. As he struck the floor, his dying fingers squeezed off more rounds which ricocheted around the Bridge. Sides chosen, weapons drawn; the crew of the newest Dark Falcon vessel began to kill each other.
Jax watched his tactical screen and saw Darling’s course change slightly, although he still seemed intent on reaching the League destroyers. The Caspar was now under way and it would soon be too late to reverse his orders.
He saw the blips on his screen which represented the Hanseatic League ships, waver and then disappear. They had seen enough. It had been his intention to deal with them once he had suppressed their ground forces, but now Darling’s precipitate actions had forced them to run. Jax was sure that they would be back, and with help.
Arn waited as the dropship slammed to earth, its ramp already extended. Men and women poured from the ship, but he let them go; their fear precluded them from taking any aggressive action. Hauser rolled his tank forward, the barrel depressing to cover the soldiers’ flight.
“Hauser!” Arn snapped.
“You will not fire until I give the order!”
There was a sheepish acknowledgement and as the last of the stragglers scrambled to the earth, Arn led his men up the ramp as instructed. Smoke billowed from the interior as the sound of heavy weapon fire continued. Feet pounded behind him in a comforting tattoo as he entered the darkened interior, his enhanced imaging within his helmet automatically swapping to infra red.
“Follow me,” he said, his sensors sweeping the interior, “and stay close. No heroics.”
The bulkhead in front of him disappeared suddenly in a boiling conflagration, sending one of his men to the floor. Through the smoke, his sensors picked out the stubby shape of a missile pod and the outline of a huge metallic arm.
“Fire!” he commanded and felt the ship tremble as it was struck.
“Oh Frak!” he thought, “Hauser!”
Blood pooled on the decking, running in sticky rivulets from the crumpled forms. Here and there slight movement indicated the vague stirrings of life, yet no-one controlled the huge vessel as it bored onwards. Von Jankmonn regained consciousness, struggling against pain and the blackness which threatened to crash over him. The slug had torn its way through his chest muscles, entering at an oblique angle and so saving his life.
He rolled onto his left side and saw Darling’s heels drumming spasmodically on the decking. It seemed as though the Exec had succeeded in his destructive plan. Alarms shrilled; a repetitive monotone which clamoured for attention.
“Stand down, I repeat, stand down. If we do not receive confirmation of our order, we will be forced to take decisive action. You have been warned...”
The pilot’s body had been genetically created to withstand the effects of mind numbing pressure and so he shrugged away the pain. Little by little, he dragged himself to the communications array. One hand rose, a finger inching its way to the transmit button. With an almost superhuman effort, he closed the key.
“Do not shoot....Darling dead...no crew left...”
Gasping he crumpled to the floor, the oblivion he had been searching for, welcoming him in its embrace.
Jax had heard the transmission and could only guess at the state of the ship’s crew. He had a choice; belive them and let them go, or give the order to fire. He waited.
“We wait,” he said, “there is no-one for them to fight with, and right now we have other concerns to deal with. Get me Elana!”
Hauser did not wait for further commands, pointing his tank up the dropship’s ramp.
“You will all wait for me here.”
It was a statement, rather than an order. The tanker was known for his rash decisions and his temper. Today was not the day to challenge him.
He gunned his engine, his battle cannon pointing the way, as the ramp shook beneath his vehicle’s snarling climb. Arn could skin him later. Hauser knew that the relatively lightly armoured troopers would stand little chance against a Mech. With this baby though, he could at least even the odds, a little.
“What the frak is that?”
Conn’s voice was almost apologetic; they knew who it was. They were pinned down behind a temporary barricade of tumbled packing cases. Two of Arn’s men were already down; their sprawled figures testifying to the brute efficiency of an autocannon round at close range.
“For once,” muttered Arn, “I can truthfully say that I’m happy to see him.”
The snout of the tank’s cannon pushed through the shattered entrance, its arc of fire limited. With a belch of pure rage, the gun spoke.