As we sat in the briefing room with the Major, two confused thoughts kept running through my mind:



Tailbiter and I would be part of a strike raid against the home base of the Bandit King Redjack Ryan! These thoughts were confused because they had nothing whatsoever to do with one another.

I guess I'm not being very clear. Well, first things first. Operation Blacksmith was a disaster! It was the worst loss we've suffered since Old Man Haldane and his command lance bought it on Kalidasa. When the dust settled on Blacksmith we only had two mechs out of a dozen able to move and fight, and one of those with cracked reactor shielding! With the choppers' timely aid, the Harriers salvaged half their mechs and all but two of their pilots. Dickhead Larkin was toasted in his cockpit, we're pretty sure about that.

Mandy? Well, Mandy was sitting up on a ridge in Caramba!, looking for good shots, and then she wasn't. Got hit by a heavy laser or particle cannon or something ugly. Caramba! was gone. Blew up. Total loss, I think, which made Tailbiter a bit upset. Anyway, when he could afford the time, the Major cast about for her eject beacon, and finally hunted down her chair. Mandy herself was nowhere to be found. Missing in action, presumed dead or captured, was what the report said.

Turned out to be "captured". After nursing our wounds back at HQ, the Harriers received a message from the rebels, complete with a picture of Mandy after Blacksmith. The message said, "Stay out of the Meltine or she gets it!" or something equally stupid.

Well, OF COURSE we can't let them keep her. Even if the Harriers cared nothing for rescuing teammates, never let a buddy down, and all that (for which they happen to care very much, thank you), it's a fact that Marks is too valuable. She's the Harrier with the most kills under her belt, something like twenty! Besides Captain Bear and Wilson, nobody else has even half as many! Well, Old Man Foster has a good record too, but he retired years ago.

The trouble was, for over two months we had no idea where the Rebels had her, and for these two months we HAVE left the Rebels alone. But the Major did send out our scouts snooping around in the Meltine, real quiet and sneaky guys, and they've recently uncovered the spot. Good work, or else they just got lucky.

No, we can't let them keep Mandy. On the other hand, we can't charge in with mechs to free her. That would be too obvious and likely to get her shot. So the Major cooked up a plan for that. I'm not sure what they're going to do, but it doesn't really concern Tailbiter and me. Something really clever, I'll bet, if I know Alister (which I do).

Anyway, Tailbiter and I have been assigned to Operation Cashbox, to get us more mechs and equipment, either to keep or sell. It'll take a couple of months. How did Cashbox come about? Well....

Less than a month ago some pirates made a raid against Somerset Academy, a mechwarrior university based on Wight Isle. Such military schools are kind of rare, and expensive! We tossed a lance or two their way, but by the time we got there an instructor and some students had already driven them off (though they took heavy losses in doing that). The Major sent out all our aerospace fighters and the dropship fleet to blast them out of the sky. One of the bandit dropships managed to limp to its jumpship and they got away.

The Major's intelligence network told him that the raid was from the Bandit King Redjack Ryan, who was based on his own world of Butte Hold somewhere a couple jumps out into the Periphery.

Karl Takashi Hilnder (from Morse's lance) heard this and started spitting, waving his arms about, and cursing in both Gaelic and Japanese. This is the guy running around in a kilt with a pair of those samurai swords, who lost his mech in Blacksmith. Anyway, he says he served with this Ryan before he deserted to the Kuritan Legion of Vega, which was before he deserted to us (hmmmm, bad trait, that). He was hot to stick that sword into some vital part of Ryan. He also volunteered to tell the Major everything he knew about Butte Hold. Or "Butt-hold" (or hole?) as he called it.

The Major came up with a plan. We would load a company-sized unit into our dropship Fall Safe and jaunt out to counter-raid this place. This is partly as a reprisal for the attack on Wight, partly for revenge for Hilnder, but more importantly to allow us to grab more mechs to replace the Blacksmith losses. Considering that Ryan is supposed to have a couple of battalions of mechs, I thought that Alister had finally gone crazy, like I kept saying he would when we were growing up. But Old Man Foster seemed to support him, so I guess it was okay.

I later found out that Hilnder knew of a secondary base that shouldn't be too heavily defended. THAT was our target. The idea was to sneak in, hit the base, do what damage we could, grab some extra mechs, and then pull out.


Now all we needed to make the plan work were some mechwarriors crazy enough to go on this mission and a little detail like a jumpship.


Well, Alister made it known that he wanted a jumpship contract for personnel transport... didn't say to WHERE, of course.

And WE'RE easy. He just ORDERS us to go.

The Fall Safe's crew is going to be taking us, of course. The Carter twins with their Corsair fighters will be there for air support. One of the grunt lieutenants will have a platoon of wind riders.

Then there's the important crew, the mechwarriors:

Hilnder is going to be our guide, as he is the only one of the Harriers to have been to Butte Hold before. He doesn't have Wallaby anymore, and so he isn't really part of anybody's lance, but he doesn't seem to care. He just keeps sharpening those swords. It has to be terrible to be one of the Dispossessed. I hope we can find him a new mech.

There's Lieutenant Dysart Quinn in Gifted. Huge, strong, well armored, well armed, and it can even jump! The Avenger is perhaps the best unit in the Harriers. With him goes his lance:

There's poor Alex Larkin, still shaken up over his slimeball brother's death in Blacksmith. His own mech Mom Liked Me Best was wasted, but he's got his twin's Codpiece now, a Shadow Hawk, medium sized, with jump jets. It's a twisted Shadowhawk, having been much modified by the late slimeball. David had all the weapons pulled off the arms (he really liked doing the mecho-mecho thing) and installed better jump jets, more heat sinks, and a particle cannon in the torso. It ended up being a lot like Tailbiter, except with lasers instead of LRMs. It's also a little twisted because of the tremendous pounding it's been taking, not the least of which was having its head blown clean off in Blacksmith. Its current head is pretty ugly, a rather cobbled together collection of spare parts. Yep, Alex is going to use Codpiece to be a "great pilot" like his brother. Give me a break!

There's Anna Rasputin in her Vindicator named The Beast, which if I know her probably won't do much more than growl. The Vindicator is similar to Tailbiter (even has a PPC) but is smaller and slower. It's one of those designs that can do a bit of everything but nothing well. And she's one of those people who just does nothing well.

And as a last-minute replacement for Akton is Banzai Wiener in his Jenner Passed Tense (most mechwarriors are just tense). Jenners aren't manform mechs. They look sort of like a box standing on manform legs with the cockpit sticking forward and on each side a couple stubby little arms sticking out (with no hands). They look ugly, but Jenners are FAST! Wiener's tactic is to run like hell up to some mech, blast it with his lasers and short range missiles, and then run like hell away if the target didn't fall down. There's worse ways to do it, I guess, especially with something that small and lightly armored. Also, I have it on excellent authority that Wiener's crazy as a loon. There's a lot of crazies in the Harriers, by the way. There just aren't that many who are sane and emotionally balanced, like Tailbiter and I are.

The second lance is under good old Lieutenant Ken Taylor-Wu, my boss. He has his Archer, Perfect Ending, pretty heavy, with good armor and loaded down with missiles and lasers.

There's me, Melissa Blake (some call me "Missy" but I don't particularly like it) and my good friend Tailbiter. Tailbiter's a Griffin, a medium mech with long range missiles and a PPC beam that'll cut through anthing! Tailbiter's good for long range support. And pretty, too. I had my tech Joshua paint a fat tabby chasing its tail on Tailbiter's shoulder flanges, and symbols of an Archer and a Dragon (my two kills, both heavy mechs) below my cockpit cover housing.

Lieutenant Vinnie Steiner, the liason officer with our employers, is along to represent the Steiners. He's what we call a SOCIAL Lieutenant. That is, he makes a great officer at parties, but you'll notice that he's not in command of anything real. If he didn't have that name I don't know where he'd be. I'm not sure what he did to be assigned to work with the Harriers, but it must have been something that made Momma Steiner pretty mad! His Warhammer is named Archangel, a heavy with tons of armor and mounting twin PPCs, lasers, and SRM packs. Imagine! All that and not one kill to his credit! What a wimp!

And finally, there is Cassie Ainira in her Marauder Last Mistake. Am I glad SHE is coming! Her mech is heavy, tough, and could blast almost anything! It's even tougher than Steiner's Warhammer, and SHE knows how to use it! Cassie was the one who was with Tailbiter before me, and who switched to one of the Star League mechs that was picked up with Gifted. I'm sure Tailbiter was sad about that, but he has me now.

Now, what am I forgetting?

Oh, yes, the Major put Quinn in command of the mech forces! QUINN! I'll bet he jumped to his feet when the Major talked to him about it, and spouted out some speech about how proud he was to serve, and he would do his best to fufill the mission goals, and how he would prove that he could handle the responsibility.... He ALWAYS does that sort of thing, from what I hear.

What a weenie!

I mean, don't get me wrong, Quinn's a nice enough guy, I guess, and he's even cute in a nerdy sort of way. But he's so STIFF! Makes me nervous sometimes. The guy even SITS at attention. And I'll swear he has books on military regulations from all five Successor States and from the old Star League too! Which one he consults would depend on whose space we are serving in at the time! No, on second thought he doesn't have the books. He's already got the regs memorized!

Quinn gets up early every day, gets into his nice clean perfectly pressed uniform, polishes the gold half-bar on each collar (he's an OFFICER now, YES SIR!), and he writes some report or another. He loves to write. Get it all down, all nice and proper! Don't miss a detail!


He's deadly serious in combat. Controlled. Cool as ice. It's spooky, really, to hear his voice calmly reporting damage or giving orders, just like he's at mess asking for his chow. Only once did he lose that cool, when he was going after a Rifleman who had ambushed his Lance. "Die Pig! Die Pig!" he kept screaming as he poured missiles into its hulk. I saw the vids, edited from various battlecameras and shown for the whole battalion's instruction (and amusement). Would have loved to have been there. I wonder what he's like when he's drunk.... I hear he only got drunk that once....

Speaking of which, I don't know WHAT he does for fun. I think he'd probably rather go to the tech bay and swoon over Gifted some more than go out with a woman. Or maybe there's some regulation about high and mighty officers fraternizing with the regular grunts.

Gifted! Just because Quinn's been in big shot military academies all his life the Major gave him Gifted! Us poor scum who grew up in the company and were only taught by Old Man Foster should be awed, I suppose, and settle for leftover mechs. Here this reject from Marik space, no older than I am, strolls in and gets an old top notch Star League experimental mech! Not that I would want to give up Tailbiter or anything, but Quinn just didn't deserve it!


Oh, well. I guess I'm not being fair with him. He's not that bad, really. In fact, he's got some good qualities.

Dependable, I guess would be a good way to describe him. Scariest battle of my life, when I dropped with him on Proserpina, I saw him charge ahead through a hell of lasers, PPC blasts, missiles, and who knows WHAT else to face down that slime Kurita. And he did it too, almost on his own. I saw Gifted afterwards. Quinn's damn lucky to be alive. And in Blacksmith, he made sure that all of his team mates were going to make it out of there, even if their mechs were gone. He made pickup on three himself! Four, if you count when he carried Al Larkin's chair out. Yes, he's dependable. He's smart. He's fair. He's honest.

He's a pain in the ass.

And I still didn't like him being in charge of the mission. He'll probably make me write a report!

Written by and © Copyright 2002 Ed Barach.
Eclipse's RPG Links 
Space Vermin Home Page
Space Vermin Fiction page