What Might Have Been (Part 3)

Austral Continent Training Grounds
Strana Mechty
15 March 3001

Star Ca- that is, Captain Natasha Kerensky swore at her ancient MAD-3R Marauder as she desperately danced out of the way of a stream of autocannon projectiles from an “enemy” ANH-1A Annhiliator that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

The range was short, almost absurdly short by the standards of the school in which she’d learned to fight a Battlemech; but at just over 300 meters, the Annihilator had difficulty tracking even the sluggish Marauder with its equally antiquated Kali-Yama class-ten autocannons.

Natasha triggered the Marauder’s primary weapons interlock and swore again as the twin Magna Hellstar PPCs sent her heat scale sailing deep into “yellow” territory. The Marauder suddenly felt like a Dire Wolf as its actuators lost contraction efficiency in the intense interior heat.

In reality, the 75-ton Marauder was not all that different from the Timber Wolves she had piloted for much of her warrior career. In many ways, the Timber Wolf was a derivative design, though the Wolf’s chassis was more closely based on the smaller Catapult. It was, however, some 20% slower at a trot, a difference almost as maddening as its thin armor, limited firepower, and crippling heat difficulties.

She had hit, though. In reality, her particle cannons were powered down enough that they would barely give an infantryman a sunburn and the GM Whirlwind Autocannon on the Marauder’s back was firing mostly-harmless “mass simulator” rounds with none of the explosive punch required to penetrate even three century old armor designs. In the mind of the Annihilator’s diagnostic interpreter, however, the shots had hit the massive Battlemech like a hammer-blow, and the DI obediently knocked the ‘Mech’s gyroscopic stabilizer out of phase to simulate the loss of over a ton of aligned-crystal steel armor plating. The Annihilator slowed as its pilot righted it automatically, but did not stop. Natasha backed the Marauder as fast as its protesting legs would take it, barely maintaining the range with the charging Annihilator.

Just who got ambushed there? She asked herself, feeling a little smug. But they were learning, and that was a good thing. After all, it was her job, the job of the Second Agressor Trinary (already known as the Black Widow Company) to teach her fellows among the Dragoons to think and fight like a Spheroid. Or at least, how Intelser thought a spheroid probably thought.

Unlike some of her comrades, Natasha was under no illusions when it came to the reliability of Intelser data. Clan spies (in reality, mostly Merchants with as much skill in skullduggery as Natasha had in needlepoint) had had no direct contact with the Inner Sphere, and most of what she’d learned about managing a Marauder and a Company had been learned from leftover Star League training manuals that the Goliath Scorpions had dug out of a cache somewhere.

Still, how much could have changed?

The Annihilator let loose another torrent of shells, and some connected this time, knocking the Marauder off balance. Natasha disengaged one of her particle cannons and fired again, missing with the autocannon but connecting with the PPC. The Marauder began to cool off, and moved freely again. Even at a fast walk, it outpaced the Annihilator now moving backwards.

And now that she had a little space to think, she realised that her opponent had made another mistake. He might have tried to ambush her, but he was still thinking like a Clanner.

He’d come out by himself.

His Star had three other Battlemechs in it, somewhere. Just not here. Natasha’s friends were somewhat closer at hand.

“Three, Actual. Break.”

“Go ahead Actual.”

“Fire mission.”

“Link Engaged.”

Though antiquated, the Marauder’s Dalban Hi-Res Targeting and Tracking System was a fairly sophisticated device. Among its many capabilities was the ability to link to a compatible TTS to provide real-time targeting data for fire-support missions. Point Three, Lynn Sheridan’s CRD-3R Crusader had just such a system, the Garret A6 tied to its two Magna Longbow-15 Long-Range Missile Launchers.

“Give me sixty birds and have another sixty on standby.”

“Roger. On the way.”

Natasha fired again, this time striking with only the autocannon as she continued to backpedal.

“Fire, Actual. Break.”

“Go Ahead, Actual.”

“Move to grid H5”

“Moving out. ETA Five Minutes.”

Thirty LRMs arrived at or near the target, their dummy warheads wreathing the Annihilator in smoke and convincing its DI to cause another spasm. Natasha followed up with another salvo from the primary interlock, wincing as the Marauder’s heat headed back into the yellow zone. The Annihilator bucked again, overbalanced despite its pilot’s best efforts, and toppled over onto its face.

“Actual, Recon. Break.”

Right on time, Natasha thought.

“Major movement in grid J6” J6 was on her right flank, where she’d set half of her recon lance to guard.

“Five Battlemechs, Heavy Class.”

“Types?”

“Archer. Archer. Warhammer. Marauder. Rifleman.”

“Move to grid I5 and prepare to support.”

She eyed the Annihilator as it began to struggle to its feet. Takiro Akida’s Fire Lance could handle a lone, damaged Annihilator. Natasha was just about disengaged.

“Command, Actual. Follow in formation to grid J6”

8 thoughts on “What Might Have Been (Part 3)

  1. Jal_Phoenix

    It’s good, Bob, as usual, but one thing I’d suggest is to drop all the product placement. Brand names of equipment don’t add to the story, and tend to bog it down in places where you want the action to flow. The casual reader isn’t interested in who makes the PPCs, and the die-hard fanatic like myself already knows. Keep it simple, and focus on the storytelling.

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  2. skiltao

    Overall I liked the pacing. It doesn’t chug like other stuff I’ve read recently, and even the product placement was only a hiccup whose sentences still contained plot.

    Can’t take anything I say too seriously though – for a moment I was expecting them to be training from old Immortal Warrior holovids instead of SLDF manuals. :D

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  3. mame_snidely

    Actually, I like the “product placement.” Go figure. But, keep in mind, this is the first BattleTech thing I’ve read.

    One big complaint — I don’t see how we go from the first chapters to “attacking the inner sphere.” You might need to be a bit more anvilicious about that. I mean I get it, but I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t lived with Jason. And why… you might want to say WHY they are getting all… 20th century on the inner sphere.

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  4. Psychopompousgb

    @mame_snidely – 

    The key thing you missed is that it didn’t go directly to “attacking the Inner Sphere.” I do understand there are things about the context that many Battletech fans would catch immediately that you would have no reason to know, but there were multiple hints that this was a training exorcise given in the text.

    Third paragraph: “In reality, her particle cannons were powered down enough that they would barely give an infantryman a sunburn and the GM Whirlwind Autocannon on the Marauder’s back was firing mostly-harmless “mass simulator” rounds with none of the explosive punch required to penetrate even three century old armor designs. In the mind of the Annihilator’s diagnostic interpreter, however, the shots had hit the massive Battlemech like a hammer-blow, and the DI obediently knocked the ‘Mech’s gyroscopic stabilizer out of phase to simulate the loss of over a ton of aligned-crystal steel armor plating.” (In short: this is simulated combat)

    Fourth Paragraph: “Just who got ambushed there? She asked herself, feeling a little smug. But they were learning, and that was a good thing. After all, it was her job, the job of the Second Agressor Trinary (already known as the Black Widow Company) to teach her fellows among the Dragoons to think and fight like a Spheroid.” (Natasha Kerensky is leading a unit that is pretending to be part of the ‘enemy’ force – that being what an agressor unit does in military training. The goal being to teach the other members of a clan unit she is part of how they should expect Inner Sphere opponents to fight)

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  5. mame_snidely

    @Psychopompousgb –  Jason, Bob asked me to read this as someone unfamiliar with the genre, and so these comments are geared to explain my confusion. While the explanation is helpful — the trouble is that I didn’t know this just from reading the section.

    Now, Bob has no reason at all to assume that someone unfamiliar with Battletech would ever read this. But, here I am….. 

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  6. BobRichter

    @mame_snidely – Okay, that’s a valid criticism. I guess the question is how I can do that better. The information at the top of the section indicates that this is taking place on Strana Mechty, just like parts 1 and 2, and as my brother mentioned, I scattered mention of the simulated combat/agresssor training aspect throughout the piece. I’ll put a note in here to consider a paragraph making it a bit more explicit. Thanks for the comment.

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