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Futuristic Iron and Blood [Private]


Beyond the Red Gate
OOC: Here we go, Nogoodname Nogoodname .

Facility Ruins, New Providence
Prasinos Sector, Corporate Space
May 7th, 2684

Contacts on her sensors were buzzing about. They were coming, and soon. Her employers had stressed the need for the pirate lord - an ugly, scarred man - to be brought back alive. Death was also in the cards, but the payout would be far less. Kivotos Systems, for all their grandstanding, were still a corp; the only reason they wanted someone alive was most likely for experiments. But it wasn’t her place to ask; a job was a job, and the money Kivotos was offering was quite generous, even for an established company. The higher ups of the company had stressed that everyone be on their best behavior. Easy enough. But the way they spoke, like this was some God-given gift that would propel them further into Kivotos’ good graces… well. They’d have to step it up a notch.

Fingers flexed, wrapping themselves around the piloting controls with practiced ease. Kneeling in the ruins of some wrecked Kivotos office, Dire Star awaited its prey.

Like vultures, they’d been drawn to New Providence upon hearing of a secret in the carcass of an abandoned Kivotos facility. That was a lie; Kivotos had set them up here to take vengeance for the destruction that they’d caused here a year or two ago. The execs, it seemed, had a vicious sense of humor. The idea that he’d somehow missed something was insulting. Infuriating, even. Enough that corporate intelligence was kind enough to tip them off about him taking a significant number of his underlings to scour the place. Michael Gauge was, if anything, a mercurial man.

So, here they were, mechs hiding in the buildings and aircraft on the way. 28 ‘proper’ mechs, and some chicken walkers to pick off the lighter ones.

Louise Reyes’ eyes stayed on the screen. Pirate shields were notorious for constantly short-circuiting due to the constant jury-rigging they had to do. Rare was the one that had functioning shielding - and those were likely ones stolen from Alliance or Imperial mechs in the distant, far off Second Solar War. How well-equipped the pirate lord was, corpo intel couldn’t say. The Steel Talons were merely told to play things ‘by the ear’, and that it was likely Michael had at least equipped his troops with functioning shields.

She leaned back in her chair. Blue skies, with no clouds in sight.

“Perfect day for a flight, don’t you think?” Louise sighed, activating her comms. “Blacklight.”
Hull-down waiting in the wing behind some crumbling warehouse is where the slender frame of Gravity Spiral found itself. The mech sat still, its carmine armor plating gleaming in the sunlight as the pilot within watched radar pings light up on her display, it was almost time, just a little bit longer... and then all this waiting would amount to something. This was always the hardest part for Jace, the quiet before the storm, that brief pause before the inevitable hail of gunfire and artillery, even though she'd been through it it countless times in the past it was still hard to keep the bundle of nerves from welling up in her chest like a knot she couldn't untangle. She took a breath and reminded herself to loosen up a little, ease those muscles she'd been tensing involuntarily and let herself just... relax... they were just pirates after all, this was nothing.

And Jace wasn't alone either as her comms unit was quick to remind her, lighting up as it recieved the new transmission. She had help, a whole squad of pilots backing her up, her ready to swoop in and take the bandits completely unaware, a company of well armed, experienced mercenaries just waiting for the enemy to get into possition for a cleanly executed massacre.

No matter where things went, there was no backing out now, she hit the switch to her comms and spoke up "Couldn't ask for bluer skies... ready for your orders, boss." Jace took hold of her controls with a familiar grasp, sitting forward, perched in her seat like a bird of prey ready to swoop in and strike in a moments notice. Gravity Spiral was no different, the jumpjet thrusters at its back primed like a pair of wings ready to launch the mech into the air for a precise strike at the enemies flank, Louise just needed to give the order.
Silence. And then, as the first glint of silver emerged from the thick forest, it took all of a second for the lock.


A scrambled bellow through the comms from the command squad: “Fire!”

Louise obliged. The tubes on Dire Star revealed themselves. Missiles scythed through the sky shortly afterwards, a stream of white against the blank canvas of the sky. Soon after, they were joined by others, and they curved downwards to their targets. A sea of fire roared to life, taking with it the vanguard of the pirate force in a shower of black smoke and dismembered mech parts. The sight caused her to smile. Alpha strikes never got old.

With that announcement, battle was joined. From the forest, more chaff appeared; chicken walkers of their own. They charged forward and began a deadly game of cat and mouse with their own walkers, while the mechs that had survived the initial strike reorganized themselves. They gave their answer in a storm of counter-fire; primarily physical weapons, it seemed, with a smattering of lasers. They pinged off the Talons’ shields, sliding off them like water on a raincoat. But shields were never meant to take on concentrated fire. Already, the squads on the field began to maneuver around the ruins of the facility, with the pirates unable to do anything but take the bait.

There was no sign of Gauge and his personal retinue. The obnoxiously red mech with a stylized lion had yet to appear. His lovers, with their black mechs, were also not on the field. Yet.

With a mighty groan of steel, Dire Star rose to its full height, an unearthly rumble rolling like thunder in Louise’s ears. Already she could hear the distinct, high-pitched noise of shields deflecting munitions and the staccato of heavy-caliber gunfire. Her own choice of ride traded in the physical handheld weapons that dominated the company for onboard weapons. It was a design philosophy that had not survived the First Solar War - not to mention that Dire Star was a veritable relic.

“Your time to shine, Blacklight!” Louise yelled on squad comms. “Pick them off! I’ll cover you!”

The roar of missiles clawing their way into the air punctuated her comms. Stepping out of cover for a moment, Louise locked on to a target and let fly. Beams lashed out from Dire Star’s chest, carving furrows into an unfortunate mech and lancing right into the cockpit. The Striker, ubiquitous model that it was, promptly keeled over, bereft of a pilot.

Chatter on the comms told her nothing yet. Was Gauge hanging back?
Finally after what felt like hours of waiting silence broke to the swarm of artillery as it roared across the battlefield, striking indiscriminantly down against the mob of enemy mechs. Jace's comms unit burst to life with the chaotic chatter of combat, the callout of enemy positions and relaying of orders mixed with the more personal, cries for support in a critical moment, or the cheer of a fresh kill to etch into a mech's armor after this is all over. The call to attack was all Jace needed to enter the fray, engaging thrusters without a second thought and letting her avian mech soar up over the makeshift cover to survey the battlefield from the sky. The successive chime of multiple target locks rang in Jace's ears like music, priming her to take the enemy flank head on.

Orbital Arms, the company behind the designer of the Wyvern, suffered from notoriously awful luck when it came to the production of energy weapons. For one reason or another all of their efforts to set up a proper production line failed due to unforseen complications, a lack of funding, or Imperial intervention. Because of this, the company adopted the design philosophy of 'use more gun' when it came to the problem of energy shields, most of their designs offer some sort of option for overwhelming firepower with the express purpose of shorting out an enemies shield module so the user could get to the crunchy armor beneath. This generally works against enemies with poor shielding or shields that are already under stress, but when dealing with an enemy with fresh shields you're typically stuck relying on supportive fire before you can truly begin the assault.

All that to say, when Jace took the field, her twin missile pods easily sloughed off the pirates of the left flank's remaining shields and armor plating like the outer shell of a star gone supernova. Her sudden ascension gave way to a meteoric fall as she dived down, colliding with the enemy sideline and tearing into it with the support of the main force at her back. The Gravity Spiral was fast, unfairly so, able to dance between enemy firing lines gracefully as she cut through the chaff with her rocklet carbine, taking out mechs and chicken walkers alike with a single precise shot to the cockpit.

But there were still so many of them... as the battle raged on in full swing Jace eventually found herself ducking behind the cover of a nearby office building to call out over comms "Still not seeing our guy! Just a bunch of cannon fodder! Think he gave us the slip or something!?" she yelled out over the hail of gunfire as it slammed into the protective concrete barrier she'd put between herself and the enemy.
The sounds of war were nothing new to her. The Runners on their side had drawn the enemy’s own deeper into the ruins, while the main spearhead of the pirate force advanced behind them. It was surprisingly expansive; Kivotos certainly had the money to pull something like this facility together. The damage and fallen buildings just made it easier to hide, draw enemies into prepared traps. Already there were whoops and jeers over comms as enemy Runners stepped on landmines, turning the chicken-legged walkers careening into the ground. No doubt they were already transmitting the information to their forces.

But the pirates had bravado and rage in equal measure. They continued their way into the ruins, giving chase to targets. Perhaps it was the insult of being ambushed that drew them closer to the inferno.

Louise checked her radar. Blacklight’s position was in the flanks, scurrying around the screen as she tore their unprotected sides to bits. Some of the company’s own were joining her there - those in Boreas mechs, Kivotos’ own skirmisher model. Appeasement gift, if anything; the Boreas was known for skimping on shields and had thruster problems that the company was busy ironing out in the Mark II modernization package. Certainly nothing like Gravity Spiral. But it was better than the pirate Strikers and their malfunctioning shields.

The comms burst from Blacklight’s end was only slightly disrupted from Dire Star’s lasers claiming another victim. The Striker tumbled into the ground with a satisfying clang, hull glowing red-hot from where Dire Star’s lasers made their mark.

“He’s an angry bastard.” Louise grunted in response, the ancient Sentinel’s newly-installed jump-jets sending it into a light glide as the pilot maneuvered it into cover once again. “With his forces tied up like this, it won’t be long until he comes to the field himself to correct his own mistakes.”

The rest of the company that wasn’t tied up skirmishing in their Runners or hitting the steady stream of pirate mechs in the flanks was brawling with the heavier mechs that the mechs had fielded. Of course, heavy was relative; the modern battlefields of the 27th century demanded mobility above all. Nothing like Dire Star was out there. The heavier mechs had bigger jump jets to let them retain mobility, but nowhere near the same level as lighter models. More weaponry, but less maneuverability - a far cry from the slow, lumbering mechs of the 24th century.

“All squads,” the rumble of the command squad’s leader, Karl, sounded off in her ear, “looks like they’re bringing in the pain. Aircraft inbound! Fire support, keep your eyes peeled!”

She sucked in a breath. “Don’t get caught out in the open, Blacklight. Paint the targets, and I’ll deal with them. We’ll need you to keep hitting them right where it hurts.”
Jace's head whipped around just in time to catch the laser pierce right through the poor pirate's shield like a hot knife through butter, boring into several layers of composite armor and leaving a smouldering red mess where the cockpit should be. She only had a moment to watch though, heavy autocannon fire slamming into her shield and drawing her attention, pulling her back into the whirlwind of combat. The left flank had dug in by now and began to mount a counteroffensive, significantly slowing Jace's progress, forcing her to sit on the edge of their effective range and prod at them with strategic missile strikes, searching for an opening.

"Motherfucker-" she grumbled over comms, sliding into cover and behind a battered building and popping out the other end to lay down fire. "Guy's sure taking his time! Gonna run out of goons in a few minutes if he doesn't do something~" Jace was clearly enjoying this, the opportunity to show off on the front lines was hardly a common one, and she planned to take full advantage of it. In a swift motion she transferred power to her thrusters and shot forward as soon as she saw an opportunity, her mech gliding gracefully across the ground as she collided with the enemy once again, leaving a trail of cored chassis in her wake.

She was in the thick of it when she got Louise's message, hissing under her breath in the midst of reloading a fresh cylender of rocklets into her carbine. "Geh, understood, gonna let up on the pressure for a bit, transmitting targeting data" she said, hesitantly pulling back into a safer position now that the threat of aircraft kept her at bay. She resisted the urge to plunge back forward, instead loosing rack after rack of missiles to batter the enemy position and keep them suppressed, taking the occasional shot from her rifle when she thought she had an opening.
As much as the order to keep their aircraft grounded annoyed the troops, it made sense. It would be far too conspicuous. For all his decadence and mood swings, Michael Gauge did not earn a target on his back for raiding Kivotos property over and over.

But it didn’t mean the Steel Talons came unprepared. The Swatter missiles equipped on their fire support mechs - including Dire Star - were made for such a task. And the Hydras, also hearkening back to the 24th century, were in place. As the skirmishers spotted for their comrades, the aircraft had swept low, intent on dive-bombing the ruins.

A wall of fire greeted them. The Hydras fired their twin rotaries into the air, filling the sky with bursts of gold on blue. The missile-based fire support followed soon after, adding the rumble of missiles to the symphony of war. But some made it through the gunfire and missiles, releasing their deadly payload into the ruins where they could. Runners and infantry teams disgorged from APCs disappeared in columns of smoke, while the unlucky few mechs who got hit became nothing more than craters. Gasping dying words filled the comms as the aircraft swung upwards again. Another pass would come, but the counterfire from the force would hopefully dissuade them for making another attempt.

For her part, Louise had only tagged two of the close air support in that initial pass. Some Runners had decided to punish his lapse in attention by raking Dire Star with gunfire. Alas - their weapons were too light to do any lasting damage, and she’d promptly returned the favor by sending her mech’s foot out, catching one and crushing it against the ground.

She ignored the splotch of red from the cockpit glass, returning her attention back to the matter at hand. The tide of pirates were slowing down, with less mechs and more APCs rolling out from the forest like ants from a hill. Ammunition for her missiles was down to 40%; soon enough, it would just be lasers and the promise of pain if any pilot was foolhardy enough to get too close to Dire Star.

“Blacklight, how are we doing?” she spoke, pulling her mech away from it’s position and towards another source of cover. “Spotted anything yet? Support units got hit with that pass, and they’re definitely gonna be coming back for another round soon!”

More bursts of comms chatter. Louise’s hands gripped the controls tighter. “Alpha have spotted black mechs coming in from your way! Those are his personal retinue!”
"Nothing yet!" Jace called out, running her thrusters at full tilt in order to get herself into some hard cover to avoid the oncoming barrage of enemy air support. It was lucky they'd brought countermeasures, she counted her blessings as the majority of the enemy flyers ran into heavy resistance as they closed in for the initial bombing run, though the few that pierced the wall of AA and managed to drop their payload put a sinking feeling in Jace's chest. The reaction on comms was immediate, the call for support, the terror in their voice and then.. silence... some people just aren't lucky.

She kept her distance from the bulk of the fighting, as much as she wanted to dive into the thick of things she was being relied on to keep the enemy occupied on this side, force them to fight on two fronts. Salvo after salvo roared from those shoulder mounted launchers, empty missile racks dropping with a metallic clatter at her feet while she focused on picking out key targets with her carbine. The rhythm of combat was easy to slip into, especially in a drawn out fight like this. Take aim, fire, reposition, repeat, the same four step dance repeated ad nauseam, it was a dangerous pattern to fall into if she let herself, especially when a bolt from the blue to take her out at any moment.

When Jace got the next message over comms her expression seemed to light up, it certainly shined through in her response, she'd been waiting eagerly for the main event... "Copy! I'll be ready for 'em!" she called back, her eyes sweeping across the battlefield before falling down to her mech radar in anticipation.
The enemy squad had an asinine name that Louise couldn’t remember off the top of her head. No time for such trivialities. What mattered is that the honor guard were here. And where the honor guard was, it was likely that Gauge wouldn’t be too far behind.

Unlike the rest of the regular force, they did have solid intel behind them. Five women, all piloting refurbished Imperial mechs. Swordsmen. Middle of the road, solid. Reliable. The workhorse of the Imperial Army. While they were most likely battlefield salvage, the women in the cockpits were a step above Gauge’s forces. Better equipment was assumed in the briefing room and confirmed when a laser pinged off one of the Swordsmen’s shields harmlessly, the offender being forced to retreat when missiles sought their target.

Five targets. Trying to split them up wouldn’t work; they were known for sticking together. They would not be tricked so easily like the chaff. Runners and Striker debris littered the battlefield already, and the overwhelming response to their pass had seemingly forced the aircraft to stay their distance for the moment. Their Hydras continued to strike at them, the staccato of the rotaries like rolling thunder across the ruins.

“We’ve got his girls!” Karl snarled into the mic, a harsh, guttural growl that promised nothing but pain. “Alpha will be drawing them into the killzone. Fire support, tag those fuckers once the sky’s clear and the chaff’s been dealt with! Gauge won’t be too far behind!”
Alpha. Dakota and her squadmates. Dakota was in a Hesperides, Kivotos’ own workhorse medium. Laser rifle, jump-jets and affordable shielding. Same with the rest of the squad, befitting their status as part of the elite. They got the Hesperides more-or-less because they were the top fighters in the company. Now would be their trial by fire in their new mechs.

In the distance, she watched as the black mechs turned to chase after Alpha’s fresh-off-the-lines silver. The skirmishers had more or less stopped the tide of cannon fodder, with Gravity Spiral’ visible on the radar.

“I’m sure you heard that loud and clear.” Louise said. Another salvo of missiles clawed their way into the heavens, seeking more targets. “But I’m not letting Alpha hog the spotlight. It’s a killzone. A little shot to the cockpit of one of them will do wonders for us both.” Her eyes flickered to the location on the provided topological map on Dire Star’s board. “Unless you’d like to wait for Gauge to show up instead?”

Kivotos pressed the need to capture him alive, but did not mention anything similar for his concubines. Alpha could give themselves the pat on the back for putting Gauge’s women out of their misery, but if Louise or Jacelyne landed the blow that enabled Gauge’s capture…
"Yeah, I heard it alright" Jace called back as she let fly another swarm of missiles to cover for herself while she shifted cover. She was running too hot and she knew it, needed time to cool down and let her shields recharge, but the enemy wasn't allowing it, pressing her whenever she gave them a spare moment. Out of the corner of her eye Jace watched as the five targets were drawn towards Alpha squad, things were going according to plan, but she could already tell that the five swordsmen would go down fighting,

"Kinda thinkin' about letting Alpha squad have em though, the main event hasn't shown up yet, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little eager to see how a man like him handles a mech. Definitely wouldn't mind taking a few shots at the killzone, I've still got missiles, I'll defer to your judgement" she checked her ammo display, missiles down to 30% while her rifle ammo was sitting around 48%, jump jet fuel was still holding at around 60% though so at least she had options when it came to mobility, but she'd have to hang back to rearm soon. She played it economically with her missiles from here on, switching to an aggressive counterassault with her carbine and a pair of shock knives, using the blades to rip through the first mech to get too close like a hot knife through butter.

Through it all, she kept an eye on the progress of Gague's girls as they closed in on the killzone, anxiously awaiting the rain of air support on the open target. The logical part of her mind told her that'd be the end of it, nothing could withstand a barrage like that, especially out in the open without cover. However, Jace knew enough about Pirates to understand that they could be tricky when they put their mind to it. Gauge not showing meant he still potentially had a trick up his sleeve, until he took to the field, anything could happen...
Stroking her chin in thought, Louise leaned back into her seat. Dire Star’s hand reeled back, letting the Striker fall to the ground. Like a puppet with its strings cut, it collapsed. The force’s ammunition was a joke; the Strikers were beginning to resort to melee combat. The knives and swords were coming out to play.

It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so pathetic. The blade that the now-downed Striker had more-or-less pinged right off the armor of Dire Star. A more modern mech would’ve been in grave danger; for a 24th century mech, it was nothing but an annoyance. Louise shifted in her seat.

Blacklight gave her answer over the radio. The woman was eager, hungry; a little too keen. She wasn’t all that new, but maybe being moved up to the veteran squads had lit a fire in her. This was her first mission in the upper echelons of the Talons. Gauge presented a wonderful target for her - a stepping stone for career advancement.

It wasn’t wrong to think of it that way. The Talons had been contracted to Kivotos for over a decade by this point, and Louise had spent much of her life under their employ. They paid well, dealt with the company fairly, and were, for lack of a better term, the go-to troubleshooters for the megacorporation. Rivals existed, of course, but they were newer, fresh groups who formed in the clamor and thunder of the Second Solar War. They didn’t have the record they did.

And what a record it would be if Blacklight managed to land the killing shot on Kivotos’ current boogeyman. The brass would shower her in accolades, give her a pay rise. Kivotos would happily refurbish her ride. And Louise’s, too. Credit was to be shared, after all; Louise was the leader of Epsilon. Even if it was just the two of them at the moment.

“Fine,” she grunted, “we’ll wait for Gauge to show up. But I don’t want to see anything fancy. Don’t drag out the fight for too long, otherwise the other squads might engage in some fuckery of their own.”

People would do anything to get some recognition. What was a little kill-stealing among mercenaries?
Jace felt the structure of Gravity Spiral shudder as she clashed with one of the Strikers, felt its blade slam into hers and cause her to stagger backwards. It didn't take long for her to regain her footing, however, and in a practiced motion Jace caught the Striker by the blade arm and hooked it under her own, pulling the mech forward to drive her knife between the gap in its shoulder armor plating deep enough to hit the power distributer. The Striker went limp, though Jace hardly had time to celebrate before more of them were upon her, maneuvering to corner her so they could take her in an uneven fight. The pirates managed to sap a little more shield integrity and jumpjet fuel for their trouble as Jace nimbly ducked back and away, aiming to force a series of one on one engagements rather than an all out brawl.

"I'll keep it quick, play things by the book, still got an alpha strike or two with his name on it~" admittedly, the success of the ambush and the subsequent massacre had the veteran pilot feeling more cocky than usual. It's hard not to feel invincible when there's so much disparity between you and the enemy. The prospect of earning a little extra glory by taking down the enemy leader had also crossed her mind.

Jace had been eager to prove herself from the moment she'd joined up with the Talons. She needed fast friends and a couple of favors lined up ahead of time before she'd ever start to feel safe in a new system like this. And knowing the track record of her old friends, Jace didn't have a lot of time. This fast promotion of sorts had been a blessing, the perfect opportunity to make a name for herself, an opportunity Jace had no plans of squandering.

The pilot kept an eye on her mech radar for any signs of Gauge as she carefully worked her way through the canon fodder. She also watched the situation between Alpha squad and the girls play out over her topological map, more than a little curious to see how well the pirate's entourage would manage, especially knowing that their leader would inevitably be far better equipped. Jace just had to hope she had the ammo for an extended fight if things went pear shaped.
Saving ammunition for the alpha strike meant choosing her targets carefully. The lasers were doing great work in this regard, stripping whatever shielding it could and turning the lightly armored mechs into molten slag. Physical weaponry was much better to use against armor - but did it really matter, when the Striker that composed their forces were all shoddy and poorly maintained? The majority of the force was more-or less wiped out, with stragglers surrendering or fighting to the very end to avoid capture.

The latter group were, judging from the comms, far larger. Corporations never showed mercy to anyone trying to hinder their payday. Pirates just happened to be far more acceptable targets than other mercenary groups. The former could be wiped out with no repercussions - they were hostis humani generis, enemies of all mankind. The latter were just people looking for payment for services rendered. It would reflect very poorly on the corporation should they just annihilate any inconvenient mercenary group.
She sighed. The cockpit shook, and the groan of metal under strain reached a terrible crescendo before stilling. Dire Star lifted its foot, leaving the mangled remains of another Striker under heel.

Alpha was broadcasting. From the uproarious laughter, they were absolutely taking their time.

The contacts were weaving around each other. Louise could already imagine it in her minds’ eye, a dizzying melee where both Gauge’s lovers and Alpha danced with their opposites. Swords brandished between the cacophony of missiles and gunfire. But for all their experience, it seemed that Kivotos’ Hesperides edged them out technologically - and Alpha, in skill.

It would be over for the pirate lord’s lovers soon. Louise turned her attention to the rest of the map. Infantry elements were starting to wind down. Whatever leftover heavy metal the pirates had were being shredded…

Louise paused. New contact. High speed, coming with another wave lagging behind it. Far smaller than the ones previously.

Command had her beat. “Last wave! Last wave!”

What a shitty Hail Mary, Louise thought. How did he ever get so many people working for him if he throws their lives away like this?

“There’s our target, Blacklight.” Louise tapped her comms piece. “Wave tactics to exhaust our ammo. What a cold bastard. You think you can handle him?”

Dire Star was already locking on. Her lasers would short out the shielding, and then it would be up to Blacklight to dance with the devil himself. She was confident. The other woman had proven herself before, before climbing to Epsilon through skill and a few dead veterans. On the off chance she faltered… Louise doubted that Gauge would be able to survive a wall of missiles. She still had enough left for two alpha strikes.
Jace was starting to cool off a bit as the fighting began to die down, the waves of pirates were slowly starting to go down without anybody coming to replace them, it seemed even the endless horde under Gauge's command had its limits. The veteran pilot's attention went to the battle between Alpha squad and Gauge's girls, watching with some interest as the whirlwind of close quarters fighting drew out into a pitched brawl, it turned out Jace had nothing to worry about, Alpha would take the girls down in the end, even if they were sent home with a few scars for their trouble.

She was almost starting to feel disappointed, that Gauge wouldn't actually show, that she may have made the wrong call leaving her role in this battle as a footnote on the flank, impressive maybe, but ultimately less important compared to Alpha squads grand victory.

Luckily for Louise and Jacelyne both, this wouldn't ultimately be the case. Jace was still busy mopping up the cannon fodder when she got the call, perking up in her seat and turning to look down at her map, catching the fast moving contacts at the furthest gridsquare making a rapid approach to reinforce the broken pirate forces.

Gauge was clearly getting desperate, even Jace could tell, who in the world was he trying to fool throwing more bodies into the meat grinder? He must have some sort of plan, he had to, Jace just couldn't imagine anyone, even a pirate being so careless with the last of his forces. It wasn't just a risky play, it was downright moronic!

"I've got him! Feed me target locks when you got em, He won't even see me coming" she grinned, no matter what Gauge's plan was Jace felt confident, she'd spent the better part of this battle clearing out his men without a second thought and this hardly felt different. All Jace had to do was make sure that she was in the right place at the right time. She started pushing forward, slowly but surely making her way through the wave of enemy reinforcements, avoiding overcommitting to engagements and conserving her ammo. The plan here was one of immediate aggression, she was biding her time, carefully watching for the man himself to enter her effective range so she could rush him down with a rapid alpha strike in CQC, putting herself at an immediate advantage.
Michael Gauge announced his arrival with a bellow on open comms.

“You motherfuckers! You know how long it took for me to scrape up this force? Huh?! Kivotos will pay for this! You lapdogs are gonna be wishing I killed you by the time I’m done!”

True to the spooks’ intel, it was also a modified Swordsman. Unlike his bridal squad, it was painted an obnoxious shade of red that burned the eyes. Across its chest, a lion roared in triumph, covering the majority of it in its golden mane. The head, shaped like a knight’s helm, was shadowed by the sword that lent the mech its name. A missile pod on the left; dual wielding sub-machine guns.

Here he was. The target that would make her rich. And Blacklight, too, she supposed.

Steel Talon assets were already moving to engage the last wave, with their Runners and infantry already swarming new buildings and roads, taking potshots at the Strikers that came though from the trees. A force of mostly one type of mech was easy enough to take care of. The Boreas that comprised their skirmisher forces were goading them into unfavorable positions where they could sneak up and drive their knives into exposed cockpits. Streaks of white from dilapidated croppings slammed into heads. There were a few Runners too, but it seemed that this last, desperate push was all Gauge had left.

And whatever aircraft that had survived the initial pass were coming back down, but the Hydras spat their venom, rotaries seething with heat and fury as they screeched their answer. That force would be neutered, their frames never taking to sky ever again.

Pirates. Mercurial little things, driven by their hatred of others and the need to prove themselves better. A force like Gauge’s, for all the fear it brought to the inhabitants of the sector, were nothing compared to the various companies contracted to Kivotos and its rivals in Prasinos. If there was one thing that the sector - for all its myriad polities and treacherous politics - could agree on, it would be that pirates would be exterminated with extreme prejudice.

The lock was painted. She pulled the trigger.

The onboard lasers of Dire Star spat out red lances that cut through the air and collided with their target. Overcharged, they clashed with the shields in a dazzling display of red and blue. Her cockpit automatically compensated for the intensity of the lightshow; the shield held, but flickered.

Immediately, the Swordsman turned in her direction, but those precious few seconds were all she needed. Another set of beams drove themselves against his shield. Gauge was dodging, peppering Dire Star with SMG fire as he tried to weave his way out of Dire Star’s fire.

“Fuck you!” he screamed over the thunder of his guns. But curses were all he could offer; one more hit from Dire Star, and his shield dissipated into nothingness. Muted blue gave way to red.

Open comms, Louise thought morosely. Always had one of those people, every now and then. At least he wouldn’t live long enough to be a headache.

Pulling Dire Star back into cover, Louise leaned back into her seat. “He’s all yours, Blacklight.”
The fresh chatter over open comms elicited a small grin from Jace as the red swordsman enter the fray. At the very least this would be entertaining, the red mech with the gaudy insignia, the custom head that provides no tactical advantage whatsoever and the proclivity for open comms. All the marks of a man who was just desperate to be paid attention to, desperate to be feared.

The display would almost feel sad if Jace didn't have the context, of the people he'd killed and the lives he'd ruined, the terror he'd inflicted on the system and the people living in it. They'd been given pretty strict orders to take the man in alive, but truth be told Jace wouldn't lose sleep tonight if he suffered some sort of accident here and now.

Ultimately though, the future of Jace's career won over any lofty ideals, this was her ticket to the big leagues and she wasn't about to waste it.

As soon as she felt safe from the fighting she got into position nearby, letting Dire Star soak up the pirate's aggression while she braced against a nearby building behind him, pinching the man in between herself and Louise.

She watched the exchange of fire between her squadmate and Gauge like a hungry animal waiting for its next meal, the man's shields were clearly better than the chaff she'd been clearing her way through up to this point, but the moment that layer of protection was stripped away all bets were off. Her eyes fell to a point on the nape of the swordsman's neck, somewhat unfamiliar due to the differently shaped head, but a spot Jace recognized all the same. If she could penetrate the armor there with a shaped charge from her carbine, then she could punch through to damage the fiber optic cable underneath that linked the cockpit to the fusion engine, sever the mech's central nervous system, in essense, and shut the whole thing down. All she needed was the right opportunity, and a little patience.

The moment that Gauge's shield popped was all the opportunity she needed, she didn't wait for Louise's command, this was the moment she'd been waiting for. Jace input her targeting data and got a solid lock, taking the shot without a moments hesitation, the rocklet streaming down the battlefield towards its destination. The veteran pilot didn't wait to see if she'd scored a hit, she wasn't taking her chances, breaking from her cover and letting a swarm of short ranged missiles tear itself from her twin launchers to hammer against the mech's back armor.
The way Gravity Spiral launched into action was something to be admired. Blacklight wasted no time in firing her shots. Missiles flung themselves towards their target. The first smeared itself against the Swordsman’s arm. The dying embers of the shield absorbed the blow, but shrapnel sprayed across the chest, smearing the lion in smoke black and red-hot orange. Gauge veered away, clear after-market modifications to his Swordsman letting him thread the needle through Gravity Spiral’s wall.

Swordsmen were not meant for prolonged flight. If anything, the thrusters were meant for gap-closing. A workhorse medium it may have been, but the truth of what the mech was made for was in the name. Physical ammunition was most strongly associated with the Swordsman for a reason. To tear. To slash at steel behind failing shields.

Granted, it was just one of a handful of middleweight mechs that made up the Imperial arsenal. But it was distinct.

Louise watched the clash from the safety of cover. The last wave had crashed against the defense like water against cliffs. Gauge’s last-ditch force broke themselves on the ruins, and there would be no mercy. The burst of triumphant cackling from the comms told her all she needed to know. Alpha had crushed their opponent underheel. Dakota, in her vanity, would no doubt be posing over the burning wrecks of her enemies. The Hesperides had proven itself well, it seemed.

There was little she had to do.

The pirate lord seemed to struggle with articulate speech, yelling various curses and slurs at his opponent. The Swordsman echoed its pilot’s fury, blasting at his enemy with an alpha strike. Belligerent piloting, constantly screaming on the waves… it was a wonder that he didn’t die of an aneurysm before coming here.

Louise paused. Her radar lit up with contacts at the edge of her sensor range. More reinforcements?
Jace braced for impact as the swordsman's alpha crashed against her shield, tearing through and hammering into the armor plating beneath before Jace had the chance to back off. She cursed under her breath as her display lit up with errors, the left torso missile rack was offline and she was leaking coolant. It wasn't enough to make the veteran pilot sweat just yet but it was an annoyance. She leveled her carbine and cracked off a few shots in close quarters, her thrusters firing in short bursts as she drifted across the battlefield, strafing her opponent.

Fighting against Gravity Spiral definitely lived up to the name, it was a dizzying experience, like facing down a hurricane while standing in the eye of it, knowing that it'd crash down on you at any moment but not knowing exactly how or when. Jace ducked from cover to cover, never keeping herself exposed for too long, intent on whittling the man down until he wore himself out and gave in to capture. Sooner or later he'd be done for, she just had to keep hammering away with her carbine and the occasional missile barrage until there was nothing left.

She could also no longer resist the urge to let out a snide remark or two over open comms. Jace had shown notable restraint up to this point when the element of surprise was a necessity, but now that she had the man right where she wanted him, now that victory was almost assured, she just couldn't help herself, taking every opportunity to taunt the man, goading him into further aggression so that she could take advantage of his clumsy retaliation.

It took Jace far too long to notice the five blips on her radar rapidly approaching her location, she didn't catch sight of them until they were practically right on top of her, an alarm in her cockpit blaring to warn her of a new mechs in proximity, IFF: Trapdoor Squadron, fast movers, danger close!

A Berserker frame led the charge, flanked by two Strider frames on either side of it, a Rainmaker providing missile support and a Phantom strafing the edge of the combat zone seeking out an attack from the flank. The long ranged frames fired indiscriminantly upon Gauge and Jace, a superheated railgun slug grazing Jace's armor on its path to the pirate lord, missiles raining all around them as Jace tried to back her way into cover, thumbing open comms again to shout at the new pilots on the field. "What the FUCK are you doing!?"

The blue and white color scheme of the Skeleton Key mercenary company was fairly recognizable to most of the Steel Talons, the two companies operated in the same territory and often butted heads for contracts, never this directly, though, this was a wholly new development.

The Berserker frame spoke up in response, brandishing a wicked looking chain axe, its head lovingly adorned in a crown made of spent fuel rods, IFF referred to them as 'Trapdoor-1'. "oughta clear out, small fry, we're taking this one" said an older woman's voice over comms, her tone was cold, as if she didn't mind whether Jace took her advice or not, her chain axe swung all the same as she chased Gauge down under the supportive fire of her teammates.
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