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  1. Three years later: 7
  2. CH 42
  3. Axylus 3025
  4.  
  5. “Is it just me, or is this kind of boring?” Jessica was well known for her lackadaisical attitude towards most things, but even she didn’t usually call blowing up pirates boring.
  6.  
  7. “I prefer to think of it as the result of proper planning and deployment.” Harri commented, idly triggering a carefully placed double burn of BJ’s large lasers into the last pirate tank, a heavy Bulldog tank in poor repair. “If anything, feel sorry for the poor bastards driving tanks in a vacuum.” The whole Harri burned into the side of the tank wasn’t quite 9cm wide, but she could see a brief gout of air and debris go flying out through it.
  8.  
  9. “You think if we just stand out here pot shotting everything they send out, Sybil will do us a favor and kill everyone in the base for us?” Miranda had a valid point. The pirates comm discipline was abysmal and hearing Grim Sybil threaten and scream at her tank drivers had been amusing at first. It had gotten to be a bit much when she’d started executing her own men however.
  10.  
  11. “I doubt we’re that lucky.” Harri sighed again. “But that’s what we have the marines for.”
  12.  
  13. Taking down the radar towers had been childishly easy. They were tall enough to shoot from almost anywhere on this hemisphere of the moon. Without atmosphere to attenuate the beams of her large lasers, Harri had easily snipped all the dishes off the top of each of them from a kilometer away.
  14.  
  15. Predictably that had sent a small force of tanks scrambling out to attack the Harpies, tanks that were stuck to the well defined roads plowed through the lunar boulders and dust. The tanks had rounded a hill and come face to face with Destrier and their new second Shadowhawk brawler Calavera. Only the Bulldog had survived long enough for Harri to get her shots in.
  16.  
  17. “Speaking of which…” Harri shifted channels, “Dekker! What’s the word?”
  18.  
  19. “All generators and turrets are down.” He replied. “Dekker is sweeping inside the main compound now, but not seeing much. Dekker sees an airlock big enough for mechs near the front of the Argo, but nothing else.”
  20.  
  21. Even after three years of working with the man he still got on her nerves, but at least he could back it up. The Firestarter he drove now was called the “Golden Earth Tiger” in Chinese, apparently some sort of spider native to some of the thicker aired worlds in the Confederation that ate birds and small dogs. The mech had enough small lasers on it to threaten something twice its weight, and enough speed to get away from anything bigger.
  22.  
  23. “About as good as we’re going to get then.” Harri grunted, switching channels again to talk to Sumire. “Coast is clear Angelwatch. You’ve got a clear approach path to the derelict.”  
  24.  
  25. “Two steps ahead of you Harpy! Watch yourself commander, I’m coming in hot!” Sumire wasn’t fucking around, the dropship hurtling in so low that the battlemechs ducked. The Leopard kicked up an immense cloud of dust and debris when it’s belly rockets fired, obscuring everything in a gray haze. “The package is delivered Harpy! Ice Queen is knocking on their door now. Bacon is setting up triage in the mechbay, so don’t expect the doors to be open for you quickly.”
  26.  
  27. The walled in courtyard around the Argo was now a soup bowl of swirling dust particulates thankfully settling as quickly as the low gravity allowed. Harri pushed BJ forward a few steps and cursed when she crunched into something. “This dust sucks. Hold tight for a sec and keep your thermal scans on. There’s still mechs around here somewhere.”
  28.  
  29. “Sometimes Dekker wishes you weren’t so good at this.” Amir chimed in. “Picking up three mechs inbound and a couple more tanks as well.”
  30.  
  31. The dust was rapidly clearing, but the bug mechs had been almost skillful in using it to rush in closer than they should have been able to. Underrunning a standard Shadowhawk or a Blackjack was a good idea in most cases, none of the mechs the Harpies fielded were standard anymore. The stinger that had charged Behemoth in a Wasp had all of 3 seconds to regret his life choices before she launched a staggering punch into the little 20 tonner, sinking a clawed fist so deep in its chest plasma seeped out around them from a punctured fusion engine.
  32.  
  33. Harri herself let out a whoop as she kicked in her jumpjets and flew right at the Stinger attempting to assault her. She could hear machine gun bullets pinging off her armor, but cared little about that return fire. The Stinger pilot hasn’t half bad. He ducked as Harri flew through the space where his head had been, neatly avoiding a death from above. But that had never been her goal. When she landed the arms of her beloved BJ had entirely flipped over, and two brilliant laser beams bored into the fragile rear armor of the bug.
  34.  
  35. The last of the bug mechs was a Locust, which at the moment was more or less literally melting away as it ran afoul of the half dozen small lasers Dekker mounted on his Firestarter. With those out of the way, the only things remaining were a couple of Galleons, which Sleeper and Dekker were more than happy to deal with.
  36.  
  37. “You think you’re gonna steal my ship! You miserable little scrub! NOBODY steals from Grim Sybil!” A particularly ragged looking Quickdraw lurched out of the gates and to everyone’s surprise paused for a moment. It lifted two beefy middle fingers up to the Harpies. “I’m gonna carve you like a roasted” Sybil’s ranting didn’t last very long, as a stationary target with the particular style of very large cockpit the Quickdraw had was too inviting.
  38.  
  39. Two thick laser beams connected Harri’s BlackJack to the cockpit of Grim Sybil’s mech, and then the Quickdraw was slowly falling backwards into the dusty lunar surface. “For fucks sake, who the hell stands still and monologues on a battlefield.”
  40.  
  41. A Shadowhawk had come out of the gate with Sybil, and Harri could see it edging back towards the Argo. “Oy! Pirate Scum!” Harri began broadcasting in the clear. “Sybil is very messily dead. All of your defenses are down. All your tanks and mechs have been destroyed. And we brought two companies of Marines to clear out your bases. Surrender now and you’ll be granted a fair trial. Continue to resist and you will all be liquidated. Decide quick.”
  42.  
  43. The Shadowhawk rather comically raised both its arms over its head.
  44.  
  45. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  46.  
  47. In the bowels of the Leopard, Ice Queen tried her best to keep her lunch down while her inner ear told her she was falling. She was, in fact, falling quite rapidly. But seeing as how it was Sumire plotting the descent path she fully trusted that they’d hit the ground safely. That knowledge didn’t do anything to settle her stomach, but at least this was something she was prepared for.
  48.  
  49. In the three months since she’d signed up, Ice Queen had suffered through a lot of torments she either hadn’t understood at the time or still didn’t quite get. Exactly why they had been put in a shuttle and then flown through barrel rolls and dives until they were all sick made sense now, because after that treatment an actual combat landing wasn’t so bad in comparison.
  50.  
  51. The same went for the training with the earmuff helmets. It had been sweltering, running around the starport boneyard in helmets lined with sound deadening foam. The sauna like helmets had forced them to learn to use their radios and hand signs to communicate. They had also all learned to ignore discomfort from things like sweat pooling around their necks and breathing humid stale air. That experience had served them well when they trained on the surface of one of Detroit’s moons after getting their suits.
  52.  
  53. By far most of their training had gone into the suits they were wearing and the weapons they carried. Ice Queen had cherry picked her suit from the crates the Commander had brought back to Detroit. The suits were Taurian in design, a tight fitting body glove of tough woven fibers with thin armor plates over it. The Commander said they were called Rock Jock suits, made to survive the odd industrial accident with a mining laser or blasting charge. The suits had been a riot of different colors, until they’d all been repainted a uniform matt black.
  54.  
  55. But all this wool gathering was just Ice Queen trying to distract herself from what was about to happen.  She cut over to internal air and fastened the splinter shield over her face. The armored masks were the only things the troops were allowed to decorarte, and naturally there was predominantly a skull motif in the unit. Ice Queens face shield was a skull wearing a viking helmet. Most of the troops had gone for either demonic skull faces or those odd brightly colored skulls covered in flowers.
  56.  
  57. “ETA to drop 2 minutes! Everyone cut over to internal air and check your O2 lbs. If your tanks aren’t staying full you’re staying behind!” As much as Ice Queen wanted to walk up and down the benches and personally check her people she couldn’t. There were far too many and second now the dropship would…
  58.  
  59. The Hysteria fired it’s belly rockets and the ship screamed to a halt, everyone’s belly dropping to slosh in their hips as the ship pulled brutal acceleration before literally slamming down on thick landing gear. Ice Queen’s teeth clacked against each other once, before the sensation of falling returned. This time it was just the low gravity of the moon, which meant it was time.
  60.  
  61. “All sections fall in. Keep it tight you shitstains, and god help you if I see anyone loading a gun yet.” There’d been more than one accidental discharge in training, and she’d be damned if she was going to lose someone today because the idiot behind them couldn’t keep his finger off the trigger.
  62.  
  63. She heard a chorus of voices over the radio as everyone formed up by fire teams and grabbed their door knockers. The silence was deafening as the mech bay doors snapped up and everyone charged into the dust clouds kicked up by their landing. The Commander and the mech jocks had done their job, as no turrets opened fire to shred them while they were leaping like rabbits across the Lunar terrain. Every now and then someone would land in a puddle of moon dust and sink waist deep or deeper in the drifts
  64.  
  65. They were left behind. If they couldn’t pull themselves out the Canopians following in the second wave would. They couldn’t be trapped out in the open, they’d all die if that happened. For Ice Queen is was the longest three minutes of her life, running in awkward leaps to the dubious safety of the Argo’s hull. She could see three airlock hatches on this side alone, and as she ran she shifted a couple of fire teams to make sure all of them were evenly covered.
  66.  
  67. She finally heard something when she misjudged her last leap and crashed into the side of the Argo. The clang and rattle were reassuringly normal, as was the feeling of the shotgun in her hands. It was loaded with alternating shells, one armor piercing slug and one flechette. As one of the least heavily laden trooper she was one of the first to the airlocks, where she threw herself to the dirt and waited for the door knockers to arrive.
  68.  
  69. Sure enough the airlock hatch began to slowly creep open, and from where she lay she could see a score of boots shuffling impatiently for it to finish opening. She fired as soon as she had a clear shot, the gun shoving her bodily back into the dirt as the slug sent an armored boot and the leg inside it flying deeper into the airlock. She slam fired as quickly as she could, pouring flechettes and slugs into the airlock as the hatch reversed directions and slammed shut.
  70.  
  71. Ice Queen’s hands shook as she fumbled with shells from her belt, trying to push them into the shotgun. “There’s at least 10 pirates in there. Not sure how many I got. Set a knocker on each side wall and fire ASAP.” She tried to sound calm when she gave orders, but once her radio was off she allowed herself a minute of ragged panting to hold back her fear.
  72.  
  73. Even broken down into pieces and in half gravity the door knockers had a lot of mass to them, and it was long minutes before she began to hear the first “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” from the doormen. Firing them was anticlimactic, at least from the outside of the air locks. Just a slow plume of air escaping from the breech of the weird contraptions. But that was good. With the airlock seals broken any pirates still alive in them were cutoff.
  74.  
  75. The Canopian combat engineers had looked much more skilled and professional in the dropship, but more of them got stuck in the dust pits or just plain tripped and fell on the way than her troops had. Their arrival was almost leisurely in comparison, though it couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes for them to reach the air locks and force them open. Ice Queen got to see what happened when two door knockers went off in a crowded airlock. When the hatch cracked open boiling blood began to seep out.
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