Hi. I posted this one over at the Classic Battletech forums, and decided to bring it here too. Don't worry, I'm still working on Another Option, and the next chapter of Scions of Sunnydale should be hitting your screens in a week or so. Anyway, enjoy, and let me know what you think. *** Falcon Command Post, Toland City, Toland, Jade Falcon Occupation Zone 15th December, 3057 Star Colonel Isabelle Helmer knelt in line with her surviving warriors, still shocked by the events of the last few days. Even now, she simply could not believe that any of it was really happening. First sign of trouble had been an explosion that rocked Toland’s capital. The annoying insurgency that had alternately amused and frustrated the Clan had apparently sabotaged the HPG, doing significant damage to the transmitter array. Within hours, the star port warned that six Overlord class DropShips were inbound from a pirate point, ignoring all transmissions. They did not issue a batchall, or announce their intention. They simply flew towards Toland, insulting Isabelle with their silence. Infuriated, she had decided that they were pirates: House troops or mercenaries would have at least attempted to communicate, in their clumsy attempts to imitate Clan ways. Such were to be humored, before being crushed: pirates were simply to be hunted down. Thus, she commanded the aerospace Binary attached to her Provisional Garrison Cluster to intercept and destroy: no more were needed, as pirates could barely keep their ramshackle vessels functioning. She knew this, because she had fought in Operation Revival, cutting a swath through the pirate kingdoms of the Periphery. So it was something of a shock when the Star Captain in command of the twenty Falcon fighters reported dozens of heavy fighters escorting the intruders - shortly before contact was lost. Most of the units that normally occupied Toland (one did not accuse front-line clusters of ‘garrisoning’ worlds unless one wished to be challenged to a Trial of Grievance) were off world, fighting the Wolves. Thus it was left to the Eleventh PGC to drive off this pirate band. So be it, she had retorted, They shall be ground to dust beneath the feet of our ‘Mechs! Her eyes flicked over to where Star Commander Nathan’s body lay cooling, a pool of blood spreading from the bullet hole that went in the back of his head and out through an eye socket. Nathan had objected when their captors had forced them to kneel. Had even injured one. Now all eight survivors, including herself, were restrained by steel manacles behind their backs, with burly men in black cooling suits flanking each, with firm holds on their arms. Behind each was a third, with a large caliber pistol pointed at their backs. Since Nathan’s resistance, the invaders were taking no chances. It began so well, she silently lamented, shaking her head. *** *** *** Her Cluster had hurried to the landing site, eager to close with the attackers. Again and again she challenged them over clear frequencies, and received only cowardly static in return. First contact had come from a lance of medium ‘Mechs clearing a rise. Her own Hellbringer had cut down three before the fourth, a Centurion, retreated. Which was when the Cluster was struck on both flanks. Not mere mediums, but heavy and assault ‘Mechs. She had laughed, glad for a greater challenge. Her glee had turned to concern as reports from Star Commanders began returning, speaking of heavy damage. It seemed the foe was heavily upgraded, even to the point of mounting weapons produced by the Clans! Her fury grew, as reports flooded in of entire lances concentrating fire on individual ‘Mechs! Relentlessly she forced her OmniMech forward, desperate to reach the left front, her honor demanding that she strike down those who would dare attack the Falcon! Which was about when her Command Star ran into the enemy's van. A full battalion of assault 'Mechs, led by a lance of some of the oddest looking 'Mechs Isobell had ever seen. Before she could respond, they opened fire. Leading the way was a squat, bulky thing with enormous autocanon at the ends of it's arms, as well as missile launchers and lasers in the hunched-over body. Something like the product of a mixed-bloodline sibco consisting of Atlas, Crusader and Axeman genes brought up the rear, with shoulders, chest and forearms bristling with long-ranged missile launchers. Even as she saw it, it vanished in a cloud of propellant, as an unholy number of missiles were launched. She barely glimpsed the third 'Mech, which mounted an astonishing four gauss rifles, and each seemed to be unerringly aimed at her. But the greatest horror was the black-painted Devastator that stalked inexorably forward, both gauss-armed forearms firing as quickly as they could cycle, azure lightning barking from it's ER-PPCs. The horror of a 'Mech designed by the Great Kerensky himself was the last thought that went through her mind as a fusillade of gauss rounds, autocanon fire, particle beams and missiles tore her heavy OmniMech apart. *** *** *** She forced herself back to the present as a small group of people approached the parade ground where she and her fellow Falcons were forced to kneel. Her nostrils flared as she saw one, clearly a laborer with his rough clothes and dirty skin, brazenly carrying a rifle slung over one shoulder. "... can't thank you enough," the rebel was saying, his vile language tainted by a German accent. "Can't recall the last time the Birdies got a pasting like that." His companion, a female redhead of somewhat less than average height, nodded, her compact neurohelmet tucked under one arm. She wore what was recognisably a Clan-designed cooling suit, dyed light-eating black except for where straps and buckles dully reflected the afternoon light. A heavy pistol was slung on one hip in a quick-draw holster, and she moved with the graceful steps of a practiced warrior. "It was a pleasure," she responded, her voice a purring contralto contained an unfamiliar accent. "The moronic battles these beasts engage in provide an excellent opportunity: if the Commonwealth were not in chaos due to the antics of their rulers, they would take advantage and reclaim much of the Tamar March before either th Falcons or the Wolves could recover." Tossing her long hair over one shoulder, she shrugged. "Hopefuly wiser heads will prevail. "In any case, my men are unloading four containers from my DropShips. The first contains medium machine guns, assault rifles, and ample ammunition." The rebel nodded. "Wonderful! The Clanners have some infantry here, but they are wretched: excellent equipment, but no concept of discipline or tactics. With your gifts, the Militia's veterans should be able to clear them out - until their heavier troops arrive from off world," he finished with a frown. The redhead clapped him on the shoulder. "Which is why the second and third containers carry shoulder-launched SRMs and anti-armor rockets, enough to make things interesting for the animals when they return," she said, somewhat sadly. "The last container contains a sizable quantity of explosives, and the tools to make more, so that your fight can continue," she finished, infuriating Isobel by brazenly giving this lower-class drone the ability to murder dozens, if not more, of his rightful betters! The laborer grinned vicioously. "All we ask, ma'am," he said, his voice harsh. "We'll keep the bastards busy until the Archon Prince gets his sis straightened out and gets around to taking back his worlds. We owe these weirdoes a debt of blood, we do." "I ... can certainly respect that," she said, her voice softening. "Reckon you could," said the rebel, offering the pirate's leader a salute, which she returned gravely. As the rebel stalked off to meet with his cronies, the pirate walked over to where the Falcons were held prisoner. She stopped short, and crouched down, so that she could look into Isobel's hate filled gaze. Isobel had fought pirates, mercenaries, House troops and rebels, but never before had she face eyes that were so empty of fear. As though this pirate failed to recognise the fury of the Falcon, and the dire fate she had brought upon herself. Sniffing, the pirate rose, dismissing Isobel and her companions in a manner that infuriated the proud Clan warriors. Summoning one of her minions, she said, "Those trees look sturdy enough. Get the rope." Isobel was baffled for a moment, then her eyes widened as she realised what the pirate intended. Heedless of the danger, she struggled against her captors as lengths of rope were flung over branches, and tied into nooses. "You can not!" she cried as she was hauled to her feet and dragged towards the trees, "We are Warriors of the Clans! We are Jade Falcon! You can not simply ..." The pirate spun on her heel, and fixed Isobel with a glare that silenced her. "Warriors? You name yourselves animals, beasts, so you shall be put down like beasts. You have no claim to honor, or duty, or compassion. You have divorced yourselves from the human race by your culture, your actions and your crimes, and so I feel no obligation to treat you as anything but mad dogs, diseased and rabid." Isobel spat at her, but the spittle fell short. "Who are you to decide that, pirate?" "Who am I?" If before those jade eyes held ice, they now were filled by fire. "I am justice for a raped world. I am vengeance for a murdered family. I am the specter of your nightmares, I am what you lay awake in bed at night and tell yourself cannot exist." She smiled, and Isobel was horrified to see that her canines were elongated and sharpened. "I am the Vampire von Strang, and I shall not rest until I have rid the galaxy of the last drop of Falcon blood." Turning on her heel, she stalked off, snapping off a final command to her men. "Hang them."