Rain Dance Rain pounded on the cockpit glass as Devon moved his machine through the steamy

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Rain Dance Rain pounded on the cockpit glass as Devon moved his machine through the steamy marsh. The dark water swirled around the monstrous machines legs. The mech resembled an armored giant slogging through a waist-high swamp. It blended well with its surroundings, its armor painted grayish-green with brown smudges rounding out the camouflage scheme. The dark shadows of the swamp swallowed the huge war machine under a canopy of trees. The only thing easily discernible in the darkness was the crest of Hansens Roughriders, emblazoned on the mechs shoulder. The horned skull of the Roughriders represented honor and professionalism throughout the inner sphere. That wouldnt help Devon out here while he faced the Clans. He slowed his mech as the magscan registered a reading at extreme range. There werent supposed to be any enemy mechs out this far. Maybe it was just an ore deposit or a civilian vehicle. Devon hoped so. If the Ghost Bears had already deployed, the Roughriders were in for a costly battle. Devon resisted the urge to thumb his communications link. His lance commander had been very specific with regards to radio silence. They did not want to alert the Clans to their presence before it was necessary. If the Roughriders could position their mechs between the Ghost Bears and the Kurita command post, they would be the hosts of the surprise party. They might even be able to hold Soverzene. It was a backwater planet but was strategic for the Ghost Bears continued advance. Ever since the Clans invasion of the Inner Sphere, trained mechwarriors had become a valuable commodity. Mercenary companies, like Hansens Roughriders, were never at a loss for lucrative contracts. However, the money didnt come without risks. Many of Devons friends in other companies had died at the hands of the Clans in the early days of the invasion. Devon had been somewhat luckier in that respect. His Enforcer, named Bushwacker, had kept him safe in several battles with the Ghost Bears and he didnt plan on letting that change. Only recently had the Houses launched successful campaigns against the Clans. The battle for Luthien had bolstered the morale of the Inner Spheres defenders. The magscans readings had not changed since the initial contact. Devon angled his mech toward the suspect reading, advancing onto more solid ground. As he cleared a patch of mangrove trees Devon stopped and rechecked his magscan readings. According to the scanner he was only a few hundred meters from the contact, but he didnt see anything out of the ordinary. No, there was something out there. He could make out the outline of some sort of vehicle hidden just past the tree line. "Magnification times 10," Devon ordered the mechs sensors to zoom in on the vehicle. Relief washed over him as he recognized the rusted remains of a civilian hover truck. Devons relief quickly turned cold as he caught the blur of motion behind the truck. Deep in the shadows of a tree, Devon could make out the shape of a small mech raising its arm to fire a weapon. His HUD identified the machine as a clan Fenris. The six- legged insignia of the Ghost Bears was painted on the torso of the enemy mech. Although Devons Enforcer outweighed the Fenris by five tons, the clan mech packed a powerful punch. Before he could react, the clan warrior opened fire with the PPC located in the mechs left arm. Blue energy leapt out at Bushwacker and lanced into its shoulder joint. In retaliation, Devon brought his autocannon into line with the Fenris, walking rounds toward the lurking mech. The slugs threw up mud and water, working their way toward the Fenris. The clan pilot side stepped, attempting to avoid Devons hail of fire. Despite the pilots desperate actions, autocannon rounds pounded his mechs legs. Craters appeared where Devons rounds landed. Supersonic shells impacted repeatedly on the Fenris weak leg armor, blasting it off in chunks. The sound of grinding metal drowned out the echoes of the autocannons shots. The clan mech staggered, its knee smashed and fused. Devon triggered another burst from his cannon, hoping to disable the Fenris before it could contact the rest of its star. This time splinters of ruined ferro-fibrous armor were blow from the Fenris left arm by the autocannons savage assault. Despite the damage, the Ghost Bear was able to bring his PPC and Laser to bear on Devons mech. Again, blue energy lashed out, striking the Enforcer in its already damaged shoulder, with the laser's ruby energy adding to the damage. Red lights flashed inside Devons cockpit. His mechs most potent weapon hung loosely at his side, crippled by a shattered servo-motor. Devon swore under his breath as he switched off the warning lights. Still wary of the larger mechs laser, the Fenris slipped behind the cover of a vine-covered mangrove. Devon was having trouble picking up the smaller mech on his magscan equipment. "Blast," he swore. His sensor array must have been damaged by flying debris during the short firefight. Without the sensor readout, Devon was a sitting duck if the Fenris decided to come back. His only chance was to pursue the clansman and hope he could spot him on the visual readout. He slowly advanced toward the trees, following the path the enemy mech cleared. Devon had a better than average chance of making a kill if he could just get close enough. But, if the Fenris caught him out in the open, Devon probably wouldnt survive. Mechwarrior Gilbert swore feverishly as he watched the advancing blip on his screen. The mercenary had opted to follow him into the copse of swamp trees. Gilberts Fenris had the edge in firepower, but he couldnt afford to go toe to toe with the heavier mech, and that blasted mercenary knew it. The other mech could take his apart in a short range battle. The larger Enforcer could carry more armor, making it more durable in a pitched battle. If Gilbert could strike repeatedly from long range, he could strip away the heavier mechs armor. He spurred the limping Fenris deeper into the copses shadows. Concealing himself behind another tree, Gilbert waited for the mercenary scum to fall into his trap again. Gilberts star leader wouldnt approve of his tactics, but he never did anyway. He was considered by most of his comrades to be an oddity. He had tested out at the top of his sibko in every category, but showed contempt for the rigid honor codes and traditions of the Clans. He felt that any victory was honorable as long as it was a victory. These views, combined with several incidents of insubordination, had landed Gilbert in various units consisting of criminals and freebirths. The Clans didnt even waste old warriors in most of the units Gilbert had been assigned to over the years. He also did not subscribe to the clan prejudice against freebirth soldiers. He was convinced that no matter what the conditions of his birth, he was destined for greatness. As he made his way into the clump of trees, Devon shifted Bushwacker into a run, the wet ground sucking at its feet. He hoped he could catch the enemy mech before there was time for him to set another trap. Fire flashed across his cockpit as SRMs slammed into his upper torso. The flames clung to his mechs armor as warning lights flashed, set off by the rising heat caused by the missiles. The jellied fuel from the Inferno warheads burned fiercely, despite the pounding rain. The flames scarred the camouflaged paint on Devons mech. Raindrops sizzled, evaporating as they landed on the burning mech. The flames themselves posed little threat to the machine. But, the accompanying heat combined with the raging nuclear inferno that powered the mech was too much for the machines heat sinks. The excess heat could bake a pilot alive in his own cockpit. Every mechwarrior secretly feared being burned alive during battle. Sweat prickled on Devons brow as he struggled to keep the computer from shutting down and rendering him helpless. He knew that his Enforcer was at its limit. Devon couldnt see anything on his visual scanners because of the clinging flames. He was completely blind. He pivoted his mech from side to side, but that only fanned the flames higher. Devon was in serious trouble. If he didnt extinguish the flames his mech would shut down and leave him open for the clansman to destroy Devon at his leisure. Devon couldnt eject because of the flames. He would be burned alive as he jettisoned through the inferno surrounding his cockpit. Devon was left with only one choice. He charged his mech in the direction the missiles had come from. Gilberts mouth dropped in astonishment. The mercenary had sent his mech full tilt toward his position. The flaming mech lit up the shadow Gilbert was hiding in. The Enforcer stumbled as it neared his position, but the pilot was able to keep his feet. Gilbert didnt react for several precious moments, allowing Devon the chance he needed. Gilbert couldnt imagine what would posses the mercenary to attempt such an obviously suicidal action. Any other clan warrior would have immediately understood Devons motivation. Death was sometimes unavoidable, but it need not be a waste,. If a warrior could take an enemy down with him, he would die with honor, as a warrior should. This concept was totally alien to Gilbert. Dead was dead and nothing could change that. Devons mech careened off trees and stumbled blindly into Gilberts hiding place. The clansman reacted just a moment too late. He twisted the Fenris to the left but its crippled knee slowed it just long enough for Devon to plow into the clan mech. Devon fought the controls to keep the enforcer upright. The heat in the cockpit soared higher with each step. He nearly passed out as sweat poured into his eyes. Any moment, the ammo from the autocannon might explode and end his life in a tick of the clock. Suddenly, Devon flew forward, straining against his safety harness as his mech smashed into something solid. Whatever it was gave way under the Enforcer's momentum. Devon fought to regain his balance but the mech fell forward on top of the obstacle and began to roll. A new wave of heat robbed him of his consciousness. Gilbert tried unsuccessfully to backpeddle away from the mercenarys mech. The backward motion, combined with the momentum of the charging mech, caused the Fenris to tumble on to its back. Gilberts head snapped back, impacting with the cockpit wall. Shards of Plexiglas flew in all directions from the shattered viewport. He momentarily lost consciousness from the blow. A flash of heat swept across Gilberts face bringing him back to his senses. He could see the burning mesh through the hole in his Fenris viewport as they slid across the wet humus in a grotesque embrace. Suddenly, the world turned upside-down. The two mechs slipped over the edge of the low hill where the fight had taken place. They began to roll toward the swamp, still locked together from the impact. Gilbert wretched the controls, trying to break the Enforcers grip. Devons limp body bounced against his safety harness, bruising his body terribly. The heat continued to wash over Devon, almost killing the unconscious mechwarrior. Finally, the two mechs rolled to a stop, with Bushwacker flat on its back. The mechs lay submerged in about five meters of black water. The flames from the inferno missile sputtered and then died. The heat began to drop in the Enforcers cockpit as the heat sinks kicked in. Cool air blew on Devon, waking him. He opened his eyes to darkness. He tried to reactivate the computer without success. Devon fumbled around in the dark until he found the emergency pack strapped to the bottom of his seat. Unhooking the bag, he set it in his lap and opened it. Still in the dark, Devon felt around in the pack and removed the emergency lamp. He flicked it on. The inside of the cockpit was a mess. All of the screens were dead and wires hung from broken consoles. Devon suddenly realized that the viewport was also dark. It couldnt be night already, or could it. He couldnt tell how long he had been knocked out. Either Devon had been unconscious for hours or something was covering the port. He found the auxiliary power switch and flicked it on, extinguishing the lamp as dim yellow lights came on. Minimal power was restored but the primary power coupling was damaged. In other words, he could only operate the mech at minimal output. Unfortunately that didnt include the weapons. Devon tried to reactivate the computer again, this time successfully. The diagnostic program indicated significant damage to parts of almost every system. Nothing had escaped the searing heat undamaged. The computer finished configuring and beeped its readiness for action. Gingerly at first, Devon tried to move his mech. The movements were sluggish at first. All of the Enforcers limbs were operable, except for its damaged arm, but something was keeping it prone. He began to rock the mech back and forth, attempting to dislodge whatever was holding him down. The weight shifted suddenly and light streamed into the cockpit. Devon gasped. Muddy water swirled outside of his viewport. His mech was submerged under water. He realized he better free himself quickly. There was no way of knowing how much air he had left. Devon tried to make his mech sit up, but something was still holding him down. He pulled in the mechs legs and pushed. His torso was still pinned but his legs came free. Pumping the mechs legs, Devon tried to dislodge himself. Metal screeched and his torso moved a few meters. As he worked the mechs legs up and down the weight on his chest shifted again. The still form of the clan Fenris passed in front of Devons viewport. He caught sight of its smashed canopy. The clan mechwarrior was still strapped in the flooded cockpit, his lifeless arms swaying freely in the muddy water. Devon realized he must have smashed the Fenris canopy when he blindly collided with it. Just when the clansman had Devon at his mercy, fate had stepped in and saved the mercenary. Devon swore an oath of thanks to his patron saint. He then continued the task of freeing himself from the death grip of the shattered clan mech. Devon freed his mechs right arm and was able to lever it under the lighter bulk of the Fenris. He pushed against the controls, commanding the Enforcer to topple the other machine off of him. The Fenris began to shift one final time. It rolled off of the Enforcer and settled into the dark mud of the swamp. Silt settled on the motionless mech like light brown snow. Devon was able to bring his mech to a sitting position with his one operable arm. Star Commander Garth Blackwell watched the mercenarys mech rise from the dark water. Its left arm hung limp at its side and its armor was scarred and blackened by fire. Blackwell knew he could easily cripple and destroy the mech without much trouble but he hesitated. He had observed the entire battle between Mechwarrior Gilbert and the mercenary. Gilbert had ambushed the mercenary and disabled his most powerful weapon. Throwing caution to the wind, the warrior had charged after the retreating clansman. Again, Gilbert had shamed himself by striking from hiding. Gilberts use of inferno warheads only deepened his dishonor. Against all odds, the valiant warrior had fought on and dispatched the clansman. The Star Commander knew from watching the battle that he would have to kill the mercenary in order to defeat him and that wasnt what he wanted. Blackwell turned his mech and started back toward the Ghost Bear encampment. The warrior from the Inner Sphere had earned his victory with blood and courage. It was not for Blackwell to take that victory away. The Star Commander shook his head. He couldnt understand how clansmen like Gilbert could reject honor even though they were born and bred to revere it, while many of the warriors of the Inner Sphere proved their worthiness against overwhelming odds. For an instant Blackwell doubted the Clans right to disturb what had evolved in Kerenskys absence. Like any loyal clan warrior, Blackwell let the feeling pass. The End Rain Dance - Page 9 - Douglas M. Warren

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