A Loyal Companion

March 3rd, 3145

19:67 Local

Trinity worlds, Free Worlds League

Cerillos, Cerillos III

 

Maria Gutierrez sat, covered in sweat, staring at her instrument panel; willing it to register any activity.  She had been on stake-out for almost 8 hours and the idle heat of her battlemech’s fusion engine was slowly invading her cockpit.  That was the price she paid for some semblance of covert activity for her and her beloved mech K-9.  She and the mech had been buried cockpit deep in soft soil and surrounded by a heard of “Longhorns” in the Lubbock valley. The valley, located in the west reaches outside New Texarkana, were a vast expanse of grassland and jutting red mesas.  A good hiding spot was hard to find for a mech out here so she and her deputies had dug one in the fertile valley floor.

The rustlers she was tracking had been a nuisance for most of the last year, dropping in on the herds of the genetically modified cattle colloquially called “Longhorns”.  They weren’t cows exactly but were more like a buffalo crossed with an elephant.  At 12 feet tall and upward of 13,000 pounds these normally gentle creatures could crush, or impale a man, car, or even hovercraft when angered.  In some instances they had been known to known to down an industrial or agrimech with an unaware pilot.  They were prized not only for their meat, but for the long curly coats that made for excellent fabrics.  The criminal gang that had been preying on the herds around New Texarkana appeared to be offworld pirates who had hired out-of-work vaqueros with less than savory reputations to pilot agrimechs and cull cattle. Finding unsavory types was easy on Cerillos.  The planet had a culture of roughneck machismo and aggression that was about a millennium out of style in the rest of the Inner Sphere.  Minor criminality was almost a badge of honor in some circles.  The women who grew up in the trinity worlds, and on Cerillos especially, were rough edged.  They were as likely to blush at an off color comment as to stab you in the neck with a broken bottle.  This made for a hardworking, hard-playing populous of independent minded people; a trait that had been inherited from the Hispanic, Native American, and Jewish settlers so long ago.

Maria let out a sigh and leaned back in her command chair, reaching up and working a small crank before flipping a reticent steel toggle.  The soft sound of a whirring fan greeted her ears as air was drawn in through a small porthole at the top of her Urbanmech.  The cool air of the early evening was a welcome respite inside the oven-like cockpit of her mech.  The small comfort was all that she would allow; she was a stubborn and tenacious woman, accustomed to discomfort.  She was the beneficiary of a lineage of men and women whose character could be compared to ablative armor.  Texas Rangers had been her ancient forebears and every generation that had left Terra had served the Star League, the Free World’s League or their planet as guardians and enforcers of law.  Some had been mercenaries, but even they held to a strong personal code.  They had been bulwarks against the chaos of the universe for untold generations.  This colorful history lent itself to a certain family demeanor; and in some cases eccentricities.  In her case: a flair for the dramatic and a love of large, heavy machinery.  Maria chuckled to herself.  If her informant had sung true the bandits would be hitting this herd and they would be in for the fright of their lives.

Maria took time to check her mech’s systems.  Her ultra-autocannon 5 was loaded and locked, with electronic safeties engaged.  She didn’t have a full set of reload cassettes due to budget constraints but her ammo counter read as 75%.  She loved the autocannon.  It had been salvage from the hold of some off-worlder’s union dropship.  She had picked it up for 2 cases of beer and a 4 hour marathon high stakes poker session that had left her drained.   The captain had been upset to lose the scrap, but his honor had to be served and he had willingly parted with the weapon rather than the money he owed.  She had spent the better part of a month waiting for the manufacturer’s service manual to come via Comstar.  She had spent almost another month building the parts to repair and mount it in her Abuelo’s agrimech repair bays and machine shop.  She had trained as mech tech under the strict tutelage of her grandparents since the age of 8.  She had worked summers crawling inside the mechs and oiling parts; stringing myomer across steel bones.  She had spent her weekends on the family ranch learning to pilot the machines she repaired.  She was a good pilot, and a damn fine mechanic; which had brought her to the attention of the Sheriff.

Sheriff Bar Kochba was a friend of the family and had seen her talents as a pilot during a fall flood.  She had assisted with the recovery of cattle and stranded civilians in an outlying village.  He was in charge of the civil defense and law enforcement for most of the continent and was constantly on the lookout for potential pilots and mechanics for his forces.  He was one of 6 sheriffs across the planet, all subordinate to the Minister of Defense and the Cerillos Armed Forces.  The Sheriff had 2 companies of converted agrimechs: a partial-strength battlemech medium company and a command lance consisting of a cyclops, a shadowhawk, and 2 commandos at his disposal; together these assets were known as the Rangers.  He also had the thousand or so deputized members of the Sheriff’s Department to call upon.  She had been recruited to be a Ranger, and spent her first few years chasing crooks on a beat in the poorer part of town, occasionally putting down a riot and drilling for combat in a converted agrimech called “Tiger” that mounted an autocannon 2 and an LRM 5.  She had loved that mech until early last year, when her Abuela had fallen ill and died.

Abuela Stein had come down with pneumonia and the doctors treatments had proven fruitless.  She had been Maria’s idol as a young girl.  Strong, charismatic and unusually fair of complexion she had arrived on Cerillos in the early 3100’s and married Abuelo Gutierrez, a widower, within a year.  Not much was known of her life before then, but she had been married before.  She refused to talk about her first husband, but a few details had leaked out over the years.  Her first husband had been a mercenary of some sort, and that she had been his tech.  He had died of injuries suffered in combat on some distant world on the opposite side of the Inner Sphere.

After her passing Abuelo Gutierrez had called her down to the agrimech bays.  He told her that Abuela had wanted to pass something on to her, something from her first marriage.  Maria thought it might be a ring or other sentimental item, but Abuelo had grabbed a pry bar and levered a flooring plate loose in the main repair garage to reveal a stairway; killing that notion quickly.  He had led her down to a basement below the main repair bay.  Beneath giant plastic tarps and covered in dust had lain an Urbanmech, with the name “K-9” stenciled upon its rotund head, next to a battered name.  The only letters still legible were “B—– STEIN—“.

She had spent every credit she had to import new endo steel to refurbish the damaged and broken skeleton of the mech.  Maria moonlighted as bouncer at a strip club for months in order to buy the replacement optics for the large laser, and had gambled, threatened and traded favors to refurbish the mech over a 7 month period.  When it was all done she had piloted it to the station and requested it be repainted in Sheriff’s colors and added to the roster as her ancestral mech.  There had been no arguments and Sherriff Bar Kochba has been more than happy to add a mech to his forces; even some sort of franken-urbie.

The mech’s console warbled and Maria jumped.  She pulled up her sensor feed and saw what she was looking for, contacts on her radar.  They were using active sensors in the dark to find their way.  2 hovercrafts surged toward her position on their cushions of air, and two large helicopters carried small agrimechs beneath them, swaying gently as they approached from a few kilometers out.  She reached back above her head and worked the crank, closing the porthole and switching off the fan.  Her fingers danced across controls and damped down her electronic output further.  She would not risk being spotted until the raiders had made their move on the cattle.

The helicopters dropped the agrimechs to the ground a few hundred meters away.  The hovercraft were large cargo carriers originally designed to ferry passengers across rivers and lakes.  They would be filled with longhorns in a few hours if she did nothing; but that wasn’t the plan.  The two agrimechs had spread out to either side of the herd and were working on separating a group for poaching when Maria decided to close her trap.  She ramped her fusion engine to full output, set her sensors to active and slammed down on the jump jet studs next to her foot pedals.  Her Urbanmech erupted from the pit where it had been partially buried by the deputies of the New Texarkana Sheriff’s Department.  As her mech rode a trail of fire into the sky she reached over and slapped the large red button with a taped hand-written sign above it “FIESTA”.  The light bar installed on the top of her mech spun to life and the PA system belched out a siren at deafening volume, transforming her Urbanmech into a rising nuclear-powered law enforcement disco ball.  Maria couldn’t help herself and she let out a whoop of joy.  This was what she lived for.

“Dispatch Actual this is Kilo Nine Mike Whiskey I have engaged the suspects and will need backup to take them into custody, how copy, over?”

“Kilo Nine Mike Whiskey this is Dispatch Actual, that’s a good copy. Your backup is standing by, Wilco ASAP, out.”

The agrimech pilots turned their mechs toward the shrieking commotion that was her mech.  Below her the longhorns began to panic.  Maria and her mech came to earth casting red and blue light strobes across the grasslands and bandit mechs.  She hollered into her mic, keying the external comms.

“This is the New Texarkana Sheriff’s Department, shut down your engines and dismount.  You are under arrest!”

The agrimech on her right was closest and the pilot seemed undecided about what to do as the mech wobbled back and forth, the pilot on her left made up their mind much quicker and began closing distance.  Maria spun her mech to face the closing attacker and was surprised to see the bright flash of a medium laser.  The laser mounted to the enemy agrimech’s right arm struck a glancing blow, gouging armor from her torso and left arm before arcing off into the night.  Maria cursed.

“Ben-zona! Cabron!”

She throttled her mech into a run.  The cattle around her parted like the sea; running away in all directions.  The agrimech couldn’t be more than 20 tons and was diesel powered, she thought.  The recharge on that laser would be slow and likely to only be good for a few shots.  Maria brought the targeting crosshair to bear on the enemy mech and squeezed her secondary targeting interlock.  The Imperator Ultra-5 Autocannon in the Urbanmech’s right arm spun to life screaming a cassette of shells in the space of a heartbeat at the closing mech.  The shells were a partial hit, cascading across the leg and torso of the agrimech.  Maria toggled the ultra loading system.  The sound of the reloading system whining filled the cockpit as it rushed a new cassette into place.  The green ready light for the autocannon flashed on.  She pulled the trigger again and this time the depleted uranium shells hit in full, shredding armor from the mech’s leg exposing its vital bones and myomers.  The agrimech returned fire with a large anti-personnel machine gun mounted to its torso.  The machine gun was not meant to engage something as big or as armored as a real battlemech and did little more than ruin her paint job.  The medium laser fired again but a shower of sparks and a blossom of heat on her thermal view monitor told Maria all she needed to know; the laser had slagged itself.  She slowed her mech down and repeated her command to dismount.

The vaquero piloting the agrimech must have been feeling nasty because the mech began a slow lope toward Maria in her K-9, hands raised like fighter.  The bastard was going to go hand to hand.  This was a problem, but one Maria was prepared for.  As the agrimech picked up speed into a charging run she steeled herself.  100 meters, 50 meters, 25 meters, she counted the distance off and kicked hard at the jump jet studs, launching her mech into the air over the would be assailant and into his rear arc.  She throttled up to a run and began moving away, dodging longhorns as she ran.  The agrimech pilot thought she was running away and hollered profanities over his PA.  The pilot brought the agrimech around and gave chase to her and K-9 as she maneuvered toward the still idling hovercraft 500 meters away.  Maria smiled as she locked her throttle and rotated the torso of her Urbanmech completely around like a tank turret, letting loose with the Magna Mk III Large Laser in her left arm as her targeting crosshair turned gold with lock.  The laser raked across the front of the agrimech leaving molten metal and burning fiberglass in its wake.  The pilot of the agrimech was unprepared for the assault or the spinning ability of her mech and veered the off course.  Maria tracked the agrimech and fired the laser again, this time hitting the dorsal side of the agrimech and burning a hole in its unshielded engine.  Lacking power, the running, and off balance mech, slammed face first into the ground at speed; rending metal and crushing the vaquero cockpit.  As she moved away from the wreckage her strobe lights briefly illuminated carnage.

Maria brought K-9’s torso back around just in time to avoid running head first into the other agrimech.  The mech had tried to run when its companion came under fire, but the pilot had trouble navigating the panicked Longhorns.  The agrimech was struggling to stand because its leg had been severely damaged.  A dead Longhorn lay crushed beneath the mech; a gory mess among metal shards.  In the distance the hovercraft and VTOLs had begun to flee.

“You’re mech is as dead as the Longhorn it crushed.  Shut down and surrender or be fired upon.”

The mech stopped moving and the diesel engine shut down.  The cockpit opened up and a heavyset woman with a shaved head, cooling vest and combat shorts tumbled out. Maria whistled to herself, an actual honest to god mechwarrior.  What the hell was she doing in an agrimech?  The comm crackled to life and the voice of her dispatcher came through.

“Kilo Nine Mike Whiskey this is Dispatch Actual.  Backup is 5 mikes out, sitrep, over.”

“Dispatch Actual I have one possible wounded and one suspect in custody…”

Maria looked at her sensors.  The hovercrafts and VTOLs were retreating south and were even now at the edge of her radar.

“…The remaining rustlers are headed south.  Prep the interrogation room please.  Kilo Nine Mike Whiskey, out.”

Maria looked out of her cockpit at the mechwarrior/ bandit/ rustler below.  She would get this offworld woman into the interrogation room and there she would bend her until she broke, pouring out her knowledge like cold beer from a tap.  Then she and K-9 would go after the rest of the bandits and bring them in.  She almost felt bad.  It was one thing to be a bandit, but another to be a cattle rustler.  There was only one penalty for that in the trinity systems, one that stretched back to ancient Terra.  Hanging was a terrible way to go.  She would need to get the department priest and rabbi to minister to this woman before the end.  As the Sheriff’s hovercrafts approached she put her mech into standby, removing her neurohelmet and placing it in a secure alcove.  She opened the cockpit hatch, grabbed her Stetson and pistol belt from the gun locker and climbed out into the dark of Cerillo.  She had a prisoner to take into custody and a long night of work ahead.  She had no doubt things were about to get interesting; it was a good thing she had a loyal companion.  She patted the Urbanmech lovingly and then began to her descent to the ground.

 

*Mechwarrior, Battletech and their respective art, characters, merchandise, etc are property of their respective owners and I claim to neither own or control any of them.