Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel...was just a freight train comin' your way.
-ancient Terran song lyric
Atmosphere above Saale
Harsefeld, Free Worlds League
15 October 3049
"FINAL PREP CALL!" Tim Stantz shouted at the top of his lungs, attempting to reach out over the immense docking bay, ignoring both the offered microphone to the sound system as well as the amused smirk from the tech holding it. "All techs should be finishing ammo distribution and last minute programming! Give the pilots ten to double check and then load them into the drop pods! Launch is in 2 hours!" Hopping off the table now, he'd finally glare at the assistant at his side to work, updating the overhead countdown clock to match what had been called out. Drops like this were always nerve-wracking, but Tim swore he wasn't about to let any one of his crew slack off until the pods shoved out from the protection of the bays. Heading down the ramp to begin his own inspection he was met half way by a two bewildered newbies. "What is it now?!" He demanded without so much as a care that he still hadn't dropped his booming voice back to a normal level.
"S-sir, it’s about this new order..." One technician began, before uncertainty caught up with him once more. "We're not sure whether we can get this thing into the drop on time..."
Tim actually blinked for a moment at the audacity of these two, for a moment his own voice dropping to a bare whisper. "what...?" The softness did nothing to hide the care that was needed with their next wording. "It’s just that...the pod they sent us is too old to program to such an exact drop...it could land anywhere..." Stantz barely heard the last of the excuses as he shoved himself now down the staircase to make it to the landing. Only then would he shout once more, back to the assistant above. "KERN! Get your ass out of that chair and check on the rest of the prep, I have two kiddies that need handholding." His hand would find one of several handles that ran along the wall of the bay in a long, guided track. Jamming button on the top would propel the ancient mechanism to life, gears older than the aging technician would grind against one another hideously, slowly but forcefully turning the belt that would carry him along more quickly and reliably than he could have managed against the uncertain artificial gravity being created by the dropship's approach burn. It would take only a few minutes before he'd find the modified pad where he'd put the two to work earlier in the day, letting go to land with a somewhat lack of grace that made him glad no one else had seen. "Ammut, you'd better be worth this..." He'd snarl upward at the silent death god as he shoved past the machine and further in, to where the oversized pod was being prepared. Looking at the guidance computer he could see why the technicians had been so fearful. This pod's computer system was barebones at best. It would never make the proper corrections to land in the zone needed. Pulling up to the nearby comms center, he'd dial in the code to another nearby platform. "Stantz here, Kern over there yet?! Tell him he's going to have to make modifications to Blue One's pod! Set it up to follow this one down! We'll just have to aim this thing at a big enough target and hope it hits!..."
Outskirts of Saale's former business district
3 hours later...
Explosions of chaotic azure detonated against the Firestarter's right chest and shoulder, partly twisting the light mech about as it stumbled into the first buildings of the abandoned city district. A direct hit! Bao Xiang grinned with devious pleasure at the site of the retreating mech struggling to maintain its balance while keeping its forward momentum, fingers twitching reflexively in anticipation as she waited for the inevitable moment when it would rise just enough- Her cockpit poured heat in as her left field of vision became blinded by the emerald stream of searing heat, slicing a section of the last bit of armor remaining from the Firestarter's tortured right shoulder, pitching the mech forwand and to the left just as it had found its footing once more. Whatever skill this pilot had was going full-time into just keeping the floundering mech upright, and Bao was going to make sure just enough pressure was applied to keep this guy from fighting back. She pressed lightly down on the footpedals once more, urging the Vindicator forward for a better shot. This was the most fun she had had on this shitty rock since she'd landed with the rest of the raiders, and Bao was not about to let her prey escape.
Bao turned the corner to look down what these hicks might have called 'Main' Street once upon a time, her Vindicator's bulk shifting as she slowed to make the tight turn. City fighting added a new level to the game, though it still put him well in the advantage since she was still small enough to easily maneuver between the buildings, and the laser at head level gave him the ability to fire over several of the smaller ones. Searching for her quarry, she found the torn out wreckage from where the mech had obviously fallen before after it had righted itself the first time from her initial PPC punch. The fool had either gotten lost or been misdropped into such a terrible location all on its own, only moments ago left the city before being sited. A previous shot had missed wide, but had done its job in sending the Firestarter into full retreat, back toward the city where the slower Vindicator could hunt as it willed. Hiding here might have made sense if both mechs were at their best condition, but now that its right arm was ready to go at any moment, the light pilot was only prolonging the inevitable end.
Or at least so she thought. A flash of light caught Bao's attention to her left, as she saw two bolts of viridian energy splash into her mech's leading leg, melting through the armor at the knee joint and forcing Bao this time to fight her own forward momentum to stay upright. "Why you litte piece of-" She cursed as she shifted fully to face her retreating opponent, finding it had cut through the city park to catch her off guard with its firing angle. Jamming the switch to fire the Vindicator's main weapon, the Ceres Arms Smasher PPC, her anger barely provided her enough time to level the gun on its target to make the proper reply to this bastard daring to fight back. To perhaps the surprise of both pilots, the chaotic ball of arcing energy struck home perfectly, bursting against the left leg and causing the knee joint to bend inwardly, threatening to buckle under the Firestarter's own weight. The pilot had to have been brilliant though, using his own jump jets to counter the near-catastrophe, pushing itself upward and into a leftward spin in the air with a series of bursts to turn kinetic force into a pivot, allowing the onboard computer to right itself from the landing rather than fighting to correct a fall. Bao whistled respectfully before rewarding the pilot's acrobatics with two more shots to the Firestarter's now-exposed back and right arm, the latter of which hung almost entirely limp, myomer strands flailing about in the air freely visible, as arcs of electrical circuits shot about in a desperate attempt to regain control of the forearm portion and the weapons it held within. Another blast would likely have finished the job, but the Firestarter must have sensed the danger of losing its arm entirely and kicked its jumpjets once more, surging forward past what had once been a massive hospital.
This had now ceased to be fun as Bao growled in anger and pitted her mech into a faster klip. "You're not going anywhere, you son of a bitch!" She'd shout over open comms as she neared the hospital, only to slow a moment as she realized the mech was likely setting up for another cheap shot and a devious thought she'd reengage the forward footpedal to pick up speed, kicking her own jump jets just as the Firestarter had used them to provide a faster pivot about the corner of the building. There wouldn't be any surprises this-
Bao drew herself almost to a complete stop, her brain unable to comprehend what stood before her so silently. Through it was a bright morning, the mass before her remained darkened by the shadow of the tall hospital it was propped up against. Words of horror and danger fought at once through her brain, straining so hard to inform her of what she was witnessing that it blocked all thought of fight or even flight. Lights slowly began to clamber on, as terrifying groaning of an engine turning over sounded throughout the city. Her eyes watched with disbelief as the King Crab rose slowly from its slumber, ever so slowly, to its full height, its sinister clawed arms pulling up as the computer ran the self-tests, then dropping back low into an attack position. "C...Command!" She started to stammer before even realizing that she hadn't turned her comms switch to call in, fingers fumbling about in desperation for the switch. "Command..sited-" A thunderous clap was heard as the right claw of the King Crab clacked down against itself, leaving Bao to wonder if it had just issued a warning before realizing she was no longer under her own feet. The Vindicator slipped backward into full freefall as a second round from the King Crab's twin AC20s finished the job the first had in overwhelming the Vindicator's gyros with enough kinetic force to pick the 55-ton machine literally off of its feet, the humanoid machine flailing from the near point-blank punches into its chest, crashing to the ferrocrete below like a massive one-two punch from a prize boxer. She had only barely begun to register the situation as the mech's head cratered the ground beneath it, the force of the impact ripping her about so hard her harness tore away from the command couch, sending her careening into a heap against the back of the cockpit.
She was not sure how long she had been out, possibly seconds. Maybe minutes. Her helmet spared her from cracking her skull open in the fall, but not much else. She was faintly aware of the heavy metallic taste in her mouth and the cold, wet feeling running over her forehead as she stood slowly and unsteadily, looking dimly at her right arm that now bent freely in three places. Her mind was still struggling desperately to cut through the fog and piece together what had happened as daylight from the cracked cockpit glass above gave way to ominous shadow. Bao looked up to behold the dark giant, its deep purple paint adding to the image of a livid god of ancient lore staring down at her, passing judgment on its dumbfounded discoverer. "N-!" Was all she would get before searing blue light poured into the cockpit, obliterating away shadows and objects alike, until at last leaving ash where the pilot had once been...
Casey 'Deadman' Ryback lifted the King Crab up once more, having made sure the mech was not about to get up again. "Blue two to Blue one, Haji, you ok?" he'd call out over the comms, starting to worry that there might have been more than one mech hunting the Firestarter down. "Blue two, its Lieutenant, remember?" His commanding officer scolded him, though only succeeded in bringing a chuckle of relief from the assault pilot. "Bastard caught me by surprise, but I'll be fine after a trip to the repair bay. The rest of the way out of the city should be clear, but you'll likely have to carry on after that without me." Deadman thought for a moment, before signaling the command link, unsure whether the Firestarter's long-distance communications could still handle the workload. "Alpha Station, this is Blue two. One bandit removed, but Blue one's badly injured." He would not have to wait long for a reply. "This is Alpha Station, we can still read Blue one clearly but thank you for the verification Blue two. Blue one's orders are confirmed. Blue two, move to take Nav Kappa, while Blue one will proceed to Nav Gamma for refit or extraction, depending on your situation." Scratching his head at the idea of leading such a big mech through the city's tight corners, his worries were relieved with an update to his computer from the Firestarter's, mapping out the way he'd found for the large mech to escape without getting stuck. The command channel light lit up once more, as Deadman flipped the switch to receive the new message. "Satellites have confirmed three more bandits in the area of Kappa, but none heavier than Bandit one, Blue One."
"Alright Alpha Station, but might want to call up Carter and Langue as I go." There were a few moments of static, before a more unsure voice spoke up for verification. "You're requesting support from Blue 3 and Blue 4, sir?" Deadman popped his neck slightly, fighting at the harness as it bit against his flesh despite the cooling vest's attempts to deter it, pulling the mech into a slow forward stride toward his exit route. "Nah, just don't want them complaining when they miss out on all the fun..."