Marauder

Author’s note: Set in FASA’s BattleTech universe, circa 3056. With thanks to Max Pritchard for the character of Julia/JJ. Written in 1995 – an interesting look at how I’ve grown as a writer since then.

“So…” Trev smiled. “You promised me a story.”

“You did?” Julia looked at Steph.

“Yeah. I promised I’d explain how a model turned into a
MechWarrior.”

“No fair! You’ve never told me that either.”

Steph grinned. “You never offered me the right price.”

Julia looked at Trev and laughed. “Do I really want to know?”

He smiled, and produced a bottle from behind his chair. The
light caught the green glass, and the dark liquid within. “This.”

“Tsinghai red?” She sighed theatrically. “I might have known.”

“So…” He waved the bottle in Steph’s direction. “Story?”

“Oh, alright.” She smiled goodnaturedly, and watched while he
poured wine for the three of them. “It’s not short…”

Julia reached for her glass. “So? I wasn’t doing anything else this evening.”

“Alright, already! I’ll tell it…” Steph ran a hand through her hair. “When I was a kid, my parents were farmers out on a world out on the edge of the Inner Sphere, more in the Periphery than not. So, like most teenagers who were brought up anywhere near a farm, every so often I got to drive an AgroMech – you know, one of those big, lumbering, graceless monsters for moving earth – that kind of thing.” A reminiscent smile crossed her face. “I guess any kid who’s ever driven one of those played at being a MechWarrior – at least till they got shouted at and told to stop day-dreaming… I mean – this place was so far off the beaten track, there may have been a lance of ‘Mechs on world somewhere, but it sure as heck wasn’t near me. Anyway, once I grew up a bit, someone thought I was good-looking enough to be a model – I certainly didn’t have the education for a desk job or anything – so I’m doing odd little assignments for magazines, local holovid advertisements, that kind of thing – nothing earth-shattering.” She grinned. “Boring as hell, once you got over seeing your face in everyone’s living room. But it paid well, even though there was nothing to spend it on.

“Anyway – we were doing a trailer for the local holo station’s relay of one of the really big tournaments on Solaris – we’re really small outfit, only about a dozen staff all told, and all of a sudden the studio monitors stop showing me and start showing the broadcast feed – shots from a hand-held cam, of somewhere about a klick away, and ‘Mechs wasting buildings right, left and centre. End of shoot…” Stephanie’s mouth twisted into a wry grin. “Not that I was sorry for that, but…

“Several people lit out there and then, but some of us figured that the station was as safe a place as any and sat tight. It was only when a squad of local infantry with anti-mech weapons arrived that it dawned on us that one of the likely targets for any invasion would be the local holo station. Real smart move on our part…”

Trev grinned. “Yeah, right. How many of you?”

“Non-combatants? About half a dozen all told. Me, two ‘techs, a cameraman, one of the presenters, and a secretary.”

JJ laughed. “Sounds like a full crew.”

Stephanie grinned in agreement. “Yeah – some of them were there ’cause they swore they were gonna keep some kinda picture going out… So the rest of us mucked in – I got a crash course on how to use a holovid camera, and we had a SmartCam, or whatever they call it, pointed at the presenter in the studio, and me and the cameraman took two lightweights up to the top floor and started grabbing some shots… More fun than I was having in front of a camera, that’s for sure. One of the ‘techs was keeping the signal going out, and the other was scanning the comms bands for juicy bits. The secretary’s calling up maps of the area and dropping cute little ‘Mech symbols all over them, and the presenter’s being a talking head and the producer rolled into one.

“Anyway. After a bit, we started to make some sense of what was going on. The local defence forces were popping off Infernos and man-pack SRM-2’s at anything ‘Mech-like that moved. Seems like it was not so much a full-scale invasion, more a bunch of bandits from somewhere out in the Periphery, with a couple of Locusts and a Wasp – and the poor footsloggers were getting their butts kicked, and there’s a Locust heading our way, doing a fair old clip for ten tons of metal. ‘Bout then, Mark, the presenter, yells up for one of the lightweight cameras. God knows what for, but anyway, since I’m the lousier cameraman of the two of us, I head off downstairs.” Steph’s eyes sparkled. “So I’m standing on the set for the Solaris trailer, listening to Mark saying ‘…and the nearest friendly ‘Mechs are in Sarakas, 300 klicks away’, and I’m looking at this huge mock-up Marauder front, built over one of those big AgroMech lifter skeletons.” She laughed. “And I know damn well it moves, because I saw one of the stage crew walk it in from the workshop.”

Trev looked at Steph and set his wine glass down with
exaggerated care. “No….” He shook his head. “You didn’t…”

“I did…” She chuckled. “They’d actually done a pretty good job. Lights in all the right places, very nice PPC charge leakage effects. Anyway…” She paused for a sip of wine. “We got it moving, trailing about three miles of power cables, right about the time this Locust came haring past. He was trying to get round the side of the building to take down the transmittter dish and our auxilliary generator, when I walked the Agro-Mech half out of the workshop door. It was…” A pause. “Truth to tell, it was bloody scary, as well as being absolutely priceless. I’ve never seen a Locust turn round so fast since, and I’d never been shot at before. He was so panicked, he missed, though…”

“Good job,” Trev observed, grinning broadly.

“Yeah… Anyway… The idiot charged me. Full tilt.” A wry grin. “So… It may only have been an Agro-Mech, but it could still kick like any other fifty tonner. Took his legs out from underneath him.”

“What happened then?” asked Julia.

“Well. The tech who was scanning the comms band said he’d been screaming about this Marauder before I knocked him down… As near as we can tell, the other Locust and the Wasp pilot made like a bat out of hell for their dropship and beat it off-world without even looking back.”

“And you?” Trev, still chuckling, refilled Steph’s glass.

“Me? Well… To cut a long story short, I made a thorough pain in the ass of myself till they gave me the Locust as salvage, and then took it, my savings and me off planet and got me some training.” She raised the glass in salute to her companions. “And here I am.”