Shadow on the Edge
No matter where you are or what you call it, somewhere not far from the front lines, you'll find a place where service men relax and indulge in beer, coffee and other forms of liquid refreshment, if any can be found. Be they House troops or mercenaries all soldiers like a beer at the end of a trying time. The company and the beer helps them to relax and unwind, to realize that they are still alive and did in fact live through the hell that is called battle.
The past 36 hours had been very trying. Our forces had been involved in a number of engagements, skirmishes and battles. (The major difference between an engagement and a battle is the number and size of the forces involved.) My crew and I had been shuttling supplies since shortly after the first shots were fired. Now all of the Mechs were back to full ordinance bays and a small reserve was on hand. We had finally been told we could stand down and relax.
Sean Casey, my gunner and I were taking that well earned breather by having a couple of brews before we sacked out. We were about ready to leave when three others joined us.
"Hey Leofa, what's this crap Whitey's been telling us about you guys taking out a Mech?" demanded one of the three. "Took it out with your J-27!"
A J-27 is an ordinance transport. While it is armored, the armor will only stand up against light infantry stuff. Even a heavy machine gun can punch through it with little trouble. It is also armed, but only with a machine gun, again good against infantry and little else.
"No, we left the '27 behind. Didn't want to get it shot up," I answered off-handedly.
"You're saying you guys took out a Mech? Just you?" he came back in disbelief.
"No, we finished it off," Casey replied with a grin. "We only get half credit."
"You're getting credit for it? Whitey wasn't bullshitting us? What happened?"
His shock was total. We were getting credit for a partial Mech kill so we had to be on the level.
Casey again answered, "We were coming back through the pass when I saw something move. Mick pulled #14 into one of those ravines so it wouldn't get shot up. He had Whitey man the turret while he and I went out to investigate. We found a Locust, found out it was the one that gave Pruitt such a hard time. That modified job? It was shot up but not out. Probably shut down from overheating and had played dead. Shot up like it was Pruitt thought it was a kill and left it."
Heat is the worst enemy of a Mech. Movement of any kind such as walking, running or jumping causes heat. Move and fire and you cause more heat. Fight a battle and heat management becomes a major problem real fast.
Special devices called heat sinks have been developed to flush heat out of the system. You could only put so many of them on a BattleMech. That great big towering machine, the most awesome weapon yet designed for battle is a delicate trade-off. This much armor versus that many weapons with those many heat sinks. Can't cool it fast enough it shuts down. But the coolest Mech around is no good if it can't fight. If it fights it needs protection so you have the trade-off.
"Anyway the pilot was trying to make some field repairs so he could limp it back and we convinced him not to. That was all."
"Oh, you caught him out in the open then?" one of them asked.
"Well no, he was in his cockpit," answered Casey.
"But he didn't have the hatch closed or anything, right?" he continued.
"No, it was closed and he was trying to start up the fusion engine," said Casey.
"Well how did you convince him to stop? I mean he was buttoned up and about to leave."
"Oh, that was easy. We got close and Mick hit him with an inferno round. That popped the heat back up and while he was doing that I was taking out heat sinks with my laser rifle. Takes several hits but up close and him not moving it was just target practice. I AM a gunner, remember!" stated Casey.
"My god, a laser rifle and an inferno launcher against a Mech! I thought Whitey was bullshitting for real."
Before they could continue with their questions Casey and I got up and left. I was too tired for much more and I didn't know any of them that well any way. Crewing on a J-27 is more a punishment detail than a volunteer job. The crews are there for a few days to a couple of weeks and then are back to their regular outfits. Casey and I had been here for two months, longer than any other crew but then we were crazy. We were actual volunteers.
The next day during a late breakfast Casey got to talking.
"You know Mick, I been thinking about that Locust. If they could modify it, why couldn't we modify #14?" #14 was our '27.
"Modify it how, Case?" I asked.
"Well they pulled the side mounted machine guns off and replaced them with medium lasers. You know some of those things are smaller and more compact than others. Weigh about the same when you take into account the ammunition but are smaller. We could stick one in the turret where our machine gun is just like they did," he replied.
"Two questions come to mind right off. Why would we want to and how would we cool it?" I questioned.
"Mick, I'm a gunner. With only that machine gun up there in the turret I feel about as exposed as the man who went to church and forgot to put on his pants. As far as cooling we could run some coolant tubes into it like some of those hover craft do."
"Sean I think you're dreaming, I'd like to have some decent weapons but I don't think we could rig a medium, not and keep it cool."
"Let me think on it a while longer," was all he said.
We reported back to our section and started checking over #14. After a continued period of rough treatment as we had just given it I wanted to make sure we weren't about to throw a track or encounter some other equally crippling malfunction. Casey and I take pride in the fact that #14 has never failed to make a delivery due to abusive treatment, lack of maintenance or improper maintenance. We spent the rest of the day going over our vehicle. I noticed that none of the other crews were there checking their vehicles, neither was Whitey.
That night after supper Sean came looking for me. "I got it figured, look." he said as he tossed me several sheets of paper. "Coolant is pumped from a large drum to the weapon. From the weapon it goes through two large radiators behind which we have fans. Final stage it goes through an air conditioning chiller unit and back into the drum. We forgot about power. Lasers are usually powered off of fusion engines which produce more power than a Mech uses anyway. With a set up like this we can power the weapon and cool it."
The more I checked over his diagram the more convinced I was that this crazy scheme would work.
"Where do we get all this stuff? You know Sgt. Mackey is not going to let us draw it from supply," I asked.
"Mick, we've been running back and forth passed the best supply store there is. We take it off the battle field. Who's going to know or even care? We take what we need. We overhaul it and install it."
"Sean let me sleep on this, I'll get back to you in the morning," was all I said.
The next morning I joined him for breakfast. "When we finish here we need to do a short shake down on #14. I'm still not satisfied with that left track."
Sean picked up on what I was saying immediately. "And I suppose you want me to load the big tool box on just in case we throw the blasted thing, also," he answered in a disgusted tone.
"Not only that, I want you to off load the missile racks also. We aren't taking the trailer, there's no problem with it. Just the tractor," I replied. I could see other crews nearby shaking their heads at us. Now there would be no questions from them when we left.
When we got to the vehicle yard something new had been added to #14. As we stood admiring it Sgt Mackey, the Transporter Section chief, joined us.
"It's official so I had them paint it on. Strange to see one of those on a '27," he said.
There was half of a Mech kill flag painted on each door of #14. It was now a warrior machine.
We unhitched the trailer and using the loading derrick off loaded the missile racks. We then pulled forward and loaded on and lashed down the large tool box. With a wave to the others we slowly pulled out of the yard and headed out towards the recent battle.
As we entered the area of the pass it was obvious that much work had gone on out here as many of the shot up Mechs were no longer present. Most of the vehicles were still here though. The Snakes had laid down an artillery barrage that had taken out several vehicles that normally would have been left alone, a MASH unit, several scout vehicles and a couple of coolant vehicles. Coolant vehicles were considered a prize and were rarely fired on except when they were shooting at something else and the coolant vehicle got in the way or like these, in an area artillery barrage.
We started by checking over the coolant vehicles. Two of them were hover craft with the pumps, tanks and hoses attached. We found two of the small recirculating pumps which appeared to be functional. These were used not only to keep the coolant moving but to keep the tanks cold. We removed one of the Hover fan nacelles, the high speed motor moved lots of air. Off of one of the other vehicles we found a large capacity heavy duty radiator that would suit our purposes as well as a large, heavy duty generator. From the MASH unit we pulled the air conditioner. Finally from 'our' Locust we removed one of the side mount lasers. It was an Argra 3L, small and compact. We even removed the targeting computer as the range of the medium was three times what we were accustomed to firing with only the machine gun.
Just to be on the safe side we removed a lot of other small stuff that any maintenance man was always needing. All the way back Sean was like a kid just waiting to play with his new toys. There was an empty storage shed that Sean knew about for unloading his treasures. We off loaded all this and a few other goodies that we had picked up. Sean stayed there to start checking out our acquisitions while I took #14 back to the yard. I stopped off first at the vehicle repair facility to drop off the other parts that we had picked up. This would explain what we had in the rear of the tractor if any one asked, if nothing else it was parts that they could use to repair our own vehicles. Vehicles got parts and supplies after the Mech boys got what they needed or thought they needed. I told them that I had 'found' them and they just grinned and asked no questions.
Two days later everything had been checked over and we were ready to make the switch. Another two days and we had the laser installed. It was easier to use the derrick on the J-27 to lift off the turret and then pull the machine gun and replace the laser from the top. I don't know where he had acquired the skills but Casey was amazing. It appeared to work. It tracked like it should. We didn't fire it but the targeting computer seemed to work. A flick of a switch and the two power generators and the fan started up, just like it was supposed to do. Now we had to test it.
Outside appearances of #14 had not really changed that much. It now looked like we had a cooling shroud on the barrel of the machine gun. The coolant etc, we had covered with some sheet metal that we painted to match and made us
look more streamlined. Inside was a totally different story. We now had some fire power!
Back out we went with Casey in his beloved turret, only this time with a real weapon to use. We still couldn't take any punishment but we could dish some out. We spent two hours running and firing. Casey would call his shots so we could check the targeting, the hits and misses, the alignment and everything. It really worked!
We had no sooner returned to the barracks that evening than we were rolled out. The Snakes were attacking and our guys were burning ordinance. It needed to be replaced.
I swung #14 into the loading bay and they started stacking missiles and auto cannon rounds aboard. You could tell how far away the enemy was by the type of ordinance they loaded. Medium and light cannon rounds and they were not that close. When they started to load SRMs, heavy cannon rounds and the big stuff then you knew they were close.
Sgt Mackey assigned us another cargo handler. Whitey had served his punishment and was back with his outfit. We double checked the new guy's lashings to make sure nothing came undone and as soon as they gave us the word we moved out.
All that night we made runs. Mainly the long range stuff, but towards morning we started moving short range missiles and reloads for the heavier auto cannon. Late morning was when it got exciting.
Four of us were moving off to one side to rearm an advancing group when we were set upon by two Saladin hover tanks. They were wearing Snake colors but I couldn't identify the unit. We were running third in the line and the Saladins were trying to head us off. Loaded as we were they were half again as fast as we were. Empty our speeds were about the same. We were also in a bad place for hovers as there were hills and ditches and all that stuff. No problem really for tracks but not real good terrain for hovers.
I yelled at Casey not to fire unless he had to and stopped. I jumped out with our new handler and we uncoupled the trailer. We had surprise on our side, they didn't know about our laser and the Saladin had weak side and rear armor. Now if we could just use that to our advantage.
The two transports in front of us tried to run. I guess they were hoping to get within range of the Mechs we were heading towards. I went with them for a ways. We were moving along the floor of a deep ravine. If the Saladins tried to come down either of the sides it was possible that we could cripple them.
Another disadvantage a Saladin has is no turret. To fire they must point the whole tank. This is not as difficult for a hover vehicle as with a wheeled or a tracked vehicle but when you're trying to come down the steep sides of a draw and control your descent it can be.
That was my plan. Take them as they came down to join us. I shouted up to Casey and told him to aim for the skirts if possible. When I told him my plan and he agreed.
As the second one topped the rise and started down Casey opened up. Three quick shots destroyed the air chamber under the hover tank and that side dug in. Fan blades were biting into the dirt and rocks making quite a dust storm. Then it flipped over and came tumbling down.
Casey changed to the front tank which was trying to turn to face us. As their big cannon had the same range as our laser if we could fire so could they and one hit from that big gun and we would be blown away.
The two front transports were firing their machine guns and getting some hits but they might as well have been throwing dirt clods for the damage they were doing. It did act as a distraction though.
Again Casey opened up. This time at a slower rate. We couldn't chance over heating or running out of power. He scored a hit in the side and one in the right front quarter panel. That did no good as the front is heavily armored. Just as the tank hit the bottom of the ravine and made the road Casey hit it in the side again. This time he got through to something as smoke started to billow up and with it out came the crew as well. At least two of them.
With the danger now removed we stopped and took them prisoner. The crew of the first tank was shaken, banged up and bruised but alive. They were made prisoners also. While the others gathered up and guarded the prisoners we moved back and picked up our trailer. When we rejoined the rest of the transports we all continued.
The Mechs were very glad to see us when we arrived as they were getting low on ordinance. There was a Lance of Archers and a mixed Lance of Jagermechs and Riflemen. All eight were Mechs that could really go through ordinance.
They came back in relays, two Archers and one of each of the others. We had stopped about half a klick from where they were engaging the Snakes. After we had reloaded their ordinance bins they returned to position and let the other four rearm. With us there ready to replace expended ammo they were not skimpy with the rockets. The position they were firing upon became untenable and the Snakes withdrew. With the amount of ordinance coming at them they must have thought it was a light battalion rather than a light company firing.
Leaving a Mech on watch the others withdrew and closed down to standby. They cracked open the cockpits and slowly crawled out. The heat must have been terrible in there as they were all wet as if they had been in a sweat bath. We moved up and replaced what had been shot away. While we were doing that the Captain in charge noticed our prisoners and started asking questions. The others pointed to us and he came over.
"What kind of set up you got in there, Corporal?" he asked.
"I'm just a private, sir," I replied trying to ignore the first part of his question.
"You're a corporal now! What kind of gun do you have in there?"
"Sir, we mounted a medium laser up there. Used it to knock out two tanks and take those prisoners," I said.
"Used it to save our asses is what you did. We were about to withdraw due to lack of ordinance. With what you had aboard those transports we can hold our position. They couldn't turn our flank and move in on the rest of the Regiment. We should win this engagement now. That's all you did, Corporal," he said emphatically. "What unit you with?"
"Sawyer's Wildcats, sir."
"Well, you really showed your claws today. Thanks." and with that he left.
When we had finished rearming all of them we made preparations to leave. We left behind what water we had as the Mech pilots were very thirsty after their fight and had gone through all of their own.
As we started back Casey said, "Maybe he won't say anything, us being mercenaries and him being a regular."
"I wouldn't bet on it Casey, I wouldn't bet on it at all."
We returned to the ordinance bunkers and off loaded what we had remaining on board. The battle was over and we had received orders to stand down. We had already turned the prisoners over to the security section. We refueled #14 and pulled it back into its correct position in the yard and locked up. We were the only crew who did that. Casey had installed locks on it before we modified it. We then had a bite to eat, a shower and went to bed.
The next morning we had no sooner finished a maintenance check on #14 than Sgt. Major Jackson showed up.
"Leofa, get your ass over here, NOW!" yelled out the burly Sergeant Major.
"Yes, Sergeant Major. What can I do for you?"
"Who gave you permission to modify #14? Where did you get all that stuff?" growled the combat veteran as he looked me over.
'That stuff' consisted of the medium laser off a Locust now replacing the Sperry-Browning heavy machine gun and a lashed down liquid container with a large hose coupling disappearing into the rear of the cab of the J-27 bearing the large numeral 14.
"Sergeant Mackey said I could fix it up some. I just didn't tell him everything we wanted to do," I answered.
"I'll just bet you didn't. Where'd the laser come from?"
"We took it off the battlefield, Sergeant. We took a piece here and a piece there. Then we overhauled it and installed in on #14. We've been working on it when we weren't busy running supplies. It was just shot up junk until we repaired it."
"We got it working real good Sergeant Major. Casey, he's the gunner... anyway Casey worked out the controls. We left all the traversing gear in place as those are the same. We modified the cut out plates though. We can fire closer to the body now and still not worry about shooting ourselves. It works great, want to try it out?"
"How do you cool it? Internal combustion engines don't have heat sinks. After your first shot you got to wait for the damn thing to cool down," grumbled the Sergeant.
"We thought of that too. We have fifty gallons of coolant going through a series of cooling coils with the fan from a hover craft moving air over them and then it goes into a chiller unit from an air conditioner. That gives us six fast shots before we have to wait to cool down or if we limit it to four shots a minute we can shoot forever," I replied.
"Power! How do ya power it up?"
"Come on Sergeant Major. A laser is just a controlled bolt of lightning. We took two large alternators off a shot up coolant truck, used them to charge up four large Hunter batteries. As long as we keep the engine running, the batteries are charged and we can shoot."
"Got all the answers, don't ya? Steal parts from supply, put all this crap on that ordnance transporter, now it can't haul as much and you think it's just hunky-dory. Well just strip it back down and return that stuff to supply."
Looking the gruff sergeant squarely in the eyes I stood my ground. At 195 he was a few centimeters taller than me and at 105 kilograms he outweighed me by about 10 kilos but most of my weight was in the chest and shoulders. You don't use a derrick for all of the ammo handling and I had picked up some muscle from humping ammo. Without flinching I replied, "No! We did not steal a single thing. We scrounged everything we needed off the battlefield. As far as our load goes we can carry just as much as ever. The laser weighs as much as the machine gun ammo. The two turrets are pretty much a swap and the coolant, batteries and alternators weigh less than the machine gun did. In fact we're going to add two more plates of armor so we will be back up to weight."
"I didn't get permission to make all these changes but that's all I did wrong and I'm not going to change it back." I now braced for the explosion. A private does not say NO to a Sergeant Major.
It didn't come. Instead the Sergeant Major only smiled. "Mackey said you had balls. He also said this jerry-rigged lash-up of yours saved our supply convoy yesterday. Thanks for that, I'll see that the Captain is made aware of that... but next time you get a wild hair up your ass, talk to somebody first. It might surprise you to know that Mackey and I were both privates at one time and we had all the answers then too. You don't get both stripes though. Sew on one."
With that Sergeant Major Jackson turned and walked away. Watching in total disbelief I could only shake my head. I then turned and slowly walked back to the unusual J-27 and its waiting crew.
"We can keep it." was all I said as I climbed into the cab and started the engine.
Science Fiction /