Castle Roland

31st Century

by Hammy

In Progress

Chapter 4

Posted: 31 Aug 15

31st Century

Copyright © by Hammy

They say space is pitch black with a billion tiny dots that make up stars and planets. Space could be man's greatest friend or foe. It didn't take long for Coolio to realize they were being setup. In fact, once he spotted something big off in the distance, it's shadow gave a part of one of it's large cannons away from a close explosion of a PPC blast. He didn't want to alert the enemy he was onto them yet; he devised a plan to slowly expose them before it was too late to do anything about it.

Ever so slowly, he targeted several close aerospace fighters with his large lasers. At first he missed a few targets, but the bright green laser did give him some light to see. Even at seven hundred meters, he could faintly make out a shadow of an enormous 'Mech, something he had recently encountered the other day.

'Hmm, there's no jet trails, it must be attached to a dropship, but…' He paused for a fraction of a second, only to witness the huge behemoth fire it's main weapon. A split second later, everyone's aim was knocked loose from the heavy impact the weapon did to the Dropship.

'Merlin' Coolio thought with wide eyes.

'Ja' Came the singular response from the old Wizard.

'See that?'


'Link our minds?'

'Sec' A pause of silence followed before another thought, '…go.'

Several voices were heard at the same time, 'What the…', followed by, 'COOL!', 'Aw hell, what now?' and finished with a groan.

Coolio: 'Guyz, what is the primary rule on the battlefield?'

Hammur: 'This isn't the time nor place…'

Chris: 'Eliminate the greatest threat.'

Coolio: 'Yeap.'

Rampage: 'Spotted something?'

Coolio: 'Fraid so.'

Hammur: 'Shit… How bad?'

Coolio: 'Dunno, spotted one or two. The aerospace fighters are a cover. I have an idea and I bet they're trying to hack into our comms to listen, so we'll have to play this by eye. They are well within range of all of us and we'll have to concentrate all firepower on one target for now.'

Merlin: 'Let's do it. I can't keep this open much longer.'

Coolio: 'Alright Merlie, close it up and lets play!'

Just as Merlin growled into his comms, Coolio let lose a few single shots, hitting nothing and then some small fighters in the general area of where he thought they'd be. Not getting the results he wanted, he continued on noticing more and more fighters trying to rush to shield the bigger threat. Patience was wearing thin on him, but he wasn't disappointed once he found the shadow he was looking for. Immediately switching firing patterns from single to grouped, he fired a trio of large lasers at the target and it hit an aerospace fighter, but everyone had seen the results of Coolio's handiwork.

There, exposed for all to see was the triple barrel One Hundred Ton Behemoth IIC, it had an elongated nose with chicken style legs and three long barrel shaped cannons. The cannons themselves were singular; one was mounted on each arm, while the third was mounted on the head of the 'Mech. The dorsal gun, as it was called, contained the 'Mech's main weapon: a Railgun. Depending on the configuration of the 'Mech, it either had armor to the max and only a few weapons, or it had average armor and more weapons than it was letting on. One could never tell, what it was packing till it fired all it's weapons.

In that short of time, Coolio wasted no time and immediately after the explosion, he let loose the next trio of large lasers directly at the 'Mech itself. Once everyone saw where to hit, it was a group effort of combined alpha shots that caused massive sparks to light up the area, giving away three more of those beasts. Before the pilot of the first behemoth was able to get a word out, Coolio's next shot directly to it's center torso finished the 'Mech with a brilliant explosion, taking dozens of small aerospace fighters with it.

The explosion also lit up the entire surrounding area and gave everyone a great view of their targets: two inbound DropShip with two Behemoths on each one, except one had already been destroyed. As soon as the explosion took place and the other pilots gathered their bearings, they returned fire, setting loose their Railguns and PPCs. Some of the blasts hit the Pantherforce DropShip, while some of the other blasts hit Merlin and Coolio's 'Mechs, taking minor damage.

Not needing any further instruction, Hammur took the lead and began hitting the second Behemoth on the first dropship. He had hoped not everyone would gang up on it and was silently pleased to see his wing mates' attention was onto the other big 'Mech. Much to everyone's frustrations, the aerospace fighters were now scrambling to really protect their most valuable targets.

When things were starting to get desperate, the comm system crackled to life, "Guys, what the hell you are doing? We can't take any more shots from them!"

"We're trying!" Cried Rampage as he tried to get a clear shot, but the aerospace fighter blocked it and was immediately destroyed.

"Well, TRY HARDER DAMMNIT! We are almost at the jump point and we do not want to scare away our only ride out of here!"

"Well fuck!" Rampage switched back to single fire mode and started to blast away the small targets as did Chris.

"Guys, I'll help create openings, I have an idea!" Chris echoed through comms.

"Chris…" Hammur said sternly, fully assuming what he was up to.

"JD, please… trust me okay?"

JD sighed as Merlin voiced his concern, "Be careful."

Chris didn't respond. He cleverly switched weapons over into a new group, creating four groups of two. He knew he had to watch his heat levels as things could get a bit toasty in space, but he hoped it wouldn't be too bad. Once he was satisfied with his handiwork, he fired a few test shots to see what would happen.

Chris's Supernova looked like an endless stream of lasers spitting out of it in sequence during its test fire. He also hit several aerospace fighters, causing them to open fire at him. He muttered something under his breath then really began to work the firing sequence. Once he finally got it to fire continuously, he began to target anything and everything he could hit. The explosions suddenly started to increase by the second and it was like looking at little flash bombs in space. Chris's short fun changed when he began focusing on the larger mass of aerospace fighters as they were now well within six hundred meters from them.

Hammur looked on with caution, hoping Chris knew what he was doing and also hoping for a shot. "Guys, the second a window opens up, take it! Some of you, help Chris out, maybe it'll really give us a bigger window."

"Will do!" Simon responded as he let loose his large lasers in single fire mode, causing the explosions to get bigger.

Almost immediately, a clearing revealed itself and everyone who was able to fired in unison. The result was another huge explosion as the enemy lost another of their beloved assault team. At the same time, the large mass of aerospace fighters began to disperse, making everyone nervous. Chris continued to fire, but at the same time, he switched his target to one of the remaining Behemoths. At first, it seemed like his shots were not doing anything, up until he had slowly and luckily reached the cockpit. Once he saw massive sparks flying from the center of it, he held his aim and continued to rain lasers on the sparks till the 'Mech exploded.

Everyone cheered very briefly, until the Final Behemoth revealed itself. There was two seconds left before everyone was able to get their weapons fully recharged and ready to fire, but Chris suddenly started to stop firing as smoke visibly made its way into space.

Hammur being the closest one spotted the smoke, "Chris?!" It seemed like an eternity as he waited for a response. Getting none, he responded again, "CHRIS! You okay?"

"I think so!" Came the panicked reply. "My 'Mech shutdown, it got hot from all this firing!"

Hammur was about to respond when a sudden brilliant flash of blue lit up the space between himself and Chris. Then it happened; Chris's 'Mech had lost its left arm. The arm blew off past JD's 'Mech, bouncing off the Dropship and into space right past Merlin, barely missing him. Smoke and sparks were seen coming out of the missing arm, but suddenly, Chris's Supernova was powering right back up.

JD was about to yell into comms, but he never got a chance to as Chris beat him to it. "Fuckin bastid!" This caused some snickering over comms, but everyone fired at the same time, causing the Behemoth's torso to twist, but nothing else was forthcoming.

"Holy shit!" Rampage exclaimed over comms. "Dude's packing armor! He just might finish Chris in his next shot!"

"Fucking hell! Over my dead body!" Hammur Raged over comms as he let loose a pair of Light PPCs followed by a quad of erPPC's1.

Shocked and amazed, everyone else immediately followed suit. A split second later, several sparks and smoke were visibly seen on the enemy 'Mech as well as an attempt to fire it's weapons, but missed its target by a wide margin. At the same time, the DropShip without any of it's 'Mechs up top suddenly opened fire with a spectacular display of what seemed to be a dozen of lasers, hitting anything at random, including it's own aerospace fighters.

"Guys! I'll finish that Behe! That dropship will be harder!" Chris wasted no time waiting for a response as he opened fire upon the heavily damaged enemy 'Mech. It took him ten shots before the 'Mech exploded. The explosion caused a chain reaction of sorts, kinda like a domino effect. First, the Dropship next to it was very close and it took damage from the explosion. The end result was: several large fragments broke off and began hitting the aerospace fighters, causing massive miniature explosions, followed up along with more fragments breaking off. Just as everyone fired upon the heavily damaged DropShip, it exploded, taking the dropship next to it and everyone around it with it. The aerospace fighters that were further away began to slowly retreat, only to be immediately shot down by the Fierce Panthers until the last fighter was out of range.

JD breathed a sigh of relief, "Everyone okay?"

Merlin: "Ja"

Chris: "Barely"

Rampage: "Yup Yup!"

Simon: "Aff"

Hellboy: "I think so!"

JD sighed again and spoke one last time into comms. "Captain, you're clear, we're coming back in!"

"About damn time! One more shot and we'd be space dust!"

JD and Merlin both breathed a sigh of relief as they and everyone else hit a few buttons on their control panel that pulled their 'Mech back into the DropShip.

Fifteen minutes later –

Once the pilots had opened their cockpits to leave their respective 'Mechs and traveled down the platform, they wasted no time coming back together in a group.

JD breathed a frustrated sigh, causing everyone to do a double take. "Chris, I thought for sure you were toast, but fuck! Giving me a heart attack at that kinda time wasn't a very good idea. I thought for sure you were going to overheat yourself to death."

Josh groaned and threw his hands in the air, "Really, JD? Like right now?"

JD Rolled his eyes, "Yep, but I'm being calm about it!"

"Guyz…" Tommy started, but Chris decided to jump in, cutting him off.

"He kinda does have a point. I really was pushing the very limits of that 'Mech. I did keep an eye on heat and it does go down pretty fast but the shutdown time on that thing sucks balls."

Merlin sighed. He had been wondering since when did JD start caring about anyone else other than himself. The great wizard was at odds trying to figure out a reason, but JD's next statement had him wondering.

JD gave Chris an apologetic look with a slight smile, "I'm sorry for that, but I'm usually a hard ass when someone fucks up and the fact that you are thirteen and a Mechwarrior kinda does make me nervous."

Merlin's eyes narrowed into slits as if he had deep thoughts about what JD mentioned.

JD's smile changed into a frown at the Wizard's stare. He simply shook his head no before anyone else could catch on. That all changed when Simon broke the silence.

"Well, I guess a victory is a victory." Simon thrust his hands into his jumpsuit pockets and looked over to Hellboy who nodded his agreement. "But JD is correct. On the other hand, according to the Clan's history, weren't you at the same age when you first attained the rank of Mechwarrior2?" JD blushed at that mention as it brought back some old memories of his.

Tommy and Josh exchanged looks and grinned. Josh spoke first, "I remember when JD was wet behind the ears trying to figure out what button did what. To this day, I'm surprised he didn't hit the self-destruct button!" A round of giggles erupted among the guys before Tommy could pick up on it, "I remember JD accidentally landing on Wild Dawg's head during a hunt." He shook his head as no one else seemed to remember that incident, "I was the hunted and the objective was to find and capture me, but it never got that far with Wild Dawg's hud nearly destroyed all because JD got the case of an itchy trigger finger, only he fired his jump jets. Classic case of an accidental DFA3 if you ask me! Boy Wild Dawg was pissed and didn't speak a word to JD for at least a month! It wasn't till Merlin finally convinced Wild Dawg to at least give JD a chance.

Before Merlin could speak up, a tall brown haired gentleman approached their group at a quick walking pace. "Guys, I've received word from Panthera. The situation is not looking good. Wild Dawg's last transmission to us was to lay low and gather the allies. He had another message for Merlin, but the transmission was abruptly cut-off. I'm assuming that our planet has been fully taken over by a full-scale planetary attack. I'd recommend we turn around and launch a counter attack."

Merlin groaned as the others began to protest and chaos ensued. "ENOUGH!" Merlin had to get control of the situation before it went further out of hand. "While I would like to turn this tub around and assist Sam, he would have my ass in a sling for disobeying his orders. We will return, but in force."

"But Merlin!" Chris protested before anyone else could. "How can they survive on their own on that planet? Even if it was fully invaded, food is scarce and could it be possible that the planet is destroyed?"

Merlin wanted to respond, but JD beat him to it almost immediately, "No. Knowing Sam, he will hide it out along with the others. Hiding is very unbecoming for a Mechwarrior and not strongly encouraged. But in extreme cases, sometimes it must be done in order to protect others.

Merlin smiled, "Took the words right out of my mouth." He paused to let it sink in and continued after a moment, "We will continue on as planned. Until that planet is destroyed, we proudly wear the Fierce Panther's colours. Only until then, we become Clan-less. I will not become Khan, but I will allow everyone else to depart on their own terms to hopefully better Units.

Merlin turned to the man, "Commander, I thank you for your service. We will continue on as planned. Please rendezvous with the JumpShip awaiting our arrival."

The commander saluted quickly in response, "Aye sir!" He then turned in the direction he came from and jogged back to the Bridge of the DropShip.

Merlin sighed, "I guess we have some down time starting now. Do whatever it is you want to do before then."

Tommy and Josh jumped at the same time, "Whoohoo! Free time!"

Simon and Scott chuckled and shook their heads. "Well, I don't know about you, Simon, but I've got repairs to do. It's kinda in my blood to work on 'Mechs. Never could handle sitting around doing nothing."

"Yep, I agree. I'll tag along if you don't mind."

Scott shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave, followed by Simon.

Chris's eyes went wide, "Oh shit! Aaron!" He immediately took off running before JD or Merlin could get a word in. This however, was not needed as Chris came jogging back looking a bit sheepish.

JD rolled his eyes, "I'll take you there!"

"Whoo!" Chris wasted no time as he grabbed JD's hand, pulling him towards the direction of the lift. JD looked back at Merlin, who had a comical look on his face, but turned serious for a second.

"JD, when you get the chance, I want to go over a few things!" Merlin was barely able to get the message across before the duo was out of earshot.

JD nodded and then turned his attention to focus on the direction he was being pulled to. "Woah woah, slow down! I'm sure Aaron is okay!"

One hour later, Merlin's Quarters –

A chime from the door sounded, rousing the old wizard from his thoughts. Merlin had been thinking of so many things. Five thousand years have taken its toll on his mind and Merlin wondered what another five thousand would do.


The door slid open and JD walked in by himself. "Took you long enough; I had wondered if your age started showing."

Merlin glanced towards JD. He was about to let him have it, but the grin on JD's face let Merlin know he was only teasing.

"For a moment, I wanted to turn you into a toad for that remark." Merlin smirked some letting JD know he wasn't serious either.

JD laughed and he pulled up a chair that was to his left and sad in it. The door slid shut then Merlin turned to face him.

"You do know Chris is from another time."

JD rolled his eyes and sighed. "Is this really necessary?"

"I've been watching you two ever since Chris has somehow attached himself to you. I always thought you would push him aside as your ego always gets the best of you."

"Get real, Merlin." JD sighed. "I am who I am, whether it's the battlefield or not. I know I'm a hard-ass when it comes to certain things." Merlin cocked his head and stared at him as if to say 'yeah, right'. JD noticed this and held up his hands in defense, "okay, okay! Fine, my ego always got the best of me, Happy now?" When Merlin didn't respond JD continued, "Let me tell you this: that boy knows what he wants. I mean, I was shocked out of my shell after I informed him I was heading this way, he tells me the very words that I so refuse to use, no matter what! What the hell else am I suppose to say or do? I know for a fact that I had read up on Terra's history from his time and no words can express how I felt about it. I really wanted to jump in the 'Hog and rage till it blew up, but I didn't."

"Our laws are not exactly the same as Terras' of the past." Merlin randomly spoke as he thought of what JD had said.

JD's face fell to the floor. "I know. Some Clans have no laws to protect children, while others do, but only to an extent. I'm glad we aren't part of those 'some Clans'."

Merlin sighed, "That was not always the case. Before Sam even took over, the previous Khan had no laws but one: Obey your superior officers or face punishment. It was chaos at times. Sam couldn't have stepped in at a better time. I mean slavery was allowed, everyone pretty much had free reign to do what they pleased. None of the council members liked it at the time, but could do very little about it." Merlin sighed as he recollected the events of the fateful day that changed the entire way the Clan did their business. "You see, I could not do anything to the previous Khan as he had some kind of device that protected him from me. I was powerless to do anything about it, till one day when he dragged his nine year old son into the Council Chambers. We had a meeting scheduled and he was late. When he walked in dragging his naked son with him, it was the last straw for Sam. Right then and there, Sam declared him unfit to lead and challenged him on the spot. This pissed off the Khan and he had suddenly lost interest in his son and gave Sam his full attention. Even as he walked around the table towards Sam, Sam never moved. He simply stood there and waited. What the Khan didn't expect Sam to do was for Sam to swiftly plunge a dagger into his heart. The Khan never stood a chance. At that very moment, Sam had me restrain everyone as he went to the naked boy, took off his jacket and placed it around his shoulders then addressed the council."

Merlin was looking towards a certain corner as he recalled the events. Once he regained his senses, he looked towards JD, who appeared to be mimicking sleeping, as if he was completely bored. "Quit faking. That is like the oldest trick in the book and you never cease to amaze me."

JD laughed, "Sorry. I wanted to see what you'd say. You know, I've read the clan history and this incident wasn't part of it, but only bits and pieces."

"Sam had that part cleaned up. Anyone asking about it had to see Sam or me, so that was that. Sam outlawed slavery and fixed it so children were protected from any harm that befell them. The only time a child was no longer off limits was when they either earn their first C-bill4 or join the roster. But overall, 'no' still meant no. Sam and the new council cleaned up Fierce Panthers in ways no one else could. A lot of people were happy afterwards and enjoyed being part of our Clan."

JD sighed then looked Merlin in the eyes. "I can tell you right now that I would have done the same as Sam did. I always believed that if a kid wanted to do something, that's their prerogative and no one else's, unless something terrible was happening. I would never hurt Chris or Aaron, but as of late, Chris has been getting more and more bolder. I don't want to hurt his feelings and at the same time, I'm slightly amused with him. I think he kinda likes me, but I don't think I'm ready for that."

Merlin laughed. It took a while before the howling laughter died down, leaving JD slightly stunned. "My apologies; you amuse me. Chris was not sheltered like some boys his age were back then. He knows who he is and what he wants, I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it and our past history. It plays an important part in children and young men at his age. No one would bother you if you and Chris were, ah… what did they used to call it? Ah yes, 'an item'. Exploring the unknown has its challenges and its rewards. Tread carefully."

JD sighed, "I don't even know if I can. A part of me wants to and another part is trying to avoid it."

Merlin rolled his eyes and chuckled. Just as he was about to respond, a hologram appeared in between Merlin and JD.

"Sorry for the interruption, we have arrived. I thought you'd like to know."

Merlin stood, "Roger that. Dock and let the JumpShip Captain know he has exactly twenty minutes to get a move on as time is haste."

The hologram nodded and saluted then disappeared leaving Merlin and JD alone once again.

"Get everything and everyone ready to transfer to the JumpShip. I have a feeling that WOB is still following us and I also need to talk to the Captain of the JumpShip, however you know what to do, just follow your heart."

As JD was about to open his mouth, Merlin disappeared from his quarters, leaving JD alone to his thoughts.

JD stood, 'Damn that wizard for pulling a fast one on me. Oh well, duty calls.'

"Computer, page everyone to meet in the 'Mech bay."


JD wasted no time leaving Merlin's quarters. Once the doors slid closed behind him, the DropShip was a flurry of activity. Many people were walking about towards the 'Mech bay while other's sought different destinations. JD knew he had a few minutes to spare before he was to be at the 'Mech bay, but as he walked towards his quarters, he suddenly started to quicken his pace from walking to a light jog. Once he was outside of his doors, he stepped forward till they slid open. Upon entering he called for Aaron and Chris, but he knew that Aaron wouldn't hear him. Chris appeared from around a corner, looking a bit fearful.

"What's happening? Are we under attack again?"

"No, we are approaching the JumpShip. I need to address the Clan to inform them what to do and what to expect. I need you and Aaron with me, sorry."

Chris turned and went back to where he was. "That's okay!"

When he returned, he was carrying Aaron in his arms as the little tyke looked like he was still sleeping. JD sighed and held his arms out, but Chris shook his head.

"He still fears you for some reason."

JD smiled, "But you don't?"

Chris looked up at JD from the sleeping boy in his arms, "Well… I suppose not. Maybe at first…"

JD giggled slightly and shook his head. "Alright, let's go."

It took JD a matter of minutes before he and Chris reached the 'Mech bay. It was slightly crowded and during that time, Aaron woke up with a start, nearly screaming his head off, but Chris had managed to calm him down. By the time Aaron was his usual self again, they had already reached a platform high enough to oversee the crowd. The rest of the high ranking FP warriors were already there, awaiting JD's arrival.

"Took forever eh?" remarked Tommy as he watched JD move to the center of stage.

JD turned around, smiled and nodded in a fashion that said 'bite me', causing everyone to chuckle.

Once JD turned to face the crowd once again, he began to announce his intentions, "As you all knew, our planet came under attack of an enemy force called World of Blake." JD paused to listen to the collective gasps that were heard. He continued once things died down some, "We came under attack during our escape, but we defeated the enemy and currently, we are under orders to retreat to an ally. In a few moments, we will be transferring to the JumpShip we are docking with that will take us to our destination. I'd like for everyone to be ready till then. As a safety precaution, take what you need, leave everything else. We'll return here once we've arrive." JD turned to Tom as everyone began to head to their quarters to prepare.

"We all need to head to the bridge. Merlin's been called there for some reason."

Tom nodded as did the others while Chris let out a whoop. It was his first time he'd visit the bridge and he was excited. Chris made sure to let Aaron know what was happening, much to the kid's fright, he seemed to be okay with it.

The walk to the bridge was eventless. Somehow JD felt Chris was being quiet since everyone else was, but for reasons unknown it was as if everyone was going to their deaths.

JD entered the bridge, only to notice the usual chatter was non-existent. Merlin turned to see who it was.

"Merlin…?" JD remarked as soon as he saw the state the old wizard was in. Merlin had red puffy eyes, as if he had been crying. Before JD could further respond, he took note of the crew. They too were in the exact same state as Merlin. Everyone who entered noticed it, except Aaron.

"Merlin, it can't be true…" Tom's voice was betraying him as he was struggling to keep his emotions in check.

"You can't mean…" Josh followed up with equal sadness.

Chris wasn't sure what was happening, but everyone being upset had him worried. Merlin walked towards an empty seat in the bridge and sat down. Before Chris could ask, Merlin began his tale.

"When I arrived to the bridge shortly after that announcement in my quarters, we had received another message from an unknown source. The message was intercepted on a wide band communications burst from our planet stating the victory of WOB as they fully captured and defeated the Fierce Panthers Clan." Merlin let the words sink in before continuing in tears. "The message claims they have Sam captured and he will face a swift death."

"NO! You cannot believe that!" JD shouted with conflicting emotions. "I refuse to believe that! There is no way in fucking hell Sam would allow himself to be captured or anything! There is nothing that can hold him back!"

"There was, or at least is. I did not know about it. I never saw the reason till I thought of it long and hard. WOB must have found something to cause his surrender!" Merlin waited for a response and not getting any, he continued, "As of this moment, we are no longer wearing the Fierce Panthers colours. As much as I would like to turn this thing around and go after them, it would be pointless to do so and a waste of time and lives."

Everyone lowered their head in shame as they all felt helpless, except JD. JD was the only one who simply refused to accept defeat. He never has and he always moved forward. Others have come close to displaying what JD was feeling, but nowhere as close.

JD turned his back and stormed out the bridge. Once the doors slid opened, he moved to enter it but stopped about half way in and turned to face the others with a sour and mean look across his tear-streaked face. "As long as I am alive, I shall show WOB no mercy! Everyone in this room should know better than running from a battle! Are we now becoming cowards just because Merlin says we can't venture back to rescue our Khan?! I simply refuse to believe that every fucking warrior they have is as equal as and greater than every one of us! I simply refuse…" JD felt a hand envelope his and he quickly realized it was Chris, without even looking. It had shut him up for the time being, but the hand let go of him once he stepped into the lift. The doors then slid shut and the last thing everyone saw was JD falling to his knees clutching his head as a fresh wave of tears began.

Whether or not the DropShip captain liked it, he had a duty to perform and perform he did. He would let his emotions show in his own private quarters, but he had a DropShip to command and went about his business getting the DropShip docked with the JumpShip that was rapidly approaching and getting bigger on their screen. Chris turned towards the guys as he wasn't feeling too much of the effects of the results everyone had just heard since he was not with the Clan for as long.

In a small voice, Chris spoke, "So what now? Isn't anyone going to help JD?"

Simon walked towards Chris and knelt on his left knee. "Nah, that hard head can handle himself. When he's ready, he'll let others help him, but for now, he'll want to vent and rage and one thing about that JumpShip is, it is equipped with simulation pods and that's probably the most likely place where you'd find him. But, I'd let him be if I were you."

Chris wanted to protest, but the hand on his shoulder had somehow appeared there and it gave him a reassuring squeeze. Chris looked up and Merlin was standing there with a slight smile on his face. Chris sniffled and nodded just as there was a slight bump from the DropShip docking with the JumpShip.

Before anyone could do more, Josh piped up, "I mean I can understand JD has a damn good read on body language and all that, but how did he really know?"

Merlin lost his smile, "He didn't. For some uncanny reason, he has a sixth sense on these things. I have no clue how it works, but here, read this." He handed Josh a thin five by seven handheld tablet with a scrollable view screen. He handed it to Josh and Once He began to read it, Tom decided to read it along side Josh since he was standing next to him. It read:

---Intercepted Transmission---

---Origin: World of Blake---

---Planet: Panthera---

---Status: Victory---

---Classified Data---

---Mission Complete. Prisoners captured and awaiting transport to WOB Capital planet. Request further orders concerning escaped DropShip.---

---Intercepted Transmission---

Josh and Tom let out a groan at the same time and felt completely defeated. Before handing the small tablet to Simon, Tom decided to weigh in his thoughts.

"Merlin, I don't want to get our hopes up, but is it possible that that could be fake? I mean why else are we able to intercept that message?"

Merlin was just about to open his mouth but the DropShip Captain beat him to it, "Well, it was headed this way and while we do have the latest in tech installed in this old girl, maybe it was meant for that jumpship or in a certain direction this way?"

"Hmmmm…" Merlin thought for a moment. "Maybe, but keep in mind that the WOB homeworld has been never revealed; only the very few of their high-ranking people know as they've been there before. I know this much from the latest intelligence reports from several months back when one of their officers was captured. Whoever managed that is beyond me, but they have to have some of the best warriors to be able to pull that off. For now, let's concentrate on getting to our allies."

Before Josh was about to speak, the PA system began announcing.

"Welcome to the JumpShip Grievance. All parties please depart now into the Grievance as there is a limited amount of time." The message repeated three more times before silence one again fell but only for a moment.

There was an awkward silence that followed the message since everyone was sort of grieving. This added to the fact that JD probably heard it too caused another round of groans as they felt the ship shudder slightly, probably from JD striking his hammer against something trying to vent his frustrations.

"Guys, we need to get moving, but I will say this once." Merlin started, "Sam shall get the vengeance he rightfully deserves, and in full force. I shall see to that personally."

That brought a smile to everyone in the room as well as several 'hell yeas!'

"Okay, gentlemen, lets get a move on!" Replied the Captain. "Don't wanna get stuck in this when she makes her jump, aye?" The Captain did not wait for a response as he and the bridge crew moved towards the lifts. Once the door opened, the Captain was pleased to see that everyone had joined him in the trip to the main level to collect their belongings to depart from the DropShip and into the JumpShip.

Fifteen minutes later, Jumpship Grievance

Under careful supervision of the commanders, they made sure the transition and traffic flow of people had no trouble transferring from the DropShip to The Grievance. The Grievance was a massive JumpShip, capable of faster than light (FTL) travel. It was a two hundred seventy four thousand ton Star Lord class JumpShip. The ship itself was cylindrical in shape with a huge mushroom shaped head and an umbrella shaped fin that had about 20 engines for propulsion. In addition to the umbrella shape, the long thin fins made it seem like the umbrella broke and showed its rods sticking out. It had a few grappling arms to reel in small DropShips as well as docking points. It was certainly not the biggest JumpShip ever built, and it wasn't the smallest either. Once the crew of The Panther finally departed, Merlin turned his attention to the guys.

"I'm going to pay the captain of this ship a visit. It's been a while since I've been on this old girl and I'd very much like to talk to the Captain in private." Without even waiting for a reply, Merlin turned his back and walked towards the front of the ship. Everyone exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders.

Aaron Tugged Chris's arm for his attention and once Chris looked down at the youngster, he smiled.

"What we do?" Aaron signed to Chris.

"I want you go with these guys. I am going to look for JD." Chris signed back.

Aaron made a pouty face but Chris ignored it. "Guys, can you watch Aaron for a bit? I'm going to look for JD."

Josh and Tom responded at the same time before Simon or Scott could, "We're coming with you!"

Scott shook his head while Simon sighed and looked down at Aaron. He smiled and held out his hand, to which Aaron eagerly took and smiled in response. Instead, Simon knelt down and picked Aaron up. Once he stood, he gave Tom a stern look.

"Be careful guys. They have spies everywhere and will not hesitate to take any chance they can get."

Tom and Josh craned their heads and nodded as did Chris. Once the trio departed, Simon and Hellboy plus Aaron departed to their own quarters.

The Grievance pod room, twenty minutes later –

"God damn! Who the hell is that guy?" Some teenager spoke to his friend who just exited the pod.

"Hell if I know, I've never had my ass kicked that bad!"

"You call that bad? Take a look at the steady stream of people exiting! It's only a matter of time before the whole place gets emptied out!"

"Serves him right!"

"Mind if I try?" Chris walked up to the two older boys with a small grin on his face.

"Hah! Knock yourself out! You'll lose just as bad as everyone else!"

"Dude, let him find out!"

"Fine… hey kid! Good luck!"

Chris turned and grinned before stepping into the pod. Tom and Josh walked up to the two older boys and smiled somewhat. Once one of the boys annoyingly looked towards them, he quickly regained his composure and saluted immediately. His friend wasn't paying much attention till he elbowed him a few times to get his attention.

"What the hell Ace? I was…" He couldn't finish that sentence as his eyes widened. He too saluted just as quickly.

Josh groaned, "At ease guys. We aren't on duty."

The one called Ace spoke first, "B-but per regulations, we must salute to all senior officers, even when off duty."

Tom shook his head, "No worries. We'll change that and besides we are off duty. There is about two days worth of free time, give or take a few hours, so enjoy yourselves."

Both boys breathed a sigh of relief. "Reil and I were trying too, till this jerk stormed in and started making things all the much harder."

This perked Tom's interest. He raised both eyebrows in surprise, "Really? What happened?"

Reil shook his head, "Well, lots of smack talk and we wanted to show him that that won't work on us, but the surprise was, we ended up dying more than he ever did. I can't remember the last time I ever lost that bad, other than to you guys."

"Hmm…" Tom closed his eyes and scratched his head, obviously deep in thought.

"What ya thinking, bud?"

"Don't know, Josh. You know it didn't take him very long to get where he is."

Suddenly Reil and Ace became very nervous. "Umm… who?" Both boys spoke slowly in unison, as if they weren't sure if they wanted to hear the answer.

Tom opened his eyes slowly, "Do you really want to know?"

"No but…" Ace was cut off from an angry shout from Chris.

"Dammnit JD! When the hell did you become this good? I haven't had one chance to lay a single shot on you, yet I still died! How?!" Chris slammed the door closed to his pod and made his way to the boys.

"You were right about one thing. It's damn near impossible!"

Ace smiled grimly, "Sorry kid."

Chris shrugged his shoulders, "No big."

Reil's eyes suddenly widened, "Did we hear you shout the name JD?"

Just then, JD exited the pod looking much more composed, but still slightly upset. He was sweating and breathing hard, as if he ran a marathon. Everyone was surprised to see the current state of him, but JD didn't care who was staring. Once he made eye contact with the group, he walked over, causing the two older teens to slightly stiffen in fear.

JD rolled his eyes, "Sorry guys, I was really venting in there I guess. Kinda surprised myself in there, too. I mean, it's not every day I see a forty five to five kill-death ratio." He paused with a slight grin forming, "I'm going to my quarters to rest." JD turned to walk away without waiting for a response.

Reil: "That was intense."

Ace: "No shit!"

Josh: "Jeez."

Tom: "That punk."

Chris: "Seriously guys, but wow."

Tom: "He gets better every time. I'm afraid just how much better his skill will get."

Before anyone could respond, a stranger stepped up, causing a collective gasp amongst the boys, "Not a good sign to be showing off like that in a public place."

Everyone sharply turned their attention to the newcomer with raised eyebrows.

"Since when does a stranger care?" Chris asked before anyone could stop him.

"Since the enemy has eyes and ears everywhere." Came the reply.

Tom had been observing him. He thought he looked somewhat familiar, but couldn't place him anywhere. He was wearing a black leather jacket and what seemed like blue denim pants. He had his black spiked hair cut short and striking green eyes. When their eyes connected, he gave him a wink with his left eye, causing Tom to look away and blush slightly but only for a second.

"Do I know you from somewhere?"

"Probably. I need to get going. Be safe out there. Do not wander alone." He too didn't wait for a reply and left.

"That was….creepy." Reil stated.

"Agreed." Came the simultaneous response.

Tom: "But he has a point. I thought I saw him from somewhere, I'm not sure. He doesn't have any unit logos or anything showing."

Josh: "I agree, we should all stick together. While I know this is Chris's first time on the Grievance, what about you two boys?"

Ace: "It's our first time here too."

Tom: "Cool! Want a tour? We could find a decent meal onboard while we're at it."

Everyone nodded and Tom waved them to follow him. Once they were gone, the pod room began to fill up again.

1 The Difference between a normal PPC and an erPPC was the range. The normal PPC being Inner Sphere tech and the Extended Range version of the PPC being Clan tech. The difference also comes with more punch in the extended range as well as more heat.

2 Clan ranks vary per Clan and can be changed at any time. The khan, Council, General, top leader of any Unit reserves the right to promote, demote, banish, do anything in the best interests of their Unit. Not to get too far off point, the current rank structure for Fierce Panthers is as follows from lowest to highest:

Star Captain
Star Colonel
Star Commander
Nova Captain
Nova Colonel
Nova Commander
Galaxy Commander

3 Death From Above. The act of a 'Mech jumping into the air and then landing on top of another 'Mech with intent to try and damage the head(HUD) for an instant kill. The drawback of this is the pilot whose 'Mech is doing the DFA often gets heavily damaged from the explosion of the 'Mech it landed on top of.

4 C-bill or C-bills. A Mechwarrior's currency. As an example, 'Mechs were very expensive as the smallest 'Mech starts at around two million C-bills and up.

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