I pull up my map and consider the alternatives. With just a hint of pride, I realize that I'm now at least able to see that further north are several sharp mountain valleys that would cut directly across my path; without jumpjets, that way would be exceptionally difficult and at best painfully slow.
The moving lights seem very deliberate, they are searching for something or I'm very much mistaken. From up there, would they see me as I passed by at the mountain's foot? Can I risk it? Is there any other alternative?
A passage from Sun Tzu comes unbidden to mind, “Speed is the essence of war: take advantage when the enemy isn't ready, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded places.” (Art of War 9:19) Somehow it seems to me that they have probably already thoroughly searched the most direct route to where we met Nightingale... maybe that is the route I need to take because it will be the least expected.
Trying to remember if there was anything else in there, I am suddenly aware that I miss the man who gave that book to me: Colonel Greer. He probably saved my life when he elevated me into Joe's old 'Mech, but I wonder how we could have saved he and the rest of the GZR. For that matter, how can I now help save not only our survivors, but those others who are now somehow depending on me?
While these things plague me, my eyes are drawn back to the map and my wandering mind comes back to task. Maybe I need to just take off headed towards the barn's remains and trust in my equipment and what skill I've gained.
“Naomi, combat diagnostics, please.”
Indicators are blinking as I throttle up and swing south of the mountain. Before long, the lights have disappeared behind the naked stone of the massif.
Naomi informs me, “Combat diagnostics complete, all systems go.”
“Thanks.” I flick on the arming switches as the capacitors hum and missile silo covers retract.
Stumbling onto a dirt and gravel roadway, I can see that it's direction is towards that barn. This is a good time for a run, and I push the 3L to top speed, near 95kph. Thmmp, thmmp, thmmp, thmmp, the rhythm of the footfalls matching the rocking and swaying of the Raven's body become the not-so-subtle heartbeat of our mutual quest to remain alive.
Back and forth I swing the torso as I have observed Fatima do so many times before. BAP is on, I trust I will need to see someone else before I plow straight into them.
The distance passes quickly and I am now standing at the edge of the opening where we stood early last night. Oddly enough, there seem to be mounds of debris where the downed choppers were. Is this another trap? I skirt around the clearing on the north, trying to see the exit I plan to use towards one of the escape routes.
Before I find that exit, however, I see clearly enough to note that the far chopper, the one I shot down, seems pretty much intact. I know the old saw: curiosity killed the cat... but I just have to know what might be over there.
Slowly, I come up on the hulk. It looks like there are several large slashes in it that might well have been laser fire... wounds I don't remember giving it. I walk the Raven right up next to it, all the while scanning for anything that might be out of the ordinary; neither sensors nor eyeballs seem to show anything unusual. The big laser and the missile mounts all seem to still be there, and... no, wait, the laser's housing has taken direct fire, only the long optical chamber is still intact. If I were to guess, they didn't have time to salvage the gear yet and wanted to make sure that anything expensive was saved while destroying enough to make it useless to those without spare parts... like me. The cockpit, though, does seem undamaged... I wonder if their communications gear is still intact?
Do I dare demech on the chance? What if it has been booby-trapped? Wouldn't it be a lot like having secret access to have their comm gear? Is it worth the risks?
This trip seems to have been such a disaster, maybe I need to get a breath of fresh air. I know, it's a lame excuse, but sometimes the flimsiest of reasons seem to be the only way I can make a decision.
After making sure I am facing the majority of the clearing, I order, “Naomi, please kneel the 'Mech.”
The machine moves into a parked position without any verbal comment from the ai interface.
Trying to be as careful as possible not to have any mistakes in how specific I need to be, I follow-up with, “Please alert with contact details using external audio speakers if there are any hostile contacts on sensors. Keep this order active until I am back in the seat and have reconnected the neurohelmet to the system.”
“As you wish.”
“Canopy up, please.”
I guess that will have to do. As the upper half of the Raven's cockpit rises, I have the odd sense that it has opened it's beak to disgorge me like a bad meal. I clear the neurohelm and unbuckle the harness, chuckling to myself over the strange mental image. Out onto the side rail I step, then down the hand-holds and onto the softer soil. The air outside is fresher, though I think I also smell a distant hint of a big storm storm.
I put a small led headlamp on, and after clearing my ballistic sidearm, I approach the hull. I'm not sure what I expect to find, but I rather be prepared for any wild animal or missing pilot that might be hiding within. My caution, while appropriate, is unnecessary: there is no one here and nothing has snuck in to take up residence.
The copilot's door is open and a thin layer of dust seems to cover everything near it. The array of switches and indicators seems on par with what I have in the 3L, though most of that I guess are important systems are located down the center console within easy reach of either cockpit seat.
There are two things that catch my eye: the small control panel labeled “IFF Transponder” and the fairly bulky one labeled “Sequence Communications”. Problem is, I don't have the correct tool for the fancy fasteners they use to secure things in here.
It has taken me a few minutes to realize that the crew wouldn't have tools like that on their persons, but would need to have them in the craft for minor field repairs. Sure enough, right behind the copilot's seat is a small toolbox and... I smile to myself at the thought of how prepared some crew chief wanted them to be... what must be the backup unit for the IFF Transponder block. It looks like it uses the common Star League style cannon plug for connections and power, that or I'm missing a connection point in the limited light my lamp provides.
My hope that there is a similar cache of communications gear elsewhere in here is dashed, however. The electronics bay and silent reactor are both more than I can do anything about, but I have the skill to observe that the reactor is far more compact and better arrayed than any fusion system I've ever seen, much less worked on.
A bright flash illumines the confines much better than my poor torchlight and my heart freezes with my frame... only the rapid crash of a thunderclap releases me from the unexpected terror. Yet another fear hits me, my visor is open, if it starts to rain heavily, it will be soaked and may introduce more problems. I take the IFF thing and the tools and race for my cockpit.
No rain yet. At the Raven's foot, the sky again turns momentarily day, revealing dense roiling clouds overhead. The thunderclap hits me like a punch, but I fight through the din and haul my two prizes back up to the cockpit. I don't have a lot of space in my storage bins, so I just shock cord both to the back wall and drop onto the command couch.
“Please close the canopy, Naomi,” I say and the 'Mech again seals while buckles and neurohelm find their rightful places tying me to the machine.
I must be learning, it occurs that I need to cancel the exterior speaker order, “Naomi, please call any contacts normally.”
“Contact calls now returned to normal routing.”
“Thank you,” I say, just as another huge flash illumines the cockpit.
Edited by cmopatrick, 11 May 2013 - 05:11 AM.