11 November 3037
The ancient Scout-class starship screamed in agony. The hyperspace field formed, and the terrible energies harnessed by the Kearny-Fuchida drive that ran the length of its 273 meters rotated the ship out of the three spatial and one-time dimension universe.
Jake Kalmar intellectually knew that transitions between jump points were subjectively instantaneous for those riding aboard the JumpShip. Yet every time he experienced the long, long seconds the ancient technology took to work its interstellar-transportation miracle, his soul stretched into a ribbon of flayed existence that screamed in sympathy with the ship. A long eternity of pain later, the ship rotated back into the four-dimensional universe nearly thirty light-years from where it began; the hyperspace field collapsed, sending a sphere of red-shifted energy racing away in all directions into the Sigurd system.
Jake stood on the command deck of the Aquinus, swallowing against the dry heaves that threatened while the rest of the crew leapt into action, checking systems and preparing his DropShip for immediate departure. The pings of the ship around him matched the blood-hammer of his heart in his ears. He’d asked. Many times. Until he’d stopped as concern etched features with potential disrespect. Disrespect in any military was bad enough, but for a pirate, it meant a walk out the airlock. If you were lucky.
Jake surreptitiously placed his hand on a panel of the nearly three-centuries-old vessel. I hear your pain, old friend, even if no one else does. Thank you.
A final swallow settled his stomach and he gazed out the viewport of the JumpShip. Another old friend settled claws across his shoulders, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. The yellow-white light of Sigurd’s F4-class star—situated several million kilometers below the zenith jump point where they’d arrived—illuminated the dismal planetary system. The solitary gas giant, Odin, hung bloated in the far distance as the view automatically telescoped. And endlessly trapped its elliptical orbit, the cold, frozen moon of Sigurd, too distant yet for sensors to make out.
Blake’s Blood, I hate this place. He wanted to spit, but Captain Olson would have his head. Jake knew he should disconnect his mag-boots and begin the zero-g glide toward the DropShip dock to begin the run in-system. Their pirate hunters from the Inner Sphere could be arriving any minute. They’d hounded them for months, forcing him back and back and back again. But those claws pressed skin, until he swore pinpricks of blood welled across shoulders, regardless of his suit’s unblemished surface.
The locals called Odin by another name: God’s Eye. He called it that. He wanted to spit again. After a horrific youth of mining the ice moon for ores from asteroid impacts alongside all those that made the moon home, he’d finally cast off such mumbo jumbo. Yet if there was a God, there was probably hell. And if there was a hell, not only was he going there, but this place was a proving ground. Unlike most of those souls, he’d made it out of this hellhole, yet somehow it kept drawing him back. No matter how many riches he and his pirate crew pillaged; no matter the hefty payoffs to that opulent pig Hendrik Grimm III of the Oberon Confederation to give him free rein; no matter the wonders of lostech at his command; this grim, dark abyss called to him and drew him back time and again.
He’d heard rumors that his cousin Lori had made it out years ago. Gone for good, to make her name in the Inner Sphere. But he never believed it. Not for a second.
No one ever really escapes their past.
Jake ground teeth until the pain pushed back the claws. Glanced toward the captain, whose too-knowing-eyes searched his own. That disrespect swirling once more. A nod, and he unlocked his boots and pushed recklessly out of the command deck and into the corridor.
If this was his fate this day, he would face it as he always did. Teeth bared, shouting down God. And spitting in his face.
The controls of Jake’s Ravager calmed him as no balm of booze or flesh ever could. The usual heavy trod of the ninety-five-ton war-forged avatar almost moved with grace in the moon’s lighter gravity.
It helped keep the demons and claws at bay as God’s Eye seemed to fill all of existence. Through his BattleMech’s viewport, overshadowing the empty, frozen landscape, the gas giant filled a third of the entire sky. A striped, unblinking sphere that pressed down on human consciousness with an inexorable weight, as though God were really there; a terrible, vengeful deity grinding the humans under its watch to dust, alongside the ore they mined. The only light, a bright crescent along the edge of God’s Eye as the sun vainly attempted to illuminate the system from behind the behemoth; an arc light in a deep blue sky, leaving the rest of the gas giant a glowing, sullen red.
“Jake, they’re almost here.” His second’s voice broke the maudlin thoughts as the words rang in his ears. The neurohelmet encasing his head always kept him calm, focused. But he struggled today, more so than usual. “Wish we could’ve suckered the locales into this mix.”
Jake shook his head, the helmet scraping across the shoulders of the coolant vest he’d likely never need in any combat on this ice ball. He’d hoped to draw the Sigurd Defense Forces into the fray against these tenacious Chloe’s Cavaliers. But he’d cowed them years before; they remained as craven as ever, hiding in their ice caves, hoping their betters wouldn’t see them.
He laughed, a little mania slipping in. Don’t you know? It’s always watching. God’s Eye is always watching!
“We got this, Olaf,” he responded. “We’ll show ’em what pirates can do in their own den. They think they know our forces? They’ve not yet met my Ravager.”
A round of chuckles burst on the commline from his crew. His lips moved from a rictus towards an actual smile.
My crew. Mine. I built this. They may come to take it away, but they’ll have to pay the price. Under God’s Eye, they’ll pay the price.
Radar pings drew his eye as the ghostly green arrows on the screen neared. Almost in range. Outnumbered. He patted his ’Mech’s controls as though scratching behind the ears of a favorite pet. But not outgunned.
Memories bubbled to the surface under the tension.
Another hellish planet hundreds of light-years anti-spinward along the edge of the Periphery; a lost system only found by accident.
Storms and earthquakes raging as though the planet itself were alive, trying to annihilate the human virus on its skin.
The broken carcass of a Star League–era BattleMech and its invaluable lostech.
Jibbet, they’d called that planet. If ever there was a twin to Sigurd’s hell, that was it.
So many years. So much money and raids to scrape together my precious Ravager. Come, Cavaliers! See what I’ve wrought!
Just then warning klaxons blared as the first of the enemy BattleMechs moved into weapons range. While the rest of the hunting company moved more slowly in a wide umbrella to ensnare his pirates, a pair of them, a Wolverine and Phoenix Hawk, moved at speed in oblique angles to his own position. Perhaps trying to flank them.
The Phoenix Hawk. Faster, but lighter armor. “Light up that Phoenix Hawk, boys.”
Moving his right joystick, the targeting reticule on his forward viewscreen lined up on the fast-moving Phoenix Hawk and burned the bright gold of on-target. He eased into the trigger, and the hypersonic, nickel-ferrous slug from his Ravager’s Gauss rifle crossed the distance in a blink of an eye. Armor shattered in a cratered impact on its right torso as the kilojoules of kinetic energy hammered into the enemy machine. A wave of long-range missiles from his lancemate’s Trebuchet washed across the ’Mech, explosions ballooning along its metal skin and tossing frost into the air as a fog of ice particles. Long-range lasers from other BattleMechs lanced into the obscuring cloud to add their damage. They were one of Grimm’s highest-earning pirate crews for a reason. His crew. Despite the additional wounds from his lancemates, the horrific capabilities of the ancient Star League–era Gauss rifle would make all the difference, as it had for years—lifted his spirits every time.
You’ve bitten off more than you can chew, Cavaliers!
Still moving full tilt at its near-hundred-kilometer sprint, the moment the Phoenix Hawk cleared the enveloping ice spray, a larger laser and particle projector canon answered in return, the energies cutting a glowing white-hot furrow of destruction across his own BattleMech’s armor.
Blake’s Blood! A Phoenix Hawk cannot mount that much weaponry!
A flash of his hand to the keypad to zoom in; sensors registered not only an unusual weapon profile, but the enemy’s armor had stood up better-than-expected against the pirate’s onslaught.
With the insight of adrenaline-pumped clarity, his thoughts raced. Apparently I’m not the only one fielding lostech this day!
For just an instant, his console went dark, dropping him into the perpetual gloom of the moon, before its steady, comforting glow sparked back to life—an issue with the mishmash nature of his Ravager FrankenMech. His eyes were drawn inexorably toward the gas giant, as though it had just winked at him. God always had a sick, wicked sense of humor.
His smile stretched back into a rictus, his lips so taut they threatened to tear and bleed in the dry environment. Jake slammed the BattleMech’s throttle forward, his avatar stomping through the rock-hard ice as he brought additional weapons to bear.
Now this was a challenge. This would be a good day to die. Spitting in God’s face.
The long decline and loss of technology that arose from the centuries of warfare during the Succession Wars hit hardest in the Periphery. The Periphery itself was already looked down on as the frontiers of human-occupied space, filled with the Inner Sphere’s castoffs, so the long march toward lostech ravaged technologies—and anyone’s abilities to produce them—in a disproportionate rate on the fringes of mankind’s empires.
While the Inner Sphere settled into a culture of salvage and refurbishment, those dregs of humanity—devolving into pirate kingdoms and dictatorships—were forced even further into desperation. Out there, BattleMechs were not simply field-repaired. They were all too often mash-ups, with whole parts, including skeletons, grafted on in an effort to field equipment that can still fight. The heavier such “FrankenMechs” are often also referred to as “Corsairs”, though no exact weight or chassis applies. Instead, Corsairs are these desperate chop-shop heavy and assault BattleMechs forged from parts from a variety of different ’Mechs, whatever can be found on forgotten battlefields.
One such Corsair briefly gained notoriety: Ravager, piloted by Jake Kalmar from the Oberon Confederation. In a string of successes, Kalmar built a pirate crew and waged a campaign of pillaging and terror, ranging far afield from the Confederation. Verified reports placed their raids upwards of 200 light years from the Confederation. Though, for whatever reason, Kalmar always cycled back to that home territory. A dangerous pilot and a brilliant leader, Kalmar nevertheless made the fatal mistake of being too successful.
A steady stream of witnesses claimed Kalmar’s BattleMech wielded advanced technologies, which raised the interest of Interstellar Expeditions, an organization dedicated to finding and protecting lost technologies and secrets from mankind’s past. They contracted with one of their long-term independent mercenary commands, Chloe’s Cavaliers, to hunt down and discover the truth.
Following the long march of JumpShip passage into the Periphery, the Cavaliers began hunting pirates. After many months of tracking and several bloody skirmishes, they eventually bearded Kalmar in his den on the frozen moon of Sigurd. There, after a dangerous fight, they defeated his Ravager and took the BattleMech as their own.
The ninety-five-ton Ravager was indeed filled with Star League–era technology, though mashed together in the most haphazard way possible. It housed an XL fusion engine, fifteen double heat sinks, and a bevy of superlative weapons: a Gauss rifle, a large pulse laser, and an Ultra AC/5. A beast of an assault ’Mech, despite its inevitable drawbacks from its Corsair nature, it was a BattleMech that could anchor any line.
It seemed astonishing that a pirate would have access to such technologies, regardless of their spit-and-baling-wire nature. (Or that Hendrik Grimm III, the brutal dictator of the Oberon Confederation, would allow the pirate to retain the BattleMech; a secret the Cavaliers never did discover.) While the pilot was killed and the rest of his cohorts scattered, the Cavaliers digging into Kalmar’s records revealed only a single planet’s name: Jibbet. After data mining IE’s astrological charts, no record of that system was recovered. Perhaps another database might uncover this strange anomaly, but for now, the Ravager’s origin remains a mystery.
Written by Randall Neil Bills
Catalyst Game Labs
HIGH RES MODEL