Hunting the Devil

Editor's note: This account was first published in 2786 in the book "Operation Liberation: Stories from the Battle for Terra", published by New Avalon Press. The printing date was just prior to Kerensky's Exodus. It was reprinted in 3059 by the same publishers. The notes at the end are from this later printing.

It was almost over. After over a decade of near constant fighting, the struggle to free Earth of the scourge of Stefan Amaris and his followers was all but complete. Since the first uprisings in the Periphery in 2765, the fighting had been brutal and endless. But now we had finally reached Terra, after countless battles on countless worlds and after millions of deaths, we had reached our ultimate goal.

My division, the 309th Royal Battlemech Division, the "Black Chargers", had been in the thick of it from the start. When the war began, I was a lance commander in the 1948th Heavy Assault Regiment, but experience and casualties in the higher ranks had moved me into the command of the 1st Battalion by the time we finally began the liberation of Terra from the hands of Stefan the Usurper. Most of my friends and comrades in the regiment when the war started were long since dead, and at times I considered them the lucky ones. The few of us that were left were exhausted and haunted by what we had been witness to.

The horrors of the past few years have shaken me to my soul. I had learned as a child in history class about the incredible atrocities committed in the Terran world wars seven centuries earlier, but I had always assumed that mankind, despite periodic isolated exceptions, had passed beyond that barbaric state, that the ideas upheld by the Star League were now all but universal. Stefan Amaris proved very capable of clearing my mind of such naiveté.

Each planet in the Hegemony that we recaptured exposed us to new, incomprehensible examples of man's inhumanity to man. The slaughter of defenseless artists on Helen, human chain defenses, random atrocities committed to relieve the boredom of a Rim Worlds garrison, the list seemed endless. We expected we would see the worst of it on Terra and Amaris and his henchmen did not disappoint us.

We had first landed on Terra over a year ago in 2778, dropping into central Europe along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The fighting had been vicious, the Rim Worlds troops fighting at times like rabid animals, with no logic behind their tactics, only hatred. Entire cities were leveled, often by retreating Rim Worlds troops. After months of fighting led by General Kerensky, we had secured Europe and set our sights on North America, Amaris' stronghold. In February of 2779, the 309th dropped onto the Florida peninsula near Kennedy Aerospace Port, one of the largest and oldest spaceports on the planet. We secured it after about a week of fighting and though badly damaged in the process, it served as a bridgehead for follow on forces.

Over the next few months we worked our way north, meeting fanatical resistance from the Usurper's forces. The fighting in and around the Okefenokee Swamp was especially difficult, as nearly a regiment of enemy mechs had taken refuge in it. Finally, in early September we had reached our goal, the city of Atlanta, the regional capital for southeastern North America. Some of the largest financial institutions in the Inner Sphere had their headquarters there and it was guarded by one of Stefan Amaris' best units, the 6th Rim Worlds Republican Guards, commanded by General Yuri Sergeyevich Belyakov, though most people knew him by a different name, "The Devil".

From reports we had heard from people in the area, Belyakov could not have been more aptly nicknamed. As we closed in on the city, we learned more and more about the atrocities the "Devil" had committed. Mass graves were a common feature in the Atlanta area. Throughout the region, churches were burned to the ground or turned into houses of ill repute for the use of the garrison forces. Starvation and disease were rampant as resources were diverted for Amaris' troops. When our mechs would arrive in a newly liberated area, the locals would quickly gather around, grateful for their freedom and desperate for food and medicine. Even hardened warriors like us were frequently overcome by the emotions of the moment, though it only redoubled our desire to win.

Probably the worst of it was at Stone Mountain, a memorial to another civil war nearly a millennia earlier. Huge sculptures of famous military leaders from that war were carved into the granite mountain. They had been used for target practice by the Guards' mechs, almost totally obliterating them. That was not the worst of it by far. The metal content of the mountain makes it a natural lightning rod, the upper surface being pockmarked with thousands of small craters created by lightning strikes. Belyakov found this aspect of the mountain especially useful for relieving the boredom of garrison duty.

Every spring, during the peak thunderstorm season, prisoners would be chained atop the mountain. At first, the few SLDF soldiers unfortunate enough to have been captured alive were used, then after that supply was exhausted, civilians would be picked by a perverted lottery system, without regard to age or gender. When a thunderstorm developed, they were soon electrocuted by lightning strikes. Belyakov and his men would bet on who would be struck first, or how many strikes it would take to do the job. They even went so far as to use the weather control net to create storms if nature wouldn't. Most of the bodies were still on top of the mountain when we attacked the city. We counted over three hundred skeletons piled like lumber atop the mountain.

The fighting for Atlanta was typical of the entire campaign, vicious. Kamikaze-style charges by crippled Rim Worlds mechs were common and we took heavy casualties, my battalion loosing nearly half its mechs and a quarter of its pilots. However, there was no doubt as to the outcome of the battle, only the toll in lives it would take. The capture of Stefan Amaris by General Kerensky late in September simplified matters greatly. Amaris issued a general surrender order to his troops and the forces remaining in the Atlanta area soon gave up the fight, except for General Belyakov and his command staff.

A few hours after Amaris' surrender order went out, Belyakov and about a company of mechs boarded a Union class DropShip at Hartsfield Aerospace port and attempted to escape, possibly to South America, or even off planet, though the dozens of SLDF WarShips in orbit made that an almost suicidal possibility. Soon after his DropShip took off, our fighters descended upon it like wolves on a wounded deer. Crippled and unable to escape, the ship crash-landed about three hundred kilometers east of the city in rural South Carolina, northwest of the Communications Command facility at Hilton Head Island. We lost track of him soon afterwards when a major hurricane struck the region. Usually, the weather control net would be able to divert or dissipate such a storm, but it had been destroyed in the fighting. Fighters were grounded and mechs could barely remain standing in the 200 kilometer per hour winds and blinding rainsqualls.

For nearly a week, Belyakov remained missing. It was not for lack of desire to find him on our part. With the discovery of the horrible atrocities in and around Atlanta, which were estimated to have cost nearly a hundred thousand lives over the decade of occupation, Yuri Belyakov was the most wanted man on Earth. As the hurricane blew itself out and our fighters could get back into the air, his days on the lamb were about to end.

Just after sunrise on October 3rd, 2779, one of the division's Phoenix Hawk LAM's found Belyakov and his company of mechs about fifty kilometers southeast of the SLDF basic training base at Fort Jackson. Since we wanted him alive, we could not just bomb him into oblivion with our fighters, so the division's commander, General Raisley, ordered my company to drop in front of his expected path and take him down.

We were short a heavy lance due to casualties in Atlanta, but I had no doubts about our ability to bring him in. All of the mechs in my command were assaults, slow but incredibly powerful. My exec, Captain Marie Weimer, led a lance of jump capable assaults, which gave them a decided advantage against other mechs their size. She had somewhat of a twisted sense of humor, naming her pink Highlander "Thunder Bunny" and referred to "Death From Above" as the "Bunny Hop of Doom"! During the fighting on New Earth she had actually added huge bunny ears to her mech. The Colonel was not pleased and ordered them removed, after a few firefights. After so many years of near constant fighting, you needed a sense of humor to keep from going totally insane.

Also, as a Royal unit, we had the most advanced mechs available, including several brand new assault mechs just off the production line, including my Thunder Hawk, which replaced the Battlemaster I had shot out from under me outside of Warsaw a year earlier. Five of our eight mechs had gauss rifles, with "shotgun" auto cannons and PPC's also common. Even Bob Dorn's AS6-H Atlas was an upgraded model using more advanced tech than the more mundane AS7-D used by the Member States.

This was often both a boon and a curse for our regiment and the other Royals. We had the best and newest equipment, but that meant we often got the most difficult missions. This was to be a case in point. Recon had been unable to identify all the mechs in Belyakov's company, but had reported mostly heavies and mediums, with a couple of assaults, a force we could handle easily, especially if they were the lesser technology mechs that Intelligence told us they were. Besides, we had nearly a decade of combat experience behind us, while Belyakov and his men had spent the last decade terrorizing unarmed civilians. We'd hand them their heads!

Just after noon, a Lion class DropShip set us down about fifteen klicks ahead of Belyakov's line of march and we prepared to hold the mother of all surprise parties in his honor. The terrain wasn't the most inviting. The hurricane had destroyed most of the forest in the area and the ground was littered with uprooted pine trees. Some of the tangled piles were high enough to conceal a mech. The few trees that remained standing had been stripped bare of branches and leaves, looking like so many flag poles. The ground was covered with a layer of wet pine straw and branches, which made the terrain slippery, though it didn't slow our mechs down, just making our footing a little more precarious.

We had clear lines of sight and the advantage of surprise, along with a good track of Belyakov's position thanks to a lance of Zero's shadowing him. Because of the remaining cloud cover, they couldn't get a visual on him, which would give us a better idea of what types of mechs we were facing, but they did have him on their passive IR and electromagnetic sensors. Belyakov had a full company, with one lance apparently acting as point, with the other two following about half a klick behind.

About forty five minutes after we landed, our seismic sensors detected the point lance approaching from the west. There was a small hill between them and us and as they crested it we would provide them a greeting they would not soon forget.

First to come over the hill was a dilapidated old Phoenix Hawk. Primer gray, with obvious battle scars on its torso and legs, it stopped dead in its tracks as it came face to face with our two assault lances. I could just imagine the shock its pilot felt, seeing us arrayed before her. I gave the order to fire just as the Phoenix Hawk fired its jump jets. That maneuver saved the pilot's life. A half dozen gauss rifle shells that would have blown its head off instead slammed into the Hawk's pelvis and upper legs. The force of the impacts, combined with the stresses from jumping, tore the mech in two. Both legs tore free and fell to the ground. The rest of the Phoenix Hawk, now minus nearly a third of its mass, shot skyward almost a hundred meters. The mech was flailing its arms in a futile attempt to keep from tumbling out of control and quickly began to plummet towards the ground. The pilot ejected just seconds before the crippled mech slammed headfirst into the muddy soil, its machine gun ammo exploding on impact. A towering cloud of smoke and steam marked its grave.

The other three mechs in Belyakov's point lance came over the hill as the Phoenix Hawk was finishing its acrobatics. A jet black Guillotine led the way, followed by a tan and gray Starslayer and a rust colored Shadow Hawk. The Starslayer's presence surprised me. They were rare even in the SLDF, having gone into service just as the war started. That Belyakov's company had one was almost unconceivable. As I targeted it, something about the paint scheme looked disturbingly familiar. Suddenly I realized, it was one of ours! During the fighting around Atlanta, it must have been captured by the Rim Worlds troops and repaired and returned to service. A close look at its torso revealed the Rim Worlds' shark insignia painted over the Cameron Star of the SLDF.

All eight of our mechs opened up on the three enemy mechs. They didn't stand a chance in hell of surviving. The Guillotine held its ground, scoring several hits with its lasers and missiles, primarily on Ricardo Brackett's

Emperor, his right arm and torso taking a nasty beating. The rest of his lance caught the Guillotine in a crossfire, the mechs jumping to surround it. The Guillotine disappeared behind a whirlwind of explosions. When the smoke cleared, what was left of it was spread over the ground, with the only recognizable feature being the legs. The pilot didn't stand a chance, not that I felt any sympathy for her, being a Rim Worlds pilot meant she was the scum of the universe as far as I was concerned, deserving only a quick death.

The Starslayer and Shadow Hawk each fired a single ineffectual volley in our direction and fled back to the west, jumping like a pair of scared kangaroos. A gauss shell from Shaun Rush's Nightstar ripped the auto cannon off the Hawk's shoulder, while the Starslayer lost its left arm thanks to a volley from my Thunder Hawk.

As the two mechs disappeared behind the hill, I ordered Marie to do a quick "bunny hop" to see what was awaiting us on the other side. Her cameras recorded a scene that shocked all of us. The two fleeing Rim Worlds mechs had run straight into Belyakov's main body. Apparently he didn't tolerate cowardice among his troops. The Starslayer was vaporized in a hail of PPC, laser, auto cannon, and gauss rifle fire. The Shadow Hawk had both legs blown out from under it and a blood red Thug casually walked up to the broken hulk and kicked in its cockpit.

Marie's hop also provided us with a good look at what we were facing. Besides the Thug, and the Pillager we knew that Belyakov had pilfered from an SLDF depot, the enemy had a mix of heavies and assaults, almost all with advanced technology. We could identify an Awesome, Stalker, Marauder, Warhammer, and a Longbow. There should have been one more, but after a couple of reviews of the tape from Marie's Highlander we couldn't find it. So much for Intell's report of mostly second rate mechs. My mechs' warbook identified the Awesome, Marauder, and Warhammer as upgraded Royal variants, obviously plundered from Star League depots or captured during the initial fighting to seize the Terran Hegemony. Only the Stalker and the Longbow were older models. So much for our easy paycheck, we had a real fight on our hands. We still had a slight edge in tonnage and I assumed we had a clear advantage in ability so I wasn't too terribly concerned as to the outcome of the battle despite the surprise.

I ordered our mechs to climb to the top of the hill, which would give us a good firing position against Belyakov's mechs as they advanced. We fired our first volley as the enemy came within seven hundred meters. A half dozen gauss rifle shells and PPC's found there mark, with the Stalker seeming to take the worst of it. Its right side weapons pod took a beating and my sensors estimated that the LRM rack there was destroyed. Its left leg took a couple of hits as well, obviously hobbling it, though it didn't fall. Too bad, if it had it probably would have never gotten up again. The Stalker may be a good urban and fire support mech, but it's as maneuverable as a drunken water buffalo in a mud hole!

The enemy returned fire and to my surprise seemed to give almost as good as they got. Ric's Emperor took three PPC shots and a pair of gauss rifles. His right arm, already damaged by the Guillotine, was snapped clean off above the elbow, sending his auto cannon and large laser to the ground in a tangled heap. The Marauder's gauss rifle gave me cause to believe in a supreme being. A round skipped along the top of my Thunder Hawk's head, leaving a small furrow in the armor, but nothing more. Half a degree lower and the medtechs wouldn't have been able to recover enough of my remains to fill a thimble!

What we did next was probably a huge mistake. We held the high ground, a major advantage since Belyakov's mechs would have to advance across open terrain to get past us while we pummeled them. However, the anger and hatred that had been building over the years of fighting got the better of us. We didn't want to simply destroy these mechs, we wanted to annihilate them, utterly and completely. We succumbed to the blood lust and charged down the hill towards Belyakov's force.

Karen Stevenson and her blue and gold Pillager were the first to reach the enemy, charging full speed into the Warhammer. It tried to fire its twin PPC's point blank into her, but she grabbed the barrels with her fists and pushed them aside. The 'hammer fired its lasers and missiles in a desperate attempt to break away from her, but she ripped its torso open with her twin gauss rifles and delivered a brutal kick to the Warhammer's groin. The kick didn't have the same effect on the mech that it would have had on a human male, but was still devastating. It crushed the lower torso and crippled both hip actuators. Another kick and a shove sent the mech sprawling. A few well placed laser blasts made sure it stayed down, but also nearly took out Karen's Pillager. One of her shots hit the machine gun ammo bay and set off a chain reaction in the missile bay as well. Pieces of Warhammer peppered her Pillager, with part of the left arm's PPC smashing her right knee. Despite her best efforts, the Pillager went down hard on its right side. Needless to say, her Pillager now had the speed profile of a stunned snail, even jumping was risky, since the damaged knee threatened to collapse upon landing. Even more, I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was in serious pain, possibly from the fall.

While Karen tangled with the Warhammer, I found myself coming under fire from the Awesome and Marauder, both at about five hundred meters range. A trio of PPC's found their mark, though thankfully, not all in one place. My torso, right arm, and left leg each lost over a half ton of armor, but I was able to stay on my feet and returned fire on the Marauder with a trio of Gauss rifle shots. Two hit, the first hitting the left side of its torso, near the engine pod, while the second took a chunk out of his left forearm weapons pod.

Soon Shaun and his Nightstar joined me. He took on the Awesome, while I continued with the Marauder. By now our common sense was starting to take control of our emotions and we both tried to keep some distance between us and the two Rim Worlds' mechs. Shaun literally picked the Awesome apart, blowing both its arms off with a few well-placed gauss and PPC shots. He took some damage in return, but the Rim Worlds pilot didn't have anywhere near the accuracy that Shaun had and spread his shots out. Shaun kept up his fire, switching his aim to the Awesome's legs, always a weak spot for that huge mech. A pair of gauss shells slammed into the right leg, just below the knee, shearing it off. The Awesome lived up to its name as it toppled face first to the ground. Without arms to help brake its fall it hit hard, actually bounced twice, then just lay there, steam pouring from the holes that once held its arms. We didn't know it at the time, but the impact broke the pilot's neck.

The Marauder was doing somewhat better than its unfortunate comrade. A hit to my Thunder Hawk's left shoulder warped the joint, jamming the shoulder and severely limiting the firing arc for the twin medium lasers in my left forearm. Another shot took off about half the armor from my right torso, obliterating the Cameron Star painted there.

I let the Marauder have it with all three gauss rifles. The lights on my control console dimmed appreciably as the three huge weapons drew power for their magnetic coils. All three rounds hit, taking the left arm off at the shoulder and sending the Marauder spinning to the ground. As it tried to get back up, I let him have it again, this time right in the mech's derriere. The trio of shells smashed through his paper thin rear torso armor, through the gyro, the engine, and finally the cockpit. He wasn't as lucky as I had been a minute or so earlier. The medtechs would need a mop and bucket to clean up what was left of him.

Bob Dorn's Atlas scored the next kill. He decided to give his complete and undivided attention to the Stalker, badly damaged in our first exchange of fire. Bob had a habit of using his Atlas' size and strength more than his weapons to dispatch his enemies. This was no exception. He didn't even fire a shot as he rammed into the Stalker's egg shaped torso from the right side, sending it over on its side. Bob rolled it over onto its back, its legs kicking vainly in an attempt to try and right itself. The Atlas bent down and grabbed the right leg with both hands and placing a foot on the Stalker's belly for leverage, Bob ripped the leg right out of the hip socket. He threw it away then proceeded to amputate the left leg in the same fashion. Just out of spite he kicked the legless Stalker, sending it rolling down a hill, finally stopping about thirty meters away when it hit a large pile of fallen pine trees.

I was starting to think that this was going to be a pretty easy victory after all, with half of Belyakov's mechs down with only moderate damage to our mechs. Then I heard Bob scream over the open channel, "Look out, its a Ki....". I spun towards him just in time to see his Atlas' head explode in a shower of flame and debris. The headless mech stood there, shaking slightly for a few seconds, then collapsed like a rag doll, its ammo going off on impact in a massive blast that sent broken tree trunks flying along with chunks of Atlas.

As the smoke cleared, I saw a sight that still gives me chills just to think about. From behind an eight meter tall pile of now smoldering tree trunks arose a horrific monster, a KGC-000 King Crab, one of the most vicious close assault mechs ever designed. Twin "Deathgiver" 200mm auto cannons gave it tremendous firepower at close range. It had been laying in wait behind the trees, squatting down like a bird on a nest. Now it was looking for its next victim.

Kris Robbins and his Devastator moved to engage the King Crab, firing his twin gauss rifles and PPC's to little effect. The King Crab's flattened design made it a difficult target and several times Kris' fire just skipped off its broad back. As Kris closed in I yelled at him to keep back, but it was too late. The "Deathgivers" made a horrible ripping sound as they pumped round after round of armor piercing 200mm shells into the Devastator at a rate of fire that must surely be pushing the guns to their limits. Kris' right arm was ripped to shreds by the fire, the gauss rifle exploding in an electric blue flash. The shells traveled across his torso, passing just below his cockpit, finally slicing into his left arm at the shoulder, leaving it hanging limply at his side. Stripped of nearly six tons of armor and its right arm, the Devastator crashed to the ground, the impact finishing the damage to the savaged left arm.

Armless and stunned, Kris tried desperately to get his mech back on its feet again, but the King Crab appeared to be determined to prevent that from happening. Slowly, it walked forward towards the prone Devastator. As it aimed its right arm at the back of Kris' head, I heard yet another scream over the radio. It was Marie. Like a scene from some twisted dream, her pink Highlander was racing towards the King Crab at top speed. Just as it looked like she was going to charge him, she fired her jump jets. The Crab tried to turn and fire a salvo at her, but he didn't have a chance. He was able to pivot his torso down just as ninety tons of Highlander slammed into him feet first. The move saved him from a direct cockpit hit, but didn't save his mech. While the King Crab's broad back was able to survive the impact mostly intact, the same could not be said of its legs. With a shower of sparks and a hideous screech of tearing metal, the legs were ripped from the Crab's torso under the hundreds of tons of force generated by the impact.

Marie was an excellent pilot and kept her footing, stumbling forward off of the now legless King Crab. She walked up to the front of the mech as it tried to aim its cannons up at her. Stepping down on one of the guns, she pointed her gauss rifle at the King Crab's cockpit and put a shell right through it, obliterating its pilot as he had obliterated Bob. She then turned and walked over to Kris and helped his crippled Devastator get back on its feet. It was then I realized that the battle outside had come to a temporary halt as both Star League and Rim Worlds pilots watched in awe, and fear, at Marie's attack. I had never seen her do anything like that. It was as if she had snapped, letting all her anger and pain come out at once and sending it at the King Crab.

The brief respite didn't last for long. A hail of LRM's came screaming in on our positions from the Longbow, which had worked its way around to the south. Ricardo took after it in his damaged Emperor, his lone remaining large laser and auto cannon firing furiously, though to little effect against the Longbow's superior armor. The ungainly fire support mech redirected its fire directly at him, sending fifty missiles and a pair of lasers at him. Fire and smoke wreathed Ricardo's upper torso as three dozen missiles found their mark. Several slammed into the cockpit and the Emperor stumbled forward a half dozen steps before collapsing. Unconscious from the tremendous concussion from the multiple impacts, Rick was unable to do anything to cushion his fall. The force of the impact ruptured several coolant lines near his cockpit, flooding his cockpit with boiling hot coolant. He was boiled alive, though mercifully, he never regained consciousness.

With a tremendous cloud of dirt, smoke, and steam, the Crocket piloted by Samantha Borman, or "Sammy" as she liked to be called, came flying over a hill, landing a hundred meters to the left of the Longbow. I had a clear line of sight from the front and together we let him have it. Sammy's lasers, missiles, and shotgun auto cannon ripped into the Longbow's left missile barrel while my gauss rifles blew the right one clean off. That wasn't the end of it, though. A staccato popping sound could be heard coming from the Longbow, then flames began to spray out from around both shoulder joints. The pilot's ejection seat soared skyward, pursued by a tongue of flame shooting out from the now empty cockpit. The mangled left arm was blown off as the chain reaction in the Longbow's huge ammo bays accelerated. Suddenly the whole torso exploded in a brilliant fireball as the fusion engine's containment system failed under the onslaught. Fragments sailed outward for nearly a hundred meters in all directions. Sammy took several fragments, including one that shattered her cockpit canopy, showering her in broken glass. Briefly stunned by the impact, she lost her footing on a fallen tree trunk and her Crocket unceremoniously landed on its rear end.

Suddenly I realized that I had lost track of Belyakov's mech! In a near panic at the prospect of failing at my mission, I spun my Thunder Hawk around to try and find him. For several stomach-wrenching seconds he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, Shaun called out that he'd seen him about half a kilometer to the east. Shaun and I were the only ones close enough to catch up with him. Sammy was still on the ground, while Marie was trying to keep both Karen's Pillager and Kris' Devastator on their feet.

As I accelerated after Belyakov's Pillager, a vicious blast to my left rear nearly sent me flying. Coming at me full throttle and weapons blazing was the blood red Thug that had executed the Shadow Hawk pilot. I told Shaun to keep after Belyakov while I dealt with the Thug. Before he got too close, I let loose a full salvo from my gauss rifles. One skimmed mere centimeters over his head, while the second hit his left torso. The third hit him right above the right ankle, making him skip a step and nearly fall. But this guy was good and he kept coming.

I braced for impact as our mechs collided at a closing speed of nearly eighty kilometers per hour. The impact was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I went flying forward in my cockpit, with only my harness keeping me from being splattered all over the control console and canopy. The noise was deafening, like a thousand DropShips launching at once. I quickly gathered my senses and looked out my cockpit window to see the Thug's pilot staring back at me only a few meters away.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw his left arm beginning to swing towards me and I swiftly turned my torso away from the swing, the fist aimed for my cockpit instead smashing into my right shoulder. I retaliated with a right of my own, though my aim was lower. I buried my fist into his left SRM rack, setting off the missiles loaded and ready to fire. The blast traveled back to the ammo bay and set off the nearly eighty missiles stored there. Flames shot out his back as his CASE panel blew out, saving him from destruction. The force of the blast drove him into me, nearly sending us both tumbling to the ground. He bounced back off of me and came down hard on his right side before rolling over onto his back.

I started to untangle myself from the crippled Thug when my sensors began to report a massive energy surge from the Thug's fusion engine. At first I thought it had been damaged in the explosion, but a maniacal laugh over the Thug's PA system changed that. He shouted; " You and me 'ave a one way express train ticket to hell you Star League bastard!". He was overloading his engine, committing suicide, but hoping to take me with him.

I turned to run, but something stopped me, nearly tripping my Thunder Hawk. Looking down, I could see that he had grabbed my ankle with his right hand. His fingers were dug into the joint and no matter how hard I pulled, I couldn't break free. Desperate, with only seconds until his engine blew, I aimed my right arm gauss rifle at his elbow and fired point blank, amputating it.

Running as fast as I could, dragging the severed arm and PPC with me, I made it about fifty meters away before he blew. The concussion threw my 100-ton mech to the ground face first and I slid along another thirty meters. One of my shoulder straps, weakened in the initial collision between our mechs, gave way, sending me head first towards my control panel. My neurohelmet shattered my long range sensor display and the wires from my helmet were yanked out of the sockets, severing the link between my brain and the Thunder Hawk and leaving my mech as limp as a rag doll until I could plug them back in.

Partially regaining my senses, and wishing the little yellow birdies would stop flying around inside my cockpit, I slowly picked myself off the ground. I could hear debris sliding off the Thunder Hawk's back as I stood. I called out to Shaun, wondering where he was, as well as Belyakov, and for that matter, me too! I soon saw him on the other side of a hill trading gauss rifle shots with Belyakov, who was jumping around to avoid getting hit.

I started after him, but felt something dragging behind me. Looking down I could see the Thug's arm still locked in a death grip to my ankle! In frustration I kicked out sharply with that leg, snapping the fingers and sending the arm flying like a football. Freed of my unwanted passenger, I took off at top speed towards the battle between Shaun's Nightstar and Belyakov's Pillager.

Seeing my mech coming to join Shaun's, Belyakov turned and ran. We ran after him, with Shaun about three hundred meters ahead of me, firing away with his gauss rifles and PPC in hopes of a lucky hit. Suddenly, Belyakov stopped and turned, firing both of his rifles and his lasers at Shaun. I didn't see the impacts, but his Nightstar's torso pitched forward, digging its nose into the ground, which sent it tumbling end over end in a gigantic somersault. Both legs tore loose, along with the left arm, its gauss rifle's capacitors shorting out in a shower of bright blue sparks. I tried to raise Shaun on the radio, but failed. The impact had knocked him out cold, and worse, broken his back, leaving him paralyzed.

Belyakov didn't give me much time to worry about Shaun. Twin projectiles slammed into my Thunder Hawk's chest, sending me back a step. I returned the fire with a trio of my own, hitting his right leg and left arm, crushing both medium lasers in the forearm. We began to circle each other like a pair of reluctant boxers, trading gauss rifle shots back and forth. He sent a pair of rounds into my already damaged left shoulder, amputating it and two of my lasers. One of my rounds hit the muzzle of his right torso gauss rifle, pinching the barrel enough to prevent him from firing it. Another round breached his left torso and my infrared scanner showed a heat spike as he lost engine shielding.

Without warning, Belyakov fired his jump jets and came flying at me. I figured he was attempting a Death From Above and moved to dodge him. Instead, he landed behind me, trying to strike at my weak rear armor. This maneuver was his downfall. His Pillager landed hard on his damaged right leg, and with a sickening scream of tortured metal and tearing myomers it began to buckle just above the knee. He tried to shift his weight over to his left leg, but a quick kick from my Thunder Hawk ended any hope of recovery and he collapsed, the impact feeling like a small earthquake. I could see sparks shooting through his cockpit as his systems shorted out and his mech died.

I walked up to the lifeless Pillager and stood over it, pointing my right arm and its gauss rifle straight at its cockpit. I ordered Belyakov to surrender and come out. I fully expected him to do something stupid, like shoot himself, or try and overload his engine, but in the end he did the last thing I ever expected him to do, he gave up. He opened the hatch on the top of his mech's head, threw out his pistol and jumped out with his hands on his head. After everything that had happened, the atrocities, the brutal fighting, the most wanted man in the known universe had just given up without so much as a peep! To make it worse, the little bastard was smiling! The urge to crush him under my foot, or leave him a smoking crater was almost overwhelming, but I was a soldier and followed my orders no matter what. They wanted him alive and they would get him alive.

Within a half-hour, a VTOL arrived to pick him up, followed by medevac choppers to pick up the dead and wounded. We had lost two people, Ricardo Brackett and Bob Dorn, and all but four of the Rim Worlds Mechwarriors had been killed. Shaun Rush survived his injuries, though the inability to pilot a mech took its toll on him. He was given a medical discharge in 2781 and committed suicide on Dieron about six months later. Karen had four broken ribs and a concussion from when the exploding Warhammer knocked down her Pillager. The rest of us were physically fine, though mentally was another matter. We were all exhausted. Marie resigned her commission within a week and left for her home in the Lyran Commonwealth. The rest of us stayed with the unit. We really didn't have anywhere else to go. The rest of us were all from the Hegemony and there were no homes to go back too, the war had seen to that.

We did have one addition to our unit, under most unusual circumstances. The Phoenix Hawk pilot had ejected from her mech and had survived the battle with only a few broken bones. We found out that she and the Starslayer and Shadow Hawk pilots were local draftees, forced to serve in the Rim Worlds' armies under pain of death for their families as well as themselves. She wasn't such a bad Mechwarrior, especially when she wasn't outnumbered eight to one, so she wound up joining the 1948th as a sergeant piloting a Warhammer. Surprisingly, a number of former Rim Worlds troops ended up in the SLDF after the war. Most of them were not particularly happy with their former employers to begin with, being draftees, and adapted easily to the SLDF.

One former Rim Worlds' soldier who did not adapt was General Belyakov. Soon after the battle we found out where he was running to. A shuttle was hidden just north of the Communications Command facility at Hilton Head Island. He planned to use it to slip past our orbital forces and rendezvous with a JumpShip at a pirate point just outside Mars’s orbit. He would have been in for a hell of a shock when he reached the JumpShip, an Essex class destroyer had found and destroyed it the day after our battle!

Belyakov was taken back to Atlanta and put on public trial for crimes against humanity. There was no doubt as to what the verdict would be, the whole trial being an exercise to show that we had not sunk to their level, with summary executions, etc...(well, except for Amaris himself, but after seeing video of the throne room in Unity City, no one complained). Belyakov was convicted and executed in 2780.

Our battle was the last major mech engagement of the war. Most of Amaris' forces obeyed his surrender order, save for a few holdouts here and there. We figured that now that the war was over, things would return to normal. We were wrong. Amaris wiped out the entire Cameron line, so there is no clear line of succession to the throne. The various house lords have spent the last couple of years bickering amongst themselves, each trying to prove to the others that he or she is most qualified to become the new First Lord. The only thing they seem to agree on is that General Kerensky is a threat to them. He's, without doubt, the most popular man in the galaxy right now and a threat to their hold on power. They've stripped him of his title as Protector of the Star League, insulting him when they should be praising him for freeing humanity from the Amaris scourge. It looks like everything we fought and died for is gone. The house lords will never agree to a new First Lord, short of pounding each other into submission. There are rumors that the General is planning something, what we have no idea. Most of us aren't up to another war, but if we have to fight, we will. I hope it doesn't come to that, but there are few other options as I see it.

When they were loading Belyakov onto the VTOL to take him back to Atlanta, I had stopped him and asked him why he was smiling when he left his Pillager. He looked at me in an almost grandfatherly way and said in his thick Russian accent; "Because we won, son. Because we won. Oh, you may have defeated my men and I most certainly will die, but we achieved our objective anyway. Your great Star League is dead and the struggle for its carcass will make my deeds pale in comparison." What really scares me and keeps me up at nights is my belief that he's probably right.

Editor's Note: Belyakov was right. Soon after this story was published, Major Matteson and the majority of the surviving members of the Star League Defense Forces joined General Kerensky in the Exodus. His fate is unclear, as are those of his comrades in the battle that also left. There is apparently a Matteson Bloodname in the Clans, though there were at least three other Mattesons in the Exodus and the Bloodname's origins are unclear. Kristofur Robbins may have been part of the annihilated Clan Wolverine, though Clan records are very difficult to come by. Karen Stevenson remained behind, joining Com Star and aiding in its takeover of Terra. Samantha Borman joined the forces of the Federated Suns' Crucis Lancers. Captain Marie Weimer served the Lyran Commonwealth, retiring in the 2810's as a General with a distinguished record. The surviving Rim Worlds' draftee, Tiffany Eldridge apparently also left in the Exodus, though her fate is unknown.