138 Freedom Fighter
Vincent Ricklin did not suffer fools gladly. Sadly, encountered many fools in the cause he had shackled to. If the rebel had anything kind to say about the Bentheim Liberation Movement, it was that at least a third of them believed in the cause.
The remainder consisted of a mix between disgruntled pirates looking for a thrill and foreign provocateurs wishing to destabilize the Republic.
He did not have a beef with either of them. Vincent pretty much turned into a pirate himself when he vaporized half the elders of his family. Also, the foreign agents from the Vesia Kingdom and elsewhere generously bankrolled their entire operation.
This meant that Vincent should be able to get along with everyone in the Movement. The reality proved otherwise.
The separatists wanted to fight the Mech Corps directly, which was suicide. No matter how well-funded, a group of rebels could never match up against the might of a proper army.
The pirates wanted to keep hitting soft targets. Their bloodthirsty instincts pushed them to ever-greater acts of **** and pillage, the opposite of how a rebel group ought to behave.
As for the foreign agents, they barely managed to rein in the worst of the group by threatening to cut off the money. For all their smarts and secrets, they barely knew how to
From this motley crew of bandits and rebels, Vincent only trusted his old butler. Johnson stood by his side, armed and armored like he meant it. The former wastrel found Johnson's deathly presence to be an effective deterrent against the more lawless types in the crew.
"When they told me the BLM actually stood a chance of freeing Bentheim from the Republic, I never believed the spy for a second."
His elder butler concurred. "The port system is a strategic asset. If the Bentheim System actually manages cast off the Republic's yoke, the Kingdom will simply step in afterwards."
Thereby adding a third port system to their considerable territory. Such a drastic change fundamentally affected the power balance in the region. The Vesians didn't even have to conquer the rest of the Republic. They could simply starve the remote systems into submission by cutting off access to cheap and convenient trade.
Not that Vincent cared about any sides. He always reminded to himself that he worked for himself. The BLM provided him with an escape route from his slowly worsening status with the Ricklins. Now that they served their purpose, Vincent increasingly inched towards the exit.
Not that General Vasil or Agent Orian ever let him out of their sights. The leader of the resistance movement along with the head liaison from the Vesians both invited Vincent for a meeting. The young man navigated the crudely tunneled corridors of the movement's asteroid base and entered a conference room, or whatever passed as one.
Compared to the stellar interior of the Ricklins, the current room left much to be desired. Empty crates served as their seats while an empty stack of mech-sized magazines acted as their table.
"Can't you whip up something better?" Vincent questioned with an exasperated tone. "We've been staying here for months. You don't even need a printer. Just let one of the boys whip something up with a welder and some scrap."
The great military general of closed his eyes in ecstasy as he injected his veins with a smuggled stimulant. "Our means are not much. This ain't your old daddy's operation where you can shower everyone with money. We are barely keeping up our maintenance."
"Enough. Let's not waste Mr. Ricklin's time." Agent Orian interrupted as he looked up from his work at disassembling a faulty spy drone. "Vincent, we've called you here because we have a major operation in store."
"You're cooking something other than a mindless killing spree?"
"Every act has a purpose. The constant terror bombings has succeeded in frightening the Republic. It has made them retract their defenses just the way we like it. In fact, their feeble response directly enables us to proceed with the operation we have in store."
Just as the agent was about to enumerate their goals, an alarm engulfed the entire base. The loud sirens and red flashing lights interrupted everyone rebel in the giant asteroid base.
The general gestured with his palm, cutting off the alarm. Vasil summoned up a projection of the asteroid base and its perimeter. A large amount of large red dots surrounded the base. This didn't alarm him as much as a section of the asteroid itself beginning to take on a crimson color.
"We've been infiltrated!" The general roared and slammed his fist against the top of his makeshift table. "They've already launched a regiment of mechs at sector gamma and established a beachhead! They're splitting our mechs from our ships!"
Their asteroid base mainly guarded against sabotage. With the kind of crew they were running, the possibility that a drunk pilot might one day go crazy and shoot everything in sight was a distinct possibility. Therefore, the base placed the mech stables at the opposite side of the ship bay.
Which meant that none of the mechs could escape so long as the Hellhounds blocked the passages in between.
More intelligence started to stream in once the invaders stopped hiding. "It's the 3rd Infernal Hellhounds!"
Everyone's faces soured even further. The Third was one of the most stubborn and scrappiest regiments of the 2nd Bentheim Division. They embodied the principle of eschewing complicated tricks and schemes in favor of charging over and punching mechs in the face. For them to end up in the middle of their base was a disaster.
"The ship bay is holding on for now. Our exterior defensive grid has finally been brought online. No one will be able to approach our base for now. We can hold for an hour, maybe two."
Fixed defenses such as turrets and autonomous defense bots could never hold out for long against a large force of mechs.
It quickly turned out that the Infernal Hellhounds brought half a regiment's worth of mercenaries along for the ride. The rowdy mechs-for-hire didn't possess the level of organization of a disciplined unit, but their numbers sorely pressured the defenders.
"Vincent." General Vasil called and pointed at a particular intersection. "A squad of mechs is inching towards the power plant. They don't have the numbers to overcome our guards, but I don't want to leave any chances for them to employ a trick. Get back to the stables and gather your subordinates. I want you to intercept these mercs."
"On it!" Vincent acknowledged and ran back to the stables where he and his crew of elites stowed their mechs. He tried to call up his subordinates through his comm, only to encounter nothing but static and junk. "Those stupid Hellhounds! Since when did they gather enough brain cells to operate a jammer?!"
"It's obvious the Third is not acting alone. Either some clever mercenaries or another regiment has provided them with support."
While Vincent loved springing traps on others, he hated being on the receiving end of one. The corridors started shaking as scores of mechs rampaged inside the only halls large enough to accomodate mech traffic.
"Whatever's the case, we won't be going anywhere without our mechs!"
They quickly reached the mech stables. Vincent sighed in relief when he saw that most of his men had already arrived. Johnson quickly shed his armor in order to don a piloting suit while Vincent started to organize his elites.
"I'm sure that everyone knows what's going on! The incompetent numbskulls manning the sensor arrays have dropped the ball! Right now, half a regiment of mechs along with a horde of mercenaries are rampaging inside our halls, cutting us off from our ships!"
"Kick those bastards off our rock!"
"Silence!" The young man called. Leadership always came naturally to him, and despite his youth, he already earned his crew's respect. "The general has given his orders. A band of mercs are crawling towards the power plant. I won't tell you what will happen if our base loses power."
Everyone understood the gravity of the situation. Vincent and Johnson quickly boarded their mechs and powered them up. While Johnson piloted a fairly average rifleman provided by the Movement, Vincent still clung on to his flamboyant Marc Antony.
Months of campaigning had tarnished its armor. Nothing remained of its glorious light scheme. Despite its battered state, most of the damage was cosmetic.
An eclectic mix of seven mechs followed Vincent's hybrid knight as they travelled to the power plant. They neared one of the hot zones but avoided the thick of it as they slinked off to the deepest part of the asteroid.
The sounds of battle and death slowly faded as they traversed a desolate tunnel. Vincent silently cursed as he considered the chances of making it out alive. A noted terrorist and murderer like him expected no clemency from the Mech Corps.
The falling debris and the gradual collapse of the base echoed the state of the resistance movement. A combination of attrition and lack of cohesion slowly broke apart the BLM. Vincent wouldn't be surprised to to find out that a couple of traitors emerged from their ranks. How else could their sensors miss the approach of an entire regiment?
A light mech in front of Vincent suddenly jerked. "Detecting heat signatures in front of us!"
"Six or seven, I'm not too sure. They're mostly mediums."
"We outnumber them. That's good. They must have detected our approach as well, so there's no need to sneak around. Stick to a tight formation and unleash hell!"
With Vincent's sturdy knight at the fore, they stormed inside a large and open cargo hold. Due to the lack of supplies, the hold never filled up to capacity. Only a handful of isolated containers lay forgotten in the cavern. The lack of cover allowed both sides to peek at their opponents.
"Hello there Vincent." The pilot of a distinctive mech called out. "I've been expecting your arrival for a while now."
A mech that sported almost the same contours as Vincent's waited at the other side. The young rebel leader grew alarmed. "Who are you?!"
"You can call me Captain Caruthers."
"The bounty hunter? No wonder you've managed to track me down. The Infernal Hellhounds couldn't find their own tails with their own noses."
The two owned the only physical copies of the Marc Antony Mark I. The similarities between the two mechs caused their teammates to halt in confusion. In the meantime, the two mech pilots continued to chat.
"Does your mech hitch up when you overuse your wrist lasers?" Caruthers asked.
"Yeah it does. According to the technicians, the overheating easily disrupts the channels that feed into the engine. It's too easy to forget your limits when you keep blasting your lasers."
"I see you've stuck to the original mace."
The codpiece-sporting mech hefted its heavy mace and took a heavy swing with it. "I've tried out a couple of swords but I'm no good with them. I prefer the weight of a mace."
They brought their mechs to readiness once they finished talking about their mechs. The Phoenix Cry readied its sword while Vincent's tarnished mech held up its heavy tower shield.
"Boss! I've got them in my sight. Just say the word and I'll pump them full of lasers."
"Stop! This is between me and him!" Vincent declared as his mech gestured them away. "Back off and don't get in my way. This rotten merc is only here for me."
Both sides understood that a full-blown battle could quickly spin out of control. While the rebels had numbers on their side, the mercs sported pristine mechs. A fight to the death could quickly turn ugly for both sides.
"Are you ready kid?" Caruthers asked while his mech flourished its sword.
"Don't call me a kid, old man!"
Vincent blazed forth with his mech with its launchers disgorging its payload of rockets.
While the sudden strike caught the bounty hunter off-guard, Caruthers quickly reacted by bracing the Phoenix Cry's shield.
Many of the unguided rockets went wide, but at least half of them impacted the shield in a constant stutter of explosions. The rockets packed a lot of punch and easily chewed through half the layers of Caruthers' shield. The pounding mace attack that followed further stressed the remaining layers.
Instead of disengaging, the Phoenix Cry pushed forwards and stabbed forward with its sword. Vincent awkwardly blocked the strike with his shield, but his mech suddenly staggered backwards as the Phoenix Cry kicked the slab of metal.
As the distance opened up, the two sides started to pepper each other with laser beams.
"Why have you sought me out?" Vincent asked between breaths.
"Your mech is too ugly, that's why!" The captain responded as his mech closed in again for a frontal clash. "I'm sick and tired of my mech being mistaken for yours!"
The two mechs braced their shields as they collided against each other. The impact rang throughout the entire hall.