The Commando crashed through the trees at a dead sprint. Branches and trunks shattered with sharp cracks as the 25 ton war machine rushed through the forest at nearly 100 kilometers per hour. Inside the Battlemech’s cockpit, Kay was boiling in her own sweat. Humidity fogged up the screens on her instruments and moisture collected on the inside of her cockpit canopy, dripping down in long, thin rivulets that streaked the armored glass.
She’d been pushing the machine to its limits for three hours now, and the fusion engine below the cockpit was straining with excess heat, far more than the Commando’s heat sinks could possibly handle on their own. A warning light flashed on one of the consoles, and for the fifth time in as many minutes Kay slapped the override for the machine’s automatic safety shutdown. Down below her, in the torso of the humanoid machine, a half ton of short range missiles cooked in the heat. At any moment something could give, and the Commando would be ripped apart in a cacophony of explosions as its own ammunition cooked off, the force doubly destructive as it was trapped in the armor plating of the machine. Kay tried not to think about it.
She needed to cool the machine down, to let it rest for a few minutes while the coolant systems bled off the excess heat, or maybe she could take a dip in a river, pop open the cockpit hatch and go for a swim herself. The cool water on her skin would drive away this fatigue instantly. She’d be better off for it, able to think clearly and react faster. Who was she kidding?
The nimble ‘Mech dodged around a gully, and that’s when the Drac hit. The Combine ‘Mech had been hidden in the shallow draw of a narrow stream, waiting for an unwary enemy to approach. Kay had stumbled right into its trap. It dove forward, out of the gully and slammed into the Commando with a shoulder tackle, sending both machines reeling to the ground. Kay’s Commando rolled across the ground, its momentum flinging it far to the right. It slammed up against an ancient tree, stopping it dead, and Kay heard the wrenching of metal and shattering of wood as the behemoth of technology crashed into the behemoth of nature. More warning lights flashed in her cockpit and Kay shouted in frustration and rage as she pulled the Commando back to its feet.
Her sensors finally got a good look at the Combine machine. The scarlet ‘Mech was humanoid, with long, thin legs and arms that ended in blunt, gaping tubes that housed the machine’s primary weapons, four plasma flamers. Kay’s blood went cold. She was facing a Firestarter. Normally, the damage the 35 ton Firestarter could do to other ‘Mechs was negligible, the hot flames pouring out from the machine’s weapons doing almost nothing to the heavy armor of a Battlemech, but they were notorious for overwhelming the cooling systems of their targets, roasting pilots alive inside their own machines. With Kay’s Commando as heat taxed as it already was, the machine was an even deadlier threat.
She quickly brought her Commando’s right arm up and let fly with her short range missiles. Immediately the heat in her cockpit skyrocketed, drawing out stifled moan of discomfort as her cooling vest tried to keep her core body temperature down by pumping coolant through tubes against her naked skin. It didn’t feel like it was doing any good. Six explosions detonated across the Firestarter, staggering it, and Kay broke away, darting into the forest, hoping to lose the Combine ‘Mech. The proposition wasn’t likely though. The Firestarter was just as fast as her Commando, and it mounted four jump jets, letting it clear the top of the forest canopy with physics defying leaps that would let it easily avoid obstacles the Commando would have to slow down to avoid. Kay was in a losing battle, and she knew it.
Just as she’d predicted, the Firestarter leaped up through the trees, and then fire rained down all around the Commando. Kay dodged right, avoiding the stream of fire easily. ‘Mech targeting systems, centuries old and patched together with refits and lost knowledge, were no longer adequate for firing weapons while the ‘Mech was thrust above battlefields on plumes of superheated air, making shots like the one the Firestarter was attempting virtually impossible, but it wasn’t aiming for the Commando. All around her, the forest was ablaze, and the Commando’s heat warning shrilled wildly, screaming for attention. Kay slapped the override again and prayed that the last of her missiles would remain quiet in their ammunition bin. She pushed the ‘Mech as hard as it could go, its footfalls rapid and sure through the blazing forest, trying to escape the fire. Then the Firestarter landed in front of her.
Kay lurched to the side, the whine of the Commando’s gyros whirring audibly as they compensated for the sudden shift, struggling to maintain the ‘Mech’s balance. Twin flashes of emerald energy lanced through the place where the Commando had been just moments before as the Firestarter fired its lasers. Kay responded with her own laser, and the beam scored a long line of superheated armor across the Firestarter’s chest. The heat in Kay’s cockpit climbed even higher, and stinging sweat fell into her eyes, blurring her vision. She was going to pass out any moment. Then her ‘Mech would be helpless, a lifeless husk with no brain to operate its limbs; paralyzed.
She shouted, defiant, and drove her Commando forward. The Firestarter outweighed her own machine by ten tons, nearly twice as big as her Commando, but it was caught flat footed, not expecting Kay’s sudden, desperate charge. The Commando hit the Firestarter low, and wrapped its arms around the other machine’s waist as it drove forward on pistoning, powerful legs. Kay heard the whine and rap of the Firestarter’s pair of machineguns, mounted on its chest, pouring point blank into the Commando. Even the small, anti-personnel rounds of the machineguns could take its toll on the Commando’s armor eventually, and it was only a matter of time before the ‘Mech’s armor was chewed away and the vulnerable internal workings were exposed. Luckily, wrapped as she was, with arms around the larger ‘Mech, it couldn’t bring its flamethrowers or lasers to bear.
She plowed through the forest, driving the off balance Firestarter before her and away from the forest fire as it tried to beat her off with its own blunt arms. Each hit from the heavier machine rocked Kay in her cockpit, and deformed armor from the already painfully vulnerable rear of the Commando. Roaring a battle cry, she finally managed to heave the Firestarter down to the ground in the middle of a sunlit clearing, the fifteen meter tall wrestlers dropping in a pile of mechanical limbs, the more vicious Commando on top.
From this position Kay pinned the Firestarter’s arms down to the ground, then triggered her chest mounted SRMs. Molten armor ricocheted from Kay’s cockpit canopy, but the Firestarter still struggled. She fired again, and again, each time bringing the terrified wails of her heat sirens blasting into her ears, but she didn’t stop. Her HUD flashed for a moment, then was gone, the delicate electronics fried by the heat. With one last terrible explosion, the Firestarter went still, gutted completely and nearly shorn in half at the waist from the barrage of the Commando’s missiles. Kay’s ammo bins were dry, which was an ironic comfort. She didn’t have to worry about those missiles exploding inside of her own ‘Mech anymore.
The Commando sat atop the broken Combine ‘Mech for several long seconds, its arms splayed out to the sides as Kay tried to offer the air as much surface area as possible, letting the ‘Mech cool just a little bit faster. In this position the Commando looked like a satisfied lover, spent and content, basking in the pure light of the morning sun, her partner exhausted beneath her. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, Kay popped the hatch of her cockpit, and the cool autumn air rushed in, raising goosebumps across her bare arms and thighs.
There was a crackle and hiss of static before a voice broke through her miraculously still functional communications system. “Charlie Company, Ranger Actual. Drop ships are confirmed touched down, rendezvous thirty klicks North of last reported position. Charlie company, do you read?”
Kay stared wearily at the comms, then pressed the transmit button, “This is Kay. Charlie’s bought it. We got separated in the forest. Lieutenant’s down. Proceeding to rendezvous.”
The voice on the comms sounded unsteady as it said, “Roger Charlie. I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” Kay said, shutting the Commando’s canopy and once again trapping herself in the stifling, draining heat of war. “Me too.”