Pirates and Recyclers

"Well, that's it", the words rung hollow across the hangar. The man who said them did it in a somehow reserved and quiet voice that nonetheless rose above the din of the various sheetmetal workers and desiel mechanics pounding and cursing at their other various tasks. All stopped what they were doing to stare at their defacto leader standing atop the prone tublar shaped stubby machine.

"Main fuel interchange got hit... God himself couldn't get this reactor to turn over... I'd say cannibalize 'er, but what's the use..." Motown looked up from the access port lying open at his feet, and looked slightly to the left, a good ten or fifteen feet down, and looked at each of his would-be techs individually before continuing.

"You boys know as well as I do, we're fresh outta mechs...."

It was true. In the last five days of fighting the formerly company sized mercenary unit these mechs had belonged to had been decimated. Their supposed saviors had been a combined unit with no more than a half dozen of what could charitably be referred to as mechs and another perhaps six or eight unidentified tanks of various manufacture. An exact count was difficult because of both a general sense of apathy on the locals’ part, and the fact that once hit by (and slagged by) a large output laser, one hunk of metal looked exactly like another. The mercenaries had been hired to defend the planet's sole source of revenue, a neatly arranged (and sorted) pile of empty bottles and cans nearly eight miles across, a similar distance deep, and taller then even the mechs assigned to guard them. The pile was the culmination of the packrat nature of the planets inhabitants, who would go to great lengths to acquire additional "loot" for their "pile". This sizable treasure was awaiting transport to the planet Michigan, where each empty container would fetch double their normal market value, a sure sign of the decadence and easy wealth the Inner sphere held for these periphery denizens.

Truly such a haul was worthy of the most devious of pirates, and as luck would have it, there was a devious pirate readily available. Bowtie Bob, the gentleman thief, (who was no gentleman, but most CERTIANLY a thief) had gathered his best (only) pirates together, and after loading all the beer onto his dropship, gathered his men and their mechs (which were only marginally better than the mechs hired to guard the target) and with their huge hangovers ringing in their ears, they jumped to the planet in search of a few crates of aspirin. Once in system and immediately radioed in their demands, which were thought to be a distraction. Why, after all would a band of fearless pirates come all this way in search of aspirin and Pepto-Bismol? And more importantly, even if that was all they were after, what would keep them from taking the precious cans once they’d gotten their medical supplies? No, the militia had to be dispatched.

Unfortunately, the mercenary leader had been put to death after accidentally knocking over a pile of glass Sam Adams bottles, and was drawn and quartered as per the law of the land. For some odd reason this caused a lack of motivation from the mercenaries, resulting in their pronounced losing streak. In fact the puddle of goo in the cockpit of this urbanmech was the last of the mercenaries, and represented the closest thing to a corpse to send back to the next of kin.

Never one to let little trivial details like the fundamental laws of reality, logic, and physics as mankind has come to know them get in his way, Motown gathered his best tech’s (or scrappers as they were known) and set about piecing together a few mechs to try and defend the pile.

Turning to his weary team, he said "I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them steal my stuff without a fight!" With cheers the small crowd of shade tree mechanics and miscreants set to work

Taking the locust, two urbanmechs, and stinger LAM that were all that remained of the mech forces he could salvage he looked at what he had to work with. All the mechs had taken severe armor damage. Easily repaired from the scrap metal pile of the "counterfeit"
Cans. The cans were worthless and shoddy imitations of real product. "As if anyone would accept a "Dr Peepers" or lemony-lime flavored "Spit" can, Motown laughed to himself. The weapons damage was beyond his kin. He had plenty of small arms practice, returning fire at anyone dumb enough to shoot at his cans, but these BIG guns were a new beast. So the fix was a simple one. He had his buddies "Doc" and "Steelfang" just swap out weaponry with whatever worked off the other salvage. The mechs were just about finished, except for one problem. The engines were all damaged beyond repair, and there was no chance of getting replacements. Only by fitting the locally available Ethanol powered engines were they able to get the machines to run again. The only hold out was the stinger LAM. A young overweight tall redhead was working on the machine, which was in the mode that looked like a plane with legs. He was attaching a Brigs and Stratton outboard airboat propeller to a 350 hemi, and using parts from an old helicopter turbine to fill it out. This odd contraption was humorous looking, but the giant with glasses assured him it would work. It was most certainly the only propeller-driven LAM Motown had ever heard of. The thing was fairly responsive from what little tests they could run, even though it looked like it was wearing a beanie when it was in mech mode. The weight increases with the engines necisitated the removal of a lot of heatsinks across the board, but Motown dutifully set them aside, figuring they might eventually come in handy.

Several kilometers away, the evil Bowtie Bob sat in his dilapidated Confederate dropship. One of only a handful in existence, his "Stars’n’Bars Express" looked like it was one roughly slammed door away from suffering the same fate as it’s sister vessels. Often referred to as "the Ford Pinto of the skies", the Starleague era confederate vessels had a reputation of being a solid bear to repair. In fact the thing was near impossible to keep running. It had only one saving grace. In addition to the four mechs it carried, it had room for a LOT of beer, and for Bowties Bandito’s beer was more important than ammo, beer was what kept them fighting even though they hadn’t seen a profit in years. Beer was what made living in a smelly three hundred year old spaceship and driving battered giant robots into battle against other, often more numerous, metal giant seem like a good idea. Beer was their blood, and they were running low.

"Sir, all mechs are repaired, and reloaded" Bowtie pretended not to hear the stifled chuckles from the hall outside his "office" and picked his head up slightly from the maps and charts scattered across the table and didn’t bother looking at the man addressing him. "Hitman, those eye patches belong in the medlab. Even if we don’t have a doctor, you shouldn’t be wearing them. And wearing TWO eye patches is just stupid. At least you lost that fake beard in last weeks ‘fire breathing’ fiasco. Bet you wish now you hadn’t wasted that perfectly good tequila on such a dumb stunt."

Hitman flipped up one of the eye patches and saw the boss hadn’t even glanced back at him. "First, as I said at the time boss, there’s no such thing as good tequila. Second, you can’t be a pirate without a good hook. You know… eye patches, peg legs, fire breathing…"

"Parrots?" a helpful voice from the sidelines chimed in, then the crowd started laughing uncontrollably. Hitman seemed un amused by the comment. "Ok, so the parrot was a bad idea. How was I supposed to know the reason I got him so cheap was he was busted."

Bowtie smirked at that, "Busted? Do you perhaps refer to his incontinence, his annoying vocabulary, or his lack of depth perception?" The parrot, a squawky, mangy beast, had basically skittered around the dropship making a lot of noise and crapping all over everything it saw. Unfortunately it was somewhat shortsighted and kept flying headfirst into bulkheads. The crew had taken to calling it "Packstole" and saluting it whenever it flew by. The name came from a pessimistic short order cook that had met an untimely death when the gas-fed stove he’d been using flared up and he’d cooked in the geyser of flames before anyone had been able to come to his aid. He had kept threatening to quit cooking and become a pulp-fiction writer every time people complained about the quality of his ‘burgers, and his ranting fests were a lot like the parrots. Packstole, the parrot, not the cook, had a tendency to spout off nonsense about the davions that made no sense. The crew figured its last owner was either a cappie or a drac, but it spoke English, only deepening the mystery.

"Where is that damn bird anyway?" another voice chimed in. The voice belonged to Karagin, the captain, the pilot, and the navigator of the ship. "No, never mind that, I don’t need to go looking for trouble, it finds me. Regardless, I need your opinion on something, boss." The tone in his voice left no question that the news was bad news and wouldn’t wait.

"I’m on my way, just gotta file these maps…" with great gusto he flung his arms across the table, scattering the paper maps across the room. It was all a charade; the real maps were safely loaded into the nav computer of his thunderbolt. He merely used the large-scale printouts to gather his thoughts before missions. But his men did not know this, and it just added to the mystique that was "da Boss". Such mystique was vital, and was the primary reason his meager force of four mechs and a dump truck full of scavenged parts had managed to rcut through the militia like hot knives through rancid butter.

Pushing his way through the mess of people in the hall outside his room, he made his way to the bridge. Along the way he answered machinegun prattle of questions. No, there wasn’t any more SRM-6 ammo, just SRM 2&4 stuff. It was Hitmans’s fault for driving a mech that used an odd sized rack, and he would have to make do. Yes, he understood that Clarke’s hussar’s Large Laser was busted, why not put the twin Mediums on instead, until a replacement could be found. No, he didn’t have any suggestions on what to do with the gopeds they’d salvaged from that unit of motor infantry, perhaps they could pawn them to college kids. Yes, he had the data on the malfunctioning autocannon on Ricks Vulcan, but it wasn’t a problem, because he was too busy trying to fix the cartography software for the ship to drive the thing. (Who’d have thought map software would be such a pain in the …)

His train of thought was cut short as he rounded the corner to the bridge. There on the monitor was a most horrifying sight. On the horizon was a cloud of dust. "Mechs…" He said the words with a feeling of terror in his guts. The last battle had almost done him in. Between the armor blown off his already dilapidated machines, and the ammo expended, he wasn’t in good enough shape to keep Blake's Witnesses from knocking on his door, let alone a lance of…

"Hey guys…?" The entire groop looked to him and away from the approaching doom. "Why are they spewing blue smoke out their backsides?" The entire group huddled around the ship trying to discern an deatails from the super enlarged and maximum range shot. Hitman spoke. "Some kind of smoke screen? Perhaps they know our radar’s busted." The entire bridge looked at each other and nodded. That had to be it.

"This is it" Steelfang said over the com, "This is the single most stupid thing I’ve ever done, and I went to school at Berkley." He made a disgusted noise and continued on his tirade, one he’d been voicing the entire three-hour ride across the alkali flats. " Here we are, running across the desert looking for pirates, Pirates that had no problem killing these mechs previous owners mind you, in busted up walking trash heaps. With mechs that look like they were assembled by retarded circus clowns and weapons we’re not even sure work. And we’re not even getting paid for this."

* Blam *

The cannon on Doc’s urbanmech fired a single tracer shot that flew within inches of Steelfang’s cockpit, and vaporized the only cactus for miles. "Guess the guns work, to bad about the tree. I hear there’re endangered. Oh well the EPA can bill me." He enjoyed a chuckle until Chainsaw chimed in "Well, although it’s not the solution they’d have wanted, it’s not endangered now. They probably will bill you. And don’t knock Berkley. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have a school to make Duke look good!"

"Cut the chatter there’s the target." It was Motown again. Seeing as he’d had the most time using the ‘sorter mech, he’d had first pick of the machines. His locust had retained its machine guns, and lost its laser due to weight constraints, and the fact no one there could work with lasers. But the mounting had been replaced with a rather wicked looking Nerf gun to at least intimidate the enemy and best of all, that completely ludicrious speed had been toned down to something he could handle, so all things considered he figured he’d come out ahead.

"Boss, I can’t see a damn thing back here…" That was Chainsaw; he was bringing up the rear, mostly because Motown didn’t trust his Frankenstein flyer to actually work. The thing had lost all of its original weaponry, and like the other three mechs had it’s engine replaced with a locally manufactured Ethanol/Petroleum-burning engine. Like the other machines, it had to have the mix modified to use cooking grade petroleum to get the machines to kick out the power needed to turn the alternator that struggled to make the myomers discharge and make the mechs move. What made Chainsaw’s mech different was both the strange flamer "gun" it carried that drew fuel from the same tanks that powered the engines, and the fact his mech had arms, and was caring a large wooden log with a few vicious looking spikes in it as a club. And then of course there was the propeller beanie on its head. The entire look made the machine look like an effigy of a small child with a baseball uniform and a squirt gun. The fact it’s armor had been patched with scrap metal from various cans and kegs bearing trademarks of beverage companies didn't hurt the image either.

By comparison Doc and Steelfangs urbanmechs were almost normal. The lasers had given way to machineguns, and the cannons had been downgraded, but the ammo count was doubled, and range was improved. That was worth something though, wasn’t it?

"Eh," both had thought to themselves, "Better than spitballs, but why couldn’t we get someone else to drive these." It was a sentiment felt by half the population of the planet. All three hundred and forty people struggling to scratch a living out of the dust of the periphery had pinned their hopes to the four loader-mech operators come mechwarriors. They were the only ones who had any level of military training, even if it was just supply corps and support duties. Chainsaw was the dark horse. He’d been a loadermech pilot to pay his way through flight school. Between the four of them they had enough combat experience to equal one green house mechwarrior. The vanquished former pilots of these machines would brag for hours on end about their huge amount of cockpit-time.

The other half of the planets population wasn’t thinking much of anything. With their self-proclaimed "noble saviors" vanquished they were drinking like the stuff was about to expire. And all four wished at this moment they were back there with them.

Ahead on the sun scorched alkali flats there was the towering shape of the dropship the pirates blasted in on. It was some kind of spheroid. It was freaking huge, they thought to themselves. Each of them was convinced there was an unlimited supply of blood thirsty piratesin that egg, and they weren’t exactly why they were going towards the ship rather than away.

Running away was on the minds of people other than the planets mighty defenders. Hitman stared at the approaching mechs and his first instinct was to blast off and leave this weird planet to it’s backwards inhabitants. "They just don’t understand how it’s supposed to work," he muttered to himself. "We blast in, make a big show of our shiny mechs, and then walk off with whatever we can carry. It’s a simple harmless affair. If I wanted to blast half a planet to cinders and then steal them blind, I’d be a house lord." That brought a chuckle from Bob, who was on the bridge with him. If either of them had any technical knowledge they’d be busy helping Clarke and Rick reprogram the computer on the hussar to accept it’s new load out of a bundle of smaller lasers and an additional pair of heatsinks. The way it was going, by the time the enemy mechs plodded their way across the desert, three of their mechs would be ready to fight. Rick had given up on getting his Vulcan to accept the targeting data for the "ultra" autocannon he’d managed to shoehorn in to his Vulcan. The thing just couldn’t compensate for that rate of fire within the range envelope. "Probably why the old ‘league never got around to putting them on too many designs." Hitman muttered sotto-voce. "I always said those doe-eyed optimists were overrated." He chuckled " Starleague collapsed under the weight of it’s own arrogance. "

"Oh great… Hitmans’s started in on Starleague again, get out the cards, this is going to be a while." Bob couldn’t figure out the man’s bizarre hatred of Starleague. He thought EVERYBODY liked Starleague. "Well hell, I’ve heard in surveys, you could sometimes get as much as fifteen percent of the general public to admit they don’t care for ice cream what kind of sicko’s are those?" He shook his head. "No wonder the universe has gone to hell. First fluoride in drinking water, now this!"

They shared a knowing glance at each other, then turned and left to complete their tasks. Perversely neither was thinking the same thing, Hitman was thing about how to get the boss to read some of his pamphlets, and Bob was pondering the mixing of beer with ice cream, and what that would taste like.

Ten minutes later, all four pirates were in their mechs and walking out the ships hangar bays. Rick still hadn’t gotten the bugs out of Clarke’s or his FC computer, but they figures they’d be better off firing blindly and maybe hitting the enemy than sitting in the hangar and defiantly not hitting them. The ships sensors had long ago let them know what they were up against. The enemy force was a cluster of light mechs that were radiating abnormal heat signatures, probably from some variety of reactor trouble. A light, under gunned lance against their heavy, medium, and two light mechs, it was going to be a cakewalk

The radio traffic on both sides told the story:

"Bandito’s, try to get into the urbies’ rear arc and never mind the other two, I’m gonna plaster them myself."

"Ok, the enemy is… uh… a chicken walker… two skinny little guys, and a really big thing. Any ideas?
"Well, I hear vinyl siding will cut our emissions by up to sixty percent, we oughta look into that."
"I think he means about the mission, I say we just rush Ugg Biggly over there and to hell with the little ones"
"Dude, we ARE the little guys, I say we just line up like a firing squad and let the professionals do the old ‘charge of the light brigade’ number"
"I think that tactic only works when your mech is better than the enemies. Remember ours run on unleaded, theirs run on nukes"
"We gotta get through them to get the spaceship. Kill that and we can get them to surrender. I say we just keep walking, and whatever moves we shoot it."
"Sounds good to me"
I got nothing better"
"Yeah what he said"

No plan ever survives the first shot fired, and this one was no exception The first thing to happen was the thunderbolt fired it’s LRM’s at the exact same time it found the one in a million sinkhole in the desert. The hole was shallow, but it was enough to make him stumble and throw off his aim, he was horrified to see a handful of the missiles fly into the back of Rick’s Vulcan.

Rick had other things to worry about at the time though because at that second his mech decided it had figured out what his Ultra AC was. He decided one of the fifty service packs he’d installed had worked, too bad he had no clue which one it had been. He raised his arm to engage the lead mech and…

"BANG-BANG Click, Slide. THUNK"

He was amazed and horrified to see the left arm of his mech fall away from his body as the autocannon literally tore itself off the arm mount and skittered away as he pirouetted in place. The manual had specifically warned against using standard AC ammo, but hadn’t said why. Now he knew.

Poor Clarke had fared only slightly better. Both urban mechs opened up from well outside the range of their normal guns, and blew off the laser mount and an arm from his machine. Three hours of work was vaporized under the weight of the AC-5 that had begun its life as a towed field gun.

Steelfangs urbanmech took the brunt of the opening fire. Bowties "Really Large Laser" (a trademark of the thunderbolt) had hit his left side and tore through the hasty armor repairs and wrecked god only knows what in his torso. One second the thing was running, the next it was thirty tons of lawn ornament. All he could see was a bunch of un-labeled blinking lights and flip randomly at switches. He was amazed that an equipment manufacturer would cram in so many unlabeled controls and expect the pilot to memorize what they were. He was used to OSHA regulated controls on loader mechs, which not only were properly labeled, but also often had stick figure instructions for those too illiterate for the seven languages printed neatly on every surface. The cockpit of his mech looked like it was straight out of a bad movie. There was only one labeled dial he could make out, and he had no idea what an "AGR Rocker" was, or whether it should be set to "AGR", "TGR", or "Null". Casting an unsure look at that one, he decided not to touch it.

"Aw hell…" he said dejectedly, "what could be worse than just sitting here?" and began rapidly poking random buttons trying to get the machine to restart.

Outside the mech, he was being closed in on by hitman who was using his smoking hole-filed machine as cover from the other mechs. Clarke had rushed to charge the other of the two urbanmechs and was unceremoniously blindsided with a golf-swing by the stinger with the large baseball bat and beanie. The club broke itself against his hip and sent him flailing to the ground, his little armlets flapping helplessly. As he got up to run away the stinger threw the busted club at the now crippled hussar and missed by a few dozen meters.

This drew some return fire from the support mech and as the missiles from the Thunderbolt were inbound the stinger switched modes. All fighting stopped in the minds of the combatants for a mere instant as all parties took in what they were seeing. It was like some freakish cartoon, only it was too real to be fake. The bizarre contraption doubled over, as if from indigestion, grew wings and HUGE air intakes from all manner of angles, and the damn thing took to the skies like a schizophrenic bumblebee, laboring to keep above stall speed under it’s own weight. It appeared intent on jump kicking the Thunderbolt, then using it’s flamer to add injury to insult.

It would have succeeded if not for the full flight of missiles from Hitman’s Javelin swatting it from the sky like a giant rolled up newspaper. Chainsaw punched out just seconds before what was left of his machine wrapped itself against the thunderbolt, dragging both to the ground and pinning the larger mech. As he parachuted to the ground a wildly grinning Chainsaw’s only regret was not having a camera handy.

Steelfang’s mech at that moment armed its spotlight, raised it’s com mast, discharged all it’s flares, chaff, smoke canisters, and neon orange nautical rescue dye, and then emergency-purged it’s machinegun ammo. His button pushing continued unabated, in fact it was fueled by the fact he had no idea what was going on.

Motown had managed to advance under the cover of Doc’s urbanmech to reach the dropship. He began shooting it with his machineguns to get every ones attention. Then said over an open channel and the PA system:

"I’n not too keen on blowing myself up, but I’ll do it if pressed. Give up now or I start shooting AP rounds into your fuel cells."

At that exact moment Steelfang ‘s mech came to life as the engine turned over for the briefest of instants before he shot out the top of it like a skyrocket. Apparently he found the ignition toggle at about the same time he found the eject unit. The running total of combatants was two light mechs on the pirate’s side, two on theirs. But one of those mechs was at that moment climbing inside the pirate ship where it’s 20mm chainguns could do a substantial amount of damage. The pirates had no illusions of what would happen if they were stranded on planet, they immediately offered to see if they couldn’t perhaps "work something out".

Upon getting out of their mechs the amazed pirates realized that the mechs they’d lost to were running on an internal combustion engines. They were even more baffled by the fact the exhaust smelled like "Beer and french-fries". The planets inhabitants were amazed that four mechs had been able to smash the reinforced company of defenders they’d hired, and the general consensus was that if they hadn’t been smashed against the mercs, the noble defenders wouldn’t have stood a chance. The amazed planetary defenders offered an odd choice to the pirates.

Choice one was they kill the pirates seize the ship and mechs and retire as very rich men. Until the next pirates came, in which case they’d be, as steelfang aptly put it, screwed. This was naturally unacceptable to the pirates who were adverse to death and being broke.

Choice two was their better bet. They resigned the ship to the planetary defenders who would use it as a big delivery truck in their weird recycling arrangement. The crew would stay on, but under the control of some planetary guys. The Mechwarriors would become the new security detachment, and would work until retirement making sure the junk heap didn’t bet victimized by further pirate attacks. They would be paid and allowed to carry on as free men, just not allowed to leave the planet.

It beat death, and as they all sat in the shade of the dropship, Pirates and scrappers, watching the loader mechs haul empty Heineken cans onto the dropship, occasionally throwing their empties into the pile. They marveled at the vast sea of recyclables, and laughed hystaricaly at the antics of the bizarre parrot squalking at the annoyed loader-mech pilots. As the sun set, they all pondered the odd twists life sometimes takes.

"Now, just tell me this one thing. What the hell were you guys running those mechs on…