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|A Line in the Dust|
|First published||15 October 2005|
|Era||Civil War era|
|Timeline||15 October 3067|
|“||Kevin Killiany starts to delve into the events on Outreach. With thousands of Mercs on Outreach, how do you tell the good from the bad?||”|
Dreyfus, Jerry, Mike and Anson are four mercenaries who own their 'Mechs free and clear, and who banded together as a lance on Outreach in the hope of getting decent jobs - maybe minor work like subcontracted garrison work to other units, but decent jobs nonetheless. They live in a building on the edge of one of Outreach's "bunker parks" - a bunker park being the site of a former Star League Defense Force bunker that has long since been stripped of anything useful, but is too expensive to demolish and too unstable for anything heavy to be built atop. The planetary government recycled the various bunkers by using them as rubbish tips, by turning them into city parks, parking lots and even playgrounds.
Having advertised for work, the four mercenaries found themselves with a mysterious benefactor who paid them a generous rate to be on retainer - an above-average rate, along with slots on the training grounds, an ammunition allowance so that they could train, and various other perks, all measured against various provisos including that they had to be available at a moments notice. Having had the chance to train with other independent mercenaries as well as the Fifty-first Dark Panzer Jaegers in urban combat training.
Now, they've been called into service, close to dawn; from the positioning, and the training, Dreyfus is sure that they've been trained to take part in the capture of facilities near the DropPort, and that the most likely enemy can only be Wolf's Dragoons. Having resisted the offer of barrack space further into the city, the four MechWarriors answer the mustering call, and receive positioning information as well as recognition codes for friendly forces, but Dreyfus is increasingly concerned about the mission they're likely to be ordered on. Aware that the irregular forces like his own are likely to simply be used as a disposable distraction, Dreyfus has serious doubts about their assigned mission. Having lived in their house at the edge of the bunker park for some time, the mercenaries have become friends with their neighbours, and Dreyfus is acutely aware of just how many civilians live within what's obviously going to become a combat zone. When he learns that Mike and Anson haven't taken up position, he leads Jerry back to investigate... and discovers that they've opened up the old bunker beneath the park as best they can, demolishing parts of the entrance, and are ushering the local civilian population into the bunker.
Dreyfus and Jerry join in with the efforts, evacuating several hundred civilians into the bunker; the bunker lacks water, light, heating and ventilation, but will doubtless be safer than anywhere else. When combat starts in the city, the 'Mechs begin actively scanning, and Dreyfus regularly broadcasts that they're neutral forces with civilians under their protection. The first challenge comes when a Blizzard APC and a Vulcan escorting prisoners freed from Harlech Penitentiary to fight against the Dragoons attempt to move through the park. Dreyfus signals his neutrality and requests that the Vulcan move around the park... only to end up in combat.
In the first of many engagements fought during the course of the next few hours, Dreyfus and the others fight against those forces that try and force their way into the park and monitor the others moving around or past the park; they see fires and plumes of smoke around various parts of the city, including the areas where the Dragoons civilian population live. They also witness artillery fire levelling apartment buildings, before a MechBuster passing overhead destroys an Enfield sneaking up on their position. The MechBuster doesn't make radio contact, but does waggle its wings in a friendly gesture, displaying unfamiliar markings - or rather, obscured markings. The markings consist of a bright silver ring of some kind, possibly a crown, and a three-lobed shape that had been painted over with black paint.
As Dreyfus and the others debate the identity of the pilot, they're contacted by anonymous forces describing the fighter as their escort - and after a few tense minutes, learn that they're being approached by a convoy manned by tech personnel from other commands who've mutinied, rather than honoring contracts that they consider to be the equivalent of selling their souls. Driving an assortment of vehicles including J-27 Ordnance Transports, cargo trucks, a MASH Truck and a mix of civilian buses, the techs have sought out Dreyfus and his group, who are now known to everyone south of Cameron Road as being on-site and defending civilians.
The techs plan is simple; ally with Dreyfus' and his companions, reload and repair their 'Mechs as best possible, and then make for the farmland outside the city where no-one's fighting. Knowing that Dreyfus' lance had civilians with them, the techs have evacuated numerous civilians themselves - including two buses full of children - and brought enough empty buses to evacuate all the civilians in the bunker. Dreyfus agrees to the techs proposal, and at nightfall then march out of Harlech. The techs prove true to their word, and Dreyfus and his compatriots escort the convoy past looters and out into the countryside, to the foothills of the mountain range known as the Ridge. Taking a look back at the city, Dreyfus acknowledges that somewhere in the dust of that city, a line had been drawn - and that he had stood firm on the right side of it.
The obscured three-lobed symbol on some of the vehicles may refer to the unit logo of Smithson's Chinese Bandits, one of the Word of Blake-employed units that joined the Waco Rangers in their attack on Wolf's Dragoons on Outreach.