Hard Luck Case
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|Hard Luck Case|
|Author||Steven Mohan Jr.|
|First published||17 May 2005|
|Era||Succession Wars era|
|Timeline||19 May 3037-6 August 3039|
|“||What is luck? Join us as Steve Mohan tells us the tale of the infamous Fifth FedCom, and what luck really means...||”|
Jeffrey Cantor and his brother Robert are both MechWarriors in the Fifth FedCom RCT, already gaining a reputation for being a hard-luck unit in the late 3030s. With a third of the Fifth's pilots having been killed in a DropShip crash in early 3037, Jeff was one of a number of new recruits who had aspired to join the regiment and feels that his winning a position as a Subaltern within the Fifth owes as much to his superior piloting skills as it does to his older brother Robert being a Captain within the Fifth, driving an Awesome.
In May 3037 the Fifth is stationed on Tsitsang; Jeffrey is a part of the contingent stationed in Paelung on the continent of Fang, and it's the 19th—a week after a bloody raid by the Free Worlds League Military that inflicted significant damage on the Fifth. Jeff is piloting his Jenner into the BattleMech Storage and Repair facility there, the largest single building on the base and heavily reinforced with ferrocrete when a freak accident occurs. Watching his brother talking with one of the Techs whilst repairs are going on throughout the facility, he notices Techs working on a Stalker that needs a leg replaced; he's uncomfortable to see that Techs are unloading ammunition from the 'Mech on one side, while on the other, a Tech is working away with an oxyacetyline torch, cutting away at the damaged leg. Although the Techs appear to be following the safety regulations, he instinctively doesn't like that ammunition handling is going on so close to welding work. He's proved right when the Tech wielding the torch is startled, jumps back, and dislodges the oxygen tank on his welding apparatus. That wouldn't normally be an issue, except the Tech had installed a fresh tank, and forgotten to attach the safety chain. That leads to both tanks hitting the floor, shattering the intermix valve and the tanks becoming a deadly, flaming projectile.
The tanks fly across the floor of the workshop, striking the foot of Jeff's Jenner and causing it to fall; he barely has time to see flames travelling across the floor and setting off pallets of ammunition before he lapses into unconsciousness. When he wakes, the repair facility is engulfed in flames, stray autocannon rounds having detonated and set off the tank farm; it's only been two minutes, but the inside of the building is already a hellish inferno. He works his way out of his 'Mech but is completely disorientated, running into a wall and seeing no way out, only to see a burning figure staggering out of the flames to initiate the fire suppression systems—one of the controls for which is directly above Jeff's head.
Now stationed on Halstead Station, the Fifth's reputation as a hard-luck unit is well established, and Jeff is well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. Jeff's drinking is partly out of guilt over Robert who was heavily disfigured as a result of the fire on Tsitsang, and implied to be the burning figure that saved Jeff. Jeff is convinced that the Fifth is cursed, stationed on a poisonous world that the Combine doesn't want, and which the Fifth couldn't even take on its own—the mercenary unit Roman's Bar Hounds had to capture the world, with the Fifth going in as follow-up forces. Drinking heavily, Jeff bemoans the Fifth's lack of experience, the fact that they're still an untested unit, and that all they're good for is cutting apart civilian insurgents piloting modified MiningMechs.
Robert interrupts one of Jeff's drinking sessions on the 5th of August with news that the Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery has jumped into the system—and not at one of the main jump points, but at a pirate point just a few hours away. Jeff tries to convince Robert that they can't face front-line DCMS forces, but Robert's insistent that the unit will fight, and Jeff takes up position in his Centurion as the DCMS forces deploy.
The plan is for the Fifth to hit the DCMS forces as they attempt to deploy from their DropShips, but as the Fifth moves to intercept, it discovers that a secret LZ has been created covertly, a smooth, stable landing surface, and that DCMS troops are dropping straight onto it. An Excalibur-class DropShip is already on approach as Jeff first lays eyes on the hidden landing site. Jeff radios in a report on the LZ, knowing that his role as a scout makes him expendable, but confident that the three months he's spent on Halstead Station has left him well-prepared for fighting in the low-gravity environment... only to discover when the first of the enemy 'Mechs, a Hunchback, fires on him, that the Fifth isn't facing a regular regiment from the Dieron Regulars, but rather the elite First Sword of Light.
Jeff battles the Hunchback, determined to try and get through it to inflict damage against the unloading forces from the First Sword, only to find a Drillson hovertank coming to the assistance of the Hunchback. He manages to disable the Drillson and is pressing the Hunchback when he comes under fire from an LRM Carrier—despite Halstead Station lacking the level of oxygen needed in the atmosphere to make the use of ICE engines viable. At a pivotal moment Jeff's Centurion slips on the icy terrain, only to find himself being rescued by Robert once again, Robert's Awesome charging in to disable the Hunchback as Jeff watches from his prone 'Mech. Robert brings bitter news—the Major commanding their battalion has ordered a retreat.
Falling back to Halstead City, Jeff confronts Robert to find out what happened. Robert explains that the First Sword lured their forces into an ambush, using fusion-powered tanks to drag LRM Carriers out of their DropShips and then using the LRM Carriers as pillboxes to strike at the Fifth's 'Mechs with. They clash over Robert having rescued Jeff yet again, with Jeff continuing to insist that the attack is just the latest proof that the Fifth is a hard-luck unit and demanding to know why Robert rescued him; Robert puts his rescue down to a combination of Jeff's call for combat support, and the fact that he feels responsible for making sure Jeff survives to go home, but the argument becomes more heated as Jeff's guilt over Robert saving him from the fire comes to the fore, as well as Robert's frustration with Jeff's insistence on luck being a deciding factor. Robert's last words before stalking away are that Jeff will never be a soldier until he learns to stop blaming luck and understands that the only thing he can control is how he'll react to a situation.
The Fifth prepares temporary defenses around Halstead City, creating berms from earth and ice to provide some cover, and waits for the First Sword's inevitable attack. Back in his Centurion, Jeff tangles with a Kintaro, getting support from one of the Fifth's J. Edgar light hovertanks, and notices that the First Sword seem to have a lot of Star League 'Mech designs amidst their ranks. With the Kintaro vanquished, Jeff thanks the tank crew—who go on to engage a Drillson—whilst he moves to assist his brother, who is battling a King Crab—another Star League design—with his Awesome. Together, the two manage to take down the assault 'Mech.
As Jeff turns to battle a Spider that's fighting one of the Fifth's Javelins, he starts to entertain the idea that maybe the Fifth's luck has turned. With a cache of supplies behind them, the berms to provide some temporary defence, and the Fifth holding the left flank while Roman's Bar Hounds hold the right flank, the First Sword has no choice but to fight through their defences, and the Fifth is holding its own... but even as he lines up a kill shot on the Spider, his Centurion takes damage from behind, and he discovers that a second DCMS regiment has joined the attack, hitting the Fifth from behind—and not just any DCMS regiment, but the Seventh Sword of Light.
Trapped between two elite regiments, the Fifth begins to break; the RCT's commanding officer, General Slattery, orders them to hold, but Jeff's battalion commander, Major Trent, orders a retreat. Jeff sees 'Mechs from the Fifth getting torn apart as Slattery and Trent argue over the comms, and sees units breaking... only to realise that one of the units, the J. Edgar that helped him before, isn't breaking for the DropShips, but instead moving to support the Bar Hounds, who are still holding their own against the two Sword regiments. Seeing a Seventh Sword Archer crush the valiant hovertank, Jeff snaps out of his momentary hesitation and throws his 'Mech against the heavier opponent, quickly joined by Robert.
While Robert demands to know why Jeff isn't falling back, Jeff begins moving towards the Bar Hounds, joining a stream of units from the Fifth disobeying the retreat order and moving to support the mercenaries. Robert argues with him, calling for Jeff to pull out, and wanting to know what he should tell their mother if Jeff dies. Jeff tells his brother that he finally understands that there are some things a man has to do—and that Robert should tell their mother that the only way to free yourself of hard luck is to face up to it. Robert tries to argue, but begins to fall back to the Fifth's DropShips, along with other units from the Fifth; as Jeff watches in his rear monitor, he knows that Robert and the others are choosing survival and shame... but all he can see in his choice to fight and die is glory, and decides that no-one could ask for better luck than that.
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