Thirteen

Thirteen
Product information
Type Short story
Author Craig A. Reed
Pages 37
Publication information
Publisher BattleCorps
First published 30 November 2011
Content
Era Jihad era
Timeline 6-9 December 3067

Thirteen is a story by Craig A. Reed that was published online on BattleCorps on 30 November 2011.

Teaser text[edit]

... and it's often difficult to tell if those changes are better or worse. But when a Lyran MechWarrior on Tharkad just after the Word takes hold is assigned a haunted 'Mech...

Plot summary[edit]

06 December 3067[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the bombardment of Tharkad, Lyran forces are scrambling to mount a defense, with serving and retired military staff being recalled wholesale to rejoin their units or form new emergency formations to help fight off the Word of Blake attack. One such unit begins in the McQuiston Mountains near Bremen, where a group of retirees, volunteers and Lyran Alliance Armed Forces personnel who had been on leave at the time of the attack rendezvous. Taking possession of a combination of equipment the personal BattleMech collection of Baron Von Moser as well as several more 'Mechs from private owners and the local militia, a volunteer unit manages to assemble sixteen 'Mechs under the overall command of Hauptmann Klaus Warberg of the Second Royal Guards. Members of his ad hoc unit include Sergeant Major Felan O'Toole, a retiree from the First Lyran Regulars and a number of similarly retired veterans, but the most distinctive recruit is Kommandant Ansgar "Gar" Shurasky, also of the Second Royal Guards. Shurasky achieved a degree of notoriety during the FedCom Civil War, when the First and Second Royal Guard RCTs fought in defense of Archon Katherine Steiner-Davion; fighting against forces from Clan Wolf-in-Exile, Shurasky earned the nickname Wolfsjäger for his successes against the Clan troops—the only Lyran officer to consistently win against or surprise the Exiles.

During the battle against the Allied forces on Tharkad, Shurasky had been Warberg's commanding officer, and together they fought in three major engagements—the battles at Methow Valley, Stahlwurzel Forest and Tharkad City. Warberg credits Shurasky for being the reason he an a lot of other personnel from the Second Royal Guards were still alive. Never comfortable with the nickname Wolfsjäger or being regarded as a hero, after the surrender Shurasky had suffered a complete mental breakdown, and had been on medical leave at the time of the Blakist attack. With the invasion ongoing, the LAAF needs everyone it can find, and Warberg faces the prospect of having more 'Mechs than MechWarriors, so everyone has to fight...

When Shurasky goes to pick a 'Mech to pilot from the largely older-model 'Mechs Warberg has managed to gather, he finds that the only one of the five assault-weight 'Mechs not to have been claimed is an old Zeus, still painted in the blue and gold of the Royal Guards. He hears a familiar voice greeting him when he touches the 'Mech, but is interrupted by Warberg, who wants to check on him. Shurasky explains how he came to be away skiing at the time of the attack, and Warberg reiterates his faith in Shurasky's abilities, highlighting that he was the second choice for the promotion onto the staff of Archon Peter Steiner-Davion—that Peter had wanted Shurasky as his first pick—but Shurasky reassures him that it isn't an issue; Shurasky doesn't feel able to give the Archon the loyalty he deserves after the battle, and he doesn't want command of this ad hoc unit. He just wants to fight. While the two are talking they're approached by Mel Blythe, the chief tech for the Zeus, which she refers to as "Thirteen". Blythe also refers to Thirteen having chosen Shurasky, and explains a little of the history of the 'Mech; the name Thirteen refers to it having been the thirteenth Zeus to be manufactured, making it one of the oldest still in service. Having begun as a ZEU-5S, Thirteen was downgraded during the Succession Wars to a ZEU-6S, before being upgraded to a ZEU-9S in 3048, before being acquired by Baron Von Moser in 3060, by which point Thirteen was little more than a shell. Blythe spent three years returning it to working order as a ZEU-9S, during which time she became aware that Thirteen had a reputation for being haunted, and at times, she feels that it's somehow alive... but at the same time, concedes that she may simply have an overactive imagination. Shurasky agrees to take Thirteen, saying that whilst some of those who've piloted Thirteen claimed to have heard the voices of dead pilots while piloting it, they can't be any worse than the voices he's been hearing.

Settling into Thirteen's cockpit, Shurasky finds himself having a conversation with an apparition of a blue-eyed blonde woman he knows is dead—his sister, Shana. When challenged with the fact that either she's a ghost or he's insane, Shurasky concedes that ghost is the better alternative. He continues to converse with Shana, who points out that he could have taken command of the unit. They briefly discuss missing each other, and how Warberg is looking well, before Shana probes Shurasky on his reasons for being willing to fight again; with the Blakists using nukes on civilians, he feels that he has no choice—that he has to defend the citizens of the Alliance, even though that means becoming the Wolfsjäger again. When contacted by Warberg, who's nervous over what's taking Shurasky so long to get his 'Mech started, Shurasky simply states that he's familiarizing himself with the controls, having never piloted a Zeus before.

07 December 3067[edit]

The next day the reinforced company of sixteen 'Mechs is moving under radio silence through the forested mountains using a fire road. Thirteen is one of a small number to have advanced equipment; most of the 'Mechs are older, basic models, and with the Blakists known to have WarShip support there are strict communications protocols in place to prevent them becoming the target of orbital bombardment. The command is moving towards a militia rendezvous location designated 9-Alpha, which is also a weapons cache, to join up with other ad hoc forces that have managed to assemble. Despite being in command, Warberg keeps updating Shurasky on what he's doing, and Shurasky attempts to reassure Warberg that he is in command—that Klaus doesn't need to keep checking the details with him, but again Warberg insists that Shurasky should be in charge. Shurasky points out that after four months in a mental hospital, he isn't the same person Warberg knew, but after his conversation with Warberg ends, Shana picks up where Klaus left off. The two are arguing over whether Gar should've taken command when Shana points out to him that there are aerospace fighters approaching.

Shurasky alerts the other 'Mechs to the approaching fighters, and one of the 'Mechs identifies them as a pair of Tomahawks. The 'Mechs charge for cover amidst the trees while the fighters launch a bombing and strafing run; Shurasky and others fire on the approaching fighters, downing one while the fighters damage two of the 'Mechs. The second fighter peels away after taking damage, and Warberg interrupts the celebration over the downed fighter to remind them that now the Blakists know where they are, and that they need to move out, quickly. It's at this point that Shurasky realises that his hands are no longer trembling, despite him anticipating otherwise.

Having made the rendezvous at 9-Alpha, Shurasky is drinking coffee by his 'Mech when he's approached by Shana again, who wants to know how he's doing. Once again, she points out something approaching him. This time, it's Leutnant-General Gerhard Von Ritter, the senior officer at 9-Alpha. In addition to the forces Klaus brought in, Von Ritter has managed to assemble two companies of militia 'Mechs, a platoon of Drillson hovertanks and an ad hoc headquarters. Von Ritter wants to know if Shurasky has any issues with Klaus commanding the company, given that it's his first time commanding such a large force; Shurasky reassures Von Ritter that Klaus is experienced, level-headed and a clear thinker, and that he has confidence in his ability to run the command. Von Ritter attempts to explain how he wanted to do more when Shurasky suffered his mental break, but Shurasky cuts him off, pointing out that there was nothing Von Ritter could do—the war is going on inside Shurasky's head. Von Ritter didn't want Shurasky to know about the mobilization, but Shurasky explains that he overheard Von Ritter talking, and that Von Ritter doesn't need to worry. It's peace that Shurasky is struggling with; in combat, he'll be fine. When Von Ritter asks if Shurasky can fight for the Archon, Shurasky says no, not yet... but that if they're both fighting for the people of the Alliance, then they're both fighting for the same side. Von Ritter accepts this, and points out that the Archon believes in the Alliance and its people every bit as much as Shurasky does.

While Von Ritter is called away by a message from the Lyran Command, Shurasky continues to converse with Shana, and relives some of his memories from the earlier battle on Tharkad, and how he won the name Wolfsjäger from a journalist embedded in the same battalion of the Second Royal Guards he'd been serving in, after Shurasky claimed three Exile kills in the first battle in Methow Valley and then another four kills during the opening battle in the Stahlwurzel Forest. Attrition and success saw Shurasky commanding the remains of his battalion in the forest, and then promoted to Kommandant during the battle for Tharkad City, during which he commanded a mixed battalion; his forces had fought for eight days during the siege, and was the last of the Loyalist forces to surrender. Faced with all of the death and destruction that had been caused, and that had killed most of his friends and acquaintances along with General Nondi Steiner, all of which seemed to have been for nothing, Shurasky began to crumble; the final blow that tipped him over the edge had been the death of Shana on Dalkeith. After being found huddled in a fetal position and screaming in his quarters, Shurasky had been consigned to a mental hospital for treatment, being released after four months to return back to the woman he loved, just in time for the Blakist assault.

Warberg interrupts Shurasky's thoughts by telling him that they have orders; Warberg then briefs Shurasky and his other officers and NCOs on the current situation on Tharkad. With the Eleventh Arcturan Guards destroyed by orbital bombardment and the Twenty-fourth Lyran Guards badly damaged but fighting fiercely to provide the cover needed for the Second Royal Guards to evacuate the Archon from the capital, Von Ritter's unit has been redesignated Kampfgruppe Ritter, and has orders to link up with the Second near Route Seven, avoiding major engagements en route. Ritter expects to pick up more forces as they move, and breaks his 'Mech forces down into four companies - Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. He puts Klaus in charge of Alpha while assigning command of Beta to Shurasky. Before Shuraksy can protest, Ritter points out that Shurasky and Klaus are the heart of the unit, and he needs them working together, prompting Shurasky to again reassure him that there's no animosity between the two.

08 December 3067[edit]

Marching towards the rendezvous, Kampfgruppe Ritter grew overnight through the addition of another lance of 'Mechs piloted by their retired owners who'd responded to the call-up, as well as two more lances of vehicles and three and a half companies of infantry. With militia forces on snowmobiles scouting ahead of the line of march, the 'Mech forces had taken the flanks, leaving the infantry and armor in the second, with a lance of hovertanks forming the rearguard, using their fans to disturb the snow and cover the tracks of their marching forces. Shuraksy converses with both Shana and O'Toole, who's sticking close to Shurasky and piloting an Awesome; Shurasky is under no illusions that Von Ritter has O'Toole shadowing him to check for signs that he might be breaking under the pressure. Shurasky has been drawn into revealing a little of what it's like to fight against the Clans by his second-in-command, the young Hauptmann Robert McGlowan, when the sound of an explosion is heard.

Von Ritter confirms that he's made contact with the Royals, who are holding at Brekenridge, but are being engaged by the Blakists, and that the Word has artillery bracketing the Royals' position, making life dicey for them. Kampfgruppe Ritter can see the explosions and smoke, and the Royals believe the artillery is located close to Ritter's position, somewhere to the east; Ritter assigns Alpha and Beta companies to attacking the Blakists, with Gamma and Delta moving in support, whilst the hovertanks of Epsilon company are ordered to find and silence the artillery pieces.

With both Alpha and Beta companies operating with ten 'Mechs each, Klaus has designated his group the Ghosts, while Shurasky has dubbed his the Hunters. Whilst Von Ritter converses with a senior Royals officer using the callsign Paladin, Warberg and Shurasky's companies move through the forest, looking for the Blakists. Shana warns Shurasky that the Blakists have forces in the woods, and he responds to her warning, changing his company's course, and calling for Warberg to trust him. Warberg is uncertain, but accepts that Wolfsjäger was right too often in Stahlwurzel Forest for Warberg to not trust his judgement. Shurasky sends his fast 'Mech lance forward, while having his short lance of two 'Mechs—a Commando and a Victor—form a rearguard, with orders to reinforce either of the two main lances as needed. He also orders that when they engage, his troops are to concentrate their fire on individual targets, and not get bogged down in slugging matches.

Within minutes they encounter their first Blakist 'Mech, a white 'Mech that Shurasky doesn't recognize and which Thirteen's warbook doesn't identify, but which Shana recognizes as an Initiate. Hit by repeated volleys from Thirteen, O'Toole's Awesome and Dancer's Catapult, the Initiate drops quickly, but not before a Blakist Wraith spots the advancing Kampfgruppe Ritter forces. Shurasky presses the attack forward, and his lance hits the main Blakist line, which consists of a handful of battle armor suits, a Guillotine, a Toyama, and a Trebuchet.

As they press forwards, Shurasky sees the main battle line, where a half dozen Royals 'Mechs and a similar number of armored vehicles were fighting against some two dozen Blakist BattleMechs and a similar number of vehicles. As he looks, a pair of Fortune assault vehicles race in behind the Royals, escorting a dozen trucks, a Mobile HQ and a pair of MASH Trucks. With artillery falling on the village the Royals were using as cover, Shurasky orders his lance to target the Guillotine, which falls quickly, before they move on to attack the Toyama. While firing on the Toyama, Shurasky is warned by Shana of another incoming Blakist 'Mech, and finds himself battling a Buccaneer at short range.

With the Buccaneer too close to Thirteen for his lancemates to engage it, Shurasky orders the others to attack the Trebuchet; Thirteen and the Buccaneer then trade blows before the Blakist 'Mech collapses, having taken heavy damage from behind from the Commando and Victor Shurasky had deployed as rearguard.

Freed from the melee, Shurasky sees that his surprise assault has turned the Blakist line. The Kampfgruppe has also felled a Grim Reaper and a Flashman, along with destroying a Galleon light tank and leaving a Myrmidon with a locked turret. As he looks, a Blakist Excalibur fells the Hatchetman in his company, only to explode under return fire moments later.

With the Blakists crumbling, the Royals counterattack behind a battered Fafnir, which fells a Champion single-handed even as a Royals Axeman finishes off an armless Crab. The Toyama and Trebuchet Shurasky's lance had been pressing begin to fall back, with support from a Wraith and a pair of Po tanks, with some of the 'Mechs firing directly at Shurasky.

Shurasky sees an artillery explosion and hears moments later that Geist is down; at Shana's urging, he snaps out of a momentary reverie, he takes command of the Kampfgruppe and orders them to keep pressing the Blakists, concentrating on anything equipped with TAG as a priority. Hammered on three sides, two Zephyrs are destroyed almost immediately and the Trebuchet explodes, while the Wraith loses an arm. The Blakists continue to fire back, destroying the Royals Axeman through weight of fire and destroying Alpha's Orion via an ammunition explosion.

As Shurasky hammers away at a Blakist Wyvern, he spots that the Blakists are falling back, with Blakist 'Mechs moving in pairs, providing cover for each other as they retreat. He orders the Kampfgruppe to continue to press the attack, but is overruled by Paladin; he attempts to argue, only to learn that Paladin is actually Archon Peter Steiner-Davion. Shurasky argues that they can't let the Blakists regroup, but Peter points out that the Blakists have been bloodied badly and are low on ammunition; Shana agrees with the Archon, and points out that the Blakists have lost the will to keep fighting. Shurasky concedes the point, and orders his troops to disengage and consolidate with the Royals.

09 December 3067[edit]

In the aftermath of the battle, Shurasky is talking with Shana and O'Toole when Warberg reappears, injured but mobile, accompanied by Ritter. Ritter openly asks O'Toole if there have been any problems with Shurasky, and O'Toole reports that he has nothing that indicates that Shurasky is suffering any effects from his recent break, and that Shurasky was fulling involved in the attack and didn't fall prone to hesitation.

Reassured by O'Toole, Ritter tells Shurasky that the Archon wants to talk to him. Noted by Shana as being much taller than Victor, Peter praises Shurasky's actions, and states that he wants to set Shurasky up with a Kampfruggpe of his own to command. The people of the Alliance need heroes, and he needs the Wolfsjäger, someone he was already familiar with, having heard stories from the Wolves-in-Exile, who were apparently very impressed with Shurasky.

After some discussion over Shurasky's loyalty to the people of the Alliance rather than directly to Peter, the Archon field-promotes Warberg, Shurasky and O'Toole, and leaves Ritter with orders to make the Blakists pay in any way they can, building Kampfgruppen around their existing companies augmented with elements from both the Royals and militia, and with the freedom to recruit anyone who wants to join them and to use any equipment they bring with them. Whilst other Kampfgruppen will be formed as well, these two are to be the first, while the Archon travels around Tharkad, spreading the word that he's still alive and still fighting.

Shurasky, Warberg, Ritter and O'Toole continue to talk for a few minutes, before Warberg and Ritter leave, giving O'Toole the opportunity for a candid conversation with Shurasky. As a parting comment, O'Toole advises Shurasky to turn down his mic sensitivity a little, because whoever Shana is, hearing just one side of a conversation is somewhat disturbing. O'Toole doesn't let Shurasky explain, but points out that he doesn't want to know—if talking to a ghost makes Shurasky capable of fighting the way he did over the last 24 hours, that's good enough for O'Toole.

With O'Toole gone, Shurasky asks Shana how long she's planning to stay; Shana responds by telling him that she'll be there as long as he needs her.

Featured BattleTech[edit]

BattleMechs[edit]

Aerospace Fighters[edit]

Combat Vehicles[edit]

Notes[edit]

  • A BattleCorps news item later mentions one newly-minted Baron Ansgar Shurasky on the sidelines.