“You’re gonna be fine! I’m tellin’ ya, Dex has got you covered with a real Star League ‘Mech. You’ll eat this Drac dropout for breakfast.”
Tychon’s words didn’t do much to assuage Vic’s growing unease. He needed this fight to go well--Dex had promised to have his arena license reinstated if he could beat Matsumoto’s Panther in an underground (and highly illegal) duel. Dex had even offered his own ‘Mech for the fight. All he had to do was win.
And yet, something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the fact he was dealing with perhaps the lowest rung of Solaris society. Vic was used to shady characters like Tychon. It was the fact that Dex had offered his own ‘Mech. Never mind the fact it was supposedly from the days of the fabled Star League--everyone said that, and everyone forgot that there were just as many shambling junkpiles in the Star League as there were today. Nobody at this level lent their ‘Mechs out, especially when they were already doing a huge favor. Least of all kingpins like Dex.
Vic crossed his arms and looked out the hoverlimo’s window. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said, half under his breath.
It didn’t take long to reach the makeshift arena on the outskirts of Nowhere. A crowd had already gathered in the bleachers, protected by a sparking net that looked like it couldn’t stop a fly let alone an autocannon shell. Vic knew that civilian casualties weren’t uncommon at these fights. He’d already written half of them off.
The hover limo parked right next to the gantries where two dark colossi stood. One was a Panther, but the other was a ‘Mech that Vic had never seen before. It was taller than the Panther, but far more gangly, with long, thin limbs and a cockpit that seemed to erupt from the machine’s wide shoulders. Vic could make out the muzzle brake of a light autocannon and a right arm with the telltale scorch marks of flamer, but it was too dark to make out the rest.
“Get suited up, hero,” Tychon mocked as he tossed Vic his beat-up neurohelmet. “Time to put on a show.”
The next ten minutes were all downhill. Vic was dismayed to find out that his “Star League” ‘Mech had just a 60mm autocannon as its main armament. The flamer might be useful if he could get close, but he only had a single medium laser and a piddly machine gun when his autocannon’s ammo bin ran dry. Worse, he had no hands, so close combat brawling was out too.
The jump jets were a bonus and the ‘Mech felt reasonably nimble after taking it through a five-minute shakedown, but he was hardly confident his firepower would surpass his opponent.
The other five minutes proved his suspicions correct. The Vulcan, a name he’d only discovered after cycling through his diagnostic displays, had less armor than the Panther. That discovery was made apparent after Matsumoto’s PPC sheared off his left arm at the shoulder. The arm only contained his machine gun, but it was an arm down when he’d barely pockmarked the Panther’s armored hide.
Vic fired with his autocannon, scoring minor hits across the Panther’s chest. Meanwhile, Vic’s damage display showed several red areas where previous PPC blasts had ruptured his wiry ‘Mech’s armor. His only hope was to close the distance, get underneath the PPC’s minimum range, and use his flamer to force Matsumoto into shutdown.
Kicking his Vulcan into gear, Vic charged forward in a slight zig-zag, firing his autocannon wildly as he went. Most of his shots missed, but Matsumoto’s did not. Another PPC blast removed his right arm, while a second punched through the Vulcan’s chest to nick the engine shielding. Immediately, the Vulcan’s normally temperate cockpit became a veritable sauna and his forward momentum slowed to a crawl.
Vic couldn’t hear it, but the crowd roared as the Vulcan seemed to stagger forward after a mortal blow. A few more defiant plinks from his autocannon merely bounced off the Panther’s scowling feline face as the crowd jeered. Then the Panther let loose a flight of SRMs. Three erupted all around the Vulcan’s cockpit, but one slipped right through the rents in the 40-ton machine’s armor to touch off the remaining autocannon rounds. The resulting explosion killed both Vic and 46 fans who were cheering right up until the shockwave blew the bleachers apart.
The bizarrely-shaped Vulcan is a ‘Mech made purely by necessity. In the closing years of the Amaris Civil War, the Star League Defense Force found itself fighting in the highly-populated urban centers of the Terran Hegemony. Ill-equipped for urban fighting, Alexander Kerensky ordered MatherTechno Incorporated of the recently liberated Northwind to produce a ‘Mech made to combat dug-in infantry--the most common threat faced by ‘Mechs when fighting in cities.
What MatherTechno came back with was quickly nicknamed the “Scarecrow” by SLDF MechWarriors. Tall and wiry for 40 tons, the VL-2T Vulcan also came with an odd assortment of weapons designed specifically to root out infantry. Its primary weapon was a 60mm Armstrong Autocannon/2, which was supported by a Firestorm Flamer and a Sperry Browning Machine Gun. The ‘Mech’s most powerful weapon, a single Medium Laser, was most often reserved for light-armored vehicles.
The Vulcan‘s first combat action came during Operation Liberation, the battle for Terra. Primarily assigned to the SLDF’s Volunteer Regiments, the Vulcan quickly earned a reputation for being an effective city fighter. However, with only five tons of armor and an arsenal of light weapons, the Vulcan was vulnerable to other ‘Mechs or even heavy armored vehicles. In cases where the Vulcan found itself overmatched, a top speed of 97 kph and six jump jets theoretically allowed clever pilots to escape, but after years of bitter fighting, few Vulcan pilots opted for retreat during the Terran liberation.
As MatherTechno’s first and only ‘Mech, the Vulcan also suffered from other design flaws beyond its armament. Without hands, the Vulcan was especially vulnerable to the sort of melee combat commonly found in urban settings. It also made the Vulcan less useful in non-combat scenarios and made it difficult to extract itself from rubble without damaging its Machine Gun or Flamer. The light autocannon was supposed to be a multipurpose weapon, but it was most often employed against hardened structures where the Flamer and Machine Gun proved ineffective.
After Terra fell, the Vulcan temporarily found itself a weapon without a war. Luckily, MatherTechno soon found itself flooded with orders as every Great House frantically built up its arsenal in preparation for what would become the Succession Wars. This resulted in the proliferation of the Vulcan across the Inner Sphere, although their numbers would dwindle after MatherTechno’s factory was destroyed in the first few months of the First Succession War.
With its factory destroyed, MatherTechno was forced to sell the design to be produced under license by both Coventry Metal Works and Nimakachi Fusion Products Limited. This made the Vulcan most numerous in the Lyran Commonwealth and the Free Worlds League. In contrast, House Liao had the fewest number of Vulcans after the planet Sappho--where the majority of the Cappellan Vulcans were stationed--was lost to House Marik during the Second Succession War.
House Davion had a large stockpile of spare parts keeping its Vulcans operational, which were mostly the VL-5T variant. Introduced a year after the VL-2T, the 5T sacrificed the 60mm autocannon in favor of three additional Medium Lasers, two more tons of armor, and two extra heat sinks. This version of the Vulcan was far more effective at engaging ‘Mechs and other armored targets and proved instrumental in the retaking of Kentares IV during the First Succession War.
It wasn’t until the recovery of the Helm Memory Core that new Vulcan variants started to be produced. The VT-5M from Nimakachi Fusion Products replaced the autocannon with a Large Pulse Laser, upgraded the laser to a Medium Pulse Laser, and upgraded the heat sinks to doubles. An endo steel chassis was used to make room for the additional firepower and an extra heat sink. Production of this variant would run from 3052 until 3069 when Nimakachi’s plant on Tematagi was destroyed by a pirate band known as the Order of the Faithful, a group unwittingly controlled by the Word of Blake.
The VT-6M, produced just before the factory was destroyed, upgraded the 5M’s arsenal with an ER Medium Laser and a Light Gauss Rifle with two tons of ammo. Only 30 examples of this variant were produced before the factory’s destruction and most of those were captured by the World of Blake.
With the Word of Blake’s de-facto takeover of the Free Worlds League, the VT-6C arose from the ashes of Nimakachi’s plant. This variant replaced the VT-5M’s lasers for an ER Large Laser, an ER Medium Laser, and a C3i Computer, and replaced the single Machine Gun with a trio of Light Machine Guns linked in a Machine Gun Array.
On the Lyran side, the VT-5S replaced the reliable Pitban 240 engine with an Extralight version, added ferro-fibrous armor and CASE for additional protection, and MASC for a temporary top speed of 129 kph. The lighter engine also allowed the Armstrong autocannon to be replaced by a much larger Ultra Autocannon/5. Unlike the Marik variant, the 5S would remain in production and even see a sub-variant upgrade produced during the Jihad. This variant--called the VT-5Sr--replaced the Ultra AC/5 with a Plasma Rifle and two additional heat sinks.
Following the Jihad, the Vulcan faced stiff competition from various OmniMechs sporting anti-personnel configurations, and the Republic disarmament meant that most militaries preferred to keep these adaptable designs over a dedicated infantry fighter like the Vulcan. With sales collapsing, Coventry and Nimakachi held a technical summit to redesign the Vulcan for the modern era. The result was the VL-7T. This entirely revamped Vulcan was armed with a Plasma Rifle, Heavy Machine Gun, Heavy Flamer, and an ER Medium Laser. A 240 XL engine and light ferro-fibrous armor allowed for the additional armament, all of which was linked to a Targeting Computer.
Cheaper than competing OmniMechs, the VT-7T is the perfect design to defeat all sorts of armored infantry. The Targeting Computer ensures locks are maintained on squirrely targets such as Elementals, while the tried, tested, and true trio of Flamer, Machine Gun, and laser ensure that lightly armored and unarmored infantry can be cut down in droves. Today, the VL-7T is one of the top-selling ‘Mechs for both companies in no small part due to the prevalence of infantry on the modern battlefield.
However, that may not be the case forever. As infantry losses mount due to the deadly design, commanders may rethink their tactics to favor ‘Mechs once again. When that happens, the Vulcan will undoubtedly fall back on hard times.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.