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.It took almost half an hour before he finally could be certain that he was seeing what he thought.He could draw a line on his scanner, an invisible border that the AgroMechs never crossed.They knew exactly what they were doing—or, to be specific, what they were avoiding.And they had told Alaric what he needed to know.“Sweepers, the mines end two kilometers in front of you.Once you reach that point, move aside and get out of our way.”His units knew better than to ask him how he knew this.They simply complied.Alaric switched to a broad channel on the comm.“Helm farmers, this is Star Colonel Alaric Wolf.You have ten minutes to abandon the field or you will be treated as enemy troops.That is all.”He switched back to his unit’s channel.“These ’Mechs will attack us within five minutes.Be ready.”* * *“Are we leaving?” Carleton asked over the comm.The chorus came back quickly.“No!”“Even though we’re all going to die?”They were louder this time.“No!”“All right.No more planting, then.Let’s reap.”Just like that, the AgroMechs went from being randomly scattered across fields to marching in a staggered formation toward the Clan Wolf forces.The ones closest to the minefield walked the slowest.The first line of defense against the Clanners was gradually abandoning its camouflage, and Carleton hoped their subterfuge would make up for the barely-off-the-scrap-heap equipment fate had forced them to use.“Don’t get into a slugfest if you can avoid it,” Carleton said.“We’re here to slow ’em, not beat ’em.Start shooting before they get out of the minefield.”He was near the back of the pack, wishing he was in firing range but reminding himself he was supposed to be in charge.His job in the battle was to die late.The first shots were fired, LRMs and autocannon rounds flying toward the advancing brown ’Mechs.And his blood was up.He wasn’t fast, he couldn’t be fast, but he was smooth.He knew how to work the pedals, how to ease off just before the ’Mech’s feet hit the ground, to keep it running clean over the damp dirt.Except when he was turning or changing direction—then it was a hard stomp, planting the foot into the ground and letting the gyroscopes figure out what kind of shift he intended.Damp farmland was his element.He had no real plan.He never did.You could figure out how many troops you would send into battle, he always thought, and where they would meet the enemy, but once it started…once it started, you let it take you.You get into the current of the battle, the flow, and let it push you.The battle itself tells you how to win it, if you know how to pay attention.Or, in this case, the battle would hopefully tell Carleton how not to get wiped out too quickly.The Wolves were firing back.Their lasers, those damn Clan lasers, were firing, and the slow, modified AgroMechs couldn’t avoid the fire.Armor on the frontline ’Mechs was melting away quickly, and some of them had started to fall.Earth was flying through the field, flecks of dirt spattering Carleton’s cockpit window.He could feel the pressure in front of him, like the heat from a furnace, burning his face the longer he looked at it.He moved right, plodding over the ground, calling on his troops to come with him, to rally in the face of the Clan Wolf pressure.The mud was everywhere: all the ’Mechs were becoming a uniform brown.Carleton was relying on his autocannons, filling the air in front of him with metal, hoping to slow the Clan advance.He looked at his scanner, then looked again.There were too few green lights.What had happened to all his troops? It was happening too fast, they were losing too fast.Missiles were coming at him from two different directions, and there wasn’t much he could do but watch them come.He blasted his autocannon, hoping at least to make the machines that had fired at him pay for stopping long enough to take a shot.Then he felt it.He felt the flow, and the current pushed him forward, and he ordered his units to come with him.He hoped he would live long enough to find out where his instincts were taking him and why.* * *They came like Alaric thought they would.They tried to bottle up his troops near the edge of the minefield.They obviously hoped their ruse of using modified AgroMechs and trying to look harmless would buy them some time, but it did not.Alaric was ready for them, and the AgroMechs did not get a single shot off in surprise.That charge on the left side of his lines, however, was somewhat unexpected.The AgroMechs were badly outnumbered, and a charge into his lines seemed like it would gain them nothing but a quick death.Then Alaric saw it.It was not a large advantage they would be gaining but, if their commander executed the maneuver properly, he would be able to isolate a cluster of ’Mechs while handcuffing a large part of Alaric’s forces, who would have to shift to avoid catching other Wolf units in friendly cross fire.It was, Alaric had to admit, a cunning and brave move.It was also a move he could counter.“Striker Trinary, divide and pull apart.Give them space as they are coming through.Alpha and Beta, swinging gate.”The frontline units of Alpha and Beta would remain essentially in place, keeping the AgroMechs engaged, while the rearward units would swing around into a new position that would set up a charge to push back the enemy—or destroy them outright.He was farther back than he wanted to be, so he swung around with the maneuvering forces.It was quiet back here, so quiet that it barely felt like a battle.He needed to move forward fast.Or as fast as he could make the Mad Cat go.The ’Mech’s feet felt heavy and slow beneath him, even slower than normal.His fingers kept reaching for his triggers, but he was not approaching the front fast enough.When he got there—once he was there, he could picture it, his lasers and PPCs cutting through everything, beaming blue into the heart of the defending ’Mechs.He could destroy them as soon as he was in position.Then he was there.He had made his way around.He was moving forward, into the battle, and he pulled the PPC trigger.It was a wild shot, poorly aimed, and did not hit anything.But it was a shot, and Alaric felt much better for it.The AgroMechs saw what was happening [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]