Level 4Nur Dutchung - pt. 5
By Thane Barnier

October 18, 2071
Regents' HQ
Katourach Industrial Park
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

The two flatbeds had left over an hour ago with four Poltergeists on their backs, shrouded and strapped for secrecy. Now they were rolling back through the gates of the Regent's base, forcing their way through the ever growing crowd of protestors. As they rolled up into the hanger, Major Ghardoki couldn't help but smile.

"OK Rigel," said Tomas, "are you going to tell me now what we got?"

Rigel smiled as the techs scrambled to unhook the tie-down straps. He handed Tomas the sheets that Jarhot had given him and laughed as Tomas's eyes grew wide. The tarps were whipped back to reveal two glistening black gunships. Angular, with under slung engines, they had the menacing look of the bird of prey that was their namesake.

Captain Yu jumped to the truck bed like a kid opening a Christmas present. "Rigel," he exclaimed, "these are specials! These are the stealth models! This is incredible!"

"I thought you would approve, Captain."

Tomas tapped his shoulder. "Um, Rigel, what's on the other truck?"

"Sergeant Tucker," Rigel called to the Regents' senior technician, "would you accompany us?"

The three of them sidled over to the second flatbed as the techs removed the covering. On the truck was a battered and damaged CAV. Standing twenty feet tall, the Panther had a hunched over posture and a large sensor array atop its torso. It was obvious that it had taken a lot of damage in its last encounter.

"Great," said Captain Spiro, "you got us a block of armored Swiss cheese!"

"Steady Captain," said Rigel amusedly, "that is a highly valuable piece of equipment."

"Valuable?" Tomas stared incredulously at his commander. "Rigel, you realize we've got three other Panthers, all in a touch better condition than this hunk of garbage."

Rigel shook his head and grinned. "Not like this Tomas. Take a look."

Rigel let the Sergeant crawl around in the Panther for a good five minutes. "Well Sergeant," he called, "do you think you can repair her?"

"Absolutely sir," said Tucker, "the electronics are fine, which is good because I've never seen them before. Good thing they sent the schematics. The damage is primarily armor and some structural damage. We can easily handle that."

"Rigel, what is this thing?" asked Tomas.

"Why, it's a Panther, Captain Spiro," said Rigel grinning.

"True Major," said Sergeant Tucker, "but this thing is more advanced than our Panthers."

"It would appear that the Dagger Stars managed to, um... procure one of the new refitted Panthers which KDM is producing. Advanced electronics, more reactive armor plating, slightly enhanced weaponry. You see Captain," said Rigel, turning to address Tomas, "well worth the price we paid. I'll accept your apology whenever you are ready. Preferably in writing."

"OK, OK," Tomas said, "so the joke's on me. But now what are you planning to do with this thing?"

"Ah yes, well, that's another problem. We don't have anyone who is qualified to operate it yet. But we will, someday."

"So what you are saying," said Tomas, "is that this is an investment in the future?"

"Pretty much yeah, an investment in OUR future." Rigel looked into Tomas's eyes, "Look, we have to think beyond this game we're playing. We aren't going to get out of this thing unscathed, and we need to be able to build on our success here. This trade was a gamble, but it is one that will have future benefits."

Captain Yu came running up, excitement plainly written on his face. "Major, you are a genius!"

"I assume you believe that we can pull off my plan now?" Rigel was enjoying this. "With the loss of our Poltergeists though, your flyboys are going to have to take care of air suppression. If we can gain air superiority, we'll have the upper hand."

"We're ready sir."

Rigel smiled to himself. This was going to be good.


October 25, 2071
Nur Dutchung Battlefield Epsilon
Raucknar Valley, Tourac (3)

Captain Yu had outdone himself. Major Ghardoki sat in the cockpit of his Gladiator, watching the gun camera video that Yu had beamed to him after their second attack run. He now understood Yu's delight at seeing the Kharls, seeing the ease with which the gunships had accomplished their mission. With the precision developed from years of working together, Captain Yu and his wingman tag-teamed the Fire Fangs' radar installation. Yu took the lead position, destroying the radar array, then streaking off. The Flail anti-aircraft vehicle began to track the fleeting gunship, but Yu's wingman followed a second behind, obliterating the Flail before it could get a lock on his flight leader.

"OK Major," said Tomas, "you can say I told you so. Yu's got ballsy on that run, coming in head on. That array should have picked him up a mile away."

"I guess those Kharls have lived up to their reputation," said Rigel.

"You do realize that Yu is gonna be impossible to live with after this," said Sergeant Cleminsi, Ghardoki's wizzo.

"It'll be worth the hassle," said the Major. "His flyboys will earn their pay today."

Captain Yu's squadron had been brutally efficient. Using the Kharls, he had bounced up and down the line, taking out each of the twelve radar arrays at random intervals. Kikyus then snuck in, skimming along the earth to provide reconnaissance on enemy positions. They reported taking some sporadic fire, but nothing heavy. It appeared that most of the Fire Fangs' forces were equipped for anti-CAV operations. They were also apparently in disarray.

Their attacking forces had been making an end-around toward the eastern ridge of the Regent's Headquarters, obviously going for speed and a quick victory. When Yu destroyed the closest array to them, a section had broken off and moved in to attack. Yu then hit the next array over. Apparently the Fangs decided that this was not a feint, but the location of the bulk of the attacking force. They dispatched all of their defensive CAV forces to that area to blunt the thrust by the Regents. But the Regents weren't there.

Yu then zipped to the other side of the line, hitting another array far to the western edge of the battlefield. The force had then started to move across the line toward the latest attack when Yu struck another array on the eastern edge. The force had then split, apparently confused as to where the real attack was coming from.

As all this maneuvering was going on, Yu's other flyboys were engaging and destroying the Fire Fang's pitiful air corps. Comprised mostly of aging equipment in a shocking state of disrepair, the Regent's tore through their opponents. Only the twin flight of Dragonflies gave the Regents any trouble. Having gotten cocky at the air wing's success, one of the Tsuiseki pairs had spotted a radar contact and moved in to take them down. What they encountered was the only potent asset of the Fire Fangs. Moving in, the Tsuisekis found themselves in a dogfight with a pair of shiny new Dragonflies. One of the Tsuisekis was immediately blown from the sky, its crew ejecting minutes before the craft disintegrated in midair.

The remaining Tsuiseki, piloted by Lieutenant Korhson, was forced into an acrobatic ballet of evasive maneuvers, but it was only a matter of time. Severely damaged, his hull compromised, his craft coming apart, Korhson was about to eject and take his chances on the ground when Yu and his wingman showed up in the Kharls. Surprised by the appearance of the new aircraft which had not shown on their radar, the Dragonfly pilots had only seconds to react before the Kharl's missiles tore them from the sky. Korhson turned and limped his Tsuiseki back to the Regent's staging area, removing himself from the battle.

"Major Ghardoki," came Captain Yu's voice through the comm unit, "the radar net has been shattered, the enemy's air wing has been neutralized, and their defensive forces have spread thin trying to find our main thrust point. I'd say now would be a good time to take 'em."

"Captain Spiro, how are things back at the Ranch?" asked Rigel. Tomas was leading the forces defending the Regent's HQ.

"Just ducky, Major. We just had our initial contact with the enemy. We had a pair of Pumas try and breakthrough the pass to torch the building, but the armor took both out. Our support section is pounding the enemy CAV's at range. They are coming in from the east, and this means they have to consolidate to get through those crags. This is making them easy targets and we are lighting them up. By the time they get to us, we should have them looking more than haggard.

"I'm moving some of the armor over to the eastern ridge, but I'm keeping most of the western forces in place. I'm worried they may try to sneak in some infantry on the back door."

"Sounds good, Captain," said Major Ghardoki, "since you have the parents tied up, we'll see if the can't get this party started."

Flipping open his to the unit wideband he ordered the assault to begin. "Assault and Striker sections, move out. Recon section, feint west. Air sections, begin your runs."

The Regents moved forward like a tidal wave of steel. Recon's feint succeeded in drawing the defenders' attention, which let the Regents main force slip in and split Fire Fangs' line in half. The Regents' assault section crushed the Fangs' aging armor defending the HQ perimeter. The open, flat topped butte on which the HQ was situated made the enemy forces sitting ducks to the strafing runs as the Tsuisekis tore gapping holes in armor and Kikyus shredded the infantry dug in along the rim of the butte.

The Fire Fangs did not go down without a fight, however. Enemy mortar fire rained down on the Regents, causing widespread damage. To his left, Rigel saw one of the Regents' Wyvern's take a direct hit from three mortar rounds, knocking it to it's knees and finally to it's face. Rigel had no time to think about whether the crew had survived that barrage.

The Regents gained the top of the butte on which the HQ was situated, guarded by a force of eight Hunter tanks. The Hunters were old and battered, but their weapons were still dangerous. Three of the tanks leveled their barrels at Ghardoki's Gladiator and triggered their gauss cannons simultaneously. Three silvery slugs smashed into the Gladiator, one taking it in the right knee, one in the chest, and one glancing off its right shoulder. Rigel fought with the controls as he desperately tried to keep from toppling backward off the hill.

As he regained his balance a fourth and fifth gauss slug hit him in the mid section and Rigel was forced to drop the Gladiator to its knees to keep from falling off the butte. The Gladiator's fire control system automatically drew the twin gauss gatling cannons up and in line with the nearest Hunter which had fired on the Gladiator and spat out a storm of metal slugs. They tore into the tank, stripping it of armor, but doing no appreciable damage.

Rigel saw two full sections of Lances bringing their guns to bear on his downed Gladiator when his field of vision was blocked by the hulking form of Lieutenant Movra's Rhino. The Rhino's massive Maxim One cannons fired into the Hunter furthest to the right, the large caliber slugs ripping into and through the tank, which exploded in a huge fireball.

Rigel quickly got to his feet and stepped up beside the Rhino, and was joined by Kharim's Starhawk and Rolston's Dictator. The three CAVs walked their fire down the line destroying one tank after another before they had any chance to regroup. In a matter of seconds, it was all over. The Fire Fang's armor assets sat smoking in the sunlight, a testament to the Regent's efficiency. Rigel saw the remains of the Fangs' infantry retreating into the HQ building. That would make things tougher.

"Infantry platoons advance and infiltrate. Heavies first, the enemy has retreated into the building. Be ready for room-to-room fighting."

"Major," said Tomas's voice across the comm, "You've got incoming in ten minutes. The attackers have broken off and are returning to their base."

"How many of them?" said Rigel.

"Not as many as they'd like," said Tomas with a chuckle. "Five CAVs, all heavies. And Rigel, Klaug is leading the pack. The little snake wouldn't engage me. He kept trying to draw me out so his men could surround me. Don't take his bait."

"Roger," said Rigel. "How did our forces fair?"

"They never got close to the base, sir."

"That's not what I meant," said Rigel irritably. "Losses?"

"We'll talk about that later," said Spiro with an eeriness that made Rigel cringe. But now was not the time to get distracted. He could worry about his men later.

"Sir," said his wizzo, "We have incoming contacts."

"That was a quick ten minutes," said Rigel.

"No sir, the section that was bouncing around the radar line is coming back to the HQ."

Damn, thought Rigel, I had forgotten about them. Well no time to chastise himself now. "Yu," he bellowed, "I could use some help up here."

"On the way sir," said Captain Yu.

"Recon, take up positions around the HQ and provide cover for the transports. Assault and Striker, form up and hit those incoming CAVs right after the fly boys do."

The remaining six CAVs of Assault and Striker turned and drew beads on the incoming Fire Fang CAVs. A pair of Tsuisekis streaked in and hit the force, each hitting a different CAV. Seconds later, the twin Kharls hit the force from behind, both focusing their attacks on the lead CAV. The light Kahn toppled forward, destroyed by the combined fire of the Kharls.

"Now," shouted Rigel. All six Regent CAVs opened fire, tearing up the three remaining Fangs. The Tyrant went down in a smoking heap. Shaken but not destroyed, the Fire Fangs' Specter fired two volleys of missiles that struck the Regent Rhino square in the chest and the Dictator fired two slugs at the Regents' Archer, severely damaging its missile system. The Regent's second volley of fire from the butte however, ended the Fang's attack. The last two CAVs went down, crashing into each other as they fell.

"Sir," came a voice through his comm, "we have eighty percent control of the building. Give us another five minutes."

"Good work Lieutenant, continue your sweep."

"Major," said Captain Yu, "Those remaining unfriendlies are inbound. They'll have range on you in two minutes. I'm moving to engage."

"Roger that, Captain." Rigel thought about his options. He could sit here and wait for his men to take the building. They had the defensive position, so they could easily hold off five CAVs for three minutes. Klaug's attack at the mission briefing still stuck in his mind though. Until this moment he hadn't even thought about his desire to take the man out personally. Now with his victory assured, he could take the risk of salving his ego.

"Well boys what do you think," Rigel said over the comm to his men, "should we stay here and hold them off or should we take a chance and go get 'em?"

There was no answer, just the sight of five royal blue and gold machines of war moving forward with deadly intent. Rigel laughed and set his Gladiator into a run, moving down the butte and directly toward the incoming Fire Fang units.

"Captain, if you please."

Captain Yu's quartet of attack planes strafed the formation, leaving a trail of armor behind. As Rigel looked at his tactical display, he saw one of the planes veer off suddenly, heading back to the Regents' read rear area. "What happened Captain?"

"Major, it appears they have a couple of Vanquishers with them. One of the Kharls got hit pretty good. He's heading back."

"Break off Captain," said Rigel. "Maintain patrol altitude and stay clear of those guns. We don't need to risk anymore aircraft, we can handle this."

"Whatever you say sir," said Yu sulkily.

"Regents hold here and fire when you get range." Rigel sneered as he said, "The Dictator's mine."

Rigel had a philosophy that a little extra range went a long way, and today it would pay off in spades. As the Fire Fangs charged across the plains toward them, the Regents opened fire at the extreme edge of their range. Their missiles and long range cannons outstripped the reach of the Fangs' weapons, and gave the Regents an extra few seconds of fire.

Then Rigel charged right into the Fire Fangs' formation as if taking Klaug's bait, but before the Fangs could envelope him, the other Regents moved in to support their commander. The Archer zeroed in on the first Fire Fang Vanquisher, his fire followed up with a blast from the Starhawk's huge Tower missile launcher. Two more steps and the Fire Fang Vanquisher fell as the Starhawk added its Charavel heavy gatling cannons. The Regents' own Dictator traded pot shots with a Wraith, both machines taking heavy damage before the Wraith finally fell. The other Fire Fang Vanquisher danced in a deadly stalemate with the Regent's Vanquisher. Both CAVs did superficial damage to each other, but neither had the weaponry to seriously hurt a heavily armored target. The battle was ended quickly when the Regents' Starhawk stepped up to put the enemy Vanquisher out of its misery. The fourth Fire Fang CAV, an aging Cougar design, tried to escape to the right flank only to be dropped by the huge Maxim rotary cannons of Captain Movra's Rhino.

That left Klaug's Dictator all alone engaged with Rigel. The two unit leaders strode around each other, moving from rock to rock, looking for any cover on the barren scrubland. Klaug's Gkw gauss cannons launched pairs of supersonic slugs which battered the Gladiator. But it was obvious who the better pilot was. Anticipating the shot, Rigel's Gladiator responded by walking a hail of fire from his Republic One cannons directly across the Dictator's torso, sanding the armor off.

Rigel muttered to himself, hoping that the extra armor plating his tech had applied for this battle would hold as he went one-on-one with one of the most deadly CAV's in the galaxy. And he knew he was damaged from his prior encounter with the armor sections. Ultimately none of that mattered though, as this battle would probably be decided by the first wizzo who could get a critical hit.

Clemensi worked his controls frantically, swearing at his inability to gain a hard lock on his opponent. "Damn it Major," moaned the wizzo, "I don't know what that bastard has done to that Dictator. It shouldn't be this tough to lock him up."

"Just keep shooting Lieutenant." Rigel cut back sharply, spinning to his left and reversing direction. Klaug was too slow to respond and tried to reverse the other direction. This exposed his back fully to Rigel.

Behind him he heard the piercing tone of a hard target lock, followed by Cleminsi's whoop of delight. "Say good night you bastard!" yelled Cleminsi as he pushed the firing stud, firing both Republic cannons and launching two flights of missiles. All four weapons centered on the back of the Dictator, carving a hole straight through the torso.

The Dictator's arms fell to the ground as it took one more stumbling step then toppled heavily to the ground. "Very nice, Lieutenant," said Rigel. Opening his comm he called to check in on Captain Yu. "Any more contacts Captain Yu?"

"Negative, Major."

Rigel smiled. "Sergeant, is the Headquarters secure?"

"Affirmative sir. We've had control for a few minutes now, but you looked busy."

Rigel chuckled. "Well gentlemen, I'd say that's a wrap. Now if you've all had enough fun for today, I could use a cigar."


October 25, 2071
TRI Media Center
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

The tumbler he was holding shattered as Trach closed his fist in anger. A deep guttural growl rolled from his chest as he stared at the screen, watching the Gladiator stand over the smoking hulk of its former adversary. "What does it take to kill this bastard?" asked Trach under his breath as blood poured from his lacerated hand.

Terrance motioned to a woman across the room to retrieve the first-aid kit, but she balked as she approached the angry Rach. Terrance sighed and took the kit from her and moved to take Trach's elbow. He jerked it from Terrance's grip angrily.

"Enough," said Terrance softly, "let's get out of here before you embarrass yourself worse."

The idea that Trach had shown weakness to his employees snapped him out of his fury. He straightened his shoulders and smiled, letting Terrance lead him out of the deathly still control room, leaving a trail of blood drops in his path.

Once in Trach's office, the frustration rose back to the surface.

"First thing's first, let's see the hand," said Terrance. Trach had a large chunk of crystal embedded in the palm, but the other cuts were minor. Though they bled a lot, there was no significant damage. Terrance removed the glass none too gently, then wrapped the hand tightly. "You'll need stitches for that."

"Bah, I'm fine," said Trach. "That son of a tribeless whore, Ghardoki! How does he keep winning? He can't be that good! And where'd he get those Kharl's from?"

"He bought them from the Dagger Stars."

"What?" Trach's eyes lit up with glee. "That's it, we have them! Units are not allowed to share equipment. I specified that in the rules."

Terrance winced. "Yeah you did boss, but you never said they couldn't buy or sell equipment amongst themselves. You specified only that they could not borrow from each other."

"Damnit all!" Trach slammed his cut hand down on the desk, turning his roar of anger into a cry of pain.

"Come on Boss, what difference does it make? The Dire Wolves are going to slaughter them anyway. You knew they would win when you brought General Rotan into this thing."

Trach took a deep breath. "You're right Terrance, and in the end this may work out even better. The Pride of the Empire, destroying the treacherous Terrans. Still, it infuriates me that the bastard keeps out thinking me!"

Then maybe you should leave well enough alone, thought Terrance dryly.


October 26, 2071
Regents' HQ
Katourach Industrial Park
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

It had been one heck of a party, to say the least. The soldiers of the Regents had fought hard yesterday and partied even harder. Sgt. Major Goran's security team had been kept too busy keeping control to enjoy themselves. Some day he was going to give them a day off and make the CAV-brats pull security duty. Rigel was sure the SecForce would have a lot of pent-up frustration to release.

Now it was time for the bad news: casualty reports. The Regents had not escaped unscathed. All told they had lost only two CAVs, both of which could be repaired, and all of the crews had ejected safely. The armor corps had not been so lucky. All told the Regents had lost almost sixty percent of their armor assets, and six crewmen. The deaths bothered Rigel more than the loss of equipment, even though after so many years of combat, he had grown numb to the realities of warfare on most levels. This was different however, this was a game. These men had died in a spectacle for the entertainment of others, not in real warfare. The question which burned in Rigel's mind was, did this make any difference?

The fallen soldiers had died fighting for their honor, for a sense of being. Was this any less important than dying for a nation's honor? Was the Nur Dutchung any less of a game than the petty power struggles between two UCOR's? Dead was dead, no matter the circumstances, and each man had accepted the risks of this assignment when they had come here. Rigel shook himself and moved on.

The air wing had taken some damage, but only lost one plane. The damaged Kharl would need specialized parts, and one of the Tsuisekis would take a great deal of repair. There was no way they would be ready for the final match. The crew of the downed Tsuiseki had ejected, but the Wizzo had his left leg crushed. It would be a while before he was back in flying shape.

The infantry platoons had the most amazing report. Of the thirtysix men who had entered the building, none had died. Ten had been wounded, two seriously, but there hadn't been a single fatality. The skill of the commandos had caught the Fangs' foot soldiers off guard, and most had surrendered once the Regents had gained control of the initial security points.

It certainly could have been worse.

A knock on his office door brought him back to reality. "Enter," he bellowed.

Captain Spiro entered holding a yellow sheet of paper the Regents used for priority communiqués. "You're gonna love this Rigel," said Tomas. "there's a surprise around every corner."

Rigel read the communiqué. To Major Rigel Ghardoki, Commanding Officer, Rigel's Regents. From Major Valdavium Jorhat, Commanding Officer, Dagger Stars. Major Ghardoki, congratulations on your victory over the Fire Fangs. It was a decisive and impressive battle. While it was my dearest wish to face you in the final round, knowing you an opponent worthy of respect, I am afraid that will not be possible. Though we won our engagement, the Dagger Stars forces have been depleted to the point where we neither have the time nor financial means to rebuilt sufficient assets to engage the Regents and the Dire Wolves. To move forward would be suicide and would serve no purpose. We have fought well and bravely, but I believe that the only responsible action that I can take is to withdraw now, rather than putting my men at risk in a battle we can not hope to win. I wish you the best of luck and hope that when this is over we might share a drink together as comrades in arms. Signed, Major Valdavium Jorhat.

"Wow," said Rigel, "how bad were they beat up?"

"Bad," stated Tomas. "I believe that out of twenty CAVs, only two are currently functional. Of those, I would suspect no more than another four are in any shape to repair. The biggest loss for them was their armor assets. They had a huge armor contingent, almost thirty tanks. Of those, only five survived, and three of those were our old Poltergeists."

Rigel smiled at that remark, but he a part of him felt bad for Jorhat. He had found the man likable, especially surprising since he was a Malvernian. "Well," he said, "at least we only have to worry about the Dire Wolves."

Tomas inquired, "So who were you on the comm with earlier? I tried to bring you this message to you ten minutes ago."

"I just got off the comm with Rognlan," Rigel replied in a low tone of voice. "There's a press conference tomorrow to announce the finals, and we'll get our mission briefings in two weeks. That's two weeks we can use to overhaul all the CAV's and get some guys healed up. Set up a schedule for leaves. I want everyone to get three days R&R, but no more. This won't turn into a two week party, I need everyone focused and ready to kick ass come the finals. The Dire Wolves are no joke."

"Neither are we Rigel," said Tomas smiling sardonically.

"You know that and I know that." Rigel looked into Tomas eyes. "The problem is that General Rotan knows it too. He's not going to underestimate us because we're Terran. And he understands our capabilities. This one's gonna get nasty."


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