Urban Legends – Flight of the Quad LAM by Dave Wainio

Date: Classified
Location: Classified
Planet/System: Classified

    Captain “Manic” Coyote fairly buzzed with anticipation as he quick marched down the hardened underground tunnel to the hidden hangar. He’d come a long way for this assignment and the anticipation of seeing the new BattleMech design he was to test pilot pulsed through his veins. It had been a very mysterious venture. Whatever this new war machine might be it was so top secret that it had been designed and tested on computers locked away deep in this mountain and a prototype created before a test pilot or tech support team had been brought in. Much like the ancient secret armored vehicle project of first terran world war that used the codename ‘tank’ to disguise its true design, this project had a fake codename as well. The small amount of material released pertaining to this new design had claimed a quad legged Land-Air ‘Mech based on the UrbanMech was under development.

    A Quad Urbie LAM. That was a laugh. Actually, thought Manic to himself, it wasn’t a very good cover story. Anyone that read the material was likely to assume that something else had to be going on at the secret DSC Armory laboratory.

    His hand trembled with such excitement that he missed the ‘open’ button and had to take a second stab at it. The large door slid open noiselessly, allowing him to see into the hidden hangar and feast his eyes upon the new marvel he had been chosen to pilot. Blinking several times as his eyes threatened to mist, the Captain staggered forward a few steps into the chamber. The door slid closed behind him as he turned his gaze up towards the reflective windows of the control room. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting…but this was…this was simply unbelievable.

    In the control room the two project co-leads had been gazing with fond rapture upon their new creation. The lead (and only) control tech’s voice broke into their conversation. Hers was a deep, seductive voice they generally enjoyed listening to and were considering installing as the computer’s default voice but today the tech’s tone was crisp and businesslike as she made her report.

    “The test MechWarrior is approaching the east corridor entryway. Should I allow access?”

    “Indeed, let him in,” agreed the co-lead code named Shrike.

    “Yes, right away,” agreed the other co-lead, this one code named Perrin. “I can’t wait to see his reaction to the design. By the way, what’s his name again?”

    “Captain Lyle Edmund Coyote Sir. Callsign is Manic.”

    Shrike frowned in thought. Lyle E Coyote. That sounded familiar for some reason. “Uh, don’t you mean ‘Maniac’ Ms. Peel?”

    “No Sir,” responded the tech. “Maniac is a space fighter pilot from another genre Sir. This man is definitely ‘Manic’.”

    “Hmmm,” hmmed Perrin.

    “What’s the ‘hmm’ for,” asked Shrike.

    “Nothing,” shrugged Perrin. Actually, when he been looking over the test pilot list he could have sworn this guy was named Maniac. Well, whatever. Maniac, Manic…what did it matter. If the guy was on the list he had to be okay for the job. “Oh, look, here he comes. His first peek at the quad-LAM Urbie. I think he looks impressed.”

    “Almost misty eyed,” agreed Shrike.

    “Almost paralyzed” thought Ms. Peel to herself. Shrike had done the specification design work while Perrin had handled the physical layout and construction modeling. They were both very protective of their new toy. But while previous techs had been dismissed for dissing the boss’ creation, for some reason she was able to voice her opinions without retribution. Not that they ever listened to her anyway.

    “Your guests have arrived,” she added as her screen showed the visitors arriving in the gallery section.

    “Great, put them on that screen there,” smiled Perrin.

    “It’s the legendary PaleRider,” announced Shrike as he pointed out the obvious to the other two people in the room with him.

    Perrin followed Shrikes lead and added his own obvious observation. “And he’s carrying a clip board with papers on it.”

    “Probably design specs and something to take notes on,” agreed Shrike.

    “Or a transfer request,” added the tech. As usual, her comment was blithely ignored.

    “I’ll bet he can’t believe he’s been put in charge of the first all Urbie company,” smiled Perrin.

    “That’s probably a safe bet,” agreed the tech. The usual light tone of sarcasm was missing from her voice. It was much more like a heavy tone of sarcasm.

    Manic looked back towards the … thing. It had two too many legs, no arms, and what appeared to be folded in wing surfaces. There was no mistaking the trash can like shape of the main torso though. They had actually gone and done it – somebody really had built a LAM UrbanMech.

    Captain Coyote ground his teeth together harshly. He’d sworn to himself that he’d never again pilot an Urbie. On the other hand, he needed this job very badly. His career had turned south a decade ago and hadn’t really recovered. No house military would accept him with his shaky political background and he’d tried all of the decent merc units, the majority of the semi-decent ones, and had been working on the not very decent at all ones when this gig had come through. His last two years had been constant rejection until he’d been tapped for this Urbie project. The Hoods had openly laughed at him, the Warders never even returned his calls, the Colonial Marshals wouldn’t take him – heck, even that secretive Mr. V guy hadn’t hired him. The Chaos March was a mess right now. He’d been hearing about plenty of opportunities on Carver V with no questions asked, but this flying Urbie contraption looked liked easier money. Less chance he’d get shot at.

    Besides, it wasn’t like he was breaking his word. This wasn’t an Urbie he was about to climb into. It was some sort of Uber-Urbie. A LAM Urbie. An entirely different sort of ‘Mech all together.

    Manic wrung his hands together nervously as he flashed what he hoped was a confidant smile at the control booth. “I’m ready, let’s get this show on the road.”

    “He says he’s ready to get the show on the road,” reported Ms. Peel from her station.

    Shrike leaned in close to Perrin so he could talk to his fellow co-lead without Ms. Peel overhearing. “Is there a reason she has to repeat everything like that?”

    Perrin nodded. “It’s some sort of union rules. Whoever has the comm board has to repeat whatever comes over a comm line or any computer messages. I guess it protects jobs if we pretend that we can’t hear the messages for ourselves.”

    Shrike just shrugged. “OK”. Labor relations didn’t interest him right now. His only concern was the maiden voyage of the new LAM.
As the control room wasn’t on the overly large side and Em listed among her many great assets a great set of ears, she overheard the two of them talking about her. She reached over and plucked a set of headphones from an empty chair and settled them on her head then killed the external speakers in the control room. Nobody messed with the union.

    In the BattleMech Lyle found the control layout basically familiar to the last UrbanMech he had piloted years back. That one had taken a rather unfortunate fall off a cliff. In fact, the Captain seemed to have a predication for such falls. But this time he sensed it would be different. This time he had wings! Or he would, as soon as he figured out which if the three big levers to his left side made the wings pop out.

    As Manic waited for the reactor to warm up and the huge armored doors of the top secret facility to slide open to the outside world he flipped through the operations manual. Aside from the three big levers there was a circle of buttons he was unfamiliar with attached to something that must be a steering wheel. BattleMech didn’t usually have steering wheels. But this one did. Manic hadn’t panicked yet because it also had the handgrips and foot pedals one normally associated with a BattleMech cockpit. Thus there were some familiar controls to push on.

    He’d worry about the lettered buttons later he decided. For now he’d take a quick read through of the flight systems. Starting with the autopilot section.

    Where a steep mountainside crashed into a level valley floor a heavy rumbling started to build. As if the earthen hillsides were actually camouflaged hangar doors, an opening appeared in the mountain. This was because the hillsides were in fact camouflaged hangar doors. No one was around to appreciate the illusion however as the black helicopters has chased away all the sight seers from the fenced secret testing ground area and everyone else was inside the hangar looking out. But it would have been a cool thing to see had they actually been outside to see it.

    Manic eased the controls forward and the great beast glided forward across the hangar floor. He pushed the throttles farther forward. Then a bit more. And after a moment gave her a little more gas.

    “It is moving, right?” he radioed to control.

    “Manic wants confirmation that it’s moving,” echoed Ms. Peel.

    The co-leads studied the UrbanMech carefully. The four legs were definitely moving and by the grid painted on the floor they could verify that the LAM was making some forward progress.

    “Yep, it’s moving,” replied Shrike.

    “Yes, it’s moving,” relayed Peel.

    “Hey, it’s moving,” agreed Manic.

    “He says ‘Hey, it’s moving,” dutifully reported Peel.

    “He says ‘Hey, it’s moving,” noted Shrike.

    “ALL RIGHT, STOP THAT,” bellowed Perrin. “No double or triple repeating or this will take forever.”

    The other two nodded. It wasn’t a particularly funny bit anyway and didn’t bear repeating later on.

    After a while Manic cleared the doorway into the open land beyond. After a little experimenting he found that the steering wheel allowed him to drive the off to diagonal angles. But as it was attached to a yoke bar it’s main use was probably for flying. The four legged ‘Mech had a very gentle gait and was easy to control. Manic was soon cutting figure eights at flank speed with no difficulties.

    In the control room Em put her had to one of the earpieces to better hear the incoming communication.

    “The Colonel would like us to have Manic take it up to running speed.”

    “Whatever, just deal with it,” waved Perrin. He and Shrike were too busy watching the inherent grace of their creation in motion to worry about passing along trivial test requests.

    The tech called Manic, got his reply, and then commed back PaleRider.

    “That was maximum running speed Sir,” she reported. “Yes Sir. Starting jump tests.”

    Manic was just starting to relax and enjoy himself when the request for jump maneuvers came through. That shouldn’t be so bad he figured. Making sure that the plasma gates were open and the exciting jets primed he pressed down on the jump pedals. Nothing happened. For a frantic moment he feared something mechanical had failed, then he realized that it was pilot error and not mechanical failure keeping the ‘Mech land bound.

    Everyone knows that jumping a ‘Mech requires the pilot to stomp on the pedals. Merely pressing on them is not sufficient.

    Manic stomped down hard. And hurt his heels. The UrbanMech remained stubbornly ground bound. The manual had fallen onto the cabin floor, flopping open to a page with a diagram of the steering wheel like control. He happened to look down at it and notice that one of the center buttons was marked “jump”. Okay….why not. He pushed the button. With an odd “chuh chuh chuh” sound just before the jets kicked in the quad Urbie flung itself upward on pillars of billowy plasma.

    In the control room Shrike could over-hear their tech reporting to PaleRider. “No Sir, I won’t tell you that that was maximum height. It was, but I won’t tell you. Yes Sir, I’ll order the next test section started.”

    Manic had jumped the machine up and down several times, marveling at how softly it landed. The four legs telescoped in slightly to absorb some of the impact. Idly the test pilot wondered how they would do from a height of 90 meters or so. Some time he’d have to step off a small cliff to find out he decided. The delicious voice of the control room tech captured his attention again. It was time to try the air-mech mode. That control had to be one of the three big levers up to his right, but which one. He flipped through the manual quickly. There wasn’t anything in the index about air-mech mode. He tried transformation controls and found a subheading for Gerwalk mode. Gerwalk mode? What the heck was that? The picture showed a half Mech, half Aerofighter if the center lever was pulled so that had to be it. Gerwalk must be some obscure old reference or something.

    With a strong yank on the lever the Urbie pitched slightly forward as the rear legs extended bass akwards and the airfoil surface deployed.

    “Um Control, I have a bit of a problem,” he called in to Control.

    “Probably an understatement,” acknowledged Ms. Peel. “Is there a particular one you’re reporting?”

    “I seem to be looking at the ground,” replied Manic.

    The Tech checked the telemetry feeds. “Yes, you are. Switch the camera view with the trackball.”

    He did so. “Well, that’s better. But I’m still hanging forward from the seat restraints.”

    “The revolving cockpit function is the ‘D’ button,” she supplied helpfully.

    Manic pressed the specified button on the steering yoke and gears rotated his cabin to be better aligned with the torso.

    “Gee, thanks. I didn’t know you knew the control layout,” he commented to the control tech.

    Actually she not only knew the control layout, she could have piloted the thing had she wanted. Which she didn’t. Thus she generally kept her knowledge to herself.

    “On one manual,” she replied with a kittenish purr. “Engage your jets Manic.”

    He was thinking he’d like to engage her jets. With an effort he forced his thoughts back to the controls and shoved forward the thrust throttles while pulling back on the yoke just a bit. The Urbie started to skew to one side and without thinking Manic applied a bit of rudder to correct – and realized why the jump pedals hadn’t done anything earlier. They doubled as rudder pedals. These LAMs were a bit tricky in the control department Manic decided. Too bad the project’s secrecy had kept him from receiving a proper SIM program.

    He was scooting along a few meters above the ground to get a feel for the flight characteristics. They reminded him of something, he just wasn’t sure what. A stand of trees was growing larger in his forward display so he pulled back the yoke and zoomed up about thirty meters. Just as he leveled off a buzzing sounded as a yellow light lit to his left. He was tempted to call the silky voiced tech and ask her what the light indicated but that simply wouldn’t be the true test pilot way. Holding the stick steady with one hand he started flipping through the manual once again.

    With his nose down in the manual, Captain Coyote failed to realize that his LAM’s nose was down and the Urbie was losing altitude. Proximity alarms broke into his reading just as the machine started crashing through the treetops. Manic pulled back on the yoke and slammed at the throttles – but they were already set at maximum and were of no further use. He did manage to get the front up and the two “walking” legs under him just before impact with the turf. Manic realized what it was that shared the LAM’s flight characteristics- a brick. 
Shrike and Perrin watched in dread as the quad LAM smashed through the trees and left a fifteen-meter furrow through the valley floor.

    “Status report!” barked Shrike.

    Ms. Peel studied the displays. “His pulse is racing and breathing shallow but he doesn’t appear to be seriously injured.”

    “Not the pilot,” hissed Perrin in frustration. “The UrbanMech!” Shrike nodded in agreement.

    “Oh,” sighed the tech. “There’s low level armor loss across the front and to the right forward leg but otherwise the ‘Mech is operational.”

    Both co-leads glowered through the view window. “What did he do that for?” griped Shrike.

    Assuming the question to be literal and not rhetorical, she passed the question forward to Manic.

    “I didn’t do anything wrong!” complained the test pilot. “All I did was try to gain some altitude and it stalled.”

    Perrin and Shrike exchanged troubled glances. Shrike ran some quick calculations through a nearby computer terminal and frowned. Manic was right. Any attempt to gain altitude beyond a few meters would bleed off too much speed and the LAM would stall. But if it was in full aero-mode the extra wing surface would provide the needed lift to keep it airborne.

    “Well, Air-Mech mode is just so it can maneuver around a pock-marked battlefield or deploy from a DropShip easier anyway,” announced Shrike.

    Perrin was afraid to check the monitor to see for himself so he asked Ms. Peel to report on PaleRider’s reactions from the observation gallery.

    “It’s pretty quiet over there now sir,” she replied.

    “It wasn’t earlier?” he asked in concern.

    “No sir, one of the MechWarriors – I believe someone called him ToughGuy – kept a running monologue going most of the time with various remarks and observations about just about anything and everything. Finally someone bonked him on the head with a clipboard and it’s been quiet every since.”

    Perrin and Shrike exchanged glances. They weren’t sure if the silence was a good thing or a bad thing. Not the ToughGuy part, they were pretty sure that his silence was a good thing. But the significance of PaleRider’s silence was unknown to them.

    “Big finale time,” suggested Shrike. “Take it to air mode.”

    “Take it to air mode,” relayed Ms. Peel.

    “Take it to what!?” exclaimed an overwrought Manic as his hands started to shake again. “How? There’s no airfield and no nose gear!”
Shrike studied the valley map for a quick moment. “There,” he pointed,” to the south. The valley has a steep drop off that runs for three hundred meters with a drop of thirty meters per about fifteen meters out. He can air-mech off the incline, hold altitude and then change over in flight.”

    “The valley had a steep drop off that runs,” started to repeat the control tech.

    “I heard him,” snapped Manic. “I want double my bonus pay to try this. In fact…oowwwiieeee.”

    Whatever Manic’s fact was trailed off in a harsh electronic squeal coupled with his yowl of pain.

    Ms. Peel smiled as she turned the gain knob back down on the comm. “Do not interrupt my job again test pilot. Are we clear?”

    “Yes ma’am,” groused Manic as he rubbed at his abused ears. Maybe he didn’t want to light her jets after all.

    “Now,” continued Ms. Peel, “valley floor, drop off, three hundred meters, yada-yada-yada, and then change to full aeromech mode. Or else. Got it?”

    “Got it,” agreed Manic. He slowly lumbered the Quad around until it was pointing the desired direction and then launched off in air-mech half-mode once again. The ungainly beast rumbled off the incline but held altitude as he very carefully watched the stall indicator. Murmuring the ancient prayer of test pilots and astronauts (Dear God, please don’t let me screw this up) he yanked the final large lever and held onto the control yoke for dear life as the walking legs folded back and tucked into the body while the wings extended a bit more.

    With great relief Manic watched the stall indicator grow a large green area for him to stay within. A few careful experiments proved that he could indeed gain altitude and tip the ungainly LAM into banking turns without plummeting to the ground like a buckshot riddled water fowl. It still flew like a brick, but now it flew like a brick with a decent set of wings.

    In the control room Perrin and Shrike were giddy with the sight of their creation swooping lazily around the valley. It was a near thing, but they almost danced a little jig. Luckily for Ms. Peel, they did not. Perrin ran to a side control panel and hit some switches with a maniacal laugh.

    “Hagar you old Space Witch, release the Ro-Beast!” he roared in excitement.

    “Who are you calling a witch!” demanded Ms. Peel, her dulcet tones turned very sour indeed.

    “And what the hell is a ‘Ro-Beast’?” demanded Shrike.

    “Sorry, sorry,” apologized Perrin. “I got a little carried away. I was watching these ancient One-Dee recordings last night. There were these giant Lions, and…well, never mind. I meant to say let’s release the Vulture.”

    “Right, release the Vulture,” enthused Shrike.

    “Releasing the Vulture,” echoed the tech as she worked the necessary controls.

    As Ms. Peel set about her work Shrike rubbed at his chin absently. Giant Lions heh? They had four legs and jets. Maybe…..naw, he’d finish his work with the Urbies first.

    Manic was just starting to relax and enjoy himself as he circled the valley floor when he saw what he had taken to be a small lake split in the middle and slide apart. A giant elevator platform pushed a Clan Vulture to the surface where it took a few unsteady steps off of the platform and onto solid land.

    “Mayday, Mayday,” shrieked Manic in alarm. “There’s a Clan Vulture in the valley. Mayday, Mayday, I need immediate support.”

    “Calm down,” snapped Ms. Peel. “We know it’s there. The co-leads put it there for target practice.”

    “Oh. So I’m supposed to attack it then am I?” asked Manic. He was pretty sure that’s what target practice entailed but he just wanted to make sure. He hadn’t actually fired a BattleMech weapon in a non-sim situation in quite a while.

    Manic could hear Perrin over the control tech’s headset. “Indeed Captain, Make an attack run and blast it.” But he had learned enough to know that he had better wait for Ms. Peel to repeat it before doing anything. After she did, he wilcoed and flew a big arc until he could line up on the now stationary Vulture.

    Within the Vulture the Clan warrior squirmed in discomfort. As an Elemental he was not suited to the close confines of a BattleMech cockpit. In truth, he wasn’t even sure how in the name of Kerensky he had wound up here. One moment he was allowing a med-tech to inject some disinfectant anti-infection stuff into him for some minor low caliber bullet wounds and the next thing he knows he’s supposedly about to be inducted into some freebirth surat eyass UrbanMech unit.

    Then blam, for some reason he’s agreeing to a trial where if he defeats a new test LAM he gets to go home. But too late it becomes clear that he’s supposed to do it from a ‘Mech. The entire episode was a great blur. But his head was starting to clear now and he could see that there was indeed some form of oversized flying beverage container buzzing around out there and starting to line up on him. Well, he didn’t know much about Mech operation but there wasn’t a weapon system made that he couldn’t operate by pure instinct alone. He brought all weapons on line and targeted the rapidly approaching LAM. As he pulled the triggers he cursed out loud. Instead of missiles and lasers only fireworks and water streams poured forth from his ‘weapon’ systems.

    Manic was just leveling off to fire when the Vulture ominously moved and raised its arm weapons to point at him. The missile pods started to flare while some new liquid-plasma type weapons spewed from the arms. In a panic, he tried to eject. Not knowing which button it was he hit all of them. Among other effects, a cooler unit popped free, underwater gear engaged, tree cutting blades sprang clear, and a little homing Urbie shot from a small compartment and raced off into the sky. Amid all the activity the ejection pod fired free as well. But Manic had forgotten that the cockpit had been rotated. Rather then ‘up’ and out the top, the pod fired forward out of the dome top/front and crashed into the Vulture just before the Urbie LAM itself did. Arms, legs, wings and various other ‘Mech parts scattered in all directions.

    Silence reigned in the control room for many moments.

    “Well, we did just take out a Clan Vulture with an UrbanMech,” noted Perrin. “That’s a pretty good battlefield exchange.”

    “Very true,” nodded Shrike. “I mean, just compare the battle point values. And we can rebuild the Urbie pretty easy. Spare parts are cheap. But try to rebuild a Vulture. Now that’s expensive. But I suppose the real test is what PaleRider thinks.” 

    Both co-leads looked expectantly to the control tech.

    She shrugged. “Sorry guys. PR bailed out before the big fight scene. Said he’d seen enough and was going to talk to some guy named Mantis to see if anything could be done to modify the UrbanMechs expected to be fielded with the next MechCommander’s forces.”

    “Well, hear that Perrin,” smiled Shrike. “We didn’t even need the staged fight. PaleRider was so impressed he’s already trying to get our new versions fielded with the MechCommander before we’ve even finished testing.”

    “It just warms a designer’s heart,” agreed Perrin.

    “Uh, Sirs, I think you have a little problem,” Ms. Peel suddenly announced.

    “What’s that?” they asked.

    “The Elemental has climbed free of the wreckage and is vowing to tear you both limb from limb in a circle of equals. Or anyplace he can manage to catch you.”

    “Call security,” shrugged Shrike.

    “None left. You fired the last batch for snickering at the purple paint jobs on the last batch of Urbies that shipped from here.”

    “Uh, the Colonel’s MechWarriors?” asked Perrin.

    “PaleRider already lifted in a VTOL. He’s long gone sirs.”

    “Any techs left?”

    “Just me,” she smiled. “My, that is a mighty jagged piece of wreckage he’s swinging around down there.”

    “Well, don’t just sit there,” bellowed Shrike, “hit the security alert. Lock all the doors.”

    “They’re locked sir,” she announced. “No one’s getting in now.”

    They sighed in relief. “Where’s he headed now?” they wanted to know.

    “It looks like the parking lot,” she replied.

    Shrike and Perrin exchanged pained glances. The parking lot was outside of the secure areas. And there were only three vehicles there. Theirs and Ms. Peels. All parked next to each other.

    “How long until he gets there?” 

    She flashed her dazzling smile once again and turned on her purr. “Why I’d estimate that if you ran really fast you’d have about two minutes to get the doors open, the cars started, and to burn rubber before he saws you in half with a chunk of endosteel.”

    “Have a nice evening Ms. Peel,” yelled Shrike over his shoulder as he tore off down the hallway.

    “Yeah, take tomorrow off on us,” added Perrin over his. He was hot on Shrike’s heels.

    Ms. Peel chuckled as she gathered her purse and keys and started leisurely toward the parking lot. As a civilian tech she had nothing to fear from the massively muscled elemental. He was actually kind of cute in a hulking monster sort of way. She’d probably give him a lift to the DropPort or something. She’d check on that Manic fellow too while she was at it.

    Outside the main doorway she punched in the lockdown code and strode off towards the parking lot.

Date: Still Classified
Location: Still Classified
Planet/System: Still Classified
Time: Some few hours after Ms. Peel’s departure. 

    From within the dark gallery above the main MechBay rang a solid voice.

    “Hello….anyone here? Hello? Hey JK you know. LOL and stuff? Hey !? I’m locked in! Is anyone out there……….”