Sgt. Geoffrey Barnes shook watery pink coolant from his hands, then wiped his fingers on his stained fatigues. They were a total loss anyway, so what was another stain? Barnes leaned back against the basket railing of his cherry picker. It took a conscious effort to resist the urge to wipe the sweat from his brow. The coolant still clinging to his fingers was only slightly toxic in small doses, but a little in the eyes could blind a man in matter of minutes. Barns rubbed his hands together instead, and leaned in to manually trigger the newly-replaced heat sink. There was no leakage this time - that nasty hole in the primary feed line had finally sealed. His job was done.
He thumbed a button on the control dangling from a belt loop and the cherry picker’s bucket began to descend. Barnes stepped from it the moment it locked in place and stretched. He’d long-ago lost the ability to touch his toes without bending his knees - the slight paunch poking over the top of his belt had seen to that - but he kept himself in good shape for a man on the far end of forty.
“Is this bay six?” a tentative voice called.
Barnes turned, sweeping his eyes over the speaker. It was a young man, less than half his age. They kept getting younger and younger. He nodded in greeting.
“Lieutenant. Forgive me if I don’t salute.” He held up hands still stained with coolant. “This is bay six. You must be the `Mech jock I’m prepping this bad boy for?”
The officer nodded. “Lieutenant McAlister. Out of New Home.”
“Welcome to Orkney. You’re a Tikonov boy? Don’t worry, this isn’t the Federated Suns. We don’t look down on skilled Mechwarriors in the 19th Lyran Guards.” Barnes raised an inquisitive eyebrow and gave the young officer another once-over. He wore a set of silver spurs attached to his military boots. “And trained in the Suns, so you know what I’m talking about already. You out of the New Avalon Military Academy?”
McAlister shook his head. “No, no. Just a training cadre back home.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Barnes’s thin lips, his bushy mustache quivered with barely-concealed excitement. “Ever seen a JagerMech before?”
“No,” McAlister said. “Never.”
Sgt. Geoffrey Barnes’s smile nearly split his face in half. If there was one thing in the world he loved more than anything else, it was talking and if there was one thing he could talk about without pausing for breath, it was BattleMechs. He clapped his hands together like a glutton at a smörgåsbord. Lieutenant McAlister didn’t even realize he’d become a captive audience.
“The JM6-S JagerMech’s been around for ages, and it’s the best anti-aircraft platform in the Inner Sphere. It’s not the only variant, but the S is the most common. It’s primarily a ballistics platform, with an Autocannon/5 and an Autocannon/2 in each arm, and a pair of lasers in the torso to deter light `Mechs. The arms are missing a few actuators to make room for the guns, but in your shoes I’d imagine the Jag’s got pretty good torso traverse to compensate.”
“I trained on Cataphracts,” McAlister interjected. “Will the JagerMech be at all similar?”
“In speed and armament,” Barnes replied, “but it’s a bit taller and doesn’t have the Cataphract’s thick skin. The Jag’s pretty lightly armored to make room for those heavy ballistic weapons; it’s got roughly half the armor of a Cataphract, less than even the Cicada, so you’ve gotta be careful. A Gauss Rifle’ll strip all the armor off either arm in a single hit, and without the autocannons you’re out most of your firepower. I suppose you could probably cram a couple of Gauss Rifles in, but they’ll always be more vulnerable than the Gauss on a custom Catapult-K2. The sides’ll also be easier to hit, so an XL Engine’ll knock you out of commission if you decide you want to mount one.”
“That sounds terrible,” McAlister shuddered.
“Nah, the Jag’s a great piece of work,” Barnes laughed, “It’ll just take a little investment to bring it up to speed. Worse comes to worse, you can always convert it to a JM6-A. The -A drops some ballistics for some LRMs in the arms. It’s a great trade since you can strip out the long missiles for some SRMs or streaks if you’re worried about light `Mechs, and it’ll still have space for Gauss Rifles. It’s also got a little more armor, but not by much.”
“Right.” McAlister didn’t seem convinced. “So, theoretically, if I were to customize a JagerMech—”
“Ah, custom work’s my specialty,” Barnes interrupted. “The JM6-S, well, I’d say stick with two ballistics in each arm, and then a couple of energy weapons in the torso. I wouldn’t expect much else, it’s already pretty rounded, just lacking in armor, heat sinks, and ammo. The JM6-A’s just a straight trade, one ballistic mount from each arm gets swapped for a missile mount. It’ll be a bit like a -K2 with SRMs, but the big guns will be pretty vulnerable.”
Barnes leaned forward conspiratorially, and continued in hushed tones. “I’ve also heard rumors about a new JM6-DD the Davions are working on. Scuttlebutt says it’s got a pair of Ultra AC/5s instead of the usual, and some medium pulse lasers in place of the standard; an XL Engine, and that new Ferro-Fibrous armor. I’m not sure if we’ll see any Double-D’s out this way, since the layout’s probably identical to the JM6-S. Unless the boys and girls at the NAIS did something crazy with it, anyway. The leadership on this half of the Federated Commonwealth has always been reluctant to adopt new ideas so there really aren’t any a lot of Jag models to choose from, unless someone’s working on some new prototype with PPCs in the arms or something crazy like that.”
McAlister blinked. “Why so few variants?”
“Different thought processes out here,” Barnes answered without hesitation. “After all, why mess with perfection?”