This post is so long in coming because I wanted to actually get through the Battletech combat before I posted it.  Battletech is Battletech, and with a bunch of inexperienced players (and a very rusty GM), it is even slower going than normal.  On top of that, I had two weeks when I couldn't run the game, hence the long delay.  It's interesting to see that even the greenest skill numbers in Battletech are often quite a bit better than the best my Mechwarrior players had.  The worst gunnery skill you can roll on the random Battletech table is 4.  None of my players had a gunnery skill even approaching a 4.  That...caused some hard feelings.  Fortunately, I had thrown them against a pretty easy encounter of mostly low-powered vehicles (though I tormented them with a VTOL also).  Even so, it was pretty rough; we had a few critical hits, an arm was destroyed, and I kept managing to shoot their 'Mechs in the head with machine guns.  But nobody died, nothing's too wrecked, and I think we all learned a lot about the system.  I'm also awarding a lot of gunnery skill points in hopes of getting them leveled up once or twice in gunnery before their next combat.

When we last left the newly minted mercenaries, the Black Stars, they'd captured the bandit Frank Cross, and had gotten some questionable intelligence that the main bandit force was in a box canyon to the northeast.  Galen Amador had been working on getting into the bandits' group, so he signaled to Ions Clarke that he was going to fake a rescue of Cross and cement his way in.  Then, before Ions could prepare anyone else, Galen came flying in and shoulder-checked Jaguar Takedownriser.  Ions did his best to play along and clandestinely inform the others of the plan.  After some pratfalls, Galen managed to pull his "rescue" off, and Cross revealed that the bandits weren't camped in the box canyon -- he was hoping to ambush the mercenaries there, and he invited Galen to join them in the ambush.  Galen reported this all back to his mercenary companions and moved up into an ambush position ahead of the rest of the Black Stars.  The Black Stars didn't enter the box canyon by an ordinary route, and mostly stayed hidden outside it; but they did finally have to go in to try to "trip" the ambush.  Mostly, the result of this was a drag-out fight where the heavies and the assault mech took too long to get into the fight.  But eventually, they managed to shoot down the VTOL, blow up the APC (which hit Emma Desmond's mech in the head with its machine gun twice), and kick the whole front end of the Wheeled Scout into the back end (it went up agaisnt the Stalker -- and shot the Stalker in the head with its machine gun).  The only units left in the fight on the side of the bandits was a Commando and a Bulldog tank.  But the crew of the Bulldog, who had done their share of damage, though they hadn't taken a lot themselves, seeing their friends all get blown up, fled.  The Commando continued to move around and cause trouble, but eventually it got cornered between Jaguar's Stalker and Galen's Crusader, with Ions' Phoenix Hawk LAM, in fighter mode, strafing it, and the pilot ejected.  This process took three sessions.

Investigating the now unoccupied Bulldog, the mercenaries discovered a map to the bandit's hideout.  They surprised the few sentries left there, and took the encampment without a fight.  They ended up setting the bandits loose into the surrounding badlands (mostly because they didn't really care; they'd accomplished their goals of stopping the bandit attacks).  The mercenaries then looted the encampment, finding a few odds and ends, and a bunch of weapons, ammunition, and spare parts in crates which were apparently from an arms dealer going by the name "Ciroc."  Next session, the mercs will probably close their contract with the planetary government, and officially meet their dropship crew.  Maybe they'll pay Ciroc a visit, or check out the Comstar facility.  In any case, next session should involve some training and leveling of skills while they ship out from this planet and head towards Galatea, the current Mercenary's Star.