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Author Topic: All Glory Is Fleeting  (Read 1222 times)


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All Glory Is Fleeting
« on: 27 May 2014, 17:18:46 »

Star Adder Testing Grounds
3rd March 3055

   "Cadets, in a few moments your Trial of Position will commence. This is the culmination of your training, of your upbringing. You five represent the best that your sibko has to offer our Clan.
   "But you must be oblivious to the fact that your sibkin are your opposition. The allegiances and loyalties of the past 18 years must be set aside, for today they represent the last obstacle to the fulfilment of your training. Best them today, and you will be a warrior of Clan Star Adder.
   "Prepare yourselves."

   Cadet Jessica had heard the words of Kelburn, the washed up old warrior that ran the sibko training cadres here on Sheridan, but barely took them in. The old man had a habit for stating the obvious, his monotonous drone sleep inducing, but today had her so twisted up with tension and nerves that it was taking all her discipline to maintain focus on the challenge ahead. Next time she would hear his voice, he would either be welcoming her to the warrior caste, or belittling her by assigning her to the merchants or scientists.
   And that just would not do.  She would not give him that satisfaction.
   Flexing her fingers round the control sticks of her Nova, she mentally ran through her systems checks.  Reactor online... sensors online... weapons online... all systems nominal.   The stocky Mech she piloted was set up in the Alpha configuration, each arm packing an extended range particle projection cannon. A torso mounted 5cm pulse laser backed up the heavy weapons on the arms, and a pair of anti-missile systems provided protection from any salvos sent her way.
   That thought brought her to her opponents. She glanced out of the plexiglass canopy and identified her rivals across the open field. To her left and ahead were Cadets Arden and Stewart, piloting an Ice Ferret and an Adder respectively. Far to her right was Cadet Rowan in his own Nova. And Kyla was between them in her Viper. Each was spaced roughly 250 metres apart in a pentagon shape, facing inwards. The testing field was completely flat and empty, save for the muddy scars and rents from previous combats. That meant nowhere to hide.
   Jessica was fine with that. She had no intention of hiding.
   Her eyes lingered a few moments over Kyla's Viper. Kyla was the closest of her sibkin, and they had supported each other throughout their training. But she had not spoken with her - or any of her sibko for that matter - for the last week, as they had all prepared for their Trial of Position. However, in the mechbay as they had mounted up, Kyla and Jessica had shared a look, an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement, maybe even the curl of a smile at the corner of lips. That was a silent agreement that they would work together for as long as possible. Jessica desired the rank of Star Commander, and that required her to make two kills. Knowing Kyla would not be an immediate problem freed her to concentrate elsewhere.
   And then the klaxon sounded in her ear, freeing them from their leash, and launching them all forward. To her right, Kyla fired her jumpjets and took to the air, augering in towards Rowan's Nova. Stewart and Arden fell upon themselves, lashing out with artificially generated lightning and light autocannon fire. As Jessica throttled towards the centre of the field unhindered, she had an instant to evaluate the situation. Both Rowan's Nova and her own were the heaviest Mechs on the field, but Stewart's Adder was loaded with a pair of lethal PPCs like hers. Arden's Ice Ferret had been configured for endurance, so weapon loadout was relatively light, but he was arguably the best shot amongst them besides herself.
  So she selected Stewart, his PPCs presenting the biggest individual threat.  While he was occupied by Arden, she pounded her Mech round their right flank before turning sharply towards them. This presented the low, broad side of the Adder to her own PPCs, which she triggered in quick succession. Both shots struck the little Mech, catching Stewart by surprise. The impact, coupled with the loss of so much armour from his Mech's side, threw him off balance, and the cantering Mech stumbled forward, nose-diving into the green turf.
   Arden, however, had seen Jessica's intervention coming, and was enraged that she was trying to steal his kill.  Ignoring the downed Adder for a moment, he raised his light autocannon and thrust it in Jessica's direction.  Clustershot smacked off her armoured hide as she pushed her Mech into a wider circle, presenting Arden with a harder target. But he was too good, and nailed her with both his medium lasers.
   Stewart's Puma regained its feet, and for the first time, she saw that one arm - and the accompanying ER PPC - had been crushed under the Mech's weight when it had fallen.  That was good news, the firepower the little Mech could produce had been halved.  But Arden had seen this too, and turned his attention back to the Adder.  She would have to act fast to take the kill.  Dropping her reticule over Arden's Ice Ferret, she triggered her right PPC. The shot struck the left shoulder of the Mech, slagging armour and coring through to the ferro-titanium skeleton beneath.  The actuator froze in place, the joint melted by the intense heat of the blast.  That would ruin the effectiveness of the light autocannon.
   While the Ice Ferret reeled, spoiling Arden's shot on Stewart, she targeted the Adder, lining up a shot with her remaining PPC.  But Stewart was not willing to be an easy target, and he evaded the shot with a quick jink.  As the heat from the overworked reactor washed up through the cockpit, Jessica cursed.  Her pulse laser was out of range, her Mech sluggish, and she was out of time.
   Stewart lashed out with his remaining PPC at Arden's Ice Ferret, finishing the job she had started by slicing through the shoulder of the Ferret, severing the arm which spun away in a shower of sparks.  But it was too little, too late.  Arden had recovered quickly, and opened up with his lasers.  Both converged on the Adder head, piercing the armoured plexiglass and destroying the cockpit and it's occupant.
   Jessica screamed with anger.  Not only had Arden claimed the kill and ensured that he was now a MechWarrior, but she had liked Stewart.  She took small solace in that his death had prevented the ignominy of being reduced to a lower caste.  She would never have killed him though.  He was sibkin.  Targeting his cockpit like that was a poor show from Arden.
   Jessica raised her arms towards Arden's Ice Ferret, and as the PPCs recycled she triggered another salvo.  Armour splintered and splashed across the ground as the azure bolts flayed the skin from the Mech's bones.  Arden was clearly fighting the controls to stay upright as the tall OmniMech staggered, so Jessica pressed the advantage, pushing in close and triggering the pulse laser on the Nova's torso.  Emerald darts washed over the Ferret, chewing more armour and melting the myomer muscles beneath.
   The searing heat rising from the reactor baked Jessica, only her cooling vest saving her by keeping her core's temperature at survivable levels.  Beneath her vest, she could feel her sodden mane of brown hair matting against her sweat-slick back.  The Nova's double heat sinks worked to disperse the heat as she worked to put aside the minor irritations and keep at the task at hand.  She stared at the weapons readout on her HUD, willing her weapons to recycle quicker.  Arden returned fire with his torso-mounted medium laser, sloughing armour from the Nova's thigh, before Jessica's pulse laser blinked back on, its charge active.
   As the volley of darts connected with undamaged armour on the Ice Ferret's right shoulder, the OmniMech gave an odd shrug.  It pushed it's head into a vertical position, then sagged to the ground as the cockpit burst open and Arden flew out on his ejecting command couch.  The Ferret tumbled to a halt in a mass of broken limbs and earth.
   For a second, Jessica questioned herself.  The pulse laser burst had not been enough on its own to take the Ice Ferret down, and there had been no ammunition explosion.  Although damaged, the Mech had still been combat viable.  Why had Arden ejected?  To deny her the kill?  He already had his kill, and guaranteed his position a warrior, he must have been willing to settle at that.  Was that how it worked?  She did not know, but she had to consider the possibility that the kill did not count. 
   And that meant she still was not a warrior.
   Where are Rowan and Kyla?  Jessica rammed the heel of the Nova into the grass to stop it and spin round to face where her sibkin had been fighting.  Her stomach tightened as she spotted Kyla's Viper prone on the ground, Rowan's Nova closing to deliver the coup de grace.  The Viper was pitted and blackened from missile fire, and was missing its left leg, but it still moved.  Kyla was frantically trying to prop herself up on one arm, the other stretching up towards the Nova to bring the brace of pulse lasers to bear.
   The charging coils of Rowan's gauss rifle were dim, meaning he was either out of ammo, the weapon was damaged, or he was saving ammunition.  As he closed on Kyla, that left his SRMs.  Jessica throttled her OmniMech into a flat out run.  The footfall impacts were jarring, but she had to push.  She had to reach Kyla before...
   The Nova's torso rack flared as four short range missiles ignited their rockets.  They leapt from their tubes in a cloud of smoke, arrowing for the stricken Viper.  Grey streaks traced their intertwined paths as they twisted and spun towards Kyla's Mech.  They crossed some hundred and eighty metres in a few seconds, warheads armed...
   And then vanished in a shower of fragments as Jessica's dual anti-missile systems chattered out a hail of bullets into the salvo's path.  She had closed enough for her systems to track the missiles and knock them out of the air, buying Kyla time.  As Rowan realised what was happening, the Nova raised the arm with its gauss rifle, and this time the coils glowed with charge.  Jessica dragged the target reticule on her HUD over the outline of Rowan's OmniMech, and struck out with everything she had.
   The pulse laser stitched fire over the Nova's body, scarring the armour.  One PPC cleaved yet more armour from the leg of its opposite number.  But the killing blow was the cerulean bolt from the other PPC that tore into the gauss rifle, discharging the energy contained within back into the Mech, and causing a brutal feedback surge to Rowan's neurohelmet that incapacitated him.  His Nova simply folded in on itself as the gyro failed to maintain balance, crashing down in a heap.
   Jessica had her kill.  She was a MechWarrior.  Nothing could take that from her now.  But she needed two to be a Star Commander.  Slowly, she turned her Nova round to face Kyla's prone Mech.
   The Viper remained on the ground, left femur smashed in two near the hip.  The left arm propped the body up, the right arm trained its two pulse lasers on Jessica, but it did not fire.  Jessica raised her own ER PPCs to point at the Viper to reciprocate, but she too hesitated to shoot.  She imagined her sibkin - her sister - desperate and despairing in the dark cockpit of the Viper.  Kyla had not managed a kill, and would not join the warrior caste. 
   Kyla is the last obstacle to the fulfillment of my training.  Kelburn's drone intruded in Jessica's mind.  She would have to make the kill to realise her ambition.  It was sad, and she felt for Kyla.  No, that is not warrior-like!  No more warring with her emotion, she had to complete the trial.  Her decision had been made not today, but over the last 18 years of her life.
   In fact, Kyla made the decision for her.  She lowered her Mech's arm to the ground, accepting her fate, and gifting Jessica her rank.  Jessica stared at the dark canopy, feeling the tension emanating from within, but trying to imagine Kyla at peace and at ease.  Yes, the decision was made.  They were Trueborn.  They were Warriors.  They were Crusaders.  They were Clan.  The outcome was predetermined.
   Jessica turned her Nova away from Kyla, presenting her back to the Viper, then braced herself in the command couch as one hand gripped the ejection lever.

   Jessica stopped her march through the mechbay at the foot of a Grizzly.  She waited there a few minutes until the technician working on its knee actuator noticed her.  She could have called to him, demanded he present himself to her, like many other warriors would, but she did not.  It would not do to interrupt the technician in the midst of a vital repair.  Someone else may pay the price for that later.
   The technician lowered the hydraulic arm his basket was mounted on to ground level opposite the foot Jessica leaned against.  The man eyed her carefully, never taking his eyes off her as he exited the basket, reached to a mobile workbench beside him for a dirty, oily rag, and scrubbed his hands with it.  Neither spoke for the moment until the technician was done, tucking the rag through a belt loop on his jumpsuit and resting his hands on his hips.
   "I would just..." Jessica began as she stood up off the foot and raised to her full six foot six height, dwarfing the man before her.  He stopped her in her tracks with a raised hand.
   "Jessica, the fact you are standing before me now is good enough for me," he told her.  "Whether you are a scientist, merchant, labourer or technician, I am happy you were not killed."  Jessica nodded acknowledgement before the man continued.  "However, I can see from your uniform you are a warrior.  A Star Commander, no less.  I offer my congratulations."
   "Thank you, Lovatt," Jessica replied.
   Technician Lovatt turned to the workbench, breaking eye contact for the first time, and searched the cluttered unit for a tool.  "You have been given an assignment, quiaff?"
   Jessica nodded, although Lovatt did not see it.  "Aff."  She folded her arms across her chest.  "I will join Mu Galaxy.  178th Adder Sentinels."
   Lovatt stopped and looked back up at her.  "A second line cluster?"
   Again she nodded.  "Aff.  While I have been credited with two kills, despite the attempts of my sibkin to deny me, my actions in the trial were deemed... unclanlike."
   "You showed mercy?  Loyalty?"  When she made no reply, a hint of a smile curled the corner of Lovett's lips.  "Ah, my little Warden stuck in a Crusader's world.  Old Kelburn would have been most put out."
   "Do not call me that," she shifted uncomfortably.  "What I have done was not befitting for a trueborn warrior."
   "Neg, it was not befitting of the indoctrination," Lovatt retorted, turning back to his search for the unidentified tool.  "Where will you go?"
   "Then take these words with you to Priori, Star Commander Jessica of the Truscotts.  Continue doing what you have done.  Think for yourself.  Question that with which you do not agree.  The Way of the Clans is often used to obfuscate the truth, and instill blind obedience and fanaticism"  Lovatt located the item he sought, and returned to the basket.  With one hand rested on the controls, he looked back at the young warrior before him.  "My words may not be popular, but I hope they will help guide you on the road ahead.  I will miss our couplings, and I will miss you, my little Warden."
   Jessica turned and walked away as the basket was hoisted into the air.