Galatea, Lyran Commonwealth
23 May 3038
While there wasn't one member of the Fighting Fusiliers who wasn't incensed by the racial hatred spewed by Ryan Daniels, they were far more concerned for their friend's life. It was something they'd heard about but had never witnessed: a 'Mech duel to the death. This wasn't some Immortal Warrior holofilm. This was the real thing.
Alexandra was quickly becoming a bundle of frayed nerves. Garadun had been, with Cera, the very first to sign on to her fledgling mercenary unit, and since then had become a very good friend and confidant, not to mention a solid member of the Fusiliers. Now he was going to fight a battle he might not survive. She was the company commander, so she was trying to remain composed and in charge, but it wasn't easy.
The Fusiliers were equally anxious, especially Ian, Jimmy and Sayuki. Garadun was Ian's best buddy and Jimmy's very close friend as well. Sayuki wouldn't have even been in the Fusiliers if not for him, which had led to her and Ian.
However, none were as worried as Cera.
"Look, in case the bastard gets me," Garadun told her, "my Will's in my quarters on Distant Memory. Basically you get everything, though Ian gets my neurohelmet if it comes through intact."
Cera took a breath, trying to stay calm. "That's not important."
"Here's something that is," he said, taking her hands. "If I get splashed, you take care of Wasp and Stinger, okay? My babies will need someone to love them."
"Of course I'll take care of them," she said and they hugged. When they let go she wiped the corners of her eyes and took another deep breath.
"Jimmy! Igor all ready to go?" Garadun called.
"Ready and waiting," Jimmy answered, giving him a double thumbs-up.
"Listen to me, Gar," said Cera, meeting his eyes. "This ain't Solaris. We ain't putting on a show for the networks. No screwing around. Just kill the kusoyaro."
"That's the plan."
Cera nodded, then embraced him tight and whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too, sweetie," he whispered back and kissed her on the cheek. The other Fusiliers surrounded them then; patting Garadun on the back, shaking his hand, hugging him, wishing him luck.
"You watch your back, brother," said Ian and they clasped forearms.
"Count on it, bro."
"Please be careful, Garadun," said Alexandra fretfully. "Come back alive."
"Do my best," he said with one of his smirks, and bumped fists with Cera before heading over to his BattleMech, the 50-ton Hunchback he called Igor. It was modified of course, to match his style. It had the Tomodzuru Type 20 autocannon mounted in the right shoulder that gave the 'Mech its name, but the two Ichiba 2000 medium lasers normally found on either arm were instead fitted in the centre torso. The Diverse Optics Type 10 small laser in the head had been removed, with a CASE system built into the left torso to protect the autocannon ammo stored there. Finally, two of the usual thirteen heat sinks had been dropped in favour of two jump jets in each of the 'Mech's feet, allowing Igor to jump 120 meters, offering a great deal of mobility.
"Don't play with this Federat hwen dan," Jimmy told him. "Just get out there and grease him, quick as you can."
Jimmy gave him a slap on the shoulder. Garadun made his way up the gantry stairs until he reached the balcony that was next to the back of Igor's head. He stepped into the cockpit and sealed the hatch. The 'Mech's Nissan 200 fusion engine was already warmed up and ready to go. Garadun sat down in the command couch and connected his cooling suit to the hose that would provide it with fresh coolant. Then he attached the chair's leads to his neurohelmet and put it on. He made sure it was secure and comfortable, then tapped a button on his console.
"Who goes there?" said the computer in a deep male voice.
"It's me, Igor, who else? Garadun Morr."
"Voiceprint pattern match confirmed. Who's the fairest of them all?"
"Well it sure as hell ain't me," Garadun replied.
"Authorisation confirmed. Welcome back, Master."
With the final code cleared, all the cockpit controls, panels and holographic displays came to life. Garadun checked his screens and everything was functioning and on-line. He took a breath and let it out slowly, then shoved the accelerator forward with his left hand. With his right hand on the joystick and his feet on the pedals, his Hunchback started forward, going from an easy walk into a solid jog in seconds. He cleared the hangar and the 'Mech's viewport immediately polarised in the bright sunlight.
"Igor, gimme a map of the Basin, please."
At his command, one of his screens illuminated with a holographic rendering of the surrounding terrain, with Karakum Base behind him.
"Where's the combat area?"
A square section was outlined and made brighter.
"Right. Here we go," said Garadun and gave his 'Mech full throttle. He tapped a switch and the cockpit filled with ancient music: Shoot to Thrill.
High above the designated combat zone of Karakum Basin Proving Ground East, a Boomerang spotter plane turned in a wide, slow circle, its high-powered cameras focused on the ground below to record the entire duel. While different mercenary units squaring off against one another in combat exercises was a common, everyday occurrence on Galatea, duels to the death between individual warriors were not.
The base commander, Major Bob Kingston, had agreed to requests from both Lady Alexandra and Colonel Brooke, commander of the Kentares Legionnaires mercenary battalion, to have the duel monitored so both parties could watch. In fact it was standard procedure. Duels on the base had to be both fair and legal, and having a spotter made sure that everyone and everything was aboveboard.
Colonel Brooke seemed to be a fair-minded man who kept his prejudices under check, but Cera didn't trust him or his Legionnaires further than she could spit. And she told him so to his face, swearing that she would declare a blood feud against the Colonel, his family, every Legionnaire and their families, even the battalion mascot (an old basset hound named Churchill) if there was any kind of cheating. The Colonel was of course deeply insulted, saying how dare she impugn his honour or the honour of the Kentares Legionnaires, and she said what honour?
Major Kingston had them separated, and informed everyone that on his honour there would be no cheating allowed by anyone. Any unit that tried anything funny would be blacklisted by the Mercenary Review Board, their reputation ruined.
Garadun slowed his Hunchback as he crossed the perimeter of the combat zone and checked his sensors. From this moment forward it was game on. There were no rules apart from survival. Oh, they'd been given a lecture on the rules of engagement, warned about any kind of sabotage or foul play from members of their respective units, but that kind of drek was for the soldier boys. Garadun was a Solaris 'Mech jock and always would be. If he got a straight-up fight then so much the better. But he was ready for any kind of double-cross, like some of Daniels' friends joining in unannounced.
Magscan and seismic both had nothing, the radar was empty, and he hadn't bothered with thermal. In the desert heat it'd be useless. Garadun instead focussed on using his Model 0 Mark I Sensors namely his eyes. He was a big believer in that what nature had supplied was often a lot more reliable than any technology. There were things that the human eye and gut instinct could do that electronics simply couldn't.
The Karakum Basin was a desert wasteland, filled with rock and sand and dust and very little in the way of plant life. There was a lot of open terrain, which he didn't like one bit. Left him too exposed. An aerospace fighter could pick him off like it was nothing. It was strictly against the rules and impossible to pull off without everyone knowing, but he wouldn't put anything past Daniels.
"Igor, gimme a topographical map of the area, please."
The requested map came up on one of his screens and he gave it a quick study. Off to the northeast was a series of hills and gullies. He turned his 'Mech and made for them at top speed, his eyes flicking regularly to each of his sensor readouts when he wasn't studying the horizon with his own Eyeballs Mark I. Igor ate up the intervening terrain at around 60 kph, the BattleMech's big solid feet leaving deep impressions in the ground as it ran. Garadun regularly twisted the 'Mech's torso all the way to the left and then all the way to the right, looking for trouble.
He was closing on the hills when, just as he was bringing his torso back from a left twist, he spotted a faint billowing of dust. He immediately brought the torso back to a full left facing and hit the magnification on his main viewscreen. The outline of a 'Mech could be seen amid the dust it was kicking up. The radar began to ping.
"I already saw him," he muttered and muted the radar's audio. The 'Mech was closing at around 50 kph. Checking his topographical map, Garadun figured it must have come out of a deep depression.
"Come on," he said, willing Igor to move faster.
The enemy BattleMech was over half a kilometre away when it opened fire. Three azure beams of manmade lighting crackled through the air ahead and behind the Hunchback, but failed to come anywhere close to target.
"Bloody PPCs," said Garadun, annoyed. Particle projection cannons were the nastiest of BattleMech energy weapons, possessing great range and destructive power. That three beams had been fired at him in one volley meant either that Daniels was piloting some custom job (which was entirely possible) or he was in the cockpit of
"Hey! That's not bloody fair!" Laura cried in outrage, pointing to the big holoscreen as she looked at Major Kingston. "Der abschaum is in an Awesome!"
"It's thirty tons heavier than Gar's Hunchback," Ian added.
Alexandra was incensed. "Major Kingston"
"I'm sorry, Baroness, but this is permitted under the regs. Neither warrior set any limits on which weight class of BattleMech could be used for the duel. Morr issued the challenge and Daniels accepted."
"Mon Dieu, an Awesome," said Marie, her gut twisting with dread. The 80-ton monster was one of the most feared assault 'Mechs in existence, covered in fifteen tons of armour and armed with three PPCs and a small laser.
Alexandra's heart was racing with anxiety but she suddenly heard low chuckling. She and everyone else turned to look at Cera, who had her arms crossed over her chest and a nasty smile on her face.
"What's so funny, Miss Kuroda?" Kingston asked.
"I was thinking how my Gar's gonna trash this bakayaro," Cera replied confidently. "What? You think he's in trouble? You just watch."
PPC beams continued to sizzle through the air, but at the speed Garadun was travelling combined with the long range, none of them hit. He turned away from the Awesome, almost giving it his full back, and soon moved past its maximum weapons range. The assault 'Mech was well named and it was deadly. But it only had a top speed of 51 kph and suffered from poor manoeuvrability.
"It moves like a pregnant cow," Garadun had once said of the design.
That Daniels had been handed the assault 'Mech for the duel came as no surprise to Garadun. He'd been expecting something, and trying to get an unfair weight advantage was typical of the little dirtbag. What a pillock.
Igor finally reached the foothills and, as he crested the first hill, Garadun checked the rear monitor. The Awesome was still coming but it was a only a wee figure without full magnification. Nodding to himself, he slowed his 'Mech down while he began examining the surrounding terrain. The whole area flowed up and down in a series of low hills and narrow valleys. Clumps of cactus-like plants grew here and there amid the sun-scorched ground. There weren't a lot of easy lines-of-sight.
It was the perfect spot for a street fight. That's what this duel was as far as Garadun was concerned. It wasn't some big noble sparring match. This was a nasty, knock-down brawl where one of the combatants was going to be dead by the end of it.
Moving up and over the low hills, some no higher than ten or twelve meters, he went over half a kilometre deeper into the interior, climbing to the highest peak in the area, east of where he'd entered. At the top of the hillock, which was no more than twenty or thirty meters across, he turned his 'Mech around and faced southwest. Then he simply waited, letting his heat sinks bleed off the heat his engine had generated.
It took a bit of time but he eventually spotted the giveaway plume of dust as Daniels came towards the edge of the foothills. Garadun had gained the higher ground, a solid tactical advantage in any battle throughout the ages. He could see his enemy coming, knew exactly where he was.
"Igor, gimme a map of the immediate vicinity," he commanded. "Mark where we are and show me where the Awesome is." The holographic information came up and Garadun studied it for a few seconds, making decisions about where to go.
The Awesome crested the same hill Garadun's Hunchback had gone over, and he could see it clearly with his own eyes despite the desert camouflage paint scheme it'd been given. It was a hulking brute of a 'Mech, with its right arm nothing more than the long, reinforced barrel of a PPC and its left ending in a heavy battle fist. Two more PPCs were set on either side of its chest and a small laser mounted atop the cockpit. Igor's comm system beeped, so Garadun opened a channel.
"I see you finally stopped running, Morr," came Daniels sneering voice.
"It's called tactics, dumbass," Garadun countered and killed the comm. He crouched his 'Mech but otherwise stayed put. Daniels got his Awesome lumbering down the hill he'd climbed, which on the east side had a very sudden and steep grade down to what on the map would be considered ground level. With the hills between them, Garadun lost visual of his enemy, but seismic sensors tracked him easily. He held position and Daniels kept on coming in pretty much a straight line.
Daniels crested a much bigger hill and, because of Garadun owning the high ground, had a clear line of sight. He fired all three of his PPCs despite the Hunchback being at the very edge of weapons range at almost 540 meters, spiking his heat past the capacity of his heat sinks to dissipate fully. Each stream of artificial lighting, predictably, failed to come anywhere close to target.
Garadun crouched his 'Mech further, the left arm crossing in front of the chest and the right swinging back like a person about to leap, and activated his jump jets. Superheated plasma fed by the fusion engine blasted from the jets in Igor's feet and rocketed the 'Mech high into the air before coming down and landing with a thoom! at ground level almost 120 meters from where it'd been and putting a big wide hill between it and the Awesome. The Awesome lumbered forward at top speed, crossing more than a hundred meters and starting down the hill it was on.
Daniels, again with a line of sight, opened up with his two chest-mounted PPCs, the electric blue particle streams melting sand into glass where they struck the ground, but failing to hit the Hunchback. The Awesome was still out of range of the Hunchback's weapons but Garadun was patient. He threw the throttle forward and sent Igor toward the hill, where he turned south and ran along its eastern edge. The Awesome turned and ran down the last slope and onto open ground, trying to intercept the Hunchback. They couldn't see each other but magscan and seismic marked their positions.
Garadun suddenly slammed on the brakes, bringing his 'Mech to a halt, then sent his machine into reverse, backing up some sixty meters before turning to face where the Awesome was located on the other side of the hill. Daniels turned his 'Mech and moved forward in a direct line of interception, slowly stomping towards the hilltop, eager to finally get a clear shot at his hated opponent. There was now less than a hundred meters between them with the hill still blocking a line of sight.
The Awesome clambered up the slope and reached the top of the big hill, eager for the fight, then suddenly slowed to a halt as Daniels realised he'd put himself inside the minimum range of his PPCs. But it was worse than that. This was exactly what Garadun had been waiting for: to be in the right spot at the right time, luring his opponent in really close where he was at his best. As the Awesome came to a halt, the Hunchback crouched slightly, bending its arms as a human would, and leapt high into the air with its jump jets roaring.
It soared up and up on streams of fiery plasma, past the level of the top of the hill, past the Awesome and, with arms windmilling, the Hunchback turned in mid-flight as its jump jets eased off and landed directly behind the Awesome.
"Gotcha," said Garadun with a feral grin and cut loose with everything he had. He pulled the main trigger on his joystick twice and his medium lasers fired deadly beams of coherent blue light. He was still a bit jarred from the jump and landing, so one of them missed, but the other hit dead centre of the Awesome's back and melted armour into burning rivulets. He mashed down on his joystick's top left thumb button and the heavy autocannon vomited a storm of metal, blasting all the armour off the Awesome's left torso and destroying much of that torso's internal structure. It also damaged the PPC mounted there, rendering it inoperable.
Garadun didn't stop there. He was a Solaris gladiator and very experienced at 'Mech brawling. He wound up and smashed Igor's fists into his opponent one after the other, damaging the Awesome's armour on its left arm and right torso. Daniels was nearly overwhelmed by the brutal assault but managed to keep his 'Mech upright.
The only problem was that Garadun's dramatic attack had spiked his heat levels into the red zone, with an alarm going off in his cockpit and his cooling suit working at near capacity to keep him from succumbing to the heat. But it'd been worth it.
"And there you are!" Cera crowed. "Never let Gar get close because that's what he does! He gets behind you and blows your ass off! Pardon my French."
The other Fusiliers yelled and cheered, elated and relieved, urging him on as they watched the telemetry being sent by the Boomerang spotter plane. Even Major Kingston, who was supposed to be neutral, couldn't help but smile.
It had been one hellava stunt Morr had pulled.
With warning lights flashing and screens showing where all the damage was, Daniels spun his Awesome around in place to face the 'Mech that had just given it a nasty kick up the backside. But the weakness of the Awesome had been revealed. While it was great at destroying opponents at range, up close it was as nimble as a brick.
Garadun simply jumped his Hunchback again, rocketing up and over his opponent, turning in mid-leap to land on the hillside behind the Awesome at a lower elevation. He leaned back and cut loose once more with his Type 20 autocannon. He struck the left torso again, exactly where he wanted, shredding the internal structure to so much scrap and blowing the left arm off. The heavy fire continued on into the centre of the Awesome, blasting armour and internal structure to smithereens.
Amazingly, Daniels managed to keep his 'Mech upright. With no other options available to him, he ran, trying to gain distance and some room to manoeuvre. It didn't do any good. Garadun trotted right after him, up and onto the ridge where he came to a halt with Daniels perhaps seventy or eighty meters away. On the principal of use it or lose it and not caring about heat build-up, he fired his medium lasers and then followed up with his heavy autocannon. One laser melted armour on the Awesome's right leg, the other vaporised the last of the armour on its right rear torso.
The hail of autocannon slugs blasted into the already ravaged centre torso and blew it apart completely. The right arm and part of the right torso got sent hurtling through the air, and the 'Mech's gyro and engine exploded in a storm of flying chunks. The legs went tumbling along the ground and down the side of the hill, bouncing and breaking into pieces. The cockpit, what was left of it, flew into the air and then came crashing and tumbling down along the ground a good sixty meters or more away.
The victorious Hunchback moved forward down the hill at an unhurried paced, past all the burning wreckage and debris, finally coming to a halt next to the battered cockpit. There had been no ejection of the pilot. There hadn't been time and there was only the slimmest of chances that he'd survived. Nevertheless, with measured deliberation, the Hunchback lifted its right foot and brought it down on the cockpit, slowly increasing the pressure until it was crushed like a tin can.
Then the Hunchback turned and began its walk back to base.