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Fortunes of War (Chapter Cover) v1

Chapter 11 - Fortunes of War[]


Galatea City, Galatea
The Lyran Commonwealth
November 7th, 3024


In her mind, Kit replayed her conversation with Titus Covelli, arena manager and promoter, from the night they had first met. It was not the first time. Usually she ended up deciding she should have followed her instinct to bolt out the door of the Flush without looking back. On this, the eve of her scheduled match against Terry Laurent, she had decided choking the fixer with his tie would have been the smarter play.

As satisfying as choking the life out of the fixer would have been, however, at the moment Kit was fantasizing about committing more heinous acts of violence against the Capellan engineers who had designed the Vindicator.

She was crouched atop the backpack-like housing for the Vindicator’s jump jets as the forty-five ton machine rested on one knee in the rented 'Mech bay. The two halves of the armored cowling which protected the back of the 'Mech’s head hung suspended above her from the ceiling. For hours she had been trying to fix the power linkage for the Vindicator’s head-mounted medium laser. The Vindicator was noted as a generally rugged and reliable machine. The problem was that because the Capellans had designed it to use domestically-produced components as much as possible, when something did break it could be maddeningly difficult to find replacement parts outside Liao space. On the Vindicator Kit had inadvertently inherited from Brent Sterns, the Sian/Ceres five-tube long-range missile launcher had already been replaced at some point in the past with a more commonly-available model produced by Holly. The 'Mech still carried an original-spec Ceres Arms medium laser, however. As if it weren’t bad enough that the weapon’s mounting position created a protrusion in the cockpit that endangered the MechWarrior if he or she ever needed to eject, accessing the linkage to the laser from the 'Mech’s power plant required completely removing the armored cowl. Covelli’s hired astechs had disappeared even before she could tell them their services were no longer required, and so she was left to complete the job on her own.

Kit had spent most of the evening on the repair, left on a fruitless expedition to a junk dealer who thought he might have a replacement coupler for a Ceres Arms in stock, returned to the 'Mech bay shortly before local midnight, and gotten back to work. Sleep could wait until after she had beaten Terry Laurent, and to do that she needed her 'Mech’s full arsenal functioning. At least the ‘Mech's main weapon, the PPC, still functioned perfectly.

Kit stopped what she was doing and frowned. From her vantage point on the Vindicator’s back, she looked down at the PPC which replaced the lower half of the 'Mech’s right arm. Just below the elbow joint, a small maintenance access panel hung half-open. She had inspected the PPC hours before. Could she have been so careless?

She clambered down the Vindicator’s back to the 'Mech bay floor. She maneuvered a motorized scissor-lift into position next to the 'Mech’s right knee, elevated it up to the level of the machine’s waist, then swung her legs over the guardrail and perched atop the PPC barrel. Unlatching the access panel completely, she thrust her arm inside the weapon’s innards and a moment later, with some difficulty, pulled out a canvas-wrapped object about ten inches square.

Kit stared at the featureless, innocuous-looking bundle, turning it over in her hands. A voice that was her own and yet not her own hissed tauntingly in her head. They’re going to kill you. This world killed your family and now it’s going to kill you.

Her hands were trembling. The heavy canvas bundle slipped from her fingers and fell to the 'Mech bar floor with a thud.

There was a metallic crash as one of the shelves used for storing tools along the wall of the hangar toppled over, then the sound of boots pounding on the ferrocrete. Kit leapt off the PPC. Fear forgotten, the pain in her ankle as she hit the 'Mech bay floor ignored, she sprinted after the black-clad figure running for the bay’s side exit. “Hey! Get back here, ******!”

She was faster than the intruder, but he had a head start and she probably wasn’t gaining fast enough to reach him before he escaped the 'Mech bay. Then the black-clad figure tripped in a crack in the ferrocrete and sprawled awkwardly to the floor. Kit was on him in a second. A second later she realized she had made a rash mistake.

The man was roughly twice Kit’s weight and knew how to throw it around. He shrugged Kit off his back effortlessly and then he was on top of her. His hands wrapped around her throat. She clawed at his face, his eyes, partially ripping off the black balaclava he wore over his head. She got a glimpse of a sallow, stubbled cheek as her vision started to go dark.

“If you kill me." she croaked, “Covelli gets no fight. No fight… no money…”

Her gambit worked - she had guessed right. The man hesitated. His grip on her neck loosened, his weight on top of her shifted just enough. She used the opportunity to bring her knee up into his groin. He rolled off her with a howl.

Kit crawled away from him, gasping for air. Her vision was starting to clear. Then it filled with stars as pain exploded across the back of her head. She rolled once on the ‘Mech bay floor and flopped onto her back, limbs as useless as a rag doll’s.

The man she had fought was on his feet but still doubled over in agony. Next to him stood another figure, identically dressed but shorter and leaner, covering her with the holdout gyrojet he had just used to pistol-whip her. “What the hell did you start running for?” the man with the gyrojet asked his companion.

“Thought…” The larger man paused to wheeze in pain. “I thought that thing was going to go off when she dropped it.”

“I told you," the shorter man berated his partner, “it doesn’t work like that.”

"I think she saw my face." the larger one said.

This is how I’m going to die, Kit thought. After everything, this is it. These idiots are going to be the ones who kill me. She found she was laughing out loud.

The intruders stared at her. “What the hell’s so funny, bitch?” the heavier man demanded.

Kit looked up at the 'Mech bay ceiling, then closed her eyes against the sting of the floodlights. Her head throbbed. “You guys definitely aren’t ISF ninjas, that’s for sure.”

A sound like thunder echoed in the 'Mech bay. Kit opened her eyes and found she was still alive. The smaller man was moaning in pain now, clutching at his upper arm. The gyrojet  clattered to the ferrocrete. There was another thunderclap, a sound she now recognized as the report of an ancient magnum slug-thrower. Only one person she had ever met favored such a weapon. The two black-shrouded men made a run for it.

She scrabbled towards the fallen gyrojet and grasped it. There was a third echoing report. She rolled on to knees, gyrojet raised, but the two intruders were already gone. Behind her there was a familiar Outback drawl: “Hey, kid, you alright?”

“I’ll live. I guess." she answered, slowly getting to her feet with the help of Cedric Smythe’s offered hand. When she thought she had been about to die, she had felt strangely calm; she had even laughed. Now that the danger was passed she found her heart was pounding in her chest. “Don’t know what to say, Sarge.” Her head spun and only Smythe catching her by the arm stopped her from falling to the 'Mech bay floor again. “I’m damn lucky you showed up when you did. How’d you find me?”

“Just had to ask around." the bearded MechWarrior said as he holstered the ancient magnum. “You’ve kind of made a name for yourself since the last time we talked.”

Kit scoffed. “For all the wrong reasons.”

Smythe frowned but let the comment pass. “Anyway, I knew the night before a fight, you’d be getting your hands dirty. Got here and heard a ruckus inside, went around to the side emergency door and it opened right up.

Kit nodded, and winced as she found that doing so triggered a fresh ache in the back of her head. She had asked for the security codes on the doors of the rented bay to changed, but unsurprisingly that had proved little obstacle for a man like Covelli, who seemed to have connections and info sources in Galatea City good enough to learn her whole background and pick her as his next “story” almost as soon as anyone else on-planet even knew who she was. Just lucky for me Covelli cuts corners on the class of thugs he hires. “Those two ****** special forces operators must have come in while I was out hunting for parts." she reasoned. “Thought I was done for the night. Weren’t expecting me to come back, so when I did they panicked and hid.”

She walked over to where the canvas-wrapped square had fallen to the 'Mech bay floor and poked at it with the toe of her boot. Smythe followed her, crouching to examine the object and frowning. “Looks like an infantry satchel charge?”

“Basically. No timer or remote detonator. Wouldn’t go off from impact, despite what that genius thought. They had it wedged inside my PPC. Figure it must be heat-triggered. I would have lost my main weapon with the first shot.” She gave the hateful thing a savage kick, sending it spinning across the floor, and then walked away to sit down on the Vindicator’s left foot. “You didn’t say why you came looking for me, Sarge.”

Smythe let out a sigh. “Came to warn you." he said. “Warn you about Terry Laurent. Look, kid, I don’t know exactly what the story is with your matches up until now, but…” Smythe paused and looked down at the ferrocrete floor. He’s embarrassed, Kit thought, but I’m the one who should be. “What I mean is, if there’s some kind of… arrangement." Smythe continued, “I don’t trust Laurent to stick with it. Ever since you got back to Galatea and people started talking about you, he’s been obsessed.” He looked her in the eye. “I think he’s going to be out for blood.”

“Fantastic. Thanks, Sarge. I appreciate it, I really do." Kit said with a bitter laugh. “But when I heard Laurent was willing to put his 'Mech on the line for this fight, I figured he had to be pretty serious.”

“Son of a…” Smythe spat on the ferrocrete floor in disgust. “Laurent’s fighting for pinks? Crazy bastard! Does he think the Privateers would buy him a new ride if he lost?”

“Guess he’s not planning to lose." Kit said. “And neither is Covelli, judging from the little present his thugs left behind.” She nodded in the direction of the satchel charge the saboteurs had left behind.

Smythe leaned against the Vindicator’s knee, arms folded, his brow furrowed. “Who’s Covelli?”

“Titus Covelli, arena fight manager and promoter." Kit answered, in a bitter imitation of the man’s bombastic tone. “Has his sights set on being Galatea’s next Haskell Blizzard, or something. He’s the one who’s been making the arrangements.” She looked at Smythe pleadingly. “I didn’t know, Sarge. Not at first. You have to believe me, I didn’t know.” The Sergeant’s expression was unreadable. “Anyway, I told Covelli I was done with all that. I wanted fair fights.” She nodded at the satchel charge again. “As you can see, he didn’t take it very well.”

She ran her hands through her hair. There was a rising lump on the back of her head, and her fingers came away from her scalp bloody.  “What am I going to do, Sarge? I’m in over my head here. I’m going up against a maniac tomorrow, if what you say is true, and I’m…” She suddenly had to swallow a lump in her throat. “I’m not even a real MechWarrior.”

Smythe was silent for a long time before he answered. “Aw, hell, kid. This is why I never cared for all this gladiator stuff. Even without… arrangements… it would still be fake, if you ask me.” He gazed into the shadows in the corner of the 'Mech bay, his eyes seeing something else. “Fighting for a prize, for a crowd… it’s a different thing from fighting for your life.” He turned and met her gaze. “And that’s why, if you want to be a real MechWarrior, there’s something else you’ve got to learn.”

Kit drew back involuntarily, startled to find a hardness in Smythe’s eyes she had never seen before. Was this a different man than the friendly, easy-going, “Outback hick” Smitty that she knew? Was this a glimpse of the man he became on a battlefield, the man that battlefields had made him?

“What’s that, Sarge?” she asked quietly.

“A real MechWarrior? In a real fight? If you’ve got any choice, a real MechWarrior… never, ever fights fair.”


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