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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 11[]

State of the Union[]

Nadir Jump Point, Oliver System
Free Worlds League Space
22 January 3063

"Are you sure this is going to work?" Peter asked, eyeing the lashed together rig secured to Glowworm's deck. It had taken the dropship four days to reach the Bifrost, which was waiting for them with it's Kearny-Fuchida Drive fully charged and a fresh IFF block that claimed it was a Combine-registered ship. No one would particularly doubt that story in Oliver, since the system was within a couple of jumps of the Draconis Combine and House Kurita was still paying the League back for wartime loans of equipment from the Clan Invasion.

"The simulator or the refit?" Clovis Holstein wiped his hands clean on a rag. "In the first case, it's not a proper simulator - I can't get a fully articulated rig in here and Captan Colium would probably have my guts if I tried."

"Better than five tons bouncing around on my decks? I would indeed," agreed the dropship's owner and commander, who had turned up to watch what promised to be a spectacle.

"But all the controls are working and any cockpits, even as old as these one, can run simulations." The dwarf tucked the rag away. "All I needed to do was wire them up and fiddle with the coding a little to reflect what we're going to be doing with them."

Peter rubbed his chin. "Yeah. I know a lot of mechwarrior families keep a spare cockpit rigged up like this, it's better than no simulator at all. I was thinking more of what you have in mind for the Mackies. I've never heard of this sort of refit."

"It isn't factory level work, kid. But your sister gave me the idea that if the engine is overpowered, then shaving off some weight to take full advantage of that could turn these lemons into something pretty decent. It all depends on if you can get the parts."

"I think I can manage." Peter went over to the row of four dismounted cockpits and opened the hatch of the one marked with a 1. "Sears, you want to try the other one? It's been a while since I strapped on a Mech so I should try and get some of the rust off."

The other Mechwarrior glanced around. "I don't see why not. Don't expect me to go easy on you, though."

"In your dreams, hotshot."

The inside of the cockpit was a strange experience - the basic controls hadn't changed much over the centuries but the Mackie had additional displays, particularly detailing the status of the 'Mech. The holodisplay that overlaid tactical data for the mechwarrior was bulkier than Peter was familiar with and projected data across a 180 degree arc rather than the standard 160.

Still, the seat and neurohelmet were as he'd expected, even if the latter wouldn't actually be doing anything. It felt wrong to strap in without stripping down to shorts and cooling vest, but the cockpit wouldn't heat up the way an active 'Mech's would. Maybe it was more like one of the arcade simulators he'd heard about while at the Nagelring - a place for mall-rats to play at being mechwarriors.

The screens lit up, displaying a canal, bridged by a monorail track. Low commercial buildings this side, apartment blocks on the other and beyond them towering skyscrapers. City-fighting, not exactly his favorite exercise but one that would be all too important if they reached New Avalon.

No. They would get there, he told himself. They had to. What Catherine predicted was a war that would be fought for five years across more than eight hundred worlds, killing millions and utterly ending the dreams of his parents.

The 'Mech status lit up and he checked his weapon payload. An extended range laser in the center chest, a particle projection cannon in the left arm and an ultra autocannon opposite. The high weapon mountings of the arms reminded him of his JagerMech from back in Skye.

"Straight skirmish," Clovis' voice announced. "Good luck, both of you."

Peter pushed the pedals down and the Mackie lumbered forwards, slashing across the shallow canal and towards the center of the city. He flipped from visual light to infrared and then night vision. All seemed to work. Magscan also worked when he tried it, but it was next to useless surrounded by buildings with metal frameworks inside them, which was accurate enough.

Nothing interrupted Peter as he marched the Mackie in among the city blocks, following the roads and leaving a trail of incidental destruction as the blocky feet smashed through ground cars and street lights with equal ease. At least he hadn't battered any buildings yet...

A high pitched squeal and red flashes on the holodisplay alerted him that he was under attack. The view shook, simulating the shaking he'd normally have experienced as a second 'Mech unloaded into him from his left rear quarter.

Swiveling, Peter brought his PPC to bear and discharged it. Following with the chest laser and then his autocannon as each crossed the corner where the other 'Mech had fired from.

The PPC dug into the barrel chest of Searcy's Mackie but the laser missed as the other Mechwarrior backpedaled into cover and the autocannon blew a fourth-floor corner office apart. Some of the shrapnel may have hit the retreating 'Mech but Peter wouldn't count on that.

He pushed the Mackie after the other warrior, pleased by the speed. From its size and the reactor he'd expected it to handle sluggishly, like Uncle Morgan's old Atlas. Instead, the Mackie was only fractionally less responsible than a JagerMech. Hopefully the reality would match up to what Clovis had programmed into the sims.

As he pounded towards the corner he checked his damage. About a third of the protection over his PPC was gone and a ragged scar had been gouged through the armor of the Mackie's left leg. A smattering of other damage suggested light missile or cluster round damage - he hadn't seen missile contrails which suggested Searcy's Mackie had a LB 10-X autocannon.

Mackie Assault Mech (On a Battlefield)

Mackie Class Assault BattleMech

He reached the corner just in time to see Searcy backing around the building's next corner, having fallen back almost behind it. Peter fired his PPC a fraction early and the brief beam of charged particles barely clipped the searchlight on the Mackie's right shoulder. The laser shot was lower, scarring the chest alongside the damage from his earlier shot and the autocannon rounds spread across Searcy's own autocannon mount and the building behind him.

Keeping the momentum up, Peter ignored the autocannon burst that crashed across the left chest of his 'Mech and pushed the Mackie as fast as he could. Backing up was always slower, so he could catch up and then...

He rounded the corner only to see that Searcy hadn't backed up at all. The prince triggered everything but the PPC was too close to focus correctly. The swinging autocannon jammed muzzle first into the corner of the building and dragged backwards, pulling him off-balance as he fired his laser, the weapon slashing a shallow trail into Searcy's.

Then Searcy's Mech stepped forward and almost lazily kicked the legs out from under Peter's. Automatically bracing for an impact that didn't come, Peter saw the sky between the buildings, oddly disorientating when his inner ear told him he was upright even though the Mackie was.

Searcy fired two chest mounted lasers into the PPC mount, following them a moment later with his PPC. Unlike Peter's there was no focusing issue - he must have an extended range mount.

There wasn't any armor left on the left arm and Peter tried to roll the Mackie to shield the weapon with his right side. Backing up, Searcy let loose with more cluster rounds from his autocannon, peppering the Mackie. One shot hit the cockpit's faceplate, causing the holodisplay to generate hairline cracks that weren't reflected on the actual faceplate behind it in real life.

With a frustrated cry, Peter managed to get the Mackie upright again but there was no sign of Searcy or his 'Mech. The man had done a hit and fade, textbook urban combat and Peter had fallen for it.


"Player three has entered the match." a robotic voice announced.

"What?" Peter released one joystick to adjust his microphone. "Clovis did you rip some of this software off an arcade."

"I had the code handy," the engineer said unabashedly. "and your sister was getting upset at seeing you getting your ass beat so she's decided to join the scrap."

He shook his head. "Catherine's not a mechwarrior, and he is not beating my ass."

"I'm sure you have him right where you want him," Holstein said with evident amusement. "Which if you check your tactical display..."

A blue icon - Catherine's 'Mech obviously - was visible on the street map of the battlefield and an intermittent red marker popped into view. Searcy.

Pushing the Mackie to maximum speed, Peter raced along the street and turned at an intersection, ducking it under the monorail and emerging into a plaza cluttered with food stands and surrounded on four sides by what seemed to be hotels.

Two Mackies blazed away at each other, one backed up against a hotel and the other occupying the gap between two. Given the former's wildly inaccurate fire - it was doing far more damage to the hotels than its enemy - Peter deduced that it was Catherine and opened up on the other Mackie.

He had the satisfaction of seeing the armor broken on the right chest before Searcy's Mackie smoothly retreated behind cover, pivoting to put the wounded armor behind the building first. In a final salvo the Solaris mechwarrior fired his laser's into Peter's Mackie and his PPC into Catherine's machine.

The weapons display highlighted Peter's PPC in red, indicating one of the laser shots had hit it and put the weapon out of action. Catherine's 'Mech slumped backwards against the hotel behind it. A real building might have collapsed upon it but either this was made of stronger stuff or the simulation wasn't quite that realistic.

"Catherine, are you okay?" he called her

"Fallen," she said plaintively. "I can't get up."

"...right." The stubby arms weren't any help, but this was just a sim. "Rock the controls a bit. It's not realistic but without a neurohelmet the proper way won't work either." Peter moved his Mackie to cover her as she worked the 'Mech free and the computer judged her to be upright again. "If you really want to learn to use a 'Mech, we'll need to get you fitted out and do this with a real 'Mech. No offense, Clovis."

"None taken. I just wish I had some popcorn."

Peter's damage display lit up again. "Stop distracting me!" he shouted and wheeled, firing his autocannon as Searcy moved behind cover yet again.

A full alpha strike crashed past Peter's left side and ripped a hole in the building Searcy was behind... as well as carrying away what was left of Peter's PPC.

"...sorry." Catherine said in a small voice.

He forced himself to count to ten before responding. "It's fine, it was broken anyway. Let's move back and get to some more open territory so he can't sneak up on us."

The two Mackies retreated, Catherine taking the lead as Peter focused at least half his attention on their rear arc. He noticed more property damage and realised his sister was absently bashing her autocannon arm against the buildings along the side of the street. "Try not to hit the buildings, Cat, it's not doing the 'Mech any good."

She stopped and adjusted her course, walking more centrally in the street.

"Okay, good." he said encouragingly and then a salvo of fire lanced out of an intersection, smashing the left knee of Catherine's Mackie. She lost control immediately and the 'Mech crashed down onto the street.

Wheeling into the turn, Peter marched past, firing down the street. His shots slashed through the air underneath Searcy's Mackie, which was standing on the monorail track, and return fire blew into the right chest of his own 'Mech with disturbing precision.

Raising his guns, Peter tried to track on the matching damage to Searcy's chest but the other mechwarrior twisted to use his left side as protection and fired again.

With a flash, the holodisplay went dead and the controls followed. "What?" He checked the screens and they were still live... although an overlay reported 'Ejection'. "Clovis...?"

"He hit your ammo bins." the engineer told him. "No cellular ammo storage on these crates. Sorry, kid, he got you."

"I noticed!" Peter snapped. Damn, he'd not thought much of Searcy - real mechwarriors like Kai Allard-Liao and Galen Cox had mopped the floor with Searcy's rival Vandergriff and another gladiator back in 3056. I guess I was measuring myself on the wrong scale, he thought. "How's Catherine doing?"

Clovis' voice was pained. "Kid, she didn't last thirty seconds once you were done."

"Fair enough." He pulled off the neurohelmet and ran his fingers through his hair. "Can you put me through to Searc- to Sears?"

"Sure." Clovis answered

A moment later, Searcy's voice was audible. "I hope I lived up to your expectations, sir."

"Yeah. It was... good work." He rubbed his jaw. "And you know what the reward for that is?"

The triumph leached out of the older man's voice. "More work?"

"Yeah. I obviously need more practice and if Cat expects to use one of these for real she's going to need intensive practice. Can you guess who just got appointed chief instructor."

"I'm not sure how much good it'll do her in a real fight." Searcy said honestly. "These simulators have limits."

"I noticed, but hopefully we'll have working 'Mechs by the time she's ready for them." And by the time we need them, he added to himself.

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