"Cavalier Three, do you copy?"
Bursts of static was all Rudolph Saramachi got in reply. Slamming his clenched fist at the Dalban Micronics' keypad, Rudolph let loose a steadily growing litany of curses.
So deep was he in his string of vehement mutterings - now in the verse condemning this bleak, storm-strewn planet - that it took him a few seconds to realize he wasn't staring at one of the metre-tall geysers that littered the planet.
Cavalier Three's Gurkha lay spread-eagled on the planet's broken carapace. At first glance, it could have been a giant man relaxing under the sun on a small patch of grass. But the giant man's arms were ripped free and the sunlight wasnothing more than the streaks of lightning on this, the third planet of the RVS110B system.
And the grass, the grass was nothing more than the innards of the BattleMech, shredded freely from the torn Gurkha's chest.
Blake help me... Where's Three's sword?... Or his head...
Backing his Marauder from the grisly scene, trying to tear his eyes away from the headless chassis, Rudolph gritted his teeth and nearly screamed in terror when his 'Mech's jury-rigged spotlight fell on the Gurkha's blade: thrust down into the ground with the 'Mech's once-fearsome head jammed down onto its hilt.
Lowering his jaw, Lt. Saramachi activated his unit's general frequency from his neurohelmet's middle switch. "Cavalier Four to any Devout 'Mechs in the area! Hostile presence! I repeat, hostile presence!" 'Devout' was the Word of Blake's way of discriminating between friendlies and hostiles. It had an air of righteousness about it that had Rudy always enjoyed, even if was just a mercenary.
A flash of lightning, followed by the rush of thunder deafened his repeated warnings. Even through the 75 tons of technology encasing him, the thunder rumbled his bones and played with his heartbeat.
A flash, this time from inside his Marauder's cockpit, tore him away from his now quickened breathing. The keypad flashed again.
Someone wanted to talk.
"So *crackle* you still use the old first-gen *static* Micronics, eh?"
The Voice was cold. Even with the electronics masking the actual speaker, the precise way the Voice spoke belied his friendly words.
Steeling himself, he flipped another switch in his neurohelmet with his tongue, and tried to sound defiant. "Who--Identify yourself!"
A pause, and then the keypad beeped green. "I'm hurt, Rudy. You've forgotten me already."
Thunder drowned out Rudolph's response but he didn't care, it was nonsensical anyway. He was smart enough to know that whoever the Voice was, he was getting closer: the static was gone, and the Voice was clearer. Pushing his 'Mech into a trot, Lt. Saramachi moved on top a large outcropping of rock a few hundred metres to his right. Satisfied that he was far enough, Rudolph smirked to himself as the Voice sounded farther away than he was moments ago.
"Careful, Ru*cackle*. Those bird-walkers don't *static* so well climbing slopes, now." A whirring noise followed by a shriek punctuated the Voice's sentence. A human shriek. On open comms?--Julia!
Slapping a button for a wide-broadcast, Rudolph frantically shouted "Julia!" over and over until he was left shaking in anger and - now, that he was alone - fear.
A green light flickered, before the keypad beeped. "So... the rumours were true. You two were 'close'. I wish I could say I was sorry, I really do," whispering, "but not for you."
Rage seeped into Rudolph's core, and he let loose both his Marauder's PPCs ninety degrees apart to cast some constant light for a few moments of the battlefield. No, not battlefield. Crime scene.
"You murdering bastard!--"
Beep. "Murdering... bastard? This from a Blakist sellsword..." The anger filtered through the electronic voice; the hate followed. "Tell me, Rudy, what was your price?"
Letting loose another stream of charged particles, Saramachi ignored the heat buildup as he scanned the hellish horizon for the owner of the Voice. "My price? Why the hell do you wanna discuss the terms of my contract?"
Green. "Well, you see, I've been reading up on your Blakist masters' Book." The chuckle came through as if the Voice was humming. "Seems a precedent of thirty silver pieces was set millenia ago and it wouldn't do for a fellow mercenary to set low standards. Bad for the whole lot of us, you see."
Before Rudolph responded he noticed the tell-tale static in his cockpit equipment from firing high-energy weapons was lasting longer than it should. Even in this ion-filled hellhole. He had half a second to ponder that as a streak of silver-light slammed eagerly at his Marauder's left torso; carving a blackened hole that looked like an infected wound.
Whirling his Marauder's torso thirty degrees to the left, Rudolph spotted a trail of dissipating particles and set his own PPCs to work. Both streams slammed into nothing but glistening rock, spewing gouts of flickering dirt into the air.
This time, he felt the attack coming, and squatted his ancient machine on its rear-canting legs. The grin on his face from watching a flurry of missiles fly overhead disappeared as a second swarm feasted on the armour on his Marauder's left arm and torso.
Another lash of the Voice's white leash and a light on his damage display turned from green to red.
The Voice sounded almost thoughtful. "You know... that rotation ring is such a big damned flaw. I wonder why the Marauder has been so popular all this time?” The Voice grinned. “Good PR?"
With a snarl, Rudolph willed his MAD-4R to a standing position and pushed it to full speed. Its once easy gait was replaced with a jerky sway, yet it stayed on its feet, weaving in between rock formations.
The unmistakeable sound of fusion plasma escaping into the atmosphere made Rudolph glance at his overhead viewscreen; compressing 360 degrees into 270. Behind, to his right, a nearly man-shaped silhouette rocketted up into the sky. Rudolph hadn't noticed earlier, but the lightning storms seem to have stopped.
No, not stopped. Waiting.
The Voice's 'Mech raised its left arm and let loose a swirl of missiles while still in his high in his jump arc. The missiles exploded around him – Rudolph had no time or space to maneuver - sending fist-sized rocks slaming into this 'Mech from all angles, blasting whatever footing he could muster and reducing visibility to blasted rock and debris outside his port window.
Lightning flashed. Twice it flashed, but only one had deadly intent. The Voice had laid bare the Marauder's left torso with a precisely aimed shot. Saramachi didn't have time to brace himself as his autocannon ammunition exploded outwards.
Feedback from his neurohelmet seared his mind. Hollering in pain, he remained conscious as the ‘Mech fell limply to the ground. His instruments down, hesaw more clearly than ever.
Green. "You know how long it took me to find out the weakness of your MAD-4R?
About two seconds after I read the finished schematics." The laughter reverberated in Rudolph's cockpit. "The left torso, my good Rudy. Hold's the ammo for that big honking ay-cee, probably jammed from earlier huh? See, you take that out that torso, you make the Class 5 Ultra useless and the left arm as good as wet noodles for armour."
Beep. "How many times have I told you to clean that Imperator's bore with a salt- water compound in humid conditions, Rudy? Lemme guess, you didn't calibrate the Sutels' focusing lasers to handle the high ion content too... Getting sloppy, Rudy."
I'm sorry. The words were only in his mind. His mouth couldn't, or wouldn't speak.
Theatrically, lightning stabbed against the dreary grey sky, and Lt. Rudolph Saramachi was treated to a clear look at his torturer's tool: Word of Blake-made, with an energy weapon in its right arm, missile launchers in the left on a lean chassis. He had seen it many times, fighting alongside many for the last three years.
Lightning played on the Seisen's body, over a mosaic of Dragons, Wolves, and Angels against a canopy of feathers and wings.
He wanted to cry, he needed to, but his face wouldn't allow him. It barely twinged as the 'Mech strode forward with deliberate, even solemn, steps and raised its right arm to the Marauder's head.
"Goodbye Rudy. Look at it this way, traitors get special treatment where you're going. And you always wanted to be special, didn't you?"
Rudy didn't see the blue flash of the PPC. Nor did he even stare at the hauntingly beautiful depiction of an angel on the Seisen's chest, nor at the breaking sky letting whispers of sunlight through.
All he saw was hispponent's eyes, staring back at him, accusing him, judging him, and sentencing him. The blue-green eyes of someone who was once an ally, a friend, a brother.
Ethan stopped fiddling with his Wolverine's foot actuator and searched for a voice that didn't belong in the company of sell-swords. Glancing around, he saw Tommy and Shin bartering with someone in a Gray Death Legion uniform and several of his techs waving frantically at someone foolish enough to park a taxi cab in the middle of a 'Mech garage. His eyes stopped at a small girl, probably four or five, looking for all the Sphere as if her lifedepended on his answer.
Finally, Ethan cleared his throat. "Yeah-yes, I'm Ethan Morimoto," the relief on the girl's face was noticeable, but she furrowed her brow as he continued speaking, "but I don't know anyone by the name of Gregor Leung."
She shook her head. Innocently. Solemnly. "Oh you wouldn't. He's dead now."
At a loss for words, Ethan restrained himself from sighing. "I'm sorry to hear that--Umm, what's your name, little girl?"
With all the seriousness a four year old could muster. "Marina. Marina Avery, sir."
It couldn't be. "Avery? Are you related to Jenn-Jennifer Avery?" Ethan moved closer, tossing aside the three pronged tool in his hands as he knelt down.
Her eyes, like a younger Jenn...
Nodding with a small smile. "Yes, sir, umm, Ethan sir." Taking a deep breath, Marina mustered herself. Ethan smiled at the child's discipline, and refreshing politeness, but before he could question her further, she sprang several bombshells. "Jennifer is my mother, Ethan sir. Mr. Leung, he was supposed to be my new daddy, sent me here because no one else could take me.”
“My mother is dead, Ethan sir."
Reeling from the verbal fusillade, Ethan stood up, lost his footing, and quickly sat back down into a pool of grease. "I didn't know Jenn--that is, I didn't--she never told me that she had a daughter, you see--"
"That's why I'm here. Well, not just why I'm here, Ethan sir." Digging through a backpack too big for her, Ethan gasped despite himself as he recognized the bag as the same one Jenn toted around wherever she was. "This was my mother's 'Will' and something. Mr. Leung was supposed to take care of me, but he--" struggling with her words, Ethan moved to stop the girl from re-living what he knew she witnessed.
He didn't notice the tear streaking from his own faceas he wiped away Marina's.
Finally, she looked back up at him, eyes still red. "If you... don't want to take me in, I understand." Nodding in that determined and half-smiling way of hers, Ethan didn't doubt that she understood a lot more than what a child her age should have to. "But I have money, and I have mommy's 'Mech, Arrowclaw... Could you--could you ree-fit? it for me? I can pay, Ethan sir." She nodded again, despite the pain it was causing her to speak in that manner, she trudged on.
Ethan stood up, releasing the little girl from his embrace. He didn't remember doing that, embracing her, but the little girl took it as his answer and squinted her eyes slightly for a brief moment. The pain in her eyes disappeared in her gentle, and hauntingly knowing, gaze.
Muttering, I'm an idiot, in at least seven different languages, Ethan cleared his throat only to find that everyone was already paying attention to them.
His eyes almost red from barely checked tears. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Marina Avery."
The Recruit smiled, the torturously noisy garage went from grating to deafening silence in less than a minute. Glancing at the woman in Wolf's Dragoons' uniform to his left, a pretty redheaded Wolf's Dragoon at that, the news wasn't exactly as joyous for her as he thought it should be.
Nevertheless, following the lead of his two recruiters, he walked towards the strange man with grease stains on his pants and a small girl with the sharpest eyes and kindest brow he had ever seen. His two recruiters congratulated theyoung man, slapping him on the back and upside the head, and gently shakingthe hands of little Marina.
His grin grew wider.
The shorter one, Tomas wasn't it?, jerked a thumb back at him. "Hey Ethan, we got us a new recruit." Turning his attention to the little girl, Tomas or Tommy as this Ethan was referring to him, corrected himself and grinned back. "Well, uhh, a second new recruit."
Striding forward, the Recruit barely caught his surprise in time at the man's strange blue-green eyes. Locking hands in a friendly and strong grip, Rudy's grin broke as he realized whose hand he was shaking. "My name's Rudolph Saramachi, you must be Ethan Morimoto... Uhh, congratulations, sir."
Ethan smiled back, an easy smile, strange for a Kuritan to have. "No 'sirs' here, not unless there's a client around that is. Welcome aboard, Rudolph--"
"--Call me Rudy, then Ethan." Winking at the little girl. "Ethan, sir."
The little girl, Marina, beamed back with that endearing nod-smile of hers. "Rudy, sir, is that your Marauder?"