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|A Fame Too Far|
A story of a young Solaris mechjock that got a shot of a lifetime.
Black Pit Combat Arena,
Outskirt of Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 9, 3055
Mechwarrior Kangpae climbed up his WSP-3M Wasp in anxiety. His failure in the last match on this blood pit still haunted him. Six meters above the ground, he dragged his skinny body into the small cockpit and sat uncomfortably. A familiar looking panels spread in front of him. The same cockpit that blew up last time, sending him flying some 30 meters above the ground and descending with a parachute. He remembered everybody laughed and booed at him as he reentered the garage on foot.
He powered up his mech, inspected every part of it. The mech was in nominal condition, though he could feel some unbalanced load in the refurbished engine. He opened up the comlink, and a much too familiar voice scrambled the cockpit, “OK Kangpae, are you ready?”
“Yeah, Sir! I am ready as hell!”
“Don’t get to cocky or you’ll end up eating dirt as two days ago!” his stable master croaked.
“I’ll make sure that won’t happen again!”
“Alright! An Urbanmech is waiting for you behind building number 2. It’s only a tractor, Kangpae. It has only 10 rounds of autocannon. Stay alive during its onslaught and you’ll be fine!”
“Alright, I’ll keep that in mind!”
Kangpae brought his Wasp to the door and gave the techs his thumb. The gate opened up, exposing his mech to the roaring arena. Kangpae pressed his feet on the pedal, and the light mech jumped forward, started running towards the small buildings on the center. He scanned the arena, a red dot appeared on his radar. It was an old-tech, ridiculously slow UM-60R Urbanmech. But it sported an Autocannon-10, and although only held 10 rounds of fire, it was enough to rip his mech apart. Just like the last time. And it was jump-capable.
Kangpae swung to right a little bit with full speed. The Urbanmech knew his presence, tilted its torso and walked out of the building. Kangpae twisted his torso towards the mech, slowed down a little bit, and readied his guns. As soon as the Urbanmech sprung out of the building, he showered it with a quick barrage of laser. A maroon stream of laser darted the much slower mech, melting armor on the torso. The Urbanmech retaliated by firing two rounds of depleted uranium shells. One was widely off his side, but one almost caught his leg. Shrapnel of soils blasted through the air as the shell exploded in the ground. Kangpae checked his heat track, his mech was starting to get hot. His cooling vest was totally soaked with his sweat. He swiped his dank face with his palm, then went back to his console. His focus was how to bring this slow mech down.
The Urbanmech used its jet to fly backward, hiding behind a building. Kangpae swung hard to the left, pressed the trigger and let loose his missiles. One missile slammed into the Urbanmech’s leg while it was still on the air. The spectators roared as Kangpae almost jumped up of his seat, realizing that he got the upper hand. But the slow mech descended from the sky, taking cover behind the first building. Kangpae growled in disappointment, sweat ran down his cheek like creeks. He slowed down his mech, circling the buildings slowly. The Urbanmech was waiting for him to spring up from the building, and was ready to blast him as soon as it got a good lock.
Kangpae could read that strategy, so he opted to turn left, got behind another building and waited. The Urbanmech pivoted, then went to the other direction. Kangpae waited for some moment, then blasted his jets. His Wasp jumped to the front, capturing the Urbanmech in a total shock. He pressed the trigger and a blend of laser and missiles streaked through the air, ripping the Urbanmech’s torso open. Bubbling armor dripped to the ground like blood, and the internal structure was set on fire. The Urbanmech tried vainly to get a lock on him, but the Wasp is just too quick for it.
“YESSS! YESSS!” Kangpae screamed from the top of his lung. Several more blasts would definitely put and end to the blazing Urbanmech. He was overwhelmed by confidence. He swung hard to the right, got behind a building, pivoted 180 degree, sprung forward and blasted the last position of the Urbanmech with laser and missile. Heat became dangerously high, but he didn’t care. But then he realized that the Urbanmech was not there. His brutal attack only created holes on the building. He quickly scanned the area, and caught the Urbanmech on the top of the building, pointing the autocannon at him. The next thing he remembered was a series of rocking explosions around his mech, then he was thrown out by jets on his seat. He descended from the sky in parachutes, looking at the burning hulk of what remains from his mech. He could only sigh and smack his helmet in regret. Clearing the seat, he started the long walk to the mech bay in an echoing mock.
His stable master gave him a disappointed look as Kangpae enters the mech bay. “I told you not to be to cocky! You are in the brink of victory, for Kerensky’s sake! And that Wasp’s gonna need 300,000 cbills to refurbish! Combined with the matching fee, you cost us almost a million in the last three weeks! I think I’ve done enough with you…”
“No, no, no, please Sir,” Kangpae pleaded like a child. “One more match, and I promise I’ll bring some money in!”
“That’s what you told me last week!” the stable master grumbled. “You know what, Kangpae? Maybe you’re better off being a real soldier. There’s war all over Clan border, and you can join one of the factions easily. Some snippets I heard in the bar mentioned about copious payment.”
“Please Sir, Solaris is where I belong,” Kangpae whined. “This time I mean it, Sir! I won’t fail you again!”
The manager stared at the stout mechwarrior, examining him meticulously from head to toe. “Alright, get back here in three days. I’ll figure out something.”
“My God, thank you, Sir!” Kangpae kissed the back of his hand, then walked outside the room.
Thor’s Shieldhall Tavern,
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 10, 3055
The tavern was at its usual self, crowded with mechwarriors bragging their brilliant tactics and “pinball machines”, while hopefuls and losers sat quietly, listening spitefully to the story. The fact that the braggarts hung out in Thor’s Shieldhall and not Valhalla Club was a proof of their mediocrity, but they talked as if they belonged to the elites. Of course, only bartenders and waitresses listened to them and fibbed interest, because these kinds of mechwarriors were good tippers.
Kangpae was among the spiteful losers. He sat alone in the corner drinking gin, hoping to flush the memory of his last battle with alcohol. He was a Solaris native, born and raised with one goal in mind: to be a Solaris grand champion. But since he became a professional mechathlete 5 years ago, he was stuck in “blood pits”. He didn’t seem to be able to reach his dreams. He was actually a good fighter and he won some respectable fights. But he tended to be overconfident, and with every win came a crushing loss that dropped him back to where he was just before his victory.
“Hi sweetie!” one of the waitress greeted him. “Yumi told me you’re here. I saw your fight at the Black Pit. I’m sorry it didn’t work out. But we all cheered for you.”
“I got so close to winning,” Kangpae ranted. “That Urbanmech was a damn knievel. If he didn’t use dishonorable tactic, I would’ve won 10,000 c-bills as bonus. Instead, my Wasp needed 300,000 c-bills.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get there someday,” Emi smiled. “Hey listen, my shift is almost over. Just wait here for an hour, then we can go home together. I can give you a special treatment you like so much, so you can get over the fight. How’s that sound?”
Kangpae looked at his girlfriend Emi. He felt lucky to have her on his side. Emi always believed in him. He didn’t know how he could get a sweet, kind-hearted girl like her, despite his insanely bad luck in Solaris arenas. As a waitress, she was hit by countless mechwarriors, some had better luck and more money than Kangpae. Emi’s co-workers encouraged her to forget Kangpae and just picked one of the mechwarriors. But she stuck with him.
“Sounds great!” Kangpae smiled. “I’ll be here.”
Solaris Terrace Apartment,
Dark Hill, Solaris VII,
April 23, 3055
The annoying sound of the comlink finally awakened Kangpae. He glanced at the clock, which still showed 3:15 in the morning. He cursed and put the pillow on his face, trying to muffle the sound, but it was too loud. Lazily he got up from his bed and walked to grab the phone. He pressed the receive button and spoke rather curtly, “Kangpae here. What do you want?”
“Kangpae, I have good news for you,” his stable master croaked. “One of the medium-weight quarter-finalists, Gus Polliard, was injured in his last fight. The fight is tomorrow, and they’re looking for a “seat-filler”. I put in your name, and they picked you to substitute Polliard.”
“What? What? Seriously?” Kangpae could not believe what he just heard. “A ‘seat-filler’ job in medium-weight quarterfinal? You kidding me, right?”
“You wanna argue with me?” the stable master yelled. “It’s early in the morning, Kangpae! If you don’t want this job, I’ll give it to somebody else!”
“No, no, I’ll do it!” Kangpae quickly said. “What do I need to do?”
“I just bought a medium mech from a junkyard. It’s not pretty, but it can do serious damage if you play it right. So come down here and we’ll talk about the specs. Then you can start practicing.”
“I’ll be right there! Thank you so much!” Kangpae turned off the comlink and jumped to bed, shaking Emi who was still asleep. “Emi! Get up! I get to be in the medium-weight quarterfinal! One of the aces is injured, so they picked me! I’m gonna be in Marik Tower in Montenegro!”
“What?” Emi replied. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Why not?” Kangpae put on his clothes. “This is my big break! I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was little! If I win this and the semifinal, I’ll be fighting the best of the best in medium circuit! I’ll be in the Colliseum!”
“I’m not trying to hold you back, but maybe you need to slow down a little,” Emi said. “You haven’t fought in the medium class. You have to practice a lot. I’m worried about you.”
“One day is enough,” Kangpae put on his shoes. “This is it, I can feel it! Watch me on the TV tomorrow. I promise you I’ll give you the best fight I’ve ever fought!”
“But Kangpae,” Emi tried to protest.
“Wish me luck!” Kangpae cut her off and kissed her cheek before running out of the apartment.
Dark Horse Stable,
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 23, 3055
Kangpae stood in front of the mech his stable master just bought from a junkyard. It was an unconventional mech, with bulky torso, fat arms, and big feet. A big cannon nested at each arm, and a 5-pack missile launcher sat at its left torso. Kangpae had never seen such a mech before. It was in a rather bad condition, but it looked like it could do some serious damage.
“This is an OD-209E Outbound,” his stable master explained. “It’s a 55-ton custom mech based on a Hoplite. It is created just to compete in Solaris arena. It has 2 ultra-autocannon 5 and one LRM5, enough to shred most armor in the medium class in seconds. Ten tons of armor will protect you long enough to return fire and destroy your enemy. You don’t have to worry about heat, and mostly you don’t have to worry about ammunition because the fight will be over before you run out of ammo. However, the Outbound is a slow coach. It runs only 64 kph, slow for a medium mech. So you have to change your fighting style.”
“I’ll figure it out,” Kangpae replied. “Once again, thank you for staying with me. I swear you will not be disappointed.”
“Don’t let me down Kangpae,” the stable master said, then turned on the simulator. “The tech had calibrated the simulator with the data from the Outbound. You have only 1 day, Kangpae. Do this right!”
“Yes Sir!” Kangpae nodded enthusiastically, then hoped into the simulator.
Marik Tower, Montenegro,
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 24, 3055
The spectator at the factory arena, and Kangpae straps himself on the seat. The Outbound made a coughing whirring sound as it started up. He could feel a slight imbalance on the mech’s gait as it walked through the gate, but he ignored it. It was the biggest machine he ever piloted in the biggest game he ever played.
“How are you feeling today?” his stable master spoke through the microphone.
“I am ready, Sir!”
“Remember, you’re in the same game with Alex Haight, Crunch Taylor, Aida O’Henry and Anita Muscatelli. Aida is a hitwoman. Stay away from her crosshair. Use the terrain to hide, then return fire when she recycles. Do the circle of death. The same goes with anybody else.”
“I’ll remember it,” Kangpae replied.
Kangpae waited on a corner of the huge factory arena until the klaxon blarred, sounding the start of the quarterfinal. He was inside the arena as the lowest underdog, along with 4 aces. He pushed the throttle and the Outbound started to run toward the center.
A minute later, a Crab came from his right flank. Kangpae swung to his right and fired a missile salvo to the charging Crab. His attack went wide. The Crab returned fire, sending multiple barrages of laser to the Outbound. One large laser hit him on the right torso, melting a ton of armor. The Outbound swayed to cope with the loss of balance, but Kangpae pressed his joysticks hard to the left. His mech swerved on the tip of its feet then twisted right. He was thrown to the left, his head hit the canopy.
“Damn!” he cursed as he fired his twin UAC5, but only three rounds connected to the center torso of the Crab. Suddenly a green Wolverine burst from behind a rubble pile and fired its entire arsenal at the Crab. Three laser streams struck the Crab in the crotch, melting armor and burning some myomer bundles. It staggered, then swung right and tottered behind a concrete panel. Kangpae slowed down a little and veered to the left to face the Wolverine, but it ignored him and continued its onslaught on the Crab.
Kangpae didn’t know why the pilot, Crunch Taylor, didn’t pay attention to him. Maybe Taylor thought that Kangpae couldn’t possibly hurt him, being a mediocre mechwarrior who had never fought in a medium class. Kangpae saw an opportunity to score big, so he followed the Wolverine as it pounded the Crab. The two exchanged fire, but in the end, the Crab overheated. As it shut down, Crunch Taylor hit his alpha strike, assaulting the hapless Crab like a punching bag. Hot molten armor sprayed like sweat and blood. The chest was ripped open, the engine was exposed to air. Black smoke billowed from its back, and one missile salvo from the Wolverine destroyed its engine. With a blinding explosion the Crab disintegrated.
Kangpae quickly scanned the Wolverine. The fight with the Crab had damaged its armor on its left torso. So when the Wolverine turned around to face him, Kangpae let loose a stream of UAC 5 straight to the damaged armor. His cannon rounds ripped open the Wolverine’s structure, exposing the engine shield. The missile launcher burst, sending tons of hot slugs to tear the casing, then exploded and took away everything near it. Kangpae felt a tremendous amount of shock, but he pressed on his attack.
The Wolverine jerked behind, its back slammed into a concrete pillar. Its left torso was gone. Warning signs flashed crazily. A swooshing sound followed coolant stream as Crunch Taylor flushed the cooling system to keep his mech operational. Kangpae fired his missile at point-blank range. Several consecutive explosions rocked the Wolverine back and forth. It lost balance, swaying madly as if it was about to fall. Crunch Taylor tried madly to regain balance, taking several steps backward, away from the Outbound. Kangpae could not believe his eyes. Quickly he pulled up the joysticks as hard as he could. He set his crosshair to the tottering Wolverine, and unleashed his UAC 5. A rattling sound followed the cannon rounds streaking through the air, incinerating the exposed engine and internal structure of the Wolverine. In a second, Kangpae watched the hulk slammed into a concrete pile behind it, engulfed in a flame, and Crunch Taylor ejected and flew to the sky, then descended to the ground several dozen meters away, in a parachute.
“Holy crap! I smoked Crunch Taylor!” he screamed in joy, then realized that more were still fighting. He brought his mech to other part of the arena where Aida O’Henry and Alex Haight were hammering each other. Aida, in a yellow Hunchback, blasted Alex’s right torso with her AC20. The massive gun ripped Alex’s torso and sheared his right arm. Alex returned fire with his Shadow Hawk’s missiles. The missiles blasted a hole in the Hunchback’s right torso. Multiple laser bolts struck the right torso, melting armor and burning structures. Flaming body parts and molten armor were sent away, the torso was ripped apart. The Hunchback reeled, but was still alive.
Wasting no time, Kangpae lined up his crosshair with the flaming Huchback and fired his autocannons. His attack was right on target. Three consecutive internal explosions, followed by one huge fireball, set the Hunchback ablaze. Kangpae watched in excitement as Aida O’Henry was thrown out by the ejecting mechanism.
“Hey! That’s my kill, you sonofabitch!” Alex yelled. But Kangpae quickly turned 90 degrees, just as Alex fired off his missiles and lasers. Two laser bolts stroke Kangpae’s left leg, but not powerful enough to reach the internal structure. Kangpae punched the alpha strike button at the flaming hulk. The UAC round tore the left torso apart, creating a massive shock throughout the 55-ton mech. Chunks of armor were thrown in every direction as the missiles harassed the cracks. Alex Haight was hurt badly from the fight with Aida, and his mech could no longer sustain the attack. The internal structure collapsed, and the Shadow Hawk slid down, torso was wide open and fire started to spread in the internal section. Sparks and gear fluid spurted uncontrollably from the wound. One second later it erupted in a huge fireball.
There was still one mech left to fight, a heavily modified Phoenix Hawk owned by Anita Muscatelli. Although Kangpae’s Outbound outweighed the Phoenix Hawk by 10 tons, Kangpae knew he couldn’t underestimate the pilot. He pushed his throttle to maximum and brought his mech running toward the center. Anita was already there, firing her PPC like an artillery turret. Kangpae ducked, missing the PPC bolts above his head, then fired his weapons as soon as he got in range. The poorly aimed shots missed the Phoenix Hawk, but three missiles slammed into its midst. The Phoenix Hawk staggered, then returned fire. A PPC bolt hit the Outbound on the center. Kangpae gritted his teeth as his mech shook.
Aligning with the Phoenix Hawk, Kangpae mashed the trigger. This time he scored some critical hit at the Phoenix Hawk’s right arm. Sparks burst from the wound. Kangpae held his trigger, letting his UAC 5 bark again and again. Another shot from the Phoenix Hawk threw off his crosshair, but he quickly lined up with the 45-ton mech and hit it with his alpha strike. Fire engulfed the Phoenix Hawk as Kangpae’s shots drilled into the internal structure. It managed to stay erect, but Kangpae’s missiles finally brought it to its knees. Two hits on the chest cut off the power line. The Phoenix Hawk toppled backward, and Anita Muscatelli ejected.
Kangpae couldn’t even begin to comprehend when the klaxon blarred again, honoring his victory. His first time fighting in the medium-weight class turned into a sterling performance, one of the biggest upsets in Solaris medium-class history. Kangpae brought his mech into the hangar and reporters already swamped the hangar. He, a nifty seat-filler, had overturned everybody’s expectation and made it to medium-class semifinal. He smiled, knowing that his dream was withing his arm’s reach.
Thor’s Shieldhall Tavern,
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 30, 3055
Everything in Thor’s Shieldhall was different since Kangpae won the medium quarterfinal. Everybody greeted him with warm smile and friendly handshake. Everywhere he went, fans followed him for his signature. He lived in a dream world where every person he met knew him.
This sudden burst of fame made Kangpae felt like a god. He stayed up late and partied, drinking and smoking until he couldn’t take it anymore. He did interviews with magazines, TVs, newspapers, and other media. When confronted by Alex Haight that he used dishonorable method to win, Kangpae thrashed Alex, saying that he needed to learn some new tricks from younger players.
His behavior ultimately strained his relationship with Emi.
“I think you should tone down your lifestyle a little,” Emi said. “You still have the semifinal in front of you, and the challenge will only get tougher. Why don’t you save the interviews and the parties until you win the final. You don’t want your focus to be distracted by these glamorous lifestyle.”
“Why can’t you just be happy?” Kangpae replied. “This is what I’ve been waiting for, and I think I earn a little more celebration and a little more respect, especially from you.”
“I am happy for you,” Emi rebuked. “It’s just you still have a long road. Your contenders in the semifinal will be 5 times better than in the quarterfinal. You need a lot more practice.”
“I have a mechanism, and as long as I can keep it running, I’ll be fine,” Kangpae responded. “Besides, what do you know about fighting? You’ve never been there. Leave the fighting to me.”
“You’re a jerk!” Emi stood and left Kangpae. Kangpae tried to stop her, but a girl suddenly appeared. She wore a long dress with a high cutout that showed most of her tight legs. Her blond hair fell on her naked shoulder, and her earrings sparkled as she shook her head, smiling in mockery.
“My my my,” she said in her sultry voice. “The hottest mechwarrior in Solaris is a girl’s slave.”
“Have we met before?” Kangpae asked.
“You meet me now,” she sat next to him. “My name is Del. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and I know when I look at a legend. You have the same spark as Kai Allard Liao.”
“You met Kai?” Kangpae asked. “The greatest mechwarrior in the Inner Sphere since Natasha Kerensky?”
“Met him, dated him, had dinner with him,” Del smiled. “He’s such a gentleman. And you remind me of him. Which brings me to my question: why are you hanging out here, in Thor’s Shieldhall? A champion like you belongs in Valhalla Club where legends hang out. Thor’s Shieldhall is only for “timeys” and losers.”
“Hey, you’re right!” Kangpae exclaimed. “I do belong in Valhalla Club! Do you have a pass?”
“You don’t need a pass,” Del winked. “You just show yourself, state who you are, and they’ll let you in.”
“Sounds good!” Kangpae got up, but then remembered something. “What about Emi? Can I bring her?”
“Valhalla Club is the place for the highest-class socialites,” Del scoffed. “You’ll be hanging out with Srin Odessa, Bob Yearly, or Michael Rose alike. Do you want them to see you with a waitress that works at Thor’s Shieldhall? Remember, in Valhalla Club, image is everything.”
Kangpae looked at Emi who was serving beer to some other mechwarriors. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m a hotshot. So I guess you can be my guest of honor, then.”
“With utmost pleasure,” Del wrapped her arms around Kangpae. As they got up to leave the bar, Emi looked at the two with raging jealousy on her eyes. But Kangpae didn’t notice. He was enjoying himself and the reputation he got from his last match, although he felt a bit guilty he left Emi.
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
April 30, 3055
The ambient music in the club was very entertaining. Kangpae couldn’t believe he was at the most famous club in Solaris. The atmosphere was different than Thor’s Shieldhall. None of the socialites talked about how great they were in battle with raised voice, so people around them could hear. They talked in private, smiling and nodding at each other’s comment. It was hard to imagine that they were gladiators that tried to kill each other on the arenas.
Del ordered two glass of champagne and brought Kangpae to two gentlemen engaging in a serious talk. One of them was a tall man with grey hair, the other one was a medium-built man with tan complexion. They shot a quick look at Del, and somehow Kangpae felt repulsion from these two guys when he and Del came closer.
“Pete, Duncan,” Del smiled. “It’s been a long time. I’d like you to meet Kangpae, the newest hotshot.”
Kangpae immediately recognized the two gentlemen. “Peter Dexter, the Grey Wolf! It’s an honor to meet you, Sir! And Duncan Fisher, I presume. I can’t believe I meet you guys!”
“Lucky for you Alex Haight is not here tonight,” Peter replied, shooting a smile of superiority. “He’ll chomp your ass because of what you did to him.”
“Guys, I thought we were not talking about the game here,” Del quickly responded to Peter’s slur before Kangpae could reply. “Let’s get civilized.”
“And where’s your civilized friend you brought here last time, Del?” Duncan retorted. “You left him at Thor’s Shieldhall, after he got mauled by Gus Polliard?”
“What?” Kangpae said. “What does that suppose to mean? Look, Duncan, just because you’re a big-time player doesn’t give you the right to insult my girlfriend!”
“Girlfriend?” Peter chuckled. “Take my advice, Kangpae. You’re young, you’re confused by the sudden change in your life, and you’re biting something that you can’t chew. Use your head and take it slow. You’ll see things more clearly when you’re not speeding.”
“You’re just jealous,” Kangpae blurted. “You feel threatened by my presence. Well, keep your eyes open, ‘timeys’, because I’m going to rip you on the field, just like I ripped Alex Haight, Crunch Taylor, Aida O’Henry, and Anita Muscatelli. Come on, Del. We’re leaving.”
Kangpae grabbed Del’s arm and heaved it out of Valhalla Club. His heart pounded on his ears. “Arrogant old men!” he grunted. “They think they’re so slick! I’m gonna crush them next time I see them in the arena!”
“That’s the sweetest thing anybody has ever done for me,” Del replied. “You defended my dignity in front of those arrogant jerks. Thanks, Kangpae. I owe you big time.”
Before Kangpae could reply, Del wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. The anger, the alcohol, and Del’s sweet lips made Kangpae forget about his life. He grabbed Del’s body and kissed her back. They spent several minutes kissing passionately until they were out of breath.
“Let’s finish this at your place,” Del whispered seductively.
“Good idea,” Kangpae had totally lost control of himself.
Silesia, Solaris VII,
May 14, 3055
Kangpae could hear the cheering people indistinctly as he drove his Outbound to the open field of the Colliseum. They had been waiting for the action. Eight mechs had entered the arena, ready to blast each other off. The coliseum was littered by countless mech parts, and at one corner Kangpae saw the head of an Atlas, grinning at him menacingly. It was the first semifinal of medium-weight class. Only two of the contenders would go to the medium-weight final. Kangpae learnt that he was in the same pit with Marcus Wilder, Peter Dexter, Ellie Niels, and Duncan Fisher, along with some other unrecognized aces.
The klaxon blasted, and Kangpae floored the pedal. From his radar Kangpae saw a red Griffin sprinting toward him. He knew it was Peter Dexter. Kangpae swung to the right, charging the Griffin, while still keeping crisscrossing. The Grey Wolf twisted his torso and showered the Outbound with missiles. Kangpae slammed the joysticks to the right, avoiding the salvo. The missiles went wild, but two missiles stroke his shoulder, raking armor and dangerously threatened the joints. Kangpae smelled burning armor, he winced and fired his autocannon. Two rounds cracked the armor on the Griffin’s left torso. Kangpae was pumped up by his marksmanship, but three consecutive blasts rocked his mech back and forth. Kangpae turned around and saw Ellie Niel’s Dervish changed course to its right. Kangpae put his crosshair squarely at the Dervish’s torso, but Peter Dexter blasted his PPC from behind. Shrapnel of armor flew everywhere as the Outbound staggered. Three laser bolts from Duncan’s Enforcer followed up the PPC, spearing the Outbound right on the chest. Within 15 seconds of the fight, Kangpae had lost 40 percent of armor.
Sweat beaded on Kangpae’s brow, seeing yet another mech coming in his direction. He realized that his outburst at Peter and Duncan the other day might trigger them to ‘teach him a lesson’. Now Marcus Wilder joined the fray, sacking three autocannon rounds from his Centurion. Kangpae yelled as he was rocked aside. The impact caused his right arm to jam; the last round speared through the structure and cut off several bundles of myomer. He twisted his torso, put Ellie’s Dervish in his targeting reticule and blasted off all his weapons. All of them went wild. Peter Dexter once again scored a PPC hit. Molten armor sprayed all over the place. Duncan and Marcus fired in unison, vaporizing his left arm. The Outbound staggered from the loss of armor and gyros. Warning sign scrambled into the cockpit, screaming critical hits. Kangpae groaned and desperately fired his missiles at Duncan. The missiles shattered the Enforcer’s torso, but failed to do damage.
The Griffin, Dervish, and Centurion fired in unison, all connect to his chest. Blinding flash forced Kangpae to cover his eyes with his hands. Chunks of burning molten armor sprayed from his chest. Sparks spurt from cut cables. His eyes were blurred, he couldn’t see what was going on in front of him. Then suddenly, a powerful force catapulted him out of his mech. The next thing he knew, he was floating in the air in a parachute, watching his Outbound crashed and burnt under the onslaught of four enemy aces. As the Griffin, Dervish, Enforcer, and Centurion turned to each other, a MASH unit came and retrieved Kangpae from the arena.
Thor’s Shieldhall Tavern,
Solaris City, Solaris VII,
May 19, 3055
Once again, Kangpae found himself sitting at the corner of Thor’s Shieldhall, listening to braggarts telling tales about how great they were in combats. He knew they were telling lies. He had been in the best and worst parts of Solaris arena, and he knew the real story behind Solaris better than anybody in the bar.
After the semifinal fiasco, nobody recognized him anymore. He was back at where he was before he aced the quarterfinal. Worse, his stable master fired him because he lost money on the mech and on the gambling table. That left Kangpae with a wrecked Outbound, a mech no technicians would fix because it was unorthodox. Kangpae tried to call Del, see if she knew somebody that could help him, but she disappeared. Last time he saw her with another lucky mechwarrior before she brought him to Valhalla Club. He learnt that Del was nothing more than a mechbunny. She never met Kai Allard Liao. She was not in mechwarrior business. All she did was to hang out with mayflies so she could go into Valhalla Club. Mayflies just like Kangpae.
Emi came to the next table to serve beer, and Kangpae snatched the opportunity to call her. “Emi, I know I’ve been a jerk lately. I know I hurt your feeling. But now I realize that Del is just a mirage. You’re what’s real, and you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. Please, Emi, let’s talk about our future.”
Emi shot a sorrow but firm stare at Kangpae. “There’s nothing left to talk, Kangpae. I don’t want to be a rebound girl. I stuck with you through the lowest points in your life, but you left me when you were in the better position. You don’t hurt me because you slept with another girl. You hurt me because you were ashamed to go out with me. You’ll always see me as a waitress.”
“Emi, you know it’s not true…”
“It’s over, Kangpae,” Emi walked to the counter. “Now what can I serve you?”
That was it. Kangpae knew he had lost everything. He had nothing left in Solaris. So he got up, put some c-bills on the table, and walked mindlessly out of the bar. Something at the door caught his interest. It was a flier with a horned skull stamped on it. He curled his lips when he read the flier:
Join Hanson’s Roughriders and we’ll take you to worlds where your fame and money awaits!