Изменить стиль страницы

Minobu identified it as an Archer,a seventy-ton machine. The 'Mech's bold blue and gold paint scheme was marred by scorch marks, and large portions were too blackened to reveal any identifiable unit or rank markings. The Archer'sarmor was torn and breached in places and one arm hung limply, half-ripped from the moorings beneath the massive missile launcher on the 'Mech's shoulder. The giant machine had certainly paid for its victory.

Tactical doctrine usually called for Archersto serve as heavy fire-support vehicles, but this one seemed to have been operating alone. Minobu wondered it its pilot had been out hunting other 'Mechs and the glory of a combat duel.

The Hussars had caught the Archerhere in the open plain of the valley, where they could operate to best advantage. They had no doubt expected an easy kill. The ‘Mech Warrior must have surprised them, proving too much for the tanks, even though he was badly outnumbered. Such a warrior would be a redoubtable opponent.

“Skirmish wedge,” Minobu ordered as he took his Pantherover the top and headed down into the valley at speed. Well-drilled ‘MechWarriors, his men in their Panthersclosed up the flanks and followed him. Safe in the slot of the wedge, the poorly armed Ostscoutfollowed behind, watching out for danger to its advancing fellows. The 'Mech was too valuable to risk in actual combat.

Minobu was 200 meters ahead of his lancemates when he came onto the smoother floor of the valley. Though his target was well within the theoretical range of his Lord's Light PPC, he knew the targeting system's limitations too well. It was an irony of thirty-first century warfare that incredibly powerful weapons were used at ranges that warriors of a millennium ago would have considered ludicrously short. Targeting circuitry was among the technologies lost to almost three hundred years of warfare among the five Great Houses of the Successor States.

Ahead of him, Minobu could see the Archerstir. It began to turn toward him, then it slumped. Well within range for accurate fire, the Combine 'Mechs moved closer, but the Archerdid not react.

“Gibbs, scan report,” Minobu ordered over the taccomm. “Is it a trick?”

“I don't think so, Tai-i,”the Ostscoutpilot replied. “I think he just shut down.” Gibbs sounded surprised. Certainly, Minobu was. He called up an infrared scan on his screen. The enemy 'Mech glowed with waste heat.

Minobu slowed his own 'Mech and ordered the lance to halt.

“Damn your fool code to the Buddhist hells!” ‘Mech-Warrior Jerry Akuma's voice snarled across the comm frequency. “He's easy meat, Tai-i.”

“Pass my position or fire, Akuma, and it will be you who is meat,” Minobu snapped. He had half-expected such an outburst from his lance second, but was disappointed to get it.

Inside his cockpit, transmitter off, Akuma cursed. The icy calm of Minobu's voice made his threat all too real for the charging ‘MechWarrior. The Tai-i'ssense of honor had been touched by this battered hulk and its pilot. Akuma withdrew his finger from the firing stud and brought his 'Mech to a halt. “That is a teki, Tai-i.An enemy to whom we must show no mercy. It's a heavy BattleMech, which, in its weakness, we can destroy for no cost.”

“No cost? You dishonor your ancestors. That pilot is a warrior, but his 'Mech will not respond to his commands. Bushidodemands that we allow him his weakness now so that he can fight and die as a warrior at a later time. We will leave this valley now.”

“Leave?” Akuma's voice rose higher. “You're turning your back on an enemy. You are ...”

“Are you questioning my command, ‘MechWarrior Akuma?” Minobu cut in.

Akuma knew the others in the lance were listening carefully over taccomm. All knew that to defy a commander's orders meant death. The lickspittle milksops he had for lancemates would back Tetsuhara, even in the face of his own more practical advice. Seeing the hatch over Kemsai's missile launcher already open, Akuma decided that capitulation did not mean defeat.

“No, Tai-iTetsuhara. I do not question your command. I die at your command.” The formal phrases came out smoothly. Akuma switched off his transmitter. “Your authority, no. Your sanity, yes. Your precious bushidocode was dead before man left old Terra. It has no place here. This is real life, and we are at war.

“I shall remember this. You have shamed me once too often.”

Minobu watched Akuma's Pantherfor any further reactions. He had long known of the ignorant Akuma's low opinion of the code, and had expected complaints and derision once the battle was over. He had not expected Akuma to come so close to disobeying an order, even though that order had its basis in the code. Still, the ‘MechWarrior had finally bowed to Minobu's authority. The crisis point was passed, and Akuma's blood would cool.

Turning his 'Mech back toward the Archer,Minobu keyed on his external speakers. The enemy 'Mech's pilot had popped his hatch and was standing on the seat, visible from the waist up. A bulky neurohelmet hid his features.

“Warrior,” Minobu said. “I, Minobu Tetsuhara, Tai-iin command of Reconnaissance Company Gold of the Second Sword of Light Regiment, samurai of House Kurita, and soldier of the Draconis Combine, honor your prowess and your courage. We shall not kill you now. Return to your forces, if you can. Die in battle as a true warrior.”

With that, Minobu turned and led his lance from the valley.




Tetsuhara Family Estate, Awano

Benjamin Military District, Draconis Combine

9 March 3023


Light from Awano's sun sparkled off the metal, dazzling his vision. Minobu squinted, but the glare still brought tears to his eyes and blurred his sight. He could not allow this to distract him because precision was of utmost importance now. If he missed his mark, it would be disaster. He waited. His vision cleared only minimally, but he was calm. The time had come. Between the beats of his heart, his hand descended. It was steady. “Brother!”

The unexpected shout from the glade near the house broke his concentration. Minobu bit his lip as the paintbrush slid over the surface of the vase, marring hours of patient work and spattering gold flecks on the dark skin of his hand. He had not achieved mugatoday. Again. Not since the disastrous fighting on Dromini VI had he been able to truly reach the state of “mind and deed as one.”

Once House Steiner had sprung its trap and unleashed its Regulars to join the mercenary Wolf's Dragoons, they had devastated the Draconis Combine forces attempting the relief of Dromini. The Combine troops had held the planet, but at the cost of severe casualities among the Combine troops. A month after the debacle, Minobu had been relieved of his command and stripped of his BattleMech. Those orders had come without explanation and from the highest source, the Coordinator's office. They were signed by the Coordinator himself, Takashi Kurita, ruler of the Draconis Combine. A promotion had accompanied the new orders, but Minobu still felt shamed, haunted by the thought that he had betrayed the ideal, that he had not lived up to the code of bushido.It was this worry and concern that barred him from muga.

Before Dromini, so small a thing as a shout would never have affected his brush stroke. He put the vase down. It was ruined on the surface, yet it might still serve, as would he. Decoration aside, the vase was still what it was, sturdy and strong. As he must be.

“Brother!” Minobu was still tidying his work area when Fuhito, panting from his run through the thin air of the plateau, burst into the room. The grin that split his face told Minobu that this interruption was, at least, because of good news.