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“Your haste is unseemly in a samurai, little brother. Sit down and compose yourself.” Fuhito did as he was bid, taking several moments to control his breathing and assume a calm demeanor. Minobu sat motionless, his face betraying none of his desire to hear whatever news had sent his brother rushing across the estate toward him. In control of himself at last, Fuhito bowed to Minobu.

“Elder brother, I have received a letter from the Bureau of Administration. In two weeks, I am to leave to begin my service as a ‘Mech Warrior.” Fuhito's grin broke loose from his control, his joy too great to be contained. He searched his brother's face for approval, but his smile faltered when that approval was not immediately apparent. “I'm a fool, elder brother. Forgive me. In my pleasure at having a chance to prove myself, I've touched your own pain. You should be the one to receive the call to service.”

Looking down, Minobu's gaze fell on the ruined vase. He was distressed that his control was so poor that even his unsubtle little brother could see his inner turmoil. The long months of isolation here on Awano were taking a toll that increased daily. He seemed unable to regain the calm that he had always known as a ‘Mech Warrior. He willed the muscles of his face to relax. “My personal feelings are of no matter, though I am pleased you have this chance to prosper, my brother. You shall bring honor to our family. Katana Katis your 'Mech now.”

Fuhito rose abruptly. “No. I won't go. It should be you piloting the Panther.I shall insist on it.” He headed for the doorway, but jerked to a halt when Minobu called after him.

“Now you arebeing a fool. The 'Mech has been registered in your name for over a year. You have shown no reluctance to pilot it during your training sessions with me, and your progress has been duly recorded. Refusal at this point would only embarrass the family.”

“But I thought you would be getting the 'Mech back eventually. This whole thing is unfair. You are a great warrior, maybe even the best in the family since old Jackson Hayes forsook his African heritage and took the name Tetsuhara. I shouldn't have gotten Katana Katwhile you could still pilot it. You should be in the cockpit. You're not old, or crippled, or ... or ...”

“Dead? No, I am not dead. Nor am I any longer the master of the Kat.”Minobu rose and walked toward his brother. He put an arm around the younger man's shoulder and led him across the room. At the far end, they paused while Minobu slid open the panel that opened onto the veranda. Minobu looked out over the trees that separated his house from the main part of the estate. Beyond those trees were the family mansion, the retainers' barracks, and the training grounds. The Tetsuhara Pantherstood on the practice field, its head visible above the tops of the trees.

“There is your duty,” Minobu announced, pointing at the 'Mech. “You are the approved pilot of that BattleMech. It is to be your sword for battle, a samurai's soul. Do not darken its bright shine by foolish actions or ignoble deeds. Its sheen will reflect your honor as your honor will reflect that of our family. You now have a chance to wipe away any tarnish that my disgrace has placed on that honor. Sufficient restitution has been made. Your orders are proof of that, little brother. The Tetsuhara clan once again has the opportunity to bring honor to House Kurita.” Minobu paused and stepped away from his brother. “Where are you to go?”

Minobu had hoped his speech would help Fuhito grasp the realities of the situation. Fuhito's steady voice encouraged that hope, but the flat tone revealed his discouragement. “Benjamin District. The Seventeenth Regulars.”

“Not a Sword of Light Regiment, then.”

“I was not able to attend the Sun Zhang Academy like yourself, brother. I had no patron. They have little love for country-educated warriors in the Swords.”

“Sadly, it is as you say. A man's honor and devotion should count for more than his school. It was too much to expect that you would be called to my former position. Still, Warlord Yorioshi is a loyal man and well-versed in the code. The Seventeenth is his own regiment, and he is District Warlord. It is a good appointment. You can prosper there. Show yourself a loyal soldier and a valiant warrior, and you will yet make it to the Swords.”

Minobu watched his brother, who stood half-leaning against a post. Fuhito's head hung down, and he kicked at nonexistent pebbles on the oiled wood. Though in his twenties, he often acted as though he were still a headstrong child. Minobu felt that their father had shown weakness in allowing their mother to pamper and spoil Fuhito, her youngest son. It had left Fuhito with a fierce strength that could blaze up and often carry him through, but the fires had no reservoir of fuel, no constant source of strength. His skills and control were good enough that he would survive as a ‘Mech Warrior if he enjoyed the luck any soldier needed to last on the battlefield. Fuhito would never rise to command until he could find the inner strength, the calm that permitted action without thought or regret, decision without remorse. Before he could achieve that calm, he would have to accept his place in the universe.

“I have orders as well. I am to leave for an assignment in a week.”

Fuhito's head came up, eyes bright. “A command? A new 'Mech? One of the Grand Dragons,I'll bet.”

“Something other than that. I am to work with the Professional Soldiery Liaison.”

“Mercenaries!” Fuhito sputtered angrily. “They have set you to babysitting honorless curs. This is an insult.”

“It is not an insult. It is the order of Lord Kurita. He knows what is best for his realm,” Minobu said, his tone matter-of-fact. “We are samurai and must obey our lord's orders. It is our duty. You must remember that duty always comes before our own desires.”

“Just as it was the lord's will that you be relieved of your command.” Fuhito stepped from the veranda into the garden. He reached down, picked up a stone, and threw it at the distant trees. 'That your 'Mech be taken from you.” Another stone followed the first. “That you be confined to Awano for over a year.” A third stone. Fuhito turned to receive Minobu's answer.


“Then you agree with his treatment of you.”

“I did not say that I agree.” Minobu willed his voice calm. How could one agree with what one did not understand? “I accept it. I follow orders because I am samurai.”

“But ...”

“There are no 'buts' for a samurai. You will do well to remember this. You are now a Tetsuhara samurai, the pilot of the family's BattleMech. Look to your honor. It is more precious than anything else you possess.”

“What about your honor?” Fuhito protested, rubbing the back of his neck. “You have been here in disgrace for over a year. Then you get an assignment to work with hired soldiers, credit-hungry dogs with no concept of honor and no belief in the triumph of the Dragon. You are shamed.”

“I am ordered. I will do my duty.”

Minobu walked down the length of the veranda. With his back still to his brother, he said, “At least these mercenaries have warriors among them.”

Minobu turned around to find Fuhito watching him, puzzlement on his face.

“Karma can be strange, don't you think? I am to work with the unit that was my last opponent in battle.” When he saw that Fuhito did not understand the reference, he added, “Now that Lord Kurita has taken their contract, I am to be Chief Liaison to Wolf's Dragoons.”

“The Dragoons! They're the best fighters in the Inner Sphere,” Fuhito exclaimed. “If the reports from the other states are to be believed,” he added hastily. “And they're big, too. Some say they have more 'Mechs than all the Sword of Light Regiments combined. But you are only a Sho-sa.Wait.. .” He cocked his head and looked suspiciously at his brother.