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.Now she has the Bloodname and she walks by without speaking.I hope she is in one of the 'Mechs at the Trial so that I can destroy her."Aidan's thoughts were less aggressive and his hope was not in any way related to Marthe in a BattleMech."If it is all right with you, Star Captain," he said, "I would like to plan to dispose of all our adversaries quickly.""Any reason for that?""Yes.The Grand Melee for the House Pryde Bloodname commences the next day.Without a warrior to sponsor me, it is my only path to the Bloodname."Joanna sighed and gave Aidan a rare smile."At this moment, I do not know who is more lunatic, you or Ter Roshak.On second thought, maybe I am the crazy one here."28Nine BattleMechs came over the crest of a wide hill together, rising into the sky like rockets in some kind of slow-motion launch."Nine little BattleMechs tempting cruel fate," Aidan whispered to Joanna over the commlink."One got religion, and then there were eight.""What in the name of Kerensky are you talking about?""Something I picked up somewhere, listening to a child's game, I think.Eight little BattleMechs reaching up to heaven, one fell to hell and then there were seven.""Doggerel.Do not give me doggerel now, Aidan.""All right," he said, "let us do it as we planned.Let us move out.""What about Ter Roshak?""Since he has carefully disabled all his communications systems, he will just have to follow us, or not."Slowly, they began moving toward their nine opponents."Nine little BattleMechs.," Aidan muttered to himself, softly so that Joanna would not hear.Although Joanna had been reluctant to break with Clan trial traditions, Aidan had persuaded her that their only chance lay in the unexpected.As they lumbered forward, he in his favorite 'Mech type, a Summoner, she in a Mad Dog, Aidan was astonished by the array of heavy 'Mechs against them.Ahead he saw a Dire Wolf, a pair of Warhawks, an Executioner, a Mad Dog, and a Gargoyle.As some of these 'Mech types were not typical of Jade Falcon forces, they must have been shipped in just for this battle or else were part of the Ironhold refresher training courses.The other three BattleMechs were another Summoner and two lighter 'Mechs, a Stormcrow and an Ice Ferret.Aidan had considered going out in a lighter 'Mech, but he did not want to give up that much firepower.He had changed his Summoner's, primary weapons configuration, removing the right-arm PPC in order to increase the size of his shoulder-mounted LRM rack and also mount a Streak class short-range missile-launching system.But this also precluded his mounting an anti-missile system, something he liked to have regardless of his 'Mech's configuration."All right, Joanna, remember the drill?""Of course.Which one first?""The Stormcrow seems to be moving out ahead of the pack.All right?""I am with you."Aidan and Joanna had realized that the odds in a Trial of Refusal were formidable in terms of firepower and maneuverability.It was one thing to go up against other 'Mechs one at a time, but when a line of them came at a warrior all firing at once, the target could not know where to direct fire.It was worse, in fact, than a Grand Melee, in which every 'Mech was on the same footing, the opponent of every other 'Mech on the field, all going for the same goal, the odds the same for every combatant.In a Trial of Refusal, the adversaries were all concentrated against the challenger, with not a single one of their shots intended for one another.The odds for the lone warrior were, therefore, actually better in the Grand Melee than in this Trial.Treating each opponent as if he were the only enemy of the moment allowed for less waste and more possibility.No matter how much Aidan ran the numbers through his mind or a computer, however, there seemed no way he and Joanna could win, especially with Ter Roshak out on his own instead of working with them.He and Joanna had nevertheless agreed to start with a plan and stick to it, unless unexpected tactics from the other side forced improvisation.Both Aidan and Joanna targeted the Stormcrow.Sixty fiery arrows leapt from the shoulders of their 'Mechs and streaked toward the 'Mech.The pilot did not expect such a deluge of missile fire and seemed to have frozen into inaction at the sight.Most of the missiles impacted on the Stormcrow's, upper torso, blasting out a great hole.Another quick launch sent the 'Mech reeling backward.It teetered for a moment, then its middle chest exploded and the 'Mech fell.As the Stormcrow disintegrated, the thin line rising above it was its pilot ejecting.Surprised by the tactic, the other 'Mechs had barely touched the 'Mechs of Aidan and Joanna."Nice work!" Joanna yelled.".and then there were eight," Aidan muttered."That takes care of the advantage of surprise, Joanna.Now is the time for cowardice.Get moving."* * *Ter Roshak watched Aidan and Joanna fight with an almost academic interest.He had been responsible for the training of one and had been served by the other.They polished off their first kill quickly, taking little damage.Then, as their opponents came at them, the two underdogs actually turned and ran! Joanna's 'Mech moved swiftly across the terrain, while Aidan's used a leap to move even further ahead.Back at the enemy line, the Executioner detached itself from the others and made its own sudden leap forward.The jump was graceful, especially for a 'Mech of such considerable tonnage.It was not, however, perfectly calculated.The Executioner came down just short of Joanna's swift Mad Dog.Having tracked it well, she was already countering its fire even before its pilot could orient himself.* * *Ter Roshak turned his 'Mech, a rare Nova, one of two presently on Ironhold, and fired off a cluster of LRMs from the right-arm rack that replaced the 'Mech's usual medium lasers.The long-range missiles would surprise the Executioner because a Nova was not usually equipped with them.The missiles' flight was true, their arcs high to make up for the relatively short distance, and the missiles coming in at an odd angle that apparently the Executioner pilot did not detect in time.The other 'Mech was already reeling from the concentrated attack by Joanna's left-arm laser, whose large pulses were making an asymmetric tattoo on the 'Mech's chest.Two of the LRMs made direct hits against the Executioner's upper torso.The damage would not normally have removed the 'Mech from battle, but the pilot's cockpit was split open and its inhabitant killed instantly, never knowing what hit her.As Joanna's Mad Dog sprinted away, the Executioner was left standing in the field, a shell whose upper surface was slashed open in many places.For a moment, Ter Roshak was exhilarated.Killing the 'Mech reminded him of his days fighting side by side with Ramon Mattlov.Now he was focused on his cockpit sensors and the Mad Dog that was heading his way, its large lasers already firing and doing glancing damage to Roshak's Nova [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]