Lake Victoria training facility
1021 hrs local time
Daniel threw an unsteady salute. "Present, Lieutenant."
Lieutenant Noin made a note on her clipboard. "Right," she said, "that's everyone. Down to business."
She took a small remote from her pocket and pressed a button. Behind her, the great double-doors slid open with a scraping hiss. Every one of the twenty Cadets had passed those twenty-metre high doors during basic, and every one of them had wondered what could be behind them. Now, they could finally find out. Daniel was itching to find out if his suspicions were right.
He wasn't disappointed.
The doors slid back into the wall either side, and behind them stood something huge. It was shaped like a man, albeit a very heavily armoured and blocky man. It was painted grey, all except for two slashes of red on each shoulder. The square screen in its head was dark, and the cockpit in its chest was open. It was a Mobile Suit.
Daniel's mind raced. Why was Noin showing them now? Would they get to pilot it? What kind was it?
"This is a Leo." Noin's voice brought him back to reality. "It is the principle fighting unit of the Alliance; sixteen point two metres tall and equipped with a variety of weapons systems. This particular Suit is unarmed – regardless of how careful everyone is, accidents can happen. Normally, Leos have a dark green colouration, in order to provide some basic camouflage in rural areas, and after nightfall."
Daniel wondered how a lick of green paint was going to have a hope in hell of hiding a fifteen-metre tall walking tank. He kept it to himself, though. The military tended to frown on questions like that.
"It is designed primarily for ground combat, and operational doctrines are formed around that." She indicated its legs with one hand. "As you can see, its legs are quite powerful, capable of propelling the Leo at speeds of up to twenty eight miles per hour, and their titanium alloy armour can take anything short of a hit from another Mobile Suit."
Her hand moved upwards, drawing the Cadets' attention to its chest. "The cockpit, as you should remember from basic, is situated in the chest cavity. So is the power core, and the delicate electronics, so be careful. The chest itself is equipped with the same armour as on the legs, rendering the Leo almost immune to small arms and even light tanks. Heavier vehicles might prove a problem, but they should be detected and destroyed before they can present a threat – which brings me on to the next point."
"The Leo's sensor suite is located in the head. Visual, audio, and even olfactory sensors all feed from the head directly into the cockpit. The visual sensors are capable of infrared and ultraviolet spectral analysis, and the audio sensors can isolate, highlight, magnify or mute almost any specific sound, even in the heat of combat."
She lowered her arm, and looked at the Cadets. "The Leo, while a powerful Mobile Suit, is not deployed as a single unit. In combat situations, a single unit can easily be outflanked, outwitted, distracted, and destroyed. This is why the Alliance deploys Leos in packs, usually consisting of three Mobile Suits. Weapons configurations are then spread between the pack in order to ensure that it has the capability to take on any enemy and win."
She smiled. "Now, who wants to volunteer to demonstrate how to operate this thing?"
Daniel's heart leapt into his chest. Someone would actually get to pilot the Leo? Today? He glanced around at his fellow Cadets. Joachim was nodding to himself, quiet as always, as if he had been expecting it all along. He didn't seem to care for being the one to pilot the Leo. Beside him, Sarah had her hand in the air, waving it as fast as she could to try to get Lieutenant Noin's attention. Eagerness practically shone from her.
Daniel couldn't help the smile that came to his lips. He just watched Noin. There was nothing he would like more than to be first in the Leo, but he knew that there was no point in competing with Sarah and the others for the Lieutenant's attention.
Noin consulted her clipboard, then looked back up, smiling. "Cadet Williams? Why don't you come up here?"
Daniel was so surprised he nearly forgot to move. He managed to stop his jaw from dropping, and stepped past the envious Cadets. Noin pointed over her shoulder at the Leo. "Go ahead," she said. "The rope's right there."
Daniel fought to walk calmly and properly to the Leo, and not make a complete fool of himself. If he did something stupid now, he'd never live it down. The rope was smooth when he gripped it, and a faint warmth came off it. He stepped onto the small board at the bottom of the rope, and it began to lift him upwards towards the cockpit.
As it winched him upwards, he looked down at the other Cadets. Sarah was obviously disappointed – her face had crumpled when she wasn't picked. She was by far the most enthusiastic of the Cadets, about everything, whether that be training or leisure. He guessed she had been one of the popular girls at school, before she came here. Those types always expected to be picked first, and were always the most disappointed when they weren't.
Next to her, Joachim was silent and calm as ever, watching Daniel as the rope neared the cockpit. The blond Cadet was the most isolated of the group, rarely socialising after training, preferring to put all his effort into becoming the best soldier he could be. It paid off; he was top of the group by a considerable margin. But still, there was something unknown about him, a sense that, after two years together in the group, he was still an outsider somehow.
The rope juddered to a halt, and Daniel stepped off it and into the Leo's cockpit. The chair was padded, barely, and he settled back into it. He laid his arms down on the sides of the chair, trying not to touch any of the controls. It wouldn't go down too well if he managed to break the Leo as soon as he got into it.
"Okay Williams," called Noin. "I'm switching to radio communications now, so make sure yours is turned on."
Daniel fumbled at his waist for his radio. All the Cadets had been issued with one at the start of basic, both for training with them and if they ever needed to be contacted when they were away from a superior. It was a small personal radio, with a range barely enough to cover the whole of the base, but they worked just fine for training.
Noin's voice came through his earpiece with a crackle. All this money spent on Mobile Suits and they still hadn't got radios to stop crackling. "All right Williams, think you can turn it on?"
Daniel nodded and looked around the cockpit. Bits of his training came to him, familiarisation exercises. The switch should be somewhere around… there. He pressed it.
The Leo's cockpit lights lit up, and the hatch hissed closed. The video panels blinked on, showing him a crystal-clear view of the surroundings. Noin tipped her clipboard at him.
"Everything working up there?" she said.
"Yes Lieutenant," he replied, trying to work out what all the controls did. He knew the basics; activation, movement, firing; but there were far too many buttons and levers for those simple functions. It looked as if someone had taken the bare-bones simulator display he had used in training and filled in all the gaps with more controls.
"Alright then, let's try some sensor movement. The controls for the visual sensors are directly in front of you, underneath the centre screen. Found them?"
She must mean the group of twenty-odd buttons between the activation controls and the weapons priority selectors. "I think so," he said.
"Think?" she replied. "No room for 'I think so' in Mobile Suit combat, Williams. Have you found them or not?"
"Yes Lieutenant," he said.