Flight of the Angels
Solaris VII, central metropolis of glorified gladiatorial combat. The ultimate arena of the Inner Sphere, warriors of all walks congregate to test their mettle in the ring of battle.
Rising towers, billowing smoke, brilliant lights that dot the lands and the ever pervasive stench of ozone that clings like a parasite, it is here, in Solaris City, that the bloodlust and the adrenaline pumping nature of battle boils and rages like an erupting volcano.
Throughout the city these gladiatorial rings are scattered. And far beyond the eye could see a waking sea of people walked, talking and shouting about about the duels. Banners strung across from building to building bearing the names of great heroes. And in the hands of children, toy figurines of colossal machines handled with pre-pubescent glee re-enacting vicious scenes of battle witnessed just days ago.
And in these lands bars and pubs played host to many a people who come in and view the daily matches. Their doors open into the wee hours of the morning they play host to those who can afford their goods as they sit down and watch monstrous engines of destruction duel one another for supremacy.
Even deeper into the city, into the battle rings themselves, the crowd waits in anticipation; with bated breath. Everywhere the people gambled; life savings thrown down haphazardly just for the minute possibility that their bet would triumph. In the stands people from all walks of life filled the seats; from the high-end riches to the lowest commoner.
In that crowd, a lone mercenary of the Angel's Fury waited. Golden tresses that fluttered with breeze, held back by a low pony tail tied at the base of her head. Alexandra Carter, a mere speck within the masses, quietly wrote her notes in a dossier. Azure eyes glanced at the scoreboard, noting the time. The next round was to begin.
With dossiers in hand, she had come to Solaris VII with the intent to recruit, evaluating her candidates where they performed best: in the field of battle. Watching them match after match, destructive battle after battle, she assessed their abilities and their backgrounds, slowly eliminating those of poor skill, shady histories, poor backgrounds or connections, or combinations thereof. Other considerations were made as she continuously narrowed down that list.
Until there were only two.
Fanfare began to play, its rousing overtures sparking and electrifying the energized crowd into deeper bloodlust. Sixteen gates groaned and grinded as they slowly unveiled primed and battle ready machines, each and every one of them thirsting, craving, for blood. These slow, massive, lumbering monstrosities of death and destruction marched into the ring, each and every resounding step thunderous and powerful, declaring their dominating presence.
They were the gladiators of Solaris. They were the champions of Solaris.
They were Solaris.
The commentator's loud voice echoed across the stadium as it introduced the competitors of the coliseum. But Alexandra cared little for any of them, save for two who walked out from gates 2 and 4.
"From gate 2 here's Kasumi Hayashibara. Though a newcomer to these matches, she's not to be taken lightly. She's a hunter of fighter, tearing through the competition with her Marauder."
From her seat, she appraised the machine, noting that it was an older 3 series model, but using the weapons configuration of a 5S. Painted ocean blue and white accents along its arms, and torso, it stood out like a sore thumb among its competition.
"From gate 4, we have the lovely Jasmine Chang, the Thunder Goddess, and her faithful hound, the Arctic Wolf. A true brawler in any circuit, she's considered the queen of such combat. Although a newcomer to the open circuit, she's no stranger to Solaris. A feared name on the Assault circuit, the Thunder Goddess dominated, tearing everything in her way with her Daishi. The favourite veteran for the round, we'll see how she stands up against the rookie favourite Kasumi."
All pilots present were considered, but they were the crème of the crop. Issuing contract offers, she watched this match to answer one question: who was better in a controlled environment?
Here, they were in a confined ring. There were no other factors outside the given battlefield. Here she could see how they could stand up against one another where the only interference was the competition.
The horn sounded commencing the bloodshed.
Immediately the Marauder and Arctic Wolf split in two directions. Watching the match with rapt attention, she turns her eyes upon Kasumi as she unleashes a thunderous storm of lightning upon a hapless Thor. Its leg boomed with the fury of a supernova, violently ripping it apart at the hip, hurtling it down onto its side. While calmly firing down another target, she strides forward, kicking out as if it were a mere pebble. The pilot was down.
First blood was drawn.
Before Alexandra, the battle roared with the voice of a thousand lions. Lances of crimson, emerald, azure, and lightning cut through the air. Smoke trails streaked and screamed in a deadly game of cat and mouse, hunting and stalking their pray with relentless fury. The smell of exhaust and ozone pervaded as the minutes passed by. The very air shimmered, shrouding the mechs in the image of godhood.
It was a deadly dance as giant behemoths circled one another. Taunting, goading, luring. Until the last man stood, they were all enemies.
The Arctic Wolf howled charging headlong into a Vulture. A deadly hunter in the right hands, it sprung forward with the ferocity of its namesake. The Vulture backpedalled, its firing erratically in a vain attempt to ward off a predator that had found its prey.
Entering her strike range, Jasmine unleashes a flurry of SRM-6 missiles and pulse laser, each strike precise and true, ripping away at her prey's torso eroding armour like acid, exposing its innards for all to see. The distance closed even faster as it attacked. Down on the ground, the Vultures legs swept from underneath, the wolf pounced upon the downed mech.
The buzzer rang, more blood had been drawn.
Around Alexandra, the hoots, the hollers, the cheers, the raucous noise, it all began to die. The lust for blood, the demand for destruction, the passion for battle, it grew and grew and grew. But like the fickle cat, they were not satisfied. They wanted more like a spoiled child. They demanded for more. They craved for more. They screamed for more. Everything fell far too quickly. Everything was ending far too soon.
For as the dust settles, only Kasumi and Jasmine stood.
Like the ever vigilant hunter, Kasumi calmly waited. Cold, calm, methodical, precise, she was the perfect long range striker. With near infinite patience and composure, she could wait for hours, if not days, for the perfect moment to strike with the force and speed of thunder and lightning.
Like the ever ardent brawler, Jasmine was one to be feared. With the speed and ferocity of a wild cat, she cuts into vulnerabilities, preying upon them, bringing swift and deadly blows, tearing armour into pieces. She was the epitome of close range assault.
They stood on other either sides of the ring, their crosshairs upon the other. Slowly they circled, waiting, searching, stalking. That opening would come. That moment to strike was ordained. Only one would rise. For in battle, one mistake could end it all.
Stepping around fallen mechs, debris, and other obstacles, they kept the other in their sights. No one was sure what the other was doing. No one could know what their thoughts were. They only knew one thing: the moment the first shot was fired, it would explode into bloody combat.
The air was thick with anticipation. Everyone hung to the edge of their seats, waiting with bated breath. Tensions mounted as the minutes went by. Even the lively commentators had fallen silent, occasionally observing or speculating of what was to happen.
The match rendered down into a classical western shootout. On either ends warriors stared down one another. Their hands ready, trigger finger twitching, waiting, searching, for the moment. The tension continued to mount. No one dared to look away. For when the moment came it would be all over in the blink of an eye.
All it would take would be the push of a button.
The Arctic Wolf buckled as its torso exploded. The Marauder charged. Running headlong, its gauss rifle struck, shattering the wolf's shoulder. By the time Jasmine could recover Kasumi was on top of her, forcing it into retreat. Additional laser fire followed up distorting her balance even further. With each single methodical strike, more and more armour was stripped.
Weathering the deadly storm of lightning and laser, Jasmine struggled in a desperate attempt to fight back. In mere seconds, the Arctic Wolf was torn asunder. Whole sections of armour flew off in chunks or globs of molten metal. Whatever wasn't blown off stuck, covering it in a thick sludge like a festering wound. Sparks flew everywhere as smoke billowed from fires burning within.
The stands were in uproar, in support or disbelief at the Marauder's advance. Entrenched in their simple minded beliefs, they claimed with utter certainty victory belonged to Kasumi. With her rate of attack, her aggressive stance, and better weapons, she would never allow the Wolf to recover and retaliate. Alexandra, however, disagreed. Victory was only assured with the destruction of the opponent. Until that buzzer rang, Jasmine was still a dangerous threat.
In an instant, Wolf suddenly lashes out, smashing its functioning arm into the nose of the Marauder. Its opponent momentarily stunned, it unleashed a storm of SRM-6 and pulse weapons, knocking the older machine clean off its feet. The armour fell off by the plates, exposing whole section of hydraulics, wiring, and myomers.
Taking a step forward, it followed up its assault with a vicious kick to the underside of the nose. It was angry. It was incensed. With fangs bared blood in its mouth, it chased after the skidding mech. With every intension to finish it all, it unleashes another salvo, suddenly buckling as lightning shattered its other arm. But it was far too late.
The final blow had been struck. Battle weary and scarred, the mighty Arctic Wolf howled to the sky above. The hunt was hers.
The Imperator, Overlord-class dropship, was the massive home of the mercenary unit Angel's Fury's 4th company. Armed with an array of powerful weapons, and upgraded over decades of service, the Imperator was one of the two assault vehicles of the Angel's Fury. And commanding such power was company commander Alexandra Carter.
Boarding the mighty behemoth, she wandered its halls until she reached her quarters. It was nothing more than a modest loft. Decorating the room were a few books and picture frames of happier days gone by. Stepping through the door, she tossed the dossiers onto her bed; then lazily scanned her room before fondly looking at one particular frame.
Hanging above her bed was a graduation certificate from the Arc-Royal Combat Training program. Her name, Alexandra Shirayuri Carter, was written upon the certificate. A crowning achievement in her short life.
Her task completed, she stepped out of her room to make way to the galley. She hadn't even taken a step when she heard her name called.
She turned around, smiling lightly as her sister, Imperator Executive Officer Celina Carter, approached, while hooking her communicator to her vest. The sisters greeted one another affectionately with a hug.
Both shared the same sun kissed hair, each worn differently – Alexandra in a low pony tail, Celina in a side ponytail. Similarly they shared matching shades of azure eyes, and similar heart-shaped facial features. The proverbial poster girls of the company. Twenty-three and eighteen respectively, they helped form the core of the 4th company's leadership.
The sisters chatted amicably with one another while proceeding towards Alexandra's original destination. The topics range everywhere, from the matches, to the recruitment process, to how the other's day had gone.
Celina's expression became contemplative before addressing her elder sibling. "Alex, have you even tried to enjoy Solaris?"
"Besides a few fast food joints, not really." Alexandra shrugged nonchalantly. She didn't care for pleasantries where there was work to do. "Considering we're here for another two weeks I have time… especially while that boyfriend," a word muttered with disdain, "of yours continues through the assault circuit."
Celina rolled her eyes, exasperated. It was a topic that plagued them nonstop since Alexandra returned from Arc Royale three years ago. From day one she did not approve their relationship. Tim Hayes, a 6'-6" blonde bear of a man, was a transferee from another company. From the moment they had met, Celina and Tim had had a budding relationship.
"I still don't like him," Alexandra muttered, trying to keep the disdain to a minimum. "You could do better than him." Though Alexandra made Tim's life a living hell, she respected Celina enough not to interfere with their relationship, despite her better judgement.
"Oh like I'm going to marry someone from the houses," Celina retorted with dramatic flair. "I can see it already, the lovely trophy wife of a Steiner. All pretty and primped up, paraded around like a showcase doll, but behind the scenes, an abused wife, demanded to provide an heir or bring harm to her family. Oh yeah; a very pleasant lifestyle you want for your baby sister." All of this was stated with a smile.
Alexandra sighed in frustration. Celina always had a smart mouth, spitting comebacks and comments like a fountain well before anyone could react. Combining with her intellect she could spar with the best of them. Whenever Celina was like this Alexandra would just throw her hands up in surrender and back away. Dealing with her sister was like dealing with a very wet and angry cat.
"Fine," she said, if only reluctantly. Celina smirked in victory, even if it was short-lived. Changing the subject, she continued. "What prospects do we have?"
Pulling out her noteputer Celina read through her files. "Marquette forwarded us some contracts, and says to head there ASAP to negotiate the contracts. He's also sending 2nd company."
"Right," the young captain muttered. Entering the galley they grabbed their meals and sat down. "Been a while since we've seen them." She shrugged noncommittally. "Anything else interesting I should know about?"
The 18-year-old read through her notes before shaking her head. "Not really." She put the device away when she remembered something. "Oh yeah, Thorsten and his boys are also competing. They'll be back sometime next week."
"And as long as they know they foot the repair bills, that's fine," Alexandra stated.
Just as she was about to start eating, Celina's communicated beeped. Hooking it to her ear, she responded. "Go ahead…alright, I'll tell her." Replacing the device on her vest she gave her sister a pleased expression. "We've got a bite."
"That's good," Alexandra said.
As they ate, Celina expressed curiosity to why Alexandra didn't post up recruitment ads.
Alexandra took a moment to think before answering. "I'd rather be…selective of whom I pick this time around." Alexandra grimaced at the thought. Due to absolute stupidity, a couple of mercenaries almost had them killed during a mission. They had been summarily dismissed after that.
Her sister's expression was all she needed to know. "Oh yeah...them," Celina muttered in disgust, dismissing the thought like garbage. Angry was not sufficient to describe the fury that she felt that day. Rage was better, but it still lacked the emphasis to fully encompass what she felt. She promptly dropped the thought like hot coal and carried on eating.
The two sisters quietly passed the time, enjoying their meal while talking about anything that came to mind. They eventually bid each other goodnight. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
The following morning greeted the sister's like any other Solaris morning: the faint stench of ozone and exhaust, the heat waste from every machine in the city, and the never ending life that was Solaris.
They travelled silently through the deafening cacophony of the Solaris population, massed people milling the streets struggling towards their own destinations, with little to no regard if they bumped another hapless pedestrian in their way. It was a jungle unto itself. It was the survival of the fittest. Weather the storm or be swept by the crowd.
To them, the crowd was like nothing. They navigated through it all, side-stepping, weaving, dodging; they walked through with practiced ease, never once breaking their stride or balance; like fish through water.
Their travels led them to The Diner situated just off from the mainstream traffic. The building itself was nondescript. Away from prying eyes but not too far from the vein, it was the perfect place to have an interview. It was clean, it didn't stink, and not even a single speck of dirt was out of place.
The waitresses wore clean uniforms and were presentable. Make-up neatly applied instead of slathered, they wore pleasant smiles as they greeted the two sisters as they entered. Not a single customer present was overly greasy or soiled, nor did the fowl stench of human effluence dominate the space. While not high class, it was respectable.
Settling down in a booth in the far corner, they ordered coffee to start. Their booth provided the perfect balance of privacy and comfort. In the open and well lit, it allowed both parties to be observed but unheard over private matters.
The bell rang. Another customer. But in an instant everything changed.
Her dominating presence owned the room, drawing stares of adoration and lust as they realized who just walked in. Jasmine Chang, the Thunder Goddess. She casually scanned the scene like a predator surveying her choice of prey. She smiled lightly to herself. She found what she seeks.
She approached them silently, gracefully. One foot in front of the other, she calmly approached, hearing a light conversation between them, passing by the time until her arrival. She already knew who they were. It wasn't news to her that the Angel's Fury was recruiting. The fact they wanted her though intrigued her.
Without even a word she sat down in front them, grinning they looked at her befuddled by her action. She chuckled amusedly to herself. She'd heard rumours that they looked like they'd been carved from the same stone. Seeing them before her, she could say they were true. Despite their ages, she could see the similarities.
But something gave her pause as she looked over the elder one. There was a certain edge to her. Something she couldn't see in the other. She'd seen and experienced things the other never did. She had a confidence that dwarfed her younger sister's by leagues. And those eyes. Those eyes carried a history of facing and overcoming great adversity, becoming stronger because of it. She liked her already.
"What can I do for ya?" she greeted in an accented drawl.
Alexandra responded with a light grin, and said "Straight to it then." It wasn't a question.
"Why bother with that crap when we know what this is about?" Jasmine answered, while openly studying Alexandra's eyes. "So how about you show me the contract, and we work from there, Sunshine."
"With that kinda personality, you're just a ray of sunshine, ya know?"
The elder Carter smirked, though said nothing as she slid a data pad across the table. One that Jasmine picked up and gave it a cursory glance. She grin shifted into a smirk.
Dropping it back onto the table, she stated her demand. "Thirty-thousand."
"Well that's quite simple actually," she said. "For one, I just kicked a heavy's ass, in a medium. For second, I'm the best damn brawler there is. Gimme a mech, I show ya its best config for beating the crap outta people. Simple as that."
"So you're telling me…is that you suck at range."
"Damn strai – what?"
"You brawl, that means you rely on close combat." She didn't miss the look of surprise and bewilderment. Jasmine had definitely not expected that line of thought. "A useful skill, but if I'm going to hire someone who can't shoot worth crap over 200m, I'd say that affect the price, wouldn't you?"
Jasmine eyed her carefully, her mind mulling over the exchange. Admittedly she hadn't expected that particular comeback. Her standard pitch usually worked for most, but then she reminded herself this was a different animal. She knew that particular approach wouldn't have sailed with the likes of the Legion or the Dragoons. She shouldn't have expected any less. Especially not the daughter of the late Kigiku Carter.
"Alright, ya got me there." She was willing to admit she was wrong. "So how about this then: twenty-two-thousand. A bit steep…but it does take into account of my…gunnery skills. How's that sound?"
"Realistically, I'd say the price I'm offering you is reasonable for what I'm getting."
The champion chuckled wryly at the woman across the table. There was far more to her than meets the eye. Quick mind, sharp-witted, and a tongue that could argue with the best of them, she was definitely driving a hard bargain. One that she begrudgingly respected.
"Alright, I can see that yer not willing ta drop the price." She leaned upon her elbows and looked at her dead in the eye. "But I still want something more outta this."
"And what exactly did you expect?" Now she was curious. Considering what she offered was a lot more than most, she knew it was going to be something outlandish.
Jasmine licked her lips suggestively and said, "Make it worth my while." Her smile grew impossibly wider.
"Care to…elaborate on that?"
She shrugged casually. "Just make this 3-year stint worth it. I mean considering ya want me ta sign away 3 years of my life, I need something a little more…impressive, than just money and coverage."
Alexandra studied her opponent carefully, for a time. She knew she was interested in her. So was she. Her heart raced in anticipation for what would happen next. She signalled her sister to leave for a moment. She wanted to deal with this privately.
She leaned forward on the table and asked, "What else could I possibly offer than what's on that contract?"
Jasmine smiled seductively as she her eyes roamed along Alexandra more openly. She was doing the same. "I have…a few ideas."
"Perhaps…at a pay cut." Jasmine stopped smiling and raised a brow in response. "I happen to know that many would jump on this, at a fraction of the pay. I might add this contract is quite accommodating. Besides," she leaned forward and whispered into her ear, "I don't think you could handle me." She relaxed back into her seat as Celina returned. "I'm sure I could find someone better for less."
Jasmine scoffed. She knew the game. She knew what Alexandra was getting at. But quite frankly, she wasn't going to fall into her trap. She was better than that.
"I'm sorry ya feel that way," she sighed as she stood. "I'm sure you would've…benefitted from a slightly higher expense." Walking away, she gently brushed her hand along Alexandra's shoulder, winking at her as she passed. She continued grinning as she walked through the diner, fully aware that everyone was looking at her. Right until she exited through the door.
"What…what just happened?" Celina asked, unsure of what transpired.
Alexandra shrugged in response, putting away Jasmine's paperwork and pulled out Kasumi's. There was nothing to say.
Celina tried to speak again, but one look from her sister stopped any arguments she may have raised, just moments before Kasumi arrived.
The first thing she noticed was the outlandish colour of her hair: platinum-white. Reaching down to her waist, she wondered just how much dye Kasumi went through to keep its colour. Combined with her pale skin, she wondered if she was a mythological snow demon.
Alexandra, however, didn't seem the least bit curious. She immediately picked up the data pad and handed it over for Kasumi to read. She watched her from across the table, curious as to what sort of person she was dealing with. But to her surprise Kasumi was difficult read. Even as she read through the contents of the screen, there was no hint of thought or emotion.
She eventually looked back up. "Quite an impressive offer. One of the best to date." The sisters strained to hear what she had said. She spoke so silently, barely above a whisper.
"Best to date?" she repeated, peering over her cup. That meant others had approached her already. The thought didn't sit well with her.
The platinum-haired woman nodded, and explained she'd been spoken to seven times prior. Putting down the pad she said, "I will have my answer tomorrow."
"That's the best we can ask," Alexandra sighed. They stood up and shook hands, exchanging minor pleasantries before Kasumi left as quietly as she had entered.
The sisters sat down again, where Celina immediately asked her sister, "So just what was that about?"
"Pardon me?" her elder asked. And she had been hoping to mull over her thoughts and observations. "That talk with Jasmine," Celina answered, still bewildered by the earlier display. "I haven't seen you behave like that with anyone!"
She held up her cup to hide the smirk across her lips.
Jasmine was beautiful. No other word could really describe her thoughts of the tanned woman. Curves in the right places, a messy mane of dark brown, she had no doubt that had Jasmine been trying, they'd be in bed right now. She had also noticed how Celina glared at the taller woman's chest. No doubt jealous of the differences of endowment.
Her discussion with Jasmine had been interesting to say the least. She could easily see her game plan. Jasmine intrigued her. It was also surprisingly enjoyable to meet someone whom she could match wits with, albeit the developing undertone was a surprise, even to her. She had a feeling that if they were to meet again, it only go on and on until one snapped under the pressure.
She set down her cup, and looked at Celina dead in the eye and said, "That's because she's not just anyone."