Chapter 2: Trial of Grievance or THE GREAT PPC CAPER!

"A man's errors are his portals of discovery."

- James Joyce

Dehgolan

Free Rasalhague Republic

Alslam Forest, 7 Kilometers South of nearest ComGuard Base.

March 7, 3067

This was not a good day for Xiaoxue. This was supposed to be an easy assignment. Pick up the data core from the Watch base, head back to the dropship, and then return home. Nothing more nothing less, but no that plan went down the drain faster then coolant out of an overheating Nova Cat. Even as the fighting started in the west, she chose not to involve herself in the affairs of spheroids, but as soon as that stray PPC bolt had struck her Crossbowthat changed completely. She moved at best speed to where the fighting had been occurring, and even as the fighting had lessened that would not deter her. She was a Star Commander for Kerensky's sake! A member of House Jorgensson, a founding bloodhouse of Clan Ghost Bear, and this slight to her honor would not stand!

As she crested a hill, she spotted a strange gathering. Out of the five gathered, four of them where tanks: two her HUD had identified as Rommel'swhile the other was a pair of Burke's.As for the battlemech with them, by the size of its body and the depressions it had made on the ground, the fifth in the group was a heavy battlemech. However her HUD could not display it's name nor its designation, calling it an unidentifiable 'mech, though she could recognize the few key features that could be found in the 75-ton BlackKnight,the major differences being the large armored skirt and oversized arm cannon.Despite there impressive show of force, whoever they had gone against obviously had given them a hard time about it, the unknown 'mech had clear scorch marks all over its body and on its torso was a large gaping gash, while the tanks had battle damage all over their armor with one tank expelling smoke from its chassis. Still, despite there condition, the slight to her honor must still be dealt with. OneofthemmustbethesuratwhodamagedmyCrossbow.She angrily switched on her Crossbow'soutside hailer as she moved closer to her prey.

Ohscrewme!Thought Mason as Star Commander Xiaoxue's Crossbowstood in front of him, the burnt Ghost Bear insignia almost mocking him for his mistake. "Are you guys going to leave me in a situation like this?"

"Maybe…" They all said in unison.

"What!" He said before he was interrupted by the sudden sound of a raspberry being made on the radio communicators.

"Don't worry Mason; we were just messing with you."

"Like on Thun..." He commented begrudgingly.

"Or Carse…" Said Bernhard.

"Or Lothan…" Said Mechwarrior Anastasia.

"What the hell, I don't remember Lothan!"

"Mason calm down, we were just kidding." Said Major Dresdin. "It isn't in us to abandon one of our own, especially to a Clanner."

"Thanks Major..."

"Don't thank me yet kid. You still have to fight her in open combat."

"Say again?"

"Mason with the political landscape as it is we can't afford to piss off the Ghost Bears, especially when we had threatened the life one of there warriors. Purposely or not."

"Then why can't I undergo a Surkai!"

"By the tone of her voice do you think she would actually accept one?" He said nonchalantly.

Good point" Mason grumbled, "But how do we know that I'm the one who struck her 'Mech, for all we know it could have been one of the Burkes." The Mage then comically pointed at the ComGuard Burkes next to him in a desperate attempt to revert blame.

"Loijtnant!" Yelled Anastasia

"That is most immature Loijtnant." Commeted Adept Wilmington. "Really, it's unbecoming for an officer of the KungsArme."

"I know I know." Apologized Mason. "But it's not like I purposefully meant to attack her 'Mech!"

"Are you sure Loijtnant," Commented one of his Lancemates. "There was that time on Galuzzo, after Johnston wrote on your face at the Christmas party. If I remember correctly you…"

"Shut up Hans! I was sleepy and he freaking deserved it!"

Sighing in annoyance to his units immaturity, Major Dresdin continued "Mason the fact remains that you were responsible for damaging the Star Commanders battlemech."

"Mason." Interrupted Anastasia "You do know what happens if you don't fight her right?"

Mason looked down and closed his eyes in deep thought. As the events following the Great Refusal came to an end, the Free Rasalhague Republic seemed to be on the road to recovery. Surprisingly enough some relief came about from those who, less than a decade ago, much of Free Rasalhague considered mortal enemies. The Ghost Bear Dominions fair treatment of its citizenry, whether they were formerly part of the clan or not, had encouraged many dislocated families to return to their homes. This helped greatly as the small nation was barely viable as a nation to begin with and it had too few worlds and resources to house, feed, and manage a population of over eighty billion people. In turn the KungsArme has recovered to the point that the FRR could defend itself without having to rely on the Lyrans, Combine, or Comstar. Relations between the two nations has only improved since then, and to have it all fall apart now for something so small and insignificant was something he would not stand for, even if it meant fighting a battle he didn't want to fight in the first place.

"You are the one responsible for this, no?" She shouted angrily, pointing one of her Crossbow's large LRM launcher's at him. "Then do you accept my challenge to a Trial of Grievance?"

Shaking his head in disbelief, he switched on his on hailer. "Fine Star Commander, I bid myself and myself alone in this trial. I bare the responsibility for any damages that we may have occurred upon you. Even if I myself did not cause the damage, as the highest ranking officer on the field, I must bare the responsibility of not only my own actions, but the actions of those under my command."

The Star Commander seemed to take pause at this before responding. "Well said Loijtnant, as expected of a Drakon. Then I bid myself alone as well. What then are your terms Loijtnant."

"We will fight augmented with our battlemechs. Your 65-ton Crossbowagainst my 75-ton Mage. With my Mage considerably more damaged then yours, we are technically on even ground. Do you accept these terms Star Commander? "

"Aff Loijtnant. In five minutes we will fight here, with a circle of equals with a diameter of 3 kilometers. We will each start at opposite sides of one another at the perimeter of the circle with one at the south and one at the north, are we in agreement Loijtnant?"

"Aff Star Commander." Said Mason unknowingly using a Clan slang. "Bargained well and done?"

"Bargained well and done, Loijtnant." She said in agreement, as she then turned her Crossbow'sback to him and walked southward toward her spot in the circle. Mason did the same, heading northward to his starting point, while the Rommelsand Burkesquietly headed east where the rest of the lance would remain until the end of the trial. Mason then switched to the command battlecodes of the Drakon. "So, anyone have any last words?"

"Don't get fatalistic with us now mechwarrior. The worst that could happen would be for you to become a bondsman, and the I've heard they treat their bondsmen fairly and justly."

"He is right Mason." Said Anastasia "Look at the Elected Prince."

"Plus I heard the medical benefits are excellent" Said another Lancemate.

"Heh, that doesn't sound too bad, I'm still paying bills for that broken arm from last month." Joked Mason.

"Joking aside, do you have a game plan Mason?"

Mason merely shrugged. "Even with a 10-ton weight difference, I'm at a major disadvantage here, and even accounting for the damage that we both sustained the odds only go against me despite my words earlier."

"Do you have an idea of which unit she was part of Mason, for all we know she could simply from a second-line Galaxy. Besides, from the sound of her voice she doesn't seem to be any older then you or me, you may have an advantage against her in terms of experience." Said Anastasia.

Crap,whatunitwassheassignedto?Ididn'tseeanyotherunitinsigniaexcept...Crap!Though Mason. "The insignia must have been burnt away when the PPC's hit."

"I see..." Said Kapten Dresdin. "And even if we account for age, that doesn't mean she's inexperienced...if anything her age may be a testament to her skill. From what I have read, a Clan Mechwarrior could only attain that rank through years of combat or..."

"She took out two opponents during her Trial of Position." Interrupted Mason. "And that's no easy feat."

"Then..." Commented Mechwarrior Bengt "What are you going to do Loijtnant?"

"Easy," Commented Mason as he reached his destination. "Hit her hard, hit her fast, and pray to God that it all works out..."

"I get the hit hard part Mason, but isn't it a bit redundant to say fast with your heavy 'mech?" Chimed Bengt.

As Xiaoxue marched her Crossbowto her position, she switched her radio to the battlecodes assigned to her Star. "This is Star Commander Xiaoxue to command, I request a line with Nova Commander Glynn immediately. This is a Code T emergency message."

"Star Commander Xiaoxue," Chimed a communications controller, "Your battlecodes and IFF have been accepted, please hold." For a few minutes the radio was filled with the sound of static. When the static cleared, the voice of an older man spoke through the radio. "This is Nova Commander Glynn speaking, what is your situation Star Commander? Have you retrieved the memory core?"

"Aff Nova Commander, however I had...been delayed by unforeseen circumstances."

"What has happened Star Commander?" Xiaoxue then recount the events following the retrieval of the memory core from the Ghost Bear Watch Branch, the subsequent damage to her Crossbow,and the trial that was about to occur. "I see Star Commander, though I do not understand why you did not accept a Surkai."

"I do not take slights to my honor lightly Nova Commander..." She responded, almost begrudgingly

"I see... do you require assistance then?" The Nova Commander responded, almost jovially.

"Neg Nova Commander, I had bid myself alone in this endeavor and to do otherwise would not only bring dishonor to myself, but to the Clan as a whole."

"Agreed Star Commander, but do not forget that you still have a mission to accomplish."

"Of course sir..."

"5...4...3...2...1...Begin!" Shouted Kapten Dresdin. The Mage took off from its spot, taking long strides with every step. Though he closed the gap between himself and the Star Commander, not even a minute had passed before the warning lights in his cockpit warning alarm flashed and screamed. Before long the ground around him exploded in a flurry of fire and metal as one missile after another impacted both earth and armor. Damnation,IforgothowpowerfulthoseClanLRM'swere...alrightifyouwantitlikethat!"Computer! Divert power from fire control system and pump it into the ECM!" Though the hail of long ranged missiles did not lessen, as time passed the accuracy of the missiles lessened thanks the ECM. As he marched the Mage on he was able to at get his opponent into radar range and get a lock on her position, but as he closed the gap he was caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of a blue bolt of lightning streaking past his left side. HolycrapthatOmnihasaPPC!"That's an interesting configuration you are using Star Commander." Mason called out over the radio.

"Why thank you Loijtnant," She said back almost mockingly. "This was the same configuration which won me my current rank when I was only sixteen."

Crap!Shedidearnthatrankinherinitialtrialofposition!Thenagainshe'sstillyoung,letsseeifIcanthrowheroff."Funny, when I defeated my first Clanner he was in a Crossbowtoo."

"Ha, don't not make me laugh Stravag!" She said as she fired another stray PPC bolt at Mason. "You are a 3rd Drakon are you not? We in Clan Ghost Bear already know of the debacle in Clan Wolf territory, and that leaves you in no position to make idle threats."

"Seems you got me on that!" Said Mason as he plowed through another barrage of missile fire. "But we Drakons still have some pride to consider!" He said as her fired off a series of PPC bolt shots. He knew that they were going to miss, but at they very least it could throw off the Star Commanders aim.

"How typical of a spheroid, wasting so much energy for nothing." She taunted. "I hope you are not as wasteful when you become my bondsmen!" Another barrage of missiles rained down on top of Mason, and despite the ECM working over time, a few missiles struck the already battered armor of his Mage.

"I'd sooner become wolf food, then become your bondsmen!" Suddenly a catish smirk appeared on Mason's face. "Then again, your voice is pretty cute, maybe it would'nt be so bad if that face matched that voice..." A few seconds passed in silence before a sudden onslaught of LRM's and PPC came at Mason, "What the hell! Where in God's name did this come from!"

"Mason what's happening!" Inquired Kapten Dresdin.

"All I did was taunt her and now she's going on a rampage!" Barked Mason as he dodged another PPC bolt.

"Mason I heard what you said, and I must say that it was a poor choice of words." Chuckled Anastasia.

"What did he say Mechwarrior?" The radio went silent for only a minute, though this seemed like a lifetime for Mason as the barrage of missiles and PPC's continued. Then the voice of raspy voice of Kapten Dresdin reemerged on the radio. "...Take it from me Mason, it's only cute if your married to that person. Anastasia's right, your screwed."

"What? I was just trying to distract her!" He said anxiously.

"Mason, whether you come from the Clans or from one of the Great Houses, you don't say such sensitive things to a woman you hardly know."

"What the hell does that have to do with anything...Ah!" Screamed Mason as a large grouping of missles struck the left arm. "Dammit why'd I have to open my big mouth!" Mason then placed a hand on the weapons panel and switched the overcharge on for both PPC's.

"I am going to knock your lights out for what you said you disgusting stravag!" Screamed Star Commander Xiaoxue.

Ahscrewit! "Oh snap!." He taunted as the PPC bolt flashed passed, almost hitting the cockpit "It seems the little cub has some fangs behind the growl!" He pushed the Mageforward, he could see the Star Commanders Crossbowvisually now. It was on a high mound that gave Star Commander Xiaoxue an excellent field of vision, but it was wide enough to leave her open to reprisals. Mason saw this and had the Mage skid across the muddy ground, before stopping to gain footing to fire his own PPC bolts. "Here let me show you my fangs!" Mason fingered the trigger of his cockpit control and released the overcharged bolts from their container. Being twice the size and even having twice the brightness from the regular PPC bolts, it was hard not seem from far away to see the bolts streak toward the Star Commander and strike her 'Mech's right torso. Approachingcriticalheatlevel"Oh dammit not now!" Heat is bad for a battlemech, it's like high blood pressure for them, and despite the extra damage afforded from the overcharged PPC's Mason had also increased the heat generation of an already overheating 'Mech. Mason however had no time to whine about his current predicament, as the Ghost Bear warrior before him continued her attack. Even with a destroyed ammo bin and damaged PPC the Crossbowpilot continued on with her attack. This time she closed the distance between herself and Mason, discarding her long range attacks for a more definitive strike.

"Hahaha!" Laughed Xiaoxue as she watched the steam an smoke emanating from the overheating Mage. "Your insults have only brought about your own defeat spheroid!" She brought up her Crossbow's missile arms and fired the entire rack as she rushed forward. At less then three hundred meters, not even the ECM could confuse the missiles enough to deflect them away from the Mage.Almost every single missile struck the Mage, a few even striking into the exposed internal machinery from its earlier skirmish with the pirate Axeman.What equipment remained intact inside the mangled torso was instantly destroyed the missile bombardment, including the ECM machine installed there. Now nothing could stop the Clan Crossbowmaking accurate shots with its missile arm.CrapnottheECMofallthings!I'minabindnow,notonlydidIlosetheECMsuite,buttheERLaserthereto!OntopofthattheMageisstilloverheated...overheated...ohmanIforgotaboutthemyomers! Under normal conditions the Magecould never really outmaneuver the Clan made Crossbowsince it was nearly twenty kilometers faster then the Mage. At that moment however, despite the large predicament Mason was in right now, he still had a chance to pick up the slack and gain an advantage in this battle.

She had him now, the Spheroid Stravag was going to pay dearly for what he said. At the moment his 'Mech was severely damaged: Most of it's body was riddled with burnt marks from it's previous battle from before, plus the damage that she had caused herself, the entire left torso was gone now with nothing left inside its internal structure except a wide gapping hole, and to top it all off his 'Mech was clearly overheated, smoke and steam emanated from it's battered hull. Good,thisshouldteachthispatheticSpheroidthatyoudonottriflewithawarriorofClanGhostBear.ThoughImustadmitheisachallengingone.Atleasttodaywasnotatotalwasteoftime.She thought as she smiled."Give up now spheroid and I will spare your life!" She said as moved closer toward her enemy and aimed a missile arm straight at the Mage'shead.

"I thought a blatant attempt at killing an opponent during a trial went against Zellbrigen Star Commander..." Said Mason.

"You are correct, but against you Inner Sphere barbarians, we must take nothing to chance. Besides this is more of an idle threat then an attack." She chimed.

"Hehe I guess I deserved that, but this battle is far from over Star Commander..."

"What are you talking? Are you daft!" Suddenly the battered 'Mech before her swiftly pulled it left arm up and fired a pair of green lasers straight at the Crossbow'schest. Though she tried to moved out of the way from the attack, but even with her superior reflexes, at point blank range it was impossible to dodge a weapon that traveled at the speed of light. Even with the protection provided from the neurohelmet, it could not protect her from the brightness of the laser slicing into her 'Mech's chest. When the laser dissipated and the flashing in her eyes ceased, she gawked at the sudden disappearance of her opponent. "Where did you go spheroid!"

"Your left that's where!" He gleefully cried. Xiaoxue was completely caught by surprise, one minute he was right in front of her, the next minute he's somewhere entirely. Impossible,howcanhebeoutmaneuveringme!Bythewaythatbattlemechhadmovedearlier,itshouldnotanyfasterthantheCrossbow!For a minute, time seemed to slow down. Star Commander Xiaoxue twisted the Crossbowas fast as she could toward Mason. As their respective reticules where centered on their target, they both pulled their triggers and watched as missiles and PPC's crossed.

Round after round found their mark. With an overheated 'Mech installed with Triple Strength Myomers, Mason could match the speed and agility of the Crossbow. He had outmaneuvered the Star Commander, and for a minute Mason thought he had the upper hand, but as he raised his PPC arms for the killing blow he watched in horror as his opponent twisted her 'Mechs torso at incredible speed and fired her weapons straight at him. The exchange only happened for thirty seconds, but the damage dealt was incredible. The ferro-fibrous armor could only take so much before they buckled under the pressure of so many missile hits at once. The left torso was the first to collapse, everything within from the heat sinks to the targeting computer was destroyed. Next came the legs, armor and myofibers were torn apart from there bindings from the PPC of the Crossbow. It took everything Mason had to keep the Magefrom toppling over from the strain, and the best he could do was bring it to a knee. Dammit,IthoughttheTSMwouldendthis. He looked up and watched as the Star Commander moved closer to him. Even though he had done visible damage to the Crossbow, as evident by the searing new on it's left torso created by the PPC's, it was clear that the battlemech still had a lot of fight still in it. He watched as the Star Commander aim her Crossbow'smissile arm back at Mason. "That was unwise Loijtnant, though I must commend you for your skill." Hailed Xiaoxue. "I am not unmerciful Loijtnant, but my patience can only go so far so please remove yourself from your cockpit and surrender. I would rather not harm a warrior of the Kungsarme."

DammitIcan'tdiehere,notnow!Istillhavethatpizzabackonbase!"Alright Star Commander I'm coming out...I surrender" Mason then hovered his hand over his dashboard began the shut down sequence for the Mage.Slowly one by one the lights of the inside of the cockpit began to switch off, and the hum of the fusion engine began to die down. Mason then noticed that the heat in the cockpit was unbearably hot, unknowingly ignored thanks to the adrenalin still fresh in his system. Only after he had removed his sweat ridden neurohelmet that he was able to take notice, which prompted him to open his cockpit to the cold air before heading down on a wench cable. As soon as he had touched down on the ground, he looked up to see the cockpit of the Crossbowopen up and catch a glimpse of his opponent as she dropped herself down to the ground with him, though she was not what he expected. Her skin was a slight tan that contrasted against her strikingly white pixie cut. He scowl was menacing to behold, but her blue eyes displayed a certain arrogance commonly found among many young Clan Warriors. However, Mason noticed an oddity about his Clan opponent: she was amazingly short for a Clan Mechwarrior, being almost an entire foot and a half shorter then Mason.Whatthehell!IlosttoaClannerhalfmysize!OhGodI'mnevergoingtobeabletolivethisup!

Despite his feeling of humiliation, Mason caught the sound of the a loud rumble, and turned to look to where the source of the sound came from. He was greeted by the slow stride of Anastasia's 60-ton Dragonand engine of the Drakon Mobile Field Base. The Mobile Field Base had not even stopped a mere 20 meters before a graying old dandy wearing the officers uniform of the FRR burst through a side door and ran toward Mason crying.

"Kapten...sorry, but the Magehas reached its limit." Said Mason as tears swelled in his eyes. "Not even the Triple Strength Myomers could turn the tide this time around..."

"N...No! This cannot be! I was certain that your TSM would give you an surprise edge in this battle!"

"Oh how I had thought that my victory was assured, but my hubris has nought but bring me only grief! Oh woo is me!" Cried Mason as he made a melodramatic pose.

"Oh come hither my child!" Cried Kapten Dresdin as he pulled Mason into a big hug.

"W...What is going on here!" Interrupted Star Commander Xiaoxue as she watched the strange event before her. "What in Kerensky's name are you doing!"

Never before had she seen such a behavior. Here were two fully grown men who were veterans of their fields and here they were, crying as if they were small children. Were FRR warriors always like this?

"I must apologize for my compatriots odd behavior Star Commander, it is just that they have a tendency to be a bit...melodramatic."

Xiaoxue looked up in surprise to the new face amongst this strange gathering. She was around her own age, but she was quite tall, almost a foot taller then herself. Her blonde hair was tied into a long braid that wrapped around to the front of a Coolant Vest, her unit patches denoting her as a mechwarrior of the 3rd Drakons. Xiaoxue eyed the newcomer with suspicion. Catching her gaze the newcommer bowed slightly toward the Ghost Bear warrior. "I apologize for not introducing myself before Star Commander. I am Anastasia Volkov mechwarrior for the 5th Lance of the 3rd Drakons."

Xiaoxue unconsciously did a small bow herself in response before turning back to the two strange men before her. They were still crying of course, but Anastasia moved in closer to talk to them. Though she had tried to whisper her intentions to her companions, her angry tone made it possible to catch portions of there conversation.

"What in midgard are you idiots doing?"

"But Anna..." they whined.

"But nothing!" She said venomously. "Your officers of the Kungsarme. How would it look on the rest of us if our officers were acting like children, and on the field no less."

"But..."

They were cut mid-sentance as Anastasia pulls out her sidearm in a threatening manor without even showing an expression on her face. "Either of you idiots say "but" again and I put a bullet through your."

"Okay we get the point Mechwarrior." Remarked the older man. "You can put the gun down, we'll stop."

"Geez, you always kill our fun Anastasia." Whined the Loijtnant.

"That's because both you and Kapten Dresdin don't take your duties seriously."

This exchange went on for a good two minutes. Xiaoxue was beginning to be annoyed by this pointless banter, though she had not shown this outwardly. It was only until there banter led to the discussion on the various applications of mayonnaise did she decide to act. "That is enough!" She cried. "This pointless prattle has gone on long! With my victory secured Loijnant, and as the loser of the trial I take your mech as property of Clan Ghost Bear and you as my bondsman."

The group looked at her in surprise, as if she had appeared from nowhere. For a minute they seemed to only stare at her, until the Loijntant gave her a Cheshire Cat smile. "But still, what's to stop us from running outta here scott free."

Xiaoxue merely shrugged. "How unbecoming. Is this the true face of the Kungsarme? Of the Rasalhague Republic? Still even if you try, I will still catch you."

"Oh yeah, you and what army." Chuckled Mason sarcastically .

Xiaoxue simply gave him a chesire smile to match the Loijtnant's and the sudden roar of an engine seemed to have answered his question. Descending from the sky was the familiar shape of a Union-class dropship, its weapons aimed directly at the Drakons.

"Me and the Ghost Bear Toumen." She said offhandedly.

Mason merely cringed and laughed half-heartedly. "That's good army."

.