Chapter 30
Heroes' Duel
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Fri 15 May 123
Time: UST 1323

Once the loyal members of the Ticonderoga's crew started to move against the mutineers, the situation was brought to a swift resolution. Given the sort of armaments the mutineers had access to, casualties were surprisingly light and with the culprits all placed under confinement, the crew could turn its attention fully to the battle going on outside.
For the Ticonderoga's Marine complement, the GCE leadership from the platoon level on up were gathered in one of the Deck 6 briefing rooms to discuss strategy. Stills taken of the Iberia were up on the projector and Major Knox was pointing to the little specks on the hull.
"We have Marines in MediSuits and HeavySuits outside the Iberia taking potshots," he said. "So long as they stay there, they're no real threat, but it appears that Marshal Graves himself is piloting one of the HeavySuits himself. If we take him out, we'll cut the head off the snake. We want to damage the Iberia as little as possible, so the most effective method would be to bring in a Mobile Armor unit. We take out the Marshal and his men outside, then we can move in to support the recapture of the ship."
"We have MediSuits," Captain Lakoff of Golf Company said, "but no HeavySuits."
Major Kang the S-3 Officer said, "The Saratoga's MEU has a few HeavySuits. We take what we have left from Echo and Golf and give them cover while they target the enemy HeavySuits."
Gunnery Sergeant Grisson raised her hand and asked the Major, "Sir, would they be willing to part with one?"
"What are you thinking, Gunny?" Major Knox asked.
"I'm rated for HeavySuits, sir," Grisson replied. "Let me draw their fire while the others move in. If there are no other HeavySuits deployed, they won't be able to resist."
"Gunny, I can't let you--"
"Please, sir," Grisson insisted. "Let me do something useful."
Major Knox did his best to hide his consternation.
"Gunny, a word," he said, motioning for her to follow as he headed to the door. To his XO, he said, "Continue the briefing."
"Aye-aye, sir," the XO replied.
Gunnery Sergeant Grisson followed Major Knox outside the briefing room. Grisson stood at attention the moment the Major stopped walking.
"Alright, Gunny," he said. "At ease. What's this all about?"
Going to the position of at ease, Grisson replied bluntly, "I'm a liability, sir. They used me to turn Lieutenant Cravitz and his men against you. I can't effectively serve as platoon sergeant, not after everything that's happened. If I do this, though, I can at least be some use to you."
"Gunny, you've had a death wish ever since Erebus," the Major said tersely. "Now I can't even begin to understand what you've been through, but I have never once doubted you, your loyalty or your ability."
"I know that, sir, and that's why I've been dragging you down."
"Let those dumb sons-a-bitches talk! I will personally break any damn one a' them over my knee if I have to."
"Sir, I can't jeopardize your command any more than I already have. Let me do this, sir."
"I'm not gonna just send you to get killed, Gunny!"
Cold as ice, Grisson replied, "Sir, I died back on Erebus. I do more harm than good by being here, but let me face the Marshal. I don't have anything to lose. No one's going to hesitate on my account."
For a moment, Major Knox had the urge to smack some sense into her. It was not the answer, of course, but neither was this deathseeker routine. He had seen it happen before and it never did anyone any good. Still, he believed in her and he was going to show her how wrong she was.
"You really don't know anything," he said. "Do you, Gunny? Not everyone's like Cravitz and his band of assholes. You're gonna see. I'm gonna let you do this--if the Sara'll part with one of her HeavySuits, that is. I'm letting you do it so you'll see for yourself."
As tightly as she controlled herself, Grisson could not entirely suppress an appreciative smile.
"Thank you, sir."
Major Knox smiled in spite of himself and told her, "Let's get back in there."
"Aye-aye, sir."

* * *

Location: ESS Iberia, Martian Sphere
Date: Fri 15 May 123
Time: UST 1407

On the dorsal of the Iberia, eight HeavySuits and about twenty MediSuits were busy taking shots at any random target that caught their eye. It was little more than sport with no real combat practicality to it. A well-placed shot could take down a superlight, but the ship's many cannons and turrets were more than capable of doing that job.
One of the HeavySuits stood out from the rest with its extensive modifications and distinctive red and black paint job. It was the prized first prototype of the experimental Mark 5, a special gift presented to the man they called the Father of Mobile Armor.
Donovan Graves started his career in the Marine Corps as a test operator of the MediSuits and HeavySuits when they were still in development. The powered armor was not his own brainchild nor was he the first operator on the project, but he was the best and by the time he rose to the position of project director, he was the foremost advocate of Mobile Armor doctrine and commanded the first MEU with Mobile Armor integration. Regardless of his assignment, he always found time to get hands-on with the latest model in development. His suggestions and criticisms were not always heeded and dead Marines usually followed when the high foreheads and their paymasters thought they knew better than he did. Their turn would come up soon enough.
All this shooting out on the hull was just an excuse to blow of some steam. Plan A had failed and now he had to wait for Plan B to pan out. The so-called 'Lord' Gnosis and his cultists weren't faring too well, but perhaps he was better off without them. If they could take the Ticonderoga and the Saratoga, the Bunker Hill would seem more like an extravagance than the linchpin of their master plan. With the only three spacefold-capable warships in the Union under their control, they'd be unstoppable. First Mars, then Ganymede, Titan, and all the Colonies. Then Earth.
If one thing could be said for his associates, they got results. The only problem was that the infernal Tico had a way of throwing a monkey wrench in their plans. Would she get the best of them this time too?
His thoughts were disturbed by someone contacting him over the radio.
"Falcon One, this is Blackbird Three-Oh-Two. This situation in here is getting out of control. We've lost control of Decks 4, 5 and 6 and they're gaining ground. If they retake the bridge, we're done."
It was Staff Sergeant Darius. If he was contacting the Marshal directly, it could only mean that his platoon leader Lieutenant Aboutaib had already bought it. His people were supposed to be the best of the best. The crew was left barely fed to weaken their resistance and give added incentive to cross over. There was no excuse for them to be gaining so much ground against his men. If the crew took the bridge, it'd be a lot of trouble to dig them back out. The answer was clear.
"Then don't let 'em take the bridge!" he snapped. "Show 'em what you're made of!"
"Co, copy that," Staff Sergeant Darius replied uneasily. "Blackbird Three-Oh-Two, out."
His associates were supposed to have flushed out all the rats. Surely they were already on the move, but just to be safe...
Switching over to their private channel, he said, "Sauro One, come in. Sauro One."
No answer.
"Sauro Two, do you copy? Where's Sauro One?"
Still nothing. What the hell were they doing?
"Any Sauro unit, come in."
"Sorry about that, Marshal," a voice said. "Your boys in black won't be helping you anymore."
Only members of the Sauro team had access to this channel and taking one of them down was no small feat.
"Who is this?" the Marshal demanded.
"No point in giving my name to dead man," the voice replied. "You aren't planning on being taken alive, I trust."
The Marshal gritted his teeth. Cocky little bastard...
"I can still raise a lot a' hell yet," he said.
"Good luck with that," the voice replied dismissively. "Madame Chairwoman sends her regards."
Well played, bitch, the Marshal thought.
All this chickenshit spook-on-spook action was pissing him off. Did this mean Plan B was out the window? Time for Plan C then. They'd do things his way.
"Falcon One," one of the HeavySuit operators exclaimed,"incoming contact!"
"Don't just stand there gawkin'!" the Marshal shouted. "Shoot it down!"
They all opened up on the contact. It was a lone Combat Sparrow. Someone must have thought they could send a Mobile Armor platoon against them. If they properly appreciated who they were up against, they would've sent an entire company.
The Combat Sparrow didn't stick around to take much fire, though. It broke away, but a smaller contact continued to approach them. It deftly wove through their fire, taking a few hits, but not enough to slow it down. It was a HeavySuit and whoever the operator was knew what he was doing.
The Heavy Suit managed to make it to the hull about a hundred meters from where the Marshal and his men stood. They continued to fire, but the shots all glanced off the HeavySuit's shields. Apparently they installed a few extra generators to take even more punishment than usual. The HeavySuit didn't try to dodge their fire after it landed. Instead it just held up its hand.
Intrigued, Marshal Graves told his men, "Cease fire."
When they stopped shooting, the HeavySuit didn't go for a cheap shot or anything. It pointed at the Marshal and then curled its fingers back in a 'come on' gesture. Thus was the last thing the Marshal was expecting, and he was enjoying it to no end.
"A one-on-one, huh? Old-fashioned, but I like it. Boys, don't interfere. This is between me an' him."
The Marshal began to approach the mystery HeavySuit, who just stood there waiting.
As he was walking, he locked in on the HeavySuit's signal and told the operator, "You got some serious stones on ya, son. What's your name?"
In his mind, the Marshal was already going through the list of Specials he knew and Marines he'd commanded or trained, anyone who could've pulled off this stunt. What he wasn't expecting was the voice that responded to be rough and husky yet unmistakably female.
"Why'd you do it, sir?" the operator asked. "Why'd you betray the Union?"
"A woman?" Marshal Graves replied in dull surprise. Then it came to him. "Oh, you. That's right. Gunn'ry Sa'ant Miranda K. Grisson. Ya know somethin'? Only 287 females in the Corps who're armor-rated an' jus' thirteen qualified for both Medis an' Heavies. Outta those thirteen, jus' four're still alive an' outta those four, jus' two're still on active duty.
"They shoulda read your file better. They shoulda known nothin' short a' killin' ya woulda stopped ya. Alright, Gunny. Ya made it this far. Let's dance."
Grisson drew her cutter and Marshal Graves responded in kind. The cutter was essentially a three-meter chainsaw that you could wield like a sword if you didn't have the sense to use the handle on the spine to better control it. They could chew through standard alloy and composite plating, not as quickly as plasma cutters but it made a much better show. So far, the attempts to develop a plasma blade to get the best of both worlds were unsuccessful. It was just a matter of time, though.
Grisson was playing it smart, holding the cutter with both hands. As dramatic as her entrance was, she wasn't here to showboat. She was obviously there as a distraction. The situation was already spiraling out of control. There really wasn't all that much need for the fun and games.
"Fall back," he told his men. "Be on the lookout for her friends comin' in."
"But, sir!"
"Ya think I can't handle this?" he asked harshly.
"U, understood, sir."
His men fanned out as ordered. There was a lot of ground to cover if they were going to catch an enemy insertion, but that was their problem to deal with. Grisson was there to distract him, so he was going to enjoy it for all it was worth.
She came to him. She was sticking to the hull of the ship. That made it easier for a melee fight. A classic style duel. He liked this gal's taste.
She closed the distance quickly and made her first cut, a wide slice across. He parried and the two blades glanced off each other. The cutters weren't exactly designed for dueling. If you tried locking blades, one or more likely both chains would break, leaving you with a largely useless hunk of metal and polymer. You could still use it as a club, but it wouldn't be getting through the HeavySuit's shell that way.
"Why'd you do it, sir?" Grisson asked again.
What was she looking for, a confession?
"Pesky ol' biddy, ain't ya?" he said scornfully.
"You were a hero, sir, a legend. You were the pride of the Corps."
She made a big overhead swing that he dodged, exploiting the opening to deliver a solid kick to the gut. The new Mark 5 had better articulation and could do that sort of thing. Grisson had to dig in with her cutter or else she would have gone flying. They weren't held that tightly to the hull, after all, and she'd probably burned most of her booster fuel just getting here.
Having taken the advantage, he felt like mocking her all the more. Anyone who let the legend eclipse the man deserved all the mocking he could give them.
"Pride a' the Corps! That'll help me sleep at night!"
Grisson had already recovered and was coming at him again. Their blades crossed. Another glancing blow. This time she came back quicker, throwing more of her weight into it. Graves met her strike and their blades locked. The chains hooked on each other and if sound carried in space, the engines would be making an awful racket as one strained to overcome the other.
"Tell me, Gunny," he said, "how'd it feel gettin' turned half-Shelly?"
He was hoping to rattle her, but she didn't go for it. Nimble as the Mark 5 was, it had a slight disadvantage when it came to strength compared to the Mark 4. She'd overpower him if he let her. He sidestepped to break loose, letting Grisson's momentum carry forward and off-balance. While she was turning herself back around, he had his blade pointed center mass waiting for her. If her reaction time wasn't as good as it was, he'd already be halfway to her cockpit.
"They shoulda put ya out your mis'ry like ya did for your boy."
She batted away his blade with a quick swing. She followed through with a couple more swings, each one whiffing by a fair margin.
Playing the mind game could only work to his advantage. Either he'd make her mad, which would cause her to make stupid mistakes, or he'd paralyze her by digging up old trauma. Whichever happened, it'd win him the fight all the sooner. She was keeping her head better than most so far, but how long could she keep it up? Just a little more pushing and he'd find the edge.
"Why're ya goin' so far for the people that did that to ya?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Come on, Gunny. You was on the run, but ya saw those reports on MCN, didn't ya? How 'bout that last one? The gubmint made the Shellies. The whole war was just an excuse to keep the milit'ry-industri'l complex a-hummin' all these years. Ever'un lookin' out ta the Shellies so they don't look in at the real enemy.
"How many ya lost over the years? Frien's, fam'ly, shipmates. The butcher bill gets paid ta Ol' Union Jack."
"Do I look dumb enough to fall for that bullshit, sir?"
"Ya might be dumb enough ta believe Union Jack's lies. You tell me, Gunny, how many a' the reports that came before was fake? If they was true, why would ya think the grand finale was fake?"
"Wrap a big lie in enough truth and any fool'll fall for it."
She tried to put on a tough act, but he knew he was getting to her. Just a little bit more.
"You're fightin' it, Gunny, but I know you's got doubts. Be honest with yourself. You know who the real enemy is, an' it ain't me. Come on now. Admit it. It ain't too late. Ya got guts. I could use someone like ya. All ya gotta do is say the word."
Finally, the opening he'd been waiting for. He plunged his cutter right into the cockpit of Grisson's HeavySuit. Forty-eight millimeters of armor at a rate of approximately ten millimeters a second. Whatever she tried to do, it wouldn't save her.
Or at least that's what he thought.
Grisson ejected herself out the back before his cutter could reach her. Normally this would be suicide. There wasn't room enough in the cockpit to wear a full spacesuit. The HeavySuit was your spacesuit. Only Grisson was wearing a full StatSuit. No, it wasn't a StatSuit but it looked similar. Where had he seen it before?
Of course. The Shellies. She was wearing a Shelly MCP suit. It didn't offer much protection, but vacuum of space wouldn't kill you. She'd planned for this all along.
She drifted back until she caught onto something, giving her just enough of a foothold to spring back towards him. He didn't have any idea what she thought she could do. She didn't seem to have any weapons on her and nothing she could possibly carry would get through his HeavySuit. His cutter was still stuck in the wreck of her suit. It'd just take him a second to get it loose and then he'd finish the job.
When Grisson touched down on her HeavySuit, she pried the cutter out of its hand, hoisted it up and brought it down on the right arm of Graves' suit. Even in microgravity, no ordinary human should have been able to wield a cutter like that. Graves was so stunned by what he was seeing that the arm was lopped off at the elbow before he could even react.
Of course. She was half-Shelly. All this time he was taunting her with it and didn't once stop to think about what it actually meant. She was more than twice as strong as any normal human. She didn't need a suit.
Trying to pull out the cutter was a waste of time at this point. She might be stronger than any normal human, but there was no armor protecting her now. All he had to do was crush her with his remaining hand and it'd be game over.
As he was reaching for her, she swung her cutter upwards and sawed through that arm too. She didn't give him a chance to try anything else. As soon as she cut through the suit's arm, she then went right down the middle. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't use her little ejection trick. All he could do was watch his displays go haywire and listen to the whine of the chain as it cut ever closer. The wasn't how the living legend was supposed to go out.
Well played, bitch.