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Chapter 49 : M1 - Term: 1, Round: 5

Daedalus

Attendance at Fortescue Military Academy M1 Y:2142

House Thoth, Squad Leader, Squad Zero

M1 Rank: 1/1275, Tier 3 M-Rank: Null

Term: 1, Round: 5

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Cillian was enthralled with the match, "three each," he breathed.

Stanley's mind was also entirely focused on the match. Analysing the moves and counter moves from each of the squads. While Shu had excellent tactics and skills, the Thoth squad them at every turn. They moved as a unit as if they had been together for years, and their tactics were sublime. He thought Shu had them nicely boxed but with a single railgun round, in hindsight, the Thoth Commander moved his Shu opponent where he wanted him.

What transpired next not only surprised the Shu cadets it surprised Stanley as well.

Stanley assessed that even if Shu had taken different counter moves, it would have into Thoth's hands just as well.

The only reason they were currently level was the advantage Shu had in numbers, age and skill. Seven cadets for a zero originated as a handicap for the top squad due to it possessing the seven cadets with the highest potential. It served an purpose that in order to reach that potential, they needed to be challenged.

Just as M1TS0 (aka Mitso) were being challenged today.

A small chuckle escaped Stanley's lips. Their Master was ruthless, superb, but ruthless.

The issue with their seven starting number was the fact they were competing against a top M3 squad with eight.

M3SS1 (M3 Shu Squad one aka Messi) was left with two railgunners, one being the squad leader, Mayer, and a single photon wielder in a mesh exo.

Mitso was left with two long-range railgunners and the squad leader who used a launcher, grappler, traps and had a short barrelled railgun. The mid-range Mitso cadets were versatile. It was another element Stanley liked about the squad tactics.

The last Messi photon wield was in hiding. Chasing the Mitso leader was a deathtrap. The reverse was the same. While the railgunners were with Mitso vanguard, Mitso were able to take out three photon wielders. However, now the Vanguard was taken care of the long-range arsenal which decimated Horus was back in the mix.

If the shorter of the two Mitso Vanguard was as skilled as, the taller, Barran it was, this match would already be over. But that was unfair, not many M3 exo operators could pull off the moves that Barran did, and this pair were just in M1.

Thoth's midfield had lost one cadet to the railgunners and the other to the photon wielders. What was impressive was how Thoth pushed the close combat Shus into disadvantageous and into lines of fire. Half the time it was just a well- grenade from their launchers.

The Thoth leader had set up four static lines in which became suddenly when a mesh exo was corralled or stalled for a few moments.

While one of the Thoth railgunners provided cover fire, the crept up the eastern border of the map. Since she did not fire, the enemy would not know her unless they spotted her with infra-red or visual. The dampeners on the bodysuit nullified all other means of

Two smoke grenades went off, and Stanley noted that the squad leader them in a that would allow him to get the close combat Shu into a line of sight (LOS).

But he didn't go that way. He moved very carefully up a building using his grapple to swing around to the western side and then again to the southern of a building to the north. The noise of the grapple was obscure by precisely timed railgun fire. Railguns were loud, which Thoth used to their advantage. When they hit mach four that it was the perfect cover for the thud of a grappler.

"Their timing is good," Stanley mumbled, and Cillian just nodded. He was not saying much either.

It was like watching a mouse getting caught by a cat. The Shu cadet maneuvered himself to get LOS where he thought the Thoth cadet was moving to. The Thoth squad leader pulled out his Railgun, stowing his launcher. He was probably out of ordnance.

As soon as the Shu cadet was visible, in a of a , the leader's railgun boomed taking the mesh exo out with one hit.

"How did they know the instant the Shu cadet was going to pass that building?" Cillian whispered.

" and is the only answer, there was no LOS from any of the Thoth cadets," Stanley answered.

Messi only had its two Railgunners remaining.

Thoth's leader began to mobilise towards his opponents. While one of his Railgunners kept overwatch, the other crept up with the eastern line. There may be from the Shu cadets about the source of the Railgun fire, they would have seen two of the Thoth midfield carrying short barrel railguns on their back, however, up until now, they had not used them. There must be in Shu's mind. Which cadet was the source?

The Thoth leader made good use of the grappler and his speed. Twisting or a slight jumpjet maneuver at the right time made the Shu railgunners miss time and time again. While they were making themselves open to the opposing railgunners by taking the shots.

Shu was into Thoth's hands again.

Stanley thought, M1, and shook his head. Cillian was right, there was something different about this squad.

The closer the leader got to the Shu railgunners the more they had to leave cover to take a shot at him.

To counter the of the Thoth leader, Shu began to fire in tandem. One cadet aiming directly and the taking a chance on the targets route. This was a difficult , it was hard enough hitting the fast moving cadet let alone estimating and aiming down a predicted trajectory in a of a

It was enough to slow the cadet down, he became to time every movement and exposure to LOS with reload times. Stanley suddenly noticed the supporting cover fire was missing for three of Shu's defensive fire. He quickly looked where the other two Thoth cadets were, he was so engrossed in the movements and of the leader he lost awareness of the other two.

Cadet Vannier had moved to the highest point on the map. The leader had effectively mesmerised the railgunners. At first, Vannier added cover and return fire, but then she moved they missed her change of It was impossible to be harsh on them, Stanley also missed her change of

The other Cadet, Picard, was getting closer to the railgunners. She moved slowly to minimise the chance of Her covert was excellent to avoid thus far. She was also helped by her leader who was acting as a for both of his railgunners.

Stanley on the next move. Based on their strategies thus far he would guess the Thoth leader would use himself as bait, possibly dying in order to give the other two cadets an excellent LOS opportunity to take out one if not both Shu cadets. This would be a good strategy to win an exo match. Not so great in a real war.

The Thoth leader, Daedo, waited behind a building. He stowed his railgun and brought out his launcher. Stanley now knew Daedo did have grenades left and he only carried the railgun to this to mislead the It would only work for a moment, as soon as a salvo was they would know. It was the detail this cadet went to that impressed Stanley. Every minute was

It began, the Thoth leader launched three grenades, probably his last to the Shu The Shu cadets only realised they were at the last moment and they scrambled off the south side of the building. They had to stand in order to run, and Vannier began to fire hitting one in the back. The Shu cadet's heavily armoured exo barely saving her.

Stanely wondered why the Railgunner didn't fire. What was she doing? Why wasn't she in He quickly panned across.

"She has a photon ; he what was happening. Picard was almost on top of the Shu cadets, she was in medium exo like the leaders. She was very quick before engaging jumpjets as soon as she rounded the last corner she engaged them and flew towards her prey.

"She must have picked it up off one of the Shu cadets," Cillian answered now that he saw the Thoth cadet brandishing a photon

It was within the rules that cadets were able to loot and use weapons during a match. They had to return the equipment after the match of course and taking an exo was not permitted.

"This is the fourth time they surprised me," Stanley stated. It was a high compliment.

Cillian nodded. They were much better tactically than they showed during the M1 trials. This squad had lifted their game to another level. Or as he had assumed at the time, they were hiding their level.

Picard was excellent with the photon , she was given a gunnery role for a reason, but she could easily have been in the Vanguard with these skills. He would have liked to see her go toe to toe with Shu's photon wielders.

She flew into Shu's squad leader, Mayer, quite literally. Picard was horizontal due to her jumpjets, and while Mayer was also engaging jumpjets, she was unable to get away from Picard.

If this wasn't AR, it would have been messy. Picard's horizontal would have decapitated Mayer who had no melee defence. Mayer was with escaping, she did not even lift her railgun to block.

The last Shu cadet, Keller, fired at Picard managing to hit her leg. The AR governor immediately adjusted her movement capability. Instead of trying to close the gap, Picard threw a frag grenade forcing the Keller to retreat. Preventing Keller from taking a shot for a few Keller ran and jumped, his railgun reloaded, he turned to face Picard while momentum took him backwards. It would be difficult for him to defeat the three Thoth alone, but as a cadet should at this level, he was giving it his all.

Keller fired, while Picard dodged as best she could. The round took her in the shoulder, and the AR governor that was enough to incapacitate her. She went down, unable to move, the photon rolling out of her hand.

Before Keller could and escape the Thoth squad leader had cleared the building, his line was open. Speed not only assisted in mitigating or avoiding damage, but its primary benefit was the ability to achieve an opportune within a limited timeframe.

Daedo stood behind the Shu cadet and finished the match.

The box window HUD scrolled with the killboard for the match. As it did at the end of every match.

"Well," Cillian said breathing out as if he had been holding his breath for a minute or more. He beamed at Stanley.

Stanley did not have an excitable personality. He was methodical, disciplined and temperate. He gazed levelly at Cillian.

"I would think you would be more excited about your son's performance than a Thoth squad from M1?" Stanley admonished his friend.

Cillian looked abashed and must have felt guilty. He sincerely replied, "I do, I do. It's just this squad is so amazing. In all the years we have supported Fortescue I have not seen the like."

Stanley nodded. He did not mean to exact a guilty response from Cillian. The Marais were a loyal bunch to family, friends and even Fortescue.

"What's your assessment?" Cillian asked.

"Can I give it after the group rounds are finished? This is only one match," Stanley replied.

Cillian nodded sadly, "the next match is starting."

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The next match was a repeat of Horus' first match. Stanley concluded after watching twenty minutes of the ; Horus was talented for M1 and if he were to guess probably only to Thoth. They had excellent equipment. Probably better than any other squad. But not by a great margin. They were skilled for M1, but when compared to M3 they were left wanting. They were tactically sound, just lacking experience compared to the M3 squads.

Margins were small when it came to the elite matches, and although these were tier one, they were not inter-Academy elite. The marginal differences that existed caused Horus to lose again with only two kills this time.

M3 Osiris Squad zero (2) def M1 Horus Squad zero

Thoth were up again, this time versus Amun-Ra. It became apparent the main reasons Thoth M1 where Horus failed was their tactics and These were a cut above the other squads. It was another close match with Thoth winning with two cadets left standing.

M1 Thoth Squad zero (5) def M3 Amun-Ra Squad zero

Osiris who were undefeated in their first two matches lost to Shu squad one.

M3 Shu Squad one (5) def M3 Osiris Squad zero

M3 Amun-Ra zero (2) def M1 Horus zero

Whether it was fatigue or just beaten by a better squad, M1 Thoth was not invincible. They lost their next match against Osiris who had only one left standing when they took down Picard.

M3 Osiris Squad zero (6) def M1 Thoth Squad zero

M3 Shu Squad one (5) def M3 Amun-Ra Squad zero

After nine matches Cillian, Stanley and Andre perused the leaderboard. "It's going to come down to the wire," Cillian observed.

M3 Shu Squad one were on 10.4 points after competing in four matches winning three and losing one.

M3 Osiris Squad zero were on 10.0 points after competing in four matches winning three and losing one.

Currently, Mitso were on 6.7 points with one final battle. They needed to win and have three or more cadets standing at the end. They were up against a squad who had lost every match with at most killing two of the They were up against M1 Horus. Karine Fortescues squad.

If M1 Thoth squad won, with three remaining cadets, they would 3.4 for the match which would take them to 10.1 and into the semi-finals.

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Sophie Marais was as tall as her husband, one point eight metres, or six foot in the old imperial scale. She had dark hair, almost which was cut short, curving down to reach the bottom of her neck. Her skin was pale and although there was no doubt she was well beyond her twenties it was uncertain whether she was in her thirties or forties if you were judging by her looks.

She was a strong leader for Marais industries, confident, firm and fair. Generous when she could be and a hard negotiator when needs demanded.

When the match between Amun-Ra and M1 Horus was underway she interrupted her enthralled husband and his Stanley and Andre.

"Cillian," Sophie paused for a moment while his name being called cut through to his brain and then began, "we have an important guest who would like a word."

Cillian turned around. He and Sophie had been together for almost two decades, there was no way she would interrupt this round of matches unless the person who was the important guest trumped the event and his entertainment. Standing slightly behind Sophie was a lovely woman. They were almost the same age, she was slightly taller, elegant and smiling brightly.

Where Sophie was strong, straight and firm, this woman was all smiles, generosity and could charm the paint off one of his industrial vehicles. The chrome variety. She had long auburn hair which curved and swept down her body. She was wearing an Academy bodysuit, to the Masters. It was with one adornment, the word Fortescue in iridescent silver.

She needed no It was Yasmin Fortescue of the Fortescue Group. Probably the most powerful person in the behind her husband the CEO. Some would argue that as head of , she was the most influential.

Cillian bowed and guffawed. Words not quite forming correctly.

"Oh, Cillian. No no. This is your box, please I feel embarrassed," Yasmin said sweetly. For all her power and wealth she was sweet and kind. But this was what she , in order to fulfil her role she would have to be ruthless. It just did not hurt to charm potential business partners or victims, and this is where she excelled.

She took his hand and gently shook it. "Now, where can we talk in private?" She asked.

Although the group owned the Academy Yasmin had no idea what was where in the stadium when on Academy grounds she would be led to where she needed to go. Whether by an entourage or a robot. And it was not often she was on the grounds. Once or at most twice a year she would attend for specific reasons such as the most important inter-Academy tournament which decided or ceremony of the U3 cadets coinciding with an extended board meeting which reviewed the five and ten-year for the Academy.

Sophie promptly led the pair to the rear of the box and where a sliding door opened automatically. It was a sealed room for when guests need quiet and privacy. Sophie stood near the door, waiting for a sign from Yasmin whether she was required or not.

Yasmin, was astute, she looked to Sophie, "would you like to stay or are you busy? It's not confidential nor is it earth-shatteringly important." Yasmin watched Sophie's body language and smiled. She was still unsure. "It's in to my daughter in a way," she said and watched as the cogs began to tumble in Sophie's head.

"Then I will not intrude any further," Sophie stated, and promptly left with a wave.

The door closed.

Cillian shifted nervously, he had no idea what this was about still.

"Let me put you at ease Cillian," Yasmin said politely. Her tone was soft. Her voice lulling.

He nodded a small smile slowly cracking, "Please," he said indicating for Yasmin to go on. The match was , he would skim the data later.

"As you know, my daughter's squad hasn't been doing too well. Their to the M3 is problematic. It wasn't cleared through Xavier or me."

She paused and began to pace.

"She was given an important task, and I hate to see her failing before getting to the first hurdle."

She stopped pacing and looked a little distraught. "When I asked her why she was in this tournament she screamed at me about this other M1 squad. We can't turn back time and undo these events, but entering the M3 T1 group was disastrous for her confidence and her squad's confidence in themselves and her."

Cillian's brain was in overdrive, he thought he knew where this was going.

"I didn't know what I could do, and I need to help her. The pressure that comes from the Group onto a young Fortescue can be enormous. Especially when that young person is and driven as she is," Yasmin was almost pleading with Cillian.

"The M1 chiefs submitted an executive summary to me within minutes of my request. I was impressed, but I warrant they have been monitoring these events much closer than the mundane academy issues," Yasmin continued.

Cillian merely nodded and smiled

"I digested the report and came to a It's simple," Yasmin stated confidently.

"The Thoth squad are the answer, not the obstacle she believes," Yasmin shook her head again in mild annoyance. "Yes, they could have been an , a spur, but the gap is too great. The Chiefs spelled it out clearly. The Academies profiling is , they the potential of one of the cadets grossly. And this potential has inspired and propelled most of his squad."

"I have come to the ; If she wants to achieve with the Academy, like her Father, and gain Tier 2 She needs to at least work with them. The ideal for her would be to acquire their best members for her squad. Or as a worst case, join them." She said the last shaking her head, knowing that was likely impossible.

"And you are telling me this…?" Cillian let the hang.

"I need someone friendly to the Thoth squad to investigate her ," Yasmin finished.

Nope. Cillian didn't know where this was going after all.

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