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Chapter 55 : 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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"What just happened?" Andre asked.

"They stepped over the zone line," Stanley answered dourly.

"Why?" Andre asked. The pitch of his rose sharply in the moment it took to utter the word why.

"Something has changed with their tactics," Cillian Jeram's match was due to start in fifteen minutes, and the stood by the AR trying to work out what just happened. Stanley looked out the his face a mask of Andre was mumbling while Cillian kept looking up stats on the killboard in case the answer was buried in there somewhere.

The Marais box was usually a calm and collected affair. Today with Jeram Marais competing in the M3 semi-finals it was packed full of friends, business associates and colleagues. After the first semi-final with Thoth forfeiting on mass, the box had never been this rowdy.

Even Cillian's was not immune to

"Cillian, Cillian," his head of chassis development, Sandor, injected himself into the "This isn't normal, right? You know, I watch the Tier one League matches. They never forfeit." It was Sandor's first time in the box, he had been at Marais Industries for four years.

"No Sandor," Cillian answered patiently, "I have never seen this happen before."

"The prime melee cadet, he," Sandor continued to describe the events they all just witnessed, "he dragged the other cadet out," Sandor said excitedly. "He does know that its not real right?"

"Yes, Sandor. The cadets are well aware, they train in the Augmented Reality arena every day," Cillian replied.

"So. Why?" Sandor asked the that no one seemed to have the answer to.

"They are up again this afternoon in the M1 final. It was probably brought forward from the Friday because of this squad," Andre noted.

Cillian wondered if they would be allowed to compete. Technically they didn't break any rules. On the other hand, they would have angered the faculty considerably.

"I wonder what Master Nader thinks?" Cillian asked out loud.

Sandor picked up on the sombre mood and asked quietly, "who is Master Nader?"

"The Thoth House Master in charge of this squad," Andre answered. He was not sure how he was going to report this to the It was simple up until now. Breakout talent in both engineering and strategy from Thoth M1. Now. He would have to report what just happened and let The make their own

"Oh," Sander noted, "they will probably be in all sorts of trouble."

It was only yesterday Cillian and Stanley spent a few hours with this squad. They were insightful and disciplined. If anything he thought they could be too You only got to be thirteen once and the years ahead were only going to get worse.

"Do you think they cracked under pressure?" Cillian asked Stanley. Other than answering Andre with a simple fact, he had been silent, lost in thought.

"It's…" Stanley began and then paused. "It's like they were pretending this was a real battle."

Andre, Sandor and Cillian looked at Stanley as if he was as crazy as what just transpired.

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*Commander Mallet: Master Nader Report to Faculty Box Immediately.

*Master Nader: I am busy. Hold a VR meeting if you must.

*Commander Mallet let out an exasperated sigh. Master Nader had rapidly gone from to the Middle Academy to his adversary and worst nightmare.

*Commander Mallet: very well.

Within minutes the Commander convened an emergency peer review meeting with Master Becker from Osiris and Master Haddad from Shu. Master Nader ported in as a hologram while the others appeared to her in a VR room.

After a short preamble introducing the Masters and events, Commander Mallet got to the crux of the emergency meeting.

*Commander Mallet: Master Nader. What remedial are going to be taken against the cadets from Thoth squad zero after today's performance.

*Master Nader: There will be a review with the squad leader and in command where I will assess their review of the battle report with the entire squad.

*Master Becker: Master Nader are you stating that you do not review the match yourself? You just review the squad's leadership review of the match?

*Master Nader: Your is adequate in this instance Master Becker.

*Master Becker: They have no mentor! How is this best practice, in cadet development, that we are held to at this Academy?

*Master Haddad: Master Nader is responsible for the cadet's , but how she this is within her purview. That is what I read in the FMA Master practices and cadet development manual (MP&CD manual).

*Master Becker: that manual is twenty years old!

*Master Haddad: and yet it is the current standing document.

*Commander Mallet: we digress. This meeting is not about the MP&CD Manual. We will cut right to the chase. Master Nader. Can you the of your cadets at today's tournament? And can you guarantee it will never happen again?

*Master Nader: Yes and No.

*Commander Mallet: Do not games, Master Nader. This is , you can be at this meeting.

*Master Nader: It's ironic that you are telling me not to games. The cadets were conducting themselves as instructed by me.

*Commander Mallet's voice rose, as did his blood pressure and heart rate.

*Commander Mallet: That's perfect! Since you instructed them to behave this way you can now instruct them to stop.

*Master Nader: That will not work.

*Master Becker: why not? Don't you have these cadets under control? They are only M1 for godsakes.

*Master Nader: I not only gave them I told them why. This cannot be undone short of mindwipe.

*Master Becker: what are you talking about? It makes no sense. Commander do you know what she is saying?

*Commander Mallet: Master Nader is being vague and obfuscating on purpose. Don't let it rattle you.

*Master Haddad couldn't help himself, he at the last remark.

*Commander Mallet: Master Nader. Let me put it another way.

*Master Becker: Don't give her any wiggle room.

*Commander Mallet: Master Nader, if any of your cadets forfeit in a future match they will be expelled from the Academy immediately.

*Master Nader: Commander. While I commend you for taking a firm stance. I would like to inform you that if any cadet. Any single cadet under my is expelled for any reason that I will leave this academy and take all the cadets who are willing with me to another more progressive establishment. This is not a threat. It is a warning.

*Master Haddad: Commander. It is not within the rules to expel a cadet for such an

*Master Becker: but it is for disobeying a direct order.

*Master Haddad: Sorry. Again. If Master Nader does not give this order, then it is not a Direct order.

*Master Becker: why are you here if you aren't going to support the Academy and the Commander?

*Master Haddad: ah me. I am a new Master, it's only my first year. This meeting is an emergency peer review, and I was invited because I am a peer? Is that correct? There was no of resolute support for whatever the Commander proposed in the criteria.

*Commander Mallet: you two. Stop arguing. The meeting is again diverging from its purpose. Master Haddad is correct. We cannot expel a cadet for forfeiting a match without changing the Academy rules. However, we can hold a hearing in front of the honour committee which can to the LG.

*Master Nader: I look forward to it.

After her last response, Master Nader blinked out of the meeting.

Master Becker put both his hands on his forehead in a sign of , "can we hold a inquiry for Master Nader?"

Commander Mallet laughed hoarsely and replied, "sadly no."

"Will they go with her?" Master Haddad enquired. Everyone knew who he was referring to.

"Who cares," Master Becker replied, "such a threat is beneath the Academy's notice. Someone who dares such a thing shouldn't be teaching here. And if the cadets are stupid enough to leave, then we don't want them!"

Commander Mallet was silent. His once hair was getting greyer by the day.

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Osirus One was knocked out of the M3 semi-final by Shu one. Today had not been a great day for Cillian.

The mood in the box went from rowdy to sombre in a matter of thirty minutes. Many guests left after lunch to watch the Mech semi-finals. Normally very few would have stayed to watch an M1 exo final rather than four Mech matches consisting of U2 and U3 semis. But, many interested spectators wanted to see what the Thoth squad zero would do next.

Stanley and Cillian were alone, even Andre had left to watch the mechs.

"He'll be ok," Stanley said.

"To lose by such a small margin is heartbreaking," Cillian said for the sixth time.

"Let's watch what the recalcitrant Thoth squad do next. That will take your mind off it at least," Stanley wondered if Cillian was taking the close loss harder than his son Jeram.

"I'm surprised you know that word," Cillian chuckled.

"Just because I am in the Military doesn't mean I'm stupid!" Stanley acted mortified.

"On the contrary, you have one of the keenest minds I know Colonel," Cillian said earnestly.

As time passed from the mass forfeit, the adults calmed down. What was a massive shock at 1030 was now something funny that happened at 1500. If it was an inter-Academy match, it would have been a different matter, but most viewed the inter-House as a vehicle to pick the Academy team and for grading cadets.

"They're in the corral," Stanely noted.

"What are their loadouts this time?" Cillian asked.

"Much the same as the last match. Even if they get desert again, this isn't M3 Shu they are up against," Stanley

"That was unfortunate," Cillian opined.

"They will learn to be prepared for all maps in future," Stanley added, "although, in reality, you would know where you were being dispatched."

"Wait, there are only six. One is missing." Cillian observed.

"What?" Stanley replied and took a closer look, "Gaumont is missing."

Six of Thoth zero lined up against seven of Amun-Ra zero.

Delcroix, Favre, Duval, Stuart and Deimos were rarely never ranked in the top ten cadets of M1, yet here they were in the final. The Amun-Ra squad focused on short-range high damage weapons and their combat skills.

Their weapon of choice was known as the It was a weapon with its historical roots as a shotgun where the ordnance had evolved into a which exploded into a small fireball after leaving the barrel. Its increased its velocity as well as creating a small superheated ball. Also known as a fireball. It was the size of a small fist, with a thirty-millimetre radius at most.

The nature of the kept it as a low fire rate, short range weapon. Amun-Ra loved Some would they should change the House Banner emblem to a However, it already looked like a fireball.

It was noticeable, but not surprising the Amun-Ra zero carried two each. They did not dual wield the weapon, but the standard issue had a habit of overheating and jamming. Although the weapon did not shoot actual ordnance during the AR match, the AR adjudicator still the chance that the weapon would overheat and shutdown.

"There are no surprises with the loadouts, but why are they missing a cadet? Is he injured?" Cillian asked, but no answer came.

The match began, and the map was revealed. It was a ruined city, blocked streets with rubble everywhere. Structures were toppled. However, plenty of height and cover remained. It was one of the most interesting types of terrain. Cadets agility and mobility a major factor as well as the squads tactics.

"I am sure the little commander is breathing a sigh of relief," Cillian suggested.

"More like he is asking why didn't they get this map for their last match," Stanley countered.

"I couldn't interest you in a bet on the ; Cillian proposed.

Stanley laughed, "Sure Thoth win with zero casualties. Ten bitcreds."

Cillian shook his head. He wasn't taking that wager.

Stanley and Cillian watched as Thoth ran through the ruins to the centre. They were using their mobility to reach the tower at the centre of the map first. It was a tower, reaching twenty metres in height, by far the tallest structure.

Four cadets lay prone and spread out across the top of the structure, while two hid amongst the rubble below.

Amun-Ra did not want to approach the tower, they took cover within a hundred and fifty metres and waited.

The four Thoth on top of the tower held their and waited.

"This is the problem with survival matches," Cillian observed.

"No objective to fight over, hmm," Stanley

The two hidden Thoth cadets, Mace and Axelzero, crept towards Amun-Ra's keeping low in the rubble. The spectators could see them, but it was doubtful Amun-Ra could without breaking cover and a target for the long-range railguns.

After five minutes of creeping slowly towards Amun-Ra, the two cadets stood suddenly and began to fire their launchers down onto the Amun-Ra

Amun-Ra had a to make, retreat or get into range and return fire. Thoth were only sixty metres away, but it would put them into range of the railguns held by Vannier and Picard. Both who were proven crack shots at longer range.

Amun-Ra charged.

"This won't last much longer," Stanley offered his assessment.

Amun-Ra were trying to take down the two cadets and then retreat back to cover. Axelzero and Mace retreated back towards the tower, jumping backwards, using jumpjets while continuing to launch grenades.

"Why aren't they using the railguns?" Cillian asked Stanley.

"The one handers?" Stanley because the long-range railguns were beginning to damage Amun-Ra. When Cillian nodded, he answered, "they already had launchers equipped, they would lose valuable by swapping. And the frag grenades create a chaotic environment. They will slow the charge."

Two of Thoth cadets flew down off the tower to meet the Amun-Ra assault, and once they closed to one hundred metres, they began to fire. All six Thoth cadets were firing upon Amun-Ra who had not closed to range, which had a maximum effective range of fifty metres.

After three Amun-Ra cadets went down the squad leader must have called for a retreat. The remaining four split off in two

Thoth followed the squad leaders group, all four chased the two Amun-Ra cadets and focused them down before they could hide amongst the rubble.

There were only two Amun-Ra cadets left. They had run east and were using a building for cover. The two cadets themselves, so Thoth had to come into range of their in order to engage with their railguns.

The four Thoth cadets closed down the distance, leaving the Vannier and Picard on top of the tower.

"Do you think with two they can take one down?" Cillian asked Stanley. Purely for , the match was over.

"Why put themselves in that They know where they are and they have launchers, grapplers and mobility advantage." Stanley replied.

His assessment was correct, Thoth used the pair on the tower as overwatch covering the east, while the remainder spread around the Amun-Ra cadets, staying out of range of their and picked them off with launchers and railguns.

Thoth squad zero (0) def Amun-Ra zero

The M1 final was over.

"Again they surprise us, it's very rare that medical can't heal an injured cadet in five minutes. He didn't break his back nor was he caught in an ," Cillian noted.

"If not injury then what?" Stanley

"Does it have something to do with the forfeit?" Cillian returned with another

"Wait," Stanley said suddenly. "Gaumont was the one incapacitated in the match against Shu. The one they dragged out."

Cillian raised an eyebrow.

"Don't you see? They are pretending that these matches are real. They did not take him, because they are behaving as if he was critically injured!" Stanley

"Surely you jest," Cillian laughed.

Stanley shrugged, "I could be wrong. You come up with a better , or better yet, ask them."

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