by Blake Hutchins
Minax Phasma III
Month of the Burning Swan,
3940 Old Earth Reckoning
"Pay attention, newblood!" Minerva yells across your comlink. Too late, you spot teh Blood Eagle hoplites waiting on the rise below. Instinctively, you cut power to your flight pack and plummet downward. A spinfusor disk slices overhead in a blue-hot whirl, instant death missing by an arm's length. Around you, your tribesmates engage the scarlet=armored Blood Eagle in bright candle flare bursts of plasma and the sharp, popping crackle of laser bolts.
Someone to your left screams and explodes in white fire.
Remember your training, your father's voice whispers from memory, and you realize you must follow your lessons to the letter if you are to survive this day. This is no training game, and you're not facing prospects of bruises or embarrassment. These are Blood Eagle, your people's ancient foes, and they will kill you if they can.
You fall through a deceptively peaceful blue sky toward rocky hills covered with the barbed, brittle stuff that passes for grass in this place. Dry alien air stings your nostrils despite the filter plugs. The sun is a distant white glow, and you hold the hard, reassuring weight of a Telamonian-made minigun, multiple barrels poised to begin their deadly spin. The familiar tingle of a phased-shield aura across your skin indicates your Hoplite armor is active, but riht now the nano-threaded polybronze breastplate and greaves feel like small protection amid the chaos erupting around you.
Keep moving, Minerva told you as the warband's dropship creaked and rocked its way down from the blackness of orbit only a few hours ago. It's the main thing that'll keep you alive -- that and not panicking! Trust your instincts, newblood! Phoenix knows enough scroffin' timee's been spent developing, ayia?
Triggering your flight pack again, you arrest your fall with a jolt and swing the minigun at the foe. The Telamonian’s barrels blur; explosive flechettes shred alien soil into chaff around the Blood Eagle. The hoplites activate their flight packs, and they’re agile enough to evade the brunt of your deadly spray. Only a few of your rounds hit, sparking harmlessly off the shield-reinforced crimson armors. A warrior in heavy Myrmidon-class armor simply stands there, grinning behind his transteel faceplate. You curse your poor aim, and land with bone-jarring impact in a soft crunch of dry pseudo-grass,your powerful legs absorbing the shock easily.
Your lessons. Yes, you remember how you sat with the other children on the training ground of your birthworld, listening to Old Kantele as he lectured in his rasping whisper ... There are only three foes worthy of our mettle, young ones. The Starwolf, who favor swiftness and daring. The Diamond Sword, who weave strategies of shadow and steel. And the Blood Eagle, butchers who laugh in the face of fire...
Minerva swoops up on a blue trail of phosphorescence and fires a brace of grenades at the myrmidon. The Blood Eagle warrior leaps ponderously aside, but the grenades’ staccato explosion swats him away like a broken doll and hammers you back a few steps. A Blood Eagle hoplite scores Minerva with a laser as she descends onto the hillside. An instant later, you regain your balance and hose the bastard down with your minigun. The Blood Eagle staggers under the incandescent hail and falls as your flechettes finally penetrate and find meat to explode in. You have marked your first kill, and you scream in triumph, but there’s no pleasure in it. The stench of blood and ozone and burnt flesh fills you instead.
It is better to die than suffer capture by the Blood Eagle, you once told your father’s sister years ago. She looked into your eyes serenely and replied, Ayia! Fear is their weapon, true. But you are of the Children of the Phoenix, the first tribe, the eldest tribe, the pure ones sprung from the Blessed Harabec himself, hero of the Cybrid Wars, savior of humanity. Such knowledge will spur you above fear.
A couple of laser pulses hit you in the back, searing even through the shield aura, and you grunt in pain, but the armor holds. You look over your shoulder and trigger your flight pack to thrust you into that indifferent blue sky. Another bolt scorches a furrow in the ground under you, and you vector toward the sniper, a female hoplite, emptying the Telamonian at her as she tries to maintain cover in the rocks of the hilltop. A bellyful of fear gives your hands speed as you let the useless minigun snap back to standby on the warharness while you pull up your plascannon. The Blood Eagle raises her longrifle too late as you drop directly onto her and crash a boot into her faceplate. The next instant, you unload white-hot plasma into her at point-blank range. You can’t even hear her scream under the roar of the flames.
Minigun. Longrifle. Disker. Grenade launcher. Blaster. Hellshot. Lascarbine. Hawktorps. Plascannon. Sword. Shockchain. Knife. Tetrahook. Club. Hand. Foot. Teeth. You’ve trained with all these weapons since you were old enough to walk, and their use is now deeply instinctive for you. Still, you remember your father’s words to you upon Presentation after your received the Dragon Marks of adulthood: Your life, too, is a weapon.
You land on your belly and skid down a slope in a dry cloud of dirt, through charred patches where blaster bolts scored the ground. Two Blood Eagle peltasts snipe at you, first one, then the other, as you scramble to reload the minigun with a second ammo canister. Your shield aura won’t hold much longer, and you’re bleeding from a half-dozen minor wounds. The flamer is lost, dropped by the smouldering remains of your last kill. Come on! you pray. You’ve done this hundreds of times before, under fire, underwater, in the dark -- all in training -- but now your fingers can’t get a good grip on the canister. Then you fetch up against a rock and the ammo’s gone. Dust is everywhere. A hyper-vee round whangs off your cuirass, and you know you're going to die.
Two standard weeks back, the Blood Eagle dropped onto a world held by your people, slaughtering the populace and setting the flayed bodies of their victims on spears around their LZs. The ghosts of our people cry out for vengeance, the elders said. The famed Scar Captain assembled a battalion of warriors to strike in retribution. You joined quickly, eager to serve your people and win glory in the eyes of Phoenix.
One way or the other, you’re high in the favor of Phoenix today. One of the two Blood Eagle about to destroy you erupts in a spinfusor explosion, and the second one breaks off to meet the new threat. Harach’Xu. -- another newblood of your tribe -- salutes you as he skims by.
“That’s three for me!” he calls with a grin, chasing the Blood Eagle into a gully with another spinfusor shot.
Even you, newblood, should be worth any four of these Empire-loving scrofs, Minerva joked as you disembarked from the dropship. I’ll have four markers on my belt by moonsrise, you boasted. She’d replied with a raised eyebrow. You know now you hadn’t any idea what you were in for.
You grope for the ammo canister, find it, and slam it into place on the Telamonian with a sharp, metallic click. Relief fills you, but it’s only momentary. The Blood Eagle peltast rockets back out of the gully with a minigun leveled and buzzing. Caught offguard, Harach’Xu tumbles out of the sky in pieces. You leap aside as flechettes reach for you in a wake of fury. A quick thrust from your flight pack scoots you beneath the Blood Eagle peltast, and you open up with the Telamonian, but the peltast is too damn fast ...
You remember the bruises left by your weapons instructor, Azendai, and how he taught you to focus through the pain, to keep your attention on the target. But never lose your awareness of your surroundings, he would say. Always know where the nearest ditch is, and grow eyes in the back of your head. The enemy does not forgive blindness or laxity.
“Left, newblood! Left, damn it!” Minerva’s voice screams in your ear and you tear your gaze away from the peltast to see a battered scarlet myrmidon drawing a bead on you with something big and black. You roll up and boost hard for cover. The myrmidon sidesteps to avoid fire from Minerva as she pokes a longrifle over the crest of the hill and snaps off a couple of shots. The Blood Eagle peltast, her true target, never makes it to the ground. The laser pulses blow his head off neatly; the sudden blast of blood reminds you fleetingly of one of the roses in your mother’s garden, its petals dissolving into gentle red mist. You glimpse the slumped body drifting downward on its flight pack’s thrust as you drop over the rocky lip of the hilltop. A heartbeat later, before myrmidon’s rockets shatter the world and turn your day into night.
Dawn casts long shadows over you as the last warriors climb laughing into the dropships. Beyond the mobile landing pads, golden hills roll gently down to a calm sea. Your mother is there, and your sisters, offering you a luck gift: the blaster pistol your grandfather won from the Starwolf -- what? Two jumpgates ago? Three? You tell Mother not to bother, that you were killed on Minax Phasma III, but she just smiles. You are of the Phoenix, my bright one, she says. We more than any other tribe return reborn from the ashes of defeat. Go now, and return.
“We’ll strip their armor after we’ve destroyed their brethren,” the Scar Captain orders in his gravelly voice. The Blood Eagle myrmidon’s blackened corpse lies in a small crater at the foot of the hill. You rest your head on your knees while Minerva plays a knitterbeam over you. Your helmet lies nearby, blown off from the force of that last explosion. You’re exhausted, your head hurts, and your burns pulse raw agony, but you’re almost too tired to cry out, and pride keeps your teeth gritted. As the nanodocs do their work, blackened flesh flakes away to reveal pink new skin spreading across your wounds with incredible speed. The pain fades. You relax and stretch gingerly. Around you, Phoenix warriors reload their weapons and run nano-repair kits over their armor. The sight of their gleaming wingmask helmets fills you with resolve. Minerva grins and winks as she spies you clipping the Telamonian back onto your warharness.
“Welcome back ... warrior,” she says, and tosses you your helmet. “Remember, you owe me two more by moonsrise, ayia?”
Tribes Manual: Pages 5 - 13