Level 3Lightning Strikes
By Jeff Hoffman

Knight Lieutenant Delien Masrin strode confidently into the administrative offices at CAV Readiness Bay 5-Delta.

"Knight Lieutenant Masrin reporting as ordered."

Lt. Saryn Obara looked up from her glowing requisition order pad and examined the young Adonese Knight.

"Well, aren't we eager? You got an order chip for me, Knight Lieutenant?" she asked impatiently.

"Yes ma'am!" he replied, nearly shouting. He reached into a pocket of his trousers, fumbled for a moment, then switched sides and found what he was searching for. He produced a small cylinder and dropped it in the lieutenant's outstretched palm. She placed the chip on the proximity scanner on her handheld console, and Masrin's vitals and orders scrolled down the page.

"Welcome to the Firehawks, Knight Lieutenant Masrin. Would you like a suggestion?" It wasn't a question.

"Yes, ma'am!" shouted the young Knight.

"First, tone it down. The shiny uniforms are just First Knight Spiro's way of playing dress-up with some old mercs; we don't stand on ceremony here. Second, change out of that costume and put on some work fatigues. You're going to get dirty today. When you're done with that, go see Chief Matlin out in bay twenty-one. You can stow your gear in the locker room for now."

Seeing Masrin start to look around the room, she pointed down a well-lit corridor to her left and said, "The locker room is that way." Masrin took off at a brisk pace. Saryn sighed, then shook her head and muttered, "Newbies."

After stowing his gear, Masrin walked to bay twenty-one. He opened the door and a feeling of awe washed over him. The CAV inside looked like the old Dictator he had used in training, but there was something different about this one... After staring for a minute, he finally realized the difference. It was the guns! They weren't the standard Gauss cannons normally found on older Dictators, these were bigger and looked more deadly, if that were possible.

As he stood in the open doorway admiring the machine, oblivious to the world, he did not notice the short man calling out to him. A small flying wrench finally brought him of his reverie, "Get over here rookie." Masrin rubbed his sore arm as he jogged over to the crew chief.

"Knight Lieutenant Delien Masrin, reporting for duty!" Masrin stammered.

"Jerry Matlin." The chief managed a half-hearted salute back to the young Knight. "I take it you've never seen a Black Lightning Dictator before."

"No sir. I thought they were decommissioned years ago."

"KODA would never allow it. The only ones not still on the battlefield were either lost in space or destroyed completely." Matlin stepped onto a gantry and started lowering it down. "If she's at all salvageable, KODA will get me the parts I need to rebuild her."

"Even with all the fighting going on? I'm surprised the Rach emperor allows it." Masrin observed.

"Allows it?" Matlin laughed. "He commands it. Back in the day, KODA awarded these to pilots who'd impressed the Rach in battle. They were the pinnacles of KODA Works technology." The chief offered a hand to help the young Knight onto the gantry as it neared the floor. "The Emperor ordered that KODA help us to keep them in fully operational, so that on the day a BL pilot finally faces a Rach warrior in combat, the fight will be evenly matched. You know how their mentality is; nothing's better than two top-notch CAV crews blowing each other to Kingdom come. Of course, the UCOR also gets performance logs and usage data in return."

"Where did those guns come from?" Masrin asked as they rose above them toward the cockpit.

"They were being developed for naval point defense, believe it or not. Then some crazy Rach engineer decided to see what they could do on a battlefield. So his team swapped out the Gkw-12's with these babies, and sent them into the field. They work great too, only there is one 'slight' side-effect." He made quotation marks with his hands as he said the word slight. "The feedback from overdriving the gauss fields on the cannons fries every other damned electrical system in the entire CAV. Climb in there." Matlin ordered while pointing into an open access hatch behind the cockpit.

Masrin started to say, "Isn't that where..."

"The breeder is. Yep." the chief interrupted, completing Masrin's sentence. "The Black Lightning's nickname comes from the power surge created by overdriving the guns. It damages everything. EME's fix most of the damage within seconds, but it's still so widespread that the CAV's performance suffers. If you're lucky, you don't blow your gel packs in the process. They tried putting extra shielding around the guns on the '70 Dictator, but they still get the overdrive feedback. Crazy bastards put them in the field anyway. In you go!"

Masrin slid into the hatch and immediately yelped. After a few moments of wriggling around inside the tight space, his head reappeared, covered in the sticky blue-green remnants of a blown T-Gel pack.

"I'm guessing you weren't lucky last time out?" he asked, bemused.

"You catch on pretty quick, kid." Matlin's straight face melted away and he started laughing again. He offered a hand to the disgruntled young Knight.

"Now go get yourself cleaned up and I'll show you around the bay."

With an astonished look on his face, Masrin asked, "What about cleaning the breeder compartment?"

"Hell, kid, don't they teach you anything in boot?" Matlin pulled a hose from the gantry and gave it a quick spray into the hatch. Almost immediately the scattered t-gel seemed to begin gathering itself into reclamation canisters.

"That's what we've got nanobots for."


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