The words, written in thick beams of twisted steel, stared down at Cross as he stood at the entryway of the school. Behind him, the transport that had brought him had already pulled away and quickly faded in a cloud of dust. Above him various ships hung in the sky, waiting to land and deposit their charges. Cross stared at them through narrowed eyes, the early rays of sunlight just beginning to obscure his vision.
He nudged a loose pebble with the toe of his freshly polished boot. Everything about him was polished and new right now, from the shiny buttons to the freshly tailored uniform he had been assigned. It made him claustrophobic and the feeling only increased as he took a hesitant step towards the entryway before coming to a standstill.
Once he passed through this gate, there was no going back. Not that he currently had any way to get back home at this point. He slowly clenched and unclenched his fist before he lifted one foot and slowly stepped through the gate. A strange, static washed over his body and set his hairs on end as he passed through the threshold of the gate. He paused and looked back, seeing the telltale shimmer of a kinetic energy shield.
“New student?” A freckle-faced guard stuck his head out from the guardhouse and eyed Cross with a bored expression. As Cross stared back at him, he realized that guard was a bit of an overstatement. The kid looked only a few years older than him, with the only symbol of his authority coming from a bright red armband that was secured to his right sleeve with the academy’s name printed on it.
“Provisional,” Cross said.
“Terran, should have known. Head up the path, the other gates should be open already,” the guard grunted as he fell back into his post. Cross started to move when the guard’s head appeared again. He stared at Cross for a long time. “Don’t cause any trouble up there.”
Cross didn’t respond as he shouldered his pack into a more comfortable position and continued on his way. It was a long walk, uphill, that took him the better part of an hour, though he was sure he could have done it in less time if he hadn’t been forced to stop at every single checkpoint and wait for the gates to be opened, despite what he had been told by the first guard.
By the time he reached the school proper his feet were beginning to chafe from the stiff leather of his boots and the tie around his neck felt painfully tight. Reaching up, he loosened the offending garment. Behind him, he heard the most recent gate click shut. None of the other students milling about paid him any notice. They moved in groups, talking loudly amongst themselves. It took Cross a moment to realize that each student was wearing a different colored armband that corresponded to their group.
He tugged his own band free from his pocket. It was a bright orange color that seemed far too obnoxious compared to the more subdued colors that the other students were wearing. He also noted, with a slight feeling of dread, that no other students seemed to share his color. He saw grey, black, purple, red, and a whole other host of colors, but not a single orange among the sea of students. With a small frown, he slid the band onto his arm, unsure of what else to do. His apprehension must have been apparent on his face as a girl suddenly appeared in front of him, a white band adorning her arm. Cross made out the words ‘student council’ stitched along the band.
“You look lost.” She stood almost a full head shorter than Cross, forcing him to tilt his head down to get a good look at her. Her long black hair hung straight, framing a cute, heart shaped face.
“New student?” she asked as she ran her dark eyes over him.
“Yeah.” Cross tapped his armband. “Provisional class.”
“Oh, so you’re a Terran?” She gave him a cheery smile. It didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m not sure how many other of your classmates have arrived yet, but they should be here in the courtyard somewhere. If you’d like, I could help you find them?”
“Uh, sure. Thanks….” Cross realized he had failed to introduce himself properly.
“My name is Alexis.” She stuck out her hand, beating him to the punch. “Alexis Hart. You can call me Lexi. I’m part of the student council here, representative for S-class and all of the first-years. So if you ever need anything, just ask me.”
The words sounded genuine, but Cross felt a reluctance on her part to say them. He couldn't tell if it was him personally, or if the girl simply was tired of saying them. Judging by the amount of students in the courtyard, he imagined she had said them a lot today.
“Cross.” He took her hand. Her grip was firm. “S-class?”
“You don’t know?” Her smile faded away, but only for a moment. “I guess they didn’t explain much to you. The academy is divided into four years. Each year is subdivided into the S, A, B, C, and the Provisional classes.”
“How do they divide the classes?” Cross asked the question but he had a sinking feeling he already knew the answer.
“The entrance exams decide your placement,” Lexi said, confirming his suspicion. “Except for…” she trailed off, suddenly looking embarrassed, like she had said a touch more than she meant to.
“Except for the Provisional class?” Cross gave her a grim smile. “All Terrans?”
“Not entirely,” Lexi said delicately. Again she flashed her fake smile that came nowhere close to matching the seriousness of her eyes. It almost made Cross smile. She seemed to be trying so hard to be friendly, but wasn’t entirely sure how to go about it. “You see… well, I mean… the Provisional class is…”
“Are you trying to poach one of my pups already?”
Cross was nearly yanked off his feet as someone threw an arm around his shoulder and tugged him away from Lexi.
“Hey!” Cross regained his footing and found himself staring into a mismatched pair of eyes. One was strikingly blue while the other was a deep, bloody red. An ocular implant? Both were crinkled into an amusement.
“Kosu,” Lexi said. The faux-politeness she had been striving to maintain slid away as she stared at the newcomer.
“I’m your senior.” Kosu wagged her finger without looking at Lexi. “So that’s Miss Kosu to you, Hart.”
Lexi twisted her mouth back and forth and for a moment Cross was sure she was going to snap at the girl, but instead the smile returned, if a bit thinner. “Of course, Miss Kosu. I’m so glad you’ve chosen to attend.”
“I wouldn’t miss the new batch of pups.” Kosu broke eye contact with Cross and turned to Lexi. “Don’t worry. I’ve got him from here. Why don’t you go do some student council-ly things? I know you’ve just got your position, but it’s never too early to start campaigning for next year. You never know when you might get knocked out.”
“If you insist,” Lexi said through nearly clenched teeth before she flicked her eyes to Cross. Her expression softened somewhat. “I hope you have a pleasant year here at Dryger Academy, Cross. I’m sure we will see each other again. Remember, if you need anything just contact the student council.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Cross said rather lamely as Kosu began to steer him away. He waited until they were out of earshot to turn to her. “You have issues with her?”
“Who? Lexi? Not at all.” Kosu grinned. “Actually, that’s only the second time we’ve ever spoken to each other.”
Cross wasn’t completely sure he believed that.
“She doesn’t seem to like you,” Cross said. He was slightly disappointed to see Lexi leave. She wasn’t exactly friendly, but she seemed easier to deal with than Kosu.
“That’s a rather common theme at this school. I’m sure you will come to enjoy the scornful remarks of the other students just as much as I do,” Kosu said airily. “There is a reason they put all the Terrans in a class all our own. Now hurry up, let’s go find the rest of your class.”
“What about yours?”
“Mine?” Kosu stopped and a large smile lit up her face. “You’re looking at my class.”
“I’m the only member.”
“What year are you?” Cross said. That feeling of dread was beginning to return.
“Third year. The only remaining member of the Provisional third-year class. The second-year class, well I suppose they were only a year-one class technically… they all dropped out last year. That’s fine though, they would have been expelled.” She pulled him tighter against her side. “I have high hopes for your group though. Ah, there are the other pups!”
She lifted her free arm and pointed off to two students who were standing off to the side, angled away from the crowd.
“This is Nathanael Bank,” Kosu said as she released Cross and motioned towards the taller of the two students, a dark-skinned, curly haired boy who stood a few inches shorter than Cross. He held out his hand and Cross noticed his left hand was missing the ring finger. He was probably a miner too, then.
“Yo,” Cross said, accepting his hand. “Cross.”
“Cool. You can just call me Banksy. Please tell me you're a Pilot?”
Kosu answered before Cross could. “Yes, he will be your Pilot.”
“Perfect. I’m the best mechanic you’re ever going to meet, but I can’t pilot worth a damn,” Banksy’s said.
“And you just assume I don’t have the ability to Pilot a Knav?” the girl beside him bristled.
“Yes,” Banksy said without hesitation.
“This charming doll is Makina,” Kosu said, sweeping her hand towards the girl. She looked far too young to be a student. Her hair was a pale blonde, so soft that it looked almost silver in the sunlight. She stared up at Cross with inquisitive blue eyes. They reminded Cross of a soft sky. From the way she carried herself, he already knew she wasn’t a Terran. She was far too rigid.
“You are the final member of our class?” Makina asked. She had a haughty, high-pitched voice that matched her face. “This is it?”
“Yes, this is it.” Kosu clapped her hands together. Cross didn’t know why she seemed so happy. It looked like the other classes had at least twenty students each.
“Which mine are you from?” Banksy said, breaking Cross’s train of thought.
“ Jiana’s Mine. Transic Gas,” Cross said.
“Ah,” Banksy frowned. “Sorry to hear that.”
“You?” Cross said, not wanting to dwell on the subject.
“I get passed around a few. Mostly the metal ore mines. I do all the repairs on their Knavs and heavy drills. Well, I guess I did.” Banksy grinned. “Give me four years here and I’ll be on Nova, building mansions for the bigwigs.”
“A rather lofty goal you have set for yourself, considering you have never even stepped foot off of Terra,” Makina scoffed.
“What about you, half-pint?” Banksy said, taking her slight in stride. “You’re a Novan, aren’t you?”
Makina drew herself up to her full height. It wasn’t very impressive.
“Yes I am,” She said with a slight upturn of her head. “My family is very important I’ll have you know.”
“Then why are you in the Provisional Class?” Banksy asked.
“I… well, you see… the thing is….” Makina’s hands began to wring together and she mumbled something under her breath.
Banksy looked at Cross with a raised eyebrow, but Cross only shrugged.
“Come again?” Banksy said, leaning forward.
Makina shrugged and repeated what she said, just as quietly.
“Did you catch that?” Banksy asked, looking between Kosu and Cross.
“I believe she is saying that she failed her entrance exam,” Kosu interjected helpfully.
Makina gave her a horrified look. “Not so loud, you filthy Terran!”
“Actually, she had the lowest score ever recorded in the history of Dryger Academy,” Kosu said before ticking off her fingers. “And, that’s including the other Academies as well, not just the Knav academy.”
“How low did you score?” Banksy was barely able to keep himself from cackling.
“I received a zero, but it was not my fault!” Makina snapped. “That stupid exam was far too early in the morning. I fell asleep while I was waiting for it to begin!”
“Oh.” Banksy’s smile slipped a few inches. “Ah, shit, I’m sorry. I can’t believe no one woke you up.”
“Nova is a cut-throat place,” Cross said with a small shrug.
“And how would you know that?” Makina said, fixing Cross with a glare. “You’re a Terran just like them. You’ve never been to Nova. You don’t know us.”
“Because, they created a school like this to pit us against each other,” Cross said. “That doesn’t sound like a real nice place to me.”
“Then if it is so bad, why are you here?” Makina said.
“To get out of the mines for a few years and get free room and board while I’m at it,” Cross said with a small shrug. “It’s better than choking on transic gas.”
“How very honest of you,” Makina said dryly. “I hope you’re not as lazy in the arena as you are in life,”
“Now, now, I believe that’s enough introduction for now,” Kosu said, stepping between the trio and silencing them before any further argument could begin. “The opening ceremonies are about to begin for you little first-year pups and trust me, you do not want to miss them. Follow me!”
“What’s with the pup thing?” Cross said as he struggled to keep pace with Kosu. She walked surprisingly fast, almost like she was gliding across the ground.
“You’re all so little and cute,” Kosu said with a wink. “Don’t worry, you won’t be pups for long. At least, I hope not.”
Cross looked at Banksy, but received only a blank look. He turned back to Kosu. “How do you mean?”
“You’re a pup until you get your first win,” Kosu said. She turned her arm to show off her armband. Like theirs, it was orange, though it had an emblem of a wolf printed on it. “Then you graduate to wolf. But that’s only if you get a win. Last year’s class went out as pups still. Poor kiddos.”
“You’re a strange person, aren’t you,” Makina said as Kosu led them into a large auditorium. It was easy enough to find out where they were supposed to sit. It was the only section that completely lacked students.
“Strange is such a subjective term, isn’t it?” Kosu asked as she settled into a chair and motioned for them to sit. She tugged Cross into the seat next to her when he tried to pass her.
“It will be easier this way,” She explained when he shot her a questioning look. “Oh look, your little friend is up there.”
Cross looked up to the podium and spied Lexi standing among the others. Like her, they all wore similar white armbands that marked them as members of the student council. One of them, a fourth-year with curly, black hair stepped up to the podium and gave it a sharp tap to end the murmuring of the students.
“Good afternoon,” he started with a strong, confident voice that easily echoed through the auditorium. “My name is Victor Sover and for the new students, I am your student body president. For the next four years, you will be members of the prestigious Dryger Academy. Take pride in that name and pride in yourselves. Become worthy of the name Dryger, worthy of the chance that you have been given. Strive to be better each and every day, moving forward with every breath you take. Don’t squander this opportunity you’ve been given,” Victor spread his arms wide. “Every one of you has an equal opportunity here! Your old status in Nova means nothing. You are the architect of your own future. Take hold of it!”
“What a bunch of crap.” Banksy breathed, but still a smile tugged on the corner of his mouth. Cross had to give it to the mechanic, he was confident in his abilities at least.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that our dear president didn’t bother to mention Terrans." Kosu leaned over and whispered into Cross’s ear. “That’s because we’re not expected to ever make it to Nova. The other students will do their best to make sure of that.”
Cross frowned as Kosu pulled away. On the stage Victor stepped back and a girl took his place. Kosu helpfully supplied that her name was Jessica Chin, and she was the student body vice-president.
“First-year classes. Please send up your class representatives now.” Jessica’s voice was hard, like flint. It rubbed roughly against Cross’s ears and made his skin itch.
“Class representatives,” Makina said. “Do we have one?”
“Of course we do.” Kosu grinned as she grabbed Cross by the arm and pushed him up from his seat. “You’re up, pup.”
“Wait.” Cross started to protest, but Kosu had already worked him out of the aisle and gave him a healthy shove towards the stage.
He wanted to turn around, but he could already feel the eyes of the other students on him. Frowning, he glanced up at the stage where the reps of the other classes had already made their way up, taking their place next to Lexi. The smile she wore earlier had faded away. Now a grim line was set in her face, but as Cross found his way up the stage he noticed her eyes were different. The serious expression was still there, but now they held a twinkle. It wasn’t quite amusement, but rather a sense of excitement and anticipation. Like she was a coiled spring waiting to explode upwards. His frown deepened as he noticed a similar look in the eyes of the Class A and Class B reps. They obviously knew something he didn’t and that couldn’t mean anything good for him.
“You all here share one dream. To become Knights of Nova. Protectors of the Colony.” Jessica called out as she thrust an arm out towards the reps. “This school’s only purpose is to prepare you for that duty and we will waste no time. Class representatives,” she turned to them and fixed each with a long stare. Cross met her eye with difficulty. “You have been chosen by your peers to fight in the first of many battles to come. Fight with honor, fight with dignity, and fight for the glory of Nova!”
The students let out cheer at that, jumping from their chairs and raising their arms in salute. Cross lifted his arm in a halfhearted effort and was glad to see Banksy looked just as reluctant to do so as well. Just in front of him, Cross spotted Kosu. She hadn’t bothered to stand up with the others. She gave him a wide smile and a wink.
“Let the first battle of the new year begin!” Victor shouted as he grabbed the microphone. Another roar went through the crowd as Cross and the other reps were marched out of the auditorium under the supervision of Jessica.
“Right, then.” Cross breathed as he fell into line and followed after the others.
The group was quiet as they were led to the launch-bay. It was a massive building, brilliantly lit with multiple hangers set into the walls, each designated with a year and class. Jessica did not stop at any of these however. Instead, she maneuvered them to a platform where five Knavs were already waiting, their metallic bodies shimmering under the bright lights like monstrous suits of armour waiting to be thrust into battle.
Cross recognized the model at a glance. The type P-34 Ettin. It was shorter than the newer Knavs, only standing ten meters to the more popular thirteen meters of modern models. They were solid though, and Cross wouldn’t say he was uncomfortable piloting one.
“Can anyone tell me what this is?” Jessica called out. A hand went up immediately and Jessica nodded for them to continue.
“Tina Hopkins. Class B, Ma’am.” Tina gave Jessica a small salute before looking at the Knav. “This is a Type P-34 Ettin Class. The original was created during the first Terran uprising by Nova as a Kinetic Amplification Vehicle. It was later redesigned with neural link technology and became the first Kinetic Neural Amplification Vehicle, or Knav, to be mass-produced for battle. It also was considered revolutionary at the time because it could utilize the neural link technology without need for personalized configuration. This allowed for faster training of pilots and a reduction of neural stress on operators.”
“Very good,” Jessica said with a nod. “For Knav to be truly utilized, the neural connection between Pilot and Machine must be perfected. The stronger your sync, the better you will be able to Pilot your machine. It may sound silly now, but even a single sync point can be the difference between losing a match and winning. In the real world, it could mean the difference between life and death.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the group. Jessica let the thought hang over them for a moment longer before she smiled. “But, for now, you don’t have to worry about that. The cockpits that have been installed on these Knavs, and all student Knavs, cannot be pierced by the weapons you will be training with, so you will be safe from death, at least.”
Cross didn’t particularly like hearing that only life was guaranteed and not safety in general, but he didn’t have time to argue the point as Jessica quickly assigned each student to a Knav. It wasn’t really necessary, however, as each one had already been given a custom paint job reflecting the class’s color.
At the base of his assigned Ettin Cross found a Pilot suit and helmet waiting for him. Glancing around, he found the other students were already quickly dressing, with Lexi already pulling on her helmet and working her way into the cockpit of her Knav. Cross wasn’t particularly surprised at that. He had a feeling she was going to enjoy this a lot more than she enjoyed acting as a greeter for the student council.
The suit fit him, just as he had expected it to. He stared down at the helmet. It had been painted orange to match his Knav. Cross was really beginning to hate that color. He caught his reflection in the visor for a moment. He looked nervous. With a furrowed brow he tucked the helmet under his arm and climbed onto his Knav.
The cockpit of the Ettin didn’t open like the new models. Instead, a hatch in the chest allowed the Pilot to slide into the cockpit. It didn’t surprise Cross that this was the model that had given Knav cockpits their rather morbid name.
More often than not when a Knav Pilot was killed, the body was not recovered and the cockpit would serve as their only grave marker.
Cross decided not to think about that as he slowly lowered himself inside of the coffin, settling back into the padded chair and strapping himself into place. Once he felt secure, he pulled on his helmet and sealed it into place against his suit. He felt the neural ring press down against his skin. A tingle started at the base of his skull that traveled through the rest of his body before finally stopping at his toes.
Cross’s vision was bathed in red light before the resonance link reached the required twenty percent. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, feeling the link grow more secure. When he opened his eyes again the crystal clear HUD of his Knav replaced his red tinted vision. His fingers flexed over the controls and he lifted one arm, then the other. The Knav responded in turn, moving as much to his controls as to his thoughts.
His HUD informed him as his sync rate reached fifty percent. The minimum required for battle operations.
Sixty percent. The average Pilot rating.
The link held steady and Cross let out a sigh, rolling his shoulders as he did so. The Knav responded. The connection seemed secure. He lifted one arm, then the other, flexing each finger as he did so. The Knav groaned in response, but completed every movement without fail and minimal latency. Cross smiled and looked at the others.
Lexi was already moving ahead, with the Class A rep not far behind her. The other two students took a few minutes longer, but soon they too were heading out. Cross hesitated before following after them, passing by Jessica who watched him with a curious expression.
Cross couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Lexi led them out of the hanger bay and into a large circular arena. The walls stretched up at least 30 meters tall. Too tall to scale without specialized Knav or one equipped with jump-jets. A small popup on his HUD informed Cross that it was called the Coliseum. It was mostly used for one on one training.
Cross looked at the four other students. Somehow he doubted this was going to be a series of one on one battles. His thoughts were validated as a waypoint lit up on his HUD. He followed the marker to a spot a few meters away, pressing his back against the wall of the arena. The other students took up their spots as well. There was roughly an equal amount of distance between them. He was between the Reps from Class B and C. The HUD supplied their names. Cross already knew the Class B girl, Tina. Class C was a boy named Wes.
A thirty-second timer lit up in green on his HUD. He felt his Knav lock up. He wouldn’t be able to move until the timer reached zero. That made sense. It wouldn’t do to give anyone an unfair advantage.
He used the remaining time to check out his competition. It would make sense for them to attack Lexi. If S-class were the best, taking their rep out first would be smart. Then again, he was in the Provisional class. An easy target. They hadn’t been informed if the battle was winner takes all or a match based on takedown points. If he had to guess, it was probably winner takes all. This school wanted to train soldiers. If you win the battle but lose the war, you’ve still lost.
There was almost no chance for him to win in this situation. It would be a waste of time to try and prolong the inevitable.
The timer reached zero.
He would just let one of them take him out and bow out of this quickly.
Content with his plan, Cross didn’t move as the other Knavs lurched into motion. The Class A rep went straight for Lexi. Tina and Wes hesitated for a moment unsure of where to start, but it was Tina who recovered first. She turned towards Cross and charged, closing the distance in only a few bounds. She opened with a series of rapid fire punches that sent Cross reeling. He was jostled uncomfortably inside of his coffin as the Knav shuddered under the barrage. He grit his teeth as a final strike sent him flying back. He expected to crash to the ground and be done with it, but something slammed into him from behind before he got the chance. Surprised, Cross spun around just in time to get a haymaker to the side of the head from Wes that sent him stumbling right back into Tina. She grabbed him by the back of the head and slammed him straight to the ground.
In the auditorium Makina let out a small scream of indignation as she watched the match unfold on the screens that had been set up for the students. She turned to Kosu who was watching the match with a lazy eye.
“This is unfair!” Makina said as she waved towards the screen. “Those two are teaming up on Cross.”
“Unfair?” Kosu slowly turned towards Makina. Her lips turned up into a joyless smile. “This is simply how things here are, little one. There is no help coming for you, or anyone else in the Provisional Class. I suggest you get used to that. You aren’t on Nova anymore.”
“Cross isn’t doing well,” Banksy murmured, more to himself than anyone else, as Cross was lifted from the ground by Wes and thrown against the wall.
“Not particularly, no,” Kosu said. “It seems as though the other class reps have decided to be quite proactive at putting the Provisional class in its place early. I wonder if I’m to blame for that? Hmmmm.”
Makina’s tiny hands balled into fists. “This is ridiculous! That idiot! He isn’t even fighting back!”
“No, it would appear not.” Kosu tilted her head. “That is an interesting strategy, I wonder how it will work for him?”
She ignored the looks she received from Banksy and Makina, choosing instead to watch as Cross was trapped against a wall by Wes.
“Damnit, just end it already,” Cross gasped out as Wes slammed him across the face with a right hook before dragging him back into a standing position and giving him another shot to the chest. The vibration rattled through the coffin and jarred Cross painfully.
His HUD beeped in alarm as his sync rate dropped.
Wes stepped back and Cross started to slump over until Tina charged in and slammed her shoulder into his chest. The chest plate of his Knav crumpled in and pressed against his coffin. Tina stepped back and Cross slid forward and to the ground. His sync rate dropped another point as his Knav crashed against the ground with a loud thud.
Cross wondered if it was finally over when a ping rang out from his HUD. A communication request? Cross accepted it and Wes’s helmeted head appeared in the corner of his vision.
“I’m disappointed, Terran,” Wes scoffed. “I heard your type were tough. Living on this scrap of a planet can’t be easy.”
“It’s better than listening to you talk,” Cross sighed. He received a kick to the side that sent him spinning across the ground and kicking up a cloud of dust.
Wes began to talk again, but Cross cut the comlink. He wasn’t really interested in hearing what he had to say. Rising to the bait would be a waste of his energy.
“Having fun?” Kosu’s voice filtered in through his helmet.
“Tons,” Cross gritted out as Tina took the chance to kick him. The spinning was making him nauseous.
“Have you considered fighting back?”
“Why?” Cross struggled back to his feet. The kicks were more jarring than the punches. “I’m not going to win this match either way.”
“No, probably not." Kosu admitted. “But, right now you aren’t making a good first impression. If you allow them to push you around now, they are going to push you around all year long.”
Cross avoided a sloppy punch from Tina and she stumbled past him. As he watched her pass, he realized she wasn’t very disciplined in the way she moved. Every action was all or nothing.
“A year is a long time, you know, and this is only the beginning,” Kosu said. “Something to think about. Unless of course, you enjoy being toyed with. I didn’t judge you to be like that, though.”
Cross frowned as he dodged another charge from Tina before ducking under a haymaker from Wes. Wes moved better than Tina, but he still wasn’t all that fast. Neither looked like they actually spent much real time inside of a Knav, only in simulation. Without the simulation assist each movement looked too exaggerated. There was no way their sync rate was higher than sixty percent.
“Well.” Cross felt his heart began to race and his hands tightened over the controls. “Why not?”
Wes stopped his momentum and swung his arm in reverse for a backhand strike. Cross watched it for what felt like a long time before he quickly brought up his arm and blocked the strike. Wes stood frozen in surprise as his head moved from Cross, to where his arm had been blocked, and back up to Cross just in time to see Cross’s other arm come up and strike him clean in the head. As he stumbled back Cross stepped forward and grabbed him by the arm, tugging him back forward and into Cross’s waiting knee. The force of the impact lifted Wes off the ground and set him flying back a few meters. He landed unsteadily on his feet and unprepared for the follow up elbow strike from Cross that dropped him to the ground.
A shoulder-slam from Tina sent Cross stumbling forwards. Again, she over-committed to the attack and kept right on going even as Cross spun to the side. As he came up behind her he grabbed her by the shoulders and tugged, hard. Tina’s feet slipped out from under her and she was slammed to the ground. Cross dropped with her, bringing both his hands together and slamming them down on her head just as she began to rise up.
The metal fists of his Knav connected with Tina’s face and punched her back against the ground. The Knav’s metal head was able to support the force for a moment longer before Cross’s fists broke through the crumpling metal and destroyed the circuitry inside.
Cross grimaced as Tina’s Knav began to spasm beneath him. Destroying the head had forcibly terminated the sync between the Knav and Tina. Cross had experienced a forced desync before. It was incredibly painful.
He didn’t have time to dwell on the issue, however, as Wes tackled him. The two went tumbling across the ground and came to a stop with Wes landing on Cross’s back.
Cross tried to roll free, but Wes grabbed onto his left arm with both hands. With equal strength between their two Knavs, Cross couldn’t struggle free no matter how hard he tried.
Alarms screamed in his HUD as Wes began to bend his arm backwards, stretching the joints past their limits. Through the walls of his coffin he heard metal scream and hydraulics screech. He was going to lose the arm.
“Shit." Cross grit his teeth as Wes gave a final jerk and ripped his arm free in a shower of sparks and hydraulic liquid.
Though he was prepared for it, Cross still couldn’t stop the stab of pain that went through his temple as his sync dropped rapidly. He felt a numbness take over his left arm.
With one eye closed against the pain Cross rotated around and grabbed Wes’s head with his remaining arm. Holding tightly onto Wes’s head, Cross swung his torso up and slammed his head into Wes’s. Metal crunched and Cross’s vision went blurry for a moment. Undeterred, Cross repeated the action, this time releasing Wes just as they connected. The force knocked Wes back and to the side.
Cross rolled with him, landing on top of the other Knav. Lifting his elbow, Cross slammed it against Wes’s neck. The armour there was weaker and dented easily. Wes flailed under him, throwing panicked kicks and punches in every direction. Cross ignored them and continued to methodically strike Wes’s neck, aiming for the same spot each time. Wes’s movements grew sluggish as his sync began to drop, his rattled nerves keeping it from stabilizing.
“Not done yet, are you?” Cross felt his mouth lift up into a smirk as he pulled back his arm before slamming his hand into Wes’s neck. His fingers easily ripped through the broken armour. Cross wrenched his hand to the side and tore through the innards of the Knav before severing the head from body.
Like Tina, Wes began to spasm as the sync was completely broken. Cross felt far less compassion for him as he struggled back to his feet. Another Knav was already waiting for him. He wasn’t surprised to find that it was Lexi. Behind her the Class A rep was limply hanging from where she had smashed them through the wall.
He accepted her com-request with a weary nod of his head.
“I apologize for the actions of the other classes,” Lexi said before he could speak. “It was wrong of them to attack you like that. If I had known what they had planned…”
Cross shrugged his good arm. “It is what it is.”
“I suppose it is,” Lexi said as she lowered herself into a fighting stance, her arms coming up.
With both Wes and Tina dealt with Cross’s desire to fight was quite low, but he felt that simply giving up would insult Lexi. Sighing, he tilted his body so his good arm was angled towards her and waited.
Lexi struck fast. She seemed completely comfortable in her Knav as she punched towards him. Cross blocked the punch, despite knowing what would happen after. With his only arm occupied, Lexi hit him with her other fist. It connected solidly with his already dented chest and sent him stumbling back. His balance was off from the missing limb and he couldn't compensate. With a grunt he crashed to the ground.
He appreciated that Lexi finished the fight fast. A gratitude that only lasted for a moment as Lexi’s foot crushed his head, sending him into complete darkness and setting his desync in motion.
To say the desync was painful would be an understatement. Cross had experienced it only a half-dozen times in his life, but this one was by far the worst. Cross was never sure exactly how to put it into words, but he often likened it to having one's consciousness sucked through a straw filled with razor blades and rubbing alcohol.
The only consolation was that you usually
blacked out before the pain became too unbearable
“Hey pup, you still alive?” Kosu’s voice drifted through his hazy mind.
Cross blinked but everything was still dark. The ringing in his ears was beginning to fade and he heard Kosu call out to him again. Then a hand slapped against his helmet.
He groaned and she laughed.
“Not your first desync then?” Kosu asked as his vision returned. Her head was hanging down through the entry hatch.
Cross tugged off his helmet and let it clatter down. “No.”
“I figured. You handled yourself well out there. Maybe a bit too well,” Kosu said as he unstrapped from the coffin. She reached down a hand and helped pull him free of the Knav. He slipped down the side and landed on one knee, leaning his head against the damaged hull.
“Too well?” Cross spat out the blood that was beginning to pool in his mouth. “Weren’t you the one who told me to fight?”
“Did I?” Kosu dropped down next to him and rested her shoulder against his. “I suppose I did tell you to make an impression. Last year’s class didn’t even manage a single takedown in the opening ceremony and here you are with two. Of course, now there is going to be a target on your back.”
“Wasn’t there already?”
“What a clever Terran.” Kosu laughed. “Yes, there will always be a target on your back. I wonder what you will do about that?”
Cross ran a hand through his hair. His head was still throbbing. “Endure?”
“Hmmmm.” Kosu leaned her head on his shoulder. “Let’s see how that plays out for you, shall we?”
Cross didn’t reply as he closed his eyes to wait for his headache to pass.