The Ricklins gathered at an open field next to Vincent's mansion. Normally, the elders of the vaunted family never paid attention to Vincent. However, the duel he so loudly proclaimed in the news inadvertently involved the family's honor.
Some bystanders might become surprised to see someone cared about Vincent's reputation for once. The difference from previous situations was that Vincent only disgraced himself with dubious lifestyle choices so far. How could anything he do be any worse?
The key difference involved mechs. Values such as honor, bravery and service to your state were intertwined with modern society. As disgraceful Vincent had already been, chickening out a duel not once but twice would smear their name to such an extent that they'd start to lose business opportunities.
"Where the coward who calls himself a mech pilot!?" A booming voice broadcasted from a tall and bulky heavy mech. "For all his bragging, he better be here on time! I don't want to miss my own victory party."
At both sides of the field stood two groups of spectators. The smaller group was obviously the Ricklins, along with a smattering of Vincent's playboy friends. On the other side of the field stood a similar group of elders and young second generation princes. It was evident without saying that Vincent attracted the ire of the backing of his opponent.
Keeping both sides safe were guards and security screens. Scores of technicians were busy preparing the field by setting up strengthened security screens that did not lose out to the powerful shields that kept arena battles contained. Just beyond the perimeter were scores of patrolling mechs. No outsider would have the opportunity to sneak close.
Within the core of Ricklin elders sat a dainty, fresh-eyed maiden. Her petite body contrasted remarkably with her predatory blue eyes. She flipped her exquisite blond locks and yawned.
"When will my idiot brother arrive?" Catelyn asked one of her many attendants. "It's almost time to start."
"Young Miss, word has just arrived that Vincent has boarded his new mech. He should be here in a couple of minutes."
"Always late to the party I see. As usual."
The young heiress of the Ricklin line thought this duel was a waste of time. Vincent had no skill in piloting mechs despite possessing the requisite aptitude. Their descendants never produced potentates, thus they never valued honor and duty. What was the point of dying in combat when you could pay someone else to do it in your stead? Money was the real road to power. Personal combat prowess was irrelevant in her eyes.
Nevertheless, just because the Ricklins took a dim view on duels didn't mean that others thought the same. In this modern, mech-obsessed age, to receive a challenge and refuse outright was a sign of cowardice. To issue a subsequent challenge and not show up was a sign that your entire family line was craven and untrustworthy.
Catelyn gnashed her teeth, the force of which could crack any baseline human's teeth. After many years of lying low, Vincent had gone overboard with his excessive personality and crossed the line. It was a mistake long in the making, but the Ricklins were blindsided when it finally happened. Even her vaunted intellect hadn't anticipated such an incident due to her innate disdain for her older and genetically inferior brother.
When Vincent finally stomped over with his new mech, everyone stopped their small talk and gaped at the sight. A majestic black, red and golden mech approached the improvised arena with immeasurable confidence. It was as if it mistook the astonishment from the crowd with worship.
"What. Is. That?" Catelyn growled.
"It appears to be a codpiece."
The modified Marc Antony made for a unique sight. While the cape and embedded lights were bad enough, the extra piece of equipment mounted at the front of the waist attracted everyone's attention. No one could get their head around why a mech needed a codpiece.
"You're a goner, Turin, because I have something you don't!" Vincent confidently boomed out of his brand new mech's speakers. "There's no way a man can lose to a eunuch!"
The situation escalated from there. Turin, the pilot of the heavy knight, raged inside the cockpit. "You clown! You've gone too far! I'll beat you up and kick that stupid organ into scrap!"
"Hahahaha! I don't need to listen to a sissy hiding in a heavy mech like you! I bet yours is so small that you feel the need to compensate by-"
"That's enough! I'm going to shut your mouth!" Turin yelled back as he exploded into action.
The crowd was caught off-guard by the heavy mech's impulsive action. The technicians who were busy installing the security screens quickly rushed their work in order to safeguard their clients. A couple of knights stepped closer and stood in front of the crowd in order to shield them from any errant shots or flying debris.
Catelyn's head guard stared worriedly at the charging heavy knight. "Perhaps it is better to step back. We cannot trust these security screens to shield us completely."
"Yes, let's. There is no need to witness this barbarity this close."
The Ricklins calmly walked away, intent on enlarging the buffer between them and the impending violence.
Meanwhile, the heavy knight lumbered closer to the Marc Antony, which still stood as if it was preening into the sun. Just as the heavy knight was about to collide with the medium mech, something inexplicable happened.
The heavy knight adjusted its course and avoided Vincent's mech. Instead, it continued to careen forward without any sign of stopping.
"What is happening?"
"Did he miss on purpose?!"
"Turin isn't stopping! He's going to collide against the security screen!"
The hastily erected security screen broke like a pane of glass when the multiton heavy mech barreled right through. Its momentum bled off, but the knight resumed its stride and collided its shield against a nearby Ricklin mech.
Chaos ensued as many other mechs suffered from surprise attacks. Most of the mechs stationed in the field came from Vincent and Turin's retinue. Many of these mechs inexplicably suffered from malfunctions and shut down just as they stepped forward to stop the madness.
It was not that the Ricklins thought to bring other guards. As they assigned these guards to Vincent themselves, they were assured of their ironclad loyalty. While their loyalty might not be in question, the local technicians who maintained their mechs were obviously different.
Thus, many mechs found themselves frozen and unable to move at all. Only some mechs brought from the outside still functioned properly and moved to stop Turin and Vincent's rampage.
"Young miss! Vincent and Turin have gone crazy! They're assassination you!"
"I can see that for myself, you dummy! Let's go!"
The group of pampered elites scrambled to flee. They approached the nearby site where they parked their luxury aircars, only for Catelyn to halt.
Despite her youth, most Ricklins with decades of experience under their belt obeyed. They turned to her as if she was their only hope.
"Who designated the parking area?"
"As far as I know, Vincent's personal assistant made all the arrangements. I'm fairly certain that Johnson is the one who directed us to park over there."
"Then it isn't safe. Who knows how many explosives these rebels have planted underneath. Let's turn in a different direction!"
As Catelyn's words made sense, none argued otherwise. Despite the temptation offered by the aircars, this was evidently a planned assassination.
More evidence came from the chaos happening at the edge of the field. An outside party engaged most of the perimeter guard mechs that were still intact. From the amount of noise the distant battle generated, the terrorists came in ample numbers.
"Spread out! Don't bundle up too close!"
While Turin engaged the closest mechs, Vincent finally made his move. His shoulder-mounted missile launchers expended their entire payload in one go. The deadly guided projectiles aimed straight at Caitlyn and the other Ricklin elders.
A couple of still-functional elite guards jumped in the way with their shields. Just as they braced themselves for impact, a couple of the projectiles accelerated with such force that they pushed the mechs aside.
"Those are concussive missiles!"
The rest of the missiles also displayed unusual traits by smoothly going around any mechs in the way. Only anti-missile fire was effective in stopping them. Just as the surviving volley landed at the group of panicking Ricklins, the final guard mech threw out his shield and used its own body to block the final payloads.
The shockwaves threw many people off their feet. The burning radiance of the explosions hadn't taken out the mech, but dealt severe damage beyond any regular missile on the market.
"Haha, you're mine now, little sis!" Vincent laughed hysterically as his customized mech stomped over a disabled mech. The Marc Antony dropped its shield and raised both arms in Catelyn's direction. The wrist-mounted laser cannons charged up for a full-powered salvo. "Any last words?"
Catelyn coughed as she rose from her knees. "I see you're more stupid than I thought, big brother. Do you think that just because you've been secretly training your piloting skills that you've got an edge on me? Imbecil!"
"Shut up! I'm tired of listening to your condescending insults. You should have died in the lab like the rest of your worthless batch!"
His mech fired of both cannons at once. Though their accuracy wasn't great, at this short distance they came close enough to vaporize any human by proximity alone. The lasers reached Catelyn's position at light speed. An area the size of an aircar parking lot instantly got scorched with an immense amount of thermal energy.
Scores of Ricklin elders who were too slow to run very far got turned into ash and smoke. Those who ran just a little faster got blasted with so much heat that their clothes turned into tar and ash while exposing their bodies with a lethal dose of heat. They fell down to the ground like melted candles. Only the younger generation managed to escape the blast zone with minimal wounds.
"Hahahaha! For all your snooty words, look at me now!"
As the blackened smoke cleared, the site where his laser cannons struck was a mass of heated devastation. Nothing other than a tank or a mech could have survived such a powerful blast. At least, that was what Vincent thought.
A strange bubble enveloped Catelyn's body. She stood proudly intact inside the shield, unbothered by the heat and ash. As scores of badly burned Ricklins moaned at the edges of the blast site, the young genetically modified girl appeared nonchalant at the carnage. Her expression even stared mockingly at Vincent.
"What is this shield? How come it's so powerful?"
"You're not the only one with powerful friends." The younger sister taunted. "You're welcome to shoot me again. I dare say I can hold you off before my backup arrives."
As Vincent stared at his surviving sister in horror, a series of sirens started to erupt from the city proper. Explosions and other sounds of battle started to drum in the distance. All over Bentheim, unassuming mercenary groups started to board their mechs and attacked without reason.
According to the plan, Vincent should already be finished with his revenge and make his way towards a nearby escape shuttle. The timetable was tight, and Vincent couldn't afford to hammer away at Catelyn's strange shield if he wanted to escape from the Planetary Guard.
He gritted his teeth as he made a difficult decision. He could always enact his revenge later. His own life was more important. "Turin! Stop playing around and let's go!"
Even as their strike against Catelyn failed, they still managed to cull most of the other Ricklins. Their comrades-in-arms stationed elsewhere in Bentheim also succeeding in their surprise attacks. Bentheim's infrastructure suffered serious damage, and the death toll rapidly rose as the fires spread.
It was the prelude to war.
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