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.From off-stage a pair of big men also raced out to restrain them— Michael's and Bauer's bodyguards.Still shouting curses and challenges, Michael and Bauer managed to work back close enough to place themselves in the same close-up shot with Todd Richards.Richards would segue into a break, and the show would cut to commercial.That was how the game was played.Then Michael slipped his bodyguard's grip.Right arm cocked back and ready, he lurched forward and pistoned his fist into Jarman Bauer's jaw.That one punch rocked the other Mech Warrior back, knocking him unconscious to the floor.A few seconds of stunned silence fell over the studio.That wasn't part of the script.Todd Richards stared dumbly at Bauer, for several long seconds forgetting to call for commercial.Then came the cut, and Michael's bodyguard was hurrying him off the floor and into the studio wings.From there, they went down a short hall cluttered with props and a few stagehands, and out a side door where an Avanti luxury hover sedan waited in the light afternoon rain.The Avanti's driver was holding the rear passenger-side door open.Michael paused to wave to some Mech-bunnies being restrained by security.They were mostly teens and not adverse to staking out the studio doors in hopes of catching a glimpse of a favorite arena warrior.Maybe score an autograph or, in Michael's case, offer some lively curses for his future.One of the Lyran teens threw a half-full bottle of soda in his direction, shattering it against the sedan's forward fender.Michael piled in, still wired from adrenaline, his bodyguard close behind.He settled back into the plush leather seat as the Avanti rose up on a cushion of air and glided away from the curb, moving away from the small mob and into the streets of Silesia.His bodyguard took the rear-facing seat cross-corner to Michael and directly facing the portly man who'd been waiting for them in the hovercar.The man was Drew Hasek-Davion, Michael's boss.Fortyish and overweight, he looked more like an old-time robber baron than the master of Blackstar Stables.He also affected a thin oily mustache that gave his face a ratlike appearance.Michael grinned at the man, expecting praise for his performance."What was that bit about 'farmer'?" he asked Michael, his tone sharp."Bauer is the German word for farmer," Michael said."It will become a derogatory nickname for him within a day.What's more, it's also Solaran slang.A farmer is a warrior who drives a tractor."Drew caught on quickly."A BattleMech unworthy of the arenas.Or, the converse, a warrior who is unworthy of his BattleMech." He nodded.Yellow teeth showed as he made a brief stab at a smile of his own, a smile that died almost before it was born."And the information about Paulson's drinking habit and Bauer's training failures?""All true, and paid for from my own pocket."Drew frowned but nodded again."Well played, then." He didn't sound so certain.He tapped the gold-plated lion's head of his walking stick against one thigh."Still, you should leave the planning to me, Michael."Michael shrugged, annoyed by Drew's condescension."I'll bet you my percentage of the Day One purse that Bauer will lose the three percentage points his upset over Paulson netted him."He watched as Drew's self-importance and the desire to rake in a good pot warred with the possibility of being raked himself.Meanwhile, the sedan gained Narvik Street to head west as the Silesia sector gave way to fragmented Cathay.In the end, Hasek-Davion shrugged off the challenge."I only take wagers where I have a hand in the outcome.""You like a stacked deck, you mean.""Which is why I own you, dear boy." Drew settled back into the plush seat."Try not to forget that." He paused to lend the veiled threat some additional weight."Fortunately, you paid off again, dropping Mr.Bauer with a single blow.Now you merely have to end the feud tomorrow.And quickly, as you did today."Michael decided not to take issue with Drew's belief that he owned the Federated Suns favorite.He had personally groomed and trained Michael in his fighter's persona, holding up the young man—and by proxy himself—as the great hope of Davion supporters on Solaris VII.Episodes such as tonight's interview helped cement that image.He also held Michael's contract, and that was close enough to ownership on Solaris VII if a 'Warrior wished to keep fighting.Which was what Michael wished more than anything.It was why he was here on the Game World.Far more insulting, though, was the insinuation that Michael might lose to a pretender like Bauer, or to any Lyran for that matter.He wouldn't—couldn't—let that happen.It would threaten everything he'd worked toward these last three years.No, his first serious competition wouldn't come until Day Three, when he would likely fight Bromley Stables' Evelyn Czerny.She was the best Marik-affiliated fighter and ranked number two overall, five above Searcy himself.Now, she could be a problem.As for Bauer."Did your man find one of the new light gauss rifles?" Michael asked, and Drew nodded."So we switch out the regular gauss rifle on my Dragon Fire for the lighter version and rip out the ECM package, then upgrade my autocannon to the twelve-centimeter bore of a Defiance Disintegrator.Bauer will close quickly.It's all he knows how to do, and I'll allow it.Then I'll rip that Penetrator to scrap." His smile was devoid of humor.Bauer had already lost, and tomorrow would merely be confirmation.Did Drew smile in answer? "It seems I am not the only one in this car who appreciates a stacked deck."Michael cocked his head to one side, as if considering.Then he tossed the roll of coins he'd been holding in his fist while sitting across from Bauer on the set.He'd kept them hidden in his hand until just before the argument came to blows.Nothing like a little extra advantage-insurance that one punch would drop his enemy.The bodyguard looked away, careful not to see anything.Drew Hasek-Davion quirked one eyebrow, his only sign of surprise, then nodded.Once.High praise from the owner of Blackstar Stables, a man always quicker with criticism than compliments.Respect, now that felt good.Massaging the bruised knuckle on his right hand, Michael turned to the window and smiled out at the rain-soaked city.There were times he really enjoyed this world.2The Coliseum, SilesiaSolaris City, Solaris VIIFreedom Theater, Lyran Alliance12 August 3062The Caesar's nickel-ferrous gauss slug smashed into the Striker's left shoulder, crushing ferroceramic armor.Broken plates fell away amid a rain of shards and splinters, showering the BattleMech's protection over the sandy floor of the Coliseum.A fair percentage of the crowd roared with delight at the blow, probably because they'd bet against the 'Warrior piloting the Striker in this Day Two Grand Tournament match.Hearing the cheer even from inside his insulated cockpit, Victor Vandergriff ground his teeth in fury as he rode out the brutal shove imparted by the gauss slug.His restraining harness held him securely to his seat, while the massive gyroscopic stabilizer set into the Striker's lower torso fought gravity to keep the eighty-ton 'Mech upright.Neuroreceptors built into his bulky helmet fed his own sense of balance down into the stabilizer in a feedback loop that let the pilot worry less about walking around in a bipedal war machine and more about his opponent.Right now Victor Vandergriff was very worried about his opponent, Davion dog though he was [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]