Dmitri woke to some confusion in a medical lab pumping iron in his underwear along with fellow cadet Zane the bull from the Circle and under the watchful eye of Scientist Shandra. He began asking questions and receiving increasingly unsettling answers from the scientist, who it turns out had been experimenting on Dmitri (and Zane, and others) for his entire life, and that he and Zane were two of the four surviving test subjects from the "E-Series" experiment. And that Renaria was the last non-failure of the "G-Series" experiment, which had included Technician Imani.
Unbeknownst to Dmitri, Shandra, and definitely to Zane was that Makalu was secretly recording the encounter after following Dmitri from the cadet quarters at their section of the base. Makalu filmed the entire encounter, including the first twenty or so minutes while Dmitri and Zane were enslaved to their conditioning, and only in the final ten minutes did Dmitri partly come to his senses.
While following his conditioning to return to his quarters, after what turned out to be his monthly experimental session, the conditioning lost hold and Dmitri came to his senses again. Makalu graciously allowed herself to be spotted and the two cadets had a chance to discuss the odd events while exploiting the preprogrammed security-gap. Makalu had noticed some rhino disappearances before but never been free to tail the rhino until this semester.
The pair reviewed the footage, and Makalu returned to seek intel while Dmitri sank into shell shock and existential dread. She had no trouble sneaking back in the dead of night and found Scientist Shandra hard at work analyzing samples from her two test subjects. After sabotaging a door as a distraction Makalu doubled back behind the scientist and gained access to her lab, managing to pilfer three data storage media disks, one saying E-Series, one G-Series and one A-Series. She then faced a tough choice, make an exit or remain and download a copy of the scientists personal noteputer. Electing the latter Makalu hid while the scientist was thankfully distracted by data analysis, then Makalu was able to make a graceful and more importantly stealthy exit.
Reviewing the looted intel, the cadet pair discovered to rising horror that the E-Series was about incorporating elemental genetics to attempt to reinforce the mechwarrior phenotype but without the dimmed mental capabilities of elementals (compared to mechwarriors not to freebirths). Worse, some 50 of the starting sibko were part of the E-Series of which only Zane and Dmitri were surviving members on Strana Mechty and two (Bishop and Ursula) were surviving upon planet Bearclaw II, where the top thirty cadets had done most of their training including the final high intensity simulator training semester. So the E-Series survival rate was a mere 8%. Worse, the deaths were the result of "Suppression Protocol Failure" and it appeared Shandra was deliberately deactivating this Suppression Protocol in Dmitri and Zane, but at least in a controlled (if accelerated) manner.
The G-Series was far more benign, an attempt to create alternative sourced trueborns, (falseborns?) using non-traditional species including Hippopotamus and resulting in Renaria. Only eight were originally in the program, and the other seven (including Imani) quickly failed proving genetically unsitable for warrior duties.
The A-Series experiments were less extreme than the E-Series, incorporating some traits from the Aerospace pilot phenotype to attempt to increase the mental capabilities and the reflexes of the Mechwarrior phenotype yet further. Alize, Whynn, Corin and Joshi being examples of the A-Series.
In the not-so-small hours of the morning Makalu made a third and definitely sleep deprived sneakret snep business mission to sneak the disks back into Shanra's office, but at least this time Shandra was not present as she had headed to bed for a few hours of sleep before the new day got going.
The following morning Tarna, Renaria and Daniel rose at six and got ready and it was noted by Tarna that Dmitri and Makalu looked like they hadn't slept. Despite that the cadets got ready and headed for morning meal. This was their first real chance to use the common room / mess which was set up with many five-seat round tables. Cadet Biancha of The Circle tried but failed to engage The Sleuth in social sparring, or swaying their fellow cadets against The Sleuth. The Sleuth also learned a wake for Cadet Lily was planned for nine o'clock.
Tarna got her group organized and presentable, partly assisted by Makalu headed to Scientist Oliver for some wake-up pills for herself and Dmitri. At the service Nova Captain Acorna Hall got up to speak, first honoring Cadet Lily then informing the sibko of the deaths of Cadet Bishop and Cadet Ursula on Bearclaw II, deepening Dmitri's existential dread.
Surprising everyone, Cadet Renaria got up onto the stage vacated by Acorna, announced to the stunned crowd she was going to sing to honor Lily, and then respectfully sang a military funeral anthem from the Star League Defence Force which had been made popular (and more mainstream) during the exodus.
Tarna rushed to Acorna, noting that Acorna was re-holstering her sidearm after Renaria managed (remarkably and unexpectedly) not to make a mockery of the service or disgrace herself. Tarna made an effective plea / apology on Renaria's behalf, then rushed to Renaria and dragged her by the ear (or 'hippo handle') out of the door of the audience hall for a dressing down. The diametrically opposed world views of the pair finally coming to a head, and the two went from dressing down to mutual argument. Tarna left, walked back into the service, and saw all eyes go from the mic to her…because Tarna had distracted Renaria and stopped her noticing her worn microphone had not de-synched from the microphone after she had used it for the performance.
Worse yet, Renaria had some choice parting words about the stick up Tarna's arse which she made after Tarna had left the hallway…and was in the room with the microphone that had broadcast the whole argument.
On the spot Tarna went to Acorna and requested permission to challenge Renaria to a trial of grievance to which Acorna gave immediate approval. The duel was set for the evening of the day, to give enough time to complete the (defiled) wake and yet not to let the sun set on the grievance.
During the tattered remnants of Lily's wake Dmitri overheard the training officers talking, Bishop and Ursula had both suffered strange and apparently painful physiological changes relating to growth. He resolved to talk to Scientist Oliver, but wrestled with how much to tell him.
Daniel and Makalu got to work setting up a betting pool and televising the duel to come, before joining as a commentator team to call the match as it went down. The pre-match interviews didn't quite go to plan though…
Renaria went to make sure her 'mech was equipped with an external sound system, just in case.
Tarna spent the afternoon preparing herself more professionally and centering herself as a warrior before going into battle. She also received a reply from Loremaster Ursula Jorgenson to her inquiry about the recovered antique vibrokatana, which was identified as the Tanaka Family Blade (or a brilliant replica).
Dmitri visited Oliver who had been pre-alerted for symptoms to look for, leaving Dmitri to wonder was he working with Shandra or had he simply been notified by the training officers.
Tarna had challenged Renaria to a duel augmented in Battlemechs, leaving Renaria to select the battleground. Renaria selected a battle field with a mix of mountain terrain and an urban area, hoping her superior sensor capabilities and jump capability would let her exploit the terrain to her advantage.
The map selected was 55×55 Rural vs Urban Mountains.
Renaria deployed in the urban area to the north east, Tarna deployed in the south east and quickly closed the distance up to the city. A lengthy cat and mouse period ensued, with Renaria not gaining reliable sensor contacts and risking a jump onto a high building for an elevated firing position and with an educated guess where Tarna was. There was an exchange of fire with their long range weapons, with the advantage to Tarna, but neither unit could gain a hit during Renaria's jumping maneuver. More cat and mouse ensued, moving west through the urban area with Renaria following fleeting sensor returns and Tarna attempting to predict and lure her target.
The commentators in the Bear Pit kept the crowd fired up for the tense nail-biting match, and for all the combatants calculations and maneuvering they ran across each other by fluke. In the exchange of fire Renaria thought she had the advantage, peppering Tarna's rear armor with laser fire, before Tarna flipped the arms of her battlemech letting her fire into her rear arc and hit Renaria's omnimech with heavier PPC fire. This cost Renaria one arm and half her weapons but not her long range large laser.
Tense maneuvering ensued, Renaria jumped to a building again gambling that she could catch Tarna from the side, but instead the two units exchanged long range fire again. Both units lost a leg, but Renaria's already had lost one arm preventing her from effectively returning fire. Renaria had also suffered gyro damage and could not get her unit on its feet again. Tarna was able to return fire, and offered Renaria the chance to surrender, and when she refusedd Tarna proceeded to eliminate the stricken 'mech.
Tarna was awarded two points for survival and two for the kill, taken from Renaria's total. Tarna was additionally awarded two style points, for the arm-flip maneuver (and her detailed knowledge of her unit's capabilities), and for efficiently crippling Renaria's 'mech.
The pieces of Renaria's omnimech were air-lifted away by Technician Susan, while she was driven back by Scientist Oliver in a MASH vehicle after field medical checks. Tarna insisted on shuffling her stricken omnimech back to base under its own power, a short trip of roughly three hours in the damaged unit.
Renaria in the mean time went to the Bear Den, found the celebratory crowd and turned her defeat into a social victory, did a set for the crowd then took choice representatives to welcome Tarna back. She accepted being the crowd's favourite but encouraged them to cheer on Tarna as the victor. Laying in wait (and especially waiting for Tarna to power down her war machine) Renaria then sprung a surprise party (and crowd) on Tarna and launched into singing a hearfelt song of appreciation.
Imani had been working to salvage the wreckage of Renaria's mech as the party was being set up, so she made sure to take Dmitri and go somewhere else when it all went down. Makalu chose to attend in stealth to wait for Tarna's response. Daniel was there too but carefully showing his non-involvement.
This did not go over well, Tarna robed herself in nearly perceptible armor of dignity and walked through the crowd and left. Going to the semi-secret gym in the base Tarna encountered one of the selectors, a fellow tiger Xandrum, who understood Tarna's tiger ways and needs and yielded the punching-bag / tiger-prey-bag for her clearly greater stress relief needs. Xandrum mentioned he had not initially considered Tarna having thought she would want to remain with her cadet star and he didn't have space for a full five…but Xandrum confided he had been reconsidering in light of the trial of grievance, and expressed interest in recruiting Tarna into his forces.
With her world view shaken Tarna returned to her quarters, thankfully the party had been packed up and cleaned away in the meantime.