Officer Lander stared in irritable silence at the monitor on the desk he rarely used. The eight remaining trueborns of the Broken Fang sibko sat at attention, their bodies and minds exhausted by months of constant physical stress. Their time in the classroom, exploring tech specs and listening to Lander yell, was the closest they came to a break most days. Some days, he suspected some of them had learned to sleep with their eyes open. His memory of his own sibko days had long-since grown hazy, but he remembered cultivating that precise skill.
His chair emitted an ear-splitting screech as he rose to his feet. With a look of contempt he pried the final datachip from his desktop and tossed it into the stack. “Passable,” he grunted as he passed the closest cadet. “Below average. Excellent.”
He passed each in turn, offering a word or two of praise or contempt for their optimizations before slapped a datachip down on trainee Song’s desk. He stared in silence, as if waiting for the young man’s excuses. The two stared at each other in silence for a few moments before Lander growled, “Where did a clawless kitten like you hear about the Shadow Cat?”
Song swallowed nervously. “From Gwen, sir.”
Lander turned, regarding Gwen for a few moments. Her eyes met his unexpectedly, and her face went pale—that was an almost unforgivable mistake! Lander ignored the insult for the time being, and speared Song with his gaze. “You were to design a medium `Mech unassisted. You will explain yourself.”
“Our instructor only spoke of seven modern medium `Mechs,” Song replied after a moment’s hesitation. “One of us would have had to submit a duplicate, and if we had designed the same `Mech independently you—”
“I am aware of what I would have done,” Lander bristled, apparently enraged by Song’s familiarity. “There would only be six of you here tomorrow. Instead, I have to deal with all eight of you worthless rejects. I will have satisfaction: I did not discuss the Shadow Cat. Why do you think it was omitted?”
“Because it is a Nova Cat `Mech?” Song offered hopefully.
“Neg,” Lander roared. “Do not be so foolish. You are guaranteed to face the Nova Cats, which means you are guaranteed to face the Shadow Cat. Omitting them would be a disservice to the Clan.”
Song stiffened as he admitted, “This cadet does not know why they were omitted!”
“An honest answer at last,” Lander said, a look of grim satisfaction crossing his stony features. “Tell me, cadet. Since you feel you are enough of an expert to submit a Shadow Cat to my attention, what is the Shadow Cat’s battlefield role?”
“I—this cadet does not know, sir!”
Lander shook his head. “Song. Gather your belongings from the barracks and report to the Cave for assignment. I suspect you will make an excellent laborer.”
Song’s face fell, but he saluted. “Aye, sir.”
Lander turned to regard Gwen. “Same question."
“The Shadow Cat is a medium-weight `Mech designed for long-range combat. It is nimble, jump-capable, and new enough that there are a very limited number of standardized alternate configurations. It is similar in many regards to the Ice Ferret, but the Shadow Cat is not a scout. Every variant specializes in long-range combat, and has the mobility and firepower to threaten much larger `Mechs at extreme ranges.”
Typical Battlefield Role: Sniper
Tonnage: 45 Tons
Approximate Base Cost: 12,500,000 C-bills
Likelihood it will appear in MechWarrior Online: Very High
Real talk: We’re almost certain to get the Shadow Cat eventually. It’s another iconic design and a fan favorite, even if it is an anachronism.
Lander’s slow clap was as loud as it was insulting. “Technically accurate, if simplistic. Having learned all of this on your own, why did you not present the Shadow Cat yourself?”
“I bid for the right to the Storm Crow,” Gwen replied, “and defeated the rest of my Sibko for the right to present it. Having done that, I would not stoop to presenting a `Mech originally designed by the Nova Cats. Song was unable to best even a single other member of the sibko for the right to one of the `Mechs that our Instructor presented to us, his failure is not my responsibility—but I do confess in a moment of weakness I took pity on him. He is my sibkin, after all.”
“There is no place in a warrior’s heart for pity,” Lander said softly. “You shall be punished, but we have already wasted enough time discussing a `Mech I had not yet intended to discuss. We move on to heavy `Mechs now. Pay close attention this time or share Song’s fate.”