3:3: “March”, by Jay Lake

3:3: “March”, by Jay Lake

Sousa’s voice crackled through the mechanical hare’s intercom. “Ease off on the steam pressure.”

John didn’t envy the captain-pilot his station up in the eyepits. Sure, Sousa got the glory and first pick of the girls, but incoming fire often found the head. But expert gunners shot for the joints first, he reminded himself smugly. NCAA rules required sub-lethal munitions, but there were ways to hurt the other guy. He had the best job on the team.

“Within ten percent of optimum.” That was their third team member, Philip, down in the bowels of engineering. Literally, given the hare’s layout. At least John’s barred viewing slits providing a forward glimpse from his seat in chest. More to the point, he had an array of electronic targeting systems, as much as would fit within the NCAA’s wattage limits.

The steam-powered autocannon was another matter entirely. Outside the power limits, not covered in the rules. An innovation by their team.

Noting the pressure on his weapons lines, John ran the barrels through a dry-fire rotation.

“Fifteen seconds until we go hot,” Sousa said.

John adjusted the straps of his sling. Despite the massive shocks in the hare’s drive legs and the state-of-the-art gyros, it would be rough ride. He scanned the rolling hills ahead of their starting line. This was a big match, their four University of Nova Eboracum hares facing off against the Mohawk-Iroquois Tech varsity hounds.

Klaxons hooted outside. A rumbling cheer rose from the nearby stands as the hare lurched into a showy leap that no captain-pilot would ever use during close action. The crowd loved it.

After that it was a game of patience and cunning in the wooded dells of the Niagara Reserve. They were lead squad, but Sousa avoided further showing off. Instead the captain-pilot kept them moving along the creek beds. It was tough to hide a twenty-cubit steam-powered hare, but then MIT had the same problem.

First blood went to the indigenes. A rattle of low-velocity flechettes echoed off the starboard flank. They’d been blindsided!

John shifted precious fire control resources to his starboard cameras and periscopes. One lens was crazed by a lucky hit, but the redundant systems let him spy the MIT hound moving away.

“Damn,” John hissed. Judging by the smooth gait of the enormous brass dog, MIT had come up with a working fluid joint articulation. Nova Eboracum’s athletic engineering department had prototyped similar, but it hadn’t survived field trials.

How good was MIT’s?

John chuckled.

The NCAA limits on weapons wattage meant designers eschewed armor. The point of hares-and-hounds was to disable the opponent’s equipment, not kill their players. But the steam bypasses John and the athletic engineers had spent the summer plumbing into the autocannon just itched to be used, at a hell of a lot more cubit-pounds of force than those MIT skinheads ever imagined.

“Overpressure,” John shouted. “Give it all to me, right now!”

The hare shuddered as Philip opened the pressure valves full on. John tracked the vanishing dog to give the MIT team sixty rounds of copper-clad lead right in the port hip joint.

The dog went down like a drunk sorority pledge.

“Wah-hoo!” shrieked Sousa over the intercom.

John smiled. Spring was a great time to be young.

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