Surkai (short story)
|Author||Ilsa J. Bick|
|First published||21 September 2004|
|Era||Civil War era|
|Timeline||8-15 July 3066|
|“||Ilsa J. Bick brings her insight of human (and not-so-human) nature back to BattleCorps with a story set above the arctic line of Arc-Royal. With the Kell Hounds and Wolf-in-Exile sharing a world, she finds a very out-of-the-way spot for a run-in between the two. And the return of a character last seen pushing miniature 'Mechs around a sandbox with his brother...||”|
Set predominantly in the icy wilds of Shelfleisland, an icy archipelago stretching southwest from Gerechtland, the most remote of the Clan Wolf-in-Exile's colonies and close to Arc-Royal's southern pole, Surkai is told partly through flashbacks.
Sixteen year-old Jacob Geist is the grandson of Nelson Geist, the MechWarrior responsible for the death of the Red Corsair; he, his mother Dorete and his twin brother, Joachim, were all brought to Arc-Royal from Kooken's Pleasure Pit in 3055 by Christian Kell of the Kell Hounds, in recognition of Nelson's actions. Following Joachim's death in an ice-climbing accident that cost Jacob most of his left arm, leaving him with a strong but largely sensationless bionic prosthetic, Dorete descended into alcoholism while Jacob became mired in guilt and self-loathing, encouraged by his mother, who blamed him for Joachim's death.
Mara is an Elemental from Clan Wolf-in-Exile, also suffering under a burden of guilt and self-loathing, brought on by her role in the death of her Point Commander, Stephen, after she questioned one of his decisions. Invoking the Clan rite of surkai, Mara missed the opportunity to join the Wolf-in-Exile forces that had departed for the assault against Archon Katherine Steiners forces on Tharkad; instead, her surkai involved a fifteen-day journey across Shelfleisland with minimal resources, giving her ample time to face her guilt, her regret, and accept her culpability in Stephen's death.
Both Mara and Jacob are in close proximity on Shelfleisland, without either realising it at first; Mara is performing her surkai, whilst Jacob is performing something similar at Christian Kell's urging. Kell has distributed supply caches along a winding route on the archipelago, forcing Jacob to revisit the environment in which Joachim died, to give him a chance to confront the feelings he can't discuss with anyone - his mother, his therapist, or Christian. When Mara notices Jacob's tracks near her current location, she moves to find and greet him, only to spot the drive plume of a small craft of some kind descending towards Shelfleisland. She sets off in pursuit, running into Jacob - literally - and keeping him in cover as she spots three figures deploying by jump pack from the small craft - two mercenaries, one male and one female, and a small man clutching a box marked with the biohazard symbol.
Realising between the two of them that the small team are most likely agents working for Katherine, Jacob and Mara decide that the raiders most likely course of action is to poison the local aquifer, and that they have to try and stop them. Taking advantage of the fact that the local conifers explode rather than burn, Jacob arranges to try and distract one or more of the mercenaries by deliberately using the remaining heater fuel he and Mara have for their camping heaters to ignite a couple of trees, giving Mara an opportunity to target the scientist and his box.
One of the mercenaries, a man using the false name McKenzie, tracks Jacob, even as the second mercenary, Palmer, remains with the scientist, Prater. Whilst Palmer patrols nearby, Mara sneaks up on Palmer, but is spotted by the alert scientist at the last minute, and disabled by shots from Prater's Sternsnacht Python to her left shoulder and right knee. Jacob had managed to avoid McKenzie, but is distracted by what he believes to be the sound of Mara being tortured by Palmer and Prater, and in his efforts to get to Mara, trips and falls down the side of a hill, breaking his flesh and blood arm, and possibly one or more ribs, leaving him at McKenzie's mercy.
Palmer taunts Mara and attempts to get her to reveal Jacob's location, occasionally making false screams to try and lure Jacob in, while being mocked by Mara in turn; unfortunately, Mara's autonomous reactions to Palmer's words betray Jacob's location, even as Jacob is feigning weakness and arguing with McKenzie. McKenzie attempts to persuade Jacob to cooperate, claiming that he's more use as a hostage than a corpse, but Jacob knows there's no incentive for McKenzie to keep him alive, and when he manages to distract the mercenary briefly, he uses his biotic hand to grievously wound McKenzie, crushing part of his face and both eyes; disabled, a dying McKenzie stumbles backwards over the edge of the cliff.
Taking McKenzie's gauss rifle, Jacob backtracks to where Palmer, Prater and Mara are, and attempts to ambush them. Jacob's first shot kills Prater, but he's outfought by Palmer, who manages to distract him and lure him into a killing spot... only for Jacob to be saved at the last minute by Mara, who had crawled to where Prater's Python had fallen and uses it to kill Palmer.
Alive but hurt, Jacob and Mara signal the Wolf-in-Exile colony for rescue, and cooperate to raise a survival shelter between them; at Mara's suggestion, the two combine their ponchos and single bedroll to allow them to share warmth, and as they bond through their shared experiences, they agree to an exchange... Jacob tells Mara the story of how he came to have a prosthetic arm, whilst Mara confesses what led to her performing surkai. Four hours later as rescue approaches, Jacob asks if her surkai is done, and if not, whether he could join her in the wilderness again as she repeats the Rite, and Mara reluctantly explains that he can't... but asks whether Jacob would be willing to continue to allow the two of them to get to know each other better in the future, giving them a chance to explore their growing friendship, and perhaps more.