Warriors are obviously the most powerful caste. The vast majority of warriors proudly trace their lineage directly to the 800 Bloodnamed. Each looks like the product of the genetic breeding program. Clan MechWarriors are robust, with lightning-quick reflexes and quicker intelligence. Fighter pilots are thin, their heads disproportionately large and with far-seeing eyes. Elementals, the Clan infantry, are huge, unusually strong soldiers possessed of grace and speed far exceeding what is expected of people of such intimidating size.
The warrior caste's eugenics program is a completely alien means of reproduction. It seems cold and analytical, making no allowance for the passion and love we consider necessary to a full life. Warriors, however, gain great comfort and strength from their sense of belonging to the sibko, and from their unbroken lineage to Kerensky's 800. Each warrior's lineage is recorded in his codex, a copy of which is electronically stored in a band worn on his right forearm. A warrior's career, from his first sibko test to his dying oath, is recorded by the codex and analyzed by his Clan. If a warrior's deeds are judged worthy, his genetic material helps create the next generation. Failure means the termination of his or her line. It is little wonder that the drive to excel overshadows all other considerations.
Seldom do freebirths, those not born from the eugenics program, win a chance to join the warrior caste. Those who do are usually consigned to garrison and paramilitary police units, with little hope of advancing to a level where their genes would be incorporated into the warrior pool. This disregard for freebirth warriors may be changing. The growing responsibility given freebirth warriors in recent decades is best exemplified by Jaime and Joshua Wolf's command of the Wolf Dragoons.
The scientist caste has two responsibilities: continued technological development and genetic control of the population. The warriors' eugenics program naturally occupies a place of prime importance in their work. Assignment to the scientist caste is considered a high honor for civilians because it literally holds the future of the Clans in its hands. This caste is also responsible for educating and testing all freebirths.
The merchant caste is powerful because it controls all commerce within the Clans. The merchants' economic power is held in check by the warrior caste's monopoly over JumpShip travel. Though merchants own their own vessels, explicit laws require that all vessels carry warriors for protection. Long journeys are allowed only with a naval escort. This arrangement effectively prevents merchants from gaining too much power. The merchants still feel free, however, to indirectly criticize the warrior caste for the way the merchant caste's affairs are handled. Indeed, many suggest that the impetus for the invasion of the Inner Sphere originated in the merchant caste, which was eager to pursue new monetary endeavors. The merchants are the most rebellious of the lower castes, though some have suffered severe punishment for their protests. The Clan Widowmaker merchants, for example, precipitated an internal dispute with the warrior caste that ultimately led to the whole Clan's annihilation. This is described more fully in the next chapter.
The technician caste is less defined than the others. In general, a member of the technician caste is responsible for the upkeep, repair, and operation of complicated equipment, including everything from a cyclotron to an agribot to a BattleMech. In fact, a technician's status in Clan society is directly related to the caste he is supporting. Thus, technicians assigned as support for a BattleMech Star are much higher in status than technicians assigned to maintain agribots, even though the two groups possess the same skills.
The laborer caste is both the largest and lowest-level caste in the official Clan hierarchy. This caste farms the fields, operates the factories, and provides all basic services. In short, it is composed of the common citizens. During my stay with the Clans, I never encountered a member of this caste, except for the "bondsmen" (captured warriors of other Clans serving as laborers while working to regain their warrior status) aboard their ships.
This caste is not recognized by Clan society, yet it exists. Sometimes referred to as the "dark caste," it supports the failures of Clan society, the unwanted, and the rejects. How or where they live is unknown, but Clan literature is filled with stories of malcontents who fled to the bandit caste and came to unsavory ends. Warriors who fail to test up or who grow too old to be of service sometimes slip away to this caste, as do scientists whose discoveries are deemed counterproductive to the Clans. The dark caste has no voice in Clan affairs because their group is not sanctioned. Bandit caste atrocities are the stuff of legends, but it is difficult to believe that the caste is strong enough to be more than a minor nuisance to the Clans. Cynics suggest that the bandit caste exists solely to sharpen developing warriors' fighting edge.