"Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

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"Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

So, been a while since I put something up. This is something I started almost a year ago and have pecked at through the year, a side project I'm doing with a fellow known as Captain Orsai on Spacebattles.com (he knows more Dark Ages than I do). He wrote or at least vetted the dialogue and such from the canon-side characters (and since he's English our variant use of the Queen's English and American Vernacular spelling is one way to see who wrote what).

This has to do with a Grand Strategy Role-Playing Game (that is, an STGOD) I participated through the second half of 2020, "From the Ashes: Shattered Sphere". The FTA games are normally an original setting, but the guy in charge decided to do a BattleTech game to test PVP mechanics and other stuff for the next iteration. I'll let the story explain the point of diversion (it comes in chapter 3), but suffice to say, this is a different Inner Sphere than the one everyone knows. There is also fluff (still technically under development) that I'll link to as well.

Dunno how many BTech fans we have here, but I hope the story will entertain. Going to post the first three chapters to get you started. Post by post due to character limit, bleh.

1 - Emergence

CJFS Red Talon, Orbit
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
15 August 3142

The planet Timkovichi seemed deceptively peaceful this far up, but the scanners of the Aegis-class cruiser under Star Commodore Phillip von Jankmon were telling the real story. Advanced optical sensors and electronic detectors allowed those systems to display on the command center's main holotank the ongoing fight below. The Falcons' allies in the Hell's Horses Clan were fully engaged with local Lyran troops, including the hated Kell Hounds. Khan Hazen's personal troops were nearby, ready to deal with them.

Or rather, their survivors.

The ship's communications officer, Point Commander Albert, glanced up from his station. "My Commodore, Khan Hazen has given the order."

A part of von Jankmon's soul burned at it. This was not the Way of the Clans. He wanted his WarShip, a pride of the old Star League, to fight other WarShips, to win glory to match its proud battle history. Firing on enemy ground troops that could not return fire felt wrong.

But the Chinggis Khan decreed otherwise. Her doctrine demanded it. All who fought the Falcons must die, and all planets that resisted must suffer. Von Jankmon shivered reflexively; thankfully hidden by the bridge temperature being lower than was comfortable, for the computers, and the crew’s alertness. No warrior of the Jade Falcons who lived past their Trial of Position - even one who measured battle in hundreds of kilometres and degrees of orbit, rather than the close-quarters clash of BattleMechs - feared death, but to defy Malvina Hazen courted not just death, but Annihilation, for kin and Bloodheritage as well as self.

"Helm, alter heading and orbital position to optimal firing position. Gunnery, prepare weapons to fire on my mark, target… grid square Alpha Beta Kappa 328." He read off the appropriate firing point based on their pre-arranged grid squares.

The look on Star Commander Sergio's face betrayed his displeasure, but he obeyed. In the end, obedience was part of the Clan Way as well.

The Kell Hounds die today, and we draw closer to final victory. A pity we will be little better than dezgra.

"Targeting coordinates set, Star Commodore," Sergio said. "I will fire on your order."

"Helm, position has been reached?"

"Neg. Another minute and thirty seconds."

Alarm lights went off. The tactical holotank swapped from a view of the battle below to that of orbit, and red lights appeared in rapid sequence. "Report!"

"It is not possible…" stammered the operations officer. "Star Commodore, we have emergence signatures!"

"Over orbit? Impossible! Get those stravag Techs up here to check your station and get our firing points back on."

"It's not the station!" the man blurted out, wincing at his own terrible language. "We have emergence signatures in orbit, sir! Multiple ships, one up to two megatons mass! It… it should not be possible! There is no feasible pirate point!"

"Then there cannot be emergence signatures!" the Star Commodore retorted.

"DropShips Emerald Shrike and Blood Falcon confirm, sir," the comm officer said in disbelieving terms. "They have emergence signatures showing too."

"Five seconds to emergence!"

It seemed impossible, but Star Commodore von Jankmon realized he might yet be getting his wish.

And that was when space tore itself apart right in front of his eyes, and from within the tear, ships appeared.

Vice Admiral Lord Paul Marik, Count of Corin on his homeworld of Atreus and Commander of the Arcadian Royal Navy's 1st Battle Fleet, knew something was wrong when the jump didn't have the usual jolt and brief nausea. It felt like his body was being run through a sieve and for the barest of moments he was certain he was about to die.

Then the fifty-two year old man felt reality reassert itself. His eyes received light yet again, giving him a view of the command center built into the armored heart of the AFS Arcadia, the two million ton battleship that served as his flagship. The system timer's light brought his attention at first: "3142-08-15 11:30". A multitude of officers, responsible for both squadron and battle force command, all seemed as stunned as he was. "Just what in God's name was that?" he demanded. At the periphery of his senses he noted the screens showing something that should be impossible; they were in high orbit of a planet, far too close for a proper pirate point to be present.

"I'm not sure, sir," his engineering operations officer reported. Lieutenant Commander Jasminder Patel, a commoner from Bolan, blinked and shook her head while looking over her station. "The K-F drive is reporting several blown seals and registered an overload, but we seem to have made a successful jump despite that. I just don't understand how we can be in orbit."

From communications, Lieutenant Commander Saul Cohen spoke with the Hebrew accent of a Gienah native. "Admiral, every ship in the fleet is reporting drive faults and a few casualties from jump shock. It looks like the phen…"

Paul's attention was drawn to his holotank, which now blinked angry red as icons appeared. Most were those along with the Battle Fleet - the various WarShips, the military JumpShips carrying the army units being employed for the ground portion of the exercises - but amber "unidentified" contacts showed in nearby orbit. "Unknown ships in proximity," called Lieutenant James Paxson, the ship's tactical systems officer up on the command bridge, where Captain Karla Proctor-Steiner governed the colossal battleship. "Vessels are of unknown design, but one seems to match records for Aegis-class SLDF cruisers."

Aegis? Those still exist? "That doesn't make sense. Where is the Imperator Corvus? Or the Emma Centrella?"

"No sign of either the Principate or Canopian squadrons, sir," replied his own staff officer, referring to the other Spinward Pact ships that were due to take part in the exercises at Timkovichi. "Multiple ships in orbit, however, and ongoing comm activity… it looks like an active battle."

An active battle? This far within Lyran Alliance territory? It can't be the Rasalhaguans, they'd never violate our territory so brazenly. Paul darkly wondered if the Liaos were here, but they were too smart to throw a bolt so deep into Lyran territory, and they hadn't challenged the Peace of Dieron in nearly twenty years, not since the Battle of Sirius. "Do we have an ident on that cruiser?"

Cohen spoke up. "IFF squawk identifies her as…" His face twisted into confusion. "'Clan Jade Falcon WarShip Red Talon.'"

A question formed on Paul's lips, but it never left his throat as the tactical systems officer's voice rang over the ship intercom again. "Unknown ship's weapons are hot, I repeat, weapons hot, targeting systems active… she's targeting the planet!"

That was all Lord Paul needed to hear. "All ships, combat alert! I want targeting locks on that cruiser now!"

Star Commodore von Jankmon was trying not to think of the rather larger naval force now hovering well within weapons range of his lone WarShip and its attached DropShip assets. His forced his mind onto his dask: obeying the orders of his Khan and annihilating the Kell Hounds with a salvo from his guns. But he needed more time!

"Enemy weapons are going active, sir, and targeting systems are locking onto us!"

"Keep us on course!" Even as he spoke, he wondered if it would be enough. "Commence firing when ready!" Just a few seconds more...

The sight of the Aegis-class ship continuing its attack run decided matters. Paul's finger stabbed down on the controls. "This is OpForce Command to all ships, engage at will, I repeat, engage at will!"

Cohen spoke up once more. "Sir, signal from Wotan. The Ghastillan squadron is responding to orders, they're engaging as well."

Paul's tactical holotank reflected that. The Ghastillan heavy cruiser and its attached frigates, picket DropShips, and carriers were moving to engage, not surprising since Timkovichi was a Ghastillan world. In his own formation the heavy cruisers Sara Proctor and Mordecai Shaltiel moved forward, with the ship named for the founder of the Proctor dynasty already firing away with her naval batteries of gauss rifles and PPCs. Shaltiel joined with a long range burst from their NAC-35s and NAC-40s, lasers and PPCs were likewise firing. The frigates Emancipator and Liberator joined them with similar armaments, and missiles erupted from the launchers on the missile frigate Diane Carey and her two attached destroyers, Arjuna and Rama.

It was going to be a one-sided affair, but the enemy ship wasn't going down quietly. She fired as well, missiles and autocannon and laser fire. Heavy shells ripped across the bow of the Emancipator, tearing armor away, but the frigate remained on her course while her gauss cannons and naval lasers and PPCs blazed away. Despite the moderate amount of AMS fire the Arcadian fleet could put out, the "Jade Falcon" missiles slammed into every ship, one coming within a meter of damaging the great silver and gold hawk set into the Arcadia's bow, and further naval laser and cannon impacts spoke on his forces. "Shaltiel reports she's down a cannon, sir. Arjuna took three hits and has internal damage."

"Tell Captain Choudhury to make maneuvers as he needs, and keep Arjuna covered."

Their own fire was, as expected, far more effective, and already they were carving out the guts of the enemy cruiser with their onslaught. But time would tell if they could avert the holocaust the Red Talon seemed determined to inflict on Timkovichi.

By this point the carriers in the allied task force were commencing launches from their immediate readiness units. Two wings worth of fighters from each of the Arcadian carriers were in void, as were the interceptors of the Arcadian WarShips. The picket ships, armed with their subcapital batteries, moved forward as well, led by AFS Pinafore, AFS Penzance, and AFS Plucky. The fighters and pickets met the enemy combat droppers and their fighters partway between the two forces. Cannon and laser and missile fire bridged the two forces, joined by the explosions as weapon impacts blew away armor and hull. The Arcadian fighter pilots, among the most extensively trained in the entire Inner Sphere, brought their attacks home on the enemy ships, the Darter and Condor bombers unleashing missile bombardments after their escorts - Sabre III, Zero II, and Lightning II OmniFighters mostly - pinned down enemy interceptors.

Lord Paul felt painful old phantoms from his earlier career. He remembered the Menelaus Louganis in orbit over Sirius, burning, the loss of so many peers and comrades when the heavy cruiser blew apart under Capellan fire...

His officers' reports brought him out of the old memory. "Enemy ship maneuvering, it looks like they're trying to put themselves between the planet and us. They're still targeting surface contacts though."

"Human shields." He glowered. "Have our frigates maneuver to block this effort, all ships check fire, but take them down!"

While this mandated a slight decrease to their output, it didn't change the fact that a single cruiser, heavy as it was, was facing three other heavy cruisers, four frigates, several destroyers, and a battleship, and was already grievously wounded. The Aegis was in a losing fight, and it knew it. So why wasn't it just breaking off? Why were they so determined to attack the planet?

For Star Commodore von Jankmon, all roads led to defeat. If he held to his orders, the newly-arriving squadron would destroy him. If he disobeyed, Khan Malvina would not only kill him, she'd kill his offspring, reave his entire Bloodheritage.

In the end, that prospect was the one he couldn't live with. Not even the possibility that she might not get off the planet alive was something he would risk.

The Red Talon shook like a rattle in the fist of an angry child from the multiple weapon impacts she was taking. Their maneuver might lessen some enemy fire at least, and buy him time to fulfill the Khan's mission…

Then he heard the words no WarShip commander ever wanted to hear, accompanied with being thrown against his combat harness so hard he stopped breathing.

"Partial impact on missile magazines! Secondary explosions are—"

He had enough time to curse the name of his Khan before the explosion that claimed his life.

Far below, in the cockpit of the Black Rose - her own personal Shrike - Khan Malvina Hazen waited impatiently for her orders to be carried out. Everything was set. All that remained was for the Red Talon to wipe them from the face of Timkovichi and her conquests would resume unhindered by the Hounds.

And yet, still no fire from above.

She keyed the long-range commlink to von Jankmon. "Star Commodore, you are prepared to fire, quiaff?" When no answer came she snarled. "Tell me you are prepared to fire or I will…"

The words died in her throat as her eyes drifted above the parting cloud. Far above, the Red Talon was descending, moving to fire, to destroy her enemies.

But something was wrong. The descent was wrong.

She activated her magnification and could only stare in horror at the sight.

The Red Talon was not descending. She was falling. Flames and debris billowed from her broken form, even now still taking fire from an enemy she could not perceive.

"Star Commodore, report!"

Again, no report came, and the reply seemed to come instead when a great thundercrack and a burst of light filled the sky, and when it was gone, the Red Talon continued her fall, now shorn in two by the unseen enemy.

She shrieked in rage. No! There was no force that could intervene such as this! Not that damned Alaric, not those pathetic Bears, or the Lyrans we have broken… I will not let this stand! Over her commlink she declared, "All warriors, strike down all who oppose you, all who come before you. This world will die screaming as a lesson to the others!" If I must die here, I will take them all with me! Every single one!

Continued weapons fire worked to break up the dying enemy cruiser, ensuring that surviving pieces would burn up enough in atmosphere to not cause cataclysmic damage to Timkovichi. Lord Paul felt his adrenaline rush decline, and with it, his focus shifted. "Do we have any idea where the other training groups are? Just what is going on here?"

"Still nothing from Imperator Corvus or Emma Centralla, sir," Commander Cohen said. "I'm also having trouble with our HPG. It's not picking up any transmissions on the network."

"How is that possible? Even if the ships aren't around, Old Connaught should be there."

"It's like nothing is. No stable HPG signals. Nothing's answering us either." Cohen's hands flew over the station. "We're getting a spike in the generators! Feedback is overloading them! Implementing crash shutdown!"

Paul received no time to process that. "Sir." His Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Abigail Rodgers, looked up from a monitor at her station. "Sir, you should see this."

He didn't have to ask. She relayed the image to the holotank, which presented it as a flat holographic, coming from one of the ship's aft-facing hull cameras. "What in God's name…?" he gasped.

Behind the Arcadia, a solid field of blue light pulsed through space. It looked like the field of a ship in mid-jump, but it remained visible, constant. Even now the transport JumpShips that they'd jumped with, carrying the regiments for the joint training sessions, were at the corona of the field, which illuminated their gray hulls in a gentle azure glow.

Commander Patel undoubtedly knew he was going to call on her. Her voice was hoarse. "I've never seen anything like it. I've never heard of anything like it."

"Could that be how we survived the misjump?"

"I can't say that either, Admiral," she replied. "I can't tell you one thing or another. K-F Drives… they're not supposed to behave that way. Not at all. And the gravities here should be too great for any jump field to form. This… this is something we'd have to go to the Royal University of Roslyn about, or the New Avalon Institute of Science."

"Sir." Cohen checked his station. "We're getting a signal from the surface."

"Really? And not the Ghastillans?" That was peculiar, since he imagined local authorities would go to their own ships first. "Admiral Kruger should be fielding their inquiries before I."

"No sir. They've not hailed the Wotan at all, it seems. Sir…" Now confusion seeped into his voice. "The call claims to be from a Colonel Evan Kell. Of the Kell Hounds."

For once, good Lord, could something here make sense?! "Colonel Kell of the Kell Hounds? But we have…. And the 2nd Hounds are still on Arc-Royal! And there are no Kells at Colonel rank!"

He thought of the family's current numbers. Archduke Ethan Kell ruled Arc-Royal and the entirety of the Arc-Royal March of the Federation (as every Kell since Morgan had after the War of Donegal Succession a century ago), and his eldest daughter Callista Kell was a Captain in the 2nd Kell Hounds Regiment. Sons Phelan and Mark were attending Ayrshire on Arcadia, not active officers. They were the only main line left after Ethan's older brother Martin died childless in the 4th Succession War, killed in the fighting with Galedon's 3rd Sword of Light on Tukkayid in 3114.

He tried to remember if the Kell-Atholl branch had anyone, but even then, he knew the Kell Hound colonels by name. Neither were Kells.

"Put him on," Lord Paul sighed.

-peat, this is Hound Sunray to unknown Warships. I don’t know who you are, but if that rain of cruiser parts is your handiwork, I owe you, a lot.”

"This is Arcadia Actual. I am Admiral Paul Marik, Lord of Corin, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battle Fleet, Royal Arcadian Navy." Paul drew in a breath. "Your thanks are welcome, but I am having difficulty with your claimed identity. You say you are Colonel Evan Kell, Hound Sunray?"

Have been since birth, Admiral Marik.

"Commanding which regiment?"

“”Here, the First Regiment, and the Third of the Second.” The static of PPC backwash fuzzed out the channel for a moment, then, “Hang on a minute, Admiral. I’ve got a prior engagement with the Hell’s Horses to handle. Handing you off to my second.”

Paul stopped himself from the obvious problem with that line, since he'd dined with Colonel Deirdre Ward, CO of the 1st Kell Hounds, just two evenings ago. "What is your status?"

"Lt. Colonel Nadia Allard, Admiral," a woman's voice replied. "Right now we're trying to hold back the Horses, but that psychotic Falcon bitch Hazen's troops just started razing everything and everyone they can get at. The militia can’t stop them, and all Hound elements are fully engaged; if you've got any further help for us, the people of Timkovichi could use it."

"She's right," said Admiral Rogers. "We're picking up transmissions. Establishing visuals."

The advanced video sensors on the Arcadia brought up more images, this time compiling them into three-dimensional images for the holotank. Paul's jaw locked at seeing a strange BattleMech with a green falcon emblazoned on its chest smash open an apartment complex, spite in its motions as it kicked aside the pitiful wreck of a missile carrier. Walking alongside was another 'Mech, one that looked similar to the Thor OmniMech his younger son Jason piloted in the 1st Atrean Dragoons, with a circular missile launcher on one shoulder and arm-mounted weapons and a slightly off-center cockpit as the main difference from Jason's machine. As he watched the pilot commenced their own carnage, discharging a PPC into a crowd of fleeing civilians followed by SRMs that blew apart their victims into ghastly chunks.

"Adonai," Cohen murmured. "Lord preserve, they're… they're just killing them."

The Admiral shook his head. "I've seen enough." He'd not seen such carnage since the frontline reports from the 4th Succession War in his youth, not even Sirius and the other worlds disputed with the Capellans had seen that level of gross slaughter. Having it disappear wouldn't erase the images from his mind.

With quiet fury he keyed the comm line, profoundly wishing he'd gotten the Arcadian Guards or the Proctor Assault Guards as originally proposed. "Colonel Allard, rest assured, help is on the way. Transmitting our IFF code information to you now." He nodded at Cohen. "Alert General Bridger. I want the 8th Strikers and 1st Kell Hounds scrambled and dropping on those sites immediately. Send in everything. And coordinate full deck strikes from the carriers to assist both landing forces and Colonel Ward's troops."

"Aye Admiral," Cohen said. "Orders going out now. Admiral Kruger is likewise ordering in the 4th Grenadiers."

"Good." The 4th Ghastillan Grenadiers were a crack brigade of two veteran 'Mech regiments, in accordance with Ghastilla's particular force doctrine. "Remind them that civilian lives are being lost every second!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

2 - Falcons' Fall

Glassworks District, City of Cirenholm

“Back up, back up!” Kommandant Jacob Tanhause half-shouted over the intercom as his Brutus assault tank shook under a hard-hitting missile salvo. Thudding impacts from the salvo of advanced tactical missiles rang through the tank’s innards like a hundred trip-hammers at once, and Jacob swung the topside scopes around to try and find the source.

“Got it!” he called across to his gunner. “Thor Deuce, at our ten.” A non-standard, custom setup, with a particle cannon in one arm and a six-tube ATM rack in the high shoulder mount.

“I see it,” Sergeant Jessi “Cupcakes” Bannon replied, wrenching her control sticks around. The turret shifted with a whine of hydraulics. “One-twenty metres. Benjy, I want full power for the lasers; don’t care what you gotta kick.”

Below the turret basket, in the sauna-hot main hull, Corporal Lise Pierce cursed as - stripped to her armoured vest - she fought the controls, swinging the tank around to put its heaviest armour to bear, drivetrain grinding unpleasantly at the shift in place. One more thing that needed fixing - in a full repair bay, not just whatever their engineer, Corporal Benjamin ‘Benjy’ Mayhew, could do with his toolbox - but they just didn’t have time.

Time to trust my crew. Jacob pushed himself back from the scopes, resisting the urge to take over the gunnery controls and make the shot himself. He focussed on the tac map display, reading the dark blue and jade icons, hitting the side of the display with a quick slap to get it moving again. The climbing losses tore at him; when they’d marched out against the Clan invaders twelve days ago, the Timkovichi Armoured Guard had consisted of a company of BattleMechs, and two strong regiments of armour and mechanised infantry. Now, they were down to a single ‘Mech - Leutnant Palisser’s ancient Awesome - and barely a battalion of conventional troops; and that remnant was going fast.

The twin large lasers cracked suddenly, filling the turret with a sweat-prickling pulse of heat and the stink of ozone and scorched insulation. A shrieking volley of SRMs rippled off the forward launchers a moment later, lofting a dozen fat-bodied warheads at the Clan machine.

Yes! Got ‘im - fused his fuckin’ elbow solid!” Jessis shouted, exultant. “Ducking behind that warhouse - get after him, Lise.”

“Negative that,” Jacob snapped. “Corporal, get us back to Mason’s Way; we can’t waste time dancing with this guy, not with two assault Trinaries hitting us. Hound Sunray Minor, this is Guard Sunray, acting,” he switched to long-range comms; the frequency for the Kell Hounds’ mobile HQ. “Requesting support urgently; we can’t stop the Falcons.”

Hound Sunray Minor acknowledges, Guard Sunray.” Leftenant-Colonel Allard didn’t even sound slightly flustered, as though she was taking orders in a restaurant, not shuffling companies like a card-sharp’s deck. “We have support en route to your pos, Guard, just hang on, and make sure your IFFs are live; aero elements are oh-five mikes out.

At the controls of a DRT-2 Darter OmniFighter, Ensign Abraham Farmer was a long way from his home town of Worcester, on Arcadia's Plymouth Peninsula. The descendant of the New England colonists that settled the otherwise Anglo-Scot reaches of Eastern Islay on Arcadia, Farmer's choice for service was the Federation Royal Navy, specifically, the Aerospace Arm.

His three years at the Rivka Shaltiel Flight Academy on Gienah were tough enough, and that was for general aerospace pilot and officer education, to teach him how to handle the enormously complex, expensive, and powerful machine that was an aerospace fighter craft. But for the Navy, that was only the start; next came his stint with other final year cadets on the training carrier AFS Independence, a former frontline WarShip-Carrier that was crippled in the Concord-Compact War at the Battle of Tikonov, then rebuilt to be a permanent trainer given it proved unsuitable for frontline naval operations. The training was grueling, the mark of the Royal Navy's dedication to having the best aerospace pilots in service, but his reward was a place among the best pilots in all the Inner Sphere.

Finishing that year of rigorous space-borne training led directly to his current assignment to the 11th Naval Strike Wing - the "Voidsharks" - on the AFS Ranger, an old warhorse from before the Second Age of War with a shiny new rebuild. Now he was at the controls of a 95-ton war machine currently sloughing off the re-entry heat as it plunged through Timkovichi's atmosphere. Commander Winston's words still rang in his ears. "We're not sure what the hell's going on, but we know someone's down there murderin' civilians. Put 'em down fast and put 'em down hard, Voidsharks."

"Feet hot," he called over the AFRF tac link, and other pilots in his twelve-fighter squadron said the same, followed by the other twelve fighters of the Voidsharks when the second squadron of the 11th Wing descended into the atmosphere.

"11SW, this is Ranger Actual, we're relaying friendly IFFs to you now. Weapons tight, people; watch what you shoot," said the ASG PriFly Director up on the Ranger.

"Roger that, Ranger Actual. Weapons tight, all elements," answered Lieutenant Commander Tiraz, the 11th's CO. He'd be piloting a Darter as well, but his configuration employed a Rotary AC/5 in the nose backed by pulse lasers on the wings. "Inbound on Cirenholm and other localities."

Farmer kept his Darter on the course projected on his HUD, courtesy of PriFly, singling Cirenholm out from among Timkovichi's towns and cities. The final minutes to engagement passed and he could see the black smoke coiling into the air. The city was being destroyed. He made a final check on his fire selectors. The wing-mounted pods contained top of the line Matthews Ballistics SureShot-20s, utilizing Streak technology to conserve ammo, while a Vickers-Armstrong Mk. 8 Particle Projector Cannon in the chin pod let him deliver a heavy hit on top of the missile barrage to whatever 'Mech or tank he deigned to fire one.

As the 11th neared the point of its first attack run, they fanned out, ensuring the widest support to the multiple beleaguered forces present. Above their heads the 66th Naval Aerospace Wing - the "Double-Sixes" - were locked in dogfights with enemy aerospace fighters, keeping them off the incoming strike packages and allowing Farmer to focus on the targets forming on his holotank. He picked one particularly tall 'Mech. The identification systems decided it was a Thor OmniMech, "Unknown Configuration", after briefly considering it a Tanatis (the 'Mech the Thor was based on). The colors included a bright emerald shade. In just a couple seconds he'd be in range, which meant he'd have a second to squeeze the trigger before he'd overshoot. His targeting systems were already establishing missile locks.

The crosshairs turned from crimson to gold, and a tone came to his ears. Weapons lock complete, range imminent.

As soon as the gold crosshairs blinked, he squeezed his triggers. Both launchers erupted, their computers verifying the shot was good and would deliver hits, and a bolt of cerulean fury from his Darter's chin lanced through the air and scourged the side of the Thor. Even as his fighter roared over his target's head, his holotank displayed the last seconds of camera footage from the LRMs, confirming nearly three quarters of the salvo hit home; the flickering beams of a pair of anti-missile lasers burned the others out of the air. He kicked his fighter into a brief acceleration burn, pushing his limits from the 4 and a half Gs of thrust the Darter could sustain at maximum effort, which quickly bought him the distance needed to make his second pass. His target was limping, evidently from missile damage to its leg, but still tracking weapons on a friendly-ID tank. They had only seconds before whatever missiles or cannons the thing was mounting would hammer them. He kicked his thrust up again, briefly, and had a lock ready when the range was good again.

This time his PPC cored the heart of the machine, blasting armor and endo-steel from the chest. The first coils of oily black smoke came from within. His LRM shot wasn't as successful this time, as his right wing launcher couldn't confirm a solid lock and refused to fire.

His left wing launcher did fire, however, and twenty missiles descended on the enemy machine. Again its anti-missile lasers flickered beams into the air, catching three, four, five missiles, six…

...but not all.

While a couple missiles worsened the wound in the enemy torso, one more struck home on the torso-mounted six-tube launcher, crippling the weapon, and the other missiles made their own impacts. By the time he was burning past, the green enemy machine was in dire straits, and he prepared for a third run.

The first strike run happened so fast, Jacob Tanhause wasn’t sure for a moment just what had happened. Just a shattering sonic boom, a flash of man-made lightning brighter and hotter than his Brutus’s laser bolts, the rippling light-flares of missiles. The Thor Deuce staggered back into view, shedding armour in semi-molten strips, bleeding coolant from ruptured sinks. Sweeping back in a blisteringly tight turn, the friendly fighter set up for another run. That fighter -

Jacob blinked, trying to make sense of it. It didn’t match anything in LCAF service that he knew; maybe a Davion Rondel, if they came in a mark that packed a pair of heavy LRM racks and a heavy particle cannon, but he’d never heard of one. No Davion regiment used that gold-on-black colour scheme, anyway.

The second strafing run peeled away even more armour, spilling one of the anti-missile lasers into the street in ruin, and then the fighter was away, behind them.

That was more than enough for Jessi Bannon. As soon as her range field was clear, she hit the firing triggers, unleashing everything the tank had. Short- and long-range missiles walked across the ‘Mech’s armour in rippling yellow-white blossoms, calving away armour composite and endosteel, and the cobalt spears of the main lasers hammered into the weakened centreline, ripping away armour, gutting the gyro and blasting out of the seventy-ton machine’s back in a mist of semi-molten shrapnel.

Robbed of its balance, the Thor shuddered in mechanical palsy before collapsing forward. Hard; hard enough to bury its right shoulder and part of the head module in the torn-up asphalt.

“Good kill, good kill!” Jessi yelled, loud enough that Jacob had to hold his headset away from his ears for a moment.

Guard Sunray, this is Spotter One.” A young voice, one of the infantry teams providing early warning and - when they’d still had ammo for it - artillery directions. “Boss, you wanna look up, ‘cause it is beautiful.”

Jacob flicked the camera feeds to vertical, showing just what the infanteer had seen.

DropShips. Half a dozen or more - including a couple that were big; from the rangefinder’s figures at least half again the size of an Overlord - each emblazoned with a white and gold hawk insignia.

In the bowels of the AFS Charles Sinclair, Lieutenant Evangeline Penton-Vallejo drew in a breath and readied the controls of her Paladin. The PLD-3 was the OmniMech version of Arcadia's first signature 'Mech, and her configuration was one of the specialized "Striker" variants employed by the three Striker Regiments of the AFRF. Her eyes went over her equipment checklist screen and verified everything was green. The five RussTech TurboJets that gave her 'Mech thrust for jumping, the Vickers-Armstrong Mark 8 PPC and Mark 14 and Mark 18 Lasers (Large size, one normal and one pulse) and the Mark 15s (mediums), every one of those energy weapons a Terran Royal-tech Extended Range model. The loadout fit the Striker preference for energy weapon, even if it also meant every spare square meter of volume was taken up by the heat sinks necessary to even partially regulate her machine's major heat potential.

The twenty-three year old graduate of the Nagelring was new to the 8th Strikers. It was a tradition for both sides of the family, the Penton-Vallejos and Penton-Galvariz-Aghliesi, to serve in the unit, and Evangeline was happy to get the nod. Bronze-skinned and dark-haired, she took after her family matriarch, Rachel Vallejo y Galvariz, save her preference to cut her hair far shorter, and to keep the traditional shaved temples that were utterly unnecessary in neurohelmets these days.

Right now her concern was the light in the 'Mech bay. This was only supposed to be a training campaign, she thought, swallowing her fear as the light flashed red once more, and the light-wands of the battlesuited trooper acting as ground-guide waved to tell her she was lined up right. The turn to yellow told her they were about to deploy, that she was about to jump out of a DropShip at least half a kilometer off the ground and then bring her 'Mech to a controlled landing, under fire, with the jump jets. For the first time in her life, she was going to face combat.

Mom and Dad fought in the War. They survived Tukayyid, Buckminster, Irian. I can do this too. She drew in a breath as the yellow light's pace quickened. Any second…

The light flashed green.

Machinery came to life and the great doors for the Charles Sinclair's hangars opened, allowing light to pour in and illuminate the BattleMechs of the 8th Strikers' 1st Battalion. Their operational color of light blue and white, standard for the air-dropping Striker Regiments, was only broken up by the relatively small unit patch often placed on the shoulders or upper chests or legs of the 'Mechs in the unit, the yellow and orange-plumed Arcadian sunhawk on a yellow disc, reflecting the 8th Strikers' unit nickname: "Sunhawks".

The 'Mechs ahead of her, led by Captain Rosaline Kincaid of Bravo Company and Lance Lieutenant Wolfgang von Krager, her personal lance commander, started jumping out in regular intervals. She put her 'Mech into motion and followed them out, shutting out everything but her drop training. She thought her stomach would climb into her throat as her 75 ton 'Mech jumped into open air. Some weapons fire lashed skyward at them and met retorts from the 8th Strikers' Aerospace Group and the supporting naval fighters, as well as the weapons on the descending DropShips. The fast insertion droppers were going even lower to deploy the 8th Striker Armored Infantry Regiment into position, along with supporting 'Mechs. Fire skittered off the light blue and white hulls of the DropShips, which they returned in earnest while dropping their forces off.

Evangeline's eyes focused on the rapidly declining number showing her altitude. At three hundred meters she fired her first burst of jump thrust, only for a few seconds, and continued to gently employ it until the two hundred meter mark, when she began a steadier application that escalated to a full slam on the pedals at a hundred meters. At ten meters the thrust was temporarily exhausted, but that was close enough. At least for her "Mech, for her it was a bone-jarring landing.

Laser fire stitched across the breast of her Paladin, scorching the bright Sunhawk patch there. An enemy 'Mech, unknown design, was targeting her. She focused her crosshairs on the chicken-legged machine and, mindful of her heat, triggered all three of her long range energy weapons. The bolt of plasma from the PPC was joined by a stream of sapphire pulses from the torso-mounted pulse laser and a solid sapphire beam from the neighboring torso mount. Armor sloughed from the enemy machine and heat surged in her cockpit, defying the coolant circulating through her cooling suit.

Incoming missiles came for her, and Evangeline maneuvered to try and avoid them. At last five still struck, though to no effect. With her heat still fairly high, she staggered her fire, giving her cooling systems time to work while whaling away at the foe. Lieutenant von Krager's Mad Cat joined her in pummeling the targeted chicken-walker, placing a barrage of SRMs into the machine to knock more armor loose. His large lasers carved out chunks of armor and internal frame, and the chem-fueled smoke of a damaged engine came from the wound. With her heat back to manageable levels her fingers stroked the firing keys again, this time firing only the lasers at first. The enemy pilot was enough of a natural to keep their machine standing despite losing over two tons worth of armor in a few seconds. Yet their machine was clearly the worse for it, with the lasers that struck her out of action. Lance Lieutenant von Krager fired his missiles and all twelve slammed home on the torso, damaging the gyro and finally sending the green 'Mech down.

Her machine shrieked a warning, and she turned in time to face the missiles coming her way. A distant enemy, in a machine that resembled a Strider Hawk or Katun 'Mech, but with more of an avian profile than even the Strider Hawk, was unloading twenty-salvo LRMs at her lance.

Lieutenant Thomas MacDonald's Ranger, an upgraded version of one of the original 1st generation OmniMechs, stepped closer. Rapid fire lasers, anti-missile lasers, struck at the incoming salvos, and the Ranger's rotary autocannon blazed away at the distant enemy 'Mech. After a few moments MacDonald's left arm came up and a PPC shot, from the same model as her own, speared the enemy machine from a distance, all while the enemy missiles that survived the anti-missile fire plowed into MacDonald's machine and her own.

The other Paladin of her lance, that of Lieutenant Kevin Kilroy, was configured for direct fire support, which meant a Gauss Rifle paired to twin Mark 14 Vickers-Armstrong lasers. All three weapons fired at the enemy missile 'Mech. The coilgun shot blew a chunk of armor from the 'Mech's chicken leg, while twin beams of sapphire melted armor in rivulets to the street below.

Evangeline figured her comrades had everything in hand, allowing her to divert attention toward another of the enemy machines moving through the wreckage of an apartment. She spit the crosshairs over the holo-image of a winged 'Mech on her holotank. Her systems identified it suddenly, calling it a Shrike, a 95-ton 'Mech, utterly unfamiliar to her.

"Regimental Command here." The voice was recognizable as Colonel Jagdish Patel, the XO of the 8th Strikers. "We've finished remote updating of all your unit recognition profiles from data handed over by local forces. Put it to good use."

"Roger that," answered her battalion CO, Major Alejandro Perez.

Evangeline's systems showed the loadout of the machine, with UAC-5s, a pair of extended range large lasers, and a ten-salvo LRM launcher. It was designated a "Clan" machine, whatever that was…

She learned a moment later, as the enemy 'Mech focused fire directly on her first. The range of the enemy fire was such that it was clear that "Clan" meant "Royal", at least to her understanding. This was a top of the line Assault 'Mech.

"Bravo Lance, focus fire," Lieutenant von Krager ordered. The other machines, turning away from that dying fire support 'Mech, turned their attention on the Shrike.

During her education Evangeline's tactics classes showed off some of the performances a gifted MechWarrior could give. This was as good as anything those recordings showed. The Shrike's pilot was almost untouchable, and every shot was hitting home. Her machine, her lancemates, everyone was getting shot up, and the Shrike was firing like it didn't need to worry about heat at all. She let loose with everything she had just for the enemy 'Mech to suddenly shift or weave, throwing her aim off, and while some armor was lost on the other machine, it didn't compare to the damage they were doing to Lieutenant von Krager's Mad Cat.

That they were fighting an elite enemy pilot was clear, and even worse, other "Mechs were coming up, four more in total, and while their designations weren't immediately recognizable, the tonnages were all Assault or Heavy grade. "This is Bravo-Bravo-3, we need fire support, enemy Assault 'Mechs present, possible command unit!" she called, even as autocannon shells from the "Falcon" 'Mech tore through the head module of MacDonald's Ranger, nearly decapitating the machine.

Abraham Farmer still had a fair ammo reserve and a bit of fuel when the call came from Commander Tiraz. "All elements, urgent request for fire support from 8th Striker. PriFly given the call to us."

"Roger that, Squadron Lead," he replied, one of many to do so. "Going in." He swung his Darter about while data from the Ranger gave him the location on the other side of Cirenholm. A burst of fire from the ground clipped him, but given the thick ferro-aluminum armor that protected the Darter it caused no further concern.

He wasn’t the first pilot on scene. One of the 2nd Squadron's pilots, in a Malleus, was already rolling in on an attack run. The hundred ton gunship came in textbook-perfect, no oversteer or correction, just the right amount of throttle. Its Gauss rifles spoke, a triple-thunderclap hurlng hypervelocity slugs at the jade ‘Mech - except it wasn’t there. What happened next seemed to play out in slow motion, even though logically it could only have taken a handful of seconds. The Shrike, suspended on pillars of ion flame as two of the Gauss slugs passed below it. One struck home, explosively calving nearly a ton of armour away from the ‘Mech’s right thigh, wrenching it to one side and dragging the torso-mounted lasers and missiles out of play. Its left arm stabbing out, tipped by muzzle-flame. Hundreds of depleted uranium-tipped slugs splintering armour, shattering ferroglass - and tearing the pilot beneath apart. Time sped back up as the Shrike landed, the Malleus wobbling in the air for a moment before slamming into the ground. The fusion core let go an instant later, a brief flare of white flame reducing the fighter to a blackened shell before the failsafes choked the reaction.

Farmer bit back a vicious curse, angling around and flipping his main trigger to missiles. Deflection was too high to try a particle cannon shot, thanks to that damn jumping-jack move, but the Streak racks might just work.

Lock tone sounded, loud and clear on both racks. And no AMS for you, you son of a bitch, he thought with bloodthirsty satisfaction as he hit the firing stud. Forty missiles fired in a swift ripple from the pods on his wings, each missile tracking onto the Shrike while it descended back to the ground. He kept his altitude and kicked his thrust back to max, preparing for another pass.

The white heat of her earlier fury had faded, leaving Malvina Hazen with only cold, glassy clarity. Even as the missiles - striking with the surety of Streak guidance - hammered into Black Rose’s frontal armour, spreading bands of yellow and orange across the damage display, her focus never slipped. She twisted her wounded right leg out of the line of fire, taking the barrage on undamaged plating.

Imminent death is curiously liberating. For she was going to die; these interlopers had seen to that, whoever they were. But that freed her, of responsibility and greater concerns; of the need to do anything but kill as many of them as possible before her end.

“Janovech, keep those fighters off us. Anwar, Craig with me,” she ordered, pushing Black Rose to full speed. “Star Commander Corwin, flank and engage!”

Aff, my Khan!” four voices replied, her command Nova splitting and reforming in practised, disciplined moves. Janovech’s Ryoken II, autocannon already spitting out spent shell casings and flak shells, spun in place, chasing the strafing fighters.

Particle cannon spitting lightning bolts, Craig brought his Hellstar to bear against two of the newcomers; a modified Black Knight and what her systems identified as some freeborn bastardisation of the Mad Cat - were they the dezgra exiled Wolves, then, finally stirring from their den on Arc-Royal? - and the cursed Lyran Awesome, a machine ancient when the Founders were young, bleeding coolant and limping on a fused knee but still refusing to die, while Anwar followed her.

For the throat. Their commanders were hers.

Farmer's sensors screamed in warning and illuminated, via his HUD, the direct of fire coming form below. One of the enemy 'Mechs, one his systems were calling a "Ryoken II", was firing toward him as he commenced another run. He banked before his missile launchers could get a lock while his systems registered a pair of minor hits, consistent with a cluster autocannon. He fired his engines up to get the range to start another pass attempt. "Looks like we've got an AA 'Mech out there," he said into his tac-comm line. "Keep an eye on that." He swung around while another Darter, his wingman Ensign al-Rashid, came into formation with him. "Let's deal with that Shrike 'Mech," he said, "leave the Ryoken to the others."

"Roger that," the Dar-es-Salaam-born pilot said, following him as they started another pass. They kept a higher altitude, given the enemy machine's great jump capability, and readied to fire.

The Shrike seemed to feel them coming, or perhaps did see them coming. Either way the pilot, with their enormous skill, literally pirouetted out of the crosshairs just as Farmer triggered his weapons. His PPC turned sand to glass, but hit nothing, and the SureShot launchers refused to fire. The same apparently happened with al-Rashid, who radioed "No joy. That is one agile pilot."

"We'll get 'em yet. Come on," he said, preparing for another pass.

Evangeline's 'Mech wobbled as particle cannon blasts from one of the enemy command unit's 'Mechs - a "Hellstar" according to the "Kell Hound" IDs - took armor off enough that her left side was becoming completely exposed. One jump jet was showing a critical fault and the aim on her Mark 18 (Pulse) Laser was off due to damage to the aiming mechanism. At least the heat sinks haven't been hurt, she thought while putting her crosshairs on the Hellstar and giving it the return treatment with her own particle cannon and laser. The rest of the lance were busy trying (and failing) to contain an assault-weight Warhammer mod and that Shrike, moving like the pilot was almost one with their machine.

Her opponent was quite capable too, evading her PPC blast, while the sapphire beam of her laser carved a valley of molten material from his shoulder. She triggered the left arm's medium lasers next, twin emerald beams that sliced another chunk from the enemy, and waited patiently for her heat to cycle back down before firing the damaged pulse laser. It stitched sapphire light along the flank of the Hellstar, a glancing blow, and its particle cannons scourged her machine once more, three out of four shots striking home despite her desperate maneuvering. This time the pulse laser simply died, a direct hit that exposed the side of her machine front to back, and her Paladin's left knee locked up from the molten material wedging the joint. She fell this time, off-balance from the leg. The enemy pilot brought their weapon up and, despite the range, she knew the next shot would spear her cockpit and kill her instantly.

The shot never came, with the next salvo instead firing behind her, and for good reason. Captain Kincaid's Paladin, a Striker Primary configuration, sailed through the air over her on five jets of burning thrust, moving quickly enough that only two of the PPCs struck her and only took armor away at that. In mid-air the ultra autocannon on the left arm flashed to life, firing at double rate (and thankfully not jamming) to inflict heavy damage on the Hellstar's flank. Captain Kincaid landed and triggered her PPC and medium lasers, cooking her 'Mech with heat but delivering a strong blow to the heavier foe that made use of the damage Evangeline had already dealt.

Yet even overheated, the Paladin had one last weapon to call upon. Metal shone in the sun of Timkovichi as the right hand opened and the configuration's sword came out of the OmniPod in the forearm, extending to full length in the seconds before Kincaid thrust the blade into the Hellstar's damaged armor. The enemy machine faltered, coolant flowing like blood from its chest wound, and the pilot drew back, firing wildly and missing given how well Kincaid kept her Paladin moving. Kincaid kept on him, swinging the blade again and slicing through the barrel of the right arm's particle projector, while her left arm fired two ruby beams point-blank into the enemy machine's wound. The entire right side of the Hellstar was becoming a wreck. Elated, Evangeline forced her back to its feet and tried to get a shot, but Kincaid was still in the way. "Captain, I've got your back!"

There was no answer, the Captain's concentration was total. Her blade swiped empty air, as the Hellstar pilot spun away to evade it, but they weren't evading the torso-mounted PPC. The Hellstar's chest, covered in wounds from Gauss Rifle strikes from strafing Malleus fighters, broke at the lightning of Kincaid's weapon, exposing the machinery within. The sword flashed again, this time a thrust that went into the wound and speared the engine itself. The Hellstar fell, never to rise again.

By now Evangeline was tracking the other foes, but she was as ill-prepared for any for the maneuver of the Shrike. As if sensing its comrade fell, the machine spun - evading PPC shots from the venerable but still dangerous Awesome; and God, Evangeline had never seen a ‘Mech that damaged still on its feet, even in battlerom records, the legendarily thick armour more holes than plating and its heat exchangers glowing white-hot on infrared - and fired into the rear of Kincaid's 'Mech. Double-fires from its ultra autocannons, just as dangerous as Kincaid's own single ultra had proven, but unlikely to precisely hit the same target.

And yet, they did.

The shells blew apart the head of the Paladin from behind, destroying the entire module over the course of about two seconds. Evangeline's heart fell to see her company CO die so quickly, so easily, like her impressive victory of just seconds ago was nothing. She wanted to kill that Shrike pilot…

"Go for the Ryoken," urged Lieutenant von Krager. "Now!"

Given the shape she was in, Evangeline wasn't sure she could duel another enemy 'Mech, but gratefully, she wouldn't have to. Not alone.

The Armored Infantry was here.

Her target, and another, already had the veteran battle armor infantry swarming them. The Striker-clad infantry troopers were doing the swarming, a squad striking at the legs of the souped up Warhammer, a second squad already on its torso and shoulders shooting into sensitive spots, while a squad of Peltast heavy armored troopers fired salvos from their triple SRM launchers into the enemy machine, pelting it with the equivalent firepower of three SRM6s.

The Ryoken's autocannons briefly let off on the anti-air fire, instead focusing its efforts on the Striker infantry trying to get at it as well. She watched the autocannons' cluster rounds rip into a squad, wounding or killing one of the six troopers, but the survivors pressed on, firing away with their BA-scale Gauss Rifles. Those weapons were too small to do much damage, but they'd do far more if the remaining soldiers, and any other squads, could get there.

Granted, succeeding in that might not happen if they didn't get help. Evangeline noted her lance wasn't in shape for it. MacDonald's Ranger was down, missing its head module — he'd ejected — and Kilroy's Paladin was trying to fight the Warhammer. That just left her, and her hobbled 'Mech.

A good thing I'm built for range!

The Ryoken II's movements were simplistic enough that it was easy getting the crosshairs on it, and when she pulled the triggers, her lasers and PPC hit home with every shot. The blue beam cut through the barrel of one of the deadly autocannons and the emerald beams from her left arm sliced up armor on the machine. Her PPC scourged armor right from the chest.

That got the Ryoken II's attention. It's autocannons roared to life, and multiple cluster munitions struck at her wounded machine. Her engine gave off a warning light, indicating it'd been hit in the exposed left side, and the damaged left leg lost what little armor it had left. But nothing critical's truly hit, the engine's not out yet!

Also a good thing I don't have ammo!

Defiant to the fact of her 'Mech's increased heat level, she followed up with another shot. This time her lasers hit home on the other 'Mech's left side, effectively reproducing the damage she'd already suffered.

Except the Ryoken II did have ammo.

One of the lasers was the culprit, as later battleROM footage would confirm. The cluster munitions and missiles in that side of the 'Mech cooked off from the heat of the laser, producing an explosion that blew open that side of the Ryoken II. The existence of cellular ammunition storage saved the rest of the 'Mech, although the unarmed limb there now hung uselessly with its control systems severed.

The three Striker troopers made it to the Ryoken's left leg, where they promptly started to fire into the moving parts. The enemy machine's foot locked up and the pilot, already suddenly down over a third of their machine's mass worth of material, couldn't keep the 'Mech balanced. It toppled over onto its good side. The armored infantry promptly jumped away. "All yours, Lieutenant," a voice crackled over the common tactical line. The infantry returned to their fallen comrade, clearing the way for her.

"Thank you," she replied, her crosshairs already on the 'Mech's exposed guts. Her heat dipped just low enough to be safe before she fired everything yet again.

Given her engine damage the heat flooded the cockpit, and her cooling suit struggled against it. As the sweat covered her face Evangeline watched the effect of her shots into the enemy 'Mech's exposed side. The particle projection cannon and lasers stabbed at the engine and gyro, doing a particular number on the latter, enough that the pilot's efforts to stand ended before the Ryoken II could even begin shifting weight. She waited for her weapons to recycle before, due to heat, using staggering fire, again on her opponent's exposed torso.

This time she was rewarded with a brief fountain of fusion plasma, after which the Ryoken II died.

My first combat kill. It was an exhilarating thought, especially since she'd not expected to get one so soon. Not during a training mission. It'd come during some anti-piracy campaign with the Ghastillans or Principate, or maybe in a skirmish with the Combine or the (Oriento-)Capellans. Not… not like this.

Despite her machine's hobbling, Evangeline made it turn around, tracking the insanely-effective Shrike.

Just in time to watch Lieutenant von Krager die.

Oh, this one was good, worthy.

Ammunition warnings were flickering on Malvina’s heads-up display, but she dismissed them. Only a few salvos of missiles left, and almost no autocannon rounds. It would be enough.

The Black Knight pilot had been a gift, truly; blind, not watching their back. But this one - they fought, as the Falconers put it, by the claws, torso weaving constantly in a sinuous evasive pattern that kept her lasers’ bite from telling. So why was she not going for the cockpit?

I want to see what you have.

Pushing forward, Malvina lofted a missile volley, spending the last of her autocannon rounds at the same time. Armour spalled away in useless splinters, driving the Mad Cat back one step. Two.

The lighter machine hunched back for a moment, as though trying to guard its wounded armour. Then it stormed forward, hitting back with everything it had.

Streak six-racks from the shoulders. Large and medium lasers. Guided by the aim of a warrior, blooded in real battle, scything into her wounded leg armour, sending molten composite flowing in glowing rivulets down the shin plating; one beam snapped the empty ammo links for her autocannon.

You … lose,” a heat-drained voice came over the general address channel as the Mad Cat’s laser arm levelled at her cockpit, building power to strike - slowed by the burden of that all-out salvo.

In answer, Malvina simply fired her own lasers. Straight and true into the Mad Cat’s cockpit, a glowing laser-cut through armour and ferroglass cockpit shield.


Beam fire hammered into Black Rose from every angle, armour melting and breaking away as she tried to force the ‘Mech around, myomer muscle cables snapping. The right shin gave, suddenly, endosteel bones shot in two, sending her stumbling forward into the path of the Awesome’s last particle cannon shot.

A blinding flash. The smell of ozone and the sound of shrieking metal.

”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

3 - Cleanup

AFS Arcadia, In Orbit
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
12 August 3145

The reports from the surface were encouraging, at least, or so Lord Paul thought. The "Jade Falcons" were being smashed by a concentrated effort of the 8th Strikers, the 1st Kell Hounds, and one of the 4th Grenadiers' regiments, while the other was busy assisting the… "other" Kell Hounds in fighting the "Hell's Horses".

While it wasn't unheard of for military units to adopt animal names as unofficial nicknames or code names, entire organized bandit forces like this sounded outlandish. Especially given the reports he was getting of the sophistication of their technology, much of it "Royal" Terran equivalent instead of Star League vintage. Where did such people get the means to produce that level of technology?

These were questions occupying him as Lord Paul entered the wardroom on one of the ship's grav decks. Arcadian design philosophy typically doubled or even tripled the number of grav decks per ship, accepting the increased maintenance needs for the expanded facilities and living quarters for the plentiful times when a WarShip could not be kept under thrust. Grav Deck 2, for instance, had the wardroom and infirmary, complete with surgical theaters, every room configured to switch between the orientation of thrust-provided gravity to the spinning grav decks.

Waiting for him were a number of his captains, as well as Admiral Kruger and Captain Dante of the Ghastillan fleet. While the Royal Federation officers were in their red duty uniforms with black Naval highlighting and blue trim, the Ghastillians had blue uniforms with an orange barnous draped on the shoulders and similarly orange highlights. Admiral Kruger saluted with the others and Lord Paul returned it all. "At ease. General Bridger reports that the battle below is entering a clean-up phase, and S&R missions are already under way for the enemy ships destroyed in orbit. That leaves the more pressing matter."

"This." The word came from Captain (Lady) Karla Proctor-Steiner, CO of the Arcadia and a granddaughter of the late High King Ethan Proctor-Steiner, as she tapped a key and lit up the wardroom's display holotank with a three-dimensional image of the "jump field" persisting high above Timkovichi. Her bright blue eyes matched the color on the image, which played over her bronze skin in the light. "We've all logged hundreds of jumps in our lives. Nobody has ever heard of anything like this?"

There was a shaking of heads. "It felt like what they say a misjump would feel like," Admiral Kruger noted, his accent a thick Teutonic one. "I thought I was dying."

"I think we all did," Lord Paul noted solemnly. "So, we have no idea what it is. A theory, then?"

A voice with Skye burr spoke up. Captain Quinton Fitzhugh was a tall spacer man who looked more like a permanent JumpShip dweller than a normal WarShip captain. Since he was the commander of the transport JumpShips, that was unsurprising. "Aye. Whatever happened, I ken it's our way home."

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean, sir, is that I heard th' broadcasts from below. This isnae our Inner Sphere," Fitzhugh insisted. "I ken how it sounds, but think about it. These folk aren't like anythin' we've seen before. Th' planetary authorities aren't even th' right ones." He looked expectantly at the Ghastillian officers.

Kruger shook his head. "They are not. They insist they are in the Coventry Province of the Lyran Commonwealth. They know nothing of Ghastilla."

"Right." The JumpShip skipper sounded satisfied. "So let's let our minds play a bit, dinnae fash yeself about what sounds 'real', just what might be. We have a misjump of sorts that drops us intae orbit of a planet, tae close for a pirate point. An' everything sounds wrong here. The locals dinnae call themselves Ghastillian, they say they're Lyran. These 'Clans' are about an' none tae friendly. Even th' HPGs are actin' strange. Everythin' says th' world isnae right. So stands tae reason we're not in th' right world."

"You mean like some of those science-fiction holovids of alternate histories?" Captain Choudhury asked. "We're in such a history?"


"So what does that have to do with getting home?"

Fitzhugh gestured to the image. "Well, it's a field. A K-F field, alright. I say we fly intae th' thing, see what happens. Fly a remote drone in first, then bring it back."

"Assuming the drone survives, we may still be cut off from contact," Lord Paul pointed out. "We won't be able to bring it back through."

"So we leave a program in th' thing, tell it tae turn about an' come home", Fitzhugh suggested. "Or attach some holos an' have it transmit, tell people tae send it back if they find it."

Lord Paul considered the proposal. He considered any thought of flying in a manned ship, even a DropShuttle, to be out of the question, at least until they had more information. But Fitzhugh's approach would give them a chance of finding out what they needed to know without unnecessarily risking lives. "Alright. Can this be done?"

"Work the drones right, and yes," Captain Kevin Sheffield of the Emancipator said. "It can be."

"Then let's have our technicians get to work," Lord Paul said. "Anything else?"

"Any word from below?" asked Captain Choudhury. The Bolanese man's expression was tight with uncertainty, but so were most of the others. Everything had happened so fast, and now the questions were just piling in. Could they get home? Would they get home? What was going on here? Having something concrete and certain to speak of was a relief from that, at least. "Have we suppressed those murderous 'Clans'?"

"General Bridger's last report indicated so, yes," Lord Paul said. "Enemy forces are defeated or surrendered, with a few potential diehards left." He nodded to Kruger. "The 4th is assisting the local units in dealing with them." He didn't see fit to refer to said local units by their self-described name. If Captain Fitzhugh is right, then at least it explains the disparity. Two Inner Spheres, different histories, but yet Kell Hounds in both? I wonder what else is repeated? "We will let the Techs get to work on the matter of the drone. In the meantime, allow the crews to stand down from combat alert and see to casualties. Assure them everything is handled."

He was answered with "Aye"s and nods and called the meeting to a close. Everyone with the exception of Admiral Kruger filed out. "If your JumpShip driver is correct, it would change so much," Kruger said. "For all of us."

"Indeed. Especially…" He hesitated, but Kruger's expectant look prompted him to keep speaking. "...especially if this is something that can be repeated."

"Ja," was the only reply his allied counterpart gave.

The city of Cirenholm was yet to return to normal, but at least the killing was over. Now it was time for the medics and local rescue personnel to see to the injured. Some of the intact Sunhawk 'Mechs aided as they could, the MechWarriors following directions on moving debris with hand-actuator arms and the like.

Evangeline wasn't one of them. Her 'Mech, damaged so thoroughly, now stood among the other damaged units in the shadow of the landed Charles Sinclair. She sat on the foot of her machine, neurohelmet cast aside, letting the cool wind blow through her dark hair and sunburnt face while her mind struggled to process everything. Under her dark red cooling suit with blue trim and gold highlights, she could feel the tank top and shorts were still soaked in sweat. By all rights she should be looking for a shower and a change into a fresh suit, but her mind wasn't focused on such. Lance Lieutenant von Krager's dead. So is MacDonald. And Captain Kincaid died… just like that.

She'd watched their deaths, Kincaid and then von Krager. The latter, coming from a machine that by all rights should've fallen well before it got to that point, seemed a particular mockery. As if their enemy simply wouldn't die. She remembered pumping laser fire into the enemy machine and watching it essentially disintegrate, yet she kept firing, screaming for it to go down, even when it was and her lasers and PPC were accomplishing nothing but melting scrap and the ground beneath, overheating her 'Mech until it finally shut down. Yet she was still squeezing the triggers for several seconds before Major Perez's voice crackled over her speakers. "Stand down Lieutenant! Stand down now!"

They have to be dead. They have to be. The Captain, Lance Lieutenant von Krager, Tom, they can all rest knowing that thing's dead.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to curl up and just cry at it all. The death and devastation… what was it for? What was it all for? How had her parents endured this?

A shadow cast over her. She looked up into the sunburnt face of Lieutenant Kilroy, in a bedraggled cooling suit like hers. The unit patch of the 8th Strikers on his sleeve matched hers, and his rank insignia of a single silver bar likewise. "Well, lass, looks like we're fit for the lobster pot," he said cheerfully in an Arcadian Islay burr. It lacked the thickness of a Skye accent like the late Thomas MacDonald's.

"You heard?"

"Aye." He plopped down onto the dirt and grass beside her. "The Lance Loo and the Captain. Bad day, all around."

"We got them though," Evangeline said. "That… that thing is dead."

"You did that, right? Heard the Major 'imself had to talk you down," Kilroy remarked. "Aye, you've got a fine angry streak in ye, Eva. That pilot's lucky to be alive."

Her eyes widened at hearing that. "What? The pilot's alive?"

"It's what I heard from the salvage crews. Not in the best of shapes, with her cockpit the mess it was, but they've got her in the infirmary on the Sinclair."

Evangeline clenched her fists. How? How is that possible? God, how could it be right?! Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager are dead and that… that monster still lives?!

"Woh." Kilroy took her hands. "Don't ye fash yourself about it. I can't imagine she'll live long given the number you and that Awesome pilot did to her 'Mech."

"She's lived too long already," Eva sighed bitterly.

"Why don't ye come with me? They've got a mess set up. I think ye can use some grub."

"I'm…" The truth was she was hungry, but could she trust her stomach with good the way she felt? She felt sick at knowing the killer of his superiors, officers who fought to keep her alive, was still breathing. It was a mockery by a cruel universe.

Yet the look on Kilroy's face would brook no opposition. Evangeline sighed, nodded, and stood, following him toward the growing bivouac outside of the AFS Charles Sinclair.

It wasn't hard for them to find the mess tent, given the smells coming from within. The cuisine was heavily Arc-Royal, a combination of Germanic and Irish influences that heavily favored sausage and potatoes and all the varieties thereof. The cooks were a mix of the 8th Strikers' commissary personnel and what Evangeline figured to be the locals. A bowl of what looked like a sausage stew and a healthy portion of potatoes in a white gravy were provided to her and Kilroy.

They were about to take a seat when they were approached by a figure in a field uniform, undoubtedly hastily added to cover a cooling vest and shorts.

“Hey.” A slight, wiry young woman, with dark hair and skin and pale grey eyes, she had one arm bound up - with a green-and-blue checkered scarf, of all things - across her chest in a gel-filled support cast, and half her face swathed in bandages. “Leutnant Allison Palisser, Timkovichi Armoured Guard. Just … just wanted to say thanks, really, for saving our lives back there.”

"Leutnant." Kilroy grinned and, after setting his food down, saluted in respect. "I'm guessin' you were that Awesome pilot? Well done job there. Your machine looked almost as bad as that wanker ye brought down. As for the introductions, I'm Lieutenant Kevin Kilroy, 1st Battalion 8th Strikers. This is my lancemate, Lieutenant Evangeline Penton-Vallejo." He gestured to Evangeline while she likewise set her tray down.

Allison saluted in turn. “I’m willing to bet you’ve both got me by date of rank, Leutnants,” she smiled, very slightly. “And, yes, Say Your Prayers is mine. She’ll be fine, given a few weeks in a repair bay; my great-grandmother had her shot down almost to bare structure twice in the Jihad and still made it through.” Allison’s expression sobered. “Not like your friends, I’m afraid. Still, I’m glad Lady Trillian got you here in time to save our necks.”

Given the pain hadn't receded at all, Evangeline was surprised at the stab of pain she felt at the reminder. Only at the last moment did the final sentence register enough for her to react. "Lady Trillian?"

“Trillian Steiner-Davion, ja,” Allison replied. “She said she was going to get Colonel Kell whatever reinforcements she could, but this is a whole lot more than we were expecting.”

There was no mistaking the confusion on their faces, and Allison was quick to pick up on it. "Lady Trillian didn't send you?"

"No, she didn't," Kilroy answered. "To be honest, I'm not sure who could be said to have sent us except God Almighty Himself. We were jumpin' into Timkovichi for some trainin' and war games with the Principate and Canopians, then it felt like we were bein' pressed through a grinder, suddenly we're in orbit and gettin' the call to make a combat drop under hostile fire."

“Canopians?” Allison blinked. “Why the hell would they be halfway across the Sphere for exercises? Especially with us - we hate them almost as much as the Davions do!”

Evangeline watched the confusion deepen on her lancemate's face. She was numb to it all at the moment, even if her mind felt a catch at it all. The Canopians were part of the Spinward Pact, and had been since the start. They'd even sided with the Royal Federation against Scipio O'Reilly during the short-lived Scipian Dominate of the late 31st Century, if she remembered right. They'd certainly done nothing to win the hatred of people in former Lyran space.

"The Canopians are, well, loose in their morals, as my mum would've put it, but what's this from? They've been allied to the Lyran Alliance states since…" Kilroy stopped and blinked. "Oh, this is givin' me a headache. Ye're talkin' about stuff like a Jihad and a Lady Steiner-Davion, and now this, and I ken ye're havin' trouble with what we're sayin'. And with that weird jump, it's like the world's..."

"...gone wrong," said Evangeline. "Like something slipped loose in the gyro and now you can't keep your 'Mech straight."

“Hell, the instructors at Buena were always telling me to talk less, listen more.” Allison blushed a little. “Sorry, for, well, assuming.”

"Well, it's not every day that ships jump into high orbit of a planet, that's got us all out of sorts," Kilroy pointed out. He gestured to an extra seat at the table. "Anyways, why not get to yer tatties while they're warm? That was a crazy fight with that winged 'Mech and I know I've got the stomach grumbles."

“I’m good with that,” Allison agreed. “Bringing down a Khan’s hungry work.” At their looks of confusion, she explained, “That was Malvina Hazen, the Falcon Khan herself, we were taking on; that black rose symbol on the Shrike, it’s the blood-mad bitch’s personal emblem, LCI are positive on that.”

They didn't need to specifically know what Clans were to guess what a 'Khan' was, given standard military education usually touched on the Mongols at least. "We were fighting a command unit, I knew, but their main command unit?" Eva said, realizing it all made sense. "We should've called for more support."

"Aye, well, it came quick enough, but that Hazen woman's an insanely good MechWarrior." Kilroy dug a fork into his potatoes and gathered a bite. "She took down a Malleus like it was the slowest helo ye'd ever see. We'd all best be thankin' God we're still alive."

“Yeah.” Allison nodded, her expression pensive. “Before you guys hit the ground, I was … pretty sure I was gonna die in the next thirty seconds. Which wouldn’t have been that bad, but I was pretty sure we were gonna lose, too.”

"If she's the one who ordered all the killings we were sent to stop..." ...then Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager and Tom MacDonald died for something, Eva finished in her mind, while aloud she only managed, "...then it was worth it. I mean, all of it. Losing Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager."

Kilroy swallowed and nodded once at Eva. "Aye, they'll rest easy then. And I think they'd be wantin' ye to see to yer needs, Eva." He gestured to her food.

That prompted her to take her first bite. The taste was what she expected, but with a tinge of sourness to it. Not from the food, but her thoughts.

By the time he arrived at the Kell Hounds’ Praetorian mobile HQ, Jacob Tanhause had managed to change into a clean uniform and - with the aid of half an e-rat bar and a mug of cold coffee - felt something close to human again. He waited for a moment while the infanteer on guard duty checked his ID, and then waved him on.

Colonel Kell and Leftenant-Colonel Allard were immediately obvious, standing at the holographic contour map and discussing the day’s action. They were studies in opposites; Nadia Allard was young for her rank, a short - just barely over the LCAF’s minimum height requirement - and slim brunette, wearing an immaculately tailored and pressed uniform, and combat engineering collar tabs, speaking in low, quiet tones while standing almost immobile; Evan Kell was big, tall and broad-shouldered, his respectable-but-worn battledress jacket half-unbuttoned over a cooling vest as he made expansive gestures over the map table, red-blonde hair greying at the temples and a v-shaped scar cutting across the right hand side of his face, just missing his eye.

Conversation stopped as they noticed him, and Evan waved Jacob over to join them. “Good to see you, Kommandant - Jacob.” He gestured at the map, scattered with times and details of actions. “We were just discussing today, and waiting for you and the CO of this Eighth Striker to show up. It’s been a helluva day.”

Jacob nodded at that, smiling without any kind of humour. “Better than it could’ve gone, sir.”

That got a deep, booming, “Hah!” and a slap on the back that nearly knocked Jacob sprawling from Evan. “True enough, that; and I’d have been blamed for it going that wrong. I know, Nadia, I know,” he raised a hand to cut off Allard as she started to speak, “You didn’t guess she’d be willing to wipe out her own forces to get us either, but I should have guessed. Kelswa-Steiner told us she’d used nukes on Skye and Glengarry, it’s not like Warship fire’s an escalation from that. And Malvina’s shown us a dozen times that she doesn’t care about any lives if they get in the way of winning.”

“Be that as it may, sir,” Nadia replied, “I think we can save the recriminations for later. General Bridger will be here soon, and we need to bring Kommandant Tanhause into the overall picture.”

“Right.” Evan stepped over to the control panel, refocusing the map on the rolling hills to the west. “The situation is, more or less, we’ve won. Both Falcon trinaries are down, thanks to our new allies, and it turns out the Horses weren’t that happy to die for Malvina’s victory when they figured out that was what almost happened. Still figuring out their losses, but we’ve confirmed a Cluster and a half of casualties, and three trinaries surrendering to us. Gotta check with the Arcadians what they’ve confirmed, but it looks like only part of one Cluster - Triple-Sixth Mechanised, from the markers; lot of ProtoMechs - made it out; into the hills, going guerilla.”

Their conversation came to an end with the distant whump-whump-whump of helo blades whipping in the air. They emerged to see a pair of VTOLs on approach, larger transport models although still having just one rotor blade apiece. One was in orange and black coloring with an insignia of three black arrows pointing outward through a red circle with a white-and-black ring around it. The other had a sky blue and white paint job with a golden-winged white hawk. They were virtually the same model, with differences making it clear they were OmniVTOLs and not simply variants of a design.

The craft came to a landing. From the first emerged a man in a gray uniform with orange rank tabs on the lapels and a black beret on his head. The presence of stars on the rank tabs made the flag rank obvious. A similar insignia was on the woman that disembarked beside him, dark-toned skin and a lithe build, although her rank tab had an eagle instead of stars.

From the other VTOL came a middle-aged, silver-haired man of dark ebon skin, wearing a red uniform with a three star insignia on the colors, arranged in a square, with blue cuffs and shoulder borders and gold trim. The name "Bridger" was in black on the right breast. A tan-faced, shorter woman to his side had a one-star square on her collar and the name "Laguna". A man of dark bronze complexion followed her, a golden hawk insignia in the place of the star, and a bindi mark on his forehead with the name "Patel". The latter two each had the same unit patch that Jacob recognized from the units that dropped to his troops' aid.

It was the final pair of figures that caught their eyes and made the world seem to freeze.

There were differences in the uniforms, certainly, very minor things, but the sandy-haired woman with crow's feet set into the outer sides of her eyes and the taller man of light brown complexion were clad in a uniform that resembled a hound's head, with the ears reaching the shoulders and one acting as the clasp for a half-cape. It was the unmistakable design of the Kell Hounds' own duty and dress uniforms.

"Colonel Kell?" The man with the three-star insignia spoke first. His accent was a firm tone, not quite Star League English. "I'm General Bridger. Lieutenant General Sir DeMarcus Bridger, in full, commander of Training Force Siegfried. These are my subordinates. General Joachim von Istenberg of the 4th Ghastillan Grenadiers, his XO Colonel Lady Louisa von der Kemp. Brigadier Lady Ana Maria Laguna, Commander of the 8th Strikers, and her XO Colonel Jagdish Patel." Bridger's voice took on a certain tone that made it clear he knew the next part would be the most difficult for them. "And Colonel Deirdre Ward and Lieutenant Colonel John Fromm of the 1st Kell Hounds."

Jacob was the least afflicted by the announcement, which immediately hit his perception of reality and skittered off. But it was impossible for Evan and Nadia to enjoy the same detachment. Nadia paled, as though she’d seen a ghost; Evan’s reaction was more aggressive, face reddening as his big, shovel-like hands with their brawler’s scars clenched and unclenched in time with his breathing. Then, after a moment, he forced himself to breath out, slowly and fully, hands resting at his side. “Well, this is a hell of a lot more effort than anyone but my niece’d go to for a joke,” Evan commented, “so I guess I’ve gotta take you as you are, Colonel Ward. At least for now. As for introductions on my end,” Evan gestured, “I’m Colonel Evan Kell, also of the Kell Hounds; my exec and CO of the First Regiment, Leftenant-Colonel Nadia Allard; and Kommandant Jacob Tanhause, senior surviving officer of the Timkovichi Armoured Guard.”

Everyone present noticed the reactions. A certain sympathy showed on Ward's face, but she didn't flinch from Evan's immediate response either, and Fromm had the same look Tanhause had. "Colonels. Kommandant." Bridger nodded. "Before we get to the long-tailed meguana in the room, so to speak, we might as well finish business first. The hostile force is mostly surrendered or destroyed, and prisoners have been taken. The enemy forces that escaped, including those over-sized battle armors, will be pursued by the 8th Strikers as needed to keep them from going to ground. As for prisoners, a few of them committed suicide, or attempted it, while others are already inquiring about serving in our forces. As if we would simply recruit them. Frankly we have no clue why they're behaving this way, but I figure you can explain."

“They’re totally serious, General.” Evan smiled. “I’ll see about my staff getting you a full primer, but, well - most Clanners don’t have any issue with losing what they figure’s a good, clean fight, and they’re thinking you’ll take them as bondsmen - let ‘em earn their way back to combat status working for you. I’m guessing the suicide attempts were ones who couldn’t deal there; bondsref, they call it.”

Bridger and the others processed the thought. It was Colonel von der Kemp who finally spoke. "So, they willingly go over to their enemies, and those that refuse commit suicide? And… this isn't a ruse? They are loyal to you?"

"Been that way with us for nearly a century, and among their own for longer," Evan answered. "They stay loyal to the new boss. It's just how their culture works, how they’ve been taught to think about it; that you’ve beaten them, and the better warrior deserves to be in charge. And, like I said, most of ‘em don’t tend to hold grudges over what they reckon’s a fair fight."

"Given your casualties, and that you have experience with them, perhaps you should take responsibility then," Bridger suggested. "It's clear that there's a lot we must learn about… everything. And about what's gone on." He nodded to Colonel Ward. "Including the fact that we have two different versions of the Kell Hounds here."

"Well, he's got the look of a Kell, I'll give him that," Ward remarked. "And the uniform's a bit off, but feels right. Colors too. I'm hoping Archduke Ethan's heirs come out like this one."

And now it is time to address the long-tailed meguana, thought Bridger. "I suppose now that the killing has subsided we need to get to the bottom of things, like how there can be two different sets of Kell Hounds." With Admiral Marik having informed him of Captain Fitzhugh's idea, Bridger asked, "Have you folks ever heard of the Royal Federation? Or the Kingdom of Ghastilla?"

His answer was three shaking heads. "The only Federation I'm familiar with is the Federated Suns," Evan answered. "Which you clearly aren't; wouldn’t be, they’re fighting for their lives last we heard; and they haven’t put together a fleet like yours since Cholame."

Bridger nodded. "Alright. The Arcadian Free March?"

"Only Arcadia I've seen is a quiet border world down by Marik space, near Dar-es-Salaam," Jacob remarked. "I was stationed there when I was a Leutnant, back in ‘11, actually. Nice people, but definitely not the center of their own March or anything."

"Well, I'll be damned," Bridger muttered. "Maybe that old spacer is right..."

The AFS Emancipator drew as close to the field as any of the ships in the Arcadian force dared. In the ship's command center, Captain Sheffield maneuvered himself through the micro-G and into his command couch, which he strapped himself into. "Our status?"

A Technical Officer, Iola Montague, spoke up. "The drone's been prepared, sir. If it loses contact with us it'll send out a broad band call. If we're in luck, there'll be a JumpShip close enough to pick up the signal before long and send her back."

"But it won't come back itself?"

"No sir." That reply came from Lieutenant Commander Harold Ubuntu, one of the Officers of the Watch and chief technical officer (as opposed to the Chief Engineer, who minded the fusion plants and engines). "We can't be sure how the drone will come out the other end. So we can't guarantee it'd come back on its own. Someone will have to guide it back."

"Well, let's hope someone's there to do just that," Sheffield sighed. Assuming the other side has that thing too. "See to it, Commander."

"Aye sir. Officer Montague, deploy the drone."

"Aye sir, deploying drone."

The drone in question emerged from its compartment on the ship's hull. Normally such camera drones were employed to examine damage on the hull or a nearby ship. Now, however, its small electric ion drive drove the unmanned device, a flat cylinder about two meters long, toward the blue field. All cameras remained fixed on the drone while it flew on toward the field. Sheffield swallowed, wondering what would happen, if the drone would even make it through, or if the entire thing would prove a cruel illusion. Will I get home to Darien and the boys? He thought of his husband and their adopted children, how much it would hurt if they never came home. If they were all written off for a misjump.

There was a flash. The drone was gone.

Sheffield's eyes were on Lieutenant Lauven. The Tharkad-born woman nodded at him. "It looked like a jump to me, sir. The drone's gone through."

"But no radio communication?"

"None. Control signal is down," said Montague.

"So, all we can do is wait." Sheffield folded his hands in his lap. Please let someone be on the other side. Please…

The interior of the Praetorian Mobile HQ was quiet. General Bridger and Colonel Kell sat at opposite ends of the holotank table with their groups.

"So, the Great Houses didn't fall here," Bridger said quietly, summing up what they'd just heard and read, mostly for the chance to play it out in his head. "They survived the Succession Wars."

Evan nodded once. "Not easily, but they did."

"And then these Clans came, and they're the descendants of Aleksandr Kerensky's army. Because he didn't die on Terra and he took the SLDF out of the Inner Sphere before the Great Houses could recruit their countrymen into their armies."

"Right. They ended up having their own little version of the Succession Wars, almost destroyed them, and Aleksandr's son Nicholas built the Clans out of the survivors."

Bridger took in another breath and rubbed at his forehead. "I'll be damned. You hear all sorts of stories about Deep Periphery colonies that regress to barbarism, or embrace wildly different cultures, but this is extraordinary."

"Wasn't for us, then or now," Nadia said bitterly. "The Clans have always been trouble."

"And then ComStar broke in half and one half were this religious order that waged war on everyone," Laguna continued for her side. "You make them sound like they were out of something by, I don't remember the name…"

"Azimov," said Colonel Patel. "They sound like a corrupted version of Isaac Azimov's Foundation."

"I'll take your word for that, Colonel Patel. But yeah, the Word of Blake waged the Jihad. Nuked and poisoned a bunch of worlds. Some of the Clans joined us in fighting back, and we eventually took Terra from them and broke 'em."

"And in the aftermath, you formed a new state around Terra, this 'Republic of the Sphere'."

Evan snorted. "More like Devlin Stone did. But he's made something of it at least. At least, he did…"

"And then the HPG network died, and you can't get it back up, and the entire Inner Sphere descended into a new series of wars."

"That's about right, General, yes," Jacob answered. "What's left of the Republic's staying quiet. Word is they've got some kind of technology that forces ships to misjump if they enter the heart of Republic space, so they raid as they want and nobody's heard a thing of ships sent to return the favor."

"Everyone's got their own fighting to worry about," said Evan. "The Commonwealth's reeling from the Clans. The old Free Worlds League is back, but Alaric and his Wolves have been taking their worlds for a while now, and they're still trying to get Andurien back in the fold. And the Dracs and Cappies are giving the Federated Suns hell right now."

"And what about you?" asked Jacob.

"We've had our own complicated history," said Bridger. "Kerensky died on Terra. DeChevalier couldn't keep most of his army from returning to their homes to fight for their houses. He managed to secure Terra and surrounding worlds and oversaw Jerome Blake founding ComStar."

"The 1st Succession War cracked up the Houses, then they tried again anyway and collapsed," Deirdre continued, taking over. "By the mid-29th Century all five Great Houses were either gone or mere shadows of what they were before. People call the fighting afterward a 'third' Succession War, but really it was just a lot of pain and chaos for the Inner Sphere. Over fifteen hundred worlds became independent, out of the survivors, but a lot of 'em ended up pirate havens or petty little empires for local nobles-turned-warlords, and they raided and counter-raided one another for everything from supplies to slave labor."

Bridger continued from there. "The Terrans kept a minimum standard to things, and intervened when it was threatened, but they didn't have the interest or will to pick up any pieces. Instead, the Successor States multiplied during the 30th Century. Some were former regional governments asserting themselves, or entirely new ones forming among the independent worlds. We worked, traded with the Terrans, and got technological recovery going."

As Bridger took a drink from an offered water canteen, Evan observed, "So your Kingdom of Ghastilla and the Royal Federation, you're formed from the systems that made their own Successor States?"

"Yes. And in the early 31st Century, what we call the Renaissance period started. By the 3020s we were even building some of our own Star League-era technology. That ended up just getting everyone's appetites up, though, and starting around 3030, the Successor States began expanding rapidly into independent worlds. Some slower, some faster, but the end result was the same; fighting over worlds intensified, and everyone geared up their militaries for it. So we consider 3030 the start of the Second Age of War."

"A number of the Successor States didn't survive the Second Age." Von Istenburg took over the narrative. "Especially the first decade. By the end of the 3030s the surviving powers were too strong to easily conquer, though, and the following wars were less decisive. Which was when the Terrans got involved."

"They were humiliated in 3039 by the Capellan Empire, and they were too stubborn to become partners with any Successor State. So they relied on their better technology and an initial blitz to try and forcibly subjugate us in 3050. But we didn't break, counter-attacked, and after ten years Terra fell to our forces, putting an end to the Terran Union."

"Some interesting parallels," Nadia Allard murmured. "3050 is when the Clans invaded the Inner Sphere and it was ten years later that we beat them on their own homeworlds, made them foreswear ever invading again."

"'God is a comedian with an audience afraid to laugh'," Bridger quoted with a half-grin. "To return to our own history, everyone was exhausted by the fight with the Terrans, but their worlds were more prizes for us to fight over. We let ComStar keep Terra, under supervision, but the rest of the Union was divided by neighboring states, and nobody liked the shares they won. So more fighting happened through the rest of the century."

"But nothing like a proper Succession War?" asked Jacob.

"Not until 3110. The Capellan Empire attacked Andurien, again, and it spiraled. The entire Inner Sphere ended up fighting one another, harder and nastier than ever before. That one, we called the 4th Succession War."

"Who won?" Nadia's question was the obvious one.

"Nobody, and everybody? Ask ten different people and you'll probably get five or six answers at least," Brigadier Laguna chortled. "We ended the war in 3120 after ComStar called a peace conference on Dieron. Most of the leadership of the Successor States showed, or at least their top advisors, so someone called it the Congress of Dieron, and the results, the Peace of Dieron. And the name stuck."

"As did the peace. Not easily. The Royal Federation tried to retake Sirius after the Congress made us give it back to the Capellans, but that effort went nowhere," Bridger explained, disdain on his expression making it clear it was an old frustration. "There's the occasional raid or squabble over a planet, but nobody is willing to take it further, not anymore. Too many Successor States feel they got something from the Peace of Dieron, so they won't jeopardize it, and they won't let it be jeopardized. So whenever things get a little hot, the 'Concert of the Sphere' kicks in, and cools things down."

"Well, you've clearly kept something of an edge," Evan said. "Maybe more than we did after the Jihad was settled."

Bridger chuckled. "It's why we keep up the exercises, every year. It's what we were jumping to Timkovichi for this year, our first practices with the Flavian Principate and their allies in nearly four years. Lord knows how they're taking our absence."

It was impossible for the others to miss the tone in his voice. It was an awkward moment indeed. "We'll be the best hosts we can manage, General, that I promise," Evan assured him. "After what you've done for us… well, it's the least we can do."

"We'll have to see how the Navy's test goes, I suppose." Those words were spoken with the tone of a man wondering if he was going to get to see his family again. "Until then, any new developments on the stragglers?"

"They've spread out, but with your air power corralling them won't be too hard. The worst news is here." WIth some keystrokes, Jacob brought up a holographic map of a hilly, mountainous region along a river. The image shifted to show a series of passages underneath the hills and crags. "The Jansen Caves. They're a local tourist site, mostly, although back in the day the SLDF used it for survive-and-evade exercises. I'm guessing the Horses know that, since some of their surviving ProtoMechs are taking refuge in them. The caves are big enough for the Protos, but not for an ordinary 'Mech or even a vehicle. We'll need infantry to clear them out, and they'll take a lot of people with them."

"These 'ProtoMechs', they're the ones my soldiers reported fighting?" asked von Istenburg. "The oversized battle armor?"

"That's one way to describe 'em. Things are basically the next step up from battle armor, not quite to 'Mech weight." Evan tapped a key to bring up battlerom footage of the fighting. The others witnessed the small machines in holographic form, firing light anti-armor and anti-infantry weaponry in a battle with the Kell Hounds. "Damn Horses, they're playin' it smart. We press them too hard, they'll just fall back into the caves. Could be months before we clear them out."

"Then I should have a word with Colonel Makepeace," said Brigadier Laguna. At their interested looks, she said, "Like all Striker Armored Infantry Regiments, the 8th's includes an attached company of Spectres."


"Infantry special forces, highly trained, using sophisticated lightweight battle armor," Bridger said. "They've got a visual camo system that lets them blend into environments, stealth armor, and ECM. They're not as effective against armored units in a straight up fight, but if the Spectres do their job, they won't have one."

"Well, General Bridger, if you're offerin', I'm not sayin' no," Evan remarked.

"Consider the offer made and accepted then," Bridger replied. "Brigadier Laguna will make the call now."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

Jansen Cave Network
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
13 August 3142

The darkness deep in the caves worked to the advantage of the 8th Striker Armored Regiment's Special Operations Team. The twenty-four men and women, under the command of Captain Gabriel Tosh, moved along quietly with the aid of the camo system in their light Spectre battle armor. Each had a sophisticated series of cameras and sensors that detected their surroundings and directed the surface of the armor to reflect the surfaces "behind" each, effectively making each suit invisible to the naked eye. With heat baffles to thwart IR scanners and passive electronic baffles to prevent detection of their emissions, as well as the other functions of their suits' stealth armor, they were well-suited to their current task. The passive sensors, using ultra-high frequency sonic waves, allowed them to see through the dark without light or emissions that sensors might pick up.

Said darkness relented only slightly as they came upon the camp. Captain Tosh made a hand motion to his troops. Lieutenant Augusta Novan promptly dropped and planted her Longshot AP Gauss Rifle on the ground. Specialized targeting sensors allowed her to employ the rifle as a sniper rifle. Sergeant Stone slipped into place beside her, Assault Gauss Rifle at the ready should he need to protect Novan.

The other squads under his command likewise saw their snipers drop into position. Delta Squad, in accordance with their orders, melted back into the darkness to fulfill their mission, while Baker Squad joined Tosh's Alphas in moving further. They came upon the enemy sentries first, grim-faced men in bedraggled uniforms with IR and night vision headpieces over their eyes. Tosh made the signal "Avoid", and nearly a dozen troopers followed him past the sentries, trusting in their camo systems and heat baffles to avoid detection. Neither sentry showed sign of noticing them. Given the way they stood, they were exhausted, and demoralized, and understandably so. Their victory was taken by the unexpected, and now they had no expectations but to fight and die in the caves.

Past the sentries the cave opened up further, a grotto wiith a small lake fed by the underground springs that helped form the Jansen Caves over the eons. More of the red-uniformed men and women with the fiery horse head patches milled about. A few were at campfires preparing food while others were working on what looked like miniature BattleMechs, or something between a 'Mech and a battle armor suit. They were bigger, though, that was sure, and would be murder on the Spectres if they got into a fight.

Tosh's squads fanned out into fire teams, each moving slowly toward one of the dormant machines. At a horse-headed one, Tosh slipped an explosive charge into the knee actuator of the machine while another of his squad, Pierce, put one on the weapon barrel of the machine. At the passing of a Horseman, they slipped behind one of the legs - even with the camo tech there was no point in risking discovery - and took the moment to retrieve more charges from their mission equipment pods.

That things seemed to be going so well was always a warning sign to special operators to be wary; it seemed to make it all the more likely that things would not be going well shortly, and indeed, may even go FUBAR. Tosh and Pierce were fixing their charges to another of the ProtoMechs, a bull-headed one, when the alarm rose.

Immediately the Horsemen went into action. Battle-armored infantry fanned out from their sentry points, weapons readied, and pilots scrambled for their machines. At first the thought that an external attack had been ordered after all came to Tosh, but after a flash of laser light and a scream over their narrow-beam comm system, he knew it was not that. "Execute discovery plan, now," he ordered, his Anglo-Antillan accent straight from Caledonia's New Antillan archipelago.

At that order the snipers opened up. The heads and torsos of Horse pilots exploded, and from the direction the infiltrators came in, the rumbling sound of explosions filled the air. "Stravags!" a voice cried. "No panicking! Get to your machines and—" The offender's voice cut off suddenly, undoubtedly from a sniper round.

"Delta Squad here. Cavern is sealed, boss. Rodriguez almost didn't make it out, but we've got them trapped."

"Good. Move up with us an' pick off stragglers."

Not only did he and his squad start shooting, they turned their suits' ECM on, to further decrease the risk of being hit. Between that and their stealth, there was very little for any of the enemy to find and shoot, electronically speaking. As a final gesture, they triggered their planted charges, crippling or disarming several of the ProtoMechs.

But they hadn't gotten them all, and those that came active were soon sweeping the grotto with their weapons. All sorts of fire flared out at the slightest movement. While their Spectre armor had some protection, the heavier lasers or multiple missile impacts could defeat their protection, and Tosh listened to the cries for help from his wounded and dying troopers.

Initially all he could do was continue his bloody work, using his Assault APGR to thin out enemy ranks as the last ProtoMechs and battle armors were manned, but as targets reduced to few and then none, his attention turned to his soldiers. He noted one visible set of Spectre armor that was quite neatly, and gruesomely, bisected across the upper waist. He knelt down below the upper half and opened a faceplate. Inside, Corporal Karl Linz stared at him with glassy, tear-filled eyes. "Moved too quick," he mumbled. "They got me. I'm… I'm dying."

"Hold on," he urged the man. "The medics are comin'."

"Not fast enough. Not fast enough…"

And indeed, they weren't.

The disorganized Horses quickly understood two things: they were under attack, and that someone was blocking their retreat.

That didn't stop them from moving further into the caves, at least, not until the Elementals discovered the passages blocked by broken stone and rock from still-billowing clouds of light dust. But with retreat not just being blocked but completely blocked, they had only one choice left to them, and their surviving commander quickly took it, and unknowingly ensured no other losses to the infiltration team.

To a man, the Horses rushed the entrance of the cave, determined to bleed the enemy they were certain was waiting for them of every liter of blood they could extract.

What they found was nothing. There were no enemy positions at the cave entrance. No 'Mechs, no tanks, no infantry, nothing to shoot.

Nothing, at least, until the ProtoMechs' sensors picked up the distant VTOLs.

By then the Ghastillan-made Luftkanone VTOLs already had their bearings. In the colors of the 4th Ghastillan Grenadiers and the 8th Strikers, two sets of the VTOLs opened up with the Thumper cannons built into their frames. A barrage of high explosive shells started going off in the midst of the Horse formation, tearing apart armored infantry and the more damaged ProtoMechs immediately.

The choices for the Horse units were simple: keep going and face continued artillery assault, and who knew what else, retreat into a trap, or the unthinkable choice, surrender.

The second, at least, had the appeal of buying them time to get their bearings. But it might also rob them of their remaining morale and make surrender sound more appealing. And these were the heart of the "Mongol" faction of the Horses, those who saw Falcon Khan Hazen's way as the best way for their Clan. They would not submit.

So they pressed on, looking to get into combat range with the enemy air artillery. It was a hopeless plan, as the tilt-rotor craft need only pull backward to keep the range, and that they easily did. Their fire spread out, losing some of its lethality, but the Horses' losses were already so severe that they couldn't afford what casualties they were still taking.

That was when the Long Tom Cannons of the 4th Grenadiers' Command DropShips opened up as well.

The attack became a slaughter, and the last survivors of the 666th Mechanized Cluster never fired another shot before their extirpation.

The events, as bloody as they were, played for the assembled commanders in sterile holographic markings in the Kell Hound command vehicle. "That's it, then," Bridger said, nodding to Evan. "Colonel Kell, it is my pleasure to inform you that this world is secure from enemies. Our duty is done."

"Bloody hell, General," Evan replied, in the voice of a man who'd not quite expected to live out the day, especially upon seeing that Falcon cruiser start descending, “When your boys do a job, they damn well do it thoroughly.” Outside the night sky was visible, although none of them had yet to leave.

That's not to say they hadn't noticed the same thing virtually everyone had, of the bright blue blob openly visible in their night sky.

"Any word from your fleet?" Nadia Allard asked.

"They sent a remote drone through a while back, but it could be a while before there's a response. If there can be one."

"I hope there’s gonna be," Evan said. "Wouldn't lie, we could use your help - Falcons and Horses caught us with our shorts down - but even if that isn’t an option, you and yours deserve to be able to get home. God willing, you will; I know how I’d feel being cut off from Arc-Royal for good, and no-one deserves that."

"Thought's appreciated, and welcome," Bridger replied. "As for the prisoners, we'll start turning them over to you immediately."

"Although there is one you may be wary of receiving," Brigadier Laguna said. "My medics extracted the living pilot of a winged enemy assault 'Mech, one marked with a black rose. Given what they're hearing from your people…"

"Christ." Evan looked like he’d been punched in the gut. “You mean you’ve got Hazen alive?”

"The medics stabilized her, yes." Laguna noted their expressions, and given what they'd learned, she didn't begrudge them the unspoken attitude each had: "You should have let the bitch die". "SOP, same as you I'm sure."

That was answered by a nod.

"She's not ours to judge," Bridger said quietly. "So we'll turn her over to you whenever you're ready." He said that knowing there was a good chance someone on the other side would murder Khan Hazen in her sickbed.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t,” Evan shook his head. “Ordinarily, I could count on my people not to do anything … untoward,” he settled on, “But after everything she’s done, the Armoured Guard’d shoot her the instant they got hold of her; and even in my Hounds’ hands I can’t guarantee someone wouldn’t slip her enough morphine to make a ghost bear see elephants. Hell, I’m tempted to do it myself. As it is,” the big man leaned against the map table, “there’s people I need to talk to to figure out what we’re gonna do with her - the Republic’s got as good a claim on her as we do for a start, even if we can’t talk to them through the Fortress - and this is way over my paygrade.”

"We'll keep her in our custody if that's what you'd prefer," Bridger offered. "I figure Admiral Marik will even agree to bring her up to the Arcadia."

"Although how fast you can talk to your superiors is another matter," General Istenburg noted. "If the HPGs are down, and if you don't have black boxes, it could be months before we hear from them."

Evan nodded. "Maybe two in every ten HPGs still work, but there’s a whole lot of breaks in the chain, and most of the ones that still work aren’t working the way they should. There used to be a Black Box chain out here, I remember that from my history lessons - Archon Adam set it up in the JIhad, but with the peace it looks like the local command let it lapse. One more thing we let slip,” his voice turned bitter. “Sometimes I think us and the Davions were the only ones outside the Republic who bought into Stone’s ideal. Means it’s down to the Pony Express for passing messages; I’ve sent one of our ships to Arc-Royal to let them know we survived, and they'll be carrying word of your arrival. I'll have to send another to give Martin and Khan Fetladral the update about Hazen; hopefully it’ll make it in time to pass the word on to Lady Trillian. If not, just gotta hope she’s still close enough we can find her."

"The Archon?"

"Not quite; more of a roving troubleshooter for the Archon at the moment. These days, she’s pretty close to next in line, though, and I’d prefer her over the other choice; Vedet Brewer.” Evan practically spat the name. “The Duke of Hesperus; he’s a proven combat commander, and he’s made some smart calls in the past - sending the Eighth Lyran Guards and Yggdrasil to back up the Stormhammers on Skye in ‘35 for a start - but I wouldn’t trust the man to sell me a used groundcar, or watch my back in a fight. He’s an ambitious, backstabbing son of a Blakist with the loyalty of a scorpion. I’m pretty sure it was him who advised Archon Melissa to try backstabbing the Crusader Wolves, and that’s cost the Commonwealth; good people, and most of what we won in HAMMERFALL. He’s been hanging around on Tharkad a lot lately; God knows what he might’ve done by now, without me or Roderick around to keep an eye on him.”

"These Wolves, are they just as murderous as these Falcons and Horses?" Patel asked wearily.

"No, have to say they're not. They play by the rules more. But they're damned aggressive; it’s one reason Melissa figured she could use them against the former League states. That didn’t really work; it just united them; not that since Thaddeus Marik bought it they’ve been able to stop Seth Ward carving himself an empire out of the new League and parts of our space.” Evan frowned. “Which I guess would include your core territories, if you're set up down that way."

"That it would," Bridger answered. He checked his wrist watch. "Well, I'd better see to briefing Admiral Marik, now that the fighting's over. I'm keeping a command post in Cirenholm until we find out more about what's going to happen, I'll get a liaison officer over to you tonight."

"They'll be welcome, General. We'll keep in touch."

For Private Delanie Baker of the 8th Striker Armored Infantry Regiment's 3rd Battalion, the day's hard fight was giving way to the monotony of a cleanup. The Concordian woman, native to the New Appalachian Continent, joined her platoon in securing the damaged and captured DropShiips that ferried the "Falcon" troops planetside. The crews didn't surrender so much as get themselves killed resisting attack, and the ship itself may never fly again given how much damage the aerojocks had inflicted on it. Securing it was the last task to a very unexpectedly long day.

The aptly-named Striker battle armor gave her the strength to tear open most of the damaged bulkheads that barred their way, and in one case they were able to jump to an upper deck to get around an obstruction. They found the occasional body, blown apart by explosions or fried by penetrating laser or PPC fire, and the feeling of the ship as a charnel house left Delanie with an uneasy feeling while advancing through.

"Hey Del." Her partner, Private Jinosuke Tanaga of New Kyoto, spoke English with only a faint New Kyoto accent. "Got that blip too?"

She almost asked what he meant until she noted the life sign showing on her battle armor's sensor systems. There was someone alive on this tub. "Yeah. We got a live one. Let's be careful."

"Right. Heard this crew went down hard. Fanatics."

They followed the source past a blown bulkhead to the ship's living quarters. They found what looked to be a larger set of quarters, officers' quartering, where the life sign was strongest.

Then the actual life sign came for them. Much to Delanie's surprise, a young woman, probably only in her teens, lunged from a half-opened hatch door with terror and anger in equal parts on her face. She took a knife as if to plunge it into Delanie's chest, but the blade instead broke against the Striker's armored skin. The jumpsuited child shrieked at her and struck as if to claw her. Delanie grabbed the girl's wrist as softly as she could with the suit, holding the limb as if she were trying to grasp a chicken egg. This let her avoid smashing bones, but the girl still shrieked and slumped in her grasp before trying to pull out.

Jinosuke's external lights came on and allowed Delanie a closer look at her attacker. The girl had to be no more than seventeen, she was certain, and possibly younger. Her clothing was a nondescript jumpsuit of sorts, which covered her from neck to heel. She didn't look starved, at least from Delanie's perspective.

Her eyes were drawn to the limb she was gripping. The girl's free hand was frantically trying to force Delanie's manipulator off. Around the wrist was a triple braided cord of two green and one white band, with a green falcon insignia on it.

"Jeez Louise, calm down girl!" Delanie called out, using the external speakers and speaking in her usual soft drawl. "Christ, I don't want to hurt you!"

The girl screamed again, but used no words.

Delanie keyed her squad's tac-comm. "Loo, Sarge, we found someone. Looks too young to be crew, but she's mighty pissed at something. Get someone up here that's out of a suit before she makes me break her arm or somethin'!"

Now in the customary red duty uniform of an AFRF officer, Evangeline stepped into the Battalion Command office on the Charles Sinclair. Her hand came up in a salute that was more instinct than intentional gesture. Major Alejandro Perez was a fellow Launumeño, with light brown skin and hair, a fellow commoner although without family in the nobility like Evangeline had (her grandfather had been a younger son of the Count of Vallejo). Technically Perez was the battalion XO, but Lt. Colonel Opel was back on Arc-Royal after being diagnosed with early-onset cancer, and the Colonelcy Board had yet to approve Perez's promotion.

"Lieutenant, at ease," he said. "I just wanted to check base with you after earlier."

"I…" She swallowed. "Sorry, sir, it won't happen again."

"What, shooting a dead 'Mech to scrap?" Perez showed her a warm smile. "Lieutenant, you're not the first, and frankly that pilot was insanely capable. I sympathize with wanting to make sure she was down."

"She was the enemy leader, I hear."

"She was," Perez noted. "You got co-kill credit with the Navy flyboys and that Awesome pilot."

"Leutnant Palisser. I met her earlier today. Good MechWarrior. A bit better put together than I was at the time." She drew in a breath to try and control herself, mostly so she wouldn't start crying again. "Still am."

Perez nodded and, with a voice full of sympathy, said, "It's hard, yeah. Seeing comrades die."

"Not just… not just die." Evangeline licked her lips. "Captain Kincaid saved my life. She… she was incredible too. And that Khan Hazen just… killed her. Like she could just magically focus her weapon on any target she pleased. I've never seen anything like it."

"I have to admit I haven't either, Lieutenant. Sometimes all we can do is thank God we got to live and move on." Perez gestured to a chair, the kind you might find in a waiting room in some commercial business. She took the seat gratefully. "You did good, Lieutenant. This was your first firefight, and you didn't freeze up, you didn't get distracted. You showed you could do this."

"Yeah. I… I just…"

"...you're not sure you can again?" he asked, after she couldn't say more. "Yeah, I understand that. A lot of young MechWarriors go through that after their first firefight. They all end up dealing with it. No different with you."

She recognized he was trying to not only reassure her, but ready her for continued service. Right now all she wanted to do was go home and imagine her entire life of the last five years was a bad dream. To go back to that day she was told she qualified for courses at an AFRF academy and say "No thank you," and instead dedicate herself to a civilian occupation.

Perez stood. "Follow me, Lieutenant."

She'd not expected that, but she did as ordered. Perez led her up into one off the upper decks and to the Sinclair's infirmary. They went past scrub-clad personnel to the patient ward, where some of the 8th Striker's jump infantry were now stationed, sans jump packs, to watch over enemy troops still being cared for. "Here she is."

Khan Hazen was smaller than Evangeline would have imagined. The murderous leader was a slip of a woman, not at all imposing in size, clad in a patient's gown. Unlike some of the others present, she wasn't cuffed to her bed… because there was no point. None of her limbs was intact, save the stub of one thigh visible under the covering sheet. Her face was a mass of cuts covered in bandages, with a breathing tube connected to the mask over her mouth and nose and her right eye likewise covered in bandages. Metal surface was visible underneath the edge of some of those bandages, implying some cybernetic components already present. Soft trilling equipment confirmed brain and heart activity, but Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager's killer remained unmoving in the bed.

"Feel better?" Perez asked.

"I… suppose so," she said. It was reassuring to see the state of this vicious woman, given everything Leutnant Palisser said about her. Looks like her cockpit got smashed in and cut her to pieces. She's probably lucky to be alive. Or God's being particularly thorough in the punishment.

"It's always going to be with you. Won't lie about that. But it can be lived with. And II think you've got some of the best potential I've seen in a while. So go sleep on it. You'll start feeling better tomorrow."

And with that, he left, and she followed.

A series of strong electronic tones stirred Captain Sheffield from his sleep. Bleary-eyed and still rather tired, he didn't bother removing the straps that held his covers in place, a precaution against the grav-deck stopping and leaving him in zero-G. His hand slapped away at the nightstand bolted beside his bed, one of the luxuries of his rank present in the captain's quarters of the Emancipator. "Yes?"

"Captain." Through his groggy mind he registered the voice as Commander Rachel Tishone, his XO, a native of the continent of Mull on Arcadia and its East African-founded communities. "Sir, I thought you should know… the drone's come back through."

All thought of sleep fled from Sheffield's mind.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

5 - Uncertainty

AFS Arcadia, In Orbit
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth

13 August 3142

Admiral Marik made sure everything was ready by the time the DropShuttle arrived from the planet. Generals Bridger and von Istenburg came straight to the wardroom. The two men had clearly disrupted their sleep to make the conference.

"The drone came back through," Marik said simply, before nodding to Commander Patel. She tapped a couple keys.

The main holotank came alive with the face of a woman, thin, with paled dark skin. "To the crew of AFS Emancipator and other ships, this is Captain Greta Gunderson of the JumpShip Grunstern, Ghastilla registry, Atocongo system. We have downloaded the data you placed on your drone and transmitted it to the authorities on Atocongo for relay to Inarcs and Arcadia. I can tell you that ships are on their way to investigate the persistent jump field you left behind here, but not when they will arrive. The Grunstern is remaining on station for the time being and will relay any further word you send through. Godspeed."

"They sent the astrogation data with the drone on the return trip," Patel said. "As we were suspecting, we left a similar field at the spot we jumped out of Atocongo's nadir point."

"What of the drone? Did the transits damage it?"

"No. From what I've seen of the Emancipator officers' examination, the drone's suffered no major damage and no excess of KF-related radiation."

"Then maybe we could go through safely," Admiral Kruger said. The hope in his voice was unmistakable.

"Maybe." Admiral Marik gave Patel a significant glance.

She swallowed and nodded. "It does appear that way, but I must stress this isn't proof we can. We don't yet know what it will do to organic tissues. Given the way we reacted to the jump in, it might be the same, or worse, going back the other way."

"So how do we confirm? Send a volunteer through in a DropShuttle?" Bridger asked.

"Then you may be killing that volunteer. No, I think first we need to send organic matter through the field."

"What kind of matter?"

"Complicated multi-cell organisms. Plants, animals. Depending how they endure the transit, we can move on to human testing."

"And have Captain Gunderson tell us if anything survived? That sounds like it would work."

"So we get the animals needed… how? Anyone got anything furry we can send through?"

"Ye'll nae be touchin' our mouser, an that's for sure!" Captain Fitzhugh barked. "Ye dinnae touch a crew's mouser!"

Bridger returned the outburst with an acid glare, but before he could retort Marik spoke up. "Perhaps we can ask the local authorities for assistance? Timkovichi has native animal and plant life that would work."

"I'm sure Colonel Kell will give us anything we ask," Bridger said. "Why don't we call him up?"

It took a couple minutes for the connection to go through, and for the burly MechWarrior to show up on the holotank. "Colonel Evan Kell here, General, Admiral. What can I do you for?" Sleep, it seemed, had restored a rather irreverent sense of humour.

"Ah, a face to the voice," Admiral Marik said pleasantly. "A pleasure, Colonel, to meet you. I'm sure you have duties, so I'll keep this short. We have need of some assistance in our efforts with the portal, namely, plants and animals we can test sending through the field our ships created. Do you think the Timkovichi authorities can assist?"

"So you're looking for some flowers an' critters to send through, make sure nobody who goes through gets fried? Not the kind of thing we’ve got in stores, but I’ll see what we can round up. Either me or Colonel Allard’ll let you know when we’ve got an idea of what we can scare up."

"Thank you for that, Colonel."

"Not a problem. Like I said yesterday, I owe you big, Admiral, and this isn’t a major thing anyway. Kell out."

Once the image disappeared, Marik said, "Well, it seems we'll have that going soon. Have the Emancipator send another drone through, inform the other side of what's coming. With luck, by the end of the day we may know if we can go home or not."

The DropShuttle from Arcadia bore its passenger into the heart of the 8th Strikers' bivouac in the ruined quarters of Cirenholm. They found representatives of the Timkovichi Armored Guard waiting for them, bearing several potted plants and a cage with a group of finger-length reptilians.

While the shuttle crew started securing the creatures, Lieutenant Commander John Albright had his own matter to attend to. The dark-skinned man, a native of the planet Gannett in the McAffe March of the Royal Federation, took leave of the crew that brought him down and headed for the towering spheroid form of the AFS Charles Sinclair. Aside from the Medical Department insignia on his red and blue uniform, he blended right in with the personnel milling about on their tasks and routines.

Given his career was primarily naval, Albright had little experience with the DropShips that typically served with the Army. The Sinclair, like most ships that were built around carrying and deploying troops, was under Army Department command, not Naval. He initially considered entering via the large BattleMech bays, just to spy at the last minute a ramp leading up to an airlock door. He was nearly to the ramp when met by another officer with a cadeceus pin on her lapel and a Lieutenant's rank strips on her collar. "Commander Albright?" she asked, her accent explicitly Scandinavian. "Major Karla Haraldsdottir, Assistant Senior Physician, 8th Strikers Regiment. Please follow me."

Major Haraldsdottir led Albright aboard the Charles Sinclair. Their path took them several decks up, above the bays and sections where the troops and their equipment was kept, and to clearly marked brig facilities. MPs waived them through to the cell area, which was empty save one occupant.

Albright was surprised to see that his prospective patient was so young. She looked anywhere from fourteen to eighteen years of age, of thin build with unkept hair. Her clothing was a drab green jumpsuit. His eyes noted the green and white corded bracelet on her wrist, with a green bird insignia on a tab. She ignored him, remaining balled up on the cot and silent. "Who is she?"

"Thanks to the locals interviewing some of our prisoners, we know the name is apparently 'Cinthy'," Haraldsdottir replied. "She was some kind of… ward, or pet, of the enemy leader. Nobody can get her to speak, so we asked for anyone with psychological training. The regiment doesn't have a psychiatrist or anything assigned."

"But battleships do," he said in understanding. "Alright. I'll need her in a less hostile environment. Whatever's been done to her, the brig isn't remotely appropriate."

"The soldiers put her here. She resisted. Tried to stab, kick, punch, everything."

"I'll be able to take care of myself," he assured the woman. "I'll need a quiet space away from your barracks. It's going to take time., too. See about refreshments?"

"You'll have everything you need.”

Albright nodded and drew in a sigh. In truth this wasn’t his field either, not directly. Pediatric psychiatry was a very particular field of study, and his specialty was military psychiatry. But something’s better than nothing, I just have to establish enough of a rapport that a pediatric psychiatrist can finish the job.

The girl, Cinthy, refused to move at first once the cell was opened. Grudgingly she stood from the cot, and the look in her eyes told Albright she was thinking of attacking. “We’ve got food,” he said. “If you don’t fight you’ll get a better place to sleep.”

The girl’s eyes met his. “Fighting is life,” she said, her young voice something of a hoarse croak. “My Khan will expect me to fight when she comes for me.”

“Your Khan?”

“Malvina. The Chinggis Khan. The Conquerer.”

“She’s in our infirmary, a quadriplegic,” Haraldsdottir whispered to Albright.

“She is going to kill you all,” the girl predicted confidently.

Given what he’d just been told,, Albright decided not to reveal that quite yet. “And she’ll be angry if you didn’t fight against us?”

Cinthy didn’t have to nod in answer. Her haunted eyes told him enough.

The attack came suddenly, but the MPs were ready and far stronger. Cinthy’s lunge was thwarted by their powerful arms. She screamed wordlessly at them as she was forced back into the cell, and the door was shut.

Well, it looks like I’ve got quite a hard job ahead of me, Albright thought ruefully.

On arrival to the command center of the Arcadia, Lord Paul idly noted that the number of on-duty personnel was too high. He'd anticipated this and said nothing, merely giving a glance to Admiral Rodgers who returned it with a nod. She'd allowed a fair share of officers and crew in to watch their fates be decided. Whatever happened, they would be the ones to spread it to the rest of the crew. He noted a number of senior Lieutenants and mid-ranked Petty Officers, the kind of personnel who were low enough in rate to interact with the bulk of the crew while high enough to wield respect. Hopefully they would manage whatever happened in a way to benefit morale.

"The DropShuttle is prepared, sir," Commander Cohen said from his station. "For safety reasons a pilot ejecting themselves was decided against. We have other shuttles towing the ship up to a working velocity."

"Then we have nothing to do but wait. Does the other side know?"

"The drone came back through. They're waiting for our ship to come through and have the planned time of arrival."

"Very well."

Lord Paul took his seat and waited, with strained patience, for their fates to be decided. If the living things on the shuttle survived, they could safely return home. If not…

...if not, they were trapped here, exile from families and friends and homes, in a new and dangerous world.

The operation went off without a problem, at least. They got the shuttle up to 1G before breaking away. All hands watched the holoviewer as the squad winged shape flew on, no longer under any power but that of inertia's. It approached the glowing blue field and entered without any deviation in course. A bright flash came from the phenomena and the shuttle was gone.

Lord Paul heard quiet prayer from various quarters. He offered his own, so that the day would come he could return to Atreus, to his wife and family, his children. He didn't want to be trapped in this place.

The seconds stretched like minutes. Minutes like hours. And yet they knew it would be up to an hour before Gunderson and her crews could catch the shuttle, tow it in, check the creatures and plants within, and sent the shuttle back through with the answer. The second trip was part of the point, after all; since they'd already gone through once, and it was important to verify the things aboard could survive.

"They would probably be very kind to us,":remarked Rodgers quietly. "Four 'Mech regiments sound like something they could use, and the ships would be even more important."

"They do. But I do not know if I would want to live regardless," he confessed. He imagined his wife Nicole's face. His sons and daughter. Their family home outside of Mytilene. All the things he wished to return to, like give Sophia away when she met someone she liked, or see grandchildren, hear of Jason's rise through the Atrean Dragoons…

"At least we could talk with them. Send drones back and forth for mail."

"It wouldn't be the same."

"Yeah, it wouldn't." After that lament she glanced at the clock. "Fifty-seven minutes. Think Grunstern's crew is having trouble with things?"


"That's the worst part," she said. "Right now, we just don't know. If the worst happens, well, at least we'll know. All we can do is hope and pray and dread—"

"Emergence signature! Twenty seconds!"

That brought everyone's attention to the monitors. Seconds ticked down until the flash, and their DropShuttle re-appeared.

The technician moved her fingers as quickly as she could, accessing the internal cameras without even having to be asked. Across the command center, every pair of lungs stopped breathing for that moment as they waited for the images to be relayed to the screens.

The main holotank and other monitors changed to show the cramped cargo interior of the DropShuttle, with the caged critters and the pot-held plants. Every set of eyes watched, looking for signs of life.


The cry came from a furry thing in the middle of the picture, a Timkovichi mammal called a pygmyphant for its pachydermous appearance. They watched the beast move in its cage, trunk reaching for its mostly-emptied bin of food supply.

Every being on the bridge released their breaths, allowing a multitude of grateful prayers to hum in the air. "Praise to God, kind and merciful," he heard Rodgers say while crossing herself in the Orthodox style.

"They're alive," Cohen said. "All of them."

"Another emergence signature!"

Everyone waited to see what happened. Their patience was rewarded when another DropShuttle came through this time. "Hail from the shuttle, it's Captain Gunderson," Cohen said.

"Put her on." Lord Paul watched the image of the living animals replaced by the very-alive JumpShip captain. "Captain?"

"Wasn't about to put this on another of my crew, Admiral Marik, sir," Captain Gunderson said. She nodded at him, grinning. "Felt like any other jump, if you can believe it. And yet here I am, in some other Inner Sphere going by what you've said."

"You have our most profound thanks," he assured her. "We'll have space for you aboard if you like."

"Makes sense. My surgeon figured it's best if I'm checked out before you start sending ships back through, just to be sure, but from what I'm seeing and feeling, you'll all be fine, Admiral."

"Yes, best to make sure," he agreed, "and I look forward to seeing you in our infirmary. Arcadia Actual out."

Her image disappeared just as the first cheers echoed through the command center.

They could go home.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by LadyTevar »

They could go home!

That's WAAAAAAAY too easy.
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

LadyTevar wrote: 2022-04-07 12:11pm They could go home!

That's WAAAAAAAY too easy.
Actions have consequences... :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

6 - Reactions (On One Side)

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
12 August 3142

The sprawling Royal Palace dominated the hill along the coastline of Roslyn, long-time capital of the planet Arcadia. Once fairly smaller, as the Ducal Palace, the Palace's destruction during the Terran invasion of 3050-51 led to its replacement by this larger, more modern structure. Part armed command post, part government office building, part permanent dwelling for the ruler and immediate advisors and family and temporary dwelling for any number of visiting dignitaries or royalty, its marble walls (backed by ferro-fibrous alloy armor) and twenty storey high structure befitted its place as the center of power in the Royal Federation.

The civilian domestic staff, which numbered in the hundreds, were used to uniformed AFRF officers shuffling and rushing about, usually bearing reports or getting to briefings and meetings on time. But seeing a Field Marshal, in this case Lord Arnold Proctor-Steiner, doing so was cause to note the matter. A relation of the current rulers - the elderly man's late father William was a younger son of High King Thomas Proctor and High Queen Johanna Steiner - he usually moved with far greater gravitas than the rushed pace with which he now walked through the halls of the Palace.

A couple floors above the ceremonial throne room, near yet separated from the Privy Council Chambers and the office of the Lord of the Privy Council, the Royal Office was the day-to-day beating heart of the Arcadian government. In its confines the ruler signed state papers, received visiting officials and nobles, and gave the Royal Assent to laws passed by the Federal Parliament (although like most Inner Sphere rulers, military command and foreign policy were firmly in the monarch's grip).

The reception area was under the tight guard of Lady Sophia Marik, daughter of the Count of Corin, and the official Royal Secretary. With three secretaries below her, and immediate authority over the power armored detachment of the Household Guards that protected the Office itself, anyone could be forgiven for forgetting the young woman was herself only twenty-seven years old, barely older than the High King himself.

Sophia, a finely-featured woman of light brown hair and grayish blue eyes, arose from her desk beside the large, paneled doors leading to the Royal Office. She was wearing a white and purple blouse and dress that was very formal looking and, Arnold thought contemptuously, very Marik. Indeed, the purple eagle of House Marik's sigil was set over her heart. Yet were I to wear a Lyran fist I would be accused of Lyran nationalism, Arnold thought with some frustration.

That frustration was quickly forgotten as he recalled his purpose, and her sad link to it. "Your Ladyship," he said politely. "I need to see His Majesty, it is important."

"Understood, Lordship." She pressed a key on her desk. "Majesty, the Count of Stronburg is here to see you."

"Send him in."

Arnold took a breath and waited for the door to open. The two Household Guardsmen, wearing sets of Chasseur light power armor, gave him salutes as he passed by, their automatic gauss rifles at attention. He saluted them back as he passed by.

The office inside was richly furnished, although not as richly as one might see in, say, a corporate president's office. Arnold knew by experience the personal office of Roman Brewer-Steiner, the Prince of Hesperus and leader of Defiance Industries, was far more opulent. But here the need of prestige, for a certain look to the monarch's personal office, clashed with the traditional practicality and humility of House Proctor. The couches and chairs weren't quite as expensive as others, and the art was not rare and valuable collectibles but all personal portraits of prior Proctors and other figures. The many portraits included depictions of Count Andrew Laughlin, who helped negotiate the founding of the Arcadian Free March, as well as Archduke Joshua Marik, who essentially formed the "loyal" branch of House Marik that still governed on Atreus, joined portraits of all the ruling Proctors since Sara herself. Arnold felt old grief fill him at the images of those he'd lost through his life. The grandparents he'd not met, for instance, given the fabulous portrait of Thomas and Johanna in their prime of life, freshly crowned and leading their unified realm after the near-disaster of the War of Donegal Succession. Arnold's dear uncle Ethan, with trimmed blond beard and brilliant blue eyes, brought back memories for Arnold of the desperate fighting in 3098 and 3099, and how much they owed to Ethan seeing them through the worst that Scipio O'Reilly could throw at them. And Jacqueline herself, a loss the entire realm felt so keenly…

He focused his attention to the central desk, and the occupant there: Nathaniel Ethan Proctor, the twenty-five-year old High King of the Federation. Much to the chagrin of many in the family, Nathaniel kept Jacqueline's habit of not using the Steiner name that, technically, was appended for all the descendants of Thomas and Johanna. Arnold's younger cousin was fair-skinned, although his face bore some characteristics of the ancestors from India that he shared with his mother's family, House Umayr of Bolan. His dark hair was finely combed and a proper Proctor brown, but his blue eyes, like Arnold's own, were firmly of Steiner origin. He bore some resemblance to his paternal grandfather, the Royal Consort King James McQuiston-Stuart, in the shape of his cheekbones and his larger build. Like his Royal Secretary he was wearing a set of what looked more like robes than a classic suit, with the chest red, the sleeves and lower garment blue, and gold trim to it all. A white hawk fringed with gold on the wings was embroidered over the heart. "Cousin." He nodded to Arnold, who detected the twitch of a salute that was stopped. It's taken a couple of months but at least he's remembering not to salute me first.

Instead it was Arnold's hand that came up in a formal salute to his monarch, who returned it with a nod. "Your Majesty."

"You said there was an issue? Has there been another attack? The Dracs hitting around Alexandria again?"

"No, sire. This is worse. We've lost the 1st Battle Fleet."

Whatever his qualms about Nathaniel's worthiness as High King, Arnold was pleased to see the disbelieving expression begin to pale. He recognized the severity of the news. "The entire fleet?"

"And Training Force Siegfried," Arnold intoned gravely.


"It appears to have been a misjump of some sort."

The severe reaction turned to confusion. "The entire fleet? They all misjumped?"

"So it would seem. The Ghastillian contingent was lost as well."

"But… the odds of that…"

"...are quite low, yes," Arnold finished for him. "I've already ordered an investigation into possible sabotage."

"Even sabotage would require every ship to have a saboteur," Nathaniel pointed out.

"This is the sort of thing the Mask would do. Spend years making arrangements. They might even have someone in Personnel to ensure all the ships would be assigned an infiltrator. Whatever the method, it will be checked on. In the meantime, I have already spoken with Grand Admiral Stewart. The Command Staff will hold emergency meetings to discuss the situation, and all of our units on the border will be on standby alert for an attack."

"Yes, a wise choice." The shock was already fading from Nathaniel's face. He was thinking, which Arnold wasn't sure he liked. He thinks too much. "Do we have any other reports? Some indication of what might have happened?"

"Just confused claims right now. Rumors and stories."


Arnold sighed. Here we go. Millions of tons of WarShip and five hundred BattleMechs go missing and he's worried about tall tales. "We received one report of a persistent jump field remaining where the fleet was. It has yet to be substantiated."

"We have ships on the way, right?"

At least it's a pertinent question. "The Suwannee and her patrol group are burning for their JumpShips now, but they're three jumps away. Even with the Royal Road we won't hear anything for days, not unless another JumpShip reports first. And the Ghastillian authorities are already ordering that the nadir point at Atocongo be given a wide berth so this doesn't happen again."

"Right. A reasonable precaution." The young monarch's words belied the thought going on behind his eyes.

"You will attend the meeting, I would hope?"

"Of course. Hopefully we will know more by then."

"Hopefully, but it will do little to improve the situation. Our fleet has lost a quarter of its fighting power, and we've lost the 8th Strikers and 1st Kell Hounds as well. The Ghastillians are short Wotan and their 4th Grenadiers. Those are severe blows to our force levels. And the wargames with the Principate and Canopians will have to be canceled."

"Regrettable, yes. Is there anything else, Lord Arnold?"

"Nothing, sire. By your leave?"

The nod was sufficient to give Arnold permission to withdraw. 'Regrettable'. As if he wouldn't have canceled the war games himself if it wouldn't have caused a diplomatic row.

It was times like this that made Arnold all the more wistful for High Queen Jacqueline. The old woman hadn't lost sight of the threats against them, and given half a chance she'd be marching them against the Capellan Empire or the Draconis Combine, whatever the damned Concert had to say about things. To die as recklessly as she had… it was almost tantamount to dereliction of duty.

Don't fool yourself. Jacqueline had the right attitudes, but '23 and the failure of MORNINGSTAR broke her spirit. Even she might have rejected EAGLE CRY

Nathaniel watched his distant cousin depart and drew in a breath. An entire Battle Fleet lost. The AFS Arcadia itself, built and rebuilt twice after bringing desperate victories over the Terrans and the Oriento-Capellans in 3051 and 3098, was gone, as was her whole fleet. The famed 8th Strikers and the best of the two Kell Hound regiments, likewise gone, along with the stalwart 4th Grenadiers, the heroes of the Buckminster campaign in 3117.

It defied comprehension. One ship could misjump. But dozens? Ships relied on their own navigational data to avoid this sort of thing, and there were further safeguards. How did so many navigational officers, military and auxiliary, all fail in precisely the same way, along with all the necessary failures of command and mechanism to produce a mass misjump?

It's no wonder Lord Arnold believes it to be sabotage. It was a convenient reason. Convenient especially for those like Arnold who never reconciled themselves to the end of the War.

The War. Twenty two years and it still shaped everything, as did his grandmother's failed challenge to the Peace of Dieron. Its prominence was obvious: the outcome formed the modern Inner Sphere. No worlds had traded hands by force since the final territorial dispositions, even the remaining conflicts were all by raiding, and none allowed to become greater. For the first time since the Star League, the Inner Sphere's borders weren't changing. For trillions like Nathaniel, that was a happy thing, but it seemed for others, it was a leash they struggled to snap loose from. Now this incident might give Arnold and those like him the justification they needed.

But it made no sense. Sabotage was just as ludicrous a cause as any other. If the Mask had that many spies and agents in the Royal Navy, they'd have been able to steal the ships just as easily as destroy them via misjump, and agents that skilled would be too valuable to lose callously. Would that many Mask agents have been so devoted and fanatical as to kill themselves? Without a single one breaking down? It defied comprehension.

There was something else. It had to be something else. He'd have to call up Professor Whateley at the Royal University and see if the hyperspace physicists there had any thoughts. If this was some new phenomena, well, it had to be investigated. They had to be sure this wouldn't happen again. Losing all of those people…

A second jolt came to him. Thoughtless, Nathaniel! Thoughtless! So wrapped up in the thinking you forgot there's more to it! All those people,, all their loved ones… I should be the one, shouldn't I? Just like Mother told me about my father… He pressed his intercom key. "Lady Sophia? A moment?"

Within thirty seconds the doors opened. Sophia Marik entered and stood before him. While her expression remained quite business-like, her face curled into a slight smile that matched his own. "Your Majesty?"

"No." He stood and shook his head. "That's… not for this."

"Okay then. Nathaniel." She approached the desk, which he rounded so he could be close to her. She'd need that. "What is it? I'm guessing Lord Arnold said something?"

"It's the news he came to convey," he replied. "I should be the one to tell you."

The quiet joy and little smile left her face. "Tell me what?"

There were so many ways to do this. Going to quick would sound callous, drawing it out would just make it hurt more… "The Arcadia is believed lost," he said. "From a misjump."

Her face paled. While she was as controlled as ever, he knew her well enough to see the blow was telling. "Father's gone."

"His whole fleet. And the troops with them."

"Dear God… how?"

"They're not sure. We're still getting details." His arms twitched a moment, as he thought of embracing her but stopped. It wasn't his place.

It also wasn't necessary. In this private place, where they didn't need appearances, she didn't bother trying to maintain them. As sobs tore from her throat she sought comfort, and he gave it. "Father, no. It wasn't… he's not supposed to…" She had no words after that, merely grief-stricken sobs, and as he had nothing to say to ease that grief, he chose to say nothing.

That was what you did for those you loved.

Nighttime was falling when the Command Staff meeting was set to begin. Nathaniel traversed the corridors of the Palace toward the usual location, the War Room, the large command theater in the subbasement levels that allowed him access to military information from across the realm, every report delivered in real time once it was received by the officers present. He'd spent his first week of his rule in daily meetings there, seated in the upper conference room where windows could be set to transparent or opaque as needed, but since only attended biweekly meetings given his time was set so heavily to other matters.

The lift was manned by a House Guard in Chasseur light power armor. The insignia of the 2nd Proctor Guards was on the shoulder, an open palm with a white and gold-winged hawk set into it. The soldier, a woman of dark bronze complexion, saluted and reached to close the lift door.

Before it could close, another figure bounded through the door. Despite everything Nathaniel felt a small grin crease his face at the sight of Prince Peter Proctor-Steiner, wearing a civilian formal suit like his own with the gold-winged hawk as lapel pins, and the crown sigil that marked him as Lord of the Privy Council. The youngest brother of his late grandmother Jacqueline, Peter was a veteran of the War as were many in the family, fighting in the Arcadian Guards and Proctor Heavy Guards through the decade of battle that cost so many lives, including Nathaniel's father Prince James. "Uncle."

"Nathaniel." Peter stepped up beside him. The trooper closed the lift door and keyed them down to the Command Level. While the powered lift descended into the armored bunker beneath the Palace, Peter said, "It's been a rough day. How is Lady Sophia?"

"Grieving. I gave her the news."

"That was kind of you. Hopefully we'll find out something. Sometimes… ships survive misjumps. They even end up close enough that they can be found and brought home."

"I'm praying for it."

They said nothing more until they arrived at the bottom. Once they were in the rather more utilitarian, gray walls of the command bunker, Peter spoke again. "Are you still intending…?"

"I am. When the moment's right. But not right now."

"She's a good match, don't let the others convince you otherwise," Peter said. "I've been working the Privy Council to make sure there's no strong objections. Honestly, just securing the succession will please most of them."

Nathaniel nodded. An idle thought came to him. "You know Tom Fitzroy finally asked Laura Michaels out on a date?"

Peter snorted. Were it any of the others, Nathaniel would know the snort was directed at him and his casual interest in the lives of the civilian staff. With his uncle… it could be 50/50. "About time," he said noncommittally.

"It's so much easier for them. They just have to work up the courage, and there's no politics involved. No worry about complications to feudal contracts or property rights. Just… love."

"That's a fairy tale view of commoner life." The admonishment was clear in Peter's voice. "And ignores a lot of the problems they have we never will. In war they suffer the most easily and have fewer means to deal with that."

"It's why war is the last resort, or should be," Nathaniel said.

A look of forbearance for his nephew's views showed on the older man's face. "Tell that to Yorinaga Kurita."

The reference to the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine made Nathaniel frown. "I heard about New Wessex, but not the casualty count."

"As usual the Dracs are being dismissive and refusing to acknowledge any casualties, but our estimates are now up to seventy thousand dead, three hundred thousand displaced, about half of them in ISF resettlement and indoctrination camps."

Nathaniel frowned and shook his head. "Is it…?"

Peter nodded stiffly. "Butcher Ballymond is at it again, he has the 9th Galedon Regulars on the warpath. The rebellion's probably going to sputter on a little longer, but they're all going to end up dead at this rate."

The reference to the warlord in charge of the Vega Prefecture, Tai-sho John Ballymond, was unwelcome. Ballymond was an adherent to the reborn Combine and held a perfectly Kuritan view towards those who dissented; namely, that dissent was a cancer to be rooted out and should be punishable by death for the dissenter, their families, and usually anyone in the general vicinity just to be sure the cancer was gone.

"I want to give more to the refugees, and we should get a couple more units to the Alexandria and Arcturus Marches as a security measure," Peter continued. "The 1st Arcturan Guards don't have the experience if Ballymond decides to send anyone after escapees, and the 17th Skye Rangers have been truculent lately about re-deploying. And I'm sure Ballymond won't be sending a Legion of Vega this time."

"I'll give the order. There's a few units that can be brought up from the Skye and New Earth Marches. My missives with Emperor Robert have been making some progress."

That drew a sigh from Peter. "I know Lady Jessup's supportive, but you really should be getting the others more input with this initiative of yours, Nathaniel. Robert's not a slouch, and any wider peace with the Capellans will have a price attached."

"War would be costlier, Uncle, you know that, even if the Concert makes everyone stop before it goes far."

"I also know how things are in Skye lately, the last thing you need is to make them feel like you're leaving them to dangle."

Nathaniel sighed. "I'm doing what I can. I've approved greater funding to their economic expansion and stronger defenses. I even granted a regiment of surplus Star League-quality BattleMechs to the March Militia."

"And that's all well and good, but it's not always enough. Before you protest, I know there's little more you can do, and if you give them more, Tamarind will want more, and Bolan, and Arcturus… just be careful with the balancing act."

"I'm trying." I'm always trying. If only Grandmother lived longer...

Inwardly he felt guilty, as he always did when his thoughts ventured that way. He'd wanted to give a gesture to his mother's part of the realm and chose the Bolan Heavy Guards to serve in when he got out of Ayrshire and his post-graduate semester at Tamarind Military Institute. He was part-Umayr, after all, and the Bolan Heavy Guards deserved the recognition after all they'd done for the Federation. But that entailed assignment to Bolan, and while he'd enjoyed being around his mother's family and helping to balance the squabbles of Bolan's quarrelling city-states, had he picked assignment to the Arcadian Guards he'd have been posted here, on Arcadia, and he'd have been able to learn from his grandmother directly.

Nathaniel banished those thoughts upon striding into the War Room. Over two dozen specialists and officers manned various desks and controls, most pointed toward a large holotank that currently showed a stock image of the Inner Sphere and Near Periphery. The Royal Federation glowed magenta on the display, something of a compromise color between Lyran blue and Marik purple given its cultural breakdown. The Combine was an angry red and the Oriento-Capellans a rich purple. While the current borders were well-marked, he noted the "proper" border was still showing too, depicting the worlds formerly in the Marik Commonwealth, Sirius and Procyon, and the Vega Prefecture as within the proper Royal Federation border. It was something his grandmother ordered and the current AFRF stuck with, and reflected the bitter disappointment so many of them felt with the Congress of Dieron's drawn borders.

He idly wondered how other rulers showed similar maps. Did Emperor Robert Halas-Liao have personnel depicting St. Ives and Victoria and Kittery in OCE colors instead of Federated Suns, maybe even Irian and Regulus as all still Imperial? First Princess Grace Silver-Davion might very well see an ideal map that included Sarna and Bellatrix and other former Brethren-held worlds lost to the Empire, plus Kilbourne and Robinson and much of the Kilbourne Union, and they in turn might see Filtvelt and Malagrotta as theirs as well as the handful of worlds they didn't reclaim from the Combine. And it was rather obvious what the Combine map would show (that is, everything under Combine rule).

Peter's hand on his shoulder reminded him of his purpose. He led his uncle up the nearby metal stairs to the upper level and the conference room. A number of the Command Staff were already present, including Lord Arnold, already in seats and going over noteputers and folders. The table's holo-projector provided an image of Atocongo and Timkovichi systems side by side.

The last arrival was a man with snow-white hair and lithe build. Grand Admiral Lord Malcolm Stewart, the uncle of the current Earl of Stewart, served as Chief of Staff of the AFRF. He was officially Nathaniel's senior military advisor, although in truth he'd been appointed by Jacqueline just a couple months before her death and Nathaniel felt no reason to replace him so quickly. He gave an uncertain eye to Nathaniel before saluting, and in turn was saluted; Nathaniel's early arrival was clearly something he considered out of sorts.

Once he was seated, Nathaniel spoke up. "I'm sure we've all heard about the 1st Battle Fleet, but for sake of covering ground…" He nodded to Grand Admiral Stewart.

In his smooth Stewarter burr, the admiral laid out the details about the misjumps. No other signs of the ships were known yet. An investigation into sabotage was set to begin, but it was already rather obvious they wouldn't be very effective since the best evidence would be on the ships themselves.

"Sabotage doesn't make sense." The female voice rose above the other murmurs. With striking, bright green eyes and a tan bronze complexion, Dame Bethany Verdes-Shameel, an Army Field Marshal and head of the AFRF Engineering Corps, was a tall woman with dark hair not yet more grayed than the fringes. Her uniform was well-kept, the only aberration being the locket hanging around her neck.

"Don't they, Marshal Verdes?" Arnold asked from his seat. "It seems the only logical explanation. Once you eliminate impossible explanations, whatever remains has to be the truth."

"Except there are too many practical issues involved," she replied stonily. "Too many safety systems would have to be sabotaged on every single ship. If the Capellans can infiltrate us to that degree, they'd be doing more than making ships misjump."

"So what's your explanation, Field Marshal?" Arnold asked. "How else can you explain so many ships misjumping together?"

"We can't, not yet, not until we get more data."

"For what it's worth, I concur with Field Marshal Verdes." The words, spoken with the particular accent of an Iaukean Islander of Arcadia, came from another of the room's Grand Admirals, Lord Samuel Keahi, a noble descendant of famed abolitionist guerrilla leader Auli'i Keahi. Broad-shouldered and with the bronze complexion common to his people, descendants of Polynesian, Papuan, and Balinese settlers of the Iaukean Islands, the Baron of Molokai looked more like a former battle armor infantryman than a naval officer, even an intelligence officer, as he was the head of the Intelligence Department of the AFRF. Noting the disagreeing look from Lord Arnold, he added, "We have extensive counter-intelligence assets checking for any Capellan infiltrators. That they could infiltrate multiple ships, or high enough to somehow force bad jump coordinates over the heads of so many astrogation officers, is the realm of fantasy."

"It would also represent quite the embarrassment for your department, Lord Samuel." The German-accented voice of Grand Admiral John Pastig, ruling Duke of the planet Bjornlunda and Chief of Naval Operations, had a sarcastic edge to it. "I would rather the matter be investigated, given my service is the one to lose a quarter of its active fleet."

"Of course we're investigating the matter, but the idea defies reason!" Keahi shouted back. "Besides, we have more data now, and it hints against a sabotage operation."

Nathaniel's eyes locked on the man. "What do you mean, Lord Samuel?"

"We have a military intelligence liaison on Atocongo operating with Ghastillian Militia Command," Samuel explained. "He's forwarded a report that confirms there is an artifact left by the fleet. A persistent jump field, or something of the sort, marks the point in space where they jumped. A Ghastillian JumpShip, the Grunstern, witnessed the jump and is burning toward the location to provide whatever readings they can. It won't be much, I grant, but it would be something."

"Well, that is something." Nathaniel folded his hands on the table. "We do need to learn more about such a phenomena. There are other concerns, though."

"We've lost a quarter of the fleet and a number of skilled forces. The fleet in particular is the greatest loss. It will take us years to make good on it."

"Yes. Until that time, the Concert remains our best bet to avoid wider entanglements."

Even before speaking the words, he anticipated the hostile reaction. The Concert was not widely loved in the AFRF's upper echelons. These were men and women who felt that they'd been on the cusp of greater victories in 3120, and that the Concert did them wrong in '23. Nathaniel remembered the attack on Sirius as the first time he understood what war was, and how much it disgusted him. The entire thing was unnecessary, provoked by generals and admirals exploiting his father's death and his grandmother's bitter grief for it. As if taking the planet where his father died would fix everything.

"We'll need the Skye and 4th Fleet to remain on station permanently," Admiral Stewart commented, not speaking for or against Nathaniel. "This will complicate our naval deployment patterns, but we're fortunate that the peace with COMINTERSTEL remains solid. If we can keep the Dracs and Cappies from cooperating, it will go far in buying the needed time to replace the Arcadia and her fleet. Emergency construction orders will be necessary but the funding…"

The meeting adjourned with little fanfare. It was getting late and the department heads had the regular peacetime duties of their positions awaiting them in the morning. Nathaniel watched them go quietly. They always frustrated him, especially Lord Arnold and the others most hostile to his support for the Concert. As if war was the superior alternative, given all it'd cost the peoples of the Federation.

Given all that it'd cost him, and those he loved.

His memories of Prince James Proctor-Steiner were old holorecordings of the messages he sent home to his wife and son. Princess Sita, his mother, played them with him as a child, enduring emotional agony given the depth she'd loved James, which was admittedly not an often thing among the nobility. You didn't marry for love, after all, you married to improve the dynasty and expand links to other great families. But for Sita, the long-desired match of an Umayr to a Proctor heir was a gift from the gods, as James was "the most kind and gentle lord a lady could ask for".

Jacqueline was different, of course, but James' death wounded her as deeply. Sita was a pacifist studying agricultural sciences and spearheading the effort to expand arable land on Bolan. Jacqueline had been a Warrior Queen, the first such Proctor since Sara the Liberator won her crown by her own hand, stubborn and willful and death in the cockpit of a BattleMech. And yet, in the end, she'd lost her son in a battle her injuries and position denied her participation in. Giving up the planet he died taking, then failing to capture it by force in defiance of the newly-formed Concert, was something Nathaniel saw as the cause of her own inevitable death. All her escapades, her 'Mech duels and grueling lifestyle in defiance of her injuries and age, until she finally failed at the wrong moment and lost her life.

A hand touched his shoulder. He looked up into the face of Prince Peter. "Uncle. You were rather quiet."

"You were handling them well enough," Peter said, his voice full of gentle pride. "And it's good for their perception of you to be the one speaking."

"Arnold will not relent."

"True. But you won't either, and that's what matters."

"He's angling for the Chief of Staff position, and I'm not inclined to give it to him."

Peter sighed. "I know you're not, but that's not going to do you any favors with the senior staff."

"And the rank and file?"

"That depends, he's not a popular man there. But you're not universally popular either."

"I was trying to extend a hand to Bolan. They've had their concerns put by the wayside often enough," Nathaniel pointed out.

"You needn't defend yourself on that count to me. As I said, balancing the components of the Federation is always going to be tricky. Speaking of which, you should consider scheduling your first official visit to Tharkad and Skye soon."

"I will. Once this mess clears up." Nathaniel stood. "Thanks, Uncle, you've been there for me since… well, since I could think."

"Doing right by my sister, and my nephew." Peter's voice strained a little. "I was too slow to save him on Sirius. The least I could do is make sure his son is okay." The old pain was clear on his face.

"And all I can do is be the ruler he'd have wanted me to be," Nathaniel replied, embracing his uncle.

Their tender moment was interrupted by a knock at the door. Peter got there first, where an AFRF Lieutenant with an intelligence branch insignia - crossed keys under a miniature sphinx figure - stood, an intent expression on her face. "Your Majesty, Your Lordship, you'll want to hear this."

They followed her out into the War Room proper. The Watch Officer, an Aerospace Force Group Captain of Afro-Asian ancestry with the name M'Buta on his uniform, saluted and nodded to another officer.

The central holotank display came alive with the visage of a dark-skinned woman with a spacer's pale complexion, wearing a jumpsuit common to long-service JumpShip crews. "We received this message on high priority from Atocongo, Majesty," Group Captain M'Buta explained.

"I am Captain Greta Gunderson of the Grunstern, addressing authorities in Ghastillia and the Royal Federation. My ship has detected a sensor drone emerging from the unknown jump field here. The probe is relaying information from an Arcadian naval vessel. It is requesting that the drone be remotely dispatched back into the field with acknowledgement of receipt. Some of the message is coded and I cannot read it, but the uncoded part makes clear that the ships that misjumped are intact and their crews and passengers alive on the other end. I will await confirmation of receipt by related governments before I send a reply. Grunstern out."

"Oh thank God," Peter gasped.

Nathaniel heard the news. "Send immediate acknowledgement, thank Captain Gunderson and ask her to make contact with our people. Let them know we're sending ships to investigate. Group Captain, have the data decoded and prepared for the Command Staff and myself. We'll go over it first thing in the morning."

"Yes, Majesty."

"And… which set of command codes came with the coded segment? Can you show me?"

Captain M'Buta gestured to another of the officers. The arriving data was still being loaded, but within ten seconds they had a reply. "Code is from Admiral Lord Paul Marik, CO 1st Battle Fleet," the naval Lieutenant replied.

"I'll see you later, Uncle," Nathaniel called out, already rushing for the stairs leading down to the War Room's entrance. By then he was nearly at a run, and would be by the time he was in the corridor. He made it to the lift where the same soldier from before was still on duty. "Up, now!"

She wordlessly operated the control, and the lift ascended.

Once the doors opened again he rushed out into the corridors. Surprised expressions were his reward whenever he passed a member of palace staff or one of the security agents on duty, and a part of him knew it was inappropriate for him to be running like this. But he had to get where he was going, and quickly. This had to be shared.

His course took him to the main gallery of the Palace, where portraits of battles and individuals abounded, and he swiftly ascended the stairs to the side, took a corridor, then more stairs, until finally arriving in the residential suites. Bewildered security men saw him through, escorting him and clearly wondering why he was running.

For all his exercise regiment kept him fit, Nathaniel was still nearly out of breath when he arrived at the door of fine white wood. He knocked vigorously and spent the wait regaining his breath before it opened. Sophia Marik was in her nightrobe, modest and no longer in any makeup, if yet still plainly beautiful to his eyes. Her cheeks were still wet with tears, and the pain on her face gave way to an expression of surprise. "Nathan— Your Majesty, what is the matter?"

"Your father's alive!" he blurted out. "They've made contact! He's still alive!"

Her chest heaved from the rushed breath that escaped her lungs. Disbelief briefly appeared before giving way to inescapable hope. "He's alive?" She asked the question haltingly, as if she couldn't dare say more lest the universe reverse it all.

"Yes! We don't know how or what happened to him, but we received a message under his codes. It couldn't come from anyone else."

For a moment she remained silent. Only a moment. Then the tears came back. She threw her arms around him, overcome with joy, and sobbed happily into his chest as his arms embraced her in turn.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

This post mostly written by Captain Orsai

7 - Reactions (On the Other Side)

Kell Hounds HQ
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
16 August 3142

It was late in the day when Evan Kell managed to find time to make the rounds of the wounded. Part of him hated himself for that, as much as there were so many things that had needed doing. But at least he had found the time now.

The field hospital’s smells of antiseptic and pain reminded him of his first time in the ring, four decades ago now. And that was against the Falcons too; back in business at the same old stand, with the same old crowd, Evan reflected, stepping aside for a gurney carrying a prone patient, hung with rattling saline and medicine drips.

Thankfully, most of his Hounds had made it through the day whole - no thanks to me - but Armoured Guard really had been hammered; with almost four in every five of them dead or in the hospital. They were taking it well, though; like the young infantrywoman he’d talked to earlier, badly burned by an Elemental’s flamer. “It’s alright, sir,” she’d said, waving the amputated stump of her arm to take in her bandaged eye. “I’ve put in for transfer to the Navy. They say they’ll front me the hook and eyepatch, but I’ve gotta find my own parrot.”

Children. Brave, foolish children, Evan thought sadly. All they wanted to hear from him was that they’d been brave, that they’d done right by their families and their friends, no matter the ruin modern weaponry had inflicted on them. Then, oh stop it, Kell. You didn’t invent war, and you for damn sure didn’t invite the Falcons or Horses here. Now quit woolgathering and finish up.

Corporal Eddie Carson was sitting up in bed as Evan approached, and smiling with remarkable good cheer for a man missing his right leg in midthigh. That might just have been the pretty young Arcadian nurse he’d been quietly flirting with; the instant he spotted Evan, Eddie dropped the smile and stiffened instantly to as close he could come to attention. Not really a surprise, from someone who’d been in trouble as often as Eddie had.

“Colonel,” he managed, with a trace of his normal cockiness. “Guess I kinda screwed up big this time, huh?”

To tell the truth, Evan had been seriously considering writing Eddie up for a medal. He wasn’t sure what it said about the young mechwarrior’s good sense - if not anything worse than getting broken to the ranks nine times did - but taking on a Hellstar and a Balius with his bulky, unlovely Götterdämmerung to cover a lancemate’s retreat was worth something. You might not be able to eat a medal, but hell, even at its worst - like the days on Dustbowl twenty years ago - the LCAF could usually make sure you had enough to eat.

“Not this time, son,” Evan replied. “And I hope you don’t think you’re going to be getting a soft job after the docs stick a new leg on you.” The 8th Striker’s chief surgeon had let him know that was going to be easy; they’d already done the preliminary surgeries.

“If you’ve got anything other than soft jobs for someone who’s Dispossessed.” Bitterness edged Eddie’s tone, and Evan understood that well. Even back in his grandfather’s day, BattleMechs hadn’t been common, and getting a new one if you lost yours had been brutally difficult; despite a decade of work to undo the results of Devlin Stone’s Redemption Program, ‘Mechs were even harder to come by now. But -

“ ‘Dispossessed’ nothing, Corporal. Blackstone might’ve screwed up the ejection system -” trying to work the complicated escape mechanism was where Eddie’s leg had been mangled badly enough the docs’d needed to take it off “- but they did right on survival features. Just gotta get her back to Arc-Royal, and your ‘Mech’ll be better than new sooner than you will.” Last he’d seen the Götterdämmerung, in fact, it’d been secured on the bed of a J-100 transporter, swarmed by techs from the Hounds and the Arcadians - the latter, Evan was fairly confident, volunteering to help out making it fit for transport to get a good look at a ‘Mech design that must’ve looked pretty weird to them.

That news brought Eddie’s smile back in full, and he managed to snap off a perfect salute with an enthusiastic, “Thank you, Colonel!” in response.

With one last comment of, “Listen to the doctors, son. I’ll check up on you where I can,” Evan stepped back out into the open.air. The dimness of early evening - Timkovichi’s sun went down fast, this late in the local year - had a strange, off-blue cast to it. The source of that was, well, the whatever the hell it was that the Arcadians had arrived through; he’d heard it called the Emergence, the Anomaly, the Transition, and half-a-dozen other names.

Personally, Evan had decided that outside of official circumstances, he was inclined to go with what a Sergeant from the Armoured Guard had called it: Weird Bollocks.

“Kroner for your thoughts, Colonel.” Nadia Allard’s voice came from behind him, and Evan turned to face the younger officer, accepting the mug of steaming hot chocolate she handed him.

“Just thinking about, well, that,” Evan nodded to the glowing blue-white anomaly, low in the southern sky. “What it is, what it might mean - hell, just who we’re dealing with beyond the obvious. Admiral Marik and General Bridger did help us out; they seem okay, and I think they’re over the same barrel we are figuring the implications of that thing - and whether it might happen somewhere else. But how do we know if their bosses are gonna think the same way?” His expression turned pensive. “What happens if their boss - this High King of theirs - decides we’re a threat?”

“I don’t think that’s likely,” Nadia frowned, staring into her own mug. “I got a chance to talk with some of the Eighth Strikers’ staff echelon, and from what they let slip, High King Nathaniel’s not much of one for warmongering; and has enough threats back home that fighting us, at least, wouldn’t be something he’d back. What he’ll feel about the Falcons, though,” she shook her head, frustration edging her tone. “I don’t know. Even before we get into that, though, we have to figure out other things, like the congruences between their home and ours, despite the massive divergence. The Kell Hounds being formed, at, from what I could find out, about the same time and by roughly the same people or at least analogues of them? That suggests some things might be interlinked on a level beneath what we think of as ‘normal’ space-time. I mean, I remember reading a paper from Royal Tharkad U a few years ago that argued that neither the probabilistic or determinist theories of the world were wholly right, that there’s overlap; some determinist mechanism for a set of probabilities that might happen, but -” Nadia stopped, realising she’d managed to lose Evan in the details of the theories. “I just don’t know how this works. And I went into the Engineers, Evan, because I like precision; I like certainty!”

His reply was a low chuckle. "If you’re after certainty, then you really are in the wrong line of work; soldiering’s as uncertain as it gets. Should’ve gone for a banker instead." At her sharp, frustrated glare he added, "I know, I know. It's a lot to think about. You'd think that after so many centuries, with so much different, the people living would be entirely different. Then," Evan grinned in what he fondly imagined as a suitably piratical fashion, “us Kells are stubborn. We’d probably make sure everything came out the same way in every universe, just to annoy whoever’s in charge of the whole thing.”

“Speaking of,” Nadia reverted to seriousness, “I made sure that before she jumped out for Arc-Royal, High Ecliptic had full casualty lists, plus everything we’ve learned about the Arcadians. Order of battle, capabilities, what I could find about their sociopolitical structure, the lot.”

“Should make for some fun bedtime reading for Martin, when it gets to him,” Evan commented.

Planetary Defence Headquarters
Arc-Royal, Arc-Royal Theatre
Lyran Commonwealth
24 August, 3142

Duke Martin Kell rubbed at eyes that - from lack of sleep and overwork - felt like they were full of grit, before returning to the vast array of paperwork, noteputers and verigraphs on his desk.

Part of him wondered if there was any victory to be found here, or if he was just engaging in Sisyphean makework before the end. Every day the Falcons and Horses held off assaulting Arc-Royal, their defences were made stronger; more Kell Hounds and Wolves-in-Exile returning from their distant deployment stations, more new recruits and recalled veterans in the militia were certified as combat-ready, more defensive works finished, and more tanks, battlesuits and BattleMechs rolled or marched out of the weapons foundries, or off DropShips from Donegal, Coventry, even distant Hesperus.

Yet, no matter how strong they made their defences, Malvina Hazen’s rampage seemed impossible to stop, and her reputation alone was worth a full Regimental Combat Team even before accounting that she was probably the best fighting commander the Falcons had produced since Taman Malthus and had the devil’s own luck besides. That was why Evan had taken all the Hounds available into the field six weeks ago, to slow her down and try and take the shine off that reputation.

Damn the Blackout; and damn Melissa Steiner’s overweening ambition and greed, as well! Too much of the LCAF’s strength had been committed to HAMMERFALL, or to cover for those commitments, pulled far out of position to defend against the Falcons and Hell’s Horses; even with that, though, if the HPGs still worked a coordinated defence might have been possible. Instead, by the time word reached him of a world under assault, it was too late.

Be honest. What’s really bothering you is that you don’t know what’s happened to Evan, or Callandre. Martin sighed, looking to the one personal touch he’d added to his desk here in Defence Command. It was a holograph, nearly thirty years old with a frame worn and battered by time and abuse; showing a much younger Martin and Evan Kell - he in the uniform of the LCAF Quartermaster Corps; and Evan in Kell Hounds battledress with a Major’s chevrons on his sleeve - then-seven-year-old Callandre Kell, a study in a child’s sullen resentment of posing for formal portraiture; and, frozen in time barely a month before she died, Alicia Kell (née Bradford), small, compact and dark in her naval aviator’s uniform, next to his and Evan’s broad, pale height.

That wound was still raw even now, decades later. Maybe it wouldn’t have been if she’d died in battle, instead of in a stupid crash that wasn’t anyone’s fault. At least, I’d have - and Callandre would’ve - had someone to blame then, Martin thought, sadly. Might’ve kept us on speaking terms. He’d not managed being much of a father to Callandre since Alicia’s death; had let himself forget that just as he’d lost his wife, Callandre had lost her mother. Maybe if I’d remembered that, she wouldn’t be such a hell-raiser; then again, maybe not. Maybe she would’ve turned out that way regardless; certainly, he’d hoped that her friendship with Julian Davion at the Nagelring might cause some of his sober steadiness to rub off on Callandre, and that had certainly ended badly. Despite himself, Martin chuckled, his bleak mood abating at the memory of the furious late-night call from the Nagelring’s commandant, after Callandre’s masterpiece of redecoration in the Archonal throne room, demanding to know if she’d “Been raised by the bloody Wolf Elemental sibkos or something?!”. That had taken a lot of work to smooth over; work, money, and shameless favour-invoking from the Old Boys’ Network, but Evan had laughed himself silly when he’d heard, and as angry as he’d been at the time, Martin could see the funny side now.

Feeling better, he went back to his work,and was part way through another complaint from Old Connaught’s Chamber of Commerce about loss of earnings thanks to the local aerospace defence fliers buzzing the city again (a quick note scribbled on a post-it reminded him: Get with Kmdre. von Hammer and sort this out) when his vidphone activated, with the triple-tone of a priority message from the main plotting room.

“Your Grace, this is Leutnant-Kapitan Donnellan, Duty Plotting Officer,” the dusky-skinned young woman onscreen introduced herself. “We have a jump precursor at the Thorwatch L1 point. There’s nothing scheduled, and Kommodore von Hammer requests your presence.”

Martin was about to ask why the Leutnant-Kapitan was telling him this, rather than Khan Fetladral or Major Brahe when his exhaustion-addled mind reminded him that they’d taken the Golden Keshik, First Wolf Legion and the Second Battalion of the Second Kell Hounds into the hills above Old Connaught for exercises, and weren’t available in person.

“Understood. I’ll be down there ASAP,” Martin responded finally, standing and reaching for his jacket.

Arriving at Defence Command’s war room, his escorting squad of battlesuited infantry - half the new Cuchulain suits and the other pair Davion-built Infiltrator Mk. IIs, the best of the Hounds’ armoured infantry gear, at Evan’s insistence; with the Jade Falcons’ propensity for headhunter strikes, chances weren’t being taken on that, and there was no point arguing. The Hounds’ close protection specialists would obey any order except one that put him in danger - peeling off to join the squad of Grenadier suits and Point of fully armoured Wolf Elementals on guard duty, Martin took a moment to examine the room. Most of it was as normal, with dozens of officers and NCOs - in Kell Hounds, LCAF and Wolf-in-Exile uniforms - working at consoles, moving around, studying noteputers, readouts and clipboards, and generally conducting themselves with that self-important feeling of Busy that he knew from dozens of HQ sections - and from sessions of Arc-Royal’s civil government, at that. It was the kind of thing that just happened whether decisions were made, and power was concentrated.

The main difference from normal was the main holotank. Rather than displaying a full map of the Arc-Royal Theatre, it showed Arc-Royal alone. Painted in translucent, pale blue light structures, the whole of cislunar space was suspended above their heads, threaded through with dozens of lightcode icons; every DropShuttle, fighter, Jumpship and DropShip within the orbital sphere of Arc-Royal’s twin moons. Martin couldn’t interpret it himself, of course, not in any kind of detail - that took years of training and experience - but he could grasp well enough what the dull grey unconfirmed code hanging between Arc-Royal and Thorwatch was.

“Your Grace,” Kommodore Kurt von Hammer.nodded in greeting. Tall and well-built, von Hammer wore pilot’s wings at his collar, and somehow - despite being five hours into an eight-hour shift - his khaki day uniform was immaculate. He was still a first-rate flier, too, even though he was well past Martin’s own age. “We have a JumpShip arrival at the Thorwatch L1 point. Invader-class, with two DropShips inboard; just the one, so unlikely to be an invasion, but she could be a raider. Transponder claims she’s the High Ecliptic, but -”

“Transponders can be faked,” Martin nodded.

“Just so.” Von Hammer pointed at a pair of dark blue icons. “We have a fighter section closing for an up-close check now.” He gestured to a chair in front of one of the repeater displays. “If you’d care to observe.”

Taking up a headset, Martin listened in to the lead pilot’s voice.

Cloudtop, this is Red Sting Three, going in for sweep,” the young pilot’s voice came in loud and clear, as the icon representing their Morgenstern swept in towards the unidentified contact. “Red Sting Four breaking high to cover.”

The channel was quiet for a few moments, and then; “Red Sting Three to Cloudtop; it’s the High Ecliptic alright. I can see the dent on her bow where a tug nudged her back in thirty-eight. Even recognise the DropShips; Iron Fang and High Vengeance. They’re ours, no question.” Everyone in Defence Command relaxed visibly. “I - wait one. Got a comms request from them; relaying to you.

“”Get me a link to Khan Fetladral, and route the message to this console,” Martin ordered, adjusting the headset and screen; and wishing he’d kept in better touch with how they worked as it took longer than he’d hoped.

The screen shimmered and reformed, the orbital plots vanishing to be replaced by a split feed; the High Ecliptic’s bridge sphere, and Patrik Fetladral’s field HQ. The Khan of the Wolves loomed large, courtesy of the genetic engineering that produced the armored infantry warriors of the Clans, amplified by the troglodytic, blue-grey immensity of his powered battle armour.. The bridge displayed a pale man, red-haired with a scattering of freckles, hanging in the middle of the null-gravity space. Martin searched the man's sky blue eyes for a sign of what he'd come to report. His arrival had to be a portent of what happened at Timkovichi, given the last news packet from Evan. For it to be this fast… my brother is dead. Martin felt his heart sink, before he forced the spasm of grief aside. Time for that later. Evan, his command, they all had to be lost, probably to some damned murderous scheme of that blood mad bitch Hazen - he was already drafting, in his mind, the message to Callandre, asking her to convince Julian Davion, or his cousin, to commit forces to stopping Hazen ...

"Your Grace, Khan Fetladral, Captain Greg Hardy of the High Ecliptic. I've got news from Timkovichi that I think you’re gonna have a hard time buying."

Something about the man's voice made Martin dare to hope. Hardy didn't sound like a man bearing news of death and defeat. "There are a great many things I will accept if it means we are triumphant, Captain Hardy."

"Well, I can tell you that much. We did take a beating - got casualty lists ready to download to you - but the Hounds won. Malvina and her allies’ve been smashed flat, and they've got her in custody."

Martin's heart threatened to leap from his chest. "What? How?!"

"That's the part that’s probably gonna have you sending for the psychs, Your Grace…"

Martin and Patrik Fetladral listened to the summarized report by Hardy. After the three minute explanation, Martin had to admit Hardy was right: He didn't believe it.

That was when the linkage finished uploading the battleROM footage.

The image of the Jade Falcon cruiser breaking apart and tumbling into Timkovichi's atmosphere in semi-molten ruin hung over the holotank yet again. Khan Patrik stood at Martin's side now, having rushed in from the field exercises for this strange occasion. "Bloodnames of the Founders, I almost cannot believe it."

It wasn't just the sight of the Red Talon's death, just moments before it could slaughter Evan and the Hounds, and with them, the Commonwealth’s hope. It was the other part of the image. The WarShips delivering that killing barrage, one the size of a McKenna or the like, represented the greatest concentration of naval power Martin had ever seen; hell, it was the largest fleet anyone had seen since the Coalition’s final assault on Terra, seventy years ago.. Three cruisers. Half a dozen frigates and destroyers. And all those DropShips and fighters… and that thing, which looks like it could run over the Yggdrasil and barely notice.

Plus the… "effect", or whatever it was.

At his nod his officer shifted the holorecording of Timkovichi orbit. The ghostly blue light of an active jump, usually a brief chain of firefly-like flickers when a JumpShip's field reached peak strength, persisted as if it was frozen in time, lighting up the hulls of what looked like standard transport JumpShips and an assortment of DropShips, their white and gold-winged hawks and rings with three outward arrows visible in some of the angles.

Arcadians. Evan's report named them. The Arcadians of the Royal Federation, governed by a High King named Nathanial Proctor, and their capital a world that Martin only knew as a border world in the Dar-es-Salaam Theater, hardly important enough to ever become the center of the empire implied by the force that saved the Kell Hounds.

"Another Inner Sphere," he breathed. "I don't believe it, but I see it with my eyes. Can your scientists give us an explanation?"

"I will speak with Scientist-General Gunther at the first opportunity," Patrik rumbled. “I know there are theories, but this matches nothing I know of.” He shrugged, a gesture that, with his broad-shouldered immensity, always reminded Martin of mountains rising and falling. “To some extent, the ‘how’ is not truly relevant; these ‘Arcadians’ are here, and we must focus on what that means.”

"Well, they can clearly be added to the list of people Malvina's tactics’ve won over," Martin commented with carefully studied sarcasm. He brought back up the footage that would set the entire Lyran Commonwealth into rapturous celebration once it made its way through the JumpShip mail network. An ancient Awesome in militia colors and a sky-colored 'Mech that broadly resembled a Black Knight, but with a crown-like shape to the head and the melted ruins of an orange-winged hawk insignia on its chest, pumped PPC and laser fire into a Shrike 'Mech marked with the Black Rose. Malvina Hazen's personal 'Mech had its leg sawn clear through and fell forward, right into the PPC of the battered Awesome. The cockpit was blown in by the PPC blast, and if it’d just been a few degrees lower, there'd have - just barely - been enough left of the "Chingghis Khan" to bury in a shoebox.

Malvina alive, and a prisoner. That's going to be trouble. Lord knew there were reasons enough to just shoot her, but the idea of sinking to Malvina’s own level like that bothered Martin, even if she deserves it. At the same time, we can’t put her on trial - there wasn’t a judge or jury in the Commonwealth where that wouldn’t be a case of, “March the guilty bitch in, Sergeant-major”, and that wasn’t any better than a lynch mob; well, maybe between them him and Evan could put together a court-martial board that would at least try to be impartial, but that’d be military justice, which was to the real thing what military bands were to music. Christ, it’s tempting to just tell the Arcadians to keep her, and let them handle this political clusterfuck. Not an option, of course, but tempting as hell.

“Right.” Martin cudgelled his mind to focus on what needed doing. “Last I heard, Lady Trillian was on her way here via Coventry, which means we’ve got some time to get a coherent set of briefing notes put together, and some idea of what the hell we’re gonna do now.” He sighed. “We’re gonna need some coffee; this is going to be another all-nighter, I think.”

The officers and non-coms in Defence Command, who’d been contriving reasons to hang around in eavesdropping range, scattered to their stations. There was something new, a fresh infusion of energy driving them, but it took Martin a few moments to realise just what it was.

Hope. For the first time in years, there was hope, that with their new allies, the Commonwealth might actually win.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by LadyTevar »

Very well done

I look forward to seeing where it goes.
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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Eternal_Freedom »

Very interesting so far, and excellently-written as usual. This is part of the BT setting I have no knowledge of so I'm kinda playing catch-up, but that's not proving an impediment to enjoying it.

And this does give me some motivation to continue my story, or at least the Bt-themed side-story. Somewhere in the multiverse, Adm. Jellicoe looks at the reports from this universe and mutters "nah, Steve's got this one."
Baltar: "I don't want to miss a moment of the last Battlestar's destruction!"
Centurion: "Sir, I really think you should look at the other Battlestar."
Baltar: "What are you babbling about other...it's impossible!"
Centurion: "No. It is a Battlestar."

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.
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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

8 - Broken

AFS Arcadia
Orbit, Timkovichi
Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
24 August 3142

Commander Albright stepped into the wardroom on the ship's third gravdeck with a noteputer in his hand and his freshest duty uniform. He doubted the latter would make an impression, but his studies so far implied it might at least make an impression on his most troubling patient ever.

The girl's name, apparently, was Cynthy, although whether that was her birth name or an appellation given to her by her former master, he was uncertain of. She was wearing a generic crewwoman's jumpsuit in place of anything else. As always her gaze unsettled him. Such a young face shouldn't have it, something of a cross between a predator's hunting look and someone who had already experienced too much pain. "You. The talker."

"Yeah." He took the seat at the table left for them. Unlike him, she was not free to move, handcuffs holding her to her own chair due to her frequent aggressive outbursts. Remember, she responds well to aggressiveness. She's not a normal patient. But I can't let that go too far. "At some point I figure you're going to have to talk."

"There's no point. The Khan will kill you. Maybe me, for surrendering."

Not for the first time Albright wondered if it was time to show her the "Great Khan" she spoke of. Whatever Malvina Hazen was before, she was now a broken, comatose figure in the Arcadia's infirmary. Seeing her stripped of all power might just be what broke her hold over Cynthy… or it might cause its own psychiatric damage. He couldn't be sure.

"Well, until she does, why not humor me?"

Albright was rewarded with a moment of silent contemplation. "There's nothing to speak about. I am isorla. Won by the Khan's victory, my life belongs to her."

"You're a human being, Cynthy, not a piece of property."

"I am isorla," she snarled, her arms straining against the handcuffs. "And the Chingghis Khan will kill you for taking me! I just hope she lets me watch before she punishes me too!"

Albright said nothing, jotting notes down and waiting to see if she'd say anything else. When she didn't, he sighed and stood. "I didn't want to do this," he said. "But there's one thing I need to show you." With no reply from her, he want to the door and the guards beyond. "Take her with us."

The infirmary was outside the gravdeck, since that was safer for the patients and easier on the equipment than having to constantly switch between gravity by rotation and gravity by thrust. The guards kept the girl moving with no sign of trouble. Indeed, Cynthy made no remarks on their way, merely a distant stare and occasional twitch of her mouth into a half-crazed grin, as if she were imagining something amusing. Given her mental state, Albright wasn't sure he'd ever want to know what was going on in her head. Given her violent outbursts, it wouldn't be pleasant. God above, what did these people do to that girl?

After going up one tube and down another hall with the practice born of years on ship duty, Albright arrived at the infirmary hatch. Inside most of the patients were from the Clan DropShips that were destroyed in their original fight, plus some wounded fighter pilots from both sides. Very few of the casualties were from the ground fighting. Every one of them was secured to their beds by straps, with machines gently trilling as they read EKG, EEG, and other life signs. He glanced back to see Cynthy was glowering at some of the occupants. "Cowards. They should have invoked bondsref."

More of these strange customs. Is this what these 'Clans' turn people into? Bloodthirsty murderers? He said nothing regardless, bringing her to the critical care area, and the main occupant.

Malvina Hazen was not a pretty sight. She'd suffered one of the more gruesome fates a MechWarrior could have while still possibly living through it, with her shattered cockpit maiming her body. No limbs were left intact on her, and an eye seemed to be missing as well.

Albright turned to see Cynthy's reaction. Her eyes searched carefully, as if trying to find the one sign that would reveal this was all a fake. After several seconds she shook her head. "No. This… no! She is the Chingghis Khan, she can't be beaten!"

"She was." Albright said the words gently, watching the horror on Cynthy's face and starting to feel like he'd just made a terrible mistake. But she needed this, to shock her out of this worship.

"But she… she cannot lose. She never loses. She destroys the people who fight her." The girl's voice was barely a squeak. The look on her face made her disbelief plain. Reality was no longer working as it should be. Everything was going wrong, like if gravity stopped working or two plus two suddenly equaled fifty. When she wasn't given an answer, she screamed, "The Khan cannot lose dammit!"

"She did. You're not her… 'isorla' anymore, Cynthy, and we'll do everything we can to make sure you're cared for. Maybe even find if we can get your parents back."

"They're dead. Gone." For the first time Cynthy used a contraction without flinching. The shocked look wasn't fading. "She… she is… was… all I have."

Albright swallowed. God, what have I done? I just wanted to break her from dependency, but I might've just broken her completely.

Tears flowed down the girl's face. Her eyes kept pulling over toward the broken form of Malvina Hazen, as if to remind herself it was true, that Malvina was there, and was an utter wreck of a being. "You were supposed to conquer," she muttered at the unconscious form. "I was going to watch you conquer and become ilKhan! You promised!" She turned away from Malvina, as if the sight couldn't be borne anymore.

Maybe she can still heal. If this breaks her association with these Clans enough, she can become a normal young woman. She…

Albright noticed the intensity in Cynthy's eyes too late. She swung back to Malvina, moving with surprising agility through the zero-G environment, and her mouth lunged for the breathing tube (given her hands were cuffed behind her back). Her momentum carried her though the empty air above Malvina, and with it came the tube, drawing it out in a cloud of wet droplets.

The guards, trained in zero-G themselves, pushed off after her and got her in mid-air, but it was too late. The tube was already pulled. An electronic tone sounded as the respirator recognized it was no longer connected to its patient. Nurses floated over, using the rails on other beds to guide themselves, but when they got their hands on the tube Cynthy wouldn't let go, keeping her jaw firmly set to hold it in place.

Albright watched in disbelief, and more than a little guilt, while Cynthy fought and writhed, resisting the guards and nurses trying to bring the respirator loose. His eyes wandered down to the patient, to see if she was dying yet from the loss.

Her eye opened.

The darkness ended for Malvina Hazen.

At first there was just the vague sense of existing. Pain came next, dull pain, familiar. But there was the unfamiliar. The stings, all over her face and neck and arms… no, not her arms. Her arms felt… nothing. Her legs nothing. No pain, no ache, no anything. Just a nothingness.

Her chest burned. The fire filled her lungs and for a moment she thought they would stop, but they kept working, forcing the breath in and out, in and out.

Her open eye burned too. Burned from the light, so sudden and bright. The other eye… nothing. Like it wasn't there.

Her mind searched for answers. Battle. Yes. She and Black Rose, triumphant over the Mad Cat with the strange orange bird on it, and more 'Mechs with that same bird, and the white bird with gold-fringed wings. The warning sirens as fire tore her 'Mech to shreds. But what else had happened?

The light. And then darkness.

Yet she was alive. As her mind processed that fact, other memories came to be, and with them, a certain realization of what this meant.

A shriek drew her attention and forced her to finally pay attention to her surroundings. To one side was a man, wearing a red uniform that included the white hawk she'd seen on those landing ships. Above her, hoving in zero-G, was Cynthy, a plastic tube lodged firmly in her mouth while two men and a couple figures in white with red trim wrestled to pull it out. Their rotation brought to view Cynthy's back, where her wrists were cuffed together.

I am a prisoner. The thought crackled like lightning through Malvina's brain. The world cracked around it as if reality itself would fall apart. She, the great Chinggis Khan… a prisoner.

The Lyrans would not spare me. They would kill me. For Apostica, for everything else. Who are these hawk people?

She tried to raise a hand, but the nothingness sensation remained. No muscle reported movement to her brain. There was a void where it should be. She willed her left hand to come up into her vision, but nothing moved that time either. Her legs would not answer commands.

"Commander, one side!" MedTechs — they were the ones in white — flew into view. Hands reached for her and she heard voices making notes. "She's stable. Looks like the respirator's not necessary now."

"Who?" The word came out of her mouth with little energy behind it. Indeed, they barely seemed to hear it. "Who are you?" she managed, forcing her throat to speak.

Above there was a shriek, with Cynthy's mouth finally emptied of the tube. The guards had her under control.

"Who are you?" Malvina repeated. Not much energy in those words either, but more force behind them. She needed to know why. Why her victory was snatched away, why her world was disintegrating every second she remained awake.

The man in the red uniform cleared his throat. "I'm Lieutenant Commander John Albright, Royal Navy. Khan Malvina Hazen, you are aboard the Arcadian Federation Ship Arcadia, flagship of the 1st Battle Fleet of the Royal Federation, and are being held by request of the Lyran Commonwealth on charges of major crimes against Humanity."

"There is no… Royal Federation."

"Not in your Inner Sphere, no. We come from another, misjumped, and arrived here."

It was such a mad thing to say. Not her Inner Sphere? What other Inner Sphere could there be? But the truth was plain. It was obvious. Yes… they were not from her Inner Sphere. They were from Somewhere Else, tossed across the tides of reality to herald her defeat.

For all that her voice had been a hoarse whisper before, the laugh that erupted from her throat was surprisingly loud, drawing the attention of everyone in the infirmary. Fate exists. It took Fate to defeat me! she thought as the realization rippled through her. I could be stopped by nothing less! I would have been ilKhan! The laugh was joined by another, until it all just came out, agonizing laughter that felt like it would suffocate her, but she couldn't stop, she couldn't, because reality had gone wrong simply to spite her and what else could a warrior do but laugh at such a thing? To have been so great that nothing else could stop them?

And yet… yet she had been stopped… "I cannot feel my limbs," she said, the laughter subsiding.

"Because they're gone. You were maimed by a cockpit collapse. You're a quadriplegic now."

Of course. Because even these strangers from beyond could not defeat me otherwise. The titters came, and with it the laughter, laughter so hard she really was suffocating herself, and yet the weeping joined it, deep sobs she'd never otherwise let herself fall into, not even when Alexei died, no, only now as her world crashed around her and everything was ruined. Her enemies in the Clan, so terrified of her they would never challenge her directly, would now make their moves, and she could not stop them. They would keep her conquests, oh yes, but she would be Abjured, her name treated like mud, her genes tossed aside, maybe even her entire Bloodheritage Reaved, and all because reality decided to spite her!

The laughter and crying choked, and it burned, and she loved it, and she just wanted it to end.

"Kill me," she managed between the sobs and laughter.


"I invoke bondsref! Kill me! Kill me!" That was all she managed before the laughter and crying took her over again.

Albright didn't move, but he did shake his head. He would not kill her.

"Kill me, Cynthy! My last command! Kill me!"

But there was no sign of her bondswoman. Just the "drip drip drip" of an IV nearby. Through the laughter and sobbing she felt a numbness claim her. They were sedating her.

Denied even death. What have I left?

Slowly, quietly, she pitched back into the darkness, and welcomed it as she'd once welcomed Alexei into her arms.

Albright watched Khan Hazen drift off into a sedated slumber. Beside him, one of the naval corpsmen pulled out the syringe of sedative from the IV auxiliary tube. "Doctor's orders," he said to Albright.

"Right." Albright sighed and turned away. He made practiced little jumps and used the handholds to leave the ward. The two MPs held Cynthy between them. The adolescent girl was crying as hard as Hazen had been. "You're free of her."

Cynthy didn't respond.

Dear God I think I screwed up, he thought. I screwed up big time. "It's going to take time to adjust, but you can have a life," he continued. "You can find yourself."

And yet again, there was no response, merely more weeping.

Seeing that there was no point in continuing on, Albright motioned to the door. "Return her to the cell. Make sure her meal's especially appetizing."

"A waste of good food, she usually just throws it all around," one of them said.

"Maybe she won't this time. But it's important. We've broken the hold that woman had on her. Now we need to get her on the path to healing."

There was a skeptical glance from the guards that mirrored his own fears. They took her away without another word.

Albright departed himself, for his nearby office, and the report he was going to be filing with Medical. They'd probably not be any happier than he already was with himself.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

Eternal_Freedom wrote: 2022-04-10 08:12am Very interesting so far, and excellently-written as usual. This is part of the BT setting I have no knowledge of so I'm kinda playing catch-up, but that's not proving an impediment to enjoying it.

And this does give me some motivation to continue my story, or at least the Bt-themed side-story. Somewhere in the multiverse, Adm. Jellicoe looks at the reports from this universe and mutters "nah, Steve's got this one."
Heh. I'm not big on Dark Age either, so Orsai helping me out really works for getting a lot of the characters (as well as input from other SB.com BTechers, mostly in conversations on the Discord server).

The main copy's up to Chapter 36, but I didn't want to deluge everyone with 170,000 words of story, so I'll do 1-2 chapters a day until it's caught up.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

9 - Strategic Considerations

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
28 August 3142

There was a certain tension in the Privy Council Chambers when Peter Proctor-Steiner arrived. Unlike normal days, when it was just the Privy Council itself in what was essentially his political domain, the gathering was an assortment of figures. Not only in terms of those seated, but those showing on the monitors, their images projected up to hundreds of light years away. He recognized Konigin Gerda Bradford, the Duchess of Coventry and currently elected ruler of Ghastillia, on one screen; a middle-aged woman of fine features that hid a capable political schemer behind a genial expression that reminded him of a holovid show ideal of a middle-aged grandmother. Another had the broad-shouldered and bearded visage of Archduke Ethan Kell, ruler of the Arc-Royal Federal March, Arc-Royal itself, and the current Commander-in-Chief of the Kell Hounds, wearing the half-cape uniform of that unit. Peter's elder niece, Princess Melissa Proctor-Steiner, had a darker skin tone, as the Brewer heritage favored her more than it had the others of either generation of Ethan and Mathilda's progeny. She was currently serving as the Governor-General of the Royal March of Skye, and as the second of Jacqueline's children, held title as Heiress-Presumptive of the Royal Federation. Archduke Kenneth Marik likewise broadcasted from Atreus, as did Prince Roman Brewer-Steiner from Hesperus, Grand Princess Amira Umayr from Bolan, and the Governor-General of Tharkad and Donegal and the Archdukes of Arcturus, Alexandria, New Earth, Stewart, and Tamarind.

All of our border march rulers and the Princes, except those on the Ghastillian frontier. It is a reasonable political move, nephew, but dear Lord this could go wrong.

There was one other image coming in, showing the general officers of the force that made the fateful misjump. Admirals Marik and Kruger with Generals Bridger and von Istenburg, all visible on one of the screens. So they got Arcadia's HPG fixed too. We were hoping for that.

Hyper-Pulse Generators. For centuries, they'd turned communications in the Inner Sphere into something more than packets on JumpShips or the rather less-capable "fax machine" devices. Made the domain of ComStar when the Star League and the Great Houses fell, now the technology was understood by every Successor State. ComStar, reduced to the oversight body for Terra proper, still spearheaded research into refinements, and in some realms still operated HPGs under operating agreements with local governments, but they were a shadow of the power they'd wielded during the Succession Wars under the aegis of the all-powerful Terran Union. If not, this would be breaking the bank, Peter thought. As it is, we're spending millions of pounds every second to have this many real-time connections ongoing across so many HPGs in the network. From what he'd heard, the Inner Sphere on the other side of the Atocongo Anomaly was no longer able to use HPGs, that something had happened there that made HPGs stop working. Even those on their WarShips that performed the fateful misjump overloaded or otherwise shut down on the other end. That Arcadia was broadcasting over HPG meant that repairs worked and that they'd finished the resetting of their computer systems to ensure no hostile code of any kind had entered their system during their stay on the far side.

Grand Admiral Stewart represented the AFRF Command Staff, and the Speaker of the Federal Assembly, Dikembe Soto of Uhuru, sat beside his opposite from the Federation Senate, Dame Tessa Stuart of Caledonia. Peter recognized that alongside his grand-nephew Nathaniel were his Royal Secretary, Sophia Marik.

Peter took a seat between Nathaniel and the legislative leaders. It was properly symbolic, given his political role as Lord of the Privy Council. It was also, of course, the only available seat left.

Nor was he the last to arrive. A bald-headed, dark-skinned man showed at the door, flanked by two power-armored Household Guards. He wore a double-breasted jacket of pale blue with a white vest underneath with matching pants. From his neck hung a Starburst of the Order of St. Michael, Knight's Grade. Peter recognized him as easily as anyone else: Doctor-Professor Sir Kenneth Whateley of the Royal University, one of the Inner Sphere's leading experts on hyperspace, HPGs, and K-F Drives.

"Doctor." Nathaniel rose. "Thank you kindly for attending on such short notice."

"It is quite alright, Majesty." He spoke with an Anglo-Arcadian accent, with a Plymouth Peninsula denizen's vigorous tones. "Your Graces, Your HIghnesses." He bowed respectfully, fully aware of courtly protocol.

"If we might get to business?" Princess Melissa's voice was not frigid, but on the cool side. Undoubtedly she had her own pressing business dealing with the recent restiveness in Skye, and attending a massive interstellar conference was taking her away from that. "We are hearing a lot of rumors of this 'misjump', but as Admiral Marik and his command are clearly with us, hopefully we might have something to calm nerves."

"Admiral, if you will please?"

Peter had already read Lord Paul's report, so he imagined some frustration that the man now had to share that yet again, and verbally, but he did so with concision and brevity. The strange misjump, the engagement at the other Timkovichi, his decision to deploy the training units to fight these "Clans"... and the existence of the other Kell Hounds, other Kells, and an intact Lyran Commonwealth on the other end.

Peter wasn't sure he liked the reaction to that from some of the others, specifically, the Lyran March leaders. Ethan Kell was obviously read-in already and showed little emotion to the revelations being presented. But the others… we still have those who dream of House Proctor becoming another branch of House Steiner, and a rebirth of the Commonwealth. Ghastillia and Sudeten continuing to exist, and retaining their independence, puts a damper on it, but only some, given how many worlds of the old Lyran Commonwealth we control.

Prince Roman spoke up first. "Did these 'Clans' have any JumpShips that might carry word back to their brethren?"

"Going by Colonel Kell's people and our own scans of the system, there were Clan JumpShips up at the zenith point that jumped out shortly after we destroyed the Red Talon," Lord Paul replied. "So it is quite likely word is spreading."

"Then the question is if there is a threat of an incursion." That came from Konigin Greta. Her concern was obvious, although Peter wondered if she'd have a greater agenda. She'd been shrewd in negotiations whenever Peter had to deal with her, always pressing Ghastillian interests. "How much do we know of their forces?"

"Colonel Kell's been providing us with intel from his side. We know there are multiple 'Galaxies', as the Clans call them, brigades or over-sized regiments by our standards, operating in the area. They are organizations of two to five 'Clusters', each one typically being something like a battalion of 'Mechs or armored vehicles with a company of battle armor infantry and a wing of aerospace fighters, with, I must stress, significant variance in practice. But even the captured prisoners can't say much about their plans. We just blew up the Falcons and Horses' plans by capturing the Falcon Khan and taking out a major Horse unit, not to mention one of their few WarShips."

"Uncertainty is the issue, then? A naval guard should be posted over Atacongo." The Ghastillian ruler clearly meant that for Admiral Kruger. "We will dispatch a patrol squadron, then, and hope the Communists do not misconstrue our intentions."

"I've spoken with Ambassador Wotjak, they're already stating readiness to accept heightened activity without seeing it as provocative." This came from Lady Jessup. "Although they've made it rather clear they expect the 1st Battle Fleet to withdraw in a timely fashion."

"I'm sure they did." Admiral Stewart spoke the words with some heat. "We can't simply ignore the potential for an incursion, and I admit, I am inclined to say we should see about defenses on the farside of the… anomaly."

"Given how the war's going for them, I doubt the Lyrans will mind much, for now," said Bridger. "If we agreed to post a 'Mech regiment to the defense of Timkovichi, with supporting aerospace assets, it'd do a lot to ease their own situation, especially since Timkovichi's militia nearly got wiped out by the Falcons. They won't be in any shape to hold the planet for months."

"Well, that settles it, doesn't it? I can speak with the Planning Staff and get units up that way—"

"You assume we have the forces." Archduke Horace Fhyne of Arcturus interrupted the Grand Admiral with clear impatience. "The Combine may raid our worlds at any time, looking for 'renegades' or whatever they want to call it. I was promised reinforcements!"

Before Stewart could reply, Nathaniel spoke up. "They are coming, Your Grace. The 1st Free March Cavalry Brigade and the 4th Dar-es-Salaam Cavalry are already burning for their JumpShips, they'll be there before October."

Fhyne's broad face did not show any sign of pleasure. "Two brigades?! Only two?!"

"You already have the 1st Arcturan Guards, and the 4th Donegal Guards, on station," Stewart reminded him.

"The first unit is still untried, and the 4th are ill-led! I think we deserve greater consideration! The entire Skye Ranger corps is on the border below us, why can't we get similar defense?"

"The Combine's only got four 'Mech regiments in the entire Vega Prefecture, and Ballymond is tied down with the revolt on New Wessex still smoldering, and with Rasalhague's forces at Buckminster the Dracs can't afford to throw anything at us," Princess Melissa replied on Stewart's behalf. "We need the Skye Rangers in Skye and New Earth Marches to protect from the Azami, Tikonov, and the Cappies."

"You already have the Brewers' forces backing you!"

"No, she has my forces protecting Defiance Industries facilities," remarked Prince Roman, smiling thinly. "And while they will continue to do so, they are not available for the AFRF to send to wherever they please."

"And we are to be left dangling, Your Majesty? Ballymont sent for the 5th Sword of Light. Why would he do this if he isn't planning retaliations for our shelter of Musashi Honda and the Galedon guerillas? You remember what they did on Freedom!"

Notwithstanding memories of the Combine attack on their world three years past,, Lord Peter could think of several reasons why the 5th Sword of Light was sent, including the Combine wanting to rattle sabers, or deciding to make an example of New Wessex, as bloodcurdling as that sounded. It might also be to replace units desperately needed in the Outworlds, where the Concert was at its weakest with the Lexington Combat Group almost monthly testing Combine defenses.

Before he could raise any of those points, Nathaniel spoke up. "Your Grace, I understand your concern. But surely you must understand that for me to send more regiments to your March would be provocative in of itself, it might even lead Ballymont to panic, assume we are going to intervene on New Wessex, and attack. The two units we're sending will firm your defenses without causing such alarm. But, if you wish reassurance, I will have Mercenary Operations send one of our mercenary forces to Arcturus. Hamilton's Land-Air Brigade would provide for a strong defensive presence without appearing to herald offensive attacks. That is the best I can do."

There was a brief silence from Fyhne. It ended with a nod. "I find that commitment acceptable, Majesty. Thank you for your consideration."

It was a lie, and everyone in the room knew it was. Peter knew, or at least hope, his nephew recognized it too. If he did or not, Nathaniel accepted the statement with a nod. "I wish to have Professor Whateley weigh in on the Atocongo Portal," he said. "But we should arrange troops deployments first. I am inclined to send a defensive force to Timkovichi on the other side. I am aware that the AFRF can only spare so many units, but this is important. The dispatch of the light cruiser Epaminondas and its flotilla should provide for a suitable naval defense, and to aid the people of Timkovichi, I would ask for Duke Ethan's agreement to keep one regiment of Kell Hounds on the far side."

"I concur," Ethan said.

"As further guarantee, the 2nd Royal Cuirassiers are among our few reserves remaining, yes Admiral?"

"Aye." Stewart clearly didn't look pleased, but he didn't contradict the High King. His eyes met Peter's, as if to seek Peter's help, but there was none. Good, nephew. A heavy unit, with a Regimental Combat Team of support. That should be an equal to at least one of these Clan 'Galaxy' units.

"We will also shift the 1st Royal Lancers to Arc-Royal, to join the 2nd Kell Hounds as reserves, and adjust forces in-theater as needed. Are there any questions?"

"What about the Household Guards Corps, or the Arcadian Guards, Majesty?" asked Ethan Kell. "A number of them were shifted toward Atreus, but we should consider the need to pull them back. In case we have reason to strongly reinforce the portal."

"That will also be discussed with the Command Staff, and I'll have a decision soon," Nathaniel promised. "Now, if there's nothing else, I'd like to let the Doctor-Professor speak on the portal." When no one raised an objection, he nodded to Whateley. "The floor is yours."

"Thank you, Majesty." Whateley cleared his throat. "My Lords and Ladies, at His Majesty's request I have gone over the available data we have so far. It is, yes, strikingly unique, unknown in our whole history, and has already provided scientific insight into the nature of hyperspace and how it interacts with reality itself. It has also proven, rather directly, the truth behind certain theories on space-time and what we call the 'many worlds' theory. Indeed, it would seem hyperspace may link such worlds together, a common medium of sorts."

Peter forced down the sigh he felt forming. My boy, you are ever the scientist, but you are losing your audience by having this presentation, he thought to himself. While Nathaniel was clearly interested, and indeed some of the others present showed some interest as well, well over half the faces in the room were shades of barely-hidden disinterest and frustration. They hadn't come here to burn precious moment sof their time, and millions of pounds or marks, for the privilege of hearing a lecture fit for a science symposium.

Undoubtedly Professor Whateley was used to such disinterest, as he moved on without missing a beat. "I will cease the scientific side here, of course, as I understand that is not the issue at hand. The important thing is, I believe this can occur again, and I believe I know how to prevent it."

Peter allowed himself a smile. Well, good show. That's what they want to hear.

"Can you have learned enough to make such a promise?" asked Princess Melissa.

"I believe so, Highness. It involved some research into transit logs, aided by my research teams diverted to the task, and access granted by His Majesty."

Grand Admiral Stewart, and a couple others, cast annoyed glances at Nathaniel, but said nothing. "And what did you determine?" Peter asked.

"Given the testimonies offered by Admiral Marik and the others affected," he began, casting a brief glance and nod at the image depicting the four commanders still at Atocongo, "I believe it was the rare occasion of such a large number of ships of such varying masses jumping simultaneously."

"You mean to say, our fleet-wide jump into our Timkovichi caused this?" Admiral Kruger asked.

"Yes, Admiral. The records I was shown indicate that such jumps are not common. They tend to be in sequence, yes?"

"This is so," Kruger agreed, with Marik and Stewart nodding.

"Exactly. Going by the records given to me by His Majesty, there has been no such regular mass jumps since the War, and the last jump of that magnitude was in 3130 during what I take was a set of wargames or some such. I find that date interesting because of the other material provided, specifically your reports on this… other Inner Sphere, on the opposite end of the Looking Glass, so to speak."

Peter noted understanding dawn on Admiral Marik's face. "It was before the HPG Blackout that afflicts the other side, you mean?"

"Yes." Whateley nodded. "That was my thought exactly. The nature of that blackout is a strange one, I grant, and we may never grasp the mechanics of it, indeed there is much we still don't know and may never know about hyperspace given we cannot effectively measure anything in it. But it stands to reason that the Blackout, as they call it, could have influenced this event."

"There have been other fleet movements of great size since 3132, however," Stewart said. "The Combine's Alpheratz Campaign in 3137 involved a large fleet and army unit, bigger than the one that jumped into Timkovichi, and the reports we received indicate they did one mass jump. Why didn't they misjump like this?"

"I need more data. It could be the fleet composition did not have the right balance of large ships versus smaller ones. Maybe their formation was further spread out? We are dealing with an entirely new phenomena, Admiral, and we just don't have the data to provide firm answers. What we do know is that a force of that specific size and that makeup broke some sort of hyperspatial barrier when it jumped, creating a gap in the form of a persistent K-F field that bridges two different iterations of our universe. With otherwise similar physical laws, at least." Whateley folded his hands together. "All I can recommend to this assembly is that all such formations jump in stages, at least a minute apart, to give time for the wavefront of the field to fully dissipate."

"Any objections, Admiral?' Nathaniel asked Stewart.

"None, Your Majesty," replied Stewart. "It is not a matter of much consequence. There are some tactical situations in naval combat where such a restriction could cause difficulty, but not likely."

"Indeed, I only organized the mass jump to keep us in practice," Admiral Marik added. "It would appear to the gain of the people on the other side of the 'Looking Glass', as our dear Professor so intriguingly put it."

It sounds better than 'Anomaly' at least, Peter thought.

"Doctor-Professor, thank you for your counsel and your efforts," Nathaniel said. "I intend to assemble a Royal Science Commission to investigate this matter more thoroughly, and I will definitely seek further counsel from you."

"I'd be honored, Majesty." Whateley didn't need to be told he was being dismissed, but he waited until Nathaniel made it formal before standing. Peter thought he could see some slight relief on the man's face before he departed the room.

"I have another matter before we adjourn," Bridger said. "Given the age of the intel Colonel Kell has, we have no idea where these 'Clans' are in our proximity. With your permission, I'd like to take the 8th Strikers and the 1st Kell Hounds on a fishing expedition."

"Two BattleMech regiments with supporting brigades is a rather large expedition, General," Peter said. "What do you wish to accomplish?"

"Find Clan forces and capture intelligence as to their dispositions and intent."

"This is rather more than protecting the portals," Konigin Greta protested. "And it is an active intervention in this conflict on the other side."

"With respect, Your Highness, we already have intervened. We're at war with these Clans just as much as the Lyrans there are. And given what they were doing on Timkovichi, what they were about to do, I can't in good conscience ignore the matter. And from a military perspective, we need to know more if we're going to protect the Looking Glass."

Peter stifled a chuckle. The Doctor-Professor's term seems to be catching on.

"I need the 4th Grenadiers to guard Atocongo, so I cannot support this," said Greta. "But I will not stop you either, King Nathaniel, should you wish to support this expedition."

Peter noted the heated look on Stewart's face. Archduchess Yvette Mercier, ruler of the New Earth March, likewise seemed displeased, and both glanced to him as if he might stop this.

"I do," Nathaniel said firmly. "There are disturbing elements to these Clans I wish to see investigated. General Bridger, make what arrangements you must. The Arcadia must remain on this side, but the Sara Proctor and a couple of the destroyers should be sufficient for your protection from any Clan WarShips, I think?"

"I'll detach them to General Bridger's command immediately, Majesty," Lord Paul pledged.

"Thank you, Majesty. I'll get preparations done immediately."

"If there is nothing else, I believe that is all for today," Nathaniel remarked. "I know you all have much business to attend to, and that we are burning the Government's communications budget for the year at a prodigious rate. I declare this meeting adjourned. God save the Federation."

"God save the Federation." With that ceremonial exhortation, the meeting ended.

Peter barely got back to his office before the knock came. Stewart entered, with Lord Arnold in tow, also in uniform. "I just heard," Arnold said, looking severe and flustered. "So our timetable for EAGLE CRY diverts yet further."

"Let's be honest, cousin. EAGLE CRY died with my sister," he remarked, reaching for the Glengarry Reserve off his cabinet. He poured a glass and offered, which they declined.

"So who is going to explain this to Ambassador Claudius?"

At the reference to Claudius O'Reilly, the Flavian Principate's ambassador to the Federation, Peter shrugged. "I will, if it must be done. The Imperatrix will be displeased, but there will be no moving Nathaniel. I know his mind as well as any of you. He would only accept war for an immediate, clear moral good."

"Breaking the Capellans before they finish their new fleet program is in the vital interests of the Royal Federation," Arnold insisted. "You know this!"

"Of course I do! But Nathaniel feels he is making progress with Emperor Robert diplomatically."

Stewart sighed and Arnold rolled his eyes. "That young pacifist fool will be a disaster. I wish James hadn't died on Sirius."

Peter's hand clenched his glass tumbler so hard he thought he might break it. His mind flashed back over twenty years, to the heat-filled cockpit of his Paladin, the sharp fight, the sight of the lance of Vindicator hunter-killers that ambushed them, pummelling Prince James' Atlas… the LRMs that breached his cockpit. The sight of his nephew, broken and bleeding in his shattered command couch. "Tell Sita and Nate… tell Mother… I love…" and then nothing but the cold, empty sky blue eyes of a young man formerly so full of promise, a young man who inspired his soldiers and would have made a great and good monarch. The pain, even these decades later, was such that Peter thought it would choke him. I failed them. I failed James. I failed Jackie. I failed Nathan, and my parents, and my siblings, I could have saved him, if only I'd been faster!...

He blinked and forced himself back to the present. "We all do." There was a dangerous tone in his voice as he turned his head. "EAGLE CRY might have worked, and we might have made good on everything, but it is not happening, Arnold. Let it go. Do your duty."

"I'm trying. But we have threats here, and now, to deal with. This other Inner Sphere can tend to its own business."

"We're connected now, there is no escaping that. Thinking we can ignore their situation is folly." Peter went to his desk, enjoying the rich flavor of the whisky as it burned its way into his belly. It'd been so long since he'd remembered that terrible day on Sirius. Nathaniel is so like his father in that regard, forceful, ready to push where he feels the push must be made. I just need time to temper him. To make him recognize when he needs to pull back, whatever his wishes. "As for His Excellency, I'll address Lord Claudius personally to make it clear. EAGLE CRY is not viable. There will be no joint war against the Empire."

"This could cost us with the Principate. The Legions grow restless again."

"Then let them find outlet for their energies, as they please," Peter snapped. "Imperatrix Julia does not make the policy of the Royal Federation, no more than her damned fool of an uncle did!"

"There is opportunity," Stewart said softly, finally joining the conversation. "As news of this… 'Looking Glass' becomes more widespread, and our involvement on the other end, it might bring the Capellan Empire to a softer state of readiness. Even if EAGLE CRY is not implemented, we might benefit from a mutual drawdown on the border worlds. More troops for the Azami and Combine borders, or for any problems we face in this other Inner Sphere, is welcome, and moreso, the other Inner Sphere could be a chance to blood our troops in real campaigns before any major fighting here."

Arnold shook his head. "They train well enough."

"It's not war, and you know it's not."

"And letting our men and women die for the benefit of some mirror copy of our reality is the solution?"

Peter chuckled. "And here I would think a devoted Lyrantreu like you would be happy with helping an intact Lyran Commonwealth, Arnold."

"Don't forget we're Steiners too, Peter," Arnold said, recognizing the jibe for what it was. "And the Steiners were ruling hundreds of worlds when the Proctors were mere farmers."

"The Steiners also lost most of those worlds while the Proctors were 'mere farmers'. And don't forget the blood of that commoner-born Sara Proctor flows in your veins too, cousin, and as founding legends go, I would pick her over Katherine Steiner any day."

Arnold grunted but said nothing more on the subject. He let Peter take a drink in peace before saying, "Well, so here we are. The Concert will chug along for another year, and there's nothing we can do about it."

"Don't sound so disappointed, Arnold," Peter muttered. "Now, if you'll please, gentlemen, I have affairs of state and government to clear before the day ends. There is more to this Federation than your dreams of broken Capellan WarShips, after all."

With that stern reminder, the two left. God help us all with those two, Peter thought. And help me to not lose my temper like that with him again… He took another drink before getting to work.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

Also, a new fluff bit I wrote a couple weeks ago (and it took me a few hours of researching my story bits and other references, heh), a complete Order of Battle for the AFRF's main line forces as of the story's starting point. Essentially it's what you'd find in an actual BattleTech Field Manual fluff material book, listing all of the BattleMech units commanded by the central government. Though I also threw in the Arcadian Navy for fun.

Order of Battle of the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation - 15 August 3142
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

And a last bit of fluff, I promise, an interactive map based on the greuse online map of the 3025 Inner Sphere, we adapted it for our game, and the coder behind that explained enough I was able to adapt it to show the 3142 borders.

It's admittedly not 100% complete because I forgot I hadn't entirely filled in all the worlds left uninhabited during the post-Star League collapse, I missed some of the FedSun empty worlds and such. Part of the recovery, even during the Second Age of War, was resettling these worlds to some extent, even if it was habitation domes on worlds still suffering from the fallout of mass nukings and such.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

10 - Winning Edge

Orbital Space
Timkovichi, Arc-Royal Theater
Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
1 September 3142

For the third time in his life, General Sir DeMarcus Bridger made the seemingly-impossible journey from one world to another. Not one planet to another, as he'd done often, but the more classical definition of "world", with a portal through the very fabric of reality allowing him to move from the world he knew, where Aleksandr Kerensky died on Terra and the Great Houses fell and all of that, to the world where the Great Houses survived and Kerensky survived to lead his soldiers into the far reaches of space, their descendants to return two and a half centuries later to wreak bloody havoc. A possibility unfathomable a month ago, but now it was a reality he and everyone else had to live with.

The first two times, he'd been aboard the AFS Arcadia. This time, he hadn't even bothered transferring to one of the DropShips; a DropShuttle from Arcadia brought him back through "the Looking Glass", as he and Admiral Marik and so many others were now calling it. It's a fitting name. Our two worlds, our Inner Spheres, are like distorted, funhouse mirror images of one another, the similarities as surprising as the differences.

Once again the trip was nowhere near as agonizing or rough as the first had been. It was even a little easier than the customary nausea of a normal jump. From his compartment in the back, shared by his Chief of Staff Brigadier Uwe von Hammersmark and a couple of junior staff officers, he listened to the pilots confirm landing permission from planetary control. With a key tap, a monitor showed him the feed from a hull-mounted camera. Most of the orbital space was empty now, with the exception of the destroyer AFS Cuchulainn and the picket ship Plucky, as the rest of 1st Battle Fleet was on the other side of the Glass now. So were the JumpShips brought with them for the training operation-turned-misjump. He'd spent the last few days making arrangements for the return of enough to carry his assigned units to their targets, and these talks would confirm if they got the order to make that return.

The DropShuttle landed Bridger in the field headquarters shared by the 8th Striker and the 1st Kell Hounds. In keeping with the new nickname for the portal, someone had erected a spray-painted sign in the heart of the camp, "WELCOME TO FIELD BASE CARROLL", with signposts directing one to locations such as the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" - pointing towards the base mess hall - and "The Red Queen's Court", specifically, HQ itself. He could even see a working party, directed by a bellowing non-com, touching up one of the signs, and the homey familiarity of that sight drew a smile from Bridger.

MPs and assorted personnel of all ranks saluted Bridger and his people on their way into the prefab HQ structure. The command center was a roomier version of what you'd find in a field HQ, although more vulnerable since field HQs had that inestimable advantage of being able to move. A main holotank, and secondary ones, allowed for real-time analysis of ongoing battles across an entire world, especially if there were orbiting ships or satellites to provide "eyes in the sky" images.

Brigadier Laguna and Colonel Ward were present already, with officers, and Deirdre's local counterparts in the Kell Hounds. They were joined by Kommandant Jacob Tanhause, whom Bridger hadn't seen since the fateful day they landed, and an older woman in black mourning robes, a tiara on her whitening hair and her face an example of quiet suffering, the kind you typically saw among bereaved nobles. Bridger knew her as Duchess Katarina Schmitt-Levensky, the wife of Timkovichi's late ruler Duke Roderick Schmitt. He'd been killed in the early Falcon strikes on the planet. Word was the couple's children, all but one, was either dead or believed dead in prior battles with the Clans, and a grandchild had died in the Falcon bombing of the family home. The human soul can only take so much pain, he mused to himself as he made a courtly bow. The Duchess bowed back slightly, but said nothing.

"I didn't expect to see you back so soon, General," Evan Kell said, in the tone of a man who was very pleased to be wrong. "Your message yesterday was welcome, so I asked Her Grace to join us, given what you were bringing up."

"Thank you, Colonel, it'll make this quick and easy, and then we can get on with other matters." He set his eyes on Duchess Katarina. "Your Grace, in light of the seeming permanence of the portal, or 'Looking Glass' if you will, the Royal Federation has a vested interest in the defense of your world. Our Ghastillian allies will see to the defenses on our side. We request permission to station a force on Timkovichi to protect this side from Clan incursion."

It wasn't hard to see the flash of triumph in Evan's eyes. Jacob looked like he'd just had a sentence commuted. Katarina had the most reserved response, but Bridger could see relief showing through the cracks of her quiet demeanor. "On behalf of the Lyran Commonwealth, General, we would be pleased to host a force of Arcadian troops sent to protect our world."

"We'll get the documents prepared today, then, for your approval, Your Grace," Bridger replied. They had their legal justification now, at least, until the Archon on Tharkad had a chance to reply. But given the lack of HPGs and what was likely the strategic situation of the Commonwealth, that was possibly months away, and unlikely to contravene the Duchess' order.

"How solid a defensive force are your commanders planning on?" Evan asked.

"At present, the 2nd Royal Cuirassiers are being readied for the trip, and would arrive in about two weeks' time. Four at most, if they're a jump or two off the Royal Road."

"Royal Road?"

"A network of jump stations, wasn't it?" Nadia asked, undoubtedly having heard of it given her many talks with Brigadier Laguna's officers.

"Yes. A jump station network linking Arcadia and every March capital and most of the key border worlds." Content he'd explained sufficiently, Bridger pressed on. "There'll be a naval defense too. We've got a light cruiser coming, I guess you might also call it a heavy frigate or destroyer, and its attached carrier and picket force. They'll safeguard the Looking Glass and the 2nd will protect the planet."

He wasn't surprised to see the dawning pleasure on their faces. They want us in. Might need us in. "I'll be honored to greet them," said Katarina, "in my grandson's name."

"How is he?" Bridger recalled the grandson in question, Daniel, survived the Falcon attack with injuries. Officially he was Duke now, with his grandmother ruling in his name given his parents did not survive that attack.

"He is getting stronger by the day, thankfully."

"Glad to hear it." He glanced toward the military officers. "Does Your Grace wish to stay for our military planning?"

"No, I do not think it will be necessary. Let me know when you have the stationing agreement ready, General Bridger, and I will sign." With a final slight sketch of a bow, she departed.

"Poor woman's lost a lot, just like her people," Laguna remarked sadly. She gave Bridger a knowing look. "You were a little coy on the drone messages these last few days. I'm guessing King Nathaniel and the Court approved something?"

"That they did. Consider Training Force Siegfried re-designated to OpForce Siegfried, Brigadier, and get your people ready." Noting Evan's growing interest, he turned his head back toward the Kell Hound commander. "I'm formally requesting some assistance, Colonel Kell. I've been authorized by King Nathan to conduct a bit of a 'fishing expedition', you might say."

"And what kind of fish are you looking to hook, General?" he asked, a certain wolfish look coming to his face. The question was more rhetorical than an actual question.

"We want more intelligence on Clan forces, dispositions, and intentions, and the best way to get it is to go ask ourselves. The 8th Strikers and the 1st Kell Hounds — Colonel Ward's, I mean — will be jumping to whatever worlds you figure the Clans have taken, where we will engage in raiding operations to take prisoners, rescue captive POWs, and secure whatever intelligence can be claimed from their databases. We're leaving as soon as we can confirm the 2nd Cuirassiers will arrive before any Clan attack force can."

"Well, General, I like the sound of that. Got one condition for getting you that intel, though; I want in. Me and the Hounds, my Hounds, have more than a few accounts to settle with the Falcons."

Bridger grinned. "I find that term acceptable, Colonel. We'll be glad to have you."

Evan nodded. “I’ll get with my staff, figure out a target list; least the best we can, with the Blackout a lot of this is gonna have to be pretty tentative. And we’ll see what we can deploy.”

"You've got black boxes, right?" asked Nadia. "Coordinating through multiple systems would be a big help, in case someone runs into something really heavy."

"It's standard issue with all commands," Bridger replied. "Almost everyone on our side has it anyway, so there's no need to safeguard the technology itself, just the encryption protocols. And I'm prepared to bring whatever you've got available, Colonel Kell. Fishing expedition aside, doing some damage to the Clans will make protecting the Looking Glass easier too. We'll have to settle certain command issues, of course." He didn't bother saying the issue of having two "1st Kell Hounds" in the operation. "As soon as we have that list of targets, everything else will fall into place."

The rest of the meeting was fairly standard, with Brigadier Laguna and Colonel Ward providing them their units' active TO&Es and the two groups organizing the DropShip and JumpShip assets necessary for the operation. When it was all said and done and they were on their way back to their own command HQ, there was some silence while they passed through on the compressed gravel laid as temporary road for the self-dubbed Field Base Carroll.

"First things first; Nadia, you’re staying here. Don’t argue,” Evan raised a hand to forestall the inevitable reaction, “one of us has to, and even with the best will in the world, I’m about as diplomatic as a bull mammoth in rutting season. You’ve got our B Echelon and whichever combat units we leave behind to look after, and I need to be sure there aren’t going to be any issues between our people and the new Arcadian units, alright?”

“Understood, Colonel,” Nadia replied, looking more than a little sullen, but at least less than outright mutinous. “I’ll make sure our people are all in their jammies by eight.” That got general chuckles, and Evan carried on.

“Beyond that, finding targets is going to be tough," Evan shook his head. "We're gonna have to play this a lot more carefully than I, or, I’m pretty sure, General Bridger, like to, considering how out of date our intel on the Falcons’ deployments is. We might stumble into a staging point with an entire Galaxy waiting for us, or land to find another world Malvina wiped out because she couldn't deal with the local resistance." He frowned, thinking of the Red Talon and Malvina’s willingness to risk her fleet. “Hell, could end up blundering into a cruiser on patrol ops if we aren’t careful.”

"I get the feeling this is the kind of thing the 8th Strikers were made for, at least," said Nadia. "Heavy cavalry and raiding; and we do have a decent picture of their fleet deployments. We can ensure that they can avoid the major WarShips; and other than that, wherever the Strikers hit, the Clanners will feel it."

"As long as we get our share." His expression turned wistful. "Commonwealth's in a bad place right now, and the Arcadians can bring us out of it. But we've got to play a part in that or we might as well as let them take over."

"Well, we're effectively down a battalion, but since I think we can stick with light security elements, since we won't have to worry about protecting Timkovichi solo once these 2nd Cuirassiers arrive," she said, not interested in joining his ruminations. She glanced toward Jacob as she spoke, recognizing his interest on that point, "we should probably leave the Two-First - they got hit hardest - and send the Three-Second into the field; that gives us a full strength regiment. It’ll be light on support elements, though; with casualties, and what we need here, I don’t think we can put together more than a combined-arms battalion for deployment."

"That’ll be enough to work with,” Evan nodded, already working out tactical options. “Once we’ve got a better handle on things, and maybe some of our units on the way, we can start sending units back for rest and refit."

"The Duchess has spoken of paying for arms from the other side, so the Armoured Guard can be back to fighting shape more quickly," Jacob said, entering the conversation. "With the way communications are on our side, we could have orders in place and on the way faster if they come through the portal."

"Arms from Wonderland." Evan cracked a smile at that remark. 'The Looking Glass' is about as good a name as 'Weird Bollocks', I suppose. "Looking at their hardware I'm tempted myself. Their 'Terran' stuff is as good as the Clans' and they're building a lot more of it. And they'd probably be cheaper than the Sea Foxes."

"Better in some cases. They don't have some of our specialized gear, from what I've seen, but for example, those extended range pulse lasers they've got are better than what we can get from the Foxes or anyone else making Clan gear." Jacob sighed. “I wish we could send some of the Armoured Guard with you; I know a lot of my people like the idea of getting payback, and I’ve already had to talk half a dozen of them out of trying to stow away with your people.”

Evan chuckled. "Can’t fault them for fighting spirit, at least.” He turned serious, “Look, Kommandant, you tell them from me that I’ve, the Kell Hounds have, absolute faith in their ability to look after our support units. That ought to calm them down. As far as building back up goes, unless their Inner Sphere is completely alien to ours, there should be mercs on the other side who figure our C-Bills and kroner will spend as good as their pounds or marks or what-have-you. Could at least buy the time and space to replace your losses."

"That's just the military side. Think of how the Estates General and all the corporate boards are going to react. More competition and more trade opportunities."

"And their side will act the same way. Hell, imagine the two Defiances working together or getting into legal scraps. Still…" His low chuckle at that thought ended. "We need 'Mechs, and they've got 'em, and that alone might turn the tide. Even if there are problems later on, if this saves the Commonwealth… well, I'd say that's good enough for me."

"There's one thing we're going to have to settle before everything kicks off, Colonel," Nadia pointed out. "We've got two Kell Hound regiments, and they're both the 1st, and they're both proud of being the 1st. But we can't both be the 1st."

"No we cannot. But I've got some ideas on that score…"

Even though they were likely a week from departure, minimum, Deirdre Ward had no intention of letting her Hounds stay resting on their laurels. They'd had two weeks to unwind after the misjump and the fight; now it was time to get them honed and ready, and that couldn't be done on a DropShip.

Her 'Mech of choice, like many in the Kell Hounds, was the Mad Cat II, or rather, a variant license-built by Arc-Royal MechWorks dubbed the Warhound. She kept it at a firm pace with the rest of her command company, running it at over eighty kilometers an hour while firing simulated shots at enemy machines. This lacked the accuracy of a proper simpod, but you didn't bring simpods into the field, and besides, it let her put her machine through its paces and make sure the Hound MechTechs got everything back into proper working order after one of those Falcon "Hellstar" 'Mechs blew one of the arms off and left the torso a molten mess.

The rest of 1st Battalion was coming along, running in company formations and practicing a large-scale maneuver. The 8th Striker's 3rd Battalion moved along the flank, acting as their opponents and behaving like a screening force to corral them. Ward kept her machines pressing. 'Mechs disappeared from the simulation, "defeated", their pilots instructed to start maneuver practice the moment they were down. These Clans aren't an enemy to understate, we've got to be at our best.

The 3/8th Striker gave them the fight she was hoping, but as she'd expected, her Hounds triumphed, superior skill and some superior weight letting them press through to their objective. She activated the AFRF wideband. "Nicely fought, Colonel Olindo."

"You Hounds are something else," the Launum-accented voice replied. "Save some of that for the Clans."

"Don't you worry about that," she laughed. "Alright, Hounds, you did well today, I'll give you the rest of the night. But I expect everyone to be ready for a full day exercise tomorrow." The affirmations came company by company. Tomorrow would be the whole regiment, too.

They returned to the 'Mech bays assigned the Hounds' 1st Battalion. The black and red 'Mechs lined themselves back up in their bays, with Techs ready for the customary post-run checkovers. By the time Ward released herself from her command couch, put away the coolant and biosensor cords, and shut the reactor down, a gantry lift was already in place at her primary hatch to let her out. The Tech aboard saluted, giving her room to board, before promptly entering the cockpit himself to begin his duties. Ward pressed a hand to the lift controls and lowered herself to the ground.

She was met by Colonel Fromm. "You've got a visitor, sir," he said. "Colonel Kell." He gestured to where Kell was waiting by the 'Mech bay's office door, taking in the sight of all the machines docking in place for the night.

Without a word she walked up to him, neurohelmet secured under her left arm. He greeted her with a nod. "Colonel. Mighty fine machine. Although I'm still having trouble with your side building those things too."

"I suppose the idea of a Marauder with a Catapult's body is just one of those things a 'Mech design team would eventually get to," she offered. "Our Kells build some mighty fine ones, too."

"The Wolves, our Wolves on Arc-Royal, still operate a production line in their enclave. It's kind of their totem 'Mech, they call it the Timber Wolf."

"Huh. We call our version the Warhound." Ward led him into the bay office. Technically this was the abode of First Sergeant Wainwright, the lead MechTech for the 1st, but custom was the CO could borrow a corner when needed. "So, I'm betting you're not here to talk 'Mechs."

"Nope. I've been thinking about our little problem."

Fromm smirked slightly, which didn't match the wide, thinking smile Ward had. "We can't have two 1st Kell Hounds, but we're all 1st Hounds, we won't give up that designation easily. That about sum it up?"

"Just right," he said. "So let's make this simple." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver coin. It was marked with the numeral 50 with a woman on the face side and a Steiner fist on the reverse. "Half-kroner," he noted.

She reached into one of her zipped suit pockets and pulled out a silver coin of about the same size. The face side had a female likeness — Queen Mathilda Steiner-Brewer, wife of High King Ethan and once ruler of the Defiance-Hesperus Consolidant — with a "50" below the face. The reverse had a larger 50 interposed over a crowned hawk. "Half-pound," she noted in turn. "So, your half-kroner or my half-quid?"

"I suggested, so yours."

"Alright. You call, then. Winner's regiment remains the 1st." At his nod she tossed the coin in the air.


Her eyes widened in surprise in the seconds before the coin stuck the floor. It landed on its reverse side, showing the likeness of the late Queen and Princess of Hesperus. Instead of picking it up she stared at him in surprise. "Whatever made you call that?"

"Bit of history on our side of the Glass, thought I might get lucky where they didn't."

Ward laughed. "Ah, Kells. No matter the world, you're all the same. Well, my unit's the 1st, yours can be the 1B. Less confusion, keeps your normal designation. Only for comms, I wouldn't dream of having you repaint the designators on your machines."

"Generous of you, Colonel, and thanks. My Hounds will appreciate it." He noted the nearby board showing the maintenance schedules. "Looks like you're running your people hard."

"Get some focus into them for the fights to come, can't practice so much on a DropShip, right?"

"Nope. What say we mix it up? Get our Hounds used to cooperating, and to the comm protocol we just settled?"

"Sounds like a plan, Colonel Kell," she replied, still suppressing laughter. 'Edge.' This one'll be a story for the unit history for sure...
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

11 - Opportunities

DropShip Bec de Corbin
Zenith Point, Yeguas System
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
8 September 3142

The Falcon DropShip kept its position level with the White Aerie, preparing to begin its connection to the great Black Lion-class battlecruiser. The old Star League relic had a long and honorable battle history under Falcon command. For saKhan Beckett Malthus, though, there was little thought of glory. He was a man holding a wolf by the ears; a dangerous place to be, but he didn't dare let go lest the wolf gore him.

On paper, he should be happy. The Falcons were sweeping all before them. The Lyrans were finally broken. They might even take Tharkad before the Wolves could drive up from their captured League worlds. After nearly a century, the Crusader dream of crushed Great Houses and a reborn Star League, a true Star League under Kerensky's children and heirs, was in sight.

And in winning that victory, it would be well for Malvina Hazen to die. Suitably gloriously, of course; a dead hero he could control, a living Malvina Hazen was far less so. Be honest with yourself, Beckett, and he did have to, for seeing things as they truly were was the main thing that had kept him alive this long, where many of his peers, more martially skilled but less gifted in mind, had fallen along the honour road. The truth is that you are to blame for this far more than she is. The sword you forged of her has no hilt, and must be broken before she drags the Jade Falcons down beyond redemption, and bleeds them to death in so doing. In truth, it might have been better for him to have guided her into the glorious death in battle that she’d wanted after Aleksandr’s death on Skye, rather than into walking the Khan’s path; not in a personal sense, but better for the Clan, and the galaxy as a whole. Still, what was done was done, and it was to him, now, to try and repair what he could.

And yet, who to replace her with? None of the Mongol Faction were an option; all would be worse than Malvina, if only because they were far less skilled. Noritomo Helmer, perhaps? Beckett considered that thought for a moment, and then put it aside; Helmer was too unambitious, too needed where he was preventing Damien Redburn from ravaging the Falcon’s Reach any more than the Republic Remnant already were; and too unpopular with too many Mongol officers. And too many others with the skill, the Bloodname and the ambition had died, in the Rending and afterwards. It must be Stephanie Chistu, then; which meant finding a signal victory for Delta Galaxy once they were rebuilt. But, she was skilled - perhaps enough to slay Malvina in challenge, if it came to that - of an impeccable Bloodheritage and reputation, and easily guided into the appropriate decisions. Yes, she will suffice.

"My Khan." Star Captain Rutherford spoke from his crash couch, breaking Beckett’s train of thought. "Emergence signature. Looks like regular JumpShip mass."

Within a minute a flash of light filled the monitors in the Bec de Corbin’s control center. The vessel was a plain JumpShip ferrying no DropShips with it. A messenger then. Something important, perhaps, if they left their post. "Identification?"

"Verdant Wing."

Assigned to Great X. What could this be? A message from our 'Chingis Khan'? Perhaps Timkovichi did not go as planned.

The aerospace warrior at the comm station lifted her head. "Verdant Wing is transmitting to us. A message, and holo-recordings."

"Play them." Beckett turned his attention to the holotank.

The incoming recordings played as they downloaded into his ship's databanks. As he watched, the world twisted out of focus for Beckett. Nothing made sense, and yet the proof…

He watched the fate of the Red Talon from its own perspective, in its final moments. The DropShips planetside likewise transmitted their own footage of the large force that appeared from literal void, carrying with them several Clusters worth of 'Mechs and battle armor, and these forces came down and utterly wiped the Golden Ordun from the face of Timkovichi. The final footage confirmed the DropShips themselves were being boarded, and the crews were resisting… and then nothing.

To his fury, Beckett felt his hand shake as he operated the controls, played them again. They gave him a look at the enemy, a better look. The light browns and reds of the 'Mechs with the three arrows emerging from the center of a ring. Sky blue machines, including a few Mad Cats and other OmniMechs, all sporting hawk insignias. Some, he could make sense of — more of the stravag Kell Hounds, dogging the Falcons’ steps as seemed their reason for being — but the others … what were Davion Guards doing here?

If that were true he considered — for a moment — the merits of a descent on the planet housing the hated mercenaries and the dezgra Exiled Wolves they harbored. But this footage made it impossible. His creation, his bane, was gone. By the Bloodnames of the Founders, Malvina was gone. Dead, soon to be dead, a prisoner, it didn't matter! She could no longer bring the Falcons on this dezgra course, and the Golden Ordun being destroyed meant she had few loyalists left in the Council. Finally, the Falcons would be saved from his error.

But first things first. He could not exploit Arc-Royal's possible weakness because the Falcons needed a new Khan. We must gather the Clan Council somewhere fitting… Sudeten, yes. We must elect a new Khan. He considered his candidates for the position.

"My Khan, those holos. How could such a force appear from nothing!?" asked Star Captain Rutherford.

He brought the playback to the last images from the Red Talon. In the wake of that WarShip squadron that single-handedly destroyed Malvina Hazen's latest effort at dezgra tactics, the pale blue light of a jump field was obvious. It did not fade in the chain of fireflies as it typically did. It persisted. Strange. Some form of K-F jump error? The scientists can tell us, right now I have other matters.

"Send to White Aerie. We are no longer proceeding to the next target system," he said. "We are returning to Sudeten." He released his harness and floated from his crash couch. "I must go see to the summons, Star Captain. The Khan has fallen in battle. Whether she is bondswoman or prisoner, it matters not. The Clan needs a new Khan before we determine our course."

"I understand, my Khan," was the reply.

Beckett left him, returning to his own staterooms, and the noteputer where he would write the messages to head out. Finally, this war would be fought as he wanted it to be.

Kell Estate
Old Connaught, Arc-Royal
Arc-Royal Theater
Lyran Commonwealth
15 September 3142

It'd been some time since Trillian Steiner-Davion set foot on the homeworld of her distant cousins. The DropShuttle deposited her on Martin's own personal landing pad in the rear grounds of his estate. She emerged in formal business wear instead of court gown, looking more the part of a corporate executive than the personal agent of Archon Melissa.

I came here expecting to find the Falcons already descending on the world. That would have been par for the course given the campaign. Without HPGs the word was delayed whenever it got to her on the Archon's Fist, but it was always the same: a world assaulted, then a world fallen, typically with a savagery that made even the long-extinct Smoke Jaguars seem like the lap kittens popular with court ladies on Tharkad. The Commonwealth was being squeezed from two ends now, with the Wolves still nipping at them along the old Marik border, undoubtedly marshalling for a new blow whatever Vedet Brewer thought about the matter back on Tharkad.

Brewer. Martin might not even know yet. Although it won't be the same shock his news was to me…

Martin was waiting for her in Kell Hound uniform. The intimidating presence of Patrik Fetladral towered over the both of them, his genetically-augmented muscular body seeming to press the limits of the gray leathered jumpsuits favored by the Clans. "Lady Trillian." Martin politely bowed his head. "Looking busy as usual. Melissa sent you out to check on the front with the Falcons and Horses, I gather?"

She nodded stiffly. "We need to talk about that, in private."

The glint in his eye told her he got the message that something was wrong. "This way then." He and Patrik led her into the palatial residence of the Kells. Their destination proved to be an upper floor conference room or wardroom. Large windows looked out at Old Connaught and the courtyard of the estate.

"Alright. This is as private as things get around here, short of my stateroom or the Khan's personal quarters." Martin took a seat, prompting Trillian and Patrik to do likewise. "You get news from the other front? Have the Wolves pushed on after all?"

"That's likely, but that's also not why I came." Trillian folded her hands on the table. The weight of the moment crushed her. Martin deserves to know, and I need to tell him. But the consequences if we overreact… "There's no easy way to say this, Martin. Melissa's been deposed. The LCAF General Staff removed her from her throne and made Vedet Brewer Archon."

The fury that formed on Martin's face was frightening in its intensity. "I damn well knew something was up with that bunk about her being in recovery."

"Maurer is in control of the LCAF side. They're keeping Melissa's location a secret, but Vedet's already prying, trying to find a way to get to her to kill her. He even tried to compel me to recognize him as Archon by threatening her life."

"And your answer?" Martin asked the question with real venom in his voice, even as Patrik had an expression that spoke a thousand words about Spheroids and their power politics.

Trillian's voice matched his venom with heat. "I told him to go to Hell." Because that was when Maurer brought word of the Falcon and Horse invasion, but no need to mention that. "After we received the first word of Malvina's invasion, the LCAF left Vedet no choice but to release me so I could get to work. And before you ask, last I've heard Melissa's alive. The General Staff are using her to keep Duke Vedet under control. Unless he finds a way to turn the tide back his way again, I doubt that will change."

Martin accepted the unspoken rebuke quietly, at least. Given her situation, the idea she might give Vedet what she wanted wasn't too surprising. The thought crossed her mind, I almost did, if I'm being honest with myself. He spoke in a calmer voice this time. "Well, this is just… with Malvina out, the Falcons are going to back off. The Horses lost a whole Galaxy so they'll have to as well. Once Vedet learns of that he's going to take credit with the public."

"So we need to prevent that," Trillian said. "First, let's edit this material for public consumption. Get every holovid viewer in the Commonwealth playing that footage of the Arcadians landing on Timkovichi. I want the jump in, I want their fleet, I want it all. Make it abundantly clear to everyone that this isn't some secret force that Vedet brought in to win the war."

"Hell, I'm all for that."

Patrik nodded. "Aff. That is the important first step, but what of the next? The Falcons will spend time gathering to vote a new Khan. We will have an opportunity to go to Tharkad and restore the Archon to her rightful place. However foolish she may have been, she is a better choice than that backstabbing dezgra son of a Blakist Brewer." He straightened to his full height. “I can have Alpha Galaxy ready to lift within the hour.”

"No." Trillian almost hissed the word, it came out so quickly. "That’s exactly what we can’t do, even though I agree Vedet deserves it. All we’d accomplish trying to free Melissa by force would be starting a civil war — and if either of you think that’s impossible with the Crusader Wolves at the gates, you’ve both read less of our history than I thought — and even if we beat Vedet, the Commonwealth won't be in any shape to fight on either front." She sighed. “Not least because we’d have to fight probably half the Margraves as well; they haven’t been happy with Melissa’s rule — for good reason — and wouldn’t stand for putting her back in charge by force. Especially since we’d have to admit she’d been deposed in the first place. We’d be stuck putting down rebellions for a decade.”

"True, wouldn’t exactly be unreasonable of them," Martin agreed. “But the longer we let this go on, the more chance that shiftless idiot does something even more stupid, and the harder it’s gonna be to get his ass off the throne.”

Aff,” Patrik nodded. “I agree, Lady Trillian, that force is not a very good option, but unless you have a political solution that will work fast, it may be the only one we have.”

"That's the other reason why I want every world in the Commonwealth to know who and what the Arcadians are. I want the LCAF to know too. Because we're going to need them."

Martin leveled a questioning look her way. "Just to be clear, Lady Trillian, you're not talking about asking them to put Melissa back on the throne, because that'd be even worse. So what do you have in mind?"

"Something we need anyway, but if I do it right, it gives us the leverage we need with the General Staff to turn against Duke Vedet," Trillian explained. "We make it impossible for them to reject Melissa as Archon."

"Well, I'm all ears," Martin said. "Go on. What do you want from the Arcadians?"

"An alliance," she replied. "Between the Arcadian Federation and the Lyran Commonwealth, signed in Melissa's name and on her authority. The LCAF will have to restore her or have the treaty become void."

"Well, now that… that might just work," Martin allowed.

“Ha!” Patrik laughed suddenly. “I see the way of it; this would give us what we want — the contest for the throne over and stable leadership — and the High Command what they secretly wish — a way to reject Vedet with honour — publicly, so they cannot deny or refuse it without destroying their internal unity. Wrongly were you named, Lady Trillian,” he smiled in a manner eerily reminiscent of his Clan’s totem, “‘Ulrika’ would have been a wiser choice, for that is a gambit worthy of the Old Wolf himself. The question we must answer, though, is surely if the Arcadians will agree to such an alliance?”

Trillian allowed herself a brief smile for the comparison to Ulric Kerensky, more out of diplomacy than anything else. She was too focused on her intent to consider the scope of the compliment. "If not, I'll need to get them interested, and that means I need to address their ruler. Directly."

The emphasis on that final word was clear enough. "You're meaning to go through to the other side of the portal," said Martin. "Meet this High King Nathaniel in person."

He didn't need to hear the answer. She knew it was clear by the light in her eyes.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by LadyTevar »

Ah.. politics. Without them they Inner Sphere would have been peaceful.
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" -- Leonard Nimoy, last Tweet
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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

LadyTevar wrote: 2022-04-14 10:03pm Ah.. politics. Without them they Inner Sphere would have been peaceful.
Come for the big war robots, stay for the neo-feudal politicking! 8)

But back to more war robots stomping about!

AFS Charles Sinclair
Inbound, Great X System
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
11 October 3142

General Bridger cut short a meal period to attend to the call he received from Colonel Yolanda Martinez, the commanding officer of the 8th Strikers' primary command DropShip. Due to the positioning of Great X's best pirate points they were several hours out from orbit of the planet and he'd thought to get in a meal before finalizing their drop plans; now it seemed something else was up.

He was gratified that at last they were under thrust, and thus enjoyed "gravity", given the weeks he'd spent in zero-G conditions while OpForce Siegfried made its way from Timkovichi to Great X. It wasn't the first occupied system they'd come through, but it was the strike force's first target. Evan Kell's intelligence reports hinted that alongside a garrison "Cluster" a frontline unit damaged in earlier fighting with the Kell Hounds' Clan allies was likewise on the planet. Accessing the reports and databases of a frontline unit would give them a better picture of the Falcons' strategic goals and planning than just smashing up what amounted to a march militia unit.

Salutes from the enlisted and officers of the Sinclair's crew greeted Bridger at his arrival in the ship's command center. The central holotank displayed the formation of ships bearing the Strikers and both of the 1st Kell Hounds to their target. With no WarShips in-system the Sara Proctor was hanging back to protect their JumpShips, leaving her attached carrier the AFS Wright and picket ships to escort the forces burning in. They were still the largest units in the formation. The Sinclair, the primary command ship of the 8th Striker, was divided by some distance from the Alexander Penton, another ship of the same class that ferried Colonel Patel and much of the 2nd Battalion. Assorted DropShips of smaller size burned alongside them, spheroids and aerodynes, bearing a three regiment force down the gravity well and their waiting target.

One of the CommTechs spoke up. "We're receiving a radio-com signal from the planet, sir. It's the planet's defense commander and he wishes to speak with you."

"I wonder if he's planning on surrender." Somehow Bridger doubted it, given how diehard the Clans acted on Timkovichi. "Put him on."

The air above the holotank shimmered for a moment, before resolving into the of a man image in what Bridger guessed was late middle age; white-haired, with the look of muscle starting to run to fat despite strenuous effort, the green-uniformed soldier’s easy smile made him look more like an indulgent uncle than anything else. The man appraised Bridger for several moments before speaking. "Kell Hounds and allied forces, welcome to Great X. I am Star Colonel Teryn Roshak, commander of the 371st Provisional Garrison Cluster, charged to defend this world in the name of Clan Jade Falcon. Do you seek this world as your prize, or another prize altogether?"

Bridger settled his hands behind his back. "I take it this is the 'batchall' you Clanners issue before a fight, Colonel?"

"By tradition, it would be the attacker who issues formal batchall, but evidently,” there was a dry humour in Roshak’s tone that left Bridger feeling that, under better circumstances, he might actually have liked this man, “those who taught you our ways did not think to teach you manners along with them. Under my command is the full strength - four combined arms Trinaries - of the 371st and our attached aerospace Star, as well as the remains of the 3rd Talon Cluster, consisting of two Trinaries and one Binary. I will provide you with our full force listing and codexes." His voice shifted to an odd, formal intonation, like an Old Testament prophet handing down laws. "What forces do you bid to seize this world from the Falcon's claws?"

"If you're asking me to commit to some trial by combat with only a portion of my troops, Star Colonel, then let me disappoint you. I'm deploying the entirety of the 8th Striker Brigade with the 1st Kell Hounds and 1st-B Kell Hounds.." A flatscreen display showed their incoming data stream, appropriately partitioned off from the main systems to avoid any attempt to upload cyberwarfare weapons. The opposing force had, at best, two battalions worth of BattleMechs, plus both battle armored and regular infantry and some armored vehicles.

It is to be melee, then.” Roshak didn’t seem surprised, somehow. “Nonetheless, I will extend the offer of safcon, and recommend that our dispute is resolved at the Vicar’s Altar plateau. It is far from any population centres, and I suspect you have no more desire than I to see the civilians dragged into a matter between warriors.”

"I've no desire to fight among civilians," Bridger confirmed. "We'll deploy in the region upon arrival." This doesn't sound like the same people we fought on Timkovichi. I guess this fellow is closer to what Colonel Kell's data said was the Clans' usual methods.

"If it is not control of the planet you seek, what is? Information, supplies, bondsmen?"

"You return all POWs of the Lyran Commonwealth being held, for starters. A few other things."

"Information, then. Very well." A thoughtful expression flickered over Roshak's quiet features. "Naturally, I reserve the right to keep captured 'Mechs and warriors of your forces as isorla in the event of our victory."

"You'll do no such thing, not as a term," Bridger said hotly, almost snapping the words. "I'm not leaving any of my people behind."

Roshak didn't blink at Bridger's heated words. "If you have the capability to exchange for them in such an event, I will consider more salvage as acceptable. But it is our way to take bondsmen of defeated warriors, certainly you have learned that much?"

"Maybe, but it's not our custom to leave our soldiers as prisoners if we can make an exchange." Bridger kept the stern look on his face, hiding the storm of emotion he felt at his words. "See you when we're planetside."

Bargained well and done, General,” Roshak nodded. “I will attend to my warriors, and meet you upon the field of battle.” The transmission link cut off almost instantly.

For a moment Bridger took some effort to calm himself. It shouldn't have surprised him that the Clans would behave that way, it was their way going by Evan Kell's reports. And it wasn't like even successful raids didn't sometimes see isolated or overwhelmed troops taken prisoner, even left behind if the circumstances demanded.

Like on Vega. The memory came unbidden at his lie to Roshak and made him clench a fist as, in his mind's eye, Tai-sho Ballymont's katana and many others came down on helpless necks. Never again. He took another breath. Business first. "Put the field commanders on for me," Bridger instructed the sergeant manning the comm station.

It took a few minutes, but soon the holotank displayed three other visages: Evan Kell on the Light’s Hammer, Deirdre Ward on her ship the Pack Leader, and Patel over on the Alex Penton. Brigadier Laguna arrived just in time for the conversation to commence. "I just had a conversation with the local Falcon commander, a Star Colonel named Teryn Roshak. He confirmed they've got what I'm guessing is a frontline unit, the 3rd Talon Cluster, and a garrison force. They'll be waiting for us on the Vicar's Altar plateau."

Yeah, that figures,” Evan nodded. “We haven’t got much intel on Roshak, but what there is says he’s a real hardline traditionalist; that’s why he’s running a PGC despite a Bloodname and a pretty decent battle record. Vicar’s Altar was the site of a battle during the Jihad, company of the Twenty-fifth Arcturan Guards against a Falcon Binary; so he’d figure it for a good place to fight it out. As for the Third Talon,” he frowned, “not so good - well, good and bad for us. They’re known for heavy Mongol leanings, so they’re not gonna work well with Roshak - he hates them, and they hate him right back - but means they might do something stupid and violent if they look like losing. Even with the Wolves-in-Exile’s Beta Galaxy beating them up, they’re still first-class troops, too.

"So they'll need to be dealt with ASAP," Bridger said. "What do you know about their makeup? 'Mech makeup, tactics?"

Third Talon are known for favouring jump-capable ‘Mechs pretty heavily, and not that it matters here, but they’re good at fighting in lousy weather conditions. Mainly mediums and heavies, plus battle armour. Roshak’s Cluster,” Evan’s frown deepened, “Really hard to say. PGCs have some pretty wild variances in gear, and he said combined arms Trinaries. By the books, that’d mean one each of ‘Mech, tank and battle armour Stars, but some of them might be Novas rather than standard Stars, and they’ve got access to pretty much any hardware we do. Running into a couple of Clan Demolisher mods in close terrain isn’t gonna be fun.”

"Demolisher tanks. Hate those things," Ward grumbled. "Ran into a Drac half-company of 'em during our campaign with the Kilbourners on Alpheratz, driving the Dracs out. Lost almost a whole lance before we got the upper hand."

"Well, thankfully, this won't be in cities," Laguna observed. "Either group of Hounds should be capable of facing the garrison, I'd think? Sounds like the 3rd'll make for the nasty part of the fight, although we'll have the numbers to outflank them," Laguna said. "I can have 1st and 2nd Battalion hold them down while the other Hounds take them in the flanks. 3rd and 4th Battalions can be our reserve."

"More than that," said Bridger. "We'll bring most of the 8th's armored infantry regiment to the main battle to deal with their armored infantry, but I want the SOT and a combat command held in reserve to rapidly deploy to their prisons or HQs. If these 3rd Talon fellows are like the ones on Timkovichi, you never know what they might pull."

"I'll get everything ready," Laguna said.

One last thing,” Evan said, “don’t underestimate these guys. We beat the Horses and Malvina, yeah, but you caught them blind. These guys know what they’re facing. The Third Talon are a first class unit; and the PGC is gonna be either solahma - meaning they’ve managed to live significantly longer than average for a Clan warrior, despite a pretty brutal winnowing process, and are going out there looking to do some serious damage, whether or not they survive - or sibbies who’ve just passed their Trial of Position; they’re at the peak of their form and convinced nothing can kill them. And Roshak’s record says he’s tricky; he might figure he can defeat at least one or two of our units in detail if he manages to move fast enough.” He grimaced. “I’d give my left arm - or at least my Daishi’s missile rack - to figure out what was going on in Roshak’s HQ right now.”

Bridger nodded. "Thanks for the warning, Colonel. We'll make sure our people know not to let our last win go to their heads." And I would indeed give a lot to know what's going on down there…

The atmosphere within the Jade Falcon command centre was thick enough to cut with a dull knife; thick with tension between the three commanders assembled around the main holotank. Their aides waited a discrete distance away; close enough to be instantly available at need, and far enough that they could pretend not to hear the argument going on.

“Why grant these barbarians safcon?” Star Captain Evander Malthus demanded. The cadaverous mechwarrior jabbed one boney finger at the holotank, showing the Lyran force’s approach vector. “Why not simply destroy them in space?” The you doddering old fool went unsaid.

“Because,” Star Commander Perrin cut in, “we cannot do it.” An archetypical example of the Clan aerospace phenotype, in a chair that had been designed to comfortably seat an Elemental, she looked very much like a child, her slight frame almost swallowed by its immensity. “If the Star Colonel,” she emphasised Teryn Roshak’s rank carefully, “demands, then I and my pilots will try. We will try with all the fury of Turkina herself. But we cannot do it, and will die badly trying.” She reached forward, delicate fingers adjusting the display to show relative orders of battle. “We have six fighters, and of the pilots, only myself and Point Commander Danil have any exoatmospheric combat hours; the other four are so green I feel like a nursemaid, and can barely keep their relative orientations straight. Against that ‘formidable force’,” everyone present winced at the sarcasm as she highlighted markers on a radar display, “our foes have three times our number, just counting the standing CAP, of elite fliers, who are a match for, or superior to, the pilots of the Turkina Keshik itself. In DropShips the disparity is even worse.” She didn’t quite add You ranting Mongol misbreed, but her tone and expression made it clear.

Enough.” Teryn Roshak didn’t shout. He spoke in calm, level tones, pointedly stepping between the two officers before either could issue challenge. “Both of you. We have neither the time to argue, or enough warriors that I can indulge you shedding one another’s blood for your pride. Star Captain Malthus, are your warriors ready for battle?”

“The Third Talon stands ready.” Evander nodded. “We are to be taking the right flank of the plateau, aff?” At Teryn’s nod, he turned and - with a lack of acknowledgement that bordered active insult - stalked away, his aide close behind.

“You know that he is going to challenge you when this is over, I trust?” Perrin commented. “And, before you ask, Teryn, my pilots are ready for ground support missions. I cannot promise they will live beyond providing one airstrike, but that, they will provide.”

“I am aware of Star Captain Malthus’s preference for solving command disputes with his fists, aff.” Teryn sighed. For all his cadaverous build, Evander Malthus had a well-earned reputation for vicious skill at unaugmented combat, and he was barely two-thirds of Teryn’s own age in addition. It was possible to match the younger warriors, even well into his sixth decade - he’d done so, still did so, regularly - but the trouble was, the price of that effort got higher each time. Sooner or later, it would become too high to pay. “Still, that relies on both, or either, of us surviving the battle to come. I will take my battles one at a time, for preference.”

As he left for the main hangar, Teryn’s aide, Star Commander Martina, fell in behind, cursing as her head caught the top of the door; not very loudly, but then she was used to hitting the tops of doors at this point. Product of an Icaza genemother and mixed Hazen-Osis genelines, Martina had ebon skin and flame-red hair, as well as a build that made it impossible for her to fit into one of the new Fire Elemental suits; it had been necessary to restore an ancient set of standard Elemental armour for her. Doors designed for the use of Lyran soldiers averaging a foot and a half shorter than her were proving a similar obstacle.

“You should let me kill him,” she said without preamble. “Malthus insults you with his disrespect, and the Mongols shame the entire Clan with their dezgra actions.”

“For now, Martina, we need him,” Teryn replied. At her sullen expression, he continued, “Oh, I agree that he is trying very hard to insult me - but he is also an able commander, and we do need him for this battle. Afterwards, well - the Kell Hounds may kill him for us, but if they do not do us that courtesy, then you may do so. Also, Martina,” his tone shifted, becoming quieter and harsher, “around me, you can say such things, but be careful. The Watch detachment here has too many Mongol followers among their ranks, and I cannot protect you from them if they have more than rumour and innuendo to act on.” And it would serve the Clan ill indeed if I allowed Malvina Hazen’s spite and hatred to destroy another of those who might make us once again what we should be.

Aff, Star Colonel. I will endeavour to exercise greater … discretion in future.” Martina’s brow furrowed. “I wish to know - I did not see deployment orders for my Star?”

“That, Martina, is because you no longer command a Star,” Teryn took a noteputer from his uniform pockets, handing it to her as they walked. “You now have a Nova to command.”

There was silence for a few moments as Martina studied the details of what she now commanded; her own Star of Elementals, two Points of Zibler OmniTanks captured from the Lyrans, a Point of SM1 Destroyers, and the fast moving Mist Lynx and Viper ‘Mechs belonging to MechWarriors Ciara and Jean respectively. Then, as she reached their deployment orders -

“We are to be kept from battle, Star Colonel?” There was genuine affront in Martina’s tone at that, and quiet danger if the truth turned out to be unsatisfactory to her.

Neg, Nova Commander.” Teryn shook his head to add emphasis. “I have for you two tasks; the first, if all goes as I hope, will be for your Nova to serve as a Lyran Lightning Company does. For that, I need a warrior of judgement. And, more importantly, if all goes as I fear it will, you must stop the Mongols from disgracing us further than they already have.” He sighed, suddenly feeling the full weight of his nearly six decades of life. “The people of this world do not love us, nor do we need them to; but you and I have ensured that they do not hate us, either. Malthus would throw all of that away out of spite, and I cannot allow that to happen.” During the discussion, they’d arrived at the main hangar, and were now standing at the shoulder of Teryn’s own ‘Mech; a captured Lyran Banshee, new, and rearmed with with some Clan weaponry where possible. He took a moment to survey the space, watching as techs and warriors alike saw to preparing for battle - the crew of a Schmitt assault tank helping slide the dark, belted coils of fifty-millimetre rounds for its autocannon into ammunition bays; Star Captain Helen’s Tundra Wolf dry-cycling its tactical missile launcher, testing the repaired loading mechanism; a Point of infanteers, clad in battledress that closely resembled that of their Lyran opposite numbers, heavy body armour and extra kit rather than the lightweight battle order Clan infantry had once made do with, double-timing across the hangar floor - while word of his arrival spread, activity stilled, and soon every eye was turned to him.

Good. There are parts of every Trinary I command here, and they will carry my words forth. "Warriors," Teryn began, shouting now; to ensure all heard him clearly. "The Lyran Archon does us great honour this day! She has sent forth her finest warriors to spar with us; the Kell Hounds themselves, in full strength and led by their Khan, Evan Kell, in person. More," he continued, raising his arms to quiet the high, exultant shrieks of pride, "a new foe comes with them - the Eighth Striker Brigade, they name themselves - to test our strength for themselves. Our Mongol 'kin'," mocking laughter came at that, "have ensured that when we meet the foe at Vicar's Altar, it is to be melee, and we are outnumbered by more than five to one."

No cheers came at that, and Teryn let the silence stretch for a long moment, studying each of his warriors. The older ones were calm and steady, thinking only of how to die with honour; the younger warriors standing up straighter, chests thrust forward and eyes shining with pride, each convinced they could defeat any five Lyrans ever born. When they'd been sent to him, few others had wanted them, but now - now I would not trade them for the finest Cluster in Alpha Galaxy.

"This will be a hard battle, my warriors," Teryn continued, "and we may not survive. But if we fight with courage, with skill, with discipline, and above all else, with honour," he almost roared that word, "then even in death we will triumph!"

The second battle of her career was markedly different for Evangeline Penton-Vallejo.

Instead of a combat air drop, 1st Battalion deployed directly from the Charles Sinclair after it grounded, just outside of the expected combat zone. Her new Lance Lieutenant, Oliver Norton, piloted another Paladin configured with a Gauss Rifle and a PPC as its primary armaments, while the other new lancemate Lieutenant Jasminder Gupta was in a Chevalier 'Mech refitted with Terran weaponry. Norton was a battalion staff officer placed back on the field, Gupta from the March Command's reserve pool on Arc-Royal.

Her pre-fight jitters ended the moment the first shots came. Warnings screamed at hard-locks detected and incoming missile fire. The AMS lasers on Norton's 'Mech and the guns on Gupta's picked off the incoming projectiles, but it couldn't get them all. Several missiles hit or nearly hit her as part of the incoming barrage, turning some of her status lines into pale yellow to show armor hits. She kept her machine moving through the impacts, maintaining the line formation with the others.

The targets ahead were mostly 'Mechs. Lt. Colonel Perez's warning sprang back to mind; these were believed to be the best of the enemy troops on Great X, and the Strikers were taking the fight to them. The machines had a green-dominated paint scheme, the same as those she'd fought on Timkovichi, while the insignia was a large sword impaling a moon. One of these machines, IDed as a Flamberge, fired salvos of missiles, twelve projectiles in all, at her. Gupta's Chevalier moved up beside her, giving her the benefit of the ballistic AMS guns attached to the shoulders of the humanoid 'Mech, the older OmniMech design a visible cousin to her own Paladin. Streams of interceptor rounds intersected on the approach vectors of the enemy missiles, blowing up four. Five of the remaining eight struck home despite Evangeline's maneuvers, their blasts tearing armor from the sky-blue plating of her machine.

With the utmost concentration, taught through all those years at the Nagelring, she not only kept her 'Mech mobile through the impacts, but also kept her eyes on her holotank tactical display. Her hands pressed the joysticks inward and brought the crosshairs of her various weapons systems squarely over the enemy machine. A press of her index finger trigger let loose a crackling azure lightning bolt, of similar intensity to the one that Gupta's Chevalier fired. Gupta's shot missed from the last minute maneuvering of the Flamberge pilot. Eva's struck home, scourging armor in blackened chunks from the winged 'Mech's chest and shoulder.

She let her heat settle for a moment before triggering her large extended range lasers next. The sapphire beam missed narrowly, with the enemy pilot jinking at the last moment, while the streams of sapphire pulses were guided back on target to chew through the melting armor near the wound she'd already created on the 'Mech's shoulder.

The entire machine shuddered around her at an impact that broke through her armor and lodged a round in the structure of her Paladin. Another enemy machine, marked a Shadow Cat II by her systems, reminded her of holos of the Shadowcat OmniMech her mother piloted during the war. Lasers the color of bright emeralds cut into the soil beneath her, barely missing her 'Mech's legs.

She nearly diverted to take the target, before noting Kilroy's lasers striking home. "Bravo 3, Bravo 4, stick with the winged one," Norton ordered. A moment later a lighting flash played over the Shadow Cat II; a miss, as the other pilot skillfully shifted balance and leaned away from the path of the shot.

The Flamberge pilot was of similar skill. Gupta's autocannon barrage only scored a single non-penetrating hit before the Falcon pilot moved their machine out of the barrage's path. A flight of missiles made multiple impacts on the Chevalier despite its AMS shooting down a couple. Eva took an extra moment in making her shot, not just buying time for her heat to return to baseline, but to take advantage of the pilot's maneuvering. When Gupta fired her PPC the Flamberge again shifted its weight, turning a direct hit into a glancing shot that did little more than surface damage.

That was her opening. Eva squeezed her triggers.

The heat flooded her cockpit, with warning indicators shooting up through the shutdown threshold. The shots counted, though; the PPC blew through the wounded shoulder, tearing the Flamberge's arm off, and the lasers made molten slag of large sections of the Falcon machine's torso armor. Even her smaller Mk. 15 lasers struck home, their emerald light carving molten gashes into the Flamberge's leg and hip armor.

The kinetic impact of the PPC had an extra benefit. It affected the balance of the machine at the same time it lost tons of mass from the armor melted or vaporized away, shifting the Flamberge's center of mass and weight profile. These factors together could bring down even an experienced pilot if they weren't able to correct with their own sense of balance quickly enough. The Falcon MechWarrior succeeded regardless, keeping their machine standing.

But it also took all their concentration, leaving them vulnerable for a crucial second. Gupta took ruthless advantage. Her autocannon roared to life again, spitting 88mm rounds into the Flamberge that the preoccupied pilot wouldn't be spiraling their way out of this time. A second lightning bolt, another PPC shot, blew through the Flamberge's damaged hip and nearly severed the leg. The molten ends of broken myomer bundles showed through the wound on the machine.

The hip damage was the final straw. The Flamberge tumbled.

Eva wasn't taking chances. Not after Timkovichi. Even with her heat still up, she spit the crosshairs on the enemy machine's chest and fired another full salvo. This put her machine's heat directly in the red and she had to slam a fist down on the override button to prevent a shutdown.

With the enemy 'Mech prone, every shot hit home. Azure lightning and emerald and sapphire light, working in tandem, melted and blasted through white-hot armor to savage the guts of the machine. A brief surge of white-hot fluid erupted from the wound to ignite the grass and soil beneath the machine. The lasers and PPC shot hadn't just torn through the chest armor, one had successfully opened up the fusion vessel at the heart of the engine. The Flamberge went still at the death of its power source.

My third kill. Eva felt an involuntary surge of pride in that. Her second action and already a third kill.

It proved a dangerous distraction.

She took another hit from the Gauss Rifle on the Shadowcat II. But it wasn't like before. Multiple rounds smashed into her armor all along her right side. A warning light declared her right shoulder actuator was locked up, making her particle cannon on that arm nearly useless since it couldn't be aimed. How… do they have rapid fire Gauss Rifles?!

"Everyone, eyes on that Shadowcat II, looks like one of those H-A-Gs the locals talk about," Norton said.

A pair of laser beams scoured armor from Eva's 'Mech. The rest of the enemy unit's machines were on the attack, and she'd drawn their attention. With orange and yellow now showing on her damage indicators, she returned fire with the large lasers, spearing the enemy machine.

Norton spoke up again. "Everyone hold firm. We've got them where we want them."

Eva wondered about that while maneuvering her 'Mech. Another noiseless shot from the enemy 'Mech took more of her armor, even as it dodged Gupta's autocannon fire but not her particle cannon hit. It's like that wargame we did with the 2nd Donegal in my third year. These pilots are unbelievable!

Another series of impacts took more of her armor, and Eva had to fight to keep the machine steady despite the hits and lost mass. She nearly tripped, and would have if another shot struck home. That one didn't was entirely on Kilroy. His Paladin moved up beside hers, intersecting the fire from the Shadowcat II while his own rifle and lasers shot back, damaging the machine. "Stay with it, lass. The Brig's got a plan, an' we're part of it."

"I've got shoulder damage and a lot of surface hits, but I've got my weapons intact. Just give me shots." Even as she made that remark she directed fire on a Falcon heavy, a machine called a Night Gyr, that was engaging Norton's Paladin. Again her lasers scored home, mostly because the pilot was too busy evading Gupta's shots to note she was turning her weapons on him.

I hope this plan turns out soon, these Falcons are fighting worse than two to one odds and I'm worried they might still beat us, they're this good…

Teryn Roshak bit back a curse as the Kell Hounds Wolfhound came at him again. A new model, one his warbook didn’t recognise - its heavy arm mount something that looked like a laser but wasn’t, from the holes it had burned in the Gyrfalcon it had been savaging - the pilot knew their trade, coming on not in an easy to track straight sprint, but an irregular broken field run; weaving amongst the trees. His lasers chased it, slashing glowing scars into tree trunks - no risk of fire; the autumns here were cold and wet, and there had been heavy rains for most of the last week - and burning semi-molten wounds across the Wolfhound’s skin, but none deep enough to tell. Torso twisted as far as it could go, the Kell Hounds ‘Mech lashed back with its own weapons; the thick, flickering-orange beam of the arm gun burning armour from his Banshee’s leg in a mist of liquid composites. The torso-mounted mediums’ aim wavered from the evasive run, dark blue beams tracing pale yellow bands across the damage readout. Then the SRM launcher blinked red. Roshak looked at the status readout and then he did curse.

Stravag!” Despite himself, he was impressed. The Kell Hounds warrior had used their own motion to weld his missile rack’s protective cover sealed; a master’s trick. Being impressed didn’t stop him throwing heat discipline to the winds and unleashing both of his Banshee’s extended-range particle cannon. Whiplashing arcs of manmade lightning blazed out; one reducing a tree the size of an Atlas to splinters and semi-vaporised pulp, the other skimming the Wolfhound’s head, clipping away one of the sensor “ears”. With the Gyrfalcon - plus a newly arrived Bellona, lofting salvoes of long-range missiles - rounding on them, the Kell Hounds warrior wisely chose to depart, falling back amongst the trees, following the rest of their lancemates.

That lull bought Teryn time; time to jettison his now-useless short-range missile ammo, and try and find some solution in the still heat-addled tactical feed. There was good and bad there in equal measure - truthfully, things were going better than he’d hoped; the swirling chaos of action within the woods was forcing the Lyrans to be markedly more cautious than he, their superior numbers little advantage, and they were pushing only very carefully now. And with the plateau securing one flank, Star Captain Helen - employing her assault tanks and battle armour, along with a Point of Hadur artillery vehicles, with judicious care - had stopped an attempt to cut the Cluster off from the Third Talon cold.

Yet, as well as his warriors were doing, this attritional brawl favoured the Lyrans’ weight of numbers. He needed something to try and even the odds -

Command Alpha, this is Talon Six.” One of his scouting VTOL pilots, their voice thready from pain. “Possible Lyran command element contact; heavy air defence fire at CR blue, 124 by 37.

Teryn frowned at that report. It didn’t seem normal, not for the Kell Hounds he knew; Evan Kell and his commanders preferred to operate from mobile, dispersed sites - Kell himself usually from his mammoth Dire Wolf - but - some of the contact reports had mentioned oddities of ‘Mechs and markings on some of the “Kell Hounds” they’d engaged, and - he checked the chart reference; yes, that would be the right place for a command post Decision crystallised.

“Acknowledged, Talon Six; RTB, immediate. “Skybolt,” he switched channels to the one assigned to communicate with Star Commander Perrin, fingers tapping across his comms board, “firefall. Coordinates attached.”

“Skybolt acknowledges. Will attack soonest,” Perrin lowered the radio headset, then turned to the astech manning the console. “Download those coordinates to our fighters’ terrain mapping systems, and then get ready to evacuate this site.”

She stepped out of the radio hut, moving along the flight line - such as it was - to her fighter, dodging around, or pausing to allow for the passage of, tech teams removing camouflage netting or making final checks on the bombs slung under her squadron’s wings, and the rocket boosters attached above.

As far as Perrin knew, this airfield had never even been named, and ordinarily - probably why the Lyrans’ reconnaissance had overlooked it - would have been too small for aerospace fighters loaded with external ordnance - even the pair of light Bashkirs, Avar and Sulla, never mind Danil’s Visigoth or her own Sabutai - thus the rocket boosters. Coming from an unexpected angle might just make this work.

Pausing by her own fighter, a worn, battle-scarred old Sabutai Charlie, Perrin double-checked the pair of fifteen-hundred-kilogram bombs under its wings; not that she’d be using them, if the Lyran air screen was even half-awake. It would be down to her and Danil to try and keep them off the younger pilots, at least long enough for them to use their ordnance; even her fledglings could manage to hit the ground.

Satisfied, Perrin clambered up into the cockpit, hooking up her flightsuit’s life support and electronic links with the ease of long practice as she ran through the final preflight steps and began taxiing to launch position.

“Comms check,” she ordered softly, vibrations from the Sabutai’s engines spinning up to full power rippling through its frame. Acknowledgements came back, loud and clear. “Okay, Fledglings, listen and listen well,” Perrin spoke in calm, level tones, more likely to get through the impulses of youth and training sharply curtailed to fill the ravenous maw of Mongol tactics - so-called - as she flipped up the plastic cover over the rocket boosters’ arming switch, her other hand on the throttle, ready to push it forward. “No formation flying today; as soon as your Point is off the ground, fly for the coordinates loaded into your nav modules. Fly as low as you dare, and as fast as your engines can manage. And Devra,” the youngest, least experienced of her pilots, flying the sedate Avar to try and compensate for her inexperience, “you are with me.”

Now you are taking responsibility for strays, Perrin. She shook off the dark thoughts; Devra deserved a chance to live, and only her cover fire might give the young pilot that.

The Falcon fighters weren't unnoticed once they got up to altitude and speed. A thousand meters above, Squadron Captain Marquis Devers of the 92nd Aerospace Squadron noted the contacts and the course reported from the 8th Striker's Aerospace Group Command on the Penton. His feet went to the acceleration pedals on his Typhoon OmniFighter and he pushed the stick forward to reduce altitude. Sweat beaded on his ebon skin, his heart pounding from the anticipation of coming combat. Mindful of his duties, he keyed the rest of his squadron, twelve fighters strong. "All flights, enemy airstrike inbound on 2nd Battalion command elements. Intercept and eliminate."

"Roger, Squadron Lead." Two voices, one a German-accented woman and the other with a male New Earth English accent, echoed each other almost perfectly. The latter added, "Where in blazes did they come from?"

"Not our problem." Devers cycled through the selection of his weapons. The Typhoon Alpha mounted wing pulse lasers and an cluster-firing autocannon in the nose for dog-fighting. His ammo feeds showed green and he readied a target lock on one of the enemy fighters. The Lyran-provided database marked the target as a Bashkir. As he approached optimum firing range and his systems acquired a lock, he noted the fighter seemed to be weaving a little. "Looks like nuggets," he said, surprised that despite the pilot's clear difficulty keeping their fighter level at this speed, they weren't breaking off even if their passive defenses had to have picked up his active sensor lock. Either suicidally brave or…

His own systems screamed warning just before his finger could tense. It did so anyway, spraying autocannon shells and laser fire ineffectually around the course of the enemy fighter, given he was wildly maneuvering to avoid the shots that would have done a number on his craft. He noted one of the contacts was suddenly climbing right for him, a heavier fighter than the others marked as a Sabutai, bombs tumbling away from it to strike the forests below. He banked sharply and accelerated to throw off his enemy's aim.

But no further attack came. His wingman called out "I'm hit!" and briefly streaked past his cockpit, flame pouring from wounds in his fuselage, an emerald laser slicing further into the damaged structure. As the flaming Typhoon swept past, the form of a craft identified as a Visigoth went by as well, beams clearly tracking on him.

Devers rotated his craft and evaded the fire on him. The warning sensors stopped going off, there was no more active lock. What?

"Bogey on my six!" The call brought his attention to the rest of the squadron. He righted his fighter and brought it back around. His squadron's lighter-weight flight, in Lightning IIIs, were beset by the Visigoth and the thick-chinned craft being reported as a Sabutai. The larger fighter's chin lit up with repeated emerald laser beams, big enough to be large-caliber weapons, that caught the fighter just as it broke off an attack run on the enemy fighters hugging the ground. The Lightning clearly took damage, but the Sabutai pilot wasn’t even trying to finish them; the instant the Lightning broke off, they snap-turned left in a move that had to’ve stressed their fighter to its limits, going for another of the Lightnings trying to line up on a second Bashkir. One by one the entire flight broke away as the enemy fighters struck at them.

Ah. So they're not all nuggets. "Looks like we've got a couple experienced pilots flying top-cover for the nuggets," he said into the squadron comms. "C Flight, we'll give you a shot. A and B, follow me. Take down those two fighters." He banked the Typhoon and started acquiring the Sabutai.

"No kill credits on the nuggets, either," added his squadron XO, Flight Lieutenant Tabitha Reynolds.

Devers frowned. Not that he didn't agree that those remaining pilots weren't really worth the credit for a kill, and ace status, but he'd have to have a word with Reynolds later about timing. For the time being he kept the Sabutai on his HUD. The cluster rounds from his autocannon stripped armor from the Falcon OmniFighter without managing a penetrating hit, and follow up laser shots barely missed as the enemy pilot pulled a high-speed maneuver to evade his fire and Reynolds'.

Another of the icons on his display went out. C Flight had a kill. One less enemy fighter on a bombing run. That more didn't disappear became clear as the Visigoth and Sabutai, defying the near four-to-one odds they faced, made a high speed pass to threaten C Flight. A series of laser shots tore the wing from one of the Lightning IIIs, forcing the craft down, while the other pilots broke away to avoid a similar fate.

"They're determined," Reynolds said. "Mix it up?"

"No." Two fighters down, more damaged. WC Popova will never let me live that down. "C Flight, maintain runs. Everyone else, pin those damn fighters down!" While giving the command he kept his eye on the Visigoth. The pilot weaved through his attempted shots and those from Reynold and Reynold's wingmate. Instead of trying to keep a tab on him, though, Devers broke away and maneuvered his fighter toward C Flight. The remaining Lightning IIIs under Flight Lieutenant Yang's command reformed and made for the enemy lights coming in low and fast. We'll get maybe two more chances before they're over the battlefield and hitting their targets.

As before the Sabutai and Visigoth came after C Flight, weaving between the other fighters. Devers picked the Visigoth and bore down on the fighter, coming from a different angle from Flight Lieutenant Fischer's Typhoon. Fischer's machine was configured differently, favoring all energy weapons. While her lasers tore at the Visigoth, his autocannon's cluster rounds and his own laser beams converged on it as well.

The enemy pilot managed one shot that scoured armor from one of C Flight's craft before taking the hits from two angles. At first it looked like the Visigoth's armor would hold, but a brief burst of light and flame erupted from the rear. One of their shots managed a direct hit on the fusion engine. The fighter lost power and dove toward the ground. It was joined moments later by what the warbook called a Sulla from the enemy. Only a second Bashkir and a fighter marked as an Avar remained.

The Sabutai raked Yang's fighter with repeated laser hits. He broke off. "Damage to control surfaces. I'm out."

Frowning, Devers focused his attention on the Sabutai, now alone in its effort to protect the remaining light fighters. This one's good he thought, watching his shots miss while the enemy fighter executed another series of high turn maneuvers, desperately trying to keep Yang's remaining pilots off the two inexperienced fighters. "All fighters on those enemy nuggets. Let's give our friend too many targets to handle. Reynolds, on me. Time to end this."

Perrin sucked in deep breaths of the high-oxygen mix through her mask. That was interesting; her heart rate had just spiked higher than her previous record.

Her flight suit squeezed and pulsed, working on pushing blood back to her brain as she wove a high-G slalom through the Lyran formation. Laser fire repeatedly split the sky, emerald beam after emerald beam slicing at the fighters hunting her fledglings. Some shots landed, others missed, but either way she considered it a success if it forced them to break off from the fledgings on their bombing runs. There are so many…

All the while, her warning alarms screamed. There were targeting locks on her, and a pair of fighters were doggedly pursuing hers, maneuvering to get shots that her maneuvering denied them. Flashes of laser fire sometimes crossed just to the side of her cockpit, while bands of yellow and orange showed on her monitors to reflect lost armor to glancing strikes. Sooner or later, these pilots would take her down. If only she could see Devra and the other through to their target…!

"Stravag! Star Commander, I'm hit, I'm…" The remaining Bashkir disintegrated in mid-air, its weakened armor hit center mass by a pair of Gauss Rifle shots.

No! Her maneuvers grew yet more furious and desperate, setting off warning alarms of their own while her suit strained to keep the blood in her brain. Time for desperate measures.

Perrin slammed the airbrakes on full, the G-forces like a kick in the spine from a Jupiter as her fighter’s airspeed plummeted. It was a trick she’d learned from her first Star Commander, a leathery old veteran of the Jihad; dangerous enough that even aerospace Falconers would not teach it, but when it worked

Her display lit up red, showing where a weapon strike sloughed off the remaining armor over part of the right wing, but the gamble otherwise paid off. Both of her pursuers shot past her. Had she been fighting them in earnest, she'd have easily gotten onto the tail of one of them.

Instead she'd bought herself precious seconds. Getting thrust back up to avoid stalling, she banked the Sabutai onto the Points of enemy fighters acquiring Devra. Her finger stroked the triggers the moment she had a partial lock on one, spearing the enemy with a couple laser shots before moving on to the next. The fighters maneuvered, trying to stay on Devra while avoiding her fighter's full fury, and letting the young warrior-pilot make her final approach on target.

Indeed, there was a surge of triumph that filled Perrin from head to toe at the call over the radio. "Ordnance away!" Devra's bombs were in flight, and as she broke off, they sailed on towards the enemy command post and adjacent 'Mechs, certain to cause some havoc when they hit. Devra banked hard - as hard as such a young, inexperienced warrior dared - and broke off her completed run.

The Avar disintegrated a second later.

Though her maneuvers meant she only had eyes on the sight for seconds, it seemed to hang in Perrin's vision as if those seconds were minutes. Multiple autocannon rounds and laser pulses pelted the Avar until one wing blew off, then the tail. "I am hit! All control lost!" the young pilot cried. The broken remains of the Avar spiraled toward the too-near ground.

"Eject!" Perrin ordered, throwing heat discipline - and her own survival - to the winds and pouring out laser fire as fast as her weapons could recycle, flaying away the belly armour off what seemed some variation on a Huscarl heavy fighter. The machine survived the full fury, reflecting armor protection that likely exceeded her own, banking away from her. Perrin refused to let the fighter escape. While her systems screamed heat warnings into her ears, she lined up for another shot on the Huscarl-like fighter. "Pilot Devra, eject!"

There was no reply. The marker for the Avar was gone from her holotank.

Her shriek of fury was as worthy as a falcon's cry. She lined her crosshairs up on Devra's killer and pulled the trigger again. More lances of laser fire lashed out at her foe…

...and missed, as her foe suddenly fell behind her, as if standing still in the air.

Two can play that game.

Such was the thought that Squadron Captain Devers had when, seeing he couldn't immediately shake his tail, he went for his air brakes. Much like the Falcon pilot had done to him and Reynolds, he extended them to full and cut thrust, rapidly dropping his damaged Typhoon's airspeed. He was rewarded with laser light cutting through the air ahead of him, and the sight of the Sabutai shooting past. He fired his weapons to little effect; the angle of attack was bad, and only his shorter, medium-grade pulse lasers managed a direct hit. He had more pressing matters as stall warnings blared. He pressed his acceleration pedals hard and shot the Typhoon right up to its maximum of 4.5 Gees. His suit constricted, keeping the blood from being pressed out of his head and brain, and with every ounce of control he could manage Devers wrestled the stalling Typhoon back into level flight and then a rapid climb.

Going to have to thank Wing Commander Popova for all that training, he thought. Popova, that hard-nosed Giausarovite, ran her pilots hard in the simulators to make sure they could pull such maneuvers to counter threats like the Dracs' nimble, over-engined Hakaze.

While climbing he checked his holotank. Reynolds had a bead on the Sabutai and placed a couple well-aimed, targeting computer-assisted PPC shots into its body. What might've been the killing shot missed, however, with the Sabutai banking hard and accelerating at full thrust to throw off Reynholds' shot. Damn good pilot. Just more interested in trying to kill us than to get away. Devers brought his crosshairs over the enemy fighter and accelerated. At the far range his autocannon's cluster rounds would more likely hit nothing but air, but he was just within range for the wing-mounted Mark 18 Vickers-Armstrong pulse lasers. He let his systems acquire a partial lock before flipping his fire selector to single fire and pulling the laser trigger.

The first stream of sapphire pulses missed the Falcon fighter. It twisted, still accelerating. The pilot had to be near the end of their endurance. Devers felt the blood rush in and out of his head at matching the maneuver, drawing closer while the other pulse laser fired. This time he made a partial hit, stitching sapphire light over the tail fins of the Sabutai before the remaining stream struck open air.

The Clanner looped "upward", as if to climb, and Devers leveled to track. Looks like they're going to bug out after all… wait.

Given the view on his holotank, no, the Clanner wasn't going to bug out at all.

They'd turned their fighter directly towards his.

The unending alarms failed to penetrate Perrin's conscious thoughts while she leveled her fighter out. Her enemies were all that mattered. The Huscarl-like fighters were the equals she would have otherwise demanded for this final chapter to her existence. These unknown Lyrans who destroyed her command, cut down so many promising young warriors she was charged with blooding, they would be her isorla in death, if need be. They would pay for taking her charges from her.

Her fighter's controls reacted sluggishly, no surprise given her damage and that she'd been liberally firing her energy complement. Her heat was only beginning to level off and give her greater control. Given all her high-energy maneuvering her fuel gauge continued to decline. If she didn't break off and return to base soon, she would never make it.

I would not make it anyway.

Her fatalistic thoughts joined her interest. Her opponent, far from trying to evade her plentiful laser armament, was meeting her as if they were knights at a jousting tournament.

Tyra Miraborg. The name came to her unbidden, the legend who’d bought an ilKhan as her isorla a century ago. Forcing the heat- and damage-addled fighter around as red continued to swallow more of the damage readouts, she lined up on the largest of the DropShips looming in the distance, opening the throttle as wide as it could go.

Her world seemed to narrow down to her target alone, energy beams and bursts of exploding shells barely worth considering. Optimistically, her free hand gripped the ejection lever.

Perrin found herself wondering idly if the ejection mechanism might still work.

The change in orientation of the Sabutai was quickly followed by word from Group Command over Devers' earpieces. "Enemy contact is on collision course with the Penton, all craft intercept and destroy her!"

He banked and twisted the Typhoon, heedless of the G forces that involved and the way it shifted the blood in his body. This kept the Falcon fighter roughly in his field of fire, and more pulse laser fire did score strikes. But the fighter refused to move from its deadly course.

The Penton's gunners weren't blind to the danger. Multiple missile launchers focused on the craft and fired, and dozens of LRMs corkscrewed through the air, some exploding on or around the fighter. But while they blasted chunks of armor and fuselage from the Sabutai, they didn't deflect the fighter from its deadly course. The azure lightning of PPC bolts likewise tried, and failed, to bring a stop to the suicidal Clan fighter.

More contacts showed on the holotank. Four Skyfire interceptors, the Penton's embarked protectors, soared down from their top cover. The pilots were skilled in their own right in their choice of angles of attack, and within moments their Gauss Rifles were firing while they got a bearing with their wing-mounted pulse lasers. One, then two, made contact with the Sabutai, knocking it around and breaking off chunks of fuselage and wing. The fighter began a controlled spin from the pilot's efforts to keep their craft on its deadly course.

No more time. Regardless of heat, Devers fired everything he had. Cluster rounds from his autocannon sprayed over the rear of the Falcon fighter, breaking up the remaining armor around the engines and the tail fins. His lasers chewed and cut into those wounds, breaking up the engine assembly area of the Sabutai. A splutter of plasma and light joined the death of the fusion-generated flame burning at the rear. The Clanner's spin grew in violence and the pilot lost all control, their fighter wobbling through the air.

The surge of heat in his cockpit joined the warning sirens. The heat of his weapon systems made his control systems sluggish. Devers wrestled with his flight stick and forced the Typhoon to level, ensuring he didn't crash into the Penton or the ground as well. It took a few seconds for the heat sinks to dump the excess heat into Great X's atmosphere, easing the controls. He banked and gave himself a few of his kill.

The Sabutai covered the remaining meters to the Penton… and plowed into the ground before it, about a hundred meters short of one of the 'Mech bay doors, still closing. The violence of the landing broke up the fighter, its pieces scattering every which way in a fan spread out toward the DropShip. Sparks flew where random pieces of metal did in fact strike the ship's landing legs or surface, but as the seconds passed and it was clear there would be no blast from within, Devers let himself breathe. They'd stopped the enemy in time. "92 Squad to Group Command, enemy fighters splashed, I say again, enemy fighters splashed. I'm running low on fuel and am RTBing."

"Roger that, 92 Squad. Penton Actual thanks you for the help. Projecting course to your nav system now."

The HUD reflected the flight path they assigned him. Devers matched it, sighing with anticipation of the asschewing that his perfectionist Wing Commander undoubtedly had in mind.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

In the heart of his command facilities on the Sinclair, General Bridger's attention on the enemy air strike briefly diverted him from the ground fighting. He noted with grim satisfaction that it was over; all enemy fighters splashed, damage done and being dealt with.

Brigadier Laguna scowled at the figures on her holotank. "Medics are still confirming if Colonel Stefanidis will make it. Major Knowles is in command of the 2/8th Striker and rallying."

"I can see why the Clans are so feared on this side," Bridger responded. His display showed the wider range of the battle. That they were winning was evident, but nor was it predetermined. The fighter strike, had it been more damaging on the Penton, could have dangerously destabilized the chain of command if the enemy exploited the attack. "No other sign of assets?"

"Scouts are certain. They've got some reserve, one of those combined arms 'Stars' or 'Novas', but almost everything's been committed to the Altar area. Including everything the 3rd Talon has active."

"Then I think it's time we make the call." He opened a tac-comm line. "Colonel Ward, your people need to open the way for our flanking maneuver and isolate the 3rd Talon."

Her reply came through loud and clear. "They got stopped cold by an artillery strike. If they press on the casualties will be severe."

"A good thing we've dealt with their air power. Standby, we'll get air strikes on the way to deal with their support units."

Laguna didn't have to be told more. She opened her tac-comm lines. "Group Command, commence strike sortie on enemy support. And I want the 3rd and 4th Battalions in motion now. Commence kesselschlacht maneuver."

Bridger got on another tac-comm line. "Colonel Kell, status?"

"We've got Roshak's people tied down, and we'll likely finish them off in time. But I'd rather not waste time and lives on this fight if we can get it done quicker, General."

"Nor would I. Keep your people safe. We're commencing the main phase now."

"Roger that. Give the 3rd Talon hell."

Bridger could tell there was some disappointment, subconsciously anyway. While the Hounds were certainly getting their fill of fighting the Falcons, it was the Mongol units that particularly had their ire. Evan Kell would've likely preferred fighting the 3rd Talon. But mixing their commands would be risky, especially against an elite unit; their handful of exercises on Timkovichi aside, the local Hounds were not yet synced with the 8th Strikers or their counterparts from Bridger's side of the Looking Glass. And the 3rd Talons were best faced by the larger force given their skill level.

Maybe there'll be more on Zanderij or Yeguas, if we decide to make another strike. That thought aside, Bridger put his attention on the unfolding battle, waiting for his orders to be followed up on.

Star Captain Malthus prided himself on many things. Recognition of the Chingis Khan's vision, certainly, such that he didn't care for the rumors of her defeat and capture or death brought from Timkovichi. The superiority of his warriors, and that those who dared oppose them should be utterly destroyed for the offense. And finally, being far above the useless old rules and traditions that held the Falcons back for so long, and still dominated the feeble mind of that old washed up solahma Roshak.

From the cockpit of his Shrike he observed the 3rd Talon rending the enemy's "8th Strikers". By numbers the Lyrans were a hard fight, but their pilots rarely showed the skill of his trueborn forces; the only concern he felt for them was that they had the numbers to overwhelm. Killing four out of five Lyrans did little if the fifth survived to gut an exhausted warrior's machine.

His crosshairs spit upon one particularly enemy machine, a humanoid model of assault weight pouring laser fire into Star Commander Tomas' Flamberge. With a stroke of his triggers long range missiles and PPCs converged on the humanoid assault 'Mech, destroying armor and compelling attention. Tomas took advantage to flank the enemy humanoid, striking with his ATMs. One skillful hit disabled the arm-mounted laser on the enemy machine. A similar machine aided the foe, requiring Tomas to expand the distance when the heavy autocannon on the second 'Mech's arm roared, nearly hitting him. "Keep your formations."

"Star Captain Malthus, we have enemy movement." He recognized the voice of Star Commander Uther, commander of a Star of Reconnaissance machines on their right flank. "More than two Stars worth… no, more. Under fire!" There was a sizzle and crackle; Uther was being fired on by PPCs. "We will hold."

Suspicious, Malthus set the holotank for a more strategic display. More contacts were indeed bearing on his right flank. So were more on the left, braving the artillery of his and Roshak's support Stars. Two Trinaries of "Mechs and armor infantry were coming from each side, if not more.

We are being flanked. Cut off from Roshak. Malthus frowned. And I lack the forces to stop them. This is their goal, then. Surround and destroy the 3rd Talon. I should be so honored they fear us such.

The bitter truth was, not only could he not stop them, he was quite sure this was it. The 3rd Talon was going to be surrounded and destroyed, and all he and his warriors could do was die with their beaks in the throats of their foes.

I can still deny them their sought prize. He keyed the 3rd Talon's HQ. "Inform the technicians. Wipe all data tracks at my order, or if my death is reported. Destroy all spare machines and equipment."

"Aff," came the response.

As for the other element, he opened an entirely different line. The Falcon who appeared on his holotank was a dark-haired male in the uniform of the Falcon Watch. "What can I do for the Chingis Khan and her followers?" the man asked.

"It is time we dealt with the prisoners. I will not leave any for the Lyrans to reclaim. Begin the culling."

"In the name of the Khan."

"In the name of the Khan," Malthus agreed. Now to kill as many of them as we can...
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by LadyTevar »

The Jade Commander knew that was coming. Going to be Falcons killing Falcons next
Nitram, slightly high on cough syrup: Do you know you're beautiful?
Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" -- Leonard Nimoy, last Tweet
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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

Post 13 - Keeping Faith

Jade Falcon Bondsmen Camp X-Ray
Near St. Xavier, Great X
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
11 October 3142

The moment they were called from their workbenches, Basil knew something was wrong.

Or rather, more wrong than usual.

In truth, everything was wrong when it came to the Jade Falcons. Basil, an infantry warrior of the true Clan Wolf now dwelling on Arc-Royal, felt nothing but scorn for his Clan's greatest foe. The Crusaders were finally revealing their true nature in their rush to abandon the ways of the Clans, with their Mongol Doctrine such a violation of the Founders' vision that the word "dezgra" sometimes seemed woefully insufficient to describe the loathing he felt for it.

The circumstances of his captivity made clear how far the Falcons were fallen. Crusader or Warden, Clan bondsmen were supposed to be treated better than this. Eighteen hour work days on starvation rations calculated more for killing slowly than keeping a bondsman nourished and able to serve his or her new Clan? Even the Falcons of old recognized that bondsmen should be treated as potential future warriors. This was just slow murder.

Under the stern eyes of their guards, all of them from the Falcon Watch, Basil released the handles on the metal press and stood in place. To either side were other bondsmen. One, Molly Rogers from Morges, was a captured Kell Hound infantrywoman, the other was Joachim Liebknecht, a soldier from Tharkad. They glanced at him briefly before turning at the barked command to do so. Basil did as well, trembling in fury as he contemplated what new dishonor the Falcon Mongols would bring to him and the rest of the captives.

They marched out of the room, past the lines of stamped and ready metal sheets for prefab field facilities, and towards the yard. Other lines of bondsmen joined them, numbering in the hundreds by the time they arrived. The entire camp seemed to be lining up there. Usually this was for a formal review, but Star Colonel Roshak had one just the prior week, and such reviews included a stand and other measures not showing today. The only thing present in the yard were the uniformed figures of the Falcon Watch, armed with the surplus rifles they'd brought out from captured stores, some possibly dating to the original Clan invasion.

The hair on his neck stood up on end. Something has changed. What are these stravag doing?

"Wonder what this is about?" Rogers murmured, her English lilted and lacking the bluntness of a Teutonic accent like Liebknecht's.

"More dezgra schemes," Basil grumbled as a reply.

"Quiet!" A nearby Falcon shouted the word and leveled a scornful look at them. Basil returned it, as if to dare the smaller man to do something, but said nothing. There was no value in reacting at this time, not when so much was unknown.

They were lined to face the western fence. Basil made out a line of Falcon Watch personnel, rifles in hand. This alone was not unusual, but the lack of any sign that they were being addressed was disturbing. He stole glances to his sides to see if he could make any more details, but the line to his left was already filling in as well. All he could really make out were his fellow jumpsuited prisoners.

The first indication that something was wrong came from the cries on all sides, surprise and fright and terror. Moments later came a familiar hammering in the air, the rapid cracks of assault rifles firing, joined by screams of pain and cries for mercy. "They're killing us!" one voice shouted.

The lines broke up at that point. Some ran. Some hit the deck. That allowed Basil to get the glimpse that verified what was going on with gut-twisting clarity: the Falcon Watch were themselves in a line, rifles raised and firing. This wasn't just an incident. It was a massacre.

And he was going to die.

His heart raged at it. Gunned down as a defenseless bondsman? No honor to be won in battle, not even in defiance by fighting back? His first instinct was to charge and find a Falcon's neck to twist and break. Even if he died a moment later, he'd die a warrior!

"This way!" Rogers took off towards the largest group of standing prisoners. Liebknecht followed her first while Basil briefly kept to his place. Only briefly, as the thought occurred to him that this might at least let him get closer and take a weapon for himself. He followed, running hard to catch up given the lost seconds.

It was quickly clear there was nowhere to go. Ahead the sound of gunfire continued, accompanied by the screams of men and women going down with metal in their lungs and guts and necks, piling over the dead and the dying. This wasn't going to be the way out. He might even trip over them and be gunned down, preventing him from his only remaining goal: to put his hands on one of these dezgra before dying.

There was a splatter of blood ahead. Liebknecht was hit. He faltered forward and ran into Rogers as they came up toward the Falcon firing line. Only a few of their fellow captives remained ahead. They would likely die in the following seconds.

No. There would be no vengeance. Basil would not get to bring a Falcon with him in death. But in that split second, he recognized that if he could not die fighting, he could still die a warrior by performing the other function of his caste: protection.

With one last heave of his thick, if weakened, muscles, Basil jumped onto Liebknecht and Rogers, bearing them both down and climbing on top of them, covering them with his own body. He could not speak loudly, should a Falcon hear him, but his whisper still rumbled in his throat. "Do not move or speak! Stay still! Stay—"

There was a sudden, painful impact against his head. All consciousness ceased.

The battle on the Vicar's Altar plateau was definitely turning now, by Bridger's estimation. Ward's Kell Hounds were firmly lodged between the 3rd Talon and 371st PGC and, with the help of Evan Kell's Hounds, rolling up the latter. The 3rd Talon was nearly surrounded by the entirety of the 8th Strikers and being ground down with increasing speed. All things said, the battle was developing as he'd hoped. At some greater cost, it had to be said, but not too much. Hopefully Colonel Stefanitis lives to see it…

"Sir." His Chief of Staff Major General von Hammermark glanced up from his spot near the main holotank. "Priority from recon flights, sir. We've got activity in the suspected POW camps."

A fist closed around Bridger's gut. "What kind of activity?"

"They're going over hi-res imagery now, relaying it…" Hammermark looked up in time for a Tech to complete the connection and put up the display. The high-resolution scanner on their recon craft showed the familiar layout of a prison camp, a network of fenced in buildings with guard towers, approach road, and a large open yard. Hundreds of figures were forming into lines in the yard, surrounded by fewer ones visibly armed. The fist in his gut tightened.

"Rat bastard," Bridger snarled. "Sortie the rescue teams now! Now! I knew they'd pull something like this!"

Hammermark did as directed, or rather ensured the Techs sent the orders. "Sir, you don't think…?"

Bridger's eyes remained locked on the image, all thoughts of the battle banished from his mind. "There's no damn reason to line them up like that, not unless—" He stopped speaking when the hi-res image clearly showed the camp guards raising their weapons. The image was zoomed in enough to see the muzzle flashes from the assault rifles firing, with sprays of blood joined by people running or dropping to the ground.

"Mother of God," Hammermark gasped.

"Madre de Dios," echoed Brigadier Laguna.

"I want those rescue teams in, now!" Bridger shouted, even as his mind flashed back eight years, back to Vega, and the rolling heads of men and women he'd been responsible for. He clenched his fists so tight his fingernails dug into flesh. I am going to hang every last one of those sons-of-bitches! he swore to himself. From the nearest Goddamned tree!

Martina,” the voice of Star Colonel Roshak roused Martina from her efforts to centre herself, “Malthus has been exactly the blind, dezgra fool I feared. The code is Prinz Eugen.” He didn’t have to say more, and Martina slammed her battle claw onto the Zibler’s roof in fury as she blink-clicked open a channel to her Nova.

“The bondsman camps, go,” she snarled, bracing herself as the hovertank lifted beneath her, drive fans howling as it accelerated to full speed. The rest of her Alpha Point did the same, and Martina had time for satisfaction at that, at least, as she blink-clicked her transmitter inactive and began swearing in Lyran German at Malthus’s stupidity - for some things, Spheroid curses were just more satisfying.

The hovertank’s driver had, evidently and prudently, taken her anger as being directed at them if they didn’t hurry, engaging the supercharger the instant that the tank hit a straight logging path, hitting more than a hundred and sixty kilometres an hour down the dirt road. Trees flashed past, the other supercharger-fitted Zibler pacing them along a different trail. They were leaving the rest of her Nova behind, but that could not be helped; speed was the overriding necessity now.

With her venting of fury done, Maritna blink-clicked open the link to her warriors. “Remember, our objective is the preservation of life,” Martina ordered. “Use no more force than you must, and be cautious of what is behind your target.” There were muttered complaints at that, but almost pro forma - nothing that would justify a Trial of Grievance - and Martina settled for glaring each of her Alpha Point into silence.

Coming up on Camp Zeta,” the hovertank’s driver called in, “Three minutes out.”

“Bargained well and done,” Martina responded; and it might have been her imagination, but she could have sworn the tank’s engine roared louder, and the hull itself shivered, as the driver coaxed forth a little more speed. She didn’t actually start counting, but her Alpha Point still chuckled darkly at the threat.

The trees thinned out as they hurtled down the trail, and then - right on the driver’s three minute estimate - out into the cleared area around Camp Zeta; a grandiose name for a square enclosed by barbed wire, cornered by guard towers and occupied by a cluster of long, low log-built barracks. Ordinarily clean and orderly, now it was swallowed by dark smoke and the sounds of gunfire.

Martina bit back another curse but snapping out orders. “Alpha Point, with me, north end. Beta Point, south; sweep, Hades pattern and meet in the centre. Omicron Point,” the tanks; as finely built as they were - Martina sneered internally for a moment; let the Lyrans boast of their clumsy assault armour, but second-line forces or not, the Davions built the finest tanks even Kerensky’s children could ask for - their medium-gauge lasers and Streak four-packs would be useless in the kind of blindsided firefight they’d be going into within the camp, “screen west.” At this point, she would not put it past that dezgra fool Malthus to have lied about his Cluster’s strength; and better to plan that way and succeed, than ignore the possibility and fail.

As the hovertank hit its closest pass to the camp, Martina leapt, hitting her jumpjets a moment later and giving vent to her feelings in a high, piercing avian war-shriek. Similar cries came from the rest of her point; and a deeper wolf-howl from Troy - abtakha from the Crusader Wolves - that turned into a curse as Troy’s boot tangled in the barbed wire.

Her armour’s visor display shifted automatically to composite imaging, painting the camp in a bewildering mix of icons and colours. Her mind sorted through them, building a clear, coherent picture as she leapt again, cataloguing dead and wounded bondsmen and keeping track of the rest of her Point on the tac-map display. This was why so many potential true Elementals faltered, washing out into the infantry or even as far as the police caste; inability to assimilate the raw volume of data their armour fed them.

Something in her visor stopped her woolgathering instantly, and Martina cut her jumpjets; a squad of the Watch’s Mongol thugs, stalking two wounded bondsmen and blind that things had changed. Time to even the odds.

One dropped with a scream that cut off as though severed by a laser bolt as her full, armoured weight struck them from above; a second, rifle falling from hands rendered nerveless by raw shock, dying as her battle claw smashed into their armour vest, dead-centre, with bone-shattering force. Her pulse laser cut a third into multiple sections, glowing white on infrared. The fourth simply ran, throwing away rifle, vest and webbing to run even faster; she let them, they could be dealt with later at need, and the cowardice would punish them worse than death.

The last, possessed of more nerve or just less sanity, armed a grenade, intent on taking the wounded bondsmen with them. Martina embraced them, twisting the hand holding the grenade between them and pinning the Watch soldier to her chestplate in a crushing bear-hug. A wet thump and a sickening splattering sound - that Martina knew would stick in her memories - accompanied the grenade detonating; a strip of yellow flared across her suit’s damage readout, dimming almost immediately as HarJel flowed to the damaged area.

Turning to face the two wounded bondsmen - a man and a woman, from what she could see - Martina was aware that she must look a nightmare - the hunched, troll-like immensity of her battle armour amplified by the bone and jade plating being scorched and splattered with blood and other, less mentionable things, even before adding the deep abyssal rumble the external address system made of her snarled command to, “Stay here.”

Martina took a moment to assess things. Ellara and Kristoff were well ahead of her, encountering minimum resistance - effectively none - and she could hear the metronomic crack, crack of Anne’s Gauss rifle. Martina found herself shivering reflexively at that; she had no problems with killing, but Anne enjoyed it, might have been fertile ground for the Mongols’ cause if not for her odd self-denying asceticism. As for Troy -

Lead, Alpha Four. Requesting support, urgent.” The deep, chugging thunder of heavy machine gun fire underlined Troy’s voice, with the odd echo-effect that meant she was hearing it over the radio and normally at once. “Guard SecMech at my twelve.

Never a dull moment.

“Alpha Point, converge and engage,” Martina ordered, bounding towards their new target.

Among the orbiting DropShips over Great X was one quite small vessel, a DropShuttle of two hundred tons weight with the rather unassuming designation of SDS-8. Most DropShuttles tended to be cargo and personnel movers, lightly armed if at all.

But SDS-8 wasn't a standard DropShuttle. It was a Spooky Insertion Craft; a fairly fast ECM-equipped craft built to maximize stealth characteristics, even if the fusion torches couldn't be hidden when they fired. Pilots of these craft learned to be sparing with their main engines, employing lower-powered thrust engines with heat baffles integrated into them for directional control and landing, and main fusion drives only employed when speed mattered more than stealth.

Such as it did right now, with said drives at full burn as the shuttle abruptly and sharply plunged into the atmosphere.

Lieutenant Augusta Novan's battle armor fit snugly over her figure, honed to perfection through intense training and equally intense operations. The Longshot Rifle she favored for sniping and regular combat was fitted to its magnetic anchor on her Spectre suit for later use, and her mission compartment contained all the proper gear for the rescue-intervention mission they'd been on standby for. Now an incredible four and a half Gs pressed her and the rest of the SOT into the g-cradles built into the transport compartment of the Spooky-type insertion shuttles. It was only a bit spacier than it'd be in the cramped confines of a Darter or Great Eagle OmniFighter with cargo pods for battle armor deployment, the usual alternative method of rapid exoatmospheric deployment for the SOT.

The voice of the pilot in the compartment beyond was strained by the G-forces. "Coming up on target area shortly. Prepare for deployment drop. Situation developing."

"Acknowledged," Captain Tosh stated from his armor suit, just two cradles away. "Everyone ready for drop!"

This wasn't going to be the gentle kind of drop, where the shuttle came to a hover and they jumped from an open door. Novan swallowed and readied her stomach for the next few seconds, as much as she could under the crushing acceleration strain anyway. Despite all that mental prep, it was still a sharp surprise for the floor to suddenly open up from under her. The cradle holding her suit in place opened and she fell through into the open sky of Great X.

Her armor's HUD lit up with data. Air speed. Available thrust in her suit jets. Distance to the ground. By pressing her middle fingers against her palms within the confines of her armored gloves she triggered the armor's jets to fire. It was almost like opening a parachute with the kick of sudden deceleration, but it didn't last. The engines could only burn for so long before they hit their heat threshold and cut off, and once that happened her descent continued picked back up.

Her mind flashed back briefly to her training at Fort Kerrigan, back on Arcturus, where the SOTs and jump infantry conducted insertion drop training. Air speed was both life and death. Too slow, enemy AA would kill you. Too fast, the ground would kill you.

Too fast right now. Not sure about enemy AA. Seeing that they'd cooled back down, she triggered her jets again, letting them nearly burn through before stopping.

Below the ground was approaching, and with it, the prisoner camp that was their target. A high fence with barbed wire, watch towers, internal structures, and the telltale appearance of muzzle fire. Their briefing, before the SDS-8 launched from one of the 8th Striker's DropShips on final orbital approach, made clear the goal: secure the prisoners, stop loss of life, put down the guards. In that order.

Novan gave the jets a final kick as the ground rushed up toward her. The deceleration was enough that the armor absorbed the impact enough to not break anything, although every part of her body hurt from the impact. With clenched teeth she pushed the pain away and stood. "Novan grounded," she spoke into the SOT secured comm-line.

Others reported in. All but Private Jeffries, who finally croaked, "Bad landing. Armor didn't take it. Broken legs."

One jump in fifty. That was what Sergeant Harbaugh told her and the other trainees back at Ft. Kerrigan. One jump in fifty would be bad when doing rapid insertion drops, from human error or system fault. But usually human error. By Harbaugh's count, Jeffries is lucky. He only broke his legs.

"Stay put, Jeffries," Captain Tosh ordered. "Everyone, double time!"

They ran, Alpha Squad in the lead. One by one rifles or assault guns were pulled from their magnetic holsters on the suits. "I'll take the near tower," Novan said, not waiting for the order. Once she was close enough she triggered her jets and soared into the air, shutting them down at just the right moment to make a pinpoint landing on the tower platform. A green-uniformed man with an avian-themed helmet turned toward her, battle rifle raised. But her rifle was already pointing at him and she pulled the trigger with practiced efficiency. A supersonic round blew through the light protective vest under the uniform and pulped one section of the man's lung. He fell in a strangled cry, doomed to either bleed to death or, more likely, drown in his own blood.

Novan might have taken the time for a second shot to the head, as a mercy kill, but there was no time given the gunfire and accompanying screams in the camp. She went to the interior rail, dropped to a knee to steady herself, and activated the Longshot's targeting scope. It tied into her HUD and projected the important tactical data for her work. She sighted on one of the Falcons emptying a rifle's clip into a barracks building and pulled the trigger. Another supersonic round blew the brains out of the target.

By this time the camp guards were in full disarray. They were under attack by just eighteen operators, but given their kit was for guarding unarmed prisoners, they might as well be unarmed themselves for fighting even light battle armor. Chem-propellant rounds and needler shots rang helplessly off the allowed stealth armor of the Spectre suits while their weapons, being Gauss guns of varying type, were sheer murder on the guards.

For a time the camp remained the sight of a massacre, but now it was the outmatched guards who were the victims, not their captives.

When Novan ran out of targets she turned her attention outward, moving to the other side of the tower and setting up again. "Novan, on overwatch."

"Kowalski, on overwatch."

"Cooper, on overwatch."

"Nyere here, still engaging hostiles."

Captain Tosh's reply came quickly. "Acknowledged. Maintain open tac-comm."

With her part in the taking of the camp done, Novan settled in for the long wait, just in case someone got it in their heads to counterattack.

For all that the main battle was the point of the exercise, Bridger found his attention drifting repeatedly to the secondary holotank and its display of blue markers descending on the identified prison camps. The 8th Strikers' SOT already had one camp, and companies from the 8th Striker Jump Infantry Regiment were securing the others with light 'Mech support.

That left one camp painted in enemy red. "Recon confirms weapons fire consistent with a fight," Hammermark said. "It would appear the enemy reserve is stopping one of the massacres. Major Gruenwald's command is observing and ready to intervene if necessary."

Bridger nodded in acceptance of that point. Going in would complicate matters, and might cause unnecessary losses in the confusion. The Kells' intelligence on Roshak seems to have been accurate. This removed the local commander from the list of people he intended to see punished for this behavior, but it didn't cool his fury, nor his intention to deal harshly on the matter. A message has to be sent.

He glanced back toward the main holotank. Roshak's troops were doomed, that much was clear, and the 3rd Talon was steadily losing ground and forces, now amounting to little more than a reinforced company of 'Mechs and armored infantry, and that count was steadily declining with the 8th Strikers on all fronts pressing the attack.

The system reflected an incoming call from the field, which took the form of Evan Kell in his neurohelmet and cooling vest. "Just got the update, General. Good to hear we've got the camps in hand."

"They'll finish securing them over the next few minutes," Bridger predicted. "How much longer until you've got the 371st down?"

"With Colonel Ward on their flank, not long at all, but we don't have to make this total. Roshak knows he's beaten, and I'm bettin' a traditionalist like him is fuming over the Mongols trying to pull this. They've dumped a load of manure all over the Clan's honor, over his. You could likely end the fightin' now if you offer him hegira. It'll let him walk away with honor intact."

"If the 371st is destroyed, you could consider Great X recovered for the Commonwealth," Bridger pointed out.

"No. Not right now, anyway, we don't have the strength to reclaim anything. Falcons would just send another unit to hold the planet, maybe a worse one, and a worse commander. Roshak's not a saint, but the people here are better off with him in charge than a Mongol, until we get the reinforcements we need to see them all off. Unless your side's got another unit they can call in to hold, I'd rather just leave him in place."

Bridger considered that point. We do have units coming up for reserve, the 1st Lancers could hold the planet. But he had no authority to call the Lancers in, so the rest of Kell's point remained valid.

"Put me on a broad radio-com signal, direct it toward the 371st's command unit," he instructed the CommTech. After a few moments the young woman nodded. "Attention Star Colonel Roshak. Your forces are clearly beaten. I've got no desire to smash them to nothing, so I'm offering you an honorable withdrawal. 'Hegira', as you put it."

After several moments of silence, Roshak's voice came over the line. "Hegira for all of my warriors?"

"For the 371st Cluster, at least," Bridger said. On the display, another group of icons for the 3rd Talon disappeared. Colonel Olindo's 3rd Battalion was scything through their command unit even as they spoke.

"I… cannot, in honour, accept. The 3rd Talon is under my command as well. I must have hegira for both."

Bridger stopped himself from an immediate answer. He could understand, quite easily, the obligations Roshak was referring to. He had to see to the people under his command, whatever else may be true. But given the reputation of the unit and officers involved, Bridger didn't want them getting away. They might have even been responsible for these killings.

Roshak’s tone hardened. "I swear on my Bloodname, and the heritage of my Bloodhouse, that Star Captain Malthus will be called to account, in full, for his actions, and the same for every warrior who joined in this disgrace."

Roshak's now confirming he's involved? Or at least he thinks he is. Bridger checked the holotank. More icons were missing. A few blue, a few red. His natural sentiment was to accept Roshak's word. Not because of any belief in the alleged honor of the Clans, but because he owed it to his subordinates to not throw their lives away. But he couldn't quite fight off the sentiment that Malthus and others might get away for the camp massacres if he did. That the Mongols had to be destroyed utterly.

If you wish,” Roshak continued, “you may send one of your officers, or come yourself, to bear witness to this accounting. I will guarantee, for any observer you choose to send, safcon until this matter is dealt with.

For a moment Bridger thought it over. He couldn't keep the thought out of his head, the images from eight years ago on the long burn out from Vega. Letting an atrocity like that go unpunished, he couldn't do that again.

"Sir." Hammermark kept his spine straight and hands at his side. "Colonels Kell and Ward are awaiting instruction on whether to push forward."

Colonel Kell. That reminded him that these were Kell's people. Bridger was the visitor here, even if he was in command.

There was still a resistance that took him an extra moment to overcome before he spoke. "I'll accept, for myself and Colonel Kell, if he chooses to come." He shook his head at Hammermark, who immediately relayed orders for a ceasefire. "I'll give you your shot at dealing with this, Star Colonel."

"Bargained well and done, General. And you will not be disappointed. I will give you coordinates for the matter at hand as soon as we are ready." The line cut.

"The 371st has ceased fire," Hammermark said.

"And the 3rd Talon?"

Laguna watched her holotank. "Not yet… okay, looks like they're holding off as well. Colonel Pratt is opening a hole for them to withdraw through."

"Let her open up if they do anything but retreat," Bridger said. "Otherwise, this fight's over."

Things moved faster than Bridger expected. He'd barely had time to get the after-action reports readied and start post-battle inspections when Roshak radioed coordinates. Evan Kell hadn't even made it back to his field base yet and had to be picked up by Bridger's VTOL on the way to what was evidently the Falcon planetary HQ, not far from the plateau they'd fought upon.

The Falcon units were clearly smarting from the fight, but what was most obvious to Bridger was the way they were lined up in the field, as if the 371st was there to keep the survivors of the 3rd Talon under the gun. "Still no locks," the co-pilot said, her voice distorted a little by the speaker in his passenger's helmet. "We're setting down."

Evan nodded. "Like I said. Old school type. He'd never violate safcon."

"If only he could speak for all his people, otherwise this wouldn't have happened."

"If you don't mind me sayin' it, General, you don't look happy. Don't worry, Roshak'll sort them out. He's got to now, or his honor's nothing."

"Given what's happened, Colonel, the only thing making me happy would be the people responsible for the killings dangling from a noose," Bridger muttered darky.

There was a light jolt from the VTOL setting down. The two men dismounted near an assemblage of figures. Roshak was recognizable, and still in his cooling suit, as was a thin, wiry man that had an angry, hunted look about him. He and several others were flanked by battle-armored infantry. Bridger noted that some of the apparent prisoners were not in the same general uniform he'd seen Roshak in before. "MPs?" he asked Evan, his voice low enough not to carry.

"Looks like Watch." Evan said, frowning. "Clan military police, yeah, but twice as mean and half as smart as our kind of MP. They're the warriors who barely made it in and know they won't be fighting any great battles." The remark was likewise kept at a lower volume.

"Mercenaries," the wiry man groused, his eyes going from watching the approaching figures to Roshak's smoldering, quiet glare. "What are they doing here, Star Colonel?"

"To witness," was the simple answer.

At first Bridger thought the remark was meant to be toward Kell, but realize the speaker was meaning him as well. The 3rd Talon commander thought he was a mercenary. The uniform is unfamiliar. Of course.

Roshak continued, in a calm, level voice that frankly struck Bridger as a whole lot more intimidating than shouting would’ve been. “You disobeyed a direct order, Star Captain. You did not challenge it, as was your right, you simply disobeyed. For which, under the Code Martial, the penalty is death. More, you disgraced yourself, you disgraced our Clan, and you broke my word, out of naked spite, and petulance.” Contempt edged Roshak’s next words, “Would you call this the behaviour of a warrior?”

“And so you wish to challenge me, relic?” Malthus laughed, a cruel, unsettling cast to his laughter. “So be it; I can best you, augmented or unaugmented, on any battlefield you name.”

“No.” Roshak’s lips curled back in what - under a very charitable interpretation - might qualify for a smile. “Trials are for settling matters between warriors. Martina, deal with this refuse.”

One of the armoured infantry - wearing a bulkier, older looking suit - stepped forward, raising an arm, and Malthus’s expression barely shifted into shock before a stuttering burst of laser bolts cut him down.

"As for the rest of you. By all rights, I would deal the same to you for your actions, and be fully vindicated. But I will not even give you that." Roshak gestured toward Bridger. "General Bridger, Colonel Kell, your isorla for your victory. Do with them as you please."

"Thank you, Star Colonel." Bridger leveled a glare at his new prisoners, all some combination of shocked and outraged. "In the name of the Royal Federation and our comrades in the Lyran Commonwealth, you're all under arrest." He raised his radio to his lips. "General Hammermark, send a transport VTOL with a squad of armored infantry for prisoner escort, my location."

"Yes sir."

"Some of the data promised was deleted by this stravag's treachery," Roshak explained, "but all that remains will be transmitted before you depart. And the bondsmen are yours, of course."

Bridger nodded in acceptance. "I'm satisfied, then."

”Well bargained, and well won,” Roshak nodded. "However, I have a question, if you will honor me with an answer."

"Go ahead."

"Who are you?" asked Roshak. "Many of your machines are unfamiliar designs. Your uniforms are like none in the Successor States. And no mercenaries possess WarShips as you do."

Bridger kept his arms at his side. The prospect of whether telling the truth would be advantageous or not was one that made him consider the answer to give. They have to have noticed the Looking Glass. So they know something is strange. I suppose there's no harm in giving them some basic facts. It might even serve to make them pause before trying anything. "We're from the Royal Federation, or the Arcadian Federation as some call us, from an Inner Sphere with a different history than your own," he remarked candidly. "A misjump brought us to your Inner Sphere and, suffice to say, things have progressed from there."

“A strange tale,” Roshak commented, in a tone of consideration rather than dismissal, “Yet, it is a time of strange things; and a great many of those."

"So it is."

The twilight hours were upon the Vicar's Altar when the first trucks arrived. Evan's people took the lead in welcoming their countrymen to the landing zones for the strike force. Rations were waiting, given their reported condition, and some were brought to the Kell Hounds' shipboard infirmaries.

Bridger observed from the open bay door of the Sinclair, Brigadier Laguna and Colonels Kell and Ward with him. "We'll have enough room for the short haul, at least," Laguna said. "Might need to transfer some to the Sara Proctor though."

"Important thing is they're going home."

"There's still the prisoners to handle, mind," Evan pointed out. "Finding them a fair trial, I mean; God knows I don’t think I could put together a court-martial board that wouldn’t be just, ‘March the guilty bastards in, Sergeant-major’."

Bridger nodded, a deep frown on his face. "They are guilty. My first thought was a field court. Have our rescued POWs identify them and the work crews can have the gallows ready by the time we're done. Hang every last one of the sons of bitches."

“Yeah, that’d be one option,” Evan nodded. “Be military justice, which as my brother’s fond of saying, is to the real thing what military bands are to music, but I’m hard-put to think of any better, or at least fairer, options. Even if some of them are probably just guilty of doing what they’re told; remind me to tell you about the mess Thomas Hogarth left us with after SCOUR sometime.”

"Regulations allow field trials with forces caught in flagrante delicto committing war crimes or other offenses against the recognized laws of war," Laguna remarked delicately. "It might not apply to all our captives, and it doesn't allow for people caught up in orders."

"You commit an illegal order, you're just as liable," Bridger replied. "Only reason I haven't given the word to the work crews yet is that I didn't do it for Malvina Hazen. And if I'm hanging any of these Clans, I'm starting with her. Which, no, I can't do now, she's on our side of the Glass and above my paygrade now." Despite his words, they could see that he very much wanted to give that order. There was a steel in his eyes and voice, one matched by evident pain. "Might as well see to your people, Brigadier."

Evan shot side glances to Laguna and Ward. “Brigadier, Colonel,” he spoke quietly, “I think this is something me and General Bridger need to talk about in private?”

Ward nodded knowingly. "Vega," she murmured into Laguna's ear, just audible enough for Evan to make the word out. Laguna sighed in recognition and joined the Kell Hound commander in walking away.

This left privacy for the two men. "I get the feelin' this hit close to home for you, General," Evan said. "Even more than what Malvina pulled in Cirenholm."

Bridger clenched a fist before nodding. "Hits close, yeah. Back in '34." Noting the look in Evan's eyes, he decided to continue. "SOVEREIGN SON. I was CO of the Gienah Heavy Fusiliers RCT, proudest posting I've ever had. We got sent in with the 8th and 10th Strikers and the Tharkad Rangers to Vega. Better part of a year, given the six week burn time one way, the longest campaign I'd been in since the War."

Evan nodded. “Yeah, we used to wargame out attacks on Vega while I was at the Nagelring. That long transit run’s a real issue; you miscalculate, overcommit, and you’re in real trouble.” He grinned. “Wasn’t officially encouraged; High Command tends to frown on planning to attack a friendly power.”

Bridger grinned in amusement. "They're like that. We went in for bear, the 5th Sword of Light was on-world, as were a couple other outfits."

That drew a sour expression from Evan. “I’m guessing the Fifth Sword’re just as bad there as they are here?”

"Wouldn't surprise me. The mission was to get out a claimant to the Galedon directorship, Musashi Honda. His treacherous bitch of an aunt, Kori Honda, was the one who celebrated stabbing her grandmother's allies in the back during the War by declaring the Combine reborn, and she married into a Kurita line. Musashi became a rival claimant that she wanted dead, so we wanted him alive. It took two months of campaigning to secure enough of the planet to bring him out of hiding, against the biggest bastard I've ever known: Tai-sho John Ballymont. He'd sic the 5th on settlements and towns he declared 'disloyal', had local leaders shot for the slightest failure. We took to calling him 'Butcher Ballymont.'"

"Well, we got Musashi out, fell back on the LZ, and departed. But you campaign that long on an enemy world, you end up having people lost. Overwhelmed patrols and pickets, scouts hunted down… had a few left behind. I wanted to get everyone back, but we had a WarShip burning in with a multiple regiment relief force, and we had to leave."

“I can figure the rest from that, yeah.” Evan looked pensive for a moment. “And Ballymont gloated, right? Made a big show of the whole butcherin’ work.”

"He started with an offer. We turn a ship around and hand Musashi over, he gives all our captives back and safe transit out of the system." Bridger's lip curled into a snarl. "I don't think he expected us to say yes, it was just to twist the knife in. And we didn't. So a day later, he started sending us new holovid footage. He and his officers personally beheading our captured comrades, and he kept it up until he'd killed all of them."

“I doubt he would’ve let them go, anyway,” Evan replied. “I know the sort, we’ve had history with them - a Fifth Sworder general, Palmer Conti, back during the Fourth Succession War, lot of Kuritan officers one way or another. Most of them,” a sharp, feral smile, “well, they came to bad ends, at our hands or someone else;s.”

"Glad to hear it. Ballymont's still around, though. Still got his boot on the necks of a lot of decent folk on Vega and surrounding worlds. I'd love to put a gauss slug through his cockpit, but haven't had the chance." Bridger let out a breath. "So yeah, this brought back memories. Bad ones."

"Writing the letters is the hardest part," Evan said. "Especially when it's like that."

"Felt guilty with every one. Lost some good people there, promising young officers, veterans, lot of people with families." Bridger shook his head. "I had to tell them their loved ones were left behind. That I couldn't find a way to get them out."

“And it doesn’t make you feel any better that, no matter how many times you refight that battle, in sims and in your head, you can’t think of a single goddamned thing you could’ve done any better’n you did.” Evan’s voice held a shared, bitter experience at that.

"It was a close run thing often enough… couldn't change a thing, every time I think of it, no matter how much I want to." Bridger let out a sigh and turned to Evan. "As for the prisoners… They hurt your people, Colonel, so you and your brother, or Duchess Schmitt, I'll leave the decision for justice up to you. I've got no objectivity, that's for damn sure."

"Martin'll have an idea. Speaking of which… while I've not had the time to check the intel we got, between the debriefings for our recovered people and what Roshak handed over, I think we'll get at least a better picture of what's going on, better than anything we can do otherwise. I figure we should head back to Arc-Royal or Timkovichi at this point, not press our luck."

Bridger nodded. "I was thinking the same, at least for now. Let's get your people home and we'll figure our next moves there."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: "Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

Post by Steve »

Just realized I forgot chapter 12's title, dur.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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