"Emergence" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech AU Crossover

UF: Stories written by users, both fanfics and original.

Moderator: LadyTevar

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

14 - Reflective Moments

The Triad
Tharkad City, Tharkad
Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
19 October 3142

For all that the Lyran Commonwealth was fighting for its life, one might never realize it from the perspective of life in the capital. The late year social season was in full swing, the debutantes of a dozen planets were being presented for their first balls, lap kittens were all the rage, and aside from the growing number of LCAF uniforms at these occasions, signs of what was becoming an existential war were few and far between.

While the lack of interstellar communication created uncertainty, and brought news down to a crawl, this was as much a defiant gesture as it was ignoring an unpleasant reality. They might be losing, and the Clans' war machines devouring the realm from two sides, but it was letting the side down to be worried about it, just as nobody mentioned the slow-burn economic collapse of the entire Inner Sphere between the war and the loss of the HPG network.

They might have shown more worry had they known the truth. That their own ruler, Archon Melissa, was no longer in power, deposed by the LCAF in favor of Hesperus' Duke Vedet Brewer. Whatever one thought of Melissa's mistakes these past few years, the Steiners were the Lyran Commonwealth to many. It was for precisely this reason that the fiction was maintained, that the Archon was battling illness and exhaustion while trying to fight the war that nobody would speak of, and Vedet Brewer was standing in for her.

In the Archon's office - his office - Vedet quietly stewed over the reports. He was content to let high society continue to act as it had. He didn't need them panicking. But a part of him was growing tired with the facade, and his "supporters" in the LCAF refusing to make his appointment more permanent. For all his contacts, the whereabouts of Melissa Steiner were unknown to him, and so long as she lived, she was a threat. The Falcons, the damned Falcons, were steadily eroding his authority, no matter how many times Anastasia Kerensky thwarted or deflected Wolf strikes. She couldn't do so indefinitely, and she couldn't be everywhere at once. Sooner or later, if she lost…

Melissa will have me killed, there is no doubt. That thought stuck in his head while he read a report transmitted from a newly-arrived JumpShip, speaking of another Wolf victory in the Dar-es-Salaam Theater. It is me, or it is her.

The intercom on his desk buzzed. He held down the transmit key on it. "Yes?"

"Your Highness, General Maurer is here."

"Let him in." Vedet drew himself up in the chair and set the reports aside. For all Maurer helped him secure power, he remained immune to all Vedet's efforts to support public acknowledgement of his role. He will regret it when I finally have the authority to deal with the High Command.

Maurer came through the doors and snapped a salute. "Archon, we have news from the Falcon front. Timkovichi."

"The Hounds are dead?" Vedet said the words with more hope than he should have allowed. The Kells were Steiner loyalists to a man, and alive their Hounds - and the blasted Clanners they kenneled with - posed a threat he hoped the Falcons would relieve him of; Martin Kell might be inclined to a patient, political solution to problems, at least, but Evan - Evan Kell was a hothead who Vedet knew very well had never liked him, and had a well-earned reputation for leaving very few of his enemies alive. The same was true of Khan Patrik Fetladral; if anything, that barbarian giant was even worse than Evan Kell for pure vindictiveness. Yet, despite that, he needed them; their troops, at least, and those troops wouldn’t obey anyone he tried to put in charge. It was … highly irksome. "Did they manage to bloody the Falcons, at least?"

"The Kell Hounds are triumphant," Maurer said. "Malvina Hazen's Golden Ordun are ruined. The Horses lost one of their best Galaxies."

Vedet blinked at the news. Hazen defeated? He didn't know whether to be ecstatic or horrified. "Their losses? I cannot imagine they won easily."

"Not insignificant, but the Hounds remain an intact fighting force." Maurer approached and presented a disc. "You need to see this, Archon. I cannot tell you what we have learned without you seeing it first."

"I have little time for such games. Just tell me."

Maurer shook his head. "You will not believe me otherwise. Timkovichi has… changed a great many things, Archon."

Seeing Maurer would not relent, Vedet took the disc, holding himself back just enough to not snatch it from the general's hand. He slipped it into his secured personal comp and accessed the visual file.

The holo-recordings played. He played them again, just to be sure of what he was seeing. The sudden emergence signature and jump, bringing forth more WarShips than had been seen together since the invasion of Terra over sixty years ago, and their swift and brutal annihilation of the Falcon cruiser just seconds before it would have wiped out the Kell Hounds. A host of DropShips descended into the combat zone, bringing in four regiments of BattleMechs to utterly crush Malvina Hazen's Golden Ordun and the Horses' present forces. Vedet noted Evan Kell didn't mince words on the matter, giving full credit to the new arrivals. Duchess Schmitt-Levensky's report said much the same.

Vedet's first impulse was to dismiss this as a fantasy, some kind of trick by the Kells. But he kept coming back to the question of benefit: obviously the Hounds survived, so why would they make something like this up? Were they covering for an ally they wished to keep secret?

"I considered if it might be fake as well, but the reports from the surviving officers of the Timkovichi Armoured Guards verified the particulars," Maurer said. "Given everything we have learned about how the Blackout has changed hyperspace, maybe bridges to other versions of the Inner Sphere are possible? The important matter is that the Falcon and Horse advance has suffered a major blow, the Falcon Khan is a prisoner of these 'Arcadians', and it might buy us time to stiffen defenses."

"So it would. See about securing what confirmation you can, I want to know more about what we're dealing with. As it stands to the populace…" Vedet smiled. 'Well, we do not wish to misinform the public intentionally. For now, we will simply indicate these were reinforcements rushed to the front. We'll let the other information come out as the situation develops."

"A reasonable choice, Archon."

He could tell Maurer wasn't fooled. He wouldn't stop it, but nor would he ignore that this was politics. Vedet fully intended to claim credit for the situation and make himself the hero who was leading the Commonwealth's successful defense. He already had the proposed statement to deliver to the Commonwealth Press and Donegal Broadcasting Company forming in his head. Let them keep that psychotic Falcon bitch Hazen.

"There is still the matter of the Wolf front. Reinforcements will be needed."

"We are arranging them as quickly as possible. Perhaps some might even be shifted back in that direction, if the Falcon and Horse attacks are ceased," Vedet proposed. "As things stand, Anastasia Kerensky continues to vex them."

"I am aware you place great stock in her forces. and why, but we cannot expect her to win forever," Maurer warned. "Nor can she be everywhere at once. The Wolves simply advance where she is not present."

"Where reinforcements can be arranged, they will be sent."

"Even your Hesperan Guards?"

Vedet's eyes narrowed. I suppose you do wish me to send them to the front, all the easier to put me under your thumb. "Until I can be sure that the former Archon's loyalists do not interfere with our war effort, they must remain. Had you approved Lady Trillian's continued confinement, it may not be necessary, but she is loyal to Melissa and a threat to our current government in that respect. We need to be on guard for any surprises she may spring on us."

"We have her under watch," Maurer said. "There are contingencies in place if she were to go rogue, but we're confident that her loyalty to the Lyran Commonwealth and its survival is greater than any political ambitions she may foster."

Contingencies? As if you're too good to admit you have agents on the Archon's Fist who will assassinate Lady Trillian if she steps out of line. "Be that as it may, the security of our government requires the Hesperan Guards remain on Tharkad. Unless you have other proposals for seeing to our security?" He grinned at the general. "Perhaps you are ready to make this arrangement more… permanent?"

Maurer, curse him, gave no evident reaction on his neutral expression. "The High Command is satisfied with your performance so far, but until such a time as we can determine the appropriate way of handling Melissa Steiner, she will remain in our protective custody."

"And the Hesperan Guards will remain here, should she manage to foment rebellion in that custody," Vedet announced pointedly. Hide her all you want, Maurer, but I will get to her eventually. I will never let this throne go. Never!

AFS Arcadia,
Royal Road Recharge Station
Nadir Jump Point, Dar-es-Salaam System
Dar-es-Salaam Federal March
Royal Federation
20 October 3142

From the dark, the ghosts of the dead came for her again.

Malvina was small. Weak. Hungry. She laid in her bed in the sibko barracks, shared with Aleks, the only being in the world that mattered. They remained quiet in their famished misery, if only because giving voice to the pain from the void in their bellies would bring the wrath of the Falconers. "Warriors persevere. They accept. They do not complain!"

The others saw her, saw Aleks, as weak. They were coming for them. Two less mouths to take the sibko's rationed food supplies meant more food for the others. Malvina gritted her teeth. She knew when the first would appear over the edge of the bunk and readied her hand into a fist. The first blow would decide everything.

Except she had no hand. She had no arm. Nothing below her shoulders and hips. She was helpless.

In a panic she turned to Aleks. He was going to strike first anyway. But the boy Aleks wasn't there. Aleks' corpse, broken and battered, sat in the shattered command couch of a 'Mech.

Aleks is dead. I am alone. I have no one.

The first of her murderous sibkin appeared in her vision. Malvina willed her nails to rake the figure's throat, but no arm moved to her defense. She felt hands grip her throat and start to squeeze. "Failure. Die so the rest of us can eat!"

She tried to speak, to shriek, to scream, to do something, but she couldn't do a single thing. Aleks was gone, her limbs were gone, she was alone and helpless and weak. Her vision blackened as her lungs screamed for air that could not come.

"Die a failure!" With those words, her attacker… kissed her.

Malvina's eyes opened fully. She looked at her attacker, truly looked, for the first time, and saw it wasn't one of the sibkin who tried to kill her that night. For a moment, the face and body blurred, shifting; to David McKinnon, the ancient Paladin who’d frustrated her on Glengarry; Jana Pryde, wrapped in the austere formality of Clan tradition that failed to hide her contempt; Tara Campbell, the doll-like Countess of Northwind she hated above all but one other, somehow merged with her Hatchetman in a demonic fusion of the machine and woman that had ended the life of her brother. Then, it solidified into a dark mirror of the soul.

It was her. The voice, the hands, the contempt, it was all her.

The pressure ended and the pain relented. Malvina awoke again. This time there were no sibko barracks, and she was not a child. She was an adult and a cripple, a prisoner.

One of the white-suited nurses appeared over her before disappearing. When she returned, the man in the red uniform reappeared. She remembered him: Lieutenant Commander John, with that second name… All Bright? She could never remember Inner Sphere names, not unless they were Bloodnames. He was her jailor, or minder, or some such thing. The bane of her existence. "I invoke bondsref," she said. "Kill me."

"I won't, and I couldn't even if I wanted to," he replied. "Another nightmare?"

"Phantoms and dreams," she huffed, even though she could still feel the hands on her throat, the scream of her lungs for air. "Is that all you care about, Commander John? Or is this to torture me? A punishment of some kind?"

"I don't punish, I'm a doctor," he replied. "Responsible for you and Cynthy."

Cynthy. Her bondswoman, her… ward? This man had her. "You have taken her as isorla?"

"No." He shook his head. "I'm her attending psychiatrist, at least for now."

Her lips curled into a snarl. "Psychiatrist," she spat with scorn. "Spheroid freeborn tripe."

Commander John remained beside her, presumably having his foot hooked along what passed for the floor so he remained in place in the zero-G. "Your people don't study mental illness?"

"The Scientists do, for purposes of dealing with the lower castes," she answered. "Or so they say. But warriors do not need such things. A warrior who needs to be coddled by soft speaking would die in the first trial they faced." To her surprise, he chuckled. "That amuses you?"

"It sounds like things I've heard from some of the more aggressive soldiers I've treated," he replied. "Truth is, though, that mental illness doesn't give a damn how strong you are or how good you are in a 'Mech. It's no different than having a problem with your stomach or your lung or your heart. A part of you is malfunctioning. Only thing is, it's not so easy to treat, because a problem with the mind doesn't always show on a body scan. So we have to talk, and learn, and figure out what the problem might be, and if we can treat it. It's a hell of a lot of work that we train hard for."

"Ah." Malvina nodded at him. "So you see this work as a challenge? You test yourself against mental illnesses?"

"In a way."

"An enemy you cannot see, that you must stalk through words." The idea became familiar to her in that respect. The love of the hunt. She smiled. "Yes. I can see the appeal, then, of becoming a hunter of mental illness. It requires cunning and skill."

"An apt description." John's eyes focused on her in a way Malvina did not quite like. "Right now I think I'm on quite a hunt, in fact."

"You mean me. You seek a mental illness in me." Malvina laughed at him. "I have been called many things, Commander John. Crazy is but one."

"So I hear. But I am still responsible for your mental health, it's my duty to attend to you," he insisted. "It's these nightmares you keep having that are getting my attention. They're recurring a lot. We usually take that as a sign of acute PTSD, at the very least. That's 'post-traumatic stress disorder', by the way. Happens when a person experiences a significant trauma that their minds can't process, something they can't move on from. So to speak. It's very common in soldiers… in warriors."

"Such is the life of a warrior, Commander John. At any moment a warrior in battle may die. The victory, the honor, rests on every decision, and defeat is to lose everything." She frowned. "Victory is the only acceptable outcome, no matter what it takes. Everything that fights you must be destroyed to ensure it."

"So your nightmares. They're of a defeat?"

Her mind went back to that night. She remembered the pain. The blood. Aleks' wounds and bruises. The dead bodies under her, and the shouting Falconers pulling her off of her enemies. "No. A victory becoming a defeat," she answered. She surprised herself at the admission.

He nodded. "Even victories carry costs. It can still be traumatic to experience the fight, even if you win it."

"To lose was to die." As she said the words she thought of everything that came afterward. The lessons it taught her, and how they brought her… to this place. To her final failure. "Your people will kill me eventually, no matter what you wish. Why are you concerned with my… mental health?" The combination of words was awkward, even uncomfortable, to her.

"Because it's my duty to attend to you, until you're removed from my care. And…" A slight grin finally appeared on his face. "It's a challenge that I want to win. Whatever is in your mind, I want to find it."

"A hunt then. I look forward to seeing if you catch your prey," she replied. Not that you will understand. Freebirths, Spheroids, can never understand.

LCS Archon's Fist
, Near Timkovichi Orbit
Timkovichi System, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
22 October 3142

Years of rushing about the Commonwealth had Trillian well-adjusted to zero-G living, almost to the point she could pass for a naval officer. She gently floated from her DropShuttle with practiced ease after the hatch opened and went for the exit hatch from the shuttle bay. She moved with a little urgency, though taking care to watch the hatchways and the corners.

I suppose rushing is unnecessary, given how fast things have gone. Truth be told, she'd expected to just now be arriving at Timkovichi, not ending three days of careful meetings with Duchess Katarina Schmitt-Levensky, Captain Victor Hanson of the Epaminondas, Major Nadia Allard, and Major General Labh Khan Singh, the commander of the Arcadians' 2nd Royal Cuirassiers Regimental Combat Team.

For all she'd viewed the holos Martin Kell sent her, it was seeing things in Timkovichi that made it all real. The unfamiliar uniforms and machines at Field Base Carroll, the sleekish wasp shape of the AFS Epaminondas when the Arcadian "light cruiser" met her incoming ship just a few days ago, and the Looking Glass itself. They'd actually made contact with the inhabitants of another Inner Sphere, where the history was different.

At least they sounded receptive, she thought while clearing the final hatch. Captain Hanson heartily approved of an alliance, and Major General Singh was likewise candid with her on his thoughts, including the barriers she would face. His words played again in her head, in that Giausar-Punjabi accent. "The Federation has enemies, and His Majesty cannot send many troops without incurring the fury of the Archdukes of his border Marches. If you can persuade their supporters in the Parliament, however…"

Admittedly hearing of a "Parliament" made her think of that employed by the Free Worlds League, both the reborn one and the older, defunct body, but reading on it broke that conception in her mind. The Estates-General is closer to the concept, except with a second chamber above the democratic one. Winning them to the alliance would go a long way to fulfilling her plans, drawn up in that week of long nights with Martin Kell before she returned to the Archon's Fist and came here. She already had the wording of the treaty ready, in fact, given the weeks of transit she spent to get here.

Normally she'd have headed for her quarters aboard, but she went for the ship's navigation bridge instead. Set into the bow, it was generally manned by one of the ship's officers, working with those in the command center to navigate the Archon's Fist through the void. The LCAF personnel aboard generally didn't like her going around the sensitive military areas, but the navigation bridge had few pieces of sensitive equipment, and sufficient space for her to observe. An NCO let her through the hatch and dutifully closed it behind her. Unlike some of the other crew, the man was in a full body space-suit with helmet, as were the others in the navigation bridge. She floated over to a rail and gripped it, slipping her feet into the rail before securing herself into the seat behind it.

A naval Leutnant, a young woman with dark hair visible on her temples through the faceplate of her helmet, saluted her before handing her a face breather. "Nice to see ye, Lady Trillian," she said in a chipper Donegal brogue. The name "McCarter'' was emblazoned on her uniform spacesuit. "It's the regs, Your Ladyship, and technically ye shud be in a full space suit, given the port's the first thing that'll go if the ship takes a hit in a fight. But the breather shud be enough."

"Right." She put it on and started pulling the straps to tighten it against her face.

McCarter helped her fit it. "If ye've come to see the Glass up close, ye're right on time."

And indeed she was. The transparent polymer that allowed this room, and this room only, to view the empty void was already pointed toward the ethereal anomaly left by the Arcadians when they'd suddenly appeared in-system. Now that she was aboard, the Archon's Fist was maneuvering toward the rift. "Alle Hände bereiten sich auf fusionsbrand und Orientierungsänderung vor," a voice called out over the ship intercom.

Trillian felt the tremor as the ship's fusion drives engaged. "Forward" became "up" and "back" became "down". She went from sitting upright to laying back, the ship's acceleration providing a false sense of gravity. The sensation was part of life in space and she was well-used to it. Instead her sole focus was on the pale blue light looming ahead, growing larger with every passing second.

"Zwei Minuten bis zur Feldgrenze," stated the intercom.

I'm going to another universe. The thought was beyond the ken of anything Trillian imagined she would do in her life. Her stomach flittered with excitement and terror as the minutes passed. Even her mission was forgotten for the moment, buried under the enormity of the act itself. The idea. She was making history in a way more in line with the crews of the first JumpShips a thousand years ago, not in any way as she'd expected to in her life.

The Looking Glass now dominated the navigation window. "Dreißig Sekunden bis zur Feldgrenze.... fünfundzwanzig... zwanzig... fünfzehn... zehn..."

She swallowed. Singh and Hanson told her it felt less stressful than a jump, at least. But it didn't stop the anxiety of the moment.

By the time the countdown reached zero the pale blue light filled the navigation bridge. It overtook everything around Trillian until she saw nothing else. The sensation was close to a jump. An otherworldly feeling, like being outside of her body, filled her for a brief second.

The light vanished. Empty void appeared through the window. The officer from the bridge announced the all-clear over the intercom.

"Mother Mary, that was a rush," McCarter breathed.

"Yes, it was," Trillian agreed.

Several moments of quiet passed before the intercom rang again. "Lady Trillian." This time the voice was that of Kaptain Frederick Mullen, the Archon's Fist's commander. "There's a ship signaling us from the Atocongo recharge station, identifying as the JumpShip Stars' Gleam. They're jumping for Arc-Royal in three hours and have a spare collar for us to attach to."

She recognized the name. "Captain Hanson said the ship would be waiting for us, go ahead and accept with my thanks."

"Doing so."

We're still a dozen or so jumps away, Trillian thought, although she focused enough attention to free herself from the seat. The rest of the crew on the navigation deck returned to their duties under McCarter's watchful eye. But every system along the way is supposed to have a recharge station, and possible rides besides that. I could be to Arcadia in as little as a couple weeks if we run into the right JumpShips. She drew in a breath once she was through the hatch. Now that she'd actually done the act, and come through the Looking Glass, the enormity of her burden was coming down on her. Everything she and Martin were planning relied on her coming back with a signed treaty.

She headed back toward her quarters and activated her computer systems. Every scrap of data they had on the Arcadians was here and already studied. But now that they were through the Glass, she could hopefully find even more. Holovids, news reports, she needed it all if she was to convince the Arcadians to sign on the dotted line. Melissa, Martin, the entire Commonwealth is counting on this. I have to get the alliance, or Vedet's going to lead us into disaster.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

15 - Fears and Hopes

Fort Defiance
Near Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
26 October 3142

Seated to the west-northwest of the city center of Roslyn, Fort Defiance was one of the most important bases in the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation. Built in the 30th Century to protect Roslyn in the event that the Tabots or other foes attacked the liberated world, it was now a sprawling complex with enough hangar facilities, vehicle parks, and housing to support two BattleMech regiments and their attached brigades or divisions, as well as the 1st Arcadian March Militia Brigade and its regiments of BattleMechs and vehicles. It included basic intake training facilities for new enlistees, the Federation's Military Medical Research Center, and the Fort Defiance Officer Commissioning School.

This demanded the Fort expand from its initial fortified base to being a city of over a quarter million in of itself, moving to encompass an entire run of the Rha River before it entered Roslyn proper and came to its mouth at the western side of Sinclair Bay. A great deal of the space south of the river was preserved for the training ranges, where MechWarriors, vehicle crews, and infantry conducted the basic exercises and field training maneuvers needed to keep themselves in shape for combat. The range included a mockup of a small town and road layout for an urban region, although immense holographic projectors served to provide the appearance of buildings for the latter.

It was through a maze of said holographic buildings that Nathaniel Proctor guided his BattleMech, the white-and-gold painted PLD-3 Paladin known as the Liberator, the Proctor family's prized BattleMech. He made a tight turn and squeezed the triggers for his torso lasers, causing emerald beams to cut through the air and into a holographic target that turned green on his cockpit holotank; a solid hit. Maintaining a run, he fired a second shot, this time with his arm-mounted particle projection cannon, a Vickers-Armstrong Mk. 8 Royal model. The shot only got him a yellow result this time as the crackling bolt of lightning only brushed the mid-air target. Undaunted, he brought the right arm of his 'Mech up and swept a 'Mech-scale sword through the target, which now turned green. Lost some points there, he thought. He was ahead of the curve by about ten seconds, at least, but his score would suffer for requiring a second shot.

He spotted the new target in time to twist his 'Mech toward his right, barely evading a simulated laser shot from a holographic foe. He jinked left and fired just as his foe did. The simulated beam brushed the shoulder of his 'Mech, but his own beams cut through the target, turning it green.

A high target appeared and he angled his 'Mech's back slightly, raising the torso before he pulled the trigger. Two of his missile launchers successfully locked on and "fired", at least in the simulation, sending twelve digital SRMs to crash into the target and turn it green. The Streak technology of his three torso launchers just preserved some of his score, much as it would have preserved ammo by not firing with a failed lock..

The next turn mandated on the course was a tight one, putting him in an alley with just enough room to move forward but not to turn. On the other end a target was present, marked as a shooting one, and opened fire on him. He ducked, turning a solid hit on his torso into a glancing shoulder blow, and spit his crosshairs on the target. It won't miss again, he thought while hitting the firing studs and triggers on both joysticks.

The alpha strike sent his heat firmly into the redline, but had the desired effect as most of the shots hit home and the target flashed green. In a real fight, the barrage of SRMs, the PPC, and his lasers would have indeed reliably gutted a light 'Mech, maybe even a medium weight machine, and a pilot would have strained to keep their 'Mech standing after losing so much armor and mass from their machine.

He emerged from the alley way with the 'Mech torso turned as much as he could in the confined space. This let him get off a shot with his lasers that speared another target just before it could fire, turning it green. His simulated heat remained high and his machine slowed, obeying the simulation parameters by hindering his myomer as if it was truly overheated. Given how many heat sinks were packed into the Liberator, though, the heat fell away, giving him the full range of power and motion for the final sprint to the literal finish line. He focused everything on keeping his 'Mech running until he breached the checkered line projected on the ground.

"Course complete, Your Majesty." The female voice of the range operator spoke with the same Anglo-Scot accent he favored. "Eight minutes twenty-three seconds. That's a high one even for you. Great shooting and moving, too. Overall score is in the ninety-seventh percentile."

"Thank you, Sergeant," he replied, already moving his 'Mech to the side. With the simulation over his remaining built up heat vanished from his display. He took in a breath and let himself relax in his command couch. Keeping sharp with his MechWarrior skills was something expected of him more than something he considered a priority, admittedly. He didn't have the same "itch" to pilot 'Mechs other MechWarriors developed. He'd never faced combat either, just simulated fights and training exercises from his days in the Bolan Heavy Guards and his earlier military education. The closest he'd come to a fight was an intervention into the forces of two squabbling Bolan city-states skirmishing over one of Bolan's clean water sources, and they backed down when his lance intervened.

I need to be honest with myself. This is not just about duty now. The situation on the other side of the Looking Glass… it's the kind of fight we were meant to involve ourselves in. The atrocities these Clans commit must be stopped. I can't ask others to fight the war if I won't.

It was a sobering thought to make. While a number of his predecessors fought in battle, including doing so as ruling monarchs, it rarely ended well for them. Sara often led from the front in the Liberation War, nearly dying several times in the process, and that she lived to die in bed just a few years shy of her hundredth birthday could be attributed to her never taking the field of battle after the Liberation. Her son, March-Prince William Proctor, led the war with House Rayhan from the front during the 2990s, ultimately destroying his health in the process and hastening his death. William's grandson, High King Thomas Proctor, likewise led from the front, and would be gravely wounded in the invasion of Terra and die twelve years later leading Arcadian forces fighting on Tikonov. Nathaniel's great-grandfather, Thomas' son Ethan Proctor-Steiner, led from the front repeatedly and was mortally wounded in the first campaign of the 4th Succession War. Grandmother Jacqueline was likewise gravely injured, and only spent the rest of the war behind the lines because she couldn't pilot a 'Mech in combat from her injuries.

And there was his father's fate as well. Killed on Sirius, barely a year before the 4th Succession War finally came to a close.

War kills people. That's never going to change. What matters is why the killing happens. I'd rather die fighting for a cause worthy of my family's ideals, if I must. Not like Father getting killed over old blood and hurt egos.

Another Paladin came tearing up the straight away from the simulated alley. This one was painted in the blue-silver-gold of the Household Guards, with the insignia of the Proctor Heavy Guards — a white hawk on a gold disc bearing a silver sword raised in its talons — painted prominently on the chest. It ran through the finish line and came to a stop about thirty meters from him. After a few moments his comm-system crackled to life. "I may be getting too old for this," Prince Peter admitted. "Nine minutes fifteen seconds. I used to do this course in eight-thirty or faster, and ninety-fifth percentile or better, not eighty-fifth."

"To be fair, Uncle, you don't practice as often either," Nathaniel pointed out. "I'm surprised you agreed to making the run with me today. Did the Senate annoy you that much?"

A deep sigh came loud and clear through the comms. "Dame Tessa is a force of nature, but she can be reasoned with. Many of her colleagues, however, are not so reasonable. The honorable Senators from the Bolan Principality are complaining about the proposed taxation changes to fund the expanded naval program, and held up the vote on the new subsidies to the shipyards until they got a term guaranteeing funding for their projected DropShip yard at Gypsum and a two percent reduction to import duties. The Treasury is scrambling to re-write the budget. And they still won't vote for the tax change."

"I thought they would be trouble." Nathaniel put his 'Mech into motion, moving it at walking speed towards the range exit five kilometers to the north. His sensors confirmed Peter was following.

"Maybe your grandmother might put in a word? The Empire's naval buildup has to be met, even if we don't exceed it."

"I'll mention something, but if my talks with Emperor Robert come to fruition, it'll relieve the need."

The silence that came from the other 'Mech spoke volumes. So did the exasperation in Peter's voice. "Nathaniel, I know how much the idea of a permanent peace means to you, but you don't end a century of hostility so easily. Not when we have so many open issues remaining. Especially not given the other matter you're having me speak to the Privy Council on."

"Are you saying that Archduke Kenneth would oppose my marriage to his grand-niece, and the return of the Principality title to House Marik, over worlds that haven't flown a Marik flag in a century?" As diplomatic as he wished to be, Nathaniel couldn't keep the irritation from his voice.

Peter's voice came back just as irritated. "When his entire Principality, including his capital, have been attacked repeatedly over the years by the Empire? Yes, Nate. Yes, he may just oppose you, because the security of his worlds are going to matter more than a title or even finally getting Marik blood into the main Proctor line. And Skye will be incensed over the Sirians being left in Capellan hands, given how they've already got Azami raiders on one front."

"Just because I want a permanent peace doesn't mean I'm going to disarm the Federation." Nathaniel stopped his 'Mech and turned it to face his grand-uncle's. "But think of how much we've accomplished with twenty years of mostly being at peace. Of all the worlds we've finally re-settled, the cities we've rebuilt. The economy is stronger than it's ever been! Meanwhile every pound that goes into building another battleship is a pound we take from our people, including our very poorest citizens. It's a pound that could finance an expansion of the Rural Medical Service, or Lady Prestwick's proposed Federal Health Service, or Dr. Allen-Eckstein's Higher Education Initiative. Give me time and I know I can convince them all. Because a century of hostility, I know, it's a lot, but the last time the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere let their hatreds simmer and boil over, it tore down the Star League and left the entire Inner Sphere a shattered mess! We can't let history repeat itself, Uncle Peter. I can't."

He waited quietly for a response from Peter. Just as he thought none would come, Peter's voice sounded through his speakers. "You're a good man, Nathaniel, and given time I think you may be one of the greatest monarchs the Inner Sphere has ever known. But the universe isn't always kind to good men or to their people. Harold Duncan, Aleksandr Kerensky, Michael Davion, Roweena Kurita, they were all good people who tried to do good things, and it destroyed everything they stood for. I don't want that to happen to you. So trust me when I say that you're going to have to moderate some of your expectations. Even if a permanent peace is signed, it could take decades. It may not even come in your lifetime. So don't try to force it."

There was a weariness in Peter's voice, matched with sheer earnestness, that kept Nathaniel from trying to argue the matter. He's not like Arnold or the other military generals, the ones who want to 'set right' the failure in '23. He's doing his job. He's trying to help me, Nathaniel reminded himself. "I understand, Uncle. And even though we don't always agree, I want to thank you again for looking out for me. I couldn't have a better Council Lord than you."

"Flatterer," Peter replied, a bit of mirth in his voice. "Speaking of, I need to go put this 'Mech up and get showered. I have an afternoon meeting with the Council today."

Nathaniel put Liberator into motion again. "Regular business?"

"Yes. And that agenda item you asked me to see through. If it works out, I'll let you know."

"Thank you again, Uncle Peter. I'll be ready when you have the answer."

"Thank me when you tie the knot, and not before, Nate. Nothing in politics is ever guaranteed until the votes are all had and the deed's done."

Indeed not. But I want this to be done. Oh so very much. Nathaniel picked up Liberator's speed, bringing the Paladin 'Mech into a run that Peter quickly matched. He had other items on the agenda, both for his peace plans and his formal response to Lady Trillian. She should be here within three to four weeks, if the JumpShip scheduling holds. Maybe faster. I've got that long to get arrangements made with the Command Staff. If they'll listen to me…

While the Royal Palace primarily existed to support the High King's executive affairs and the meetings of the Privy Council, the realities of the Second Age of War raging during the palace's construction meant that the subbasement levels, including the War Room, were built to support the AFRF Command Staff. Desired proximity to the monarch led to the persistent refusal by two generations of AFRF senior staff to relocate their day-to-day operations to Fort Defiance, even though it meant putting their space at a premium for lack of spare room in the levels above. Such was the price they were wiling to pay to be close to the ruler they served under.

One level below the War Room was the domain of the AFRF Planning Staff. The personnel here, primarily staff officers, maintained all of the AFRF's operational war plans, updating them as new intelligence arrived from all manner of sources. As head of the Planning Department, this was Lord Arnold's domain, and he governed it tightly, recruiting the best and brightest and those who could, crucially, keep a secret.

This meant there was little concern to be had at the partial meeting of the Command Staff that occurred in the main conference room adjacent to his office. Along with Grand Admiral Stewart were several heads of the military: Dame Bethany Townsend, Marshal of the Army, and her Departmental chief of staff Lord Paul Steiner-Brewer; the Chief of Naval Operations Grand Admiral Pastig without his chief of staff; Air Marshal-General Lady Juliana Steiner, Chief of Staff of the Aerospace Forces, with Admiral Sir Peter Lumwe, the head of the Navy's Aerospace Forces. Only the relatively small Marines went unrepresented among the frontline combat services.

There were others there. Air-Marshal General Nadia Semyenova, Arnold's chief of staff, had a seat beside him. The Chief of Staff for the Military Intelligence Department, Sir Guy Montague, sat in the company of two of his own senior officers, while further down the seats were held by Senior Air Marshal Lady Ophelia Newson and General Sir Feodor Rosinsky, the AFRF's Quartermaster-General and her chief of staff.

Apart from all the figures in red and blue AFRF duty uniforms were a few figures in civilian wear, at the far end of the table: Deputy Director Elisabetta Rinaldi of the Special Information Service, the Federation's primary intelligence agency, Lord Giacomo Zento, the Senator from Summer, and Sir Donald Stewart, the Senator from Stewart and cousin of the AFRF Chief of Staff.

Arnold hid a frown. There were a few more figures he'd wanted to see, and their absence meant they no longer concurred with the desires of the wider circle. Either they were swayed by Nathaniel's wild idealism, or they simply wish to preserve their own freedom of action given our situation.

"We have two important matters before us," Grand Admiral Stewart said, opening their discussion. "For one, an emissary from the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth is coming from the other side of the Glass. Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion is her name, and her professed mission is to 'establish the basis for our relations'."

"She comes to ask for our help," Montague said, his boredom clear. "Even with the intelligence picture so bad, it's clear from what we know the Lyrans need it."

"And the King is inclined to grant it," Arnold said to the assembled. "He's already talked about a Royal Order opening part of the Strategic Reserve to be shipped to the Commonwealth."

Some faces didn't bother hiding frowns. The Strategic Reserve was a surplus of war material stored on key worlds across the Federation, mostly surviving equipment from the 30th and early 31st Centuries. For the Federation it represented the means to rapidly mobilize extra regiments in event of war breaking out, including at least ten BattleMech regiments. Nathaniel had already tapped the Reserve to upgrade the March Militia in Skye earlier in the year; to let him ship those 'Mechs and vehicles and weapons to the Lyrans would further cut into the extra forces the AFRF could bring to bear quickly once the authorization was given.

"Nathaniel's irresponsibility on the matter has to be addressed sooner or later," Senator Zento said in accented English. "It might be time to go public with the estimates."

"That would burn some of our sources in the Empire, Senator, and is sloppy besides," Director Rinaldi said, speaking in a similar accent. "It is attempting to use the information as a club when it might better be employed quietly, as a scalpel."

"I think it's clear nothing can be gained there," Zento groused. "He cannot be controlled, whatever Prince Peter thinks."

"I believe Director Rinaldi has a point, though." Montague spoke up again. "We can't guarantee a leak of the estimates will have the desired effect. We could be burning our sources just to find it makes the populace more supportive of Nathaniel in the hopes it prevents conflict. If we release this information quietly, though, and to the right ears, we can sow doubt in the Assembly on his peace initiatives to the Capellans and on this whole 'intervention' idea he has for the Looking Glass. We win quietly and avoid an open confrontation that can backfire on us."

"There's also the matter of today's Privy Council meeting. Is it true the King's marital status is to be discussed?"

Grand Admiral Stewart nodded. "I can confirm that, yes."

"Who would be the bride?" A horrified look crossed Zento's face. "It can't be Emperor Robert's daughter Xiaoli?"

That brought a mirthful chuckle from Arnold. "Honestly I would support that just to see the Dowager's reaction," he said. "It would probably kill her too, and we'd be done with her vendetta against us."

There were other chuckles at the idea of the Dowager of Oriente having a descendant married to the House she hated the most of them all. "I am quite confident the candidate will be rather closer to home," Admiral Stewart replied.

"Don't act like it's a complete secret, Malcolm," Pastig said mockingly. "He means to marry his secretary. He will wed Sophia Marik."

The Grand Admiral said nothing. He didn't need to, really. Anyone who approached Nathaniel for a meeting or audience in his office had to go through Sophia, and her protectiveness and hostility towards those who frustrated the King was as well known as her Marik pride.

"The Mariks are finally getting what they want, then," said Juliana Steiner. "A scion in House Proctor, and a share in the throne."

"Upset that House Steiner's connection to the Proctors will no longer be the only one, Lady Juliana?" Senator Stewart asked, bemusement in his lightly-accented English.

She shot daggers at him, but it was Pastig who said, "For all the rhetoric, the Royal Federation is predominately a Lyran state, Senator, so we have reason to be worried about influences contrary to Lyran interest."

"Ha! You're still bitter that the Proctors didn't become Steiners like the Dinesens," the Senator retorted. "And let's be honest, not every world once in the Commonwealth still thinks of itself as 'Lyran'."

Juliana's voice rumbled in anger. "They would, if we were allowed to express that identity with pride, without complaints about 'disrupting the unity of the Federation'! Yet Kenneth Marik's grand-niece is allowed to prance about in Marik house colors and with a Marik eagle on her breast with not a word said!"

"Enough of this," Zento growled. "I am not here to listen to Lyrantreu agitation, but to save Skye and the Federation from the Capellan threat."

"I'm in agreement. In fact," Arnold grinned thinly, "I'm quite happy to have Nathaniel marry Sophia Marik." At the shocked expressions on a couple of his fellow "Lyrantreu", he added, "Archduke Kenneth is supportive of our proposed measures. He knows a pre-emptive strike may be the only thing that avoids another bloody invasion of his worlds, and the girl's father is sympathetic as well. Having their voices gain weight with the King will help us, we may even convince him before our window closes. Right now that seems our best hope for success."

Lady Juliana looked like she'd been stabbed in the back. The two Senators, and Director Rinaldi, were obviously satisfied, however.

"Of course, the greater issue is the King's plans for operations through the Glass," Arnold continued. "As I said, he's already brought up opening up the Strategic Reserves to the Lyrans. He's also spoken to me and Marshal Townsend about shifting more troops towards the Glass, including a significant employment of the Household Guards."

"He'll pull us into a swamp," Lord Paul grumbled. "Communications on the other side are reliant on the fax machines and JumpShip couriers, and once we're committed it could be years before we would be done fighting. Our time tables are too short to allow for it."

Arnold glanced to Grand Admiral Stewart, certain of what the fleet commander was about to bring up. "It would give us opportunities to give our younger troops a stronger taste of combat. It would make for an advantage when it comes time to strike the Capellans."

"The matter of the Strategic Reserve also has opportunities," said Baroness Newson, speaking with a faint drawl from her native world of Coriscana. "We can argue for an increase in armaments orders to replenish them, and allow the Lyrans to place orders as well. It would stimulate our industries and justify re-opening some of the closed production lines. That will be of use when the time comes."

Arnold's second spoke with her usual lightly-accented Russian. "Given the state of their economy with their HPGs out, not to mention the invasion of their worlds, I can't imagine the other Lyrans can afford very much. And by reports they need trained troops, not just unmanned BattleMechs."

"Perhaps not, Marshal Semyenova, but it would help, and we could always make a generous loan part of alliance terms."

"And what would we get out of this alliance, outside of the losses we'll incur?" demanded Lord Paul. "I can't imagine the Lyrans will be in shape to return the favor, either by sending us troops or repaying the loans and subsidies we'd be granting them."

"At the very least, they may let us hire their Kell Hounds and other mercenaries for assistance, and provide units to protect some of the border systems to free up troops." Arnold folded his hands together. "I'm not convinced Admiral Stewart's proposal is our best option, and however this turns out, I'm not going to let that young fool throw away our best troops for empty promises."

Murmurs of agreement filled the room. "We will continue to monitor matters in the Empire," Rinaldi said.

"And I will make some vidcalls," added Zento. "Should we decide we need to push the King into the necessary decisions."

"I believe this meeting has run its course then." Grand Admiral Stewart rose and made a display of checking his timepiece. "The Privy Council meets in half an hour and I must attend."

There was a shuffling of chairs as the others rose as well. Semyenova joined the civilian attendees so that they could be seen out through the private elevator to the car park, to keep their presence quiet and unnoticed. Only Lord Arnold and Lady Juliana remained. Juliana leveled a venomous glare at Arnold. "You, of all people, will support mingling our noble house's bloodline with the damn Mariks?!"

Arnold's eyes locked onto hers. "The rebirth of the Lyran nation is going to require us to make short-term concessions to political realities. If we're to pivot our focus to reclaiming the entirety of the Lyran Commonwealth, we need our flank cleared. That will never happen so long as the Capellans loom large on the border. In that, the Mariks are our allies, and if it means Marik blood mixes with Steiner, so be it."

She accepted his argument silently. They rose and left the room in that silence.

The Privy Council of the Royal Federation was, constitutionally, the driving force for the enacting of the laws passed by the Federation's Parliament and the monarch's will in those matters that the ruler had exclusive control in. It was part-Cabinet and part-advisory group, under the direction of the Lord of the Privy Council, a noble selected by whomever was monarch due to their political acumen and capability.

For all his life, Peter never imagined he would ever be the Council Lord. As a young graduate of the Ayrshire Military Sciences Academy he always imagined that if he ever sat on the Council, it would be from reaching the highest pinnacle of the AFRF. Nor had he expected any kind of political power in his life. He was the unexpected prince, the baby of the family, born when his parents were well into their forties and not expecting another child. His elder siblings — all of them much older than he — and any children they had would be between him and the throne. The AFRF, and being a MechWarrior, would be his life.

Yet things hadn't quite gone according to plan. After years of fighting in increasingly-dire straits throughout the war, he'd found himself responsible for his nephew James, and with James' death, he swore to be there for James' son. His AFRF career gave way to working in the family administration, managing the Proctor trust, working with Jacqueline as a special appointment to the Privy Council when the task of government was too great for her broken heart, and anything that ensured he would be there for the grand-nephew whose father died on his watch. Nathaniel asking him to become Lord of the Privy Council was a request he could have never turned down.

He was nursing a slight headache by the time he adjourned the meeting and saw the others out. A couple minutes after they were gone, the door opened again. Nathaniel stepped in. "Uncle?"

I need an aspirin, Peter thought, massaging his weathered temples with his thumb and fingers after brushing away strands of his gray hair, save the few defiant strands of Proctor brown persisting at the peak of his scalp. "Nate. How was the rest of your day?"

"Well enough. I worked with Lady Jessup to draft the basic points of our response to Trillian Steiner-Davion. Lady Sophia is helping me with the actual text now." The young king grinned. "We also received a diplomatic pouch from Sian. Emperor Robert agreed to my proposal for a mutual drawdown. The 2nd Allison Heavy Guards and the 1st and 4th Sian Dragoons are all being pulled from the border of the Principality of Atreus. We'll be able to re-deploy units to other tasks."

Of course he did, thought Peter. He knows about the Glass by now, and has to know about our recent troop movements toward it. He loses nothing by encouraging us to pull troops from our border systems. Aloud he said, "Well, that's a victory for your idealism and push for peace, Nate. Congratulations. Just remember that you can't pull out the Atrean Dragoons for anything, your future grand-uncle-in-law won't stand for it."

The question was undoubtedly on the young man's mind, and Peter's reply was meant to answer it. "So the answer is yes?"

"A couple of our more devoted Lyrans are still aghast, I think, but Speaker Soto and Senate President Stuart are in favor, as are the key Government Officers. This would do well in continuing to unify the Federation and ease the concerns of the ex-League worlds. You've got their support."

Nathaniel grinned widely and nodded, taking a seat in the chair beside Peter. "Thank you, uncle, I mean it. Lady Sophia is… she's what I want in a Queen. Now that you've done this, I'll approach Archduke Kenneth and Lord Paul for the official arrangement. I'll get that done tonight, first thing after my reply to Lady Trillian's finished."

"I shouldn't have to tell you to be careful there," Peter admonished. "She's going to want a lot, and you can't give her everything."

"We can send her some of the Strategic Reserve, at least, and make good by increasing orders from the factories."

"That's going to cost billions of pounds, Nathaniel, and the Treasury is not going to be happy given they've already got to fund the naval expansion." Peter glanced toward him. "And since I know you're thinking about it, the Exchequer can't make up the shortfall, it doesn't have the funds. And your family would riot over using it."

"I'm aware of that, even if I think the family trust is too big as it is. It's financial wealth that would do our nation better supplementing our budget."

"It's also wealth that took two centuries to accumulate, and would be spent up in a year of government funding," Peter pointed out. "Hire the Lyrans a merc unit if you'd like, but no more."

"Good advice, Uncle."

Peter sighed. Nathaniel would probably overspend anyway. I will have to make sure the Exchequer watches his withdrawals carefully. "Going by the reports we have so far, they'll need more than our reserves anyway. They need troops. Maybe more than we can hope to send, Nate. As much as you may want to actually drive these Clans off, that could be beyond our means. The Combine grows stronger by the year and the Capellans' new fleet construction guarantees we can't afford to risk our fleet assets."

"There are ways to raise more troops. Whatever the Lyrans can't use, we can."

"As in raise new regiments to fight?"

"We can bring back some of the units that were folded after the Peace of Dieron. And expand our orders, we've got the spare capacity."

"If Parliament doesn't fund it, you'll put us in a bind."

"All I need to do is convince the Assembly that the need is there, and I think I can. What the Clans did on Timkovichi will persuade a lot of people we need to stop them."

And the costs to the government funds will make them think otherwise. After letting that thought stir in his head for a bit, he sat up in his chair before standing fully. "We'll discuss this another time. I've had a long day, so I'm going to head to my rooms for dinner and rest."

"Of course," Nathaniel said, nodding. "My best to Lord Kevin, I hope he's doing better."

"Thank you, I'll let him know." Peter went for the door. The sooner he and Kevin had a quiet dinner and a chance to wind down, the easier his head would feel.

And then more to do tomorrow. The business of government goes on, as does my delicate balancing act. He sighed. One day I fear I'm going to have to get firm and either make Arnold break up his clique, or make Nathaniel see reality as it is, not what he wants it to be. And God help us all when that day comes.

May He help me most of all...

Nathaniel returned to his office. Sophia was inside the inner office, at her desk there going over proofs. "I think I have a better way of wording this part," she said, holding up the paper with his formal response to Trillian's introduction. "Qualify your encouragement a little more carefully, so it doesn't seem like you're already promising her terms you didn't intend to."

"A splendid idea," he said, grinning at her.

"So." She answered the grin with one of her own. "You're happy. They said yes?"

"They did. Do you?"

The grin didn't waver. "I admit I've been thinking a lot about it these past several weeks, ever since you proposed the idea. When I accepted your offer to become the Royal Secretary, it isn't what I planned."

"Nor I. But Grandmother Jackie and Lady Mayfield both respected you, and Grandmother Amita liked you too." He took a seat in the nearest office couch to be closer to her than his main desk. She moved over to the opposite couch, eyes still on him. "So I asked you to take over for Lady Mayfield, and having gotten to know you…" Nathaniel shrugged. "You're smart and you're quick, and I like you."

"But you don't love me?"

"I… think I will, in time," he answered. "We're nobles, after all. Love's not usually involved in these things. You have to get lucky, like my parents."

Sophia nodded in agreement, and her eyes never left the contact with his. "Well, I admit, I don't love you either, at this point, but I do like you. Admire you. You've got dreams for this Federation, and the entire Inner Sphere, and I want to support them. I was going to do it as your Royal Secretary, but… how can I refuse to do it as your Queen?"

There was a little, fluttering feeling in Nathaniel's stomach. His voice almost shook with anticipation. "So the answer is yes?"

"It is. I accept your proposal, Your Majesty, and I'll say so to my father and grand-uncle." She reached forward and offered her hand, which he took. "And if it comes to it, I'll keep your dream going while you're off fighting these Clans."

He didn't release her hand, but he couldn't keep the surprise off his face. "What?"

"You are a true Proctor, Nathaniel. You've got that sense of moral purpose and seeing it through that your family's had for two centuries. I'm sure it'll be infuriating to me as your wife to have you off campaigning through the Glass, but I know you enough to know you're not going to send men and women into a fight without standing with them." Now her smile turned mischievous. "Besides, it's hard to hide it when you're booking 'Mech training in every spare space I can find in your schedule. Make ninety-eighth percentile yet?"

"Ninety-seventh," he admitted. "And it's not set in stone. I have no idea what Lady Trillian will ask for, even if I imagine she'll want troops."

"I'm sure she will, and things sound bad enough there that they'll need enough. More than enough to justify you going into the field." She placed her other hand on his now. "Just don't make me a widow."

"You could try to talk me out of it. Grandfather James always talked Grandmother out of going back into the field after Vega."

"Oh, I want to," she admitted. "And if you decide to stay, and I hope you will, it'll make me very happy. And it'll be easier to get the realm a new heir, I'll add. But given the fits you give your Privy Council and Command Staff whenever they try to talk you into things you don't want to do, I'm not counting on that hope coming true. Hopes have to be realistic to be counted on. And you are far too stubborn for me to hope you'll change your mind on something you're clearly set on."

"I can be very determined," he admitted. "I also sometimes think too much on problems and solutions, not on how others feel."

"Well, no one, not even the highest ruler, is perfect. Except Uncle Kenneth, of course. He's not allowed to be flawed, or so Father often groused."

Nathaniel laughed at that. "So I've heard."

"Yes. Well, now that we've spoken on this, I believe we have that reply to Lady Trillian to finish?" Sophia indicated their desks. "She's still weeks away, but no point keeping the poor woman in suspense on how we're going to react to her arrival. She's already having a devil of a time handling being in a different universe, I think."

"Perhaps I'll have to ask her about that, for my own sake," Nathaniel mused aloud before standing. Their hands separated and they made their way to their desks, promptly getting back 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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

Mostly written by Captain Orsai , I only did the final scene.

16 - Ripples on the Water, Near

First Davion Guards RCT HQ
Ronel, Draconis March
Federated Suns (Nearside)
29 October 3142

“IDs confirmed, sir,” the young naval Leftenant reported, her fingers flickering across her control panel as she updated the main holotank, dark grey unknown icons turning the gold of friendlies. “One Kell Hounds DropShip, Union-class, IFF tags her as the Sunfang; and Tyrannos Rex leading a group of four inbounds - two Mammoth cargo carriers and an Arondight.”

Julian Davion, Marshal in the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns, General Officer Commanding the First Davion Guards, Lord Markesan, Duke of Victoria, and currently heir to the throne of the Federated Suns, resisted the urge to utter a chain of obscenities he’d originally heard from a Terran stevedore, right after they’d nearly been run over by a LoaderMech. Brilliant, just goddamned brilliant. Right now, he needed a visit from “The Flying Duke” about as much as he needed to be shot in the head; even assuming this was completely innocent — never a safe bet when Aaron Sandoval was involved — Caleb was going to scent a conspiracy if he ever heard about this. It was also going to complicate getting the Guards ready to move to Lyran space; that hadn’t been confirmed yet, but he was expecting the order from Caleb to turn up any day now, and this was going to leave even more of the prep work out of his hands.

“Understood, Leftenant,” he nodded. “Inform General Nanava. If he’s not announcing himself, we don’t need to roll out the gold carpet, but Duke Sandoval at least merits an honour-guard.”

As the Leftenant acknowledged, Julian turned and walked out of the command centre, not trusting himself to say anything more without giving away just what he was really feeling about this new arrival.

Outside, in a thankfully deserted corridor, Julian took a moment to centre himself, focus; be as you wish others to see you. His father’s advice, and mated to that was knowing what they would see. He sketched a picture of himself within his mind; a tall man, in his mid-thirties with the solid build of one used to hard work and exercise, close-cropped red-blonde hair framing tanned, rugged and, according to Callandre Kell at least, ruler-straight-edged archetypical Davion features, wearing the red-trimmed dark green field uniform of an AFFS mechwarrior, complete with golden rowel-less spurs and the single epaulette — red, with the four white bands of his rank — tradition dictated. Now, if I can just make everyone else believe that’s all there is.

He headed for the ‘Mech bays, taking a quick glance at his wristwatch. Fourteen hours until Tyrannos Rex landed; good. That gave him time to take his Templar out onto the gunnery ranges and burn off some energy and stress, at least.

“Yo, Jules!” Callandre’s shouted greeting stopped Julian in his tracks, and he turned to face her; long dark red hair unbound, and dressed, as usual for ‘Calamity’ Kell, in tankers’ fatigues she’d had recut and styled to provoke a riot — or maybe an indecent proposition — across half the Inner Sphere. “What’s wrong,” she added, seeing his expression, “and don’t tell me ‘nothing’. You wouldn’t have a face on you like a Liao’s arse if it was nothing, so. Let’s hear it.”

Nothing for it but the truth; he'd never been able to lie convincingly to Callandre. "Aaron Sandoval's in-system, coming here. And no, I don't know why," Julian forestalled Callandre's inevitable question, "but it can't be good if he didn't want to let us know ahead of time. And, worse news for you," he added, with the carefully studied malicious politeness you learned after a decade's association with Callandre Kell; from being victim to it if nothing else, "there's a Kell Hounds ship an hour ahead of him, carrying a message from Duke Martin."

"Probably another 'come home, some stuff's forgiven' message. I told Dad — and Uncle Evan — if they want me back they're gonna need to ask in person." Credit where it was due, Callandre didn't show any sign of actually being surprised. "Still," she continued at a look from Julian, "I'll hear them out — before I throw them out."

A burst of memory sparked a chuckle from Julian. “I hope it won’t be out of a third-floor window this time,” he commented.

“Hey! We were on a low-gravity station, and there was a perfectly serviceable awning right under that window,” Callandre snapped back, smiling at the recollection.

“I’m going to assume that you knew that second one.” Julian felt some of the tension melt away at the memory of the Nagelring; of being young, and carefree, with much less responsibility to worry about. "Anyway, I'm headed for the live-fire ranges; burn off some tension, so that hopefully I can get some sleep before Sandoval gets here. You in?"

"Sure I won't show you up?" Callandre replied, grinning. "Hell yes I'm in."

Aaron Sandoval was showing off, damn him.

After his range session, a shower, a shave, and six hours’ uninterrupted sleep had left Julian in a much better condition to deal with whatever scheme the Duke of Tikonov had come up with, or so he’d thought. But now, watching Tyrannos Rex manoeuvre with balletic grace and deftness into landing, he could feel his teeth grinding in frustration at this ridiculous grandstanding; not helped by the mammoth Swordsworn insignia — an uncomfortable reflection of House Davion’s own, with an amber disk surrounded by a white circle, representing a dark planet with the burst of a rising sun around it, and in front of it all an upthrust sword, the blade inlaid with some kind of mirrored material that glinted in Ronel’s early morning sun — painted on the Excalibur-class vessel’s flanks.

“Calm, Julian,” Countess Sandra Fenlon murmured from beside him. “He’s trying to throw you off; I’ve met Aaron Sandoval, he can’t help it. It’s just the way his mind works.” Alone among the group — small; just Julian himself, Sandra, and a squad of infantry in Infiltrator Mark II armour as guard team — waiting to greet Sandoval personally, Sandra stood out; as the lone civilian, in a dark, expensively understated business suit rather than titanium-composite armour or dress uniform, a contrast made more striking by her hip-length braid of ash-blonde hair and soft build — "Rubenesque" was the descriptor Callandre liked to use, both displaying a classical education Julian wouldn't have guessed at her having the patience or temper for, and leaving him profoundly glad she wasn't around to make comments about "the prom king and queen" again; currently, she was closeted with Martin Kell's messenger, briefly introduced to Julian as Captain Andromeda Brahe. "Given that this is going to happen anyway," Sandra smiled, "we might as well enjoy the show."

"Something to that," Julian allowed, grudgingly, as he forced himself to relax. There was, truthfully, a certain pleasure in seeing a job done, and done very well indeed; and whatever their problems with flamboyance, Tyrannos Rex's captain was a master at their trade, bringing the 16,000-ton DropShip down precisely centred on the landing pad, and gently enough that there was barely a shiver as the pad took the weight. As heat distortions — fading fast but still visible — rippled the air, the pad descended, bringing Tyrannos Rex’s main access doors to ground level with a faint whine of charged myomer; not surprising, as the vast trunks that controlled its raising and descent were made up of the same material that drove BattleMechs.

Rather than use his BattleMech, or a vehicle, Aaron Sandoval chose to walk down the main embarkation ramp, his own guard squad — in light Kage batttlesuits — flanking, and nearly seven feet of suited muscularity that had to be Ulysses Paxton, Duke Aaron’s bodyguard, at his shoulder. He’s in uniform, at least, Julian thought, putting irritation aside with an effort; a plain, unadorned Field Marshal’s uniform, which meant a minimum of ceremony, thank God — Federated Suns tradition was that military rank superseded civil titles. Julan’s eyes flicked briefly to either side, where the double-company honour guard he and General Nanava had arranged was drawn up; infantry, half in Cavalier armour and half in conventional battledress. The infantry’s Hasek and JI2A1 infantry carriers were arrayed behind them, their square-bodied bulk forming the second rank. And, to crown it all, a lance of BattleMechs; Third Battalion’s command lance, nearly three hundred and forty tons of metal, myomer and quiescent destruction resting in their missiles, particle cannon, lasers and autocannon. Humanoid designs all, painted in the parade colours of the First Guards - deep royal blue, striped with red and white - standing at as close to parade-rest as a ‘Mech could come; a pair of Black Knights, a BattleMaster, and the skull-visaged enormity of Major Chloe Tran’s Atlas III.

“Field Marshal,” Julian snapped off a textbook perfect salute, in perfect time with sergeants’ roars and the crash of boots as the infantry came to attention. He could even hear the almost-clatter as one light infanteer nearly dropped and just barely recovered their rifle, and winced internally at just what their sergeant was going to have to say about that. He’d made the same mistake in his pleb year at the Nagelring, once. “Welcome to Ronel, although I confess I’m surprised at your being here.”

“Marshal Davion,” Sandoval returned the salute, letting Julian drop his and bringing a rustle and more clattering as the honour-guard relaxed fractionally. Nearly as tall as Julian was, Aaron Sandoval looked shorter than that, thanks to his broad-shouldered, big-boned and muscular build, filling out his uniform well, dark blonde hair bound up in the topknot that it seemed every male Sandoval Julian had ever met affected and his face marked by scars from, as rumour had it, an assassination attempt on New Canton nearly a decade ago. “As to why I’m here, well,” he pitched his voice to carry further, “Ronel was once a world under my rule. Why shouldn't I keep affection for her?” He slid a comradely arm across Julian’s shoulders, cover for a whispered, “I need to talk to you and Fenlon later — on the Rex.”

Julian very carefully didn't react beyond a fractional nod to the whisper, despite the sinking feeling that he'd just been conscripted. "Well, Marshal," he said, catching Sandra's eye and signalling — in the quick, flickering finger motions of nobles' hand-code, something they’d both learned long ago at Amanda Hasek's knee — that they needed to talk, "I'd be quite happy to show you some of the work we've done here, in that case."

For something that they were essentially making up as they went along, the “inspection tour” actually went quite smoothly; better than Julian had hoped. Aaron Sandoval really did know Ronel well, and he’d pointed out some useful terrain features that Julian had missed for defensive use, although the number of people he seemed to be able to recognise and casually chat with among the Guards’ ranks was leaving Julian wondering, as they walked up Tyrannos Rex's main access ramp, just how many supposed “volunteers” from the Swordsworn regiments were actually spies.

"The answer's none," Aaron commented suddenly, jolting Julian from his thoughts. "You're wondering how many of your people are serving two masters; and — in respect of me, at least — none of them are. I'm not a mind reader," he continued with an easy, confident smile at Julian's shocked reaction, "but I am good at reading people."

The interior of Tyrannos Rex was, Julian reflected, pushing past the unpleasant surprise of just how transparent he was to Aaron Sandoval, exactly as described, right down to the stonework framing the main personnel airlock. Most of it was normal, for a DropShip, with half a dozen ‘Mech cubicles, four of them occupied — by a pair of the most battered, disreputable looking LoaderMechs Julian had ever seen, a Thunderbolt in Swordsworn olive-drab with the distinctive high sheen of laser-reflective armour, and Aaron’s white and gold Black Hawk — infantry, armour and cargo securement points running up and across the vast, multi-level space. The rest, though -

“What did you do,” Sandra asked, her voice thick with a shock Julian shared — hearing about it was one thing, seeing the finery built into a DropShip’s hold was another, “rob the Hotel Duquesne?!”

“I bought it, actually,” Aaron replied with a sharp, barking laugh. “The penthouse suite of a hotel I was staying at in Prefecture Five, not long after New Canton.” A very precisely enthusiastic smile. “Captain Clancy was none too happy about it at the time, but we did manage to reach an understanding.”

“So, Duck, what’s this; you going into the marriage business now?” The gruff, almost rasping voice preceded its owner — a short, wiry man, in a dark blue merchant marine shirt untucked at the waist and decorated with a golden pair of DropShip pilot’s wings and an insignia Julian didn’t recognise, a pair of tank treads crossed with a red lightning bolt, and a white cap with captain’s bars perched at what the man evidently considered a rakish angle on a head of snow-white hair, moving with the rolling gait of someone used to working in microgravity — down the nearest personnel stairway. “And who’s this one,” he added, giving Julian an appraising look up and down, “Little Lord Fauntleroy?”

“That’s Lord Markesan,” Julian snapped in reply, hitting the DropShip officer with his best irritated glare — which washed off the man like water off a tank’s hull.

“Well, excuse me, ‘my lord’,” Captain Clancy retorted with mock contrition that bordered on insult, “lemme just get out my doilies and good silverware.”

Julian felt the flush of anger rising above his collar, but before he could step forward and give Clancy a piece of his mind, Sandra placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and Aaron stepped in with practised, tutored diplomatic smoothness.

“Captain,” he admonished gently, “be polite. Julian is a guest, and one I do have business with. I’m sure there’s something suitably ship-related for you to be doing.”

“True that, Duck,” Clancy returned, grinning as he ducked down a companionway to the DropShip’s engineering spaces.

“I apologise for Captain Clancy,” Aaron said, “I’m afraid he has a lamentably low-brow sense of humour that he insists on sharing with all in proximity to him -”

“I heard that, Duck!” echoed from the engineering hatch.

“You were supposed to,” Aaron shouted back before continuing, ushering Julian and Sandra into his office — decorated and fitted out with the kind of comfortable, understated austerity that cost far, far more than mere opulence — Ulysses Paxton taking station at the door, “I suggest that you — as I do — tolerate the noble-taunting. His talents as captain, pilot, procurer, and so on are worth it.”

“As fascinating as that is,” Julian chose to stand, adopting the same semi-parade rest stance that had served him well in numerous chewings-out from the Nagelring’s commandant and prolonged official speeches, while Sandra went for the most comfortable-looking chair, “I’m assuming, Field Marshal, that you didn’t come here from Tikonov just to provide a lesson on personnel management?”

“No, I did not,” Aaron agreed, sitting down rather heavily. He seemed older, suddenly, as though he'd dropped a mask hiding deep, stress-riven lines. "Tell me; what do you think of Caleb? Personally and politically," he clarified.

Julian winced at that, not even bothering to hide it this time. This was exactly what he’d dreaded from receiving the first report of Tyrannos Rex arriving in-system; that, again, Aaron was going to try and get him involved in politics that — he tried and failed to convince himself — weren’t his to get involved in. Unbidden, his thoughts went to the data-wafer hidden away in Callandre’s quarters, that poisonous final bequest from Riccard Streng, and everything that might come of it.

“Erratic,” Sandra spoke first, marshalling her thoughts and words with the quiet care and attentiveness of a master jeweller. “I can’t speak to personally — I only met him a handful of times, on Terra, and that was nearly a decade ago — but politically, he seems almost, well, mercurial; freely granting local autonomy for some things, but pulling it back the instant it’s used in some way he disapproves of without any warning. And,” she frowned, worry lines furrowing her brow, “I don’t know about his judgement. He’s appointed some good people — even ones that Aunt Amanda approved of, and we all know how she feels about New Avalon — but others … some of them are worse than just useless.”

“Personally,” Julian took over smoothly, feeling on more stable ground with that. Ground he knew, and was confident in lying — if only by omission — on, “at least when I knew him, impulsive. Prone to acting first and second, and thinking third — if he ever did. By turns forceful, and then almost timid.” He remembered the Exarch’s Ball, on the eve of Victor’s funeral; Caleb brash and aggressive in goading Yori Kurita into nearly drawing her katana in lethal earnest, then withdrawing the instant Jasek Kelswa-Steiner proposed a simulator match instead. The memory still stung; not managing to fight the sim match to a draw, but Caleb’s efforts to use him as a shield for his own mistakes. “Politically, I can’t say. That isn’t my -”

“I’m going to stop you there, Julian,” Aaron spoke quietly, almost regretfully. “I’m afraid that if Harrison — or your father — ever let you think politics wasn’t a matter you needed to be involved with, they did you a grave disservice.” A harsher edge crept into the next words. “Politics is your concern, and it always has been. Julian, you are noble-born; you command a regiment of the First Prince's own Guards, and you're a Davion — one step from the throne; if Caleb slipped in the shower and broke his neck today, you’d be the First Prince. Everything you do is political, it has been since you first drew breath. For the good of the Suns, you need to make peace with that, and do it soon." Aaron chuckled ruefully before continuing. “It’s not pleasant, I know — I am a politician, and by your standards, I’m a cheat and a liar; who, when I’m not kissing babies, is stealing their lollipops. But,” harshness returned, “it also means that I can see, and act for, the good of the realm. And I’m not convinced that, long-term, that includes Caleb on the throne.”

“If you’re suggesting —” Julian began hotly.

“Oh calm down,” Aaron snapped. “I’m not suggesting anything. Firstly, I don’t believe in assassination on principle; it’s too unreliable, and even when it works it causes no end of long-term problems. And second, even if I wasn’t opposed to it, right now would be a bloody stupid time for me to try. I don’t trust Caleb in the long-term, but at the moment, he’s doing things that need to be done — that Harrison should have gotten done decades ago — and isn’t the kind of disaster who needs to be dethroned at all costs. Right now, the Suns can’t afford an internal war. That, above all else,” he finished emphatically.

“Then what are you suggesting?” Sandra asked.

“For now, nothing more than what we’re already doing, just better organised. It’s not much, but,” Aaron shrugged, “without something definite to use as a cause for deposing Caleb, it’s what we have. And, as a first step there,” he added, looking at Julian intently, “I understand the Guards are having supply issues?”

“Equipment issues,” Julian corrected. “We’ve got, are getting, more supplies and people than we need, but we’re short about a battalion of ‘Mechs overall and more in tanks and artillery. Corwin Sandoval was helping out there but,” he sighed, “with the casualties his forces’ve been taking in PELAYO, that’s dried up.”

“Then it’s a good thing I bring gifts,” Aaron smiled, a little. “Both the Mammoths I brought with me are fully loaded with supplies and equipment, care of, well, various interested parties in the Capellan March. Mostly heavy and assault gear, but I managed to get something special from Kallon’s Wernke planet; a company of their newest Shadow Hawk variant. Think you can use them?”

“Yes,” Julian nodded absently, running through the numbers in his head. That should let us bring the RCT back up to full strength, and more besides.

“Good,” Aaron seemed uncomfortable with what he was about to say next. “We also need to start building support, for if, or when, Julian, you need to take the throne.Which means, among other things,” Aaron aimed significant looks at Julian and Sandra, “you two need to start thinking about marrying, soon.”

On Terra, during the fighting in Siberia, a salvo of missiles had cracked his Templar’s canopy. They hadn’t hit Julian harder than that blunt statement had; he knew his expression was something close to a slapped mackerel, and Sandra turned scarlet and snapped off a shocked, “What the hell” in response.

“Don’t act surprised; you both know it’s how things are done, at our level.” Aaron continued the significant looks. “And you two are lucky; you’re a better match personally than most political marriages I’ve known; Ki-linn Liao and Jacob Bannson, for instance.” A dark chuckle at that.

Before Julian could offer his opinion on that idea, a raised voice came from outside — raised in a blistering tirade of obscenities in gutter-Deutsch, from a voice that he knew well.

“— so get out of my way or I’ll kick you through this door!” Callandre Kell finished as — shoving Ulysses Paxton aside — she slammed the office door open.

Major Kell, what the Hell do you-” Julian started to shout, rounding on her, before realising that Callandre wasn’t enraged; she was grinning, a hard feral smile that stretched almost ear-to-ear.

Great fuckin’ news from Uncle Evan, Jules,” she explained, “Best I’ve heard in years. The Jade Falcons and Horses’ve gotten their fuckin’ heads kicked in, Malvina Hazen’s a prisoner, and the Commonwealth’s got some new allies. Captain Brahe’s putting together a full brief, but we’re better off than we’ve been for years.”

Decision crystallised. This might be a bad idea, but the hell with it. Aaron and Sandra’ve risked their necks — probably not literally, Caleb wasn’t as crazy as Etien Davion had been, but dangerously close — they deserve to know. “Callandre, you remember that package I told you to keep safe?”

“Oh shit.” Her good mood evaporated in a second, replaced by hard severity. “You really think now’s the time?”

“Now or never, Callandre.” Julian faced Aaron and Sandra, both looking severely confused. “I’d hoped I’d never have to use this, but — right after you left for Tikonov in ‘35, Aaron - Gavin Marik-Davion gave me … certain documents that Riccard Streng had left with him; ones that Harrison had intended for me to have.” Time to yank the bandage off. “Among them was a medical assessment of Caleb, from his training. When he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; functional, then, but getting worse.”

Sandra just looked shocked, but Aaron’s face was rapidly shading the red of anger. “Unfinished Book,” he half-roared. “Why the bloody Christ didn’t you tell anyone sooner?!”

“Two reasons, Firstly,” Julian counted off on his fingers, “I had to verify it — Streng’s analysis wasn’t always reliable after the Blackout, or before for that matter, in case you’ve forgotten him missing Daoshen treating the MMRP as a joke; and I still don’t know how much I can trust Marik-Davion — and by the time I could, Caleb was solid enough on the throne it’d take a civil war to remove him. And second,” his voice and expression hardened, spine stiffening, “I am not my grandfather. I wasn’t going to start a civil war, because you’re right, we can’t afford one. But if we’re going to be allies in this, you need to know everything. Now we’ve just got to figure out how to use it.”

There were nods at that, and if not acceptance — Sandra, for one, looked like she was going to give him a piece of her mind and then some later — tolerance for the deception, which was honestly better than anything Julian had hoped for, and about to resume discussion when Paxton spoke up.

“Marshal Davion,” he said, with a remarkable lack of irritation for someone on the receiving end of Callandre’s temper, “Messenger for you.”

The messenger was a young midshipman, snapping off a salute with a tense precision and swiftness. “Marshal,” he said, “the JumpShip Golden Farrel just arrived in-system; they have a courier ship inboard, carrying eyes-only messages from His Highness for you.”

What was that old line - I expected this, but not so soon? “Right. Callandre, take Paxton with you, retrieve that file.” Julian silently thanked everything that was holy they’d practised all this so much. “He’ll bring it back here; you get to General Nanava and inform him and Admiral Moon we’re going with Plan Baker for deployment.” The one for Lyran space, and fortunately the one that they’d just finished a series of exercises testing the first stages of. “Aaron, how soon can those cargo carriers get down here?”

“Tell the truth, they’re already down and unloading to your supply people; have been for hours, actually.” Aaron shrugged. “I didn’t think you’d turn them down. And you can keep the ships; I didn’t get a receipt when I took them from the Liaos. I’ll hold Tikonov while you’re away.”

“And before you say anything, Julian,” Sandra spoke up, “I’m coming with you. You’ll need someone to deal with the Lyran bureaucracy while you manage the military side, and unless you want Callandre to be doing that…”

Any commander had to know when to yield an untenable position, and Julian contented himself with a nod. Despite how difficult this was going to be, he felt relieved, glad to finally have something beyond exercises or pushing back the occasional Kuritan raid to do.

Merchant Vessel Carleuche
Flagship of Gamma Aimag, Tiburon Khanate
Clan Sea Fox
Deep Space Anchorage
6 November, 3142

Ordinarily, whenever the ships of the Tiburon Khanate came together at one of their many deep space rendezvous - to resupply, to share news and trade goods and simply to be among their own for a time - Master Merchant Antoinette Labov liked to spend much of her time watching. She had always found the vast shoal of silver-skinned JumpShips and DropShips a soothing, inspiring sight; just as was the jewelled glow of the continuous streams of shuttlecraft passing between them, and the lights of spotlamp and welding torch moving across the surface of each vessel in the endless cycle of maintenance.


But, as much as she needed that steadying influence, today was not ordinary, and as she airswam along Star Seeker’s access tube, she barely spared that vista a glance. The information she was carrying - Antoinette placed a hand on the data-wafer secured to her belt, just to make sure it was still there, still real - was too important.

She made her way deeper inside the converted destroyer, through armoured bulkheads and past the feed mechanisms for the Carleuche’s naval-grade autocannon and missile tubes. There was only one place ovKhan Hammand was likely to be during this assembly.

Deep within the hull core, Antoinette presented her Codex to the Elemental Marine guarding one particular access hatch.

Within, ovKhan Orestes Hammond swam within a sea of stars. Or, at least, that was how it looked; the truth was actually quite close to that. The ovKhan floated, in truth, in amongst the vast — at least by JumpShip standards — holographic map that formed the core of the astrography section, with the Tiburon Khanate’s holdings, trade routes and vessels marked out in amongst that network of blue-white dots.

She waited, steadying herself, marshalling all that she knew and had to say.

“Master Merchant Labov,” Hammond acknowledged her, airswimming down to her level. A slim, neat man, he moved with the careful precision of a dancer; or the master savateur that she knew he was. “I take it, from the urgency of your request for a meeting, that this is not a social call?”

“It is not, ovKhan,” Antoinette acknowledged. “There is a great deal I have to explain, but it would be simplest if you were to observe the data on this,” she slid the data-wafer from her pocket, “first. With your permission?” That drew a nod, and she pushed off a stanchion to the holoprojector’s controls.

The briefing summary that her staff had assembled took some twenty minutes, and ovKhan Hammond remained silent throughout. When the last of it came to a stop, he interlaced his fingers and fixed Antoinette with a sharp look.

“Master Merchant, that was a highly informative and comprehensive presentation, which leaves me with one of two choices. The first, is that you have lost your mind, and this is an extremely elaborate prank. The second is that you are telling the truth. And I know which explanation I favour. I take it you have a plan for how to proceed from here?”

Aff, ovKhan.” Antoinette let out a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding. “I have dispatched one of my flotilla’s trading vessels to Timkovichi, to make initial contact and learn more of these ‘Arcadians’. Whether their tale of being from a … different Inner Sphere is true or not, they seem ignorant of matters here, and in need of information from a source other than the Lyrans.”

“Wisely thought,” Hammond nodded. “For we have much information to sell to them; and it is an opening to begin ensuring that they see us as useful.”

“I also believe," Antoinette paused before forcing herself to cross the Rubicon, “that we should petition the Khan to send an emissary to the Bears with this information. Not all of it,” she clarified, “but enough to engage their interest. And,” she smiled, “I believe that, with the Horses’ raids against them, the Bears will be very interested to know what has befallen their collaboration with Malvina Hazen, quiaff?”

Aff, that they would pay much to know, indeed.” Hammond’s hard, feral grin mirrored her own. “We will talk of this more later, in full council of the Aimag. There is a great deal of profit to be made here - and just as great risk, but that is what makes life interesting, quiaff?”

“That is so, ovKhan,” Antionette agreed. And the risk is why I fought to become Master Merchant, rather than remaining a mere - and safe - trading factor. Along with being sure that I am one of those making the profits to be had.

Wolf Empire Military Headquarters
Alliago City, Gienah
Wolf Empire Occupation Zone
16 November 3142

With just eight days left before perhaps the most important meeting of his life, Alaric Wolf was surprisingly nonplussed to find out that reality was no longer working.

The report coming from the opposite end of the Commonwealth would have ordinarily been dismissed as someone mixing an entertainment holovid into news items. But the Watch's relayed reports of the Lyrans' press was adamant it was real, as were the Sea Fox Factors who relayed the news along with a recent shipment of war material to the Wolves.

From the other side of the room, his mother Katrina watched the image of the Red Talon burning over Timkovichi orbit with abject surprise, which quickly became concern. "You just lost your main argument against Khan Ward," she noted.

"I did, but I shall adapt. Flexibility is important when dealing with the unexpected, quiaff?"


Alaric allowed himself a slight, wolfish smile. "You seem disappointed, Mother. Is it because these interlopers, these 'Arcadians', saved the Kell Hounds from annihilation?" He watched her face for signs of a reaction. The Kells were among those who stood against her so many decades ago, when she'd asserted rulership of the Steiner and Davion realms as Archon-Princess. They'd participated in the grueling civil war that ruined both realms and saw her cast from her throne and made a prisoner.

There were times Alaric wondered why her brother Victor, his genetic sire, hadn't had her executed. Softness toward family, perhaps? Spheroids had all sorts of taboos, restrictions, that a Clan warrior like himself did not necessarily share. But they are soft only up to a point; remember that. The Smoke Jaguars and the Word of Blake had both assumed that Spheroids could not be as hard as they needed to be, and both had paid for it in failure - the only sin Alaric allowed himself to recognise.

Whatever frustration his remark caused her, Katrina quickly recovered. A very satisfied little grin formed on her lips. "Morgan and his whelps are dead, and I am not. I outlived them all, Alaric. And when we are done, I will have undone everything my brother and his followers built." She gestured toward the screen. "Of more importance is that this changes everything. Malvina Hazen is dead or a captive, and no longer commands the Falcons. You cannot use the threat of her becoming ilKhan to goad Ward."

"True, I cannot. But now I have something even better." He walked up and ran his hand through the holographic display, as if he could grasp the colossal WarShips visible. "Such power. These Arcadians brought a naval force through that would have turned the tide of any naval battle in the last twenty years. Who knows how much greater their strength may be? They could be a threat to the Clans unlike any we have faced since the Word of Blake. And if they are on the Lyrans' side, we are running out of time."

"So it is the threat of the interlopers, then?" she asked. "Surely Khan Ward will use it to justify holding ground and rebuilding forces."

"He will, but I will demonstrate the cowardice of such a plan, and how it leads to inevitable defeat. If we are to prevail, we must continue the advance, we must strike the Lyrans and take Tharkad before they recover or can summon more of these Arcadians to their assistance. Tharkad's fall will break the Commonwealth to pieces." Alaric noted his mother's thoughtful expression. She was examining his argument for weakness. "You have seen my work. Three more galaxies, enough forces to sweep away the broken Lyran units that would hold us back from Tharkad, and to continue other pursuits."

"Terra," she recognized immediately.

"Of course. That is still our main goal. At some point the Republic's wall will come down, or we will find a way through. Breaking the Lyrans will give us time to rebuild and prepare for it while the outsiders struggle in the resulting chaos. Let them choke on the Lyran corpse when we have had our share."

The pleasure in her eyes showed her thoughts on that. For all Katrina Steiner-Davion had once declared herself the champion of the Lyran people, she held no real regard for them, especially after so many fought against her, or failed to secure her throne. That the Commonwealth would be destroyed mattered little. It was the purpose she had in mind when arranging my birth, after all.

"A sound plan, then. The Clan Council will see it as better than going onto the defensive. Be ready, though, for Seth Ward is no fool, and the Loremaster despises you as well."

He accepted her advice with a nod, but inwardly he felt no trepidation, just confidence in the victories to come… and his own, unspoken plans for the future. And the Commonwealth may be my prize after all, mother, regardless of what you think.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

17 - Ripples on the Water, Far

Celestial Palace
Imperial City, Wuhan Continent
Sian, Sian Commonality
Oriento-Capellan Empire
4 November 3142

For many centuries it was known as the Forbidden City. The Capital of the Capellan Confederation and its capital world Sian, from which the Chancellors of House Liao governed their disparate peoples united under the Capellan identity.

Then the collapse came. The Succession Wars broke the Capellan Confederation as they did the other Great Houses. When the dust settled and the disparate worlds and surviving governments were no longer answering to House Liao, the isolated throne world lapsed to the control of the interstellar communications company ComStar, effectively placing the Liaos under Terran rule. The Forbidden City became a tourist trap for wealthy Terrans to come and gawk at while the Liaos watched and fumed at the repudiation of everything they built.

Perhaps that is why my great-grandfather renamed the city after conquering it.

Such was the thought of the prim-suited man looking out over it from a protected balcony deep in the palace grounds. From his office balcony, Emperor Robert Halas-Liao surveyed the breadth of the Imperial City, so-named by his predecessor Emperor Jonah Allison-Liao when he relocated to the old Capellan capital. Name aside, Robert looked rather more European-descended than East Asian, with a fair amount of Russian ancestry from his mother.

For a hundred years now, they were the closest thing the Capellan people had to a reborn House Liao, the result of generations of effort to reconcile the Allisons to governing Capellan worlds captured before and during the collapse. They'd spent years and plenty of effort to connect House Allison, and now House Halas-Liao, to the glories of the past.

And yet, all that the Allisons did to acclimate to the Capellan people while ruling Harsefeld — given they were the former ruling family of Oriente — Jonah never let the past govern the present or future so totally as to not change things. His vision made the Empire what it is.

Robert turned away from the sight, and the nearby portrait of his progenitor. Getting caught up in thoughts of what the late Emperor would say or do in his stead could be useful mental exercise at times, as were considerations of his actions, but Robert had his own thoughts on such things. He would not be governed by the expectations of a dead man… or, for that matter, a living woman.

The ancient, wizened figure on his holotank was well over a hundred and thirty years old, which was why she'd spent the last forty years in the confines of her palace on Oriente. The very limits of modern medical science kept the Dowager Empress Eris Halas alive, although at times it felt more like her continued survival was based more on the power of spite. Robert wondered if the spite was toward the scheming relatives who tried to assassinate her one hundred and ten years ago, or spite towards the very idea of death. Whatever kept her going she remained a political force he had to reckon with. To this day she commanded respect in the Oriente portion of the Empire, even though she'd stepped down well over thirty years ago to allow her grandson, Robert's father Gregory, to rule the Empire.

And Father promptly led us into the hell of the Fourth Succession War.

The old woman's expression was quiet, reserved… and clearly seething. "The Proctors are always grasping," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. "There will be no lasting peace with them we do not enforce with our strength."

"So you say. I am not a naive child, Grandmother, and I am well aware of the forces in Nathaniel's government that would push for war with us. It makes encouraging his peace offers all the more important while we finish our armament programs."

"Were you simply suggesting that I would not be so concerned, Robert." Eris drew in a breath, as she often did after a long sentence. "But these force reductions you speak of would leave the border dangerously undermanned. It is weakness they will exploit."

"I see you are as well-informed as ever," he said candidly. I really must have Intelligence see about restricting her access.

A dangerous glint formed in her eye. "You forget how many of this Empire owe their power, their position, to me, child. Nothing remains hidden from me."

"You needn't remind me. So, I imagine you are demanding I retract the promise to withdraw the 2nd Allison Heavy Guards from New Olympia?"

"The Proctors have sought New Olympia for a century, it must not be left undefended."

"Warrior House Aquila remains, as does Duchess Tabot's personal brigade. It is hardly exposed and vulnerable. The 2nd Heavy Guards will be of greater value to Imperial security as a reserve force."

She was clearly not convinced, but Robert suspected this was about more than troop dispositions. If the Dowager of Oriente was known for anything — and she was known for many things — it was her hatred of House Proctor for the insult delivered to her at the coronation of Sara-Marie Proctor as the first High Queen of the Federation.

It was a story he'd grown up hearing, often. Eris, Grand Duchess of Oriente at the time and newly-wed to Jonah Allison-Liao the co-ruler of Harsefeld's Royal Protectorate, had gone to attend that coronation. It was not the crowning of a new ruler but the ceremonial transformation of the old Arcadian Free March into its new, larger federated form, and Eris considered herself on a mission of peace and friendship to Sara-Marie's court upon her rise from March-Princess to High Queen.

As it would turn out, the Proctors and their Lyran allies had already decided on joining the Second Andurien War against Oriente and Harsefeld, yet behaved as if they were friends until the very last moment. Eris departed Arcadia believing in friendship with the state even as the armies of the newly-reformed Royal Federation launched a wide-ranging invasion of Oriente and Harsefeld-held worlds. The Proctors had slapped away her hand to steal her worlds.

Or so, that was how the story went.

And after all this time, her grudge burns still. Perhaps it is that grudge that sustains her. If every Proctor died, she might just drop dead herself. "If you wish more, Grandmother, I am not concerned about Arcadian aggression. They have their hands full with this Atocongo anomaly."

"I have heard the rumors, but I remain skeptical."

"I was until I saw the holovids," he said while Eris drew in another breath. "This 'Looking Glass' was confirmed by Mask sources in the Communal League. The Arcadians already sent two brigades and a regimental combat team through to secure the other side, and have engaged in hostilities with some barbarian culture on the other end called the Clans."

"I was not aware of such."

He fought a grin. Your information network is not perfect, especially among the Capellan side of the Empire. He could always rest assured that the Maskirovka, at least, were not easily suborned by the Dowager. "I think it in our best interest to encourage High King Nathaniel to reinforce the portal, and I'd think you would too. The more troops he has up there, the fewer he has to menace New Olympia and the Sirian Commonality."

Eris made no immediate remark to that. "Agreed. What are you doing about learning more? The Proctors may turn this portal to their advantage. If they tap the wealth of the Lyrans on the other end, their strength will grow too greatly. We must know if these Clans can restrain them."

"For the time being traffic is too controlled, but they are admitting a Lyran envoy. We will learn what we can when she arrives on Arcadia," Robert assured her.

"Good." Eris' eyes slightly shifted, as if looking away on her end. "It appears I am out of time. I should be thankful, I suppose, that you take time in your busy schedule to speak to me." The speaking forced her to take another deep breath. "You would rather I was dead, of course."

"At your age, Grandmother, life itself must be a daily burden," Robert replied diplomatically, although he certainly didn't refute the idea (since that would be a lie and both of them would know it was).

The cackle that came from her throat almost sounded like a death rattle. "Don't let that silver tongue get you into trouble, boy." With that admonition the line connecting Sian to Oriente terminated. Their talk had lasted ten minutes, and cost the Imperial treasury enough money to buy a company of BattleMechs. The cost was worth it, though, if just to give Robert forewarning if Eris was planning anything. I will have to ensure the forces on the border are being checked, should she try some 'preemptive' measure.

Robert settled into his office chair. It would be so much easier if she finally passed on, he decided. For too long, Dowager Empress Eris' authority influenced the direction and policy of the Empire, or so he felt. But she had love from the peoples of both halves, and besides that, she was still family. He could no more do something about her continued living than he could order the Mask to perform enhanced interrogation on his damned willful daughter Xiaoli.

Still, I do need to see about vetting the information she's getting. With that in mind he checked his own latest updates. The incoming Lyran envoy had a name: "Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion". It seems the other side has its own marriage alliances.

But there was a more important piece of information on his secured noteputer, straight from the Imperial University of Sian's College of Advanced Physics.

Upon analysis of data provided and Professor Whateley's public papers, we conclude it is likely that the incident is repeatable, moreover, that it might be done intentionally and with the existing resources of the Empire. Further tests will confirm the matter.

Robert read that line and grinned softly. Should this 'Looking Glass' be a boon for the Royal Federation, it will prove one for the Empire as well…

Davion Palace
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns (Farside)
5 November 3142

The weather in the capital was pleasant enough for a walk in the Royal Gardens, giving First Princess Grace Silver-Davion the excuse she needed to get away from the Court and its squabbling. She was still in her white, red, and gold robes of state, the seal of the Federated Suns prominent over the heart and on the clasp of her sun-gold cape, when she stepped out into the warmth and took in the scent of the blooming flowers.

Now nearly eighty years of age, Grace had a life-time of memories here. She remembered the Gardens as a small child, when she was a carefree, feisty redheaded girl of a few years who played hide and seek with her father and maternal grandfather. John Silver, ex-pirate that he was, delighted in her youthful craftiness (as had her other grandfather, the legendary Long Tom Silver, while he was still alive), and First Prince Ian Davion found her antics a refreshing reprieve from the duties of state he was burdened with. The 3060s, the first decade of her life, were the happy days.

The more painful memories came later, in 3070 and 3071, when she spent her days sheltered from the overpowering Concord invasion that threatened to capture House Davion's homeworld. Those terrible days taught her about death, including seeing her wounded grandfather Prince Ian breathe his last. After months in the bunkers under Mt. Davion she'd come back to see the gardens a ruin, and even when the gardeners finished replanting everything and the flowers bloomed again, it never felt quite right.

At the rustle of leaves from a nearby tree, her blue eyes snapped over to the sight of an elderly man in a green AFFS uniform. "Sneaking up on me, Eric?" she asked her husband.

He shook his head. "With those cat reflexes of yours? Perish the thought." Eric Sandoval had once possessed a head of dark brown hair that was now quite gray, much as her white hair was once red, although he kept it in the familiar style of the Sandovals with the top-knot . An exile from childhood when the forces of the Concord drove his family from their ancestral home of Robinson, he'd been married to Grace to reinforce Davion claims to the old capital of the Draconis March. While she'd spent her service in the Navy, he'd become a MechWarrior and fought through the decade-long failed effort to reclaim his homeworld. "Minister Bao did ask me to see to you. The Court is looking for your decision."

"About the New Vandenburg riots?"

"Those too, yes," he said. "The commander of the Presidency's militia is asking for permission to call in 'more reliable' units."

Grace drew in a heavy sigh. She wanted to go ring the neck of both Premier Carl Morales, the civilian leader of the Presidency of New Vandenburg whose corruption forced her to act in the first place, and that stiffnecked General Sallinger for calling out the Militia on the protestors supporting Morales. "That would only excite the Taurians to greater resistance. No, for now we allow the courts to work the process. As troublesome as they are, they are citizens of the Federated Suns, and we'll never win them over by trodding on them whenever we feel like it."

"I'll let him know," Eric replied helpfully. "If only to keep you from strangling any of them." At her sardonic glare, he laughed. "Grace, I can tell when you want to tear someone apart. You always get that look in your eye."

"If only they were so easily scolded as my boys and girls on the Temeraire," Grace said. She let her memories carry her back to her proud ship, one of the flag vessels of the Federated Suns Navy. "You sure there isn't a reporter whose head I might conveniently rip off? Metaphorically." The last word has a slight emphasis, as if to reassure Eric she would not actually do the deed.

Eric laughed. "Afraid not. And Bao needs an answer on the… other matter."

"You mean the one that is getting everyone's knickers in a twist. The revelation that reality isn't what we thought it was?" Grace shook her head. "All those years of jumping from star to star, never knowing I might end up in the wrong Inner Sphere?"

"Doctor Sato is insistent that it's not so simple, Grace, that lone ships won't make such a jump. But we won't know for sure how it works, not until we test."

"And just hope we don't tear another hole in reality." She met his eyes. "Do you think we should do this, Eric? Be honest."

"Well." He shrugged. "There's so much we might learn. And with the Arcadians getting involved on the other side, well, the genie's out of the bottle, isn't it? A second Inner Sphere could mean better trade possibilities. More allies if we ever have to fight the Concord or the Empire again. So it is something to consider. At the very least we might understand more about what caused the rift to form."

"Hrm." She turned from him and looked over at a set of blooming lavender flowers. They were much the same as her grandfather once planted every year in memory of her grandmother, Maria VonLees, who'd died when Terran 'Mechs attacked the Palace during their invasion of New Avalon. She remembered the pain in his eyes, though as a child she hadn't been aware that was what it was. He'd done everything to protect the rest of them from that pain, even when he'd become the cause of it. She had a similar obligation to protect the Federated Suns and ensure it remained strong.

So much for a quiet hour in the garden. She looked towards the door inside. "Limited testing, simulators and minor test jumps. I won't go blowing holes into reality unless we absolutely must."

"Sounds reasonable to me." He offered his arm.

Without a word she took it and left the garden with him.

Unity Palace
Imperial City
Luthien, Pesht Military District
Draconis Combine (Farside)
8 November 3142

The four beings who entered the ornate room with its pillars of varying material and color were very powerful men and women. Each controlled the destinies of many billions of people in the worlds they governed, ordered about their own segments of the Inner Sphere's largest military force, and could with a single word end the life of even the wealthiest beings under their authority. They, to varying extents, did not like one another, for their own varied reasons, but here especially they could not fight; indeed, could not fight without great care anywhere, because that offense might lead to their death.

Because, for all the powers they wielded as the Warlords of the Draconis Combine, the four Tai-shu still answered to a higher authority. The highest authority.

That authority entered their midst in ceremonial robes of state, a man in his early forties known and feared as Yorinaga Kurita, whose one organic eye was supplemented by a cybernetic enhancement used to replace the eye he lost in battle against the Kilbourne Concord at the end of the 4th Succession War. He was clean-shaven, his hair cut in formal Japanese style, and he moved with the poise of a practicing MechWarrior. The mantle of the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine sat upon his broad shoulders with the gold-rimmed seal of the Combine — a coiled black dragon on a red field — shining in the lights of the Reception Hall. They each bowed fully at the waist to their ruler who returned the bow with a slighter one of his own. To either side stood members of the Order of the Black Dragon, the defenders of the Combine and enforcers of the Coordinator's will. Each and every member of the Black Dragons swore oaths of the highest weight to never permit the Dragon to be felled again, no matter the cost. They were clad in red armor suits with the black dragon crest over their hearts, the suits crafted to resemble the modern equivalent of samurai armor. Each carried a pulse rifle, sidearm, and a blade for their bloodiest work.

The Coordinator lowered himself onto his sitting mat, prompting the others to join him, save his standing bodyguards. Yorinaga took in the sight of his four warlords. Tai-shu Hadeo Kurita was his uncle, the brother of his late father Hidetada, and commanded the Pesht Military District. Next to Hadeo was Tai-shu Soong Pak Rhee of the Tok Do Military District and Tai-shu Mitsuki Honda-Sakamoto of Galedon's Military District. The last, and the one he typically harbored the greatest reservations over, was Tai-shu Katarina Takeda-Suvorovna. As a young woman Katarina was the last independent ruler of the Hartshill Federal Alliance before surrendering to his mother Kori and becoming part of Galedon's Mutual Co-Prosperity Sphere, the egg from which the Combine was hatched into new life. The agreement by which Hartshill's capable military strength was preserved and turned over whole to Galedon, including the 'Mech regiments and WarShips that let Kori Honda defy every neighbor at the same time during the 4th Succession War, stipulated that House Takeda-Suvorov would remain in power in Hartshill.

That agreement was still in force, but the ISF repeatedly noted the failure of Tai-shu Takeda and her subordinates to cooperate with certain directives. More to the point, Katarina was shrewd like many of her line, and Yorinaga long suspected she might have played a role in his treacherous cousin Musashi Honda's rebellion in the Vega Prefecture. She might have even had a hand in his parents' death, although the ISF was still certain that had been an accident. She would bear further watching, and careful handling, as Hartshill's economic and industrial strength was necessary to power the expansion of the DCMS to meet Yorinaga's long-term goals.

But that was all for another time. He had other, more urgent affairs. This meeting was the kind that took months to arrange, even if command circuits ensured the Warlords could assemble in weeks. Initially Yorinaga intended to use it to prepare for the ongoing Outworlds conflict, and maybe a new effort to wrest Alpheratz and Quatre Belle from the Concord. But events among the Lyran states now overshadowed that matter.

"You have heard of the strange events in the Lyran systems," he said to them. It was not a question.

"Yes, Coordinator," said Tai-shu Rhee. As the Vega Prefecture was within the Tok Do District, he was the most responsible for matters involving the Lyrans. "A force attending war games in the Rim Worlds systems made a misjump into what they say is another Inner Sphere, creating a permanent portal linking our Inner Sphere to the other." While he certainly had the others' attention, their silence prompted Rhee to continue in his accented English. "There the Arcadians and their Ghastillian lapdogs fought strange foes called the Falcons and the Horses. These 'Clans' fell to their forces due to surprise. We have learned that reinforcements were already sent through the portal, and other units are in readiness to join them."

"Then we have opportunity," remarked Hadeo. "A chance to strike at the Arcadians and the traitor Musashi Honda's forces."

Rhee nodded. "Tai-sho Ballymont has already requested permission to attack Arcturus, to either draw the traitors out or cause dissension among the Proctors' vassals. The 5th Sword of Light, the 3rd and 5th Legions of Vega, and the 10th Tok Do Regulars are ready to commence an attack."

"That would leave Vega defenseless," noted Tai-shu Honda.

"There would be forces sufficient to hold until reinforcements from Pesht and Tok Do arrive," Rhee said.

She was not so easily dissuaded. "And what of my planned campaign? I was promised troops from Pesht and Tok Do."

Rhee snorted. "Another six months and we will have nothing to show but damaged 'Mechs and more rubble. Let the Concord strike as they will in the area, we will defend with ease."

"It may not just be the Concord." Katarina spoke the words with careful deliberation. "Too large of an attack may be considered a violation of the Peace of Dieron. We may trigger a wider war with this strike. It would be best to know the entire realm is ready for the resumption of hostilities."

Rhee glowered at his counterpart. Katarina barely passed him a glance of acknowledgement, keeping her eyes on Yorinaga. Her words, while true, irked him greatly. His mother only agreed to the Peace once it was clear her forces were too broken to hold any longer. Her remaining gains were thus secured, but it meant a number of worlds had to be relinquished.

Yorinaga wanted greatly to regain those worlds and more, and every year waited patiently for the signs the Peace of Dieron had run its course. Until it had, until he secured enough support to challenge it from other powers — powers willing to accept the Dragon's inevitable victory — caution had to be the watchword. He could not afford to repeat his mother's mistakes.

"What is the Dragon's wish?" Hadeo asked of Yorinaga.

Yorinaga considered the matter. More to the point, he considered how his reply should be worded. Once he was certain he spoke in prepared lines.

"The Dragon beholds
The Hawk's flight through the mirror
With quiet patience."

The four Warlords all nodded. "The Dragon's will is clear." Hadeo bowed his head.

"The Dragon trusts his servants to carry it out." With that statement Yorinaga stood. They did so as well and again bowed at the waist to him. He returned the bow with a slight one and, together, they departed. He would meet with them later, individually, to arrange military matters and economic affairs to his desires. The time was not yet right to attempt a wider effort against the Azami, Rasalhague, or the Concord, and it may even fall on his son Tadakatsu to lead the Dragon to further victories and conquests. The intervening time demanded careful handling of the ambitions they and their districts harbored.

Katarina was the last to step out, after giving him a final glance. He suspected she wanted to discuss matters, most likely the demands that were being placed on her worlds' industries and populace. I will deal with her and her obstinate followers one day.

For the time being he had other matters awaiting them, including the meeting with several leading scientists of the Imperial Institute of Science and Technology that his staff had already arranged. There was always the possibility that the other side of this "mirror" the Arcadians accidentally created would provide them opportunities, and that could not go unchallenged. We must put our finest minds to the problem. This Looking Glass must either be shattered… or duplicated.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

18 - Art of Hospitality

Old Connaught
Arc-Royal, Arc-Royal Theatre
Lyran Commonwealth
14 November 3142

The sights of Old Connaught, or of this side's Old Connaught, gave Eva an overwhelming sense of the uncanny. The city was built the same way as the one she'd seen just sixteeen weeks before, after all. But everything was… off. Shops and restaurants were different in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. What she remembered as being a cafe was, here, a delivery and take-out only eatery, while a laundromat was instead a corner shop.

And there were the other, less-subtle differences. The memorial to Archduke Morgan Kell, raised after his death fighting the Oriento-Capellans on Sirius in 3062, wasn't around; in its place stood a more somber memorial to those killed by the Blakists during the Jihad. A number of stores boasted of accepting Wolf "Kerenskies" or "Clan Wolf Scrip". A snarling red wolf's head banner was flown on some structures, and "Wolf City" was touted as a destination on the large board outside the DropPort.

The locals were at least no less friendly than those she'd met on her side of the Glass. Curious eyes took in the sight of her red duty uniform jacket and trousers before she was offered whatever was being sold by an establishment, usually with a discount referenced.

"Aye, lots of friendly folk, aren't they?" Kevin remarked. He was in the same uniform; both wore sky blue Striker Corps berets with the 8th's Sunhawk patch prominent on the right side, with the single bar marking them as Lieutenants on the collar and their MechWarrior insignia - a gold stylized outline of a Black Knight BattleMech over a silver shield - on the collars by the shoulders. "But they've a lot to be thankful for, I suppose."

Eva didn't answer. Her mind wandered with thoughts of this strange war, in this mirrored distortion of the Inner Sphere she called home. She wasn't a rookie pilot out of the Nagelring now, but a battle-tried MechWarrior with three confirmed kills in two battles. She imagined the classmates who'd gone on to other units and might feel rather jealous of that fact, she was only three kills from qualifying for a Silver Wing, assuming the campaign continued.

"Now here's what I was hopin' for." Kevin's words prompted her attention. They'd arrived at a street corner. The hanging sign resembled a Kell Hound insignia, with the ears only slightly shorter and set on a hexagon instead of a triangle. "The Hound" was displayed in almost Gaelic cursive, with the name repeated in blocky Gothic letters translating it to "Das Hund". "It's more like home. Well, a little. Is it just me, or are these Arc-Royal folk more… well, German?"

"The Lyran Commonwealth survived the Succession Wars, so it makes sense," Eva mused. In their own timeline the predominance of German as an everyday language faded after the collapse. It was still a fairly well-known trade tongue, competing with Star League English for that role inside the ex-Commonwealth, but everyday vernacular use declined save on those worlds which maintained Germanic cultural identities, such as Tharkad and Donegal and even some of the worlds in the heart of the old Arcadian Free March. Their Arc-Royal, however, had more of a Gaelic feel to it than this one.

They entered and found they weren't alone, in more ways than one. Kell Hounds were present, from both sides of the Glass, gathered around a pool table holding a competition. Some of the seats were kept by men and women in gray mottled leather jumpsuits, including one who clearly had a specialized seat since he was two and a half meters tall and as wide as Eva and Kevin put together. And a couple tables already had figures in AFRF red. They turned towards them and there were raised glasses. "Hey there, Eva!" one called out in an accented voice. The group wore the winged swords of Aerospace Force pilots.

"Tony." The small smile on her lips was one of the most genuine she'd had in weeks. She stepped ahead of Kevin, arguably for the first time that day, and met Tony as he rose from the table, giving the man a hug. Noting Kevin's interest, she said, "This is my cousin, Tony, from the Aghliesi side of the Penton-Vallejo family. Distant cousin, I should clarify," she added. "Flight Lieutenant in the 8th's Aerospace Group, but he's forgiven for being a flyboy."

"Hey now, where would you groundpounders be without us in the skies keeping the enemy's birds away?" Tony laughed, getting some cheers and chortles from the table. "So these are my pilots." He introduced the three others quickly, as well as a fourth figure who was a gunner from their assigned DropShip. "My little cousin Eva, fresh from the Nagelring."

A whoop came from one of the others, a young male pilot of lighter complexion. "Class of '40," he boasted.

"Class of '41," she said, grinning at her fellow alma mater. "We don't all go to the Rivshal, after all."

"Why would we when we have the Nagelring?"

"The RSFA doesn't need defending," Tony insisted, referring to the Rivkha Shaltiel Flight Academy on Gienah. "But hey, Nagelring's good. Better than Sanglamore or TMI. Don't want to get secesh brainworms."

So none of his buddies are from Skye or Tamarind. It had to be true for him to diss those worlds' academies so loudly.

"This is my lancemate," Eva said, remembering her manners. "Kevin Kilroy. We both pilot PLD-3s in the 1st Battalion."

"Right. You guys brought down that Falcon leader," another of the AFRF pilots said.

"Well, Eva did," Kevin suddenly chimed in. "Brought down the Mad Khan or whatever it is they call her."

His voice carried enough that it won attention from others in the room, particularly the gray-suited figures. The big hulking figure stood from his special chair and appraised her intently. He's one of those Elementals, one of the battle armor-wearing infantry, Eva recalled. God they make them so big

"You defeated that bloodfoul dezgra Malvina Hazen?" he rumbled.

Eva licked her lips. "I helped bring her down. My lance lieutenant did most of the work before he died, though, and a Lyran pilot shared the final kill."

"Ah." The giant nodded. "So we have heard." His head bowed. "I am Point Commander Michael of the Wolves, and these are some of my fellow warriors of the Golden Keshik. It is an honor to meet one of the warriors who stopped the Mad Falcon Khan."

"I… thank you," Eva said, not sure of what else to say.

"So we've got a real hero in here." The voice came from the bar, a man with a prosthetic arm wearing Kell Hound colors. "What'll ya be to havin', luv?"

Before Eva could answer, one of the local Kell Hounds called out, "Put it on my tab!"

"Ha! Your tab's high enough, Lieutenant Larsen," the bartender guffawed. "Besides, the MechWarriors who brought down Malvina Hazen don't pay for drinks under this roof!"

"I…" Eva swallowed. A lot of eyes were still on her. "Thanks. I'll have an apple Scotch, neat."

"Same here," Kevin said.

"Good choice, luv." The bartender got to work on the ordered drinks.

Kevin already had a table picked and Eva slipped into a chair, trying very much to ignore that she still had the attention of everyone. "Maybe I should be jealous," Kevin said, a teasing grin on his face. "Look at you. Maybe you'll end up a Dame when we go back, if this fame spreads."

"Oh God, no," Eva groaned. "I don't even deserve it. I fired at her a couple of times early in the fight, and later got her leg after… after she killed Lance Lieutenant von Krager." She swallowed. "He's the hero of that fight. And Captain Kincaid, she saved me taking out that Hellstar."


By now some of the activity was drifting back to normal, as eyes slowly turned from them. The bartender brought their drinks. Kevin raised his. "To the Lance Loo and Captain Kincaid, may their souls rest."

"Amen." Eva took the drink, the apple taste providing the sweet, fruity flavor to make the burning liquor go down easier. She lowered the glass to the table. While the others were drifting back to their pool game and other matters, glances still came their way, and she never quite lost the attention of the Wolf warriors. She found it almost unsettling. "A shame we couldn't get Gupta and Norton to join us."

"Well, they're new to the outfit, give 'em time to finish adjusting," Kevin suggested. "All of us need it. Three months now and I still feel like it's all a weird dream. Even after the fights, all the jumping, all of this."

"Makes you wonder how many other alternate Inner Spheres are out there, too."

"Aye." He glanced at his empty glass. "But that's not somethin' to speculate without some more Scotch." He looked towards the bar,, Eva doing the same, but the bartender wasn't looking their way but dealing with customers. "How about I go get us a fresh round first?"

Eva nodded and provided him with her glass. He walked off, to get the bartender's attention, while she sat quietly and hoped people were finally not simply looking at her.

"You are uncomfortable with your glory?"

The voice was rich and solid, feminine. and reminded Eva of her favored aunt Viola. She turned toward it and faced a woman of slight bronze coloring and long white-blond hair tied into a bushy tail, more befitting a wolf than a pony. She had the same tight gray jumpsuit, one she filled out quite well, and a self-assured expression. A similar rank insignia to Michael's was set on her collar, along with a red star with one ray longer than the rest.

Another of these Wolves. "My lance lieutenant did the fighting, most of it, as did Lieutenant Palisser," Eva said. "I was mostly fighting Hazen's lancemates. I opened up on her after she killed Lieutenant von Krager and took her 'Mech's leg off, causing her to fall into a shot that smashed her cockpit."

"I know." The woman smiled, baring her teeth. "Your honesty does you credit. Among the Clans, even my own, too many warriors might yet seek glory from such a thing, and embellish their part."
Eva couldn't keep the surprise from her face. "You know?"

"A number of us have seen the battleROM footage after it was delivered. I watched your 'Mech deliver the crippling blow, and the Awesome of the local forces took the bloodfoul's cockpit. I particularly enjoyed watching you destroy the Mad Khan's BattleMech." The woman's smile became a wolfish snarl. "Better that a machine be destroyed, having known so much dishonor."

Eva flashed back to it. Squeezing her triggers even after she overheated her 'Mech into shutdown, screaming at the BattleMech that killed her company commander and lance commander in the space of minutes. She kept hitting her triggers until Major Perez's voice brought her out of the frantic state and back to reality. "I was… furious, and terrified, and just… just wanted that thing to finally stay down," she confessed.

"That is battle, quiaff? Terror, fury, and wanting your enemies defeated to bring it all to an end."

Eva opened her mouth to disagree, but found she couldn't. She hadn't enjoyed killing, but winning and surviving? That felt good. "Yeah. I've had only two so far, but it sounds about right." She nodded. "Evangeline Maria Penton-Vallejo, Lieutenant, 8th Striker Regiment 1st Battalion."

"I am Warrior Marissa of the Kell Bloodhouse. Formerly of the 13th Wolf Guards Cluster, but after my battlefield successes against the Jade Falcons' 3rd Talon I was assigned a place in the Golden Keshik."

"The Golden Keshik?"

"The bodyguard force of our Khan, I am a warrior of the Keshik's BattleMech Trinary."

"Trinary… right, a Clan reinforced Company. So you're in a bodyguard battalion? Like the Lifeguards."

"Something of the sort. Battle with the Falcons is inevitable, otherwise I would seek re-assignment to a frontline Cluster."

Kevin approached. "Aye, he finally got our drinks made. Bigger glasses this time." He handed her one such glass, which would serve to take four or five good gulps and leave her inebriated. He nodded to Marissa. "Makin' a friend?"

Eva went to introduce him, but Marissa shook her head. "I heard you well enough the first time. An honor to meet another fellow warrior in the battle against the dezgra Falcons," she said to Kevin.

"This is Marissa, she's with the Wolf Khan's bodyguard unit," Eva explained to him.

"Aye, rather young for that? Most of the King's Lifeguards are in their thirties or older, I hear?"

"She fought the 3rd Talon before we did, so she got her spot that way."

"That'll do it." Kevin lifted a glass toward her. "Ye're welcome to join us, if ye like."

The look on her face made Eva think the woman was about to refuse, but after several seconds she said, "Yes, I think I would enjoy that."

Aside from the Planetary Defense Command chamber, Martin Kell maintained a War Room for the wider war along the Arc-Royal Theater. He stood in the center now with the holotank displaying the region of space around Arc-Royal. Tharkad was off in one corner, Coventry in another, flashing blue, and the Jade Falcon and Hell's Horse advances marked in angry green and red. Timkovichi had a brighter blue matching Arc-Royal, Tharkad, and the other key Lyran systems visible, unsurprising given its newfound importance. A white hawk insignia indicator reflected the presence of the Arcadian unit on-planet while a second hawk now joined Kell Hound and Wolf indicators on Arc-Royal proper.

It was quite a setup, and General Bridger saw that in most respects the equal of the March Defense Command facilities that Archduke Ethan Kell maintained on the other side of the Glass. There was, of course, only one key difference, probably the biggest one; no HPGs to provide timely information. Ghostly unit markets showed where units were only suspected as being, particularly on the opposing side.

A second screen reflected the recorded outcome of Great X, in terms of personnel losses. The 8th Striker's losses were not insignificant, though not major as well, and in lives at least were light. After battlefield salvage Brigadier Laguna's unit was down two companies worth of BattleMechs in hard-killed, unsalvageable machines, with another company of battle armor infantry lost and a couple aerospace fighters. Both Kell Hound units came out even better, given they hadn't directly engaged the more dangerous 3rd Talon on the Vicar's Altar. Regardless of those losses, the 8th was still very much a functional combat formation with replacements already called for via the fax machines and their forces on Timkovichi.

Not that we can sustain greater losses, not without going back, Bridger thought. If the Falcons give us a bigger drubbing next time we'll have to withdraw.

"The recovered personnel are providing us some critical intelligence," Martin assured the gathered; General Bridger, Brigader Laguna, Colonel Ward his brother Evan, and the genetically-engineered hulk of Khan Patrik Fetladral. "The Falcons had them building specific sorts of parts that they'll now have some local shortages of, for instance, and we can make use of that."

"To treat bondsmen as they did, it is dezgra," Patrik growled. "I am not convinced granting Roshak hegira was wise, or honourable."

"Hold on there, big man," Evan replied. "Think for a minute. We want to beat the Falcons into something we can at least get to surrender, and Roshak's proof that actin' like a soldier'll get better from us than the Mongols do. Besides which, firstly I've been talking to some of our people, and from the sound of it, Roshak took some pretty big risks trying to keep the Watch thugs and his unit under control, with them and the civvies both. Ain't no saint, but," Evan aimed significant looks around the room, "we've all worked with way fuckin' worse when we've had to. And second, even if we had smashed the Three-Seventy-first flat, unless General Bridger's got more reinforcements coming than we've been told, we couldn't have held Great X, just staked a goat out for tigers."

Noting the expectant looks he got from the Grand Duke and from Khan Patrik, Bridger added, "I've not heard anything yet about expanded reinforcements. The 2nd Royal Cuirassiers are going to hold Timkovichi, and I've got continued authorization for raids, but that's about it."

"Then let us strike them again," Patrik urged. "Between your information and that from our own recent battles, we know the Falcons have concentrated many bondsmen on Morges."

"Morges?" Evan frowned. "Cold world. Not so nice as Great X. But it's got resources, so they'll be workin' them to death for more parts."

"We owe it to our warriors to reclaim them before they die at the Mongols' bloodfouled hands."

Given his own history, Bridger couldn't fault the Wolf leader for his words. His mind went to the status of his units, and whether they could deliver as proposed.

"General Bridger?"

He nodded at Martin's unspoken request. "Brigadier, Colonel, your assessment?"

"It's possible they might have a whole of one of their Galaxy units on Morges," Laguna pointed ot, noting the system's mix of solid and ghostly Falcon emblems. "That's substantially more force than they had on Great X. Three 'Mech regiments and friendly forces might be enough to counter that in a smash and grab, but it'll be riskier, and I'd like to get my battalions back up to strength before we make the move."

"We can fax to have the replacements meet us en route."

"We could, yes. Won't be the best for unit cohesion, no time to train," Deirdre Ward said. "But if time's short, well, we can make do I suppose. Keep the replacements in reserve and work them in only as needed." She held her hand to the map. "Morges is three jumps from here, so if we want to get there fast, we'll need to go soon. We're looking at a month's trip even if we come in by pirate point again. "

Bridger nodded, noting the look on Martin's face at that. Pirate points could be dangerous and risking much of what the Lyrans had left on the front to a pirate jump was a big call to make. "Our astrogation systems never fell quite as much," he said. "We can calculate them more safely."

"And if they have a week to see us coming, well, by now word of Great X has to have spread." Evan frowned at his brother. "We come in at a conventional jump point, we give them a lot of time to dig in around their bondsmen camp, assuming they don't just slaughter them long before we hit the dirt."

"Still, if Brigadier Laguna's concerns prove correct, you'd be fighting a whole Galaxy worth of troops, probably frontliners," Martin pointed out.

"Yeah, but ones that are recovering from fights too, and it's likely a scratch Galaxy."

"It would be," Patrik agreed. "The Clusters on Morges, according to this data, are from several of the other Galaxies. They would not be used to fighting as a coherent unit, and any mix of Mongol and non-Mongol troops will add to their disunity. Nevertheless I would be willing to commit myself to this battle, along with the Golden Keshik and the First Strike Grenadier Cluster."

"Leaving the rest of Alpha Galaxy and the Second Hounds to protect our world," Martin noted.


Bridger noted the thoughtful expression on both and had a feeling Patrik's decision was more than just evening odds for a strike on Morges. He wanted to see the 8th Striker and Ward's Kell Hounds in action for himself, and he wanted to be involved in punishing those who'd harmed his kin and disgraced the idea of the Clans. "We can burn out in a week's time," Bridger suggested. "Meet the reinforcements a jump out. We'll be landing before the year's end."

"Would give those poor captives one hell of a Christmas present." Laguna grinned at that. "Best they'll ever have."

Not a one of them noted the obvious caveat: If the Falcons don't finish killing them first.

Rather than be the one to voice such, Martin went another tack. "There's more good news; we've received confirmation that the Federated Suns are sending help. Not as much as we might want, but the First Davion Guards and a strong naval escort group are on their way."

Evan laughed. "Well, about time Caleb got off his arse and decided if he was gonna commit one way or another." The grin on his face was greater than Bridger would have imagined; even an elite outfit, as he expected this side's Davion Guards to be as skilled as his own side's, was not going to change things alone, hinting at another reason for Evan's happiness. "Here's hoping the prodigal daughter decides to come back with, huh, Martin?"

The expression that came to Martin's face was everything Bridger and his people needed to know just why they had that reaction. "Hopefully," he ventured. "Additionally, I received confirmation that the Archon's Fist passed through the Glass about three weeks ago. Lady Trillian is on her way to Arcadia to negotiate an alliance between our peoples."

"Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion, you mean?" asked Laguna. "I've heard her name come up. I hope she's a good diplomat and politician. Federal politics can be difficult. Makes me glad I'm not up to inherit Launum unless something very bad happens."

"She's one of our best," Martin said.

"Good. As the Brigadier said, Federal-level politics are difficult, given all the differing needs of the regions. And if she's trying for an alliance to fight the Clans, well, she'll find some opposition for certain." Bridger shook his head. "But I imagine she'll find some friends too."

"You figure she'll have a rough welcome?" Evan asked pointedly.

"No, on that at least, I'm sure her welcome will be hospitable," replied Bridger. "It'll be what come after that's going to be the hard part."

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
19 November 3142

The schedule for arrival was long laid out when Archon's Fist made distant orbit of Arcadia. The system had everything Trillian might expect for a capital system and more, given the orbiting defense stations, the expansive recharge stations at both jump points, and the quantity of traffic. It was more ships than she'd seen since Gray Monday sent the Inner Sphere's economy into a long-term nose dive.

An escort force of aerospace fighters met them a couple of hours out, following the ship and now Trillian's DropShuttle as they made the final approach. After some searching in her mind for why the design looked familiar, she finally consulted her DropShuttle's flight crew. "They look like Sabres if you ask me," her pilot said. "Although not like ours. Must be a new model of them."

The Sabre fighters were a relatively flat aerospace design, sleek and sharp as their names implied. Their livery design put blue on the main fuselage and body with golden wings and a red border between these two distinct colors. A white hawk with a stylized golden crown and golden wings marked the top of the body whenever she saw them from that angle. Her final glance revealed the outline of a traditional shield under the hawk. I've seen that logo. The Lifeguard Regiment. The personal bodyguards of the High King or Queen. It was undoubtedly a gesture of support that reassured her, given the difficulties she knew were to come.

They made atmospheric entry over Arcadia's expansive main ocean and came in toward Roslyn from the east. The shuttle's approach vector and her windows gave Trillian a sight of a crystal blue ocean that, as it drew ever closer, occasionally showed distant islands or the pinpricks of seagoing vessels. Only in the final seconds did she get a glimpse of tall buildings before they were among the confines of the Royal Palace grounds and the surrounding parkland. The marble-white structure had a classical quality to it. It was less Teutonic than the Triad back on Tharkad, more Anglo or Anglo-Gaelic, like something one might've taken from London, Edinburgh, or Glasgow back on Terra. Looks almost like Skye, but with its own character.

Her eyes didn't linger long on that architecture. Figures already waited for her, soldiers in ceremonial red uniforms with rifles at parade rest, and the distant uniformed figures that had to be the High King and his Court. As soon as the shuttle was confirmed solid on the ground she released her harness straps. She took a moment to smooth out her formal court uniform, a feminine jacket of Steiner blue over an ice blue blouse, the state insignia visible over her heart, with the matching dress shimmering down to her ankles and the dress shoes below. She breathed a quiet prayer of thanks that high heels were no longer the "in" thing in Tharkad fashion, and that Arcadian fashions seemed to be likewise inclined from her viewing of their holonet programming.

"My lady." One of her assistants provided the mirror to make sure her hair was kept in its formal bun and hadn't lost the careful grooming given it before the Archon's Fist stopped their deceleration burn. She quietly thanked the older woman at confirming she looked appropriate and made her way towards the DropShuttle hatch.

Honor guards in LCAF formal attire went through first, the detachment from the 1st Royal Guards kept at her side in the event of such diplomatic affairs. The moment she stepped out of the shuttle and into Arcadia's warm sun, a band took up the anthem of the Lyran Commonwealth. She got a full look at the honor guard awaiting her, men and women in ceremonial uniforms. Both were in the same red parade dress uniforms, but the unit emblems on their shoulders were different. To her right were those with the same emblem as were on the Sabre fighters that escorted her planetside. To the left, the insignia on their uniforms depicted a human hand with the white-and-gold-winged hawk set over the palm. After a few seconds she remembered seeing the patch among the listing of units of the Household Guard Corps: the 2nd Proctor Guards. Similar colors of both sets were found on soldiers further afield, save those who were in power armored suits (although not full-sized battle armor) that were instead colored in the livery of their respective units. The color guard, made up of the red-uniformed infantry, were holding up the flags of the Lyran Commonwealth and the Royal Federation.

At a barked order from the honor guard's sergeant, the soldiers moved their rifles to parade ready stance in crisp, solid movements. A couple were almost imperceptibly slower than the rest, which spoke to how well-drilled they were that this was the worst of their collective performance.

Trillian took in her surroundings carefully while approaching the greeting party to the strains of the Lyran anthem. This DropPad was clearly meant for such ceremonial greetings, given the shape and sizing of the grounds and the layout. Before her the side entrance of the Royal Palace was visible, albeit only by the upper archway, as the door itself was behind the waiting Court.

The Court itself were in an array of what looked like formal business dress suits. One woman was in a sari of high Bolanese fashion. A couple male figures were in Skye tartans and kilts. The uniformed men and women all had high rank, with multiple stars on their collar rank tabs, epaulets of gold and silver piping along aiguillettes on the left shoulders binding to the uniform breast, to mark staff officer posting. Most were silver; department head aiguillettes were gold, and at their head was the Chief of Staff of the AFRF, Grand Admiral Stewart.

They were still slightly off to a side. Centered ahead of her were four figures. She recognized the Speakers of the Assembly and the Senate immediately, as well as Prince Peter Proctor-Steiner, the grand-uncle of the High King and Lord of the Privy Council, wearing the crown sigil of his formal office as well as gold hawks on his jacket lapels.

Between Prince Peter and the Speakers was Nathaniel himself. This was the first time they'd met face to face given the costs of video HPG transmissions, although she'd seen his image as well in newsvids and reports during the trip to Arcadia. By her eyes he was a handsome younger man, still years shy of his thirtieth birthday, with a light complexion and the hint of Indic ancestry in the structure of his face, with blue eyes of the same Steiner shade as Trillian's own and dark brown hair in a well-combed fashion. He was, curiously, in military uniform as well, an oddity given that this was more a civil occasion and he was by all indications not a military-minded ruler. He lacked his senior officers' aiguillettes, indeed might have come off as a field officer if not for other aspects of his uniform such as the various orders associated with the Royal Federation, markers of his formal leadership of those Orders. On his collar's rank tab sat a large golden hawk insignia, its wings and tail feathers stretching beyond the tab's square and a crown at the upper edge of the tab. On his brow was a ceremonial light crown of platinum and gold bands with a hawk figure shaped above the forehead, its silver polished and gleaming.

The thought struck her as she took the final steps to Nathaniel. The uniform was itself a message. He, personally, was ready to fight the Clans. He might even be planning to lead the campaign. She found it relieving and yet very intimidating. How would the Court back home react to a foreign ruler personally intervening? She didn't imagine Melissa would be as happy.

The band ceased playing once she was in position. The Court Chamberlain Lord Harold Murray, an older man in formal court uniform, spoke aloud, revealing as he did an Anglo accent with the barest hint of a burr. "Presenting Her Excellency the Lady Trillian Steiner, Emissary Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth, with staff, to His Majesty Nathaniel Ethan Proctor, by the Grace of God High King of the Royal Federation, Archduke of Arcadia, of Donegal, of Tharkad, and of Skye, Prince of Bolan and of Atreus, Count of Roslyn and of Mount Olympia, Baron of New Salem."

Formally presented, Trillian politely bowed in a light, Tharkadian fashion for ladies, drilled into her from childhood by the Tharkad social scene. He has other titles, but at least he appears to have insisted on the short-form. Thank God. Tharkad society rarely agreed to such, and the highest nobility could spend a minute having every minor title they held spelled out. She also noted that while it was known here that she had the hyphenated "-Davion" formal name, the Chamberlain used the form she'd provided during the burn in, omitting the "Davion" part entirely. And he did the same for Nathaniel. Does he cut the '-Steiner' part of his family name for political reasons or personal?

Once she finished bowing the young ruler spoke in deliberate, practiced tones, the burr practically non-existent such that it sounded more like an Anglo-British equivalent of a Star League English accent. "Welcome, Lady Trillian, to Arcadia." While a ceremonial greeting, there was real warmth to it. "You have the hospitality of my Palace and the Court for the duration of your stay."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," she answered, an equally formal reply. "I look forward to the hospitality, and a chance to expand upon the relations between our peoples."

"I hope for the same. Your suites await your pleasure, as does the reception hall."

Her real pleasure was that this was the end of the reception, at least this portion of it. Nathaniel stepped away and, as King, re-entered the Palace with his immediate advisors. She followed in herr appropriate place. The honor guard sergeants bellowed the appropriate orders to put their soldiers at ease while the power-armored soldiers followed along, continuing their bodyguard duties.

The inside was a form of opulence and function Trillian thought was fitting the character of these people. It was a subdued approach to displaying the wealth of the state; the carpets, lush, were also quite functional, the portraiture made by fine artisans and showing the great figures of the past, including Lyran and Leaguer figures like Alistair Marsden and Sir George Humphries, as well as historic scenes, giving a sense of continuity to the peoples that made up the Federation.

She had little time to take it all in, and made a note that she would have to tour the palace at leisure some time, as the party brought her to a set of lifts. Nathaniel and his leadership joined her and her Chief of Staff, Landgrave Georg von Marienberg, for the ride up. They went about ten stories while a symphonic piece Trillian didn't recognize played. "Majesty, what is this music?"

"A piece not from your side, Your Ladyship," he replied. "It is the third movement of Thomas Angelous' Ode to Liberty, composed in 2929 to commemorate my ancestor Sara Proctor's victory in the Liberation War."

"It is certainly a joyous piece," she said, while energetic violins and pipes played a joyful sequence.

"It is… at first." He grinned and said no more. Trillian stifled a giggle at recognizing what he meant; even the nicest piece of music lost its charm when repeated day after day in lift rides. "The benefit of being the King is that my personal lifts do not play music."

I imagine they do not. She allowed a smile to remain on her face.

The lift opened and she followed them out. A security checkpoint waved them through a foyer and into a hall lined with more portraits and artwork, the wallpaper a repeating sequence of the Arcadian white-and-gold hawk set on bands of red and blue. The hall was just wide enough to accommodate a power-armored trooper to each side, additional pairs to be found at certain junctions and corners, with more standing watch at the set of fine wooden double doors they ultimately arrived at. They were opened by the handle - although she did spy the electronic lock set above it, which would provide security - and she was escorted into the parlor of her temporary living quarters.

She found no issue with them; they were well-furnished, with the walls bearing fine nature pieces as framed art. Ballistic glass doors framed a balcony to one far side. Plush chairs, recliners and sitting chairs alike, were to be found, along with a couch in the central sitting area and coffee tables that were sturdy enough for the work she would expect to put them through. Electrical ports for personal computers to be set up lined one far wall, along with desks of fine craftsmanship, and bookshelves with a number of volumes already present, their titles yet too small for her to read without drawing closer. Doors before and to her right led to what she presumed were the bedrooms and the washrooms of the guest suite.

"I hope our hospitality does match your expectations," Nathaniel said. "If you will excuse me, Ladyship, affairs of state await my attention before we commence your reception dinner." He stepped through the door with the rest of his leadership.

"Lord von Marienberg has the neighboring suite," said the Chamberlain, taking over for the now-departed King. "Secondary rooms in this suite and the other rooms of this wing of the Palace remain for your staff, as arranged." He motioned to the bookshelves. "Given your expressed interest in our history the shelves contain volumes of several accounts of our histories since the fall of the Great Houses, courtesy of the Royal Library and His Majesty's private collection The kitchen staff is instructed to provide meals as requested." He indicated a commlink device on a stand in the room's central sitting area. "Public CommNet services are available, wirelessly, as is an open account with ComStar to relay information to the Atocongo HPG, where daily drone couriers are set up to relay messages through the Glass as needed." He motioned towards the hall to the right. "The suite's master bedroom awaits your pleasure, as does the washing room and wardrobe. The King's tailors await your pleasure as well. If you have any further needs, do not hesitate to bring it to my attention or that of the Palace's concierge service. By your Lady's leave?"

She nodded. He departed with Landgrave Marienberg, leaving her be for the moment as the doors came to a close. Her things not already on the shuttle would be delivered in due time, of course, but for now she would await the arrival of her formal evening gown for the reception and prepare herself for meeting the rest of the Arcadian capital's elite.

A press of a key at the balcony doors loosened the digital lock. She stepped out and found a view of the palace courtyard. Beyond were opened gates of ferro-fibrous armor set into the marble walls, giving admittance to the parkland beyond, and allowing the populace to enter the palace grounds on this end. Below tiny figures milled about, some in groups and some alone. Visitors to take in history, or perhaps here to petition the Palace for some matter or another, they added to the life she felt here. It was not the Triad, but in its own way, the Palace was just as grand and as her home on Tharkad had been.

Nor were there mountains to obscure the view of the capital city itself. Majestic spires of glass and ferro-crete and steel rose towards the heavens, running along districts following the shining waters of Sinclair Bay. The winding course of the Rha River was faintly visible far to the north and west, as were the many structures of the city's residential and commercial districts. The Bay itself teemed with vessels. Cargo ships, small private craft, and even fishing boats filled the Bay to it's northeastern opening.

Her mind flashed to images she'd found in the online historical archives of the University of Timkovichi. It showed Roslyn, her universe's Roslyn, and the difference was painful to consider. That city lacked anything like this view. The greatest towers were the remnant broken towers from a Marik nuke fired in the 2nd Succession War. Instead of the Royal Palace she now stood in, the Ducal Palace of the Duncans was nothing but shattered rubble. There was a city around those wastes, but it was a rather smaller city, reliant upon the ocean and the adjoining lands for sustenance. It was nothing like this Roslyn, this shining jewel that was everything the capital of a great Successor State should be.

Her mind wandered to the other images she'd taken in during her voyage here. The images of the Triad here, in this Inner Sphere. It was rather robust, certainly, a center of government for an entire world and beyond, but just as this city was a gleaming contrast to the sad remnant Roslyn of her side of the Glass, the Triad and Tharkad City she grew up in made the one on this side look like a shell abandoned by the crab that once called it home.

It's all so much. To think of how destiny, or fate, might lead to things so different.

"Lady." The voice brought her attention back inside, where her staff were already bringing in the bags from the DropShuttle. "I have your reception gown in the bedroom. You can change whenever you're ready."

"Thank you, Frau Meyer," she said. She took one last look at Roslyn before stepping inside from the balcony. I look forward to seeing the city up close. Watching holovids is one thing, but I need to see what these people are really like if I'm going to convince them to fight.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

19 - Honor Road

Provisional Jade Falcon Council Building
New Hamarr, Sudeten
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
23 November 3142

Returning to Sudeten with the knowledge that he was rid of the "Chingis Khan" provided Beckett a reminder of why the defeat on Timkovichi was such a good thing in the first place. From the half-built structure that provided the Falcons their seat of government and the warrior caste their council chambers, he could see the ruins of Sudeten's capital, leveled by the devastating impact of the Emerald Talon when the crippled WarShip was dropped on the city by Malvina after her victory over Jana Pryde. So many good warriors of the Clan died that day, killed as threats to Malvina's ascendancy in accordance with her mad philosophy of murdering anything that dared resist.

And yet, though the plague-bearer is gone, the plague remains. Beckett thought of all the Bloodnamed warriors gathering who still believed in the Mongol Doctrine as Malvina practiced it. The scores of Lyran worlds that surrendered because they lacked defenders, refusing to resist for fear of the atrocities on worlds like Apostica, spoiled so many who should know better. Nor can we afford to simply employ Trials to eliminate them. There are too many here, and too many of our best went to the Reach rather than fight as dezgra or be Reaved.

The Khanship would be the key to solving this, and so he was ready when the best answer to his problems stepped in.

Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu carried herself like a proper Falcon warrior. She was of a height with Malvina Hazen, but there the similarities ended; where Malvina had been slender, wearing her ash-blonde hair in a long braid, Stephanie was stocky, her body thick with muscles and forearms flecked with tiny burn scars from years of hard work at anvil and forge, her raven hair worn cropped close to her scalp. Rather than the black leathers signifying the Mongol Faction, too, she wore the dark jade of tradition. The commander of Delta Galaxy quickly saluted and assuming a stance of attention. "My Khan?"

"Galaxy Commander. We have little time, so I will be brief. This does not trouble you, quineg?"

"Neg. The Council is meeting soon and I must see to my warriors before then."

"Very well. You have seen the holovids I sent. Malvina Hazen is gone. Watch assets have heard rumors the interlopers, these 'Arcadians', took her through the portal their arrival formed, and we know not whether she is alive or dead. Nor is it material. The Clan needs a new Khan. It is my preference that Khan be you."

Chistu's eyes widened only slightly, but she quickly regained control. "Noritomo Helmer is a more experienced warrior, especially if we find a way to take Terra."

"Until we know more about the Republic's Fortress walls — and how to bypass them — there will be no continuation of the desant; I am no Liao, to spend warriors’ lives merely to prove the Fortress still stands inviolate. And we need Helmer where he is; the stravag Sea Foxes have ensured that Damien Redburn can raid the Reach almost at will. Besides, his opinions are too well known for Hazen's supporters to ever accept him; in that, they are blinder than even Malvina ever was, considering she wished him to challenge her." Beckett shook his head. "You, on the other hand, have not earned their ire."

"Nor have I earned their support, or any others'," Stephanie responded hotly. "Do you expect the Mongols, or even other tried warriors, to elect a Khan who has not struck the enemy?"

"We can see about that. But before we discuss that, I wish to know your thoughts. Would you be the Khan we need? The Khan to bring our Clan back onto the Honor Road?"

There was a moment of silence. It was an introspective one. Beckett appreciated that. The Watch were now firmly Mongol and might be listening in, so he stepped to his desk and held up a device. "The benefits of being Khan. I had a Scientist confirm my technicians' work. We are speaking privately."

He noted she was being cautious, as no answer immediately came. "Yes," Stephanie finally said. "It is time we remember we are the Children of Kerensky, and upholders of his vision and traditions. We do not need to be more brutal than Amaris to win glory and victories."

As I imagined. "Then we are in accord."

"I am unclear as to why you wish me to become the new senior Khan, however, surely I can serve as your saKhan?"

"My name is too tightly linked to the Chingis Khan, you would be the better candidate," he replied, and indeed, he almost believed himself when he said it.

"And yet again, you have seen victories, I have been rebuilding Delta Galaxy. We have had little but a couple of minor skirmishes with the Ghost Bears and their Rasalhaguan subjects," Stephanie pointed out. "My codex is thin of recent victories."

"Then we will thicken it," he announced. "The Mongols lack a name as lustrous as Malvina's to be the new lead Khan, and they will compete for battlefield glories to gain such a name. That will give us time for you to gain the most glory of all."

"And we will be with just one Khan?"

"Oathmaster Icaza will serve well enough, until the vote."

"He is willing to step aside when the time comes…? Yes, I think he would." Having answered her own question, Stephanie examined Beckett closely. "You do not wish to be the lead Khan, do you, Beckett Malthus? You have always preferred the position of saKhan."

"It is where my talents are best directed for the sake of the Clan."

"Or because you prefer to play at politics, hiding behind a visible Khan until they outlive their usefulness," she retorted. "You were Jana Pryde's saKhan too, and you turned on her for Malvina. Should I expect the same should another such as Malvina catch your eye?"

A wan smile came to the older warrior's face. "I have learned my lesson there," he said bitterly. "The Mongol faction cannot be controlled or re-directed. It must be expunged, for the good of the Clan. And to do that, we must keep them from the Khanship. We need a warrior who is against them but can win the loyalty of the new Bloodnamed, those tempted by the ease of Mongol victories. That warrior is you, Galaxy Commander, and I will be your willing second."

"Good, because I will not hesitate to bring you to a Circle of Equals if you step out of line," Stephanie said. "But now we come back to the matter. I have honed Delta Galaxy against the Bears' cubs and through our own testing and trials, but I need a victory to win the Council's votes. Something more profound that knocking over another pitiful Lyran garrison. Are we prepared to assault Arc-Royal and the den of the traitor Wolves and their Inner Sphere masters?"

Beckett shook his head. "We might, but there is another target. One that might even win you Mongol votes. Timkovichi."

Stephanie narrowed her eyes. "The world Malvina failed to claim."

"Yes. The Arcadians' portal is there, our scouts confirm it. We believe they have placed a unit to protect it, and we know that the majority of the Kell Hounds withdrew when it arrived. Already these Arcadians have struck at Great X and crippled the remains of the 3rd Talon. Our reports suggest they pulled back to Arc-Royal, which makes that world too greatly defended for what we must accomplish. On the other hand, if you were to descend on Timkovichi and win a signal victory over the Arcadians, your standing would be greatly enhanced. Just bringing Arcadian bondsmen and machines back as isorla should be enough, if you feel the planet cannot be held after your victory."

"Do we know the strength of their defenders? Will Delta Galaxy be enough? Can we expect support from the Hell's Horses?"

"They appear to have 'Mechs, armor, and infantry, enough for a small Lyran regimental combat team," Beckett answered. He reached to his desk and picked up a disc. "The intelligence we have is here. And I would supplement your forces with those of the 9th Talon Cluster. As to the Horses, neg; with Beta Galaxy's destruction, and rumours of the Bears stirring finally from hibernation, they will commit no more forces to our aid."

If Stephanie was surprised at the Horses' newly acquired reluctance, she gave little sign of it. "The Ninth Talon have gone over to the Mongols. I have enough trouble from those in Delta's ranks." She frowned. "This 'support' seems to have the form of a knife in the back."

"Yes, but we will need you to have Mongol witnesses. Witnesses from outside your normal command. They may give you some trouble, but the prospect of avenging their leader upon her killers should be proper motivation."

"If it is not…"

"...then they are yours to deal with, as they would be anyway upon your becoming Khan." Beckett finally took the seat at his desk and folded his hands. "The Honor Road lies before us, we need only take these steps to reach it. That I will leave in your hands, Galaxy Commander. You are up to it, quiaff?"

Again that thoughtful look. He briefly wondered if he had misjudged. Was her ambition weaker than he imagined? If so he would be left with few options, none as good.

Resolution came to her face. "Aff," she said. "Let us see to the Council meeting, and I will prepare Delta Galaxy for departure."

"Excellent. Our Clan's redemption begins here."

Dr. Nancy Corey Military Hospital
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation

While most AFRF facilities in Roslyn were kept on the expansive grounds of Fort Defiance outside the city core, the Dr. Nancy Corey Military Hospital was the exception. Founded by the sister of William Corey, one of the slain heroes of the Liberation War, and named for her after her own tragic death, the hospital's name reflected that the administration and some of the departments were under military control even though it serviced all manner of patients. On top of being Roslyn's main Veteran Hospital System provider, it included a secure wing for the benefit of members of House Proctor or other ranking officers or nobility in residence as well as the diplomatic corps.

The secure wing, as it proved, also allowed for what would likely become their most infamous patient, which was why Commander Albright found himself walking through the security checkpoints and all their requirements.

Guards in light Chasseur power armor marked in the green and white of the Roslyn Defense Regiment were overkill considering their prisoner. A squad in all, two inside and two outside the hospital room, stood watch over the crippled form of Malvina Hazen. Albright thought it a ridiculous use of manpower, or at least did until he considered the number of Lyrans in Roslyn with Lady Trillian's mission. The Commonwealth had its own spies and agents, and with or without her knowledge, they might just decide to be done with their nation's tormentor.

Accepting the salutes of the guards, he pulled up a seat and sat at Malvina's bedside. The holoviewer was on but muted, showing footage of Lady Trillian being received formally at the Parliament building to their north, inside the Laughlin Capital District of Roslyn. Malvina's eyes focused like those of her Clan's avian namesake at the Lyran state insignia Trillian openly wore. "So the Lyrans, in their weakness, seek to borrow the strength of your people," she said. "That is all they are good for. Getting others to fight their battles. The Republic, the Wolves, and now you Arcadians." A disgusted sigh came from her throat. "Holoviewer, off!"

At her curt command, the model shut off.

"Are you not due on your ship, Commander? I know you wish to hunt my supposed illness, but surely your superiors have duties for you?"

"I've been assigned to your case," he replied. "I've been ordered to report on your mental state."

"Oh? I thought your profession kept such things secret? Confidential?"

He noted the challenge in her voice. Whether or not Malvina had learned anything of Arcadian society and culture from her holoviewer watching, or if this was more she picked up back in the Inner Sphere, he wasn't sure. As always, she seeks combat. "Normally, yes," he replied, "and in our case, I am not going to share what you tell me, simply my observations on your mental state that are relevant to the matter."

"What matter?" she asked him. Those eyes remained fixed on him. Even here, now, with two power-armored guards carrying magshot rifles and Malvina helpless, he got the sense she would kill him if she could and felt the need to.

There was no point drawing it out. "Your trial."

"Trial?" Her eyes opened fully. There was a new energy in her voice. "I am to face a Trial? What sort of Trial?"

"Lady Trillian may have other purposes here, but she brought along the Lyrans' reports on your conduct in the war," he said. "I haven't seen them yet, but the government considers it enough to begin proceedings. Depending on what I find, you're going to face a Royal Special Tribunal on War Crimes."

"Ah. Well, I am ready." Now she was grinning. "I welcome Trials."

"You're not understanding… this isn't a combat trial like your Clans wage, Ms. Hazen," he said.

"Khan Hazen," she corrected, her voice now angry. "I am the Chingis Khan, even in my current state!"

"Khan Hazen." No need to antagonize her unnecessarily, though she'd better get used to others not calling her that. "This is not a combat Trial, and it may not even happen. I and other psychiatrists will have to decide if you're mentally fit…"

"You deny me limbs, you deny me my bondsref, and now you would deny me a Trial?!" The anger in her voice grew hotter. "I am a warrior, not some pet of yours!"

"You're not understanding," he said. "You'd be represented at the trial."

"I do not need a second! Give me prosthetics, I am built for them. I will face whatever Trial of Grievance your superiors wish."

"It wouldn't be like that!" he shouted, silencing her. "Don't you get it?! There are no more combat trials for you, Malvina Hazen. This would be a war crimes tribunal. You would face a court of law and have to defend your actions, and if convicted you'll likely hang."

"Hang? You think that I am frightened of hanging? I grew up expecting to be strangled, either by an irate Falconer or one of my own sibkin!" Malvina cackled. "If you wish to seek your quarry in my mind, hunter of illness, then do not deny me my battles! Give me my Trial!"

Albright sighed in exasperation. "You still don't get it. This is not a battle. It is a court proceeding."

"I have sat in my Clan's Councils, they are but battles with words," Malvina said. "I loathed them but I am not incapable. If I cannot move, I can still speak, and I will not back down from any fight."

"If your lawyers are halfway competent, you won't speak a word but 'not guilty' throughout the whole thing," he said. "And that's if we find you fit, and if you can't even grasp what you're being tried for, I'd be a damned liar to say it."

She snarled at him. "Then we are through. You may leave."

And that was it. If he walked now, she'd stop cooperating. There'd be no chance for him to figure out her mental issues, what might have created such a strange and deadly woman. Perhaps it'd be for the best, he pondered. Tell General Sirtis she's non-cooperative with me. Go back to my career. Let this crazy murderer face the justice she probably deserves. What can we learn from her anyway?

It was a strong thought, and he shifted his weight to stand. Nearly did so, until the gnawing questions came back full force. What made someone like this so vicious? Someone like Butcher Ballymont could at least be explained as enforcing the ideology they espoused. But Malvina was, by all accounts, an outlier even by Clan standards, had indeed forced her Clan to shift towards her position instead of conforming. What kind of combination of personality disorder, childhood trauma, and cultural pressures made someone like this?

He settled back into the seat. "Alright. You want your Trial?" When she glanced his way again, remaining speechless, he added, "You're going to have to convince me to okay it. We need to keep going. Talking about Aleks, about the sibko, about the desant. Everything."

"I let you continue your hunt, you will approve the Trial?" she asked, in the voice of someone who clearly saw this as a deal between equals.

"If I'm convinced you're capable, yes," he said. An ethics board can't fault me for that hair-splitting, but God I do not like it.

He was met with momentary silence. "Before I decide, what has happened with Cynthy?"

"She's out of my custody, she's being treated by child psychiatrists at another site. I don't know where."

"I see." Something like a forlorn look crossed Malvina's face. Albright pondered it. If I didn't know better, she's… happy and sad for the girl? Like a mother who misses her child but knows they'll have a better life now?

Whatever thoughts Malvina had about Cynthy, she was done with them. "Very well. Bargained well and done, Commander John. Now, what was it you wished to speak of today?"

"Let's go back to childhood. Your fifth birthday. You mentioned you were given final tests of some sort every five years?"

"My first Trial, yes. Fitting now." Malvina grinned, but it was not a happy one. "I was struck by Angelo during the test. He was angry that I bit Gertrude and wished to see me tested out of the sibko. He was angrier once I bit him right in front of the testers…"
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

20 - Affairs of State

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadian Royal March
Royal Federation
25 November 3142

The honeymoon was over for Trillain's mission. After days of mostly celebratory and ceremonial meetings with the elite of Roslyn and providing puff piece interviews to Arcadian journalists, it was time to begin the actual work of securing Arcadian aid.

The Privy Council's chambers had the right gravitas, she felt. Concentric tables spread out opposite and towards the north wall of the chamber. This allowed the older advisory members such as the surviving retired military chiefs, former Speakers, and former Council Lords to observe and speak when the floor was theirs, but also provided the central seating for the more active members of the Council. Those figures sat at the circular tables laid closer to the center, symbolizing the equality of the Crown's Ministers with one another.

Against the north wall was the largest table. There the Lord of the Privy Council sat, on a raised dais just above the other senior most members of the Council; the Speakers of the Assembly and the Senate, the Chief of Staff of the AFRF, the President of the Federation High Court, and the appointed representatives of the Principality and March rulers of the Federation should they not actually be present themselves. They sat across from one another, allowing them to look towards the rest of the Council or towards the Council Lord. A seat beside him, marked with a crowned hawk, was for the monarch, and Nathaniel was indeed present, wearing a formal court gown of red and blue with a white hawk and a sword stitched on the right breast.

Trillian and her staff had seats along the east wall, putting their backs against a beautiful oil-painted mural of the crowning of Sara Proctor as the first March-Princess of the Arcadian Free March. This put them out of the center, but it would allow everyone present to look her way when necessary, and a microphone was affixed to her ice blue business suit that would ensure all those present heard her.

Right now the holo-displays at each seat and table had the same item; the summary of her proposed terms, as laid out with Nathaniel and his Foreign Secretary Lady Jessup in the weeks of her journey. She'd given just about everything she could without destroying her chances back home; favorable trade rights, relief from custom duties, wide latitude for the Arcadian troops already in the Commonwealth and those who would come after. It was about everything she could reasonably offer without giving up basic sovereign rights, which would only serve to make her seem desperate. Which, admittedly, I am.

The first questions came from the civilian ministers over economic matters. The exchange rate of the Lyran kroner to the Arcadian pound sterling was discussed, as were the interest rates on the loans she was contracting from the Federation Treasury (which were still better than the interest she was being offered from private institutions and from this Inner Sphere's ComStar, at least).

Yet this was only the opening. She knew the harder questions were coming.

It was a uniformed woman with dark bronze complexion and a five star rank on her uniform that spoke first. The nameplate before her read "HL FM Keahi-Proctor, Ret." in block letters; given the name she was one of the cadet branches of House Proctor, the one that married in the first generation to the first generation of nobles of the Keahi family in Arcadia's Iaukean Islands. Her stern, hoarse voice spoke with a heavy accent. "The core matter is that you wish for our direct assistance at a substantial level. A full military alliance, with our war machines sold to replace your losses, and our forces supporting yours in holding the invaders back."

"This is correct, my Lady," Trillian replied.

"Marshal," the woman corrected sternly.

"My apologies, Marshal."

"You are asking us to intervene in the war, then?" This came from one of the attending archducal representatives with what Trillian considered an Alarion accent. "How great an intervention would be necessary?"

Before she could answer, one of the attending military officers spoke up. "A large one." She recognized his image; Lord Arnold Proctor-Steiner, a Field Marshal and the AFRF's senior planner. He was seated beside Grand Admiral Stewart.

Eyes turned towards Prince Peter; as Lord of the Privy Council he by all rights should call Arnold to order. Before he might try, another voice spoke. "As commander of the Planning Staff," said one of the advisory Council officers, another snow-haired military-uniformed member, "can you elaborate, Marshal?"

Arnold looked to Peter, who nodded quietly. Trillian narrowed her eyes at that. Something about it made her think this was more than Peter being polite.

"We have not been idle these past few months. Our contingents on the other side of the Glass include analysts that analyze the intelligence we are gathering on the Lyran situation. And that situation is a bleak one. The Lyran Commonwealth is collapsing under the strain of a war on two fronts they were not ready to fight," Arnold announced. He leveled an intent look at Trillian, as if daring her to contradict him. "They may have as few as thirty regiments of BattleMechs still in service with which to fight their war. No more than fifty at the most generous. While they still retain control of Hesperus and the industries on Tharkad and Coventry, the disruptions to the economy beyond the Glass by the Blackout has left them unable to mobilize those resources efficiently, or ensure ready replacements to damage units. Their enemies, while suffering from some overstretch, include elite forces and large numbers of forces employing Terran-level weaponry. And the reputation of the Falcons' captured leader is such that many of their worlds surrender without a fight to avoid massacres, further reducing their resources. By the estimation of the Planning Staff, the Lyran Commonwealth cannot win without substantial external assistance."

A number of faces looked decidedly unhappy at Trillian, others at Arnold. Another of the older figures on the outer tables spoke, this time at her. "Lady Trillian, is this accurate?"

I could fudge. Lying won't work, but I could play up his numbers as pessimistic. I could point out the Republic's still fighting the Falcons too. That House Davion is sending us aid. That the situation isn't that dire. But given the look on his face, Trillian had suspicions that Arnold's estimates were based on firm data. It wasn't like the LIC could stop every single news story about defeats from getting out, and DropShip and JumpShip crews could have very loose lips in the right places.

"Regretfully, it is a fair assessment," she confirmed. "We have suffered severe losses in the campaigns. While your forces' defeat of Malvina Hazen may have bought us time on that front, the Wolves still pose a threat on our other front, and we can't turn our backs on the Falcons to throw everything at them. Not without help. That is why I came to you. Your people have a vested interest in keeping the Glass secure, and you have already taken the initiative to work with our forces. An alliance would formalize our efforts and help secure both of our states."

"It would save your state, but what would we get out of it?" That question came from one of the cabinet ministers. Trillian searched her memory for a moment before remembering which: Frederick Thompkins, Secretary of the Energy Office. "Billions of pounds of expenses in arming you, sending our troops to fight, and however many lives will be lost on our part. For what?"

"You would have our gratitude and alliance even past the moment of danger," Trillian stated. "We would help you secure the Glass, and if need be, could even send troops to aid your people, should you face attack and we had the strength to aid."

"By your own admission that will not come very soon, Lady Trillian," Thompkins pointed out imperiously.

"We would have the advantage of a strong and grateful ally across the Glass," another minister spoke up; the Treasury Secretary, Lady Diane Howard, a countess from the planet Ford. "Better the Lyrans than savages like these Clans, the murderers of innocent civilians."

"But are they better?" That came from one of the Senators serving as a representative from Skye. The nameplate read "Lord Giacomo Zento, Summer". "How do we know we can trust them?"

Trillian felt a cold sensation go down her spine. "I won't deny that any sovereign might break deals, but we have no reason to. Gott im Himmel, the Clans are a ferocious enough foe, I would despair if we turned you into one with your fleet and army."

Zento's face twitched a little. Trillian had the bad feeling he was fighting off a grin. "My Lord Malcolm, the analysts Lord Arnold spoke of, have they learned anything relevant to my concerns?"

At that moment Trillian knew she was in trouble. She'd been set up.

Stewart nodded. "Recently we were approached at Timkovichi by a space-faring Clan called the Sea Foxes. They are, by what we have learned, not interested in military conquest like the Falcons and Wolves, they want trade and economic gain, including trade in information. Seeking intelligence on matters beyond the Glass, including those that the Lyrans may not have shared, our people agreed to an offer of information exchange. According to the Foxes, the Wolves were invited by the Lyran Commonwealth to invade the reforming Free Worlds League."

Trillian clenched a fist out of sight. Those damned Clanners! But she said nothing and fought to keep a neutral expression; it would do no good to react emotionally. Her mind raced with explanations to offer.

While the rest of the Privy Council listened, Stewart continued. "The reports from the Foxes indicate that Archon Melissa interfered with the movement of the Wolves' civilians into their new conquests and kept them from reaching their new destinations. She effectively took them hostage. The Wolves reacted by making peace with the Free Worlds and turning their warriors on the Lyrans. Due to the Archon's strategic decisions, her contingency plan for a Wolf attack did not turn out well, and many Lyran regiments were left isolated and eventually broken or destroyed by the Wolf strikes. Only the use of a mercenary force of former Wolves familiar with their tactics has kept the Wolf forces from achieving even greater successes."

"Ah. My thanks to you, my Lord Admiral, and to your people for your diligence." Zento directed an entirely too-pleased expression at Trillian. "You come to us, asking for trust, asking for our help, all because your people betrayed an ally and turned them against you. So, I ask again Lady Trillian; why should we trust you?"

All eyes went on Trillian. She read the room quickly. There weren't many friendly faces, but nor were many outright unfriendly, just Zento and a few others. Her eyes passed over a frowning Nathaniel who was looking at her, but whose eyes she saw slip briefly over to the Grand Admiral and the Senator.

Damn you, Melissa. I love you cousin, but you always were too clever for your own good.

"The Sea Foxes are correct," she said. "The Archon intentionally slowed the Wolves' civilian movements as a means to control them because she feared they might turn on the Commonwealth once they had their civilian castes resettled. She made a decision based on her judgement of the interests of her people, whatever the morality of it. But as I already said, we have no reason or motive to turn on you, and if that's not good enough for you, consider also that we do not have the means. We are the junior partner here, the weaker state, and that hasn't changed."

"And if you wish to judge us for HAMMERFALL, I can only say that the Archon acted as many rulers have in both Inner Spheres, including your own." Trillian watched a few of the faces redden at that. "Your Federation has practiced ruthless power politics just the same. You made war on a sovereign even while she was a guest of your people, invited to witness the coronation of the first High Queen. You sacrificed Lyran worlds to the Principate to gain their assistance against the New Commonwealth. You compelled the Consolidant to side with their enemies against the Galedon-Kilbourne Concord, costing them the chance to regain Vega, and pressed the marriage alliance that folded them into the Federation. You made war on Sudeten and Rasalhague without pretense just to make peace with them against your allies' wishes, all for your Federation's advantage. You even broke the Peace of Dieron just a few years after it was established, risking the start of a new Succession War, all to claim systems you felt were yours by right."

One by one reactions came to her words. She'd struck nerves, certainly, given the red faces and those pale with rage. The last item she almost regretted, given the furious look on the King's face. She was relieved to see that look divert from her to some of the others in the room. How many of these officers, these leaders, were complicit in their Operation MORNING STAR? she wondered. Nathaniel probably knew.

She noted a particular hardness form on the face of Lord Arnold at the mention of the breaking of the Dieron peace. Yes, you were a part of that, weren't you? If not in the staff then as one of the field commanders. He reminded her of some of the LCAF's senior commanders, the very same ones that overthrew her cousin yet happily profited from her decisions.

She didn't give time for any outrage to crystallize. "I do not say these things to humiliate you, but to make my point; statecraft is often not a moral exercise. Rulers are human beings, as are their advisors, and we take choices out of fear, uncertainty, arrogance, pride, and ambition. We are no more immune than you. And yet, despite the very real danger that your people pose to ours with your strength, I came to offer everything I could in our common cause. I chose to trust in the Royal Federation instead of fearing it, having learned of the character of your soldiers who, seeing a massacre, boldly advanced to fight a foe they knew nothing of simply because they believed saving civilian lives was worth the risk to their own lives and honor. Having learned more of your people since I came, I feel that trust is not misplaced."

"We were wrong with the Wolves. We were wrong to believe we could, or should, control them, or to set them on our neighbors as we did. And we are paying for that mistake. But should all of the Commonwealth suffer because of my cousin's choices? And would the Clans make better neighbors of your Federation than we? Fighting is their way of life. They will not leave you alone, far from it, your strength will draw their attention like a moth to flame, as their warriors will seek to test yours for glory. And the Falcons' Mongols will go even further. They desire dominance and submission and will not spare any who stand against them. Now you have taken their leader and they will seek revenge, whatever your decisions."

At that point her mouth was so dry Trillian had to wet her throat with the glass of water in front of her. Yet she went uninterrupted, for the moment, as if her adversaries in the matter were considering their replies. Not wanting to give them more time, she pressed on to the conclusion racing through her mind. "The Glass may be the most profound incident in the history of Mankind. We both have a vested interest in seeing it protected and secure, and I sincerely believe the Commonwealth will be a safer and more trustworthy neighbor for you than any of the Clans."

At that point she had to stop. She couldn't think of another point to make, her head hurt, and a hand was already tremoring. So soon and it already feels like I'm going to fail. Why couldn't you have consulted with me more, cousin? We're all going to pay for your mistakes! We're going to pay for me failing to talk you out of your schemes.

Her eyes went back to Nathaniel. The young monarchs' face was locked in thought, but while it seemed tranquil, she thought she could see anger burning inside of him.

Lady Howard spoke up first. "It is clear we have much to consider, and that tempers in this room have risen on account of the matter. An adjournment is in order."

"I see no-"

Before Zento could finish protesting, Nathaniel spoke up. "I would like the time to think on what's been presented."

Trillian noted the dark look cast toward the King by Lord Arnold. Zento was not happy either, but he was the one that Nathaniel's Steiner-blue eyes were fixed on. He said nothing.

Prince Peter rose. "In light of His Majesty's request, and the motion by Her Ladyship the Countess of Norfolk, the Privy Council is adjourned. We will resume business in three hours so that all might have time to seek refreshment."

There was a clattering of chairs as robed, suited, and uniformed figures stood. Some glared anger at her, others avoided looking her way, and some even gave admiring looks.

Trillian didn't react to any of it. She was lost in her thoughts, trying to sort through the recriminations she felt, the worry, the fury, the sense of despair that it might all come apart now. Lord Marienberg's hand settled on her shoulder and was just enough to get her attention. "Well spoken, my Lady," he said in soft, clear German.

"Danke schon," she replied automatically, finally getting enough of her nerves together to stand. She knew matters would be difficult, but it was clear there was more to the internal politics of the Federation than what she'd picked up on the holovids and news programs. This was too coordinated to merely be a collection of meeting interests. Zento, Stewart, Arnold, they're working together in some fashion. And they want my mission to fail. Why? A terrible thought crossed her mind. Could Nathaniel be facing the same danger Melissa fell too? This feels like more than just some kind of loyal opposition, or even an organized opposition.

Maybe things on this side of the Glass aren't any better than mine after all...

With another hour to spare before the Privy Council would meet again, Lord Arnold welcomed Grand Admiral Stewart into his office. Both had a fresh lunch to digest, as well as the earlier meeting. "I had hopes to sway things immediately," he admitted to Stewart. "I thought our unveiling of the Sea Foxes' intelligence would turn the Privy Council resolutely against anything more than minor aid and a garrison at Timkovichi. But Lady Trillian knew precisely how to respond, and the civilians are being swayed."

"It was an intelligent reply," Stewart noted. "She has studied our history quite well, and her point about the immorality inherent in most statecraft dulled the edge of their actions. It doesn't help the Foxes have made clear that the Wolves are quite aggressive and likely would have turned on the Lyrans in some way at some point. Nor were her words lost on His Majesty. I think the King is still set on his course."

"I would celebrate his willingness to get his hands dirty if he was directing his energy at the right target," Arnold groused. "The Empire is the enemy, not these Clans. I don't care what Robert Halas-Liao says or does, nothing changes that fact. The Federation will not be secure until the Imperial fleet is broken and Sirius, Procyon, and New Olympia are gained for the Federation."

Stewart nodded quietly. "I am in concurrence, but we may benefit from more time as well. Not to mention the buildup should we assist the Commonwealth."

"Ha!" Arnold's laugh was harsh. "I know you wish to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, sir, but any 'gain' we make will be offset by the need to support the Lyrans. What good is it to mobilize if our best divisions are fighting a universe away? Our factories may expand, but it'll go to replacing losses, not adding to our forces. We'll be wasting away strength while the Empire's new battleships finish, and our opportunity will be passed. And we both know they'll come for us sooner or later. Even if the Dowager finally dies, her ambitions will live on. We have to stop Nathaniel, Admiral, not find ways to just mitigate the damage he's going to cause."

"If we can, we will, but you know perfectly well we must be ready for any contingency. Nor is the Lady Trillian entirely wrong; we would benefit from the Lyrans regaining their strength, so refusing any aid is counterproductive."

"I am not against keeping a strong garrison on Timkovichi, perhaps even a full regiment or division of aerospace. And if we could involve ourselves with a limited force, well, I am all for it. General Bridger's raid provided valuable intelligence as it is. But Nathaniel wants to join the war in earnest. Eighteen frontline units, sir, nearly a fifth of our strength! It would be a disaster if something happened on the other side. And what if the Glass closed?"

"Then we would make another one," Stewart remarked succinctly. "Professor Whateley's research indicates it can be done, though it might take us time."

And our problems would return. "Let's hope it doesn't come down to it. Although if we had a connection to their Tharkad, it would make finding out what's going on over there easier, at least. Lady Trillian's defense was well-spoken, but if this Archon Melissa rules in such a fashion, one imagines there are other matters that might be of interest to us, matters she undoubtedly wishes to keep secret."

"I am told our military intelligence people are seeking more information, perhaps they will find something." Stewart lowered his voice. "Control yourself better, Arnold. I fear we have already given ourselves away thanks to Senator Zento, but your speaking out of turn gives Nathaniel reason to exclude you fromm later sessions. I think Prince Peter and I can prevent that for now, but should you speak out of turn again…"

"I understand."

Arnold knew, and did not care, that his superior could tell that his understanding did not amount to acceptance. "See you at the next session, then," the admiral replied before stepping out of the office.

We should all be on the Privy Council, Arnold fumed. The damned Secretary of Education should not have a greater say in the Federation's governance than the Planning Staff or Military Intelligence! The AFRF has too many responsibilities to be held hostage to these commoner politicians and their petty domestic agendas.

His eyes drifted towards the picture on his wall. It was a photo portrait, not even a holo, of his father, Prince William, and his mother, Lady Hilda Bernstein of Westerstede. He missed them terribly. Father, I am trying, he thought. Trying to bring things about, to make the Federation into the new Commonwealth. It is so hard, though, so very hard… sometimes I just want to quit! Leave these politicians and go back to Tharkad and enjoy my remaining decades in peace and quiet. He drew in a breath. But for you, and for all of those who dream of the rebirth of the Lyran Commonwealth here, the rebirth of House Steiner to its full dignity… I can't. I have to duel with this boy king and his delusions, and my soft cousin, and all of this, but it is worth it. You made that clear to me.

With that thought he turned to his reports. Perhaps, if nothing else, the costs involved might sway Parliament against King Nathaniel's foolishness.

With just over half an hour left, Nathaniel turned away from the clock in his office and towards his guests. Speaker Soto of Uhuru, representing the Assembly, sat at ease in one couch, his dark skin a complement to the brown framing and light blue plushing, not to mention his own cream-colored business attire. Across from him, Speaker Stuart of the Senate had a military posture fitting her AFRF experience. Some strands of red still showed in her whitened hair, and her suit was cut almost to military perfection.

They were not the only Parliamentarians present, though. Nigel Strong, the Senator of Arcturus, represented the Federation Defense League, the bloc of voters that most strongly supported military expansion. Lady Yvette Gerhardt of Callisto represented the Concert bloc, as they were informally known, who opposed anything that threatened the Peace of Dieron. Lord Duncan Steiner of Halfway, his world's Senator and the son of Archduchess Johanna Steiner (making him a very distant cousin of Nathaniel's), was the Corporate Bloc representative, while Assemblyman Thomas Ferros of Odessa represented the Labor Bloc. Together these blocs controlled a majority of the votes of the Parliament, although they were hardly the overwhelming majority. They were, rather, the ones most easily worked with.

"Today's Privy Council revelations aside, Majesty, the costs remain our greatest concern," said Speaker Soto, his English a standard accent from his homeworld. "You are already talking about releasing fifty billion pounds worth of war material from the Strategic Reserve, just as a preliminary aid package. Replacement stock would require fresh orders, and the budget was already set for the coming year."

"I am aware of the budget matters, Mister Speaker," Nathaniel said with some weariness. "I poured over the figures myself with Lady Howard. Adjustments could be made."

"Yet you would not make them before." Senator Strong's voice matched his name. "We tried to approve another order of battleships for the fleet and you stood against it. Now you're fine with spending the money?"

"I made that decision before the Glass was made. And more battleships would only escalate the decline of the Concert's hold on the Inner Sphere," Nathaniel pointed out.

"It would have eased the growing gap between our battleship fleet and those of our neighbors," Strong retorted. "You'll begrudge every pound for our defense, but now you're opening the purse strings to help the Lyrans of the other Inner Sphere?"

"The Clans on the other side have proven an immediate threat." Nathaniel tried not to sigh. He could see why his grand-uncle groused about Parliament.

Technically he didn't need to subject himself to this. As High King he held the power of peace and war and diplomacy. If he signed the treaty, it was in force. Technically. But in truth, it was more complicated, given the way the Federation and the Free March before it were founded. Parliament had the power of the purse, and could oppose a royally-invoked war or alliance by refusing to fund the war or the alliance's terms. He had powers that could circumvent that, but on that road lay a constitutional crisis and domestic turmoil.

Lady Gerhardt spoke next. "I would question the planned scope too, you are undoing the work your earlier stand made for peace. Our neighbors may take the wrong message from this sudden talk of expanding our regiments."

Strong shot an annoyed look at Gerhardt. Their worlds lay only a few jumps apart, but they might as well be on opposite sides of the Federation politically.

"I think you are both missing the greater issues at stake." Lord Duncan spoke with less of a German accent than usual for a Steiner. "Lady Trillian's economic concessions stand to benefit us greatly, for one, and our industries. The economic disruptions in her Inner Sphere give us some space to operate. I also hear there's a Clan of traders on the other side that we can do business with. Securing the Glass and protecting it from the Clans would keep that trade link open."

"My bloc's position is simple; we oppose war profiteering, but we also want to protect our fellows on the other side." Ferros glanced at Lord Duncan with bemusement. "So I find myself in agreement with Lord Duncan, believe it or not. The alliance could do with some tweaking but the core is sound. I'd rather spend our workers' tax dollars on protecting other workers and stopping eugenicist fascists than building battleships, that's for sure."

"That's what the battleships would help do!" Strong protested. "Think of your own workers here! Or of those who slave under the batons of the Kuritas! We have enough foes to fight here without running off into this other Inner Sphere!"

Gerhardt said nothing. The Speakers exchanged exasperated looks. Nathaniel fought off a grin; despite his own irritation, he was observing the strange irony that the Corporate and Labor blocs were in agreement, as were the Defense and Concert blocs. Politics does make for strange bedfellows.

"The issue, Majesty, is votes," Stuart said. Her Caledonian burr had something of a melodic tone to it lacking in either the soft Arcadian burr or the harsher Skye accent; it was almost an Irish lilt. "Ye don't have them, not for this much. The Senate fought enough over the last budget bill, bringing it back to adjust for this is not going to work."

"The Assembly is likewise not in the mood for more budget re-alignments," Soto warned.

"Then you would tie my hands," Nathaniel replied, taking the seat at his desk. "Especially as time is going to be a factor here. The Lyrans can't wait forever."

"You could give some aid without forcing a budget realignment," Lord Duncan proposed. "And the AFRF budget does have contingency funding."

"Not enough, not nearly enough, for the campaign we'd need." Nathaniel leaned against the desk. "I need more."

"There won't be any more, any time soon. Especially if you continue to insist on this foolish adventuring." Strong crossed his arms. Undoubtedly he thought the gesture was definitive or in some way striking. Nathaniel was not so impressed.

"There is also the matter of your proposed nuptials," Lord Duncan said. "Lady Sophia Marik as your Queen is quite a catch. Has Archduke Kenneth approved?"

"It is pending, but likely," Nathaniel replied. "Honestly, the more pressing issue—"

Duncan continued as if he hadn't spoken. "There is the matter of the Principality of Atreus title too. Would it be returned to the Mariks as part of this marriage? Obviously your heir will hold it, but I imagine the Archduke would like to gain equal status to House Umayr and House Brewer." Behind him, Assemblyman Ferros rolled his eyes, showing what Nathaniel thought to be an appropriate, classically commoner sense on the matter of titles.

"That is being discussed." He has mentioned it, and I honestly think it's about time, but it's got to be approved with the Protocol Office and the Trust first. "Could the Parliament at least consider an emergency funding measure for aid to the Lyran Commonwealth? For the requested loans at least."

"I hope His Grace Archduke Fhyne will be invited to the wedding," Strong said.

"Enough of this," Stuart sighed. Her light green eyes focused intently on Nathaniel. "Majesty, right now, we don't have the votes for this. Ye either need to get the populace to back this alliance, or find a way to persuade Parliament's majority of the need, or ye're going to have to scale back your plans for this alliance. There's really nothing else to say about this." As if to emphasize that point she shot glares at Duncan and Strong. They each closed their mouths.

"Thank you for your candor, Madame Speaker." Checking the time again, Naathaniel stood. "Prince Peter will be reconvening the Council shortly, so it's time I returned. I will see the rest of you at some point in the future, that I can promise you."

In his mind, he added, And God as my witness, I am going to get those votes, with or without you.

The Triad
Tharkad City, Tharkad
Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
15 December 3142

There was a commotion at the door to Leutenant-General Maurer's office that the old officer could only sigh at, especially as he recognized the bellowing voice outside even before it reminded his secretary and aide-de-camp that "I am the Archon!" He set his papers down and keyed the intercom. "Let him in."

Vedet stormed into the room in a huff. "It was a mistake to let her go!" he roared. "She's run off!"

"Lady Trillian, I presume?" Maurer asked. "Where?"

"She went through the Glass into the other Inner Sphere!" Vedet dropped a noteputer onto Maurer's desk. The report came from a Lyran news service with a correspondent on Timkovichi, noting Lady Trillian's arrival and the widespread knowledge of her mission.

So she seeks alliance with the Arcadians. I applaud that. We need them.

"Now she's on the loose, and we have no means to remain in contact with the Archon's Fist, no means to control her," Vedet continued. "She will plot to usurp me, she may even persuade the Arcadians to do it for her! We have to take measures."

Maurer folded his hands on his desk. "What measures do you suggest?"

"It's time to end this charade. Inform the populace that Melissa is no longer fit to lead. That I am the new Archon. Give me the means to build my legitimacy in the Commonwealth so that I can repudiate Trillian!"

Of course. He grasps for the power before circumstances with the Wolves might yet rob him of it. If only we'd had another candidate who wasn't loyal to Melissa… "More likely Lady Trillian is doing the task we set her out to do, as I've said before, gaining us the allies we need to survive." He didn't bring up the reports that he knew Vedet was aware of. Falcon strikes continuing here and there, mostly to jockey for who was to become Khan, and it would only grow worse as time went on. And the Wolves were undiminished as a threat, with their ships already prowling around the border systems given the latest reports. They will come for us very soon.

"You do not take the threat seriously," Vedet accused. "She is loyal to Melissa first and foremost. Whatever she does, it will be to bring her cousin back, not to work for us!"

"If she steps out of her bounds, it will be dealt with," Maurer said. "I did not let her go without ensuring matters, Duke Vedet. I was just more subtle about it."

"You assume it will be enough. That she will not win the—"

The red light came on Maurer's intercom box, accompanied by a loud tone that cut off Vedet's tirade.

He swallowed. That meant more than just a report, or a high priority message. Something, somewhere, was wrong.

Vedet eyed the light and then Maurer, challenging him to answer. Maurer did so without a word. "Speak."

"General, we just received a communique by the emergency relay," his chief of staff said, referencing the JumpShip relays that were their inadequate replacement for the failed HPGs. "Wolf forces have landed in great number on Gallery. They came by pirate point and struck with little warning. We can confirm the presence of both Khan Ward and Galaxy Commander Wolf with their best units, as many as four galaxies, maybe five."

Maurer swallowed. His heart fluttered. Damn that Alaric Wolf, and damn Melissa for thinking we could control them! "Thank you. I will meet with the High Command at the earliest possible time. That is all." He hit the intercom key again to close the transmission. "The Wolves anticipated our strategy. They struck our counter-attack reserves first."

"You made the same error Melissa did," Vedet charged.

"They must be scraping soldiers from every source imaginable to have the means to launch these attacks," Maurer said. "And I'll note that you were the one who insisted Anastasia Kerensky's Wolf Hunters would prevent this from happening, Archon Vedet! You have as much to lose as we."

That remark hit home rather well. Vedet was counting on a reputation of stopping the Wolves; this was not going to help that.

"If we are to rally, we must put all our strength into getting our troops off of Gallery," Maurer said. "The 1st Royal Guards and 1st Hesperan should be committed."

It wasn't the initial instinctive frown that warned Maurer of what was to come. It was the second reaction, the thoughtful one, the flash in Vedet's eyes that told him his "acting Archon" saw an opportunity. "Then we should dispense with half-hearted measures as well. Confirm me as Archon. Publicly. Have the entire High Command provide the statement on what has happened and put their full support behind me."

"In these circumstances? The people would see through it, especially when news of the defeats are coming in." Maurer frowned. "Do you care so little for the survival of this Commonwealth, Brewer? Are you going to play for power in these circumstances, put your desires above the needs of the Commonwealth?"

A deep, throaty laugh was the reply. "Oh, get over yourself, General!" Vedet retorted. "You knew what you were signing on for when you supported me. But you'd lost faith in Melissa and I was your only alternative. But now you wish to quibble?" He leaned forward. "Coward. Every last one of you is a coward! You wanted minimal exposure for yourselves and hoped I would be the one to take all the danger! Well, that is not happening! If you want my troops, commit to my status. Name me Archon and dispose of Melissa! Or you get nothing. I am not going to expose myself to Melissa's partisans for your benefit alone, Maurer!" With that Vedet stood. "Either I am Archon and Melissa Steiner is dead, or the Hesperan Guards remain where they are. The choice is yours." Without a further word, he stomped from the room.

Maurer closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. A tension headache was already setting in, and moving on to a full-blown migraine. Fools. We are all fools. And the Commonwealth is paying the price. His mind went to their troops on Gallery, thrust onto the frontlines when they were preparing to embark to reinforce other units. They would feel betrayed, and rightly so, but there was nothing he could do. They could not restore Melissa, not without breaking the unity of the LCAF, but he could not give Vedet her head and the Archonship without the same result. And so the Wolves may devour us all.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

This chapter was Orsai's contribution.

21 - Wolves at the Gates

Nondi Steiner Memorial Nature Preserve
Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
17 December, 3142

Illuminated by the flickering off-white of parachute flares, the Wolf Clan BattleMechs advancing across the mist-shrouded valley floor looked like ghosts, their dark grey camouflage paint jobs seeming to blur and distort their outlines. More emerged from the mists, at least a full Supernova Binary on the advance, just from what was visible; moving with strutting arrogance, as though they already owned this world.

“Strikers, scrap ‘em!” Colonel Roderick Steiner shouted, bringing his Rifleman’s reactor to full power, shedding fibre-optic comm lines and the links to the auxiliary power truck and advancing at a walk. Dropping his crosshairs over the nearest Clan ‘Mech — a Shadow Hawk IIc — power readings still read too low for the lasers; instead, he gave it full bursts from both autocannon, streamers of tracers and lethal metal clawing wounds in the Clan machine’s armour, staggering it.

Around him, a full company of BattleMechs in the blue and silver camouflage of the First Steiner Strikers rose from their positions hidden among the trees, sleeting autocannon fire into the Wolves or waiting a moment for targeting systems to stabilise before shrieking ripples of long-range missiles sailed off their launch racks. A volcanic eruption of energy fire on the left told Roderick that Hauptmann Tran had ignored orders and unleashed her Nova Cat’s full arsenal, sucking even the aux power vehicle’s immense snap-discharge capacitor banks dry as brilliant whiplash-arcs of charged particles and gem-bright laser beams flayed a Blood Reaper, knocking it flat on its back in a mist of shrapnel and semi-molten composites as Tran’s machine slumped in heat-induced shutdown. Armoured vehicles — from a pack of hoverbikes and Shandras dashing out onto the valley floor to scout, to an immense Gürteltier assault tank rolling into firing position next to him — and infantry, in light rig and battlesuits of half a dozen marks, none of them from the Strikers, unmasked at the same time, adding more fire to the cauldron.

Roderick frowned at the insignia on the Gürteltier; the hammer and wolf’s-head of the Stormhammers’ Tharkan Strikers regiment. God knew the Commonwealth needed every soldier they could get, but his father and — for as little time as he’d known Adam Steiner — grandfather had taught Roderick that, in the end, a man’s worth was only in his word, and in how well he kept it. Jasek Kelswa-Steiner hadn’t, deserting the Republic he’d sworn to serve, and even if he’d put those oaths aside for House Steiner, Roderick had never been able to make himself trust the man.

Shocked as they might have been by suddenly coming under fire from a reinforced battalion, the Wolves reacted like the superbly trained soldiers they were. Elementals dropped from the ‘Mechs they clung to like armoured koalas, bounding forward to meet his own battlesuit screen, as the 'Mechs turned from line of march and attacked into the ambush. The Shadow Hawk spread a double-volley of tactical missiles across Roderick's position, supported by a second Blood Reaper; explosions uprooted trees, buried a squad of Hauberk infantry in their foxholes, and slammed home against Roderick's Clan-built Rifleman. One burst against the low-slung cockpit, sending a crack halfway down and halfway through one panel in the ferroglass shield and slamming Roderick sideways in the seatbelts, bruised and battered, the other hits raising welts of orange and yellow across the damage readouts.

Tasting blood, Roderick tied everything into his primary triggers and targeted the Shadow Hawk again. Bright strings of cyan daggers bored the wounds he'd already made deeper, opening ragged, molten holes that the autocannons' explosive rounds exploited. A heat sink burst in a gush of grey-green coolant, hissing into toxic steam where it hit hot metal; and a brief flare of white on thermal indicated a crack in the Shadow Hawk's engine shielding. A volley of missiles — tactical missiles from the pair of Linebacker Echos muscling in to support him, and LRMs from the three surviving Hauberk troopers, who’d dug themselves out and were mad as hell — and the thunderclap blow of the Gürteltier's Gauss rifle crushing in the Blood Reaper's missile rack drove the Clan machines back, buying Roderick time to think, to plan, to hope that the Stormhammers and what was left of the Fourth and Tenth Lyran Guards were holding on either flank, and indulge in a moment's internal cursing of Maurer or Vedet or whoever was responsible for this fiasco.

It had all seemed so sensible when he'd been briefed on the plan; a counterattack out of Gallery, to knock the Crusader Wolves back on their heels, buy time for the rumoured reinforcements — from the Federated Suns and an extremely vague "other allies" — to arrive, and corral the damaged units falling back on Tharkad — put them in some kind of order before they joined the capital's defences. It might even have worked, if not for running headfirst into a full-scale Wolf attack; one that’d caught them while everything was in the open and loading the DropShips, with no time to set up for a tunnel defence. And now, here they were, one more desperate stand to cover an offensive turned into a headlong retreat just ahead of disaster.

At least we've had plenty of practice there, Roderick thought bitterly, checking his rear cameras, catching the rising star of another DropShip boosting from the Lyran LZ to the JumpShips and safety. The Wolves' aerospace forces at least were playing things cagey, content to harass but never risking a serious engagement; scuttlebutt said that the Navy fliers had crippled one of their supporting WarShips, which if it was true — and it was too good news for Roderick to believe sight unseen — would certainly explain that uncharacteristic reluctance to commit.

And this battle, at least, was going the way it’d been planned. Roderick strafed a flurry of laser bolts across an advancing Elemental squad — dropping one and forcing the others to go to ground — as he matched sight to the tactical feed. The Wolves were outnumbered, outweighed and outgunned; the only machine they had equal to his strongest, a Tundra Wolf, was being pounded into scrap metal by a Götterdämmerung and a Davion-built Marauder, the latter armed with weapons equal to the Clans’ finest. And they were bunching up to his right; swing in the left flank and they’d be crushed, buying more room and time. Hell, if he could get some artillery called in, they might be able to destroy the Wolf unit outright.

“Tran, swing in on their left,” Roderick ordered, carefully keeping his voice calm and level. “Catch them in a crossfire. And” he added as an afterthought, “someone find out where our scouts are -”

A sudden burst of laser fire flickered further down the valley, catching Roderick's eye, and he swung his machine around just in time to catch a Shandra — briefly seeming to stand on three wheels — as it slalomed out of the treeline, trailing smoke and with the gunner, unconscious or dead, hanging limp in their safety harness.

"- am repeating. Striker Six Actual, this is Scout Five Actual, can you hear me?' The Shandra driver's voice; a young woman's, taut with desperation and clinging to precise comms protocol as a shield against the panic he could hear edging into her voice. Probably not even out of her teens; the Gallery militia's scout vehicle crews recruited heavily from the valley-runner racing community — young, adventurous, and good at driving fast over dangerously uncertain terrain without crashing.

"Striker Six Actual confirms, Scout Five Actual," Roderick responded. "I hear you; welcome to the net. Report status."

"Status is that we're fucked, Striker Six" the scout snapped back, angrily, apparently forgetting she was swearing at a superior; and Roderick — tactfully ignoring the shouted obscenity — would take anger over incipient panic. "There's a goddamned Assault Trinary — at least — headed right for our left flank. Heavy jamming support; couldn't see them until we practically drove into them."

"Hauptmann Tran, belay last," Roderick snapped out orders rapidly, flipping to the unit address channel, "refuse the flank; fold it back towards the LZ. All elements get ready for retrograde fire and movement. We've stung them, people," he added with a bravado he didn't feel, "now we want to duck their counter."

BattleMech contacts flashed up on his sensors — on exactly the bearing the Shandra had come from; five, with a swarming confusion of smaller contacts that had to be Elementals, and more, still indistinct, behind. An Executioner, a Clan-built Highlander and Warhammer, and a Night Wolf. And at the heart of the Wolf formation was a signature that turned his blood to ice; Daishi. Great Death. There were faster machines, and deadlier machines — even larger machines, if some rumours he’d heard from down towards Terra were true — but something about the blunt slab-sided purpose of the Daishi — visible now, its bulky weapon armatures shoving aside trees it couldn't simply walk through — beyond its enormous protection and firepower, terrified anyone who had to face one and heartened anyone it stood alongside.

“Concentrate fire on the Daishi!” Roderick ordered, dropping his crosshairs over the bulky silhouette and giving it full bursts from his whole arsenal. Bright laser-daggers and a storm of lethal metal reached for the Daishi — and missed as it halted suddenly, ducking under the barrage with disturbing grace; one pulse burst slashed a glancing line of molten armour across the thickly plated torso, but everything else went high, spending itself among the trees. Its return fire — a pair of headache-bright particle bolts and a salvo of LRMs — struck back, the missiles impacting Roderick’s Rifleman with the surety of Streak guidance, chipping away armour and raising more orange and yellow across the damage board. For a moment, he thought the PPC bolts had missed, before the voice of the Gürteltier's commander cut in.

Striker Six, this is Armour Nine,” they reported, voice thready with heat-strain, “we gotta pull out. That Daishi just spot-welded my turret to the deck, and my gunner’s down with heat-stroke. Sorry.”

“Get clear, Armour Nine,” Roderick responded, sending more laser pulses the Daishi’s way, keeping the Wolf's attention on him — hopefully — while the Gürteltier ground backwards, its heaviest armour facing the enemy until it was hull-down. Roderick was moving back himself; his Rifleman was no faster than the Daishi, and if his warbook was reading right, there were four-packs of medium-gauge pulsers riding alongside the PPCs. That kind of firepower would rip apart anything he had up close.

More contacts flared up to his rear, shaking Roderick for a moment before their icons came up the dark blue of friendlies. A company of BattleMechs and fast-moving armour, with another spreading out in a fire support formation; at same time, twin snaking arcs of particle beam fire lashed at the Daishi, sending molten armour sloughing away from arm and hip.

"Striker Six Actual, this is Storm Six Actual," a familiar voice, thick with the clipped, patrician accent of Republic nobility, came over the radio; and Roderick fought down the urge to sigh or curse at the sight of the equally familiar gold-ringed icon tagged with "Templar TLR2-O (JKS)". Of all the people to be rescued by, it had to be him. Still, for his people's lives, Roderick could bear that embarrassment. "Get your people moving out of here, Striker, ASAP."

Roderick frowned. That certainly wasn't normal for Kelswa-Steiner, who tended to aggression's excess more than anything else. "Striker Six does not copy that, Storm Six," he replied. "Bring your Shields in and we can take these guys, Storm."

"Negative, Striker. Disengage and fall back, immediate." Static fuzzed on the link for a moment, before — as Jasek's Templar shouldered its way into line with Roderick's machine, slapping out more PPC fire — a private laser-link connected them. Jasek looked a wreck, Roderick saw; his olive features drawn and pale with a wild, haunted look in his eyes. "Just shut up and listen, Steiner," Jasek snapped in a heat-induced rasp. "You don't like me — in fact, I seem to piss you off by existing. Fine; that doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Fourth are going — only thing holding them together are my Tharkan Strikers and a Star of Wolves-in-Exile with more guts than sense — and when they do, our flank's going to be as open as a Marik's purse. I had to throw most of the Shield in to hold our line of retreat open; only kept the two companies I've got here. Men and women are dying while we thrash this out, Colonel," he finished in a fractionally softer tone.

And that was an argument Roderick knew that he couldn't — didn't want to — counter. "Striker Six acknowledges, Storm," he answered, before flipping back to unit push, "all units, initiate retrograde movement. The Stormhammers are our anchor." For a scratch unit, his troops reacted well, peeling back the slower vehicles and 'Mechs first as APCs dashed forward to collect their infantry cargos.

Roderick locked up the Daishi again. Before he left he was going to make damn sure that at least one Wolf wouldn't be chasing them. Which reminded him, and Roderick wanted to kick himself for forgetting something that vital as he activated his satcomm uplink. "Longbomb, this is Striker Six Actual, I have trade for you."

"Longbomb acknowledges, Striker Six," the LZ fire direction centre responded. "We are reading you loud and clear. Call the ball."

"Requesting full-pattern sustained interdiction barrage, at CR 371 through to CR 374, Roderick ordered, locking his autocannon on full rate as he held down the triggers, splintering away more of the Daishi's armour. That was eating through ammo at a ruinous pace, the round counts in freefall, risked melting the barrels or fusing the firing mechanism as well; but it was a fair trade for time, and for each backward step. "High-ex, cluster and FASCAM in that order — hell, I'll take cruise missiles if you've got any left."

"Request logged, working," there was a catch in the FDC officer's voice, and then, "Striker Six, our feeds show friendlies all over that fire zone. Confirm CR 371 through CR 374 is the target."

"That is confirmed, Longbomb," Roderick snapped, easing off on the autocannon as he switched targets, strafing laserfire after the Night Wolf as it bounded up the opposite slope; Jasek and Tran combining their fire to keep the Daishi back. The rest of the Wolf assault machines were close enough to start reading types.now, and none of it was good; another Daishi, a captured Fafnir and Stalker II — the latter already spreading volleys of range-enhanced LRMs among the Lyran positions — and a squat, low-slung Turkina that he could ID. "Time first impact to plus-ten this message, Longbomb," Roderick's voice softened, recognising what he was asking the FD officer to do, "anyone who's not out by then isn't going to be coming."

"Acknowledged," the FDO replied quietly, "fire mission is in the net and prepping. Good luck, and Godspeed, Striker Six."

"Time to move like we've got a purpose, people," Roderick called over the unit push, levelling more fire at the Night Wolf as he did. "The gunners are going to be dropping a whole Province of hurt on this valley in ten mikes. We are not going to be here when it lands; the Wolves will. Let's make those mangy curs bleed for the privilege."

And who knows, he thought, centring himself in the rhythmic backwards steps of his 'Mech, and the shriek-crack of its weapons, we may even survive.

"Well," Seth Ward drew the word out in a way that had Alaric's teeth clenched to avoid uttering a comment that much more forgiving Khans than Seth Ward would take as a challenge to a Trial of Grievance. "This," Ward commented with what he probably thought was commendable understatement, taking in the scorched and blasted moonscape that was all that remained of a lush, heavily forested valley — and the Ninth Wolf Guards Cluster — with a gesture, "we did not want, did we, Galaxy Commander?" His voice turned close to a snarl as he repeated: "Did we?"

"Neg, my Khan," Alaric replied, careful not to let any emotions show. He entertained fantasies, for a brief moment, of drawing one of the throwing daggers hidden in his sleeves and ending Seth's Khanship right then and there. But, a fantasy that had to remain; Seth was nearly twenty feet away, every definitely fatal target he could be sure of striking at that distance armoured by the tough, thickly layered fibres of Seth's cooling suit, and a Point of Elementals from the Golden Keshik stood close enough to cut Alaric down heartbeats after he began any such move. "I admit, my Khan," he continued in carefully respectful tones that he strongly suspected didn't fool Seth for a second, "error in judging Roderick Steiner. But the error is not mine alone."

"Aff, Galaxy Commander, that is so," Seth allowed, with what he probably thought of as magnanimity. "The Watch, too, has misjudged this Steiner officer gravely. To impute cowardice to his refusal — until recently — to claim the name he was entitled to by mere birth was, clearly, mistaken. And now, we assumed him soft, and Star Colonel Cardin and his Cluster have paid for it. But still, this plan, and much of its execution, were yours, and the failure was there as well."

Alaric wasn’t sure about Roderick Steiner. A Wolf warrior might renounce a Bloodheritage that he was entitled to, under certain very specific circumstances, but he’d never heard of a Spheroid doing the same unless forced to. And ordering a mass bombardment of an area there were still allied units operating in — that was a level of ruthlessness that Alaric had to respect. But then, he did not have a choice, did he? By reported unit markers, Alaric knew there had been at least seven fresh Lyran commands massing here on Gallery, and they’d effectively destroyed four of those; in such circumstances, even the frailest Spheroid would show spine.

“What is my Khan’s will?” Alaric finally asked; he knew, of course, but the formalities had to be observed.

“Your surkai will be to remain here while we push on to Thuban,” Seth Ward responded. “Secure our position, deal with those who have fled into the tunnels, supervise the salvage of the Rogue,” Alaric winced at that; the crippled, possibly beyond saving, Congress-class frigate was a reminder that even after nearly a century, Clan aerospace forces simply weren’t as good, warrior for warrior, as Spheroid ones. At least Star Admiral Owen Rhyde had the decency to die with his ship, “and make your command ready for our assault on Tharkad.”

Aff, my Khan.” Well, better than Alaric had hoped for, at least; with Beta Galaxy here and Zeta — whose commander was an utter nonentity that owed him everything — en route, that gave him significant strength and influence to work with. If the Lyran troops wanted to hide in the tunnels, he would not give them the close-quarters fighting they desired; they could simply stay there, or if too annoying, he would demolish the tunnels on their heads if need be.

Still, it is little better than fighting bandits. He wants the glory of the next victory for himself, and will never let me go to Tharkad if he can help it. I will be left to play nursemaid to the logistics corps and merchants!

That thought was rightfully infuriating. Yet… he might still remind Seth Ward that there was more than one way to win glory. The supply stockpiles here might just give him an opportunity, if he could quietly leak rumours of them; an opportunity to tempt Anastasia Kerensky from her hidden lair, and then it will be time to skin a Steel Wolf. Glory, then; glory, and credit Alaric had no need to share with another.

And when we take Tharkad, Khan Ward, there will be a reckoning between you and I.

It wasn’t their fault!

Hiram Brewer’s dark features were twisted in pain, where they could be seen under a swaddling mask of bandages, and despite the IV bag of painkillers hooked into his remaining arm. His voice, despite that, was clear and coherent, desperate to get his message across. “It wasn’t their fault.” Quieter; maybe the painkillers finally taking hold and doing something about the savage injuries covered by bandages.

“He speaks the truth,” Star Commander Lyria, of the Wolves-in-Exile — small, slight, wrapped in bandages in half a dozen places where shrapnel had punched through her cooling suit — spoke from nearby, biting back a curse as a medtech extracted a shard of ferroglass from her cheek. “The Fourth Guards did all any warrior could, but there were too many of the Crusaders.” And there was iron truth in those words, since Lyria had been with them and the Tharkan Strikers the whole way back to the LZ, and her Star the ones to hold off Crusader forces long enough to safely extract Brewer from his downed Zeus; her Mad Cat III — waiting outside, ready to be loaded onto a DropShip — was proof of that. The fifty-five-ton war avatar looked like some giant, uncaring toddler had picked it up and chewed its whole right side into a tangle of wrecked equipment and shattered plating.

“Out, the both of you, and let me do my work,” the medtech snapped at Roderick and Jasek. A broad, stocky — to a degree that suggested Elemental ancestry — and grey-haired woman, she wore Wolf-in-Exile insignia, and a flat, implacable expression that made it clear she had the intention and ability to physically throw them both out herself if they didn’t leave willingly. “These two must be made ready for flight, and I cannot be disturbed.”

Jasek did exactly as told immediately, turning on his heel and walking straight outside without a word; Roderick offered a nod of acknowledgement and understanding before heading out into Gallery’s perpetual storm-wracked twilight. All around were the sounds and sights of a hurried evacuation effort; the thudding tread of BattleMechs, shouted orders and the grinding clatter of tank and support vehicle treads. There was thunder, as well; natural, from the storm system away to the west, and artificial, accompanied by leaf-shaped blades of flame splitting the dark as the guns, mostly superheavy Paladin units, hurled high explosive death at the encroaching Clanners — Roderick couldn’t hide a wince at knowing they’d need to leave most of the Paladin guns; they just took too long to load and secure but he purely hated leaving that much artillery, even spiked, behind — or the prolonged brightness of a DropShip’s fusion burn as it reached for orbit.

Jasek was waiting for him a few dozen metres.away, in the shadow of their kneeling BattleMechs. "I hope Hiram makes it," the Stormhammer commander said matter-of-factly, but Roderick could feel the undercurrent of worry in Jasek's words. "He's a good man — a good soldier, and a better friend. And he's worth at least ten of his uncle."

"I think he's going to be fine; that medtech looked pretty confident at least," Roderick replied, joining Jasek in the lee of his Templar. "Just how bad are things? Overall, I mean."

"Not as bad as they could've been, but still pretty damn bad." Jasek paused for a moment, marshaling his thoughts before continuing. "The Arcturan Guards got hammered flat; we've got less than a demi-battalion back from the Twentieth and Twenty-fifth combined. Donegal Guards did better; there’s the equivalent of about four mixed regiments from the Sixth and Eighth loading up now. But,” a sigh, born of exhaustion and the weight of responsibility, “most can’t make it in time, and they’ve confirmed that Marshal von Duckler and Hauptman-general Keane, along with most of their staff, are KIA. Leaves me as GOC, and I’ve ordered the survivors who can’t make it offworld to go to ground in the tunnels.”

“I wondered why we weren’t doing that,” Roderick commented, downing a slug of Vita-Orange from his canteen. “Down there, we could chew an army — even a Clan one — to shreds in tunnel fighting.”

“Wouldn’t work.” Jasek shook his head. “The Wolves don’t want Gallery for itself, not yet at least. They want Gallery as a stepping stone to Tharkad; they’d just bomb the tunnels sealed if we gave them too much trouble, and going down there in the first place would take our forces off the board for defending Tharkad. Which brings me to orders for you. You’re going to be in charge on Thuban for a while, Roderick; I’d have offered you a berth on the Himmelstor,” he nodded towards the giant Excalibur-class DropShip, “but I’m not going to be joining you on Thuban. Not for a while anyway. Rally and try to get organised what we’re lifting out, but no discretion on this; the Wolves show up in force, you abandon the system and fall back on Tharkad.”

“Where are you going to be?”

“Chasing a lead.” A fleeting smile crossed Jasek’s features. “I think I know where Anastasia Kerensky is; and if I can get the Wolf Hunters to join up with us, we might still have the makings of a counterattack.” Another, equally brief smile. “Hell, if it comes off right, might calm down Duke Vedet — or whoever’s running things these days — enough to get us some more troops released.”

“I’m surprised you’re not throwing your own claim out for the throne.” The words were out there before Roderick could stop himself saying them, but Jasek didn’t seem offended. Instead, he just laughed briefly.

“Because, believe it or not, my ambitions are the same as yours, in nature.” Jasek smiled, properly this time. “We’ve both got limits on what we want; I want to see Skye free, and reunited with the Commonwealth — I’d like to serve as her Duke, but I can live without that as long as she’s free. You just want to be the best soldier in defence of the Commonwealth you can. Vedet,” the smile vanished, followed by a rueful shake of his head, “he wants everything. If I tried putting in for the throne — not that I would, you’ve got a better claim than I do — he’d offer to work with me, and then I’d be mysteriously dead within a year. Or I’d have to kill him to stop that from happening.”

“You really expect me to believe you wouldn’t take the throne if it was offered,” Roderick scoffed.

“I didn’t say that,” Jasek laughed again. “I mean, who doesn’t dream of being Archon? But, well, if the Estates General were ever desperate enough to offer me the throne, I’m not sure there’d be much of a Commonwealth left.” He smiled at Roderick’s almost reflexive disapproving scowl. “That was a joke, Colonel. You are permitted to laugh, even on duty.”

"Right now I'm not seeing much to laugh about," Roderick replied. "Even if we get these troops to Thuban, everything we've lost, and the troops we're leaving behind, it was our reserve for the whole front. We're going to lose Gallery, every world on the border, and probably Thuban as well. At this rate, I'm not even sure we can keep the damn Wolves from taking Tharkad, even if we get Vedet and the LCAF to pull their heads out of their asses."

"Maybe not, but we need to buy time right now. There are Federated Suns troops — the First Davion Guards — on their way, and the Falcons lost their Khan on Timkovichi. Your cousin's reportedly already on her way to negotiate with the people who took out Malvina, she may even be there now. Hell," another smile, “considering what’s been happening and for all we know, the Republic’s dropped the Fortress and are piling right up the Wolves’ arse as we speak.”

"I got the message from her and the Kells. Still don't know if I can believe it, but I guess I have to." He turned his eyes back to the thundering Paladin guns, meeting another Wolf attack on the perimeter. "They might be the only thing that can turn this war around for the Commonwealth, 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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

22 - Fast and Furious

Upper Thermosphere
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
16 December 3142

The upper thermosphere of Morges created a brilliant glow on the nose of Devers' Typhoon from his angle of entry. He ignored the glow as the temporary thing it was, as he quickly changed the angle to focus on the Jagatai fighter he was tracking. A stream of sapphire bolts from the aft-mounted pulse laser stabbed through the space just behind his fighter. Aft-mounted weapon, he noted, although he did not break off even with the threat it posed. His own targeting showed his autocannon was moving on track. When the indicated flashed gold he pulled the trigger. A burst of cluster shells crossed the distance before sandblasting armor from the Falcon fighter. His pulse lasers lit up in tandem, adding their emerald light to the display about him. The strikes left molten gashes across the left wing and fuselage of the Falcon fighter, though it remained intact and rolled away from him. With surface damage atmospheric re-entry just got trickier for that one, he thought. A moment's consideration brought him away from the impulse to pursue and destroy. The mission had to be seen to.

Around him, the 92nd Squadron and the rest of the 8th Striker's Aerospace Group were doing their part in dueling with the Falcon fliers coming up to meet their landing forces. Further afield some of Evan Kell's fliers were protecting their DropShips and 8th's approaching ships, and a selection of gray-hulled OmniFighters of the Wolves' Strike Grenadiers Cluster had a different sector of orbital space, actively hunting and breaking up Falcon aerospace units. Ward's fliers were, by luck of the draw, playing close defense and sticking to the DropShips.

The DropShips themselves weren't inactive. Missile and laser fire stretched across the void and upper atmosphere of Morges, striking Falcon fighters that penetrated the CAP, as well as the mixed Star of DropShips the Falcons deployed to fight the incoming forces. The Sara Proctor's pickets, AFS Penzance and AFS Pursuant, were making them regret that with repeated fire from their subcapital weapons carving up the ship-grade armor with an efficacy only exceeded by capital-scale weaponry.

Another group of five Falcon fighters glowed on Devers' HUD. Looks like some more, he noted in his mind. "All Flights, engaging new contacts until they pull back out of the drop zone."

"Roger," answered his Flight leads, allowing him to focus on staying alive these next few minutes. He was spitting crosshairs on one of the fighters, a Jagatai, when warning sirens warned him of a hard lock. He rolled away and accelerated just as magnetically-propelled ships rippled by, courtesy of the HAG mounted on another of the fighters. He turned into his roll and, with the glow again showing on his fighter's nose, made a high energy turn that would be stupendously dangerous once they were in the mesosphere. This put him on the enemy fighters as they lined up on one of the Sunhawk-class DropShips. Their weapons fire poured into its winged form. Given the armor protection it enjoyed it was capable of taking punishment, at least for the moment, but it wasn't invulnerable, and the Sunhawk-class ship retorted with a barrage of long range missiles. Guided by Artemis systems, the launchers accurately deployed over a hundred missiles into the path of the enemy fighters, while the Jagatai's own missile barrage was steadily attrited down by AMS fire before the final impacts.

Devers selected the lead Jagatai, focused crosshairs upon it, and as they moved enough to flash gold, opened fire.

It might have been his shot, or Lieutenant Waterman's PPCs, but either way the enemy Jagatai blew into pieces while his pulse lasers and autocannons played over the fuselage. Heat shielding must've been compromised. That's the hard part of fighting in the thermosphere.

Devers' heat spiked and he laid off the triggers, giving himself time to line up on another target as the Typhoon cooled as quickly as its heat sinks permitted in the conditions of the thermosphere. Other fighters in his squadron opened up on the remaining enemy as he waited, a barrage of missiles, ballistic fire, and lasers and PPCs that filled orbit with their fury, some shots hitting and some missing, successful hits scouring armor from the Falcon Jagatais. The enemy evaded, but the only indication they were aware of the 92nd Squadron was their rear-mounted lasers firing at Devers and his people, scoring hits and otherwise forcing the pilots to throw off their aim in evasive rolls.

They're outnumbered and still pressing home the attack! It was like being in one of the battleROMs shown in his days as a Rivshal cadet, watching Galedonian aerospace fighters brave insane amounts of fire to drive home their attack runs, sometimes even intentionally plowing their damaged fighters into targets.

Devers briefly worried one of the Clan shots would hit something vital, but none did. The Clan fighters, recognizing this, pressed on, but that only brought them attention from the lasers and autocannon emplacements. Devers changed his angle of attack to not take friendly fire before getting a dead-center shot with his weapons on the lead fighter. He left his larger pulse lasers out of this shot, engaging with the mediums and his autocannon.

This time the kill was unambiguously his. He didn't even need to see his own gun camera footage to recognize the results of a cluster round punching through armor and hitting a missile magazine. The enemy fighter turned into a bright fireball, spreading debris everywhere.

The attack run continued regardless of their losses, the now-three fighters sending another salvo into the DropShip that flayed more armor from the ship. "Don't let them get a third shot!" he cried into the tactical line.

His squadron reacted, and the increase in firepower thrown into the Falcons' paths did the work. They didn't break off, but they did fail to get the third salvo. One of the craft died to the plentiful missiles fired from their target. Another was shot down by pinpoint PPC hits from Waterman, and another to unseen shots from others in his squadron, likely one of the Lightning IIIs.

"Well done 92 Squadron," reported the ASG director on the Penton. "They slipped through the outer screen while 165 was engaged. Damage to the Angelina Grimke was light, she's still good for drop."

"Returning to escort position and velocity," Devers replied. He twisted and pulled his stick until the Typhoon was back on atmospheric entry. With his damage indicators showing no worse than yellow, with no detected exposure of non-heat-shielded components, he was safe for entry. "Sound off, anyone no good for entry?"

"Charlie 2 here, sir, showing an armor fault on the wing, heat shielding failed from a laser hit," came one reply.

"Then break off and signal for orbital docking, we'll see you dirtside when this is over."


That's another one of ours down, he thought. A check also showed Charlie 4 and Bravo 3 were not responding; those fighters were out. Hope they bailed successfully and the S&R shuttles can get them.

And if this was their greeting in orbit, I feel bad for the folks going to the ground.
As that thought hit his head, his systems picked up the pods sailing past, dropped in the final leg of acceleration and on their way to the target. A squadron worth of gray Wolf Clan fighters burned after them to provide protection on their final approach. Good luck, groundpounders, Devers thought before more enemy contacts drew his attention. They're making a fight of this one.

With so many firsts in so short a time, Eva found herself facing yet another; her first orbital drop under fire.

Orbital drops were a different thing entirely from an air drop. There at least you could see what was going on easily, and you could move in mid-air, with the right skill and use of your jets. Orbital drop pods were one way, straight down, and all you had was external cameras; if a stray laser or missile took them out, you'd be blind until the pod opened… or got broken up by enemy fire.

In the cockpit of her Paladin she could only watch those external camera feeds showing the raging fight in the atmosphere. These Falcons were like the fanatics she'd fought on TImkovichi and Great X, 'Mongols' who'd reportedly laughed at Khan Fetladral when he proposed the granting of safcon. Now the Falcon aerospace forces were locked in combat with the attack force, pressing hard attacks home on the DropShips and pods.

Over the commlines she occasionally heard her comrades talking… or screaming as they watched enemy fighters approaching on the cameras. She noticed one of them herself, a thick-chinned heavy fighter, that looked like it was trying to get a bead on her as her pod rocketed past. At the minute lasers from a gray-and-gold Wolf Clan fighter played over the machine's wings and distracted the pilot.

Her attention was focused on the camera if only to avoid the nausea and discomfort of the last few hours of intense burn. Aerospace assets aside, the 8th Striker were going in mostly solo, being the only unit among the group trained in high-G inward transit burns. It wasn't easy to go from enduring a 2.5G burn for 2 to 3 hours to fighting on the field in a 'Mech. It really wasn't easy to do that with a five minute ride in a drop pod between those two, even if it gave some slight opportunity to decompress (literally) from the Gs.

We're doing this for a good reason, she reminded herself. She flashed back to the briefing before the jump into Morges, and Brigadier Laguna's address to the whole unit. "They'll kill their prisoners before letting them get rescued. We're burning in fast to stop that. 'Fast and Furious', Sunhawks, that's the Striker way, and this is the 'Fast' part. We're gonna let the Falcons feel the 'Furious' part when we're groundside."

"Pod's hit!" a panicked voice came over the line. She swallowed. That's Lance Lieutenant Norton! "Pod's hit! Pod's—"

After a few moments Captain Choudhury's voice resonated in her strong Bolanese soprano. "Lieutenant Norton? Lieutenant Norton, respond."

Nothing. Eva drew in a breath. She didn't know him well, but he'd led properly enough on Great X. Now he was gone, just like Lieutenant von Krager.

"Lieutenant Kilroy, you've got seniority in your lance. Battlefield promotion to 1st Lieutenant effective now." The strain in Choudhury's voice was evident. "Confirm?"

After a few moments Kevin replied. "Confirm, Captain. I've got Bravo Lance."

Within moments there was another voice crying out about their pod being hit. Then another. Eva stopped breathing, wondering if maybe the Falcon fighter pilots were actually fast enough to do this. Orbital pods were supposed to be fast enough fighters didn't have much time for an intercept, but these Clanners were better than normal, right? Trained all their lives for this? Maybe one was lining up on her right now and any moment lasers or autocannons would tear the pod open, core her 'Mech, leave her to fall through fifty kilometers of sky…

She felt that way even as the drop timer reached its final seconds. She felt the kick force her against the harness of her command couch, hard enough she thought it'd leave a bruise. The pod's deceleration burn lasted only a few seconds…

...and then everything hurt as the entire pod shuddered in place, sending the vibration of pain through her and taking her breath away for a moment. In that moment, the external camera cut out, giving her just a glimpse of a snow-covered plain and distant structures before the screen blanked. She raised her 'Mech's left hand and pressed against the pod, an unnecessary gesture as it folded outward like a gift box, freeing her Paladin.

Her computers confirmed she was off by a kilometer, which was rather good given the margin of error was twenty. "Bravo Two is down," she said.

For a moment, a blissful moment, she wasn't under high Gs, or in that ominously coffin-like pod. She was on a planet, firm ground, in her 'Mech, and all was right in the world.

"Bravo Three down," Gupta confirmed, from the cockpit of her Chevalier. The system showed she'd landed about three kilometers to Eva's north and west. Eva put her 'Mech into a run towards that position to link up with her lancemate. When another ten seconds, then twenty, passed with nothing from Kevin, she felt worry. Had he been shot down too? Killed? Would that mean she was now Lance Lieutenant? No, no no, I can't.

"Bravo Lead down."

Relief filled Eva. She noted he was beyond Gupta but not by far; they'd meet up together easily enough.

Along the way she noted the streaks in the air. A few were too small, too chaotic, to be intact pods, but most were coming down straight and true.

Well, I'm still alive, she thought. Another crazy thing I've survived. She just hoped it wasn't going to be the last thing she'd survived.

The Light's Hammer was a change for Bridger. It was just as good a command center, in most respects, and had an aerodyne form and capability as well, reminding him of the Cortana-class DropShips that the other Striker formations employed, if one took away the Cortana's artillery cannons.

Granted, his surroundings weren't as normal. With the exception of General von Hammersmark and a few officers of his staff, everyone wore Kell Hound colors or the occasional LCAF uniform, and he was far more guest than commander here. Rank had its privileges though, and that included a place at the central holotank showing Morges in holographic detail. Red lights shined over their planned drop zone and the zone itself, with several blue dots now appearing on the planet's surface. "Looks like 1st Battalion grounded. Ten percent losses." He said those words for his own sake, knowing it meant four of his pilots were dead, killed in mid-air while utterly helpless. He owed it to them, in a way. "2nd Battalion's grounding now, missing a couple too. Armored infantry 2nd Battalion C Company drop… missing three squads. Six pilots and eighteen infantry lost."

"Took quite a risk, agreein' to rushin' ahead like this," Evan noted. "Your people made it work, at least."

"Brigadier Laguna was confident her people could go in under the higher Gs. And the Wolves are right behind them at least." Bridger shook his head. "I probably should've stuck it out, stayed on the Sinclair."

"Even tradition must give way to reality," Hammersmark noted. The stodgy Teutonic noble flashed him a grin. "Or to the demands of doctors."

Evan barked a delighted laugh. "Especially that one!"

Bridger chuckled. But it didn't take his attention away from the holotank. The screen showed it all in sterile colors, but Bridger knew they represented pilots, crews, MechWarriors and battle infantry, all in mortal danger fighting off the Falcons' aerospace assets. He recalled Laguna's quiet vindication at her estimates of the Falcons' presence, as they were now confirming a substantially larger force than was at Great X. Instead of two clusters, one of them battle-damaged, the Falcons had a whole seven on-planet, three with damages, and an independent aerospace Trinary that was even now resisting their landings.

That Falcon Star Colonel is going to regret his choice of words if Khan Fetladral gets a hold of him, he thought bemusedly, recalling the Wolf Khan's savage snarl at the mocking tone and arrogant words of the black leather-clad Falcon commander, who made it abundantly clear there would be no safcon nor anything but the Falcons trying to kill everyone. As requested, the Khan hadn't mentioned their interest in the bondsmen but made it sound like he'd come ready to claim Morges for the Wolves. Hopefully our forces burning in faster didn't give anything away, but we couldn't take the risk they might decide to kill the captives anyway. The hour we gained should slow any efforts at that down, at least.

The icons showed DropShips now going into the atmosphere. Some were assault aerodynes, pure gunships, and some were the Sunhawk and Great Leopard-class combat transports bearing the 3rd and 4th Battalions directly to the target sight. Hopefully we'll have the camp well in hand before they get the wiser and start focusing all their forces on it.

The comm officer relayed a new signal coming in. Brigadier Laguna appeared as a holographic image to the corner of the holotank display. "We're almost done. 3rd and 4th Battalions and the Jump Infantry will be air-dropping shortly. But we're identifying enemy dispositions now, it looks like two of their Cluster formations were stationed within thirty kilometers of the camp, they're converging there now. My people are all rushing in to consolidate but we may be hard-pressed soon, given the number of heavy and assault-weight platforms they're bringing in."

"Damn," Bridger swore. "We're still an hour behind you, Brigadier. All I need you to do is hold out."

"My warriors will be landing beginning in forty-five minutes," promised Khan Fetladral. "That should make the Falcons regret boldly counterattacking."

"Well, we will bleed them as best as possible before you get here, and keep them from the camp," said Laguna. She ended the call.

"Well, we knew it might go down like this," said Evan. "Not the kind of fight your Strikers are used to?"

"Usually not, but that's why 1st and 2nd Battalions are heavy cavalry. Gives them some punch and some mass to hold ground if they have to."

"Well, lookin' forward to seeing how the Falcons feel about that 'punch.'"

The camp had what you'd expect from a prison camp. Quonset huts, towers, larger buildings, guard shacks, and the thick multi-layered barbed wire fencing to keep the occupants in.

Given the stories from Great X about what happened in those camps, Eva felt a rush of pleasure in how easily the barbed wire snapped at her passage. Her seventy-five ton machine's legs broke through and crushed the supporting frame of the fence.

A power signature drew her attention; a pair of ultralight tonnage security 'Mechs, armed with flamers and machine guns, were turning their focus on her. Mindful of her firing angle, she took a step to the right to clear the barracks before her left hand's index finger squeezed. Cerulean energy crackled and sparked through the air, a twisting chaotic helix of particles that slammed into the chest of one of the security 'Mechs. Its armor burned white hot and broke under the fury, letting the man-made lightning of her PPC blast through the fuel cell engine that powered the 'Mech. It collapsed like a lifeless doll.

A thick beam of sapphire light cut through the other security 'Mech, flaying its torso open with a bright molten wound in place. Chemical spray and smoke poured forth from the injury and the security machine staggered and fell.

"Looks like we caught 'em mid-piss!" Kevin laughed.

Eva scanned for more targets but found none, at least not until an SRM rushed through the air and hit her 'Mech's shoulder. She twisted to her left and identified a figure in a jade green military parka, a launcher on their shoulders. Their comrades were already reloading it. She put her crosshairs over them and squeezed the trigger on one of her medium lasers. The resulting lance of emerald light took the missile carrier from head to shin, an instant kill that incinerated man and launcher together.

More friendly contacts showed on her screens. Battle armor infantry, fresh from one of the pods, swarmed through the broken fence. On the other end, a Mad Cat II broke through and a squad of Striker battle armor-clad infantry disembarked from the machine, moving forward to engage the camp guards.

Colonel Patel's voice crackled over her radio. "Regimental command to all 'Mech battalions. Enemy BattleMechs en route, along with vehicles and armored infantry, assault weight machines confirmed. 1st and 3rd Battalions, form up on camp's south, 2nd and 4th, the northeast. We have to hold until our comrades land."

"It looks like they took a quick piss, Bravo Lead," Gupta opined sarcastically.

At that moment another missile corkscrewed through the air at Eva, only to be claimed mid-air by Gupta's AMS. Eva found the culprit, another of the guards, but they were already being machine-gunned by the armored infantry. She took up with the rest of her lance to meet at the south gate of the camp.

Minutes passed. With every passing second other 'Mechs came in, heavy and medium-weight machines of the 1st and 2nd Battalions. More than that, a growing roar overhead told of the landing DropShips. The aerodynes came in first, dropping battle armor and jump infantry to finish securing the camp, with the medium and light machines of the 3rd and 4th grounding. Far above the Sinclair and Penton would becoming in…

"Confirm enemy artillery firing!"

Eva felt her stomach twist. Didn't they take care of that with the air power?!

Evidently they hadn't, and soon explosions flowered everywhere. Shells broke the quonsets apart where they hit, pulverized ferrocrete, and turned the guard shacks and towers into metallic splinters. Blast waves battered her machine even without any shells coming down on her.

"They got their artillery ready faster than anticipated, hold tight 8th," Brigadier Laguna said over the regimental tac-com. "Fire missions are on the way."

It was little comfort to Eva, especially as one shell went off and peppered the entire lance with shrapnel that cut and warped their armor, damaging it even if nothing penetrated. If they had more artillery on sight this would kill us all in minutes, she thought gravely. If they get more active…

The screens on the bridge of the AFS Stallion already showed one of the artillery parks the enemy was employing, not just a firebase but part of a larger installation. Anti-air fire filled the air about them and the Gs pressed Wing Commander Roger Sutter hard into his crash couch, the nine hundred ton Wild Weasel-class DropShip now on the atmospheric engines at the ship's rear. The ship status holo indicated nothing but minor glancing blows at this point. Their enemy wasn't yet putting heavy artillery into anti-air mode, the one thing his ship would have to be concerned with if there were multiple hits or penetrating hits.

"Sir." Flight Lieutenant Karen Webber spoke through the strain of the Gs on them all. "Targeting firming up, I have a solid lock with the coilguns."


The forward firepower of the Wild Weasel included three Gauss RIfles, one nose-mounted and two on ball turrets at the base of the wings. With the latter two pointed forward, all three now opened up. The first shots missed, due to the extreme range, drawing enemy attention at the same time.

The second set of shots were more successful. The magnetically-propelled slugs broke through the barrel and firing base of one of the artillery guns, smashing it up and turning it to rubble.

"Artemis firing computers confirming locks. Firing!"

The sixty missile tubes on the nose opened up in a salvo, streaking towards the Falcon artillery in fiery contrails. The coilguns barked again, securing a hit on an artillery vehicle that the main body absorbed with its armor.

The missile bombardment finished it off.

The Stallion rocked viciously. The damage indicator showed a streak of yellow along the fuselage of the ship. "Enemy heavy anti-air guns turning our way, sir," reported Lieutenant Dev Pushkin, minding the ship's scanner systems.

"We'll let the Mastodon take care of it."

Their sister ship, already in range, was indeed directing their cannon and missile fire on that target. The rangefinder showed other artillery guns in range, and more to the point, their extended range pulse lasers could now engage as well.

"All batteries firing!" Webber confirmed, sapphire light bursting from the emplacements on the ship's sides and nose. "We've got targets in the engagement envelope of our side-mounted missile launchers, firing too."

More and more missiles, guided by advanced Artemis V fire control systems, poured forth into the enemy artillery position, while the Gauss weapons and pulse lasers continued to do their work as well. More shots struck at the Stallion, damaging and chipping away armor, but the ferro-aluminium held.

If we were an aerospace fighter we'd be long down by now, he thought. The displays were more and more yellow and a few parts were showing orange, including part of the right wing. Enemy 'Mechs and vehicles were pouring autocannon fire and laser fire skyward, trying to hit them, all while their weapons devastated the enemy artillery and the Mastodon brought its fury on the anti-air fire, thinning it out gradually.

He saw the first bit of red and called out, "Break off, get us distance. We've done our part!"

"Yes sir!"

The Stallion's engines roared and they raced upward, taking a few final hits while their aft-mounted pulse lasers fired a few volleys in return. A great explosion flowered up from the enemy base. "Sir, looks like we got their ammo dump," Webber said cheerfully despite the G-forces.

"That'll help the fellows on the ground," he replied. "Bring us about towards camp, and keep your eyes peeled for enemy aerospace. Webber, you see something in green thats not ours, bring the pain."

His subordinates confirmed his orders immediately. Sutter relaxed somewhat in the chair and waited to see how the rest of the attack would pan out.

The initial contact with the Falcons were their Stars of fast mediums and lights. The pilots were skilled, frustratingly so for Eva, who found it difficult to hit them effectively given their low frames and raw speed. The 3rd's pilots tangled with them more directly, particularly the aggressive pilots in the Sunhawk OmniMechs, who employed their MASC systems in brief spurts to hit a hundred and fifty KPH and bring their close range weapons to bear. More than one Falcon 'Mech went down to the Streak launchers many of those pilots used, as well as their lasers, though a couple of the Sunhawk 'Mechs and other machines were left to limp back or were brought down as well.

"2nd and 4th are penned down hard on the northeast, air support is focusing on them," Perez informed them. The Lieutenant Colonel was on the field in his new machine, an eighty ton OmniMech called the Grizzly. The 'Mech was the only assault weight 'Mech in the unit, due to its colossal engine giving it the necessary speed even without MASC engaged, and was configured as an armored command 'Mech. The arm mounted large lasers on the machine and the Variable Focus Snub-Nosed PPC on the hip gave it some decent firepower, while an ECM system and a command cockpit augmented the machine's usefulness for Perez's role. "We just need to hold for another ten minutes, tops. The Wolf Clan forces are approaching the upper atmosphere. Pick a target, do what you can to put it down, and listen to your lance commanders."

Well, that sounds do-able…

...until it didn't, as enemy machines thundered on towards them, and most of them were assault weight.

A number were winged machines. Machines that struck cold into Eva as they reminded her of that machine, the Black Rose, the killer of Captain Kincaid and Lieutenant von Krager. Some were of the very same model, in fact. Others were different types, carrying various armaments, and their pilots were pushing them forward at incredible speeds. They must have gone at a sprint. All this way?!

The enemy was roused, and they opened fire at maximum range. A fusillade of lightning bolts, sapphire lances, missiles, and gauss slugs struck at Eva and her comrades. She joined them in returning fire, even if at this range a lot of the shots either missed or glanced off the armor without any damage. She focused on one of the winged machines, which despite its black and green paint scheme still reminded her of Malvina Hazen's 'Mech. It was, according to her systems, the same. A Shrike.

But when it fired at her, it wasn't firing rounds from a pair of ultra autocannons. Twin bolts of sizzling particles struck at her, one glancing over the side of the Paladin and the other striking her just below the head module, blasting blackened chunks of ferro-fibrous armor away from the impact site. Just a meter or two higher and I'd be dead. Like Kincaid.

The terror that thought gave her made her thumbs and index fingers tense up and hit her triggers.

Her cockpit became a sauna in that moment and her 'Mech's power systems struggled to fire all her heavy weapons at once, but they did.

Most of her shots missed, too. That was the worst of it, if expected for poor fire discipline. The PPC went to the side. The large laser ineffectively carved a sliver of armor from the Shrike's wing. The medium lasers, at that range, failed against the armor. Only the extended range pulse laser's sapphire bolts told on the Shrike, scouring its ebon hide.

Twin laser beams struck her in reply, carving more armor from her chest and the right side of her Paladin. She felt the tell-tale wobble of the gyro struggling to compensate for losing so many tons of armor so quickly and shifted her 'Mech's weight, keeping it upright. With her heat still unacceptably high, she compelled her hands to remain solid and only triggered her own large laser. This time the lance was true, a beam that sliced armor from the Shrike's arm.

There were ten ripples of flame from the 'Mech. LRMs. Gupta's AMS systems were otherwise engaged with a different volley. Eva ducked her machine slightly and twisted, trying to cover the existing wounds in her armor. The missile crashed against her, six out of ten striking home. Warheads sent more of the armor protecting her machine into the snowy ground as blackened chips of metal.

The cold helped with her heat levels, naturally drawing off the accumulated heat through conduction into the colder atmosphere. She took careful aim and triggered the extended range large pulse laser on her 'Mech's torso. The sapphire bolts mostly hit air from the enemy Shrike adjusting.

Her crosshairs were adjusting too. She stroked the PPC and regular large laser next, and this time she struck home. Both weapons impacted and sloughed armor from the torso of the machine.

It lifted into the air on jets of fusion plasma, bearing down on Eva's position. She sidestepped, keeping her relative position but not breaking the solid line that 1st and 3rd Battalion formed to keep the enemy from the camp. Rather than try to hit the fast-moving aerial target she waited until the Shrike hit the ground before she yet again triggered everything.

Yet she still missed as the Shrike dropped low and to the side, the pilot using the momentum of their landing to do so quickly, causing only glancing hits on the wind and shoulder that did no damage. Eva cursed, and it was all she had time to do before the left arm of the Shrike snapped up and it, in turned, fired everything.

The PPCs played over her central torso again, both striking home. Her armor disintegrated under the particle fire, which had enough fury left to break through into her internals. The lasers played over the armor on her shoulder, again obliterating the Sunhawk patch on the 'Mech's left chest, and exacerbated the damage she'd suffered in thef irst strike.

Eva felt the 'Mech's feet slip. Her gyro was hit, and with so much armor and structure destroyed, the 'Mech's mass was wildly unbalanced. The damaged gyro caused her to overcompensate to her right. She couldn't stop the entire machine from tipping over into the snow. The impact hurt, rattling her about in her command couch and leaving her topped over on her right, the same with her machine. The indicators on her damage display turned red all over the torso, showing complete armor loss; her engine core was likewise exposed.

The Shrike stood up, overheated for the moment, but with its wings visibly radiating heat into the atmosphere on her thermoscan display, it would be ready to fire shortly. She pressed her right arm into the snow, hoping it wouldn't do anything to the PPC, and used it to raise her 'Mech. With her crosshairs solidly on the wounds she'd already carved into the enemy machine, she pressed the triggers.

This time she hit. The large lasers' sapphire light melted more armor away, and the emerald lances of her medium lasers cut into the missile launcher on the enemy machine. She hoped to see the fireball of an ammo explosion, but all she got was the much smaller sparking and smoke of a blasted launching system.

The enemy Shrike's left arm leveled and fired. Twin PPC bolts sizzled through the air and into her Paladin's right arm, flaying the armor away. Exposed myomer smoked and snapped. The arm didn't come away, as the structural bone was intact, but the lost myomer meant she lost movement power. The arm couldn't support the weight of her 'Mech's upper body anymore. The arm failed and her 'Mech fell back over.

She squeezed all of her triggers again. The large lasers hadn't finished recharging their capacitors, though, and only the mediums fired. Emerald light played over the damaged armor of the enemy 'Mech.

Nothing happened.

The Shrike's shoulder-mounted lasers fired. Twin sapphire lances struck below her cockpit again. Warning klaxons sounded and, after just a second, her 'Mech's systems died. She could only watch the brief spurt of fusion plasma from her ruined machine before the engine's safeties kicked in and cut off the fuel in the exposed fusion vessel.

She'd been defeated. And she was utterly helpless.

Through her cockpit window, she watched the Shrike's left arm point at her.

She was about to die. Here, on this cold world, far from home, far from anyone who'd loved her. She couldn't hold back the tears.

The man-made lightning she expected to flash-fry her into ash never struck home. A looming 'Mech moved between them, half its hip myomer exposed from damage, but visibly the leg of a Paladin.

Thanks to her cockpit's backup battery power, her radio crackled to life. "Stay put! Don't dismount or ye'll never make it!" Kevin's voice had an air of desperation. "Dammit just stay put, Bravo Two, we'll cover ye!"

Since the battery couldn't power anything but radio and life support, she couldn't see what else happened. Just more flashes of energy, more shells bursting across the snow, or lasers vaporizing the snow into steam as they cut through. Occasional raining of snapped and burnt metal landed in view.

And then… the roar of DropShip engines. Even more light and fire from above. A deep booming voice crackled over the radio. "Well fought, Sunhawks. Now we shall drive these dezgra back together."

They'd done it. The Wolves were landing.

Several more moments passed before she heard Kevin's voice again. "These must be the Golden Keshik fellows we met at The Hound. Damned sight for sore eyes, they are. We've got medtechs comin' to check ye out, Bravo Two, just hold tight a wee bit longer so we can see these bastards off."

She had no intention of defying him on that. She curled up in her command couch, pushed away the receiver on her neurohelmet's radio set, and felt the pent up terror finally gush forth in the deep, racking sobs that came from her throat.

The Light's Hammer set down outside the camp amid the growing number of field base structures the work crews were erecting. After the 'Mechs deployed to take up their defensive positions, Bridger rode out of the vehicle bay with Evan in the Kell Hound commander's personal transport. They drove into the camp. The Sinclair's guns thundered over their heads, the deployed Long Tom cannons on the great egg-shaped ship's nose undoubtedly supporting the Hound and Wolf forces pushing the Falcons back from the perimeter. A more distant thunder echoed; the Penton's cannons were likewise engaged.

"Well, all told, bit of a mixed bag on the news front," Evan said from the seat beside Bridger. They were in cold weather BDUs, with white color the predominant feature. "Lost some people in the camp to the artillery, but only some. A lot of survivors, and in worse shape than the ones on Great X. Surgeons will be busy for a while."

"We're just lucky we kept them guessing so they didn't start shelling the place before we arrived." The vehicle stopped with the Kell Hound driver having to give way for a 'Mech recovery vehicle. A cored Paladin 'Mech was on the bed. Going to need a full engine replacement, Bridger figured from the damage visible on the sky-blue machine. "Given they kept those assault formations so close I can't help but feel we were anticipated."

"Probably; they’ll have heard about Great X by. Though, hell, Patrik probably threw ‘em off. There’s history here for the Wolves, y'see. This is where they fought their first action in exile against the Falcons, along with the Hounds and some other Lyran troops. Sent them all packing and avenged all their fallen comrades in the Refusal War; Falcons might’ve figured on looking at a rematch."

Bridger nodded as a quiet reply. The recovery vehicle moved on and their driver kept them going.

"Colonel Kell. General Bridger." The voice was Brigadier Laguna's. "You might want to join us on the southeast side of the camp."

The tone of her voice was dreadful. Evan snapped the order and the driver obeyed, bringing them around a few of the quonsets and other larger structures towards the open corner of the camp. Soldiers, some in battle armor or Kell Hound BDUs, loitered at the edge of what looked to be a trench. The vehicle stopped nearby and the two commanders emerged into the icy air of Morges. Snow crunched beneath their boots as they walked up to the lip of the trench.

It wasn't a trench. Stretched out before them was a pit covered in black ash and soot and snow all mixed together. Breaks in the darkened surface with more snow mixed in showed where people had walked through, spreading the ash. The scent in the air was chemical, a thick oily smell… and another, fainter one that made Bridger's stomach twist painfully.

A Kell Hound infantryman came up, an object in his hand. "Sir." He raised the blackened piece into view.

Bone. Human bone.

There was a cry from the pit. Another Hound soldier pulled away, as if struck at by something on the ground. All eyes turned toward him, and from him to the object of his fright; a human arm, bare, blue, covered in frostbite and bruising, stiff as a board.

"Bodies," Evan growled. "This was a damn grave pit."

"We're recording everything, sir. The captives told us about it while we were treating them," the infantryman explained. "Anyone they shot or who died from starvation or the cold, they'd just toss them in here, pour in some petrol, and light the match. We're finding bodies now because they never had time to burn the last batch of bodies, just bury them."

Something went snap inside Bridger's heart. He brought up his personal comm, and his words were cold with rage. "I need work crews readied, and let the JAG officers now I'm invoking regulations on field judgements for war crimes. I want the gallows ready by the time we're done."

After a moment Hammersmark's voice came through. "Understood, I—" He cut off abruptly for several seconds before speaking up again. "Sir! Sara Proctor just radioed, she's picked up ships jumping in at the zenith!"

The news jolted Bridger from the cold rage. "Clan?" he guessed. "How many?"

"A 'significant force', sir. That's all they can verify from this range. They had to have jumped in during the fight."

Evan frowned. "Goddammit, they must've already called for reinforcements. Or we're the unluckiest men in the Commonwealth. Hope you weren't plannin’ on buying any lottery tickets, General."

"Keep me appraised, I want to know the moment they detect inbound DropShips. And get Khan Fetladral here, he needs to see this." His eyes looked over the blackened pit of death again. "Everyone does."
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

23 - Veneers

CJFS White Aerie
Zenith Jump Point
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
16 December 3142

The holotank displayed all the information Stephanie Chistu could ever want of the system's inhabited planet. Morges was represented in full detail, with multiple red lights blinking in orbit to reflect the enemy DropShips not yet planet-side. Another pair of red icons, one quite large, reflected the Arcadian WarShip and accompanying DropShips at the pirate point near Morges. The ship's IFF squawk allowed the holotank to display it as "AFS SARA PROCTOR".

Arrayed over this was a holographic image from the planet. Star Colonel Jason Icaza had a Chistu bloodline, or so Stephanie was sure, though this did not please her given his choice of the black jumpsuit of a committed Mongol. The same jumpsuit was found around her in several cases, representing a few of the White Aerie's command officers and her Cluster commanders, led by Star Colonel Isaac Roshak of the 9th Talon. I am very much surrounded by foes.

"The Wolf traitors and their Kell Hound lords are fully deployed. The Eighth Falcon Regulars did inflict losses on these 'Arcadians' before they were forced back, but we have taken no prisoners from them yet. If you join our forces victory will be ours, of that I am confident!"

Stephanie pondered that idea for several seconds before shaking her head. "Neg, Star Colonel Icaza. Delta Galaxy seeks a greater prize, and the delay might cost us the greater victory. Do what you can to hold the invaders in place."

"The enemy is here, we should destroy them!" Isaac growled.

"They could withdraw and jump out before we arrived," Stephanie said firmly. "They will report back our movement, and the enemy may realize our actual target and reinforce it. We must make for Timkovichi, and immediately." Her head turned towards Star Admiral Giselle Crichell who, thank the Founders, was not wearing black. "Star Admiral, all of our ships have their lithium batteries charged, quiaff?"

"Aff, Galaxy Commander."

"Then we should charge cores from them and jump immediately. We have lost the element of surprise, we must make up for that with swiftness."

"The enemy is right here!" Isaac protested. "If we have a chance to intercept them, through an in-system jump—"

"An in-system jump? Into a pirate point? It could be done, aff, but the enemy can still retreat faster than we can recharge cores off of our batteries." She faced Star Admiral Crichell again. "Or can we jump before they can return to their ships?"

"It would be close, Galaxy Commander. Given the distance, likely not, if they employ a higher burn than 1G of thrust. At best we would jump in just as they were attaching to jump out, and might get a few shots."

"As I thought. And then we would have to recharge, and our arrival at Timkovichi would be delayed." Stephanie's eyes focused once more on Isaac. "The Clan Council gave us a greater mission, and I will fulfill it."

"You mean that the saKhan gave you the mission to promote your candidacy as successor to the Chingis Khan! That is what this is about!"

It was true, of course, anyone with a Bloodname standing in the room knew it was. They'd been there for the Clan Council meetings. Stephanie didn't let the accusation goad her. "Let me get this straight, Star Colonel. Instead of pressing on to claim the system where Khan Malvina fell, and to avenge her defeat on that planet, you wish to throw it all aside to hunt a raiding force? To chase bandits?"

His nostrils flared and every eye in the room widened. She'd chosen the wording well; no Clan warrior with a smidge of ambition, surely not a Mongol warrior, wanted to waste time hunting bandits, and even if it was a creative interpretation of the enemy force that hit Morges, the very fact they were merely raiding made the point clear. They would be going after the weaker foe, not the greater prize.

If he does not accept I may have to face him in a Circle of Equals out here, in the void. Given that it was a similar fight that brought Malvina Hazen to the Khanship, the irony was not lost on her. Assuming the Mongols still have enough honor to respect the Trial at least.

"Neg, Galaxy Commander," Isaac finally conceded. "My blood burns to avenge the Chingis Khan."

"Good. That is precisely what I intend to do." With that she turned her attention back to Star Colonel Icaza. "Prepare your troops, Star Colonel. Try to hold the enemy on-planet, but if they withdraw, you will detach your frontline Clusters to travel to Timkovichi. We will need your forces."

"Aff, Galaxy Commander." The image disappeared.

I am taking a great risk, she thought. Delta Galaxy would be dangerously unwieldly with this many Clusters. But if the enemy escaped — and she suspected they would — the reported forces would undoubtedly make for Timkovichi as well. She would need the extra forces in that eventuality, the better to be able to overwhelm and break the Arcadians before they could send sufficient reinforcements in.

The freed bondsmen camp was a hive of activity. DropShips arrayed in and around the facility were bringing aboard men and material as quickly as they could, in whatever space could be managed.

Rank had its privileges, so it was aboard the Golden Keshik command DropShip, the Blood Fang, that Khan Fetladral and General Bridger met with the other senior commanders and staff officers. "So far there's been no separation, but we expected that," Hammersmark reported for their benefit.

"Aff. The Falcons are more likely to jump in-system. They are probably charging their cores from the LF batteries as we speak," Khan Patrik said in his customary rumble.

"I guess they'd risk a pirate jump for the same reason we did," Evan noted. "Not as much a risk in Morges anyways."

"So we only have a few hours. That means a return burn at high G." Laguna shook her head. "My surgeons made it clear that's going to be fatal for some of these people. They don't have the stamina."

"Better than leavin' them to the Falcons," Evan said. "At least they'll get a last meal of sorts, and die free."

"Agreed. That leaves their surviving guards." Those present could see the cold fury building back up behind Bridger's eyes. "No time for a proper field hearing, or to put them on the gallows. Firing squad it is."

"Pardon me sir, but that would be a war crime too."

The voice was a new one in the deliberations. The officer in question was a dark-skinned man who wore a Striker Corps beret with the Sunhawk insignia, and the three bar-with-hawk rank of a Major. The open book and pen of a JAG officer was prominent where the others primarily had MechWarrior pins. The uniform name tag read "Robinette".

The coolness in Bridger's tone would have made any sane man's blood feel like ice. "Excuse me, Major?"

"Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the regulations for detecting and prosecuting active war crimes in progress, you still need the field court to process the accused and deliver proof of their guilt," Major Robinette answered. "I'm aware that we have all the proof we need, but it has to be a formal finding for the executions to be legal. Otherwise it's a crime under the UCMJ and the Ares Conventions."

Evan couldn't help but grin at Major Robinette's stones, given the cold glare from Bridger and the rather hotter, disbelieving glare from Patrik. "We don't have time for field courts, Major," Bridger said firmly. "And bringing them with us in these circumstances creates a sabotage risk, even if we had the room."

"I understand sir, I'm just doing my job here. Military law is clear on the matter, sir."

Bridger's eyes turned to Laguna, who sighed. She'd been the one to bring the Major since he was visibly on her staff. "He's right, sir," she said. "I won't complain if you do it anyway, and I doubt Major Robinette would, but it'd not even have the fig leaf of military justice. You'd be killing prisoners of war."

"My Wolves can deal with them in Trials of Grievance, then," Patrik said.

"Our troops took them captive, that means they're our responsibility," said Laguna. "Legally and ethically."

"Are you telling me I have to let those Goddamned murderers go?!" Bridger shouted.

Robinette shook his head. "We could still bring them. Or, there is an alternative that meets the standards."

"Enlighten me, Major."

The harshness of Bridger's tone didn't faze the younger man. "If we can't bring them, and we can't have field hearings to determine guilt, letting them go's the only remaining legal option." A very small, almost vicious grin came to the military lawyer's face. "But there's nothing in the law that says we have to let them go with any of their gear. Custom is rations of food and water and a survival pack for extreme climates, but that's not required. Depending how long the enemy will take to get back here, and the weather out there with night falling…" He let the sentence trail off.

Laguna picked up the obvious conclusion. "I'm not sure they'll last long enough for the other Falcons to get back. Not with the buildings gutted by all that artillery."

Evan laughed heartily. "Mind if I see to it?"

No one did.

Snow crunched under Evan Kell’s boots and the boots of his escorts - a squad from his Hounds, in hulking sets of Grenadier armour; just in case the prisoners decided to get bolshy - as he headed for the POW cages

The hard-faced Arcadian infantry guarding the few-score Falcon prisoners they’d taken must’ve been told he was coming, as they stood aside. Some of the prisoners shot Evan sullen looks of resentment, others flashes of pure rage, as he stood before them, one hand resting on the grip of his sidearm.

“Which one of you bastards is in charge?” Evan asked, in his best parade ground roar. There were mutterings and quiet arguments before one of the Falcons pushed to the front. Evan gave him a quick looking over; young, well-built, and carrying himself with the brash arrogance that seemed as much a part of the “Mongol” attitude as the black leather they insisted on. Red hair - that meant an Icaza, most likely; redheads didn’t show up much in the other Falcon warrior gene-lines. One of the Grenadiers motioned him to a stop six feet away; no point risking a berzerker attack.

“I am Star Captain Erik, I am in charge,” the Falcon officer spoke, arrogance still thick in his voice.

“Alright then, boy.” Evan drew his pistol. “I’m assuming you know who I am?” That got a quiet, sullen, “Aff”. “Well then, y’all are free to go.”

Star Captain Erik frowned at that, evidently trying to consider the angles. “Free, Colonel? Not isorla?”

“Free and clear,” Evan gestured with his sidearm out to the east, across the vast fields of ice and snow beyond. “Now get.”

“But,” Erik faltered for a moment, evidently trying to grasp exactly what he was being told, and able to read the implications well enough. “We have no supplies, no survival gear, no—”

“Oh dear. How sad. Never mind,” Evan responded coldly, quietly thanking the scar that made most of his overt smiles into sneers as the Falcon officer flinched. “I’d get going if I were you, boy,” he let enough anger into his voice that it cracked like a whip, “You might survive the ice. You won’t survive me if you’re still here in the next five minutes.”

“We will die!”

“My people have a saying, Star Captain. As a man soweth, that also shall he reap.” A gesture brought the Grenadiers forward, lasers and SRM racks armed and ready. “March.”

Bridger made his return to the Sinclair as the final lances pulled back onto the DropShips. Outside of the hangar the night sky lit up from time to time with the explosions of artillery shells or missile fire. Their Wild Weasel gunships, and the artillery cannons on the Sinclair and Penton, were keeping Falcon forces penned down at the edge of the LZ. Aerospace fighter squadrons were likewise in the air, keeping the orbital route clear.

Brigadier Laguna walked up beside him. "We're just a few minutes from liftoff."

"Good. The sooner we get going, the less likely we leave someone behind."

"Doctor Mueller's made it clear he wants you in a crash couch, sir." She gestured away from the bay door and toward an internal lift.

"Right." Bridger watched an explosion flower in the dark before turning away. "No one left behind?"

"All destroyed pods accounted for, all lost pilots accounted for," she said. "I can't guarantee we won't lose anyone on the way out. But we put a real dent in their aerospace forces on the way in and their remaining forces are spent, I'd guess."

They stepped into the lift. The motors hummed and up they went, towards the interior decks of the spheroid. "You think maybe we should've left them survival gear?" Bridger asked Laguna. "You brought your JAG officer for a reason, even if it was his idea to let them go without."

"Major Robinette's legal advice was sound. Ethically?" She shrugged. "Maybe we're supposed to be better than them."

"Maybe. But some things… you can't ignore."

"War's always been bad for these kinds of things. Some get to enjoying the killing, unfortunately. I just don't want us to become that too."

"We keep that from happening by keeping the laws of war," said Bridger. The lift doors opened and they stepped out onto the command deck at the heart of the ship. The corridors ahead led to the various offices and to the main command chamber for coordinating forces, and where their crash couches would be waiting. "The Falcons threw those laws aside. Threw away the veneer of civility that controls the bloodshed. Once you do that, well, it has to be answered for. Otherwise there's no reason not to keep on doing it."

She nodded quietly. "I suppose. I just don't like the thought of becoming just as inhuman as the enemy."

"That's the thing, Brigadier." Bridger sighed. "As much as we like to call it that, what they do, what any folks can do? It's all too human. Broken, but still human."

Dr. Nancy Corey Memorial Hospital
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
Royal Federation

In the trial that Malvina Hazen's existence had become, the daily sessions of Commander John were particularly frustrating. All of his questions. All his prodding. All of the talk.

And yet it was the one time of the day she oddly looked forward to. It was a chance to actually do something, to be more than a helpless cripple trapped in a bed, forbidden from killing herself or from being killed. She might find the actions mystifying or aggravating, but at least they were actions, at least she was doing something.

Today he wore the red and blue uniform with a white coat over it, the name "Dr. John Albright" written on it in formal, cursive lettering, not a mention of his rank. He had a noteputer in his hands, his fingers occasionally tapping at the screen, while a recorder sat on the hospital tray to her side. The day's session began with a perfunctory inquiry into her health and her usually-perfunctory grunt of dissatisfaction with her condition.

"So. Mongols." Commander John rested his hands in his lap with his tablet. "I've researched them. A ferocious culture with a history of military excellence during their prime. I imagine that appealed to many of your warriors."

"They were swift. They struck with no restraint and brought low any who dared to challenge them. We had much to learn from them," Malvina said.

"Yet their empire did not last, not even as long as the British, or the Roman. The Chinese eventually assimilated the Mongols who ruled them." Tap tap tap. "And they were successfully challenged. The Mamelukes. The Japanese. The Muscovites."

Malvina snarled. "What of it? Warriors die, warriors lose. Their example was still fitting for us. You Spheroids have numbers, we do not, so our ways must adjust."

"According to everything I've read, your way of warfare was supposed to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage. You don't. You go out of your way to inflict civilian deaths, from what I've seen."

She felt her desire to kill Commander John rise, though she had no means to do the deed. That I have to lie here and be questioned by this fool. Hunter or no, I wish this over.

"Those who resist are a threat. There is only one way to remove threats; death. The dead cannot hurt you."

"Which is why you killed so many of your sibkin over the years? They were a threat to you and to Aleks."

"I have told you this," she hissed.

"Yes, I was just clarifying things. The link is important." Tap tap tap. She loathed that tapping. "So this approach serves you well?"

"It does. Worlds fall to us like ripe fruits ready to be plucked. My warriors know only victory. Our conquest of the Lyrans will finally be complete, and then Terra, and we shall be ilClan. I—"

At that point her voice failed. Even as she said the words they turned bitter, bitter until nothing else would come from her throat. All of those conquests, all of everything, and for her, it was for nothing. She would get no glory. She would never be ilKhan.

She should be happy with the idea of her Clan prevailing, but it wasn't there. She felt no happiness.

There was more of that annoying tapping from Commander John's lap. "You don't really care about your Clan, do you?" he asked. "Deep down. Oh, you were part of it, but they weren't real to you. How could they be, given everything they did to try and kill you when you were young?"

Malvina scowled. But any response died in her throat. His words pierced her like a gauss round through armor. She searched for the feeling of pride in her Clan and felt nothing, just the echo of what she'd made herself believe. Hollow rote from her days in the sibko.

"So what was it all for? If not for your Clan?"

"Aleks," she blurted out. It was the first thing to come to her mind. "We had to live. Survive."

"Aleks. The sibkin you grew up with." A thoughtful look crossed the other man's face. Malvina hated it when he got that look. It was the expression of a hunter who'd just tracked down another sign of his prey. "The only one who cared whether you lived or died."

"We were the weakest. The smallest. We had to work together to survive."

"And you both made it. You passed your… Trial of Position, was it? Became warriors. Even got assigned together I imagine?"

"We are—" Her throat caught on the word. "We were very good MechWarriors. A prize for the frontline galaxies."

"Right. Did you talk to Aleks about this? About your 'Mongol' ideas?"

“I did. We,” Malvina paused, trying to frame her words correctly - and suppress the pain of memory of the one soul she had never needed to fear, “argued of it, often; in private and in Trial. He felt that a warrior’s strength must only be used under the strictures of zellbrigen, that we were a support, a shield, to those of the lower castes, and that they must be accorded proper,” she paused again, searching for the correct word, just as she once had the right weapon on Black Rose for a given target, “consideration for their efforts. He fought many Trials over that, against warriors who bid poorly, mistook his compassion for weakness in battle.” Those memories brought forth a smile, at the reflection of glory. “Aleks ensured that they lived to become wiser; as was his rede. Even did so with Elementals, Unaugmented. You grasp what this means, quiaff?” A nod at that, and Malvina continued. “Only I could ever best him in Trial, and that I did, every time we faced one another.” Except once; Skye. The one time I truly wanted to best Aleks, and I could not.

She didn't like the penetrating gaze in John's eyes. "You fought him on multiple occasions, then, and always let him live. The only person you ever spared, I imagine? And he never managed to beat you?"

The pain pulsed from her heart without warning. Everything from Skye flooded back. Everything. And even here and now, a prisoner, a cripple… that day on Skye was still the worst day of her life.

"Aleks is gone, isn't he? He died, and left you alone, and there was no one left for you," John said. "Only yourself. And without him—"

"Do not speak of him again!" Malvina shrieked. She closed her eyes to fight back the welling she felt within them. She didn't dare let any of that weakness show.

Silence filled the room for many seconds afterward. Then it returned. Tap tap tap tap. Tapping. The damned tapping. He was recording this, as if… as if it were some point of interesting data, not the anguish that festered inside of her ever since that day on Skye.

"You gained power afterward. And committed yourself to the Mongol Doctrine," John said, his tone soft, not in the reassuring way, but in a quiet, dispassionate way that simply stoked her fury all the more. "In the end, even his memory didn't stop you. You became the, what was it again? The 'Chingis Khan'? Was it because it was all you had left? Your own survival. Or because Aleks survived through you, and you couldn't let that be threatened?"

"Get out." The words were hot with pain as they came from her throat. "Leave me!"

Silence again. And then… tap tap tap.

"Stop that!" she shrieked, all while the wetness flowed down the sides of her face. "Stop it! Go away and leave me, or give me my death, but do not tap that damned machine again!"

The tapping stopped. "We're done for the day, I see. Enjoy your dinner."

There were footsteps and the closing of the door.

The Chingis Khan broke down into anguished sobs.

Aleks. She couldn't keep his face from her mind. And she couldn't keep back the hurt that just poured forth, because here and now, with no Clan, no battle, no glory or honors or even just an enemy to slay, with the veneer of her cause stripped away from her… it was all she had left.
”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.

User avatar
White Mage
White Mage
Posts: 21609
Joined: 2003-02-12 10:59pm

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

Post by LadyTevar »

The Paladin isn't the only thing cored. Eva needs to be removed from duty. Her PTSD is going to get others killed.
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
User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

LadyTevar wrote: 2022-05-03 08:46pm The Paladin isn't the only thing cored. Eva needs to be removed from duty. Her PTSD is going to get others killed.
As someone else said, someone who's had military service, her morale is going to be in the shitter given she's lost one company CO and two lance COs plus another lancemate in three battles so far, plus having this happen.

I am still exploring a few possibilities with her, I didn't want a stereotypical mil-SF bit where she just sucks it up and becomes a badass.

Anyway, next chapter momentarily.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

24 - Fog of War

AFS Charles Sinclair
Pirate Jump Point, Morges System
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
16 December 3142

The tension in the command chamber of the Sinclair was thick even after the intense 2.5 G burn ended. Bridger restrained the sigh of relief that ended the pressure that taxed him through the burn, making his chest hurt and his limbs ache even in the crash couch. Now micro-gravity reclaimed them while, through the ship, a thunk signaled their attachment to the JumpShip Hawk's Gleam.

"Half the ships are attached," reported Colonel Martinez from up in the ship's main command center, where the crew of the Sinclair was overseeing that process. "Estimate five minutes before attachments complete."

"Any new status of the Falcon arrivals?" Bridger asked

"They have not moved. If they are preparing for an in-system jump on LF batteries, they've yet to finish the changeover from the main sails." Martinez's voice was deceptively calm, knowing that any moment the Falcons might try an in-system jump. The usual pre-emergence signature would give them some warning time, at least, but given the distance, not a lot, not nearly enough. We'd have to leave people behind. And the Falcons won't show mercy.

"Kell Hounds completing attachment," Evan's voice crackled over the comm. "And might I say, General, that I am greatly pleased we took up your offer for running with your ships. Even with Ol' Vandermeer's training still part of the fleet, I doubt we'd have a safe charge done in a conventional system. Mighty useful to have LF batteries on transports."

Bridger chuckled. "Don't get used to it. I had to haggle with Admiral Marik and Archduke Ethan to get every battery-supported military transport JumpShip in the Arc-Royal March for this 'fishing expedition' of ours, plus a couple from Donegal March. They'll be wanting them back soon enough."

Evan's laugh brought some levity in these final tense minutes. Martinez gave occasional updates to their attachment status. Bridger prayed that the rest would make it, that the Falcons would be slower, and as the number crept towards 100%, hope and dread alike rose on whether they'd make it.

"All ships attached!" Martinez called out. "Hawk's Gleam signaling imminent jump!"

It took another ten seconds, but no emergence signatures were called out before the klaxon warned Bridger and the whole crew that the jump was underway. At the end of the countdown the universe blanked out around him. The shock of nausea that was the trademark of cutting across the long dark in an eyeblink faded as light returned to his vision.

His eyes went to the holotank and the fleet. One by one, they arrived. His stomach remained twisted, waiting to see if one would fail, if there'd be a misjump from trying to jump out of a pirate point - even with their astrogation computers this wasn't impossible - or if the Falcons might have jumped in and caught a straggler.

After one of the longest minutes of his life, Bridger saw the last ship appear. They were all intact.

"Fleet has completed jump." There was relief in Martinez's voice. "All ships accounted for. No blown seals reported, no casualties. We've safely arrived in the A Place system."

Thank you Lord. Now we don't have to leave someone behind or lose time raiding the Falcons for parts.

The Falcons on A Place couldn't help but see them, even if their destination was the nadir point and rather far afield from the central area of the jump point. But without black boxes or HPGs, the local troops wouldn't be able to inform that fleet of where they were unless a JumpShip went to Morges, and that assumed they knew the Falcon fleet was there.

He triggered a comm line to the Sara Proctor and Captain Winters. "Any sign of JumpShips?" he asked, just in case.

"None on this side. Could be some on the zenith, if they're in the solar shadow, but no emissions yet."

"I'll leave it in your hands, Captain." He re-opened the open line between his ship, Evan's, Patrik's, and Colonel Ward. "Looks like we didn't lose anyone."

"Aff. We were fortunate there. Though now that we are not threatened with a superior force, I wonder of the Falcons' intentions." Patrik's voice rumbled with concern. "It is unlikely they knew we would target Morges next over the other potential worlds to strike, as they would have had forces ready for our approach. And no Falcon ship departed the Morges system during the attack. The fleet was already coming through Morges. Presumably towards another target."

"Arc-Royal?" proposed Colonel Ward. "Your grudge, plus the planet's central role in local defense, makes it a target."

"Perhaps. Though there is another target as inviting, especially with the Falcons having a new Khan to elect."

Bridger recognized what he was implying. "You think they're on the way to Timkovichi?"

"It would explain the commitment of most of their remaining WarShip force. My naval commanders have identified the White Aerie and one of her sister battlecruisers among the images taken of the Falcon fleet. They came prepared for a major battle in the void."

"Damn. We need to get on the black boxes, warn Nadia and the others," Evan urged.

"Precisely my plan, Colonel, and meanwhile, we get recharged and make our way back, best speed." Bridger sighed wearily. The dispositions aren't good for taking out two battlecruisers immediately, neither of our fleets still on station have anything big enough to force the Glass. If they go for Timkovichi… General Khan's in for a tough fight.

"They will butcher that world in revenge, should the commander be a Mongol," Patrik warned. "Their dishonor and dezgra behavior knows no limit."

"We'll get back as soon as we can. In the meantime, we rest our people, and wait to hear word." In the end, it was all Bridger could suggest, as much as it rankled. To think we jumped in the wrong direction, too busy trying to avoid the Falcons and not thinking where they might be going. Should've thought more about it… chalk up another wrong call to the fog of war.

The jump nausea lingered for Eva in the confines of her bunk. It was the one place she'd felt comfortable dealing with the high-Gs of their burn out from Morges. At least, as comfortable as she could given the mortal dread still clinging to her, even now, as the threat to her life faded with every second.

The bunk over from hers stirred. Kevin's eyes met hers. "We made it out of there, at least," he said. "And I ken the techs should have more than enough parts to fix your 'Mech right up. Wouldn't be surprised if they've got 375 iXLs stocked away for just that kind of damage."

"It's delaying the inevitable at this rate," she said weakly, eyes not quite meeting his. They were focused on the future, or rather the future she was conceiving, a future where a PPC shot would land on target and she would be gone in a flash of excited particles. Burnt to a cinder, from living to dead in the blink of an eye. "Norton's gone. I almost bought it."

"Aye, th' Falcons are a right nasty enemy to fight," Kevin agreed. "But ye're still here. Still breathin'. That's a victory."

"It won't last." She turned in the bunk, not able to stand meeting his eyes. Not knowing he must see the fear that still rippled inside of her. The desire to turn back time and undo the last half decade of her life. If he saw that he'd lose heart too, at least when it came to her, and the others might hear of it.

Why should I care? a part of her thought. They'll end up dead at some point anyway.

The really sickening thing was thinking back to the pub in Old Connaught. All of those Kell Hound and Wolf pilots who treated her like a hero when she'd never done a thing to deserve it.

"Eva." His voice was a little louder this time. She turned in the bunk to see him floating towards her in the zero-G. "Don't fret what happened. Even the best can get overwhelmed by a stronger machine." He gripped one of the support cords holding her bunk tightly to the wall to stop himself. His expression was full of understanding and friendliness. It was reassuring, and yet, it was not what she wanted to see. "Ye did yer duty, kept yer place, and helped keep the line intact. That's all anyone can rightly ask of ye."

"I know," she murmured. "I just… My 'Mech got cored, and I keep looking back, wondering what I did wrong, what I could have done to stay in the fight longer, to beat my enemy. Captain Kincaid died saving me, and what good does that do anyone if I end up having to be saved every time instead of carrying my weight?"

"It's not why the Captain came to help ye. It was her job. Just as it was Lieutenant von Krager's, and Lieutenant Norton's, and now, it's mine. So ye listen to me, Eva." While one arm held the cord and arrested all the inertia he'd built moving over to her, the other extended down and settled a hand on her uniformed shoulder. "Don't let this bring ye down. Ye walked out of that fight. Ye can walk out of the next, and ye're quite the MechWarrior besides. All the action we've seen so far, and against enemies like this, and ye've got four victories to yer name already. And only one loss? There are generals today who came out of the war with half as good a record. Just keep an eye on that, and ye'll do everyone proud."

She didn't reply, not right away, not until she sensed he wouldn't move until she did. "Alright," she replied. "You're right."

"I've got to be right sometimes," he said, and she looked at him long enough to see him grin. "After all, I'm the Lance Loo now. They're always supposed to be right, especially when they're not!"

Eva allowed a small grin to form on her face and joined him in the laugh. Even if she didn't quite feel it in her heart, it felt right to give him that much.

Plus his joke was sort of funny.

CJFS White Aerie
Zenith Jump Point
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone

Without HPGs to provide for faster communications, the escape of the raiding units was not known until the flashes of light from their jumps registered on White Aerie and her accompanying fleet, minutes after their departure.

There was little emotion on Galaxy Commander Chistu's face at the escape. Isaac noted this with intense frustration, and it reinforced his intention to eventually challenge her for the command. Once revenge for the Chingis Khan was achieved.

The core of his frustration was in how Chistu seemed so utterly opposed to the glorious genius of the Chingis Khan's ways. It was the kind of genius the Clan needed, an end to all the ridiculous bidding, and limited warfare, that did nothing but let the Inner Sphere employ trickery and numbers to overwhelm superior trueborn warriors. It was the path to ultimate victory for the Falcons. Victory over the Lyrans, over the Bears, over the Wolves, and over the mockery of the Republic that dared to imagine it could replace the Clans and the Star League.

And to succeed, this path required one simple, brutal truth to be enforced: everyone who opposes the Falcons must die.

Yet now he had to watch, without protest, as these Inner Sphere bandits fled from the deaths that were rightfully theirs. Adding salt to the wound were the battleROM images showing on secondary screens, the most recent broadcasts to arrive from Morges. Their enemies weren't just any enemy forces, but those with the sky blue machines bearing the fiery sunhawk; those who had slain the Chingis Khan by surprise.

He wished his hate could reach across the void and burn each and every one of the "Sunhawks" to ash, but the universe was clearly not cooperating.

Star Admiral Crichell stepped up to Galaxy Commander Chistu. "All ships report that the change-over and recharge are complete. We are ready to make the next jump for Timkovichi."

"Good. See to it." Galaxy Commander Chistu turned to face Isaac and his fellow commanders. "You are relieved for the moment. See that your warriors are ready for our accelerated time table. We will arrive at the target earlier than expected."

She was answered by salutes and stiff-backed departures. Issac stood his ground for the moment, though he did give the proper salute, if for form's sake.

Chistu seemed to note that. "Star Colonel, you have something to say?"

"Your ambition to be Khan will be fruitless if you do not embrace the Mongol Doctrine," he said. "It is the path to victory, the only path. We will never go back to the shackles of the traditions that kept us weak."

He noted her eyes flare at that with satisfaction. "Those traditions made us what we are, Star Colonel. They made us the greatest warriors Mankind has to offer. Without the traditions of our Clan, handed down to us by Elisabeth Hazen and Nicholas Kerensky, we are nothing."

"We are warriors. We fight and we kill those who dare to stand against us. That is all we need." Isaac sneered at her. "Reliance on tradition is a sign of weakness."

Her eyes now threatened to bore into him, though he refused to feel any intimidation. "You will watch what you say, Star Colonel, for I will not brook disrespect. If you wish to challenge me, we can go to our 'Mechs now, and I will leave your broken corpse to drift in the void."

"I am not challenging you. Yet." The sneer became a smile. "Unless you wish to challenge me, I believe this conversation is over." He said this confident in the knowledge she would not dare challenge him. Not only did she (rightfully) have reason to fear defeat and death, but even if she won, his fellow Mongols would only resent her all the more, and the 9th Talon would be even less-inclined to obey.

"So it is. You are dismissed, Star Colonel."

Just another coward. He turned his back and walked away, taunting her with his knowledge she would never dare plant a knife in it.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

25 - Brotherhood

Federation Broadcasting Corporation Studios
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
23 December 3142

In the two months since she traversed the Looking Glass, Trillian was seeing more and more the parallels that her home Inner Sphere and this alternate Inner Sphere shared. Language, culture, ideology.


The interview studio was a pleasant room, with fine furnishings that included velvet-backed chairs and even a window looking out at the Roslyn skyline. The producers at the Federation Broadcasting Corporation clearly had an image they wanted to convey when this room was employed. Whether that would be to the benefit of Trillian had yet to be determined.

Her interviewer was already known to her given her research on Arcadian politics and society on the trip from the Glass. Dorothy Smith was approaching retirement age even by the best Inner Sphere standards, but at eighty six years old she still had enough energy to perform interviews as an investigative journalist. Her reputation was the reason Trillian picked her. "Tough but fair", "incisive", "has integrity", as a number of sources she'd examined claimed.

With her whitened silver hair pulled into a common bun at the back of her head and her clothing a business standard dark blue blouse and long dress of blue and white, she could pass for a wizened grandmother (great-grandmother, according to Trillian's research). Smith wore spectacles to aid her failing eyesight, adding to an image that was already crafted to be disarming. But the mind behind her light brown eyes was as sharp as ever, going by her recent record. Trillian would not have an easy time of it.

While lights were already shining on them, one holocamera lit up yellow at the top, with a projected number count lowering from ten. A second after the number 1 flashed, Smith smiled at the holocams and spoke in a conversational tone. "Greetings and happy holidays, my kind viewers," she said, "and welcome to today's edition of Interstellar Affairs Weekly. For our last edition for the year I am honored to present a historic guest, on a journey that will be covered in history books for centuries to come; the Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion, from the other side of the Atocongo Anomaly, acting as the envoy and representative of the Lyran Commonwealth's Archon Melissa Steiner. Lady Trillian, a pleasure to have you."

Smith's eyes turned to her. Trillian, knowing how important her presentation would be for her mission, sat comfortably in the chair, spine straight but arms relaxed. She would not slouch, but neither would she be too formal. In that way she resembled her hostess' own posture in the seat across from her. "Thank you, Mrs. Smith," Trillian said. While Smith's accent came from Arcadia's Plymouth Peninsula, a gentle evolution of North American and specifically New England accents, her own was unmistakably German and Tharkadische, even for people of this Inner Sphere. She'd considered trying to thin it out and make it more of a Star League English-style sound, but that might come off as sounding insincere. These people expected her to be not just a Lyran but a Steiner, and that meant sounding the part.

They exchanged pleasantries and the obvious up front questions. Trillian described her mission, gave a broad account of the affairs in her Inner Sphere after Gray Monday struck, and the plight of her people. "We are fighting a war on two fronts, and our military was not fully ready. We cooperated with the Republic's reduced armament program, the Military Material Reclamation Project, but our foes did not."

"The Republic being your Inner Sphere's version of the Terran Union from our own history?"

"Not exactly," Trillian answered. "The Terrans, as you knew them, were direct inheritors of the old Terran Hegemony. The Republic of the Sphere was a new institution, intended to end the conflicts over the Terran Corridor and to be a central power to uphold peace in the Inner Sphere after the horrors of the Blakist Jihad. We trusted Exarch Devlin Stone and his vision for a more peaceful cosmos, and for decades it held, if imperfectly at times." She considered the myriad minor conflicts, or greater ones like the Capellan Crusades and the Victoria War. "Gray Monday brought that dream low, unfortunately."

"I can imagine the collapse of interstellar communication would be just as devastating to our own Inner Sphere," Smith said. "So now you are here to form an alliance with the Federation. What do you feel this would entail?"

"Protection of the Glass, certainly. Open trade between our realms. Military assistance and sharing of technology. I don't deny your Inner Sphere has an edge on our own, but there are some things we've developed you haven't, I've found, and the Lyran Commonwealth would gladly share them."

"But your main need is for direct support, I take it? Economic aid, military supplies, and Federation troops engaging the invader?"

"Yes." Trillian swallowed and gathered her nerves. Her presentation here would help to win the public sympathy she greatly needed to sway the Federation Parliament. "I understand what I'm asking of the peoples of the Federation when I say that. To spend your wealth and your blood to save the Commonwealth. I don't ask this lightly. But the Clan forces we fight are raised from birth to fight, our armies struggle to hold, and our people suffer their brutality on dozens of worlds. We lack the strength to stop them."

"A frank admission, Lady Trillian," Smith nodded. "According to reports the Privy Council has heard your proposals but has not voted conclusively to support the offered treaty. Has it been difficult to sway them?"

Especially since there seems to be a clique dedicated to stopping me, she thought bitterly, though she dared not even whisper at such a thought. "There have been frank discussions about the matter and I am not surprised the Council has yet to accept the treaty. Nor have they rejected it. The deliberations continue."

"And Parliament?"

"I've met with several Senators and Assemblypersons. Their sympathy for the plight of the Lyran Commonwealth has been universal, and I'm grateful to say that the Joint Finance Committee of Parliament already voted in favor of the initial loan I sought, at reasonable terms." Trillian wet her throat again. "I am not so arrogant as to think I speak for their minds and hearts, of course, but I do believe in this alliance. Our peoples may be separated by the different histories, but our desires match well. The Commonwealth and Federation will be made stronger for these efforts."

Smith took a quick drink of her own while the camera was active on Trillian. Now that it was back on her she showed little change, with the same patient and dispassionate forbearance as before. "You speak of the different histories between our sides of the Glass. I imagine you've found our history a shock in some respects?"

"It is sobering, yes. To think of how close we came to the shattering of the Great Houses in our history, and to see the results in your Inner Sphere. But also inspiring, as so many peoples rose above that chaos and brought peace and stability back to their worlds." Trillian carefully moderated the smile on her face, knowing what she was about to say had to be said properly to get the people to accept her sincerity and believe her, not simply dismiss it as her pandering to their pride. "I admit I was quite astounded to read accounts of your ruling house's founder. Sara Proctor was the kind of person who demands admiration for her accomplishments, and the legacy she left to her homeworld. People like her only come once every century or two, it seems."

Her hostess allowed a small smile, but only a small one, to crease her wizened face. "She has been an inspiration to the Arcadian people, and to those who've joined us in this Federation, yes. Are there any in your history you might see in the same light?"

For a moment Trillian considered Devlin Stone, or her late grand-uncle Victor, or Frederick Steiner. But those didn't seem to quite fit. Stone's peace died barely after his retirement, and Victor never had the impact to compare. Frederick Steiner was a political pawn before he broke free to make his own fate. Recognizing she needed an answer, her mind defaulted to an answer closer to her heart. "My cousin, Adam Steiner, maybe," she said. "He was one of the first to take the fight to the Clans, trying to reclaim his ancestral homeworld of Somerset, and during the darkest days of the Federated Commonwealth Civil War and the Jihad, he fought to save as many as he could, until the death of my grandfather forced him to assume the throne."

Smith's eyes betrayed her surprise. Trillian wondered if the director made sure not to show her face at that moment. "An interesting choice, Lady Trillian, since you seem to be endorsing a man without whom you might be Archon right now."

Trillian shook her head. "My grandfather Peter knew what he was doing when he picked Adam to be his successor, and I don't fault him one bit. Adam was one of the best of us. Though even there, I do not know if he would compare to a figure like Sara the Liberator. She rose from humble birth to savior of her homeworld and ruler of an interstellar state in a far more chaotic time than we knew, with far less to her name than even Adam enjoyed. She had to learn everything from diplomacy to strategy to tactics to oppose the likes of Carl Tabot and the others who kept Arcadia in chains, and she won in every field. Even the Terrans of your history, in one of their most isolationist moods, gave her support few ever enjoyed."

Smith nodded and laughed. "It was an accomplishment, yes." The old woman's face shifted to show bemusement. "I suppose that in some way you are in her position here, attempting to get aid for your beleaguered people just as she did."

Trillian was on the verge of taking a drink when the remark was made, which was why she was thankful she didn't take it, lest she choke on it in surprise. "I… well, maybe there's a few similarities, though I wasn't going to make any such claim. For one, I'm not a MechWarrior, nor a military officer at all, so we hardly compare there. I'm just a diplomat and courtier. I don't expect to be fighting the Clans myself, at least not on the battlefield. I probably wouldn't last long if I did get in a fight with any of them."

That prompted a gentle laugh. "Well put, Lady Trillian. I admit I put you on the spot there, but old ladies are, I was once told, allowed a bit of mischief in their lives." Smith grinned at her. "Humility aside, do you see any parallels between the Liberator's visit to Terra and your mission here?"

Trillian wondered if she was being played with. Either way, a thought did spring to mind, given one of the issues she was facing in the Privy Council and Parliament. "I suppose there is the matter of loans, and the repayment. Before and after her war to liberate this world, Sara Proctor contracted loans from many Terran sources, loans that seemed impossible for her to ever repay, even with victory. But she did indeed manage that, leveraging Arcadia's newfound stability and a burst of economic growth to repay the Terran loans within her lifetime. Most were, in fact, repaid before the founding of the Free March, as I recall."

"I admit I would need to ask a historian myself," said Smith, "though I believe that is commonly taught, yes."

Trillian nodded. "I am in something of a similar position, in terms of whether the Lyran Commonwealth will be able to repay our loans given the state of our economy and the damages we've suffered. But we take such matters seriously, and we would repay, as swiftly and completely as our circumstances permit."

"Provided this 'Looking Glass' does not disappear, anyway," said Smith.

Indeed. "I admit I do ask for updates to make sure it is still there," Trillian said. "When the laws of the universe seem to change, I suppose it makes it easy to imagine all sorts of things happening. But I can promise that so long as we remain in contact, repayment would be made, and that should the Federation ever have need of the Lyran Commonwealth's forces, we would come to your aid."

"A bold promise."

"It's one from the bottom of my heart, and will resound across the Commonwealth."

Trillian said the words with conviction. Perhaps there was an air of unrealism in them, but it was not just what had to be said, but what had to be believed. She knew some would balk at such a promise in her own home as well. There were always people like that. But if they did come to our aid, if Donegal Broadcasting had every holovid in the Commonwealth showing Arcadian 'Mechs fighting on our side, throwing the Clans off our worlds, that memory will last, and enough will answer the call to return the favor.

Smith nodded at her. "I believe it is from the heart. Can you tell us more about these 'Clans', in your own words? We are told a number of things about them; that they are genetically-engineered, a warrior culture, that they enslave their prisoners and force them to join their armies."

"All of that is true, in certain respects," Trillian began. "Though there are variations between Clans…"

The interview ended amicably and Lady Trillian, with her civilian police escort, departed the studios. The Royal Security Service had her protection well in hand, using a convoy of vehicles loaded inside the studio garage and out of sight so nobody could tell which of them she was in. It was, perhaps, an unnecessary precaution, but evidently the Arcadian government felt it was better to be safe than sorry. It's not like Vedet could have so easily dispatched an assassin against me, at least not yet. The traffic through the Glass is still military only.

The ride back to the Palace gave her a chance to enjoy the sights of Roslyn's residents preparing for the holidays. As a Christian-majority city, Christmas decorations and signs were plentiful. A large Christmas tree dominated the city's main square, while Christmas wishes and colors were the dominant theme on the massive trivid display that overlooked the square from the north side, built as it was into the towering spire of the Sinclair Building, a commercial highrise that was otherwise just one of many in the city. A gentle frosting of snow covered the streets, Arcadia's Northern Hemisphere being roughly aligned with Terra's, though the winter solstice was still three weeks away. It was the first snow she'd seen since arriving. By Tharkad's standard it was anemic, though the locals seemed to feel otherwise.

When I get back, I may need to take a walk in the Palace Gardens, she thought. Just… enjoy the peace, though perhaps that makes me a hypocrite given I've come to draw these people into a war.

Not that the effort was going very well. Better than she might have hoped, perhaps, but she was getting nowhere with the Privy Council, and Parliament was not interested in revisiting a hard-fought budget decision to fund a wider assistance program. King Nathaniel was doing much, or as much as he could without provoking significant political opposition, Trillian gathered. Though that clique against me is certainly throwing weight against him as well. I need to find out more, if I can, without causing any issues with my hosts.

Not for the first time she felt frustration at the mission, even some undeserved frustrations with her staff. The truth was, the people she'd brought with her from Tharkad were meant for negotiating with Lyran planetary rulers and, at most, maybe mercenary commanders or Republic and FedSun officialdom. A mission to a sovereign power like the Royal Federation, at this scope, typically involved more. Lord Marienburg and his people were performing better than she had any right to expect, but the quantity of material they had to deal with in these negotiations was slowing everything down. And she had no prospect of more support from home, unless by some miracle Melissa reclaimed the Archonship.

The motorcade followed the roadway up through the Royal Park to the reserved entrance, with the great ferro-fibrous-armored gates swinging wide to admit the line of dark vehicles. They pulled up into the vehicle garage. Trillian disembarked as soon as the door opened and followed her escorts to the lift that would raise them from this sublevel to the Palace proper.

She arrived in her rooms to find her aides waiting. One of them, a middle-aged Westerstede-born civil official named Gerda Luther, spoke up. "Lady Trillian, you have a visitor. I saw him into the parlor."

"Thank you." Trillian stepped beyond the receiving room, as cozy as it was, and into the more private parlor that was part of the suite.

The man waiting for her looked to be in his fifties, with close cut hair of dark brown and silver. He wore a traditional Star League-era Steiner nobleman's dress outfit, complete with a well-tailored jacket and trousers. He stood from the chair and bowed. "Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion, an honor," he said in rich Tharkadische Deutsch. "I am Margrave Dieter von Simmons of Eschenberg, Logistics Administrator for the Brotherhood of Cincinnatus."

It took every iota of will Trillian had to force her expression to remain pleasant. It's not the same. I hope, she reminded herself, thinking of the secretive ultra-nationalist organization that her cousin Adam had to hunt down for years, the ones who tried to kill her father time and time again (and might have even succeeded in killing given certain rumors). There were even claims that the Brotherhood, not the Word of Blake, were responsible for the assassination of her grandfather Archon Peter Steiner-Davion. For years as a child and young woman the Brotherhood were the source of many a nightmare for her.

But there was no sign of duplicity in this man. More to the point, the public information made it out that the Brotherhood were less a secretive organization and more a public advocacy group for the restoration of the Lyran Commonwealth, even fielding a "mercenary" force the size of a Regimental Combat Team composed of AFRF and Ghastillian veterans.

"Your Lordship." Trillian found it growing easier to keep her smile. "I did not expect a visit of this nature, so forgive me for keeping you waiting."

"It is alright, Lady Trillian. I took the liberty of watching some of your interview with Mrs. Smith while waiting," he replied.

As hostess, Trillian gestured to a nicer seat than the one he'd been occupying, a fully plushed recliner. She took to the one across from it. The coffee table between them still had an open book, a copy of one of the histories she was reading in her off-hours, which she closed after a quick visual check confirmed the bookmark was there.

"'The Fall of the Lyran Commonwealth,' by Pervez Muhammad," von Simmons said. "An excellent work, if depressing in its content."

"Given how much the outright collapse of the Commonwealth influenced the later events here, including Arcadia's rise, I felt it necessary to visit such a painful history," Trillian replied. "Do you require any further refreshment?"

"No, no, Mrs. Luther was quite thorough in seeing to such needs before your arrival," said von Simmons. ""I am quite ready to get to business, if you are."

"I am, though I am curious as to the business you have in mind."

The older man smiled. "I imagined you would be. To put matters plainly, Lady Trillian, the Brotherhood of Cincinnatus exists to protect the Lyran people, even those who no longer call themselves Lyran, in our hope that in time the Commonwealth will be restored."

"So you are a Lyrantreu organization?"

Von Simmons blanched slightly. "I… we have some overlap with that sentiment, yes, though there is a difference. Many of the Lyrantreu might be more accurately called Steinertreu. I hope it does not give you offense, but they are just as devoted to the restoration of House Steiner as they are to the Commonwealth, in a majority of cases, while we are not."

"No offense is given," Trillian replied. "I am a Steiner, yes, but the family here is not the same as the one I came from. Not entirely."

"No, not at all. The sad fact is… our House Steiner has a checkered history of pointless power plays, assassinations, and even treason to the Lyran cause in the name of claiming power for themselves," von Simmons said in a lamentful tone. "It was so severe that Queen Raquel of Donegal actually compelled every claimant to her throne to renounce their claims, given the number of attacks on her life she'd fought off before taking her place. And the War of Donegalan Succession was entirely from the ambitions of the so-called Archon of the proclaimed New Commonwealth, Katrina."

A little chill went down Trillian's spine at the venom in von Simmons' words. She tried not to think of the woman in question as her great-great-grandmother Katrina Steiner, nor her daughter Melissa as her own great-grandmother. For all that the two Inner Spheres seemed to mirror one another there, with a Katrina Steiner marrying an Arthur Luvon and having a daughter named Melissa, they were by her reckoning different people.

Von Simmons seemed to note Trillian's feelings. "Is something wrong, Lady Trillian? I apologize if my personal feelings on history have become too heated."

"Nothing that is your fault, Margrave. Simply the… strangeness of where our histories converge and diverge. I am, in fact, the great-great-granddaughter of my history's Katrina Steiner, who seems to have lived roughly the same years as yours, but in our history we remember her as a gifted ruler who tried to negotiate a permanent end to the Third Succession War after removing her uncle Alessandro, who was known as a tyrant."

"If only ours had been such a figure, and not the powermonger that nearly broke the Lyran Alliance, perhaps our history would be happier," he said.

"Yes. But what I gather is that you wish to see the Commonwealth restored, but not necessarily under House Steiner?"

"Something of that sort, yes. The important thing is that the Commonwealth live again, whichever House might rule. Or perhaps even under an Archon elected by the regions, Ghastillia has shown elected rulers can work quite well after all. Many Lyrantreu are devoted to a full Steiner restoration, preferably by having the main line of the Proctor-Steiners forgo the Proctor side of their lineage, but there are those who would go further, I believe." He set his hands together in his lap. "Which gets me to the point I'd intended to raise before letting myself get sidetracked by the Lyrantreu matter. The Brotherhood offers the Lyran Commonwealth its service in the field, Lady Trillian. We offer our forces to the protection of the Commonwealth."

Well, that is better than I had expected. Allowing herself a smile, Trillian replied, "We would be grateful for that service, Your Lordship. Very grateful. Give me the figures for the contract and I will have one prepared immediately."

"It will be done," he said. "I promise it will not be for profit, merely for the funds to cover the expenses that we cannot meet through the donations we normally rely upon. Our soldiers joined to protect Lyrans, not for mere wealth."

"Their service will earn them our thanks regardless," Trillian assured him.

The approaching Christmas season left Lord Arnold wiith little time for personal enjoyment; the work of his position was now joined by seeing to Christmas preparations, including the customary family getaway to the New Salem estate for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every Proctor by blood who was present planetside would be present, including his daughter Giselle and a number of grandchildren whose parents were at their posts across the Federation.

With an eye on the clock, he departed his office for the day and made for the front entrance. Giselle and a driver were on their way to bring him for some last minute gift shopping. It was a tradition his late wife insisted upon, pressing him into seeing to the gifts for his children instead of relying upon servants and aides. Her wisdom was long-proven given the happy Christmas mornings spent seeing children, and now grand-children, tearing through wrapping paper and treasuring gifts he'd hand-picked.

The Palace was fairly busy even by normal standards, as this was the last day before the staff went home for the holiday week. Last minute petitions to the Crown and Privy Council were common, for the consideration of this matter or that, and that meant a flurry of activity in the public parts of the Palace. Unfortunately he couldn't justify letting Giselle use the private entrance since she wasn't assigned to an office in the Palace or related duty. He just had to deal with the crowd, and with a civilian suit for the upcoming shopping duty, the usual deference shown an AFRF general was not his to enjoy.

He'd nearly made it to the door when he spotted Margrave von Simmons. A suspicion took him, prompting him to divert his path to meet with the Margrave near the door. Von Simmons saw him coming and nodded politely. "Lord Arnold," he said, in accented English. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, Lord Dieter," Arnold replied. "What brings the Brotherhood to Arcadia for the holiday?"

"Important business for our cause, General."

"Truly? So the rumors your troops are already en route to the Glass aren't just rumors?"

Simmons grinned. "We relocated them to Arc-Royal for exercises with the Kell Hounds, but they may be redeploying soon, yes."

Damn him. "Going through the Glass, then? Going to the aid of the Commonwealth?"

"We are loyal and true Lyrans, why wouldn't we?"

Arnold shook his head. "They're not us. They don't have our history Our experiences. They are a different people."

"We beg to differ, Lord Arnold," Simmons replied. "We see them as cousin Lyrans and we will fight for them."

"Those are good men and women, and you will throw their lives away." Arnold shook his head, his frown almost becoming a snarl. "We have enemies of our own that require the bravery of our soldiers."

"As always, you refer to the Empire." Simmons frowned as well. "For people who have sworn to restore the Lyran Commonwealth, you seem unreasonably devoted to fighting a people who are not traditional enemies of our people. Meanwhile the Dracs have actually attacked our worlds and massacred our citizens. They oppress Vega and New Wessex and other Lyran worlds."

"The Empire is the greater threat," Arnold charged.

"Are they? The Principate is to one side, House Davion on the other, neither a friend of the Liaos. We have them as potential allies." Simmons shook his head. "You are monomaniacal on the subject, you and many others. You resent Sirius and Procyon being returned, and you wish to refight '23 as if to prove you could have won then. We are facing new threats and a cousin people in need, and all you can think of is the Empire. It is as sad as it is infuriating."

Arnold opened his mouth to retort and stopped, a tone drawing his attention to his perscomp. As expected the network connection showed a message from Giselle; she was waiting. "I will not convince you, it seems, and right now, my family's Christmas happiness matters more. When your Brotherhood suffers the consequences of this ill-conceived mission, I hope for your sake that your losses do not leave them broken. Good day, my Lord."

"Good day, and Happy New Year," was the reply that chased after Arnold as she made for the door.
”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.

User avatar
White Mage
White Mage
Posts: 21609
Joined: 2003-02-12 10:59pm

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

Post by LadyTevar »

Well well... more dissent in the Lyrans.

I wonder where that will lead, as I half-expected an attempt on Arnold's life at that point.
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
User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

26 - Holiday Dreams

Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
Royal Federation
23 December 3142

With several days of clothes and sundries packed for the trip to New Salem, Nathaniel found himself with an unexpected, if delightful, duty to see through before his morning departure for the family's holiday estate.

The dinner was not a grand state affair, or even the usual affair between high ranking nobles. In his suite's private dining room, the table yet seemed big for the use of his two dinner guests. It brought warmth to him to see Sophia, his bride-to-be, basking in happiness beside her father. They were seated across from him, putting Nathaniel along the side of the table instead of the usual appropriate place at the head. It was, he felt, a fitting place to be; he was not dining as their High King and they as the representatives of a powerful vassal family, but as a son-in-law enjoying a holiday meal with his wife-to-be and her father.

Lord Paul Marik looked authoritative in his dinner jacket and suit, as if it were a uniform itself. The jacket was white and the suit below blue and violet, with a Marik eagle stitched into the jacket's left breast. A similar crest was on the white dinner gown Sophia was wearing, a modest sleeved garment and dress that went down to her calves, now hidden by the table. Her hair was pulled into a pony-tail held in place by hairbands of violet color.

Nathaniel himself was, by regal standards, humbly dressed; a blue dinner jacket over a white and red vest and shirt, a white gold-winged hawk on the jacket's left breast. Blue dress trousers and fine black shoes, the latter little different from those worn by his guests, rounded out his assemblage.

The dinner before them was a holiday spread befitting their personal dinner, not a rich luxury dish in sight. A Christmas ham and a goose, cranberry jam, cheddar potato casserole, containers of tzatziki sauce, garlic sauce, and brown gravy for the meats, and an assortment of greens and other vegetables that his cooking staff put together before packing everything up for their holiday. They would be off until New Year's Eve, enjoying time with their families, while he subsisted on premade foods and whatever fare the New Salem estate cooks were preparing for the Christmas meal to come.

"You were kind to fit this into your schedule, Nathaniel," Paul said. At his request they were using first names and not honorifics. "I'm aware of the family tradition and your need to depart in the morning."

"It will be fine," he assured Paul. "I may put on a few extra kilos, but my cousins' children may help burn it off before I return to the capital. If not them, the exercises I'm joining with the Arcadian Guards will certainly help."

"Ah. Still training for the field?"

"I am." Nathaniel glanced briefly at Sophia, who put on a brave face. She had lingering discontent with his choice. "I am the first ruling Proctor in a century who has never fought. I would have been content with this if peace held, but these Clans have made that impossible. I must stand with the men and women I'm sending to fight."

"So you assume you will win over Parliament and the Privy Council? I've heard much of their resistance to the alliance you're promoting."

"I believe I can, yes. This is what we should be doing."


There was something in his voice that made Sophia glance sharply toward him. Too busy chewing to speak, she set her fork down and reached a hand out to her father's forearm. Nathaniel took a bite, enjoyed the taste of the tzatziki-coated goose meat, and enjoyed a quick drink from the glass of champagne before him. He didn't turn away from Paul's eyes, but he kept his expression even. This wasn't a challenge.

Paul finished his own drink and inclined his head. "Sophia, you can remove your hand," he said. "Whatever our disagreements, mine and your uncle's, on Nathaniel's plans, I am not going to mar the holiday by haraunging him over them. Nor can I entirely reject the argument. Not given what I saw that day. Might I suggest we finish dinner, before it grows cold? Then we might enjoy the excellent wine and talk more easily."

"A fine suggestion," Nathaniel replied.

The rest of the meal went well enough. There were leftovers that would be kept for Sophia's enjoyment during the next week, as she remained behind to see to the reduced Palace staff while Nathaniel was away. The three left the dining room and entered the royal parlor. Holovid discs lined walls, as did other digital media and old-fashioned books. Nathaniel produced another bottle, this one a sweet dessert port produced in the southwest of Arcadia's Munster continent, and poured fresh glasses for the three of them. They took to the various plushed chairs about the center of the warmly-lit room. The windows to the side looked out at the brilliant skyline of Roslyn.

"You are remaining on Arcadia for a time?" asked Nathaniel.

Paul nodded. "Yes. In light of what happened the ship is being assigned an early drive overhaul at the Artemis Yards. As commander of 1st Battle Fleet my place is here for the time being."

"It will be nice to have you around, Father," Sophia said. "It seems so very long since we last spent any time together. We'll have to see if Mother will come."

That won her a paternal grin. "Nicole has to see to holiday matters first, I'm told, but she'll be coming by before the overhaul completes." His eyes turned towards Nathaniel. "She does wish to meet her son-in-law before the wedding, as well."

"I look forward to it," Nathaniel answered. "It will be nice to have all of you visit."

"We will accept your hospitality gladly." Paul took a drink of the port.

Nathaniel took his own, savoring the sweetness of it. The evening's wine left a gentle buzz in his head, calming but not enough to impair thoughts.

Sophia set her glass down, fortified by the wine. "We may as well clear matters. About the Lady Trillian and the Lyran alliance."

Nathaniel nodded to her. Yes. A chance to win your father over, and to console you, will be welcome. "I believe it is the right thing, but I would be a poor ruler to not listen to advice from my elders, especially one who has actually seen with his own eyes the matters on the other side." He extended a hand to Paul. "Paul, it is my intention to press the alliance, and to lead our forces over to save the Commonwealth and end the Clan threat. Archduke Kenneth's support would be welcome, as would that of the entirety of House Marik. I'd like to know your views on the matter."

"I do not dispute the need to help the Lyrans of the other side," Paul began. "Not after what I saw on Timkovichi." His eyes closed and a hint of pain showed on his face. "The Falcons were monstrous in their behavior, murdering civilians for no more reason than petulance at their impending defeat. We cannot allow such a people to threaten our side of the Glass."

"Such is my thought as well."

Paul nodded and sipped at the wine, for the taste and, presumably, the moment to consider his words. "But you must be careful. For one thing, do not trust the Halas-Liaos," he insisted. "They have never been above lying or diplomatic treachery to take what they wish. The Dowager has spent decades trying to claim the Principality of Atreus for her realm, and given the opening, I daresay she would even defy Emperor Robert if provided the opening, whatever his true desires on your peace initiatives. The Empire has ever been a practical state, but that includes pursuing their goals with a ruthless tenacity we've underestimated to our regret. Any peace they accept will have all sorts of conditions meant to further their goals beyond the benefits of a mere peace. It wouldn't do to give them our blessing, intentionally or otherwise, to pursue Andurien again, or the Liaoist claims on the Federated Suns."

Nathaniel took another sip as Paul spoke. He set the glass down by the end and considered his reply. "I understand, and I'd like to assure you that I'm not blind to the risks, Paul. But I believe that there is a difference between being prepared for war and being prepared to start a war, and many of my own commanders prefer the latter. The forces they had ready on the border were more than necessary for a defensive posture, I feel."

"Perhaps you do, but for the people of our Principality, those troops are our shields," Paul explained. "In living memory Atreus has twice been invaded by the Dowager's Knights, and every continent, every city, suffered in the fighting. To us, every AFRF soldier on a world of the Atreus Principality is a guarantee against another invasion."

"From my own journeys and experience, every world across the border feels the same," Sophia added. "From New Earth to Stewart to Campbelton. They find security in the strong forces we keep on their worlds. To lose those troops makes them feel exposed and endangered."

"But the same forces might cause such an invasion, if the Empire fears us enough to launch a preemptive strike," Nathaniel replied. "A mutual drawdown of forces, on both sides of the border, would accomplish security as well. And it would give us greater flexibility in dealing with the other threats."

"House Kurita, you mean?"

"And the Clans, yes." Nathaniel set his hands together. "I know I am decried as naive for pursuing peace with the Empire. They have been our enemies for a century. Their forces killed my father on Sirius, and my great-grandfather met his end at their hands as well. They have attacked us on any number of occasions. But I believe that we have to look ahead, or we'll just keep getting caught up in the same wars, the same battles, over and over. Until we live the same history as the Great Houses of the Star League, and collapse just as they did. I promise, I'm not going to abandon the Principality, or any other border world. We'll have enough troops to defend our worlds from incursion."

It was clear to the younger man that Paul was considering his words quietly. Nearby Sophia looked from her husband-to-be to her father with quiet concern. "For what it's worth, Father, I do believe in Nathaniel's goals," she said. "The Peace of Dieron has let us rebuild so much, and if the peace is kept, there's so much that can be accomplished."

Paul nodded at her and returned his attention to Nathaniel. "It won't be easy," Nathaniel said. "Blood calls out for blood, and though I've not heard that call myself, I know how strong it is. I saw it every time someone mentioned the Empire, or Sirius, in my grandmother's presence. I saw that suffering and that anger, that need to pay it back, that I sometimes wondered about my reaction. If somehow I loved my father less than my grandmother had." At that confession he drew in a breath. "I've come to realize we processed the loss differently. I was just a small boy, after all, while for Grandmother, she lost her first child. She had such hopes for him and she had to bury him before his time, when he was little older than I am today. For me, I grew up with the stories of him, his kindness and gentleness spoken of by my mother, and his courage and skill on the battlefield by my Uncle Peter and others. I always wondered what it would've been like to grow up with him alive, to know him as a person." Nathaniel set his glass down and folded his hands together. "War's taken so much from us. I want to keep it from taking more. If we fight, it must be because it is necessary, practically and morally. That is why I am supporting Lady Trillian, and why I pursue peace with the Empire. The battle against the Clans is an unavoidable fight we must face. With the Empire, we already have peace, we need only keep it."

"And hope the price is not too heavy," Paul remarked. He closed his eyes and sighed.

"Uncle Jason," Sophia said softly. "I'm sorry if the reminder hurts, Father."

"That is a pain I've had twenty-three years to adjust to," he replied, after which he set the glass down and turned intently on Nathaniel. "You speak with a conviction I've not heard since I was a boy listening to High King Ethan's speeches," he remarked, his voice warm with admiration. "Conviction is one of the things we need on the throne these days. It's been sorely missed. But I caution you to not let it lead you astray, Nathaniel. Conviction can be wrongfully applied. It can make someone's vision narrow, prejudice them against even the best advice, if it does not fit what their conviction directs them towards."

Nathaniel nodded. "I understand. It is another reason I sought Sophia's hand. She is but one advisor who tempers me, I feel."

Sophia blushed. "I think you give me too much credit."

"If so, she is certainly taking from her mother," Paul chuckled, patting his daughter on the arm. Afterward he returned his attention to Nathaniel and spoke with a formal bearing. "Just tell me plainly. Do you commit yourself to the protection of the Principality, regardless of whether it prejudices your plans?"

"I will not allow any of our worlds, including the Principality, to be stripped of defenses, only that said defenses will be proportionate to the threat. If the Empire draws down, we will draw down. But I can't imagine either side will demilitarize."

"I see. Publicly, I am bound by my uncle," Paul said. "Archduke Kenneth is the leader of House Marik, ruler of the Principality, and I cannot be seen as contradicting him. Privately, I will tell him my own views on the need to intervene, and that you have promised our defense will be seen to. But you must follow through on that, Nathaniel. If you send forces to aid the Lyrans, you must keep a suitable number of troops on our border. Otherwise Kenneth, and I, will fight you, and it may even prejudice the marriage agreement."

Nathaniel nodded his head. "Thank you," he said, fervently. "I give you my guarantee, now, that the Atrean Dragoons and Marik Regulars will be kept in the Principality, as will the three Royal BattleMech brigades that are stationed there. Whatever else happens, that will not change."

"I do not feel that will be enough, in of itself, to dispel the worry of weakness," Paul admitted. "But it is a start."

Ten frontline brigades is just a start. Nathaniel could tell this meant he would likely have to leave more forces there to avoid Marik opposition to the alliance. But with everything else to defend… will I have enough forces to be decisive? We will need the troops to engage on both fronts. The Ghastillians can provide some, but would it be enough? "I don't wish to make people feel unsafe, Paul, only for people to seriously consider that peace is achievable."

"It will take time."

"So I've been told." He smiled at Sophia, who nodded in reply. "Thank you, again, for hearing me out. So far I hear a lot about my plans being dangerous, or the entire idea as unrealistic or impossible.. As if God Himself were set on pitting us against the Empire in some form or fashion. I can't believe people enjoy war so much that they want it, though, and you've reminded me that such is not true."

"War has long dogged the steps of Humanity. Nothing will change that. That's not to say we should throw away peace. We just have to be realistic about it." Paul sipped at the wine. "I wouldn't like to dwell forever on such, though. I'm satisfied you're going to try to meet our needs within your wider proposals, so why don't we discuss other matters? If you're to be my son-in-law, I'd like to get to know more about what you have in mind, as a family man and not a ruler."

Sophia blushed at her father's remark. Nathaniel grinned in reply and set the glass aside. "Well, children are an obvious part of any of these arrangements given our rank," he began. "I've had some thoughts on their education, though I'll want Sophie's approval…"

After some more discussion, Paul excused himself from the Royal Suites. For form's sake if anything he saw Sophia to her rooms before departing. He'd gently declined the offer of a guest suite; Kenneth's suites in the Roslyn Astoria-Lux were awaiting him.

He stepped into the lift to lower him into the Palace's private garage. It only moved one floor before stopping and admitting another figure. "Your Highness," Paul said, nodding. "Merry Christmas. My best to Lord Kevin and his health."

Prince Peter nodded quietly. The lift started moving. "And mine to Nicole." He stepped in and stood to Paul's side. "A good dinner?"

"Quite. I am… pleased that my daughter will have such a considerate man as her husband," Paul replied. "And we had a productive conversation on various matters."

"I'm pleased to hear it."

"He really is going to go through the Glass, isn't he?"

Peter sighed and nodded. "He is. His sense of responsibility to those who go to fight, and his belief on the need, is too great. Perhaps it will be for the best, though. The people would expect the sovereign to take to the field, if physically capable as he is."


The lift stopped and opened, admitting them into the private garage. In the distance was Paul's waiting vehicle, signed out from Fort Defiance and with an AFRF motor pool driver undoubtedly reading something off a noteputer while waiting for him. But he was far out of earshot, and the local recording devices would be visual only. With this in mind, Paul turned back to Peter. "I'm grateful we didn't launch EAGLE CRY."

An icy look crossed Peter's eyes. "You should be careful where you speak of such sensitive matters."

"You and I both know this is as secure as an office," Paul answered.

"It is still not the right venue. Nor a discussion I wish to have."

"I'm guessing Lord Arnold and the others have been putting the pressure on. They see the prospect slipping away with Nathaniel's intentions." Paul chuckled. "The Field Marshal especially has a monomania about the idea that worries me. I can't imagine they've made your position any easier."

"EAGLE CRY was our one hope to prevent the Empire from gaining a naval edge," Peter replied. "So I don't see how you can be grateful it's been delayed, if not rendered impossible."

"I know it would incense many others higher ranked than I to hear me say those words. The strange thing is, while I could justify it due to the Glass, and the Clan threat, even without that I feel grateful. Maybe peace is possible over the long run." He swallowed at an old pain that came to his mind. "Maybe my son won't suffer the same fate that his namesake uncle, and so many others, suffered in the war."

"Maybe," Peter sighed. He looked wearier than his age, less than sixty, otherwise implied. "But Nathaniel's dreams may only serve to wet the appetites of the Empire."

"Perhaps. Just don't let the others bully you into destroying his dreams, Your Highness. We've suffered long enough with a heartbroken figure on the throne. Maybe what we need now is a little dreaming, and the conviction to back it." Paul nodded to him. "Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoy the family holiday."

"Merry Christmas to you as well."

With those words exchanged, the two parted ways.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

First section was by Orsai, who honestly does a lot of the major Dark Age-side stuff (Trillian's about the only character i write on my own, really, among the OTL cast).

27 - Resolutions

Fortress-class DropShip Markesan Pride
Docked with JumpShip FSS Empire of Liberty
Dyev System, Dieron Military District
Draconis Combine
1 January, 3143

“Down ladder! Make a hole!”

At the familiar call - a spacer’s courtesy, when moving at speed - Sandra Fenlon shifted herself, pressing to the right of the corridor and hooking an arm through a safety bar. The techs guiding a heavyweight replacement circuit-breaker for one of the Pride’s pulse laser turrets down the corridor gave her polite nods; something that had been happening more and more, lately, as she transitioned from unwanted civilian hanger-on to whatever the Guards defined as “valuable member of the unit”.

She caught a muttered comment from one of them as well; one that Sandra was fairly sure she hadn’t been meant to hear, a quiet, “... wish Messer Julian was here to help with this.”

Interesting. Potentially troublesome, as well, depending on what it meant; because that hadn’t been how a subordinate in the AFFS referred to a superior. It was more like how an old retainer on the family estates might refer to the young lord or lady. Definitely not something to tell Julian about; he’d overreact, investment in the idea of the AFFS as apolitical ran deep in him, and the First Guards acting like a noble’s personal guard would be something that set him off.

Pulling herself forward, Sandra frowned at the thought of Julian. Around her, and all across the Guards flotilla - hanging in empty space at Dyev’s Zenith point; the Combine naval picket had shown some association with good sense, and declined to match a pair of decrepit Leopard CVs against the Guards’ naval escorts - there were the sounds of laughter, merriment and amusement, if in a subdued state, at a combination of the New Year and mail from home catching up. And yet, Julian is nowhere to be found.

He wasn’t in his quarters - the first place she’d checked, in what was either absolute faith in the Fortress-class’s armour or a pointed comment on what the design team had thought of senior officers tucked in barely a deck below the magazine for the Long Tom - or, where Sandra had expected to find him, in the vehicle and ‘Mech bays, helping the tech teams with maintenance and repairs.

“Ah, Captain,” she called, spotting the mechwarrior officer ahead; a tall, muscular young woman, standing out thanks to the - almost, but not quite, in violation of uniform regulations - stripes of red and green - House Hasek’s colours - dyed into her hair, a sharp contrast to her ebon skin and naturally red-brown hair colouring, “A moment of your time, please?”

“Not a problem, Your Grace,” Captain Robyn duChaine - commander of Zulu Company, Third Battalion, Sandra’s practised memory supplied; not really a friend to New Avalon, but that was normal for Capellan March nobles, myself exempted, and reliable enough to get in the Guards in the first place - flipped herself around and arrested the motion with effortless, balletic grace. “What do you need?”

“Have you see Marshal Davion?” Sandra asked. “I’ve been looking for him all morning.” A slight exaggeration, but she was still having trouble navigating the DropShip’s interior.

“Um. Last time I saw him, he was on the TOC - Tactical Ops Centre,” duChaine replied, looking unsure - or, more likely, worried. “It’s two levels up that way and left,” she pointed, “just under the bridge. But I only saw the Marshal there last night; don’t know if he’s still there.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Sandra kept her voice carefully at politely neutral as she swung her way upwards, suppressing the ignoble urge to swear - or comm Callandre to get up here with a roll of kroner tucked into her glove. All-nighters were not a good idea; and definitely weren’t needed now. I swear, I will get Julian to take proper care of himself if I have to hit him over the head with a wrench to do it!

The TOC was quiet when Sandra arrived, slipping the velcro soles of her shipboots onto the strips running along the floor - well, technically a wall right now, but a floor was what it was supposed to be. And you’re woolgathering, Sandra; stop it. Strange how the voice jabbing her forward sounded very much like Amanda Hasek’s - with only two of the stations manned. One was - she remembered from the brief tour back on Terra - the comms board, with a very young-looking Ensign seated at it; the other was one of the main tactical boards, its screens lit up and outlining Julian Davion in pale blue.

“You can just leave the noteputer there, Todd,” Julian commented, not looking away from the screens as Sandra walked up, and indicating a row of velcro strips, most of which were occupied. “I’ll deal with those readiness reports soon.”

“I’m not sure,” Sandra commented, trying her best to copy Callandre’s default of sardonic irritation, “whether I ought to be annoyed that you don’t recognise me, or worried that you’re carrying on with Captain Dawkins behind my back.”

It was, in the end, a good thing for his dignity that Julian didn't try and jump out of his seat in shock; being securely strapped in, it would have looked very silly indeed. He was wearing an expression of surprise as he turned around; a gentle, boyish expression that, for a moment, took years off Julian's features and made him look, briefly, like the easy-going, unselfconsciously friendly boy Sandra had first met the better part of two decades ago. But those are people who we can never be again, she reflected; even leaving aside everything else, back then Julian had practically worshipped Caleb. While now

“Ah, Sandra, good morning,” Julian started, and Sandra - in another technique she’d picked up from Callandre - raised one eyebrow pointedly. Comprehension dawned. “Ah. Would it help if I said I didn’t mean to pull an all-nighter?”

“Only if you tell me why you did,” Sandra responded curtly. “Faith defend, Julian, I know there's a lot of work to do, but that’s what you have a staff for!”

Julian’sexpression shifted momentarily - to something that reminded Sandra of what she’d seen of Harrison during his darkest moments; at the arrival of confirmation of the Blackout - before he spoke, “Ensign Dalhouse, clear and lock the room.”

As the Ensign did just that, Julian unbuckledfrom his chair, activating the TOC’s counter-intrusion systems before - as the hatch sealed and locked - returning to the main tactical board. His hands flickered over the control panel, bringing up dozens of separate files and images.

“Aaron Sandoval provided me with - in addition to the usual intelligence updates, plus some things I’m not sure I’m still supposed to be getting - some extra information that I think Riccard Streng put him onto,” Julian explained, before indicating the array of data. “Now, Sandra, before I say anything else, what do these look like to you?”

Sandra frowned as she studied the files. Most of them looked like - were - AFFS readiness reports, but off, somehow. Doubled, she realised after a moment; the reports were double columns, each for the same unit, but there were differences in the two sets of numbers, at least for most of them. The other files were … defence papers of some kind, strategic defence reviews from the titles, but with classification markers that meant that exactly two people could have seen them - based on the dates, Harrison Davion and Athena Davion-Ross.

“These are … discrepancies in readiness reports?” Sandra hazarded a guess, not sure if Julian could answer that. Not sure if I want him to answer; because the potential implications were dangerous to know.

“They are.” Any trace of boyish good humour had vanished from Julian’s voice “The figures on the left,” he indicated, most of them the higher numbers, “are the reports that I got as Prince’s Champion. The ones on the right, are the reports that were sent to New Avalon in the first place. As you can see,” he smiled, without any kind of humour and barely any warmth, “there are numerous discrepancies.”

“That would -” Sandra stopped aware of what that meant, what she was about to say, but Julian knows that as well as I do, he wouldn’t show me this if he didn’t. “That would mean that someone in the Watchtower was falsifying status reports for the entire AFFS.” Short of what she thought was indicated, but saying that could be construed as treason.

"Thanks for the diplomacy, Sandra," this time there was a trace of warmth in Julian's expression. "But you can't say anything I haven't already figured out. There are exactly two people who could have done this and classified it well enough that I wouldn't find out; and Athena never had the guts to do something this major without Harrison putting her up to it."

The implications of what Julian had just said took a moment to sink in; when they had, Sandra felt sick - not illness, but a cllinging horror at just what the consequences were going to be. “But,” her voice shook, and she forced herself to calm, to focus on the practicalities, “why would he do that?”

“I don’t know.” The admission left Julian looking drained, almost lost, and Sandra placed a - hopefully - reassuring hand on one shoulder. “Maybe deception, to try and keep the Capellans and Combine thinking we were stronger than we were long enough for the rearmament programs to take effect. Maybe,” bitterness, now, “maybe because it was just easier to lie,” Julian practically spat the word, “than to actually deal with the problem.” He sighed, drawing back a little. “Maybe Harrison thought I could deal with it better without knowing everything ahead of time - that would explain some of the things I saw, was allowed to see. But I don’t know, and the only people who could tell me are dead.”

A thought came to Sandra; a worrying one, but no moreso than this whole conversation was. “Julian,” she began carefully, “is it possible that Lord Sandoval faked this information?” Not that she really believed that, but it was at least more comforting than what certificate seemed to be the truth.

“We both know that isn’t his style, Sandra; Aaron isn’t one for lying like this. And besides,” Julian indicated the report for the Kestrel Grenadiers, “if he can match Duke Cunningham’s tone and style well enough that I can’t tell if it’s a fake or not - and I’ve met the man - Aaron could parley that into whatever he wanted with Caleb. Rather than, say,” a lighter, self-deprecating smile, “trying to set up a disgraced former champion for the throne.”

“Julian Davion,” Sandra put as much of Amanda Hasek’s withering scorn as she could manage into her voice, “you do not believe that idiotic line. You are far more than that, and you know it; if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. Okay, you doubt Harrison’s judgement now, fine.” A hard edge pushed into her tone, but Sandra couldn’t stop speaking. “Jonah Levin trusted you; Aaron and Corwin Sandoval still do. The Guards would follow you to Hell or Sian if you asked them to; and if Callandre heard you talking about yourself like that, we’re both well aware she’d take you down to the engine spaces and beat some sense into you. You’re the best soldier I’ve ever met, and a good man. If you don’t trust your own, or Harrison’s, judgement any more, then at least trust ours.”

“That’s just it; what if you’re wrong - what if I’m not up to it?” Sandra had to strain to hear Julian’s words over the hum of the TOC’s electronics. “I know how to command in battle, but this - I don’t know if I can handle it. It’s too big.”

"So share the weight. I know, you can't give this data out generally," she cut off Julian's incipient protest, "but there's got to be people in the Guards' intelligence staff you can trust to analyse it; plus Callandre, since the next time she betrays your trust it'll be the first. And me," Sandra smiled softly. "If we're to marry, be partners, we have to support each other. And we've been doing that for long enough anyway; it’s hardly out of our way." Maybe that’s why Aaron suggested marriage, she thought suddenly, that he saw what we - I - missed; that playing a role for Aunt Amanda for so long meant it stopped being a role.

“True.” Julian’s shoulders tensed for a second, then relaxed fully. “You’re right, I’m ignoring people trying to help me and being an idiot. Again.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say that,” Sandra demurred, “not in so many words. Although I was getting ready to imply that you had your head shoved up your -”

“You’ve made your point.” That was followed by a brief chuckle. “Right. I’ll have to get with Captain Dawkins, see about spreading this out to people we know can keep quiet -”

“Good, for the future. But first, you are going to go back to your quarters and get some sleep, Julian. You won’t do anyone any good if you pass out mid-briefing.”

The exhaustion in his wan smile was reply enough. "By your command, my Lady. And a 'Happy New Year' to you, Sandra, before I forget."

"Happy New Year, Julian," she answered. "And let's make sure this one is happier than the last."

Government Office of Justice, Laughlin Capital District
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
Royal Federation

Nearly two centuries old now, the Laughlin Capital District was a section of Roslyn set aside for the business of interstellar government. The home of the Free March Assembly and Ducal Council when the original Arcadian Free March was founded, it now contained all of the major offices of the Royal Federation in its borders, with the Palace of Parliament the dominant feature in the center of the District, adjoined by the Esplanade with the bistros and restaurants and shops that provided services to those working in the District. Rebuilt following the devastation of the Terran invasion of 3050-51, the District was home to all of the Great Offices of State in the Royal Federation, with Parliament's two Houses serving as the beating heart of the area.

Today that heart wasn't beating quite so vigorously. The famed traffic of aircars, wheeled vehicles, and even the occasional private VTOL was down to a trickle, making it easy for John Albright to navigate his motor pool-provided car through the boulevards and promenades of the District to the Government Office of Justice. The skyscraper, with a front facade facing Ferrier Square that included thick square columns and a mural depicting the scales of Justice aloft in glowing clouds, was home to the Royal Federation's Office of Justice; the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General offices were both found in this complex, as were some of the connecting administrative offices for the law enforcement authorities of the Federation and the Royal Comptroller-General's Office, responsible for internal government oversight.

Albright's identification was already in the system, allowing him a parking space in the adjoining garage. The doors into the building led him into the central foyer from the side instead of the street-facing doors, changing his perspective slightly from that of someone coming in the front door. Nevertheless it was an inspiring sight; the circular information desk, and an adjoining security desk, on fine tiled floors, while the alabaster columns came with statuary or paintings depicting an assortment of historical moments celebrating everything from Hammurabi's Code to the Ten Commandments, a stylization of the Hadiths of Muhammed, Magna Carta, and on.

Today the building was very quiet, such that he could even wonder if maybe he got the date wrong. He approved the reception desk, aware he was somewhat out of place in his formal AFRF uniform, and introduced himself. "I'm here for Lord Cassel's meeting." He provided his personal ID as he spoke.

"Of course." The speaker was a local, with that soft Islay burr Albright was getting used to. She made a check of his ID and handed it back, along with a badge. "Take the lift to the sixth floor, go down the hall to the right, door 624. This will open it for you."

"Thank you."

The lift played a gentle symphony, much to Albright's pleasure. He'd held back in his New Year's Eve celebration knowing this meeting was coming, and the irritation at losing a chance to unwind given the recent tenor of his sessions with Malvina was palpable. But Lord Cassel was a believer in work, reportedly, and seemingly had the view that if he was willing to work on a holiday, so should others.

Albright arrived at the office in question. The metal plaque beside the door said everything that needed to be known of the nature of this meeting.

"Royal Law Commission on the Prevention and Prosecution of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity"

To think we need such an institution… He sighed at the thought and, finding the door unlocked, entered. A young woman in a dark blue hijab and full-sleeved gray blouse and barnous was seated at a desk. "Doctor Albright? His Lordship is waiting with the others," she said, her English thickly accented with Thermpolitan tones. "Through the main doors please."

The main doors were the big set of wooden double doors with the brass handles, he imagined. Albright walked up and opened the door, gaining admittance to the room within. His eyes swept over the attendees. A number of suited figures, civilian lawyers or experts undoubtedly, with a few AFRF uniforms in their number, were at the main table. Lord Cassel was visible given the cut of his medium-collared suit, a Court fashion, and the serious weight showing in his dark brown eyes, rather darker than the shade of his tanned, wrinkled skin.

Yet it was for the woman near his side that Albright's hand snapped up to his forehead, his spine going straight. Vice Admiral Dame Diana Sirtis was the head of the AFRF Medical Department's Military Psychiatry Division, responsible for Albright and every other military psychiatrist in the AFRF. He had even greater reason to salute as his eyes spied the wolf-haired man between her and Lord Cassel, with a four star rank and uniform and the green trim color of an Army officer. They acknowledged his salute with quick nods. "At ease, Doctor," the General beside Lord Cassel said.

"Doctor Albright." Lord Cassel's voice was reserved, measured, and spoken with a fine Star League English. "Good to have you." He motioned to a seat somewhat split off from any of the others. "Happy New Year, of course."

"Happy New Year to you as well, Your Lordship." Albright took the seat. A young aide, perhaps a lawyer in his own right, provided a glass of water.

"Coffee and tea are available, if you need stronger refreshment from whatever New Year festivities you indulged in last night," Cassel added.

"A coffee will be fine, a dash of milk with it, if possible."

The aide went to get the requested drink while Albright quietly appraised his superiors and the other attendees. One with a rank insignia and green trim marking him a Major had the Military Psychiatry pin. The others were all JAG officers like the General, whose name tag read "Penton-MacIntyre".

"As you might imagine, Doctor, your current patient is our subject matter," Lord Cassel said. "I invited General Penton-MacIntyre, as Chief of Staff of the Judge Advocate General's Office, to join myself and Vice Admiral Sirtis and the Crown prosecutors under my authority to make an important determination."

The silence that followed told Albright he was to fill in the blanks, so to speak. "You wish to determine if Malvina Hazen can be put on trial, if she's fit to be a defendant."

"Yes, Doctor. We have read your reports, and those of another of your peers, Major Pardi over here." He gestured to the man Albright already noted as being in his field. "But I would like to hear what you have to offer before finalizing my decision."

"So you already have a decision in mind, my Lord?"

"I do, but I wish to ensure I know everything before proceeding. Your reports posit interesting theories as to a variety of psychoses she may suffer from, butu you've yet to put onto paper whether she is mentally fit to stand trial. I would like to know why."

"I wished to have a chance to build some more rapport and learn more about her thinking, my Lord," he answered. "Much of what she's done stems from childhood trauma, in my view. By experience she was taught from an early age that everything was a threat, and the only way to survive was to kill anything threatening her."

"How absolute is this, though?" Pardi asked. "Going by the material there's no sign the culture she is from is unable to grasp the concept of her conduct being wrong. By her own testimony she had to kill her former leader and many others of her Clan to secure power, given their opposition to her means."

"Whatever culture she was intended to follow, her upbringing nevertheless created powerful impulses in the directions cited." Albright stopped long enough to accept a mug of coffee, which he took a testing sip from before indulging in a longer drink. "Do you have any disagreement, Doctor?"

"I do not dispute your official diagnoses so far. PTSD signs are obvious, as are a form of violent sociopathy. My point is that there is nothing in your reports to confirm why you have refrained from a determination on her fitness to stand trial."

"As I said, I wished more data to be certain of my findings."

Instead of Pardi speaking again, Cassel went next. "I admire thoroughness, Doctor. That said, if I were to ask your determination today, what reply do you think you'd give?"

Albright noted the way the others were looking at him. His suspicions of Cassel's decision were all but confirmed to him at this point; this was a meeting to prepare for Malvina's formal tribunal and prosecution. "I am not comfortable giving such a judgement for the same reason I've committed no finding or recommendation to writing, Your Lordship," he replied, keeping his voice even and unchallenging. "As I am on the spot, however, in my judgement, I would have to decide against a finding of mental competency at this time."

That won him hard looks and a few sets of rolled eyes. It seems I am to play the part of the 'overly caring psychologist who resists trying the criminal' role in this drama.

Cassel gave no such reaction save what looked like mild curiosity. "You do consider her unfit, then, Doctor Albright?"

"At this juncture that would have to be my choice, yes," Albright replied. "By all indications the subject is unable to conceive of the world in any rational way. Her crippling and the fact she has not yet been fitted for prosthetics, leaving her unable to perform any task and with nothing to occupy her physically, only intensifies this problem. At this point all she has, emotionally and mentally, is to relive her traumas, and that has left her even less equipped to participate in a court proceeding, especially her own defense."

Cassel nodded. When Pardi's hand rose slightly he nodded in his direction. "Doctor?"

"Doctor Albright, by your own reports, Hazen has none of the usual signs of lack of competency used to determine inability to stand trial," Pardi said. "She does not experience hallucinations, she does not have a voice in her head demanding she kill, or any other indications of not mentally comprehending reality. By all metrics, while her traumas and the resulting psychoses are undoubtedly fascinating case studies, there is no psychiatric justification to declare her unfit to stand trial."

Albright's eyes met his opposite's and did not flinch away. "I don't deny any of that. She does not have the usual failure to perceive reality that determines competency. What she does have is a life of such experiences that left her unfit to comprehend reality in any rational pattern. She conceives the world in threats and non-threats, and threats must be killed before they can kill her, to the extent that any who resist her must be killed by her reckoning."

"That does not mean she does not understand that tormenting and killing civilians is wrong. It means she considers it acceptable. She is not mad, she merely has no appreciation for the value of life." Pardi held a hand out. "Otherwise every Kuritan war criminal we might ever face would likewise be said to be unfit for trial, as the reality of their society makes their atrocities appropriate."

"I think you understate the extent of Ms. Hazen's mental condition and perception, Doctor," Albright insisted. "The Combine may be raising its people to venerate the Kuritas and find it acceptable to commit terrible things in their name, but they still conceive of such things as wrongs, they just see them as acceptable if performed in the name of Kuritan conquest."

"That's semantical hair-splitting."

"The childhood Malvina Hazen went through was more akin to stories you hear about post-collapse pirate bands who beat and tortured their own recruits to induct them. There are case studies of people recovered from such groups, I recall, including determinations of legal responsibility for crimes committed due to traumatic upbringings."

"The Giacomo Lucenzo case, Doctor?" asked Admiral Sirtis.

Albright nodded briskly. "Yes, Doctor, ma'am. That is perhaps the primary example of this kind of scenario."

"The Lucenzo case?" one of the civilians asked. "What are you referring to?"

Albright let Sirtis explain. "Giacomo Lucenzo was kidnapped as a child during the Cutter Brigade's 3002 sack of Novara. He was raised in the unit, abused, taught to enjoy murder, and operated with the infantry forces of the Brigade in the battle for Hollabrunn in 3019, where he was badly wounded and captured by Free March forces. Like all the Brigade survivors he was charged with crimes against humanity for his role in the various atrocities committed by the Cutters, and psychiatrists questioned his competency due to his post-capture interviews and the recovered documentation of the Brigade about his origins."

"I think I remember that case," said Cassel. "He was, in the end, ruled competent?"

"Only on some of the charges involving crimes against civilians," Albright said. "And even that was disputed, but it was argued that he was old enough when taken to have understood what the Brigade was doing was wrong, even if he could not be ruled as understanding violations of military rules and custom to sustain charges of war crimes."

"Then the precedent favors ruling Hazen competent as well," one of the Crown prosecutors said. "I'm satisfied."

"Again, it was disputed," Albright said insistently. "The Free March military psychiatrists who studied Lucenzo couldn't decide the extent of his ability to recognize what atrocities against civilians consisted of, since he was still young enough when taken that the Cutter Brigade's brutality would have been a part of life for him and impacted his ability to conceive of what was right and wrong. One of the convictions was even overturned from the testimony of the attending psychiatrists. And Hazen's case is even more pronounced than Lucenzo's. He was eight when taken. She was born into the Clan system and spent a lifetime being abused and threatened with starvation and death."

"And yet we still have the same issue as the Lucenzo case," Pardi spoke up. "There was no issue with disassociation with reality. They didn't hear voices in their heads demanding they kill. They didn't perceive their victims as monsters trying to slaughter them. They knew they were killing human beings and shouldn't be. And Lucenzo was at least a captured foot soldier, not the leader of the Brigade, nor the one who instituted its brutal behavior. Malvina Hazen is the leader, and her entire doctrine came from her thinking. Her callous disregard for human life and the laws of war. You cannot say she is unfit to stand trial simply because she feels threatened by every other human being in existence."

Albright let out a sigh. "This is why I want more data before I make an official determination. Because I cannot, in good conscience, affirm her as capable of standing trial. Not at this time. My answer remains unchanged."

"Understood, Doctor," said Cassel. "And I understand your reasoning."

"So what is your decision, Lordship?" Albright already knew the answer, but wanted to hear it spoken.

"At the end of the day, the recommendations of Admiral Sirtis and the Commission's other analysts have swayed me," Cassel said. "The Commission will be establishing a Royal Special Tribunal and charging Malvina Hazen as a war criminal."

"I see. May I formally state, then, that as things stand, if called to testify on the matter, I will be testifying that I do not believe her mentally fit to stand trial." With a glance he could see he'd be alone in that; a certain exasperation was showing on Admiral Sirtis that made him think she'd already signed off on Malvina's competency.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," said Lord Cassel. "Doctor, thank you for your participation today, and your candid remarks. They were appreciated."

Not appreciated enough, Albright thought bitterly before departing, his welcome clearly worn out.

He returned to the ground floor, handed in the provided visitor's badge, and walked outside, this time through the main doors. The weather had turned a little warm, enough that the snows of Christmas were long melted and left the streets clear and a little wet. It looked like rain would come later in the day, though not so soon that it would complicate the New Year's celebrations still ongoing in Roslyn proper.

Am I being a fool? he asked himself. Am I exaggerating Malvina's condition because I'm still trying to grasp what she is? Or maybe I'm on a zebra hunt, that Malvina is just a psychopath who rose in a culture where might makes right, and her skills let her triumph over all adversaries? Am I just being the soft-hearted academic unwilling to face hard truths about human evil?

He felt a gentle gust of wind blow against his face, cold enough to bite a little, but not yet bitterly cold. It was an invigorating sensation, in some respects, and prompted him to look out at the streets leading to the Esplanade. The restaurants there would probably be closed, or on reduced hours, but he wondered if it might not be worth a walk to see if any of the cafes or bistros were available. A chance to think further on what he'd just said to Admiral Sirtis and Lord Cassel. I all but threatened to testify for Hazen's defense.

Yet he couldn't bring himself to just dismiss Malvina as a psychopath. She was one, yes, but there was more to that than just the violent upbringing nurturing a sociopath into a mass murderer. Her remaining affection for her dead mate Aleks, for instance, was too strong to simply be a sociopath's self-serving love for things they liked. He'd anchored her, clearly, he'd meant something profound, and his loss was a trauma that she'd never recovered from. And the whole business with that girl, Cinthy. I should contact her caretakers and see what her interviews have revealed.

By the time he took one of the covered footbridges over the avenue and walked onto the Esplanade, Albright's mind was drifting back to the question. Have I lost my objectivity? Am I so determined to solve the riddle of Malvina Hazen's mind that I've lost sight of objective fact? Or my duty? Hazen wants the trial. And she's plainly suffering in her current condition, what would her life be like if my judgement were upheld and she never faced trial? How might that damage her?

He shook his head and sighed, both at the sight of a closed bistro and the thought in his head. As his eyes took in the welcome sight of a cafe with customers - someone was open - he resolved to let the matter go for the moment. There's more to this. And they're doing this for political reasons, not justice. I will not let their rush to judicial vengeance color my judgment. Now, for one small New Year's resolution, I will enjoy the rest of my day.

Thoughts settled, he walked toward the cafe, the smell of garlic and honey already sparking his appetite.

The Royal Palace
Roslyn, Eastern Islay

While a gentle rain pattered against the glass windows of the Palace's Grand Ballroom, an equally gentle serenade played from the band box, prompting the dancing of the attendees of the New Year's Honors Ball.

Trillian descended with certain members of her staff, joining the festivities as a royal guest. She wore a custom gown for the occasion, fitted for her in the city, a sleeveless one-strap evening gown of glittering icy blue, a Steiner fist logo stitched into the design's strap on the left shoulder while the right shoulder was completely bare. Her hair was carefully arranged into an elegant bun, of the like favored back on her Tharkad, and matching ice blue eyeshadow and cosmetics attenuated the color of her face. The gown floated down to her shins, with splits on the side for ease of movement. Heeled dress shoes - not high-heeled at least - rounded out her appearance.

The master of ceremonies announced her name and titles, as well as the presence of her entourage, as she finished descending into the ballroom. It was a long, open chamber, flanked by tables bearing trays of finger foods and goblets. This was no sitting state dinner but a social occasion, like many she'd seen on Tharkad.

She was greeted by the great and mighty who were in attendance. Prince Roman Brewer-Steiner, CEO of Defiance Industries and Prince of Hesperus, offered her the appropriate kiss on the knuckles, wearing court dress not far different from the typical Brewer preferences she knew from her side of the Glass (including that damned usurper Vedet). Prince Roman's company was less enjoyment than necessity, given his influence and the prospect of securing contracts with him for Defiance to provide war material through the Glass.

A more original experience, and preferable company, came with the distinguished Duke Edmund de Fortemps of Bondurant. A middle-aged man with dark hair only starting to gray, he wore an elaborate gray overcoat with the insignia of a red unicorn head over his heart and a red dress shirt underneath, matched with elegant black dress trousers. He performed the same courtly greeting as Prince Roman but with what Trillian thought of as a greater sincerity. The same was done by the two young men with him, introduced as his sons Arthur and Emmanuel who wore similar coats. "I have not the pleasure of meeting a member of your House," she admitted.

"I would not be certain House Fortemps has the same rank on your side of the Glass, my Lady, given we attained our title on Bondurant two hundred years ago," Duke Edmund replied. His Star League English was impeccable. "Our predecessors had the fortune of surviving a bitter civil conflict and gaining control of our world's network of Star League-era microwave satellites. They were harsh men and women in taking power, I'll admit, but those were regrettably harsh times, and they relinquished some of their power in joining the Free March decades later."

"A story I've learned was replicated a thousand times over across this Inner Sphere." She nodded.

"So it was." He nodded politely. "The Lord stand with you, Lady Trillian, and rest assured my representation on the Senate has been duly instructed to support your cause."

"You have my thanks, Your Grace, my thanks, that of the Archon's, and the whole of the Lyran people," she replied.

With that remark, he stepped away, sons in tow.

Bondurant is not a major world, but Duke Edmund's support may still help. Freed from that conversation, she had a chance to take in the other little groups and conversations going on. Lord Arnold Proctor-Steiner, her assumed bete noire, was with a collection of stiff-backed men and women that included at least one woman Trillian was certain to be a Steiner as well. Though they were in civilian dress, she had no doubt all were AFRF, and likely senior officers. Senior parliamentary leaders were with ever-shifting groups as well, discussing all matter of topics… and more than a few referencing her mission.

The treaty remains unfinished, given the Privy Council's continued refusal to give concrete responses to my terms and questions. The longer it lingers, the harder it'll be to sway Parliament.

She was preparing to strike up a conversation with a senator from Giausar when the ceremonial horn blow lifted all eyes to the second level. The chamberlain appeared and announced Nathaniel's arrival, listing his titles in precedence of rank and age. It was the long-form today, so it included baronial holdings on Tharkad, Donegal, Skye, Bolan, Rochelle, and New Earth. There was some quiet surprise in the room when the chamberlain finished. Trillian's eyes swept the crowd and she noted that among the sternest looks were Lord Arnold and his people. Something was omitted then?

Duke Edmund's voice spoke beside her. "His Majesty is aware that the diplomatic corps is here tonight," he said, having approached during the King's introduction. "Including Her Excellency Mandrissa Cho Ming Na, the Ambassador of Emperor Robert Halas-Liao, newly returned to her post."

"So titles to worlds held by the Capellan Empire?" she murmured back, not letting her voice carry.

"Procyon and Sirius. Yes," he replied as softly. "A gesture of peace. It will be seen as weakness in some quarters, alas."

Nathaniel was in fine dinner dress of his own, a white jacket of gold trim over a blue vest and white shirt with a red necktie. A platinum circlet with a hawk over the forehead was on his brow. He descended with measured steps while the crowd, Trillian included, bowed or curtsied at the midway point. His feet touched the floor, a large space around him formed by the crowd.

One by one a collection of young men and women in formal wear were brought out and introduced. Debutantes one and all, mostly of Arcadian and other local world nobility, in their first royal occasion. Nathaniel smiled and returned their bows with head nods and little bows of his own. One by one the rest of the crowd paid him homage, Trillian included, and he accepted it.

She found herself comparing the occasion to similar ones on Tharkad. It was an intriguing combination of similarities and differences. The High King's arrival and presentation of the debutantes had a certain gravity not seen on Tharkad, but the stuffiness of the Lyran court was not present here, as attendees returned to quiet conversation and mingling as soon as they'd made their proper homage to the royal personage. There was no sorting by noble title or lack thereof, or the same deferences shown by rank and privilege, and even Nathaniel was quickly intermingling as if he were just another invitee.

After enjoying a small fruit jam pastry and some conversation with Lord John Cunningham, the Federated Suns' ambassador to the Arcadian court, Trillian finally found her opening to approach Nathaniel. He had his Royal Secretary and wife-to-be, Lady Sophia Marik, on his arm now, dressed in a full-sleeved dinner gown of white and purple with a Marik eagle where Trillian displayed the Steiner fist. "Lady Trillian," she said, drawing Nathaniel's attention. "I hope you have enjoyed yourself this evening."

"I have. It's been a productive night, to be sure."

Nathaniel grinned at that. Undoubtedly he was well aware she was mixing business with pleasure, expanding her contacts and promoting her cause to his subordinate nobles and other powers in the Federation. "These gatherings are rarely for leisure only, that much I learned from a young age."

"It is the same in the Royal Court on Tharkad, my Tharkad." She made the correction quickly. "I've noticed Prince Peter is not attending. Is he well?"

"As well as might be expected, but his husband's current condition didn't allow for him to attend," Nathaniel answered. "So he is attending to Lord Kevin."

"I see. I shall have to hope for the best, then."

"Sometimes that is all we can do," Sophia remarked. "Have you any further word of developments from your side of the Glass?"

"Not yet," Trillian lamented. "Though given distances, any renewal of the Wolves' attacks would not reach us yet. Not for weeks more, at least. There's no word of new Falcon attacks, at least, so we have breathing room on that front. Though how much, I am not sure."

"I am still working Parliament on the matter of your proposed treaty, as I am sure you are," Nathaniel replied. "I hope the loan has at least done well?"

"It has," she said, not adding it was already depleted. From both surplus stores and military contractors she'd bought enough material to outfit an LCT or two, maybe even the better part of an RCT, and a couple surplus picket DropShips that on her side would be called Pocket WarShips, and furthermore arranged for a couple mercenary hires beyond the Brotherhood. Yet it will take months for us to get those units, weapons and ships in place, not to mention the trained soldiers for the machines. What I need, what the Commonwealth truly needs, is that treaty, and Arcadian troops fighting the Clans.

"With the Parliament resuming sessions I hope to get their support for a supplementary budget," said Nathaniel. "I am completely committed to seeing this alliance formed. Your side of the Glass must be secured, the Commonwealth saved from dissolution, and these Clans stopped."

"I'm grateful you are already our ally in spirit," she answered, truthfully. If only we could get the rest of your court to agree.

The chamberlain came up and whispered in Nathaniel's ear. Trillian noted with concern that the expression on his face froze. "I see. Tell Admiral Stewart I'm on my way, and have everyone gather in the audience chamber."

As the crisply-attired man departed to implement the instructions, Trillian asked, "Has something happened?"

"Yes. I must go see the Admiral before the Honors ceremony begins."

Something was wrong, that much was certain. Trillian couldn't decide what was worse; that his people were under attack from a neighbor, and what that would mean for her cause, or that the news was from her side of the Glass.

Her concern was evident enough that Nathaniel stopped and, after a moment's consideration, lowered his voice. "I would ordinarily have waited, but… you should know." He leaned close and barely spoke above a whisper. "Die Falken greifen Timkovichi."

"Gott im Himmel," was all she could manage in reply.
”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.

User avatar
White Mage
White Mage
Posts: 21609
Joined: 2003-02-12 10:59pm

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

Post by LadyTevar »

Yep, we knew it was coming, here it is.

And you sly bastard. Edmond de Fortemps? REALLY!?
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
User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

LadyTevar wrote: 2022-05-08 09:46pm And you sly bastard. Edmond de Fortemps? REALLY!?
Couldn't help myself. 8)

Just need to figure out how I'm going to render Haurchefaunt... :D
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

28 - Meeting the Enemy

Field Base Carroll
Near Cirenholm
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
4 January 3143

Major General Labh Khan Singh took swift, measured steps into the Field Base's Command Operations Theater, joined by his chief of staff Brigadier Jamal Huston, his aide-de-camp Colonel Harold Smith, and the planet's governing regent, Duchess Katarina. Already there and waiting were Nadia Allard - in field dress; she’d drawn the duty CO slot - Jacob Tanhause, and the commanders of the pair of mercenary units that - hired out of the Kell estate, or so he’d been told - had been first to arrive; Force Commander Jesminder Harcourt, a compact fireplug of a woman with dark skin and red-blonde hair, her muscular forearms thick with tattoos and the stark pink-white of a slave brand burned across half her face - commanding Metal Fire, a battalion of tanks and battlesuited infantry - and Lieutenant Colonel Darren Huyten, with the pale complexion and lanky height of a native Martian, the CO of the Lucky Stars, an all arms battalion.

In a group the rest of his commanders arrived. The 2nd Royal Cuirassiers' XO and commander of the BattleMech regiment, Brigadier Maxine Shawcross, was a short, broad-shouldered woman from Ford, pearl-complexioned with striking green eyes, and a veteran MechWarrior. Brigadier Sir Seamus O'Malley was Donegal-born, a dark-haired freckle-faced tank driver in charge of the two armored regiments and the attached battalions of aviation and artillery vehicles. Brigadier Mark Ottman was from the Alarion March, with a light bronze complexion topped with wheat-colored hair graying at the fringes, an infantry ranger officer by profession. Air Commodore Yvonne Weiss was sunburnt red, common for residents from Vaj, and commanded the Cuirassiers' aerospace and air support groups. Like Singh, each and every one of them was a battle-tried veteran and survivor of the 4th Succession War. Rather, their Inner Sphere's 4th Succession War, waged eighty years after the one this universe knew, and a wider conflict by far.

"We've received updates from the observation sats out past Starkovich," Nadia said, motioning to the holotank. Multiple shapes were displayed in three-dimensional blue-shifted light tinged with red. Singh didn't recognize the specifics but he could tell what they were: WarShips, accompanied by both aerodyne and spheroid DropShips. Plumes of light lit up the aft of each vessel; they were under thrust. "It's given us a chance for a more accurate count of their force, and it's not good news. That's five WarShips, two each of battle and heavy cruisers and a frigate, plus PWS support; all of their fleet less Turkina's Pride, and our last report was that she's at Butler in the middle of a major refit. I don't think I need to go into detail to say your cruiser's no match for that kind of force."

Singh nodded stiffly. His hand settled upon the hilt of his kirpan unconsciously, as if to seek strength from it. "Did you send word through the Glass?"

"Just got the drone back. There's a Commodore Klauze on the other end, but the Ghastillian squadron's got nothing larger than your ship already here, and they're under orders not to engage odds like this."

Most of those in earshot were paling, most of all Duchess Katarina, who looked like she might die right there. "Evacuation's ready to go at a moment's order," Huston said. "We could likely get all the combatants through the Glass before they arrive, if you don't want to risk a bombardment."

"How much would we have to leave behind?" Singh asked, knowing the answer wouldn't be what he wanted to hear.

"To ensure we get all the personnel out in time, at least twenty-five percent of our gear will likely be left behind for lack of proper time to stow it," replied Shawcross. "This also accounts for the base personnel, the Armored Guard's folks, and Her Grace's family."

"We can't cut much off that, I'm afraid," Huyten weighed in, punching numbers into his noteputer. "Our DropShips aren't set up for major personnel lifts, and some of the ones that are, we need here for fire support if the evac's not done in time."

"Assuming the Falcons don't bomb us to death from high orbit," Harcourt added with dry cynicism.

Singh glowered at the image and the anger he felt in his heart. Cutting and running from this rebuilding planet felt like an offense, against the honor of his service and the Federation and House Proctor, but to stay invited death. There was no honor won in dying helplessly to enemy orbital bombardment. He glanced in Weiss' direction. "If it comes to the final extremity, can your pilots hit their ships with atomics?"

The room grew cold at the remark. While the Succession Wars went differently in their respective histories, both versions of the Inner Sphere nevertheless developed a similar aversion to such firepower and devastation. Indeed, on Singh's side, not even the Terrans in their final hours stooped to using atomics to stop the Successor States, nor did any use them even in their most dire hours of the 4th Succession War, when everyone's armies were on the verge of breakdown.

"We could try," Weiss said. "But honestly, it'll be Sirius in '23 all over again, given how many fighters that fleet's got to have, plus whatever their DropShips are capable of."

Singh blanched at the reference to the failed fight on Sirius. He hadn't been there, but Weiss had, he recalled, where the Oriento-Capellan Empire's aerospace regiments proved more numerous than estimated and reaved over half of the Federation's present aerospace fighters, as well as an armored cruiser and two destroyers, in a single action.

"Us and the Lyran navy have been looking at it for a last ditch option," Nadia offered, "but they've got heavy fighter cover, and a lot of those blasted NL-45 gunships. Against the numbers that fleet could bring to the table, I don't think we can do it. And it's a bit late to call in more carrier support from Coventry or Arc-Royal."

"Nor will the Sara Proctor be returning quickly enough, given how far they are. Very well. Your Grace." Singh nodded to Katarina. "Unless these Falcons prove willing to bid away their WarShips, I cannot in good conscience keep these troops on Timkovichi. Their deaths would gain no tangible result, and the bombardments would undoubtedly harm your world as well As stated, we can take you to sanctuary until such a time as we can manage the naval forces for a counter attack through the Glass."

"My family cannot abandon our people, General Singh, though we are thankful for your gracious offer."

"What are the odds the Falcons would agree to a straight up fight, no naval support?" Ottman asked. "They're not all blood-crazy bastards, right?"

"We'd need to know who their commander is," Nadia commented, looking at the holoprojection thoughtfully, "But it's been known to work, and, under the circumstances, I can't say we've got anything going to lose by trying a formal batchall. Even if it fails, at least we know what we're up against, and if it works then maybe we can hold out long enough for backup to arrive."

"Then make all due preparations for the evacuation, and we shall see what comes."

Salutes and nods answered him, followed by the impromptu departure of most of the commanders. "We could really use that battlewagon your people arrived in," Nadia commented, remaining at her post.

"Unfortunately, keeping a Battle Fleet stationed five jumps from Sudeten was not acceptable to my superiors, not with how it would disrupt the Concert," Singh sighed. "So we must do as we can, and trust in the One God that it will work out."

CJFS White Aerie
6 January 3143

The Cluster commanders of Delta Galaxy, enlarged as it was, attended Stephanie in the command theater on the White Aerie. They were forty-eight hours out from Timkovichi and close enough, now, to have a proper real-time conversation; close enough, that is, to perform the appropriate batchall. When the indicator lights showed green, confirming her voice and image were being transmitted, she spoke in proud, firm tones. "I am Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu of the Jade Falcons. My Delta Galaxy comes to claim this world. Who would resist our talons?"

They were far enough out that the delay in reply was at least a minute. Finally an image showed on the screen, depicting a bearded man in a predominately red uniform jacket. He wore a wrapping on his head, a turban by Stephanie's recollection, and she noted a dagger hilt visible at his belt at the image cutoff line. He wore a number of colored ribbons in the style of Spheroid uniforms that acted as a sort of poor counterpart to a Clan warrior's codex, each ribbon speaking of a different campaign or award. "I am Major General Labh Khan Singh of the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Royal Cuirassiers Regimental Combat Team, and acting commander of planetary defense. We have been briefed on your customs so I have prepared a listing of those forces we have for the defense of Timkovichi. It is transmitting now."

Beside his image, the listing appeared, reflecting the defenders down to at least battalion level. They use four battalions instead of three in their regiments. They are somewhat smaller than the RCTs employed by the Lyrans and Davions, even so. I see one regiment of 'Mechs, two regiments worth of armor, four of infantry, and slightly less than two Trinaries each of aerospace fighters and air-breathing atmospheric fighters. Her eyes went further down the listing. The planet has mercenary support as well, I see, plus the surviving defenders and a small contingent of Kell Hounds. Yes, it is fortunate I insisted on forces from Morges after all. The cutdown is going to be quite high.

Her eyes swept over to the fleet listing. Admiral Crichell's people already identified the one WarShip, a heavy frigate now identified by the Arcadians as a "light cruiser", and spoke of more frigates and destroyers that awaited on the other side of the anomaly. DropShips and fighter wings showed as well. Her forces were yet superior, given the White Aerie and her sister ship the Jade Aerie were present, and even if not, the Jade Talon and Blue Talon were still greater in strength. But some of these vessels were listed as "missile boats" or "picket support", and to her that implied capital missile armament like some of the Republic's ships. Enough that, even in defeat, the enemy naval forces might inflict damage, even loss, on her WarShips. Our means of repairing ships remain too limited, and if our ships are damaged too greatly, it will leave us without any naval backup on any front.

That thought was sour enough. She also considered what it might mean if the enemy chose to simply withdraw before she arrived, to avoid a repeat of Malvina's dezgra tactics from the prior strike on Timkovichi. She needed a battlefield victory, not an easy unopposed conquest, as the latter would be too much a Mongol victory for her or the others' liking.

Yet to bid away the WarShips too early would be too much. No, she needed a reason, something to justify it…

"I would make an offer, Khan Chistu. Not one I make lightly, but duty compels me."

Curious, she nodded. "Go ahead."

Half a minute passed, giving her a chance to note the hungry look on Star Colonel Isaac's face, and on the other Mongol commanders around her. Finally the offer transmitted. "I would be willing to face your forces, mighty as they are, in ground combat, but only if your WarShips remain beyond orbital bombardment range."

Isaac sneered at that. "Why would we give away such an advantage?" he asked openly, ignoring her glare. "Especially since it would invite your aerospace fighters to intercept our ships during landing."

The eventual response came. "Because I am more than willing to employ any means I might to protect my troops from a repeated attempt at bombardment. And because, in accordance with Clan custom, I will grant safcon if you do not bid your WarShips."

Stephanie muted the response this time before Isaac could speak. "This is foolishness. We brought these vessels should they still have their mighty battleship. They do not. If they will not surrender to our might, destroy them for the affront. That is the Mongol Way."

"Until her failure here, even your Chingis Khan did not turn to such tactics at first blow," Stephanie reminded him coldly. "Nor is it the Clan way to destroy warriors from space to avoid a Trial. Or are you a coward underneath that bravado, Star Colonel?" She grinned at him. "Perhaps I will bid away the 9th Talon, then, if their commander is so fearful of the fray."

Isaac's nostrils flared. "I fear nothing. It is you who quakes in fear, fear to take the necessary path to our Clan's greatness and final victory! You would waste warriors in battle to win the Khanship rather than secure our Clan's victory with the superior way!"

"So you challenge me, Star Colonel? Finally? Shall we meet in a Circle of Equals then?" She moved about the holotank to stare him down. "Admiral Crichell may serve as our Oathmaster."

His eyes locked onto hers with fury, but behind it, she saw calculation. Her reputation as a MechWarrior was long-established, and her codex had a share of victories worthy of her candidacy to replace Malvina Hazen. He was accomplished, but against her, he would be at a disadvantage. So would he put everything on the line, whatever ambitions he held, or sway over those warriors whose faith in the Mongol Doctrine was fading with Malvina's loss, to face her now?

The silence between them lasted another ten seconds before his eyes tightened. "You are my superior. I disagree with your methods, but I will obey your orders, so long as they are of benefit to the Clan."

"I would expect no less," she said in firm reply. "My decision is made. Let us test the Arcadians' mettle in battle. It will be a chance for real glory in this campaign instead of facing an overwhelmed and broken foe." Returning to her prior place, she unmuted the comm and faced General Singh. "We will accept safcon and leave the WarShips out of this Trial so long as your WarShips and naval forces keep their distance from our vessels and the anomaly. Nor will you bring reinforcements through the anomaly; we will seize or destroy any vessel that comes through. These are my terms, and I will not negotiate them. Aff or Neg, General?"

She suspected the silence that came was not just from the delay. It took nearly a minute before the reply "I accept" came over the speaker.

"Bargained well and done. In two days we commence the battle for Timkovichi. Our bid force and chosen landing site will be transmitted to you by then. White Aerie out." A second key ended the communication. "These Arcadians wish to face our fury, and now they shall, without the benefit of surprise as they enjoyed before. We will analyze the data and provide the formal cutdowns to you by tomorrow, when I will accept bids for which Cluster gets the right of the first engagement past our LZs. The day after, we land, and claim this world for the Clan."

She received nods and salutes, though those from her "borrowed" Mongol Clusters were perfunctory only. They will not bid honestly, I think, for their lack of appreciation of our customs. It may put greater strain on my loyal Clusters in the opening engagements. But it will give Delta Galaxy the fight it has earned. And I will see that Star Colonel Roshak and his ilk do not shirk their duties in this fight.

Field Base Carroll

General Singh watched the image of the stocky, muscular woman blink away. That of Captain Hanson on his ship did not. "We would have made them earn it, General," Hanson said. "Are you sure about this?"

"I will not throw lives away needlessly, nor have our forces face the ignominy of fleeing," Singh answered. "We came to protect these people, and we will, to our last if need be."

"My orders?"

"Take up a position equally distant from the planet. Stay in contact with Captain Winters and General Bridger. Their part in this is not yet done, I think."

"You sure about this, General?" asked Shawcross. "She made it awfully clear she'll consider the term broken if we get reinforcements."

"Reinforcements through the Glass, yes. The 8th Strikers and Kell Hounds are already here." Singh smiled bitterly. "Besides, I think that deep down, she, and definitely Malvina Hazen's followers in her ranks, want to fight the Strikers, since they're the ones who brought Malvina down. It may be our last card should we be unable to hold. Though either way, I fully intend to make the Falcons bleed win or lose, and we are in this to win. The 2nd Royal Cuirassiers have been bloodied and battered in our century of service to House Proctor's Federation, but we have yet to be beaten, and that is a record I expect us to keep intact."

"Victory or death it is, then. Just like Buckminster," Brigadier O'Malley vowed, a vicious grin on his face. "Th' Dracs learned th' 2nd's mettle in those days, an' th' Falcons will learn th' same lesson."
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

29 - Hostile Contact

Outside Karten, Sanfeld River Basin
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
8 January 3143

The Sanfeld River was one of the oldest rivers, geologically, on Timkovichi. Estimates were that it and the associated rains of the climate had long worn what were once mountains into sloping hills, and low hills at that. It left the soil lush and fertile as well, turning the basin into a natural breadbasket for Timkovichi.

The farmhouses that dotted the landscape about the small town of Karten were not in the business they were built for, however. Their residents were gone, evacuated to the displacement camps that were still housing the grieving survivors of Cirenholm, as was Karten's population. The only resident left was with the Timkovichi 24th Infantry Battalion, a surviving formation of the planetary guard currently positioned on the flank of the Timkovichi Armored Guards.

At the outskirts of Karten, a plowed field's irrigation channels created natural berms for the tanks that now sat quietly in preparation. The Armored Guards' remaining tanks were mostly older models, survivors of the Succession Wars and the Jihad, but bolstered by a few machines salvaged from the Hell's Horses. Those present were all lighter models, all the better to beat the fighting retreat that was expected to be necessary. A single BattleMech - a salvaged Black Lanner hurriedly repainted in the Armored Guard’s pale blue and gray colours - stood among them as well.

The Arcadian tanks looked newer, though some bore old scars of their own. But whatever scars they might have, there was no mistaking them for militia models. TharDef's AFV-26 Rhino tanks were OmniVehicles, in mixed configurations for mutual support. Most had missile launchers of some type affixed to their turrets, joined by a large cannon, a mixture of Gauss Rifles and heavy autocannons or PPCs, and anti-infantry weapons set into the sides and front. They were among the more advanced tanks in the arsenal of the Royal Federation, powered by extra-light fusion engines that made them costly in comparison to the local forces they were forward positioned with, but allowing them to pack their weaponry, be fully armored, and still achieve a 64km/h flank speed.

Captain Marilyn Nagawa — Able Company, 2nd Battalion of the 23rd Royal Armored Regiment — poked her head from the turret of the Rhino she was riding. It was configured with a Vickers-Armstrong Mk. 8 PPC as the main gun with a twelve-salvo Variable Charge Tactical Missile launcher - the equivalent to the locals' ATM launchers - mounted above and behind the turret's main hatch, all tied into a fire control computer system that worked the gun's elevation automatically for precision targeting. The tank beside hers, belonging to Lieutenant Victor Neuworth as her company XO, was the only one configured with a dual-gun turret, mounting a Gauss Rifle along the centerline and another Mark 8 to the right, giving it more direct punch. He flashed her a grin and a thumb's up while adjusting his cooling vest. She returned the gesture.

A voice crackled over the radios. "Forward observation's reporting more movement in the LZs. Looks like the Falcons are forming up to push." She didn't place it, presuming it to be one of Tanhause's people or maybe a battle armor scouting party from the 16th Royal Air Cavalry Regiment. "They're not even waiting to finish their landings."

Tanhause's voice crackled over the radio. "Pull back as needed". He was in tactical command of their "kampfgruppe" of mechanized infantry and armor. A short ways behind them the 2nd Royal's 3rd 'Mech Battalion was already taking position to meet any sudden enemy aggression, but they'd face the fire first. "Arcadian forces, don't worry about ritual here. That's over. When the Falcons come they'll be moving fast and hard. And keep a close eye on your warbooks; stay clear of anything packing plasma cannon."

"Roger. We'll give them a warm greeting," Nagawa promised. She dropped back into her chair in the turret, placing her beside Lance Corporal Earl Danning, her tank's primary gunner. She waved him off and closed the hatch before reaching for her radio controls, which she switched to the company command channel. "This is Two-Able One. Look alive, everyone. Expect hostile contacts any moment, and we are weapons free."

"Hurry up and wait time," Danning said, grinning viciously. He'd only had one fight before, she recalled, the guerrillas on Kelenfold, and they'd mostly provided distant direct fire support to the infantry sweeping the camp up. The grin was as much bravado as it was genuine eagerness.

It was an eagerness she shared. Better to get the fighting started and not dwell on the waiting.

A voice rang up from below, that of Private Marielou St. Michel, in a twang from Stardawn over in Alarion March. "Scopes lighting up. Target-rich environment, hoss!"

"Driver, ready for reverse. Secondary Gunner, keep an eye for battle armor, the Clans will be sending that after us going by what the locals say. Corporal." She nodded to Danning. "Fire for effect, biggest targets."

"Yes sir!" He put his eye to the scope and readied his twin firing controls. Down below Private St. Michel would be operating by remote the eight machine guns fitted to the AFV-26's sides, rear, and frontal plate, should enemy infantry approach, and Private Hakeem al-Aswari would be ready to maneuver the tank as needed.

Ten seconds later Nagawa could feel the heat surge in the turret. The capacitors came alive with their stored power and sent a bolt of plasma through the air. She activated her own scope and noted that Danning, with his computerized help, had managed a direct torso hit on an oncoming enemy 'Mech, a chicken-legged machine that spat laser fire in their general direction. One hit grazed their turret and melted some armor, but their hull-down position allowed them safety from the worst of it. A series of muffled booms told her the missile launcher had likewise fired, sending twelve multi-stage missiles towards the Falcon 'Mech. Half the salvo struck, chipping away armor, though only one made good on the wound carved by their main gun.

The Falcons moved forward with 'Mechs exclusively, some visibly carrying battle armor infantry on their shoulders and heads. Missiles ripple-fired into the air, filling the sky before crashing down around Nagawa and her company. Her tank's armor held from the impacts they took, with some strength damage. "Firing!" Danning called out, and again a surge of heat filled the turret. She watched this bolt crash into the shoulder and wing of a tall roughly-humanoid 'Mech.

Her heart skipped a beat at the loud hammerblow that reverberated through the turret. The screens showed the reason; they'd taken a direct hit from a Clan Gauss Rifle that the armor managed to hold back, though at cost of significant surface material.

A glance at the scopes confirmed the matter. The 'Mechs were close enough that, with their height, the irrigation channels and prepared berms were no longer as effective as cover. More to the point, the Falcons had serious numbers coming their way. "Driver, prepare for backup and turn," she said, before repeating the order to the entire company. But she didn't give the actual retreat order, not yet; their orders were to hold as long as possible. Retreating too early would be as dangerous as waiting too long.

"All vehicles pull back," Tanhause ordered. "They're coming on the flanks!"

Nagawa's stomach dropped at that. This many enemies, all at once? This wasn't just some clearing of the Falcon LZ, they were beginning their push now. How insane are these people? They can't have unloaded much yet, they're going for an offensive now?! "Able Company, pull back to second line!" she ordered. The Rhino vibrated from the power shifting from its fusion engine to the transmission, sending the treads into motion. The vibration was drowned out by another loud bang and echo, a direct hit from another Gauss round, this time on their glacis plate. Yet the armor held again, while more missiles came down around them. A laser stabbed the air just over the scope, lightly grazing the Rhino turret.

"Laser hit on missile launcher," said Corporal Awilo Longomba, the vehicle engineer and second-in-command. "Looks like a glancing shot, tubes are intact and weapon's still loading."

Nagawa felt the thunderous vibration of the multi-stage missiles firing yet again. It was still the long range missiles being used. Al-Aswari turned the tank while Danning kept the turret facing towards the foe. The PPC fired yet again. She was pleased to see it tear through the reversed knee joint of a chicken-legged 'Mech in emerald, slowing the machine to a limp.

"Two-Able Eight here, we just took a track hit while turning, speed's impaired." The voice was one of her sergeants, Julian Kalonji.

The voice of Lieutenant Ludwig von Holst, one of her lance commanders, beat her to the punch. "Abandon if you have to, we'll—"

A brief roar drowned out von Holst's voice in the split second before the line cut. Nagawa's gut clenched in the moment before noting that Two-Able Five disappeared from her small tactical screen.

"Looks like a direct penetrating hit on the Lieutenant's machine. There's one survivor crawling free," another voice said. "Moving to pick up if possible."

"Negative on that," Nagawa ordered, hating herself for it. "They're coming too fast. Keep falling back."


"That is an order, Sergeant." God forgive me for giving it. But I won't lose five more to save one.

"We've got 'er," another, unfamiliar voice said, and it took Nagawa a second to process that it was one of Tannhause's people. "Just give us the cover fire we need."

"You've got it," she replied, grateful for the effort. A closer inspection of the tactical picture confirmed the Falcons were already fully on their flanks. They'd be doomed save the Falcons seemed more interested in pushing ahead. They might try to surround us. I hope those 'Mechs get here soon…

With her troops landing, Stephanie transferred from White Aerie to the DropShip Silverwing and joined the initial landing. Delta's core Clusters were going first, having won the bidding by margins of individual Stars given the Mongol commanders like Isaac refused to even budge on their bids. It was another dissatisfying reminder of how far from the Honor Road Malvina Hazen brought the Clan, and how important it was that she win this battle and set the Falcons back on the path of Kerensky.

The holotank in the Silverwing's command center displayed a tactical overview of the unfolding battle. Star Colonel Lisa Hazen was living up to her expectations, pushing the 53rd Talon Cluster forward aggressively against the enemy's defense line and already had their forward position outflanked. A swift campaign is precisely what I wish. The sooner I break these Arcadians, the more quickly I can get back to Sudeten and consolidate with Beckett.

That would likely have to include some re-assignments, of course, and even some Trials of Grievance to deal with the most aggressive, vicious Mongols. She had half a mind to send them to the Reach, or the borders with the Bears, but only if it didn't prejudice the Clan's readiness to continue their campaign, or defend what they'd conquered.

This battle may just be the beginning, she thought. They still knew so little about the other side after all, and what kind of force was present there. We know they have more ships, but how many more? How great are their armies? What kind of foe are we dealing with? Is an offensive even feasible if these Arcadians come through in strength, and we cannot find a way to block the anomaly? We can't keep our WarShips here forever.

"My Khan." The voice of her adjutant, Star Captain Hannibal, prompted her head to rise. The unblooded Elemental warrior, of the Icaza Bloodhouse, kept his spine straight while towering over her. "The other Clusters are ready to advance as well, as soon as you are prepared."

"The 53rd Talon won the bidding, so they shall be given more time to win glory before we press everything. Have those clusters ready to advance at my notice." Her eyes drifted back to the holotank. The lead enemy tank unit was already showing several casualties even if they weren't being pressed on the flanks. They were falling back regardless. Perhaps I should intercede and give the order to cut them off… but no, I must show faith in my subordinates. Let them win their share of glory as well. This may be the most important battle of our lives, and there will be plenty of glory for all before it is done.

Riding in the turret basket of a lightweight Fox scout vehicle was, Jacob Tanhause had to acknowledge, a very different experience to the ride of an assault tank.

And, he added silently, sweeping the turret scopes for a target, it’s one I’d have been happy to forgo.But he needed to see what was happening, and the Fox’s comms and sensors were the best the Armoured Guard had.

“Got one, boss-man!” That was PFC Jacqui Wilks at the com/scan board, faint strains of thumping crash music coming from the earbud she wasn’t wearing to accommodate her headset. “Eyrie at one-three-one, just inside reach for the new med beamer.”

Jacob slewed the turret to that bearing, ignoring the informality and thanking the Kell Hound techs who’d replaced the standard ER medium laser with a Clan-spec model. There; the tall, lanky shape of the light ‘Mech, its stubby missile pod-arms framing the beak-like cockpit module. Off-white smoke swallowed it for a moment as it lofted a missile salvo; and Jacob double-checked his firing solution.

“Check readiness,” he called down, “we’re only going to get one shot at this.” The tac feeds showed that clearly; their line starting to bend back under Falcon pressure.

Corporal Cal Lopis - the usual vehicle commander - didn’t answer in words, just the whine of the Fox’s drive fans as he spun them up, ready to slide along the irrigation ditch they were hull-down in.

“All Echo-Four elements,” Wilks called over the lance net, “boss-man wants to know none of you’ve sloped off for a smoke.”

Four-Four here, Jacks. Tried that before; got wet.” Less irreverent acknowledgements came back from the other two vehicles. Jacob breathed out at that, slowly and calmly.

“Echo Four-Two and Four-Three, engage,” he ordered, squeezing the firing stud. A beam of cyan light slashed a semi-molten across the Eyrie’s torso, long-range missiles and light-calibre autocannon shells from the pair of Condors raining down around its legs. Plumes of earth and water, and shards of armour, scattered away from the Falcon machine, It hunched down for a moment, the MechWarrior inside fighting to keep its footing. Then it steadied, set itself, and charged, jump jets igniting and lifting it forward.

Exactly what we wanted. “Boot it, now!” Jacob called, pulling the safety straps tighter and bracing himself as things started to happen very fast indeed.

The Fox slid sideways, Jacob’s gut feeling the unsettling cast of the motion as he slewed the turret around; the Eyrie crashed down where they’d been - agile on the ground, in the air it manoeuvred like bricks didn’t. It loomed overhead like an avatar of death, light-gauge pulse lasers flashing water into steam as its fire - interlaced with the cyan bolts of the Fox’s own pulse lasers - chased them.

Then Echo Four-Four unmasked.

Sliding out of a side channel, molten armour splattered from the Eyrie’s pulse lasers clipping the Destroyer’s armoured hull and lift skirts as it interposed itself between the Fox and the Falcon’s gunnery. In response, the Destroyer’s autocannon roared, firing at maximum rate; twelve-centimetre shells ripping both the Eyrie’s legs away in midthigh. The torso crashed facedown into the channel, wedged tightly enough it couldn’t adjust its missile pods, or even try to free itself.

Good kill, good kill!” Four-Four’s commander yelled, strafing burst of machine-gun fire across the Eyrie’s cockpit module.

“Okay people, let’s get out of here before that idiot’s heavy backup gets in reach,” Jacob ordered, seeing the blue-gold icons of Arcadian ‘Mechs moving up on the tac display for their part of playing matador. “We’re not fighting it out here; just trying to bloody their noses.”

Singh watched the holographic indicators of the battle with quiet thoughtfulness. The icons were simple boxes, marked to represent companies of vehicles or 'Mechs or infantry soldiers, but each was made up of dozens of living, breathing human beings, many of whom would not be doing either things when the day ended.

A quarter of a century ago, it'd been him out there, piloting a Leopard in the Giausar Rangers, then moving up to a Fusilier in the Royal Giausar Rifles, 2nd Free March Cavalry. He would still dream of the carnage he and his comrades faced, fighting the 7th Galedon Regulars on Shionoha, having to flee Cebalrai when the Galedonian reinforcements arrived and their broken brigade could do nothing but run with DropShips encumbered by refugees fleeing whatever the Kuritanizing Galedonians had in store for them. He envied the 2nd Royal Cuirassiers their "never beaten" record, and could only pray it would not be broken under his command.

Now, he'd have different nightmares. Of all the thousands of his men and women who were going to die in the coming weeks, just like the comrades he'd lost.

The 3rd Battalion engaged the advancing Falcon 53rd Talon with practiced efficiency. Lieutenant Colonel Dempsey was in the field directly, commanding from her Chieftain Assault OmniMech, and by reports already engaged in bringing fire down while directing the fire companies of the 3rd on the enemy unit pressing against them. Tanhause's kampfgruppe fell back under their support, their losses real but manageable.

"Giving them a quick sock to the nose might just do the job," Huston said. "Especially if they're not used to fighting equals."

"More likely it'll just excite them," Nadia answered. "Delta Galaxy's been sitting things out so far, this is their chance for a real scrap. And odds are Galaxy Commander Chistu's going to push them hard to roll us over, she's a strong candidate for Khan by our intel."

Singh nodded but said nothing, his attention entirely on the holotank's display. One of Weiss's squadrons, a full twelve Thunderstrike close support fusion-powered strike aerofighters, appeared at the edge and engaged. Their icon blipped rapidly until they finished their attack runs and fell back. Numbers flashed over the icon to confirm their losses; four of twelve fighters were destroyed by enemy anti-air and five heavily damaged. I hope their efforts made the loss worth it.

The lights continued their movements, peaceful flashes of color compared to the violence of modern combat that they represented, while minutes passed like hours. He felt a hope he didn't want to feel, that they could repulse this strike, lock the Falcons down, bloody them and buy time for the Ghastillian and Arcadian fleets to arrive and throw the Falcon WarShips back.

Shawcross spoke up with a grim tone. "Sir, positive identification from the reconnaissance lances, more enemy forces are pushing from the LZ. It looks like they're coming up on the 3rd's flanks."

So much for that thought. Singh nodded. "Have Dempsey pull back, then. Task the reserve battle groups to support them on their flanks as they maneuver to the rear."

"Yes, General," he said, undoubtedly having already arranged the order for execution.

So the battle begins, and already we must retreat. How long might we hold this world against the enemy's strength? I pray that our superiors do not make us find out.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

30 - Ante Up

Beta Galaxy Headquarters
Gallery, Donegal Province (Disputed)
Lyran Commonwealth/Wolf Empire
3 January 3143

The drive plumes of Seth Ward's Alpha Galaxy were little more than bright stars in the night sky over Katrina Steiner-Davion's head. Already more clouds were gathering on the horizon, signaling the return of the storms that constantly scoured Gallery's surface. She watched them go with frustration and trepidation. Though they would accomplish what she longed to see—the further humiliation of the Lyran people who failed her eighty years ago—her own plans and desires were yet in jeopardy.

"He means to leave you to rot." She turned to face her son Alaric with a frown. "All of this rot about Beta Galaxy needing refit is to keep you from the glory of Tharkad, and sidelined as a rival."

Alaric nodded. As usual he was keeping a poker face around her. She'd taught him to do that with others, and it annoyed her that he was so good at it even with her. What goes on in that mind of yours, Alaric? You've inherited my brilliance and Vlad's, so I'm not worried you'll turn out like my naive, idiotic, too-trusting failure of an older brother, may his corpse continue to rot. But I can't advise you if you don't open up to me. She felt her usual hatred against Victor fester still within her soul, even if he was ten years dead. He'd taken everything from her and that hatred would never go away.

Alaric leaned against the railing at the side of the prefab structure's ceiling. The technicians and workers, a combination of those few Wolf civilians they'd successfully recovered and conscripted workers from the Marik and Lyran worlds they'd conquered, had done well in storm-proofing the command center, as the planet's underground cities were still holding out and every square centimeter of captured tunnel was better used to shield the more combustible supplies and ammunition from Gallery's infamous lightning storms. "He fears me." Alaric's expression shifted to a wolfish smile that reminded her of Vlad. "He is right to."

"And yet he has sidelined you quite effectively, leaving you here to struggle in these tunnels and watch supplies while he charges for Tharkad. Once he has the glory of that conquest, he will not fear you any longer."

"I am well aware of that, and it is why I have made preparations."

"Preparations? Of what sort?" Katrina narrowed her eyes. The possibilities flipped through her mind. "You cannot mean to sabotage him. If you were discovered—"

"Please, Mother. I am not a fool." Alaric gestured towards the window. "Nor is Seth Ward. He has two reasons for leaving me here. One is to keep me from glory. The other is because we lack the ships to hold sufficient supplies until Thuban is subdued, so Gallery must be our supply dump if we are to keep the Khan's time table to land on Tharkad no later than the end of April."

"So I noticed." She crossed her arms. "And I believe I understand. You think the Lyrans will strike here."

"Some, may, a few still have courage. But I believe that we will face the only enemy worth fighting on this front."

"Anastasia Kerensky. You believe her Wolf Hunters will come."

"Seth Ward believes she will strike at him at Smolnik or Thuban. But he does not understand her like I do. She knows that to fight him on either planet will only waste away her best troops. She will come for our weakest point. The point where she might do the most damage to our efforts. She will come here."

"You are awfully confident in her intelligence assets, my son." The moment she spoke those words, Katrina gripped what Alaric meant. "Oh. I see. You play a dangerous game, Alaric. She has bested you before, and if you lose again, if you lose these supplies, Seth Ward will not hesitate to destroy you. You have gambled everything on this."

"So I have. But that is the nature of things, Mother," Alaric replied. "I must gamble now or none of what I desire will be achieved."

"Even if you prevail, and win a place for Beta Galaxy in the invasion, the disruption of even a minor Lyran strike could delay the advance on Tharkad. It will give them time to rally, or for the reported Davion reinforcements to arrive."

"I fear neither. The Lyrans are a broken people, the Davions are led by a brash, craven fool who seeks glory against the Liaos, and will not concern himself with our war until it is too late. Even if he does act in time, I know who he will send; and though Julian Davion is a worthy warrior, he will not have the strength sent with him to make a difference." Alaric sneered internally at Spheroid politics, that poison that drove leaders to mistrust their most able—and, in this case, most loyal—commanders. Even if we are not immune to that; though, Seth Ward is right to be wary of me.

Katrina nodded. "And what of the rumors we have heard from the Foxes? That Trillian Steiner-Davion has gone beyond the portal, the 'Looking Glass', to seek allies in the other Inner Sphere?"

For a moment she felt she'd scored a point with her son, as his expression betrayed a hint of uncertainty. "They will have the Falcons to deal with," he said. "Malvina's death or capture will certainly inflame her followers. These 'Arcadians' will be too busy with the bloodfoul Mongols to trouble us."

"Or so you hope."

"Hope does not enter into it, Mother. At this time, I do what I must, if my ambitions are to be fulfilled." Alaric's uncertainty vanished. "Anastasia will come, and I will destroy her and her Wolf Hunters. Whether her head is my trophy or her wrist bears my bondcord, it will ensure me a place at the Khan's side when the time comes to take Tharkad."

"I look forward to seeing that." Katrina smiled thinly. "Especially the part about taking Tharkad."

Outpost-class DropShip Coeur de Loup
Thuban, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
4 January 3143

Roderick Steiner resisted the urge to scream every obscenity he could think of, and a few things that he wasn’t actually sure were curses. Taking a deep breath, he faced the — very young, and, surrounded by Clanners who if they weren’t actually armed still looked like it and some very angry senior LCAF officers, absolutely terrified — staff Hauptmann and asked, with a calm that fooled absolutely nobody, “Would you please repeat that, Hauptmann?”

“I—I’m sorry, sir,” the pale youth responded, “but there are no reinforcements. The First and Second Royal, and First Buena, Guards insist on Archon Melissa’s personal command, and, um, a-acting Archon Vede—” he cut off at Roderick’s glare.

“Knock it off, Steiner,” Anastasia Kerensky stepped in. “Terrifying the kid into incoherence isn’t gonna change anything, and stop trying to drill a hole in the bulkhead with your stare. You,” she pointed at the High Command’s messenger, “wait outside.” She waited until they’d taken the hint and left before continuing. “So, I take it this means that we’re fucked—and not in the fun way?”

“That’s about the size of it,” Jasek Kelswa-Steiner agreed, from where he’d been talking quietly with his senior Colonel—and rumoured Lohengrin operative—Joss Vandel. “Definitely explains some things, though; and Vedet’s absolutely stupid enough to do exactly what we've heard. But, yes, Colonel Kerensky,” he seemed to slump slightly, “without the Guards, there’s no way we can hold here. We’ve got three units we can count on in a fight,” he called up the relevant orders of battle on the Coeur de Loup’s holotank, “my Stormhammers, your Wolf Hunters, and Roderick’s Strikers. The rest—well, Roderick’s been working with them, so what do you think?”

More bad news to be had. “If the Wolves give us another month or two—and they won’t—the composite Arcturan and Donegal Guards regiments we’ve put together should be able to reliably hold defensive positions with secure flanks,” Roderick sighed. “It isn’t their fault, they’ve been beaten to hell and I’ve got leutnants commanding battalions—Hel, one regimental CO was a sergeant six months ago—but they’re still in no shape to fight. The Lyran Guards’ll fight better, but if you order me to take them up against Clan regulars in a field battle, Jasek, I might as well shoot them myself.”

Several minutes of silent — or at least quiet — contemplation followed, before Kerensky broke that quiet.

“Okay, so, we can’t defend here, and we’re all agreed that we can’t retreat without making a try at something—however sensible that’d be—because that idiot Vedet’ll just use us for scapegoats, yes?” Nods at that. “Then I say we attack.”

You might be fine with dying gloriously,” Jasek scoffed, “but I’d rather achieve something more than just throwing five regiments at four—or more—Galaxies and hoping for the best.”

“I didn’t say we attack Seth Ward’s forces head-on,” Anastasia riposted, adjusting the holotable to a star map, painted in grey and blue. “Seth Ward’s prepping to try and secure his flanks before hitting here, then Tharkad. Means there’s only going to be one Galaxy on Gallery for a while, and a Sea Fox trader,” she smiled, hard and feral, “let me know that the Crusaders are piling more supplies on what they took from you. We hit that, steal or torch as much of it as we can, we shove a Gauss slug right in the middle of their whole offensive’s timetable. And,” she grinned, “that little Fox also told me that the Galaxy staying behind, is going to be Alaric Wolf’s Beta. I might mount his head over my desk.”

Roderick frowned, at the information and Anastasia’s bloodthirsty boast. “And you just happened to run into a Sea Fox merchant with this information? I take it I’m not the only one finding that suspicious?”

“Oh, no question, it’s a trap,” Anastasia smiled again, with the same feral cast to it, “but you need to stop thinking Alaric’s gonna act like a soldier—like you would, Steiner. He’s the same as all us Trueborn; a gambler, and one who still hasn’t learned rule one of gambling—never bet what you can’t afford to lose. Those supply stockpiles are real, that’s why Alaric used them for bait; he knows we can’t ignore them. He just figures he won’t have to pay up. I say we show him he’s wrong.”

That led to another long, contemplative silence, before Jasek sighed.

“It’s not a good plan, but I think it’s the only one we’ve got that might work,” he agreed. “I don’t suppose that trader of yours knew anything about Ward’s actual plans, Colonel Kerensky?”

“No, but I have met Seth Ward,” Anastasia replied, returning the holotank to showing a starmap. “He’s a big one for converging attacks. So my best estimate is that,” she began highlighting stars, “based on mine and your run ins with his forces, and the amount of supplies he's been contracting the Foxes to move, he’s got at least six Galaxies pushing us, probably more—too bad we can’t let the Mariks know; he’s gotta have stripped the border with them bare to field that big a force, and if they knew they’d be up his ass faster than an ice hellion up a trouser leg,” Anastisa grinned again. “My guess, is that once he’s concentrated forces on Gallery, he’ll send two Galaxies to Smolnik, to try and take me out—he never did believe in fair fights—two more swinging out to Callisto before hitting here, and leave two concentrating on Gallery as main reserves. Unfortunately,” her face shifted to an expression of mock contrition, so exaggerated that Roderick felt like he was at a theatre back on Tharkad, “I happen to know that someone seems to’ve sabotaged Zeta Galaxy’s JumpShip echelon. Whoever those naughty, naughty boys and girls were, they’ve been poking holes in L-H tank seals. Gonna delay them until at least late February, considering where spares and more fuel are going to have to come from.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Jasek looked grim. “You both know the First Davion Guards are on their way to reinforce us, but they can’t get here any sooner than that. Physically can’t; I’ve sent a courier to Furillo to inform Julian Davion what’s going on, and roughly what our plans are, but who knows if he’ll get the message. Damn the Blackout,” Jasek’s expression hardened, turned into an inward-focusing anger; and Roderick was suddenly very glad he couldn’t see inside Kelswa-Steiner’s thoughts, “if I ever find out who was responsible for it, they will suffer.”

“And I’ll hand you the thumbscrews,” Anastasia laughed. “Still, can’t say the delay would be a bad thing; my people need time to rest and refit, and we need to plan this thing. I know, I have a reputation for being reckless,” she laughed again, high, rich and sincere, “but there’s a line between reckless and stupid. We’ve only got one shot at this, so my Hunters and your Stormhammers have to do it right.”

Roderick breathed out, feeling some tension drain. “What do you want me to do,” he asked, “while you’re prepping this?”

“Start moving troops back to Tharkad, quietly,” Jasek said, with an unnerving steadiness. “A company here, a battalion there; make it look as much like normal troop rotations as you can. I’ll get the landing orders cut; the military port at Olympia,” he clarified. “Last we heard, Vedet’s not got that much support in the Navy or Aerospace Force, and the Second Royal Guards are camped out there, so it’s safe. We’re going to need more troops on Tharkad that we can count on before this is over.”

“You think … what, Jasek? That he’d try to coup the High Command?” Roderick ased, quietly; not sure if he really wanted an answer. “That … seems out of character.”

“I don’t know what he might try,” Jasek responded. “But you’ve never met him when he’s desperate, Roderick, I have. And I think he might risk something like that, yes. Means we need to be ready to stop it.” Or Lady Trillian might not have a Commonwealth worth saving...

Palace of Parliament
Laughlin Capital District, Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Royal Arcadia March
Royal Federation
9 January 3143

For all her years of training in the court of Tharkad, both official and the natural training one got in the Archon's Royal Court, Trillian's poise was becoming sorely tested in the first week of the year. Timkovichi's plight put everything in the air for her, even whether or not she might even get home.

It was immensely frustrating to say the least. Her initial hope was that this would provoke a shift in the Privy Council in her favor. That their troops under assault would at last get their sympathy. Instead she was treated to the usual tactics over this term or that while, in the press, some arguments were now being aired by pundits that High King Nathaniel placed the troops on Timkovichi specifically to get attacked. This would, they argued, enable him to do an end-run around the Privy Council and Parliament, an argument tailor-made to undermine anything she might do to finally make a breakthrough.

At the very least progress seemed within her grasp. Speakers Soto and Stuart agreed to a request by her to meet with the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defense, which turned into a semi-public session. That alone was important to her cause; even better, while a few of the members were not prominent in either house, the names included veteran parliamentarians representing a broad range of interests that gave her an opening to sway beyond the Committee chambers.

The meeting started with questions about her purchases of war material and Lyran readiness to employ them. She answered them as succinctly as she could before asking permission to level her own question. Senator Zento, a Committee member, tried to shush her, but was overruled by the Committee's chair, Senator Lady Gerda Rembrandt of Palmyre Deans.

With that opening made, and permission given, Trillian spoke. "You are asking many questions about the weapons and machines I've bought or leased, but the fact remains I cannot tell you anything more of their use. Save the earliest deliveries my purchases are beyond the reach of the Lyran Commonwealth until something is done about the Falcon blockade of the Looking Glass. I would ask this Committee's intentions on the matter."

"Such military matters are not for you to concern yourself with," Zento snapped. "The military will advise His Majesty as is appropriate and that is all you need know."

"With due respect, Senator Zento, I have every reason to be concerned," Trillian retorted. "My way home is blocked until something is done about the Falcons. My ability to send the forces I've hired and the weapon's I've bought to aid my people, it is also reliant on what comes. Otherwise I have spent several billion pound sterling for nothing. I believe I am due some consideration, especially since we all know His Majesty is favorable to an intervention and is being restrained and impeded by his ministers and military commanders."

"That is true." Assemblywoman Yolanda Ocasio, from the world Freedom, spoke the words with a particular Latin accent. She was, if Trillian recalled correctly, from the Cebalrai refugees who fled their world when it was lost to Galedon in 3119. "As for intentions, I think it plain we will support His Majesty in sending forces to force the Falcons away."

"The issue, as always, is that the costs will disrupt the budget." Senator Rembrandt spoke the words with a tired look, presumably since she'd been involved in the budget arguments involved. "And the full scale of the alliance you seek would be further disruptive."

"I understand that for a realm as large and diverse as the Federation, the yearly government budget is always a source of political contention." Trillian folded her hands in front of her and spoke delicately. "But certainly an emergency situation has claim to consideration of adjustments to meet it?"

"We have already done some shifting on your behalf, Lady Trillian," Zento snapped. "Do not presume that the King's favor gives you leave to lecture us for more."

"I do not wish to lecture, but to understand," Trillian replied. "I already understand that for your people military spending has become a difficult political subject, given the Peace of Dieron and fears of the Capellan Empire's naval program. Nor do I wish to prejudice your self-defense needs, I merely wish to reflect how they are tied into the Commonwealth's fate."

"As in, your argument that the Clans would not be amenable to peaceful interaction through the Glass," Zento said. "It suitably justifies your position, does it not? Yet I wonder how true it would be, if you were capable of living with them for so long."

"A history in which their raids on our worlds were often, such that our people had to learn to live with them." Trillian focused on Zento specifically. "Until recently, your people had to live with similar prospects, my Lord, given the times the forces of the Compact struck at Summer. Our border worlds with the Falcons faced even more attacks than Summer and the Isle of Skye have in your history. I brought the historical record, and I'm certain the military's own examination of sources would verify it, if you still doubt my word."

Zento met her eyes with a frustrated glare. "If you know so much of our history, Lady Trillian, you would appreciate why it is foolish for us to give you the aid you seek. The Empire's fleet grows by the year, and the Azami resent their losses in the war. At this critical point in time, when we need to see to our own defense, you ask us to devote treasure and blood to yours, in a war your Archon started from her own ambition! You fill our young ruler with visions of glory, of a chance to be a heroic figure saving your helpless people, when his own need his attention!"

Zento's passion was obvious, moreso than it'd been before, as if her persistence was finally exhausting his control. A need to shout back rose within her. He was trying to doom her people all from his fear of an enemy who had, to this point, kept the peace more than his own had. He accuses me of self-justification, as if he is innocent, because the more he speaks the more I imagine he and those like him have more in mind than defensive measures.

But to respond in like, or say so, would not win her the Committee. She had to sacrifice that desired catharsis and give a reply based on reason, not feeling.

"I am here to save my people, and in the process, to save yours." She spoke coldly, unable to keep the chill from her words, but kept the venom out. "The Commonwealth is not innocent. Few states are. But we have more than paid for our mistakes. Nor is it our fate alone at stake here. Because if the Commonwealth falls, nothing stands between your worlds and the Clans. The Jade Falcons already resent and hate you for the humiliation of losing their Khan, and her followers will be especially eager to avenge her loss. They will come through the Glass, if not to conquer, then to raid and murder, and your people will suffer the same as mine did. The Wolves, in time, would do the same, testing you for weakness." She broke eye contact with Zento to focus on Rembrandt and the others in turn. "Even if you do win peace with them, it doesn't last. It can't last. For a Clan warrior, progression requires conflict, it requires glory in battle, and they need enemies to fight. Any truce you sign will strain and break under that need." Her hand took up the bottle of spring water for her to take a swig of, refreshing her parched throat. With no one having spoken yet, she continued. "You cannot abandon the Commonwealth without harming yourselves. Nor can you simply hold the Glass on our end, they would just strike at your forces there, and to hold their WarShips back, you would have to permanently keep yours on station. I know enough of your situation to know you can't do this indefinitely, not with the Imperial fleet growing every year. The alliance I seek to form, and which Lord Zento bitterly opposes, will be the security you need, and we can both prosper once this conflict ends."

While Zento frowned openly, there was only quiet from the Committee. Ultimately Ocasio spoke up once again. "Your argument is certainly persuasive, Lady Trillian. And my people have known similar depredation from House Kurita. But you ask much of us. Even if we ultimately agree to this alliance and expanding our forces to meet the challenge, it is doubtful the forces you're asking for will be available in the time frame you're speaking of. You will have to moderate your expectations."

Trillian nodded at her. She sounded sympathetic at least, though that might just be a politician's disarming sympathy, not genuine. "I thank the Committee for any consideration it might give, and I'll try to see your concerns met. Are there any further questions?"

Rembrandt glanced to either direction before shaking her head. "There are none. We will give consideration to your arguments and His Majesty's formal requests to Parliament. And we do hope the military is preparing a suitable response to this Falcon attack. Whatever the final outcome of your mission, we cannot let this blockade continue. As for now, this session is adjourned." She smacked her gavel with finality.

Trillian stood, thankful for the sympathetic glances from some of the reporters and viewers in the galley, as well as those of her own staff. She forced a smile she didn't feel to her lips while, inwardly, she held only despair.

Yes, she'd managed to sway some of those attending, and she'd parried Zento effectively. Rembrandt's support for breaking the Falcon attack would hopefully reopen her path home, at least.

But Ocasio's words hammered home that it wasn't just Zento and whatever faction he was working with that stood against her. Even those sympathetic were unwilling to devote the forces needed in the short time left; none, it seemed, save the King himself.

And without that help, she wasn't sure she'd have a home to go back to.

The holovid in the Office of the Lord of the Privy Council faded into inactivity a moment after the Committee meeting ended. From his desk, Prince Peter lowered the remote. "She is formidable."

"I would expect nothing less of a courtier of her rank." Grand Admiral Stewart shifted in his seat. Across from him Lord Arnold kept his arms crossed and remained silent. "And I cannot help but feel Zento is becoming a liability."

"He and I do not see eye to eye on many things, but he is correct to remind everyone that Lady Trillian's requests are too much." Arnold sat up. "Yet I fear we're losing ground to her, and the King's enthusiasm for her cause is widely known."

"My worry is that Zento will, in frustration, release the intelligence we have on the Empire's naval program." Stewart turned his head. "Your Highness, have you anything to suggest?"

"Hm." Peter drew in a quiet breath and tried to focus his mind on the problem. "It is patently obvious we cannot abandon the Second Cuirassiers. You have cut the orders?"

"They are ready for final approval. Admiral Bingham will set out from Tharkad the moment he receives the final order."

Fourth Battle Fleet should suffice given what we've been told of their forces. Though misfortune might see the fleet compelled into the yards for extensive repair, leaving us with just two battle fleets in case of emergency. Peter finally nodded. "Send the order then."

"I only pray we do not suffer more loss, more expense, for this foolishness," groused Arnold.

Peter leveled something close to a glare at his cousin. "Tell me, Arnold, what would you have us do?"

"Certainly we must rescue the Cuirassiers, but they should never have been posted there in the first place," Arnold replied. He glared at both of them. "You should have stood up to Nathaniel then."

"You're being short-sighted," Stewart snapped. "Once the Glass was formed and our forces landed to stop Hazen, there was no avoiding some involvement."

"The Ghastillians could have easily defended the Atocongo side." Arnold crossed his arms. "This entire thing has become ruinous for the Federation. It's a distraction from the real threat. The Empire must be broken before anything else."

"That was always a long shot goal, Arnold, and it's time to accept it's never going to happen."

"Then I must accept the inevitability of war, and the loss of more lives to protect what is ours." Arnold stood. "And I wonder about you, Peter. You were a lion on the battlefield in your day, but losing Prince James has taken your fire. You should be eager for avenging his loss and pressuring the young fool on the throne to give up his fantasies and accept reality. Instead you coddle him, you entertain his fancies."

"You are one to talk, Arnold, when it comes to reality, given you clearly cannot accept the reality before you." Rising from his chair, Peter leaned against his desk and locked his eyes on Arnold. As always his cousin was a portrait-perfect image of a Lyran military man, his chest covered in honors, his gray-white facial hair trimmed meticulously, and Steiner blue eyes glistening like ice. And behind it all, a brain firmly set in its ways, impervious to contrary reality. "Jackie is gone, and she is not here for you to manipulate and influence into pursuing your fantasies of a victorious lightning war to break the Empire for a generation. Nathaniel has his own ideas for the future and instead of trying to convince him, you demand he agree with everything you proclaim and at the failure of this approach, denounce him as unfit. I have spent months trying to persuade him against committing to this war, or to overcommitting on his peace initiatives, and you do me no favors with your behavior! You treat him as a Lance Lieutenant who stepped out of line and that has never worked!" Peter smacked his hand to his desk. "Dammit, the Empire's naval buildup must be met or ceased, but you are more worried about getting your way, about being right, than accomplishing that goal."

"Because I am not naive about Nathaniel," Arnold hissed. "He has been wrongheaded since childhood, ever since you and Jackie failed to teach him proper respect for the military and our mission. Now it falls on us to keep him from ruining us!"

"Gentlemen." Stewart finally rose as well. "This dispute is fruitless. We have greater concerns at hand, and that is how to deal with the Clan threat. We are in agreement that the 4th Fleet must be sent, yes?"

"We agree on that much," Arnold growled. "To evacuate our troops if nothing else."

"Then I will send the orders immediately. I trust the Army will see to it that the relief troops are prepared?"

Arnold clenched his jaw. "The First Royal Lancers and Second Donegal Cavalry have their orders to depart for Atocongo and the Glass, and the Eighth Donegal Guards, Tharkad Rangers, and Second Royal BattleMech Brigade will be deployed from their interior positions to back them up as needed. Archduke Ethan is sending the Kell Hounds' Second Regiment to support the Lancers." He shook his head. "I needn't tell you we have now committed most of our reserves in the Donegal Theater to this matter. Sending more troops will prejudice defenses in-theater, or force us to reduce troops elsewhere."

"And yet, you have told us," Peter remarked wryly. "Our business is done, then, and I have state duties to attend to. I'll see you and the others for a meeting this weekend, then?"

"I suppose," Arnold replied, though his eyes made it clear how he felt. He sees me as a liability, a restraint, more than a useful member of his ad hoc committee, Peter thought bitterly. I suppose I am becoming less in line with them, even if I agree with the problems posed by the Empire.

"I am ever at your disposal, Highness." Stewart bowed slightly before heading for the door, Arnold behind him.

Peter watched them go. Stewart is playing both sides of our dispute, that I'm sure of. He wishes to crush the Empire's nascent fleet in the yards as well, but will not sacrifice his position in the AFRF, or the Royal Court, to see it done. And it feels like things are fast approaching that point. If a breach happens between them and Nathaniel… no, I don't wish to think on it. He glanced down at his desk and one of the papers there, a new delivery from SIS. He pulled it out to see the latest confirmation of Capellan naval construction and the estimates for their fleet sizes. A fleet of sixteen battleships by 3145, both fast and heavy units, when we will have just seven. Twenty-four heavy cruisers, with four larger than ours, where we will have fourteen. Similar proportions in escort WarShips and supporting DropShips. Every one of their yards is approaching wartime output, at Oriente, at New Delos, at Boras and Capella, and they're expanding capacity for an even larger program after this one completes. We have to respond, as expensive as it will be. Nathaniel wants it to be by making permanent peace instead of fueling the arms race enveloping the Inner Sphere, but we need to build to match regardless, or we shall be helpless. And now we have this distraction.

He sighed and plopped into his seat. Nathaniel, Arnold, all of us, we are wagering our future on our choices. Should we fail, if the Peace of Dieron ends, a Fifth Succession War will be our reward. Memories of 3120 flashed through his mind, of dozens of regiments of all types reduced to mere battalions of intact units, as nineteen year old lieutenants with just a year of academy training commanded lances of militia-drafted pilots even in the Proctor Heavy Guards, all under thirty year old colonels pushed up through the ranks by the bitter attrition of ten years of bloody war bringing the AFRF to the breaking point. Could Nathaniel's fears prove true? A Fifth Succession War that will send us back to the dark ages of the 29th and 30th Centuries? God save us from that fate!

With a heavy heart, Peter resumed his duties, praying that he could yet chart a course between the deadly possibilities of the present and his grand-nephew's bright vision of the future.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

31 - Diving Falcons, Defiant Hawks

Mannelbourg Township
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth (disputed)
16 January 3143

With a heart hammering with fear and fury, Second Lieutenant Alexander Thomas - Lance B, Assault Company, Second Battalion, Second Royal Cuirassiers BattleMech Regiment - pushed his Firehawk OmniMech through the rubble of the Mannelbourg Burghaus and cleared the targeting picture of the Jade Falcon Jade Hawk tracking his lancemate's limping Chieftain. The winged heavy 'Mech was painted in the colors of the Fourth Falcon Dragoons, or so his identifier systems told him, making it the Cluster that was the target of the Second Battalion's flanking maneuver to relieve the Mannelbourg defenders.

With his firing lines clear his Firehawk's targeting computer calculated a firing point for his surviving weapons in time with the hard lock tone, though how reliably it could guide them given the damaged system he wasn't sure. His machine was too battered from the day's fighting for him to pass up the shot though.

He was rewarded with mixed results, drawing a curse as his remaining six-shot Streak SRM system refused to fire, insisting its lock had failed. The four medium lasers on his torso, and the surviving PPC on his left arm, did their work, however, carving armor in prodigious quantities from the winged Clanner 'Mech's side while one of the emerald beams of his lasers sliced the damaged right arm off with the precision of a surgeon. Had the other machine been mounting any ammunition in that side of its savaged torso, it would have detonated.

At his side, Lieutenant Kani Ortiz's Firehawk engaged, though not his foe but a second Falcon 'Mech moving up the street, a Loki that didn't take well to the twin rotary autocannons on Ortiz's 'Mech tearing into its torso, the stream of 80mm shells fired from the whirling weapons chewing through armor and structural steel with brute power. Coolant and smoke erupted from wounds on the machine. The pilot, with that maddening skill the Clanners seemed to have in spades, ignored what had to be the severe heat spike filling his machine to counter with pulse laser fire that melted through the barrels of one of the offending autocannons, taking it out of the fight.

Thomas's own foe showed the same poise. Even with half their 'Mech battered, they showed no hesitation in changing targets, sending missiles into his own machine that put paid to his surviving PPC, tearing the left arm off at the shoulder and scouring much of the remaining armor from the left side of the chest. He bit back a curse; he was down to his four medium-caliber ER lasers and his surviving Streak launcher, and the Jade Hawk's melee weapon loomed as the pilot rushed the final meters between them, its claw raised and coming in for a blow. It took his whole concentration to make his assault machine shift to the right, causing one claw to miss and the other to rake across what was left of his left arm's shoulder, tearing the surviving bits of actuator lose. With his capacitors having cycled again, he fired another round of shots from his medium lasers. Four successive beams of emerald traced burn lines across the arm and side of the enemy machine.

Spouts of flame erupted from above the Jade Hawk's shoulders and along its sides. Twenty-four short range missiles crossed the distance swiftly, all but six hitting. Heat warnings screamed from hits to the shielding of his machine's extra-large engine. His indicators showed two lasers go out and his targeting system shifted to basic mode, indicating his targeting computer was another victim of the barrage. Red and orange color banded the three-dimensional likeness of his 'Mech at the corner of his holotank display, reflecting enormous damage to the rest of his skeleton and remaining strips of armor. My machine's a wreck. Desperately he wrenched his targeting controls, moving the reticle over the enemy 'Mech without the benefit of the targeting computer's pinpoint guidance. His finger tensed while four ruby beams struck out, melting away much of the remaining armor over his 'Mech's heart and head module. In retaliation, two emerald beams cut away at the Falcon machine, leaving more molten gobs to dribble from the ruined surface of the winged jade monster, but causing nothing more severe.

It was a good thing that this time his Streak launcher confirmed its lock.

The missile launcher, untouched by enemy fire, spat six missiles that corkscrewed over the distance of barely a dozen meters and struck home on the Jade Hawk, each and every one blasting armor away. One of the missiles in particular, the most important one of them all, flew higher than the others and struck dead center of the square of clear armored ferro-glass that covered the Jade Hawk's cockpit. The warhead went off, shattering the glass and blowing it inward. The Falcon 'Mech tipped over on its side, lifeless.

He turned his machine towards the Loki, aiming to help Ortiz, but found it was unnecessary as he was treated to the sight of a squad from the Fifty-Sixth Royal Foot Regiment tearing up the 'Mech in their MBA-3 Wolverine battle suits, employing with gusto the battle claws that gave the fearsome battle armor suit its name.

A cry of "It's got a lock on me!" came over the radio. He turned towards Lieutenant Kier Macklin's Chieftain, whom he thought to be clear from trouble. The sight before him proved him wrong. The ninety ton 'Mech was virtually helpless given the sheer damage and a second Jade Hawk's claws were busy ripping its torso open. Smoke billowed from the machine's wounds, revealing debilitating engine damage.

"Mackie, bail!" Thomas cried, too late.

The missiles on the enemy machine fired to full effect. The blasts of flame and steel sent burnt metal flying away from the broken frame of the bipedal 'Mech. The exposure of its engine space was complete and the Falcon MechWarrior pitilessly reached in and raked wicked talons through the fusion engine itself, slicing clear fuel lines and shielding. The Chieftain collapsed onto its rear, defeated. Ignoring the wailing alerts of his own savaged 'Mech, Thomas twisted his machine and sought a targeting lock, hoping he might get a shot off…

…before the Jade Hawk's foot came down right on the Chieftain's head, smashing the cockpit — and Thomas' friend and Ayrshire classmate — in the blink of an eye.

Murdering bastard! Thomas's fingers tensed instinctively on his weapons, driving his heat up again over that produced by the damaged engine. He got the lock he needed, but only three missiles struck home, and even hits from his lasers did naught but a bit of armor damage.

It also announced to the enemy pilot he had a new foe. He turned towards Thomas, his machine still mostly intact, and Thomas knew he was doomed.

"Fall back, Bravo-Three, fall back!" The order corresponded with twin horizontal lightning bolts crashing home on the Jade Hawk, aimed precisely for its missile launchers. Both of the over-shoulder weapons blew apart from the hits, robbing the deadly machine of half of its missile battery.

"Glad you could make it, Lance Loo," Ortiz said over the radio, prompting Thomas's attention to her machine. She was in better shape than him, though still missing half her firepower and with the right reverse-jointed knee of her 'Mech sparking from a partial hit.

Their commander, First Lieutenant Nathan Abramov, moved into Thomas's view, coming from the left while Thomas reversed his machine, his speed sluggish given the engine damage. Abramov's Firehawk was a newer FHK-2 model, with a smaller improved XL engine and ferro-fibrous armor. Aside from the missing right arm and visible armor damage his machine was still quite intact, and a more formidable opponent for the rampaging Jade Hawk. The platoon of Wolverine battle armor with him, some clinging to the Firehawk while others were jumping or running down the abandoned street, would further tilt the fight in his favor.

The enemy pilot realized it too, also presumably recognizing that his comrades were all down. The winged 'Mech took the air, jump jets roaring in plumes of blue plasma from their apertures on the back and legs. With his systems messed up Thomas had no way of getting a lock. Ortiz did, her surviving rotary autocannon roaring away without effect while twin streams of emerald needles pierced the sky, striking armor from the retreating enemy machine. Thomas swore in frustration, knowing that even if his lancemates or another got that fleeing pilot, he wouldn't be part of it.

"Bravo-Three, Bravo-Four, head back for repair."

"Sir, the entire battalion's still moving on the counterattack." Ortiz's complaint prompted Alexander to check the larger map display to his side. The Assault Company, indeed all of Second Battalion, were moving ahead alongside armored mechanized infantry of the Fifty-Sixth Royal Foot and the tanks of the Fifteenth Royal Armored, striking into the flank of one of the Jade Falcon "Clusters" as it pressed back Third Battalion and its attached support, the mixed mercenaries and what was left of Timkovichi's Armored Guard formation. The maneuver, moreso, seemed to be working well, his lance's difficulties notwithstanding. They'd just put down four enemy 'Mechs at the cost of just one of their own, after all, even if his machine and Ortiz's were battered to the point of uselessness.

Abramov's voice brooked no discussion. "I'm aware of that, Bravo-Three. My order stands."

Disappointment aside, that meant there was nothing to discuss. Thomas turned his machine and began a slow, thirty-four kilometer-per-hour walk back to the Second Battalion's field base.

“Alright, people, the Arcadians just smacked them round the head,” Darren Huyten called, pushing his Doloire up to a low walk. “Now we kick them in the crotch; engage at will!”

Brickwork crumbled as he sideswiped a ruined building stepping out into Mannelbourg’s main street, uncomfortably aware of the damage they were doing and what it was going to cost to fix, even if the Falcons were kicked off Timkovichi. The rest of his attention, however, was focussed on the Fire Moth further down the street, battlesuited infantry already dropping from its high-mounted arms.

Whatever else they might have been, the Clan pilot wasn’t an idiot; faced with an assault ‘Mech four times their tonnage, they only spared a moment for shock before turning on their heel and starting to accelerate away, one of the Elementals still clinging on and undoubtedly cursing the mechwarrior out over the radio. Darren sent strings of heavy-gauge laser pulses chasing it; the Doloire’s accuracy-enhanced arm actuators guiding both streams of golden-white bolts into the Fire Moth’s vulnerable shoulder joint, blowing its left arm away in a shower of sparks and molten metal as it ducked around a corner.

Around him, as their heavy armour began to pull out - sending shells, Gauss rounds and shrieking jags of missile salvoes downrange as cover - the rest of the Lucky Stars’ ‘Mechs engaged, boosting over obstacles on jump jets or just shouldering through them. Beside him, Ellie Jiao’s Lament - still painted in the gold-trimmed white of the Principes Guards she’d once openly served in - lashed arcs of destruction across the chest of a Night Gyr with its heavy particle cannon; blowout panels flared on the Clan machine’s chest as its autocannon ammo detonated. The Night Gyr’s right arm slumped as it hit back with its pulse lasers.

Darren left her to it; with Renata O’Kane’s Quasimodo muscling in to support, and the Carronade of Balan Reznov keeping a thin-skinned old-style Loki at bay with the threat of his Gauss rifles. Darren shifted in that direction, bringing the threat of his own Gauss Rifle - just the threat for now; too few slugs to risk with his targeting system refusing to give better than a flickering red-gold partial lock marker - to bear. That gave time to survey the battlefield, and call for status checks, and figure out how to explain this - not the battle, everything that had happened over Timkovichi - in his next report.

Star One, this is Sirius Lead,” Captain Aleka Montrose called, the hollow thumping of her Black Knight’s plasma rifles underlying the words, “We got a problem here; at least two Stars of Ironhold suits, dug into a building. Gotta be the heat-proofed armour type, my plas guns aren’t doing more than really pissing them off. Requesting fire support.” She rattled off a string of map reference numbers.

“Acknowledged,” Darren replied, stinging the Loki with his pulse lasers - forcing it back another hundred metres - as he flipped channels. “Chiron Platoon, Procyon Nine, work for you. Fire mission, these coordinates. Four-round stonk and then get out of it.”

Their acknowledgements came back, and although the buildings hid them from his camera feeds, he’d seen the artillery section at work often enough - in practice and battle - to picture it clearly. The close-support Rommel’s long, heavy howitzer elevating to the sky as the turret locked in place; the heavy Centaur battlesuits crouching down, bracing legs deploying in the awkward squat that the R&D types swore was the only way for a suit to take the recoil. Then the slamming thunder, leaf-shaped blades of flame erupting from muzzle brakes as the Centaurs tore through one of the four round clips fitted to their backpack rigs at maximum rate, the Rommel’s fire a slower, deeper sound.

He wasn’t happy about revealing one of his hole cards like this; not in front of officers as smart and capable as Nadia Allard or Jacob Tanhause. They’d know damn well that Centaurs had only just started being issued to Stone’s Brigade before the Fortress Walls went up, and even with the prepped explanation - and documents backing it up - they’d ask questions he’d have a hard time answering. But, use it or lose it time, now.

Good hits, good hits!” Montrose called, exultant. “Fuckin’ levelled the place, and I see lots of Clanner armour shards. We’re good to pull out, Colonel.

“Confirm that. Get moving for Phase Line Heraclio.” Further back than planned, but the Clanners were pressing harder than expected; elements of two more Clusters were already wading into the fight, fresh and bold and some wearing the markings of the First Striker, one of the Falcons’ best units. Part of him wanted to stay, try to turn this into the kind of slugging match the Clans couldn’t manage; if the Falcons weren’t the Liaos, who Darren would gladly have killed for free, they’d still made the Republic bleed, and he wanted to take recompense for that out of their hides. But, responsibility means I can’t do that; responsibility to his people, to the contract they’d signed with the Kell Hounds and Duchess Katarina, and to Lady Lakewood, who’d be extremely cross if he got himself killed before reporting this..

His lock-on markers flashed gold; good tone on the Loki. That was something he could actually do, at least, and Darren tied everything into his primary triggers. One for the road.

Stephanie felt the old chill of combat come down over her when the lock tone first sounded in her ears. A squeeze of the trigger sent a gauss slug into the shoulder of the Arcadian 'Mech in her crosshairs. The armor failed, weakened by earlier combat, and the arm froze, a useless appendage for the towering humanoid machine that her machine identified as a Shillelagh.

The Arcadians were already wheeling about to face her and her First Striker Cluster, relieving the Fourth Falcon Dragoons to fall back in good order after the damage they'd taken at the enemy flanking attack. Undaunted her warriors met their maneuver, firing for effect at their approach while the Sixth Striker Cluster moved into position to continue the Fourth Dragoons' assault on Mannelbourg.

Her target swiveled to face her. In some ways it reminded her of an old Gargoyle, though larger and visibly slower. She jinked her machine to the side in time to avoid taking a hit from the manmade-lightning that erupted from the barrel on the Shillelagh's right breast. The pilot adjusted their aim before firing again. This time Stephanie felt the vibration in her machine as it endured a full automatic burst from the Shillelagh's functioning autocannon. A proper fight, at least. She returned the favor with the PPCs installed in her Turkina's torso. The two blasts converted on the flank of the machine, their fury blasting free molten, charred chunks of armor and material. The other 'Mech visibly stumbled before the pilot caught their feet and turned, presumably to cover their wounded side.

As an individual warrior Stephanie would have kept her focus on this enemy, but she had a responsibility to her warriors to see to their needs. She diverted her attention to the tactical display along the side of her command couch and observed the Fourth Dragoons continue their withdrawal. She scowled at the sight of a Star of troops cut off for failing to do so. Mongols, possibly, or simply fools. She could do nothing for them without jeopardizing the rest of the Fourth.

The enemy's mixed forces met hers with resolve, just as her own foe, while withdrawing, kept up fire on her Turkina, raking autocannon shells across the shoulder and chest of the assault 'Mech. Undeterred, Stephanie directed a full strike on the enemy machine, firing all four of her main weapons. Heat spiked in the cockpit given the sheer energy needed for the PPCs to fire, but it was of no concern, she had endured similar heat at her forge.

Her fury left its mark. The gauss slugs blew through the hip of the leg closest to her, trashing armor, skeleton, and the myomer of the hip actuator. One particle blast grazed the shoulder of the 'Mech while the other flayed armor from the torso beneath. A flash enveloped that half of the enemy machine, the familiar detonation of an autocannon shell magazine. The Shillelagh tottered before a second gout of flame erupted below the head module, sending the cockpit skyward.

Another victory for my codex, though not nearly enough for my purpose. With no immediate fire on her Stephanie re-directed her attention towards the greater fight. There was satisfaction at her First Strikers striking the enemy so hard and certainty at their success. Yet every day our casualties mount and the enemy, though retreating, fights well. The Mongols will contrast a bloody glorious victory to their bloodless triumphs as proof of their superiority, and how many of my warriors will be seduced by their dezgra ways.

It was a sickening moment to be sure, that cursed realization. Stephanie believed in the Honor Road, in the Clan way, in the Falcon way. But those ways imposed a price. The Mongols offered the easier solution to victory by their pledge of bloody, savage retribution on any who dared to resist. Success was its own argument for those who tired of bloody stalemate. She could feel the Khanship slipping through her fingers with every friendly icon that blipped out on her holotank.

Still, what am I to do? Renounce the Honor Road and follow Malvina's path? Embrace the ways of that mad blood-foul and those who have turned their backs on the Founders' words? Her heart rebelled against the idea. There is no honor there. No glory. Only the false pride of easy conquest and the enervation that will come with it.

Pushing her fears and doubts aside, Stephanie sent her Turkina into a run and rejoined the battle.

The fight for Mannelbourg unfolded in brilliant holographic color in the command facilities of Field Base Carrol, one of a half dozen battles being waged in some capacity across a front of hundreds of kilometers. The fresh Falcon troops pouring into the flank of his own flanking unit put a sour frown on General Singh's face. He watched intently as his Second 'Mech Battalion's lines degraded, the Falcon formations penetrating through and breaking up the unit and their attached support. Third Battalion meanwhile was in no position to help; their forces, and the local mercenary unit aiding them, were being driven right back out of Mannelbourg by the Falcon resurgence. The counterattack was a failure.

Not that his people weren't fighting. In Mannelbourg, or in Schmidtburg where First Battalion's battle group with the Twenty-Eighth Royal Grenadiers were waging a fighting withdrawal from the enemy's Ninth Talon, or Fourth Battalion's successful defense of the Ruhl River line on the far western flank, his troops were punishing the Falcons for every centimeter of land taken. Every effort by the enemy to quickly smash the lines was failing to provide immediate response. Every strike was resisted, and even if successful, the Falcons were paying in blood for their victories.

But there was no denying the growing red on the map.

"The continent of Ruckel is lost." Nadia Allard had the map of the planet showing. "We managed to pull the militia and volunteer survivors out, but only a third made it to the extraction zones before the Falcons responded in strength."

"I expected as much," Singh admitted. Two out of three of Timkovichi's primary continents were now under tentative Falcon control. It reduced the number of available aerodromes for his aerospace fighters, and their ability to provide planet-wide coverage. But trying to spread the Second Royal Cuirassiers and their RCT to protect those continents was impossible given the strength of the enemy. The fight was here, on the main continent of Aurum, with the Falcon forces moving up to the Summer Veldt and Cirenholm. Once they're past the hills and river lines there's no stopping them, Singh thought ruefully. The numbers are too imbalanced. "Nothing from the Glass?"

"No." From his place to Singh's side, Brigadier Huston shook his head. "The last drone we attempted to send through was shot down by the Falcons' aerospace fighters before it could get through, and no further communications have come through from the other end."

"Then we have no idea of if relief is coming, when, or how." Singh drew in a breath. "Brigadier, as dangerous as it will be for morale, have our people begin preparations for the abandonment of FB Carroll. We'll fall back into the mountains to the north and try to buy time."

"I've got them on standby, sir, it'll be done immediately."

"Good." Singh considered what it would mean, losing the base. Most of their fixed facilities were here. Mobile field base vehicles could allow some repairs, but the loss of all their repair bays, their ammo dumps, the barracks… his soldiers would be fighting in the bush with ever-dwindling supplies. Power armor and battle armor suits would run out of energy eventually, with no fresh battery packs to restore them. Armor and structural material for vehicles and 'Mechs would swiftly run out, or have to be salvaged from other machines, with limited tools to do either job. Some of their fighters could be sustained - the Frogbat conventional strike fighters were made to refuel their fusion engines from any water source, famously drawing from lakes frequently - but most would likewise have to be cannibalized for parts or grounded for lack of suitable runways or launch points. And ammunition and spare parts would certainly run short for the weapons.

All we can do is buy time, he thought. Buy time and hope for relief.

"Colonel Allard, is your latest dispatch ready?" he asked Nadia.

"It is, General."

"Then I shall add mine with it." Not that I expect General Bridger and the Kells on this side to be capable of any relief. Not unless that Lyran battlecruiser they say is still active has arrived to fight on this front. But I must keep them informed regardless. "A moment, if you please."

She nodded briskly. He saw the recognition in her eyes, of the burden of inevitable defeat that he was shouldering. Undoubtedly she was used to it, as this kind of desperate fighting was one the Lyrans on this side of the Glass were well-acquainted with.

I have done my duty. The rest is up to God. He walked off to prepare his report, sparing himself the sight of Mannelbourg's fall to the Falcons.
”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.

User avatar
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9660
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

Orsai wrote Allison and Major Tanhause as usual, and CommanderRazor on SB provided some advice on writing Eva's feelings and actions to make her feel more like a military character and not a civilian trying to write one.

32 - Military Necessity

AFS Sara Proctor
Zenith Jump Point, Atocongo System
Coventry Province, Lyran Commonwealth
20 January 3143

The officers' wardroom on the Sara Proctor enjoyed the benefit of being on one of the ship's rotating gravdecks, making it a comfortable environment for the assembly of senior officers that now sat arrayed around the circular table, all facing the central holotank. Said holotank was a display of Timkovichi's surface and reflected the report sent by interstellar fax by General Singh. Angry red covered two continents and key parts of the third, leaving a decreasing amount of land shaded blue.

The assembled were all the appropriate command officers. General Bridger, Khan Fetladral, Brigadier Laguna, Colonel Kell, and Captain Winters of the Sara Proctor, joined by their highest ranked officers. Each had a noteputer with the written reports from Timkovichi loaded.

"Doesn’t look like they’ve got a whole lot of time left." Evan's voice was a frustrated growl. He still had people there, including his second-in-command, and they faced another impossible battle. There was a hint of frustrated betrayal in his eyes when they focused on Bridger. "Just what the hell's takin' your people so long, General? I didn’t figure they’d want your guys to get wiped."

"Most likely, the need for naval assets with those Falcon battle wagons around." Bridger resisted the urge to sigh. "In our space that's a tri-border area with the Communal League of Sudeten as well as the Ghasties, and our relations with the Commies aren't so rosy they'd be fine with our battleships lingering. Bringing Fourth Battle Fleet up from Tharkad takes time." The frown didn't leave his face. He didn't share his suspicions that games might have been played on Arcadia, if not basic complacency. You didn't get to his rank without being aware of the tension in the upper echelons of the AFRF, and the entrenched interests who were devoted to fighting the Oriento-Capellan Empire. We should have had a battle fleet ready and at Atocongo, dammit.

Khan Patrik nodded. He was in a special seat, brought over from his own ship, since the Arcadian vessels had no seats that could properly accommodate an Elemental-bred Clan warrior. "We are fortunate that Galaxy Commander Chistu is a warrior of honour, or at least what passes for it among the Jade Falcons. She clearly wishes a clean victory, won by zellbrigen, to win the Khanship without embracing the dezgra Mongol philosophy."

"Doesn’t do Nadia and our folks a whole lot of good." Evan shook his head. "They're getting ground down. Even if they make Chistu bleed white, she still wins in the end."

"Unless we can get our forces planetside, anyway, which is a tall order."

Heads turned to Captain Winters. Her light complexion wasn't as pale as normal for spacers, though she still looked the part. She noted her attention and laughed bitterly. "My ship's a tough old girl, just like her namesake, but she's still no match for that much metal. Even if Hanson timed things to bring Epaminondas into the fight, we'd be outgunned and outnumbered and I doubt we could keep enemy cover off of your droppers."

"It is doubtful Galaxy Commander Chistu would permit us safcon, as she would recognize we would turn the tide quickly," Khan Patrik added.

"There has to be something we can do," Bridger insisted. 'I refuse to sit back and watch helplessly."

"Well, there ain't a thing we can do to get her to call it off, I reckon." Evan's frown grew. "No, not if they want glory. She won't back off just because we hit another world. She wouldn't even find out for a week. Hell, I’m not sure she’d go for it even if I called her out to a Trial of Grievance."

"Is there a way to give her what she wants? Glory wise?" Bridger directed the question at Patrik and Evan. "Something that, even if we lost, would get her to withdraw, with her honor satisfied. Because given the records we have, the losses she's taking on Timkovichi can't be good for her Clan."

"Oh, they're not good at all," Evan agreed. "The Falcons were still recovering from their civil war, and they've lost more even when beating us. If Delta Galaxy and the other units she brought get wrecked on Timkovichi the Falcons won't have much left to throw at us unless they abandon the Reach. They can hold what they've got, but they won't be marching on to Tharkad any time soon."

"Still, that prospect alone will not bring Stephanie Chistu to cease battle short of victory, not if she wishes to become the next Falcon Khan" Patrik crossed his arms. "A victory over your forces, and revenge for Malvina's defeat, will sway even Mongol votes on the Falcon Council."

"A shame there's no way we can accommodate her," Ward mused.

Bridger grunted. He'd rather not accommodate any of the Falcons, he'd seen too much. But saving Timkovichi was more important. And yet it looks like our only hope is to wait for a move through the Glass, without knowing when it's coming, or hoping that our WarShips can blast a hole through the enemy for us, and it's pretty clear they can't.

"What if I challenged her to one of your duels?" All eyes turned towards Laguna. "My unit put Malvina down, after all."

Bridger shot a glare at her. "Brigadier, I've no doubt you've got a lot of skill, but you're not a field MechWarrior any more than I am."

"I've still run with my people in the field, General," Laguna retorted. "I landed in Cirenholm same as them. And I keep my training up. I'm as good as I've ever been, I dare say."

“That may work, after a fashion.” Patrik Fetladral looked thoughtful. “But it could not be you, Brigadier. It would have to be the warrior who personally bested Malvina — a Lieutenant Eva, I believe?”

Laguna's quiet confidence dissolved into anger. "She's just a year out of the Nagelring, you can't possibly expect me to send one of my youngest pilots to face that kind of fight. Christ's sake, she only delivered the final shots that put Malvina down, it's not like she bested the mad bitch in a one on one duel!"

"Why not?" The question left his lips before he could stop them. Bridger regretted them even before noticing the hot glare he got from Laguna and from Colonel Ward. He swallowed. "God help me, but is it any different than ordering her to hold a tactical point, knowing she'd be overrun, so long as it got more troops to safety?"

Ward's mouth forced itself closed before she spoke. "General, with all due respect, you can't be considering this."

"I don't want to, dammit," he snarled. "But I don't want the Second Royal-Cees getting wiped out either, or the loss of Timkovichi, especially if the damned Mongols are too strong for Chistu to restrain. They might just sack and wreck the planet anyway for daring to fight!"

"God damn, General, I don't want to agree with you," Evan swore. "But I get what you're saying."

Laguna wasn't swayed. "She's still a young pilot, a lot of promise, you'd be ordering her to commit suicide."

"Would Chistu kill her no matter what?" Bridger directed the question at Patrik. "You allow warriors to survive defeat in those Circles of Equals, right?"

“We do, as do others. The Falcons." Patrik frowned slightly, clearly searching his memory. “It happens, but I do not know Stephanie Chistu well enough to say if she would honour a request for hegira in single combat. Other Falcons have been known to slay enemies in Trials regardless, even before the dezgra Mongols appeared.”

"And it's live fire anyway, so there may not be a chance for it." Bridger rubbed at his eyes thoughtfully.

"General, please. I'm the commander of the Sunhawks, I gave the orders, this is my responsibility," Laguna pleaded. She turned her head to Patrik. "Isn't that enough? I was in charge of the drop. I'm the head of the unit. I'm the responsible one."

"That is not how we see these things, not in that way," Patrik answered. "She was given the credit for defeating Malvina. That makes it her victory, not yours; for the same reason, I could not stand for one of my warriors in such a Trial. You could try your argument with Chistu, but I am certain she will want to fight Lieutenant Eva, not you. Do you not have confidence in your warriors, Brigader?"

Laguna's face paled with rage. "I have confidence in my people to fight as a unit, as a team, not as gladiators in some Goddamned blood sport honor duel."

"You could maybe try challenging her command Cluster against the Sunhawks’ First Batt," Evan offered, “but that’s iffy, for a Trial of Grievance. I’m pretty sure it’s been done, but not often.”

"Trials of Grievance are — even when between units — fought by individuals," Patrik said. "And if we are correct and Chistu wishes to limit her losses — and enhance her own standing — it will not appeal." The giant man looked thoughtful for a moment. "At most, she might accept fighting both warriors credited with Malvina's defeat. There was another, I believe?"

"One of the local troops, yeah," Evan said. "Another leutnant. Palisser, I think? Yeah, that’s it. She was piloting her family’s Awesome, one of the tough old standard tech ones; it’s got about one moving part."

"Then if she lives and can fight, she could fight alongside your Lieutenant Eva. But no others are likely to be acceptable."

Bridger nodded. "I'll make inquiries as to her status, then, and inform General Khan of our plan." He looked Laguna's way. She was visibly fuming, arms crossed. "When we get back to the Sinclair, have the lieutenant called to my office."

There was no immediate reply. Eyes turned towards the two of them. Just as Bridger opened his mouth to repeat the order, Laguna's neck moved with a nod. "I will, General."

An unexpected, but not unwelcome, mid-day nap ended abruptly for Eva when she heard the rapping on the bunkroom door. She turned her head that way. Kevin hovered at the door, one hand on a handrail. "Hey. No time for sleepin', Eva."

"I must have dozed off." She reached around and released the straps, allowing her to pull free from the sleeping bag. Her jumpsuit BDUs were frumpled but not entirely unpresentable.

"Freshen up an' smooth out the suit," Kevin said. "Ye've been called by the CO."

Eva blinked. "Captain Choudhury wants to see me?"

"She might be there, but I mean the CO," he said, putting heavy emphasis on the article.

So Colonel Perez, no… no, not… "The Brig?" she said, her voice a whispered squeak of surprise and intimidation.

Kevin nodded.

It left her supremely nervous to hear it. Nor did it ease straightening out her jumpsuit and fitting her beret to her head with a snug enough fit to stay on in zero-G. Kevin waited patiently and escorted her through the living bunks for the embarked troops, up the tubes, and onto the command deck. These past months left Eva quite adjusted to zero-G and how to move in it. She propelled herself with practice and efficiency, not missing her turns or corners, the movements so automatic she could do it even as her mind raced to grasp just what Brigadier Laguna could want with her. That she wasn't afraid of the coming meeting was more from her confusion than anything; she couldn't comprehend just why the head of the brigade was summoning a field MechWarrior who wasn't even second in command of a lance.

It wasn't like she was telling everyone about the dread feeling in her gut, the resentment that she'd ever signed up for this life. How she'd undo her entire life back to applying to the Nagelring if she could, to get out of this uniform and these fights, even if it meant undoing the pride she'd seen in her parents' faces when she got that acceptance letter, or when she graduated and got the 8th Strikers assignment. No, all of that remained locked away in her heart while she did the daily routines and orders and zero-G PE. She didn't want to hurt the others with her thoughts.

They arrived on the command deck and floated their way past other crew and officers to the largest office, directly adjacent to the Charles Sinclair's Ground Command Center. Large block letters on the bulkhead door read "GROUND COMMAND OFFICE", leaving no doubt who was within. Eva entered alone, found the looped foot straps for her to slip into, and "stood" to attention with her right hand firmly held in a salute to her temple. "Lieutenant Penton-Vallejo, reporting as ordered, sir," left her mouth before she let her eyes verify what she was seeing.

She'd been so intent on sticking her landing into the loops that she didn't notice the desk occupant until she was already speaking. An involuntary rush of breath came to her at the sight of General Bridger seated at the desk. Laguna was nearby at another, slightly smaller desk, even if customarily this would have been her office, not Bridger's.

Already she could tell was something was wrong. Laguna's face was pale and her eyes glittered furiously. Bridger, for his part, had a deep frown, and when he spoke, his voice rumbled like thunder. "Lieutenant. We have something to discuss."

What could have gone wrong? This makes no sense, why would the OpForce commander want to see me of all people. "I'm at your disposal sir."

Something about that word deepened the frowns on their faces. "I'm going to be frank with you, Lieutenant. The situation on Timkovichi is not good. The Second Royal-Cees are sustaining heavy losses, along with the other defenders. The Falcon naval defense complicates our ability to reinforce them."

Eva nodded. She'd heard rumors to that effect. But she was still uncertain. "I'm sorry to hear that, sir. I just… I'm confused. I'm just a Second Lieutenant, why are you telling me this?"

"Because we may have a way to save them." Bridger folded his hands on the desk, as if they were planetside. "It's been suggested the Falcon attack is to serve an internal issue, something with their politics. That the commander of the force is looking to consolidate her shot at replacing Malvina Hazen as the lead Khan of the Falcons. We suspect that she's getting more than she bargained for from the defense and might be amenable to an alternative. And that is where you come in."

"I do?" Eva watched the scowl grow on Brigadier Laguna's face. "How?"

"Because you are the one who brought Hazen down, in the end. The kill credit went, at least in part, to you. As I've been told, as far as the Falcons are concerned, you defeated Malvina Hazen, their Khan, and that's got power."

"In what way, sir?" Eva shook her head. "I… I barely shot at her, only at the end really. Lieutenant von Krager did all the work."

"I know, but that's not how the Clans see it. As for how this will work…" He let the sentence trail off. His eyes looked stormy, angry, and Eva wondered just what conflict was going on inside of him. More to the point, she was getting a sick feeling about just why this was being explained to her. "Quite simply, we offer her a chance to face you in one of the Clans' duels, MechWarrior versus MechWarrior. The prospect of defeating the pilot who beat Malvina Hazen might just convince her that she doesn't need to conquer Timkovichi to accomplish her goals."

Eva didn't quite catch the last sentence, as important as it was. She was stuck on the first. On the idea of getting into a one-on-one duel with one of those difficult, highly capable Clan warriors, like the one who cored her 'Mech on Morges. Malvina killed Captain Kincaid with ease. If this Clan commander is even nearly as good as she was…

The entire thing came together with a flash. "You're… going to order me to do it, right?' she asked. "To fight this Clanner, to do this… duel."

There was a moment of uneasy silence. Eva thought she saw disgust in Brigadier Laguna's eyes before she lowered them again. Oh God. They are. They're going to order me to do this. He's going to. I'm being fed to the lions. Despair and terror roiled up within her at that realization. They're going to send me to die. Sacrifice me.

"I was intending to sound you out, Lieutenant. To see if you're willing to do this."

Eva laughed. It was not the kind of thing a second lieutenant was supposed to in the presence of flag officers, but at that moment, there were no norms. It wasn't like they could punish her further, after all.

"Pardon me, Lieutenant?" Bridger asked, a razor tone in his voice.

She regained control, but the smile remained on her face. "I guess this is it," she said. "I've spent the last several weeks wondering if I was going to die soon, and now I know I am."

"If your situation in the fight is hopeless, you can request honorable retreat," Bridger said, his expression and tone never softening. "Their tradition of 'hegira'. Like we allowed them on Great X."

"Because the Falcons are known for following all those honor codes the Clans are claimed to have." Eva shook her head. "They're going to kill me, General, and you know it. You gave me the credit for their leader and they'll want me dead, or worse, for it. And as high as my scores and grades were, I'm still not up to their caliber as a MechWarrior."

"Lieutenant, again, I'm asking if you're willing."

"With all due respect, sir, it sounds like you're asking me to volunteer for a likely suicide mission so you don't have to order me," she answered, her voice bitter even as the despair twisted her inside. I am going to die.

The stormy look on Bridger's face worsened. "That doesn't mean I won't."

"I am certain of that sir." Eva nodded. To her surprise she wasn't having to fight back tears, but she knew that wouldn't last. "Give me the order, and I'll go and most likely die, though I'll try like hell not to." Her voice threatened to break. "I'm not volunteering, though. Give me the order, sir."

"You're being disrespectful, Lieutenant."

"No sir, I'm being honest." Eva swallowed. If I survive somehow, he'll never forgive this. But that's not likely, is it? "And if you're worried about it, I won't throw the fight or make it too easy. Wouldn't want to let my unit down, my lancemates. I'll give the best I can, and maybe it'll even look good, and then they'll kill me to avenge their pride, and hopefully that will save my comrades from whatever desperate backup plan you've got that would have likely killed all of us anyway. But we both know you're sending me to die, and even if I'm a new officer of just a year, I'd like to think I merit some responsibility on your part instead of this 'volunteer' excuse."

There was no telling what would happen next. For all she knew he was about to summon the MPs to have her brought to the ship brig for insubordination. But it wouldn't change her final fate. A part of her screamed that she could resist this, that she could simply refuse to fight, refuse to pilot her 'Mech, but the rest of her wouldn't allow it. Bridger, by the stories about him, wasn't the type to stand by and do nothing while their comrades on Timkovichi were dying every hour. He would try something anyway. She'd still likely die. So would Kevin, and Jasminder, and all the others in her company, her battalion, the entire brigade.

I'm a dead woman either way. I might as well die protecting the others.

"Fine. Lieutenant Penton-Vallejo, I am going to arrange a Clan honor duel between you and the Falcon commander at Timkovichi. You will participate, you will fight with all the courage and skill I would expect of a MechWarrior of the Royal Federation, and I pray to God you win or walk away intact."

Eva brought her hand up to her temple in as crisp a salute as she'd ever given. "Yes sir."

"You are dismissed."

With that she pulled her feet out of the floor straps and kicked off towards the door. On the other side, Kevin was still waiting patiently, one arm crooked around the rail along the side. "So what was that about?"

"I'll tell you later," was all she could manage. "I want to go back to my bunk now."

He clearly saw something was wrong. "Alright" was the only reply he gave, and she was grateful for the following silence on their return to the troops' habitation section. She went back to the lance bunkroom, wrapped herself into her bag, and zipped it up so that it covered her like a cocoon, safely out of sight and earshot of her comrades.

She let go. She dropped all the control, all the defenses she'd raised, and let the despair and fear and everything else fill her until she was seized by deep, wracking sobs. I'm going to die. I AM GOING TO DIE.

Second Royal Cuirassiers Bivouac
Greywalk, Aurum Continent
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth (Disputed)
22 January 3143

“You wanted to see me, Kommandant?”

Allison Palisser’s muscles ached from hours in a command couch, and all she wanted right now was to try and snatch some sleep before she had to be back in the cockpit. But, when your boss called you to his office - well, an awning and camp table by the side of his Brutus, but close enough - ‘at your earliest convenience’, one thing she’d learned from her time in the LCAF was that they meant ‘right damn now’.

“I don’t want to, Leutnant,” Kommandant Tanhause replied, looking less like the banker in uniform he usually did, and more like one of the terminal cancer patients her sister Becky - the rich, successful doctor in Tharkad City General - had worked with, as though the gradual loss of Timkovichi was hollowing him out. “But, on this, I have to.”

“What is it it, then, sir?”

“Myself and General Singh have been in contact with General Bridger, Khan Fetladral and Colonel Kell,” Tanhause explained, still not meeting her eyes. “And, we believe, there is a way to finish this, for good. One way or another.”

Allison waited, feeling a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Because I think I know where this is going.

“You have partial credit for taking down Malvina Hazen. Given the probable motivations for this Galaxy Commander Chistu attacking TImkovichi, that gives us one option to finish this fast.” Now, he did look her in the eyes. “You, and Lieutenant Penton-Vallejo of the Eighth Striker, can challenge Chistu and whoever she picks to fight alongside her, to a Trial of Grievance, to force them to back off the planet.”

Oh boy do I hate it when I’m right. Part of her wanted to say no right then and there, but Allison carefully bit back that response. It was tempting - God it was so very tempting - but thinking in that direction left her trying to find a justification that the people of Timkovichi - like the ones she could see in her peripheral vision, trying to hitch a ride out of here before the Falcons took over - would accept for the LCAF cutting and running. Even with “the LCAF” here and now being one mechwarrior barely into her twenties.

“Leutnant,” Tanhause’s voice broke her train of thought, his craggy features drawn as he carried on. “I have never before ordered a soldier into a position where I expected them to die, and I’m not going to do so now. If you truly believe that you cannot do this, then tell me; we’ll figure something out. God knows what, but we will.” He sighed. “I’d take Jinjiro Kurita at the head of the Swords of Light at this point.”

“I’m in, sir.” Committing felt curiously liberating, as though removing a weight she hadn’t been aware of carrying. It let Allison put aside anything but the tactical considerations, at least; like that I need to get with the techs, make sure Say Your Prayers is at peak condition, and see what I can get on how Chistu fights.

“You’re sure about this, Leutnant? You understand the risk asked of you here?”

“A whole lot of people are gonna die if I don’t do this, right, sir? Civvies, most of them.” That drew an uncomfortable nod from Tanhause, and Allison carried on. “Then I don’t see that I’ve got a choice, sir. I said the words, I took the oath when I got commissioned - ‘to stand between the people of the Commonwealth and harm’.” She shrugged. “I figure that about covers it.”

“Alright then.” There was a brief flicker of what might of have been sadness across Tanhause’s face, then he was all business. “We need to get with Tac-Ops, figure out just where Chistu might want as a circle of equals, likely profiles on her backup, all of that. But there is a matter to attend to first.”

"I’m the one who’s got to issue the actual challenge," Allison said.

He nodded in reply. "General Khan's waiting at HQ. The helo is already on the way."

Delta Galaxy Headquarters
Mannelbourg Township

With her Turkina undergoing repairs - it had taken more damage than expected, and she was thankful for the heavy armour; its movement profile was just close enough to her preferred Jade Hawk to make adjusting difficult - Stephanie Chistu paid a visit to the Galaxy Command headquarters set up in the ruins of Mannelbourg, using the half-intact manor of the local baron as the center of the facility. The central hall's roof was still intact and the room, once used for civil functions and conferences and the like, was know adorned with makeshift workstations, displays, and holotanks for Stephanie's subordinates to oversee the ongoing invasion. The central holotank displayed a graphic of the planet, now increasingly under Falcon control.

Yet her expanding control, and continued victories, did not sit well. The battered enemy continued to consolidate their remaining units. They were stuck fast in Greywalk and Cirenholm and her subordinate cluster commanders were taking losses in their attempts to outflank those positions, succumbing to rapid reaction attacks by the Republic mercenaries and the Arcadians' remaining 'Mech and vehicle forces. In time they would grind those forces down and achieve the breakthroughs, but it was costing her warriors material and lives.

Things have not gone as desired. We underestimated these Arcadians, or overestimated ourselves.

"This is your way, is it?" Isaac Roshak was fresh from his own machine, still in cooling vest and gear — marked with Mongol black of course — and looking frustrated and furious. "Our warriors' lives thrown away, all so you could claim your precious honor. When will you wake up and call in the WarShips to wipe our enemy from the surface of the planet?"

"When will you work up the courage to challenge me, if you feel my leadership has been poor?" Stephanie retorted. She was of half a mind to challenge him at this point, the Mongols be damned. "We have overrun most of the planet. Our enemies fall back with every blow we throw at them. We are winning, Star Colonel."

"We would have won weeks ago had you been a true successor to the Chinghis Khan!"

Stephanie glared at him. "Your ways grow the ranks of the Clan's enemies."

"Our ways kill the Clan's enemies, at little or no loss to ourselves." Isaac's eyes flashed. "They teach the Spheroids to obey or die, and they choose obey."

"Unless they resist out of despair, and force us to kill them, and expend effort killing them. We cannot do to every world what was done to Apostica, nor should we, or we shall have no worlds to rule!"

"So make an example, to remind our enemies," Isaac urged. "Slaughter these freebirth scum from orbit. Send our ships through and bombard the world on the other end as a warning of what awaits if they continue to fight us. Claim vengeance for the Chinghis Khan by honoring her teachings, not your outdated way that costs us the lives of our best warriors!"

Around her there were a number of upturned faces. Some were full of disgust. But not enough for Stephanie's comfort. Malvina took so many of our best in the Rending. And she made the path of conquest look so damn easy.

"You would suggest we invade through to the other side of the Anomaly? That we throw such a provocation at a foe we know to possess as great a fleet as we do, if not greater?" Stephanie crossed her arms. "Your Mongol Doctrine only works if there is no hope against us. But we do not have the strength to invade this other Inner Sphere as well, so your idea of a warning will do nothing but anger them into greater efforts against us.”

And, she added silently, knowing this was an argument Roshak would never heed, to do so might well provoke the Lyrans into unleashing their greatest weapons against us. Stephanie had made a point of studying the campaigns of the Word of Blake’s lunatic Jihad, where few Jade Falcons did. There had been little glory in combat against the Blakists, just grinding, savage attrition enforced by the rampant use of nuclear weapons and other, worse means of mass devastation. There was a valuable lesson there in not simply presenting a foe with annihilation as the only option; the Blakists had done just that, and only succeeded in uniting the Spheroids and Clans both in extirpating them from the universe, their name spoken only as a curse. She’d even studied what information the Watch had on the Davion campaigns against the Taurians, where the latter had tried to make things a battle of annihilation from the outset - and only the fact that the Federated Suns had initially been fighting three opponents - Kuritans, Capellans and Blakists - their equal at once, and then the death of Nathaniel Hasek robbing the Davions’ MATADOR counter-offensive of its driving will, had stopped them from burning a path clear to Taurus with atomic fire. So far, the Lyrans had not unleashed their nuclear arsenal, and I must keep it that way. They can sustain such a war far better than we can.

The Mongols would drive the enemy to such extremes without a thought, convinced our superiority as warriors will always translate to victory even in such fighting. I must bring us back onto the Honor Road, to save the Clan from the fate of the Blakists. I need a way to break this battle in our favor soon, quickly, or this dezgra fool and the bloodfoul's other followers will pull something to bring that end about.

"Signal from the White Aerie, Galaxy Commander." The comm-tech, a member of the technician caste, lifted her head from one station. "They say a Sea Fox trading mission is approaching and requests permission to transit the Anomaly. Star Admiral Crichell is of a mind to let them, but wishes you to confirm."

Sea Foxes. Stephanie snorted in disgust. As degraded as the Mongols and the traitor Wolves, if not as mad. And still so very useful. "Very well, allow them to pass, but only the Anomaly. This world is under blockade."

Isaac barked a harsh laugh. "So much for firmness. The Chinghis Khan would have shot the merchants down as a warning to the rest."

"No, she would not have, because even Khan Malvina was wise enough to grasp that without the Foxes, degraded though they may be, we cannot function. Or would you prefer that your warriors go into battle without the ammunition they ensure our supplies of, or lacking replacement armour and BattleMechs, or without information on an enemy’s strength?" Stephanie retorted. "So are you here to report, Star Colonel, or to malinger? Your Cluster needs you, quiaff?"

That drew forth a snarl. "We are repairing battle damage from our latest victories. As soon as the Ninth is repaired I will return them to the battle. While waiting I thought it proper to investigate how our campaign proceeds."

"We are winning," Stephanie answered drolly. "That is how it proceeds."

He opened his mouth but stopped. Yes, you do try my patience, she thought. Silence is wise if you don't want me to challenge you here and now.

"Galaxy Commander. We have a transmission." The commtech raised her head again. "It is the enemy commander, he wishes to speak with you."

"If he is wise, it will be to surrender," Isaac said. "My warriors are not disposed to taking prisoners for much longer."

Stephanie shot a glare his way before turning towards her holotank and the recorders she knew to be built into the base. "Connect us, Technician Marilee."

The commtech obeyed promptly. Within moments the holographic projection of Timkovichi was replaced by the image of their foe. His turban was fresh and, she thought, his beard freshly trimmed. "General Labh."

"Galaxy Commander Chistu." His expression was a grave one, which she'd expect for the man who was, by all appearances, losing this struggle. "I am calling to arrange a new challenge. One that will decide which of our forces withdraws."

"It is a little late to be considering a new Trial, General, unless this is how your side requests surrender."

"We have no intention to surrender." Singh nodded to someone out of view and moved aside. Moments after he disappeared, a woman in an LCAF uniform stepped into view. She was younger, by rank insignia only a leutnant, and struck Stephanie as a warrior freshly pulled from the battle. "I am Leutnant Allison Palisser of the Timkovichi Armoured Guards," the woman said. The name struck at Stephanie's memory. "And this past August, I was one of the MechWarriors who claimed the victory over Khan Malvina Hazen."

At that moment, Stephanie realized precisely what they were up to. She started considering the possibilities.

"I challenge you, Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu, to a Circle of Equals, as does the other MechWarrior that aided me in bringing down the Chinghis Khan, Lieutenant Evangeline Penton-Vallejo of the Eighth Strikers Brigade. We will meet you and whichever warrior you select to fight at your side for the fate of Timkovichi. The winner will grant hegira to the loser, and both sides will return all prisoners."

I see. Her mind went into the histories of the Invasion, and the fight for Coventry. The Spheroids had offered hegira outright there, with their one commander who won a victory over the Clan during the fight for the planet. This was different, but the spirit was the same; avoid a greater battle neither wanted to continue within the confines of Clan law.

"Accept me," Isaac hissed. "Let us avenge the Chinghis Khan!"

"Quiet!" When I win, I will have accomplished all my goals. I will have the victory on this planet and the distinction of having beaten those Malvina did not. The Khanship will be mine. But she could not commit right away, regardless. There is more at stake here than that. How much can I push them? Let us see.

"I am inclined to accept, on one further condition." Stephanie crossed her arms. "Whomever wins, a truce shall stand between the Jade Falcon Clan and the Arcadians and Lyrans, ten years in duration, during which your forces will not engage ours, nor will the Arcadian forces be posted within two jumps of a Falcon-held world. We will, for our part, halt our campaign against the Commonwealth during the truce."

Leutnant Palisser frowned in thought before turning away to face someone out of the recording field. "One year," she countered.

Not enough. Not nearly enough. "Unacceptable. You must give more."

"Three, then."

"I will go down to five. But no less. Otherwise I do not accept, and we will continue this contest." Stephanie did the calculations. She dare not go lower, as much as she wanted this fight. The Clan would need time to prepare, to rebuild from the Rending, consolidate their conquests, and if possible, find a way through the Fortress effect to take Terra and claim the title of ilClan. They could not do any of that if the Arcadians devoted more to the war.

For a time nothing was said on the other end, with Palisser's head turned away. After several seconds she turned her attention back to Stephanie. "It is accepted."

That left one last issue. "I imagine your fellow challenger will need to come from another system?" Stephanie asked. "I know they were at Morges when we passed through, and that your people have the fax machine devices for continued communication."

After a moment's pause, Palisser nodded. "Yes, she will."

"Then I grant safcon to the ship bearing her, and to that vessel alone, to land on Timkovichi. The others may, if they wish, withdraw through the Anomaly, but may not come back before the Trial concludes."

"We accept these terms."

"Then it is settled. Bargained well and done, Leutnant. I look forward to our battle. In the meantime, my warriors will refrain from further strikes on your holdings, should yours hold back as well. Chistu out." With those words the commtech cut the transmission.

"Whom will be your second?" Isaac demanded.

"I imagine you wish it to be yourself," she said. "Yet you have done nothing but dance the line of insubordination since coming under my command, Star Colonel, so why should I grant you this honor?"

"Because I am the strongest of the Chinghis Khan's followers here, and we demand vengeance," Isaac said. "If you deny us, we will remember the insult."

And undoubtedly cause me trouble in the vote. "How very Mongol of you. Even when pleading a favor, you bluster and threaten." Stephanie considered her words carefully. "I am inclined to grant you this chance, Star Colonel, on conditions."

"Name them."

"You will support our bargain with the Lyrans and Arcadians, whatever happens," Stephanie said. "It is our shield to focus our efforts towards Terra. Otherwise the Wolves may yet beat us to the prize."

She wasn't surprised at his frown. "The Wolves will destroy the Lyrans anyway. Why should we give up on more conquests?"

"Because we lack the warriors to hold them all and to continue the march on Terra," Stephanie barked. "We can keep what we have, but we must focus on the desant if we are to beat the Wolves. Even the Mongol Doctrine must bow to the needs of military necessity, quiaff?"

A very sour "Aff" was her reply. "I will support your bargain with the freebirths."

"Then I choose you, Star Colonel, to fight at my side."

He saluted firmly at that. "It will be a pleasure." He said the words with such pleasure she wondered if she'd made a terrible mistake.

But I am committed now, and I will do what I must. This is our way forward, to the return of the Falcons to the honored ways of the Founders, and our rise to IlClan.
”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.

User avatar
White Mage
White Mage
Posts: 21609
Joined: 2003-02-12 10:59pm

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

Post by LadyTevar »

And Isaac will get Christu killed, just to promote himself.
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
Post Reply