"Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

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"Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

Merry Christmas everyone, figured I'd drop this Christmas gift for the fans of "Emergence". The story continues!

Also, as before, Captain Orsai from SB has contributed, quite heavily in this case, as the prologue is primarily his, as is the first 60% or so of Chapter 1. I did make a few editing passes and changed bits here and there for his stuff, though (and he in turn modified some of my bits."

Prologue - Salvation

Zenith Recharge Station
Imbros System, Prefecture X
Fortress Republic
21 May 3143

It had been a long time since Darren Huyten was this close to home.

Granted, waiting here at Imbros’ zenith jump point meant he was more than thirty lightyears away from Sol, but it still felt reassuring. So did being back in the dark grey and blue uniform of the Republic Armed Forces, and wearing the gold-on-gold starburst insignia of his actual rank.

It was almost enough to banish the implications of what he could see. Hanging around the station, visible through the viewing bubble he’d been sent to wait for his contact, was a significant chunk of the Republic Navy. They were too far away to identify specifically, but Darren had counted at least six Castrum-class DropShips, each with its own escort group, manoeuvring around the station. Backstopping them was the grey and blue enormity of the Essex-class destroyer Abundantia.Taken together it was enough firepower to match almost any WarShip remaining in the Inner Sphere. And that this kind of force was here, instead of at the Navy's home ports of Sol or New Earth, said that the Fortress was not as inviolate as it seemed.

Or at least that someone high up thinks there's weak spots, Darren corrected himself, thinking of the stomach-churning jump from Lyons. If it were possible to copy however that had been done…

The hiss of the dome's access door sliding open arrested his thoughts, and Darren shifted to face the hatch.

A pair of infanteers in void-adapted Purifier suits were first through, taking up guard positions that would give one of them a clear angle of fire no matter what. The insignia of Special Forces Command visible on their shoulder panels. Then two more figures entered, unarmoured but somehow with more presence than the battlesuited troopers, He'd have recognised them instantly even without their Paladin's uniforms. Tall, muscular and even in minimal gravity moving with an easy, leonine grace that belied the years marked in his precisely regulation-cut silver hair and the lines riven deep by stress in craggy features, Paladin-Exemplar David McKinnon looked every inch exactly what he was; Stone’s wrath personified. By contrast, Lady Janella Lakewood looked like a harassed bureaucrat; smaller and softer-built than the Paladin-Exemplar's hard, angular features, her uniform rumpled by travel where McKinnon's was pristine, dark circles under her eyes standing out against pale skin and streaks of grey in her long, tightly bound-up black hair.

“Authentication Blue Star Three-Oh-Three,” Lakewood spoke first, calm and steady.

“Vertex seven-two, nine-six aleph,” Darren replied; the final countersign needed to confirm that he was, in fact, who he said he was, and was not acting under duress. The confirmation wiped at least a little of the strain from Lakewood’s features, and she actually smiled a little as she gestured for him to take a seat.

“Welcome back, Brigadier.” Lakewood relaxed in her seat. “I do wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Better ones than you might think, Lady Lakewood,” Darren chose his words carefully. “I came back personally because we’ve encountered something that might, just might, mean the salvation of the Republic. With your permission,” he gestured to the holoprojector unit at the centre of the table, “my staff have prepared a short briefing.”

“By all means,” Lakewood nodded. “Some good news would be welcome, I admit.”

From days of raw footage, the Lucky Stars’ intelligence team had managed to distill much of the relevant information down to only half an hour; pulled together from gun camera footage, news reports, sensor readouts and half a dozen other sources. McKinnon leaned forward at the combat footage, studying closely the Arcadian BattleMechs — alike and yet alien to the designs they all knew well — and how they moved and fought; Lakewood concentrating on the technical information. The finisher was High King Nathaniel’s coronation address, a last-minute addition; the footage had only just arrived on Timkovichi before Darren had needed to burn out-system.

“What’s your assessment of these Arcadians?” McKinnon broke the silence first; focusing on practical matters, as ever. “As fighting troops, I mean.”

“They’re good,” Darren said, putting together everything he’d learned about them. “Very well equipped on average; more, and more varied types, of Clan-grade gear than I’ve seen outside of the Davion Guards or Stone’s Brigade. They’re tough, disciplined and well-trained, as well.” He paused, considering further. “That said, they’re not that experienced; I got the impression that their Inner Sphere’s been a lot more peaceful than ours, and most of the AFRF’s units just haven’t seen serious combat for a long time.”

“And if you had to engage these Second Cuirassiers, at their peak strength, using your old command?”

“In a straight up open field battle, we’d lose.” Darren had had time to think about that fairly extensively. “The Cuirassiers had almost twice as many BattleMechs, and more heavy equipment in general, than the Principes do, at least in the pre-Fortress configuration. In a sustained planetary campaign, supporting Standing Guard units, the Principes' edges — more experienced personnel, better low level combined arms integration, and a larger support and repair echelon in both absolute and relative terms — would count for more, but I'd still put it at no more than one chance in three for them to win."

"This speech,” Lakewood indicated the footage of Nathaniel. “Does he mean it, or are we looking at someone else with ambitions that might include what remains of the Republic?”

“Bearing in mind that I haven’t met Nathaniel personally, I think he’s sincere, yes,” Darren replied. “Very definitely, he represents a serious public feeling; more than one of the Arcadian officers I heard comment on that speech expressed quite a bit of satisfaction that they were going to, I quote,” he checked his noteputer, “here it is, ‘kick the Clans’ genetically superior asses up one side and down the other’.”

“I’d say that’s fairly conclusive,” McKinnon agreed, and Lakewood nodded at her fellow Paladin’s assessment.

“Beyond that, they haven’t given any sign of wanting territory on this side of the Anomaly. I was given the impression in conversation with General Singh’s staff that the Combine on their side and this ‘Oriento-Capellan Empire’ would just love it if the Arcadians got bogged down in serious occupation duties here. So,” Darren shrugged, “I can’t say for certain, but the evidence I’ve seen is that they just want to kick in the Clans and go home. The full data downloads and analysis are on my ship; I'll make sure they’re transferred over soonest.”

That caused more silent conversation, looks flicking between McKinnon and Lakewood before the Paladin-Exemplar gave a quick nod.

“So,” McKinnon said, calm gravitas in his voice “What do you need from us, Brigadier?”

“Equipment; spare parts, mainly,” Darren brought up his support section’s shopping list. “We were lucky on Timkovichi; more casualties in machines than people, but a lot of the damage needs parts to fix that weren’t ever common outside the Republic. And, well,” another shrug, “I’ve got teams on Galatea — where I’ll be going after we’re finished — and Kandersteg who can handle manpower.”

“I think we can do better than just spare parts,” McKinnon smiled. “Come with me.”

Leaving Lakewood to continue studying the data, they moved through the recharge station’s corridors, heading deeper inside, towards one of the cargo bays if Darren remembered the Olympus-class’s layout right. That guess proved right when they arrived in one of the vast, cavernous spaces. Most of the bay was filled with standard cargo containers, the usual swarms of personnel in zero-gravity exoskeletons moving around and among them, but drawn up in formation magclamped to the “floor” were half a dozen BattleMechs, several times that many battlesuits locked into their maintenance/storage racks, and -

Darren blinked for a moment as the Mangonel next to the pair of tripedal leviathans made their scale clear. “So,” he finally remarked, “the stories are true.”

“They are,” McKinnon agreed. “Castor and Pollux,” he indicated each of the giants, “the Dioscuri; what their crews’ve named them. Ares class superheavy OmniMechs, and as of now, assigned to you with full complements of Omni pods, spare parts and techs to keep them going. So are the ‘Mechs and battlesuits with them. And a DropShip to transport them; new model, but it’ll look like an Overlord unless someone gets a very close look at its thrust-mass ratio.”

“There’s no way I can explain those with ‘I found them in a supply cache’,” Darren temporised, mind working overtime at the possible tactical uses for the beasts. Kicking DropShips apart, for one.

“If you’ve got to use them, you won’t have to,” McKinnon replied. “You’ll get formal orders later, but the gist of it is, don’t use them unless you have to — but if you do have to, then don’t hesitate. In that situation, we’ve got verigraphed orders from the Exarch confirming your unit as Republic auxiliaries, and Martin Kell at least is going to read them before ripping your head off.”

Darren nodded at that, feeling at least a little reassured at having some diplomatic top cover. Although, given the likely circumstances for revealing who, and what, he and the Lucky Stars really were, that was probably the least of potential worries …

“Come on down and meet the crews,” McKinnon pushed off the floor with easy grace. “They can tell you an awful lot more about what their machines can do than I can.”

Nearly fourteen hours later, David McKinnon watched the blue-white star of the Duat-class Hope's Dagger — wearing the splendidly official identifiers of Miriya's Light, a cargo converted Overlord — burning out for its JumpShip. It was far less time than any of them had wanted, but the next viable window through the Fortress to Lyons was less than a day from opening; and after that, there wouldn't be a clear shot for months.

“Do you think the Lyrans can hold Tharkad?” Janella Lakewood commented from beside him.

“If they can’t, then we’d damn well all better learn to speak Clanner,” David snapped, before a lifetime’s self-mastery reasserted itself. Calmer, he went on; “I think they can, yes. They’ve got some of the best units in the LCAF there, plus the First Davion Guards; and a set of commanders that their troops believe can win. That counts for a lot.”

“And the Arcadian contribution.”

“And them, yes,” David nodded. “Even beyond the fighting strength of them, having an ally committed does no end of good.” Their thoughts turned, both, to the Davion Guards; to what their unexpected intervention had done in the battle against the Senate Alliance on Terra. Unexpected to everyone but Jonah Levin, that is; David still didn’t know just how he’d managed to avoid letting even any of the Paladins know about that until well after they’d landed.

“I’ll be heading back to Terra myself, soon,” Lakewood said after a moment. “This information needs to get back into Levin’s hands, and we can’t trust it to the HPG. If we missed even one of Buhl’s people…” An involuntary shiver struck her at that thought. “Think you can manage the rest of this inspection tour alone, old man?”

“I’m not too old to thrash you, Lady Lakewood, in or out of a ‘Mech,” David shot back, to mutual smiles. Though that turned his thoughts inward; am I too old for field command, should I have taken retirement when Levin offered it to me? Then, no. I’m in as good shape physically as it’s possible to be. His recent medical eval had proven that; with the doctor telling him that he was in good shape for a man a third of his age. "If all my patients were as obnoxiously healthy as you, Sir McKinnon, I’d be out of a job.” That left the non-physical to consider. There’s no defects of mind or will I can detect.

“I can carry it on myself, Janella,” he continued after completing his considerations. “Your staff are good people, and between us, we can put the fear of Stone into our awkward world governors.”

Besides, once the information on the Arcadians got into Levin’s hands, there was going to be a lot more work to do. Real work, not just drills, inspections, and chivvying recalcitrant world governors into doing their jobs.

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

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

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

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Re: "Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

Chapter 1 - Storm Warning

Tharkad City Municipal Railyards
Tharkad, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
24 May 3143

Hauptmann Talia Yuen forced herself to remain calm. You are not allowed to shoot this idiot.

Herr Bachmeier,” she settled on, fixing Landgrave Michael Bachmeier with a sharp look, summoning her own reserve of haughty disdain to remind him they shared the same noble rank. With the scar seaming her face from brow to jawline, the legacy of a Marik Neanderthal’s hatchet, she hoped it would make the necessary impression. “I have heard your objections. Since — as you well know — they are deficient in both fact and legal backing, I will tell you one last time: stop bothering me and start emptying out your warehouses while my engineers rig them for demolition, if you want to salvage anything of their contents.”

“You can’t do this!” Bachmeier snapped, leaning forward across her desk as though to use his advantages of height and build — he was a big man, and most of it was muscle rather than fat — to intimidate her. “I have friends in the city council, and when they -”

That did it.

"Your 'friends', Herr Bachmeier, not only will not help you, they cannot," Talia snapped in reply, rising to her own full height. She gave up eight inches on the burly nobleman's six-foot-four, but made up for it in quiet fury. Her amber features flushed with anger, bringing out her scar in stark contrast.. “My orders to put the railyards in a fit state for defence come from the commander of Donegal Province," the extremely newly appointed Jasek Kelswa-Steiner, but a Hauptmann-General of impeccable lineage and combat record still impressed, "and are specifically to be executed with due expedition. Your warehouses, sir, were not supposed to be sited where they are." She let that sentence hang for a moment. A litany of complaints and fines from the city planning office testified to that, and he knew it. "I will demolish them to clear fire lanes. I am offering you a courtesy in delaying to allow you to empty them. If you feel this is unsatisfactory, then I will be happy to get in my Regent and level them instanter."

The naked threat of her ‘Mech — visible out of the window, kneeling with the rest of her command's ready lance before their hangar — seemed to finally get the point across, and Bachmeier slumped in defeat.

“I understand,” he said, quietly. He’s finally grasping that this is real; that the Wolves are coming, and we may not be able to stop them. Good. “Who should I inform when.. when it’s done?”

“Leutnant Sandoval-Steiner.” A twitch in Bachmeier’s left eye showed that he did recall his earlier, rather bruising encounters with her aide and friend, and a small impulse of mercy led Talia to give an out. “Or, as the engineers are mainly his cadets, Instructor-Hauptmann Stanson would probably be a better choice.”

After Bachmeier left, Talia sat, slumping in on herself in frustration. There was going to be a cost for that; Bachmeier did have friends at court — even if their support of Vedet Brewer had put most of them out of favour for now — and letting her temper get the better of her never worked out well. Sighing, she decided to personally survey the defences; at least it’d get her out of the office.

She pulled on her greatcoat and left the office as well. In her outer office she passed her quiet, unobtrusive young secretary, telling him to route any calls to her personal comm. The civilian secretary, who'd come with the office, audibly acknowledged the command. Talia stepped out onto the balcony. Taking a deep breath of her adopted homeworld’s cold, clear air, she set to work.

In some ways, she thought, it was a good thing that the original railyards had been levelled during the Jihad. After Tharkad had been liberated, Adam Steiner’s reconstruction programs had involved laying the railyards out for defence. Most obvious were the low, carefully angled walls of ferroconcrete and armourplate, studded with turret mounts, to be filled in time of need; most had been, by now. Talia could see one of the last clearly, an autocannon turret taking shape under the hands of exosuited engineers, and a massive Kiso ConstructionMech in the bright, cheerful yellow of the Municipal Works Board lifting one of the rotary cannon into its mounting frame. The Kiso was an import from the Combine, a symbol of the happier times before the Blackout.

Below, the marshalling yard was in a state of barely controlled chaos. Sergeants, foremen and -women, and train loadmasters bellowed at each other like bull mammoths in mating season, while officers of Transport Command waved noteputers and clipboards and added their own strident demands for everyone to get back to where they ought to be to the chorus. Shuttling engines moved freight, vehicle, and troop cars back and forth. She could see the grey-mottled cream of the Hesperan Guards, Buena Guards sand and bronze, and the blue and white striped red of the First Davion on the vehicles and ‘Mechs being moved. Every few minutes, a fresh train shot off with a whine of maglev propulsion or arrived in a rumbling clatter of deceleration; units and cargo being dispatched back and forth across Bremen at the High Command's will.

The raw volume of traffic terrified her; Talia had nightmarish visions of a single collision or even just a slip of timing snarling things up so badly they wouldn’t get it sorted out until the Wolves got here. It was only knowing that this was, in fact, normal for the civilians and for the Rail Transport section, and that they knew how to handle it, that kept her from worrying herself into paralysis.

That, and thank God keeping everything moving isn't my responsibility, she added to herself, climbing down from the observation walkway and making for the hangar. I've just got to defend the place.

Her ready 'Mech lance showed the mixed bag she'd been handed to do that with; and in her less cynical moments Talia was willing to accept Berry's argument that it was a sign their superiors trusted her skill. Other times, like now, Talia was inclined to think her short battalion of Royal Guards, Nagelring cadets and Exiled Wolves was karmic punishment for some grievous sin in a past life.

Techs swarmed over her Regent, a Gauntlet — both in the gold-edged blue of the First Royals — the steel-grey Mad Cat of Star Commander Kezia Wolf, and a low-slung Barghest painted in Nagelring check-pattern grey and blue; checking coolant levels, adjusting myomer tension, making sure weapons and sensors were properly calibrated and bedded in, any of the hundred-and-one tasks that needed doing to keep a BattleMech operational in the field. She smiled on noticing provisional-leutnant Katie Rayne working alongside the techs to machine armour plates into place; the cadets had, at least, proven perfectly willing to help the techs.

Within the hangar, a pair of Davion-built Saviors, and two smaller Feldmechaniker models from StarCorps’ Loburg factory — their allotment of MFBs — were opened out as impromptu machine shops, the air thick with heat, and the smells of sweat, hot metal, live electronics, lubricants and hydraulic fluid. Tanks, ‘Mechs and battlesuits were in various states of disassembly. They ranged from minor, such as the Black Wolf battlesuit with its lower arm removed while techs swapped the laser out, to major. Someone briefly raised their voice in a faintly familiar song — Firebrand? And not very good at it! — before being shouted down by a chorus of insults. She turned briefly to see the singer and his critics on the deck of one of the Savior vehicles, where a Schmitt assault tank had most of its engine block spread out. Stripping off her greatcoat, Talia took a moment to frame the scene in her mind, considering it as a subject for painting. At least, assuming she lived long enough to make a try at it.

“Hey there, Tals.” Berry Sandoval-Steiner wore her usual insouciant grin, and khaki field dress half-unzipped to show the cooling vest worn beneath. What made Talia frown was the bruises purpling one side of her olive features, and the stiffness in Berry's stance that told of an injured knee.

"What happened," she asked, taking the noteputer full of status reports Berry offered her.

“Eh, one of the Wolf Elementals was being difficult about helping out with maintenance,” Berry explained, shrugging casually — and failing to hide a wince from probably bruised ribs, “so I had to explain things to him.”

“Berry, I need you on your feet,” Talia admonished, “not in a field hospital.”

“I’ve taken worse injuries riding and kept going, you know that,” Berry returned, “and you need to speak to people in a language they understand. You know how Clanners are, even the Exiles; if I’d just tried to talk it out, he’d never have taken me — or you — seriously. Having his bell rung’ll make the lesson sink in. And, please, Tals, I am begging you,” Berry’s voice took on a tone of mock horror, “please, do not send me back to a field hospital. Anything but that. My grandmothers are back on Tharkad, and they’re in a matchmaking mood.”

The shiver at that wasn’t feigned, and Talia shared it. She’d only met them briefly, but that had been enough to tell her that Eloise and Naomi Sandoval-Steiner were, even at nearly into their second century, forces of nature — who would, did, rule the lives of anyone in their orbit with an elegantly gloved fist of iron. All for those people's own good, of course, and they’d been dropping hints about eligible suitors in letters to Berry for a while now. What they must have been like during their days with the anti-Blakist resistance on Tharkad, she feared to speculate.

"Speaking of unwanted persons," Berry added, "Killian inbound, your six."

I shouldn‘t have sent him to inventory our ammunition reserves, Talia decided, plastering an even smile on her face as she turned to face her biggest headache. Most of the cadets were perfectly well-behaved, but Josiah Killian — sixteen years old, newly commissioned as a provisional second leutnant of engineers, and who would probably require a razor sometime in the next few months — wasn’t. And, from his puppy-dog cheerful expression and rapid annotations to the noteputer in his hand, he was about to regale her with his latest plan to defeat the Crusader Wolves by burning down Tharkad City.

“Hauptman.” Killian braced to attention so stiffly she half-expected his spine to snap, only relaxing fractionally at her gesture for at ease. He launched right into his latest idea. “I’ve been checking our inventory of Long Tom rounds, ma’am, and I think, if we empty the stockpiles we have,” Killian held forth the noteputer, showing marked out schematics of the local road system and nearby road and rail bridges, “we can rig the bridges for demolition, and wire the roads with enough IEDs to block any Wolf attack cold -”

“Josiah,” Talia cut him off in mid-outpouring. “I think the artillery unit those shells belong to might object to us making free with their ammunition without even asking them. And,” her voice turned waspish, “since we, and the people of Tharkad City, need those roads and bridges right now, I’m ordering you not to attempt any such rigging for demolition, especially as I know for a fact you don’t have the training or experience to do it safely. We do have an enemy to blow up our infrastructure, Josiah, but apparently you’ve decided that they don’t merit that privilege?” Not to mention the distinct possibility of blowing yourself up, but she suspected that wouldn’t bother Killian much — or, more likely, wasn’t real to him. "Now, have you finished the munitions inventory?" A guilty look confirmed what she'd suspected. "Then get it done, and, once you've finished, report back to me instanter."

“Y’know, if that kid’d just learn a bit of patience, he’d be a real asset,” Berry commented as Killian scurried off.

“Were we any better, at his age?” Talia replied, smiling with the confidence in her own maturity that eight years’ extra living over Killian gave her.

The clumping footfalls of a battlesuit broke her train of thought. Talia turned in that direction; it was one of the cadets, she could tell that easily. They were probably the only people on Tharkad operating Fa Shih battlesuits.

“Ma’am.” They braced to attention in front of her, raising their suit’s visor to reveal another painfully young face. “Leutnant Price's compliments, and he needs you; issues with one of the rail staffers.”

“Lead the way, then, cadet," Talia replied. No rest for the wicked.

Throne Room, The Triad

The last of the mutilated young soldiers filed in respectable formation from the Throne Room. From her seat at the Throne Melissa Steiner watched them depart with an expression she carefully kept from turning into a frown. Only once they were gone did the tips of her mouth and lips curl downward. They were the fortunate ones who lived. All because of my error. My failures. She glanced about the room and up towards the towering Fafnir and Atlas II that stood guard over her. Within were two MechWarriors who, like the battle armor-clad infantry of the First Royal Guard around her, would fight and die to preserve her life. She recalled these colossal BattleMechs had once been smaller (though no less gigantic to a regular human being) Griffin machines. That was long the tradition, but that tradition changed with our need; would have, I think, even without the work of Julian and Callandre. She’d been furious about that fiasco at the time, but now, almost two decades hence, it drew a soft, almost imperceptible smile from Melissa. Everything, and everyone, changes over time. Even me. Would that I could warn the Melissa of ten years ago from my mistakes. My realm might be far better off today!

General Maurer strolled in from one of the doors to the side of the throne room. "They are ready, Highness." He bowed politely and did not protest at the way the infantry soldiers crowded him, as if he might yet pull a gun and shoot her. While the public still did not know the details, it was an open secret to many in the First Royal Guards that Maurer and the rest of the High Command had overthrown Melissa, the rightful Archon, to install Vedet Brewer, who most certainly had no claim to the title beyond his personal power, his family's ownership of the colossal factories of Hesperus, and that he was a venomous son of a Blakist who easily won trust he should never have enjoyed.

No. Melissa shook herself out of those thoughts. He is a competent soldier, and the Hesperan Guards’ loyalty wouldn’t still be in doubt if Vedet lacked any virtues at all. You underestimated him once before; it would be foolish to do so again.

Wordlessly she gestured for the soldiers to part, which they did. Maurer said nothing at the display, nor at the way they still kept a protective formation with Melissa that made clear their continued distrust of Maurer. I may have to speak with Hauptmann Franken about this. Maurer is still commander of the LCAF High Command, and we do not need division. Especially not now.

A stark reminder of why was the centerpiece of the War Room. The central holotank showed the dire straits her realm was in. Savage orange and verdant green reflected the worlds known to have fallen to the Hell's Horses and Jade Falcon Clans, only recently halted from their rampage towards Tharkad and Coventry. But worse was the ever-growing amber tumor in the Commonwealth's belly, the stomach cancer she herself had allowed to come into being with her disastrous dealing with the Wolf Clan. Now their new Wolf Empire was within two jumps of Tharkad. Thuban and Smolnik were fallen and Tetersen and Gibbs were likewise under threat. But we are the prize. I am the prize. The Wolves would want her dead for revenge, and by capturing Tharkad they could break the Commonwealth politically.

The war council assembled to thwart that inevitable effort awaited her and Maurer. Jasek Kelswa-Steiner and Roderick Steiner were dressed in LCAF duty uniforms while Julian Davion wore the fatigues of the Federated Suns. Seeing him today, older and more seasoned than he was when he'd pulled that prank as an exchange cadet, was a kinder reminder of the changes that time brought. He might have been a good match for Trillian, she thought, allowing herself a moment of whimsy, under other circumstances. But, duty calls "Gentlemen," she said at their salutes. "You have more to report?"

"Our defenses are still being established, Highness," Jasek said. As the senior of the three, by Lyran reckoning anyway, he was taking the lead. "Right now, we’re concentrating the bulk of our defences here on Bremen. The First Royal and Combat Commands Baker and Charlie of the First Davion Guards are deployed to defend Tharkad City. I’ve ordered the Buena Guards to…"

Melissa gave her attention to the defensive arrangements as Jasek explained them. Her own military education, such as it had been, had been a very long time ago, but it was enough for her to see that the defences were as well-laid as possible. But, with the damage so many of those units have taken, I don’t know if it will be enough. If any planning, however skilled, will be enough. What intelligence they did have was that the Wolves were coming with far more troops than they'd been expected to have. They are pressing Leaguers into the warrior caste ranks, perhaps, or those of their civilians who finally got to their lines. And now they have the Leaguer factories and some of our own to produce new 'Mechs with. "I am no expert in military affairs, Hauptmann-General, but it does seem some of these defensive positions are spread very thinly."

"Unfortunately they are,” Jasek acknowledged, “but until further reinforcements arrive, they’re the best we can do. We’ve concentrated most of our immediately available forces on the critical targets, Highness; and he who defends everything, defends nothing."

"And by reinforcements you mean the Arcadians," Melissa had yet to meet any of her new allies, from that other Inner Sphere now accessible across the break in reality now orbiting Timkovichi. She noted the glowing crowned hawk marker over Westerstede. So now they are just one jump away. They have almost made it. "You hope to employ their incoming forces for defenses."

"We do," Julian said. "But therein lies the rub. We think we need some of them elsewhere as well."


Roderick nodded and manipulated a control. The holomap shifted, zooming in on the nearby Gibbs system. "The Wolves have raided Gibbs a few times these last few months. Mostly probing attacks with aerospace forces, but they've sent Trinaries to hit targets on the planet itself. The Sixteenth Lyran Regulars are still intact and held off these strikes, but they're hurt in a big way. They're particularly down on aerospace assets with just a wing and a spare squadron or two by their last report; the Navy wings and pocket warship squadrons have taken similar damage. I'm worried the Wolves might decide to cripple our fleet whether or not they get Tharkad."

Melissa nodded in understanding. Thanks to the Blakists' genocide of the people of Alarion during the Jihad and Skye's transfer to the Republic, Gibbs was the only remaining JumpShip yard in the Lyran Commonwealth. Its loss would be almost as great a blow as losing Tharkad. Trillian's reports are that the Arcadians have at least half a dozen JumpShip yards of their own, but even if we use them, the need to move ships through the Glass for even routine yard maintenance will drastically undermine our economy and our transport ability. "You want to ask High King Nathaniel to dispatch some of his relief forces to Gibbs and not Tharkad?"

"Not all, just enough to protect the yards from whatever Seth Ward or Alaric Wolf might throw at them," Jasek replied. He tapped a key himself and a list of units popped up beside the marker at Westerstede. "The Arcadians are bringing a lot of metal in that first wave. Two full-sized regimental combat teams — they call them divisions — and two brigades centered around 'Mech regiments, plus at least one, maybe two extra aerospace groups with their naval forces. And that's not counting his Lifeguards, a combined arms regiment of some of the best troops they've got. If they divert just one of those brigades, with their attendant aerospace support, Gibbs will be a lot more secure."

"Be that as it may, even one extra brigade may prove vital to the defense of Tharkad," Maurer warned. "A diversion of troops to a secondary objective while we fight for the capital is not to be taken lightly."

"We're not," Roderick said. "We've discussed it a lot. For any target other than Gibbs, I'd be all for telling the Sixteenth to dig in and do what they can. But if we lose those yards, that’s all of our remaining construction capacity and almost all of our JumpShip repair slips gone." He shot Maurer a look that suggested this was a well-worn argument. “If you know a way to wage war without reliable transport, General, I’d like to hear it.”

Maurer nodded in acceptance of the point, if not agreement. "The choice is yours, Highness. The military judgment of either choice is sound."

"And yet, dangerous in either direction," she noted. After a few moments of quiet contemplation she nodded. "Draw up the message and I shall have it verigraphed and transmitted by fax. We will ask Nathaniel to divert troops to Gibbs' defense."

"It will be done," Maurer replied.

Her eyes went back to the holotank. Wolf heads were now blinking over Tetersen. The Wolves have struck there, whether to conquer or raid is not obvious yet. But that means we don't have long before they get here. I hope I have made the right choice…
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: "Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

Chapter 2 - Difficult Questions

AFS Lady Noelle Hampton
Zenith Recharge Station
Westerstede, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
2 June 3143

The one unavoidable rule about interstellar travel was that it demanded patience. The limitations of materials and technology kept JumpShips from safely jumping as many times as needed. Recharge of a Kearny-Fuchida Drive Core, to be done safely, required either a fully-charged lithium-fusion battery or dozens of hours of careful charging from a ship's charge sails or the banks of fusion reactors on recharge stations. The general average was about a week per system, though some could require even longer if there were no recharge stations and the available input of a system's star was lower than the average. Those weeks could be long weeks, as they meant life in zero-G for the crews of attached DropShips, and all the challenges zero-G meant for those who lacked life-long spacers' affinity for that condition.

The only reprieve came if a DropShip crew had leave to travel to the JumpShips themselves. Virtually all JumpShips had at least one, usually two, grav decks, spinning toruses built into their main hulls that when at full speed produced the feel of gravity through centrifugal force.

The Lady Noelle was no exception. The Voidstrider-class JumpShip, a product of the Artemis Shipyards facility at Zvolen, came with a pair of two hundred meter grav-decks. One was made specifically for giving ground troops on long transfers a chance to experience gravity and keep their land legs. Among the facilities on the deck were a pair of conference rooms for staff meetings, officer seminars, and all the other sorts of gatherings that were a part of military life.

In the largest of those rooms, at the main stern-side table, High King Nathaniel Proctor-Steiner let out a sign and tried to keep his frustration and embarrassment from showing. Well over two dozen personnel were already seated and more coming every second. Like him they were in basic "duty reds" with MechWarrior insignia. While he wore no unit patch they all bore the insignia of the Third Proctor Guards. It was a mocking adaptation of the Draconis Combine's black dragon with a hawk-winged sword piercing the dragon's chest. The perfect insignia for a unit with the proud nickname of "Dragonslayers".

He'd seen it often enough. This would be the third presentation today, appropriately to be given to the Third Battalion of the unit's core BattleMech regiment. Unfortunately, the way things were going, it would prove the most frustrating.

The holotank image beside him flickered, only faintly depicting the Royal Federation's crowned hawk in full three-dimensional color and light before the entire thing dissolved into wavering light with bursts of patchy gray. Beside him, one of the JumpShip's warrant officers struggled with something in the guts of the holotank itself. "Wait, Majesty, I have it, almost… no!" That final despairing cry was joined by the image going out entirely. The young warrant, Shrestha, lifted their head. The dark-colored hair with blue and pink highlights was not particularly accepted in the AFRF but entirely in fitting with the eccentricities credited to JumpShip crews. Finding personnel willing to spend four year tours did not allow the typical pickiness that other service branches had. While their BDUs were mostly the same color as the uniforms of the ground personnel and Nathaniel, Shrestha's branch pin was the golden solar sail of JumpShip crew. "Sorry, Majesty, but it's dead. I can't figure it out, all I can do is guess it needs a new projector core. I don't know if I have any in stock. I'll have to go see."

Nathaniel kept the groan of frustration from leaving his throat, but couldn't keep the annoyance off his face. He regretted the slip at seeing the flicker of worry that appeared on Shrestha's young face. "Sorry, Warrant Officer, that's not aimed at you." He added, mentally, And please stop looking like I'm about to have you thrown out the airlock. The holotank, maybe, but not you.

"Ah. Sorry, Majesty," Shrestha said. "I'll go check on that core. We topped off supplies before leaving Timkovichi so we should have one or two."

"Thank you." Nathaniel nodded once, then again when the spacer threw a quick yet sloppy salute. Oh dear God, if I'd saluted like that as a cadet Colonel MacLeod would've slapped me. Yet he said nothing as the warrant rushed out to chuckles from the assembled.

Among the chuckling figures were the other high-ranking officers seated with Nathaniel. General Sir DeMarcus Bridger was the senior commander present even if Nathaniel outranked him as the High King. Seated beside him was the Third Proctor Guards' CO, Major General Keyshawn Bridger, and their proximity did more than their similar names to speak to their relation. The Bridger brothers, eldest and youngest of three, were natives of Gienah's Borealis continent, sharing the same ebony shade to their complexion with the younger brother having a wider face. Beyond their seats, Colonel Momi Carvalho, a native of Jardine and the regimental CO of the Third Guards' BattleMech regiment, had a bemused grin on her face much like those her Third Battalion were now showing.

A man at least ten years older than Nathaniel spoke up from the crowd. The name "Klausoff" and the silver hawk insignia of a lieutenant colonel stood out from the assembled. "Third Battalion reporting as ordered, sir."

Nathaniel had already counted. Forty-four pilots. Battalion reserve included. He stood. "Everyone, thank you for your prompt arrival. I am sure I need no introductions, but for the purposes of brevity, I ask you only refer to me as 'sir'. 'King' if you must." He gestured towards the lifeless holotank. "I've worked with General Bridger's staff to prepare a briefing but I am afraid we are experiencing technical difficulties."

"I'll say," one wit among the assembled muttered, just loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to be utterly disrespectful. Klausoff and another pilot, with a captain's hawk and three bars, glared at the offender but said nothing.

Nathaniel's lips curled into a voluntary but meaningful little smile. "Malfunctioning holotanks are, unfortunately, another part of life in the AFRF. But I imagine the lot of you are pleased to be spared a point-by-point presentation. So, let's get to it. While we've been waiting for our JumpShips to finish their charges I wanted to see all of you. In another twelve days, we will be landing on Tharkad. It is the capital of our ally and we expect it to come under invasion by time we get there. Perhaps even before. God willing, we will land first and have a chance to establish defenses. I know that some of you, indeed many of you, have not seen combat. Nor have I. That's about to change. And I want you to know I have faith that we will all live up to what our people expect of us. We're going to save Tharkad and we're going to drive the Clans back. We're going to rescue each and every one of their bondsmen and return them to their homes."

The speech was one he'd planned to give anyway, but without the holotank to provide projections he had no means to give the visual imagery he wanted to drive home his position. It turned the speech into a monologue and by the end, Nathaniel could see he'd lost most of them. He glanced uncomfortably towards the Bridger brothers, who had enough discipline to not issue the faintest snicker, while Colonel Carvalho beamed with quiet amusement.

"Oh bollocks," Nathaniel sighed. He turned to address the Third Battalion again. "Alright, that was a crap speech, this is why I should have brought my speechwriters." That brought him a titter of laughter. "I know that some of the shine from my coronation's faded. It's one thing for me to be there, decked out and fresh from the ceremony, holding the Sword of Liberation into the sun and shouting a call to arms. But here we are, a cosmos away from home, and the reality of the fight's sinking in, isn't it?"

They answered with nods.

"Right. Same here. But we're here. These people are counting us. Our people back home are counting on us. Because even if the shine's gone, what I said is still true." Nathaniel swept his head over the room, trying to meet the eyes of these people, many of them his age or younger, several older. "The Clans have to be pushed back and their victims rescued. It'll make both sides of the Glass safer and uphold everything that we stand for. And I'm ready to put my life on the line to do it." He drew in a breath and pushed back the pain welling up at the words forming on his lips. "Just like my father did on Sirius."

Some jaws set. There were quiet nods. Nathaniel wondered if any of them had lost parents or other family in the war too.

"So, without our holoprojector, I've got nothing else to present." Nathaniel settled into his seat. "We've got time, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. I'm the Commander of the whole bloody AFRF and I want, I need, to know what you're thinking about this. Feel free to introduce yourselves too, we nobles have a talent for remembering names. Allegedly." He gave them another slight grin that prompted a fresh series of chuckles and amused grins. "Anyone?"

A young woman of Afro-Asian ancestry raised a hand. "Second Lieutenant Keiko Gregson, Bravo Company. I've got no questions, I just want to say I'm eager to get into this fight. You're right about the Clans and right about what they represent."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Gregson. Anyone else?"

"Captain Malcolm Havelock, Bravo Company CO." A tan-skinned man speaking with an old English accent from Ford stood. "I admit I was hoping to take us up against the Dracs again. I'm new to the unit but some of my people aren't and I wanted to see them get satisfaction. The way I see it, this is the best we're going to manage for now. I want you to rest assured we're ready for the fight."

"I've no doubt, Captain," Nathaniel replied. Good to see them opening up.

A light-skinned man's hand went up. He had the bars of a First Lieutenant and his nametag read "Wolfe". But where Gregson appeared eager and Havelock determined, his expression was somber and even frustrated. "Lieutenant Frederick Wolfe, Charlie Company. I've got a question, sir. Back at the coronation, and now, you're talking about how this is our fight, that it's a fight for humanity and all. But you weren't up for doing that back home." A number of eyes drifted towards Wolfe. Nathaniel said nothing, even if he could guess to the content of Wolfe's complaint. "Back on our side, the Dracs have been slaughtering innocent people on New Wessex, Vega, Cebalrai. They sacked Freedom and they've been raiding up and down the border ever since we pinched Musashi Honda in '34. If we're supposed to be fighting for humanity and putting down war criminals, why aren't we out to take Butcher Ballymont's head?"

With every word, Nathaniel felt a tinge of shame. Wolfe's quiet fury was evident and some of the other pilots were nodding and muttering agreement. He left Wolfe's question to hang in the air for several seconds, struggling with it. Before the Glass I was against military buildup. I wanted peace. Even as the reports from "Vega Prefecture" kept coming in of the latest atrocities by the Combine. Why didn't I act? Why didn't I think I could act? Was it fear of those who'd divert us to fighting the Empire? Or moral cowardice?

"Lieutenant, that's enough," Colonel Carvalho barked. Her stern voice broke Nathaniel from his train of thought.

Nathaniel shook his head. "No. He's alright." He drew in a breath and focused on Lieutenant Wolfe. "I've wrestled with what to do about Ballymont since coming to the throne, Lieutenant. There are times I thought about it, thought about sending the Household Guards in force to take back Vega and bring Ballymont to justice."

"You didn't, though," Wolfe said. "Now we're here instead. Why do these Lyrans' lives count for more? Why should the crimes they suffered be avenged before we punish the Dracs for what they did to Freedom?"

"They don't, Lieutenant. But the circumstances are different." Nathaniel sighed. "Every time I thought about it and every time I held back, it was due to one unavoidable truth. The Peace of Dieron cannot survive a new all-out war between Successor States. If we assaulted the Dracs that hard, enough to take the world back, they would retaliate, and the conflict would spiral. It'd be like the invasion of Andurien in '10. We'd have a Fifth Succession War on our hands, and all the evils that entails."

Wolfe shook his head, but said nothing. Nathaniel could see the point was accepted in the man's mind, but not his heart.

"We can't stop every evil, but that doesn't mean we can't stop any," Nathaniel continued. "We can stop this one. We can save the Lyran Commonwealth and free all these worlds from the Clans. And that's the truth of it." He smacked his hand on the table for emphasis.

The holotank flashed back to life. All eyes turned towards it.

Despite the tension in the room, Nathaniel couldn't stop himself from chuckling. "They have minds of their own, I swear," he muttered. Even Wolfe chuckled and a number of his compatriots laughed. Nathaniel picked up the holoprojector control and tapped a key on it, changing the image to one depicting the image of a Savage Wolf BattleMech. "Well, I suppose we shall have the briefing after all. Going by our intelligence this is one of many machines these Clans use. As you have heard they employ Royal-scale technology of a wide variety…"

The last of the day's presentations were finally over, in defiance of the holoprojector's repeated unreliability. The last of the Fourth Battalion's pilots filtered out, leaving Nathaniel the Bridgers and Col. Carvalho. "It seems to have gone well," Nathaniel said.

"I'm sure his Company CO will be having a word with Lieutenant Wolfe," Carvalho said apologetically. "I'll make sure if she doesn't."

"No. I'd rather you didn't."

"With all due respect, Your Majesty, my unit, my rules, and Wolfe was being impertinent." The Jardine woman's words had an edge to them, though she maintained a proper tone. "Though I'll admit the thought has crossed my mind from time to time."

Nathaniel noted the way the elder Bridger brother glanced at the younger, whose jaw clenched. "You were there, then."

Carvalho nodded. "I commanded Second Battalion during the retreat from Harlow's Wood. The Ninth Galedon flanked us after the Second Sword of Light engaged us along the front. If not for Third Battalion they'd have rolled half the division up. We lost a lot of good pilots that day, and given what the Dracs did to the prisoners they took." She clenched her fists. "Majesty, I understand why we're here. But God help me, this is the third May in a row where all I can think about is killing Butcher Ballymont and liberating New Wessex and Vega. I know what happened isn't your fault but you kept talking peace with the likes of the Dracs, and now that you're all for a noble cause, it's for an entirely different enemy. I can understand this is a fight we can't avoid, and I'm in it to win, but impertinence aside Wolfe was just saying what I and a lot of my people feel. Given what the Dracs did to Freedom, given what they're doing in the Outworlds, what damn good is the Peace of Dieron?"

It was a sentiment Nathaniel had heard his whole life. The bitter words of his angry grandmother, the frustration of generals and admirals across the AFRF, once more in his ears. "The Peace of Dieron is what keeps more Freedoms and New Wessexes from happening, as imperfect as it is," he answered. "Though maybe that will change when this is over." He glanced towards the Bridger brothers. "General. I've seen the notes you've sent to Command Staff. I understand you're in full agreement with Colonen Carvalho. And I understand why. What the Dracs did, what they're still doing, I want to stop. I just need time to find a way without breaking the Inner Sphere."

"Understood, Majesty," the younger Bridger rumbled.

Nathaniel's link sounded a slight trilling noise. An incoming message was being relayed through the Lady Noelle's internal comm systems. He picked it up. "Yes?"

"Majesty, a JumpShip just arrived from Tharkad. They had a broadcast verigraphed message from Archon Melissa Steiner intended for you."

Nathaniel felt a spike of worry. Have we taken too long? Have the Wolves arrived at Tharkad already? "I'm on my way back," he said.

The High King's words continued to echo through Wolfe's mind after he departed the meeting. A plan to head to the rec room and enjoy some time in gravity remained still-born. He wandered the central walkway of the grav-deck instead. The bitter feelings swirled about, mingling with Nathaniel's words, making them sour in his heart.


Here we go. Wolfe turned to face the oncoming fiery ginger wrath of his CO. Captain Siobhan McGruder, all hundred and seventy centimeters of fire straight from McAffe, stomped up to him with a frustrated expression on her freckle-spocked face. Military decorum demanded he stand to attention and the training kicked in, drawing his spine up. "Captain," he said formally.

"Ye know why I'm here," she said. "And if I don't do it now, I'll be doing it later when Colonel Klausoff and Colonel Carvalho order me to, so let's get it over with. Just what the hell was that back there?"

Playing dumb would have required more mirth and more patience than Wolfe felt. "He asked us for questions."

"Ye mouthed off at the bloody High King of the Federation, Fred! I wouldn't take that sort of disrespect from ye, and ye just gave it to our ruler. To the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation! If ye'd done it to General Bridger ye'd be on your way to the brig now!"

"He wanted honest questions, and I gave one," Wolfe insisted. "And I wasn't being disrespectful."

"Ye were being damned cheeky because ye got an opening." She crossed her arms. "And this isn't the first time ye've gotten moody like this. Now I get it's the anniversary and all and I know ye'd rather be shooting Dracs, but this unit's not going to function if ye're hung up on this. This is where the fight is, this is where we've been ordered to go, and ye've got three pilots who are about to risk their lives, and they don't need ye questioning it!"

"When the fight starts I'll have their back, don't you worry, Captain." Just like Lance Lieutenant Miller had mine. "I'll have a word with 'em, make sure they know my concerns don't change what our duty is. But I'm not apologizing for putting His Majesty on the spot for fighting the wrong enemy."

McGruder rolled her eyes. "So we're supposed to start the next Succession War so ye can have yer revenge, is that it?"

The words shot from his lips before any rational thought could hold them back. "This isn't about revenge!" Wolfe shook his head while images flashed through his head. Burning towns, slaughtered families, and the ruined war machines of brave soldiers who stood against a superior foe and died upholding their oaths. "You weren't on Freedom. You didn't see what they did on Accrington either. Or Phalan. Shionoha. Ever since I've gotten out of Raquel Memorial and got assigned to the Third, I've seen all that. Then when we had the bastards dead to rights we get sent into a trap and we lose good people." The bitterness swelled up on his tongue. Involuntary tears formed as his mind flashed back to Harlow's Wood and being twelve against thirty. "We had to give up the war criminals we took on Freedom to get our dead and prisoners back, and what the Dracs did to them… not a one of them is with the Third any more. That's how you got the billet, Captain, because the last woman to lead Charlie Company lost her life trying to save the last of us. This whole unit had to be rebuilt because the Dracs murdered and tortured a bunch of us and the Army needed fresh bodies to replace their victims. Revenge? I want justice. And I want it to end. I want to hit the Dracs so hard they never dare cross the border again. And that's not going to ****** happen while we're out here fighting these neo-barbs in animal costumes!" At that point the words stopped.

McGruder's expression softened. "Feel better, Fred?"

"No," he said. "But I'm glad I got it out anyway."

"Good. Now I'm going to let Colonels Klausoff and Carvalho know I left teeth marks all over yer arse, so back me up on that. I want ye to go spend some time with your lancemates, Fred. Two weeks from now we'll be freezing on Tharkad with these Wolves bearing down on us. Get 'em ready for that, will ye?"

Wolfe nodded. "Yes, Captain. I will."

"Good. As you were." McGruder continued on.

Wolfe watched her disappeared down the curve of the grav deck before drawing in a sigh. Yeah, gotta be the good Lance Loo. Just like you were, Miller. He went off to find his MechWarriors and follow his orders.

The shuttle ride back gave Nathaniel time to consider the message from Melissa. By the time he and DeMarcus Bridger emerged into the small craft bay of the Sara Proctor, he'd had a chance to form some ideas on how to approach it.

For comfort's sake, he assembled his war council in a wardroom on the Sara Proctor herself. The grav-decks here were little different save the thicker armoring on their exteriors and some of the facilities found within. Captain Samantha Winters and Rear Admiral Hamid Abdul-Jabbar, the CO of the cruiser and the commander of the naval squadron, were waiting in their black and gold naval jumpsuits. Colonel Laughlin, commander of the Lifeguards Regiment, had duty reds instead of battle reds. The final figure was the impromptu commander of the expedition by dint of his entire Corps being assigned to it. General Matthew Proctor-Steiner-Davion's red hair was over halfway gray now, but it was a distinctive difference that marked his Davion heritage just as his Steiner blue eyes and round Proctor face marked the other sides of the family. Like Bridger he was a freshly-minded four-star general, elevated to command of the Household Guards Corps (over Lord Arnold's heated objections), and held seniority over Bridger. The two were amicable fellow veterans of the worst conflict in the past eighty years and had, to Nathaniel's thanks, already decided on a division of their responsibilities between Matthew commanding the Household Guards and Bridger being the official OpGroup Vice-Commander beside Nathaniel as effective leader of the expedition. Rare exceptions aside, twenty-seven year old men do not lead armies well, and I am no Napoleon or Kerensky.

Each of them had a chance to go over the request from Tharkad. Matthew shook his head. "Dividing our forces isn't the smart thing. It risks defeat in detail."

"It does, but not having a yard to repair battle damage would risk defeat too," Abdul-Jabbar replied. "The importance of the yards at Gibbs cannot be overlooked."

"Still don't like it." Matthew tapped at his control, allowing him to manipulate a portion of the holotank. A list of unit designations came up. Given their names and that they were identified as "Clusters", Nathaniel took them to be Wolf forces. "If this force hits Tharkad we need everything to hold. Everything."

"We're just as well-equipped as they are," Laughlin said.

"That's not enough, Colonel." Bridger gave his head a quick back-and-forth shake. "I've seen the Clans in action. They're great pilots, even their rookies, and they've got an edge in experience too. We've not had a fight like this since Vega, hell, since Procyon and Sirius in '23. Our guys need every edge we can manage."

Nathaniel nodded. I am untried myself. He felt an icy grip on his gut that he banished with a moment of concentration. But it is what must be done. "I imagine the Archon's advisors have had similar arguments. That they make this suggestion with the battle for Tharkad itself looming is, I think, a statement in of itself."

"Statement of how desperate things are," Matthew observed. "Alright. I'd wanted them for the defensive fight, but if we've got to send a unit, I say let's make it the Second BMR." The older man smiled. Nathaniel translated the abbreviation in his head. Second Royal BattleMech Regiment. Matthew spoke up again. "They may not have as much of the best kit, but the Iron Wall Brigade have always trained for holding their ground. I've seen their war game figures of late, they've even given the Second Royal Guards some tough fights on defense."

"Do you concur, General Bridger?"

Bridger nodded at Nathaniel's question. "I do, Majesty. With the Sixteenth Lyran Regulars you've got a potent force that should throw back the Wolf raids launched so far. I doubt the Wolves will divert more if they're intent on taking Tharkad."

"Agreed." Nathaniel turned to al-Jabbar and Winters. "I want the Sara Proctor at Tharkad, just in case the Wolves bring heavy naval arms. What can we spare?"

"The Cuchulainn," al-Jabbar suggested. "They've got their usual short flotilla for anti-fighter work and the Second's aerospace wing should be enough reinforcement against raiding groups."

"Alright. I'll leave the orders to you." I am fortunate to have skilled commanders such as these advising me, he thought. "The rest of us make for Tharkad."

"Five days until we can make the jump," Winters said. "Local recharge station and our engineers can't do better."

"I trust in their skill," Nathaniel assured her. "It's more important that we get there at all, even if it is to drive the enemy from the Triad." Though I pray we will be there well beforehand….
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: "Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

Chapter 3 - The Way of the Clans

Beta Galaxy Command Ship
CWS Blood Fang
Nadir Recharge Station
Tetersen, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
Transglass Inner Sphere
5 June 3143

The view from the exterior cameras of the Blood Fang played over the screen in Alaric Ward's office. It showed him an Olympus-class recharge station just close enough to the Tetersen star to bask in a faint moonglow light. Massive gossamer-winged solar collectors drew in the power emanated from the distant star that remained invisible to his eyes. The camera did not show the cables running from the station to the JumpShip Amberlight, one of a number of captured Lyran and Marik JumpShips commandeered by the Wolf Empire for use by its expanded touman. The Watch from his own command were on the JumpShip, observing its bonded crew and the status of the charge to ensure that the Wolf Clan's newest batch of technician and laborer-caste members did not try any sabotage. The Lyran Commonwealth dies around us, but some may have the embers of loyalty to its flickering flames.

Assuming that the news of their allies from another reality has not fanned such flames with hope, that is.

His eyes drifted back to the main holotank. It displayed him and those at his side for the benefit of the other attendees of the impromptu War Council. Just as he saw Khan Seth Ward, Loremaster Liam Ward, and the commanders of the other Galaxies beside his Beta and Khan Ward's Alpha, they saw him. They also saw his adjutant Star Captain Verena and, more importantly, his bondswoman, the notorious Anastasia Kerensky. A reminder of my accomplishments and that why I, without a Bloodname, sit among them.

"Star Commodore Fariq confirmed a multitude of contacts at Westerstede's zenith point," Liam Ward said, drawing Alaric's focus back to a meeting that was sorely trying his patience. At least they discuss a real issue, not the best way to divide spoils they have not even glimpsed yet. "Their jump in was recorded from long range before the Pack Star jumped back to us. Though a direct count of their ships was not possible from the range, analysis of long range magscan and thermal scan confirm a significant number of DropShips attached to their ships. Few separations were noted."

"Could it be a full Aimag of the Foxes?" asked Galaxy Commander Elise Ward of Gamma Galaxy. Alaric snorted at the slight hope in her voice.

"Star Commodore Fariq did not detect the usual transmissions from a Fox fleet." Liam snorted as well, if for an entirely different reason. Mocking the degraded merchant Clan is such a wasted effort, as if any of you would dare say such things to a Merchant Factor's face. "No, our analysts are in full agreement. These must be the allies the Lyrans have so desperately sought from the other side of the anomaly at Timkovichi."

"So we will get to face the vanquishers of Malvina Hazen in battle," Alaric mused aloud. "I wonder if the warrior who landed the final blow on her 'Mech is amongst them."

"Better, for the Lyrans themselves have boasted that the Arcadians' ruler leads their army to Tharkad," Liam replied. For all their mutual disgust and hatred, Alaric had to admit the man pulled off a proper wolf's grin when he set his mind to it. "We will have the chance to slay a Successor Lord of another Inner Sphere, or claim him as a bondsman."

Thoughts of the broken 'Mech of Thaddeus Marik played through Alaric's mind. That will be my victory, Loremaster Ward, not anyone else's. "Two Successor Lords in a single battle, all to topple a Great House and claim their capital as isorla. It will be a victory the Remembrance will need whole pages to praise."

"Aff, Galaxy Commander, the Remembrance will speak well of the warriors who win the battle ahead," Seth agreed. After all, the Khan would get his name listed first.

Movement came from another portion of the holotank. Alaric recognized Galaxy Commander Tyler Cooper of Zeta Galaxy. Aggressive, useful. But likely too eager, he judged. "Perhaps we should consider a new strategy with this information. We can ambush the Arcadians at Westerstede with our fleet and take their entire army as isorla!"

A glint showed in Seth Ward's eye. "An intriguing proposition. We have the Dire Wolf and our two remaining frigates."

A daring strike, yes… if not for our most critical weakness. "A bold and dangerous plan," Alaric said. "The Sea Foxes warned us the Spheroids of the other side possess significant naval power. What sort of forces did they send to escort their troops? The behemoth WarShip that led the annihilation of the Red Talon would be a match for all our WarShips and our squadrons of Isegrims put together."

Cooper recoiled from the screen slightly. He hadn't considered that at all, Alaric realized. When he spoke it was with renewed conviction. "If we kept a full charge in our L-F batteries we could ambush and return if they prove too strong. But we have a chance to crush what little hope the Lyrans have regained since the Glass formed! Our victory would be assured!"

"And if our fleet is ravaged by their fleet, our defeat is assured." Epsilon Galaxy's CO, Galaxy Commander Niels Carns, frowned at the prospect. "Our work at Chukchi is only just begun. Significant damage would mean we have to divert our ships to the distant Fox-run yards and pay their rates. It would remove our aerospace cover from the campaign."

Carns was no friend of Alaric, but he'd taken the bait Alaric laid quite well. Ward nodded in agreement, as did Galaxy Commander Yvonne Vickers of Kappa, a new Galaxy of recruited and freshly-raised Clusters to give them needed manpower. Seeing his Khan was weighing the two options, Alaric made his next move. "There is an alternative to risking a battle with naval forces, my Khan. Let us strike at Gibbs as well."

Khan Ward's appraising look was laced with thinly-veiled suspicion. "What would be the point of dividing our forces further?"

"A minor diversion, we send the rest of Epsilon Galaxy," Alaric replied. "We have already dispatched half of their Clusters to claim Tetersen for the Wolf Clan. The remaining Clusters are not a significant force but include three aerospace Trinaries and a DropShip Binary, do they not? Send them to raid the shipyards and harass the Lyran Regulars on-world once more. Given the importance of Gibbs, I would imagine the Lyrans have a JumpShip ready to ferry warning to Tharkad at all times. Make them believe we come in sufficient force to threaten their yards, it will provoke them into begging for Arcadian aid. Assuming they have not already."

Carns snarled. "You would deny my warriors their rightful place in the conquest of Tharkad!"

"They would share in the glory by contributing to our victory," Seth Ward countered. A good sign. He is agreeing with the idea, Alaric thought. "Galaxy Commander, you will lead your remaining warriors to Gibbs. Feint towards the yards and strike them if you have the opening, then return to your DropShips and join us at Tharkad. If the battle still rages, you may yet play a decisive role there as well."

Carns glanced as the others, as if pleading for them to step in and call this a terrible idea, but none did. The Way of the Clans proclaims the entire Clan shares the glory of every warrior's victory. It is a very useful aphorism, even if rarely so true. Alaric remained silent and uncaring. Carns finally relented. "Aff, my Khan. I will level a batchall suitable to panic the Lyrans and await the reaction."

"This is a dangerous choice, my Khan," Ward warned. "Losing two Clusters of troops, even aerospace ones, may see our enemies too numerous."

"There is no enemy too numerous for Beta Galaxy," Alaric boasted. "Our clusters can break whole Spheroid regiments. Surely Gamma's warriors can match us?"

That won him a hateful glare. The glare itself was admission the insult had struck home. "Do not let your need for a Bloodname drive you to foolish ends, Galaxy Commander Alaric," she said with acid figuratively dripping from every word. "The Inner Sphere's warriors may be inferior, but they are great in number, and now they have a strong reserve of support from the other side of the Anomaly. We will be a fine blade ground to nothing if we are not mindful of this fact."

"And we will be a knife unused in the scabbard if we do not strike boldly," he countered.

"Enough!" Seth's voice bellowed over the line. "The decision is made. Epsilon will jump early for Gibbs using ships with charged L-F batteries. The rest of us will continue to Tharkad when recharging is complete. Maintain your readiness, my Wolves. We shall claim the Lyran den for our own, and stick Melissa Steiner's dezgra corpse on a pole outside the Triad."

And then, Terra, Alaric added in his thoughts.

"Seyla!" Seth said as a finishing touch, and the others echoed, including Alaric himself. He ignored Liam Ward's ritual closing of the war council and glanced towards the others. "Thoughts?"

"Well played, Alaric," Verena said. "You continue to prove yourself superior."

"You maneuvered Carns pretty well there," Anastasia agreed. Her finger fiddled with the bondcord on her wrist, as if she longed to pull it off. Maybe soon, you will, once I am sure of you. "Though you may have made him a foe."

"He already was one, Anastasia." The age-worn voice came from the corner of the office, where the unseen observer of the meeting had sat out of view of the Khan and Alaric's peers. Katherine Steiner-Davion's age had long robbed her of the youthful beauty that entranced the Lyran people and made them love her. It had not stripped her capacity for ruthlessness and her raw unfiltered ambition, traits that eventually turned those same Lyrans against her.

And yet the same was what drew my genefather Vlad's infatuation with her. He was a warrior enough for the both of them. Yet I could never care for a woman like her. He glanced towards Verena. The stirrings of his desire for her were provoked as much by her ferocity on the battlefield as her physical attractiveness. She was, temperamentally, the exact opposite of Katherine.

Oblivious, or at least uncaring, about Alaric's thoughts, Katherine pressed on. "The important part was preventing Cooper's foolish notion. It was too great a risk. You did well to deflect it without losing his support, Alaric. And Melissa or whomever is ruling the Commonwealth can't afford to lose Gibbs, so they'll panic and beg the Arcadians to divert."

"They will, but I do not anticipate them to divert fully," replied Alaric. "The Lyrans may panic, but the Arcadians lack their desperation. They will be sending the majority of their forces to Tharkad. It will be a fight worthy of our conquest." He smiled. "And I will make sure I am the one to kill their High King."

Clan Jade Falcon Provisional Council Building
New Hamarr, Sudeten
Jade Falcon Occupation Zone
Transglass Inner Sphere

Khan Isaac Roshak was a simple man for his station. His place of work reflected this. The office of the Khan of the Jade Falcon Clan was more austere than it had been in decades. Aside from the Clan's flag and monitors nothing was visible on the walls around the office. The table was a fine hand-carved wooden work of art, and the only reason it remained was that the labor to move it would be more wasteful than the desk itself. Simple chairs were placed on both sides, with none of the couches that had once marred the room.

His eyes were fixed outside the window. The light in his office was just the right angle to create a reflection across the glass, showing Isaac in his black Mongol jumpsuit with the Khan insignia proudly affixed, sharp eyes of jade and the faint mocha skin tone common among his Bloodhouse. Yet his eyes were on the scene past his faint visage, to the proceedings in the courtyard below.

Under the Sudeten sun, rows of a final term sibko stood at attention along the center of the Government Building's courtyard. Armed Watch soldiers in Mongol black stood among them, rifles at standby, while another group pushed and prodded a half-dozen old Falconers into position. Isaac sneered at seeing the doddering old fossils, warriors who had been decanted during and after the Jihad when the Clan was desperately replacing its many losses. For all he knew, the eldest might have even been among the last sibkos to see Ironhold or Strana Mechty, they might have even fought on Terra against the Blakists. To survive that and yet fail to win a Bloodname, not even able to die as solahma. Pathetic.

The Falconers were forced to their knees with punches and shoves. Once they were down, a Watchman brought up a laser pistol and started firing. Six shots, all through the back of the head, within ten seconds. With the executions over, one of the Watch turned and began haranguing the sibkos.

Isaac couldn't hear the words, but he didn't need to. He'd provided the broad points personally. The sibkos would be instructed in how their Falconers had failed them by teaching them outdated old ways that should have been left behind with REVIVAL. The teachings of the Chinghis Khan were to be their guide as warriors. The Jade Falcon Clan was supreme. The penalty for resistance was death, not just death, but complete and utter extermination. They would all learn the fate of worlds like Apostica, and how through such uncompromising tactics, the Spheroids would finally be broken, and the Clan's destiny achieved.

The sound of his door opening prompted Isaac to turn. The entrants wore the same Mongol black with green highlights, and their insignia marked them as Galaxy Commanders. Wanda Helmer and Uther Mattlov were still fresh to command of the Vau and Delta Galaxies, just out of their Trials of Position. They gave him their respect if not their admiration. He suspected both intended to challenge him for the Khanship at some point, and they would be welcome to try. "I will not keep you for long," he said. "Delta Galaxy is ready, quiaff?"

"Aff, my Khan," Helmer replied in her clipped formal tone. She did not like Isaac, but she respected his superiority as a warrior. It was why he trusted her with Delta Galaxy, now his strongest Galaxy with the purges of the "Second Rending" afflicting Alpha and Gamma Galaxies' leadership. "I will be bringing two Clusters formerly of Iota Galaxy with me, their warriors are in need of blooding and learning the Mongol ways."

"See to it. And you, Mattlov?"

"Peregrine's re-organization continues." Mattlov spoke with more disgust in his voice than Helmer had. He still blamed Isaac for Timkovichi, undoubtedly, and more to the point, blamed him for why his voice sounded hollow. The medical technicians could only do so much in repairing his vocal cords, Isaac thought with satisfaction. It was his bullet that had robbed Mattlov's high-pitched voice of its strength. He should feel thankful the angle of the shot only took his larynx instead of splitting his carotid as I'd hoped. "The Second Rending has weakened some of our Clusters. Those who followed the coward Hazen were plentiful."

Isaac narrowed his eyes. Star Colonel Lisa Hazen, formerly of Delta Galaxy's Fifty-Third Falcon Talon Cluster, had been one of the leading Traditionalists under Stephanie Chistu. She'd been on the liquidation lists Isaac drew up with the Watch, but she and many of her warriors had slipped free in the immediate chaos of the Mongol coup, ultimately escaping on DropShips during Isaac's consolidation of the fleet. She either made for Skye to join that doddering old fool, Noritomo Helmer, or has gone to ground among the Clan's conquests. Either way, she and the desant will have to be dealt with eventually. But first I must finish the final stroke of consolidating my power.

"Finish your work soon. It is almost time for our strike."

"Have you decided on the scope of our attack, my Khan?" Helmer asked. "Will we repudiate Chistu's wretched truce and lay waste to the Kell Hounds' lair?"

"Would that we had the strength to, but no, Chistu's truce remains useful," he replied. "We need time to graduate more sibkos and rebuild our forces, and to secure the loyalty of the desant for when the Fortress falls and Terra can be won. It is my intention that we will finish our quarrel with the Arcadians once we are ilClan." Isaac walked over and activated the most expensive piece in the office, the main holotank. An image of Arc-Royal's surface hovered in mid-air, marking Old Connaught and Wolf City. "We will honor our truce by staying only in the territory assigned the dezgra Wolves. We will land with three objectives. Galaxy Commander Helmer, Delta Galaxy will be focused on crushing the Wolves' Alpha Galaxy protecting Wolf City. Galaxy Commander Mattlov, I am making Peregrine responsible for the isorla. Your warriors will support the Watch and infantry cluster I deploy to seize technician, scientist, and skilled laborers from the Wolf factories, as well as every industrial machine and tool that can be taken. Have them ready to strike hard, hold, and ensure the extraction, for our Clan's greatness may depend upon it. I will bring the rebuilt Golden Ordun with Alpha Galaxy to act as your reserve and engage in our final task." Roshak grinned with anticipation. "I will ensure the extermination of the traitor Wolves through the destruction of their sibkos and genetic repositories. There will be no more generations for this pack of Lyran hounds. Any who survive will become Spheroids in fact as well as name."

"This is wasteful," Mattlov protested. "The Horses and Bears bite at our wings, we should strike them with these units."

"I will personally deal with the Horse Khans," Roshak said. "But the Wolves come first."

After the meeting Isaac waited patiently for his next appointment. She arrived in an emerald and black suit, well-crafted, as if she were of any importance compared to even a fresh warrior from the sibko with a single kill in their inaugural Trial of Position. Her dark hair and skin nearly matched the secondary color of her suit. She was older than Roshak, as senior merchants tended to be, though not much older. The one insignia she bore marked her the Merchant Factor, the senior-most merchant in the entire Jade Falcon Clan.

Isaac found her posture an insult. He expected her to behave like a subordinate warrior. That Wenceslas Bulhallin and Beckett Malthus had not expected it spoke much to the enfeebling nature of the old Clan ways. "Merchant Factor Marena," he said. "You have troubled my subordinates considerably these past ten weeks."

"Given your elevation, my Khan, I was simply seeking an audience to go over our Clan's economic position," she replied. It was a diplomatic one, but Isaac didn't feel mollified by it. She was being courteous because the Clan ways demanded it, not out of loyalty to the warrior caste.

"Our economic position." Isaac held out a noteputer for her to take. "This is what my warriors require. That is our position."

Marena took the noteputer. Her ice blue eyes scanned the listing on the screen. Isaac watched with amusement as some of the color left her face. "My Khan, these figures are… difficult," she said. "Even before Gray Monday they would be, and with damages from the Rending, attaining these production goals may not be possible for several years."

Impressive. She did not cease once. The records claim she was Trueborn, so she must have learned something from her time before testing down to merchant. Though she is clearly too weak to be a warrior. Isaac's voice lowered to a growl. "Merchant Factor, I am Khan, and I speak with the authority of my caste. We require those weapons in the time specified. It is your duty to provide them, or you and your caste have failed the Clan."

"But we do not have the production facilities or manpower," Marena protested.

"We have conquered many new star systems these past few years. With worlds like Arcturus under our control you expect me to believe our needs cannot be met?"

"Many of our conquests have not been acclimated fully yet," she replied. "Caste testing, material re-allocation, it all takes time."

"Then do not test. All of the untested are hereby laborers. Send them to work. Let those with greater talents prove it through their efforts."

"You are talking about taking many millions of Spheroids and turning them into base laborers, including some who have never done laborer caste tasks. The economic damage to the worlds will leave them worse than useless, my Khan!"

"I do not care. I want the weapons. Deliver them, or admit your inability and I will find a Merchant Factor who will. Additionally, about these VaultShips you have sent about the corners of Clan space. Recall them. I am requisitioning them for warrior caste service."

"My Khan, those ships are what has kept our economy functioning without the HPG network," Marena replied. "They trade for the weapons and materials you are requesting I expand our supply of. Without them our connection to the rest of the Clans' economy will break apart and our ability to maintain the value of the kerensky will falter."

"I do not care, Merchant Factor. The economy of the Clan exists for one purpose, and that is to provide us with weapons. The other castes can make do."

For a moment Marena seemed struck dumb. Then he saw it. The fire in her icy eyes. The rage. The contempt. It only appeared for a moment before control asserted, but it was too late. He'd seen it, and he knew without a doubt the lack of respect this merchant had for him.

"If you drive the lower castes to starvation they may—"

"I do not care, Factor Marena!" Isaac shouted the words and slammed a fist on his desk. "You and the other caste exist to support us. If a laborer starves so that a warrior is fed, so be it. One laborer, or a hundred, or a thousand, it does not matter! That is the true Way of the Clans as it has always been! The warrior commands, you obey. The warrior needs, you give. Your existence is for nothing but our needs!"

"My Khan, I will obey, but it is my duty to the Clan to warn—"

Isaac's hand went to his holster. Two seconds later his sidearm was pointed directly at Marena's forehead. "If I hear any other words than 'Yes, my Khan' come from your mouth, merchant, I will shoot you. Am I clear?"

She pursed her lips. Her eyes hardened. The fear showed, as he'd expected and hoped for. Her mouth opened, closed, and opened again. "Yes, my Khan."

He kept the pistol level and spoke his words slowly and methodically. "The VaultShips will be recalled to Sudeten for military purposes."

After a moment she nodded. "Yes, my Khan."

"You will implement my decrees on production immediately. If a factory producing a civilian good must be taken over and converted for military goods, it will be done. If transportation must be diverted, divert it. If a merchant or scientist administrator protests, they will be turned over to the Watch for malingering. Understood?"

"Yes, my Khan." The words were ice.

"All caste assignment testing is suspended. All remaining unassigned civilians from our conquests are laborers and will be assigned the appropriate stipend for basic grade laborers. Let them prove themselves if they wish a better assignment. Implement this immediately."

Seconds of silence caused Isaac's finger to tense over the trigger. Finally, he was rewarded with another "Yes, my Khan."

"Good. Now leave before I shoot you anyway." At that command Marena turned to go. As she reached the door, Isaac called out. "When we see each other again, Factor, the same will apply. Any words, any communication, will be the words 'Yes, my Khan', or I will have you executed."

The disgust showed again, briefly, and her words came out slowly and methodically. "Yes, my Khan." She stepped through the door.

The Watch will have to keep an eye on her. Isaac considered killing her, perhaps even a general reaving of the merchants, and decided he would do so when his power was settled. For now, he would see how well she obeyed his orders. He had other concerns to deal with if he was to uphold the Chinghis Khan's vision for the Clan.

Palace of Justice, Laughlin Capital District
Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Arcadia Royal March
Royal Federation
Cisglass Inner Sphere

"All rise for the Justices of His Majesty's Special Tribunal!"

With those words Doctor Jonathan Albright, Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Federation Navy and licensed psychiatric counselor, stood. Habit and instinct drew him to full military attention in the process, marking him and a few other attendees out from among the others. From his place in the gallery he could see all the other standing figures as the five forms in black judiciary robes with red and blue stoles filed out into the courtroom. They took their place at the bench before the Royal Seal of the Special Tribunal, depicting a crowned hawk perched on top of the balanced scales of Justice.

Through the entire display, only one figure could not stand, and that was the figure strapped into a special chair placed in the dock for her lack of legs or arms. For a woman on trial for her life, Malvina Hazen of the Jade Falcons looked utterly unconcerned with the proceedings, as she had for every other session so far. I doubt she will change. Even if it would be for her benefit.

"Be seated," the clerk called out once the tribunal judges were in their own seats. Everyone took to their seats save the court bailiffs, who stood at the walls and monitored the entry through the bar separating the well from the gallery. Two armed AFRF soldiers sat to either side of Malvina, as if at any moment she might attack. Albright thought it ludicrous but the security protocols were not being waived. The same had denied the provision of prosthetic limbs that might have eased his patient's agonizing crippling. The only thing the AFRF had allowed Malvina, and that at the order of the Tribunal itself, was having a tailor made Jade Falcon uniform using the specifications provided by the Lyrans' data on the Clans. Malvina wore it grudgingly since she was not allowed the all-black "Mongol" variant nor any marking Mongol symbols, only what the Jade Falcon Clan's own uniform codes specified. A gold square with a green star and a vertical green bar on the right side was the rank insignia provided.

The judge in the central chair was an Arabic man with a well-groomed gray beard and mustache, wearing a patterned white and red keffiyeh on his head that wrapped down to his shoulders. Albright took a moment to remember his name, Sir Zayid al-Mansouri. Al-Mansouri pounded the gavel. "His Majesty's Special Tribunal is in session. Today it is our wish to settle this affair of the competency question. Are the Crown and the Defense prepared to proceed?"

Two men stood, one among the attorneys at each table. Sir Jacob Cohen of Gienah and Sir Stanley MacMurray of McAffe represented the prosecution and the defense respectively, though each had a team of attorneys and paralegals advising them. Cohen was a man of modest built, not too thin but not even approaching stocky, with wiry dark hair turning gray at the fringes and a kippah over the top of his head. MacMurray had a thick mustache and beard of dark red hair along with the combed hair on his head. Cohen stood first. "The Crown is ready to proceed."

Next came MacMurray. "As is the Defense." Albright noted the way the attorney glanced towards the dock. "I would ask the Tribunal to record my continued personal objection to these proceedings. Khan Hazen continues to show an inability to conceive of the purpose of these proceedings and cannot act in her own legal defense. Doctor Albright of the Royal Navy has made his notes available to this Tribunal and stands by to testify as to the fact." As Cohen stood MacMurray cast his glance towards him. "Before the Crown protests the use of Doctor Albright's testimony again, I will specify that I am following my client's explicit instructions under strenuous protests. She insists on standing trial. I am ethically obligated as counselor to say the following. The Defense withdraws all motions to rule Khan Hazen incapable or incompetent of standing trial. We are ready to proceed."

One of the other jurists, a man of tan complexion, leaned forward and spoke with a German accent. "Counselor, is Khan Hazen aware of the scope of this trial? She may be hung if this tribunal rules it."

"I have impressed it upon her repeatedly, Justice Hoffner," MacMurray said. He all but sighed the words. "She is adamant that she wishes to face trial."

The jurist nearest the dock, a woman of East Asian features, turned to face Malvina. She spoke with an accent Albright pegged as New Kyotoan. "Khan Hazen, do you understand the nature of this tribunal, and the charges laid against you?"

Malvina smiled cruelly. "I am aware of how you Arcadians feel about my actions before and during my Khanship." She turned her head briefly. Albright sighed as her eyes passed over him. The smile grew. "You have such strange notions of reality. It is those notions that bring this trial, and this concept of 'crime' in war." The questioning jurist — Justice Ishikawa, Albright recalled — was not satisfied. Before she could speak, Malvina continued. "You consider my actions to subdue my foes to be crimes. In this trial, one set of debaters will present evidence that my actions were my own and were crimes, and my 'defense' will claim otherwise and attempt to persuade you it is so. When it is done, you will decide my fate, quiaff?"

The Clanner term was clearly understood by context. Ishikawa turned her head to al-Mansouri. He nodded, as did two others. "Very well. We will proceed with pleading. Khan Malvina Hazen of the Jade Falcons, you stand indicted for crimes against the peoples of the Republic of the Sphere and the Lyran Commonwealth. These crimes are listed in four charges." Al-Mansouri held up a printout. "One, conspiracy to commit crimes against planetary populations, defined in short, but not limited to, as intentional cultural destruction of a population's identity, mass enslavement and forced relocation, mass executions, and the commission of genocide. Two: the commission of crimes against planetary populations, as already laid out in the first charge. Three: crimes committed during the conduct of warfare. Four: crimes against humanity committed in furtherance of the prior charges." He raised his head and, with his four peers, directed his eyes at Malvina. "How do you plead?"

Malvina lifted her chin. "None of my actions were criminal."

For a moment Albright wondered if the reply would be accepted. Al-Mansouri and his peers conferred in hushed whispers. Finally al-Mansouri switched his microphone back on and spoke. "Recorder, note upon the record that the defendant's response is considered a plea of 'Not Guilty'." The Recorder answered with a nod. "The defendant's plea is hereby recorded. We will begin pre-trial proceedings in two weeks time, on June the Twenty-First. The Tribunal is adjourned." Al-Mansouri slammed the gavel to end the session.

All of that for barely five minutes. Albright sighed and stood. Before he could leave, he heard Malvina call out "Commander John!" to him. He turned as her security handlers prepared to strap her to the transfer wheelchair. She smirked at him. "You Spheroids are so patient. So slow. The Way of the Clans is less wasteful of time. A Clan Council would have killed me by now."

"This is how we do justice," Albright replied. "And this is the trial you asked for."

"It is. And whether I win or lose, I promise you this." Her eyes flashed with mad glee. "I will make it worthy of remembrance."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: "Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

Chapter 4 - The Reward for Hard Work

Primary DropPort
Wolf City, Wolf Clan Settlement Zone, Gutheim Continent
Arc-Royal, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
Transglass Inner Sphere
7 June 3143

The last time Evangeline Rosa Penton-Vallejo stepped onto Arc-Royal's soil, she'd come with her unit, the Eighth Strikers Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation, and it'd been to the familiar-if-different sights of Old Connaught. Few knew her face, even if they'd heard her name in passing for being one of the pilots to down the hated, dreaded Chinghis Khan of the Jade Falcons.

Now Dame Evangeline Rosa Penton-Vallejo, a Lance Lieutenant without a lance and a Knight of the Royal Federation, was known to all. She couldn't walk ten meters without awed stares or proud salutes. She was one of the saviors of Timkovichi, the slayer of Stephanie Chistu. Khan Fetladral had made good his pledge that she would be remembered as every person she met in Clan suits, from MechTechs to Star Colonels, saluted her. Liaison officer, she thought, recalling the conversation over a month ago when her assignment away from her unit was revealed. She wasn't being formally removed from the Eighth Strikers so she still wore the unit's sunhawk patch and got to wear the sky blue beret of the Strikers as part of her uniform, but for the time being she was doing staff work. A rear-echelon mother-flakker, as her father had once dismissively but tactfully called it.

At least I've still got a 'Mech. It wasn't with her but a following transport ship bearing damaged machines to the factories and repair yards on Arc-Royal, but it would be here. I own a 'Mech. How am I going to make that work?

Her thoughts turned from that at approaching the terminal window. She unconsciously shifted the weight of her duffel bag over her shoulder while getting her first glimpse of Wolf City, the capital and beating heart of the "Wolves-in-Exile" that she'd been fighting beside against the other Clanners. Instead of Old Connaught's quaint German town feel, this was a city of function, stark gray and black and silver blocks of ferro-crete and occasional glass, the only color being the snarling amber wolf's head of the Clan's fearsome logo. It reminded her somewhat of the concrete block cities of Megrez's Andamar Islands that she'd seen on a holodocumentary in school, where the colossal "hyper-canes" of the world's great ocean required the Andamari peoples to live in ferro-crete-encased communities due to the three hundred kilometer-per-hour winds the storms could theoretically produce. It was all function over form and fit what she knew of Clan utilitarian mindset.

"It is a grand sight." The carefully articulated words, in an unfamiliar Star League English, prompted Eva to turn her head. She recognized Marissa, a Wolf Clan MechWarrior, by her light bronze skin and platinum-blond hair pulled into a bushy wolf-tail. Marissa's olive camo patterned jumpsuit bore the red "daggerstar" on the collar that marked her a MechWarrior in the company of a dark bronze rank tab bearing one red star in the lower corner; the rank of a Star Commander, Eva's rough counterpart by rank in their organization. She wore a new unit patch compared to their first meeting months ago on Outreach, a pack of wolves on a mountain top with a rising half-moon behind them.

"It's different from Old Connaught," Eva said. "But you don't mean aesthetically?"

A flicker of resignation showed on Marissa's face. Eva wondered at why before remembering the Clan taboo about speaking with contractions. Yet they have no problems with military lingo, 'aff' and 'neg' and all that. "Hopefully, Eva, you will be more careful with your speech now that you are among my Clan," Marissa said, a slight half grin forming. "It would not do for the subject of a stanza in The Remembrance to sound vulgar."

Eva didn't need a mirror to know she was starting to blush. Right. I'm a Knight of the Federation, Duchess Schmitt-Levinsky implied I'm likely to get a landhold on Timkovichi, and Khan Fetladral's putting me in their holy history book. "Right, I'm…- I am sorry." I'm the guest here. No, I am the guest. Ugh. I need to stop thinking in contractions too!

"You bested the bloodfoul Falcon Khan and her preening would-be successor in battle," Marissa said. "This enemy will fall easy enough." She turned her silvery-gray eyes back towards the sight through the ferro-glass window. "Wolf City, they call it. For my Clan, it is the last bastion of the true Wolf Clan, and our calling as the Wardens of the Inner Sphere. Everything we have is here; our genetic repositories, our Clan Council Hall, everything. We would all gladly die to preserve it, especially from the bloodfoul Mongol Jade Falcons."

Eva frowned at the thought of the Falcons. They'd been the bane of her life since the Glass had formed. They make the Dracs look kind. "They are not the kind to hold a truce, I suppose."

"Neg, not unless it suits them in some way." Marissa checked the time piece on her right wrist, attached to the bracelet that bore her codex. "We should keep going. I must report to my superior soon, and I volunteered to show you to your quarters."

Eva nodded in reply and followed Marissa from the terminal. Once they were completely clear of the DropPort building they made it to a magrail tram that carried them into and through Wolf City. It was not like any city Eva could think of. The streets had mass transit trolleys and sidewalks but very little private transportation. Eateries were plainly marked by food icons but, for the most part, without the colorful names pubs and restaurants would otherwise get. Shops were labeled mostly by name and service, like "Maria's Hair Maintenance" and "Darren's Clothing Provisions". "Not big into marketing, I guess?" she asked.

Marissa chuckled. "Living as neighbors to the Lyrans has challenged our purity in more than one way, but our people have yet to succumb to such frivolity. Though I shall have to take you to the Salty Solahma later. It is like the pub in Old Connaught, founded by a warrior who tested out from age and believed he would best serve the Clan in that fashion."

"My parents had old comrades who founded their own bars and pubs," Eva said. "So you're not different from us there." She winced a moment later as her words played in her head and she spotted the contraction.

"It is preferable to other fates," Marissa said, politely ignoring the slipup. "Though I very much intend to avoid it by winning a Bloodname. And our stop is ahead."

At the next stop they disembarked. Small parks and gardens dotted the landscape around a number of ten and fifteen story apartment buildings of gray and silver coloring. Wolf insignia and logos were painted in murals on several, a new one being drawn by a collection of what Eva thought to be adolescents. "One of the sibkos," Marissa explained. "A collective action to build bonds for their training. The creativity is useful in combat, and it links us to our identity." Eva nodded and followed Marissa down the sidewalk for a block. They entered one of the shorter buildings and took a lift up to the second floor. "You have the identity bracelet, quiaff?"

Eva glanced at her left wrist. The silver bracelet over her duty uniform sleeve was nearly the same as Marissa's. "I do."

"Good. It will unlock your door, and allows for you to pay for whatever you wish to spend your stipend on. Even if it lacks a full codex, it will also serve to remind everyone who sees you that you are a warrior. Although I doubt anyone will fail to recognize you." They approached one of the doors, a light silver hard plastic slab clearly built to slide open. Eva shifted her duffel bag slightly and ran the bracelet over the panel to the right of the door. The panel lit green for a moment and slid open.

The inside reminded Eva of her Nagelring dorm. The door opened to a small hall. To one side was a kitchenette, to the other a bathroom with a shower closet and flat commode beside a sink. The main body of the room had a bed fit neatly with starched sheets set against one wall and a desk with a chair against the other. A very basic holovid display model was set into the wall over the desk. The furnishings were very functional and did not look inviting so much as sturdy. Definitely looks like my dorm. Just that I'm the only one here. That's odd. "I would have thought lieutenants got bunked with other lieutenants? This place looks like it is for me alone." She sighed quietly. Another avoided contraction.

Marissa laughed. "Oh, this is normally a billet for Star Captains, though we do give warriors private rooms in planetside living spaces. I will be two floors above in the Star Commander barracks. You have more room than I." Marissa led her further in and gestured to the one break in the pale gray interior of the wall, depicting the same insignia her uniform's shoulder patch displayed. "This building is for MechWarriors of the First Wolf Legion Cluster. It is an overflow building for the Cluster so there are empty rooms available. They are typically assigned for visiting formations or warriors in need of billets, so you were placed here for simplicity's sake." Marissa gestured towards the desk. "I believe your noteputer will be compatible with the Clan data web, if not go down and speak to the barracks support office, a technician can be called to have an adapter arranged. Whatever work your commander assigns can be accomplished here."

"Alright." I'm still not sure just what a First Lieutenant liaison officer does, I always thought that was stuff Captains and Majors did. I get the feeling I'm here for the media relations people, not the actual liaison group. She set her duffel bag down, pleased to be rid of the weight. "Anything else I should know? Other than that the MPs are short-tempered and don't, I mean, do not give them an excuse?"

Marissa laughed. "Aff! The Watch are quite ill-tempered. I imagine you will have an office at the Clan Headquarters if you are working with Alpha Galaxy and the local command warriors. I suggest taking the Ulric Kerensky Avenue tram, it is in the listing and will bring you directly to the entrance. If you wish to explore the city, just remember that you are at First Legion Barracks Alpha Building Four, and anyone can provide you directions back here."

"I am due to meet Colonel Stefanidis there later today, after he gets back from Old Connaught," Eva confirmed. "And maybe I'll, er, I will do some exploring afterward. I would like to see the Salty Solahma if anything else."

"Ah?" Marissa grinned. "Meet me at Headquarters at twenty-hundred hours local, and I shall take you there. But now I must go, Star Captain Jackson is going to be waiting." She walked briskly for the door.

After a moment to take in her new living situation, Eva started unpacking.

Kell Ducal Palace
Old Connaught, Gutheim Continent

The door to the Ducal Office closed behind Colonel Stefanidis, leaving Evan Kell and his second Nadia Allard alone with a stack of unsigned papers and security-cleared electronic tablets with secure data. He leaned back in the chair and glanced at his reflection in the window. "At least I don't have to wear the ducal uniform," he mused, considering his brother Martin's requirements of office. He was still in Kell Hound duty camo like Nadia's. The reflection showed him his scarred face on a head topped with salt-and-pepper hair of silver and black. It was an unwelcome reminder of the march of time.

At least I'm still alive, though. His mind wandered back to Timkovichi and the battle from ten months ago. It was already a fight he hadn't been sure he could win against Malvina Hazen's best and the Hell's Horses' contribution to her might. Yet he'd underestimated her savagery and nearly lost everything. He remembered the dread at hearing the confirmation the Red Talon was shifting orbit, and that certain agonizing knowledge that he was going to die and his family's prized unit, the Kell legacy to the Inner Sphere, would be destroyed. Then reality decided it was bored, or got very offended by Malvina.

"Thinking about how close we came?" Nadia asked.

Evan chuckled. "You know me too damn well, Nadia." He looked past his reflection and out the window to the courtyard and the Kell Hound barracks beyond. "We almost lost everything, then… hell, maybe it was a divine miracle, or the cosmos itself taking offense at Malvina's bloodthirst. Sometimes it feels like it's all a dream and any minute now, I'll be back in my 'Mech there on the Summer Veldt, watching fire from on high wipe us all out."

Nadia nodded in what he imagined to be understanding. "Feels like we're not supposed to be alive. But we are, so might as well make the most of it. Grand Duke Martin was pretty insistent the First Hounds were to take it easy."

At that Evan laughed. "Right. Some down time as our reward for all the fighting these past couple of years, and then some. Just like naming me his damn regent. 'A reward for your hard work', he said. Feels more like revenge for me getting to step away from all this civil leadership."

Nadia chuckled. "They say the reward for hard work is more work. Though I imagine the Grand Duke has other concerns."

"You mean what we've heard from the Free Caste traders and such about the Falcons." Evan shook his head. "The Mongols are firmly in charge now. But that Isaac Roshak isn't Malvina. She was blood crazy more than stupid, he's just power mad and stupid from his record. He's a Mongol because he likes being able to lord over people and not worry about the Clan honor code. Way I see it, he's as like to tear his own Clan apart."

"Or he'll hit us as part of trying to keep it together," Nadia warned.

"Right. Well, at least we know we've got some potential backup." Evan reached over and tapped a brief-case sized black box of metal and plastic, etched with a crowned hawk. It was one of four now on Arc-Royal, allowing interstellar fax messages to pass with the Arcadian defense forces holding down Timkovichi. Other boxes were going to be quietly distributed up and down the front to allow some form of interstellar force command that could meet any Falcon betrayal of the truce. "And more coming through the Glass soon."

"Within a couple months, by last report." Nadia checked her noteputer. "Sometimes my mind still boggles at it all. We're getting over a dozen 'Mech regiments from the Rasalhaguans and Sudeteners alone, another ten or so from Ghastillia. It feels like we're lucky to focus a dozen on the entire front from here to Skye. And that still doesn't count what the Arcadians are holding in reserve."

"A lot of troops, but their enemies have got a lot too," Evan pointed out. "They're still taking a gamble."

"Right." Nadia went back to reading the list. "Huh. I've never heard of the 'Eridani Heavy Cavalry' but if they're anything like the ELH of legend, the Falcons are going to have their hands full."

"And they damn well deserve it," Evan chuckled. He glanced at the desk and sighed. "Alright, might as well get the civic responsibility out of the way."

"You could always chuck it in the fireplace?" Nadia suggested with a grin.

Evan laughed warmly at the thought. "No, I know Martin's people, they'd just grab the reprints. Besides, I suppose folks need us signing these papers and making these calls to keep the planet running. Can't forget the reason why we're doing this. BattleMechs aren't the only important things in the Inner Sphere, as much as I tend to forget."


Wolf City, Wolf Clan Settlement Zone

Given the "function over form" style of the rest of Wolf City, Eva was pleasantly surprised to see that the Salty Solahma felt more like the pubs and beer halls she'd seen so far in her service. It was little different from "The Hound" in Old Connaught in style, though the aesthetics were unmistakably Clanner. A boxing ring was prominent on the far side of the establishment, where two massive, well-muscled infantry warriors were wrestling in a manner that reminded Eva of the sumo wrestlers of New Kyoto. Other warriors, a combination of the giant "Elemental" infantry and other phenotypes, cheered encouragement to their comrades. Nearby a collection of warriors were playing a card game, and yet other tables had other groups. Everyone was in BDU jumpsuits with an assortment of unit patches matching those of the Clusters of Alpha Galaxy. Along the walls were a combination of photos, drawings, and plaques. A stuffed jade falcon hung like a prize trophy on one wall while another made a lot of space for something that looked like a 'Mech foot after it'd been torn from the machine. A tattered flag of a jade falcon hung over it.

Marissa walked in beside her. "This is more of what you would expect, quiaff?"

"Yeah," Eva replied. "Reminds me of 'Das Stahlhelm' back in Tharkad City. It was a favorite spot when we got liberty from campus. They still had a finger from a Terran Atlas II that the locals swear was downed by High Queen Johanna herself."

"The foot came from a Jade Falcon Mad Dog, or what Spheroids here call a Vulture, destroyed by Khan Phelan's troops during the Federated Commonwealth Civil War," Marissa explained. "It took a Star of solahma infantry to move it into place."

"I imagine…" Her eyes swept towards the bar. It dominated the north side of the establishment, the wall lined with bottles of various spirits. Only the simple jumpsuited garb of the two bartenders, a pair of middle-aged figures who looked on the thin side save for their large heads, set the scene apart from any other kind of establishment Eva had seen.

"Come!" Marissa gestured for her to follow. Eva did, coming up to a pair of empty stools at the bar. Another Wolf warrior, a woman with a dark mocha complexion and sandy blond hair, glanced their way and grinned. "Marissa, sibkin!"

"Rachel!" Marissa grasped the woman for a brief embrace before extending an arm towards Eva. Another warrior beside Rachel, a male of lighter complexion and the same platinum-blond hair tone Marissa had, turned to face them at this point. "This is Lieutenant Eva of the Arcadians' Eighth Strikers. I need not say more."

"Indeed you do not!" the man laughed. He stood from the stool and saluted. "The slayer of Stephanie Chistu and the bloodfoul Malvina Hazen is known to the whole Clan!"

Eva fought to keep her cheeks from turning red. "Hazen did not die, unfortunately. They have her on Arcadia, for trial."

"A Trial of Annihilation I hope," Rachel replied. "Did your unit come to refit as well?"

"Eva is here as a liaison officer with our warriors, not with her unit," Marissa explained. "The Arcadians cannot let her hog all the glory for herself, quiaff?"

"Aff!" the two laughed. The man quickly added, "I am Dominic. Rachel and I are Star Commanders of the First Strike Grenadiers." He motioned to their unit patch, showing a wolf snapping its jaws closed upon a jade falcon.

"And you are… related?"

"Genetically, only Marissa and I," Dominic replied. "We are of the Kell Bloodhouse. Though our genefathers were different warriors, our genemother was Hazel Kell, one of the first of the Kell Bloodrights."

"And I am a Carns," Rachel replied.

"Every Clan is different," Marissa said. "In some Clans a sibko are all from the same set of geneparents, or at least from the same Bloodhouse. But for a Wolf, the pack is everything, and our sibkos are mixed."

Eva nodded. Reading up on the Wolves had been a duty that helped her pass the week of zero-gee living at Atocongo's jump point. So they grew up together. Tested with one another, became warriors together.

"Bartender Yvonne!" Dominic's voice echoed over the background chatter. "A drink of choice for the warrior who brought down Malvina the Bloodfoul!"

And here we go again. Eva was ready for the attention, and smiled faintly at all the warriors who started cheering and letting out wolf howls. Well, at least the wolf howls are gestures of respect, she thought. The large-headed woman at the bar grinned and nodded. "Apple scotch," Eva said.

"A good choice, ristar," Yvonne replied. She took a shotglass and started mixing the drink. Eva slipped into the chair and was ready for it, enjoying the sweet burning flavor when it hit her lips. She forced down the urge to gag a little. Okay, the proof of this thing must be crazy. Her head wobbled slightly as she swallowed.

More howls came from around her. "Well done, Warrior Eva," Rachel said. "Clan drinks are often hard on Spheroids."

Maybe they genetically engineer themselves for booze tolerance too. "It's got a kick, yeah. The kind of thing we'd dare each other to drink back at the Nagelring." She took another drink and only after it realized no one had said a thing about her contractions. "I am sorry about the bad speech," she added.

Dominic and Rachel laughed. "Marissa has always been the best spoken of us," Dominic said. "I, for one, believe our ancestor Natasha Kerensky had a point when she dismissed complaints about her contractions. 'Slavish adherence to ritual is a sign you have nothing better to think about.'"

Different timeline. Different timeline! Eva nodded. Their Natasha was a hero, not an evil bitch who killed millions trying to make herself First Lord of the Star League on our bent backs. "Right. My protocol and military bearing instructors at the Nagelring would have loved to hear that one. Demerits for everyone." She took a fairly smaller drink this time. It brought the kick down. A little. "So you are both descended from Phelan Kell, at least?"

Marissa nodded. "Aff, and Ranna Kerensky. Hazel was from the first sibko born of their genetic material."

"Normally you only get to claim the mother's name, right? I guess it was different because that was the first generation? Quiaff, is it?"

"Aff on both, Eva," Dominic replied. "All born of his genetic material were allowed to compete for the twenty-five Kell Bloodrights."

"And as it is the only Bloodname we did not have to split with the Crusader Wolves, it is the one Bloodhouse to still have its full count of Bloodrights," Rachel added bitterly.

"That is something. The weight of it, I mean, bearing the responsibility of being the first."

"It was. It is, since the Kell Bloodhouse must honor our founder." Dominic took a swig of his own drink.

"I recall you had a family member when we first met," Marissa said. "Your Penton family serves with the Eighth Strikers by preference?"

"Mostly." Eva nursed her glass, not quite willing to risk another drink. "And yeah, my cousin Tony is one of the aerospace jocks. He comes from another side of the family, but we have the same great-grandparents. Alexander Penton and Rachel Vallejo-Galvariz-Aghliesi. He was a commoner, a military attorney who became a MechWarrior in the 3030s, and she was the granddaughter of a couple of noble families on Launum. They became war heroes in the Second Skye War and the War of Donegalian Succession as MechWarriors of the Sunhawks, that is, the Eighth Strikers. Alex Penton got knighted, Rachel was made heiress to both of her families' holdings. They'd fallen in love and got married, had kids, fought and survived the Terran War, lived long and mostly happy lives until dying just before the 4th Succession War broke out. Dad said they were the most loving people he knew." With her lips drying, Eva took another drink of the apple scotch. It didn't kick quite as hard this time. Because I am getting sloshed, ha.

"We are aware the nobles of the Inner Sphere also bear the weight of their blood legacies, though we consider them decadent and corrupted for the most part." Rachel imbibed some of her own drink. "You bear a mighty legacy, it seems."

"It can be, though I'm, I mean, I am legally a commoner. Or was. I'm a Knight of the Federation now. But it isn't likely I will ever inherit Vallejo lands or anything. My dad was the baby of the family, and his mom was a younger daughter of Sir Alex and Lady Rachel. Too many cousins are in the way, and they are welcome to it."

"And what of your genetic legacy?" Dominic asked. "Your genes will provide for more fine warriors of Arcadia, will they not?"

For a moment Eva wasn't sure how to respond to a question like that. Her first instinct was to treat it as a bad pick-up line but even through the haze her apple scotch left her mind in, she remembered the material on the Clans. Passing their genes on is the big thing for them, right. "I guess they would, I just haven't thought about having kids."

"As a Spheroid you would rather have a partner you feel affection for in coupling?" Marissa asked. "That is usually the way of it. You seek a mate who attaches to you?"

Something about the query made Eva wonder if Marissa was feeling her out. "I suppose. I haven't had many 'attachments' lately though. Mostly just back at the Nagelring, and not at all for procreation."

"Ah! Coupling!" Dominic laughed. "Spheroids have many taboos about it, quiaff?"

"And rules. Honor codes. The Nagelring has lots of honor codes. For 'discipline'."

"And you obeyed them?" Rachel asked, grinning in anticipation of an answer. Something about the grin made Eva's spine tingle and brought a warmth of anticipation, a rush of life, into her. "For you to have won assignment to an honored unit, you must have done very well in training."

"I did. Feels like another life now, but yeah." She matched Rachel's grin. "As for the honor codes, well, I always did follow the most important of those rules." She leaned in towards Marissa and Rachel, prompting Dominic to do so as well. "Nicht erwischt werden. 'Don't. Get. Caught.'"

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

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

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

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Re: "Crusade" - BattleTech Dark Ages/BattleTech "Concertverse" AU Crossover Book 2

Post by Steve »

LOL, forgot to post the new chapter here.

Captain Orsai did the writing based on my outline and general planning, I proofread and edited. It's a bit bigger than I'd have preferred but splitting it into two chapters would likely make things feel dragged out while the scenes still have thematic links to justify their combination.

Chapter 5 - The Dragon and the Sword

The Black Room
Luthien, Pesht Military District
Draconis Combine
Transglass Inner Sphere
11 June 3143

As was his custom, Matsuhari Toranaga was the last to arrive at the Black Room. In this case, however, it wasn’t the emphasis of his power and position that was the cause, but matters of duty.

It seems I am now cursed to always be wary of being late for an appointment, Matsuhari reflected as he passed through security checkpoints, waiting as the Otomo guard teams precisely verified his identity. It now seemed that every moment there was some new calamity that could only be resolved by the exercise of the Gunji-no-kanrei’s authority, or a decision that only he could make. Sometimes, in the few truly private moments he had, Matsuhari found his mind wandering to thoughts of whether this was truly worth everything he'd done — everyone he'd killed — to attain it.

He shook off those doubting thoughts angrily. That kind of philosophical rumination was for priests. His adopted father Saburo Toranaga had taught him a long time ago that a man had to know his trade and stick to it. He was the Dragon’s mailed fist, not its philosophical savant. It was best to remember that. Especially now, with all that had to be dealt with.

The guards finished their checks; all done precisely as they should be. Which was a very good thing for them as if they’d skipped even a single step, Matsuhari would have ensured that before the week was out, they and their officer would have found themselves in a frontline infantry regiment on the Davion front.

Stepping into the sepulchral heart of the Black Room, Matsuhari took quick note of those present. It was nearly a full meeting, with only the new Warlord Dieron not present. Kanbei Okamoto was busy putting his District back into order and could not be spared the voyage to Luthien. The Coordinator sat with a single aide at her shoulder and frustration and impatience still plain at her effective confinement to the Black Pearl, but less visible than it had been; our victories must be heartening her. The aide did cause him a moment’s consideration; he wasn’t the normal run of such well-bred incompetents from the Pagoda, for all he was trying hard to look like exactly that, but a real fighting man. The sort I would choose as an aide. He was a chu-sa, well-built, and a man of his hands from the sword- and control stick-calluses Matsuhari could see. Already seated were the Warlords of Benjamin, New Samarkand and Pesht. The former two men he trusted as Kyuzu was his man, through and through, and old Hayashida of Benjamin possibly the only man whose loyalties Matushari had never found any cause to doubt. The latter was one no man would trust. Saito was a survivor above all else, with no concern for anyone but himself. Still, that at least makes him predictable.

It was only a lifetime’s practice at self-mastery that kept Matsuhari’s hand from the grip of his katana as he locked eyes with the last man: Ramadeep Bhatia, director of the Internal Security Force. Outwardly, Bhatia looked like nothing more than one of the countless anonymous bureaucrats who kept the Combine running. A quiet, meticulously neat and almost obsessively private man who seemed as out of place amongst this gathering of professionals at lethal violence as a celibate priest would be at a Canopian pleasure circus. And that was a lie, for Bhatia had sent more samurai to the hells than a score of Davion regiments. Most hadn't been by his own hand, as those who annoyed the ISF Director tended to develop lethal stomach problems, step in front of speeding groundcars, or otherwise come to bad, and deniable, ends. But enough had fallen personally to the Director to give him a respectable reputation as a duelist.

Just that, taken on its own, wouldn't have unsettled Matsuhari much; it was the way of politics in the realm of the Dragon, that you won or you died if you chose to play the game, and his own reputation as a duellist was far more than merely respectable. But there were other, darker rumours - of abductions, torture and murder for no cause other than amusement - that followed Bhatia in the same way death followed war, and those did unsettle him. They were too consistent, from too many different sources, and they walked far too well with his own experience of the Director.

If it is ever within my power, Matsuhari vowed as he turned from that cold, reptilian gaze to the situation map, that one I will kill, no matter the cost. The map at least restored some of his equilibrium, and he set himself to the plans for the future.

Tono,” Matsuhari acknowledged Yori with a bow; the full measure required of any subordinate to the Uniter of Worlds. While in fact the army, as personified in himself, ruled now, the proprieties had to be observed. Even, especially, in private.

“Warlord,” Yori replied with a bow of her own; the precise degree of that from the Coordinator to a respected subordinate. She’s learned self-mastery; and that was not altogether a good thing. Yori was willful, determined and decidedly more capable than he was happy with; keeping her as off-balance as practical was one method of control. “You bring Us word of those prefectures and worlds in unlawful rebellion against Our sovereignty?”

Hai, tono,” Matushari bowed again, before highlighting worlds and regions on the situation maps. “Those worlds of the Dieron District that declared for the attainted Emi have been restored to lawful governance; and the traitor Nova Cats expunged. Both Emi Kurita and Jacali Nostra are dead.” He carefully did not mention how Emi Kurita had died; there was no sense making it publicly known. Not least because she’d behaved in exactly the manner a noblewoman of the Combine was expected to behave in such circumstance; for that, if nothing else, Matsuhari respected her. “Katana Tormark is missing, but she will be found, and justice delivered upon her.”

And the irony is, Matsuhari noted silently, watching each disbelieving reaction to that statement that is the entire truth. He really didn’t know where Tormark was, or if she was alive or dead. Her Battlemaster had been found on Kagoshima, a wreck with a lance of the Jade Dragon dead before it, and blood in the cockpit that matched Tormark’s, yet no body. Most would have assumed her dead, but Matsuhari had made that assumption before, and been proven wrong each time. Tormark had her life nailed tightly to her backbone and now he was not going to presume her dead until the corpse was at his feet. And even then, I will take precautions.

“Corwin Sandoval’s foolhardy Operation PELAYO has been defeated, also,” Matsuhari continued, golden sword-and-sunburst icons withdrawing from the Combine; black-on-crimson dragon symbols pursing, Raman and Cartago swallowed by these chasing icons. Despite appearances, that was a half-truth at best; but some truths you could never speak, no matter where, outside of your own thoughts. It was unacceptable to admit that an enemy striking at the worlds of the Dragon was withdrawing largely by their own choice, having achieved as much of their own objectives as they were willing to risk for. No matter how swiftly and condignly they are punished for it. As well as the damage done to his own planning. “However, before we proceed, there are matters that I would be remiss if I did not bring to your attention, tono.”

There were times when Matsuhari wished he had more commanders in Corwin Sandoval's mold. The man was a barbarian, granted, but he was also a more than able general, with admirable talent. With a dozen such under my command, the Inner Sphere would be ours. Right now, though, he had to concern himself with the havoc wrought by PELAYO and the Nova Cats on his logistical arrangements.

“While rebellion has been quelled, and the Davions’ incursion defeated, it was not without cost.” He called up unit strengths, for those that had faced the brunt of both campaigns; the Swords of Light, the Ryuken, the Amphigeans. Their casualties had been heavy; and concentrated in the well-connected, Matsuhari noted. Those units had always absorbed a high proportion of the noble scions serving in the Pillar of Steel, it was what made them reliable.ow, though it would be an exaggeration to say every tenth noble family in the Combine was in mourning, it wasn’t much of an exaggeration. “Those losses have been made good by activating the upper-class years at our academies ahead of time, but that is a solution we can only use once. And it has delayed the replacement of casualties among the district regulars and other, less critical units.”

“Why?” Saito, speaking for the first time, and unhappy; not surprising, the Pesht Regulars, his units, were the ones most affected by that decision. “Activate them all. Let them learn in the field.”

Matushari refrained from a sigh only by considerable effort. He knew Saito was an idiot, but to make it so obvious—! A rebuke was on the edge of his lips when a third voice cut in.

“Saito, do not be more of a fool than nature meant for you to be.” Hayashida’s voice had faded with age, but he adjusted his style to suit rather than force it. The resulting whisper held the attention even more effectively than a shout. “Those of the upper class years have learned the skills they need to survive the battlefield; all that remains is refining them.” Collective nods at that; they all remembered their own academy training. You learned the core in the first two years, and then how to apply it fully in the next two. “Trying to learn such skills in battle against the Davions, or the Bears, would cost us losses we cannot afford.”

Saito wasn’t a complete fool, it seemed; reading the agreement with Hayashida’s words among all others present, he silently acquiesced rather than continue the argument.

"There are also matters of logistics to consider," Matsuhari continued. He switched the holographics back to the map, key stars highlighted. "Whether by accident or design, PELAYO struck many of our key forward supply bases, and the Nova Cats struck others. As well, the ISF has not been as successful as promised in restoring the Nova Cat factories to use.” There, let Bhatia the indestructible chew on that. He called up more figures. “To summarise, we have lost, or been forced to expend, almost two-thirds of the supplies assembled for the invasion of the Federated Suns.”

That drew a collective wince, which was good. Even now, too few of the samurai class genuinely understood logistics and its import. Saburo had taught him that, and even for someone who’d learned the importance of looking after supplies in a school where to fail was to starve, it had been hard to grasp how to apply that to an army. Finally grasping that this — enough of their military nobility truly understanding how important logistics was — lay at the core of the Davions and Steiners surviving the Dragon’s might had been a moment of almost holy revelation. At least Takashi and Theodore Kurita killed enough of those who truly would not learn that.

“Then it is from the Benjamin District we must strip supplies,” Hayashida said, “though even with how quiet the Bears have been, I admit that worries me. If they strike at us, while we deal with the Davions …”

“It seems unlikely.If anything, I would expect them to be far more concerned with these Arcadians the Sea Foxes have informed us of,” Kyuzu spoke up. “From the rhetoric we’ve seen from their ruler, it seems plausible the Bears will be concerned that they are associated with the Falcons and Hell’s Horses in the minds of these otherworldly crusaders, and thus draw down their forces facing us.”

“This is true,” Matsuhari acknowledged. “However, even with drawing as much in the way of supplies from Pesht and Benjamin Districts as we can without compromising their readiness, our original plans must be curtailed in their ambitions.” Especially as Sterling McKenna has become much more reluctant in considering cooperation. The news of this new power has shaken her, badly. “So, I would suggest,” icons and lines began to move on the map, “an offensive against Le Blanc and Robinson, to cut the Draconis March in two and remove the source of arms and mercenaries hurrying our efforts to pacify the Reach. To that end, I propose…"

Once he'd finished outlining the plan, there was a notable relaxation of tensions within the Black Room. It would cost, but they were all used to paying for victory, and lives were cheaper than time. Time was the resource the Davions needed above all else right now, and the one Matsuhari had no intention of giving them.

“I don’t like the plans for New Ivaarsen,” Bhatia said, his voice a colourless monotone. “At our last reports both Chasseur regiments were there, with the First Robinson Rangers a single jump away. Surely more than the Second Vegans and Seventh Ghost could be spared, if we are to keep them from intervening in the assault on Robinson?”

Matsuhari considered that; quietly impressed by the insight, from someone with little real military experience. And he is right; it was hard to make that judgement when you disliked a man. “The Ryuken-roku could be assigned to that task, yes. Perhaps a Striker battalion of Wolf’s Dragoons, as well. That should suffice to keep the yakuza and Vegan scum at their task.” There were smiles at that; none of them had a high regard for the Ghost regiments or the few remaining Legions of Vega.

“And, to ensure this is carried out correctly, it is Our will that our chief Warlord lead the attack on Robinson,” Yori said, her voice sliding into the conversation like a blade. “And, to ensure all know of Our enduring faith in his loyalty, a battalion of the Izanagi Warriors will accompany him.”

Only Matsuhari caught the slightest hint of a smile on her face, and it shook him. He’d been planning to command that effort, yes, but at a suitable remove, only taking personal command at the death. Now … I cannot refuse. To do so would destroy any semblance of control he had over Yori, and his standing with the other Warlords. Not to mention resulting in his own ignominious death when those public watchers — or other, invisible ones — fulfilled their orders if he tried; indeed, my excessively honourable staff would do so without orders, in such a circumstance. In many ways, that didn’t matter; his sworn liege had given a command, and there was no option for a man of honour. And a man lives as long as he lives, not a moment longer.

“As the Uniter of Worlds commands,” he replied, bowing.

Yori Kurita waited until the warlords were long gone, and her guards had moved back out of earshot for anything but a shout.

“What do you think?” she said to her aide.

“I think that they will obey, for now,” Sho-sho Hisao Ikeda said calmly. “And also that the theatre lost a fine talent when you became Coordinator, tono.” He paused a moment, organising his thoughts. “Hayashida we do not need to worry about; he is loyal to the Chrysanthemum Throne alone, and an old man besides. Kyuzu, I’m not sure about.” A frown. “He is loyal, but he also owes Toranaga everything; where those obligations conflict, danger lies. And Saito is a fool.”

“True,” Yori allowed herself a smile at that, and at how closely Ikeda’s assessments matched her own. “But I do pay him very well to be a fool.”

“Toranaga and Bhatia, I cannot be sure of; they hide their feelings well.” Ikeda frowned. “I believe Toranaga suspects that I am not as I have chosen to appear. But they will obey, until they find a reason why they should not.”

“As I suspected of them, yes.” Yori considered a moment, before moving to her next need. “The Dragon’s Shadow? How do they shape?”

“Well,” Ikeda said, surety in his voice as he spoke on a matter the DEST operative was confident in. “They will be at full strength in perhaps six months to a year; depending upon how well our efforts to recruit personnel go. But, should they be needed, they can put two BattleMech battalions and a reinforced regiment of conventional support into the field now. And they are all absolutely loyal to you, tono.”

“That is better than expected.” Another smile; more than Yori usually allowed herself. And Toranaga knows nothing of them. It was old philosophy, Capellan philosophy, but true despite that; the deadliest of swords was an invisible sword, one your foe could not see. “And the… other matter I asked of you to investigate?”

“There is little information to be sure of, tono.” Ikeda selected his words with exacting care; this was a very private matter, and dangerous to be obvious about. “The primary package was delivered by the Salaryman, we have confirmed that; at risk to his own life, but that he is not afraid of. On the secondary, we have the agent the Salaryman engaged for its delivery, but it seems the Bureaucrat stepped in first, with far less discretion.”

“Thank you.” Courtesy was not often a virtue known to the Dragon, but Yori considered it worth exercising, for one as important to her plans as Ikeda. “Return to your work with the Shadow; keep me informed. And say nothing to anyone of the other matter.”

“As you command, tono.”

Yori let herself turn inward as Ikeda left. So, Bhatia was involved as well; not a surprise. At least now, she knew those who she had blood debts outstanding with. Yori had never cared for Vincent Kurita and his family. But they had been fair to her, at least; if never anything more than that. And there were ties of blood, however distant; vengeance upon those who’d killed her kin was an obligation.

We settle things with the Davions — one way or another — and then, Toranaga, if you live, you will learn that treating me as a puppet was a mistake.

The Watchtower
Ten kilometres north of Avalon City
New Avalon, Crucis March
Federated Suns
Transglass Inner Sphere
11 June 3143

"It's confirmed, sir; Cartago and Raman have both fallen."

Erik Sandoval-Groell carefully suppressed a reflexive wince at that news. That would be unfitting to the dignity of the Prince’s Champion, and not do the young officer’s clearly frayed nerves any good either.

“Details, Captain,” he settled for instead, keeping his voice as calm and level as possible. “I need details.” Both worlds were already marked in crimson on the Operations Room’s maps.

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” she replied, taking a moment to centre and organise her thoughts. “We’ve confirmed that Raman was hit by Beta Regiment of Wolf’s Dragoons and the Forty-fifth Benjamin Regulars, plus a battalion of the Ryuken-hachi. There, well, there wasn’t much left of the Raman DMM when they retreated to New Ivaarsen.”

Erik did wince at that, not that he was surprised. For the last sixty years — ever since they’d picked the losing side in the Sandoval Civil War — the Raman March Militia had been a dumping ground for the malcontents and no-hopers of the Draconis March Brigade. That they’d put up any kind of fight against better than four-to-one odds was a miracle. “And Cartago?” A cousin's demesne; a distant one, true, but you had to look out for family.

“Gamma Regiment of the Dragoons, their Wolfsbane battalion and the Ryuken-go,” the captain replied. Erik shot a discrete look at her nametag, which read “Kennedy, L.”, and considered it might be worth recruiting this one for his staff. “According to Colonel Rennie’s verbal report and dispatches, the Tenth Avalon were holding them off until they lost their command staff; freak bomb hit, the details are in the dispatches.” She held out a noteputer. “Code-locked to your thumbprint, sir.”

Erik nodded, taking the noteputer and applying his thumb to the print reader. Skimming through the dispatches told him everything; it really had been a freak hit, not sloppy air raid precautions. The Kuritan aerospace wings’ toss-bombing strikes could barely hit a city reliably; it’d been pure bad luck that guided a three-thousand-kilo armour-piercing bomb right onto the bunker where the Hussars’ command staff had been holding a planning session. Not that they’re any less dead because of it; and at least Colonel Rennie — no, she’s Major-General Rennie now, if I have anything to say about it! — had possessed the good sense and moral courage to pull back to Mallory's World and keep the Tenth intact, rather than fight it out to the death. Which, glorious, quick and easy, would have been a choice too many AFFS commanders, including a younger Erik Sandoval-Groell, would have made, and it would have been the wrong one. It was bitter to think, but a minor world lost that could be liberated later was a fair trade for an experienced LCT's survival right now. Especially since Rennie had managed to bring Countess Justine Sandoval and most of her family along with the Tenth, a good starting point for a liberation campaign.

“Right.” Erik took a moment to centre himself, looking around the Operations Room. It was far quieter than it had been earlier in the year, with most of the High Command dispersed across the long arc of the Capellan March as SUNSHOWER’s preparations shifted into high gear; the only ones staying, once he and Caleb left some time in the next week, would be the triad of Field Marshals responsible for New Avalon’s defence. The map told him enough, though; the rash of green-marked Liao incursions from New Hessen to Victoria, starting to form worrying patterns. And the Dragon’s bites into the Draconis March; only shallow, for now — if one didn’t count the lost Reach — but they would grow, aimed straight for Robinson and New Avalon herself.

At least the Taurians are quiet, some irreverent corner of his mind pointed out.

Decision crystallised. He wasn’t needed here, and someone needed to provide the authority to weld the defences of the Draconis March into a coherent whole. For a moment, Erik cursed Harrison Davion; the distrust he’d managed to sow between the March Lords and New Avalon was poisoning everything, making orders from the March Commands mere suggestions to anyone not part of their own brigades. Thankfully, nobody yet was at the nadir point of the First Succession War's command relations, referring any orders they simply didn't like all the way up whatever they imagined their personal chain of command was,but the warning signs were there, if you knew what to look for.

And I do. Erik shivered internally at the thought; one of the problems with being a serious student of history was that it undermined certain comfortable assumptions about how people behaved. If we get to that point, we'll end up with a hundred different armies in a trenchcoat, and we won't be able to stop the Dracs or Liaos this side of June.

“Wait here, and consider yourself seconded to my staff,” Erik told Kennedy, before making his way down to the lowest tier of the Operations Room.

Caleb was there, reviewing a video file on one of the tactical display consoles. Erik had expected a deployment status report, or one of MIIO’s tactical digests from the front. What he hadn't expected was the Sea Fox reports about these 'Arcadians', the new power that had appeared, somehow, out of a hole in space-time in the backend of Lyran space, and, pretty naturally, taken offence at Clan Jade Falcon's behaviour. If it'd come from anyone else, Erik would have been inclined to make some harsh comments about their sense of humour, but the Sea Foxes didn't — couldn't afford — to think like that.

"Champion," Caleb said quietly, turning to face Erik, "what do you think? Is this the truth, or some kind of elaborate deception?"

"I think it's the truth, Highness," Erik settled on. "Or, at least, as much of the truth as the Foxes want us to know." At Caleb's questioning look, he went on. "Credibility is the biggest resource information brokers have; I dealt with plenty of them when I was working for my cousin. They won't be lying. Shading the truth, maybe, but not outright lying, because when we caught them in a lie, we'd never trust them again. As well," and he silently blessed his staff for making sure to keep him up to date on everything, "they've provided samples to NAIS; Arcadian ferrofibrous armour plating and endo-steel. I don't claim to understand the technical details," a self-deprecatory smile, playing to his image as the bluff soldier with that small lie, "but their conclusion is clear enough; the forging and bonding process that produced both is alien to us. It works — might even be a little more efficient than our methods in some ways — but nobody we know of has ever done it that way. Not even the Clans."

“I see,” Caleb frowned. “Mason did say that was the most likely possibility, but I’m not sure. This anomaly, for instance,” he indicated the rippling blue-white energy field that occupied one screen.

“Doctor Banzai was kind enough to brief me on that, as well,” Erik said, smiling still. “I wasn’t able to follow her explanations in detail,” and this time, that was the truth, whole and unvarnished. Erik considered himself a reasonably well-educated man, as conversant with the sciences as any man or woman of good family was expected to be; but talk about “multilayered hyperspatial entanglement” left him as lost as an honest man at the Celestial Court. "The summary would be that something like this Anomaly has been theorised for a while, given the space-time distortions associated with the Kearny-Fuchida effect, but the mass-energy equations have so many currently undefined factors in them that she's established a high degree of confidence that the Arcadian story is true. They generated it by accident."

“And that doesn’t bother you, Champion?” Caleb asked, frowning still. “That there could be a Liao or Kuritan force ready to descend on New Avalon any moment, and we’d have no warning?”

And now I see the reason for his focus on this. “As I understood Doctor Banzai’s explanation, Highness,” Erik said, keeping his voice level, “that isn’t something we need to be concerned about. It’s quantum physics that, as I said, I don’t fully understand, but a portal like that would have to be created from somewhere within one jump of New Avalon; and it couldn't be done in this universe. Something about the minimum possible displacement in space and time makes it unviable. I can have my staff send over a summary of the Doctor’s analysis if you need it, Highness?”

“No. Not now anyway, and I do know where to ask if it turns out I do need it,” Caleb managed a smile. “Thank you for the clarifications, Erik. Although I suspect that isn’t what you came to speak with me about.”

"No, it wasn't, Highness. The fact of it is," Erik took a deep, steadying breath; best to rip this plaster off quickly. "You don't need me, here or for executing SUNSHOWER, and the situation in the Draconis March is bad and getting worse. I feel I can best be of use to you there, stabilizing matters."

"You have a plan, then?" Caleb's eyes tracked across the situation map, recognising what Erik meant.

"A tentative one Highness, yes," Erik drew everything he'd been thinking out together. "My current thinking is to strike at the Dracs' supply lines through the Draconis Reach, though I'll need to refine it once I'm there and have a clearer picture of what things are like on the ground. I will need to pull some of the reserve units for SUNSHOWER for what I have in mind; the Forty-second Avalon and Fifth Ceti Hussars, and the Third Davion Guards." He'd honestly have preferred the Second Guards, their heavy aerospace echelon more in line with his plans; but they were already most of the way to the mustering point at Orbisonia. And the Third has a better set of Colonels, that'll count for more with what I think we'll have to do.

"I'm not sure about the Guards," Caleb temporised, rubbing his chin in thought as he looked at the unit markers. "Maybe the Royal Cavaliers instead?"

That … might actually work, Erik thought, working through the jump timings in his head. Justin Sortek ran them these days, and even if he's my cousin's man, we worked together well enough when we were both with the Swordsworn. But no, too far away. It’d take too long even to get word to the Cavaliers as they moved along the border, never mind get them here.

“Highness, there’s no time,” Erik finally replied, working to keep his voice calm. “No matter what we do, Highness, the border’s going to take the worst beating it has since the Jihad. We need to act now to restore the situation. Those units know me, Highness, I know them. And they're here, now, ready to deploy."

“You’re right, of course.” Caleb didn’t seem happy about that, but he rarely seemed happy about anything very often. “We’ll get the orders cut now, and I’ll make sure Petersen understands that you’re in charge.” Erik’s mind blanked for a moment at who that was before it clicked; Marshal Garrett Petersen, commander of the Third Guards, and who by strict rank was Erik’s superior. Not that it should matter, but the Prince’s Champion wasn’t in the regular chain of command; which was damn useful when it kept you outside of regular Army bunfights over areas of command, but less so when you had to make officers who theoretically outranked you do what they were told. At least with a direct command from the Prince that’ll be less of an issue. Caleb paused again, seeming to closely study Erik’s expression. “There’s something else you want to say, isn’t there, Champion?”

“A worry, yes,” Erik paused, putting his thoughts in order. Trying to convince himself he was just being overly cautious. It didn’t work. “I’ve been looking at the Liao raids, Highness, I don’t think they’re random.” He gestured, indicating the map. “They’re starting to look like what we’d do in the run-up to a major attack; rapid strikes to figure out enemy dispositions, check response times, get enemy defensive units deployed and locked in place. I might be wrong, but then again …”

“Maybe not,” Caleb agreed, frowning as he looked at the icons for Liao raids, the same patterns Erik had seen playing out in his mind. “But if they are planning a major offensive, you don’t think the Capellans might be worried about the federal guard having time and warning to mobilize and concentrate? Daoshen may be insane, but he isn’t that kind of insane, and Isabelle Fisk isn’t insane at all.”

"Highness, I have a nasty suspicion that if they're planning a major offensive, the Liaos want as much of the federal guard as possible in big concentrations where they can get at them," Erik replied. “I don’t even know if they are,” he admitted, “My best source couldn’t tell me anything but that a lot of the CCAF isn’t where they’re officially deployed.” And that, in itself, is telling; South Wind was embedded within the CCAF’s logistics command, and the lack of information suggested serious compartmentalisation. Unless she’s been turned, triple agent rather than double. Another headshake. The Maskirovka didn’t think like that; if they’d known that he’d turned South Wind, they’d have eliminated her with the thoroughness you’d expect from an organisation that favoured dropping anvils on individual ants.

“What do you want me to do, Champion,” Caleb said softly. He looked older, somehow, drained. “I know that you aren’t terribly enthusiastic about SUNSHOWER, but at this point, I couldn’t call it off even if I wanted to.” Erik conceded a nod to that; even with Black Box communications, it wouldn't be possible to get a stop command to everyone in time.

“I’d just advise caution, Highness,” Erik said, unhappy but without anything else to offer.

"I don’t think caution is an option left to us, champion, but I take your point," Caleb replied. “I’ll make sure our commanders know to be watchful.” He smiled, suddenly, clapping Erik on the shoulder affectionately. “Cheer up, Erik. If all goes well, this time next year we’ll be toasting victory on Sian.”

“God willing, Highness,” Erik smiled in turn, though he could read the false note in Caleb’s affected bonhomie. The Prince didn’t believe that boast anymore than he did.

Excalibur-class DropShip FSS Phoenix
Camelot Military Spaceport
Six hours later

Erik was in the middle of running a tactical simulation on the main holotable when his chosen unit commanders arrived. The tiny representations of BattleMechs, tanks and battlesuited infantry froze as he turned to greet them.

Garrett Petersen stood out immediately, the Guards Marshal looking exactly like a military noble of the Federated Suns was supposed to in the stories and very few did in practice.Tall and powerfully built, regular bronzed features and dark blue-gray eyes, red-blonde hair kept short to fit under a neurohelmet and a close-trimmed beard of the same shade. Uniform of high quality materials, much better than issue, elegantly understated. Even the scar fitted in perfectly; a shallow cut from the bridge of Petersen’s nose to just under his left eye, courtesy of a pirate Axman three decades ago, along the Periphery border.

What had happened to the pirate afterwards had made Erik wince, even in the dry, antiseptic language of an official report.

The other two were more in the normal run of things; Major-General Park Jung-hwa was shorter than Petersen but nearly as broad, wearing plain khaki field dress, and had very obviously been to the wars. A savage corona of plasma burn scars twisted one side of her face, a dull red cybernetic eye set into it drawing the attention, with grey shot liberally through her remaining black hair. Vice-Admiral Collette Rhysson was the youngest of the three; in her thirties, pale and dark-haired, with long features and the stringy muscularity common to most aerospace pilots Erik knew, and her hands, one a cybernetic prothesis, moving as she described dogfighting tactics to Park.

“Marshal, ladies. At ease.” Erik took a moment to study all three, noting their expressions. It was severe annoyance, mainly, which was about what he’d expected. “You all seem to be throttling considerable heads of steam.”

They exchanged quick looks before Petersen stepped forward, silently elected as spokesman. “Champion, with all due respect, what’s going on? Our units are scheduled to deploy for SUNSHOWER within the week, and even with most of the preparation done, there’s still a lot of work. Nobody’s indispensable, but we’ll be missed.”

“You’ll be back with your units shortly,” Erik said. “But there have been changes in your deployment orders. Now, I assume you have all your personnel on-base and ready to lift, and your units’ transport flotillas charged?” You’d better went unsaid, but he wasn’t surprised at the nods; veteran units with good commanders would be ready to go. “Good. Then I want your commands fully loaded up and boosting for their JumpShips by,” he made a show of checking his watch, “this time on the fourteenth. Destination is Markesan, moving into the Draconis March. You’ll be receiving full briefings en route. Questions, imperative supply needs?"

"I'm going to need to requisition a fighter carrier DropShip from the Navy," Rhysson said, checking the noteputer strapped to her forearm. "One of my LCT’s carriers is in dock for a full-scale overhaul of her engines; no way to get them reassembled and operational in three days. A week'd be pushing it."

"Expedition on supply orders is all I need." Park, her living eye closed as she called up information of her own.

"Authorised; I'll get the orders cut now." And invoke the Prince’s authority if anyone gets difficult. "Anything else?"

There wasn't, and after the needed pleasantries the three flag officers left; back to their units, and to get things moving. Erik picked up his noteputer, starting to write out orders. After a few minutes of getting nowhere, he sighed and stepped back over to the holotable.

“Reset simulation,” Erik said. The voice-command interface wasn’t used for tactical ops, it was too imprecise, but for this, it helped him think and focus. “Robinson Battle Academy Training Cadre and Twentieth Avalon Hussars defending against Kismet and Giri Battalions, Seventh Sword of Light. Auxiliaries in proportion; mapset is the RSBW complex at Tiberias. Execute.”

The system wasn’t as capable as those he’d used at NAIS, or seen in the Republic’s sim facilities under Geneva. But there was a comfort to it, the act of doing something, even simulated.

And, if I can win this, Erik reflected as he began shuffling lances like a card-sharp’s deck, if I can win this, maybe I can win where it counts.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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