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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 10

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Winning Edge[]

Orbital Space
Timkovichi, Arc-Royal Theater
Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth
1st September, 3142

For the third time in his life, General Sir DeMarcus Bridger made the seemingly-impossible journey from one world to another.  Not one planet to another, as he'd done often, but the more classical definition of "world", with a portal through the very fabric of reality allowing him to move from the world he knew, where Aleksandr Kerensky died on Terra and the Great Houses fell and all of that, to the world where the Great Houses survived and Kerensky survived to lead his soldiers into the far reaches of space, their descendants to return two and a half centuries later to wreak bloody havoc.  A possibility unfathomable a month ago, but now it was a reality he and everyone else had to live with.

The first two times, he'd been aboard the AFS Arcadia.  This time, he hadn't even bothered transferring to one of the DropShips; a DropShuttle from Arcadia brought him back through "the Looking Glass", as he and Admiral Marik and so many others were now calling it.  It's a fitting name.  Our two worlds, our Inner Spheres, are like distorted, funhouse mirror images of one another, the similarities as surprising as the differences.

Once again the trip was nowhere near as agonizing or rough as the first had been.  It was even a little easier than the customary nausea of a normal jump.  From his compartment in the back, shared by his Chief of Staff Brigadier Uwe von Hammersmark and a couple of junior staff officers, he listened to the pilots confirm landing permission from planetary control.  With a key tap, a monitor showed him the feed from a hull-mounted camera.  Most of the orbital space was empty now, with the exception of the destroyer AFS Cuchulainn and the picket ship Plucky, as the rest of 1st Battle Fleet was on the other side of the Glass now.  So were the JumpShips brought with them for the training operation-turned-misjump.  He'd spent the last few days making arrangements for the return of enough to carry his assigned units to their targets, and these talks would confirm if they got the order to make that return.

The DropShuttle landed Bridger in the field headquarters shared by the 8th Striker and the 1st Kell Hounds.  In keeping with the new nickname for the portal, someone had erected a spray-painted sign in the heart of the camp, "WELCOME TO FIELD BASE CARROLL", with signposts directing one to locations such as the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" - pointing towards the base mess hall - and "The Red Queen's Court", specifically, HQ itself. He could even see a working party, directed by a bellowing non-com, touching up one of the signs, and the homey familiarity of that sight drew a smile from Bridger.

MPs and assorted personnel of all ranks saluted Bridger and his people on their way into the prefab HQ structure.  The command center was a roomier version of what you'd find in a field HQ, although more vulnerable since field HQs had that inestimable advantage of being able to move.  A main holotank, and secondary ones, allowed for real-time analysis of ongoing battles across an entire world, especially if there were orbiting ships or satellites to provide "eyes in the sky" images.

Brigadier Laguna and Colonel Ward were present already, with officers, and Deirdre's local counterparts in the Kell Hounds.  They were joined by Kommandant Jacob Tanhause, whom Bridger hadn't seen since the fateful day they landed, and an older woman in black mourning robes, a tiara on her whitening hair and her face an example of quiet suffering, the kind you typically saw among bereaved nobles.  Bridger knew her as Duchess Katarina Schmitt-Levensky, the wife of Timkovichi's late ruler Duke Roderick Schmitt.  He'd been killed in the early Falcon strikes on the planet.  Word was the couple's children, all but one, was either dead or believed dead in prior battles with the Clans, and a grandchild had died in the Falcon bombing of the family home.  The human soul can only take so much pain, he mused to himself as he made a courtly bow.  The Duchess bowed back slightly, but said nothing.

"I didn't expect to see you back so soon, General." Evan Kell said, in the tone of a man who was very pleased to be wrong.  "Your message yesterday was welcome, so I asked Her Grace to join us, given what you were bringing up."

"Thank you, Colonel, it'll make this quick and easy, and then we can get on with other matters."  He set his eyes on Duchess Katarina.  "Your Grace, in light of the seeming permanence of the portal, or 'Looking Glass' if you will, the Royal Federation has a vested interest in the defense of your world.  Our Ghastillian allies will see to the defenses on our side.  We request permission to station a force on Timkovichi to protect this side from Clan incursion."

It wasn't hard to see the flash of triumph in Evan's eyes.  Jacob looked like he'd just had a sentence commuted.  Katarina had the most reserved response, but Bridger could see relief showing through the cracks of her quiet demeanor.  "On behalf of the Lyran Commonwealth, General, we would be pleased to host a force of Arcadian troops sent to protect our world."

"We'll get the documents prepared today, then, for your approval, Your Grace," Bridger replied.  They had their legal justification now, at least, until the Archon on Tharkad had a chance to reply.  But given the lack of HPGs and what was likely the strategic situation of the Commonwealth, that was possibly months away, and unlikely to contravene the Duchess' order.

"How solid a defensive force are your commanders planning on?" Evan asked.

"At present, the 2nd Royal Cuirassiers are being readied for the trip, and would arrive in about two weeks' time.  Four at most, if they're a jump or two off the Royal Road."

"Royal Road?"

"A network of jump stations, wasn't it?" Nadia asked, undoubtedly having heard of it given her many talks with Brigadier Laguna's officers.

"Yes.  A jump station network linking Arcadia and every March capital and most of the key border worlds."  Content he'd explained sufficiently, Bridger pressed on.  "There'll be a naval defense too.  We've got a light cruiser coming, I guess you might also call it a heavy frigate or destroyer, and its attached carrier and picket force.  They'll safeguard the Looking Glass and the 2nd will protect the planet."

He wasn't surprised to see the dawning pleasure on their faces.  They want us in.  Might need us in.  "I'll be honored to greet them," said Katarina, "in my grandson's name."

"How is he?"  Bridger recalled the grandson in question, Daniel, survived the Falcon attack with injuries.  Officially he was Duke now, with his grandmother ruling in his name given his parents did not survive that attack.

"He is getting stronger by the day, thankfully."

"Glad to hear it."  He glanced toward the military officers.  "Does Your Grace wish to stay for our military planning?"

"No, I do not think it will be necessary.  Let me know when you have the stationing agreement ready, General Bridger, and I will sign."  With a final slight sketch of a bow, she departed.

"Poor woman's lost a lot, just like her people," Laguna remarked sadly.  She gave Bridger a knowing look.  "You were a little coy on the drone messages these last few days.  I'm guessing King Nathaniel and the Court approved something?"

"That they did.  Consider Training Force Siegfried re-designated to OpForce Siegfried, Brigadier, and get your people ready."  Noting Evan's growing interest, he turned his head back toward the Kell Hound commander.  "I'm formally requesting some assistance, Colonel Kell.  I've been authorized by King Nathan to conduct a bit of a 'fishing expedition', you might say."

"And what kind of fish are you looking to hook, General?" he asked, a certain wolfish look coming to his face.  The question was more rhetorical than an actual question.

"We want more intelligence on Clan forces, dispositions, and intentions, and the best way to get it is to go ask ourselves.  The 8th Strikers and the 1st Kell Hounds — Colonel Ward's, I mean — will be jumping to whatever worlds you figure the Clans have taken, where we will engage in raiding operations to take prisoners, rescue captive POWs, and secure whatever intelligence can be claimed from their databases.  We're leaving as soon as we can confirm the 2nd Cuirassiers will arrive before any Clan attack force can."

"Well, General, I like the sound of that. Got one condition for getting you that intel, though; I want in. Me and the Hounds, my Hounds, have more than a few accounts to settle with the Falcons."

Bridger grinned.  "I find that term acceptable, Colonel.  We'll be glad to have you."

Evan nodded. “I’ll get with my staff, figure out a target list; least the best we can, with the Blackout a lot of this is gonna have to be pretty tentative. And we’ll see what we can deploy.”

"You've got black boxes, right?" asked Nadia.  "Coordinating through multiple systems would be a big help, in case someone runs into something really heavy."

"It's standard issue with all commands." Bridger replied.  "Almost everyone on our side has it anyway, so there's no need to safeguard the technology itself, just the encryption protocols.  And I'm prepared to bring whatever you've got available, Colonel Kell.  Fishing expedition aside, doing some damage to the Clans will make protecting the Looking Glass easier too.  We'll have to settle certain command issues, of course."  He didn't bother saying the issue of having two "1st Kell Hounds" in the operation.  "As soon as we have that list of targets, everything else will fall into place."

The rest of the meeting was fairly standard, with Brigadier Laguna and Colonel Ward providing them their units' active TO&Es and the two groups organizing the DropShip and JumpShip assets necessary for the operation.  When it was all said and done and they were on their way back to their own command HQ, there was some silence while they passed through on the compressed gravel laid as temporary road for the self-dubbed Field Base Carroll.

"First things first; Nadia, you’re staying here. Don’t argue,” Evan raised a hand to forestall the inevitable reaction, “one of us has to, and even with the best will in the world, I’m about as diplomatic as a bull mammoth in rutting season. You’ve got our B Echelon and whichever combat units we leave behind to look after, and I need to be sure there aren’t going to be any issues between our people and the new Arcadian units, alright?”

“Understood, Colonel,” Nadia replied, looking more than a little sullen, but at least less than outright mutinous. “I’ll make sure our people are all in their jammies by eight.” That got general chuckles, and Evan carried on.

“Beyond that, finding targets is going to be tough," Evan shook his head.  "We're gonna have to play this a lot more carefully than I, or, I’m pretty sure, General Bridger, like to, considering how out of date our intel on the Falcons’ deployments is.  We might stumble into a staging point with an entire Galaxy waiting for us, or land to find another world Malvina wiped out because she couldn't deal with the local resistance." He frowned, thinking of the Red Talon and Malvina’s willingness to risk her fleet. “Hell, could end up blundering into a cruiser on patrol ops if we aren’t careful.”

"I get the feeling this is the kind of thing the 8th Strikers were made for, at least," said Nadia.  "Heavy cavalry and raiding; and we do have a decent picture of their fleet deployments.  We can ensure that they can avoid the major WarShips; and other than that, wherever the Strikers hit, the Clanners will feel it."

"As long as we get our share."  His expression turned wistful.  "Commonwealth's in a bad place right now, and the Arcadians can bring us out of it.  But we've got to play a part in that or we might as well as let them take over."

"Well, we're effectively down a battalion, but since I think we can stick with light security elements, since we won't have to worry about protecting Timkovichi solo once these 2nd Cuirassiers arrive," she said, not interested in joining his ruminations.  She glanced toward Jacob as she spoke, recognizing his interest on that point, "we should probably leave the Two-First - they got hit hardest - and send the Three-Second into the field; that gives us a full strength regiment. It’ll be light on support elements, though; with casualties, and what we need here, I don’t think we can put together more than a combined-arms battalion for deployment."

"That’ll be enough to work with,” Evan nodded, already working out tactical options. “Once we’ve got a better handle on things, and maybe some of our units on the way, we can start sending units back for rest and refit."

"The Duchess has spoken of paying for arms from the other side, so the Armoured Guard can be back to fighting shape more quickly," Jacob said, entering the conversation.  "With the way communications are on our side, we could have orders in place and on the way faster if they come through the portal."

"Arms from Wonderland."  Evan cracked a smile at that remark.  'The Looking Glass' is about as good a name as 'Weird Bollocks', I suppose. "Looking at their hardware I'm tempted myself.  Their 'Terran' stuff is as good as the Clans' and they're building a lot more of it.  And they'd probably be cheaper than the Sea Foxes."

"Better in some cases.  They don't have some of our specialized gear, from what I've seen, but for example, those extended range pulse lasers they've got are better than what we can get from the Foxes or anyone else making Clan gear." Jacob sighed. “I wish we could send some of the Armoured Guard with you; I know a lot of my people like the idea of getting payback, and I’ve already had to talk half a dozen of them out of trying to stow away with your people.”

Evan chuckled.  "Can’t fault them for fighting spirit, at least.” He turned serious, “Look, Kommandant, you tell them from me that I’ve, the Kell Hounds have, absolute faith in their ability to look after our support units. That ought to calm them down. As far as building back up goes, unless their Inner Sphere is completely alien to ours, there should be mercs on the other side who figure our C-Bills and kroner will spend as good as their pounds or marks or what-have-you.  Could at least buy the time and space to replace your losses."

"That's just the military side.  Think of how the Estates General and all the corporate boards are going to react.  More competition and more trade opportunities."

"And their side will act the same way.  Hell, imagine the two Defiances working together or getting into legal scraps.  Still…"  His low chuckle at that thought ended.  "We need 'Mechs, and they've got 'em, and that alone might turn the tide.  Even if there are problems later on, if this saves the Commonwealth… well, I'd say that's good enough for me."

"There's one thing we're going to have to settle before everything kicks off, Colonel." Nadia pointed out.  "We've got two Kell Hound regiments, and they're both the 1st, and they're both proud of being the 1st.  But we can't both be the 1st."

"No we cannot.  But I've got some ideas on that score…"

Even though they were likely a week from departure, minimum, Deirdre Ward had no intention of letting her Hounds stay resting on their laurels.  They'd had two weeks to unwind after the misjump and the fight; now it was time to get them honed and ready, and that couldn't be done on a DropShip.

Her 'Mech of choice, like many in the Kell Hounds, was the Mad Cat II, or rather, a variant license-built by Arc-Royal MechWorks dubbed the Warhound. She kept it at a firm pace with the rest of her command company, running it at over eighty kilometers an hour while firing simulated shots at enemy machines.  This lacked the accuracy of a proper simpod, but you didn't bring simpods into the field, and besides, it let her put her machine through its paces and make sure the Hound MechTechs got everything back into proper working order after one of those Falcon "Hellstar" 'Mechs blew one of the arms off and left the torso a molten mess.

The rest of 1st Battalion was coming along, running in company formations and practicing a large-scale maneuver.  The 8th Striker's 3rd Battalion moved along the flank, acting as their opponents and behaving like a screening force to corral them.  Ward kept her machines pressing.  'Mechs disappeared from the simulation, "defeated", their pilots instructed to start maneuver practice the moment they were down.  These Clans aren't an enemy to understate, we've got to be at our best.

The 3/8th Striker gave them the fight she was hoping, but as she'd expected, her Hounds triumphed, superior skill and some superior weight letting them press through to their objective.  She activated the AFRF wideband.  "Nicely fought, Colonel Olindo."

"You Hounds are something else," the Launum-accented voice replied.  "Save some of that for the Clans."

"Don't you worry about that," she laughed.  "Alright, Hounds, you did well today, I'll give you the rest of the night.  But I expect everyone to be ready for a full day exercise tomorrow."  The affirmations came company by company.  Tomorrow would be the whole regiment, too.

They returned to the 'Mech bays assigned the Hounds' 1st Battalion.  The black and red 'Mechs lined themselves back up in their bays, with Techs ready for the customary post-run checkovers.  By the time Ward released herself from her command couch, put away the coolant and biosensor cords, and shut the reactor down, a gantry lift was already in place at her primary hatch to let her out.  The Tech aboard saluted, giving her room to board, before promptly entering the cockpit himself to begin his duties.  Ward pressed a hand to the lift controls and lowered herself to the ground.

She was met by Colonel Fromm.  "You've got a visitor, sir," he said.  "Colonel Kell."  He gestured to where Kell was waiting by the 'Mech bay's office door, taking in the sight of all the machines docking in place for the night.

Without a word she walked up to him, neurohelmet secured under her left arm.  He greeted her with a nod.  "Colonel.  Mighty fine machine.  Although I'm still having trouble with your side building those things too."

"I suppose the idea of a Marauder with a Catapult's body is just one of those things a 'Mech design team would eventually get to," she offered.  "Our Kells build some mighty fine ones, too."

Timber Wolf A (Hill side by SU-SMD)

Mad Cat / Timber Wolf Heavy OmniMech

"The Wolves, our Wolves on Arc-Royal, still operate a production line in their enclave.  It's kind of their totem 'Mech, they call it the Timber Wolf."

"Huh.  We call our version the Warhound." Ward led him into the bay office.  Technically this was the abode of First Sergeant Wainwright, the lead MechTech for the 1st, but custom was the CO could borrow a corner when needed.  "So, I'm betting you're not here to talk 'Mechs."

"Nope.  I've been thinking about our little problem."

Fromm smirked slightly, which didn't match the wide, thinking smile Ward had.  "We can't have two 1st Kell Hounds, but we're all 1st Hounds, we won't give up that designation easily.  That about sum it up?"

"Just right," he said.  "So let's make this simple."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver coin.  It was marked with the numeral 50 with a woman on the face side and a Steiner fist on the reverse.  "Half-kroner," he noted.

She reached into one of her zipped suit pockets and pulled out a silver coin of about the same size.  The face side had a female likeness — Queen Mathilda Steiner-Brewer, wife of High King Ethan and once ruler of the Defiance-Hesperus Consolidant — with a "50" below the face.  The reverse had a larger 50 interposed over a crowned hawk.  "Half-pound," she noted in turn.  "So, your half-kroner or my half-quid?"

"I suggested, so yours."

"Alright.  You call, then.  Winner's regiment remains the 1st."  At his nod she tossed the coin in the air.


Her eyes widened in surprise in the seconds before the coin stuck the floor.  It landed on its reverse side, showing the likeness of the late Queen and Princess of Hesperus.  Instead of picking it up she stared at him in surprise.  "Whatever made you call that?"

"Bit of history on our side of the Glass, thought I might get lucky where they didn't."

Ward laughed.  "Ah, Kells.  No matter the world, you're all the same.  Well, my unit's the 1st, yours can be the 1B.  Less confusion, keeps your normal designation.  Only for comms, I wouldn't dream of having you repaint the designators on your machines."

"Generous of you, Colonel, and thanks.  My Hounds will appreciate it."  He noted the nearby board showing the maintenance schedules.  "Looks like you're running your people hard."

"Get some focus into them for the fights to come, can't practice so much on a DropShip, right?"

"Nope.  What say we mix it up?  Get our Hounds used to cooperating, and to the comm protocol we just settled?"

"Sounds like a plan, Colonel Kell," she replied, still suppressing laughter.  'Edge.'  This one'll be a story for the unit history for sure...

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