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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 14

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Reflective Moments[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Your Highness, General Maurer is here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A reasonable choice, Archon."

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

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

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

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

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

"Even your Hesperan Guards?"

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

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

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

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

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

Fevered Dreams[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatchetman (In City Combat - HBS BattleTech version)

Hatchetman Medium 'Mech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"In a way."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the Looking Glass[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, it was." Trillian agreed.

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

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

"Doing so."

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

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

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