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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 47

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Meeting the Cousins[]

Political Pressures of War[]

Fort Carroll Military DropPort
Near Cirenholm, Aurum Continent
Timkovichi, Coventry Province
Lyran Commonwealth/Wolf Empire
28th March, 3143

The product of months of work, the new military DropPort at newly-redesignated Fort Carroll fitted the feeling of being a frontline facility, lacking the kind of dedicated terminals and such that the facilities on major worlds would have. Personnel and machines moved straight from ships to whatever hangers or barracks they were assigned to, and most of the pads were little more than collections of blast shields without even a supporting gantry. In the distance, the original field base formed by the Eighth Strikers and First Kell Hounds after their initial arrival was expanding via prefab construction to a more regularized military posting, worthy of its redesignation.

One of the few pads to have a readied gantry system, with all the vital elements it permitted without requiring colossal vehicle employment, now cradled the large artillery-topped orb of the AFS Hawk's Nest. An honor guard and military band were present, with Duchess-Regent Katarina and her young grandson Daniel, the Duke of Timkovichi, flanked by a smartly-dressed group of military commanders. As usual Evan Kell was present, joined by Jacob Tanhause, Deirdre Ward, and Ana Maria Laguna, with newly-arrived commanders from the other side joining them; Major General Fiona Cargill, the CO of the First Royal Lancers RCT wearing, in place of the standard cap, the black shako of the Lancers Corps, Major General Sir Patrick McKellan of the Second Donegal Cavalry, and Major General Keyshawn Bridger, CO of the Third Proctor Guards.

The band took up the chords of the Royal Federation anthem, "Pride of the Free", and as the stirring bars filled the air Nathaniel stepped down from Hawk's Nest, departing not from one of the bays but the lower port hatchway with lowered ramp. Gloved hands snapped salutes and the honor guards, pulled from the First Royal Lancers' Twenty-Sixth Royal Foot and the Third Proctor Guards' Seventh Royal Grenadiers, moved their ceremonial rifles smartly into place. Nathaniel initially planned simply to wear his uniform and let the Sword of Liberation and his rank insignia suffice for his rank, but pleading led to his grudging acceptance of wearing his platinum twin-banded tiara with the hawk sigil on the brow. Behind him came Archduke Ethan Kell, his immediate feudal subordinate, ruler of the Arc-Royal Federal March and Commanding Officer of the Kell Hounds Mercenary Brigade, the latter rank reflected by his choice of the traditional ceremonial dress of the Kell Hounds with half-cape and hound's head shape upon the jacket. He had the customary dark brown hair of the Kells and looked very much like a slightly-older cousin of Evan's.

Behind Archduke Kell, the newly-promoted General Sir DeMarcus Bridger descended, followed by Colonel Laughlin and the Chasseur-clad infantry of the Lifeguards. The latter moved into ceremonial defensive positions at Nathaniel's side as he approached the greeting party. Beyond, he noted, military jeeps were ready to carry them to their ultimate destination in the base.

Nathaniel replied to the salute of the welcoming party with one of his own, permitting them to lower their arms. He approached the elderly Duchess first and sketched a courtly bow. She was about the age of his own late grandmother Jacqueline, in mourning black that was more a widow's garment than a proper court dress, though the Lyran symbols on it were a clear concession to her political role. "Your Majesty, welcome to Timkovichi," she said, bowing more deeply in reply.

"Welcome, King Nathaniel," her grandson echoed, mimicking her bow after a moment of forgetfulness.

"Thank you for the greeting, Your Graces," he said. "My condolences for your losses in these terrible times."

"Thank you." Duchess Katarina's words were no mere courtly reply; there was genuine emotion in them, including a tinge of weariness that all of her courtly training failed to hold back. "In truth, we owe much to you and your people, Your Majesty. They have saved us twice from the fury of the Falcons, and are the only reason many of our people still live."

"I am proud of my soldiers for coming to your aid as they did, and for fighting for you. I wish we had done more to spare you the second invasion, and I will see to it your world is rebuilt to make good our failure." The reply to that was a wordless nod, at which point Nathaniel moved on to face the others. "Colonel Kell, Major Tanhause." He grinned sadly at them. "I have read much of the sacrifices of your men and women in defending this world, especially of your Timkovichi Armoured Guards Brigade, Major. I am honored to call you allies."

"Thank you, Majesty, mighty kind of you." Evan drawled, respectfully of course.

"On behalf of the Armored Guards, thank you, Your Majesty." Tanhause added.

"Your brigade is, I'm told, scarcely a battalion now from losses endured fighting the Falcons. While I am aware it will take you time to rebuild, I hope to hasten that. Among the ships that will come through the Glass in the coming weeks are cargo DropShips bearing 'Mechs, vehicles, and fighters for your brigade, and though you may not have the personnel to employ those units yet, I hope they will provide for your new recruits when they are ready."

"Thank you for your generosity."

"Your valor more than earned it." Nathaniel moved on to his commanders next, allowing for Evan to make the awkward first meeting with his "cousin from the other side".

"Majesty." Laguna made a slight courtly bow, while Ward nodded her head respectfully.

"Brigadier Laguna, Colonel Ward, you have done so much to defend the principles that House Proctor is sworn to uphold." He gave them each a firm handshake. "Your honors, Lady Ana, Colonel, are well-deserved, as are those of your troops."

"Thank you, Majesty," Laguna replied, Ward echoing her a moment later.

"I imagine your forces are ready to review back at the base?"

"They are. Representative companies, plus the survivors of the Timkovichi Armoured Guards."

"Well, let's not keep them waiting."

Nathaniel heard a burst of laughter beside him, as General Bridger clasped hand and arm with his younger brother Keyshawn. Aside from the elder DeMarcus having two more stars on his rank tab, the only difference between their AFRF dress uniforms was that Keyshawn's bore the unit patch of the Third Proctor Guards, depicting a sword with gold hawk wings on its hilt impaling a Kuritan black dragon.

"This way, Majesty." General Cargill said, taking charge of getting the proceedings going by leading him to an open-topped extended military jeep already carrying the royal hawk to show it was his personal vehicle. Without protest Nathaniel followed her lead. He took the middle seat, with the best view, wit Cargill, McKellan, and Major Tanhause piling in with him.

The convoy of open-topped vehicles took a few minutes to leave the DropPort and get to the main avenue, leading them to the expanded base parade grounds. Tall BattleMechs stood in columns, flanked by tanks, infantry carriers, and infanteers wearing their full armor suits, either the hulking forms of battle armor or the slimmer, streamlined power armor suits of under five hundred kilos. Some bore the proud orange sunhawk of the Eighth Strikers on their sky blue and white coloring. The brown and blue and silver of the First Royal Lancers showed proudly, as did the silver, gold, and red of the Third Proctor Guards' machines, the deep Steiner blue and verdant Donegal green of the Second Donegal Cavalry, and the red and black schemes of both variety of Kell Hounds. "Khan Patrik Fetladral could not stay?" Nathaniel inquired.

"No, Lady Trillian asked him to join her on her journey to Tharkad," General Cargill replied. "And most of his troops returned to Arc-Royal to ensure the planet is well-defended, should the Falcons abrogate the truce."

"Ah, I would have liked to meet him." With that question made Nathaniel turned his attention back to the review. He saluted the ranks of machines, many saluting at him first, and the soldiers arranged to show their units' readiness to follow him into the coming battles. I will be here two weeks before we start burning out to meet our JumpShips when they get to the jump points. I shall have a busy time it seems. I must visit the battle sites, the refugee camps, the cemeteries, and spend my nights with General Bridger and the others planning the movement of our armies to Tharkad and the Wolf front. It will be grueling, but I owe the people of Timkovichi my full attention to their suffering.

At the end of the parade ground, the members of the Timkovichi Armoured Guards stood in parade dress. Their infantry were like the militia Nathaniel saw in parades on Arcadia and Bolan, wearing unpowered battle kit instead of even a light power armor suit, carrying anti-personnel weapons that would have availed them little against the defenses of armored infantry, now brought to parade attention stance as his vehicle approached and their sergeants bellowed the appropriate order. Among their number were a handful of vehicles, the most significant in size being a large tracked tank armed with missiles and a binary laser cannon mounted to its turret, all painted in the Armoured Guards' parade colors of pale blue and gray, as were a restored AWS-8Q Awesome and another 'Mech Nathaniel didn't recognize; both wearing the scars where new metal had been welded to old. Their crews, few as they were, stood in parade column before their vehicles. As a brigade they would have numbered over a thousand before the Falcon invasion. Now I see just a few hundred, at best. The unit is all but extinguished between the two campaigns against the Falcons. I will see to it that their flame is reignited, and their valor remembered.

Seized by a sudden thought, he tapped the driver's shoulder and asked, quietly, "Stop for a moment." The driver did so with barely a glance, slowing to a stop and bringing the vehicles behind them to a stop as well. Nathaniel stepped from the jeep and stood at the roadside facing the survivors of Major Tanhause's forces. Wordlessly his arm snapped up into a salute, fingers straight and at his right temple, while he stood at attention.

As a unit, they responded with their own salutes.

His gesture done, Nathaniel returned to the jeep. As they pulled away, Tanhause spoke from his seat in the back. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

"Your people earned it, Major, in fire and in blood," Nathaniel said. "And on that matter, I need to speak with you about the ceremony. Brigadier Laguna as well."

From his seat, the elder Bridger brother grinned.

"Which ceremony?" asked Tanhause.

Nathaniel grinned softly in reply.

The Ceremony[]

Officers Dormitory Bravo
Fort Carroll Barracks
14th April, 3143

This was not supposed to happen.

Eva drew in a breath and glanced at her own image, reflected from the full mirror within her kit locker in the company's barracks dorm. For the first time since she graduated the Nagelring, she was wearing her full "dress reds"; the short term for her Ceremonial Dress Uniform, the most ornamental of the AFRF uniforms. The customary red tunic coat over a blue collarless dress shirt broadly resembled the "duty reds" and "formal reds" that she typically wore when not in her BDU cooling suit, though the material was richer in color and texture. The coat itself carried gold buttons in five rows of two down the middle, gold epaulets with tassels, double-looped silver aiguillettes on the shoulders for being an academy-graduated MechWarrior, and a high folded collar with her silver bar rank insignia as a Second Lieutenant present, as well as the stylized 'Mech outlined on silver on the right lapel that showed her current assignment as an active duty MechWarrior. The cuffs were blue bordered by gold with silver buttons, three on each cuff. In the place of the typical ceremonial dress cover she wore a broader version of her sky blue Striker beret with its attached unit patch of a sunhawk with raised wings. The trousers were red with blue trim, the belt holding them up a deep stygian black with golden hawk buckle.

An added touch was the blue Officer Sash, which went over the left shoulder down to the right side, marked with a gold-winged white hawk up near the left breast. Beneath this sigil, the sash bore the medals she'd won so far, the Military Cross of Valor and the Silver Wing.

Beneath the medals and the gold-embroidered edge of the sash, the "fruit salad" of her military ribbons were affixed in rows of four. She was still young enough that she didn't have too many ribbons. Nevertheless they'd doubled in the past six months, beyond the handful of ribbons indicating her specialized training and status as a graduate of the Nagelring. The AFRF's newest operational ribbon, specifically the Transglass Operations ribbon of blue and silver, was a new addition, plus the "blooded" ribbon of black and red and blue that told all she'd seen combat. Her sky blue and white "air drop" ribbon now displayed wings to show she'd actually been in a drop under fire, as did the sky blue and red and black ribbon that confirmed she'd endured an orbital drop under fire. The ribbons depicting her commendations were present as well. As a final touch, she wore a necklet bearing the Order of the Liberator medal she'd been issued along with every other Sunhawk to participate at Great X and Morges.

Well, here we go, she thought. Time to face the music.

She departed the dorm and enjoyed a ride from a waiting car from the motor pool, which brought her to the base auditorium. Another prefab structure, the auditorium was a multi-purpose structure, for everything from mandatory officer seminars to amateur theatrical and musical productions to military ceremonies. Upon entering the front doors she was intercepted by Kevin, likewise in his dress reds, who with a grin escorted her to a side room, empty save for unused chairs and a long basic table. "Everything is almost ready, Eva," he said. "Are ye ready for this?"

"No," Eva answered honestly. "It's… it's not something I should be…"

"It is, an' it'll be fine," Kevin assured her. "Just remember the training an' what ye were told and this'll be done. You've earned it."

No I didn't. I'm a fraud. She struggled with that feeling again, trying to press it away. Fraud or no, everyone else thinks differently, I guess this is just how it's going to be.

The door opened again. Tanhause entered, leading in Allison. Today they were in the elaborate blue dress uniform of the LCAF. While having a different color and alternate placements and rank insignia, altogether the LCAF Ceremonial Dress was quite similar to their dress reds, in spirit anyway. "Eva, good to see I'm not stuck in this alone," Allison said, a bemused grin on her face. "And that there's someone as nervous as I am here."

"So we're suffering together." Eva drew in a breath. Allison's uniform likewise bore new medals, approved before the second campaign for Timkovichi.

"Well, it is better than being shot at," Allison offered. "Marginally."

Eva laughed, cutting it short only as the door opened. One of the Lifeguard officers nodded. "It's time."

"See you after the ceremony, Leutnants," Tanhause said, bowing out of the room.

They followed and joined in with an escort of uniformed Lifeguards until they were back at the auditorium foyer, facing the doors. The Lifeguard moved into position beside the door. After several seconds, he nodded to them. "Begin."

Drawing in a breath to steel her nerves, Eva took her first firm step to the door, Allison at her side. Through the door, the main hall of the auditorium had been set up appropriately. Rows of chairs on raised rows flanked either side, providing a visitor's gallery for attending personnel, survivors of the Armoured Guards and Eva's own fellow Sunhawks in most of the seats. Soldiers of the Lifeguards' Armored Infantry stood in their power armor suits, their powerful gauss rifles at parade stance. To either side of the red carpet that lined the center of the room, a row of AFRF officers stood in their dress reds, ceremonial swords drawn and lowered, the pommels gripped by gloved hands and the points in front of and directly between the wielders' feet. Eva recognized General Bridger among their number, staring straight ahead at the officer across from him, an officer with black and gold aiguillettes: a naval officer.

Beyond these two rows, the other end of the carpet continued on to a low set of stairs going up onto a raised dais, where High King Nathaniel was seated in a high-backed chair. He was likewise in military uniform, and if not for his rank insignia, platinum crown, or the plethora of Order medals he wore due to being the ceremonial head of all the various Orders of the Royal Federation, he looked far more like Eva and Allison than he did the more senior officers present. He's only a few years older than me, Eva recalled.

A drum roll started, courtesy of the Lifeguard Band situated off to the side. Eva and Allison walked with the cadence guiding their steps, not quite a parade march, but certainly a martial, disciplined walk. As they approached the two lines of officers, the swords came up from the ground and rose into the air, each held at a forty-five degree angle over the gap between the two rows, and over the two young MechWarriors' heads as they passed by.

The steps came next. At the very top of said steps, about three paces from Nathaniel, they stopped and went down to one knee before him. The drum roll stopped. The swords went back down.

After a moment's silence, Nathaniel began speaking. "Lieutenant Penton, Leutnant Palisser, you stand before me today so that we might commemorate the courage you have repeatedly shown on the battlefield, defending the peoples of the Lyran Commonwealth against the enemies of humanity. You have both placed your lives in harm's way repeatedly and without hesitation, and through your valor, the peoples of Timkovichi were preserved from conquest, and the leaders of the Jade Falcon Clan brought low. Through your actions, you have both proven yourselves worthy of the highest admiration and esteem."

Nathaniel rose from his seat and stepped up towards them. A faint metal-on-metal scrape reached Eva's ears when he pulled the Sword of Liberation free from the scabbard and brought it up. "For your service to the Federation, and your commitment to the values that bind our peoples together—" as he spoke, Nathaniel pressed the flat of the blade to Eva's left shoulder, then brought it over to the right "—I name you, Evangeline Rosa Penton-Vallejo, a Knight of the Federation." He turned towards Allison next, and repeated the gesture, the blade going to Allison's left shoulder and then her right. "And for your service to the common cause of the Federation and the Lyran Commonwealth you call home, and your commitment to the values that bind our peoples and alliance together, I name you, Allison Stephanie Palisser, a Knight of the Federation. Rise, Dame Evangeline, Dame Allison."

They did so. Eva felt a tingle throughout her body at the moment. This… was not anything she'd ever intended on seeing in her life. She never expected she'd stay in service long enough to be knighted automatically by rank, no, she'd never be a knight… except now she was. Dame Evangeline. Mom and Dad are going to be thrilled. The whole family… I can't believe I'm here, I can't believe this has happened!

Nathaniel returned the Sword to its scabbard on his hip. Two yeoman, a young tan-skinned man and light-skinned woman, approached, the man holding four cases. Nathaniel took the first and opened it, revealing to Eva the medal within. It was a white disc set in a silver starburst, the disc depicting the sword-wielding image of St. Michael, the archangel. Nathaniel took the silver-gold-white ribbon of the medal and brought it up as Eva bowed her head. She felt it settle on her neck and brought her head back up, by which time Nathaniel was already opening the second case while the empty one was now in the hands of the female yeoman. Another medal depicting St. Michael came out, which Nathaniel immediately placed over Allison's neck. "You are both hereby to be known as Knights in the Order of Saint Michael," Nathaniel said. Once he'd relinquished the second case to the pair of yeomen, he brought out the third. Eva forced her expression to not shift as she beheld the medal's design, a silver hawk, wings spread and sword in its talons, over blue Greek Cross. "And for your service to the ideals of the Federation and House Proctor, I present you with the Order of the Sword and Hawk." He pinned the medal onto Eva's uniform sash, in a place of precedence over the two she already had. Likewise the fourth and final case came open and the same award was pinned to Allison's uniform.

It's almost over, Eva reminded herself. "Thank you, Your Majesty," she said aloud.

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Allison echoed, speaking as she would to her own Archon, Eva figured, though with less obvious nervousness than Eva felt she was projecting.

Nathaniel nodded to them. Another yeoman in full ceremonial dress approached, a light-complexioned woman wearing a uniform-regulation headscarf of blue on her head, carrying in her arms two officers' swords, the scabbards marked with a Federation hawk insignia. They accepted the swords and carefully fitted the scabbards to their uniform belts, Allison with an extra second or two of effort. Once this was done they bowed deeply to Nathaniel again. He bowed his head in acknowledgement and, nearby, the drums began to beat once more.

Turning on their heels, Eva and Allison went back the way they came, again passing under the raised swords of the other officers. They're all knights too, Eva realized. I guess I may be doing this one day. If I survive long enough.

On they went and out the door. Behind them the drums fell silent. The ceremony concluded.

Discussion Over Drinks[]

Half an hour later, the reception — or celebration, rather — was on in the officers' mess. Almost everyone present was in dress reds or Lyran dress uniform, and some truly choice food items and drinks were being served. Eva, never one to pass down a good drink, went for the Timbiqui Dark. "This is better on your side," she said, nodding to Allison. Tanhause and Kevin, as well as Captain Choudhury, were all in earshot as well.

"Now now, Eva, ye should be stickin' up for our side of the Glass more," Kevin teased. "Our Timbiqui Dark is quite fine."

"But not this good." Eva insisted.

"The Periphery Romans ruined it," Choudhury said. "It hasn't been the same since the legions conquered Timbiqui a hundred years ago."

"Sounds to me like you should take it back," Allison ventured.

"We Bolanese have been trying to talk the Arcadians into going for it for decades." Choudhury laughed like Eva had never heard her laugh before. "But nothing came of it."

Eva shook her head. "The Cappies kinda force us to work with the Flavians. And it might not even be that, you know. A lot is different, more than just who rules what."

"Well, at least we know there's something the Commonwealth can export through the Glass that'll earn some kroner." Tanhause took a swig. "Assuming the Mariks don't snatch the planet away while we're busy with the Wolves. You Sunhawks, I heard you might be going out that way?"

"Maybe, maybe not." confided Choudhury. "I'm operating on rumors myself. But me and the other company commanders, we're hearing all sorts of things. That we're going to Tharkad. That we're being sent down to help protect Hesperus, or to raid the Wolves' conquests among old League worlds. At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if we're told to go liberate Skye."

"Friend of mine says the Second Strikers are on their way to the Glass," Kevin added. "So any of that could be true."

"Except the bit about Skye." Tanhause shook his head. "Even if the truce with the Falcons don't hold, it'd be a complete pain in the ass sorting out if the Commonwealth reclaims them or the Republic gets them back, and honestly, we have enough enemies."

Allison finished her drink and laughed bitterly. "If the Republic wants Skye back, they can come out from behind their damned wall or whatever it is and take it. Stop leaving us to do all the fighting with the Falcons and the Wolves."

Eva took a quick drink while thinking about the subject. The Republic. I hear people talk about them, like they were some noble dream, or a bunch of fakes trying to control the Inner Sphere. Just like the Terrans did in our history. I wonder what's more true.

She didn't get a chance to ask as a sixth figure joined the quintet, filling an empty mug from the tap of the Timbiqui Dark barrel. All five sets of eyes widened at seeing High King Nathaniel carefully bring the mug up and take a respectably long swig. "Well, I guess the rumors are true," he murmured, though not so lowly they couldn't hear. He turned and nodded. "Your side's Timbiqui is the better one." Before any of them could speak he quickly added, "And please, no 'Your Majesty' or any other honorific. I'm just here casually enjoying a drink. 'King' or 'King Nathaniel' will do, if you must."

"King." Eva swallowed at saying the word. It wasn't like people didn't use the short form in their conversations of course, but it was generally not something you were supposed to do easily with the actual ruler in earshot. Not like he can tell us to completely drop titles though, that'd be patronizing, I guess? Forced? "King Nathaniel, it's an honor," she managed. "More than an honor, I… I can't believe you did this."

"Did what, Dame Evangeline? Or should it be 'Dame Eva'?"

"Eva works." She swallowed. "And that's what I mean. Medals, yeah, but you… I didn't do anything to deserve being a knight. I'm not some super MechWarrior ace protege. Khan Hazen's 'Mech was mostly a wreck when we finished her off, and I barely survived Chistu. If she hadn't been so close and I hadn't thought of using the jump jets, I'd be dead. Allison, sure, she deserves it, but I—"

"—you faced an enemy you had every right to assume was going to kill you, and you fought anyway." Nathaniel said, finishing her sentence. "That's pretty much what we want in Knights of the Federation, Dame Eva."

"'Eva', please, just 'Eva'." she pleaded. "And, what you're saying, it's what everyone tells me, but you're making me a legend, a hero, and I'm not worthy of it. I didn't win some epic, glorious duel. I fought, I lost mostly, then I won anyway because I tried something desperate."

"Which describes plenty of those 'epic, glorious duels', Eva, when you get down to it." A smile formed on the young ruler's face. "It's not what legends are made of, I agree. But that's not the purpose of honors. It's about inspiring others to reach for the same." Eva felt a warmth flowing from his words, his voice rich with encouragement. "And that's what you're becoming, Eva, Dame Allison. Inspiration. Whatever the truth of the victories of Lieutenant Evangeline Penton-Vallejo and Leutnant Allison Palisser, for billions of people on both sides of the Glass, you are and always will be the heroines who brought down the mad Falcon Khan Malvina Hazen and who saved Timkovichi from conquest by slaying Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu in a duel to the death. The honors you've been given add substance to these stories. Hearing what you've done, and what you've become, will warm the hearts of others against the chill of fear and encourage ever greater heroism from those facing the same trials."

"Well spoken, King Nathaniel," Tanhause said.

"Thank you, Major." He looked beyond them towards the door. Eva noted an officer was there, looking about impatiently. "And I believe I have given this all the time I can. I still have much to do before I'm due to leave for Tharkad. A pleasure to have met you all." He took a final swig from his mug, a fairly long one, before placing the empty container on a nearby tray of the same and walking away.

When he was out of earshot, Allison chuckled. "Well, I've never seen an Archon chug a Timbiqui Dark like that, I always figured nobles had to settle for wine or something toshy. Still seems unfair to us that you've got so much going for you, even if our Timbiqui Dark is better."

Eva nodded. Even though he'd stepped away, she felt his words stir within her. More than the honors he'd given her in the ceremony, those words, the kind way he'd addressed her and her feelings, that made her feel a newfound, burning loyalty for the man. Beyond the ceremonial role he had as Commanding Officer of the AFRF, even beyond his being the High King of the Federation, she felt a loyalty of admiration that she'd never felt before. "He really is something," she managed to say. "He's our ruler, but I don't think I've ever really imagined being willing to follow him anywhere. Not until now."

"Well, before you consider asking for a spot in the Lifeguards, I'm afraid we've already got orders for you," Choudhury said. When Eva directed her attention towards Choudhury, the captain continued speaking. "Whatever happens with the Eighth Striker, you're on detached duty, aide officer to a liaison command to Arc-Royal and our allied Wolves. You're shipping out in a couple weeks."

"Well, congratulations, Dame Eva," Kevin said, his voice teasing. "Not even a full noble yet and they're already packin' ye off to a cushy desk job."

"I'll be back, don't you worry," Eva said. "The war's far from over."

"Not until we've driven the enemy from the Commonwealth." Allison agreed.

AFS Hawk's Nest
Departing Orbit
25th April, 3143

The steady thrust of the Hawk's Nest's powerful fusion engine provided the G of acceleration that allowed everyone to move aboard the ship as if they were under gravity. Nathaniel enjoyed the benefit of feeling like he was still planetside, knowing that once they were at the jump point he had five weeks, at least, of zero-G living ahead.

At the heart of the ship's upper decks, within a protected inner core, the command center permitted the combined data for both ground combat direction and overseeing spaceflight. The ship's CO, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Rutherford, saluted Nathaniel on his arrival. "His Majesty is on deck!" the bosun declared, prompting a host of officers and personnel to rise and salute.

"At ease," Nathaniel called out. "I'm just here to observe." He stepped up beside Rutherford, accompanied by General Bridger and Colonel Laughlin. "So, we're on our way," he said. "It's good to know Timkovichi's well-protected."

Bridger nodded. "The First Lancers and Second Donegal Cavalry make for a strong pair of units, and with our Kell Hounds on planet as well, the Falcons would find it a hard target indeed." He grinned with amusement. "God help them if they try something while the other Household Guards units are coming through."

"And with Fourth Battle Fleet on site should they bring their WarShips again, the planet will remain secure." Nathaniel noted that AFS Donegal and her powerful naval force were making another round of the system, monitoring the pirate points. One of the holo-displays, showing the whole system, indicated the armored cruiser Sara Proctor was still burning around on outer patrol, in position to protect the outgoing JumpShips that were slowly decelerating towards the zenith point, several groups in total that had passed through the Glass with their units. As their JumpShips approached the system jump point those units would likewise depart Timkovichi for the rendezvous. Another display represented the large formation of DropShips in company with Hawk's Nest, carrying the rest of the Lifeguards with the Second and Third Proctor Guards, and the Arcadian Rangers, as well as an escort fleet of fleet pickets, support pickets, and carriers, enough firepower to give all but the larger WarShips reason to stay out of engagement range. If they chose not to, and the Wolf WarShip fleet was larger than expected, they would call upon the firepower of the Sara Proctor, which would be accompanying him as well along with Cuchulainn and the corvettes Wolfhound and Dobermann.

So this final leg of the journey begins. I can only pray we reach Tharkad before the Wolves, and that our initial wave is strong enough to turn the tide. But by God, whatever happens, we will prevail in the end. The peoples of these worlds will be free of these Godforsaken Clans!

"Hopefully things will be arranged before we get there, I would hate to spook our own allies with an unexpected arrival." Laughlin remarked, humor in his soft Islay burr.

Nathaniel nodded. "I do as well, the sooner things are readied, the better we will be when the Wolves make their arrival." I hope your homecoming has gone well, Lady Trillian, and your rightful Archon has been restored. Otherwise things will become very messy I fear. God be with you…

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