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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 7[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

Book 2


Deep Space Meeting[]

Deep Periphery
10th May, 3019


Jaime was nursing skinned knuckles when he sat down with Kerlin Ward to review his reports. The Clan Council had insisted on sending a few members along with the Khan to meet the Dragoons, and one ristar of Kerlin’s own bloodhouse had made pointed comments about them being ‘former’ warriors.

Officially, the next couple of minutes or so of the meeting had been retroactively declared to be ‘deferred Trials of Position’ that confirmed the three Dragoons present as still having warrior status within the Clan. The young Ward would be missing the rest of the debriefings thanks to Natasha and a concussion, while Jaime had been happily punching Gregor Vickers in the face.

Since Gregor’s genemother was Jaime’s father (a statement that would have raised eyebrows in the Inner Sphere), Jaime would normally have cut him a little slack, but the surat had commented on Joshua’s absence favorably.

It hadn’t gone entirely the Dragoon’s way, and poor Jeremy Ellman was in the medbay with a concussion of his own… but as the saying went, you should see the other guy!

“I am glad to see that your skills have not atrophied.” Kerlin sat neatly at one end of the curved couch that filled a small niche in the cruiser he’d brought to carry the Dragoons’ replacement equipment. “But that’s not why we are here. I have had a quick look through the data you have brought back and a couple of things stood out.”

Natasha was sprawled opposite the Khan, leaving Jaime stuck between the two of them. Which was accurate to the chain of command, he supposed. “Just a couple of things?”

“Your previous reports indicated that the Successor States were at a point of technological regression. Barely able to keep their remaining factories building new weapons for the Succession Wars, but now you report they are building new factories. Are the Lyrans so very different from the Suns?”

“In some ways, yes.” Jaime admitted, speaking carefully to avoid the contractions he was used to from the Inner Sphere. “They lucked into finding an old Star League library but the Steiners seized that opportunity and they’re running for it with everything they have.”

The Khan frowned. “That could alarm some of the Grand Council. How much of a technological leap are they making?”

Jaime hesitated. How do you even measure that? “I don’t believe they are building large quantities of anything particularly more advanced than they were already,” he said at last. “Or, if they are, it is well hidden.”

“Which is possible,” Natasha interjected. “They hid that library’s existence for years. It’s a cunning strategy that we could learn from Kerlin: no one launches Trials of Possession for things that they don’t know exist.” She evidently didn’t care if someone was offended by her contractions - or perhaps she hoped that someone would be.

If so, Kerlin disappointed her. “Thank you, Natasha. I would have never thought of that. So what are they building?”

“As far as I can tell, the Lyran focus has been to build more of what they currently maintain. They have a small force - the Royal Guards, think of them as the equivalent of Alpha Galaxy - that has some Star League equipment but they’re deployed sparingly - probably because they cannot replace anything they lose yet. Even munitions and armor have to come out of carefully hoarded stockpiles.”

“You can believe they want to change that,” Natasha added. “Freddie Steiner would love to use the Royal Guards more. They ripped right through some of the Combine’s best once he turned them loose. But he’s focused on parts to keep other regiments fully active. Figures it’s a better investment to have five good regiments than one great regiment, according to his aide.”

Kerlin nodded in understanding. “So these Dervishes you received were not Star League models?”

Dervish Mech (Farseer Animation version)

Dervish Medium 'Mech

“No. They are basically the same models currently built on New Avalon, but previously that was the only factory left for the ‘mech in the Inner Sphere. The Dervish was originally designed by the Lyrans and now they’re building them again. As Natasha said, House Steiner seems to think that building a few advanced ‘mechs is not as useful as building a lot of simpler models.”

“At times they seem much like us.” Ward said in a contemplative tone. “This Frederick Steiner seems almost as if he is saKhan to the Archon’s Khan… but then they elect to throw numbers at their enemies rather than quality. The logistics must be boggling.”

"They are surprisingly good at logistics. Centuries of practice,” Jaime admitted. “The current Steiners are a capable combination. Katrina, Frederick, and Nondi are all capable generals, and they’re backed by a powerful resource base. When we arrived, the Lyrans had arguably the least effective military out of the Successor States, but right now I’d place them a solid third - and they’re still getting better.” If the invasion takes place, the Lyrans won’t be a pushover. I’m not sure they’d win, but they wouldn’t collapse at the first encounter with the Clans, he thought.

“There’s something I didn’t include in the report.” Natasha reported in a more subdued tone than usual.

Kerlin noted that and looked at her. “Holding information back?”

“I’m telling you. Whether you pass it on to the Grand Council is up to you.”

Jaime knew what she was going to say so he watched Kerlin for the reaction.

“Frederick Steiner’s aide, a guy called Mustermann, told me a story about some colonies in the periphery that got overrun by a barbarian horde. He was pretty disgusted, claimed they wiped out ninety percent of the population.”

The khan leant forwards. “A threat to the Inner Sphere? If there was some outside enemy we could focus the Grand Council on it would keep them from -”

Natasha shook her head. “Kerlin, he was talking about the Clans! The Cloud Cobras, to be specific.”

Kerlin Ward froze and his gaze locked onto Natasha like gunsights. “...he knew about the Clans?”

“Not in as much detail, he doesn’t know a lot of details, but I think he’s talking about the Tanite worlds. But my point is: In his view, the Cobras’ are utterly repellent. He drew comparisons to some of the worst atrocities of the Succession Wars and he’s not wrong.”

The Wolf Clan leader’s eyes narrowed. “The Cloud Cobras report the Tanite worlds as pacified… but they’re still sharing access to their resources with Clan Burrock. My understanding was that they were still paying off the contracted aid they received when they took over, but they’ve not reported anything along the lines of mass-slaughter.”

“They hardly would.”

“True.” The Khan shook his head. “You were right to keep that out of the reports. I will dig up what I can, but the Cobras are a Warden clan. I do not want to alienate them.”

“If you can prove it,” Jaime told him, “It will be evidence of the challenges posed by invading the Inner Sphere. Whatever difficulties the Cloud Cobras faced with just three worlds, multiply by a hundred times as many worlds for just one Successor State. And, even if we win, can you imagine that level of bloodshed across the entire Inner Sphere? It’d be an unprecedented bloodbath.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” Kerlin shook his head. “So the Cloud Cobras may have committed atrocities, word of them has reached the Inner Sphere and the Successor States are beginning to recover its lost technology. Can today get any worse?”

Jaime reached into his pocket and pulled out a data disc, sliding it across the table to Kerlin in mute reply.

The older man eyed it as if it was a poisonous reptile. “What is this?”

“When Katrina Steiner met me on Dieron and gave us some artifacts the Goliath Scorpions will be interested in - long story, it’s in the report - she gave me this.”

Kerlin picked it up. “And?”

“Play it.”

After a brief moment of hesitation, the Khan opened a panel built into the table and activated a holo-projector, inserting the data disc into the appropriate slot.

With a flicker, Katrina Steiner sprang to life above the table - facing away from Kerlin unfortunately, but a quick adjustment of the controls turned to hologram to face the Khan. The Archon sat upon her throne, wearing a uniform stripped of all rank and distinction.

<<“Greetings,” she said once the recording resumed. “I am Archon Katrina Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth. I have entrusted this message to Jaime Wolf, to relay to the rulers of his people.”>>

“Unity…” the Khan of Clan Wolf murmured.

<<“Our peoples have evidently been divided by more than two centuries. My ancestors include those whose recklessness brought down the Star League. Yours, I believe, are among those who fled that holocaust. But we are not our ancestors and you are not yours. Neither of us cannot bear the blame for our forebear’s actions, what we have is the responsibility to do better. You have reached out to learn of us and I shall trust that Colonel Wolf and his people are reporting accurately, whether that is to my people’s credit or not.”>>

<<“As you have approached us, I now approach you with an offer: make open contact with us. I recognize that you must have concerns of being drawn into the conflicts that continue between the five Great Houses, but I do not ask that you take sides. I would welcome an ambassador from you, and I would use such influence as I can to introduce ambassadors to the other great lords, or to ComStar who may be able to play a more neutral role.”>>

<<“The Succession Wars were begun over the right to lead to the Star League and have proven simply that none of those claiming the title of First Lord are worthy of it. If you regard a reunited Star League as a threat to you, I can honestly say it is not a likely prospect. If you view it as desirable, then I regret to say that I cannot offer hope of the old Star League - but it is possible that a new Star League or something similar can be created. The means to this is communication, and I invite you to make this communication two-way.”>>

<<And then those gray eyes grew steely. “And if you are not inclined towards doing so, please be aware that future efforts to spy upon my people will be combated to the extent of my abilities. I am offering my friendship, but if you prefer enmity then I will meet you in kind.”>.

The recording cut out.

“She is impressive, quiaff?” Natasha had an impish look in her eyes.

Aff. If she was of Bloodhouse Steiner, I would want her as a bondsman.” Kerlin concluded. “Clan Wolf would profit greatly if we had such a leader. But she is not one of those Steiners, she is heir to one of those that betrayed the Great Father and shattered the Star League. There might be a handful of Khans on the Grand Council who could look past that. A star’s worth, perhaps. No more.”

“That is my own thinking,” Jaime admitted. “I did include this in the report but I was careful to mention it only in one paragraph. Easily removed if you see fit.”

“I do.” Kerlin ejected the data disc and snapped it decisively. “It speaks well of the Successor Lords that they can still produce a leader who can send such a message, but the time has not come for open communication with any of the Successor States.”

Jaime nodded in understanding. “Alright. So we keep to the plan and take service with House Kurita. After we’ve finished our circle of the Inner Sphere, I’m guessing you don’t want us to come back. We’ve hundreds of recruits from the Inner Sphere.”

Kerlin sat back and looked Jaime in the eyes for a long moment. “I have new orders for you.”

Natasha stretched. “What next? Invade Terra? ComStar’s security is a joke.”

“No. I want you to prepare the Inner Sphere for invasion.”

The redhead sat up straight, causing Jaime’s adrenaline to spike. “You what? When did you go Crusader?”

Kerlin gave her a puzzled look and then shook his head. “Not prepare them to fall, Natasha. Prepare them to resist an invasion. I think your mission has bought us time for the issue to fall out of active consideration but sooner or later someone will bring it up again. And we have to win every vote, while the Crusaders only need to win once.”

“...you realize this is treason, quiaff?”

“Technically, you have not been ordered not to help the Inner Sphere recover from the damage they have done to themselves. Otherwise your previous evaluations for their new ‘mechs and aerospace fighters would be suspect, not to mention training up Lyran troops. Just continue doing that and do not plan on any further resupply.”

Jaime frowned in thought. “But we are under orders not to tell anyone about the Clans.”

“Yes. So long as the Clans do not make open contact, that order would remain valid. I will leave it up to you how you deal with that.” Kerlin looked tired. “Jaime, Natasha… I probably will not be Khan for another five years. I have groomed a successor, but you know that such things depend as much on luck as skill. I cannot be sure that your next report will be edited sufficiently to avoid giving the Crusaders a cause. So there must be no report.”

“We’re on our own.” Jaime concluded.

“I entrust the Inner Sphere - the Star League, such as it is - to you.” Kerlin smiled wearily. “It is in good hands, quiaff?”


Water Cooler Talk[]

Fortress Dieron, Dieron
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
5th July, 3019

A thousand years on, Max thought. And people still endure cubicle farms. What a bizarre universe!

The official governor’s mansion was a painstaking reconstruction of a sixteenth century Japanese castle. Frederick had deemed it ridiculous and since Max couldn’t even pronounce the name, he’d supported relocating the Lyran administration to an office building in the city. The security detail had been happy too: they weren’t at all confident that there weren’t any secret passages that would let ISF assassins into the castle.

As a result, the only difference between the room used by the Lyran administrative staff and those used by commercial firms in the same city was that the number of people per cubicle was rather smaller.

Frederick, of course, had his own spacious office at the end of the room furthest from the windows and adjacent to such conveniences as the coffee machine and the conference rooms. “Is that the shipping schedule?” he asked as Max entered. “We’ve run our spare parts down lower than I like.”

Max tossed the folder he was carrying onto the desk. “No, it’s a report on human rights violations in the central business district.”

“What?”

“Apparently the normal density of people in an office like this is four times higher than what we’re operating on.”

“I had to get a special exemption for workers' conditions on grounds of security concerns before we could move in. I’m not mis-remembering that?” Frederick asked warily. “It wasn’t some dreadful bureaucratic nightmare?”

“It was certainly a nightmare but it also happened. And yet…”

“Four times as many? They must have air conditioning to rival a ‘mech cockpit!”, Frederick explaimed

Max shook his head. “They don’t.” He took a seat facing Frederick. “I’m joking about human rights violation citations, fortunately. But there will probably be a note about what the locals consider normal working conditions coming in the near future because I’m not kidding about how they pack four people to a cubicle. The building admin asked me where the rest of your staff were.”

Frederick buried his face in his hands. “I did not join the LCAF to be buried in red tape about worker’s regs!”

“To be fair, land prices on Dieron are insane. Between the mountains and the necessary agricultural lands, there’s not that much left for everything else.”

Tharkad’s ice fields and Duran’s deserts have about the same effect, it should not be this bad. And yes, yes. I know Dieron has more people than Duran - but it’s not as heavily populated as Tharkad!”

“Want me to get an analyst on that?”

The duke nodded. “Do it.” He opened the folder Max had brought. “Ah, Bowie and Coventry reports?”

“Looks like things are going well.” her said

“So instead of a bureaucrat, I get to play at being a business mogul. How long before I can get in my ‘mech again?”

“As the military governor, you can do that whenever you want,” Max told him, before ruthlessly adding: “But the paperwork will be here, waiting for you, piling up.”

“Oh god.”

“There’s a scheduled exercise at the weekend for your command company.” the older man admitted kindheartedly. He didn’t want Frederick to try taking a running jump out of the window at the far end of the outer office. The glass was rated against light military weapons, so the burly officer was unlikely to actually make a successful swan dive out into the twenty storey drop, but he might still hospitalize himself from the impact. “Something to look forward to.”

“Very much so.” Frederick spread out the reports. “Ah, the Bradfords are going ahead with Project Guillotine.”

Commando (MWO Style by Ra-ul)

Commando Light 'Mech

Max nodded. “Doctor Banzai patched up a damaged Commando on Altair and sent data to Coventry. It seems to have sold them on completing the new Valkyrie production line to include full-head ejection, and they’ve authorized design work on amending the Commando to alter that as well if the Valkyrie works out.”

“Nothing about doing the same for their Phoenix Hawks?” Frederick rubbed the scar on his forehead.

Max remembered that it was ejecting from a Phoenix Hawk that caused the scar. “Not yet. They’re prioritizing the more fragile light ‘mechs for now.”

“It’s a step in the right direction.” Frederick brushed them aside. “And Bowie? They’re the new money-maker, since I haven’t managed to get shares in CMW.”

“Well, you have a few.”

Swordsman (SWD-3A)

Swordman Medium 'Mech - Variant pictured

“A few fractions of a percent.” The duke snorted dismissively. “But I guess with a firm that’s so well-established, not many people who own the shares will be willing to give them up. Anyway… oho! Swordsman prototypes are in testing. Now I wish I was doing that, not sitting behind a desk six days a week.”

Max picked up the Coventry papers and started sorting them back out to file in Frederick’s cabinet. “Without the desk work, there’s no new Valkyries on Coventry, no new Swordsmen… and the Dervishes we’re expecting wouldn’t be coming off the production lines on Furillo.”

There was a ping from Frederick’s desk and he reached over, stabbing the comm panel. “Yes?”

“General, you have an unscheduled visitor.”

Frederick rolled his eyes. “Who is it?” Max knew that as Dieron settled down, more and more of the locals had tried to create connections with the military governor. This wouldn’t be the first one to try to catch him in the office.

“General Green-Davion of the AFFS, sir.”

The general’s face brightened visibly. “I…” He glanced at Max, almost asking permission.

The older man leant over and spoke up so the microphone could hear him. “Send her up.”

Frederick stabbed the button to cut the channel. “What are you up to, Max?”

“Do you have some reason not to meet her?”
“No!” Hesitation. “I just… haven’t met her professionally.”

“I understand it’s awkward to let her know that you’re also a general, but I think she’ll cope with the shock.” Max told him drily. “Do you have any idea what she wants?”

“I doubt it’s to come dancing.”, Frederick commented

“Although that could be arranged…” He trailed off teasingly.

“Probably not around here.” Frederick grumbled.

“There’s an Officer’s Club. Just say the word and I’ll set up a night of dancing.”

“Since when is it your job to manage my social life?”

Max smirked. “3007, wasn’t it? That’s when you hired me.”

“Max. Shut the hell up.”, Frederick told him

He gave his employer a casual salute and picked up the papers from Bowie. “I’ll file this away and get out of your way. No need to be a third wheel.”

Exiting into the outer office once he’d put the papers away, Max saw the elevator doors open, admitting the golden head and dark green uniform of Nelitha Green-Davion. Her expression brightened noticeably when she recognized him, but he was pretty sure that it wasn’t for his sake.

Well, there was no need for him to try to avoid her. “Welcome to Dieron. General Steiner is waiting for you.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Max.” Nelitha told him, but there was a spring in her step as she headed for the office and Max had to make a point of not watching her walk away. A couple of the staff were not so scrupulous and he glared at them, feeling like a hypocrite.

His own desk wasn’t far away and Max opened up his terminal to filter through invitations. And possibly to discreetly notify the Officer’s Club that an event with ballroom dancing would be appropriate to schedule in the next week.

A ping on his own console alerted him to an incoming call, although not from Frederick’s desk - so alas it would not be instructions to find an excuse for the two generals to socialize.

“Mustermann,” he confirmed after accepting the call, which seemed to be from Fortress Dieron’s command center.

“Baron, we need to get the General on the comms and he’s put his comm on divert.”

…Frederick never set his comm to divert. Or at least, not in Max’s experience. Maybe it was a mistake, or maybe the conversation was getting too personal. Hope sprang eternal.

“What’s up?” he asked, hoping it would turn out to be something he could field himself, or defer until later.

Fifteen seconds later, to the astonishment of everyone in the office, Max dashed over to Frederick’s door and kicked it wide open. (If it had been locked, that would have probably broken several of his toes).

“What the hell?” Frederick exclaimed. He was fully dressed, fortunately or unfortunately, but he and Nelitha were sitting side-by-side and going through one of the case files listing available data from New Dallas. It looked like the Taurian directory, from the bulls head at the top of the page.

“Astrotraffic report almost a hundred JumpShips arriving at the Zenith Point,” Max told them grimly. “Nothing that’s scheduled so the best guess is Takashi wants his castle back.”


Enter the Dragon[]

Fortress Dieron, Dieron
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
17th July, 3019

Frederick Steiner braced one foot of his Zeus and slammed the other into the head of the Panther running up the ramp that the Lyran was covering.

Panther (In Woods - Blender Game)

Panther Light 'Mech

It was a savage move, but the repairs to Fortress Dieron were barely begun. Barely a dozen of the hundreds of turrets that should have been adding their fire to the defense were ready for use. The light ‘mech went down like a sack of potatoes, the head module torn half-way off the shoulders. It was possible the mechwarrior inside was alive but Frederick wouldn’t bet on it. And even if the samurai had survived, he’d not be doing anything with the ‘mech until it was repaired.

A hail of fire came up the ramp but stood to the side of it, the Zeus was a hard target to hit.

Frederick stuck his autocannon over and fired down at the ‘mechs below. Only for demonstration purposes, because he’d been dealing with insurgents and the weapon was loaded with anti-infantry flechettes that wouldn’t do much against ‘mech armor.

“‘A general should not be on the frontlines’,” he muttered, quoting Max. “Well, if we weren’t spread so thin...” He wasn’t even sure where his secretary was right now.

The Combine landings had coincided - not that it would be in any way coincidental - with ISF cells going live and leading uprisings in every city on Dieron. None of them had stood a chance against frontline forces, but that wasn’t the point. Frederick had needed to divert resources to rescue administrators and collaborators, which killed any plans to try intercepting the initial DCMS landing zones. And then commando raids had been launched on military bases, sometimes from inside the perimeter.

At least the chances were good that the ISF elements on Dieron had mostly shot their bolt, he thought.

“This is Sledgehammer Actual. I’ve encountered DCMS elements at Ramp Seven-Zero-One.” He paused and checked the unit markings, which were DCMS standard not the stylized paw of Brion’s Legion. “Looks like the Head-takers.” The Twenty-Fourth Dieron Regulars’ official nickname translated as ‘Collectors of Heads’ or ‘Head-takers’.

“Confirmed, Sledgehammer Actual.” Tim Hickson, now Colonel of the Seventh Regulars, sounded calm. “We’re tangling with both their battalions, but the Regulars have punched past the front line.”

Banshee (Blender Version by Pickledtezcat)

Banshee

BattleMaster (Firing on the Cargo Docks - MWO version)

BattleMaster in Combat

The ramp wasn’t inside Fortress Dieron itself, it was part of the outer works - an access route up one of the two hundred meter barriers that made the stronghold so formidable from this direction. Two of Frederick’s lance-mates caught up at last - Laws’ Battlemaster and Robins’ Banshee. They’d arrived just in time. A pair of Jenners fired their jump jets to get up to Frederick’s position without using the ramp.

Jenner Light BattleMech (Farseer Animation)

Jenner Light 'Mech

The two Lyran mechs opened up on the leftmost Jenner, slapping it with two PPCs and ripping off one arm and one leg. The Jenner crashed into the ground.

Meanwhile, Frederick turned to track the rightmost Jenner and fired the Zeus’ lasers into the dead center of the target, carving away plates of armor but not quite penetrating.

Then he turned and took its return fire against the left arm of his Zeus, while he kicked the other Jenner down the ramp.

Zeus (Firing on Rolling HIlls)

Zeus Assault 'Mech

Robins was now in range with his own lasers and the remaining Jenner was the lucky recipient before it could start running and become a harder target. Six medium lasers ripped multiple holes in the light ‘mech’s protection and a follow-up salvo of SRMs exploited those openings.

The Jenner exploded as its own missile storage was struck. The mechwarrior was hurled skywards by his ejection seat and an instant later, Frederick was rocked against his restraints by the blast.

Laws moved up to the ramp and fired his PPC down into the fallen Jenner. “It’s not going anywhere.” he reported, stepping back to avoid return fire from further down.

“Nor are we,” Frederick muttered. “Screwdriver, this is Sledgehammer Actual, I have a target for artillery.”

“Sledgehammer Actual, this is Screwdriver.” The artillery commander sounded apologetic. “I’m sorry sir, we’ve had to pull the guns back under cover - the Regulars have reached our firing positions.”

Frederick drew his teeth back, but before he could say anything more, another voice cut in.

“Sledgehammer Actual, this is Dancer.” Nelitha sounded cool and confident, like a drink of fresh water. Task Force Castellan is deploying. If you can hold five minutes, you can have priority for their first firing mission.”

“That’s welcome news, Dancer. I appreciate the assistance.” Frederick replied

“Shuffling resources is what I do, Sledgehammer.” There was a click as she left the channel.

“Quite the lady.” Laws said lightly.

Frederick glared at the skull-headed Banshee. “Focus on the ramp,” he snapped, not entirely sure why a compliment for his friend was so irritating. “We still need those five minutes.”

Outnumbered three to one, the Lyran forces had concentrated on holding the Sükhbaatar Valley. With the two mountain ranges shielding it, they could control the entrances and use their interior lines of communication to buy time. The moment news of the invasion was sent, reinforcements had been scrambled to help hold onto Dieron. Task Force Castellan was only one of four different forces that had arrived via one of the proximity points formed by Dieron’s moons.

A half-dozen jumpships would be stuck waiting for the transient points to be usable to depart, something that might take longer than charging their drives, but they’d arrived within twenty-four hours of the first DCMS landing and their dropships were coming down right as the main forces began to pincer Sükhbaatar Valley.

Right now Pete Steiner and the Fourth Royal Guards were holding San Martin against the Twenty-Seventh Dieron Regulars, and reports were that the other Dieron Regulars unit was deploying ‘mechs refitted with SLDF grade weapons - Jenners with pulse lasers, Dragons with ultra autocannon and Panthers with extended range PPCs.

I need to ask Max where they found that, he thought. Hell, I hope he’s okay.

The northern mountains were also under pressure but rather than scatter his ‘mech forces further, Frederick had assigned the passes to armored brigades. It made him nervous but so far they only reported encountering probing attacks from the Ninth Sun Zhang Cadre. Even so, he’d prioritized them for the fresh troops.

Win in the north, he thought. Crush the cadets, wheel and take the Twenty-Seventh in the flank. That’ll leave me two or three regiments free to pincer the Twenty-Fourth and Brion’s Legion. It would be nice if the DCMS would cooperate and make this easy for me.

They wouldn’t though. Aggressive as they were, the Combine wouldn’t press attacks on fortified positions if they weren’t winning. They’ll pull back, secure the rest of the planet and force me to come after them - right before they throw their reserves in. They’ve got a couple more regiments I haven’t seen yet - I’d have thought the north would see more than just a Cadet Cadre.

“Where’s Sledgehammer Three?” he asked Robins.

“Her Archer’s leg is toast and she shot her missiles dry,” the mechwarrior reported. “The techs don’t have the knee actuators they’d need and it’d take hours to fit if they did, so she’s limping back to reload and find somewhere she can give fire support from.”

A heavy ‘mech reduced to a turret, Frederick thought. Archer actuators shouldn’t be that hard to come by but getting the forces that had taken Dieron repaired had run down stocks of parts. Some were sufficient, others not so much. Task Force Liberty is bringing parts from Addicks,” he answered. “Prince Davion’s appreciation for our taking Dieron.”

More accurately Nelitha’s generosity. Hanse Davion had apparently authorized her to offer anything at his command in apology for revealing the Lyran’s technological advantage and when she learned how short the Dieron garrison was of parts, she’d sent an HPG to the AFFS depot three jumps away. Task Force Liberty was the result: two Mammoth-class freighters with an aerospace carrier to escort them, carrying a wishlist of supplies. Tens of thousands of tons of vitally needed parts and consumables.

“Sledgehammer Actual,” a voice cut onto his channel. A Skye accent, not quite suppressed by an attempt at crisp Tharkadian English. “This is Castellan Actual. I’m informed you need fire support.”

Frederick checked his exact grid location. “I do.” He gave his best estimate of the location of the DCMS forces massing up to rush the ramp. “How soon can you hit them?”

“Our embarked guns are still setting up,” the man responded, “But my dropships’ guns are loaded and ready now. We’ll be hitting your targets in sixty seconds or my name isn’t Quentin Alexander McPherson.”

“That would be appreciated, Commodore McPherson.”

Task Force Castellan was made up of the Elvidner: six Fortress-class dropships that not only carried two battalions of heavy artillery and their escort, but also mounted a heavy gun on the nose of each dropship.

“Expect inbound friendly artillery.” he warned his lance and the other two assault ‘mechs immediately moved for cover. Artillery might be friendly or unfriendly but it always had the right of way.

Frederick switched to the intel channel. “This is Sledgehammer Actual. Do we have any update on the other Drac regiments?”

“We’ve confirmed their dropships came down on Voltenna, sir.” The woman on that desk was steady, another good pick. Voltenna was Dieron’s much smaller second continent, roughly centrally placed in the planet’s southern ocean. “Based on dropships seen during the evacuation of Dieron last year, there’s a high probability that we’re looking at the Fifth Sword of Light and the Third Dieron Regulars.”

“I see. Have there been any problems landing our reinforcements?”

“No sir. Task Force Revenant and Task Force Ruthless have both landed in the Khüiten mountains. They’re expected to be engaging the Twelfth Sun Zhang Cadet Cadre within the next hour.”

“Thank you.” Frederick cut the channel as he heard the whistle of incoming shells, and moved to cover the top of the ramp in case someone tried to rush the ramp to get away from the bombardment.

Voltenna. Tsk. Dislodging the DCMS from there will be a problem, he thought. So they have a stronghold, we have a stronghold and the rest of Mateo will be the battlefield we fight over. And numbers favor them, even with the Tenth and Eleventh Lyran Guards up north now.

Explosions rocked the mountainous terrain of the fortress and Frederick put the larger picture aside, focusing on the now.


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