Fighting Uphill - Chapter 13
* Picking Your Fights *
Planetary Assault: Helm
29th July, 3013
Free Worlds League
"Everyone, this is the last command briefing before we hit the ground in three hours." Candace announced via fleet wide video conference. "A couple Kuritan Dropships have chosen to contest our insertion, but our own aerospace forces should be able to easily handle them. The rest have surrendered rather than fight us."
"According to our latest Intel on the ground, Anton's forces are on their last legs." Candace continued. "His Marik Militia units have been either mostly destroyed, deserted, or defected to Janos. Anton's mercenaries have likewise mostly surrendered and been granted safe passage out. Only the regular DCMS forces are still fighting, mostly hit and run to minimize their losses and harass Janos' forces."
"That means our biggest problem is going to be Janos' forces." Candace said, pointing out the obvious. "They're damaged of course, but otherwise have a mostly intact order of battle. Right now, the bulk of the fighting is being done by Janos' Steiner allies, with his Marik Militia units and mercenaries guarding the flanks to prevent the Kurtians from getting around them."
"Our second biggest problem is that as far as the scouts can tell, all the fighting is happening literally on top of the Star League cache." Candace told everyone. "That means we can't just sit in orbit and have our Monitors just blast everything on the ground; there's too much danger that will destroy the cache along with our enemies. Or at least collapse all the entrances so that no one can get at the cache. So we're going to have to do this the hard way, on the ground, and only use orbital bombardment sparingly."
"And since we have more Steiner forces arriving behind us in two days, we don't have time to be fancy about this." Candace said grimly. "We're going to go in, hit Janos' forces from behind as hard and fast as we can, and hopefully win this with enough time to repair and rearm before the Donegal Guards arrive and start throwing their weight around. We will land here, My Capellans will take the center and hit the Steiner force. Duncan, you'll take the right flank and hit Janos' mercenaries, and our mercenaries will take the left flank and hit Janos' Marik Militia. Any questions?"
"Uh, Candy, I know we agreed that you would make the tactical decisions," Duncan began uncertainly, "but I think I should take the left flank."
"But, Duncan, those are FWLM forces on the left flank." Candace argued. Despite thirteen years of on going civil war, FWLM units had almost never engaged each other. Oh, they'd fight other House units and mercenaries with enthusiasm and honor and valor, but they'd almost always avoid fighting each other barring one of their own units going rogue and committing war crimes. Candace had noticed this strange tendency when she had first taken command of the CCAF's forces in the Free Worlds League and just quietly rolled with it, assigning her FWLM forces to attack mercenary and other House forces while assigning her own Capellans and mercenaries to attack enemy FWLM forces. She didn't question it, it was just a fact that she had to work around.
"I know." Duncan replied. He too had noticed the FWLM's reluctance to fight each other, had even asked Candace about it. "This war has been going on too long as it is. I think it's high time we Leaguers decide who we really are. Are we one people? Or are we going to be permanently split into four warring factions?"
"But Duncan, if you take the left, you could wind up killing a lot of your own people, maybe enough to create that very permanent split you just mentioned." Candace pointed out as she ran an entirely different mental calculus in her head. The Confederation absolutely needed Duncan alive, and many of Janos' mercenaries like the Eridani Light Horse and the Caballeros were very, very good. Would Duncan actually be safer fighting other Mariks rather than mercenaries? Candace didn't know.
"I know, Candy, but I need to know where the Free Worlds League stands as a people." Duncan replied, his mind clearly made up. "So I'm taking the left flank whatever you do."
Fighting A Mong Giants
Candace fired her Gauss Rifle and LRMs at a Lyran superheavy Behemoth. Its armor gave way, already having been weakened after fighting Kuritans before Candace's forces had hit what had been once the Steiner back line. That former back line consisted of mostly normal mechs, on average heavier than Candace's CCAF units of course, but not by much, making for a fairly even fight. As far as Candace could tell, the Lyran superheavies and borne the brunt of the fighting against the Kuritans which was why their regular mechs were so fresh.
There was a heat spike in the Behemoth, a sure sign of an engine hit. That didn't deter its pilot at all as it fired its three Gauss Rifles back at Candace. And unfortunately, it had fired cluster rounds instead of solid shot, which were more effective than the ballistic reinforced armor on Candace's mech. The cluster rounds released their payloads right before hitting her Cyclops and scattering hyper velocity pellets across her mech and chipping away at its armor. One pellet struck Candace's cockpit glass with a bone jarring crunch that physically rattled her in her seat and left a big spiderweb crack in the glass.
As several of her front line Capellans came to her defense and fired on the Behemoth, Candace ducked her mech around behind a copse of trees that by some miracle was still standing. Once out of immediate line of fire, Candace took a moment to assess the situation. She was battered, probably bruised, but didn't seem to be bleeding anywhere or have anything broken. Candace was going to be sore for days, but she could still fight.
Glancing at the detailed battle display generated by her Cyclop's Star League original Tacticon B-2000 battle computer, her CCAF forces were holding their own if taking more damage that Candace liked, her mercenaries were slowly but surely pushing back Janos' mercenaries, and Duncan...
Candace blinked in surprise. What was Duncan doing?
Duncan making his Mark
Duncan and his regiments of Oriente Fusilliers and I crested a rolling hill, finally bringing into sight the regiments of Janos' Marik Militia. They were waiting at the crest of the next hill line, not advancing, clearly hoping to force Duncan to fight an uphill battle.
"All units, halt," Duncan ordered, bringing his Warhammer to a stop.
Three years ago, Duncan would have just charged the opposing battle line completely unaware of the disadvantage that fighting uphill would entail. He still might charge up that hill, but his exercises with Kerensky and eventually other units under his and Candace's command had made him keenly aware of how terrain could affect a battle and the mobility of his forces.
However, Duncan was even more keenly aware that he was up against regular League forces, not fighting mercenaries or forces from the other Great Houses. Three years ago, that wouldn't have been a concern to him; they were after all rebels supporting usurpers against their rightful Captain-General. But once he had begun to take field training seriously, Duncan had begun studying the reports of the actual battles being fought in this war and quickly noticed how rarely FWLM units fought each other.
Duncan had asked Candace about it, but she didn't know why this was. It was just a fact of this war that she worked around. So he had started asking his own people, starting with the top officers who gave him glib but uninformative and evasive answers as if they didn't want to admit the real reason they didn't want to fight their fellow countrymen. So Duncan had started ambushing lower level troops and had gotten some very startling answers.
Duncan's soldiers didn't want to fight their fellow FWLM soldiers. Yes, they believed in Duncan's cause, but the FWLM forces working for Duncan's rivals were still their brothers and sisters in arms, even if they were misguided into backing the others, But the forces of the other Houses? They were invaders into the Free Worlds League, and Duncan's people would fight them gladly. And up until Candace had taken charge, Duncan's people had regarded the Capellans as little better than the Lyrans, Combine, or FedSuns. But unlike the previous Capellan commander who had harangued and insulted them for their reluctance to fight their countrymen, Candace had done no such thing, simply and quietly assigned them to fight anyone but their fellow FWLM soldiers. That unspoken consideration had earned Duncan's betrothed a level or respect and loyalty that the previous Capellan leadership had never had.
And now here Duncan was leading his people against... his people. Did the FWLM forces under Janos, Anton, and Robert feel the same way as Duncan's people did? He intended to find out.
"Everyone, hold position." Duncan ordered as he stepped his Warhammer forward towards the front of the formation.
"Sir, what are you doing?" one of Duncan's bodyguards asked, aghast.
"End this as bloodlessly as possible, I hope." Duncan replied as his Warhammer stepped out in front of the formation, clear for everyone on the other side to be. At least this time, the other side was well outside of shooting distance of him even for ELRMs, so he wasn't quite being suicidal this time. Duncan switched to an open frequency. "Soldiers of the Free Worlds League, I am Duncan Marik." Duncan announced, raising both of his Warhammer's arms just to make it crystal clear who was speaking.
"Oh, God, he's gonna die." someone on Duncan's side said. Luckily, it wasn't on the open frequency where the other side could hear.
"I would rather not have the blood of my countrymen on my hands, and I'm sure neither do you." Duncan continued, ignoring the peanut gallery. "For thirteen years, we've done our best to do just that despite the fact that we're supposedly fighting each other. Well now there's no avoiding it, unless of course one of us chooses to stand down..."
"Boy," interrupted a voice that Duncan hadn't heard in person since he was a small child, "what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Uncle Janos! I'm so glad to hear from you in person again." Duncan said brightly. "Is Uncle Anton here too? I'd love to have a full family reunion."
"No, Anton didn't bother to come in person." Janos replied disgustedly. "According to defectors, it seems he's trusting Dracs more these days than his own people. Now stop evading the question: what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Why, I'm trying to save the lives of my people, Uncle." Duncan replied. It was a shame Anton wasn't here so Duncan could kill two birds with one stone. "All of my people. So if you'll just stand down..."
"Oh hogwash! You stand down!" Janos replied angrily. "I'm the eldest child of Captain-General Marik. The Captain-Generalship belongs to me, not your mother and certainly not you. If anyone should be standing down, it should be you!"
"Now now, Uncle, the Captain-General is appointed by Parliament." Duncan said. "Yes, the Captain-General has been traditionally been a Marik, but it doesn't have to go to the eldest child of the previous Captain-General. You have to convince Parliament to make you Captain-General and Parliament hasn't chosen anyone yet."
"Yes, because you and the others instigated this civil war!" Janos snapped.
"Well the, since Uncle Anton and Robert aren't here, let's settle this between us here and now." Duncan suggested. "Not with our armies, but between you and me in a personal honor duel."
"And why would I do that?" Janos asked skeptically.
"Because Uncle, if we get all the men and women around us killed just for our own personal ambitions, then neither of us truly deserves to be Captain-General." Duncan told him. "We've spent thirteen years proving that none of us are the better field commanders, and I have no desire to spend another thirteen years fighting more fruitless battles. So what's more important to you, Uncle Janos? The lives of your people? Or your own life and your own ambitions? I'm willing to put my life on the line for my people. Are you?"
Just like that Duncan had Janos trapped. Or at least Duncan thought he did. As far as Duncan knew, Janos was still a man of honor. If he refused Duncan's challenge, he'd mark himself as a coward in the eyes of his own soldiers, which would irreparably harm his cause and reputation. If he accepted and then tried to cheat by having his soldiers open fire on Duncan or something, his reputation and cause would be similarly harmed. So Janos had no choice but to accept Duncan's challenge.
"Fine." Janos grated out. "I accept. My only regret is that I'm going to have to tell your mother than I killed you. She always doted too much on you."
"Oh right." Duncan said, realizing what that meant. "Mother isn't going to be very happy with me killing you either."
That actually got a laugh out of Uncle Janos. On the opposing hill line, a Rifleman stepped forward and began descending down the hill. It was painted in Marik Militia colors and was only distinct in lacking any specific unit insignia; otherwise it looked like a common mech. Duncan was surprised that he was piloting anything so light, but he supposed that Janos was even more conscious about battlefield assassinations than Duncan had ever been. Still, the four light autocannon it appeared to be armed with was a lot of weight for very little firepower, and Duncan doubted any weapon used by his Uncle Janos was as harmless as these appeared to be.
Duncan began to descend his own slope, heading towards his Uncle. But not directly towards him because that would make Duncan too easy a target. Duncan placed his targeting reticle on his Uncle's Rifleman, holding fire until he got into his effective range.
One of the things that Duncan's weapon master had done to "fix" Duncan's hyperlasers was to increase the beam duration to spread out the generated waste heat, which was the primary culprit of the lasers exploding. Of course, this tended to result in the hyperlasers scrawling their damage all over the target instead of concentrating it in one section. So to improve heat and damage efficiency and reduce explosion chances even further, Duncan could now control the beat duration by how long he held his triggers down, so he didn't have to waste energy and heat sink capacity if the hyperlaser beams tracked off target. Best of all, the hyperlasers never exploded on their own any more... unless he held their triggers down long enough to trigger the automatic cutoff.
Uncle Janos' Rifleman broke into run as its arms snapped up to bring their autocannon to bear on Duncan. It looked like they weren't going to wait for a formal countdown, Duncan thought as he pushed his Warhammer into a run a fraction of a second later. Both of them fired at the same time.
Duncan's hyperlasers burned twin lines across the Rifleman's entire torso, just missing the front mounted cockpit. A hail of autocannon shells struck Duncan's Warhammer, and he took half a dozen hits. The only inflicted scratch damage like Duncan had expected, but one lucky hit knocked out a heat sink. That was annoying. Janos was clearly using ultra autocannon to get that rate of fire.
Duncan ran towards his uncle at an oblique angle, trying to close the range as his uncle tried to hold the range open. With all those autocannon, Janos clearly couldn't have much short ranged firepower. Neither did Duncan, but Duncan was sure he had more than Janos, and at close range, the superior firepower of even just his hyperlasers should win the day.
Janos fired again first, but only with one autocannon. That was immediately followed by the another autocannon burst, which was followed by yet another autocannon burst. Instead of a concentrated volley again, Janos was going for a constant stream of shells. Some missed, some hit, and the hit rate started going up as Duncan slowly closed the distance and snapped off some return fire of his own.
Another heat sink was hit. Then another. Then there was a heat spike as Duncan's engine was nicked. That was too many lucky hits to be pure luck in getting shots past gaps in his armor, Duncan realized. Uncle Janos was using some kind of armor piercing ammo which while rare, wasn't a total unknown in the Inner Sphere either. And at the rate Janos was getting shots through Duncan's armor, the exchange was favoring Janos over Duncan.
Duncan brought his Warhammer to a screeching halt, causing the next burst to fly through the space where he would have been if he had kept running. Duncan took the time to carefully aim his weapons, ignoring the patter of shells hitting his now stationary mech and the computer listing off ever more internal damage. At just the right moment, he triggered a full alpha strike with everything he had left left. Hot air flushed into Duncan's cockpit by his overwhelmed life support system as his weapons fired.
An antimissile system on top of Uncle Janos' Rifleman chattered, knocking down half of the dumb rockets fired at it. Half of what remained showered down on the Rifleman, but they did little more than scratch damage compared to Duncan's lasers. Thanks to Duncan's careful aiming, two full burns of his hyperlasers and a surviving pulse laser focused entirely on Janos' center torso. It was a trick only the very best mechwarriors can pull off, and normally only under firing range conditions where no one was shooting back. Duncan had always been an excellent shot even before that first exercise with Major Kerensky, and he probably wouldn't have been able to pull it off if his Uncle had been shooting anything heavier at him than the lightest autocanons the Inner Sphere had to offer.
Duncan's lasers blew out the entire center torso of Uncle Janos' Rifleman as Duncan's own mech shut down from excessive heat. Janos ejected, but his rising chair was met by one of Duncan's descending rockets.
To cap things off, the hyperlaser in the Warhammer's right arm explode. But that seemed like a minor footnote compared to everything else.