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Fighting Uphill (Chapter Cover Art)

Fighting Uphill - Chapter 18[]

Pillow Talk​[]

In Bed with the Wolf and the Spider[]

13th August, 3013
Wolf's Dragoons Alpha Regiment Housing, Oriente
Free Worlds League

"You are still angry about missing out on Helm, quiaff?" Joshua asked.

"As the spheroids say, what was your first clue, Joshua?" Natasha asked pointedly.

"I believe your attempts to shatter my bed out from under me may have something to do with it." Joshua replied. "Ow..."

Sometime during their trip back to Clan space, Joshua and Natasha had become lovers. After all, it had been a very long, very boring voyage lasting months on end going there, and even more boring months coming back. Warriors could only do so many simulator battles before they started looking for... other entertainment.

Of course, their relationship was a secret. It would be bad for discipline if the Dragoons started thinking they could get favoritism for sexual favors. The Inner Sphere recruits would be especially prone to such thinking because such things happened far too often in the Inner Sphere, but even Clanners would not be immune to making such assumptions about Joshua's and Natasha's relationship. Especially the newer ones who were not aware that Natasha had been been a Star Colonel before joining the Dragoons and had effectively accepted a demotion in order to join Jaime and Joshua's mission.

"I joined the Dragoons because I wanted to fight real battles." Natasha growled as she brought herself up and then crashing back down again. "Your brother then goes off to Helm with four of our five regiments and leaves me behind." Crash. "And then he has the temerity to fight not one but two great battles." Crash! "And he kills not one, not two, but four of the mightiest war machines to ever walk a planet's surface." Crash! "All while I am stuck on this planet doing nothing but training exercises." Natasha didn't try to crush Joshua's hips again, but instead leaned forward until she leaned against his upper torso. "And since Jaime isn't here, I have to settle for taking my frustrations out on you."

"Ow..." Joshua groaned again. How had the bed not broken yet? "Natasha, if you do not want to train new Dragoons any more, I am sure Jaime can arrange for a Trial of Position for a front line command."

"This is the Trial of Position." Natasha told him with an impish smile, the first sign of humor that night finally breaking through her ire. "You lost it the moment you let me get on top."

"Oh, that explains..." Joshua began, but he was interrupted by a buzzer. He reached for the night stand. "Natasha, hush. Someone is calling me."

Natasha looked completely unimpressed, but said nothing.

"Major Wolf here, what is it?" Joshua said into the phone. He listened for a moment and then suddenly tried to sit up. Unfortunately, he failed as Natasha was still resting on top of his chest. "I will be right there. Get as much information as you can." He hung up.

"What was that about?" Natasha asked, sitting back up and getting off Joshua. It was clearly business, and important business at that if Joshua had to leave in the middle of the night.

"Get dressed." Joshua told her as he got up. "The Athena has just reported seeing inbound Dropships coming from the nadir jump point, and they are not friendly forces."

An Confession and News[]

14 August 3013
Star League Field Library Facility, Helm
Free Worlds League

"Candy, I've been thinking." Duncan mused aloud.

"Thinking?" Candace said as she pulled back from his face and pouted. It was cute, but not very convincing. "Clearly, my seductress skills need more work."

The two lay in bed together in what was the Star League facility's CO quarters. The bed and bedding had come with the facility and by some miracle of Star League engineering, the bedding when pulled from its plastic packaging seemed as fresh as the day it had come out of the factory.

A lot of the facility was like this, and the joint Liao/Capellan army had practically moved in and started refurbishing the place as they awaited the transports to carry the facility's contents out. Duncan had actually started expressing the opinion that the FWLM shouldn't move his share of the loot out at all, but turn the facility into a fully functional fortress to help anchor the League's Lyran border and bring all of his share of the Star League mechs and vehicles back into service literally in house.

Meanwhile, Duncan and Candace had been trysting together more and more like this since that moment they had first kissed each other after the Second Battle of Helm.

"Your seductress skills might be more effective if we weren't both still fully clothed." Duncan pointed out as he stroked Candace's lower back with one hand through the fabric of her field uniform. At the look Candace got on her face at that statement, Duncan added quickly, "But your skills are very good still! Fantastic even!"

That seemed to mollify Candace, but something still seemed to bother her.

"As I was saying, I've been thinking." Duncan said again. "We're to be married as soon as I become Captain-General."

"Which is why we're still clothed." Candace pointed out. "It would be scandalous if I became pregnant early."

"Right." Duncan agreed reluctantly. "And making you pregnant is part of what I was thinking about." He really didn't want to wait so long to do that. "Our baby would be my heir. And given that you're the heir of the Capellan Confederation, our baby would also be your heir. How would that work exactly?"

"I don't know." Candace said, frowning thoughtfully. "You'll have to negotiate with my father on that one. He's going to be Chancellor for a while yet before I ever get to sit on the Celestial Throne. But I think he won't consent to the Confederation becoming just another province of the Free Worlds League even if he got to pick every MP for Parliament. And honestly? Neither would I."

Now Duncan was frowning. Candace seemed to want to say more, but she was literally biting her lip to keep herself from speaking.

"Candy, is something wrong?" Duncan asked, concerned.

"Duncan, can I be honest with you?" Candace asked with trepidation in her voice.

"Always, dearest Candy." Duncan answered grandly.

"I wasn't always in love with you." Candace told him. Duncan stiffened in surprise. "I didn't mean to lead you on, but I didn't outright reject your advances either. I was afraid to offend you because the Confederation needed you so much. And when my father learned that you were interested in me, he ordered me to give myself to you if that would secure our alliance."

"Candace, I..." Duncan began. He felt devastated. Crushed. But Candace put her finger on his lips.

"Shh, let me finish, and then decide if you want to reject me." Candace said quietly. "When we first met, I didn't see you as an equal. I didn't see a man I could love. I saw an overgrown child, pampered and sheltered by an overprotective mother who needed to be protected from his own ignorance."

Duncan nodded silently as he remembered how he thought and acted back then. Looking back, he couldn't believe how naive he had been back then. But Candace's confession was now driving home like a stake to his heart how naive he still was.

"I'm not sure when my feelings started changing." Candace continued. "I think it was when you finally started taking field training seriously. Somewhere along the way, you stopped being an overgrown boy and started being someone I respected. You became someone who would argue with me and actually make good points. I don't even know when I really fell in love with you, except that first kiss in front of everyone made me realize I had fallen for you."

Duncan didn't know what to say. He felt lost, adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Everything he had been sure of in his life had become completely upended. So he said the first thing that came to mind.

"Is this another seduction attempt?" Duncan asked, completely seriously this time. He pushed Candace off him and sat up on the bed.

"No, I..." Candace struggled for words as she sat up on the opposite side of the bed. "I just didn't want to lie to you any more, even by omission." she said sadly. "I thought you had the right to know."

"Know? I don't know anything." Duncan said with a humorless laugh. He got off the bed and stood up, turning to face Candace. "I don't know you. Hell, I'm not even sure I know me. And it seems I sure as hell don't know what I'm doing."

"Duncan." Candace said, pleading. "I'm sorry."

"I don't even know that either!" Duncan all but exploded. He turned away and stalked towards the door. "I need to think and..."

Duncan was interrupted by banging on the door whose knob he had just grabbed. He jerked it open.

"What?!" Duncan snarled angrily at the Capellan junior officer he found on the other side.

"General, Senior Colonel." the officer who looked around the same age as Duncan and Candace said quickly, his eyes wide in fear of whatever offense he had just given his leaders. A fear made all the more palpable by the steely eyed glare of Duncan's and Candace's door guards were giving him. "We have just received an HPG message from Oriente. The planet is about to be attacked."

Late Night Call[]

14 August 3013
Tamarind System
Free Worlds League

A buzzer sounded, waking Robert Marik from his sleep.

Sadly, Robert was alone, having left his wife back at his base on Katlehong. Especially since one of the perks for a man in his position was that there were plenty of beautiful women a third his age willing to marry for the perks being his wife and would be especially vigorous at fulfilling the more intimate duties of being a wife. Maybe Robert should look into getting a mistress here on Tamarind?

The buzzer sounded again. Oh right. Business was literally calling Robert.

"This had better be good." Robert said upon answering his phone.

"Greetings, General Marik." an unfamiliar voice answered. "This is Adept Hodges from the Tamarind HPG Station. You have a live call from General Duncan Marik. Would you like to accept?"

A live HPG voice chat? Duncan was certainly springing quite a bit of money for this call, and Robert suspected that he knew why.

Certainly." Robert answered. "Put him through."

"Robert, what the hell do you think you're doing?" were Duncan't first words to him. Robert didn't miss that Duncan had failed to use the "Uncle" honorific that he had used in his previous messages.

"Well, I was sleeping." Robert said with an irritability that wasn't entirely feigned. "But someone decided that he needed to talk to me right now despite knowing that it's the middle of the night here."

"I don't mean that." Duncan said angrily. "I mean the Dropship fleet descending on Oriente as we speak! The one that has both FWLM and AFFS Dropships in it. Last I looked, the Federated Suns are your allies."

"Duncan, it's called a 'raid'." Robert replied, as if talking to a small child. "It might even be called an 'invasion' or even a 'conquest' depending on how big a garrison you and your girlfriend left behind."

"I thought we had a ceasefire agreement." Duncan complained in a tone that came awfully close to sounding like a childish whine.

"No, we're still negotiating for a ceasefire agreement." Robert corrected him. The idea had come to him before he had sent to Duncan the first ceasefire request. He had gone to the local HPG Station to pray to Blake for guidance, and lo and behold, it had come in the form of a private live chat with Precentor ROM Kristofur who had suggested the idea. "We still haven't agreed to one yet."

"That's because you keep making all these ridiculous demands!" Duncan complained. Yes, that was definitely a whine.

"What's your point?" Robert asked with a yawn. That wasn't feigned either. He had just been woken up in the middle of the night after all.

"Robert, when you ask for a ceasefire truce." Duncan said slowly with aggravated patience, "It's usually accepted practice to tell your troops to actually ceasefire while you negotiate the terms."

"Oh, but I did." Robert replied in the most patronizing tone he could manage. "I sent just such a message straight to Oriente at the same time I sent my first ceasefire request to you, and I'm sure Hanse will receive it when he lands there. Certainly he'll get it by the time he's touring all those factories and smithies you have there."

There was a long pause on the line as several very expensive seconds ticked by.

"Hanse Davion is leading the attack?" Duncan asked finally in a small voice.

"Of course, he is." Robert replied in the same patronizing tone. "What, did you think he was going to stay back on Katlehong while I came all the way out here to Tamarind? What did you think I even came all the way out here for? Hanse and I both left Katlehong at the same time to attack yours and Janos' bases, and I just lucked out into playing the heroic cavalry coming to Tamarind's rescue. Now if you want me to call off Hanse Davion before he goes through with the attack, then agree to all of my ceasefire terms. And be quick about it, because while I don't know how soon Hanse is going to actually hit Oriente's defenses. But it can't be all that long now and it still takes time to get a message through the HPG network, even when making a live call."

"Yes, I just learned that." Duncan said miserably.

"Oh, and one more thing." Robert said with absolutely malicious intent. "If I do send a ceasefire order to Hanse, you're paying the HPG bill. Call me again when you've made a decision."

And with that, Robert hung up before Duncan could respond again. As he tried to get back to sleep, Robert wondered if Hanse would actually obey a ceasefire order from him.

The Price of Failure[]

14 August 3013
Star League Field Library Facility, Helm
Free Worlds League

"This is bad, Duncan." Candace said urgently. She and Duncan were in the Star League facility's Operations Center with Duncan sitting at a station to make his call to Robert. "With Anton's assets added to our own, the loss of Oriente's industries won't be quite as crippling to us as they would have been, but it's still going to hurt. Worse, if Hanse pulls off this strike, it's going to make you look weak. If Hanse attacks but fails, it's still going to reignite hostilities with Robert and then we might have another thirteen years of civil war. But if you give in to Robert's demands, especially ALL of Robert's demands without negotiating him down, that could well make you look even weaker. And with how long it Oriente's transit takes, there's no way a relief force can arrive in time to stop Hanse even if the entire Capellan and Marik battle fleets jumped into the Oriente system right now."

"Then maybe I should just give Robert everything he wants." Duncan replied dejectedly as he stood up from the terminal. "Including the Captain-Generalship."

"What?" Candace said in surprise. "But... but you wanted to be Captain-General!"

"Yes, I did." Duncan said. He placed both hands on Candace's shoulders and stared soulfully into her eyes. "Do you know what I've just now realized, Candace? I've realized that I've been out thought by everyone I've known all my life. Robert. Colonel Wolf. Major Kerensky. Mother. You. Hell, I've always admitted that you were better at battlefield tactics than me. And now you and Robert have rubbed my nose in just how bad I am at both strategy and politics. The only thing I can do well is pilot a mech and shoot straight, and my very first field exercise you had me do with Major Kerensky taught me that's not enough when it comes to leading a single battalion, never mind a whole Successor State. Candace, I don't deserve to be Captain General."

"Duncan..." Candace began, trying to find something, anything to say that would rebuild his shattered confidence and failing. Duncan let go of her shoulders and turned away from her.

"I'm going out." Duncan told her as he walked away. "I need to think. If anything comes up, don't call me. I'd be useless anyway."

As Duncan left the Operations Center, a CCAF and FWLM officer turned to each other.

"What just happened?" the Capellan asked.

"I think the General and Senior Colonel just had their first serious lover's quarrel." the League officer replied. "Couldn't come at a worse time too."

"Yeah, it did, didn't it?" the Capellan agreed as he started mentally putting a report together for the Maskirovka. He hoped the Chancellor didn't order one of them assassinated. He actually liked Duncan and Candace, especially as a power couple.

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