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Fighting Uphill (Chapter Cover Art)

Fighting Uphill - Chapter 19[]

The Battle with Frustration​[]

Prepping for Battle[]

13th August, 3013
Suns/Robert Task Force, Oriente Space
Free Worlds League

"Well, Commodore, can we do it?" Prince Hanse Davion asked.

"We can get you to the ground and hold off their aerospace assets if that's what you mean, Highness." Commodore Mbutu of the AFFS and Hanse's fleet commander replied. "Gaining orbital control is going to be more difficult. Maybe impossible. Candace Liao left behind more Dropship forces than we'd hope for, but nothing we wouldn't be able to handle. Except she also left these as well." Mbutu pointed to an icon on the tactical display marked with a wolf's head logo. "All five of the Dragoons' Warships are here too. They're going to make this fight closer to even than I'd like. We can kill them quick if we focus them down, even the Athena which is the only one of their Warships with intact armor. If we do that, their Dropships will rip us a new one. If we focus on the Dropships, the Warships will do the same. However, if we don't focus, we get the worst of both worlds. Honestly, I would have thought Candace would have taken the Warships with her."

"Maybe the Dragoons demanded compensation for the loss of any Warships in their contract with House Liao." Hanse mused. "What about the orbital factories?"

"Not a chance, Highness." Mbutu replied with a shake of his head. "The defense satellites around them would tip the space battle in the defenders' favor if we fight near them. And even if we do gain orbital superiority away from them, we'll likely be too damaged afterwards to take them on. Luckily, the factory defenses can't stay over Fort Duncan or our chosen LZs all the time what with orbital mechanics being what they are, and they don't orbit low enough to do orbital bombardment."

"Hmm. Most of the important installations will be on the ground anyway. So, classic ground assault it is." Hanse concluded. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Preparing for Battle[]

13 August 3013
Fort Duncan, Oriente
Free Worlds League

"Word has come down from the Operations Center." Major Joshua Wolf announced to the assembled senior Dragoons leadership still on Oriente. That basically amounted to him, Colonel Harold Jones of Epsilon Regiment, his battalion commanders, and of course Natasha Kerensky. "They do not have a hard estimate of the Suns' forces because they have a lot of Unions in their fleet, and Union hulls are used not just as mech transports in the Inner Sphere, but also have freighter, assault ship, and pocket warship variants. But Operations thinks that we have parity in space forces."

"Unfortunately, that means we will likely be outnumbered three or four to one on the ground even counting the Capellan troops and mercenaries that just rotated in before the Suns force jumped in system." Joshua continued.

Along with the Dragoons, several other of the larger mercenary commands had left behind their own guard details, albeit only company or battalion sized units. At five regiments, the Dragoons had been the largest mercenary command on Oriente. Only the regular FWLM and CCAF units still had full regiments on planet after Candace and Duncan had taken off for Helm.

"On the plus side, Fort Duncan's anti-orbital guns should keep the Suns from landing on top of us." Joshua continued. "They'll have to land five or six hundred kilometers away from Fort Duncan itself to avoid their Dropships being blown out of the sky and then slog it overland to us. There are several possible LZs that they can choose from, but all of them have thick forests between them and here, which will slow them enormously. Colonel Simmons," Joshua was referring to the Capellan officer left in charge of Oriente's defenses, "has decided on a forward defense, using fast and heavy units for hit and run attacks to whittle at enemy numbers while minimizing damage to ourselves. That job is going to fall primarily on us mercenaries. The regular FWLM and CCAF forces will mostly guard Fort Duncan against counter raid except for their own light units which will be joining us."

"Of course they are." said Major Emmett Smithson bitterly. He was one of the Dragoons' first Inner Sphere recruits and had risen to command Epsilon's Charlie Battalion. "He wants us to take all the brunt of the fighting so his own people don't get hurt."

"That is what we are here for, Major." Harold snapped at him in rebuke. Despite Joshua being the Dragoons' second in command, Harold Jones both outranked him and commanded the largest Dragoons fighting unit still on Oriente; Harold was effectively in charge. Harold turned back to Joshua. "Hit and run is not Epsilon Regiment's strength, but I believe we are capable of it. Given the force size disparity, it is probably the best strategy."

"And it will be glorious." Natasha said with anticipation. "An epic fight against overwhelming numbers? Finally, a fight worthy of my talents. And I have heard this Hanse Davion will be leading them; he is supposed to be an elite mechwarrior. I look forward to fighting him."

"Natasha, you are not going to break ranks and go hunting for this Hanse Davion, quineg?" Harold asked her, disapprovingly.

"Neg." Natasha replied. "That would be foolish." She smiled... wolfishly. "But if I should by chance run across him, I will not hesitate to do battle with him. That too will be glorious! Entirely worth the month and a half of idle waiting!"

Taskforce Briefing[]

15 August 3013
Suns/Robert Task Force, Oriente Space
Free Worlds League

"That's it, everyone." Hanse said, wrapping up the final briefing, a fleet wide video conference with all his people detailing his final plans for invading Oriente. "Make sure to get your eight hours of sleep. Our aerospace forces will be engaging theirs in nine or ten hours and we'll be on the ground in eleven."

As the meeting broke up and the officers physically present filed out of the room, one of them, an attractive woman in the uniform of the 34th​ Avalon Hussars and wearing the rank of Major and a name tag reading STEPHENSON approached Hanse. Hanse turned to the woman, swept her into his arms, and planted a kiss on her lips. They had met during Hanse's long tenure as the Suns' Free Worlds League theater commander and had been seeing each other romantically for a while now.

"Dana, is something wrong?" Hanse asked, noticing how very much not in the mood she was.

"I'm having misgivings about this mission, Hanse." Dana told him quietly. There were still officers in the room, although none within earshot, and Dana knew better than to openly question Hanse where others might here.

"If you see something wrong with the battle plan, Dana, you should have brought it up during the briefing." Hanse told her in a you-should-already-know-this tone of voice.

"No, the plan is fine." Dana said quickly. "It's just that I'm worried that attacking while ceasefire talks are going on will tarnish your honor and reputation, and by extension, the honor and reputation of the AFFS and Federated Suns as well."

"What ceasefire talks?" Hanse asked, frowning.

"Why... the ceasefire talks in our news downloads from Comstar." Dana said slowly. "Haven't you seen them?"

"I've been busy for the last few days going through all my official messaging and only skimmed the news." Hanse replied, obviously thinking hard. "I tend to find public news unreliable, and there's nothing in my official messages about a ceasefire. Lots of talk about Robert Marik taking control of Tamarind – I never expected that out of him – Candace Liao and Duncan Marik defeating two Lyran field armies, Anton Marik being detroned by his own troops, but no ceasefire. Who's supposed to be doing a ceasefire?"

"Why, according to Comstar News, right after Robert Marik took Tamarind, he proposed a ceasefire with Duncan Marik." Dana told Hanse.

"What?!" Hanse exploded. In the entire time Hanse had known Robert Marik, the man had seemed incredibly lazy and indecisive, which had struck Hanse as odd for someone who wanted to be Captain General. On the other hand, Hanse had sensed that behind that harmless facade was someone more cunning if not intelligent, and if Hanse hadn't known better, he would have thought Robert was purposely trying to sabotage all of Hanse's plans.

With this news, Hanse began to wonder if he didn't know better. It could just be that the news was wrong as it so often was, but if Comstar was telling everyone there was a ceasefire talks being conducted by Hanse's ally and Duncan Marik and Hanse attacked Duncan's base anyway...

The Price of Failure[]

15th August, 3013
HPG Station, Oriente
Free Worlds League

Precentor Mark Sullivan was not a brilliant man. He was not an especially faithful or zealous adherent of Blake's teaching. Nor was he venal or very corrupt; unlike many of his fellows in the Order, he didn't sell Blake's miracles for "donations" that went into his personal bank accounts, although he was aware some of that went on among his acolytes and adepts.

What Precentor Sullivan was though was a rules follower. These were the regulations and rules of the Order. They were to be strictly followed to the letter. His acolytes and adepts complained of course that Sullivan was overly strict, but only under their breaths and where they thought he couldn't hear. That was fine; there were no rules against members of the Order complaining to each other about their superiors. But woe to any member of the Order that Sullivan caught breaking a rule.

Sullivan was reviewing his HPG Station's finances when a call came in for him personally.

"Precentor Sullivan. Prince Hanse Davion is on Line One. He wishes to speak with you."

"Put him through." Sullivan replied. A hologram of Hanse Davion's head appeared above Sullivan's desk. "Your highness, I am Precentor Sullivan. How may I help you?"

There was a few seconds' lag before the heir to the Federated Suns responded. That was because the prince was on a ship off the planet of course. Some nonsense about him invading Oriente, Sullivan recalled. He didn't really care about the details. Comstar was neutral in all wars. As long as that neutrality was respected by all sides, the entire planet around Sullivan's HPG Station could perish in nuclear fire for all he cared. Well except that Sullivan did care that using nuclear weapons on planets was Against The Rules.

"Yes, Precentor, I am looking for some lost mail that I should have received." Hanse replied graciously and politely.

"Hmm." Sullivan said thoughtfully as he tapped in some commands into his desk terminal. No fancy all in one desks for him; Sullivan used standard issue Comstar office equipment, because Rules. "According to our records, all messages addressed to your units that were received by my Station have already been forwarded to your units."

"Maybe there was an addressing error?" Hanse suggested. "I'm specifically looking for any messages that might have originated from the planet Tamarind."

"Hmm." Sullivan said again as entered more search commands. "Your highness, I do show several messages in the delivery queue that were sent from Tamarind within the last week. They're flagged as 'recipient not found'. That's a common flag used by senders who expect their messages to arrive in the system in advance of their recipients. It's a common occurrence throughout the Inner Sphere."

"Ah, thank you, Precentor." Hanse said with relief. "Can you please forward them to my people?"

"Of course, not, Your Highness." Sullivan replied, affronted. "Before I can send you these messages, Comstar privacy regulations require that you must first prove that you are their intended recipient."

"And how do I do that?" Hanse said patiently, but Sullivan had been a Precentor a long time and had long since become skilled in detecting the subtle signs of ire and annoyance. Sullivan just didn't care that the annoyed client in question was one of the most powerful people in the Inner Sphere short of a House Lord.

"These messages only have a single line destination address with no secondary authentication code requirements. Not surprising given that they only have Normal Priority." Sullivan told him. "Normal" Priority was pretty much the lowest priority Comstar could give an HPG message; they had the cheapest rates and the slowest delivery times. "Just tell me who the intended recipient is or at least close enough, and I will forward these messages to you."

"You can't tell me who the intended recipient is?" Hanse asked, frowning.

"Absolutely not." Sullivan said firmly. "If I did that, I might as well ask some random hoodlum on the street if they were the intended recipient."

"Fine then." Hanse grated. "Prince Heir of the Federated Suns?"

"Incorrect." Sullivan replied. Due to the response delays caused by light lag, Sullivan brought back up the financial report and began reviewing the figures again.

"Theater Commander and Leftenant General of the AFFS forces in the Free Worlds League?" Hanse tried again.
"Also incorrect." Sullivan replied as he punched some numbers into a calculator program to double check some figures. "Highness, be advised that you only get three more guesses before regulations require me to assume that you are not the proper recipient and permanently refuse you these messages."

"Of course you will." Hanse said witheringly. "Now what would Robert actually call me?" That was clearly not a guess, so Sullivan said nothing. "Loyal Servant and Staunch Ally of Robert Marik and Commanding Officer of Robert Marik's Second Strike Field Army?"

"Inco..." Sullivan paused. He brought back up the other window. "Actually, that is very close. Why, I do believe you are the intended recipient, Your Highness." He tapped in a few more commands. "Sending you the messages now."

"Thank you." Hanse said with heavy exasperation. He looked off to the side and murmured, "Robert, you cheeky bastard."

"You're welcome, Your Highness." Precentor Sullivan replied, and then continued with Standard Farewell Dialogue Number 3. "We here at Comstar hoped we provided you with convenient and helpful service. If you would..."

Hanse Davion's head vanished. The communications channel had been cut.

"Hmph." Sullivan sniffed. "How rude."

Unexpected News[]

13 August 3013
Dragoon Defense Perimeter, Oriente
Free Worlds League

"Dragoons, I just got an update from the Operations Center." Joshua announced over the Dragoon wide tacnet. "They report that the FedSuns fleet has entered high parking orbit above Oriente. Hanse Davion is requesting a truce in order to ascertain the exact state of affairs between Duncan Marik's forces and his own. Our orders are to stand by..."

Joshua broke off, wincing in pain as a wordless wail of frustration and rage overwhelmed the tacnet and battered his eardrums. It seemed Natasha was not happy with the news.

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