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Fighting Uphill (Chapter Cover Art)

Fighting Uphill - Chapter 24[]

State of the Sphere​[]

Primus looks at the long game[]

1st May, 3015
Hilton's Head, Terra
Sol Star System

Primus Julian Tiepolo sipped his morning coffee as he went over the latest reports on goings on around the Inner Sphere. As expected, the Third Succession War was picking back up again now that peace had descended on the Free Worlds League and the other Successor States picked back up where they had left off.

The Draconis Combine was making up for lost time. For all that they had spent thirteen years supplying Anton Marik's bid for the Captain-Generalcy with hardware and troops, the Combine had built up quite a reserve of unblooded and restless troops and samurai mechwarriors eager to earn glory. Barring some cross border light raiding, they'd been unable to earn glory for the most part because so many jumpships had been tied up supplying Anton.

Now those Jumpships were freed up, and border raiding had exploded all along the Combine's borders with the Lyran Commonwealth and Federated Suns. There was no focus on these raids, and everyone was assuming that these were probing attacks to see which Successor State was weaker and more vulnerable. While the Lyran Commonwealth had lost two field armies in the closing days of the Marik Civil War, it's border with the Free Worlds League was now quiet as the new Captain General seemed to be taking the new Archon at her word of wanting peace with the League. That was allowing Archon Katrina to focus on defending her border with the Combine.

Meanwhile, while the Federated Suns had lost no field armies, it was staring down a possible two front war. In addition to a possible Combine offensive, the Suns was already dealing with an existing border crisis as Free Worlds League military units moved into the Capellan Confederation to help Maximilian Liao take back worlds the Suns had seized in recent years and perhaps more. So far, Duncan Marik hadn't sent more than token forces in ground troops, but he'd also sent the massive super Jumpships of the Atreus Warship fleet.

That fleet had remained staunchly neutral during the civil war, and had been quietly adding more super Jumpships – compact core warships with a dozen to two dozen dropship collars each – to its numbers despite supply chain disruptions while everyone had been busy looking elsewhere. Now that there was an undisputed Captain General, those super Jumpships were free to be used as Duncan Marik saw fit, and he saw fit to loan them to Maximilian Liao, which was arguably better than ground troops tired from thirteen years of war because they allowed Maximilian to better move troops and Monitors and the supplies for them around.

Meanwhile, the Combine was moving a massive amount of troops into the Benjamin Military District, building a massive army that was more or less equidistant from both the Lyran and Suns border, and no one knew which way it was going to jump. And quite possibly, neither did the Coordinator because he might not even have decided yet. He might throw them all at only one State on his border, or both.

Still, things weren't entirely hopeless for the Lyran Commonwealth and the Federated Suns. The thirteen years of relative peace that their territories had experienced while everyone was busy fighting inside the Free Worlds League had like the Combine allowed them to build up their own industries, armies, and border defenses more or less unmolested. Katrina Steiner and Ian Davion were already feeling each other out for another alliance, although it remained to be seen how much they could commit to helping each other.

Still, the very size of all the armies involved and economies backing them could result in a conflict that was bigger and more destructive than what the Marik Civil War had defused. Hopefully, it wouldn't reach the mad heights of the first two Succession Wars.

Maybe the upcoming conflict should be called the Fourth Succession War, Tiepolo mused. Except no one had ever declared the Third to have ended. For the foreseeable future at least, it looked like the only quiet place in the Inner Sphere was going to be the Free Worlds League, which was already bouncing back economically now that their worlds weren't constantly be raided by someone. Tiepolo supposed that was Blake's karma in action.

Family Reunion on Sian[]

Celestial Palace, Sian
Capellan Confederation

"Now remember, Duncan." Candace Liao told her betrothed as their hover limo carried them through the front gates of the Celestial Palace. "Father thinks you're a total imbecile that I've seduced and have under my complete control."

"He's not wrong." Duncan Marik replied suggestively as he leaned over to try to nuzzle her ear.

"Duncan, stop." Candace Liao giggled, but pushing him away. "We have to stay presentable looking."

Duncan leaned back in his seat and pouted like a little boy that had been deprived of his rightful candy.

"But seriously, Duncan." Candace continued soberly. "If he thinks I don't have you under my complete control, I'm afraid he might try to have you assassinated after I become pregnant with your heir."

"Ugh." Duncan groaned. "Candy, the more you tell me about Capellan politics, the more I question our alliance. Still, for you, I'll put up with it." He smiled at her. "Maybe when you become Chancellor, we can set about to fixing it so that family members don't have to worry about assassinating each other."

Candace frowned, wanting to argue. Sure, her nation was less than ideally run, but...

"Looks like we're here." Duncan announced, breaking Candace's train of thought. The door on Duncan's side opened, and Duncan grasped Candace's hand in his own. "If you'll follow me, milady." he said gallantly.

The royal couple were met by an honor guard on the front steps of the Palace. Chancellor Maximilian Liao was nowhere in sight, but Candace hadn't expected him to be. He would be sitting on his throne, awaiting his daughter and future son-in-law. But the head of the greeting party was exactly who Candace was expecting, and in some ways dreading.

"Welcome home, sister." Romano Liao greeted with a bow. She was just as pretty as Candace in Candace's opinion, even without all the makeup that she was currently wearing. Given the way, Duncan stiffened beside Candace, she suspected that he thought the same. "And this must be your betrothed." Romano added, practically purring as she inappropriately eyed Duncan up and down. She bowed then offered the back of her hand. "Greetings, Captain-General, I am Romano Liao, Candace's younger sister."

The suggestive way Romano said "younger" had all kinds of hidden meaning that Candace instantly divined. It was Romano's way of telling Duncan to dump Candace for her. Of course, Candace knew Duncan wouldn't do that. Well, she was sure he wouldn't...

"It's a pleasure to meet my beloved's little sister." Duncan replied, bowing himself to kiss the back of Romano's proffered hand. Romano's expression momentarily showed annoyance while Duncan wasn't looking, perhaps because Duncan called Candace his beloved. Or maybe just because he called Romano "little".

Either way, Candace clung a little tighter to Duncan's arm when he returned to the standing position.

"Handsome and gallant." Romano commented, impressed. "My sister is so lucky to have you." She paused and then repeated in a low murmur as if to herself. "So lucky..."

"Yes, Romano, and I thank Blake every day that I have him." Candace told her sister pointedly, staring at her hard. "Shall we go? We shouldn't keep Father waiting."

"Of course, Candace." Romano replied turning away to lead them up the steps. "If you both will follow me."

As they followed Romano up the palace steps, Duncan leaned over and whispered in Candace's ear, low enough that hopefully no one else would hear.

"I think I had friendlier relations with my Uncle Janos when we were shooting at each other." he told Candace.

Candace couldn't help herself. She burst out with a laugh that caused Romano to visibly tense.

Coordinator Catches Up on his Messages[]

Imperial Palace, Luthien
Draconis Combine

Coordinator Takashi Kurita studied the strategic Inner Sphere map after it had been updated with the latest information. The Great Army of the Dragon continued to gather numbers and strength in the Benjamin District. The Warlord of Benjamin was of course honored to host such a massive force even if it wasn't directly under his control and requested more units be sent to his Davion border to support more raids. The other Warlords were making similar requests and certainly were not looking nervously over their shoulders, worried that such a massive army might be aimed at them.

Meanwhile, the Lyran Commonwealth and Federated Suns were resisting the Combine's raids and launching raids of their own into the Combine in equal measure, neither showing themselves as weaker or more vulnerable than the other. Logically, Takashi should throw the Great Army at only one of them, use such concentrated power to take whole swaths of systems along the Combine border. But if Takashi did that, no doubt the State he didn't attack would launch an offensive of their own. The obvious solution would be to attack both States simultaneously, but that would dilute the Great Army's power.

Takashi held off on making a decision again. That would allow the Great Army to grow some more, and having Warlords come to him for more units to augment their forces had its political advantages. He looked forward to seeing what the next round of offers and concessions his Warlords would offer in return for more units.

Checking his messages, Takashi spotted one from his son, Theodore. Opening the message, the first part was a proper, poetic greeting to Takashi. His son also informed the Coordinator that his studies at the Sun Zhang Mechwarrior Academy had gone so well that Theodore had been assigned to a training cadre attached to the Great Army. The second part was a rant on the stupidity of how the freshly recruited Wasp pilots were used in standard DCMS doctrine. In Theodore's highly considered opinion, barring the odd specialized scouting company, instead of sending in the Wasp recruits first to blood themselves on the enemy, proper samurai in heavy mechs should form the front line with the Wasp recruits hanging back and providing fire support. After all, the Wasps were mostly armed with long ranged weapons; clearly they should be used for second line fire support instead of the front line. This would ensure more Wasp recruits would live long enough to actually become proficient at mech handling and shooting real targets.

The rant amused Takashi. At eighteen years old, Theodore was clearly filled with the arrogance of youth and thought he knew better than his elders despite not even having graduated from the Sun Zhang yet, never mind not having even started yet at the Wisdom of the Dragon.

Takashi composed a quick reply to his son, thanking him for the update on his education and chastising him for his arrogance. The Dragon did things for a reason, he told his son. How else could the mechwarrior recruits from the lower classes quickly show their bravery and discipline than by being sent first into combat? Surely Theodore didn't expect any of the Combine's prestigious mechwarrior academies to accept cowards who only stayed safe on the second line?

With that message sent off, Takashi checked the next message. Ah, this was another one from the Warlord of Benjamin. Not an official request for more frontier forces, but a personal complaint about Theodore. It seemed Theodore had taken the Wasp battalion given to him and put his unconventional ideas into practice, ruthlessly drilling his recruits to provide fire support. The Warlord complained about the dishonor Theodore was heaping on his recruits by making them sit in the back while Theodore and his cadet company hoarded all the honor of the front line.

In an offhand side note, certainly not at all important to the complaint at hand except insofar that they demonstrated the Warlord of Benjamin's point, the ever honorable Warlord mentioned a number of examples of Theodore using these dishonorable tactics to win a number of training exercises, including a few against another cadet company let by the Warlord's own son who used the more honorable and conventional tactics.

Takashi composed a reply to the Warlord of Benjamin, the gist of which was that a Warlord had more important things to be doing than personally overseeing the training of mere mechwarrior academy cadets

The next message was from Takashi's wife, Jasmine. Of course, Jasmine didn't need to send Takashi mail to speak to him, but this memo was sent in her official capacity of "Flower of the Realm", the leader of social life in Takashi's court. Jasmine had noticed that Takashi's calendar still hadn't been updated with the date and time of when they were leaving for the wedding of Liao and Marik on Terra. Jasmine reminded Takashi that as Coordinator, it was on him to decide when the Combine's business could spare him long enough to attend the wedding. She also inquired as to whether their son would be coming with them.

No, Takashi decided. Theodore would not be coming with them to Terra. He was busy with his studies and training and shouldn't take months out of his education to attend a mere social event. Maybe after he graduated and there was another wedding between Great Houses, Theodore could attend that. But Takashi couldn't imagine another such event happening in his lifetime.

Still, Jasmine's memo did give Takashi an idea. The plans to invade the neighboring Successor States were already complete, only going through periodic updates as new intelligence came in and new troops and resources became available. The invasion only awaited Takashi's decision on which plan to implement. Takashi began composing a new memo to his DCMS' High Command, instructing them to modify the plans to have all attack forces to hit their target systems on the day of the Liao/Marik wedding when all the House Lords would be completely distracted by said wedding. Additionally because of the Great Army's centralized location in a few, tightly located systems, Takashi could use couriers entirely to distribute the attack order without using Comstar's notoriously leaky HPG network. Takashi would make the final decision by the eve of his leaving for Terra.

All in all, Takashi was certain that no one was going to expect the Draconis Combine to invade them while Takashi himself was on Terra.

The First Prince and Archon have a chat[]

The Triad, Tharkad
Lyran Commonwealth

"Can I just complement you on how you've managed to completely hide your arrival on Tharkad from everyone?" Archon Katrina told her important personal guest. "For that matter, I don't think anyone back in the Federated Suns has realized you left its borders."

"Why, thank you, Archon." replied First Prince Ian Davion. "Although I think you had more to do with hiding my presence here on Tharkad than I. But hiding my departure from the Suns was easy. I have competent and discrete subordinates to handle things in my absence, so it's only a small thing to have them say they're consulting me while they're making decisions on their own."

The two of them were alone in one of her palace's side rooms. It was a minor guest bedroom which the palace had dozens of, if not hundreds. Certainly not one of the extremely well appointed guest rooms for truly important people that might attract attention and comment from the palace staff.

"You trust your people a great deal." Katrina commented.

"I'm sure when you've been Archon as long as I've been First Prince, you'll have managed to put people you trust in all your important positions of power too." Ian assured her.

"I certainly hope so." Katrina said. "So, what brings you to Tharkad? I mean aside from my cousins' Kell Hounds pulling you out of the middle of a Combine raid?"

"You know Takashi's building up a really big army around Benjamin, right?" Ian began.

"If I didn't, I should be impeached for sheer incompetence." Katrina confirmed. "I've been making the best preparations to blunt Takashi's invasion if he sends it against the Lyran Commonwealth, but I'll admit it has me worried. I'm sure he's going send at least some of that army into the Commonwealth if only to keep us busy while he's attacking you. And I suspect he's going to send it all after the Commonwealth because he knows you'll have your hands full with the Capellan Confederation."

"Heh, I suspect I have more forces available than Takashi thinks I do." Ian told her with a predatory smile. "I'm sure my forces on my Capellan border can handle everything the Capellans have to throw at me, especially with my little brother leading them. Things might be different if Max was getting more than transportation assets from the League, but as things stand now?" Ian shrugged. "No, it's Takashi's 'Great Army' that I'm worried about, and why I came to see you."

"You want a mutual assistance treaty." Katrina guessed. "Whoever Takashi decides to attack, the other will send forces to assist. Wouldn't we be doing that anyway, if only by having enough of our own forces free to raid the Combine while the DCMS is busy?"

"Yes, but I want to a bit further than that." Ian said. "Why wait for Takashi's army to attack us when we can take the fight to him? Instead of fighting on our own worlds, let's make him fight on his."

"How do you expect to do that?" Katrina asked. "Takashi has his army concentrated in one place. Mine is scattered all over my border, and I haven't heard of any big concentration of your troops."

"I don't know about you, but I don't need all my forces in one place to launch a coordinated offensive." Ian replied. "As long as they all arrive at their target systems at the same time, I don't need to launch them all at once." He grimaced. "The only problem is preventing Takashi from catching wind of what we're doing. This kind of complex coordination is going to need Comstar's HPG network, and I'm sure you've gotten more than one 'intelligence coup' from them."

Katrina looked at Ian thoughtfully for a long moment before speaking.

"Well, we may not actually need Comstar to coordinate an offensive." Katrina began. "I have a little something from my misspent youth that could help us bypass Comstar entirely."

"Do you now?" Ian said, intrigued.

"Indeed." Katrina confirmed. " I think stopping Takashi's army is important enough that I'm willing to share it with you." She paused. "You'll need some time to distribute it to your forces, a few months at least. But all your major commands should have it a couple months before the Liao/Marik wedding."

Katrina practically saw a light bulb go off above Ian's head and Ian must have seen the same thing in Katrina.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Ian asked.

"Attack Takashi's army on the day of the wedding?" Katrina said. Ian nodded. "Of course, he'd never see it coming!"

Meeting the Father of the Bride[]

Throne Room
Celestial Palace, Sian
Capellan Confederation

"Father, you want to launch an offensive against the Federated Suns on my wedding day?" Candace asked, not quite believing what she was hearing. She had always known that her father was the pragmatic sort, but this...

"Of course, Candace." Maximilian Liao all but chortled. "Oh, don't get me wrong. I wanted to start the offensive far sooner than that. But your wedding day will be perfect. No one will be expecting it! And with you helping with the planning and leading the offensive, we will finally crush the Davions once and for all!"

Candace didn't know what to say. Literally. She wanted to argue that she wasn't the strategic genius her Father thought she was. But at the same time, she knew telling her father that – and more over, actually convincing him of that – would have some very unpleasant consequences for her and possibly Duncan too.

"Okay." Duncan agreed instantly.

"Duncan?" Candace said in surprise, turning to see the completely blasé expression on his face.

"But, Max." Duncan continued, putting an arm around Candace's waist and pulling her close, "I'm afraid that your daughter will be unavailable to lead your offensive." He turned his head and started shamelessly nuzzling Candace's ear and neck affectionately. "For a week. At least." he added with a muffled voice. "Maybe longer."

Maximilian practically inflated before Candace's eyes, ready to burst in rage at being denied. But even as he did so, he glanced back and forth between Duncan and Candace, his eyes calculating. Candace could tell what was going on in his head. Duncan was Captain General of the Free Worlds League. His allegiance was the only reason Maximilian could even conduct an offensive in the first place. In Candace's father's mind, Duncan's allegiance was only bought with sexual favors from Candace herself. But of course, Candace couldn't provide those sexual favors if she had to leave Duncan to lead House Liao's armies against House Davion, and her doing so on their wedding day could result in House Marik pulling its support just when Maximilian needed it most.

"Very well." Maximilian conceded with a growl as he settled back into his throne. Then a thought occurred to him and he smiled slyly. "But if the Captain-General will permit." he said smoothly, "I would like my daughter to be involved with the offensive's planning. Think of it as part of your wedding day plans." He chortled again. "We shouldn't need Candace to lead the offensive anyway. House Davion will never see us coming!"

Prepping for the Wedding[]

Hilton's Head, Terra
Sol Star System

On the plus side, Tiepolo continued to muse, the date for the marriage of Duncan Marik and Candace Liao had finally been negotiated and set: November 10, enough time for everyone to get their affairs straight and set time aside to travel to Terra for the wedding. Invitations to every vaguely important person in the Inner Sphere had been sent out. And amazingly, everyone had accepted, including all the House Lords. Maybe the war could be staved off from going full tilt until after the wedding. Or maybe the wedding would take place while the largest pitched battles seen in the Inner Sphere in half a century were being fought.

Or maybe everyone would invade each other on Duncan's and Candace's wedding night on the assumption that everyone else would be distracted by that same wedding. But Tiepolo was no military man. If he could see such a possibility, surely the House Lords would see it too and position their military units in position accordingly. Wouldn't they?

Tiepolo supposed it didn't matter, at least not for the senior members of Comstar anyway. Comstar controlled all interstellar communications. If anyone did launch a major offensive against anyone else, Tiepolo was sure that all of Comstar's senior leadership would hear about it well in advance. Certainly enough so to adjust their investment portfolios appropriately.

Getting ready for vistors[]

New Aragon
Federated Suns

"Alright, people, listen up." Prince Hanse Davion said to his staff. He held up a print out that had some fancy calligraphy printed on it. "I've received an invite to the wedding of Duncan Marik and Candace Liao. I should only be gone for two, maybe three months, but we're going to have to do a lot of work before I leave for Terra. Here's what I want done by then..."

"Highness, are you sure the Capellans are going to attack us on Candace Liao's wedding day?" one of Hanse's aides asked once the prince was done outlining everything.

"Of course they are." Hanse replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "If I were in their place, I'd be doing exactly the same thing!"

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