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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 38[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]

Dropship Tourmaline Desert, Zenith Point
Bernardo, Free Worlds League
7th August, 3066

The concept of senior leadership retreating to a private room for discussion over a game probably conjured the idea of gambling with a deck of cards that was covered with a thin patina of grease that still carried the tobacco fumes from thousands of cigarettes being smoked around them in the past.

It would probably disappoint those with such an image in mind to see us now, Isis thought as she clipped two little dropships on magnets to a metal board that was clipped to the fold out table of her stateroom, securing her a critical connection for her strategy to work out.

Dropship and Jumpship crews spent a lot of time in transit and they weren’t working all the time. That left them in need of a lot for entertainment, and in this case that included a locker full of board games that she and Galen had dug out for social time with the other passengers, some of them involved in their mission and others just going in the same direction.

Colonel Reissing had worried incessantly but Isis figured that you never knew who might turn out to be a useful connection in the future. Besides, it meant meeting new people who might have something to talk about. As a result, the Colonel had joined them whenever he could and been good enough company that she’d invited him along even today when it would otherwise be just her and Galen. As much as she enjoyed Galen’s company, some variety was also good.

Given that the game they were playing involved strategy, pattern-matching and luck, Isis would have expected Reissing to do better but so far he was struggling to connect two disparate travel networks across the stylised map of the Free Worlds League that made up the board. If he failed then not only would he miss the points for any objectives that required the link, he could even be penalized.

Galen reached over and placed not one but six jumpships on the board. That was worth fifteen points! “Have you played this before?” she asked suspiciously.

“I’ve spent literally years on dropships and jumpships with Victor. Sometimes even he ran out of work and had to resort to games for entertainment. I think I’ve played everything even remotely strategic on half the AFFC jumpship fleet by this point.”

“But have you,” she pointed at him, “Played this,” her finger moved to the game board. “Before?”

“Well, the set I played had a map of the Federated Suns, but the rules were the same.” He paused. “I’ve only two pieces left, so this is the final round by the way.”

“Argh!” Isis exclaimed

Neither Isis or Lloyd Reissing could beat what turned out to be a very substantial lead by the Tamar native, and by mutual consent the two of them started packing up the game once the final score was known.

Galen was gracious in his victory and raised the subject that had been avoided during the game. “Given the news from Ohrenson, do you think that it’s realistic to visit Zion or will you be aborting the rest of the tour, Isis?”

She looked down at the board she was folding. The salient formed by the two provinces appeared but none of the routes led into it: the game’s original edition had been published before the worlds were part of the Free Worlds League, and while the map on the board had been updated cosmetically, the provinces weren’t part of the gameplay.

That lack of importance seemed to be the opinion of Thomas Halas. While he had about a third of his forces on the Capellan border, his strategic reserves were moving towards his two rivals in what looked like the beginning of a major offensive against one or both of them.

Unsurprisingly, Kirc Cameron-Jones wasn’t paying the slightest attention to the invasion either. As far as Isis could tell, his interests began and ended with dominating the core regions of the League… border worlds could go hang.

That left Corinne Marik and the regiments based in the region were all at least notionally affiliated with her, but they were also halfway across the Free Worlds League from her center of power. With the best will in the world, it would be hard for her to resupply or reinforce them.

“Even if she commits her warships, I’m not sure they’ll arrive in time for the remaining defenders.” she said at last. The defenders had started as two brigades of the Marik Militia and one of the Free Worlds Legionnaires. What information had filtered back to Bernardo where the Tenth Marik Militia had been stationed before they headed for the sound of the guns, and where their dependents were still waiting - currently the numbers were even less favorable. “Given the Regulan threat to her shipyards at Ionus, I can’t see her doing that.”

“It might be easier if we were on better terms with her,” mentioned Reissing. “If the Silver Hawks guaranteed supply lines for her, it could even be the start of a combined effort against Liao.”

“That milk has already been split.” And Isis had to wonder now if Sun-Tzu had been behind the raids that had sparked the fighting on Marik. Either way, it had worked out well for him.

Galen shrugged and took the board off her, laying it out again. “Which doesn’t change the question. Do you plan to go there?” he tapped the worlds of Zion province. “Or for that matter, here?” His finger moved over into the featureless green of the Capellan Confederation (as the map claimed, though the region was now the Chaos March), the approximate location of Saiph.

Reissing cupped his hands. “My instinct is to go and support the sister regiments of my command,” he admitted. “but even with four brigades, we’d be badly outnumbered.”

Isis nodded slowly. “The latest news from Saiph has it that they’ve hired three regiments of mercenaries. If we could convince them to form a combined front, what would that do to the odds.”

The two soldiers exchanged looks. “Seven brigades… six to all practical purposes, given the losses. I think the Third Free Worlds Legion is in terrible shape.” Galen noted. That was the brigade that had been stationed on Kyrkbacken, one of the Ohrenson province worlds, when the invasion began. “It would give us a parity with the ground forces that Sun-Tzu has committed, but he can call in reinforcements… and then there are the warships.”

Isis nodded. “I’ve put as much pressure as I can on the contacts I’ve made with the Word of Blake, but even if they gave back all the warships that are interned. We’d have to crew and support them. I’ve no idea what state they’re in.”

“Battle damage while they made for Gibson and Terra,” Galen listed on his fingers. “internal damage if the crews fought over the decisions. Any systems stripped by the Word - or even just taken apart so they could look at them.”

Reissing winced. “That’s a worst case scenario and the ships have crews.”

“About a third of them have been repatriated to various combatants, and another third are wearing the colors of the Word of Blake Militia now.” Isis told him. It seemed she had better insight than he did into the Blakist situation now - which would make sense. The - call them what they were - spies watching Reissing had shown him backing off from his previous flirtation with the movement rather than see his loyalties be put further in doubt.

“So even if they were returned they might not be any use.” he realized.

Isis nodded and picked up the board. “How long do you think it’ll be before Ohrenson and Kyrkbacken are untenable?”

“Honestly, they’re doing well not to have given them up already. I’d expect the fighting to be in Zion province by next month.” Galen told her.

“Then going there now wouldn’t help very much,” she decided. “instead we’ll head directly for Saiph and see if they’re willing to form an alliance against the Capellans. I’ll send a message back to Marshal van Creveld and see if we can get any other reinforcements. Perhaps if we can deploy additional fighter wings and assault dropship squadrons it might make Sun-Tzu unwilling to risk his warships. He only has a small fleet of them.”

Of course, he’d been willing to risk one unsupported over Sarna, she remembered. At the time he’d said that warships he couldn’t use weren’t worth the investment made in them. But now he was facing a much higher risk of conflict with the Federated Commonwealth…

Am I putting my escort at risk on the basis of wishful thinking? She shook her head slightly. “If we don’t stop Sun-Tzu somehow, he’ll keep coming,” Isis declared firmly. “Galen, I know the chances are slim but please ask the Commanding General if he can arrange for any warships to be sent under SLDF colors.”

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