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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 42[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]


Saunders, Saiph
Saiph Triumvirate, Chaos March
3rd December, 3066


A Blackjack in the colors of the St Ives. Lancers was covering for a platoon of Feng Shih battle armor as they disembarked around the entrance to the bunker complex.

Galen fired the Gauss Rifle built into the right arm of his Tempest and the slug crashed into the smaller ‘Mech’s right arm. He’d hoped to take the limb off and if it was an older model then it might have succeeded. Unfortunately, his sensors finally manage to confirm that this was the newer Omnimech version - slightly heavier and carrying more armor.

Even so, the shot shattered armor plating and actually bent the barrel of the autocannon that made up much of the Blackjack’s right arm.

The pilot was good. He backpedaled towards the cover of half a dropship hangar, the Blackjack’s torso swiveling turret-like on the ‘Mech’s waist joint in order to bring the other autocannon to bear. Two lasers flickered, slashing lines across the barrel-chest of the Tempest. Then the autocannon flashed - Galen ducked and only one of the sub-munitions scored a hit, high on the Tempest’s flared shoulders - and the Blackjack whipped back around, using the damaged arm to cover against more fire.

This might be one of the Mechwarriors who’d made the long trip to Huntress as part of Operation Serpent. A veteran of the revived SLDF’s greatest triumph.

Galen ignored him and lashed out at the cluster of Feng Shih, lasers hacking away at them and cutting more deeply into their armor plating than the weapons would on a much larger target like a ‘Mech. He triggered his short range missiles and in the interval between their departure from the box-launcher on the Tempest’s hip and the impacts he could see one of the armored troopers lying helpless on the floor, a leg cut away by one of the laser pulses.

The missiles hit, a smattering of explosions that was followed by a much larger blast. Galen blinked and then remembered that the Feng Shih carried mines in dispensers mounted on their backs. One must have taken an SRM in the exact spot to trigger sympathetic detonation - one of the suits was reduced to little more than a pair of smoking boots by the detonation.

The Blackjack closed in, firing again with lasers and it’s one remaining autocannon. Galen ignored it for a moment - his armor was mostly intact and he might not get another chance. Kicking out, one of the cloven feet of his ‘Mech crashed against one of the Feng Shih and sent it crashing against what was left of the control tower with brutal force.

He was getting used to the Tempest, at first he’d missed the LRM racks of his preferred Crusader but this wasn’t bad at all. It was probably for the best, he’d hate to tell Isis that he didn’t like the ‘Mech she’d outright given to him as a gift.

Speaking of whom… “Isis, battle armor is coming down from near the control tower.” he warned. “You need to get clear.”

“I’m…” There was the stutter of an auto-rifle kicking out a short burst. “...working on that. They’re not our only problem.” Her words were punctuated by a grenade going off far too close to her microphone.

The other Feng Shih were going for cover, firing on him as best they could. Galen wouldn’t get any more soft targets, but half the platoon weren’t heading down to the bunkers. He brought his ‘Mech around towards the Blackjack and held his fire just an instant as the Omnimech was shifting to bring its guns to bear again.

They fired at the same moment and at this range neither was likely to miss.

Lasers scoured armor away from the armored skirt across the Tempest’s hips and Galen gritted his teeth as one of the sub-munitions hammering in after them struck his canopy, scarring it behind the holographic heads-up display.

Blackjack OmniMech (by S Huda 2011- TRO 3063)

Blackjack Medium OmniMech

Galen had aimed for the left torso, and had hit home with both the pulse laser and the Gauss Rifle. The torso mounts had been a fraction slower and carved away paint and outer armor layers from the center and right chest of the Blackjack. But that didn’t matter, because the shots to the left chest had dug deep in and struck the ammunition stored there.

The canopy of the Blackjack exploded, hurling the Mechwarrior away as what was left of its munitions blew up, tearing the side off the reactor shielding. The ‘Mech collapsed only a few seconds later, reactor scramming, and the gyro either wrecked or just shutting down. There must have not been all that much ammunition left or Galen wouldn’t have been surprised to see the medium ‘Mech torn in two.

“Isis! Are you okay?”

She was panting. “Just… running… we’re through to the bottom of the exit. Do we have transport at point gamma?”

“If we don’t, I’ll carry you.” Galen promised, running the Tempest in the proper direction, which had the benefit of also taking him away from the harassing fire from the Capellan battle armor.

Point gamma was a secondary exit for the complex. There was no further hope of holding the drop port against the Capellan offensive. What was left of the Tenth Marik Militia was being forced to withdraw under covering fire from Saiph’s planetary guards - who had themselves been carrying repairs and reorganization under the Militia’s protection only three days previously.

The good news was that with the St. Ives Lancers pressing them here, Galen thought, the pressure was off the Dismal Disinherited and the Lucky Thirteenth. Both units had needed the respite after pincering a thrust by one of McCarron’s regiments. The Big Mac had refused to break and instead fought their way out ferociously, inflicting losses on Reissing and Marik-Johns’ regiments almost equal to those they suffered escaping the pocket.

Galen glanced upwards. They might have broken, he thought. It was close, but with that blasted cruiser in the orbitals we couldn’t maintain enough concentration to overwhelm them. The resulting running fight had been… frustrating.

Only a pair of Marik Militia armored personnel carriers had reached point gamma by the time that Galen did, but a moment later a headquarters truck and mobile hospital screeched to a halt near the stairwell.

“Colonel Meyer?” he inquired, seeing the Tenth’s commander emerge from the former to help carry Count Balatine to the latter vehicle. Isis was half-dragging the much larger man, who was bleeding from a head wound.

The colonel was wearing a headset, letting her reply easily. “The other two transports got caught by a Capellan recon lance. We have enough room in my truck to make up the capacity, and it’ll be easier to stay in touch.”

“I’ll be playing escort.” he advised. “My command lance is patching up holes in the guards company.”

Isis finally handed the count off to the medics and Galen heard a muffled request. The content was obvious when Meyer removed her headset and handed over to the Duchess.

“Galen, have we heard anything from the HPG?”

“Nothing.” The HPG station had been victim to a terrorist attack three days after the Capellans landed. The Capellans denied involvement, claiming that it was simply a sign of the ‘endemic violence’ taking place on Saiph. ComStar had neither confirmed nor denied it - probably because the ‘peacekeepers’ had moved in to secure the HPG until new ComGuards security and operating personnel could arrive.

If anyone could prove it was Sun-Tzu Liao behind it, he might find his entire realm under interdict… but the evidence would have to be rock solid or ComStar might simply find that the Word of Blake would step in to replace them, disputing their rival’s condemnation. The Capellan espionage was usually pretty good even when they didn’t have an essentially free hand to clean up after themselves.

He heard Isis sigh and when he looked down at her, she was shaking her head. Then she looked up at his cockpit, shading her eyes with one hand. “Tell me honestly, how much longer can we keep this up?”

Galen dropped the Tempest to one knee and opened his cockpit. “If you want to discuss that, let’s do it on the move. There’s room for you in my cockpit.”

Isis made heavy weather of climbing the ladder. He was reminded again that she wasn’t a Mechwarrior - and when she reached the hatch, she got stuck climbing through it. Only when she unstrapped the rifle across her back was she able to slide through it, fumbling her way around him to the tiny seat crammed in behind the command couch. If he hadn’t been wearing his neurohelmet, he might have appreciated more the way she had to wriggle her hips past his head.

He’d retracted the ladder once she was in, and closed the hatch while she was strapping herself in. Down below, the wounded had been moved to the mobile hospital truck and everyone else was mounted up in the other vehicles. Meyer’s voice crackled over the radio. “Standard nav points, Colonel Cox. Are we still following Lambda-Omicron-Nu?”

“Confirmed, colonel. Lambda-Omicron-Nu.” Those nav points would hopefully still be a secure route back out of Saunders and eventually to one of the cities still holding out. There was a crackle on his comms and he realized that Isis had found a headset and plugged herself in. “I’ll keep you updated.” he continued and cut the external channel.

“I take it that your answer isn’t a good one.” Isis asked after a moment of silence.

Galen brought the Tempest upright. “I’d say we have about a month more.”

She considered that. “I see. Our losses haven’t been that high, so I assume that it’s a matter of space and supplies?”

Isis had clearly picked up more than most people realized from her time with Victor, he noted as he began moving alongside the road that the little convoy was following. “We’ve been playing for time, but it’s left us being pushed back by the enemy’s greater numbers. And while we haven’t reached the end of our ability to repair our ‘Mechs, it’s not out of sight. Throw in that we’re running out of territory to concede for more time…”

“Then we’ll have to fight harder for what we have left, and losses will mount.” she said tightly. “And without the HPG we can’t even let anyone know we’re running out of time.”

“That’s about the size of…” He paused as his sensor suite reported movement. “Damn!”

Isis tightened her straps. “Whatever it is, deal with it. I can air my fears later.”

If there is a later, he thought and disabled the automatic ejection system as he wheeled the Tempest away from the road. If it fired now it would roast Isis in the process of throwing him clear and he wasn’t okay with that. I wish that this thing had a full-head ejection system. In a recent letter from Victor he’d heard that Catherine Steiner-Davion had pushed Coventry and Corean to refit their Commando and Valkyrie production lines to fit Wolfhound-style heads to the light ‘mechs, increasing survivability if the mechwarrior had to eject. It was one of those ideas that seemed obvious, but it had always cost too much in time and money to implement. Clearly Peter was prepared to pay both prices, which said good things about the AFFC’s readiness.

Commando (MWO Style by Ra-ul)

Commando Light BattleMech

“Colonel Meyer.” he warned. “I’m picking up heat and movement from the right. Looks like a pair of ‘Mechs and three tanks - one of Liao’s combined arms demi-companies. Heavies, I think.”

“We’ll pick it up.” the Marik Militia officer responded crisply. “If you can buy us time, it’d be appreciated. If not, get out with the Duchess. We really can’t afford to lose both her and Count Balatine.”

Galen moved the Tempest up the slope of the ridge that sheltered the road from the drop-port’s main expanse - a safety precaution that was now serving a military purpose. His heart sank as he saw that both the ‘Mechs were Thunders - Capellan heavies just as modern as his own Tempest, but that traded firepower for larger engines. There was no way he would be able to outrun them - and the trio of Po heavy tanks more than made up for any advantage his extra weapons would have given him over just one of them.

“I’m going to need to get you onto one of the APCs.” he told Isis, backing down and hoping that he hadn’t been spotted by the enemy force. They must know he was in the area, their sensors should be as good as his, but they might not have the exact location. “And we don’t have time to stop… I really hate to complain about this thing, but it doesn’t have any hands, which would make this easier.”

“That sounds absurdly dangerous.” Isis replied flatly and he heard her start to unstrap herself. “I assume every other option is worse.”

“I wouldn’t like my odds if we were up against a backwater militia, and the St. Ives Lancers are pretty damn good.” He kicked the Tempest into a run back towards the road. “All I can do is play for time and you’re too valuable to lose.”

“This is no time for romantic gestures.” he heard her say into his ear. “What about reinforcements? Or somewhere to go to ground?”

“We’re one step from a route, I can’t pull anyone away.” Galen saw the little convoy up ahead. “And do you see any cover?” The dropport was on the edge of the city and they were moving away from it. None of the buildings here were large enough to hide a ‘Mech - some of them would have been hard-pressed to hide a large ground-car.

He was about to open the hatch when he saw the icons marking the approximate position of the Capellans begin to pull away. “What… they’re not following us.”

Isis slumped back into her seat.

“Cox!”

Galen refocused on his surroundings again. “I read you, Colonel Meyers.”

“We’re getting a signal from orbit!” she all but shouted. “The Crappies must be picking it up too because they’re pulling back.”

Orbit? “Could you have someone relay it?” he requested.

Without further ado, a new voice entered the channel. A familiar voice, he realized. A woman, with the slight but recognizable accent of a native of Gallery, the ancestral homeworld of House Steiner.

“-peat.” the woman announced in ringing tones. “This is General Sabine Steiner of the Star League peacekeeping forces, aboard the FWLS Corinth. I am offering the Capellan forces currently falsely claiming Star League sanction twenty-four hours to depart Saiph, after which my task force will treat them as hostile. This deadline does not apply to the false-flagged warship in orbit, which has until our guns range to surrender unconditionally. This is your only warning.”

Corinth is a Thera-class carrier.” Isis reminded him. “It’s one of the ships that was interned by the Word of Blake. How did it get here?”

Thera Aerospace Carrier (Underway - Deep Space)

Thera-Class Super Fighter Carrier, Corinth.

“I don’t know but I’m not complaining.” Galen commented to her

“Nor am I.” Meyer agreed, reminding the pair that she was still on the channel. “We’re trying to get… what’s that?”

Galen brought his ‘Mech to a stop, waiting for the news.

“Colonel Reissing just got in touch.” Meyer reported after two tense moments. “He’s managed to establish contact with the Corinth and verify General Steiner’s presence. He says she has the Corinth and two other warships, the spearhead of a relief force - enough to take the orbitals and pin the Capellans in place unless they get away. The enemy cruiser is already boosting for the outer system, not even waiting for the ground forces.”

“Then…” Isis sounded hesitant. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but did we just win?”

“Unless someone is mad enough to fight on, yes, we won.” Galen confirmed. It looked as if his first actual major command would not be a last stand.


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