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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 47[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]

Hyppo, Augustine
Silver Hawks Coalition
1st March, 3067

Alys had avoided public appearances since returning from the Coalition Council meeting on Augustine. After accepting the treaty with House Steiner-Davion, the council had taken the logical next step and elections were being prepared for. By the start of next year, a two hundred strong Parliament would exist to advise and restrain their triumvirate leadership. Their first task would be to confirm or replace all three of the current leaders, but that seemed unlikely.

She had no heart for it.

Perseus (firing missiles)

Perseus Heavy OmniMech

All her life, Alys Rousset-Marik had intended to serve the Free Worlds League. Her siblings had joined the Krushers, but the mercenary lifestyle hadn’t called to her in the same way. Irony being what it was, the regiment was being reborn as a regular part of the military… just serving fragment of the realm that she’d taken such pride in.

Yanking the controls of her Perseus around she let fly with first one PPC and then the second at simulated targets. Even dialed down to training power levels, the weapons punched through the holographic simulations of Capellan ‘Mechs with what felt like satisfying impacts. A wave of heat went through her cockpit as a Vindicator seemed to reel, plates of armor ripped open across its chest. The Raven next to it bowed forwards and drove its nose into the ground as one leg was blasted apart, the hologram winking out a moment later.

Alys kept her ‘Mech moving, twisting to fire a vicious salvo of SRMs into the remaining target at close range. Enough of them found the gaping hole her first shot had caused that the target range’s computers determined the Vindicator was out of action and the ‘Mech toppled backwards.

Ignoring the ‘Mech disappearing, Alys brought the Perseus to a halt and reached over to open one of the cockpit lockers. Flipping open the visor of her neurohelmet, she flipped the cap of the bottle she’d found and deployed the built in straw. While a little elaborate, the cap let her sip the energy drink without removing her helmet or potentially spilling the contents over her face - the visor really wasn’t large enough for full access to her mouth.

“Range control.” she instructed once the temperature of the cockpit had settled back to normal and the inside of her mouth was less parched. The computer opened a channel in response to the verbal command and pinged in confirmation. “Control, this is Colonel Rousset-Marik. Does anyone else want the range or can I get another run in today?”

“There’s a Ranger officer wanting some practice, Colonel.” the range-sergeant reported a moment later. “But he said he’d be happy to share if necessary.”

Shrugging her shoulders to re-settle the weight of her cooling vest, Alys glanced at the map. “I’d be up for a two ‘Mech run if he is.”

She’d stowed the bottle and closed her visor again before the reply came in. “Understood colonel, he’ll be waiting for you at starting position kappa.”

“Affirmative, Range Control. Thanks.” She closed the channel and started the heavy ‘Mech marching towards the designated zone. The target range was beachfront territory, cut off from the rest of Hyppo’s main military base by cliffs too high for most ‘Mechs to scale. A cargo dropship had crashed into the area long ago and was still visible just off shore despite decades of salvage work pulling the contents, surviving crew and valuable components off it. That was one of the few signs that humanity had ever been here though. The range buildings were clustered under the cliff, screened from view of the water by a lower ridge of stone.

Wading along the sandy shore, Alys found the other ‘Mech waiting for her at the southern end of the range, a dark-red ‘Mech with the arms painted black. Light blue highlights confirmed that it was from the Twenty-Fifth Skye Rangers but for a moment she couldn’t place the design - it was bird-legged like a Marauder but the arms ended in blunt fingers rather than the usual weapon pods. Her battle-computer scanned it and came back with a ‘Viper / Black Python’ designation that clued her in that it was a Clan design. A trophy from Operation Bulldog perhaps? It wasn’t one of the frontline Clan OmniMechs that she knew offhand.

“Greetings, Colonel.” The familiar voice of Reinhart Steiner came across the general channel. “I was hoping to run into you today, finding you on the range saves me a trip to your office later.”

“I hope you would have showered first.” she answered in a voice that had less humor than she had intended. “My apologies, that was intended as a jest.”

The Viper pilot twitched one of the ‘Mechs arms dismissively. “I suppose it’s no day for humor. I gather that my message has been preceded.”

“If you mean Serge, then yes.”T he Coalition’s fledgling intelligence service wasn’t comparable to SAFE but it was quite up to picking up headline news from across the border.

“I see.” Reinhart sounded sympathetic rather than triumphant. “If you would rather not discuss it...”

Alys turned her Perseus towards the range. “I get the feeling I’ll want to shoot at something. Tell me as we go.” Her information had been fairly scant, after all. Just news that the ‘scourge’ that had been raiding Lyran worlds had been defeated ‘at last’. She didn’t think her brother-in-law would have been taken alive though.

The Viper strutted forwards. No, that was unfair, it was just the natural gait of it’s bird-like legs. The ‘Mech was faster than hers, but Reinhart stayed anchored to her flank as they roamed into the dunes, heading for the first waypoint. “I regret to inform you that Major Bernstein’s dropship was brought down by AFFC aerospace fighters over Caledonia four days ago.”

Caledonia? Serge, you damned fool!, Alys thought

The world had little note in and of itself, but it was one jump away from the well-fortified factory world of Hesperus II. More than one expedition of the FWLM had used it as a waypoint for attacking that target in the past so it was no surprise that Caledonia was well protected.

A Wolfhound light ‘Mech popped up on the threat display, followed a moment later by a Valkyrie and two Commandos. A standard AFFC recon lance.

Alys fed her right hand PPC into one of the Commandos and saw the little ‘Mech disintegrate under the impact before her LRMs could reach it. Reinhart had targeted the Valkyrie and twin pulse lasers ripped deep into it, just a little off center. Holographic explosions suggested that the LRM storage had been struck as the two simulated opponents vanished from the scope.

“The dropship made a forced landing.” Reinhart continued. “When offered the opportunity to surrender, Major Bernstein declined. The local militia surrounded the site and observed ‘Mechs active and establishing fortifications around the dropship. Uncertain if the dropship could still fight or perhaps take off again, the local commander ordered an artillery bombardment.”

The Wolfhound raked lasers across the chest of Alys’ Mech, inflicting light damage as it tried to escape. Before she could bring it down, the Viper reached range for its medium pulse lasers and tore leg off the ‘Mech with a pinpoint barrage of fire.

She returned the favor and fired both PPCs at the other Commando, which was trying to close in on Reinhart. One PPC had the capacitor still charged and the twenty-five ton scout ‘Mech simply ceased to exist. The holograms winked out and a new waypoint appeared.

“I take it that Serge tried a breakout?” Alys asked as her ‘Mech cooled.

“He did.” agreed Reinhart seriously. “However, he was facing a battalion of the Tenth Lyran Guards.”

She winced at the thought. Victor Steiner-Davion’s most famous command and one of the most elite regimental combat teams in the Federated Commonwealth. Reinhart himself had served with them during the Federated Commonwealth Civil War.

“Major Bernstein’s Albatross was brought down early in the engagement.” the Lyran continued gently. “His cockpit was lightly penetrated and it appears he was knocked unconscious, bleeding out before rescue personnel could reach him. If it’s any consolation, it seems unlikely that he had any chance to feel it.”

Alys wrenched the Perseus to a halt, hands shaking as she removed them from the controls.

“Colonel? Alys?”

“He’d been feeling dead since Arcadia.” she snapped. “Since Ana… Since they died. Something was lost then, inside him. You… your comrades only killed the half a man that was left.”

Reinhart said nothing, simply halting his Viper next to Alys’ Perseus.

It was several minutes before she could be sure she was speaking clearly.“My apologies, again. I must… inform my nephew of his father’s death. I’ve been out here trying to vent so that I could bring myself to do so without it… well. I am sure you’ve had to deal with loss before.”

“I have.” he admitted. “For that reason, you have no need to apologize to me.”

“I am not only mourning, Serge.” she added. “My entire nation is dying. I suppose having dodged that by a hair, you must have faced that fear as well.” It was curiously liberating for her to admit that, even to a damned Steiner. The enemy across the border through her childhood, the employers that had turned on her mother.

Though he had no place in any of that, she reminded herself. Reinhart’s career had never brought him up against the Free Worlds League.

“It seems that we have reached the season for civil wars.” he admitted. “I hope yours resolves before more damage is done.”

“You had a civil war.” she spat. “We have a Succession War. History shows that they don’t end quickly or easily.” She took a hard, wracking breath. “I’m sorry, I should not try to pilot like this. Range control!” The computer pinged. “Please abort this run.” she ordered, forcing courtesy as a layer against her range. “I’m returning to the hangar. Colonel Steiner has free use of the range if he wants to continue.”

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