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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 13[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]


Part Three - Twycross

We've got to turn it off,
Flip a switch.
Light up the night!
-Light Up The Night - Protomen, Act II


Cross-Divide Mountains, Coventry
Coventry Province, Federated Commonwealth
September 7th, 3067


After what felt like a long wait, reinforcements had arrived the previous month to help Coventry’s garrison clear the world of the Jade Falcons. Despite the promising start of the battle, not all of the Clan warriors had been as inexperienced as those Conner had encountered during the initial drop.

The 305th Assault Cluster had come terrifyingly close to breaking through to the Coventry Metal Works factory, only throwing the much lighter ‘Mechs of the Deneb Light Cavalry at them en'masse had held them back. General Bortman had been among those who died paying that price.

Upon the arrival of the reinforcements, the majority of the invaders had evacuated under the protection of their remaining warships; but the running fight to push the Jade Falcons to that point had stretched what remained of the two Regimental Combat Teams almost to the breaking point.

Despite the numbers disparity favoring them now, hunting down the scattered forces that had not reached the dropships in time was keeping the remaining garrison stretched to cover all their defensive commitments. They couldn’t be strong everywhere and Conner had welcomed the white-painted reinforcements with open arms.

As he walked his Wolfhound through what was left of the town of Sheffield, he was re-thinking that opinion.

Wolfhound (target scope)

Connor's Wolfhound in the target scopes of the enemy.

Intelligence reported that they town had been attacked by a Hellhound - a second-rate Clan medium ‘Mech somewhat superior to Conner’s Wolfhound - escorting more than twenty Elementals and several commandeered trucks. The estimation was that they aimed to gather supplies - food for the most part. Sheffield’s police force had called in the attack before the ‘Mech waded right through their station. Conner knew that part of the story because the police chief had reported it was happening before the call cut off.

While the loss of the policemen to that would have been beyond unfortunate, similar raids had seen the Clans leave towns with little more in the way of lives lost and property damage.

The commercial district of Sheffield had essentially been pounded flat.

A battered Buccaneer Battlemech stood triumphant over the wreck of the Hellhound, the large laser of the surviving ‘Mech a shattered wreck and armor peeled away from almost all of the ‘Mech. Infantry were conscientiously checking the wrecked buildings for survivors - of the townsfolk or of the Clanners, Conner wasn’t entirely sure. Around the ‘Mech, eight combat vehicles were forming a loose cordon. All were painted in white and proudly wore the badge of the Word of Blake Militia’s First Division.

Conner had heard that the First Division represented the elite of the Militia. They’d certainly looked good parading off their dropships, delivered from Terra to Coventry by a command circuit of commercial Jumpships in an open display of the Word’s financial might. Between that and the already well-known heroism of the Blakist cruiser Immortal Spirit, the First Division had been made very welcome on Coventry.

Switching to secondary cameras, the AFFC major could see civilian faces glaring at the Militia troops. It seemed that the welcome had worn bare already. And he could understand why.

“What the hell did they do?” Max Hunter ground out, from the number two slot in the column of ‘Mechs. Conner had brought a full company in expectation of having to give chase to the Clans if they scattered as they withdrew. “Pound the place flat with artillery?”

“They’re equipped for it.” Conner replied, indicating the pair of Sniper tracked artillery pieces that made up a quarter of the force’s combat vehicle strength.

The Militia troops watched them arrive but other than two of the tanks twisting their turrets from side to side to confirm their readiness, none of them showed any sign of concern. “Give me a perimeter, Sergeant Hunter.”

“Sir.” the man replied in the stolid tones of someone convinced equally that his superior was making a mistake and that counsel would not be heeded. He was right about the second part. Time would tell about the first.

Conner powered down the Wolfhound and took the time to fish his sidearm out of a locker and strap it to his hip. He didn’t generally carry it around but this wasn’t exactly a secure area. A windbreaker replaced his cooling vest and then he extended the rope ladder from his cockpit and climbed down.

The nearest squad of Blakist infantry moved to greet him, the leader marked by a blue rank badge on the right-shoulder of his armored vest. Conner had to squint a bit to make out the III - an Adept-III then. The Word of Blake didn’t use normal military ranks, instead ranking personnel as Acolytes, Adepts and Precentors just like their civilian counterparts. The number following the rank marked years of service.

“Major.” The Adept saluted crisply.

Conner returned the gesture. “Adept. I see you must have faced fierce resistance.”

The implied criticism went right over the man’s head - although from their frowns it seemed a couple of his squad had picked up on it. “We managed, Sir. I doubt any of the tank-born made it out, but we’ll make sure.”

“Who’s in command here, please?” There was no point screaming at the adept. And probably not actually screaming at his commander, however tempting the idea was.

“Adept Shawnee is senior.” The Adept gestured towards a low slung Fury tank. “She’s right over this way.”

“Thank you, Adept.” Conner kept his voice clipped and correct.

Under other circumstances, he might have appreciated meeting Marina Shawnee - she was a trim woman who could have been anything between his own age and a decade older. However, these weren’t normal circumstances.

“Major.” She had one eye focused on the monocle of her headset, where he could see data reflected as it updated, looking past him more than at him. “I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing, but I think we’ve dealt with this raiding party. We’ve accounted for the ‘Mech, obviously, and confirmed twenty-one dead elementals. It’s possible that they had one or two more but it seems unlikely that it was a full Star.”

“I’m sure that’ll be a great comfort to the people of Sheffield.”

Shawnee picked up on the sarcasm and arched an eyebrow, giving him her full attention. “We gave the Clanners a chance to surrender. Would you rather we let them go so they could raid more towns?”

“I would have suggested drawing them out of the town and catching them in the countryside, or at least tracking them back towards wherever they are using as a base. What did you do, surround the entire town and issue an ultimatum?”

She flushed angrily. “You may have not fought the Clans before they came here, Major. I’m a veteran of Tukkayid; and when you have Clanners in ground that limits their mobility and weapons range, it’s foolish to give them the chance to regain those advantages.”

A part of Conner noted that she was older than he had thought. Another part, the part that was on duty, thought back to the famous battle and tried to put her words in context. “Adept Shawnee, my understanding is that Tukkayid’s civilian population was almost entire evacuated prior to the battle. Even when you fought in cities there, you weren’t risking innocent deaths.”

“We didn’t bring the Clanners here!”, she yelled

“I know.” He took a deep breath. “And I am aware that the Hellhound pilot must have killed or injured a number of people when he attacked the police station. However, can you tell me that no civilians were harmed by your own forces?” He gestured towards the Snipers. “I’m sure neither of us believes that artillery can tell the difference.”

The question seemed to sink into Shawnee’s thinking. “There were three fatalities at the police station.” she informed him, sounding distracted as she checked something on her monocle’s display. “Our medics and the local hospital are treating more than forty wounded citizens.”

From his recollections of Avalon City and Tharkad City, Conner thought it could have been a great deal worse. Even so… “That makes this the raid with the most civilians wounded since the Falcons withdrew their main forces from Coventry. It’s not a report I’m eager to make.”

From the look on Shawnee’s face, now that she was thinking about it, nor was she.

“It’s possible the Jade Falcons were more brutal than usual, perhaps venting frustration at their situation.” He paused. “But that’s not the only explanation, and the media are inevitably going to dig into this and want to know why Sheffield has so many casualties, and millions of S-bills in property damage.”

“Our orders are not to take half-measures when it comes to cleansing Coventry of the Clanners…” Shawnee gripped the comm-unit she held with fingers that were white. “I had not considered the matter in this light.”

Conner nodded, trying to look sympathetic. “I take it that the majority of your unit are either inexperienced or, like you, veterans of Tukkayid?”

“Predominantly the former.” she admitted and checked her monocle again. “The same is true for Adept Connery’s Level-II.”

So they had two demi-companies present, presumably with Shawnee taking command as the senior officer. And probably no one who was familiar with this sort of tactical situation. Conner restrained himself from showing frustration. “We have a lot of clean-up to do here.” he decided. “I’m sure your troops will work hard to show their concern for the people of Sheffield… after all, we’re fighting for their sakes.”

“Yes.” Shawnee nodded sharply. “We are. I’ll make sure they’re aware of that.”

Conner stepped back. “I’ll contact my superiors, so we can discuss ways to avoid similar situations going forwards.”

He was tempted to suggest pulling the Blakists from these patrols entirely - there were checkpoints covering the major routes through the mountains and up there they could use whatever firepower they liked without having it cause this sort of nightmare. Unfortunately, he didn’t think it would fly politically.

Once he was back in his cockpit, the young Major contacted Colonel Watson, who was commanding the temporary combined arms brigade Conner’s battalion was assigned to. Losses and geographical dispersion had forced such improvised organization on the Deneb Light Cavalry as they hunted down the stay-behinds - their mobility was higher than that of the Blakists or the Donegal Guards.

“Your concerns are valid, Sortek.” the older man agreed. “But you’re also correct: it’s not politically feasible. We have orders to let the Blakists be seen working with us, as a sign that the Star League is supporting our war against the Clans.”

“Respectfully, Sir, they don’t seem to have a playbook for this sort of thing.”

“...then I suppose we’ll have to share ours. I’ll talk to Precentor Yoshizumi and try to talk him into attaching each of his demi-companies to one of our own units.” Watson sounded reluctant to have that conversation with his counterpart. “That’ll let them be seen working directly alongside our troops and we can hopefully act as a restraint. Rotating the rest of them up to the checkpoints may be more palatable for them.”

“Perhaps ask Precentor Fawcett as well.” suggested Conner, thinking back to the briefing that Military Intelligence had provided them on the Blakist officers. The second in command of the First Division had quite a file apparently. “He was ComGuards until fairly recently, so he may have more experience working with other nations.”

“Yes, he was stationed here in the Federated Commonwealth, I believe. Good thinking, Major. Until I can get something set up, please use all possible diplomacy.”

Conner looked at the smoking ruin that had been the center of Sheffield. “I’ll do what I can, Sir.”

He powered up his Wolfhound again and opened a channel to Shawnee’s command vehicle. “Adept, I suggest that my ‘Mechs start by clearing the heavier debris to help your infantry with the search for civilian survivors. Can you set up a comm network so we can coordinate that?”


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