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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 14[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]


Old Connaught, Arc-Royal
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
September 19th, 3067


Even though he knew it was an illusion and that security teams were patrolling the area, Peter enjoyed the feel of walking freely down the streets of Old Connaught to one of the many eateries that served the city. A simple dye had darkened his hair to a nondescript brown, so out of uniform he should hopefully not be spotted by casual observers. It made a change to be surrounded by people who didn’t know his rank or identity. He’d not really had a chance at this since… when was it? The day I left Zaniah, he realized. It feels like forever.

The door of their destination chimed as he opened it, holding it open for Terias.

“I should really be doing that for you.” she murmured as she went past him.

“Please permit me the illusion of being a gentleman.” Peter told her with a smile.

“We have a reservation in the name of Mr. Warden.” Terias told the woman waiting inside.

“Ah yes. Mr. Warden arrived a few moments ago. You would be Mr. and Mrs. Morgan?”

“That’s right.” Peter agreed before Terias could disagree.

“Please come with me.”

The infantry officer elbowed discreetly Peter as they followed the waitress through to the dining area. They weren’t the only customers, and the Archon-Prince saw a table with five young men and women wearing Clan Wolf leathers around it. “...then we blew open the gates of the prison complex.” one of the men was saying, “And fought their ‘Mechs inside. Lady Arano blasted open the wall on the other side and joined us in her Kintaro.”

“If a Kintaro could take down the walls, why did you not do that rather than fight your way to the gate?” asked one of the girls.

Peter frowned. Who was Lady Arano, and what prison complex had she called on the Wolf Clan to attack? The warriors seemed quite young… perhaps something during the civil war? But he didn’t remember anything like that.

Phelan was waiting at the table, a beer already open, and Ranna Kerensky sat opposite him. It was disconcerting to see the two members of Clan Wolf wearing anything other than their uniforms, but that was part of the reason to meet here. The uniforms and the distinctions of the Clan were getting in the way of his understanding the people behind them… and that failure to understand could be a part of why the exiled Wolves and the AFFC were struggling to withstand Vladimir Ward’s onslaught. Ranna looked a little uncomfortable in a skirt, but Phelan’s seemed to appreciate the sight.

Since the question was on his mind and Phelan would surely know, he asked about the young clansmen’s anecdote while the waitress was fetching his own beer.

Phelan gave him a blank look in response but Ranna threw back her head and laughed. “It is a game, Peter.”

“A game?”, he asked

“Yes - a computer game that is quite popular in the sibkos.” The mechwarrior reached out to pick up her beer and took a gulp. “It does teach useful lessons in resource management, as well as some broader tactical concerns. The player represents a mercenary commander in the late Succession Wars, fighting for the fate of a small periphery realm.”

“I wouldn’t have thought that a Clan sibko would find a mercenary protagonist appealing.” Terias observed while Peter digested that answer. “I understood there to be some prejudice.”

“We have been on Arc-Royal for a decade.” Ranna set her beer down. “I have found that warriors who played the game find it easier to understand the Kell Hounds and other mercenaries they must work with. On average, anyway.”

“Wait.” Phelan almost spilled his beer. “Is this that thing that you and father get dividends from?”

“How very Lyran.” Peter mused with approval.

Ranna’s ears went red. “My grandmother had leased her image rights to the developers before she returned to the Clans. While she lived, the payments went to the Wolf's Dragoons pension fund but when we came here, Jaime Wolf told me that I had been appointed as her heir.”

“Damn.” Peter shook his head. “A game with Natasha Kerensky and Morgan Kell in it? Where was this when I had the time to play such games?”

“I don’t think it’s a new thing.” Phelan told him. “But from what I know of you when you were the right age, you were more interested in actual military sims than computer games that aren’t all that realistic.”

“It is not that bad.”, Peter reluctantly told Phelan.

“Ranna.” he leant over and hugged Ranna around the shoulders. “It has a Behemoth-sized dropship that crashed on its side on an airless moon and could be restored to take off - without being righted! - in about a day. I don’t think there’s a dropship that size that has ever actually made a trans-atmospheric flight, and certainly not in that condition. And let’s not get into the infinite supply of Griffins.”

“You’re just pouting about the lack of Wolfhounds.” she told the Khan, poking him below the ribs.

“Well, thank you for clearing that up for me.” Peter said and the return of the waitress with his beer cut off conversation as the four of them ordered their dinners.

“Speaking of realism.” Peter said softly once the waitress had left. “However well Ward is doing in his offensive, our intel suggests that he’s only sent Gamma Galaxy back to defend his occupation zone.”

The first wave of Wolf attacks had hit five worlds and taken three of them. On Pasig, the attackers had focused on the Second Wolf Legion, part of Phelan’s Beta Galaxy, destroying it and then withdrawing before the ComGuards division based on the world could relieve the Cluster.

Koniz remained in doubt as well - despite numbers that on paper favored the defenders, Katya Kerensky’s Delta Galaxy had savaged three clusters of Phelan’s own Alpha Galaxy. In desperation, the senior AFFC officer on-world had ordered the Exiles away, in hopes that the invaders would follow them, dispersing his own command and their mercenary support to give the impression that the defenses had collapsed entirely. The brigadier had been right and with half of Kerensky’s force gone he’d managed to pin the rest down in cat and mouse games, but those were the bright spots. And now the second wave had hit three more worlds, one of them Pandora - command world for the entire theater. There were contingencies for losing Pandora but it wouldn’t be good news if the world fell.

“It may be a case of overconfidence.” Ranna observed. “Vlad may have expected Gamma to win back the worlds quite easily, given the success of his first wave.”

If so, he’d been wrong. Seventh Battle Cluster had only been the first part of the galaxy to arrive, but their defeat on Zoetermeer had been followed by unsuccessful attempts to drive off the forces on Vulcan, Sevren, and Laurent.

“If anything, his use of older equipment for his garrisons helped us, the Southern Cross task forces were able to resupply from the captured garrison supplies.” Peter toyed with his knife. “I’ve ordered them to continue pushing - Adam Steiner’s Operation Whiplash has given us a clear supply line via Baker 3, so I want them to push deeper - we’ll see if Vlad backs off when his capital is under threat.”

“If he doesn’t, then they might be able to link up with the Nova Cats and retake Tamar itself.” Phelan understood what a boon that would be for morale. The Tamar Pact had been one of three realms that united centuries ago to form the Lyran Commonwealth, and Tamar itself had been a bastion of Lyran strength on the Draconis border throughout the Succession Wars, holding out even when it was almost surrounded by worlds that had fallen.

Terias shook her head. “But if he doesn’t turn back, he’s getting close to us here.”

The attack on Coventry by the Jade Falcons hadn’t succeeded in taking the world, but it had forced a re-evaluation of how bold the Clans could be. Arc-Royal was the heart of the Wolves-in-Exile, who were evidently an objective in their own right in the mind of Vladimir Ward. A similar deep strike could mean their civilian population and ten years of industrial development - both in their enclaves and in developing Arc-Royal Mechworks - falling into the hands of the Crusader Khan. And with Pandora being fought for, Arc-Royal was taking on much of the administrative role of commanding the fighting in the theater.

“Victor is moving his command post to Kelenfold.” Peter told them. “With the ComGuards’ Twelfth Army and the other forces we have in that theatre, he’s going to try to retake worlds that the Jade Falcons have taken there. It’s clearly a much smaller force than the one hitting Coventry province, and the ComGuards have a warship force under an officer he says he can trust - the same one who led the Operation Serpent naval contingent.”

“Alain Beresick?” asked Phelan.

Peter nodded.

“Good man.” the Khan agreed. “I think he would be their overall fleet commander if it wasn’t for internal politics.”

“I’m glad to hear that. If Victor can smash the Jade Falcons then he’s threatening Vlad’s flank and can also move in to hit worlds along the rimward occupation zones - perhaps even link up with the Southern Cross task force and essentially cut off Ward and half of the Jade Falcon’s occupied worlds from the rest.”

Ranna shook her head. “That’s a very optimistic expectation.”

He tapped the table with his finger. “For us, yes, but for Vlad that has to be… Sorry?” Peter looked up as the waitress returned with a loaded tray.

“Who ordered the steaks?” the young woman asked brightly and when Phelan and Terias raised their hands, she set the plates down in front of them. “I’ll be back in a moment with the rest. Does anyone want a refill?”

Phelan lifted his beer, which was almost empty. “Same again all around?”

They all nodded and by mutual assent deferred further conversation until the waitress had returned, both men finishing their drinks so she could take the empty steins away.

“You were saying?” Ranna asked once they all had their meals in front of them.

Peter used his fork to spear a chunk of potato from his stew. “Yes, the potential threats Victor poses are optimistic for us, but they have to be contingencies for Khan Ward to worry about. He doesn’t know what we’re thinking, we’ve launched counter-attacks that he clearly wasn’t expecting already.”

“I do not know if he will back off.” she said. “I know him best, and Vlad is very target focused. He might prefer to finish his attacks on us first, then return with the momentum of a victory against our Clan to retake the worlds that you are occupying.”

“We might be able to use that.” Phelan stared down at his plate, clearly not seeing it. “There are only a limited number of routes he can take to reach Arc-Royal. Unless he tries moving through uninhabited systems, he has to come via Hamilton or Atocongo.”

“Or both.” Peter reminded him, rubbing his jaw in thought.

“Possible, but either way - to get there he needs to take Esteros or New Exford, both of which are in range of his forces on Bountiful Harvest.”

“Why not from Graceland or Pandora? In fact, Pandora isn’t quite in range of Kandersteg.” Terias named another world that was being reinforced in case it was a future target.

Phelan nodded. “It will be easier - not simple, but easier - for him to bring the forces from Graceland and Pandora to bear if he takes the New Exford route. I think we should encourage that.”

“By making it look lightly protected?” she asked. “That seems too obvious - he has to know we realize it’s under threat.”

Both Peter and Phelan started to speak and then paused, looking at each other. “Your plan, go ahead.” the Archon-Prince told his cousin.

“Thank you.” Phelan closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them, he looked eager. “New Exford is already a rallying point for the forces that withdrew from Koniz, so we can use it the same way for the Clusters Vlad is fighting against right now. I want to take the rest of Alpha Galaxy, and half the Kell Hounds, to join them and take command. If I’m there, Vlad will want to come at me. It’s personal between us. And with the chance to take down our Alpha Galaxy, as well as everyone that has escaped him so far, he will have a completely solid reason to focus there.”

“You’re talking about taking on three Galaxies with less than two. Even counting the Kell Hounds, and considering the losses he must have taken, you’d be out-numbered.” Peter warned him.

“I know, but that is why it will tempt him in. That is your whole strategy, Peter. Dangle victory in front of Vlad and Marthe, make it look as if it’s just in reach.” Phelan looked sad for a moment. “And then go around them for what you are really after.”

Peter sighed and reluctantly nodded. It was costing the AFFC dearly, but he had half the Jade Falcon touman locked down in grinding battles that were bleeding them dry. Without those forces, they would be hard pressed to defend their occupation zone. Of course, with the losses his troops were suffering, it was an open question how long he could keep counter-attacks going.

“Ulric would be impressed.” the Khan said quietly. “Have you heard anything more about the Hell's Horses? They are the real wild card now.”

“Nothing.”

“Just Twycross then.” Phelan frowned. “It is possible they simply have no other forces available to them in the Inner Sphere. The Diamond Sharks are being surprisingly close-mouthed about affairs in the homeworlds.”

“I don’t even know what’s happening on Twycross.” Peter confessed. “Jon Davion shut down the black box to relocate it out of the capital - he wasn’t sure he could hold that and the factories, but there haven’t been any transmissions since.”

“Not even HPG?”

The not-currently-a-redhead shook his head grimly and took a drink of his second beer of the night.


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