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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 15[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Plain of Curtains, Twycross
Coventry Province, Federated Commonwealth
October 4th, 3067

The last instructions to reach Twycross had advised that some of the HPGs on Goat Path, Baker 3, Devin or Alyina could be in friendly hands to re-establish communications by this point. Jon Davion knew that this was the case, since some transmissions were getting through, although the Hell's Horses were doing some very effective jamming that made it hard to pick up all the radio signals arriving via the HPG signal’s emergence point.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to reply to those messages by HPG; because the station had fallen, along with the capital city of Camora. Jon had declared Camora to be an open city and pulled out rather than get into a costly and damaging urban battle in the subterranean metropolis. Until it was retaken or the Hell's Horses replaced the components that ComStar had removed at Jon’s behest, the HPG was out of service.

This wouldn’t have mattered so much if it wasn’t for one small detail.

Jon resisted the urge to kick the overturned truck with his Rakshasa’s foot. “Can it be repaired?” he asked instead, looking down at the crate that had been opened to check the contents.

“I’m not even sure what’s wrong with it.” the Chief Warrant confessed, kneeling over the half-meter cube of black plastic. The man had been thrown clear of the truck when it rolled, but he’d come out of it better than the device. “If I could fix this in the field, I’d probably be teaching hyperphysics at NAIS. All I know is some diagnostics on the user interface. We’re not supposed to open them up, for all I know just trying that could wreck it further.”

In theory, the padded crate around the black box should have protected what was officially called a K-6 fax machine. But the difference between theory and practice…

“Do you have any idea what’s wrong?”

“Sir, I’m primarily a cryptographer. I know how to use it and how to plug it in. For anything more than that, we’re supposed to arrange a secure courier to take them somewhere else, where even more secretive arrangements are made for repair or replacement.”

Working correctly, the fax machine could communicate anywhere in the Inner Sphere, although unlike the HPG the signals took some time to arrive. Without it, Jon’s command was cut off from all contact with the outside universe.

“Pack it back up, Chief. We’ll get it back to THI and then I guess we’ll have to see if they can manage anything.”

At least Trellshire Heavy Industries would have cleanrooms and electronic tooling. Maybe they’d get lucky and it was just some obvious loose connection inside. There was nothing to lose at this stage. Well, except possibly Jon’s rank and security clearance if letting this be opened backfired on him.

He straightened the Rakshasa, at least as far as the bird-legged ‘Mech could straighten, and looked around. Most of the brigade-sized detachment he was with had already gone past the site of the crash. The convoy couldn’t afford to be slowed, a full Cluster of the Hell's Horses was in pursuit, and given their hovertanks, that meant that some of them were probably already between the Guards and the relative safety of the lines around the factory complex.

By the time the crate was re-sealed and loaded onto a waiting Hover APC, that most-of-the-column had become ‘all but the rear-guard’. Jon and the ‘Mechs of his command lance formed a square around the APC and they ran alongside the road, moving at more than eighty kph to reach a more sheltered spot in the formation. If anyone observed them, it would be clear that the APC was carrying someone or something important, but hopefully no one would be close enough to notice.

‘Hopefully’ went about the same way that the rest of the day had.

Aerospace Fighters!” someone shouted on the general traffic channel and Jon saw a JagerMech III jerk its arms upwards, turning to bring its weapons to bear on what was presumably the vector from which the aerospace fighters were coming from.

Jon was confident that other ‘Mechs of the same kind were doing exactly the same. Really, whatever criticisms might be levied upon Victor Steiner-Davion, at least the then-Archon-Prince had commissioned an air-defense ‘Mech that was able to keep up with modern frontline formations. Older JagerMechs and Rifleman ‘Mechs struggled now that many ‘Mechs had larger and more powerful engines for their size.

Rifleman (Firing In Desert with Water - Miniature painted by Kazdok)

Rifleman Heavy BattleMech

While the Rakshasa wasn’t ideal for the role, Jon twisted the torso to face in the same direction. He’d replaced the extended range lasers in the arms with older large lasers to manage the heat more effectively, but his LRMs could still reach a considerable altitude.

The Hell's Horses aerospace fighters went over them so fast that he couldn’t even try to identify them. The LRMs he fired upwards might have hit or they might not. The only damage report was from one of the JagerMechs that had taken a hit from an PPC - most likely an attempt to disrupt the Mechwarrior’s fire by causing electromagnetic interference with his ‘Mech’s radar.

“They know where we are and have some aerial reconnaissance.” Jon assessed grimly. “Chief, move your APC over into the middle of the actual infantry carriers. We can at least try to obscure which APC was being escorted.”

The Chief Warrant Officer acknowledged the orders and the Hover APCs of the nearest infantry company smoothly maneuvered to include the vehicle as if they had always had thirteen vehicles rather than twelve. Of course they did, they were the Davion Heavy Guards and then one of the APCs swung out and moved into the center of Jon’s command lance.

He saw a head emerge from the cupola, looking up at him. “I think the Clanners can at least count past twelve, Sir.” the trooper called, voice barely audible over the wind. “Permission to accompany the General’s lance?”

“Granted.” Jon told him and prayed privately that he was worried about nothing.

Thirty minutes and almost as many kilometers closer to that nebulous condition of safety - the convoy was anchored to the slowest vehicles (the recovery vehicles hauling seven repairable ‘Mechs, two of them enemy salvage) - the General heard the general traffic band light up: “Enemy Hotel Alpha out on the flank, vector nine and distance over a click. They’re evasive, not engaging as yet.”

Hover armor, Jon thought. And not firing on us? That’s unusual. The Hell's Horses were as aggressive as any other Clan he’d encountered. If this was the Capellans or the Combine I might think they would be spotting for artillery but the Clans don’t approve of that…

Although, hadn’t he heard something about that? Jon frowned and switched to his lance channel. “Does anyone remember the Clans using artillery? It feels like those tanks are using spotters.”

There was a pause and then an unfamiliar voice spoke up. It took a moment for Jon to realize it was the same sergeant who’d attached his APC and presumably the squad inside to the command lance. “Didn’t the Falcons use it in the Refusal War, Sir? To kill the ilKhan?”

“No… I think it was a LRM barrage.” Leftenant Cartwright corrected him, sounding thoughtful. “The Khan who ordered it was killed in a duel over the dishonorable tactic. But that reminds me, the Combine’s O-Bakemono, that carries artillery. And it was modelled after a Clan ‘Mech that did the same.”

“Good thinking, both of you.” Jon changed channel on his comm. “This is General Davion.” he ordered. “Adjust your formations for incoming artillery. And get our own cavalry out and screening us from those spotters!”

He couldn’t see the hover tanks of the Seventh Lexington regiment swing out to respond, but a secondary monitor picked out their IFF signals and painted them on the map, moving out as ordered. Jon could also see the convoy shifting to widen the gap between their units and limit the damage any given artillery strike could inflict.

“Missiles inbound from behind.” he heard someone report.

Other voices spoke up, ordering units with anti-missile systems to turn and provide as much coverage as they could. Jon felt his own gaze driven in that direction but forced himself not to. He wasn’t with the rearguard and needed to trust the officers there to do what was required. Besides, his ‘Mech didn’t mount active anti-missile defenses.

At least, he thought, the spotters are still out on the flanks and… thought Jon.

Don’t tempt fate, he told himself. What else could go wrong and what can I do about it?

Elemental Battle Armor x2 (Farseer Animation)

Elemental Battle Armor

“Vanguard.” he ordered. “Watch out for Elementals attempting to hide and provide observation data as we pass their positions. Air defense, we may see those aerospace fighters again.” Nothing else sprang to mind and he focused on avoiding any accidents as they continued to march alongside the highway.

There were explosions behind him as missiles got through and detonated among the convoy. The impacts were scattershot and at least with Arrow IV technology, the missiles were relatively short range in terms of artillery. At least, if the Clan variant wasn’t significantly better than those of the Star League - which wasn’t something he should assume.

The wind was picking up even further, as it often did on Twycross. As a result, it took Jon a few moments to realize that what he could hear outside wasn’t just background weather noises.

VTOLs!” shouted O’Malley, and wheeled his Argus around, stepping out of the line of advance to bring his ‘Mech’s full armament to bear.

Argus (Desert Oasis Area)

Argus Heavy BattleMech

The helicopters were angular and predatory, sweeping out of low ground that Jon would never have thought deep enough to contain aircraft and through a gap in coverage forced by the dispersion against artillery. Clanners who understand combined-arms on this level? he thought incredulously even as he followed O’Malley’s example and brought everything in his disposal to bear upon one of them.

Tracer fire from O’Malley’s rotary autocannon lanced across the sky, shells ricocheting off the sides of the first helicopter. Jon fired his own missiles at the second, staggering the launches. The groups of missiles intercepted the rotor blades and the low-flying craft crashed to the ground, low enough that the crash didn’t destroy it.

Switching to the flight lead, Jon lit it up with his large lasers. One shot from either his lasers or O’Malley’s barrage caved in the cockpit.

And then his cockpit went crimson as warning lights lit up. Alert, a side-screen cautioned him. TAG.

Who was targeting him? Jon twisted his Rakshasa, trying to evade the lock. He couldn’t see any source…

“Incoming!” O’Malley spun, firing his autocannon up into the sky above the back of the convoy.

The hammer of god struck Jon’s seventy-five ton Battlemech and drove it nose first into the dirt.

His head ringing, Jon drove one arm down and forced the fallen Rakshasa to roll over so that any further fire wouldn’t hit the weaker rear armor. The TAG warning hadn’t gone out, something was still illuminating him.

“General, can you get up?” It was the sergeant from before and his APC skidded to a halt next to Jon’s ‘Mech.

Almost instantly, the TAG warning shut down.

And then the hover APC was blown apart, as a missile that would have cut a light ‘Mech in two struck the little vehicle on the upper hull.

Jon rolled his ‘Mech upright, hatred flaring within him. The APC had blocked the TAG indicator, so the source had to be beyond it.

“I’m marked!” shouted O’Malley.

Beyond the blazing remains of the hovercraft, Jon could see the crashed helicopter from earlier, nose pointed in his direction. He could see movement behind the cockpit glass. As if in a dream, he saw the crosshairs float over the VTOL’s canopy and then his fingers clenched on every trigger on the joysticks.

The lasers cut the wreck almost in two, before the missiles landed and smashed it entirely.

“O’Malley?” he called over comms

“TAG is gone, General.”

“It was the crashed helicopter.” Jon looked down at the wreck of the APC. “They still had a TAG system active and were able to illuminate us.”

“What now?”

Jon saw another missile coming in. “Keep moving. They’re firing blind, for now. We can probably get ahead of them.”

Fourteen hours later, the battered convoy arrived at Trellshire Heavy Industries. Four more Battlemechs and two tanks were being towed, another three tanks had been beyond salvage. Jon handed the black box over to Janna Olivetti, the THI engineer who had the best security clearance.

The Olivettis were Lyran nobility, though of recent vintage. Janna’s father had been raised to Duke of Sudeten after leaving Defiance Industries and founding his own BattleMech factory there. Janna had studied at the New Avalon Institute of Science, and returned home to continue that tradition only to be lost behind enemy lines when the Clans conquered the world. She’d been found here on Twycross when the world had been liberated three years ago, having been employed by the Jade Falcons as a technician and by Lyran intelligence to run resistance cells against the conquerors. There wasn’t likely to be anyone more trustworthy.

Traditionally it was the responsibility of company commanders to write to the families of the dead, but Jon informed the infantry company’s captain that he’d take that responsibility for the infantry squad and the APC’s crew. Nine letters was a small price to pay.

He was almost done when Olivetti reported that she’d managed to open up the black box. She wasn’t sure if it was breaching the seals or the crash that had triggered the self-destruct, but concentrated acid had wrecked the delicate systems inside. The effect had very thoroughly destroyed any ability to reconstruct how it worked, much less repair it.

For five long minutes, Jon stared at the list of men and women who had died decoying enemy fire away from a worthless wreck.

And then he started writing a tenth letter. A recommendation that they all be awarded the Silver Sunburst. A piece of metal and a letter of praise wouldn’t give the families their loved ones back, but it was all he could do.

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