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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 19[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Part Four - Whitting

There is a city that this darkness can't hide.
There are the embers of a fire that's gone out,
But I can still feel the heat on my skin
This mess we're in, well you and I,
Maybe you and I,
We can still make it right.

-Light Up The Night - Protomen, Act II

Dropship Lyre, Alma Alta system
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
November 15th, 3067

Under normal circumstances, even without a command circuit there should have been enough jumpships on the route between Arc-Royal and Tharkad for Peter Steiner-Davion to have been there by now, but there were actually very few military jumpships that weren’t already supporting the continued operations, either directly or by filling the gaps between commercially viable routes where the supply lines demanded it.

As a result, Peter and his staff were currently about halfway, and waiting for a chartered Scout-class Jumpship to arrive for the next leg of their journey. He hadn’t had to commandeer vessels the way Hanse Davion had in 3028 and 3029 to support his invasion of the Capellan Confederation. That might happen though, in which case he’d need as much goodwill with the major shipping lines as possible. Drafting one for his personal convenience wouldn’t help.

“I think I know why Victor wanted to head off to Strana Mechty.” he complained as another message popped into the electronic queue on his workstation. “Even the bureaucrats couldn’t follow him there.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” His secretary Hildgard was working across the compartment from him. “We have learned from that failure and won’t allow you to escape as he did.”

“Damn.” He opened the message. “...what even is this? Am I being invited to a pet show or something?”

“They are adorable kittens.” the young woman advised him.

“Yes, I can see that, but why do I have a message that’s full of kittens?” he asked

“I thought it might cheer you up, sir.”, Hildgard smoothly.

Peter blinked and then snorted with laughter. “Is that an approved practice?”

“It measurably improves my working environment.” she deadpanned. “However, if even that isn’t enough for you, there should be just enough time before your timeslot in the gym to review the latest messages from the frontlines.”

“Ah, something more interesting.”, he said

Banishing the kitten pictures, Peter opened the indicated files and saw that the first message was from Precentor George Wagoner. Like most communications from the commander of ComStar’s Eleventh Army, the message was terse and to the point. Almost rude, but not quite across the line. Peter rather appreciated it - at least he knew exactly where he stood with the ComGuards officer.

In less than two hundred words, the Precentor advised that Operation Blake’s Trumpet had been delayed twenty-four hours, that all involved units had confirmed their understanding of this and that with this adjustment he had ordered the go-ahead. That meant that jumpships were already moving before this message could have reached Peter or even Victor.

“On the one hand.” he mused. “I would prefer to be the one giving those orders, but…” He frowned… “Hildgard, you deal with about half my messages. Am I micromanaging the AFFC?”

“Less than you were, sir. At this rate, you’ll be spending only as much time on it as you do with foreign relations by 3072.” she told him

“Do you have a graph or something to back that up?” he asked her suspiciously. “On second thoughts, I don’t want to know.”

Blake’s Trumpet was (as the name suggested) Wagoner’s plan anyway, Peter reminded himself. The Precentor had proposed using all four of his divisions to spearhead counter-attacks on worlds that had fallen to Clan Wolf, and to the Jade Falcon worlds that seemed to be acting as supply bases for the other Clan. In practice, that hadn’t been possible - the 48th Division was badly out of position for the operation and the 388th Division had been mauled on Graceland, needing weeks to reorganize even once they’d been pulled off world.

In Peter’s opinion, the ComGuards would have been spread too thin for such attacks anyway. But the idea was sound and so he had proposed an alteration: Wagoner would hit two of the intended targets with the Divisions available, and Peter would place four Regimental Combat Teams under the Precentor’s command to hit the other four. The ComGuards officer had accepted eagerly, some said he had even come close to smiling, and presented a new plan within forty-eight hours.

I approved that plan, and the timetable. Wagoner has no need to come back to me for any further approval. Perhaps going back to Tharkad is for the best, Peter thought to himself. I need officers to show initiative and having me looking over their shoulders is probably stifling that.

“If this goes smoothly, and if Victor’s task forces succeed when it comes to Tomans, Orkney and Jabuka…” he trailed off, unwilling to tempt fate. “If.”

“Yes, sir. Thats if you would like to check the messages from Marshal Steiner on Coventry, we might be done on time. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Do you have a hot date or something?” he asked

“I have a video message from Fredrica.” the woman told him honestly. “One I want to watch privately.”

“An important cause.” he agreed. “Alright.”

Adam’s messages were considerably longer, with attached appendices. Peter started to open them so that he’d have all the details and then hesitated. No, he’d just told himself to give officers more room to work. Instead he looked at the summaries. If there’s something in here that I need to expand on, I can check them tomorrow, he thought. I owe Hildgard that much for hauling her around the Inner Sphere like this.

The summaries were, fortunately, mostly positive in their tone. While fighting was ongoing on a number of worlds, the Jade Falcons had pulled off Blue Hole entirely and their invasion of Mogyorod was under heavy pressure, suggesting that they might have to give up there too - unless the forces from Blue Hole got thrown in there as well. At least some of them had been reported as trying to relieve the worlds hit by Operation Whiplash though, so that outcome seemed less and less likely.

The second message was much less reserved in its optimism. The Seventh Federated Commonwealth RCT and the Kestrel Grenadiers had landed on Blackjack and apparently caught a secondline cluster completely by surprise. Virtually the entire Jade Falcon force had been killed or captured and the HPG should be repairable within a month, which might allow contact to be made again with Twycross. Adam had even authorized the Grenadiers to raid surrounding Falcon-occupied worlds and see whether follow up attacks could be made to widen the routes to Twycross.

“Alright.” Peter declared. “That all seems good.”

“Really?” Hildgard gave him a surprised look. “You’re satisfied?”

“I may check a little further tomorrow, but overall this seems good news. Adam appears to have everything in hand.” He prepared to stand only for a chime to come from the woman’s console.

She looked at it, blinked and then gave him an apologetic look. “The ComStar station on Alma Alta have relayed a high priority message to us, for your immediate attention. Chief Geary advises that he’s running it through the encryption systems now and expects it to be ready within five minutes.”

Peter sighed. “Well that would figure.” He checked the clock. “I tell you what: send him a message to forward it directly to me and you can go watch your message.”

“That’s alright, your highness. I only have to stay and log it in. A moment or two’s delay won’t really matter.”

He rubbed his jaw. “You know, my family has a history of workaholism. You shouldn’t be enabling me like this.”

“I feel very very bad about it.” she told him with a smile.

Leaning back in his chair, Peter stretched his back, feeling the muscles stretch. He really wanted to get some gym time in - he just knew that once the Whitting Conference began, he would have to cut back his personal time in order to negotiate with the other lords. He rolled his shoulders, trying to work out the stiffness.

A second ping announced that the message had arrived. “I’m forwarding it to you now.” Hildgard reported.

“Okay, just get it logged and get out of here before someone else thinks I need to know they have a hangnail or something.”

She saluted him sloppily, and Peter returned it solemnly before checking the message’s source. Ah, from Phelan. An update from the situation on New Exford? Hopefully it would be the third good news of the evening…

He opened the message, and his good mood vanished with the first words.

“Oh my god…”, words of disbelief escape his mouth.

“Sir?”, Hilgard asked

Peter leant back and rubbed his eyes. It didn’t change the contents of the message no matter how much he wished it did. “Hildgard, I’m very sorry but I need to send a priority message to Tharkad. Can you set that up right away?”

His secretary’s hands started tapping keys on her workstation. “Understood sir. Who too?”

“My sister Yvonne and to be copied to Field Marshal Caesar Steiner.” He paused. “Have it marked to be copied to New Avalon for my sister Catherine and Field Marshal Bishop Sortek as well. Attach the message we just received.”

Bringing the camera and microphone on his workstation to active, he looked directly at the focus. “Yvonne, I’ve just received bad news and I suspect it’ll reach Tharkad before I do.” He paused and took a deep breath. “We’ve suffered a major defeat on New Exford. Exactly how it happened will need to be investigated, and Victor will be handling that; but in short, it appears that the Crusader Wolves got inside Phelan’s decision loop and tore his Alpha Galaxy to shreds. Estimates are that approximately one in five of the Wolf-in-Exile’s total warrior strength was killed or captured - exactly how much of each we don’t know. The Kell Hounds Second Regiment tried to hold things together long enough stabilize things; but they suffered major command fatalities and it was all they could do to play rearguard for a retreat off world.”

Was it fair to blame Phelan? It was more or less the Khan’s own words, but he had to be hurting right now. Leave it to Victor, Peter decided. Dear God, I do not envy him carrying this burden.

“Perhaps the most painful loss is Phelan’s father. We don’t have the body, but a witness saw his ‘Mech struck by a massive artillery barrage and Vladimir Ward made a point of sending a confirmation message that he also believes Morgan Kell to be dead. His official status is missing, presumed dead. As one of our staunchest supporters, a national hero and a former Colonel of the Skye Rangers, I don’t think there’s any chance of hiding this from the media, so you’re going to have to ride that one out.”

“I’ll tell you more as soon as I learn anything. If not, I should be on Tharkad to see you on schedule.” Peter cut the recording off. “Check that for me, please.”

“I… yes sir.” Hildegard switched her workstation to feed the audio to her earbud, sparing Peter from having to hear it again.

I should have demanded he come with me. Be a military advisor for the Star League Council meetings. He could have given Yvonne away at her wedding, the way he did mother. Peter buried his face in his hands. First Ardan, now Morgan. How many more people are going to die for my decisions? How many others will pay that price when their long service should see them retired to their rightful rewards?

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