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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 21[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Sarghad, Trell I
Clan Jade Falcon Occupation Zone, Federated Commonwealth
November 18th, 3067

“You’re sure?” Sabine Steiner asked the Twentieth Avalon Hussars’ intelligence staff. “The same jumpships?”

The Military Intelligence captain pursed his lips. Neil Donner looked more like an accountant than a soldier, but Sabine supposed that the analysis side of intelligence work did involve some of the same skills. She knew he had graduated Albion through the infantry track, so there was obviously more to him than met the eyes. “We’re ninety-five percent sure that the Jumpships at the nadir point include the same ones we saw evacuating the Jade Falcons from Goat Path. We’re several jumps away though, it’s possible they didn’t bring the troops here.”

Victory on Goat Path had led to the traditional reward: another mission for the Hussars. Sabine’s command (less a mixed brigade left behind as a garrison) had jumped to Malibu, where the Thirty-Sixth Lyran Guards RCT had liberated the world and were now securing it as a forward re-supply base with expectations of being sent to Twycross as a relief force. From there, her next orders had been to jump instead for the Trell system, where intelligence suggested supplies were being assembled by the Jade Falcons.

Trellwan (officially Trell I) was a small, strange world where the local day was more than half as long as the planet’s short year. It was also less than three days' travel from the standard jump points. To establish surprise, Sabine had brought her forces in via a proximity point between the planet and the sun, giving the ships a good view of both the standard jump points.

“We were wondering why supplies were being sent here.” she observed, looking around the command center. “Wotan would have made more sense - it’s a central node for the entire coreward end of the Falcons’ occupation zone. But if they want a world that would easily be overlooked when they regrouped, this iceball is one of them.” And being close to the jump points also helped.”

Juan Villanova-Petain chuckled. “There’s a certain irony in a Steiner calling a world an iceball, general. Given Tharkad’s natural state, I mean.”

She gave him a frosty smile and then let the ice fade from her expression. “Actually, I spent most of my childhood on Gallery. Tharkad is great for Christmas, but for the rest of the year I’d like to see something other than snow.” Turning back to Donner, she arched an eyebrow. “You said the jumpships include those from Goat Path - that implies that there are others?”

“We don’t have such current data on the other’s exact origins, but we’re looking at a minimum of three additional jumpships of the Odyssey-class.” Donner adjusted his glasses. “It’s not confirmed, but they could be vessels that were observed carrying other Rho Galaxy units away from Blue Hole. If that’s the case, this could be a rallying point for the entire Galaxy. With the right dropships, there’s enough collars between the vessels we’ve observed.”

Sabine braced herself on her seat. “Worst case scenario, what could we be looking at?”

“The worst case would be a major Hell's Horses deployment.” Donner told her. “However, no one has reported any contact with them other than on Twycross.”

“It’s only a jump away.”

“We know that the Jade Falcons have or had six Galaxies facing Coventry province.” he continued. Epsilon, Gamma and Omega are too far away to plausibly have arrived at this point. Iota Galaxy hasn’t been seen since they departed Coventry but we aren’t seeing any sign of the battleship that was escorting them at that point. Kappa left Blue Hole after Rho, so unless the Hell's Horses are present we’re at worst going to seeing two battered galaxies, at some point in the process of trying to make good their losses.”

“That would still be more than we can probably handle.” Louizio Martine-Holm looked concerned. “Juan I both left most of a regiment on Goat Path; and two galaxies would usually call for a minimum of four RCTs to face on even terms.”

Donner shrugged helplessly. “The current jumpship strength here isn’t enough to carry that many troops, but it’s possible other Falcon transports have departed already.”

The good news was that by arriving at a pirate point, the Hussars’ own transports were at a safe distance from the enemy vessels. Unfortunately, if they were facing two full Galaxies worth of Clan aerospace then even the Hussar’s reinforced aerospace element - a full regiment, brought back up to strength on Malibu, would be badly outnumbered in the air.

“I suppose there’s one way we might be able to find out.”

Sabine looked over at her armor commander. “What do you suggest, Juan?”

“We could ask them.” He shrugged at her look of disbelief. “The Falcons are supposed to take their customs very seriously. They might not reply, but it’s unlikely that they’d lie if they were faced with a formal… what do they call it, a batchall?”

Donner frowned as all eyes turned to him. “Batchall is considered a serious matter.” he agreed slowly. “The commander of Rho Galaxy, Lizabet Danforth, is considered unconventional, but unless we’d shown bad faith already, it would be considered shameful for her to mislead us. And if she tried, it’s unlikely she’d be a very convincing liar.”

“And if it’s Kappa Galaxy?”

“We know less about that unit’s officers. However, Kappa is a recent formation and of poor status. If we receive a response from their commander then it would be very unlikely that Rho Galaxy is present.” Donner explained.

Sabine nodded. “It seems that we would have little to lose in making the attempt. I believe that such challenges are usually delivered in an overblown and dramatic fashion?”

“Yes sir.”

She nodded at Donner’s confirmation. “Then let us set the stage.”

Shortly, her staff had gathered in one of the corridors of the Belle Isla’s crew decks, watching as a camera was set up to record Sabine standing before a panel that had long ago been decorated with the badge of the Avalon Hussars. The flag of the Federated Commonwealth was now hung next to the paintwork, hiding a much less salubrious noticeboard that informed those passing by of what food they could expect to be served over the next few days, and providing seven types of health advice for soldiers on leave in civilian settlements.

“We’re all set, general.” the corporal reported.

“Very good.” She’d changed into her dress uniform and made sure that she was presentable, while reviewing records of batchalls that the Jade Falcons had issued previously to get a feel for the phrases used.

“Ready to record…” The corporal raised three fingers and then dropped them one at a time.

Sabine glared into the camera. “I am General Sabine Steiner of the Twentieth Avalon Hussars. The gauntlet of the Federated Commonwealth will take this world, Trell One, under its protection once more. What forces will stand in our way?”

After a moment the light on the camera went out. “Alright, we’ll clip the ends of that, ma’am. Do you want us to send that right away?”

“Yes, do so as soon as you can.” She looked at the other officers. “If they respond, there may be some negotiation. If not, we’ll need to launch some reconnaissance flights to get an idea of what we’re facing.”

Commodore Harrangue looked grim. “That will thin our ability to protect the dropships if they launch a strike, general. To minimize that, may I deploy surveillance satellites?”

“Approved. If there are too many forces for us to force them off world, this may turn into a raiding mission, knowing their deployments will be critical to do as much damage to their supplies as we can without getting into a fight we can’t win.”

“We’ll also need to update our maps.” Villanova-Petain warned. “A good defensive position could let us bleed them heavily if they’re as aggressive as they were on Goat Path. But they’ve had plenty of time to alter the infrastructure to suit their preferences so there could be new transport routes and barriers that we don’t know about.”

Sabine’s comm chimed. She tapped it to accept the call, noting it was from the dropship’s command deck. “Do we have a reply from the Falcons?”

The officer’s voice was worried. “No, general. We have jumpships coming in. Three distinct vessels and they’re coming in via the same point we used!”

“What now?!” Harrangue looked grim. “With your permission, general?”

“Go!” she ordered.

The aerospace pilot ran for the stairs that would take him up to the command deck. Sabine was tempted to follow him but if the Falcons replied it would be better to be here… and realistically, she would have little to contribute to decisions for a space battle.

The Hussars’ jumpships didn’t have lithium-fusion batteries. They would need days to finish recharging their drives safely. Fast-charging from their reactors was possible but not something to be risked if there was any reasonable alternative.

“Do we have a tonnage estimate?” she asked instead.

“Fairly low.” the officer told her. “Probably not warships.”

That was something., Sabine thought.

Sabine’s command staff looked at each other warily, waiting for the truth to be reported.

“Emergence!” she heard someone else say on the command deck. “Get me identifications…”

After a long moment there was a mumble that Sabine couldn’t make out.

“We have friendly IFF.” the officer reported, sounding relieved. “AFFC jumpship codes, we’re getting specifics now.”

Sabine felt the tension bleed out of her. Reinforcements. That was a weight off her mind, although she’d have been happier if someone had told her that she could expect them.

Captain Stevens took over the channel from the bridge. “General, it’s the Fourth Skye Rangers. I have Brigadier General Mary Edwards requesting a channel to you.”

“Edwards…” Sabine couldn’t put a face to the name, but the Fourth Skye Rangers were an old unit, not one of the units formed out of the old Skye Provincial Militias when the Archon expanded the brigade a few years ago, an elite unit. Most of the ‘old guard’ Skye Rangers were in Robert Kelswa-Steiner’s pocket. The Fourth had been stripped of much of their armor and infantry support during the reorganization. She wasn’t sure where Edwards’ loyalties would lie… but at least she might have a common enemy in the Jade Falcons. “Put her through and pipe me through from down here.”

The camera’s light went on and Sabine turned towards the screen above. “Brigadier-General Edwards. Welcome to the Trell system.”
“Thank you, General Steiner.” Edwards sounded amused, but Sabine couldn’t see her as the other woman was only responding in audio. “I appreciate the gesture, but you didn’t need to get dressed up for the occasion.”

“As much as I respect your Rangers, I’ve just sent the Jade Falcon a batchall. If they respond then it would give me an idea how many of their clusters we’ll be facing down there.”

“It does work occasionally.” The other woman’s voice was more serious. “I don’t think they’d have responded if it was me, but we have something of a history with the ‘honorable Clan Parrot’ and I get the impression they don’t like us much. I don’t recall your particular RCT having faced them before though.”

Sabine tried to keep her irritation from showing. She was saved by her comm pinging again. When she looked at it, there was a brief message advising the Jade Falcons had responded and were also trying to open a channel for direct communication. “It seems they’re at least willing to talk. I’m not familiar with your exact orders.”

“Hit and run, targets of opportunity.” Edwards paused. “My orders are directly from Field Marshal Steiner. They don’t preclude assisting other units if the circumstances allow, but I’m specifically prohibited from trying to bite off more than I can chew.”

“I understand the Rangers have sharp teeth.” Sabine shook her head. “I’ll see what the Falcons have to say. If it appears that the circumstances are favorable, may I assume that you would be willing to place yourself under my command for operations on Trell One?”

There was a long moment of silence. “I’d have to review your conversation with their commander.” the other officer said cautiously, not quite coming out and saying she wasn’t convinced of Sabine’s judgement. “However, if the circumstances make an attack here feasible, then as the senior officer, you would naturally have command.”

“Very well.” Sabine tipped her head. “I’ll send you a copy of the conversation once we’re done.” She lifted her comm. “I’ll speak to the Jade Falcon now.”

Unlike Edwards, the Jade Falcon commander was providing a video feed. While much of her head was obscured by a beaked helmet that suggested the shape of a bird’s head, her face suggested she was a few years Sabine’s elder.

“I am Galaxy Commander Lizabet Danforth of Clan Jade Falcon’s Rho Galaxy.” she declared. “The broad wings and sharp talons of my clan secure this world against all who would claim to it.” Then her tone shifted, seeming slightly less rote and formal. “We have not always found that spheroid warriors adhere to the batchall, General Steiner. Why should I trust that you will be different?”

Sabine tried to hide her amusement. “Trust is earned.” she pointed out. “I have never faced you in battle, Galaxy Commander. You will not know my measure until you do.” She paused. “However, I believe your warriors include some who faced me on Goat Path. Ask the Twelfth Falcon Regulars how I fought them there - and recall that they offered no batchall there.”

Danforth eyed her for a moment and then snorted. “The Twelfth were the second part of our touman that you fought on Goat Path. If I asked our garrison, what would they say of your honor?”

“Those who sought a warrior’s death would say that I granted them that.” The death of a warrior facing a more disciplined soldier. The tiny garrison of Goat Path had mostly been middle-aged Clan warriors who cared more that they had been left on the sidelines during their Khan’s glorious invasion than they did for protecting the world. “If the dead could speak.”

“You will find that I value the honor of victory over the honor of death.” the Jade Falcon replied. “But I will test your honor. There is a mountain range north of the planetary capital, the Crysanden Range, I  offer you safcon to land north of the mountains. If you can fight your way past three Clusters of my Galaxy and enter the city then I will accept that my guardianship has failed, and I will withdraw my forces.”

Three clusters - about half a Galaxy, Sabine thought. That was probably manageable for her Avalon Hussars, but something close to an even match. She’d want the Rangers, if Edwards could be persuaded, but if they preferred not then she might be able to win on those terms.

“I will bid forces from my own Twentieth Avalon Hussars and the Fourth Skye Rangers.” she declared. “And your own forces?”

“The Twelfth Regulars will be glad for the chance to avenge their defeat.” Danforth declared. “I shall also grant the Seventh Regulars and the Eighth Talons the chance to redeem themselves for our retreat from Blue Hole.”

“Bargained well” Sabine replied, “and done.”

Danforth reached up and removed her helmet, revealing she had close-cropped hair showing signs of premature greying. “We will see who has bid well, upon the battlefield.” And then the screen went blank as her signal cut out.

Sabine took a deep breath and checked the camera was off. “Send that to the Skye Rangers.” she ordered. “And prepare for a landing.”

The Crysanden Mountains and Thunder Rift, she thought. A famous battlefield - the Grey Death Legion and then Cousin Victor’s first battle. Good defensive ground - tight valleys and lava tubes. It favors the Falcons… and Danforth seems too canny to be lured into a counter-attack.

But we have some of the best combat engineers in the AFFC. If we can’t open a path through those mountains, no one can.

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