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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 27[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]


Jumpship Lestrade’s Loyalty, Summer
Skye Province, Federated Commonwealth
December 15th, 3067


A general officer rarely had cause to take the lead in their forces (and in the AFFC this would usually lead to what was politely called ‘counselling’ by a theatre or PDZ commander). But a good officer also didn’t ask more than he was willing to give. And facing dangers that your troops were inexperienced in, barely trained for in truth, that called for going above and beyond.

The tech’s had raced to fit ‘Mechs out for this, only four aboard the Colossus-class dropship Pathfinder (the nearest dropship and providentially the one Reinhardt was aboard) were in the sweet spot of integral jump jets, enough heatsinks to brute force the issue of dissipating heat in space without tedious alterations, and most importantly - having a pair of hand manipulators. One of them was his Black Python and to Reinhardt Steiner, that decided the issue.

The jolt of having his ‘Mech thrown clear of the dropship felt rather different when he wasn’t encased in a drop-pod, but the Brigadier-General found the vac-suit he’d wrestled on to be more of a distraction. If the cockpit breached, this was all that would keep him alive.

There was no up or down. Normally there would at least be a planet in view to give a point of reference, but not out here on the fringes of the Summer system. The Pathfinder was moving away now, leaving Reinhardt and the rest of his little force hurtling towards their objective, a Star Lord-class JumpShip fully loaded with dropships.

He activated his radio. {“The enemy vessel is down.”} They were being dropped, after a fashion. His ‘Mech, three others and a jump-infantry company wearing vac-suits under their packs.

This would be much easier with battle armor, Reinhardt thought. I wish I had some.

The Twenty-Fifth Skye Rangers weren’t exactly the top of the AFFC’s supply priorities. Five years ago they’d been a Provincial Militia, albeit one on a fairly sensitive border world, and under at least general suspicion of associations with Robert Kelswa-Steiner. Providing their infantry with battle armor would probably have happened eventually, but when not even every frontline command had it, that wasn’t likely. And being on deployment under the SLDF knocked that priority even further down: shipping new, modern and still somewhat classified Cavalier, Grenadier, or four legged Fenris suits out across a foreign nation would be a security concern.

You fight a battle with the army you have, not the one you want. A truism from back in his education, proven right dozens of times.

Reinhardt fired his jump jets, the air they needed drawn from a heavy tank rigged across his back. He wasn’t entirely on course - or so he thought. It had been almost twenty years since he went through training for this at the Nagelring and there hadn’t been any refreshers. What sort of idiot threw himself and his ‘Mech into space when there were shuttles and aerospace fighters optimized for that environment?

His reflection in the cockpit glass showed him the idiot.

{“What are you doing?!”} an irate voice blasted at them on the radio. {“This is hijacking! Piracy!”} And then, perhaps because this was, of course, Lyran space: {“I’ll see you in court!”}

That was the other risk he was out here to bear. It really wouldn’t be fair to have some lieutenant or captain have to bear the legal consequences of his decisions. The heir to a powerful duchy could afford a lengthy court case or even the loss of his career the way most of his subordinates could not. Members of the nobility, particularly those of means, weren’t all that well represented in the Twenty-Fifth Skye Rangers.

On some level, the accusation of hijacking was funny. A very black level of humor, but it was there.

Reinhardt left replying to his staff, back aboard the dropship behind - above - him. He checked his sensors, counted the radar returns and flares of light. It didn’t look like they’d lost anyone yet, although it was hard to be sure with close to seventy jump-infantry out there. Hopefully the leftenants and sergeants were keeping closer track of their charges than he could.

He’d over-corrected, but only slightly; and one more flare of his jump jets brought him close enough to the pylons at the aft end of the jumpship, currently busy deploying a sail marked with the name of the vessel. Leal Lestrade. The first word meant loyal, which was historically true of many of House Lestrade… though the fact that the very distant inhabited world of this system was once the domain of Aldo Lestrade, it was perhaps a little too on the nose right now.

Extending one of the Black Python’s arms, Reinhardt locked the battlefist around the pylon and pivoted the ‘Mech until his ‘Mech’s other hand could also get a hold.

“Captain," he warned the jumpship’s still raving commander. “I’ll warn you once. Try to jump or obstruct my men at all and you’ll have a far more immediate concern. Starting but not limited by my blowing open your hydrogen seals.”

“I have a contract with the AFFC!” the man screamed. {“You can’t do this!”}

The first part was completely accurate. In fact, the Leal Lestrade was supposed to be the next leg of the Twenty-Fifth Skye Rangers’ transit to the frontline, but the second claim was much more dubious.

Reinhardt managed to get the heavy OmniMech’s legs down and the mag-clamps built into the feet finally secured it to the hull. Not that secure - ‘Mechs were designed for space combat to be an option but was by no means a high priority. Unless he was careful, he could easily find himself following Sergeant DeVries’ Griffin which had missed the jumpship entirely.

“Get a rescue shuttle out to DeVries." Reinhard reminded his staff (in case they were as off-balance as he felt and missed the need) and then he started carefully walking down the jumpship towards the docked dropships.

The two Nightskys that made up the rest of his impromptu lance had landed safely, and they were already moving to assist the infantry as they closed in on the Danais-class Cargo dropship that had their attention. He saw one platoon already opening up the airlock nearest the drop-collar to isolate it from the rest of the jumpship. Getting into the dropship was proving harder.

{“Sir, permission to breach?”} officer in charge of the boarding crew called

Reinhardt checked the signal ID and confirmed it was Captain Saunders, the infantry commander. “Do it. We’re on the clock.”

They had come prepared. Less than a minute later the airlock door was loose and the space-suited men were assembling a tent to contain air from deeper inside the dropship once they opened the other side. Venting the entire ship would very much be against their mission goals.

His ‘Mech’s communications system warned him of an inbound laser-com and he elected to accept it, keeping his ‘Mech moving slowly and his crosshairs aimed near to the vulnerable hydrogen seals. {“This is -”}

{“I don’t know what you think you’re doing."} a woman spat. {“But the Archon-Prince will never let Kelswa-Steiner get away with this.”}

“Nice try." Reinhardt responded. “But you’re either unbelievably unaware of what’s going on, or you know damn well while I’m doing this.”

Alerts told him that the dropship’s turrets were activating and his tactical computer started illuminating the weapons along with estimates of their fire arcs.

“Hughes, Wainwright. Take out the turrets." he ordered.

There were quick acknowledgements and pulse lasers flared as the medium ‘Mechs fired pinpoint bursts of coherent light to try to cripple the traverse of the dropship’s weapons. Fortunately the Danais, a near copy of the ubiquitous Union-class, wasn’t that well armed and this one wasn’t even a military transport so it had only a handful of lasers rather than the more formidable arsenal of its sister ships.

“Sir!” Saunders shouted. “We have weapons fire.”

Reinhardt bit back instructions to watch what - and who - they shot at. He’d already given the men that warning and from the infantrywoman’s tone it was a report, not a request for directions. {“Carry on, captain. I have your back.”}

Mentally he replayed the message he’d received, not even an hour ago.

A weak laser-com signal, transmitted from inside the dropship in front of him from what was little more than a hand-comm aimed out of one of the port-holes. Four words, or rather, three and a half for the last had been cut off by a gunshot, a fraction of a second before the signal cut out.

It might be already too late. But he had to try. Because those words had been one of the priority codes the AFFC had. A hostage situation - and one with a royal target.

The woman who’d got that message out was probably dead, as much as he wished otherwise. The most he could hope for was that she had somehow managed to hide that she’d managed to make the transmission.

The wait to find out was excruciating. He cut off the laser-com from the dropship - yes, if he had attacked a royal dropship for no good reason then he was at best going to be dragged in front of the Archon-Prince in chains (and he would deserve it), but this was not something to take a chance on.

Listening to the tactical chatter of the jump-infantry was almost worse - he had too little context to understand what was going on… but he knew that there were casualties. Whether that was the on-board security fighting back, someone else or both, he genuinely had no idea.

And then: {“Ranger One."} Saunders snapped. {“We have the package.”}

“Situation?”

The woman hesitated. {“Sir, we have no code for this. I have two packages, one hurt and the other dying. And I am damned if I know…”}

A chill crawled down Reinhard’s spine. “Get them as stable as you can and extract." he snapped and then brought his staff online. “I need a medical team on a shuttle and I need it here NOW!”

{“We have one ready, sir.”} Jayne Hobbes, his adjutant, sounded obscenely calm. {“It’ll be with you in nine-zero seconds.”}

That minute and a half felt like hours, but the small shuttle - barely larger than his ‘Mech - was hovering bare meters from the Leal Lestrade’s hull before the improvised airlock opened and six of Saunder’s infantry emerged, dragging a pair of emergency live-support bubbles.

The pressurized tubes were intended for exactly this, extracting a casualty through hostile environments. They were also entirely transparent and through his cameras, Reinhardt could see the faces of the two women being carried. Both were limp - likely sedated - but one had obvious head-injuries that were only crudely bandaged while the other’s hand appeared to have been mutilated.

Both were tall and blonde.

Both had the face of Catherine Steiner-Davion.


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