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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 28[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]


Wolf City, Arc-Royal
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
December 15th, 3067


“The good news." Kommandant Michael Searcy pronounced to his lance, “Is that most of Arc-Royal is going to come through this battle without any damage.” The Wolves had landed on only one of the planet’s continents, after all.

“Alright boss, I’ll bite.” Bannson snorted. “What’s the bad news?”

“Every decent pub I know on the planet is under threat.” he said

The mechwarriors laughed. “You should probably try hanging out somewhere other than Old Connaught, New Hanover and Wolf City then." offered Scott Tracker. Those three cities, on Gutheim, were each the target of one of Vladimir Ward’s galaxies.

Searcy groaned as if in pain. “If you can hit the Wolves as hard as you just hit me, we might just make it through this.”

The focus made sense, realistically. Old Connaught was the planetary capital and the main base of the Kell Hounds. New Hanover was home to Arc-Royal MechWorks and Wolf City was - naturally - the home of the exiled Warden faction of the Wolves. However, the rest of the planet couldn’t be left entirely unguarded; and until it was clear that Vlad was entirely focused on Gutheim, the defenders had been forced to disperse some of their units across the other continents.

Having the two Wolf warship fleets battering at each other in orbit had complicated moving forces back onto Gutheim considerably. Orbital hops would only have exposed the dropships to being picked off as they tried to cross the oceans.

{“All officers, this is Pride Five. Ears up people.”}

On hearing the words from General Lucy Davion, Searcy cut the feed from his own battalion to focus his attention on the command channel.

After a brief pause to make sure she had their attention, the commander of the armor brigade, and de facto commanding officer of the entire RCT, continued: “The Ardan Sortek and the Yggdrasil have the Wolf warships’ attention, but we can’t afford to wait until they finish the job. There’s the grudge-match of all grudge-matches going on outside Wolf City, and if Ward’s Golden Keshik is the one that comes out on top then there’s nothing else between him and the Wolf civilians.”

Mjolnir Battlecruiser (Underway)

FCS Yggradrasi, Mjolnir Class Battlecruiser

Searcy felt his ‘Mech tremble slightly as the dropship’s engines spooled up. That told him as clearly as words what the general’s intentions were.

Clan Wolf-in-Exile are under the protection of the Federated-Commonwealth." General Davion continued. “Our landing zone will be directly between the battle and the city. On the honor of the Archon-Prince, Ward’s Wolves will not get through.”

There was a roar of engines, audible even in the cockpit, and Searcy felt his weight double as the Clarent lifted from the ground.

He knew that more than a dozen other dropships were doing the same. Losing any one of them would cost the Fifth Royal Guard at least a company of soldiers, but the Clarent was the biggest target. The Excalibur-class ship was carrying not just the lead company of Searcy’s battalion but three further battalions - two-thirds of a heavy armor regiment and one of Terias Sortek’s battle armor battalions.

IS Standard BA

Inner Sphere Standard Battle Armor

And if the Wolves did manage to bring their guns to bear - for that matter, if they were to get some aerospace fighters past the escorting fighters - then they’d all be dead in seconds. And Searcy couldn’t do a thing about it.

He knew it. Everyone aboard knew it. There was probably something leadership-y that he should say to take their minds off it, but all he could think of were the sort of cheesy lines he’d used back on Solaris VII; when he was as much a performer as a Mechwarrior.

“So." he managed, forcing the words out between dry lips. “Phelan Kell versus Vlad Ward. Anyone got any money either way on that match-up?”

He hoped that the Khan never heard that he’d said that. Either of the Khans. From nervous laughs, the mechwarriors aboard the Clarent felt the same way but they focused on the conversation rather on their current helplessness. Searcy kept one eye on the monitor relaying the airspace around the little flotilla though, and was sure that the others were doing the same.

Focused on the screen and on keeping the conversation going, it was almost a surprise to feel the dropship adjust its orientation in preparation to land. As tempting as it was to sound relieved, Searcy didn’t want to tempt fate. He ran one last check of his Sagittaire. In almost any regiment, the ninety-five ton ‘Mech would have been one of the very few ‘Mechs of its size, one of the prides of the unit. In the Fifth Royal Guards it was just a little larger than average, and only the fact that he’d managed to have the older pulse lasers replaced with the newest models made it stand out.

{“Searcy.”}

“General." he responded, switching to the private channel that Lucy Davion had opened.

{“We have a landing zone."} she advised. {“But it’s not looking good and it’ll take time to get everything unloaded. I’m giving the ‘Mechs priority for disembarkation - I need you to take them forward and buy us time to get all the rest out and ready to fight.”}

Searcy had half-expected it, but he still felt it as a weight settling upon his shoulder. The Fifth Royals were short of senior officers. The AFFC as a whole was still recovering from the losses of the Civil War. Too many had died, too many had left rather than accept the return to a united Federated Commonwealth; and neither Peter Steiner-Davion nor Bishop Sortek was willing to rush more people up the ranks than they already were. And the officers who had commanded the Second and Third Battalions during the Civil War had each been moved up to commands on units more likely to see active service.

As a result, the Archon-Prince was in theory commander of the Royal Guards brigade (in practice handled by General Peter Riskind, the commander of the First Royal Guards), the Fifth Royal Guards RCT (in practice handled by General Lucy Davion of the RCT’s armor brigade) and of the Fifth Royal Guards’ BattleMech regiment. The latter role administratively tended to be divided between the battalion commanders and the RCT’s other general officers. Peter Steiner-Davion had even agreed in principle that he should hand some of those duties off, as soon as there were suitable candidates - but with the war breaking out there was no one available.

Which one of the battalion commanders led the regiment in the field was an open question. Searcy had been with the regiment longest - technically longer than anyone other than the two Steiner-Davions - but he didn’t have seniority in years of service.

“Understood, General.”

{“Good man. You’ll have the first call on our artillery as soon as it’s set up to fire."} Davion assured him. {“No air support, unfortunately.”}

“I can live with that." he assured her. “I may want FASCAM support, if we need to break contact.”

{“Alright.”} He heard the tapping of keys as she passed that on. {“We’ll priorities unloading those munitions for you. Anything else?”}

“How is it looking?” Searcy enquired, knowing that the general’s staff would give her a better idea than he had.

Davion sounded tired. {“The Strike Grenadiers are basically gone. As far as we can tell, there’s about the equivalent of a battalion left of Kell’s Alpha Galaxy - his Keshik and the Fourth Wolf Guards. Or there were twenty minutes ago - you know how quickly that could have changed. Ward’s Alpha Galaxy… well, they weren’t full strength when they landed and we think they’re hurt worse now but we don’t have solid numbers.”}

Searcy nodded to himself. Intentionally or otherwise, the two rival halves of Clan Wolf had pitted like against like: Alpha Galaxy against Alpha Galaxy here, Beta Galaxy against Beta Galaxy at New Hanover, and Delta Galaxy against the Kell Hounds at Old Connaught - although the latter had been prioritized for reinforcement by the Third Davion Guards, as the most outnumbered of the three defending units.

Well. Outnumbered, in the sense that less than four battalions of Kell Hounds weren’t considered equal to a presumably depleted Clan Galaxy.

We’ll have just about the same number of ‘Mechs as the Hounds, a little voice seemed to whisper to him. And the Fifth are good… but we’re not the Kell Hounds.

“Understood, General Davion.” Straightening in his seat, Searcy checked the maps of the area again. “We’ll get you the time you need.”

{“I know you will, Michael.”}

And then the Clarent started lowering its landing gear and the comm channel cutting off was lost in the noise.

Searcy plugged himself into the regimental comm-net. “All ‘Mechs. This is Major Searcy, General Davion’s given me command of the regiment for this operation. Your dropships should be getting orders to disembark us first. Deploy by company and start moving westwards as soon as you’re out - we’re going to Kell’s aid. Formation speed is fifty klicks - you can go faster if it means closing up into battalion order, but no one get ahead of me - use my ‘Mech as a guide for our front rank.”

The engine whine altered pitch and lights dimmed inside the ‘Mech bay. The doors weren’t open yet, but ‘Mechs were being turned and released from umbilical - the moment there was no chance of hundreds of tons moving around putting the landing at risk, the final restraints would be released.

For a wonder, there were no disasters in rushing over a hundred and forty ‘Mechs off the dropships. One Atlas was a little scraped up from an encounter with the edge of a dropship hatch and a Hauptmann lost some armor when the Templar trying to rush out behind it managed to smash an arm into the larger Omnimech’s rear but that was surprisingly little under the circumstances.

They’d landed on the floodplain of a river - the village that Wolf City had essentially swallowed as temporary and permanent habitation was set up had grown up around a bridge and a minor port. Hills rose east and west, but the early hour meant that the Royal Guards were marching with the sun at their back. They’d be silhouetted, but there was nothing that could be done about it - the polarized cockpit canopies wouldn’t let their enemies be blinded by sunlight even at a low angle.

More than twelve thousand tons of BattleMechs in the gold-trimmed blue and white of the Royal Guards marched west - the ground shook under their feet. Behind them the ovoid shapes of their dropships towered over the low buildings of the city, equalled only by Clan Wolf-in-Exile’s own dropships at the spaceport across the river.

“Bannson." Searcy ordered, focusing on keeping his ‘Mech moving at a steady pace just a hair under a full run - the Sagittaire was among the slowest ‘Mechs in the regiment, so everyone should be able to keep up with this, but not everyone was quite as efficient in getting every bit of performance from their machines. Holding back was frustrating sometimes. “See if you can get anyone from Kell’s force on the comms. We don’t need friendly fire.”

Sagittaire Assault Mech (by Anthony Scroggins)

Saggittaire Assault Mech

{“Got it.”} The Templar driver was blunt a lot of the time, but that might work better with the Clanners - they liked direct.

“Roscoe, you’re my artillery spotter. Check when the guns are online. I asked for FASCAM - we may need to hem the Wolves in.”

That was the nightmare scenario, the Wolves just ignoring the Fifth Royals and using their speed to circumvent the larger and slower ‘Mechs so they could hit the landing zone. Just about any other Clan wouldn’t do that, but Searcy had read dozens of reports on the battles so far. These Wolves knew how to go for the throat.

{“Roger that.”} Roscoe Buford’s Hauptmann sported a custom configuration, replacing the laser that most loadouts fitted to the head with a target-acquisition and guidance system. Those sensors might make all the difference.

{“Got something for me, Boss?”} asked Scott Tracker, the last member of the lance.

Buford glanced at the Mackie II. {“If… once we get visual, find me their Khan. Remember what their rank markings are?”}

{“Square box with red stars."} Tracker confirmed. “You thinking what I think you are?”

“He’s not the sort of Clanner we can coexist with." Searcy replied flatly. “And he killed Morgan Kell. Something tells me the Archon-Prince wants that account paid in full.”

{“Boss.” It was Bannson. {“I got hold of some Elemental, trying to get back to Wolf City on foot with an ejectee. He gave me coordinates.”}

Elemental Battle Armor (Farseer Animation)

Elemental Battle Armor

It wasn’t far. They passed Bannson’s contact on the way and Searcy almost detached a ‘Mech to carry him back to Wolf City - the dumbass elemental was missing an arm and using the other to carry a mechwarrior who was out cold. But that was the sort of stupid durability that came with generations of breeding to fight in battle armour… and he might need every ‘Mech, so the former-gladiator restrained the impulse and had Buford send the details back to the RCT headquarters. Someone could send out an ambulance. Maybe.

Not far meant that it would take the Fifth Royal Guards - some of whom couldn’t get their ‘Mechs up to sixty kph unless the ‘Mech was falling - less than fifteen minutes to reach the coordinates.

Some of Clan Wolf’s ‘Mechs were twice that fast. Vladimir Ward was perhaps ten minutes from kicking in the doors to Wolf City.

“Roscoe…” Searcy demanded as magscan and infra-red lit up at the far fringes of his tactical sensors.

{“Six guns, sir. The rest of the battery need two more minutes.”}

He glanced at the terrain ahead. It wasn’t clear of obstructions - lots of trees in this part of Arc-Royal - but nothing that would really slow ‘Mechs. And they weren’t far enough into the hills for any steep slopes. There wasn’t much of anything to stop the enemy from slipping around them.

“Stop." he ordered. “Form ranks. Lightning companies, get back a hundred meters.”

{“Michael."} began Wayne Bruce of Second Battalion. {“Our allies are probably dying up there.”}

“I’m aware.” His voice was rasping. “But we need to do this right. Make sure everyone has their sensors sending their take back. I’m going to be calling in some very specific fire support. Roscoe…”

{“Sir?”}

“As soon as we see them, get the artillery working. I want FASCAM deployed on their flanks. We need this to be linear - in a running fight they’ll own us.”

{“Understood.”} The older man was quick on the uptake. {“How much should they use?”}

“Until they run out of FASCAM or I tell them otherwise.” Searcy checked his clock and patiently waited out one more minute. “All units. Advance. Line companies, don’t stop for anything - just try not to frag friendly Wolves. Lightning companies, you’re to deal with any leakers.”

The trees didn’t stop the ‘Mechs or even slow them. Searcy saw the marks of other ‘Mechs coming this way but they’d followed the road. The Royal Guards were in line abreast, carving out an open corridor half a kilometre wide through the forest.

That the first Wolf ‘Mechs they saw weren’t Exiles was a bad sign. Searcy didn’t see them himself - it was Wayne Bruce’s battalion that encountered two Adders and an Ice Ferret. Most probably trying to find out what was coming at them - they might have had time to report that the answer was enough firepower to destroy them within seconds, but not much more than that.

Ice Ferret (Fennir) OmniMech (CCG)

Ice Ferret OmniMech

Then they reached the treeline; not the end of the forest, that was still at least ten kilometres away, but the place where a combination of weapons fire and maneuvering ‘Mechs had torn the woodland apart.

The Wolves(-in-Name-Only) had had time to regroup in response - those who weren’t on the floor. They formed threes and fours, Elementals Battle Armor were moving around their feet. Only one group of five ‘Mechs marked a Star that had come through the battle without a casualty. Perhaps seventy ‘Mechs in all.

Clan Galaxies varied wildly in their strength. A good rule of the thumb though was around a hundred and eighty ‘Mechs minimum. Phelan Kell’s Alpha Galaxy had been well below that number, Vladimir Ward’s… well, it had been at least somewhat depleted by six months of fighting, although he’d surely had replacement equipment and warriors as well.

Michael Searcy estimated that there were more ‘Mechs wrecked or crippled upon the forest floor than there were standing.

Many, many more.

So in the center, standing over the ruin of a Stormcrow, one foot still braced just beside a cockpit that had evidently been subject to autocannon fire, a ninety-five ton Executioner OmniMech stood alone: facing them surrounded by the field of fallen ‘Mechs.

Searcy didn’t need Tracker’s {“That’s him."} to guess where the Khan of the Wolves stood.

“Roscoe." he growled as the Wolves saw what they were dealing with and began to fan out.

{“Shells incoming.”}

“Good man.” And then he switched on his external speakers as the Royal Guards continued their steady charge. “Khan Ward, I understand you like artillery.”

There was no reply - if there was one, it would probably have been lost as scores of artillery shells burst to either side of Clan Wolf’s positions.

The Fifth Royal Guards RCT didn’t have an entire regiment of artillery - but with the AFFC’s switch towards the newer and more tactically flexible Vali and similar artillery platforms, it had been possible to concentrate much of the heaviest mobile artillery available in a number that was rarely seen - including a legacy of the LCAF that Peter Steiner-Davion had gleefully co-opted for his own personal command.

Fortress DropShip (in space)(by2D 3D Cartoons)

Fortress Class Combined Arms DropShip in space

The Elvidner squadron was made up of six Fortress-class dropships, each capable of carrying a combined arms battalion and each mounting a Long Tom field gun in their nose, turning them into heavily armoured artillery platforms. Their standard troop complement included a company of the Fifth’s Mechs each, a company of Battle Armor - and two six-gun batteries of Mobile Long Tom self-propelled guns, every single one of them capable of firing over a ton of high explosive shells each minute.

The Fifth Royal Guards’ artillery battalions were each landing almost forty shells per salvo onto one flank of the Crusader Wolves, the shells doing little to no damage as they rained down, but they scattering sub-munitions across the battlefield to form a minefield that would have taken hundreds of sappers to deploy in a conventional fashion.

One of the Wolves’ OmniMechs - a Hellbringer - found this out the hard way as it led its depleted Star out into the metal rain. One foot was blasted apart almost immediately, then as the ‘Mechwarrior stumbled, trying to avoid a fall, he managed to put the other foot onto a second mine. That destroyed any chance of keeping the sixty-five ton machine upright and Searcy saw at least three explosions as the ‘Mech crashed down.

Hellbringer - Loki Heavy OmniMech (Firing ER PPC) (Farseer Animation)

Hellbringer Heavy OmniMech

The three ‘Mechs that had been about to follow it turned back smoothly and immediately rejoined the flank of Alpha Galaxy.

A booming voice cut across the battlefield, projected from the speakers of the Executioner. {“House Steiner’s vaunted Royal Guards. If the Archon-Prince has come out to die with his false-Khan then I will gladly end him here as well!”}

Searcy stabbed his thumb down on the push-to-talk button for his own speakers. “The First Lord of the Star League has better things to do than get his hands dirty with some rabid dog that crawled out of the Periphery.” Take that, Ward. You’ll never match the trash-talking of a Solaris-veteran.

There was no further time for insults or challenges as the two forces closed within weapons range. The Clan ‘Mechs opened fire first, their longer-range weapons giving them the opportunity to get their shots off first, but their edge wasn’t what it had been ten years before, much less in 3050, and weapons fire crossed the blasted battlefield with abandon.

Vladimir Ward himself didn’t fire at first. He moved the big OmniMech deftly through the fire - few of those around the centre of the Federated Commonwealth’s line could pass up the chance at such a target, but very little even touched him. If it wasn’t for the savaging one side of the torso had clearly taken from a heavy autocannon - perhaps the one mounted on the same Stormcrow it had been stood over a moment ago - Searcy would have thought the ‘Mech entirely unscathed by the previous battle.

Searcy could have fired - he’d replaced his extended range PPC when he had the Sagittaire refitted, but a pair of Clan lasers he’d talked the Wolf-in-Exile supply clerks out of had more than made up for it - but he held back. He wanted them in reserve.

“Focus on the heavies and the mediums." he ordered sharply. Assault ‘Mechs - even with Clan technology - would struggle to keep away from the Royal Guards unless they had room to maneuver. Light ‘Mechs were too hard to hit at this range, too agile. But it was the mid-range designs that blended firepower and mobility in such a deadly fashion. Let them get loose, even now, and they could get into Wolf City despite everything the armour and infantry brigades could do. At best that would turn into a destructive city battle that would kill thousands of civilians.

He absolutely wasn’t doing that to keep Ward for himself. There was good tactical sense to it, not glory-hounding.

A Royal Guard's Banshee was the first to fall - a lucky hit (Searcy hoped it was luck, not skill) from a Clan PPC burning through the cockpit and killing the Royal Guardsman seated inside.

But the Royal Guards’ Mechs were unscarred by previous fighting and their larger ‘Mechs were generally better armored. They could survive more hits than their Clan opponents could. The next ‘Mech to fall was a Clan Wolf Nova, followed by a Mad Dog in the same Star.

Then Searcy was too busy to pay attention to others’ targets, for the Executioner accelerated sharply towards him, with lasers clustered in one arm lashing out at him. The Sagittaire rocked as armor plating was ripped apart by the shots, his gyro struggling to keep him upright.

Firing his jump jets, Searcy threw his ‘Mech into the air - not many assault ‘Mechs were designed to jump and he guessed that Ward wouldn’t be familiar with the capacities of a relatively new ‘Mech design like the Sagittaire. He was proven right when a torrent of autocannon fire tore through the air beneath him.

‘Mechs were breaking from formation into a wild melee as they clashed at ranges that approached point-blank. A 100-ton Berserker crashed into a Warhawk, smashing at it with its axe. A Zeus exploded as a Timber Wolf unleashed a frankly ridiculous number of short-ranged missiles into it. A Templar raked a massively-outgunned Kit Fox with its rotary autocannon, taking off one arm.

Uller OmniMech A (Ruins)

Kit Fox (Uller) Light OmniMech

And then the Sagittaire slammed to the ground again. Searcy had already been feathering the jump jets to turn, he kicked off from the landing to complete the move and fired at Ward’s ‘Mech with his large pulse lasers.

In a rush of fire, the Executioner hurled itself skywards, evading the shots with its own jump jets. As Michael ‘Stormin’ Searcy had, the Khan of the Wolves was turning his ‘Mech in mid-air, preparing to bring his weapons to bear again on his opponent.

If he’d led with his autocannon, he would have been protecting his ‘Mech’s damaged right flank from Searcy. But Ward’s ‘Mech was now between the Sagittaire and the heavy ‘Mechs of the Fifth Royal Guards’ nearest Lightning Company, and thus the Clan warrior twisted to his right, screening the vulnerability from the more numerous threat. Perhaps he thought that a single Inner Sphere warrior wouldn’t be able to hit it while the heavy ‘Mech company might be able to throw enough fire to get lucky.

Michael Searcy’s crosshairs were aimed right below the ruptured armour plating as the Executioner fell. Each of the ten medium pulse lasers he’d crammed into his ‘Mech fired hundreds of laser pulses in the fraction of a second they were active, so rapidly that to the human eye they seemed to fire coherent beams. The vulnerability had dropped to below his crosshairs by the time the lasers cut out.

The Executioner was the same size as the Sagittaire, but faster due to the larger reactor and advanced (but heavy) myomer acceleration signal circuitry - not to mention the massive jump jets in the legs. That left much less tonnage for armor.

Searcy’s lasers ripped through the side of the torso and ventilated reactor shielding, coolant lines, and structural members. To his experienced eye, he saw the instant that the shoulder joint buried inside lost its connection to the rest of the ‘Mech and the limb went flying.

The loss of that weight overcame the gyro, also damaged by spalling caused by the laser impacts.

Khan Vladimir Ward, leader of Clan Wolf for ten years, terror of the Inner Sphere... planted his ‘Mech face first in the dirt of Arc-Royal. It must have stunned him, for the ‘Mech lay prone.

“Roscoe!” Searcy snapped, backing his Sagittaire away as the internal systems stuttered under the burden of firing so many lasers at once. Clan Elementals were rushing towards the fallen Omnimech, trying to save their Khan. “Tell the artillery we have enough FASCAM.” Searcy indicated the fallen Executioner by firing a single pulse laser into its rear armor. “And give them the Khan’s location for a one round salvo of high-ex!”

There was a vicious satisfaction to Buford’s: {“Roger that!”}


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