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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 35[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Government Hill, Wotan
Clan Jade Falcon Occupation Zone, Federated Commonwealth
February 18th, 3068

Connor had braced for the worst when the Word of Blake’s First Division led the way into Borealtown. He’d have preferred to secure the town with his own battalion but the logic was fairly simple: his light, fast ‘Mechs could chase down the withdrawing Clan frontline forces, while the Blakists’ heavier equipment just couldn’t keep that pace. And that meant clearing Borealtown of any holdouts went to the First Division.

As he walked his Wolfhound into the city, escorting the APCs carrying captive Clan warriors, he kept looking for property damage.

Wolfhound (Blender Battletech - Wooded Area)

Wolfhound Light BattleMech

There was some - he’d have been surprised at anything else, to be fair. But entire blocks hammered flat? No, not that. The worst he saw was the caved-in entrance for a shopping mall, but that wasn’t the Blakist’s fault. He knew that because the cause was quite evident - no one had removed the clan-variant Jenner still sprawled in the glass and steel construct. A clearer case of a ‘Mech tripping over its own feet trying terrain that the mechwarrior couldn’t handle he had never seen.

That was odd too. A Clan MechWarrior that inept? Even in a secondline formation that would be extraordinary. He could believe that for a backwater militia somewhere deep in the Federated Commonwealth where there was little to no actual threat. (Although even there, the poor putz would probably have been drilled hard just to avoid expensive property damage). But the Clans? The ruthlessly meritocratic warrior society where literally any issue could be referred to trial by combat?

Are we actually winning this? For all Conner’s adult life and a good chunk of his childhood, the Clans - and particularly Clan Jade Falcon - had been the bogeyman. The bloody edge of the axe that had smashed the AFFC aside as if it was fielding children’s toys rather than actual BattleMechs.

And now this was what they were throwing into battle?

It wasn’t glorious. It was almost… sad.

Adept Marina Shawnee’s Fury Assault Tank was parked outside a government building that had clearly been subjected to bombardment - as had most of the neo-classical buildings on this hill - and she must have been waiting for him because the moment that he saw the tank, his comm panel lit up, indicating someone trying to contact him.

“This is Major Sortek.”

<<“I want you to know, Major, that the buildings were like this when we got here.">> the Adept declared defensively. <<“We only fired our artillery twice, and we weren’t firing anywhere near here.”>>

Conner examined the damage and the way some of it was overgrown with plantlife. “I believe you.”

<<“You can check our Battle-ROMS.">> she continued. <<“I swear this wasn’t… you do?”>>

“You’ve been maintaining very tight rules of engagement since we arrived here." he observed - positive reinforcement was important. The First Division had learned their lesson on Coventry - Third and Fourth Division had arrived too late for that and were reportedly not as careful. Thankfully Adam Steiner had flatly rejected orbital bombardment and assigned the mixed squadron of Blakist and FedCom warships to ensure the Jade Falcons’ small remaining fleet kept withdrawing towards the Zenith jump point. “It’s been a great improvement over our first meeting. Besides, if the local kudzu could start visibly spreading through a building in less than six hours, I like to think our briefing would have covered it.”

Shawnee’s voice sounded much less tense. <<“You make a good point. But who did bombard it? And if it’s been left like this? Why? The Clanners aren’t much for leaving buildings derelict, as loathe as I am to give them credit for anything.”>>

“It’s a good question." Conner admitted. “Have you asked any of the locals?”

<<“They seem to have a distinct reluctance to speak to anyone who arrives in ‘Mechs or armored vehicles. Understandable but frustrating.”>>

Conner nodded inside the cockpit. “Well, there are probably records somewhere. Did you have any difficulty clearing the city?”

<<“Not especially.”>> Shawnee shook her head. <<“Most of the Clanners here were more police than warriors. A few of them forted up in their headquarters Armory, but they surrendered when I had my artillery fire warning shots into the river nearby and told them I’d do the same to the armory rather than waste lives rooting them out.”>>

“Good thinking.” Although again, not really characteristic of the Jade Falcons. “I’m dismounting, let’s compare notes.”

He powered down his ‘Mech, strapped on his sidearm - it was still technically hostile territory until the civilians took over - and climbed down, the cool air welcome after the heat of his cockpit. While Borealtown sounded like a cold place, it was summer right now and it was only temperate in comparison to the more equatorial regions of the continent.

Shawnee was waiting for him outside the back hatch of the Fury. <<“How can I help you?”>> she asked.

Conner looked around. “Let’s see if we can find any explanation of what happened here.”

She gave him an odd look, but handed command of her unit over to another adept, retrieving a laser rifle from a rack inside the armored fighting vehicle. <<“We don’t know there aren’t holdouts.">> she told him when he looked at it.

“Fair.” He patted his own sidearm and then gestured towards the center of the complex. They wordlessly made their way in through a colonnade of broken pillars. Conner waited until they were out of earshot of anyone else before continuing: “I don’t want to get any of the troops overconfident, but the Falcons don’t seem to be fighting as hard here as they did on Coventry.”

The Adept nodded in understanding. “I haven’t really run into their frontline forces since we landed, but some of these garrisons… I mean, they’re not bottom of the barrel, but compared to the ones who went guerrilla on Coventry… it’s like night and day.”

Conner nodded. “Even the ones with first rate gear are… more risk averse, perhaps. I’m used to the Falcons having a certain willingness to commit. But now… this is new. It’s making our lives easier, but I keep feeling like the other boot is about to drop.”

“So it’s not just me.” Shawnee paused and then pointed. “Is that a plaque?”

Shading his eyes, he stared in the direction she was indicating and saw light reflecting off something. “Could be. Let’s have a look.”

It was, in fact, a bronze plaque, well-polished and set on a pillar of rough marble.

“‘On this spot, Khan Vandervahn Chistu was slain by a warrior of Clan Jade Wolf’." Shawnee read. “What in Blake’s name is a Jade Wolf?”

“I’m not sure.” Conner shook his head. “Maybe some made a mistake, but if you’re going to put a sign up, surely it would be checked? It’s not as if bronze like this is all that expensive - they could have replaced it if it was wrong.”

“There’s another.” The adept crossed the open space amid the buildings and found a second pillar.

“‘On this spot,’” Conner read out. “‘Star Colonel Ulric Kerensky was slain by warriors of Clan Jade Falcon’. Huh. But Ulric Kerensky was the ilKhan, not a Star Colonel.”

Shawnee nodded. “He was killed in the Jade Falcon occupation zone though - about ten years ago. If this is their memorial to him…”

“Some posthumous jab, I guess? Chistu was a Jade Falcon Khan at the time, I think. The current Khan was his successor…”

“Perhaps the Falcons felt they should erect something, but didn’t pay much attention because it reminds them of a defeat?” she suggested after a moment’s thought. “They did lose a Khan here.”

“It’s as good an explanation as anything I can come up with.” Conner shook his head. “This is a waste of prime real estate though, right in the middle of the city. I can practically see the redevelopers drooling at the prospect of rebuilding here.”

“I hope the monuments are left alone though.”, she muttered

He glanced at her. “You want a Clan monument preserved?”

Shawnee gave Conner a wry smile. “Dead clanners are good clanners, Major. And they spared us the trouble of killing them ourselves.”

“Ah, of course.”

“And a monument to Clanners killing each other is -” Her comm pinged, sparing Conner any continuation of the conversation.

Then his comm pinged as well.

Both of us at once? Conner pulled his personal comm from where it was strapped in a more or less ‘thigh-pocket’ position on his shorts and activated it, turning away slightly from Shawnee who was also politely distancing herself as she responded in a low voice to the voice on her headset. “This is Major Sortek.”

<<“Major, this is Colonel Watson. You’re in Borealtown, I understand?”>>

“Yes sir.” He looked at the pillar. “Right where ilKhan Kerensky died.”

<<“Really?”>> The colonel sounded impressed. <<“How can you tell?”>>

“Theres a monument.”

<<“Be sure to pass that on to the admin team. It might make a good spot for a war memorial of our own.">> Watson mused. <<“But back to my reason for calling. The Jade Falcons have called for a ceasefire - news reached us both independently that Khan Pryde was killed on Sudeten a few days ago and since their other Khan is also KIA, there was apparently a spirited exchange of views as to who was in command.”>>

Conner was reminded of Adept Shawnee’s unfinished thoughts about Clanners killing each other. “So who is in charge, sir?”

<<“Unless she winds up getting offed, we’re dealing with Galaxy Commander Lisabet Danforth. Obviously, don’t lower your guard but we’re going to hold positions and resupply. If Falcons approach under truce, you’re authorized to discuss local concerns but don’t take any chances. Danforth seems to be a realist, She knows the Falcons are beaten and wants to salvage what she can rather than see them destroyed. But we all know that others in her Clan are significantly less practical.”>>

“Understood.” He wasn’t sure that that was true, but… it was good news, right? “I believe my counterpart with the Word of Blake is probably receiving the same instructions. I’ll coordinate with her.”

Shawnee was now leading the entire Level III, at least until her superior caught up. He’d been caught outside of his ‘Mech by a Jade Falcon determined to go down fighting. The clan warrior had been entirely unarmed, while the Precentor had been armed only with his ceremonial sabre while he crossed from a temporary hangar to the barracks. The result was that the Jade Falcon had got what he wanted, while the Precentor had suffered a shattered jaw, numerous contusions and a temporary loss of vision in one eye. By all accounts the man was healing well and would probably have reached Wotan by now if shipping wasn’t so disrupted.

<<“That would be good. We'll try to keep her from leveling more of the city.”>>

“I can honestly say that Adept Shawnee’s command have caused only minimal collateral damage." Conner responded. “Significantly less than the Jade Falcons did, in fact.”

<<“Major, is there still a city?”>> Colonel radioed.

Conner sighed. “Yes sir. Most of the Jade Falcons surrendered.”

<<“Remarkable.">> conceded the armor officer. <<“Carry on, Major.”>>

Shutting down his comm, Conner turned to Shawnee and saw she had caught the end of the conversation. Well, that was diplomatic… after a fashion. “I’ve just had orders to hold position in Borealtown, Adept.”

“Ah… the same." she confirmed in a disappointed voice. “Do you think the truce will hold?”

Conner considered the question and then shrugged. “My guess is that it depends on how much of a grip this Danforth has on her command.”

“She has little to bargain with.”, She commented

The Major scratched his chin. He should probably shave now that he had the chance, Conner realized. “We’re riding the ragged edge of our supplies." he pointed out to Shawnee. “And there are a lot of jumpships tied up pushing forces into the Wolf Occupation Zone. I don’t think the Generalfeldmarschall would be happy calling it quits here, but realistically… we’ve done well. Really well. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Archon-Prince decided it was best to halt the offensive here and regroup. Six months from now, we’ll be in a much stronger position.”

“So will the Falcons.”

“Stronger than they are now, yes. If nothing else, they’ve got the rag tag remains of four galaxies fighting here, but their actual numbers were at… half their paper strength when we landed? And even less than that now. Much less.”

Shawnee nodded in agreement, but her eyes were distant. “The Star League will only be secure once the Clans are driven from the Inner Sphere, never to return.”

“Well, ten years ago we managed to score a technical victory at Coventry." he pointed out. “Four years ago we took a few worlds back. This year… most of their Occupation Zone is recovered and at least half their frontline forces are shattered. By the time they’re in any position to try again, the odds are that we’ll be even stronger.”

“Perhaps.”, she replied

Conner looked at the Blakist and then shook his head. There was a gulf of understanding between himself and the Tukkayid veteran, one he couldn’t quite bridge. “Besides, this Danforth has more immediate concerns than continuing to fight us.” He pointed back at the nearer of the two pillars. “Clanners prey on each other… and right now the Jade Falcons look weak. My guess is, she’ll be doing well if there’s anything left of her Clan twelve months from now.”

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