State of the Union - Book 3
St Crispin, New Exford
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
February 24th, 3068
In theory, New Exford should have been a cakewalk. What was left of the once mighty forces that had invaded Arc-Royal had splintered upon the retreat. Intelligence reports suggested that small forces belonging to Vladimir Ward’s Alpha Galaxy and Marialle Radick’s Beta Galaxy were trying to return to their occupation zone, to regroup and elect new Khans in place of their dead leaders.
It might not be a realistic goal, but it was a goal. It was even possible that some of them would reach occupied worlds before the AFFC or various allied forces arrived. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Searcy wouldn’t have put any serious money on that though - and he’d lost fifty sovereigns betting on Annette “Atomic” Leyland making it into the finals on Solaris VII the previous year. (He’d not really expected the disgraced AFFC officer to manage it; but if she had, he’d have won a month’s salary.)
The largest group of the Crusader Wolves, predominantly members of their Delta Galaxy had regrouped here on New Exford though. They were securing the supplies and such reserves of personnel as were available.
To root them out, retaking the last world captured by Vladimir Ward. The AFFC had their own Galaxy of Wolves, led by Marcos Hall, backed up by the Fifth Royal Guards and by the freshly arrived Gray Death Legion. The odds did not favor the Crusader Wolves, and their commander was even said to be one of the very few pro-Wardens not to have joined Phelan Kell in exile.
But by god, they were fighting, Michael thought as he provided overwatch for a crew of salvagers and medics. The city of St. Crispin had been the Wolves’ primary base and they’d ordered a civilian evacuation before making their stand there. If it wasn’t raining so heavily, a good chunk of the city would be on fire now, and if half the city had been retaken, the other half - separated by a dozen bridges and tunnels across the river - was holding firm against the allied forces
“Any update on sweeping mines out of the river?” he asked, half-rhetorically.
<<“Not a chance, Sir.”>> Tracker’s Mackie was two blocks away, on the edge of a park. <<“The Wolves have a clear line of fire on any one trying that from the surface - and they managed to get Elementals in among the Gray Death Legion’s own battle armor when they tried to get at the mines underwater.”>>
Searcy winced. He didn’t need to ask how that went. Elemental suits were called that because they were adapted to fight in all elements - including underwater - without hampering their effectiveness. Inner Sphere battle armor wasn’t useless in non-standard environments, and it was much better than nothing, but without all of the technology behind the Clans’ arsenal, it was optimized towards more common battlefields to close the margin of superiority there. “Understood.”
One of the engineers was waving his hand for Searcy’s attention. <<“Sir, there’s a trooper buried under what’s left of this Nova. We could do with some help moving it - if we just use the winch then we could kill them.”>>
“Got it.” Searcy’s own ‘Mech had no hands though. He considered his options. <<“Cooke, get that brute of yours over here. The engineers need the muscle.”>>
It took three minutes for the lumbering, skull-faced Atlas to arrive. Cooke and other ‘Mechwarriors whose rides had battlefists were in demand for this sort of work. Searcy spent his time checking sensors. There were too many Missing-In-Action on the battlefield - before withdrawing across the river, the Wolves had turned this half of St. Crispin into a chaotic melee, with Stars slipping past each attempt to cordon them in to hit comparatively soft targets like supply trucks or headquarters units. Jamming transmitters within buildings had hampered coordination and each company - sometimes each lance - had had to fight almost alone until enough of the transmitters had been disabled.
Even with the jammers down, casualties on both sides were still being tracked down. The Fifth Royal Guards RCT alone was missing four command vans and their primary salvage teams, which was why the engineers Searcy was supporting were drawn from the Gray Death Legion.
The Nova was in a sorry state - one leg was severed just below the knee and had already been pulled away by the salvage team. Cooke pinned the other with the foot of his Atlas and tried to use it as a pivot as he pulled one of the arms. The smaller ‘Mech started to shift and then the arm’s myomers began to part under the strain.
With a curse, the mechwarrior shifted his grip, seizing the Nova’s shoulder instead. It took the combined might of the Atlas’ triple-strength myomers and two winches to pull the OmniMech up and away from the soldier buried beneath it - far more complicated than simply dragging it across the ground and up onto the ramped rear of a heavy truck.
There had been two suits of Cavalier Battle Armor underneath it, Searcy saw. One was obviously a lost cause when it came to the occupant - part of the Nova had crushed the helmet flat when it fell on them - but the other was less damaged.
A squad of battle armored troopers moved in and quickly started clearing space around the suit for the medics. The contrast between their Gray Death Standards and the Cavalier was visible even from up in a cockpit. The mechwarrior bit his lip and hoped for the best.
“We have a live one." the leading trooper reported, backing up from the space to open a way for medics. “By Royal Guard markings, looks like a senior officer. Are you short any?”
Searcy blinked. “Yes. Yes, we are.” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be right or wrong about this though - on the other hand, finding one of their lost command staff would be good, but on the other… even he could see that the suit had been chewed up to the point that the occupant couldn’t be in good shape.
Dropping the Sagittaire to a crouch, he focused his cameras on the suit just in time to see one of the medics try to carefully move one arm. Blood poured out of the shoulder joint and frantic action ensued as the man jabbed injectors into the bared flesh before forcing a wad of bandages to soak up the blood.
The battle trooper moved in and expertly worked clasps around the helmet. The face revealed when he removed the helm was pale but recognizable.
Searcy was tempted to demand that the medics do everything they could, but their efforts made it clear that they already were… all he’d be doing was distracting them. Instead he thumbed his ‘Mechs comm onto the command channel. “General Davion, we’ve found Brigadegeneral Sortek.”
“What’s her status?” Lucy Davion demanded. Background noise suggested that she was in a command center - probably an improvised one well back from the action. Someone had to stay out of the line of fire.
“I’m not a doctor, sir. But she looks critical.”
The two women had been friends since they met after the Battle of New Avalon, Searcy recalled. He hadn’t really been in the same social circle, even if he’d technically been with the Royal Guards longer than either of them. “Medics are working now.” He could see them working with the battle armor to remove Terias Sortek’s armor, so that she could be moved. Checking the location of the nearest field hospital, he was pleased to see that it was only a few moments drive and there was a straight route marked as cleared for traffic. “My best guess is they’ll take her to field hospital twelve for immediate surgery.”
Davion sighed heavily. “At least she’s not dead. Right… Michael, I need someone to back me up in a conference. Without Terias, you’re the next most senior officer available.”
“I knew there was a downside to this promotion.”
“Yes, it’s called responsibility." she told him tersely. “Get yourself secure and connect to the secondary command channel. You’ll be voice only, don’t worry about looking presentable.”
“Understood, ma’am. Who is the conference with?”
“Katya Kerensky has requested a parley." Davion told him in a flat voice.
“On the hour, so you have a quarter hour.”
Searcy rubbed his face. “Understood. I’ll let the troops know.” Hopefully this wasn’t a trap. The Clans didn’t usually go in for that sort of thing, but with their backs to a wall, who knew?
It only took a few moments to inform the other two battalion commanders - Searcy’s promotion made him acting commander of the ‘Mech regiment, taking one of the still-absent Peter Steiner-Davion’s roles, but it hadn’t provided them with a replacement commander for his battalion yet - but a little longer to make sure all four of his company commanders knew he was out of contact, under what circumstances they should interrupt him and who to go to if something less urgent arose that needed someone more senior than the four hauptmanns.
As he spoke to them, Searcy kept one eye on the scene outside. He watched as Sortek was finally lifted onto a stretcher. Two of the battle armored infantry picked it up and carried her carefully while one of the medics carried a bloodbag that was trying to keep up with the still visible flow from her shoulder.
His final communication was to the lucky officer who’d be covering for him across the sector - for tactical reasons, it would be the senior Gray Death Legion officer in this part of the city. To his amusement, he saw that it was the leader of the squad he’d been watching that straightened when he opened the comms. So he wasn’t the only one wearing multiple hats!
“This is Carlyle." the man responded.
“Major, this is Searcy. I’ll be out of contact for a command conference.” He didn’t mention the enemy leader, not sure how widely that fact was circulating. “Until that’s done, my company commanders have been told to report to you.”
“You’re putting a lot of trust in a mercenary.”
“Well, you were a Royal Guard once.”
Major Alexander Carlyle snorted. “Right up until I got my own equivalent of Sortek’s wound.”
Searcy winced. “That bad?” Carlyle had taken a head injury on Tharkad that prevented him from piloting a ‘Mech again. He’d retrained for battle armor, joining his family’s mercenary outfit rather than remaining with the Royal Guards.
“I’ll be impressed if they save that arm. There are alternatives, of course…”
“I guess we’ll see.” If the mercenary had stayed with the Royal Guards, he’d probably have had a battalion or even regimental command within the Second Royal Guards, Searcy thought. He might have even been Sortek’s equivalent: commander of an RCT’s entire infantry brigade.
Backing his Sagittaire up against a building that would give him at least some cover if there was a surprise attack, Searcy locked the legs and then connected to the secondary command channel.
“Just barely in time, Leutnant Colonel.”
Searcy decided not to pay any attention to the chiding. He was on time, General Davion had to know he had to prepare, and she hadn’t asked him to be early. “Brigadegeneral Sortek has been taken to the field hospital." he reported instead. “I don’t know the details of her condition.”
Lucy Davion’s voice eased. “Thank you, Michael.”
“Terias Sortek is not seriously injured, quineg?” asked the surviving Khan of the Wolves. Marcos Hall had only been the junior Khan - saKhan was the specific term - of the exiled Wolf Clan; but now, of all four Khans across the divided Clan, he was the only survivor. The Clan Council had not yet convened to confirm his ascent to senior Khan and appoint a junior, although Evantha Fetladral, one of Kell’s inner circle, was informally handling many of the duties and she was assumed to be assured of the position.
“Bad enough. Might need a new arm.”
“Ah, I lost my own once. An unfortunate injury, but recoverable.”
Searcy blinked and then remembered that the Clans had the capacity to clone organs and limbs for their wounded. Terias Sortek’s brother had mentioned negotiations over sharing that technology with the AFFC’s medical service. Perhaps the loss would be less damaging to her future than Carlyle assumed.
“Game faces on, gentlemen.” Lucy Davion’s voice was cool and professional. “Kerensky has requested access to the channel.”
Activating a secondary monitor; Searcy was pleased to see that, while he was voice only, the other participants were all transmitting video traffic. All three appeared on the monitor in head and shoulder view. Katya Kerensky was a startlingly attractive blonde with cool grey eyes - if it wasn’t for the leathers she wore, it would have been easy to mistake her for a member of the extended House Steiner.
<<“Greetings, Marco Hall.">> she began the meeting.
<<“Katya Kerensky.">> the Khan confirmed. <<“I am joined by General Lucy of House Davion. Also present in audio only, is Lieutenant Colonel Michael of House Searcy.”>>
That sounded really jarring to Searcy - it wasn’t entirely inappropriate for the general, but his own family weren’t nobles. Hall probably wasn’t entirely comfortable with the way the Inner Sphere tended to handle family names - or he thought that Kerensky wouldn’t be.
<<“The slayer of Vladimir Ward." the enemy commander recognized. “An impressive accomplishment. For all his errors, our Khan was a deadly warrior.”
<<“And a hypocrite." added Hall sharply. “He killed Khan Kell’s gene-sire in the same manner that Chistu murdered Ulric Kerensky.”
<<“And a hypocrite.” Kerensky repeated the description without any particular disagreement.. “I am not unaware of how my ancestor perished. In this and other ways, Khan Ward had stepped off the honor road.”
<<“You are his loremaster." accused the leader of the exiles. “You should have -”
Kerensky gestured dismissively. <<“I acted in the ways that I was able. If you feel you could have done better, why did you not stay?”
<<“I had my orders from Ulric Kerensky.”
<<“As did I.” She shook her head. <<“Vladimir Ward’s survival was not part of the late ilKhan’s plan.”
“Anyone who thinks they can plan far past their own death is stepping into megalomania." Lucy Davion cut in. “You called for this meeting, Galaxy Commander. What do you want?”
<<“I want the same thing most of Clan Wolf’s leadership have wanted for a decade: to reunite our Clan.” Kerensky appeared unoffended by the bluntness. “The question is whether or not it is available on terms I can lead my warriors to accept.”>>
“I’d point out that your alternative is pretty much being skinned once we take the rest of the city." pointed out Searcy. “You do realize you’re surrounded, right?”
<<“We have dropships.">> Kerensky responded calmly. “I have a warship - the Provider - hidden behind the moons, while your own fleet is dispersed to support the AFFC’s logistics. If your terms are unacceptable, I will lead my warriors and as many others as I can back to the homeworlds.”>> Her tone implied ‘to salvage something from this debacle’, but she didn’t actually come out and say it.
Lucy Davion’s eyes narrowed at the revelation. “Provider?”
Hall hesitated and then told them: <<“A Volga-class transport. About the size of a frigate - it could carry our best estimate of what remains of Delta Galaxy without difficulty.”>>
“Neither of those outcomes involves further losses to my forces." the general concluded after a moment. “The floor is yours, Khan Hall.”
Hall leant forwards, thrusting his face into the screen. <<“What sort of welcome do you expect to find in the Homeworlds, Katya?”>>
<<“A warm one.">> she replied tersely. <<“Silas Kufahl has challenged for unrestricted use of the bloodlines of Andery Kerensky by his bloodhouse.”>>
Searcy could make nothing of that, but Hall bared his teeth. <<“Scavengers.”>>
<<“Quite. Every warrior will be needed to defend what remains of our Clan. What can you offer that is better? I assume that you do not propose to be the Federated Commonwealth’s lapdogs as Ward liked to represent you.”>> she told the Exile Khan
<<“You understand that we cannot live as if we are surrounded by other Clans, nor maintain the sort of dominion as the Ghost Bears?”>>
Kerensky nodded wordlessly.
<<“Our enclave on Arc-Royal will be a template. Distinct territories for us to live in under our own customs and laws, but alongside the Federated Commonwealth. There will have to be some changes, largely in greater freedoms for our civilian castes. If we are to retain their loyalty we will have to show ourselves to be a worthy choice, otherwise they are at liberty to depart our enclaves.”>>
<<“They are our clansmen, not our slaves.”>>
That sounded like agreement, Searcy thought.
“And do you fight as the Archon-Prince commands, and stay in your enclaves if not?” the Galaxy Commander asked, something that might be a smirk on her lips.
<<“So long as we do not turn our weapons against the Star League or the Federated Commonwealth, we may choose our own causes and our ships are free to travel within both.”>> Hall met her gaze directly. <<“We are part of the Martial Alliance, sharing a seat upon the Star League Council with other warriors - the Wolf's Dragoons, the Nova Cats, other notable military forces who do not serve any Great House directly. Had it not been for the war, it is likely that Khan Kell and his gene-sire would have represented that alliance last year.”>>
<<“I see.”>> Kerensky looked thoughtful. <<“Arc-Royal as a template, but where else will we be… permitted such enclaves?”>>
<<“We have already been offered lands upon the third world of the Odessa system.">> Hall revealed. <<“Preparations are underway there. Beyond that, I have been invited to suggest three worlds from those we have occupied to retain enclaves upon.”>>
<<“Five worlds… a new pentagon?”>> Kerensky asked
<<“Not quite so geographically convenient, but essentially.”>>
She nodded at Hall’s words. <<“And you feel we can trust the Archon-Prince?”>>
<<“If you didn’t think he can be trusted.">> Searcy cut in, “Then why even talk about this?”
There was a pause and then Katya Kerensky smiled. She really was strikingly beautiful when she did so, and Searcy was glad his camera was off. <<“A good point.">> she admitted.
“I also have a question.” Lucy Davion sounded irritated. “Convincing you is one thing, but how do I know you will not simply be killed by someone taking grievance with this change of allegiance?”
Hall looked reluctantly approving. <<“That is an issue.”>>
<<“It is not.”>> Kerensky’s smile faded. <<“I know who in my Galaxy doubted Khan Ward’s path. As the Loremaster, I was the natural choice for them to confide in. I also knew who had no such doubts, and they were all stationed within the half of this city that you control. There will be no rebellion within the eighty-three points remaining of Delta Galaxy… or the thirty-eight that I can add to that within the next three days.”>>
Searcy bit back a sign. Two clusters, more or less - less than Hall commanded now, but if those repairs were done then Kerensky might even have an edge in numbers over her counterpart. But that would be the core of a second galaxy added to the Warden Wolves if agreement could be reached.
<<“From what I know of your own numbers? Enough to make any election of a Khan interesting.">>. Kerensky told the other Wolf frankly. <<“It would be better for us to work together, quiaff?”>>