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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 7[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Part Two - Coventry

I've got this burning like my veins are filled
With nothing but gasoline.
And with a spark,
It's gonna be the biggest fire they've ever seen.
Cut me down or let me run,
Either way it's all gonna burn...
The only way that they'll ever learn --Light Up The Night - Protomen, Act II


The Triad, Tharkad
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
July 3rd, 3067


This could have gone better, Jon Davion thought as he watched a lance of Alacorn tanks grind their way into the narrow confines of the best route through the Windbreak Mountains. The massive tanks’ hulls had been scarred and cratered by weapons fire, all driving with their turrets rotated to aim backwards - in case the invaders somehow penetrated the rearguard and set upon them again.

Alacorn Heavy Tank (By yukuzhelev 3D Model)

Alacorn Assault Tank

At least this lance was at full strength. Many of the other lances that had already gone past Jon had been depleted by casualties - and not all of those casualties were being dragged into the Great Gash. There were only so many recovery vehicles anyway. The Davion Heavy Guards hadn’t been routed, but the attack hadn’t been what they were expecting either.

A light on one of his cockpit’s many secondary consoles alerted him that someone in the Regimental Combat Team’s headquarters section was trying to reach him; and Jon hit the control to accept the call.

“General.” the speaker declared as soon as the call connected, “It’s Colonel Karner.”

“I hear you, Colonel.”

The Karner family had had many members in the Heavy Guards over the centuries of their service. The regiments of the Davion Guards didn’t just pick the best and brightest out of other regiments, there was also a strong element of family tradition. It was cronyism, but it also helped to maintain the Brigade of Guards’ near flawless record of loyalty: a man or woman might betray a prince, but they were far less likely to let down their family. And to fail both… unthinkable - at least for those who made the cut. Even among traditional families, not everyone was selected for the Davion Guards.

Colonel Wendy Karner, commander of the Heavy Guards’ ‘Mech regiment, had been a classmate of the legendary Kai Allard-Liao and (during the latter’s exchange year from the Nagelring) of Victor Steiner-Davion. Rumour had it that if Allard-Liao hadn’t changed his mind about entering the Davion Guards, she might not have made the cut that year. If so, it was hard for Jon to see how she might have been bettered. Her personal ‘Mech - a Devastator that was one of the heaviest ‘Mechs in the regiment - had battle honors for a decade and a half of skirmishes and battles, including battles against the Smoke Jaguars during Operation Bulldog. During the Battle of New Avalon she’d inherited command of the regiment from Marshal Adelmana and led it effectively while Jon had commanded from his then post as leader of the armored brigade.

“Did the message get through?” he continued, wondering what Karner made of his leadership so far - his first major action since New Avalon.

“Yes sir.” she answered crisply. “the signal has been sent.”

“Good.” Rather than being hit in the first wave of Jade Falcon attacks, Twycross had first been isolated when the Clanners had stormed Blackjack: the only Federated Commonwealth world that was within HPG range. Until Blackjack was retaken - or some other occupied world within fifty light years was liberated - the only communication between Jon’s command and the outside universe would be the secretive ‘black boxes’ that provided the military with more limited options than ComStar’s HPGs. “At least we can alert Marshal Steiner and the rest of high command that the Hells Horses have joined the invasion.”

And hadn’t that come as a nasty surprise, Jon thought to himself. The incoming dropships had been detected, of course - fusion torches were rarely subtle - but they’d fought ferociously to keep his aerospace fighter contingent from getting close. He’d assumed that it was just an understandable desire to protect the transport dropships from being damaged or destroyed; but both that and the lack of a traditional Clan battle challenge - batchall, as they put it - had also masked that he wasn’t facing the Jade Falcons.

Clan Hell's Horses were comparatively unknown to the Inner Sphere. They hadn’t participated in the original invasion back in 3052, arriving at some point after the Great Refusal had ended the threat of a resumed invasion by all the Clans. Even now that they had a presence in the Inner Sphere, they had thus far clashed only with the other Clans until Clan Wolf had ceded them a few impoverished worlds that had once been pirate nests along the edge of the Periphery.

So far as Jon recalled, the only previous occasion when the Hell's Horses had fought anyone from the Inner Sphere had been on the Clans’ capital world of Strana Mechty. During the Great Refusal, a small unit of Rasalhague’s Third Drakons regiment had faced a similarly picked unit of the Clan in a set-piece trial by combat: one of the eight fought that had decided the end of the Invasion. The Horses had been defeated then, but perhaps it had taught them something of how to adapt to the Inner Sphere.

Jon’s hope to pick off one of the four Clusters of troops being landed had fallen apart when the Heavy Guards had found themselves facing not the rigidly traditional Clan Jade Falcon but a far more flexible force who understood how to utilize ‘Mechs, infantry and even armored fighting vehicles together effectively. It was possible that he could have defeated the Cluster anyway, but the cost would have been higher than Jon would have liked, in lives and in time. The former was forgivable, if never to be paid unnecessarily, but the latter would have allowed the other three Clusters to outflank his command.

“General McDonald wants to speak to you, sir.” Karner continued.

“Of course.”

There was a click and then he heard Linda McDonald’s distinctive Skye accent. While many of her officers were from Arcturus itself or one of the other core worlds of Donegal province, the commander of the Eleventh Arcturan Guards was a very visible exception. What that meant about her ultimate loyalties was unclear to Jon and to the AFFC’s own internal security. “General, my information is that you’re pulling back through the Windbreak Mountains.”

“Your information is accurate. It’ll take us ten to twelve hours, but once we reach the other end we can turn the Great Gash into a killing ground.” Forced to emerge from the narrows only a few at a time, any Clan pursuit could be hammered by overwhelming numbers. “How are your Guards managing?”

“I regret that we weren’t able to keep the other Clusters from responding to your attack.” she said as stiffly as her accent allowed. “However, the decision of their leaders to focus on pushing back the Heavy Guards prevented us from drawing them away.”

“The enemy always gets a vote.” he told her reassuringly. “that’s why they’re called the enemy. What losses did you take?”

“Not heavy - although we didn’t do more than sting them either. Both sides are fully disengaged.” She paused a second. “I must register a concern with your plan to hold the Hells Horses at the Gash. Have you observed the weather reports?”

Jon frowned. That sounded ominous. “Not since the morning. Let me update.”

One of the many datafeeds available through the battle-computers were meteorology reports - a considerable factor on Twycross, where the storms were so violent that the majority of the population lived underground. Jon studied the predictions for the next few days and restrained a curse. The Diabolis, a notoriously savage storm that had swept back and forth since before human colonization of the planet without ever dissipating once, was both ramping up in intensity and veering back towards the Windbreak mountains.

If he tried to hold firing positions covering the exit to the pass, his troops would be exposed to the fury of the storm while the Hells Horses would be sheltered by the mountains. Visibility would be terrible, preventing units with long-range weapons such as the Alacorns he’d seen earlier from supporting the forces right on the frontlines. His conventional infantry would be essentially helpless. Was even the planet conspiring against them?! “I see what you mean, general. You are quite correct, we cannot hold them at the mouth of the Great Gash.”

He could almost see McDonald nod. “I have a detachment of mountain troops ready to board their dropships.” she informed him. “They can make a low altitude run to join your troops and set up defensive positions in the canyons, buying you time to disengage. I agree that we need to draw this out until we have a better idea of the Hells Horses’ numbers and tactics. We don’t know which units we’re fighting yet.”

Jon reached up into his neurohelmet and rubbed his mustache for a moment. “No.” he decided after a moment’s thought. “Given that we do know that the Horses have a substantial force of battle armor, they would have the advantage in the close quarters of the Gash, unusual as it is for that to be the case when we fight the Clans. Your mountain troops would fight bravely, but I’d be trading their lives for barely a day.” And trading Arcturan Guards and Davion Guards, which would be political hell. “Not to mention that the dropships might not make it here - it’s all our fighters can do to keep the Horses from ruling the skies, there’s no assurance that they wouldn’t see your dropships and decide it was worthwhile to focus in and obtain local superiority against them.”

He considered his options. Maybe… yes, it was just crazy enough that it might work. “Do what you can to slow their advance on the factories, General. I’ll try to keep them away from the capital, but if we have to lose one of them we can get along better without Camora than we can without the Trellshire Heavy Industries facilities.” Without offworld supplies, the factory complex was their best chance of keeping the ‘Mechs and armored vehicles of the Eleventh Guards and Heavy Guards operational.

“Understood, General Davion.” There was an unspoken: ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’

He cut the channel and opened another to the Mobile HQ truck acting as a hub for the Regimental Command Team’s communications. “Senior Warrant, have you identified the communications frequencies that the Hells Horses are using.”

The man hesitated. “We have several pinpointed, sir. Some may be decoys, but we haven’t managed to break their encryption yet.”

“That’s fine, I just want to speak to them.”

“To speak to them, Sir?” There was a questioning note to the reply, the traditional cue that a non-commissioned officer (or warrant officer in this case) was politely asking if an officer had lost his mind.

“Why absolutely.” John felt his lips curl into a smile. “After all, these are new visitors to the Federated Commonwealth. The least we can do is let them know who’s giving them such a warm welcome.”

“Ah, you have it, General.” He heard the warrant officer typing. “I’m sending you a patch that’ll let you transmit unencrypted on every channel they seem to be using.”

As he waited for his ‘Mech’s battle computer to digest the update and prepare for it, John unlocked the legs of his Rakshasa and joined the flow of troops moving west. It wouldn’t do for him to be left behind. The desert camouflage on the ‘Mechs and equipment around him bore red-white-and blue roundels marking them as belonging to the Davion Brigade of Guards. The heavy ‘Mech’s digitigrade legs ate up the distance easily and he paused five kilometers further west, backing the ‘Mech into a dead-end gully.

Activating the new channel on his comms, Jon spent a moment trying to get into the right mindset. Don’t use contractions, he thought. Do not. Not ‘don’t’. Clanners hate contractions, and I do not need them to hate me… at least not yet.

“This is General Jon Davion, commanding the defenders of Twycross. I request to speak to my counterpart among the warriors of Clan Hell's Horses.”

He waited and was about to repeat his request when a clipped voice replied: “I am Galaxy Commander Danielle Amirault of the Hells Horses’ Lightning Riders. Do the vaunted Davion Guards wish to surrender after only today’s brief engagement?”

Jon laughed politely at the stilted insult. He’d heard worse from Draconis Combine Mustered Soldiery soldiers even when they were technically allies, as had been the case for most of his career. “Not at all, Galaxy Commander. I merely wished to offer you safcon.” Lightning Riders? What did that signify? He made sure the conversation was highlighted for his intelligence staff, to see what they could make of it.

“Safcon?” the Clanswoman seemed amused at hearing the offer of safe conduct from him. “In case you have not noticed, General Jon, my forces have already landed upon this world.”

“They have, but we have a choice of where we next battle.” he pointed out, hoping that the name indicated her command favoured more mobile combat. “If you prefer to force the canyons in a grueling frontal assault, paying for every centimeter with the blood of your warriors then this can easily be accomplished but it is little mark of our respective skills, only the armor and tenacity of our troops. As an alternative, the plains to the west present the opportunity to test each other’s skills openly.”

Amirault seemed to hesitate fractionally. “What advantage do you pursue by making me this offer?”

“Galaxy Commander, the route through these mountains is known as the Great Gash. In those confines, the Falcon Guards were slain by a single Mechwarrior - and a Khan of Clan Wolf was killed by a foe she deemed fallen already. It is a treacherous battlefield and it could turn against either of us. I believe in my command’s ability to face you on any ground but I believe that in these confines the deciding factor would be luck rather than skill.” he told his opponent over comms

There was another pause - he thought he heard the whisper of someone giving advice - and then the Galaxy Commander answered: “And how can I know that this is not a trap? You spheroids are known to be treacherous yourselves.”

How to convince her…? Jon switched his tone slightly, attempting to emulate some of the aristocratic hauteur he’d encountered under other officers - mostly arrogant fools, but not all of them - that considered their birth more important than their accomplishments. “I swear by the name of my ancestor, Alexander Davion, who stood among the founders of the Star League, that my offer is in good faith. I shall neither mine the passes, ambush you nor practice any other form of attack on you in or near this mountain range.” It had always amused him to hear that tone, because at least in his experience he’d never heard it from any of House Davion: by definition the most ‘well-born’ of all of the Suns. So who did those prigs think they were imitating?

“You say this, but are you not also descended from the accursed John Davion - named for him in fact - who exiled our Great Father and broke the Star League?”

“Actually, neither is true.” And he wasn’t even lying. “Many Davions have used different forms of that name. The John Davion - spelt with an H - who ended the Star League was descended of Alexander’s son Vincent. My name is spelt without an H and I trace my ancestry to another of Alexander’s offspring, Vincent’s brother Roger.”

“I see.” Amirault’s tone softened slightly, sounding almost… amused. “State your terms.”

Jon glanced at the clock. “A temporary ceasefire, starting on the hour and lasting exactly twenty-four hours. For the first twelve hours my forces can use the pass to cross the mountains, for the second you will have similarly uncontested use of it.”

“Any of your forces still in the pass after your twelve hours expire must surrender.” she demanded. “I demand the right to send an observation force up to pass to watch for any breach of those terms and ensure you are not simply encamping at the exit to assault us as we complete our crossing.”

With just over twelve hours, any of the Davion Heavy Guards that couldn’t make it would likely not be able to escape across the plains anyway, he thought. “That’s acceptable, but your observer force should be no more than a Star - and I want uncontested use of the airspace above the Gash for my evacuation.”

“A Nova Star of observers.” she countered.

“Bargained well and done.” Jon answered, before she could add any more requirements.

Amirault laughed for the first time. “Indeed. I shall be prepared to avenge any betrayal, General Jon. However, I hope that you are indeed the worthy, honorable opponent that you claim to be.” The channel cut out sharply.

Jon took a deep breath and then switched to speaking to his staff. “I’ve offered the Clans a twenty-four hour ceasefire in exchange for free passage through the Great Gash. We have twelve hours to get all our equipment, supplies and personnel across the mountains. After that, they’ll be crossing and we need to get well clear before Diabolis hits.”

“That’s good to hear, sir.” Wendy Karner agreed, ahead of anyone else commenting. “I’ve checked what we have on the Lightning Raiders and it appears to be the nickname of the Hell's Horses’ Delta Galaxy. It’s got a somewhat nebulous status - a secondline formation but with frontline equipment. It’s an odd choice for an invasion.”

“Interesting. They’re sending a Nova up the canyon to observe that we’re not luring them into a trap.” he advised her. “I want everyone given a heads up - lock weapons out as they go past. I’m not as married to my word as I want them to think, but for now we’ll play it straight and I don’t want any accidents. When they reach my position, I’ll head up the canyon with them.”

“That could leave you exposed if this is a headhunter attack, sir.”

“It’s a possibility, but I want a first-hand look at them. Information isn’t exactly ammunition, but knowing your foe is the basics of basics, Wendy.”

There was more discussion and he’d almost lost track of time when he was alerted that the Hell's Horses had nearly reached his position. Powering the Rakshasa up again, he moved it up to the flow of traffic. A few moments later, rather than the ‘Mechs he had expected, two columns of five hovertanks each in red-brown camouflage moved up; standing out from the Heavy Guards unit just ahead of them.

There were two designs, he spotted, alternating down the columns. One was bulky with a small turret and some fixed hardpoint missile launchers and he saw one side-hatch was open, allowing air into a bay where the shape of Clan Elemental battle armor was visible. The other design was larger but low and sleek with a domed turret festooned with weapons. Ten vehicles was standard numbers for a Clan Star, he thought - probably each rank of the formation was a point of two vehicles and five Elementals - meeting the technical definition of a Nova as combining two stars into a combined arms force.

Carefully avoiding bringing the weapons mounted on it to bear on them, he waved one arm of the Rakshasa for their attention and stepped into the flow of traffic. “I am General Jon Davion.” he introduced himself as his command lance joined them. “You may accompany my command unit as we traverse the mountains.”

The leading transport’s hatch opened wider, and an Elemental moved out to stand framed in it. The hovercraft didn’t seem bothered by a full ton of man and machine moving inside it. Then the suit leaped up, jump jets flaring, and seized hold of his ‘Mech’s arm with its manipulator hand.

For a moment, Jon almost swung Rakshasa’s arm to batter the Elemental against the canyon wall. He saw his escorts moving to cover the Clan vehicles, weapons coming live.

“Hold your fire.” he snapped, holding the arm steady.

“Ah!” The voice that came from the Elemental suit was surprisingly sweetly pitched. “I was mistaken, Quiaff? Our Mechwarriors gesture thus in invitation to ride with them.”

That would have been good to know, he thought sourly. “Yes… aff, you would say. I was merely identifying myself. Still, you are here now.”

The woman laughed. “As you say.” She rode easily on the ‘Mech’s arm as he opened the throttle and they moved west at more than fifty kilometres an hour. “I thought that this was a Timber Wolf, isorla from the Smoke Jaguars perhaps? But now that I look closer, it is not. There would be mountings for an Elemental - it is not even an OmniMech.”

“We haven’t quite managed to duplicate it, but we respect the Timber Wolf design and desired to emulate it.” Jon admitted.

“I apologize for giving the appearance of a headhunter star.” The elemental raised her suit’s stubby weapons arm in salute. “I am Nova Commander Thais. What would you have done if I was truly here to kill you?”

You weren’t picked as a diplomat, were you? Still, she didn’t seem hostile in the question and he knew Clan warriors tended to be direct. “I would have died with honor, and you would have lived without it. Though not for very long.”


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