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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 19[]

State of the Union[]

Zenith Jump Point, Marlette System
Crucis March, Federated Commonwealth
1 May 3063

Every receiver on Jumpship Bifrost and the two dropships was recording data. One of Ardan's provisions for the expedition had been every decryption key available to him, which wasn't as many military codes as he liked - Katrina's Marshal of Armies, Jackson Davion, was no fool and was changing those as quickly as he could since defectors were handing them over to Victor's allies - but it did include enough commercial codes to have some of the major interstellar corporations in a cold sweat if they'd realized.

"Lots of complaints about jumpship availability." Peter noted as he scanned through a summary of some of the intercepts.

Clovis nodded. "That would fit. I've had more than a dozen queries about whether we can take on a shipment. Some of them even offered to pay any cancellation fees for moving our current ships if we'd take theirs on."

"Generous." Peter said

Karla Brennan shook her head. "I would say worrying. At some point someone may wonder why you're not accepting these offers. There aren't that many possible answers."

The Bifrost had been using outer system jump points well outside normal traffic routes as they made their way deeper into the Federated Suns. False identity codes were most useful if no one ever challenged them, after all, but after shifting some of the completed Mackie chassis back to the Glowworm two days before, clearing room for another twenty-four incomplete units aboard the Clarent, there would be less suspicious activity for the next little while.

Moving the 'Mechs through zero gravity had been an interesting exercise with over a hundred people in EVA suits. Unavoidable though - the Clarent only had twelve 'Mech bays and they were in use for the actual conversion work. As a result, finished Mackies were being laid out in vehicle bays, a less than ideal solution given access routes and limited availability of flatbeds to move them.

"There's no point arguing over it now." Peter said as he closed up the summary and moved to a listing of what the news had to say. "We're here now and if it all goes wrong, feel free to tell me you told me so."
"I defer that to our son." Karla told him, taking Clovis' hand. "I think those were almost his first words."

Peter hid a smile at the married couple. Maybe he'd find himself such a relationship one day. It hadn't been possible at Saint Marinus House, but if Victor could find happiness... well.

The smile slipped off his face as he watched a Federated News Service broadcast. The focus was on the fighting with the Combine, with barely a mention of disloyal elements being suppressed by the armed forces. "What the hell happened to FNS? They used to be indomitable."

"It's easy to be indomitable when the government grants the press its traditional freedoms." Catherine murmured.

Conner Sortek nodded from his place at the table. He might be junior but his family connections gave him a perspective Peter found valuable. "Several of their reporters and presenters have dropped out of sight since Katrina ousted Yvonne's regency." he advised. "I wouldn't be surprised if they, and the more indomitable of the corporation's officers, are enjoying the Archon's hospitality somewhere."
"Using the ironic form of enjoyed there?" Peter shook his head to show the question was rhetorical. Technically speaking the Federated Suns didn't have a free press: government censorship was a firmly protected perquisite of the First Prince. But House Davion almost never actually employed that option. A little bad press, his father had told him, wasn't worth a reputation of fearing public opinion.

Clovis leant back as a chirp came from his comm and lifted it onto the desk. "Captain Colium?"

"Holstein, go." The dropship captain's voice wasn't quite as unruffled as Peter usually found it. "Have you been watching the recharge station?"

"Not personally. Why?" Marlette's Zenith point benefited from a recently restored Star League era recharge station that could bring a jump drive up to full charge in hours rather than the usual days. Its service wasn't cheap, which was one reason why Bifrost wasn't taking advantage of it, but it had helped the world hold onto its place on the trade routes between Terra and New Avalon.

"I think you should. There's been some military activity."

Clovis raised his eyebrows. "I'll do so." He left the table that they were using and the others followed him out into Bifrost's command deck where the dwarf brought up the holotank and selected a data feed on local space, backdating the last hour and running through it at twenty times normal speed.

"What's that, a assault ship?" asked Peter, pointing at one icon.

"Yes, and a squadron of six Corsair aerospace fighters."

Corsair Aerospace Fighters (Deep Space - with jumpship behind

Corsair Medium Fighters in formation in space.

"I thought they were all in Lyran space."

Clovis shrugged. "It would seem not. They've expanded production at the Shipil yards, I know that."

Peter seized hold of a rail. "Remind me of their capabilities."

"About the size of an old Avenger-class assault ship but a bit slower, its thrust to weight is close to that of the fighters. Enough weapons to be a problem." the dwarf said to him

Assault ships had been the backbone of the Inner Sphere's space combatants for the interim between the battles of the early Succession Wars devouring the warship fleets of the Star League and the revival of full-size warships to face the Clans. The Claymore was around one-tenth the size of the Clarent, but it had at least as much firepower, all concentrated into fore and aft weapon bays rather than spaced out for full coverage.

Aggressively handled the assault ship could destroy Peter's entire force, especially with the support of the fighter squadron.

Looking at the angle of movement, Clovis nodded. "Fetch Daniel so he can tell us he told us so. We've been rumbled."
"They're not heading for us." Conner studied the vectors carefully. "Not directly."

"No, but they're just being cagey." Sticking one finger into the display, Clovis cast a shadow across it. "They'll get about here, then light up their main drives and generate an intercept. I'd guess that that's when they'll challenge us."

"No boarding shuttles?" asked Peter curiously.

"The Claymore has a cargo hold, they probably crammed one in there."

He nodded his understanding and cursed himself for being overconfident. The matters on New Dallas had gone so smoothly, escaping well before any Word of Blake response might have arrived, that he'd assumed they could slip through the Federated Commonwealth with equal ease. He'd planned ahead, but there would be a price for the failure. "Alright. Still, it's possible they aren't after us. Unlikely, but we may as well let things play out. If they are, we'll still have time for our fallback strategy."

The hatch opened to admit Daniel Holstein who took one look at the holotable. "I didn't think that our cover would stand up to scrutiny," he concluded. "Do we have time to hot-charge the drive?"

Clovis shook his head. "Not a chance. Maybe if we'd started on arrival, but they'll be on us inside of an hour."

Daniel made a face. "Damn."

"Get everyone into vacsuits." Peter ordered. "I don't think we'll need them but I didn't think they'd spot us either. And have Clarent and Glowworm lock everything down for maneuvering."

While many of those aboard the three ships were able to prepare space gear quickly, it took most of the fifteen minutes Clovis had guessed they had for the rest. Catherine needed help to get into hers and Peter was helping her with the helmet when Clovis' voice came over the speakers.
"All hands, the FCS MacBeth has just challenged our identity. She's inbound with a six fighter cover patrol. Lieutenant-General Sortek's men will prepare to receive boarders. Everyone else should stay out of their way."

"How many Sorteks are there?" Karla asked, looking over at Conner.

Conner dropped the visor of his helmet to check it was working and then lifted it. "Not that many, but most of us in the AFFC are with the Davion Guards. Terias is my sister."

"What? You never said anything!" said Peter

The young Mechwarrior shrugged. "We had a falling out a few years back. Pretty childish really, but we never quite got around to burying the hatchet."

Peter shook his head, confirming his helmet moved freely, and then triggered the comm. "Clovis, have you sent the signal?"

"As soon as they challenged us. Do you want me to try and bluff them?"

"Yeah, it won't hold up but anything that keeps them from opening fire..."

The dwarf chuckled. "Yes, that could be unfortunate."

They reached the command deck again in time to see the aerospace fighters moving in, backed by the sleek, swan-like shape of FCS MacBeth. Clovis closed his microphone as they reached him. "Real hard-nosed commander over there," he said. "He doesn't believe we're carrying candy."

Peter glanced at the data readout on the Clarent, a clear military transport - not that many hadn't been reconfigured for cargo service over the years - and rubbed his chin. "But we're so innocent and inoffensive."

"Jump signature!" a voice called. "Big one, right between us and the enemy."

Conner pointed at the holotank. "They've noticed." The Macbeth and the six fighters had spun through ninety degrees and gone to overthrust. Hard-nosed or not, the assault ship's commander was clearly decisive. Being too close to an inbound jumpship was never a good idea and the sheer scale must have warned them of what it must be.

"This will be spectacular." Clovis told them all and indicated a screen. They only had to wait a moment and then iridescent light marked the jumpship exiting hyperspace only a few thousand kilometers away from them.

The light faded to reveal not the long, needle-like form of a conventional jumpship but a squat thimble-shape, each indentation marking some critical function. Deceptively small as it appeared, the new arrival outmassed the Bifrost and its attached dropships by a hefty margin.

"All ships." a level voice announced. "This is FCS Intrepid. We are now in control of this jump point. Units loyal to Archon Katrina have sixty seconds to vacate the area or surrender. This is non-negotiable."

Fox Class Corvette (in orbit from MW3 art revamped)

FCS Intrepid, Fox Class Corvette type Warship

The Corsairs, no fools and without the range to escape, flipped over and began to slow. Peter heard the pilots indicating their acceptance of the terms.

FCS MacBeth could readily have reached Marlette itself but instead it started shaping its course into a loop that would have brought it back towards the Bifrost.

"That bloody fool," Clovis snarled.

Peter grabbed a microphone. "MacBeth, this is Peter Steiner-Davion. Abort your maneuver before you get your crew killed."

Claymore Class Dropship (by shortpainter)

Claymore Class Assault Dropship

There was no reply.

"I say again, abort your run!" barked Peter

The little dropship's lifeboats burst away from its sides. For a moment he thought sanity had broken out but then the aft weapon mounts opened up on the lifeboats as they fell behind. One blew apart under the fire.

The first shots from the Intrepid's battery autocannon blew the wing off the MacBeth. The dropship went into a tumble but the broadside lasers fired next and intercepted it before it could stabilize.

"Crew of fifteen, less whoever's on the lifeboat." Daniel said in a strained voice.

"Plus any boarding troops they were carrying." His father's voice was no less shocked.

Peter lowered the microphone. "As soon as an HPG message gets to New Avalon, Katrina will know I'm coming and that Intrepid is backing us up." He shook his head. "Could have turned out better, I must admit."

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