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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 39[]

State of the Union[]

Durant, Algol
Capellan March, Federated Commonwealth
November 14th, 3063

The Fifteenth Deneb Light Cavalry were in full retreat as they entered the canyon.

Not in rout - their heavy 'Mechs were holding together and a guard force of lights and mediums were covering the rear but behind a light scout force there was only a mismatched array of support units and semi-functional combatants.

The first scout lance in was made up of Savannah Master hovercraft - light and agile but without the firepower or armor to survive an unexpected encounter with Crucis company of the Fifth Royal Guards.

Savannah Master (Farseer Animation Version)

Savannah Master Scout Hovercraft

Conner still had a working Mackie, although there were only a lance left in the company. His PPC ripped through the flank of one Savannah Master and ripped the reactor apart. He tried not to pay attention to the obviously human fragments that were among the debris left as the little tank came apart.

One of the Savannah Masters managed a tight turn and to escape, autocannon rounds from an Enforcer III chasing after it but not quite connecting.

On New Avalon, Peter had granted the three Davion Guards first pick of the salvage for their own rebuilding but earmarked available units from the military factories on the capital for the Fifth Royal Guards. As a result their average tonnage had plummeted, but so had the age of their 'Mechs.

"This is Baker Lead," Conner heard Searcy declare. "we just smacked their lead elements on the nose."

"Same here," he reported. "Now they know both these routes are plugged, maybe we can get them to stand down."

"Here's hoping." Searcy said

Conner couldn't help but agree. There were almost a dozen canyons and gullies that the Fifteenth Deneb Light Cavalry could use to get through this part of the Shalom mountain range and Prince Peter had scattered the Fifth Royal Guards in penny packets to hold each of them. There was a reserve if they got pushed but it all depended on each little force holding out long enough to be reinforced.

On the flipside, with the Tenth Lyran Guards and Nineteenth Arcturan Guards behind them, the battered Light Cavalry really had nowhere else to go. They'd lost their dropships trying to ferry the last remnants of the Tikonov Republican Guards and supporting forces out of a similar pocket when the cruiser FCS Hanse Davion had intercepted the sub-orbital hop. Four dropships had been destroyed - and the rest had surrendered rather than face the same treatment.

Avalon Cruiser (Fan Made - Artist Unknown)

FCS Hanse Davion

"I'll try talking to them." he decided. The loyalists had been intransigent so far but surely they could see the writing on the wall.

With one eye still on his display, Conner picked an open channel that the Light Cavalry should be monitoring. "Captain Sortek calling Deneb Light Cavalry, I repeat, this is Captain Sortek calling the Deneb Light Cavalry. Come in please."

It took three more repetitions before there was a reply. "Sortek, this is Fifteenth DLC. We hear you."

No name, no rank. "We have every pass in the mountains secured, DC. You can't get through and with two RCTs behind you, you can't go back. We both know it's over. The only question is how hard it has to be. Prince Peter is offering generous terms if you surrender."

There was a pause and when the reply came, it was another voice - older and harsher. "Captain Sortek, this is General Burim Jashari. We know the terms he gave the Sixth FedCom, so to put it mildly, you can shove those generous terms up your ass."

What? Who was Jashari? Conner yanked up the Fifteenth Deneb Light Cavalry’s command structure on a secondary monitor. "I don't know what you mean, General. I was there when the Sixth surrendered."

"What I mean," the man said angrily. "Is that we have Intel saying that several hundred of their personnel got vanished. Not just combatants, but technical staff too. Not dead in combat or interned for trial, just a quiet guilty silence."

Jashari! He found the name at last. Leftenant General commanding the infantry brigade. Fifth in line of command. What had happened to Marshal Lipstein and his other senior staff. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he replied. "If you're thinking they were massacred, you're out of your mind. Do you think my... Ardan Sortek would stand for that?"

"I'm saying it's awfully convenient that the Archon-Princess 'escaped' New Avalon and hasn't been seen since. You may be a Sortek, Captain, but Ardan Sortek is dead."

Conner stared at the screen. Seismic sensors were picking up movement outside the canyon mouth. Magscan showed the same. What was going on inside Jashari's head, what was he…? Oh!

"You damn fool, Jashari," he half-shouted. "The Sixth's personnel didn't get disappeared! They're right here on Algol - you're talking about the soldiers who joined Fifth Royal Guards!"

"...I can't believe you think I'm that gullible." the infantryman replied and there was a sharp click.

"Jashari!" Nothing. "Jashari!" Had he cut the comm line?

"Fast movers coming in!" warned Stephens and started backing his Fireball away from the mouth of the canyon. The light 'Mech had pulled back only a few yards when the first LRMs started to land.

Fireball Light Mech (in combat by Oswald)

Fireball Light 'Mech

Hover tanks were in the lead again, this time Maxim hover transports that must be carrying some of Jashari's infantry. That didn't make them less deadly, they outmassed some of the Royal Guard 'Mechs and mounted several missile launchers.

Nor were they slowing down as they entered the canyon dangerously fast. One mis-calculated and clipped the side of the entrance. It flipped over more than once before coming to rest upside down - Conner didn't want to think about what that must have done to the infantry inside.

The pass lit with fire as Conner's troops opened up on the Maxims. He saw the covers flip open on Jaq Hamer's Dervish's missile launchers. The woman - inevitably nicknamed Jackhammer, fired a full alpha strike into one of the Maxims right as it passed through the optimum two hundred meter range.

Maxim Mk2 (In desert - Dark Colorized WizKid)

Maxim Infantry Transport Hovercraft, variant pictured

The hovercraft was wreathed in smoke for a moment by the missile explosions before it emerged and, perhaps unintentionally, swept one leg out from under the Dervish. Fifty-five tons of 'Mech landed on top of the hover tank and grounded it abruptly.

"Crucis Lead to command, we're being attacked!" Conner shouted into the Royal Guards command channel. His autocannon spun up, shots trailing after a frantically weaving Maxim. "They're trying to break through. We've got Maxims swarming over us and -"

Stephen's Fireball came to an abrupt halt as something hit the fleet little 'Mech dead center. The Fireball toppled backwards onto the ground, a visible hole punched into its chest.

"And now 'Mechs," Conner added as the Hollander that had fired the killing shot loped deeper into the canyon, its long-barrelled gauss rifle tracking towards Conner's Mackie.

Before it could fire again he opened up with his PPC and medium lasers, firing each in succession and seeing already scarred armor breaking open under the weight of his fire.

The gauss rifle discharged, but the shot was low and only smashed armor over his Mackie's left thigh.

Teeth drawn back, Conner fired his LB 10-X autocannon and the sub-munitions scattered across the front of the thirty-five ton 'Mech. There was an explosion inside the Hollander and the targeting systems outlined its right torso - including the gauss rifle - as non-functional. The way the right arm hung limp was likely evidence of that.

Apparently undaunted, the Hollander's mechwarrior rushed his 'Mech forwards, letting other 'Mechs follow him in, and tried to close in on Ben Hutchins' Osiris.

Conner saw Hutchins twist away, twisting his SRM launcher to keep it on target long enough to punish the Hollander for its aggression and judged that the man had it under control.

“Understood, Crucis Lead.” Peter’s voice on the comms was masked briefly by an explosion. “They’re hitting us at five points, our reinforcements are on the way.”

A Valkyrie and a Commando followed the Hollander in, and behind them something Conner's targeting computer struggled to pin down. A flicking from Cataphract to Caesar and back until it finally grudgingly concluded it was the latter but using armor plating intended for the former. Not impossible, the two designs were very similar and battlefield repair sometimes required corners to be cut.

The Caesar's pulse lasers stitched a line of holes down the frontal armor of Conner's Mackie as it twisted to try to bring the waist-level gauss rifle around to bear. the move didn't quite work out as planned, for the delay gave Greg Huntington's Argus time to line up its own shot from the Rotary Autocannon mounted in one arm. Unprepared for the shocking weight of fire, the Caesar staggered, trying to compensate for the beating.

In turn, Conner fired his PPC and then his autocannon at the battered armor, his shots hitting just as Huntingdon ceased fire - the cursing on the company frequency suggesting he'd done so due to the autocannon jamming.

Unfortunately the Caesar's gauss rifle hadn't been taken out and it slammed into the Argus' arm right below the autocannon, probably removing any chance of getting the gun back into service without a technical team.

Undaunted, Huntington kept moving in, lighting up the Commando with his medium lasers. The light 'Mech turned on one heel, avoiding most of the shots but slowing to turn was its undoing as a rain of missiles descended from further back in the canyon where a lance of Eleventh Markab Panzer LRM Carriers were dug in.

Almost a ton of munitions descended on the Light Cavalry Commando and what emerged from explosions was a skeletal framework of a 'Mech. Pathetically, it raised its right arm towards the Argus and tried to fire the missile launcher in the forearm. To no one's surprise except possibly the pilot's, not a single tube fired.

Huntington's next shot blew out one knee and the Commando hit the ground, the outstretched right arm snapping like a dry twig as it met the canyon floor.

The Caesar wasn't focusing on the Argus any more and its Extended Range PPC raked along the right arm of Conner's Mackie. Not yet feeling the heat, Conner replied with his own ER PPC and added laser and autocannon fire to the mix, sending the other 'Mech - only two-thirds the size - staggering backwards.

With a cry of frustration at the Deneb Light Cavalry's stubbornness, Conner drove his Mackie forwards, face to face with the Caesar and lashed out with one large leg, cracking the plating over his target's shin.

Already off balance the Caesar crashed down onto its back, legs kicking wildly and ineffectually.

Conner started down, crosshairs centring by instinct on the cockpit glass... and then with deliberate effort he shifted his sights down and towards the gauss rifle, firing again.

Sparks flew from inside the Caesar as his autocannon ripped into the interior. His infrared display showed a surge towards red and then white before the heavy 'Mech's reactor shut down.

With a deep breath he looked around but there was nothing else to fight. The Valkyrie was down and if any of the Maxims had got past then they were out of view.

"Is everyone okay?" he asked, checking his company.

Voices chimed in and it quickly became clear the only 'Mech entirely out of action was Stephens' Fireball.

While fast, the little 'Mech had little in the way of armament or armor. Once shots penetrated its ammunition bins, all Stephens had been able to do was eject - and if he'd been any slower he would have been torn apart in the same way as his 'Mech.

The ejection seat had come down near one of the less damaged of the DLC's Maxim hover transports and Huntington had moved up to point his machinegun at the disgruntled infantry who'd escaped the wrecked hovertank, warning them off from trying anything against the Royal Guards' mechwarrior.

One of the soldiers glared up defiantly at the Argus, not letting go of the rifle in her hands.

"Fire then!" she challenged Huntington. "We know your prince had no mercy on the Sixth FedCom, we don't expect any now."

Conner was about to correct her when Huntington's voice cut in. "Sir, can you cover me while I set her straight?"

"Go right ahead, sergeant." He positioned his Mackie next to the Argus and saw the heavy 'Mech lock its limbs.

A moment later the hatch popped open and Huntington dropped a rope ladder down. He descended quickly, the shaking of the ladder showing his anger as it made each movement jerky.

Once on the ground, Huntington stalked over to the infantrywoman. "You have something to say about the Sixth FedCom?"

She nodded sharply. "Your prince massacred them. Everyone knows that."

"Really?" He pointed at his arm. Focusing a camera, Conner saw the tigers head tattooed just below the shoulder. Like most mechwarriors, Huntington's cooling vest left his arms bare. "You know what this is?"

"A tiger?"

"It's the badge of the Sixth FedCom RCT, you idiot!" Huntington shouted in anger. "The Prince didn't massacre us, he recruited us!"

"What...? But... Your names just vanished from the rosters. That's what our Intel said."

The Royal Guardsman shook his head. "Our names were withheld in case your damned Archon decided to go after our families. Blake's blood, don't any of you stop to think?"

"That's enough, Sergeant," Conner cut in over his loudspeakers. He focused his camera on the woman's rank tabs. "As for you, corporal, lay down that rifle. We have infantry coming to collect you... but if you're still armed then the Prince's amnesty for surrendering personnel won't apply."

"What if I don't?" she asked stubbornly, although she lowered the rifle.

"The amnesty only covers any allegations of treason. Not the results of criminal stupidity."

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