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The Best of Enemies (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 12 – The Best of Enemies[]

“In difficult ground, press on; In encircled ground, devise stratagems; In death ground, fight.”” -- Sun Tzu, 孫子兵法 (The Art of War)

Hitting the Battlefields of Iriam[]

"FWLS Duchess Sofia Cameron-Jones", Kirin Spaceport, Kirin River, Irian III, Irian System, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
1535, 31st January, 2798

Ilsa breathed in and out harshly as the secondary monitor updated with another unit reporting readiness.

To the right of the massive cargo door, a demolitions technician -- a pygmy among the metal titans filling the bay -- crouched behind a blast shield. The woman raised her fist overhead and Ilsa responded by raising Shíshī’s left arm and clenching his fist.

The massive cargo bay, filled with the BattleMechs of the 6th Teng Lancers, was overflowing with anticipation. Thousands of tons of high-tech war machines tensed like a tiger about to spring on a deer.

Paul… I wish you were here alongside me… I---

The final status update that she had been waiting to be displayed suddenly updated to ‘ready status’.

The moment of contemplation in the deep breath before the plunge faded like dew on the grass.

Ilsa yelled the command to attack with everything she had in her body, mind, and soul.


Shíshī’s fist dropped.

Ilsa slammed the throttle to the stops and charged at the hatch.

With a flash and a roar the explosives that had been set at the anchor points to the hatch detonated.

Tons of metal suddenly had their connectors blown free from the dropship.

Then Ilsa, side by side with her Lance’s Black Knight and Crusader, hit the teetering metal with their fists and the weight of their charge, served to finish the job gravity was doing to pull the doors down, knocking them over to to serve as an assault ramp.

Screaming with the exhilaration of combat, Ilsa Liao slammed her BattleMech’s foot down on the ground of Irian III as the first CCAF soldier to make planetfall. She almost seemed to be outside herself, viewing the actions as a bystander rather than participant.

Behind her the orange and black painted Mechs flowed from the Dropship in an unstoppable torrent, firing as they charged.

The upper cargo hatches on the upper tier of the Mammoth Cargo Dropship opened. Their alcoves were filled with clouds of smoke and jets of flame as the Jump Infantry took flight on their rocket packs above her head.

Ilsa’s madly joyful eyes scanned the area in front of her with the same fervor as her ancestors had viewed battlefields during the Warring States, Taiping Rebellion, or the Three Kingdoms when China burned and countless millions died. Savage anticipation filled her soul like a predator seeking prey when her mech’s sensors locked onto the control tower coordinating activities at the spaceport.

Her fingers released the triggers and a wave of heat filled the cockpit as her PPC bolt and a trio of green laser pulses blew the top of the ferrocrete control tower to pieces.

Her BattleMech crushed the shattered wreckage of a spaceport security force’s jeep and the screaming driver trapped in the wreck underfoot.

“Marik Guards!”

Angry violet light appeared on her tactical display from a row over.

Shíshī pivoted to Ilsa’s right with a whine of contracting myomers at her mental command. Her crosshairs dropped onto the opening hatch in a purple painted Overlord about to disgorge its contents.

“Hit your objectives! I’ll handle these dogs!” She hissed hatefully as her hard brown eyes found the first of the bone white and purple painted BattleMechs began to descend the boarding ramp through the smoke and chaos.

The missile rack covers on the enemy Bombardier’s shoulders snapped open while the anti-missile turret that had replaced its head elevated.

Ilsa’s fingers released the triggers.

Simultaneously the enemy fire support design belched forth a massive cloud of missiles from its triple racks.

Smoke plumes filled the air as LRM and SRM trajectories interpenetrated while emerald and azure beams of light linked the Thunderbolt to Bombardier.

Then flame followed as the AMS fired at the incoming missiles, destroying half a dozen of her spread.

It wasn’t enough.

The Bombardier staggered from the slabs of armor melted and slagged across its right side and front. Then one of Ilsa’s missiles found the LRM ammo bin. The right half of the Free Worlds Guards Mech exploded in a fireball.

Meanwhile the massive cloud of LRMs and SRMs hammered into Ilsa like a hailstorm.

Shíshī toppled onto his left side as two and a quarter tons of armor were suddenly shattered and cratered all across his front and left side, obliterating the paint scheme there from head to toe. Ilsa was nearly tossed from her seat as the world whirled around her while alarms screamed.

The heat from her alpha strike sent her ‘Mech’s reactor into auto-shutdown as her hand missed the override button.

Ilsa gasped -- ignoring the sudden pain in her left side and the blood trickling down her arm from minor spalling from a cockpit hit -- as she fought to get her bearings through the double hammerblow of the wave of heat and the impact as she tried to shake off the concussion that had dazed her.

Then her eyes widened in shock and awe at the tilted sight visible through her cockpit’s now cracked and scored synthetic topaz ‘glass’.

A platoon of Jump Infantry had suddenly appeared through the chaos.

Meanwhile a second Bombardier was trying to pass the corpse of its lancemate in the now-blocked hatch so it could get a coupe de grace on her helpless Mech.

Smoke filled the air as the Infantry landed, fired, and took flight again.

Their wave of shoulder-fired one shot SRMs converged on the Bombardier.

The AMS was unable to stop them all.

Tentacles of liquid flame covered the Marik ‘Mech as the Inferno rockets detonated, covering it and the nearby area in burning superheated gel.

Ilsa swallowed in fear when the Mech suddenly became a steel and myomer funeral pyre for its doomed pilot who was roasting alive. Again she felt the proof of her worst fear trickle down her leg when she wet herself in terror once more.

Then tears filled her eyes.

As she watched helplessly, one of the ‘lesser’ infantry who had just saved her life landed at the edge of a puddle of inferno gel.

Flame began to spread unstoppably up his trouser legs as he took flight again.

He fired his laser rifle as he joined his comrades who were storming the dropship against orders even as he continued to burn alive.

The dying man who had just saved her vanished forever in the smoke and chaos of war.

One more anonymous casualty in the largest war in humanity’s history.

Ilsa whispered to herself in the silence of her cockpit before she began to emergency restart Shíshī once more. “Stal' za Rodina.... Stal' dlya Tikonova….”

High Cost of Victory[]

Irian Weapons Works Main Factory Complex, Kirin River, Irian III, Irian System, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
1730, 31st January, 2798

Autocannon slugs, lasers, and missiles hammered into Shíshī’s chest, scouring away the last few armor layers protecting his vitals. A warning light and tone sounded as the report of damage to her -- fortunately emptied in prior combat -- LRM ammo bins flashed on the screen showing the red and yellow outline of her nearly-destroyed Mech.

Ilsa’s eyes narrowed while she responded with her PPC, SRMs and lasers into the Marik Mech.

Orion (MW3 PC Game version)

Orion Heavy 'Mech

The Orion, painted in the black with light purple trim of IWW’s security detachment, crumpled with the sprawl of a destroyed gyro.

Ilsa panted heavily in her sweltering cockpit. The heat was more severe now thanks to the loss of reactor shielding and several heat sinks during the heavy fighting to push through the city and then penetrate into IWW’s main facilities.

But she was finally at her target. The beating heart of the Free Worlds League’s military supply chain.

She staggered inside the hardened underground factory complex and gasped at the acres upon acres of state of the art fabrication machinery along with BattleMechs in various stages of assembly.

“Commander, report from the 7th Bulun! They have breached the server farm complex!” Elias Teng’s voice crackled over the radio as he stood his one-armed Warhammer beside her. “We have it!”

Ilsa grinned tiredly. “Victory, Elias. Start blowing the fabricator systems here. I’ll have the 7th download their technical data as planned. Then they upload viral programs to the IMB corporate network to corrupt any backup copies before blowing their server farm to cover our tracks.”

As her subordinates moved to do what damage they could before pulling out ahead of the Mariks’ enraged retaliation, Ilsa closed her eyes.

The image of that nameless and faceless infantryman burning alive to secure this victory filled her mind’s eye.

“Yes, victory. We have paid dearly for it, too dearly perhaps, but victory.” She repeated numbly in a voice filled with pain. She rubbed the streaks of dried blood covering her hastily bandaged arm.

The Eagle's Wraith[]

Secure Classified Location, Marik, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
2nd February, 2798

Kenyon Marik’s eyes flashed fire and his teeth peeled back from his lips in a snarl of rage. His furious face was as purple as the banner behind him on the wall when he slammed both hands on the table.

“IRIAN!!” He barked out at the nervous FWLM general in the monitor. “You had two crack regiments and a naval picket plus the militia to fight them off! Irian’s the best defended world outside the capital! Los Conquistadores stormed Andurien under your predecessor, General da Silva!”

“We tried, Captain-General…”

“You should have succeeded!!” Kenyon yelled through the real-time HPG connection at the top of his lungs.

“The LCAF smuggled the Tamar Tigers and some infantry into the capital’s spaceport, apparently using cargo dropships. One battalion of the Guards that was reboarding their ship to fight the Elsie Guards from the fixed defenses on the approach to the planetary capital got overrun by the Tigers. We couldn’t shift suborbitally via dropship, not when they had a damaged Cruiser and Destroyer up there in the high orbitals able to pick us off in transit. By the time we could march back, they had hit the defense industries hard with the Tigers and pulled out.” Da Silva’s explanation did nothing to calm Kenyon’s fury.

“What’s the damage estimate?” Kenyon finally barked out as he rubbed his aching ribs.

“Preliminary... four BattleMech fab lines are totally destroyed, nine more are badly damaged at IWW’s Soapstone Mountain facility. It will be months to piece together what we can. The attached Diverse Optics pulse laser assembly plant got slagged hard, it’s a complete write off. IMB’s computer plant for the targeting and tracking computers lost the server farm and two chip burning lines got somewhat shot up, but we have backups offsite and the primary server farm dumped before they blew it, so that could be worse. Brooks wasn’t touched so we have tanks but the fusion motor assembly plants got damaged. Bad but not as bad as it could be. The bomb techs are going over everything looking for nuclear stay-behinds after what happened at the spaceport.” Da Silva finished.

“What happened at the spaceport?” Kenyon demanded as his ribs flared up again with a fresh spike of pain reaching up and down his left side. He frowned at the pain.

“The Tigers left a very large explosive behind.” Da Silva’s face was replaced with the smoking wreckage of a drop port and burned out dropships. “Radiological scans are negative, so we suspect a large conventional explosive, or perhaps they used the hydrogen fuel aboard as the catalyst for a fuel-air explosion. Regardless, the drop port is out of commission until we clear the wreckage.”

Kenyon’s frown deepened. “Right. Have your #2 take over there, secure the sites, do what reconstruction you can. You come here and report to me personally!”

Da Silva’s image faded and Kenyon snapped to his staff. “Get me, Thaddeus!"

5th February, 2798

Kenyon scowled at the latest report from Irian. While the damage was bad, at least the LCAF had not been able to smuggle WMDs through the security checks.

Otherwise this would be a complete catastrophe instead of merely a disaster. Already, the pre-war stocks of ‘Mechs, munitions, and materiel that he had laid in were nearly exhausted from the demands of the fighting.

He rubbed his palms across his head as he rested his aching body. Once the Elsies reported their success to Tharkad, a major offensive was sure to follow. Unless he took action. He was stripping what he could but more was needed to stop the Elsie attack on him.

The commscreen chimed. “It’s Admiral Marik, Sir!”

His son’s face formed in the holographic display. “Father, what’s the crisis?”

He looked into the eyes of his only surviving child and spoke flatly. “The fucking Steiners hit Irian III hard. Really hard.”

Thaddeus’ eyes widened. “Shit, that means…”

“Yeah, they are going to hit us hard. Unless we hit them harder. I’m sending you everyone I have on hand and moving supplies to prop the Elsie frontier up. But I need time to brace for the attack, Thad. There’s only one way to get it now. Burn Hesperus II to a cinder.”

The Dragon stirs on Robinson[]

DCMS Forward Headquarters, Robinson, Benjamin Military District (formerly Draconis March), Draconis Combine
5th February, 2798

“Tono, more reports from the front. They are of some urgency.”

The nervous voice from the door of the dojo did not slow the attack of the figure in the kimono marked with the Dragon of House Kurita for a nanosecond.

His steel flashed as he began another series of strikes against his ‘sparring partner’.

The young man opposite him, dressed in the remnants of the dark green uniform of a Robinson Military Academy first year cadet gasped in shock as a katana blow severed his hand.

The hand, still clutching his dulled and safety-capped practice blade thudded to the bloodstained tatami mats. Then with a louder pair of thuds, the cadet’s head and torso hit the mat as the next strike landed.

Jinjiro Kurita, First Lord of the Star League, Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, Unifier of Worlds, turned to his pale-faced aide who had announced the message. Burning eyes surveyed the scene, and a smile that had much of rage and none of warmth curled his lips.

“Report.” His voice was filled with authority.

“We have confirmation, Tono. The new First Prince leads the AFFS assault that has driven the Arkab and Benjamin Regulars from Markesan.”

Scarlet droplets from his blade traced patterns on the mats next to the cadet’s corpse as Jinjiro’s smile widened. “Markesan, yes. The Sandoval strikes us on Capac, Imbros III, and Evansville. What of New Valencia and Saunemin?”

“Raids only, looking to probe our garrisons there.” The aide reported after a glance at his noteputer. “Also another thrust has attacked out of Waycross and Edwards toward Cartago and….” The aide broke off and nervously gulped, swallowing hard as his face paled further.

“Out with it, Ichiro. You know how I hate cowards.” The voice of the Dragon was dangerously mild.

“The Kentares IV garrison reports an attack in three-regimental strength.” Ichiro reported with commendable steadiness in his voice as he trembled.

Jinjiro’s eyes filled with churning emotions. “Kentares…” He hissed with soul-deep pain for his murdered father -- shot in the back by a cowardly Davion dog -- as his hand holding the katana clenched with a white-knuckled grip.

The aide swallowed and recited a Buddhist prayer mentally for those about to die.

Then as rapidly as it had emerged, the madness subsided.

“Do not look so sad, Ichiro. The Dragon is done with his kenjutsu practice for the day. War calls to us now like a lover, my samurai! Summon the Dragons of Ivory, Steel, and Gold to my side!”

“But Tono, the supply situation…’

“Is adequate to take the head of my foe as my vengeance for… Chichi-ue.... I shall give orders to my brother Zabu to personally handle the forward supply dumps. He shall iron out the… problems… that have caused my samurai distress. By whatever means are necessary!”

Jinjiro turned to the window. At a gesture, one of the silent guards attending him opened the screen.

“See the Sun set, Ichiro, is it not a glorious sight?”

Ichiro nodded as he relaxed minutely while they watched the blood-red disk of Robinson’s primary sink below the horizon.

“Blood-red Sunset/Swords shall duel in hawk’s nest/Time of the Dragon”

Author's Note[]

Author’s Note
IMB’s the Irian subdivision that handles targeting/tracking computers that Ilsa’s raid sabotaged. The next runs of chips will be… excessively prone to failure when put under combat heat loading stress thanks to manufacturing faults caused by software corruption in the fab machines (think Stuxnet). The FWL/SAFE/IMB will eventually figure it out when folks put two and two together, but it will plague them for decades to figure out what the fuck's happening, realized that it's sabotage, fix the sabotage and then get all the bad machines out of their equipment inventory. Liaos be nasty bitches, yo.
Also, yes, Jinjiro Kurita was about that crazy OTL (also a brilliant strategist, but dangerously unstable). He’s a strong #2 behind only Stefan Amaris for ‘setting’s worst villain’ title.
As for Kenyon, Ilsa managed to show him what he wants to believe (he currently sees the CapCon as a stubbornly resisting punching bag that he has on the ropes). Basically she just hamstrung him and tossed the bloody shiv into Michael Steiner’s hands.
Overall the damage for IWW is severe but not a total write-off. BattleMech production will be about 25-60% of max output for years while they rebuild the repairable assembly lines, make good damages to their supply chain, and root out all the nasty surprises that Ilsa left for them. It’s a really heavy blow to the FWL/FWLM and fucks Kenyon’s logistics (which are already under heavy strain 11 years into the 1SW) six ways from Sunday.

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