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The Best of Enemies (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 13 – The Best of Enemies[]

“All war presupposes human weakness and seeks to exploit it.” -- Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (On War)

Hitting the Battlefields of Irian[]

CCN Pride of Bulun (Ex-FWLN Juliano Marik), High Orbitals of Irian III, Irian System, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
31st January, 2798

Ilsa Liao gave a tired smile as the holographic display updated with the firefly lights of her strike force beginning to lift off from Irian III. She then nodded to Sooraj. “You received the response from our flagship?”

The dropship captain nodded. “It will be my first time docking with a Warship, but military Jumpships still use standard collars.” He nodded to his wife. “Put the ship up on the screen.”

The screen flickered and Ilsa gasped at the sight.

Aegis Class Heavy Cruiser (by colourbrand)

Aegis Class Heavy Cruiser

The Aegis had clearly seen better days. Massive craters the size of her dropship’s drives were visibly gouged out of the armor in patterns of destruction. One of the trio of thrust nozzles had a bite taken out of it at the end of a deep trench gouged through the aft port quarter of the Warship.

“Get us docked and let’s get home,” Ilsa said with fatigue in her voice. “We did what we came to do.”

Unseen behind this Overlord that her infantry had captured from the Fourth Free Worlds Guards, a massive secondary detonation enveloped the starport that she had lifted off from fifteen minutes ago -- a funeral pyre for the CCAF dead who would never return from Irian III.

Aboard the Aegis-class Cruiser, CCN Kalvar Lorix

Ilsa waited while the worst casualties loaded aboard the Dropship were transferred ahead to the ship’s medbay. Finally the hatch cycled and she stepped aboard in the three-quarters gee that the massive drives were generating as the dropships and Warships left Irian.

The eyes of the lieutenant in charge of the docking ports widened at the sight of the exhausted woman in a plain green jumpsuit over her ‘Mechwarrior cooling undergarment and shorts. He saluted her sharply. “C-Celestial Wisdom!”

Ilsa returned the salute. “Your diligence serves the Confederation well. If I may impose on you, can you arrange for someone to take me to the bridge?”

“Of course!” The Lieutenant gave her a look filled with hero-worship as he summoned a subordinate to guide her.

The bridge was a hive of energy as the armada burned away from Irian III to the waiting JumpShips, both CCN and CCAF as well as conscripted merchant shipping used for this deep strike. The middle-aged man in the captain’s chair rose to his feet and gave her a sharp, crisp salute which Ilsa returned.

With all due formality to his liege he greeted her. “Celestial Wisdom, your presence aboard honors us!”

“Kong-sang-shao Chao, The Confederation is honored by you and your crew’s service and dedication.” Ilsa responded as she was directed to the assistant communication officer’s seat.

She nearly collapsed into it as the suppressed stress of the combat operation and the understanding that her command responsibility for the success of Operation Léitíng was at an end hit her like a PPC shot to the head. “Do not let my presence inhibit the performance of your duties. The wise man does not meddle in affairs which he knows little of. I would think that applies to a wise Chancellor too, so please give me a status update in terms a non-spacer can understand.”

“Of course. Our extraction plans are going well on schedule. Once we reach the L1 pirate point, we shall dock with our JumpShips. They have hot loaded their K-F drives while we support your ground operations. We’ll make our first jump to the Zenith point of Blue Sava, to recharge normally there. Unless we are intercepted, which is unlikely for such a minor world with no HPG, we shall jump to Mandal, which at last reports is firmly held by our troops.” Chao said, as the green line showed their path out of League space.

Ilsa nodded. “And the League fleet?”

“If they don’t catch up to us here they won’t catch us at all. There are some strategic options they must consider. For example, we could double back and hit Connacht to destroy the shipyard there, attack the factories on Van Diemen IV, or even strike deeper toward their command and control node at Marik.” Chao said confidently, drawing ghostly arrows around the holographic star map. “They have to respect all of those potential strikes. We prevented them coming through the L1 point we used here. That is why we dropped off two Vengeance-class fighter carrier dropships loaded with nuclear-armed strike fighters to hit them when they are helpless if they jump in. If they use a standard Zenith or Nadir jump point into Irian, they can’t catch us in the system’s boundaries before we jump out.”

Vengeance DropShip (Far orbit from a planet)

Vengeance Class Fighter Carrier dropship

“Good,” Ilsa said, closing her eyes as her shoulders slumped in the microgravity, “were there any problems with your execution of the plan?” She asked wearily.

“Nothing worth mentioning. We inflicted serious and permanent damage on League shipping and installations at Oliver and then Connaught to fulfill your orders to simulate a Elsie raiding force backing up your infiltration.” Chao responded. He then frowned at the exhausted young woman for a moment taking a candor one might not usually take with their ruler. He pitched his voice lower, “If you were one of my officers, I would order a rest cycle for you.”

Ilsa nodded, with her eyes still closed and her voice hoarse. “I have too much to do. I should look in on the wounded from the surface to provide what comfort I can.”

“The wounded shall still be aboard when you awaken. Until then, you can use my cabin.” Chao said gently, before summoning a pair of the female spacers to gently assist the exhausted young woman to the offered bunk.

Ilsa never noticed the respect and concern in the sidelong glances of the bridge crew while they silently watched her get helped to the cabin. After the hatch cycled, the ship’s crew returned to their duties.

Report to the Archon[]

Asgard, Tharkad, Donegal Province, Lyran Commonwealth
9th February, 2798

“Archon, I have an update on the situation in the League.” LIC Director Karl von Wolff spoke professionally as he stepped past the guards.

Richard Steiner looked at his elderly spymaster as the man entered the secure conference room where he had been talking to his uncle Paul and General Lestrade in Skye via real-time HPG links. “Well out with it!”

“The Capellan raid has hit Irian III, Archon. The results are extremely severe for the Mariks.” As always, Karl’s voice was precise and sharp when he reported to his overlord.

Richard’s eyes widened and his voice grew sharp. “How severe?”

“Preliminary damage estimates are three to four years to restore something approaching full production. They apparently broke into the main plant complex. They also had a large number of demolition specialists who destroyed key machinery and processes. Their primary strike force were painted as the Tamar Tigers and exfiltrated successfully.” A press of a button lit up a secondary monitor that showed an Irian Media Interstellar spokeswoman showing a burning drop port while cursing the ‘cowardly despicable Elsies’ responsibility for this unprovoked attack. “That kind of news broadcast is the norm now in the League.”

Richard nodded in thought, gesturing to his old friend to get on with what he had to say.

“It seems my counterpart in the Maskirovka has outmaneuvered LIC to assign blame to us.” Karl said neutrally. “Annoying, even though their strike significantly benefits the Commonwealth by crippling one of our main foes. Also, and equally relevant, the strike was within the boundaries of the Ares Convention. No WMDs were used and civilian targets were not targeted, which will reinforce Ilsa Liao’s public statements of fighting a civilized war when the truth eventually leaks out. Quite a model operation; I’d like to know the details so we could learn from their example.”

Richard sighed and looked back at the holograms of his generals. His brow furrowed as he took a moment to think of the situation. “Go to full alert in Skye and down along the League border, General Lestrade. I’ll scrape together what I have available on hand to support you. Uncle, you’ll have to cover Tamar with less, I fear. Does LIC have an idea of what the League will do?”

“We predict domestic pressure on the Captain-General will demand a counterblow and at the earliest possible moment. The likely targets are the JumpShip yards at Alarion, Hesperus II, or perhaps a strike to Skye itself to attempt to hit us politically in turn. It must be a major target and it must be soon.” Karl said. He then gave a thin smile. “I suspect that the CCAF will act to strike the League at the earliest possible opportunity once they show a weakness. They are a better target than the Suns and her alliance is of benefit to her -- and us -- by letting Liao and Davion concentrate on our mutual foes.”

“Have you had any luck in securing the Third Regimental Combat Team?” Richard interjected as he looked at a map showing current LCAF troop deployments and status.

“Yes, they have agreed in principle to provide their services on a five-year contract with an option for a sixth year. Mercenary Troop Liaison is working on the verbiage and negotiating the final clauses....”

“Get them on the payroll now; pay whatever’s needed!” Richard demanded, pointing at Paul Steiner. “We need them now! I don’t care what it takes but light a fire under the Mercenary Troop Liaison to get the paperwork signed!”

“At your command, Archon.” The unruffled spy exited the room at Richard’s wave of dismissal.

The Archon turned to focus on General Lestrade. “Amanda, I’ll send the mercs to you. We can use one regiment of theirs on Skye proper where they can keep their dependents safely. Send the other two regiments to Hesperus II along with the Ninth Arcturan, Twelfth Arcturan, and Tenth Skye from reserves. I’ll order Hasseldorf to back off his raiding in the isolated thumb worlds so he can cover Alarion and the systems the Mariks need to take to punch a corridor through. Uncle, I’ll send you the Stealths to keep the DCMS off our backs up in Tamar.”

“We’ll get it done.” Lestrade and Paul saluted as the video conference ended. Leaving Richard alone with his own thoughts.

Richard groaned. “I just hope this works….”

Fatal Revelation[]

Parliament House, Atreus City, Atreus, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
17th May, 2798

Kenyon Marik raised his hand, scowling at the pain of his ribs flaring up again.

“Order, I say order!” He barked out at the angry faces from the speaker’s podium.

“Tyrant! Incompetent buffoon!!” Shouts of rage answered him.

The Speaker of Parliament, one of his chief political allies, gaveled in an attempt to stop the near-riot. “We shall have order or the honorable MPs shall be removed by the Serjeant-at-arms from this special session discussing what is to be done regarding the failures that caused Irian to be so severely damaged!”

Gradually order was established for the moment. Kenyon gave the room a flat stare, attempting to intimidate the purple and gold robed politicians with his power. His eyes lingered on Carter Allison, ruler of the Duchy of Oriente, and his lips twisted in a sneer.

I know who is responsible for this vise that I find myself in now, Allison. You and your ‘loyal opposition’ facade, pah!

Unfortunately, while he had persuaded Parliament to pass Resolution 288, giving him the power to summon and dismiss Parliament along with making his post a lifetime one, he could not just ignore Parliament.

Especially now.

The 2798 military budget had been passed in the January session as a matter of routine already. However, his need to release desperately needed funds to rebuild the shattered industries on Irian III to turn out ‘Mechs and munitions for the FWLM had run square into a roadblock.

He needed Parliament to pass a special emergency funding bill to stave off the complete corporate collapse and bankruptcy of his main military supplier, but in order to do that, he had to summon Parliament to assemble in the Committee of the Whole. The politicians before him made it clear that they would not accept his ‘request’ for a select subcommittee that he could pack with his political allies to pass the needed legislation to be rubber-stamped.

Oh no, it would be Parliament at their most powerful. And most fractious.

When they did assemble at his beck and call, they had first demanded an accounting from him as to how the damn Elsies had wrecked Irian Weapons Works. And what he was going to do about it to prevent their planets from being hit next.

Insolent short-sighted peasants!

Worse, the resentment for his ramming through Resolution 288 to consolidate his power had not gone away among the MPs. Quite the contrary, so this pack of Parliamentary pygmies was taking the fact that he had to come to them hat in hand to try to claw back some of the powers he required to win the war.

Kenyon took a deep breath while ignoring his aching ribs so he could dominate the room. “As I was saying, the best defense for our worlds is a strong offense. Even now Thaddeus, my son and chosen successor as Captain General, has taken naval control of the Hesperus II system and shall seize there what is required to make good Irian’s losses while destroying what the Steiner scum hold most dear! The Elsies have hit us hard at Irian, true, but we shall strike back and claim what is ours with the might of our arms, our beliefs, and our unity! All I require from you is to allocate the needed funds to make good the temporary shortfall in production from IWW until Thaddeus returns with Hesperus’ crown jewels in hand.”

More shouts answered him as his ribs began to ache again. Kenyon found Duke Allison among the Parliament’s body once more. He caught the eye of the political leader of the opposition to his rule.

Don’t think that I and SAFE have not determined who was selling IWW stock before the news of the damages to them leaked out and caused their prices to crash. I’ll break you like I have broken everyone else who stood in my rightful way…

An aide appeared from the side door as he watched the debate, measuring how best to strike. “Captain-General, I have urgent dispatches from the front.”

Kenyon turned and gave the young officer a stern look.

“Out with it, and it better be good.” He snapped peevishly.

‘S-sir, it’s from Andurien. The Capellans have jumped into the system with a large invasion force. Estimates are ten regiments with Warship support. Including,” The aide swallowed, “the Elsie cruiser and destroyer used at Irian.”

Kenyon Marik stared in disbelief as the room hushed at the news.

He grabbed the message paper from the aide’s hand as his face purpled with fury and rage.

His eyes read the impossible words that made no sense as the room started to sway around him and the roar from the angry MPs filled his ears.

“Not the Capellans!! Not Andu---!!” He screamed at the top of his lungs.

Suddenly the pain in his ribs shot up and down the left side of his body like a river of agony.

His arm and jaw were turned into fire when the combination of long hours of work, poor diet, stress, age, and refusal to have his earlier warning signs of cardiac trouble addressed suddenly could no longer be ignored as anything other than the onset of a massive and fatal heart attack.

‘The Eagle’ had just fallen.

Author's Note[]

Author’s Note
Kenyon Marik died of a heart attack on Atreus during January 2804. Here, the additional stress of Ilsa’s masterstroke against Irian which is hamstringing the FWLM and understanding suddenly that he had been outmaneuvered by a girl a third his age did him in. Kenyon just realized that he had sent his best men under his best general off to die against the wrong target on the wrong front and his gains from the war were in serious jeopardy. His dying realization that the weak and despised Capellans had actually suckerpunched him and the FWL quite convincingly in the crotch was Ilsa’s ultimate revenge on the man who killed her uncle and parents over Calloway VI.
Liaos be nasty bitches, yo.

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