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The Best of Enemies (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 14 – The Best of Enemies[]

“He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.” -- Sun Tzu, 孫子兵法 (The Art of War)

The Return of the Raiders[]

CCN Pearl of Celestial Wisdom, Sian, Capellan Confederation
16th March, 2798

The outer hatch leading to the Overlord-class Dropship cycled. Dressed once more in a Mechwarrior’s uniform with the rank tabs of ‘Captain Zhao’ with her long hair pinned up under a 6th Teng Lancers hat, Ilsa stepped through the hatch on the heels of Elias Teng. Behind her, the Sooraj family and Olivia Toledana followed under their own false identities.

Overlord Dropship (Take off-landing - Dave School MW)

Overlord Class Dropship, CCN Pearl of Celestial Wisdom landing

Her nominal superior handed over the order document commanding that he come aboard with his staff to one of the Red Lancers assigned to the dropship. Behind him the outer hatch clanged shut.

The Strategios had requested that he and his command staff be transported to the surface of Sian by this dropship while it performed a ‘scheduled maintenance flight following engine repair.’ That killed two birds with one stone by granting him VIP transport to Sian as befitted his high lineage among the Sheng while it made sure that the Chancellor’s private dropship was ready to serve the needs of the Confederation when she required suitable transportation.

All perfectly routine.

All perfectly innocent.

The Lancers finished scanning the orders and the faces of the group seeking attendance. The commander of this detachment saluted Ilsa as they finished. She returned their salutes and then pulled off the baseball cap and unpinned her hair, letting it fall halfway to her waist.

“All clear Celestial Wisdom. Welcome aboard.”

“Well done, Subcommander Kong. Have the staff show my companions to the rooms prepared for them.” Ilsa responded with a smile for her bodyguards. “Please call for a working meal to be sent up to my quarters so I can start to catch up on the piles of paperwork that have been breeding on my desk thanks to my lack of supervision!”

Ilsa gave the dropship staff a series of smiles and appreciative nods as she passed them in the familiar passageways. She made a point of greeting them by name as best she could, recalling her grandmother’s lessons about rulership. The memory of her Lǎo ye’s words seemed to echo in her mind. ’The Chancellor is the embodiment of the State, but the State is made of people, Ilsa! Each has their role from the small to the great for the betterment of all.’

Finally she reached the hatch to her personal suite. Tears filled her eyes as she saw the familiar face of Mei Ying waiting for her in her sitting room.

The hatch closed behind her, leaving her in privacy with her cousin.

Never privacy for the Liao, merely the illusion. Such was the cost of rulership.

“Biǎo jiě!” Ilsa exclaimed joyfully as she hurried over to the older woman. “This is most unexpected! My body double?”

Ying hugged her ‘little sister’ while the tears began to fall to the azure blue silk carpet with its dancing golden dragons.

“Your body double is touring a recycling center and shall be giving a speech praising the diligence of the workers and staff who collect needed resources for the war effort, Biǎo mèi. It is a good speech if I do say so myself, and should play well on the evening news broadcasts across the Confederation. Then tomorrow as we travel to Sian, she shall be touring the military hospitals.” Ying drew back to stare into Ilsa’s eyes as her voice sharpened in repudiation. “Which you nearly became a permanent resident of! Or worse!’

Ilsa winced at the sudden change of tone. Dreading what was to come she tried to cut it off at the pass, “Ying…”

“Don’t you DARE ‘Ying’ me, Ilsa!” Ying snapped out, interrupting Ilsa before she could come up with any excuses. “I saw the footage from Irian III! One of the cameras transmitting from the spaceport showed how badly your Mech was damaged, and the request for the parts needed to repair ‘Captain Zhao’s’ Thunderbolt crossed my desk! I trusted you to not take reckless decisions in my absence!” Ying’s voice broke at the end as her tears fell. I nearly lost you!!

Ilsa blushed and rubbed her bandaged arm. “It was necessary…”

“Bié gēn wǒ húchě!!” Ying swore, causing Ilsa to blanch at the gutter Chinese expression. “Yes it was necessary to strike Irian III! Yes, your presence inspires the CCAF to exceptional valor while they fight under the eye of the ‘soldier’s Chancellor’! But what would happen if you had fallen there? What would happen to the State with no Liao of the ruling line save a double dozen distant cousins and the various factions eager to push forward their claimants?”

Ilsa bit her lip in thought. “I… don’t know.” She finally admitted.

Ying’s eyes glared at her kinsman, and then hardened. “I want a Battlemech for the next time you pull a harebrained stunt like this. Keep it off the record so I’m not sent to a frontline post under some nameless bodyguard, but the next damn fool time, I’m going with you!”

Ilsa’s eyes flashed fire as she opened her mouth to defend herself. Then she suddenly remembered the jump infantry on Irian and her mouth closed with a click of teeth. She took a very deep breath and sighed. “I was a rash fool, wasn’t I?”

“Ilsa,” Ying hugged her cousin once more, “I can’t keep you chained to your desk managing the paperwork and I know that you hate the ‘speeches and politics’ part of your role. I hate them too, truth be told. But first ask yourself next time if the risks to the Confederation, to your loved ones, match the possible gains. After all, your knight would be quite upset if his ‘fair Lady Liao’ got her head blown off by some filthy Leaguer before he could joust in your Cinnabar Canyon.”

Ilsa blushed scarlet. “YING!!” She shrieked in embarrassment. “That’s worse than his poetry! Perverted woman!”

“It doesn’t make it untrue, Ilsa.” Ying responded to the spluttering Celestial Wisdom. “I, as your loyal advisor and secretary, have been answering his messages to you and sending back the ones you recorded in advance for him.”

“Wait… Paul sent messages?” Ilsa focused on the key nuggets buried in the statement. “Where are they?!”

Ying grinned. “Eight personal messages are waiting for his ‘fair Lady Liao’ to respond to.” She then sobered. “Reading between the lines of his words, he too has gone forth to lead his troops from the front. I should inquire if his minders wish a case of plum brandy to assist with the headaches of trying to manage a wild stallion to go along with a certain wild tigress of mine.”

Ilsa sighed. “I should be insulted but… I can be a bit reckless and impulsive, I suppose.”

“Just a bit, yes.” Ying agreed as they reached the waiting desk. “Also, as per the Maskirovka’s reports, the AFFS is fully committed to fighting the DCMS, and has in fact started a major counteroffensive. We have identified elements of the Syrtis Fusiliers brigade on Waycross, Edwards, Versailles, and Tiskilwa.” A star map sprang to life showing the AFFS advances into the flank of the captured space.

Ilsa examined the map carefully, scrutinizing the gains marked according to the Maskirovka’s latest reports. Her face twisted in a thoughtful frown. “It looks like he is trying to isolate and pocket the Combine spearhead threatening New Avalon.” Her finger traced an arc behind the half-dozen star systems nearest to the capital world of the Suns. “That explains the strikes toward Markesan and Lexington. But the other out of Chesterton… what’s that goal?”

Ying pointed at one planet near the ones that had just fallen along the pre-war Capellan border. “He did say that it was a moral imperative for his people to liberate Kentares IV, Ilsa. The necessities of victories and politics. You’ll need to be aware of that aspect of things when you meet him on Chesterton to sign the peace treaty. He is limited by the realities of his position just as you are by the Prefectorate and House of Scions. Even his successes come with obligations and promises.”

Ilsa nodded slowly. “Yes, that is true. Just as I must continue to placate the Teng and the Hargreaves over Saint Ives and Chesterton in my turn.” She tapped Kentares IV with one finger. “It is a moral imperative for all civilized people to fight back against barbarism, even if many can be too shortsighted to see the danger to us all. I just wish….” She trailed off.

“Wish for what, Ilsa?” Ying said as she began to give her ruler, cousin, and friend a shoulder massage.

“I wish that we had the strength free to assist the Suns in putting down that Rìběn gǒu barbarian. Past what little we can do by raiding out of our ex-Hegemony worlds to strike the ‘Dragon’ between Tikonov and Terra. Sadly, we don’t have the frontage or basing, much less the men, Mechs, and supplies to do more. “ Ilsa admitted with a sigh. “All the troops from the Suns border will be needed for Operation Shǔ. What are the current reports from the League and our planned troop movements?”

The star map shifted and whirled to the cool jade-green and hateful dark purple of the League/Confederation border. As Ilsa watched, unit identifiers began to flow from Ares, Lee, Redfield, Saint Ives, Warlock, Victoria, Zanzibar, and Grand Base to gather at Shiro III while suspected and reported FWLM forces had began to shift from the border nearby toward the ravaged Irian system.

Ilsa looked up at Ying and matching smiles blossomed on their faces. Ilsa took a deep breath. “Once this is confirmed, we shall give the orders to move and strike.” She looked into Ying’s eyes. “I... shall order Senior Colonel Quinn to lead the assault this time rather than act personally. As you said, my place is on Sian now when I give the orders to move our troops and then begin the attack.”

Her finger touched Shiro III and then slashed to the purple star burning one jump away.


Meanwhile, on Terra...[]

ComStar Headquarters, Hilton Head, Terra
9th February, 2798

“Conrad, do you have a moment?”

“Of course, Jerome.” The younger man fell in beside the elder as they walked to his office. “What’s on your mind?”

The door closed behind them and a variety of sophisticated anti-surveillance measures were turned on. “I need your read on the Liao/Davion dynamic, Conrad. Show me what you learned while reading people as a black marketer under the Amaris occupation.”

Conrad Toyama, Precentor Dieron, took a seat and looked at his friend and mentor. “It looks like our best chance yet to restore the Star League. I remember that the initial basis was a triple mutual defensive alliance between Ian Cameron, Albert Marik, and Terrence Liao to settle the status of Andurien. But it relies a lot on two young rulers who have fallen for each other.”

Jerome Blake gave a dubious look. “You really think so?”

“Jerome, I know so. I didn’t have it nearly so bad when I wanted to get my hands on Melissa Ishikawa’s tits in high school as Paul Davion has it for Ilsa Liao’s tits. As I have told you repeatedly after watching those video messages -- it’s like high school prom night drama all over again. So what brought this on?”

“Irian.” Jerome Blake said. “Watch what Michelle’s people retrieved now that we cracked the League’s codes again.”

He pressed a button and the two men watched the recording of Kenyon Marik’s real-time communication with Thaddeus Marik. “Marik’s going to attack the Steiners, which provides Liao a chance to show that the alliance that she’s negotiating works to her people and her skeptics. If she can push the League back to around the prewar borders while they’re distracted with the Lyrans….”

Toyama nodded and pondered the elements of the situation. “I think I see where you are going with this. If you combine the political fallout from such victories with the FWLM weakness and factor in the DCMS supply difficulties that we subtly influenced by corrupting their communications. Then add in Mordiki’s brainstorm to transmit the footage leaked to him by the Drac soldiers disgusted with what they were doing on Kentares and suddenly the Combine is weaker than Jinjiro and his generals currently perceive and believe. Victories there will validate Paul’s nonaggression stance toward the Cappies with battlefield victories too that show his policy is the right one. But that brings us back to the central question. Once they have those victories under their belt and have the ability to look outward rather than fight for survival, will they turn on each other?”

Blake sighed deeply. “That’s the trillion C-Bill question, honestly. That’s why I had you do a review of all their personal correspondence. I know I’m not the people person that you are, Conrad. Do you think that they will fight?”

Toyama shook his head. “Doubtful. But check me, Jerome, the Cappies didn’t use WMDs on Irian, did they?”

“No, it was a completely clean strike under the Ares Convention. Even the spaceport blast, which created a mushroom cloud and was initially reported as nuclear turned out to be a fuel-air explosion. Beat the hell out of the military industries there, but they’re somewhat repairable. Minimal civilian infrastructure damage. I wish everyone did that, to be honest.” Blake admitted. “It would make our goal of preserving human civilization a lot easier.”

“No arguments here,” Toyama agreed as he leaned back in his chair. “But take it from someone who was a salesman for a living before Amaris, you find out what a person’s really about when it comes time to close the deal. All the charm, banter and diplomacy in the world falls away when the big money’s on the line and you have to put up or shut up. “ He held up his right hand.

“On one hand, let’s take Ilsa Liao. She stuck to her stated intentions to fight under the Ares Conventions when she could have done far worse to Irian and gotten lauded for it by everyone not a Marik.” Toyama leaned forward. “I believe that Ilsa Liao is legitimately determined to fight a civilized war no matter what. She hates the Mariks for killing her parents and they are the big threat to her nation currently, therefore she won’t turn on the Suns unless her hand is forced by events.”

He held up his left hand, “As for Paul Davion, he wants to tap that Cappie ass so hard it hurts. He knows that fucking her over now will wreck the Suns and not incidentally his chances with her. Plus he hates the Dracs over Kentares and his father’s death.”

Blake shook his head at the locker room talk but didn’t disregard the underlying message. “So, what’s the next step?” He said, trying to get the conversation back to comfortable terms to ground out a possible plan of action. He needed options on top of the analysis of their characters.

“Keep subtly hampering the ISF, O5P, and SAFE’s efforts against them while giving the Maskirovka, DMI, and that new intel agency Davion’s putting together some subtle help behind the scenes. Once they get together if and when the treaty is signed, then we can play the politics game. Start making public noises about our relief that the worst of the war seems to be winding down there.” Toyama shrugged as he finished. “All the while we keep passing her that barftastic poetry of his. She hasn’t ordered a hit on him for it, so she must have terrible taste too.”

Blake laughed. “Right, right. Young love is a wonderful thing for us old scheming farts. So we keep nurturing this and hope that it develops into something greater. So, since I have you available to keep an eye on this and the Liao situation seems to be on track, let’s look at our quarterly budget numbers so we can see about ramrodding these HPG network expansion figures through the First Circuit tomorrow.”

“Sure, just let me borrow some of Michelle’s analysts to read through their mail to each other, otherwise I might get diabetes.”

Defenders of Hesperus II[]

Maria’s Elegy, Hesperus II, Isle of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
9th April, 2798

A lone bugle ‘retreat’ call sounded through the sulfurous air.

A tradition stretching back over a thousand years by the most recent arrival on this planet.

In front of the headquarters for the newest regiments that had been sent to reinforce the normal garrison of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Lyran Guards, a pair of flagpoles stood.

Unlike the other LCAF units who were assembling to do battle across the war-torn mountains and valleys of Hesperus II -- who displayed their own national and regimental flags proudly -- this national flagpole was bare, waiting for the banner of the Star League to be hoisted once more.

On the other flagpole, at half-mast in the traditional sign of morning a gold flag containing a black horse prancing flew.

To those who knew their military history, this insignia was unmistakable as the sign of one of the most storied and elite regiments of the now-vanished Star League Defense Force.

The former Third Regimental Combat Team of the Ninth Corps, specializing in raiding, ambush, reconnaissance, and hit-and-run attacks unlike the rest of the more ponderous LCAF.

They were now more commonly known by the nickname that they had earned in battle with the Draconis Combine during the Third Hidden War.

The Eridani Light Horse

~~Story's End~~

Author's Chapter Note[]

Author’s Note
To fill folks in, Bié gēn wǒ húchě literally is ‘don’t give me your bullshit!’. Ying was pissed.
Lǎo ye is paternal grandmother. Also Rìběn gǒu Is a very insulting racial term used in Chinese for Japanese (mainly thanks to the strained history the two countries have had, see Nanking, Rape of).
Also Ilsa's planning session takes place BEFORE Kenyon Marik's death.

Wiki Note[]

  • Unexpected Ending: With Permission, the story was taken from posted on the Sitech forums. The author of the story did not give an ending, only a stop point which is this chapter in February 2021. He has not revisited the story as of this writing. Should he choose to continue to add more chapters, they will be added.

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