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The Best of Enemies (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 2 – The Best of Enemies[]

“Hence a commander who advances without any thought of winning personal fame and withdraws in spite of certain punishment, whose only concern is to protect his people and promote the interests of his ruler, is the nation's treasure. Because he fusses over his men as if they were infants, they will accompany him into the deepest valleys; because he fusses over his men as if they were his own beloved sons, they will die by his side.” -- Sun Tzu, 孫子兵法 (The Art of War)


Mirach, DCMS Occupation Zone
3rd March, 2796


Commander Ilsa Liao gasped as she leapt Shíshī out of the Dropship nine and a half miles above the surface of Mirach below her and her fellow Mechwarriors.

What she was doing here was a calculated risk in far more ways than one.

Her eyes watched the altimeter tick down rapidly as the planet’s gravity drew her into a deadly embrace. Then with a roar that even at this altitude shook her and the sixty-five ton cutting-edge war machine she was piloting, the Union-class dropship that she had just leapt from fired its fusion drive to slow its descent.

Fifteen thousand meters….

Surrounded by her Battlemech and the radar-reflective chaff that had been fired to hopefully obscure what she and this Battalion of the Red Lancers were doing, Ilsa Liao fell toward Mirach with only her own thoughts and memories to keep her company.

Words spoken in the luxurious opulence of her rooms within the Celestial Palace three short weeks ago tumbled through her brain as she fell through the clouds.

“And if you die, Lady Liao? What then?” She could remember the florid Slavic face of Sandol Quinn, his graying goatee bristling as he stared into her determined eyes.

A deep breath both in memory and reality as she remembered making her argument to her Regent.

”Then you and the other Prefects join in wisdom to select the next Chancellor from among your ranks, my Regent. I know the cost of war, how could I not?” Her trembling hand pointed at the funeral tablet with the characters that she had written with her childish hand and watered with her tears of grief and loss for her father Balthazar Liao, her mother Yuying Mei-Liao, and her uncle Barnabas Liao. “I have sacrificed for the Confederation almost as much as you or the people of your beloved Tikonov have. How can I look my soldiers in the eye to send them needfully to their deaths in my name if I am unwilling to take the same risks when my responsibilities allow for me to? What is needed in these dark and terrible days is a Chancellor that is both ruler and warrior, a Liao who shares her peoples’ burdens, who sees with her own eyes what they must endure, and who sacrifices of herself as they do, to lead them as first among equals.”

Her Regent looked into her eyes for long moments and nodded, finally. “Leading the Red Lancers to strike the Combine supply depots on Mirach will send a message to the Kurita that the Confederation is not as weak as the Davion dogs. I just wish that you would approve my plans to reclaim the Chesterton worlds once and for all.”

Her head shook. “You and Count Dexter Heargreaves of Chesterton-in-Exile both, Sandol. No, the time is not right. We must go forth with my mother’s plan for counterattacks on the flanks of the advances the League has made toward Sarna and to isolate Andurien for recapture.” She pointed at the holographic map showing the Capellan Confederation in jade green with the purple of the ‘Free Worlds League’ advances like a livid bruise cutting in through the Sarna and Andurien Commonalities. “By all means, we should do reconnaissance raids on the Suns to ensure that the Davions are not massing to strike upon our other flank, but no more, and at a low level. We need the troops that would be stationed there to fight off the League.”

She touched the hologram’s control panel and the display shifted. Now it showed the massive crimson bite taken out of the Federated Suns as she pointed to the flashing crimson planets of Odell and Delevan one jump from their capital of New Avalon itself. “Assuming that the Maskirovka has not gone blind when they report on our old foe, the Suns need every man and ‘Mech as badly as we do.”


The altimeter buzzed to interrupt her recollection.

She looked at the display reading eight hundred meters and stomped her feet to the floor where they rested on the control pedals.

For an instant, a terrifying heart-stopping instant, nothing happened.

Then her ‘Mech shook like a leaf in a hurricane when the external drop pack roared to life.

Flames fully double the height of her Thunderbolt began to slow her plummet into a hopefully controlled landing.

She began to guide her Mech with delicate movements of the controls of the jump pack toward the coded radio beacon of her Company commander.

She flicked on her radio from standby as the plummeting numbers of the altimeter slowed down.

The time for introspection was over.

The time for war was now.


Thunderbolt (In Combat by meltdonw14)

Thunderbolt Heavy 'Mech

With a crash that rattled her bones her Thunderbolt hit the earth of Mirach.

She left meter deep divots in some farmer’s field as she touched down.

The crops had been set afire and the soil baked hard by the flames of her drop pack.

She slapped the release switch for the drop pack and began to run for the assembly point.

“Niúwěidāo Lance, Form on Niúwěidāo One!”

A green-camouflaged Catapult landed next to her on its own internal jets.

It then sprinted to cover her flank, the twin box-like ‘arms’ of its Holly LRM launchers waggling almost comically as the armored covers opened and locked to reveal the rows of deadly missiles.

”Niúwěidāo Four down, Commander!”

Ilsa spared a brief prayer of thanks to whoever was listening to her. Her older cousin Mei Ying had made it down alive.

Unlike the shattered and scattered remains of a Warhammer whose jump pack had either malfunctioned or been damaged by enemy fire.


“Qiāng One to all Qiāng Units! Advance as planned to contact!”

Ilsa glanced at the icons of the Archer, Catapult, and Orion making up the rest of her Fire Support Lance.

She waved her arm to direct them forward to provide overwatch for the heavier units advancing into Cingulum City to hit the warehouses at the military base there.


Suddenly, the air alert tone screamed from her advanced electronics as she reached the suburban park that was her destination.

“Incoming! Cover!” She yelled over the lance frequency as she lumbered to her right.

Her thumb flipped her weapons to anti-air mode.

Moments later, her arms and torso elevated as her Mech twisted automatically toward the threat vector.

Split seconds later the first pair of ASFs screamed in at low altitude on rockets of nuclear fire.

Lances of coherent light slashed into her while clouds of LRMs slammed into her -- and her lance along with the surrounding homes and businesses.

She did not notice the moment when her own LRMs and PPC returned fire as the computer got a lock on one of the enemies.

Only the wave of heat in the cockpit when her weapons fired registered.

Only later when she reviewed the BattleROMs would she realize that her snapshot had torn the wing off one of the ex-Star League Defense Force Zeros to cause it to spiral out of control to slam into the heart of the city.

Worse was to follow.

Much worse.

In the wake of the ASF pass came a steel rain of incendiary and anti-armor cluster bombs dropped by them as they overflew the Capellan advance.

Shíshī shook and shuddered as the bomblets slammed into her, shaving tons of armor off his thick hide.

A wave of heat from the Yama Kings’ hellish domain hit Ilsa when the world around her exploded into flames from the Inferno bombs that had turned this peaceful city into a hellscape in the blink of an eye.

Acting on trained reflex, Ilsa slammed the reactor overheat shutdown override and flipped the view mode to magscan.
She felt the evidence of her terror trickle down her legs under her cooling shorts.

“N-Niúwěidāo Lance report in!” She croaked out while her wide eyes sought any sign of the enemy coming to kill her.

“Two is condition yellow!”

“Three green.”

“Four is yellow.”

At the calm words from her subordinates, something fundamental inside Ilsa Liao relaxed slightly.

She was still more terrified than she ever had been in her life, but she had her people to live for now.

To fight for.

To -- if her service to the State and her People demanded it of her -- die for.

“Eyes sharp, they know we’re here.”


A neon-blue bolt of man-made lightning suddenly came from somewhere to her right.

It slammed into Ying’s Catapult, causing her cousin’s Mech to stagger as armor dripped from its leg.

Hot on the heels of the shot came two flights of LRMs that further cratered armor on Ying’s right side.

Catapult (Animate picture - Firing by TMC Group)

Catapult Heavy Fire Support 'Mech firing in combat

Ilsa gripped her weapons triggers tighter as she scanned the burning city with eyes and sensors.

Nothing….

Nothing….

THERE!

Thought and action were as one as she dropped her cross-hairs onto a flicker of movement among the flames.

Her Thunderbolt shook once more as her missiles chased her own PPC bolt toward her foe.

A fresh wave of heat filled the cockpit while the advanced cooling system fought against the burning pools of inferno gel around her, the flames from the city’s agonies, and the discharge of her own weapons.

But her agonies were as nothing to the Mongoose scout Mech that she had targeted.

Mongoose Light Mech (Fighting In Urban Ruins - Front by Philbobagginszzz)

Mongoose Light Recon 'Mech

The Mech, painted in the urban camouflage that the 29th Dieron Regulars favored, staggered when her PPC shot flayed the armor off its side torso.

The advanced guidance packages on Ilsa’s missile spread homed in on her target to hammer the smaller ‘Mech mercilessly thanks to the state-of-the-art bleeding-edge Terran Hegemony fire control computers in the Liao family’s Mech.

Worst of all for the Drac, shrapnel from one of Ilsa’s missile warheads hitting the compromised torso armor cut the main power cables to the advanced ECM and sensor suite for the scout mech.

Suddenly, it became visible to the heavier machines that it had been spotting for the rest of its lance to snipe at and harass.

As the mangled Mech staggered for cover at its best speed, the missile lock-on warning screamed once more that steel rain was coming for it…


Sweat poured down Ilsa’s face as she reached her next firing position.

She spun on her heel to cover the escape route for the fighting retreat of the Red Lancers.

Their HALO drop had worked perfectly to keep the garrison guessing as to their location and intentions, allowing the Lancers to overrun the warehouse area’s guards while the Dropships came around to land at the farm that had been picked for their dust-off location.

Behind the Lancers’ Mechs, the flames were spreading uncontrollably through the kilotons of DCMS military supplies that had been stored there.

A fresh explosion shook the city as another mushroom cloud of fire went up from the munitions stockpiles.

While individually the samurai of the DCMS were no match for the CCAF’s finest, unfortunately there were many more of them than there were of the Red Lancers.

The numerical losses taken fighting the FWLM, especially from the disaster at Calloway VI, had barely been made good with transfers from other shattered and less prestigious regiments and a leavening of the best cadets in the Confederation.

“Niúwěidāo Lance in position on line Méihuā!” Ilsa snapped out on the command channel.
She took deep breaths while she scanned the still burning city for signs of the enemy that had to be hot on their heels.

”Liǔyèdāo Two. Fire support urgently requested at coordinates Cùlì Eight!”

Ilsa pivoted her ‘Mech, punched in the code group into her tactical computer, and opened a tacticom link to her lance.

“Fire support call, prepare Rain and Thunder for the Dragon!”

Her missile rack elevated while the high-speed ammunition hoist whined when it loaded fresh missiles from the second bin. A light burned a jade green on her console, followed by three more as her lance reported readiness.

“Fire!” Smoke filled the air as her Lance sent a full hundred Thunder and Swarm LRMs downrange. Then a second volley followed on the heels of the first.

“Two shots out, Liǔyèdāo Two! Yǔ hé léi shēng!” Ilsa said as she resumed the scan of the surroundings.

Fresh smoke billowed from the direction of her fellow Capellan’s overwatch position as her indirect fire arrived.



Buildings were still burning here and there, and the city was a wreck.

Suddenly motion amid the wreckage caught her eyes.

A young girl, clearly a toddler, was crying and hugging a soot and dirt-covered stuffed rabbit to her chest as she crawled out from underneath the corpse of a woman.

A spreading red pool on the shattered and torn concrete told the tale of what had happened to the girl’s mother.

“Contact Left!”

Ilsa snapped around her head at the shout as a Hunchback appeared around the corner of the next junction south.

The massive Assault Autocannon that gave the deadly urban fighter its name elevated and roared.

Hunchback (MechCommander)

Hunchback Medium 'Mech

Behind it, a second Hunchback turned the corner as two more humanoid Mechs leapt on pillars of fire to the buildings on either side.

Ying’s Catapult collapsed with a crash as the stream of high-velocity slugs scythed her Mech’s legs out from under her.

Something inside Ilsa froze at the sight.

A stranger used her ice-cold voice in words of Command that came from her heart and her soul.

“Ying, get out, grab that little girl near the wrecked van! Popov, pick Ying and that girl up, then cover our rears! Jahanara, back me up!”

She charged down the street toward the DCMS urban assault lance as her focus narrowed to her foe and those she stood in defense of.

Her crosshairs dropped on the first Hunchback and her fingers released all her triggers at once.

The smaller ‘Mech staggered as man-made lightning and lines of green laser light melted tons of armor off its barrel chest, stripping it naked. Then her wave of missiles hammered it as LRMs and SRMs pounded it.

Heat filled her cockpit, but was but an ice bath to the righteous fury and rage consuming her while channeled to her will.

The Chancellor serves the State and her People!

With a cataclysmic detonation, the Autocannon ammunition touched off, and the ‘Mech disintegrated.

Autocannon shells hammered into Shíshī and lasers lashed her in a deadly web.

Ilsa didn’t care.

Still, in that frozen moment of clarity and understanding, she charged through the explosion at the second Hunchback while shrapnel rattled her cockpit like a tin can in a hailstorm.

Moving with the deadly grace of a woman trained by the best sifu that her grandmother could find to teach her the martial art of Chángquán, she shoulder checked the second Hunchback, spinning it half around as armor plate was ground to dust.

As if present at her side, Sifu Li whispered in her ear as she leaned back to roll with her foe’s counterpunch and converted the spin of her shoulder check into a foot sweep.

“In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack--the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.”

The Autocannon roared as the second Hunchback toppled when she kicked its ankles out from under it, yet she was not where her enemy expected her to be.

“The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle--you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?”

More missiles and shells slammed into her as a DCMS Shadow Hawk landed on jets of flame to draw a bead on her rear armor.

“Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it."

Shadow Hawk (Golden Rule project by meltdonw14)

Shadow Hawk Medium 'Mech

Ilsa spun on her heel once more to spoil the back shot as she pivoted to her right.

More explosions covered Shíshī, stripping the last of the armor from her right torso.

Ilsa’s left hand dropped to point her Starflash Plus pulse lasers square at the damaged cockpit of the prone and helpless Hunchback while her right arm rose to point her PPC at the head of the Shadow Hawk.

She paused for a heartbeat as the weapons crosshairs for her torso mounted missiles and lasers blinked with a good lock.

“Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger."

Her fingers released the triggers once more so Shíshī could lay low the enemies of the Capellan Confederation.


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