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The Best of Enemies (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 8 – The Best of Enemies[]

“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.” -- Sun Tzu, 孫子兵法 (The Art of War)


Departure[]

CCS Míng Liàng, Zenith Point, Liao, Tikonov Commonality, Capellan Confederation
5th January, 2798 (Seventeen Months Since the Kentares Massacre Began)


“My fellow Citizens, your Duchess is pleased by your hard work and dedication! Work hard and be diligent of the threat of spies, shirkers, and saboteurs while I return to Sian to direct the greater affairs of the Commonwealth!”

Leopard Class DropShip (by psicore)

Leopard Class 'Mech Carrier DropShip, CCS Míng Liàng

Ilsa watched the brilliantly robed and bejeweled Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation in the holo transmission being beamed live from Liao to all the shipping in the system -- and across the Confederation. Her eyes lingered upon the robed and coiffed image of Mei Ying standing at the Celestial Wisdom’s elbow. Few knew that woman was actually her body double whose job it was to court assassination for the Celestial Wisdom.

Pray for me, Older Cousin….

K-F Drive Activation in Five…. Four… Three… Two… One….”

In a flash of light and radiation caused by her Jumpship’s transition to hyperspace, Ilsa Liao departed the system that her ancestors had used as a stepping stone to become one of the six most powerful dynasties in human history.

Operation Léitíng began.


Rendezvous in Sheep's Clothing[]

CCS Black Star of India, .10 AU above Zenith Point, Mandal System, Tikonov Commonality, Capellan Confederation
8th January, 2798


Ilsa Liao relaxed as Shíshī shook and shuddered. The leader of the pair of exoskeletons gestured. With a yank heavy cables played out, reeling her and her Battlemech in like a fish caught on a line as they pulled on her arms and legs.

Then she grunted as the straps holding her secured in her command chair dug into her breasts, waist and thighs painfully.

Her radio crackled. “Locking you down now.” As she watched her cameras, a horde of spacesuited workers converged toward her on reaction jets with tie-down straps and chains.

She grinned in relief as she looked across the massive hold filled with Battlemech after Battlemech painted bright orange with black stripes mimicking their namesake. Prominent on their chests were the blue Steiner Fist and the snarling tiger of one of the most notorious of the LCAF’s regiments.

The Tamar Tigers.

The grin widened and grew savage as Elias Teng’s Warhammer was moved into the bay by a pair of cargo tugs.

Through the open hatch, she could see the starscape with the unwavering diamond pinpricks of hard vacuum.

As she watched, a fresh star blossomed as the Leopard that had taken her to this system began to head toward the waiting Jumpship.


Hammer Comes Crashing Down[]

Oliver, Free Worlds League
8th January, 2798


“EMERGENCE SIGNATURE! WARSHIP!!”

The panicked scream filled the planetary defense command bunker.

Heads snapped around.

Alarms wailed.

“Jesus there’s more!”
The primary monitor lit up with the transmission from the surveillance satellite at the Nadir Point. As the staff watched in horror, an Aegis heavy cruiser with a massive Steiner Fist on the prow under the ship’s name emerged.


Aegis Class Cruiser, LCS Ironwood

Aegis Class Heavy Cruiser (by colourbrand)

Aegis Class Heavy Cruiser, LCS Ironwood

As the alarms howled, naval capital lasers lashed out, blowing apart the helpless League shipping at the jump point and swatting aside the rest of the defenses like a Leviathan against minnows.

Right before the screen went dark forever, the image of multiple lesser warships and troop transports was seen.


Unpleasant Report[]

Secure Classified Location, Marik, Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
9th January, 2798


“Alpha Priority message inbound from Oliver, sir!”

Paper rustled as the report changed hands. The middle-aged man sitting at the head of the table read it and then scowled. “Bring up the Terra-ward border map!” Kenyon ‘The Eagle’ Marik snapped out in a fierce bark.

The five gold braids of his rank shimmered and shone on his shoulders and a full rack of medals won in his wars glistened in the light of the projector in contrast from the midnight blue uniform tunic. The harsh electronic light turned the lines cut in his face around his aquiline nose into canyons and bleached the color from his receding gray hair. The overall image presented was that of a bird of prey perched on his latest kill.

The holo-display shifted to show the V shape of the borders of the Free Worlds League. To the top almost on the edge of the map, a cluster of isolated worlds shone a steady defiant purple in the light blue sea of Lyran worlds. A blunt purple wedge reached out toward the isolated island that was all that was left of the Bolan Thumb. A second thicker wedge of purple jutted into the Isle of Skye around Solaris. At the very tip of the point, a purple world alternated blue in strobing flashes as alphanumeric codes showed the gist of the report that he had just read.

Three ‘Mech regiments with a heavy naval flotilla hitting Oliver…

The scowl deepened as he looked at the potential targets further in League space.

If this was an attempt to destroy the Helm Cuirassiers on Oliver and seize the planet, that would be bad enough. But a deeper strike could be catastrophic.

If this massive commitment of men and increasingly rare WarShips signaled a strategic shift by the Steiners….

His eyes raked over the ex-Hegemony worlds that he had claimed for the League and now ruled. Then they continued to the worlds of the Stewart Commonwealth and Marik Commonwealth.

Pollux, Van Diemen IV, Tyrfing, the poisoned shell of New Dallas where the fool militia had resisted rather than join, the shipyards on Connaught, Irian, Castor, Dieudonne….

He had to act.

Suddenly a boyhood memory intruded. His ribs ached with the phantom pain from when they had been broken by his worthless drunk of a ‘father’. He scowled at the map to force it to obey his desires while the familiar fire of anger filled his body and caused his teeth to grind while the hot blood caused his temples to throb.

Kenyon’s eyes looked to the flashing purple icon representing his only surviving son Thaddeus’ heavy strike force. For a brief moment he contemplated recalling Thaddeus to counter this incursion.

No. He was strong, not weak. He could defeat this with what was at hand. Leave Thaddeus to keep striking Rahneshire to keep the Elsies off balance.

“Send a general alert to Sector I. Notify all commands to expect major LCAF incursion and heavy raiding. Release strategic weapons to local control.” Kenyon snapped out and his subordinates sprang to life.

His eyes then found Director Allison of SAFE. “What do the Elsies have on hand to hit us with if this is just the beginning of a strike out of Skye?” He demanded.

“Eight regiments at last report in Skye are freed up. Some of which are being rebuilt from captured materiel, whatever production that they have on hand, and battlefield salvage but can be used in combat.”

Enough for a significant thrust, dammit.

“What about the Crappies?”

“They are hard pressed fighting the AFFS around Saint Ives. That’s why they didn’t exploit their seizure of Anegasaki from us last year after the Twenty-first Centauri Lancers destroyed the Fourth Militia. It’s simmered down apart from the ongoing fighting in the Sarna Bulge and around Andurien. They even gave up trying to retake Andurien apart from the normal raiding from Xanthe III and Kalmar.” Allison said as the map slid to show the bites taken out of the Capellan Confederation. Gold and green icons flashed on the far border around Saint Ives. The League’s border with the Capellans was secure save for the purple and green flashes indicating the continuing heavy meat-grinder fighting in the stalemated bulge that had nearly cut the Confederation in half when he thrust nearly to Sarna in the heady early days of the war.

“Movement alert for the Third, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Marik Militia, and the Second and Fifth Atrean Dragoons. They can pick the Third Naval flotilla out of Marik to spearhead our counterattack.” Kenyon declared as icons began to stream up from reserve positions in the Marik Commonwealth toward the Lyran border and the Terran Hegemony. He then pointed to a cluster of icons near the Periphery where he had driven the second wedge in to reclaim Andurien. “We can shift the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-first, and Twenty-Fourth Militia plus the Second Guards up the front into strategic reserve; they need to be rotated out anyway. Any mercenaries and provincial forces that we can grab too will consolidate here while we look at a spoiling attack into Skye.”

“What about the Warships if we are the target? It will take time for us to move the replacements up from Andurien.”

“Shift… half of the Irian picket squadron to us. That’s enough to backstop Connaught if the shipyards there are being targeted to hit them again. And Connaught can cover the ‘Mech factories on Irian if this is a raid like we did on Hesperus II two years ago. The Irian Weapons Works factories are hardened with surface to space defense bunkers, they will have to land troops to damage them and we have two regiments on planet plus the militia.”


Asgard, Tharkad, Donegal Province, Lyran Commonwealth
13th January, 2798

“Damn that woman!” Richard Steiner, Nineteenth Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth swore. He then looked at Director Karl von Wolff of LIC. “You’re certain?”

The elderly spy nodded, speaking with a thick Arcturan accent. “Yah. It’s not the Davions, they don’t have the ships or any bases nearby, the Dracs don’t need an excuse and it’s not their style. Plus they are tied down with the Fed Suns and our raiding campaign against them. The League’s not that crazy. So it’s the Liaos. We cross-referenced the images, and it’s not the Ironwood, we know that was lost over Dieron three years ago when we hit it.”

Richard began to pace back and forth. “What’s her strategy?”

“Archon, she clearly wants us to fight the League with this false-flag heavy strike. LIC has 87% confidence that the reports of fighting between the AFFS and CCAF forces around Saint Ives and New Syrtis are severely exaggerated. Operative Dove on New Avalon is reporting that Feddie-Capellan ties are strengthening over their shared disgust for Jinjiro Kurita’s barbarism. He thinks that it is likely that there will be another AFFS counteroffensive against the Combine soon, possibly using troops shifted from the Capellan march under cover of the ‘fighting’.” The spymaster, looking more than ever like a bald-headed professor explained.

Richard brightened up noticeably at the thought of the AFFS taking it to the Combine again to relax the pressure on the Commonwealth. He then listened to the briefing. “Ilsa Liao is smart enough not to start a two front war if she can help it. the time to do so would have been immediately after the death of John Davion when the Feddies were in disarray. That means that the Capellans will be striking the League in some way with their own remaining fresh troops. Clearly part of their plan is to pin this raid on us to get Marik looking the wrong way for their strike. Considering Kenyon Marik’s temper, it may just work.”

Richard sat down in the chair and ran his fingers through his blond hair. “Right, We alert General Lestrade in Skye to expect heavier League activity, likewise General Hasseldorf in the Thumb. Get me a list of what forces we actually have in truth and not on paper that I can shift to trouble spots. Still no word from General Kelswa?”

A headshake answered him. “Nothing since he made planetfall on Benjamin with the Tamar Tigers, Archon. All we have is unconfirmed reports of heavy fighting there. We do have reports that the 3rd Regimental Combat Team on Sendai are mobilizing to pack up their dependents. They may be looking to leave the Dragon’s service like the 28th Heavy Horse just did over the Kentares Massacre.”

“Approach them secretly and offer a contract! We need all the skilled troops we can get and we have the money!” Richard cheered up even more.

“Zu Befehl, Archon!” Erik said. “I shall tap the funding to get them on the LCAF payroll when they make their move. Last but not least the result of Jinjiro Kurita’s attempt to restore morale in the Combine is… mixed. It seems that even torture or summary execution cannot quiet the rumors of his madness and culpability for the atrocities on Kentares IV. He is fixated on the Suns and content to let his half-brother Zabu manage the realm and the war against us while he commands the attack on New Avalon personally. We think that he has shot his bolt there, the AFFS is no longer a pushover, and while he might be able to take New Avalon, it will only be over piles of bodies that will wreck the DCMS for a generation or more. The Fed Suns are fighting with more fanaticism than the Combine at their worst now and Paul Davion has provided them a rallying point.”

Richard muttered. “Lucky bastard to actually have an army that wants to fight. No rest for the wicked here. I need to keep trying to get a handle on the LCAF and sack as many clowns in uniform as I can before we have more military disasters.”


Blind Faith in an Enemy[]

Strategy Room, The Fox’s Den, New Avalon, Crucis March, Federated Suns
14th January, 2798


Paul looked down the table at a middle-aged officer as the meeting was dismissed. “Field Marshal Hasek, a moment of your time please?”

“Certainly, Prince Paul.” James Hasek, Duke of New Syrtis walked to the side of the young First Prince. “What do you need me for?”

Paul pointed at an angry scarlet planet on the holomap. “Kentares IV. We need to liberate that and give succor to any survivors. It’s a moral imperative. I want you to take the Fifth and Sixth Syrtis Fusiliers, Second Dragonlords, Fourth, and Fifth Davion Guards, and the Fifth and Seventh Crucis Lancers and smash your way to it. Give me the Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Twelfth Syrtis for the drive to Markesan. That plus the First and Twenty-Eighth Avalon Hussars and First and Second Guards should be able to collapse that side of the bulge. That way we still have the surviving Robinson Chevaliers, Tancredi Loyalists, and the rest of the Hussars to push in the other side out of Fairfax and Delphos. Isaac Sandoval will be in overall command there.”

While the two watched the map, animated gold arrows hammered both sides of the bulge, squeezing and compressing it while isolating DCMS troops into pockets for destruction.

Hasek sighed deeply. “As long as the damn Capellans don’t stab us in the back out of Tikonov or Saint Ives, SWORD is workable. You really do trust the Liao… woman.” His voice lowered. “You better pay my price for the use of my men. ”

Paul nodded, still adjusting the scenario parameters as variations on the attacks played out. “Ilsa hates the Dracs like we both do, and she hasn’t played me wrong yet. I’m aware of what you want from me and I’ll make it happen.”

“I wish I shared your naivety in dealing with those vipers, my Prince. But I and my family know what to expect out of Capella.” Hasek said sourly. “You do have a strong argument that we must turn back the Combine menace now, unfortunately. The Liao are treacherous, but at least this one has shown no signs of that Snake’s madness and bloodlust. Just remember that when she turns on us, my people will suffer and my worlds will be the ones that burn when she slips the dagger in our backs.”

Paul turned to his Field Marshal as the strategic computers showed more potential outcomes for the attack plan. “I know that you think me blind. But we need those men on the Drac front now before the DCMS gets their feet under them and goes back on the offensive. It’s a major gamble, yes. But it’s one we have to take….”

Another possible scenario ran. The gold arrows on the left side of the bulge were cut off at the root by a set of jade green spearheads stabbing them in the back to assault Chesterton as their supply lines were cut.

Liao green.

“... after all, ‘who dares, wins’, Marshal Hasek. And we must win this war or we have no future as free men.”

Paul pulled up another file to show Operation DAO. “I trust that you approve of what I’ll be doing with the planned follow-up out of Chesterton?” His voice was filled with eager anticipation.

Hasek’s eyes glittered with hatred and his face was savage as he watched the new attack begin. “Yes, my Prince!”


Author's Note[]

Author’s Note
Having a malus to your black ops and counterintelligence while the person planning to bend you over has a bonus to black ops in the official strategic-level simulation rules sucks sometimes.... (also LIC has a bonus to intelligence operations since they are top-three in this era with Feddie DMI pre-Paul's reforms establishing MIIO and SAFE bringing up the rear). Also, this shows how Ilsa's butterflies are having major ripple effects.

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