Strana Mechty, Kerensky Cluster
27 June 3052
Tiny battlemechs moved across the simulated swamps of Wolcott, nibbled away at by hovercraft, wasting their firepower against decoys while the real enemy struck from cover. "Fools." Khan Cassius N’Buta managed a smile. “Obviously, the Smoke Jaguars learned nothing from the experience.”
The Star Adders had studied the strengths and weaknesses of the Inner Sphere since the Dragoon Compromise. They carefully analyzed the intelligence sent back to the Homeworlds, training their Touman for the challenges of the invasion. But when the time came the Grand Council ignored his counsel for a more powerful united assault. His warnings had gone unheeded by the Invading Clans and now they were bound by a fifteen-year truce. It gave him small satisfaction that the Jaguars had gone onto suffer reversals on Wolcott, Luthien, and Tukayyid.
Tapping a control on his computer switched the display from recordings of Wolcott to the latest folly, against the ComGuards who also defeated the Diamond Sharks, Nova Cats, and Steel Vipers. Only the Wolves and the Ghost Bears won any sort of victory in his opinion while the Jade Falcons were awarded a draw. After computing various scenarios Cassius found himself wishing he could have been there. “Precentor Martial Focht might be a rare challenge.”
But it was not to be. Such depressing thoughts were becoming more common place for the aging Khan of the Star Adders. Approaching five decades since his decanting the passage of time seemed particularly cruel to him. Cassius had been Khan for seventeen years now and the daily reports from the invaders served as a constant reminder that he had missed an opportunity.
This was not something he was accustomed to. While physically short and thin Cassius was gifted with a superior intellect and reflexes that made him a ristar Mechwarrior during sibko training. Destroying three opponents in his initial Trial of Position earned him the rank of Star Captain and a place in Alpha Galaxy. Early victories won him a place as Adder Keeper where he became Khan Gerrick N’Buta’s protégé. His mentor had taught him the finer points of command including strategic planning and the value patience.
Following his successful Trial for the N’Buta Bloodname he put these lessons to good use against the Smoke Jaguars on Atreus in 3027. There the young Galaxy Commander defeated his Clan’s nemesis for possession of Aerospace Plant CM-T72673. This daring offensive won the Adders hundreds of new OmniFighters and gave them the upper hand in a rivalry dating back to the Mongoose Absorption. Four years later Gerrick selected him to become the new saKhan of the Clan at the age of twenty-nine. The honor of challenging his teacher for the leadership of the Clan fell to him in 3035 resulted in his elevation to Khan.
While many outsiders expected him to be displaced for failing to secure a place in the invasion his predictions of disaster were proven all too accurate justifying caution especially in the wake of Tukayyid. Even though some ardent Crusaders departed for the Jade Falcon Clan in a series of Harvest Trials he had kept the Star Adder Touman strong. Cassius had channeled his warriors' frustration into fighting frequent challenges versus Clans who accused the Adders of only providing ‘lip service support’ to the invasion. The Diamond Shark Clan in particular had been the target of frequent reprisals thanks to Khan Ian Hawker’s snarky comments in the Grand Council.
As Cassius picked up his glass to drink some water a slight buzz alerted him to an incoming message. He was surprised to see a recording of the ilKhan on his vidscreen. Unlike the Smoke Jaguars, the Wolves had learned from the Wolf Dragoons reports, and their victories in the Inner Sphere were an impressive contrast. Not only had Ulric Kerensky engineered a nearly flawless conquest of Beta Corridor but he also managed to outpace all other Crusaders. All the while he was adding invaluable assets to his Clan like Natasha Kerensky who returned to the Clan eventually becoming Khan. Certain Spheroid bondsman like Phelan Ward who recently became saKhan provided the Wolves with unparalleled insight going forward.
Pressing play N’Buta sat back in his chair and listened intently. “Greetings Khan N’Buta, no doubt you are monitoring the progress of the invasion and realize that recent events have altered the Crusade forever. A young Star Colonel reminded me of your pre-invasion objections and counter-proposals which seem particularly useful at this time. We are currently developing a contingency plan named Operation Restoration that I would like to get your input on.”
A short pause followed as the old gray Wolf smiled, “And Cassius, what Khan Hawker and his ilk failed to realize during the Operation Revival debates is that the Star Adders are the planners. Nicholas Kerensky realized this during our return to the Pentagon Worlds and it remains true today. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It would be my honor to get your thoughts on our renewed operation. Please let me know as soon as possible.” As the ilKhan’s image faded from view he realized that the Star Adders' time had come. No doubt Ulric was playing some kind of political game but that did not matter to N’Buta. Warden or Crusader it mattered not. This was his second chance to join a new invasion and this time he would get it right.
* * * * *
The hastily assembled gathering considered the possibilities that now lay before them. The Khan looked to Intelligence Adjutant Roland Turgidson “What is the current status of the invaders?”
The lone Elemental among the command staff, he and the Loremaster were of the Khan's generation. In other Clans, Turgidson's advanced age and station would be grounds for utter contempt but not with the Adders. Since their founding, they had learned to respect their intelligence branch unlike others which gave them an edge. The Clans considered the covert element of intelligence gathering, as used by the Inner Sphere, dezgra but the Star Adder's Watch was skilled in gathering and analyzing information made available on the Chatterweb and other overt sources. They had helped the Khans formulate effective strategy since the days of Operation Klondike proving their worth time and again.
“It would be accurate to say that the Smoke Jaguars have suffered the most losses of any Invading Clan. Our data indicates approximately twenty-four clusters were lost during their operations, many of them frontline.” Audible gasps caused by this disclosure were understandable to Cassius as no Clan ever had sustained so many causalities.
Naval Adjutant Tobias McKenna whose renowned naval family came from the Snow Raven Clan quickly reminded everyone; “The Jaguars still have a formidable fleet which counts at least twenty-three warships and numerous lesser vessels among its assets.”
Nodding Turgidson continued “Nova Cat lost the second most, nearly a dozen clusters themselves between Luthien and Tukayyid.” Many were visibly shocked even though Adder pre-war estimates had gauged such causalities against the Inner Sphere.
McKenna again added “Nova Cat has twenty-two warships under arms currently with a large armed merchant fleet.”
Roland resumed his briefing “Diamond Shark lost five clusters as well and given their smaller Touman size these losses may have more impact.”
Tobias readily agreed “The Sharks field eighteen warships and just like the Nova Cats have a powerful auxiliary merchant marine.”
N’Buta nodded but signaled Tobias to let the Intelligence Adjutant continue without more interruptions.
“Jade Falcon and Ghost Bear lost about six clusters each during the invasion while Wolf lost four. Steel Viper suffered the least amount of causalities amounting to three clusters. All of these Clans could be in a position to gain strength as time moves on.”
Cassius thanked his old friend for the briefing and gestured to Holly Reisch “How are preparations coming along?”
Named for the founder of her Bloodline the Logistics Adjutant was a skilled quartermaster and Mechwarrior who had proven her worth as a commander. Reisch had originally been a Wolf Bloodname that the Adders long ago successfully trialed for a share in. Since that time, they had proven themselves an asset to the Clan serving in many high-profile assignments throughout the years.
Holly spoke confidently “We stand prepared with fifty clusters under arms of which more than half are frontline. Since the Refusal Trials began we have remained at a near constant state of readiness.”
Interjecting once more McKenna added “We have a total of fifteen warships, numerous support vessels, as well as our own merchant fleet on standby as well.” Cassius gave the Naval Adjutant a reproving look and an uncomfortable silence spread until Tobias lowered his eyes deferentially and the Khan turned back to Reisch “And what of our contingency plans?”
Smirking Holly answered “Thanks to your foresight an extensive supply network including our forward bases on Absalom has already been established without the knowledge of the other Clans.”
This led to a certain amount of murmuring around the room which Cassius quickly addressed. “Creating a base of operations in the Deep Periphery is not expressly forbidden by Operation Revival and I would think that the ilKhan might be grateful for our established presence there to enhance Homeworld security.” While a bold move everyone assembled recognized the value of proper logistics and following the letter of the law the Adders were breaking no Grand Council mandate. With no objections, he quickly moved “So what does everyone think about this newly proposed operation?”
“We should align ourselves with the Jade Falcons,” said saKhan Tabitha Paik. This fierce young Mechwarrior was part of a new breed of aggressive Crusaders whose fearless behavior made for dangerous opponents. Cassius was glad to have Tabitha on his side despite her wiry frame, a hallmark of the Paik Aerospace Phenotype that endowed its members with fantastic reflexes. She reminded him a lot of his earlier exploits. “the Federated Commonwealth presents a worthy challenge for us to overcome and the Falcons are fellow Crusaders. A partnership with them would be the most advantageous perhaps even leading to a greater role in the future.”
"The current Falcon Khans are far too nefarious for my taste - best not to get near to their dark talons," Loremaster Dagmar Lahiri was quick to retort. One of the last of the old guard his words could always be counted on to carry wisdom and special insight. "Our Clan took Arcadia alongside the Ghost Bears, we should take the Inner Sphere alongside them as well. They are more pragmatic Crusaders, much like ourselves, who have shown steady improvement throughout the invasion.”
“Even the Wolves could prove to be good allies,” proposed Defense Adjutant Roderick N'Buta, his face not revealing how serious he was about the notion: it would not be unlike him to raise an idea in order to ensure that it was rejected. This well-built Mechwarrior was widely regarded to be Cassius’ protégé. While the two of them did not always agree, the Khan valued his counsel in all matters. “The ilKhan may be suggesting as much through this message, his leadership of his Clan and the invasion gives every indication that it will be the Wolves will be the best placed to seize Terra once our effort resumes.”
Silence hung in the air as the room looked to their Khan. “You have mentioned three of the leading Invading Clans, what of the Smoke Jaguars?” he asked, a faraway look in his eyes. Many began to laugh as the mere thought of pairing with that hated Clan was incomprehensible. Ever since the Mongoose Absorption neither Clan could stomach the other even though both became leading members of Crusader movement working together was beyond the realm of possibility. The young Adder Keeper Horace of the Phoushath line recovered his composure enough to say “I do not think that would be an ideal cooperative, quineg?”
“Neg,” agreed Adder’s Adjutant Virgilia Truscott with a smile “but who said anything about cooperation with the Jaguars?” This thirty-four-year-old elite Mechwarrior had made quite a career out of baiting the Smoke Jaguar Clan. Following her initial Trial of Position where Virgilia defeated two opponents to become a Star Commander she was posted to the 5th Assault Cluster of Alpha Galaxy. Early victories on Atreus against the Jaguars earned her recognition as a ristar and mention as a candidate for Adder Keeper. Those plans were upset when she won her Bloodname a year later and by then the young Star Captain had already come to the attention of the Khan. Cassius, eager to gauge her potential firsthand, arranged for her transfer to Adder Command Keshik.
As the amusement of the Adder’s High Command was replaced with bewilderment Cassius remembered these earlier disagreements with Virgilia. At the time, he considered her impatient and naïve while she called him far too conservative. These differences eventually led to her return to the 5th Assault in 3045 where she quickly seized command quickly dashing any talk of a backward slide. These fears were revived again when Virgilia boldly proclaimed that she stood ready to challenge the ill-conceived Operation Revival on the grounds it endangered the Clans. Her victory over Star Colonel Aaron Showers in a Trial of Grievance showcased some of these shortcomings but did little slow the Jaguars preparations. While she could have followed up the victory Virgilia declined to do so satisfied her Khan’s warnings had been sufficiently heeded. It was this political savvy that won her Cassius’ confidence and promotion to Adjutant.
saKhan Paik broke the startled silence asking “What exactly are you proposing?” Virgilia looked Cassius for approval and he nodded for her to explain. Standing before the assembly she began “I like the look of their Invasion Zone, my trothkin. Surely the warriors of the Draconis Combine have proven themselves worthy foes and the Jaguars fell short of many of their most valued worlds during the invasion, so we could be sure of glorious battle to prove our might to all the Clans. The Nova Cats already share the path and unlike the Smoke Jaguars, they are strong in the arts of war, not merely those in battle: worthy allies, quiaff?"
Cutting off any potential replies she continued: "Aff, I like the corridor very well. But as you all know I do not like the Jaguars at all. However, there is an obvious solution to that: look at the heavy losses the Jaguars have suffered just recently on Tukayyid and on Luthien. Combine that with their loss on Wolcott as well as the recent failure of their Sixth Wave and it tells me one thing. Our age-old rival is vulnerable and we should exploit this weakness. It is my counsel that we should challenge Clan Smoke Jaguar for a Trial of Possession for their Invasion Corridor and for their status as an Invading Clan.”
Incredulous the saKhan asked “But how would we accomplish this? While Operation Restoration allows for certain challenges to be made for Invasion Corridors our position in the Refusal Trials places us well outside the bounds for the second most valued place in a renewed drive to Terra.” Paik hesitated, weighing the alternatives. “It might be best to strike at the Diamond Sharks as they are by far the weakest Invading Clan,” she offered once more.
Virgilia grinned “There are many ways to skin a cat Tabitha,” which reignited some laughter in the room. Looking at Cassius she pressed "do not mistake the Sharks’ recent losses for a weakness of spirit. I tell you, the Jaguars are the key to this all."
Puzzled Paik leaning across the table to face Virgilia inquired: “Just what exactly are your intentions?”
Raising herself as tall as she could Truscott exclaimed “We shall reveal their weakness, the rot that threatens the entire invasion and for the good of the Crusade we shall replace them. Our Clan will not only take part in this renewed invasion, we shall lead it!”
N’Buta smiled and agreed “The time has come for the Star Adders to take their rightful place once more among the Clans” to which all assembled replied “Seyla!”