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Author Topic: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)  (Read 4804 times)

drakensis

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Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« on: 24 March 2020, 03:52:32 »
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, not to be sold or otherwise circulated for profit. The Battletech and Mechwarrior franchise is owned by Topps Toys and their respective licensees.
A/N: Six-score and eighteen months ago I started writing Star Adder Symphony and broke off part way through. It was a good effort by the writer I was at the time… but that wasn’t a very high bar. Looking back… it’s not great. And there’s more than a decade of new material we have access to. So rather than picking up where I left off… here we go.
This story, although set in the 31st century's familiar setting of armoured combat, is an Alternate Universe which diverges in the last year of the 30th Century. Please strap in, read safely (wash your hands, etc.) and enjoy the ride.


Star Adder Symphony
A Battletech AU fanfic

Book 1: Hidden Hope
Return to the Inner Sphere is impossible for us. Our heritage and our convictions are different from those we left behind. The greed of the five Great Houses and the Council Lords is a disease that can only be burned away by the passing of decades, even centuries. And though the fighting may seem to slow, or even cease, it will erupt again as long as there are powerful men to covet one another's wealth. We shall live apart, conserving all the good of the Star League and ridding ourselves of the bad, so that when we return - and return we shall - our shining moral character will be as much our shield as our BattleMechs and fighters.
- Aleksandr Kerensky, General Order 137, 5 October 2785

Prologue
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Hall of Khans, Katayusha City
Strana Mechty, Clan Homeworlds
15 March 3000

Kerlin Ward didn't seem phased by the glares of some of the more fervent members of the Crusader movement as he stood. The Khan of the Wolf Clan had made no secret that he opposed them, and his own faction - those called the Wardens - stood behind him on the matter.

Gerrick N'Buta didn't take his eyes off the young Khan but he leant slightly across the aisle between his own bench and that of the Cloud Cobras to hear their Khan's murmur: "Ironic that one of his own Wolves is the Crusader's spokesman."

"I do not think any clan is unanimous on the matter," he replied in just as low a voice.

There was a low laugh from Terrel N'Buta as the other Khan straightened and they both gave Kerlin their full attention. The two men were as alike in appearance as brothers, unsurprising since they were from the same sibko. For many years Gerrick had suspected that he and Terrel would someday fight - perhaps to the death - for the right to lead Clan Star Adder. Fortunately for them both, the Cloud Cobras had captured Terrel - at no small cost to themselves - and after he rose from bondsman to warrior, it was only a matter of time before the former Star Adder had risen to one of his new Clan's leaders.

All the more glory for Bloodhouse N'Buta, and a furthering of the alliance between their Clans, Gerrick thought.

"My comrades." Kerlin spread his hands. "We have debated in private whether or not we should return to the Inner Sphere and many of these arguments have been repeated here already. I will not waste your time by repeating what many among you have already said."

Gerrick arched an eyebrow but didn't voice the obvious question.

Yvonne Hazen was not quite so restrained. "You are not in the habit of wasting our time, Khan Ward. But you have risen to speak so I imagine you have something to say, quiaff?"

"Aff." The Wolf nodded to the Jade Falcon. "Instead I will point out that we know next to nothing of the Inner Sphere."

Eyes narrowed around the room.

"What would you call someone who bids a battle without seeing what the defenses are?" he asked rhetorically, raking the room with his own glare. "Or who picks a battleground they know nothing of? I doubt I will convince any one of you who yearns to restore the Star League by force of arms to turn from that goal... but I ask you this: what forces do we face? What worlds are held by what House? With what forces? What are their tactics, their strategies? What worlds are of value, demanding our best, and which are minor enclaves that can be left for cubs to take?" Kerlin paused and drew breath: "We do not know."

"Ouch," mouthed Terrel, Gerrick barely hearing the breath. It was a fair hit.

"We do not know," the Wolf repeated. "And many of the arguments that I myself have expressed as to whether or not we should return are, I admit, based on a similar ignorance: while I do not believe conditions in the Inner Sphere demand our intervention or protection of those who our ancestors once defended... I could, perhaps, be wrong."

"So!" He slapped his hands together. "I propose, Khan Winson, to table your proposal... for now," Kerlin added as a growl of discontent came from the bench occupied by Clan Smoke Jaguar's Khans. Those two, along with Hazen and her fellow Jade Falcon, were the heart of the Crusaders. "Instead, let us find out the facts that we lack and answer the questions that I have posed. And then, only then, can we make an informed choice."

Once more, Kerlin Ward looked around the chamber and then, with cool dignity, he returned to his seat, leaving the floor to others.

Hazen looked about to speak, but Gordon Moon was faster off the mark. "Neg!" the man snarled. "We should not hesitate. This matter has waited long enough. The Great Founder waited twenty years to retake the Pentagon from the rebels who torn those worlds apart - but it is more than two hundred since we left the Inner Sphere. To wait longer is a shame upon us. Let us return in force, and take what answers we need with the same hands that take back the worlds the Scavenger Lords fight over."

Gerrick cleared his throat. "The great Kerensky waited until his forces were ready, but also until he was fully informed as to his opponents' strengths and weaknesses. Absalom Truscott - my own Clan's founder - was sent to gather that intelligence. Both were wise, and that wisdom is worthy of emulation."

"I had not thought that the Star Adders were so... cautious," Moon grated. His eyes flicked to Terrel and back again. "Which of you is abtakha again?"

"You know so little of both of our Clans," Terrel observed coolly, "That were we to switch uniforms and seats, I doubt you would be able to tell my sibkin and I apart. But we have a closer eye for such details... and such details are useful to know, Gordon Moon."

"Let us return to the issue at hand." Nadia Winson had more of the look of a Wolf than of a Ghost Bear - the latter clan favoured slightly heavier builds and lighter hair in their bloodlines - but that was hardly surprising - she, like Terrel - had risen to lead a Clan other than that she was born to. "Khan Ward's point is not without merit, but how would such details be gathered?"

Kerlin rested his elbows on the desk in front of him. "I propose a reconnaissance force be sent to the Inner Sphere. For our own security, they will adopt a false identity, one that will not betray their origins. This force - sufficiently strong to defend themselves - will be charged to circle the Inner Sphere, fighting for and against each of the Great Houses, and report to us their strengths and weaknesses."

Gerrick lowered his eyebrows. "Would the Lords allow that?" he wondered. "What sort of force could shift between them in turn - we can hardly anticipate that they would be so conveniently join and then leave the services of the Houses."

That got a smile - almost a smirk - from the Wolf Khan.  "On the contrary. We know of a group among the Inner Sphere who do exactly that."

"Who?" asked Terrel sceptically.

Ren Posavatz leant forwards. His Goliath Scorpions were practically clients to the Wolves. It was no surprise, Gerrick thought in some disgust, that he would be in Ward's confidence. "I believe Khan Ward suggests that our recon forces present themselves as mercenaries."

"Mercenaries?" asked Hazen in obvious bemusement. "What in Kerensky's name are they?"

"Contract warriors." Gerrick made a face. "Amaris used them - hirelings who were granted payment for their service, not loyal and honourable soldiers."

"They were not only used by Amaris," Posavatz corrected him. "The SLDF was not unaccustomed to them - and more than a few of those who chose not to follow the Father into the Exodus chose to serve in that capacity rather than pledge to one of House Lords."

"That says nothing for their virtues," observed Hazen tartly.

The Goliath Scorpion shrugged. "Nonetheless, what little we have heard of the Inner Sphere through deep periphery traders makes it clear that they still exist and in great numbers. One more such force would be unlikely to cause much alarm and they could easily take contracts that would allow them to fight with and against each House, given some time."

"Who would do such a thing?" protested Terrel. "I understand the need for information, but can you ask it of your warriors - to behave so dishonourably, and then to hide it behind a further shame by having a hidden purpose behind it?"

Kerlin Ward gave Terrel a dry look. "I can ask it of them, yes. To serve one's Clan - to serve all our Clans - is no dishonour, Khan N'Buta. But to ensure that they are not shamed for such a sacrifice, I would have to offer a suitable reward. That is a Khan's duty, quiaff? To reward the loyal and dutiful, even when those duties are less than glorious?"

Hazen glanced at Winson. "Do you really think that this is needful, Nadia?"

"Aff," the woman said thoughtfully. "Perhaps not this way, but Kerlin is not wrong to say we know little of the Inner Sphere. An invasion without such knowledge would be ill-prepared."

The Jade Falcon shook her head in disgust. "And how would you reward those bringing back such information?"

It was Ward who spoke up. "I would recruit from the freeborn and those with little chance of sponsorship for a bloodname, Khan Hazen. And if their report opens the opportunity of realizing your precious crusade, then could you deny them the greatest honour we have to bestow on them?"

"You cannot be serious!?" exclaimed Niamh Sukhanov from her seat. The aged Khan of the Snow Ravens was probably not long for her post, Gerrick thought. Her hair was beginning to show traces of grey. "You would offer a bloodname, quineg?"

"Aff."

That simple reply brought chaos to the room, Moon and other Khans to their feet.

The two N'Butas didn't join the outcry, instead exchanging looks again. Terrel made a face. "If they are willing to do... that..."

Gerrick shrugged. He found the idea less distasteful. "If it means the Crusaders having their way down the road... it is the Wolves who will have to accept such a bloodhouse among them, after all."

"Order!" the Loremaster shouted. "Order!" When order did not resume, the woman drew her sidearm and fired it into the air. (Part of the roof was specially reinforced to accommodate this.) That at least drew a moment's silence and she lowered the still smoking weapon. "This is a Kurultai, not a lacrosse match," she reminded them, not pointing the gun at any one Khan. "We will act under the martial code... or must I remove a Khan from the chamber?"

"No Khan may be dismissed from the Council!" protested Sukhanov.

The loremaster's smile was as shark-like as her Clan's totem (a Clan with little fondness for the Snow Ravens) "Not while alive."

"Let us vote," proposed Nadine Winson. "Khan Ward's proposal has merit in my eyes."

After a quick glance around - Terrel and Gerrick both nodded as she looked at them - the Loremaster pressed a control at her console. "The motion is before the Grand Council. A vote of aye is to approve Khan Kerlin Ward's proposed reconnaissance force. A vote of nay will dismiss the plan."

By tradition the votes were by voice. By the time the Loremaster called on the Cloud Cobras, a dozen votes had been cast for Kerlin's plan and only eight against it. Gerrick heard his sibkin vote and without prompting added his own "Aye," followed by his saKhan.

Sixteen votes out of a possible thirty-four... and Kerlin himself had yet to vote.

In the end, a total of twenty-three votes (the Fire Mandrills as usual disagreeing) favoured the plan.

Gordon Moon gave the Loremaster a sour look but refrained from dramatics. "Clan Smoke Jaguar calls for a Trial of Refusal," he declared.

"No surprise there," Terrel muttered and Gerrick smirked.

"Nor there," he agreed, as Kerlin rose and bid the 328th Assault Cluster to defend the decision - and at the balance of votes, the Smoke Jaguars would be pitting barely half as many forces against one of Clan Wolf's premiere units. It wasn't a foregone conclusion that they would fail... but it would be a distinct surprise if they didn't try.

S A S

Hall of Khans, Katayusha City
Strana Mechty, Clan Homeworlds
18 March 3000

The Hall had been build with many small nooks for private meetings. Some were used for political scheming - more Grand Council decisions had been quietly settled in quiet conversations in them than Trials of Refusal had overturned them, or so Gerrick N'Buta would have guessed. And of course, it was convenient for warriors to have somewhere quiet if they were simply coupling. There weren't all that many places to meet across Clan lines after all.

Gerrick had invited Kerlin Ward for the former, although he wouldn't have passed up the second. The House of Ward sired comely warriors and vigorous, after all.

He had reserved the room with its fine view down over the streets of the city outside - nearer the sprawling parks and bloodchapels that were the heart of the Clans, beyond them the quarters where hundreds of thousands worked for their Clans or the Free Guilds, a constant struggle against inertia, entropy... and each other.

"A drink?" he offered the Wolf Khan, lifting a bottle from the table where he'd left it.

"Oh, you're trying to cloud my wits already?" But Kerlin nodded as he settled into one of the lightly padded seats and looked out over at the city for a moment.

Gerrick laughed and poured into the waiting glasses. "If this much is going to be detrimental, I shall have it served to you before we next bid on something of issue between our clans." It was a fairly mild cider, actually. A minor export from the Star Adders' capital world of Sheridan, and one he knew was often purchased by the Wolf enclave here on Strana Mechty, where they still kept their own capital - unlike many other Clans who had moved their centres away from their world of origin.

Kerlin accepted the glass. "Do you expect such an issue in the near future, Khan N'Buta? Although if we do find ourselves at odds, by all means do your best to soften me up with this. It is rather decent."

"Your plans for a reconnaissance force interest me," Gerrick told him candidly and took a sip from his own glass. "May I offer a bid for our forces to assist in providing the unit? Sending hundreds of warriors will take something of a bite from your Clan's touman, if you will excuse the pun."

"Not so much as you might think." Kerlin's eyes were alert. "Inner sphere warriors rarely retire as early as our own unblooded warriors, so many of them will be recruited from those facing a future in solahma forces, as well as trueborn who completed their warrior training but failed their trials of position. A second chance will motivate them well."

"And other troublemakers who fit in poorly with your Clan and might cause strife in the future."

The Wolf's smile tightened. "We are all brothers and sisters in the Wolf Clan, but in any pack, there can be but one Alpha."

Gerrick shrugged. "And an Alpha is wise to see that rivals are dealt with, one way or another, before they divide their pack, quiaff? I am pleased by Terrel's success, but had he remained a Star Adder - or Nadia Winson a Wolf - then our Clan Councils might have had a difficult job choosing a khan."

"See it that way if you want."

The Star Adder shrugged and let the subject drop. "Training your force will require an opposing force," he offered instead. "If you are already drawing on reserves to form them then tying up another force to shape them might be a burden. I would be honoured to provide warriors for some sharpening of your claws."

"A generous offer." Kerlin finished his glass and accepted the silence offer of a refill. "And I would gladly accept but I fear your bid has come too slowly. Khan Posavatz cornered me even before Moon's Trial of Refusal had failed."

"Ah, he is a sharp one." And had probably helped to plan the entire thing. "What was his bid?"

"The Heartvenom Cluster. He tells me that they have dug out SLDF manuals and are already poring over them to shape our Dragoons - that is the name we have chosen for them - into a Spheroid-style force."

Gerrick's eyes narrowed. A sound choice - the First Cateran Cluster were perhaps the most elite force in the Goliath Scorpions, rivaled only by the Khans' own guard force. "I believe I could equal - though perhaps not surpass - the quality of the warriors, but their historical proficiency is unmatched. Once again you have already gone ahead of my thinking."

Kerlin raised his glass in salute. "And yet, you and Ren are the only Khans to think so far ahead. Sometimes I wonder if our peers assume that the strongest Clans are that simply for combat prowess and do not recognise that we are often simply those who think before we bid."

"I cannot claim that the thought has not crossed my mind. Although the Jaguars do well and they are not what I would call the most foresightful of Clans as a rule."

"I suspect that the Falcons use them as a stalking horse. Hazen is clever enough, and with someone like Gordon Moon as a contrast, she seems more reasonable to the moderates among the Crusaders. Like Nadia... or you."

Gerrick's lips quirked. "Granted."

"If you believe the Dragoons' reports will one day persuade me that your crusade is justified, you are very likely mistaken."

"I respect your convictions, even if I disagree with them. And while I concede it would take strong evidence to the contrary to persuade me that it will not take our intervention to turn them from self-destruction, I would be pleased if such evidence was found."

He saw Kerlin's gaze sharpen. "Yes... I believe you. And that is perhaps more than I would have expected to say."

"We are not all invested in that goal for glory." Gerrick tipped back his glass and drained it dry. "And I also put together what most of the Council have not: the chances of us being the Khans to lead an invasion, should that happen, are slim. You have set us back decades."

"I'm shocked."

"That I can count? Years to prepare, a year or so of travel either way - and not less than two years with every Successor Lord, probably more. I would be shocked if this mission consumes less than two decades." And more if you instruct them - as I think you will - to take their sweet time.

Kerlin lowered his glass and shook his head slightly when Gerrick offered the bottle once more. "Does that bother you, Khan N'Buta?"

"To a degree, which suggests my interests are more personal than I would like," he said frankly. "But to invade - aff, aff, if we do indeed invade - blindly would be folly. You have guarded us from that, and I thank you."

And I think you will guard us from any intelligence gathered, too. At least any that might stir us to action. You are a canny wolf, Kerlin Ward. No, a dog. A guard dog between us and the Inner Sphere. I will accept the delay - nothing much has changed in the Inner Sphere in centuries even from the scant information we have, so a decade or two more are worth the price. But if you think I will not use this time well...

Then you are very much mistaken.

S A S

Star Adder Council Hall, Katayusha City
Strana Mechty, Clan Homeworlds
25 March 3000

"What sort of preparations do you have in mind?"

Eamon Phoushath had changed little from his time as Khan. Gerrick unseating him had only moved him a few doors down the Star Adders' capitol building since he had almost immediately been nominated to step in as the Loremaster of the Clan. Even here on Strana Mechty in the old headquarters that Absalon Truscott had used in the 2810s and 2820s, his desk was a clutter of datapads and old-fashioned paperwork. Only the contents had changed.

Gerrick leant forwards. "Firstly, we must think."

"Ah, our most constant limitation." Eamon pushed the papers he had been reading back into his in-tray and brought out a fresh notebook. "Planning for something beyond our own likely lifespans, quiaff?"

"Aff." Gerrick would be doing well to still be leading the Star Adders if they invaded in the 3020s. Ten or twenty years later he would be unlikely to still have warrior status. "But Nicholas Kerensky waited twenty years to return to the Pentagon, so there is precedent."

"And you want to know where to begin. Why are you not asking Logan?"

"He is a hothead."

"He is your saKhan."

Gerrick made a dismissive gesture. "That was the Clan Council's choice. And he votes sensibly, I will admit. But he talks often with Hazen and Winson. If outsiders learn we are preparing for an invasion, the other Clans will either try to co-opt our work if they are Crusaders or destroy it if they are Wardens. We have seen what happens to Clans that over-expose themselves, and I would not be the next to suffer as the Coyotes did." The Coyotes would probably be among the first to jump in, eager to make good their losses over past decades.

"Perhaps they should change their name to jackals," Eamon suggested drily. "There is precedent now that the Foxes are Sharks."

"It is suggestions like that which brought you down from being Khan."

"And it has been good for the Clan, I think." The older warrior folded his arms and leant back on his chair, pushing it back on the rear two legs. "Very well, preparations for an Invasion. There are generally three areas of preparation: training, logistics and intelligence. Do you intend to compete with Kerlin in the latter?"

The Khan shook his head. "I suspect that he will filter what we receive, but I could be wrong and it would be too suspicious to attempt that now. Perhaps later, if the Dragoons do not prove useful."

"Then that leaves the other two areas."

"Our largest problem," Gerrick said slowly, "Is that I suspect that Kerlin's questions before the Grand Council only scratch the surface. We do not know the questions to ask, and how can we answer them without that. No one has ever attempted to conquer the entire Inner Sphere, not even James McKenna or Ian Cameron. And we are a thousand light years away."

Eamon grunted. "That is true, but perhaps someone has at least considered it before. The SLDF had a mammoth administration in order to support operations across the Star League, perhaps that should be looked into as a starting point."

"Ah." He furrowed his brow. "There is a phrase I heard when I was a child. Or maybe read... I... yes, I remember now. I was looking for a file in the databanks and came across a file labelled 'The Art of War' in a directory labelled 'Military Science'." Gerrick snorted. "Terrel and I were confused that it had no images, given it was titled art."

"Where are you going with this?"

"Our forebears considered military activity a science and studied war. So perhaps I should set scientists to digging into the old files and see what thinking there is of the problems such an endeavour could face."

"There is some merit to that," the Loremaster agreed cautiously. "But the scientists little like being taken from their own studies. If you are to take a long view, pick younger researchers."

Gerrick shrugged. "We already send scores of the more intelligent washouts from our sibkos into the caste. Training them to research is part of the normal process, but we can simply allocate them to it once they complete their general training as scientists. We have the time."

"Aff. Be sure to impress that upon your successor, when the time comes."

Gerrick nodded a little wearily. "What else do you suggest?"

Eamon took a sheet of paper and jotted some numbers down on it. "The Star League ruled around three thousand star systems, did they not?"

"I think a little less. And some have apparently been depopulated in the Succession Wars." A prospect that was painful to contemplate given the dearth of habitable worlds in the Kerensky Cluster.

"Two thousand then. And seventeen Clans would mean that even if no worlds are divided between multiple Clans then there would need to be enough forces to secure over a hundred planets each. How large such forces would have to be, I could not tell you."

"That would likely depend on the opposition we are facing," Gerrick said slowly. "Fifty to seventy clusters if we are mostly looking at only conflicts between Clans, but to get to that point..."

"And then there is transitioning the populace to the Clan ways. We have no examples of that since the aftermath of Klondike and that was apparently so troubling as to lead too..." the Loremaster lowered his voice, perhaps unconsciously: "the Not-Named."

"I think we do have an example we can study, actually."

"Oh?" Eamon rocked his chair forwards. "But... oh, the Tanite worlds. I almost forgot they existed."

"The Cloud Cobras do not make much of them, I admit. But my sibkin served there briefly after he redeemed his warrior status. He speaks little of them, but they are a recent example of how a non-Clan society may be assimilated."

"How have they done that?"

Gerrick shrugged. "I am honestly unsure, but I can ask. If it comes to that, there are three worlds in the system and we can launch a Trial of Possession for one and see for ourselves."

The older warrior smirked. "You think large, my Khan. But the Cloud Cobras are our allies. Doing so would alienate them, quiaff?"

"Aff. And we would likely fight them and also the Burrocks, since they have a presence there." His eyes narrowed. Which suggests that a single Clan is struggling to pacify only three worlds.

"The Cobras are not the strongest of Clans, particularly in ground forces," Eamon noted judiciously, his thoughts clearly following a similar path. "But the Tanite colonies are all in a single star system."

"We Crusaders are contemplating a thousand times as many worlds, across a vastly greater region of space."

Khan and Loremaster eyed each other uneasily. "Put like that, distance alone will be our enemy."

"Yes," Gerrick agreed. "Perhaps in addition to the Dragoons we should consider establishing an enclave nearer to the Inner Sphere. Something to use as a stepping stone. It will not solve all the other challenges that are becoming apparent, but it would be a beginning..."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #1 on: 24 March 2020, 03:59:04 »
Chapter One

Hall of Khans, Katayusha City
Strana Mechty, Clan Homeworlds
13 December 3048

Virgilia Truscott watched politely as Leo Showers laid out his plans for the Invasion of the Inner Sphere. She'd voted the man in as IlKhan and in favour of the Crusader agenda, so she owed him that much support.

The holodisplay showed spearhead driving across the Inner Sphere, down through the swathe of worlds that the Draconis Combine and Lyran Commonwealth had been fighting over for two and a half centuries and then finally down to the glowing orb of Terra, at the heart of the Inner Sphere.

The ilKhan sat back and visibly awaited the approval of the Grand Council.

Alright then, that was about the limit of the support she was obligated for. "IlKhan Showers, in my professional assessment, that is the worst plan I have seen since the last time the Ice Hellions tried to raid us for some of our Chameleon training 'Mechs. And that, my Khans, was a very bad plan."

Stephen Tyler, sat under the blue and orange banner of Clan Ice Hellion, reddened visibly. The Trial of Possession had, to put it mildly, been a disaster. The Star Captain who won the bid had apparently been an advocate of the Ice Hellion's particular interpretation of zellbrigen: that a Star of light 'Mechs swarming a single heavier 'mech was allowable but that heavier 'Mechs shouldn't be allowed to retaliate in kind.

Clan Star Adder took a slightly different view - specifically that an honor duel is an honor duel, while a battle is a battle - and combining fire on a target makes it the latter. Older but larger 'Mechs had concentrated their fire to tear the Ice Hellions apart one at a time, before a Star of light OmniMechs held in reserve had harried the demoralised survivors back to their dropship. To add insult to injury, Kappa Galaxy had treated the wounds of those Ice Hellions who didn't make it back to their landing zone and then shipped them back via a Diamond Shark, billing the warrior's Clan for the transportation costs.

The implication that Clan Star Adder - a Clan that went so far as to fight Trials of Possession not only of aged solahma, but even their genetic legacies - didn't want the Hellions as bondsmen had been spread by the Chatterweb to every corner of the Homeworlds long before the humiliated warriors had been returned to their Clan.

Tyler and his saKhan might not find the reminder welcome, but there were snickers from many of the other Khans present - only a few of the thirty seated on the Council Chamber benches seemed to recall Virgilia's original point.

Facing them on the throne, Leo Showers was evidently unamused by the comparison. "You have reservations about our ability to defeat the degenerate warriors of the Inner Sphere, Khan Truscott? I believe the reports of the Dragoons spelled out how very far they have fallen from the Star League's might, while we have only risen."

Virgilia didn't bother to rise to her feet, instead looking the ilKhan over with lidded eyes. "I am familiar with those reports, ilKhan. I am even familiar with more recent news as to the creation of the Free Rasalhague that exists between the two House Lords and that the armies of the Inner Sphere may be beginning to field at least limited quantities of the weapons used by the Star League."

"Then we must strike now," Yvonne Hazen declared. The Jade Falcon Khan was almost seventy - older than any Khan save those of Clan Nova Cat - and had held the leadership of her Clan for almost five decades, a nigh-unprecedented feat. It was whispered that only the desire to return to the Inner Sphere kept the iron-haired woman alive, much less in power.

"Indeed. And I have voted to invade, Khan Hazen." Virgilia gave the old warrior a respectful nod. "But just because your protege, Crichell, has had a hand in this plan does not make it a good plan."

"I stand ready to rebut your criticisms," the much younger Falcon saKhan declared boldly from beside his mentor.

Virgilia smiled toothily. "Rash of you, when you haven't even heard them yet." She rolled her shoulders ostentatiously and then straightened. "It is a cardinal sin of strategy, Elias, to assume that the enemy will act as you wish them to. But your plan assumes that the Inner Sphere's warriors will meekly stand still and let you carve through them in convenient bite-sized portions. Even on a cursory glance, I can see that the obvious counter-measure for them will be to let your spearheads dig deep - which they will have little choice in, given initial surprise - and then employ a counter-attack against the long flanks you will be leaving exposed."

She met Crichell's hauteur with amused contempt: "I could determine this in minutes, but your plan gives the warlords who have fought their entire lives on this scale years to recognise it, and that is just to reach Terra. After that, with not even a sixth of the Inner Sphere of under the Clan's control -  if all goes as you plan, which I very much doubt (there is another maxim of war you seem to have forgotten)..."

"No plan survives contact with the enemy," Roderick Irons cut in from beside her, with some relish. "That's why they're called the enemy."

"Aff," she agreed. "What then, Elias Crichell? Do you and our IlKhan propose to maroon whatever remains of these invasion forces deep in the Inner Sphere, likely short on supplies by this stage, given that they can hardly expect even Star League quality parts and munitions to be compatible with their OmniMechs, and for the Great Lords to meekly surrender?"

The ilKhan shook his head. "As you yourself have pointed out, Khan Truscott, the situation once we have liberated Terra will be quite unpredictable. To present detailed plans at this point would be grossly overconfident."

"That hardly seems to have deterred you so far," she shot back, shifting targets. "Your plan would have each of the four Invading Clans holding at least a hundred worlds before they reach Terra. Just to defend them against counter-attacks would tie up, conservatively, a cluster for every two worlds, on average. Fifty Clusters..." She looked around. "That might be feasible for a few Clans but even for the largest touman, it would leave very little for continued operations, and keeping them supplied would be nigh-impossible."

"The Inner Sphere's warship numbers are not sufficient to support any ambitious counter-attack," pointed out Crichell quickly. "And in any case, we have specified that a fifth Clan must serve as reserve against such an eventuality."

"Warships are of very little concern to me in this." Virgila flicked her fingers dismissively. "The Dragoons' reports made it clear how quickly their numbers had fallen once the Inner Sphere began employing nuclear weapons against them. Press them too closely and they will erase your own, but since there would be no glory in utilising them against lesser ships I do not expect that foolishness of you."

"No, what concerns me far more even than a counter-attack is pacifying the worlds you intend to conquer. Out of all the Clans, only we can claim experience of this and your numbers are beyond optimistic of what is required."

"Now you are simply bragging." Robin Steele, Khan of the Coyotes, rose with her furred cloak swaying around her. "Aff, you absorbed the Cloud Cobras, and aff, you own the Tanite worlds, but all our Clans took back the Pentagon worlds, and you know how within a few years they were completely converted to Kerensky's ways."

"Those worlds were very different, Khan Steele." Virgila shook her head. "Our ancestors descended on worlds still divided and fought over. The people they liberated were willing, indeed eager, to follow any vision but the one that left destruction imminent. But the Inner Sphere is in a period of relative peace. It is almost ten years since the past wars and they were relatively localised. Worse, the region we will invade through - and I recognise that it is the only sensible route under the circumstances - is an area that won independence from the Successor Lords. Convincing them of the merits of our ways will take time and will face great reluctance. These are challenges that take more than merely warriors. It will take many years of work, but the plan we are presented assumes they will adapt to the changes as easily as enclaves long familiar with our ways."

"Do you have a better plan?" asked Crichell sourly. "Or are you only going to complain?"

Virgilia nodded. "Firstly, accept that this scale is simply inadequate and that a sensible invasion will take years to prepare for. Secondly, as with Klondike, all the Clans should be involved. One attack not entirely unlike what you propose to fight the troop formations along these borders, but on each flank another attack force should head for the capital worlds - Tharkad and Luthien. That will spread their forces out and provide a deeper reserve of forces to deal with counter-attacks."

Karianna Schmitt nodded approvingly from her seat at the Blood Spirit bench. "This sounds better already."

"You should beware, Schmitt," warned Hazen quietly. "The Star Adders have a rough way with those they call their allies."

"Only when those so-called allies have fallen from the Way of the Clans."

Showers thumped the arm of his throne with one fist. "Khan Truscott is making her presentation, my Khans. Let us do her the courtesy of hearing her out."

Virgila waited a moment and once it was clear she had their attention again, gave the ilKhan a crooked smile. "Over the next five years, our warriors should secure a world or worlds nearer the Inner Sphere to act as forward bases. These should be chosen with a view to being unnoticed as it will take those years to move supplies and personnel forward in the necessary quantity. Some of those personnel will be cadres of administrators and technicians to set up the needed governments and facilities across occupied worlds, but we will require hundreds of thousands of police-warriors to maintain order and..."

"Hundreds of thousands!?" exclaimed Steele. "Where would we find so many warriors?"

"Washouts from frontline service," Virgilia suggested. "Freeborn children eager to better themselves. There is time to train them and if there is one thing that the Brian Caches are not short of even now, it is conventional infantry gear."

"Why would we even need such a vast force?"

Roderick cleared his throat. "IlKhan, one of the worlds in the holodisplay... Tamar - it should be in the invasion route, around eight months in by your plan."

Showers gave a nod to one of the technicians and the display zoomed in on the system, automatically bringing up details on the planets that orbited the star.

"The third planet," directed Virgilia's saKhan. "One of the Commonwealth's more important political worlds, middling in terms of industrial significance. That one world alone has a population exceeding that of all of the Clans combined. Just to maintain a reasonable oversight of the planetary government, the main spaceport and HPG station will require hundreds of personnel. Add in maintaining a reaction force to deal with riots, guerilla resistance and the like... and we will need to operate in this fashion on hundreds of worlds until the population accepts our ways."

"This is ridiculous." Steele seemed to realise at last that she was still standing and settled back onto her bench. "I call no one here a coward - we are all warriors, quiaff? - but the Star Adders are taking caution to a ludicrous degree. Let us vote on the matter and be done."

Showers nodded. "Very well, Khan Steele. A vote of aye will be to approve my proposed plan, Operation Revival. A vote of nay will be to assign Khan Truscott to formulate her plan in more detail so we can properly evaluate it as an alternative."

The Khans made their votes and Virgilia felt her face tighten as for a long moment only the Blood Spirits voted against Revival. She thought that the Ghost Bears might back her but after a brief consultation, both Karl Bourjon and Theresa DelVillar cast their votes as Aye.

In rare agreement, the Fire Mandrills voted Nay before Virgilia had her chance but she already knew that the vote was against her. She and Roderick both opposed Revival and Ulric Kerensky, voting next, abstained with a wry look in her direction that she couldn't read.

The last clan to vote were the Goliath Scorpions and to her surprise they didn't support the ilKhan's plan either. Garth Radick had, so perhaps the senior Wolf Khan declining to take a stand was the issue.

Not that eight votes to twenty-one was anything but an overwhelming defeat.

Virgilia surged to her feet, almost eagerly. "My Khans, I call for a Trial of Refusal."

"Those are long odds for you, Khan Truscott."

"Invading the Inner Sphere will demand much longer odds," she shot back. "Why not start here?"

"Our warriors will stand with yours, once again," proposed Karianna.

Nikolai Djerassi rose to his feet. "The Scorpions will offer a Trinary, may I suggest that each of us sends one."

Everyone looked at the Fire Mandrills, but Khan Carrol shook her head. "We accept the outcome of the vote."

"Three trinaries then," the ilKhan declared. "Each to face... approximately four binaries. Who wishes to bid to defend our decision?"

S A S

The Triad, Tharkad
Donegal March, Lyran Commonwealth
14 December 3048

Fires crackled in the hearth of the office deep within the Triad, giving the room a warm and comfortable feel even if the bulk of the actual heating was from more sophisticated systems beneath the floor. Archon Melissa Steiner-Davion laughed quietly to herself at that thought - warming a room by blowing hot air through the space beneath it went back to the Romans, but that was indeed still more sophisticated than an open fire.

"After the upswing a few years ago, the level of raids into the Periphery March is lower than it has been since the 3020s." Hauptmann-General Horatio King was attending on behalf of Melissa's distant cousin Nils, who commanded the Federated Commonwealth's forces along that long border region. "It's beginning to feel as if we're not even needed there."

"I think..." The voice cut off as it's owner glanced towards Melissa with a trace of guilt.

The blonde gestured for her son to continue. Victor was supposed to be preparing for semester finals at the Nagelring, but Melissa didn't doubt that he was well-prepared for almost every class and had meticulous tutoring scheduled for anything he felt was lacking. Sitting in on some of her more routine briefings would be a valuable part of his education, probably more so than another cramming session.

"I think," the young man repeated himself, "that we'd regret taking that impression at face value." His eyes narrowed in thought, much as his father's might have. "What do you think's behind the downswing in attacks?"

"Three interrelated reasons, your highness." King opened up another window in the holodisplay, bringing up what was clearly part of a prepared presentation. "Firstly, there's been an upswing in trade through the near-Periphery. The Black Buck company's jumpships have been touching base at Langhorne, Main Street and Engadine and from the trade goods they've been bringing in, they're doing business with minor colonies left over from the old Rim Worlds Republic up to a hundred light years out from our borders."

"I thought most of those colonies had died out," Melissa mused. "We've not paid close attention to the region since..."

"A little over forty years. Not that it was ever a priority," King qualified the statement, "But your mother had attention refocused away from it after she took the throne - Marik and Kurita were almost all that LIC could handle with the situation Alessandro Steiner had left her in."

There were other reasons that her mother hadn't wanted too much attention on the region, Melissa thought. But the Hauptmann-General wasn't cleared for her mother's pre-throne exploits in the region, nor the source of the Black Box communications devices that the AFFC used for covert interstellar messages.

"Do you think that those colonies are bearing the brunt of pirate attacks by making themselves easier targets?"

King gave Victor a respectful look. "At least initially, yes. But those that survived that are almost certainly moving rimwards or corewards. The Black Buck are at least as ruthless in defending their sphere of influence as Tamar, Marsden and McQuiston were back in the day. We're almost certain they're behind the disappearance of Hopper Morrison and his band."

Victor considered that and then shook his head. "I don't recall the name, I'm afraid."

"One of the most dangerous pirate groups in living memory. A former member of the Black Warriors who found a cache of Star League-era machines somewhere a few years ago."

"Yes." Melissa leant forwards. "Almost two regiments of 'Mechs, and you're sure that he's been eliminated?"

"Two?" Victor exclaimed. His reaction was understandable - that put Morrison on par with the Circinian Federation or the Greater Valkyrate in terms of military forces.

King shook his head. "Pirates aren't known for their discretion. And it's been three years without any reports of him at all. I doubt Morrison could keep his unit operating this long without supplies he'd have to raid for. So either he's fled beyond the reach of our intelligence or he's out of business for one reason or another."

The Archon considered the question. "Unless he's associated with the Black Buck company. How much do we know about them?"

King shrugged. "Not a huge amount. They operate at least six Merchant-class jumpships and twice that many Union-class dropships, or civilian-built equivalents at least. First contact was around the time of the Skye Revolt, so everyone's focus was elsewhere. Mostly they deal in mid-range luxury goods and civilian type tooling."

"And yet you think they had a hand in destroying Morrison? Twelve Unions wouldn't be enough to carry an equivalent force," pointed out Victor.

"There's no one else besides us in the area with that much lift capacity," the general told him. "And we do know that the Black Buck managed to field at least a company of BattleMechs in 3043. Another band hit Caldarium while a Black Buck dropship was down, and torched a warehouse the company maintained there. The Bucks scrambled an aerospace lance from their dropship and harried the pirates back to their dropship. Eighteen months later, the same pirates resurfaced on Botany Bay and 'Mechs with the Black Buck badge on them were waiting for them."

"What did the Valkyrate have to say about that?" asked Melissa wryly. The pirate realm had less pretentions to be a real state than their neighbours, but even Redjack Ryan would be displeased at having worlds in 'his' domain fought over by outsiders.

"Mostly 'ouch'. The Black Buck had rolled over the garrison first and they only lost a single 'Mech in both engagements. Two days later they left Botany Bay and took the pirate dropship with them, along with all the salvage. None of which we've found in the usual black markets since."

Melissa shook her head. "And you think that Morrison raided one Black Buck's outposts and they retaliated in the same way, but on a grander scale?"

King spread his hands. "I can't think of anyone else who might have, your highness. Lord knows, we would have gladly done so ourselves if we'd managed to pin down his base. Whoever did it, the local bands appear to assume that there's a larger predator in the region and either headed for the usual regions or are testing the strength of the Rim Collection."

"Are they another of the factors you mentioned?" enquired Victor.

"Yes, besides Morrison dropping out of sight and Black Buck, the Collection is drawing a lot of attention. It's not an unfamiliar pattern and it's been the bane of any would-be statelets in the area before: worlds that band together are preyed upon before they get large enough to become a threat."

"Damn pirates," the prince muttered.

Melissa snorted quietly. "Victor, it's been our ancestors as much as it has been pirates. A successor state to the old Rim Worlds Republic might leave us with a third hostile border - not to mention the possibility that scores of worlds Robert Steiner occupied in the 2770s might decide to breakaway. Look up what happened to Finmark at some point."

Victor looked abashed.

"In this case, the difference is that the Rim Collection has managed to win the support of a fairly adequate military force - a mercenary force of at least a battalion called Able's Aces parted from AFFC employment after the War of 3039 and seem to have either been hired by or at least made common cause with the new government."

"Caldarium's one of the worlds in the Collection," mused Melissa. "Which suggests an overlap with the Black Buck's sphere of influence. If they're helping the matter along then we could see whatever colonies they do business with joining the Collection as well. That could leave us with a new state forming along a large swathe of the border."

King nodded in agreement. "We have contingencies to drop the hammer on the Rim Collection if that's your preference, Archon. Even a single regimental combat team would be enough to eliminate the Aces and without their defenders..." He shrugged. "But given we don't know how the Black Bucks would respond, the Marshal has asked me to express concerns about any plans to remove forces from the Periphery March at this time."

Melissa turned her chair slightly. "Your opinion, Victor?"

He made a face. "I'm not convinced we should destroy the Rim Collection. A hostile state could be a problem, but if they could be made an ally then it might actually cut our pirate concerns. Or if it turns out that they can't handle the pirates, stepping in ourselves might convince them to join the Commonwealth, gaining six worlds for a pittance compared to the costs of invading."

"And if we do find out that there's a prospective state emerging that could threaten our border?" she asked, playing Devil's Advocate.

"Then Marshal Davis-Steiner is correct and we shouldn't withdraw forces. If anything, we ought to step up patrols in the area so we find out now and not with the entire thing too far ahead to avoid without the sort of mess that would have Thomas Marik and Theodore Kurita salivating."

Melissa saw King hide a smile and nodded. "I will speak to Duke Hasek-Davion, General. For now though, you may inform the Marshal that I see no reason to cut his forces and every reason to see if we can find some reinforcements for him so he can carry out some reconnaissance of the Black Buck's apparent reach. That may take a year or two though."

"I believe we have that time, your highness."

"Very well." She fixed him with a glare. "Now, there are some confused reports of civil unrest on several worlds around Inarcs.  What exactly is being done to investigate these issues?"

The general made a face. "The Marshal has scheduled a tour of the area next year and there's an advance party on the way now to talk to Duke LaRue about his neighbours. Hopefully that'll let us pinpoint some of the hotspots for the Marshal to visit and we'll have an honour guard of the Seventh Crucis Lancers available for him if things get nasty."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #2 on: 24 March 2020, 04:00:38 »
Bearcat, Newark Swamp
Strana Mechty, Clan Homeworlds
2 January 3049

The Newark region of Strana Mechty wasn't a prosperous one. It had originally been a core enclave of the Not-Named Clan and after their Annihilation, their holdings had been broken up, leaving it difficult for any of the Clans occupying the region to rebuild it. And with the tradition that enclaves on the Clan Capital weren't open for Trials of Possession, no one could really change that patchwork of territory.

As a result, the swamplands were almost uninhabited, poorly mapped and mostly ignored... at least until another reapportionment of Burrock and Clan Cobra holdings led Khan Logan Banacek to request a rationalisation of the region. The other Clans involved had been broadly willing... so long as the Star Adders accepted that their share would be the worthless swamps.

Banacek had raged, protested... and once the agreement was made, smiled privately and designated the swamps for a training ground, which had been his goal in the first place. A reputation for being hotheaded and impulsive could carry one a long way.

Oskar could have lived without the swamps, personally, but he'd been in a sibko at the time, so no one had consulted him. This was this third time visiting the Newark swamps - first for basic training, then again for retraining after he lost his status as a pilot.

He'd thought then (and now again) that he was very glad the enhanced imaging implants did nothing to improve his sense of smell.

A barely audible ping on his earpiece alerted the Star Adder that there had been a micro-burst transmission from trinary command. A twitch of his cheek confirmed he was in a safe condition to hear it and a moment later, Hannibal Banacek's voice cut through the sound of the swamp's insects.

"All warriors. The Coyotes aerospace assets are moving back towards their dropzones. We calculate their onboard fuel is below half. Mission Carnival is go."

Oskar dipped his head as if in acknowledgement - though of course, no one could see him - and began to slither through the swamp on his belly. Like an Adder, he thought.

The day was growing late, with the low sun casting shadows that only made it easier for him to move closer to the Coyotes landing zone. A single dropship sat there, an Overlord-class that towered over everything around it, was surrounded by technicians working frantically to set up a field base.

They should have begun when they landed, Oskar noted. They would be done by now. Instead the dropship was lighting up with spotlights so that the labour could carry on despite the impending sunset.

Reaching the vantage point that he had chosen earlier, the short warrior scaled the tree he'd chosen and strapped himself into position. Sure he was stable, he closed one eye and used the other to scan the site with his monocle. There were no OmniMechs or BattleMechs visible, just a pair of work-mechs being used to set up a simple field hangar. The Coyote's had flown their fighters in, so the dropship didn't have suitable bays to service them.

The absence of mechwarriors didn't surprise Oskar - he'd seen the Coyotes march all twenty-five of their 'Mechs into the swamps earlier, screened by fifty Elementals.

What did surprise him was the absence of any other forces here. A star of elementals, or even a couple of points of solahma infantry would have made his task here far more challenging. And what were the latter for, in most Clans, except to stand around carrying rifles and watching civilians work.

(Oskar had heard the suicide rate among solahma infantry in other Clans was horrendous. He could only imagine that boredom was the primary cause, followed perhaps by shame that the warriors weren't doing anything useful.)

But no, just technicians. Probably there were warriors in the dropship crew and perhaps a security force remained aboard it?

Well, if it made his mission easier, so much the better. Oskar checked his ghillie suit hadn't hung up on anything and then extended the wand of his target acquisition gear. His monocle showed him where the designated mark was and he adjusted it carefully, making sure that he didn't accidentally sweep it across anything that might detect the sensor beam.

Once he was in position, all that was required was to wait. An important skill and one that didn't come easily to younger warriors. Communications were kept to a minimum, although in Oskar's opinion, the chances that the Coyotes would be monitoring for signals was looking increasingly slim.

The first sign of the impending attack were the Coyote fighters coming in to land. The Coyotes had cleared a field for their fighters - it wasn't a full landing strip but aerospace fighters could handle vertical take-offs and landings from even entirely unprepared sites. The main preparation had been ensuring that the ground was solid enough at this edge of the swamp and moving fuel and ammunition out. The work mechs had spent most of the day digging rough berms out around the latter and then using the ditches they'd taken the dirt from to store the large sacks of hydrogen fuel and the pumps to drain them into fighters.

Keeping the wand straight limited Oskar's ability to look up but from the blunt wedge shapes of the shadows cast, he guessed that most of the Coyote fighters were Jagatai omnifighters - relatively new and advanced heavies. He briefly envied the pilots - for much of his time in the cockpit he'd dearly wished that his Clan would obtain such fine machines. And then he remembered what was about to happen.

There was effectively no warning. One moment sixteen aerospace fighters were just dropping into their final approaches - eight points, the Coyotes must have bid down to secure their participation - and the next moment eight fiery daggers rocketed into view and disintegrated beneath them.

Technicians waiting for the inbound pilots stared in confusion - save for one unlucky soul whose head was taken clean off by one of the submunitions.

And then the fighters - the pilots still unaware of what had happened - touched down. Right onto a field that had just been scattered with artillery-deployed mines.

Most of them, by law of averages, were lucky. But most is not all. One Jagatai took off involuntarily as mines went off beneath it, hurled upwards and then hammering down into the ground, spine broken.

As Oskar swept his TAG wand to a second target, he saw a Bashkir, one of only two lighter fighters, disintegrate. The mine must have breached the fuel tank.

More daggers of fire reached into the airfield and this time they weren't going to detonate in such an unassuming fashion. Oskar held his wand to designate a berm that was stacked with LRM crates and only seconds later, an Arrow IV missile ploughed into at least forty one-ton missile cassettes.

The berm did its job, protecting the men and women on the ground from the immediate blast, but it was too low and too hastily created to protect something larger and a work mech was was sent staggering back. The thirty ton industrial machine collapsed onto the wing of the remaining Bashkir, conclusively wrecking the fighter's ability to fly.

He swept the beam on, this time to a fuel bin. A missile obediently tracked his targeting, sending up a mushroom cloud of smoke and fire from the pit, but now Oskar was actively scanning the area. The first three targets had been chosen as part of the mission plan, but once they were used up, it was for the spotters to use their discretion.

Half the Coyote's fighters were still more or less intact, and he considered targeting one of them, but without fuel or munitions they were of limited threat and he was sure that the other spotters would choose to eliminate them. There were sixteen primary spotters and eight back-ups, with each spotter guiding a missile from alternate salvoes...

So what to pick, the half-built field base or...

With a savage grin, Oskar brought his wand around and aimed it directly into the open door of the Overlord. One Arrow IV missile wouldn't destroy the massive craft, even detonating inside, unless he was miraculously lucky. But that door led directly into the 'Mech bays within, the primary repair facility for the Coyote's ground forces.

He watched eagerly as one of the dagger-like missiles streaked through the air, following his targeting lure. It was on a low trajectory and for a moment he thought it might make it but instead the missile clipped the side of the door and blew a divot three metres across out of the hatch.

"Stravag thing," Oskar cursed and glanced aside. Five more aerospace fighters had been wrecked - in the air they might have survived the hits but on the airfield they were being hammered against the unforgiving ground by the impacts.

He shifted his aiming point slowly and murmured a soft prayer. This was his last missile.

The guns of the dropship opened up belatedly, trying to swat the Arrow IV artillery out of the sky. But even the rapid-firing autocannon weren't fast enough and the dagger-like missile lunged past the tracer fire and through the hatch.

Fire and smoke gouted out of the dropship and Oskar had to restrain the urge to shout in victory. He did allow himself one brief fist-pump with the hand free as he stowed his TAG wand and then the former-pilot slapped the quick-release on his straps and slithered down the tree.

Hit first, then fade, he reminded himself.

It was tempting to try to run but that was almost impossible in the swamp and would be far too obvious. Instead he moved slowly and carefully, trying to move smoothly through shallow water and spend as much time as possible in thick cover.

For a few minutes, he thought he was getting away with it.

Then ripples began to mark that something large and heavy was moving. And given the terrain, that almost certainly meant one or 'Mechs.

Oskar considered his options as he scurried through some ferns and into a pool of muddy water that might hide his thermal signature. Stay silent or transmit?

For himself, staying quiet might save his neck. But 'Mechs present could also endanger the rest of the Point. Or of the entire Trinary.

Cautiously, he raised his head and looked towards the origin of the ripples. It was hard to make out through the foliage but at last he recognised the high shoulders and boxy missile launchers of a Stormcrow OmniMech. And from the way the trees moved, it wasn't the only one.

Sliding back into cover, Oskar's brow furrowed. He had seen the twenty-five OmniMechs sent into the swamp earlier - and the only mediums had been a pair of Vipers. The rest had all been heavier, so why were Stormcrows now in the field? Had the Coyote's held back part of their bid?

Activating a tiny keyboard he typed a few quick words and then the software encoded it. Oskar tapped the transmit command and closed the keyboard up.

The sound of the 'Mech came closer and Oskar began to crawl back towards one of the wider channels. Had his brief transmission been detected? Possible, that was the risk of it. So the further he was from the previous cover he was...

Trees crashed aside and the former pilot gulped, hastening his pace. Aff, they knew his approximate location.

One layer of bushes...

A reed-filled pond...

Closer and closer behind him, waves of water chasing Oskar across the swamp as the 'Mechs splashed after him.

He'd reached the edge of the channel and took a deep breath -

A pulse of coherent light slammed into the water right ahead of him, sending up a fountain of water... if he hadn't paused...

Exhaling sharply, Oskar dived into the channel, using the water thrown up by the Coyote's shot as cover for his entry and then clawing his way along, staying below the surface. It deepened quickly and he was swimming before he was his own body length into the murk.

Almost blind, relying on the compass built into his monocle, he kept going forwards. There had been no time to check landmarks but he thought he remembered this channel from training and if it was the area that he thought...

The waters slapped at him as the Stormcrow waded after him relentlessly, one long-legged stride at a time.

It was still following him - if the mechwarrior crouched, he might get the guns under the water's surface and be able to track well enough to shoot Oskar.

And then a violent wave brought Oskar to the surface, lungs burning as he gasped briefly for what was likely his last breath - before sudden suction drew him back and under.

That saved his life, for missiles crashed into the water ahead of him and detonated, the shockwaves hammering unmercifully at his ribs and the organs behind them. His ghillie suit caught on something and Oskar thought for a moment that this was it... he'd drown and be lost down here forever.

No!

The knife strapped to his chest came out and frantic sawing cut away the section of his cover that was caught. The suction was gone and the current dragged at him again.

Clawing for the surface, the small warrior had just enough presence of mind to turn and only slip his face above the water for another life-giving gasp of air.

Back below, paddling...

The touch of mud beneath him, and he risked putting his head up. The long branches and leaves of a willow-like tree screened him from sight.

Oskar took a long breath. He was... back on the same side of the channel he'd started from. Perhaps a hundred metres downstream?

And the Stormcrow was stood on the bank where he'd entered the water, torso bent over as the mechwarrior studied the water. Hadn't followed him, had that just been his imagination or...

There was bubbling from the water and then a mechanical hand larger than Oskar reached up from it.

Aha! There had been two and one must have blundered into a deep pit in the channel. It was what Oskar had hoped for - Mech-traps dug out during the training here long ago. Not impossible to extract a 'Mech from, but difficult and time-consuming without heavy equipment.

Of course, the second Stormcrow might be enough.

Oskar's eyes narrowed and he unslung the wand of his target acquisition gear. Transmitting his intent would give too much warning, but if the crews of the Vili vehicles carrying the Arrow IV launchers were still ready for targets...

He aimed the wand at the ground right below the Stormcrow on the bank. Directly aiming it would definitely alert the mechwarrior, but if he wasn't the direct target then Oskar transmitting might not get his attention - particularly if he was already working.

The Stormcrow took one step forward, braced and then extended one hand to grasp the outstretched hand of its comrade, the two metal titans looming up over the swampy forest.

Oskar triggered the TAG wand and clenched his jaw. He wouldn't know until it was almost the last second. All it would take would be for the Stormcrow to turn...

There was the ping of an inbound message. He triggered it.

"Three."

Another ping almost at the same instant, separated by a second. Oskar guessed that it was 'two'. A countdown from someone with quick wits.

On the third ping he shifted his aim to the Stormcrow, which was now trying to turn, hampered by the fact that the other OmniMech wasn't releasing it's grip. Oskar aimed for the side of the cockpit.

A second later, the sky was torn by not one but four Arrow IV missiles dropping down from above the treeline.

One went awry, caught on a tree branch perhaps. The other three vectored in on the upper body of the Stormcrow and their warheads weren't mines or high explosive - they were armour piercing homing missiles.

The upper half of the Stormcrow seemed to disintegrate and Oskar dropped his wand, curling into a ball as the missiles in the dorsal launchers went up, causing a cascade of secondary explosions inside the frame.

What was left of the Stormcrow slumped forwards, cockpit shattered, into the channel. The wreck continued to slide until it suddenly dropped away - fifty-five tons of wreckage settling on top of the 'Mech already at the bottom of the pit.

"No one is getting that out without a crane," Oskar murmured to himself.

It was tempting to stay and see if the mechwarrior at the bottom of the pit got out... but he or she probably still had a comm to call for help and it wasn't as if killing the 'mechwarrior would serve any particular need right now.

Oskar slipped back into the water and began to swim slowly downstream, letting the current do most of the work. Get clear first, then call for pick-up once he was far enough away that short-range detectors might not pick up his signal.

His ribs hurt or he might have laughed at the triumph. Even if they lost the trial, he'd taken out two 'Mechs on foot. That should get one of the bloodhouses interested in his giftake.
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #3 on: 24 March 2020, 04:01:33 »
Absalom Hall, Sheridan
Kerensky Cluster, Clan Homeworlds
2 January 3049

"I must express my Khan's deepest apologies." John Yanez dropped to one knee before Roderick Irons. As an Elemental this only brought his face to slightly below the mechwarrior's but the gesture was sincere. Roderick found the Blood Spirit sometimes stiff, but always sincere. He was liked by most of the Clan Council, if gently mocked in private as exemplar of the Spirit's lack of flexibility.

"Your warriors fought well against greater numbers, surrendering nothing." It cost nothing to tell the truth. Clan Nova Cat had won the right to face the Blood Spirits in the trial and it had been a straight slugging match between BattleMechs. Twenty-seven of the Nova Cats most aggressive Crusaders had fallen in the battle... but the price had been all fifteen of the Blood Spirits involved.

Yanez rose to his feet. "Nonetheless, our defeat and that of the Scorpions forces us to -"

There was a ping from Roderick's comm console and he made an apologetic gesture. "Excuse me, that must be important."

"Of course, Khan Irons. Shall I withdraw?"

Roderick gestured dismissively. "You have been our trusted allies for years." And if it was anything truly sensitive, he'd kill Yanez, then the idiot to message him anything secret when he was meeting the ilChi, and find some excuse later.

Fortunately that dire step wasn't necessary. "Good news, John. Khan Truscott's Trial of Grievance has ended favourably."

The Blood Spirit nodded. "And Khan Steele?"

"Will survive." Which was a shame, but one could not have everything.

Yanez looked solemn. "No doubt the Coyotes will seek some further opportunity if they can find one. While I found your Clan's tactics... extraordinary, I cannot argue with the reasoning."

"Quite. It is unreasonable to expect that the Inner Sphere will recognise zellbrigen when they will have never heard of our customs in battle. All the tactics we employed are simply taken from those that the Wolf Dragoons faced in the Inner Sphere. By utilising them, we have demonstrated to the Grand Council the nature of the war that they are beginning."

"The ilKhan also understands, which speaks well for calming relations between he and Khan Truscott." Yanez looked more hopeful than Roderick felt, but there was nothing to be gained by an open breach with Showers at this time.

Still, unity amongst the Clans was the Blood Spirit's guiding principle, no matter how badly it had burned them historically. "He has no reason to be less than magnanimous. And we have at least persuaded him to modify his plans slightly."

"Indeed." Yanez turned towards the window, but it was probably the Inner Sphere he was looking at, not the streets of the Star Adder's largest city. "Seven clans to return is not the same as all of us, but it at least better than five."

Roderick nodded. "Have you heard anything about how the participating Clans will be chosen? I have been engaged in administration while Virgilia remained on Strana Mechty."

"I believe the specifics of the Trials we will compete in are in the hands of Khan Kerensky."

"An odd choice?"

"The ilKhan is reaching out to those he has previously had differences with." The large man turned from the window. "In any case, there have been suggestions that as Kerensky's chosen Clan, the Wolves will be granted one place in the Invasion without contest. They are certainly among the stronger Clans and it would be shameful for them to be excluded."

Roderick rose from his desk. "I suppose it is of little concern to us. I wish Ulric well with adjudicating such an issue."

"You...?" The elemental seemed taken aback. "You will not be bidding?"

"No, my friend." Roderick looked out over the city. "We would be lacking in integrity, to take a place in a plan we do not have faith in."

That seemed to take the wind out of Yanez's sails and he looked from Roderick to the streets outside and back again before continuing. "I know Clan Snow Raven has indicated their recent losses mean they would be unable to commit to credible bidding for a place, but I had hoped that our Clans might see battle alongside each other once more. Your touman is mighty."

More than we have ever let you know. The saKhan simply reached up and patted the ilChi on the shoulder. "We may well do so again. The future will undoubtedly see many battles for both of our Clans. If Clan Blood Spirit seizes the opportunity to invade, then surely you will have the chance to build bonds of brotherhood with the other Clans to join you."

"That would be pleasing," Yanez admitted. "It is a shame though. I know your Clan are among the most committed Crusaders. For this to have divided your warriors from such a dear dream..."

"We bid as best we could, we fought as best we could... and now we must accept the outcome." Roderick lowered his head so as not to have to meet the other man's gaze. "We are not the Coyotes to whine and howl about the outcome of a fair trial."

"Neg. You speak wisely. And perhaps if things go as poorly as Khan Truscott clearly expects, the ilKhan will have to amend his plans." Yanez stepped back from the window. "As this is a matter you have given thought to, may I ask your counsel on how we should bid?"

Roderick returned to his desk. "I believe bidding will probably descent well below what we consider wise," he warned. "I would not be surprised if some Clans commit fewer than twenty clusters to the invasion. It would be wiser to look at substituting secondline or even garrison forces rather than reducing your numbers."

"Fortunately, something we have plenty of, given how troublesome the former-Burrocks can be," Yanez said with a rueful smile. "It has been almost two generations even for civilians, but some still cling to that identity. It is maddening."

"Yes." And the fact you still call them that probably doesn't help. "The Wolf Dragoons provided much useful data in how the Federated Suns transitioned the civilians of a Capellan world - New Aragon - to their new government. Given the many differences between the two administrations, you may find it wise to have your rear area forces study them."

"New Aragon..." Yanez said the name carefully and then took out a datapad and made note of it. "It will not be one of the worlds we are likely to see early in the invasion, quineg?"

Roderick refrained from saying anything provocative. "Neg."

"I thought not. The Capellans and Suns worlds are both on the far side of Terra." Yanez laughed deprecatingly. "You Adders are not the only ones to read the reports, even if you sometimes think that you are."

No, but I think we are the only ones who try to understand them, Roderick thought. Except maybe some of the Wolves. And even we are looking at them through a filter of two centuries of isolation. All that I can be sure of now is that we do not think the same way as spheroids...

And that if we do not bridge the gap, somehow, then this Invasion will be a disaster no matter however many battles we win.

S A S

Absalom Hall, Sheridan
Kerensky Cluster, Clan Homeworlds
13 January 3049

What Virgilia thought of as the 'working council' was assembled in a briefing room adjacent to the Clan Council's chamber. So far in her tenure she still found the group inconveniently large, but at least it was more manageable than the Clan Council itself, which numbered only a handful of seats less than the maximum number of one thousand Bloodnamed allowed to any single Clan under Clan Law.

Of course, since the membership of this group had responsibilities all across the Star Adder's holdings, bringing them all together in one room was utterly unfeasible. It was only in the last few years that sufficient HPG relay buoys had been laid to allow realtime communications with their latest acquisitions. And since not everyone had had a need to know about today's topic conversation, some of them didn't even know each other.

Which should make this entertaining at times.

The biggest block of faces were the Galaxy commanders, who were seated together with the Star Admirals. The thought of an outsider walking in and seeing thirty-four men and women with the four gold bars of that senior rank would probably be briefly entertaining. Fortunately, John Yanez had been recalled to participate in the Blood Spirit's planning, so that was one possible leak that wouldn't have to be cleaned up in a permanent fashion.

Across the aisle from the military commanders, Virgilia was facing the elected Chiefs of each caste, the Senior Administrators of their major enclaves, various senior staff members... the list went on. Some of them flickering slightly as the holo projectors provided the illusion of their physical presence - almost a third of those present.

"Convening the Clan Council like this is going to be impractical," Roderick muttered from beside her. "One of the HPG technicians broke down in tears at the idea."

"Really?"

"Of laughter, at least until he realised I was serious. They are already having trouble preparing the buoys we will need to retain strategic communication ties in the Inner Sphere. Doubling that for realtime will take much longer."

Virgilia shook her head, setting her hair rustling against her shoulders. She should cut it, she reminded herself. They were going to war and she might have more interesting opponents than Robin Steele to face. That had been over too quickly, the Coyote surrendering after the knees of her Timber Wolf were both broken.

In any case, the last arrivals were taking their seats. Virgilia gave the guards a nod and they closed and sealed the door. Lights on the podium flickered from amber to green, informing her that the various anti-surveillance measures built into the briefing room were now active.

"Order!" Bjorn Steiner raised his voice, although the man didn't stand. "We are gathered here under martial code and shall conduct ourselves accordingly." He waited to be sure there was silence and then bowed his head reverently. "We are in a state of war. My Khans?"

Virgilia returned the salutation. "Seyla." There was a ripple of murmurs as others echoed her. "For those who may not have been keeping up with recent events, the Inner Sphere has found the Homeworlds. A survey ship was captured over Huntress late last year and it has persuaded Khan Showers of the Smoke Jaguars to propose that we should invade the Inner Sphere and restore the Star League now."

She very much doubted that this was a secret from anyone here, but some might have missed a detail and it never hurt to ensure that everyone was on the same page.

"Our Clan Council and every Caste Council has put the matter to vote, and we voted to back Showers' motion." Not strictly necessary, but it was generally wise for a Khan to ensure momentous decisions had the backing of their Clan. "The majority of the Grand Council is of a like mind and also elected Leo Showers as our ilKhan, to lead the invasion."

Seeing discontent on the faces of some of the warriors, she shook her head. "Perhaps I should have put myself forward. However, there were already many putting Yvonne Hazen forward as a candidate and to divide the matter further would only have invited disunity. When she chose to refuse the nomination, the matter was settled. Hazen has since stepped down as senior Khan and her replacement, Elias Crichell is the... mastermind behind the invasion plan."

Carlos Hutchinson leant forwards. "A Jade Falcon, planning?"

Beside Virgilia, Roderick leant forwards. "You have faced him, Duke. What do you think of Crichell?"

Duke Topi's response was measured, emotionless and terse. "Little."

Carlos shook his head in amusement at his fellow Galaxy Commander's laconic nature. "Can you elaborate on that?"

"He is a politician first and a warrior second. He grasps strategy, but delegates tactics and logistics. Nor did he take the field personally." The commander of Gamma Prime Galaxy might as well have been discussing what he had eaten for breakfast.

"That is accurate to my own impressions," Virgilia agreed before Carlos could ask further. "He proposed to invade with four Clans in the lead, a fifth as reserve  - and that only after Niamh Sukhanov suggested three Clans would be rash."

"If the right Clans were selected," Carlos asserted, "That could be two hundred Clusters. Not enough to occupy all of the Inner Sphere, but potentially to seize the major political and industrial worlds..." He trailed off. "I take it that that was not the plan in detail, quineg?"

"Neg. Crichell proposes a world-hopping campaign from the vicinity of Rasalhague and then broadly following the traditional Lyran-Draconian border until reaching Terra. Planning after that point he considers premature." Virgilia made a face. "Given the bidding that has taken place only Clan Wolf will be fielding more than three galaxies, and then only four. Neither reasoned argument nor a Trial of Refusal has persuaded the IlKhan or Grand Council to do more than accept an increased reserve of three Clans."

There was a pregnant pause and then Chief Technician Shen rose to his feet, removing his antiquated spectacles and polishing them briefly on his tunic. "My Khan, as I am no warrior, I ask for an informed assessment of the likely outcome."

She nodded and then made a beckoning gesture to one of the younger civilians in the room. Scientist Kimball rose as Shen sat down, stepping out in front of the rest of the Clan. He was as trim as one of the warriors and Virgilia knew from personal experience in the practise salles that Kimball maintained a high level of proficiency in unarmed combat. If he had managed the same in a cockpit then he might well have been a Star Colonel by now, perhaps achieving a bloodname. The warrior caste's loss, the scientists' gain - he was a ristar of the military-scientist subcaste.

"It is possible for the proposed Operation Revival to reach Terra," Kimball declared. "The chances are about even according to our estimation, depending on which Clans participate and their logistical preparations. However, if they do reach Terra, they will be worn down, both in equipment, in warriors fit for service and in supplies. The region occupied will have borders five hundred light years long - sparsely garrisoned, if at all. And the supply lines will stretch fifteen hundred light years... further than the SLDF ever attempted."

"The Inner Sphere would be mad not to take advantage. Unless they misread the situation so severely that they throw everything they have directly into the path of the invasion, they will have ample reserves to retake worlds and most likely Terra, using their far shorter training cycles and supply lines to overwhelm the Invasion force. It will be painfully expensive for them in lives and equipment, but it is a price they can afford and in victory they will gain access to our equipment and captured personnel. The advantage of surprise would have been lost, which will be followed by the loss of our technical advantage. It is impossible to judge whether the exact location of our Homeworlds would be discovered, but they would almost certainly have an approximation. The long term consequences of which..." Kimball spread his hands helplessly. "Depend heavily on the politics of the Inner Sphere. The most I can say is that they would drastically reduce the chances of a later invasion."

Virgilia nodded in agreement and the young scientist retreated gratefully.

"So," she announced. "The invasion plan is a disaster waiting to happen and more pertinently will effectively eliminate any likely success in a second attempt. Further, the Clan has voted overwhelmingly to invade and while the overall Trial to Refuse the plan failed, our Clan was successful in our own part of the Trial, so a case could be made that we are not bound by the outcome."

Roderick cracked a slight smile. "So since we have only a brief interval of opportunity, we have decided that we shall obey the dictates of Clan Council and invade ourselves. With no reference to Crichell's Operation Revival."

There was a shout of approval from Carlos, who seemed to care little that few others in the room were so quick to judge.

"It is possible that the invasion will still fail," the saKhan admitted unflinchingly. "But if we do nothing then it will fail. And a competently executed invasion should at least force the Inner Sphere's forces to divert some of their forces away from Operation Revival and secure a foothold that they cannot easily retake. Ideally, we can present a facade of strength such that they are inclined to come to terms, granting the Clans time to secure enclaves in the Inner Sphere that do something to counter the massive imbalance in resources between our homeworlds and the Successor States."

"Is there no possibility that we could succeed in re-establishing the Star League?" asked the administrator of the Brim enclaves. "If this is our only opportunity..."

Virgilia could see generations of aspirations in the eyes directed to her. She returned a crooked smile. "Define re-establish the Star League?" she responded.

"Well, remove the Successor lords and bring the worlds under our government?" the woman asked, sounding uncertain.

Duke Topi shook his head sharply. "Neg. Impossible."

Virgilia nodded in agreement. "Perhaps if had ten years more years to prepare, or if all the Clans participated. Even the former is in doubt as the Inner Sphere's technological recovery is accelerating. They have at least limited recovery of Star League technology, similar to that of the cached SLDF hardware still in use within our Sentinel Clusters."

She let that sink in. "It is possible that if we wound them badly enough that the Successor Lords will reform the Star League Council and that we could demand a place at the table, but that is optimistic and depends on political factors we cannot count on in any way."

"Then is there any point in our invading at all?" asked the administrator, her face despondent. "If we cannot win..."

"We cannot win now. But we can build the foundations for a later success. The least bad option. It is... sub-optimal," Roderick admitted. "But the alternative is to do nothing and let the consequences of the ilKhan's arrogance fall upon us anyway, which is far worse."

"Remember, the Councils have voted." Virgilia tapped her knuckles against the desk. "It is binding upon us that we will invade. The only question is how."

She activated a control on the desk and the lights dimmed, a hologram appearing between the Khans and those in the briefing room. "Before the Absorption War, Khan Gerrick N'Buta began a search for a planet we could use as a base closer to the Inner Sphere. We ultimately located a suitable world for colonisation here, not far from the Chainelane worlds."

If the Smoke Jaguars hadn't captured that Inner Sphere jumpship, invading the fractious states of that star cluster was something Virgilia had planned to press the Clan Council for. It would have been excellent practise for the later invasion and greatly expanded the population and resources of the Star Adders.

"The bulk of our touman and personnel from all the castes to support them will be shipped to Sheridan as quickly as possible. There is little more than a year before Operation Revival begins so the timetable will be challenging, but doable if we are to then move our forces forward to the forward bases we have secured closer to the Inner Sphere..."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

marauder648

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #4 on: 24 March 2020, 15:28:22 »
Very interesting and off to a damn good start! If this is going to be as good as Scorpio Ascendant  I can't wait to read more :)
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Daryk

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #5 on: 24 March 2020, 18:36:09 »
Still not a clan fan, but I saw Drakensis was writing it, so I'm checking it out.  Just finished the first post, and have detected an oversight in the Adders' planning: AMARIS tried to conquer the whole enchilada.  He failed utterly, but DID try.  He actually thought he could get the House Lords to fall in line... heh.  That said, at least SOMEONE other than the Wolves is looking at the true scale of the problem.

Takiro

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #6 on: 24 March 2020, 18:37:20 »
This is a good one, for sure. :)

alkemita

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #7 on: 24 March 2020, 18:50:56 »
Drakensis is back! At least something's going right in the world.  :)

Daryk

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #8 on: 24 March 2020, 19:17:19 »
I can't agree with that enough!  :thumbsup:

DOC_Agren

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #9 on: 25 March 2020, 20:16:33 »
 :thumbsup:
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Tyler Jorgensson

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #10 on: 26 March 2020, 08:22:43 »
Following :)

SulliMike23

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #11 on: 26 March 2020, 13:38:36 »
I like how you're taking this version of your Star Adder story. But the fact that the Star Adders absorbed the Cloud Cobras? When did that happen!?

Auberan

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #12 on: 26 March 2020, 17:00:18 »
Likely when they started investigating the Tanite worlds, and discovered they were a hotbed of Dark Caste recruiting and trading, and pretty much utterly not a pacified and assimilated Clan world.

Seydlitz

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #13 on: 27 March 2020, 00:18:37 »
Very interesting, the Star Adders pre-3060 always seemed to be the Clan that most closely thought like a professional military.

After reading this, I'm hoping you'll revisit you're "A Victorian Age" story. I really enjoyed reading what you had written of it. :D

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #14 on: 28 March 2020, 13:09:58 »
Chapter Two

College of Military Science, NAIS
New Avalon, Federated Suns
20 May 3049

The 'Mech hangars buried underneath the classrooms and dorms of what many alumni still called the New Avalon Military Academy were busier than usual. The graduation of a new class of mechwarriors meant that the portion of the class who owned their own 'Mechs needed them prepped for transport to their new assignment - and the rigors of the final examinations made it impractical to do so ahead of time.

Kai Allard-Liao paused to let a forklift carrying an entire heat converter assembly go past him before he headed on towards the 'Mech bay where his own ride was stored. Wendy Sylvester wouldn't be here - he'd timed it carefully to arrive after the handful of cadets assigned to units stationed on New Avalon like the Davion Heavy Guards had been sent on. That dropship had departed at the crack of dawn on a sub-orbital hop for the continent of New Brunswick - the busy traffic over the capital of an interstellar empire wasn't accommodating of delays.

His own dropship wasn't scheduled for another forty-eight hours and a nice mind-numbing day of checking every armor panel on the sixty-ton Rifleman sounded like just the thing to keep regrets at bay.

Kai's father had taught him to check such matters for himself, not depend on technicians. The lessons had included the tale of a duel that had proven far more challenging than expected due to the failure of an autocannon. Sabotage, in that case, but for all the size and power of a BattleMech, they could be finicky and simple technician error or FOD - foreign object damage - was sometimes as bad as intentional damage.

Not that he expected anything to go wrong here, the techs working at NAIS were the best in the Federated Commonwealth and probably the entire Inner Sphere, not to mention security vetted. Even the final year tech-cadets allowed to work on actual 'Mechs had training (if not the practical experience) on par with crew chiefs in most 'Mech units.

More than that, in some cases, with advanced courses preparing some of them to work on classified equipment not yet ready for widespread deployment.

But still, it would keep Kai busy, both in hands and mind. And ease the work schedule of the technical staff, which might not be his first reason but would also at least not leave him looking like one of the stereotypical 'mech-jocks who just expected their 'Mechs to be ready and weren't interested in the work needed to make that happen.

He'd seen that habit broken, forcibly, in some of his better-born classmates. Fortunately his parents had made sure he never developed it. Less fortunately, he'd been cited as an example. After all, if the heir to a sovereign duchy could...

No, he didn't want to think on that. He should focus on the -

Kai came around the last corner.

- Archer stood in the 'Mechbay. What the hell? Had he got turned around somehow?

The Archer, a blocky seventy-ton fire support design, gave no answers. It was a fine 'Mech, but not his father's Rifleman. Kai checked the bay number. Yeah, this was it.

God, had he lost the 'Mech? Some bureaucratic SNAFU?

There was a giggle from his left and Kai turned, still slack-jawed in surprise, seeing the source.

"Break our cover, why dontcha?" Cassandra exclaimed, swatting at Quintus as the pair emerged from the next 'Mech bay along. The boy danced away and then ran over to hug Kai around the waist.

"Quint, Cass..." Kai rested his hands around his little brother's head as their eldest sister put her hands on her hips. "I thought you'd be on your way back to St Ives by now." The same demanding air traffic schedule that allowed him to avoid Wendy had sent the ships bound for St Ives off in the middle of the night.

Two more graceful figures followed Cassandra out, the fourth Allard-Liao child only a half-step behind their mother. "I am pleased that you are keeping track of dropships, son." Formal gown and cloak should have seemed out of place here in the 'Mech hangars but Candace Liao made them no more than backdrop as she stepped close and kissed Kai on the cheek. "However, if you had penetrated the security of our movements rather than merely the transportation, you would know that we will be visiting Kestrel for the summer. Your grandfather's family see little enough of us as it is."

Of course. That was careless of him, Kai castigated himself. A reason for the giggle presented itself to him. "Did you move my 'Mech, Quint?"

The boy nodded but their mother shook her head slightly. "A half-point, my son. Though Quintus did indeed take the cockpit. Your father and I have had discussion before he had to leave for Tharkad with the First Prince and we do not believe that you should take Legendkiller with you to the Tenth Lyran Guards."

Oh. Of course. It was a dull ache, but it made sense now. The Rifleman was a priceless legacy of Justin Xiang Allard's mentor on Solaris VII, the 'Mech of the legendary seven-time champion of that game world. Allowing him to use it in the academy was already honour enough. To let Kai take it out into actual service...

His mother pursed her lips in disappointment. "I had wanted to provide you with one of the new VTR-9Ds being built by HildCo - if it is good enough for Prince Victor then it may suffice for you. However..." She shrugged slightly. "It is a father's prerogative, I suppose."

"Well if you have one spare..." Cassandra hinted, with a laugh.

"When I am sure you are safe with Vindicator, I may consider it," said Candace in a tone of cool reproof. Then she stepped back and turned, Kuan-yin still holding position beside her, gesturing for Kai to join them.

He obeyed, giving the younger twin a quick hug around the shoulders as he reached them.

"I don't get a hug?" protested Cassandra.

Kai gave her a wry look. "I see that camera, Cass."

"Uh, camera?" She held up one empty hand, then dropped it back behind her back and held up the other, also innocent of any camera.

"You're wearing a fanny pack."

"I'm sorry, but your face deserved it."

Even the reserved Kuan-yin smiled at that. It probably had been pretty funny, Kai thought, if you weren't the one having a panic-attack over a priceless piece of family history going missing.

"While Quintus moved Legendkiller, it was Cassandra who brought in your new 'Mech," their mother advised.

"In that case," Kai decided, trying to give an air of exaggerated consideration. "All is forgiven." Cassandra hugged him and then squawked as he ruffled her hair. "Well, maybe not all."

"Oi!" she yelled again as she saw he'd unzipped her pack and fished out the camera, bringing up the last shot.

Kai let her snatch it back and gave her a mocking grin. "Always guard yourself, you budding paparazzi."

"Low blow, bro! Low blow!"

Quintus grabbed Kai's hand and pulled him across to the bay. "Come and look, Kai."

He followed obediently, rounding the thick bulkhead that ensured that even a serious accident in one 'bay shouldn't impact on the machines next door.

What was waiting there was instantly familiar to him: a red-and-white painted Centurion battlemech. Lighter than a Rifleman, but with better protection -  a 'Mech that operated as a brawler, not in the supporting role of the other 'Mech. "I think you will have your father's knack for finding trouble," the Duchess of St Ives said in a resigned voice. "But this 'Mech got him out of trouble so I shall entrust you to it."

"But... this is Dad's 'Mech?"

"And now I have an excuse to insist he stay safely behind his desk. Do not take that away from me, son." Her voice took the sting out of the words. "You will notice some differences from how it appeared the last time you saw it."

Details were jumping out at him already. "You replaced the autocannon?"

"Yes. Hildco fitted a Poland Model A Gauss Cannon," his mother informed him. "The same arm-gun used in their new Victor, which fits nicely since the Pontiac 100 your father carried there was intended for a Victor anyway. We had to bring it here for Corean to replace the reactor though." That admission seemed almost painful to her, admitting that her beloved homeworld didn't have the technical ability yet to match the Federated Suns.

"One of the new extralight GM reactors?" Kai knew that the manufacturers of the Centurion, based right here on New Avalon, were fitting new production of the design with much more powerful engines.

Cass nodded eagerly. "I wanted to take it out on the known distance range, but they're still clearing it up from exams. But just bringing it in here, Yen-lo-wang almost dances, Kai! You won't believe the difference!"

Kuan-yin lowered her head. "That might be the myomers, sister."

"It all helps!"

"Myomers?"

Candace nodded. "Your father deceived my father into fitting the Red Lancers and House Imarra's mechs with triple-strength myomers that gave improved performance... but that are vulnerable to certain gasses. Our intelligence is that Romano has now pressed her scientists into devising a version that lacks that flaw, so we obtained a set to study and a second one for you to use. Top secret, so keep it in reserve for when you really need it."

"I... I don't know what to say."

"You make us very proud, Kai." His mother swept up to him and embraced him fiercely. "We didn't actually manage to steal it," she warned so quietly he could barely hear it. "This is the old stuff, but so long as no one knows it, it should be safe."

And so the dance goes on, he realised. If his aunt, Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation, knew that he was using the flawed myomers, she'd probably ensure that someone attacked while using the gas that would make them a deathtrap. But if she thought his parents had simply stolen one of her newest military technologies then they, not he, would be the target of assassins.

Which would change nothing. The hatred between Romano Liao and his mother went back to their childhood. And if her feelings for Justin Allard were more recent, they were far more vicious.

Once again, his parents were standing between Kai and harm. And the Maskirovka would only need to succeed once, while the security around his family had to do so every time.

I need to get away, he thought as Candace let go of him. Before I let them down.

S A S

Markham, Stacha
Tanis System, Clan Homeworlds
21 February 3049

The comm in the barracks was set to a Diamond Shark news channel, transmitting from Strana Mechty as Costigan left the showers. He gave the holodisplay a look as he passed and there were formations of lights.

"What is that? Some artsy thing?"

That got him looks from the other warriors present, and not particularly welcoming ones. Of course, he was the junior warrior here in the transient barracks - the only graduate of his sibko's mechwarrior course. Welcoming looks were something saved for people who weren't upstart threats to the pecking order.

"The invasion force is leaving," one of the mechwarriors condescended to explain. Grieg was somewhat less of a pain in the posterior than the others, perhaps through natural disposition.

Costigan blinked and gave the holo another look. Oh, dropships. He wasn't used to seeing them form up like that - usually they just headed for the jump-point in whatever order they took off, or at most a handful of ships travelled in loose formation if a large force or shipment was involved. But there were dozens of lights. "Is that all of them?" He'd heard that Khan Truscott had said that the other Clans were taking the invasion far too lightly, but a few dozen dropships seemed... wrong.

The older mechwarrior gave him a sour look. "Neg, just an advance force from the four Clans taking the lead. Have you been ignoring the news?"

He felt his face heat in embarrassment. "Aff. They talk of nothing else... and I had my trial and then rehabilitation." It had not been the most successful trial of position ever - a laser pulse from his second opponent had hit his cockpit in their first exchange of fire. He wasn't sure if it had been deliberate - some of his trainers had been older warriors that questioned the... value of the mix of Mongoose genes into House Riaz.

On some level, Costigan could understand that sentiment. Clan Mongoose had been absorbed by the Smoke Jaguars almost two centuries ago, their genetic heritage only preserved in a handful of bloodlines that Clan Cloud Cobra had won. And there hundreds of unblooded warriors, eager to have their chance at seeing their gene-children born so the decision of the bloodhouse's scientists to use an older legacy rankled with many.

But that didn't mean having a replacement leg grown and needing to learn to walk again was less of a pain.

Grieg planted his right fist against the flat of his left hand for a moment. "That which did not kill you," he said noncommittally. "The other Clans are not entirely mad. These advanced parties will seize periphery worlds near the edge of the Inner Sphere, as well as seeding HPG buoys and surveying for suitable worlds to use as waypoints as they make their way. It will ease the passage of their main flotillas."

"Just that of their own Clans," grumbled one of the others. "The reserve Clans will have to make their own way, quiaff."

Costigan considered that and then smiled slightly. "Aff... save that the Diamond Sharks may find that data somehow and sell it to the Blood Spirits and Steel Vipers."

That got a sharp laugh from Greig. "Aff. The merchant clan are not blind to the value of information or the demands of shipping."

There was a chime from someone's personal comm and after a few seconds' search, Star Commander Alaric dug his own out. "Provisional Star Sierra-Tango-Seventeen," he announced laconically. "Assemble in the 'Mech hangar."

Costigan straightened - he was assigned to Star ST-17 until formal assignment to a regular Cluster came through. Perhaps because of his wound, he had been waiting more than a week. "Have we been bid for something, quiaff?"

The Star Commander laughed. "Neg. Neg. Every warrior in the Clans is watching the holos today. No one is launching trials. But our labourer brethren are overworked and there are spare 'Mechs with hands."

There was a moan from Grieg. "More loading dropships?"

Alaric opened his locker and pulled out a piloting suit, lined with cooling filaments. "Aff. But look on the bright side, Grieg. With the amount of supplies we are loading, the Khans must have some kind of plan in mind."

"Perhaps to deal with the Hellions," someone suggested as the other warriors headed for their lockers with no particular enthusiasm.

Grieg shrugged his own piloting suit, pulling the locker door aside so that it wasn't blocking Costigan's. "We can only hope."

Clan Ice Hellion had not done well in the Trials for places in Operation Revival, knocked out in the second round of combat by the Goliath Scorpions and Fire Mandrills. They'd been swarming out of their enclaves ever since, trialling for possession of almost anything they could find with no rhyme or reason that Costigan had heard anyone explain satisfactorily. The Star Adders' enclave on Arcadia had fought off an attempt to seize several valuable mines but not every Clan had been as successful.

Someone was going to have to put them back in their place, and if the Star Adders were that someone... Costigan shrugged his piloting suit into place and zipped it up. Well, that would be a chance to catch the eye of someone in Bloodhouse Riaz. Sponsorship for a bloodname was the next logical step if he wanted to advance in the Clan.

The hangars were bustling as the five of them entered, a harried looking technician holding a datapaid. "Star Commander Alaric?"

"Aff."

"Sir, we have two Mules to load today and all our loader 'Mechs are already committed."

Alaric nodded. "You want us to use the Duellist 'Mechs to load non-fragiles."

The technician nodded. "The Khans have set a rigorous schedule and we have no wish to let them down."

"The Duellists have hands but limited lift capacity," the Star Commander declared. "We may be more effective freeing up larger loader 'Mechs."

Costigan cleared his throat. "Star Commander, there are Chameleon training 'Mechs at the training facility. They can carry twice as much as a Duellist."

For a moment he thought that he had overstepped his mark but then Alaric gave him a thin smile. "Service to the Clan, Warrior Costigan." He activated his comm and began searching for comm codes. "And some labor for the sake of the Clan will give the cadets some useful practise."

Three hours later, Costigan was regretting his suggestion, since he'd been assigned four Mechwarrior cadets perhaps six months his junior and highly resentful that they had been pulled out of gunnery practise to work as glorified loader mech drivers. Particularly as Alaric made a point of telling them it had been Costigan's idea.

How to motivate them...

He considered his credit allocation, much higher as a warrior than as a mere cadet and with fewer purchasing restrictions. Well, it wasn't as if he was using it for anything. "If we get the dropships loaded on time - with no breakages," he added hastily. "Then I will arrange some beer for you."

"We are not allowed beer," one young woman protested.

"You are not allowed to purchase beer," Costigan dismissed the restriction. "There is no regulation against drinking it if a warrior gives it to you."

The dropships lifted on time, the cadets got their beer and Costigan got yelled at by Alaric, passing on the ass-chewing the trainers had given the Star Commander. But assignment orders arrived that evening, so at least there were no ill-feelings in the barracks as they racked out for the night.

S A S

Absalom Hall, Sheridan
Kerensky Cluster, Clan Homeworlds
14 June 3049

Virgilia studied the icons hovering over the map of the Clan's enclaves. There were far too few of them. "If the Ice Hellions come..."

Much to everyone's surprise, Khan Stephen Tyler had died suddenly while inspecting an enclave seized from the Smoke Jaguars. Embarrassingly for the Hellions. it hadn't even been a formal trial against another Clan. Instead, a bandit group had struck before the Hellions had themselves organised and both the Khans had been in exactly the wrong place at the right time.

With Tyler dead and his saKhan Danielle Lienet critically wounded, the Hellions had needed new leaders in a hurry and elected a young and ambitious Asa Taney. Given that Taney had distinguished himself in the 'Hellion's Fury', further challenges to enclaves across the Homeworlds seemed likely.

Roderick shrugged helplessly at his Khan's concern. "Tabitha will have to manage."

There was simply nothing else they could do. The simple fact was that invading the Inner Sphere would require eight of their ten prime Galaxies and holding any substantial area of space would demand almost every Sentinel Cluster that the Star Adders could field.

Even after years of building up, heavy recruitment (including launching Trials of Possession for suitable warriors that other Clans wanted to retire) and doing everything in their power to discourage older warriors from considering their service ended, the Clan could still field only a hundred and twenty such clusters.

Fortunately half of them were already on Sinclair, as much to hide their extent from the other Clans as to ease the mammoth issues in conveying tens of thousands of warriors towards the Inner Sphere. But now that the shipping was underway...

A mere eighteen clusters were left to guard the Star Adder enclaves. Anyone hitting the Tanis system would find nothing but raw trainees and the aged, equipped with 'Mechs and rifles built to serve against Stefan Amaris almost three hundred years earlier.

Three clusters, albeit the best that Kappa could field, were all that remained of the usual mighty force guarding the Clans' capital here on Sheridan - although if absolutely necessary, one of the two 'mothballed' naval stars could be activated. The other star - orbiting Arcadia - had long since been stripped to the point that the ships were little more than scrap. The rest of the defense forces were scattered across eight more worlds - Beta Galaxy was spread particularly thin with a single frontline cluster on Strana Mechty and the rest split between the Arcadia and Babylon enclaves.

"We can only hope," the Khan conceded.

"Tabitha is more than capable. And we should both be within HPG contact - at least until we reach the Inner Sphere itself."

After that, Roderick wasn't sure. According to the plan, he'd stay in contact as much as he could, supplementing pre-recorded announcements with new ones filmed from Sinclair or dropships to give the appearance that he was - unlike the other twenty-nine Khans - still in the homeworlds.

Virgilia had obviously followed his thinking. "The less the Grand Council have cause to think of you, the better."

The IlKhan's thinking in encouraging the entire Council to accompany the invasion force was obvious: avoid a repeat of the Hellions' tantrum by keeping the leaders of the Clans under his thumb. Showers had come very close to making Roderick's presence a direct order, which would have been very close to a disaster. Having even one of the Khans absent during the largest military action the Star Adders had ever attempted was bad enough.

"I will be the very soul of discretion," he assured her. "As far as the other Clans are concerned, I might as well not even be on Sheridan."

She threw back her head and laughed. "With you, they may believe that. They never would if it was I."

Roderick adjusted the display and military units vanished to be replaced by industrial figures of each enclave. "Tabitha and I have discussed which enclaves are most important to retain. With so little shipping left here, our merchants will be hard pressed to maintain a semblance of normal trade. We have no margin to move tooling and consolidate our manufacturing."

"As well that we are relying on Sinclair as a source for everything then." Virgilia stalked around the display moving her finger through it to touch Marshall, probably their least secure holding. Despite a population of less than twenty million between Marshall instead and the out-system moon Diamondstar, five other Clans shared the system with the Star Adders. "If you must decide then move the workers and worry about tooling later. With skilled workers, we can build new tooling far faster than the reverse."

"If we can."

"If Tabitha can." She didn't look at him across the hologram. If the Ice Hellions, or another Clan, realised how weak their defenses were, then their entire holdings in the Homeworlds might crumble and Sinclair might have to become the heart of the Clan. "We must trust her to do all that can be done. If we lose everything but Sheridan, we can survive." Half the Clan's civilian population lived on their capital.

Roderick nodded. "You may need to make a hasty departure if the Grand Council takes our actions... poorly."

"Short of bringing a warship along, I will be as prepared for that as I can be. A full aerospace trinary - and more importantly, the goodwill of the Blood Spirits."

Virgilia was taking a Titan-class dropship as her transportation - and a Monolith-class jumpship, carrying eight cargo dropships full of munitions and other consumables. The Blood Spirits had immediately recognised her reasoning and accepted her request to travel with their flotilla. It wasn't taking much away from the touman - most of the supplies were of types that the Star Adders made relatively little use of and the freighters were ancient ships that had barely passed certification when they were uncached. They likely wouldn't hold up to the intensive use of supporting the campaign, but all they would have to do now was remain docked to Virgilia's jumpship until the Blood Spirits declared a Trial of Possession for them.

Finally, the Khan looked up. "There is something wrong here. You are leading our Clan into battle, while I am going to be entangled in politics."

He smiled at her frustration. "That is the custom of many Clans. The Khan commands, while the saKhan leads in the field."

"We are not other Clans."

Roderick was reminded suddenly that Virgilia was younger than he. "Well, I am only going to be liberating the Spheroids from the Successor Lords. You will be doing battle against the greatest threat to the invasion."

Her eyes locked on his. "You are speaking treason, Roderick."

"Am I wrong, Virgilia?"

She did not reply directly. "I will join you as soon as I can. Watching one of the other Clans make a mess of this will be demoralizing."

"Stick with Clan Wolf then. Kerensky is the best prepared."

"Oh yes. I might kill the Khans of another Clan, for their foolishness."

"You will not tempt me to switch positions with you by threatening their lives."

"I had to try."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

  • Lieutenant
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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #15 on: 28 March 2020, 13:10:44 »
CBSWS Unity
Deep Periphery
7 July 3049

Virgilia was able to count the warships waiting at the rendezvous with her naked eye, mountains of metal that for the most part exceeded half a million tons each. The display was a daunting one, but also one that puzzled at her.

"I was aware that the Jade Falcons had a large fleet, but I thought most were aged Aegis-class cruisers," she observed to John Yanez, who was serving as her guide aboard the Blood Spirit cruiser.

He smiled down at her from his imposing height. "So this is what it is like to be the one 'in the know'. I see why your Clan enjoy it so much."

"The Coyotes do not call us Smug Snakes for no reason," the Khan agreed cheerfully. "But it is not hard to know more than they do, and they know better than to call us that to our faces."

"Do they? I thought Khan Steele..."

"She called me a 'sneaking snake'. Educating them on avoiding that phrase is a work in progress."

"They are not the most co-operative of Clans," Yanez agreed diplomatically. "For your edification, Clan Jade Falcon have contracted for Clan Snow Raven to assign ten warships to support their invasion."

Virgilia gave him a baffled look. "Why? The Inner Sphere have made no use of warships for centuries. A few wrecks remain and I suppose that it is possible that new warships could have been constructed since the Dragoons' last report, but not in enough numbers to demand this sort of deployment."

The elemental nodded in agreement. "Indeed. Thus we have brought only the Unity and her two escorts."

"A piece of our Clans' shared history," Virgilia agreed.

The Unity wasn't quite as old as the Aegis-class ships that Virgilia had mentioned a moment before. The Terran Hegemony had built the ship - then named Constanineau - as one of the Avatar-class, a replacement for the Aegis-class, and it had served both the Hegemony and then the Star League for two centuries, before being mothballed. Restored to service by Amaris the Usurper and briefly renamed Taborri Amaris, Constanineau had been recaptured by the SLDF and restored to her original name and purpose. She and her remaining sister-ships had joined the Exodus, only to be mothballed again on arrival.

Following the Dragoon Compromise, Clan Snow Raven had rebuilt one of the Avatar-class into what they called the Liberator-class, and accepted contracts from other Clans to similarly refit the other five. Constanineau had been paid for by Clan Burrock, who then paid extra to rush the completion so she could be sent against the Blood Spirits in the Absorption War.

Instead, Clan Star Adder had used a regular shipment to the Snow Raven shipyards to cover for bringing in two trinaries of Blood Spirit elementals and hastily assembled prize crews. The two Essex-class destroyers that still served as the cruiser's escorts today had been captured as they arrived to collect the Constanineau and - with their losses replaced by volunteers from the Star Adder warriors present, the two trinaries had launched a successful Trial of Possession, taking the cruiser and her crew of 350 out from under the eyes of the Snow Ravens. The three ships were trophies of the war, the cruiser renamed in honour of the alliance that had eventually triumphed over the Cloud Cobras and Burrocks.

"I regret that I was too young then to participate in those glorious battles," John said, resting one hand on the thick viewport. "But at least with you present, we may have the chance to fight together."

"Khan Irons has advised that I accompany Clan Wolf once the invasion begins," Virgilia confirmed. "But should you be activated to fight, I would be glad to join you on the battlefield."

"If the opportunity should arise, I would be glad to bid you and your escort as part of our forces."

She grinned eagerly at the idea. "Something to look forward to!"

"Alas, I will have to bid very ambitiously with the rest of my forces. I fear you would be valued well above any other Mechwarrior save perhaps our own Khan." The elemental shrugged his broad shoulders, suggesting the prospect did not disturb him. "You have brought an OmniMech, I hope? I know that the bulk of your escort are pilots."

"My Pillager is stored in the cargo hold of our jumpship. Do not worry, the gyro is programmed to allow for elementals being carried."

Yanez's smile widened. "Ah. The same 'Mech that brought down Khan Steele?"

"Yes." Virgilia heard the hatch open and began to turn as she finished: "I am sure that having her fine omnimech brought low by an 'obsolete' battlemech will have done wonders in reducing her pride to more tolerable levels."

"I must disagree. She remains as full of herself as ever." Karianna Schmitt closed the hatch behind her. "Khan Truscott, I regret I could not welcome you aboard earlier. Khan Crichell was insistent upon my time."

Virgilia gave the Blood Spirit ruler a tight smile. "Anything of import?"

"I believe he is concerned that worlds taken by his Clan may be targeted for possession by the warriors of the reserve Clans." Karianna found her way to a seat and folded her legs up beneath it to hold her in place in the zero gravity. "Not an entirely unjustified concern, given that warriors who see no action can be prone to... initiative. But he will have to take those worlds first so he is... premature."

The younger Khan gave Karianna an arched look, a wordless question.

She got a slight nod. "Not that I have personal experience, of course."

"At least you have taste, Khan Schmitt." The invasion forces weren't moving entirely blindly across the Periphery - one of the major tasks of the advance parties was to pick out waypoints like this one - stars that gave the best recharging times and also had at least marginally habitable worlds that could be used to stockpile supplies and support rescue ships of any jumpships experienced drive failures.

Because only the invading Clans had sent advance forces, they had chosen the waypoints and the three reserve Clans had little choice but to use them until they could set up their own. It would have been naive to think that they would not try to secure some advantage from this.

Schmitt gestured with one hand. "I have received a proposal from one of my officers to address this... frustration."

Virgilia pushed off from the viewport and crossed the compartment to the other Khan. "Something that will not ruffle Falcon feathers, quineg?"

"Neg. That is my hope." The woman frowned slightly. "There is a cluster of inhabited systems anti-spinward of us - the Chainlaine Isle. Our information is limited, but they are described as fragmented... resembling the Pentagon before our ancestors return to those worlds."

"I see. And you propose to let your warriors vent some of their excess energy against those worlds?"

"My information is limited," Karianna repeated. "Strategically their location is useful. Four or five jumps from the Inner Sphere. Closer to some of the Periphery worlds being targeted by the advance forces. It could be a foothold for us and a relatively simple conquest."

"There are ten systems." John Yanez observed quietly. "Kerensky used four clusters for each of the Pentagon worlds, a Galaxy in practical purposes. We have three galaxies, so taking all ten may be more challenging than advocates of this plan admit."

For a moment, Virgilia felt tempted to try to deter the Blood Spirits. This was her project, the invasion that she had planned even before she became Khan, almost as long as she'd known of Sinclair and the other preparations for the eventual return to the Inner Sphere. But that was foolish. One Clan alone, even her Clan, could not do everything.

I am thinking like Showers or Crichell, she condemned herself.

"You are correct, John," she assured him. "However, the divisions of the Chainelane systems are such that it might not be necessary to take all of the systems. In fact, doing so would be detrimental for reasons beyond overstretching your forces."

"How so?" asked Karianna intently.

"As reserves, you could be called on at any time. If your forces are over-committed to invading these worlds and the ilKhan activates you, you would be a few jumps from the Inner Sphere and perhaps significantly further from where you are needed. Not so far as if you were still in the homeworlds, but still..."

Yanez grunted thoughtfully. "You mentioned their fragmentation. Are you suggesting that we take only part of the Isle?"

"Aff. The invasion is only the first part. You would also need to hold whatever enclaves you secure. And it will demands supplies and a constant diversion of forces to garrison it. However, the Chainelane states are unlikely to unite against you unless you appear to threaten all of them. If you were to invade... hmm." This was a reversal of her own plan, which began at the anti-spinward end of the cluster, the worlds nearest Sinclair. "Ingvolstand is the closest world to supply lines. Or Vannes, which is closest to the Federated Commonwealth and the Jade Falcon's invasion corridor. You need not even take the entire world at once. In fact, a small foothold would serve your logistical needs and could be expanded by targeting one faction at a time, as opportunities present themselves."

The two Blood Spirits beamed. "And it gives us an endpoint for our own supply lines," Schmitt pointed out. "If Operation Revival succeeds... I understand you feel it will not but if it does."

"Then you will be well placed to carve out further enclaves in the Inner Sphere." Virgilia tipped her head in acknowledgement. "If the invasion does succeed then Clans who do so will be at a significant advantage over those who do not."

Yanez gave his Khan a quick look. She returned it and then nodded.

"Some thought has been made to inviting Clan Diamond Shark to join us in this endeavour," the elemental said, somewhat diffidently. "Like ourselves, they will not be activated until the Steel Vipers have been."

"Logical. Khan Hawker will probably not be interested." His only interest seemed to be in following Crichell and Showers around like a puppy. "But Khan Sennet..."

"Exactly." He nodded sharply. "However, since this is separate from the invasion we could also offer to contract forces outside of our Invasion bid. If we and the Sharks took Ingvolstand, we might offer another Clan we have good relations with a contract whereby they take Vannes for us, with half of that world as their share. And then that Clan..."

"You would offer us a part of the conquests?"

"And thus place you ahead of other Clans in the Homeworlds," confirmed the Blood Spirit Khan.

Oh how awkward, Virgilia thought. This would be perfect... could I...? She thought for a moment. No, by the time that forces could plausibly have arrived from the Homeworlds, the frontline elements to carry out such an operation would all need to be over a hundred light years for Roderick's own operations. More importantly, the shipping would be completely out of position.

The Blood Spirits were watching her, anticipating approval and acceptance.

Virgilia took a deep breath. I should not lie to them. They are allies, if not ones I can give the full truth to. "You do us great honour," she said humbly and then gave them a sly smile. "However, I must decline."

Both faces fell but she held up her hand before they could speak. "The reason Khan Irons is not with me is that our Clan is pursuing a similar operation already, some distance anti-spinward." Technically true, both Sinclair and the planned invasion zone were anti-spinward of the Chaine Cluster, if significantly further rimward in the latter case. "As such, our available forces are already committed. I am sorry we cannot fight alongside you in this, but if we are successful, we may be able to trade resources with you to help you secure your hold in the Chainelaine and perhaps if all goes well, in the Inner Sphere as well."

Schmitt gave her a searching look. "Ah, ahead of us once more?"

"Since the ilKhan may be irate, I would prefer that you can honestly say that I have not confided in you." She shrugged. "But perhaps Clan Snow Raven, since they shall have warships in the area and will be familiar with the route, would be interested. They lacked the forces to fight in the invasion, but a more modest operation." And the Snow Ravens had been allied with the Blood Spirits for far longer than the Adders had been. It might upset the Diamond Sharks a little, but in the long run bringing more Clans into the vicinity of the Inner Sphere might tip the balance just a little.

S A S

CSADS Black Company
Deep Periphery
10 October 3049

Oskar wished - he dearly  wished - that he had been among the lucky few to be travelling with the leading elements of the Clan. Yes, they had spent more than half a year travelling aboard fourteen warships and military transports intended for occupancy measured in weeks, not months. But he would have gladly taken that over this.

Battlemechs, aerospace fighters, tanks, crates of equipment... none of these needed life support. So long as they were properly stowed, they could spend all that time in transit and it made little difference. Thus, they had been shipped first.

People, on the other hand, required air. Water. Food. Places for the eventual result of eating and drinking to be dealt with (Oskar tried not to think too hard about the recycling of water aboard the converted Mammoth dropship he was riding. He didn't always succeed.)

The Exodus had lasted two years and carried six million people to the Pentagon. Even with a less circuitous route, Clan Star Adder didn't have even a tenth of the resources, far less time and records strongly suggested that the SLDF had not been in any condition to fight a campaign when they reached their new home. That was clearly unacceptable.

Thus, trailing behind the leading elements of the invasion force was a long line of Invader and Odyssey-class jumpships.

The principle was simple and well understood - a dropship would be carried from one system to the next by a jumpship, then undock and connect to another jumpship, for the next step. Repeat over and over until you needed the destination. As long as you could afford to pre-position enough jumpships, a relatively small shipment could cross immense distances quite quickly.

Nine hundred or so light years might not be quite the longest command circuit ever attempted but it was surely a contender. The dropship Black Company had left the Tanis system two days ago and was expected to reach Sinclair in four more. So far so good.

Unfortunately, the personnel required for the invasion was something in excess of two hundred thousand - only around half of them warriors. The rest - technical specialists, administrators, their families (Jehovah as his witness, so many children!) - were civilians, most of whom had never travelled by dropship before.

The converted freighter crammed more than ten thousand of them aboard under conditions that were spartan even by military standards. And Oskar had twenty-four warriors besides himself to keep order.

"Is this yours?" he asked, trying not to snarl, as for the fourth time he handed a small child back to one of the fretting civilians.

"Thank you!" the woman exclaimed. "I was so worried." She hugged the child fiercely.

Given that the brat had managed to find (but fortunately not activate) the hatch into one of the escape pods, Oskar thought that those worries might be well founded. But saying so would not help.

"Can you not keep her from straying?" The child had escaped once in the first day, but this was the third time today.

The woman - a scientist - shrugged helplessly. "My partner is unwell."

Oskar rubbed his forehead, the flesh moving while the embedded circuitry of his Enhanced Imaging implants did not. He wasn't quite used to them, but it had strongly been hinted that requesting the cybernetics would lead to a more active posting in the invasion - at least among warriors in his age echelon. "Who else is in your cabin?"

"They are all sick," she said defensively. "Is jumping always like this."

Transit Disorientation Syndrome, Oskar recalled from his briefing. It was not entirely unknown among the warrior caste, but over centuries of careful breeding, it was extremely rare. And most who suffered from it were washed out of frontline postings. Civilians, on the other hand... gossip suggested that more than one in ten of those aboard were reacting to jumps with nausea for hours afterwards.

And the Black Company was jumping every three or four hours. Sedatives were having to be rationed.

Still, almost an entire cabin being affected... There were twenty adults to a cabin, with two children to a bunk where they were boarded. That was...

"Show me."

The woman guided him to a cabin - in truth, a cargo pod locked in place with crude bunks and facilities fitted. The moment the hatch opened, a wave of odours hit Oskar like a club. He could suddenly understand the girl's desire to leave it at every opportunity. A dozen bunks were occupied, most of them clutching buckets or other containers, while three other civilians were going back and forth with water cups to keep the sick hydrated.

A quick glance at the tabs told him that all four civilian castes were represented. Odd, accomodation was supposed to be segregated by caste. "You are bunking with non-scientists?"

She made a helpless gesture. "It was decided to segregate the sick and their families. Some of the less educated feared this might be a contagion."

"Hmm. No other children?" An older child could at least supervise this - Oskar jerked as he felt something touch the back of his hand. He looked down and saw that the girl had been touching him.

"Metal," she declared boldly. "You have metal in your hands."

"Sophia!" The scientist pulled the girl back. "Do not do that!" She gave her daughter a little shake and then looked up. "The others are in creches. Sophia is too young for an educational creche and the children her age are gathered on a deck above..."

And the crew had sealed the hatches between each cargo deck except for essential transport to try and maintain a semblance of control. This reshuffling of passengers had presumably been allowed. "She appears precocious."

"I would hope so." The mother realised a moment after she'd spoken how sharp her tongue had been.

Oskar let her sweat a moment before shooting her a tight grin. "Both Scientists and Warriors are bred for intelligence, if in slightly different ways," he conceded.

Planting Sophia on one of the empty bunks, the woman started up a small 2-D portable monitor. "Come on, sweetie. Just stay here and watch the show."

It took Oskar a moment to recognise the show. He'd watched it himself as a child in the sibko, albeit on a 3-D holo display not this one. Tribulation was produced within the Star Adders, following the misadventures of a cross-caste group setting up an outpost on a new colony. It was full of good moral messages and his sibko had voted it the most boring show they were allowed to watch (Oskar had voted that the Adventures of Clan Spaniel was worse, but only so they had an excuse for a 'Trial of Refusal' out in the play ground).

He watched the scientist go back to one of the men trying to rest - her partner, he assumed - and heard a stealthy footstep. Without looking, he reached down and caught Sophia climbing out of bed.

"No!" she wailed.

"Sophia!"

"It's boring!" she told her mother

Oskar reached down and flicked the girl's nose. "It is. Not 'it's'. Do not slur your words."

For a moment, he thought the child would start crying, but instead she clutched her nose and stared up at him. "It is boring."

He shrugged. She was not wrong. "Does this device have interactive capability?" he asked, picking the monitor up and shutting the show down.

"Er... Aff?" the woman said, knelt by her partner.

Oskar rifled through his pockets and found a datachip he could plug in. The screen automatically switched to a directory and he instructed it to copy one of the files onto the internal menu.

"Here." He herded Sophia back onto the bunk and handed her the display. "This is an instructional video. There are tests. If you complete the test, it will move to the next segment. If not, you will have to watch it again and again. That will be boring, so do well in the tests."

It was an interactive instructional manual for maintaining a SLDF Mauser laser rifle. Not really scientist fare, but it was what he had on hand. The entire thing ran for hours, so it should hopefully keep the child entertained for a few days.

"Thank you, warrior." Sophia's mother dipped her head. The child echoed her a moment later, wide-eyed.

He waved his hand dismissively. "I will arrange more help for you here. Keep her from wandering off."

Closing the door after him he took a deep breath of the cleaner air and shook his head. Right.

Then he opened the hatch to the room opposite, heads jerking up from the occupants. Oskar ignored their half-dressed state and the cards they were holding. "I require two volunteers!" he roared and grabbed the nearest two. "Well volunteered!"

"But..." One started, clearly the dumber of the two technicians.

His comrade was quicker off the mark and elbowed him. "What have we volunteered for, warrior?"

"There are ill clansmen in the cabin opposite. You will help with keeping them clean and hydrated." He smiled at them in an unfriendly fashion. "In six hour shifts. You may select new volunteers from your comrades here when your shift ends. You have questions, quineg?"

"...neg," the technician answered with only a slight whine in his voice.

One problem solved, Oskar thought as he headed back to the stairwell. Now if I can only get through the rest of my shift without.

A droplet of water - he hoped it was water - splashed onto the floor in front of him. He looked up and saw another pooling. Something up there was leaking. "If it is not one thing..."

He really could not wait to reach this colony near the Inner Sphere. Sinclair could be the most desolate place in the universe, it could not be worse than this dropship.

S A S

A/N: For those wondering why Clan Blood Spirit is in the Nova Cat's canonical slot as the second reserve clan, this is a ripple effect from the Absorption War which eliminated Clan Burrock and Clan Cloud Cobra. In canon, the Cloud Cobras and Snow Ravens both bowed out of the invasion during the bidding (as did the Star Adders, if for slightly different reasons), leaving thirteen Clans bidding for three invasion slots alongside Clan Wolf. Fourteen Clans fought in the trials, with the Star Adders providing a OpFor to round out the numbers. (For more details, see Operational Turning Points: REVIVAL Trials.)
In this timeline, there were an even number of Clans in the Trials. Three rounds were fought with two victories required to reach the finals. The Blood Spirits can't fight the Burrocks in the first round, since they no longer exist, so they face the Diamond Sharks and win, but then lose their second round against the Jade Falcons. Clan Nova Cat lost their first round against Clan Smoke Jaguar and in the second round they faced the Steel Vipers (who in canon faced the Burrocks in this round) and lost a second time, being eliminated. In the third round, Clan Blood Spirit faced Clan Fire Mandrill and beat them, thus getting into the finals and eventually becoming a reserve Clan after Clan Ghost Bear beat them (they are ranked above the Sharks because they had faced and beaten the Sharks in the first round).
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

SulliMike23

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #16 on: 28 March 2020, 14:23:51 »
Could you delve more into this Absorption War? It's obvious that Clan Cloud Cobra and Clan Burrock are no longer in existence. But did another Clan also get absorbed?

Sir Chaos

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #17 on: 28 March 2020, 14:57:44 »
Could you delve more into this Absorption War? It's obvious that Clan Cloud Cobra and Clan Burrock are no longer in existence. But did another Clan also get absorbed?

Apparently not. There were 17 at this point canonically; minus Cloud Cobra and Burrock, that´s 15, and he mentioned 30 Khans voting on Operation Revival.
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Daryk

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #18 on: 28 March 2020, 18:17:34 »
Kai?  With a GAUSS RIFLE?  A FAST Gauss Rifle??  ::)

And my money's on Sophia finishing that training in less than two days...  ^-^

Maingunnery

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #19 on: 28 March 2020, 18:51:56 »

Which corridor are the Adders using?
Herb: "Well, now I guess we'll HAVE to print it. Sounds almost like the apocalypse I've been working for...."

Fan XTRO: The Society

Red Pins

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #20 on: 29 March 2020, 00:22:30 »
Tagged.
...Visit the Legacy Cluster...
The New Clans:Volume One
Clan Devil Wasp * Clan Carnoraptor * Clan Frost Ape * Clan Surf Dragon * Clan Tundra Leopard
Now with MORE GROGNARD!  ...I think I'm done.  I've played long enough to earn a pension, fer cryin' out loud!  IlClan and out in <REDACTED>!
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ThePW

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #21 on: 29 March 2020, 00:31:45 »
One Ping Only.

Motsognir

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #22 on: 30 March 2020, 20:03:11 »
Great to see you working on this again drakensis, keep up the great story-telling.

Orwell84

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #23 on: 31 March 2020, 04:20:12 »
Enjoying this story so far, keep it coming :thumbsup:

I, too, am curious about this Absorption War that's been referenced. In particular, how did the Star Adders persuade the Grand Council to allow them to absorb not one but two other Clans? The Wolves and Smoke Jaguars got a power boost from absorbing just one Clan apiece, so for the Adders to be allowed to rake in the assets of two Clans they must have been mighty eloquent. Or 'persuasive' Snow Raven-style... (see Field Manual: Warden Clans, p. 120 >:D)

Also wondering what kind of losses versus gains the Adders took absorbing the two Clans. Dark Caste connections or not, I imagine at least some Burrocks or Cobras would still have resisted fiercely rather than join a more honorable Clan.
“By the Founder’s writ,
Clan Widowmaker is no more.
Its warriors submitted
To the holy crucible of combat
And emerged not through the other side.”
—The Remembrance (Clan Wolf), Passage 174, Verse 12, Lines 1–5

marauder648

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #24 on: 01 April 2020, 12:00:43 »
Excellent stuff, I loved the multi-caste interactions and how they carry themselves :) Brilliant writing!
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Daryk

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #25 on: 01 April 2020, 18:16:24 »
If challenged, I bet Drakensis could make drying paint interesting to read about...  ^-^

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #26 on: 06 April 2020, 02:26:19 »
Chapter Three

Castle Gerrick, Sinclair
Near Periphery
9 October 3049

Dropships could normally keep the air aboard them somewhat fresh, but very few of them carried thousands of people, even for a relatively short trip. In comparison even the relatively dry air of Sinclair was very welcome.

While habitable, the planet was drier than most. Even the Pentagon worlds, which were drier than real garden worlds, had more surface water. Barren, uninhabited deserts girdled the planet and significant surface water was only found around the poles. Some quirk of the planet's continental plates left both polar regions separated from the deserts by mountain ranges - a scientist from the ecologist sub-caste had mentioned in Costigan's hearing that it was probably the only reason that the world was habitable at all.

Still, it was an entire planet. A small fraction of the surface was still an enormous area, and colonisation had focused on the arctic region, with more but smaller lakes and a single body of water that aspired to the title of being a sea, compared to two larger seas in the antarctic.

Costigan glanced north at the thought but couldn't see the sea in question. Castle Gerrick was comparatively close, but still over the horizon from the Arctic Sea, nestled in the foothills leading into the mountains shielding it from the tropical and equatorial deserts. Outlines of what had been expected to be a proper city one day were now being filled out with temporary shelters, frequently the same repurposed cargo pods that had brought the Clan's civilians here.

Reportedly dozens of other outposts were seeing the same explosive growth, destabilized by the fact that many of the new inhabitants would not be staying all that long. With only a million or so colonists previously present, only the fact that Sinclair had been preparing for such an influx made it viable - but it was beginning sooner and taking place more swiftly than those preparations had envisaged.

Down on some of the terraces carved out of the mountainside, Costigan saw 'Mechs drilling. Frontline units, he guessed. Unlike the 295th Sentinel Cluster he had been assigned to, they would be preparing for battlefield deployment - not working alongside civilians to build up the settlements. The final wave of personnel was only five days away according to the schedule and after that the command circuit would be collapsed, with most of the ships making for the Inner Sphere to serve as the logistical sinews of the invasion.

It wasn't until Costigan had almost reached the massive doors of the 'Mech hangar that he saw one of the 'Mechs close enough to realise that it was too small - only about three times his own height. "What in Kerensky's name..."

There was a sharp whack against the back of his head. "Do not take the founder's name in vain," Grieg instructed him.

Costigan glared at the man but there was no point arguing with him. Grieg had spent the voyage in discussions with his Anasaz brethren and somewhere along the way had tattooed their emblem on his collarbone, renewing his devotion to the Cloister. "My apologies, warrior. But what are they?"

The older man took a deep breath and then exhaled. "They are called Asps, Costigan. And they may be what await us if we do not distinguish ourselves."

That didn't answer Costigan's question in any meaningful way, but Grieg made a more apologetic gesture and continued: "I have not been formally briefed, but they are crewed by older warriors - aerospace pilots and mechwarriors of small stature - and require enhanced imaging implants. A last chance of glory for them, before they can only serve in the infantry trinaries of clusters like ours."

"I have never seen them before."

"They are not used in the Homeworlds," Alaric cut in, gesturing for them to continue into the hangar. "And the reason they are not working alongside us is that many of the pilots have only recently been introduced to them. They need the practise if they are to see action alongside us."

Costigan frowned. "Do you mean the touman itself or just the Sentinel Clusters?" Like us, he meant. If these miniature battlemechs were cheaper and manned by used-up warriors, they might free up real 'Mechs for the frontline forces.

Grieg also looked hopeful but Alarc shook his head. "Some will be joining Sentinel Clusters, but the best of them will be joining frontline Clusters as scouts and skirmishers. A real opportunity for them to make their names. Now, if you are done wasting time?"

"Aff!" Costigan exclaimed, realising the Star Commander's patience was running out.

He led the way into the hangar. A stair near the entrance led up to gantries at cockpit level, and also gave a view of the other 'Mechs stored inside. It was...

There was a part of Costigan that still revered the BattleMechs, as the towering god-like figures he'd trained his entire life to pilot. But there was another part of him that recognised that the trinary wasn't equipped with the best his Clan could field. Alaric and Grieg were actually mounting twenty-five ton Duellists - a design developed to be expended in internal Trials without wasting units useful for the battlefield.

And at that, they were still newer and more advanced than the other three. His Hermes was... an honoured relic of the SLDF. A 'Mech that had fought in the long war to overthrow Amaris the Usurper and had served Clan Star Adder for centuries. Technologically it was grossly inferior, as were the two Mongoose light 'Mechs rounding out the Star.

Strapping in, the Mechwarrior felt the coolant in tubes around his piloting suit begin to circulate, a cold crawling sensation that would fade as the reactor heat warmed the cockpit. It couldn't happen soon enough for him - which was about the same as his feelings about the Invasion, when you come down to it.

Alpha Deuce Galaxy - which the 295th Sentinels were part of - would naturally be assigned to follow Alpha Prime Galaxy and garrison worlds in their wake. And since Alpha Prime was the finest Galaxy in the touman, they would likely be assigned a flank position and their garrisons would be the most exposed to a counter-attack.

Costigan still wasn't sure what the details would be - as far as he knew, no one had been briefed and it was possible no decision had been made. But with five months before Operation Revival was to begin, it couldn't be long before Star Adder clusters would have to start shipping off. Perhaps a month or two more as enough jumpships arrived...?

The Star filed out of the hangar in an orderly fashion. "Today we are extending one of the agricultural terraces," announced Alaric. "Follow the highway out of the Castle and then take the western exit. And try not to step on the fields. We will be eating some of the food grown here, so destroying crops is depriving us of meals."

Moving his Hermes into line behind Grieg's Duellist, Costigan opened his cockpit vents to let more of the dry air in. The cockpit was high enough that dust wasn't likely to be an issue and it was large enough that he would be able to stop and stretch. That wasn't the case in a Duellist, or even in some of the OmniMechs that he'd used in training.

"Once we reach the Inner Sphere, would it not make more sense to requisition foodstuffs from the worlds there?" he asked. Shipping thousands of tons of food from Sinclair to their conquests seemed wasteful, since the Inner Sphere was supposed to be full of paradisiacal worlds with ample harvest... granted, a generalisation, but feeding more than the smallest colony from another world was impractical in the long run so they had to be at least self-sufficient.

"Eventually, yes." Mechwarrior Hestia's Mongoose was behind his. She was new to the Cluster, but not to be Sinclair - warriors were still being shuffled and reshuffled, in this case trading Hestia and another warrior from the 325th Sentinels across from Alpha Trey Galaxy. "It will take time to set up orderly arrangements."

"And we don't want to let insurgents access our food supply," Alaric added dourly. "That happened on Tanis, early after the Absorption War. Half a Trinary of Elementals died slowly and painfully after a feast supposed to be in the honour of them replacing the original garrison."

Costigan paled. "What was done?"

"I do not know. I am not that old," the Star Commander added, a little defensively.

Hestia sighed. "Nor I, but a warrior I served with when I was Costigan's age was there - at least if we are thinking of the same incident." She paused. "Scientists used forensics to trace a dozen culprits, who were executed. Their families and the administrators of the enclave were sent to a remote colony to make a fresh start. Probably here. If you ever heard someone was being sent to a distant posting, that usually means Sinclair."

"It does not seem bad here."

She paused. "It was harder when the colony was being founded. There are... compensations."

"Like what?" asked Grieg.

"I have been to the Inner Sphere."

"You are serious, quineg."

"Aff, aff," the older warrior protested. "Only once. We send - sent, I suppose - merchants there to gather information once or twice a year. Escorting them was a prized assignment. Two years ago I was with a trading mission to Langhorne."

Costigan thought but the name didn't ring a bell. "A Lyran world?" he guessed. The Lyran Commonwealth was the nearest Successor State and it was said that their merchants were powerful, more so than the Draconis Combine.

"Aff." They reached the junction and their 'Mechs marched down the ramp, which twisted back and forth to maintain a sensible gradient. "It is far towards the Rim. The mission visited Caldarium - a periphery world where we traded some obsolete weapons for farming equipment - and then one jump into the Lyran Commonwealth. The merchants wanted some mineral that we do not mine here on Sinclair."

"Did you fight anyone." Alaric seemed interested.

Hestia laughed. "Only a drunk in a bar. A Lyran soldier tried to help me and seemed quite surprised that I needed none."

She was small, Costigan thought. Perhaps the Lyran had mistaken that for weakness. Would she be considering a move into piloting Asps if it got her a transfer to frontline duty?

"And then we shipped back up to Kinnison on the way back - that is a pirate world captured before I came here." Hestia sounded disappointed. "I believe it will be the staging area for the invasion so you may see it. It was not as pleasant as Langhorne or Caldarium. Or even Sinclair, really. But after two months on a dropship I was glad to get there."

"Are there many pirates?"

"No, Costigan. They had two regiments or so I am told, but three Clusters of Theta Galaxy tore them apart. The hardest part was making sure that the Inner Sphere suspected nothing." There was a thump from Hestia's cockpit. "This Mongoose was isorla from the battlefield."

He was about to ask more but there was a click from the command channel and then a three-note prefix to indicate an announcement was about to be made.

"Pull off the road," Alaric ordered sharply, and moved his Duellist out of the traffic and onto the dry verge, a relatively narrow strip of rocky ground between the road and the fields.

Costigan and the others followed and spaced their 'Mechs out, facing in all directions just in case the announcement was of some threat.

The three notes sounded again and then the familiar voice of Khan Roderick Irons came from the speakers of Costigan's cockpit. The Khan's voice sounded no less calm than it had for many other announcements in the years since his election, so it was probably not battle.

"Warriors, this is Khan Irons. "Once the last of our personnel arrive, there will be a three week training exercise in the Antarctic regions of Sinclair. In seven days the first wave will be ferried there to take defensive positions under the command of Galaxy Commander Dante Truscott. Forty-eight hours later, the second wave - an equal force of four prime galaxies and their associated deuce and trey galaxies - will be landed as an invasion force, led by Galaxy Commander Duke Topi of Gamma Galaxy."

"The exercise will be carried out under the rules of engagement we shall be using for the invasion. Logistical support and other conditions will be as realistic as feasible." There was a pause. "I expect the best from you. My officers and I will be reviewing your conduct and underperforming warriors in the frontline forces will be replaced with those who excel in less prestigious roles. Bring honour to your bloodlines and to our Clans. Seyla!"

"Seyla," Costigan murmured as the message ended. He heard the rest of the Star echoing the word with him.

"Something to look forward to," Alaric declared with relish. "But before that, we have rocks to clear for the technician caste."

Nonetheless, the five 'Mechs moved out with new energy.

S A S

Hope Harbour, Sinclair
Near Periphery
9 October 3049

The military administration building of Sinclair's largest city wasn't particularly pretentious. It wasn't a fortress - one was planned but given the existence of outposts in the north polar mountains, it had yet to exist save as a rough outline in the city plans and a vacant lot.

The main building and the two wings were utilitarian in design, but the courtyard they enclosed had a small garden around a statue in the centre. Roderick personally found the statue rather morbid - two near-identical men facing each other, swords buried in the other's chest. According to the plaque, the statues represented Gerrick and Terrel N'Buta and the artist had declined to specify which was which. Not, given that they had evidently just mortally wounded each other, that it mattered.

It was overblown and dramatic - not to mention that the two Khan's final bloody duel had been fought with 'Mechs not swords - but it was also apparently a very popular attraction. Tours of children from creches and even the sibkos that had been relocated here had visited every day since Roderick arrived, as had many serving warriors stationed near enough.

Turning back from the window, the Khan saw that refreshments had been served so he closed the shutters and went back to his place at the table. Picking up a pastry he bit into it, then washed the mouthful down with coffee - or rather, a coffee-like drink made with a native plant. Coffee plants didn't thrive on Sinclair's soil, and shipping some in would have been a waste of limited transport space. One more reason to invade the Inner Sphere, he thought sardonically. As if we needed more motivation.

"Kimball," he ordered, seeing that the scientist had finished his own pastry. "Summarise for us."

The young man finished his drink and activated the holodisplay, bringing up an outline of the Lyran half of the Federated Commonwealth. "The council has agreed to operate on a similar schedule to Operation Revival," he reminded them, "Both to give the impression to the Inner Sphere governments that we are operating as part of the same plan and to avoid accusations from the other Clans that we are seeking to steal their glory."

"Such accusations are inevitable," Anne Moreau pointed out. She wore the enhanced imaging implants prominently on her pinched face, marking her out as the only Galaxy commander so far from the expanding cadre of warriors riding the Asp protomechs into battle.

Roderick gave her a slight smile. "I know. But this at least avails us of a defense. Kimball, you mis-spoke."

"I apologise, warriors." The scientist looked frustrated. "To defend ourselves from political attacks then. It is also agreed that we will maintain a degree of separation between our advance and that of the nearest Clan, that being the Jade Falcons."

"Undermines the first advantage of moving forward at the same pace," pointed out Duke Topi.

The Khan tipped his hand to concede the point. "It does not help. But if the Falcons decide to jump a world beyond their planned advance and run into us, they will not show restraint, quineg?"

"Neg," agreed Dante Truscott. The Alpha Galaxy Commander - Alpha Prime, Roderick corrected himself - had chosen a seat between those of the two garrison galaxies that shared the Alpha designation. "Our strategy is constrained by what is possible."

Kimball waited for the senior officers to settle and then lit up four systems - a roughly triangular formation, with two stars in proximity as the tip of an arrow pointing towards the interior of the Inner Sphere, although not quite to Terra. It would have been more symbolic if it had, Roderick thought. Oh well, no use blaming the stars.

"Based on Operation Revival's schedule, these are the major targets we intend to take in the first year," the scientist declared. "Our predictions are that it may be closer to eighteen months - in either case, the timeframe expected for eight successive waves of conquest."

"Alarion." One light flared up. "Coventry." Another. "The Lyran Commonwealth capital of Tharkad, and Donegal just beyond it." The twin stars at the point of the triangle. "All four systems are important political and military nodes."

"The interior regions of the Commonwealth are sparsely settled due to a number of worlds that have been abandoned during the Succession Wars. While we have the stellar maps to use uninhabited systems, the Inner Sphere's jumpships are typically in poor repair so they rarely do so. This leaves them with limited shipping lanes except for purely military expeditions willing to take such risks. Severing these lines will devastate the Lyran economy."

Anne gave the display a look. "A swathe of the Lyran Commonwealth would remain along the Free Worlds League border. You do not expect the Free Worlds League to take advantage?"

Kimball spread his hands. "There are no certainties in war, Galaxy Commander. We view a Free Worlds League offensive towards Bolan as possible but on balance we expect the Captain-General to act cautiously. The rewards would be offset by a hostile border with us and also inflame relations with the Federated Commonwealth, who might treat it as a betrayal. It is likely that low level efforts would begin to subvert the worlds, with an intention to take advantage if he sees an opportunity."

"And if he chooses aggression?"

"Unless he seeks to attack deep into the Federated Commonwealth, we will have warning." Kimball expanded that part of the display. "Alarion is anticipated to be a Fourth Wave target, with further operations along the rimward flank of our occupied zone, securing transport nodes. If serious conflict breaks out between the Inner Sphere states, it represents divisions between them that would be highly advantageous. If the Commonwealth actually withdraws and allows the Free Worlds League to overrun the worlds then we would be presented with the opportunity to engage their forces while they are operating on extended supply lines and with demoralised civilian populations on the worlds in that region."

Anne frowned and then nodded. "It would widen our operations."

"Aff." Roderick gave her a nod. "In that contingency, we may find it necessary to divert forces away from operating deeper in the Inner Sphere."

"Would that impact on seizing the other targets?" asked Dante thoughtfully.

"There are a number of contingencies." Kimball stepped in. "Which options are chosen would depend on what sort of opposition is being faced. We could, in theory, cease all further advance deeper into the Federated Commonwealth and bring seven frontline galaxies to bear against the Free Worlds League. We would envisage only three or four in most scenarios, in which case securing Coventry is very likely and the chances of securing Tharkad and Donegal would depend on how effectively they are defended, but be perhaps fifty-fifty."

"Which is to say that we would be heavily outnumbered," observed Roderick as a stern reminder. "While in practical terms the majority of worlds we target will be defended only by militia forces. The Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth are large, but far from large enough to defend the interior with a large number of frontline forces. We must guard against over-confidence."

Duke Topi nodded solemnly. "We will take the border forces by surprise, and sweep deep into their space before they can rally. The real challenge will be how we face them when they are not off balance."

"Yes. Once their best forces and equipment are pitted against ours."

Kimball pulled the display back. "We plan on converging thrusts from the periphery, so that once we reach core industrial and political worlds our forces aren't dispersed."

"I must stress -" Roderick swept the commanders of the garrison galaxies. "We cannot effectively control hundreds of planets. Clan Jade Falcon and perhaps other reserve clans will carve out their own occupation zone, but even with a full Sentinel Cluster present on each planet, we would be hard-pressed to hold more than the capital and main drop-port against a wide-spread insurgency. And we have only one hundred and fourteen Sentinel Clusters."

Anne nodded reluctantly. "It sounds like an immense force, but across this region..."

"We will have to largely allow the worlds to govern themselves. We must tolerate the fact that they will not quickly change to the Clan ways. We must win them over, and displays of unnecessary force will not do so. Necessary actions, yes. But for the most part we can only hope for now to control their interstellar trade and communications."

The projection was that at one hundred and fourteen worlds they would be only a relatively small distance past Tharkad - if at all. If the advance went past that then occupation would be as much bluff as anything and they might have to seek help from the other Clans. Or at least persuade them that they were taking advantage by stepping in.

That was a problem for another day though.

"During the Absorption War, Cloud Cobra and Burrock civilians accepted that they were now Star Adders and Blood Spirits with some grace. This will not be like that. Expect a mix of the situation on the Tanite worlds and the problems the Blood Spirits had with Burrock holdouts going bandit. We cannot afford too many of the mistakes that have been made."

"So do not annihilate the Polcyzks?" offered - Roderick had to think a moment - John Connery, of Theta Trey. (It was beginning to be hard to keep track of all his subordinates).

"Aff. I understand why the Blood Spirits did so," Dante Truscott allowed, cutting short the awkward pause following the quip. "It was those bloodhouse's founders that called for the Spirits' annihilation along with the Not-Named - not something that is easily forgiven - but it caused much ill-will. If they had shown more restraint they might have retained some Burrock warriors and had fewer turn bandit."

"Their loss was our gain."

In a manner of speaking, that was true. The trial of possession for Burrock warriors had given the Star Adders the manpower to put boots on the ground when it came to the Tanite problems, but taking their giftakes as well... Roderick leant forwards. "If we make the mistake then it will be our loss, John. And there is no other Clan to accept them, so the spheroid warriors will be our problem as bondsmen to win over or as bandits that will make a joke of our ability to occupy worlds."

He waited for the garrison galaxy commander to subside before adding: "And we will want and need the bondsmen. The majority of those you face will be second-line or third-line warriors but they will be defending their homes, worlds they have rarely - if ever - left. Ensure that as many as possible are removed before they can become the backbone of resistance to us." Roderick paused and let a smile flicker across his face. "We have plenty of room on Sinclair for new colonists."

There was a ripple of laughter.

"And I do mean colonists," he added. "Invite their families to accompany them, these will be freeborn warriors and such ties are stronger in most of the cultures here than we are accustomed to."

"Should we extend this to others who resist?" asked Anne.

"Absolutely. There have been no trials of position here, so many potential warriors may be found here. Those who 'volunteer' by showing resistance will be doubly valuable if we can win them over, which is easier if we remove them from their accustomed surroundings and society. And if not, well, at least they are not left in place to continue to resist."

Seeing that the point had been made, he nodded to Kimball.

"Our plan for the invasion is that four frontline galaxies will advance along pre-mapped corridors, invading two or three worlds in each attack," the scientist explained. "The other four galaxies will carry out more localised operations to secure worlds bypassed by the main advances and provide a reserve in the case a leading galaxy bogs down."

"Which galaxy is assigned to which position will depend on their performance in the coming exercise," Roderick interjected. "For this purpose, each Prime Galaxy will be brigaded with their Deuce and Trey Galaxies, under the Prime Galaxy commander. Beta Trey, Kappa Deuce and Kappa Trey will be in reserve under my direct command during the invasion and will carry out operations during the exercise under my express command... just to make matters interesting."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #27 on: 06 April 2020, 02:28:38 »
Antarctic Military Reservation, Sinclair
Near Periphery
20 October 3049

Piloting an Asp was nothing at all like an aerospace fighter. Oskar felt...

He felt tall. Powerful.

Even with BattleMechs towering over him, he didn't feel that they dwarfed him. The mechwarriors within were still just people riding inside them.

Oskar WAS the Asp. Five metres tall, limbs to proportion.

In a cockpit he would be reaching for controls, even if it was almost a subconscious step at this point. The ProtoMech side-stepped all that, with the pilot curled into a tiny life-support pod nestled below the reactor and both sensor input and commands conveyed by the implants.

The thick antarctic jungles parted easily before his stride as Oskar ranged ahead of the force. He had the speed and agility to stay ahead of the 'Mechs and vehicles of the main force, serving as their eyes and ears - not just for the enemy but also to find a route through the dense trees.

"Magscan report," one of the point commanders announced as Oskar pushed through another layer of trees. Rather than a single mass of trees, the jungle clustered around myriad streams and pools as water drained slowly down towards the inland seas of the south.

He cocked an - well, not an ear. That was more or less staying where it was, since his biological body was out of the loop right now. An audio sensor?

"Over eight hundred tons, moving north..."

Oskar dropped to his - the Asp's - knees and checked seismic. It wasn't a system he was hugely familiar with from his aerospace days, but he'd trained in it for infantry purposes and the signature was unmistakable.

"'Mechs," he confirmed. "South south-east and moving north. Estimating... ten points." Which suggested a binary of heavy and assault 'Mechs. It could be from one of the Guards Clusters but they generally ran towards the lighter end of the heavy spectrum. Dragoons usually deployed trinaries...

"A binary of the 312th Assault Cluster," a voice declared confidently. "Move your toys aside, Gregor. You have no business tangling with 'Mechs. My Cavaliers can handle them."

"Where there is one binary there may be more." Star Colonel Gregor of the 389th Sentinels sounded far less confident. "I recommend forming up an anvil position for your Cluster to -"

"Neg, Sentinel Colonel." That was not a rank, it was a slur. "Your forces are auxiliaries. Move them aside."

There were more seismic signals - this time from the north where 335th Cavalier Cluster were clearly moving to intercept.

Gregor made one more attempt. "Star Colonel Hutchinson, your Cluster is a pure 'Mech force and an Assault Cluster will have supernova binaries and possibly aerospace support."

There was a long pause and no change in the Cavalier's pace. Then Gregor spoke again, this time on the 389th's direct channel. "Advance elements fan out and provide observation only, anticipate the 335th moving through your positions. Armored column form a defense line westwards from Point Papa-135."

"Why do you think he changed his mind?" Warrior Arfan asked from beside Oskar.

The two Asps started moving again, in the direction of the approaching 'Mechs. "Ivar Hutchinson probably overrode him in a private channel." Oskar wasn't sure about that decision. Engaging the Zeta Galaxy 'Mechs was fine, but the Cavaliers would probably be better off supported by the mixed 'Mechs and Protomechs of their trinary, not to mention the ninety Vili support vehicles behind them, carrying infantry and an assortment of weapons.

Arguing with Star Colonel Ivar Hutchinson probably wouldn't go well though. It didn't appear to have worked for Star Colonel Gregor.

The Asps advanced through the trees, trying to avoid too much noise or damage. They had the advantage of being smaller than what they were seeking, but that also meant that they could be destroyed very easily if they were seen first.

Well, 'destroyed'. It was an exercise, not a real battle. Taking damage in an Asp hurt though, Oskar had been annoyed to find out.

"Wait," Arfan warned, pausing his Asp behind a line of trees. He dropped it to a crouch below one towering... well, it wasn't a terran breed. Most like a cactus... with willow branches. "it's them."

Oskar followed suit and peered under the branches.

Sure enough, there were ten 'Mechs, each carrying five elementals or... no, that was battle armour but not Elementals. And while most of the 'Mechs were BattleMechs except for a single Kingfisher, they were big, durable designs. It would be hard for any force to take them out quickly...

At least unless they were softened up. "Star Colonel," he reported. "We have a sighting of a Supernova binary of Zeta Galaxy. Requesting artillery on the following coordinates."

"NEG!" shouted Hutchinson.

Looking back, Oskar saw the leader of the Cavaliers burst through the treeline behind them, his Mad Dog leading a loose V of heavy 'Mechs. Light and medium 'Mechs flanked them, but the Cluster's assault stars must have been left behind.

"Neg," the Star Colonel declared again. "Those 'Mechs are mine."

"Neg." Another voice cut across the channel. "Those 'Mechs are bait. Star Colonel Gregor, take command. Star Colonel Hutchinson, withdraw your Cluster and subordinate yourself to Gregor."

"I..." The Mad Dog didn't cease it's advance. "They are prey, Galaxy Commander."

Then a heavy 'Mech rose above the trees behind Hutchinson's force. Oskar's sensors marked a laser shot from the jumping Guillotine, one that intersected the cockpit of the Mad Dog with clinical precision.

The Mad Dog shut down, falling over so abruptly that the legs tangled comically with each other. Oskar had to double-check before he saw that the cockpit wasn't actually damaged - it was just a simulated kill.

"Point Commander," the voice continued. "Continue your operation."

"Aff." He shook himself, feeling the Asp brush against the tree branches and then read off the coordinates for Gregor.

"Our Vili are deploying. May I deploy aerospace, Galaxy Commander?"

"Neg." The Guillotine - Duke Topi's - had dropped beneath the foliage again. "Their own fighters were waiting for the Cavaliers to break cover. Once it is clear you will not do so, you will need them for your own protection. Now, proceed."

And from behind the trees Arrow IV missiles launched from those of the Vili carrying the launchers. Not many, for half of the Vili were carrying infantry and other weapon configurations were needed.

But enough to convert the air around the Zeta force into explosions. The battle armour they were carrying went flying - more in an attempt to go to ground than because of the missile's detonations.

Actually entirely because of that - he had to remind himself that however realistic everything looked to his eyes - his sensors - the missiles were training loads and damage was simulated. Most of the elementals piloting those suits would get damage reports and some might cease action, having been told that they had received what would have been fatal damages. But that would wait until they were thinking and not responding on reflex.

Taking a look at the nearest of the suits, Oskar judged him to be just barely in range of his laser. "Arfan, be ready to run."

"Why?"

Oskar triggered the laser - it was built into the torso of the Asp so he felt the heat immediately and saw the laser intersect the suit.

"You are crazy." Arfan bolted backwards as the suit hit the ground and those around it - as well as a Guillotine heavy 'Mech - started returning fire.

Spinning on the spot, Oskar leapt away, firing his jump jets almost horizontally to catapult himself away. The last thing he saw was the battle armour suit rising. Now that was crazy - an Elemental suit might not be taken out by a laser of this kind, but that plus artillery damage... either the infantryman within was luckier than he had any right to believe or those heavy suits were tough.

They were slow though, and while they were jumping, they weren't using jump jets - just myomer enhanced limbs, throwing themselves a few metres at a time. The Asps - Oskar, Arfan and the other three of the point - were easily able to outpace them.

"Point Commander," the Galaxy Commander demanded. "Why did you break cover to fire on the enemy."

Oskar winced and felt a tickle on his skin as Arfan directed a comm laser at him. "Someone's in trouuuuble," the other warrior snickered.

"Intelligence gathering," he responded, ignoring his subordinate as they raced back towards the rest of the Cluster. "I have never encountered battle armour of that type. Now I have an idea of their durability and their mobility."

As he spoke, Oskar packed his quick assessment and sent the data to Star Colonel Gregor.

Duke Topi did not sound approving, but then he rarely did. "Acceptable," he judged.

Oskar relaxed a little. It seemed the Galaxy Commander wouldn't take him out of the exercise yet. "Get back under the air defense net," he ordered his warriors as he spotted contrails in the sky. Aerospace fighters from both sides were converging.

As the Asps scurried back, the sky lit up and vehicles added their fire. The Zeta 'Mechs followed only as far as the trees.

A fusillade tore into the jungle, even low powered lasers blasting away the fronds and the heavy 'Mechs retreated, picking up the armoured suits as they went. A last salvo of artillery ripped into them but none fell.

"Sound and fury, signifying nothing."

"What?" asked Oskar.

"Something I came across reading," Arfan admitted. "I do not recall where from but it stuck in my mind as a description of some Clans' posturing. And this fits - all that shooting but not a warrior fell."

Oskar looked at Star Colonel Hutchinson's Mad Dog, still lying on the ground. "One did."

"Except him."

"We are down a little artillery," Star Colonel Gregor informed them. "And Zeta lost armour - or so the simulation will assess it. Some of their infantry may be judged injured. The exercise will go on for days and such attrition will wear both sides down. Commanders must judge if a clash is worth committing to seriously or if it is wiser to wait."

In his Asp, Oskar looked at the infantry dismounted and the Vili parked between the trees. "Zeta cost us something else," he realised. "Our advance has been slowed."

"Yes. They bought perhaps an hour." Gregor's voice was thoughtful as his Glass Spider battlemech scanned the sky for viable targets. "It is not the way Clans fight amongst themselves. There are many more factors for us to consider."

S A S

Antarctic Military Reservation, Sinclair
Near Periphery
24 October 3049

Costigan was breathing heavily as his Hermes scaled the pass. His damage display showed that more than half the armour plating was gone from the light 'Mech's hide and there was genuine damage from where he'd skidded down a slope the day before. It would give the technicians practise if he could get back to one of the field repair bases that had been set up.

If.

He was beginning to understand why that word was so pernicious.

"There should be a rally point around thirty klicks north of us," Grieg advised him. The older warrior sounded just as tired as he was - they were the last active members of the Star.

For that matter, the Cluster was in bad shape. Following them up the pass, many of the Vili were carrying exhausted infantry on their upper surfaces, weapon pods empty of ammunition. Air mobile elements in Ve transports were evacuating the wounded (not all simulated although fortunately there had been no genuine fatalities in the 295th Sentinels).

"Is there even a point in continuing? They've already pushed us up into the mountains."

Accurate information on the larger scale of the exercise was more gossip than fact. There was no briefing or bidding - there was barely time to get out of their 'Mechs occasionally. Costigan was already appreciating that the Hermes cockpit was spacious and had borrowed an infantry backpack to carry rations and other consumables up there during their last resupply. He'd had to scale the 'Mech twice with the pack on his back - the gantries available were all fully engaged in keeping damaged 'Mechs in service.

Grieg's Duellist was smaller and slower than Costigan's Hermes and one arm hung limp, visible occasionally when the filter showing it as blown off wavered. "There are three other battlegroups," he pointed out. "Just by remaining in action we force Topi to keep some of his forces facing us."

They reached the crest - a gap between two of the peaks, with no road as such to follow but it was less steep and once their 'Mechs and the vehicles passed, there would be a noticeable path for the rest of the three galaxies to follow.

"Stop before we go down," Costigan suggested, seeing that there was a modest plateau leading down on the far side. It wasn't quite what the maps said, but those were just rendered from orbital pictures, not detailed ground-level topography. It was possible no human had ever used this pass before Dante Truscott chose it as an evacuation route for his battle group.

"Why?" But Grieg slowed his 'Mech further and the two light 'Mechs edged forwards, side by side.

Costigan dropped the Hermes into a crouch. "I want to get a look off the edge of this plateau before we go further. It'll screen us from being seen from below while we take a look."

"What do you expect to see?"

"Half of Epsilon Galaxy," he answered, half-facetiously, but only half.

"Really?" Greig dropped the Duellist onto its haunches, locking the limbs in place. But he at least wasn't advancing further forwards and making his present known. "We surely lost them in the mountains, quiaff."

"Neg."

"What? You see them?" the mechwarrior exclaimed in alarm.

"No, but they have ambushed us four times since the exercise began. I am not going to under-estimate them."

Grieg sighed in relief. "They are sneaky surats, is all that means. But they have practise fighting like the Inner Sphere, they had an entire Cluster fitted out like a Spheroid regiment from the Dragoons report, back in the 3030s, I hear."

"That is not good," Costigan said after a moment.

"What?"

"They are operating like Spheroids. And we are losing." He let the passive sensors of his Hermes comb the landscape below and then pulled back as the automated systems processed the wealth of data that could be gathered from up here. Mostly 'Mech's sensor computers focused on what was nearer, but now he had something like a hundred square kilometres of landscape for them to assess.

He pulled out a ration bar and chewed on that as the computer chewed over the data. They had about fifteen minutes before the vehicles caught up, so there was time. Thirty kilometres was probably too far away to see the rally point in this terrain, but dropships were pretty large and he might get lucky.

The bar was nutritious and could be stored for years. Taste... not so much. But the texture wasn't so bad if you washed it down. Costigan found a bottle of water and swallowed some. He didn't check the date stamped on the wrapper. He'd checked that none had been accidentally past the date of expiration and fought two infantrymen for the right to exchange some of his older bars for fresher selection... such as it helped. But it was still depressing to think that some of the ration bars were intended to be kept around for decades and that some of what he was being fed was older than he was.

The secondary monitor serving the sensors pinged and updated, highlighting the  map of the terrain ahead of him. Costigan took one more bite from the ration bar and then slapped down the visor on his helmet so the HUD would help augment what he was seeing on the monitor.

He regretted that decision when he spat up the mouthful over the inside of the visor.

"Costigan?"

The young mechwarrior shoved the visor open and then locked his 'Mech's legs and unstrapped the helmet as quickly as he could. "Do not move. Do nothing," he snapped.

Rummaging quickly he found a wipe to clean the visor and did so manually as he scanned the screen again. Had he made a mistake? Had the sensors been wrong?

They had to be... quiafff?

Neg, he realised. There was no mistake. Or rather, there was... but it was not the sensors or his assessment.

"Costigan, what are you doing?" hissed Grieg, having lowered his voice.

Costigan checked quickly and reassured himself that the two of them were communicating via tightbeam lasers automatically directed at each other's mechs. Not by a transmission that anyone could pick up and...

"...damn them."

He was sure suddenly of how Epsilon had been able to mousetrap the Galaxy over and over.

"Costigan?"

"Grieg, there are Epsilon Galaxy dropships on the ground near the rally point. Enough for at least two Clusters."

"What?"

"They are being camouflaged. Another fifteen minutes and I might not have been able to spot them." He shook his head. "They are ahead of us again."

The older mechwarrior sounded sceptical. "How could they be? We did not know we were using this route until a day ago. Nor did the supply unit supposed to meet us there. The Galaxy Commander transmitted the message in code."

"Yes," Costigan agreed. "He did. But all our encryption is standard across the Clan. It is just a matter of identifying which codes we are using. Epsilon must have done so, and they are listening to everything we transmit."

"Why those cheating stravags!" Grieg's voice rose to a roar. "We should tear their heads off! Challenge them to grievance and -"

"They aren't cheating!" Costigan didn't realise for a moment that he'd let proper dictation slip in the heat of the moment. "We could have done the same. But we did not think." He let his voice lower to a growl. "We did not think."

After a long moment, Grieg exhaled, the breathing audible. "Should we... we could break radio silence and inform the Star Colonel. Inform the Galaxy Commander!"

"Neg." Costgian finished cleaning his helmet and put it back on. "We need to run back until we can laser-com them. They know where we are and they know our plans. Our one advantage is that they do not know that we know that they know..." He paused, went over that in his head again. Yes, that was right. "Since we know they have an ambush prepared, we can avoid it. Or perhaps turn it against them and recapture the initiative."

"You are faster than I am." Grieg backed the Duellist up before straightening it. "I can make eight-six at best, and this terrain is not the best. Your Hermes is half again as fast. You go back. I will stand guard here at the pass to give warning in case they launch an attack up the pass."

"They will not. They want us to emerge so they can catch us from the flanks." He could see it in his head, the Cluster extended as they descended the slope, caught between 'Mechs emplaced either side of the path and artillery vehicles waiting where the three Alpha Galaxies expected that they could find a rally point.

It would be a slaughter.

Grieg swept the functioning arm of his Duellist to one side. "Perhaps. No, even probably. But just because that is how we would do it, does not mean that Epsilon Galaxy will do what we expect. I have learned never to assume that an opponent will think as I do."

"...aff," Costigan admitted. "I will be as quick as I can."

"Do not break your 'Mech. We will need it."

Heeding the older warrior's experience, Costigan didn't push the Hermes too hard as he went back up to the crest and then scrambled down the other side, towards the oncoming column of Vili, escorted by the other 'Mechs.

No sooner was he in sight than his Hermes was skewered by a communications laser. "Warrior, report."

"An ambush, Star Colonel," he reported tersely. "I do not believe they spotted us. I -"

"Impossible. You are jumping at shadows. How could they know our path?"

"Sir, I believe someone in Epsilon Galaxy has identified which encryption we are using. We are using a standard code, they would only have to identify it."

"Dezgra scum." Star Colonel Helmut Steiner was well past his prime but his wits were sharp enough. "Yes, Epsilon would do that. And I cannot transmit that to the Galaxy Commander without revealing that we know about their ambush."

Costigan had been thinking about this as he came back down the pass. "Can we relay a signal off one of the Ve? If one flies up high enough, it could have line of sight on us and Galaxy Commander Truscott. And Epsilon might not target an evacuation flight in case they alert us that they are lying in wait."

"Good thinking, Warrior." One of the Vili, the Star Colonel's command car, pulled out of the column. "One collected our last wounded five minutes ago, see if you can contact it. It is our last chance."

He braced the Hermes and raised one arm, reconfiguring it to communications mode as his fire control system swept the sky looking for the helicopter. It would be well out of weapon range, but if the only need was to convey signal pulses...

Almost to Costigan's surprise, it was surprisingly easy to make contact and the Ve pilot nervously increased the altitude of his flight to remain in line of sight until the Galaxy Commander could be contacted with his own communications suite.

"Aff." Dante Truscott seemed unsurprised at the idea. "I suspected as much."

"You... you suspected?"

"Yes, Star Colonel." Truscott remained unruffled. "I am pleased that I am not the only one."

"Galaxy Commander!" shouted Helmut Steiner. "Is this entire exercise scripted?"

"After a fashion. It is not important what Galaxy Commander wins. What matters is that we identify which of our subordinates is really thinking about this. Epsilon's... exploit is clever. Did you recognise it yourself?"

"...neg, one of our scouts. A mechwarrior named Costigan."

"Put him on the channel."

Costigan cleared his throat. "I am here, Galaxy Commander."

"His 'Mech is providing the comm laser," Steiner explained.

"Good. Mechwarrior, how many dropships did you see?"

"Six. Based on types, enough for two Clusters and supplies or perhaps an infantry or Vili complement."

"Excellent." Dante sounded amused. "I will count on you and the other Warriors of the 295th Sentinels to deceive them in turn. Colonel Steiner, assign your units the communications identifiers for our other Clusters in all three Alpha Galaxies. Transmit that an advance force will scout the area today to find the best route for our entire force to cross the pass tomorrow. Stress that we are expecting to meet a convoy with fresh munitions and armour plating."

"Sir?"

"Galaxy Commander Olaf Hobbes tends to stick to a plan once he has one in place. He will push all his forces still south of the pass catch us from behind as we are ambushed to the north, rather than risk have us overwhelm them with our full numbers."

Dante paused and Costigan could almost see the Galaxy Commander's feral smile, "And we will lay an ambush of our own for Olaf and his Galaxy."
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

drakensis

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #28 on: 06 April 2020, 02:29:50 »
Fort Minotaur, La Blon
Isle of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
11 December 3049

The Monarch wasn't a military transport, but even the mighty AFFC couldn't ship everything or everyone on their own shipping. Like everyone else, there were never enough jumpships and rarely enough dropships. Once you allowed for ships that were being repaired, ships visiting worlds that had so little commercial traffic and ships that had to remain at least in the vicinity of nodal systems so that the units in strategic reserve could be deployed should a war begin...

Well, there were reasons why operations like the legendary invasion of Tikonov, a generation before, with over a hundred jumpships carrying eight entire Regimental Combat Teams at one time had been incredibly rare over the last century and a half.

And for the same reason, a routine personnel transfer to La Blon, in one of the more affluent and more travelled regions of the Inner Sphere involved hiring berths on a civilian vessel rather than diverting a military transport. The timing was just terrible.

Steam was still coming off the hull from the heat of re-entry as the delta winged dropship was towed in from the runway to the terminal. It could have taxied under its own power, but at a busy drop-port like this one, the authorities generally preferred to have tight control over moving objects, particularly those in the kiloton range.

An enclosed bridge swung out from the terminal to link to the dropship, allowing the passengers to embark without discomfort. The heat was probably tolerable, but La Blon's drop port had been built by the Star League in the days when interstellar tourism was common and the planet had drawn corporate executives to its many resorts, men and women expecting to be sheltered from even minor inconveniences.

Somehow, despite the centuries since, they were still functioning. It was even more surprising since Fort Minotaur had grown up adjacent to and then interlinking with the drop port to house the planetary garrison. There had been fighting over it in the Fourth Succession War, Kai had learned since arriving here a few months before, expelling the much feared Proserpina Hussars and retaking La Blon for the Lyran Commonwealth.

"Are you waiting for the military personnel aboard?" asked one of the attendants.

Kai nodded. "There should be a Doctor Lear in charge of seven enlisted personnel."

The attendant checked his list. "Yes, I have them here. They'll probably be among the first to disembark."

"Oh? A special privilege?"

That got a smile. "No. But in my experience, military personnel are usually better organised."

Kai chuckled at that. "Even fresh out of the academy cadets?"

"Even then."

The bridge locked onto the dropship and a moment later the hatches opened. Star League engineering at its finest, only notable on the rare occasions when it failed.

The first across the bridge was a striking woman a few years Kai's elder. Her black hair barely reached the shoulder of her AFFC undress uniform, but he could see the badges of a medical officer. Somehow, when he'd been told to expect a member of that corps he'd expected someone older and more seasoned, but everyone had to start somewhere he supposed. "Doctor Lear?"

The woman looked up from the folder of identification papers she was checking. "Yes, leftenant? Are you here to meet us?"

"Yes, doctor." As a warrant officer, she was technically subordinate to Kai despite his inexperience. "There's also been a change of plans."

"Well colour me surprised." She offered her hand. "Doctor Diedre Lear."

Kai reached out to accept it as the other soldiers - all men and women that he guessed had a decade or more of service over either of them. "Leftenant Kai Allard-Liao. Pleased to -"

Lear's hand snapped back before they could make contact and she stared at him, face melting from the previous welcome to such violent hatred that for a moment he thought she would attack him.

"- meet you," he finished, stepping back in surprise.

"Doctor?" asked the first of the enlisted, seeming just as surprised.

Lear took a deep breath. "Change of plan," she said, voice harsh, and added "You said," a moment later, as if it was a tremendous effort to say more than a few words at once.

"Uh. Yes." Kai glanced to the side, seeing that the attendant had one hand on a comm unit. "Let's step aside and let the civilians disembark."

The doctor took a deep breath. "Yes," she agreed tightly and stepped forward briskly to the attendant, who accepted her papers.

Kai exchanged a 'what the hell?' look with the Sergeant who was behind Lear and got an equally perplexed look. "Transit of the space port only," he said out loud for the attendant.

Lear half turned and gave him an angry look - well, more accurately, her look hadn't changed. "Transit?"

"Yes, doctor. The Tenth are leaving La Blon. Some of our dropships have already left. The RCT field hospital are loaded and the general delayed departure so you could join them rather than be ferried between dropships later."

"I see." The doctor accepted her stamped papers. "Thank you, leftenant," she grated. "Tell me the terminal and I'll see we get there."

"No ma'am," Kai said apologetically.

"AFFC regulations, Doctor," the sergeant agreed. "Until we've formally reported in we need an escort who has done."

"As if," she almost spat, "We aren't functioning adults."

"Yes, well... if officers don't oversee the enlisted, they might begin to think officers aren't needed," Kai offered, hoping that he would be able to calm the Doctor with some humour. "Who knows where that might lead?"

"Cats and dogs living together?" the sergeant.

"Mass hysteria," proposed a grey-haired woman with logistics tabs on her shirt but mechwarrior spurs on her boots.

The last soldier in line, an infantry corporal who looked old enough to have been retired by now, nodded. "It could overturn the entire social order."

The joke fell flat against it's target though, and from the look on her face, it seemed that overturning the social order would be just fine with her.

"Come on, Doctor," the logistics sergeant said before Lear started preaching revolution. "If we're going to change right to another dropship I want to use a groundside toilet. Just to make sure my plumbing is still working."

"Yes, good idea."

Kai and the male members of the detail watched them go. Under other circumstances, watching the trim doctor from behind might have been an appealing prospect but right at the moment, Kai was very definitely coming down on the side of not hating her leaving.

"No offense, leftenant, but did you kill her dog or something?"

"I'm pretty sure I've never killed anyone, not even a dog."

The sergeant shrugged. "Might be you being a Liao, sir. No offense, but I believe that she's from the Capellan March."

Kai groaned. That made entire too much sense. His mother's decision to take her worlds out of the Capellan Confederation had been a political coup at the time, but she was still a scion - arguably the senior member - of a dynasty that had been enemies of the Federated Suns for six hundred years. The worlds of the Capellan March had been the frontlines of scores of wars and campaigns.

His father, a half-Capellan, had found serving in the Capellan March... difficult, during the late Third Succession War. And enemies from the Capellan March had followed him across half the Inner Sphere for years afterwards until he was enshrined as one of the great heroes of the Fourth Succession War.

Fortunately, when the women returned Doctor Lear had apparently calmed down. Granted, she didn't say a word to him, but that was probably an improvement. "So, sir, where are we going?" the older woman asked. "I thought they were tempting fate when I was told La Blon would be a nice cushy assignment before I retired."

"Well, Sergeant Hebert, the exact location is up in the air."

"A dropship?" The corporal's feigned innocence was almost flawless.

"We're being sent to the Periphery March," Kai soldiered on. "According to the briefing, the Marshal wants reinforcements so he can send out exploratory missions to find out why things have been so quiet along his front and encourage that. I haven't heard yet if that means we're replacing one of the RCTs already out on the border or if we'll be doing the missions. In the latter case, we could be living off dropships for more than a year."

"And first we have to get there. Over two hundred light years." Hebert rolled her eyes. "Well, if I couldn't take a joke, I shouldn't have enlisted."

"At least you got a royal welcome to La Blon," offered the Corporal.

"Good point." The old mechwarrior gave Kai a sly smile. "Of course, I remember when his father was just a fresh leftenant, back on Spica."

Doctor Deidre Lear twitched violently. "We should collect our bags and proceed," she half ordered and set off in the direction indicated by the signs without waiting for Kai.

So it's not my mother, Kai thought. What did dad ever do to her? "Doctor Lear is correct," he confirmed to the soldiers and the little detail followed him deeper into the terminal, in search of their baggage and hopefully some decent food before they were on the Tenth Lyran Guards' dropships and eating in low or even zero gravity.
"It's national writing month, not national writing week and a half you jerk" - Consequences, 9th November 2018

paulobrito

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Re: Star Adder Symphony (revised) (AU)
« Reply #29 on: 06 April 2020, 09:46:30 »
Very, very nice.
Question - where i can get info on the Duelist mech and Asp protomech ?

 

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