Crossover The Greater Game (Babylon 5/BattleTech)

they likely think the humans blew up earth.
Not a chance. The entire solar system went MISSING. There's no physical matter left. Likely a huge Tachyon burst, but likely nothing else.

The entire Minbari nation, and thus the Vorlons, are likely having a bit of a conniption.

The pawns they were about to turn into higher tier pieces just vanished.
Not a chance. The entire solar system went MISSING. There's no physical matter left. Likely a huge Tachyon burst, but likely nothing else.

The entire Minbari nation, and thus the Vorlons, are likely having a bit of a conniption.

The pawns they were about to turn into higher tier pieces just vanished.

Which has probably caused a navigation nightmare as not only has Sol's beacons gone off the grid but Sol's gravity has also vanished. Which will alter the balance of gravitational forces in the region stirring up one hell of a hyperspace storm.
Chapter 21 Part 1
EAS Agamemnon
Three Lightyears from Sian

"It's weak, but it's definitely a tachyon signal. That means it has to be one of ours," General Hague spoke from the Alexander, one of four faces split across the main communication screen. "My guess is it's the locator beacon on the Diplomatic Transport."

"The Jaddo beacon?" Captain Tamon Akari of the Achilles guessed.

"Probably. If it was the main disaster beacon, it would be drawing power from the ship's own reactor. That would make it easy to spot and shut down. The Jaddo has its own power reserve."

"We won't be able to jump straight in at this range, not without checking for hyperspace distortions between here and Sian." Sheridan shook his head in disappointment. "But if we get closer, we might have a shot."

"Exactly my thoughts, Captain." General Hague saw Sheridan was on the same page. "Our initial plan called for a pirate point entry over Sian. Chancellor Liao is almost certainly expecting that and will have deployed the bulk of his forces there. Instead of fighting through all that, we will instead perform a KF jump over the gas giant in the outer system."

"Is the gravity constant good enough?" Tamon asked.

"It is. Once there we scatter beacons for the return trip, then the Alexander will open a jump point for the whole fleet. Upon arrival, the Athena will create a jump point out, directly into low orbit."

"That's pretty deep into the gravity well." Sheridan cautioned. "We won't be able to move much."

"We don't need to. There are no enemy warships, this won't be a battle of maneuver," Hague answered. "Once the mission is done, we jump back to the gas giant and let our KF drives finishing recharging at a safe rate."

Sheridan looked over the amended plan, a brief animation of the planetary locations on their path to attack illuminating the new strategy.

"This will let us bypass their ambush and engage from a distance," Hague finalized. "And it means we are close enough to the planet to shoot down any planetary defense missiles in their boost phase. That's going to make life a lot easier."

"How up to date is our intel, General?"

"The maps are old, but it is unlikely new fortifications have been added. We will stay alert, but focus on your sectors and respond as you see fit," Hague outlined. "It is unlikely we will have time to recover the transport. We will therefore destroy it once we verify no Alliance personnel are onboard."

"Do we have permission to use strategic weapons?" Tamon asked the big question.

"The President has put all weapons under local control, so I'll make that call." Hague clarified his responsibility. "My intention is to use them only if there is no other option to ensure the mission succeeds. I don't intend for us to be the first people to nuke a city this century, but we'll do what we have to. Any further questions?"

"Just one sir," Sheridan raised. "When do we go?"

"Six hours, when the KF drives have cooled down enough for a safe jump." Hague set the clock. "Make whatever preparations you have to, see to it. Once we commit, there's no turning back."

The screen shut down, leaving Sheridan alone with his thoughts, his quarters dark. He waited a few moments, his mind blank, then with a snarl he stood up and tapped his link.

"Connect to communication group six, request a meeting at the usual place."

"Message sent." The computer responded. He headed for his door with purpose, like hell he was going to sit in the dark and brood for the next six hours. He was going to go do something useful. He stormed out of his doorway and barely stopped himself colliding with a small black clad object.

"Captain Sheridan, from your haste, can I assume we are about to begin our great rescue?"

"Mr. Bester." Sheridan forced a smile. "About six hours. I'll call the ship to stations about half an hour before. That'll be your cue to get to your shuttle."

"Understood." Bester acknowledged. "This is a little unusual for my team, a planetary assault. But one of mine is down there, it is my responsibility to bring him back. The Corps cares for all her children, after all."

"And as a bonus, you can help rescue the others too."

"Life has its little conveniences." Bester smiled unpleasantly. "But I want you to know, Captain. Mr. Morrison, the telepath I am responsible for, he has worked with David for many years and often noted your father showed him kindness and respect. My duty is to the Corps, but as a gesture of thanks, I will work to save your father too."

Sheridan briefly considered a sharp response but bit it back. Honestly, in this situation, he wasn't going to throw away an ally. "Thank you, Mr Bester."

"Of course, Captain. After all, we're all human."

"I'll raise." Natasha Kerensky threw some coins on the table.

"Bad move." Jaime Wolf laid down his cards. "Fold."

"Why's that? I'll see that bet." Sheridan threw in some of his own coins.

"Because she's in a bluffing contest with Hanse Davion." Jaime grinned at the fourth person at the table. "She's not even close to that smart."


"But I respect the effort." The young prince put his own money down. "Let's add another hundred."

"Now I know you're bluffing." Natasha grinned. "I'll match it."

"Same here." Sheridan threw in too. "Call it."

All three laid down their cards, Hanse taking the win to the groans of the others.

"Told you." Jaime collected all the cards and started shuffling. "What did they call you at the academy?"

"The Fox." Hanse admitted. "I always thought it was because of my stunning good looks and success with women."

Everyone had a way to deal with the coming battle, for Sheridan, it had become this battle of wits and wills with his passengers. Over the last couple of weeks, they had ended up finding a few things in common, traditions and pastimes shared between both of their origins. Card games had been one of them, including the ever popular poker.

"You're good, I'll give you that." Sheridan allowed, the Prince giving a small nod of acknowledgement. "But you need to take my dad. He was poker champion at EarthDome, outplayed Ministers, Generals, even three different Presidents."

"Now that might be an actual challenge." Hanse grinned as Natasha pouted at him. "I look forward to meeting him again, and I am confident I will."

"We will." Sheridan knew it, knew it at the core of his being. "Sheridans are hard to kill."

"Very useful family trait." Jaime took a swig of cheap beer. "When all this is done, will you finally let me take a look at your bridge?"

"Nope." Sheridan answered curtly.

"Aw, Captain, I thought we were friends."

"If the President gives the okay, when we get home, I'll be glad to. Until then, you have your bit of the ship."

"Not even any windows." Natasha sighed. "Just grey. Everywhere."

"It's a warship, none of us have windows." Sheridan pointed out. "Weak points."

"Yeah." Jaime thought back to the warships he knew. "You'd think that would be pretty obvious."

"You'll need to bring your ships to New Avalon for the victory celebrations." Hanse pointed out. "I expect my brother will give you a crate of medals each."

"Just here to get the hostages back." Sheridan shook his head with a chuckle. "I have enough medals."

"But only one father." Natasha suddenly looked very thoughtful. "I have no parents, long story, but I was raised by my community. I feel fine about that, but since joining the Dragoons and seeing things a little differently, I sometimes wonder what it's like. Family, lovers, children."

"Don't start getting soft on me," Jaime jostled, receiving a kick under the table for his efforts.

"I just... I think I'm understanding it a little."

"Family matters more than words." Hanse gave his own view. "It's more than blood, more than a legacy."

"Must be hard for royalty, all those generations behind you," Jaime guessed. "Lot of expectation."

"My brother had it worse as the heir. I just have to not embarrass him or the Davion name."

"Lot of responsibility carrying a famous name," Natasha observed simply.

"Not easy when people expect you to keep pulling off the impossible because of who you are." Sheridan added his own concern.

"Well, by this time tomorrow, all that will matter is what we've done, not what the name carries." Jaime shrugged. "Or we'll be dead and it won't matter."

"How long?" Natasha asked.

"Four hours."

"Time enough to beat the Fox." She grinned at Hanse. "Just once, one time, that'll be enough."

"Deal the cards, Mr. Wolf." Hanse took the challenge. "I hate to disappoint a lady, but today is the day."

Capital of the Capellan Confederation.
16:45 hours
21st December 3008/2249

"Are you sure this piece of junk is even working?" Candace Liao stomped back and forth in the storeroom, directing her frustrations at Jiang Li as he sat at a table, staring at the communication console.

"It's working." He pointed at a blue dot at the bottom of the otherwise blank screen. "That means it's accepted my signal and confirmed my identity."

"So why am I looking at a black screen!" The woman demanded. "Why am I not speaking to your President? Was I in any way unclear about how critical this is?"

"I know."

"Don't you want your hostages back? Do they not know who I am?" she ranted. "Why are they wasting time?"

"They aren't." Jiang kept looking around. The storeroom was empty beside a bunch of boxes, but Candace's raised voice could attract attention. "But I think they've probably already made their choice. The President demanded the release of the hostages, no negotiations. This is no negotiations."

"She gave a deadline, it passed three days ago, nothing happened." Candace dismissed. "No ships, nothing, absolutely worthless!"

"Really?" Jiang asked. "You're not seeing the big picture. War isn't scheduled. The Chancellor was ready for a fight the second the deadline arrived. He had fighters in the sky, missile silos open, soldiers in their vehicles poised. And nothing. What happens?"

"They're still on alert."

"Exactly, three days on alert," Jiang pointed out clearly. "They are tired, uncomfortable, their combat readiness has slipped. When my people arrive, and they will, they'll be at a disadvantage."

At that point the screen beeped, both of them instantly snapping their gaze to it. A cursor flashed up. There was no face, no voice, just a text message that typed itself out from the far side of known space as the only communication.

"Jean has a long moustache," Candace read. "Well, good, I guess we're all saved."

Jiang didn't respond to her snark.

"Is this a joke? What is it? A code?"

"Yeah, a code." Jiang got up, absolutely businesslike, face set like stone, to a point where the fire went right out of Candace's face as she began to sense the gravity of it.

"What does it mean?"

"Get your people mobilized. Every one of them needs to have something blue on their clothing. A strip of cloth, paint, bright blue shirt, just something blue. Then you tell them that if someone shouts the word bulldog at them, they must reply immediately with the word shotgun. Is that clear?"

Like Jiang, Candace was suddenly very somber, understanding dawning on her. "Yes."

"Blue items, Bulldog, Shotgun." Jiang reminded. "If this leaks and you betray us, the deal is off and my people kill everyone, and I will absolutely fucking end you with my own bare hands. Are we clear?"


"This is going down right now. Call your people."

Sian Outer System

All five ships arrived together, arriving in a blaze of blue light resolving into the brutal dark grey warships. There was nothing lovely about the Omega, nothing comforting or appealing. It was the ultimate definition of form following function. Not an ounce of its mass was given over to anything other than killing things with the maximum efficiency.

"Jump successfully, KF drives on cooldown," Commander James relayed the information across the spacious bridge. It was a huge step up from the older Hyperion command center. Twice as many officers manned their stations, plotted markers on the tactical displays, or waited for their orders. They were all nervous. Sheridan didn't blame them.

"Deploy temporary beacons."

"Scattering beacons, aye sir."

That would mark their route back, their escape path. The ship was ready, battlestations were manned, Starfuries were on their racks with engines warm. Man and machine both teetered on the edge of the precipice, that final moment before they lost balance and began the fall.

"All stations." Sheridan requested. He had to say something, rather than have their last thoughts before battle be their own fears or doubts. He needed them to focus on something else.

"Connecting communications, all stations, ready."

"All hands, this is the Captain. We are about to jump into orbit of the enemy homeworld in a strike that might end a war before it starts. This is a rescue mission, but it will also be the fiercest battle many of us will face. Some of you have seen action before, most of you have not, but you are all ready. Trust the men and women beside you, trust the ship, and trust me.

"We had all hoped to escape war, but that has not been possible. Everything has changed, and while we can forge a path for ourselves, we will only succeed if we are fearless. On the verge of moments like this, I like to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."

It was something he had read long ago, something he brought with him to every command, every duty.

"We will go to Sian, the heart of Liao. We will destroy all opposition, and we will come home. We didn't start this fight, but we are damn well going to finish it. Give 'em hell, Aggy."

He could see on the faces of the bridge crew, in the way they were now standing, the pride and confidence they showed. They were ready.

"Captain, Alexander is opening her jump point."

"Ahead one third, nice and steady, we're hauling a lot of cargo." Sheridan set their path. "The second we hit orbit, weapons free. Don't wait for the order, if it moves it dies."

Sian Orbit

A Minbari fleet would have put themselves directly over the Forbidden City, in optimum firing position. They would have eliminated their targets before the vortex even closed behind them, and within three minutes, there would be nothing but rubble and flames. Earth could not match that. This was going to be a hard brutal slog, but each and every one of them was steeled for the challenge. This wasn't the Minbari war. They weren't going to lose.

The opening of the vortex was an unknown phenomenon, and those fighters on patrol above the city didn't know exactly what to make of it. On some level, they knew it was wrong, that it was a very bad sign, but the spectacle itself was so overwhelming, so eerily beautiful in those few instants when they could have acted, that none did. Nothing they did would have stopped what was coming, but they might perhaps have saved themselves.

The five hardened destroyers arrived one after the other through the single vortex, which meant only one of the five ships had to use its drives, the other four able to keep theirs on standby for a hasty exit. Each instantly opened fire, the twin forward guns sweeping red laser fire across the sky, cutting through the handful of defense satellites immediately in their path, a cascade of bright explosions signaling the start of the mission. The warships quickly fanned out, gun batteries laying down a ferocious barrage of pulse and laser fire in all directions, mowing down the nearest fighter patrols before they could build up enough speed to get clear of the killing zone.

"Orbital insertion confirmed, engaging all targets of opportunity," Commander James rattled down the list. "Targeting satellites, hostile fighters, and mines."

"Give me the tactical plot." Sheridan swung his captain's chair about to look at the rapidly updating sensor picture, the Agamemnon crew hastily filling in the details. "No minefields, no ambush, no reason to make a run for it."

"Shall I begin launch sequence, sir?"

"Do it, launch fighters and decouple drop ships," Sheridan confirmed. "We're a sitting duck with those things clipped on. Get them loose so we can move at more than a crawl."

The first big concern of the fleet had been flying into more defenses than expected, which would have required them to abandon the operation entirely. They couldn't risk five ships and such a massive mech force if they were never even going to get to the drop site. With the sky defended, but not saturated, they could at least now fight their way through.

One by one the dropships detached, docking rings snapping open with small puffs of icy air, allowing the spherical assault units to roll away and give the destroyers freedom to fight. All five warships were laying down a constant hail of fire, switching from lasers to pulse cannons and back again depending on the situation.

"Tell them to keep in close between us and the Apollo, we'll shield them while Hague screens us," Sheridan ordered. "Put us in position over the city, get ready for a warm welcome."

Starfuries poured out from the heavily engaged destroyers, each carrying two squadrons of superiority fighters and one squadron of Strike Furies, carrying heavier weapons and a tail gunner. They were immediately intercepted by responding Capellan fighters, the closest defenders surprised but quickly converging now that battle was joined.

"Strike squadrons, stay close to the ships, provided close cover for the landing force," Jeffrey Sinclair barked across the airwing frequency, sliding his own squadron from the Alexander into lead position. "All other squadrons, break and intercept any targets."

He opened the throttles, pulling away and up from the destroyer, her flank guns still blasting away at satellites. Most of the armed defense satellites were down for this sector, but there were still a lot of targets, the surveillance and communication satellites relaying accurate targeting data against the task force, for instance. All had to go.

"Hostiles, forty plus, accelerating hard from the surface," his wingman Mitchell spotted. "Mix of medium and heavies."

"All squadrons remember, you have to hit them more than once, keep firing until they go down." Sinclair angled his Fury and dropped some altitude to intercept. "They are well armed, don't wait to evade, and get in close! Use your agility!"

The elite fighters moved as fast as possible. More and more enemy squadrons were being diverted from their patrol sectors to try and keep the Earth Forces busy until reinforcements could be deployed. Right now, Sinclair's squadrons had the numerical advantage, but that wasn't going to last long. He had to exploit it while he could.

"Alpha squadron, we're going for the heavies," he decided. "Remember, multiple hits unless you get close enough to bullseye the pilot. Engage by pairs, after me."

The squadron peeled off one after the other, blue flame spearing out from the main thrusters as each leader and wingman pair broke in sequence and vectored into the approaching targets. The Capellans matched them, loosening their formation and selecting targets before launching missiles and starting the game.

"Alpha Leader, countermeasures."

"Alpha Two, countermeasures."

Sinclair and Mitchell both calmly deployed a mixture of chaff, flares, and electronic decoys to help spoof the wave of inbound anti fighter missiles, then took a few sharp evasive turns to break any radar locks an opponent may have on them. Alpha squadron as a whole had little difficulty dodging missiles, but some of the newer squadrons were less lucky. The first few Starfuries began to drop, three brought down by missiles and another two by lasers, one of them far enough down he was already spinning out of control into the upper atmosphere.

"All squadrons, watch your altitude, atmo deck is damn close and we're not coming back for you! Stay high and don't get spoofed into chasing a target down!"

It should have been a clear part of their training, but the Minbari War had been vicious for the Starfury corps, leaving Earth with either exceptionally good pilots or exceptionally new ones. The scale of this fight meant that while half the force were hardened veterans, the other half were mostly untested, and while their training was good, nothing could prepare a person for that first real battle.

"Alpha Squadron going for the merge. Stick close Mitchell, this is going to be a furball."

"Right with you, Leader."

Sinclair found his target, a hefty bodied fighter that looked like it had more markings and decoration than it's peers. Maybe a squadron leader, maybe an ace, maybe just someone who made the mistake of being noticeable. He vectored around and rushed in from the flank, gravity tugging and jolting him as the fighter veered. A stream of bright tracers whipping past his canopy as someone tried to engage him from the flank. Sinclair noted it but didn't worry, Mitchell would be on it before it became a problem, he just had to zero his own target.

The brightly marked fighter must have spotted him and turned toward him, accelerating and rolling into an evasive break. A good response, but it wasn't going to stop Sinclair. He adjusted slightly, rotated to avoid some additional incoming fire, then from head on put a single shot through the canopy of the heavy fighter.

He fired his maneuvering thrusters and rolled aside, the now out of control fighter skimming under his wings, locked at full burn, Sinclair already lining up on the wingman next, who wisely went full evasive. After seeing his leader downed in one shot, the wingman wasn't going to tangle with Sinclair alone, instead pulling back toward friendly allies. Ultimately, it just meant Sinclair had to fire a few more shots. One through the now easily targeted engines to cut off his escape, one through a wing to make the enemy fighter flip end over end, and as soon as the cockpit came into view, one final shot once again through the canopy.

It was cold. The myth was pilots only killed enemy machines, they didn't aim for each other, but that was before the Minbari War had taught Earth Force to go for the hard kill as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most of the time there wouldn't be a second chance, and those few who lived to tell the tale had rapidly lost any romanticism or shreds of honor. The veteran pilots of Earth Force were the best in the business, but only by becoming as heartless and efficient as the fighters they flew. It wasn't hard when most had seen whole squadrons wiped out around them.

Sinclair quickly found a new target. More Capellan craft were piling into the growing orbital battle, which was costing lives on both sides. It was grim but necessary. If they were fighting out here, they weren't threatening the transports.

"Keep the pressure on them Alpha wing, keep them away from the destroyers."

The Capellan defences were by now responding in earnest. Pilots ran to their fighters, missile silos went through a hasty launch check, and troops across the planet rushed to their assigned posts. Even with a pirate point jump, the defenders were reasonably expecting an hour or two to man their posts and get ready before they had to act. An enemy showing up directly overhead was not part of their training. Never the less, they moved as fast as they could. In several locations, the tiny specks of the warships were visible overhead, ominously lining up over the capital city.

"Hague to fleet: assume bombardment positions, stand by to engage assigned targets."

Each of the five ships were still engaging orbital targets around them, the shell of a broken satellite pancaking into the side of the Alexander and wedging itself there. The gunfire had grown a little less intense as the initial targets had been erased, but they still had to deal with several hostile fighters skirting the Starfury cover and trying to hit the ships on a flank.

"General, sensors have the main Capellan force turning around and burning our way." Hague's aide Major Ryan kept an eye on the screens. "Estimate twenty minutes until contact with the initial waves of fighters."

These had been the forces guarding the pirate point, dozens of dropships and carriers filled to the brim with aerospace fighters and whatever missiles could be loaded. They were going to be a challenge due to their sheer numbers, but the real problem would be if they coordinated their attacks with planet based squadrons.

"Jam their communications," Hague ordered. "Focus on the planet first. Airbases, missile centres, communication facilities, staging areas."

"Set, General."

"Begin firing pattern."

The destroyers had orientated themselves to hold in orbit. They were far too low to sit in geosynch, so they had to keep a periodic burn to maintain their position over the Forbidden city. The Agamemnon and Apollo were still descending, the dropships nestled between the two immense blocks of armed metal, using the sheer mass of the Omegas as a shield. They would both park themselves as low as possible and provide direct fire support for the landing forces, while the other three ships covered them and maintained overwatch.

First, though, the fleet had to clear a path for the dropships, and that meant the removal of anything that looked even slightly threatening. All five ships aligned over the region and turned their forward and lower guns to the planet, the cannons on the upper surface still spluttering at random hostiles that strayed too close.

"Weapons set for area attack, target areas locked. Beginning initial strike pattern."

Simultaneously, the destroyers unleashed their wrath on the planet below, the first strikes targeted against airfields. Lasers fell like red lances of light that touched the ground in a thunderous flash of boiling moisture and melting rock. The lasers had lost a lot of power to the atmosphere, the diffusion and bloom scattering much of their strength, the air itself absorbing their heat, but enough remained to tear up the runways and cook any fighter still on the ground.

Capellan pilots launched as fast as they could, most foregoing full checks, some going full afterburner on taxi ways to get airborne before their base came under devastating fire. Some hardy examples ploughed through the grassy flats in an attempt to avoid the runways, orbital laser strikes melting and splitting the ground around them, leaving deep rents that radiated heat like an oven. Some succeeded in getting airborne, some did not.

"General, ground based ballistic missiles are starting to launch." Ryan kept monitoring. "Marking their locations."

"Switch targets, engage current threats, then return to suppressing the airbases."

"On it, sir."

"Have Agamemnon and Apollo engage their targets as soon as possible. I want operations moving to the assault phase in fifteen minutes or less."

The destroyers altered their tactics slightly. The big laser cannons continued carving away at ground targets, while the secondary turrets switched to intercept mode and engaged the incoming missiles. In their boost phase, the ballistic missiles were still picking up speed as they fought against gravity, making them easy enough targets. The destroyers were keeping ahead of the situation for now, but the problem was they could only hit targets they could see. While bases and defenses around the capital city were being savaged, all of the other facilities shielded by the curvature of the planet were launching their fighters and missiles unhindered, with orders to converse on the aggressors.

"Captain, we are at our assigned altitude." Commander James halted the engines. "Holding station above the Forbidden city."

"Prepare for heavy bombardment. Switch reserve power to the forward plasma cannons."

"Aye sir, switching launchers to plasma mode, full charge in twenty seconds."

The Agamemnon and Apollo rotated downward, setting the front of their ships to face the city below. As they did, so the vast oblong cannons hanging from the chin of the ship began their initiation sequence. Like the other weapons, they would lose a lot of their energy to the atmosphere, but these guns were so vast and delivered such a volume of plasma it didn't matter much.

"Firing solution set, targeting ground based fortifications, defensive batteries, staging areas, and transport links."

"Commence firing."

The two destroyers began a methodical bombardment, great masses of green energized plasma leaving the fixed forward guns in steady bursts. A few at one target before the ship moved slightly to bring another into arc. The other three ships maintained their own precision strikes, swatting missiles and pinpointing bridges to stop a coordinated response, all the while the dropships impatiently waited for the order to go.

On the surface, there was panic, the population fleeing as quickly as they could to the public bunkers, families running with whatever their most easily grabbed possessions were. Children, pets, heirlooms, memories. None had expected this city to be placed under threat, not here on Sian, and not with such suddenness. There was no plan to deal with this, local police and the army funneling and directing the people as best they could.

"What happened to the early warning systems?" Candace demanded as she stormed through the administration officers tied to the palace. "We were supposed to have two to three hours notice!"

"I don't know excellency." A very nervous older man in a badly fitted suit bowed to her, presumably the most expendable of her loyalist team and hence the one sent to absorb her wrath. "We didn't detect them until they were already in orbit."

"Did you know about this?" She jabbed a finger at Jiang, who had stayed close behind her as she rallied her support.

"I'm not a sailor, I can't speak to the specific abilities of our warships." He shrugged. "I do know that this is just the prelude. Do you have enough shelters for these people?"

"Yes, yes, easily, there's the underground metro tubes too." Candace waved away the concerns. "They'll be fine. Will we be fine?"

"Yes, but we have to keep moving." Jiang assured. "There's bound to be a ground assault soon."

"Mistress." The subordinate tried to finish his report. "We have identified three possible locations for the prisoners, we are acting now to secure each of them."

"That will have to be good enough." Candace grudgingly allowed. "Ambassador Sheridan won't be with them. Have my personal guards meet me at the sunken entrance to the Celestial Palace. We'll go rescue him personally."

"At once." The man scuttled away, both pleased and surprised to still be breathing. Candace turned toward Jiang, pausing to gaze out from a window in the office. Beyond the sun was low in the late afternoon sky, the orange haze it created shrouded in distant smoke from the orbital bombardment. Red lines of energy reached down from far above, the distant beams scraping across the land leaving more smoke in their wake.

"I suppose I can use this, it will eliminate a lot of forces loyal to my father." She looked up to see several bright points falling from above like meteors to add to the destruction. "If they are gone, it will reduce resistance to my regime, but if I don't..."

The first of the newer falling lights struck the ground, the heavy plasma bolts releasing vastly more energy than the lasers. It created a dome of fire that instantly removed any low clouds above it and blasted a ring of dust and debris at supersonic speed away from its base. The sheer violence was on a different level to the lasers, the incandescent plasma immolating a forward operating base in the instant it touched the ground.

Candace was caught off guard by Jiang tackling her, roughly grabbing her around the waist and dropping her hard on the floor, knocking the breath from her. A heartbeat after he did so, the window exploded inward in a hail of razorsharp glass and stinging dust, the roar of the explosion all encompassing, its heat stiffening their clothes even at this distance.

"What the fuck!" Candace yelled, dragging herself up and shaking off the dust from her clothes. "You said there wouldn't be nukes!"

"That wasn't a nuke, that was just a plasma shot." Jiang rose up and looked out at the massive pillar of black smoke rolling with red flame. "They're taking out the fortresses, the ground based defenses."

Two more hit fairly close by, once again Jiang instinctively dragging Candace flat as the blast waves assaulted the city, this time stripping away tiles from the roof over their heads, giving them an expanding view of the sky above.

"Are they done?" Candace demanded angrily again pushing herself up to look out of the window, much of the view now obscured in black smoke and fires. There was a loud crash as half a supply truck fell from the sky and went through the roof of an office complex, the vehicle hurled for miles by the force of the explosions. If the lasers had caused panic, the plasma bolts escalated the situation to pure chaos.

"If they are, it means the troops are on the way, which means we need to double time it to the palace," Jiang emphasised. "Are your people ready?"

"They will be."

"Then we better go before this city becomes a warzone."

"Registering good hits on selected targets." Major Ryan correlated the information coming in from the various ships. "We've hit all of the local targets we can. The remaining bases are inside the city and close to civilian centers."

"We'll leave them to the airstrikes," Hague decided. "Where are the enemy space forces?"

"We have a cluster of about seventy missiles crossing the north pole and heading our way," Ryan checked. "A lot of them are probably nuclear. There are also about four hundred fighters coming in from the Pirate point, I'd guess that's the bulk of their response force."

"Then we better do something about it before it becomes a problem. Order Achilles and Athena to load energy mines and engage incoming fighters. We'll handle the missiles."

The trio of escorting destroyers shifted formation again, always continuing to screen the landing ships and staying aware of inbound enemy forces. The Alexander turned to face the forces coming in from the farside of the planet, putting her back to back with her sisters, the warships arming to take on enemies from both directions.

"Athena and Achilles report energy mines loaded, firing."

The Energy Mine was not a human invention. Earth had purchased the technology from the Narn for an extortionate amount of money, and the Omega was the first ship capable of mounting them. Nothing more than a blob of anti-protons launched at the enemy lines and designed to detonate in the midst of a fighter group or missile salvo, they were simple weapons with no real anti-ship ability unless a gunner was good enough to score a direct hit. They worked well as anti fighter weapons for the Narn, but didn't really fit human doctrine that preferred to counter enemy fighters with Starfuries and superlative point defenses. Until, of course, the Minbari had rendered those options almost worthless.

In this case, they were a good way to catch the enemy by surprise. The Capellans were smart enough to know massed attacks were the quickest way to saturate point defenses, so had clustered their units together. It was logical and would have made life very difficult for Sinclair's pilots, but put them at a severe disadvantage against energy mines.

The two escorts fired a pair of mines each, the shimmering orbs of energy racing out to arrive in an equal distant pattern, exploding around the enemy formation so the blastwaves converged in the center. The Alexander waited a little longer before firing, timing her attack to strike the much closer targets at the same instant as the more distant weapons. The Alexander had a slightly more difficult task. The incoming hostiles were much closer and their proximity to the planet made targeting more difficult.

Both sets detonated together, bright flashes of light followed by a wall of antiprotons that doused the nearby craft in antimatter. It wasn't a hefty amount of anti protons, not enough to immediately vaporize a target, but it was enough to annihilate the outer surface of everything it touched. The composition didn't matter, missile or fighter, anything exposed to the wave of antimatter sparked and flashed way. Secondary explosions as fuel and munitions cooked off finished the job, gutting the massed fighter and missile formations.

Despite the tremendous and unexpected level of destruction, there were still plenty of Capellan fighters left, some shorn of their outer fuselage armor and sporting swathes of pitted and cracked damage across their hulls. They pulled back to regroup, the strike buying some time, but also ensuring the Capellans wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

"That should make them think twice." Hague was clearly pleased with the result. "Status of the ground defences?"

"Successfully destroyed or suppressed, General."

"Give the go order to the landing ships." Hague at last gave the order. "Then assume a defensive position above the city and brace for a renewed attack."

"Aye sir, sending the word."

The Agamemnon and Apollo moved aside, clearing the way for the cluster of dropships to begin their journey and begin the main phase of the mission. Aerospace fighters, mostly in bright Dragoon colors but with a few AFFS craft mixed in, began launching one after the other, edging forward on thrusters to take screening positions ahead of the assault.

"Wolf to all units, move into drop position and begin initial de-orbit burn." Jaime performed final checks on his venerable Archer, the old mech still formidable in the right hands. "This will be a fast drop, expect a lot of turbulence, don't spare the retro burn because we won't have a lot of aerobraking."

"Jump jet units are first out the door once we reach safe speed," Natasha added. "Clear the initial Landing Zone and wait for reinforcements. Once we are down, pure aggression people, we are outgunned, outnumbered, and isolated. Our best weapon is going to be fury."

"Nobody has seen an attack like this since the reconquest of Terra, and you can bet there is a damn good reason for that," Jaime tied things up. "If anyone in the galaxy can make this work, it's us. Let's all go become legends. Fighters ahead, dropships begin powered descent."

The spherical and oblong craft fired their engines, taking them away from the shelter of the two destroyers, both still maintaining a steady rate of fire from all weapons. Even from orbit, it was possible to see the smoke around the city below created by burning bases and airfields scattered around the outskirts. In the near distance, fighter squadrons still battled, the Earth Force Starfuries gradually falling back as more and more Capellan craft piled in. The escorting destroyers were still mostly untouched, sometimes firing on a fighter that came too close or spitting out some pulse fire to intercept an inbound missile. It was a beautiful sight, if one didn't know that each flash was an act of destruction, a life potentially ending.

By far the most amazing sight was a coruscating green aurora in the upper atmosphere around them, Sian's magnetic field catching high energy particles left from the Alexander's energy mines in a gleaming display visible across the hemisphere, even in the early evening light. It gave the landing an eerie feeling, the interior of the dropships illuminated milky green as they passed through the aurora and started buffeting against the sky itself.
...Sinclair. He adjusted slightly, rotated to avoid some additional incoming fire, then from head on put a single shot through the canopy of the heavy fighter.

Ultimately it just meant Sinclair had to fire a few more shots, one through the now easily targeted engines to cut off his escape, one through a wing to make the enemy fighter flip end over end, and as soon as the cockpit came into view one final shot once again through the canopy.

Jeebus! Sinclair is the 'John Wick' of fighter pilots!!!!
Very nice.

This attack is going to send a major shock wave through the Inner Sphere especially as EarthForce isn't pulling any punches and is instead striking with there full might and skill - the exact same things that in just a year brought the previously nigh on invincible Dilgar to there knees - and using previously unseen but devastating weapons like the plasma mortars and energy mines. Though the ASF pilots should count themselves lucky that so few were used and it was a relatively broad spread. A more directed salvo - like what the Narn used at Gorash VII which made five Shadow battlecrabs scream in pain - would certainly have destroyed most of them. As it is they're certainly mission killed.

Still this is a frightening for everyone display of power by new warships. Which itself will send a worrying message about EA industrial capacity and the fact that they have an intact and expanding technology and research base. The other interesting thing will be how everyone will react to them having not only better KF drives but a secondary FTL system that bypasses the normal restrictions of KF jumps.
This attack is going to send a major shock wave through the Inner Sphere especially as EarthForce isn't pulling any punches and is instead striking with there full might and skill - the exact same things that in just a year brought the previously nigh on invincible Dilgar to there knees - and using previously unseen but devastating weapons like the plasma mortars and energy mines.
and a hyperspace jump- it upends many of the assumptions the inner sphere has about defending a planet.
Hopefully while this is going on Marik and Davion are making sustained pushes into the CapCon taking worlds. Would be a nice underlining just how bad Max screwed the pooch! Tikonov, Menke, Grand Base, St. Ives and the Denbar-Indicass to Teng Salient would all be good areas to 'hit' (and take!) in support of the Sian operation from the Davion side. Marik with less time to prepare could 'help' with striking (and taking) Betelgeuse, Pella, Jasmine and Bithinia. Steiner providing logistical support, keeping the Dragon busy and maybe taking a Tik world or three would be nice!

The negotiated return of 'some' of those worlds could provide EA and Candance with lots of good will and with the concessions that Candance would have to make along with the Government reforms that EA would force on her (and that she would take on her own for about 80%) would make the CC a bit less a threat to freedom and it's neighbors. My guess is her regime and St. Ives is worth a New Avalonian Mass :) The other worlds lost Menke and possibly Grand Base could be regained from the Davions under the right circumstances and concessions, as well a world or two from Marik other then Betelgeuse.

Just would like to see the successor Lords though being on the 'right side' of the encounter doesn't mean they won't take advantage of situation to seize worlds they could only dream of taking (see Tikonov, St. Ives, Betelgeuse) even if Ian and Janos 'have to' give some of them up to play nice with the EA. Great chapter keep it up!
Chapter 21Part 2

The Forbidden City

"We estimate enemy forces will land within ten minutes, fighters could be overhead at any second."

Maximilian Liao acknowledged the report with a brief tip of his head, not stopping or breaking pace as he marched from his palace to a secure underground control room. While he had preferred to remain above ground, the increasingly dire situation finally prompted him to seek shelter.

"Our defences?"

"Heavily depleted."

Liao grunted, not entirely surprised, but still rather disappointed.

"Our fighter groups are still pressing the attack, the reserves should be joining at any moment."

"Nobody lands until the enemy is destroyed. If they fail, they will find a bullet waiting for them when they return," the Chancellor said simply. "See to it."

"Yes, Excellency."

He turned to follow the path to his destination, only to find his daughter Romano half running toward him from the opposite direction, a look of deep concern on her face.

"Go ahead." Maximilian ordered away his courtiers. "I will be along shortly."

They bowed and departed, giving their chancellor a brief moment with his child.

"Romano, I ordered you to the castle outside the city. The Liao name needs to live on and your brother is not suited for the task."

"How can I leave your side father? Look out there! They are coming here for you!"

"If they are, they will find me ready for whatever they bring." Maximilian smiled slightly. "I am not afraid as long as I know the family will continue, and for that, I need you to go."

A nearby impact shook the building, dust fluttering down from the rafters above, a haze in the orange sunlight.

"I don't want to leave you, father."

"There are more important things than what you want, Romano." Maximilian answered sternly. "You are the daughter of the greatest of houses, your birthright is to be First Lord of a new Star League and rule all the worlds we know. What you want right now doesn't matter, the needs of Liao always come first."

"I don't care about that! I won't let them kill you!"

Maximilian gave Romano a short sharp slap across her cheeks, taking her completely by surprise.

"I admire your loyalty, but never say to anyone that you do not care about your birth right and the glory of Liao. We die, Liao lives on. Swear it."

She hesitated, eyes filling as she confronted the moment. She was still young, confident and forthright yes, but she was realising now just how much she still didn't know.

"Swear it." Maximilian demanded again, not letting this go.

"I swear it."

"Good." He loosened a little. "Good. If I fall today, your sister will rule. Do not oppose her, she will kill you. Bide your time, watch her, prepare for your opportunity."

"I don't know if I can do all of this." Romano admitted. "Where do I start?"

"You have drive, passion, you are relentless. Of all my children, you are the one most like me, and most suited to rule." Maximilian gave a nod. "Use your time, do not rush in, and do not underestimate your sister. Now go, find shelter, and if all does not go well, remember the future of Liao is yours, not your sister's."

He turned his back and walked away, there was nothing more to be said. Romano had all the necessary skills and attributes to succeed him, she just needed the time to hone them. Hopefully she would be clever enough to understand that. If not, she didn't deserve to rule.

He headed down a ramp to his command bunker, it wasn't buried especially deep, but was extremely well fortified, with warship grade armour layered over the walls and roof. Heavy doors ground open to permit their Chancellor access, the relatively small interior packed with screens, tactical displays, and a dozen military technicians relaying information to a trio of Senior Colonels. They all stopped to salute their leader, Maximilian waving them down and releasing them to continue.

He took his place at the back of the room, the massive doors closing to secure them in their little sanctuary. From here, he could oversee the entire situation, watch the screens shift, give orders if he wished, preside over the potential downfall of his Chancellorship. Whatever the end result, recovering from this would be difficult. The image of power and infallibility he had crafted around himself had taken significant damage here. Purges would be needed.

"Perhaps you are more valuable than I expected." He glanced at the odd man out in the command bunker. David Sheridan, flanked by a pair of Commandos. "They are making a serious effort to retrieve you."

"It's not just me, it's all of us." David replied flatly. "And more than that, it's setting an example."

"You realise that whatever happens here, it must now end with the Confederation flag flying over your planets. I cannot allow this to go unanswered."

"You're welcome to try."

That made the Chancellor smile.

"Exactly the right answer."

"Landing Zone confirmed, the Zen Park, south west quadrant." Jaime Wolf checked the display in his Archer, everything shaking and shuddering as the dropship initiated braking manoeuvres. "Big enough and flat enough to put us all down in."

"Obvious too," Natasha's voice crackled. "Fifty bills says they've got that whole area pre-registered for artillery."

"That's why we have an air force." Jaime maintained his cheer. "All squadrons, Alpha Actual, break and commence close air support. Dropships, open bay doors and prepare to release the first wave."

On his word, the various attached Aerospace Fighters accelerated, switching from escort duty to suppression. The Earth Force ships had done their job on a theatre level taking out bases, airfields, bridges, and rally points, but could not engage targets within the city. Their weapons weren't precise enough and President Levy was keen to keep civilian casualties low. Instead, the Dragoons would have to do it themselves, using their strike fighters and whatever indirect weapons they brought down with them.

The varied craft pulled in low, sweeping across the city at rooftop level, the first wave of nimble and fast light fighters attempting to draw fire so the second wave of heavier craft could identify and destroy enemy positions. The Capellans didn't play along, refusing to take the bait and keeping their weapons cold as the fighters roared overhead. They knew they couldn't stop the landing, instead they would wait and try to ambush whatever walked their way.

"Alpha Actual, this is Foxtrot, commencing strike." The overall fighter wing commander announced. "ETA twenty seconds."

"Copy that." Jaime acknowledged. "Alpha to drop teams, go in thirty seconds, thirty seconds."

The actual landing required perfect coordination, each of different elements performing their role, timed down to the second. If any one group messed up, it could derail the entire operation, turning a well planned drop into a hastily thrown together, stumbling brawl. The fighters did their job first, six heavies rolling in at low level and strafing the area around the landing zone, shredding buildings with laser and particle weapons, blasting any obvious firing positions. A second wave came in almost immediately behind them, scattering cluster bombs at low level that crackled and ripped through the foliage of the park.

While the fighters were still roaring away and pulling up, the first lances of jump jet equipped mechs were stepping out into thin air and falling, a mixture of units tasked with establishing a perimeter and securing the landing zone for the dropships. Usually the dropships held back or at least slowed down to give the first landers some time to sweep and clear the sector, but not today. Nobody was waiting around for any reason on this mission, the first wave had to get the job done fast.

The mechs used their jump jets to stabilise their descent, the warriors taking a few shots on the way down against anything that looked suspicious. A building, a treeline, a shape in one of the park lakes. Nothing fired back. Behind them, the armed dropships were also delivering some gunfire, obliterating a handful of buildings that would be overlooking the landing zone. Still there was no return fire, even as the first mechs put their metal feet down on Sian itself.

"First lances down, dropships on the ground in thirty seconds." Jaime checked the timer in his cockpit, everything still on schedule. "No fire yet."

"No way we already killed them all." Natasha was busy checking her own sensor feeds. "What are they waiting for?"

"They're picking their ground, the park is too open, they'll hit us in the city." Jaime reasoned. "Bog us down in urban combat until they mass for a counter attack."

"That'll be fun."

"I wish they'd just let us level the city, no urban combat if your city is a pile of dust." Jaime exhaled. "Never mind, standby for touchdown."

"Ready to go."

"Once we're out, keep close to my command lance," he instructed his best warrior. "We'll go where we're needed most."

"Just point me at whatever needs to die."

For the last section of the drop, the spherical vessels throttled up to bleed off the last of their speed, clouds of white vapour pouring across the land, serving to obscure the landing itself. Each of the drop ships put itself down, forming an arc, crushing trees beneath them and setting fires amid the grass and well maintained flowerbeds of the park. Before the engines fully shut down, the mechs were disembarking, each war machine stomping out and creating an expanding circle, guns and sensors tracking and sweeping.

"Alright, Beta Regiment give me a layered perimeter, defence in depth. Secure this position and let nothing through." Jaime checked the position of his troops as he stepped down the ramp from his ship. "Alpha Regiment form by battalion, we're going on a more aggressive form of defence."

He was answered by a chorus of acknowledgements.

"Third Guards, you're the reserve," Wolf rounded up. "Take position at the north end of the park and be ready to advance as needed."

"Understood," Hanse Davion answered, voice absolutely rock steady. "Taking position."

"Earth Force Rangers are coming in now, give them space. Beta Regiment, Guards, handle their fire support if needed."

"Copy that."

"Keep your channels open and call targets as you see them." Jaime did a final look around, for better or worse, they were on the deck now and had a job to do. "Alpha, begin the advance, crescent formation, urban drill."

The mech forces set about their orders, the green machines of Beta Regiment heading to the edges of the park to set up a strong defensive position, securing roads and placing each lance in a mutually supporting pattern. As they did so, Alpha Regiment began its advance, moving swiftly but carefully through the city to try and draw attention toward itself, rather than Beta regiment. Jaime hoped that by presenting the more immediate threat, the Capellans would have no choice but to deal with him as a priority, not the dropships.

Behind them and among the larger dropships landed the Earth made assault shuttles, delta bodied Hades class craft carrying a company of men each who rapidly disembarked and fanned out, laden with rifles and grey body armour. Like the dropships, the shuttles would remain landed, their engines idle and gun turrets scanning the sky for danger. It didn't take long for the Capellans to react, the weapons on the dropships snapping upwards and opening fire as the first long range missiles were hurled their way.

"Third Guards, deploy in echelon, watch your spacing." Hanse managed the Battalion of mechs as they arrayed themselves for action, making sure they didn't bunch up and make themselves easy targets for artillery. "Any movement in the nearby buildings?"

Each lance leader responded in the negative, the local area apparently evacuated very successfully. It meant at least his forces wouldn't need to hold back once the real fighting started. Overhead, a trio of fighters roared over at low level, seeking the Capellan rocket artillery and answering with swift salvoes of gunfire. Closer by, he watched the squads of infantry rapidly getting to work, kicking down doors and entering the palace from multiple directions. From what he knew, the Earth Force Rangers were highly trained veterans and quite capable of getting the job done, but they were up against well armed and well trained opponents guarding the heart of their nation. The Capellans weren't going to give an inch.

"Any units on this frequency, Ranger Four requesting support!"

That was one of the reserved channels set aside for cross faction use. Neither side had been given time to drill with each other, apart from a few shared briefings between unit commanders about tactics and what each side counted as strengths. This wasn't considered a huge issue as the mechs and infantry were deployed separately, but in an emergency, they did have the option to call on each other for help.

"Ranger Four, Davion Lead here, go ahead on this channel."

"We're under heavy fire, Courtyard Two, Northside, requesting anything you can throw at them."

"I have you, Rangers." Hanse checked his multifunction screen, calling up a basic wireframe map of the palace, the information relayed to him from the Destroyers overhead. The location was close by, he might as well do it himself. "Hold tight, we're on our way." He quickly switched to his own unit frequency. "Command Lance on me, All other groups standby, defensive posture."

He was glad to be doing something, standing around waiting for a task in the middle of the grandest raid in lifetimes wasn't in his blood. He negotiated through the park and into the urban sprawl of the city, his Lance with him professionally checking for anti mech teams or vehicles waiting in ambush. His target was just beyond the perimeter, the flash of gunfire and bright energy bolts telling him exactly where he needed to be.

The fight looked incredibly intense, from his high vantage point Hanse could look down on the courtyard and see the Capellan defenders manning windows, embrasures, and emplacements covering the open approaches. Earth Force troops were in cover at the far side of the yard, behind some low walls and structures, with several dead or wounded showing where the initial assault had failed. Hanse guessed a flanking attack was probably underway, but given the very tight timescale involved, it would be far better for the Rangers to charge straight through. That he could help with.

As soon as he moved out from cover, his mech was tagged as the primary threat, a pair of light autocannons swinging up from their previous task chewing up cover the Rangers were hiding behind and plinking shots into the Battlemaster. The AC 2 wasn't much of a threat to his superior warmachine, but even a mosquito bite could prove fatal to the arrogant.

"Suppressive fire, pin them down and sweep the defences clear," he swiftly ordered, the power indicators on his weapons all reading green. "Fire at will."

Hanse's Lance mates answered, joining their leader to open up on the defensive line, cutting into the reinforced facade of the building. The smarter Capellans took cover as medium lasers sliced into the defences, the less smart ones vanishing in expanding clouds of pink steam. Both autocannons received special attention, Hanse's support slamming their mounts with a few PPC shots, followed up with heavy machine gun bursts.

"Four, prepare smoke rounds." Hanse ordered. "I'm opening the door."

The door in question was several tons or armoured steel, it had been clad in wood to blend in with the aesthetic of the palace, just like the reinforced concrete walls had been clad in ornate plaster, but the tirade of fire from the Rangers had blasted away most of the surface, revealing its true nature.

"Rangers, brace for shock and flash," Hanse warned before leveling his heavy PPC and dumping a full charge into the door, the intense blue beam blindingly bright at close range. It speared across the courtyard and easily broke through the doors, collapsing much of the structure above them in the process. As he cleared the way, one of his allies put a trio of smoke shots into the courtyard to keep the Rangers hidden as they made their charge.

"Lance, covering fire. Rangers, all yours now."

"Copy that Davion Lead, we're on the way!"

Hanse and his lance sprayed machine gun fire into the smoke as the Rangers rolled out of cover and bolted through the smoke, the mechs ceasing fire when they judged the Earth Force troops had reached their target.

"Good work lance." Hanse acknowledged their good work. "Resume defensive posture and be alert for more requests."

"Light armour, two o'clock, moving up fast!"

"Two Lance, pivot and engage." Jaime Wolf expertly adjusted his formation. "One and Three Lance maintain advance, I need that market place swept clean."

"Anti tank guns in the market place!"

"Suppress and destroy. Four Lance, move ahead and screen for counter attacks."

The green icons on his map display moved swiftly into their respective positions, each one displaying the flexibility and aggression the Dragoons demanded of their warriors. One by one, the red icons blinked out, exactly as expected.

"Good work, keep an eye on your ammunition, don't waste it on the small fry."

"No major enemy movements yet," Natasha called in, her jet black Marauder standing at Jaime's side. "Think they all got toasted?"

"Not a chance, they'll be here." Jaime kept a watch on the overall tactical map, the display transmitted to his mech from the warships hanging overhead. "And they'll be good."

"I really, really hope so." Natasha savoured the prospect. "Bleeding Hearts?"

"If you mean the Red Lancers? Guaranteed." Jaime confirmed with a little less enthusiasm. "Best unit the Cappies have, going to be the fight of our lives."

"Fight of our lives so far." Natasha giggled happily. "Speaking of, incoming."

"Incoming?" An instant later his map lit up with warning signals. "All units, hold and take cover! missiles inbound!"

Alpha Regiment rapidly broke off its push and sheltered against the nearest convenient buildings, shoving their metal mass against the brick clad concrete. The apartment blocks and offices weren't fortified, of course, but they did at least trigger the impact fuses on the incoming missile barrage and absorbed much of the blast, allowing the mechs to shrug off the remaining damage. They weathered the initial storm well, but immediately after, there were several deep explosions, two of which brought down entire housing blocks on top of a few sheltering mechs in clouds of grey dust.

"That wasn't a missile!" Jaime pulled the sensor logs frantically checking the readings. "That's real artillery!"

"Long Toms, at least two batteries, probably two hundred kilo super heavy shells." Natasha was faster. "Checking trajectory."

Another barrage fell, again missiles and among them the far more dangerous artillery rounds. This time, they scored a clean hit on one of the Dragoon's medium mechs, cartwheeling the machine twice and throwing limbs and weapons in all directions.

"Those missiles are making it hard to isolate the Long Toms, but I think I have it, thirty five kilometres north west." Natasha relayed. "Well outside of range, I can't narrow it down any further."

"Good enough." Jaime switched frequencies. "Wolf to Sheridan, come in Sheridan."

"Go for Agamemnon." A crackly voice answered his call.

"Request fire support, grid gamma six. Hidden artillery battery has us ranged and pinned."

"We see nothing there, are the coordinates confirmed?"

Another salvo dropped, rattling Jaime's mech.

"Very fucking confirmed, Aggy."

"Copy that, we can't see a target so we'll remove the entire grid square. Standby."

The camouflaged artillery park had avoided detection until it opened fire, with its position now exposed, the crews were rapidly limbering up to relocate and avoid retaliation. Some of the crew transports were fast enough to make it clear before the orbital strike, but the bigger slow moving cannons were not. Both assigned destroyers barraged the grid with full salvoes from the plasma cannons, the oblong weapons putting two dozen rounds each into the target zone, turning everything for five kilometres into serrated glass.

"That's going to do it." Natasha was grinning from ear to ear. "This is a real fucking war now."

"This is what it must have been like back before the League, when everyone solved their problems with orbital strikes." Jaime was far less enthusiastic. "We won't waste it. Alpha Regiment, resume the advance, those LRM launchers are close and reloading. Find them and make them very sorry."

The mechs moved again, several shrugging off lumps of concrete masonry before crunching over the rubble to continue their attack. The Capellans apparently weren't too concerned about things like collateral damage. The Forbidden City was starting to see itself hollowed out by the street fighting, but at least they were smart enough to employ a layered defence. The Dragoons hadn't met any major opposition, but they had been slowed down fighting smaller pockets of enemies. Jaime recognised it as a classic delaying action, probably Max himself directing expendable units into their path to buy time for the real attack to assemble. A cold and ruthless strategy, but effective.

"Pick up the pace." He ordered, glancing at the immense pillars of smoke and fire left by the Earth Force bombardment. Natasha was right, this is what real war looked like, not the ritualised raids and regiment scale contests of the Inner Sphere. Neither the Great Houses nor the Clans had used orbital strikes so casually in lifetimes, and it wasn't something anyone sane wanted to see back as a doctrine. Yet here it was, an echo of past atrocities and the unspoken promise of worse to come. The current era of war was over, the next would be apocalyptic.

Romano Liao was out of the Staff Car before it had fully stopped, breaking into an immediate run across the parade ground as warplanes howled overhead at low level. Soldiers rushed in all directions individually or in small groups to man their posts, not even noticing her, just one more warm body amid the chaos preparing for battle. Ahead was the partially buried and heavily reinforced hangar housing a Company of the Red Lancers, the great metal doors partly opened as jeeps overflowing with warriors and ground crew raced in recklessly.

"Mistress Liao!" A voice called out, the Company commander Major Judith Albemarle intercepting her. "Mistress Romano, the VIP bunker is..."

"Is my mech ready?" She cut her off, maintaining a brisk jog and forcing Albemarle to fall in beside her.

"Always, but this is a full scale assault, it's no place for a junior mech warrior."

She stopped and glared at her. "I am a Liao, what does it matter how old I am? You need every warrior out there and more than that, you need a Liao in the field standing tall with our brothers and sisters."

"These aren't provincial militia, we've identified Wolf's Dragoons and a unit of the Davion Guards, these are elite mechwarriors, Mistress. Most of us won't be coming back."

"All the more reason at least one Liao should be out there." She resumed her swift walk to the Hangar baym acutely aware that she was disobeying her father. "I'm not going to throw my life away, but I will not cower and hide when my world, my world, is under attack."

"If I can't convince you, at least assign yourself to the command lance, not the assault units."

"As you wish," Romano accepted. "I'll focus on coordinating each unit and deploying them in support of each other."

"Thank you, Mistress. We can lose the city, even the planet, but we cannot lose the future of House Liao."

Within the Hangar Bay, mechs were coming to life, their reactors whirring and spinning up while the maintenance and ordnance crews finished up and began clearing each machine for action. They were energised, fully committed and ready to go into action without hesitation, even if the odds were steep. The Red Lancers were the premier unit of the Capellan Armed Forces, a title often disputed with the Prefectorate Guards who were also mobilising units to drive back the invaders. Perhaps today would settle the contest once and for all.

Romano took the gantry stairs two at a time, boots clanking on metal as she ascended to her mech. She had already changed into a hand made cooling suit on the way over, a privilege of rank, and waiting for her at the top was her chief mechanic with Star League Neuro helmet in hand.

"You're all green, Mistress Romano, fully armed and operational."

"Thank you, Alexei." She took the helmet and leaned into the cockpit of her Highlander, double checking everything was where she left it. "Did the rest of my lance check in?"

"They're at Station Nicholas, wrong side of town, Ma'am." He shook his head. "But the Red Lancers will find a place for the daughter of Liao."

"Not for the first time." She climbed into her seat, her mechanic hooking up her helmet and checking her seat restraints. "I doubt there'll be time for reloads. Grab a rifle when we launch, Alexei, and help defend this place."

"As you order, Mistress."

"Be brave, but be smart. I need a good mechanic."

"Give them hell, Mistress." Alexei rapped the top of her helmet to indicate all was in order. "Glory to Liao!"

The hatch clanked shut with finality, the protective shell feeling increasingly like a very elaborate tomb. She banished the thoughts, however terrified she felt, Romano had a duty to perform, one befitting her rank and station. She knew her limitations, as much as her heart wished it, she could not lead this counter attack, she didn't have the experience to coordinate a regiment scale combat mission. Nor was she truly an ace pilot, able to duel the enemies she faced. But at the same time, she wasn't just a pretty little mascot, cheering from the sidelines. She was the Daughter of Liao, and she would do what she could to defend her home.

"First Company form on me, stand by at your marks." The reassuringly steady voice of Major Albemerle took control of the unit. "Mistress Romano, stay with my Command Lance, we will be close to the action."

"I'll be ready Major, and I will accept your orders," Romano confirmed.

"Step up beside me, once the doors open we run and we don't stop until we contact the enemy."

Romano's heart was thumping, all her training and lectures in no way preparing her for this moment, this dread that was running ice through her veins. Was it because she was young and untested in war, or did even veterans feel like this before battle began? She had to try and take her mind off it, to focus on something else in these last moments before all hell was unleashed. Perhaps she could help her fellow warriors too.

"Warriors of the Red Lancers." She set her machine to broadcast over loudspeakers, audible to the rest of the company and anyone else nearby. "I am Romano Liao, Daughter of House Liao. I am honoured to go into battle beside you today. Nowhere will you find warriors as noble and as fierce as you, my comrades, nor as loyal and true."

The big steel doors began to part, the crack and hiss of weapons growing louder, the instant of battle growing nearer.

"The Red Lancers carry the blood of Liao with them into battle. You carry the heart of Ilsa Liao in your steel hands, her memory and honour walks with you, she watches your deeds in battle and will praise your names to your ancestors. As you gave battle with her, I ask you to give me a place in your ranks, to carry a Daughter of Liao into glory once again!"

Beyond the doors, the world was torn asunder, the blood red sky rent with orbital strikes, darting fighters locked in their death dance over their heads, fires pumping black acrid smoke through the trampled city.

"The enemy is at our gates! They trample the serenity of our home! They defile our hallowed ground! They dare bring war to the heart of our nation? They dare to mock us and rampage within sight of our Chancellor? They dare to shake the bones of our ancestors with the tramp of their mechs? No! No! They will be punished for this outrage! They will bring down the wrath of the six heavens upon their heads like thunder! And we are chosen to deliver the vengeance of Liao!"

The doors opened fully, the Red Lancer's path was set.

"Rise up, my brothers and sisters! Strike down the invaders! Charge forth! Carry the blood of Liao, the honour of our home, the wrath of the heavens and every ancestor! Let them remember our names for the next ten thousand years! Uraaa!"

"Lancers advance, advance and engage." Even Major Albemarle sounded ready for death or glory now. If this raid really was an epoch making event, then the Red Lancers would make sure the final chapter was written by them. "Uraaa!"

The company took up the war cry as they stormed out of the hangar bay, the ground shaking at the passing of the assault force, the titanic warmachines moving with a passion and purpose even the elites of Capella had rarely felt. This was a battle for the honour of their home and whether they lived or died mattered little. What mattered was that they stood brave before the might of the enemy and fulfilled their long oaths to the children of Liao.

The Red Lancers charged out into the dying sun, the world rent around them, orbital debris falling as fiery rain while warship strikes thundered deafeningly. It was as close a measure of the apocalypse as any could imagine and every man and woman charged straight into it without a second of hesitation. For death, glory, and the wrath of heaven.
Here's hoping Romano gets taken out by a lucky headshot.

That said, a Highlander should be a pretty rare ride in this era, even if it's been downgraded a bunch.
Honestly, I kinda want her to get casually smashed aside, and need to wait under rubble for a few days.

A chance for self-reflection, while trapped in the ruins of both her mech, and her ideals.
I Hope Hanse, Jamie and Natasha just off her in passing without realizing at the time just how much crazy they saved the inner sphere:cool:!
If this were a traditional BTech novel, Hanse would have to face Romano in 1v1 combat somehow. He'd defeat her and leave her bitter and vengeful. Thus she'd come back later and try to replace Hanse with Op Doppleganger so she can torture the real one for years.
If this were a traditional BTech novel, Hanse would have to face Romano in 1v1 combat somehow. He'd defeat her and leave her bitter and vengeful. Thus she'd come back later and try to replace Hanse with Op Doppleganger so she can torture the real one for years.

Fortunately we of the Sietech have better writers than that.
If this were a traditional BTech novel, Hanse would have to face Romano in 1v1 combat somehow. He'd defeat her and leave her bitter and vengeful. Thus she'd come back later and try to replace Hanse with Op Doppleganger so she can torture the real one for years.

Or she becomes obsessed with him. Didnt she have naughty dreams about him at some point?
Interesting update.

Max is a fool if he thinks he will be able to fly the flag of the Capellan Confederacy over the Earth Alliance. They have far too many warships for him to ever hope to do that and that's assuming he survives this assault. As for his psycho daughter a good fate for her would be to meet Bester - who finds out she was behind the murder of his telepath - who deals with her in a very permanent but not lethal fashion i.e. he does to her what Lyta told Steven about one time in that he plants horrific visions in her head, visions that nobody but another telepath can remove, visions that would make her want to claw out her own eyes to make them stop.

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