Opalescent Reflections - Chapter 52 - drakensis (2024)

Chapter Text

Opalescent Reflections

Full House
Chapter 5

Katyusha City, Strana Mechty
Kerensky Cluster, Clan Homeworlds
19 February 3057

Katyusha’s primary drop-port was the busiest on the planet and until the completion of a secondary drop-port fourteen years previously it had been the uncontested king of congestion for the entire Clan Homeworlds, even with three Clans that had neighboring enclaves pointedly directing all but the most urgent of their traffic via monorail to their own territory.

The main terminal was crowded by members of every caste and most of the Clans as Sarah Weaver stalked through it, although most had the good sense to move aside rather than stand in the path of a Khan.

“We are early, my Khan,” reported her aide - a warrior so green that she was probably still wet behind her ears.

“Better that than missing our takeoff,” she replied sharply. After three quarrels over precedence had led to bloodshed and delays, the Free Guild that managed the facility had appealed to the Grand Council and an officer of the Ebon Keshik had been assigned to oversee traffic control. From that day on, the rule had been ironclad: you took off on schedule or you were sent to the back of the queue, which could mean waiting for days. “I will wait in the lounge, alert me when the time comes to board.”

Up a flight of stairs from the main departures area, the lounge served caste leaders and other senior clansmen who might want to work in peace as they waited. Semi-enclosed booths lined one wall and doors along the other marked private rooms. The wall of armor-glass looked out over the dropships being prepared for lift, buses and luggage-haulers crawling back and forth in an intricate dance, partly blocked by the glass and steel bar that provided refreshments.

“PPC, Smoke Jaguar style,” Sarah ordered brusquely as soon as she reached the bar. A few travelers already waiting for attention turned at the sight of her but they all wisely went back to waiting as they saw her uniform and rank pins.

The bartender placed a snifter glass in front of her and measured four shots of wood-grain alcohol into it before digging beneath the bar for the second part of the co*cktail. Once the next two shots had been added, Sarah drained it quickly and forced herself to show no expression as the beverage numbed her mouth - a point of pride amongst all her sibkin… of whom she was the last.

“Another,” she ordered, sliding her credcard over for payment. “I will use room three.”

The bartender paled slightly as he accepted the card and began pouring again. “The room is in use, Khan Weaver. By other Khans,” he clarified hastily.

“Then I will deal with them directly,” Sarah asserted, accepting the credcard and the fresh glass. “My aide will look for me, let them know where I am.”

“Aff, Khan.”

Sarah tucked her card away as she went to the door and unlatched it. The three waiting inside all looked up as she entered, two of them relaxing slightly at the sight of them. The third merely tilted his head in acknowledgement.

“A Smoke Jaguar PPC,” Malavai Fletcher sneered as Sarah kicked the door closed behind her. “Who does that to their alcohol.”

She rested the glass of wood-grain alcohol and prune juice in front of her and sat down facing the Khan of Clan Hell’s Horses. “This is a warrior’s drink, unlike you herbivores who use liquorice.”

“I have more wit than to dull my senses,” he riposted, indicating his mug of steaming black coffee.

“Herbivore,” she repeated before nodding to the other Khans present. “Taney. Radick.”

“Weaver,” the Ice Hellion greeted her. “What a complete coincidence!”

That got a laugh from Radick. There was no coincidence to their meeting here, of course. It had taken careful scheduling to have them depart within an hour of each other and thus have an unsuspicious meeting before they were divided by many light years from each other.

“None of us have changed our plans,” Fletcher announced. “Any delays have been within the tolerances of our agreed schedule.”

“We will reunite in the Inner Sphere and carve our names into the Remembrance!” Taney declared ebulliently, raising his glass in toast.

Radick went for the glass in front of her but hesitated as she saw neither Fletcher nor Sarah responding. “I also look forward to our victories,” she said, giving them a questioning look.

Seeing Fletcher’s challenging look, Sarah cursed the man for being so well-informed. “There has been a change to our own plans. Khan Showers is restless at the lack of opportunities for combat against the Inner Sphere and will be taking charge of our attack upon the Diamond Sharks.”

“Waiting nine more years must be hard at his age,” Fletcher chuckled and sipped from his coffee. “Hells Horses are not herbivores, Sarah.” He pointedly did not look at Radick, whose clan totem most certainly was.

“To victory over those who stand in our way,” the Smoke Jaguar offered to break the moment and this time they all drank, Sarah’s mouth numbing again and giving an excuse not to say more than a terse goodbye as a knock on the door had Taney alerted that it was time for him to go to his dropship.

“Even if Showers is taking the lead, why would we not see you in the Inner Sphere?” Radick demanded hotly after the door closed behind the Ice Hellion Khan. “I have more faith in you than I do in a fallen ilKhan.”

The older woman set down her glass firmly. “As our ally just pointed out,” she said, tongue feeling slightly awkward in her mouth after the two drinks, “Information has value. Will you answer a question for me in return?”

The Zeerga snorted. “Bargained well, so long as it is of no greater value.”

“The Diamond Sharks are shifting more of their garrison forces out of the homeworlds,” Weaver told her. “That creates an opportunity here and since Tau Galaxy has gone to the occupation zone without me I am authorized to build another new galaxy on Huntress out of production and graduating cadets who could not reach the Inner Sphere in time to aid you. The Diamond Sharks will be savaged from every direction, my Omega Galaxy adding another jaw to our offensive.”

“That does make sense,” Radick agreed. “What is your own question?”

Sarah thought for a moment about what to ask. “Your prizes from Lum: what will you name those warships?”

The blonde mechwarrior smiled proudly at reference to her Clan’s recent victory. “The battlecruiser has been named Reunion,” she declared. “And the battleships are the Revenge and the Retribution.”

“Strong names,” the Smoke Jaguar said, amused at the choices. Radick may be dreaming of a reunion between her Clan and the Wolves, but she thought that the other two names might be more indicative of what the Zeerga warriors would seek. For all the Khan’s dreams of treating this campaign as a trial of refusal over her exile, it would be unlikely to end in an easy reconciliation between the rival heirs to the Founder’s legacy.

They were interrupted again by a knock at the door. This time the visitor wore the black and white uniform of Clan Zeerga and Radick finished her glass quickly before following her aide out of the lounge.

The two remaining Khans eyed each other wordlessly for a moment after the door closed.

“You are unusually quiet,” Sarah accused without heat.

“It serves me well,” Fletcher told her. “I got the answers to both of your questions without cost just by keeping my mouth shut.”

“You are sharper than most give you credit.”

“It is the scars,” the Hells Horse observed quietly. “Few can look past them.”

Sarah reached up and touched the one that crawled across her scalp. “Some call them marks of failure.”

“Wounds only scar if you survive them,” he said and drained his coffee mug. “Where do you plan to hit the Sharks? Vinton, quiaff?”

She bared her teeth at the reminder. The Diamond Sharks and the Smoke Jaguars had been fighting each other when the arrival of the Outbound Light cut short the conflicts among the Clans and took Showers’ attention away from reclaiming the enclaves on Vinton. Once a Smoke Jaguar stronghold, half the industrial world’s cities now flew the banner of the Diamond Sharks.

“Information for information,” she said instead. “And it is your turn to answer a question. How do you rate Radick’s chances of success?”

Fletcher considered her for a moment and then shrugged. “The Wolves will be one again however it turns out: either Radick wins her refusal or Kerensky crushes her and absorbs what is left of the Zeerga. Their enclaves here will be lost by the time Radick’s fleet reaches the Inner Sphere so there is no way back.”

“And in either case, the Wolves will have lost their Eden holdings,” Sarah noted with some satisfaction. Those enclaves bordered with some of Clan Smoke Jaguar’s holdings and had been a constant point of conflict over the years. Seeing the Wolves stripped of those lands and their wealth would be very satisfying.

“Not to mention many warriors and much of their equipment. It will be a generation or more before the Wolves can recover, even with the wealth of their occupied worlds,” the elemental said confidently.

“A humbling that is long overdue.” She shook her head. “As to your own question, I have not yet settled on a target. It will depend where the Diamond Sharks are most vulnerable next year. They still have a frontline galaxy here in the Kerensky Cluster and another in the Pentagon. If they reduce Beta Galaxy’s strength then Vinton would be tempting, but there is also their harjel source on Strato Domingo.”

“Hitting the merchants in their finances.” Fletcher sounded approving. The Diamond Sharks’ monopoly on harjel, a critical material for elemental battle armor as well as self-sealing hulls for spacecraft, had made them immensely wealthy.

“Or we may hit them on Babylon or Dagda if Delta Galaxy is weakened. Whatever hurts them.” Sarah might have spoken further but the door opened to reveal her aide.

“Your dropship is ready, my Khan. We have fifteen minutes to board.”

“Fight well, Khan Fletcher,” she told the towering Hells Horses officer as she rose to her feet.

“Give them hell, Khan Weaver,” he rumbled and rose to bow slightly to her as she left for her dropship and Huntress.

Hilton Head, North America
Terra, Sol System
13 March 3057

“...excuse me?” Wei asked in disbelief.

The First Circuit’s council chamber was back in service and in use, although most of the Precentors were also attending remotely. There was too much for them to do back at their posts for them to stay on Terra, but Wei was wondering now if she would have been better keeping them there so she could provide closer supervision.

“I was asking,” Trent Hone said politely, “when we would -”

“No,” Wei said, holding up her hand. “I heard you. There was just… so much wrong with what you said that I need a moment to process it.”

Precentor St Ives looked offended and a number of other Precentors looked irritated. Many more were confused and a few were amused.

“You’re asking,” Wei said slowly, “When ComStar will be reorganized to administer the Star League. Please don’t take this as thinking that this, or any other topic, is barred from discussion… But what in the world makes you think we’re about to do that? Did I miss something?”

Her words - or perhaps her tone - caused Precentor Shaffi to giggle inappropriately.

Hone flushed at the sound. “We are the last remains of the Star League’s administrative arms: the Ministry of Communications, the Bureau of the Star League Administration, even the SLDF divisions that didn’t join Kerensky in his desertion! Now that the Star League has been reborn, isn’t it obviously time for us to take up that role again?”

“I wouldn’t say that it was obvious,” Joe Murphy responded. “You’re the only person to even suggest it so far.”

Joseph Buckley coughed. “Someone has to be the first,” he told his counterpart from the other side of the Federated Commonwealth. “I hadn’t given it thought until now, and I would hesitate to say that we are ready to do this but there is logic to the idea and Trent is making a valid point. A restored Star League will need bureaucracy to administer it and who is better placed to provide it than our Order?”

Wei suspected that many of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner-Davion’s government officials would like to put themselves forward for the role but that might not be the best counter-argument.

“I don’t believe that we can reasonably say that the Star League is back in the sense that you mean,” she told Hone quietly. “You do make a legitimate point about considering our place in that the current detente between the Great Houses proves to be something more enduring than a purely military alliance against the Clans and I apologize if my initial response came across as mockery.”

“Primus, we are nearing the culmination of everything the Blessed Blake planned out for us,” Hone asserted. “The ancient technologies are being recovered and the Star League Council has reassembled. Surely we must put our weight behind this grand project. Our entire purpose is to provide leadership in these times… Not to try to usurp the rule of humanity as some of our more reckless brethren may have claimed, but to provide the tools and counsel that the leaders of humanity need.”

Wei nodded her head. “So far we are in complete agreement. However, that does not mean that we will succeed at this time. An ancient phrase once used by Albert Marik when discussing what would become the Star League with Ian Cameron comes to mind: a beginning is a very delicate time. Trust will take time to build and if we press too hard right now it is likely that we would spark backlash against this alliance. Our first step must be to defeat the Clans.”

“I don’t think anyone disagrees about destroying the Clans,” Buckley said with a laugh.

“Destruction and defeat are two very different things,” warned Andrew Norris. “I very much doubt that the Clans will be completely driven from the Inner Sphere in the near future. I certainly see no prospect of their homeworlds being taken.”

Shaffi spoke up, voice apologetic. “I would have to agree. The armies being mustered are formidable but the demands of such a campaign are limited less by the armed forces available and more by the economic might able to supply and transport them. The Clans swept across so many worlds because they had (and still have) a huge reserve of shipping, larger than that of any of the Great Houses, to deliver their forces and supplies across a vast distance; and even then they needed initial advantages of surprise and technological superiority. Even the most fervent believers in House Kurita’s ability to bounce back are talking about reclaiming valuable industrial worlds and political hubs. Completely reclaiming the Combine’s former territory seems impossible unless the other Houses were willing to focus entirely on defeating the Clans occupying those worlds at the expense of their own interests. I can’t see that happening.”

There was a rustle of disagreement from around the First Circuit and Wei looked around, trying to assess its extent without seeming too disturbed. “That is in line with Precentor Martial Focht’s reports of the current planning. We will have to co-exist with the Clans in the future. Destroying them without returning to the atrocities of the First Succession War and subjecting the Inner Sphere to retaliation on the same terms would be impossible - and if anyone proposes to do that then please resign from ComStar first. The light of knowledge that we are charged with keeping alight does not involve nuclear warheads.”

She placed her hands on the podium and glared at the ranks of the podium. “Our influence and leverage over those who make up the Star League Council, many of them representing states that never signed the Treaty of Geneva, rests on our ability to to act as neutral arbiters backed by our control of communications, our military might and our admittedly erratic grasp of the moral high ground. For us to do what Precentor St Ives suggests now would be to place all those tools in the hands of the rest of the Star League Council… and I am far from ready to believe that they will pursue those goals over their own individual interests.”

Wei shook her head and looked down for a moment. “The day may come, Robert. That day may come, but we cannot do so to achieve our Order’s sacred mission. We can do so only when that mission has been completed. When mankind no longer needs our services, when they have outgrown us… that is when we must disband ourselves.”

“I cannot tell you if that will be to a new Star League or some other body. I cannot tell you when or where, only that I hope that our work with the current alliance claiming the legacy of the Star League will lay its foundations.”

For a moment she thought she had them, but then Buckley cleared his throat. “And I am sure that this is in no sense self-interested, Primus Rong?”

She wanted to slap the self-righteous man across the face. He had openly sought office to advance his own agenda and now he wanted to act as if she was in some way immoral.

“Precentor…” Her voice was icy. “If that day were to come in my lifetime, much less my time of office, I would be relieved. I could go out and get laid without a security cordon, for one thing.”

Several of the Precentors went red.

“If you wish to propose a measure to break off our services and place them under the administration of the Council,” she continued, “May I ask what the fate would be of the many enclaves currently under our governance? Are they handed over to the rulers of the worlds they are on, even though most of the population have made it clear that they have no desire for that? Or would you rather they are placed under the direct rule of the Council, open to the exploitation of the Great Houses in the same way that the Star League handled what were the Territorial States during the 28th century.”

“Those claims were grossly exaggerated,” protested Tiger Lily.

“They really weren’t,” Wei disagreed. “There is a reason that one of the Magestrix’s protests of her people’s treatment said that even a whor* should be able to expect payment for her services. And the Magistracy did better than the Alliance or the Concordat out of the Star League. Ask the leaders of those realms how they were treated back in the day, Tiger Lily. And then ask if you want Terra to be ruled on those terms!”

There was no further complaint from Precentor Atreus and Wei looked around the room.

“I swear to you, I have no greater wish to tell you that Blake’s vision has been fulfilled. We have the right to hope - we may be closer than we have been in all of our history to that moment. But we are in early days and we have the duty to be prepared if those hopes fail us - prepared to dig in and start again, to do whatever we must to bring mankind out of the dark ages, whether that is in our lifetime or a thousand years from now.”

“Between you and me,” Rachel Orchard said drily. “I would rather not wait that long.”

Wei relaxed her shoulders and rested one elbow on the podium. “I have a few things on my own bucket list, Rachel. But we are drifting a little off topic.”

She turned back to Trent Hone. “If you want to put a measure forward, Precentor St Ives, then that is your right. But we are a long way from being ready to do what you propose. Quite honestly, the Clans have given us a golden chance to lay the foundations for the future we want by providing an outside enemy. But the original Star League wasn’t built on fighting the Reunification War, and since it only lasted for a couple of centuries, maybe we should try to do a bit better this time.”

Dali, Tamar
Clan Wolf Occupation Zone
20 March 3057

Ulric had been hoping to get some rest. The Ghost Bears weren’t usually dramatic but Theresa Delvillar was less phlegmatic than her predecessor - poor Karl Bourjon had been forced to stand down after losing the two Leviathan-class battleships, even though it wasn’t remotely his fault. There had been two conversations so far with the new Khan and he was hoping that her slightly less intense saKhan would handle the next one.

What did she expect him to do? Compensate her for the fortune of resources the Ghost Bears had sunk into the ships? Ulric’s Clan needed all their resources for the herculean efforts to build up shipyards to build a fleet to match the Inner Spheres. He’d be deposed if he even suggested it to the Clan Council.

The comm unit pinged and Ulric set aside readiness reports for the attack on Rasalhague to accept the call. At least that was almost ready to begin - a way to blood the younger warriors and hopefully win over more of the population of the occupied worlds.

“Khan Delvillar again?” he asked. “Or is someone attacking us.” He almost hoped for the latter, it would be therapeutic to get in his Gargoyle and introduce someone to the wrong end of its weapons.

Star Captain Katya Kerensky’s voice came through the comm-unit. “Neg, sir. Khan Schmitt requests an immediate conversation by HPG. She is currently waiting to be put through.”

Ulric checked he was presentable. “Put her through.” This had to be about the Zeerga, he thought. It was only two days since the forces left on Eden had jumped out.

The tall blonde Khan appeared opposite Ulric’s desk, wearing a simple jumpsuit marked only by her Clan’s badge on the shoulders and rank pins on the collar. “Where are they?” she demanded, without preliminary.

“Greetings, Khan Schmitt. I see that you are well,” he replied. “What leads you to contact me so abruptly?”

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Greetings, Khan Kerensky. I do not particularly care if you are well and I would appreciate an answer to my question.”

“Ah. Well, if you could let me know who ‘they’ are then I will do my best to help, out of my commitment to the unity of the Clans, if not any particular fondness for you.”

Schmitt growled under her breath. “I am looking for Clan Zeerga,” she said in a clipped tone.

Ulric nodded understandingly. “That was my first guess but I did not want to assume. They have only enclaves on Eden and on Strana Mechty, quiaff.”

“I am on Eden!” she snapped. “They are not here!”

“The population of the enclave there is about fifteen million, I believe,” he replied somewhat skeptically.

Schmitt ran one hand through her hair. “There are plenty of civilians here, but a complete absence of warriors except for police warriors who are somewhat below even my low expectations of the Zeerga. Probably because any who had value are also missing.”

He nodded again. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. No clusters of warriors, no warships?” When she glared at him, Ulric shrugged. “Could you start at the beginning?”

The other Khan exhaled heavily. “My forces, along with those of Clan Snow Raven and Clan Fire Mandrill, arrived over Eden yesterday and issued a challenge. There was no reply so we landed and marched on the cities, which are entirely undefended. The Zeerga had apparently been loading ships since the start of year and the moment your forces left Eden, they launched their last dropships and - I assume - jumped out. The civilians cannot tell us, because they were not left with any traffic control systems to monitor them.”

Ulric said nothing for a moment, castigating himself for not having the Watch do more to keep track of what the Zeerga were doing. It was not that they had not tried, but the Zeerga on Eden had been aggressively isolationist except for their attacks on the other Clans. Such diplomacy as they enacted had been on Strana Mechty…

“I assume that you have tried contacting them on Strana Mechty?”

Schmitt’s lips pulled back. “Yes, Kerensky, I have. No one has seen a Zeerga warrior or a senior scientist, or most of the civilians who would directly support the touman in days.”

Ulric steepled his fingers. “That is concerning. It is a complete surprise to me. I suppose that if the enclaves are undefended then your clans are free to divide them up between yourselves.” It pained him, but there was nothing he could do to reclaim them at this point.

“Oh believe me, we will do that,” Schmitt told him. “But that does not avenge the losses we have taken to your discards.”

“That’s for you to decide,” Ulric agreed, “Now that we have withdrawn our protection, I cannot claim to have any say in the matter.”

“Then where are they!” she shouted.

Ulric sighed heavily. “If they are smart, they are headed for some remote world where they can wait until tempers cool and they have the numbers to survive without my Clan’s protection. Since we are discussing Marialle Radick and Vladimir Ward, it seems more likely that they are somewhere on the Exodus Road.” On their way to take their revenge on me for their exile.

Schmitt glared at him again. It was hard to tell, given her usual expression but he had known her for several years.

“I am not sure what you expect me to do about this,” he said honestly. “I am six months away and have no means to communicate with them.” Not that they were likely to listen to him. “If you would like to send me more detailed information then we can look at it and see if it sheds any light on their plans.”

The woman nodded grudgingly.

“I do not suppose we can buy Jaghatais from whoever ends up with the factory?” he asked, on the grounds that it could hardly hurt to try.

Schmitt snorted irritably.

“They took the factory as well,” he guessed.

“They emptied every military factory,” the Blood Spirit Khan told him. “The orbital facilities are hollow shells without even life support and every military supply stored anywhere, down to the oldest Brian Cache. We know now why they captured the Bears’ follies. They needed the lift capacity.”

Mount Asgard, Tharkad
Donegal March, Federated Commonwealth
4 April 3057

Mount Asgard had been the center of Lyran military command since before the establishment of the Star League. As the name suggested, the facilities were buried deep under a mountain to the north of the capital, secure against orbital bombardment and with the entrances fortified against command raids up to and including small ‘mech units.

The basic logic was very similar to that which lay behind the Fox’s Den, buried in the mountains behind Mount Davion on New Avalon. Having spent time at both, Victor thought that that the main difference was that for centuries House Davion had exercised their influence over planning consent for the mountains to prevent any further civilian presence in the region under various pretenses. The mountains around the Fox’s Den contained small villages and some visitor centers for national parks in the more scenic valleys.

The foothills of Mount Asgard contained several towns whose economies were largely built around the comfort and entertainment of the officers working there, as well as numerous expensive homes that benefited from the optimistic idea that this was the most secure place on Tharkad… as opposed to the most vital battlefield in the event of an invasion.

Victor would have liked to advocate a switch towards more austere surroundings for Mount Asgard, but not only would it affect several tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods, one of the expensive houses in the area belonged to him and he was living in it rather than the Triad or Tharkad City.

Perhaps he would try and find money in the budget for another military command center one day and just start over.

In the meantime, he found himself in one of the elaborately decorated conference rooms as the staff outlined what they could expect for Operation Sapphire. Victor didn’t really mind the decorations - the staff had to work here and being buried underground for your entire working day probably wasn’t all that welcome. Making the rooms pleasant was a trivial expense to offset that.

As a Kommandant-General and the heir to the throne, Victor had a seat on the main table rather than the ring of secondary positions around them. His only real complaint about the matter was that it left him in proximity to General the Duke of Porrima Ryan Steiner, his second cousin once-removed. While he didn’t begrudge Ryan the pilot’s wings, which had been honestly earned some thirty years ago, the general’s rank badge was more debatable.

The AFFC didn’t have a rank of general, so Ryan’s use of old Lyran insignia made his political stance rather clear. In addition, the pilot’s last active post had been with the rank of hauptmann and he certainly had not worked his way up the ranks. His credibility in claiming the rank rested on the fact that he was a duke and that he was married to Morasha Kelswa-Steiner, the heiress to the lost worlds of the Tamar March which in theory let her appoint him as commander of their non-existent military forces.

“In summary, our leading estimation is that the four Clans occupying Federated Commonwealth worlds have eight galaxies each in the Inner Sphere,” the intelligence officer reported. “Strengths vary, but on average the assessment of their fighting power is that a galaxy is roughly equivalent to two RCTs reinforced by a third battlemech regiment. To fight them on level terms, much less to overwhelm them would in theory require sixty-four RCTs and thirty-two additional ‘mech regiments.”

“That would be a large force,” Ryan observed sharply, “But as I recall the Armed Forces of the Federated Commonwealth still number at least twice that level of force. Combined with even modest efforts to take the initiative on our part, it should be simple to overwhelm part of the Clans’ forces and crush them in detail.”

Victor leant forwards. “Even with current alliances we have, we can’t strip all of our borders,” he observed and then turned to the operations officer who was next on the list to deliver a presentation. “How many forces can we free up for offensive actions?”

The officer accepted the electronic baton that conferred control of the holographic displays. “Allowing for other commitments, planning is for sixty-five AFFC or affiliated commands of regimental or greater strength to be deployed along this half of the Clan front. This represents approximately one-third of the AFFC’s frontline forces and mercenary contractors.”

“How many of those commands are RCTs?” asked one of the officers on the outer ring.

“Forty-one. A higher mix was considered but deemed unfeasible given the level of shipping needed to move each RCT.”

Ryan scowled. “Sixty-five commands out of the projected ninety-six needed to liberate our citizens. The gap is rather obvious.”

“Operation Sapphire will commit approximately half of these forces to offensive action,” the operations officer continued, “Supported by fifteen brigade-sized units provided by our allies, this is expected to be enough to achieve local superiority of both numbers and fighting strength across a multi-world front.”

“And what will the other half of the forces be doing?” Ryan demanded.

“Let the man finish, Ryan,” Victor warned the older man.

His cousin turned and glared at him, the two Steiners locking eyes for a long moment as everyone else fell silent, watching.

Victor knew he lacked the Duke of Porrima’s experience in politics, but found the steely eyes far less intimidating than he did the guns of the Clans. “Continue,” he ordered, not breaking eye-contact.

Ryan scowled and looked back towards the operations officer as the man explained: “Task Force Sapphire Two will be holding defensive positions around Coventry, Tharkad and other key worlds in the event that the Clans respond with a renewed offensive against the Federated Commonwealth.”

“The best defense of those worlds is a strong offense,” the duke grumbled.

“The regiments will also provide a reserve of forces that can be committed to replace exhausted troops without having to call on the central reserve of troops in the Isle of Skye and Dieron military district,” Xerxes Davion clarified coldly. Another distant cousin, this time of his father, Marshal Davion was the most senior officer present by status, if not rank, deputizing for his immediate superior - the head of the entire Lyran State Command.

Normally Nondi Steiner or Morgan Hasek-Davion would be present for this. The latter was on Terra, handling preparations to take command of Task Force Emerald - the central reserve that Xerxes had mentioned. Only Victor and a few others knew that Nondi’s cancellation was for medical reasons. His great-aunt’s health had never really recovered from injuries in 3039 and she’d been ordered two days of bed-rest after almost collapsing during a meeting with the Archon.

“And how many of our regiments will be provided to a force that will no doubt be defending the Combine from their own ineptitude?” Ryan inquired imperiously.

“Nineteen,” Victor told him. “About half of them - and they will be defending your home if that becomes necessary, Ryan.” If Clan Wolf and Clan Smoke Jaguar, both of whom had had years to recover from Camlann, pushed for Terra then Porrima would be right in their path.

“I concede the necessity,” the older Steiner allowed graciously. “A breakthrough there or a Combine collapse would certainly be problematic. So, given that we are limited to a local offensive, that offensive must be employed to best effect - a push through the Koniz and Kelenfold operational areas would liberate a number of strategically valuable worlds such as Sudeten.” He smiled suddenly, turning on the charm. “I admit that it would be optimistic to talk of liberating Tamar at this early stage, but threatening the Wolves’ flank would force them to divert forces from any offensive deeper into the Inner Sphere.”

Xerxes gestured for the Operations officer to stand down. “The Strategy and Tactics board have narrowed our options to three operations plans. Operation Sapphire Alpha would involve trying to cut off the Jade Falcon and Nova Cat forces around Arcturus by pushing to take worlds along a line from Arc-Royal to Benfeld before eliminating the pocket of worlds. In the event that Operation Ruby shows promise against Clan Smoke Jaguar this would raise the possibility of bringing forward Task Force Emerald to hammer Clan Wolf’s frontline forces from three directions.”

“That sounds ideal,” Ryan declared. “Liberating Arcturus wouldn’t be quite as good for morale as Tamar, but I am sure the Arcturan Guards would be highly motivated by such a victory.”

“True, which is why Arcturus is a target for secondary operations in both of the alternatives,” Victor agreed.

His cousin didn’t quite twitch at the reminder that Victor had already been informed of much of this part of the briefing. Being assigned to Strategy and Tactics after Incukalns had given him a chance to play a part in drawing up the plans, rather than it being a perk of his birth but let Ryan assume that if he wanted.

“Would you like to take over?” Xerxes asked in a reprimanding tone. Victor wasn’t that much junior to him in rank but he was certainly the youngest person in the room.

“Of course, sir,” Victor said cheekily and held out his hand for the baton.

There were a couple of chuckles and the marshal shook his head ruefully before letting Victor have control of the holodisplay. Really, Victor thought, Xerxes wasn’t all that much younger than Aunt Nondi - not retirement age but there was definitely need for fresh blood at the top of Lyran State Command.

“Operation Sapphire Beta is more focused on pushing back our defensive depth around Tharkad,” he explained, bringing up the map indicating where attacks would fall. “The goal would be to take the Steel Viper and Jade Falcon worlds between New Capetown, Morges and Odessa, leaving Clan Nova Cat with a long border to protect. The theory is that the Nova Cats will be willing to allow the other Clans to lose territory without involving themselves unless they’re directly attacked. Cooperation between the Clans is almost always problematic for them, and the Nova Cats would be hesitant to open the worlds their occupying as staging areas for their rivals.”

“That doesn’t mean that they won’t try to claim the worlds for themselves,” Ryan pointed out. “And politics makes strange bedfellows so assumptions like that could catch us out badly.”

You would know about politics, Ryan. But Victor acknowledged the point gracefully. “As it happens, I agree with you. The operation would let us dominate the center of the border but we’d obviously threaten the Nova Cats no matter where we went from there, so I would expect them to respond aggressively. For this reason, I don’t personally favor Sapphire Beta.”

That got a few looks, as officers were supposed to at least pretend to be objective about proposed operations plans. Victor didn’t see the point: if he didn’t have an opinion why was he being asked to contribute to the planning?

“Our final option is Sapphire Gamma.” The map shifted to the anti-spinwards edge of the occupation zone. “This would be an attack focused on Clan Steel Viper’s occupied worlds - particularly the region between Kowloon and Qanatir. Our goal would be to destroy all of the Steel Viper forces in the Inner Sphere, leaving them no staging areas to resume their operations. Hitting their supply bases on Inarcs and the two periphery worlds would be high priorities.”

“That is a long way from anywhere important,” Ryan grumbled. “Why is it even a consideration?”

“Balance of forces,” Victor told him. “The Steel Vipers are the Clan most likely to be hung out to dry by their neighbors. Their closest allies are in the homeworlds or the far end of the occupation zone, so if we focus our efforts on them then we can reasonably overwhelm them with local superiority - Task Force Sapphire One can bring fifty commands to bear against just eight galaxies which would be heavily in our favor.” He highlighted other worlds around the Steel Vipers. “From there we can clear up adjacent Nova Cat and Jade Falcon holdings, and that leaves us in the strategic position of having turned their flank.”

“I can’t believe that you think liberating a few nowhere worlds along the periphery is as viable as striking for core worlds that date back to the founding of the Commonwealth. Half of that region used to be part of the Rim Worlds Republic!”

“Something that the Steel Vipers are well aware of,” Victor snapped back. “Have you seen the reports of what’s being done to our citizens there?”

A hush fell over the room and few people met his eyes.

“Strategically,” Xerxes observed in the quiet, “all three options have their merits and flaws. The success of the Donegal Guards in taking Incukalns means that a similar operation to retake Arcturus will be scheduled for later this year. The Archon has made this a priority and I intend to allocate two RCTs of the Arcturan Guards to the attack, drawing from units that are planned to join Task Force Sapphire Two. Given the Jade Falcons’ reported conservatism, the attack will follow Clan rules in order to minimize losses.”

“Is this really the time for half-measures?” someone asked.

“Probing attacks like this will gauge the enemy’s readiness,” Xerxes told him. “New Capetown is also under consideration for an attack of this nature. If the Clans fall into a pattern of expecting us to use their own customs then there is a better chance of catching them off guard when we assault them next year. Wherever we strike, the goal must be to crush a significant portion of their units in the area before they can respond. I am aware that this isn’t an ideal situation, but we know that all the Clans are trying to bolster their forces in the Inner Sphere.”

“I thought they had to breed their warriors from childhood,” Ryan objected.

“They breed up trueborn warriors,” Victor told him. “Not every Clan depends on that though - some are recruiting from their civilian population and a few have started to recruit from the occupied worlds. We have a shrinking window to deal with the Clans, we need to be thinking not just of this offensive but also how we follow up from it.”

Opalescent Reflections - Chapter 52 - drakensis (2024)
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