- Aug 19, 2019
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Olivetti Weaponry Manufacturing Center, Outside Hamar, Sudeten,
Tamar Domains, Tamar Pact, Lyran Commonwealth
December 13th, 3015
The room had briefly been rather like a kicked anthill as Archon Katrina demanded information from both me and her staff. The CO and 2IC for the 8th Donegal as well as the Tamar Jägers had also been consulted and answers had arrived.
In the normal course of events, hiring most of a regiment of Elite Mechwarriors -even if it was one of her subordinates doing so rather than through the LCAF’s Mercenary Troop Liaison Office- with their own integrated Wing of ASF support would have definitely been something that reached the Archon’s desk.
Unfortunately, given our extended absence from the market along with our buildup and incorporation of new Mechwarriors, the MRB had downgraded Weber’s Warriors to merely Veteran status. Since I couldn’t tell them we’d been fighting a constant low-level insurgency against Catachan’s biosphere, that probably seemed generous to them. Hell, for all I knew, they were right.
It also meant that we weren’t quite big enough news to merit landing on Katrina’s desk the way a similarly sized Elite force would have.
With that stumbling block out of the way, the room had been secured. Only Katrina, her guards, and one aide were still present. As for the negotiations…
“I’m not asking for a continuation of our current taxation status, but I am requesting a lower rate than standard. The Catachan Arms Corporation is still a start-up, and we’re having to import our entire workforce at our own expense.”
“You’ve also already got an LCAF contract that, assuming you make your minimums, is going to infuse half a billion Kroner into your planetary economy each year.”
“Much of which is going to be spent before it ever arrives. We had quite a bit of seed money to start with, but we’d burned through more than ninety percent of it even with regular sales to Olivetti Weaponry. Hiring the sort of educated professionals we needed to get off the ground and then expand wasn’t and isn’t cheap. And retaining highly-skilled workers isn’t easy, especially on a planet with heavy gravity and without the ability to support even subsistence farming. We have to import almost all the food we eat, for instance, and that’s pretty much a full time job for one JumpShip and two dropships.
“I shouldn’t have to tell you what that does to prices. Wages on Catachan are very high, but so is the cost of living.”
The Archon’s eyes lit up.
“Very well, then. I propose a compromise. The LCAF extends Catachan’s government and the Catachan Arms Corporation the same deal extended to Defiance and Hesperus II. You pay your taxes -the full taxes- and the LCAF handles essential logistics for Catachan as a closed military system.”
“Leaving my JumpShips and Dropships free to bring in workers and import luxuries in greater quantity,” I said, and gave it a second as I thought it over.
“Do you have docum-” I began, but Katrina was already reaching for a noteputer. She handed it over and I took a few minutes to read the contract out. Then I did some mental math.
“Agreed, so long as you agree to keep up the deception we’ve been running about our location,” I said simply. The LCAF had the advantages of economy of scale in this case. They could do the job cheaper than I’d ever be able to. I also figured that I didn’t need to shill on Steelton or Tolland’s behalf. The Archon knew her business.
“Hmm,” Katrina temporized, “Speaking of, the Norns are divided between thinking you really are two jumps out or that Catachan is actually only one jump out, but you’re pretending it’s further.”
Way to ask without asking.
“If you draw a line between Steelton and Star’s End, Catachan is just a touch further than halfway on that line,” I told her, and again got to see her look shocked.
“But there’s nothing there!” she objected. “The Rim Worlds Republic never had a settled world anywhere in that region.”
“That they told anyone about,” I corrected. “That deep into Apollo Province? And with the sort of government Amaris ran? It was an off-the-books prison planet,” I explained, preparing my prop for this particular story.
“SLIC got a hint about it somewhere along the line, because my many times Great-Grandfather was the Captain of a spy ship. There was a mention of it in his journal,” I explained, setting the journal on the table between us.
“After the duke of Icar tried to seize the company's assets, we had nothing better to do while the MRB ran through our contract arbitration. So we went Lostech prospecting.”
“We found a planet with a damaged space station and a wrecked corvette in orbit. We’d have been happy with the JumpShip parts, Ferro-Fibrous armor, and EndoSteel blanks we found onboard the space station. Instead, we found … far more than that.”
The Archon reached out and picked up the journal, opening it to the page I’d bookmarked. After a long moment she shook her head and slipped the aged pages closed.
“I can see that this has been through a lot. Do you mind if I have it analyzed to see if any of the damaged text can be recovered?”
“I hoped you’d offer,” I replied. “It’s not likely lightning will strike twice, but …” I trailed off.
Archon Katrina smiled.
“Indeed. If nothing else, the history is worth preserving,” she said.
That was … encouraging.
“It isn’t the only thing I brought to give you,” I told her, and stood. Her guards watched me closely as I moved over to the side table and lifted a secure case. “Well, honesty compels me to admit I brought it hoping one of Olivetti’s people could figure out and maybe fix an issue, but since you’re here …” I trailed off.
Moving slowly, I made sure to keep my hands visible as I unlocked the case and opened it.
Behind me, both the Archon and her guards gasped.
“Is that-” she asked, disbelievingly.
“A data core,” I confirmed, “The one we recovered along with the cache of Mechs.”
The Archon took a moment to pull her thoughts together. One of her aides had tears in his eyes. I … didn’t really understand. Not at a visceral level, and something like this drove it home. I was too much a child of the 20th and 21st centuries, rather than the 31st.
“What- I mean, how?” she inquired thoughtfully.
I took pity on her and started telling the story.
“It was assembled, in haste, in the aftermath of a revolt against Amaris’s governor. His political prisoners had subverted the Planetary Militia. They managed to surprise the regiment of Amaris Dragoons that was supposed to be preventing any such thing, but they failed to take out the space station where the governor lived. In the aftermath, Amaris’s governor dusted Catachan with a bioweapon.
“So the technical crew and the engineers set up all the Battlemechs for storage and loaded this data core with everything they thought the SLDF might want or need to make use of the Mechs they’d painstakingly upgraded and all the documentation for how to run the factories they’d been forced to labor in. This core contains not just blueprints for finished designs, but the iterative stages of the design work. It has users manuals, annotated by the users with the sort of information that never makes it into the documentation.
“It has not just the ‘how,’ but the ‘why’ for the manufacture of ER lasers and PPCs, LB-10X autocannon, 225, 240, 300, and 380 rated XLFEs as well as Ferro-series armor, EndoSteel, and Freezers. Left for us, because the SLDF team that landed found out the bioweapon was Anthrax, which sporulates. They got sick, so they never powered on the spaceport’s fusion generators to find the message Catachan’s people had left for them.”
The Archon swallowed, trying to bring moisture back into a suddenly-dry mouth. I recognized the symptoms.
“You’re saying … that you don’t just have working factories. You have the capability to allow others to create working factories,” she finally managed to get out past her disbelief.
I could contextualize the shock. Lostech had been a phenomena for centuries at this point. To just have an answer to a problem that old just handed to you …
“It won’t be easy, and we burned out the write head we had getting the last of the data for double heat sink production on it. But, yes. Amaris had the bad habit of ordering his slave labor decimated, in the Roman sense of the word, if they failed to meet quotas. So, just in case they were the ones whose straw came up short, the engineers took the time to explain, in detail, how and why the equipment operated. How to conduct repairs. How to make modifications.
“Baron Jones confirmed that with what’s on that data core, he could have a factory on a world like Tharkad turning out Lostech in less than ten years. It won’t be as efficient as the automated factories of the Star League, but since Amaris decided he wanted to run his factories with slave labor, they were built at a level that we can understand and replicate.”
Tears were streaming down the aide’s face now, and even the guards were starting to struggle to remain utterly composed. Archon Katrina was bright-eyed, but focused.
“And what do you want in exchange for this ‘gift?’” she asked.
“One, well two things,” I corrected myself. “For the first … I’ve spoken with Duke Olivetti, and he’s onboard as well. We would like you to push through the Estates General a change in how Patent and Copyright Law works in the Commonwealth.”
I could tell that request caught her off guard, but her expression tightened up in thought.
“Any such change would be incredibly costly in terms of both political capital and time … Sell me on it.”
“Left the way things are, I could make the case that because my company rediscovered Freezers, ER weapons, and all the rest, as a result, anybody making them owes me a licensing fee for the rest of eternity. But …
“Look, part of the reason technology has stayed so stagnant for centuries? It’s the way the patent system is structured,” I explained. I’d had to lay it out this way for Olivetti too, and even then he hadn’t wanted to believe me at first. It wasn’t easy to accept that your nation had spent decades spiking your own best efforts to regain some of the ground you’d lost.
“Say you’ve got a patent on a kind of laser. The way things are currently structured, that patent is good until every star in the universe burns out. Since the LCAF is buying, why spend money researching improvements for that laser? Just running the research means that your fellows or other Successor States are going to be gunning for you, which would be bad enough. But if you get the project through to completion, what then?
“If you fail, then you are out those millions of Kroner that you spent. That’s obvious, but even if you succeed, then you have to spend yet more money retooling manufacturing lines in order to produce the new laser instead of the one that you are already selling. You have to invest time and energy lobbying for your new product, defending your advances from the same list of suspects that would have tried to shut your research down in the first place. It’s just a series of headaches. Unless it is a substantial improvement, there’s no guarantee that the money that you can negotiate for will make up for the costs you’ve accrued, not to mention that the whole process has been a pain in the ass.
“Much easier all around to just keep selling what you already make.”
Apparently, the Archon had never had the situation put to her in precisely those terms, because she was looking like she desperately wanted to point out the flaw in my argument, but couldn’t find one.
“So we want you to cause patents to expire after a certain amount of time. I’d like twenty years, but I recognize that you’ll need to find a number the Estates General will accept.”
“Twenty isn’t possible, but I can at least start there and count the number of coronaries it causes,” she allowed after a moment’s thought. “And the copyrights?”
“That’s easier to explain. I have the design information for machines that have not been produced in centuries, but are still for some reason restricted by copyright laws. If a design hasn’t been produced in 50 years, I propose that it no longer be subject to copyright protection.”
“The next Mech you intend to build?” Katrina asked.
“The Sarissa,” I replied with a nod, “Free Worlds League design. And unlike the Phoenix, the company that originally produced it still exists. Somehow, I doubt that I would be able to purchase a license from them.”
“That I can get done more easily. Some of the members of the Estates General won’t like the competition, but enough will be thinking about the new opportunities for ‘Mech ownership that voting will lean in favor,” she said. “And your second request?”
She seemed to be bracing herself for something unpleasant. I was glad to be requesting something she already wanted to do, even if it might very well be an even harder ask than my first.
“Second, I want you to take the information on that data core,” I said, pointing at the innocuous object, “and use it to end the Succession Wars.”
I could see surprise in her face for a moment, before determination became the dominant emotion in her gaze.
“Sounds like you’ve got my career as Archon planned out for me, Duke Weber, but, in this case, I’ve got no objections.”
There had still been details to work out afterwards, but they were relatively minor. It was a good thing the old Executive mansion and government offices had survived in the Holdfast, because I was going to need to open them up just to help handle the influx of bureaucrats, bean counters, and inspectors. On the other hand, getting the green light to purchase military hardware and at preferred pricing was a big deal.
So was LIC effectively taking over my counterintelligence department. Another big gain was a pair of regiments: one of the Commonwealth’s best infantry, and another of heavy, short-ranged or anti-air armor to handle securing the Holdfast against the sort of attack that had knocked out Hesperus II for most of a decade.
Katrina had offered more ASFs as well. I’d told her that if Bauer ever got the Rapier back into production, that I’d love a Wing of them. Then I’d showed her the data on the Centurion refit kit we’d developed and offered to sell the design to Lockheed-CBM once I’d managed to get 240 XLFEs back in production. With a full ASF Wing with us, we only had our last two Squadrons available to act as home guard.
There were a few other issues to handle, but those were for after the attack on Sevren.
That was my current focus.
Security had held on just what our equipment list entailed. That meant a briefing on precisely what we were fielding and what our capabilities were, which I was finally drawing to a close.
“-to the need to maintain our logistics ourselves, and without much in the way of local stores, we limited the diversity of platforms we brought with us. We have the cargo area on our Triumph loaded with mainly armor and munitions, and the same with our Overlord. We can, thankfully, use conventional LRMs and SRMs, so we brought relatively few of those. Our ASFs, of course, carry an all-energy armament, so Aerospace stores are fully stocked with Ferro-Aluminum armor and fuel, with no munitions required,” I concluded, and immediately reached for my glass of water.
Everyone around the table was finishing with their notes. The CO of the 8th, Colonel Mitchell Weintraub, a prematurely balding man whose skin was approximately as black as pitch, managed to get his thoughts together first.
“That’s an impressive force, even with the weaknesses you outlined. The Mud Wrestlers have an Assault Battalion, but we’re mostly on the light and fast end of the spectrum: Zeus and Battlemasters with one Victor. We’ve only got two lances of slower Stalkers and Atlases, so your Devil Company is the heaviest concentration of metal in our entire force.”
Devil Company was the name I’d given to our independent Assault Company. With eight Mackies backed up by four of our Banshees, they were indeed mean combatants, especially if my Command Lance of four BNC-3Rs joined them.
“Last we knew, the Teak Dragon had an Assault Battalion. Figured it would only be polite to greet theirs with ours if they wanted to dance,” and the way they were organized meant their ‘Assault Battalion’ was actually a Company backstopped by a Company of Heavy Mechs focused on fire-support with a third of lighter Mediums for scouting. If they made the mistake of seeking us out for a rematch, I’d bet dollars -well Kroner- to donuts that they’d find that we were more than a handful for them.
“Well, we won’t ask you to do it alone, no matter what,” he assured me with an eager grin, “but we’ve got a couple plans in the works to see about forcing them into the sort of slugging match that favors us. One time being an Officer, but not a Gentleman, comes in handy.”
I snorted at that. After their actions in the Battle of Skye, up to and including declining to take Drac prisoners because it would have slowed them down and kept them from making their timetable, the Archon of the time had forbidden the 8th Donegal from wearing Gold Braid on their uniforms, asserting that they were, “not gentlemen.” I supposed that it was no mistake that their unit badge was a Zeus half-buried in a swamp. The Mud Wrestlers didn’t seem to be afraid to get down and dirty if that’s what it took to win.
I was rapidly changing my opinion of them. They might dress like popinjays, but their commander, at least, had substance. If, as now seemed clear, he’d thoroughly embraced the reputation the unit had earned brawling with Combine Mechwarriors at the Battle of Coopers’ Creek …
I wondered how long their current CO had been CO … and what the previous one had been caught doing. If I wasn’t misreading things, the new one’s attitude was one of the reasons they had Katrina’s favor.
“I’m more impressed with the artillery,” Jonas Shaw, the implausibly young, redheaded commander of the Jägers asserted, distracting me from my thoughts. “They may not be fast, but a Mech can just get places an SPG can’t. I’ve got a battalion attached to my command for this operation, but they were going to have to cover a half-dozen regiments. Adding on a fourth company will definitely make the job easier.”
“We’ve used them in exercises, and yes, with their jump jets Whiskey Company tends to end up in the damndest places,” I agreed. “The only issue is their relatively limited magazines. Two tons of Sniper rounds isn’t a lot of endurance; we’ve developed two ways of handling the issue. One is to reserve a lance after the initial two or three calls for fire so that we can rotate lances out to rearm while maintaining fire support capability. The second is to substitute ASF bombing runs while the whole company pulls back to reload.
“With the Centurion’s power to weight ratio, they make solid bomb haulers,” I asserted. “The only potential issue in this case is the need to rely on your forces for munitions.”
“We can work with that,” Colonel Weintraub said, thoughtfully. “Honestly, I’m just glad to have another wing of ASFs, even if they are mostly Interceptors. We’ve got a Wing attached to us in the 8th Donegal, but the Jägers are seriously light on air power.”
I nodded. Colonel Shaw had mentioned earlier in the briefing that a single Leopard CV carried the sum of the Tamar Jägers ASF assets; they also exclusively fielded dogfighters. At least for values of ‘dogfighter.’
I would have considered the Lightning a light Dropper-chopper, but I suppose the LCAF had to justify their procurement of Lucifers somehow. The Jägers fielded two of them and three Hellcats. As dogfighters, both were second rate: the Lightning because of its lack of range, the Hellcat because it wallowed like a pig in any atmospheric fight. Their final ASF was a Stingray that had been converted to a -90S, significantly reducing its effectiveness. Honestly, I’d call it third-rate.
“The Jägers ASFs have already been discussed. I know you’ve got a Wing attached to the 8th Donegal, but not what its composition is,” I said.
“We’ve got a more typical mix,” Colonel Weintraub said, “a squadron of interceptors: four Sabres and a pair of Seydlitz, a squadron of ground-attack strike fighters: a Thunderbird, an old Typhoon -A3, and four Chippewas, and a middleweight squadron for Dropper-chopping: four Eagles escorting two Lucifers.”
That was … pretty awful. The Sabre was a lighter, more poorly armored Centurion: its only virtues were its relative inexpensiveness and more modern electronics. Second-rate at best. The Seydlitz had a role, but it was very, very fragile. Again, second-rate.
The Thunderbird was the only Lyran strike fighter worth being considered first-rate. It was an unlovely beast, but it could bully dogfighters all day long, and in a ground-attack role it had a lethal one, two, three combo of LRMs, 8cm lasers, and 5cm lasers. By the time it pulled out of a strafing run, it was running a bit warm, but it could devastate any Mech or tank it picked out for special attention, and if it caught the enemy from behind, it could fell a whole Lance with a single pass.
The other strike fighters were … well, they sucked. The Chippewa carried even more gun than the Thunderbird, despite being ten tons lighter, and it paid for that by being hideously undersinked and carrying half the armor of the heavier bird, which was already a bit light on protection for its weight and role. Frankly, the Typhoon, a design that took me a moment to remember since it hadn’t been in production for half a millennium, was a better attack bird. If only because it could use all its guns without turning into a fireball as waste heat spontaneously ignited its fuel. Charitably, the Typhoon was second-rate. The Chippies were definitely third.
And the so-called Dropper-choppers notably lacked a single AC-20. The Eagle stood at the apex of the dogfighting world alongside its near-clone, the Transgressor, so that was good. The Lucifer, on the other hand was under-engined for a dogfight, and not equipped well for Dropper-chopping. Even outside it’s issues with the ejection seat, it was a third-rate design.
Call it five first-rate birds, seven second-rate birds, and a squadron of third-rate trash. Unfortunately, that was pretty good for an LCAF formation.
Realizing I’d been quiet for a bit too long, I spoke up.
“Since the 7th Sword will have one of those double-strength Combine ASF Wings, we’ll be glad to have those Eagles when we hit atmosphere,” I allowed.
“Not a fan of the Lucifer either, huh?” Colonel Weintraub asked, immediately improving my opinion of him another notch.
“Whoever the officer in Procurement is who keeps buying them should be shot for treason,” I stated bluntly. “They get far too many good men and women killed, and not just because of the ejection problems.”
Colonel Shaw winced, but I’d read Weintraub right. He laughed out loud.
“God, I hear you,” the man said, then shook his head. “Still, now that we’re all caught up on what assets we’re working with, I suppose it’s time to delve into the Ops Plan.”
A few clicks brought up more detailed information on Sevren than I’d seen thus far.
“The plan is to feign a raid in force, making as if to attack Nesmith Nuclear Industries and several of the smelting operations located in and around Landing while concealing our true numbers via the use of a stacked dropship formation.
“Commander's intention is to draw the 7th Sword out of their positions around the capital of New Cartris to attack the Tamar Jägers and Weber’s Warriors. Since they’re Samurai, they’ll almost certainly underestimate a force composed mostly of tanks and ‘lucrewarriors.’ Then, once they are committed, I’ll land the 8th Donegal Guard and our attached armor regiments behind them. If they press their attack on you, you can fall back on dug-in Demolishers and Weber’s Devil Company. If they push their attack on my 8th Donegal Guard, then your more mobile forces hit them from behind and keep them busy until heavier forces can catch up.
“I’d love to encircle them and wipe them out, but I don’t expect them to be accommodating. I’ll settle for wiping out their Assault and Medium battalions and their conventional support. Any questions about the generalities of the plan?”
Since things seemed clear enough thus far, I kept silent.
“Alright, then,” Colonel Weintraub said, “LIC thinks that our best landing zones around the old capital of Landing are here and here,” he said, pointing to a couple areas on the map. “Sevren has pretty prosperous mining and agriculture sectors even under the Combine’s rule and Landing is the center of that agricultural sector. The immediate area is almost all farmland once you get outside the suburbs. The exception is the industrial area around NNI. That means the terrain is ideal for your hovertanks, Colonel Shaw. Now, further out, there’s a range of tall hills or really short mountains between Landing and New Cartris. They’re pretty forested, but there are some landmarks associated with the mining sector, especially north of the highway cut. That road is the only practical way to move armor up from the capital, so one of our options is to close it behind the Sworders. It won’t stop their Mechs from running, but it will corral their conventional assets. If-”
As the balding Colonel continued the briefing, I took careful notes. The hammer and anvil plan was a good idea, but I’d read enough to know that plans seldom survived contact with the enemy. Any of the geographical details I could cram into my brain might end up being useful.
It was going to be a long few days before our departure.
A/N: Thanks again to Seraviel, Lordsfire, and Yellowhammer for beta reading, idea bouncing, and canon compliance checking. This chapter is vastly improved by their efforts.