SLS Nicholas Cameron
August 14, 2785
Tanaga could feel the tension in the briefing room as he entered it. There was a total of fourteen people in the room, including him, all clustered around the central holographic tank that stood in the center of the room. The last several days of stress were clearly showing on their faces, and the Major knew he was about to add to them.
“All right,” he said, scanning each of them in turn. They were his people - all the officers of his command, Second Battalion, 111th Dragoon, Fourth RCT. To represent the enlisted ranks, Master Sargent Turkle, the senior Battalion NCO, stood in a corner of the room. This was his family now, the one that had replaced his tradition-bound father and like-minded siblings all those years ago. “Latest update on the situation.”
That got their full attention. Rumors had been rife, and mixed with half truths, speculations and opinion, what little in the way of hard facts had been lost. Tanaga didn't blame them. The mutiny had been sudden, and the lack of real information was hurting morale. They had been on the move for three days, one hyperspace jump, long hours in pursuit, with a few exchanges of missiles and naval cannon fire between the two groups. As ground troops, they had little to do in those three days. But that was going to change.
“As of six hours ago,” Tanaga continued, “Eight out of the nine ships that mutinied four days ago have been recaptured or surrendered, including the Prinz Eugen, the lead ship of this mutiny. That leaves one mutineer-controlled ship to deal with, and that’s our job.”
They, with the exception of Turkle, all looked confused. “That was my reaction when the Colonel summoned me,” Tanaga said dryly. “But this is a unique situation.”
He touched a pad on the holographic tank. It sprang to life, showing a start system of a dozen planets, a smallish blue-white sun, and several asteroid fields. “This is the system we are currently in – codename: Damocles. We and several other warships are moving to this area here.” The view changed to a close up of an asteroid field located between two large gas giants. “Between Damocles Seven and Eight is this asteroid field. This area is relatively stable, with little chance of the rocks colliding with each other – at least for now. That is where the target is.”
The view again changed to a close up of a small section of the asteroid. Among the floating rocks, an unnatural object sat. “The Rhine Knight,” Tanaga said. “A Potemkim-class cruiser, damaged in an exchange of fire with the task force. It moved into the asteroid field while the rest of the ships were being retaken, we think to effect repairs. They have refused all calls for surrender, and claim they are ready to fight, if they have to. General Kerensky wants the Rhine Knight recaptured.”
“But 'Mechs?” Asked one of the lieutenants. “Isn't that impossible?”
“The Marines will retake the Rhine Knight,” Tanaga replied. “But we have our own mission, codename Slipknot.” He tapped another set of buttons and small lights started to flash on the asteroids around the cruiser. “The Rhine Knight has released its DropShips and placed them on the asteroids around it. Their weapons cover all the access paths the Marines can use to reach the cruiser. They are shielded from any fire from our warships, but they can sweep the Marines’ access paths very effectively. Between them and the Rhine Knight, the intel boys estimates that the Marines losses could be seventy-five to eighty percent of the boarding force. The DropShips and their firepower are our targets. They need to be captured or destroyed.”
The major watched his officers exchange glances before he continued. “The 111th, 129th, and 146th Dragoon regiments will be the lead units in this operation, with attached Marine assets. The Fifty-Fifth and 221st Light Horse will supply scouts and flankers.”
“We’re going in with some of the ‘Double Nickel Boys’?” Captain Harris, Alpha company’s commander asked with a grin. Most of the others around the tank chuckled. The Fifty-Fifth Light Horse was the other half of the Fourth RCT that had survived the Usurper War. The members of the 111th considered the 55th ‘little brothers’, mostly because their 'Mechs were mostly medium and lights, while the 111th were mostly assault and heavy 'Mechs. Their rivalry was friendly, both units having shed too much blood together during to war to allow it to go beyond good-natured name calling or interfering with actual operations.
“Of course,” Tanaga replied, returning her grin, “You didn't think we’d let them wander off on their own, do you?” That brought another round of chuckles and the tension in the room eased a bit.
The view in the holotank changed again, focusing on part of the ring of asteroids surrounding the Rhine Knight. “The Regiment’s mission is this third of the defensive circle,” Tanaga continued, his tone of voice serious again. A slight adjustment to the image now showed a large asteroid with three lights on it.“Our battalion’s mission is the neutralization of these three DropShips – The Adrianople, an Overlord-class, the Younger and the Foster, both Union-class. Our part of Slipknot is code named Bastille.”
There was silence for a few seconds, then, Lieutenant Keller asked, “Sir, what are the rules of engagement we will be operating under?”
Tanaga looked at him. He still wasn't sure that his talk with the young man months before had been completely effective, but Keller had at least stopped openly expressing the opinion about the Exodus being wrong. Still, he was an unknown factor, especially under these circumstances. “As with the other mutineer ships,” the Major replied, “the General wants to limit casualties. We don’t know how many of the crew and soldiers are actively involved in the mutiny. However, if we are fired upon, we are to return fire and eliminate the threat as quick as possible.”
The faces around the tank became serious. “And if they don’t fire at us?” Keller asked. “If they surrender without a fight?”
“We thank our gods and move in before they change their minds,” Tanaga replied.
“What happens then?”
“Anyone suspected of participating in this mutiny will be court-marshaled.”
“And then what?” Keller asked, looking uneasy. He wasn’t alone. A few of the other officers shared the same expression.
Tanaga his expression sad, looked at Keller. “I don’t know. That will be up to General Kerensky and the officers of the Court to decide. But the rules are very clear on matters like this.” Tanaga saw the unease in his subordinate officers’ expression. “I don’t like the idea either. But as long as there is an SLDF, we will follow orders. Has the General ever failed to deliver on his promises?”
A few of the older officers, like Harris, shook their heads. “No sir,” Turkle replied. “Come hell or high water, the General has never broken our trust in him. He has a plan.”
“Then why doesn't he tell us?” Keller asked sharply, looking at the Master Sergeant. “We've been in space for nine months. Nine months! It’s been that long since most of us have breathed air that hasn't been recycled several hundred times!” He stepped away from the tank, then looked at Tanaga. “Why can’t the General trust us now and tell us what we’re doing hundreds of light years from the Inner Sphere?”
“Lieutenant!” Captain Harris snapped. “You are on –“
Tanaga held up a hand. “Captain,” he said firmly. “Let the lieutenant speak.”
“But, sir,” Harris replied. “It isn't –“
”I said, let him speak, Captain. I want to hear what he has to say.”
“Sir,” Keller said, his words quick and short. “I came along on the Exodus because there was nothing left for me back there. And I think you were right about the Council of Lords and why the General took us out of the middle of that . . . cesspool. But why not seize one of the Periphery states and wait the Lords out?”
“You know as well as I do that would have been no solution,” Tanaga replied softly. “What Periphery state was in better shape then the Hegemony? The only way to do this is to have a clean break with those we left behind. I have no doubt that the Lords sent ships of their own to look for us. Sooner or later, they would find us, if we stayed close to the Inner Sphere. But the farther we go, the less chance they will find us and drag us back into that cesspool, as you called it.”
“I know, but –“
”We could not stay, so we had to go. For now, the matter is closed. Is that understood?”
”I said, the matter is closed,” Tanaga said harshly, giving Keller a hard stare. “We now have an operation to plan and execute.” He touched a few buttons, adjusting the view so it now showed a three-dimensional map of the asteroid. The object was about ten kilometers in diameter, somewhat more oval then round in shape, making it looked somewhat lopsided. The terrain was as rocky and devoid as any desert, mostly flat with some craters and fissures scattered across its face. Small images of the target dropships were in place on the holographic terrain.
“All right, the basics.” Tanaga said in a clipped tone. "In six hours, we’re landing on the opposite side of the asteroid from our targets, then moving in on them, using the terrain as best we can. Alpha Company and my Command Lance will go after the Adrianople. Jim, your Bravo Company has the Foster, and Jeanne, your Demon Company has the Younger as its target. I’m leaving Liam’s Charlie Company to guard our dropships and act as reinforcements, in case of trouble. Each of the attacking companies will have a platoon of Marines attached to go in and physically secure the DropShips once they surrender. Two companies of the Fifty-Fifth will act as our scouts and flankers. I want to hit all three DropShips at the exact some moment, so timing is going to be a critical factor. Let’s start planing.”
It took the officers over an hour to plan and refine the operation. It wasn't overly complex, as there wasn't much they could do. Questions were asked, to which answers either given or hashed out in a couple of minutes. Contingency plans were made, rallying points for both company and battalion were established, and information on the possible resistance was shared. Throughout, Tanaga led the discussion, involving all his officers by asking questions of them, inquiring for their opinions on certain matters and generally keeping it businesslike, but without the tension that had been there at the start. The only one who didn't seem enthused with the planning was Keller. He had been silent for the most part throughout the planning, speaking only when Tanaga addressed him directly.
Finally, the Major asked, “Any more questions?” There were none. “Good. Tell your people they have three hours to prepare for fighting in a vacuum. Full oxygen bottles and make sure all 'Mech cockpits have been fully tested. I don’t want to lose anyone just because someone forgot to patch a hole in their cockpit. Understand?”
There were murmurs of assent and the officers began to file out of the briefing room, Keller among them. Tanaga waited until the young officer reached the doorway before he said, “Lieutenant Keller, A word with you please, in private.”
From the looks the other officers were giving Keller, they didn't envy him and what they thought was going to happen. Keller stood off to one side until Master Sargent Turkle, the last man out, shut the hatch behind him.
Tanaga squared his shoulders. “You still have doubts, don’t you?”
Keller took several seconds before he nodded.
Tanaga eyed the Lieutenant. “Do you think these mutineers are doing the right thing?”
Keller bowed his head. “I don’t know sir.”
“Fair enough,” Tanaga said mildly. “The mutineers are in breech of several articles of the Star League Defense Force Code of Military Conduct. They are –“
”There is no longer a Star League,” Keeler replied quietly. He looked at the Major, his expression puzzled. “You said so yourself. How can there be a Star League Defense Force if there is no Star League?”
“Because we are all that is left the Star League,” Tanaga replied, keeping his voice level. “We are the ones – the only ones now – who carry the hopes and dreams of a united Humanity. That is why General Kerensky took us away from it and taken us all the way out here. If we had stayed there, we would have sunk in the morass, and SDLF units would have been fighting other SDLF units. It would be brothers and sisters fighting each other. We would have become no better then what we left behind. Do you want to see that?”
He took a step toward the Lieutenant. “We can’t let these mutineers leave the fleet. They will go back and they will tell them where we went. It will give them a trail to track. Sooner or later, they would find us.”
”We can’t give them any hope of finding us. If we do, they will never stop looking for us. We are a resource they can use in their wars. They will tempt us with money, titles and land, use us in their battles, then throw us away after we are no longer useful to them. Do you want that to happen?”
“Neither do I. As long as there is an SDLF, the hope for a new Star League still lives. We go back there, and we are as dead of the First Lord and his Family, and any hope of the Star League’s revival dies with us. Do you understand me?”
Keller nodded. Tanaga slapped him on the shoulder. “Good. Since your lance is going to be part of my unit, I suggest you make sure you’re ready to go.”
Keller looked at him. “You still want me to go with you?”
“You’re still in my battalion, correct?”
“Yes, but –“
”Do you think you’re the only soldier in this fleet who has doubts? Having doubts is not a crime. Acting on them by disobeying lawful orders is. Remember that.”
After Keller left, Tanaga looked at the holotank. Let’s hope all you have are doubts, he thought.
Part Three Next Tuesday.