Chapter III of the Snowbird Saga

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Took me a while to track this down in the ether of my computer, but here's the next short story in the Snowbird story arc. This deals with the Federated Commonwealth counterattack on Twycross, and takes place roughly between Chapters 31 and 35 of Michael Stackpole'sLethal Heritage. Again, I've taken some liberties with canon Battletech history, but this story expands upon a few themes in Stackpole's book, as well as the old Classic Battletech The Battle of Twycross campaign book.

War movie aficionados should recognize a few of the lines in this chapter as being from the epic A Bridge Too Far.I thought them rather appropriate.

"When you want to do battle, muster all your forces, not neglecting any of them: a battalion sometimes decides a battle."
--Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Black Pearl Base
Sudeten, Tamar March, Federated Commonwealth
28 August 3050

Morgan Hasek-Davion drummed his fingers on the desk, reading the report. He set it aside and looked up. Victor Steiner-Davion was fidgeting noticeably. "Victor, relax," Morgan said lightly. "The plan looks good. I told you so a month ago, and you've improved it since then."
Victor blew out his breath. "Well, I did everything you asked…"
"And more, Victor. You've incorporated all the data we've collated from both the Blackjack fiasco and the first battle on Twycross. The use of Lohengrin special forces teams to plant explosives at the Great Gash is an excellent idea." Morgan leaned back in his chair. "I'm just wondering about those pathfinders."
"If the weather is as bad as they say it is on Twycross, Morgan, we're going to need pathfinders, otherwise our drops will get scattered hell to breakfast."
Morgan nodded. "I realize that. It's not the pathfinders I'm questioning, it's who you've chosen to act as them."
"The Sentinels?" Victor asked. "Cousin, they're a good unit, and they've got more experience fighting the Clans than anyone else we've tapped for this mission. I took a look at their personnel files, and the people I've chosen have fought on Persistence, Rasalhague, and/or Blackjack. They're solid."
"I agree. With the exception of Sheila Arla-Vlata." Morgan held up his hand. "All right, Victor, don't start. I know she's your classmate and your friend. But she's also a loose cannon. She's gone rogue in every campaign she's fought in. Her CO ordered her to fall back on Persistence, but she refused. She went after a friend on Rasalhague and endangered other lives doing it. And on Blackjack, she insulted her superior officer and deliberately disobeyed an order. I read the court-martial transcript too, Victor. There may have been mitigating circumstances, but the fact remains that she disobeyed a legitimate order."
"I know, Morgan. I'm not defending her for that. But on Persistence, her CO panicked and tried to abandon a good position, and on Rasalhague, she didn't ask anyone to do what she wasn't willing to do herself. She took on Elementals practically bare-handed, for heaven's sake. I think she's got potential, Morgan. For one thing, she's not afraid of the Clans. We've got mercenaries breaking contract rather than face the Jade Falcons. She'll never redeem herself if she doesn't get another chance. She knows what happened on Blackjack, and she feels pretty remorseful for it. I think she'll toe the line, Morgan."
Morgan sighed. "You'd better be right, Victor. Because if Sheila screws up this time, she'll probably get killed, and she'll get a lot of other people killed in the process, including you. Can you handle that?"
Victor nodded. He had already thought about it. "Yes."
"All right. Plan approved. You lift from Sudeten in three days."

Sheila Arla-Vlata smoothed her fatigue pants for the fourth time since she had taken her seat in Black Pearl Base's largest auditorium. She sat in the front row, feeling decidedly out of place among the other MechWarriors there, who were all older than she was, wore the stripes of lance commanders, and did not bear the stigma of disgrace. Behind her sat sixteen other MechWarriors wearing Sentinel gray, and scattered representatives of the other units assigned to the Twycross operation: the 9th Federated Commonwealth RCT, the 10th Lyran Guards RCT, and the famous Kell Hounds. Compared to the four regiments of BattleMechs those units were bringing to the field, the Sentinels' contribution of twenty men and women seemed rather paltry.
Caitlin Houndlikov took the stage at the head of the auditorium. She was Catherine Houndlikov's sister, but unlike the "Iceberg," Caitlin had a reputation for being a kind and gentle woman, especially famous for the impromptu concerts she gave to her company with her balalaika. She was one of the best scout commanders in the Sentinels, and her even-handed reputation made her a natural for coalition warfare, which the Twycross campaign would be. She held a laser pointer in her hands, and smiled at the assembly. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said clearly, "this is an operation you will tell your grandchildren about. And mightily bored they'll be." There was laughter at that; Caitlin had instantly captivated her audience. "Now your commanders have already outlined the Twycross operation for you; we're here today to discuss the Sentinels RCT's role in it. I've invited representatives from the other regiments to make sure that our plan meets with their approval—after all, they're depending on us."
"You poor bastards," Marion Rhialla said loudly from the front row, starting more titters of laughter. Caitlin gave the older woman a mockingly stern stare, then nodded offstage. The lights dimmed, and a holomap was projected on the screen behind her.
"This is the area of Twycross in which we hope to be fighting in. It's called the Plain of Curtains because of the way sand is constantly picked up and moved across it. The sand is thin enough not to interfere with magscan and infrared, though it will cause problems with vislight. So be careful. To the west are the Sharktooth Mountains, and to the east the Great Gash, which is, as the name suggests, a rather large dry canyon, bordered by the low ridges of the Windbreak Mountains. To the south, the ground slowly rises to the Hawkroost Hills.
"Now the plan is that the 1st Kell Hounds will land on the Plain of Curtains, where they will meet the Jade Falcons more or less head-on. The 2nd Kell Hounds secure dropzones in the Hawkroost Hills, then will move into the Sharktooths, to support the left flank of their sister regiment. The right flank of the 1st rests on the Great Gash. Now here's the clincher: the 9th FC will land just in front of the Diabolis, which is a gigantic storm systems that meanders around Twycross. Once the Clanners are committed to taking on one of the Kell Hound regiments, the 9th, having marched under cover of the Diabolis, will attack out of the storm into the flank or rear of the Jade Falcons. The 10th Lyran will be in reserve.
"Opposition is supposed to be light. The best intelligence we have is that the planet has a garrison of second-line 'Mechs—Star League designs and even a couple of older designs like what we pilot. So be careful who you shoot at. There's also a good possibility that the Clans might be using 'Mechs from the Trellshire Heavy Industries plant, which they captured intact. In any case, we expect to be facing a roughly regimental sized garrison, with probable battlearmor support. The good news is that the unit which took Twycross—the Falcon Guards—seem to have left the planet a few days ago. They're not expecting us, people. Any questions so far?"
Marion Rhialla rose. She was one of the oldest MechWarriors present, well into her fifties, with a combat record stretching back well before the Fourth Succession War. She was a tough, no-nonsense type that still retained a price on her head from House Liao, whom she had defected from years before. "I have one," she said. "The Great Gash is an open avenue right into our rear areas. Is anyone covering it?"
"Leftenant General Milstein plans on putting a company at the north entrance," Caitlin answered. "If the Clans move south, that company should give us a heads-up. Furthermore, a team of Lohengrin specforces are going to mine the walls of the Gash with explosives. If things go south, they'll blow the sides of the canyon and block it." Rhialla, satisfied, sat down.
Seeing that there were no other questions, Caitlin moved on. "Right. This is our part in it, then. The Sentinels are to act as pathfinders. The weather on Twycross goes from moderately bad to utterly vicious, like in the Diabolis. The DropShips are going to need pinpoint guide beams to land, otherwise we're likely to get scattered all over the place. So the Sentinels will be going in an hour ahead of the other DropShips." Everyone shifted uncomfortably; that meant that for that hour, they would be alone on Twycross. "Our job is to place beacons for the DropShips of the other regiments to home in on. Each one of our 'Mechs will have a beacon attached to it. Once you reach the predesignated point, which will be fed into your battle computers prior to the drop, you simply throw a switch, and the beacon will detach itself from your 'Mech, plop down in the ground, and start transmitting. The reason why we're putting a beacon with every 'Mech is in case you get scattered…or if some of you don't make it to the dropzones. That shouldn't be a problem," Caitlin quickly assured them. "The Clan garrison is either at the Trellshire factory northwest of the Plain of Curtains, or in the capital city of Camora, which is northeast. We shouldn't have to deal with either one of them until the main force arrives."
"They'll detect us coming," said Philip Scott, sitting next to Sheila.
"True," Caitlin replied. "But they won't move until they're sure where we're going to land. Otherwise they risk uncovering either one of their bases." She returned her attention to the assembly. "Since there's four dropzones, we have four separate lances. These will be coded according to who's commanding them." As she went down the line of the front row, she pointed at each lance commander in turn.
"Lance Commander Elfa Brownoak, your lance is called Elfa's Eyes." Elfa was a beautiful older woman a little over forty, who, unlike many MechWarriors, wore her blond hair very long, down to the small of her back. "You're covering DropZone Rei. This is the toughest one of all—the 9th FC's zone. It's closest to the possible garrison at Trellshire Heavy, and right in front of the Diabolis."
"Oh, God, not us again," Elfa whispered. Her lance had gotten the dubious pleasure of being the Sentinels' pathfinder force on Rasalhague, and the rearguard on Persistence. Made up entirely of Land-Air 'Mechs, the only such force in the regiment, they were a perfect choice for the assignment, able to move positions extremely quickly. That was of little comfort to Elfa and her hybrid MechWarriors.
"What was that, Elfa?" Caitlin grinned.
"Happy to be of service," Elfa said with forced cheer, and the crowd laughed.
"Lance Commander Philip Scott, your lance will be Philip's Perforators." Philip grinned; he was not much older than Sheila, and had been her defense counsel at her court-martial; he was a handsome man, also with blond hair, who had begun growing a goatee. "You've got an easy one—DropZone Asuka, the 10th Lyran's in the Hawkroost."
"Cool," was Philip's only reply.
"Major Marion Rhialla, your lance is the one you already have—Tigerstripe's Legionnaires. You've got DropZone Gendo, the 2nd Kell Hounds. Watch this one—it's got broken ground. I'm depending on you to find a better spot in case the estimate is wrong." Rhialla nodded sharply.
Finally, Caitlin pointed at Sheila. "Sheila Arla-Vlata, you're being brevetted to Lance Commander for this operation. Your lance is codenamed Sheila's Snowbirds. You've got DropZone Shinji, the 1st Kell Hounds' in the Plain of Curtains. Should be an easy one, but watch the weather. Also, there's not a hell of a lot of places to hide on that plain, so don't go wandering off, okay?"
Sheila's cheeks burned, but she nodded.
"Right. Once you've placed the beacons, stay until you get a tightbeam acknowledgement from the DropShips, then hightail it for the Cloisters, which is a rock formation here." She pointed to the map. "That's the rally point. I'll meet you there with my command lance, and we'll stay in reserve with the 10th Lyran. Elfa, you move your arse ASAP, understand? Your LAMs can't take that much of a beating, and I'd hate to have to fly those damn things in a tornado." She looked around. "Questions? None? Capital. Brief your lances, and I'll meet you on the DropShip."