The Bitter Harvest
|The Bitter Harvest|
|First published||30 November 2010|
|Timeline||8 October 3078|
|Series||Jihad Hot Spots: Terra tie-in|
|Followed by||The Running Man|
|“||In our next story written to support Jihad Hot Spots: Terra, Christopher Purnell gives us a closer look at a more intimate action than the previous two stories, as combat rages through Budapest.||”|
Sergeant Roland Stansfield leads a number of troops from Stone's Liberators on a strike in Budapest to try and pave the way for Coalition forces trapped in the Krupp Armaments factory to be extracted. Stansfield and his men are disguised as Blakists, technically committing the crime of perfidy, but are more than willing to do so given the manner in which the Word of Blake had already broken every known law of civilised warfare. When challenged by a small patrol of four Blakist infantry from TerraSec, Stansfield bluffs his way through, claiming that his unit are looking for infiltrators. Having lulled the patrol into a false feeling of security, Stansfield and his men kill them - Stansfield idly noting that the young woman leading the Blakist patrol, a strawberry-blonde girl aged twenty at the most, had the same color hair as his daughter - killed when the Blakists used a bioweapon on the population of Alarion.
Having killed the patrol, one of Stansfield's soldiers - a woman named Yuan Zhenli - confirms that they're in the right location; when Stansfield expresses surprise that Zhenli can read Hungarian, she mentions in passing that her mother was a MechWarrior with the Langendorf Lancers, and arranged for her to attend a university in the Marik Commonwealth, where Hungarian is commonly spoken.
Stansfield leads his team down Konvyes Kalman street, through an area renovated by the Terran Expanionist party in the twenty-third century, over a bridge mined with vibrabombs and on to his target - the Royal Material Arts Institute, a blocky ferrocrete structure modified to look a little like a fortress, having been the fancy of one or other member of House Cameron. Stansfield convinces the security guard at the building that he and his personnel are Blakists seizing the building to use in the defense against Coalition forces, and the security guard willingly concedes and has his personnel assist with evacuating the building and setting up Stansfield's heavy weapons - grumbling about how the "barbarians" have spent centuries destroying their own homes, and have now brought that destruction to Terra.
Stansfield's troops set up positions within the building, positioning heavy weapons teams and an artillery spotter, before their deception is uncovered by one of the younger security guards. This leads to a tense argument within the ranks of Stansfield's team, with some arguing for the guards to be executed - either for expediency and to protect the mission, or for revenge - while others argue that they should be spared, as they're civilians and it's important that those fighting for Stone don't become as bad as the Word. Stansfield sides with those arguing for the prisoners to be kept safe, stating that they'll be released in the morning. Some of the guards don't believe that they'll be left unharmed, and the senior guard begs profusely, arguing that all they know on Terra is what the Word has been telling them; Stansfield angrily lists some of the horrific actions the Blakists have been involved in, beginning with the death of his ten year-old daughter on Alarion, before telling the guard that Terra is going to get a dose of the same treatment the Blakists have given others, as the Word will inevitably turn against Terra as well.
With the guards locked in a secure room, Stansfield has his men continue to prepare the building; all of them openly accept that they're on a suicide mission, but intend to sell their lives dearly. Having not encountered any Manei Domini in Budapest, and considering it unlikely that BattleMechs will be deployed against them, Stansfield coordinates the building defense, establishing fire positions and rigging a large part of the second floor with explosives, directly over the loading dock, so that he can drop a chunk of the building on troops looking to battle their way in through the loading area. The multinational nature of the Liberators is showcased during the discussion, with the volunteer personnel including ex-DCMS survivors from Dieron, AFFS personnel, a Canopian, Clansmen and others, all equally committed to defeating the Blakists. With the main push expected to begin at dawn, Stansfield's objective is to hold the building for twelve hours.
As dawn breaks, Stansfield releases the captured guards, and braces for the inevitable discovery of the Liberators' presence in the building by the Blakists. The first attack comes soon after; Blakist tanks and infantry martial at a nearby railway yard in sight of the building as the main body of the Liberators begin their assault on Budapest, and the arrival of troops intending to seize the Institute is heralded by the Blakists deploying smoke grenades and moving infantry in. With the first attack punctuated by exchanges of fire, complicated by the smoke barrage, the Blakists move to secure positions in nearby buildings when Stansfield's artillery spotter calls in suppressing fire.
The second attack begins with a Blakist SRM team blowing a hole in the front of the building, before being killed by one of Stansfield's machine gun teams; as the Blakists try and storm through the hole created by the missile, using massed smoke grenades as cover, they enter a killing ground defended by Corporal Shinji Ishida and his section, who kill large numbers of the enemy infantry. With another artillery barrage providing support outside the building, Ishida leads his men on a bayonet charge into the building entrance from behind their prepared barricades at the stairs, routing the surviving Blakist infantry. With agreement from Stansfield, Ishida and his men execute any survivors before taking up positions at the barricades again.
With the attack on the front of the building broken, Stansfield becomes aware that Corporal Yuan's team at the rear of the building have been under heavy attack for several minutes, spearheaded by Blakist troops equipped with Tornado power armour. As he makes contact with Yuan, he hears that the Blakists are using flamers to kill the support weapons team, and Yuan triggers the explosives to rain down chunks of the second floor onto the attackers.
Keeping to himself the news that the push across the Danube by the main body of the Liberators is going more slowly than anticipated, Stansfield knits his defenses back together, moving those injured personnel he has that are too wounded to fight into an upstairs storage area for safety, knowing that extraction is extremely unlikely. The storage area is revealed to be full of gold bullion, looted from worlds in at least three different states by someone in the Blakist ranks.
An hour after the last attack, the Blakists begin attacking the building again, this time using a pair of Pike support vehicles. Stansfield gets a brief respite when an unnamed Coalition VTOL appears and destroys one of the Blakist Pikes, but the assault continues; Stansfield's ammunition situation is becoming badly strained, with the support weapons teams having taken casualties from snipers before using the bulk of their high explosive recoilless rifle rounds to kill the snipers and the bulk of their machine gun ammunition suppressing the Blakist infantry.
With the surviving Pike providing covering fire and their own machine gun teams doing their best to suppress Stansfield's men, the Blakists begin forcing their way into the building and inflicting increasing numbers of casualties on the Liberators. Some of Stansfield's recoilless rifles manage to destroy the second Pike, and a suicidal charge by Ishida gains them a little more time, but Stansfield's command is rapidly reduced to only a small number of effective personnel. The Blakists manage to gain a permanent foothold in the rear of the building, and with his support teams almost out of ammo and again being picked off by snipers, Stansfield withdraws his personnel from the roof of the building, preparing a last stand.
With Purifier battle armor forcing its way into the building and his men dying, Stansfield orders an artillery strike directly on the building. With his artillery spotter calling in support from every artillery piece he can find - including the main Battalion Long Tom Artillery pieces - the building largely collapses. Much to Stansfield's surprise, he's recovered alive from the ruins of the building in the aftermath of the barrage. Despite being badly concussed, he's dug out of the remains of the building and discovers that Zhenli has also survived, along with three other members of his team, and the Liberators' Third Battalion has broken through the Blakist defenses.
Yuan Zhenli and Roland Stansfield reappear as the main protagonists in the short story The Running Man, set 20 years after The Bitter Harvest.