When Small Men Stand
|When Small Men Stand|
|First published||13 November 2010|
|Timeline||25 October—16 November 3077|
|Series||Jihad Hot Spots: Terra tie-in|
|“||In our first story to parallel the publication of Jihad Hot Spots: Terra, Chris Hussey shows us how sometimes, even when the war is over, the fighting is just beginning.||”|
Three people - Jerry, Dirk and Gwen - plant explosives under the Candywine Bridge on Chara III, aiming to gain revenge on the Invaders - the forces of the Coalition assembled by Devlin Stone, who had invaded the planet and battled the Word of Blake before moving on. Jerry wants to see justice brought to those he considers responsible for damaging Pacifica and leaving much of the planet in ruins, before abandoning the planet to go and fight somewhere else. The unwitting target of the sabotage prepared by Jerry and his compatriots are forces from the Chaffee Planetary Militia, troops deployed by the Lyran Alliance to help restore order on Chara. From the Lyran point of view, Pacifica was suffering from scattered outbreaks of violence caused by disparate resistance elements, but the available intelligence suggested that the resistance was a long way from being organised because it contained too many factions and too few troops.
Commanding a convoy of vehicles making a road move to Nendriss, one of Chara's largest cities, is Sergeant Nate Calloway of the Chaffee Militia. Despite the sporadic resistance attacks across Chara, Nate and his counterparts are reasonably relaxed, and are debating how long the posting to Chara is likely to last - with complaints from one of his friends that they're a militia unit, not Indigenous Security, and that if they're going to be on-planet for at least two years, as Nate suspects, then they should at least be able to bring their families with them. Nate's cargo truck is one of those on the bridge when the explosives planted by Jerry detonate, and Nate tries to order his vehicles to charge forwards or reverse back from the bridge, depending on their position, when his truck is caught up in one of the detonations. With sections of the bridge already collapsing, Nate's truck falls into the river seconds after the explosion, with Nate's last act being to grab the picture of his family in the cab of his truck and kiss it as his vehicle plunges into the river.
The next day, the senior Lyran Alliance Armed Forces officer on the planet, Kommandant Chester Stitch, argues extensively with the provisional planetary governor, Helena Roseman, about the presence of insurgents like Jerry's group on the planet. Stitch's view is that the resistance are all Blakist sympathisers, and that having been brought into maintain an order that's been broken by acts of terrorism, the LAAF forces should be used to restore order. Roseman's position is that the isolated acts don't represent a second wave or counter-attack, and that those fighting must never be referred to in public as Blakists or Blakist sympathisers. Central to the division between the two is Roseman's insistence that they have to act to heal the wounds from the occupation and invasion, and that retribution will simply provoke further division; Stitch's position is that by not responding with force against the the insurgents, they're allowing the authority of the interim government to be undermined, and causing the population to lose confidence in the security offered by the militia - and that the attacks are destroying supplies, resources and food that Roseman needs to be able to continue her rebuilding projects. Roseman shuts Stitch down by bringing up what she knows of his personal history - his discharge from the Dragonslayers mercenary unit ten years previously, and the scrapping of his personal 'Mech to pay recompense to the families of his victims - as well as the fact that in her opinion, he was only taken on by the LAAF because the state military was and is so desperate for trained military personnel.
Faced with his second in command, Hauptmann Oliver Fessman, as he leaves the meeting with Roseman, Stitch earns Fessman's ire by refusing to authorise military action because of the Governors orders, despite the loss of more than two hundred militia personnel and locally employed Pacifican civilians, and by actively shutting down suggestions that they should act against Roseman's orders - but Stitch does order Fessman to begin gathering as much intelligence as he can on the perpetrators of the attack.
Stitch's efforts are aided by a long-time friend in the militia, Hauptmann Barry Silva, a former LIC employee with decades of experience, and a local civilian - Talbot Drius-Youngblood, a great nephew of the noted MechWarrior and founder of the Crescent Hawks, Jason Youngblood. By the 5th of November - eleven days after the attack on the convoy - Silva and Talbot have uncovered enough information on the local insurgents and guerillas to convince them and Stitch that they're facing the serious prospect of a long-running insurgency, if it isn't stopped soon.
Stitch contacts Roseman, and discusses with her, Fessman and Silva the implications of the intelligence that has been gathered; the intelligence indicates that the attack at the Candywine Bridge wasn't just an isolated attack, but a deliberate and planned catalyst to pull together the disparate resistance groups into a coherent organisation. In addition, there are reports that the Blakists had left supplies on Chara, near Neddriss, and that while the Blakist cache wasn't believed to contain BattleMechs, it was believed to contain substantial resources - potentially including combat vehicles - and that the resistance has enough military or former military personnel amongst its ranks to make use of everything in the cache. Much to Stitch's surprise - and horror - Fessman undercuts Stitch's recommendation for a military strike against the cache within the next forty-eight hours, by instead suggesting that the intelligence is used to try and energise public opinion against the resistance, even as the resistance attempts to sway public opinion to its cause. With Roseman somewhat overwhelmed by the information and wavering on her decision, Stitch cuts off the call, furious that she's putting people at risk... something he considers the inevitable consequence of leaving the cache intact, as he lacks the forces to garrison the entire world, and the local security forces are nowhere near ready to provide the level of security needed if the resistance gains the resources in the cache.
Silva suggests that Stitch launch a coup, or seize control for the duration of the crisis, to allow him to deal with the cache, but Stitch refuses, unwilling to engage in what he considers treason. Backing down, Silva suggests that Stitch take elements of the Chaffee Militia on military exercises in the region near the cache, so that if the resistance attempts to move anything from the cache, Stitch can declare it an immediate military threat and attack the cache directly, a plan of action Stitch agrees with.
Fessman confronts Silva over Stitch's mobilisation of the militia, leading to a clash between the two; Fessman throws the accusation at Silva that he and Stitch are backwater officers desperately looking for one last shot at glory, while Silva retaliates with the knowledge that Roseman was known to be a weak governor with no military ambitions, appointed specifically because she'd concentrate solely on reconstruction work, allowing Stone's people to replace her when needed. The two nearly come to blows, with Silva threatening Fessman personally with retaliation if any of the Chaffee personnel are killed as a result of Fessman's machinations, as well as the promise that Silva's going to keep investigating Fessman to find out what game he's playing. Fessman threatens Silva in turn, promising him that as soon as a single member of the militia steps out of line, he'll have the entire militia pulled from Chara and deployed to the front lines.
Jubilant over the success of their action at the Candywine Bridge, as well as the effect it had on the resistance, the authority its given them, and the lack of a counterattack, Jerry and his team prepare another act of sabotage on the 8th of November, placing explosives in a building in Nendriss. The next day, Stitch is in the field with his troops, observing the movements of a column of rebel tanks, and intent on attacking the column whilst Roseman makes a planetary broadcast calling for the citizenry to oppose the Blakist sympathisers and their cause. As Stitch is about to order the attack on the column, which consists of half a dozen assorted hover and wheeled tanks and a half-dozen infantry transports, Roseman's address is interrupted by Jerry's team detonating their explosives in a nearby building, and the column launches a pre-emptive attack on Stitch's forces. As Fessman attempts to leave Roseman's office to investigate the explosions, the resistance attacks, leaving him and the governor trapped in her office.
Fessman signals Stitch, alerting him to the attack in the capital building in Nendriss - before walking back into the governor's office and revealing himself to be a Blakist when he executes Roseman. Fessman's treachery is observed firsthand by Talbot, who was one of those in the governor's office for the broadcast, and who is grouped up with the others as prisoners by the insurgents who seize the building on the heels of Fessman's actions.
On the battlefield, Stitch soon realises that the rebels had forces in place to ambush each of the militia units he'd pre-positioned to launch his attack on the cache, and that the rebels are deliberately delaying him from redeploying forces back to Nendriss or any of the other cities. Within Nendriss, Jerry and his team attempt to ambush three militia transports moving troops towards the capital building, only to find the militia ready for them as he tries to launch missiles from the roof of the building his team are hiding in. Talbot gains some idea of what's happening from listening to Fessman's conversations with other Blakist sympathisers, and learns that sympathisers are pouring into Nendriss, despite some setbacks at the hand of militia forces - and also learns that Fessman's plan includes something intended to ensure Stitch's death.
Coming face to face with a Regulator on the streets of the capital, Stitch finds himself being contacted by Fessman. Whilst Stitch had issued orders to his 'Mechs not to fire unless fired on, and the fact that the Regulator didn't immediately engage him lending credence to his belief that there was some hope for negotiation, he's soon disabused by Fessman, who contacts Stitch with a demand for all of the Chaffee Militia to leave Chara, which Fessman declares has been reclaimed for the Word of Blake.
Fessman is counting on his knowledge of Stitch's past actions to prevent the militia commander from launching a military strike to topple the rebels or rescue their hostages. Listening to the conversation between Fessman and Stitch, Talbot seizes the opportunity to try and overwhelm the sympathisers guarding them; calling on the other handful of hostages to cover him, he overwhelms a guard and guns down Fessman with the guards weapon, even as he's shot by Fessman.
A week later, Talbot is recovering from his injury, and dealing with his next problem - his actions have been spun positively by the media, making him something of a local hero, and having gained the backing of the local leadership on the planet, and as a consequence he's been chosen by the city governors on Chara to be the new planetary governor; in the meantime, the loss of Fessman has caused the Blakist movement to wither. Stitch welcomes Talbot's appointment, as well as the news that elements of Group I and Group II of the local Coalition forces will be returning to Chara for a time for rest and refit, giving enough military presence on the planet to convince the Blakist loyalists that the writing was already on the wall for any attempted rebellion.