Level 4Nur Dutchung - pt. 4

October 16, 2071
Regents' HQ
Katourach Industrial Park
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

As he walked through the halls of the Regent's command center, Rigel had seen the change that their victory the day before had made to the unit's morale. Already high from the prospects of showing their mettle, their stunning victory had taken them to a level he had never seen from the men and women under his command. Boots were shined, buttons polished, salutes snapped with crispness, and all had an air of cockiness that made them all look like cadets who had just aced their final exams.

He entered the conference room, grinning, and nearly burst out laughing as the assembled officers sprang to their feet and crisply saluted. He looked around and couldn't keep the pride from showing in his eyes. He returned the salute and looked at Captain Spiro, as he stood to his right, and said, "Never thought I'd see you showing proper respect, Captain."

Tomas chuckled, "Just trying to head off the inevitable 'I told you so,' sir."

Rigel waved the officers to sit and took his place at the head of the table. "So," he said leaning back in his chair, "any reactions from the local media to our victory?"

"Corporal Barnes," said Lieutenant Carlson turning to a young blonde woman sitting behind her against the wall, "I believe you have put together a report on this. If you please."

The Corporal stood. Rigel was surprised; he hadn't remembered her joining the unit. Tomas had done a lot of the hiring of non-combat personnel, but he still tried to meet all of the soldiers who joined the Regents. She looked far too young and far too cute to have landed in this unit of miscreants. He was surprised again when she began to deliver a crisp and concise report of the media reaction to their recent victory.

"Our victory, that is, the way in which it was achieved, has received a great deal of media coverage." Turning, Barnes picked up a stack of reports and began distributing them around the room. "We expected local coverage, which of course has decried our victory as one of treachery and deceit. It's obvious the locals dislike us because they perceive us as a Terran unit."

Sergeant Major Goran, the big Malvernian security chief, snorted. Barnes smiled and continued, "TRI gave a very neutral report on the victory, playing both sides. They're stating that while the victory was achieved through deception, that is a part of warfare and we broke no rules of the Nur Dutchung."

"Like there are any rules to begin with," Tomas sardonically interjected.

"Please continue, Corporal," said Rigel. He again noticed that Corporal Barnes was exceedingly pretty, and had to chastise himself for not paying proper attention to her report. It was obvious that she was relishing this opportunity to address the senior staff and her report was thorough.

"Thank you sir," Barnes said. "What really surprised me was that other news agencies across the Empire have picked up the story. Most Rach news agencies view TRI as a joke and Rognlan as someone who is not worthy of being called an equal. They view what he has created as something that plays only to the lowest levels of Rach society and debases the warrior spirit. They are using our victory as a point to show how flawed and fake the Nur Dutchung really is. How Rognlan's failure to see our tactics as a possible solution displayed a large loophole that we waltzed right through, depriving the viewers of the promised carnage. They've even gone so far as to suggest that he should be brought up on charges of false advertising."

Rigel rolled his eyes, "Oh great, so now we are pawns in a media trash-bash, eh?"

"You'll note though sir," said Barnes politely, "that never once do any of these Rach agencies say that we were wrong. The Rach may be brutal as a race, but they admire brilliant tactics. To win a battle without losing a man is the penultimate goal of all commanders. Denying an opponent his glorious victory in a no-win situation is also a well known part of the warrior creed. The true warriors, unbiased by public opinions, will see that. Saying as much, however, would stop them from making their point against Rognlan."

"Thank you Corporal," said the Major, "excellent work."

"Excuse me sir," interrupted Barnes, "but there's more."

"Then by all means," said Rigel, leaning back on his chair and motioning for her to continue.

She beamed with pride and held up a datapad. "I decided to do some deeper checking outside the Rach Empire, since most news agencies inside had picked up the story. For example, on MercNet, I found a story about the Nur Dutchung that was buried in the Entertainment section."

Barnes picked up the pad and began to read. "In it they report, '...that the verbal pot-shots between TRI and its rival media companies in the Rach Empire have apparently flared up again. In a recent episode of the Nur Dutchung, TRI's latest production that pits rival units against one another in actual combat, one of the gladiatorial units used what some consider a loophole in the rules to achieve a victory. Cries of foul came from many of the units involved in the contest. Some declared the tactics of the unit cowardly, while others blasted TRI CEO Trog Rognlan for his shortsightedness in not seeing the possibility of this tactic being used.

"'Intrigued, MercNet procured a copy of the episode in question. The unit, Rigel's Regents, was set to defend a warehouse against three attackers. The Regents, under the command of Major Rigel Ghardoki, instead lured the attackers into a trap and destroyed the warehouse, there by denying all three attackers their chance at victory.

"'MercNet was also able to obtain a copy of the Mission Objectives Briefing which was given to the commanders before the match. The Regents' objective was clearly stated as denying the attackers control of the warehouse, but there was an additional caveat that is easily overlooked. It stated that should all enemy forces be destroyed, disabled or in any other way made unable or unwilling to complete their objective of securing and holding the building, the defending forces will be declared the winner. Major Ghardoki obviously saw the possibility, and using a savvy bit of strategy, found a way to make his enemies unable to complete their objective of securing and holding the building.

"'These tactics were not cowardly, but the move of a brilliant commander set on preserving his unit while securing a victory. If this was an obvious loophole in the rules, why is it that none of the other units set as defenders used the same tactic? The results of this engagement rewarded a commander for superior strategic planning, and it is only fitting that the Regents move on to the next round of the competition. While this reporter still sees the Nur Dutchung as a farcical insult to real soldiers all across the galaxy, one can not help but wonder if this was a fluke or if the Regents are just that good.'"

"Well I'll be damned," said Rigel, pulling on his lower lip. "So we've made MercNet. I guess that's something. Anything else, Corporal?"

"No sir," was the reply.

"Thank you for that excellent research. Next time I need information, I'll know who to call." The Corporal blushed and sat back down. Though Rigel wasn't in the habit of flirting, especially not with Non-Comms, he couldn't help it - in the last few days he felt younger than he had in a decade. Though quickly he decided to rein himself in a bit and stay on track.

"Well Major," said Captain Spiro, "if there is nothing else, we had best get to meeting with our other commanders."

"OK folks," said Rigel standing, "I want strategic staff to be ready to meet at 1600 hours this afternoon to go over our new mission objectives. Dismissed."

October 16, 2071
TRI Media Center
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

"And then there were six," said Rigel under his breath to Tomas as they walked through the doors to the TRI briefing Center. As he passed through the doors he scanned the unit commanders present. He instantly noticed someone missing from the assembly.

Before he could speak, Tomas leaned over and said, "Hey where are the Slayers?"

"I don't know," said Rigel. Glancing at the crests he saw the unit logo of the Fire Fangs, one of the local units that had been defeated in the last round, where the Slayers should have been stationed. "Looks like the rules have been modified."

Continuing his scan he made eye contact once more with General Rotan of the Dire Wolves. He nodded his head and saw Rotan smile and raise his water glass in salute. Rigel smiled, knowing that the old Rach commander was praising him for his tactics in the last battle.

His reverie was broken as Trach Rognlan strode in, followed by his gaggle of cronies. He went right to the podium and began without preamble.

"The second round of the Nur Dutchung will begin 10 days from today. The objective will be simple. You will square off against one other unit and the first to capture the other unit's headquarters, is the victor. Each HQ will have certain defensive advantages and disadvantages. The competitors will be forced to balance between offense and defense. Are there any questions?"

"Yes I have one," growled Major Jorhat of the Dagger Stars, "Why is there a unit present here that lost in the last round?" There was emphasis on the word "lost" in his question.

"Because Major," said Rognlan matter of factly, "the Slayers have withdrawn from the competition. They received a more lucrative contract offer and decided to leave the Nur Dutchung. We were one team short, and to fill the vacancy, we let our viewers vote for the best defeated unit that made the best showing in the last round. The 'People's Choice' winner was awarded a berth to the second round."

"Wait a minute," said Captain Spiro. "I don't recall any mention of this in any of the mission briefings before or after the start of the contest."

"This was a last minute decision," said Rognlan dismissively.

"So exactly what else are you going to spring on us?" said Spiro, getting angry now. "How can we plan for a long campaign when the rules can change on a whim?"

"And how exactly is that different from real warfare, Mr. Spiro? I think you'll agree that in a combat zone there is no such thing as rules." Rognlan leaned on his podium and flashed a hideous wide grin at Tomas. "Remember Captain, this may be video, but it is no game." That patronizing statement quieted the captain, and Spiro sat back down.

"Now," continued Rognlan, "any other questions?"

"Yeah," shouted Colonel Klaug of the Fire Fangs. "What are you going to do to prevent these Terran cowards from using the same sort of cheating tactics they did last round?"

"Come now, Colonel," said Rognlan in a saccharine tone, "as you well know, that match was reviewed and the tactics involved found to be quite within the bounds of the objectives as printed in the mission briefings. Though we had not foreseen that approach to the problem placed before them, the Regents adapted and did what any good mercenary does. They achieved their goal with the minimum expenditure of resources."

"They used a loophole," shouted Klaug while rising to his feet," they took the objective and twisted it to their needs."

"Look Klaug," said Spiro, rising dangerously to his feet again before Rigel could stop him, "just because we can read, and you can't, doesn't make us cheats. Having brains gets it done on the battlefield, not bravado."

"When I see you win a real match, you can lecture me on battlefield tactics," snarled Klaug.

"When I see you win ANY match you may lecture me," retorted Tomas. "Tell me Klaug, how did you get into the second round again?"

In an instant Klaug had bounded the table. Rigel grabbed Tomas as he too began to crawl over the table to get to Klaug. As he yanked Tomas back, he felt an impact on the side of his head, right behind his left ear. He spun to the table, dropping to one knee, his vision blurring. It was all in slow motion. He heard a crystalline tinkle of falling glass, felt a pain sear briefly on the back of his head, and then felt a rush of cool liquid run down his side. His mind reeling as it was, it took only half a second to realize that someone had broken a water pitcher across his head.

Rigel shook his head to clear up his vision, and prepared to jump back into the melee. He grabbed the edge of the table and pulled himself upright, but the fight was already finished. It had taken all of two or three seconds. As his vision cleared, he saw a huge form standing directly in front of him. Looking up, he saw the big Malvernian, Jorhat, looming over him. Sprawled behind Jorhat were the bodies of Klaug and the Fire Fangs' XO, bloodied and shaken.

Jorhat reached out and steadied Rigel as he swayed dizzily. "You are alright?"

"Yes Major," said Rigel, shakily, "just a bit dizzy. Thanks for the assist."

The big Malvernian smiled. "The pleasure is mine. That worm spent our entire match issuing challenges and crowding the open comm circuits with empty threats. This was simply an excuse to get in a shot."

"Why didn't you just take him out during the match then?" Even as he asked the question, Rigel realized it was tactless. "It must be the effects of the blow to my skull," he mused. So he chuckled, in an attempt to downplay the comment.

Jorhat looked embarrassed though. "By the time I found him, we had already won. He would not accept my challenge to an honor duel and since the match was over, it would have been wrong for me to attack him."

"I see," said Rigel. He wasn't completely sure he did, but it was easier this way. To ask for clarification may have subjected him to a four hour diatribe on how the teachings of Khardulis show right from wrong and how those teachings could be applied to battlefield ethics as well as everyday life. He remembered sharing a room 20 years back with a Malvernian when he had first joined the Black Cobras. That had been the most excruciating three months of his life. Not a bad guy, heck of a warrior, but a complete zealot when it came to his religion. Rigel saw religion as a good thing, in moderation of course. Just like good alcohol, and he really could use a drink right now. And the meeting had barely started.

"If we can please get back to business," yelled Rognlan over the fray, "we can get the briefings for the next round distributed and get everyone on their way before anything else untoward happens." Trach grinned inwardly though, as the cameras were rolling and this was a live feed.

Tomas sat down next to Rigel, leaning over to check on his commander. Rigel's head was throbbing, and he was pretty sure he had a concussion. That pitcher had been thick leaded crystal, not some fragile glass carafe. He took the handkerchief that Tomas proffered and held it to his head trying to quell the bleeding. The cut wasn't bad, but wounds to the scalp always bleed profusely.

As Tomas watched Rognlan randomly drawing coin with unit emblems from his velvet bag, he saw the Regent's logo come up. The next thing he saw made his jaw drop in near disbelief. As Rognlan reached into the bag, Tomas swore that he saw a coin fall from Rognlan's sleeve into his hand. Withdrawing his hand from the bag; he produced the coin emblazoned with the logo of the Fire Fangs.

Klaug and his people cheered and Tomas just sat smiling and shaking his head. Rognlan wanted ratings, and he would have them. He had no doubt that today's incident would only add to the hype.

"What is so amusing?" asked Rigel.

"Rognlan set this up, this wasn't random. I saw him palming the Fire Fangs' coin waiting for ours to come up. He wanted a grudge match to get ratings and he's gonna get one."

"Oh well, no need to complain. We just need to make this win a decisive one." Rigel sneered as he looked up in Klaug's direction. "And I'm gonna make sure I get that bastard."

After the drawing, Spiro helped walk his CO back to their transport, and they returned to the barracks. When they arrived, they were surprised to see a small group of protestors outside the security fence picketing. They held signs which Tomas translated roughly as "Go Home Terran Filth" and "Cowards, Cheaters, Scum".

"Well, that was quick," said Rigel. "Looks like we've acquired our first fan club."

"Yeah," replied Tomas skeptically. "Rigel, we better have a talk with the men, this could get ugly."

"Oh don't sweat it Tomas, this is just a group of fans of some other team trying to get on the news."

"Whatever you say Boss," said Tomas, "I hope you're right."

 

October 17, 2071
Regents' HQ
Katourach Industrial Park
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

Once more they gathered around the table, scores of satellite photos and topographic maps laid out around them. They had been at this for 3 hours, and finally had what Ghardoki thought was a workable defensive plan.

"Ok," started the Major, "to recap, Sergeant Major Goran will lead the commandos defending our headquarters. Captain Strodd's Armor Company will be our primary defensive force."

"Major," interrupted Captain Yu, "I still think we should station at least a few CAVs in defensive positions. Might I suggest the pair of Sovereigns? Their range would give us an advantage, allowing them to soften up any inbound units."

Rigel thought about the proposal for a second. He had really wanted to use those Sovereigns with his main strike force, but Yu's argument made sense. "Ok Captain, I see your point. Let's also add Captain Spiro's Assassin to the mix. I want him leading the defense force anyhow."

Tomas nodded in agreement. The broken terrain surrounding their headquarters gave them the perfect terrain to use their armor in a defensive role. This allowed the Regents to use the bulk of their CAV forces in an offensive nature. Each team had a distinct defensive advantage in this contest, and the Regent's was limited access. There were only two readily accessible paths to their headquarters. The broken terrain surrounding the HQ wouldn't stop infantry, of course, but it would certainly restrict the approach of heavy forces.

"Now," continued Ghardoki, "what's our hook for taking their HQ out?"

Just then there was a knock on the door. Captain Spiro answered the door and was handed a message from the yeoman outside. Reading it, he walked over to Rigel. "You aren't going to believe this, Boss."

Rigel read the note slowly, his eyebrows rising. "OK folks, reconvene in 30 minutes. Tomas, go show our guest in please."

There was a buzz around the room as the staffers began gathering up intelligence reports scattered around the table. "No," said Rigel raising a hand, "don't bother. They're fine where they are."

Captain Yu looked back at Rigel. "Who's the guest, Major?" Just then the door opened and in strode the hulking figure of Major Jorhat, commander of the Dagger Stars unit. Yu snapped a startled look back at Rigel.

"Please come in Major," said Rigel standing and extending a hand. The big Malvernian shook his hand and bowed slightly. "Major Jorhat, this is Captain Yu, commander of the Regents' air wing." Yu shook the Malvernian's hand, still startled to see him.

"30 minutes Captain." said Rigel by way of courteous dismissal. Yu nodded and walked out, Tomas giving him a lopsided grin as he exited the room. Tomas however, did not leave. Instead he closed the door and stood with his back against it.

"Well, Major," said Rigel, "what can I do for you?"

"First," began Jorhat, "let me say that I have no problem with the tactics you used in your first battle. They were in my estimation brilliant. Deception is a key component of warfare, but it is often confused with dishonesty."

Rigel nodded. What was it that this man wanted? They were rivals after all, if not direct enemies during this round.

"In our strategizing, my commanders and I we have come up with what I feel assured is a winning solution. To accomplish this we will need to employ our armor assets in a defensive net that will neutralize our enemies' ability to perform a fast strike and tie them up while our CAV forces can make a quick assault."

Rigel slowly glanced over at Tomas, who shrugged confusedly with widening eyes. Jorhat continued. "There is however, a flaw in our plan. The unit we are facing, the Instruments of Pain, have a fairly well developed air wing. We have nothing to contend with those aircraft. Our few air assets are set up for anti-CAV operations, and we do not have the resources to convert them. I have tried to procure what we need, but I have been informed by Rognlan's people that delivery would not be available for 4 weeks. My own informants have indicated to me that the Rach units are getting first priority on anything purchased through TRI."

Rigel could see the Malvernian clenching and unclenching his fists. "Major Jorhat," said Tomas, stepping closer to the table, "I hate to be rude but why are you telling us all this? You are pointing out to us a weakness which we could exploit in the future. You know that we have a potent air force, and should you be victorious and face us in the finals, you would be at a distinct disadvantage."

Jorhat nodded his head and looked at Tomas. "A calculated risk, Captain Spiro. Let me first pose a question to you. Is your Headquarters located in open terrain?"

Rigel narrowed his eyes. "What are you driving at here, Jorhat? I have to admit that I am just as confused as my XO is. You'll have to excuse us if we are a bit suspicious, but neither of us can see where you are going with this."

"I too watched Rognlan manipulate the pairings." Jorhat sat back and said, "Captain Spiro did a good job of masking his observation, but I noticed that too. I assure you Major, there is no duplicity in my stance. My distaste for such shady dealings is what has driven me to the depths where I am today. I mean no offense, but I think you will agree that without an occasional dip into the seedier side, it is impossible for a small unit to survive. This is my last chance at making a name for my unit without having to compromise my integrity."

Rigel considered that for a moment. Jorhat was different from most of the Malvernians he had met in his day. It was obvious that he viewed his devotion to Khardulis a bit different from many of his counterparts. Where as many Malvernians grabbed power by any means necessary, under the guise of using that power to spread the Word, Jorhat seemed to take a more fundamental view of Khardulis's teachings. Honesty and honor above all.

"Ok Major, continue," said Rigel.

"I went back to our objectives, looking deeper. I had been inspired by your cunning in finding a way to use an inventive tactic to achieve your victory. I believe I have found one."

Rigel and Tomas both piqued with interest. Jorhat continued. "No where in the rules does it say that two units can not work together during a battle, or during the planning phase. In the overall rules of the Nur Dutchung, it states that two units may not share equipment, but it does not say that they may not execute a financial transaction between the two units.

"So here is what I am proposing. I have been told that all 6 matches will be fought on the same battlefield. I believe that we are positioned at opposite starting points in our respective matches. Were we to share our intelligence briefings we would have a clear view of the advantages which our opponents have against us."

Rigel and Tomas looked at each other; a slow smile crept onto Rigel's face. "Interesting. So what about this financial transaction, where it come into play?"

"Judging by what I know of my position, I believe that I have a weapon which will make it easier for you to achieve a fast victory. And I know from your TO&E that you have what I need."

Rigel sat back, pulling at his lower lip. Making a decision he turned to Tomas. "Get him a copy of our intelligence briefing and round up the planning staff again." Tomas nodded and handed the briefing to him, then left the room. "Well Major, here is what we have." He detailed the positioning of the headquarters and the terrain that any attacker would have to contend with.

"Ah," said Jorhat, "we can deal with this. Our commandos are extremely well-trained. This will work out well."

Pulling out another envelope he said, "Here is what you will have to contend with."

Rigel opened the envelope and looked through the information quickly. "You can see," said Jorhat, "that there is a well laid out set of enhanced radar towers. This will make it nearly impossible to approach undetected and will allow the defenders to respond to any attack you make. They'll be waiting unless you can take them out."

"And if we get close enough to take them out, they'll see where we are," finished Rigel.

"True, and not true. This is where the transaction comes in. I need to neutralize my opponent's air power, and you need to be able to approach through stealth. What I am proposing is a trade. From you I need 4 of your Poltergeist anti-aircraft tanks. In return, I will offer up two of these."

Rigel took the sheaf of paper from Jorhat. He immediately recognized that it was a schematic of an attack aircraft known as a Kharl. He had seen these in use by General Rotan's unit, but he did not think them anymore powerful than his Tsuisekis.

"I'm not sure how this helps me, Jorhat."

"Look closer," said the Malvernian, tapping the paper. "These aren't your everyday Kharls off the production line. When the Kharl was first designed, it was built with specialized armor plating. In the armor were a series of ECM circuits which gave the aircraft extremely good stealth capabilities. They ceased production of this model because the circuitry proved fragile, though used correctly it is still very effective. This will allow you to come in under their radar and strike them unaware."

Rigel sat back, deep in thought. "Should we make it to the next round, your acquisition of the Poltergeists would neutralize our air power against you. You will be gaining a significant advantage both now and in the future." Leaning forward, he looked right into Jorhat's eyes and said, "And if I may say so Major, I think you need my Poltergeists more than I need your Kharls."

Jorhat laughed, "I thought you might see it that way." Reaching back in his pocket he pulled out a second sheet of paper. "I will also include this. It needs a bit of work, but the repairs are well within the scope of your technicians."

Rigel looked at the paper, his eyebrows rising.

"So then, Major Ghardoki," said Major Jorhat standing and extending his massive hand, "do we have a deal?"

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