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Emergence (Concertverse) Chapter Cover

Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 30
[]

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Ante Up[]


Wolves plots their next Move[]


Beta Galaxy Headquarters
Gallery, Donegal Province (Disputed)
Lyran Commonwealth/Wolf Empire
3rd January, 3143


The drive plumes of Seth Ward's Alpha Galaxy were little more than bright stars in the night sky over Katrina Steiner-Davion's head.  Already more clouds were gathering on the horizon, signaling the return of the storms that constantly scoured Gallery's surface.  She watched them go with frustration and trepidation.  Though they would accomplish what she longed to see—the further humiliation of the Lyran people who failed her eighty years ago—her own plans and desires were yet in jeopardy.

Overlord Dropship (In flight in Atomsphere - Dave School MW)

Dropship lifting off

"He means to leave you to rot."  She turned to face her son Alaric with a frown.  "All of this rot about Beta Galaxy needing refit is to keep you from the glory of Tharkad, and sidelined as a rival."

Alaric nodded.  As usual he was keeping a poker face around her.  She'd taught him to do that with others, and it annoyed her that he was so good at it even with her.  What goes on in that mind of yours, Alaric?  You've inherited my brilliance and Vlad's, so I'm not worried you'll turn out like my naive, idiotic, too-trusting failure of an older brother, may his corpse continue to rot. But I can't advise you if you don't open up to me. She felt her usual hatred against Victor fester still within her soul, even if he was ten years dead.  He'd taken everything from her and that hatred would never go away.

Alaric leaned against the railing at the side of the prefab structure's ceiling.  The technicians and workers, a combination of those few Wolf civilians they'd successfully recovered and conscripted workers from the Marik and Lyran worlds they'd conquered, had done well in storm-proofing the command center, as the planet's underground cities were still holding out and every square centimeter of captured tunnel was better used to shield the more combustible supplies and ammunition from Gallery's infamous lightning storms.  "He fears me."  Alaric's expression shifted to a wolfish smile that reminded her of Vlad.  "He is right to."

"And yet he has sidelined you quite effectively, leaving you here to struggle in these tunnels and watch supplies while he charges for Tharkad.  Once he has the glory of that conquest, he will not fear you any longer."

"I am well aware of that, and it is why I have made preparations."

"Preparations?  Of what sort?"  Katrina narrowed her eyes.  The possibilities flipped through her mind.  "You cannot mean to sabotage him.  If you were discovered—"

"Please, Mother.  I am not a fool."  Alaric gestured towards the window.  "Nor is Seth Ward.  He has two reasons for leaving me here.  One is to keep me from glory.  The other is because we lack the ships to hold sufficient supplies until Thuban is subdued, so Gallery must be our supply dump if we are to keep the Khan's time table to land on Tharkad no later than the end of April."

"So I noticed."  She crossed her arms.  "And I believe I understand.  You think the Lyrans will strike here."

"Some, may, a few still have courage.  But I believe that we will face the only enemy worth fighting on this front."

"Anastasia Kerensky.  You believe her Wolf Hunters will come."

"Seth Ward believes she will strike at him at Smolnik or Thuban.  But he does not understand her like I do.  She knows that to fight him on either planet will only waste away her best troops.  She will come for our weakest point.  The point where she might do the most damage to our efforts.  She will come here."

"You are awfully confident in her intelligence assets, my son."  The moment she spoke those words, Katrina gripped what Alaric meant.  "Oh.  I see.  You play a dangerous game, Alaric.  She has bested you before, and if you lose again, if you lose these supplies, Seth Ward will not hesitate to destroy you.  You have gambled everything on this."

"So I have.  But that is the nature of things, Mother," Alaric replied.  "I must gamble now or none of what I desire will be achieved."

"Even if you prevail, and win a place for Beta Galaxy in the invasion, the disruption of even a minor Lyran strike could delay the advance on Tharkad.  It will give them time to rally, or for the reported Davion reinforcements to arrive."

"I fear neither.  The Lyrans are a broken people, the Davions are led by a brash, craven fool who seeks glory against the Liaos, and will not concern himself with our war until it is too late. Even if he does act in time, I know who he will send; and though Julian Davion is a worthy warrior, he will not have the strength sent with him to make a difference." Alaric sneered internally at Spheroid politics, that poison that drove leaders to mistrust their most able—and, in this case, most loyal—commanders. Even if we are not immune to that; though, Seth Ward is right to be wary of me.

Katrina nodded.  "And what of the rumors we have heard from the Foxes?  That Trillian Steiner-Davion has gone beyond the portal, the 'Looking Glass', to seek allies in the other Inner Sphere?"

For a moment she felt she'd scored a point with her son, as his expression betrayed a hint of uncertainty.  "They will have the Falcons to deal with," he said.  "Malvina's death or capture will certainly inflame her followers.  These 'Arcadians' will be too busy with the bloodfoul Mongols to trouble us."

"Or so you hope."

"Hope does not enter into it, Mother.  At this time, I do what I must, if my ambitions are to be fulfilled."  Alaric's uncertainty vanished.  "Anastasia will come, and I will destroy her and her Wolf Hunters.  Whether her head is my trophy or her wrist bears my bondcord, it will ensure me a place at the Khan's side when the time comes to take Tharkad."

"I look forward to seeing that."  Katrina smiled thinly.  "Especially the part about taking Tharkad."


Fallout of a Coup[]

Outpost-class DropShip Coeur de Loup
Thuban, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
4th January, 3143

Roderick Steiner resisted the urge to scream every obscenity he could think of, and a few things that he wasn’t actually sure were curses. Taking a deep breath, he faced the — very young, and, surrounded by Clanners who if they weren’t actually armed still looked like it and some very angry senior LCAF officers, absolutely terrified — staff Hauptmann and asked, with a calm that fooled absolutely nobody, “Would you please repeat that, Hauptmann?”

“I—I’m sorry, sir,” the pale youth responded, “but there are no reinforcements. The First, Second Royal, and First Buena Guards insist on Archon Melissa’s personal command, and, um, a-acting Archon Vede—” he cut off at Roderick’s glare.

“Knock it off, Steiner.” Anastasia Kerensky stepped in. “Terrifying the kid into incoherence isn’t gonna change anything, and stop trying to drill a hole in the bulkhead with your stare. You,” she pointed at the High Command’s messenger, “wait outside.”  She waited until they’d taken the hint and left before continuing. “So, I take it this means that we’re ******—and not in the fun way?”

“That’s about the size of it,” Jasek Kelswa-Steiner agreed, from where he’d been talking quietly with his senior Colonel—and rumored Lohengrin operative—Joss Vandel. “Definitely explains some things, though; and Vedet’s absolutely stupid enough to do exactly what we've heard. But, yes, Colonel Kerensky,” he seemed to slump slightly, “without the Guards, there’s no way we can hold here. We’ve got three units we can count on in a fight,” he called up the relevant orders of battle on the Coeur de Loup’s holotank, “my Stormhammers, your Wolf Hunters, and Roderick’s Strikers. The rest—well, Roderick’s been working with them, so what do you think?”

More bad news to be had. “If the Wolves give us another month or two—and they won’t—the composite Arcturan and Donegal Guards regiments we’ve put together should be able to reliably hold defensive positions with secure flanks,” Roderick sighed. “It isn’t their fault, they’ve been beaten to hell and I’ve got lieutenants commanding battalions—Hel, one regimental CO was a sergeant six months ago—but they’re still in no shape to fight. The Lyran Guards’ll fight better, but if you order me to take them up against Clan regulars in a field battle, Jasek, I might as well shoot them myself.”

Several minutes of silent — or at least quiet — contemplation followed, before Kerensky broke that quiet.

“Okay, so, we can’t defend here, and we’re all agreed that we can’t retreat without making a try at something—however sensible that’d be—because that idiot Vedet’ll just use us for scapegoats, yes?” Nods at that. “Then I say we attack.”

“You might be fine with dying gloriously,” Jasek scoffed, “but I’d rather achieve something more than just throwing five regiments at four—or more—Galaxies and hoping for the best.”

“I didn’t say we attack Seth Ward’s forces head-on,” Anastasia riposted, adjusting the holotable to a star map, painted in grey and blue. “Seth Ward’s prepping to try and secure his flanks before hitting here, then Tharkad. Means there’s only going to be one Galaxy on Gallery for a while, and a Sea Fox trader,” she smiled, hard and feral, “let me know that the Crusaders are piling more supplies on what they took from you. We hit that, steal or torch as much of it as we can, we shove a Gauss slug right in the middle of their whole offensive’s timetable. And,” she grinned, “that little Fox also told me that the Galaxy staying behind, is going to be Alaric Wolf’s Beta. I might mount his head over my desk.”

Roderick frowned, at the information and Anastasia’s bloodthirsty boast. “And you just happened to run into a Sea Fox merchant with this information? I take it I’m not the only one finding that suspicious?”

“Oh, no question, it’s a trap,” Anastasia smiled again, with the same feral cast to it, “but you need to stop thinking Alaric’s gonna act like a soldier—like you would, Steiner. He’s the same as all us Trueborn; a gambler, and one who still hasn’t learned rule one of gambling—never bet what you can’t afford to lose. Those supply stockpiles are real, that’s why Alaric used them for bait; he knows we can’t ignore them. He just figures he won’t have to pay up. I say we show him he’s wrong.”

That led to another long, contemplative silence, before Jasek sighed.

“It’s not a good plan, but I think it’s the only one we’ve got that might work,” he agreed. “I don’t suppose that trader of yours knew anything about Ward’s actual plans, Colonel Kerensky?”

“No, but I have met Seth Ward,” Anastasia replied, returning the holotank to showing a starmap. “He’s a big one for converging attacks. So my best estimate is that,” she began highlighting stars, “based on mine and your run ins with his forces, and the amount of supplies he's been contracting the Foxes to move, he’s got at least six Galaxies pushing us, probably more—too bad we can’t let the Mariks know; he’s gotta have stripped the border with them bare to field that big a force, and if they knew they’d be up his ass faster than an ice hellion up a trouser leg,” Anastisa grinned again. “My guess, is that once he’s concentrated forces on Gallery, he’ll send two Galaxies to Smolnik, to try and take me out—he never did believe in fair fights—two more swinging out to Callisto before hitting here, and leave two concentrating on Gallery as main reserves. Unfortunately,” her face shifted to an expression of mock contrition, so exaggerated that Roderick felt like he was at a theater back on Tharkad, “I happen to know that someone seems to’ve sabotaged Zeta Galaxy’s JumpShip echelon. Whoever those naughty, naughty boys and girls were, they’ve been poking holes in L-H tank seals. Gonna delay them until at least late February, considering where spares and more fuel are going to have to come from.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Jasek looked grim. “You both know the First Davion Guards are on their way to reinforce us, but they can’t get here any sooner than that. Physically can’t; I’ve sent a courier to Furillo to inform Julian Davion what’s going on, and roughly what our plans are, but who knows if he’ll get the message. Damn the Blackout,” Jasek’s expression hardened, turned into an inward-focusing anger; and Roderick was suddenly very glad he couldn’t see inside Kelswa-Steiner’s thoughts, “if I ever find out who was responsible for it, they will suffer.”

“And I’ll hand you the thumbscrews,” Anastasia laughed. “Still, can’t say the delay would be a bad thing; my people need time to rest and refit, and we need to plan this thing. I know, I have a reputation for being reckless,” she laughed again, high, rich and sincere, “but there’s a line between reckless and stupid. We’ve only got one shot at this, so my Hunters and your Stormhammers have to do it right.”

Roderick breathed out, feeling some tension drain. “What do you want me to do,” he asked, “while you’re prepping this?”

“Start moving troops back to Tharkad, quietly.” Jasek said, with an unnerving steadiness. “A company here, a battalion there; make it look as much like normal troop rotations as you can. I’ll get the landing orders cut; the military port at Olympia,” he clarified. “Last we heard, Vedet’s not got that much support in the Navy or Aerospace Force, and the Second Royal Guards are camped out there, so it’s safe. We’re going to need more troops on Tharkad that we can count on before this is over.”

“You think … what, Jasek? That he’d try to coup the High Command?” Roderick asked, quietly; not sure if he really wanted an answer. “That … seems out of character.”

“I don’t know what he might try,” Jasek responded. “But you’ve never met him when he’s desperate, Roderick, I have. And I think he might risk something like that, yes. Means we need to be ready to stop it.”  Or Lady Trillian might not have a Commonwealth worth saving...


Trillian and the Royal Parliament[]

Palace of Parliament
Laughlin Capital District, Roslyn, Eastern Islay
Arcadia, Royal Arcadia March
Royal Federation
9th January, 3143

For all her years of training in the court of Tharkad, both official and the natural training one got in the Archon's Royal Court, Trillian's poise was becoming sorely tested in the first week of the year.  Timkovichi's plight put everything in the air for her, even whether or not she might even get home.

It was immensely frustrating to say the least.  Her initial hope was that this would provoke a shift in the Privy Council in her favor.  That their troops under assault would at last get their sympathy.  Instead she was treated to the usual tactics over this term or that while, in the press, some arguments were now being aired by pundits that High King Nathaniel placed the troops on Timkovichi specifically to get attacked.  This would, they argued, enable him to do an end-run around the Privy Council and Parliament, an argument tailor-made to undermine anything she might do to finally make a breakthrough.

At the very least progress seemed within her grasp.  Speakers Soto and Stuart agreed to a request by her to meet with the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defense, which turned into a semi-public session.  That alone was important to her cause; even better, while a few of the members were not prominent in either house, the names included veteran parliamentarians representing a broad range of interests that gave her an opening to sway beyond the Committee chambers.

The meeting started with questions about her purchases of war material and Lyran readiness to employ them.  She answered them as succinctly as she could before asking permission to level her own question.  Senator Zento, a Committee member, tried to shush her, but was overruled by the Committee's chair, Senator Lady Gerda Rembrandt of Palmyre Deans.

With that opening made, and permission given, Trillian spoke.  "You are asking many questions about the weapons and machines I've bought or leased, but the fact remains I cannot tell you anything more of their use.  Save the earliest deliveries my purchases are beyond the reach of the Lyran Commonwealth until something is done about the Falcon blockade of the Looking Glass. I would ask this Committee's intentions on the matter."

"Such military matters are not for you to concern yourself with," Zento snapped.  "The military will advise His Majesty as is appropriate and that is all you need know."

"With due respect, Senator Zento, I have every reason to be concerned," Trillian retorted.  "My way home is blocked until something is done about the Falcons.  My ability to send the forces I've hired and the weapon's I've bought to aid my people, it is also reliant on what comes.  Otherwise I have spent several billion pound sterling for nothing.  I believe I am due some consideration, especially since we all know His Majesty is favorable to an intervention and is being restrained and impeded by his ministers and military commanders."

"That is true."  Assemblywoman Yolanda Ocasio, from the world Freedom, spoke the words with a particular Latin accent.  She was, if Trillian recalled correctly, from the Cebalrai refugees who fled their world when it was lost to Galedon in 3119.  "As for intentions, I think it plain we will support His Majesty in sending forces to force the Falcons away."

"The issue, as always, is that the costs will disrupt the budget."  Senator Rembrandt spoke the words with a tired look, presumably since she'd been involved in the budget arguments involved.  "And the full scale of the alliance you seek would be further disruptive."

"I understand that for a realm as large and diverse as the Federation, the yearly government budget is always a source of political contention."  Trillian folded her hands in front of her and spoke delicately.  "But certainly an emergency situation has claim to consideration of adjustments to meet it?"

"We have already done some shifting on your behalf, Lady Trillian," Zento snapped.  "Do not presume that the King's favor gives you leave to lecture us for more."

"I do not wish to lecture, but to understand," Trillian replied.  "I already understand that for your people military spending has become a difficult political subject, given the Peace of Dieron and fears of the Capellan Empire's naval program.  Nor do I wish to prejudice your self-defense needs, I merely wish to reflect how they are tied into the Commonwealth's fate."

"As in, your argument that the Clans would not be amenable to peaceful interaction through the Glass," Zento said.  "It suitably justifies your position, does it not?  Yet I wonder how true it would be, if you were capable of living with them for so long."

"A history in which their raids on our worlds were often, such that our people had to learn to live with them."  Trillian focused on Zento specifically.  "Until recently, your people had to live with similar prospects, my Lord, given the times the forces of the Compact struck at Summer.  Our border worlds with the Falcons faced even more attacks than Summer and the Isle of Skye have in your history.  I brought the historical record, and I'm certain the military's own examination of sources would verify it, if you still doubt my word."

Zento met her eyes with a frustrated glare.  "If you know so much of our history, Lady Trillian, you would appreciate why it is foolish for us to give you the aid you seek.  The Empire's fleet grows by the year, and the Azami resent their losses in the war.  At this critical point in time, when we need to see to our own defense, you ask us to devote treasure and blood to yours, in a war your Archon started from her own ambition!  You fill our young ruler with visions of glory, of a chance to be a heroic figure saving your helpless people, when his own need his attention!"

Zento's passion was obvious, moreso than it'd been before, as if her persistence was finally exhausting his control.  A need to shout back rose within her.  He was trying to doom her people all from his fear of an enemy who had, to this point, kept the peace more than his own had.  He accuses me of self-justification, as if he is innocent, because the more he speaks the more I imagine he and those like him have more in mind than defensive measures.

But to respond in like, or say so, would not win her the Committee.  She had to sacrifice that desired catharsis and give a reply based on reason, not feeling.

"I am here to save my people, and in the process, to save yours."  She spoke coldly, unable to keep the chill from her words, but kept the venom out.  "The Commonwealth is not innocent.  Few states are.  But we have more than paid for our mistakes.  Nor is it our fate alone at stake here.  Because if the Commonwealth falls, nothing stands between your worlds and the Clans.  The Jade Falcons already resent and hate you for the humiliation of losing their Khan, and her followers will be especially eager to avenge her loss.  They will come through the Glass, if not to conquer, then to raid and murder, and your people will suffer the same as mine did.  The Wolves, in time, would do the same, testing you for weakness."  She broke eye contact with Zento to focus on Rembrandt and the others in turn.  "Even if you do win peace with them, it doesn't last.  It can't last.  For a Clan warrior, progression requires conflict, it requires glory in battle, and they need enemies to fight.  Any truce you sign will strain and break under that need."  Her hand took up the bottle of spring water for her to take a swig of, refreshing her parched throat.  With no one having spoken yet, she continued.  "You cannot abandon the Commonwealth without harming yourselves.  Nor can you simply hold the Glass on our end, they would just strike at your forces there, and to hold their WarShips back, you would have to permanently keep yours on station.  I know enough of your situation to know you can't do this indefinitely, not with the Imperial fleet growing every year.  The alliance I seek to form, and which Lord Zento bitterly opposes, will be the security you need, and we can both prosper once this conflict ends."

While Zento frowned openly, there was only quiet from the Committee.  Ultimately Ocasio spoke up once again.  "Your argument is certainly persuasive, Lady Trillian.  And my people have known similar depredation from House Kurita.  But you ask much of us.  Even if we ultimately agree to this alliance and expanding our forces to meet the challenge, it is doubtful the forces you're asking for will be available in the time frame you're speaking of.  You will have to moderate your expectations."

Trillian nodded at her.  She sounded sympathetic at least, though that might just be a politician's disarming sympathy, not genuine.  "I thank the Committee for any consideration it might give, and I'll try to see your concerns met.  Are there any further questions?"

Rembrandt glanced to either direction before shaking her head.  "There are none.  We will give consideration to your arguments and His Majesty's formal requests to Parliament.  And we do hope the military is preparing a suitable response to this Falcon attack.  Whatever the final outcome of your mission, we cannot let this blockade continue.  As for now, this session is adjourned."  She smacked her gavel with finality.

Trillian stood, thankful for the sympathetic glances from some of the reporters and viewers in the galley, as well as those of her own staff.  She forced a smile she didn't feel to her lips while, inwardly, she held only despair.

Yes, she'd managed to sway some of those attending, and she'd parried Zento effectively.  Rembrandt's support for breaking the Falcon attack would hopefully reopen her path home, at least.

But Ocasio's words hammered home that it wasn't just Zento and whatever faction he was working with that stood against her.  Even those sympathetic were unwilling to devote the forces needed in the short time left; none, it seemed, save the King himself.

And without that help, she wasn't sure she'd have a home to go back to.


The holovid in the Office of the Lord of the Privy Council faded into inactivity a moment after the Committee meeting ended.  From his desk, Prince Peter lowered the remote.  "She is formidable."

"I would expect nothing less of a courtier of her rank."  Grand Admiral Stewart shifted in his seat.  Across from him Lord Arnold kept his arms crossed and remained silent.  "And I cannot help but feel Zento is becoming a liability."

"He and I do not see eye to eye on many things, but he is correct to remind everyone that Lady Trillian's requests are too much."  Arnold sat up.  "Yet, I fear we're losing ground to her, and the King's enthusiasm for her cause is widely known."

"My worry is that Zento will, in frustration, release the intelligence we have on the Empire's naval program."  Stewart turned his head.  "Your Highness, have you anything to suggest?"

"Hm."  Peter drew in a quiet breath and tried to focus his mind on the problem.  "It is patently obvious we cannot abandon the Second Cuirassiers.  You have cut the orders?"

"They are ready for final approval.  Admiral Bingham will set out from Tharkad the moment he receives the final order."

The Fourth Battle Fleet should suffice given what we've been told of their forces.  Though misfortune might see the fleet compelled into the yards for extensive repair, leaving us with just two battle fleets in case of emergency.  Peter finally nodded.  "Send the order then."

"I only pray we do not suffer more loss, more expense, for this foolishness." groused Arnold.

Peter leveled something close to a glare at his cousin.  "Tell me, Arnold, what would you have us do?"

"Certainly we must rescue the Cuirassiers, but they should never have been posted there in the first place," Arnold replied.  He glared at both of them.  "You should have stood up to Nathaniel then."

"You're being short-sighted." Stewart snapped.  "Once the Glass was formed and our forces landed to stop Hazen, there was no avoiding some involvement."

"The Ghastillians could have easily defended the Atocongo side."  Arnold crossed his arms.  "This entire thing has become ruinous for the Federation.  It's a distraction from the real threat.  The Empire must be broken before anything else."

"That was always a long shot goal, Arnold, and it's time to accept it's never going to happen."

"Then I must accept the inevitability of war, and the loss of more lives to protect what is ours."  Arnold stood.  "And I wonder about you, Peter.  You were a lion on the battlefield in your day, but losing Prince James has taken your fire.  You should be eager for avenging his loss and pressuring the young fool on the throne to give up his fantasies and accept reality.  Instead you coddle him, you entertain his fancies."

"You are one to talk, Arnold, when it comes to reality, given you clearly cannot accept the reality before you."  Rising from his chair, Peter leaned against his desk and locked his eyes on Arnold.  As always his cousin was a portrait-perfect image of a Lyran military man, his chest covered in honors, his gray-white facial hair trimmed meticulously, and Steiner blue eyes glistening like ice.  And behind it all, a brain firmly set in its ways, impervious to contrary reality. "Jackie is gone, and she is not here for you to manipulate and influence into pursuing your fantasies of a victorious lightning war to break the Empire for a generation.  Nathaniel has his own ideas for the future and instead of trying to convince him, you demand he agree with everything you proclaim and at the failure of this approach, denounce him as unfit.  I have spent months trying to persuade him against committing to this war, or to overcommitting on his peace initiatives, and you do me no favors with your behavior!  You treat him as a Lance Lieutenant who stepped out of line and that has never worked!"  Peter smacked his hand to his desk.  "Dammit, the Empire's naval buildup must be met or ceased, but you are more worried about getting your way, about being right, than accomplishing that goal."

"Because I am not naive about Nathaniel," Arnold hissed.  "He has been wrongheaded since childhood, ever since you and Jackie failed to teach him proper respect for the military and our mission.  Now it falls on us to keep him from ruining us!"

"Gentlemen."  Stewart finally rose as well.  "This dispute is fruitless.  We have greater concerns at hand, and that is how to deal with the Clan threat.  We are in agreement that the 4th Fleet must be sent, yes?"

"We agree on that much," Arnold growled.  "To evacuate our troops if nothing else."

"Then I will send the orders immediately.  I trust the Army will see to it that the relief troops are prepared?"

Arnold clenched his jaw.  "The First Royal Lancers and Second Donegal Cavalry have their orders to depart for Atocongo and the Glass, and the Eighth Donegal Guards, Tharkad Rangers, and Second Royal BattleMech Brigade will be deployed from their interior positions to back them up as needed.  Archduke Ethan is sending the Kell Hounds' Second Regiment to support the Lancers."  He shook his head.  "I needn't tell you we have now committed most of our reserves in the Donegal Theater to this matter.  Sending more troops will prejudice defenses in-theater, or force us to reduce troops elsewhere."

"And yet, you have told us," Peter remarked wryly.  "Our business is done, then, and I have state duties to attend to.  I'll see you and the others for a meeting this weekend, then?"

"I suppose," Arnold replied, though his eyes made it clear how he felt.  He sees me as a liability, a restraint, more than a useful member of his ad hoc committee, Peter thought bitterly.  I suppose I am becoming less in line with them, even if I agree with the problems posed by the Empire.

"I am ever at your disposal, Highness."  Stewart bowed slightly before heading for the door, Arnold behind him.

Peter watched them go.  Stewart is playing both sides of our dispute, that I'm sure of.  He wishes to crush the Empire's nascent fleet in the yards as well, but will not sacrifice his position in the AFRF, or the Royal Court, to see it done. And it feels like things are fast approaching that point.  If a breach happens between them and Nathaniel… no, I don't wish to think on it. He glanced down at his desk and one of the papers there, a new delivery from SIS.  He pulled it out to see the latest confirmation of Capellan naval construction and the estimates for their fleet sizes.  A fleet of sixteen battleships by 3145, both fast and heavy units, when we will have just seven.  Twenty-four heavy cruisers, with four larger than ours, where we will have fourteen.  Similar proportions in escort WarShips and supporting DropShips.  Every one of their yards is approaching wartime output, at Oriente, at New Delos, at Boras and Capella, and they're expanding capacity for an even larger program after this one completes.  We have to respond, as expensive as it will be.  Nathaniel wants it to be by making permanent peace instead of fueling the arms race enveloping the Inner Sphere, but we need to build to match regardless, or we shall be helpless.  And now we have this distraction.

He sighed and plopped into his seat.  Nathaniel, Arnold, all of us, we are wagering our future on our choices.  Should we fail, if the Peace of Dieron ends, a Fifth Succession War will be our reward.  Memories of 3120 flashed through his mind, of dozens of regiments of all types reduced to mere battalions of intact units, as nineteen year old lieutenants with just a year of academy training commanded lances of militia-drafted pilots even in the Proctor Heavy Guards, all under thirty year old colonels pushed up through the ranks by the bitter attrition of ten years of bloody war bringing the AFRF to the breaking point.  Could Nathaniel's fears prove true?  A Fifth Succession War that will send us back to the dark ages of the 29th and 30th Centuries?  God save us from that fate!

With a heavy heart, Peter resumed his duties, praying that he could yet chart a course between the deadly possibilities of the present and his grand-nephew's bright vision of the future.


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