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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 2[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

Book 2


Taking on a Task for the Archon[]

The Triad, Tharkad
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
19th July, 3015


“Frederick, what am I going to do with you?”

He eyed his cousin warily. “Hopefully not a pat on the head and a promise of cocoa.” That was how Katrina had sent her daughter off to bed a few minutes ago. There had been a frisson of tension when Frederick reported to the Archon formally but once they’d withdrawn to the family apartments for dinner he’d thought that he’d avoided any official displeasure.

“That’s for good little boys and girls.” Katrina Steiner steepled her hands in front of her. “And you’ve been… less than good. At least to the point that some people think that you might be bad.”

“Like Simon Johnson?”

She shook her head. “No. He knew the terms you offered the Dragoons. But to most of the court, you hiring the same regiments Anton Marik did is signaling that you share his ambitions.”

Frederick snorted. “Most of the court are idiots.”

“Some of them, but they’re influential idiots and that makes them problems I need to keep track of.”

“I’d like to think that having the Dragoons working for us and not for Marik or Kurita is worthwhile.”

His cousin sighed. “Yes, and your intervention getting them to join us before Janos Marik’s offer reached the Dragoons is one of the things I’ve been able to use to allay concerns, but the fact is that you had no way of knowing he’d make that offer.”

“It was a fairly safe bet. He treasures his grudges like his own children, but Janos never had anything personal against the Dragoons. And by killing Anton they spared him from killing his own brother.”

“The smart money,” she told him quietly, “Is that he will permit the execution of his son Gerald, who sided with Anton.”

“And he would have killed Anton. But because of Jaime Wolf and Natasha Kerensky, he didn’t have to. And the fact that both he and the Dragoons were betrayed would give him common ground with them.” Frederick pointed out.

Katrina thought for a moment. “Alright. That does make some degree of sense. But you were still guessing, and it looks suspicious. Particularly with you presenting ideas about how Wolf’s regiments will be employed. If your contract with him had some secret clauses, perhaps even verbal clauses… who would know?”

“Hopefully, Simon Johnson. That’s his job.”

The younger of the two Steiner cousins picked up her glass and toyed with it. “The point is less what you did and how you did it. I’m happy to hire mercenaries left high and dry by Anton’s failure - for that matter, there’s a good sized portion of the Atrean Dragoons that have defected and the Mercenary Troops Liaison are helping Colonel Hansen get them organized and registered as a mercenary unit. But the optics on how the Dragoons were hired are bad.”

“Alright. Mea culpa. What do you want to do about it?”, Frederick finally asked

Katrina put down her glass and pushed her chair back. “I have to be seen to be taking steps to curb you.” she told him as she rose. Crossing to the sideboard she retrieved a folder and returned to the table, setting it down in front of her. “And you’ll need to be hands off in how we use the Dragoons. So I can’t credit you for this.”

That stung a little, however he looked at the document she’d extracted. “But you’re going ahead with it?”

“It’s got too much potential for me to ignore,” she admitted. “Ed Regis gave it his wholehearted approval as well. It’s unorthodox, but we need new ideas to break up the… inertia of the LCAF’s thinking.”

“How much can you invest in it?”

“We’re going all in. Five battalions, one attached to each of the Wolf's Dragoons regiments and we’ll use them as a cadre to expand up from there. It’ll make a hole in the replacement equipment and personnel budget, but since our numbers are up for both of them it’s affordable. I’m sure you remember how short-changed you felt when you took over the Seventh Regulars. Now I’ll be putting up with at least a dozen grumpy regimental commanders.”

“I was not grumpy. I was proactive.”, he defensively answered.

“Well, hopefully not all of them will decide to be proactive and start launching unauthorized raids at once. One advantage of having the Dragoons deployed is that I have an excuse to uproot a few more regiments and I rather need to know where they are for that.” Katrina pulled out a second piece of paper. “But yes, we’ll go with your brainchild. If you have someone in mind you’d rather got the credit…”

And naming someone, Frederick thought darkly, would suggest that they were in his circle and he would be promoting someone’s career. “Do as you like. Claim credit yourself if necessary.” To be fair, Max had come up with the original idea - or rather, he had remembered the DCMS would have done something similar ten years from now.

“That far I will not go,” his cousin assured him. “We’ll put the blame on Ed then.”

“Maybe give Arthur partial credit,” he suggested. “Something that was being considered back before…”

Katrina’s eyes grew distant for a moment and then she gave him a sharp look. “Alright. And we’ll go with your name. Commonwealth Jaegers.”

“It’s a good name,” Frederick told her defensively.

“Yes, it is.” She steepled her fingers again. “And as for you, I’m going to eject you.”

“Pardon?”

“Yes.” The Archon smiled slightly. “I have the need to send a high level representative on a diplomatic mission that will take weeks at best, so I’m going to stretch it out to months and give you the job.”

“You’re expecting me to be diplomatic?”

To her credit, she did look rueful. “I know. But you can take your ever-present shadow along with you. And the Federated Suns respect soldiers, so you’ll have more leeway than you might elsewhere.”

“The Suns?” Was this it? No, it was far too early. Ian Davion was definitely an ally, but the ties were far from at the level for anything like the Federated Commonwealth to be formed…

“I see you’re not aware yet?”

“Of what?” he asked suspiciously.

“It seems that Hanse Davion and Dana Stephenson’s time together on Mallory’s World has brought them closer than even the gutter press had realized.” she told him with some smugness. “He apparently proposed the minute the campaign was over and the announcement waited only on his brother giving formal consent. So there will be a royal wedding on New Avalon before the end of the year and I want you to be there, representing my best wishes to the happy couple and bolstering our ties with House Davion.”

“That’s the most important alliance we have.”

“I know,” Katrina sighed. “but Ian has met you so he’ll make allowances for your lack of social graces.”

After a moment, he concluded the Archon was being sarcastic. At times her sense of humor was too like Max’s - or perhaps it was the reverse. “It’s a long way, but stretching it out to months…”

“You’ll arrive early, and depart late - as well as stopping on a few worlds along the way. The exact destinations will need to be worked out, but there’s more to swaying the Federated Suns than just making a few appearances on the capital. You’ll be the face of House Steiner and the Lyran Commonwealth, so…” She smiled. “Please try to make it a face they don’t want to punch.”


A Job Offer[]

Sigfried Glacier Reserve Environs, Tharkad
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
20th July, 3015

Frederick was usually an early riser, but today Max Mustermann was halfway through his breakfast by the time the duke left his bedroom. Looking up, the secretary was startled to see that the younger man was sporting a black eye - which didn’t mask the bags under both eyes. “What happened to you?”

“Pick-up game of rugby,” the general told him gruffly, pouring coffee into the largest mug available.

“Is that even a thing?”

“If not, how did I wind up with a black eye?”

“Well, if you took a swing at Katrina I guess you’d have been shot, so I yield your point. The family dinner didn’t go well?” Max guessed that Frederick had gone looking for something aggressive and athletic to work off frustrations and from the way the duke’s shoulders stiffened, he thought he was on target.

Frederick yanked the chair facing Max away from the table and sat down on it. “I’m being banished.”

“...what?” That seemed extreme.

“Not officially, and not forever.” The general lifted his mug and gulped down some of the pitch-black coffee. “But she’s sending me to be a diplomat!”

“Ah.” Max considered that. “Damn, she must be furious.”

“I gave her five regiments of elite Mechwarriors! How does this deserve that?!”

“I meant with whoever she’s sending you to as a diplomat.”

Frederick’s eyes snapped up and then he realized Max was joking. “That wasn’t funny.”

“Fortunately, the Commonwealth is a free country and we’re allowed to disagree on that.”

“Is this the time for jokes?”

“I don’t know,” Max admitted. “but there’s usually room for a joke or two in life. Why don’t you explain in a little more detail.” He considerately went over to the side where a breakfast buffet had been laid out, preparing a plate for the duke and returning to place it on the table before Frederick.

“Hanse Davion is getting married. I’m to attend as her representative, to get me out of the Commonwealth until people stop thinking I recruited the Dragoons as a ploy to overthrow Katrina.”

“When is he getting married? 3028? Because some people will believe that regardless of any evidence to the contrary.”

“No, towards the end of this year. I guess I’ll have to take the scenic route.”

Max nodded. “Hanse getting married… well, that puts paid to any thoughts that we’ve not made a difference. It changes almost everything.”

Frederick started cutting one of his sausages up. “It invalidates much of your foreknowledge. No Steiner-Davions now.”

“Well, not the same ones at any rate,” Max noted. “It remains possible that Ryan or Melissa might decide to marry a Davion. But even if - god forbid - Hanse’s marriage fails to produce heirs, it largely rules out the five that I predicted.”

“Does that bother you?”

He shook his head, loose hair brushing his shoulders. “I knew that things would change. Even if I’d stayed on Summer, there would have been small changes.”

“We’ve effectively killed the children Melissa would have had.”, Frederick commented

Max paused, considering Frederick’s words. “Millions of lives have already been changed. Uncountable children who would have existed in the future I saw will be different in at least minor ways. But there will be others, and perhaps if we get this right they’ll have better lives - not have to face the conflicts I saw.”

“There will still be wars. That’s human nature,” Frederick said heavily. Then he brightened. “But at least Hanse won’t be preying on little Melissa.”

“She might just have a thing for older men,” Max observed. “And you’ll have to respect her wishes if she decides she wants to marry one someday. If Ian Davion’s still alive and single when she’s old enough…”

The Duke of Duran made several suggestions about what Ian Davion could do, straying into German vocabulary that Max had yet to learn. He made a mental note to find out what the words meant.

“Have you got that out of your system?” he asked Frederick after the man had wound down. “I’m fairly sure most of the people on New Avalon will be a little offended if you say that to the First Prince’s face.”

Frederick grunted and stuffed some sausage into his mouth, chewing vigorously. “At least,” he said when he’d swallowed the meat, “I can be sincere when I wish the Fox a long and happy marriage.”

“You’re getting the hang of diplomacy already.”

“You know, some dukes have secretaries who are quiet, efficient and obedient.” the general muttered. “I’ve been semi-ordered to take you along, will that have any impact on our other projects?”

“It shouldn’t,” Max admitted. “We’re in a waiting phase at the moment, particularly given how much of your finances are committed. I’m really glad Katrina agreed to hire the Dragoons because if you went ahead with paying for them yourself, you’d have had to borrow a fortune and securing that would have pretty much killed any new investments for years to come.”

Frederick nodded. “It would have been worth it.”

“Probably, but even so. Anyway, enough of the Bowie shareholders came around that their board agreed to the W10 refit of their production, which was the last thing that required one of us to be personally available.”

That hadn’t been fun. House Steiner owned enough shares to have permanent representation on the board, but Frederick’s portion of those shares wasn’t enough to dictate even that block, much less a full majority. Thus, Max had needed to visit dozens of shareholders and proxy holders to persuade them that the corporation should get out in front of the LCAF’s reforms to aerospace production. As the closest thing there was to a competitor to Lockheed/CBM, that wasn’t an unreasonable position for Bowie to take but they were already heavily invested in the new ‘mech factories.

“Rather you than me, but they went for it.” Frederick told him. “You’ve saved a lot of lives.”

The W10 variant was something the AFFS had refitted their limited fleet of the Lyran-built Heavy Aerospace Fighter to years ago - removing some of the weapons for improved armor protection. Given that the Chippewa’s cooling system couldn’t cope with using the full armament anyway, that wasn’t much of a sacrifice but the LCAF bureaucracy had been balking at requests from pilots going back over a century.

“Well it wouldn’t have worked if you hadn’t forced the money-counters to agree to accept the W10 in lieu of more W5s in the future - and refit kits instead of new production while the production line is altered.”

“That was the hardest thing,” Frederick agreed. “We’ll take a short term hit in the number of airframes and that raised some hackles. Hopefully the improvements will cut losses to off-set that in the longer term but I think some of the supply officers are far too used to just expecting losses and the need to replace them.”

“Which is a self-reinforcing cycle,” Max concluded. “Hopefully we can break that, because those fighter wings are the Commonwealth’s first line of defense.”

“How about the other matter? That world I can’t even pronounce?”, asked Frederick

“Kwangjong-ni?” Max could manage it but only because he’d had a lot of practice. “An underwater survey team is on the way but there’s a lot of ocean to check and we haven’t narrowed it down much. That one won’t have a quick outcome unless we’re very lucky.”

Frederick rested his elbows on the table. “I suppose it’s better if it doesn’t return anything right away. Maybe people will calm down about thinking I turn up lostech everywhere I go.”

Max laughed. “Or success will revive those rumors.”

“Let’s avoid finding anything in the Suns then.” The duke shook his head. “We’ll need to figure out what to do for most of six months before the wedding.”

“What does Katrina want besides keeping you out of the Triad’s eye? And what do you want?”

The general rubbed his face. “The alliance is doing us good, so reinforcing that would be preferable.”

Max leant back in his chair. “And the key to that is the mutual enmity towards the Draconis Combine. We have other things in common, of course, but since you’re primarily seen as a soldier, that’s the safest bet. You met Aaron Sandoval on Addicks, didn’t you?”

Frederick nodded. “You’re thinking I should go to Robinson first? And accompany the duke to New Avalon from there?”

“If he’s willing, but on the way to Robinson, you should stop on Kentares. A news bite about a Lyran general visiting the war memorial there should prime public opinion to respond favorably to you…”


Chance meeting at a Dance[]

Castle Davion, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Suns
28th November, 3015

Weddings, Frederick had realized, meant that women had marriage on their minds. And while the groom’s brother remained the most eligible bachelor in the Inner Sphere, almost every marriageable noblewoman in the Suns had bounced off his bachelorhood already, and the arrival of a second unwed royal had turned many of them to someone they saw as more attainable.

Max had covered for him twice already during the wedding reception, but he couldn’t see his secretary right now and there was a cluster of feral Feddie ladies bearing down on him. Looking for a route of escape, he spotted a blonde officer in AFFS dress uniform parting ways with a man who’d been clearly danced into the ground.

Three quick steps took him up to the woman and he noted the rank on her epaulet. “May I ask the next dance, Leftenant-General?”

She beamed at him enthusiastically. “I’d be delighted, General.”

They clasped hands as the next dance began and Frederick was glad that his preparations for the event had included practicing the local dances because they weren’t quite the same as those in vogue in the Commonwealth. Still, his partner was clearly very experienced and she was able to cover for his unfamiliarity.

To his further relief, she didn’t attempt to make conversation about his background and marital plans. The dancing, it seemed, was what she was more interested in and Frederick was just fine with that. It wasn’t as high energy as a good game of Skye basketball, but it required some of the same focus and precision. Her smile did broaden as he got used to the dances and she stopped holding back.

By the time that the music stopped for the formal departure of the married couple, both Frederick and his partner were breathing hard and he felt as if he’d gone through a full match of rugby, which wasn’t far off in duration from how long they’d been out on the dance floor.

“It’s been a while since someone’s kept up with me for this long.” the officer admitted as they both accepted champagne flute from one of the trays being carried around by the castle staff. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Dancing isn’t my first choice of exercise, but I’d rather be doing something than standing around talking.” Frederick admitted. “I’ll have to ask that you excuse a gaffe though, in asking you to dance before I’ve asked your name.”

Her smile didn’t slip. “Nelitha Green-Davion. And you need no introduction, general. LCAF uniforms aren’t so common on New Avalon, after all.”

So she was a Davion - he would have to parse which branch later, probably. The ambassador would no doubt nitpick the consequences of his spending so much time with her. Max would probably be able to tell him. “I’ve rarely had a better time at court on Tharkad.”

“Ladies and gentlemen.” Ian Davion, beaming with happiness for his brother, raised his glass and cut across conversations taking place all around the ballroom. “I give you Hanse and Dana Davion. My god bless them both.”

“Gott segne.” (God Bless) Frederick murmured as similar sentiments were voiced by everyone else, drinking a toast as the happy couple walked down the length of the great hall, clearly far more engrossed in each other than in the thousands of guests. As it should be, he supposed.

Nelitha drained her glass. “There will be more dancing, if you would care for it?”

“I’d be delighted.” he said honestly.

“I’m glad to hear that.” a third voice interjected and they both turned to see First Prince Ian Davion had managed to sneak up on them while the focus was on his brother and sister-in-law. “But I would like to speak to Frederick for a moment, if you can spare him, Nelitha. Just briefly.”

“Of course, your highness.”

Frederick glanced after her for a moment and then snapped his gaze to the First Prince. “Is there some crisis? Your highness.”

If Ian noted the small pause before the formality, he brushed it off. “Frederick, we’re practically comrades and I hope we’ll one day fight alongside each other. You can use my name. And no, it’s not a crisis, just something I wanted to alert the ambassador to via a backchannel. If I call him aside, the rumor mill will start grinding.”

Uncertain if speaking privately would be less alarming, Frederick glanced around. “Well, I’m all ears.”

“I’m going to announce the movement of a couple of RCTs tomorrow, from the Draconis March to the Capellan March. Please pass on that it’s not a long term shift of focus, just a -”

“Ian!” a loud voice interjected and a tall, dark-haired man butted in, clasping the First Prince on the shoulder. “I wanted to thank you for the additional troops. It’s good to know you’ve heard the petitions for more support against the Liaos.”

Frederick could almost imagine Aldo saying something similar, probably with an implicit ‘at last’ appended. Taking in the long hair, as well as the red-haired woman and boy following the man, this had to be Duke Michael Hasek-Davion. “Your grace, your highness,” he greeted the adults and then dipped his head slightly to the boy. “Lord Morgan.”

“Sir.” The child saluted him seriously and Frederick humored him by returning the gesture.

Ian reached over and ruffled his nephew’s red hair affectionately. “I’ve always heard those petitions, Michael. But we have two fronts to handle and I’ve every confidence that you’ve got the Capellans well in hand, so you’ll have to accept the Thirty-Fourth Hussars and Third Guards as an quality upgrade: I’ll be rotating two of the Deneb Light Cavalry RCTs over to the Draconis March before the summer.”

It made sense of the warning, Frederick thought. With the Marik Civil War ended, the Capellans would now have to watch both flanks again. A shift of forces towards the Capellan March might be taken as a move of focus away from the Suns and the Commonwealth’s mutual foe, but if it was just a temporary drawdown while forces were rotated then it made more sense.

Michael’s face fell, apparently deflated. “I appreciate the flattery but I would prefer more resources. Promoting your cousin Yvonne to lead the Crucis March makes me feel as if I have two hostile borders just to my own domain.”

The First Prince sighed. “Yvonne won’t do anything untoward, Michael. Between you and me…” He paused. “And the Duke of Duran, of course.”

Frederick shrugged. “I’ll leave your family to talk, your highness. A pleasure to meet you, Duke Michael, Princess Marie… and you, Lord Morgan.”

“No, it’s fine. It’ll be public in a day or two. I think I can trust your discretion.” Ian turned back to his brother-in-law. “Yvonne’s a placeholder while Hanse gets the time in a more junior position. I’m promoting him to Field Marshal at Christmas and giving him the Kathil Operations Area. It’s why his command and Dana’s are being rotated to the Capellan March.”

The duke looked outraged and Frederick unraveled the implications of the unfamiliar command structure. While the Lyran borders were divided into Theaters, each with their own Margrave answering directly to national command. In the Federated Suns, the entire realm was divided into three marchs, one facing the Capellan Confederation, one facing the Draconis Combine and the third covering the interior and most of the periphery border. Each March was then divided into operational areas and then into smaller Polymorphous Defense Zones. Duke Michael Hasek-Davion of New Syrtis was the hereditary ruler of the Capellan March, and the Kathil Operations Area made up almost half of that March, so Ian was sliding his own younger brother in to effectively pull half the March out from under him, at least temporarily.

“You couldn’t have discussed this with me beforehand?” the duke protested.

“I was planning to tell you tomorrow, but since you raised concerns today…” Ian looked around. “But this is hardly the time.”

Tell him, not discuss it, Frederick noted. He’d been warned not to trust Michael Hasek-Davion, and even without Max’s information, it was logical that the Duke of New Syrtis would prefer to ally with House Marik against House Liao rather than House Steiner against House Kurita. It seemed that Ian was intent on exerting dominance over his vassal, and doing so in front of an outsider to boot.

Michael drew himself up. “I’m sorry to hear that your cousin’s toxicity against my house and staff are being given a pulpit again, Ian. I look forward to discussing this at greater length tomorrow.”

Ian shook his head as the Hasek-Davions departed, Morgan looking back at his uncle in bemusement. “I didn’t think he’d react that badly.”

“Telling him in front of me may have been the concern.” Frederick noted. “I am a foreigner, after all.”

“I hope you’ll take it as my commitment to continue focusing our combined efforts against our, ah, Combine enemy.”

He tilted his head in appreciation of the joke, but he also wondered what was going on between Yvonne - Yvonne Davion, presumably? - and Michael Hasek-Davion. Max had mentioned her in passing but in his history she’d only resumed prominence by this date because Hanse Davion had taken the throne and he was much closer to her than his brother was. But here Ian had promoted her.

“He protests too much,” Frederick said, keeping his voice down. “Reminds me of some of the officers my cousin has had to break out of service as she reformed the LCAF.”

“You’re no diplomat, are you?” Ian gave him a wry grin. “But I’m keeping you from your dance partner longer than I intended. Please convey my apologies to her.”

“I wasn’t aware she was your cousin until just before you called me aside.”

The First Prince shrugged. “She’s a countess on Galax, but also a very fine logistics officer. Also a very enthusiastic dancer.”

“I noticed that.” Frederick agreed and then sought her out. Perhaps now he should try some conversation as they danced. If nothing else, he’d be on New Avalon until Christmas and dancing venues were easier to find for exercise than pick-up sports groups if you didn’t have an established network of contacts.


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