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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 3

Unexpected news regarding a Friend[]

Castle Davion, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Suns
September 3rd, 3023

“Welcome, Ambassador!” Hanse Davion, First Prince of the Federated Suns, had come to the door of his office to greet Gregor Eisner warmly.

Despite the crisis around his accession to the throne, relations between his realm and the Lyran Commonwealth were better than they had been since the fall of the Star League. Ambassador Eisner had been an inspired choice to represent his nation: a native of Arcturus and veteran of the Arcturan Guards, he’d left military service for a diplomatic role after losing his leg fighting the DCMS. His natural good humor had made him a popular guest on holovid shows and he’d even played celebrity soccer one-on-one against Duke Aaron Sandoval (himself a double-amputee) for charity last year.

Eisner accepted the offered hand and shook it, but he did so stiffly and his face was far from its usual warmth. “Your Highness. Thank you for seeing me on short notice.”

“You said it was important.” Hanse replied, gesturing to the seats. “Coffee?” Behind a veneer of bonhomie, the prince’s mind was working furiously. Was something wrong - some crisis on Tharkad?

“I think that that would be inappropriate.” Eisner accepted the seat, leaning forwards. He opened his attache case and produced an envelope. “I have been instructed to deliver the following note with all due urgency.”

Hanse stared at him and then accepted the envelope. “I only sent my reply to your Archon’s Peace Proposal last night,” he mused. “Unless ComStar have broken with their usual inefficiencies, I’d be amazed if it’s arrived on Tharkad by now. Much less for there to be a response.”

“This message follows from the Peace Proposal, Your Highness.”

“...should I ask, or should I simply read it, ambassador?”

Eisner swallowed. “Since you have asked, I believe I am free to interpret my instructions with some latitude.”

“Well spit it out! Whatever it is, surely we can deal with it with the same goodwill our nations have shared for years now!”, Hanse was opening the envelope as he spoke though.

“On the evening of the thirty-first, only a few hours after the Peace Proposal was sent.” the ambassador began, “Colonel Sortek of your armed forces was the Archon’s guest at the graduation dinner of the Nagelring.”

“Late in the year… ah, yes I forgot that your academic year doesn’t quite match ours.” Hanse shook his head. “Has something happened to Ardan? Is that what this is about?” His friend - almost his younger brother! If he’d come to harm, then Katrina might well send a personal message. But a formal note?

Eisner shook his head. “I regret to inform you that Colonel Sortek was apprehended attempting to access the Nagelring’s vaults, sir.”

“What?! That’s ridiculous!” Hanse forced himself to remain seated, but Eisner sat back sharply at the force of the denial.

“I cannot claim direct knowledge of the events. I can confirm, as a graduate, that the vaults hold not only valuable and historical artifacts of the academy, but also serve as a back-up data center for sensitive information.”

“I’m aware,” the prince said sharply. “Including back-ups of the Star League computers recovered by Duke Frederick Steiner over the last few years, or so I have been told.”

“Correct, your highness. I don’t believe that there is any way that the Colonel could have tried to enter them by accident.”

“Ardan isn’t a spy!”

“Having met Colonel Sortek, I would not make such an accusation, sir. Nonetheless, he was found there under suspicious circumstances and the Archon was present in person. I believe she was angered considerably.”

Hanse opened the letter sharply and started scanning it impatiently. The ambassador remained diplomatically silent, watching as the First Prince felt his cheeks flush with anger…

When Hanse Davion looked up again, it was only after he had fought to keep that fury under control. “I read here, ambassador, that my good and trusted friend Ardan Sortek has been detained for questioning at the Archon’s pleasure.” He raised one hand when Eisner started to reply. “My good friend who has diplomatic credentials has been detained, one might even say arrested.”

The Lyran exhaled slowly. “Yes, Your Highness.”

“This treads very closely towards the line of exceeding diplomatic practices, Ambassador.”

“I am aware, your Highness.”, the Ambassador replied.

For a very long moment, the two men stared at each other.

Hanse broke the silence. “I understand this to be a preliminary message. I obviously have no firsthand knowledge of what may have happened at the Nagelring, but please relay to Archon Steiner that I expect a full account once one is available to her - as she would expect of me if the situation is reversed.”

“I will do so, Your Highness.” Eisner said in relief.

“For now I will refrain from issuing anything that could be construed as a threat. We may, after all, very soon receive news that this is all some terrible misunderstanding. And I am sure that once Colonel Sortek is back at the Federated Suns embassy, I will receive notification and his own account. However, if he is not back in the embassy - intact and unharmed, and within a reasonable span of time - then I may find it necessary to circumscribe the movements of Lyran diplomatic personnel.”, he told Eisener.

“That, uh…”

Hanse shook his head. “I devoutly hope that this is no more than a misplaced overreaction by the Archon to a perceived betrayal of trust. And if I have completely misunderstood Ardan and he has in fact attempted something so outrageous, then I will accept responsibility for him as my officer. But as you must understand, ambassador, when one’s diplomats are used poorly by the host nation it is the obligation of a ruler to reciprocate, lest other diplomats be similarly mistreated.”

Eisner dipped his head. “I am sure that, were the situation reversed, that you would not exceed the exact limits of diplomatic practises and that the Archon would be similarly disciplined.”

The First Prince sighed. “Is there anything else, Ambassador?”

The man pushed himself back onto his feet. “Only my deep regrets that this situation has arisen and my hope that it will, as you say, quickly be proven to be a misunderstanding.”

“Thank you, Gregor. Don’t let me detain you.”

It was only when the ambassador paled that Hanse realized that the words had been poorly chosen. It was too late to take them back though, and he watched Eisner walk out.

God, poor Ardan! Whatever had happened? The First Prince slumped back in his chair. What could he do? What should he do? Tharkad and New Avalon were separated by over five hundred light years, direct action was out of the question… What insanity would have Ardan try to access a Lyran secure vault? He knew that the alliance was the most valued diplomatic asset the FedSuns had!

Straightening, Hanse checked the clock and saw that he had twenty minutes before the appointments pushed back to make time for Eisner needed to be dealt with. He stalked to his desk and thumbed his intercom. “I need to speak to Olivia Fenlon before my next appointment. And Nelitha Green-Davion in the same timeframe.”

The secretary was on the ball. “I’m alerting their staffs now, your highness. Do you wish to speak to them separately, together or does it not matter?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Understood.” Hanse could almost see the secretary’s face focused in concentration. “Countess Fenlon is in a meeting and being contacted. Countess Green-Davion is currently in transit from Brunswick, a call is being patched through to her now.”

“Thank you.” Hanse released the intercom, recovered the diplomatic note and was back in his chair right before the vid-phone lit up and displayed his distant cousin’s face.

“Hanse?” she asked. “Is something the matter?”

“Yes.” He paused. “I need to get a back-channel message to Frederick Steiner. I hate to use your personal relationship for state business, but Ardan’s in trouble on Tharkad.”

Nelitha blinked. “In trouble that the Archon isn’t willing to help him with? You know they get on like a house on fire.”

“Right now, the house is on fire and Katrina appears to be pouring oil on it. It’s… uncharacteristic. I’ll get you the details and if anyone can get through to the Archon and fight Ardan’s corner, it’s your boyfriend.”

“I’ll certainly ask,” she said slowly, “But I don’t believe he’s on Tharkad at the moment. According to his last letter, he was heading back out to the Periphery - one of his industrial investments paid off. I’d be amazed if word gets to him in less than a week. It could be longer, you know what ComStar’s like for the further fringes of the Inner Sphere.”
Of all the times! “Please let him know anyway. I’m going through formal channels but I have a bad feeling about this. Ardan’s been accused of espionage and Katrina’s handling, at least so far, has been… clumsy. I might even go so far as inflammatory.”

“Can you tell me more?”

“She invited him to the Nagelring and he allegedly tried to access their secure vaults.”

“...that doesn’t sound like Ardan at all,” Nelitha admitted. She frowned in thought. “Katrina doesn’t take betrayal well. She might be taking this personally… I don’t know her as well as he does.”

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Is this the diplomatic equivalent? I hope our ambassador has a handle on this by now. “Thank you, Nelitha. Just ask Frederick to do what he can.”

With the call ended, Hanse turned and looked out over the city below Castle Davion as he waited for his foreign minister to become available. Did Ardan blunder into someone else’s plot? he wondered. Something incidental to him… or was he framed by someone who knew exactly how Katrina would react? He didn’t know, but his gut told him that this wouldn’t end quickly or cleanly.

Call to Service on far off World[]

The Lost Sea, Kwangjong-ni
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
October 7th, 3023

Max knew that the creaking above him was water in the ancient plumbing of the Weigel Armory and Munitions factory, not the dome separating them from the ocean. That wasn’t enough to keep him from looking up nervously at every sound.

For once, Frederick seemed to share his unease with the situation. The younger man was hunching his shoulders and had the fixed expression of mild irritation that Max knew was his default was of hiding discomfort with a situation. “It’s in better condition that I’d hoped.” he said out loud.

“I wasn’t sure myself. My guess is that the SLDF never found it so no one’s shot it up, stripped it or done anything but abandon the place.”

Official records claimed that Weigel Armory and Munitions’s factory on Kwangjong-ni had been destroyed by the SLDF in 2767, early in their occupation of the Rim Worlds Republic. That had seemed odd - the factory had supplied Amaris’ forces for the coup, but it could have also been used to build equipment for Kerensky’s drive to liberate the Hegemony. It could have been that the factory was razed by the defenders to prevent it from being used by Kerensky, and no one had found anything to suggest it still existed for centuries… but Max’s memories told him that something would have been discovered someday.

It had taken over a decade of underwater surveying, but now there was proof that the factory had just been lost, not destroyed. Built under the planet’s oceans, it wasn’t going to be found by accident. Only a few workers had probably known where it was and most likely they’d died in the chaos of that era, or lived out their lives without telling. Others, brought in and out without being told that it was underwater rather than the more common underground, might have simply had no way of finding it again.

Whatever the truth, here it was.

“It’s a self-contained factory,” Max reported. “Raw materials come in, ‘mechs come out. We’re still checking the tooling but it looks as if we’d only need modest repairs to be able to build Rampages again. Assuming we want them.”

“On the one hand, they’re pretty decent assault ‘Mechs,” Frederick observed, “But on the other, it’d be rather obvious we found a factory for them. No one builds them, but they’re recognisable. And the association with Amaris…”

“Mmmm.” Max shrugged. “How bad an impression would it make?”

“A ‘mech is a ‘mech. I don’t think it would be too bad in the Commonwealth, but the SLDF made a point of getting rid of Rim Worlds exclusive designs. The hatred lives on. And from what you say about the Clans…”


Frederick looked at some of the tooling. “It’s pretty similar to the Zeus structurally.”

“Ja, there’s a suspicion that Defiance Industries used the design as a basis when they developed the Zeus during the First Succession War. If they’d found the place they could convert it to build them rather than Rampages.” He didn’t say that he was talking about what would have happened in that future history. They had practise talking around that detail, rather than possibly be overheard discussing such politically inappropriate things as visions and dreams. “We don’t have a license though.”

'“Defiance would send armies of lawyers after us. I’d be nibbled to death. Can we buy one?”

Max spread his hands. “We can ask. It’d take time unless we use the HPGs, but…”

“Basic security, we’ll want this to be face to face.” decided Frederick. “It’ll take time to reactivate this place anyway.”

“We can start by putting the component lines back in service.” Max opened his noteputer. “The Royal Guards only have a trickle of replacement parts to add to what we found on Helm. The lines here don’t build everything, but what they do build will be welcome.”

“Good thinking. And it’ll score points with Katrina, which is never a bad thing. That’s probably more valuable than more ‘Mechs.” The general shook his head. “I never thought I’d be saying that. More valuable than ‘Mechs. Still, if Defiance Industries decide they don’t want to license the Zeus at a reasonable cost, what can we do with this?”

“There’s the Striker, I suppose. We have the design data and no one’s building it. Or both Red Devil and Trellshire Heavy Industries have licenses for the Battlemaster, which is the right weight to use the reactors built here. If we partner with one of them, we could start building a lostech version.

Frederick grinned. “And play them off against each other for the best deal.”

“You’re sounding like a businessman.” Max said and then flinched at another groan from the plumbing.

“I’m a proud Lyran patriot,” his boss told him. “There’s nothing shameful in understanding business. Anyway, the Battlemaster process sounds better than the Zeus, but Defiance may get shirty if we don’t at least make them an offer.”

“There’s more than one assembly line, so we might be able to do both.”

“That sounds…” Frederick’s comm pinged and he reached down to pull it off his belt. “Both is good,” he finished quickly before accepting the call. “Steiner here.”

There was a crackle of someone speaking, too distant and tinny for Max to overhear.

“Right,” the general said crisply. “Retransmit down to our ship. It’ll take us hours to get back, there’s no point waiting.” He cut the comm. “Apparently I have mail.”

“Who from?”

“Tharkad and New Avalon. The former is official, but that’s all the new boy knows.” Frederick had taken on a new secretary, since Max was no longer available on a day to day basis.

“I think d’Alembert is about the same age you were when we first met,” Max told him wryly. “If that makes him a boy in your eyes, how old am I?”

“About a thousand years, give or take.”

They both laughed as they retraced their steps to the factory’s dock. The small cargo submarine that had brought them was floating in the dock, dwarfed by the infrastructure that was clearly intended to deal with bulk shipments in and out. At least the yellow paint was cheerful in comparison to the industrial grey.

The two men climbed the gangway and entered the cramped control room, where Jules d’Alembert was sitting at the communications panel, being pointedly ignored by the young woman who was monitoring the submarine’s status - most of the crew were resting or had joined in exploring the factory.

“Two messages, Sir.” The heavyset young man held up a headset. “ComStar want your voiceprint authorization to retransmit. The one from Tharkad is official LCAF, the other they probably don’t need the authoriziation but the adept is being shirty.”

Frederick sighed. “Bureaucrats.” He donned the headset. “This is General Steiner. Are you ready to check my authorization?”

Max crossed to the printer and waited as Frederick mildly roasted the officious ComStar representative. Sure enough, the messages were released and the printer came to life, clicking and whirring before spitting out several pages. Checking the top page of the first, Max saw it was indeed from New Avalon and who had sent it. “Message from Nelitha,” he reported and handed the papers over to Frederick.

It took him a moment for the second message to finish printing and when he looked up he saw that his friend’s face had gone from eager anticipation to confusion. “Is something wrong?”

“Perhaps,” Frederick admitted. “This has been on the way for over a month, but apparently Ardan Sortek’s been detained on Tharkad. Arrested or as near as you can with diplomats.”

“Why?” Sortek was fairly inoffensive, and on good terms with two Successor Lords. That made him pretty bulletproof against accusations of anything.

“He’s accused of espionage. Hopefully that’s been cleared up, but it’s still a scandal. If we weren’t on the far end of the Commonwealth I’d have thought we’d have heard something in the time it took this to catch up.”

“It may have come in with the same batch of messages as this” Max muttered thoughtfully. “Or there could be something here.” He quickly and shamelessly started reading Frederick’s other message.

“Do you want me to check if there’s anything in the media, Sir?” asked d’Alembert.

“Go ahead, Jules.” Frederick went back to reading Nelitha’s message. “It could have blown over, but I’d better head for Tharkad in case it hasn’t. Something’s wrong here.”

Max grunted. “You can’t.” He handed the other letter over. “You’re officially recalled to active duty - orders from Mount Asgard. Not Katrina’s signature but Regis signed them so she can’t be unaware. Jumpships are being arranged to get you to Wyatt by Command Circuit.”


The world was well known to Max and Frederick, it was where he’d taken command of his first regiment, the Seventh Lyran Regulars. But few worlds in the Commonwealth were further from Kwangjong-ni: Wyatt was in the Isle of Skye, on the border with the Free Worlds League while they were currently in Coventry province, near the Periphery.

“A five hundred light year command circuit?” Frederick continued. “For just one man? If it’s that urgent, surely someone else is closer!” Dozens of jumpships would be delaying or altering their schedules to get him from one ship to another, letting a single dropship (or more probably a small shuttle) cross vast distances with multiple jumps each day. The expense was prodigious, as other shipments were delayed.

Max shrugged. “No details I can see, I guess it’s too important to send via ComStar.”

D’Alembert looked up. “I just got a DBC update from Tharkad, sir.” Donegal Broadcasting Company was one of the major news networks. “Relationships with the Federated Suns are collapsing - apparently the Federated Suns have confined our diplomats on New Avalon to their embassy.”

“Reasons?” Frederick demanded.

“Nothing official, sir. But apparently a high level Feddie representative tried something at the Nagelring.”

Frederick and Max exchanged looks. “Katrina can’t possibly want you in the area in case of war with the Suns, can she?” asked Max incredulously.

“Wyatt’s not that far from the Terran corridor, but she’d probably send me to Dieron if that was it.” The general shook his head. “I don’t have any choice though.” He looked at the submariner, who was trying to pretend that she wasn’t listening. “Recall your captain please. We need to get back to the surface as fast as possible.”

“It’ll take a day or so for the decompression.” she reminded him, reaching for her own comm. “We’re rather deep.”

“I’m aware, so we should start right away.” Frederick turned back to Max. “None of this makes sense, but someone has to get this fixed. Nelitha asked me to look into this and see if Ardan’s being framed. She doesn’t say so, but that has to come from the First Prince.”

Max nodded. “And you can’t chase it up when you’re on Wyatt.”

“I know. It’s a tough job, but you’re going to have to go to the richest, most luxurious and sophisticated court in the Inner Sphere and try to talk sense into the Archon before this gets further out of hand.”

The older man sighed. Bold“I would rather face a thousand deaths.”

D’Alembert’s face showed that he thought they were joking. Perhaps calling him a boy wasn’t unfair.

An Relucent Ally[]

Castle Roark, Wyatt
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
November 13th, 3023

Dozens of jumps would have been a strain for anyone, and Frederick was self-aware enough to realize that it was hitting him harder than it would have a decade ago. I’m getting older, he thought. Is this how Max felt chasing me around?

At least official instructions had been waiting for him and he wasn’t going into this meeting entirely unprepared. Otherwise the man waiting for him in the drawing room at Castle Roark would have been a complete shock.

“General Steiner!” The man in CCAF dress greens clicked his heels as he saluted him. “It is a delight to meet such a highly reputed soldier.”

Frederick returned the salute. “Senior Colonel Ridzik. Your own name is hardly unknown to me.” For competence, but also for a certain brutality. And while the ranks might seem disparate, there was no higher rank than Senior Colonel in the Capellan Confederation Armed Forces. Pavel Ridzik was the Chancellor’s most trusted general, so far as such things went - closer to being Edward Regis’ counterpart than Frederick’s.

The servant who’d guided Frederick here withdrew, leaving the two men in privacy. Hopefully meeting here in the stronghold of House Roark rather than Wyatt City would translate to some degree of security for the meeting. It wasn’t a worthless precaution, but Frederick doubted it would hold up for all that well.

“I never expected to be standing here for this conversation,” Pavel Ridzik continued, “But it’s my honor to work with you upon this joint enterprise our lords have set us upon.”

“That’s our duty.” Frederick’s words weren’t precisely agreement, and he thought the other man was canny enough to notice. “Let’s get down to business.”

“Of course.” Ridzik had been here long enough to familiarize himself with the holo-display. Less charitably put, he’d made himself at home. He activated it, bringing up a map of the central regions of the Inner Sphere. Five pie wedges radiating from the Terran system, the neutral hub where ComStar was headquartered. The red wedge marking the Draconis Combine didn’t quite reach the center though, the tip replaced by Lyran blue as a result of Dieron and neighboring worlds changing hands.

Ridzik indicated the other side of the Commonwealth, where it bordered the purple of the Free Worlds League. “The Chancellor and your Archon have agreed on a joint operation to repeat your success in pushing the Combine away from Terra. Driving our mutual enemy, House Marik, back will create a secure corridor between our realms.”

“As if we didn’t already have multiple worlds within a jump of each others.” grumbled Frederick, pointing at Dieron and New Earth - Lyran worlds in easy reach from Capellan worlds like New Home.

“Only a few worlds would need to change hands to remove those links.” the Capellan pointed out placatingly. “You’ve done it yourself, you know how quickly such things can change. Pushing the League back gives us much more security.”

“Those are our orders, anyway.” Looking at the map, Frederick indicated the four worlds of the Sirian Concordance, right at the tip of the Free Worlds League. “That means taking these worlds - a province with three regiments of their own. I believe the Third Sirian Lancers are away on federal service.”''

Ridzik nodded. “The current government of the province are not supporters of the Captain-General. My understanding is that the ruler, Louis Grise, has concentrated his resources on the First and Second Lancers, so two well supplied regiments will defend the province. Sending the Third Lancers back would change the balance of forces very little - they’re short of supplies and don’t contain the best warriors. The main concern is that Janos Marik could send substantial reinforcements if Grise makes concessions and switches factions within their Parliament.”

That seemed like an accurate assessment to Frederick. Ridzik was no fool. “Either of us could crush the Lancers, given the time. Working together we could even do so quickly - unless your available forces are much weaker than I’ve been led to believe. But federal reinforcements are another matter.”

Spreading his hands, the bearded Capellan sat back in his seat. “Let us clear up any confusion in our forces first then. See what tools we have at our disposal?”

Frederick nodded curtly. Calling troops tools rankled with him but for now he'd let it pass. “The Eleventh Lyran Regulars are here on Wyatt and the 32nd Lyran Guards are stationed on Denebola and free for this operation. In addition, two reinforced battalions from the Commonwealth Jaegers are being quietly moved into the area. Close to three regiments of ‘Mechs and a dozen conventional regiments to support them. We have about as many more second line conventional regiments available for use as garrisons, but they’re not suited for invasions.”

“I would say about the same for conventional forces.” Ridzik offered. “In battlemech forces, my own regiment - Stapelton’s Iron Hands - are in position with Lothar’s Fusiliers on Outreach. The Second Kearny Fusiliers regiment will be moved up to support us once we have a plan in place - eight battalions, about the same forces that you are contributing.”

That was more or less what Frederick had expected. The Kearny Fusiliers were long-time mercenaries and very good, even if they were understrength - part of the famous Northwind Hussars. While they might number less than the available Commonwealth Jaegers, in effectiveness they were probably about equal.

“If we don’t want Lord Marik to commit to defending the Sirians then we should present a separate threat that he has to respond to.” he said out loud. “He might appreciate picking up Sirian votes in Parliament, but he’s too canny to do so if it means losing votes from one of his existing supporters.”

“I see,” Ridzik stroked his beard. “So attack another province, one nearby, so that the available federal reserves go there. Zion and Ohrenson provinces were carved out of Capellan space recently and lack strong provincial forces, but they are not reliable allies to House Marik.”

Frederick nodded and indicated another pair of Marik worlds, clinging to the Lyran border. “The Border Protectorate are under tight military control by a pro-Marik government. They have two ‘Mech regiments of their own and would likely make them available to respond to an attack on Sirius if the Captain-General asked. But if I launch an attack on their own worlds, then they’d almost certainly receive support. We took Denebola off them recently, they’d not want to lose the rest of their territory.” He’d personally led that campaign.

“I see and it makes for an easy division of any worlds taken.” the Capellan observed. “We take the Sirian worlds and you take the Border Protectorate, easy to understand and no cause for confusion.”

“Counting prizes before we’ve even begun operations is optimistic.” And it would mean four worlds for the Capellans, if they could take them, compared to two for the Lyrans. “But for us to quarrel over conquests we haven’t made would hardly be what the Archon wants out of this co-operation.”

What was Katrina thinking by accepting Chancellor Liao’s proposed joint invasion of the Free Worlds League? Maximilian Liao was widely known as a treacherous snake, he’d backed Anton Marik’s revolt against the sitting Captain-General and from what Max told Frederick, was also reaching out to Michael Hasek-Davion - the allegedly-loyal opposition to Hanse Davion.

Frederick forced himself to try to be objective. The Capellans were the weakest of the five Successor States, keeping their neighbors off balance with internal strife was a valid strategy for survival in the crab-pit of the Succession Wars. It was possible they might be a reliable ally for the Lyrans… but it could cost Katrina the alliance with the far stronger Federated Suns.

“You make good points,” Ridzik agreed calmly. “If we cannot take the worlds then arguing over who holds them is foolish, but if we each have our own targets then there is less cause for… frictions, shall we say.”

“Well said.” Frederick studied the map again. “I believe that we have a broad outline of how to proceed, and that would match our master’s goals. Do you agree?”

The Capellan nodded. “I look forward to our cooperation. Perhaps this will be the first of many glorious victories for Lyran and Capellan forces.”

He nodded slowly. “Perhaps. I think we can hold Zosma, Alula Australis… perhaps take Oliver as well.” That world wasn’t part of any larger province but it would be essentially cut off if the Border Protectorate and the Sirian Concordance fell - and it was a valuable industrial world. “The Border Protectorate’s population aren’t supportive of their own leaders or of House Marik - and we’ve governed them before. That’s something you may wish to learn from.”

Ridzik’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t follow your point, General.”

“Worlds that leave the Capellan Confederation have an… unfortunate habit of becoming strongly loyal to their new rulers after a generation or two. And while you’ve taken worlds back, they’re almost always slow to fall in line.”

“We know how to deal with insurgencies,” Ridzik said flatly.

With atrocities, Frederick didn’t say. “If you’re having to put them down behind you, that will slow your advance. I’m confident I can take our targets unless Janos Marik throws a major portion of his strategic reserves at me, stripping other border regions. But if I do that and you’re bogged down fighting for every town then the Concordance could hold out and the corridor you want to create won’t be formed.”

“Do you feel better able to keep restive civilians under control than I am?”, Ridzik asked

“I managed quite well on Dieron,” he replied coolly. “And I did so without using the heavy-handed tactics you’ve had to employ in your own career. I strongly suggest that you consider why so many people who’ve known Capellan rule are reluctant to return to it.”

“We are allies now, General Steiner. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with such relationships? What you say could be considered an insult to patriotic Capellan Citizens.”

Frederick glared at Ridzik. “We are allies because my cousin and your Chancellor have agreed to try to work together. My past experience of working with allies is that being forthright avoids later misunderstandings.”

“I see.” Ridzik visibly forced himself to lean back. “Please, share your wisdom.” His voice was edged in sarcasm.

“You mentioned Capellan citizens, but a large portion of your population aren’t citizens. The people you’re conquering know that they can only expect servitor status - which is close enough to slavery.”

“And you find that offensive?”

Slaveowners are like cannibals, Colonel Ridzik. Both reduce the value of others from people to property. I find that deeply offensive and I really don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t feel the same way.”

Ridzik nodded slowly. “Obviously, I don’t agree with that comparison. And I find it deeply offensive. But, as you say, we are now not going to misunderstand each other. You will work with us despite that.”

“I am loyal to my Archon and she has ordered me to. Just don’t imagine I’m doing this out of any fondness for the Capellan state.”

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