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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 9[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little
Book 3
[]


Meeting with a young Supporter[]

Bannockburn, Skye
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
June 9th, 3024


Sanglamore Academy was closer to the Skye capital of New Glasgow than the Nagelring was to Tharkad City but there was still some separation. The town of Bannockburn, sharing a name with the stretch of boggy ground where the Kuritan attempt at conquering Skye had failed, was the primary overflow for cadets and instructors wanting to get off campus back lacking any other destination.

Ryan’s girlfriend was an athletic young woman who probably barely exceeded the minimum height requirements of the Lyran Commonwealth Armed Forces for a MechWarrior cadet. “I was going to say that this is a lot of people to deliver a gift from Ryan - I was half afraid he’d sent me a personal staff.” she said as she approached the park bench where they’d arranged to meet.

“I’m afraid Ryan didn’t know we’d be coming here.” Max said apologetically. “He probably would have asked me to deliver something if he had. Even on Tharkad, you are on his mind.”

“I’m sorry for misleading you.” Katrina Steiner said apologetically. She was wearing a hooded parka that made her almost unrecognizable, and in the characteristically drizzly weather the garment was hardly out of place. “We don’t have malicious intentions.”

“I knew that as soon as I saw you.” Jeana assured her. Then she bent her knees in a truncated curtsey, something that could have been missed (and hopefully had been) by any casual observers.

Katrina sighed. “I hoped I was adequately disguised.” she said with an accusing look at Morgan.

“I’m afraid you’re not going to fool anyone who’s met you before.” the Sanglamore cadet said apologetically. “Making yourself up to look older was a nice try.” she offered.

Katrina wasn’t wearing any make-up, but Max wasn’t suicidal enough to mention that.

The Archon seemed more bemused than angered though - which was a relief after the bitter anger that had been her predominant mood since they’d found a way into Aldo’s hidden dungeon. “I’m sorry, I don’t recall meeting you before?”

“It was a long time ago.” Jeana looked a little wistful. “I had another name then. It was on Poulsbo - you sang to me so I’d not cry while Loki questioned my father downstairs in our house…”

“Grison’s daughter.” Katrina’s voice was shocked. “I owe your father my life.” She straightened, looking at Morgan. “We cannot ask more of this young woman. I am glad she has made such an impression on Ryan, but…”

“I am Heimdall, Your Highness.” Jeana’s green eyes snapped with fire. “If you’re here then an imposter is on the throne. Therefore I am with you.”

Katrina sighed. “You sound very much like your father. He found us in a dark bar, just walked up to us and told us he was Heimdall. That Loki wouldn’t get us.”

“I never knew his real name,” Morgan muttered. “I’m sorry, Kat. I didn’t mean to surprise me - this is news to you.” Then he turned his glare on Max. “But you aren’t surprised, are you?”

“My understanding is that Arthur Luvon took care of Jeana and her mother once Alessandro was removed from power,” Max said obliquely. “But I confess, until I met her I didn’t realize that Ryan’s girlfriend was the same, Jeana.”

The Archon shook her head. “You’re right, Morgan. It… takes me back.” Then she shook her head. “Your father died getting us off Poulsbo, Miss Clay. I do him no honor by dragging his daughter into House Steiner’s problems again. We will find another way.”

“When I enrolled in Sanglamore I took an oath to serve the Commonwealth.” the girl snapped. “Are you saying that my words were empty, Your Highness?”

Katrina shook her head. ;;“No, of course not. But if not for me then you wouldn’t have grown up with a father. A man who could inspire confidence and trust with just a few words. You are too young to know what that cost you.”

Max could tell that the Archon was thinking of another girl who was growing up without a father. And if they failed, with no mother either. “We don’t get to choose to what is sacrificed for us by others. We can only try to make it worthwhile.” he murmured.

“Yes! Exactly!” Jeana asked. “What do you need? How can I help?”

Katrina glared at Max. “I don’t recall you ruling or leading anyone, Mustermann.”

“Can I have it in writing that it’s not my fault that Morgan is here, not on Donegal with Salome?” he asked. “Time’s wasting - we need to get hold of your evil counterpart and Miss Clay here is our only friendly contact right now.”

“If I could get in touch with Margaret Aten she could give us access.” Katrina protested.

Jeana shook her head. “With the ducal inheritance contested, Duchess Aten is only entering Honor of Skye for formal events.” she advised. “The entire palace is essentially under the control of the Ar… the false-Archon and her guards.”

“A third of the First Royal Guards?” Morgan asked, and when the girl nodded, he shook his head. “It’ll take more than a couple of ‘mechs and O’Cieran’s people to get past that. Our computer wizard is good, but this isn’t an isolated castle, it’s a very busy palace. Someone would notice us.”

“What do you suggest then?” Katrina asked. “Pretend to be a tourist group in search of a guide?”

“That might work,” the mercenary admitted. “But getting weapons past security would be a sticking point.”

“Present the image of something that the guards wouldn’t have cause to suspect,” the Archon agreed. Her earlier suggestion might have been sarcastic but now the problem had engaged her mind. “Do you have any idea who is visiting at the moment, Jeana?”

The young woman frowned. “Any number of nobles visit, but their security isn’t allowed past the parking areas. With the Chancellor and his guards occupying one wing, any incident could get deadly. Besides that… well, there have been groups of cadets going in for ceremonial purposes - showing off our training or demonstrating new gear. I got tapped a couple of weeks to march one of the new Starslayers back and forth in front of a reviewing stand.”

“That must have been thrilling,” Katrina noted drily. “I’m afraid dog and pony shows like that don’t end when you graduate from the academy.”

“I don’t think we can pass for cadets.” admitted Morgan. “Most of my infantry have been around the block a few times and it shows.”

Max snapped his fingers. “But what if their faces aren’t visible?”

“What do you mean?”

Waving the question off for a moment, Max focused on Jeana. “Has the Academy been asked to send the Einherjar up there to be shown off to the Chancellor?”

The young woman blinked. “No… I don’t think so.” She considered. “No, I’m pretty sure they haven’t been. My roommate is dating one of the cadets training on them so I’d have heard about it if they had.”

“What is an Einherjar?” Morgan asked.

Powered armor suits.” Max explained. “Very new - the first test runs are still in testing at places like this so we can find out what breaks in relatively controlled circumstances.”

“Not because we’re the best and brightest?” Jeana asked him.

“Cadets lack preconceptions about what a weapon can do.” Katrina explained. She paused. “As well as some of the survival instincts that come with living past your mid-twenties. It’s an effective way of seeing if something is durable enough for widespread use.”

Max nodded. “And the helmets are fully enclosed. All we need is a couple of people to pretend to be instructors - O’Cieran would be ideal - and the cadets would be keeping their helmets on so as not to show their acne and their baby cheeks off to the Chancellor.”

The Archon sighed. “We’d be showing off a military secret to the Chancellor. I can almost hear Simon remonstrating politely about the security breach now.”

“Given the way the imposter has been parading troops, it’s possible the only reason she hasn’t called for the Einherjar would be not knowing about them,” Jeana pointed out. “And that isn’t going to last.”

“You’re right, the sooner this is stopped the better. How long do you think it would take to teach Morgan’s troopers to use them, baron?”

“They’re pretty user friendly. For experienced soldiers and a very basic level of use, a couple of hours.” Max looked at Morgan. “Do you think the Commandant can be convinced to keep handing them over to you secret for long enough?”

Morgan frowned. “It depends if he’s one of Aldo’s people. Sanglamore’s riddled with Free Skye sympathizers.”

“Leutnant General Williams isn’t one of them.” Katrina told him. “He was appointed to try and cut back on that. I’m fairly sure that if you tell him you’re using experienced soldiers not cadets to make sure Free Skye doesn’t make off with the Einherjar that he’ll believe you.”


Party Crashers[]

Honor of Skye, Skye
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
June 10th, 3024


The Honor of Skye was older than the Triad, at least in its core. Once the center of Skye Trading, the corporation that had catapulted Ian McQuiston to power over what would become the Federation of Skye, an office complex attached to a shuttleport had sprawled into the palace of dukes and administrative heart of what was still one of the richest parts of the Inner Sphere. As dropships had replaced shuttles, the port facilities had been open for redevelopment so there had been ample room for McQuistons, Lestrades, Atens and then more Lestrades to expand the palace.

Ardan wasn’t ideally placed to appreciate the history. Max’s claim that the Einherjar Battle Armor was easy to learn was technically true but it was also evident that mastery of them was another matter. If it came to a fight, he’d have to rely on the armor to keep him alive because he felt bulky and clumsy. Focusing on marching in time with the other seventy-four suits was helping to practice walking but he’d have preferred a couple more days.

They didn’t have that time though. The Sanglamore Commandant had agreed to Morgan taking over a demonstration slot that was supposed to be filled by his cadets, but they were bound to that slot.

Distracted by the suit, Ardan only realized they’d reached their destination when the double-column came to a halt. Attached to the third platoon, the Davion Guardsman was only able to see the upper parts of the door they’d be entering through in a moment. Everything else was blocked out by the mass of armored helmets in front of him.

Fortunately there wasn’t much of a wait. The doors were flung open and up ahead, O’Cieran led the way in. As the column rippled into movement again, Ardan was left waiting for the soldier ahead of him to move and heard the herald declare: “Cadets from Sanglamore, demonstrating the Lyran Commonwealth’s newest infantry armor!”

The hall behind wasn’t as large as the Triad’s main hall. The Dukes of Skye had never emulated the Archon in having BattleMechs guard their throne. It did compare well to Castle Davion’s grand hall though. Courtiers were still moving to the sides to make room for the demonstration. The main dais was backed by floor to ceiling windows looking out on what had once been the shuttleport - a balcony almost wide enough to land a VTOL on was the traditional place for the Dukes to address crowds when the public was admitted to the palace. In the distance, Ardan could see the helicopter traffic that connected the palace’s main heliport with the larger drop-port that served the city of New Glasgow.

The banners that hung to either side of the dais were the Steiner Fist and the ancient Lyre of the Commonwealth. The house flags of House Lestrade and House Aten faced each other, representative of their current struggle for power. The flags of the Federation of Skye and of the Planet.

And the green dao and gauntlet of House Liao had joined them. As Ardan marched closer, he saw that two thrones sat on the platform - ‘Katrina Steiner’ and her advisors occupied half but on the other sat Maximilian Liao, a cluster of aides and Death Commandos around him.

The Chancellor was leaning back, eyes calculating as he took his first look at the Einherjar. Beside him, the Archon was similarly intent but there was an edge of concern to her expression. She hadn’t ordered this demonstration, and might not even have known the Einherjar existed.

They spread out from the double file, each platoon now marching three abreast - each file made up of one of the nine squads - as they crossed the hall. Ardan had to quickstep as the third platoon caught-up with their position in the block. He’d not done this since his cadet days.

Proper parade order would have had them halt several steps short of the stairs up to the dais but that was where their deception fell apart.

One Einherjar at the head of the second platoon broke ranks, vaulting up the steps with a grace Ardan envied.

Screams filled the room - two Royal Guards opened up on the suit with their lasers - doing nothing at all. Death Commandos surged forwards - just enough to drag their own principal from his throne and cover him with their own bodies.

Ardan didn’t dare try to ascend in a single jump but he followed the leader anyway and saw the Kell Hounds spreading out to cover the audience. A laser tagged his armor, something that would have killed him if he wasn’t wearing half a ton of powered armor.

Royal Guards trying to protect their Archon were brushed aside and before the eyes of half the royal court, the ruler of the Commonwealth was thrown from her throne - she tumbled down the stairs with bone-jarring force, crying out in pain.

A door opened at the side of the dais and someone who’d thought quickly tried to flee.

There was a chatter of gunfire and Ardan saw another Einherjar cut the fleeing man’s legs out from under him, using the submachine gun held like a child’s toy in one of the suit’s hands. The target’s screams were shrill, but continuing so the injuries could not have been fatal.

“You couldn’t have told him to stop?” he asked on the private chat, jogging over to check the man’s condition.

“I figured the gun was enough of a hint.” Max’s voice replied.

Ardan stared down at Aldo Lestrade, who was clutching his legs and shrieking like a banshee. “Fair point.”

The duke raised one arm - pointing the hand at Ardan’s face. Remembering what he’d heard about the duke’s artificial arm, Ardan slapped it aside before the laser could be fired. Enough fire might still be dangerous to him. He hadn’t measured his force though, and the artificial limb cracked as it slammed into the floor.

“What is going on?!” Maximilian Liao demanded loudly.

Without turning his head, Ardan could only see the Chancellor because his helmet had a compressed vision display like that on a battlemech, shrinking a 360 degree view into less than half of that across the top of his video display. The robed monarch was still surrounded by the Death Commandos, seated on the floor.

“An internal Lyran matter, Chancellor.” Morgan Kell declared, raising his visor. The mercenary had helped the fallen Archon to her feet, but he didn’t release her from his grip. “Please excuse the inconvenience.”

“Who are you…?” the woman demanded, facing the wrong way to see her captor’s face. She could see the throne she’d been sat on - now occupied by the Einherjar that had so suddenly assaulted her. Fortunately the throne was large enough and sturdy enough to support the powered armor, although it had already been scuffed and scratched.

The occupant of the armor opened her own helmet. “I’m Katrina Steiner,” she declared flatly. “You were sitting in my chair.”

“Imposter!” ‘Katrina’ exclaimed. “The one from the Nagelring! Is this a Feddie plot?!”

Ardan saw a ripple of movement among the courtiers, most of whom had taken the hint from the Kell Hounds weapons and Max’s summary gunning down of Duke Lestrade and frozen in place. Now they all visibly edged away from a blonde in AFFS dress uniform. What was Nelitha Green-Davion doing here?

“You are the imposter,” the woman on the throne declared flatly. “In league with those who’ve imprisoned me for months while you did your best to wreck the Commonwealth in my name.”

The Chancellor climbed to his feet. “This is a fascinating bit of theater,” he declared, “I have to wonder how each of you plans to prove your identity. Clearly there can only be one Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth.”

“As to that,” Morgan replied. “I’d say I know Katrina better than anyone else here. Since her husband’s death, she and I are the only people aware of certain details of our time in the Periphery.”

Liao paused. “That would make you Morgan Kell,” he deduced. “I had thought you were on Tamar with your regiment.”

“Morgan?!” The woman in his grip twisted to look back at him, face distorted by shock and horror. “You’re involved in this? How could you?”

The mercenary leant forwards. “If you’re the real Katrina then you should know…” His voice dropped too low for even Ardan’s audio sensors to pick up. The thumping noise of helicopter rotors outside, cutting through even the room’s sound-proofing, didn’t help.

The fact that ‘Katrina’ was unable to answer was obvious. She shook her head in denial, then again at another question from Kell. “That never happened!” she denied. “You’re making it up. How could you betray me? What could Davion have possibly offered you?!”

“Nothing,” Morgan answered gently. “but the real Katrina would know that I spoke the truth. She was there… I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m not entirely prepared to take your word for that.” Liao observed cautiously. Then he looked at the window behind him - two Death Commandos turning their weapons in that direction as well. The shadow of a VTOL was blocking out the sun, hovering right outside the throne room, above the balcony.

The side door opened and a man in full dress uniform hopped down from it. He was powerfully built with blunt features and blond hair - the cape he wore tugged on by the rotor’s downdraft and a silver-headed hammer in one hand.

Frederick Steiner stared through the glass at them, tried the handle that would have opened the door that made up a small part of the huge window. When that didn’t open it, the general unhesitating swung the McKennsy’s hammer in his hand back and then slammed it forwards.

Four and a half kilos of silver, driven by his muscular frame, wasn’t enough to break the armor glass but it did snap the lock holding the door closed, springing it open. The Archon’s cousin walked in to stand between the two thrones. “Not quite the reception I was expecting.”


“Frederick Steiner.” He saw the Chancellor looking at him from the floor, almost entirely surrounded by his elite guards. “I thought you were on Castor.”

“I decided that pressing the attack further would be a classic military blunder: trying to ‘win harder’.” Frederick noticed that two of the Death Commandos were aiming guns at him and then dismissed that from consideration. “Would someone care to tell me what’s going on here?”

Both the armored woman on the throne, her near-enough twin held by Morgan Kell, the Colonel himself and at least four officials tried to speak up all at once. It probably wouldn’t have presented a coherent explanation even if he could make them out over each other.

“Enough!” he explained. “Max!”

“You don’t command me, General.” Liao hissed.

One of the armored troopers raised his visor. “I believe he means me, your Excellency.” Max Mustermann declared.

“Indeed.”

The Chancellor looked across the room at Frederick’s former secretary. “I see… the determinedly unfamous Baron Max Mustermann. Carry on then.”

“Your damned side-kick shot me in the legs, Frederick!” Aldo’s gasping voice came from the floor. Frederick saw blood coming from the man’s legs and his cybernetic arm was a wreck. The proud duke was clearly in no small pain, and humiliation was added to that. “Arrest him for assaulting a Commonwealth Duke.”

Frederick looked at him for a moment. “Judging by your father’s autopsy, I’d say those wounds were obviously the result of a Kuritan infantry laser rifle, Aldo.”

“W-what?”, faulters Aldo

“I rather liked your father. I’ve much less faith in you.” He looked at Max. “Go on.”

“Someone screwed with the biolocks at the Nagelring vaults and used the real Katrina’s inability to open them as evidence she was an imposter, inserting their own imposter who the locks would recognise. We got Ardan out of the Triad’s security wing and tracked your cousin to another dungeon… under Lestrade Castle, which rather suggests who was responsible for the substitution, doesn’t it?”

“Just a bit. Dare I hope you have any proof of his murdering Duke Ernesto?”

“We had a very good computer expert with us. We have his entire personal file, including the original autopsy on the Duke and how he replaced it.” Max told him.

“Sometimes there is a shred or two of justice in the universe.” Frederick muttered.

“That’s not true!” the woman in Morgan’s grip protested. “Look at her, Frederick - that woman isn’t me. I’m Katrina, not her!”

“Do we have proof?” he asked Max.

“Are you just going to ignore me?” the woman in the throne asked wryly.

Frederick looked down. “Until I’m sure which of you is Archon, yes.”

“Ha. Alright then. Sort this out, General.”

He looked over at Max.

“Morgan questioned her and he seems satisfied, but there’s obviously a better way now that you’re here.”

“Fine.” Frederick turned to Margaret Aten. “Your grace, I believe this is your palace. Would you arrange some physicians to test these two ladies against me? The real Archon would be my cousin, the other will presumably test as a non-relative.”

The dark-skinned woman nodded. “I’m pleased to hear that, your grace of Duran. Although how may we know that you are who you say you are? If another Frederick Steiner turns out to be on Castor as the Chancellor believed…”

“Ah yes.” He unbuttoned his uniform tunic a little and pulled a folded document from within. “My original orders to proceed to Wyatt and command the offensive into the Free Worlds League.” Frederick unfolded it and pressed his thumb to the multi-coloured seal on it. The computer chip built into the seal checked his DNA against that registered and the seal changed color, confirming a match. “I believe this confirms my identity.” he offered. “You can ask ComStar if this is indeed the same message they sent to me on Kwangjong-ni last year.”';

“Good enough for now.” the Duchess agreed and turned to her aides. “We’ll need a few moments.”

“Of course.”

Nelitha stepped out of the crowds and Frederick felt a smile cross his face at the sight of her. “It’s been too long,” he greeted her.

She nodded soberly. “Business first, Frederick. My prince sent me to demand the release of Colonel Sortek. I realise that you’ve been busy.”

One of the armored troopers opened his helmet. “I’m right here.”

“...as efficient as ever.” she admitted, a smile lighting up her face to match his own.

“I have an expert staff whose job it is to make me look good at all times.”

“Actually it’s just muggins over here,” Max called. “Kiss her, you fool.”

Frederick thought that seemed like an excellent idea and pulled Nelitha close to him. She responded enthusiastically and he dropped the hammer to hold onto her.

When they broke off, he asked: “Marry me.”

“Do you have a ring?”, she asked

Frederick smiled and produced a small box, opening it to reveal a gold ring with a diamond set in the band itself. Nothing elaborate, but he liked the cleanness of the design, the way it shouldn’t get caught on anything. “I’d have brought a flower and chocolates as well, but I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“But you had the ring on you?”

“Ever since I bought it for you. So… will you?”

“Of course,” she told him. “Idiot. My idiot.”

“I hate to break this happy moment up,” Morgan Kell observed, “but the physicians are here.”

“Business first.” Frederick told Nelitha regretfully.

She nodded. “I understand.”

“Right.” He looked over at the two physicians. “One of you for the lady Morgan is holding, one with the one on the throne. Then I’ll give each of you some of my blood to check.”

“This is insane,” Morgan’s prisoner insisted. “She can’t be the real Katrina, look at her face. She’s too old!”

“If you’re right,” the other Katrina pointed out, “The blood test will prove it. As for my looks, prison ages a woman. I do believe that you’ll find that out.”

“Enough bickering.” Frederick unbuttoned the rest of his tunic and removed it so he could roll up his sleeve and let the doctors draw blood. “And get out of that armor so your own blood can be drawn.”

“Fair enough. I’ll need a little help though.” the Katrina on the throne admitted. “This is my first time wearing the armor, I’m not sure how it comes off.”

Max helped her remove the chest plate of the Einherjar suit, leaving her only wearing the tight-fitting undersuit gear above the waist once she’d worked her arms out of the suit’s arms. The throne had taken a bit more damage in the process, which Frederick privately thought would only add to its historic value.

“May I ask for a report on the fighting while this is going on?” Chancellor Liao asked somewhat politely, gesturing his guards aside - and at last for them to stop pointing guns at Frederick. “I take it there have been new developments?”

Frederick gave him a sidelong look. “We won.”

“...a little more detail please? Castor and Devil’s Rock are ours?”, asked the Chancellor.

“No, I gave them back in exchange for a twelve month truce. We need that to get garrisons sorted out and rotate in fresh troops.” Frederick glowered at him. “Pressing further when one of our key worlds is under siege is stupidity.”

“Your Archon’s idea,” Maximilian shrugged. “Or the imposter’s, depending what this test returns. If she felt Tamar was in hand then I wasn’t going to argue?” He looked Frederick in the eye. “You opposed this alliance, General?”

“No. I oppose discarding our existing alliance with House Davion - casting aside existing friends to make new ones isn’t clever. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to making new allies as well… although the last ten months or so may make that difficult to reconcile.”

“Interesting.”

Frederick was going to ask what was so interesting but one of the physicians looked up from the small table where the portable kit - usually used by the police for on the spot paternity tests - had been laid out for him to use. “We have a match. The lady upon the throne has shared matrilineal DNA with the general, no further back than two generations. I would need a full lab to be more precise but…”

“The Archon’s mother and mine were sisters.” Frederick continued.

“Why thank you, Frederick.”

“That’s impossible!” the imposter called out, looking at the physician who had drawn her blood.

The woman in question gave her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Miss, but if you’re related to the general it’s not close. Not close at all.”

“No, no! That can’t be true.” She writhed against Morgan’s grip. “I am Katrina Steiner! I am the Archon! Why don’t any of you believe me?!” Tears were rolling down her face.

“For god’s sake!” Frederick exclaimed. “Someone sedate her!”

One of the Kell Hounds fumbled an injector out of his field kit and pressed it to the side of the woman’s throat. It was another minute before she slumped, insensate in Morgan Kell’s arms.

“Right then.” The - now confirmed as real - Archon folded her own arms. “Obviously I have a lot to deal with. What a mess!”


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