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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 3[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

Meeting with Archon[]


The Triad, Tharkad
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
30 November 3007


The Archon’s apartments had changed since Alessandro moved out of them. Katrina had completely refurbished them. While Frederick hadn’t been invited into most of the rooms, he assumed they mostly followed the dark oak and blue theme. Which wasn’t terrible, but he found it odd to not see various equestrian pictures and the steel-gray curtains that had been the signatures of the rooms under their uncle and grandfather.
“My security detail are rather upset about that briefcase,” Katrina told him as she sat down behind a heavy desk that matched the coloring but not the workmanship of the cabinets at the side of the room. Perhaps there was some fashion he was missing, or it might have some personal significance. “For some reason, they aren’t very trusting.”

Frederick sat down facing her, not waiting for permission. “That’s their job.”

He had some of the Archon’s personal time, he reminded himself. Most people - even the commanders of a ‘Mech regiments - would not receive that.

She steepled her fingers in front of her. “You took risks on New Dallas. You’re usually more conservative than that.”

“I was fighting the Free Worlds League. A DCMS regiment would have chosen death over dishonor but my understanding is that the League’s soldiers are more flexible.”

“Janos Marik is displeased.” A smile crossed Katrina’s face. “I can live with that.” She had spent most of her career on the border with the Free Worlds League while Frederick had served mostly against the Draconis Combine until now. “So you adapted. Good.”

It had been a nervous week, waiting with three of the dropships in the outer star system until his jumpship could return for them. Fortunately, the League’s relief force hadn’t made more than a cursory search for them. He’d been concerned they might bring another aerowing and some assault dropships to hunt him down, but apparently the FWLM was more inclined to cut their losses.

“Well, I wasn’t going to get the ‘Mechs I needed otherwise.”

The Archon’s cool eyes flickered. “In this case the Twenty-Second Skye Rangers’ need was genuinely greater than yours - they took a beating on Alexandria. The Seven Lyran Regulars were next on the list for a shipment from Defiance Industries. No longer necessary, I suppose?”

That was easy to say now, Frederick thought. “No.”

“Going as far as to contact Bowie Industries privately for the refits was unnecessary though. LCAF will cover the costs of that. Money is far easier to find than ‘Mechs. Unless, apparently, you’re Frederick Steiner.”

“If you can afford that, it’s more likely that Bowie will be asking for a loan,” he told her.

“Oh?”

Frederick lifted the briefcase and placed it on the desk. “I didn’t just find ‘Mechs and tanks on New Dallas.” He pressed a thumb to the lock’s miniature scanner and after comparing his fingerprint to that stored within, the lock popped open. Spinning the case, he pushed it across the desk towards Katrina.

The blonde woman arched an eyebrow and then flipped the case open fearlessly. “Hmm. A computer core? If I hook that up to the palace computer network, I suspect Simon would have some very sharp words for me.”

“I’d not suggest that. In fact, I’d recommend keeping this off any remotely public computers, and not send the contents by HPG at all.”

Katrina steepled her fingers. “What, exactly am I looking at?”

“The Hegemony Central Intelligence Directorate’s back-up database on Lyran Commonwealth military research and development. Well, a copy,” Frederick added, to be scrupulously honest. To avoid getting caught in a lie, tell the truth unless you really have to, he thought.

The Archon’s eyes caught his. “You found this on New Dallas?”

“It’s part of a much larger data core we found there. This was enough to bring as proof of it, and not so much it was obvious. You can have the rest too, I just wanted to be discreet.”

“You really are adapting.” Katrina opened a drawer on her desk and produced a handcomp. Plugging it into the datacore, she looked at the contents. “This is an impressive amount of data.”

“It’s not enough on its own to build a ‘Mech. But combined with what we already know...”

“It fills in gaps. Did you trade some of this to Bowie?”

Archer (MWO version - Desert)

Archer Fire Support 'Mech

“They used to build Archers on Wyatt.” The repair yards that the corporation operated there were what was left of that factory. “There is enough comparative data on how designs and production differed from those of the Terran Hegemony to help them reconstruct the older Archers we found. They believe - perhaps optimistically - that it would be enough for them to begin producing new Archers in a few years.”

Katrina hit the scroll command and ran through the menu of the datacore. “From one of your other copies?” she asked, presumably not finding the Archer listed.

Frederick nodded. “One of the Griffins we found isn’t really fit for salvage. We stripped it of the parts that were still valuable and I brought the carcass here - sort of a trophy to show off. I stashed the original datacore inside it so you can have someone trustworthy recover it while it’s being prepared for display.”

“You’re being quite generous. And I believe you appreciate directness, Frederick, so what do you want?”

He leant forwards. “Donna’s asked for a transfer to the Winfield Guards now that she’s passed her flight medical.”

“I wasn’t planning to deny her that. She’s good enough.”

“No, I want you to give her another assignment.”

Katrina blinked. “I was under the impression you supported your sister’s career.”

“I do but…” He indicated the case. “The data on the Lucifer - the fighter has barely changed since the data there. The Terran’s analysis was that it was a deathtrap - that the lack of an ejection seat meant that the LCAF would reject the design and keep using Thunderbirds or even Typhoons.”

Lucifer Medium Fighter (In flight - IWM - Painted by Paul Eckes 2008)

Lucifer Medium Aerospace Fighter

“Aerospace is one arm of the LCAF I never served in,” the Archon noted. “But we both know the Lucifer is the backbone of our ground attack fleet.”

“And you’re in a better position than I am to compare its casualty rates against the alternatives.”

The younger Steiner sat back in her chair. “What exactly are you asking for, Frederick? Either of us could afford to buy Donna an Eagle or a Thunderbird to fly.”

“We’d have to make her fly it though and for some damn reason she loves the damn bird.” He gripped the arms of his chair. “The reason that the Lucifer lacks an ejection seat is that it’s too frontloaded with armament in the nose - specifically, they couldn’t fit the systems in around the laser mountings.”

“I’ll take your word for that.”

“I ran the numbers by the techs for the Lucifers of the Seventh’s aerowing and scaling back the missile launcher would allow moving the lasers around to create that volume. It would also free up the tonnage for a larger fusion turbine.”

“We have a refit that removes the missile launcher entirely, the R20…”

He shook his head. “That uses the space for more heatsinks and armor.”

“And do your technicians believe a larger engine would work?” Katrina asked thoughtfully. “Lockheed build more than eighty percent of our aerospace fighters. Even an Archon can’t just demand that they refit one of their signature designs to her requirements.”v

“The Kuritans have rebuilt their captured Lucifers to use the same basic engine I’m proposing,” Frederick reminded her. “Their R16K model - it replaces the LRM launcher with a six-tube SRM system.” He indicated the case, still on the desk beside Katrina. “My price for that, Katrina, is that Lockheed have to do the same and fit a damn ejection seat… and make Donna one of the test pilots.”

“That’s not a safe role.”

“She wouldn’t accept something completely safe.”

The Archon frowned in thought. “I’ll have someone compare the numbers, but… however useful this might be, you’re asking me to spend a lot of political capital. Lockheed can cripple our entire aerospace procurement just by shifting some of their output to spare parts for a few months.”


****** her! Donna’s life was on the line! Frederick opened his mouth to speak, paused and then bit back the angry word. No, he’d expected she might be hesitant to do this. He’d planned for the possibility.

“Poulsbo,” he said after he was sure he wouldn’t be shouting.

Katrina went very still. “Yes?”

“You’ve assumed that the bomb in your hotel was planted by Loki, aimed at you, on our uncle’s orders.”

“It’s more than just an assumption, Frederick. I know you admire him, but Alessandro tried to have me killed.”

He shook his head. “You were his golden child, the chosen heir while I was just a spare. The bomb wasn’t aimed at you.”

Katrina hissed, eyes widening fractionally. If she wasn’t the target, who else was at the hotel who might have been? And there was only one name that she could settle on: her new husband, Arthur Luvon. A man who she’d loved even before the bombing on Poulsbo sent them fleeing into the periphery for a year.

Max had told him that Alessandro had confided the truth to Ryan, twenty odd years from now. And that the former-Archon had hidden it from Katrina because while she wouldn’t kill him for her own sake, the idea that he’d threaten her family was another matter.

“Your position on the bombing, cousin?” Katrina’s voice was very steady.

Frederick rubbed his brow. “The stated purpose of Heimdall is to restrain any Archon who starts acting like Claudius the Cruel. If I received reports that they were on the move and I was Archon, I’d have to wonder if it was possible that they were right. Sending Loki after them? That just proves them to be justified.”

Archon Katrina Steiner looked at her cousin for a long moment. Her eyes were distant in calculation. “That…” Then she shook her head, dismissing whatever was on her mind. “If the figures back you up, I’ll discuss how to manage the political consequences of excessive pilot deaths with our representative on Lockheed’s board of directors,” she told him. Her eyes were steely and her mind was clearly not focused primarily on that concession though.

Frederick had never really feared his cousin before. Today though, he was glad that he wasn’t their uncle Alessandro.


The Reward[]

Wyatt City, Wyatt
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
3 January 3008

Frederick was almost bubbly as he drove them towards the ‘Mech hanger. Max wasn’t sure why, but if it meant his boss was driving at a safe speed then he was all in favor of it.

Normally, a Colonel would have a driver assigned so that they could do paperwork on long journeys or just be rested. As a secretary/aide, Max might have been pressed into that job but between learning his actual job and learning German - of which he had had no more than high school understanding before waking up on Summer - he’d not got around to learning how to drive a groundcar, much less earn a license. Frederick didn’t have much patience for an official driver on base either - the drives weren’t long enough for him to do any work, and it kept him in practice.

The groundcar complained audibly as Frederick J-turned before backing into one of the parking slots usually used by trucks bringing parts in for the ‘techs. “And here we are.”

“We are indeed.” Max opened his door and climbed out. “So what are we here for, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“It’s a surprise.”

I hate surprises, he thought, but didn’t say. There was no need to be petulant.

The two of them entered and for a moment Max thought they were headed for Frederick’s Zeus',' but the burly man walked right past it this time and to the next ‘bay along. “Here it is!”

Max looked up at the ‘Mech inside. It hadn’t been painted with unit colors yet, but even in base paint it looked powerful. “An Orion…” He examined the details of missile launcher on the left shoulder. “One of those from New Dallas. Did Bowie finish restoring it to service?”

“It’s the first one they’ve completed,” Frederick agreed cheerfully. “And it’s yours.”

“...I don’t know what to say.” ‘Are you out of your mind?’ was out of the question. He wasn’t a mechwarrior!

“It’s not an ON1-V,” the younger man continued, “we actually trimmed the weight by ten percent so with the reactor and proper myomers it can match the speed of newer models. It’s over-armoured for the new weight but the gyro can handle that. Most of the weight savings came from using current armor plating and not the crap the Hegemony was using five hundred years ago. Your idea, remember?”

“Ja, I remember.” Max shook his head. “Frederick, I’m honored… but what would I even do with a ‘Mech? I’ve no training in one and I failed the physical when I applied for the Summer militia. Shouldn’t this go to someone who can use it? Someone who’s earned it?”

With a grin on his face, Max’s employer leaned against the Orion’s ankle. “Well, first of all, you didn’t fail the physical for the militia.” He raised one hand for silence. “I know that’s what you were told, but actually your results were borderline and you’re in better shape now than you were then. The reason you were turned down was security concerns: because no one has any idea who you were originally, LIC is of the opinion that there’s a low, but genuine risk that you’re an ISF sleeper agent inserted during the raid on Summer.”

“...bloody hell.” That made a few things clearer for Max, including why he’d gone all the way to Tharkad with Frederick only to be left behind when his employer was called to the Triad to meet the Archon.

Frederick nodded. “Wherever you came from and however you learned what you did, I’m sure it wasn’t the Draconis Combine. But I can understand their suspicions.”

He nodded, still numb at the bombshell.

“As for learning, everyone has to start somewhere. People have learned to pilot a ‘Mech when they were older than you. Given that a third of our current mechwarrior strength have you to thank for having rides now, there won’t be any difficulty getting volunteers to coach you in your free time. I’m not expecting you to master it instantly or to join LCAF - that would run the risk of RepDep reassigning you elsewhere - but I’ve got every confidence.” Frederick’s smile slipped off his face. “And don’t let anyone tell you that you didn’t earn this, Max. Just New Dallas alone would be more than enough, and getting Donna assigned as a test pilot was your idea.”

Max rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed. “I just… told you a few things.”

“Things that no one else could. Come on, it can’t be harder than Skye Basketball, right?”

The older man smiled weakly. “I guess not.”

“If it makes you feel better,” Frederick offered, gesturing towards the steep stairs that climbed up to the cockpit-level gantry, “I am giving a number of the ‘Mechs to other people. Besides those being donated as museum pieces because they’re not worth fixing up, I’m giving a company of them to Wyatt’s militia and the same to the militia back on my homeworld - we don’t even have an organized ‘Mech unit there, just a handful in private ownership.”

“I don’t suppose Duran is a high risk target.”

Frederick’s duchy was deep inside the interior of Lyran Commonwealth and the closest thing it had to a military-industrial complex was a single agromech factory that could in theory be upgraded to produce BattleMech components. Max knew that there were plans to change that - Frederick would hardly have been human not to want his own personal holdings to profit from the datacore that had been recovered - but that would take years.

“Not yet, but it can’t hurt to make some preparations,” Frederick agreed. “And there’s another reason to give you a ‘Mech.” He gestured, perhaps unconsciously, towards the Orion. “It gives you some social standing. I can’t give you a formal title but having a ‘Mech puts you on a level where the people I have to deal with can’t dismiss you as just a commoner I happen to have employed.”

Max grimaced as they reached the gantry. “I don’t really give a damn what they think of me.”

“Start caring. What people think of you and what people think of me affect what we can convince them to do. And politically, that’s what matters. If I were to try to take the Seventh with me to Tharkad to overthrow Katrina, besides being a rather risky military operation, I’d be depending on them being willing to follow me.”

Where had this politically aware Frederick come from? Have I created a monster? Max wondered. “Is it too late for me to say I don’t feel in any way confident in doing that?”

“More than a bit.” The other man reached over to the cockpit hatch of the Orion. “You’re not just my secretary. You’re going to have to operate on your own sooner or later, representing me when I’m absent. At the minimum, my giving you this shows that I trust you - it’ll help convince people that you really are speaking on my behalf.”

Max sighed. “I guess you’re right.”

“Get in,” Frederick ordered.

Rather clumsily, Max obeyed, accepting instruction on where to put his hands and feet. Finally he was able to settle into the command couch, the controls all in easy reach. He was careful not to touch them. Through the cockpit glass, he saw the hanger flow below, and other ‘Mechs in their bays. The perspective took him back to playing computer games - a view he’d never had for real, until now.

“Excited?” asked Frederick, leaning over to look down at him.

“...does it show?”

“We all feel like that the first time,” the Mechwarrior assured him. “Later we’ll practice things like getting in without a gantry, and proper gear. But for now, let’s get you set up for the security. From then on, it’ll be your ‘Mech and yours alone.”


Funeral for a Archon[]

Kelestra City, Furillo
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
14 April 3008

The funeral of an Archon was usually held on Tharkad, but in his last will and testament Alessandro Steiner had specified that if he didn’t reclaim his throne, he would prefer to be buried on his Furillo estate.

While the world was hardly an unimportant one, there was little precedent for so many of the Lyran royal court and other senior officials and nobility converging upon it. To attend the funeral out of respect, for the chance to network and for some of them to make sure - absolutely sure - that Alessandro was in fact dead.

Frederick would have preferred to say he was in the first category but both of the other two had influence. Without Alessandro, those who had seized on the deposed Archon as a focus for opposition to Katrina Steiner were now looking for another leader. As the man who had been visibly groomed as the next Archon for two years, he was a natural target and some of those men and women were people he wanted to meet.

It would have been grossly inappropriate to do actual business at the funeral, but even before the procession set out Frederick had contact details to set up meetings with almost a hundred people of interest to him, all passed on to Max who quietly followed him around and tried to be as unobtrusive, wearing a subdued but well-tailored suit.

Unfortunately, more than half of them were from people that Frederick had no wish to spend any appreciable time with. Aldo Lestrade was trying to corner him as they walked to the limousines that would convoy the distance from Furillo’s largest cathedral to the late Archon’s estate. There had been several messages over the years, to which Frederick (and later Max) had written formal but distant replies, but physical proximity… Frederick desperately wanted to believe that the circumstantial evidence of Aldo’s crimes was wrong but, every time he laid eyes on the younger man, he saw the face of Ernesto Lestrade from the late Duke’s autopsy.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Max said in a tone that was polite despite the fact he had the honorific for a duke wrong. “This car is for the immediate family. I believe your car will be further that way.” The man blocked Aldo’s approach with quiet determination.

“Frederick, for god’s sake!” Aldo called past Max.

Frederick rested one elbow on the roof of the car for a moment. “Not now.” He forced his face to stillness before he turned and looked back at his friend’s son. “Don’t make a scene, Aldo. Not today.”

The Duke of Summer took a half-step back. “Call me later. I know what it’s like to lose one’s family.”

You also know what it’s like to cause their death, Frederick thought. But he nodded and then slipped into the car.

When he saw who was waiting for him, he was very tempted to flee. Donna sat there in full LCAF dress uniform with all the trimmings, eyes tracking him like gimlets.

“Is this an ambush?” he asked instead, sitting down and watching for her feet. His sister had a kick like a mule and her dress shoes were sturdy and practical. Max closed the door and headed for his own place among the various staffs, who would be conveyed to the estate by other means. Frederick felt curiously abandoned.

“You seem fairly sure I’m hostile,” Donna responded to the question, giving him a toothy smile.

He huffed. “I recall that expression on your face a few times from when we were younger. Sorry, a few dozen times.”

“You probably deserved it.” Her eyes narrowed as the car pulled away from the cathedral. “And I’m pretty damn mad at you, actually. Do you have any idea how many strings I had to pull to get posted with David?” David Steiner-Casval, the Duke of Porrima, was Donna’s husband and had swept her off her feet within a year of her graduation from the Nagelring. He’d also introduced her to the ‘game’ of dressing up their uniforms as far as possible without technically breaching regulations.

Setting aside the fact that David was clearly not in any sense worthy of Donna, he had a braying laugh that gave Frederick a headache. And he thought his Quickdraw was a superb Battlemech - a clear sign of mental deficiency, if ever there was one. “Where’s he posted these days?”

“He’s got a company in the Second Winfield Guards!” Donna snapped - and her leg flashed out, kicking Frederick’s shin. “I earned my place in their aerowing, Freddie.”

“Ow!” He clutched at the abused limb. “Dammit Donna, this is a funeral!”

“No one can see us,” she said unrepentantly. “Don’t you want to be an uncle again? You seemed to like Ryan well enough after he was born.”

So David was also probably going to die on Sevren. No wonder Ryan wound up being raised by Uncle Alessandro, he thought. Not that that was an issue now. “I hope you’ll have a nice big brood,” he told her sincerely. “My apologies, Donna. I didn’t know you’d got a deployment together.”

“Why were you even meddling in my deployments?! I don’t go to Katrina and ask that you be sent somewhere - although it’d serve you right to get a desk job in place of your regiment!”

Frederick sighed. “If this means you got the test pilot slot, then that might be down to me, yes. You’re the best Lucifer pilot I know.” Flattery wasn’t a perfectly reliable way to calm Donna down, but it had a decent success ratio.

She shook her head. “What do you even know about aerospace fighters, Freddie? You’re mechwarrior-mafia to the bone!”

He looked at her for a moment and then sighed. “That’s… not classified, if only because it’s too sensitive to classify. If I tell you this, you don’t tell a soul. Not David, not even whisper to Ryan.”

“I know how to keep a secret!”

“When did you learn?” he asked and pulled his leg back before she could kick it.

Her face reddened, probably thinking back to a few indiscretions when they were both younger. “Just spill it, Freddie. If I make enough of a strop, I might not be staying on Donegal for the next couple of years.”

“It’s not likely to get you into the Winfield Guards either,” Frederick pointed out. “Look, during my last raid we recovered some old intelligence summaries that Hegemony put together on the Lucifer back when it was in development.”

“That sounds terribly sensitive,” Donna snorted. “Intelligence almost five centuries out of date!”

“That was certainly my own thought - surely all the deficiencies that they saw must have been made good.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are you insulting my ride, Freddie?”

Frederick looked at her. “They’re describing the 2528 revision of the Lucifer, which is basically what you fly. The same design that the Hegemony and later SLDF decided they wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Lockheed’s refused for literally centuries to review the design and statistically, it’s killed more pilots per airframe than even the Seydlitz. We can do better. We owe the crews better than that.”

“I don’t tell you how to drive your ‘Mech.” Donna scowled.

“Of course not. I can see the need for change, to have a new Lucifer that’s better than what we’ve used, better even than the Kurita refits that have been outperforming -”

“Wait, what?”

He paused, hiding a smile. “Ah, I would have thought that you knew. The Combine has one of their aerospace manufacturers rebuilding captured Lucifers with more powerful engines. I’d like to think that we can do better than they can. As I was just saying: I see there’s a need to improve - but it’s people like you that can make it happen. That’s why I suggested you as a test pilot.”

Donna looked away, out of the window. “Your timing was terrible.”

“How’s Ryan doing?” he asked, hoping she’d take the lure to change the subject.

“Well, he hasn’t wrecked my career plans, so he’s currently my favorite family member.” But she took out her handbag and pulled out a small holo-display and started showing him images of the toddler.

By the time they reached the estate, Frederick thought that he was probably forgiven - although no doubt Donna would hold it over his head for a while. Until Ryan was a grown man, perhaps. Maybe a little longer than that.

Once they reached the estate, he saw Aldo’s limousine wasn’t far behind and parted ways from Donna, heading into the main house while Donna went to the gardens where the burial would be taking place. Frederick couldn’t avoid that ceremony, but it wasn’t for an hour or so, to make sure all the other attendees had arrived. In the meantime, parts of the house would be off limits to guests outside of House Steiner.

Closing the doors of Alessandro’s library behind him, he exhaled slowly before realizing that he wasn’t alone. Another man, sharing much of Frederick’s Steiner looks, stood at the window watching the cars arrive.

“I take it Donna had a go at you?” Hermann Steiner asked, not looking back.

The youngest of Alessandro’s generation by many years, Katrina’s replacement as commander of the Second Royal Guards was only a few years older than Frederick. For that reason, he’d been more of a brother to Frederick than an uncle.

“Just a bit.” Frederick crossed to the window. “How are you, Hermann?”

“I keep thinking he’ll walk in those doors. For a moment, when you did, I thought that it was him, somehow. It’s not real yet.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“I don’t suppose you remember when father died? Andy and I’s father, that is. You were half my age.”

“Not really.” Frederick put his hands behind his back. “I’d only met him a few times then. Mother was sad, but I may be remembering another occasion.”

“I saw father die,” Hermann told him. Reminded him, really. Archon Giovanni Steiner had been a keen equestrian and his fatal fall had been at a public event. “Maybe if I’d seen Andy die it would be easier. Or maybe I could have stopped him driving when he should have known better.”

The official autopsy findings, which the media had been firmly asked not to release until after the burial was done, had reported that Alessandro had been drinking before he drove his ground-car into the path of an oncoming heavy freight lorry.

Frederick wasn’t sure how that had been arranged by LIC but he was morally sure that they’d done so, and that they’d done so on Katrina’s orders. Hopefully this would be the one and only time she chose to use them against her family. The thought that he might have pushed her to a mindset where she would view that as a more acceptable measure was worrying.

“I remember losing my own mother and father.” He reached over and took Hermann’s shoulder. “I know it doesn’t help much now, but… you’re not alone.”

The older Steiner smiled. “You’re wrong. It does help a little. Thank you, Frederick.”

“Just don’t tell anyone I said that. I have a reputation to maintain,” he joked.

Hermann exhaled. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Sure.” Frederick turned away from the window. “What’s new on Tharkad?”

“Hmm. You heard that Ed Regis is back in favor?”

It took Frederick only a moment to recall the name. Edward Regis had been one of Alessandro’s shining stars when it came to strategy, and after the change of Archon he’d been banished to the Logistics department by Katrina’s new broom sweeping clean. Unfairly, really. While he’d had a hand in the disastrous strategy of Concentrated Weakness, the real flaws had been changes that the Archon had made to the original concept.

“I hadn’t heard, but I’m glad to.”

“I didn’t think the two of you were close.”

“We aren’t. He’s a bit quiet for my company, but he’s a good man.”

“Yes, well Katrina seems to have softened on him and he’s back at Strategy and Planning. If he keeps his nose clean, then he might even be moving further up soon. You’ll have some impact there.”

Frederick blinked. “How so?”

“Let’s say that he has another plan in mind. But you’ll need to keep it close to your chest.”

“Hermann, if you’re going to gossip then gossip.” He smiled fondly to soften the criticism. “Don’t just drop cryptic hints, you know I hate that.”

“I’ll leave it for Regis to give you the details, but you must have impressed him with how you handled New Dallas because word is that he altered his plans after hearing about it and specifically asked that your Seventh Lyran Regulars be made available to participate.”

“Flattering.”

Hermann nodded. “I’m glad you and Katrina are on better terms than you were.”

“Not that much better.” Frederick shrugged that off. “We’re both strong-minded and stubborn. We rub each other the wrong way.”

“I think that might be more on your side,” the older man observed. “Just… I’m not saying he started it, but Andy was splitting the family looking for support against Katrina. I don’t want to be in that position again.”

Max had mentioned that. Said that Alessandro’s scheming left Hermann forced to choose between his beloved brother and their niece. Frederick remembered his disbelief at hearing that Hermann had finally taken a third choice: cutting his career short and retiring to a monastery rather than be dragged further into such politics.

“I can’t promise that I might not one day find myself opposing Katrina intensely,” he told his mentor slowly. “But… I have had cause to consider that my wants and the Commonwealth’s needs may not be entirely aligned.” And the latter must always take priority. That was one of the prices of being a Steiner. At least, as long as he wanted to feel safe looking at himself in a mirror. “I don’t intend to do anything rash.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Hermann shook his head. “Anyway. What I meant about being discreet is that the operation is classified pretty tightly, and I gather you’ve hired a civilian that LIC are worrying about. Regis will probably insist he be kept out of the loop.”

“That’s crazy, he went along to New Dallas.” LIC could go whistle!

The older man shook his head. “That was a smaller operation and one you put together yourself. Working with other people is something you need to get used to moving up the ranks.”

“Maybe I’ll just stay a colonel then.” The way I did in the history Max knew, Frederick thought.

“That would be a waste,” Herman told him. “You’ve got more potential than that and you know it. With a little more luck you could have been the one with the Second Royal Guards right now. You could easily be my successor if you play your cards right.”

Frederick shook his head. “Well, that’s years away.”

“No, I’ve already been told my next assignment.”

“What?!”

“I’m being promoted, not shuffled aside. Think before you explode. Actually, it’s your work in a way.”

Frederick rubbed his right eyebrow. “How so?”

“Katrina’s had in mind a project to develop new fighting vehicles for the LCAF’s armored regiments, units designed expressly for us rather than just relying on whatever we happened to inherit from the Star League. Well, what you found on New Dallas has pushed that ahead and Project Desert Knight will formally begin next year. I’ve been named as the project leader.” Herman straightened slightly. “Between the Merkava tanks you found and design data on the Marsden and other tanks, we’re going to have a great head-start in design work.”

“The Merkavas aren’t all that good,” Frederick pointed out. “I mean, we’re keeping some for the combat support regiment being assembled, but that’s more because they’re available.”

“At least they let us know what works and what doesn’t,” his uncle pointed out. “Anyway, my point - going back to it - is that if General Regis listens to LIC, which he will, then you’ll have to keep Herr Mustermann out of the planning and leave him behind during the operation. You can fight it, but you will lose and it’ll cost you. I strongly advise that if you’re so convinced of his qualities - and you may be right, Frederick, but even so.” Hermann paused and took a deep breath. “Find something else for him to do for a while. Not forever, just something that is useful to you and removes the potential friction. He never needs to even know he’s being kept out of the loop.”

Frederick frowned. “I don’t like it.”

“That’s politics.” The older man smiled slightly. “If you ever do become Archon, you’ll have to deal with much more of it. The Archon’s rule may be absolute in theory, but not even the Coordinator or Chancellor are actually absolute rulers in practice. No one can be.”


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