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Frederick Steiner and the Man (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 6[]

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Frederick Steiner and the Man Who Knew Too Little[]

Cutting Deals in the Suns[]

Neo Carthagia, Addicks
Draconis March, Federated Suns
5 January 3009

At first glance, Frederick wouldn’t have guessed that Aaron Sandoval was about the same age as Max Mustermann - or that he was close to two decades older than the First Prince. If he had to have guessed, the two lords greeting him on arrival at Addicks would have both been close to his own age rather than being several years older and younger respectively.

“Welcome to the Federated Suns.” Ian shook his hand vigorously, then lowered his voice to add “We’ll speak again shortly.”

As the First Prince moved through the small crowd of LCAF officers, greeting the leaders of each of the five raiding forces first, Aaron Sandoval leant on his cane and offered his own hand. “May I repeat my Prince’s greeting most sincerely. I’ve often thought that we have common interests with the Lyran Commonwealth. I hope this is the sign of future cooperation.”

Frederick accepted the hand. “Having a common enemy, and different areas of strength, is a decent reason to try that. We both know it’s easier to say that than it is to follow through - but if we don’t start somewhere…”

“Well, you’ve made a good start. Dieron District is bubbling, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Takashi Kurita invited a few officers to apologize in the garden.”

Frederick nodded, recognizing the euphemism. “I imagine he’ll try to clear away some more of his father’s deadwood.”

“When you put it that way, it sounds like a bad thing for us.” the ruler of the Draconis March said wryly.

“Perhaps a little of both. The current Coordinator is more able as an enemy, but he is also less likely to default to brutality. Even if the replacement officers are more able, they may be less likely to inflict atrocities.”

“That offsets it a little, but capable Drac leadership is always a threat.” Sandoval said seriously.

Frederick made a face. “I can’t really argue with that - and the reports I’ve seen suggest that Takashi may be the most able leader House Kurita has produced since Taragi Kurita.”

The Duke of Robinson hissed slightly. “He has a good reputation… but Taragi? That’s very bad.”

Taragi Kurita’s reign had ended over a century ago and he’d been one of the very few Coordinators not to be trained as a Mechwarrior. Unfortunately, he’d been a shrewd politician and a master of logistics. Fortunately, he’d come to the throne late and had a relatively short reign, but he’d almost taken Skye. Takashi, by contrast, was a fairly young man and if he was able to address the economic and logistical weakness of the Draconis Combine

I probably shouldn’t try to warn Sandoval about Takashi’s son, Frederick decided. Theodore Kurita was a small child right now, there was nothing but Max’s advice to tell him that the boy would be one of the greatest generals of this century. And fortunately, perhaps among the most humane of House Kurita’s leaders. An odd thing to think about someone who would have shot Frederick in the head one day, but even that was better treatment of his prisoners than some of his ancestors.

“Fortunately, both our nations have strong leadership of their own,” Frederick offered in sympathy. “My cousin is determined to amend some of the LCAFs… traditional weaknesses.”

Sandoval nodded, but his eyes were slightly harder. “And what do you see as our traditional weakness, Duke Frederick?”

“Logistics,” he answered instantly. The Federated Suns was the largest of the Five Successor States by volume, but it had one of the smallest JumpShip fleets. The AFFS was almost continually overstretched, even after supplementing their numbers with large numbers of mercenaries. “And if I was a salesman, this is where I would offer an ‘ideal and easy’ solution.”

“Hmm. You’re right of course. And our problems are no more easily solved than those you Lyrans face.”

Frederick nodded. “I may be able to provide some assistance,” he added quietly. “But you understand that I must take it to your Prince first.”

Duke Aaron shook his head slightly. “Also plan on convincing Michael Hasek. Ian may reign, but it’s his brother-in-law that manages much of the affairs of state.”

“I’d heard as much.”

Ian returned to them, having circulated. “Aaron, are you keeping the duke to yourself?” he asked cheerfully. “What are you two conspiring about?”

“Confusion to the Kuritas,” offered Aaron.

“I’ll drink to that. But first!” Ian waved his hand and uniformed stewards came around with trays of glasses. “But first, a toast to the success of Operation Commonplace.”

Hopefully, you have no idea how successful, Frederick thought as he drank. The Davion’s spy agency, MIIO, was a peer to the Lyran’s own and penetrating foreign military secrets was naturally one of their major focuses. The Federated Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth weren’t technically at war right now; but they had been in the past, and their respective royal houses were technically rival claimants to the throne of the First Lord of the Star League. MIIO no doubt had spies inside the Commonwealth - the LIC certainly had some inside of the Suns.

“So,” Aaron observed - just loud enough for Ian to hear him, “Like any good Lyran, Duke Steiner wants to sell me something. May I ask my Prince to at least witness how I’m being horribly taken advantage of me?”

Ian laughed. “Now, now, Aaron. Anyone mistaking you for a soft-touch is both blind and stupid. I should just come along to make sure our poor Lyran friend comes out of this with both arms and at least one leg to his name.”

Frederick laughed politely and let himself be drawn away from the main reception hall of the Addicks military spaceport and into one of the many meeting rooms that such a facility naturally needed.

The bonhomie fell off Ian’s face after the door was closed and it was replaced by what Frederick could only describe as friendly determination - like a large dog so intent on being walked that it was towing its owner behind it. “So, I’m guessing you found something on Halstead Station.”

“How secure are we here?” Frederick asked seriously.

Aaron snorted. “It was swept this morning and again five minutes before you disembarked. We’re secure.”

The Lyran went to the table and produced a pocket holo-display from inside his jacket, placing it on the table. He wasn’t a businessman, but he knew about presentation. The first bite was with the eye, and thus he activated the unit and stepped back to see how the pair took the image it projected.

Aaron Sandoval hung his cane on the back of one of the chairs and squinted curiously. Ian Davion put both hands flat on the table and leant forwards intently.

“I don’t recognize the ‘Mech,” the duke said at last.

“You should,” Ian told him. “It used to be built on Robinson.”

Dark eyes narrowed. “Swordsman? Yes, now that I look at it…”

“A forty ton medium trooper - armament comparable to a Shadow Hawk, armor of a Clint, mobility of a Rifleman.” Frederick ticked off where the ‘Mech stood in the trifecta of general characteristics. “Designed to be a cheap and easy to build - a way for the AFFS to expand their ‘Mech strength back when such weapons were still rare.”

Swordsman (SWD-3A)

Swordsman Medium 'Mech (Variant pictured)

FPF.” Ian Davion wasn’t looking away. “The AFFS came later.”

“I stand corrected.” he replied

“It was Rostov’s ‘Mech,” Aaron mused. “Phased out of regular use after the formation of the Star League. I don’t think there’s a single surviving example. But I don’t think you just have a picture of it for us, Duke Steiner.”

“A full Terran Hegemony dissection of the design.” Frederick folded his hands behind his back. They were looking, now it would be necessary to hook them. “Both intelligence reports and a literal dissection of an example that they captured. It appears to have had some influence over their own medium designs later. Short of having the original design data, this would be as good as it gets for bringing the design into production again.”

“We could do with more ‘Mechs.” The First Prince’s first words were obvious. Everyone could do with more ‘Mechs. “But this one comes with a poisonous legacy.”

“The iconic design of the last real internal rival House Davion had,” Frederick agreed. He’d not particularly focused on the Davion Civil War of the early 26th century during his studies, but he had a rough idea of the major players. “However, while Dimitri Rostov was certainly a traitor, his father Nikolai was a genuine war hero with an excellent record against the Terran Hegemony and the Draconis Combine.”

Aaron looked thoughtful. “How hard do you think it would be to put back into construction?”

“The reactor and gyro assembly of the SWD-2 model can likely be replaced with a modified package from a Locust, the electronics of a Shadow Hawk should be sufficient for anything the Swordsman is expected to do.” Frederick shrugged. “We’re not talking about Star League level automation, but Bowie Industries are close to bringing the Archer back into production - in principle the same should be feasible for the Swordsman and the LCAF certainly needs medium ‘Mechs.”

Both men nodded - the LCAF wasn’t entirely top-heavy through choice. What any nation fielded depended heavily on what production they had left after two centuries of strategic raiding to try to cripple each other’s military-industrial complex. “So, if you’re interested in building these, why are you showing it to us?”

“Because someone in the Federated Suns still owns the legal rights. And may even have some records of how they were originally built. I would personally relish the circumstance of the Dragon finding that a long unseen ‘Mech is now being fielded along the borders it shares with both our realms; but if it’s to be solely a Lyran ‘Mech, I would still prefer it be done legally.”

He watched the other two men exchanging looks and knew they’d been hooked. Reintroducing a ‘Mech with awkward historic connections wasn’t impossible, but the blowback if another realm started building it and they’d turned down the chance would be severe. The Federated Suns loved and respected their military and being deprived of a new weapon was something that would stir dissent.

It wasn’t that there was no downside, but the scales were heavily weighted in favor of them accepting.

“So, what do you have in mind?” enquired Ian, pulling a chair back. “In outline, at least.”

Now for the ‘reeling-them-in’ part, Frederick thought as he sat down and began outlining an agreement which would no doubt need a double or triple-digit number of lawyers to finetune later. Some people actually enjoy this?

Unpleasant News[]

New London, Skye
Federation of Skye, Lyran Commonwealth
4 February 3009

“Hail the conquering hero!” Aldo Lestrade was lying in wait for Frederick and the burly officer allowed the younger man to slap him on the back with a resignation he tried to hide.

The duke of Summer drew back and examined him for a moment, seeing the change to his rank badge. “Leutnant General now?”

“It doesn’t change much.” Typically, the rank would involve a staff posting but since the Seventh Lyran Regulars were blossoming into a multi-regiment formation, Frederick had been assured he would remain in charge of them still. Infantry and tank crews would be arriving to expand them further over the next few months - although Frederick had pushed back on that a little, concerned that the force might become too large for strategic mobility.

Aldo shook his head. “Nonsense! It’s well deserved and rather overdue in my opinion. If you’d been promoted sooner, think how much more you could have accomplished.”

“The thought has crossed my mind.” he admitted.

Growing more seriously, the young Lestrade drew him aside. “I don’t say this lightly, but I would rather that you had more influence over the security of Skye. Operation Commonplace was a great success - I don’t say otherwise - but while that is heralded as a great triumph, it’s as much to hide the failures of others.”

“I’m glad you’re taking care for the safety of the region.” Frederick would have had to tear his arm free of Aldo’s hands not to be led, so he went along with it. Making a scene here wouldn’t be worth it - not in the palace of the senior Lestrade line. “Not all of the nobility do.”

“No.” A shake of the head. “No, they don’t. Has anyone mentioned Wyatt to you?”

Frederick paused, then scowled. “No. Why?” It was his command’s garrison posting - even though they’d been detached for this operation, they were to return there shortly. They would have embarked sooner, but Katrina had arrived and the rigmarole of royal court was slowing everything down.

The reason for the Archon’s presence was holding the bulk of the attention in the great hall of the Duke’s of Skye. Ian Davion, First Prince of the Federated Suns, had elected to cross into the Lyran Commonwealth to meet directly with his counterpart and open discussions towards establishing new ties between the two Successor State. Beyond the formalities, Frederick could see some logic to keeping the Regulars here as an extra garrison - the world of Skye had been attacked before and two House Lords would be a glorious prize were they killed or captured. But it remained frustrating.

Aldo led Frederick out onto a balcony. “Wyatt was raided in your absence. Badly. Bowie Industries took serious damage and your base was particularly targeted.”

“My base?” Why would anyone waste time on a base that was essentially empty during the Seventh Lyran Regulars’ deployment? He was more worried about Bowie Industries’ nascent ability to manufacture ‘Mechs again.

“It was the Twenty-Fifth Marik Militia.” Looking out over the metropolis, Aldo looked grim. “I believe they were hoping to take revenge for their defeat on New Dallas.”

“What happened to the garrison?” A battalion of mercenaries had been hired on a short-term contract to replace Frederick’s command.

“Scattered to the wind.”

Given they’d been outnumbered three to one, the best Frederick would have really hoped for was that the mercs held the factories long enough for relief. “I see. That is… unfortunate.”

“Katrina posting you and your regiment there was supposed to be an assurance of the defense of the region. But when you were needed, Frederick, she’d sent you away on a mission that could have seen you lost deep inside the Combine. It’s a relief that you succeeded, but do you realize that that might not have been her goal?”

He said nothing for a moment. It seemed unlikely to him that Katrina would be actively trying to get rid of him. Even without Max’s assurances, he doubted she lacked confidence in her ability to defeat him if he did oppose her openly. However, reckless she might be as a tactician; she had many successes to her name. “I would say that Tharkad is a long way from Skye, but she still came here today.”

“Yes, to meet a foreign ruler. Who knows what she’s planning there?”

“We have a common enemy in the Draconis Combine. That could mean good things for Skye.”

Aldo looked unconvinced, which Frederick took to mean that he saw little good in it for Aldo Lestrade. “I hope that you’re right, my friend. But with everything going on, I have had to consider who might be willing to restrain the Archon if her enthusiasm leads her into further recklessness.”

“She isn’t without advisors… but I don’t like that Wyatt has been kept from me,” he admitted. “Do you know how bad the damage was at Bowie Industries?”

“Not your base?”

“We can build a new military base, Aldo. But Bowie’s repair yards are a strategic asset along that part of the border. Keeping ‘Mechs operational will be harder without it.”

“It’s classified,” the duke said, with distaste in his voice. “Not for mere civilians. However, I gather Bowie has contracted not only salvage workers but also freighters to carry a considerable tonnage. I cannot help but suspect they feel they should rebuild elsewhere.”

Frederick hissed. Modern heavy manufacturing required enormous facilities and infrastructure. It said much that even after two hundred years on the frontlines between House Marik and House Steiner, Bowie had still not tried to relocate the repair facilities. If they were doing so now, that suggested that critical infrastructure for the site was gone. “They may be consolidating onto their facilities on Alarion.” Although those were also being rebuilt after the FWLM raided them in 3006.

“And so Skye loses more industry. It’s as if no one understands that our exposed position requires a commensurate level of resources.”

“I’m sure that that’s not forgotten.” One of the major points of Operation Commonplace had been to reduce pressure on Skye from the DCMS regiments in Dieron. It was unfortunate that the Free Worlds League had taken advantage.

Or was it just misfortune?

The trouble was, Frederick could think of more than one person who might see it as beneficial to their plans for the victory against the Combine to be balanced out by a defeat elsewhere. And with the failure of the invasion of Rochelle, the Commonwealth appeared to be weak against the League at the moment.

“There are those who are less certain of that,” Aldo told him. “It would be a great service to those who have some concerns about the direction of the Commonwealth. I don’t doubt that Katrina Steiner intends to make good the suffering faced under your uncle, but there is a real risk that she may fall into the same trap that he did.”

Frederick rubbed at his scar. “How do you mean?”

“Listening only to those advisors who agree with the Archon. Dissenting voices are silenced before they can point out flaws in a plan - not necessarily to oppose the plan but to correct the flaws. I have heard that even the Archon’s sister is not always heeded when she offers her advice - and Nondi Steiner is one of our finest military minds.” Aldo smiled winningly. “Even though we rarely see eye to eye, I have great respect for her.”

“Nondi is very able.”

“And if you and she cannot be heard in the Triad then the Archon lacks a key form of advice. Lacks a loyal opposition who will tread the delicate line of encouraging the Archon and her staff to fully consider their decisions, without being thought to be undermining them. Members of House Steiner should surely have the closeness to her for that.”

Frederick snorted. “You’re asking me to be delicate? Aldo, I thought you knew me!”

“In this case, your directness is the delicacy required. It allows you to say that which others dare not - and if anyone thinks too much then those who know you are an honest man who speaks his mind clearly.”

“I…” Frederick shook his head. Did Aldo think he was so foolish as not to realize he was being told he was too direct to be a politician?

The younger man patted him on the shoulder. “Think about it. There are many forms of service to the Commonwealth. And isn’t it true that more is expected of House Steiner than the rest of us?”

Very true. But in this case, my responsibility does not necessarily accord with your interests… whatever they are. If you don’t secure me as your pawn then who will you choose? Nondi despises your politics, Hermann and Donna are uninterested - I think.

And then his mind went to the younger generation and a shiver went down his spine. A child-Archon might need a regent…

“I will consider your words.” he conceded. Perhaps if you do decide to use me, I will have enough insight into your plans to keep you from causing havoc in pursuit of your ambitions.

It occurred to Frederick that he no longer even second-guessed the idea that Aldo was self-interested to the point of endangering the Commonwealth. If I hadn’t met Max, would I already be a puppet on your strings?

Meeting with the First Prince & Archon[]

The Triad, Tharkad
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
25 February 3009

It was snowing over the Triad. No surprise, thought Katrina Steiner, it’s the time of year for it.

Then again, that didn’t narrow it down much. Tharkad was a glacial world, winter lasted half a Terran year. Low temperatures and heavy gravity made it an uncomfortable world in comparison to the world of her birth. Save for its central location, she sometimes wondered why her ancestors chose it as a capital all those centuries ago. Surely there must have been other options when Arcturus became too vulnerable to House Kurita.

“It’s quite a view.” She had invited the First Prince to dine with herself and her husband and now he joined her at the window. “I love looking out from Castle Davion, but the view here is… amazing.”

“What calls to you first?” asked Arthur Luvon from where he was warming himself at the fire. “The cold wind, the cold snow or the frozen hearts of the courtiers?”

Ian paused. “I’m tempted to say the snow - my home is far more temperate. But honestly that was my second impression.”

“And your first?” inquired Katrina, drawing back the long blue curtains so she would have a better view.

“The defensibly of the Triad. In the unlikely event of an attack, Avalon City has only the mountain and the river - but here there are a dozen places where a single lance could hold off a battalion.” The Davion smiled slightly. “Don’t take this as a national propensity for war, Archon. Only a personal one.”

“We’re all soldiers here.” Arthur changed the subject by lifting one of the wine glasses from the table. “What would you like to drink, your highness?”

“Please, call me Ian. You’ve been kind enough to share some of your limited time together with me.”

“I am Katrina then - and my husband is Arthur.” Katrina walked to the table and found a bottle of her preferred vintages was already waiting, the cork loosened just enough to let the contents breathe.

The young prince - he’d come to the throne while still in his teens and ruled more than thrice as long as Katrina - gave her a half-bow. “I’ll be guided by you.”

Arthur gave him a measuring look and then selected a bottle from those waiting on the table, as yet uncorked. “Try this then. Medicine for a warrior returned from the battlefield.”

“A Palosian wine?”, Ian asked

“One of the Capellan Confederation’s exports, if it does not offend.”

The prince shrugged. “No harm in trying it. Perhaps one day my brother-in-law will liberate the world from House Liao.”

Katrina and Arthur exchanged looks but said nothing. Arthur took a corkscrew and began to open the bottle. “I hope the young ladies aren’t bothering you in court. An unmarried prince is somewhat of interest to them when the only unmarried Steiner of suitable age is rarely here.”

“Duke Frederick?” Ian shrugged. “Perhaps we can exchange war stories of being besieged in that fashion next time we meet. It could be more entertaining than the usual sort.”

“If Frederick does marry it might settle him down.”

Katrina snorted. “And add to my worries, unfortunately. Gaining an heir might stir him to be more ambitious.”

“If he truly still holds to those ambitions.” her husband pointed out, pouring wine into their guest’s glass.

She sighed. It was a topic they’d disagreed on before. “I hope he does not.”

“I fear I’ve stepped into an awkward topic.” Ian offered, pulling back Katrina’s seat rather than taking his own. “For what it’s worth, the Colonel seemed more interested in military and commercial affairs than in politics.”

Katrina sat down and started to fill her own glass. “The latter is a new interest for him. Before my accession to the throne, he was focused almost entirely on his military career.”

“It wasn’t immediate in that regard,” Arthur told her. “Harrison tells me that he first became involved after the raid on New Dallas.”

“Like most things about my cousin, it could be good or bad - it’s hard to tell.”

Ian took his own seat and raised his glass. “I know that expression you wear, Katrina.”

“How so?” she asked

“It’s the same I wear when Hanse does something reckless and imprudent.”

“I doubt your brother covets the throne of the Federated Suns, Ian.” Katrina sipped from her glass. A Gallery wine, a taste of home. “Or if he does, the assessments I’ve received are at odds with it.”

“That doesn’t mean no one would rather he ruled,” Ian told her. “Even before our father died there was talk that he might be a better ruler than I. If he really wanted it, I’d take my chances on him.”

“I can’t say the same about Frederick,” Arthur observed. He sipped from his own wine. “I will admit there are those who would like to promote him as a rival but so far, the closest he’s come to them is Aldo Lestrade. And he’s been a friend of the Lestrades for years. It would be a surprise if they didn’t stay in touch.”

Katrina nodded in agreement. “Unfortunately, he’s the last Lestrade I want him to be close to. Duke Grethar is a fine ruler, but Aldo has… a lean and hungry look, if you take my meaning. And Frederick took my uncle’s grooming as heir quite seriously. I would like to think that his investments mark a new direction for his thoughts, but I can’t help but think that he might be more interested in networking as a prelude to building support.”

“I’d agree that he’s ambitious,” Ian conceded. “If a little unsubtle. His presentation of the Swordsman deal was a bit too polished for him to have found the data on New Dallas. And he very carefully didn’t actually say that that was what he found there - just allowed listeners to make that connection.”

“If you knew he had something else of value, why didn’t you inquire further?” Katrina began to eat.

“Whatever he had, he was offering a good deal.” Ian also applied cutlery to the contents of his plate. “If I’d tried to seize what he found, it could have failed and would surely have cut short the possibilities of our working together - possibilities that could include sharing in the benefits anyway, if I play my cards right.”

Arthur nodded. “And besides the Swordsman, you’re also looking to benefit from his acting as a middleman between Coventry Metal Works and Corean Enterprises.”

“I wouldn’t have considered the possibilities he saw there,” Ian admitted. “But it looks promising - and Corean’s interests are increasingly focused on New Avalon rather than their traditional center within the Free Worlds League.”

“So long as it doesn’t lead to the benefits coming back to the Free Worlds League,” Katrina mused. “But yes - it benefits us as well if the plan goes as Frederick hopes.” By drawing parallels between components used in the Commando and the Valkyrie, the Duke of Duran had suggested that the two companies could exchange data with each gaining the ability to produce the other’s trademark light ‘Mech. If the deal was fulfilled, it would aid both nations - but it required considerable trust.

Valkyrie (Davion Guard Paint Scheme - by Blue)

Valkyrie Light 'Mech

Ian lifted his glass again. “There is another benefit I see: even if we cannot completely duplicate each other’s production, Corean would likely be able to manufacture parts for Commandos in service with the AFFS and such Valkyries as have come into LCAF hands will similarly be easier for you to maintain.”

“Cutting into the trade in such parts between our states would encourage interdependence. I’d have thought you’d rely on the alliance you want.” Arthur steepled his fingers, eyeing Ian thoughtfully.

The redheaded prince shook his head. “An alliance between us is a good thing, but our nation’s interests may not always line up. It could endure until the next Archon, or the next First Prince, but sooner or later one of our Houses will find reason to break it off. Better to seek ways that strengthen each of us without becoming weaknesses when the time comes.”

“Nothing lasts forever,” Katrina agreed reluctantly. “We can hope that that also applies to the Succession Wars.”

“I doubt I’ll see the end of them,” Ian confided. He refilled his glass and raised it. “But there is always hope, isn’t there?”

Arthur and Katrina extended their own wine glasses, tapping them together and then against Ian’s. “To hope.” the Archon offered.

“To hope.” the First Prince agreed quietly.

They all drank.

“It occurs to me,” Ian continued, “That if we sometimes struggle to maintain ‘Mechs that require parts from the Lyran Commonwealth then the same may be the case with the Lyran Commonwealth Armed Forces and ‘Mechs from the Suns. Perhaps we could arrange some basis to exchange ‘Mechs that are otherwise unserviceable. It would be on a small scale, but…”

“Small steps may lead one on a longer journey,” Katrina agreed. “It’s something we can add to the discussions tomorrow. My realm has unmatched industrial output among the Successor States but that’s not to say we can build everything.”

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