Fighting Uphill - Chapter 11
* Peace In Our Time *
Planning for the Future
15th June, 3013
Hilton's Head, Comstar HQ
'Primus Julian Tiepolo sat alone on a park bench, enjoying the nice sunny day by feeding bread crumbs to pigeons. Several other off duty Comstar personnel and a couple guests were scattered around the park, also enjoying the day. But none of them dared approach and disturb the august personage of Comstar's highest leader, at least not without good reason such as important business perhaps. Maybe even a crisis of faith they might be having. And that was because they all loved and respected him, not because of the two bodyguards in hulking battlearmor standing behind Tiepolo's bench.
Well, maybe the bodyguards were a little of the reason. They certainly looked scary.
But Tiepolo wasn't thinking about his bodyguards. He was thinking about the pigeons he was feeding, and how very much like them the so-called Great Houses were. Throw them some breadcrumbs, and look how they flocked to them! Throw some breadcrumbs over there, and the pigeon Lords predictably flocked over to that location as well.
And the Free Worlds League was the greatest breadcrumb at all. The other Houses flocked to it in the hopes of wresting control of House Marik for themselves, winning the eternal allegiance of the Free Worlds League, and with two Successor States combined, finally form a power bloc strong enough to win the Succession Wars. The hardest part was finding someone for House Davion to back, and Tiepolo's predecessor had simply resorted to making one up out of whole cloth, a "half brother" supposedly sired by Janos', Anton's, and Sylvia's father before he had married their mother.
Thirteen years later, the Great Houses were no closer to victory than when they had started, but Tiepolo had considered it a success. The other Successor States had enjoyed relative peace as the Third Succession War moved almost entirely inside the Free Worlds League borders. Prosperity was up all across the Inner Sphere. Border raiding was at an all time low. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the Inner Sphere was at peace despite being officially at war with each other, barring the short spike in border raiding caused by the arrival of Wolf's Dragoons.
The Wolf's Dragoons were some cause for concern. Were the descendants of Kerensky returning to the Inner Sphere? They clearly had some of Kerensky's warships. They're claim of being"just mercenaries" might have been more believable if they had talked more openly about where they came from and what became of Kerensky's Exodus; after all, the Dragoons wouldn't be the first regular military forces that decided to go independent and take up the mercenary trade. But the fact that they refused to talk about their origins spoke volumes; there was no way anyone was going to keep five regiments of troops and support personnel and dependents telling the same false cover story without inevitably contradicting each other on minor details. And that meant that the Dragoons were almost certainly working for whatever the SLDF had become and were trying to assess the state of the Inner Sphere's military.
Tiepolo's predecessor had driven himself mad and into an early retirement trying to figure out the Dragoon mystery. Where had they come from? What were the intentions of Kerensky's descendants? Comstar had worked hard to engineer the current peace – even if it had required sacrificing the Free Worlds League – and a misguided returning SLDF could upset things, plunge the rest of the Inner Sphere back into war, and undo the progress of Blake's Vision.
Of course, it would also affect the stock investment portfolios of Comstar's senior Precentors. Such things happened when wars blew up or seized the factories and facilities that they were investing in after all.
Still, Tiepolo did not concern himself overly much with the Dragoons, at least for the present. Their plan was clearly to work for each House for a period of five years to assess their strengths and weaknesses. That meant Tiepolo still had at least fifteen years to prepare the Inner Sphere for the SLDF's return, discover where the Dragoons had come from and what their masters really wanted. That might be cut down to ten if the Dragoons decided that service to Liao also counted as service to Marik and they moved straight on to Steiner. In the meantime, ROM was unlikely to learn anything much even with agents inserted into the Dragoons' ranks until the Dragoons made another "supply run" back home.
Meanwhile, Tiepolo had more pressing issues at home. There was a rising movement inside Comstar, a faction of idealists who saw the profits certain Comstar personnel made facilitating the sales of weapons and weapon related technologies not as tools to manipulate the Houses into making peace, but as Comstar promoting war in defiance of Blake's Vision. Comstar's methods were unintuitive of course; how does selling weapons promote peace? That made explaining to these foolish idealists that the Houses would war with each other no matter what Comstar did a futile exercise. They certainly wouldn't believe that depriving the Houses of advanced weapons would just mean the Houses would go war with sticks and stones if they had to.
But Tiepolo wasn't all that concerned with these idealists. If they didn't want to partake in Comstar's off-the-books side businesses and personal investment schemes, that just meant the idealists would have no money and thus no power to affect the kinds of changes they wanted. In the view of Tiepolo and many other pragmatists, personal profit and profit to Comstar as an organization were rewards from Blake for a job well done.
Tiepolo was brought out of his musings when he spotted Vesar Kristofur approaching him. Kristofur was Precentor ROM, Comstar's master of spies, and he had a strange antipathy for Wolf's Dragoons that seemed to go beyond just the mysteries that they represented. Something important must have come up if he couldn't wait for their next meeting to inform Tiepolo about it.
"Peace of Blake be with you, Kristofur." Tiepolo greeted. "What brings you out here on this fine day?"
"Primus, I bring word from the Free Worlds League." Kristofur answered. "It seems some mercenaries squabbling on the planet Helm for the Janos and Anton factions have stumbled across a major Star League storage facility. They have of course alerted their respective employers about this find or at least, they tried to via our HPG network. Should we allow their messages through?"
"Hmm, how big a find?" Tiepolo said thoughtfully.
"Possibly big enough to tip the Marik Civil War in one faction's favor... assuming they get everything of course." Kristofur informed him.
"Of course." Tiepolo echoed. "Yes, allow their messages to go through. Oh, and make sure they're leaked to the Duncan and Robert factions as well. It would be rude for them not to be invited to the party."
"As you will it, Primus." Kristofur acknowledged.
"Oh, and Kristofur?" Tiepolo said as another thought occurred to him. "If this facility has a field library, try your best to keep it preserved for all to read. There may be nuggets of knowledge in it that our own public library database is missing. We are the preservers of knowledge after all."
Who Shall Lead
17th June, 3013
Fort Duncan, Oriente
Free Worlds League
"We're going to Helm," Senior Colonel Candace Liao concluded after briefing all of her regimental commanders, Capellan, League, and mercenary alike, on the intelligence coup about the Star League cache found on Helm. "Everything we have that can spared from Oriente's defense is going to Helm, and I will personally be leading us."
"As will I." Duncan declared from her side.
"Yes." Candace agreed unwillingly. They had argued about this, and for the first time, Candace had been unable to change Duncan's mind. After all, if Helm was important enough for Candace to personally command forces on the ground, then it was important enough for Duncan to do the same. "General Duncan Marik will be leading the Marik half of our forces to Helm."