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- Hegemony - Chapter 3 -

Day 3
[]

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Meeting with Miss Zhao[]


Day 3
Caesar's Palace, Alphard
Marian Hegemony
November 24th, 3162


Cyrus opened his eyes in the darkness; the exhaustion from the last couple of days had been enough to allow him to drop off without the sedative of the night before, but the years of military training and a regular routine attending the University of Alphard was a hard thing to control. Most of the time, it was useful, in a kind of unexpected way, but the inability to shut it ‘off’ was annoying sometimes.

The alarm clock next to the palatial bed was inconveniently far away, but the soft red glow was enough to see by and it proved the rest of the morning was still far enough away to roll over. Moving over onto his side helped, and assuming the fetal position and tucking the blanket up was a favorite way to drowse off from his Academy days after the grueling days of conditioning gave way to gave way to the mental effort to keep from flunking out of the school. Sleep refused to come, but he continued to try to remain still and fall back to sleep regardless. Today was another day full of meetings, the most exciting of which would be enough to put him to sleep if he sat down long enough to get comfortable.

The thought was daunting, and his ability to concentrate on the mental exercises that lulled the mind and allowed an Infantry trooper to nod off whatever the situation were useless. Even so, the mental turmoil of the last couple of days demanded an outlet and the pillow became wet before he could return to a fitful sleep, regretting passing up the offered sedative. Finally, tired but unwilling to continue pretending he might still get enough rest to make it worthwhile he gave up, turning off the alarm and throwing back the covers to sit upright in the darkness.

Eventually he rose to begin his morning routine, dressing himself for the day in the clothes laid out in the wardrobe before preparing tea in the kitchen. Seating himself and activating the small pad left on the table, he checked the day’s appointments. By the time the chimes had sounded and Lucius arrived to greet him and announce his first appointment, he was already seated behind the desk in the Caesar’s personal office going over the first reports of the Ministry of Economics. Like many of the reports he had seen since the assassination attempt, it attempted to educate him in the basic principles so he could better understand the more voluminous presentations later.

Economics makes my head hurt, he thought angrily. I doubt I’ll be able to ever understand this stuff. Were they trying to make this so difficult, or is it me? Time to delegate, again. I wonder if there’s someone at the University whose arm I can twist?

“Miss Zhao, Caesar.”

“Send her in, Lucius.”

Putting the report and his notes back neatly into the folder, he turned in the chair to the small filing cabinet beside his desk and placing it within before turning again to rise from the chair as Lucius and the councilor returned to the office. Dressed again in the formal robes trimmed with Legion Blue and a bag over her shoulder, he accepted her deep bow with a nod as he walked over to the door, ushering them into the atrium.

“I thought we might go for a walk, Miss Zhao. My time has become metered so closely, I’d prefer a change of scenery.” Turning to Lucius, he added, “I’m aware of the Intelligence meeting, Lucius. You can expect me to be there on time.”

Taking the slight inclination of the man’s head as assent. He turned to lead the young woman out of the apartments, opening and holding the door for her.

“I hope this isn’t an inconvenience, Miss Zhao.”

“Not at all, Caesar. It’s actually a good sign, wanting to put the past behind you and move on,” she said, looking up at him with a smile. “Or a bad one. Psychology isn’t an exact science.”

“I will have to record to write up my notes later, however,” she said, stopping and turning slightly to reach inside the bag she was carrying. “Is that acceptable?”

Cyrus nodded, then grunted assent as he realized she was busy searching for something and might have difficulty seeing him. Clipping a small case into one of the hems of her robes, she settled the bag on her shoulder and looked at him inquiringly.

Signaling the Palace Guards who had followed him down the hall to stay out of earshot, he turned and began to amble down the hallways.

“So, Cyrus, how do you feel?”

“Tired,” he said quietly after a few steps. “Angry.”

“Understandable.” She looked up at him as they continued down the hallway. “Have they been able to learn anything about the murderer?”

“The murderer? No,” he admitted.

“How do you feel about that,” she inquired.

“Anxious,” he said in the same tone. “And frustrated. We may never know, they tell me.”

“And how do you feel about that…?”


A Heated Discussion[]


The early morning meeting eventually ended, as Cyrus brought them to the underground entrance to the Palace’s secure command bunker not far from his new apartments. He expected the day’s Intelligence briefing to be an intense affair, and despite having helped plan and arrange the outcome wasn’t looking forward to doing his part. Even Lucius, waiting to one side with Director Effeil and his escort in tow seemed more wooden than normal as he came forward to escort Mei to her office in the Palace.

The Security team, bolstered by the presence of the Guardsmen as they took up positions to either side of the doors leading to the deeper chambers beneath the Palace, saluted as they came to a stop. Acknowledging the salute, he turned back to the councilor.

“Mei, this is where we part ways. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Of course, Cyrus, I look forward to seeing you.” Finishing her sentence with another of her deep bows, he acknowledged it with a nod before waving Lucius toward her and prepared to enter the Palace’s high security bunkers with Director Effeil. Having entered the facilities only a half-dozen times before the assassination, the process was still awkward enough be unsettling as he first stripped and dressed in the utilitarian coveralls worn only within the facility before undergoing the battery of tests to confirm his identity.

The two men took turns confirming their identities through several methods, including fingerprints, retinal scans, and a brainwave scan similar to those used to identify Mechwarriors. Given that the Word of Blake, MIM, and the other major Intelligence agencies had never acted on information believed to come from the bunkers since their construction he supposed the extreme levels of paranoia espoused by its builders had some merit.

Finally receiving clearance to enter the facility, the two men were escorted to the shaft descending several hundred meters into the active ECM field of multiple emitters. ‘The Motte’ was the Caesar’s personal command bunker and strategic headquarters for the Hegemony’s military, separate from the Imperator and I Legio’s command structure in case of an assault on the planet and the Palace itself, although meetings of the Consilium Securitatis were occasionally held within the facility to take advantage of the high security arrangements.

Although alternate command facilities were scattered across the planet in secret locations, they were considered compromised until proven secure, denied access to information and codes required to confirm their assumption of command until the physical destruction of the primary facility allowed personnel with the proper codes and procedures to active them. Given the depth and precautions to prevent foreign Intelligence organizations from breaching its security, the hardwired nuclear demolition charge had seemed absurd when Cyrus first learned of it, but he supposed a bit of paranoia was something more understandable now.

Cyrus felt the tension lighten as the elevator continued its descent. One way or another, the die was cast. The plan he had worked out with Director Effeil would rely on the skill and loyalty of the security teams within The Motte, but as the two men exited the elevator to accept the salute of the security team and be introduced to their commanding officer he was impressed with the professionalism of the men around him. A brief whispered conversation with Principes Flynn had him wave over one of the older Legionnaires who after a few murmured words joined their escort.

The three men walked in silence, the noise of the Director’s chains proceeding them, and Cyrus examined the interior of the bunker with interest. The effort to duplicate the natural spectrum of Alphard’s primary and the faint echoes of the Palace’s architecture and décor made it look like a remote corner of the Palace, but the lack of authentic greenery and woodworking made the efforts to soften the utilitarian purpose behind The Motte’s construction priorities stand out in an odd way.

“The surroundings do kind of blur in your memory, Caesar,” the Princeps said quietly. “And it does help the morale of the men stationed here.”

“How long have you been in command, Princeps?”

“A few years, Caesar,” he responded in a non-committal tone. “Long enough.”

“Prior service?” He guessed. “Injured on duty?”

The Princeps nodded. “Huntington. Healed now, of course.”

“How often was my father here?”

Taken aback, the Princeps took a few seconds to consider, then shrugged and replied, “About twice a week, Caesar. Sometimes more, sometimes less.”

Cyrus watched the man carefully. “You served in Section C, didn’t you?”

Flynn smiled. “Still do, Caesar.”

“I haven’t met the Precept yet,” Cyrus said neutrally. “Tell me, what do you think of Director Flamen?”

The Princeps took a few seconds to consider, shifting slightly to turn away from the security team behind him before answering. “He seems…” Flynn seemed to struggle for a moment. “Detached.”

“‘Detached’?” Cyrus pressed. “Could you explain?”
c98239572@adxuser.com

“When I was posted here, your father, Imperator Blacklake, and the Director seemed… Closer,” the older man said. “Since the attack into the Tamarind-Abbey District, something hasn’t been quite right.”

Cyrus traded glances with Effeil before turning back to the Princeps. “A falling out? Both of them?” Flynn nodded.

Mind whirling, Cyrus turned to begin ambling down the corridor again, flanked on either side by the two men as Effeil commented for the first time, “Director Flamen was promoted from Section B, wasn’t he? Part of your father’s effort to improve the External Intelligence branch if I remember right.”

Cyrus looked over to see the Princeps nod in confirmation.

Tradition again, Cyrus noted. Caesars traditionally placed loyal supporters in positions of power, especially early in their reigns when cronyism and mutual interest mattered more than competence. Loyalty to the man, rather than loyalty to the State. It’s possible.

Guided around a final corner, the Princeps opened the heavy-looking door to find Director Flamen rising to his feet to offer a deep bow of respect as the guard behind him came to attention and saluted. Cyrus accepted their salutes with a raised hand and the guards left the room to leave the three men alone in the room as Director Effeil joined his superior at the conference table, the security team closing the door behind them.

“Welcome to The Motte, Caesar,” said Director Flamen.

“Thank you,” he said. “Naturally, this isn’t my first time here, but the facility seems a little over-the-top. I hope the build-up is worth the effort.”

“We think so, sir. It seems to be, anyway.” From the top of the stack of folders beside him, Director Flamen handed Cyrus a single piece of paper with a list of code words without notes or background materials, presumably topics to be discussed. Director Effeil’s estimation of his superior seemed spot-on, Cyrus noted. As expected, there was no mention of his family or an admission of the man’s failure, thus hoping to leave his subordinate solely responsible.

“This is not what I hoped to discuss,” Cyrus began as he dropped the paper to the table, his voice intent. “I invited Director Effeil to accompany me to reassure both of you to speak freely. What have you discovered about the assassination attempt?”

As the silence stretched out, he could feel his temper rising. Nothing. Has he even looked? Or was Donald to be staked out as a sacrifice from the beginning? Reaching across the table, Cyrus fumbled for purchase on the man’s jacket, snagging the chain draped loosely around his shoulders and using it to pull the man forward out of his chair.

“Answer me!”

“Caesar, No!”

Cyrus felt the yank on his free arm, and gave up trying to choke the intelligence chief to pull Effeil off-balance, throwing him to the floor before rearing back and – barely – remembering to aim somewhere that wouldn’t cripple the man, kicked him in the belly as the older man started yelling for the security team.

Bursting in the door as Cyrus aimed a second kick, lower than the first, the Legionnaire that Flynn had spoken to in charge of the team held a needler at arm’s length with both hands, aimed at the floor but ready to fire. The Contuberium behind him quickly pulled Effeil out of reach as Cyrus stopped fighting and stood still among the scattered chairs.

“Give me your Needler,” Cyrus said as the two men were restrained. Taking possession of the proffered weapon, Cyrus pointed the Needler at the men restraining Effeil and added, “Take that man into the hallway and beat him.”

The Legionnaires paused for the briefest moments, looking to the Miles, who said nothing, before hustling Effeil into the hallway. Turning back to the Director, still standing there with his arms restrained by two men, Cyrus stepped forward to pull at the fabric of the man’s coverall and put the barrel of the pistol beneath his jaw aiming upward at a sharp angle.

“I want answers, Director,” Cyrus asked quietly, moving to the side and forcing the man to look past him towards the door as the dull sounds of fists meeting flesh and Effeil’s pleas to stop began. “I want to know who ordered this done. And I’m going to hold you personally responsible to find out. Do you understand me?”

From the hallway, Effeil’s scream of pain was enough to distract Cyrus from the cowering Flamen. Taking the opportunity to end the beating, he released the older man’s coverall and turned back to the door.

“My parents will lie in state for a week’s time, Director. Find their murderer, or be a nameless corpse buried the same day,” he continued in the same tone. Stepping back to raise his voice to be overhead over the noise from the hall he called to them, “Legionnaire! Get that man up the elevator before someone needs to carry him. Contact the terminal upstairs and have him taken to The Wall and disposed of.”

“Yes, Caesar.”

As the man began to direct the rest of the detachment to drag the injured man to the elevator, Cyrus held out the officer’s pistol and returned it before motioning to the two men restraining Flamen to seat him at the conference table once again. The two men dragged the Director to the table, righting one of the chairs for him to sit before ramming it tightly into the table.

Cyrus picked up the open folder, reorganizing the loose papers within it and sat himself directly across the table from the Director.

“Let’s start with what you do know, shall we?” Cyrus suggested as the men exited the room and the heavy door closed once again. Leaning forward to open the folder and remove one of the briefing sheets, he closed it once again and slid it across the table to the Director. Leaning back in the chair again, he tried to calm himself and slow his breathing, allowing the Director a moment to regain his composure before opening the folder with fumbling fingers.

“Caesar,” he began. “As you might imagine, the Intelligence situation is quite complicated and Section A has been unable to determine if the assassin was part of a larger attack, but the remainder of their reports are satisfactory, and are items 1-7 on today’s agenda.”

Which made up the majority of the items for discussion, Cyrus noted.

“Section B has successfully infiltrated several worlds your father and Imperator Blacklake assigned them, and several raids are on schedule against Periphery and League targets. There are also several decisions made by your father and predecessors you asked to be made aware of, such as the failures of the Observationis Externum and the Illyrican conflict. These are items 7-9.”

“Section C has no serious problems to report, as most members of the military are taking a ‘wait and see’ stance to your ascension. The text of their report is available as Item 10.”

“Section D has had no recent operations but are continuing to expand their training syllabus on Illyrica where they continue to assist the Legions with the domestic terrorism situation.”

At Cyrus’ nod, he continued.

“Before we begin, however, we must discuss the Arcana Imperii - confidential information with major impacts on the Hegemony’s strategic situation.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that term,” Cyrus said cautiously. “What does it refer to?”

“When Cassius was reorganizing the Hegemony government, he established a secret classification for closely-held information he felt was vital to the future of the Hegemony,” the Director explained. “Knowledge of their existence is discussed only in the highest security facilities, and individuals aware of its existence are restricted from traveling off-world. To date, there have only been four times the classification has been invoked, twice of them by Cassius. Only two of them still exist, and the remaining records of the other two have been destroyed, although there may be some record of them in the Caesar’s private documents.”

“The most significant of these is the so-called Alexandria Core, a small computer core recovered by the Legions during a raid on Astrokaszy. The core was recovered from what appeared to be a small Intelligence-gathering outpost, but time and radiation damage – the core was being examined by scientists and technicians in a secure facility hidden in the Capital during the neutron bombing – have left it unusable. Cassius ordered it recovered immediately, but the damage was severe.”

A Core! Cyrus took a few seconds to absorb the information before blurting out, “Any idea what was on it?”

The Director shook his head. “Given the equipment discovered, its location and that there are indications it was run by the AsRoc, it may have been focused on either the FWL or Territorial States. It seems unlikely to contain anything still relevant.”

“The other most significant piece of Intelligence is far more recent. Your father was in negotiations to petition Nikol Marik to join the new Free Worlds League as a counterweight to the Canopian-Capellan alliance. Their close relations were a concern when considering military action and with the possibility of the Wolf Empire attempting to resurrect the Star League by reuniting the Inner Sphere against the Periphery states he felt it was a necessary precaution to investigate the possibility.”

The two men sat in silence as Cyrus struggled to assimilate the news. That the FWL would demand the repatriation of their citizens and the disavowal of the concept of slavery in the Hegemony was a given; the loss of so many educated and essential workers in all areas of the Hegemony’s economy would be a disaster of epic proportions. That his father had been willing to risk such a divisive strategy could have been enough to provoke the assassination – a possible clue to the identities of the conspirators.

Putting aside the revelations, he leaned back for a moment.

“Well,” he said quietly. “Where do the negotiations stand as of right now?”

“Your father was beginning to canvass for support among the Consilium Securitatis and major industrial supporters, Caesar. Nikol had reiterated her demands to renounce the practice of slavery, offer reparations to those subject to the practice and provide military support to the League, and more. The ball is in our court, sir.”

The two men sat in silence as Cyrus considered his options before standing to begin to pace up and down the table in frustration.

“Shit.”

“Quite.”


Aftermath of a Revelation[]


Cyrus found it hard to ignore the implications of Director Flamen’s revelations, but found himself in agreement with the man about the need to deal with small problems before they became large ones. As they began thrashing their way through the agenda most of his father’s decisions received Cyrus’ approval, as in some cases they were already far enough along that not doing so would result in a net loss for the Hegemony. Several more were decisions made by officers of the different Intelligence services in accordance with standard procedures and he was simply being informed of them to provide a ‘bigger picture’ of events across the Hegemony.

Fortunately, none were as ground-shaking as the Arcana, and he was able to lean back in the chair and relax for a moment, feeling like he had been hammered through a knothole as he ordered the Director escorted to the elevator and returned to the Palace where he would brief the new Section heads before taking over Effeil’s investigation. The literal ‘deadline’ of four days would hopefully force him to expose himself before too much damage could be done.

Unfortunately, the drama surrounding their meeting would delay the rest of the day’s events and beyond a moment to come to grips with the situation there could be no delay. The elevator would return quickly, and while Lucius would no doubt make arrangements to resolve the situation he had little choice but to come to grips with the situation as quickly as possible. As Flamen was led away, he forced himself to his feet again and spent a moment wishing his father was still here to take the burden of the Hegemony from his shoulders before wiping away the tears that formed in response and took another moment to composed himself before following.

The Princeps was waiting in the hallway, and wordlessly turned to accompany him down the hallway.

“Director Effeil?”

“Badly bruised, but mobile, Caesar,” the Princeps responded. “First aid and painkillers. I’ve seen worse.”

“And you understand the situation?”

The Princeps nodded. “Director Flamen’s activities will be monitored continuously. Director Effeil will contact you through the Office when he finds evidence of a coverup. No one leaves, no unusual messages, normal operations.”

Unless he finds something., Cyrus thought, nodding. Because all hell will break loose.


Lucius was waiting patiently as Cyrus marched briskly through the doors of the security checkpoint, continuing down the hall at a rapid pace and forcing his escorts to catch up. Lucius took up his normal position at his right shoulder as he passed the man.

“Were you successful, Caesar?” Lucius asked.

“Probably. It’s up to him now,” Cyrus muttered. “Make sure that the next time I have an Intelligence briefing I have some time to think and recover afterward,” he ordered. “And more sleep. If the Hegemony can’t manage for ten hours without a crisis, it won’t be long until I cause one.”

“I’m told your father felt much the same way, Sir.”


Meeting father's Allies[]


The meeting of his father’s closest political allies took place in one of the Cubicula near his private apartments and after a quick stop to refresh himself, Cyrus was walking through the doors held by his escort to come to a stop and accept the deep bows of Senate President Felix Rothman and the rest of the Senators to accompany him.

“My apologies for my tardiness; the Intelligence briefing was… unexpectedly complex.”

Turning to dismiss the guards, he turned to mount the Dais as the doors closed and he sat on the curule chair. The Senators had arrayed themselves in a semi-circle across from the dais, and Felix came forward to introduce them.

“Caesar, I present Senator Yukio Roxas, representing the Patricians of Pompeii, Senator Elias Molina, representing the Patricians of Addhara, Senator Ignatius Lupercal, representing the Patricians of Suetonius, Senator Remus Volanov, representing the Patricians of Marius's Tears, and Senator Lorenzo Puentealto, representing the Patricians of New Venice. Together, we communicate your desires to the Senate.”

“And communicate your needs to me. My father had many good things to say of your efforts,” Cyrus said evenly, appraising the men arrayed in front of him in turn. “I trust you have good news?”

“We do, Caesar,” admitted Felix. “Your father’s efforts to persuade the Senate to accept his proposals are likely to succeed.”

“Good news, I’m sure,” Cyrus said quietly. “I remember arguing with him about these proposals.”

“Tell me,” he said. “Which of those proposals is the Senate in agreement with?”

The Senate President seemed to hesitate slightly.

“The Senate has approved of most of his desires, including the proposal to increase conscription among the Plebs–“

Cyrus jumped to his feet, interrupting the man. “Forcing them to fight in an endless series of battles for the Hegemony and the Patricians who benefit from their.. Patriotic business arrangements and investments supporting those efforts,” he hissed in anger.

“Inform our supporters in the Senate of my intention to withdraw my support.” Regaining control of himself, he reclaimed his seat. “Felix?”

“Passion is best reserved for the bedroom, not addressing the Senate, Caesar. At best, our supporters will hail your decision; at worst.. Has there been progress determining who sent the assassin?”

Cyrus gritted his teeth as the sitting Senators indicated their agreement with Felix’s point. “No. Not yet,” he admitted.

“Exactly, Caesar.”

Turning in a slow semi-circle to gauge the rest of the Senators behind him, Felix pointed at Senator Roxas.

“Interrupting a speaker on the floor of the Senate is a sign of a weak argument, Caesar. Let him dig his own hole, then bury him.”

Again, the Senators indicated their assent. Felix’s turn came to Senator Molina next.

“Promise more, threaten less, Caesar. Senators are aware of the difficulty encouraging enthusiasm among the commons. Offer a compromise, not a threat.”

Remus and Lorenzo nodded, but said nothing as Felix turned to them before looking back to the Caesar once again and addressing him.

“Caesar, support for the continued preservation of the Silent City remains strong…” Encouraged by Cyrus’ silence, he continued. “We,” pausing to turn to indicate the Senators to either side, “believe the public would support a resolution reached by the Senate..”

“All of it, Felix?” Cyrus demanded as he came to his feet again. “The idea of reclamation includes the return of private property and possessions of many Plebeian families. Surely, you would not deny the economic benefit of taxes levied on past and future estates? The billions of Talents in salvaged materials, now available for reuse?”

Cyrus returned to his seat again. “I will not have Nova Roma – the New City – exist alongside a fortune in land and materials to watch it rot. No, Felix. Nor will I allow those bastards of the Word of Blake to gloat of their victory forever. I withdraw my support.”

“Caesar,” Felix protested. “The radiation…”

“Gone,” Cyrus said quietly. “Like the Blakists themselves. What remains will be removed, left to fade away elsewhere. Well?”

“The noble Houses would benefit greatly by regaining many of their assets, Caesar. The Plebs are the lynchpin here – how the Ministry of Revenue would spread the tax income gained by the decision is the question.”

The Senators behind him nodded enthusiastically.

“On the other hand, our colleagues have expressed disinterest in expanding the Plebeian Tribunes..” Felix paused, clearly expecting a reaction. Cyrus obliged him.

“..Leaving themselves the sole democratic body with the political power to influence the Caesar?” he said from the chair.

Felix stiffened. From behind him, Senator Molina admonished, “Democracy was described in the histories as a Greek vice, not a Roman one, Caesar. We are not the Free Worlds League.”

Not yet, Cyrus conceded.

Coming to his feet once again, he diverted his focus from Felix to address the Senator. “We are not living in Ancient times, Senator Molina. Almost three thousand years separate our civilization from theirs. I will do what I think I must to ensure our future, and it does not include encouraging ignorance or slavery.”

“One argument, Caesar. One focus, one vote, one success at a time,” counselled Senator Lupercal.

Cyrus nodded in comprehension. His father had always let him exhaust himself arguing, then reminded him to eat his greens without blinking. Seating himself again, he concentrated for a moment before shrugging in dismissal. “Next?”

“The grants discussed for the Ministry of Education.”

Cyrus nodded, thinking a moment. “How many of your clients have been able to turn their skills to bettering the Hegemony? The proposals to increase the funding for basic education translate directly into the increased demand forecast for investment.”

“True,” Felix admitted. “But that same education increases contention within the Houses.”

“Which insures a broad interest in.. Shaping that demand. Patricians can benefit from the growth of domestic markets more surely than elsewhere.”

“Jealously guarded monopolies would be your targets, Caesar,” came the suggestion from Senator Volanov. “For and against, depending on the situation. The output from the Germanium mines has become devalued, for example. They depend on outside expertise and low overhead to make a profit.”

“The same mines we can’t operate commercially without personnel educated outside the Hegemony? Nor consume their output in the domestic market?” Cyrus said quietly.

Volanov’s rebuttal was interrupted by a knock on the door, Lucius’ way of announcing his presence and the end of today’s lesson.

“Saved by the bell,” Cyrus muttered as he stood once again, stretching to loosen stiff muscles

“Admitting it in public is admitting defeat,” Felix chided sternly, leveling a finger as the remaining Senators came down from their places. Together once more, Cyrus nodded in acceptance of their respectful bows.

“Thank you, Gentlemen. Felix, please accompany me.”

“Caesar.”

Cyrus turned to lead the Senate President from the cubicula, seeing Lucius standing to one side, accepting a package from one of the Staff. Cyrus waited patiently as the young woman turned and hastened down the corridor and Lucius returned his attention to the two men.

“This way, Caesar.”

The two men walked in silence for a moment before Felix finally ventured, “Coincidence is a poor spokesman, Caesar.”

“Is it?” Cyrus asked innocently.

“Your father arranged for fewer young ladies among the Household and the Officium Caesaris for his sons to admire. Lucius had to approach someone from your mother’s entourage for that little scene.”

“True. Something about allies, not all eyes.”

“Familial alliances between allies don’t always end well.”

“I understand,” Cyrus said quietly. Felix was quiet once again. Rather than allow him to control the discussion, Cyrus turned to address him directly.

“I am.. Concerned. Deeply concerned, Felix.” Searching the man’s face for signs of comprehension, he continued. “I look forward to discussing it with you. Soon.”

Felix nodded.

“We are too isolated,” Cyrus continued in a low voice. “I intend to make important decisions, sooner rather than later. The Legions will be central to my plans, but domestic support will influence their reach.”

Felix nodded again.

Good. Message understood.


Argument about Succession[]


Cyrus was busy enjoying the late lunch provided by the Household staff as the chimes in his apartments rang. So far, he mused, being Caesar of the Marian Hegemony was proving to be more trouble than it was worth.

For one thing, turmoil seemed a constant companion. I never imagined the stress Dad must have been under, he thought morosely as he swept the crumbs off the table before rolling his eyes at the unconscious act. The Household Staff were a silent army, following him and calmly picking up the detritus of everyday living with the burden of leading the state, but he had discovered a perverse satisfaction keeping his surroundings clean of anything the Staff might swoop down upon as evidence the apartments might be inhabited.

He toyed with the idea of hiding under table like a child to finish his sandwich, but Helena was already through the door and following a laser-straight path towards him, Horace in his usual place a step behind. What the hell?

“Helena? I knew Horace was going to be here as Heir, why are you here?”

“Surprised?” She said sarcastically. “I’m here for Hegemon.”

Cyrus felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as Lucius stepped unobtrusively in the room behind them. Looking at his sandwich and shaking his head as he put it on the plate, he came out of the chair before Helena could approach the table to loom over him.

“Helena, we’ve already discussed this. I can’t name you as Heir,” he began.

“Its not fair! I’m a better MechWarrior-”

“You’re not the HEIR!” Horace yelled. His siblings were taken aback slightly, as Horace advanced on the table between them fists balling. “That’s not how it works!”

Cyrus took another step back, unwilling to get into another confrontation with the two. Horace will have to dominate the Senate should the worst happen, he reasoned to himself. He’ll need to do something about his sister before then, even if family dinners are going to be strained in the meantime.

“I don’t even want to be a MechWarrior,” he said, bringing his fists down on the table in frustration. “Mom and dad wouldn’t agree because of the risks. But it doesn’t mean YOU get it!”

Helena was far more comfortable fighting with her siblings rather than her parents, and rather than back down she came around the table to look down on her shorter brother.

“It doesn’t mean YOU earned it!” She yelled in his face.

Cyrus struggled to keep from breaking into the argument. The two would start –

Helena pushed her brother back slamming her open palms against his chest and stepping forward aggressively. Horace retaliated, pushing back in the same fashion.

Cyrus had had enough. Waving to ensure Lucius was paying attention, he pointed at the twins, shaking his head and gesturing for them to be taken from his quarters.

Lucius simply nodded, opening the door a crack and clearly giving orders he couldn’t hear over the.. Tantrum, he decided, now in full swing. Taking his seat and resolutely taking another bite of his lunch, he noted the way the door slammed open as the two Palace Guards entered the room. The sight of the armed and armored Guards drove home the situation, cutting the twins off mid-argument as they turned to protest their innocence and found him studiously ignoring them.

As the Guards took up positions behind their new charges, Cyrus enjoyed the last bite, drawing out the moment with a long pull on his water glass to wash it down.

“If you can’t carry out your duties without involving me.” he said finally, glaring at Horace. “You’re no use to me. You can leave willingly and swear to never come to my attention again, or be sent to The Wall, and join our parents in the Senate Cubicula.”

Stunned into silence, Horace made no objection.

Turning to Helena, he glared at her for a moment before continuing. “Your brother is now your keeper. I have better things to do than tolerate your behavior, and if you continue to piss me off, you’ll get your way and go to The Wall first.”

Cyrus turned back to his brother. “Problem?” He snapped.

“N-no,” Horace said clearly.

“Then deal with her. Now.” Cyrus said as he rose from the table. “Our parents are dead, I’m trying to find their murderers, run a government I never expected to inherit, and I’m not going to be able to hold your hand. Get it done and join me in the conference room down the hall.”

Turning back to Helena, he spat, “Embarrass me again, and I’ll make you my new sparring partner. I understand you’ve been neglecting your classes again, and I could use an outlet.”

Taking advantage of their shocked silence to storm angrily from the room, he turned to Lucius as he closed the door to his Apartments.

“Is it just me, or are they even worse?”

Lucius, no fool, managed to keep a straight face, refusing to rise to the bait by answering the rhetorical question. Taking a few deep breaths and carefully rearranging his formal robes he nodded to Lucius and accepted a small, nondescript folder from the man before turning and leading the way to the conference rooms set aside for the afternoon. He didn’t bother asking for the man’s opinion. Having upbraided the twins, he was perfectly aware of the lonely path he had set for himself.

Familiar with the larger cubicula set aside for today’s meeting of the Hegemony’s military suppliers, he found it depressing the evidence of collusion between the major suppliers had been so easy to find. The steady stream of better and better ways to kill people had been a fact of life from the days mankind evolved to dominate ancient Terra, but the Hegemony was oddly silent on the topic. The Rocket Launcher, present on many refits serving the Hegemony had been the most recent development3064 almost a hundred years ago.

Like most established businesses, military suppliers had no desire to upset the apple cart and jeopardize revenue streams without evidence of a bigger payout down the line. Unfortunately, the Hegemony needed the benefits those potential opportunities represented. Today would not be what he was sure the representatives expected; another useless attempt to chivvy them towards increasing BattleMech and weapons production across the Hegemony.

I truly despise being the one person forced to stick his neck out, he thought moodily. Instead of ignoring the situation, I have to.. Reach an accommodation with these people.

Reaching the cubicula, he briskly crossed the room to mount the Dais before accepting the deep bows of the assembled representatives and their entourages.

“My brother will be joining us momentarily,” he said quietly, placing the small folder on the Lectern amid the shuffling. “In the meantime, we will begin with a review of recent military developments.”

Looking around the room, he continued. “It is no secret the Legions have suffered reversals of late. This gathering..” he said, spreading his hands to indicate the room. “Is not here to assign blame. Or make unreasonable demands. Rather, I seek to provide.. Guidance. And advice.”

Opening the folder, a knock at the door forestalled him before Horace entered. Acknowledging his salute and waving him toward a chair next to the Dais, he continued.

“Mr. Davidson? Mr. Hargreaves? I hope the two of you get along, because you’re now business partners.”

The two men turned to each other in consternation, then back to Cyrus in protest. He held up a hand to forestall them, taking his seat. “It has been over two hundred years since ATC was founded, Mr. Davidson. Since that time, regardless of the difficulties involved, the company has stagnated. Despite its size and profitability, ATC has not been successful in its ultimate goal; military production for the Hegemony.”

“Techwizards, on the other hand, is both privately funded and already famous for equipment recovery and restoration.. And research.”

Cyrus came to his feet once again, “I propose a joint project, to research and develop a new military technology. ATC will be responsible for financing and provide their facilities; Techwizards will provide leadership and personnel. Details will be announced at a later date, at the next meeting of the Consilium Securitatis.”

Cyrus turned the top page of the document folder over with an air of finality. “Any questions or concerns..?”

Gerald shot to his feet in protest.

“Caesar..! ATC has faithfully carried out its mission to the Hegemony!”

“What mission?” Cyrus asked quietly, cutting off the older man from continuing. “I seem to have forgotten. Wasn’t it, ‘Strengthen the Hegemony’?”

Forced to pause for a moment as he worked out the answer to the unexpected question, Gerald reluctantly nodded.

“It seems to me,” Cyrus said as he sat down once again. “That trying to do both civil and military manufacturing under the same leadership was a mistake. The Primitive ‘Mechs built by ATC have staved off calls for them to manufacture modern technology for too long.”

“It has not been announced yet,” Cyrus said, trading glances with Horace. “But as major stockholder, the government.. My government, has decided to split ATC’s civilian and military division. Coupled with the downgrading of Primitive units and reassigning them to the Cohors Morituri as a permanent defensive force on worlds of the Hegemony, it leaves ATC in danger of bankruptcy.”

Gerald just stood there, mouth agape as Cyrus destroyed his career.

“I’ll miss you and your wife at state dinners, Gerald. But if you want to be a player, you better plan on getting things reorganized quickly.”

Turning to the Techwizards representative, he continued. “I expect results, Mr. Hargreaves. Until my candidate for Imperator has accepted his office, you may come to the Officium Caesaris with your concerns. Understood?”

“Yes, Caesar.”

Letting the silence grow for a moment, he stood up and returned to the Lectern. “Examples and specifications will be presented to you within a reasonable timeframe, gentlemen. Be prepared to present an update of the project at the next meeting of the Consilium Securitatis. Thank you.”

Cyrus moved on to the next document, taking a moment to consider it before announcing, “Mr. Cortes. Can you give us your opinion on the Gun Trailers in use by the Inner Sphere? When can we look forward to a proposal from Marian Arms for these systems?”

Holding up a hand to forestall the older man from presenting himself, he continued. “I think we can consider the formalities dealt with, thank you.”

Motioning once again to Horace, he gave the younger man the sheaf of documents and directed him to return to his seat.

The older man remained in conversation with his entourage for nearly a minute before turning to stand and face him.

“Caesar, I am sorry to say we have no detailed information-”

“Yes, Mr.Cortes,” Cyrus interrupted him. “You do.”

Returning to his seat, he continued. “Before the turn of the century, the Observationis Externum reported on the deployment of the so-called ‘Ambush Trailer’ – a ten-ton tracked chassis with six RL-15s in a rear-facing mount with a ton and a half of armor, most of it on the rear. The data has been available to you the whole time, and the fact these trailers are still on the open market makes this an extremely poorly kept secret, Name.”

“In fact, I find it extremely interesting in general. Such an armed trailer, carried in bulk as cargo could be very useful.” Cyrus turned once again to his brother, motioning for him to speak before holding out a hand for the return of the documents.

“Very useful, Caesar,” he began. “If we could bypass the limited number of vehicle bays on our DropShips, we could – possibly – bring multiple trailers to bear at a fraction of the cost..”

Cyrus stood once again, placing the sheaf of documents on the Lectern once again before taking up another document.

“I believe I speak for the Legions,” he said quietly. “When I say I would like to see proposals for such trailers at our next meeting. Thank you.”

“Mr. Pidwerbesky? I understand HMI is set to complete the factory expansion on Pompey within eighteen months?”

A middle-aged man, hair going white at the temples stood in the front row.

“Yes, Caesar.”

“And what security provisions have been taken to ensure its safety?” Cyrus asked mildly. “Despite representing the entirety of Hegemony Aerospace manufacturing, your facilities seem badly exposed.”

The representative seemed hesitant, but shrugged and answered saying, “We had assumed the Legions would take responsibility for providing a garrison, Caesar.”

You mean, you hoped the Hegemony would cover the expense of providing the required security, Cyrus thought sourly, not letting his face show the disgust he felt.

“Yes,” Cyrus said finally. “But.”

“I am.. Displeased at the way basic security concerns have been ignored.” Cyrus said as he reclaimed his seat. “Production will be delayed while those concerns are addressed, beginning with secure facilities for employees caught unawares of an impending attack, and a security force assembled to deter an attack against your facilities.”
“Caesar,” began Pidwerbesky. “Our commitment to our employees-”

Cyrus raised a hand to forestall the inevitable claims of innocence from the man.

“I’m told interrupting a speaker is a sign of a weak argument,” he began again. “But.. For all the modernity and efficiency of your facility, your decision not to protect the government’s investment has saddled me with a significant ongoing defensive commitment.”

“Let me speak plainly, Mr. Pidwerbesky. Your profits from this project will go into a fund to address these issues before executive bonuses and investor dividends are paid. And because of this expense,” Cyrus said evenly. “Your next projects will be funded by the company.”

“Discussions are still ongoing, but Hadrian will be required to diversify with a new factory site on a different world of the Hegemony – Pompey has become too much of a target for my taste, now.”

Cyrus stood to return the document to the folder once again, closing it and gesturing Horace to come forward once again.

“Do you have any new proposals from CBI? This would be a good time to present them.”

Hector shook his head, and Cyrus allowed himself a grimace. If it doesn’t walk, it isn’t a threat. What are we teaching people these days? As the murmur of whispered conversations grew, Cyrus stepped down from the Dais.

“Horace,” he said in a low voice. “Take over the meeting. Discuss these,” he said, pointing at the folder. “And request updates or presentations at the next meeting. And tell them do their own research.”

Horace nodded.

“How’d Helena take it?”

Horace grimaced. “Badly. I ordered her back to the Academy. And I warned her the next time she got the bit between her teeth, I’d order her cashiered and married off to some Pleb twice her age.”

“You’re going to need to carry through with that.” Cyrus pointed out quietly.

“I will,” he said resignedly. “I’ll miss her, but you’re right. She can’t be the baby anymore. It’s time to grow up.”

Cyrus shrugged. His parent’s tolerance of the twins had been one of the drawbacks living in the Palace until the two were enrolled in the Academy. He simply didn’t have the time or patience to deal with it anymore.

Turning to address the chamber once again, he took his leave, accepting their bows with equanimity as Horace took responsibility for the rest of the meeting.


A very Sedative Night[]


The constant sense of being watched and handled had become irritating to his bachelor habits and lifestyle, and he had decided to dismiss the Staff and try to recover his equilibrium preparing a simple meal for Horace and himself before trying to go to bed.

Definitely a sedative tonight, he thought idly. Deep in his own thoughts, the soft chimes caught him by surprise as Horace came through the door. Oh, right.

The two men embraced in the well-equipped kitchen, Cyrus thumping his brother warmly on the back a few times before the two separated and the younger man lifted the lid on one of the pots.

“Stew?”

“Mom’s recipe,” Cyrus confirmed as he busied himself wiping the counter and moving dirty dishes to the sink. “I’ll give you some to bring Helena. Sorry I made you deal with her.”

Horace shrugged as he turned and went to sit down at the small table across from the embossed place setting reserved for the Caesar. “She’s getting harder to deal with. Even her Century has noticed.”

Cyrus snagged a bag of rolls from the counter and tossed it at him. “Making me do all the work? Who am I, your mother?” The joke fell flat, a sudden reminder of their loss.

Turning away, Cyrus busied himself preparing a pair of bowls of the fragrant stew, taking them to the table and setting one in front of Horace.

“Is there any good news from the investigation?” Horace asked quietly.

“Not yet,” admitted Cyrus. “Its been less than a week. People have told me that’s bad news, others have told me not to give up hope.”

Taking a sip of his stew Cyrus sighed and pulled a roll from the bag saying, “There hasn’t been time for much of anything. I don’t think there’s much risk the Palace is going to burn down or a coup attempt is around the corner, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think it was long odds that we find out who or why they were murdered.”

“You keep saying, ‘they’,” Horace noted. “Dad and Rex? I thought that was an accident.”

“I don’t know,” Cyrus said dejectedly. “No one knows, so until something’s proven one way or another, everything or everyone with motive or opportunity is a suspect.”

“Including you?” Horace asked.

Cyrus looked up sharply. “Yes. Both of us. All three of us, actually.”

Ripping the soft roll apart and dipping it in the bowl, he continued. “Murders are normally done for personal reasons by people known by the victims. Dad was starting to feel out some of his closer allies to see if he could get enough support to push a decision to outlaw slavery through the Senate, so the number of suspects is larger than you might have realized.”

“Slavery? Really? Why?” Horace asked curiously, finishing his bowl of stew and pulling apart the bread to eat the remaining liquid. “It’s not like they’re being mistreated.”

“It’s something we can’t discuss, even here.” Cyrus said quietly. “We’ll have to find time to have a private conversation in The Motte. It’s.. Bigger than you think.”

Cyrus braced his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands, saying, “I never knew why, and you’re going to wish you didn’t have to, too. But we can’t tell Helena. At least”, he amended. “Not everything. You can tell her there are complications, that I don’t know if Dad’s helicopter was an accident, I don’t know why Angelica went nuts or who trained her..”

“No answers so far, then,” Horace said, pushing his empty bowl to the side. “We can’t let them get away with it!”

“Who?” Cyrus said bluntly. “I can execute Angelica’s entire extended family, if I choose to risk the repercussions. I can send Cohorts to raid our neighbors, take slaves, destroy infrastructure, factories, military objectives if I want to risk the backlash. But I need proof. And even if I find proof, is it real proof or just someone hiding their tracks by assigning blame to someone else I already want to hurt back?”

Cyrus pushed his own bowl to the side. “We’re alone, Horace. The people we might have asked to help us are laughing at us becoming the victims of our own policies and actions. There are so many potential suspects, the Ordo has no way to determine if this is a domestic or external plot.”

Scooping up the bowls, Cyrus carried them to the large sink, filling them with warm water to sit before returning to the table.

“At this point, I have my own list. None of the three of us is on it – I know I didn’t want this, I doubt you or Helena could have arranged it – but I’m still finding people I can trust to start looking from the top, down.”

Horace was rubbing his eyes to wipe away tears as Cyrus sat back down.

“Right now, all we can do is try and keep things from getting worse. The Legions, the Senate.. Even the Plebs, they all need to see business as normal. Speaking of business, what have you come up with from CBI? Or is ‘more’ their only excuse?”

Cyrus waited as Horace pulled himself together.

“‘Business’? How can you just talk about business when our parents are dead?”

“You get nearly assassinated the same day,” Cyrus said quietly. “Then become autocratic leader of a Periphery nation pointed to as bandits. Then you have to do the job to keep the government functioning. Then take sedatives to sleep a couple hours a night while wondering if the rest of your family is still in danger. Then take more pills because trying to send an entire Patrician household to The Wall without proof could start a civil war. Then find out things were worse than you thought and your dad was the reason things started going to shit and try to fix things relying on the same people with the most to gain from his death.”

Cyrus looked his brother in the eye. “Now, try all that while your only remaining family is asking you to find out who did it, and why haven’t you gotten revenge yet two days after their murder.”

Cyrus dropped his eyes to the table and rubbed away tears of his own for a moment before continuing.

“I’m a little numb. No,” Cyrus corrected himself. “I’m in shock, according to my councilor. It’s not quite real, yet. I’m just trying to get through the day, led from meeting to meeting like a prize sow to the butcher. Just going through the motions, trying not to think about it.”

Silence returned to the table for a moment.

“CBI doesn’t have any idea,” Horace said haltingly. “The trailers you brought up today were the first concrete suggestion there might be something new we could try. Triple-A had suggestions, but nothing we could start doing right away.”

“What did your friends suggest?”

“They pointed out the potential to intercept raids begins at the Jump point, so they wanted to start with something that would deter Jumpships from trying to enter Hegemony systems.”

“Like.. The ‘Fortress’ Stone’s Republic threw up?”

“No, like a small, manned station with enough weapons to prevent them from using their Jump Sail to recharge.”

Cyrus leaned back, considering the suggestion. Techwizards and ATC didn’t know it yet, but samples of Blakist drones and drone control stations and had been recovered in the late ‘80’s on former Federation worlds. The technology had been ignored ever since in favor of manned vehicles and equipment, even in the Republic, but the Hegemony faced several of the same challenges the Blakists had encountered before the Jihad and Cyrus had wanted it developed to benefit the Legions.

“I need more information,” Cyrus said finally. “I could see it working, but some aspects would need clarifying, and some weapons and technology would need to be.. Built and adapted. And it might not work, besides.”

“More secret meetings?” Horace asked.

“Absolutely,” Cyrus agreed. “Dad was apparently using The Motte almost twice a week before he died.”

“And no guarantees?”

Cyrus shook his head. “Realistically.. The number of successful, war-winning inventions is miniscule compared to the number of historical failures. Whether we can duplicate the technology I’m thinking of is a reach given the state of education here in the Periphery. It’s one of the reasons we’re going to have to make changes – major changes – in education and forcing educated workers into slavery to run our institutions.”

“A domestic population able to understand the principles could create and continue to refine them. We can’t attract these people.. Enough of these people, rather, and going out and finding them is hit-or-miss to begin with.”

Horace nodded.

“And vested interests in keeping the system are going to protest.” Cyrus paused, leaning across the table slightly. “Another complication for investigators.”

The quiet chimes interrupted the two men, and both of them turned in surprise to see the Imperator wave as he entered the Atrium.

Cyrus waved back, shooting Horace a warning look and shaking his head minutely before rising from the table to cross the atrium and seat himself in one of the comfortable chairs as Horace and the Imperator joined him.

“I hear Gerald over at ATC is panicking over the fallout from today’s meeting,” David said bluntly. “What’s going on?”

“They’re finding out that ‘business as usual’ and tomorrow’s bonuses and dividends aren’t as sure a thing as they thought.” Cyrus said coolly. “I need them to produce, and if I need to threaten their status and profits by separating military and civilian production, I have the leverage to leave the Davidsons sitting on the sidelines trying to recoup their losses for years.”

David grunted, leaning back in thought.

Horace piped in adding, “The haven’t replaced the Perdition facilities, after all, even though they’ve been making steady profits for years.”

Cyrus got up to make tea as David started to defend the company’s situation. The familiar task took only a few seconds, the small machine familiar from years of use before being moved into his new apartments and he turned to watch and listen to Horace and David start to argue about who was responsible for the attacks on their parents.

Mariks and Canopians aside, I suppose that leaves me to argue in favor of ‘domestic terrorists’. Is the universe insane? The more he considered it, the more logic argued in favor of it. And the more the Ordo tied itself in knots trying to identify the source, the more suspicious it was.

It’s up to Effeil, now, he realized. He had assumed the system would remain competently run while he settled into his new position, but tradition mandated the new Caesar replaced senior officials with loyal supporters rather than competent junior officials on their way up.

Shaking his head and coming back to the discussion between the two men, he grabbed a handful of mugs and the teapot to bring back to the table where Horace and the Imperator were still debating who were behind the attack.

Cyrus silently put the mugs on the table in front of them before pouring himself a cup.

“So, what’s your decision, Cyrus? Tamarind or the Canopians?”

Cyrus paused to consider the question carefully, then realized an uncomfortable silence had begun to stretch out as they waited for him to announce policy.

“Neither,” he said finally.

“Aggressive action would go a long way to ensure the loyalty of the Legions,” David pointed out.

Cyrus felt a spurt of rage and snapped, “If I have to worry about loyalty, I’d rather order the officers responsible for that failure decimated. Including you, David.”

Horace sat in stunned silence, but after a moment the Imperator broke into a wide grin and reached across the table to clap Cyrus on the shoulder in approval.

I wonder if that was a concern for Simon Cameron, Cyrus thought bitterly. The quick, decisive war to reassure wavering supporters seemed to have a way of becoming a long-term commitment, and his father’s offensive in the Duchy of Tamarind proved the inadvisability of it. He glared at the other man for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and tried to control his temper.

Cyrus took a sip of tea from the heavy mug. “I should mindlessly attack a neighboring power to avenge the insult of our family’s deaths at the hands of an assassin, without confirming the identity of those responsible? With the military still trying to rebuild from the Tamarind offensive and the losses pushing the Magistracy from the Illyrican province? No.”

He watched the two men react over the edge of his mug before continuing.

“Barring raids – where we can assure the balance of forces favor us – we come up short in equipment in terms of quality as well as quantity. I won’t rule out a punitive assault on a major objective if the assassin’s backers can be confirmed, but I won’t be drawn into weakening our defensive posture while fighting an allied force on two fronts.”

Putting the mug down and leaning back, he continued, saying, “I want ATC, Hadrian, and MAI to start innovating and reinvesting in their production facilities rather than relying on Primitive units to rebuild, and I need the Legions to stand down and recover the sharp edges dulled from endless skirmishes and grand offensives that go nowhere.”

Leaning forward, he picked up the mug once again and spoke forcefully for the first time. “And I need time to consider my own strategy.”

“I look at the waste at Niops, and I want to puke,” he said in the same tone. “At one stroke, we could have made an alliance that would have given us access to their population, educational materials and facilities, and advanced military technology and threw it away to raid and provoke another enemy.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ordo begins to find discrepancies in the Duchy’s behavior,” the Imperator warned. “Will you authorize a raid if it turns out they’re responsible for the assassin?”

“Yes,” Cyrus said promptly. “If they can prove it.”

“So, can I start planning for such a thing? Even if it isn’t confirmed yet, it would give my replacement a place to start planning his own response.”

“Yes,” Cyrus said thoughtfully. It would be a few weeks before NAME arrived, if he decided to accept the post. Having the experienced Imperator plan the basics of such an operation would save them valuable time if the Ordo managed to find the evidence to confirm his claims. Besides, a successful operation would give Name some valuable political capital early in his career.

“I’ll get things started tonight, then,” the Imperator stated. “It sounds like ATC is panicking over nothing.”

Coming to his feet, he stretched and came around the table to embrace both of them in turn before continuing. “Good night, boys. See you tomorrow.”

The two brothers sat in silence as the older man made his way out of the Atrium before Horace turned back to him.

“‘Decimation’? My god, Cyrus, where did that come from?”

Cyrus slumped back in the chair, throwing his head back and closing his eyes. “You heard him – he practically threatened me. I need their respect, yeah, but I can’t allow myself to be a pushover, or I lose it by default.”

Cyrus let the silence sit for a few seconds then added, “I promised myself I wouldn’t go insane with power; our people need to see ‘the good emperor’, someone who can improve their lives, not complicate them.”

Looking back at Horace, he continued. “The endless attempts to expand the Hegemony have to stop. We’ve made enemies of every government of any size, and if Alaric manages to resurrect the Star League we could find ourselves embroiled in a new Reunification War.”

The brothers sat in silence for a seconds before Horace came to his feet awkwardly, announcing, “Well, I’ve got to bring Hegemon to the ‘Mechbays at CBI and spend a couple hours studying.”

“I’ll get some stew for Helena,” Cyrus offered, coming to his feet and turning to walk back to the kitchen. “We need to get you up to speed tomorrow morning – I’ve made arrangements for us to attend another briefing tomorrow in The Motte.”

“Couldn’t we do more in the evenings?” Horace complained. “I’m going to have to work evenings and weekends just to keep up at this rate.”

Taken aback, Cyrus just smiled in amusement as Horace flushed and the two men hugged again. Taking the container from his older brother, he passed the table on his way out to snag the remaining rolls to take with him.

Following the younger man to the door, he found Lucius and Miss Neal-Zhao waiting outside.

“Who’s this?” Horace asked.

Cyrus sighed. “My councilor. Miss Neal-Zhao. Come in, please. See you tomorrow, Horry.”

Curiosity satisfied, Horace traded handshakes with the woman before waving goodbye. “See you tomorrow, Cy.”


Rare sight in the Hegemony[]


One of the rarest Assault ‘Mechs available to the Hegemony and painted in the midnight blue and grey with red and white trim of I Legio, Hegemon dominated the high-security bay. Escorted by Hegemon’s chief tech and armorer, Martin Stowell, Horace had to pinch himself to prove it was really happening.

“Wow,” he said reverently.

Martin snorted. “Just about more trouble than its worth,” responded the older man, clapping him on the back and pushing past him to cross the bay. Raising his voice, he called, “An Archer can just about beat it, costs less, and you don’t need extra training to fix it when it breaks.”

Seeing Martin had no intention to slow down, he broke into a jog to catch up, clutching the Neurohelmet in its case in one hand while keeping his eyes on his new ‘Mech.

“But it’s an OmniMech! That has to count for something.”

“Sure,” said Martin. “It costs more, but its more flexible.”

Glancing up at the massive war machine, he shook his head. “The last time this machine even saw a battlefield was with Julius and putting it back into the field is a bad idea, mark my words. You’ll be singled out everywhere you go. You’d be better off serving in something more common.”

Surprised to hear the Technician in charge of the ‘Mech malign it he turned away from the Assault ‘Mech to face its detractor.

“But – why?”

“How long did it take you to hit what you’re aiming at in that Cyclops? Now, double that. Every time you change something,” he said, waving at the ‘Mech. “..You have to relearn how to use it. The Legions concentrate on general-purpose units that can fight anywhere.”

Stopping short of the base of the gantry supporting the lift and repair equipment, he continued. “We’ve already warmed it up for you. Take some time on the way to make sure you make the most of that XL engine,” he said. “It’s a colossal pain to fix one, let alone replace it.”

As one of the Astechs pulled the gate of the lift shut and it lurched into motion, Horace turned back to the ‘Mech to admire it again, noting the muzzles of laser and PPC emitters in the arms and torso before the regular patterns of the massive MRM launchers took over as the cockpit came into view. Horace barely noted the jolt as the lift reached the top of the gantry, focused as he was on the view through the wire mesh of the gate. As the Astech pulled the gate open, he found himself walking quickly down the walkway to the cockpit access, stopping in front of it to strip off the light jacket over his cooling vest and uniform.

Finally ready, he grabbed the bar over the access port and entered feet-first, sitting on the floor of the walkway to turn around and slide back into the cockpit, hunched over in the cramped space to accept his gear handed down by the Astech before helping him lower the hatch and sealed it from the inside. The steady hum and almost imperceptible vibration of the fusion reactor confirmed the ‘Mech was active, although the sophisticated system of Primary- and Secondary monitors and controls were dark. The maintenance settings had been enough for the Techs to activate its basic systems and one or two of the consoles, but the ‘Mech required an authorized user to interface with the gyro and DI computer to bring it life.

Nothing can stop me now, mwa-ha-ha!, he thought as he connected the heavy Neurohelmet and placed it on the floor next to the ejection seat before dropping into it, avoiding touching the active consoles. The standard restraint system took only moments to fasten over the unfamiliar bulk under the cooling vest – he didn’t think it was necessary for the short ride to CBI on the outskirts of Nova Roma, and the Alphard System was already headed to Perihelion, making the school’s Mechbays cool enough to have to bundle back up against the cold before leaving the cockpit.

Shouldn’t matter too much as long as I’m not going to overheat, he thought cheerfully. His father had been careful adjusting the custom configuration to limit heat build-up from weapons fire, preferring to trade intensity for steady firepower. Donning the heavy Neurohelmet, he crossed his fingers, triggering Hegemon’s security system as he activated the link between the two components and prepared to take command of the massive war machine.

<{“Identity passcode required.”}>

The standardized challenge of the Legiones Marianes suddenly brought a sense of finality as he responded, “Immortal Warrior 9, Periphery bandits zero, Warrior 17.”

<{“Identity confirmed, Cadet Horace O’Reilly. You have assumed control.”}>

“Thanks.” Horace answered distractedly as the remainder of the consoles in the cockpit began to light up as automated checklists brought them online and he gave them a once-over as he prepared to disconnect from the gantry.

Weapons off-line, yup, Master Arm switch OFF, yup.. The computer began confirming the weapons loaded into the ‘Mechs pod space, the gyro beginning to spin up and actuators shifting under him as the system activated. The compressed 360-degree view of the active sensor system blinked into existence in the main monitor, blurring as the sensors adjusted for variations in wavelengths of visual light in the ‘Mechbay, and warning indicators overlaid on the HUD warned him the sensors were restricted from using active radars and sensors. Double-check that.. OFF. Ensuring the portion of the consoles dedicated to the sensors was locked-out and dark, he moved on.

The Tactical monitor had already loaded, the feed from the sensors on the Palace grounds showed the situation in precise detail, the waiting ‘Mechs of his escort waiting a half-kilometer away from the Palace exit. The switches to disconnect the umbilicals and supports weren’t in the normal place; a few seconds later, the red warning beacons lit and began turning, accompanied by a klaxion heard through the armor around the cockpit and he felt a burst of exaltation realizing that Hegemon was truly his for the first time.

“Martin, Hegemon. Moving to exit the bay.” He said.

<<“Rodger,”>> came the Tech’s voice over the earphones built into the Neurohelmet. <<“Crawl mode?”>>

“Engaged.”

<<“Carry on. Bay doors,”>> Martin paused for a moment. <<“Opening.”>>

Now, yellow caution lights began to illuminate the Bay in a clash of colors, and as they came to a stop Horace engaged the throttle to the first detent, accelerating to 10 kph before crossing the bay as Martin confirmed the Tactical monitor’s accuracy.

<<“Passage to exterior Bay doors cleared, exterior doors,”>> he announced. <<“Open. See you at CBI Primary ‘Mech Bay. Good luck, good hunting.”>>

“Roger, Martin. Hegemon out.”

The slow speed was nevertheless exhilarating, the familiar motion bringing him to the massive, armored doors in under a minute before reaching out to the communications board and changing frequencies as the 90-ton OmniMech left the hanger. Using the multi-function keys would have cycled through the available options and been faster but he was still uncertain what several of them were, and rather than embarrass himself it was easier to use the dedicated console to one side.

“Hasta Century, Hegemon. Ready to move out?”

<<“Hasta one, here. Let’s go, Hegemon. Weapons hot, set Nav Point One, best speed.”>>

“Roger.”

By tradition, the Legions traveled prepared to defend themselves and Horace had been waiting for the order. The Nav Point came up on the HUD, and he was able to use the multi-function controls to quickly select it, then reached across the console in front of him and lifted the cover up over the Master Safe toggle and flipped it to Active before letting it snap back into place.

Moving the throttle forward, he didn’t notice the channel opening for the first few seconds as the Battlemech under him surged forward and the noise level in the cockpit increased until the man’s voice came over the cockpit’s speakers.

“Hello, son. Don’t reveal or acknowledge this message – it’s important we have a talk, just the two of us..”

Horace’s attention snapped to the communication speakers in the cockpit, the sudden movement causing an instant’s shudder in Hegemon’s smooth movements before the OmniMech’s DI computer smoothed out the inadvertent control input.

“..Now that the safety interlock is off, you can find this message in the Comm buffer if you need to replay it..”

The incoming transmission from one of the escorts made stepped on the recording, and Horace leaned over to scrabble at the control panel, trying to pause it, to no avail.

Can’t listen to this now, Horace thought furiously. Can’t talk over it – or can I?

Finding the correct dial to lower the cabin volume took only a second or two of frantic groping, bringing the chatter of his concerned escorts back into crisp reception through the Neurohelmet’s built-in headset.

“Uh.. Sorry, Hasta one, not paying attention,” he said in a rush. “Wait one.”

Trusting the DI computer to maintain course and speed, he turned back to the Comms, bringing up the history and making sure there was indeed a new file – still being recorded from somewhere, but visible now in the system.

Slumping in the ejection seat in relief, he started to panic. Oh, shit. Cyrus said he checked for this. What the hell am I gonna do NOW?

The steady rocking motion of Hegemon’s cruising pace helped distract him, and he realized he was safe and secure, alone in the cockpit for the next hour or so and had time to make a decision.

Clearing his throat and tightening his grip on Hegemon’s controls, he reopened the channel.

First.. Lie. Listen to the message, and call Cyrus for help. I hope.

“Hasta One, say again. Sorry, just enjoying the sweet new ride, over.”


“I’m sorry, sir, the Caesar is.. Indisposed.”

Horace stiffened. That bastard! Sleeping with his therapist? How desperate did the man have to be..?

“I see,” he said resignedly. “Well, I guess tomorrow is soon enough. Thank you, Lucius.”

“You’re welcome, sir. Good night.”


Download Link for the Record Sheet of the Sunder OmniAssault Mech - SD1-O Ignatius


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