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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 11[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]

Harlech, Outreach
Chaos March
5th January, 3065

Peter’s court, ramshackle as it was even now, was scattered across a dozen dropships at various stages of the journey from Tharkad to New Avalon. Command circuits had moved a few ahead, but most were taking commercial routes that were somewhat less efficient - if better than waiting for a fleet of jumpships to recharge completely in every system along the way.

While Peter could have travelled with one of the fastest moving dropships, he’d diverted in the Terran corridor to carry out some diplomacy and he’d taken a guard force from the Twenty-Fourth Lyran Guards with him.

“If you want us to reconquer this part of the Chaos March, we may be a little outnumbered.” his temporary aide observed as the bustling drop port of Harlech fell behind them. Scores of dropships were landing, loading or departing as the mercenary capital of the Inner Sphere fed on the business of war. The conflicts that had engulfed worlds of the former Sarna March demanded not just the vast regimental forces often hired by the Great Houses but also smaller and more affordable units.

All of them came here, to Outreach, to rest, rebuild, find new employers and then set out again. It was making the world rich.

“Don’t worry, Sabine, if I want to take Outreach I realize it might take a little more than just the Twenty-Fourth to take on the Wolf Dragoons,” he assured her. The new commander of the RCT would be securing worlds in the area, covering the vital link between two halves of his realm.

It wasn’t far for the limousine to carry the two of them to their meeting room. A security detail had gone ahead and almost finished the jostling for position with the infantry already on guard there. Peter started to get out of the car but Sabine politely but firmly blocked him. “Do you really want to make the troops fret?” she asked him.

With a sigh he subsided back into the seat. She was right, however much it grated.

After a wait that seemed interminable, the driver relayed a message that security was confirmed and Peter gave his cousin a querying look. She sighed and nodded her consent for him to leave the car. The commander of the Twenty-Fourth Lyran Guards had a very Steiner look to her and he could understand why some spoke of her as the second-coming of his grandmother. Sabine couldn’t quite have passed for Catherine or Katherine, but stood next to either of them she would have had little trouble presenting herself as a sister and not a second-cousin.

The car was under a portico so there was only minimal exposure before Peter was inside, with Sabine following close at his heels. The two of them were led to a cathedral-ceilinged conference room, decorated in warm golds and yellows. The afternoon sun streamed through high windows, occasionally mirrored by the light of ship’s fusion thrusters over the drop-port.

There were only three people waiting for the pair of them. The younger of the two men wore a formal kilt of Macleod tartan, with the uniform tunic above it bearing badges that made it clear - if there had been any doubt - that he was a Colonel of the Northwind Highlanders. The two Dragoons were both shorter and more compact, the man’s hair and beard white with age, the woman beside him perhaps of an age with the two Federated Commonwealth visitors to Outreach.

“Your highness. General.” Commander Jaime Wolf greeted Peter and Sabine cordially. “I trust that I have the rank right, with the changes you’ve been making.”

Peter shook the offered hand while Sabine confirmed the rank was correct. The three-rank jump from Colonel to General had been necessary to place her in command of the Regimental Command Team once Peter Riskind moved to the Royal Guards, but no one had seriously suggested that she wasn’t ready. And the political optics of Nondi Steiner’s granddaughter being raised high at least suggested that all was well within House Steiner.

“Commander Wolf. General Wolf,” Peter shook Maeve Wolf’s hand next and finally exchanged terse bows with the Highlander, who seemed less inclined to extend a hand. “Colonel Macleod.”

Wolf - the elder - gestured to the table. “Why don’t we all sit down for this conversation.”

Putting the table between them might be best, but Peter paused as he started pulling back one of the chairs for himself. Something about the chamber had tickled at his memory. “Should I check for a fake bomb under the table?”

Only Jaime understood, in fact Sabine straightened in some alarm, but the old mercenary chuckled drily. “So you heard that story. No, your highness. No bombs, real or fake, on this occasion.”

“I didn’t realize the two of you knew each other,” Maeve Wolf observed. “Your file says you’ve never been to Outreach before, your highness.”

“I haven’t.” Peter took his seat facing Jaime. “But Victor told me a few stories about his training here on Outreach.”

“Yes.” The mercenary paused. “He failed that test, though I thought for a while he had at least learned from it.”

“Possibly the wrong lessons, given how poorly trying to work with Liao has worked out for him over the last decade. But we’re not here to talk about Victor.”

“Then what is your agenda?” asked Macleod bluntly. “Threatening us with invasion if we don’t rejoin your Federated Commonwealth?”

Well, he was as blunt as reports said. The Highlander had been the garrison commander on Northwind when Sun-Tzu’s agent and spectacular mismanagement by Victor’s officers had led to fighting between pro-FedCom and pro-Capellan Highlanders, fighting that had deprived the Federated Commonwealth of four crack regiments, all on critical worlds. MacLeod’s regiment had taken the brunt of the fighting, but they had also succeeded in driving off the Third Royal Guards, one of the same regiments Peter had faced on Tharkad.

“I don’t deny the sentiment has some support among my advisors,” the Archon-Prince replied, rubbing his jaw. “I won’t insult your intelligence by claiming we don’t have contingency plans to force both Outreach and Northwind back into the Federated Commonwealth.”

Maeve Wolf snorted. “Even with all the luck in the world, I don’t like your chances.”

Peter eyed her for a moment. “I’m not saying it would be easy and it would undoubtedly be expensive in lives, General. Not least because it’s at least possible that Chancellor Liao would decide to honor his guarantee of Northwind’s independence. On the other hand, this wouldn’t be the most fortified world I’ve stormed, even with the Dragoons’ warship squadron taken into account.” and then he smiled pleasantly. “On balance, I had more driving reasons to take New Avalon and Tharkad than I have to launch into more meatgrinders like that.”

“I am pleased to hear that,” confirmed Jaime before either of his companions could speak up. “I take it then, that you have something other than an ultimatum in mind?”

On cue, Sabine opened her attache case and produced a pair of folders, pushing them across the table to Jaime Wolf and William MacLeod.

“These are proposed treaties recognizing the independence of Northwind and of Outreach.” Peter watched them open the folders. “My parents agreed to granting these worlds under terms that had… significant grey areas because they believed there was sufficient goodwill on both sides to work around that. Without seeking to lay blame, I must recognize that such goodwill is a thing of the past.”

MacLeod looked up sharply. “Given the way your forces hammered Stirling’s Fusiliers on Ingress, this sounds more like you’re still wanting revenge.”

“These hiring restrictions…” Maeve Wolf was skim-reading the treaty at an impressive speed, although it truthfully wasn’t long or especially complicated. “They’re not acceptable.”

“What is not acceptable to you is for you to decide, General?” Peter leant forwards. “The Terran Corridor is and will remain the key strategic interest of the Federated Commonwealth. I will accept your mercenary commands ruling your homeworlds, but I will not accept the chaos that surrounds them and I will not accept your regiments being hired for use against the Federated Commonwealth. I will treat such a deployment as a declaration of war by your planetary governments.”

“Ye cannae think we’ll cut off half our potential employers!” spat the Highlander, face tight.

“You can take whatever employment you choose, Colonel. But you can no longer act as mercenaries or as planetary governments, whichever is more advantageous to you in a given circumstance. The price of your independence is responsibility.”

Sabine cleared her throat. “I would point out that the treaty bars no employers, only that you may not take contracts executing or supporting offensive action against the Federated Commonwealth. Defensive contracts are unrestricted and you can even take contract with nations at war with us, as long as your regiments aren’t facing us.”

“So Northwind is now a hostage against us?” Colonel questioned them

“In the same way that the worlds of the Federated Commonwealth could be considered hostages against me.” Peter shot back without hesitation. “And since the worlds around Northwind are the Terran Corridor I’m so concerned about, I’ve little choice but to recognize that leverage on your part and address it.”

Maeve glanced at her senior and at some unspoken signal she looked back to Peter. “I don’t see any bar to us contracting to defend worlds of the Chaos March, even against you reconquering them.”

“I’d rather you didn’t, but there shouldn’t be anything there to say you can’t. I won’t make any secret of it though. I will be trying to bring those worlds back into the Federated Commonwealth so you’re taking such contracts at your own risk.”

“That’s the nature of our business, your highness.”

“And conversations like these are mine.” Peter paused. “Want to trade?”

She snorted. “Not hardly.”

Jaime steepled his fingers before him. “I don’t imagine that you expect answers to these today.”

“Hardly,” Peter assured him. “I don’t recall that you’re a dictator, and Colonel Macleod is answerable to the Clan Elders of Northwind. I’m delivering them personally so we can take each other’s measure. Take the time and have your staff review them. Some of the terms are negotiable… but others are not. There should not be any ambiguity over which are which.”

“And what,” Macleod asked in a dour voice, “would happen if by some reason you were persuaded to remain here to negotiate more favorable terms.”

Sabine leant forwards. “In that hypothetical situation, Colonel -”

“Which is entirely hypothetical,” interjected Jaime Wolf flatly. “is the safe conduct of all parties is on my honor.”

She nodded. “Indeed. But were such a betrayal to take place, fourteen battalions of mercenaries in the Outreach system are contracted for operations in the Chaos March. Which would include, if necessary, securing a foothold for an AFFC invasion of Outreach.”

Jaime Wolf let his gaze drift from Sabine to Peter. “If necessary.”

“If necessary.”

“Well bargained, your highness.” He held out a hand to Maeve, who handed him the paper copy of the treaty, retaining the data disk containing the electronic version. “My staff and I will review the treaty and we’ll be in touch with your representatives here, if that’s sufficient?”

“Of course.” Peter agreed, and then looked at Macleod.

“We’ll see,” the mercenary grated at last. “I’ll put it to the elders. How they take the threat implied…” He shrugged.

I hope you’ll also persuade them that I’m not bluffing, Peter thought. Because if they mistake this for bluster then a lot of AFFC soldiers, Highlanders and Northwind civilians will pay the price. Even if Sun-Tzu’s word isn’t as empty as it usually seems to be.

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