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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 15[]

Part Three - Atreus

I've seen the wicked fruit of your vine
Destroy the man who lacks a strong mind
Human pride sings a vengeful song
Inspired by the times you've been walked on

State of the Union - Book 2[]

Atreus City, Atreus
Marik Commonwealth, Free Worlds League
9th April, 3065

To her annoyance, Alys realized she wasn’t the only Marik lying in wait for Isis when her cousin arrived at the drop-port. Her nicely anonymous groundcar wound up parked right next to another that she recognized from the motor pool.

If I can recognize it, then probably neither of us is being as anonymous as we think, she noted. It wasn’t as if she’d spent all that long on Atreus until now.

When she reached the waiting lounge, accompanied by bodyguards and a couple of warm bodies to handle any luggage Isis had brought with her, sure enough she saw a similar little cluster around someone she knew well enough to recognize instantly, and who knew her just as well.

“Alys,” Corinne greeted her with warmth in her voice and only some suspicion in her eyes. “I see we both had the idea of welcoming the prodigal home.”

“If you asked Isis, she might not agree that Atreus is home.” The two groups jostled briefly around them, a dance so familiar that neither woman paid it any mind.

“That’s unfortunate,” the older of the two cousins - there was almost eighteen years between them - noted. “but at least she’s back in the League and setting down some roots.”

Alys shook her head. “On Irian, which she’s been dragged away from by this mess.”

Corinne sighed. “I wouldn’t blame her if she was mad. But there aren’t many Mariks left, we have to stick together.”

Despite their mutual grandfather’s huge brood of children by two successive wives, House Marik was rather threadbare in numbers, Alys mused. Besides her aunt Therese and her sons, Isis was the only remaining descendant of the marriage - unless the real Thomas Marik returned and of the three children of the second marriage, Corinne’s father Paul was the only survivor. The next generation was similarly few in number - so far, only Photon, Corinne and Alys’ dead sister Ana had borne children.

“Would you like to try that line on Aunt Therese?”

Her cousin paused and then shrugged. “Given that Uncle Jeremy's career has been derailed a second time because of family politics, I'll pass.” Not that Marshal commanding Tamarind Military District was a bad position to retire from. There weren't many people who could give orders for Jeremy Brett to disobey, but the Captain-General was one of the exceptions.

Further prodding on that was cut short as the passenger gates opened and the dropship disembarkees entered the concourse. Both Mariks withdrew slightly behind their guards, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. Even if this was for first class passengers, it was still rather public.

While a Duchess could have insisted on being allowed off first, Isis came towards the end of the throng, talking brightly with a blond man with clear military experience. He wasn’t in uniform but the cut of his clothes betrayed it and - Alys glanced down - his boots might not have spurs fitted but the option was there. Only AFFC mechwarriors wore those generally, which meant this was almost certainly the famous Galen Cox. Well, he wasn’t the sort of luggage she’d expected Isis to bring, but it might work out well.

“Cousin, it’s been too long.” Corinne stepped forward into Isis’ personal space and kissed her on both cheeks. “I haven’t seen you since you were in your teens and now look at you.”

The youngest of the three Marik women affected surprise. Perhaps more for the other passengers, who hadn’t all filtered out and into the customs area yet. “I wasn’t expecting a welcome party.”

“Well you did let us know when you were arriving.”

“I didn’t.” she protested.

Alys snorted. “You didn’t hide when you were arriving is what she means. Once your name appeared on the arrivals list, it got picked up almost immediately. Fortunately, I had it removed before the paparazzi spotted it. I’m guessing that that’s what tipped you off, Corinne.”

“Next time I’ll travel under a false name,” Isis grumbled. “No, SAFE would catch that…”

Corinne smiled smugly, her father being the Minister of Intelligence gave her a headstart there.

“Colonel Cox.” Alys offered him her hand as he tried to fade into the background. “I’m guessing you’re here on official business? Isis probably wouldn’t drag you all this way just to be her plus one.”

Galen gave her a rueful look. “Well, we had dinner planned and had to rearrange where after she got summoned here.”

“Cox…” Corinne mused for a moment and then her eyes widened. “The man who came back from the dead.”

“It’s a good trick, or at least better than the alternatives.”

“So uncle Thomas claimed… at least until recently.” She shook her head, trying to banish that issue from her mind. Probably unsuccessfully, Alys suspected.

The fact that the serving Captain-General of the Free Worlds League (since years before she’d even been born!) wasn’t actually her uncle had come as an utter shock to everyone in House Marik except Corinne’s father. It was hard not to be left reinvestigating everything and even the current financial scandal hadn’t entirely eclipsed it from her mind.

Eventually it might become the new normal, but not yet.

“Do you need to report in somewhere?” Alys asked Galen. “We can put you up if nothing specific’s been set up. It’s not as if we’re likely to run out of guest rooms, even as things stand.”

The Marik palace in Atreus City was centuries old. Entire academic careers had been built on it’s history, and as might be expected, at times it had sprawled out from the original site.

“I was planning on grabbing a Bachelor Officer’s Quarters at the local garrison. The reciprocal standards require them to put up with SLDF officers.”

Corinne shook her head. “They’re probably as overcrowded as the hotels are at the moment, with officers from provincial militias arriving from all over. That’s no way for us to treat a hero of the SLDF.”

Galen glanced sideways at Isis and then shrugged. “Well, I’ll accept your hospitality as long as the local SLDF representative doesn’t object.”

“You can make a call from the groundcar.” Alys offered, and extended one hand towards the door.

Corinne drew Isis with her and within moments they were on the road, the two new arrivals separated into the two cars. Galen made his call and received approval to guest with House Marik, then listened in amusement as she called ahead to advise her aunt of their expected arrival.

“Family politics?”

“Does it seem petty to you?” she asked the man. He’d been at the side of Victor Steiner-Davion for a decade and a half, he could hardly have avoided the politics of his homeland.

He stretched. “What lay behind the Federated Commonwealth Civil War? I hope for Isis’ sake that you’ve got a better handle on it than the Steiner-Davions did.”

It wasn’t a perspective she was happy with. The war had sparked the betrayal that had killed her parents. If the League fell into the same sort of conflict, the Krushers - her mother’s mercenary regiment, it was still hard at times to remember that they now looked to her for leadership - could go through a second cycle of carnage.

“I wish I could assure you of that.”

Galen adjusted his position in the seat. “Is there anything you can tell me? I am going to be asked to report on this. Do the charges stand up?”

She sighed. “For myself… I don’t know. There’s certainly been some padding of contracts. Tho… The Captain-General has admitted to us that he allowed it to an extent, but he swears he was only looking the other way for three to five percent.”

“Would that be enough to save him?” Galen asked

Alys shrugged and glanced out of the car, seeing Parliament’s great dome off in the distance before more high rise buildings blocked it. “If it wasn’t for the issue of his identity dividing the family against him, probably. But there was already pressure to push him aside for Photon, or Corinne… or myself… well.”

The SLDF officer sighed. “Right.”

She considered. “One more thing I can tell you.”

“Oh?” Galen asked

“William Blane is the Captain-General’s closest ally in the Word and he seems to back the idea of five percent. But there are a lot of other factions in the Word of Blake. And as far as I can tell, Uncle Paul is more closely aligned with another faction, which might mean that he’s the one with the best idea.”

“Your cousin Corinne’s father,” he said slowly. “and she’s a leading candidate to be the next Captain-General.”

“Read what you want into it.” she told him. She knew what it suggested to her.

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