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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 4[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]

Resaurius Keep, Tharkad
Donegal Province, Lyran Alliance
10th November, 3064

The archaic curtain walls of Resaurius wouldn’t have kept out any serious military force but they were a decent windbreak, something Alys Marik appreciated given the cutting north wind that was sweeping across central Bremen at the moment. She pushed her hood back but regretted it - even here the temperature was by no means mild.

Her cousin must have been out for a while already, a long scarf wrapped repeatedly around her neck and lower face not hiding the ruddy hue of her cheeks. “Duchess Marik.” she greeted Alys formally.

“Please, Isis. We’re cousins, surely we can use our actual names.” Alys forced a smile. “Besides, everytime someone calls me ‘her grace of Augustine’ I start looking around for my mother.”

“And then you remember.”

Alys hid a flinch as that cut a little too close. But she was here to win Isis over disingenuous would hardly serve that goal. “And then I remember.”

Isis gestured towards a bench. “Would you rather sit down or we could go inside? Tharkad takes some getting used to.”

“I wouldn’t say no to going inside,” Alys agreed. “you’ve been here for what, five months now?”

“Eight now. It gets even colder than this up on the glaciers.”

“I have done arctic training.” She pushed her fingers into the pockets of her overcoat and rubbed them against each other. She should have brought gloves. Then she did the mental math about that date. “You came in with Prince Victor’s force? I thought you’d arrived after Tharkad was secured.”

Isis opened a door into one of the towers and ushered Alys inside. “Well I didn’t come down with the actual combat troops, but I was with his headquarters unit and after we were pushed off Heidelberg there was nowhere to go except northern Bremen.” She pressed the button on a discreet intercom. “Mr. Overgaag, could my guest and I have some hot chocolate? We’re in the western tower lounge.”

“Of course, ma’am.”

“The hot chocolate they make here is fantastic.” Isis confided, letting go of the intercom.

“I’d expect the Archon-Prince can afford the best.” Alys said, a little more sourly than she’d intended.

Isis started unwinding her scarf. “Let’s be honest, Alys, neither of us really had a deprived childhood. But that’s not what bothers you about Peter Steiner-Davion, is it?”

“No.” She looked away for a moment. “Intellectually I know he wasn’t responsible for what happened to my family. It was his sister’s orders and he…”

Her cousin stepped forwards and took her hands. “It’s true that many in the FedCom have lost family and friends to this war, Peter no less than others, but that doesn’t make Aunt Kristen and your family’s deaths any kinder.”

“I know.” Alys watched their interlinked hands for a moment. “I should thank you… I do thank you, for having Ana’s body recovered on Coventry.”

“It was the least I could do.” Isis told her cousin

“The least you could have done, was nothing,” Alys corrected her. “You did more than your father did.”

That got a blink from Isis and she let go of Alys’ hands as the door opened and a servant brought in a tray with two mugs, a steaming jug and several smaller containers of condiments. “Your hot chocolate, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Gracia.” Isis accepted the platter and placed it on the room’s table before filling the two mugs from the jug. “How do you take your hot chocolate, Alys?”

“With marshmallow.” she replied and gathered her composure as Isis spooned tiny marshmallows into one mug, adding cream to her own. “Isis, are you planning to remain here in the Federated Commonwealth?”

“I’d probably be imposing if I stayed forever but I have limited alternatives.” She handed Alys hot-chocolate and sat down facing her. “The Captain-General has invited me to return to the Free Worlds League but I’m uncertain of my welcome.”

“Please be assured of my welcome.” Alys sipped the hot chocolate and found it quite as fine as her cousin had promised. “And of Aunt Therese.”

“The two of you are close then?”

Alys paused. “We have mutual interests, but I think we would be closer than most of the House without that.” she admitted. “While I was a cadet, mother signed over guardianship to her since it wasn’t practical to fill that role when she was with the Krushers in the Lyran Alliance.”

“Tamarind isn’t all that close to Oriente.” pointed out Isis.

“No, but she visited me every year and stayed in contact by HPG. Not quite as if I was her own daughter, but still…” Alys smiled ruefully. “She’s no saint, I won’t claim that, and she holds grudges like… well, a Marik.”

“Somewhat like grandfather, or so I’ve heard.”

“I’d not want her to hear that, but there’s some truth to that.”

Isis sank back into the cushions of her couch. “We both know why I’m here, cousin, but what brings you to Tharkad? A good Free Worlds League girl? You could be on Tamarind with Aunt Therese, on Augustine taking up the reins of the Krushers and your duchy or on Atreus, swimming through the muck of politics.”

“I’m here to accept Peter Steiner-Davion’s apologies for the deaths of my family and bring Ana home.”

“You could have met the coffin at the border, and I know you could have had a formal public apology delivered by HPG.” Isis leant forwards. “I know the official reasons, Alys. But I’d like the real reason, if you please.”

She hesitated and then answered. “I’m here to keep an imposter from sitting on the Star Lord’s throne.”

Isis raised an eyebrow. “There isn’t a literal throne, you know. Or rather, it’s on Terra in the decaying remains of Unity City and so far as I know the Word of Blake have continued ComStar’s policy of keeping the area sealed.”

Alys blinked. Isis hadn’t asked who the imposter was. “You know that…?”

“Victor told me some time ago that Joshua and I had no significant blood relationship. Since my paternity was checked when father was presumed dead in the same bomb that killed his father and Joshua’s identity as the Captain-General’s child has never been in doubt.” Isis spread her hands. “Basic maths. Besides, he told me earlier this week.”

“And you accepted it?” questioned Alys

“What am I supposed to do? It’s not as if he’s ever been particularly paternal towards me. Neither he nor my real father wanted me. It’s just that they’re two different men.” Isis smiled wryly. “He’s supposed to be alive, by the way. If it makes a difference.”

“Really?” Alys hadn’t expected the conversation to follow this path. “Then if he survived the bomb then why…?”

“I don’t remember, of course, but there was serious concern back in 3036 when he returned to take the Captain-General’s throne that he’d survived through cybernetic reconstruction. Parliament demanded medical examinations to verify they weren’t electing someone who was, in that trite old phrase, ‘more machine than man’.” Isis smirked slightly. “I suppose they should have worried more about his DNA but it might have been a deliberate redirection. I assume that my biological father is substantially mechanical.”

The thought sent a shudder through Alys. “How horrible.”

“I find it hard to care.” Isis topped up her mug from the jug. “And how do you plan to prevent him from becoming First Star Lord?”

“I’d intended to tell the Archon-Prince who he was dealing with - but if his brother knows, then he must know.”

“I’d expect so.” answered Isis.

“Then why hasn’t he done anything?” Alys demanded.

Isis smiled tolerantly. “Like what? House Marik nominated him and I assume that at least some of our elders knew about the substitution - Uncle Paul, for example. Then the Parliament elected him, so it would take a war to oust him. Why should the Star League commit to that? It’s an internal matter.”

“Then I’ve wasted my time.” Alys said

“Not necessarily. You do have your sister’s body, you have the chance to make connections here…” Isis paused. “And while I doubt the Steiner-Davions care very much about his authenticity, stressing the tensions over his identity could make him less of an ideal choice. Who would elect a First Star Lord who might not even rule his own realm by the end of his time in office? Or who might try to use the SLDF to prop up his position?”

“The way Sun-Tzu used them against St Ives?”

“Or Theodore in the Lyons Thumb. Let’s be honest, no First Lord so far has kept his hands entirely clean.” Isis wrapped her fingers around the mug. “There are five available votes - so unless someone abstains ComStar won’t matter. And I doubt they’d vote for someone so tied to the Word of Blake anyway. You can’t expect the Captain-General to vote against himself, so you need to persuade three of the other four to oppose him.”

“I see.” She frowned. Sun-Tzu would probably be a touchy subject and she wasn’t sure if Isis had ever spent significant time with the Rasalhague Regent or the Coordinator. “Do you have any suggestions on how to convince the Archon-Prince?”

“Well don’t start by through to push his name forward as a counter-proposal.” Isis began. She tilted her head back, eyes focusing a little above Alys as she thought. “He’s like his brother in that he doesn’t really want the job and he’s quite busy enough stitching his parents’ realm back together. That’s probably the best approach in fact, convince him that making Thomas Marik the First Star Lord would mean more work for him than the alternatives.”

“He doesn’t want to be First Star Lord?” Alys found it hard to believe.

“I don’t think Peter really expected to end the Civil War in charge of the Federated Commonwealth, and he’s ruling something like three times as many worlds and people as the Captain-General does. Even for a confirmed workaholic like Victor, that was a bit much and Peter isn’t quite as driven but he’s putting in fourteen to sixteen hour days right now and looking forward to the end of the Conference so he can hopefully take a weekend off. The last thing he wants right now is more responsibility.” Isis paused. “Give him a few more years to build up a staff he can trust with some of the work and to get used to the role and perhaps that may change. But right now there’s no way he could get the votes anyway and he’s realistic enough to know that.”

Alys had to keep her jaw from slackening. She’d thought her older cousin was more of a social butterfly than a substantial politician, but she’d been able to deliver a cogent analysis despite clearly not having considered the matter before. “You’re very good at this.”

“I’ve learned that I need a better grasp on people’s motives.”

“Can I persuade you to come back to Augustine with me? I could do with a political advisor.”

Her cousin’s smile was more of a grin. “If I do decide to return to the League, I’ll have my own Duchy.”

“You do?” Alys was sure she’d have heard if Isis had substantial estates in her own right.

“It’s in the nature of a bribe. The Captain-General offered me the Duchy of Irian.”

“I thought Irian Technologies owned the planet outright and the dukes were just figureheads.”

Isis nodded. “That’s my own understanding - the title comes with estates there though, as well as a nice block of IrTech shares so it’s not an entirely empty title and there’s a certain cachet to being a Duchess.”

“Yes, I don’t think Sigsmund Hughes would be pleased.”

“The CEO of IrTech? No, I think he blocked the last attempt to appoint a new Duke by suing the federal government for trademark infringement.” She saw Isis smile at the very idea and couldn’t help but match it. Only in the Free Worlds League. “I imagine the Captain-General would think I’d be distracted fighting Hughes in the courts.” Isis continued. “I have a few ideas how to deal with that but I’m not sure yet if it’s a fight worth taking part in.”

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