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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 9[]

State of the Union - Book 2[]

The Triad, Tharkad
Federated Commonwealth
25th December, 3064

Peter and Victor reached the lounge for their next appointment with just enough time to open a bottle of sparkling mineral water before the screen lit up to indicate an incoming call. The brothers expected to be doing a lot of social drinking this evening so they wanted to be well hydrated in advance.

“Can you get that, Victor?” the Archon-Prince asked as he was holding the bottle and two glasses.

Victor grabbed the remote and after a short conversation with the Triad’s communication staff, the screen lit up with a 2-D view of another lounge, one more than five hundred light years away.

“Happy Christmas, Victor.” Yvonne called from the couch she sat on, facing the camera. She had a steaming mug of hot chocolate in her hands. “And to you, Peter.”

Setting the glasses down and pouring, Peter waved with his now free hand. “And seasons’ greetings to you, Yvonne. Is Catherine late?”

“She should be here any time now.” Yvonne told them

An instant later Peter heard a door opening and Catherine entered the view, wearing black leggings and gloriously gaudy Christmas sweater that almost reached her knees. “Merry Christmas.” She dropped into a seat next to Yvonne. “Sorry, I’m late.”

“Getting changed after the celebrations?” asked Victor, sitting down next to Peter and accepting his glass.

Yvonne snorted. “She wore that to the party,” she snitched. “I thought her valet was going to cry, she’d picked out a lovely dress and then Catherine wore that.”

“It’s Christmas. Besides, I don’t think Madelaine has quite grasped that I’m not Katrina.”

The younger sister shrugged. “Yes, but you look just like her, so the best colors and shapes are going to be the same recommendations.”

Cat shook her head stubbornly. “If there’s any upside to this royalty business I’m sure it has to be setting fashions not following them.”

“It is, as you say, Christmas.” Peter offered tolerantly. At least Cat had attended the party, she’d threatened to hide in the depths of Fox’s Den with some of her personal library and wait out the season after she saw how busy the royal family’s schedules were in the holiday.
“You’ve still got your evening engagements to go to?” asked Yvonne. “Or am I getting the clocks wrong?”

“The Archon’s Christmas Ball for me and Victor gets to escape to a party Semier Data Tron are hosting on FCS Reunion.” The corporation had just launched the Excalibur-class dropship and were holding the party in low orbit so that their senior executives and guests from the ship-building industry and AFFC could look down on everyone else’s party.

Peter, on the other hand, would be trapped in the palace ballroom with approximately half a thousand business magnates, nobles and their eligible daughters. The price of freedom from Katrina’s rule was apparently eternal matchmaking.

His sisters smiled in understanding. “How you suffer.” Cat said drily. “I know your pain, but Yvonne can hide behind Tancred while all the other young ladies make clawing gestures.” She demonstrated and hissed.

Yvonne giggled. “They don’t really.”

“You have no idea what they’re like because when Tancred’s around you only look at him.” said Cat

“Well perhaps the ladies will calm down before I get back to New Avalon.” Peter sipped from his glass. “Which should be around February or March, depending on how quickly you get here to take over from me, Yvonne. The new repaired recharge stations along the Tharkad-New Avalon shipping routes should mean we can travel quickly without tying up the ships for a command circuit.”

His youngest sister blinked in surprise. “You want me to come to Tharkad?”

He paused, not expecting that response. “Yes, that’s why I’ve been keeping you up to date on everything here. I…” Peter thought back. “Okay, I suppose I hadn’t actually come out and said it.”

“Are you sure that that’s a good idea?” Yvonne looked away. “I didn’t do well as Victor’s regent.”

“You were younger and less experienced then,” pointed out Victor. “If it wasn’t for Kath-” He caught himself. “-rina, you’d have done fine. I didn’t see that coming either.”

“Good save,” Cat told him drily. “Why not stick with Kathrina? It’s different enough most people should know who you mean.”

Victor raised his glass in acceptance of the deal. “And you’ll have more support - we’ll all be within easy HPG communication, not a thousand light years from the Inner Sphere.”

Yvonne paused, opened her mouth to speak and then hesitated.
“If it’s about Tancred, I should let you know that the Fourteenth Federated Commonwealth is short-listed as one of the units to transfer across to the Lyran state command.” Peter set his glass down. “If he agrees, I’m planning on posting them here on Tharkad to finish bringing them up to strength with Lyran personnel.”

“Not everything I decide is about my relationship with Tancred, which is none of your business, anyway!”

Cat leaned across and put one arm around Yvonne’s shoulders. “He’s not trying to meddle, Yvonne. He’s just leaving your options open. But if you don’t want to go to Tharkad, I’ll take the job. It’ll let me skip out on the three ring circus.”

“What circus?”

“Peter’s coronation, of course.” The blonde rolled her eyes. “The ceremonies alone will take days, and then there are the social obligations… any excuse to skip all that is a good one.”

“It must be something about having blonde hair,” Peter muttered to his brother. “You hate that rigmarole too.”

“It’s not the hair,” Victor corrected him testily. “Morgan hated formal events too - and Kathrina adored them.”

“Will you be coming too? Or staying on Tharkad?” asked Yvonne.

“Neither, sorry.” Victor shrugged apologetically. “Peter’s sending me down to Cavanaugh II and then a quick tour of the rest of Bolan Province. Cousin Richard made a real mess of things and we need to get them in order in case the Free Worlds League comes apart.”

Cat leant forwards. “Do you think that that’s likely?”

“We’ll have a better idea when their Parliament opens next month.” Peter made a face. “What about you? What do you expect there?” He knew he was weighting the question heavily but short of asking outright, unwise since HPG security could only assume that ComStar hadn’t managed to decrypt their communications protocols…

“The Captain-General’s identity leaking out was always going to be a problem.” Cat replied slowly. “I didn’t expect issues for years though… I think his support within House Marik is fracturing but the other issue was the Word of Blake and so far the moderates seem to be keeping their radicals in check.”

“How many years?”

“Sometime in the next First Lord’s term.” She frowned. “It’s possible that if our own Civil War had run longer then the League would have been slower to move although I’m not sure about their exact calculations.”

“There are times that I’m not either.” Victor’s face was grim for a moment. “Galen and Isis may be walking into a firestorm.”

“Then you’ll be in the right place to help them out,” his youngest sister reminded him. “I’d rather you were on Tharkad but Bolan isn’t so far away.”

“What other units are you planning to move?” Cat changed the subject - or rather backstepped to an earlier point - abruptly. “I’ve been out of the loop on some of the military planning there.”

“Is Bishop not keeping you up to date?” Peter had hoped that Field Marshal Sortek wasn’t nurturing distrust of Catherine. If so he’d need to set the man straight once he was back on New Avalon.

“It’s just Christmas complicating my schedule.”

Peter rubbed his jaw and then conceded the point. “We’re looking at just threeRegimental Combat Teams from each side for now. There’s too much ill-feeling to stir things further than that. The regiments from the Federated Suns command haven’t been finalized but I’m sending all three of the Alliance Guards RCTs.”

“Aren’t they rejoining the FedCom Corps?” asked Cat in surprise. “I’d have thought…”

He made a face. “So did I, and they were willing… but the Corps weren’t. Marshal Venger and I talked about it and he said he’d checked the senior staff of his RCTs and there were harsh words. Apparently there’s a consensus that the Alliance Guards betrayed their sister regiments by joining the LAAF. They also objected in advance to any plan to reform the Third RCT the way we’ve been reconstituting the Sixth and Eighth RCTs.”

“That doesn’t leave many commands in the Corps.” Only the First and Seventh FedCom RCTs had fought against Kathrina, with the Sixth smashed on Addicks, the Fifth on Algol and the Eighth battered badly on Kathil. The first and last were covered by the amnesty, but like all the troops on Algol the Fifth FedCom had had its colors retired.

“I know, but I only have so much political capital to spend. It’s taking everything Venger and Tancred can do to bridge the gaps between the remaining units.” Peter shrugged. “The Fifth, Ninth, Eleventh and Twelfth RCTs will stay struck from the books and we’ll reform the Second RCT then start adding new numbers.”

“Being destroyed in action against the Capellans is a little more creditable than being on the wrong side of a civil war in their eyes.” Victor commented. “And at least the Sixth and Eighth have an influx of loyal personnel from the Albion cadet cadres.”

“Loyal but inexperienced.” Peter commented

“We all have to start somewhere,” Cat pointed out to Peter. “The Fifth did.”

“Touche,” murmured Yvonne. “so I’ll be coming directly to Tharkad?”

Peter shook his head. “Not quite. If the schedules work out - which look promising - I’d like you to make a couple of stops on the way. To be specific, on Skye and Donegal.”

“Skye, I can understand,” she said. “Reminding Robert and Hermione to mind their manners is just good sense, but why Donegal? Surely that’s more reliable.”

“You might think that,” Victor corrected her, “but you’d be wrong.”

“Nejama Beersheba-Marsden was much deeper in Kathrina’s pockets than it appeared,” Peter expanded, mood souring. “she very nearly managed to cover it up too. Fortunately she missed a couple of loose ends and Sabine realized what was going on and hustled the witnesses into protective custody.”

“Good for her.” Yvonne nodded decisively. “I’m glad to see one of Nondi’s lot is showing some sense. So you want me to attend the elevation of the new Duke or Duchess.”

“Well, it would be hard to grant you the title if you didn’t attend.”

“...what?” Yvonne said with grasp.

“Merry Christmas.” Peter toasted her with what was left of the water in her glass.

“Can… Are you serious?” she stunned
“You have as good a claim as anyone. Remember, our grandfather Arthur was the last Luvon Duke of Donegal and there’s a lot of fond looking back to him, at least compared to his cousins and their descendants. I’ve had some independent checking of public opinion and there’s a general feeling on Donegal that the ducal family has gone to the dogs since he died back in 3010.”
“But...” the twenty-five year old hesitated. “If I marry Tancred, then I’d be Duchess of Robinson someday.”

“That’s no reason not to have a duchy of your own,” Peter refilled his glass. “you are basically my heir right now. If I don’t manage to have an heir of my own body then you and your children having a foot either side of Terra wouldn’t be a bad thing.” He sat back. “So yes, christen the first Lee-class dropship built at Shipil’s yards on Skye, then on to Donegal where I can meet you and take your oaths. Then we both attend the reopening of the Martial College of Donegal before I set off for New Avalon with the Fifth Royals and you take the First Royals back to Tharkad.”

“You’ve forgiven them their transgressions then?” asked Cat.

“There’s no real personnel overlap,” he told her. “Riskind has done well and it’ll be a step back to normalcy for everyone.”

She nodded. “Should be popular.”

Yvonne opened her mouth to speak but Victor deftly cut her off. “So has a decision been made on whether Nanking or Tikonov gets the new Capellan March Militia unit?”

The youngest Steiner-Davion (not counting Kitsune) shook her head. “They’ve been such fiends about quarrelling, I think Cat and cousin George have given up.”

“The decision has been deferred,” her older sister reported. “George made a reasonable argument for both of them but that’s not happening right now. The personnel just aren’t available and to be honest I don’t feel either should be rewarded.”

Victor glanced at Peter. “I can see the logic behind dividing up the region up again - Valexa is already stretched given the importance of the area.”

“For now the rest of the Capellan March Militia gets the personnel and equipment that was being set aside, which should free up frontline forces if they’re needed. Perhaps more Borderers would be a solution,” Cat continued, “We added Sirdar and Alcyone Borderer units with what’s left of the Katrina loyalists from the Capellan March so, as long as we don’t use them as a dumping ground, we could reorganize them into a multi-regiment formation rather than leave them operating independently.”

“Not a terrible idea,” Peter held up his hand. “but it’ll have to wait at least another year before trying anything of the kind.”

Cat nodded compliantly. “Of course.”

“Who would have thought,”'' Victor said tolerantly, “last Christmas, that we could be having this conversation now?”

There was a rustle of agreement from both sides of the video link.

The eldest of the four studied his own glass. “In your dreams, Catherine, where would we have been now?”

Peter brought his palm up to cover his face. “******, Victor.”

“I’m serious.”

“Security is just a word to you, isn’t it?”

“Either our codes are good - and as far as I know they are, because my people inside ComStar couldn’t tell me much about Katherine’s - sorry, Kathrina’s - communications - or they aren’t and they know already.”

Peter rolled his eyes but waved permission to Catherine.

“Yvonne would have been with Tancred, fighting for Tsamma against loyalist DMM brigades that had chased them there.” She looked over to Peter. “You’d still be at Saint Marinus House, wrestling with your inner demons.”

Victor raised an eyebrow when Catherine fell silent. “And me?”

“...neither Hohiro nor Theodore managed to tell you about Omi’s assassination,” she said reluctantly. “So Katrina decided to offer her ‘consolations’ at the Whitting Conference. It was a year before you could even get back in a ‘Mech, much less give useful orders.”

Peter leaned over and punched Victor reprovingly in the shoulder. “Great job breaking the mood, Victor.”

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