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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 1[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]

Stacalkas-Nomen

Fifteen years, fellow warriors. Fifteen years
We are to suffer in shame and silence,
Listening to the crowing and laughter
Of our enemies, who think us defeated.
But remember, warriors, we are the Clans.
What fails to kill us only makes us stronger.
And when future sibkos learn of us,
They will know the sixteenth year
As the Stacalkas-Nomen: The year
The punishment of our enemies began.

- The Remembrance, Passage 329, Verse 53, Lines 141-150

Part One - Odessa

This city's sleeping like a soldier
Trapped inside of an iron lung.
Machines can keep you breathing
By the words of men who have no grounds
But what happens when you find a new war's begun?
Flip a switch and turn it off, you won't be able to breathe.
So either way you're a casualty.

- Light Up The Night - Protomen, Act II


FCS Ardan Sortek, Odessa IV
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
5th April, 3067


Archon-Prince Peter Steiner-Davion was in the unfamiliar position of having nothing much to do as he waited. Normally there was no shortage of documents to check, petitioners waiting for a quick chat and other minor tasks to fill stray moments of his day. Besides which, his schedule was generally planned well in advance so he could keep on top of the Federated Commonwealth’s affairs.

Today, however, he had little to do except sit and wait for the holotank to confirm readiness. He wasn’t currently on Tharkad or New Avalon, so he was somewhat insulated from the government bureaucracy. As a mechwarrior there was nothing he could really contribute to the running of the Federated Commonwealth Navy’s newest battlecruiser. And he wasn’t at leisure. The conversation he was anticipating was important. He’d prepared - perhaps over-prepared - for it.

Peter tried to focus on finishing the Capellan novel he’d been reading in snatches over the last few years, but he was having trouble focusing on the task of understanding the Mandarin text.

The chime announcing that the holotank was activating was a welcome one. He dropped a bookmark into place, passed the book to an aide and stepped into the waiting holotank. A few seconds later a holographic image of an older man joined him. Peter knew that hundreds of light years away, his own image had appeared in a similar holotank.

“The peace of Blake be upon you, your highness.” Precentor William Blane made a gesture that was probably some form of ritualistic blessing, rather than bowing or saluting as most people did when faced with the ruler of the largest realm in the Inner Sphere and probably among all humanity.

Peter inclined his head. “And upon you, Precentor.”

“I know that your time, and mine, are both more valuable than even the cost of this conversation.” Dozens of HPGs were in constant transmission to connect them, rather than sending small batches of recorded messages. The Federated Commonwealth had made extensive use of this technique over the last few years but it wasn’t cheap or easy… just necessary. “With your permission,” the head of the Word of Blake’s ruling conclave suggested, “Perhaps we need no further formalities.”

“That’s fine by me.” The younger man crossed his arms. “I’ve been informed of a problem, one that threatens both my own realm’s security… and the proposal to upgrade the Word of Blake’s participation in the Star League from advisory to full membership at the next Whitting Conference.”

That change had been requested by the Word of Blake after the Free Worlds League fell into civil war. While their headquarters had moved back to Terra almost a decade ago, the Blakist movement had still had a huge presence in the domain of House Marik and the struggle for dominance there was intertwined with their own internal politics. None of Peter’s intelligence agencies were precisely sure why the Conclave had decided that the neutral advisory position on the Star League Council no longer fitted their needs, but on the whole he’d supported the notion. The more his neighbors were committed to the Star League, the more they would lean towards diplomacy rather than direct attacks on the Federated Commonwealth. Or at least, so he hoped.

Thomas Halas had suggested that the Star League was a means of peacefully constraining the Federated Commonwealth from dominating the Inner Sphere. From Peter’s view though, he had very long borders to protect and his forces were stretched thin in places. With the looming threat of the Truce of Tukkayid, that currently bound Clan Wolf not to attack him, expiring within months, the Star League served his own purposes well enough that he wanted it to endure.

Blane blinked. “I’m sorry to hear that. But it does appear that we have a mutual interest in resolving this problem. What is the nature of your concern?”

Peter snapped his fingers in signal and around them, the holotank filled with a tactical projection. The ‘battlespace’ was centered upon a gas giant, with more than two hundred moons of varying sizes orbiting around it. Something of a navigation hazard. Though he found it somewhat spectacular; like most of the human race, Peter had rarely approached a gas giant. But what he indicated was no natural wonder.

Around one of the smaller moons, tactical markers indicated weapon platforms, spacecraft and enclosed slipways. An entire naval base, hidden away on the fringes of this star system. “Odessa IV,” he advised Blane drily. “But I believe that what I’m pointing at may be known as the Ruins of Gabriel.”

The Blakist was a practiced and accomplished politician. He still paled perceptibly.

Peter nodded and moved his finger. “And this is my response.” A small flotilla of icons bearing down upon the hidden shipyard. “A squadron of warships, with escorts, and carrying troops and engineers to take control of Gabriel.”

“That would be an act of war.” Blane murmured, looking stricken.

With a sharp gesture, Peter dismissed the images. “This is already an act of war, Blane!” he snapped. “The Word of Blake has a secret military base within one of the Federated Commonwealth’s systems - in striking range of my own capital!” Well, one of them. “You know damn well that this violates the terms of the Star League’s membership!” The redhead took a deep breath. “As I said, a threat to my security… and to your membership of the Star League. The other members of the Star League Council would doubtless be fascinated to hear about this. And deeply concerned about whether such bases exist within their own space.”

There were four other bases, Peter was sure, although this was probably the only naval base. If his information was accurate, at least one had been destroyed in a self-inflicted disaster since ComStar - from which the Word of Blake had schism, taking ownership of the ‘hidden worlds’ - had founded them.

“The Ruins are a former ComStar facility.” Blane offered weakly.

Peter shook his head. “So?” That one word hung between them for a long moment. Alright, enough stick. Now to offer the man a carrot. “There is, I believe, an alternative to this being a damaging scandal. But that will require that you avert what could otherwise be a very nasty battle.”

He’d seen space assaults before, but that had been against defenses that were divided, with some of the forces ordered to fight him changing sides to support his seizure of the docked warships at Delavan. This would be against fanatical opposition. It was very likely that anything valuable would be destroyed, not captured. And while that would remove the Ruins of Gabriel as a threat, that was very much the minimum he was hoping to wring from this situation.

“You want to make a deal?”

“Well I am a Lyran.” On his mother’s side, at least.

“I see.” Blane sighed heavily. “I am not an absolute ruler, anything I agree to will require the consent of a majority of the Ruling Conclave.”

“We have… not quite an hour.” Peter consulted his watch. “Until 08:40 standard time today. I’d suggest you draft an order telling the base commander to stand down and welcome my forces, while your colleagues are waking up and getting up to speed.”

“That’s not enough time!”, Blane exclaimed

“I’ve extended considerable courtesy to the Word in the past. Given that this is how you’ve repaid me, be glad I’m offering you this much.”

Blane’s face twisted. “I’ll make some calls.” He stepped out of the holotank and his image vanished.

Peter crossed his arms again and waited. He had to project confidence and resolution. Staying on camera was a gambit in and of itself.

It was also pretty boring. He looked to the aide from earlier, considering asking for his book back. No, that would be too much. It would be insulting to the Blakists and however mad he was about this base - and the government of Odessa III, who had been covering for it and were currently being woken up by the ground forces of his task force - he did want to make a deal.

It amused Peter to think that if Count Fisk of Odessa did try to inform his paymasters by HPG he’d have a hard time - the station was otherwise engaged in sustaining this conversation. At best the Count could alert Gabriel, and there was no way they hadn’t been aware that battlecruiser FCS Ardan Sortek and her escorts were out here. It had been a publicly announced exercise, after all. Hiding the staging of an attack force behind those was practically a tradition, but Gabriel’s best defense had always been secrecy. They could hardly do anything except hunker down and hope that the warships wouldn’t spot anything.

It took just over ten minutes for Blane to return. Two windows popped up, flanking him, as 2-D vid-calls were spliced into the message. Peter recognized Alexander Kernoff and Anuska Brezhnic from his intelligence briefings. Not ideal, but workable: Kernoff was part of the One Voice faction within the Toyama sect - one of the Word of Blake’s extremists. Brezhnic, on the other hand, was one of the more moderate Counter-Reformists.

“Precentors.”

“Your highness.” Kernoff’s voice was flat. “You have an ultimatum for us.”

Well, he wasn’t wrong. “That is essentially correct. If you prefer, I can go ahead with attacking Gabriel base. It’ll be costly for me, but it’ll also make it impossible to hide what happened. And unless I grossly misread the situation, that’ll probably lead to the Word of Blake being expelled from the Second Star League.” he told them

“And your alternative?” Brezhnic’s voice was flat. She obviously wasn’t happy… but she was a pragmatist.

Peter spread his hands. “The Word of Blake welcomes my personnel to the shipyard they’ve been restoring on behalf of the Federated Commonwealth. There’s a peaceful handover of the facilities, all of your people get to return safe and sound. You get to keep the vessels you’ve already restored from here… perhaps some of those still being worked on. I’m willing to negotiate on that.”

“From a position of controlling the yards.” said Kernoff, distrust evident in his tones.

“That’s right. Your organization has to show me some good faith first. But tell me, has my word ever been false before?”

“Says the son of the Fox.”, Blane said

Peter’s lips quirked at Blane’s use of his father’s nickname. “I’m very proud of my father, but I also remember what happened to my brother when he tried to emulate his stratagems. I don’t need to double-deal here. And by dealing honestly with you, there’s a chance we can rebuild the damage that’s being done here to our relations.”

The three precentors all looked aside, making them look shifty although they were probably simply consulting aides. Kernoff’s mouth moved silently, he must have muted himself.

“One other condition.” Peter added and saw their eyes snap back to him.

“I’m listening.” Blane replied after a moment.

“It’s remotely possible that none of you were aware of the illegal base here.” Blane had recognized the name but it was arguable he might not have known it was around Odessa IV. Peter didn’t believe that for an instant, but he couldn’t prove otherwise. “But it’s not plausible that your Precentor Martial didn’t know. So I’m going to have to ask that he stand down.”

“You can’t dictate the membership of our own leadership!” Kernoff’s voice had risen in anger. “Who do you think you are?”

“I know exactly who I am. What I am beginning to wonder is whether you understand the responsibilities you’re undertaking as heads of state. Your organisation has carried out an act of war and you don’t appear to have considered the consequences of that. I’m certainly not going to try to tell you who should replace St. Jamais, and you can think of any excuse you like for his being replaced… but, as long as he’s leading your military, I have to consider that he’s an active threat to the Federated Commonwealth.”

“One moment please.” Blane nodded sharply to someone at his end and the signal cut out abruptly.

Peter slashed his own hand and saw the mute light in front of him. “Too much?” he asked, glancing aside at Amanda Steiner.

The commander of the Ardan Sortek - and sister of Tabitha Steiner, who had died fighting on New Avalon four years earlier - thought for a moment and then shook her head. “No, I think they’ll go for it.”

He respected Amanda’s ability to judge character. While her mother and grandfather were very much in Lisa Steiner’s camp - blaming House Steiner-Davion for the death of Tabitha - Amanda had chosen to respect the cause her sister had fought for. Like Sabine and Reinhardt, they gave Peter hope that the younger generation of House Steiner would back his faith in the Federated Commonwealth.

Of course, it helped that she was supported by other advisors and his own instincts. Cameron St. Jamais was another Toyamist, and his presence on the Ruling Conclave gave the extremist wing of the Word of Blake two votes out of the five. Blane and Brezhnic would gain politically if they could arrange a more moderate replacement for him. The question was whether they could convince Kernoff - or bring the fifth member, Laura Chang, into the vote. Chang was something of a wild card but Peter thought she’d go for it - she was a more recent convert from ComStar and Blane had brought her into the conclave to try to maintain the thin balance of more moderate interests.

After a moment longer the Blakists came back into view, with a new window displaying the face of Laura Chang. Peter checked the mute light was off. “Precentors.”

Kernoff looked like he’d been chewing on a lemon, but he said nothing. Blane folded his arms. “We agree that Precentor-Martial St. Jamais’ judgement has not been the best. We will ask that you trust us that he will be replaced within the next month. An immediate dismissal would be… too obvious and also too disruptive.”

Peter pretended to consider, rubbing his jaw, but then nodded. “That’s reasonable.”

“And exactly what ships the Federated Commonwealth receives will need to be discussed further.”

“That is understood.” Any ships would be gravy, as far as Peter was concerned - with one exception. “I’m happy to put discussions of that off until you’ve had more time to consider your exact position on the matter. However, you should know that we have identified a Tharkad-class battlecruiser among those being worked on. If you want to know why I  require that vessel to be turned over intact, then check your history books.”

Blane took a deep breath. “In that case, I’m sending you a signal that can be relayed to the commander of the shipyard, ordering him to surrender the base to your forces. I’d ask that you take matters slowly so he can explain the situation to his subordinates.”

Peter glanced at Amanda, who nodded. “Certainly. As soon as he confirms he’s received and accepts your instructions, we’ll slow our approach and discuss with him how we can arrange an orderly transition of the yards.”

There would be considerable caution, it would probably take days… but acquiring an entire shipyard for the Federated Commonwealth was more than worthwhile. Getting rid of Cameron St. Jamais, a fanatic committed to destroying the Commonwealth at the first opportunity was even better. And if some warships were handed over, well Peter wouldn’t turn his nose up at that. He could probably live without the battlecruiser really, but there was no need to let the Word of Blake know that.

“In that case,” Blane noted, “I’d better start discussing how to explain this to the rest of our order. Anuska, would you mind remaining in contact with the Archon-Prince until he’s received that assurance?”

Making Peter pay for extending the call that much longer was petty, but he supposed it was fair to let the Blakists have small revenge. There were much worse ways for them to take this out on him...


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