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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 2[]

State of the Union - Book 3[]


Tharkad City, Tharkad
Donegal Province, Federated Commonwealth
13th April, 3067


The cold snap of Tharkad’s weather was still tangible through glass when Sabine rested her hand against the window, looking out over the garden where the children played. She watched them run and laugh for a moment; and then turned to look towards the other women in the room, seated side by side on armchairs to one side of the chamber’s large hearth. There was a crackling fire there, supplementing more modern heating, and the couch facing the other two had been left for her.

She had no intention of sitting there to face their inquisition. She hadn’t been a child herself for many years. Better to be on her feet, looking down on them. “I have little enough time with my daughter. What do you want to talk about?”

“Is it hard to think that I want to spend time with my daughter?” asked Lisa Steiner. Sabine’s mother looked much like the archetype of the tall blonde Valkyrie, the classic Steiner beauty. She’d fought most of her wars within the hierarchy of LCAF command, but Sabine knew that such battles were no less fierce than those on the frontlines.

“Wonderful.” Lisa turned, putting the window at her back. “Get a coat; and we can go out and join them out there.” She jerked a thumb back to indicate the garden.

The other Steiner present set her tea cup down firmly. “There are some conversations that should be had away from children.”

“Like anything they might innocently repeat to their, Uncle Peter?”

Sarah Steiner scowled. “It’s hardly treason to have reservations about the Archon’s decisions. The very young and naive can be confused about that.”

Archon-Prince.”

“If you prefer.”

“And you’re the one who used the word treason.” Sabine continued, getting a wince from her cousin - aunt by courtesy alone. Sarah was one of the Borge-Steiners: she and her father, the retired but still influential Roman Steiner, were closely related to Adam Steiner - both descended from Simon Borge-Steiner, who had abdicated his claim to the throne on the very day of his coronation in favour of his sister Tatyana (who was the ancestor Sabine and most of the close branches of House Steiner). But Sarah’s grandchildren  - Amanda’s twins - were only a little younger than Sabine’s daughter Elissa, and House Steiner was a close-knit clan. It wasn’t hard to guess why she was mad at Peter. “But setting that interesting choice of word aside, what are your reservations?”

It was her mother who spoke up though. “It seems suspicious that he’s moved you out of the Lyran Guards. Have you considered that he may see you as a threat?”

For a moment she thought that it was a joke. Then her temper flared and she knew her eyes must have the flinty color that marked her as about to lash out. The same expression she’d seen increasingly in her grandmother as Nondi Steiner grew older and more set in her ways.

No! I will rule my temper, not be ruled by it. Sabine took a deep breath. “That’s hilarious.”

Lisa shook her head, blonde hair loose around her shoulders. “You do realize that he’s aware that you were offered the throne after Katrina’s disappearance?”

“I should think so, I told him myself.”

It was the older Steiners’ turn to blink. “You told him?” demanded Sarah, sounding threatened. That was interesting - it shouldn’t affect her unless she had been associated with that little cabal and their proposal.

Back on balance, Sabine gave them a reckless smirk. “That Kathrine’s supporters had come looking for a figurehead so they could carry on with their noses in the trough; and that I felt that that was too high a price for sitting on the Archon’s throne. And anyway, I don’t covet his desk.”

Lisa reached out to a small china plate and took a cookie from it. “Please sit down, Sabine, you’re straining my neck.”

With the request made, a tacit recognition of her position as equal and not subordinate, the younger Steiner complied - lounging against the corner of the couch in a show of confidence. “Did it ever occur to you that sometimes something is just what it appears? The Twentieth Avalon Hussars are on their way to face the Jade Falcons, and he wanted a proven general to lead them after General Roberts got bumped up to command the Alliance Guards. The Slashers -” her Twenty-Fourth Lyran Guards “- aren’t likely to see action right now so he can afford to send someone less experienced to bring them along.”

“You’re also going to be surrounded by officers you don’t know.” Sarah’s eyes were flat. “And the Archon is reckless with Steiner lives.”

“So this is about Tabitha.” Sabine accused, sitting straight up. “Aunt, even you should realize he had nothing to do with her death.”

“She was fighting for the Steiner-Davions.” Sarah declared with ringing finality. “And it was Peter’s own command that killed your grandmother, one of his most trusted officers. We don’t want to see more of our family killed for his ambitions.”

“If I took the throne back in sixty-three,” she told them. “then I’d have had to do so over Gramma Nondi’s dead body. You do realize that, right? She was fixated on Kathrina being her sister returned, she’d have called me an usurper, however irrational it was. And you know damn well that Peter gave her every chance, starting from the day he had New Avalon under control, to step back and accept that Kathrine had disgraced herself and betrayed everyone who served her.”

“She would have listened to me” insisted Lisa. “and Peter -”

Sabine gestured at them for silence and then pointed at the Steiner fist decorations around the hearth. “That emblem, Aunt Sarah. Do you remember where it comes from?”

“Of course.” she said in surprise. “Our ancestors adopted it back during the Second Soviet Civil War - the emblem of those fighting against an oppressive regime.”

“Tabitha lived - and died - for those principles. Fighting a tyrant, against steep odds, because it was the right thing to do. Cousin Peter did everything possible - hell, things most people wouldn’t believe were possible - to get there in time to support the First Davion Guards. If he’d played it safe or smart, he’d have waited and come in with Ardan Sortek and the Assault Guards, but he went in ahead of that.” Sabine paused. “You and mother never fought on the frontlines. War kills people and it’s unfair to blame Peter for a war he didn’t start.”

Amanda sniffed but looked away. “I note that his sainted Ardan Sortek got a battleship named after him.” She sounded as if even she knew how pathetic a complaint that was.

Sabine couldn’t be bothered to correct her that the FCS Ardan Sortek was a battlecruiser, not a battleship. Or that Tabitha’s own sister had received the high honor of captaining the vessel. “And what’s your excuse, mother? While the Archon-Prince has been putting our nation together and making the name of House Steiner shine again, what have you been doing other than complaining about him spending money on Tharkad City’s power grid?”

She hid a grin at her mother’s embarrassment. Lisa had spoken eloquently about the waste of House Steiner’s funds on a reactor that was in fine shape… right before the official environmental report had revealed some major short-falls in the storage of sodium coolants and of radioactive isotopes awaiting reprocessing at the adjacent facility. The reactor itself would be good for another five hundred years after the rebuilding, but Tharkad Power & Heat had been hit with heavy fines and the rebuilding would redress what had been characterized as a ‘clear and reckless disregard for the well being of neighboring residential areas’.

Resistance to the project had died a quiet death and Peter Steiner-Davion had the feather in his cap of another foresight step. Not to mention that the project was providing hundreds of jobs in Tharkad City both working on the reactor and on the secondary reactors that were carrying the strain during the refurbishment and would eventually provide a dedicated back-up for the metropolitan power network.

“Someone has to be willing to at least question his decisions.” Lisa responded with forced dignity. “Some of his decisions have been better than I realized, but he is only human. It is our duty to provide some restraint, and when it comes to decisions such as stripping the Marik border the way he has, it’s wise to offer him counsel.”

That wasn’t an entirely unreasonable position, Sabine forced herself to admit. While the Tamarind Alliance and the Silver Hawks Coalition were in no position to launch invasions, Peter had followed Victor’s reorganization of the Bolan Province’s command structure by rotating most of the experienced ‘Mech regiments away. The border was hardly bare, but the Bolan Jaegers were inexperienced and most of the immediate support available to them came from cadet cadres and other units that hadn’t seen action lately. The assignment of veteran mercenary units would help but if Photon Marik or Isis for some insane reason thought that they could take worlds then it would take a while to bring serious reinforcements in.

“So long as you’re expressing loyal opposition, then I have nothing but praise for your politics, Mother.” She paused. “And I’d even agree that having some more troops there wouldn’t be a bad idea. But can you tell me with a straight face that Robert Kelswa-Steiner’s opposition is borne out of loyalty to the Commonwealth?”

“I will grant you, he wants the Archon’s throne.” Lisa’s face expressed distaste for the Duke in question. “However, he is concerned with ensuring that he also wants a strong and healthy Commonwealth for him to rule, if that should come to pass.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Will he be severing ties to Free Skye then?”

Lisa ground her teeth, but didn’t attempt to lie. “Unfortunately, I think that in that case he’d argue that he hopes to restrain them. How much of that is… unenlightened self-interest, I couldn’t definitively say.”

“If the Archon isn’t planning on another war,” interjected Sarah, perhaps to take the pressure off her ally in the conversation. “why is he concentrating so many forces towards the Clans? I don’t know the numbers but I’ve heard numbers suggesting that he has anything up to a third of the entire AFFC stationed there.”

Sabine couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s hardly that high.” Although it was probably upwards of a quarter of their regular BattleMech forces. “Even if he doesn’t intend on a war, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be one. The Truce of Tukkayid expires in a few months and we could see another attack on a similar scale to the Jade Falcon incursions.”

“I thought the entire point of Victor’s Operation Serpent was to end that threat.”

“My understanding is that Clan Wolf won their part of the Great Refusal and don’t count themselves as bound by it.” Sabine spread her hands. “It may come to nothing, in which case I think we’ll see forces moving back to the other borders before the end of the year. A good test of our logistics if nothing more.” She paused before adding: “If one of the Clans does try anything though, I believe that Peter intends to make an object lesson of them.”

She stood, brushing off her skirt. “And if that does happen, it could be a few years before I can spend time with Elissa. So if you’ll excuse me…?”

Lisa also rose to her feet. “I’ll fetch my coat and join you.”

“Thank you, mother.” Sabine looked at Sarah, questioningly.

“I have my grandchildren most of the time.” the woman said flatly. “Enjoy your time with Elissa, Sabine. I pray that you are not taken from her - or the reverse - on a permanent basis.”

As do I. Sabine felt a shiver down her spine. An old instinct, atavistic. War was coming, she thought. Peter had predicted it, or perhaps felt it as she did. The Steiners had always had a touch of the uncanny to them… diagnose as a depression-related medical condition, according to modern science. But there were always those who felt that there was more to it.

It probably doesn’t help that we women of the house huddle together like a coven of witches, Sabine thought. Usually she brushed such ideas aside as superstition, but today… today that was harder than usual.


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