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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 22[]

State of the Union[]

Proximity Jump Point, Odell
Crucis March, Federated Commonwealth
14 June 3063


"In my absence," the prince informed the officers, "I'm leaving Max Sears in charge of -"

Conner frowned. "Sir."

"Is there a problem, lieutenant?"

He'd have to pick his words carefully. "Respectfully, sir, his name isn't Sears. He may have qualifications I'm not aware of, but there are other, more experienced, officers here."

The cramped briefing room fell silent as all eyes snapped from Conner to the prince's aide. The Mechwarrior was ranked as a lieutenant but there were so few officers available to the Fifth Royal Guards that he was present as a company commander, as was Conner.

"So who are you?" Captain Gordon folded his arms.

He looked resigned. "My name's Michael Searcy."

"...the gladiator?"

Searcy nodded, jerkily. "Rumors of my death, etc." He looked over at Conner. "How did you guess?"

"Everyone has a hobby, I happen to follow the games on Solaris VII. That mustache of yours isn't much of a disguise." Conner lean forwards. "As far as I'm aware, you were drummed out of the Kestrel Grenadiers in disgrace. I've no doubt you're an excellent Mechwarrior -" They'd crossed paths more than once in the sims, after all. "- but leaving you in command is... concerning."

Prince Peter tapped the table, face thunderous. "If I may finish, lieutenant?"

Conner colored. "Yes sir."

"Lieutenant Searcy, whose identity I am fully aware of will take charge of first battalion during my absence. Overall mission command will be my sister's. Do I hear any other objections?"

There weren't enough 'Mechs for command lances so Peter himself led both the regiment as well as first battalion and one of its companies. The other two companies in first battalion were Searcy's and Conner's.

Seeing the Prince's attention was fully on him, Conner shook his head slightly. "No further objections, sir."

"Good."

"Are you sure Catherine is... able to lead?" asked Karla Holstein.

Conner arched an eyebrow. He'd stuck his neck out objecting to Searcy a dishonored former officer. But for a civilian to question the prince's decisions was even bolder, particularly when it came to his sister.

Surprising him though, Peter considered the point. "In regards to her health, I'd hesitate about a tactical command." he said at last. "No offense, Cat."

"I don't disagree." the blonde said quietly. "I've barely had time to take in how to pilot a 'Mech. Leading others... is best kept to those with more military training."

"Quite. But you know our mission better than anyone here." He glanced around. "Lieutenant-General Sortek and I are necessary for one half of our operations, which leaves you the other half."

Conner watched as the woman squared her shoulders and nodded. Karla looked unhappy but said nothing. The prince's attention snapped back to Conner all of a sudden. "Since you're so concerned, Lieutenant, you can double as Cat's aide. She'll need one."

"Yes sir." Babysitting royalty. Was it like this for Dad?

"I'm not just picking you for this because you spoke up," Peter added. "You grew up around the Heavy Guards so you're a natural fit for this side of the mission."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

Peter nodded. "Any other business?" When no one spoke up, the prince stood and escorted Cat out of the room, other officers trickling out in ones and twos.

Not wanting to draw further attention, Conner remained seated and let them leave. He was startled to see Searcy was also waiting and when they were alone in the compartment, the gladiator nudged the door closed.

"Is there something I can do for you, Lieutenant?"

Searcy sat down again. "Maybe we should clear the air a little. You don't think I should be leading a company."

"I didn't say that." Conner hesitated. "In that respect you're probably more qualified than I am."

"And yet you needed to undercut me like that?" Searcy rubbed his mustache. "I suppose I may as well shave this off." he mused and then looked back at Conner. "We've got a little bit of a confused chain of command. As a company commander, you'll answer to me in the prince's absence. As the princesses' aide, you answer to her."

"While she's a mechwarrior under your command, she's also the mission commander."

"Yeah, one little knot of conflicting authority. I'm not sure if the prince intended that or not." Searcy drummed his fingers on the desk. "If you have an issue with me, talk to me or talk to Cat. None of this calling us out in public. This isn't a game - I had to learn that the hard way. Right now, the Fifth Royal Guards are untested and taking hits to our morale could shatter us. If that happens, royal displeasure will be the least of your concerns."

"Is that because you'll make my life hell?" Conner demanded.

"No." Searcy stood up and went for the door. "Because most of us will be dead." He exited the room, leaving Conner alone and feeling about ten centimeters tall.




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