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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 33[]

Part Six - Federated Suns
Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
Everybody's worried about me
In too deep
Say I'm in too deep (in too deep)

State of the Union[]

Castle Davion, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Commonwealth
22 July 3063

The screen of the meeting room lit exactly up on schedule and Peter felt tension leak out of him. Whatever happened, this was it.

Hundreds of light years away, another meeting room was set up with a table lined up exactly with that Peter was sitting at. A double-chain of Class A HPG stations constructed at Katrina's request (and enormous cost to the budgets of both the Lyran Alliance and Federated Commonwealth) sent constant signals each way, presenting the illusion of a single room containing the leaders of both halves of the realm.

He had some recollection that the Star League had managed this for the heads of all six member-states, but that had been for emergencies only. Katrina had made it routine.

While there was ample room at each 'half' of the table, Peter had chosen to be attended only by Bishop Sortek, Jackson Davion and by Catherine. On her end, Nondi Steiner sat alone.

His great-aunt looked older than he remembered, the lines on her face only heightening the resemblance to Peter's last recollections of his grandmother. Her Steiner-grey eyes moved smoothly across them and her lips tightened as she saw Jackson unbound and in full uniform.

"Aunt Nondi."

"Peter." Her voice was level, giving nothing away.

After a pause to let her make any overture, Peter realized she wasn't going to venture anything and he'd have to make the first move. It wasn't surprising, just disappointing. "You'll remember Field Marshal Davion, of course, and perhaps you're familiar with Field Marshal Bishop Sortek."

"By reputation only," she said. "Not Ardan Sortek?"

"My cousin lies in state.";; Bishop told her.

Peter felt a rush of fury as Nondi's face betrayed a sliver of satisfaction before she restored a mask of dispassion. "My condolences to his family," the old general said coldly. She looked at Catherine for a second time and then away, dismissively.

"And I believe it has been many years since you met my sister Catherine." Peter tried not to let his anger cloud his words.

To his pleasure, Nondi took the bait. "That is not your sister, boy." Her tone was a whip-crack. "Do you think I don't know my niece?"

"Blood tests say otherwise." Peter told her with great satisfaction. "Tests done here, and on Addicks and on Zaniah III confirm Catherine as my sister and a direct maternal match to your uncle Hermann."

"He's telling the truth, Nondi." Jackson spoke quietly but with conviction. "There are very few close Davion relatives - but we were able to confirm distant kinship to myself and to Tabitha Steiner. She's dead too, I'm sorry to say."

Nondi's voice was contemptuous. "And this was enough to turn your coat?"

"We were also able to confirm closer kinship through their paternal grandmother to House Campbell." Jackson let the accusation wash over him. "Without access to the Archon I cannot say whether she is a Steiner-Davion or not, but this Catherine assuredly is."

"She escaped you then."

Peter inclined his head. "FCS Lucien Davion jumped out of the system last night. I cannot confirm she was aboard, but she fled the palace before we took the city so it seems a safe assumption." He paused. "She left thousands of soldiers to die as a diversion. I don't believe grandmother would have approved."

"You never knew your grandmother, boy." Nondi shook her head sharply in denial.

"From her example, nor did your Archon, whether she's my sister or not." He gripped the edge of the table with both hands. "Personally I hope she isn't, because we have the evidence now."

"What evidence?"

"Payment," Bishop Sortek answered. "To the same assassin that murdered Melissa Steiner-Davion."

Nondi shook her head. "I've seen that evidence and there's nothing to say Katrina was the Steiner who paid for the kill. Besides, Victor is the one who profited - his mother's death gave him his throne."

His mother had offered to stand down in Victor's favor, but that came from Morgan Kell and Peter knew only too well that Nondi would deny on instinct anything that came from the mercenary. "The accounts used could have been accessed by Victor or Katrina for that... payment, yes. But by 3061 Katrina had sole control of them. And she paid for another assassination in the same way. Omiko Kurita's, to be specific. He tried for her on Mogyorod last year."

"Killing a Kurita is hardly a sin," his great-aunt said. "Assuming, of course, that you didn't fabricate this evidence of yours."

"Are you being deliberately obtuse?" Peter asked her in disbelief. "She had your niece, my mother... killed! All so she could move one step closer to usurping the throne."

"I have only your word for that, and removing an incompetent ruler is some my sister did...did you forget that?"

Catherine leant forwards. "And that is why Katrina must be removed. She is worse than Alessandro Steiner. Did he ever disband the Estates-General? Or cause civil war?"

"Let that be on Victor's head." Nondi Steiner said

"The fighting was well underway before Victor declared himself," Peter told her. " can't blame him for that. It's Katrina - and you - who've made this bed. For god's sake, Aunt Nondi! She sold Count Fisk a pardon for his son's manslaughter!For some bauble! Try to tell me that that was the action of a just ruler."

"I can see that this conversation is going nowhere."  Nondi made a sharp gesture and the end of the room was replaced by a ComStar holding signal.

Peter stared at it and then reached out and turned off their own cameras, ending their own signal. "Well that did nothing."

"We had to try." Jackson shook his head. "Marshal Steiner has always had strong opinions and I fear she's grown more... set in her ways."

"And we have the recording," pointed out Catherine. "..let the media have it."

The three men turned and stared at her.

"That doesn't seem wise," Bishop said after a moment. "a private conversation."

"It was a negotiation, not a conversation." The corner of her lips curled up. "I don't recall any non-disclosure agreement. You know that Katrina's staff made heavy use of propaganda. Why not counter it with the truth."

Jackson hesitated and then nodded. "It cuts the wrong way to me too," he admitted. "but you're right. This isn't military data that needs to be secured. Not everyone is as rigid as Marshal Steiner. And everyone that believes it is one less person that has to be fought."

"If Katrina is headed for Tharkad, it'll take her months." added Catherine. "For that duration, her cause is in the hands of Nondi, who is a fine general but, hardly as politically astute. It's an opening we should exploit. Let the public have the full and unvarnished truth for a change."

There was a chime from the comm unit buried in the table as Peter considered the idea. He tapped it to accept the call. "This is Prince Peter."

"Sir, you have a live call via the HPG."

Peter blinked. "Is it from Tharkad?" Had someone there put a gun to Nondi's head?

"No sir. It's the Precentor-Martial of ComStar."

He rubbed his jaw. "Focht, Dow or my brother?" Anastasius Focht was still the man most associated with the title and Victor was supposedly merely on leave from the role, although how that would turn out was anyone's guess. Peter knew little about the acting-Precentor Martial except his name.

"Precentor Martial Gavin Dow, sir."

Peter took a deep breath. "Put him through."

The face that appeared on the screen was only slightly more familiar than the name. It was also spread across the entire wall until someone adjusted the display and Dow's features shrank to a more reasonable size.

"Your highness." The Precentor dipped his head respectfully. "Thank you for making time for me so immediately."

While the content of the call to Nondi was hopefully still encrypted, it would have taken very little, Peter supposed, for Dow to have been made aware of when the call began and to be ready when it ended and when Peter would be both free and readily accessible by this means. One of the more subtle powers bequeathed by Jerome Blake to his organization had been good call scheduling.

"It seems convenient for both of us," Peter answered drily. "and I suppose we want to discuss the same matter."

Dow's expression shifted smoothly to regretfulness. "If by that you mean the 299th Division then it seems that we do."

"Unless you're about to declare an interdiction, I assume that they were not acting on your orders when they joined the Archon's forces here?"

"ComStar's position remains one of neutrality." Dow wasn't even sweating. "My information is that Demi-Precentor Fedt chose to ignore that in favor of a general instruction given to the ComGuards that they should defend the worlds on which they are stationed."

"There would seem to be an obvious conflict between those two orders." noted Bishop.

"Our neutrality on the current... disagreements within the Federated Commonwealth and Lyran Alliance comes from the office of the Primus, and thus takes precedence over instructions from a mere Acting-Precentor Martial." Dow's brows lowered. "I hope that I may ensure that the 299th's personnel are educated on the distinction, but they are currently in your custody, not my own."

"And you want them back."

"The more junior personnel are guilty. I would think of following their appointed officers. My understanding is that you are extended such a policy to soldiers of the Federated Commonwealth?"

Peter acknowledged the point with a nod and riposted: "Those not found to be guilty of war crimes."

Dow leant back slightly. "Do you suspect ComGuards are guilty of such?"

"Some of them, support staff for example, have had no opportunity to do so. Reports from the frontlines suggest that combat elements showed no quarter to the disarmed and defenseless." Bishop growled.

"The 299th saw service on Tukkayid against Clan Smoke Jaguar," Dow reminded them. "..they have not it seems had a chance to adjust to fighting less fanatical opposition. I appreciate that such conduct must lead to disciplinary action."

And you want to be the one dishing it out, Peter thought.

Before he could speak, Catherine leant forwards. "What status do the 299th hold at this time,  Precentor Martial? Relative for example to the 244th Division that was declared rogue earlier this year when they joined Prince Victor's cause."

Dow paused. "The situation is... parallel."

"Rogues... effectively pirates in your eyes?"

"The 244th were given a chance to return to their posts before that judgement was made." And all of three soldiers had done so, leaving Victor reinforced by the equivalent of two combined arms regiments.

Peter gave his sister a nod. "It seems reasonable that members of the Division not suspected of war crimes can be remanded into ComStar custody. Along with those found innocent, of course. What you do then is up to you, although I would suggest stationing them... elsewhere."

"That suggestion seems wise," Dow allowed. "with their equipment?"

"Battlefield salvage and surrendered equipment are the prizes of the victors." Jackson Davion's focus seemed to be a little above and behind Dow's face. "That is the custom of warfare since time immemorial."

That didn't include the HPG complex itself or the ComGuards base there, but field facilities and combat equipment found outside it was fair game. And it would be needed because clearly the war wasn't about to end and Peter would have to both garrison New Avalon and establish a new task force to take the conflict to the next battlefield.

Team Banzai had formally re-established themselves and informally agreed to help with the former. Detailed contract negotiations for that would commence tomorrow. The 1st NAIS Cadet Cadre was going to have to be stripped though, with the young soldiers - now seasoned - joining the Davion Guards and their teachers going back to help rebuild the battered Academy.

"If I may negotiate." Dow began.

"Regarding the war crimes," Peter told him. "they will be investigated and tried under the same terms as AFFC soldiers. ComStar representation is certainly acceptable and on a case-by-case basis, we may remand individuals to your own military courts."

The Precentor Martial saw his petition for equipment was dismissed and subsided. "I would prefer that, wherever possible. I will arrange for Precentor New Avalon to appoint representatives in the meantime."

Peter nodded. "I will be glad to hear from him. Perhaps you could clarify your instructions to your forces elsewhere."

The call broke off with an agreement on that point at least and Peter rubbed his jaw. "He's more influential than a temporary replacement for Victor should be. The Precentor Martial is usually junior to the First Circuit but he was talking about 'arranging' the Precentor New Avalon's decisions."

"A rising man," Cat agreed. "Primus Mori grows no younger."

"No Primus has ever come from the ComGuards." Jackson said with some surprise.

"They've never been as important as they are now." she pointed out. "Dow could use it as a springboard to a First Circuit seat when Victor returns. Assuming they want him back, his departure leaves him vulnerable just as fighting the Clans left a vacancy here."

Peter winced. Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, thrice a pattern... and Victor had chosen to chase a fight on the Jade Falcon border back when their mother died, missing her funeral.

For that matter, what happens to the Federated Commonwealth and Lyran Alliance if he does try to go back to ComStar?

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