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State of the Union (Chapter Cover)

Chapter 5[]

State of the Union[]

Hartzborg, Zaniah III
Skye Province, Lyran Alliance
12 December 3062

Daniel had hoped he was past babysitting when his youngest sister was at last judged fit to be left unsupervised for an evening, although this admittedly was only the case if she had access to a holovid and a box full of disks to play upon it. Fortunately Bifrost had a sizeable collection of the latter, even discounting those not appropriate to an eight year old girl.

It was no consolation that most of the people around him thought the blonde he had orders to 'keep happy and out of trouble' was probably his date. She wasn't, and her brother had the size and almost certainly the training to tear Daniel apart if he presumed on the instruction.

At least he got a sympathetic look from the doorman at the mall as he helped Catherine with her bags - much like shopping with his mother or sisters, that help seemed to involve carrying two-thirds of the mass of the purchases. Daniel had picked the mall as the nearest outside the drop-port. Only someone so rich they didn't care to count money or in such a hurry they couldn't afford to wait would shop on the actual premises of the drop-port. Prices were about thirty percent lower outside in the main part of Hartzborg.

Flagging down a taxi-cab he waved Catherine politely into the back seat with her own bags and waited patiently for the driver to get out and open the rear storage for the bags he was holding.

"Did she have you buy her a new wardrobe?" the cabbie asked, pushing the first bags deeper so that they could all fit in.

"That would have been bad enough, but the clothes shopping was the easy part." Pretty much everything Catherine had bought for herself was practical - jeans, work boots, several tops that were functional and only cost three or four times what the mens' section charged for equivalents. Daniel could be sure of that because his charge had done with shopping for herself only to head over there and buy some equivalents for her brother.

She'd changed in one of the restrooms so she was out of the habit she'd been wearing, although the fedora she'd found for herself was just as eye-catching in it's way.

"Why that?" he'd asked her, the only time he'd questioned a purchase (Daniel wasn't sure to be grateful or annoyed she didn't model anything for him. Mostly the former but, he was honest enough to admit, not entirely).

Catherine had perched the hat on her head and drawn the brim down over her eyes. "I am in disguise." she said solemnly. "This way no one will recognize me."

"So what was the hard part?" The cabbie closed the trunk and gestured towards the back seat.

"Then," Daniel said heavily, "She found the bookstore. Take us to the Ned Kelly please."

Along with stores, one of the many services associated with the drop port were cheap hostels. The Ned Kelly had been chosen by Daniel's father and the Morgan siblings had rented a small suite on the same wing until it was time to depart. Hauling the proceeds of several hours shopping up the stairs to the second floor room, Daniel hoped that Catherine would be convinced to stay in her room and read some of her new treasures rather than set out on a new expedition.

He'd just settled into one of the small armchairs and flipped the holovid onto a news channel when she emerged from her room, two of the larger store bags now bulging with clothes. "Where are you going?"

"Laundrette." Catherine informed him, raising the bags. "Spin and wash and dry and wear!"

Oh god. "You can't have dirtied them already, you only just bought them."

The woman pulled the bags back against her. "Washing!"

"Right, right." Daniel turned the holovid off - it was just another piece assuring everyone that the Lyran Guards had ended the rioting on Solaris - and pulled out his wallet. No, not enough change.

A detour down to the desk let him change a ten kroner note into forty quarters - more than he'd need this time but who knew what else Catherine would demand next? - and they went across to the street to the laundrette. A place as small as Ned Kelly's didn't have its own service but he knew from earlier in his visit that the laundrette ran on cash only, not smart cards.

Cat stared at the wall of washing machines with fascination, but alarmingly little comprehension. Daniel rolled his eyes and guided her to the dispenser where she could get capsules of soap and conditioner to load in along with the clothes. It seemed to take her great concentration to feed each coin into that and then to the washing machines themselves - choosing to run two loads in adjacent free machines.

"Okay, and now we leave them for an hour or two." he explained with forced patience once both machines were operating. "I hope you brought a book or something." It wasn't a particularly bad place but only an idiot left their clothes here unsupervised.

Catherine reached into a pocket and pulled out well thumbed novel - she'd focused first on the second-hand racks at the bookstore - before opening it and carefully un-dogearing the corners.

There was a snort from the bench and Daniel saw one of the other customers was looking at them from the corner of the room. "Family?" the man asked wryly, shuffling cards he'd laid out on the bench.
"Something like that." He looked for something to do himself. Two hours of watching clothes spin around wasn't going to be very entertaining.

The other man nodded. "I'm getting bored of solitaire. Want to pass the time?"

"Why not." He moved to sit closer. "I'm Daniel, this is Catherine."

The blonde gave the man a casual wave without looking up from her book.

"Max Sears," the man said, shuffling the cards.


Both of them looked over at Catherine who ignored them both. Dan shrugged. "Don't mind her."

He got a nod of understanding. "Got it. You know how to play twenty-one?"

"Doesn't every school boy?"
"You might be surprised." Sears dealt two cards each and they studied their hands.

Duke of Steiner and seven of Davion for Daniel. "I'll hold," he said at a questioning look.

"Oh?" Sears dealt himself another card face up. Ten of Marik. He made a face. "Bust, dammit."

"It's not as if we're playing for money. What brings you to Zaniah?"

Sears dealt again. "I took the first ship I could get off Solaris VII when the fighting died down. Probably going to try to get a berth as far as Outreach."

"Going for mercenary?" Dan asked

"I don't think it's a business that's going to shrink in the next few years. I lost just about everything but my bank account when the riots started."

"Rioters on the streets are one thing but when Mechwarriors join in..."

Sears made a pained face and then brightened slightly as he took the next hand. "Yeah. It's all very well in the arenas, but that got way out of hand. A lot of people are very unhappy."

"Both dead, so sad."

Daniel turned his head towards Catherine and saw her looking at them. "In your book?"
"No, Vandergriff and Searcy."

"Who... oh yes, the two who started it," he remembered. The championship bout had been between the Davion favorite 'Stormin' Michael Searcy' and an outside bet Lyran mechwarrior Victor Vandergriff. Their match, in the Steiner Colosseum had somehow rampaged through the spectator stands and then out into the streets. Fans and fellow gladiators had joined the battle, turning the multi-national Solaris City into a microcosm of the factionalism of the Inner Sphere.

"Chaos doesn't need a recipe, just a list of ingredients." Catherine claimed.

"And as you say, they're dead," Sears noted hollowly. "Finished their match and killed each other. What they deserved, some would say."

"Some would say, Searcy."

Daniel blinked. "Sears, not Searcy, Catherine."

"Am I wrong?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head. Not that he followed Solaris tournaments, but the champion match had been heavily advertised so he'd seen both mechwarrior's faces and... Daniel turned sharply to look at the man he'd been playing cards with.

Stormin' Searcy had been brash and confident, this man was white-faced and sweating. Otherwise... maybe...?

Catherine reached over and flipped the two cards Sears had dealt himself. Ace of Davions and the First Prince. "One more and you're bust, Mr. Searcy."

"Look," the man said quietly, voice full of dread. "I'm not asking for myself. If it gets out I'm not dead the riots could -"

The blonde shook her head. "How many Mechwarriors on Outreach will know your face?"

"It's not my business, Mr. Sears." Maybe he could calm this down. "Catherine, you should leave him alone."

"My brother is hiring." Catherine pulled a pen out and scribbled her suite number on the Ace of Davion. "And we're leaving Zaniah very soon."

"Who are you?" Sears - or Searcy - demanded hoarsely.

"A turn of the cards that might be in your favor." Catherine put the pen away and returned to her book as if nothing had happened.

Dan and Searcy stared at each other then at her. Then by common assent they looked away and ignored each other until Searcy's washing was done and he bolted from the laundrette. But he departed into the Ned Kelly.

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