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The Bull and the Genie[]

Chapter 14 - Book II - The Ninety-five Theses[]

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Reactions - New Avalon[]

Fox's Den - New Avalon, Federated Suns

Hanse wasn't certain if he should be thrilled or horrified. The day had started out normally, organizing the continuing offensives against the Combine and Confederation. The Free Worlds League had evidently been uninterested in joining in, and intelligence indicated that both Max and Takashi were unhappy.

Then the first reports started coming in from Sian. Comstar stations weren't subject to a House Lord's will, and so, getting information out was as easy as placing a priority message. Or for that matter, just listening to the various news services that got unclassified reports out.

But this…

"Tell me what it is, Quintus." Hanse ordered. Melissa was standing by him, frowning at the scrolling information.

"Reports of an attack on Sian—by the Taurians. We're only able to get what the public transmissions are giving us, and not many people are getting close to the fight, but…" He touched a button, and an image came up, jerky, some kind of hand-held camera, showing the skyline of the Liao capital. And in the sky overhead, there were tracers, trails of fire as missiles were launched, other missiles striking down, the booms of impacts echoing through the park where the witness was.

"We've got more, but no, absolutely no word from the Palace, and nothing from orbit, but if the Taurian's are trying to take Sian, they have to have a vastly larger fleet than we believed possible."

"Ten regiments," Hanse murmured. "Ten regiments of mechs, never mind infantry—where did they get all of that spacelift…" They're not stupid, their entire operation so far has shown that they understand that a full invasion is beyond their capabilities. Even if they took Sian, they could never support it, so why are they—

Another aide came into the room. "Sir, another message from Sian. The Taurians broadcast a message, across the planet."

"What is it?" Hanse asked. The aide's expression was of a man wondering if he was dreaming.

"We have a recording."

//"To Chancellor Maximilian Liao, this force is here to arrest you in obedience to the civil detainment order and indictment handed down by The Samantha City Superior Court, First Department, at the request of the District Attorney. You stand accused of 50,021 counts of murder in the first degree, five hundred counts of arson, multiple counts of soliciting murder via the promise of payment, conspiracy to use a WMD, conspiracy to violate the rights of Taurian citizens and… the improper disposal of hazardous waste within the city limits.\\

//If you surrender yourself to my forces, your safety will be guaranteed, and counsel will be provided you when we return to Samantha. Please note that I have civil law enforcement officers here who will take custody of you. You are not being detained as a POW, but as a criminal suspect."\\

"My God," someone murmured. "Are they insane? He's the ruler of the Capellan Confederation!"

"If a bandit king had attacked Samantha, none of us would raise an eyebrow at this." Melissa quietly said. "My mother has spent much of her life trying to deal with nobles who feel that they are above the law." She smiled, and the expression was oddly cold on her face. "If the Taurians are right, the Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation committed premeditated mass murder against a state he was not at war with." She shrugged. "I know it's a minor bit of Trivia, but the Confederation made peace, officially, with the Concordat after the Reunification War, and nobody bothered to redeclare war on them after the collapse of the Star League."

"Even so, how can they seize him?" Quintus said. "The palace has abundant security and the forces around the city can move quickly."

"I suppose we'll have to see," Hanse said. As the day passed, other messages came in. ComStar protesting the high-handed blockade, while happily evading it, by various methods. There were other mages from the conflict, what looked like heavy missiles from orbit…

"Capital missiles?" Someone asked. "The Bulls have capital missiles?"

Good bombardment weapon. The number of orbital bombardments since the Second Succession War could be counted on one hand. You just didn't have the money to make the complex systems needed to effectively guide a missile. Tharkad, New Avalon, and probably Luthien had surface to space batteries, but Sian evidently didn't.

But then he shot upright at another video. This one was jerky, shot from inside a vehicle of some kind. Something fell from the sky, landing and then rising up, bullets sparking off of its armor. Taller than a human, it looked like…

Ferret Power Armor (Standard)

Power Armor descending

"That can't be an exoskeleton," Hanse muttered. It's moving almost like a gymnast. It actually spun around and ducked under the fire, before rising up and opening fire at someone off screen with what looked like a machine gun, snapping off short bursts, before it took a giant leap, vanishing from view as thrusters boosted it into the sky. Son of a bitch. That's how they did it.

"The rounds hitting it looked like they came from assault rifles," Melissa said, her eyes narrowed, no doubt thinking about her infantry training. "And they were bouncing off of its armor. And it's carrying a machine gun." His wife frowned. "Something like that would be nearly unstoppable at close quarters. So if they targeted the palace and got inside…"

"It wouldn't matter what the Liaos had on the outside." Hanse nodded. And even outside, they wouldn't have a lot of fun. Infantry anti-BattleMech attacks could be dangerous enough when men were carrying the bombs suited to a human. But something like that suit, if it could move faster and carry heavier loads… Hanse didn't fancy having someone slap a forty-pound breaching charge on his cockpit.

"Where the hell did they get it?" Quintus said. "We were assuming they found a depot, or even a Halstead style find, but even at the height of the Star League, nobody had units like this!"

No. Nobody did. Now the Taurians do. And they happen to hate my nation.

"Yet they've gone to every effort to avoid being threatening." Melissa said. "They provide assistance against pirates, sell to both the Lyran Commonwealth and the Combine, and the majority of their recent exports are civilian in nature." She tapped her finger against her chin. "I know that a few attempts to feel them out regarding a military alliance by Mother were quickly shut down. They value their neutrality."

"Until Max poked them and attempted to get them into a war with us," Hanse said. "We know we didn't do it, and I doubt the Taurians would do this without absolute proof, both for the outside world and their own domestic opinion." He looked around, and nodded, everyone was cleared. "Like his attempt to replace me."

Which he thinks worked. The psychologists working with the victim of Max's plotting had picked up dozens of trigger phrases being put into Capellan messages and propaganda. Nothing specific merely intended to lead to angry outbursts and foolish decisions. And it came close to succeeding. Hanse still sometimes woke up from dreams where he was trapped, listening to an impostor lay waste to everything he built.

A little more information trickled through, but running a multi-front war meant that Hanse couldn't just stop everything and listen, so the day passed. At the end of it, when he was preparing to eat dinner with Melissa, Quintus came in, a unreadable expression on his face.

"What is it, Quintus?", Hanse asked

"A message. From the Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation, Candace Liao."

Hanse blinked, glanced at Melissa and nodded. "Let's hear it."

Moments later, they watching Candace Liao standing in a anonymous room, Justin standing by her, and a… Taurian officer on her other side.

<<"To Hanse Davion. My father has proven by his actions to be unworthy of his exalted position, and has suffered a nervous breakdown from that realization, and the betrayal by my younger sister, who attempted to launch a coup to take advantage of his failures. I was forced to execute her for treason.">>

<<"Therefore, I have taken command and have no intention of continuing the futile war my Father launched, and have ordered all forces to remain solely on the defensive, and I am withdrawing as many forces as I have lift for to defend against the Free Worlds League's attack on our borders. While requesting a truce with the Federated Suns.">> She paused, looking for all the world as if she was discussing the weather. <<"It is true that you can defeat us, but if you refuse a truce, our defeat will cost you, both in terms of troops lost conquering and the trouble from occupying hostile worlds. The Confederation, unlike the Combine or Free Worlds League, will pose no threat to the Federated Suns even if we are not fully conquered, and am willing to come to the agreements you feel necessary to guarantee that. To further make my intentions clear, I have directed the office of public information to broadcast my offer of a truce, and furthermore, my renunciation of any claim to the First Lordship of the Star League, on behalf of myself and my heirs, as well as the Confederation as a whole.">>

The room was absolutely silent.

<<"Furthermore, I have determined that in order to fulfill the dictates of filial piety, I shall accompany my father to Samantha. I shall leave Justin Xiang here, for he has my absolute confidence that he will not take actions to endanger the peace, and I am certain you will take no actions regarding your prodigal son. I do believe that having a representative meet me in order to negotiate a permanent treaty would be an excellence use of your time.">> She paused and let a small smile touch her face. <<"Also, I have requested the Taurian government to temporarily take over security duties for several duchies, as our fleet and military cannot do so. I will inform you as to Protector Edward's decision">>

"Son of a bitch," Hanse murmured. "A surrender."

"Negotiated," Melissa said. "Quintus, your son. I am…sorry."

"You may not have to be, Your Majesty." Quintus looked at Hanse and he nodded. "He's been serving as a deep cover agent for us. Although…"

"Prodigal Son." Hanse nodded. "The prodigal son is accepted home with rejoicing. I wonder how long she's known."

"I don't know, but… I almost miss, Max." Quintus said. "She sent us a list of worlds that she is requesting Taurian "assistance" for, and they include most of the bordering worlds, up to the Menke Duchy—including Victoria."

"Why…" Melissa murmured. "Unless… she knows that you have been trying to build better relations, as has my mother. If that holds firm, then we wouldn't risk a confrontation with the Taurians and they're simply not big enough to absorb those worlds."

"So, eventually the Confederation might be strong enough to take them back, or negotiate for them, since they'd still maintain a strong Capellen culture." Hanse nodded.

"Well it frees up more troops to deal with the Free Worlds League." Quintus added. "I expect the stab in the back has not made our new Chancellor overly happy."

"Edward might not agree," Melissa said. "But until he gives a decision, we really can't risk it…"

"So worst case, she's got at least part of the border locked down." Hanse nodded. "Who should we send?"

"Not you, Hanse." Melissa said. "Trust me, I interacted with the Taurians, and well. I don't think there would be private assassination attempts, but anything you said…"

"True. Do you have a suggestion than?"

"Well," his wife said. "Candace and I might have a few things to talk about between negotiations, and who knows, I might be able to open the Taurians up to official trade with the Federated Suns. That can also prove to my friends back home that I haven't gone native, and decided that money is useless compared to the might of a battlemech."

Hanse laughed.

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