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The Bull and the Genie[]

Chapter 17 - Book II - The Ninety-five Theses[]

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The Protector, the Chancellor, and the Princess[]

Meeting Between Leaders[]

Taurus, Taurian Concordat

Getting down to Taurus had been difficult. Three decoy DropShips, and then her DropShip, with a detail of bodyguards— including the first serving Davion soldiers who had been on Taurus since the end of the Star League. They had been zipped through an underground tunnel as the videos were showing the demonstrations raging around the downport where the "Davion Princess" (or whore, depending on how high-class the show was), was "landing."

"I suppose I should be happy these demonstrations are smaller than the ones demanding Max be hung from the nearest lightpole."

"Well, his sins are nearer." Captain Jerak Timmis was her bodyguard, vetted by MIIO and LIC, and was a member of the Diplomatic Protective Services division…

And not happy to be in charge of the heir-apparent to the Lyran Commonwealth and wife of First Prince Hanse Davion on a planet full of people who didn't like them.

"Don't worry, Jerak," Melissa Steiner-Davion said. "I doubt Edward wants war with us."

"Probably not, but then a few months ago, I'd doubt that Edward would have invaded the capital of a House Lord to serve an arrest warrant."

Melissa smiled. "Point. But unlike Max, we're not going out of our way to make such an arrest warrant a requirement."

A few moments later, they were stopped in an underground garage, and the door opened. There was the Davion, Lyran and Taurian flags, a row of officers standing to each side of a red carpet. Interposed with the humans were the hulking figures of the powered armored guards, each gleaming in the light.

As Melissa got out she stared at them. Standing was easy enough. Even walking, but… one swayed lightly, like a soldier adjusting his pose.

Her eyes widened slightly. That kind of feedback… It must really be like they're wearing a second skin. That is… impressive.

Melissa wasn't a great infantry soldier, but she'd trained in infantry and she had a momentary feeling of sympathy for the unprepared Liao soldiers who had come up against an enemy wearing their own weight in armor and weapons—and yet able to move like an unencumbered human.

At the end was a Taurian general and diplomat.

"Senior Secretary of State Jacobsin at your service," he said, bowing. "The Protector is waiting for you and Chancellor Liao in the reception room."

Ah, that's how it goes. The first sign of what the Concordat's desires were had been made plain. Seeing them both, meant they saw them as equals rather than potential allies to be courted.

"Thank you for your reception, Mr. Secretary," Melissa said. "This is my assistant, Captain Timmis, of the Lyran Commonwealth. His sister is part of the Masterson Conglomerate."

"Ah, I hope our water purifiers have been earning their keep."

"That and more, and we value our long-term relationship with the Concordat."

"Of course," he said. More small talk was made, until they reached the main office levels. A functionary checked his watch, and Melissa nodded as the doors were opened at precisely the same time, allowing her and Chancellor Candace Liao to enter the room at the same time.

"Greetings," Protector Edward Calderon said. "Pardon our adhoc way of doing things, but it's been some time since a head of state has visited us, let alone under such… odd conditions."

"I thank you for your hospitality," Candace said. "And the assistance of the Public Defender's office. My father, however, has informed them that he is immune to prosecution from his lessers, and therefore needs present no defense other than his station."

"A station he no longer occupies?" Melissa asked.

"Yes." Candace shrugged. "This is the most recent, but far from the only error he has made."

"Yet, not the largest issue we are confronting. Protector Calderon," Melissa said as Edward gestured her and Candace to sit down, "The Federated Suns agrees to the proposal that Taurus shall take over security for the worlds that currently cannot protect themselves. But I do wonder how you see the Taurian interest playing out there. I ask this because some members of those populations may be hostile to the Federated Suns, and while we will not attack, we would respond to attacks."

"A planetary population needs JumpShips to attack. Our protective forces shall monitor ship movements. I've summoned General Cheng—she's done well where she is, but this is the kind of thing she's suited at. Since she more or less wrote the book on wide-scale policing and anti-piracy operations. Beyond that, we see no reason to become directly involved in the law or policing of the planets, unless we see a complete breakdown in public order. It is not our intention to use occupation as an excuse for annexation."

"How long?" Melissa asked.

"Ten years would seem to be long enough," Candace said. "Especially if trade is uninterrupted."

Oh, that's what you're playing at. Not simply defense from the Federated Suns, but not having to pay for their defense while rebuilding their own military. Well, two could play at that game.

"Given their losses in this war, losses that were due to a madman's decision. I believe we could relax the trade restrictions between the Federated Suns and the Confederation. However, would that trigger the trade restrictions currently codified into Taurian law?"

Edward thought about it for a time, then shook his head. "As I said, those worlds are not Taurian, nor under our occupation, if they chose to be trade intermediaries…"

Melissa didn't smile, and she didn't leap for glee. There was a huge market in Taurus, to say nothing of the Confederation worlds. And Edward knows it as well. He didn't have the political capital to normalize relations, at least not right now, but this was a good start.

"At the end of the decade?" Candace asked. "What then?"

"In order to ensure that nobody, ah, takes them for granted I suggest a planetary referendum on each world to express their desire for the future going forward."

"Would that include annexation by the Concordat?" Melissa asked.

"No. At most it would open us to discussion some future unification," Edward said. "But annexation is such a fraught decision, that it could not be made by a single vote. This, I think, would simply be a vote on if they wish to go back to the Confederation, seek some other path, or keep things as they are."

Candace and Melissa shared a glance. And so we are all in the position of a bidding war for their future friendship, which means money flowing in, and trade, trade that will benefit the Concordat, in addition to whatever political and social ties it forges. Well, nobody had ever said Edward Calderon was ignorant about economics, and only a fool would discount him politically, after recent events.

"That is acceptable. But what of the current actions of the Free Worlds League?"

"They, ah, declined my invitation to discuss this matter personally." Edward said. "While as a matter of principle, we would prefer to see this conflict end, we cannot violate our neutrality."

"I agree, and the Federated Suns will respect your neutrality." Melissa said. "As a Lyran, I can say that you have our eternal gratitude for the services of your soldiers, laying down your lives for our own civilians. That is a debt that will not be forgotten. Politically, of course, it was impossible for my husband to come to Taurus at this point."

"Ah, the death in your family."

"We were all shocked and saddened by Michael's unexpected heart attack. For such a fit individual to die to that…" She shook her head. "And yet it must be said that Michael often misjudged his friends, and created enemies where none needed to be."

Candace's smile was so fleeting that you might miss it.

"Yet, as a way to reduce future tensions, Hanse and I decided that it might be wise to establish a arrangement with Comstar for fast communication both with New Avalon and New Syrtis. So that some of the unfortunate errors of the past will not be repeated." Before Edward could speak, Melissa continued. "This is not formal diplomatic relations. It is premature for that, but perhaps a way to ensure that both sides can be notified if ah…pirates attempt to stir up hostilities."

Edward leaned back. "I will take that under advisement, Your Majesty, but it's not a decision I can make immediately."

"Of course." You just became Protector, and here you are, in the deep end. Melissa sympathized.

But that wouldn't keep her from getting the best deal possible for her homes, both birth and adopted.

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