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The Bull and the Genie[]

Chapter 2 - Book II - The Ninety-five Theses[]

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Settling Down, Gearing up[]

Oberon VI, Oberon Confederation
June 3027

"We're going to find Kerensky's people."

Mary sighed. "You mean like everyone else?" She stared at the scientist. "I'm not going to detail half the RCT to escort you while you explore every local haunted landing spot."

After all, half the tourist business in this part of the periphery involves looking for Kerensky. Even odds if someone dug out a "landing spot' themselves, or if you're just looking at some abandoned quarry or mine.

She had other issues to deal with. Oberon wasn't a bad world, nicely temperate—but the first mines had been dug up stream from the settlements, and the water was all contaminated by heavy metals. Moving the city wasn't an option so their first shipment of gift purifiers were now replacing the old sand-filter designs that had resulted in nearly 20 percent more still births and congenital defects than you'd get in most Inner Sphere worlds.

They don't have the budget here for fully staffed special needs schools. Mary had seen a dozen or more beggars just outside of their compound, many of them suffering from obvious mental and physical disabilities. It said a lot for King Grimm that he'd established orphanages, and if they were nightmares compared to what you got on Tharkad or Samantha, they were better than the old ways, which generally involved your father and a pillow being pressed down on your face.

Which brought her back to the cheerful scientist in front of her who was talking gibberish.

"How are you going to find him?"

"With a telescope."

Mary blinked. Right. Professors don't feel happy if they aren't showing how smart they are so what does…

Light speed.

"We're closer, less of a light-speed delay."

"Correct. Amateurs love to search the stars, forgetting that if Kerensky's people settled a world 1000 light years away, the light of their settlements would have yet to reach the Inner Sphere, but the astronomy department has deepspace telescopes. Mobile telescopes. We know when Kerenksy left. We know the last locations where evidence of his flotilla was found, and by that, we can estimate when he could have come to other worlds, which means we know where our telescopes must be to observe events in ah, the proper time."

You'd have to find them when they were transmitting, or when they were using their transit drives. Mary wasn't a scientist, but there was a strict limit beyond which most transmissions got "lost". And Kerensky's exodus, for all that it had a lot of people on it, had only taken a tiny fraction of a world's population. Even today, presuming they weren't all dead, Mary would be surprised if they had more people than say the Arugians did.

All of which meant it was time to remind someone who was in charge.

"That is a hobby, but your job is to start charting out inhabitable worlds, giving us a baseline for anti-piracy missions." To find inhabited worlds that were either victims of pirates or bases for them—or both. They had some information about polities like the Hanseatic League and Chainelane Isles, a mixture of rumors and fact, although Mary had the distinct feeling that the League wasn't happy at their presence, from the actions of the "Trader" who had been providing Oberon with equipment. She'd asked the intelligence people if they could discretely tap into his communications with the gaudy Dropship he owned, and one that, unusually, had a number of people living on it full time even in port.

"For that reason, I want you to focus on local systems, moving out, and especially matching them to local databases."

"Ma'am, this could be—"

"Kerensky has been gone for a few centuries, I doubt making him wait a few months will be a problem."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Good." Because I want to make certain we don't have any more warship surprises, Mary thought as the deflated scientist left. Granted, that's why they had some securely stored "special weapons", but beyond that, her orders weren't just to deal with pirates, but to find any possible sources of warships, say abandoned caches, and most especially anyone flying a wolverine flag, or who knew who they were. Given that they didn't have magic detectors, that would mean finding inhabited worlds, tracking down rumors, and if they were lucky, maybe getting some good information.

This part of the universe had always been a little sketchy. Oh, rumors of secret shipyards, and worlds full of mad CASPER robots, but in truth, after the fall of the RWR, most groups had been content to stick close to the Inner Sphere.

But sketchy didn't mean empty, and Mary had no intention of wandering into Terra incognito unprepared.

And speaking of that… Mary pulled out a folder, full of everything King Grimm knew about the Chainelane Isles, which was… not a lot. But they were always at war, and always wanting new toys, which said pirates to Mary. Once the astronomers finished their jobs, it would be time to send a battalion over to say hello, offer them protection. In meanwhile it subtly letting them know that piracy might be a bad investment.

Maybe TDI's fusion factory will be finished by then. That had been the crown jewel in their "woo King Grimm" campaign, and if they were practically antique, Age of War designs by Inner Sphere standards. They were loads better than the coal fired power plant that Mary had seen on the tour.

Even better, so far from the Concordat, only the supervisors were Concordat citizens, and they weren't just supervising, they'd be training Grimm's own people, who would ultimately be putting all the money back into his economy and spending it on locals. Mary had already seen that—a couple of diners had sprung up next to the construction site.

There nothing made piracy unattractive like being able to make just as much money working eight hours a day without dying to an angry mob or a competing pirate to ruin your week.

"Sometimes I wish I was just a Mechwarrior." In school, bribery was this terrible thing that showed how bad a nation was… and here they were, engaging in bribery on a grand scale.

Mary chuckled. "All in a good cause." Bribery or not, if it made piracy less attractive, she was for it. And it wasn't all bribery. Mary and Grimm's BattleMechs were part two of the deal—reminding everyone that it taking, rather than trading, would be far more costly than it was worth.

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