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The Bull and the Genie
- Chapter 17 - POW Negotiations

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Rebel Stronghold - Coromodir, Aurigan Reach

Mary was in pain. The painkillers they'd dosed her with had worn off and her arm was letting her know that, as was every other bruise on her body.

Flip side, it was no worse than any other soldier—you didn't want to dose up a causality to the point where they couldn't tell you if something else was going wrong.

The Canopian combat medical kit they had used on her was actually better than what the TDF had. They had also forgone binding both her arms, probably due to the broken arm, but her legs were securely tied and her unbroken arm was secured to the seat in the little APC.

Nobody was talking to her.

Then after about forty minutes, they stopped, and a hood was put on her head. Mary didn't protest. It was common practice and the way it was done, combined with the medical care, indicated these were professionals.

And I am happy for that. Civilians had an ugly habit of flipping all the way from 'don't fight' to 'kill them all.'

The soldiers moved her from the APC outside, the sound of moving men and machines around her, and then they were in some kind of installation, cermacrete under her feet. A few minutes later, and Mary was roughly sat down on a bench and the hood was pulled away from her.

The room was bare, save for the bench, a table, and someone sitting at the other side, a light obscuring Mary's view. She blinked.

"Brigadier Cheng. I had not expected such a prize, especially delivered in such an… unusual way."

"Well, I'll have unkind things to say about Victoria's fire discipline, Lady Arano."

"You know me?", she asked

"I listened to your speeches.", Mary told her.

"Good, then you know I am the rightful heir, and now that you have been betrayed by Lord Espinoza…"

"I can go and tell my troops to turn on him?" Mary paused. "You do know that if I did that, nobody would ever—ever trust the Concordat again. Not even a tiny world being assaulted by pirates would let us help, because they couldn't trust our word."

"You would remain allied with those who tried to kill you?"

"I didn't say that, but I have a higher duty to the Concordat. A duty higher than my own life."

Another man came in and whispered to Arano.

"Yes," she said. "Understand this, you can only work to save your men. We were preparing for an attack—Lord Espinoza's actions and demands have scattered both his and your forces, as was our intent."

Great, Arano spent a day studying strategy. Better than Espinoza.

"And now," she continued. "Much of your unit is still looking for you. If you work with us, I will attempt to ensure that none of your forces garrisoning the city are harmed unduly when the uprising is launched. I will not lie, it would help us as well. Some of our forces are not in place, but when the enemy commander is dropped into our laps by our true enemy's actions…"

Mary paused. Now was the time when the heroic captain's loyal allies kicked the door in.

The door remained closed.

"And what then?", Mary asked her.

"What do you mean. We will restore the Coalition!", said Arano with enthusiasm.

"That's not a plan, that's a goal." Mary paused. "The reason we were backing Espinoza was that we could talk to him. Your father came to us with agreements, then had to go back on them, and it was starting to look like we might head for a war. Now here you are, telling me you want to re-establish the Coalition, with Canopian support, and no sign that things will be any better for us."

"Losing our freedoms to make deals would destroy the Coalition. I will not do that.", Arano told her.

Oh. God. She's actually younger than I am. Mary stared at the woman, and the man next to her, probably a merc. Maybe an adviser from the Magistracy. But…

"What would having a Regimental Combat Team dropped on your head do to the Coalition?" Mary asked, tossing about ninety percent of her orders involving "don't do that' into the trashbin.


"You're not the only one upset with Espinoza. Right before I left, I received orders to prepare for the arrival of five regiments, four infantry and armor, one 'Mech regiment. I also received orders to prepare for the temporary detention of Directorate officials."

"And you say you would not betray an ally!"

"We're not betraying them. We'd just be keeping them safe, in a room that doesn't have any outgoing communications." Mary paused. "If that unit gets here to see you in combat with our 'peacekeeping' force, or worse yet, on the throne with them being dead—well ask your advisers. What are your chances of standing off the Concordat, because the Concordat cannot be seen to have lost. If they felt they could, I would be on my way back right now."

"How interesting that this invasion occurs right after I tell you of my plans."

"Well, I needed a little encouragement to commit what could be considered treason." Mary sighed. "Check the spaceport. No orders, but they're holding the heavy berths in readiness. You know how much that costs. Hell, ask your Canopian supporters to get you any information on our troop movements."

"Why are you doing this?", she asked Mary

Mary leaned forward, her arm pulsing with low pain. "Because the TDF can't win. You have the loyalty of the people, and Espinoza managed to destroy his popularity because the man can't seem to understand you can't shoot every problem. We'll come, we'll land, and people will shoot at us. And we'll shoot back, and eventually, because this is a money sink, the Concordat will annex the worlds we want and leave—but you'll have no military, and likely not much of an industry left. Just another periphery state that rose up and then became a pirate's playground." Mary stared at the woman. "Like my world was. I wouldn't wish hat on my worst enemy and the people of the Reach aren't my worst enemy."

"So why do you trust Lady Arano?" The man by her said.

"Well, I don't. But, I do know that Lord Espinoza has not impressed me. I also know that you didn't attack civilians, or jam people into cages. Which means that he people don't hate you. I also assume that you're intelligent enough to realize that while we don't really care what you do internally, you have to be able to negotiate with us regarding those worlds, or you'll end right back where you started."

"What do you propose?" Arano said.

"The only way that RCT doesn't come here, or just goes home, is if there's no civil war. We've got less than two weeks to wrap that up."

"And how can we do that?"

"Well, I was thinking, with your assistance, of locking you, me, and Lord Espinoza in a small room and negotiating our way out of this mess." Mary paused. "And given that your forces were close enough to rescue me, I assume you have some BattleRoms, right?"


"Then I have a tool that may convince Lord Espinoza to listen. The Concordat would be vastly more tolerant of an accidental weapons mis-fire than it would be an assassination attempt, and Espinoza does love his daughter."

"So," the nameless man by Lady Arano said. "What do you think the Concordat is going to say to you?"

"It's probably going to depend on how this turns out." Which means I have a really, really good reason to hope this turns out well. After all, Mary didn't want to take up a lifetime career of making little rocks out of big rocks…

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