• The 'Comrade' title is now available in a fetching communist red for purchase by all of you capitalists who survived the Sietch gulag during the people's revolution. And in the spirit of all communists everywhere, it was broken until the capitalist pig dogs fixed it. ;)
  • Your beloved Boot here with a confession. The Boot tangled its laces and failed to properly set up the new Comrade user title. Thanks to the kind intercession of Emperor Tippy this failure has been corrected and the new user title is now actually on sale to everybody.

Battletech Welcome to the Jungle

A Matter of a Proper Reward for Services Rendered IV

Yellowhammer

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A Matter of Proper Reward for Services Rendered IV

(A Welcome to the Jungle canon sidestory)

The Triad, Tharkad City, Bremen, Tharkad, Tharkad System,
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
February 18th, 3016


Julia Steiner applauded politely as she watched Alistair get ennobled as Duke of Catachan. If she was honest with herself, it was a bittersweet moment for her. He certainly did deserve the rank and status for all that he had done for the Lyran Commonwealth, especially House Steiner.

But the title of nobility was also sending a good man out to get paraded in front of her fellow nobles as a potential patsy or target in their schemes. While some politics was a necessary evil, it was in her opinion far more evil than necessary.

She sighed inaudibly behind her cool mask and then took a glass of Palos champagne from one of the waiters circulating around the Royal Court. After a sip of champagne, she then smiled at her classmate (and fellow noblewoman) Baroness Yasmine Kochhar from Chahar. “So Yas, you mentioned that Dobless Information Services finally expanded that new data center in Benares?”

The chocolate-skinned Hindi woman nodded, fire opals gleaming from the ornate embroidering of her sari. “Indeed, which is good news. Grandfather has been speaking to Trellshire Heavy Industries about building a feeder plant for munitions and artillery. Unfortunately, it seems that the Duke of Blue Hole has the same ideas to influence THI’s board of directors and the politics have been challenging. Perhaps you and your Duke Weber could look our way when his company expands off Catachan?”

Julia nibbled her lip. “I’ll see what I can do but he’s already fairly tapped out for the moment, Yas. I can introduce you to him at least since you have those ties to Dobless. He could use a good data archivist in his service, if nothing else and Dobless has the largest data library in the Commonwealth.” She then winked and spoke in a teasing tone. “Especially since you are happily married and so ‘safe’ for him to meet. I remember you marrying Baron Tobiason of Dobless, after all.”

Yasmine giggled. “You caught the bouquet too as my bridesmaid! How can I forget that?!”

“Well, it turns out that I may be in luck for redeeming that bouquet toss. Duke Weber’s a man of very high character and quite a skilled Mechwarrior. He didn’t mind me bagging a few of his targets to make ‘Mech Ace on Sevren against the Rasalhague Regulars. Didn’t mind very much, at least.” Julia grinned, then glanced over at a familiar dark skinned face heading toward her charge. “I’ll need to talk to Duke Brewer soon, Yas. Will you be on planet this week?”

Yasmine nodded. “For the next two weeks. I’m staying at the family’s townhouse.”

Julia nodded. “I’m keeping an eye on Weber at the Mjolnir hotel. I’ll give you a call and set up a lunch date to touch base and maybe drag him along to talk business. Auf Wiedersehen!

With that she said her goodbyes and moved into an intercept course with Duke Greydon Brewer. Julia deftly interposed herself behind a lady he was speaking about some industrial matter or the other before they exchanged polite excuses to depart one another’s presence. She then gave a formal greeting, a slight curtsey to her social superior. After all, she was a Countess approaching one of the most powerful Dukes in the Commonwealth. “Ahh, it’s good to see you again, Duke Brewer! I heard you were attending today. May I help you?”

The dark-skinned businessman nodded to her. “Julia. Your mother informed me of your current posting when we spoke earlier.”

Julia blushed slightly. “I’ll check in with Mother at the earliest possible. Right now, I’m playing wingman for my charge.” She nodded at Alistair Weber as he spoke to a crowd of courtiers, who Julia had rapidly assessed as relatively harmless small fry in Court circles.

Duke Brewer chuckled a moment as he glanced toward the young man who had just been made a planetary Duke. “Indeed. I wish to speak to him about some strategic partnerships before I need to attend my other duties tonight.” Brewer leaned in. “Your recommendations, Julia?”

Julia spoke slowly. “Alistair, Duke Weber rather is a blunt man, a soldier and not a politician. The kind of Mechwarrior that gets his hands dirty helping his Techs because the more he knows about his machine, or his business, the better he is as a commander of it. He’s earnest, and forthright. You shouldn’t need to beat around the bush with him.”

Brewer chuckled. “Ahh, one of those. I can work with this. I must ask, the new Thunderbolt is as good as advertised?”

Julia grinned happily. “The Thunderbolt refit is better than advertised honestly, it’s actually a sweeter ride than my old Zeus in some regards, especially with the Vindicator autocannon. Asgard has the report on it that I prepared for them. Of course I also dropped off copies of the BattleROMs from Sevren for their files. He’s got a strategic partnership with Olivetti to assist them with building more T-bolts, along with some additional parts that will go into their Warhammer lines once they finish getting things organized on their end. He’s not going to stab them in the back, especially not since they helped him get Catachan off the ground. That said, you know about the Banshee mods that he did?”

Brewer nodded slowly. “I reviewed the footage that you dropped off. Those are seriously mean beasts. A definite step up from the -3Es we turn out and we could use more of them.”

“Well, I’m of the understanding that his contract with Olivetti doesn’t cover Banshees….” Julia commented while they watched Alistair Weber handle his first taste of Court life.

--------------------------------------​

Julia smiled inwardly as she watched Duke Brewer escort her charge to the corridor containing the secure conference rooms where the real negotiations of Court got done.

The smile vanished as a servant bowed to her. “Grafin Steiner, your presence is requested.”

Julia nodded regally to him. “Lead on then.”

The trip through the maze of richly decorated opulent halls ended at another private room. Julia stepped inside and her eyes widened.

Waiting for her was her mother Iris Steiner who was dressed in a pastel blue Prada watered silk dress cut in a pseudo-military line. A matched set of flawless diamonds glittered at her throat, fingers, and ears as she turned from speaking to her husband. A color much lighter than the controlled frost of her demeanor when she inspected Julia, eyes sweeping her up and down as if assessing her before she allowed a small nod and smile of greeting to pass between them.

Anthony Steiner, Julia’s father, who looked like the professor of history that he was with his wire-rimmed glasses, wool suit coat, and receding hairline, gave her a proud smile. He was more restrained in her mother’s presence then the usual hug he would have enveloped her in.

To one side, her thirteen year old brother Caesar looked up from the tray of pralines that he was working through like an AgroMech through a wheat field.

“Hey Jules!” Caesar mumbled around a trio of chocolates stuffed in his mouth, causing his round cheeks to bulge out like a chipmunk’s.

“Hello Mother, Father!” Julia then turned to her pig of a younger brother and gave him a flat stare as she sighed inwardly, assuming the role that she had been groomed to play to satisfy her demanding parents. “Caesar. Veni, vidi, vici agitantibus?

Caesar gave her a dirty look as her father chuckled at her plagiarizing a quote from her brother's namesake while he walked over to her. “It’s good to see that you have been keeping up on your Latin studies. It’s even better to see you safely home from Sevren, Julia.“ Anthony hugged her which Julie eagerly returned before he released her.

Iris walked over and hugged her daughter in turn. “Yes it is good to see you again, dear. Katrina spoke to me about your new assignment and I’m in full agreement with her on the point. I’d like to meet your Mr. Weber at the earliest moment to take his measure first, though.”

Julia gave her parents a smile. “I’ll make it happen once Duke Brewer gets done with him and I link back up. Thank you again for sending some of your jewelry for me to wear for the role here on Tharkad.” She touched the necklace. “So, is there anything I should be aware of?”

Iris nodded sharply to her husband, giving him his marching orders to guide Caesar back to the buffet line so the Steiner ladies could get to serious work. “Yes, Julia. Aldo Lestrade arrived for this session of court with his niece Lucrezia. They took Cousin Frederick’s dropship to Tharkad. Also Duke Mallos from Mizar came along with them and brought his daughters Anika and Malia Mallos.”

Julia sighed at the announcement that three of the strongest supporters of Free Skye would be present tonight. Worse, two of them had brought unmarried female relatives. “Blake’s Blood!”
 
Last edited:

PeaceMaker 03

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Yellowhammer and Speaker thanks for the BT crack that is this story.

Yellowhammer the Omake has added perspective on an already great story.
 
Interlude 3-Fr

Speaker4thesilent

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Interlude 3-Fr​

The Triad, Bremen, Tharkad, Tharkad System,
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
February 18th, 3016


Frederick Steiner recognized the man approaching him and his group of friends and fellow officers immediately, in spite of barely paying attention to The Witch’s rambling. That the victory was won under his cousin’s auspices did not mean it wasn’t a worthwhile victory.

“Ah, Colonel Weber, or perhaps that should be ‘Duke’ since you aren’t in uniform tonight?” he asked. “Congratulations on being ennobled.”

“Thank you, and either or is fine,” the young man said, then tilted his head in recognition. “I apologize, Colonel Steiner, you look different in person. I hardly recognized you.”

“They say the camera adds five kilos,” he brushed the comment off with a rehearsed smile. Aldo had made him practice for several hours over the course of two days, but he couldn’t deny that the joke worked.

For whatever reason, he simply didn’t photograph well, no matter the makeup department’s efforts. Better to laugh it off than take offense.

“So what brings you to our little corner of the room?” he inquired, picking up the thread of conversation.

“Avoiding inquiries into my state of matrimony. I was starting to feel like a prize racehorse,” the man replied with an expression that was probably supposed to be a smile, but didn’t quite pass muster.

Frederick could sympathize. Weber would have had it even worse than he did himself, as the ‘man of the hour.’ Plus, he had heard some interesting tidbits from the military grapevine about the equipment used on Sevren by Weber’s unit. If the rumors were even close to true, that would greatly boost Weber’s standing in the eyes of those damn husband-hunters. Avoiding the plethora of women out to attach themselves to a Duke -any Duke- was half the reason he found a few like-minded servicemen and entrenched like this at Court.

The other half was maintaining his network of friends throughout the Armed Forces. When his cousin inevitably overreached just like Uncle Alessandro did with CONCENTRATED WEAKNESS, he’d need to be in position to step in and mitigate the damage.

And here, perhaps, was an opportunity. At the least he could sound out young Duke Weber; at best, he might discover another like-minded patriot. Still, best not to continue discussing the situation in the Isle of Skye nor to leap on this opportunity too suddenly. Perhaps lead with some small talk …

“No doubt you’ve had to retell everything about Sevren two or three times tonight, so how about a change of pace. What was your first ‘Mech?” he began.

“I started off in the unit’s Commando,” Weber answered and there were nods and approving mutters around the circle.

The Commando was an iconic Lyran machine and had a proud history in the LCAF. The design had proved itself as part of the first BattleMech on BattleMech engagement in 2475 on the planet Nox, defeating much larger Combine Mechs. They were still a mainstay of Lyran scout lances.

“They’re a solid Light Striker: good speed, solid armament, and decent endurance,” Frederick allowed. “Can’t go wrong with one in that role.”

“Good enough that I scored three kills with one in my first engagement back on New Year’s Day in 3010. Two Locusts and a Panther. Of course, we hit the Fifteenth Rasalhague from behind out of what they thought was a dead-end canyon,” Weber said with a shrug.

“Smart,” Frederick honestly complimented, “better than my first battle. I was piloting my personal Phoenix Hawk, leading a Lance of lights down on the Marik border when the Free Worlds’ League Militia hit New Kyoto. I got so focused on finishing off the Hermes II that I was fighting that I didn’t notice the Wolverine on my flank until it hit me with a full Alpha Strike, including half a dozen inferno SRMs.”

Frederick reached up and traced his index and middle fingers over the scar above his right eyebrow.

“I got this when I ejected, and with how badly my ‘Mech was burning, I’m fortunate I didn’t get worse. It taught me a valuable lesson about getting tunnel vision on the battlefield. Of course the extra size and armor of a Zeus don’t hurt either.” He finished with a proud grin as he mentioned his baby.

“Hear, hear!” Alan, a fellow Colonel from the Nagelring teaching staff called and raised his glass. Frederick himself sipped to be polite, but didn’t much more than wet his lips.

“Phoenix Hawk is a good ‘Mech. Versatile armament and good mobility,” Alistair said, “but I hear you on the benefits of tonnage. Much as I enjoyed piloting that Commando, I wouldn’t trade back from my Banshee.”

Frederick could separate the observers who were well informed from those who were not with a single glance. Those who knew were nodding along. Those who did not looked skeptical. The Banshee did have a reputation, after all.

“I suppose that brings us to the question everyone is dying to have answered: what’s it like piloting a Lostech BattleMech? Assuming the reports I read are true.” he asked, to a ripple of surprise from those in the crowd who hadn’t known.

“Like a better-sinked Awesome at range and a Black Knight up close,” Weber answered immediately, the right side of his lips turned up in a smirk, “But better.”

“Your cousin, Julia, demonstrated how lethal the variant cluster ammunition can be against targets with compromised armor; she scored two kills with it, one against an Awesome, one against a Dragon. Against intact armor, you’ve got the equivalent of a third PPC. And once you’ve got an armor breach or two? One flick of a switch, and you’ve got the equivalent of a couple SRM racks to find something vulnerable inside. Add a fist full of lasers to take over for one ERPPC at shorter ranges, and a flamer to deal with infantry. Now wrap it in nearly the same effective armor as an Atlas, all without losing the speed of a -3E.”

The crowd gave whistles and exclamations of excitement and interest. Frederick did a better job of hiding his interest.

“With focused fire, my Command Lance, which was overstrength at the time with four Banshees plus Julia in her new Thud, were taking down an assault ‘Mech each time our guns cycled.”

That he hadn’t heard. Before he could come up with a polite way to inquire, one of the lower-ranked Asgard staff blurted out what he wanted to ask. God bless overeager Hauptleute!

“How!”

“Range advantage, mostly. When we began the engagement, we were firing from beyond LRM range thanks to our Star League era fire control systems. The Dracs’ standard PPCs were well into their extreme range band replying to our fire, and they only had five of them total in their Command Lance. We had eight ERPPCs, five heavy autocannon, and Julia’s LRM rack, and only the autocannon were firing at extreme range.”

That … was a substantial amount of firepower, even for an Assault ‘Mech to weather if Weber’s troops were good shots. If he remembered correctly, the Warriors were highly rated by the MRB. If that sort of performance was indicative-

“Even so, that was good gunnery,” he congratulated the man. Weber shrugged.

“My father believed in running as many exercises as he could afford, and maybe a few more that he couldn’t. We’ve kept up the tradition. Nothing substitutes for live combat, but being forced to pay the winners’ bar tab certainly serves as motivation for improvement.”

That drew more than a little laughter, and Frederick joined in this time.

“That would, presumably, have been your engagement with the Ninth Rasalhague?” he inquired, finally allowing his curiosity loose, “We’ve all heard the result by now, but I don’t believe I’ve heard much about how you brought them to battle.”

Weber frowned a bit, then started to explain.

“Well, first, some background. We’d come in with a stacked Dropship formation to hide our true strength, intending to look like a raid in force rather than an outright invasion.”

The entire corner of the room was paying attention, now. There hadn’t been a large number of offensives launched in recent years, and it was quite a feather in Colonel Weintraub’s cap to have commanded one. They were all professional officers, and all hoped to eventually have their chance to make such a mark. Best to learn all they could now rather than be found deficient later. Even Frederick himself wasn’t too proud to try and pick up a new trick or two.

“Of course, the enemy also gets a vote. They saw what looked like a raiding force incoming and figured we were in small enough strength that the combined ASF wings of the Seventh Sword and the Ninth Rasalhague along with their militia could beat us without ever letting us land.

“So just as we’re getting ready to hit atmosphere, we detect one of the Dracs’ double strength air Wings and their militia incoming. Except that they’ve somehow pulled a whole ‘nother regular-sized Wing out of their asses to reenact the Great Lee Turkey Shoot on us.

“Well, our plan is out the airlock at that point, so I order our reserve squadrons to launch, and-

XXXXX​

“-so with their Battalion commander dead, their senior Company commander dead, and the junior commander out of position, they didn’t really have a chance to rally. Once he went down, we happened to take out the Lance commander for the last intact Lance, and they finally folded.”

Frederick nodded along with the approving noises the other officers were making. The Rasalhague Regulars weren’t the Coordinator’s biggest fans, but they also weren’t quick to surrender. For centuries, they had been the backbone of the DCMS advance toward Tamar. Pushing them to that point had likely saved quite a bit of damage to machines near CLG.

“Very good use of deception tactics. Bringing your dropship in made the enemy believe you were falling back rather than preparing to push ahead, and you even had time to rest your Mechwarriors while effecting repairs. I think even the most demanding tacticians at the Nagelring would give that a passing grade, eh, Alan?” Frederick complimented the new Duke of Catachan while glancing at one of the Nagelring staff.

“I should dock you a few percent for failing to employ your artillery, but I can hardly argue with the results,” the Colonel shot back.

“Well, I can’t claim all the credit,” Duke Weber replied, “I’d read about your raid on Dromini Six, Colonel Steiner, and I remembered how you managed to ambush the Dieron Regulars despite what should have been superior positioning. I didn’t have a forest for concealment, but I figured Juniper Springs itself made a decent substitute.”

There, that was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.

“Oh? I did think that went quite well, but then I suppose I’m biased. I managed much the same on Zaniah, against the League, but in the Dieron Regulars role, rather than as the attacker.”

“I’ll have to look into that,” Weber replied, “I’m afraid I didn’t follow your actions on the League border as closely. I was young at the time and pretty much focused on the Dracs.”

“Understandable,” Frederick tried to refocus. It was difficult to highlight his competence when dealing with the hostile nations on both borders when his target audience didn’t pay much attention to the Mariks.

“Though now I’m curious, what was it that brought me to your professional attention?” he asked, considering if a more detailed breakdown of an engagement might work to-

“Oh, the Alliance Games,” Weber responded.

It was all Frederick could do to keep from breaking the glass in his right hand.

So that’s how it’s going to be, is it? The Alliance Games had been intended as a ‘friendly’ exercise between the Commonwealth and the damn Feddies after The Witch decided it wasn’t just a handful of corrupt officers dragging the LCAF down, but that centuries of Lyran tradition and doctrine needed to be thrown out the window in favor of Davion methods.

He’d led a battalion of his 10th Lyran Guards against a battalion of the Davion Heavy Guards and been humiliated by the results. Now came the part where Weber either tried to sympathized with his humiliation or waxed enthusiastic about the new Davion methodology.

“You know, if you hadn’t underestimated them, you definitely could have won that fight,” Weber said, and Frederick’s train of thought derailed and plunged over a cliff.

“Ah, that doesn’t seem to be the accepted opinion,” Frederick managed to respond.

Weber just shook his head.

“Accepted opinions all too often reflect groupthink. The Heavy Guards favor the lighter, faster end of the Heavyweight bracket and they used Light Mechs to scout. Your 10th Lyran favors trooper Heavies and fast Assaults and uses Mediums as scouts.

“However, instead of finding the enemy main force, your scouts pursued the enemy scouts even though they couldn’t catch them and were drawn out of position as a result. That allowed the Heavy Guards to hit your dropships. Only then did it become a battle of maneuver that you couldn’t win.

“Your mistake was treating the Heavy Guards like a Marik unit. You should have treated them like one of the better Drac units.” Weber asserted, and Frederick was so surprised that he simply let the man talk.

“With the weight difference, you had the ability to trade successfully with your scouts against the Davions’ main force. Your Griffins especially could have sparred with them for quite a while. Long enough, certainly for your heavier forces to arrive, at which point the Heavy Guards would have had to face you in an unfavorable engagement or retreat.

“Since you were closer to your Dropships than they were to theirs, you could resupply and rearmor more easily, and repeated skirmishing against your heavier weapons and armor would have led to a battle of attrition that you would almost certainly have won. Instead, you marched out looking for a stand-up battle to fight, while the commander of the Heavy Guard marched out looking to win.”

Frederick was glad for all that practice smiling into a mirror, because it was much better than staring in shock. This mirrored some of what he had thought when he had reviewed the engagement afterward to figure out what had gone wrong. He simply wasn’t used to hearing it from anyone else.

“An excellent analysis,” he began, spinning for all he was worth, “You’re absolutely correct that I was expecting more an exhibition match than a war game, but that was my own fault; never allow yourself to get too attached to your own interpretation of events. That said, the result has been used to try to cram these Davion Changes down our throats.

“For some units, that would be fine, but if you’re going to be fighting in forested terrain, why haul an Armored regiment along when they’d be stuck defending your landing site? Better to assign forces to a mission based on what you need rather than trying to make every unit nothing more than an interchangeable cog.”

“So would you be in favor of expanding, say, the Lyran Regulars to full RCTs, but keeping the Guards as independent regiments?” Weber asked.

That seemed a safe enough statement to make, and Frederick nodded.

“Absolutely. The Regulars don’t tend to have the best Battlemechs, so they could use the support of the additional regiments. They also, forgive me Austin, don’t tend to draw specialized missions, so having generic support rather than specialized units wouldn’t be the hardship it might be for more elite units with more difficult missions.”

The former Regulars officer who was on loan to Asgard waved off the less than flattering statement.

“Someone has to be last in line,” the man replied with a shrug.

“I hardly know every Lyran Regulars formation, but the two I have had contact with have done their duty. I know for a fact that the 2nd Lyran Regulars did a very workmanlike job of defending Sudeten from that Drac raid a few years ago. Between them and the Jägers, the Rasalhague Regulars didn’t even get within sight of Olivetti Weaponry,” Weber added.

“We also serve, who stand guard. It may not be glamorous, but garrison duty still needs doing. I just wish some of Olivetti’s Thunderbolts and Warhammers made their way down to us. I’m getting tired of piloting an old Sentinel,” Austin complained, while the conversation moved on.

XXXXX​

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, old friend, but young Duke Weber is pretty firmly in Katrina’s circle,” Aldo said much later that evening after the pair had retired to Frederick’s Tharkad City townhouse.

“You’re certain?” he asked. “The man certainly isn’t in lockstep with her about her plans for LCAF doctrine.”

“My sources are, and they’re rarely wrong. He’s quite high in her favor and seems to return her regard,” the Duke of Summer stated while sipping a Maraschino cocktail. “I’m looking into him now, and will let you know what I find out. He’s certainly a rising star in Court.”

“Besides, the Duchess of Furillo has suddenly been quietly hiring extra tutors for her son, Caesar. It looks like your cousin Julia wasn’t simply on the man’s arm tonight for show. If she is intended to be a serious contender for Duchess of Catachan, then the man is definitely in the Archon’s camp. I know that you like Julia, but she’s firmly under the thumb of her mother. I have hopes for her support eventually once she sees your abilities, though; it’s a pity she didn’t transfer to serve under you in the Tenth.”

Frederick gritted his teeth at the mention of the title that should be his, but…

He took a deep breath and settled in to listen as his good friend and ally filled him in about what information he’d been able to learn while socializing at Court. However, he found that he simply couldn’t concentrate his full attention on Aldo’s words like normal.

But. It came back to that ‘but.’

Weber had spent perhaps half an hour as part of Frederick’s circle of friends and acquaintances and never once done anything to undercut him. Once the conversation had moved on, he’d barely spoken until he made his apologies when Julia arrived to ‘escort him’ to visit her she-bear of a mother.

For all that Weber might be favorably inclined towards Katrina, the man hadn’t treated him like a political enemy or a military rival. That was a rarity for him in Court.

Why?

XXXXX​

A/N: Thanks again to Seraviel, Lordsfire, and Yellowhammer for beta reading, idea bouncing, and canon compliance checking. This chapter is vastly improved by their efforts.

As a note, I have discovered that the plural of Hauptmann is Hauptleute. This has been my first real whyyyyy? moment with German.
 

UltimatePaladin

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Well, happy that Freddy is seeing the light. A faint glimmer, but a light nonetheless. Depending on how much Weber feels about playing politics, getting Frederich some lostech machines should help to win him over. Though, that’s politics, and walking a fairly thin line at that.
 

PsihoKekec

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“Understandable,” Frederick tried to refocus. It was difficult to highlight his competence when dealing with the hostile nations on both borders when his target audience didn’t pay much attention to the Mariks.
So terrible when you can't praise yourself to a full extent. I think it's his vanity that Aldo used to get his claws in.

Better to assign forces to a mission based on what you need rather than trying to make every unit nothing more than an interchangeable cog.”
The problem is training, just throwing together regiments for a mission and not go through sufficient training to achieve necessary level of coordination is just begging for failure.

Austin complained, while the conversation moved on.
No one gives a shit about Lyran regulars. Must be why they are my favorite Lyran brigade (Mad Hatters in particular), I always had a soft spot for the underdogs.

For all that Weber might be favorably inclined towards Katrina, the man hadn’t treated him like a political enemy or a military rival. That was a rarity for him in Court.

Why?
Because he is better person than you and not yet tainted by the essence of the court life that permeates every pore of your living being.

Am I to harsh on Freddy? Personally I don't think so.
 
Chapter 26

Speaker4thesilent

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Alright, this took about two thirds of forever, but I just couldn’t get started one one scene and another one didn’t sound right until about the third iteration.

Chapter 26​

The Triad, Bremen, Tharkad, Tharkad System,
Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
February 18th, 3016


As she led me back into the confusing side passages of the Royal Court, Julia appeared to be quietly having a panic attack. Since she’d indicated that she was taking me to meet her family, I wasn’t sure whether I should be amused or concerned by that fact.

“Are you really that worried about me embarrassing you in front of your parents?” I finally asked as we got out of a staff elevator, finally in an area with no one to obviously overhear.

“You talked to Frederick Steiner for half an hour!” Julia replied in a tone I found hard to quantify. It sounded at once as if she were half strangled, but also like she was a cat with her back arched, hissing mad.

“Uh, yes?” I confirmed, thoroughly confused.

“You talked to Frederick Steiner. In public. For half an hour,” she said again, but this time it was definitely an accusation.

“We just established that,” I agreed.

“Aunt Katrina is going to kill me!” Julia groaned.

I was beginning to suspect there was something going on here that was so obvious to everyone else, no one had bothered to tell me.

“Was it a faux pas of some sort?” I guessed.

“He was on The List,” the words were definitely capitalized. “You were briefed on him! And yet he was the first person you sought out for a conversation?!” Julia demanded.

“Hell, I didn’t even recognize him until after he spoke to me,” I defended myself. “What was I supposed to do, turn and walk away? Besides he didn’t act like what I was doing was rude.”

Sure, he was a bit up on himself, but he was far from the worst I’d ever met. He certainly didn’t act like he had his head up his own ass. Then a possible explanation hit me.

“He isn’t gay, is he?”

“He’s under suspicion!” Julia corrected my train of thought, and this time it was definitely a hiss.

That simply didn’t compute.

“But you wanted to transfer to his regiment,” I objected, and my social bodyguard dropped her face into her hands and released a sound not unlike a boiling kettle for a moment before recovering her composure.

“That’s entirely different! This is Court,” she stressed. “Everyone is going to think that you’re at least sympathetic to the Free Skye movement, now!”

That did make me grimace. Those people were idiots at best for wanting to deliberately surround themselves in hostile nation-states, or active traitors at worst.

“Wait, that doesn’t make sense. I may not pay the closest attention to politics, but I’ve never heard Frederick advocating for Free Skye,” I objected.

“Not him,” Julia corrected me, “his closest political ally is Aldo Lestrade,” she explained.

Him I had heard of.

“The Duke of Summer? The one who’s never recovered from his parents being killed in a Drac raid? As if that was unique to him?” I asked.

Yes,” Julia replied, exasperated. “And the first person you sought out in your first appearance at Court was his strongest, most highly-placed supporter in the LCAF!”

Put that way, it did sound bad.

“So we spin it,” I suggested, after all, that’s what every politician back in the 21st century had done when they did something controversial.

“Pray tell, how?” Julia demanded in a flat voice. “Lestrade will be looking to exploit this opening that you just gift-wrapped for him.”

“I don’t know. Not my area of expertise,” I admitted with a shrug. “Maybe just distract them with better gossip, like the fact that I was seen meeting with your family. Why, do you think it’s serious?” I asked the last part with wide-open eyes and my best attempt at an innocent look on my face.

Julia smiled in spite of herself, then tensed in reaction before finally letting her shoulders drop.

“I suppose there’s nothing to be done about it now, just please remember in the future that people are on that list for a reason?” she pleaded. That did make me feel guilty.

“Sorry. I honestly didn’t recognize him until I was already in conversation with him. He doesn’t look anything like his picture.”

“That’s fair, just-” she began, then straightened up a bit when we approached another guarded door. “We will talk more about that later.” Idly, I noticed that one of the guards on the door was actually the Asian middle-aged woman who served Julia as a valet and aide and another could have been her valet’s younger brother.

I was actually glad that I’d been distracted by Julia. I hadn’t actually had a great deal of experience with Meeting The Parents in either of my lives.

Inside was more an opulent sitting room than the professional conference room that I had been in with Duke Brewer. A clearly antique painting hung on the opposite wall, and there were actually arched windows with the sheen that I associated with BattleMech armored glass cockpits flanking the canvas that was facing me. From what I could glimpse through the glass, we would be looking down on the Royal Court’s main hall from a floor or two higher than even it’s Cathedral-like ceiling.

Waiting for us inside was a trio of people.

To my right, a middle aged man with a slightly receding silver-streaked blond hairline in a formal suit and tie looked up from the hardcover book he had been reading and adjusted his glasses with a warm smile. He reminded me of my biology professor though they really looked nothing alike, and I recalled Julia mentioning that her father Anthony was an acclaimed expert on Iron Age Terran history.

To the left, a chubby early-teen boy was pigging out at a buffet that had been laid on for the meeting. That reminded me of the twenty-first century me at his age. At the sight of him, I felt Julia’s grip on my arm tighten ever so slightly. The kid turned and gave us a shit-eating grin, then raised a glass of something red that I hoped was fruit juice in a salute.

All those were secondary to the cool control of the stunning blonde woman. I’d been meeting a lot of those recently, but by her bearing, she silently dominated the room. Despite the fact that she sat in an antique hardwood armchair rather than her cousin’s throne.

Duchess Iris Steiner of Furillo had the classic ‘Steiner look’ of blonde hair, a fine-boned and aristocratic face, and blue-gray eyes, as well as a bearing that said she was utterly in control of herself and the situation. She was wearing a striking pale blue dress that looked suspiciously like silk and diamond jewelry that probably cost about as much as an Assault Mech.

Directly behind her was that painting of a blonde-haired mother dressed in a Mechwarrior outfit hugging her teenage son in front of a one-armed Warhammer standing in the courtyard of the Triad.

I had a sudden suspicion that I now knew what Julia would look like in thirty years or so. The only reason that Julia’s mother wasn’t the most impressive woman that I’d ever met was because I had just experienced the Archon at her most regal when she had made me a Duke.

The door closed behind us.

At some unseen signal Julia squeezed my arm reassuringly before walking to her mother’s side and giving me a smile as her brother joined her.

The silence lingered for a moment.

Iris Steiner gave me the ghost of a small smile. “Colonel Weber, thank you for keeping my daughter safe on Sevren.” She gestured gracefully. “May I present Julia’s father Anthony Steiner-Catton, Professor Emeritus of Terran History at the University of Tharkad’s Furillo campus.” Her voice was filled with command authority.

The man walked over and extended his hand to me. He had a surprisingly firm and warm handshake, actually. When he shook my hand, he murmured quietly to me.

“Relax. Iris’ bark is worse than her bite.” Then, at a more normal volume, “I’d appreciate it if one or two of my cleared grad students are allowed to do field work on Catachan to look at the planet’s records, Duke Weber.”

All I could do was nod. He spoke once more before releasing my hand, “Audentis Fortuna Juvat, Duke Weber. Always remember that.”

“My second child Caesar Steiner, Julia’s younger brother.” Iris gestured again and the boy walked over and extended his hand. He had a firm grip. There was definite muscle under his apparent flab too, more than I’d carried at his age, and my opinion of him improved immediately. Caesar grinned and spoke loud enough to be overheard. “Make my big sister cry, and I’ll get in my ‘Mech and make you pay, you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied with grave dignity, biting the inside of my lip to keep from grinning.

Julia blushed scarlet at his words and shot her brother a dirty look that clearly promised Retribution at a later date. Caesar gave a ‘yes, so?’ stare and cheeky smile at his fuming big sister.

Iris coughed meaningfully and Caesar headed back to her side. The Duchess then stood and extended her hand for me. “General Iris Steiner, Duchess of Furillo and Margrave of Cavanaugh Theater.” She said without preamble and subtle emphasis on her military rank. “As you have no doubt deduced, I came to Winter Court in large part to meet you and Julia.”

I nodded at the unspoken message in her titles and how she was addressing me. Not only was she a powerful member of the nobility, but also in LCAF terms she was in command of a third of the border defenses against the Free Worlds League.

“Colonel Alaistair Weber, CO of the First Catachan Harquebusiers and Duke of Catachan. It’s a pleasure to meet you, General Steiner.” Clearly she was giving me this out to use military rank and protocols, which were much more familiar and structured ground than court politics.

Iris gave me a small, coolly knowing smile and nod in response.

“Katrina told me about the services that you have already done to the Commonwealth and our House. Julia told me earlier that she informed you on the burn in to Tharkad what she is doing at your side.” Julia’s calm face appeared utterly sphinx-like at that comment.

Iris shook her head with that small cool smile.

“Katrina preempted my plans to arrange a replacement for Gungnir as a birthday present for Julia, you should know. Pity, I inherited that old warhorse of a Zeus from my father Raymond before I passed him down to Julia, and I’ll miss him even though I pilot a desk these days. Oh well, Caesar will need a new personal Mech when he attends the Nagelring in any event. So I’ll just lean on our family connections through you and Olivetti or Brewer to arrange something suitable for him when that day comes. But that’s a conversation for another time.”

All I could do was nod, since she was clearly leading somewhere with her words. A gesture guided me to look at the oil painting of the mother, child, and Battlemech, which was under armored glass to protect it. Oddly enough, the title in the frame was a Latin phrase rather than a name. It wasn’t one I was familiar with.

Redde debitum meo semper in plena

Her voice was filled with emotion.

“That’s the family motto for House Steiner. ‘I always pay my debts in full’. Both the credits and debits. You no doubt saw the shattered flagstone out front in the Triad Courtyard.”

I nodded again as Julia joined her mother while Caesar and Anthony listened.

“That’s where Archon Viola Steiner-Dinesen personally executed a traitor who had kidnapped and nearly killed her oldest child in an attempted coup during the earliest days of the Star League. We have preserved it, as best we can, the way it was the very day she repaid that debt with her Warhammer’s tread. To remind the nobility, and ourselves, what the price of overweening ambition and treason is.

“You put us in your debt with your service to the Commonwealth. Though the source of this debt is rather more positive than that one,” she gestured back to the painting, “House Steiner stands ready to discharge our debt in whatever manner is most suitable.” Iris gave a small relieved maternal smile as she glanced at her daughter who stood next to her.

“I’m just glad that, if things develop as Katrina, Nondi, Anthony, and I are hoping that they will between you two, Julia will have a husband we know to be a good man. I have worried about the alternative being forced upon her by her duty as a Steiner and my eldest, but our power and authority comes at a price that we must pay, always. Debts must always be paid in full, Colonel Weber, or the Commonwealth suffers.”

She wasn’t exactly speaking on light topics, and I hadn’t missed the threat, much more subtle than her son had delivered. Even so …

“I like Julia. It will take some time before I know if that ‘like’ can translate into the foundations of a successful marriage,” I told her plainly, “But I’m gratified that she was honest with me. If nothing else, it’s a good start.”

Iris nodded, and with that some of the tension receded from the room

“I know you have been besieged with requests to refight Sevren tonight, as the man of the hour, but I’d like to hear it in your own words. I know Caesar will want to hear it as well, since he’s looking forward to a military career. Also I’d like to find out more about you and I’m sure you have questions about us before we have to attend to our more public duties.” Iris steered me back toward her family who took a seat in a conversation nook next to the buffet. “Julia, be a dear and fetch us some paffel sparkling cider for the chat. And I made sure to include a wheel of that cheese from Capella that you enjoy as a snack along with the chocolates from New Avalon...”

XXXXX​

As usual, the event I’d been dreading hadn’t turned out to be nearly as bad as I’d expected it to be.

Julia had begged off to speak to someone unspecified while I was retelling the tale of Sevren for the umpteenth time that night. She returned with a self-satisfied grin when she collected me an hour or so later. I took that to mean that she’d figured out an angle to spin my conversation with Freddy in a positive direction.

Plus, all three of her family members had been asking considerably more intelligent questions than the norm during our discussion, which was a nice change of pace. I hadn’t realized the Drac battalion commander that I defeated was, according to Anthony, using the flawed playbook of a Roman general named Gaius Terentius Varro from the Second Punic War, for instance.

That didn’t, however, mean that I was done, either. Court was likely to continue long into the night, but when the Archon retired in about half an hour I could at least make a strategic retreat for the day without giving anyone reason for comment. I’d just finished talking with the Duke of New Caledonia in exile when a voice spoke up from behind me.

“Duke Weber, congratulations on both your victory and ennoblement,” a feminine voice said, and I turned to reply.

Then I stuck my hand in my pocket and pressed my ‘Oh Shit’ button.

Petite with a Mechwarrior’s pixie-cut for her vibrant red hair, Baroness Margaret Doons of East Marsdenville on Donegal was definitely my ‘type.’ Unfortunately for her likely ambitions, the heiress of Nashan Diversified, one of the largest megacorporations in the Inner Sphere, had a rather less attractive personal history. Currently a Kommandant in the LCAF’s 2nd Donegal Guards, what the Warriors called a Major, she had originally been regarded quite well by the new administration. She was aggressive, entirely immune to the usual defensive mindset of the service, and willing to press attacks.

Unfortunately, when she ran into hard targets, rather than navigate around them or strategize, she had a bad habit of feeding infantry or AFVs into the sausage grinder until it jammed. Only then would she commit her Mechs, and just coincidentally herself, to deliver the knockout blow and collect the subsequent accolades. That was not considered acceptable in Katrina Steiner’s LCAF, and if they’d been able to prove that she’d deliberately waited to give support to the 6th Baxter Panzergrenadiers until after a Leutnant-Colonel she’d had a disagreement with was killed in action, she’d have been drummed out of the service, famous last name or not. Instead, Julia’s notes said that it had apparently been quietly suggested that further promotions would not be forthcoming, and that it was time that she resigned her commission to go work for daddy.

The only problem was that Nashan Diversified was already right on the edge of acceptable business practices many times. They begrudgingly followed the letter of the Commonwealth’s laws against predatory business practices, but anywhere they could make an extra quarter Kroner, they’d violate the hell out of the spirit of those laws.

It said a lot that Olivetti had initially viewed them as a prime suspect in his PPC shortfall problem despite their military-industry market share being nearly nonexistent.

To be fair, growing up in the sort of environment that encouraged profit-at-any-cost corporate cutthroatism probably hadn’t done Margaret any favors. And throwing her back definitely wouldn’t. It was just that she had already absorbed too much of that attitude to remain in the new LCAF.

Since she was likely to want to import that sort of ideological cancer to Catachan with her or outright turn CAC into Nashan-Catachan, they would be tracking snowfalls in hell before I had anything to do with her. The downside was that deliberately making an enemy of her would make my life almost as difficult as marrying her would

“Thank you, Kommandant,” I said, trying to control my expression.

She paused for just a moment, seemingly expecting me to have more to say to her before continuing.

“I also wanted to congratulate you on managing to get so many centuries-old factories working again. That can’t have been easy to do.” She was good. If I hadn’t been on guard, I definitely wouldn’t have suspected she was flattering me.

“The Archon mentioned that you build Fusion Engines and gyros,” she continued, “I presume those are 260 and 280 rated for Thunderbolts and Warhammers. Do you have any capability for smaller fusion engines? The family business makes small communications satellites that require a small fusion power plant, and we’re always looking for new sources.”

Well, there went that conversational gambit. She’d clearly recognized me recognizing her, which probably also meant that she’d realized I knew her by reputation, if nothing else, and didn’t like her. Wonderful.

“Unfortunately, no,” I informed her, sticking to the cover story even as I tried to figure out what her angle was. “It seems that the planet was originally intended to supply Rim Worlds Republic production of Warhammers and Thunderbolts. The designs really were nearly ubiquitous during the Star League era,” I told her.

“Then would part of the ‘other critical components’ the Archon mentioned include Star League era cockpit electronics factories?” she pounced.

Fuck.

I abruptly recalled that one of her family’s major product lines was their computer production facility on Coventry. Of course she was interested in getting her hands on some Hegemony-quality electronics, Nashan had their fingers in everything from personal computers, to industrial supercomputers, to software. They were, in fact, one of the companies working to reproduce the sort of industrial automation that had allowed the Hegemony to supply critical industrial components to the rest of humanity.

“Well, we make target tracking systems, sensors, and MFDs and the like. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they’re hardly SLDF-grade. I wish we had that sort of capability,” I lied shamelessly before throwing in just enough truth to try to throw her off the scent. “No, Amaris or one of his flunkies decided to defray the costs of feeding so many political prisoners by running his factories with slave labor.

“With increasingly skilled, well paid workers, we’re getting a little more out of the lines than the Rimmers did according to the surviving records, but we just can’t come close to matching Hegemony production rates and product quality,” I asserted, aiming for the sort of ‘saddened professional’ air a lot of people had when talking about the loss of technology in the Sphere.

She looked disappointed, but I couldn’t tell how sincere her expression was.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to sell a few units on the off chance that researchers at Nashan could reverse engineer the improvements? We’d be willing to cut you in for complementary licensing on anything we come up with,” she offered, managing to look pleasant yet serious.

It seemed innocuous, which meant there was definitely at least one hook in there, beyond the obvious one that their ‘improvements’ would almost certainly be techniques my people were already using, and thus not improvements for us. No, the way to win this game was not to play.

“I apologize, but we’re under contract to the LCAF. Our product may not be up to SLDF standards, but it’s enough better than some of the hardware currently in use that the Archon wants all of it for the foreseeable future,” which was a crowd of truth with a single lie as a bodyguard. Hopefully, she’d be used to the reverse. I-

“Ah, Alistair, there you are!” Julia called happily from my right, and I felt like cheering. The cavalry had just arrived. “Oh, Baroness Doons,” Julia pretended to have just noticed my conversational partner but I suspected that she was as focused here as she was in her cockpit on Sevren.

Hauptmann Steiner,” the redhead shot back politely, her smile still in place, but her eyes and that little emphasis on Julia’s inferior military rank gave the direction of her thoughts away. She was not a happy camper. She opened her mouth to speak, but Julia didn’t give her the chance.

“I do apologize for interrupting you two, but I’ve been dealing with social obligations all night, and haven’t had a chance to step foot on the dance floor like I had promised Alistair,” Julia ran right over Doons like an Atlas trampling a Stinger, “but I’m free now!”

I could read at least some of the subtext in this catfight. Julia wasn’t in uniform, and wasn’t about to let Doons have the high ground. Socially, Julia’s title as Landgrafin and ducal heiress trumped a ‘mere’ Baroness, no matter how much of a rich bitch she was. There was also the relative weight of family names to consider, and the fact I’d entered with Julia on my arm as my date. All of that together meant…

“Well then, do enjoy your dancing,” the uniformed Mechwarrior replied in a subtly cutting tone that said ‘I hope he breaks at least two of your toes, Bitch.’ Doons smiled sweetly at me as I took Julia’s arm. “I do hope to see you again when it is convenient for you so we can talk about helping each other get ahead, Duke Weber. Auf Wiedersehen!

It would have been much more convincing if the smile had reached her eyes.

If we had to dance for the entire rest of our appearance, then I very well might stop on Julia’s toes a time or two. But that was preferable to the redhead we were leaving. I half considered asking Julia if she had the limo guarded. I wouldn’t put the occasional bit of sabotage beyond the Kommandant’s means. Catachan has to be safer than this snake pit!

At least there I had walls between me and the monsters.

XXXXX​

A/N: Thanks again to Seraviel, Lordsfire, and Yellowhammer for beta reading, idea bouncing, and canon compliance checking. This chapter is vastly improved by their efforts.
 

paulobrito

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Well, the court is one of the most dangerous battlefields. Seasoned veterans prefer to return to the more honest and less dangerous ones where you only risk bullets and lasers.
 

Bear Ribs

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I rather like how he was pretty much suckered in by one noble but able to steer clear of the second easily, though Margaret Doons was apparently using Malfean stealth.

I wonder if her reasoning was that as a newly raised noble from a merc background, maybe he hated all the pomp and ceremony would appreciate her going from "hi" to "Can you manufacture engines to my specifications?" in two sentences.
 

PsihoKekec

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Given how well she is connected she probably got basic intel on him while on ball, waited while other nobles wore him down, then tried to get as much out of him before Julia swooped in, since she surely figured that Katrina assigned Julia as Weber's minder and that she has someone keeping an eye on him while she is away. Probably didn't expect the panic button, otherwise she would have brought personal ECM unit.
 
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Speaker4thesilent

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Given how well she is connected she probably got basic intel on him while on ball, waited while other nobles wore him down, then tried to get as much out of him before Julia swooped in, since she surely figured that Katrina assigned Julia as Weber's minder minder and that she has someone keeping an eye on him while she is away. Probably didn't expect the panic button, otherwise she would have brought personal ECM unit.
She also had a distraction in place to keep Julia from noticing. But, y’know, panic button.
 
Interlude 3-J/S

Speaker4thesilent

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Interlude 3-J/S​

Tharkad City, Tharkad System,
District of Donegal, Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
February 24th, 3016


She sat at her assigned desk and proceeded with her assigned tasks, but her focus wasn’t on her work.

Fact: Asset has been assigned to monitor this open office workspace. Fact: Asset had not been assigned a close supervisor. Fact: This breaks with established leadership behavioral patterns. Conclusion: LIC is overstretched.

The Archon’s decrees regarding the Asset’s Organization had not been rescinded, but manpower was limited, and mission requirements had expanded, thus the Organization was needed.

This pleased the Asset, to the extent the Asset was capable of being pleased. The Asset had been too long without purpose; it was good to be needed again.

Her eyes, carefully lidded to conceal their sharpness, swept the workspace from beneath her bangs even as her fingers flew across the keys in front of her.

This department was concerned with planning, adjusting, and occasionally rationalizing the Archon’s calendar. It was possible that a skilled enemy Asset might glean a great deal of information from who the Archon met with on a daily basis.

And the Archon had been less than subtle in her scheduling. It was rare indeed that so many prominent Industrialists would be called in to direct meetings with the Archon in such quick succession.

Fact: Multiple meetings have taken place in the last month, all with varied corporate executives involved in military production. Fact: Data Services personnel have had high priority for access to the Archon ever since her return from her latest tour of the Tamar front. Fact: LIC is overstretched by a sudden onset of additional responsibilities. Conclusion: Data of critical relevance to multiple Military Contractors has been acquired. Hypothetical: -

The Asset cut that thought off. She did not know. She did not need to know. Knowing might endanger the mission. So the Asset would not hypothesize.

The Asset had arrived early, as she always did. This allowed her to observe other employees arriving and beginning their workdays. It also allowed the Asset to conclude many of her assigned tasks early and without interruption. With the position of her desk and workstation, this permitted the Asset to appear busy and file work throughout the day while allowing her to use her higher level permissions to monitor her targets’ actions. This she did, as efficiently as possible, as the morning passed.

The difficulty, of course, was in recognizing abnormal behavior. During the Asset’s first week, she had generated a number of false positives due to reporting targets’ use of work computers for personal tasks. Over time, however, the Asset had become familiar enough with the routines of her targets to avoid similar mistakes.

“Hi Janine,” Matthew Knight greeted the Asset as he did each time he passed her desk on his way to the coffee machine. The Asset turned her gaze towards him and allowed her pleasant resting expression to move towards friendly smile number two, an-

Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s vocal tone outside normal range. Fact: Target Matthew Knight failed to make eye contact. Fact: Target Matthew Knight failed to attempt to look down Asset’s blouse.

“Morning, Matt,” the Asset said even as she swept her eyes over her target.

Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s fingernails are white at the tips rather than pink. He is gripping his cup tightly. Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s shoulders are tense. Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s lips are pursed. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight is experiencing emotional upset.

The Asset let her eyes fall back to her computer screen, and she called up a list of documents recently accessed by Target Matthew Knight’s credentials.

Fact: Target Matthew Knight displayed no signs of distress upon entry to the facility this morning.

Checking to confirm her memory, the Asset determined that Target Matthew Knight had not received personal communications at his desk. Then the Asset began reviewing the Target’s recent actions.

Fact: Target Matthew Knight accessed the Archon’s calendar to reschedule an appointment. Fact: Rescheduled appointment was for a prominent member of the Estates General. Fact: Appointment inserted into the Archon’s schedule is for chief of Data Services. Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s computer shows no subsequent actions taken for more than fifteen minutes.

That required further investigation, so the Asset instead input her administrator credentials into the local server and ran a search for actions taken by Target Matthew Knight’s credentials in that fifteen minute period.

Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s credentials utilized to search for recent schedule changes involving Data Services. Fact: Target Matthew Knight’s credentials used to access schedules of recent private meetings. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight is acting in a manner inconsistent with normal behavior. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight is aware of alterations in the Archon’s schedule to accommodate Data Services and military Contractors. Conclusion: High likelihood Target Matthew Knight is an active Asset for hostile power. Deduction: Target Matthew Knight assumes that a Data Core has been discovered by the Commonwealth and is being utilized to advance the Commonwealth’s interests.

Even thinking the thought made it difficult for the Asset to maintain her composure. If the Commonwealth indeed had militarily relevant information about Lostech …

Ground trembling, as light flashed. Air slapping her aside. Hot liquid on her face. The taste of copper. The pause, as if time had stopped. Then her sister’s cries of agony and terror. Her parents’ silence.

Preservation of security of any Data Core represents an Omega-Class priority.

Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight must be observed. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight must be prevented from passing on intelligence. Conclusion: Asset shall inform Control of probable identification of hostile Asset.

The Asset closed her connection to Target Matthew Knight’s computer and opened an email client. Rapidly typing out a short message in innocuous code, she appended the logs of Target Matthew Knight’s anomalous behavior and pushed the send button.

The asset switched back to her cover tasks, preparing to resume normal activities while waiting for further instructions. However …

Fact: Target Matthew Knight remains absent from workstation. Fact: Target Matthew Knight has had ample time to obtain coffee and return. Fact: Supervisor for Target Matthew Knight has an office down the same corridor as the coffee machine. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight is preparing to pass on intelligence.

That could not be allowed. The Asset logged out of her workstation and stood, checking the time. It was approximately a quarter hour earlier than the Asset usually took lunch, but the timing should not be remarkable.

The Asset strolled back the hallway towards the break room, but bypassed it, continuing on to the individual offices for supervisors. As the Asset had anticipated, Target Matthew Knight was not present. Instead, she stuck her head into Lee Dalton’s office, leaning forward and assuming concerned frown one.

“Hey, Lee, have you seen Matt? I had a question for him, but he wasn’t at his desk or in the break room,”the Asset said.

Lee Dalton glanced up at the Asset, eyes briefly pausing at her bust before continuing up to meet her eyes.

“Matt? Sorry, I just sent him home. Poor guy looked awful.”

The Asset slid her expression into pout number four.

“Well, I’ve got an email out, but I haven’t got a response yet. Might as well go to lunch, then. Not much else I can do while I wait. You want anything from that bistro down the street?”

Lee looked tempted for a minute, but shook his head as the Asset had expected.

“Nah, I’ve got a salad in the fridge. The wife’s on me about my cholesterol.”

The Asset let her expression slide towards approving smile number two.

“I’ll stop tempting you, then,” she said and turned, not for the elevator, but the stairs. As soon as the Asset made it out of the corridor, she kicked off her heels and began to dash down the little-used stairwell, counting floors and extracting her assigned communicator from her purse.

The Asset hit the second preprogrammed speed dial and focused on making up as much time as she could while her Target rode the elevator, as was his habit.

One ring. Two.

“Triad Security, how ma-” a voice began.

The Asset cut him off, tone level and without emotion.

“Identification number seven-four-November-niner-India-five-seven-Romeo-two. Asset requires information on employee Matthew Knight. Current location if possible. Last scan of ID badge if not.”

There was silence on the line for a moment, and the asset could hear the guard typing.

Meanwhile, the Asset had arrived at a small, disused-looking janitorial closet on the second floor. Opening it with her badge, she slipped inside, selecting and sliding on a pair of shoes much more suited for running than her heels. The Asset was reaching for a jacket, a near-copy of the one she’d abandoned at her workstation, when the guard spoke up.

“According to our system he should be at his desk. It’s on the-” she cut him off again.

“Asset had eyes on the workstation. Target presence negative. Assume Target has stolen an ID badge. Asset requests visual check of lobby and elevators.”

“On it,” the guard said as the Asset automatically checked and armed a laser pistol from the small armory present before she slid it into the holster that the custom tailoring on the new jacket concealed. She then swapped out her normal ID badge for the one with special permissions.

As the Asset was starting down the stairs to the first floor, the guard swore.

“Son of a bitch, I see him. He just stepped out the south entrance and turned left. Caught a good profile,” he stated, then continued. “It looks like he’s got a fake badge. Good one, too. It points to a Matthew McNutt, but the face is the same under the glasses.”

The guard was rambling.

Fact: Vocal tones indicate stress. Conclusion: Guard concerned for job after-

The Asset shook her head; that line of thought was irrelevant.

Fact: Target Matthew Knight has escaped the building. Fact: Target Matthew Knight possesses critical intelligence, the continued confidentiality of which is vital to the Commonwealth. Fact: Target Matthew Knight is in motion rather than passing information via a more circumspect route. Hypothesis: Target Matthew Knight is moving to a dead drop location. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight can not be permitted to reach his dead drop. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight subject to summary execution by LOKI for espionage under the Security Enforcement Act of 2594.

“Asset is declaring Case FENRIR,” she said, cutting off the guard. “Remain on the line and vector reinforcements to my location.”

“Uh, yes, Ma’am!”

The Asset tucked away her personal Com, leaving the connection open, but the volume at minimal. Then she increased her pace to a fast walk and switched from her customary pleasant expression to Resting Bitch Face number three. That one looked exceedingly annoyed and would help discourage interest or interruptions.

She was able to reach the South Entrance quickly, and stepped into the priority line. Scanning her replacement badge, she stepped past building security who, between her clearance level and expression, spontaneously developed a keen interest in not drawing her ire.

The Asset likewise turned left, proceeding east along the sidewalk. There was, as usual, a mass of humanity on the streets. However, given the early hour, the congestion had not yet achieved critical mass and there was room to navigate between pedestrians and begin to close the distance on the Target.

A very small, very quiet part of the Asset was amused that the old adage held true: it was impossible to find a cab in Tharkad City.

Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight will head for nearest mass transportation facility.

Reviewing her mental map of the city, the Asset turned left at the end of the block. Immediately, her gaze zeroed in on her Target, nearly a full block ahead of her, but notable by the hairstyle he had failed to alter.

Closing the distance was a simple matter. The Target was taller than the Asset, with a longer stride, but he was trying to move at the same pace as the crowd, blending in and using the mass of humanity as camouflage.

Observation: Target Matthew Knight maintaining normal pace, manner. Conclusion: Target is unaware of pursuit. Fact: Forces responding to Case FENRIR will not be subtle. Hypothesis: Target Matthew Knight likely to be spooked by sirens.

The asset would have needed to suppress a frown if her expression had not already been fixed in an angry glare. Had her decision to call in overt support been premature?

Fact: Fight or Flight response is provoked by sudden onset of danger. Fact: Target Matthew Knight is unlikely to be armed. Conclusion: Target Matthew Knight likely to attempt to flee in response to arrival of reinforcements.

The Asset closed the distance to a mere ten meters or so, then slowed, allowing her to catch her breath and rest her legs. If the Target attempted to flee, she would need to maintain contact.

The minutes passed interminably. In spite of herself, the Asset became increasingly tense as support failed to manifest. Only as she began to follow Target Matthew Knight down the stairs to the Marsden Street subway station did sirens become audible in the distance.

Fact: Personal Coms unreliable at subway depths. Fact: Security officer unlikely to realize cause for disconnection immediately. Conclusion: Probabl-”

The Asset’s planning was interrupted by the Target making a turn to the right at the bottom of the stairs rather than the left and stepping into the …

Fact: Men’s public restroom is a possible location of Dead Drop or Brush Pass as per LIC tradecraft training. Fact: Target Matthew Knight cannot be permitted to pass on intelligence. Conclusion: Capture no longer possible. Immediately move to sanction Target Matthew Knight.

The Asset brushed past a surprised bystander and stormed into the bathroom, drawing her Magna-Ruger pistol. Everything slowed even as details faded in the uncanny way adrenaline altered perceptions. The Target had just turned on the faucet at the sink and was reaching for the stream of water when she rounded the bend in the entranceway. The Asset saw his eyes react to her appearance.

Met his gaze, briefly in the mirror.

Saw confusion turn to surprise as he identified her as a woman.

Saw surprise turn to panic as he saw her weapon.

Then the sights were aligned, and her right index finger tightened on the trigger. The pulse was dialed heavy to burn through body armor; only three of them would drain the power cell completely.

Matthew Knight was not wearing body armor.

The pulse flash boiled the contents of his chest cavity, and his body exploded like he’d been hit by a truck.

XXXXX​

The air still smelled vaguely of boiled flesh and steamed excrement two hours later. Responding police had cordoned off the area, and the Molehunters detachment, more than an hour late in arriving, had finally managed to identify the concealed data drive holder, still containing its hidden payload.

The Asset was being chastised for failing to take the Target alive for the third time when her Control arrived to take charge of the scene.

“-furthermore, she couldn’t know precisely where the bastard was making for. For all she knew, this was his dead drop location and if she waited patiently outside she’d be letting him complete his handoff. A dead spy is a damn sight better than a useless prisoner!”

As such, the Molehunters chastisement was now ongoing.

“And you’ll notice that she dropped the target, and only the target!” Two minutes and approximately seventeen seconds later, Senior Agent In Charge Ernst Radcliffe concluded his diatribe and turned to the Asset.

“Good shot placement, by the way. Now, you alright, Sandra?”

“I’d say all I felt was the recoil, but I used a laser pistol,” you joked, expression relaxing and a tension in your shoulders you’d hardly felt relaxing. Radcliffe snorted.

“Well, you did a damn good thing today. No indications yet of who he was working for, but he was definitely somebody’s spy, and by the way he bolted, that concealed data drive will make for interesting reading.”

He paused for a moment and switched gears.

“I think your ‘Janine’ identity is pretty well burned by this, but it was well worth it. Again, official attagirl. Both for decisiveness and for avoiding collateral damage.”

“Thank you sir,” you replied. “Always a pleasure to serve the Commonwealth.”

Especially when you had a chance to put a traitor in a well-deserved grave. If you were right in your very private suspicions, and the Archon really had discovered a militarily-relevant Data Core …

Maybe the Succession Wars could finally be brought to an end, the Combine broken. No ISF to plant bombs outside museums. No families destroyed by terrorism. The body of the Commonwealth safe, strong, and secure.

No need for any more people like me.

XXXXX​

A/N: Thanks again to Seraviel, Lordsfire, and Yellowhammer for beta reading, idea bouncing, and canon compliance checking. This chapter is vastly improved by their efforts.
 

PsihoKekec

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Thanks for giving us another glimpse of the spycraft part of the events.
Given her clinical train of thought and how she referred to herself as asset, I reckon she is not a regular LIC undercover agent but LOKI operative.

Any wagers on who the Knight was working for? My guess is Aldo Lestrade.
 

Bear Ribs

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Well she did outright say she was terminating him for LOKI in her inner monologue so I'd say that's a good guess.

This is a great interlude though it's not good for the main character if LOKI is involved, I personally find them even less competent than SAFE due to being prone to ridiculous own goals and escalating to extreme violence at the drop of a hat. Fortunately it looks like Weber's Warriors got one of the good ones.

One worrisome thing, though, is that LOKI has access to Black Box Fax Machines. That being the case, if they also put an asset on Catachan, keeping out ComStar and avoiding having an HPG won't be secure enough to protect the location, said agent can transmit all manner of data, maps, and the like FTL from their bunk.
 
Interlude 3-SJ

Speaker4thesilent

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Interlude 3-SJ​

Lyran Intelligence Corps Headquarters,The Triad, Tharkad System,
District of Donegal, Protectorate of Donegal, Lyran Commonwealth
February 25th, 3016


Simon Johnson took his eyes away from the screen showing the report from the Molehunters and let his head fall into his left hand. Once it was there and his tense neck muscles relaxed, he used his thumb and forefingers to work from his temples towards the center of his forehead.

That could have gone better, but it could also have gone ever so much worse, he concluded, agreeing with the analysis of Senior Agent In Charge Ernst Radcliffe who was handling this goat rodeo.

It was a damn good thing LIC didn’t need to maintain this level of ultra secure covert activity for much longer. In perhaps another month, all the required copies of the Catachan Data Core would be made and either distributed, hidden, or ‘hidden’.

And that moment couldn’t come soon enough for him. It was a continual worry that some enemy agent that his people had missed would be ordered to do something extreme, like crash a Dropship into the city in an attempt to destroy the Data Core and the vital information it contained.

Once everything was in place as a fait accompli, he would allow the knowledge that the Commonwealth had discovered a Data Core to leak … right alongside the knowledge that it had already been copied and distributed to everyone with a compelling Need To Know what it contained. Too many copies would be known to be too widely held to destroy with any sort of reasonable operation. Blowing up a secure building on Tharkad was one thing, but dealing with copies known to be on Coventry, Sudeten, Tamar, Skye, Hesperus II, and a half dozen other worlds, any one of which could be used to replace the rest as needed, was a fool’s errand.

Hopefully, that would help prevent the sort of mass slaughter of scientists that had followed all previous attempts to rediscover Lostech the hard way. Let SAFE or the ISF think they had a chance at snatching a core or a mostly intact copy, and they would prioritize that, rather than bombing the building in which researchers were working to do something with the information gained from that core.

Not that they should be aware that teams of researchers were already being secretly assembled to take advantage of the Catachan Core, but even SAFE’s underfunded foreign intelligence arm sometimes got lucky. LIC needed to have a contingency in place for every reasonable eventuality, and some unreasonable ones.

To that end, several of the decoy cores had been set up in locations that could be discovered with sufficient work by a few of the spies that his department was aware of. All of them had small but crucial bits of information altered as a poison pill for his opposite numbers.

Defenses around those cores were strong enough to make them seem legitimate, but had enough subtle weaknesses that they could be overcome if the ISF, SAFE, DMI, MIIO, or the Maskirovka were willing to expend sufficient assets. The tests were difficult enough to make success seem like an accomplishment, but all they would gain was a ‘creatively edited’ copy.

Like their data neglecting to mention that Endosteel ’casting’ can only occur successfully in zero gravity.

And thank God that Weber had provided both the Read and Write heads associated with the Core, even if they’d had to fix one of them. Even the alterations didn’t stand out, since they’d been carried out on the original equipment.

It was far from a flawless plan, but it minimized the risks of utilizing the data for the maximum realistic gain to the Commonwealth. In this particular game, that was all you could hope for most days.

Of course, that was the moment his secure hardline phone rang. Unexpected phone calls were a hazard of his line of work, but he was leery of this one. It was nothing he could quantify, but he’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop all day.

Besides, the odds of dodging two bullets back to back were far too long to count on.

His right hand reached out to pick up the phone even as his left continued to work away at his headache.

“This is the Chancellor’s office,” he told his caller.

As he listened, he didn’t bother to lift his head from his hand, but instead of better, his headache was now growing worse.

After a long quarter hour, he finally spoke.

“An excellent report. Your whole team is to be commended for your diligence in this matter,” he said, his tone of voice carrying not the slightest indication that he was even upset, much less in pain.

“I’d drop by personally to do so, but I shall have to brief the Archon on what you’ve discovered shortly. Please prepare documents that can be delivered to the courts and the LCAF for prosecution. Keep up the excellent work,” he said and hung up the phone.

He wanted to break something, to tear out his hair, or beat someone’s head into the wall for this. Instead he took a deep breath and raised his head.

Verdammt,” he said quietly and prepared to head across the courtyard to Government House for what was almost certain to be an unpleasant meeting.

XXXXX​

There weren’t many people in the Commonwealth who could simply show up outside the Archon’s office door and reasonably expect to gain admittance. The Chancellor of the Lyran Intelligence Corps was one of them.

“I see, and who is the Archon speaking with, currently?”

Still, even he sometimes had to cool his heels in the waiting room.

“The CEO of MacEnroe Motors is with her at the moment,” the secretary responded, apologetically.

That name wasn’t one of the more familiar ones, so it took him a moment to dredge up the details of the security check that his subordinates had run on them.

They were the company that bought out Arcturan Arms when they collapsed after the capitol moved from Arcturus to Tharkad, he recalled.

For a moment, he wondered why a single-planet corporation that only produced combat vehicles would be brought in on the data core. Then it hit him.

Ah, the Crossbow! Arcturan Arms had produced the design, but the company hadn’t responded quickly to the changes that swept over Arcturus with the loss of prestige and power, and subsequently funding, that the transfer of the Court had caused in 2407. Without easy access to the movers and shakers of the Commonwealth, the company had fallen on hard times and had been overtaken by the current megacorporations such as Defiance.

MacEnroe Motors had bought them out and resumed Crossbow production, but that had been just about the time that modern standards for BattleMech production had been developed, and the small corporation had balked at the cost of re-engineering the Battlemech away from the original, primitive standards it had been built to during the Age of War.

If that production line had simply been mothballed and forgotten for all these years, then it could very well be worth the expense to modernize it. Especially with the schematics for the upteched Catachan variant now freely available and the design being battle-tested.

He’d seen the battle ROMs Duke Weber had provided. The CRS-6R was in the same ‘Heavy Cavalry ‘Mech’ bracket as the DCMS’ Dragon and Quickdraw, but unlike those machines it had the technology to make full use of its speed to deliver heavy firepower anywhere on the battlefield and protect it with surprisingly thick armor for its tonnage.

The inclusion of an extra-light fusion engine allowed the throw weight of the LRM racks that it mounted to be increased by fifty percent to match the slower Crusader even as more of that saved tonnage was funneled into advanced heat sinking to cope with even the massive heat burden of the ERPPC that had replaced the original’s standard version. Top it off with a heavy load of Ferro-Fibrous armor, the ‘Mech was nearly as well-defended as a Thunderbolt, and it was little surprise that the Dracs that engaged it expecting an Age of War relic had been knocked back on their heels. Anything fast enough to catch it was light enough that the Crossbow’s long-range firepower was punishing, and anything with firepower heavy enough to kill it in short order was too slow to force an engagement on favorable terms.

Even as the lightest Heavyweight combatants in the fight, and therefore forced to match the speed of the heavier, slower ‘Mechs that they were partnered with, they’d had a ferocious impact, chewing up Combine Dragons with alacrity that must have been alarming for the Samurai.

Getting production of such a ‘Mech restarted was certainly a priority and filled a desperate need in the LCAF as a heavier complement to their Griffins and Shadow Hawks.

It was well worth him sitting with an old copy of Commonwealth Digest for fifteen minutes while Katrina charmed the person who could restart production. He suspected that some ‘seed money’ loans and favorable purchase terms were part of what was being discussed.

When MacEnroe’s CEO, a middle-aged man with greying hair and a paunch, departed he had an increasingly familiar expression on his face. One of his analysts had described it as ‘shell-shock, slowly fading into wonder.’

He rather agreed, he decided as the man staggered out of the office, all unknowing that he’d been observed. He appeared to be thoroughly occupied contemplating his company’s unexpected good luck, and all the work ahead of them.

He just hoped that the man proved equal to the task ahead of him. God knew it would be so very easy for even a good man to be tempted by the easy wealth the information on the Catachan Core represented. A man could live like a king for a dozen lifetimes with the price the knowledge they were handing out could command.

Which was why they were looking so very hard to ensure that they didn’t give that information out to any corrupt men. It wasn’t an accident that no representative of Red Devil Industries had been invited to Tharkad.

Unfortunately, they were not the only important military contractor that had proved to be unreliable.

“The Archon will see you now,” the secretary called, and Simon advanced into the Commonwealth’s Sanctum Sanctorum.

The tasteful and functional decor still struck him as odd when he entered; it was vastly different than how Katrina’s predecessor had kept the office. It was that gaudy exercise in excess that he automatically associated with the room, thanks to the numerous times that he’d been ordered within to brief then-Archon Alessandro Steiner. Still, Katrina required almost no ‘managing,’ so he could easily cope with the cognitive dissonance.

“Archon,” he said with a bow of his head, his hands folded in front of him while the door closed and security systems were engaged.

Katrina took one look and opened the lower left hand desk drawer. She extracted a bottle and two glasses even as she spoke.

“This is going to be one of those conversations, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so,” he agreed. He’d had time to compose himself now. In a way, he was quite grateful that she had been in a meeting already when he arrived.

“Then hit me with it,” she demanded as she poured. His normal finger of Scotch for him. Two for herself.

“Our investigation of Lockheed-CBM has turned up some alarming irregularities,” he said.And wasn’t that an understatement!

Katrina met his eyes, then closed her own and threw back the alcohol. He reached for his glass and sipped. Single malt. From Gallery, if he wasn’t mistaken. The wheat that grew there simply tasted different thanks to the genetic modifications that allowed it to grow in the perpetual gloomy twilight.

Katrina poured herself another two fingers.

“How bad?” she demanded.

“Bad. Extensive corruption and peculation. They had a very slick system for hiding it, but thanks to the Richthofen investigations we were coming at the problem from both sides. No amount or quality of creative bookkeeping is enough under those circumstances,” he stated.

“God, their CEO will be here in two days. They were on the list for a nearly complete copy of the Core.”

Indeed, due to the corporation’s importance to the Commonwealth’s Aerospace manufacturing, it was slated to receive everything but the ‘Mech schematics so that it could begin preparing for the production of upteched Centurions. Now …

“I recommend that the CEO be met at the spaceport with an arrest warrant, and that a high priority HPG be sent out to Gibbs, Furillo, and Donegal so that their records can be seized before they are destroyed.”

“This isn’t just a few people is it?” Katrina asked, her glass was empty again.

“No. The rot is systemic. I would not be surprised to discover that this … incestuous relationship between Lockheed and the Aerospace Corps goes back more than a century.”

“And how bad is the military side?”

He paused before answering.

“I’m afraid that nearly everyone on your secondary list will need to be tried for treason and executed. The primary list can probably simply be retired in disgrace. My people are assembling a packet for the courts now.”

There were several very famous, very important names on the secondary list: those who had tried to argue for punitive measures against Captain Richthofen. Removing them would cost the Archon no small amount of political capital.

“At least run the orders for their arrest through the IG. We can trust them not to be infiltrated for at least a few years, yet,” Katrina ordered, and he nodded. He still had a few LOKI assets without priority tasking for the moment. They could be assigned as backstops in case information leaked.

“My God, Simon, what a disaster. I didn’t need this right now,” Katrina growled out.

“Would you prefer to remain ignorant?” He inquired. Knowing the answer, he continued, “I could wish my predecessor had nipped this particular issue in the bud. Any of my predecessors.

“But they missed it, or they decided that a little corruption wasn’t worth investigating when the Combine was steadily pushing back the frontier. So now it is left to us to clean up a disaster when eighty years ago all this could have been prevented with a pointed conversation and one or two officers thrown out on their ears.”

For a long moment, the office was silent, and he finally placed his glass back on the Archon’s dark, hardwood desk. She, alone, was seemingly immune to the allure of Argent Maple furniture among the Lyran elite.

“If that was all, Simon …” she trailed off, clearly expecting him to depart. Instead …

“Actually, Archon, there is one additional matter, but it is largely resolved,” he said. After all, Katrina required a little managing. Not none.

“An agent in your scheduling office discovered an enemy spy as he was in the process of passing along the intelligence he had gathered.”

Breath hissed through the Archon’s teeth.

“Tell me the leak is plugged,” she demanded, eyes more intent than even her usual.

“It is, though I’m afraid the enemy agent was not taken alive. Or intact.”

Katrina glared as she read the subtext in his report. He was well aware that she had many personal reasons to despise the idea of LOKI being used on Lyran soil. Reasons that he fully agreed with. Still sometimes the Devil truly did drive you to the lesser evil.

“Simon. Did you turn a LOKI killer loose on Tharkad.”

Though worded like a question, her tone made it an accusation.

“Indeed, Archon. LIC is somewhat stretched at the moment,” he replied.

Katrina covered her face with her hands.

“Alright. What’re the damages?”

“I shall append the cleaning bill for the men’s restroom at the Marsden street subway station to the full report,” he responded.

“Damn it, Simon, I’m serious! How many people did LOKI kill keeping the spy from reporting back?” Katrina glared at him as her head raised.

“One, Ma’am. Her target.” He replied smoothly, meeting her stare.

It was not often that Simon got to see Katrina Steiner taken aback, so it was a moment to savor when it happened.

“What?” She blurted out with a surprised stare.

“She killed only the enemy spy, though the room will need a thorough cleaning. She dialed her laser sidearm up all the way in case he was wearing armor, so she still made quite a mess. But a closed-casket funeral for an enemy of the state is small enough price to pay,” he concluded. “Even counting in LIC needing to concoct an explanation for why the spy got shot.”

Katrina had recovered her composure, but remained silent for several seconds.

“This is your way of suggesting that I loosen some of the restrictions I’ve placed on LOKI, isn’t it?”

“It would seem prudent at this juncture, Ma’am. LIC is not quite scrambling to cover our expanded responsibilities, but it is a near thing.” He said urbanely. “I had to use her as a supplement to the Molehunters simply because I had no one else to cover that responsibility.”

“I’ll consider it. And don’t think I can’t tell when you’re managing me, Simon.”

“Of course not, Ma’am. Of course not,” he agreed.

XXXXX​

A/N: Thanks again to Seraviel, Lordsfire, and Yellowhammer for beta reading, idea bouncing, and canon compliance checking. This chapter is vastly improved by their efforts.
 

PsihoKekec

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When reading Simon's part at the start, I got the mental picture of Sir Beckett doing his *INHALE* from behind the office desk.
But I guess whisky does beat chamomile tea at calming the nerves.
Defenses around those cores were strong enough to make them seem legitimate, but had enough subtle weaknesses that they could be overcome if the ISF, SAFE, DMI, MIIO, or the Maskirovka were willing to expend sufficient assets.
Nobody suspects ROM. For now.
 
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