Lancer Operations Center
Phoenix Lancer Main Compound
Auburn Mountains, Cromwell
23 August, 3080
Lt Colonel McCormack stood in the Operations Center and read the message for the third time. Said message was a invitation, of sorts, sent via HPG, addressed to her from Loremaster Tseng of the Ghost Bears. And its contents… were a confirmation of something she never truly expected- an official Invite for a Year End Celebration upon the world of Alshain within the Ghost Bear holdings in the Dominion for her as an honored guest of Clan Ghost Bear.
Now, she had semi-expected something as the Ghost Bear Loremaster had extended a Verbal Invite when they were here over four months ago. A reminder maybe by the end of the year, perhaps a Christmas card (not that they celebrated it but the tradition lived on even today) but not much else. Leslie had figured the offer had been a polite gesture. But an actual, physical message of one was not expected. Not expected at all… and here it was, in the hands of the Comstar Precentor who elected to hand deliver it.
“I know I asked you this over the comms but you are one hundred percent sure it came from their territory?” She asked the Precentor, as she handed a datapad to a technician. Given she was acting military commander with Tinney gone, her work never really stopped.
“Cousin,” the precentor replied as the technician departed. “I knew you would ask and I made triple sure that the source of the transmission was verified before I even brought it over.” Precentor David McCormick was a distant cousin of Leslie’s through relations several generations ago… and had arranged posting here just before the start of the Jihad as something of a retirement post.
A reasonable and practical man, the Precentor had been on world when the Blakists assaulted and occupied Centaurus. An old solder, he had assisted the resistance where he could and was one of the reasons messages had managed to get off world to get help- the Precentor knew his HPG station like some marines knew their weapons so finding means to send for assistance had been possible. It was those actions as well as the safeguarding of refugees in the Knox Mountains using his station’s escaped LvL II that had allowed him a bit of leeway on the world where the Lancers were concerned- indeed, he was one of the few members of his Order that was trusted by the Lancers.
It was those actions during the Occupation that helped keep him here when the world was freed and as Comstar reorganized post-Jihad. McCormick used his position to ensure secure messages came and went with minimal eyes involved. And it was that trust that allowed him to even be in the secure areas of the Compound- much less the Operations Center.
“I can assure you that the originating station is the Alshain HPG and as near as my experts can tell, it has NOT been tampered with. Can’t tell you if its been read by others- the encryption is Standard Confidential… which means nothing where the Blakists are concerned, of course… but it has NOT been messed with.” He replied. “This message is unchanged from its initial transmission. That I guarantee without reservation.”
Leslie set the message down on the table. “Well this presents a small problem… John is off world and I have no idea when he’s scheduled to be back,” Looking up, she made sure no one else was within earshot. What she was about to tell him was big and not known outside a small handful outside the Lancers. “He and the Wolverine Khan are off in the Dark reclaiming fallen. And have a means of setting up a network to message back. They haven’t used it yet though.”
Dave lifted an eyebrow as he reached for his ever-present pipe. “I know he left with some of their ships…. Just not where. And message how? Those damn Black Boxes?”
She shook her head. “No. League Era communications buoys. Just like the Clan ones.”
The Precentor paused in putting the pipe in his mouth. “What?”
A smile. “Our friends hung on to the manuals and schematics over the years. And had a few of them when they came back,” Leslie teased the info. “Not sure if they will work as advertised anymore… but the Clan versions are modeled on these.”
Dave just stared. “Cousin… that is dangerous information,” he said at last in a low voice. “Not even we have those and it’s been tried often over the years…”
It was Leslie’s turn to lift an eyebrow, Vulcan-like. “Fascinating… But if you had them, I would think you would have used them. But yes… we have some. And at least the schematics to make more.”
“You realize how valuable that information is? And how damn dangerous?”
A nod. “We do. Which is also why the assembly site is very hidden and very protected.” She commented. “I am giving you this information because I trust you to keep it under your hat… and not written down anywhere.”
“Blake’s blood, Leslie!” He hissed. “You are really stretching security on that…” McCormick knew what his cousin did and who she employed. That she told him… was either a breach of her own rules… or something else.
“David… you are trusted. And also not about to betray that trust. Even Sean likes you… and you KNOW how much he has a hate for the Word and a lesser extent, Comstar. If you were a threat to that secret, you’d not know… and likely would have a Feng Brother paying you a visit.”
For his part, McCormick didn’t blink. He knew who the Feng brothers were…. And how much they were not simple former Cappellans. “Your aces up your sleeve?”
“Sort of. Argyle is my primary for removal work… Frick and Frack are contingency only.”
“Some contingency,” The question on why she told him this… was something else. “And you obviously want quid pro quo…”
“David… I think I already have it… and I gave you something in return for services rendered over the past few years. I’m aware of what you’ve done for us against Comstar Practices… and well, I also suspect when you retire from the Order, having somewhere to go that won’t hold your old job against you would be a nice thing to have.
That you can’t tell anyone really about this… is admittedly mean of me. But you deserve to know your efforts for us were not wasted. Nor will you be homeless if you are put to pasture.” She replied. “We both know another re-org is coming… and despite everything, you might not be retained.”
Dave listened to his cousin and kept his face neutral. That she had a good idea on some of the questionable policy changes within Comstar coming was a touch annoying and that quite a few of the Old Guard, no matter their leanings, were being either moved or removed from postings was a thing. He had used up a few favors in ensuring he was kept here instead of being moved into one of the Guard units. He also knew it wasn’t going to last… and that there were those higher in the Order who viewed his favoritism for the Lancers with suspicion. Those threats to his position were getting harder to avoid and he liked it here.
He answered her. “Why do I think you are working towards an offer I should strongly consider?” Dave knew his cousin fairly well and he also knew she would not have brought all this up without a reason. He suspected that he knew the offer and the reasons… but he was not going to assume.
Another of those maddening half-smiles. “Because you know me well enough to know there is always something else in observations and offers. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to leave here… and I’d like to have you here; outside of the Lancers, I don’t have much family. Because of that, I want you to stay here…”
She paused. “Not that I am trying to recruit you into the Fold or anything; I don’t think mercenary life is that agreeable to you, but we are an option.
Add in that cabin you like up on the North Slope could be gotten for a song… and well, I suppose it would be additional incentive to stay. Same goes for your Guard, should they also decide to resign their positions. As one of my juniors might say, they fought and bled here…. So they have skin in the game if stupid comes calling.” A smile. “No answer needed as of yet… but the offer to you and to them is there.”
He nodded in understanding. “I will take it under advisement… and let the group know. All I can do right now… and I should think there is a time limit on this offer?”
“For you, no. For the others… there is but not a short one.”
“Food for thought, Cousin. Food for thought,” He replied after a minute. “I will let you know either way by end of the month.”
“Good enough for me,” Leslie replied. “Meanwhile, I need to figure out if this place can spare me for a few months. Diane is good but she also has her responsibilities. I also need to answer this…” She indicated the message.
“That you do,” Dave commented as he made to leave. “I will encrypt it with Precentor Level security when I send it out.”
Ghost Bear Dominion Executive Offices
31 August 3080
Loremaster Tseng looked up from her office desk when one of the Khan’s guards entered the room. “Loremaster, the Khan sent me to let you know there has been a communication received directed at yourself from outside the Dominion. She would like you to come to her office to discuss it.”
“Aff” she said. “Let her know I will be there shortly… I need to finish this report.”
“Loremaster, Khan Kabrinski said you would say that and whatever you are working on can wait,” The guard replied. “Said you would be annoyed at delaying when you learned of the contents.”
“Oh, did she now?” Tseng commented. “Very Well then… a minute.” The Loremaster then quickly typed in an entry and saved her work before locking her terminal. “Lead on…” She said as she got up. “Unless it is a declaration of War upon the Clan, why she needs me for a message is beyond me.”
Tseng followed the Elemental through the halls to the Khan’s Office and was ushered in. Within, the Khan sat at her desk and saKhan Magnusson seated off to the side. On the desk was a hardcopy message document. “My Khan,” Tseng said as she entered the room. “You wished to see me?”
Kabrinski nodded and lifted the message up for her Lore Master to grab. “Indeed… It would seem you have a celebration to plan, Tseng, as well as deciding what drink I owe you,” she said as the Loremaster read the reply. “Your assessment of the Spymaster of the Lancers is fairly accurate in that she would accept the invitation though she does not wish to come alone.”
Tseng read the message then glanced up to her Khan. “Indeed. And I am not surprised by her asking after if others may be in attendance with her. You will recall that one of her Command Lance pilots, the wife of their commander, is a veterinary doctor? She did offer to help us with acclamation of the ghost bears we brought with us… and perhaps, assist with teaching. As per conversations during the celebration I attended, I learned she had been a doctor for a long time.”
“I recall,” Kabrinski replied. “And you think this would be one of those she would want to bring with her?”
“I do,” Tseng replied. “I expect her to come with her command group; they are very tightly bonded team and work well together. I do not believe any of them are among her spies, if that is what you are concerned about. The one who escorted me to visit with her might have been… but not her command group.”
A nod. “I believe you,” The Khan commented as she looked over to her saKhan. “Your thoughts? Having guests of this nature is a bit unusual but we live in such times… I mean, this time last year, the Wolverines were still an ancient myth and we were still trying to resolve the after effects of the Motstånd bombing. Which reminds me, the Watch reports that what is left of those miscreants have gone underground. One hopes they stay there.”
Ragnar Magnusson was quiet for a moment. “I think we need to take great pains in making sure of their being put to ground. While your guest is not a scion of any Great House or Family, they are a ranking member of a major military command and planetary government, if I understand how the Phoenix Lancers operate on their world. Harm coming to her would be pretty serious political faux-pas… and if their commander’s wife is a victim? I’ve read up on those mercenaries… having them as a mortal enemy would not be a good idea. And that would do it…”
He paused. “And they have access to warships, based on the reports from Star Admiral Devon; her meeting with the Wolverine Admiral was very informative. No… if they are coming and this Kristina Tinney is in attendance alongside Colonel McCormack, we are going to have to be pretty sure of security.”
Tseng looked at the saKhan. “I can see a desire to exact vengeance if such an event were to happen… but I do not think they would hold us accountable…”
“No… but we are trying to build trust and alliances. I am leery of her attending due to potential cases of stupidity;” Ragnar said as he held up a hand. “I know she’s a mechwarrior and harm can happen. But if it happens on the battlefield, that is far different than at a party when a bomb goes off. It is my only concern with their coming. If her husband was along, I’d want to ask him about a few things… I know he was part of the fighting on Strana Mechty along with portion of the Lancers during the Great Refusal; I think he was apart of a loan to the 3rd Drakons to bolster them against the Hell Horses; I’d love to verify it. But according to that message, I do not think he is to be part of the contingent coming here.”
Kabrinski shook her head. “Why would you send both your leaders to one place? That his mate is to potentially be here… I think that is solid representation enough.” She looked at Tseng. “Is she part of the decision making there?”
Tseng shrugged. “I do not think so… but she is very knowledgeable on personalities among the leadership of various elements on the world. Fairly good judge of character, as near as I can tell. She also said if a dog does not trust a person, there is usually a very valid reason for it. According to her, animals know perfidy.”
A laugh. “I like her already,” Ragnar chuckled. “Too bad the Founders didn’t have one handy back then; so much trouble could have been avoided…”
Kabrinski sighed. “You are not wrong, Ragnar. You are not wrong.”