The nameless Precentor turned to look at the ROM adept who brought him Operation BEOWULF.

"Ambitious of Katrina. One last ride into the battlefield, giving her grandchildren with a little bit of luck, domination of the Sphere for her dream."

"Yes, sir. I take it we won't provide this luck?"

"Actually, I'm thinking on Richard's letter to Minoru, you remember that one?"

"Sir?" The Adept's tone made it clear she did, but did not see the relvance.

"See to it that all the Federated Commonwealth's messages get though clear and complete. In fact... see to it that they're very well supplied with intelligence though deniable contacts... as well as a bit of chaos and confusion to the Dragon." He paused to look at the young woman in front of him. "At least make plans for it. Also, arrange for for me to meet with Hanse Davion... totally covertly."

The Adept stared at her master in bemusement.

"We've been looking at this the wrong way, I think. Perhaps instead of us ruling... it should be us educating the new ruler... and satisfying Richard's request would be one way."

She blinked as understanding sank in. "Blake!"

"Yes, by his will."


Liao, Sarna March

Lyran Commonwealth

18 February 3039

The ancestral home of House Liao was now residence to another dynasty entirely. Officially Hanse Davion was accompanying his heavily pregnant wife on a tour of her domain as Duchess of the Sarna March. Unofficially it gave him a last chance to touch base with commanders along the borders with the Capellan Confederation and Free Worlds League before his attention went elsewhere. The gatherings of military officers went almost unnoticed among the flood of wellwishers.

No one except for security and fourteen spies noticed one more limousine among those carrying assorted nobles into the palace. Only security and two spies managed to keep track of the chauffeur after he entered a staff bathroom, doffed his obscuring cap and uniform and also removed several layers of artifical skin that had substantially altered the shape of his face. Fortunately both the spies in question were working for him.

The ComStar robes that were laid out on the washroom counter were a simple courtesy from security before he was escorted to a quiet, windowless conference room. As he was the only occupant, the man turned his attention to the large screen that dominated one side of the room. He was unsurprised when it activated, displaying an almost identical chamber - presumably elsewhere in the palace. Sitting at the other table were two of the most famous people in the Inner Sphere: the First Prince of the Federated Suns and the Archon-Designate of the Lyran Commonwealth.

"Blake's peace upon you," the man said, bowing his head humbly.

"And on you," Melissa Steiner-Davion replied pleasently.

Hanse Davion leant forwards. "So, Precentor, why is it that you have asked for a private audience? Your organisation is not on the best of terms with the Federated Commonwealth."

"It is true that there are certain parts of ComStar that are regrettably at odds with your government, your highness. While I do not place blame upon you for this, may I point out that your actions have led to great changes and change is often frightening. My order, as with any organisation, has its share of conservatives."

"And you are not such a man?"

He smiled. "I would hope not. The protests of our Primus that she is beyond her childhood allegiance to House Kurita are perhaps more hollow than she realises. It can be hard to set aside the prejudices of our youth, but we must endeavour." He cleared his throat. "But I digress. The reason that I have come before you is in furtherance of the Word of Blake. Our founder foresaw that one day humanity would be united and ComStar has worked towards that day ever since."

The look in Melissa's eye was sceptical, her husband hiding his own feelings better.

"It would probably make more sense if you consider that almost every Primus has believed that humanity would be united under the leadership of ComStar," the Precentor clarifed. "It is only recently, if you will excuse me, from learning of Operation Beowulf that has inspired us to a new perspective upon certain passages in our holy text show that we are incorrect."

Melissa had paled and Hanse leant forwards. "Then the Combine is aware of Beowulf?"

He shook his head. "No. We have been able to keep the information from Waterly and her pets within the First Circuit. Rest assured that that leak in your security has been plugged." His eyes went to Melissa. "Having lost my own parents, I know that it is scant consolation, but your mother's sacrifice will accomplish everything that she desires. The Black Pearl will fall into her hands and with it, the Inner Sphere shall fall into your hands and the hands of your son."

"And ComStar will aid us in this?" asked Hanse mildly. "What would be your price for that?"

"At the risk of undue drama, our reward will be your first-born son."

"You will leave Victor alone!"

The anger in Melissa Steiner-Davion's voice was dramatic evidence that not all the steel in this marriage belonged to her husband.

"You misunderstand me!" he protested swiftly. "I do not suggest that you would lose your son, that would undermine our goals entirely! It is not possession of Victor that I desire, it is his exaltation: he shall be our leader!"

"Your... leader?" Melissa shook her head. "And what does Primus Waterly think about that?"

"What about her?" he asked mildly.

"Oh. Perhaps you could explain that in more specific terms."

It was an order, only phrased as a request and the Precentor took it as such. "For now, very little. He already has tutors, we would provide one or two more. Under the usual supervision, of course. One could hardly expect your unreserved trust. When he is older, we would ask that he spend some time with our ComGuards and in our administrative arm before he is announced as Primus. I suspect that it will be much the same as the training that you are planning to prepare him to be Archon-Prince."

Hanse looked intrigued. "You're asking for quite a lot on trust, Precentor."

"Since almost everything I'm asking for would take place in a decade, Prince Davion, it is I who am placing my trust in you." He paused. "Oh, before I forget, Victor is going to marry my daughter when they're old enough."

"You've got a lot of nerve making demands like that," Hanse observed, taking Melissa's hand to restrain her from objecting.

He produced a photograph from his robes and held it up for Hanse to see. "I have a wonderful daughter and I want the best for her. The best, in this case, is that her marriage will secure peace in the Inner Sphere."

Melissa pointed at the photograph and turned her head towards someone not visible on the camera. "Is that who I think it is?"

The microphones were well placed so the Precentor couldn't hear the response, but he could see Hanse Davion's face and the sly grin was all the confirmation that he needed.

"So that would make you..."

He lowered his hood, for the first time letting them see his face clearly - the obviously mechanical eye amid the heavy scarring that had all but obliterated the right side of his face, other augmentations showing where his skull had been rebuilt with metal where flesh and bone were no longer sufficient. "I am Thomas Marik," he agreed. "If Parliament knew of the true extent of my injuries they would not have accepted me, thus my use of a doppelganger agent - a volunteer, I swear to you - as my proxy within the Free Worlds League."

Meliss at gulped at the sight. "I... will not marry my son to a girl he does not know."

"Of course not. However there is plenty of time for them to get to know each other before they are old enough to marry, Isis is only four years old. And I am sure that you see the benefits: with this agreement, the Free Worlds League shifts from a distraction in your war plans to an asset. The Capellan Confederation will be surrounded and you can impose Candace Liao as Chancellor without undue difficulty if you so wish."

Hanse laughed. "You want your grandchild to be First Lord of the Star League."

"Of course. Don't you?"

"Something like that, there would need to be changes. And the fact that the Free Worlds League would be the second most powerful state in the Star League has nothing to do with it?"

"Prejudices of youth can be hard to overcome," agreed Thomas calmly. "We can also provide you with valuable intelligence data on the Draconis Combine - Primus Waterly appears to have traded a considerable quantity of military hardware to Theodore Kurita in return for his support in the creation of the Free Rasalhague Republic. ROM believes that you are underestimating his military strength by at least ten regiments."

The look on Hanse's face gave Thomas a warm feeling. ComStar needed the Federated Commonwealth in order to complete their holy mission but now Davion knew that he needed ComStar as well.


Luthien, Pesht District

Draconis Combine

9 July 3039

Katrina Steiner watched the altimeter descend as the drop pod slid through the atmosphere. Somewhere below her, the Draconis Combine was hastily assembling defenses to reinforce the Otomo. Unfortunately for them, the First and Seventh Sword of Light regiments had left Luthien weeks ago. By now they were half-way to the Dieron District and incapable of playing any role in the battle.

Creative use of ComStar transponders had prevented the Combine's authorities from realising that the incoming 'freighters' were actually several dozen military transports until the Overlords started dropping BattleMechs to secure a dropzone on the Tairakana Plains, not far from the Imperial City.

Intelligence suggested that the defensive forces available to defend Luthien's palaces and factories would be somewhere between eight and twelve conventional regiments. To ensure victory, Katrina had brought a picked force. The Tenth Skye Rangers had leapt at the chance to attack the heart of the Draconis Combine. The Sixth Lyran Guards, recently reorganised as an RCT, had been ecstatic to form the backbone of the task force rather than being left posted on the League border. Morgan had of course not hesitated when she called on his Kell Hounds.

And finally Katrina's own command: the Fourth Royal Guards, destroyed almost two hundred years ago. She had handpicked the officers and filled out the manning tables with the pick of the Nagelring's class of '39. She had planned on purchasing brand new BattleMechs from Defiance and Coventry for the regiment but had instead received a donation from Hanse and Melissa's new ally within ComStar. It seemed that Primus Waterly was not the only one willing to provide military aid under the table.

The last vestiges of her pod fell away and Katrina saw the great cities of Luthien beneath her Black Knight. Firing her jumpjets sent a hammerblow of pain through her spine. But then, so did almost everything these days.

Even the most optimistic of her physicans gave her no more than six months to live at this point. Katrina Steiner, architect of the Federated Commonwealth, would not live to see her grandson bring it to fruition. What she could do was ensure that the threat that had menaced her predecessors would never hang over him.

She'd memorised the words to say next, knowing the effect that they would have upon her enemy. Setting her radio to transmit in the clear she called out: "Takashi Kurita. Watashinonamaeha Katrina Steiner. Anatatowatashi wa mikan no shigoto o motte iru."

Takashi Kurita. My name is Katrina Steiner. You and I have unfinished business.