New Avalon, Federated Suns
1 August 3039
Hanse Davion, undisputed ruler of the Federated Suns, looked up from where he sat behind his massive, antique wooden desk when he heard a knock at his office's heavy bronze door. It opened, and just beyond he could make out the pair of armoured guards. Walking in was a tall, lean man with a fit physique despite his advancing years. He had a mane of white hair and wore loose fitting black slacks, a white business shirt and an unpretentious green jacket.
"What is it, Quintus?" said Hanse, seeing the unusual expression on Quintus Allard's face. As the Minister of Intelligence Investigations and Operation he was the top spy of the Federated Suns. These days most of his energy was focussed on the war with the Draconis Combine, a war that wasn't going nearly as well as the Fox had hoped.
Quintus held up a small holodisk. "This was delivered to me today by ComStar," he said after the guards shut the door. "By a Demi-Precentor I might add."
Hanse raised an eyebrow. Demi-Precentors were the aids of each planet's Precentor, who ran that world's ComStar facility. Having a Demi-Precentor deliver a message in person instead of an adept meant the message was very important.
"Have you viewed it yet?"
"Yes. You're going to want to see this." Quintus placed the disk in the holoplayer on the ancient desk.
"Is it about the war?"
"Yes, but not directly. Watch and see." Quintus hit the play button. The holoscreen went black, and then there was a second of static before the screen filled with the image of a lovely young woman with pale blonde hair and blue-grey eyes, shown from the chest-up. She was sitting in an upholstered chair in a wood-panelled office, clad in an archaic-style uniform decorated with two campaign ribbons.
"Greetings to you, Hanse Davion, First Prince of the Federated Suns. I am Baroness Alexandra Grosvenor of Pencader, of the Lyran Commonwealth. I have a bone to pick with you, Davion, and would do so in person if time and circumstances allowed it. As it is, I will settle for this."
Hanse froze the image. "Who the hell is this woman?"
"Exactly who she says she is," Quintus replied. "I minor noblewoman. Pencader lies on the Free Worlds League border, in the Commonwealth's Periphery."
Hanse resumed play.
"On the ninth of February of this year, one of your navy men, a Commodore Foster, attempted to seize my JumpShip, Distant Memory," she said, looking very angry. "Said it was being conscripted into the AFFC for military service. The Captain of my vessel of course would allow no such thing and escaped."
Alexandra stood, the image backing up. She pointed at the camera. "I consider this act to be one of attempted piracy, and as ultimate commander of your armed forces, I hold you personally responsible. You may be allowed to pull this kind of thing on civilian JumpShips in the Federated Suns, but my vessel does not serve the military whims of vainglorious warmongers. As Baroness of Pencader, my vessel is my sovereign territory; territory which your underling attempted to violate."
The image closed in again. "I would bring lawsuits against you, Commodore Foster, the AFFC, the AFFS and the Federated Suns itself if I knew it would do any good. I know it won't and would only cost me a great deal of money. Instead I have sent messages to the Lyran Free Traders Association, the Commonwealth Press, the Donegal Broadcasting Company, the Tharkad Broadcasting Corporation, and your own Federated Broadcasting Corporation, explaining how you tried to illegally seize my vessel for your own petty needs. They are being delivered at the same time as this message."
Alexandra glared. "I dearly hope the media roasts you, Hanse Davion. If you have even the slightest bit of honour, decency and justice in you, you will publicly apologise for this act of attempted piracy and have your Commodore Foster court-martialled and imprisoned. Or at the very least, force the bastard to resign. Good day to you."
She got up from her chair and walked off-camera. Hanse was about to speak but Quintus held up a hand. "There's more."
Hanse watched as a man sat down in the chair. His dark hair was cut to a short fuzz and he wore green fatigues and a black t-shirt with SOLARIS OR BUST on the front. He leaned back in the chair, almost slouching, and nodded.
"Hey there, your Highness. I know your spooks will be analysing this message so I'll save the buggers some time. I'm Garadun Morr and I work for Lady Alexandra." He leaned forward, smirking. "Piece of advice, man. Next time you need ships to fight one of your stupid wars, trying hiring them like everyone else and not commandeering them. That pisses people off. I hope Theodore Kurita kicks your ass. You deserve it."
Garadun scratched his head. "Oh yeah, one more thing. Do me a favour, will you? Tell Duke Nathan DuVall that his attempt to murder me by having an assassin plant a bomb in my 'Mech failed. He owes me a new Hunchback."
He snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah, that reminds me. When that bomb went off, I wasn't too far from the hangar. Had I been inside at the time, everyone there would have been killed. And that includes Edward Ian Davion of Salem. Yes, I said Davion. One of your relations. DuVall's been making Ian's life hell ever since that mi tian gohn at NAMA, and I told him if he ever tried anything ever again, I'd kill him. I'm a man of my word. But I thought you'd like to know that Duke Scumbag came this close to murdering one of your relatives, your Highness. Right, take care."
The screen went dark. Hanse stared at Quintus in disbelief. In all his life he had never received such a message. It was as insolent as it was audacious. The news about a Davion nearly being murdered was alarming to say the least.
"Is any of this true?" he demanded.
"I'm afraid so, my Prince," said Quintus with a sigh. "I've been checking the records. Commodore Foster did try to conscript a Tramp class ship by the name of Distant Memory into the AFFC's service for our first wave against the Combine. The ship jumped out of the Cavanaugh system two days later and hasn't been heard from since. Foster is one of ours, and he sees the AFFC as licence to use Steiner forces in the same manner as Davion forces. He's somewhat heavy-handed."
Hanse cursed. "Now he's created an international incident. The AFFC has just come into being. It doesn't need this kind of notoriety. What about the Baroness?"
"Baroness Alexandra Grosvenor: twenty-five years old, commander of the Fighting Fusiliers mercenary company, which she formed last year. They've been in service to Duke Sheridan of Kolovraty on the edge of the Lyran Periphery March. Reports say they're local heroes, having utterly crushed two separate pirate raids."
Hanse rubbed his eyes. "Heroes. Perfect. Just what I need."
"There's more, I'm afraid. Edward Ian Davion is indeed a member of the unit. From what I understand, a founding member. He was involved in that unfortunate accident at the NAMA a few years ago. The one where the cadet died."
"Yes, I recall now. He took responsibility for it, didn't he?"
"Yes, and DuVall saw to it that he was busted out because it was his son that died. Ian abdicated his title. He was unemployed until the Baroness hired him."
"What about this Morr character?"
"Garadun Morr: age thirty-five, Terran citizen, lived on Solaris for over a decade until helping found the Fusiliers. He was a Solaris gladiator. My sources say he's a wildcard, and doesn't hesitate to shoot people who threaten him or his friends. And you may find this hard to believe, but he was awarded the Commonwealth Star."
Hanse's eyes widened. "You're joking."
"I wish I was. It was during the first pirate raid. He attacked and defeated a Leopard class DropShip single-handed, as well as taking down the entire lance of 'Mechs it was carrying. The Kolovraty media calls him 'The Hero of Innsbruck'."
"Wonderful. A group of genuine heroes with an irate royal leading them."
"And as it happens, she's completely within her rights," said Quintus, sighing. "She is the Baroness of Pencader and her ship is sovereign territory, as much as her family estate is. Foster, especially as someone from a technically foreign military, had no right to try and conscript her vessel. Were our two nations not allies it would have been an act of piracy, if not outright war."
"The anti-Davion factions in the Commonwealth are going to have a field day over this," said Hanse, shaking his head.
"Which is obviously why Baroness Grosvenor has gone so public with it. And a bomb was planted in Morr's Hunchback. There was an investigation and the presumed assassin was found. Died in a firefight with local police. I checked the report and Ian was in the hangar with many other people at the time, as Morr states."
"Right, time to start damage control," said Hanse. "I have enough problems to deal with. I don't need this as well. Start preparing an official response, and find me Commodore Foster. He started this mess and he's going to answer for it, the fool."
"I'll take care of it, my Prince."
"And start an investigation into Duke DuVall," said Hanse, his face darkening. "If his vendetta against Edward Ian Davion has gone this far, as Morr claims, then he almost murdered a Davion. That's nothing short of treason."
"Already underway," said Quintus. "Ian didn't cause the accident at NAMA, but because he was in command when it occurred, he took responsibility for it. In my opinion he has never let down the honour of the Davions. In fact quite the opposite. And he seems to have found a new home among the Fusiliers."
"Good. Oh, and inform Melissa about all this if she doesn't already know. If anyone can calm down an angry Lyran royal, she can."
"Right away, my Prince," said Quintus and left the office. Hanse Davion heaved a sigh. Some days it just didn't pay to get out of bed.
The saga of the Fighting Fusiliers will continue in Future Shadows.