Clan Goliath Scorpion Field Headquarters, Bayern
Memmingen, Clan Goliath Scorpion Occupation Zone
February 25, 3043
Mark Steiner shook his head rather violently. “This is the Star League we are talking about, Marius! The Star League is what we are fighting? My God, what would Aleksandyr Kerensky say?”
The Khan of the Nova Cats just frowned. “It is a false Star League, Khan Steiner! They have not united for the betterment of mankind, they united out of fear—fear of our righteous anger at how they have squandered the Paradise our ancestors left. How many worlds have they rendered lifeless? How far have they fallen?”
“And yet,” said Nikolai quietly, “they have united, Khan West. They have united and they have defeated us—all of us—on Tukayyid. We stand on the precipice of the abyss; one slip and we shall all pass away into eternal night.”
The Nova Cat frowned. “Was this revealed to you through a necrosia vision?”
“Neg. I have tasted necrosia but twice in my lifetime—when I first became a Warrior and again when I received my Blood Name. What of your own visions?”
Marius looked troubled and he exchanged a glance with his saKhan Linda Devereaux. “The Clans do not believe our visions.”
“I would like to hear of them, regardless,” said Nikolai, giving Natasha a stern look as she started to shake her head, and the Stone Lion Khan subsided.
Marius stared at Nikolai for a moment and then he nodded. “All of our visions—the Khans, the Loremaster, the Visionmasters who have in the past seen clearly—all of them are . . . clouded. We see the Clans in the midst of a thundering storm, without shelter from the wind, rain, and lightning. Some visions then reveal that when the storm passes, only the skeletons of our totems are left in the wake—others that we stand divided against our selves . . . the unity broken and darkness rising behind us. None have yet shown a path through the storm—all lead to death.”
Nikolai nodded gravely. “A powerful vision indeed. And it is one that the others will dismiss.”
“But not you?” asked Marius ironically. “For a Scorpion, you do not seem to believe in visions and prophecies.”
“I believe that we may have glimpses of a future to come, but that the present is what we make of it—through our own efforts. After all, God helps those who help themselves.”
The Cobra Khan and saKhan twitched slightly—as Nikolai had never expressed publically any belief in the God of their Cloisters. But neither said a word.
“Why do you want my views on this False League anyway, Nikolai? Surely you did not call us here to speak of philosophy,” Marius asked.
“No, I did not,” and the Scorpion gave a slight negative shake of his head at Natasha who nodded in reply. “I know that the Cats have suffered greatly in this invasion—and I have ninety spare OmniMechs in my caches on Memmingen that lack Warriors to pilot them. You managed to recover many injured Warriors from the debacle on Tukayyid—but lost their OmniMechs. To strengthen the Clans, I will give you these OmniMechs, Khan West.”
The Cats sat back. “And in exchange? What is it that you desire?”
“They are a gift, Khan West. “Take them freely, and rebuild your strength in honor—and know that although we may stand opposed on many issues, that we Scorpions are not your enemies.”
Marius got a far-away look in his eyes and he drew in a sudden and rapid breath; his face turned pale and then he shook his head. His shoulders slumped as his eyes cleared. “You walk a path that the Cats cannot follow, Nikolai. I can only hope that your endeavor will prosper.” He stood. “Come saKhan—let us leave our host so that he may speak frankly with his other guests—for your gift I thank you . . . and in return I shall speak no more of what I have seen.”
Nikolai stood and he nodded. “May you live out the rest of your life with honor, Khan West.”
“And may you find what you Seek, Khan Djerassi,” Marius replied and then the Cats left.
Leonard Eaker, the Cobra saKhan looked up in puzzlement. “I get the feeling we are talking on multiple levels here—what exactly are you proposing that would have the Cats react like that?”
Mark Steiner leaned forward, “Be still, saKhan. Nikolai believes that our destiny lies in serving the Star League, quiaff?”
Aidan Pryde and Nelson Elam and Natasha Kerensky also answered from their seats around the roaring fireplace in Nikolai’s office. And Leonard looked as if an Elemental had just punched him in the belly.
“Merciful Allah,” he whispered. “Join the Star League? The others will rip you apart—they will tear all of us apart for even speaking such sedition!”
“The Clans are last descendants of the Star League Defense Forces . . . we came here to reform the Star League,” Nikolai said. “Well, it has reformed . . . albeit not in the manner which we anticipated. And we are faced with a choice: do we live up to our beliefs—as Wardens, as followers of the Great Father and the Founders—and serve the Star League once more or do we attempt to conqueror the Inner Sphere as Crusaders and rule over them as Warlords and Despots in the same manner as Stefan Amaris?”
“Khan Steiner, the Cobras are the smallest of all the surviving Clans of Kerensky. saKhan Eaker, what will happen if we are forced from the Inner Sphere? Do you believe that the Jaguars and the Falcons and the Vipers or even the Adders will not seek to absorb you and add your strength to their own? Will eliminating a Warden voice?” Natasha asked.
“The Adders are our allies,” protested Leonard, but Mark Steiner nodded. “And they are pragmatic, my friend,” he said. “They will do what is best for their Clan—and if that means they must absorb us to keep our assets from the hands of the Jaguars or Falcons or Vipers or Spirits, they will do so.”
Nikolai nodded. “You have eleven Clusters here—and a mere eight left in the Homeworlds. Your forces here, now, are barely at fifty percent strength. Your Clan is in imminent jeopardy if the Star League forces us to either halt or retreat—and we lack the strength to move forward. But what if there was another way? What if, by living up to the beliefs that you profess, you can preserve your Clan, your various faiths, by serving under the aegis of a Star League that enshrines the freedom of religion?”
Mark frowned. “Do they? I have not yet seen a charter of this Star League Reborn, have you, Khan Djerassi?” and then his shoulders slumped again. “However, your words make sense even so. I know you seek to use our belief and our faith against us—do not do so. Say what you want plainly—and we will answer.”
The Scorpion nodded at the defiant Cobra and he smiled. “Cards on the table? I am leading my Scorpions into the service of the Star League—they have agreed to give up seven worlds that were once part of the Terran Hegemony . . . worlds that will now serve as the home of the True Clans of Kerensky. The Stone Lions are with me—and I have pulled every last ship, OmniMech, aerospace fighter, tank, and infantryman my Clan possesses from the Homeworlds, along with a few million civilians. They are currently en route . . . and are the reason we are suffering communications difficulties at this very moment.”
Mark sighed and he nodded, but Leonard stood, his mouth agape. “And we will have to sacrifice those of our Warriors in the Homeworlds, then—the other Clans will Annihilate them in pursuit of revenge!”
“Neg. I have an . . . alternative HPG rely network. One that can be used just once. I will share my civilians with you—and the Stone Lions—and we will have sizeable populations already on these planets that will fall under our rule. My ships bear a copy of the Master Genetic Repository—so your scientists will continue to be able to improve upon your legacies. If you choose to join us, you need only pass the order for your second-line forces, your WarShips, your sibkos, and the most vital of your civilians to join us. It will be months yet before the Homeworlds discover what we have done.”
“How long have you planned for this?”
“It is . . . contingency which I have had for a long time now. Mark,” Nikolai said frankly as he leaned forward and looked the Cobra square in the eyes, “you know well how much the other Clans deride the faiths that your Cloisters profess.” He held up a hand and shook his head. “I am not trying to play you or your religion, just pointing out a fact. Your current weakness makes the others hungry and in one stroke by Absorbing the Cobras they can depose a Warden Clan, eliminate religion from your society, and strengthen their own touman. It will happen—and Marion Truscott is liable to do it if he even thinks that the Falcons or Jaguars could use your strength and your Warriors to bulk up their own toumans.”
“I give you a chance to save your Clan and fufill your destiny—and mine. Once more will the children of the Star League Defense Force serve the Star League. Once more will be the numbers of our Clusters—drawn from the Divisions of the SLDF—be honored on Terra. What do you say?”
Mark Steiner sat back and he sighed. And then he nodded. “It is the only road open, quiaff?”
“We will be considered traitors!” whispered Leonard Eaker.
“Treason doth never prosper: what is the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason,” Nikolai answered simply.
But Leonard snorted. “Pretty words—our fellow Clans will call it treason regardless. They will cast us out and mark us for execution.”
Mark Steiner shook his head. “Perhaps. But have we a choice, Leonard? Is there another way to preserve our Clan—and our Cloisters—within the unity? And if we do so by declaring this . . . Star League Reborn false, then what does that say of the principles that we claim to hold so dear? We will be saying that we fear death and imprisonment and torture and we shall be like Peter and deny Christ three times before the cock crows.”
Leonard sat down suddenly. “How has it come to this? Is there no other way?”
“None which I can see,” said Nikolai. “I am committed—my Clan is committed—to this course of action. But you must make your own decision—will the Cloud Cobras live to serve the Star League Reborn, or will you remain a Clan of the Homeworlds and perish?”
Neither man said a word for nearly three full minutes, but at last Mark Steiner nodded. “We are with you. If you would set up that alternate comm rely—I have some orders that need to be passed.”
Natasha smiled. "I will join you in the comm center. I need to pass orders to my Stone Lions . . . and I think I will put my Potemkin under your command to help in this movement. I want it back, once you get to the Inner Sphere, though."
"That would help us much," Mark said with a firm nod.
Nikolai let out a sigh of relief. “Then I shall show to the com center at once, Khan Steiner. And I believe that both the First Lord of the Star League and Melissa Steiner-Davion will be very interested in speaking with you.”