An Original Work of Fiction
Stephen T Bynum
All Rights Reserved
Temple of the Nine Muses
Roche, Clan Homeworlds
May 4, 3030
The flash of a bolt of lightning lit the dark sky, casting long shadows over the rocky wastelands of Roche. The massive fortress—carved from a granite mesa more than two centuries ago by the laborers of Clan Widowmaker and first named Spiderholm in their honor; the edifice sullenly brooded over the parched and barren landscape beneath it. Star Colonel Mikhail Kirov halted his climb along the long and winding path that led from the valley below to the entrance tunnel above. He looked out at the low hanging clouds that hid the stars from his sight, the glow of the night moon as well, and he nodded as another thundering crash from the heavens heralded a lightning strike in the distant wastes.
Roche herself will soon weep for my Scorpions, he thought, even as the first heavy drops of the storm began to plummet down around him. He ignored the warm rain that splattered from his ceremonial leathers, and he once more resumed his course towards the Temple of the Nine Muses. Cleansed of the taint of the Widowmakers, Spiderholm had been given to the Scorpions in appreciation for their defense of Khan Jerome Winson of the Wolves during that long ago War. Forty years of work by artisans and laborers had removed all symbols of the defunct Clan, and transformed the fat-bellied Spider that had once rested above the gates on eight slender legs into a rearing Scorpion, its obsidian sting poised to deliver death.
How prideful we are, Mikhail thought as he stared into the polished golden gemstones that served the eighty-meter wide statue of a Goliath Scorpion for eyes. This edifice is what we wasted our finest days upon, when we could—and should—have devoted our strength to making the Nest strong. You care not for such works, he directed towards the massive statue as he continued to climb the ramp. You care only with our devotion to your ideals; a devotion which has, of late, gone awry.
But the unmoving colossus of polished granite and obsidian and precious stones dug from the Wastes remained silent.
At long last, Mikhail reached the summit, and he nodded in approval as the Elemental Warriors on duty raised their weapons—and servo-mounted automatic cannons swiveled towards the approaching Warriors. While the old fortress was now a ‘temple’ in name, she had not been totally stripped of her claws.
“I am Star Colonel Mikhail Kirov, commander of the 24th Scorpion Cuirassier Cluster. I am expected this evening, Warriors.”
“Sir,” one barked, “if the Star Colonel would present his codex for confirmation.”
Mikhail removed one leather gauntlet and held out his clenched fist and bare forearm, a tight metal band fixed just below his wrist adorned with blinking lights. A second Elemental stepped forward and pressed an electronic reader to the codex, and then both the reader and codex beeped.
“Your identity has been confirmed, Star Colonel Kirov. You have full authorization to enter the Temple,” the commander of the Elemental Guards said in a much softer and restrained voice.
Kirov nodded as he tugged the gauntlet back on and he briskly moved forward, followed by each and every one of the Blood-named Warriors assigned to The Khan’s Own Cluster. Twenty-two pairs of steel-shod boots echoed down the long sloping tunnel as those Warriors moved downwards in Mikhail’s wake, passing by gun emplacements set in the walls, underneath murder holes in the ceiling, and through two more checkpoints before he finally entered the Scorpion Grand Cathedral itself.
The Chamber was filled by Scorpions dressed in their ceremonial leathers, gathered about the room; few looked up as Mikhail and his entourage entered. Ignoring the rest, Mikhail picked up his pace and he strode with purpose towards the bier set in the center of the Cathedral; the bier upon which rested the body of his Khan, surrounded by a Guard of Honor bearing long flickering torches.
Mikhail stood there for what seemed to be an eternity, staring at the waxen features of the corpse of Conner Yeh as he lay there, slowly decomposing. Finally Mikhail turned to one of the Guards of Honor.
“Where is he?”
The young Warrior’s eyes grew large, and he stared at Mikhail for a moment. But the veteran Star Colonel’s gaze was too fierce to ignore, and he swallowed. “In his private chambers, Star Colonel—but he commanded that he not be disturbed.”
Mikhail snorted and he turned on his right foot and set off for the guarded pair of high doors leading into the depths of the warren that honeycombed the mesa turned Temple. Another Star Colonel stood in front of the door, and he shook his head and held up one hand.
“He is resting, Kirov, and is not to be disTURB—AARGH!” the voice turned into a scream as Mikhail grabbed the protestor by the throat and slammed him back into the stone wall. Conversation in the Grand Cathedral drifted to a halt as everyone present turned to look.
Mikhail glared at the two armed guards. “Open those doors now, Warriors, or kill me. For I swear if they are not unsealed in the next fifteen seconds, then I will kill the both of you.” He dropped the gagging Star Colonel on the ground, and Mikhail’s solemn officers hauled him away, pushing him from his post and tossing him to the flagstones.
The guards unlocked the doors and opened them wide for the passage of Mikhail and his band of men and women. He pressed forward, and behind them came a flood of other Scorpions, many with grins of glee upon their faces; a sad few resigned to the necessity of what was occuring; a handful in shock that someone was actually daring to press the issue.
Mikhail’s boots rang from the flagstones as he crossed the extravagant office—an office larger than the ‘Mech bay on an Overlord, and he shook his head in disgust as the naked pleasure girls and boys scampered like rabbits out of his path. He pressed forward until he reached the doors of Gregor Lunde’s sleeping chambers, and he thrust them open with a loud BANG against the cold stone walls.
The saKhan of the Scorpions looked up in confusion, and then he smiled at Mikhail. “Kirov, you came. It is good of you to pay your respects to our fallen Khan.”
“You are using again, are you not, Gregor?” Mikhail asked softly.
The saKhan smiled, and he lifted an injector and pressed it against his own throat—the luminous green liquid plunging into his bloodstream. “Necrosia is the Scorpion’s gift to us, Mikhail—through it we see what he wants us to see. And you shall address me as Khan, Star Colonel.”
“Tell me, ‘Khan’, were you high when the Jaguars killed Yeh two days ago? When you abandoned him and his Star to pursue your own glory in individual combat?”
“I care not for your tone, or for your accusations, Star Colonel. I had imbibed the Gift to sharpen my senses and defeat the Jaguars—and defeat my opponent I did.”
“Yet, you lost the Trial and allowed the Khan to die.”
“Had he been a better Warrior, he would be alive today. I think that I shall instruct all of the Scorpions to inject the Gift before battle—it makes one fight better, sharper, clearer; and removes the distractions and discomforts of our daily drudge.’
Mikhail shook his head, a look of revulsion upon his face. “Our Clan has fallen enough, Gregor. I challenge you, here and now to a Trial of Grievance. You are not fit to be Khan. You are not fit to be a Warrior.”
“Ah, but to Challenge a Khan, one must be a Khan. Or have a Khan’s approval. Do you have the approval of a Khan, Mikhail?”
“No. But I have their approval,” the Star Colonel answered as he swept his hand towards the densely packed crowd of Blood Named Warriors who filled Lunde’s office and watched.
“Perhaps you do,” Lunde mused as he stood and stretched. “Shall we arrange for combat in ‘Mechs, or . . .” Lunde smiled. “No, I feel the rush of necrosia in my veins. Kirov, if you mean to challenge me, I shall meet you here and now. And I will defeat you.”
“Here? Now? With what the two of use have at our disposal, my Khan?”
“Was that not what I said?” Lunde asked as he picked up a knife, the light flickering from the keenly honed edge.
Mikhail smiled. “Bargained well and done,” he snapped as his left hand dropped down and he drew his slug-thrower and fired two shots into Lunde’s chest, and the saKhan collapsed to the floor, bleeding profusely.
“Or perhaps, saKhan Lunde, I should say that you bargained poorly,” he said as he raised the pistol and fired twice more into the man’s forehead.
Temple of the Nine Muses
Roche, Clan Homeworlds
May 6, 3030
Loremaster Angela Tazegul frowned from her appointed seat on the dais at the gathered Warriors of the Clan Council who were seated around the semi-circular auditorium. Many of her Seekers were still absent, far distant from the world of Roche on various quests—but far too many of the remainder of the Clans Bloodnamed were present. The other two thrones carved from living stone were empty, for both the Khan and saKhan were now dead. The Khan having died at the hands of the Jaguars; the saKhan murdered by one of his own officers.
At long last, the doors to the underground chamber were closed, the dull thud echoing through the auditorium, and Angela stood. She walked across to a pedestal set to one side of the dais. “On this, the Sixth day of May, in the year 3030, I hereby call to order this meeting of the Council of the Blood Named of Clan Goliath Scorpion.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Lacking a quorum, I hereby postpone the elections,” outraged shouts from the audience thundered down upon her, and scores of the assembled officers sprang to their feet, “for Khan and saKhan for a period of no more than sixty days!” She finished raising her voice to a shout.
One officer seated in on the front row stood, and slowly the noise abated as the Scorpion Warriors once again took their seats. “Point of order, Loremaster,” Mikhail said calmly. “I demand that the roster of the Blood Named be called to determine if a quorum is indeed present.”
“You have no right to demand anything, Star Colonel Kirov,” Angela snarled. “Only a Khan, the Clan Loremaster, a Galaxy Commander, or a Star Admiral may demand the roster called. There being none such here that will make that demand, this Council is hereby . . .”
“WAIT!” barked a voice as another Scorpion stood. “This Clan cannot go sixty days without a leader, Loremaster. I am David Ben-Shimon, Star Admiral of the Scorpion’s Destiny Naval Star, and I demand, as is my right under Clan law, that the roll be called.”
Angela glared at the old man, the oldest Warrior in the Clan toumen, who had challenged her. But Ben-Shimon defiantly met her gaze, and it was Angela who first looked away. "Fine,” she spat. “The roll will be called.”
She walked back over to her throne and she sat once more, as a Star Captain stood at the podium. “Brenda Arbuthnot,” he called out and a voice answered “Present.” “Crystal Arbuthnot . . .” and there was only silence. “Christopher Arbuthnot . . . Present.” One by one, the Star Captain called out the names of each Blood Named Warrior of the Clan until all four hundred and ninety eight names had been read.
The Warrior looked down at the computerized tally log, and he turned towards the Loremaster, and bowed. “Loremaster,” he said, “there being three hundred and seventy-four Blood Named Warriors present, a quorum is found to exist.”
Angela winced. If there had been just eight fewer Warriors in the room, there would be no quorum. Eight. She stood and walked back over to the podium. “A quorum being present, as revealed by a call of the roll of the Roster of the Blood Named, this Council of the Clan is now in session. We are here today to select a new Khan and a new saKhan. I submit to you that in these troubled times, the only choice for our Clan to elect a leader who is a proven Warrior, but also a Warrior who has proven her ability to command at the Galaxy and Clan level, one who is knowledgeable of Clan History and Law. I submit to the Council my own name for consideration, citing my service as Loremaster of the Clan as proof of my qualifications.”
The Loremaster raised her left arm and presented her codex and she transferred her service record from the device fixed to her forearm to the room’s computer network. “My qualifications are evident to any that examine the record. There can be no other choice—not if our Clan is to continue.”
“Continue? We will continue to be weak if you are elected Khan, Loremaster,” Mikhail said as he stood and ascended the risers to the dais. “For too long, have we Scorpions been laughed at by our brother Clans. We have stagnated, we have backslid, we have let the universe pass us by. All this, has happened under the leadership of you, and Gregor Lunde, and Conner Yeh; your predecessors as well. This must change.”
“How dare you, Star Colonel Kirov!” Angela snapped in a fury. “I should demand of you a Trial of Grievance—GUARDS! Remove this Warrior from these proceedings.”
“Stand your ground!” Mikhail barked. “In this Council, Angela Tazegul, your rank is meaningless. Once convened, the Council of the Blood Named offers every Warrior a single vote—neither the Khans nor the Loremaster have a greater say than any other who bears the honor of carrying the name of one of our Founders. I will be heard, Loremaster; you shall not silence me. Not here. Not in this sacred chamber, not under the Laws which govern the Scorpions.”
Murmurs and whispers rose from the serried ranks of the Warriors, and Angela shook her head. “Fine then—we will settle this later, Star Colonel. Speak your piece.”
“For too long, brothers and sisters of the Scorpion,” Mikhail continued as he walked to the edge of the stage, “we have surrendered the initiative. We have been complacent. We have not been willing to maintain our edge. Our leaders, in their blind obsession with the past, have given leave for a full third of our Warriors to Seek. A third, my brethren! Is there even one Cluster or Ship in our touman which is not at this moment understrength? Can even one of you here today, tell me in truth that your command does not need trained Warriors?”
“Instead, we waste our strength; we squander the most precious of resources our Clan has available: the Warriors who are our claws and our stinger.” Mikhail shook his head and he chuckled in bitter irony. “Scorpion Warriors are trained to a degree that other Clans cannot even imagine. You are no mindless Jaguars, nor haughty Falcons, nor trickster Coyotes, nor greedy Sharks. You, each of you, are Scorpions. We teach philosophy and history, alongside martial expertise—we demand that our Warriors prove themselves mentally as well as physically. Each of you know this, you have achieved what no other Clan demands.”
“And yet, since the development of necrosia, we have become less than we should be. Why is that? Not because we give our Sibkin this drug so that they may prove their will and their strength, their devotion to the Scorpion. No. We have become less because our Warriors, some of them, abuse this substance. Look no farther than former saKhan Gregor Lunde. Who abandoned our Khan to his death while under the influence of this drug in a pursuit for his own personal glory. Is that what our Clan has descended too?”
Angela snorted. “You killed Gregor Lunde in an illegal Trial of Grievance, Star Colonel Kirov. I intend to see you hang for that.”
Mikhail turned to face Angela Tazegul, and he smiled. “I stood with the courage of my convictions, Loremaster. That is the heart of what the Scorpion is—and I think you will find that there are ample witnesses to the legality of that Trial. Yes, I killed Gregor Lunde. Who allowed the Jaguars to slaughter our Khan. I shot him four times and I removed his misery from our Clan. I do not regret that deed; I exult in that deed.”
“Are you confident, Warriors of the Scorpion? Confident that our course is the right one . . . or do you fear that we are becoming a target for the next Absorption? That we have wasted our talents and our honor; and have forgotten what it means to be Scorpions. Ask yourself this: would Cyrus Elam look upon his Clan of today with pride . . . or with disgust. Would Jenna Scott? Would Naomi Djerassi? Would Ethan Moreau?”
Mikhail shook his head. “I believe that they would not be proud of us. We have expanded not one square meter of territory since the death of Ethan Moreau. Our touman is the smallest of all the Clans of Kerensky—and we cannot even produce the OmniMechs, and OmniFighters, and Battle Armor that we use. Most of Clusters use Star League ‘Mechs that have been repaired time and again; still more use recently produced BattleMechs instead of OmniMechs—because we cannot afford to give our Warriors, the finest Warriors in these Clans of Kerensky, the tools and equipment they need to make our Clan strong.”
“We cannot do this because of how many resources this Temple of the Nine Muses and the Seekers—a third of our Clan, I remind you—pull away for dusty pieces of antiquity that sit unused in storage. We are Scorpions, my brethren. And we shall always Seek. But like the drug necrosia, we should Seek in moderation, lest our visions become our poison.”
Mikhail looked out of the assembled Warriors and he nodded. “Our future is in your hands today, brothers and sisters of the Scorpion. Make your decision well.”
He then leapt down from the stage and he sat. Angela walked up and slowly clapped her hands. “Bravo, Star Colonel Kirov. Bravo. What a performance; of course you do not understand what this Clan represents. We discover the past and in doing so we open the door to the future. A future that will not have you as one of our leaders,” she smirked. “You did not even nominate yourself for Khan.”
“Nominating one’s own self is a sign of arrogance and a lack of trust in one’s brothers and sisters, Loremaster,” Mikhail answered. “I have faith that my Scorpions will make the correct decision.”
The aged David Ben-Shimon stood again. “And in any case, he does not have to nominate himself, Loremaster. I propose Mikhail Kirov for the post of Khan of Clan Goliath Scorpion!” he shouted. “Is there a second?”
“AYE!” thundered the crowd, and Angela’s eyes went wide.
“We are tired of being laughed at, Loremaster," Ben-Shimon continued. "We are hungry for a leader who actually leads and does not represent the status quo which has so failed us! I call for nominations to be closed and the vote held!”
One by one, the Scorpion Warriors began to chant, “Mikhail! Mikhail! Mikhail! MIKHAIL! MIKHAIL!”