Clan Goliath Scorpion Field Headquarters; Bayern
Memmingen, Clan Goliath Scorpion Occupation Zone
February 22, 3043
Natasha rapped the frame of the door at Nikolai’s office and the Scorpion looked up from a report he was reading—and then he carefully closed the monitor screen and stood. “Khan Kerensky, to what do I owe the pleasure this evening?”
She held up a bottle of Nikolai’s stolen Scotch and smiled. “I come bearing gifts.”
“Beware Stone Lions bearing gifts, to paraphrase an ancient author,” Nikolai said sourly but he waved his hand towards a pair of chairs flanking the roaring fireplace. The Widow stepped into the office and handed the sealed bottle over; then she chuckled. “I think you might need to activate your bug-stomper, Nikolai, after you sweep the room for listening devices—because you and I need to have a little chat.”
Nikolai shrugged as he sat down the bottle and called his latest aide into the office. The young Scorpion swept the office with a hand-held electronic device and then he nodded at the Khan, who powered up a powerful electronic jammer built into his desk—the young Scorpion left and closed the door behind him—sealing the Faraday cage constructed into the walls, floors, and ceiling for additional security.
The Scorpion took a folding utensil from his pocket and cut away the wax seal on the neck of the whiskey bottle, then he levered out a cork-screw from the implement and extracted the cork with a pop. “Rocks or neat?” he asked.
“Chilled is good, naked is better,” Natasha answered with a stunning grin and the Scorpion Khan chuckled in reply, pouring two fingers of whiskey for her, and two for himself. He put ice within his own, however.
“We are as secure as I can reasonably make us, Khan Kerensky—what do you desire to 'chat' about?”
“Jaime told me what you told Melissa, Nikolai—you’ve been a naughty boy, haven’t you?” she asked with her eyes twinkling.
Nikolai turned his head in question slightly, but his pupils did not grow any wider, nor did any muscles on his face or neck twitch; nor did any sudden sweat beads begin to emerge from his forehead—he gave absolutely no outward sign that he had the least idea of what she was speaking of . . . and Natasha suddenly burst out laughing.
“Remind me to never to play poker with you, Nikolai! Damn, you’ve got good control over your reactions, quiaff?”
“When I play poker, which is not often,” the Scorpion said taking a pause and a sip, “I play for only the highest of stakes. Now what, pray tell, did Commanding General Jaime Wolf—our enemy, need I not remind you—tell you that I supposedly said to Melissa Steiner-Davion—or were you referring to another Melissa, perchance?”
“I know you are the one who gave her the idea to reform the Star League—and that you have offered to bring the Scorpions under their banner.”
“And if that were true, are you here to kill me?” Nikolai asked, and cocked his head to one side. “Or to join me?”
The Khan of the Stone Lions took a deep swallow of her own whiskey and sat down the glass on the table. “If the other Khans find out—and they will eventually—they will tear you apart with red-hot irons, Nikolai.”
The Scorpion nodded his agreement and he took a second sip and sat down his glass as well. “So I was right—you are an Inner Sphere plant.”
“Yes, you were—and you will go down in history as a traitor to the Clans.”
“Perhaps . . . but we have a Star League once more. This is a chance to end this war, and end it with the best of all possible results—a united Inner Sphere, under one government that is not bound by our traditions and castes and rules of conduct! We were meant to serve the Star League—I have always been a Warden in this endeavor, Natasha. And rather than see my Crusader brethren make a hash of it, I have pulled the strings as best I could to steer events to this point—where the Davions and the Steiners and the Kuritas and the Mariks and the Liaos have united to preserve their own cultures and societies . . . and ours as well.”
“By and large, my Scorpions are Wardens—we have a Star League now, a Star League we can be proud to serve . . . and they will follow me into that service. I had suggested that Jaime Wolf be named First Lord, but I cannot have my way in everything it seems.” And he shrugged.
“Oh-oo!” howled Natasha with laughter. “He forgot to tell me that. You must have known that Takashi Kurita would never allow it.”
Nikolai shrugged. “It does not matter who is First Lord—the League has been Reborn. Will you stay here in the staid boring Clans or will you return to the Terran Hegemony in the company of Scorpions?”
The Black Widow grew serious. “They will Annihilate the rest of your Clan, Nikolai. Your Scorpions will be absorbed into the Inner Sphere and pass away into history.”
“Everything passes with time, Natasha, nothing lasts forever—the Scorpions are fully aware of that fact. I have not left a single Warrior, a single sibkin, a single ship in the Homeworlds for our trothkin to slake their vengeance on—they will arrive at Rondane soon, where we will load up my other civilians to join the ones from the Homeworlds, and my factories, and they will meet us on Asta . . . a former world of the Hegemony which will be ours to call home.”
Natasha lifted the whiskey and slugged back the rest of the tumbler’s contents. “High-stakes indeed,” she whispered. “If my Stone Lions joined you, we would lose our civilians from the Homeworlds and what few military units have been formed there in my absence.”
“A handful according to my sources—before our unfortunate technical difficulties with the communications relay. And all fractious, unrepentant Mandrills—you are better off without them.”
“And I have a sudden suspicion that you had something to do with that technical difficulty.”
“Aff. My Fleet has been destroying the HPG relays and taking the JumpShips assembled for the command circuit to Rondane—we also seized the Raven’s Yard-Ship Sanctuary at Way Point 427.”
“You are a madman; you realize this is a medical fact?” Natasha asked with a shocked look on her face.
Nikolai smiled. “I needed the JumpShips to haul my civilians and factories from Rondane and we will need the Yard-Ship once we arrive on our new home. Peter will be pissed, of course, but when I return the six Potemkins I shanghaied, he might not feel quite so bad—especially since the Ravens were only running the Yard-Ship for the ilKhan; technically it is not their ship at all.”
“Pour me another,” Natasha whispered, and Nikolai did so with a grin.
“Surprised, Khan Kerensky? When I play, I play to win—and speaking of winning, if you fear that your Warriors will not follow you with their genetic legacies in the hands of Scientists back in the Homeworlds, well . . .” Nikolai smiled broadly, “let us say that there are Scientists who are not very Clan-like in their attitudes. I have a complete copy of the Master Genetic Data Repository aboard the Fleet en route to Rondane. Not physical samples, but enough for any competent Scientist to ensure that the Blood-Names of your Clan—and mine—are preserved.”
“They will have to invent a way to resurrect the dead to kill you as many times as you deserve, Nikolai!” Natasha blurted out. “How long have you been planning this?”
“The genesis of the idea was Khan Kirov’s before his death—he chose me as saKhan because we agreed on this issue. The Star League must stand again—and the Scorpions must return home to serve it, before our infighting in the Homeworlds tears us asunder. For nearly two decades first Mikhail and then I have been working for this end—this goal—that we finally achieved just before we landed on Tukayyid. And for that purpose, I pledged my life, my treasure, and my sacred honor as a sacrifice if needed.” Nikolai took a sip of whiskey. “So, are you with us or will you stand against us?”
"Are you going to give them the Exodus Road, Nikolai?" she asked in response.
"Neg. I am purging all navigational data from every ship's computer as it arrives in the Inner Sphere. I want to see the Star League Reborn, Natasha . . . I have no desire to see the SLDF fighting amid nuclear detonations on the Homeworlds. You know that the Khans, for all their talk about honor, would resort to that if they were invaded. With us or against us?"
“Oh, I am with you, Nikolai—you are too much fun for me to be anywhere else.” She paused and sipped her whiskey again. “What of the other Clans? Some . . . some of them are rethinking this invasion.”
“They should all be rethinking the Invasion,” Nikolai answered and frowned. “We can count out the Falcons, Sharks, Horse’s, Ravens, Vipers, Hellions, Adders, Spirits, and Jaguars immediately—none of them will be willing to serve a Star League not of their own making.”
“You, Marion, and Jake are friends, you might persuade them . . .” but Nikolai shook his head and the Widow stopped.
“Friendship has nothing to do with this—and Marion knows it. Right now, if the Clans are forced out of the Inner Sphere and back home, he—and the Bears—have the two largest and most powerful toumans remaining. And the Bears are a cautious breed. With the losses the Falcons and Jaguars and Vipers have suffered, he will lead the Crusaders . . . and rule the Homeworlds as ilKhan. No, he would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. Jake Fletcher,” and here Nikolai sighed. “Jake will take this as a personal betrayal and he will consider me a traitor to his last days—he will try his best to kill me. Peter might have jumped ship, heh, but his displeasure with me will keep him on the Clan side. For now.”
“That leaves the Coyotes, Wolves, Bears, Cobras, and Cats,” said Natasha. “Ulric . . . I just don’t know. He’s a hard man to read—but he is a hard-line Warden, a true-believer in his own fashion.”
“And a pragmatic one who wants to change the Clans from within—unless the survival of Clan Wolf itself is at stake, he won’t jump—neither will Pavel and his Coyotes. Amanda will understand why I have done this—she will even silently applaud the audacity and risks involved in my actions, she will wish me luck, but she will not risk the survival of Clan Ghost Bear. Besides,” he said with a grin, “she gets to keep my worlds and Rondane—including the factories I cannot move in time.”
“And then there were two,” the Widow mused. “The Cats are fanatical about the Star League—but it all depends on their Khan and Loremaster.”
“And the Cobras, they have to know their best chance of surviving to see the next century is away from the Homeworlds—the other Clans have begun getting antsy about their religious practices,” Nikolai added.
“Do we approach them—do we dare to broach this subject with them?”
Nikolai licked his lips. “Not yet . . . we still have much left in this play of ours, and our time upon the stage is not yet at an end.”
Natasha sat back in her chair and took another swallow of the smooth, deep, warm whiskey. “How do you know the Lions will follow me?”
“How do I know that when the sun sets for the night it will rise again in the morning? Or that water is wet? Of all the questons you could have asked, this is simplest. Natasha Kerensky, you led them—led them—through the fire to regain their honor. They are truly Lions now, not a collection of free-birth cast-offs from the Fifteen Clans mixed with surviving Mandrills. Those men and women—from your saKhan Aiden Pryde down to the lowest laborer, each would follow you into Hell without hesitation, evasion, or reservation.”
“And how do you know I won't take this to the Grand Council and reveal all of your masterful plans and schemes, O Great and Powerful Oz?”
“If I even suspected that you would, you would not get out of this building alive.”
Natasha Kerensky smiled and she stood and she nodded. “Oh, now the fun part really starts.”