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Best Served Cold (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 24 - Best Served Cold[]

Homeworld, Clan Wolverine Space
The Deep Periphery, Spinward of the Inner Sphere
March 12th, 3086

Lilly McEvedy Walter, Khan of Clan Wolverine, tasted bile in the back of her throat as she read the report.  Her stomach churned violently, cold sweat popped on her forehead.  Just when she thought she had plumbed the absolute depth of madness, depravity, and barbarism, she turned the page, and her horizons expanded in the most horrific way possible.

For hours, she poured over the document on her Noteputer.  It took her nearly three times as long to read as it should have, for she often found herself utterly unwilling to read one more word of it.  And yet, it kept drawing her back, loathsomely fascinating, and important knowledge that must be shared with her people.

Finally finished, she stood and paced her office, digesting what she’d read like a rancid and unhealthy meal.

I did this.  I brought this about.  My pride, my arrogance, my vanity.

No. The Inner Sphere and its Second Star League struck fear deep into the heart of the Clans.  Unable to cope with it, they tore themselves asunder.

Yet I was the first to make the Clans face the nightmares of their past.  I set the first foot on this path, so I’m ultimately responsible for where it leads.

The Clans could have backed down.  Thought their way through, used logic and wisdom to forge a future instead lashing out like terrified children with terrible weapons.  They could have thought rationally for a moment, and avoided this.

Could they? she thought

Shaking her head to clear her circular argument, Lilly touched the ‘comm panel at her desk.  “Yes, my Khan?” the voice came back promptly.

“I am finished.”

“I will be right in.”

True to her word, saKhan Robina MacLeish Jung-Ja stepped into the Khan’s office within five minutes, Star Colonel Alexia McEvedy in tow.  Lilly flashed her daughter a brief, small smile she didn’t really feel as the two sat in front of Lilly’s desk.

“Well,” Lilly said, indicating the noteputer.  “what do you make of it?”

“Disgusting.” Robina snarled.  “All that they laid at our feet, all they accused us of to mortar the cracks in the foundation of their perfect society, and then a few bloody noses and they sink to levels of barbarism even the Succession Wars couldn’t hope to match.”

“Horrible,” Alexia said, shaking her head.  “so many needless, pointless deaths. . . such waste.”

Lilly nodded.  “Agreed.  Now, the question is, what shall we do about it?”

Robina pursed her lips and looked to Alexia.  Alexia took a moment to realize she’d apparently been volunteered to speak first.  “I. . . I do not think there is anything we can do.  A new status quo seems to have settled in, and I think our presence would just reignite the still-smoldering violence.  They might not survive. . . but we definitely wouldn’t.”

Robina nodded, crossing her arms over her chest.  “This is the bunk they made for themselves, now they have to sleep in it.”

Lilly nodded again.  “I agree.  Even if they would accept our help, I do not think there is anything we can offer that would be of assistance.  They certainly would not be interested in learning and converting to our ways. . . they just gutted themselves to maintain the right to gut themselves over questions of honor.”

“Damn fools.” Robina muttered.

“If only we’d known earlier.” Alexia said.

Lilly shook her head.  “No.  We still couldn’t have gotten there in time, and even if we did, all we’d be able to do is give them all a convenient target to shoot at.  And I have no intention of making Clan Wolverine the common foe to unite the Clans despite themselves ever again.”  Lilly leveled a finger at her daughter.  “And neither do you.”

“Yes, Mother.” she said

Lilly leaned back in her chair, steeping her fingers.  “Now. . . what do we do about our guests?”

Robina grimaced, and Alexia cast her gaze to the carpet.  They had known this question could only be put off so long, and had no good answers, only lesser degrees of bad ones.

“He is waiting to see you, my Khan.” Robina replied.  “He’s been camped in the outer office.”

Lilly raised an eyebrow.  “For how long?”

“Since delivering the report.  He’s declared his intention to wait as long as it takes for you to obtain all the information you need to hear his case and make your ruling.”

“Very well.  Bring him in.” Lilly ordered

Robina nodded to Alexia, who left the office.  Robina stood and took a position at Lilly’s right shoulder.  Alexia returned after a few minutes, leading a man into the office.

He was tall and well-built, handsome in a cold sort of way, wearing functional military fatigues.  His proud military bearing, his warrior’s strength and grace could not conceal the haggard cast to his features, the worn rumpledness of his uniform, or the incompletely-masked flicker of desperation in his eyes.

“Khan James Vargras,” Lilly said, more formally than pleasantly. “be seated.”

Vargras sat, retaining his precise posture, though Lilly noted he relaxed, almost imperceptibly, at finally being granted some small measure of rest.  “Thank you for seeing me, Khan McEvedy.”  Impressive, he did not falter at all.  Has he been practicing saying my forbidden name in a mirror?  “You have read my report, quiaff?”

“I have.” Lilly replied, not bothering to hide the distaste with which she glanced at the noteputer.  “It is. . . sick and appalling, but we have only your word to go on.  Can this report be corroborated?”

Khan Vargras snorted.  “Get in touch with the Diamond Sharks.  I am sure they have their own version, and will sell you a copy.”

Lilly doubted the Diamond Sharks would do business with Clan Wolverine -- but with their trade agreements with the Successor States, who knows -- but decided not to argue the point.  “Perhaps I will.  But for now, tell me how you came to be here.”

Khan Vargras motioned to the noteputer. “It is all in the report.”

“I wish to hear it from you.” she told him

Vargras sighed, then leaned forward.  “After the Wars of Reaving, Clan Blood Spirit knew its days were numbered.  Retreating to our hidden worlds Haven and Honor was a move of desperation. Hoping against hope that we could rebuild, rearm, grow strong and respected among the Clans again.  Our touman was gutted to almost nothing, our genetic repository all but useless, what resources and infrastructure remained in the Kerensky Cluster all but destroyed as the Clans fought over them like scraps.  It would take very little for another Clan to decide we were some scraps worth fighting over.

“When the Stone Lions found our hidden system, we knew the end was near.  We began our preparations and fought to hold on to what we could, but when that fighting grew too pitched. The other Clans objected to the dishonor of letting our civilians fight for their own lives and fates. . . we knew we had failed.  Khan Bryce Schmitt led the bulk of our warriors and as many civilians as wished to stay and fight in delaying the Star Adders, who had come to Absorb us in name and Annihilate us in fact, while I led the rest away from the Kerensky Cluster, away from the Clans.  Compiling reports of your raids throughout the Invasion Corridors, we had an educated guess where we might find you.  Or as it turns out, your forward staging area.  I thank you again for bringing my people here, that I might meet with you.”

Robina fixed the Blood Spirit Khan with an icy glare.  “Why us?  Why would the noble and honorable Clan Blood Spirit stoop to asking assistance of The Not-Named Clan?”

Vargras snorted.  “The Way of Kerensky is dead, murdered by Inner Sphere barbarians, and the greed and lust for power of Warden and Crusader alike.  Or perhaps it truly died with Nicholas, and the last three centuries have been but its death throes.  It makes no difference.  Speaking plainly, we have nowhere else to go.  The Clans of the Homeworlds would Annihilate us, the Clans of the Inner Sphere would Absorb us, and the Successor States would corrupt and wither us away to nothing.  What we were, what we wanted to be, is dead.  Our only choice now is what we will be, and only among Clan Wolverine can we hope to find a new way, one that honors the old but is not strangled by it, as you have.”

“A stirring reply,” Lilly said.  “But our ways are not your ways.  You will have to learn and adapt to live among us.”

“Our ways are over.  Survival is about adaptation, and we are prepared to survive.”

“We have no breeding program, no trueborns.  My daughter was born of the Iron Womb, but from the combination of myself and the man I chose to be my husband.  My son I carried in my own womb.  We will not permit scorn or prejudice based upon manner of birth into our society.”

“Our genetic legacies are all but destroyed, trueborns may well be a thing of the past.” Vargras replied.  “We will attempt to salvage what we can. . . Elementals and ProtoMech Pilots require, at least for a time, some kind of breeding program. . . but we have long held that results and skill outweigh manner of birth.”

“Our castes are looser than you are used to.” Lilly continued.  “A person is free to choose what they will be, and alter that choice as suits their own drives and dreams.  And all castes. . . Warrior, Scientist, Technician, Merchant, Laborer. . . are equals, brothers and sisters.  Above all, Clan Wolverine is family, and all will fight as viciously and uncompromisingly as our namesake to defend their family.”

For the first time since he’d arrived, Khan James Vargras of Clan Blood Spirit smiled.  “We can work with that.”

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