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Emergence (Concertverse)
Book 2 - Chapter 4

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The Reward for Hard Work[]

A guest among Wolves[]

Primary DropPort
Wolf City, Wolf Clan Settlement Zone, Gutheim Continent
Arc-Royal, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth
Transglass Inner Sphere 7th June, 3143

The last time Evangeline Rosa Penton-Vallejo stepped onto Arc-Royal's soil, she'd come with her unit, the Eighth Strikers Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Royal Federation, and it'd been to the familiar-if-different sights of Old Connaught. Few knew her face, even if they'd heard her name in passing for being one of the pilots to down the hated, dreaded Chinghis Khan of the Jade Falcons.

Now Dame Evangeline Rosa Penton-Vallejo, a Lance Lieutenant without a lance and a Knight of the Royal Federation, was known to all. She couldn't walk ten meters without awed stares or proud salutes. She was one of the saviors of Timkovichi, the slayer of Stephanie Chistu. Khan Fetladral had made good his pledge that she would be remembered as every person she met in Clan suits, from MechTechs to Star Colonels, saluted her. Liaison officer, she thought, recalling the conversation over a month ago when her assignment away from her unit was revealed. She wasn't being formally removed from the Eighth Strikers so she still wore the unit's sunhawk patch and got to wear the sky blue beret of the Strikers as part of her uniform, but for the time being she was doing staff work. A rear-echelon mother-flakker, as her father had once dismissively but tactfully called it.

At least I've still got a 'Mech. It wasn't with her but a following transport ship bearing damaged machines to the factories and repair yards on Arc-Royal, but it would be here. I own a 'Mech. How am I going to make that work?

Her thoughts turned from that at approaching the terminal window. She unconsciously shifted the weight of her duffel bag over her shoulder while getting her first glimpse of Wolf City, the capital and beating heart of the "Wolves-in-Exile" that she'd been fighting beside against the other Clanners. Instead of Old Connaught's quaint German town feel, this was a city of function, stark gray and black and silver blocks of ferro-crete and occasional glass, the only color being the snarling amber wolf's head of the Clan's fearsome logo. It reminded her somewhat of the concrete block cities of Megrez's Andamar Islands that she'd seen on a holodocumentary in school, where the colossal "hyper-canes" of the world's great ocean required the Andamari peoples to live in ferro-crete-encased communities due to the three hundred kilometer-per-hour winds the storms could theoretically produce. It was all function over form and fit what she knew of Clan u7tilitarian mindset.

"It is a grand sight." The carefully articulated words, in an unfamiliar Star League English, prompted Eva to turn her head. She recognized Marissa, a Wolf Clan MechWarrior, by her light bronze skin and platinum-blond hair pulled into a bushy wolf-tail. Marissa's olive camo patterned jumpsuit bore the red "daggerstar" on the collar that marked her a MechWarrior in the company of a dark bronze rank tab bearing one red star in the lower corner; the rank of a Star Commander, Eva's rough counterpart by rank in their organization. She wore a new unit patch compared to their first meeting months ago on Outreach, a pack of wolves on a mountain top with a rising half-moon behind them.

"It's different from Old Connaught," Eva said. "But you don't mean aesthetically?"

A flicker of resignation showed on Marissa's face. Eva wondered at why before remembering the Clan taboo about speaking with contractions. Yet they have no problems with military lingo, 'aff' and 'neg' and all that. "Hopefully, Eva, you will be more careful with your speech now that you are among my Clan," Marissa said, a slight half grin forming. "It would not do for the subject of a stanza in The Remembrance to sound vulgar."

Eva didn't need a mirror to know she was starting to blush. Right. I'm a Knight of the Federation, Duchess Schmitt-Levinsky implied I'm likely to get a landhold on Timkovichi, and Khan Fetladral's putting me in their holy history book. "Right, I'm…- I am sorry." I'm the guest here. No, I am the guest. Ugh. I need to stop thinking in contractions too!

"You bested the bloodfoul Falcon Khan and her preening would-be successor in battle," Marissa said. "This enemy will fall easy enough." She turned her silvery-gray eyes back towards the sight through the ferro-glass window. "Wolf City, they call it. For my Clan, it is the last bastion of the true Wolf Clan, and our calling as the Wardens of the Inner Sphere. Everything we have is here; our genetic repositories, our Clan Council Hall, everything. We would all gladly die to preserve it, especially from the bloodfoul Mongol Jade Falcons."

Eva frowned at the thought of the Falcons. They'd been the bane of her life since the Glass had formed. They make the Dracs look kind. "They are not the kind to hold a truce, I suppose."

"Neg, not unless it suits them in some way." Marissa checked the time piece on her right wrist, attached to the bracelet that bore her codex. "We should keep going. I must report to my superior soon, and I volunteered to show you to your quarters."

Eva nodded in reply and followed Marissa from the terminal. Once they were completely clear of the DropPort building they made it to a magrail tram that carried them into and through Wolf City. It was not like any city Eva could think of. The streets had mass transit trolleys and sidewalks, but very little private transportation. Eateries were plainly marked by food icons but, for the most part, without the colorful names pubs and restaurants would otherwise get. Shops were labeled mostly by name and service, like "Maria's Hair Maintenance" and "Darren's Clothing Provisions". "Not big into marketing, I guess?" she asked.

Marissa chuckled. "Living as neighbors to the Lyrans has challenged our purity in more than one way, but our people have yet to succumb to such frivolity. Though I shall have to take you to the Salty Solahma later. It is like the pub in Old Connaught, founded by a warrior who tested out from age and believed he would best serve the Clan in that fashion."

"My parents had old comrades who founded their own bars and pubs." Eva said. "So you're not different from us there." She winced a moment later as her words played in her head and she spotted the contraction.

"It is preferable to other fates," Marissa said, politely ignoring the slipup. "Though I very much intend to avoid it by winning a Bloodname. And our stop is ahead."

At the next stop they disembarked. Small parks and gardens dotted the landscape around a number of ten and fifteen story apartment buildings of gray and silver coloring. Wolf insignia and logos were painted in murals on several, a new one being drawn by a collection of what Eva thought to be adolescents. "One of the sibkos," Marissa explained. "A collective action to build bonds for their training. The creativity is useful in combat, and it links us to our identity." Eva nodded and followed Marissa down the sidewalk for a block. They entered one of the shorter buildings and took a lift up to the second floor. "You have the identity bracelet, quiaff?"

Eva glanced at her left wrist. The silver bracelet over her duty uniform sleeve was nearly the same as Marissa's. "I do."

"Good. It will unlock your door, and allows for you to pay for whatever you wish to spend your stipend on. Even if it lacks a full codex, it will also serve to remind everyone who sees you that you are a warrior. Although I doubt anyone will fail to recognize you." They approached one of the doors, a light silver hard plastic slab clearly built to slide open. Eva shifted her duffel bag slightly and ran the bracelet over the panel to the right of the door. The panel lit green for a moment and slid open.

The inside reminded Eva of her Nagelring dorm. The door opened to a small hall. To one side was a kitchenette, to the other a bathroom with a shower closet and flat commode beside a sink. The main body of the room had a bed fit neatly with starched sheets set against one wall and a desk with a chair against the other. A very basic holovid display model was set into the wall over the desk. The furnishings were very functional and did not look inviting so much as sturdy. Definitely looks like my dorm. Just that I'm the only one here. That's odd. "I would have thought lieutenants got bunked with other lieutenants? This place looks like it is for me alone." She sighed quietly. Another avoided contraction.

Marissa laughed. "Oh, this is normally a billet for Star Captains, though we do give warriors private rooms in planetside living spaces. I will be two floors above in the Star Commander barracks. You have more room than I." Marissa led her further in and gestured to the one break in the pale gray interior of the wall, depicting the same insignia her uniform's shoulder patch displayed. "This building is for MechWarriors of the First Wolf Legion Cluster. It is an overflow building for the Cluster so there are empty rooms available. They are typically assigned for visiting formations or warriors in need of billets, so you were placed here for simplicity's sake." Marissa gestured towards the desk. "I believe your noteputer will be compatible with the Clan data web, if not go down and speak to the barracks support office, a technician can be called to have an adapter arranged. Whatever work your commander assigns can be accomplished here."

"Alright." I'm still not sure just what a First Lieutenant liaison officer does, I always thought that was stuff Captains and Majors did. I get the feeling I'm here for the media relations people, not the actual liaison group. She set her duffel bag down, pleased to be rid of the weight. "Anything else I should know? Other than that the MPs are short-tempered and don't, I mean, do not give them an excuse?"

Marissa laughed. "Aff! The Watch are quite ill-tempered. I imagine you will have an office at the Clan Headquarters if you are working with Alpha Galaxy and the local command warriors. I suggest taking the Ulric Kerensky Avenue tram, it is in the listing and will bring you directly to the entrance. If you wish to explore the city, just remember that you are at First Legion Barracks Alpha Building Four, and anyone can provide you directions back here."

"I am due to meet Colonel Stefanidis there later today, after he gets back from Old Connaught." Eva confirmed. "And maybe I'll, er, I will do some exploring afterward. I would like to see the Salty Solahma if anything else."

"Ah?" Marissa grinned. "Meet me at Headquarters at twenty-hundred hours local, and I shall take you there. But now I must go, Star Captain Jackson is going to be waiting." She walked briskly for the door.

After a moment to take in her new living situation, Eva started unpacking.

Mulling Over Reports of Falcons[]

Kell Ducal Palace Old Connaught, Gutheim Continent Arc-Royal, Donegal Province
Lyran Commonwealth

The door to the Ducal Office closed behind Colonel Stefanidis, leaving Evan Kell and his second Nadia Allard alone with a stack of unsigned papers and security-cleared electronic tablets with secure data. He leaned back in the chair and glanced at his reflection in the window. "At least I don't have to wear the ducal uniform." he mused, considering his brother Martin's requirements of office. He was still in Kell Hound duty camo like Nadia's. The reflection showed him his scarred face on a head topped with salt-and-pepper hair of silver and black. It was an unwelcome reminder of the march of time.

At least I'm still alive, though. His mind wandered back to Timkovichi and the battle from ten months ago. It was already a fight he hadn't been sure he could win against Malvina Hazen's best and the Hell's Horses' contribution to her might. Yet he'd underestimated her savagery and nearly lost everything. He remembered the dread at hearing the confirmation the Red Talon was shifting orbit, and that certain agonizing knowledge that he was going to die and his family's prized unit, the Kell legacy to the Inner Sphere, would be destroyed. Then reality decided it was bored, or got very offended by Malvina.

"Thinking about how close we came?" Nadia asked.

Evan chuckled. "You know me too damn well, Nadia." He looked past his reflection and out the window to the courtyard and the Kell Hound barracks beyond. "We almost lost everything, then… hell, maybe it was a divine miracle, or the cosmos itself taking offense at Malvina's bloodthirst. Sometimes it feels like it's all a dream and any minute now, I'll be back in my 'Mech there on the Summer Veldt, watching fire from on high wipe us all out."

Nadia nodded in what he imagined to be understanding. "Feels like we're not supposed to be alive. But we are, so might as well make the most of it. Grand Duke Martin was pretty insistent the First Hounds were to take it easy."

At that Evan laughed. "Right. Some down time as our reward for all the fighting these past couple of years, and then some. Just like naming me his damn regent. 'A reward for your hard work', he said. Feels more like revenge for me getting to step away from all this civil leadership."

Nadia chuckled. "They say the reward for hard work is more work. Though I imagine the Grand Duke has other concerns."

"You mean what we've heard from the Free Caste Traders and such about the Falcons." Evan shook his head. "The Mongols are firmly in charge now, but that Isaac Roshak isn't Malvina. She was blood crazy more than stupid, he's just power mad and stupid from his record. He's a Mongol because he likes being able to lord over people and not worry about the Clan honor code. Way I see it, he's as like to tear his own Clan apart."

"Or he'll hit us as part of trying to keep it together." Nadia warned.

"Right. Well, at least we know we've got some potential backup." Evan reached over and tapped a brief-case sized black box of metal and plastic, etched with a crowned hawk. It was one of four now on Arc-Royal, allowing interstellar Fax messages to pass with the Arcadian defense forces holding down Timkovichi. Other boxes were going to be quietly distributed up and down the front to allow some form of interstellar force command that could meet any Falcon betrayal of the truce. "And more coming through the Glass soon."

"Within a couple months, by last report." Nadia checked her noteputer. "Sometimes my mind still boggles at it all. We're getting over a dozen 'Mech regiments from the Rasalhaguans and Sudeteners alone, another ten or so from Ghastillia. It feels like we're lucky to focus a dozen on the entire front from here to Skye. And that still doesn't count what the Arcadians are holding in reserve."

"A lot of troops, but their enemies have got a lot too," Evan pointed out. "They're still taking a gamble."

"Right." Nadia went back to reading the list. "Huh. I've never heard of the Eridani Heavy Cavalry but if they're anything like the ELH of legend, the Falcons are going to have their hands full."

"And they damn well deserve it," Evan chuckled. He glanced at the desk and sighed. "Alright, might as well get the civic responsibility out of the way."

"You could always chuck it in the fireplace?" Nadia suggested with a grin.

Evan laughed warmly at the thought. "No, I know Martin's people, they'd just grab the reprints. Besides, I suppose folks need us signing these papers and making these calls to keep the planet running. Can't forget the reason why we're doing this. BattleMechs aren't the only important things in the Inner Sphere, as much as I tend to forget."


Drinks among Warriors[]

Wolf City, Wolf Clan Settlement Zone

Given the "function over form" style of the rest of Wolf City, Eva was pleasantly surprised to see that the Salty Solahma felt more like the pubs and beer halls she'd seen so far in her service. It was little different from "The Hound" in Old Connaught in style, though the aesthetics were unmistakably Clanner. A boxing ring was prominent on the far side of the establishment, where two massive, well-muscled infantry warriors were wrestling in a manner that reminded Eva of the sumo wrestlers of New Kyoto. Other warriors, a combination of the giant "Elemental" infantry and other phenotypes, cheered encouragement to their comrades. Nearby a collection of warriors were playing a card game, and yet other tables had other groups. Everyone was in BDU jumpsuits with an assortment of unit patches matching those of the Clusters of Alpha Galaxy. Along the walls were a combination of photos, drawings, and plaques. A stuffed jade falcon hung like a prize trophy on one wall while another made a lot of space for something that looked like a 'Mech foot after it'd been torn from the machine. A tattered flag of a Jade Falcon hung over it.

Marissa walked in beside her. "This is more of what you would expect, quiaff?"

"Yeah," Eva replied. "Reminds me of 'Das Stahlhelm' back in Tharkad City. It was a favorite spot when we got liberty from campus. They still had a finger from a Terran Atlas II that the locals swear was downed by High Queen Johanna herself."

"The foot came from a Jade Falcon Mad Dog, or what Spheroids here call a Vulture, destroyed by Khan Phelan Kell's troops during the Federated Commonwealth Civil War," Marissa explained. "It took a Star of solahma infantry to move it into place."

"I imagine…" Her eyes swept towards the bar. It dominated the north side of the establishment, the wall lined with bottles of various spirits. Only the simple jumpsuited garb of the two bartenders, a pair of middle-aged figures who looked on the thin side save for their large heads, set the scene apart from any other kind of establishment Eva had seen.

"Come!" Marissa gestured for her to follow. Eva did, coming up to a pair of empty stools at the bar. Another Wolf warrior, a woman with a dark mocha complexion and sandy blond hair, glanced their way and grinned. "Marissa, sibkin!"

"Rachel!" Marissa grasped the woman for a brief embrace before extending an arm towards Eva. Another warrior beside Rachel, a male of lighter complexion and the same platinum-blond hair tone Marissa had, turned to face them at this point. "This is Lieutenant Eva of the Arcadians' Eighth Strikers. I need not say more."

"Indeed you do not!" the man laughed. He stood from the stool and saluted. "The slayer of Stephanie Chistu and the bloodfoul Malvina Hazen is known to the whole Clan!"

Eva fought to keep her cheeks from turning red. "Hazen did not die, unfortunately. They have her on Arcadia, for trial."

"A Trial of Annihilation I hope." Rachel replied. "Did your unit come to refit as well?"

"Eva is here as a liaison officer with our warriors, not with her unit," Marissa explained. "The Arcadians cannot let her hog all the glory for herself, quiaff?"

"Aff!" the two laughed. The man quickly added, "I am Dominic. Rachel and I are Star Commanders of the First Strike Grenadiers." He motioned to their unit patch, showing a wolf snapping its jaws closed upon a jade falcon.

"And you are… related?"

"Genetically, only Marissa and I," Dominic replied. "We are of the Kell Bloodhouse. Though our genefathers were different warriors, our genemother was Hazel Kell, one of the first of the Kell Bloodrights."

"And I am a Carns." Rachel replied.

"Every Clan is different," Marissa said. "In some Clans a sibko are all from the same set of geneparents, or at least from the same Bloodhouse. But for a Wolf, the pack is everything, and our sibkos are mixed."

Eva nodded. Reading up on the Wolves had been a duty that helped her pass the week of zero-gee living at Atocongo's Jump Point. So they grew up together. Tested with one another, became warriors together.

"Bartender Yvonne!" Dominic's voice echoed over the background chatter. "A drink of choice for the warrior who brought down Malvina the Bloodfoul!"

And here we go again. Eva was ready for the attention, and smiled faintly at all the warriors who started cheering and letting out wolf howls. Well, at least the wolf howls are gestures of respect, she thought. The large-headed woman at the bar grinned and nodded. "Apple scotch," Eva said.

"A good choice, ristar," Yvonne replied. She took a shotglass and started mixing the drink. Eva slipped into the chair and was ready for it, enjoying the sweet burning flavor when it hit her lips. She forced down the urge to gag a little. Okay, the proof of this thing must be crazy. Her head wobbled slightly as she swallowed.

More howls came from around her. "Well done, Warrior Eva," Rachel said. "Clan drinks are often hard on Spheroids."

Maybe they genetically engineer themselves for booze tolerance too. "It's got a kick, yeah. The kind of thing we'd dare each other to drink back at the Nagelring." She took another drink and only after it realized no one had said a thing about her contractions. "I am sorry about the bad speech." she added.

Dominic and Rachel laughed. "Marissa has always been the best spoken of us," Dominic said. "I, for one, believe our ancestor Natasha Kerensky had a point when she dismissed complaints about her contractions. 'Slavish adherence to ritual is a sign you have nothing better to think about.'"

Different timeline. Different timeline! Eva nodded. Their Natasha was a hero, not an evil bitch who killed millions trying to make herself First Lord of the Star League on our bent backs. "Right. My protocol and military bearing instructors at the Nagelring would have loved to hear that one. Demerits for everyone." She took a fairly smaller drink this time. It brought the kick down. A little. "So you are both descended from Phelan Kell, at least?"

Marissa nodded. "Aff, and Ranna Kerensky. Hazel was from the first sibko born of their genetic material."

"Normally you only get to claim the mother's name, right? I guess it was different because that was the first generation? Quiaff, is it?"

"Aff on both, Eva," Dominic replied. "All born of his genetic material were allowed to compete for the twenty-five Kell Bloodrights."

"And as it is the only Bloodname we did not have to split with the Crusader Wolves, it is the one Bloodhouse to still have its full count of Bloodrights." Rachel added bitterly.

"That is something. The weight of it, I mean, bearing the responsibility of being the first."

"It was. It is, since the Kell Bloodhouse must honor our founder." Dominic took a swig of his own drink.

"I recall you had a family member when we first met," Marissa said. "Your Penton family serves with the Eighth Strikers by preference?"

"Mostly." Eva nursed her glass, not quite willing to risk another drink. "And yeah, my cousin Tony is one of the aerospace jocks. He comes from another side of the family, but we have the same great-grandparents. Alexander Penton and Rachel Vallejo-Galvariz-Aghliesi. He was a commoner, a military attorney who became a MechWarrior in the 3030s, and she was the granddaughter of a couple of noble families on Launum. They became war heroes in the Second Skye War and the War of Donegalian Succession as MechWarriors of the Sunhawks, that is, the Eighth Strikers. Alex Penton got knighted, Rachel was made heiress to both of her families' holdings. They'd fallen in love and got married, had kids, fought and survived the Terran War, lived long and mostly happy lives until dying just before the 4th Succession War broke out. Dad said they were the most loving people he knew." With her lips drying, Eva took another drink of the apple scotch. It didn't kick quite as hard this time. Because I am getting sloshed, ha.

"We are aware the nobles of the Inner Sphere also bear the weight of their blood legacies, though we consider them decadent and corrupted for the most part." Rachel imbibed some of her own drink. "You bear a mighty legacy, it seems."

"It can be, though I'm, I mean, I am legally a commoner. Or was. I'm a Knight of the Federation now. But it isn't likely I will ever inherit Vallejo lands or anything. My dad was the baby of the family, and his mom was a younger daughter of Sir Alex and Lady Rachel. Too many cousins are in the way, and they are welcome to it."

"And what of your genetic legacy?" Dominic asked. "Your genes will provide for more fine warriors of Arcadia, will they not?"

For a moment Eva wasn't sure how to respond to a question like that. Her first instinct was to treat it as a bad pick-up line but even through the haze her apple scotch left her mind in, she remembered the material on the Clans. Passing their genes on is the big thing for them, right. "I guess they would, I just haven't thought about having kids."

"As a Spheroid you would rather have a partner you feel affection for in coupling?" Marissa asked. "That is usually the way of it. You seek a mate who attaches to you?"

Something about the query made Eva wonder if Marissa was feeling her out. "I suppose. I haven't had many 'attachments' lately though. Mostly just back at the Nagelring, and not at all for procreation."

"Ah! Coupling!" Dominic laughed. "Spheroids have many taboos about it, quiaff?"

"And rules. Honor codes. The Nagelring has lots of honor codes. For 'discipline'."

"And you obeyed them?" Rachel asked, grinning in anticipation of an answer. Something about the grin made Eva's spine tingle and brought a warmth of anticipation, a rush of life, into her. "For you to have won assignment to an honored unit, you must have done very well in training."

"I did. Feels like another life now, but yeah." She matched Rachel's grin. "As for the honor codes, well, I always did follow the most important of those rules." She leaned in towards Marissa and Rachel, prompting Dominic to do so as well. "Nicht erwischt werden. 'Don't. Get. Caught.'"

The assembled warriors laughed.

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