Return of the Wolverines

By Silver Eagle

Prologue Part 1: Rock and a Hard Place

December 29, 2823

Commanding Officer's Quarters

Black Lion-class Battlecruiser SLS Palomar

Zenith Jump Point

Uncharted Star System MGC-43-33528

Spinward of the Caliban Nebula, Deep Periphery

          "I have the final report, Ma'am."

Khan Sarah McEvedy of Clan Wolverine looked up to see her aide, James Gunnarson, standing at the entrance to her quarters. He looked as haggard as she felt; the grief and exhaustion of the last few months was catching up to them all as much as the tense pressure of escape.

          "Come in, Commander."

          "Do you want the bad news first, or the good news?" Gunnarson motioned toward her with his datapad, slumping into the chair across the desk. Even had she been at her best mental condition, Sarah would not have begrudged him the moment of missed decorum. Salutes didn't seem important; not now, maybe never. Morale, though…that we still need.

          "It can't get any worse, James. Might as well give me the worst of it now." He nodded, punching up the first of the files.

          "You know the news pretty well already, so I'll finish quick. Alpha, Beta, and probably most of Gamma Galaxy are gone. We know saKhan Hallis is definitely dead; Kerensky and his goons obviously weren't taking prisoners. Delta's still missing, but they were the ones we sent on the scavenging missions, so that's within operational parameters for now." The question of how long they could afford to wait for the missing Galaxies of Wolverines hung gingerly in the air, unanswered. Neither of them wanted to contemplate the possibilities.

          "Epsilon's a wash; they took a lot of damage, and the last time anyone saw them, they'd drifted close to the Ghost Bear enclave on Arcadia. I don't hold out too much hope for seeing them again. The Bears wouldn't be stupid enough to risk the wrath of the Grand Council, especially now.

          "We've picked up all the stragglers we could find, and some from other Clans' Bandit Castes, but their military value at this point is suspect. We're keeping an eye on them.

          "All told, front-line forces were trashed. If all of Delta and what was left of Epsilon return, based on what we've got here, we'll be at about 30, maybe 35% effectiveness, machine-wise. Second-line troops are in better shape; Franklin got everyone organized in enough time to make the escape in good order. They're at 75% effectiveness. Casualties are running high, so we'll be short of pilots for quite awhile." He tossed the datapad on the desk, finished with the grisly butcher's bill.

          Bitter laughter broke the brief moment of silence. "Well, the Little Prince wanted a unified society. Now he's got one. All he had to do was destroy the opposition, and I walked straight into the trap. Told Franklin Hallis he should have done it instead of me, and look where we are now." Damn you, Nicholas Kerensky. Damn you to hell. My friends and family alike, dead on Circe by the tens of thousands, and for what? Your father's little Star League in Exile? That dream died before it was even born.

          James Gunnarson cleared his throat. "I assume you still want to hear the good news?"

          "What little there is? Sure. I could use something to defray the guilt a bit longer."

          Gunnarson shrugged. The Khan certainly looked as if she needed something to snap her out of her funk. "Everyone else is doing as well as could be expected. We lost some civilians, as expected- the slower transports didn't make it away from Circe, and we missed evacuating a bunch of cities anyway. With the exception of those two or three ships, we've got over 70,000 civilian survivors. They're packed in tight on the two Potemkins. Most importantly, we got the entire scientist cadre safely offworld, along with the contents of our genetic repository. If Delta and Epsilon get here, the stuff from the 331st's Brian Cache will really help us get back on track, and they're sure to have civilian survivors of their own.

          "Now, there's still the question of what we're going to do with the stuff we took from the Ravens' repository, and whether we'll integrate it into our gene pool. I assume the scientists will turn their proposals over to you when they get through discussing the matter. Any ideas, Ma'am?"

          McEvedy shuddered. Vat-grown warriors? Scarcely forty years after Exodus, and that was what they'd been reduced to. Creating legions of mindless little soldiers, waiting to be indoctrinated in the ways of that twisted, power-mad tyrant. Practically enslaving everyone other than warriors, glorifying the soldier over his subjects. And now, there might be no other choice for them…

          "No choice. Can't go back to Kerensky, and I'm not forcing our people to breed like animals to make up the manpower differential. The iron wombs could be the only things that keep us going. God only knows how many children will be born naturally before we get back to wherever we're going."

          "Where we're going, indeed…has there been a decision yet, Sarah- I mean, Ma'am?" She waved his hasty apology away.

          "Forget it, James. This is no time for decorum. Guess I need to be reminded that I'm as human as anyone else. Standing in that damn Council chamber, it completely slipped my mind that we could be driven this far."

          "We're all behind you, Sarah; what's left of us are, anyway. You know that." His voice was low, but it burned with an intensity that surprised her, given the circumstances. "None of us would have come this far if we didn't think the same way you did. SaKhan Hallis understood that too. That's why he stayed behind on Circe to buy the rest of us time to get away. Fall prey to your misgivings now, and you devalue everything he tried to accomplish."

          A sigh, a puff of exasperated breath, was all she could muster for some time, leaning back in her chair. Memories of Franklin Hallis swirled up before Sarah as her eyes closed; the pride and elation he'd shown the day he became saKhan, the Clan's first victory in the Exodus Civil War, and the look in his eyes as he'd seen her off, before her last trip to Strana Mechty. He must have known then that we'd never meet again. But that was Franklin; never even blinked an eye, even when he was staring death in the face.

"I know. Problem is, we don't have many options left. Old General Kerensky was right about one thing- we can't go back to the Inner Sphere like this. The lure of what technology we'd bring to the Successor States would be too strong. On the other hand, we don't have nearly enough supplies to go haring off on our own, looking for an entirely different set of worlds.

          "No. For now, all we can do is wait for Roberta and Kieran to get back, and see what we can come up with." Galaxy Commanders Roberta Sutherland of Delta and Kieran Winthrop of Epsilon were all that remained of the Wolverine military braintrust, but even they'd be in for a surprise once they got to the rendezvous point. Her plans were radical, but so were the times.

          The times of the caste system, at least for the Wolverines, were over. The potential for conflict on the journey to wherever they might end up was too great to ignore an obvious catalyst for violence like class distinctions. Something had to be done, both to stabilize the Clan and prepare it for the long days ahead, to decide to continue the fight or find a new purpose.

          Thinking that far was beyond her right now. Lowering the chair to eye level with Gunnarson, she reached into the desk and pulled out a snifter of Scotch, two shot glasses accompanying it.

          "Actually, James, I do have one last optional order for you tonight. I am about to get stinking drunk while I remember Franklin Hallis and all of the people we left behind. I'd prefer to have company while I do."

          James Gunnarson's smile was wistful, unspoken grief overlaying it. His father Darren had been the commander of destroyed Beta Galaxy. "Pour away, Ma'am."

          She raised her glass to the light, the brown liquid within swirling about. "To Franklin Hallis, Darren Gunnarson, Lamont Pike, and the rest of the Wolverines on Circe. Their sacrifice will be remembered among us forever." Gunnarson echoed the toast.

          "To Roberta Sutherland, Kieran Winthrop, and the hardy souls of Delta and Epsilon Galaxies. Let their journey to our side be swift and unhindered."

          "Amen." She tossed back her drink, the alcohol burning her throat as it coursed down within. And may God have mercy on our souls. It was the last coherent thought she intended to have for a while.

January 5, 2824

Commanding Officer's Quarters

Black Lion-class Battlecruiser SLS Palomar

Zenith Jump Point

Uncharted Star System MGC-43-33528

Spinward of the Caliban Nebula, Deep Periphery

          "Khan McEvedy to the bridge. Repeat, Khan McEvedy to the bridge." Captain Minato Takayama's voice crackled over the speaker in Sarah's quarters, diverting the Khan's attention from the status reports on her desk. Sounds urgent. Rising in a fluid motion, she grabbed her sidearm and holstered it, then walked out to the elevator.

          Warning klaxons greeted Sarah as the door to the bridge slid open before her. An ensign at her duty station caught sight of the Khan and rose to attention.

          "Khan on deck!" The bridge crew made to rise as one and salute their Khan, who nodded and waved them down. "As you were." As the crew relaxed, Sarah proceeded over to the holotank in the center of the deck. Captain Takayama and James Gunnarson awaited her, their postures a picture of tense unease.

          "What's the problem, Captain?" The skipper of the Palomar nodded to a new jump signature forming at the uncharted system's nadir jump point.

          "That's a pretty big jump signature, Ma'am. Delta and Epsilon Galaxies have Invader JumpShips; those don't correspond to a signature that size. Without an IFF signal to identify who it is…" She shrugged. "I don't think we can afford to take any chances. CAP is standing by, waiting for your orders."

          James Gunnarson studied the anomalous reading with care before he responded. "I tend to agree with Captain Takayama, Ma'am. At worst, it couldn't hurt to be prepared. If it really is Roberta and Kieran, we'll have a nice honor guard to welcome them back."

          "You're the naval expert, Captain. Proceed, but do it carefully." The Khan's orders issued, Minato Takayama nodded and barked out an order to her executive officer.

          "Aff. Jasna! Tell the CAG to scramble two Stars, but no more. Keep the rest of the Battle Group's fighters ready to launch in case those ships aren't ours."

          Twenty little dots encircled the Palomar briefly, two Stars' worth of Rapier escort fighters boosting into the void. As they shot off towards the nadir jump point, the jump trace abruptly solidified into a Battle Group nearly matching the size of their own. Four large green dots, representing WarShips, stared the Khan in the face, accompanied by several large, heavily laden JumpShips. Sarah turned to her aide.

          "Any word on IFF?" James Gunnarson shook his head, silent. Naval warfare had never been his specialty. A whoop from outside the holotank startled both of them, the Palomar's sensor officer leaping up from her station.

          "They're ours! I'm reading three Aegis cruisers, and…Jesus…H…Christ…" As the young tech trailed off, Gunnarson reached for his datapad, one eyebrow raised.

          "I wasn't aware we had a WarShip named for Him." Minato Takayama fixed him with a disgusted look, pointing to the vessel at the head of the new group.

          "Look closer, Commander."

          Sarah glanced at the intricate movement and ID data surrounding the sensor trace; 3 dots marked AGS surrounded one marked with a… TXS? It can't be…

          "You've got to be kidding me. Of all the ships to show up in, they chose that one? This is either the biggest joke in the history of mankind, or the best news we've gotten in a while." James Gunnarson stared at his Khan as she mused.

          "Ma'am?"

          "Take a good look, James; she's a piece of history. Your father should have told you about her."

          He shrugged. "It's a Texas-class Battleship. So wha…oh, my GOD!"

          Minato Takayama, and indeed most of the bridge crew of the Palomar, was struggling to keep a straight face, as was Sarah herself. It's totally inappropriate, but we need a good laugh right now.

          As they finally succumbed to their mirth, the SLS Prinz Eugen, its crew oblivious to the welcome shot of humor they'd provided their brethren, continued on its way…

AUTHOR NOTES:

-This story is also available on Solaris7.com, but given that they're sometimes down (and their story area is hard to navigate) I thought I'd also put it on fanfiction.net.

-As for those who will inevitably complain about me including the Prinz Eugen, I'll try to stick as close to canon as possible, but until WK or FanPro give us all a concrete answer on what happened to the Wolverines, this is going to be an alternate universe. As such, I reserve the right to screw around with it (within reason). Seriously, though, comments on continuity are always welcome. Just keep your flames to yourself.