Fort Jaime, Santiago
4 July 2578
Natasha Kerensky had dyed her hair blonde at some point in the last year. It whipped behind her like a tail as she walked into Jaime Wolf's office without knocking. He had to wonder if she might plan on getting a catgirl biomod from the Canopians at some point. Such a change would be anathema to most of the Dragoons, smacking of genecaste to the old crew and of outright decadence to the more recent recruits but that might simply encourage Natasha.
"They've made it official Jaime." Her voice was softer and friendlier than usual – most of her troops would have found it unrecognisable. "The Star League has surrendered and the individual states are making peace."
Seated behind a cluttered desk, Jaime Wolf nodded acknowledgement but his eyes were directed at something far away. Though a small man, his presence had always conveyed an aura of strength and confidence but the last year and a half had been a strain in ways not apparent to outsiders.
"So it ends," he said out loud. "And perhaps so it begins."
"You can't be still clinging to the idea that they're still out there, can you?" Natasha leant forwards over the desk. "The survey reports are pretty clear: once you get out past the Outworlds Alliance or any of the periphery states you find the stars and planets of the twenty-sixth century, not the thirty first. There's nothing else out there."
"We don't know why it happened. Nor do we know that other regions may not have been affected."
"Jaime, let it go! The mission is over! We should get back to strength and go kick some ass!"
He laughed, tension flowing out of him. "Honestly, Natasha, there's nothing I'd like more. But we need to know for certain. We've still got three regiments and five warships – that's enough to take out another contract but I'm sending an expedition out to the Pentagon."
"Hey, you're not sending me! That's a two year round trip!"
"I wouldn't be so bold. No, Mackenzie can lead it – he could do with the experience, and we can give him a good crew of veterans."
Natasha nodded. "Feels like just yesterday he was only knee high. You're getting old, Jaime."
"Not that old. Or is that a subtle hint that you'd like an assignment hunting bandits?"
"Anything but that," she said feelingly. "Who's hiring?"
"There's no central hall like Galatea, although there do seem to be a lot of mercenaries under contract – mostly retirees from House Militaries when they downsized to join the Star League and hired on when they realised there would be a war in the Periphery."
"You're thinking of hiring on with the Inner Sphere?"
"Possibly. Hehiro Kurita's rebuilding his forces and I'm sure Kevin Steiner or Henry Gram would be more than glad to hire us."
"Ugh! Another civil war?" protested Natasha. It was as close as she was going to get to reminding Jaime of the losses they had taken at the hands of Anton Marik.
Jaime leant back in his chair. "It's the most action that we're likely to see. With the way that wars are going, I'm not sure that any mercenary contracts better than security details will be available in future."
"Warships won this war. Given how expensive they are, I'm not convinced a mercenary fleet is going to be feasible and BattleMechs..."
"That's..." Natasha looked shocked. "But..."
"Feeling old?" He looked weary. "Maybe it's time to follow Stark's example. We could probably seize part of the Rim Worlds if we came to an agreement with Grimm and O'Reilly."
"What a depressing thought. Going back to the Clans might be better than that. What are you going to tell them if they are there?"
"I'm still thinking about that. You know what they're like."
"Yeah. The Crusaders will explode when they hear what happened to the Star League and the Wardens..."
"If the Clans come here, if they invade the Inner Sphere... you realise that the latest Canopian BattleMechs are more advanced than the 'Mechs that Kerlin Ward gave us data for the last time we reported in. And then there's the warships..."
Natasha whistled. "You think they'll come?"
"Sooner or later, yes, I think that they will. And that's going to be a rude awakening for a lot of trueborn warriors. The Snow Ravens will be appalled: their fleet is dwarfed by even the smallest state here."
"Couldn't they build a similar force?"
Jaime shook his head. Natasha could see new lines on his face. "A concerted effort by all the Clans - and you know how unlikely that is – would have trouble equalling the resources of even small fry like the Outer Reaches. And if reports are correct then the rimwards states are going to be forming up into opposing alliances – Calderon wants to lock the Federated Suns together with the Outworlds Alliance, Tortuga and Filtvet."
The Black Widow nodded her understanding. "And since Centrella trusts everyone's favourite nuke-lover about as far as she could throw him, she's trying to get the Marians and House Marik to side with her. Ursula Liao will love that. Caught between two warring factions. Couldn't happen to a nicer House."
"Be fair. She's not one of the crazy ones." Jaime stretched out. "You know, maybe I won't send Mackenzie. If the Clans are out there then they'll take delicate handling and it's a bit unfair to drop that on his shoulders. He can look after Alpha Regiment instead."
"Whoa, you think he's ready to look after the whole Dragoons?"
"Perhaps not, but a maybe a regiment. I can find someone else to look after the Dragoons for me." A smile crossed his face, but it didn't relieve Natasha – it was too mischievous for that. "I know just the person..."
"Ohhhh, no. Not me."
Omake (by Chris O'Farrell):
A History of the Star League, the 'Nine and a Half Hours' footnote
The last gasp of the Star League in two universes as it happened was the rather short lived 'Clan Invasion' of the early-2580's, where a deep periphery society of former-SLDF soldiers who'd fled the uptime collapse of the Star League in the early 2800s had rebuilt a radically different society in the darkness of space and belatedly woke up to the incredible shift in space and time when a Wolf Dragoon jumpship arrived at their worlds.
It would only be later that Jaime Wolf admitted the Dragoons had originally been a scouting force for these Clans in the 31st Century as a prelude to a possible invasion, albeit one that had turned against their masters to protect the Inner Sphere. How exactly these Clans could miss the universe change so radically around them for so long still stuns some observers; apparently whenever members of the so-called 'Scientist Caste' in this Militocracy tried to tell the Warriors, they were threatened with bodily harm and told to get back to work on genetic engineering.
Whatever the case, the Clans' answer was swift. Astonishingly, while almost every Clan accepted without question the idea that the Star League had returned and then fallen, seizing upon the events of the last half century as an excuse to proceed to the Terran Hegemony and 'ally' with them to 'restore the Star League', incredibly few of them took seriously the evidence the Dragoons had brought with them of the incredible technological strives the Inner Sphere had made in the 31st Century, advances the Periphery had brought back with them and had since spread.
Dogmatically insisting that the various states of the twenty-sixth century would be no match for their hordes of advanced OmniMechs and Warships, the sixteen remaining Clans marched confidently forth towards the Inner Sphere en masse, an army beyond anything Nicholas Kerensky could have ever have dreamed when he laid down his society. (The seventeenth clan, Clan Wolf, claim to have suffered a navigational mishap and returned home to re-establish their bearings. Apparently they arrived over the lightly guarded enclaves of two rival clans slightly ahead of news of the subsequent debacle).
Unfortunately, the Clans had the incredible bad luck when crossing into the Lyran Commonwealth to run into Galahad '83, the first live-fire wargame comprising much of the fleets of the Great Houses and Periphery combined. The Khan of Clan Smoke Jaguars, who didn't realize the fifteen warships holding station in front of his vast armarda were simply an observation and referee force waiting for the massive Inner Sphere fleets to arrive in the next fifteen minutes, issued a Batchall demanding their surrender in the name of the Star League.
The Taurian Flagship responded with the infamous words "Oh God, not you guys again? Didn't anyone tell you we annihilated the SLDF years ago?" - delivered in jest at what the Admiral of the Fleet thought was nothing more than a target drone and a humorous dig at the Terran Hegemony ships that would be participating in the exercise for the first time, defending against an 'invading Star League'. They were of course possibly the poorest choice of words the Taurian could have made, at which point the Clan Flagship made the mistake of opening fire.
The Live Fire Wargames that year, when the rest of the participating fleets arrived ten minutes later, were considered some of the most successful ever hosted, much praise going to the Archon for such a splendid and realistic exercise. It would be an embarassing nine and a half hours before anyone in authority realized that some of the 'enemy SLDF' forces had not been the Lyran target drones everyone thought they were...