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Clan Sea Fox CargoShip Talismantia

Zenith Jump Point, Remulac System

Prefecture VII, The Republic

28 July 3134

OvKhan Sha Clarke stood on the observation deck and gazed back along the eight-hundred-meter length of his ship. The command CargoShip for Beta Aimag of the Spina Khanate.

He was wrapped in quiet contentment.

In another life, another age, this vessel bore the name Nagasawa. During the dark night of the Jihad, it was gutted at the final naval battle of Tukayyid. With the molting of the Diamond Sharks to their original name and a new form, so this vessel gained a new lease on life: transformed into a CargoShip he used to great effect in reaping glory for his Clan.

Through the ferroglass of the main observation window, he watched as the black flower of the Talismantia furled its petals. On the world of Breukelen in the Lyran Commonwealth, Sha encountered a local flower that closed its petals to a bud by noontime; the life-energy it needed drunk in the early-morning hours, it sealed itself from the killing glare of the system’s blue-white supergiant for the rest of the day. Now Sha watched with fascination as the solar sail (most referred to it as a jump sail, but Sha found more depth and meaning in the word “solar”) slowly furled, the molecules-thin, high-strength polymer material folding like that exotic flower; it too had drunk its fill and within the hour the CargoShip would jump from this system. Light flared around the sail like a corona and began to brighten the entire ship as its shadow extinguished, letting Remulac’s star bathe the Talismantia in pumpkin-bright light.

“Magnificent, is it not?” Sha said, his soft voice loud in the dead calm of the room.

“It is a jump sail, quiaff?” Star Colonel Ryn Faulk’s tone said it all.

Aff. Of course it is.”

Her silence actually felt confused. Sha smiled. “What do you see?”

“I see the array furling the jump sail. We jump to Savannah within the hour.”

“Is that all?”

“Aff?”

His smile grew until mocking laughter threatened. He held it, refusing, as always, to give in. This, after all, was exactly why he brought Ryn here. One of the last significant holdouts in his Aimag. She would see.

Neg, Star Colonel.”

“I do not understand, ovKhan. Is it the K1IV star beyond? The Talismantia itself?”

Neg, Ryn. It is the solar sail and yet it is not.” He raised his right hand and placed the palm flat against the ice-cold pane. Strange how cold burned just like fire; his fingers would quickly grow deadened, but the sensation always fascinated him. Though it mimicked fire, it ultimately lulled you into a false sense of numbness. A numbness that led to a lowering of your guard, to mistakes. To death and, worst of all, failure.

Cold would always beat fire. Always.

He turned to look at his companion. Shockingly, for the second time, used her first name. “Ryn, this vessel is three hundred and eighty-four years old. It has unfurled and furled its solar sail untold thousands of times, the act becoming completely mundane. An exercise in mechanical technology that has dropped below the notice of all save the man whose job it is to operate the jump sail array. Even that technician, I would wager, finds the work dull and repetitious—a task to be accomplished and forgotten.”

“But ovKhan, you describe reality. The truth.”

“Yet truth is subjective, is it not? A BattleMech is the supreme military vehicle of the thirty-second century. Has held that place undisputed for nearly seven hundred years. And yet any MechWarrior can tell tales of almost losing their mount to the battle armor squad they ignored, quiaff?”

Aff. What does this have to do with the jump sail?”

He once more fought the smile at the quizzical look painting her features. He shifted, felt the distant machinery sending tiny vibrations through his slips.

“What it represents. It is so fragile, so delicate, it takes well over an hour to unfurl it and twice that long to furl it. If it is damaged, it is almost impossible to repair. Yet upon such a foundation is interstellar travel possible. Such a little thing, yet magnificence is achieved through its careful and methodical use. Each time I see a sail furl, I see the sweep of humanity’s victories before me.” He pulled away his hand, knowing almost to the second when to do so before leaving a layer of skin adhered to the surface, and moved to stand directly in front of Ryn. His pale blue eyes stood out unnaturally large in his scarecrow-thin face and blazed with the cool fire that drenched his hand in pain. Nothing showed on his face.

“Star Colonel, all that humanity has accomplished in the centuries since the Pathfinder made that first jump to Alpha Centauri can be tied to the Kearny-Fuchida drive, and that drive is almost entirely dependent upon the solar sail. The colonization of thousands of planets. The foundation of the true Star League. Even the greatness of the Clans, of our Clan, is intrinsically tied to the solar sail, and yet most hardly acknowledge its existence.”

“But, ovKhan”—the slight hitch in her voice repulsed him—“there are other ways to charge the drive, quiaff? The reactor. A recharge station?”

Pity clouded his vision. Must it always be so difficult for others? “Aff, Star Colonel. But they are dangerous, expensive and require support, quiaff?” He continued before she could respond. “The solar sail, in its simplicity and beauty, is completely self-sufficient. It need depend on nothing but what the universe gives of its own free will. Shouldn’t we be the same?” He saw the revulsion in her eyes at his use of a contraction; he hoped the emphasis had been worth the vulgarity.

“Clan Sea Fox is independent. What are you saying?”

“Many things, Star Colonel, many things.” The flaming pain devolved into the tiny pinpricks of an almost awakened hand, the last breath of a dying beast he defeated. Once more.

“Why did you ask me here, ovKhan?”

“To show you the beauty of the solar sail.”

“Is that all?”

Sha looked carefully at Ryn. Watching the play of muscles across her face, the hint of saliva on her lips and the heave of her chest, he came to a decision. She would not, or could not see.

Discard.

“Yes, Star Colonel, you may go.” She saluted smartly and turned to leave. In her haste to depart, she unstuck herself from her magnetic slips and vaulted toward the hatch and the waiting corridor beyond.

He turned back to contemplate the simplicity of the solar sail. She had been useful in the past, despite the need to cast her aside. Her genes, of course, would be useful again in a future generation.

“ovKhan.” The electronic voice echoed through the room. He moved toward the comm station at the side of the observation window and touched the flashing button.

“ovKhan here.”

Farstar III has just materialized in-system, ovKhan. She sends word Delta Aimag has been located in the Adhafera system, in deep negotiations for the last week and more.”

“Thank you.” Sha smiled slowly and casually rested his forehead against the ferroglass; the cold immediately sank teeth deep into his forehead. The time is coming, ovKhan Petr. We have swum the same currents for too long, too much wounding of flanks and butting of snouts in indecisive displays. Finally, the time has come to meet your fire with ice.

It felt as though the cold was tearing chunks of flesh right from his skin, but Sha’s smile broadened.

Cold always wins.

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