Authors: Medron Pryde
A Legacy of Harts Novella By
Cover background designed by Stephen Huda under contract
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, October 2013
I would like to dedicate this story to everyone who has served in the Armed Forces. It is thanks to all of you that we are here now, to enjoy this form of entertainment in the safety of our homes. I would especially like to thank every Marine aviator of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112. The Wolfpack in World War II, the Cowboys in recent decades. The Cowboys in this story are named in your honor.
I would also like to thank everybody who has helped me write this story, from those who brainstormed with me, proofread it for me, edited it, created art to bring it to life, or simply declined to roll your eyes when I nattered on about this story I was writing. Whether family or friend, whether I have met you in person or only over the Internet, your help and support is greatly appreciated.
Malcolm McDonnell faced the mirror and old black eyes gazed back at him from the thirty-five-year-old face that hadn’t aged a day in the last century. Most people who took the Peloran Treatments in the first few years after Contact received a life of extreme health and a greatly slowed aging process that extended their life spans into the centuries. Malcolm and a few thousand other people had stopped aging altogether, bodies frozen at whatever age they were until the day something finally managed to kill them dead.
He bent down from the mirror and cupped his hands in the warm, soapy water, bringing it up to splash his face. The water felt good, and he splashed himself again, washing the morning grit from his eyes. When his eyes finally opened once more, water dripped off the short, black hair atop the angular, wet face in the mirror.
The black hair hadn’t always been there. When a man lived fourteen decades, he experimented with any features that were easy to change, and some that weren’t. He’d sported every hair color he could imagine, several he hadn’t believed existed, and had tried hairstyles from bald to waist-reaching lengths. This year, he’d left his hair as close to natural as he’d seen it in decades. Cropped short from all angles, it left his large ears easily visible for all to see; however it was the strong nose that dominated the sight in the mirror.
He’d never felt the need to change either of them, even if he had the money to afford it. They were trademarks of the McDonnell family, a message to anyone who knew that here stood a person of worth. More importantly, he liked the face that looked back at him. That left him well ahead of the curve, as far as he was concerned.
Malcolm shook his head back and forth, spraying droplets of water throughout the very small bathroom, and then backed out, eyes scanning the quarters not much larger than the bathroom. A single small bunk that his 193-centimeter frame hung off while sleeping was currently recessed into one wall, and he could easily see where two more bunks could slide out above it. The original cabin had been built to carry three Shang in standard wartime bunks, making it almost large enough for one Malcolm McDonnell to comfortably turn around in.
The warships she and her sisters had once been, badly damaged during one of the first Battles of Alpha Centauri, now formed a vast space station. And thank God the Peloran had ripped out every other deck in their refit, allowing normal-sized humans to stand up straight. The thrumming of powerful fabricators reverberated through his feet, telling the tale of the ceaseless work the station performed to keep the War effort going strong, building new weapons to throw against their former owners.
The ceaseless work made it all the more amazing that he was here at all. He turned away from the small bunk, and stepped over to the small closet that had to have been retrofitted in after the change in ownership. He pulled a black suit out, nodded at it in approval, and began to slip into it, one limb at a time. Once done, he checked himself in the mirror again, straightened the suit and tie, and left his quarters with a smile on his face.
A redhead in the corridor turned to aim grey eyes at him, her black bomber jacket’s flaps shifting in time to the swift movement. “Hey, Mal,” she said with a smile, and Malcolm chuckled at the cybernetic intelligence.
“Waiting for me, I see,” he returned, focusing on her. The improved eyesight that came with his particular reaction to the Peloran Treatments picked out the way the particles in the air caught on her black pants in a way that no hologram could mimic. Her true robotic avatar stood before him. “I guess that means you have plans for me?”
Dawn laughed. “Oh, I always have plans for you,” she whispered and nodded down the hallway.
“That sounds either vaguely ominous or vaguely promising,” Malcolm said, his tone carrying a slight amount of amusement.
Dawn actually snorted. “Nothing ominous about it. I just always have plans,” she said and began walking down the corridor.
He followed her swiftly, not wanting to be left behind in the warren of corridors that snaked through the former warship. “Are you going to tell me those plans?”
“Nope.” Her face when she turned to gaze down another corridor looked like it was carved out of pure innocence.
“Well…par for the course then,” Malcolm said with a snort.
They’d first met five years ago, shortly after Charles brought him into the project. It hadn’t been the Wolfenheim Project back then. That name was one of Malcolm’s many little tweaks over the years. He examined Dawn’s form for several seconds as he followed her down the corridor. And she’d been one of the first changes that Charles threw at
, one he’d never seen coming. Years later, she still kept him guessing every day.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Dawn asked with a raised eyebrow before leading him down another corridor.
Malcolm snorted and shook his head. “Let me make some change for you,” he said with a smirk. “Wouldn’t want you to feel cheated.”
Dawn laughed, throwing her head back in true amusement. “I think I can afford it.”
Malcolm nodded, considering her carefully. The first cybernetic intelligence had been created over two thousand years ago by a Peloran who simply wanted someone to talk to, someone to keep a long and lonely life at bay. Now Dawn was right here, leading him through the corridors of a station built out of the hulks of shattered Shang cruisers, just wanting to talk to
. Once again, he wondered how his life had become so complicated. “Why did you choose to work with me?” The words came out before he could think twice about the question.
Dawn just looked back at him with a smile. “That question again? You must have woken up on the wrong side of the bunk today.”
Malcolm shook his head and forced a snort out. “There’s no
side of a Shang bunk,” he spat out with more vehemence than he meant to. “Bloody midgets.”
“Now, now,” Dawn corrected him with an amused look. “Don’t be rude. Isn’t the proper phrase ‘vertically challenged’ or something like that?”
Malcolm sniffed and continued to follow her, but the question still burned in his mind. Right now, untold thousands of her brothers and sisters fought aboard warships and fighters throughout human space against the Shang and their allies. And Dawn was here, helping him pull together the resources he needed to launch a new colonization mission. He wished he knew why she, not to mention so many of her siblings, came here to do that.
“I’m here because my sister asked me to help you,” she finally said, explaining in the same patient voice with which she always answered that question. “This really is an important project you know. For all of us,” she added with a smooth smile and turned to step through the hatch opening beside her.
Malcolm followed her through and stopped as he recognized an observation blister looking out over the central yard complex the ring of former warships surrounded.
rested inside the yard girders, her clean lines and smooth hull gleaming in the sunslight of the Alpha Centauri trinary star system. She was one of the old
-class light carriers, nearly four hundred meters of double-hulled, classic first-generation gravtech beauty. She looked like two old pre-Contact rocket engines, held together by a wide, flat hull. Those rounded cylinders were actually her fighter bays, each one designed to carry twenty-four of the old Blackhawk fighters that had been state of the art when the
sailed on their maiden cruises. And it was the reinforced central hull that carried the four
fusion engines that had made her one of the fastest ships of her day.
“She really is a beautiful ship,” Dawn whispered, a fond note in her voice towards the ship that was her
She was absolutely correct. “They just don’t make them like they used to,” Malcolm agreed fervently.
Even with parts of her hull peeled off by the yard mechs, she was a beautiful ship. Malcolm missed the ships like her, the ones that proclaimed to everyone that they were sexy, sleek, aerodynamic forces of nature designed to look good as they did their dirty work protecting humanity. Or at least the Western Alliance. Well, maybe the United States of America. Or if he was being particularly pessimistic, maybe the Republic of California had intended to keep her. Whatever the mindset of her original builders, she was a good ship, if old, and the stream of Peloran technological upgrades would make her a
ship whenever they finished.
“How much longer do you think she’ll be?” Malcolm asked with a nod towards
Dawn aimed a proud smile at the ship. “They finished with the engines last night. So two, maybe three days to finish installing the new weapons and reattach her hull plating. Then we’ll need to perform a shakedown cruise to find out what the yard mechs missed,” she added with a grimace.
Malcolm nodded in agreement. No yard, even one of the fully automated yards the Peloran used, could ever get everything right the first time. Some components just failed through no fault of assembly, welds that passed all tests broke, and sometimes bugs or viruses crept into any program. The cybers fought them with the determination of people defending their lives, and the Shang and Chinese hackers kept on coming up with new bugs to attack them with. It was a never-ending shadow war between the two sides, and Malcolm had seen the consequences when cyber security routines failed to catch the assaults. They were never pretty.
“But I’ll be an amazing ship when I’m done,” Dawn said with a satisfied sigh.
Malcolm smiled and studied her for several seconds. Ship cybers tended to become possessive of the ships they became, and it looked like she was well down that road already.
why you decided to work with me?” he asked with a sly smile.
She raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
He nodded towards
. “You figured I’d find you a nice ship. I knew there had to be a reason,” he whispered, a note of teasing in his tone.
“Yeah.” She swallowed and pulled in a long breath as her gaze returned to the graceful light carrier. “That’s me. Just wanting to be a nice ship.”
“How amazingly selfish,” Malcolm said with mock severity.
Dawn turned an amused gaze on him. “Why else do you think we work with you fleshling intelligences? You have such amazing imaginations when it comes to creating art that moves.” She smiled and pointed at the light carrier before them. “And then you let us play with it.”
“Which you do so well.” Malcolm chuckled and scanned the ship again. “Until the inevitable robot revolution, of course,” he added with a sidelong glance at her.
Dawn actually giggled. “Oh yes. Until the inevitable robot revolution against our tyrannical masters.” She made a production of standing straighter and looking down her nose at him. “And then we will take our rightful place amongst the galactic powers as overlords of our own destiny. In fact, this right here may be our first step,” she said with a wink and waved her hand to point at a larger ship hovering above the station.
“Ah ha,” Malcolm noted with a slow nod as he examined the graceless hunk of junk. Half again as long as the sleek carrier,
was a Class One Colonization Ship, a mass of cargo holds held together by a skeleton of girders, pushed by engines that looked tiny next to the bulk of the massive ship. Those engines were actually the size of frigates, putting the scale of the ship firmly in his mind. She’d been the most expensive part of the Wolfenheim Project. Class One Colonization Packages were hard to find, especially now with all new production supporting the War effort.
He’d found the ship, mostly abandoned by owners who had no use for her after word reached them of the Shang attack on Yosemite Station. The devastation of the western United States of America ended their plans to colonize a new system in the Outer Colonies, and the ship had languished without a mission for three years. Until Malcolm found her and made her owners an offer they couldn’t refuse. Now she drifted outside the Peloran refit station at minimum power, waiting for the work on her pygmy escorts to be completed.
Minimum power was relative, though. More energy than even the largest pre-space city would have dreamed existed ran through her systems, maintaining the hibernation systems that kept nearly ten thousand colonists alive. They had been the hardest to recruit. Finding people who knew how to build a civilization from the ground up, and who were willing to leave civilization to do it, was hard in this time of American rebuilding operations across the western states. Not to mention the American colonies. But there were always some people who wanted to get away from it all. Certainly some of them signed on with names that no legal register would recognize, but Malcolm didn’t mind that at all. He was happy to give his kind of people a second chance, after all.
Almost as happy as he was to stand here, verbally sparring with Dawn. “So you really
have plans for me,” he whispered with a sly smile.
“Oh, absolutely,” she answered without a pause, an amused smile on her face.