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2309_wolfenheimrising_chapter_ix

I almost died in a fight when I was younger.  I spent the next century trying to avoid conflict after that.  I became the man of value to everyone, the man who could find what you were looking for.  Yes.  You too.  In time, I convinced myself I didn’t miss the thrill of fighting.  Then The War came and I got to shoot a whole mess of Shang.  That was all kinds of fun.  Maybe one day I’ll get to thank them for that.  I promise to enjoy it immensely.

 

 

IX

 

Malcolm scanned the displays as the small wing of fighters flew through space.  Most showed crimson codes denoting major or lesser damage, the cost of the battle he’d thrown them into.  Almost all were drones, controlled by cybers linked to the single manned fighter commanding their squadron.  One of the manned fighters signaled major damage to one missile battery, the laser next to it, and the main engine above them.  Though manned wasn’t entirely accurate.  No one would ever mistake Jackie White for a man, but the appropriate gender-neutral terms just sounded stupid.

Malcolm quirked a smile at the thought and returned to scanning the displays.  Several of the fighters sported engine damage that kept them from accelerating on their own, and tow cables connected them to their squadron mates.  Other fighters had lost weapons, sensors, or even primary power plants.  Over half of the fighters he’d assembled for this project were damaged or destroyed, but they’d hit the Shang hard.  And they’d saved an entire squadron of American destroyers doing it.  That was cause for a good party, even if the destroyers in question were trying to arrest him.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Dawn asked.

He pulled his eyes from the displays to look at her holographic form.  The size of a girl’s doll inside the cockpit, the fiery redhead sat atop the main console and peered at him with concerned eyes.  “We just kicked ass,” he said with a jaunty smile.  “I liked it.”

She smiled.  “Me too,” she whispered and the view on the main canopy shifted to show the forts defending Bosphorus.  Malcolm’s starfighters moved slowly by interplanetary standards, on fuel tanks approaching empty, but they passed through the forts in the blink of an eye before drifting on towards Bosphorus herself.  “More importantly though, they liked watching it.”

Malcolm blinked at the thought, realizing he should have considered that already.  “How so?” he asked, his mind starting to calculate the possibilities.

Dawn smiled.  “Well, they’re impressed that a bunch of century-old fighters just beat the Shang to within a centimeter of their lives.  Jealous, too.”

Malcolm chuckled.  The Peloran upgrades had given them serious teeth, but he’d kept their original look for precisely that reaction.  The jealousy confused him though “Why jealous?”

“They wanted to jump the Shang first,” Dawn said with a wave towards one of her displays decrypted transmission.  “Seems the Shang have been getting pushy around here, but the politicos are trying to hold on to neutrality.”

He frowned at her.  They’d only been in system for less than an hour.  How could she know all of that?  “That’s some pretty specific knowledge,” he said in a suspicious tone.

Dawn’s smile turned cherubic.  “Well, a friend of the family might have slipped me their encryption key.”

Malcolm sighed and rubbed his forehead.  “I’ve been a bad influence, haven’t I?”

“Horrible,” she answered, her tone bright and cheery.  “More importantly for all of us, you just helped the people who came here to arrest you in front of a whole solar system full of witnesses.  They rather like you now.”

“Wait, they know that?” Malcolm asked, momentarily lost again.

Dawn chuckled and shook her head.  “She broadcasted the warrant for our detention the moment she arrived in system, before the Shang jumped her.  I doubt Bosphorus actually would have tried to arrest us.  They are neutral, after all, and we paid a pretty penny for resupply and safe passage,” she said with a shrug.  “But everybody knows why she’s here, and they would have understood if you’d walked away and let the Shang cut her to pieces.  But you didn’t.  You helped, and they watched it all.”

Malcolm watched Bosphorus go by on the main canopy, passing from light to dark side.  Lights of cities cast the pattern of human civilization across the world, and he was momentarily lost in the beauty of the moment.  This world was untouched by The War raging throughout the rest of human space.  He found himself torn between hoping that remained the same, and wishing the merchants of Constantinople would finally make a stand.  But he’d take one bit of good news at a time.

“So they’re going to let us through?”

“Yup,” Dawn said in a very pleased tone.  “They’re just watching us fly our shapely derrières right back out of their space.”

Malcolm laughed and rubbed his chin with one hand.  “Maybe your shapely derrière,” he joked.  “But I doubt they want to watch mine.”

“Was that a compliment?” Dawn asked, making a show of examining herself in a mirror that appeared in the air.

“Maybe,” he answered, waggling his eyebrows at her.

“That is so sweet,” she said with a wave of one hand.  “But don’t sell your tail short.  I have it on good authority that it is highly prized amongst certain demographics.”

Malcolm snorted.  “But I don’t plan on going to prison anytime soon, so they are all out of luck.”

“Oooh,” Dawn whispered with a wicked gleam in her eyes.  “Nice one.”

“I’ll be here all…well…”  Malcolm paused to check the displays.  “All hour?”

“I hope not.”  She assumed an innocent expression at Malcolm’s look.  “They might get their boarding shuttles online by then.”

Intrigued, Malcolm gave her another questioning look.

“Oh, all right,” she said after a few seconds and a shake of her head.  “They are trying to maintain neutrality, so there’s this cover story about a virus in the inertial compensators of all the customs shuttles.”  Dawn aimed a forlorn look at him.  “Bosphorus Control has informed Murphy that even though they would love to help her with her warrant, the shuttles are totally unsafe to fly until that is fixed.”

“I bet that makes her happy,” Malcolm noted with a chuckle.

“Surprisingly, she seems very understanding,” Dawn said with a knowing smile.

Malcolm paused to take that in for a moment.  Murphy was no idiot.  She had to know they were feeding her a line, but she couldn’t call them on it without questioning their honesty.  Which would be a major insult.  “She’s good at this.”

Dawn aimed a sly smile at him.  “It does feel good to know that they sent someone you wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught by, doesn’t it?”

Malcolm chuckled and cleared his throat.  “Yeah, but I’d be just as happy not getting caught.”

“Oh, of course,” Dawn returned and raised one finger.  “Not getting caught is the foremost plan in my mind, too.”

Malcolm nodded, but his eyes moved to the displays showing the receding planet.  He frowned as a thought came to mind.  “Is there really a virus?”

Dawn gave him a very earnest smile.  “Implanting a virus would be a hostile act on a neutral party, which I, of course, would have nothing to do with.”

“Of course,” Malcolm said with a quirk of his lip.  “Do you think you could pass along my thanks to all the people who had absolutely nothing at all to do with this?”

Dawn cocked her head to the side at his sarcastic tone before aiming her most innocent smile at him.  “Well, I might have some contacts who might know how to contact the individuals who first reported the presence of the virus.”

“Thank you,” Malcolm said, trying to control another round of chuckles.

Dawn nodded towards him, her posture that of a perfectly attentive secretary.  “I’m here to serve.”

“If only,” Malcolm whispered under his breath.

She narrowed her eyes at him.  “What was that?”

“Nothing,” he answered quickly, and met her gaze with nervous eyes.  Would she be offended by his slip, thinking he meant something he didn’t?  Not that he had any idea what he meant by it to begin with, which just made it all the more confusing.

Dawn examined him for several seconds before waving one finger at him in a threatening gesture.  “You remember that.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said with complete sincerity.

“Better,” she returned, a crooked smile betraying amusement.

Then she waved a hand at another display, and Malcolm eagerly focused on it.  The massive bulk of Wolfenheim dominated the display, an ungainly ship with massive cargo sections held together by an exposed exoskeleton of girders.  Much smaller frigates and destroyers, many of them no larger than her glowing engine pods, held formation around her in case anybody got any ideas.  Only Normandy approached the colony ship’s size, and even she was smaller in every dimension.

Hatches on the twin cylinders running along either side of the ship’s main hull opened to reveal dozens of docking cradles designed to carry Blackhawk starfighters.  The cradles extended out into space and their arms spread apart to welcome their returning friends.  Thrusters flared throughout the fighter formation, and engines came to life as they slowed to match speed with the much larger carrier.  Tow cables holding disabled fighters or parts of fighters vibrated with the tension of holding them in place, but the cybers performed the maneuvers with a perfection that kept them from snapping.  Malcolm just relaxed back in his seat as Dawn finally detached her cables and spun their remaining fighters around to face away from the carrier.

A cradle locked around his fighter with several small clangs and began pulling them back into the carrier.  A final jerk brought them to a halt.  Then the hatch boomed as it closed before him, the vibration flowing through the cradle and into his seat.  More clangs came from up and down the cylindrical body as each hatch closed, foretelling the return of another fighter.  It took nearly a minute to pull all of the fighters back in and for silence to reign for a moment.

Then the steady thrum of Normandy’s engines returned, and he looked at Dawn.  She just smiled, confirming that they were accelerating away from Bosphorus.  That was good.  He didn’t want to spend any more time in-system than was necessary.  Murphy and the Shang made things far too complicated for him to want to be anywhere nearby.  It seemed a certain Captain Olivia Wyatt thought the same thing.  He would have to thank her for that initiative.

A light turned from red to green and he examined it.  Air pressure.  Excellent.  The canopy slid forward, and fresh air flowed over him.  It had the stale quality that all ship air did, but it was better than the recycled air inside his cockpit.  Happy with the improvement, he unlatched his five-point harness and waited for it to retract into his command chair.

Then Malcolm pulled himself to his feet in time to see a gantry lock into place beside his fighter.  He scrambled up, pulling on a handrail to steady himself, and scanned the hangar bay.  Dawn’s physical avatar came to her feet behind him and stepped up onto the gantry to search the hangar bay with her own eyes as well.

Stretching out more than the length of a football field in either direction, the hangar bay was full of damaged fighters, with crewmembers already scrambling to begin repairing them.  He could see six cradles filled with pieces of fighters, and another ten or so with fighters that were missing pieces and often torn open on multiple flanks.  Even the undamaged fighters had been through the ringer of weapons fire that left them covered in scorch marks and carbon scoring.  And the smell of burning wires and electronics wafted over him.  The hiss of firefighting foam caught his attention for a moment, but Dawn just shook her head to tell him that everything was under control before turning to her left.

Malcolm followed her gaze to see two figures in flight jackets and black Stetsons leave their damaged fighter behind and begin jogging towards him.  The man Malcolm had first met as Hunter Roberts had the body of a god that women wanted and men wanted to be.  Broad shoulders, a narrow waist, hands that could palm a watermelon, and legs that could do double duty as pile drivers were merely his most visible attributes.  The Peloran treatments had outdone themselves with this Hawaiian native, making him a truly impressive specimen of humanity, and he loved honest-to-God Hawaiian shirts.  Today’s example peeking out from under the flight jacket was an eye-assaulting combination of numerous shades of red.  The tiny cyber walking behind him wore a simple black shirt under her jacket, but her own hair’s red and blues complemented the man’s shirt.

“Not bad for a first rodeo, Mister McDonnell,” the man who now lived by the name John Anderson said in a melodious baritone that was as perfect as his body.  Then he slugged Malcolm in the shoulder.  It was a playful slug, or he would have sent Malcolm flying into the nearest bulkhead.  But bloody hell did it hurt.  He tried not to wince and smiled back at the man who towered over him like a Greek god.

“Thank you, Mister Anderson,” Malcolm said through gritted teeth.  It was actually high praise and he knew it.  He just wished it could come with a less painful accompaniment.  And that, of course, was another compliment of sorts.  Anderson was strong enough that he had to use more control than even other ageless individuals.  The fact that he’d hit Malcolm hard enough to hurt meant he’d earned the man’s respect.  He just wished that respect could be broadcast with a little less pain.

“We’ll make a proper pilot out of you yet,” the big Hawaiian said in amusement, wrapped one arm around Malcolm like a vice grip, and very gently ushered him towards the hangar bay exit.  It was gentle because it didn’t hurt.  But Malcolm knew from experience that trying to go any other way would be about as effective as arguing with a boulder.  Anderson was truly the unstoppable force, and minor things like crewmembers, armored hatches, and stray bulkheads, had best learn to stay out of his way.

Dawn came to his rescue before Anderson carried him too far.  It was only after she shared an amused smile with the other cyber, but it was the thought that counted.  She stepped in front of the god-like avatar and brought him to a stop.  “I’m sorry,” she began in an earnest tone, “but Captain Wyatt has requested Mal’s presence on the bridge.  We should hurry.”

Anderson looked down to Malcolm at the captain’s name and began to laugh.  Malcolm imagined that ancient gods would have envied the melodious expression of amusement.  And then Anderson punched him in the other shoulder.  “Well, we’d best not keep her waiting, then.”

Malcolm somehow kept his feet under him as he ran into the lift doors.  They opened a split second before impact, and he slammed into the far lift wall without any grace at all, expelling most of the air from his lungs.  He just stayed there for a bit, taking in deep breaths, as the lift doors closed before the hum of movement began vibrating through the walls and floor.

“How are you?” Dawn asked and stepped close enough his hair raised in response.

“Ow,” he answered and pushed himself away from the lift wall.  Both arms still worked to his amazement, despite the dull throb in them.  He worked them around, feeling twinges of pain, but nothing was ripped.

“He can be a bit exuberant,” Dawn said in amused tones as she hovered mere centimeters from him.

“You think?” he asked with a glare.  Her simple smile robbed his glare of any strength it might have had.  He turned away to look at the lift doors and laughed.  He’d survived another round with the amazing Mister Anderson.  And his fleet was finally on the last leg of their trip to the Pleiades Cluster.  This was a truly glorious day.

Dawn leaned against the wall beside him, still close enough he could feel the way the energy in the small area flowed around her.  He realized just how intensely aware he was of that now that there was nothing else to watch or examine.  The colors in her hair were sharper and more focused.  He could see the imperfections in the weave of her normal business suit.  He was more alive now than normal, and he saw and felt more than ever.  He was still running on adrenaline.  He liked it.

The lift came to a stop, the doors slid open to either side, and he stepped into a guardroom.  Dawn followed mere centimeters behind him, her presence a blazing pillar of energy to his adrenaline-enhanced senses.  But even as he followed her every move, he was acutely aware of the two guards.  They measured him up and down, then examined Dawn, and nodded after coming to the conclusion that they weren’t mad assassins on the way to kill Normandy’s bridge crew.

They waved Malcolm forward, and he walked through the armored hatch onto Normandy’s bridge, Dawn still following like she was glued to him.  Most of the crew held their attention on their displays, keeping to their duties, at least as long as they thought their “mistress after God” was watching.  She looked up as he walked in, and his eyes snapped to follow her progress.

“Malcolm,” Captain Olivia Wyatt said, her eyes examining him.

Malcolm aimed a broad smile at her and let his adrenaline speak for him.  “You wanted me?”

Olivia shook her head but smiled.  “I requested your presence,” she corrected.

“Potayto, potahto,” Malcolm repeated the age-old saying with a wave of one hand.

Olivia sighed and shared a long look with Dawn.  “Are you suffering from an adrenaline high?” she finally asked him.

“Oh, I’m not suffering at all.”  He shrugged.  “I’m enjoying it immensely.”

Olivia shook her head again.  “So I’m not going to talk you out of risking your damn fool life like that again?”

“No, Ma’am,” Malcolm said with gusto.

Olivia sighed and he saw her mouth one word out of the corner of his eye.  Men.

Dawn nodded in sympathy.

“Hey, you two,” Malcolm said in a commanding tone.  “No deriding me behind my back.”

“We would never do that,” Olivia said in a dry tone.

“Right in front of you is another matter entirely,” Dawn added without a perceivable pause.

Malcolm chuckled.  “Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

Dawn shook her head in mock sorrow.  “Not even the same book.  We’re reading Gone with the Wind and you’re reading John Carter.”

“Well, yeah,” Malcolm said with a shrug.  “It’s a good story.”

Olivia brought a hand up to rub her forehead.  “I swear you two argue more and more each day.”

“We don’t argue,” Malcolm protested, but Olivia just raised an eyebrow at him.

“We practice verbal sparring,” Dawn clarified with a helpful smile and Olivia turned the eyebrow on her.  Dawn met the eyebrow with total aplomb and no sign of retreat.

Olivia finally shook her head and muttered something about them deserving each other.

“What was that?” Malcolm asked, wondering if he’d heard right.

Olivia turned back to him with one of those expressions that suggested he shouldn’t ask that again.  “I was wondering if you’d like to watch as we dive into the Pleiades Cluster.”

That certainly wasn’t what she’d said, but Malcolm wasn’t about to challenge that look.  So he aimed a gregarious smile her way.  “Why, I would love to.”

Olivia nodded, congratulating him on his wise choice.  “Then if you’d like to stand back there,” she said, waving towards the rear of the bridge with a hand gesture that took the request out of the words.

Malcolm followed her order without protest, and leaned against the bridge’s rear bulkhead.  A quick glance at Dawn showed her amusement with the whole situation, and then he turned back to watch Olivia moving amongst her bridge crew.  At each station, she paused to verify the systems it controlled were operating and whispered a word or two to the man or woman before going on.  She finished her rounds in minutes and gave the bridge another long look.

Once assured that nothing was going to fall apart in the next minute, Olivia walked back and leaned against the bulkhead next to him.  After a few seconds of scanning the bridge again, she leaned in close enough to override his mind with the smell of her shampoo.  Strawberry.

“You know, that was a good speech out there,” she said very quietly.

Malcolm blinked as he pulled his mental attention from Olivia showering to speeches he’d made.  For a moment, his mind drew a complete blank.  Then it made the connection and he glanced at Dawn, who just smiled at him.  It had been a secure communication channel between him and Murphy, and he didn’t like that anybody else had been listening in.

Olivia pursed her lips and examined him.  “Does it bother you that I was listening?”

“Well, you’re the Captain,” he answered, not wanting to say that his senior captain had no business listening in on fleet business.  But as he said it, he felt the untruth.  It shouldn’t bother him, but it did, and he didn’t know why.

Olivia crossed her arms, obviously not buying his evasion, but she didn’t call him on it.  “So what’s her story?”

Malcolm let out a long breath, wishing he could answer her.  “I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.  Olivia arched a disbelieving eyebrow at him.  “Honest,” he protested.  “I don’t know her.”

“Right.”  Olivia bored into his eyes for several seconds, and he felt like she was scanning his deepest secrets.  It was bloody intimidating.  “So you never met her?”

“Well, we both grew up in the Hurst Family.”  Olivia cocked her head to the side in interest.  “It’s a large family,” Malcolm explained.  “Lots of branches that have business interests everywhere humanity has been.”  At her skeptical look, he shrugged again.  “Honest.  I don’t know of a single major colony that doesn’t have at least one person representing the family.  Often that’s someone who isn’t really a Hurst but was raised as one from childhood.”

Olivia nodded in comprehension, and he saw something click into place behind her eyes.  “So that’s where you come in?”

Malcolm spread his arms out wide and smiled.  “Got it in one.”  Then he shrugged.  “Her family came in the same way.”

“You know a lot about her family to not know her,” Olivia said, her tone skeptical.

Malcolm cleared his throat, acutely aware of how guilty that made him sound.  But he didn’t have anything to feel guilty about.  Or he didn’t remember anything to feel guilty about.  “She was younger than me by a year.”  Olivia raised an eyebrow, and he cleared his throat again.  “That’s a lot to a kid!” he protested, and she relented.  “So anyways, I don’t really remember her.  She was too young, we didn’t hang out beyond Family functions.”  Then a memory of cheerleading practice on the football field came to mind and Malcolm blinked.  “Well, she was a cheerleader.  Junior varsity, I think.  So I guess I saw her at football practice.”  Olivia didn’t speak, obviously picking up on the point that there was more to the story than just that, and he cleared his throat one more time.  If he didn’t stop that, she would know he was guilty of something.  Well, he supposed he was, so he decided to confess his sins.  “Her older sister was another matter.”

Olivia scowled at him.  “Oh.  You know you could have said that right away,” she noted, her tone stringent.  “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Malcolm declared without reservation.

“Of course not,” she said and he glowered at her.  She gave him the eyebrow again.  “What happened?”

Malcolm shook his head.  “I had the hots for her.  But she had her sights set on a real Hurst and nothing ever came of it!”

“Are you sure?” Olivia asked, her expression doubtful.  “Because I’m getting the undeniable feeling that there’s more behind the story than you’re telling.

“It was a century ago,” Malcolm protested.  But she was right.  He had the same feeling that there was more to it.  Just like he had that strange feeling of recognizing Caroline more than he really did.  There was more to all of this, and whatever it was had to be the reason Caroline was the one hunting him.  “I’ve forgotten more of that life than I remember.”

Olivia crossed her arms.  “Say her name.”

Malcolm blinked, then frowned at the request.  “Why?”

“Just do it,” Olivia snapped.

“Caroline!” he hissed in instant response to her order.

Olivia sighed and shook her head.  “I’m sorry.  Say it like you’re talking to her, please?”

Malcolm sighed.  He couldn’t refuse when she asked that way.  Besides, if he did, she’d think he had something to hide.  He cleared his throat, shut his eyes, and brought the face that had charged into a Shang fleet back to his mind’s eye.  No.  That wasn’t the right face to remember.  He focused on the picture Dawn had showed him of the young girl in his yearbook.

“Caroline” he said, pronouncing the three syllables with care, and wondering once again what had possessed her to charge the Shang.  That had taken more courage than he’d given her credit for.  When he opened his eyes, Olivia and Dawn were sharing an intense look.  “What?”

Olivia just smiled at him.  “Can you say her sister’s name like that?”  He frowned again and she waved a hand to dismiss his objection.  “Please.”

Malcolm rubbed his temple.  She wouldn’t even acknowledge his presence the last time he’d seen her.  And he still didn’t know why.  A wistful note entered his voice as he spoke her name very softly.  “Dana.”

“Dana?” Olivia hissed, her voice unnaturally high.  “Or Danaka?”

“Yes,” he answered in confusion.

Olivia licked her lips and shook her head to clear it.  “You had the ‘hots’ for Danaka Murphy?”

“Yes,” Malcolm answered slowly, her reaction filling him with concern.

Olivia’s gaze turned very, very hard.  “Commodore Danaka Murphy?”

“Yes,” Malcolm repeated.

“Do you have a picture of her?” Olivia asked.

Malcolm nodded towards Dawn and she smiled.  One of Dana’s holos from his high school yearbook hovered into being in the air, and Olivia’s eyes narrowed.

“Damn it,” she swore and shook her head.  After a few seconds, she let out a long breath and gave him a look that demanded an answer.  “What happened between you two?”

“I don’t know,” Malcolm repeated with complete sincerity, but something finally came to mind and he sighed.  “Though I’d be willing to bet that there was alcohol involved.”

Olivia pursed her lips and sighed and waved a hand at the picture.  “Really?  How old were you?  Seventeen?  Eighteen?”

Malcolm shook his head as more memories finally began to follow that one brief flash.  Then he aimed a sad smile at her.  “Little things like drinking age laws don’t matter when you’re a Family member.  No laws do for that matter.  We partied.  We drank.  We drove.  And Family lawyers made certain there were never any consequences for any of it.  Witnesses were bought off.  Victims were…bought off more.”

“What if they didn’t want to be bought off?” Olivia asked.

“We were the princes of the universe!” Malcolm exclaimed with a huge smile as he relived growing up with the Hursts.  “We could buy off anyone.  Or silence them.  It didn’t matter.  No one but us really mattered.  No one else in the entire galaxy mattered.  They were lesser beings, dancing to the tunes of those who truly ruled mankind.”

Malcolm rubbed his jaw with one hand and let his fond smile fade away.  “And then the Peloran showed up and absolutely refused to bow their natural betters.”

“You sound like you miss it,” Olivia said in a voice of mixed horror and revulsion.

“I do.  I did at least.  For a long time.  It’s a high.  Knowing you can do anything.  It makes you want to do more.  To try more.  To see what you can get away with just because its there.  The world is your plaything and everyone in it is a toy.”  Malcolm shook his head and turned to meet Olivia’s horrified gaze.  “But we weren’t princes.  We weren’t kings.  We were leaches.  Parasites.  Devouring everything and everyone around us, and thinking it was our right to do it.”

Then Malcolm smiled.  “I think I finally understand why John found God in the end.  He was searching for absolution.”

“And you?” Olivia asked with a gaze still hard with revulsion.  “What did you do?”

“I forgot,” Malcolm said with a sad smile.  “I spent my life leaving it all behind so I could be master of my own destiny.  I wasn’t much better than them, in my own way.  I was always in it for myself.  But John taught me one thing that stuck.  I tried not to hurt other people.  And now here I am…leading thousands of people down a rabbit hole thousands of lightyears deep with old Family still on my heels.  Just like old times.”

Olivia gave him a long look before responding.  “And here a part of me always thought you were doing this just because you like to thumb your nose at authority.”

Malcolm shrugged and gave her a jaunty smile, doing his best to lighten the mood.  “Well, maybe I do.”

Olivia eyed him carefully.  “Do you truly believe what you told her about this mission?  About the aliens?  Is this just some other excuse to thumb your nose at those who wronged you?  Or is this really something bigger to you?”

He met her gaze, wondering what she would think.  Would she think him crazy if he admitted the truth?  Would she agree with him?  The uncertainty warred within him for what felt like an eternity, as he considered how to answer.  He could crack a joke about things said in the heat of the moment.  He could say that no mere colony mission could ever meet such grand ideals.  He was the guy that found the little things people wanted.  A random colony in the far reaches of space was the best he could expect.  But Charles wanted something more.  Malcolm did too, and she deserved to know that.  He smiled and met her gaze.

“I told her the God’s honest truth.  Scout’s honor.”

Olivia gave him a smile.  “Good.  I can live with that.”  Then her expression became far more serious and she looked back to study her bridge in action.  “But here's the thing.  I have dealt with the Murphys  before.  Fleet exercises back in the Eighties.  They were both commanding old Farraguts at the time.  Tough little ships.  I remember this cute little maneuver they did to us.  Each of their squadrons accelerated in different directions to split our fire while we were engaging their main fleet.  Then they performed an atmospheric bounce to slip past our destroyer screen and came up underneath our entire fleet with guns blazing.  Our flagship took a dozen laser and missile hits in her belly.  Tore her apart in seconds.  The exercise went downhill for us from there. ”

“Gutsy,” Malcolm said with a nod of approval.

“Almost as gutsy as charging a Shang fleet twice her size,” Olivia said with a pointed look towards him.

“Good point,” Malcolm returned with a wince.

Olivia gave him another long look.  “I’ll release all the information I have on them to you.  You try to remember everything you haven’t told me about her.  And you get ready to talk your way out of her gun sights the next time we meet, because we will meet again.  She will not give up, and I really don't want to fight her over you.”

Malcolm’s imagination happily supplied him with the vision of those two women fighting over him, and he had to clear his throat before answering.  “I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you,” she whispered with a measuring look, and then leaned back against the bulkhead again to watch her crew performing their duties.

Malcolm let out a long breath and remained next to Olivia as Normandy and her charges accelerated away from Bosphorus.  The lights of the Pleiades Cluster filled the sky ahead of them, pulsing with the promise of new vistas.  New stars.  New worlds, far beyond The War that waged throughout the stars they’d left behind.  Malcolm licked his lips, wondering if he truly had what it took to lead everyone into the unknown like that.

He glanced over at Dawn to see her smiling at him.  The cyber gave him a knowing look followed by the slightest of nods.

Malcolm pulled in a long breath, reassured by that small motion, and glanced at Olivia again.  He’d found good people for this mission.  Olivia turned a questioning look at him, and he answered with a simple nod.  He had no doubt in her ability to keep them moving.  She seemed to read that faith in his action and turned back to the Pleiades Cluster, her shoulders set.

In that moment, Malcolm McDonnell, scion of a Great Family of Earth, realized that this place was the one place he wanted to be.  Earth was no longer his home.  New Earth never had been, but for a time he’d thought it could be.  Now he knew he’d been wrong.  This was his home.  Normandy.  The Wolfenheim Project.

He was still standing there when the mass of colorful stars making up the Pleiades Cluster disappeared in an explosion of rainbow light.  Hyperspace surrounded the fleet, churned into a giant whirlpool of energy by the sucking gravities of over one thousand stars.  A river of energy flowed into the maelstrom from the giant star behind them, and the fleet began to slide down into the rabbit hole it represented.  They had a very important date on the other side of the Pleiades Cluster, and they really didn't want to be late.

Malcolm smiled.

2309_wolfenheimrising

2309_wolfenheimrising_chapter_ix.txt · Last modified: 2018/01/16 20:26 by medron