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2309_wolfenheimrising_chapter_viii

I lived in a time of peace.  It was a time of healing with new medicines, and a time of building hundreds of new colonies.  It was a good time.  But to everything there is a season, a time to every purpose in the heavens.  A time for dancing and laughing.  A time for love.  A time for peace.  A time for war.  My time of war came later than others.  I built things first.  And then I threw everything I built into The War.  It was time for that purpose.

 

 

VIII

 

Malcolm McDonnell held the controls as a dull vibration ran through his fighter.  She was an old fighter, built a century ago when gravtech was the latest revolution in military technology.  She was a work of art.  Graceful curves ran from nose to tail, and she was built to proclaim the power of America to all the worlds.  Newer and better fighters replaced her in time, leaving her as part of system defense forces until even they retired her for something better.

Malcolm rescued her from her mothballs, and the Peloran replaced her age-warped structure with new alloys, her weapons with Peloran technologies.  They made her into a fighter that could stand with the best of them once again.  But no matter how much work they did, there was one system she’d never been built to use.  The gravitic cannon in her nose warped the very fabric of space into a swirling vortex that twisted and tore at anything it came into contact with.  That sent a dull vibration running from one end of his fighter to the other.

Eleven more fighters of Malcolm’s squadron fired their gravitic cannons in unison with his own.  The beams of twisted gravity shot across space at targets still coming to terms with the idea that they were targets.  The Artificial Intelligences running the Shang warships’ defense grids did everything they could in the little time they had.  Missiles streaked out to meet Malcolm’s fighters, and the ships turned to perform anti-fighter defensive maneuvers.

But the living Shang crews had known without a shadow of a doubt that they were alone with the eight destroyers they were here to kill.  They knew they were winning.  They knew they could simply turn away from any force that could threaten them and never be forced into any battle they didn’t want.  And they knew they could kill Murphy’s squadron without taking any losses at all.  The Shang were the superior race of humanity in their own eyes, and in those first seconds they simply could not conceive that they had been suckered.  It was even worse for their destroyers.  The cruisers had been firing on Murphy, but the destroyers had not yet fired a shot in anger.  They were escorts, there to protect the larger cruisers that did the work of executing their targets from range.  It took time for them to realize the execution had been called off.

It took the counter missiles fired by their AIs several seconds to cross the half-lightsecond between them and the fighters, but the gravitic beams traveled at lightspeed.  A single half-second after firing, two of his squadron’s twelve gravitic cannons missed the destroyer.  Half a second after that, when the light traveled back to Malcolm, he saw them miss.  He smiled, though.  Two misses out of twelve shots meant ten of them hit.

Dawn had spent the last several minutes monitoring the Shang evasive maneuvers until she knew what their AIs were going to do almost as well as they did.  Ten of her gravitic vortexes smashed into the Shang destroyer’s deflection grid.  The grid wasn’t a proper shield like science fiction shows had used for centuries.  It twisted gravity, creating a small sphere of gravitic shear powerful enough that missiles or other physical projectiles were ripped apart on contact.  Lasers and other energy weapons found themselves twisted, deflected away from their target to fly through space until distance and inevitable dispersion left them unable to threaten even unshielded targets.

The gravitic cannons tore at the deflection grid that was proof against any other assault.  The warship’s gravity generators were far more powerful than any fighter could match, but there were twelve Blackhawks, and their attacks were focused down to mere centimeters.  The gravitic beams cut through the destroyer’s grid, dictating their will to the universe for a mere second, and cut into armor, sucking it from the ship.  Atmosphere flowed into the gravitic beams as they bored further into the destroyer’s inner core, pinpricks of destruction that penetrated bulkheads, computer systems, and living beings.

The wounded destroyer twisted away, trying to escape the fighter squadron, and the vortexes ripped through the maneuvering target.  The cannons shut down, their capacitors drained, and the destroyer accelerated away, ten horrible claw marks riven deep into the hull, deflection grid rippling like a lake hit by rocks.  Then it simply came apart.  Sections of the ship broke away from each other, the structure holding them together cut by the gravitic cannons, and began to drift apart.  It was almost an anticlimactic way for a warship to die.

“Yippie ki-yay!”

Malcolm blinked at Smith’s transmission as all of the fighters began to bob and weave in an elegant dance against the wave front of coming missiles.  He glanced at the displays to see another destroyer disappearing in a massive explosion.  Two more, the targets of the other Blackhawk squadrons, remained under power, but wreckage and atmosphere belched out of their horribly wounded flanks.

There was nothing anticlimactic about Smith’s target, and with one glance Malcolm understood the man’s exclamation.  Of thirty-nine gravitic cannons Smith’s thirteen Avengers fired, almost thirty impacted the Shang cruiser, and he watched explosions ripple out of the massive rents the cannons made in its hull.  Again and again, each explosion more massive than the last, it took the ship nearly two seconds to die.  The final explosion left nothing but an expanding fireball in the formation of a fleet of mighty Shang cruisers.

Then it was the Shang’s turn.  Hundreds of missiles streaked in, many from ships already dead, hunting for the fighters that had dared to attack a Shang fleet.  Malcolm’s fighters ducked and weaved around him in the best defensive maneuvers Dawn could conceive of.  Decoys and jammers shot out, and scores of missiles lost target lock.  Laser cannons pulsed against the missiles that saw through those, and scores more died.

Malcolm relaxed back in his seat, sighed, and held his hands on the controls as the surviving missiles came in for the kill.  His left hand rested on the throttle controlling movement in every direction, his right hand holding the stick directing orientation.  It was deceptively simple and complex at the same time, especially for someone who’d never played fighter sims in his life.  But training turned it into instinct.  He no longer thought about moving.  He just moved.

Malcolm felt danger coming, and he went elsewhere.  He moved the throttle to the left without taking time to form a coherent thought on the matter.  He simply wanted to be elsewhere, and a dozen fighters accelerated to port, maneuvering thrusters flaring.  A second later, a score of missiles his conscious mind did not have the time to recognize as a threat came careening through where he and his fighters would have been.  The missiles vainly tried to swing back towards the fighters, but were no longer able to make the turn.  They lacked the fuel, and even Malcolm’s subconscious mind paid no more attention to them.

He had far bigger worries.  The fighters’ engines sent long torches of flame into space, and the entire formation began a slingshot maneuver that would take them around the Shang fleet.  One of the destroyers flashed on his displays, and Malcolm nodded towards Dawn’s holoform on the console.  She smiled and the gravitic cannon spoke again, reaching out to rip at their new target.  Their new target was ready though, deflection grids and jamming systems oriented to protect against the fighters.  Only three cannons found the target, and though the destroyer flinched, it continued to fight.

This time though, missiles rippled out of the launchers on the ship’s outer edges, adding their own brand of chaos to the developing battle.  The missile fire of five dozen fighters filled space with wildly accelerating miniature guided weapons that all had a single goal.  Death by mutual extinction with their target.  Malcolm’s fire poured into the saucer-shaped destroyer, even as its point defense grid ripped them apart by the scores.  Cruisers and other destroyers joined in, adding their point defense to his target, and Malcolm smiled at the thought of cruisers actually protecting the ships that were meant to protect them.

Only a few missiles made it through the first wave of point defense, most of them horribly blinded by the destruction of their fellows.  They missed the destroyer entirely.  But more missiles followed them, far enough back that their sensors survived.  They flew through the expanding gases of their dead compatriots and shot into their target with a vengeance.

The first missiles to make attack range ripped the already destabilized deflection grid apart, leaving the destroyer open to the rest.  Later missiles poured into the vulnerable destroyer, some of them carrying old-style chemical warheads that exploded around it, filling space with more flames and debris.  Some attacked the destroyer with electronic countermeasures, blinding its sensitive systems to other incoming missiles.  The last missiles came in almost unopposed, generating miniature black holes that ripped through the destroyer without mercy until nothing remained to fight.

“Yippie ki-yay,” Malcolm said with a smile.

Dawn snorted.  “You need to work on your delivery,” she said in a wry tone.

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Malcolm responded and scanned the displays.  Two more destroyers exploded from the fire of other Blackhawk squadrons, leaving the Shang flank almost denuded.  Ten cruisers and ten destroyer escorts had started the battle.  Now only five destroyers remained, three of them streaming atmosphere from the wounds in their flanks.  Or whatever passed for a flank when the ship was a perfect circle.  A second cruiser broke apart as he watched and Smith whooped another victory cry.  Eight cruisers remained.

“We’ve got movement,” Dawn announced, sending a flicker through the displays.  He followed the shift to see Murphy’s squadron of eight Austin-class destroyers.  Three of them, each horribly damaged by the Shang bombardment, continued to run towards the Bosphorus forts.  But five of the destroyers and their defensive fighters snapped around in a swift flat spin to face the beleaguered Shang fleet.

“Bloody hell,” Malcolm growled.  Murphy’s destroyers leapt as their engines came to full power, and they began to close the range with the Shang.  Malcolm shook his head.  This was not supposed to happen.  Then one of Malcolm’s Blackhawks took an engine hit from a Shang missile, and he forgot all about those other ships.  The engine disappeared, fragments flying in every direction, and their fighters’ complex defensive maneuvering pattern unraveled.  Blackhawks scattered to avoid the fighter now spinning out of control.  The fighter passed within meters of Malcolm’s cockpit before careening out of the battle, and the blood drained from his face.  That had been far too close.

Other squadrons’ Blackhawks, and even some Avengers, spun away from the battle or simply came apart altogether as missiles designed to shatter warships found mere fighters.  Then five massive gravitic vortexes swept in from Murphy’s squadron, bracketing a single cruiser with their devastating power.  Three barely missed the wildly spinning cruiser, but two gravitic beams smashed through the deflection grid like the hammers of a vengeful god.  They tore through the outer armor and deep into her core without mercy, ripping the spinning ship apart from the inside.  The ship died in less than a second.  Malcolm had to suppress a shudder as he realized how truly deadly those destroyers were.

“Smith?” he asked.

“Yes, I see it,” Smith answered, his voice unhappy to say the least.

Malcolm pulled the right stick over and the Blackhawk spun to avoid an incoming missile.  “We can’t abandon them now.”

“Agreed.”  Smith’s tone was full of reluctance, but the voice he used a second later was devoid of any hint of that.  “All fighters, continue circling and maintain fire.”

Malcolm glanced at the dropping fuel display as the five fighter squadrons continued their sliding swing around the Shang fleet, keeping half a lightsecond away.  Far enough away to be hard to hit, close enough that the cybernetic minds could successfully calculate the movements of the far-dumber Shang artificial intelligences.  Unfortunately, the Blackhawks were short-range birds, and he watched the display drop further down towards the absolute minimum it would take to return to Normandy.  They would not be able to continue the fight for long.

A cruiser flashed on his display and he nodded to Dawn.  She opened fire, and nearly half of their remaining fighters hit the larger target.  But Shang cruisers carried deflection grids far more powerful than any destroyer, and it shrugged off the minor assault with contemptuous ease.  Missiles followed the grav cannon assault, peppering the deflection grids with more gravitic interference.  The grid fluctuated, but held against everything a Blackhawk squadron could throw against it.

Malcolm gritted his teeth in anger just as a quartet of much larger capital missiles swooped in from Murphy’s squadron.  Last-ditch point-defense lasers burned one away, and then a second.  The third detonated just short of the cruiser’s deflection grid, generating gravitic shear that no mere fighter missile could ever dream of.  The cruiser’s deflection grid flickered and faltered long enough for the fourth missile to penetrate the cruiser’s last line of defense.  It burrowed deep into the cruiser before exploding and ripped a quarter of the ship wide open.  The cruiser’s spin pulled the damaged section away, trying to bring fresh deflection grids between it and the hunted destroyers that were now hunting it.

One display showed Smith’s Avengers bringing down one more cruiser, while a focused salvo of destroyer grav cannons smashed yet another cruiser into expanding debris.  The other Blackhawk squadrons focused on cruisers of their own, and if they did only minor damage like Malcolm, Murphy’s destroyers spared just enough attention to send missiles their way.  The cruisers that made up the heart of the Shang fleet writhed under the combined assault, belching armor, atmosphere, and other debris into space from the mounting number of wounds.

The Shang made tough ships, though, and even as damage codes filled the displays, Shang launchers filled space with their missiles.  More fighters disappeared or spun away after barely surviving near hits.  Murphy’s destroyers lurched as deflection grids flickered and the missiles dove in for the kill.  But Austin-class destroyers proved how resilient they were as they weathered that storm of fire.

The forward hammerheads were wrapped around armored cores made of the densest alloys known to humanity that held as hit after hit penetrated the deflection grids.  Explosions wreathed the wedges, tearing weapons and outer hull plating away from the destroyers.  Armor melted under the assault, torn and twisted by the devastation as the destroyers charged into Hell, but they held.

But no destroyer could carry enough armor to protect herself from all angles.  A swarm of missiles arced around a hammerhead and attacked the thin hull plating protecting a destroyer’s main engines.  She lurched to the side, half of her engines ripped away, and began to drift out of formation.  Then three Shang cruisers focused fire on one destroyer, and their combined fire actually cracked the armored wedge, ripping it off at the base of the ship’s main fuselage.

A madhouse of destructive energies flashed back and forth across the space that separated the Shang and Terran forces.  Malcolm watched everything without concentrating on any of it, just observing the flickering images of chaos.  Dawn fired on their target again, and five of their gravitic cannons hit the cruiser’s savaged deflection grid.  Another salvo of Murphy’s missiles struck the Shang cruiser and it belched fire, shedding armor and internal systems.  One more of his fighters died from a missile-hit dead center, engine pods shooting away in four directions before running out of fuel.

Another cruiser broke in half, victim of Smith’s Avengers.  A single gravitic beam smashed into a different cruiser, and flames and armor erupted into space.  A Shang destroyer blundered into a stream of missiles meant for a cruiser and came apart.  The staccato images of destruction flashed across his displays as Malcolm reacted to missile swarms he had no time to focus on.

Then without warning, the Shang stopped firing.  All fire stopped, in fact, and Malcolm looked at the empty space around them in confusion.  He turned to aim a questioning look at Dawn and saw a triumphant smile on her face.

“They’re signaling their complete and utter surrender,” she reported.

Malcolm aimed an astonished look at the surviving warships, every single one torn open to one degree or another.  They continued maneuvering for combat, making themselves as hard to hit as possible, and he could see the telltale result of jammers still trying to confuse enemy targeting systems, but no missiles fired from their launchers.

They were Shang.  And they were surrendering.  Malcolm wasn’t certain he could bring the two concepts together.  The Shang never surrendered to an inferior foe, and everyone was inferior to the Shang.  Were they finally beginning to learn that maybe, just maybe, the Terran branch of humanity wasn’t as inferior as they thought?

“Director?” Smith’s voice asked.  “What do we do?”

Malcolm looked at Dawn and she just smiled.  He pursed his lips, weighing his options.  The Shang had killed enough people over the years, wiped out enough planets, that he would never regret killing them.  But maybe, just maybe, this was the first ray of hope that there might be some end to The War that wasn’t limited to the utter destruction of one or both of them.  He just wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.  There was no way he could accept their surrender with Murphy’s squadron waiting to pounce.

Murphy.  That was an idea.  If she accepted their surrender, she would have to stop following him while she secured them.  And if she didn’t, he would know the measure of the woman who was chasing him.  Would she seek to kill everyone who stood in front of her, or would she seek other arrangements?  That would be a very important thing to know.

“Tell Commodore Murphy we’ll follow her lead.”  Dawn blinked at him in surprise, then nodded.  Malcolm relaxed back in his seat and waited to find out what Murphy’s decision would be.

Finally her holoform appeared on the console, standing next to Dawn, with her hands clasped behind her back.  A display showed she was broadcasting on an open frequency.  “This is Commodore Murphy, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Star Fleet,” she announced in a hard tone.  “I accept your surrender.  Stand down and prepare to be boarded.  Any resistance will be considered a violation of your surrender.  I trust I am understood.”  It was not a question, and Murphy remained in place, waiting for the Shang’s response.

The Shang warships ceased maneuvering and shut down their deflection grids.  The displays showing target-lock warnings went green as the Shang targeting systems turned off, and Malcolm smiled in relief.  They’d done it.

“Good,” Murphy intoned, and then her holoform turned towards Malcolm.  “Director McDonnell?” was all she said, but Malcolm smiled as a display showed her transmission shifting to private frequencies.

“Commodore Murphy,” he answered and waited for his transmission to reach her.  His holoform would be appearing on her display as soon as it arrived, relaying his words just as her holoform did to him.  He wondered what her next words would be.  Would she demand his surrender as she had in Alpha Centauri and Sunnydale?

Murphy smiled at him before speaking again.  “Thank you for your help.  I now regret that I must ask you to surrender.”

Malcolm shook his head, but managed a questioning raised eyebrow.  “Always with you it is ‘surrender and prepare to be boarded.’  Can’t we start with something else?”

Murphy frowned at him, betraying a mix of confusion and something else he couldn’t quite identify.  “I have my orders,” she noted with a shake of her head.  “You know why I’m here, and yet you helped my squadron.  Why?”  Her holoform took on a curious look, cocking her head to the side.

“Because the Shang have killed far too many of us, and I couldn’t stand by and watch them kill any more,” Malcolm answered her question without hesitation.

Murphy nodded very slowly, deep in thought.  “You are the same as ever.”

Malcolm blinked at the statement, wondering what she knew about him.  Well.  If she was Dana, she knew a fair bit about him.  But something about her didn’t feel like Dana.  He just didn’t know what it was.  Still, a statement like that demanded an answer of some kind.  “I am ever the product of my very best elders.”

“Yes, you are,” Murphy sighed and aimed a considering look at him.  “Are you going to surrender to me or keep running?”

Malcolm laughed and shook his head.  “Can I ask you a question of my own before answering that?”

Murphy examined him for several seconds, far longer than the time delay imposed by the transmission lag could explain.  “I suppose it would be rude of me to say no,” she finally said.

“What is your Christian name?”  It was an oddly formal question, long out of use in common society, but it just felt right.

“My?”  Her eyes opened wide and she stared at him for several seconds, mixed doubt, confusion, and disappointment written on her face.  “Why?”

“You chased me across the known universe,” Malcolm said, his tone wry.  “I’m curious why you would do that.”

Murphy arched an eyebrow at him.  “This is hardly the known universe.”

“I just saved your life,” Malcolm said with a shrug.  “You can grant me at least one grandiose statement, can’t you?”

She stared at him for another few seconds before she answered, her whispered voice emphasizing each syllable as it rolled off her expressive tongue.  “Caroline.”

Malcolm blinked, surprised by the answer.  She looked so much like Dana.  He glanced at Dawn and she brought a holodisplay to life, showing side-by-side pictures from his high school’s senior yearbook.  One was of Caroline Murphy, from the junior class.  That odd ring of familiarity rang in the back of his mind again.  The other holo was of Dana Murphy from the senior class, and he needed no feeling in the back of his mind to remember her.  A single word blinked beneath them in red.  Sisters.  And that explained why she seemed familiar.  He’d probably met Caroline during Family functions back in the day.  Back when he was still a member in good standing of the Families.

“I see,” Malcolm whispered, momentarily caught unawares by the memory of the Murphy Family pool.  They’d had good parties there.  But that was a long time ago, and he looked back to the Caroline Murphy who stood before him now.  “Thank you.  My name is Malcolm, and now that we’re on a first name basis, can I tell you why I’ve been running?”

“I assumed it was because you didn’t want to be caught,” she said through pursed lips.  Her tone was acerbic, but there was a color of something in it.  Familiarity.  It was like the echo of a joke he couldn’t remember.

“Point,” he said with a raised a finger and a smile.  “But not the reason I was going for.”

Caroline sighed and shook her head.  “Then I can hardly await your explanation.”  There was a slight mocking tone this time, but still that odd familiarity that hummed on the edge of his consciousness.

He put aside the part of him that wondered about that.  He had far more important things to say.  “Twenty-five.”

She frowned.  “Twenty-five?”

“Twenty-five Winter Contingencies,” he declared, and she averted her gaze.  The New Washington Winter Contingency had horrified everyone five years before.  Now it was a statistic, the first of the twenty-five worlds that Shang bombardments sent into new ice ages.  Millions dead from bombardments, and they were just a statistic, one small number in a growing War to End All Wars.  “Another hundred worlds with no measurable industrial output,” he continued after letting her think about the devastation.  “And can you name a single colony near the Hyades Cluster that hasn’t been abandoned or conquered?”

Her face looked grim when she returned her gaze to him.  “Sunnydale.”

“Sunnydale,” he repeated with grim agreement.  “The only surviving major Alliance colony within striking range of the cluster.  We can’t keep on going like this.  I know the newsies say we’ll have this wrapped up in a year.  That The Fleet assembling at Sunnydale will wipe them out.  ‘Victory is coming’ and all that tripe.”  Malcolm shook his head.  “That’s just propaganda and we know it.  One more Epsilon Reticuli and we’re done.  That’s all she wrote.”

He paused to stare at her, daring her to object.

Caroline let the silence linger for several seconds before nodding.

“Okay.  Let’s say I agree with you on that, for argument’s sake” she said, but he knew he had her.  She agreed with him.  And in her eyes he saw the proof that she knew he knew.  She shook her head again, and when she spoke it was with a clear and sharp tone.  “What does this have to do with us?  Right here.”

“Everything,” Malcolm said with a smile.  The woman who stood in Bosphorus was not the Commodore Murphy who had demanded his surrender at New Earth.  He supposed that almost dying could change anyone’s perspective, but he had the feeling that it hadn’t really changed her.  More like burned a mask she was wearing away to reveal the true woman underneath.  The Caroline that pinged memories he couldn’t place.

“We have to build colonies in their space,” he began, his tone more hurried than he wished.  “We have to fly to their stars.  We have to land on their worlds.  We have to show every Alien race out there that we can come to them.”  He paused for a second, willing her to understand.  Pleading with her.  “They can’t just come over, kill a few of us, and go back home, safe in the knowledge that we can’t do anything about it.  We can’t let them.”

Caroline gave him a half smile, but shook her head.  “So what?  You steal some money, use it to buy a fleet, and run away from everything?  How does that help us?”

Malcolm chuckled very slowly.  She’d asked the right question.  And the answer was waiting on the tip of his tongue.

“I didn’t steal the money.  An official member of the Hurst Family Council gave it to me.”  She raised an eyebrow to say just how slim that excuse was, but he raised one finger to stop her.  “The Families see this little squabble as the most important thing in all the worlds.  This misuse of Family resources is an affront that cannot be allowed to remain unchallenged.  That’s why they sent you.  But this is so much more important to humanity at large.  To everyone who’s ever colonized a new world.  Charles Edward Hurst is sending us out as a warning to everyone watching us.  We won’t be stuck in our measly few hundred lightyears of space forever.  We’re coming.  We’re not just one colony.  We’re every colony!”  Malcolm paused to take a breath, knowing he was betraying a missionary’s zeal.  But he just couldn’t help it.  “We’re humanity, we’re Earth, going where no man has gone before.  That is the true heart of the Wolfenheim Project.  Both a warning and a promise.  We will not be dismissed.  We will not be forgotten.  We will not go quietly into that long night.”

Caroline pulled in a long breath, and he saw her wanting to believe.  But then she shook her head and her eyes betrayed her inner turmoil.  “I can see you’ve thought this through.”

“I’ve had years to think it through,” Malcolm whispered.

“I can’t stop you from running.”  She smiled, shrugged, and shook her head.  “But I can’t ignore my orders.  And sooner or later, I will catch you.”

Malcolm nodded in acceptance.  “Well, we are a colony expedition.  Hiding isn’t really on my list of things to do.”

She aimed a grim smile at him.  “Then consider very carefully how you want this chase to end.”

“I will,” Malcolm answered and gave her a long look.  “If you do the same.  We can compare notes when we get there.”

She pursed her lips, and the hologram looked at a display filled with Shang warships.  “I would prefer an end to this that doesn’t including shooting each other.”

“Then we’ve already agreed on one very important detail,” Malcolm said with a broad smile.  “And with that progress in hand, maybe I should leave before we find something else to argue about.”

“You mean you should run while you still can?” she asked, snapping her gaze back to him.

“I’d prefer to call it a carefully performed extraction from…well…perhaps not entirely unfriendly territory,” he said with another smile.

She met his gaze for several seconds, measuring him again before answering.  “I can think of worse things to call it.”

“Then by your leave?”

She shook her head with a rueful smile.

“Wherever you run, I shall surely follow,” she said with eyes that betrayed both promise and warning.

“Then until we meet again,” he acknowledged and turned to tell Dawn to cut the feed.

“Malcolm.”  Caroline’s single word stopped him short, and he turned back to her holoform, one eyebrow raised in a wordless question.

Her smile reminded him so much of the older sister he’d pined after all through school.  A part of him wondered why he’d never noticed her younger sister, but perhaps that was the answer right there.  Age was so important when you were child, and a single year could be a gulf beyond imagination.  But there was still that odd undercurrent of recognition, and it wasn’t because she reminded him of Dana.  He didn’t know what it was, but he recognized her somehow.

“Thank you for saving my life,” she said, paused for a moment, and then nodded as if coming to a decision.  “Again.”

Malcolm blinked, but he was pretty certain he’d avoided giving any other hint of his surprise.  He had no memory of saving her before.  And then her smile faltered and he knew she’d recognized his confusion.  Her face betrayed…was that sorrow?  Guilt?  He couldn’t tell from the confines of his fighter, on the other end of a communications channel linking two people over a hundred thousand kilometers away from each other.

He thought about how odd that was.  They’d been closer than that to each other, living on planet Earth, most of their lives.  But he couldn’t ever remember having a conversation with her that could rival this.  He could feel some memories coming back from the filing cabinet in his mind even now, remembered bits of sight and sound and feelings over a hundred years old.  But her last two sentences said more to him right now than any of those faint memories.  He wondered if he could trust what they said, or if she was just playing with his mind.

Well.  If she wanted to play with his mind, he would be happy to play right back.  He smiled and gave her a bow of his head.

“I’ll be happy to save you anytime, Caroline,” he said, emphasizing all three syllables as she had.  “I just want you to remember that where we’re going, we’ll be more closely related to each other than we are to anyone else within thousands of lightyears.”

This time her smile was almost bright.  He still thought he caught an element of guilt or sorrow, but he also saw understanding and agreement.  And when she spoke, it was with a crystal clear tone that made his memory hum.  “I’ll remember that, Malcolm.”

He stared at her for another second, wondering what it was he couldn’t remember about her, and then he turned to Dawn with a nod.

Dawn nodded back as she cut the feed.

“I think it’s time to go, Mister Smith,” Malcolm said and looked out of the canopy towards where Murphy’s squadron lay.

“Agreed, Mister McDonnell” Smith’s voice answered, and then the display under his face showed the signal shifting from private to public.  “All fighters, return to base.”

There was no more warning than that.  Their main engines came back to full power, the fighters began accelerating away from the battlefield, Malcolm pursed his lips, and he watched the receding warships on his displays.

“She is going to catch us sometime,” he said to Dawn.  She just nodded, recognizing his need to think his words through.  “So we’re going to have to make some plans for that.”  Malcolm glanced at the ships again.  “Plans that don’t involve getting everyone killed.”

Dawn followed his gaze to the diminishing cruisers and destroyers.  “I’ll bring Smith and Olivia in on that.”

Malcolm let out a long breath.  “Thank you.”

Dawn just smiled.  She didn’t need to say anything else.  She never did.  Behind them, the wrecks of the Shang fleet and the victorious Commodore Murphy faded into the distance.

2309_wolfenheimrising

2309_wolfenheimrising_chapter_viii.txt · Last modified: 2018/01/16 20:25 by medron