The crew of the Walker Pierce must contend with a new alien threat far more powerful than any that has come before.
Meanwhile, Captain Carter must contend with the increasingly erratic decisions coming from command.
It all comes to a head in a desperate mission behind enemy lines.
Legacy of War is an enthralling tale of humanity on the edges of the unknown, perfect for fans of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet and David Weber’s Honorverse.
Release date: August 31, 2020
Print pages: 161
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With Foster on his right as acting XO and wing leader Jada Shepherd on his left, Carter faced the tattered remains of his crew on the flight deck. His jaw tightened. The battles the Walker Pierce had seen had stolen Ivan Svetsky and two SEALs.
Carter gazed at the men and women under his command. At least twenty wore visible evidence of their injuries: bandages, slings, or braces. Others limped, or moved at a slower pace than usual. Considering they’d stood up to three Kaxek warships, Carter and his crew were damned lucky. The Walker Pierce wasn’t. The ship sat in dry dock in Dragon’s Den’s former Union shipyards, waiting on critical work that would restore the warship’s ability to travel the stars.
But the Walker Pierce wasn’t as unlucky as the fighter pilot they’d come to honor today.
Carter straightened and sucked in a breath. This ceremony didn’t have that the same effect in dry dock. They should hang over Eltanin, with its bright red plumes waxing in the background, as they gave this pilot back to the stars. But no. They had to wait until the Walker Pierce was space-ready once more.
Ivan Svetsky’s body lay in the oval coffin before him, and that was a punch in the gut. The lieutenant deserved better than to sit in the pilots’ conference room until they could make the star.
Carter cleared his throat.
“A military aviator of the 20th century, John Gillespie McGee, wrote this poem, ‘High Flight’. It so captured the spirit of the men and women who fought in their air, and then later in spacecraft, that we often repeat it at an aviator’s funeral. There was not an aviator that deserved these words more.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung.
High in the sunlit silence, hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting winds along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
“Our friend and comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Ivan Svetsky, during life ‘danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings, wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.’ The joy of the aviator is to fly fast and hard, past the limitation of the human form, into the heart of the Black with all its many wonders. Now he has slipped from the veil of his mortal form. I am convinced he not only touched the face of God; he’s with God, urging us to watch over his crewmates in the trials to come.
“We never understand losses like this. Because we are soldiers who signed on to put our lives on the line for the good of mankind, and we bear that burden gladly. We have one hope when we lose a comrade: that our actions in the days ahead will honor his sacrifice. I am confident that you, the men and women of the Walker Pierce, will fulfill that hope.”
A lump formed in Carter’s throat, and he stepped back. He leveled his gaze at his crew, and some looked away, their faces drawn in grief. Other eyes glistened with tears. Could he blame them? No. They’d all been through too much, and Svetsky’s memorial was a painful reminder of the loss that comes with service.
The holoscreen to the right of them flicked over the bulkhead, and an image of Eltanin’s dark sky shimmered.
“Fire!” said Shepherd. Seven tracers flew into the Black in shimmering fire and burst apart in sparks.
“Fire!” said Foster. Another seven flew.
“Fire!” said Carter. The last group sought the deep beyond Dragon’s Den, and exploded in glittering lights that flared, then died.
Taps played over the PA system, and not a single man or woman made a sound. When the song ended, Shepherd and the seven pilots under her command stepped forward in their dress blues and white covers and stood four at either side of the coffin. They lifted the flag of the United Earth Nations, with the familiar logo that had once belonged to the former United Nations, and a ring of stars representing each of Earth’s colonies. They folded the flag with military precision into a triangle with a gold-embossed Earth sitting in the center. Shepherd pivoted and handed the flag to Carter. When he got the chance, he’d hand-deliver it to Svetsky’s family on Earth.
If he got that chance.
Shepherd and her team lifted the coffin, assisted by an anti-grav module, and waited for Carter’s final salute. He lifted his head and saluted his fallen officer as the image of Svetsky’s fighter igniting on the flight deck flashed through his mind.
The fighter wing moved the coffin to its temporary resting place in the cargo bay. It would sit there until they reached Earth or until it could be handed off to a proper military escort. The one hundred seventy-three-member crew parted in half on the flight deck and saluted as the encased body passed before them.
One hundred seventy-three out of one-eighty. With a small crew compared to its mission, the Walker Pierce felt the loss of every man and woman keenly. Command had refused to fill three key officer slots open in the past year, and since then, Svetsky had died in a crash on this flight deck. After two SEALS had died on Dragon’s Den. Carter hadn’t been able to convince Loudin Wainwright to return their bodies. McWarren was MIA and on her way, so said Jax Erdu, Kaxek infiltrator, to the Kaxek homeworld. There the Kaxek government planned to try, then execute her for the sins of her grandfather.
Carter had never imagined that losing his XO would cause him grief. Since her first day, McWarren had proved such a pain in the ass that her absence should have been a relief. Except that McWarren was, despite her tendency to speak out of turn, an efficient XO who understood the intricate flow of processes, forms, and permissions needed to run the ship. Foster had struggled these past two days to fill her shoes, but Carter didn’t fault Foster. The former gunnery sergeant would rather shoot a gun than mouth off to his captain, and that was both his virtue and his failing as XO.
The honor guard returned and formed a new first of crew and saluted Carter and, by default, Foster. They stood there a second while Carter waited for Foster to dismiss the crew.
“Foster,” Carter said out of the side of his mouth.
His temporary XO straightened. “Return to duty stations. Dismissed.”
The crew broke ranks and waited their turn to exit the flight deck. Foster yanked at his dress collar. “You pulled a dirty trick on me.”
“Yes, you made me an officer.”
“I think you’ll live,” Carter answered. “Besides, it’s just a temporary field commission, Ensign Foster. Once we get McWarren back, you can be a grunt again, if you want it.”
Foster groaned. “My father will never talk to me again.”
“Wait. I thought your father had passed.”
“Not the point, Captain. Have you considered the absurdity of a forty-two-year-old ensign who’s also second-in-command?”
“I have. When you’re a starship captain, ‘absurd’ is a regular day. You need to get to ‘grossly impossible’ before you take a situation seriously.”
“Damn it, Captain,” Foster said. “The point is, I suck at this job, and you know it.”
Carter glanced at Foster and gave him a reassuring grin. “You’re the only one I trust for it.”
Foster shook his head. “You could promote Cole. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. And he’s an officer already.”
Foster had the correct bead on Cole’s abilities, but what Carter needed was Foster’s connection to the crew. They’d all come close to death, and the men and women of the Walker Pierce needed leadership they trusted.
“I need my damage control officer to repair the ship, Foster. And I need someone the crew trusts to back my plays.”
“What are you cooking up in that devious mind of yours?”
But Carter, sweeping the departing crew, caught a man with a shock of blond hair, standing in the knot of humanity who had no business standing on this deck. It ticked him off.
“Erdu,” he hissed. “What’s he doing here?”
“I told him he could attend,” said Foster.
“Why haven’t you locked him in the brig?”
“From everything I can figure, he has no place to go. He’s an outcast among his own kind, and Dragon’s Den security has us locked up in our own ship. We’re short-staffed, and he’s willing to help.”
“Help? Our enemy?”
“More like the enemy of our enemy, Cap. Only the command staff knows who identity or species, and I haven’t allowed him access to the ship’s computer or any critical system. Mostly he spends time in the inner hull, repairing breaches that are difficult to get to. His shapeshifting abilities come in handy, and he doesn’t have the same oxygen requirements we do.”
“I don’t like it,” said Carter.
“I’ll pull him from duty if you so order, but Brennan will complain. He’s taken a shine to the boy.”
“He’s not a boy.”
“As Jax told me, comparing human to Kaxek life spans, he’s like a twenty-year-old.”
Carter blew out a breath before he replied to Foster, but then his wrist comm buzzed. “Incoming message from Admiral King,” the message flashed.
His heart froze, and Shu Eiichu’s words, which had haunted him the past few days, flashed in his head: Your days of autonomy are over. Had King arrived to take Carter’s command?
“Come with me, Foster,” said Carter.
Carter held up his arm for Foster to see the message. “Let’s go into the pilots’ briefing room.”
With the door shut behind them, Carter activated the holo display at the podium. The face of Rear Admiral King hung over it, almost as if he stood to lecture there.
“Carter! What the hell is going on there?”
“Don’t ‘sir’ me! Dragon’s Den won’t allow my ships to dock, and they aren’t taking my calls. Who’s running the show there?”
“You know her, sir. Shu Eiichu, the owner of Sutā—”
“I know who she is. Damn it, Carter. I thought you took command of Dragon’s Den.”
“It was a temporary situation brought on by the Kaxek attacks and a Sutāmainingu Corporation board member’s permission. However, Shu Eiichu arrived, and once the battles finished, she asserted her ownership and control of the station.”
“You sound as if you wanted to lose control of the station.”
“No, sir. I only had it by permission of company officers. The situation has changed.”
“I want that station secured. And if you won’t do it, I’ll do it myself.” King’s image winked off suddenly.
Foster snorted. “Mrs. Shu was right. King’s a hothead. I thought you had to cut all emotions out of your brain to be an admiral?”
“That’s what happens when you promote people based on their family’s service.”
“You’re thinking about McWarren, aren’t you? Sent here with too little experience. The way she took a fighter without permission and nuked the Kaxek ships.”
“Damn brave and impulsive.”
“But she got the job done,” Foster said. “What does King think he’ll accomplish by throwing his weight around?”
“This is what comes of mommy and daddy fighting.”
“Come again?” asked Foster.
“Listen and learn, young padawan. Sutāmainingu Corporation and Earth’s government aren’t getting along. When the largest defense contractor that’s also the largest supplier of rare metals doesn’t get what she wants, the UEN doesn’t get what they want either.”
“You mean like shiny new battlesuits and ships that outrun the fastest Union warship?”
“Precisely,” Carter answered. “Only Sutāmainingu and the UEN can’t conduct a pissing match on Earth or in the inner colonies. Political heads will roll. So they sent loose cannon King out here to go toe-to-toe with Shu Eiichu to show her who’s boss.”
Foster hit his forehead with his hand. “Now I understand.”
Carter turned toward him. “You do? What?”
“Why you gave Mrs. Shu that bullshit about following the chain of command. You wanted to get in the middle of this fight. As her traitorous minion, you’d have no dog in the fight.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘want to’,” Carter mused. “But Shu is entirely correct that should the Kaxek defeat us, they’ll put us in middle of every shooting war the Kaxek have. Where else would the Kaxek install the one enemy they’d found challenging to defeat? So to keep that from happening, it seems the first battle we have in this new war is to bring mommy and daddy back together again.”
“Have we passed into ‘grossly impossible’ territory yet?” said Foster.
“We’re getting there. King underestimates Shu and Dragon’s Den. If he fires on them, he puts us all at risk of losing Shu and her corporation’s support permanently.”
“Shall I call for battle stations?” said Foster.
“Not yet. Before that, we should visit the Fire and Whizz.”
“Is that a wise idea? The last time we visited, their hospitality lacked, um, warmth.”
“There you go. Acting like a proper XO,” Carter said. “We’re going. And grab Erdu. We’ll need him, too.”
As an ominous bump hit Jack Shepherd’s ship, he turned from his flight down the central passageway to glare at her fiercely.
“Do you have rocks in your pants? Move it, girl. This way.” He waved at her to follow him.
McWarren glanced around the pirate’s compact transport and didn’t see where they could go, but she followed until he stopped at a length of lockers that lined the compartment. He jerked open one, then bent over and grunted. McWarren turned to head away. She didn’t need to see his skinny ass.
Shepherd grunted and then flew backward, dropping a metal plate from his hand. McWarren caught him before he hit his head on the bulkhead.
He stood and straightened and stepped away, pointing to the locker. “In you go.”
“In the locker?” she said incredulously.
“No, in the space between the bulkheads. With luck, the Squigglies won’t find you. Most likely, they’re looking for a bribe. I have to see if I have oysters in the freezer. Why are you looking at me like I grew six eyes? In you go, or there’s no saving you.”
With reluctance, Jaime squatted, then sat on her butt to dangle her legs into the hole. “I better not get stuck,” she said.
Jack grinned at her with a hint of malicious intent. “You better not get caught. Just slide right in.”
Jaime took a deep breath and pushed her body over the edge and fell. Her feet hit a flat surface and, squatting, she felt the corrugated surface of a catwalk.
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