A century ago, an alien fleet attacked Earth. Over decades of bitter war, humanity slowly pushed them back.
Eighteen months ago, a truce was struck. The aliens disappeared. Humanity stood down.
But there are those who will never trust the aliens.
The captain of the aging battleship Walker Pierce is one of them.
He has spent months in disputed space, against the wishes of his superiors, looking for proof of alien treachery, afraid of what he might find.
Because this time, if the aliens return, humanity won't be so lucky.
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: June 21, 2020
Print pages: 237
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“You ready to show me what you got?”
Commander David Hewett waited for a response as his old fighter sliced through space. Only a faint click told him that his wingman had gotten the message.
Communications were weak out here, but Hewett knew the real reason for the terse reply. Somebody was ready to show the old man up.
So let’s see you do it.
He glanced out into the inky Black, wondering what trajectory this little attack would come from. The cracks along the top of the cockpit, like the worn ridges along the sides of the ejection seat, were as familiar to him as old friends.
Hewett enjoyed the peaceful sound of his thrusters kicking along, waiting for the action to come.
Out of the corner of his eye, Hewett saw movement. He leaned forward as he turned for a better look. He was about to call out his opponent for such an obvious approach when his blood ran cold.
Dancing on the edge of his vision, just beyond the curve of his cockpit glass, was something impossible.
A Kaxek fighter.
His knuckles whitened as his grip instantly tightened on the thruster stick. His heart thumped wildly as he yanked forward as far as his restraints would allow, tracking the leading edge of the alien craft.
Am I seeing things?
He glanced forward to check his HUD display. The targeting system hadn’t registered it. When he looked back, the ship was gone. He squinted for several more seconds, trying to parse any movement out of the blackness beyond.
You damn fool. You are seeing things.
Hewett felt his shoulders relax. You’re losing it, old man, he thought. Just imagine what the rest of the fighter wing would say if they knew their commander was—
His port engine rattled, signaling a whisper of a disruption of his warp field by another ship nearby. This sent a sharp, noisy vibration through his cockpit that caused him to swear. At this moment, he was glad the mission demanded long range comm silence. He didn’t want anyone listening on the Walker Pierce, some eight million kilometers starboard, to know he’d been caught by surprise.
Instinctively, Hewett glanced portside over his shoulder, and this time he spotted a distortion in space that signaled his real enemy out here today. Not some ghost from his imagination.
Damn it. He wasn’t allowing anyone to get the best of him, especially not her.
His mission today, ostensibly, was to inspect beacons at the edge of Union space for damage, wear and tear, or signs of enemy tampering. It was the duty of Union Naval vessels to perform this duty when not engaged in battle with their century-long enemy, the Kaxek.
The Kaxek hadn’t sabotaged a beacon in the last eighteen months—since the truce had begun. But after a century of bitter war, some didn’t trust the Kaxek to follow through. One was Hewett’s captain, Devlin Carter. Another was Hewett himself.
This little mock dogfight, on the other hand, was completely outside mission scope. But he considered it just as valuable.
Hewett had learned the value of readiness as war tore through sections of Union and Kaxek space. Here the two sides battled to reduce material, troops, and position. The Kaxek had hit military targets hard until forty-three years ago, when the namesake for Hewett’s current assignment had destroyed most of the enemy fleet at the Battle of Gamma Draconis. After that devastating loss, the Kaxek had changed their tactics from full assault to guerrilla warfare. They’d knocked out navigation beacons and harried Union ships with sneak attacks, until they’d inexplicably ceased hostilities.
A warning klaxon blared, and Hewett swore again. The 3D avatar of his fighter above his forward console lit with a display of a simulated plasma blast raking the starboard side. It wasn’t a fatal hit. His shield and warp field held. Hewett jerked his head right and followed the edges of his attacker’s ship just as it melted into the Black.
“Oh no you don’t!” he growled. With his hand on the stick, Hewett rolled the fighter 180 degrees. If he performed this correctly, the fighter’s flat bottom would barely scrape the edge of his attacker’s warp field to collapse it. He’d accidentally discovered this tactic on the front lines in a cross-the-streams moment decades ago. Hewett had found that the nudge of one fighter’s warp field against another caused it to collapse.
Until then, it had been a military secret that fighters, modeled on reverse engineering of Kaxek technology, had warp fields with the relative strength of an eggshell. Larger ships, with hulls made of super-strong metals, could take the stress of sudden power downs if their warp field collapsed and slung them at sub-light speeds into the Black. But smaller fighters? Without sub-light engines automatically switching on to keep a fighter’s momentum going, a violent jolt could collapse the field asymmetrically. Individual parts of the ship would exit warp at different points in time, tearing the ship to shreds.
This was why instructors now taught the Hewett Maneuver in advanced aviator school as a last-ditch, do-not-try-this-at-home ploy.
A slight tremor through his fighter told Hewett he’d found his target. At once, comm silence broke, and a string of curses spat from the speakers. His sensors showed his attacker’s sub-light engines automatically engaged to slow momentum safely to sub-light speeds.
The new wing leader, Jada Shepherd, had chased him expertly in this training exercise. But Hewett couldn’t let her get the upper hand on him—not just yet.
Shepherd was one of two new crew members that had boarded the Walker Pierce yesterday. The other was the replacement XO, also a woman. That one, with a stick up her ass, he’d leave gladly to Captain Carter.
“Sir, no, sir,” she barked.
“Why did you let me catch you off guard?”
Over the comm, Hewett heard Shepherd mutter before she sucked in a breath. “What was that, Lieutenant?” he said sternly.
“Nothing, sir. It’s that these older fighters aren’t as responsive as I’m used to.”
“Are you offering me excuses, Lieutenant?”
Shepherd drew another sharp breath, and Hewett got a clue that his wing leader had a problem. “Switch to visual, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, you don’t need—”
“Visual, now, Lieutenant.” His no-nonsense tone forced her response.
His ship’s avatar winked out to display the holographic image of Shepherd’s face. Blood ran down her helmet’s faceplate.
“What happened?” he said.
“When I dropped out of warp, I banged my forehead. It’s nothing.”
Hewett could imagine her embarrassment. She probably hadn’t been nudged out of warp since flight training. He almost felt bad about it. Almost. “Head back to the barn and report to sickbay.”
“Sir, I’m fine.”
“Your helmet begs to differ, though I suppose we’ll be calling you Red now instead of Pink.”
“No, sir. I like my call sign.”
“That so? So your name has nothing to do with your training squadron punking you by dying your uniform pink?” That was the story he’d pried from Shepherd’s training officer.
“Sir, no, sir. Hazing is illegal, as you know.”
“Sure,” Hewitt said.
Shepherd was confident to the point that she was cocky, which didn’t bother Hewitt. He expected it from a good pilot.
“Sir, my board registers that nav beacon X-2125 is not operational.”
X? That letter told him the buoy sat closest to Kaxek occupied space. Hewett checked his own board and verified her observation.
“I’ll check it out,” he said. “These days, most likely, space debris hit it. Head back to the barn.”
“Sir, the regulations say—”
“I gave you an order, Lieutenant. Send out one of the other pilots when you return.”
“Yes, sir,” she said unhappily. “Once I get my warp engines started.”
“You do that. Striker out.”
Hewett peeled away as Shepherd started her sub-light engines to reach the velocity she needed to form a warp bubble. He slipped into his warp bubble seamlessly in the direction of the X buoys.
It was a relief. These past eighteen months had been all paperwork, patrols, and training exercises. The wing had grown so bored, some had gotten involved in their ships’ maintenance. That wasn’t a bad thing for them to learn, but it wasn’t their job. Hewett had maxed out on the different training and assignments his small wing could perform in the Black, making them grumble about that as well.
They were warriors with no war to fight. They could only stand ready. And if the Kaxek and Earth made a peace treaty, what then? Scuttlebutt floated that the forty-five-year-old Walker Pierce would see mothballs inside a year. Older officers like him would either take retirement or get assigned desk positions. Command would probably send him back to the aviator school as an instructor so he could watch the younger guys have all the fun. Hell, he wasn’t old, not yet.
Without warning, his ship shuddered, and klaxons on all systems roared. His avatar displayed a hit to his port engines. What the hell?
Hewett had but a second to check his forward HUD’s display, and couldn’t believe what he saw. His ship’s computer identified his attacker as a short-range Kaxek fighter.
Last time, he’d assumed his eyes were deceiving him. But this time he knew the instruments weren’t wrong, not after earlier. It hadn’t been his imagination then, and it certainly wasn’t now. A Kaxek had fired on him.
What the hell?
A short-range fighter meant one thing: A Kaxek warship lay in wait close by, possibly in Union space, against the truce agreement.
A bolt of adrenaline shot through Hewett. Options leaped into his mind unbidden, thanks to years of training. He had no time to investigate. He could engage his weapons for one sloppy shot, send a call to the Walker Pierce, or try to jump-start his collapsing warp bubble. But certainly not all three.
He knew the Kaxek well enough to know that communications would be jammed at this range. And one shot, even a lucky shot that disabled the fighter, wasn’t going to do much good with a warship nearby. His only chance was to make a run for it.
As his heart pounded, Hewett worked to stabilize his warp field, but the onboard computer refused his command to re-initialize it. Somehow the Kaxek had crippled it with a single shot.
Impossible! The Kaxek didn’t have weapons that powerful.
With a chill in his gut, Hewitt found his impulse engines dead as well. If he’d had them, at least he could coast to a stop, as Shepherd had done. But now he would hit sub-light at a dead stop, and parts of his ship would emerge from the warp bubble in splinters.
Hewett refused to give up even as reality dawned. This was it—his last mission. Even he couldn’t defy the laws of physics.
He took a deep breath as the hull of his fighter screamed the stresses of tortured metal, slamming into sub-light speed. Hewett’s ship tore into spinning fragments shooting into the blackness of space, taking his life—and his final report—into oblivion with it.
Six Months Later
Carter twisted to avoid a right jab, only to discover too late that his jaw smashed into Foster’s left uppercut. He stumbled two paces as pain raced through his jaw and rattled his head. That was okay. Pain is the weakness that leaves the body, went the old SEAL saw. Of course, after twenty-two years of Navy service, much of it in battle, Captain Devlin Carter figured that if the saying were true, he shouldn’t have any weakness at all. The man in front of him was only too happy to prove it wrong.
“Get back here, you bastard,” Gunnery Sergeant Aidan Foster said. His face scrunched with the laser focus of a soldier ready to tear his enemy apart.
Carter rubbed his jaw and smiled. “Who stole your Wheaties this morning?”
Foster stepped back and snorted, then chuckled.
“That’s it? That’s your best shot? Wow, I bet you drop your opponents left and right at the first crack of your lightning wit.” Carter put his fists up. “Let’s finish this, old man.”
“Old man?” Foster quirked his eyebrow quizzically. “Who’s older? Not me.”
“So I have six years on you. Big whoop. The ship’s pool still has odds on you retiring first.” Carter stared at Foster, daring him to take another shot.
Foster’s eyes carried an evil glint. “That’s because the crew knows one thing.”
“You don’t know when to quit.”
Foster charged full-speed with his head down, and forced Carter to step right. But Foster twisted his torso and caught Carter in the gut with his shoulder, and tossed him over his hip. Carter flipped over to his back to hit the gym mat hard, jolting the breath from his lungs. He stared up at the lights hanging overhead, sucking in air as his spine protested this new abuse.
“I wouldn’t want to meet you in a dark alley,” he gasped.
Foster scoffed and offered Carter a hand up. “That’s why they call me Terminal Gun.”
Carter groaned. Foster had coined the term for himself. Carter hated that his gunny felt he wouldn’t land another promotion, but Carter’s recommendations had all been denied. That was his fault. He’d bucked the brass one too many times, and those officers who’d remained loyal to him had paid the price.
“You don’t make my job easy, do you?” A feminine voice filled the wide gym’s hollow spaces.
Foster reached for a towel hanging on a handrail off the bulkhead and swung it over his sweaty shoulder, smiling. “Hi, Doc.”
The ship’s chief medical officer frowned at both of them. Tamarin Shu had served five years on the USV Walker Pierce with both Carter and Foster. She’d lectured Carter so many times about how hard he trained that they replayed automatically when he saw her. You’re the captain, not one of the SEALs, and you don’t need to over-train. Those stress fractures you suffer take six weeks to heal each time, and weaken your bones. With your years in space in artificial gravity, and at your age, you need to take care.
“Good morning, Tam,” said Carter. “Need something?”
“No, sir. I mean, I had an appointment with Gunnery Sergeant Foster.”
“Yeah, we’re qualifying her on rifles today,” said Foster with enthusiasm. “But I thought that was after the staff meeting.”
Another voice came from the passageway. “You mean the staff meeting we’re supposed to have right now, Sergeant?” Because Lieutenant McWarren didn’t dare speak to the captain that way, she leveled her flinty gaze at her subordinate, Foster.
Carter and Foster exchanged glances as the XO stepped inside the gym, and Foster rolled his eyes. While Carter agreed with the sentiment, he knew he should have been more aware of the time. McWarren would stay over on her midnight-to-seven shift for the fifteen-minute staff meeting, to catch up on operational issues of the day before she took her off time.
Lieutenant Jaime McWarren clasped her hands behind her back, wearing her usual disapproving frown. In her late twenties, McWarren was too young for this position and her rank, even if she’d earned a reputation as a wunderkind strategist at Naval Operations. Why she’d chosen this duty eluded everyone on the ship. McWarren could have had a cushy career at Naval Operations and never seen a day of hard duty or battle.
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