Authors: Eric McMeins
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Military, #Space Opera
THE INHERITED WAR
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
All war is deception.”
Personal log, McLeod, Cole.
Necessity dictates I once again record my thoughts and feelings in this log. I fear I may lose who I am and may need these recordings to monitor my decent into what I am becoming. I confided in Thalo that I had worried that I was losing myself to what the Esii had done to me on their planet. The torture was bad enough, but that isn’t what keeps me up at night or makes me question the world around me. It started soon after we ended the fighting in the Worlder system. The Esii were crushed root and branch, the remains of humanity were safe on Home Base, and I was reunited with my friends and with Sky. With the loss of focus on fighting and surviving, my mind was forced to deal with what had happened when I killed the leader of the Pyndingum just before escaping the prison that had been my home for more than a month. He had done what every one of his predecessors had done for millennia—he had passed on the knowledge and memories of their entire history, but it was me who received the knowledge. I wasn’t meant for it. At first, I used it occasionally to aid us on the planet, and it seemed that the knowledge was slowly fading from my mind. This was obviously not the case. It appears that the passed knowledge and memories are attempting to take over my own history and life memories. To make matters worse, my one and only guide through this mess, my ancestor Jarrod, has stopped visiting me in my dreams to offer advice and guidance. I fear the Esii memories have changed me enough that Jarrod may no longer trust in me to further his interests. I don’t know if it’s possible to know whether you are going crazy, or if you just wake up one morning and you are. I hope to use these recordings to monitor my mental state. As of now, I know I am Cole McLeod, formerly Smith. I am one of the last few thousand humans left alive in the galaxy. My friends are Thalo and Jeth, the Worlders, West and Anastacia, both humans, and Sky, a Nixa that I love dearly. Cole out.
Deep within the bowels of the station, past the inhabited areas, and almost to the core of the asteroid itself, was a hallway that ended in a blank wall. Almost as if the builders had decided they had gone far enough, placed up metal plating, and walked away. Nobody had been down in this section of the station since the original builders some twenty thousand years ago. The air was still and slightly stagnant. It smelled of dust and recycled air. Not a footstep or sound of any kind broke the stillness of that lonely hallway. Cole had passed through this very hallway mere hours before, the first to do so in centuries. He had found the secret to opening the false dead end and had walked calmly into the room beyond.
The door had closed silently behind him, and the hall had returned to its former state of emptiness. It was content to remain that way, until the stillness was once again broken by the wall silently swinging open of its own accord. What little light there was penetrated far enough into the room to illuminate Cole’s back and a few feet of floor into the room where he stood. Cole stood like a statue, arms locked at his sides, head up, and facing forward. His chest barely moved with the rhythm of breathing. A voice echoed from the darkness of the room.
“Go and forget. You have much to do, but not all the time in the universe to do it. We will meet again.” The voice was quiet but held a firmness that demanded absolute obedience. It was a voice that expected to be instantly obeyed. And Cole did. He turned swiftly on his feet and strode from the room with purpose. The door closed silently behind him, but Cole didn’t pay any attention. He continued forward at a steady pace. After all, he had things to do.
Thalo was heading down the hall to the shuttle bay. He had finally found some time to visit with one of his sons onboard
and he was looking forward to hearing his stories of the final battle of Twin Worlds.
Thalo had heard, second hand, that his oldest son had acquitted himself with honor both in the space battle and the ground fighting that followed on the fourth planet from the sun. He knew his son was excited to see him finally and to regale Thalo with tales of daring do. Since he was his father’s son, he also knew there would be some exaggeration, but that was common amongst his kind. He was almost to the hanger when a frantic call came in on his com.
Thalo, come in, Thalo,” the voice of the bases AI called in his head.
“Not now, I am busy,” Thalo responded, and walked through the door to the hanger.
“Yes now—” the AI started to say, but Thalo cut him off.
“No! Whatever it is can wait until I get back. I am going to see my son.” The AI’s more often than not irritated Thalo.
“No it can’t wait.” This time the AI continued on, running roughshod over Thalo’s protests. “Cole is asking for you. He said get a weapon and meet him in his hanger. Sky and Jeth are already on their way.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Now Thalo was worried, he stopped in his tracks.
“Something. Everything. Just grab a gun and get going. Please, Thalo, hurry.” That did it. The AI’s never said please. He grabbed the nearest Worlder who was heading out to
and asked him to let his son know he would be late, then he took off at a sprint for the nearest weapons locker. He secured a pair of pistols and some extra battery packs, just in case.
By this point, the AI had cut the com call, and Thalo was headed back the way he had just come, sprinting. He ran into Jeth and Sky at the door to Cole’s private hanger.
Thalo was breathing hard when he arrived but managed to ask the two a question. “What is it? What’s going on?”
Jeth, in typical fashion, just shrugged, and Sky shook her head in the negative.
“Why haven’t you gone in?” Was his next question.
“The door wouldn’t open,” Sky said. She reached out and hit the open button to prove it. The door slid up into the ceiling. The three friends glanced at one another then slowly moved into the room. The hanger was large enough to hold a mid-size transport comfortably in its bay. It was empty at the moment since Cole had flown to the base on the transports with his men. It was one of the small touches that made him such an easy person to follow.
It wasn’t empty now. Someone was standing near the giant open hanger door. The atmosphere field was still in place, but it was all that separated them from the cold vacuum of space. The lights were out in the hanger but the system’s sun was visible through the open door. Its light was muted by the countless asteroids that passed between them and the sun. It was bright enough for them to see a shadowy figure standing with something at its feet.
Thalo took the lead and walked toward whom he assumed was Cole standing in the dark. As he came closer, the dim outline slowly resolved into the person he had thought it was. They stopped a few feet short of where Cole was standing. Thalo saw what the odd object at Cole’s feet was. Sky saw too and betrayed herself with a sharp intake of breath. A low grumble emanated from Jeth’s chest as he came into view. Thalo held up his hand to silence his friends and keep them from saying anything rash.
“Hi, Cole,” Thalo started. “Is everything alright?”
Cole remained motionless for a few heartbeats before he spoke.
“Hi, Thalo. No something isn’t right. Not right at all. But I think I know what it is,” Cole said with a flat emotionless voice. Thalo had never heard that particular tone in his voice before.
“Ok, well we are here to help. Let’s talk about what you think is wrong. That sound good to you?” Thalo asked.
“Yes, let’s.” Cole reached down and grabbed the object at his feet. With a mighty yank, he pulled it up off the floor and turned around. With one arm wrapped around her waist, the other held a very sharp knife to Snow’s throat. Her hands and feet were bound and hog-tied together behind her back. Cole’s arm was holding her tight to his chest and putting a lot of strain on her extremities. In one swift motion, he released his grip around her waist and shifted it to grab her hair as she fell to the floor. Her knees impacted hard, but Cole’s strong grip on her hair kept her from falling over. Through it all, the knife stayed perfectly at her throat. Thalo looked Cole in the eyes after he had turned. Jeth and Sky missed it because they had been focused on Snow.
Thalo saw something in those eyes. Madness? Confusion? He didn’t know for sure, but he did know things were about to get bad. He did, however, recognize the look in Snow’s eyes. He had seen that look many times before. It was the look of someone who knew they were about to die. Jeth recognized that look as well. Thalo lay a warning hand on his brother.
“Wait, something’s not right.”
He broke the mental connection with Jeth and felt his bond mate back down.
“I see I have your attention,” Cole said to them. “Now let’s talk about traitors.”
“Sure thing,” Thalo responded. “What do you think Snow did to be branded a traitor?”
“Not what she did, it’s who she is. Nixa.” He said it like it was the most foul curse word one could use. He looked at Sky when he said it.
“Sure, Cole, a few Nixa let us down, but not Snow. Why punish her?” Thalo asked.
“Please Cole, let my sister go. She has done nothing to deserve this.” Thalo ground his teeth in irritation.
he thought at Sky,
he is obviously upset and not all here right now, and he doesn’t need a Nixa questioning him right now.
Cole barked out a laugh. “Shut up, Nixa. I know all about my great friends. I know you,” he pointed his chin at Sky, “betrayed me during the Purge War, or should I call it the Traitors War?”
“Cole,” Thalo started before Sky could open her mouth again, “you are confused. You were not betrayed, that was twenty thousand years ago. You weren’t even alive.”
“No, not me.” Cole shook his head slightly as if trying to clear his mind. “My people, you betrayed my people. Your people sacrificed mine to save themselves.” Anger in his voice had been replaced by confusion. He relaxed his grip on Snow slightly. “At every turn, I find the Nixa with a knife in my back.”
“Cole, I would never betray you. I love you too much,” Sky said, and Thalo cursed himself for losing control of the conversation. He gave Sky his best
shut the hell up your making it worse
look before focusing back on Cole. Cole had already started to speak.
“Yes…you were the worst of them all. You traded my people and my planet to save three Nixa, who turned out to not need saving after all.” Cole’s gaze turned to Sky. “Hal was right after all, I think.”
Thalo jumped in before Sky could open her mouth. “Right about what?” he asked.
“Right about Sky. Hal wanted to leave her with the crew on Admiral Nassers’s ship. He warned me not to trust her. If she had just refused to do the work they wanted, maybe my planet would still be there. Tell me, Sky, could anyone else have done what you did to me? Could anyone else in this galaxy create what the Admiral needed?” A quiet no came from Sky.
“There, you see? Another example of a Nixa trading billions of humans for a few of their own kind. And then, when I needed you the most,” rage choked Cole’s voice. “When I was put through a living hell, you never came.” Cole yanked back hard on Snow’s hair and drew a small line of blood from her neck with his knife. Her nanites kicked in, stopped the bleeding, and sealed the wound, but terror blossomed in her eyes. “I wonder,” Cole said, “if the nanites can keep her alive with her head off her neck.”
Then Jeth spoke. Thalo felt a rifle barrel placed on his shoulder. “I don’t know what is wrong, Cole, but make one move to hurt her, and I will drop you. She doesn’t deserve this and you know it. Whatever problems you are having, we can help you. But not if you go too far.”
Jeth must have really fallen for her to risk pointing a weapon at Cole. If they all made it out of this one alive, Thalo was going to have to talk to his brother about the difficulties presented in interspecies relationships. But that was for later, much later.
“Nice speech, Jeth,” Cole said. “I think I can work my knife faster than you can that rifle. We just may find out here soon. Is there anything else? No, ok I guess that’s it then.” At that moment, the door to the hallway opened and a small group of armed men came running in the hanger. Thalo pivoted under Jeth’s rifle and came to a stop facing the new group of men in the room. They spread out and took a kneeling firing stance. All of them were armed and in combat skins.
He set this up
, Thalo thought.
He had us bring weapons so this would become violent. Us attacking humans; them defending themselves. Shit.