Victory, page 1
The Legacy Fleet Trilogy
For J., L., and C.
Many thanks to Jenny, editor extraordinaire, without whom this trilogy would be a pale, Swarm-corrupted shuffling zombie of a book with plot twists to nowhere, zero-dimensional characters, officers who are discrete instead of discreet, and starships with altitude but no attitude.
And to the kids, for understanding that dad's odd hobby-turned career often takes him away during crunch month. Just remember that after book launch week comes boat launch week!
And to the incomparable Tom Edwards, whose stunning artwork for the Legacy Fleet Trilogy is ... stunning--there just isn't a better word for it.
And to Greg Tremblay, who narrates the audiobooks like a boss, and who now has to read this praise out loud and say anything, absolutely anything that I write. Banana.
And to my author friends who provided great advice and laughs along the way, and who all got to be redshirted throughout the trilogy.
And to the readers and fans who made this trilogy possible and sent emails and messages of encouragement. Many of you made it into this trilogy, which pleases me to no end.
And also to the good folks at Grounded Coffee in Madison, Alabama—many thanks to Chris, Grace, Sarah (with an 'h'), and Gene for keeping me well hydrated and stuffed with the best blueberry muffins in the south while I wrote this book. Yes, the butt-groove on the couch is mine.
Make sure you're signed up to receive an announcement for
The Legacy Ship Trilogy
(Coming July 4th, 2016)
Subscribers get all my short stories for free, and lower prices on new releases. No spam—you’ll only get an email once a month, on average.
Other books by Nick Webb
The Legacy Fleet Trilogy:
The Pax Humana Saga:
1: The Terran Gambit
2: Chains of Destiny
3: Into the Void
Cadiz Refugee Camp #127
Outskirts of Gunaratana City, Indira, Britannia Sector
Lieutenant Rodriguez stepped into a murky puddle in the middle of the street, wrinkled his nose, and swore. Oh, for hell’s sake. It was the 27th century, technology had launched humanity to the stars, dozens of planets had been colonized, and galactic civilization had, up until four months ago, flourished on a scale few had ever dreamed of.
And now there was raw sewage flowing freely through the streets.
The refugee camp was bursting at the seams, having accepted over double the half million refugees from the Cadiz sector it had been designed to hold. As Lieutenant Rodriguez made his way down the muddy, sewage-infused street, the wails of sick babies rang in his ears. Small, dirty children huddled forlornly under their equally-harrowed mothers’ arms, peering out the doors of their temporary shelters, looking for the next shipment of food and water from the city.
It wasn’t coming, Rodriguez knew. The shipments had slowed to once every several days, then to once a week. The next one would not come.
Something else was coming instead.
They were coming.
Dusk began to color the sky. The sun had set several minutes ago—possibly for the last time, Rodriguez thought. Time was short. In spite of the crying children in the background the refugee camp was eerily quiet as he crossed the final hundred meters of mud, refuse, and sewage to reach his family’s shelter. His own children would be waiting for him—hopefully with their bags packed, like he’d instructed.
As he opened the door to his family’s shelter, the refugee camp’s sirens began to sound, adding their urgent wail to the children’s cries. That could only mean one thing.
They were here.
His daughter Elsa ran up to him and hugged his lower torso. Tomas sat in the corner, hovering over his grandmother who was supposed to be taking care of them but instead had fallen sick with an illness that had left her feeble and coughing, lying weakly on the shelter’s only bed.
Lieutenant Rodriguez peeled Elsa’s arms off and approached his mother. Her face was ashen, but she managed a weak smile.
“Are they ready?” he asked, leaning down close to her.
She gave a small nod.
“Are you?” he added.
Her shaking hand reached out to his. “Go,” she said, with some effort, and descended into a fit of coughing. Her hand came away from her mouth, spattered red.
“I’m not leaving you, mom.” He stooped over to pick her up, but the woman, with surprising strength, pushed him away.
“I said, go. They’re ready. You’re out of time. Get them to safety. I’ll be—” she glanced at Tomas and Elsa, for
The sirens wailed outside. Crowds shouted in the dusky air.
Rodriguez breathed a silent curse, but sprang into action, grabbing the two bags sitting by the door. His own belongings were in his hangar at the fighter base on the other side of Gunaratana City. As a fighter pilot he, as a general rule, packed light. But there was no time to retrieve his own things. There was no time for anything. Except to run.
They were coming. In force. He’d seen the scans play out on the monitors of the hangar bay just over half an hour ago. Twenty Swarm carriers, plus something new: the unthinkably-massive super dreadnought that had made its first appearance the week before in the Swarm’s invasion of the Mao Cluster.
Mao Prime no longer existed.
Eight billion people no longer existed.
Scouts reported that the surface, once the glittering cosmopolitan jewel of the Chinese Intersolar Democratic Republic, was now a sterile, fiery wasteland.
He pushed his children through the door and cast one last glance back at his mother, still on the bed, wan and pale. She mouthed, I love you. He blinked back tears and could only nod a curt reply before turning back out into the rank, muddy street.
The transport would be leaving soon; they had only minutes to spare. As they navigated the busy streets—which had erupted into a frenzied mob of panicked refugees now that the emergency sirens were wailing in force—he wondered if he’d be court-martialed for abandoning his post. But really, he thought, what good would one more lone fighter craft be against the unstoppable force that was coming? How could they court-martial a man just trying to get his kids to safety? Could one man really make a difference against such incontestable power? Such reckless hate?
Granger had. The Hero of Earth—he supposedly died, and returned, beating back the Swarm in the process. So the rumors said, though Rodriguez didn’t quite believe them, video proof be damned.
It didn’t matter. He looked up at the darkening sky, and his stomach clenched as he focused on a small cluster of bright lights above the eastern horizon that steadily grew clearer—twenty small dots surrounding the larger one.
They were coming.
So was the Hero of Earth. He’d heard chatter that Granger’s fleet was on its way, coming to the rescue. But he’d seen the tactical scans. There was no way he’d arrive in time. The man may have been a miracle worker, but it looked like his lucky streak was over. By the time The Bricklayer showed up, the entire world of Indira would be a wasteland, just like Mao Prime. Just like the Cadiz Sector. And the Veracruz Sector. Merida, New Oregon, and Calibri—all gone.
Five minutes later, they arrived at the local spaceport. After a few panicked moments of desperate searching for the transport he started to wonder if it had left without him.
“Are we too late, Papa?” asked Tomas.
Rodriguez swore under his breath, but breathed a sigh of relief as they rounded a corner and saw it: a small freighter, its captain waiting impatiently on the still-open ramp.
“Come along, Elsa,” he coaxed his daughter forward. Tomas followed close behind.
He climbed the ramp, but not before glancing back up at the sky, looking for the cluster of bright lights that signaled their world’s certain doom. They were bigger, closer, and more spread out. Several were still near the horizon while others had risen high into the sky overhead.
The ground shook, starting as a low tremor, and escalating into a moderate shaking that rattled panels inside the freighter. Rodriguez watched the horizon with a sickening feeling, and felt his face go white as he saw a mushroom cloud rise in the distance, hundreds of kilometers away.
“Stop gawking and shut the damn hatch!” yelled the freighter captain from the cockpit. Lieutenant Rodriguez hit the ramp retractor and ushered his kids to the rows of seats. All were full, except for three. They settled into them after fiddling with the restraints.
“Hey,” said a teenage girl sitting across from him, “is that a pilot’s uniform? An IDF pilot?”
He looked away, ignoring the girl, and busied himself with Elsa’s seat restraint.
“Why aren’t you out there? Why aren’t you fighting for us?” The girl was visibly distraught—she shook, her eyes were wild, darting back and forth from the closed hatch back to Rodriguez and over to the cockpit. “They’re coming! They’re coming! Why aren’t you out there? They’re coming! They’re—”
The woman next to her grabbed the girl’s arm—her mother, or grandmother. “Quiet. He’s getting his kids out. He’s just the same as us.”
“But he’s a fighter pilot! He could stop them! He could—”
The woman shook the girl until she fell silent. “Nothing can stop them! One more won’t make a difference. You just mind your own business.”
Nothing can stop them.
Rodriguez pulled a necklace out from beneath his uniform and began thumbing the beads, whispering silent rosary prayers. He knew they were rising through the atmosphere now, well clear of any of the dreaded singularity weapons that were now ravaging the surface.
But making it through the perimeter of the Swarm fleet would be another feat entirely.
One more won’t make a difference, the woman had said. But, besides the rosary, there was only one thought in Rodriguez’s mind:
Granger, where the hell are you?
Bridge, ISS Warrior
0.3 lightyears from Indira, Britannia Sector
Captain Timothy Granger paced the Warrior’s bridge. He was late, and it was killing him inside. Each second that ticked by was like a dagger twisting in his gut.
Because he knew that with each tick, another ten thousand people were likely dying.
“Initiating q-jump twenty-seven,” said Ensign Prince.
The scene on the viewscreen shifted, and the central bright star grew slightly larger. And around that star, a planet. And on that planet, people. Millions of people. And drawing nearer to that planet, with a disconcerting head start....
“Any more word from CENTCOM about the Swarm fleet approaching Indira?”
Ensign Prucha slowly shook his head. “Sorry, sir. All outer system bases went quiet fifteen minutes ago. Last word was over twenty incoming vessels.”
Damn. The Swarm had abruptly changed tactics the past two weeks, with deadly effect. Rather than slowly waltzing their way into a system, giving the population time to panic and scatter, they’d taken to striking as quickly as possible, with overwhelming force. Instead of three Swarm carriers here, four there, their enemy had entered a new phase of the war. A phase of extermination.
You ain’t seen nothing yet, she’d said. That young pilot, Fishtail, had spoken those words after her life was saved by injecting her with Swarm matter. She wasn’t lying. The scale of the new Swarm offensive was breathtaking. Three entire worlds destroyed in the past two weeks. Hundreds of ships lost. Billions of lives.
And the next target, Indira. Right in the heart of United Earth territory. Less than five lightyears from Britannia itself. Fifteen lightyears from Earth.
And Granger was caught with his pants down, stationed at Britannia, ready to defend against an attack that never came. The hammer was striking Indira instead.
“Ready for q-jump twenty-eight,” he said.
“Sir, the ISS Colorado is reporting trouble with their cap bank. They need five minutes to lock down the problem and recharge.”
He shook his head. “No. Leave them. Ready for q-jump.”
Not having the Colorado there would hurt, but getting there five minutes later would hurt more. Plus, fighting with thirty-seven ships instead of thirty-eight ships wouldn’t make much difference, especially if the Swarm had brought their newly unveiled super dreadnought.
While not quite as large as the massive Swarm orbital space stations they’d destroyed over Volari Three—the planet that had turned out to be the homeworld of the Dolmasi—the super dreadnough
There were only three or four of them—the intelligence community hadn’t come to agreement on that point—but whether there were three or three thousand, the result was the same.
“Ready, sir,” said Ensign Prince.
The viewscreen shifted again, and the central star, Indira Prime, grew even larger. Just two more jumps, nearly half a lightyear, and they’d be there, late, for the battle of their lives.
Or, they’d find a broken, empty, devastated world, depending on how late they were.
“What do you think?” Commander Proctor had been working doggedly at the science station, conferring with her new science team, immersed in a project that had consumed nearly all her time the past few weeks, but now she sidled up next to his chair and bent low to his ear.
“We’re too late.”
She nodded, apparently in somber agreement. “And if we really are too late? What then? Stay and fight? Wait until we’ve got backup? Wait for the Dolmasi?”
He grunted. “If we don’t fight them here, then we fight them over some other world. Here is as good a place as any, and if the planet is already ravaged, best to limit the destruction.”
She lowered her voice. “But if it’s the case that the planet is lost, wouldn’t it be more prudent to at least wait until Zingano shows up?”
Granger shook his head. “Weren’t you listening earlier? He’s dealing with a sudden incursion into the Maori System. Small raid of only four Swarm ships, but his fleet won’t be here for hours, at least.”