Was Once a Hero

Was Once a Hero by Edward McKeown

Book: Was Once a Hero by Edward McKeown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Edward McKeown
Tags: Science-Fiction
doesn’t
want you to get lonely or talkative.”
    “I am
no more convinced he is my friend than that he is yours,” the Denlenn
said.   “People like him fly whatever flag
suits them.   I saw my fill of them during
the war.   Killers, not warriors.   They use us like the clip of a tri-auto.”
    “True
enough,” murmured Fenaday, a little surprised.   Telisan was regular Confed military.   “Is it different among your kind?”
    Telisan
made an odd gesture that Fenaday felt might be a sigh.   “Yes, or rather it was.   A Denlenn leader is expected to lead from the
front.   To be bravest.   So we were when this war began.   Our methods cost us many of our best fighters
and leaders.   Your kind told us this was
foolish, but we would not listen.   These
ways served us during our wars with Dua-Denlenn.   Our cousins have no honor but at least fight
with civilized restraint.   Why lay waste
to a world and lose the value of it for all time?  
    “Nothing
prepared us for the Conchirri.   Honor and
restraint were unknown to them.   We lost
many battles, even some worlds, before we resigned ourselves to changing to
your methods, as the Moroks already had.   Your kind makes war almost into a business, a matter of calculation.”
    “It
had been a long time since we’d had to fight,” said Fenaday distantly, thinking
on the long history of humanity’s wars.   “The big ones ended centuries ago, as the stellar Diaspora allowed many
of earth’s adversaries to gain sufficient distance from each other.”
    “It came
back to you quickly,” Telisan said.
    Unable
to decide if this was an accusation or a compliment, Fenaday opted for silence.
    *****
    Three
days out from Mars, Fenaday decided to break the news of their wild venture to
the crew.   First, he filled all critical
stations with either Mandela’s people, or the few reliable members of his own
crew.   He ordered Shasti, Gunnar, Li,
Mmok and his HCRs into the central shuttle bay, where the rest of the crew
gathered.   Rigg dispersed his Air Space
Assault Team troops throughout the ship to provide security.
    Fenaday
met the others outside the bay.   Shasti
had put her port clothes away.   She wore
the same loose, sage-green, fatigue uniform as the ASAT troops.   Simple and functional, it hid her fascinating
curves, making it easier to concentrate around her.   She carried a baton as well as a
short-barreled riot gun.   He assumed
she’d loaded it with plastic bullets.   Connery, Gunnar and Li carried similar arms.   Telisan, an expert shot, carried a laser, as
did Fenaday.   Mmok wore no obvious
weapon, though Fenaday felt sure the cyborg had something secreted on him.   His four HCRs stood around him.   Magenta wore a plastic flower in her hair,
more of Mmok’s sardonic humor.
    I would hate to believe he sleeps with the
damn things, Fenaday thought.
    Shasti
raised an eyebrow at him.   She did not
smile, but again, her quirky way of looking at him made him suspect she knew
what he was thinking and that it amused her.
    Fenaday
took a few deep breaths and led them into the shuttle bay.   The buzz of conversation lowered as he
mounted the hastily erected dais.   Shasti
stood on the deck before him, her head still level with his.   The HCRs fell in on the corners of the dais.   Mmok and Telisan joined him on it.   Shasti’s best Landing Force troops took up
strategic spots in the bay.
    “Not
like the old days, when you could have taken the bay by yourself,” he murmured,
just softly enough for Shasti to hear.   The barest hint of a smile touched her lips, then her face returned to
its usual mask-like calm.  
    He
looked at the crew, as unusual a collection as had ever flown space.   They ran from dedicated professionals from
the shadow side of the military, to adventurers to the desperate.   They all stood staring at him.
    Fenaday
keyed his throat mike.   “You’re gathered
here to find out the destination of our mission.   All

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