Aristas legacy, p.1
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       Arista’s Legacy, p.1

           Deborah Cooke
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Arista’s Legacy


  Arista’s Legacy

  The Dragons of Incendium 2.5

  by

  Deborah Cooke

  A Warrior Maiden of Cumae and a mercenary for hire, Arista is used to both hunting and being hunted. She accepts an assignment from Queen Arcana of Regalia so that she’ll have a chance to find the secret that can save both Regalia and Incendium from destruction. Arista never expects to be helped by one of Arcana’s own sons, much less that she will fall in love. How can she choose between defending her beloved and completing her quest?

  Dear Reader;

  I love when my characters surprise me, particularly when they surprise me with very good ideas. I was shocked by Venero’s reply in Wyvern’s Prince when Gemma asked him whether he had fallen in love with her friend, Arista. He insisted it would have been impossible for him to do so, since Arista was a cyborg. Gemma was as surprised as me by this revelation, but it did open some interesting possibilities.

  The short stories in the Incendium series are intended to fill the gaps between the longer romances, in order to provide a better view of the world and the characters. Once I knew Arista was a cyborg, it was imperative that the next short story feature her and her return to Cumae. In any universe, a cyborg isn’t supposed to be able to fall in love. What would be made of this change in Arista? How would she feel about her life once this change had occurred? Arista’s Legacy is the result of my exploring these questions.

  This short story falls between Wyvern’s Prince and Wyvern’s Warrior and tells more of the story of Gemma’s friend, Arista. It’s available in a digital edition on its own and is included in the print edition of Wyvern’s Prince. It will also be included in the trade paperback The Dragons of Incendium: The First Collection, which will be published in the first quarter of 2017. This trade paperback will be in wider distribution, too.

  Remember that the Dragons of Incendium have their own website, which has a glossary as well as the list of books and characters. You can find it here:

  www.dragonsofincendium.com

  I’ve also been collecting images for inspiration on a Pinterest board, which you can view right here. The series is being produced in audio, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, as well. You can listen to samples on the Audio page of the Dragons of Incendium website.

  To stay up to date with my news—including cover reveals, sales, and special offers for subscribers—please sign up for my monthly newsletter. You can also subscribe to my new release alert, if you prefer to receive a single email on the day a new title becomes available.

  Until next time, I hope you have lots of good books to read.

  All my best,

  Deborah

  Arista’s Legacy

  by Deborah Cooke

  Digital Edition

  Published by Deborah A. Cooke

  Cover by Frauke Spanuth

  Formatting by Author E.M.S.

  Copyright © 2016 by Deborah A. Cooke

  All rights reserved.

  Without limiting the rights under copyright preserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  About ARISTA’S LEGACY

  Dear Reader

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Next in THE DRAGONS OF INCENDIUM Series

  About the Author

  More Books by the Author

  Chapter One

  Arista hesitated in the debrief chamber. The door had already sealed behind her and the dim lighting touched the waiting tank of healing fluid.

  She had returned to Cumae. She had surrendered the ShadowCaster and made her way through the long twisted corridors to the deep recesses of the Vault. She barely remembered making the journey, because she had done it so often.

  Yet she was distracted. She was aching with her last memory of Regalia, with the price of her escape. She couldn’t stop reliving that moment and wondering what she might have done differently.

  How she might have saved Venero.

  Arista knew what she was supposed to do in this chamber. She’d done it hundreds of times. She’d never delayed before. She knew also that she wasn’t truly alone, although she was apparently the only occupant of the small room. Its walls were filled with sensors and cameras: the great Hive was monitoring her.

  The duration of her hesitation was being measured and interpreted.

  The slight elevation of her pulse was being noted, and a range of explanations were being sorted in order of greatest probability.

  She’d always known this and it had never bothered her.

  Until this day.

  She considered the tank of healing solution filled with nanobots to repair every minute scrap of damage incurred on her quest. Her gaze locked on the cable that she should have already pushed into the hidden port on her head.

  Arista licked her lips.

  “Is there a problem, Arista?” It was the voice of the Hive. Genderless, neutral, endlessly soothing. Impersonal. It irked Arista this time.

  “I’d like to request a memory partition,” she said before she thought the better of it.

  She could almost feel the sharpening of the Hive’s attention.

  “A memory partition? For what possible reason?”

  “I’d like to keep a memory to myself.”

  “We are all completely unveiled to each other, Arista,” the Hive said quietly, just a hint of censure in its tone.

  “You’re not unveiled to me.”

  “But that is as designed, and you know it. Your design stipulates that there will be no memory partitions.” The Hive’s tone softened. “You know it is best, Arista. The design is always flawless.”

  Rebellion rose hot within Arista, and it was startling in its power. That reaction was new and not entirely welcome. She felt conflicted, as she had since entering the Queen’s Grotto on Regalia, and she didn’t like how it complicated her probability calculations.

  On the other hand, she wouldn’t be without this glorious feeling of love, even if it hadn’t been reciprocated. It heightened her awareness of every sensation, and she wanted to experience it longer.

  She suspected the Hive would delete it, thus her hesitation.

  “Arista?”

  “May I keep my memories?”

  “You always keep the memories that are useful to you. You understand this.” The Hive’s tone was soothing, though Arista sensed some irritation.

  “I think that you and I will decide differently on the relevance of this memory.”

  She had surprised the Hive. There was no response for a long moment.

  “How can this be?” the Hive mused.

  “I don’t know.”

  “This is highly irregular.”

  “Yes.”

  “And extremely improbable. You have always been one of the best, Arista, a very high-functioning model that has performed flawles
sly in the field.”

  Arista bowed her head. “Might I not ask a favor, then?”

  The silence stretched so long that she feared there wouldn’t be an answer. She feared she had transgressed so greatly that she might be decommissioned, might have all of her memory wiped, might be sent back to the lab.

  “What memory?”

  “I want to remember Prince Venero, every moment I shared with him and how I feel about him.”

  “Because you mean to return to Regalia and complete that part of your assignment?”

  Arista shook her head. There was nothing to be gained by lying. The Hive would know. “Because I love him.”

  “Impossible.”

  “No.”

  “Intriguing. We must do a thorough review of your biomechanics and identify the cause of this malfunction.”

  “Not unless I get to keep the memories,” Arista insisted. When there was no immediate reply, her defiance grew. She would run. She would kick down the door to the debriefing chamber and flee.

  Even as Arista felt the need to do just that, she recalled the labyrinthine path through the Vaults, the security checks and retina scans, the blood test and the passwords. Her flight could be halted at a hundred points, and she would be taken forcibly to the labs. She might be destroyed. She would certainly be decommissioned.

  She had the strange conviction that it might be better to die with the memory of love in her heart and mind than to live devoid of it.

  Illogical. Irrational. Uncharacteristic.

  Maybe she had malfunctioned.

  The only mercy was that he hadn’t loved her in return, because then, the madness would have been complete.

  “You are agitated,” the Hive declared. “The readings from your vitals are more than clear. Since you feel so strongly about this, Arista, your request will be granted.”

  Relief flooded through her. “Thank you.”

  “Let us proceed with the debriefing and repair, please.”

  Arista stripped off her clothes and set them neatly into the receptacle. New ones would be provided for her and would be available when she left the tank. She climbed into the tank and the liquid within it was pleasantly warm. It came up to her hips and swirled around her. She lifted the vessel from the shelf that had been prepared for her and drank its entire contents, sending an army of nanobots to work within her. She opened the small port hidden behind her ear, sighed, then plugged in the cord within the tank. While she floated and healed, the Hive would download her entire buffer. Much would be deleted from her memory, but key sequences and details would remain.

  She closed the lid of the tank and sank into the welcoming solution, closing her eyes as she heard the click of the healing sequence begin.

  It was just before her thoughts faded to nothing that Arista realized the probability of the Hive agreeing to her request was so low as to be non-existent.

  But the probability of the Hive promising anything to a cyborg to analyze a serious malfunction was very very high.

  Particularly since that cyborg wouldn’t remember anything other than what the Hive allowed it to recall.

  Did the Hive routinely lie?

  Arista had no time to wonder, because the subroutine that collected her memories began, and her awareness of her situation was turned off.

  * * *

  The Hive had an intimate understanding of cyborgs, because it had originally been one itself.

  Many centuries had passed, by the accounting of any solar system, since that cyborg had been dispatched to Cumae. It had been programmed to refine the Warrior Maidens of Cumae into an elite fighting corps, an army of mercenaries that could be relied upon to triumph on any world, in any situation. It had been a commission from the governing council of Cumae, and its true assignment a secret at the highest levels. To the human population of Cumae, the cyborg had been yet another visitor come to train and observe.

  The cyborg’s makers, sadly, had failed to include the proximity of Cumae to its sun in their design. Cumae is hot and the inhabitants have skin tanned to the color of cured leather. The cyborg quickly calculated how long it could remain in Cumae’s sunlight without incurring malfunctions. That led it to seek refuge underground, in the honeycomb of caverns beneath Cumae’s surface.

  That also led it to pursue improvements to it own design, the better to fulfill its function. The more time it spent underground, the more acute and immediate its malfunctions on the surface of Cumae. Since there was no question of it violating the edict of its own programming, it maximized its own capabilities as much as possible.

  Once underground, it began by adding to its own functionality, increasing the number of sensors that gathered input. Better decisions were made with more complete information, after all.

  At one crucial point, the Hive realized that it had need of information beyond what it could observe itself, and that began the extension of its sensors throughout Cumae. It disguised them as windows and mirrors, and scattered them all over the planet, so that its observation of the populace was complete. Its connection to those sensors became key to accurate calculations, so it fixed himself underground, immobilizing for the greater good.

  That allowed for the addition of processing capability, which was key to its success. The Hive could access every memory and every observation in less than an instant, once this round of development was complete. It could calculate the probabilities of every possible outcome and view them simultaneously. New information changed the projections constantly, and only it could have made sense of the flickering images.

  The original cyborg was believed by most on Cumae to have self-destructed, as a result of the sun’s influence, and there were only half a dozen people on the planet who knew of its continued existence. Those few had been the only ones to know that the discovery of the cyborg’s former shell had been a ruse. The Hive consulted with those few influential individuals, taking suggestions from them, but also pursuing its own primary directive: to make the Warrior Maidens of Cumae an unstoppable force of mercenaries.

  Once its own extensive network was completed, it had been prepared to enhance the military powers of Cumae with strategically placed cyborgs.

  Disguised cyborgs.

  It had become abundantly clear to what was now the Hive that mortals possessed weaknesses, which could only undermine their abilities as mercenaries. The main complication was emotion, and after the physical features of its cyborgs were refined, the study of emotion became the focus of development.

  On the one side, emotion clouded decisions. Mortals made irrational choices due to emotion. They chose the long odds when they had an emotional connection to someone whose future was influenced by that possibility’s success. They sacrificed themselves for the survival of another. These choices confounded the Hive. They were illogical.

  On the other side, emotion could overcome long odds. This, too, was irrational, but the Hive had observed it time and again. A warrior said to be valiant would risk the long odds and defy probabilities both in his or her vigor and in the results itself.

  It was evident to the Hive that emotion was a double-edged sword, and that its power must somehow be harnessed.

  Arista was one of the more successful of the Hive’s cyborgs. She wasn’t just physically resilient and a powerful warrior. She had additional sub-routines available for her processing. The Hive strategically adapted her programming, testing the inclusion of emotion in limited quantities, ensuring the effects were isolated.

  The Hive had acknowledged progress when Arista had formed an emotional bond—“friendship”—with Princess Gemma from Incendium. Arista’s intervention on Gemma’s behalf during a fierce practice battle boded well for the Hive’s development of valor.

  Yet one of the greater challenges to the Hive’s concealment had come from this same friendship. Arista had confided the existence of the Hive in her Sword Sister, Gemma, but not the presence of cyborgs on Cumae. The Hive had calculated long to derive a course of action. The excha
nge of secrets was a hallmark of friendship, which had been the Hive’s goal, but the confession of this secret might have compromised the Hive’s security. When Arista swore Gemma to secrecy, the Hive chose to be content, but with reluctance: the probability of war with Incendium was very high if any injury came to the princess.

  It was by then evident that Arista’s enhanced abilities might create unexpected complications. The greater gain was that Arista continued to evade detection as a cyborg. The Hive had concluded that this was the result of her emotional augmentation. There was something about other cyborgs that allowed mortals to immediately identify them as what they were. Even those that were as sophisticated in design and construction as Arista could not disguise their truth for long. This intrigued the Hive, and it was more intrigued that Arista’s touch of emotional programming made her blend more effectively into the mortal populace.

  The Hive chose Arista for the mission to Regalia, not just because of her skills, but as a test. Would she be able to avoid detection in a society alien to her?

  The Hive had anticipated a very low possibility of her failure to kill Venero.

  But as she progressed into the Hive on her return and her sensors began to deliver new data from her mission, the Hive observed a sharp change in the calculated probabilities. Its ability to collect data from remote locations had to be improved.

  What had happened on Regalia?

 
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