Arkwright

Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century—pioneering science fiction in the vein of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.

Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan’s legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.

Written by a highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration, Allen Steele’s Arkwright features the precision of hard science fiction with a compelling cast of characters. Available March 1st from Tor Books.

 

 

Book One: The Legion of Tomorrow

1

When Kate Morressy’s grandfather died on October 5, 2006, his passing made the front page of the next morning’s Boston Globe. The headline—Nathan Arkwright, Science Fiction Pioneer, Dies— appeared in the bottom-right corner below the fold, and it was the first thing Kate saw when she picked up the paper from the front stoop of her Cambridge apartment house.

Still wearing her robe, Kate stared at the newspaper in her hand for a long time before she carried it back into her apartment. Pausing to pour her first cup of coffee, she lay the paper down on the kitchen table and read the lead:

Nathan Arkwright, the science fiction author best known as creator of the Galaxy Patrol, died Thursday at his home in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Arkwright, 85, is considered to be one of the “Big Four” sci-fi writers of the twentieth century, along with Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. His 23 novels and five collections of short stories have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide, and many readers credit him with sparking their interest in science.

Arkwright’s most famous creation was the Galaxy Patrol. Beginning in 1950 with the novel of the same title, it became a long-running series of space adventures that eventually consisted of 17 novels until its final installment, Through the Event Horizon, appeared in 1988. The Galaxy Patrol was the basis for a radio drama, a CBS television series, three major motion pictures, and a daily comic strip. Many astronauts claim that they were inspired by the Galaxy Patrol, and a complete set of the novels is aboard the International Space Station.

Born March 18, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York, Nathan Arkwright was…

Kate stopped reading. She ran a hand through her sleep-tangled red hair, slowly let out her breath, and then picked up the phone. Her mother lived in Milton, just south of Boston, and she was already up when Kate called.

“Grandpapa’s dead,” Kate said when her mother picked up the phone.

“Yes, he is.” Very matter-of-fact, as if she’d just been given the weather forecast.

“I found out about it from the paper. Why didn’t you call me?”

“I tried, but you were out of town.”

“I was in Vermont.” Kate glanced at the phone. Its message center displayed a zero, just as it had late last night when she’d returned home. “You didn’t leave a message. You could have called my cell.”

“How was Vermont? It’s lovely this time of year, when the leaves are changing.”

“Mom…” Kate shut her eyes and tried to count to ten but only made it to three. “Don’t you think I would’ve cared that Grandpapa passed away?”

“Well, maybe you would, but…”

Sylvia Arkwright Morressy didn’t finish the thought, and she didn’t need to. She had stopped speaking to her father before Kate was born, for reasons that she’d never made clear. Indeed, Kate had met her grandfather only a few times in her life. The last occasion had been when she was a student at Dartmouth. Her boyfriend at the time, upon discovering that she was the granddaughter of Nathan Arkwright, had badgered her into driving down from New Hampshire so he could meet the famous author. They were met at the front door by the housekeeper, who allowed them to come in only so far as the front hall, where they waited until Grandpapa emerged from his study. He obligingly signed the boyfriend’s wrinkled paperback copy of The Galaxy Patrol and then ushered the two college students who’d dropped in uninvited back out to the driveway, where Kate’s secondhand Volvo was parked. Her mother had been outraged that Kate would do this, and Kate herself was embarrassed. That was eight years earlier… no, more like nine… and she’d stayed away from Grandpapa ever since.

“Are you going to the funeral?” Kate asked.

A pause. “No.”

“Mom—”

“You can go if you’d like. Maybe there’ll be someone you’ll know.”

Kate knew what her mother meant by this. Her grandmother had passed away before she was born; so as far as she knew, there were no other living members of his immediate family. “It would have been nice if you’d told me.”

“I didn’t find out until his agent called.” Her tone hardened even further. “Her name’s Margaret. Tell her I said hello.”

Until she said that, Kate hadn’t given much thought to attending her grandfather’s funeral. Grandpapa was very nearly a stranger, a member of her family in name only. But her mother’s indifference resolved the matter; she’d make the trip to Lenox because Nathan Arkwright’s only child refused to do so.

“I will,” she said.

“Very well, if you think must. Let me know if he left us anything. I kind of doubt it, but he might.”

“I—” Kate bit off a response that wouldn’t have done either of them any good. “Bye, Mom,” she said instead, and she hung up.

 

2

Kate’s trip to Vermont had been to do research for a magazine article she was writing about a nuclear power plant near Brattleboro that the local residents wanted to shut down. The only thing she had in common with her grandfather was that she, too, was a writer, although she’d chosen freelance science journalism instead of science fiction. She spent the rest of the day transcribing the interview tapes and incorporating them into her piece, but she took a break to make a call to The Berkshire Eagle and find out from the obits desk the place, date, and time the funeral service would be held. Kate’s editor agreed to push back the deadline a few days to let her make the trip—indeed, he was impressed to learn that she was related to the Nathan Arkwright and even tried to talk Kate into writing a story about it. Kate told him she’d think about it, which was a polite way of saying no, and the next day she put on a black dress, got in her car, and drove west on the Massachusetts Turnpike into the Berkshires.

Although Nathan Arkwright had been an atheist, the funeral was held in a Congregational church. Kate would later learn that the pastor was big fan of Nathan’s and had practically begged for the honor of hosting the memorial service. Thanks to GPS, Kate had little trouble locating the church; parking was another matter entirely. She wished that she’d left home earlier; both sides of the street were lined with cars for three blocks, with local police officers directing traffic.

The church was a big Gothic edifice built sometime in the 1800s, but by the time Kate got there, its oak pews were packed tightly, and people were standing against the walls. Nathan Arkwright may not have had much in the way of an immediate family, but he made up for it with fans, some of whom were apparently unaware of the proper way of dressing for a funeral; amid the dark suits and dresses, she spotted a few dress uniforms of the Galaxy Patrol, mainly worn by people who wouldn’t have lasted a week in the Galactic Academy. Many had brought copies of the Patrol novels as if expecting the author to rise from his casket and give one last signing before he went off to the crematorium.

The casket itself rested in front of the nave, surrounded by so many wreaths and bouquets that every florist in town had probably been cleaned out. Its lid was closed, for which Kate was quietly grateful— she’d never been able to stand the sight of a dead body, even one tastefully arranged by a mortician—and instead a portrait photo of her grandfather was propped up on an easel. It was the same picture that had appeared on the dust jacket of every book Grandpapa published since 1972: Nathan Arkwright, a thick-set, red-haired man in his early fifties, smiling slightly as he regarded the prospective readers from behind wire-rimmed glasses with eyes both kindly and wise. Not the annoyed glare he’d given his granddaughter when she’d come to visit him.

The ushers were beginning to turn people away when Kate arrived, but when she quietly explained that she was a family member, she was escorted down the center aisle to the two front pews, which had been roped off with a red velvet cord. A few people were already seated in this section, older folks whom Kate recognized as distant cousins whom she barely knew; they nodded to her, not really recognizing her, either. She sat down by herself in the first pew and looked around. As she’d expected, Sylvia Morressy had made good her promise not to attend her father’s funeral.

Once again, Kate wondered what her grandfather had done to earn his daughter’s hatred. She’d never said what it was that had caused her to avoid her father or to keep Kate away from him as much as possible. Even Kate’s father didn’t know why; Kate’s mother filed for divorce before she ever gave him a satisfactory explanation.

The pastor had just emerged through a side door and was preparing to step up to the pulpit when four people approached the front pew. The youngest was a middle-aged man Kate recognized as Grandpapa’s housekeeper; she remembered that his name was Mr. Sterling, and he looked very nearly the same as he had when she’d met him years earlier. The other three were two men and a woman, Grandpapa’s age or thereabouts; one of the men sat in a wheelchair pushed by Mr. Sterling.

The usher who’d escorted Kate to her seat hurried up to meet them. As she watched, he quietly explained that the section was being reserved for family members. The woman—thin, petite, and silver haired but nonetheless bearing an inarguable presence—looked him straight in the eye and said something that Kate couldn’t hear but which caused the younger man to hastily apologize. He pulled aside the cord and helped Mr. Sterling assist the woman and the taller of the two men into the pew; the man in the wheelchair remained seated in the aisle.

Kate didn’t have the foggiest notion who they were, but it seemed as if the woman immediately recognized her; when she turned to glance at Kate, there was a look of surprise on an otherwise stoical face. The tall man—gaunt and gray, with jug ears and a nose like a beak—barely noticed her, but the man in the wheelchair, who’d lost most of his hair but still sported a trim white mustache, studied Kate as if trying to place her.

The woman stared at Kate so intently that it made her uncomfortable. Kate nervously looked away, but she could feel the old lady’s eyes upon her. Kate was about to introduce herself when the pastor mounted the steps to the pulpit. An expectant hush fell upon the church, and Kate decided that any conversation would have to wait until later.

The opening prayer was ecumenical, and the hymnals remained untouched in their pew pockets, with the congregation instead invited to stand and sing the Galaxy Patrol theme song from the original TV series, the lyrics of which were conveniently printed in the program everyone had been handed upon walking in. Kate felt silly singing a song once popular on grade-school playgrounds, but apparently it was a bittersweet moment for many of the people seated behind her; she heard quiet sobs and choked voices when they reached the line “We boldly set forth for the stars,” and she glanced back to see people dabbing tears from their eyes. Whose idea was this? Still, she had to admit, it was more suitable than “Amazing Grace” or “Shall We Gather at the River.” Grandpapa was famously nonreligious.

The pastor’s sermon was much like The Boston Globe obit, both respectful and impersonal. While it was clear that the pastor had met Nathan Arkwright and admired him, he didn’t know him well enough to say anything reflecting anything more than a passing acquaintance. Instead, the pastor spoke of his novels and stories and how they’d entertained and inspired generations of readers. He said that Nathan had preferred solitude, particularly after his wife, Judith’s, death, but he added that his correspondents had included scientists, authors, astronauts, and celebrities who’d been inspired by his books. He read bits from messages he’d received from famous people: a former NASA chief administrator, an Apollo moonwalker, the actor who’d portrayed Hak Tallus in the Galaxy Patrol movies. He ended the service by reading a passage from Grandpapa’s last novel, Through the Event Horizon—a book that had made the New York Times Best Seller List and stayed there for nearly three months—which once again provoked sighs and tears from the congregation.

Before the service ended, the pastor announced that a private reception—“for family members and close friends only, please”— would be held at the deceased’s residence. Only those who’d received invitations would be allowed to attend; another reception for members of the public would be held that afternoon at the local library.

Kate hadn’t received an invitation, so it appeared that she’d be having fruit punch and cookies with Hak Tallus look-alikes if she decided not to drive home at once. The prospect wasn’t particularly appealing. She’d just risen from her seat, though, when Mr. Sterling handed her an engraved invitation. Directions were printed on the back, just in case she’d forgotten how to get there.

Kate was still indecisive about going to the private reception; it was a three-hour drive from Lenox to Cambridge, probably longer now that it was leaf-peeping season and the Mass Pike was jammed with tour buses. But as she followed Mr. Sterling and the three old people up the aisle, the woman stopped and turned to her.

“You’re Kate, yes?” She offered a hand. “I’m Margaret Krough, your grandfather’s literary agent.”

“Oh, yes.” Kate recognized her name from the acknowledgments pages of Grandpapa’s books. “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Krough.”

“Maggie.” A faint, almost enigmatic smile. “This is Harry”—she gestured to the man in the wheelchair—“and George.” The tall man nodded, favoring her with an elfin grin. “Will you be at the reception?”

“Umm…”

“Please come. I’d like to have a little chat with you.” Maggie turned back to Harry and George, who waited for her with the polite impatience of the elderly. “All right, gentlemen,” she said, “let’s be off.”

Mr. Sterling continued pushing the wheelchair, but not before Harry raised a gnarled fist. “Forward the Legion!” he exclaimed.

The others laughed out loud. Kate had no idea what was so funny.

 

3

Nathan Arkwright’s home was located just outside Lenox on a twenty-acre spread at the foot of the mountains. It was a sprawling, single-story manor built in a ’70s-modernistic style that was sort of a cross between traditional New England saltbox and midwestern ranch house, with cedar siding and a steep, slate-shingle roof. Once past a front gate marked with a No Trespassing—Private Property sign, Kate followed the gravel driveway as it wound through maple-shaded meadows glowing with autumn wildflowers until she reached a circular turnaround surrounding an abstract iron sculpture.

Several cars were already parked off to the side of the driveway, and she’d barely pulled into the turnaround when a valet in a black windbreaker walked out to open the door for her and ask for the keys. She watched her eight-year-old Subaru with missing hubcaps go away to be parked next to a Lexus and a BMW and knew at once that she was the poor relation both literally and figuratively.

Mr. Sterling had already returned from the services. He met her in the front hall just as he had many years ago, yet this time he was friendlier, addressing her as Kate instead of Ms. Morressy as he hung up her overcoat in the foyer. He led her to the living room and had a tuxedoed caterer offer her a champagne flute and then excused himself.

The living room was large and broad, with a high ceiling and tall cathedral windows looking out upon the Berkshires. Modernist butcher-block furniture surrounded a circular central fireplace; upon oak-paneled walls were framed cover paintings from Grandpapa’s books—the better ones by Emshwiller, Freas, and Whelan. The obligatory vanity bookcase contained multiple editions of his novels and collections in several languages, crowned by an acrylic cube: the Grand Master Nebula he’d received from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America a few years after he’d unofficially retired from the field.

The house looked like a million bucks. Kate had little doubt that it had probably cost that much too. The Galaxy Patrol had made its creator a wealthy man.

Drink in hand, Kate strolled through the room, surrounded by people and yet alone. Aside from the distant cousins she’d briefly met at the funeral, she knew no one. It was likely that many of those here were editors and publishing executives who’d come up from New York, while others might be fellow authors; she wasn’t part of that world, though, so none of their faces were familiar. Kate was Nathan Arkwright’s granddaughter, but the truth of the matter was that—aside from all his books and stories—she’d barely known him at all.

Drink your champagne and go home, she said to herself. You’ve fulfilled your family obligation. No one will even notice that you’ve left.

“Kate?”

Turning around, she found Margaret Krough standing beside her. The old lady had approached her so quietly that she hadn’t seen her grandfather’s agent until she spoke her name. “Ms. Krough.”

“As I said, it’s Maggie.” Again, the same direct gaze, with emerald eyes unfaded by age. “So glad you made it. I’ve been expecting you.”

“Yes, well…” Kate fiddled with the glass in her hand, her drink still untasted. “Just dropping by, really. I’ve got a long drive home and—”

“Oh no! Not yet. I’d really like to have a word with you, and so would George and Harry.” Maggie took her by the hand. “Come this way, please… where we can talk in private.”

For a woman in her eighties, Maggie was surprisingly spry. Walking quickly, she led Kate across the room, and as she did, Kate noticed how many eyes turned their way. Margaret Krough was plainly a figure of respect among this crowd. A small, birdlike man whose suit that probably cost more than Kate made in a month swooped in upon them, but Maggie frosted him with a tight, dropdead-thank-you smile and moved on before he could do more than open his mouth.

“Who was that?” Kate murmured.

“One of Nat’s publishers. Probably wants to renegotiate. I’ll deal with him later.” Maggie opened a door beside a baby grand piano and ushered Kate inside. “Come, dear.”

Maggie closed the door behind them and turned the deadbolt lock. Kate hadn’t been in this room since she was a little girl. It was her grandfather’s office. Amid oak bookcases, a glass display shelf holding globes of Earth, the Moon, and Mars, and an antique brass telescope stood an L-shaped desk, the older-model IBM computer resting upon it surrounded by untidy stacks of paper. The windows faced the mountains, but the curtains were shut; the only light came from floor lamps beside the frayed leather armchairs and a couch that looked as if he’d regularly used it for naps. The magician’s den.

George stood before the shelf, idly inspecting the Mars globe. Harry sat in his wheelchair, leafing through the papers on the desk. Kate had once been spanked for doing just that, during the only Christmas get-together she and her parents had ever attended, but Harry didn’t seem the slightest bit embarrassed to be caught in the act.

“Looking for an idea to steal?” Maggie asked, her tone playfully scolding.

Harry made a rude sound with his lips. “You kidding? He stole his best ideas from me.”

“So you’ve always said.” George turned away from the globes and picked up the drink he’d left on an end table. “You’re just jealous he… well, never mind. Hello, Ms. Morressy. So happy you’ve come. I’m just sorry we haven’t met until now.”

“No, we haven’t. But I’ve never met any of Grandpapa’s friends, so I guess that figures.” The two men were strangers to her but obviously old acquaintances of her grandfather’s. “Maggie told me your names, but I don’t—”

“Harry Skinner,” Harry said. “One of Nat’s colleagues. We got started at the same time.” A wry smile as he carefully returned some typewritten pages to their place on the desk. “I seldom wrote under my own name, though. Most readers know me as Matt Brown.”

He gave her an expectant look, as if hoping that she’d recognize his byline. “I’m sorry, Mr. Skinner—”

“Harry.”

“But I haven’t read much science fiction except my grandfather’s.”

A sad smile, accompanied by an even sadder sigh. “Story of my life,” Harry said quietly. “Thirty-nine books, and I’ll probably be forgotten ten minutes after I’m dead.”

“I always said you should have picked a better pseudonym.” Maggie walked over to one of the armchairs and lowered herself into it. “Something more memorable than the shade of paint you put on your house.”

“George Hallahan.” George carried his drink to the couch. “Not a writer… or at least not science fiction.”

Kate nodded, and then something tickled the back of her mind. She remembered a piece she’d written a couple of years earlier when she’d covered a conference at MIT regarding interstellar exploration; several speakers had made reference to the work of a former Manhattan Project scientist, a physicist from the Institute of Advanced Study by name of…

“Dr. George Hallahan.” She stared at him. A legend in the theoretical physics community. “You knew Grandpapa.”

“An old and dear friend. He’d call from time to time when he needed help with something.” Seeing the astonished look on her face, George grinned. “No, you won’t find my name in any of the acknowledgments. The security agreements I’d signed when I was doing military research at General Atomics would have meant getting a visit from the FBI if they’d learned I was telling a science fiction writer how nuclear rocket engines worked. Besides, it didn’t hurt Nat’s reputation to let his readers believe that he dreamed up that techy stuff all by himself.”

“Not to mention his plots,” Harry muttered.

“Hush. Not true, and you know it.” Maggie turned to Kate. “It doesn’t sound like it, but Harry and Nat were best friends, practically brothers. What you’re hearing is the sound of sibling rivalry.”

Kate discreetly glanced at her watch. It was almost one o’clock. If she stayed much longer, she’d hit the weekend traffic on the pike going back to Boston. “Well, it’s been a pleasure to meet all of you, but—”

Maggie held up a hand. “This is important, and I promise we won’t take much more of your time. It concerns your grandfather’s will.”

“Oh?”

An apologetic smile. “I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it’s not what you think, if you’re thinking what I expect you’d be. Nat’s lawyer let me take a look at it, so I’ll spare you the anxiety of waiting to hear from him. Your grandfather left nothing to his family. Not you, not your mother, and not any of the relatives hanging around outside.” A dry laugh. “Mr. Sterling found a case of The Galaxy Patrol in the basement. Signed Gnome Press first editions, just a little brown around the edges. Quite valuable. He’ll be giving them to everyone here, just so no one goes home empty-handed.”

“Bet half of them wind up on eBay,” Harry said.

“Disappointed?” George seemed to be studying Kate’s reaction.

She shrugged. “Not really. I barely knew Grandpapa, and he and Mom didn’t get along at all. I really shouldn’t expect that he’d leave us”—she waved a hand around the office—“all this.”

“No.” Maggie crossed her legs. “The house is being put on the market. The furniture will be auctioned. His books are being purchased by an antiquarian book dealer in New York, and we’re negotiating with science fiction art collectors in Chicago and Alabama for his paintings. His savings will be liquidated, as well, once the estate’s debts are settled. Fortunately, there are not many. Nat was nothing if not frugal.” She smiled. “Even his papers are going somewhere else… the Eaton Collection at the University of California– Riverside. No cash for that, I’m afraid, but the estate will be getting a nice tax write-off.”

“I see. And who’s getting the money?”

“The Arkwright Foundation.”

“The what?”

“Nat stated in his will that a nonprofit foundation is to be established in his name to underwrite various worthy projects. As executor of his literary estate, it will be my responsibility to make sure that all future income from his books—royalties, reprint sales, residuals from his media properties, and so forth—will be funneled directly into the foundation, where it will be invested into various enterprises that will increase the income over time.”

“Uh-huh. I see.” Kate set down the champagne and folded her arms together. “And what’s to prevent the Arkwright Foundation from becoming your own money market account?”

Maggie’s lips pursed, and her eyes became glacial. George cleared his throat. “You have a right to be suspicious,” he said, quietly diplomatic, “but I assure you, on both my word of honor and the memory of our friend, that nothing of the sort will happen. In fact, that’s the reason we’ve asked you here. We’d like to ask you to join us on the foundation’s board of directors.”

“Me? But I—”

“Barely knew him,” Harry said, finishing her thought for her. “Yeah, we know. Believe me, Nat regretted this more than you’ll ever know.”

“I’m going to have to believe you, because he sure didn’t let me know.”

“Your mother stood in the way,” George continued. “Their enmity is something we can’t undo, but we can step around her by asking you to be the family’s representative in the Arkwright Foundation.”

“I see,” Kate said, although she really didn’t. To buy herself a moment, she picked up her drink. The champagne had lost its sparkle, but it wet a throat that had gone dry. “You still haven’t told me what the foundation is all about. What’s its purpose? Establish a wild bird sanctuary? Save whales? Provide free science fiction books to underprivileged kids?”

None of the three said anything for a few seconds. Harry and George looked at Maggie, silently deferring to her.

“We could tell you,” Maggie said at last, “but it’s a long story and one you might not believe if you heard it here and now. Perhaps it’s better if you found out yourself.”

Standing up from her chair, Maggie walked over to the desk. Opening a drawer, she pulled out a white cardboard box. “This is the last thing your grandfather wrote,” she said, carrying it across the room. “An autobiography he’d been working on over the last several months or so. He didn’t finish it… and frankly, I’m glad he didn’t. I asked him not to write the damned thing, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Kate took the box from her and opened it. Inside lay a short sheaf of typewritten paper, probably no more than sixty or seventy pages in all. The cover sheet read My Life in the Future, with her grandfather’s byline below it. “Why didn’t you want him to write it?”

Maggie hesitated. “There are things about him that shouldn’t be published.”

“She’s right,” Harry said. “Your grandfather had secrets that shouldn’t have been revealed while he was still alive… while a lot of people are still alive.” George nodded in agreement.

“It’s an incomplete manuscript, though, so no doubt you’ll have questions.” Maggie returned to her seat. Groaning softly, she bent down to pick up her handbag from where she’d left it on the side table. “You’ll probably want to call us,” she went on, opening it to fish out a silver card holder. “Here’s my card. Harry and George will give you theirs too.”

“I don’t have one,” Harry said, “but my number’s in the Philly phone book.” Catching a look from Maggie, he shrugged. “So I’m cheap. Sue me.”

“I can be reached at the institute,” George said. “I’ll tell my secretary to put you through if you call.”

Kate glanced at the card Maggie handed her: Krough Literary Agency, with a Park Avenue address in New York. “Why don’t you just tell me?” she asked.

“Think of this as investigative journalism,” Maggie replied. “Just don’t publish the results.”

“Okay, but how do I know you’ll tell me the truth?”

“You can trust us,” George said, a sly smile upon his face. “We’re the Legion of Tomorrow.”

Excerpted from Arkwright, © Allen Steele, 2016

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