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Author Topic: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up  (Read 17832 times)

The Soldier

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #15 on: November 26, 2012, 05:50:48 PM »

Impressive. :) Although I'm not sure why he carries a double-barreled concussion pistol instead of a modern-esque pistol.
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arcibalde

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #16 on: November 27, 2012, 06:01:19 AM »

 HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For crying Out Laud give us chapter 6 NAUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like yesterday!!!

C mon man don't be like that!!!!

We want chapter 6! We want chapter 6! We want chapter 6! We want chapter 6!
 ;D ;D ;D
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jimy

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #17 on: December 09, 2012, 12:10:23 PM »

Really nice story. :)
Looking forward for the 6th part. :D

SPOILER:
Spoiler
ARRRR! Pirate action!
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #18 on: December 17, 2012, 09:14:55 PM »

Hi Guys, sorry for the long silence, I really appreciate all the support and I promise I'll have something posted as soon as possible. I'm in the middle of a move at the moment that I really was not expecting to interrupt things as much as it has but that's life. Things are more or less sorted now so I hope I'll be able to get the next chapter up for next weekend. Sorry again for the long hiatus, I'm really glad that this is something you like.

arcibalde

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #19 on: December 17, 2012, 11:46:29 PM »

Damn right this is something we like. Hey, you know what, you can write a novel  ;D
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Pelhamds

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #20 on: December 20, 2012, 02:38:28 PM »

Really engaging story, I only meant to read the first two chapters then I read the last word of the fifth chapter I though well this is a diamond, please write more chapters, and hopefully make a full novel/book, I would definitely buy it if it came out :)
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 6 finally up
« Reply #21 on: January 02, 2013, 03:41:40 PM »

Sorry this is going up later than I'd hoped but to make it up to you I've made it a jumbo update. It's a very important set of scenes so I wanted to make sure I got it right, hopefully I have done. Thank you so much for all the positive comments, they're what give me the motivation to keep this story going.

Chapter 6
Spoiler
Mark left the room feeling the familiar surge of adrenaline that he always felt when going into an action. Combat in space was chess at a thousand miles an hour. React to what your opponent did in space where projectiles flew at you at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light and you were already too late. The key was to predict it and in so doing out-maneuver your opponent before they ever made their move. As much of it relied on the planning of an engagement as the execution. A thousand considerations needed to be made before ever a shot was fired and a captain that failed to make them was already dead. Hypnotic indoctrination, endless lectures and classroom simulations could only take a man so far. Eventually it all came down to you and how you reacted to the imminent danger of what was to come. Some men fell apart and if all was right in the world would never see a captain’s chair. Most fell back to their training, applying the formulae and scenario reaction sequences that were drilled into them in the academy.

They were the work-horses of any fleet, solid, reliable but unimaginative. Mark was not one of them. He reacted to danger like a gambler to a deck of cards, the data trails of space combat sparkled in his mind like the rattle of dice on a gaming table. He knew he was not walking into combat as he entered the hidden lift and then moved through the command centre’s halls but at long last the paralyzing feeling of imminent destruction was gone. He was not some helpless commander stranded on planet by an uncaring admiralty, he was a Steiner and he was going to be taking a ship into combat.

There were two guards on the doors of the conference room as befitted a command meeting and they stamped to attention as he rounded the corner, snapping salutes as he approached. He acknowledged them and strode in, seeing the familiar faces of his father’s senior officers, men he had known from childhood now rising from their seats to greet their liege lord. His eyes swept over them to the high-backed black leather of the command chair, his chair. He had seen his father in it a thousand times as he steered his family and those who served them to greatness. For a moment he wished that his first time sitting in it could have come at a less tumultuous time but then crushed the impulse. Wishing on stars set you adrift among them. He was a Steiner. No one would make his wishes true but him.

He forced himself not to hesitate when he came to the head of the table and seated himself, swiveling the chair to face the men. They sat once more as he did so, four of them, each hardened by a lifetime of diligent duty. Mark placed his hands on the table and took a deep breath. ‘Let us begin.’ They listened intently as he spoke, respectful silence granted him by his rank but he could see in their faces that they were not simply silent for protocols sake. These men respected him and each had done so much already in the service of his family. He wondered if any of them would be unwilling to do this much more.

Dorn first, their family’s Seneschal, unbowed by age, hardened by a thousand fights on a hundred ships stations and worlds as much a father to Mark as any man. He sat beside Arnulf, their Master of Arms, the man who trained and when needed lead the squadrons of marines among the Steiner retainers. He was a bear of a man though only a fool would think him weighed down by his size for his hands were massive and powerful. His face was flat, chiseled and scarred beneath his crew-cut blonde hair, one eye a bionic replacement for one that had been shot away during a boarding action over ten years ago. Across from them the lead engineer Erill looked like a robotic priest, a thin, scholarly face on a guant, spare frame with his shaved head dotted with dozens of neural plugs, small grills set into the side of his neck and the one hand that rested on the table showing a tracery of wires beneath the pale skin. Lastly beside him sat Lieutenant Pieter, a baby-faced retainer his father had raised from the ranks and paid to have commissioned as a mid-shipman almost four years ago. He had worked off his debt as a mid-shipman over two years ago and had chosen to remain with the Steiners once he passed his lieutenant’s exam rather than throw himself into the jostling for rank and position that the Admiralty represented. He was older than Mark by ten years and Mark knew he was rock-solid under fire and as reliable an officer as they came.

Erill was the first to speak, sliding one hand forward slightly as a signal that he had a question. Mark nodded to him, ‘Black boxes from ships returned – doctored – understood. Scavenge battlefield?’ His voice was slightly mechanical, clipped and sporadic as was normal for a man who more frequently communicated in computer code than speech.

Mark shook his head, ‘No, there’s been a salvage fleet on scene for four days now. The senior captain is an ally of Gedderen. He will have long since ensured that any evidence that could have been found there is long gone. Hartford’s father has managed to retrieve the logs from the ships that have already returned. His engineers are working to find evidence that the data has been altered and they are hopeful but even it is not enough to show that the logs have been falsified. It would weaken his position but it would not damn him. We need data that provides a base from which to attack him, a story to combat his own. The Lawsons are leaning the officers that were there. If we can secure this evidence then they will convince them to come forward and testify. Gedderen is powerful but he is not popular. If the other admirals smell blood they’ll close on him and tear him apart. They just need an opening and we can give it to them.’

There were other questions but no objections, as Mark outlined his plan the men in front of him leaned forward eagerly, their eyes alight with interest and pleasure at the thought of fighting back against this tragedy. Not one of them seemed daunted by the idea that they were volunteering to become hunted fugitives and Mark felt his heart swell as one by one they promised their loyalty. They sat in conference for hours before the meeting ended, Mark clapping his hands together,

‘Good, to work then, we have much to do and little time to do it in. You all know your business. Let’s be about it.’ There were nods from each and then they stood and dispersed leaving him alone in the command chair. As the door shut behind them he took a deep breath, they had believed in him, trusted him, agreed to follow him even though it meant leaving behind everything they knew here.

He looked down and saw his reflection in the polished surface of the table, ‘Now make it happen.’ He ordered the young face before him.

-

‘Now make it happen.’ Mark muttered the words that he had spoken to himself two days ago as he stared at his reflection in the mirrored metal of the docking station elevator. He was wearing his service uniform, the slate grey broadcloth jacket trimmed with the blue and green facings of his family’s livery, service pistol and saber strapped to his belt. Behind him were half of the volunteers whose loyalty or ambition had out-weighed the fear of what lay ahead, all dressed in the drab overalls of a station work crew. Erill and two of his best had spent almost a full twenty four hours using the access codes Hartford had given them to create the work-orders and cargo bills that had moved them through the security checkpoints below. The rest had been a matter of bluff and grit, marching among the busy maintenance and repair crews that swarmed through this station praying that no security officer would be too attentive or that one of his men would betray them through nerves or folly.

He had not felt much fear of that. These were no raw recruits, green and fresh to the void. These were Steiner trained and experienced, volunteers to a man, eight hands, and two bosuns under Pieter, three engineers under Erill and Arnulf with his four marines. He knew each man by name, had spoken to each in turn to ensure that there were no illusions and no hesitation. He was about to turn them all into wanted fugitives, hunted by the Hegemony wherever they went with a fury that would not abate until he was able to succeed and clear his father’s name of disgrace. As powerful as the Lawson’s they would not be able to help them if they were caught before then. To a man they would be put against a wall and shot. Some had grinned and shrugged, what was one more threat added to the dozens that were routine to a sailor in the void? Others had been grim and serious, prepared to risk everything on this endeavor rather than start their careers over under some new contract. Each had accepted the risk however and so here they were on the first step of their road as wanted men, the first step and potentially, the most deadly.

Dorn had stayed behind with his mother and sister, smuggled off world with the families of those retainers that had volunteered to accompany Mark and his officers on this mission. Hartford was seeing to them, secreting them among the dozens of Lawson mining stations that dotted Hegemony space. Mark would have dearly liked to bring the aged Seneschal along, with his depth of experience and sharp, insightful mind. But Dorn had insisted that he stay. As much as Mark would miss his advice he knew that he could not strip his mother and sister of every resource. Though they were among friends their future was by no means certain and they would need to navigate their path every bit as carefully as he.

The elevator reached their destination and the heavy doors opened with a hiss to cover them in the industrious tumult of a navy work crew in full swing, the grind of machinery, the hiss of welding torches and the bark of orders blending into a roar as familiar to any navy man as his own voice. Mark stepped out to be greeted by the sight of the rest of his chosen crew filing into the cavernous dry-dock from their own elevators, his officers nodding to him as they chivied their men into order, each struggling not to show the strain of the moment.  They glanced up at the ship that dominated the hanger, two dozen men already aloft in the scaffolding that surrounded the lasher-class hull, a dozen small drones darting about like feeder fish under the belly of a shark, hauling the final layer of ablative armor into place under the careful guidance of the engineers.

Mark briefly inspected the ranks, as much to meet the eyes of the men he was about to turn into fugitives as to ensure that they were properly turned out for this final step in the ruse that had carried them from the docking bay concourse twenty floors below to this hanger bay. This station had sixteen frigates docked here in various states of refit, hulls captured in battle and destined for re-launch under Hegemony colors. Following the destruction of so much of the Fifth Fleet the work had been re-doubled. Hundreds of extra hands shuttled onto the station to speed the work. It was the chaos of so many new faces that had allowed them to come this far without discovery, Mark was certain.

Their small convoy began to move towards the rear of the ship, captured two months ago from a pirate raider and in the final stages of retro-fitting. Her weapon mounts had been replaced, internal systems stripped and re-built from the ground up, her med bay and built in auto-factories replaced with the latest models the Hegemony’s UAC archive had to offer.  She had been chosen with care for the fact that she was space-worthy but had not yet been declared ready for launch and so was still in the hands of the general maintenance crews rather than occupied by a crew who would complete her refit as preparation for deployment in her. The Lawson’s influence was at work there.

A blue-overall clad engineer with the stripes of a senior on his sleeve emerged from the open cargo bay as they approached, pausing for a moment as he took them in before stepping down from the ramp to salute. Mark returned it, his heart hammering in his ears as he proffered his data slate. For all of Hartford’s assurance that there would be no trouble in the dry-dock itself he was not the one who would face the firing squad if they were caught now. The engineer accepted the data-slate, casting over it only the most perfunctory of glances before nodding in apparent satisfaction and pressing his thumb to the scanner. He was a minor cousin who had been promised that overlooking his duty to the Hegemony on this day would mean greater standing among the Lawsons tomorrow and was only too happy to accommodate.

He tapped a toggle on his belt and raised his voice, ‘Relief’s here lads. We’re knocking off early. Down tools and let’s scarper.’ He made for the elevators, carefully not looking at the grav-pallets the new crew had brought with them, pallets loaded with fuel and auto-fabrication mass, loads no maintenance crew would be carrying. His crew followed him with equal care, they were all Lawson men and though they had been told even less of what was to transpire than the man they followed from the dry dock they each knew better than to question orders from those who owned their contracts.

Mark did not watch them go but turned to those that followed him and nodded once, ‘Go to work. Full systems check but don’t go to power until my say-so. Get as much auto-fab and fuel aboard as you can safely fit but make sure the auto-cannons are where we can get to them once we’re afloat. We’ll want to mount them as soon as we’re clear.’ Each of his officers nodded and at their orders the crew that followed him split, racing to their work now that they were released from the nerve shredding tension and discipline that had carried them this far. They moved with the hurry of men who knew that a firing squad could well await them if they were too slow.

Mark watched them work and could not help but feel a glow of pride. Despite the tension, despite the danger they worked with all the speed and efficiency of an elite crew. Erill and his apprentices took only moments to reach the bridge and hard-plug into the systems, Mark seeing the sparks of light race along the hull as the targeting lasers and sensors test-fired. Pieter stood in the open cargo bay as the deck-hands raced by in a relay of grav pallets and loading exo-skeletons, materiel stacking up in the cargo hold with practiced, profession ease. Mark felt a small shiver of anticipation run through him as he watched them work. The product of the same training that had sculpted him into the man he was they were the base upon which the Steiner star had ascended. What a crew, what a weapon to have at his disposal. Even hunted by the Hegemony he would be able to forge a path of fire across the system.

He felt like he was already in combat, floating on the familiar cloud of adrenaline and excitement, his mind crackling with thoughts that were etched with the clarity that is only achievable when death is one miscalculation away. He could almost feel the lasher’s helm beneath his hands already, feel the solid, reliable systems that made her class such a common sight throughout the sector tick and turn in tune with his thoughts. Already his mind was calculating how the cargo bay loading would affect her gravometric mapping, rough calculations of acceleration adjustments and flux vent trim scrolling through his mind. He heard Erill’s confirmation of system readiness at almost the same time that Arnulf announced his marine’s had completed the stowage of the armory equipment and were now armed and armored for duty and still the loading continued.

They were so close to finishing when they heard the cry ring out. ‘Who’s in command here?’ Men froze in their work, all eyes swiveling to take in the black uniformed marine officer that strode furiously from the elevators. Pieter’s voice rang out, ‘What are you all gawking at? You’re supposed to be working here!’ His voice snapped the crew from their moment of fear and they hurried back to work, Mark among them as he felt his heart begin to beat again and reminded himself to breath. The office was along, no security squad behind him, he was here to scold a work-crew not arrest a gang of rogues. Mark suppressed his relief, painted a frustrated scowl on his face and marched to meet the man.

‘I am. What of it?’ He barked the question, putting the man on the back-foot so that he could string out the conversation, give his men as long as possible to complete their work. As he moved he tapped the microphone built into his collar in a series of swift code taps, a simple signal in Steiner battle-code. His officers would understand the simple order. “Deploy.”

The lieutenant faltered, pausing to glance at the data slate in his hands, not expecting to be confronted by a fleet officer in full Captain’s regalia. Mark blocked his path and the lieutenant saluted him as protocol required, confusion showing on his face. ‘Uh, I’m sorry Sir, but I’m not sure what’s going on. Uh, you’re here under work order BB-7756 right?’

Mark waved a dismissive hand ‘Sounds right, and?’ As he spoke he began moving back towards the elevators, pulling the man along in his wake, away from the ship and crew.

The lieutenant slowed again, wanting to double check his data but not wishing to seem ill-prepared in front of the navy captain that was glowering at him. He was an administrator, used to overseeing the security clerks that tabulated and cross-checked the hundreds of work-orders and crews that filled the orbital station. Normally he dealt with bosuns or the occasional green Navy lieutenant, not a full captain, and an angry one at that. ‘Well, that’s showing on our screens as a refit progression order, but it’s also shown under a cargo transition order for auto-fab and fuel from the deployment stores. The authorization mis-match just showed up on our screens and I uh…’

‘You what Lieutenant?’ Mark put a deal of stress on the man’s lower rank. Behind him he could hear the clanks and clicks of storage pallets locking into place, the hiss of airlocks closing and the low, rising hum of the lasher’s power-plant cycling up.

The Lieutenant straightened as the last caught his attention, ‘Wait, that’s main power coming online. What the hell is going on here?’

Mark shrugged, he had seconds before the ruse would be over, ‘What do you mean? We’re doing a full check before handover, of course we would bring main power online.’

Certainty was coming back to the security officer now and he stashed his data-slate, one hand moving subtly to hover over his side-arm. ‘That’s completely against regs! Who authorized that?’

Mark shrugged again, ‘Not sure, it was on the work-order.’

This time the voice was emphatic, ‘Bull! What the hell is going on here? Who are you?’

Mark felt a small smile creep onto his face. "So it begins." He thought to himself and half turned away to stare at the lasher for a moment. ‘My name is Captain Mark Steiner.’ The security officer frowned in confusion then went over backwards as Mark whipped back around, one hand moving in a blur to thunder into the officer’s jaw. Mark gripped his collar as he went backwards, yanking him forward and punching him heavily in the stomach to double him while he triggered the elevator doors. He booted the lieutenant in as he choked for breath and hit the button for the concourse before turning and dashing back for his new ship as the doors closed behind him. Triggering his throat mic he spoke his first words as a renegade Captain as the dry-dock erupted with the urgent blare of alarm klaxons. ‘Full power! Weapons live! Prepare for launch under fire!’
[close]

I hope that was worth the wait. Now that the holiday season is over my situation is a little more stable so I will do my utmost to get the next chapter out as soon as possible. It's going to be action-packed as Mark tries to escape the wrath of the Hegemony aboard his new command and I'll do my best to make sure it doesn't disappoint.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2013, 03:44:28 PM by Pendragon »
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The Soldier

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #22 on: January 02, 2013, 03:42:49 PM »

:D

Thanks!  Something to brighten up the first day in school back from break. ;D
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Kiryuu

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 6 online
« Reply #23 on: January 04, 2013, 10:00:22 PM »

im gonna be keeping my eyes on this (not that i leave the forums lately anyways)
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Gothars

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 6 online
« Reply #24 on: January 08, 2013, 03:15:31 PM »

Awesome! Just what I had hoped for, full of tension and eloquent analogies :D

I took me a bit longer because I had to re-read much of the other chapters, but that has been worth it.
You also addressed the little plot hole of "why not scavenge a blackbox from the battlefield", very good!

I don't even have criticism (yet), already waiting for the next release :)
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 6 online
« Reply #25 on: January 13, 2013, 05:05:10 PM »

Afternoon everyone, glad to see that the last chapter lived up to expectations. I hope this one does too. I've noticed a few discrepancies and mistakes in early chapters as I go so I'm going to be revising some minor points and details retroactively. I'll try to keep it to a minimum though. If you think you spot any please feel free to post them in this thread or message me.

Chapter 7
Spoiler

Mark dashed through the last unsecured airlock, one of the deck-hands slamming it closed behind him. The clank of the bolts was followed by the hiss of the internal atmospheric generators taking over as the crew rigged for launch. He felt her come alive around him as he ran along her narrow corridors, purposeful shouts and the tramp of hurrying feet filling her, and him, with purpose. He swept onto her bridge, both familiar and strange. The systems consoles were each in their proper places but the subtle differences and peculiarities of her auto-factory of origin were immediately recognizable to one who knew the lasher class as well as he did. There, a slight difference in a wall’s angle to show the different run of a cable conduit. Here, a strange alignment of screens on an engineer’s station to allow someone without hard-plugs to man the post. He noted it all in the time it took him to cross the bridge. But when he slid into the familiar embrace of the commander’s chair, it was as much his home as though he had sat on this bridge for a year.

A moment was all that was needed to thrust the hard-feed cables into the plugs at the base of his skull and instantly he was soaring with her. His vision lit up with the feeds from the engineering stations, endless data scrolling in front of his eyes as he felt his senses expand. His sight of the bridge faded as he perceived the docking bay, the station and the system beyond. His skin tingled as neural pathways buzzed with feedback from hull and armor sensors. Muscles in his arms twitched in sympathy as the weapon mounts whirred into life, ammo feeds clattering their lethal payloads into position in response to the haptic twitches of his fingers.

Years of training took over as the familiar sensations bombarded him, the sound and fury resolving itself into data points and vectors that marched obediently before him. The fresh refit had seen the latest haptic and neural interfaces installed on the ship. He relished in their effortless responsiveness as his fingers played over the virtual console and the lasher’s maneuvering thrusters came online to lift her from the dry-dock’s deck for the first time. Many ships never got the kind of tear-down and rebuild this one had received. He had spent many a watch wrestling with contrary mechanical control consoles while manually sorting data on an ancient LED monitor. He wondered if perhaps this was another thing to thank Lawford for.

‘Rear-gun firing.’ He announced it in the same moment that he assumed direct control over the turret, targeting reticules sliding over the video feed in his right eye. He felt the tension of every man aboard, the tension in his own heart, the tension that every man felt before the cacophony of combat. He took a breath and shattered it as he thrust his hand forward and the machine gun came roaring to life in response. The rounds tore into the dry-dock locks, protected from outside assault by meters of ablative plating and the unimaginable power of the station’s shield generators but horribly exposed from within. It took only moments for the metal to weaken and shatter, molten sparks showering the dry-dock which reverberated with the thunder of the massive gun. Suddenly, finally, a round punched through to vacuum and all sound was drowned by the almighty crack of de-compression before ceasing altogether as the doors blew out and opened the lasher’s path to freedom.

The engines flamed and she leapt from the dock like a sprinter from the blocks, the shields flaring for a moment to scatter the debris of the door from her path. Mark felt her responsiveness beneath his hands. The skill of the crew evident in the thrust and acceleration of her engines, the swift drain of the flux and the steady rise in power levels. There were small ticks that spoke of their lack of experience with the ship. The smallest of hesitations in the munitions feeder as a deck-hand took a moment too long to lock a new ammunition drum into the unfamiliar sockets. A slight mismatch in port and starboard thrust levels that pushed them a degree off course before it was smoothed out. Small signs, but they were there none-the-less. When they got to clear space, he knew Pieter and Erill would delight in drilling the crew until they disappeared.

‘Rig for speed.’ He barked the order the moment they were clear of the dock and felt the ship change beneath his hands as the crew responded, bottoming out the flux conduits and re-directing them to pour energy into the engine block. The acceleration pressed the crew into their chairs but Mark felt it only as an abstract sensation. He was in space. From the captain’s chair he stared into it, the lasher’s sensor feeds shrinking the gargantuan station to a bauble hanging in nothingness. The vast power of the system defense fleet changed into a kaleidoscope of colors and text splayed across the void above Corvus III. As yet that great cloud of ships had yet to react to them, even the station itself had not raised its shields or powered its weapons systems. He had relied on that. Relied on the impossibility of such a high-jacking. The shock was buying them precious moments, moments that would allow them to break away from the unimaginable firepower of that fleet and this station and into the safety of deep space.

He had spent hours calculating the escape vector, checking and rechecking the patrol patterns of the fleet in orbit. The gravity field of Corvus III was as familiar to any Hegemony Captain as his own face. It was second nature for him to dive into its embrace in a sling-shot course that would see them on the opposite side of the planet and speeding for the void in a matter of minutes. His codes were still valid and the sensor feeds of the orbital defense systems were feeding a steady stream to Erill and his subordinates to provide him his perfect picture. In one ear he could hear the general frequency which was already erupting with orders and demands being yelled at cross-purposes. As they gathered way, he saw a stream of information light up around the station as its weapon systems came online. But the lasher was still marked as a friendly on the station’s targeting system and the vast guns remained silent as second by second he moved out of their range. One, a massive thumper, tried a manual shot, the vast shell streaking out into space without ever coming close. The gunner was going to catch hell for firing without a confirmed solution. Thumper shells had a tendency to ruin people’s days if they were allowed to drift in high-traffic areas.

They plunged towards the planet’s surface, Mark’s vision lighting up with warnings as they began to abrade against the atmospheric envelope. Behind them some order was coming to the Hegemony’s forces, the general channel ringing with the sharp voice of an SDF Admiral as she shouted all others down and began barking orders. Frigates and fighters finally began to move with purpose, splitting from the vastness of the SDF to dive after them. She was clever, not wasting her time sending more powerful ships that stood no chance of catching them but instead sending a swarm of swift, smaller ships that would overwhelm them with numbers. But she was reacting thirty seconds after she should have and the captains and pilots following her orders were doing so on the fly. Mark had crafted his escape like a sniper lining up a shot while they were having to fire from the hip and the underside of the lasher glowed red as she skated further and further away across the stratosphere.

Still, it was close. Not for nothing was the Hegemony navy the most feared military power in this sector. Another lasher that had found itself in position dove by them on a cross-vector, cannon’s blazing to life long before they were in effective range. The captain was not trying to deal any telling damage, only to force them to raise their shields and so sacrifice the speed that the re-directed flux conduits were giving them. Mark did not rise to the bait and felt the ship shudder as the shells found their mark, alert icons lighting up the bridge as armor cracked and sheared under the assault, inch thick plates peeling away in molten globs as they weathered the storm for what seemed like an eternity. Their attacker could not keep it up for long. They had sacrificed their own speed to launch the assault and as they made the turn to match their heading to Mark’s they lost yet more way. The range grew and the guns fell silent. As the attacker faded behind them there was a moment’s tremor in the engines, soothed almost as soon as Mark noted its presence. Erill and his engineers had effortlessly compensated for the half-ton of armor plating missing from their flank and they flew on, ever closer to freedom.

The captain tried one last effort, missiles streaking from the racks that flanked his command, the guidance systems homing in on the blazing signature of Mark’s engines. Two, then four then half a dozen slim tubes lighting up Mark’s screens and sending the urgent blare of sirens through the bridge as their targeting lasers painted them. Mark watched their approach along with every eye on the bridge, every mind making the desperate calculation of speed versus fuel load versus distance. It would not be the missiles that killed them. It would be the ships behind them. Everyone watching knew that a few seconds with the shields raised or a burst of fire from the rear turret could deal with the missiles. But this was a race in which there was no prize for second place and the energy for either could only come from the engines and rob them of the speed that was keeping them alive.

The distance indicator next to each ticked closer with agonizing haste, a clock counting down to the moment that would end this venture before it had even truly begun. It would take at least a second for the shields to spark to life, several more for the crew to shift the lasher’s rig and expand the envelope to cover its full spread. Mark knew to within a few hundred meters how close he could let the missiles get and still have time to defend against them and the leader inched closer moment by moment to that threshold. His hand hovered over the shield activator, eyes wide and staring as he felt the intake of breath of every man on the bridge. Instinct more than anything held his hand, the gambler’s instinct for the fall of the dice, the captain’s instinct for the life of his crew. To activate the shields was to kill them all anyway, what matter if a missile hit and sped them on the way to their ends.

None did. The warhead came to within four hundred meters of them, a hair’s breadth in the vast distances of space. Then suddenly the engine stuttered, a hiccup that robbed it of half a kilometer in a moment. Another stutter, then another and suddenly the glaring red around it transformed to dull grey as its fuel load died and the internal arming systems shut down. The slim metal tube that had come so close to ending them was caught by the gravity of the planet and tumbled down and away to burn up in the atmosphere. The one behind it did the same, the others falling one by one as Mark, his lead increasing by the moment, let out the breath that he had not realized he had been holding and felt his stomach uncurl from around his heart. He heard one of the engineers let out a whoop of joy as the last fell away, the ship that had launched it joining the wave of pursuers that were being slowly left in their wake and Mark allowed himself a grin as they accelerated ever faster.

They had a full minute of relief before it died as they rounded the planet and saw the vast bulk of an Eagle class cruiser moving slowly to eclipse their escape route. The Hegemony was not done with them yet. As she came into view her hanger doors opened, disgorging a squad of talons. Her Captain must have been a rare one to keep his fighter crews at launch readiness even in close orbit over their home. 

‘Nav, we need a new course, get me a corridor calculation now! Engines, give me thruster control.’ Again the ship changed, new systems sparking to life beneath his hands as the fighters finally closed, engines at full burn in a last attempt to slow them for the heavier ships behind. Precious seconds ticked by, the engineer plugged into the nav station working feverishly until he shouted.

‘Corridor is on your console my Lord!’ Mark wrenched the controls around, skipping the ship off the atmosphere like a stone from a pond and firing them into space as the fighters accelerated away from their parent, burning their engines to intercept them. He felt the gravity well fighting them, bleeding precious speed from them moment by moment. But ahead of him was space, empty and inviting and his engineer had done his work well, making the most of the start they had already gained as he plotted their new escape from the cloying grip of the planet’s gravity.

The fighter captains did their best, aiming ahead of the lasher to try and cut her off and slow her the vital fraction that those behind needed. Almost a full minute ticket by and they were almost close enough for their machine guns to begin picking at the lasher’s engines when Mark cut main thrust and span the lasher on its axis. The ship whipped around in a moment to present its hard-points to their pursuers like a tiger whirling to bare its teeth. The hard-points were empty. In the Hegemony a Captain would oversee the installation of his main guns once he took possession of his command from the re-fit and maintenance crews. Mark had dared not attempt that ceremony in the dry-dock and the light assault guns and missile racks that should have dominated his arsenal were instead nestled in the cargo bay. But the talons knew only that they chased a lasher, not that she was fresh from re-fit and just the threat of that fusillade balked them. They sheared aside, swinging down and across in an evasive pattern that took them on an opposite tack, their formation fanning out to rob the guns they feared of a compact target. Two minutes and twenty seconds was the average battle-space life time of a talon. Every fighter pilot knew it and every fighter pilot dreaded it.

The lasher completed her spin, heading once more for freedom as the engines flared and she leapt forward as though now scenting the nearness of safety. The new course was making the most of their speed as Mark refined their heading, the ship sliding free of the planet’s gravity well now rather than fighting it. The maneuver had not slowed them anywhere near what was needed for their other pursuers to catch up and as the talons realized their mistake and swung back onto a pursuit course Mark was already pulling out of range. He could still hear the general frequency, the voice of the Admiral cursing Captains that with all the will in the system could not close with their prey. The fighters were the only ships fast enough to stand a chance of catching them but they had been at full burn for minutes now. They tried anyway, the talons and other wings that had chased them from all across the planet giving their all but as with the missiles before them the mathematics of fuel, speed and distance fell against the pursuers.

Finally Mark heard what he had been waiting for. The voice was heavy with anger and regret, the wing commander bracing himself before he announced that the chase was over. Mark thumbed the toggle to broadcast the message throughout the ship as it came through. ‘Wing Delta-Delta-Four-Two here, we are at bingo fuel. We are breaking off pursuit.’ Around him the crew erupted into cheers, pounding each other on the back and laughing with the relief of men who have come within an inch of death and found themselves alive. In the lasher’s wake the talons curved away, throttling down from combat speed to begin the trek back to the now distant hanger that had launched them. Behind them more fighters were following suit, a dejected procession back to the planet, Mark almost able to feel the reluctance of the hunters as they watched their prey vanish into the vastness of space.

Mark let the crew celebrate. They had done better than he could have ever hoped for, out-foxing the most powerful fleet in the sector in an unfamiliar ship. He blinked out of the combat displays and sank back in his chair, punching in the pre-set cruise pattern that would take them to the edge of the system and then on a hyperspace jump to deep space on a wide, untraceable course. He let out a long, slow, shuddering breath, the after-effects of adrenaline making his hands shake as he surfaced from the trance of combat. He looked up at the smiling faces of his crew, grinning at him like monkeys, apparently uncaring that they were currently the most wanted fugitives in the sector. Erill stood among them, a look of deep satisfaction on his face. As the noise died he advanced a step, raising his voice slightly to bring quiet to the bridge.

‘My Lord, lasher at cruising speed. Systemic damage - negative. Damage to armor – assessment progressing. Query for engineering log, lasher designation?’

Mark blinked in surprise. Of course, the ship had been stripped of everything from her pirate days including her name. Her new Captain would have named her when he took possession. He supposed that was him now. He settled back in his chair, staring at the viewing screen that now showed the Corvus system in full.

‘Starfarer.’ He said finally, patting the gleaming new metal of a console. ‘We’ll call her Starfarer.’
[close]

That's all for now. As always your thoughts and comments are very sincerely appreciated. Thank you to everyone who has posted their feedback already, the positive response to this has been great to see. I don't know how long this is going to end up being, it could well turn itself into a full fledged novel. I'll do my best to keep it going as long as you guys and girls want it though.

arcibalde

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up
« Reply #26 on: January 14, 2013, 03:53:41 AM »

 :o :o :o Awesome!!! :o :o :o
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Pelhamds

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up
« Reply #27 on: January 20, 2013, 10:59:07 AM »

Ok, after re-reading  all that you have written I genuinely think that when you have either finished or written 10 - 15 chapters should publish it as a e-book on Amazon.
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up
« Reply #28 on: January 27, 2013, 01:58:04 PM »

Hi Guys,

Thank you again for all your positive feedback. It's really great to read. I just wanted to make a quick post to let you know that it might be a while before I'm able to get chapter 8 up. Without getting into too much detail, I simply don't have the time right now to work on this. It is still a priority for me and I have a very clear picture of where I want to take the story but it is probably going to be a month or so before I can get the time to work on the next chapter. Again, this is by no means dead and I fully intend to pick it back up just as soon as I can but it will be on a hiatus for the moment. Sorry to all of you who were looking forward to the next installment.

Pelhamds

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up
« Reply #29 on: March 13, 2013, 06:58:26 PM »

Hi Pendragon, I really like/liked your story so I compiled it into a PDF after editing it for some misspellings and weird ways of staying things I hope you like it, and I hope that a new chapter can be added to it (Editing took me 2 hours....)

http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o76qgwmvaw7vxd9

Thanks again man, really liked it :)
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