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Author Topic: Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up  (Read 17904 times)

Pendragon

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Hope and Duty - Chapter 7 up
« on: September 06, 2012, 03:59:12 AM »

This is the first chapter of what I hope will be an on-going story. It's the first time in a while I've been inspired to write like this so I hope you guys like it.


Chapter 1

Spoiler
The vast hall was filled with the hum of conversation over the mellow background of the violin music that flowed from hidden speakers. Guests milled and flowed across the gleaming floor, carried by tides of conversation which ebbed and rose with the complex politics that governed any interaction of the wealthy and powerful. The slate grey broadcloth of the Hegemony navy dominated, a sombre uniformed field splashed with colour by the elegant gowns of escorts and wives. This ball was a place to show wealth and their jewellery sparkled in the light of the chandeliers that hovered and wove elegant patterns in the air above their heads as they gently spun and moved on their suspensor generators. Immaculately uniformed navy-men acted as waiters, trays of drink and rich foods making the rounds, obvious wealth evident in the crystal glasses and silver chased dishes. Tables and chairs lined two walls and at one a young commander pleaded his case with a richly uniformed admiral whose coat glittered with gold braid and the medals requisite to his rank.

‘But Sir, I need a commission! I’ll take anything, a reclaimed hound, a freighter, anything!’ His name was Mark Steiner and he hated the need to beg this man. He was twenty-three, tall and broad shouldered from naval academy training with his single, commanders’, epaulette bright and new on his shoulder. He was also desperate, not only in his need but in his fight to remain calm despite the storm of emotions within him. Grief and rage, fresh and raw, boiled within him, eroding the professional manners and eloquence that should have aided him here, where he needed them most.

The Admiral frowned at his tone and he lowered his eyes, forcing himself to be calm, asserting the iron control that his father had taught him. ‘I am sorry, I speak out of turn. But you are my last hope. Despite the political differences you were an ally to my father, with what has happened… My Lord Carther, you must understand my need.’

Admiral Carther was a short man, the muscle of a military youth wasted to portliness by age and rich living, his complexion maintained by the rejuvenating treatments of the wealthy and his eyes gleaming green whenever they caught the light, a sign of the micro-circuitry of a fleet officer’s implants. He raised his wine-glass and took a long, slow drink apparently savouring the taste as his small eyes regarded Mark coolly.

‘I understand.’ He said finally and Mark dared to hope for a moment before he continued, ‘But I cannot help you. The investigation will take weeks to draw its conclusions and if your father is found wanting,’ Mark felt his hands curl into fists at his sides, the knuckles whitening with tension, ‘I cannot be seen to be an ally to that.’

Mark bit back the anger that wanted to explode at this man who had never known need or danger in his life yet controlled the lives of so many fighting men and stared coldly at the floor before raising his eyes again. ‘My Lord, I understand your concerns but you must understand mine. They have rendered summary judgements without enquiry. My family is indebted for almost sixty thousand credits and it will be weeks, perhaps months before we are able to appeal.  Without a commission to stave off the creditors we will lose everything.’

The admiral regarded him over the rim of his glass. ‘I sympathise.’ That was all he said, in a tone of finality that made it plain those words would be the sum total of his action in this matter. An aide that had been hovering nearby stepped forward as though to usher Mark away but the commander stood and stared balefully at him until he stepped back.

He turned back to the Admiral and bowed, ‘Thank you for your time Admiral. I’ll let you get back to the party.’ Mark turned and marched crisply away, barely seeing those that he moved through as his mind whirled. Like an automaton he retrieved his hat and side-arm from the doormen, smoothing down his dress uniform jacket, staring for a moment at the gleaming pips at his cuffs as he rode the elevator down.

The Admiralty was a vast building, a hundred stories of gleaming marble, steel and glass in the centre of the sprawling complex of fleet buildings that surrounded Victory square, a square mile mosaic depicting a Hegemony fleet soaring through space. When he stepped outside he turned to stare up at the glow from the penthouse banquet hall so high above before jamming his flat-peaked cap on his head. He would not give into despair. He could not. His mother and sister needed him, they needed the house, safety, security, time to grieve the passing of his father. He could not afford the same luxuries.

He scanned his Fleet tags at a transport station and climbed into the pod that rose from the concealed garage below ground. He spoke his address and the pod accelerated forward, slipping from victory square to join the late night traffic. He sat, head in his hands. The admiral had been his last hope. With the destruction of the majority of the third fleet any of his family’s traditional allies who were not already caught up in the debacle had been scrambling to distance themselves from the catastrophe.

The Hegemony had lost hundreds of thousands of credits worth of ships and materiel along with almost three thousand crew presumed dead along with their ships. The Lords of the Admiralty were scrambling to recover not only their losses but also their status and that required scape-goats. Admiral Rawlins had already been all but crucified in the news reports, accused of everything from treason to incompetence. The wrath that fuelled that witch-hunt was trickling down now and his captains and commanders were each in their own turn receiving their own portion of blame.

Treason had been settled on as an explanation very early on and because that charge was levelled summary judgements were able to be made. Some lost ships had been able to broadcast their logs to the handful of survivors before they were destroyed and some, the lucky ones, showed an effort in battle that put their loyalty beyond doubt. Any who fell short or whose logs had not been retrieved was assumed to be at fault the cot was being taken from the estate of the commanding officer. The Admiral’s family was perhaps lucky in that they had been aboard his flagship with him and were presumably dead, unable to see the destruction of decades of wealth and reputation by a rapacious court.

No such release for the Steiners. Eventually an enquiry might clear their name, but that could be months from now. Far too late for them when they faced losing all they owned by the end of the week. He considered briefly the side-arm against his hip, the reassuring weight of the rail-pistol a familiar sensation. Not for the first time he thought of placing the barrel against his head and letting its magnetic generators send a round through his brain. But he could not, he could not fail what remained of his family. His father had been their livelihood, now that fell to him. He could not, would not abandon them. He clutched his hands in front of him and stared at them. He would find some way to fix this.
[close]

Chapter 2

Spoiler
The tall, ornate doors clicked closed, the uniformed guard pushing it shut behind Mark as he stepped out of the hearing chamber. The assembled officers studiously avoided watching him as he marched past, boots sounding loudly on the marble floor in the sudden silence that had settled when he emerged. They all knew who he was, why he was here. From the expression on his face and the iron taught poise with which he carried himself they equally all knew that his latest petition had been denied.  He paused in the foyer outside the conference room and its attendant reception, forcing himself to take deep, calming breaths.

His despair was gone now, burned away by the frustration and anger that burned like a sun in his chest. No one would help. No one would even speak to him. He had gone to the fleet office to access the records of the battle that had decimated the fifth fleet but had been stone-walled. Everything was sequestered, he did not even know how many ships had made it back. Even his father’s service record had been sealed. He could still remember the half pitying stare of the clerk staring at him from behind the bleak grey desk as he told Mark that his father’s medals would not be released to his family, this small man who had never known a moment’s danger in his life speaking to him as though he were a child.

He had entered the fleet academy at twelve, been assigned as an ensign on his first ship at the age of fifteen, a year before he should have been eligible. He had had his first combat mission a month after his sixteenth birthday, manning the port flux vents on a lasher as it duelled and danced with a hound that had been preying on local shipping. He had taken part in forty-four combat missions since then, six as the commander of Orestes, a beautiful vigilance class frigate with as sweet a latitude roll as any in the fleet, one that had caught more than one unwary opponent by surprise.

He had been a rising star in the fleet, destined for a Captaincy before his twenty-fifth birthday, perhaps a destroyer before he was thirty. But now the fifth fleet was… gone and because his father had been among its number so too was his career, the Steiner name transformed overnight to dirt. No-one would tell him how, or why. Why the ships that had returned were locked in a quarantine orbit. Why no information had been released to the families, not even a list of the dead. It had occurred to him that he did not even know for certain if his father was dead. His ship was not one of those locked in orbit under the watchful guns of the System Defence Fleet but there were escape pods, perhaps he had been picked up. But if so, then why was there no communication? Why had none of the grieving families been allowed contact with those that had returned? Why was every record of the fifth fleet’s demise sequestered?
 
He felt that if perhaps he could just find the answers to those questions then maybe he would be able to find something to hold off the doom that hung over them all. But he was impeded at every turn, sealed records, blank faces and impassive, or worse, pitying stares. It was as though he and those like him were the only ones aware of the enormity of the tragedy, of the need for answers, for justice. Everyone not already crushed by what had happened seemed keen to simply ignore it and bleed the families of dozens of the Hegemony’s finest captains dry. The more he thought about the injustice being done the hotter his anger burned and the greater his determination to pull out the root of this evil.
 
He marched through the Admiralty with his head high, meeting the furtive glances of those who glanced at him, glaring at them, daring them to pity him. He had his pride and his honour and if others would not recognise it then he did not need them to. He would be back tomorrow, rising with the sun to wait his turn and stand again before the council of admirals and ask for justice. He cared not that he was making powerful enemies every time he stepped through the ornate doors. His career was in ruins anyway and with the knowledge came a devilish freedom. What care had he if an admiral hated him for his impudence? His family was damned, whispers of treason surrounded him, his chances of a ship were naught, impudence was all he had left.
 
He went home, his visits for the day done. In had brought his car today and in the quiet of its cockpit as its AI guided it through the streets towards his family’s estate he allowed himself to relax, laying back against the synthetic leather with a sigh. His hands itched to be at the controls of a ship once more and whenever he closed his eyes the circuitry in his eyes flared, filling the blackness with a tactical grid and the attendant information feeds, a familiar tingle travelling down his spine as the plugs at the base of his skull came online in response, nerve signals from the rest of his body deadening as neural pathways were commandeered by the command signals. They had been fitted when he graduated to Lieutenant at nineteen and were as much a part of him now as the senses he had been born with.
 
He had spent six months under the tutelage of Dorn, his father’s bondsman, hard plugged in their estate’s training suite for hours at a time holding simulated command of everything from a fighter squadron to the stately, massive power of capital ships. His great grandfather had nearly beggared their family over a hundred years ago by buying and bribing the control chips necessary for the equipment but the result had been a succession of fine captains and crews that had been the envy of many and had repaid the expenditure a dozen times over gaining their family lands and holdings as reward and payment for scores of victories and dozens of captured ships throughout the decades. Mark had been raised to add to that role of glory. Instead he found himself upon the abyss of obscurity and penury.
 
The pod had emerged from the close packed buildings of the city that surrounded the vast edifice of the admiralty and climbed the surrounding hills to where the homes and estates of the wealthy and powerful resided. A prompt screen flashed up as it left the city’s AI zone and he took the controls, guiding the pod through the streets. He turned off the main road onto their estate’s drive and the security system flashed up a challenge, he tapped in his passcode and felt the tingle in his fingers as his biometrics were scanned and verified.
 
He passed the barracks where their family’s fifty bondsmen lived, a low, sprawling hab complex where they stayed with their families when not on rotation and drove onwards to the walled house. It was a fine building, two floors of slate grey stone over which a rambling, wild growth of the large leafed, star-shaped ivy native to this part of Corvus had been allowed to flourish. Security-screened windows edged with its white blossoms in these spring months. As he pulled to a halt he noted a strange car in the drive, a heavy, black vehicle that narrowed his eyes with concern. Had new papers been served? As he emerged from his car a grey uniformed officer stepped from the door of the house and he set his face to the impassive stone mask that it had worn for so much of the past few days.
 
Then the officer stepped into the daylight, and opened his arms in greeting, ‘Mark! You’re back at last.’ Mark stared in incomprehension for a moment as the Captain crossed the paved drive. ‘Mark! You’ve forgotten me.’
 
Hartford! Mark’s face broke into a smile. ‘Hartford? I didn’t even know you were on planet!’ He shook the proffered hand warmly, looking at one of his oldest friends. Hartford Lawson was the same age as him but there the similarity stopped, he was several centimetres shorted that Mark’s hundred eighty-two and slight of build in contrast to Mark’s broad shoulders.
 
‘I just got back this afternoon. They called the SDF back to oversee quarantine while they sort out this unholy mess and I’ve been trying to get through to you since we hit orbit but nobody would give me a line to you. It took me till this afternoon to get a shore pass from customs.’ Hartford had been a classmate of his at the academy, his family was one of the wealthiest in the city and it showed in his behaviour. He spent extravagantly, spending more on frivolities in a weekend of shore leave than entire families spent in a year. Mark had watched him pay a month’s salary to have a tailor achieve a tighter fit on an already perfect uniform. Raised to diligence, duty and respect Mark should have hated him for his languor and finery but he could not for beneath it all Hartford was kind and a born Captain with an adventurer’s taste for combat.
 
His smile faded as he released Mark’s hand, ‘I heard about the judgements, I am sorry, so sorry.’ He did not offer his condolences for Mark’s father for he at least knew how little of the man Mark had seen. Steiner’s did not raise their families, their wives did until they were old enough to be handed over to the regimen of the bondsmen, the finest fighters, combat engineers and pilots in the system bonded to them by credits and land shaping the next generation into tools to continue the family’s ascension that were then honed and refined by the Hegemony fleet academy.
 
Mark had known his father as a pupil knows his principle, a distant authority figure who glanced over reports and scores before giving unfeeling approval or condemnation. He had not hated him for it. Their family had risen far in the last hundred years and only ruthless, unfailing grit would keep it from falling again. He had recognised this at an early age and consoled himself with the glory of achievement. Not everyone was able to do so, he knew, the tearful nights of other students at the academy had been evidence enough of that to his adolescent self but he had known his duty from a young age and had never failed in it.
 
Mark nodded solemnly, ‘Thank you. I…’
 
Hartford patted his shoulder, his open, honest face did not wear a sombre expression well and he allowed himself a sympathetic smile beneath his neatly bound back blonde hair. ‘How are you holding up?’
 
Mark frowned, his anger clouding his face again, ‘No-one wants to know… they’re pinning the blame wherever they can. I don’t even know when they plan to execute warrants on the judgements, or when they will release the evidence so that we can appeal. I’ve been doing what I could but…’
 
Hartford rolled his eyes, ‘Mark, my boy, your education has made you honest, diligent and one of the finest Captains I’ve had the pleasure of knowing but it has left you sorely lacking in certain arenas.’ He saw the look on Mark’s face and his expression sobered. ‘Sorry, what I mean is, this isn’t something to go at as a Captain, you need to be a politician for this.’
 
Mark frowned, ‘What do you mean?’
 
Hartford gave him a small smile, ‘Creator’s grace but you’re thick sometimes. Don’t worry, Hartford’s here to save the day.’ He flashed a grin that had probably had a dozen credits’ worth of dentistry behind it and held an arm out to the open door.
[close]

New Chapters are added below as these posts are reaching their word count.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2013, 05:05:38 PM by Pendragon »
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GUNINANRUNIN

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Re: Hope and Duty
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2012, 10:52:06 AM »

I can see you spent a good deal of time on this. I'm looking forward to the next chapter.
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2012, 04:13:00 AM »

Chapter 2 is up, sorry for the wait. Let me know what you think.

LordHerpDerpington

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 2 is up
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2012, 05:31:32 AM »

So far, very good - I really like the way you portrayed the Hegemony. It reminds me a lot of the Napoleonic wars, how money bought commissions and the like. Quite a nice contrast to the futuristic setting.
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It sounds as reasonable as the rest of quantum mechanics, so why not? 

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The Soldier

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 2 is up
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2012, 09:03:44 AM »

I like it, it's a pretyt good story.  I look forward to more. :)
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Archduke Astro

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 2 is up
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2012, 06:07:46 PM »

Lots of intriguing content on this subforum, and I regret that more players don't usually take the time to see it.

I don't generally comment upon game-based fiction, but I must make an exception here. I look forward to more of this tale. The way you paint a scene is interesting; nicely done.

It is not at all easy to write convincing fanfic (regardless of the game used as a source, some of the genre reads like, well, nevermind ::) ), but you skillfully dodged several bullets while doing so. No small task to make us find a way to care about a character, but you have assuredly done it. Waiting for Chapter 3 now. :)
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 2 is up
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2012, 01:58:50 AM »

Chapter 4 is up. Sorry for the long wait everyone. Just a short update to let you know this isn't dead.

Chapter 3

Spoiler
Mark followed him in, the house was decorated to his mother’s taste, plain but finely made furnishings with richly patterned rugs and throws in the deep blue and green of their family’s livery. Hartford had spent a great deal of time here when they had been classmates at the academy and moved through the entrance hall with the ease of a man at home. He paused to let Mark hand his side-arm and uniform jacket to the butler then led the way through to the sitting room, pausing outside for a moment.

‘Go on in and give them a kiss. I’ll join you once you’ve made your greetings.’ He patted his arm and Mark nodded his thanks for the small consideration. Opening the door he entered the well-lit sitting room, a tall airy chamber with tall windows that let in the southern sun. He nodded to the maid that had been chaperoning their tea with Hartford and now curtsied and withdrew silently. She closed the door behind her and Mark turned to embrace his sister as she rose to greet him, holding her tightly in silence for a long moment. He squeezed her slight frame before turning to his mother, sitting tautly upright and watching him with her sad, expressive eyes. Her battle was worse than his. He had respected and admired his father as an officer but never learned to love him. She had and for that her desolation was all the worse than his.

He knelt before her, lifting one of her long-fingered hands to his lips. He looked up at her and forced a smile to his lips. He had so much of her in him, her fine, sharp-featured face and large eyes were reflected on his face, only his height and broad shoulders showing his father’s blood. She returned it, her grief retreating slightly as she reached out to touch his cheek. They did not speak for a long time, the three of them in silent tableau, taking comfort in each other’s presence and the shared burden. Eventually his mother squeezed his hand and Mark rose, crossing once more to the door to open it to Hartford.

He smiled and entered, bowing again to the two women before resuming the seat he had vacated to come and greet Mark, naturally falling into a languid slouch as Mark seated himself beside his mother. There was a watered white wine and a small lunch spread on dishes and he picked up his glass before sighing. ‘Thank you again for the hospitality of your house Lady Steiner, my compliments on the vintage. Is it from your own vineyards?’

As good a captain as he was Hartford was most at home in the drawing rooms and dance-floors of the city and the easy grace that gave him such success there allowed him to effortlessly prompt and carry a conversation in the afternoon sun. Pretty compliments and pleasantries that would have sounded hollow from most were well received when presented by his boyish face and he talked blithely on, reminiscing on his time with Mark at the academy, drawing smiles from his mother and sister.

Mark let him talk. Hartford’s distraction was good for them, far better than any art at his disposal at drawing their minds from the concerns of the day. He could not make them forget them entirely, the grief was too raw, too new to be cast aside so easily but for a time at least Mark’s mother thought of things other than her lost husband and the threatening desolation and his sister was doted on and showered with compliments and for that he loved his friend. Dinner plans were made and kept and it was only once the dishes of that meal had been cleared and his mother and sister retired for the night that Hartford ceased his chatter as the two of them returned once more to the sitting room. They waited in silence as a maid placing a decanter of port and two glasses between them before bowing and retiring for the night.

Mark poured them both a glass in silence and then held it out to his friend, ‘Thank you Hartford Lawson, you are the truest friend I have. Most of our friends have abandoned us… they needed this.’

Hartford smiled at him and clinked his glass with Mark’s, ‘It is good to see you again Mark, I wish it were under better circumstances.’

Mark nodded solemnly, ‘Me too. You seem to be doing well, a Captain already.’

Hartford knew he was being teased and smiled, ‘It cost me five-thousand two hundred credits and well you know it. Thank goodness for money.’

Mark smiled in response for a moment before his face darkened again. ‘Money… we owe sixty-thousand in ship and head money… we can pay it, but we will lose everything to do so. The house, the holdings in the city, we will even have to sell off our bond contracts, Creator knows if whoever buys them up will house their families as we do. Once we pay though, they will never let me on a ship again. So, tell me Hartford, how do I beat this?’ He let his anger rise again, his knuckles white as he gripped the glass in his hand.

Hartford’s face grew serious as well, his friend leaning forward to stare at him with an intensity that Mark had never seen in him. ‘Tell me Mark, how good a Captain are you?’

Mark paused, considering the question for a moment before simply answering, ‘I am a Steiner.’

The pride of that one sentence brought the grin back to his friend’s face, ‘You are at that and I at least remember what that means. So tell me, if you were a captain given a cruise where would you go? How would you take sixty thousand credits in prize money?’

Mark answered immediately, little else had occupied his mind these last days. ‘Sub-sector seven-eight-nine, to seven-eight-four, lateral cruise across the solar plane.’

Hartford blinked at him for a moment, ‘But you’d be right between the pirates and the Tri-tach trade lanes! You’d have no retreat!’

Mark shook his head, ‘With a decent frigate that won’t matter. I could out-run anything that was a threat. Even if I did get cut-off, I turn for deep-space and go full burn. Tri-tach security forces won’t pursue because they won’t want to leave their convoys unguarded and the war-lords don’t carry enough supplies to get too far away from the space lanes, I’ll outlast any of them. I can do the same with any prizes I take, give them a skeleton crew with a trust-worthy officer and have them go for deep space then circle around out of range of any beacons, manual navigation would get them back to Hegemony space without having to worry about running into un-friendlies. I strip them of supplies to keep my ship going, as long as the engines and sensors work repairs can wait till they’re back at the station. I would just need to give them enough for the crew to fab necessities for the trip back.’ He spoke with enthusiasm now, ‘The tri-tach and the pirates are constantly clashing, I can pass along the lines and snap up damaged survivors or strip destroyed ships.’

Hartford raised his eyebrows and took a long drink of his port, ‘Risky.’

Mark shrugged, ‘I need sixty-thousand credits, safe doesn’t get me that.’

‘Good point.’

Mark sighed and sat back, staring un-seeing at the painted ceiling, a broadsword wing crossing against a nebula bright with multi-coloured stars. ‘Not that it will happen.’ He looked over to his friend, ‘How did this happen Hartford? How were the fifth fleet broken?’

‘Admiral Gedderren *** himself.’ Hartford responded in a flat, plain voice as though he were discussing the weather.

Mark sat up straight, staring at his friend’s face which was serious again. ‘What?’ Admiral Fernly Gedderren had been Admiral Rawlins’ second in command, a political appointment bought with money and influence. ‘What do you mean?’

Hartford’s voice was acid with disapproval as he continued, staring at his port with a frown, ‘Rawlins had out-manoeuvred a warlord, a particularly nasty bastard who calls himself The Conflagration. He has a handful of cruisers, a dozen destroyers and the usual scattering of lashers and hounds plus a swarm of fighters and bombers that have been plaguing our mining stations and convoys for months. Rawlins had been chasing him for weeks, finally caught him and deployed the fifth fleet in a battle line ready to catch as many of them as he could. He was outnumbered but he had better ships and you know the quality of his crews.’ Mark nodded, the Fifth fleet was famous for its hard steadiness in battle. ‘He would have murdered the bastard and made shrapnel out of half his fleet except that Gedderren got out of position, was caught and panicked.’

‘He panicked?’

Hartford shrugged, ‘I don’t know what else you could call it. Apparently he was all full of puff and vinegar when it kicked off because he broke formation and advanced as soon as their fighter wings hit sensor range. Then wouldn’t you know he gets caught by a pair of destroyers and a cruiser with his flux full because he’s been trying to swat fighters with his main batteries and so he overloads as soon as they open up on him. He tried to fall back and ordered everyone he could forward to cover him. He’s an admiral so the captains had no choice but to obey. The first to arrive were a pair of frigates, Ariate and Nelson, the captains were brave buggers because they tried to screen him and give him a chance to vent and turn to provide supporting fire. Except that he was at full burn heading the other way so instead they got torn apart. Gedderren saw it, realised he still had fighters up his tail-pipe, *** his pants and ordered a full retreat.’

Mark knew how the rest of the battle would have unfolded without having to be told. Rawlins would have immediately countermanded the order but it would have already been too late. The fleet would have been thrown into confusion and the structure of an entire flank thrown into disarray, all of this, moments before the main engagement began. Fighters, afraid of being abandoned without the fuel to make it home would have pulled back to their carriers. Frigates, suddenly isolated on the front line would be easy meat for the fighter wings at the vanguard of the enemy fleet. With no fighter or frigate support the destroyers would be over-whelmed and then this pirate would have been a poor commander indeed if he could not out-manoeuver isolated cruisers and battleships.

Hartford saw his thoughts and nodded gravely, ‘Aye. Eventually Rawlins had to order the retreat anyway to try and save as many as he could. He screened them with the flagship and a handful of other Captains volunteered to stay. They fought hard. Even with what happened Rawlins still blew up a third of the bastard’s fleet before he was overwhelmed.’

‘But… but they’re blaming Rawlins and the captains that died, there are a dozen families in the same state as ours.’ Mark’s outrage exploded from him.

Hartford sighed, ‘Admiral Gedderren has the military sense of a gnat and a soul as yellow as Corvus itself but more important than either of those things is the fact that he is also obscenely rich and because his family has been that way for generations he is also obscenely powerful. Half the admiralty board are invested in him. If he was blamed then he would be destroyed. The full sum and the full blame would fall on his shoulders and not even his Lordship the right honourable Fernly Gedderen would be able to survive that.

But if he loses everything then all of his allies also lose a great deal, not only in money but also in power for having aligned themselves with a man seen as a fool. Rawlins was a damned fine Admiral but he was also unpopular with the Admiralty, that’s why they kept him on the fringes with the fifth fleet. So they sacrifice him, a handful of captains and Gedderen is the hero who saved the fifth fleet from total annihilation by ordering a retreat and saving a dozen ships while Rawlins is the fool who tried to stand and fight an unwinnable battle.’

Mark was aghast, staring at his friend in confusion, ‘How… how do you know all this? I’ve been trying to access the records of the battle for days!’

Hartford made a dismissive gesture, ‘Oh you hear things, you just have to hold money up to your ear.’

Mark stared unseeing at the table between them, shock and betrayed rage written on his face. ‘They’ll sacrifice us for that then, for that fat bastard?’ One hand went to his hip where his side-arm would normally be and he stared about the room as thought expecting to see the admiral in the room so that he could vent his rage upon him.

Hartford leaned forward and his voice was a serious as Mark had ever heard as he said, ‘Not if we have anything to say about it.’ He saw he had Mark’s attention and leaned back slowly and Mark sensed that at last they had come to the true purpose of his friend’s visit. He waited expectantly and Hartford took a deep drink before beginning. When he did he spoke slowly, choosing his words with apparent care. ‘My father, is a cold-nosed, ruthless bugger but whatever his faults, he is a patriot and a blow to the Hegemony is a blow to him. Gedderen has wounded the Hegemony. In pursuit of his own personal gain he has hurt her, hurt all of us. Whatever the politics at work, whatever the loss, my father aims to see Gedderen punished for that and he is not the only one who feels that way. My father has confided a small part of his plans to me and a small measure of responsibility for bringing them to fruition.’

Mark leaned forward, his eyes alight with excitement, ‘What do you need me to do?’
[close]

Chapter 4

Spoiler
Hartford took a deep breath, ‘We need proof... we need something we can take to the council that shows them what happened.’

Mark frowned, ‘But the black-boxes on the ships that came back. Surely they show enough to damn him.’

‘No, most of those that made it back were too far from Gedderen’s flank to see what happened before everything fell apart. Besides which, many of the Captains are terrified that they’ll be stripped of their rank. Gedderen’s the only senior officer who has come out of this with his power intact and many of them have rallied around him, supporting his version of events to try and save their own skins. Anything we got from the fleet would be… unreliable at best. We need something untainted… we need the sensor logs from the Conflagration’s fleet.’

Mark paused with his glass halfway to his lips, ‘What? How am I supposed to get that?’

Hartford hesitated, fidgeting with his glass for a long moment, ‘We need you to go Rogue.’ He winced slightly as he said it, understanding just how much he asked of his friend.

Mark sat very still for what seemed a long time. He could see how Lawson’s plan would work without any further explanation. If he could get off planet in a frigate, something fast enough to outrun the system defence fleet then it would be all too easy for him to make a name for himself as a pirate. With his knowledge of Hegemony patrols and trade routes every pirate admiral in the Sector would be courting him, seeking to add him to their fleet. He simply had to arrange matters that he ended up with The Conflagration and from there it would not be too hard to manufacture a reason to access the sensor logs of a ship that was present at the destruction of the fifth fleet.

He looked up at his friend. ‘My mother, my sister… I could not take them with me. I dare not, I cannot, put them in the danger that this would entail.’

Hartford leaned forward and gripped his shoulder, his face serious as he stared at his friend. ‘Mark, whatever happens, I will look after them as though they were my own. You are my truest friend and I will not allow a single one of yours to go without succour.’

Every caution that nature and training had given him rebelled against the idea of putting his mother and sister’s welfare in the hands of another but he could not doubt his friend’s sincerity. They had trained together in the academy for years and fought shoulder to shoulder in desperate fights and boarding actions during their commissioning tours as lieutenants. He was family in all but blood.

His mind settled on that account he wrestled still with the enormity of the plan’s implications for him. As soon as he was declared rogue his family would be stripped of its livery and crest, their roll call of honour burned from the books. Only the full political weight of Hartford’s father would be able to rescue their honour and lands, and even then only if the plan succeeded completely. Failure in any part of it would put his family beyond redemption in the eyes of the Hegemony. Capture would end only in an orgy of firing squads and hangings which would see him and anyone aiding him buried in the unmarked grave of a traitor or simply ignominiously jettisoned into space with the rest of the trash if their execution took place off planet. Even success could bring ruin, if as a rogue he was forced to kill any man of the Hegemony fleet or citizen he would be a murderer as well as a rogue and not even the removal of the latter would save him from the former.

But what alternatives presented themselves? He had no ship that would keep the debtors at bay while he was off planet, nor any prospect of one. The Steiner name was already dirt, his father’s medals likely to be stricken and him doomed to a life of ignominy eking out a living on the half-pay of a land-bound officer until they finally found a reason to take his commission away. He could see no way to avoid that but to expose the truth as Hartford suggested.

The thought of betraying the Hegemony in this way cut at the very heart of how he had been raised. Duty was all. But to whom did his duty lie? To the corrupt council that jockeyed and fought for power at its head, moving and sacrificing those beneath them like pawns on a chessboard? That thought came and was discarded, the faces of the bondsmen that lived with their families in the compound a scant few hundred metres from this room replacing it, surmounted by those of his mother and sister. They were to whom he owed his allegiance.

As his mind whirled he realised he had already made his decision and that his chaotic thoughts were simply his adjustment to the new shape of his life. Already behind them he could feel plans forming, the familiar excitement of going into action suffusing his body. He looked up at his friend who was watching him carefully and took a long drink, draining his glass.

‘I will need a ship, something fast enough to get off-planet and past the SDF.’

Hartford nodded, ‘Of course, we can arrange something.’

‘Two days. I must speak with my mother and sister and persuade them to this. I will need to form my crew as well. How many should I plan on?’

Hartford thought for a moment. ‘Fifteen would do, twenty would be better.’

Mark nodded again, ‘Two days Hartford. Return to me then.’

Hartford grinned and poured him a fresh glass before raising his own, ‘The Hegemony.’

Mark paused, ‘The Steiners.’ He intoned instead and they clinked glasses and drained them. Seized by a sudden energy he whirled and hurled the glass into the fireplace where it smashed to shards, the flames flaring briefly as they consumed the remnants of the port. When his friend left he remained awake, standing at the window of the sitting room and staring out towards the lights of the city and the great monolith of the Admiralty. His hands twitched as though at the controls of a ship, his body reacting to the adrenaline that gripped him still. It was changed now in his mind’s eye, no longer the centre of his ambitions and loyalty.

As when he made the decision to play his part in Lawson’s plan he realised that this had been the case for some time but he only now recognised it consciously. It was a foe now and he stared at it with the eye of a man staring at his enemy. He smiled tightly as he did so, this pawn would not be sacrificed.
[close]

The next chapter will hopefully not take nearly as long and will definitely be more substantial. I hope you all like the plan as its presented. thank you so much for all your support so far.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2012, 03:45:32 AM by Pendragon »
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LordHerpDerpington

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 3 is up
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2012, 09:03:11 AM »

Ooh,  new. chapter!  Very good, I'm getting a sort of Sharpe-esque feeling from this.
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It sounds as reasonable as the rest of quantum mechanics, so why not? 

I feel warm inside every time someone calls me "Your Lordship" or "My Lord"

The Soldier

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 3 is up
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2012, 12:34:00 PM »

Ah, very interesting.  Interesting indeed.  I really want to see that crazy plan go into action! :D
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MajorTom

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Re: Hope and Duty - Chapter 3 is up
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2012, 05:08:56 PM »

I love it and I want to see more of it.

Good work!
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 4
« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2012, 03:47:15 AM »

Chapter 4 is up. Sorry that it took so long. I'm still working on this I promise. Thank you all for your support.

Aratoop

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 4
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2012, 09:27:32 AM »

This is amazing...
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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 4
« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2012, 07:20:05 PM »

Very good. :) Going rouge, eh?
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Pendragon

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 4
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2012, 03:28:12 AM »

New chapter. It's a big one too. This one is mostly exposition and a little slow but we're going to get into action next chapter I swear.

Spoiler
Chapter 5

He slept little that night. Nervous energy filled him and eventually he forced himself to take a soporific that pushed him under for a few short hours, enough to refresh him for the day ahead. He rose with the dawn and made his way straight to the command centre entrance at the rear of the house. He touched a spot on a tapestry that seemed identical to every other and the familiar panel slid aside to reveal the armoured elevator. He spoke his name and saw the sensor lights blink as they caught and analysed him, a moment’s search clearing him before the door slid open. He stepped inside and the lift swept smoothly into motion, no movement apparent to him within its inertia dampened confines but he knew that it carried him down almost fifty feet and a hundred paces out beneath the grounds of their lands.

The trip took only a moment and he stepped out into the familiar, bright chambers of the barracks and command centre where his family had planned their ascension for generations. They were tall and airy, white walled, the traditional, wooden furniture and panelled walls of the rooms in which the Steiners lived giving way suddenly to the clean, metallic lines of military equipment. A small armoury contained enough arms and armour to equip fifty men for battle. Emergency barracks could house a hundred and fifty people comfortably and the computing core of the small Fab plant held the codes for everything from basic supplies to atmospheric fighter craft. The Steiners had always believed in being prepared.

He slowed as he walked through the familiar rooms. He paused in the doorway of the training suite where he had spent so many endless hours of his adolescence, the rows of chairs with their VR headsets and neural plugs that would soon be busy as the bondsmen still on the estate obeyed their training rotas, keeping their skills sharp. Next the conference room where he had seen his father sit at the head of the table for so long. The high-backed black leather chair was his now.

He wandered the rooms for some minutes before finally turning and entering the Tac-Com. There was a guard on the door who snapped to attention as he approached, a crisp salute greeting him which he returned. The guard kept his eyes straight ahead but could not help the flicker of his eyes to the face of the young man who was now his liege lord as Mark passed him. Within the room another man in the Steiner’s livery stared at his monitors with the unblinking concentration of a naval sensor technician. He did not acknowledge Mark’s entry with even the briefest flicker of attention, a lack of recognition that was allowed only to those on sensor duty so that they need never take their eyes from their screens for protocol’s sake.

His cybernetic eyes and the direct control plugs built into his wrists marked him as an elite man, only they were given such upgrades. Mark recognised him and groped for his name for a moment before it came to him.

‘Carther, report.’

The engineer straightened slightly in his chair, rising slightly out of the trance that men like him were conditioned into through long years of training. ‘Nothing unusual Sir, traffic levels to and from local space-ports are within expected margins given the quarantine. There has been no unusual military or enforcement activity. Declassified and obtained reports of engagements system-wide have been tabulated for review.’ As he spoke his eyes did not leave the screens in front of him, his voice the calm, inflectionless monotone that was a product of the hypnotic indoctrination and cybernetic augmentation that made him and those like him so devastatingly effective.

Mark nodded then paused as he stepped up towards the command dias. Like in the conference room, this seat had always been his father’s chair. He had sat here before but always as his father’s proxy. The moment passed and he slipped into the chair as Sir Steiner for the first time. Practised fingers slid over the controls calling up the data that he needed for his plans. He tapped into more and more data-lines and when he was ready took a deep breath and immersed himself in the space-lanes that would define his future.

It was two hours later that Dorn entered, his father’s second in command, now Mark’s. He had met Mark’s father during his first tour of command almost forty years ago. Mark was not sure how old he was now, pushing seventy at least. But he had never met a harder man, despite his age, despite all the cares that must be weighing upon him he sat straight in his chair, his thin frame still wiry and powerful, a hard faced made harder by the lines and wear of decades of fighting and duty.

He exchanged salutes with the guard on the door and then strode towards the command podium, coming up short when he saw that the chair was taken. Mark glanced up and met his eyes and the older man saluted as protocol demanded when in the presence of his liege. Mark returned it and Dorn strode forward, cool eyes on him. Mark realised that the old man was measuring him as he watched that gaze flick across the displays.

‘Dorn reporting for duty my Lord.’ Mark blinked in surprise as he heard the title. Though it had been days since the news had broken he had barely been home, so busy had he been trying to gather allies or grasp a way out. When he had come home he had either been speaking with his mother or gone straight to bed before rising with the sun to leave once more. He had yet to see this man that had all but raised him. He had been “Boy” in his youth, “Mark” in his adolescence and “Sir” since his graduation from the command academy. “My Lord” had always been his father. Now he heard the familiar gravelly voice directing the words to him and he felt a hole open up in his soul. Not of loss but of failure.

He should have heard those words a week ago. He should have been here, seeing to his estate, to his people, to these men and women that called him Lord, not grasping at straws in the admiralty and scrambling for favour that he had known would not come. He took a deep breath.

‘Thank you Dorn. You have been seeing to the estate?’

Dorn seated himself in the second chair on the dias, pulling the controls and screens in around him. ‘Aye my Lord. Those families who have lost their bond to us have almost all left the compound. I have ensured that each has received the full value of their contract. A full accounting is available should you wish to see for yourself.’

Mark nodded, ‘Thank you, perhaps later. For now, I wish to hold a command meeting, yourself and three others, the most senior of our marines, engineers and hands. We have much to discuss.’ He glanced at the display before him, seven in the morning. ‘We will convene at nine-hundred hours.’

The cool stare stayed on him, the only reason to ask for those was to outfit a ship and Mark knew that the old man was measuring him, seeing if the boy had indeed become a man. Mark held his gaze, his actions of the last week had been those of a boy, Dorn had the right to his doubts. After a long moment Dorn nodded. ‘Aye my Lord.’ There was a small measure of warmth in the words and Mark felt a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

Mark paused before he began speaking again. ‘Dorn… I…’ The older man sensed the apology coming and Mark saw the brief but firm shake of his head, his eyes flicking to the engineer and the guard on the door. Mark nodded his understanding, he owed the man an apology, just like he owed one to all those who were pledged to him. But now was not the time for it. Dorn could know his doubts, his regrets, no-one else. For men to follow they must have faith in their leader and he was their leader now.

Dorn turned back to his work and Mark to his and they worked side by side for an hour before he considered himself ready. His mother and sister would be taking breakfast now and he had to speak with them before he held his command meeting. He returned to the elevator and through it to the house, catching sight of himself in a mirror that hung in one of its halls. He took a moment to care for his appearance, smoothing down the uniform jacket that he wore and re-binding his dark hair into the neat tail of a navy man. He collected himself, took a deep breath and then moved through to the gallery where his mother always took breakfast, at this time of year.

He pushed open the door and was brought up short when he saw that his mother and sister were attended not only by a maid who served them their breakfast but also by two guards in the Steiner’s livery who flanked a low chest laid on a side-board. He knew immediately what it held. His mother looked up at him, smiling sadly and he swallowed.

‘You know then...’

Her smile widened for a moment, ‘When I arose to find that you were in the command centre and not at the Admiralty I guessed. I loved and trusted your father Mark, just as I love and trust you and I know the soul that rests at the heart of you.’

Mark crossed to them, seating himself beside them on the low couches that surrounded the table where the dishes had been laid out. As he sat his sister laid her hand on his arm and he squeezed it reassuringly, meeting his mother’s eyes and finding he was able to hold them. ‘Tell me.’ Was all his mother said and he did so. First dismissing the guards and the maid then speaking plainly of the plan, hiding nothing of the little he had prepared so far.

‘Arrangements will be made for both of you and for all the families. You will be provided for in comfort and safety. There is still much to do.’ He said finally, ‘I meet with Dorn and our senior men in an hour to form a crew, the rest will go with you. An entourage to aid you in whatever circumstances Hartford is able to place you in.’

She smiled and patted his hand then turned her eyes to his sister. ‘Abigail, bring your brother his sword.’

She let go of his arm, pressing a kiss to his cheek with trembling lips, her fear at what was to come battling with his trust in him. She rose and moved to the chest, raising its inlaid lid and lifting out the first of the two objects it contained. It was a naval sabre, sixteen inches of blade, handy for swinging and stabbing within the cramped confines of a ship, the basket hilt hiding the intricate circuitry and micro-fusion plants that energised the blade and let it slice through steel as easily as it bit through flesh and bone. The scabbard was the deep gray of the Hegemony navy uniform inlaid with the blue and green of their livery and she held it tightly in her delicate hands as she crossed back to him as he stood, fastening it to his belt with hands that she fought to keep from shaking.

His mother had risen and now held the second object within the chest, the pistol that he had been presented with alongside the sword upon his graduation from the academy. It was a double-barreled solid beast with a snub-nosed, sawn off look designed for function, not beauty. The concussion cartridges that it was loaded with designed to over-load the personal shields of boarding marines and shatter their armour and bodies. Nevertheless the armourer had done his best and the metal gleamed with blue and green enamels, the dark grey leather of the holster hand-stitched with the pattern of a broadsword fighter. Wordlessly she affixed it to his left hip as the familiar weight of his sabre settled against his right.

She stepped back and embraced him, clasping him to her as her sister joined the embrace, her thin arms threading around him. They held him between them for a long time before his mother stepped back and he could see fear and hope battling on her face as tears shone in her eyes. She kissed him on each cheek and then the forehead as though going through a ritual before she released him and stepped back. His sister moved to her side and they joined hands as they watched him. ‘Go to your men.’ His mother said finally.
[close]

There you go, hope you all enjoyed it. I really was not expecting this to become so spun out when I started it but I'm very glad that it's been so well received. I'll do my best not to leave you guys hanging and keep this going.

Gothars

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Re: Hope and Duty - Updated - Chapter 5 is up
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2012, 03:55:04 AM »

Wow, this is great! I just read it all, a really exiting story you've got going here and in good style. I hope you keep it up, if you hold on to the level of detail and span of the story in you will end up with a half a novel... Looking forward to upcoming fight scenes, your description of the 5th fleet demise is promising :)

Ok, enough praise, let me give some little tips:
- you can circumvent the ugly censoring of the swearwords in chapter 3 by inserting code in the middle of the word. So "Admiral Gedderren *** himself" becomes "Admiral Gedderren fucked-up himself", or whatever it was supposed to say. I think that's fully OK in the context of a story.

- You might want to replace some of your commas with periods. For example in the first sentence of the 3rd chapter.

-   Maybe you should go into a bit more detail why the only way to get untainted black boxes is from the pirate fleet. That fact is a very, very central plot device after all. "Anything we got from the fleet would be… unreliable at best." Haven't they actually tried to get their hand onto that data? An why can't they just go to the battlefield and salvage a black box of one of the destroyed ships? Sure, I can make up excuses easily, but that should not be left for the reader if it concerns such a central point.


By the way, have you noticed the short story contest? It would be fun to have some heavy competition like you ;)
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