Author Topic: Master of a Fool  (Read 531 times)

Dubble_g

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Master of a Fool
« on: 13 July 2017, 08:51:13 »
Lost this story part-way through, sadface emoji. Reposting the parts I'd done so far.

***

Bensinger Zenith Jump Point
Lyran Commonwealth
19 June 3017


The House Mailai Merchant-class JumpShip The Velocity of Money, en route from Bensinger to Blackstone in the Oberon Confederation, suffered a catastrophic misjump.

The K-F field shimmered into solidity around the JumpShip and its two DropShips, the Wotan Mining Systems-owned Mule-class cargo haulers Fission Statement and Accept No Substitutes, like a video of a mirror shattering played in reverse, a million shiny fragments sliding perfectly together in unison. The edges flickered, then imploded in blinding nova of light. When it was gone, the ship had vanished, leaving behind half of the Accept No Substitutes, tumbling, venting atmosphere, crew and cargo, neatly bisected like a cutaway drawing in a child’s picture book.

Sensors in the Blackstone system recorded a sharp spike in gamma radiation, then nothing.

A later sweep of the jump point turned up some odd debris the malfunctioning jump field had seen fit to leave behind. An unopened box of BattleMix crackers. A brown steel-toed work boot, for the left foot, size 27cm. A Polaris Type 74 K-F field inducer. The head and upper torso of Third Officer Alex Pelech, one of the shuttlecraft pilots, his vacuum-frozen face peaceful, eyes closed.

The loss of a JumpShip was a blow to House Mailai. The crew and cargo of The Velocity of Money and its two DropShips, by contrast, were replaceable and expendable.

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #1 on: 13 July 2017, 08:54:19 »
Uncharted System, X:Y Coordinates -113.64:483.76
Misjump/Zero-Hour +0.0.0 (days.hours.minutes)


Reality flooded back into Captain Harrison Bligh’s eyes, as though someone had shone a flashlight in his face and snapped it away. He blinked. He had only just registered the stars outside the viewport, the lumpy padding of his chair, the rattle of the air recycling unit, a wisp of Second Officer Alyssa Vale’s hair floating languidly in zero G, when the universe seemed to lurch sideways. His hip slammed against the metal arm of his chair. The maneuvering siren wailed as the starfield outside the viewport began to spiral drunkenly.

“Alyssa?” he shouted, instinctively clinging to the arms of his chair despite the harness holding him in place.

The Second Officer was hunched over her readout. From over her shoulder, Harrison could see red icons spilling down the monitor. “Explosive decompression in the Accept No Substitutes.” Her voice was clipped. “All decks, all compartments. Venting atmosphere is rolling us.”

Harrison could hear Chief Officer Judah Brunt trying to raise the freighter. The shaven-headed man looked up, met Harrison’s eyes, shook his head. The stars continued to carousel around the viewport.

“Visual,” he snapped. The captain couldn’t panic.

The video feed popped up on the monitor attached to the arm of his chair, showing the long, grey cylinder of The Velocity of Money, the docking collar, and a perfect hemisphere where the egg shape of the Accept No Substitutes should have been. Cargo containers, bodies, clouds of ice crystals and other debris spilled from the gaping hole in its side before tumbling away.

“Sweet mother of—” he clamped his jaw shut. The captain couldn’t panic. “Thrusters, get us stabilized.” There was no response from the pilot’s station. “I said thrusters—”

“I’m trying,” the pilot was nearly in tears, stabbing frantically at the controls. “Got it, firing now.”

The ship’s station-keeping thrusters furiously vented gas, pushing back against the wild tumbling, burning through a week’s worth of hydrazine fuel in a matter of seconds. The rolling stars outside slowed, then settled into place.

Harrison let go the arms of his chair for the first time in what felt like years.

“Alright, good work.” He smoothed down the front of his grey-blue uniform, an old Lyran navy cast-off with the fist replaced by House Mailai’s blue x-and-circle logo. Ran a hand through the grey-and-black stubble on his head. “Alyssa, try to find out where we are. Judah, damage reports from all sections. And check on the Fission Statement.”

Harrison half-listened to the casualty reports. Mostly bumps, bruises from the ship’s sudden tumble, except for poor Pelech, neatly bisected as he slept in his bunk.

If they survived this, Harrison realized his career was as dead as Pelech. Twenty years of service, wiped out in an instant. Losing millions of C-Bills worth of cargo from one of his house’s wealthiest clients tended to do that. He could hear Judah talking with Dominic Swift, the captain of the Fission Statement. The voice on the other end was audible, the tone clear, if not the words.

Yes, quite definitely the end of his career.

“Got it,” Alyssa reported.

“How bad?”

“Far better than we had any right to expect.”

He allowed himself to hope. Maybe he could get through this without panicking. “Let’s hear it.”

“We’re about 14 light-years from Blackstone, slightly coreward and spinward. Star is F2 class: big, white and hot. We’ve emerged pretty close to the zenith point.”

“Alright,” he nodded, thinking. “Alright. We’ve been damn lucky. Fourteen is within range. Just need to sit tight, deploy the sail and recharge, jump back.”

Alyssa frowned at her display.

“Harry,” her voice dropped to a whisper, barely audible. “Captain. There’s something else out there,” Her hands flew over her station. “About 2,000 kilometers off our port bow. Big, metallic. Kilometer-scale. Getting a visual.”

It took him a beat to recognize what he was looking at. He did panic, a little, just then.

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #2 on: 13 July 2017, 08:57:02 »
Z +0.2.37

“A battleship.”

They were in the meeting room on the grav deck, a collar located just behind the bulbous nose of the ship than spun to create the illusion of gravity, so that the outer hull became “down” and the core of the ship, including the access hatch to the room, “up.” The floor curved sharply enough that those at the other end of the room appeared to be standing on the walls.

The conference table was shaped like a bow, curving along the hull, so that those seated at either end were looking down at those in the middle. Around the table were Harrison, Alyssa, Judah, Chief Engineer Anita Cable, and the remaining shuttle pilot, Wulf Molleur. Anita was tall, willowy with ink-black skin, Wulf her polar opposite, short, pale-skinned, blond hair artfully teased into curls that remained solidly in place despite the low gravity.

Harrison activated the wall-mounted display unit, showing a grainy image of a bulky, spiky cylinder, bristling along its length with weapons emplacements, bays, sensors and thrusters, lit with ghostly light from the sun beneath. Dorsal and ventral fins made it look like a predator, a shark waiting to strike.

“Looks like a McKenna class,” Harrison went on. “Intact, as far as we can tell.”

Anita whistled, low. “There hasn’t been a warship in the Inner Sphere since the Invincible,” she said. “That thing has to be two, maybe three centuries old.”

 “You know what this means?” asked Wulf. “Whoever gets their hands on this ship…” he trailed off, chewing his lip. “How much you think it’s worth, Captain?”

“No idea,” Harrison shrugged. “There isn’t exactly a market for these things. A lot.”

“And how many of us? Twenty, no, scratch Pelech, 19,” mused Wulf. “What’s ‘a lot’ split 19 ways?”

“Plenty.”

Wulf nodded dreamily. “That’s about what I figured. I could get used to ‘plenty.’”

Judah leaned across the table, staring intently at the image. “Only question is, who do we sell this information to?”

Harrison had been prepared for this. House Mailai was not the military, and his authority extended only as far as the crew said it did. Mutiny was not unheard of, if the crew felt the prize was worth the risk. “House Mailai is loyal to the Commonwealth —”

“Come on, Captain,” Judah cut him off. “That means nothing, out here. Why share the wealth?”

Harrison shrugged. “Let’s be practical,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to retrieve this ship ourselves.” He looked to Alyssa, Wulf and Anita for support. Alyssa and Anita nodded; Wulf’s face was unreadable. “We could try to sell the location, but who’d believe us? The best we can do is contact House Mailai, retrieve it and hand it over to the Commonwealth. At a price.”

Judah shook his head, stubbornly. “With all due respect Captain, you’ll get all the glory and the reward, but the rest of us won’t get squat. This is our chance.”

“Judah,” said Alyssa sweetly. “If I may?” Chivalry overcame outrage and he waved for her to continue. “We don’t know whose ship this was, what happened to its crew, if the ship is intact or a shell, if the interior is safe or irradiated, if the K-F coil is damaged or not. It might be worthless. On the other hand, any house that can afford to buy it can afford a few dozen spec ops to kidnap us and torture us for the coordinates. House Mailai is the best bet.”

Harrison quickly covered a grin behind his hand. “She’s right, Judah. Selling just the coordinates would be more likely to get us killed than rewarded,” he put in, twisting in the hook that Alyssa had baited. “Right now, House Mailai is the only one we can trust.”

Judah rubbed his chin. Harrison could almost see the wheels turning. The hand stopped and Chief Officer suddenly turned to Anita. “How long will it take to recharge the drive?”

Anita glanced sidelong at Harrison, who nodded slightly. She looked back at Judah. “Normally I’d say a week. But after our tumble, we’re dangerously low on fuel for the thrusters. I recommend jumping as soon as we can do so safely, say in five days, to make sure we have enough fuel until we can get back to civilization.”

Judah smiled triumphantly. He turned to Harrison. “Then why wait?” he asked. “We’ll go back to House Mailai. All I ask is this: Instead of wasting time sitting on our butts out here, let’s go see. Now.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #3 on: 13 July 2017, 08:59:54 »
Z +0.8.13

“It’s crazy,” Alyssa said behind him. “Sir.”

Harrison grinned to himself. They were sometimes lovers; in private, she only called him ‘Sir’ when she thought he was being an idiot. Their relationship was probably against regulations, but certainly far from rare. In the climb to the top, personal relationships trumped regulations every time. He’d done the same as a young man. He didn’t doubt she’d find a new patron when they returned to the Erit Cluster.

He shook his head, and took the black bodysuit out of the storage locker.

“It’s just a scouting run.” He turned around, and began to pour himself into the suit, one leg at a time. It would help regulate his body temperature if the warship was open to vacuum and they had to explore in space suits. He glanced up to where she stood, arms folded across her chest. “Judah is right, the least we can do while we’re here is investigate.” He braced himself against the bulkhead, then yanked the stretchy material up over his waist, then squeezed his arms into the sleeves. It was a tricky maneuver to perform in zero G, where every push sent him floating backwards.

“The whole thing feels off. Where did it come from? Why is it here?” She reached over and held one arm of the suit steady as he pushed his arm through. “There’s no profit in heroism. We should do everyone a favor and just destroy it. Sir.”

Harrison shook his head. “Our meteor defense lasers wouldn’t scratch the paint on that thing. More to the point, what about the finder’s fees we’re going to squeeze out of Mailai and Steiner?”

“Hard to spend C-Bills when you’re a carbon smear on the surface of the sun. Sir. Captain. Harry. I mean it. Ram it with one of the 7As, push it into the star.”

“What, like a kamikaze?” he snorted. “This isn’t the Combine, you know.”

“Just putting it out there,” she threw up her hands in resignation. “Fine. But sending the Captain and Chief Officer seems too big a risk, at any rate. Sir.”

“You think I’d pass up a chance like this?” he smiled. “There’s no way I’m letting Judah have all the fun. Besides, the ship is yours while we’re gone. Relax, enjoy being the captain for a while.”

She grinned a little at the thought, then grew serious. “You heard Anita though: five days. It’ll take that fat slug four or five hours to get there, ditto back. You’re not back in five, Captain or not, we jump.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Harrison finished zipping up the bodysuit, then pulled on a pair of slate-blue coveralls over it.
The “fat slug” was one of The Velocity of Money’s two S-7A class Bus shuttlecraft, each one a 20-meter long bullet shape with a boxy cargo section slung underneath, designed for hauls between ships and space stations. It was meant for short-range work and carried little fuel; they’d only be able to accelerate up to about 500 kph before they had to flip around and use their remaining fuel to slow down again. As a result, the Bus would have to beetle slowly across the gulf between the two ships.

Eight of them would go: Harrison, Wulf as the pilot, Judah, Anita, plus whatever other crew could be spared—two engineers, a steward and a “shoreman,” one of the cargo loaders.

Judah was ex-Commonwealth military, and Wulf could handle a gun. There was almost certainly nothing to worry about. Harrison reached into the locker and scooped up a long-barreled Nambu 98 laser pistol, along with a belted battery back. You never knew.

“Time to go. You have the con.” Harrison pushed off from the wall, through the locker room’s hatchway and torpedoed down the corridor towards the small craft bay. He called over his shoulder, “You can come to the bay and wave a handkerchief if it makes you feel better.”

Alyssa, floating in the hatchway, stuck her tongue out at him. “Just watch yourself, okay, Harry?” she called, but he wasn’t listening.

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #4 on: 13 July 2017, 09:02:26 »
Z +0.13.46

“Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair.”

They drifted alongside the leviathan, its colossal bulk filling half the window. Harrison was squeezed into the co-pilot seat of the cramped cockpit of the S-7A, trading glances with Wulf as they moved down the length of the warship. Strange symbols had been painted on the nose, something bestial, part aboriginal totem, part sports team logo. The name had largely been scored away, leaving only “—ir” legible at the end. The gun ports ignored their scrutiny; the great maws of ship-killing cannon hung limp and inert.

Harrison felt himself grinning from ear to ear, despite the eeriness. Wulf grinned back.

“So that’s what 50 billion C-Bills looks like.”

Harrison turned at the sound and saw Judah staring out at the battleship. “Quite a sight, isn’t it?” Harrison waved him inside. “What do you make of it?”

Judah glided forward, bringing himself to a stop on the back of Harrison’s chair. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

Wulf snorted, and pointed at a series of long gouges in the warship’s flank, where armor had run like water and congealed in cancerous bubbles. “Those are no meteor impacts.” He pointed again, where the dorsal fin had been perforated, then at a turret, cracked open like an eggshell. “This thing was in a scrap.”

Judah swore. “You mean it’s probably just a hulk, worthless?”

Wulf glanced at him irritatedly. “I mean something kicked this thing’s ass.”

The three looked at the scars in uncomfortable silence.

“A cheerful thought,” muttered Harrison. “You must be such fun at parties, Wulf.”

Wulf slowed the Bus, bringing them to a standstill a few hundred meters from one of the battleship’s launch bays.

“Alright, Judah,” Harrison said. “You’re up.”

Judah flipped him a casual salute. “Hazard pay is double, right sir?”

Thirty minutes later Judah and Anita had suited up and exited the cargo airlock, gliding between the two ships on careful bursts of nitrogen gas from backpack thrusters. From the safety of the cockpit, Harrison watched the bulky white figures jet away, starlight glinting off their gold helmet visors until they passed into the battleship’s shadow. They came to a halt by one corner of the bay door, and soon the gloom was illuminated with the cobalt glare of laser saws.

It took another 30 minutes for the two to cut a man-size hole in the door, and then they disappeared inside. Harrison checked his timepiece, put it down, checked it again. Every minute was a minute less he had to explore this marvel. He wished for a squad of marines; in combat boarders would have simply blown the bay doors off or bored a hole straight into the hull.

Harrison checked his timepiece again, and keyed the radio channel. “How’s it look in there, Judah?”

“Just found the manual door controls, Captain.” The inside of the helmet made the Chief Officer’s voice echo oddly, like someone talking down a wire-and-cup telephone. “The airlock here is intact, and you’re not going to believe this, but it shows there’s atmosphere on the other side.”

Harrison blinked at the communicator. “Say again?” he asked finally.

“Atmosphere, air, O-2, you know?” Judah sounded gleeful. “Means this wreck is recent, right? I figure the value of this thing just doubled.”

Harrison felt suddenly cold. Alyssa was right, the whole set up stank worse than a DropShip locker room. They should forget the reward, turn around, go, get as far away as they could, never look back. He looked at Wulf.

“Take us in,” he said.

The bay door, minus a ragged hole in the bottom corner, shuttered open and the S-7A nosed inside, swallowed like a minnow in a shark’s maw. Inside the bay was a universal airlock that mated with their own, forming an air-tight seal. Judah and Anita reentered the Bus by the secondary airlock in the cargo hold, shed their space suits, and rejoined the rest of the team in the passenger compartment.

The eight of them gathered in a circle, and Harrison read nervousness and eagerness in equal measure. Only Judah appeared entirely at ease. “Alright,” Harrison cleared his throat. “Alright. Good news is we don’t need the suits, bad news is this whole operation just got an order of magnitude weirder. You two,” he indicated the steward and cargo loader, “will stay here and keep an eye on the Bus.” The cargo loader nodded, the steward visibly sank in relief. “The rest of us will form two teams. Anita, your team will head for engineering, check on the K-F drive and thrusters, see if this thing can jump. Judah, Wulf and I will head for the bridge. Meet back here in 10 hours. Anita, keep your communicator on, you see anything even the tiniest bit odd, start hollering.”

Anita raised an eyebrow. “Odd, Captain? On a floating two hundred-year old battleship?”

“Yes, well,” Harrison fumbled. “Odder than usual. You know what I mean. Ready?”

Judah hefted a sleek laser carbine with a vulpine grin. “After you, captain.”

The airlock hissed open, revealing a short length of iron grey corridor illuminated by the light from the S-7A, which quickly faltered into pitch blackness. The darkness seemed bottomless.

“Alright,” Harrison nodded, drew his Nambu and clipped a small tactical light to a rail under the barrel. Its pale light flickered along the floor, walls, ceiling, casting shadows that danced and writhed like something alive. “Alright, let’s go.”

Dave Talley

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #5 on: 13 July 2017, 10:30:51 »
Glad to have you back
Resident Smartass since 1998
“Toe jam in training”.
I agree. Conditionally. I have no qualms kicking the favorite faction in the crotch--repeatedly. But the fact of the matter is, I prefer to kick EVERYBODY in the crotch as often as possible, like a game of whack a mole, only here's it's whack a crotch. Because we're playing in a wargame universe, and if you're NOT getting kicked in the crotch (repeatedly), then you're not in the ****** game.
- Herb

clansittingducks: is it wrong to want to take a baseball bat to their groin so hard their testicles fly out of their eyes upon impact?

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #6 on: 14 July 2017, 10:50:36 »
(Thanks for the post and positive message, Dave.)

Z +0.15.03

They had split up from Anita’s team once they reached what looked like a major corridor; they turned left towards the nose, her team right towards the tail. Harrison dialed his laser to its lowest setting and burned and “X” into the bulkhead by the intersection; with no light, it would be too easy to become lost in the labyrinth. When he was done he watched Anita’s team go, as the bobbing lights were soon smothered in the oppressive blackness. He waved the other two to follow.

They drifted along the corridors. Harrison used one hand to grip a stanchion or other handhold, the other kept the Nambu pointing down the corridor.

He felt a sharp tug on his boot, jerking him back.

He rolled, bringing the Nambu snapping around to aim down past his feet. The beam of the tactical light illuminated Judah, hand held over his eyes against the glare, one finger held to his lips.

Harrison lowered the gun, looking at his Chief Officer quizzically. Judah tapped his ear. Listen.

At first he heard nothing, outside of his own breathing. The faint rattle of air circulators, maybe. But then he heard it. A rhythmic, metallic clacking. Tap tap tap. A long pause. Tap tap. Tap. Tap tap tap. Then silence. It had come from somewhere up ahead. He glanced back at Judah, nodded to show he’d heard.

Judah pointed at the corridor wall up ahead, then drew an upside-down “U” in the air. Harrison squinted in the direction, and could barely make out the outline of a doorway. He pointed at himself and Judah, then at the doorway. Judah nodded. When Wulf caught up, Harrison held up a palm. Wait.

Harrison and Judah crept to the doorway, bodies flat against the near wall. Faint light was spilling from inside the room. Harrison clicked off his tactical light. He slowly edged one eye and the barrel of his pistol around the corner of the doorway.

The floor was perpendicular to the corridor; when under thrust, the tail of the ship became “down” and the nose “up.”

Harrison’s viewpoint was at floor level. Two rows of computer terminals and screens loomed over him, running down either side of the room, facing chairs that had been bolted to the deck. On the far side of the room, another doorway stood open. The screens were black and lifeless. Save one.

In the far corner, one monitor glowed with life, as symbols scrolled down its length, gradually filling up the screen.
There was nobody in the room.

Harrison motioned for Wulf to come up and stand guard at the doorway. Judah and Harrison floated over to the terminal. A stream of glowing white characters ran down its black face:

System Diagnosis Initiated 19.06.3019

Sector 1024: OK
Sector 1025: OK
Sector 1026: OK
Sector 1027: OK
Sector 1028: Error
Sector 1029: OK
Sector 1030: OK
Sector 1031: OK
Sector 1032: Error
Total Sectors Scanned: 1032  Total Errors Found: 13


Harrison looked quizzically at Judah, who shrugged and shook his head. Judah tapped the screen at the very top, over the date. Harrison swallowed.

“That’s today,” he whispered. Judah nodded. “Someone is on this ship.” Another nod. “Jesus.” Vigorous nodding. “We have to warn the others.”

Harrison pulled the communicator out of his pocket. “Anita, this is Harrison, do you read?” Static. “Anita, do you read?” he repeated. “Anita, if you can hear me, there is someone else on board. Return to the Bus immediately.” The communicator continued to hiss and pop. “Anita, come in please.” More static. He switched channels. “Alyssa, this is Harrison, do you read?” He waited a full minute, staring at the communicator, willing it to speak. Then jammed it back in his breast pocket. “Shit.”

Judah waved at the walls and ceiling. “Military hardening,” he whispered. “Probably dampens signals, stops unauthorized communication.” He pointed at a small black box on the wall by the doorway. “Have to use one of the intercoms.”

“Can’t risk it,” said Harrison.

“We should go back,” urged Wulf. “Anita could be in trouble.”

“Captain, we’re almost at the bridge,” protested Judah. “We’ve come this far.”

Harrison hesitated, glanced at Wulf. The pilot shook his head, once, angrily. Judah reached over and tapped the captain’s insignia on Harrison’s sleeve. “You’re the boss, Captain.”

“Lucky me,” muttered Harrison. “Lucky, lucky me.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #7 on: 14 July 2017, 10:53:21 »
Z +0.15.58

The bridge was a blaze of light. Every screen was on, humming with energy loud enough for them to hear in the corridor outside. Several monitors had their back panels removing, spilling a cephalopoid tangle of wires across the deck, leading to something that looked like a cross between noteputer and a briefcase that had been attached with magnetic clamps to the deck. Several wires had been crudely tagged with tape and cryptic codes, “S/D In”, “W/D Out” or “C/S Back.”
 
The captain’s chair was in the center of the room, with piloting, navigation, weapons, communications and engineering stations arranged in a circle around it. Unlike the other decks, it was oriented like a fighter cockpit, where the occupants would have their backs to the engines and direction of thrust, rather than their feet. The chairs and their attached monitors were mounted on gimbals, allowing them to swing up to 90 degrees in any direction and keep the occupant “upright” during high-G maneuvers. The two exits were located in the “floor” of the bridge. The portholes appeared to have been closed behind armor plating. Below them hung six viewscreens, each labeled with a direction: Forward, Aft, Port-Forward, Port-Aft, Starboard-Forward, Starboard-Aft. The two starboard screens were cracked and broken, the aft one was filled with static, while the rest showed only empty space.

“Lucky break,” said Wulf pointing at the screens. “Sensors on the Money’s side are out.”

Harrison swung himself into the captain’s chair and sat for a moment. The same symbol they’d seen on the nose had been emblazoned on the captain’s monitor. He traced the symbol, then the material on the arm rest under his fingers absently. Judah rolled his eyes, shook his head and launched himself to the pilot’s station.

Wulf crouched by the nose, under the viewscreens, his pistol held ready, alternately watching the two exits from the bridge.

“They’re all in some kind of diagnostic mode,” said Judah, not bothering to whisper. “Same as the other terminal we saw. Looks like someone is trying to repair this thing.”

Harrison frowned. “Who has the resources to do that?” he wondered. “If it’s a house, why don’t they move it somewhere else instead of leaving it here?”

Wulf held up a hand, then pointed at the far exit.

Harrison and Judah fell silent.

Someone was coming. They could hear a voice, muttering to itself, getting closer. The rhythmic slapping of someone hauling themselves along the corridor. Getting louder and louder. Wulf crouched, tensed. Judah shouldered his carbine.

A white-clad figure swam into the room. A man, slightly overweight, with a receding hairline. Under his arm he carried a long grey case. The man looked at them, rubbed his eyes.

“Oh hey I didn’t realize the relief crew—” he started, then blinked. Took in their uniforms, the gun leveled at him by Wulf. He dropped the grey case and spun, trying to grab for the doorway.

“Don’t move!” Harrison shouted, fumbling for his Nambu.

Three bolts of brilliant light flashed by him. Two exploded in sparks on either side of the man, the third hit him between the shoulder blades, piercing him through. The body went limp, carried by its own inertia in a slow spin, red-black globules spilling from the holes in its back and chest.

“Nice shooting,” Wulf said. Judah just grunted.

Harrison stared at the body. It bumped against the doorway, blood oozing and splattering along the deck and bulkhead. “Look at his uniform,” he whispered.

Judah kicked over to the body. “What about it?”

“It’s white,” Harrison found his hands were shaking. “White, you idiots. Which armed forces wore white? The StarLeague. The bloody StarLeague. This is it. This is the Return. And we just shot one of them.”

“Captain, you’re overreacting.”

“Overreacting? Judgement day is here and we just killed one of God’s angels.”

Judah reached over the body, pulled something small and shiny and held it up. “StarLeague?” he asked, and tossed it to Harrison. In zero G you couldn’t throw very hard, so the thing lazily tumbled across the bridge. Harrison watched it approach, had time to register it was metal, some kind of pin, its gold surface glinting in the light from the screens. He caught it in one hand, and looked down at it.

A lined circle, symmetrical save for two dagger-like rays of uneven length extending downwards.

Harrison looked up. “ComStar.”

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #8 on: 15 July 2017, 11:00:59 »
Z +0.16.21

Wulf frowned. “What does ComStar want with a battleship?” he asked. “They’re peaceniks.”

“Stop anyone else using it, maybe,” Harrison suggested.

Judah shook his head. “Then why try to salvage it? More likely it’s to defend Terra.”

“If only we had a prisoner we could question,” Harrison looked at Judah pointedly. The Chief Officer shrugged.

“Captain, we’ve got to warn Anita and the others,” urged Wulf. “Who knows how many of them are on this ship?”

“That’s exactly why we can’t go looking for them,” Judah protested. “We’ve no idea where she is and no way of contacting her. Too risky.”

Further argument was interrupted by a shrill screech from the intercom by the entrance to the bridge. “Progress report, Acolyte,” a scratchy voice demanded.

They looked at one another, hardly daring to breathe. Judah mimed shooting the intercom, Harrison shook his head.

“Report, Acolyte,” the voice repeated. “Acolyte Redman, report.” The message repeated two more times, then the intercom cut out.

“That settles it,” said Judah. “We have to hightail it back to the Money and jump ASA-bloody-P.”

“How?” Wulf retorted angrily. “We’ve barely been here a day, Anita said recharging would take five. We’ll be sitting ducks until then. We have to sabotage this ship.”

Judah’s face clouded. “Sabotage? Are you insane? No. No way. It’s worth too much.”

“Are you listening, Judah?” Wulf shouted. “If we don’t stop this battleship, we are all dead.”

“Look, Wulf, I know you and Anita—”

Harrison blinked in surprise. He’d had no idea.

“That has nothing to do with it!”

“Look I hate leaving her as much as anyone Wulf, but I swear, you destroy anything on this ship,” Judah leveled his carbine at Wulf.

Wulf’s pistol came up. “If destroy anything on this ship?” He asked, challenging.

Judah simply raised an eyebrow, tilted his head and kept his gun pointed at Wulf’s chest.

“Alright,” Harrison held up his hands. “Alright, keep your bloody voices down. Judah, Wulf’s right. We have to cripple this thing, make sure the ship can’t come after us, without doing too much damage.” He looked around the bridge, spotted the diagnostic machine clamped to the deck. “Wulf, blast that thing, we’ll have to hope it’s enough.”

Wulf pumped six bolts of fiery light into the machine, until its casing turned orange then white and slagged under the assault. Judah didn’t bother waiting for them, and had already pushed himself back towards the corridor they’d come from.

A small, black cylinder—like a small can of shaving cream, with neat rows of round holes down its sides—floated into the room from the opposite entrance.

Wulf looked up from the melted diagnosis machine.

“Grenade—”

It exploded. The room was suddenly filled with a volcanic roar and nova-white light, like a million suns searing straight into the eyes.

The shockwave picked Harrison up and flung him backwards, spinning head over heels in somersaults. The Nambu went flying, and only the cord attaching it to the battery beltpack kept him from losing it.

His eyes swam with multicolored spots, and as he pinwheeled through the air he caught glimpses of the bridge, like after-images under a strobe light. Wulf, his eyes squeezed closed, firing blindly at the bridge entrance, as laser shots smacked into the monitors, floor and ceiling about him. Judah, frantically diving head-first through the other exit.

His back slammed into one of the viewscreens, knocking the breath from him. He tried to curl into a ball and cover his head with his arms as more shots slammed into the wall.

“Captain go, I’ll hold them—” Wulf shouted, turning to try to find Harrison. A line of shots stitched into the pilot, from hip to breastbone, and his chest vanished in a red haze.

Harrison tugged on the Nambu’s power cord, got it into his hand and fired wildly at the entrance, trying to keep himself behind monitors or chairs. Answering laser fire tore into the bridge, blasting through the captain’s chair, graffitiing the walls with black scorch marks.

Harrison made it to the opposite entrance and catapulted himself along the unlit corridor, rolling onto his back, aiming down between his feet and sending a hail of shots back down the hallway. He heard a grinding sound up ahead and twisted back. Judah was pushing a door shut, blocking the corridor. “Wait,” Harrison called. “Judah, wait!” The door was almost shut, only a narrow crack remained.

He saw Judah’s face in a porthole in the door. The Chief Officer nodded, “Through the crack,” he shouted. “I’ll hold it.”

Harrison angled for the opening, tried to squeeze through. He got his head and shoulders, then chest through. Then stopped. He was stuck. He looked down, and saw his pistol energy pack was caught. “Judah, help me through.”

Judah reached around. Pulled the communicator out of Harrison’s pocket. “I’ll take that.” Then he braced against the bulkhead and gave his captain a shove, back out into the corridor. “So long, Captain.”

The door slammed shut, trapping Harrison on the other side.

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #9 on: 15 July 2017, 11:08:35 »
Z +0.16.49

Harrison hammered futilely on the door, managing only to propel himself backwards.

He heard them behind him, a rhythmic buzz-thunk, buzz-thunk of magnetic boots on the steel plate floor of the corridor. He spun, bringing his pistol up.

A bright flash. Intense heat, like his fingers were on fire. He yelped, let go the Nambu, and saw it had been neatly holed halfway down the barrel. The gun drifted at the end of its power cord, smoking, useless, as Harrison grimaced and tucked his fingers beneath his armpit.

He looked up and was nearly blinded by two halogen lights shining directly in his face. Squinting, he saw two snow-white figures standing in the hallway, heavy-barreled laser rifles held easily in their arms, their faces hidden by the mirrored visors of their helmets.

Slowly, he raised his hands.

The two men stopped. Kept their rifles pointed casually at his chest. “We have a prisoner,” said one, his voice distorted and robotic in the helmet’s mic. Harrison realized the man wasn’t talking to him. “At least one, maybe two. Headed for the small craft bays.” A pause. “Yessir.”

The helmet jerked a little and Harrison felt the man was looking at him. “Dump the belt,” he said. “Follow me, he’ll be behind you,” the helmet nodded in the direction of the other man. “Any sudden moves, he’ll shoot. Move too slow, he’ll shoot. You shout or cry out—”

“He’ll shoot, yes, alright, I see where this is going,” said Harrison, slowly unbuckling the Nambu’s battery pack.

“—He’ll shoot,” said the man, implacable. “Move.”

They walked through a twisting maze of corridors, most unlit, some with faint emergency lighting glowing along the ceiling or floor. Harrison thought they were heading aft, though he couldn’t be sure. He kept an eye out for the “X” he had burned to mark the passage to the S-7A’s berth, but never saw it.

Despite promises to the contrary, he wasn’t shot, though the man behind him had pulled out a mini stunstick that provided a lightning shock with each blow. He liberally applied it to Harrison’s legs and back whenever he felt Harrison was moving too slow, which seemed to be most of the time.

They went through a hatch and down a ladder. The first man went down while Harrison and the other waited at the top. When he reached the bottom, he waved for Harrison to follow. As Harrison went down, he began to feel a tug on his feet, growing stronger with each rung. His arms grew heavy. Gravity. They were on the grav deck.

A short walk later, Harrison was led into a small office. Everything was in mirror-polished black. A Spartan desk, with a noteputer positioned perfectly in the center. A large 2D image of Terra, a blue-white globe in a sea of dark. A tall black chair, on which sat a white-robed man, with a long, deeply-lined face and wire-framed glasses. His grey hair was brushed straight back from his high forehead, and he sat ramrod straight in the chair, his movements sharp, precise, like a hawk.
He was looking down at the screen of the noteputer, but glanced up at Harrison over the tops of his spectacles when the door opened. He tutted once, pointed at a spot on the floor in front of the desk, and returned to the noteputer.

The ministick lashed out and hit Harrison in the back of his knees, driving him to the floor. A second blow caught him between the shoulder blades when he tried to get up. Harrison decided staying on the floor was a better idea.

The noteputer clicked, the only sound in the room for several long minutes. Harrison had plenty of time to appreciate the smooth coolness of the floor, of the excellent view he had of the underside of the desk. It was spotless.

“A pirate,” a voice said. It was cold, clear, each word a sentence on its own.

Harrison risked a look up. The man behind the desk regarded him coolly. “We’re not pirates,” Harrison said sullenly.

“No?” one eyebrow arched. “You board a ship unannounced, uninvited, and proceed to sabotage its controls and murder an unarmed member of its crew. Perhaps this is normal behavior in whatever squalid system you come from, but we at ComStar call that piracy.”

“We thought it was abandoned,” he protested.

“And when you discovered it was not, what did you do?” A bony hand waved his objections away. “I despair for our species, truly, I do.” The man sighed deeply. “I come from Caldwell, do you know it? I doubt it. Caldwell is blessed with few resources, and the only notable animal is a kind of shrew, a scavenger, a rodent that lines its nest with bright, shiny things to attract a mate—glass, crystal, emeralds, diamonds, it makes no difference to the shrew. That’s what you are, you people. Scavengers. Come to seize whatever pretty glittery thing you can find with no understanding or conception of what you’ve found.” The man stood, slowly, like an origami unfolding, and turned to look at the image of Terra. “Do you know where we stand?”

Harrison was tempted to point out he wasn’t doing much standing, but thought better of it. The other man was silent. An answer seemed expected. “A battleship,” he said.

“The Zughoffer Weir, to be precise,” the man said. “Does that name mean anything to you?”

Harrison shook his head, then realized the other wasn’t looking at him. “No.”

The man turned to face him. “It was one of the ships that left with Kerensky,” he said. “And yet here we find it, evidently damaged after a battle with an evenly-matched or even stronger enemy, empty of crew, drifting in space. And the markings—unlike anything in the old StarLeague! The Exodus was attacked, or fought among itself. Don’t you see? This has implications, implications that go far beyond your muddy dreams of fame and fortune.” He threw up his hands. “And here you come, barging like a Caldwell ratling into the greatest discovery this century.”

There wasn’t much Harrison could say to that, so he didn’t. Only. “Why keep it a secret?”

The man looked at Harrison sharply, poised to speak, when the intercom in the office buzzed. “Yes?” he demanded angrily.

“Sorry to interrupt, Precentor Cole,” it said. “But we’ve captured another prisoner.”

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #10 on: 17 July 2017, 08:31:08 »
Z +0.18.02

They waited in silence. Precentor Cole seemed not to mind; he stood perfectly still the entire time, never uttering a word.

Harrison hoped it was Judah. He wasn’t an especially religious man, but would happily have spent a season in hell or been reincarnated as a hamster if ComStar had captured Judah.

They hadn’t.

The door to the office opened and the figure they pushed in was tall, thin, with rich black skin. Anita’s face was bloody, with a fresh scar running across her forehead above her left eye. Those eyes widened when they saw Harrison, then looked around the room, searching, desperately hoping.

Harrison remembered what Judah had said. About Anita and Wulf. He couldn’t meet her eyes.

Anita’s lips tightened as though she might scream, but only nodded to herself, once, accepting, and sank to the deck, the strength draining from her body. “Captain,” she whispered, brokenly.

Percentor Cole looked at Harrison, a thin smile on his lips. “Captain?” he repeated.

Harrison shrugged in a well-you-know kind of way.

“Captain, I am a man of science, not violence,” Percentor Cole’s smile remained rigidly in place. “I do hope we can resolve things without violence. So distasteful. As Captain, you are responsible for the lives of your crew, are you not?”

Harrison nodded.

“Then think very carefully when you answer my questions, Captain,” the smile disappeared, and Cole resumed his seat. He clicked once on the noteputer. “Now Captain, does anyone else know you are here?”

“Yes. House Mailai sent us to investigate this system as a possible smuggling route,” Harrison said immediately.

Cole looked at Anita. “Is this true?”

She nodded, mutely. Cole flicked his eyes to one of the guards, who jabbed his stunstick into Anita’s back. She screamed and writhed in agony as the electricity coursed through her body.

“Shall we try again, Captain?” Cole’s expression had not changed. “Who else knows your ship is in this system?”

“Nobody, it was a misjump,” he admitted.

“And where is your ship now?”

“Destroyed in the misjump that brought us here,”

The guard twisted the stick into Anita’s side, holding it there as it crackled. Anita screamed as though her skin was on fire.

“Alright, alright, no more,” he said, shoulders slumping. “Azimuth 60 degrees, altitude minus 30 degrees, range 60,000 kilometers.”

“Are you quire sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Another jab and Anita’s screams turned to tearful moans, pleading.

“This would be an unfortunate question to make a mistake on, Captain. Quite unfortunate.” Cole leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk and pressing his fingertips together in an attitude almost like prayer. “Can you guess how I became a Precentor, Captain?”

Harrison bit back a sarcastic reply, and merely shook his head instead.

“Observation. Precision. Calculation. Perception. Attention to detail, Captain,” he ticked the qualities off on his fingers, until one hand made a fist. “I became Precentor because I never made a mistake. I have no intention of starting now. With that said, are you sure you have no further information to share about your ship?”

Harrison shrugged, resigned. Another jab. Anita’s voice was hoarse, almost inhuman now.

Cole reached up and rubbed his temples. “Captain, I’d hoped you’d be motivated by concern for your crew, but evidently not. Concern for your property perhaps?” He stood and went to the 2D image of Terra, reached to the side of the frame, and the still image dissolved into a video feed. A bright, glowing pulse of light flickering in the darkness of space.

Cole turned to face Harrison and Anita. “This is an S-7A Bus detected leaving this ship, heading azimuth 160 degrees, altitude 10 degrees. According to you, they appear to be wildly off course, Captain.”

Harrison closed his eyes.

Cole walked slowly over to the office comm panel and pushed the button. “Main battery: Target the small craft.” There was an acknowledgement.

“Fire.”

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #11 on: 17 July 2017, 08:34:48 »
Z +0.18.23

Harrison instinctively looked to the screen.

At first, nothing happened. The small flame of the Bus’s thrusters flickered. Then, a beam, no, a pillar of light, brilliant red light, far more massive than any laser Harrison had ever seen, reached out and touched the small light.

There was no sound, of course, and at the magnification of the monitor, barely any explosion. One moment the drive flare was there, the next, it was gone. A cloud of dust and hot gas where it had been was already dissipating into the vacuum of space.

Harrison tried to feel bad about that, feel bad for Judah, without much success.

He turned and found Cole watching him intently.

“A relief vessel will arrive in this system in two days,” Cole said flatly. “Our sensors, as you have no doubt noticed, are damaged, limited to short range. We cannot find your ship. But they can. And when they do, they will destroy it. That is the hard way. Would you like to hear the easy way, Captain?”

Not really, he suspected, but he nodded anyway.

“We will open a channel, and you will order your ship to surrender. The ship will be boarded, of course, but it will not be damaged, and the crew will not be harmed.” Harrison opened his mouth to reply. “I do hope you’re not going to be tiresome and ask for proof I’ll keep my word,” Cole said. Harrison shut his mouth. “Now, shall I open a channel?”

Harrison hung his head. The minute Cole had the Money, he was a dead man, he was sure. “Let me think about it,” he asked.

Cole tutted sharply. “Nobody is coming to rescue you, you know,” he said. “You are quite alone.” He sighed. “Twenty-four hours, Captain. I will have your cooperation in twenty-four hours, or your ship dies.” He nodded to the guards.

The room they were left in had once been crew quarters perhaps, now stripped of everything but two uncomfortable-looking beds. The guards dumped Anita, still moaning and barely conscious, on one, and left Harrison standing in the middle of the room. The guards left and slammed the door shut behind them.

Harrison rubbed his eyes with the balls of his hands, and sank down on the edge of Anita’s bed. The Chief Engineer winced and opened her bleary eyes. “We’re not dead?” she croaked. Harrison shook his head. "Pity,” she sighed, and closed her eyes again.

“They blew the Bus up,” Harrison told her softly.

“Wulf?”

“You really want me to tell you?”

“No.”

“Right.”

“There’s no way off, is there?”

Harrison looked up at the ceiling. Noted a distinct lack of convenient air ducts for them to crawl through. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“One thing we can do.”

“Oh?” Harrison looked down at her. “What’s that?”

“Get even.”

Harrison shivered a little at that, gave a short, false laugh. “How?”

“Same way we got here,” she said.

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #12 on: 18 July 2017, 08:20:28 »
Z +1.02.05

Harrison awoke on the small, hard bed in the small, bare room. He felt ashamed for sleeping, knowing the ship was out there, Alyssa was out there, and all he could do was sleep. What was she doing now? They would have seen the laser blast that destroyed the Bus, would now the battleship was armed, that they were in danger. Would they risk jumping before the batteries were charged? They would be helpless, unable to maneuver, unable to fight, unable to jump.

He could hear Anita’s wheezing breath from the other bed. What had she said? Get even. But how?

Anita’s breath rattled, short gasping breaths.

Harrison levered himself from the bed, took a felt steps over to Anita’s bed. Her eyes fluttered open, and gave him a long, level look. She coughed once, deliberately, not taking her eyes from him. He nodded, once.

“Help,” he said, loudly. “We need some help in here.”

The door cracked open, revealing the two guards outside, rifles aimed wearily inside.

“She’s dying, can’t you hear?” Harrison said to them.

The guards looked at one another. One edged into the room, waved Harrison into the far corner of the room with the barrel of his rifle. Harrison retreated obediently. The guard walked over to Anita’s bed, and reached down to feel her pulse.

Anita’s foot caught him at the base of the neck, just below the ear. He blinked, stupidly, and his legs folded. Anita grabbed the laser rifle as he fell. Brought it up. The guard at the door had his own rifle up. Fired. Hit Anita in the shoulder. She screamed, fired back. The bolt took the guard in the chest. He slumped to the ground.

Anita groaned, dropped the rifle, holding her burned shoulder.

Harrison found he had been holding his breath. He stumbled to the doorway, stooped and picked up one of the rifles.

“You alright?” he asked Anita.

“Do I look alright?” she asked between clenched teeth. “Help me down.”

Harrison lent her his shoulder as she pushed herself off the bed. “Kill this one,” she said pointing down at the unconscious guard on the floor. Harrison aimed the rifle. He couldn’t. He shook his head. With a disgusted sigh, Anita grabbed the rifle, and fired once, downward. The room filled with the smell or burned flesh. She thrust the rifle back to Harrison. “Come on,” she said.

“Where are we going?”

“Engineering.” She peered out into the corridor, then waved for him to follow. “This way.”

He followed after, as silently as he could, glancing over his shoulder at the corpse in the doorway behind them. “What’s in engineering?”

“The K-F Drive.”

“Yes, I know that,” he said testily. “What good does that do us? The thing’s probably bust.”

“I certainly hope so.”

They came to a ladder. Harrison thought he recognized it from when the guards had brought him here. Anita nodded to him. “You first.”

Harrison slung the rifle onto his back, and grabbed the ladder with both hands. He took one step up. A thought occurred to him. He looked down at Anita. “What do you mean, you ‘hope so’?”

“Harrison, what will happen if a ship tries to jump with a broken K-F core?” she asked patiently.

He blinked. “Potentially, lots of things. None of them very nice, for either the ship or the crew.”

She nodded. “Precisely.”

“Okay,” he said, took another step. Looked down again. “So after we engage the K-F drive, how do we get off the ship?”

She just looked back up at him.

“How do we get off, Anita?”

She shook her head, just a little, once.

The ladder’s metal suddenly felt cold under Harrison’s hands. He felt the strength drain from his arms, felt as though he might fall. He clung to the ladder, clung to life. Took a deep breath.

“Come on, Captain,” Anita said. “We haven’t much time.”

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #13 on: 18 July 2017, 08:23:51 »
Z +1.02.28

They were back in zero gravity now, floating like wraiths down the darkened corridors, Anita in the lead, Harrison trailing after. She said she knew the way.

Where had it all gone wrong, Harrison wondered. Had there been a moment, some point in time when a different choice could have prevented all this? If there had been, he’d missed it. The jump had been carefully planned, routine. Investigating the derelict ship had been an obvious move. The decision to press on when it became obvious someone else was on board had been sound. It seemed unfair, monstrously unfair, that one wrong step had killed them all.

“Keep up, Harrison,” Anita hissed. “The alarm is going to sound any minute, if it hasn’t already.”

It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t asked for this. All he’d wanted was to travel the galaxy, to see new stars, meet new people—preferably women—drink in new ports, make a few C-Bills, retire in comfort. A nice cottage on a world somewhere deep inside the Commonwealth maybe, far from bandit kingdoms and battleships, where the only thing he’d have to worry about was what to eat for breakfast.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t decent. It wasn’t … It wasn’t fair.

“Harry!” Anita whispered hoarsely at him. “We’ve got to move!”

He trailed after, responding by reflex more than conscious thought. Anita’s black skin made her almost invisible in the gloom, leaving only her House Mailai coveralls visible, as though he was following a ghost, an empty set of clothes, drawing him inevitably on.

He didn’t want to die. Not ever, truth be told, but certainly not today, not here, not on this floating wreck, where his death would go unmarked, unnoticed, unremembered. Not like this.

It was strange. It didn’t feel real. It couldn’t be real. Could it?

“Through here,” Anita said, pointing at a large steel hatch. “Harry, you realize there will be people in there? ComStar people.”

“Yeah?”

She rolled her eyes. “Pull yourself together, Harry. Wulf is dead. Judah is dead. Two of my team are dead. Alyssa will be dead too if we don’t do anything. Now, are you ready to use that thing?” She pointed at the laser rifle slung across his back.

He pulled the sling over his head, checked the reading on the power cell. A row of green lines lit up the darkness. He blinked away sudden tears in his eyes. “Yeah,” he swallowed heavily. “Yeah I’m ready.”

Anita smiled thinly, sadly. “Harry, it’s the only way.”

“I know,” he said, though a corner of his mind protested. Was it the only way?

Anita pointed at a hatch. “Time to go.”

She braced against the far wall and shoved the hatch open. Harrison stepped inside.

The K-F driver core chamber was a long rectangle, with the drive itself taking up one entire wall, with readouts, monitors and workstations lined up in front of it. Four men in white overalls were bent over one of the workstations, and looked up as he entered.

Harrison stood in the doorway and fired. The workstation sparkled with laser fire, metal and plastic puffing into the air as his first shots missed. He adjusted, fired, and a man went limp, spilling marbles of blood from his chest. The other three were yelling, trying to find cover, moving as though in slow-motion in the room’s zero gravity. He fired again, and another man went spinning away.

“Intruders in engineering,” one was shouting into a comm panel. “They’re in—”

Harrison’s next shot took him in the face.

The last one raised his hands, shouting, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I’m just a technician—”

Another shot silenced him.

Anita patted him on the back. “It had to be done, Harry,” she said. “Now, watch the door while I program the K-F Drive. This is going to light up every system in the ship, so they’ll be coming down here fast.”

“How…” he coughed. “How long will it take?”

“Depends how damaged the drive is,” she pursed her lips, looking at the rows of terminals critically. “Once it’s set, it’ll take 15 minutes for the drive to engage.”

“Tell me, okay?” he asked. “Tell me when it’s set.”

“Harry, it won’t make any difference.”

“Just tell me, okay?”

She nodded, “Okay.” Pointed at the doorway. “Now get ready. They’ll be coming.”

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #14 on: 19 July 2017, 09:14:53 »
Z +1.02.40

They threw a flash-bang grenade in first, just as they had done on the bridge. This time, Harrison was ready. He’d wedged himself behind a large, bulky workstation, bracing the barrel of the laser rifle between two monitors so that he could keep firing with only one hand exposed, while keeping the rest of him shielded behind the station.

“Anita!” he shouted a warning the instant he saw a black cylinder float through the hatch, and ducked down, convulsively squeezing the trigger. A lucky shot grazed the grenade, sending it spinning backwards towards the doorway, where it exploded with nova intensity.

There were shouts and cries beyond the hatch, as the ComStar guards were caught in the blast of their own grenade. From his cover behind the workstation, Harrison grinned savagely to himself, and fired another burst from his rifle. The metal hatch and bulkhead clanged as his shots impacted. Answering fire poured back, unaimed, firing wildly into the drive chamber, brilliant pulses of light that seared into the walls and machinery.

Harrison held his fire, felt his hammering heart in his chest. He peeked over the edge of the workstation, watching for movement in the hatchway.

After a minute of silence a long black barrel appeared, and then a helmeted head. Harrison fired.

The head jerked back, a new black hole smoking in the mirrored visor, and then slumped to the deck. It was dragged out of sight and then another volley of random fire crashed into the room.

Harrison waited.

“Just a little more Harry, a little more,” Anita said behind him. “Inducer’s fried but I think I can fool the system into charging anyway. Just a few more minutes.”

He waited.

A voice from the hatch called out.

“Captain, can we talk?”

It was Cole.

His white-robed figure appeared in the doorway, arms raised, hands empty. “I am unarmed Captain,” he called. “I simply wish to talk.”

“Don’t listen to him, Harry,” Anita urged.

Harrison hesitated. “So talk,” he called back.

Cole took a languid, zero-G step into the chamber. “Captain, it doesn’t have to end this way.”

Harrison found his right hand on the rifle’s trigger was trembling, He covered it with his left, tried to keep it still. “You’re not giving us much choice,” he said, bitterly.

Cole drifted forward another step. “Of course, Captain. You’re not a killer. You are a man of peace, as am I. We are so much alike. A pity we started on the wrong foot. Let’s start again, shall we? Clean slate?”

“Shoot him Harry,” Anita hissed. “Shoot. Him.”

“A clean slate?” he asked Cole instead.

Cole smiled. “Yes, Captain, a clean slate. Let’s put the past behind us,” he slowly lowered his arms. “There is no need for this. You’re not a fanatic. There is no profit in revenge. You are a merchant, a trader. So, let us trade.”

“Trade what?” The muzzle of the laser rifle dipped slightly. “What can you trade?”

“Harry you idiot, don’t listen. He’s lying.”

“Like all trades, we will each get what we want, Captain.” Cole was half a dozen paces away now. “You want to go back to your ship. You promise to tell no one about this battleship, don’t you Captain?”

“I promise.” Harrison felt he was crying again. “It’s not fair.”

“No, Harry. No.”

“Quite right, Captain. It isn’t fair,” Cole nodded, sympathetically. “We can do that, Captain. We can send you back to your ship. You can go home. That’s fair, isn’t it? All you need to do is put down that gun.”

Harrison stood slowly, rifle dangling from uncertain fingers. “You’ll let us go?”

“He won’t, Harry. He’s lying.”

Cole nodded, slowly. “We will let you go. Now, the rifle Captain, if you please?”

Harrison looked down at the gun in his hands, as though seeing it for the first time. What was he doing with a rifle? He was a merchant, a trader. All he wanted was to go home. He looked up at Cole, saw the kind understanding in his eyes. Harrison raised the rifle.

He felt a sting. A burning sensation in his chest. He looked down. There was a neat, round hole in his uniform, just over his heart. He suddenly felt very weak, very tired, so very tired. He tried to cough but found there wasn’t any air in his lungs.

“No, you idiot!” Cole was shouting. There was a man in a white uniform in the doorway, holding a gun, pointed at Harrison, then shifting and firing past him. Blinks of neon light flashing by him, so pretty, so like the fireworks he’d seen when he was a kid. “Cease fire!” A kid at home. All he wanted was to go home, to make a home, a new home maybe, that would be nice. “You nearly shot me you fool!”

Harrison glanced over at Anita, wanted to tell her it would be okay, that everything was okay now, they could go home. Blood was trickling from her mouth and her face was a hideous red grin. Her breath came in bubbles.

“Too late,” she said, but not to him.

Harrison frowned at her. Silly Anita. It wasn’t too late. They could go home. He wanted to tell her, but the words wouldn’t come. It was getting dark in here. He could barely see.

And then, everything was light, like a torch being shone in his face.

The K-F field shimmered into solidity around the battleship. When it was gone, the ship had vanished.



Epilogue

The Velocity of Money did not survive. The ComStar JumpShip Ministry of Truth arrived in-system a day after the Weir disappeared. The Money was immediately detected, and fighters launched to cripple the ship before it could jump. The vessel was boarded, the crew interrogated and then disposed of once it was confirmed they had no useful information.

The Zughoffer Weir would not be discovered again for another 40 years. It would be found, this time by ComStar splinter group the Word of Blake, in a system hundreds of light years away. Of the ComStar team that had been on board there was no trace.

marauder648

  • Major
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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #15 on: 20 July 2017, 03:35:02 »
THis...was DAMN good! Excellent stuff and thank you for writing and posting it! Seriously, this is great :)
Ghost Bears: Cute and cuddly. Until you remember its a BLOODY BEAR!

Dubble_g

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  • Keep your friends close, and your vodka closer
Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #16 on: 20 July 2017, 07:41:57 »
Thanks again to both Dave Talley and Marauder648 for taking the time to read and comment on the story, and for your tremendous positivity! Have to admit I was a bit discouraged when the first half of the story was erased in the server migration, but I'm glad I stuck with it now after your feedback.

If anybody wants a PDF to read offline, here's a Dropbox link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/3a2mr177rv4zw4r/Master.pdf?dl=0

I'm going to try my hand at one with actual BattleMechs in it next, so hope you like that one too.

 

DOC_Agren

  • Warrant Officer
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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #17 on: 20 July 2017, 19:08:24 »
Interesting ending
 8) 8)
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

snakespinner

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #18 on: 21 July 2017, 02:37:28 »
Glad you kept writing after the server problems.
An excellent story. O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.

Dubble_g

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Re: Master of a Fool
« Reply #19 on: 21 July 2017, 08:58:41 »
Interesting ending
 8) 8)

I'd read that the WoB battleship was a derelict they'd salvaged, so that sparked the idea: What if the derelict had been discovered in an era when no one else had warships? I knew I wanted to keep the story more or less canon, so the ship had to go at the end, and I kind of liked the accidental misjump at the start being a foreshadowing of the deliberate one at the end.

Thanks also to snakespinner. Glad to liked the story.