Friday, 2 December 2011

An Eye on the Prize. Part One.

I am going to serialise this. It's sort of Patrick O Brian in space. It's not as good as O'Brian of course, because then I would be A LIVING GOD. However, I don't think it's totally without merit and is one of a few pieces set in this universe. Hope you find something to enjoy in it. If you are one of the six or so people who visits my blog I'd be terribly obliged if you pointed other people at it or, even, commented.

Anyway, without further ado.

An Eye on The Prize.

And those above do watch,
As 'tween the stars we stride.
With lengthened view they watch
And judge with shining eyes.

They watch
(but not too closely boys)
They watch
(but not too close)
They watch
(but not too closely boys)
They watch
(but not too close.)

(Traditional winding song.)

Fleeing the Temat Dreadnought, 'Dogmatist': Week Four. Third day. Hispania Drift.

It was commonly held, amongst those of the Thirdest aristocracy who admired men, that Augmenteer-Surgeon Alastar Herion was one of the most beautiful men alive. The most fashionable of Jacksters paid close attention to Alastar Herion's choices in finely cut quilt-jackets and diamond carved slimarmour. His long, lustrous, auburn hair was admired by many and the tiny braids he affected within it copied by more. His forceful brow and cleverly applied make-up had caught the eye of many artists and his eyes sparkled like a Dreadnought showing 'Surrender Blue'.

Herion's aqualine nose ran straight and true above the small, and exquisitely painted, bow of his mouth. Even his eccentric and curious choices, such as to forgo manly facial hair, only managed to accentuate his boyish beauty.
It must be told however, that it was also commonly held, amongst those of the Thirdest aristocracy who admired men, that Augmenteer-Surgeon Alastar Herion's beauty fled when he opened his mouth.

'Ape's breath! Will this fearful noise never cease?' he spat.

Herion's words were shrill and shrewish to match his peevish mood. His rasp echoed out across the three hundred paces of the Pointless Venture's vaulted gundeck only to be lost high amongst the panes of the ovoid crystal overhull. It would have been looked upon darkly on most Valveships for a man to be so ill tempered within earshot of the Captain but the 'Venture's' crew were long used to, 'M'nteer Herion's quaint planetsman's ways,' and the common low-geners held his learning in whispered awe. A wave of chuckles was the only sound heard in the brief, and unkindly timed, moment of quiet in which Alastar chose to make his ill-tempered outburst.

The fearful noise in question swiftly recommenced.

The 'Venture's' First-of-The-Bridge, a hulking Sekhur named Sing (His smile rarely left his face.) parted from the Decksmen jumping to his orders and came to the infuriated Augmenteer's side.

'It is the ship's shield pontoons, Mr. Herion. They scream so when stressed.' (His voice like warm honey.) Four golden rankwhiskers in Sing's top lip sparkled through his heavy moustache; catching the dim light of the glowlamps strung above the busy gundeck.

It was not the intermittent, teeth-grinding, squeal of the shield pontoons that had upset the Jacksterish Surgeon this time. Herion waved a slim hand in dismissal.
'No, no, Mr. Sing. I consider myself Navyman enough to no longer be upset by the many strange and unpleasant sounds this ship makes.'

Sing gave a smile (How he always smiled!) that would only have been seen to be condescending by the basest, most low-mannered, of decksman. Many of whom worked around the two men; changing pipes, shining brass and chuckling quietly to themselves.

'The noise I refer to, Mr. Sing, is the Ape-damned shouting and pacing from our good Captain,' Herion pointed up the deck, 'which echoes down through the superstructure so. It has quite ruined my concentration and any chance I have of completing my catalogue of the finds I made on Beldrat,' continued Herion. 'Morgan is in charge of a Frigate-of-War and has been for many years, I would not expect him to be so upset by a little incoming lance fire.'

First Sing of the Sekhurs was saved from having to explain his Captain's ire by the approach of the man himself.

While Alastar had complained and griped at the redoubtable First Officer, Morgan Willmot had stomped down from the far quarterdeck shaking his shaggy head and snapping unneeded orders at the industrious decksmen around him. Morgan's trihorne helmet had long since been cast upon the deck in frustration to be retrieved by his steward who wittered of; 'more dints and scratches for Old Lespick to fix.'

Morgan's slimarmour, though old, still sparkled and gleamed in the traditional blue top and white trews due to the loving, if rather obsessive, attentions of his dour one-legged, steward.

The Captain broke into a grin as he approached the Augmenteer and gave Alastar's hand a hearty shake.

'Good early, Alastar, have you ever seen anything more foul and cowardly than these creatures who beset us?'

Herion's waspish reply dissolved into confusion within his mouth at the Captain's apparent good cheer. The Augmenteer-Surgeon often found it difficult to maintain his contrary moods and whimsies when confronted by the far more expansive and enthusiastic moods of his expansive and enthusiastic friend, Captain Morgan Willmot. Willmot in turn remained immune to Alastar's sullen tempers and it was, most probably, this ability that served to make the close friendship between the two disparate men possible.

'Cowardly?' sneered Alastar Herion. Though he would have been as well to sneer at the deck below him for all the notice Morgan took.

'Oh indeed, Alastar. Walk to the far quarter with me, I must talk to Master Steersman Bettle about our next threading.' Morgan took the slender Augmenteers arm and wove him nimbly through the many knots of men, all busy in the arcane and complicated arts involved in running a valveship: Lowdeckers constantly cleaned. Decksman with valve-levers and crowpipes sweated as they altered the flow patterns of the fearsome energies running through the ship's throbbing arteries. Able Decksman, their ears pressed hard into horns shoved against the hull, directed the work of their fellows by listening to the stress songs of the wooden hull. Out of view myriad others worked. Watchmen, their steel eyes locked into the cornerscopes, scanned all quarters of the sky and in the prow-head sweating Jineers tended the conversion kettles and paid no mind to their burns.

To Morgan it was all one great machine that he stood at the head of, Lord and Master. He avoided his men unconsciously so used was he to the workings of his ship. Guiding his friend to a stop on the quarterdeck, aft of the great wheels, Morgan pointed at the dusty smear of a planet high off starboard.

'A whole flock of Lance-Blades are in the gravity well of that planet, Alastar. They sit safe and sound taking pot shots at us, the rogues,' grizzled the Captain.
There was another harsh screech as the shield pontoons absorbed the titanic energies colliding with their fields.

'Ape curse them!' Shouted Morgan into the high arches of the gundeck before adding, in a more thoughtful, appreciative tone. 'It is bedevoled good shooting though, even if wasted energy on a ship of our class.'

A man of Alastar Herion's learning should, after so many years with the appreciative Captain, have realised that his own understanding of naval strategy was often incomplete: Naïve even. Still, to him the answer seemed obvious.

'They cannot hurt us? Then I fail to see why they make you roar and pace so. We merely ignore them and keep on going. Surely?'

Morgan, by the most strenuous application of personal discipline, managed not to look appalled at his friends ignorance.

'No, Alastar, they cannot damage us but they add stress so we must slow the old, 'Venture,' or risk overloading the shields and fracturing a pontoon. That would never do and I am constantly having to watch our thrust to keep best possible speed.'

Foolishly, Herion chose to carry on speaking.

'Then surely you can just chase them away, the 'Pointless Venture' is a Frigate-of-War and far outclassess a Lance-Blade - even a school of them,' Herion brushed wood dust from the sleeve of his slim-armour. 'Then you could cease with the terrible row you've been making.' Snipped the fractious medical.

Morgan laughed as if he had just heard the most worthy of puns. Indeed, to his navyman's way of thinking possibly he had. His mane of reddy-brown curls shook and the six golden catwhiskers of his rank, woven into the proud points of his moustache, twitched as mirth overcame him.

'You say the most wondrous things, Alastar.' Morgan looked momentarily contrite and held up a hand to his bristling friend, 'now do not take like that. I merely say you do not have all the information.' This mollified Herion somewhat. 'Only battleship classes move in schools. Lighter craft, such as Lanceblades surely are, flock.' The shield pontoons screamed again and Morgan stared wistfully at the planet sheltering the attacking ships. 'No, we travel in entirely the wrong direction to turn and teach them a lesson, it would take us days to alter our impetus.' He shook his head sadly. Morgan detested running from any engagement as was being forced to so with the Venture's' hull coloured dark in an attempt to hide against the void. 'Also, the Ruddy-Boy,' Morgan nodded at the wiry man fighting the vertical wheel, 'Bettle, knows this system. He says they only wish to lure us in nearer the planet, right Master Steersman Bettle?'

The Ruddy-Boy gave a quick nod, his eyes unfocused and his wrinkled face screwed up as he concentrated on the wheel.

'Aye Cappan. Works me on a voidwhaler out here as a childer. There's a half broked up citadel station hidden behind the planet. Still fires him n' wrecker-gun though.'

Morgan gave Herion a knowing look and then, seeing the puzzlement on his friends face, added.

'A gun that fires shielded projectiles and, most assuredly, that would hurt us.' Morgan's eyes narrowed, 'I've marked them on my chart though, never you worry, Alastar. We'll be back here at some point.'

Herion was always impressed by Morgan's positive way of seeing almost all naval events that befell him. To the Augmenteer it seemed highly unlikely that there would be any chance of return. At this moment the Venture was being chased, and gradually caught, by a Dreadnought class ship of the hated Temat Confederacy; desperate to claim the prize Alastar had purloined from them on Beldin Citadel Station over a month ago.

The surgeon cleared his throat and croaked.

'At least our pursuer will be subject to the same problem, if they are just pirates. Will he not?' Herion added querulously.

Morgan nodded.

'There is that at least, but I had hoped to do a close pass of the next planet and the citadel station makes that most unwise.' Morgan pointed forwards with a gloved hand, 'had it not we may have bought enough time for Captain Parvin and the 'Perseverance' to make Thirdest territory and bring back some help before we're brought to the gun.'

'If she escaped the Frigates chasing her.' Herion added dismally, gazing up into the star-spangled void of the Experiment. 'He will definitely catch us then? You have always told me a Frigate is far faster than a Dreadnought. Far faster.'

'From a standing start nothing in our class or above could catch the 'Venture'. But that devolver out there,' Morgan pointed out the stern and through the just visible exhaust halo of the 'Venture's' dual thrusters. 'He had the impetus when he came upon us and the advantage tells sorely. Also, we travel through a dirty system and the debris slows us, his ship is bigger, its pontoons longer so they can absorb more at speed.' Morgan smiled ruefully, 'and whoever captains that ship is a wicked devol of a navyman. Truly gifted.' Morgan stared out into through the crystal overhull and into the expanse above them. 'We thread to Pallata Beta within two days and I may gain us some small advantage there, depending on the planetary orbit phase.' Morgan's last words were spoken more to himself than the thin Augmenteer.

Alastar, thinking he saw the truth of the situation now, responded.

'It is a pity he outclasses us so, is it not? Otherwise,' a forced and alien jollity entered his tone, 'I am sure the 'Venture' could take him. She is a fearsome ship.'

Morgan shook his head at his friends misunderstanding.

'I would gladly take him to the gun, Alastar, gladly and quick as kiss-my-face. I would beat him too and what a fine prize that ship would be.'

'You are so sure, Morgan...'

A piratical gleam shone in the bluff captain's green eyes.

'Oh sure as sure. But we'd take fearful damage and you have impressed the importance of the prize you carry on me quite adequately, Alastar. Quite adequately. 'Tis more important for us to run and hide with our hull-darkened, no matter how it pains me.' He shook his shaggy head. 'No matter how.'

The shield pontoons screamed again.

Part two, she beckons you onwards.

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