... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Sun Jul 26, 2015 4:25 pm

15.

The bodyguard heaved Debra further into the conference room and kicked the door closed behind him.

‘You’re hurting me!’ Debra clawed ineffectually at the man’s hand where it sank into her shoulder. ‘Let me go! You can’t hold me!’

‘Evidence to the contrary, dear,’ said Tara. She looked almost happy, and glanced around at Straughn. ‘I believe the First Minister has a number of emergency powers in the event of a threat to the system. One is deputising militia, and another is having security risks interned. I would say this spy should vanish for the remainder of this crisis, wouldn’t you?’

Straughn scratched his head and thought furiously. What had he been saying that she might have heard or, worse, recorded? He didn’t think he had advocated murder or anything... but then again, he’d definitely heard Thurden admitting to crimes, and he hadn’t been showing concern for the safety of the generation ship. ‘Yes, that’s right,’ he said thoughfully. ‘She might jeopardise the safety of this planet. We shouldn’t harm her, but we can’t let her speak, either!’

‘The public definitely has a right to know!’ shrieked Debra. ‘You’re putting them in danger keeping this—ugh!’ She broke off as the other bodyguard slapped her in the face.

‘Neither of us like nosy journalists. We’re finding all kinds of common ground here!’ said Tara.

Silgoe had craned sideways so the little camera perched on his earpiece in front of the impossibly slick hair could see Debra. ‘She’s not one of ours. Potential troublemaker, the corporation would probably have needed to arrange her sasking and blacklisting within a few years.’

‘We can hold her somewhere for a few days easily enough, stop this getting out, let her go when it doesn’t matter any more,’ said Tara. ‘We won’t do her any permanent harm, although... it’s odd how many people join our philosophy after they’re been our guests for a while.’

‘No...’ Debra fell quiet again when Tara’s bodyguard put his hand on her throat.

‘You going to come quietly, or shall I render you unconscious?’ sneered the huge man.

‘Easy Brand,’ said Tara. She looked back at Straughn, who nodded and then swallowed after she looked back.

The second Darzian produced a small gun, waved it in front of Debra’s face, then poked it into her back. Brand took her drone held it in front of her, and tightened his grip. Veins and tendons stood out on the back of his meaty hand, then the plastic crumpled and crushed, spilling microchips and servo-motors onto the carpet. ‘Ooops,’ he said. ‘Take her away.’

Ashen-faced, Debra moved towards the door, but it opened before she got there. Gillian came into the room, followed by two other uniformed Federal soldiers. Unusually, they were carrying rifles in addition to their usual sidearms. ‘Is there a problem here?’ asked Gillian in a mild tone, but her eyes were hard.

The Darzian twitched, and his gun vanished. ‘Not at all, officer.’ Debra ran herself across the room and put the guards between herself and the Darzians. She looked like she was fighting the urge to fling herself on Gillian and cry.

‘What is this about? You’re interrupting an important meeting!’ blustered Straughn.

‘We’ve heard back from our scouts, and we have reason to believe that Captain Thurden was not entirely honest with us,’ said Gillian. ‘He will be accompanying us back to base.’

Thurden scowled. ‘Am I under arrest?’

‘You will be if you don’t come voluntarily. I warn you, I get crabby when I have to do paperwork and put cuffs on too tight,’ said Gillian.

Thurden got out of his chair. ‘Well I’ve said what I had to say, sure I can leave the matter in your hands.’ He crossed the room with bad grace.

Gillian bent and picked up the remains of the drone’s central circuit board, chips trailing on wires. ‘Litter removal, no extra charge!’ she said. ‘As you were.’

Straughn watched them go, scowling. ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ he asked.

Tara shrugged. ‘Probably not, but we should move fast. We have established that we are concerned about the Federation, but what of the Empire? They recognise our legal possession of this world but I’ve never heard of them accomodating colony ships.’

Silgoe nodded. ‘They are comitted to protecting Imperial citizens and assets on this planet and thus, by extension, support our interests too.’

‘Then I’ll contact the Consul as soon as possible,’ said Straughn. He appreciated that the company man had allowed him to say that himself. ‘Do we have any other suggestions?’

‘You can count on our support,’ said Tara. ‘If any new opportunities arise, I’ll let you know.’ She got up and padded out of the room, followed by her guards. Not so much as a word of goodbye or thanks.

Straughn tapped his ear. ‘Did you get that, Tom? Don’t have to tell you it’s confidential. Draft me up a couple of messages to forward to the Imperial Consul, outlining our concerns and asking if we can count on his support. I’ll be up to the office in a few minutes.’

Silgoe had risen and walked around to him. He was holding a round device with a large amber button. ‘May we speak privately, minister?’

Straughn nodded. ‘Of course.’

Silgoe pressed the button, which lit up. Straughn’s earpiece immediately began emitting a low rustle of white noise. The device was a privacy scrambler, disrupting all electromagnetic communications around the two men and the majority of unshielded electrical devices as well.

‘The Empire on its own may not be enough; they might not be willing or able to confront the Fereration,’ said the corporation man. ‘It may be wise to follow... certain other avenues.’

‘You mean like Thurden did asking the pirates to destroy it?’ said Straughn. ‘I couldn’t be involved with anything like that. Officially.’

‘You would not have to be,’ reassured Silgoe, not missing a beat. ‘All monies and organisation would be taken care of elsewhere. All we would need is assurance that you would not aggressively pursue any prosecutions against corporate entities that might become implicated in unethical actions.’

‘If they were protecting Perabyssos then I’d say they were being patriotic!’ said Straughn after taking a moment to work out the last sentence. ‘Are you thinking of hiring the Code? I heard they chased off a Fed capital ship, I bet an ancient generation rust-bucket would be no match for them!’

Silgoe shook his head. ‘The Code would rob it blind, but they wouldn’t destroy it. We had hopes for the Cosmic State, but they appear to be re-inventing themselves with a modicum of honour, and could not be relied upon for disposal work of this nature.’

‘Who then?’ asked Straughn.

‘There are two main possibilities,’ said Silgoe. ‘First, you may have heard of a subculture known as “griefers.” There are certain individuals who take great pleasure in murder, destruction and humanitarian outrages for own sake. That they have severe psychological disturbance is a given, but they can be surprisingly effective nonetheless. Some are able to operate because of very high financial assets and connections that shield them from legal repercussions. We know how many of them can be reached via the darknet.’

‘They don’t sound like people we want around.’

‘Not normally, but the opportunity to commit mass murder of protected colonists would be sure to attract them. It would have the advantage of requiring no money and being virtually untracable. Some of them would be bound to show up regardless once news got out.’

‘If they are going to come here anyway, let’s hope they go for the... right... target.’ said Straughn. Despite the scrambler, he felt the need for additional deniability about this.

‘A stronger possibility is known as the Kumo Crew,’ said Silgoe. ‘They are a nomadic pirate force who have recently begun setting up bases in the Pegasi sector. They are known to be highly organised and fearsome. With the right inducement and prospect of loot and infamy, I am quite sure a detachment might come here and act for us. They have no fear of either Federation or Empire.’

Straughn thought. The Federation was bound to send an enforcement party; would the Empire really risk war over what was, after all, only a minority on a Federal planet? Even if they did, it seemed likely that the two giants would balance each other. Something needed to tip that balance in their favour.

‘Do it,’ he said.

*

Just realised I’ve broken a rule of thumb from the writing group: Try not to have characters whose names start with the same letter. Well so much for that...

This thriller technique isn’t that easy. This is the second potential cliff-hanger I could have ended a section on, but I can’t because there’s nothing to intersperse it with, or the sections was simply too short! Heh well.

Having to break up the exposition as best I can..
Last edited by Straylight0 on Wed Jul 29, 2015 2:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Flip » Tue Jul 28, 2015 4:10 am

Noticed a typo:

it’s odd how many people join our philosophy after they’re been are guests for a while.’


Should have been "our guests".

Not sure about mentioning the Code. Gives them a recognition that I don't think they deserve.

Anyway, keep up the great work!
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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 2:40 pm

Oops can't believe I didn't subscribe this topic... and that's an embarassing grammar mistake alright... !

I was originally going to ask Code if they wanted to co-operate and appear as themselves, but that went by the wayside. Current plan is to do nasty things to a thinly disguised version of a prominent griefer later on...

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 7:23 pm

16.

Commodore Thule paused inside the door of the security compound, and allowed herself a sigh. She had examined herself in the mirror before leaving her office. Grey hair neatly combed and bound, uniform clean and straight, boots and buttons nicely but not excessively polished, spine perfectly aligned despite her age and a decade behind desks, shoulders ready but relaxed. Still, there were times when you still had to allow yourself a moment.

She started across the airfield, wincing at the afternoon sun. Having the HQ down on the surface had been her idea, although of course they maintained a significant presence on the station as well. Being planetside underlined they were not expecting trouble, and thus trouble became less likely. The pilots mixed with the locals, they had better living conditions, they bolstered planetary security and the local economy. Besides, the intelligence reports had said that trouble was more likely from within than without on this posting. Fortunately, that hadn’t happened beyond the occasional bar fight. All in all, it had seemed a civilised and relaxed end to her career, keeping peace and training new cadets.

Thule was too old a soldier to ever have taken this as a given, of course, and now circumstances were proving her right. You should always be ready. She still felt a small pang as she left the forecourt and passed the saluting guards at the main gate, though.

Engines were roaring above. She looked up and saw five ships descending; two vipers, two eagles, and a shuttle carrying the remaining pilot of the scout flight. Polo’s damaged ship had been unable to handle atmosphere and so landed at the space station; her wing-mates had waited until they could return together. Sometimes, you did dodge a bullet.

Thule turned her steps towards a building that was actually smaller than the Federal faculty, but looked bigger. It had started life in the same blocky white style, but had been embellished. Flowering vines flowed along its ridges and spilled over its roofs. Ornate urns in various-hued metals and cleverly patterned ceramics disgorged sprays of colourful flowers, and the walls had been washed in pastel colours to gently accentuate the plant-life. Its borders were marked by lines of low metal studs and statues at the corners. Thule knew that if there was any kind of trouble, those metal studs would suddenly rise to twenty-foot poles and deploy electromagnetic nets between them, while turreted weapons would suddenly spring up from behind those pretty vines. The Empire had more subtlety and budget for its security, but took it just as seriously.

Then, there was the ship parked beside their HQ. Sleek, streamlined, stylish, enamelled a spotless white with a metallic sheen, was an Imperial Clipper. Back next to Thule’s compound was the blocky shoebox-form of a Federal Dropship in general-issue grey.

Thule saluted back to the two guards at the door, whose uniforms were rather more gaudy than hers. Beyond them the entry hall had more potted plants and a pleasant scent of flowers. Murals had been hand-painted on the walls and the seats for waiting were studded leather, not tubular steel. The entry desk was real wood, and a civilian in an elegant dress stood up to greet her. ‘Commodore Thule, welcome to the Imperial enclave. How may we be of service?’ You could entirely miss the two unobtrusive slaves cleaning and polishing if you did not have your eye trained.

There was simply no beating the damn Empire for style, Thule thought. What she said was ‘Good afternoon. I asked the distinguished Consul for an emergency audience, is he available?’

The receptionist nodded. ‘He was honoured to clear his schedule for you. Please follow me.’

Thule knew the way perfectly well and could have got there faster, but a certain degree of protocol had to be observed. The Consul was bending and breaking enough rules for this meeting as it was. She followed the high heels clicking on stairs covered in a thin sim-wood panelling, then padding on a long strip of magenta carpet, until she was shown into his office. The desk was an imported antique, and with its contents probably had a combined age greater than all the people in the spaceport. Behind it was a human-reproduced oil painting of Senator Patreus, which after all the posters in the Federal building, looked odd without a cheeky caption. Holva duelling weapons were mounted either side of it.

Count Bastle, Imperial Consul to Perabyssos, was a middle-aged man with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair and a hawk nose but a ready smile. He made a small bow. ‘Greetings Commodore, I would ask how you are, but your face shows great displeasure. Did you have to kiss an especially malodorous corporate backside this morning?’

Thule gave a small bow back. ‘At least I know how to wipe my backside without ringing for a slave.’ The receptionist had disappeared.

Bastle’s smile appeared. ‘Touché! With the ritual insults exchanged, may I offer you a cup of tea? I have a particularly nice blend of one per cent Fujin. I think you would like the roasted variety with a drop of milk from Kobe cattle.’

‘That sounds wonderful, Roger, but I’m not sure we will have time,’ said Thule. ‘What have your sources told you about our interloper?’

Bastle’s smile faded. ‘I just got a message from the First Minister, fawning on me like the roach he is. Apparently it’s a generation ship, and he wants the Empire to guarantee the rights and property of all on this planet. Which we are beholden to do for our own people anyway, of course. The Empire has never recognised any special rights for colony ships.’

‘Whereas the Federation does, but hasn’t amended those laws for centuries because we never thought this situation would arise again,’ said Thule. ‘Frankly, I’m worried what we might do. Our bureaucracy can be as pig-headed as yours, only our leaders don’t have the right to over-rule it.’

Bastle heaved a sigh and leaned on his desk. His face looked, for a moment, much older. ‘How long have we got? Do we even know if there is anyone left alive in the ship?’

‘We’ve now got it on our long-range arrays,’ said Thule. ‘It’s under power and looks like it will assist its deceleration by looping around another two of the outer planets. We estimate eight days or so to arrival. It is astonishingly heavily armed for a generation ship, and thanks to a rogue captain and the system pirates, it’s now hostile. I shall be asking for permission to try communication, but I doubt I’ll get it.’

Bastle looked down at his desk, and spun an ancient fountain pen with his right hand. Then he looked up.

‘I’ll have to go for a personal consultation on this one,’ he said. ‘Protocol demands it. We may well have a military officer taking over, anyway.’

Thule looked up at the painting. Patreus had a stern and proud expression, and Imperial fighters were depicted roaring across the sky behind him. ‘Does it really have to be... him?’

‘You’d prefer a nice cuddly little Princess Aisling*?’ asked Bastle, a trace of his good humour returning. ‘You should look out for that one, mark my words. But no, it has to be our Patron. No other possibility.’

‘What would you guess at his response?’

Bastle closed his eyes for a moment. ‘I wouldn’t like to say. If this does end our pleasant relations here, I want you to know that I will regret it, and always hold you in high regard.’

‘Likewise,’ said Thule.

Bastle opened his eyes again and straightened up. ‘Well, I’ll have the Clipper prepared and by bags packed while I give the minister his emergency meeting. I’d suggest you not do the same because by the time your dropship got to a major system and back, this whole thing would be over.’

‘You’re never going to get tired of that joke, are you?’ snapped Thule.

‘Until free markets and democracy produce better results than autocracy and indentured labour, no,’ said Bastle.

‘We have military Asps you know,’ said Thule. ‘Probably better than yours.’

Bastle’s smile faltered again. ‘I hope you’re not going to need them.’


* pronounced like “Ashlynne”

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Fri Aug 07, 2015 8:51 pm

17

In the far reaches of a solar system hundreds of light-years from Earth, on the furthest edge of a belt of pulverised rocks in the cold shadow of a lifeless gas giant, deep within the broken hull of a crippled ship, two pirates and a former hostage were waiting to die. Or at least, the two pirates were. The former hostage was chafing at the situation.

Karlon fidgeted again. ‘Never thought I’d be glad to be back in this cell!’ he said. ‘How come the only air-tight door in the ship is on your brig?’

‘I didn’t build the thing.’ Billhook had wedged himself into a corner, and seemed perfectly happy with his bottle of whiskey. He waved it at them; in the glow of the single emergency light, his face was red as blood anyway. ‘You want some? Nobody ought to die shober,’ he slurred.

Lixxe had actually been still for the last few minutes; now she glared at him, the whites of her eyes expanding in the dark smudges of her makeup. ‘If you spew I’ll kill you,’ she hissed.

Karlon winced at the thought of projectile vomit flying about weightless. The air was filthy anyway, and three bodies in here hadn’t improved things. At least two of them hadn’t washed in a long time, and panic didn’t do much. He had been slowly learning to ignore the foetor of the pirate ship, but there was bad and there was worse.

‘Nobody got any stinging in your joints?’ he asked. ‘That would mean the air’s getting out through the blockage in the air duct and we’re getting the bends. If it isn’t, we’ve got time.’

‘Time for what?’ asked Lixxie.

‘Time to plan some way of getting out,’ he said.

‘I hate to point out the obvious, but you just hustled us all in here very fast before the rest of the ship depressurised,’ she told him as if explaining to an idiot.

‘You know what I mean.’

‘Lad's a trier I’ll give him that.’ Billhook waved his other hand, which had his gun in it. ‘If you’re not drinking Lix then why not let me shoot you? Would be quick and give me more time to drink and the kid to make his plans.’

‘Frag you Billhook!’ snapped Lixxie. ‘I’m here to the finish. You couldn’t even hit a barn door with that thing anyway.’

‘Sure I can! See those windows on the door?’ Billhook raised the gun. Karlon flung himself off from the wall towards him, flapping his arms. ‘It’s okay Billhook, stop! We believe you! Don’t shoot!’ There was only one window on the door.

‘Oh alright then.’ The pirate went back to his bottle. Karlon rebounded off the wall near him and drifted backwards, trying to control his breathing. Was that the slow, low burning of carbon dioxide poisoning he could feel, or just panic? How much air did they have anyway? They’d made the class work it out time and time again at school, how long can you survive in a room 3x4x6m etc, and he’d forgotten all of it. It really wasn’t fair.

‘Just calm down Karlon,’ said Lixxie, taking his hand. ‘We’ve all got to die sometime. At least this way is quite elegant. Just think of the three of us slowly freezing and mummifying in our remote tomb!’

‘I’d still rather not,’ muttered Karlon. He fixed his magnetic shoes to the hull near her. After a while, he looked round ‘So, where do you come from then? How did you wind up as a pirate?’

An enormous and artificial grin spread over Lixxie’s mouth, zipping open from one corner to reveal a huge array of teeth, surprisingly white. ‘Why Karlon! A few hours left and you decide to chat me up? You want to burn up the last of the oxygen with me vaulting on your viper?’

‘No, I mean that wouldn’t be bad but but b- b- b- dammit!’ Karlon smacked his fist into the floor, and the clang echoed away through the bulkheads of the dead ship. ‘What makes you so eager to die? When they were shooting us up it was like you didn’t care!’

Black-painted lips closed back over the teeth. ‘Who says I’m the freak? You’ve hardly been out in space at all. A nice stable childhood messes you up, gives you the idea you can live happily ever after. You ought to stare out the window for a bit. It’s cold void out there. Places life can exist are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Life is the accident. It doesn’t belong.’

‘Wouldn’t that make it rather more valuble?’ asked Karlon.

Lixxie shook her head. ‘If it was worth anything to begin with, we’ve spread enough that not even our own weapons could exterminate us. Not that the universe cares. We were killing each other when we were only a few million, now an individual life is nothing. You live with that as a combat pilot and a pirate.’

‘I’m sure you’d still rather not die if you don’t have to, though!’ said Karlon.

‘You don’t get it.’ Lixxie wrapped her arms around herself. ‘The centre of the galaxy is a black hole. A giant rent in reality that just swallows anything, and will eventually devouring everything we have ever known. That is God, that is Science, that is the heart of the universe. It doesn’t care if we know or worship it, it just obliterates. Inevitable death; nothing comes back over that event horizon. It is the only truth, everything else is irrelevant. You must stop fearing it.’

‘Should have warned you not to set her off!’ muttered Billhook.

Karlon shivered. He wondered whether he should hug her, but decided against it. ‘Well I’m still going to stay out of its clutches as long as I can. You have all those crates and ships and things stored around this base, right? So you must have some spacesuits for handling it.’

‘Nope.’ Lixxie looked vaguely pleased.

‘Oh man, why does nobody ever have actual space-suits in space-ships!’ groaned Karlon. ‘How DO you handle it then?’

‘We got limpet drones,’ sulked Lixxie. ‘But you can forget about them, the control computer went bust with the comms array.’

‘Who needs a computer?’ asked Karlon, suddenly feeling absurdly happy. ‘If I can borrow your terminal, I can work them myself. I can access their control code using the standard library.’

Lixxie pulled the small slab of her terminal from a pouch and sent it floating towards him. Karlon grabbed it, clicked its magnetic back to the floor, and hunched over it. A holographic screen appeared as his fingers flashed over the little device, lines of code appearing.

‘You can program drones? Who in the galaxy learns that?’ asked Lixxie.

‘My great-grandfather’s fault,’ said Karlon. ‘He was a space engineer and I thought he was so cool until he started making me learn things like this when I was a kid. “Karlon!” he used to say, “these modern poshos have all their fancy computers and poncy degrees, but they’re always gonna need someone who can unblock a vac-toilet or work a drone when the software crashes.” Then he’d have a rant about how it was all a conspircay and we don’t actually need all the dedicated controllers they sell us. I thought he was so full of biowaste at the time, but if I get back home, I’m going to visit the old folks’ home and let him bend my ear for hours. Ah.’

The hologram flickered, and a rectagular frame appeared. A spotlight appeared in it, illuminating the inside of a hold, and as Karlon typed in more commands, robot arms appeared in the picture, waving about in front of the camera. ‘I’ve got a link,’ he said. ‘Should be able to work all its other functions if I’m patient enough.’

‘What are you going to do with it?’ asked Lixxie. In spite of herself, she sounded impressed.

‘Get me another bottle!’ called Billhook.

‘I haven’t thought that far ahead,’ said Karlon. ‘Any ideas?’

*

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Sun Oct 11, 2015 6:40 pm

18

Arjanna was waiting outside Thule’s office. Her hair was still wet from the shower, slicked back against her skull. Unlike most people who had waited outside the Commodore’s office, she was already standing at attention, not snapping to it at her appearance.

‘I was going to send for you anyway,’ said Thule. ‘Come on in.’ Once inside, she undid the top button of her collar and settled back behind her desk. ‘Speak your piece.’

‘Sir.’ Arjanna stared at the wall above Thule’s head. ‘I wish to submit myself for a disciplinary enquiry. I made mistaken judgments today that risked the lives of the pilots in my wing; I took them into a situation where I could not be certain of a safe exit and engaged a superior pirate force. At that point, it was evident the generation ship in fact needed no protection.’

‘Request denied.’ Thule opened a drawer. ‘Firstly, none of you died. Secondly, you are jumping to conclusions. For all the information we have, your actions may yet have averted a disaster.’ She placed a bottle onto the table, followed by a pair of glasses. ‘Thirdly, name me an officer who handles complex and dangerous situations ideally every time. At ease, flight leader. Your penance is to pull up a chair and tell me what is really bothering you.’

Arjanna relaxed slightly, although her “at ease” was not in all honesty much different to her parade posture. Thule sent a filled glass sliding across the desk to her as she sat down; Arjanna of course caught it without spilling a drop. ‘Orange juice, seeing how we’re both on duty.’

‘Thank you.’ Arjanna took a sip, and hesitated. ‘Commodore, I... nearly lost people today.’

‘Call me Bridget. I know who needs formality drilling into them, and who needs it drilling out.’

‘Bridget...’ Arjanna looked uncomfortable. ‘I....’

‘You are not perfect.’ Thule sighed. ‘I’m sure you know that, although in some ways, I honestly think you may be perfect-able. That is not a handicap that most of us have to deal with. However, you find yourself living in am imperfect world. No matter how good you are, there may not always be a way to win every situation. That is what we live with as military, and I would not have made you a flight leader if I did not think you could learn to handle it.’

‘I overlooked things,’ said Arjanna, but she was now looking down into her drink.

‘So you have said. I am confident you will not make the same mistake again... but will you make the opposite one?’

Arjanna thought a moment, then took a deep breath. ‘You know... my family were outcasts from the other Darzians until I was seven?’

Thule nodded. ‘It’s in your intelligence dossier. I couldn’t take you on without a full report.’

‘That’s wise,’ said Arjanna. ‘Darzians don’t have friends, it’s against our ethos. But I... I can remember having friends. Now, here, in the squadron, it...’ She gestured helplessly, almost swishing fluid out of her glass.

Thule allowed herself a small smile. ‘It feels like you have friends again?’

Arjanna nodded. ‘Exactly. It’s somewhat disturbing but the idea of losing anyone, it’s.... unspeakably horrible. I worry what effect it would have on me. All this ability I was born with, all the skills I’ve honed, all the self-control I’ve leaned, it feels... fragile against that prospect.’

‘There’s never any telling how you can handle loss, and that goes for non-Darzians as well.’ Thule stared her in the eyes. ‘That is the way it should be. You are scared, and there is no shame in that. If you were feeling no fear about loss, I’d probably sack you. The first time I lost someone, it was worse than the first time I faced someone trying to kill me. It is right of passage we hope never to face, but it may come. When it does, I expect you to face it with courage. Your emotional shields may go down. You may need psychiatric repairs. But I have confidence you will recover and continue to serve should it happen.’

Arjanna swallowed. ‘Thank you. I hope the day never comes.’

Thule sighed and swished her own juice around its glass. ‘It would be extremely nice if one were forever simply an ace pilot, risking nothing but yourself, facing only what you could tackle with your greatest strength. But when someone has the ability to command and inspire, remaining just a pilot would be a selfish act, an avoidance of responsibility and potential. I would not have made you a wing leader if I did not believe you were capable and suitable. Command brings sacrifices. You may be prepared to lay down your own life but you must also be prepared to make mistakes, risk comrades, give orders when you would rather be fighting and seen to be fighting, and occasionally make unpleasant requests and moral compromises. I, for example, have to ask a trusted officer of whom I am quite fond to go and spy on her family.’

‘That’s... unpleasant.’ Arjanna pulled a face. ‘I feel sorry for whoever it is.’

Thule lowered and turned her head to look at Arjanna askance. ‘Especially when she demonstrates almost zero aptitude for that work.’

‘She--oh.’ Arjanna froze.

‘I’m not asking you to betray them or take any action you would not normally. When you joined the Federal Navy you took an oath to serve and protect against threats both internal and external. The manual says you must observe and report anything that might be pertinent. I am simply reminding you to make me aware of anything from within the Darzian community that might concern me.’

Arjanna gave a very small nod.

‘Well done out there, by the way.’ Thule knocked the last of her drink back. ‘You all performed well. There will be more trouble before this is over; I am giving Teddybear flight leave. Go and visit your family, relax.’

‘Thank you,’ said Arjanna. Her expressions were very understated, but Thule had learned to read them. Arjanna was probably more worried than when she had come in.

*

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Sun Oct 11, 2015 6:41 pm

Alas, it's looking unlikely I'm going to finish this. If people want, I could post how the plot was going to develop and pan out?

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby UnmarkedBoxcar » Tue Oct 20, 2015 7:05 pm

Straylight0 wrote:Alas, it's looking unlikely I'm going to finish this. If people want, I could post how the plot was going to develop and pan out?


: / Sad.

I, for one, wouldn't mind knowing how things were going to go. :)
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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Straylight0 » Fri Nov 06, 2015 12:17 pm

SUMMARY OF REMAINDER AND FRAGMENTS:

19 Karlon and pirates

Blackburns walked across the bridge and peered at the limpet drone. All of the small robot’s multiple limbs were outstretched, some extended many metres. About half were bracing it against the control panel and floor, while the other half were pressing a large sheet of metal against the inner side of the canopy, covering up the holes. ‘Does it have to stay there forever?’ huffed the pirate captain.

Behind him, Karlon pulled himself up and wondered whether to salute. The bridge was full of pirates in a variety of dress that ranged from old uniforms to extravagant casualware, all conventionally anchored to the deck with magnetic boots. Even Lixxie was standing upright and relatively still. The exception was Billhook, who had passed out in a corner again, anchored by a magnetic cord attached to his belt. ‘The air pressure is doing most of the work now and I’ve sealed around the outside sir!’ said Karlon. ‘It would be safer to leave the drone in place until the canopy can be replaced though. May I just add, sir, how greatful I am that you did not economise on reserve tanks for repressurising the ship.’

‘I thought I had,’ muttered Blackburns. He reached out a hand as if to prod the plate, then pulled it back. He turned round and took a deep breath. ‘Sucked out all the muck out with the old air. We should have done this ages ago!’

Karlon fidgeted and exchanged looks with Lixxie.

‘On the other hand...’ Blackburns ran a hand through one of his incredibly long sideburns, which dangled down over the armoured chest-plate he wore, ‘...you did let Billhook drink my best whiskey.’

‘We thought we were going to die and he had a gun sir!’ Karlon felt another stab of terror. As an experience, he decided the novelty was definitely wearing off.

‘I suppose so. Throw Billhook out of the airlock, men!’ Pirates moved to obey.

‘Sir,’ said Lixxie, flipping a salute that would not have met naval regulations. ‘It would be much more painful and poetic to let him suffer the hangover first.’

‘True, true.’ The captain’s hand slipped to his chin as if he was expecting to find a beard there. ‘Actually, he might as well suffer it while doing a suicide mission. Hate to do it to you two as well, but this mission also needs people proven to be resourceful and competent. That means you and Karlon.’

‘A suicide mission sir?’ Karlon had a lot of experience keeping reactions off his face when dealing with Thurden, but wasn’t sure he could hide his dismay.

‘Dying isn’t mandatory except for Billhook. That damned Generation Ship blew up half my men and put thousands of creds of damage on my Asp. I want you to get on board it and stop it.’

Rough notes for the remainder of the plot;

20 Arjanna and Thurden

Captain Thurden is being interrogated by the Feds. He refuses to say anything at first until Arjanna shows up. He says she would not dare to torture him. She says that torture is defined legally as something that the captor would find unpleasant. However, she is a Darzian: she is trained to withstand pain, and they like tests of endurance to show off willpower. She holds her hand above a lighter until the air smells of burning, then tells him it is his turn. He cracks and tells what he knows.

Arjanna leaves and reveals that the lighter is a joke item producing holographic flame and a false smell; she remarks people will believe anything about Darzians.

21 Booster and Debra

Debra is shaken by the threatened kidnapping and asks Booster to come with her. She is determined to find out the truth about the generation ship and thinks there is something going on. Being off-duty, Booster agrees to take her to an orbital observatory to find out why it did not see the ship coming. When they arrive (possibly in a later section) they find a murder scene... later on they kill the murderer who was the assistant observer, but wonder why he did this.


22 Arjanna and family

Had this planned out to be a very poignant scene, but it would rather have to be written for this to come across.

Arjanna arrives home, feeds treats to the cat and meets her mother and father. Her mother tells her not to feed the cat as it is an animal to work for its keep, and sentimentality is weakness (charming people, the hardline Darzians). Her father is a little kinder. Her mother tells her that Organiser Tara is looking for her, and reminds about her organised marriage (to Tara’s arsehole bodyguard). Arjanna says she would rather marry a slug, and they argue. It emerges that her parents were dissidents who left the Darz community to marry each other, but who were allowed to re-join after the incredible talents of their daughter became evident. Arjanna says that their programme of breeding for the ultimate warrior is stupid; she was born from a marriage of genes they did NOT want, and her brother is nothing special. They should just admit they can’t outsmart nature and get on with being human beings. The argument leads to her mother storming out.

Her father is a bit more conciliatory; he reminds her that her mother once left the Darz for love, and says that life outside the community was terrible—they struggled to find jobs and friendships, and faced discrimination on both sides. Arjanna says that she remembers being torn out of a school with playtimes and friends and shoved into a cruel military-style academy where they were encouraged to bully each other. Her father says that they did what they thought was best, and he is afraid that some day soon Arjanna will have to choose between being a Darzian and the rest of humanity.

Arjanna goes up to bed, sneaks the cat into her room, and starts crying.


23 Bastle and off-cam Patreus

Count Bastle travels to Eotienses and meets with the representatives of Senator Patreus to ask for advice. The rep tells him that they will not abandon the Imperials on Perabyssos (a latin contraction of “across the abyss” btw) and that as for the prospective colonists on the generation ship, the generous thing to do will be to extend them the care and benefit of Imperial Slavery. Bastle is concerned that the Federation will not be happy about this. The representative says “A confrontation between galactic superpowers is a terrible thing. Even a small clash will mean great loss of life, and every one risks a greater war that would devastate humanity... the senator thinks it’s about time we had one!”

The remainder of the plot:

News arrives from the Federation. President Halsey has declared the planet is to be evacuated and cleared to make space for the colonists. This leads to incredulity; does she never want to be re-elected? Booster resigns in protest.

Arjanna is genuinely shocked by this turn of events. Organiser Tara asks her to remain with the Federation and spy on them, so Arjanna finds herself in the position of being a double agent for both sides at once. Hopefully, the reader will come to believe that she is angling towards the Darzian side for a time.

The Darzian community takes weapons and disappears to hide in the countryside, promising violent resistance to anyone who tries to dislodge them, and assistance to Perabyssans who help.

Dan, who is counselled against resigning by the rest of the flight (he is too early in his career) is moved up to the space station along with Thule, whose place as overall commander is taken by a Supervisor who always seems to take the worst possible decision. On the station, they face severe problems with the security situation. Freelance pilots are flocking in looking for profit whether it is smuggling weapons to the guerillas, being paid to transport evacuees (genuinely or to sell into slavery/extort from) or just piracy. Some of the Federal Navy arrivals prove to be of negative help. What is worse, prominent “griefers” have shown up to answer the call to make trouble. I planned some character assassinations and horrible fates for thinly disguised versions of certain people... and for the in-game characters of my friends and I to appear and give advice on how and when to fart in cockpits, and other humorous stuff.

Karlon, Lixxie and Billhook manage to get on board the generation ship by an ingenious trick I haven’t worked out. Initially in the deserted bowels of the ship, they find themselves hunted by sub-human creatures. Managing to work their way up, they find what appears to be an automated nursery producing children. Lixxie is actually shocked and declares that they have to save them somehow. Karlon unlocks a link to the upper decks.

Things hot up in the system. A Federal taskforce arrives and begins escorting the generation ship with a heavy cruiser, throwing a force shield about it. An Imperial fleet appears and begins a tense standoff. Then a Kumo Crew expeditionary force arrives and starts taking slaves from the evacuation transports. The people who called them realise rapidly that it was a bad idea (and come to bad ends at some point).

Debra and Booster have various misadventures on their way to Earth, and digging up old historical archives once there. There, they discover the truth about the generation ship: it was launched by a fanatical cult that had turned the theories of Darwin and Nietzsche into an extreme creed for a new society... known as “Darzians” for short!

This coincides with Arjanna being told the plan by Tara: when FTL drive was developed, the Darzians left behind travelled prepare for the ship’s arrival. In its centuries of transit, the ship would use accelerated evolution to create millions of perfected super-soldiers. Darzian agents have infiltrated many of the galaxy’s institutions and corporations, preparing for the rise of a new power that will dominate the galaxy. But Arjanna has another motivation: her parents were captured by the Federation in what was initially a well-intentioned move by Thule so that they could not be used as hostages against her. However, the git of a new Federal Supervisor has ordered them to be transported. When the Darzians prepare a raid to take over the space station, Arjanna is in the forefront.

The system breaks into a fierce multi-sided war: Fed vs Imperial vs Kumo vs system security, when it becomes clear that a large fraction of the freelance pilots are in fact working together—they are the Darzian diaspora force. Meanwhile, the planet-based Darz smuggle themselves up to the space station and launch an assault to take it over. Along with their space-based forces, this will guarantee the arrival of the generation ship. There were going to be some spectacular fights in the peculiar physics of the space-station. Arjanna switches sides back to the Federation and foils the attack, although I was toying with the idea of having Thule and/or Arjanna’s brother (a Darzian loyalist?) die. Arjanna beats up her intended husband and takes Tara prisoner. Tara chastises her as weak for not killing her, and Arjanna says she would love to, but that there has to be a leader left to call surrender. Tara says that will never happen.

On the gen-ship itself, Karlon and the pirates make their way to the bridge and find the captain, centuries old in a life-support system. He is insane but able to talk. On the generation ship, the Darzians ruthlessly implemented their “survival of the fittest individual” ideology with the result that only the strongest and most brutal survived. They were soon forced to eliminate females, who died too fast, and create new children in artificial wombs using DNA harvested from the most persistent survivors. The outcome was rapid degeneration into the rabid, sexless, apelike creatures encountered on the lower levels. Blinded by ideology, the captain intends to release them to over-run the planet, convinced they will somehow become intelligent once more. To help this, he will use the terraforming modules the ship was equipped with to devastate the planet and make it a more challenging environment.

Debra and Booster arrive back to the system with what they have discovered. Together with Arjanna’s news, the remaining Imperial and Federal forces combine to attack the generation ship. Unfortunately, it turns out the Federal Supervisor was a Darzian plant (making sense of his previous apparent bullheaded incompetence) and he seizes control of their battle cruiser, making the fight a precarious one. Teddybear flight is reunited, with Arjanna flying an experimental Vulture from the station, and they lead a desperate battle to stop the generation ship. And win, I’ll give that away now.

On it, the pirates and Karlon manage to disable the control systems and the captain. They succeed in herding the children (a throwback batch of normal humans created to do maintence) to a landing pod and eject. When clear, they broadcast a message that there are no more human survivors on the ship, and it can be destroyed. It is then blown up in a desperate last manouver. Arjanna, whose cockpit had been punctured some time before, intends to sacrifice herself doing it but is rescued by Dan.

At the end, peace is restored. Faced with graphic evidence of their ideology’s failure from the generation ship’s black boxes, and the exposure and end of all their plans, the Darzians decide to disband and integrate as best they can. The Empire and Federation return to peaceful relations (for the moment). Arjanna and Dan become a couple, so do Lixxie and Karlon (awwwww!). However, Arjanna’s parents were taken by the Kumo crew during the crisis. At the end of the novel, most of our heroes were mounting up as freelance pilots intending to go and rescue them, just as news of Halsey’s disappearance breaks over Galnet.

Sorry about leaving this unfinished; I had a catastrophic loss of faith in Elite/Frontier and enjoyment of the game; besides, the pro writers all seem to have quit a while ago. Still, this was great fun and I think I've learned some plotting and writing tricks from doing it. Shame it probably wouldn't adapt to be a more general science fiction story...

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Re: ... than to arrive (crack at a serial novella)

Postby Sidenti Taalo » Sat Nov 07, 2015 5:28 am

I don't believe you'll leave this unfinished. It's simply too good, and it's obvious that you care about the plot.

You've done excellent work here so far. I look forward to reading the rest when you've come back from your break. ;-)
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