Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hamaf reached under his desk.  He'd attached a few envelopes there so that they wouldn't be noticed in a search of his drawers if anything were to happen to him.  It was a little paranoid, but he'd known that Sharrai used to poke through his desk when he wasn't around and had assumed the practice towards anything important. 
Jor was leaning on the desk across from him.  He'd demanded answers, and he wasn't leaving until he got them. 
"I have here five envelopes.  Each of them contains a different message, for a different person."  He handed them to his second in command.  "The first one is yours, it contains my reccomendation that you be given command of the rangers, as well as a letter explaining everything that has happened since we boarded the ship.  What was it, seven months ago?"
"Only six sir.  Why would I need to command the rangers?"
"Because I won't be around to do it; as you will see."
"Sir, if you intend to kill yourself I will be forced to take you into protective custody."
He laughed.  Kill himself?  The very thought of it, after all he'd been through people probably wouldn't even question his motive in doing so. 

"No Jor, I shall die as I lived.  In service to my Empire, facing her enemies in combat.  The second letter is for my wife; it will see to it that she is safe and will never want for the rest of her life."
"What do you know that I don't sir?"
"Many things, most of which you can never know if you wish to grow old and content with young Pauline.  The third and fourth are to be delivered to my son, Hamren.  He will deliver the fourth.  You don't need to know anymore of what's within them, and if you open them you will die."
"Sir, I don't like this sort of talk."
"The fifth is to be delivered to Collin, if she still lives.  Of all of us, she is the best able to make a difference in the system, by working from within it as a noble.  Your last order is this; if she lives, keep her safe.  The Empire needs nobles from the people, ones like her who have fought, bled, and struggled amongst us and who know our pain and want to help us.  The Empire has only decayed as it has because the nobles have been allowed to run amuck.  The last two letters will help change that." 

Jor stared at him.  Hamaf had known that he was giving his last command.  He could very well have resigned now and it would make no difference in his life or any other.  The moment of his end was near. 
"Sir?  What are you planning to do?"
A voice called over the intercom that the chief researcher was dead.  The Captain rose and hung his sword from his belt.  Grath was dead, Jeanine was sticking to the plan then.  He had to hurry if he wanted to make a good show of it. 
"Good bye Jor, I'm going to go and have a chat with my daughter now.  When they ask you what happened, tell them I left in a rage swearing to do what I should have done ten years ago."
"Sir!  She'll kill you, Grath couldn't beat her and he's a mage."
"A fat pimple of a mage, she isn't.  The way I fiigure, that makes this a fair fight.  And if you try to stop me then it looks to the Imperial Guard like you were trying to help her. Stand aside, all will work out for the best.  I promise."
Jor stepped out of his way.  He was angry, he felt powerless, he was powerless but he knew that he couldn't beat Hamaf in a fight if it came to that.  He just stood aside as his Captain walked out of the office and down the hall that lead to the main gate.  As soon as he was out of sight he closed the door, and tuned the screen into the cameras that watched the main gate.  And he saw that three trucks of armed thugs, thieves, and ruffians were waiting there behind a single woman in a yellow jumpsuit. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Eight

"Watch the camera."
"I thought the feed was down in that sector?"
"Only because she wanted it to be."
"But the collar, the runes are suposed to block magic?"
"She has friends, I'm willing to bet they made arangements."
"What's she doing?"

He knew, and Jor would know soon enough.  Jeanine sat in her cell tracing a pattern on the floor, and the door, and the lights.  Jor kept questioning him about the goings on, but Hamaf remained silent as he watched his daughter at work.  He could make out the patterns, but she was setting alchemy.  Finally she sat down on the bed.  With her left hand she drew upon the back of her right, and traced up her arm to the collar on her neck. 
"Captain?  What if she gets it off?"
"Order the men to stay clear, let the garrison handle this."
"Jor, just watch."
"But shouldn't we?"
"All part of the plan."
"I feel like I should have been informed of this plan sir."

A stream of flame shot up Jeanine's arm as she activated the pattern.  The collar flew off as the skin on the side of her neck exploded.  She managed to put her hand over the wound as she hit the ground. 
"Sound the alarm!  Sir? She's just killed herself!  Was this part of the.."
"Shut up and watch, this is when it gets interesting."
"Sir!  Your daughter just blasted a chunk of her neck off, I fail to see what's interesting about this."
"That's because you don't know her like I do.  She's fully aware of all of this, look at the ground closely."

Jor glanced, his eyes widened as he noticed the hand not over the wound on her neck was placed square in the middle of the activation pattern to the alchemy that laced her room.  They watched the guards charge into the room, spurred on by the alarm Jor had just set off.  She was still calling out in pain as the guards began looking for whoever had attacked her.  A small glow came from each of her palms, from her left emitted a charm that mended her flesh, and with her right she blasted the entire troop of guards into the air.  All were dead by the time she stood back up.  She picked up one of their knives, a sword, a loaded crosbow with several magazines, and drew the stakes from the ceiling.  As the curtain and streamers about her room collapsed on the cooling bodies she turned to the sureveilance camera and saluted them mockingly. 

"Sir, I think I need to know about this plan of yours."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Seven

"Captain Hamaf, I'm surprised to see you back down here.  Especially after I instructed the guards not to allow you access to the labs."
"Funny thing about researchers giving orders to guards, guards take orders from their officers and researchers aren't even in the military."
"Yes, but peasants do take orders from nobles.  If they know what's best for them anyways."
"And uncles don't interfere with the reasonable relationships of their nieces.  If they know what's best for them that is."
"So you heard then?  Little Pauline will grow out of this adventurous stage soon enough.  It'll do her good to have a proper husband who will support her as she matures."
"Between you and me, your Lordship, I don't think he'll make it to the altar.  It takes spine to marry a woman of her talents, and I doubt anyone outside of the palace grounds is more up to the task than my second-in-command."
"It takes brains to run a house as historied and wealthy as the Krenksfelds.  Your brute doesn't have the intellect to be a noble."
"Perhaps he lacks your education, but his brain is the third best I've ever met.  The second is a noble, and the first is scheduled to die for serial homicide, treason against the emperor, and several minor counts ranging from petty theft to reckless use of magic in a densely populated area.  Intellect, it would seem, is not all its cracked up to be."
"You think treason is a mark of intelligence?  You truly are mad."
"It takes genius to kill fifteen members of the nobility, one hundred and forty-nine guards, and three imperial guardsmen without being caught; especially with nothing but a soldiers knife, a single vial of poison, and a bilge pump."

Grath's face turned white at the mention of the bilge pump.  Hamaf had done his research, back while he was tracking down his daughter during her spree.  Grath's father had been killed when the cabin of his personal yacht flooded as a result of a curiously sabotaged bilge pump.  And by curious, the newspapers concealed that the pump had been joined by a solid iron pipe directing to the cabin.  Having driven off the crew, she had simply waited for the cabin to fill before breaking the glass to the cabin's light fixture.  She'd already set up a magical light within to respond to the light switch, and wired the sockets for a high voltage burst as soon as the water touched it.  He'd died in seconds, even though a mage like Grath's father would have easily been able to use some sort of water breathing spell to survive the slow flooding.  It had taken hours to fill, and at the trial Jeanine had admitted to having stayed outside the door listening to him beg. 
Grath would have remembered the smirk she gave him as she said it.  Especially considering the wound she had dealt to him not a week later.  The very thought that his father's murderer was in the base seemed to drive a fear-flavored steak into his stomach.  A fact supported by his swift exit in the direction of the lavatory. 

"Now that the greasy pimple is out of the way I have some orders for you men."
"Thank you sir."
"You've been reassigned to the prison cells.  It's dangerously over-populated, but the prisoners up here should be easy enough for my men to handle on their own.  After all, the rangers and I brought half of them in."
"Aye sir, when are these orders effective?"
"Tomorrow morning, don't bother telling him."  He motioned after Grath.  "I'm looking forward to seeing how he handles the situation without the empire's finest watching over him at every second."
Judging by their mirth, the guards didn't like the ovoid noble any more than he did.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Six

"Sit down kid, this is serious."
"Sure thing Dad."

Hamaf knew that if there was anyone who'd want to fix Jor's problem, it would be Jeanine.  She'd always kept a close watch on him, it had been under her command he'd been promoted to Sergeant.  She'd always taken 'the kid' along for any mission, no matter how dangerous or how mundane.  Many troopers had suspected there was something going on between them, the reality was that she'd never really been interested in his type. 
To most people that would mean she didn't like poor farmhands.  Hamaf knew better.  Ever since she'd been a little girl she'd always liked dumb guys.  He'd never really worried about it, she had brains enough for three and guts for ten. 

"Sorry, just thinking."
"Thought is cheap, use your words."
"Heh, Actions must be reserved for the nobility then."
"What's the news?"
"Our mutual friend Grath has interfered with the happiness of the Kid.  Polly's father has arranged a marriage for her in spite of her involvement with Jor.  We're acting now."
Her face went blank.  It was a weird thing, serious thinking seemed to inhibit her ability to maintain a facial expression.  Or it seemed that way to him anyways, no one else ever seemed to notice it. 
"How long?  Wait.  Four months, three days and 19 hours; her mother has been helping her to pick a dress.  She's been crying."
"Not surprised, that's probably pretty awful to go through."
"Add him to the list?"
"Top of it, and we move at the end of the week."
"That soon?  Shouldn't we be doing research, making a proper list, checking it twice, deciding who's naughty or nice?" 
"I'll improvise.  And you know what to look for in the future.  You can do this princess."
"I hope so Dad.  I'd never be able to forgive myself if I can't."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Five

He'd adjusted the execution schedules.  Jeanine had been shifted into what amounted to a permanent legal limbo, where the paperwork to have her actually executed was found, but could never actually be filed without a half dozen additional, and in one case non-existent, forms.  By all rights, she should have been first on the block.  With her situation a bureaucratic rubber band ball though, he'd shifted a few of the truly uncouth into the front spots.  Watching their gruesome fates had reinforced in his mind what needed to be done.  But when?

"Hamaf!  Polly's being given to one of the sons of Lord Crelling.  Her father must have heard about the two of us, what am I supposed to do?"
"She just sent me a letter telling me about it.  I don't know how she got it through, but she sounds angry.  Sir, I have to go to her."
"I can't allow that.  No personnel off base for any reason."
"Then I resign.  Sir she's more important to me than anything.  I can't just sit here and lose her."
"Denied.  You will sit here, and you will not lose her.  I'll take care of it, and you will not ask how."
"Understood sir.  Thank you sir."
He hesitated before leaving.  He clearly wanted to ask.  He wanted some reassurance that he'd actually be able to do anything about this travesty.  After all, it's not like Jor had any proof that he could affect the affairs of the nobility in the first place, much less end an engagement. 

He didn't know himself.  However, he did know someone who could see to it that any issue of nobles, ceased.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Four

She'd always been able to personalize a space.  Even here with nothing but prison jumpsuits and concrete she'd carved a place for herself.  Little yellow streamers crisscrossed the ceiling, staked to the ceiling with makeshift shivs, and a curtain of the same yellow fabric had been fashioned by stretching it thin and staking it in the same manner as the streamers.  More impressive still were the hand mirror and cosmetics she'd managed to obtain despite their status as contraband.  She may have softened with time, but she was as bold as ever leaving them in plain sight. 

"Hi Dad, what'cha lookin for?"
Behind the door, as always.  Jeanine had been a great scout when she was under his command, but after she left she'd devoted herself to mastering the art of stealth and death.  She was probably the most dangerous peasant alive, or at least the only one who'd ever demonstrated it. 
"You as a matter of fact, gifts from your friends?"  He gestured at the cosmetics.
"Is the room bugged?"
"I'm obligated to deny it."
"Then it isn't.  I made them, watch."

She pulled one of the stakes from the ceiling and cut her left index finger with it.  She quickly replaced the stake, re-securing the dangling streamer.  Then she bent over and traced a small pattern on the concrete, blood marking the ground as she trailed her finger through the dust.  Placing the finger at the center of the small circle it glowed, and as she drew back her hand a small stick of lip gloss sprouted from the ground.  Both light and circle vanished as she removed the tube, sucking on the tip of her finger as she did. 
"See?  The collar is inscribed to block the use of magic, but alchemy is about memory and exchange.  Since blood is already magical, I can get anything I want even though I can't actually use magic."
"And you chose to memorize the patterns that allowed you to create cosmetics?  You have a loophole that would allow you to escape at any time, and you would rather look nice?"
She nodded enthusiastically before using her new lip gloss. 
"I'd have thought my sister would have taught you better than that.  Although I'm surprised she taught you anything other than blowing things up."
"Aunt Lindi's actually quite versatile, blowing things up is more of a hobby.  You should see what she can do with cats."
"She makes a living at that now?"
"Makes a killing at it really, just sits back and lets them do all the work for her.  It's given her a lot of time to refine the art of blowing things up."
"I assume she taught you about interpersonal communications?"
"When I was eight, if I remember correctly you didn't approve of any of it at the time.  Why are you interested in magic all of a sudden?"
"My job entails a lot more contact with mages these days.  It would be dangerous not to know."

She wasn't reading his mind, growing up with Lindi had mandated learning how to guard himself against such things.  No, she just knew him well enough to tell that he wanted to know for more than just his own safety. 
"And I wanted to get in contact with the outside.  All our communications have been shut down.  The head f research goes directly to the emperor for all his commands, in person.   The rest of us are just stuck here."
"Executive research director Grath, I've made the acquaintance.  Slimy, stuck up, pimply lecher that one; I hear he wears gloves now."
"Yes, shiny black ones."
"I took his right hand after he pinched me, blew the mission over it but it was worth it just to see him whimper."
Not a glimmer of repentance.  It was startling to see his little girl become such a cold-blooded killer.  Not that he wouldn't have done the same had he known, but this was his little princess talking about cutting a man's hand off.
"I'm sorry Dad.  But the system relies on having the right people in charge.  I couldn't just let it linger and allow the Empire to decay further, it needed to be purged.  I had the power, and I was willing to use it.  I'm not sorry I killed them, I'm sorry it didn't change anything."
"Because you killed the wrong ones."
He'd thought about it since he'd met Grath.  Grath's father was one of her victims, killing him had put the pimply slimeball into power. 
"You needed to kill the ones who had good children, not the ones who were worst.  If you could get the right people into power then the system would rectify itself.  People could see what a proper noble is supposed to be and they'd be able to affect the ascension of future nobles.  Soon we'd have the right sort of people in charge, ones who wouldn't gorge themselves on taxes and look down their noses at the kneecaps of men twice as worthy to hold their title."
"But you always said the system was already working?  What happened to you Dad?"
"Jeanine, this isn't a prison.  This is death row.  They're going to tie people to rockets and launch them into upper space in the name of science."
She looked at the mirror.for several minutes.  The silence seemed to drag on before she broke it.
"Captain.  The people need me, guide my blade."
"Tell your friends to be ready at the front gate in a week.  Find out what's going on out there and figure out how to keep me posted after you're gone."
"Yes Sir."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three

Ted was actually very smart. He may have had only minimal self-awareness, but clearly he understood everything there was to know about power supplies, cords, and advanced physics.  The Golem explained that the difficulty with the power supply was that it was non-magical.  A magical power supply could produce easily enough energy by using transmutation to convert a light weight substance, like a sponge or air, directly into energy.  However, there was no way to hook this power cord into a matter transmuter without causing potentially irreparable damage to the cable. 
Not without better funding anyways. 

Hamaf just blinked for several minutes.  He was a pretty good soldier, but this sort of thing was completely beyond him.  All he understood was that they'd need more money to make it work, because there was no plug for it. 

"I am sorry.  But the device will not work without a transmagical conversion element."
"An adapter?"
"In essence, yes."
"And when we get the adapter, what will it do?"
"Correct.  The device does not emit a trans-dimensional field strong enough to move the entire planet.  It will need to be fitted into a smaller area, a large truck perhaps, or a small fortress in the void." 
"A ship."
"A large boat?"
"Like a fortress that moves in the upper space, it's where we found the device."
"That would explain the integrators and the field extension projectors.  How large was this ship?"
"It crushed a city on impact."
"Ah, very large.  The device will need a strong power supply.  Much space will be needed for fuel materials; there is no where large enough for such a craft to be built here."
"Wouldn't a smaller craft need less fuel to be moved?"
"To move yes, but the field would be difficult to adjust.  And space will be needed for food, equipment, and people.  A larger ship would be more efficient, as it would carry more primary purpose than a smaller one, while costing relatively little in additional fuel requirements."
"But where would we build it?"
"I do not know, but it will require much space."
"Ted, it's been very informative speaking with you.  I'm afraid I have to go back up now, but I shall see to it that a plumber is sent posthaste."
"I am relieved to be cared for properly.  Master Grath has paid little mind to my well-being."
"I'll see what I can do about that too."

He managed to find the door in the dark and proceeded back up to the main lab. 
"Look here you paddy scum; no peasant is going to marry my niece if I have anything to say about it."
"Sir, who Polly wishes to marry is none of your business.  We've both made up our minds and I'll not be dissuaded by a fat, pimply little runt."
"PIMPLY!  How dare you insult a member of the nobility, I'll have your bars for this Lieutenant Store."
"His name is Jor, and the only one with the authority to demote my second in command is me."
"Then I'll go to the emperor himself and have him imprisoned."
"I'd like to see you.."
"Jor, that's enough.  Return to your quarters."
"Yes sir."
Jor turned on his heel and left in a proper, obedient fashion.  His anger was palatable, and justified. 

"Captain, if this man is your second in command I'd hate to run into the rest of your men."
"And well you should, my last second in command would have killed you on the spot and bragged about it over lunch.  Mister Grath, I've spoken with your Golem.  I believe I understand the problem and you can expect the necessary parts to arrive within a month."
"Kill me on the spot?"
"I believe we're done here."
"Oh, not even close captain, not even close."
He turned sharply and followed his second in command back up into the base.  As he climbed the long stair back to his own quarters he found himself wondering if Jeanine was still in contact with any of her friends.  Pimply little rats like that were making him think that she wasn't as wrong as he'd always believed her to be.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Two

"This is the device?"
"I know, marvelous isn't it?"
It was a grey metal slab with wires coming out of it.  The wires went to a collection of control panels that were scattered around the room, save for a few which dangled conspicuously. 
"I'm told you worked with the linguists while you were on board the ship Chore."
"It's Jor.  Yes, I spent quite a bit of time dealing with the various teams that were on board.  Where were the markings you'd wanted me to have a look at?"
"All of the control panels.  If you could just label them I think I could handle it from there." 
"Alright, do you have any paper?"
"Right over here, I hope you brought your own pen though."

Hamaf left the two of them to their business.  He was more interested in figuring out why the largest cord wasn't hooked up.  He'd dealt with a few 'broken' appliances in his day and this seemed to be exactly that sort of situation.  Ego ridden man like Grath was probably to caught up in the controls to think of something as basic as plugging it in. 
He followed the cord down the hall.  It was black, and stood out fairly well against the light grey concrete and artificial light.  It wound down one hall after another, going deeper into the base and further under the earth.  After nearly an hour tracking it, he found the end.  It was sitting on a small table, surrounded by small tools and instruments.  The light was worse here, only a dull glow from a monitor on a desk to the right.  This small lab smelled like coffee, and the ground was somewhat damp. 
"Hello?  Are you the plumber, I only called five minutes ago?"
"No, I'm with the army.  Is there a light in here?"
"Probably, but I haven't found it yet."
"Who are you?"
"I'm the research menial.  I deal with all the details Grath can't be bothered with, like plugging things in, pulling the lever, and flipping the switch."
"OK, what's your name?"
"You don't know your own name?"
"My own name?"
"Yes, who else am I talking to?"
"I'm the research menial.  I deal with all the details Grath can't be bothered with, like plugging things in, pulling the lever, and flipping the switch."
"You've said that already.  And you still haven't answered my question."
"I am sorry.  I can not answer your question."
"You don't know your name?"
"I do not think I have a name."
"What kind of parents don't name their child?"
"I do not think I have a parents."
"I am sorry.  I should not bother you.  I will continue my work."
"No you shouldn't.  You should go get some sleep, or see a therapist.  Probably both."
"How do I sleep?"

Golem.  Hamren had fought one once when its master lost his mind and started killing things.  They had all the skills of their maker, but with none of the personality apparently.  Soulless, dedicated to a fault, and tireless a Golem would need nothing to keep working endlessly.  Didn't quite explain the smell of coffee, but no matter what it was made of the water would certainly be a nuisance.  He could probably beat it with the lights on, if he had to, but it seemed like this golem was fairly independent.  Odds were Grath had inherited it, or had it made for him by a talented necromancer. 

"Well, from now on you shall be known as Ted.  I'm Captain Hamaf, and I was hoping you knew something about this cord."
Silence, save for dripping water and the sound of a a pen writing.
"My name is now Ted, and I know something about this cord, Captain."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter Twenty-One

"Ah, you must be the man responsible for finding this wonderful engine, It's a pleasure to meet you Captain Jor."
"Lieutenant actually, this is Captain Hamaf, my superior officer."
"Oh, my apologies.  Captain?"
The head of the research team was a chubby little man.  Short, large, greasy; all clear signs of nobility.  No one else would be able to eat well enough to gain weight, and they certainly wouldn't be able to do it without working hard enough to lose the weight. 
He found himself wondering whose children were going hungry so that this man could be fed.  Had the nobles been this way all along and he'd simply never been close enough to notice before? 
"My apologies, you probably aren't used to this amount of attention from a noble.  You must be speechless from the honor.  Come, I'll show you my work."

He let the round-gutted man lead them towards the lower laboratory.  Jor glanced at him, seemingly seeking reassurance that they should follow along.
"Get used to it Lieutenant.  Once you and Polly settle down these are the sort of folks you'll be dealing with."
"Hilarious Captain.  Any more wonderful things I should know about my future extended family?"
"Yea, get someone else to drink your tea first.  Don't think before you do things.  And change your routine weekly.  People will try to kill you just because you aren't one of them."
"Fantastic, and if I do become like one of them your daughter's friends will do it instead."
"Pretty much, and don't expect much of a dowry either.  Mummy and Daddy won't approve of you anyways." 

"What are you two waiting around and talking about, this is a poor use of my time as it is."  The researcher laughed.  Presumably at what he perceived as a joke about the lower classes being poor, and their being the ones he was evidently being compelled to spend his time on.  It would have been a bad joke even if they hadn't been the target. 
"The man is quite right Jor, this is a poor use of our time.  Not like us worthless grunts would be any use working on fancy upper space technology anyways."
"That's exactly what I told his majesty.  But he insisted, he said to me 'Grath, I have it on good account that the man who found the thing might be able to help you decipher some of those markings.'  Now I don't normally question his majesty, but I asked him, 'your majesty, what rube would dare advise you to send a peasant to try and read alien writings like these?'  And you know what he told me?"
They shook their heads obediently. 
"He said 'Grath, you great fool,' he was kidding of course, 'Grath you great fool, the best of all the nobles were raised as little more than peasants.  Never underestimate what we are capable of when forced to endure true trials.'  Ah, but the young man is quite the idealist; always thinking the best of his subjects."
"Of course, and we are very grateful for his confidence in us.  We will do everything we can not to fail him."

And he meant it.  Even with men like this running the empire, it was good to know that the Emperor at least had full confidence in the commoners.  It reassured him to know that his faith in the system had not been entirely misplaced.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chapter Twenty

"I don't know."
"My orders are to see to it that the prisoners are loaded onto the rockets without any interruptions.  But not all of the prisoners received due process, some of them don't deserve a death sentence.  And even those that do deserve it, or that received due process and were convicted in a proper trial, should not be subjected to a cruel death."
"I don't think that's a legal right sir."
"I know, but have any of these prisoners done anything that merits being tied to a rocket and launched into upper space?"
"Well, one of them killed a magistrate, three landed nobles, and the prince before they caught her.  That's not even counting all the guards she killed in the process."
"I know what she did, I testified at the second trial."
"I'm just saying, she killed a lot of people Captain.  If there's anyone in here who actually does deserve the sentence, it would be her."

He looked at the files.  Jor was right.  Most of these people had committed sedition, maybe assaulted a noble, a few of them had been taken in on conspiracy to commit treason.  Only Jeanine had actually done anything that merited a death sentence, and she'd merited several.  But he couldn't let her die, not like this certainly. 
"Jor, if you were trying to get into the base, how would you do it?"
"Dunno, I assume that there are death traps in the air vents.  Probably the front door, provided the strongest looking guards are there."
"So, if the best guards are at the front gate we should be impenetrable?"
"What are you getting at?"
"Put the meatheads at the front gate, take the best platoon and post them just inside the gate.  Everyone else on normal patrols; bring the prisoners directly to me."
"Sir, I'm not going to ask what you have planned.  But only because when this blows up in your face I want plausible deniability."
"Don't worry, I've planned for that."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chapter Nineteen

Yellow jumpsuit, radio collar, cropped hair; she was a traitor, a murderer, and a rebel.  But by Kevand's neatly trimmed mustache, she was still his daughter.  And while she certainly would have been convicted even by a fair trial, it pained him to see her like this. 
"Hi Dad." The anger was gone.  The fury and rage she had brought to bear on him five years ago was gone, softened by time and prison.  All the lingering anger he had felt melted away as he saw not the criminal he had disowned but his little girl. 
"Jeanine, it's been too long."
"Five years since the trial, fifteen since I left the service.  I've missed you."
"It has."
"How's mom?"
"Still pretends you never left."
"And you?"
"I tried to.  But I could never forget my little princess."
She smiled.  He'd forgotten the way it looked.  Not a wide smile, not one of the teeth he had taught her to brush showed, just a warm sort of grin. 
"How was prison?"
She shrugged, still smiling, "It'd be nice if they gave us recess."
"Did you learn anything?"
"Remind me to have a word with the warden.  Honestly, I don't know what's wrong with prisons these days."
"I missed you Dad."
"I missed you too Jeanine."

He turned around and walked to the door.  He knocked for Jor, and the Lieutenant peaked in.  With his head ducked down to hide his welling eyes, he asked for his second in command to show his little girl to a cell of her own, and to see to it she had what she needed.  Hamaf then quickly slipped off to his quarters, it was important for the men to never see their commander in his weakness. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chapter Eighteen

While the scientists were working on the mathematics of launching something past orbit, Hamaf and his men began figuring out how to safely manage the conveyance of prisoners from the cell block deep below the surface of the base to the silo from which they would be launched. 

The main issue wouldn't be the prisoners, it would be keeping people from knowing what was being done to the prisoners.  If word actually got out that they were launching people into upper space tied to rockets, or inside of rockets, or hanging onto rockets for dear life, then they would have to keep people from getting to the prisoners and saving them. 
Hamaf stopped and looked at his own analysis.  Saving them, not breaking them out, not getting in the way, saving them.  The implication of his words was that he considered the idea of these criminals being sent to their deaths in the name of science to be undeserved, that they ought to be rescued from their fates.  He quickly corrected it. 
..And trying to stop the experiments. 
His superiors would find that much more agreeable.  After all, the last thing they would want is to consider the possibility that their man in the field didn't want these people dead.  For him that would be dangerous, deadly even.  For them it would be unnerving, terrifying even, to consider that a faithful servant of the empire had turned against it after a few months in the ship. 
But as sure as Kevand kept birds, he was a faithful servant of the empire, wasn't he?  He'd never dream of saving, trying to stop a prisoner's execution.  Not that it would be hard, most of the men agreed with him.  Or rather, disagreed with the plan.  He, or anyone else with his exact level of knowledge and authority, could easily just have the prisoner conveniently leap down this ventilation shaft into a waiting net, then crawl down this shaft to the laundry room, allowing him to. 
What was he thinking?  These were murderers, thieves, and worse thy didn't deserve to live.  Freeing them wouldn't just be wrong it would be downright evil. 
But what if they wer political prisoners?  Just normal people who thought things could be a little better than they were and said it?  Did they deserve to die too?
He waited for the arguement to come as it had so many years ago.  Of course they deserve it, all traitors deserve to die.  But it didn't.  How could an empire that would so casually drag away weary troops from their families and then hide them away just to keep the truth from coming out be just?  For all he knew these were just men like himself, or women like Collin or.
Not Jeanine, she was different.  She wasn't just a traitor, she was..was..well she had known better.  And murder, even against someone as horrible as him, was unfogivable.  It went against everything he'd ever taught her. 
Jor was in the doorway.  He looked genuinely concerned, rarely a good sign, not that there had been many of those lately. 
"Come down to the cell block, one of the new prisoners'll want to see her sir."
He studied his newly appointed second-in-command's face.  He knew the prisoner, and Jor knew the prisoner, and Jor knew that he wouldn't want to see the prisoner.  Only one person, much less one woman, could possibly be involved.
"Jor, you are to do this personally.  And you are not to allow any of the men to know it has been done, whom has ordered it, or whom it has been done in regards too."
"Yes sir, it will never happen"
"Escort my daughter to the laundry room, I will meet her there.  You will remain on guard outside, inform anyone who comes by that I have been ill and am washing my bed sheets."
"Yes sir."
Jor left.  He seemed confused by the idea that he'd want to meet with his daughter in private.  After the long years of enity between them, he was surprised himself.  But he needed answers, and some unseen force seemed to be directing him to meet with her once again. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chapter Seventeen

The Empire had been building its bases underground for centuries.  For one thing, if there was a fire or a rebellion they could just flood the base.  But besides that, it meant that more use could be gotten out of the actual land.  With the population as large as it was, there was no surprise that any viable farm land was being used with maximum efficency.  The fact that the nobles owned most of the land and could escape large amounts of taxes by allowing the military to build under the land was just a mutually beneficial relationship.  Not that the nobility ever visited either, the paddies and fortresses of the realm were equally unpleasant to wander about in fancy dresses and suits.

The base to which they had been brought was no different.  Dusty, gray, badly lit, there was a reason he'd worked so hard to get a field position, being on base was depressing.  Jor had lived over one of these all his life, and with the way the last few days had gone he had skipped denial and gone straight to anger.  Justly too, he had a girl waiting for him in a nice tower somewhere and here he was in an overglorified cellar.  Not even a cellar, if the guards already assigned here hadn't been shifting uncomfortably every couple of hours he'd have assumed it was a crypt. 

"Captain, you'll want to know why you're here.  I'm here to introduce you to the men you'll be keeping an eye on the next few months."
"Just make it quick."
"To the point then.  The science teams have been analyzing some of the artifacts from the 'ship' as you call it.  We think we can replicate their propulsion systems.  This could solve a lot of our problems."
"In words for the rest of us you fat twit."  Jor lashed out. 
"Excuse me?"
"My second in command wants you to say it in words, not lingo.  And make it snappy, we were about a day away from seeing our families when we got dragged here.  We'd all like to get to them as soon as possible, and every extra word you use is keeping us apart."
"Our entire civilization is on the verge of a new age of exploration and you're worried about seeing your families?  Sir I was told you were a patriot."
There was a time when he'd have thought the same, two days ago in fact.  He was starting to wonder though.  If this is what being a patriot meant then maybe he'd rather be a traitor happily at home with his sons and his wife. 
"Damn right I am, but I'm also a father.  Get to the point, and be quick about it."
"Alright, alright; we think we can put a man into the space around the world."
"What space?"
"The upper space, the space that's above the world."
"The sky?"
"The suns?"
"What could be higher than the suns?"
"We're trying to figure that out.  But the ony way to do it is to send someone up there."
"We're working on that, we think we can shoot a rocket, or raise a sort of magical platform straight up until it gets over the clouds and out past the suns.  If we use a really strong radio, then the person on it can call back down and tell us what's up there."
"Then do it, what do you need us for?"
"We've decided to send convicted felons, since it doesn't matter whether they die or not."
"And you needed security."
"Right, and the emperor isn't ready for the public to know what's happened so he can't let you guys go home and spread the story. So he sent you and solved both problems."
"Alright then, men, go settle into your new quarters.  I'll have a shift schedule ready thistime tomorow.  Relax until then, you've earned it."
The question that even Collin, wherever she was if she still was at all, would have known better than to aske had gone unanswered.  Why would the Emperor want to keep this a secret?  And what did he hope to accomplish in this 'upper space'?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chapter Sixteen

Hamaf sat staring at the gaping hole in the side of the ship.  After months in the dim magical lights that still hovered around the base, here were the beams of the rising first sun. Warm, hard, and real, it was a welcome change. 
The sounds were less welcome.  Cranes, heavy drills, and trucks by the thousands were taking apart the hull of the ship.  It had been only a day since they had blasted their way in to get the mysterious device Jor and Polly had found.  It must have been of great importance, for now that it had been removed the rest of the ship, save the computer cores and a few other baubles and curious devices, was being scrapped.  Where all the material was to be stored he did not know, only that it was no longer his responsibility. 
Jor, of course.  Polly was a god influence, he had softened a lot since they had met.  She had mellowed out a bit too, although she still tended to be rather enthusiastic. 
"Yes Sergent?"
"I wanted to inform you in person, since you've always been so understanding."
"I saw it this morning.  I'd say it's a shame to lose you but I'm sure that you'll serve the Empire much better at her side than at mine."
"Sir, I only said I was retiring."
"You said so yes, but we both know why.  It's not often a farm boy like yourself meets a Lady like her; do us commoners proud.  And next time you two want to get some time alone, just ask.  Last thing I want is someone to blast a hole in my house because you've stumbled on something interesting."
"Yes sir.  And speaking of your house, I was hoping to mail an invitation."
"You have Hamren's address, right?"
"Of course sir."
"Send it to him, the Missus reads all his mail anyways."
"And how is your wife?  She must be relieved to hear your still alive."
Probably, truth of the matter was that he'd written weekly.  She'd probably be less happy he'd survived than she would be that they'd been invited to the wedding of a Noble's heir-apparent.  It's not that she didn't worry, it's that he'd always managed to get home and she was used to it by now. 

"Captain Hamaf?"
He turned and saluted the newcomer.  From the markings on his armor he was a courier, and he had a brown envelope, sealed in red wax. 
"Aye, you've found him."
"I have orders for you sir.  You and your men have been assigned as consultants for a top secret research project, all leave, transfers, and other personnel rearrangements have been countermanded.  Report to Motte Veirnen at once for further orders."
"Countermanded!"  Jor was unsurprisingly enraged by the news.  "By who's authority?"
"Soldier, all I know is that the red wax means Palace business.  Could be from the guard, could be from a Noble, heck, it might even be from the emperor for all I know. Just do it and everything should work out fine."
"Jor, orders are orders.  Go inform the men, and then talk to Polly."  He leaned in and whispered.  "Use my office, the acoustics in there are awful."
"Why would that matter?"
"Jor, you are going to have to tell that girl that it is going to be a while before you can get married.  You do not want things to be any louder."

Jor trudged off.  His day, his month probably, had just been wrecked.  And all because of a little red wax.  Maybe Jeanine had a..nonsense.  The Nobles couldn't have known how this would effect them. 
'But they should have at least considered it.'  He could hear his daughter's reply as soon as he'd thought it.  Maybe it was time to talk to her again, if anyone knew what was going on it would be her.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chapter Fifteen

No one said anything about the fight. Those who had supported Sharrai knew that when she died they had lost. Polly was a mage, even through their helms and the shrouding darkness she had known who they were. The fact that she had done nothing to reveal them meant that she had elected to show mercy. Most were grateful, the rest Hamaf quickly removed. More than a few wayward voices disappeared into the bowels of the ship, and they knew it was just. Treason was one of the few crimes for which one could be killed, and Hamaf now had cause to treat any sedition as treason.

The had been within the steel mountain for nearly three months when the news finally came. The linguists had managed to decode the foreign script, using scraps of writing and captured locals. With it, the programmers had hacked into the system. They had downloaded maps, logs, schematics, anything that could be useful and thousands of things that couldn't. In the end though, it was Polly and Jr that found what the Emperor had sought from the first day.
He heard a great thud coming from below. The weary Captain lept to his feet, or as close to it as he could manage. The sound was a mining charge, someone was carving the ship apart. As he started down the hallway he saw Jor and Polly toasting each other cheerfully.
"Sergent, what is the meaning of this?"
"Sir!" He snapped to attention, spilling the champagne down his front as he came about. "We were just celebrating."
"Celebrating what? and why are they blowing holes in the ship?"
"That's what we were celebrating, Polly and I were looking for" Her eyes widened and she stepped on his foot.
"Ow! What was, oh...We were looking to see if there were more computers or books lower in the ship."
Hamaf was in no mood for lover's nonsense, someone was blowing holes in his ship.
"So you were looking for somewhere out of the way and?"
"It was nothing like that, I swear."
"Get to the point Sergent."
"Right, so we found this big, mechanical thing. It was like a really big engine, with fuel tanks and stuff all over the place."
"So Polly found a manual and it turns out we found out how the ship got here."
Jor cringed, Polly waved him aside and stepped up.
"And after personally informing the emperor himself, a team of demolitionists was dispatched to carve the ship open so we can move it to a proper lab. His Majesty was quite pleased, the chances of my succeeding my father on the throne are now 100%. I shall be sure to remember you and the efforts of your men quite well when I take my seat on the council."
She glanced back at Jor. "Some of you shan't need to wait that long for a suitable reward." She blew him a kiss, and the broad-shouldered soldier began blushing.
"And nobody thought to tell me?"
"Well no. I mean yes, I suppose Collin did. But the Emperor insisted that stay and deliver a full account of our time here."

Then she'd likely never return, not under his command at least. By all rights anything on this land was hers, the ship, the ruined city beneath it, and anything that came out of it. Most likely they would have a child of the streets like her killed before giving her the chance to become the second most powerful person in the empire. He found himself wondering how he would tell Hamren. They'd never really broken up, argued maybe, but they still loved each other. He'd take it badly, blame his father. He might even go looking for his sister and try to join her and the band of political assassins and wealth distributing bandits she called friends.
No, he had to hope she was still alive. If only for the damage it would do to his own family.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter Fourteen

Sharrai struck first, a rather basic horizontal slash. Hamaf had seen proper duels, at this stage such a blow had little actual potential. Sharrai had struck harder than needed, but clearly her intent was still only to probe Polly's strength. It had been blocked with an almost desperately hard cross blow. Polly seemed sure to lose, for all her confidence. She held her sword too low, letting the point drift lazily. And her feet were too close together to allow for any quick movement, a dodge in any direction would throw her dangerously off balance. They were beginner's mistakes, not a single one of the soldiers in the army would make such mistakes.
Sharrai swung high, aiming not to kill her but to humiliate her by slicing a few strands of her neatly tied back hair. Polly brought her sword up to block it, but was to slow. Her pink ribbon hung on the end of the blade. Sharrai twisted her sword, playing with the thin cloth mockingly.

Polly grunted in frustration and lunged, tripping on her own inadequate footing. Her sword fell from her hand as she stumbled forward. Sharrai went to push her aside, laughing. Then stopped abruptly as the young noble rolled aside, recovering her blade in a single swift motion. She flipped backward to her feet and spun to face the treacherous officer.
"I think you've had enough fun for one day."
Sharrai did not hold back any longer. She struck a close upward blow, pushing against Polly as she did. But Poly met the blow with her own blade and forced it aside as she flung her weight against Sharrai to counter her momentum. The two braced themselves against the other, struggling to force the other aside enough to land a blow. At last Sharrai flung her head back to butt against her foe and gain the advantage, but Polly ducked her head aside at the last moment and disengaged her self by turning aside. Sharrai stumbled forward but still brought her sword about to parry a careful blow.

A spark flew as the blades ground against each other. The bright silver curve of Polly's elegant edge contrasted to the bloodied, beaten, and battle-worn blade that Sharrai wielded in the dim fluorescent light. Sharrai stepped back, her anger and frustration were clearly wearing away at her strength as much as the combat itself. Hamaf couldn't help but feel a little pride swell as he watched his strongest officer hold her own against a properly trained noble.

They circled, each one cautiously awaiting the other's slightest mistake.
"I shudder to think that this is the sort of fool who thinks they can lead the empire." Polly mocked.
"And if this is the best of those who lead it now than I should rule it already." Retorted Sharrai.
"Hardly, I hear that His Majesty the Prince bests ten men with his sword in a day."
"I suppose it could be called that, how is the young avian enthusiast?"
"Tsk tsk, such insolence is unbecoming of the empire's next great leader."

Sharrai swung high and kicked low. Polly deflected the sword and deftly sidestepped the armored boot. Swords still upraised and locked against each other once more, Polly brought her soft leather soled shoe down upon her opponent's ankle. It did little harm, but it was nonetheless annoying to the already agitated traitor.
Sharrai swung a fist at the young woman,who rolled her body out of it's way. She then quickly brought her arm down, locking the outstretched blow in place as she grabbed Sharrai's sword arm with her free hand. A quick twist and the simple martial blade clattered against the steel floor.
Polly stepped back, lowering her blade. "Pick it up."
Sharrai lunged at the young woman, drawing her soldier's knife from a sheath at the back of her belt. Polly turned aside, the knife grazing her arm as Sharrai passed. And then the traitor fell, for Polly had stood between her and the pit. She screamed as she descended. Polly relented, and gazing into the depths called forth a flame and cast it down after her. The screams ceased, and it was quiet for several minutes. One of the soldiers dropped his sword and fell to his knees.
"Well, I think this rebellion has burned out."
Polly sheathed her unbloodied sword and ignoring her wounds proceeded to leave as they had came.
There could be no question in his mind, Hamaf knew that the coming age would be just as those of the past. The soldiers, farmers, and laborers would continue to serve the mages and nobles as they had since the legendary contract of old was first signed in the blood of dragons. And it had been bought of noble's blood and peasant's life.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chapter Thirteen

They were lead down the hall. With knives to their throats, neither he nor Polly were in any position to fight back. Their captors, who had been careful not to reveal their identities, or for that matter their numbers, had lead them into a large room. He could see enough by the powered lights that had been set up to tell that the room had been some sort of drilling or parade area; possibly a briefing room. Behind them the floor had been broken and he could see three decks, steel floors rent by the crash, before it grew too dark to tell. For all intensive purposes it was a bottomless pit.
"I see you've elected to hear my offer, captain."
The word was spat with contempt, not just for him but for the very authority vested in it. Only one of his men would have the audacity to do something like this.
"I'll make it short, you know how I can't stand the usual dramatics. I am going to remake the empire with the technology of this ship, you will either help me or be disposed of."
"Why are you doing this?"

She wheeled around, facing the men gathered around. He could gauge their numbers better now, forty were armed, hundreds more weren't. These men had likely come from other bases that had been established in the ship, who knew just how far her influence stretched now.
"Why? Because with this amount of power means that we can finally challenge the self-declared Nobles. No more will we need to bow when one of those magic wielding twits passes by. We can at last make an empire of the hard working man. An empire where the coin of my purse is not taken to feed some lazy lout lying in his divan as he surveys the filth in our streets, filth we cannot afford to clean because our hard work fills his pockets. But with weapons like these, no manner of magic can stop us."
She held up her hands in a victorious pose. The men cheered, not for her but for her message.
"Sharrai, there is no place for treason in my ranks. Put the weapon down and report to base for court martial."
"Captain, let me." Polly whispered softly.
"So this is how you chose to die? For nobles who could care less if you live or die?"
She lifted the weapon to his head. A small L of black metal, with a circular opening in the front, reflected light on the rim of the barrel marked the gateway of his coming death.
"Fine, the new order has no need for loyalist scum."

He heard a click, then the weapon burst into flame. Sharrai flung the blazing weapon aside, brushing her hand against her side to smother the flames.
"Why you little.."
"Enough of this." Polly's exuberance seemed to have been muted by the stress of their capture. "Why do you hate us so much? What have we ever done to you?"
"Nothing! You've never done anything in your lives. While I work, and I sweat, and I bleed, you and your fat father and his fat friends sit about and gorge themselves at my expense. And if anyone ever speaks out against them they just wave their fingers and end his life. No more! I have the power to change that now, to make the world work without magic."
"I see. Then you believe you can do better than I can?"
She nodded. He glanced from his former lieutenant's raging gaze to the oddly calm stare of Polly. The contrast was striking. Sharrai was a cold blooded killer, the blood of dozens of powerful and intelligent individuals was now clearly on her hands and her words. The passion she had always shown for battle was more apparent now than ever, and yet it seemed silly in the face of Polly's calm. For one so naturally cheerful and excitable, she seemed almost dead in her shoes. Yet it was an active calm, he could almost feel her thinking, observing her surroundings, analyzing not just her adversary's physical abilities but her very mind. He had always known the dangers of facing an angered mage, but never before had he realized how truly dangerous they could be.

"I challenge you to single combat. Choose your weapon." She slipped a slim sword from her smooth flaxen vest. It was short enough that he could tell she had carried it with no magical aid, yet she had concealed it from the guards.
"I will defeat you with only this blade. No magic, no poisons, just a sword like any other."
"Too easy." Sharrai drew a second weapon, like the still smoldering one that lay on the floor but a few feet away. That now familiar crack issued from the deadly tool.
Polly didn't even try to dodge it, she took the hit and kept standing.
"I'm going to show you why the Nobles are in charge, and why loud mouthed lieutenants like you aren't. And it isn't magic."
Sharrai dropped the weapon and drew her own double-edged blade. The fiery traitor lept at her opponent, and the battle for supremacy was joined.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This is my 200th post

Obvious milestone, and not much over a year since I started. We've got a few more readers than we did then, and I've certainly gotten better at writing since then.

Little known secret; while this is the 200th post published to the blog, it is in fact the 201st post written. Somewhere, there is a post that was not actually published until today. If you can name which book its in I'll try to come up with something special for you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter Twelve

"We may have found something."
"May have found something, or did find something?"
"I don't know."
"Where is it?"
"Three floors up, due north four halls, then right."
"And the rest of your platoon?"
"Still there, Would you like me to lead the way?"
"No, go back to help your squad. I'll bring reinforcements."

The soldier shuffled his feet a little.
"It's not that kind of something, we just need you to take a look at something. We don't know what to do about it."
"Fine, go tell your commander I'm on my way."

Hamaf put away his papers. His crossbow wouldn't be needed if it was just a bit of problem solving. And his sword was being sharpened, but he'd be fine with just his knife. He locked up the office behind him. It wasn't so much locking it as it was securing the improvised deadbolt that they'd installed on most of the doors in the area. It wasn't much, but it would slow any intruders or passers-by.

The men were all hard at, well standing there mostly. Truth of the matter was that other than the occasional wounded and dying local things were pretty boring. Standing guard, escorting researchers, and patrols were about all they did since he base had been established. Sure there were the risky exploratory trips, but even those had slacked off lately. Sharrai still led a few deep exploratory trips, but she and her platoon had become experts at dealing with the locals. Single shot kills, armor analysis, an exacting knowledge of the enemy's combat abilities; they could clear a room in under five minutes without casualties. Unless you counted the increasingly frequent losses of magical theorists and adventerous noble's children. The ability to use magic seemed to be a death sentence down here, only Peter, the guardsman, and Pauline 'Polly' Krenksfeld, Jor's bubbly young companion, seemed to have lasted more than a few days. It was suspicous, and everyone knew it. He'd spoken to Sharrai about improving her security, and though she outwardly obeyed the results had not been forthcoming. It was begining to get on his nerves.

"Mr. Captain"
"Just Captain will do just fine."
"Just Captain, would you mind if I joined you?"
Last thing he wanted was to show the bouncing lass around the dark halls, but his orders had speciffically stated 'deny the researchers nothing you would not also deny a superior officer'. It had elaborated, but the essence of the thing was 'strictly buisness'. As such, he had little choice but to allow the lordlings and clipboard bearing old men to follow him around and ask him stupid questions about how he felt about all this.
"Sure Polly, but I'm just checking up on some of the men. They had some questions they needed me to answer."

Polly took it as a yes and followed him at a cheerful trot. His long stride, born of hurried exercise and battle readiness, carried him much faster than her meandering walk and she was forced to jog periodicly in order to remain close enough to continue peppering him with questions about his family, Jor, what the army was like, Jor, and of course how he felt about all this. By the time they reached the ladder he found himself wishing she'd manage to mis-cast a cone of silence, or whatever the proper magical term for it was.

They reached the designated floor, three up from his office. There weas no guard posted, but he hadn't expected one. Stairwells like this were perfect for the enemy's owerful ranged weapons, so guards would be posted in narrower areas where a melee weapon would have the advantage. It was unlit, although he could see some light up ahead probably where the squad was waiting. He got two steps before he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Captain, I think you should wait here."
"It's a trap."
"Nonsense, no one would.." Cold steel at his throat cut him off midsentence.
"Oh but we would."