Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing: Only War, Chapter One, Part 4

The following is Part 4 of Chapter One of my novel submission to Black Library, entitled Only War.  

Part 1 is located here.
Part 2 is located here.
Part 3 is located here

Shas’o Olan’dre’s eye was drawn to a reflection on the ship’s hull, but before he could focus on it, the ship shuddered, and the ceiling above him seemed to jerk closer to him, causing his stomach to lurch.   

Lord Aquitaine was looking outside.  “Throne of Terra....” The alarm klaxons drowned him out.  Purple lights flashed, and a dry tau voice announced orders for battle stations over the speakers.

“Follow me,” said Olan’dre.  “This is no place to be during an alert.”  He pushed off and went down the passage, Aquitaine close behind.

“I need to get back to my wife,” Aquitaine said as they reached the lift, getting out of the way of several crewmembers hurrying to their stations.  

“That’s where I’m taking you,” Olan’dre replied.  In a few raik’ans the lift reached the passenger deck and they both exited, pushing off the wall and heading down the passageway.  Olan’dre noticed that the urgency of their travel seemed to lend Aquitaine an agility he had lacked on their trip to the observation deck.  Perhaps the alarm had awakened the old warrior in him.

They had almost reached the door when a different alarm sounded.  “Hold on, quick!” Olan’dre shouted over the noise.  He pushed Aquitaine away from him, and they floated to opposite sides of the passage, grabbing on to handgrips.  Seconds later, “forward” in the passageway became “up” as the ship began to accelerate.  Olan’dre felt a wave of vertigo come over him as his orientation suddenly changed, and his body swung around in response to the acceleration.

“I thought this deck had artificial gravity!” shouted Aquitaine through clenched teeth.  

“It does!” Olan’dre shouted back.

“Then what...” Aquitaine began, but his words caught in his throat as a deep metallic bang reverberated through the hull.  Both of them jerked as the ship’s acceleration was checked.  Olan’dre lost his grip and smacked his face on the handgrip, only to frantically grab onto it again as the acceleration increased once more.  

The acceleration continued to build, and Olan’dre strained to hold on as he felt himself getting heavier and heavier.  Then, even faster than it built up, the acceleration was gone, and Olan’dre found himself thrown forward.  This time he managed to hold on as his body swung around.  The acceleration alarm ceased, its ghost echoing in his ears.  Olan’dre pushed himself off the bulkhead, grabbing a hold of Aquitaine’s coat as he passed by.  “This way,” he said, tugging.  Aquitaine pushed off and followed.


“Forward railgun battery is energized and tracking target Gue’leath-1,” announced the Tactical Action Officer.

Captain Galeio gripped the handrest of his command couch tightly.  “Commence firing.”

Within each of the Au’kunas’ forward railgun turrets, a projectile was injected into the firing chamber between the rails.  A battery of compulsators shunted a massive electrical current into one rail, passing through the projectile and into the other rail.  The resultant magnetic field hurled the projectile along the rails’ long axis, ejecting it from the gun at an incredible velocity.  Coolant pumps worked furiously to keep the rails and compulsators within tolerable thermal limits.  Sensors tracked the projectiles as they closed the distance to the target, compensating for its motion and sending corrected fire control data to the gun systems. Seven raik’ans after the first salvo was fired, the second was on its way.

The Nemesis destroyer began to turn to evade the shots, far too slowly.  Several projectiles from the first salvo collided with the destroyer’s void shields, vaporizing in flashes of light and sending waves of energy rippling away from the impact points. 

On the spine of the destroyer, weapon batteries of a more primitive, but no less deadly sort recoiled, sending their own hypervelocity projectiles towards the tau vessel.


“Where’s the guard?” Aquitaine asked, pointing down the passageway toward the door to his quarters. 

"He probably went inside as soon as battle stations were called,” Olan’dre explained, reaching the door and typing in a passcode.  

The door slid open, and immediately they could heard Lady Aquitaine screaming.  Pulling themselves through the doorway, they saw that Aquitaine’s quarters were a comedic shambles.  Everything not bolted down was floating chaotically, including the servants.  The amasec and pastries had left dark smears across the ceiling all the way to the aft bulkhead, and remnants of both soared freely.  The draperies Lady Aquitaine had demanded were now twirling gracefully throughout the room.  The dining ware, floral arrangement, tablecloth, table, chairs and even the elegant damask fainting couch had all been thrown aft during the ship’s acceleration, and were making their way back forward, bouncing languorously off of each other.  The four servants, absurd in their finery, clung to anything that seemed solid.  In the middle of it all, the shas’la was struggling to hold on to a flailing Lady Aquitaine, her voluminous gown flowering into a blossom of petticoats.

 “Get the Lady into some emergency restraints!  We’re under attack!” Olan’dre ordered in tau’sia, heading over.  The shas’la’s hurt and frustrated expression said it all.

 “Let go!” shouted Lady Aquitaine, connecting with an open palm to the shas’la’s temple.  He let go reflexively, and both of them whirled in opposite directions.   

Olan’dre had just about reached them when there was a tremendous roar and all the lights went out.  At the same time something like a hot knife stabbed into his thigh and sent him spinning wildly.  The roar quickly changed into the whoosh of escaping air.  The pressure had dropped suddenly and he felt himself being blown across the room.  


“Where are my shields?” the captain asked as the Au’kunas was rocked by another hit. 

“Prow deflector will be fully energized within thirty raik’ans,” replied the XO.   

Galeio growled.  The damage the Au’kunas was taking was superficial, but was nonetheless infuriating.  The enemy captain, whoever it was, had very skilled gunners.

Salvo after salvo from the railguns continued to pound the attacking vessel, the Au’kunas’ tactical display tracking each salvo from the moment it left the rails until they impacted the destroyer.  Icons and readouts estimated damage analysis, as energy fluctuations caused by impacts on the destroyer’s void shields prevented clear sensor readings. 

“Captain, Gue’leath-1 is breaking off its attack.”  The master icon indicating the enemy ship’s state vector had changed direction on the display, and its velocity marker was elongating rapidly.  The enemy ship was leaving, and in a hurry.

“Generate an intercept course,” said the XO immediately.

“Negative,” said the captain.  “We’ll let this one go.  We have no idea where it would lead us.”  The priority was to get the ship to Viridis, and safely.  

Kor’el Galeio took a slow, deep breath.  “Kor’vre,” he said to the XO, I want a damage report immediately.  Dispatch damage control and medical teams to the affected decks.  I want to get the ship out of here as soon as possible.”


The emergency lights came on just in time for Olan’dre to protect his head as he slammed into the bulkhead opposite the door.  Air was rushing out through a ragged hole in the bulkhead, more than a tor’lek across.  The servants, panicked before, were now hysterical.  The fainting couch jammed into the hole and stuck there, the wind diminishing ignificantly.  Olan’dre looked around to take stock of the situation.  Lord Aquitaine was a few tor’leks away, hands at this throat, coughing violently.  Two of the servants were visible and moving, while the shas’la was against the bulkhead, limp.  Lady Aquitaine struggled weakly near the breach, apparently trapped.
The door to the suite had automatically closed with the pressure drop.  Olan’dre knew that the damage to the ship was severe enough that the suite would completely depressurize unless the damage control teams arrived soon.  They had to get out and into a place on the ship where the hull integrity had not been compromised.

The wind had decreased enough that he was able to move around without much hindrance.  He jumped over the the firmly wedged couch and landed on the bulkhead next to Lady Aquitaine.  Her face was pale from shock and blood loss, but she was alive and conscious, if only barely.  Pushing aside her the bunched folds of her dress, he could see that her left leg had been pinned between some debris and the edge of the hole in the bulkhead.  The jagged fio’tak had slashed her thigh, and blood was rapidly staining the dress.  Grabbing at an end table that was awkwardly wedged between her and and the couch, he yanked at it, but it barely moved, and only served to evoke a scream from Lady Aquitaine.

Olan’dre looked up, and saw that Lord Aquitaine had apparently recovered.  He came over immediately.  “The Lady’s pinned!” Olan’dre shouted.  “Hold onto her!” he directed, then maneuvered past Aquitaine to position himself by the couch.  “I’ll try to shift this--you pull her out!”  Aquitaine nodded.

Aquitaine grabbed his wife under her armpits, while Olan’dre attempted to manhandle the couch.  It wouldn’t budge.  Realizing that he was rapidly running out of time, he braced his hooves and slammed his shoulder into it, and the couch bucked.  Aquitaine was ready and heaved, and Lady Aquitaine came out of the hole.  The end table fell through and the couch shifted with a jerk, threatening to go all the way out.  A chair and more debris filled in the gaps, and the plug held.  

With a sidelong glance at Aquitaine, who was struggling to drag his wife away, Olan’dre shoved off the wall and back to the door.  The air pressure was dangerously low now.  Forcing himself to focus, he punched in an override code, and the door opened to the wail of alarms, unleashing a blast of air into the suite.  The force of it hurled him away from the door and back to the far bulkhead to hit it with a thud.  Scrambling upright--with all the air rushing out of the hole the bulkhead felt like “down” now--he moved over to Aquitaine.  The heretofore useless servants were trying to help him with his wife, but mostly were getting in the way.  

Lady Aquitaine had passed out, and Aquitaine had gotten one of her arms over his shoulders. grasping her forearm.  Olan’dre ducked under her other arm and held on.  “We’ll have to jump,” he said.  “Aim for the door frame.  Go!”

They kicked hard off the bulkhead, slightly out of sync, but good enough that they managed to overcome the wind and reach the door and grab on.  With some unceremonious shoving they got Lady Aquitaine out of the room and into the passageway.  Aquitaine climbed out next and began to pull out Olan’dre, as the servants scrambled their way through the door as well.  A damage control team in pressure suits and a pair of repair drones were rushing down the passage towards them.  “There’s a shas’la in there!”  Olan’dre gasped.

One of the drones disappeared through the door and began spraying emergency foam over the breach in the bulkhead, while the crewmen grabbed at Olan’dre and the servants to get them away from the door.  As soon as the path was clear, a pair of crewmen entered the room after the drone.

 “Lady Aquitaine’s hurt, we need a medical team immediately,” Olan’dre said to the damage control party leader, who nodded and called for one over his comm system.  He looked at Aquitaine, who was cradling his wife in his arms, and switched to gothic.  “Are you all right?”

Aquitaine waved him off.  “I just inhaled something.  Throne, she’s lost a lot of blood,” he said with concern, looking at her face.  

“A medical team is on the way,” reported the party leader, and Olan’dre relayed it to Aquitaine in gothic.

The repair drones did their work fast, and after a moment the rush of air through the door stopped completely.  A medical team along with more drones arrived quickly, and began to work on Lady Aquitaine with practiced efficiency.  One of the drones appeared to be scanning her, while the other detached a small rectangular package that rapidly expanded and unfolded into a semi-rigid blanket.  The medics grabbed it and wrapped it around her.  The blanket seemed to cling to her body, supporting her neck and injured leg, sealing itself closed like a cocoon.  One medic pressed a button on the hem of the blanket, and the blanket instantly became rigid, immobilizing her.  The other was rigging a breathing mask over her face.  The fit was awkward as it was designed for tau anatomy, so he held it in place.  He looked up at the other medic.  “Ready?”

“Go,” said the other, and the two took hold of the cocoon and began to maneuver Lady Aquitaine down the passage.  The drones attached themselves to the to the head and foot of the cocoon with clamps, further stabilizing it.  Aquitaine followed close behind.   

Olan’dre made as if to follow, but paused to examine his leg, which was beginning to throb with pain.  A piece of spall the size of his finger had penetrated the meat of his thigh, part of it still sticking out.  There was no blood, but he knew if he tried to pull it out there would be.  He looked down the passage after Aquitaine and took a deep breath.  That was too close.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two...