Sword of Ages, Part I

In all my years serving in the Legion, I rarely had to raise my sword in anger. But when I did, the Heavens trembled at the prospect – Immunes Longinus Cratos

The furs that covered his leather armor gave off a musty odor as he walked through the forest at dusk. From a distance, he appeared as any other barbarian that the land would offer up with the exception of his measured stride. The smoke from the chieftain’s cooking fires carried the aroma of freshly killed deer venison and his stomach threatened to betray him as he found a hiding spot near the camp. His brown eyes studied the camp’s design. No guards other than those at the leader’s tent. He shook his head as he sat down in the shadow of a fallen log and checked his dagger and short sword. Once the sun had completely set, he would creep into the camp and complete his task. Tied to his belt was a small leather pouch containing a collection of herbs he had collected along the way and his trusty wine pouch. After praying silently to Mars and Fortuna, he leaned back against the log and waited for the light to dim.

Anglerfish Underway, Part III

Before Jennay could continue, his desk phone rang. He gestured to one of the empty seats in front of his gray metal desk. Compared to the rest of the office, it seemed the only military issue object.

Hardy sat, opening his briefcase and taking out his orders packet, listening as Jennay spoke angrily into the phone’s handset. When he finished, he slammed down the phone. “That damned Kennedy’s going to be the ruination of the country. One of these days, he’s going to get his comeuppance. Mark my words.”

“I will, Sir.”

“Off the Record, of course. Our President is a competent leader and a credit to The Fleet. Remember that, Hardy.”

“Understood, Sir.”

Jennay took the order packet and removed the contents for inspection. As he read, he moved a small microphone closer to him and began speaking. “On this date, I, Admiral Brandon Jennay, have officially received the order packet for Lieutenant Commander Michael Hardy, USN, to assume command of Submarine Anglerfish to commence operations as soon as operationally possible.” He stamped the orders and placed them in a desk file before inserting a piece of letterhead stationery into a gray IBM electric typewriter. He typed for several seconds before removing the letter and signing his name at the bottom before handing it to Hardy. “Show this to the Topside Watch along with your ID.”

Hardy folded the letter and nodded. “Thank you, Sir.”

Jennay stood and extended a hand. “I wish there was more time for pleasantries, Captain, but we both have our duties to perform. Get underway as soon as possible and stand by for operational orders.” After they shook hands, he pointed to a door to their right. “That door will take you unobserved to the Pier Complex. Dismissed.”

Hardy picked up his briefcase and went to the door. The door opened up to a monorail system that once he was seated whisked him to a stop near a false cave opening. Climbing out, he saw her. Gunmetal gray down to the waterline and black beyond, her sail planes set at neutral. Her hull stretched farther than he first noticed from the air and as he drew closer to the pier, he noticed a series of raised bumps along her metal skin. He showed his credentials to the plain clothed security watch but instead of rendering or receiving normal honors, the single security watch merely picked up an internal intercom and announced his arrival. No bells, no fanfare.

He reached over and took the intercom. “This is Captain Hardy speaking. All Hands, make preparations to get underway and submit reports to the XO,” he checked his watch. “All shore leave and liberties are canceled as of 2400. Set Sea and Anchor Detail at 0300. That is all.”

“Welcome aboard, Sir.”

Hardy studied the sailor. “What’s your name, Son?”

“Shipley, Sir. Quartermaster Third Class.”

“Thank you, Shipley. Carry on.”

As he climbed down the deck entrance, Hardy realized that while the Anglerfish looked like a Permit from the outside, its deck layout inside was another story. Definitely bigger on the inside, he thought as he dropped down into the control room and immediately waved away the traditional stop to activity that a Captain on Deck usually brought. He followed the signs to his cabin a few doors down and entered an access code to get inside. Everything he needed to live onboard was generously provided. He pulled the chair away from his desk and began reading the reports piled up in the In Basket. Welcome Aboard, Indeed.

Anglerfish Underway, Part II

Hardy marveled at the island flora and fauna that bordered the road. Perry Island had one paved road that started at the airfield and circled the island in a five-mile bicycle wheel with spokes that converged at an Administrative Hub. A pair of twin hills topped with radar dishes and radio antennas towered behind the Hub.

“The Navy went to some expense building this place.”

Simmons kept his eyes on the road. “Yes, Sir.”

The conversation continued in fits and spurts until the car stopped at the Hub. Hardy retrieved his briefcase in hand and stepped out, the skies gradually filling in with storm clouds. This is not a good omen, he thought as he tucked his sunglasses away in a suit pocket and went inside.

The Hub’s interior reminded him more of a five-star resort hotel lobby than the headquarters building for a naval installation. A four-pointed blue and white star graced the mirrored floor tiles as he walked through the tinted front doors and over to a long desk manned by a man and a woman, dressed immaculately in matching dark blue outfits. He saw no sign of military insignia but under their blazers, he could make out the distinctive bulges that pistol holsters tended to create. Someone went to a lot of trouble, he thought.

Before he could introduce himself, he was handed a small white plastic punch card and directed to an elevator at the end of a long hallway to his right. His footsteps on the brown carpeting shrank in volume as he neared his destination. A small slot flashed green and red on his approach. Inserting the card into the slot hissed open the elevator doors and he stepped inside.

Before he could press a button on the control panel, the car immediately went into free fall, plastering him against the ceiling for an eternity before coming to an abrupt stop and leaving him in a heap upon the floor. The control panel read that he had only traveled two floors down but he didn’t believe that for a second as he wrestled the wrinkles from his clothing and regained his composure. The doors opened onto an organized office and a white-haired man dressed in a dark suit.

“Welcome to Perry Island, Commander.”

May Ambitions: Old Storylines

Now that May is upon me, I feel the need to wrap up some old storylines that have been floating around the blog for a while. Most of them were one-offs to experiment with certain story segments that I wanted to practice. Some, however, were intended to go somewhere but for one reason or another didn’t. I’ve gone back and selected three that I will be finishing this month in between Lights and Shadows and the Parallax Sequels:

1) Academy Days: This is the prequel series featuring a younger John Pratt during his time with the United Earth Union Navy Academy. It seemed a shame to only write three episodes so there’s more to come.

2) Dark Ocean: Originally, this was a bit that I did as a free writing exercise that I did in my “Story Time” post and I left it hanging. I don’t like hanging scenes.

3) Leviathan Sleeps: I’ll probably change a bunch of things in it to reflect The Stardivers Storyline that I was fleshing out in my Idea Folder. I might even change the title, but I haven’t decided yet.

The original posts are still archived, but leaving those particular characters in Limbo never sat well with me so it’s off to the races.

Repost: Academy Days, Episodes 1-3

Note: I dug into the archives for this one because I felt that since Parallax’s release that this story series needed completing. I’ll leave it up to you when this takes place. 😉

Episode 1:

The TF-65 was universally hated by the cadets. One of the old lifter type aircraft, it was old, slow and prone to be grounded due to a complicated four-way gearbox system that often broke down for one reason or another. The bright blue aircraft skimmed over a field of white snow covered ground that extended below them in all directions, stopping only at the base of a tall group of snow peaked mountains in the distance.

“Ponderous piece of crap.” Cadet Fourth Class John Winslow Pratt grumbled to himself as he fought to keep the aircraft level as he, his fellow student co-pilot seated next to him waged her own battle with the secondary systems, and a flight instructor sat behind them taking notes. “We should be using newer equipment.”

“We don’t always have the luxury of the latest and greatest equipment when we are out in Space, Mr. Pratt.” Flight Instructor Marsh, a dour officer with an order of magnitude of experience on his blue jump-suited chest, admonished him. “You have to learn how to get the most out of what you are given.” He made a few notes on a clipboard as a gust of wind turbulence shook the quadcopter. “Which you are certainly not attaining at this point.” He turned to the co-pilot, an intense young woman with dark hair and darker eyes. “Ms. Pendrake, would you like to take the controls?”

Pendrake raised a hand. “Not just yet, Sir. I’m still working out how to bypass a short circuit I detected in the Number Four Rotor Array that’s throwing engine coordination out of sync. Clearing that up should make for a smoother ride.”

“I could have told you that,” Pratt muttered. “Teacher’s Pet.”

“We don’t get points for could have.” Pendrake shot back angrily. “Shut up and drive while I keep us in the air.”

“Teamwork, please,” Marsh said, his tone belying the potential for a laugh at their expense. “Always remember that your communications may be monitored in flight. Keep it as professional as possible.”

Pratt held the stick tight with his left hand while reaching upwards with his right to turn off the system’s auto-leveling system. “Xia, wait two seconds and then give me a manual reset of all flight surfaces.”

“Jack, we could stall at this altitude and we don’t have enough speed to recover from that,” Pendrake warned. “I don’t like the idea of becoming a pancake this close to Finals.”

“Who wants to live forever?” Pratt gave her a reassuring wink. “Trust me.”

Pratt watched Marsh from the corner of his eye. Marsh had put his clipboard down and was following his movement with great interest. A red light appeared on his console. “That short circuit has now become a system warning. We’re about to lose both Starboard engines. Xia, do it. Now.”

“This goes against everything the manual says to do.” Pendrake’s slender hands danced across her control panel. Outside the forward windows, the drum-shaped engine nacelles stopped their movements and for the briefest of moments, the aircraft traveled downward at an angle that made every stomach in the cockpit a few ounces lighter. “System restart in four point two seconds.”

The altimeter displays counted down the distance to crash while the airspeed indicators spooled upward. An automatic altitude warning indicator began to blare.

Pratt looked over at Pendrake. “How about having dinner with me later?”

“You’re asking me now?”

“Why not? It may be my last chance.”

“You pull us out of this.” She said. “And I’ll pick up the check.”

“Very well.” Pratt reached down and turned a small yellow T-Handle clockwise until they heard a click and the nacelles swiveled to vertical, slowing their descent to a halt.

“You bastard,” Pendrake said, her expression mixed. “You knew how to fix this problem all the time.”

“I took a chance.” He replied. “The manual said there was a manual bypass in case a system reset took too long.” He grinned as the automatic systems came back online. “I’ll tell you what, you can pay your own way if you want.”

“No, no, a bet is a bet.” She said, stifling a smile of her own. “I’ll meet you after class. Do you think you can get us on the ground without killing us?”

“Okay, Cadets, that’s enough for today,” Marsh said, raising his console into operating position and taking control. “Mr. Pratt, I don’t approve of how you work, but you and Ms. Pendrake make an adequate team. You both get an A for this session. Ms. Pendrake, please notify Anchorage Spaceport that we’re on our way back.”

Episode 2:

“I think we should have sex.”

Pratt almost choked on the salmon bite he was chewing. After a coughing spell into his napkin and several sips from his water glass, he managed to regain his composure. Thankfully, the restaurant they were in was in full Romantic Evening Mode with dim lighting, soft music, and candles adorning the tables. “Excuse me?” His collar felt a size too small and he loosened his tie.

The edges of Pendrake’s well-defined mouth crept upward for the briefest of moments before she adopted a mask of self-assured confidence to the point of being almost predatory. The small black dress she wore did little to dilute the effect. “Let me lay it out for you, Jack. You and I were paired because we were considered compatible personality types. Now, given that we’re going to be in close quarters during training, it stands to reason that sexual tension is going to rear its ugly head at some point.” She casually reached over and stabbed a piece of his fish with her fork. “It would be to our best interests to get that out of the way so we can focus on more important matters.” She pulled her catch from the fork and popped it in her mouth. “I think it makes perfect logical sense.”

“I realize that growing up on a space station meant adopting some alternative moral codes,” Pratt replied, fighting to regain some mental comfort. “But us Darkfallers usually like to observe some old fashioned etiquette beforehand.”

She reached across the table and took his right hand in hers. “You do like me, don’t you? In spite of my lack of subtlety?”

He smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. “Of course, I do, but you could let me take the lead once in a while.”

“If I did that, you’d wait until Graduation Day.” She gently took her hand back. “I hate wasting time.”

Before Pratt could respond, a group of male and female cadets burst across the room and surrounded the table. Heads turned to watch the spectacle until he raised a hand to quiet them. He wiped his mouth and set the napkin aside. “One at a time, please. What’s going on?”

A short, barrel-chested, cadet with close-cropped brown hair and sly piggish eyes elbowed his way to the front of the group. “Jack, the base just issued a General Recall. Something’s happened and all Liberties have been cancelled.”

“And the entire squad felt the need to come out and get us, Jenkins?”

“All the Squad Leaders are supposed to meet in the Company Commander’s Office upon return.” Jenkins said. “Since you’re ours….you know.”

Pratt turned to Pendrake while flagging down a robotic waiter. “I guess we’ll have to table what we were talking about.” Without waiting for her, he slipped his credit chit into the robot’s payment slot. “This had better be another surprise drill.” He took one final bite from his meal before standing. A small hand gesture later and he followed Pendrake and the rest of the squad out the door and into the night.

Episode 3:

The Company Commander’s Office was a circular room enclosed by transparent glass walls and nested with similar offices on a balcony level that overlooked a large indoor parade ground.

At First, Pratt thought he was late because when he knocked twice on the office door and walked in, he noticed that he and the gray-bearded Company Commander were the only ones.

“Cadet Squad Leader Pratt, reporting as ordered, Sir.”

Senior Chief Carl Polson studied the younger man standing at attention in front of him. Pratt was older than the average cadet at 26; that maturity giving him an air of authority that was hard to cultivate out of the gate. It also made it difficult to rein in Pratt since he had a tendency to agree to one’s face…and then do whatever he felt necessary. A trait that caused the issuing of more than a few demerits over the past four years. Still, the kid got results and was able to rein in Cadet Pendrake and keep her from being summarily booted out for conduct-related infractions. I must remember to ask him how he does it, Polson thought.

“At ease, Cadet.” Polson noted Pratt’s suit. “You’re out of uniform.”

“I was informed that my being being here was important.” Pratt replied, his arms relaxing into a Parade Rest position. “I didn’t want to waste any more time getting here than necessary.”

“Very well.” Polson picked up a remote from his desk and darkened the walls around the office. “Pratt, I have been tasked with providing an escort detail for a courier ship coming to Earth from Asteroid 2001AB. I can’t divulge the details, but Command feels that although piracy in The Asteroid Belt is on the rise, the mission is safe enough to be used as a training exercise.”

“May I ask what the courier is transporting?”

“No, you may not.” Polson barked. He cleared his throat. “I’ve selected your squad to rendezvous with the courier and escort them back to Earth. Your squad rated the highest test scores during the last flight simulation round and it’s an honor so don’t give me any of your grief.”

“With all due respect, Sir, no one in the Company has logged any significant flight time off-world.” Pratt said. “Wouldn’t an experienced team produce better results?”

Polson waved away the question. “Of course, but orders are orders and I doubt your parents would enjoy hearing that you’ve refused a job that would look good on your record.”

“My parents?”

“Apparently, they had a hand in this assignment. Commodore Pratt himself contacted me to urge your selection.”

“Damn it.” Pratt muttered to himself.

“What was that?”

“Uh, nothing, Sir.” Pratt said. “My team and I will do our best.”

Polson pressed another button on his remote. When he was satisfied with the result, he came over and leaned in close. “Jack, I understand that having parents like yours is a pain in the butt, but they’re still part of the Chain of Command. If I thought you couldn’t handle it, I would have selected someone else. Just follow your procedures and you’ll be just fine.”

“I understand, Sir.”

Polson clicked the remote again.

“Dismissed, Cadet, and Good Luck.”

The Village

As he approached Saint L’Azaire, he felt a pressure at the back of his skull. He felt no wound back there, only a faint throb that increased as he climbed over hedge rows and crossed fields. Night had passed quickly to early morning and while his muscles ached from exerting himself, he didn’t feel tired.

He stopped at the edge of town and put his hands up in the air as he felt an unseen barrier pushing back against his fingertips. Beyond the barrier, the village appeared as it had when he had last visited so long ago. Was Lucy still there? He reached into his pocket to find her picture missing. Did he lose it during the drop? He rummaged through his gear. All of his things were gone. The Thompson disappeared next, followed by his sidearm, and then slowly everything else save his clothing. The throbbing behind his eyes increased to a crescendo of pain until he dropped to his knees. He staggered backward and fell over backward to the ground. Memories of a bad landing, a firefight with Germans, a Luger muzzle stuck against his ear, and then blackness before reawakening in the tree.

“No way.” He gave up all pretense of stealth and shouted in all directions. “What about my men? I had a duty.”

Silence was his only answer as he sat in the dirt.

A hand touched him on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and looked up, seeing her as he remembered. Long black hair, warm brown eyes, and wearing the bright floral dress on the day they had met. He fell in love with Lucy Pardeu from the first moment he had laid eyes on her.

Lucy smiled down at him as she took his hand in hers.

“You’ve marched for far too long. It is time to go home.”

He allowed himself to be helped up. “This can’t be real, is it?” He turned to see a small granite memorial mere yards away. The writing on the obelisk wasn’t clear enough to read, but even at that distance, he recognized the company logo. “We failed to accomplish the mission. We were separated and the Germans cut us down.” He looked into her eyes. “They’re all buried under that monument?”

She nodded.

“Did our side win?”

She gently pulled him close. “You fought bravely to the end. The Germans made an example of you by hanging your body back in the trees with your parachute. Later, your were reburied with your men.”

“Wait, if I’m dead, then how can you…”

“After you were executed, German soldiers made an example of Saint L’Azaire.”

“Well, shit.” He kicked a rock around for several minutes. “How long?”

“Time has no meaning anymore.” She pointed to a bright light on the horizon. “You’ve walked this path from the tree to here many times over the decades. Your reluctance to accept the truth has kept us apart for far too long.”

He took her hand and they started walking. “Hey, I have a question?”

“We have plenty of time for questions. What is it?”

“If I’ve been haunting those woods all this time, did I get a chance to really scare the bejesus out of anyone in all that time?”

Lucy laughed.

The End