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Three Sonnets II

For my Lady.

 

IV

Absence makes the loving heart grow fonder,
the lofty Roman poet would proclaim;
but for me, it only rends my heart asunder
amidst a fiery storm of thunder and flame.
Yet despite the countless miles that us divide,
as like an endless sea of burning fire,
I will ask the gods who reign above to guide
my heart to seek and to your love aspire.
Then know, my love, that though we are apart,
you hold the power to speak the word that dashes
all my hopes, or that which heals my heart,
arising like a phoenix from the ashes.
    With you I prosper, growing day by day,
    but in your absence I will waste away.

 

V

Your smile a thousand broken hearts could mend,
a spark of light more bright than eyes might see;
as though to you the sun her radiance lent,
and to Earth has sent, her envoy here to be.
And like your august lady liege, the sun,
your warmth and brightness lighten up my world,
and send my spirit, eagle-like, anon
soaring to the skies, its wings unfurled.
But Fate herself a cruél foe has proved,
conspir’d to keep us separate, apart.
Still by my pleas her will remains unmoved,
and thus my heart yet bleeds, by fortune scarred.
    A single word from you or just a smile
    would suffice my wounded heart to reconcile.

 

VI

Prometheus, when still the Earth was young,
ascended, boldly, without fear of vengeance
and punishment divine, his courage strong,
to the Olympic heights, the gods to challenge.
That secret, fire, which the gods had kept,
he stole, and for his crime was disciplined:
By Zeus on Kaukasos he was bound, and wept,
thus suffered he who against the gods had sinned.
Likewise, my love, unbound shall I ascend
the lofty pinnacle of your regard,
and there, Prometheus-like, I do intend
to claim an ember from your fiery heart.
    More kindly than majestic Zeus assess,
    my love, my bid your favour to possess.

Outremer

Outremer

For the Lady

 

I saw Venus in the sky tonight and
thought of you.
Faint stars slowly dripping down,
one by one
on the canvas of the spring dusk,
like paint
from the brush of a heavenly painter,
reminded me
that you are not here with me,
nor I with you:
A cruel twist and turn, a test by Fate;
but maktub.
I sent a kiss upon the breeze,
and prayed
that it would carry to your cheek,
your lips,
a silent missive to a distant land,
outremer.

For this week’s flash fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig (I have decided that ‘Wenflafillenge’ is a silly word. You can have it), the theme was ‘over the top pulp insanity’. At 1150 words, this one is a little longer than it should be, but who’s counting? Not exactly my usual style, but it was good fun to write.

The Freedom Fighters and the Flying Battleship

The skyscraper shook with an explosion, causing showers of glass, steel and concrete fragments to rain down everywhere. Aided by short bursts from the jetpacks in their battlesuits, the three Freedom Fighters – Starburst, Black Ronin, and Mr. Comet – leapt from their flying car through the new hole in the outer wall, straight into the secret laboratory of the evil Dr. Ahrenfeldt. Inside, glowing tubes and wires criss-crossed the room, carrying fluids and energy between the contraptions that filled the room, one more hellish-looking than the next. On a platform in the middle of the room, surrounded by computer monitors and instruments, stood the Doctor himself, along with his personal guard of genetically-modified alligator-men.

“Surrender, Dr. Ahrenfeldt!” Starburst called out, raising her battlesuit-armoured fist at the evil scientist. “Your insidious schemes have come to an end!”

The Doctor spun around, an evil sneer on his face. “You’re too late, Freedom Fighters! I will have this city at my mercy in just a few minutes! Guards, attack them!”

Standing on a levitating platform, the Doctor quickly disappeared through a hatch in the ceiling while the alligator-men covered his retreat, slowly advancing on the Freedom Fighters, snarling and baring their knife-like teeth. However, even though the alligator-men were strong opponents, they were no match for the Freedom Fighters, and a short battle later, they had cleared the room of all enemies.

“Great!” Black Ronin said. “Now let’s get after that…”

Suddenly, another strong tremor ran through the tower, and a dark shadow fell over both the tower they were in and the neighbouring buildings, as if something of immense size was blocking the sun. The Freedom Fighters ran to the hole in the wall and looked out. The five top floors had detached themselves from Dr. Ahrenfeldt’s tower, revealing themselves as a heavily armoured flying battleship, bristling with laser cannons! Within moments, the cannons started opening fire on the city below, causing one skyscraper after another to crumble into rubble.

“What do we do?!” Black Ronin asked. “He could lay waste to half the city before the Air Force would even get here!”

“Then we’ll have to stop him ourselves! Come on!” Starburst thumped her jetpack on again, and the three Freedom Fighters jumped back to their flying car and flew up towards the battleship at top speed.

“There!” Mr. Comet shouted and pointed at an opening in the hull of the flying behemoth. “That looks like a shuttle bay!” Dodging and weaving to evade the laser beams that burst through the air all around them, Black Ronin expertly piloted the car through the small bay opening and brought it down hard on the deck, careening straight into a squad of alligator-men who had been guarding the bay, before coming to a rest against the bulkhead.

“Great landing, eh?” Black Ronin said proudly, admiring the chaos their forced entry had caused.

“Better than usual,” Mr. Comet noted dryly.

“Come on!” Starburst said. “We have to find the command bridge… and quickly!”

Fighting their way through the ranks of alligator-men that filled the corridors of the battleship, the Freedom Fighters soon made it to the bridge and entered, having found the door curiously unguarded. Inside, Dr. Ahrenfeldt was standing in front of a large panorama window from where he could enjoy the destruction being wreaked by his flying dreadnought, looking like an arena owner who was waiting to welcome new gladiators into his ring.

“There you are! I was wondering what was taking you so long – no, no,” he interrupted gleefully as Starburst was about to say something, “this is not the end yet. I have one final surprise for you – an old friend I want you to meet.”

He hit a big red button on his console. A hidden door in the bulkhead slid open, and an unnaturally large and muscular man stepped out. At almost nine feet in height, he towered above the heads of any of the Freedom Fighters, and his bulging muscles spoke of a superhuman strength even beyond that of a battlesuit.

“Golem!” Mr. Comet exclaimed. “The Freedom Fighter you captured last year! What have you done to him?!”

“Just a few modifications,” Dr. Ahrenfeldt gloated. “A little brainwashing, hormonal treatments for greater strength and aggression… you’ll find out.”

Growling, Golem dropped into an attack stance and advanced on them. It seemed like there would be no negotiations with their old comrade. The Freedom Fighters spread out around him, wolf pack-like, waiting for an opportunity to counterattack. Suddenly, Golem jumped forward, grabbed Black Ronin, and threw him bodily into the nearby bulkhead with enough force to bend the metal. Black Ronin slid to the floor, obviously out for the count.

Mr. Comet quickly exploited the opening to charge in and deal a heavy blow to Golem’s head; but the giant simply shrugged off the hit that would have stunned most normal men. A single retaliatory backhanded strike brought Mr. Comet down on the deck and the giant loomed over him, preparing to strike the finishing blow.

Suddenly, a computer monitor crashed into Golem’s head from behind. Furiously, he turned around and saw Starburst who was standing on a console just a few yards in front of Dr. Ahrenfeldt.

“Come here, you big tank of lard!” she taunted him. “Try to take me on if you can!”

Howling with rage, Golem launched himself at her. At the very last moment, Starburst punched the jetpack alive and launched up towards the ceiling in a cloud of smoke, evading Golem by a hair’s breadth. Caught by surprise, Golem tumbled into the Doctor and sent them both crashing through the panorama windows, falling to their deaths far, far below.

Moments later, an explosion rocked the whole battleship, and it started to list to one side and rapidly lose altitude.

“It’s going to crash!” Starburst shouted and started towards the door. “Come on!” Hoisting the still unconscious Black Ronin up on his shoulder, Mr. Comet quickly followed her back into the warren of corridors.

The Freedom Fighters made it out of the doomed battleship in the flying car just moments before the large construct crashed into the ground, destroying another city block in addition to the many buildings it had already blasted to rubble. They set down on the rooftop of a nearby building and stood for a moment in a silent contemplation of the extensive destruction that the insane scientist had caused.

“Well, I guess that was that,” Black Ronin finally said.

“Not yet,” Starburst said. She had taken her helmet off and shaken her long, raven-black tresses free, and was now looking thoughtfully at the crashed dreadnought. “Dr. Ahlenfeldt would never have been able to raise the resources for something on this scale himself. There must be something greater behind this…”

——

As always: Liked the story? Hated it? Or somewhere in between? Comments are the sweet, sweet manna that nourishes all writers, so tell me about it! And critique and suggestions for improvement are just as welcome as positive comments; I’ll never get better without them.

Three Sonnets

For a beautiful lady.

 

I

Your eyes the night and stars reflect,
the thousand secrets in the firmament.
A glance from you my confidence has wrecked,
yet faithfully to each I shall attend.
Your smiles with Venus’ beauty would compete,
Apollo’s radiance they all eclipse.
The shades of melancholy they defeat,
each like a ray of sunlight from your lips.
Yet brighter than your beauty shines your spirit,
as radiant as the sun a summer’s day.
By its command my hopes and dreams draw near it,
and by its light are never led astray.
    No simple words your beauty could come near,
    still, these, at least, are from the heart, sincere.

 

II

Should I compare you to a summer’s day,
or rather to a clear and starry night?
Where planets and the Moon a course obey
among the stars which shine down from their heights.
And yet those thousand stars that dust the sky,
though each bespeaking secrets old and new,
enchant me less, my dear, I won’t deny,
than just one single minute spent with you.
And when the night has passed, and with the dawn
the brilliant morning light dispels the stars,
your beauty still remains, complete, unshorn,
a graceful nonpareil whom nothing mars.
    Above the stars, this your distinction proved:
    That you are near, and they are far removed.

 

III

O, come with me and take my hand, my flower,
together to the heavens let us fly.
All Chronos’ time, eternal, shall be ours
to explore this world and those beyond the sky.
We’ll sail an ocean filled with stars and lights
aboard a barque, its sails with dreams imbued.
There I will claim the brightest star, by rights,
and, tribute-like, will name it after you.
We’ll land upon the shores of Via Lactēa;
I’ll yield my heart to you (that which you stole),
and then declare to the world, to Gaia thea,
you are my Lady of the Stars, my soul.
    Yet, regardless of how far away we range,
    my affection for you will never die, nor change.

 

Dragonsbane

It’s very rare that I write poetry, but I got inspired to write this little thing today. I call the style ‘epic vers libre’. Been playing around a bit with the metre – try reading it out aloud to get the best feel for it.

 

Dragonsbane

I stand for a moment in the mouth of the cave,
feeling the icy cold air and the faint smell of sulphur
wafting out from the depths of the mountain.
I am deadly afraid, nigh paralysed with fear
yet I cannot turn back, for my love is within.

My love is within; the villagers took her,
they brought her to this place, our friends and our neighbours.
They held me back, they tried to reason:
“The dragon has awoken, we must pay it our dues.
Would you have all of us perish in flames and in darkness?
She is only one person; a small price to pay for another year’s peace.”
Then they hardened their hearts to my cries and my pleadings,
and carried her off to the depths of the mountain,
a cowardly tribute paid in tears and in blood.

So I curséd their names and their ancestors, spat on their doorsteps,
swore eternal ill will between their houses and mine.
Then I made for the mountain, wearing no mail but my steely resolve,
clutching the rust-covered sword that my father brought back from the wars;
‘twas a far cry removed from the knights of the legends,
clad cap a pied in gleaming plate armours,
hefting their swords that glowed with magics arcane.

But here, today, no knights stand ready,
only I, who am no warrior; but my love is within.
Gath’ring my courage, I enter;
step by step, I press forward to the heart of the mountain.
A single sputtering torch my light in the darkness,
the chilly stone walls dirty and damp to my touch,
the air still heavier with the rank smell of sulphur and rust.

I turn a corner and see it, the dragon!
Majestic in might, clad in black scales,
borne on wings of shadow and fire,
An image of power from the dawn of the world,
immortal in nature, destruction incarnate.

It sees me! and stirs from its rest, rising up, I am dwarfed by its size;
It speaks! a thundering voice that echoes with the weight of the aeons:
“A little human, how quaint. You disturb my sanctum; explain yourself, and quickly!”
Heart racing, shaking with fear, I raise my humble weapon in defiance:
“The woman I love was brought to you as an offer, but she’s not yours to keep;
I demand her release!”

Its contemptuous laughter resounds through the cavern:
“Then come, little man, I will show you your love.”
I follow the wyrm through the tunnels and shafts
till at last we emerge, a cathedral-esque cavern.
On the shores of a lake, a thousandfold marbly-white statues assembled,
I recognise one; I hurry ahead.

I kneel at the statue; ‘tis the shape of my love, but what have they done?
No breath in her lungs, her heart beats no more,
her body mere cold and unyielding stone.
But wait! not wholly of stone: A single bright tear runs down from her eye.
Again, the dragon laughs his contemptuous laughter:
“There, little man, is your precious love.
But as you can see, I fear that all she can offer is a chilly embrace.”

Blinded with wrath, I strike out at the dragon,
slashing with fury at impenetrable scales,
I call out to any divine that will listen,
I run,
I dodge,
a bite,
a strike from the tail,
a breath of fiery death!
Panicked, I jump on its back, climb up to the head
hang on to the horns with every ounce of my strength.
A single frantic stab at the eye, my swordspoint connects!
From the wound a shower of dragonblood burning like acid,
hissing and marking the floor where it falls all around me.
The creature rears up, roars in torment then falls to the ground
flailing about in the anguish of death till at last it lies still.

Now I wander the world, seeking answers and powers,
wearing the intricate silver-weaved mail of the Sidhelien,
and wielding a sword that was forged by the Karamhul lords.
Men call me ‘Dragonsbane’, honours and patronage are thrown at my feet,
but I pay them no heed; the resolve in my heart remains steady, unchanged.
I will wander the world until I hold in my hand the cure to the curse;
then will I return to the mountain
for my love waits within.

——

And as always: Liked or hated it? Or somewhere in between? I really want to know about it, critique and suggestions just as well as any positive comments.

The Kawazi Return

For this week’s Wenflafillenge (still trademarked), it’s all about dinosaurs. So… what more do you need to know? Dinosaurs! Enjoy!

 

The Kawazi Return

“Chief M’wakane?” Tawake, first among the Zuwi warriors, bowed down before the lion and tiger skin-covered throne. “There is a member of the Kawazi tribe at the main gate. He requests to see you.”

The Chief’s brow furrowed. That was not a name he had expected ever to hear again. It had only been a year since his Zuwi tribe had defeated the neighbouring Kawazi tribe, added the Kawazi lands to their own, and driven the survivors out of the valley, across the western mountains into the Dark Valley from which no scouts ever returned.

Since then, the Zuwi had grown to become the strongest tribe in this valley, and it was just a question of time, Chief M’wakane expected, before they could subjugate the rest of their neighbours and become the masters of this valley. Then they would set their sights on the fertile valleys to the east, and M’wakane would not just be a simple Chief, but a Haza-k-t-Hazi, a Chief-of-many-Chiefs.

“What does he want?” the Chief asked.

“He would not say. Shall I let him inside?”

“No. I will come to the gate.” Being allowed inside the palisade was not an honour one extended to defeated enemies.

The Chief rose from the throne and stepped outside in the warm sun. Presumably, a few Kawazi survivors and stragglers had returned to this side of the mountains, and were now forced to turn to their conquerors for protection. What an irony that was. If they were sufficiently obsequious, the Chief decided, he might even show mercy to them – install them on a small, infertile patch of land as a client tribe.

The envoy was waiting patiently in front of the gates, clad in the ceremonial skins and carrying a leaf of the hngara palm. At least, M’wakane thought, their destitution had not caused the Kawazi to forget about the proprieties of doing politics.

“Welcome back, Kawazi!” the Chief called out. “Have you come to beg for your survival? For some scraps of food from your old lands, maybe?” The warriors surrounding him laughed with contempt, and the Chief looked around, feeling pleased with himself. The envoy, however, looked neither obsequious nor very humiliated.

“I have not, Chief M’wakane!” the envoy replied. “I have come to offer you and the Zuwi the gift of life! We will not repeat this offer. Return our lands to us and leave us in peace, or you will be ruined as you tried to ruin the Kawazi!”

M’wakane felt the rage boil up in his chest. “You vermin!” he shouted. “You dare to come here before our gate and make demands of the Zuwi, of your betters?! Begone, before I forget you are carrying that palm leaf!”

“So be it,” the envoy said, turned his back on the gate and Chief M’wakane, and walked back to the forest.

Still fuming, M’wakane went back inside the gates as Tawake fell in beside him. “Is it wise to just send them away, my Chief?” he said. “What if…”

He paused and listened. A slight tremor had run through the ground.

M’wakane shrugged. “If you are so concerned, Tawake, take a patrol out and…”

The ground had shook again, stronger this time.

“What is going on?” M’wakane said annoyedly, as loud noises began to come from the forest edge and the guards were shouting warnings.

He and Tawake quickly ran back to the gates and climbed up one of the platforms just in time to see a gigantic dinosaur, the height of five or six grown warriors, stepped out into the clearing. Dozens of smaller dinosaurs followed it, a Kawazi warrior riding astride each one.

Realising the imminent danger, M’wakane quickly jumped to the ground and tried rallying his awestruck warriors. “Don’t just stand there! Sound the alarm! Get your weapons! Organise the defences!”

It was too late. To the sound of battle cries and loud roars from their mounts, the Kawazi force charged forward, reaching the palisade wall in seconds. The large dinosaur tore the gate apart in a single blow as if it was kindling. The horde of smaller ones swarmed around its legs through the gate and began slaughtering the unprepared defenders.

One of the riders broke off and rode slowly towards Chief M’wakane. He did not recognise the rider, but his headdress marked him as the Kawazi Chief. M’wakane quickly considered his options – there were none. Unarmed, he had no chance in a fight, but a Chief did not run. As the beast stopped in front of him and looked down, hunger and rage glowing in its eyes, he still could not help but admire it. Indeed, the Kawazi had tamed destruction made flesh.

“Please,” M’wakane said quietly. “Have mercy.”

“If you wanted mercy, Zuwi, you should have accepted it when it was offered,” the Kawazi Chief said curtly and loosened the reins of his mount. With lightning speed, it shot forward and bit off M’wakane’s head in a single bite.

The Kawazi Chief nudged his dinosaur forward, stepping over M’wkane’s body and slowly climbing the ceremonial hill in the middle of the village. Ignoring the violence and destruction around him, he contemplated the mountains beyond which lay the eastern valleys and the ocean. The Zuwi had taught a harsh lesson to the Kawazi, but one that had been well learned. The key to safety lay in subjugation of all those who could threaten them.

He patted the side of his restless mount while the screams of the dying Zuwi and the smoke from the burning huts rose towards the skies. The strength of their new allies would let the Kawazi finish what the Zuwi had started. Soon, they would ride out as a burning, all-consuming storm, they would conquer the valleys, and take for themselves the title of Haza-k-t-Hazi. Then, and only then, would the Kawazi be safe.

 

——

Liked the story? Hated it? Or somewhere in between? Comments are the sweet, sweet manna that nourishes all writers, so tell me about it! And critique and suggestions for improvement are just as welcome as positive comments; I’ll never get better without them.

This was originally another Wendig flash fiction challenge (a ‘Wenflafillenge’? (<= trademarked)), but fitting it into the allotted 1000 words proved, shall we say ‘infeasible’, so technically, I failed the challenge. But on the other hand, a story came out of it. So I guess everyone wins. (Except in the story, where pretty much everyone loses.)

 

Operation Platinum Wizard

The control room aboard the US Air Force patrol spacecraft USSC Paul Linebarger was a testament to comfort sacrificed on the altar of functionality. It was not just swelteringly hot – located just above the heat sinks for the Paul Linebarger’s giant spinal laser cannon, the temperature in the control room almost doubled whenever the cannon was armed for firing, as it had been for the last thirty-six hours – but also claustrophobically small and dark, lit up only by the faint red, green and blue lights from the many computer screens, displays and readouts that covered almost every square inch of the metal bulkheads.

To the commanding officer of the Paul Linebarger, Major David Norman, and the other six Air Force officers manning the control stations, however, the heat was quickly becoming a very minor nuisance. Instead, they had their attention entirely focused on the main tactical display where a little red blip labelled ROMEO-1 was slowly moving towards a long, curved green line. If the blip, which represented an approaching space craft they had detected a few hours earlier, did not change its vector, it would cross the line in another five minutes, and the Paul Linebarger was there to make sure that did not happen.

‘There’, specifically, was a holding position near (322619) 2099 KP6, an asteroid that had been discovered a few months earlier, and which was at that moment quite possibly the most important object in the Solar system next to Earth. It contained not just a motherlode of gold, copper, cobalt and platinum, but also several million tonnes of concentrated lithium ore, easily enough to keep fusion reactors and ion drives of at least one great power running for the next couple of millennia.

Thus it was no surprise that the United States had claimed the asteroid almost immediately upon its discovery, and it was equally predictable that the other great powers had complained vigorously, pointing out that the move violated several outer space treaties and principles of international law. However, reasoning that possession was nine-tenths of the law, the White House had not backed down and had instructed the Air Force to establish a presence near the asteroid to enforce the claim. Having moved slowly down through the digestive tract of the military chain of command, that job had eventually ended up in the hands of Major Norman and the crew of the Paul Linebarger in a mission the top brass had creatively labelled ‘Operation Platinum Wizard’.

Their orders had been composed in that particular dialect of military language that somehow managed to be both completely clear and totally ambiguous at the same time:

“Following standard rules of engagement, establish space superiority around asteroid (322619) 2099 KP6 by all necessary means.”

Of course, which means were actually ‘necessary’ was a judgement call that the top brass had kindly left for Major Norman to make, and if the approaching craft continued on its current vector, he might have to make that judgement uncomfortably soon.

Unwilling to postpone the inevitable any longer, the Major turned to his communications officer. “Comms, establish a line to that craft. Let’s see what they want.”

As soon as the comms officer reported an open connection, the Major grabbed his microphone. “Unidentified craft, this is the USSC Paul Linebarger. You are approaching a military exclusion zone established by the United States Air Force. Request you alter your vector by fourteen degrees ecliptic lateral.”

It took a short while for the reply to arrive, only barely understandable above a constant, heavy static. “Paul Li…ger, …is is PRC …sel …inzhou, Senior Li…enant …ngwei commanding. We a… unarmed resear… …ssel, not …litary. We reque… free passage … treaty.”

Major Norman glanced over at the comms officer with annoyance. “Can you clean that up? I need the name of the craft.”

“We’re getting a lot of interference from solar wind,” the comms officer said. “I could try to run it through the analysis software, but that would take at least fifteen minutes.”

Norman shook his head. “Negative. We don’t have time for that. Give me your best guess.”

A breif silence followed while the comms officer listened to the radio message again. “It sounds to me like they’re saying ‘Linzhou’,” he finally said.

Major Norman nodded curtly. “Look it up. And Weapons, get me a firing solution on that tin can.”

Both the temperature and the tension in the command room rose by another couple of degrees while the comms officer silently searched through the registry database.

“Yeah, there she is,” he finally said. “The Linzhou, classified as escort frigate, Liberation Army Space Fleet. Definitely military. Well armed, too. Spinal laser, three missile bays, point defence guns.”

The sensor operator looked uncertain. ”Dimensions of the contact matches well enough, but the energy signature is all wrong. It’s emitting far less waste heat than it should with all those weapons.”

“I need a conclusion, gentlemen,” Major Norman snapped impatiently. On the tactical screen, the red blip representing the Chinese craft moved still closer to the line that marked the exclusion zone where Major Norman would have to use ‘necessary means’. Conveniently, the line also matched the distance at which the two crafts would have a reasonable chance of hitting each other with laser fire. Letting an armed and possibly hostile craft getting that close would put their own craft and everyone inside at risk.

“I guess they could be storing the waste energy in the heat sinks instead of venting it,” the sensors operator finally said. ”Useful if they want to appear unarmed… but they must be boiling in there.”

Major Norman nodded. That sounded entirely like what he would do in that situation. “‘Research vessel’, right,” he muttered under his breath. “And I guess your engines run on rainbows and fairy glitter.”

He opened the line to the Chinese again. “Linzhou, Paul Linebarger. Our registry shows you as a PLA-SF escort frigate, not a research ship. This is your final warning. Change your vector by at least thirty-six degrees ecliptic lateral immediately, or you will be fired upon.”

Paul Line…ger, …zhou. Not unders… Check y… registry. We … …jing daxue. … are con…nuing on vector,” the answer came back after a moment.

Major Norman glanced up on the tactical display again. The Linzhou had crossed into the exclusion zone. If their weapons were armed, and he was convinced they were, they could open fire on the Linebarger at any moment. There seemed to be no alternatives.

“Firing solution acquired!” the weapons officer called out after a few seconds that felt like an eternity.

“Weapons, main cannon, fire, fire!” The stress and tension made Norman shout the order louder than necessary, his voice reverberating against the metal bulkheads.

The complete lack of sensory feedback made firing the main cannon a surreal experience. There was no loud laser-like sound, no bright energy beam – not that the Linebarger had windows, anyway – and no shudder running through the hull of the craft; just a couple of changing numbers on the weapons displays, and a red blip on the tactical screen that suddenly was not there anymore.

“Contact Romeo-1 destroyed,” the sensor operator said matter-of-factly. “Radar shows extensive debris. Radiation from probable reactor breach. Still not seeing much of a heat signature, though.”

“Right, we’ll go over the sensor data again later,” the Major said distractedly. “Pilot, set a course for the debris, and Ops, prepare for rescue operations.” It was highly unlikely that any of the Chinese crew would have survived, but they had to check regardless.

###

The control room had returned to an uncomfortable silence for half an hour when the comms officer spoke up. “Major?”

Major Norman had worked with the man long enough to recognise his ‘I have bad news’ tone. “Problems?”

“I just checked the registry again. There’s another Chinese craft called the Jinzhou, quite similar to the Linzhou… except it’s, er… it’s a research craft, sir, belongs to the University of Beijing.”

Major Norman fought to keep his voice steady, but a tinge of panic still crept into it. “Are you telling me we may have just destroyed an unarmed civilian Chinese craft?”

“I think so, sir.”

Several excuses immediately flashed through the Major’s thoughts. It had all seemed to fit together at the time. He had been under pressure. There had been so little time. His craft and crew might have been at risk. The solar storm had interfered with communications. His command staff had agreed with him. None of that would carry much weight in the court martial. It was his responsibility, the rules of engagement required him to verify the identity of the target, and he had failed to do that.

“I should… go report in. Weapons, you have the control,” he finally said, then set off from his seat and floated towards the exit hatch, steeling himself for the worst – and possibly last – after-action debriefing he would ever have.

###

DATE: 2101/09/08-02:11EST
MSSG PRECEDENCE: FLASH (Z)
FROM: COMDEEPSPACE
TO: ALL UNITS

FOLLOWING INCIDENT NEAR (322619) 2099 KP6, PRC MILITARY FORCES HAVE ATTACKED US TARGETS ON EARTH, IN EARTH ORBIT AND DEEP SPACE. WARTIME RULES OF ENGAGEMENT ARE NOW IN EFFECT AGAINST ALL PRC CRAFT AND ASSETS. USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS IS AUTHORIZED BY NATIONAL COMMAND AUTHORITY AT DISCRETION OF LOCAL COMMANDERS. MAY GOD BE WITH US ALL.

——

Liked the story? Hated it? Or somewhere in between? Tell me about it! Critique and suggestions for improvement are just as welcome as positive comments; I’ll never get better without them.