|Summary of a Novel for Milieu-0
In the Style of a Gentleman
The opening scene of Commander Niall Viilikistraatan on the good ship Red Spear in the midst of battle. Guns pound, deck plates shudder and huge cranking and hissing power plants boil. The feel is more of an early battleship than a spaceship. The Red Spear is a man-of-war with three corvettes in convoy engaged with a number of system defence boats in Huero. The system was, until recently, a Santrian acquisition, but it appears to have been overrun while the Red Spear was en route from Down on a courier mission.
The SDBs engaged are disabled but they pick up another 4 on the scope as they run for jump. If they engaged during the final jump preparations they will be sitting ducks. The corvette Running Boar, Lt. Conor Mayes commanding, radios in to volunteer to head them off single handed to give the others a chance to make a clear escape. Commander Niall refuses as there is "safety in numbers". Lt. Mayes reports that their jump tanks have been split from end to end and they only have fuel for insystem manoeuvring anyway. Niall changes his mind, accepts the assignment and promotes Mayes to Light Commander. Mayes objects as his family has never held a position so high. Niall says "it's about time they did" and with great emotion he turns the Running Boar into the teeth of the storm. Niall synchs up with the others, they co-ordinate their jump and memorial service for the crew of the Running Boar.
In jump Niall discusses the situation with his 2nd, Lt. Fergus Burke. He is chided for not following strict tradition with regards to promotion. Fergus is from a higher placed family and even he didn't have the right to promote him. They fall to analysis and we discover basic astrography. Huero is the last world along the anti-spinward flank of Cordovian territory gained to be lost. The Boar fleet, commanded by Admiral Bricriu Burgh is most likely cut off. Their duties have been courier service along the Finglas - RathDrum - Down - Clontarf flank. Niall curses his weak Vilani blood that has kept him from a higher commission.
* * *
When the Red Spear arrives in RathDrum they are quickly challenged by their system defence boats. They are informed that there has been a recent engagement from a small party of ships arriving on the Huero vector. They used the Read Spear's transponders and broadcast of terrible atrocities committed by the Boar fleet. Colonet Math Drum met them personally to get more information but the trap was revealed and he died in the resulting conflict. His daughter (and only child) Eva holds the titular command of the system navy and insists on meeting him.
Niall and Fergus discuss their reservations about her on the way down-planet. She's young, unknown, and can't directly command. Against normal protocol (for a woman) she meets them "on the dismount" from the shuttle and asks for "stirrup news" before they retire to refresh themselves. Niall delivers the bad news about Huero and she leaves them to prepare for dinner.
At dinner she asks if they can confirm or deny any of the propaganda their ruse counterparts revealed (word of the Boar fleet razing an entire world). He can say he has heard rumours but nothing factual. She has read his logs, which is her right, but it irritates him. She asks of the nobility of Conor Mayes's blood and Niall, again, defends him but, contrary to his expectation, she agrees with him. She asks him to join her later on the balcony.
Later he finds her alone there. He tries to withdraw until a suitable escort is present, as she is above him in station, but she persuades him to abandon protocol for once. He explains that because of his mixed bloodline he is forced to adhere to it ever closer. She speculates that, in reality there is already a lot of mixing even in the "pure blood" families. The Imperials are said to possess a machine to work out such things and this would most likely destroy all the houses.
So he does join her in the end. She shows in the night sky frequent meteors can be seen, the detritus of her father's ship, re-entering. She says there is some pressure for her to let a cousin more directly manage the system navy. But her hatred of Cordova and desire for satisfaction beats no less firmly in her breast even though she is a woman and she does not want to hand over.
He finds a chord of sympathy for her. His blood prevents him from higher command, as if he had one leg, but no lessons his desire. She, however, can retain her position through social convention and he urges her to do so. Especially since he cannot. She agrees then, that she will do so for both of them if he gives her a token, a button of his uniform. Although it is inappropriate for one of his station to give such a thing to one of her station he does so.
Niall and Fergus discuss her on the way up-station to the Red Spear. They are both impressed, despite their anticipation. Fergus is jealous of the missing button and what it represents. Niall curses his blood again. Nothing can come of giving a "love token" since she is beyond conventional courting. Fergus does not cheer him up by reminding him that he is of sufficient station to court her!
* * *
On the next border run they encounter a war torn Boar fleet at Down on the way back to a central rendezvous at Marino. The troopers are unusually quiet and shell shocked. They ask for news but most don't know the larger picture. Just horror stories of Imperial support for Cordova. Small, fast ships the size of a man-of-war that can outgun their battleships.
Amongst this Niall and Fergus are summoned to an audience with Admiral Burgh on the Dreadnought Crimson Boar. There is an imposing "throne room" there but it can be seen that it is actually the mess hall, converted while docked.
Admiral Burgh gives off an air of genteel civility and is a deft wielder of protocol. Very "old school". After greeting them lineages are formally related. He addresses Fergus and respectfully informs him of the death of his father in a Cordovian engagement. "He gave his life with supreme honour in the style of a gentleman." His badge of rank was lost in the battle but Burgh offers one of his family's that he once wore when he was of that rank to stand in its stead until his estates can provide one. Fergus is promoted to Light Commander and a command awaits him.
He then moves on to a more general briefing on the state of things. "Not good" is a concise summary. Losses were expected to be high but they hadn't expected to lose territory. The reason they started their offensive was as a pre-emptive strike to prevent a Cordovian invasion with Imperial bought new technology. They have, however, lost everything they had originally gained. Each Cordovian task force has had one or two Imperial ships running with it. In just one ship they have nearly the same armament as the rest of the task force.
Their intelligence, though, has been passed on the text of the treaty between the Imperium and Cordova. It says the Imperials will only help to protect Cordovia's borders and not to assist in their expansionistic plans. The fleets are regrouping at Marino to assess the situation. There is no garuntee that Corgova will not attempt to snatch one or two of their worlds so the border watch is quite important.
This focuses his attention on Niall. He says his promotion of Conor of the Mayes family was beyond his traditional station, but had the style of a gentleman. He calls forward his herald and has it officially recorded.
* * *
After another loop he has dinner with Eva. Elements of the Fox fleet (scouts) have reported a disturbing buildup of Cordovian forces along the border but a suspicious absence of Imperial sighting. To the best of their knowledge the Boar, Wolf, and Bear fleets are still massed at Marion. Some reports say they have already rebuffed Imperial negotiation, others that they prepare for one final drive to Cordova itself. No one knows for sure.
When they leave she offers him a button from her uniform. He tries to pursuade her that all this is hopeless and he should not take her button but should return his own one and put an end to it. He will never be promoted and there is no hope. She says it enables her to politely rebuff other offers of matrimony and to keep her commission. She says she will only return it if he asks but if he does she will resign her commission.
He is pursuaded not to and takes her button as well.
* * *
On the return run he gets as far as Down where he is aggressively hailed by system defense. He is ordered to bring his ship into dock. He receives a contrary transmission from the "Black Covert" a Fox scout requesting a spatial rendezvous.
When in direct contact a grim and harried Light Lt. informs him that there have been some developments. He bears news from Marino: the Imperium has betrayed them during negotiations. Not only do their ships appear unnaturally armoured they can also overjump the rest of the fleet, moving two parsecs in a single jump instead of one. In a scant 3 weeks, the time it takes the Red Spear to patrol ¼ of the flank, a task force comprised solely of Imperial ships overjumped to Santry itself.
With the planet under guns the government capitulated and ordered the recall of the fleet captains to stand trial for war crimes. The Imperium provided guarantee of their (original) borders and sovereignty therin.
However the Bear Admiral had been present in Santry at the time personally briefing the government and has handed over and summarily executed.
The Black Covert has an open letter from the fleet command to all ships. This speaks of honour, patriotism, and loyalty to Santry. It builds up to the present dilemma where loyalty to the Santry government conflicts with loyalty to the Santry people. It is a decision for each commander to make according to their individual integrity. Of the Admirals, all feel the greater loyalty to the people. The fleets wi;l deploy as best suits the defense of the Santrian people. The Bear fleet, though, will bring a personal protestation to Santry and seek justice for the death of their commander.
Additionally there is a personal letter from Admiral Burth to Niall saying how he hopes he will choose the side of the people. Although it is likely to be grim and hopeless, it is what is right. If he chooses this service he also promotes him to the rank of Captain. Although this is beyond his traditional station he is assured that he will act in the style of a gentleman particularly given other developments.
Niall is momentarily undecided. Beyond all hope what he most desires is in his hands. But in taking it he will have to undertake a life that may prevent him from realising his desires. He asks about "other developments".
Three weeks ago a Cordovian force launched an attack from Huero to RathDrum. No fleet was in a position to answer this and the system is currently in Cordovian hands. They have heard of other such incursions.
Niall is dead set againt capitulating now and wants to depart immediately to RathDrum. The Scouts advise otherwise, he would merely be throwing his ships away. Rather there is a refueling drop off of Clontarf where loyalist elements are grouping...
* * *
Two years later the Red Spear hangs in the trailing trojan of a moonlet of the world of Feesha, deep in the fringe. This is a safe-house planet for them. An automated buoy recorded the regular arrivial of an unclassified ship making a drop on the moonlet. They now wait in ambush.
Sure enough, the ship arrives at 100 diameters and begins an approach course ot the moonlet. As it becomes occluded by the moonlet the Red Spear goes to maximum acceleration to close distance as rapidly as possible. They triangulate with their buoy and watch it land. As they prepare to slingshot around one of their power units (#12) gives way. They don't round on the trajectory they want and their salvos fall short. The enemy is now alerted to their presence.
To pull out of their slingshot at an optimal trajectory they need full power. Niall visits engineering and what they work out is to cut power to the interial compensator (life support and almost everything else is out anyway during battle stations) and just strap down.
The Imperial ship launches and hails them as they close. It says it is peaceful and has not violent intentions. If they consider its presence a hostile threat then it is perfectly happy to leave.
Niall responds and identifies that his is a member of the Santrian Navy and is currently at war with the Imperium and all their ships would have to leave before a cessation of hostilities. He says if their captain immediately surrenders he will just take them prisoner.
She says she is the captain and if they are Boar why do they bother with the fiction that they will hold her prisoner.
He derides her lack of understanding of honour and they continue their attack.
The Imperial ship doesn't have the same acceleration as they have. They sling past and begin to decelerate for another strafe. They land several shots but detect no damage. All of the missiles explode before hitting the target.
They detect no counter fire either. Just anomolous electro-magnetic sensor readings. On this pass he orders only half the guns to fire and goes up to the crow's nest to watch. He discoveres that it has a laser, unheard of on a ship that small. As he watches, though, its point defense takes out their half-salvo and starts strafing them. He just abouts makes it back to the bridge as they are hit and lose power.
The bad news from engineering is that it wasn't the bad unit (#12) going down but rather the shot penetrated the hull taking out one unit alotogether (decompressing the deck) and the lurch ripped two more from their housings. They are down to 65% power with no real hope of improvement.
Their speed is only slightly better than the enemy. They are nearly out of solid shot missiles. Another run at this speed would give the enemy ship ample time to return fire.
Niall orders the following. They begin their approach. Then they canter over and spin the ship repeatedly firing their forward guns as the come into line. Not with solid shells but with grape shot. They then accelerate at speed behind the cloud of debris that confuse the Imperial point defense system.
Just as they make their closest approach the rear guns launch the last of their solid shot ordinance at maximum delta-V. A direct hit is scored and the ship is left drifting. The Red Spear comes around to board. The enemy ships radios and surrenders unconditionally. Niall asks sarcastically if she has changed her opinion of their honour. She replies: "I have little choice but to hope you have more of a sense of your brethren."
* * *
Abagail is brought to him in the mess hall which has been converted into a "great hall". She is just wearing her ship's suit. Niall formally asks for her weapons. She says they are locked in her ship's locker. "I didn't really think I would be let walk onto an enemy ship armed." Niall snorts and she is lead back to her ship to collect them and bring them back and formally hand them over.
She asks why they bothered. He says that having willingly surendered her arms she is bound by honour not to attack. She is to accompany him on a tour of the ship. On the tour they've repressurised engineering but #7 is a complete write-off and only a miracle and drydock can save #5 and #6. #12 is no more tempermental than usual. They lack the power for a Gas Giant refueling and can probably only land on a planet but not take off. Niall accepts this grimly.
He shows Abigail her room and says she will be called for dinner. Her door is not locked.
At dinner they are all dressed in somewhat threadbare uniforms. Abigail asks them why and he says they can only expect to retain their honour by keeping to the trappings of civilisation.
She is derisive and asks if destroying a whole planet is honourable. He says they don't subscribe to Imperial tactics. She claims that Leonde was wiped out by the Boar fleet dropping a C-charged rock on it. He says it is far more likely that their Sir Karl did so as he threatened to do the same to Santry and that Admiral Burgh is a gentleman of honour. He asks her if she can unequivocally state beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Imperium would never do such a thing. She can't.
She says the power plant looked badly off. What was he going to do? He says they have fuel for one jump and will emergency land on the next world. They have a depo there and may be able to scavange parts from one of their downed ships. One of its plants is still working and powering a small city. The natives are likely to miss it but if needs require...
Abigail is doubtfull that the ship could survive a atmosphere landing in its current unpowered state. He says they have no choice but to try. She reaches a decision and says her ship's power supply is undamaged. With a bit of work they could retro-fit it. She talks with the engineer and they decide to give it a go.
The new power plant is the size of a single old one and has a higher output than the lot combined. The crew is less reproachful of Abigail.
* * *
The next planet is a industrial revolution era setting. The remains of the Bull's Eye lie here as well as Seamus Riley, the "commander" and native liason. Their host country is currently at war and is benefiting from their guests. The remains of their ship power the city and a drone satelite gives aerial recon.
They remove all but one of the old power plants which delight the city. The space thus freed is reconfigured as extra fuel tankage once baffles are fitted. Niall is delighted as this means they can double jump through Down which previously was too fortified to refuel in.
They collect a full supply of ordiance from the city-state that is only too happy to help them. Many of the crew have taken native wives. One has been lost while serving giving tactical advice to their army. Niall has to remind them that the are still serving Santrian naval officers but doesn't push it too far.
* * *
Since they have the extra tanks they have enough fuel to jump through null points or to jump in with a path of retreat. Niall's plan is to use this to jump from a fringe depo into Grenada and do a drive by shooting and jump out under their noses.
Abigail is included inthe planning meetings which she queries. She had assumed she would just be left at the industrial world. Niall says she is a serving officer and it would not be honourable to trap her on a planet. As she is treated she is expected to behave. Where it does not conflict with her national interests she is expected to give full and reasoned advice. And where it does she is expected not to interfere.
She accepts this and suggets an alternative course for their planned attack that has several other contingencies should civilian traffic prove to get in the way. They accept.
* * *
The Red Spear hangs in space around the Gas Giant of the RathDrum system. Niall sits in the crow's nest looking out at the blue speck of RathDrum itself. The intercom plays local system and planetary chatter.
Abigail joins him. The locals aren't prone to broadcasting much news. Most is in Spanish. The system is as well protected as Down but they can't cover all the Gas Giants They have refueled and plan to jump out after monitoring for a while.
He says they can't do a raid like at Greneda. System defense would cut them to shreds. No matter how good the course. Abigail concurrs. RathDrum always had good shipyards.
Abigail talks about the benefits of propaganda. Niall is not convinced but does think it would be a morale boost to the planet to let them know they hadn't been totally abandoned. What he decides to do, in the end, is power up the transponder, so they know who they are dealing with, and broadcast some traidtional music prior to jump. Once detected it would take system defense 20 minutes to react. Plenty of time for a few verses.
The non-bridge crew are assembled on the mess deck and a jump course prepped. They start their broadcast with the crew singing to one's concertina. After a stanza commo says that they're picking up another tight beam transmission to them. The signal ID is "Running Boar", the ship Niall lost in Huero. Niall gets a fix and cancels the jump course. As soon as they turn off their transponder the signal stops.
They follow the signal to one of the outer moons. In an orbit that keeps them continually in darkness a SDB of old Santrian design float. They grappel and board to find the ship in powered down condition and the cew all in low berths. The computer hails them with a Santrian trivia quiz. They get all the answers right and it greets them with a personal message from Eva. In the holds of this ship are a stockpile of equipment. They dispersed the system defense once it became clear that the Cordovians had more than they could handle. They wait now to aid any liberating Santrian offensive. In the meantime Eva smuggles out to them what she can for the stockpiles via loyal miners.
They take the booty and run as their twenty minutes expire and the scrambled SDBs start coming within range.
In jump they inspect the crates and find real guided missiles, Santrian tea and fresh uniforms.
* * *
Later the Red Spear is servicing a fuel depo at Down. They meet up with another man-of-war, the Blood Red. They are a fairly unsavoury lot. They want to "borrow" Abigail, just for a few hours. In conversation we learn that a general fleet assembly has been called and that's why the Red Spear has been making these repetitive fuel jumps. The fleet is to surprise them by double jumping through Down.
Ostensibly the strike is to take out the major shipyards at RathDown. The Blood Red hints that there may be more planned. RathDrum rightfully belongs to Santry but is still held by Cordova. He thinks they Leonde answer would be right. "Better dead than Cordovan". Niall is horrified and demands he explain himself fully. The commander refuses saying his weak blood obviously isn't fit for the right answer.
Also he had forgotten his infatuation with Eva, improper as it is. Niall reminds him that he is now of appropriate rank to court her. The Captain sneers that he is of rank beyond his blood. It will soon catch up with him. It matters not. She is unlikely to survive the encourter anyway. He has just come in from RathDrum where he, basically, gave her away. She has been driven into hiding so that when the operation comences she will devote all her reserves to it.
Niall threatens to cut him down for willingly endangering a member of the nobility but the commander says he is just following orders.
Niall throws him off the ship and rants about it to Abigail. She says that it is a classic historical pattern. The losers of a civil war turn from their ideals to banditry and become no more than common criminals justifying their more and more desperate actions in the name of their lost ideals.
Niall ranges that he is no bandito but a noble officer in a noble cause. Abigail says that it is the winners that write the history books and he will only be remembered as a bandito. This seems to upset her a lot as well but Niall is oblivious to this.
* * *
The fleet jumps in and Niall requests and is granted audience with the Admiral aboard the Crimson Boar. The Throne hall is done up, as before, and, if examined closely bears some marks of lack. Niall has brought Abigail as his second.
He meets with Fergus whose ship is also in port. They exchange old news. Fergus will do the formal introductions. Admiral Burgh is praiseworthy of Niall as the refueling has proven vital to the whole operation. He grants him some land from his own personal estates on Marino in thanks, to be redeemed whenever Marino is recovered. He is curious to know why he has brought a foreign national of a nation of questionable honourability as both a woman and as his formal 2nd.
Niall says she is a foreign officer that is a prisoner of war and has been treated as such. She has behaved honourably in return and never worked against their interests. The enemies customs are different than their own but are to be respected, none the less. Burgh seems happy enough with that answer. He says he'd love to chat but they have a war to fight.
Niall gets to the point. He wants to know if their fleet was responsible for Leonde and if they plan for a similar attack on RathDrum.
Burgh says Leonde was a tragic business. A desparate move by desparate people. Since then it has been alternately claimed and derided by both sides as fitted the situation. Their objective in this case, though, is to destroy the RathDrum shipyards. Since they are expecting to surprise them he doesn't think either side will be in a desparate mood.
Except the loyalist defenders. Niall points out.
Burgh considers this. He then says he had planned a different position for the Red Spear (actually: as fuel tender) but would instead offer him a position in the Vanguard, low guard screening the operation from any surface or low-orbit engagement. It is a high risk position but one in which he could take a personal hand in working with any remaining loyalst defense. Niall siezes this. Fergus also requests this duty and has it granted.
Once dismissed Abigail says it is hopeless. Burgh didn't deny blasting Leonde and the move only serves to ensure Niall will be taken out. It is a suicide position. Niall says he must act as honour dictates. She can remain here or on any other ship if she is not prepared to die.
* * *
The fleet drops quietly into RathDrum and refuels at a ice moonlet of the gas giant. They power up behind the gas giant and slingshot, slient running toward RathDrum. Just as they break and enter planetary orbit they blast their challance and open fire.
Niall cruises the high altitudes blasting surface military instalations. Fergus, in high guard, picks up a squadron of fighters deploying from an orbital platform. They fly up to intercept. Fergus's ship is first to reach them and takes minor damage and can't maneuver. Niall offers to transfer their crew but his engineer says it is only the couplings that are destroyed and it will be fixed in 10 minutes. Niall breaks formation and stops to defend him. By the time it is fixed three corvettes and many fighters have engaged and are giving them a seriously difficult time.
Just when all appears lost a salvo of fire blows them away. The planetary SDBs, Eva in command, have scrambled and relieved them. Together they race off to engage ships heading toward the main fleet, busily destroying the shipyards.
The fleet completes its operation and sounds the recall. Niall will not leave the crews of the SDBs who have stood so long. The Red Spear and Fergus hard lock with them to transfer as many as possible. However the enemy is regrouping and will cut them apart in their vulnerable state.
Eva has refused to come in as it is her ancestral holdings and rockets off to engage. There is no hope that she can survive on her own but two might have a chance. Niall says he can ask no other and will command a SDB himself. Abigail says he can't fly one alone and volunteers. He says he needs her to command the Red Spear. She is surprised but duly accepts.
All the crew of the Red Spear volunteer to be his second. He denies them all except for one of the SDB crew: 2nd petty officer Connell. His freezer did his heart in and he's unlikely to survive long anyway. He'd rather die in combat. Niall accepts and publically promotes him to 1st petty officer. He protests since it is beyond his family's traditional rank but Niall says he has the style of a gentleman.
* * *
The two SDBs rocket off to engage the closing enemy. They account well for themselves the but enemy is more interested in blood than damage. Rather than flank them and destroy the escaping ships they seem more keen on just obliterating them, especially as Eva is there. The best tactic is to use themselves as bait and lead them away out of orbit and use their bloodlust against them. The RathDrum star is quite close, being a M type.
The enemy closes in the solar corona and the majority is taken out. 1st Petty Officer Connell dies and Niall has to transfer under fire to Eva's ship. They are finally united amongst the dieing remains of her crew. Niall's abandoned ship is blown away drawing their attention to the fact that the enemies have regrouped.
They dodge solar flares and descend into a lower orbit. The SDBs are much more tolerant to radiation than the pursuing ships. The danger is that the gravity will get them. They make the decision and dive lower, right into an erupting flare. The enemies are blown away.
* * *
The final scene is of the Red Spear in orbit around Marino. Abigail commands and is broadcasting to the Imerpial base from orbit there.
She says their last transmission was that they were achieving a stable orbit but too deep for them to pull out from. They were retiring to the freezers to maintain system guard. Their radio beacon is left on broadcasting "Honour... Courage... Love...". Every 66 days at the high point of their orbit the signal is clear enough to be picked up on public radio all over RathDrum.
She informs the Imperium that she will remain commanding the Red Spear answering to the Boar fleet. Some may call her a traitor. If so, it is only a small treason. If she didn't, many more would step into her place and the end result would be the same.
This way, even though they are doomed to lose, their history will be chronicled in the Imperial archives as a true and accurate account.
She signs off and gives the order to jump.