Saturday, 15 September 2012


Lounge XII was normally a large, echoing space with sheer plastic walls, plastic tables, and metal chairs bolted to a metal-grille floor.  At one end was a counter from which food was served and drinks dispensed, and both the side walls had screens mounted on them showing ship-information.  The Eagalante was too far out from Earth to receive any kind of real-time transmissions or entertainment feeds, so those were recorded and not usually played in public areas.  All this had changed for the cocktail party though.
The floor was now carpeted, something thick and plush enough that it was difficult to walk through unless she picked her feet up as though she was doing knee-raises in the gym.  Her dress definitely wasn’t cut for that, so she resigned herself to trudging around for the evening.  There were tables suspended from the ceiling by slender, silvery chains that connected to some kind of filigree centrepiece; the tables were dotted with glasses, mostly empty.  The walls were hidden behind tapestries that depicted scenes from the Eagalante’s own history, and must have been specially made for this party.  Anna shivered a little as she wondered at the expense and intent of such a gesture.  She scanned across them, spotting the launch of the Eagalante first, and then the first port of call, a planet called Safire II.  The tapestry showed the planet as seen from the ship in orbit, seemingly peaceful though a little more colourful than most due to the dust storms that slowly precessed around the planet.  Anna’s eyes widened a little; she hadn’t been on the Eagalante back then but she’d heard the stories of the crew expecting a quiet planet and sending down a trade mission, from which one person returned, half-dead and having staged a daring escape to warn them of the despot now in power.  Hours after they returned the Eagalante detected the launch of both missiles and small orbital gunships and accepted that the despot on the surface wanted to capture them.
The initial skirmishes had been one-sided, with the Eagalante destroying the missiles after they’d left the atmosphere, just in case they were nuclear, and attempting to just cripple the gunships.  There were a couple of accidents where the gunships were destroyed, or ripped open to the vacuum, but mostly the gunships crews should have been able to save themselves.  The despot on the planet below ordered the gunships shot down from the surface rather than let them land.
The second wave of the battle came just after the Eagalante received word from Earth, then not so far away that it couldn’t be contacted for advice, which simply told them to contain the situation and Earth would investigate it in due course.  The Captain of the Eagalante then, Captain Peverett, reportedly swore so colourfully that his First Office was reaching for his radio to get the ship’s doctor to sedate him before he calmed down again.  Then the missiles launched from space were detected, much closer, and faster moving.
The Eagalante suffered a small amount of damage from the missiles it couldn’t destroy in time, but its defensive shielding was more than adequate, and the damage was from the impact shock rather than penetration.  Captain Peverett at that point decided that containment was only possible if the despot of Safire II was unable to leave the planet before Earth got there.  Rather than waste armament attacking population centres and manufactories, which he was certain would be co-located to try and inhibit an attacker from assaulting them, he used the ship’s gigawatt lasers to heat the atmosphere over the next three days, stirring the already problematic dust clouds into a violent super-hurricane and then pouring more energy into it as it attempted to vent across the world.  The assaults on the Eagalante died off half-way through the second day, but Captain Peverett remained firm on his plan, and when the Eagalante finally broke orbit and started on to its second destination the surface of Safire II could barely be seen for the raging tumult of the dust-storms.  Where a rare gap opened up all that was visible of the land below was bare, sand-blasted rock, and the oceans seemed sluggish and silted.
Reportedly Earth had sent a message after the Eagalante to report on what they’d found when they arrived, but no-one on board the ship would admit to having ever heard that the message had arrived.
Anna shook herself, wondering why she was surprised that Michal should have decided to include a tapestry of what was arguably an atrocity in one of his dinner parties.  A hand fell to rest gently on her shoulder, and she tensed, turning her head to see that Captain Leverel had appeared next to her.
“He’s got tapestries of all the deployments of the EST,” he said, his gaze following hers.  “If I didn’t think he was an inhuman little shit I’d say he’s got a thing for you.”

1 comment:

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