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 Post subject: 2018 BZ Narrative
PostPosted: January 26th, 2018, 9:25 pm 
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Even after five years Feared_1 couldn't help but wince at the memory of the image: the Merciless, out of control, colliding with the red hot planet Rend and then disintegrating completely into the planet's surface. The loss of the ship itself had been bad enough; but the fact that it was the Merciless had made it far worse. That particular ISDF Carrier had been Stalker's personal ship, and despite the Admiral's legendary-and often lethal-capriciousness, serving aboard it had long been perceived as the quick line to promotion.

Which meant that when the Merciless died, so also did a disproportionate fraction of the best young and midlevel officers and crewers.

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The ISDF had never recovered from that fiasco. With the Mercilesses leadership gone, the battle had quickly turned into a confused rout, with several other ISDF Carriers being lost before the order to withdraw had finally been given. Feared_1 himself, taking command when the Chimera's former captain was killed, had done what he could to hold things together; but despite his best efforts, they had never regained the initiative against the Scions. Instead, they had been steadily pushed back . . . until they were here.

Here, in what had once been the backwater of the ISDF, with barely a quarter of its former systems still under nominal control. Here, aboard a Carrier manned almost entirely by painstakingly trained but badly inexperienced young people, many of them conscripted from their home worlds by force or threat of force.

Here, under the command of possibly the greatest military mind the ISDF had ever seen.

Feared_1 smiled-a tight, wolfish smile-as he again looked around his bridge. No, the end of the ISDF was not yet. As the arrogantly self-proclaimed Scions would soon discover. He glanced at his watch. Two-fifteen. Grand Admiral Sly would be meditating in his command room now . . . and if standard procedure frowned on shouting across the bridge, it frowned even harder on interrupting a Grand Admiral's meditation by intercom. One spoke to him in person, or one did not speak to him at all. "Continue tracing those lines," Feared_1 ordered the engineering lieutenant as he headed for the door. "I'll be back shortly."

The Grand Admiral's new command room was two levels below the bridge, in a space that had once housed the former commander's luxury entertainment suite. When Feared_1 had found Sly-or rather, when the Grand Admiral had found him-one of his first acts had been to take over the suite and convert it into what was essentially a secondary bridge.

A secondary bridge, meditation room . . . and perhaps more. It was no secret aboard the Chimaera that since the recent refitting had been completed the Grand Admiral had been spending a great deal of his time here. What was secret was what exactly he did during those long hours.

Stepping to the door, Feared_1 straightened his tunic and braced himself. Perhaps he was about to find out. "Captain Feared_1 to see Grand Admiral Sly," he announced. "I have informa-"

The door slid open before he'd finished speaking. Mentally preparing himself, Feared_1 stepped into the dimly lit entry room. He glanced around, saw nothing of interest, and started for the door to the main chamber, five paces ahead.

A touch of air on the back of his neck was his only warning. "Captain Feared_1," a deep, gravelly, catlike voice mewed into his ear.

Feared_1 jumped and spun around, cursing both himself and the short, wiry creature standing less than half a meter away. "Blast it, Blade," he snarled. "What do you think you're doing?"

For a long moment Blade just looked up at him, and Feared_1 felt a drop of sweat trickle down his back. With his large dark eyes, protruding jaw, and glistening needle teeth, Blade was even more of a nightmare in the dimness than he was in normal lighting.

Especially to someone like Feared_1, who knew what Sly used Blade and his fellow brother for.

"I'm doing my job," Blade said at last. He stretched his thin arm almost casually out toward the inner door, and Feared_1 caught just a glimpse of the slender assassin's knife before it vanished somehow into his sleeve. His hand closed, then opened again, steel-wire muscles moving visibly beneath his dark gray skin. "You may enter."

"Thank you," Feared_1 growled. Straightening his tunic again, he turned back to the door. It opened at his approach, and he stepped through-

Into a softly lit art museum.

He stopped short, just inside the room, and looked around in astonishment. The walls and domed ceiling were covered with flat paintings and planics, a few of them vaguely human-looking but most of distinctly alien origin. Various sculptures were scattered around, some freestanding, others on pedestals. In the center of the room was a double circle of repeater displays, the outer ring slightly higher than the inner ring. Both sets of displays, at least from what little Feared_1 could see, also seemed to be devoted to pictures of artwork.

And in the center of the double circle, seated in a duplicate of the Admiral's Chair on the bridge, was Grand Admiral Sly.

He sat motionlessly, his shimmery blue-black hair glinting in the dim light, his pale white skin looking cool and subdued and very alien on his otherwise human frame. His eyes were nearly closed as he leaned back against the headrest, only a glint of red showing between the lids.

Feared_1 licked his lips, suddenly unsure of the wisdom of having invaded Sly's sanctum like this. If the Grand Admiral decided to be annoyed. . . .

"Come in, Captain," Sly said, his quietly modulated voice cutting through Feared_1's thoughts. Eyes still closed to slits, he waved a hand in a small and precisely measured motion. "What do you think?"

"It's . . . very interesting, sir," was all Feared_1 could come up with as he walked over to the outer display circle.

"All holographic, of course," Sly said, and Feared_1 thought he could hear a note of regret in the other's voice. "The sculptures and flats both. Some of them are lost; many of the others are on planets now occupied by the Scions."

"Yes, sir," Feared_1 nodded. "I thought you'd want to know, Admiral, that the scouts have returned from the Mire system. The wing commander will be ready for debriefing in a few minutes."

Sly nodded. "Were they able to tap into the scion library system?"

"They got at least a partial dump," Feared_1 told him. "I don't know yet if they were able to complete it-apparently, there was some attempt at pursuit. The wing commander thinks he lost them, though."

For a moment Sly was silent. "No," he said. "No, I don't believe he has. Particularly not if the pursuers were from the Scions." Taking a deep breath, he straightened in his chair and, for the first time since Feared_1 had entered, opened his glowing red eyes.

Feared_1 returned the other's gaze without flinching, feeling a small flicker of pride at the achievement. Many of the ISDF's top commanders and courtiers had never learned to feel comfortable with those eyes. Or with Sly himself, for that matter. Which was probably why the Grand Admiral had spent so much of his career out in the Unknown Regions, working to bring those still-barbaric sections of the galaxy under ISDF control. His brilliant successes had won him the title of Warlord and the right to wear the white uniform of Grand Admiral-the only person ever granted that honor by GSH.

Ironically, it had also made him all the more indispensable to the frontier campaigns. Feared_1 had often wondered how the Battle on Rend would have ended if Sly, not Stalker, had been commanding the Merciless. "Yes, sir," he said. "I've ordered the sentry line onto yellow alert. Shall we go to red?"

"Not yet," Sly said. "We should still have a few minutes. Tell me, Captain, do you know anything about art?"

"Ah . . . not very much," Feared_1 managed, thrown a little by the sudden change of subject. "I've never really had much time to devote to it."

"You should make the time." Sly gestured to a part of the inner display circle to his right. "Slavic paintings," he identified them. "Year 1550-1800, Pre-Space Date. Note how the style changes-right here-at the first contact with the Austrians. Over there-" he pointed to the left-hand wall "-are examples of Turkish art. Note the similarities with the early Slavic work, and also the mid-eighteenth-century Pre-Space Italian flatsculp."

"Yes, I see," Feared_1 said, not entirely truthfully. "Admiral, shouldn't we be-?"

He broke off as a shrill whistle split the air. "Bridge to Grand Admiral Sly," Lieutenant Fireblade's taut voice called over the intercom. "Sir, we're under attack!"

Sly tapped the intercom switch. "This is Sly," he said evenly. "Go to red alert, and tell me what we've got. Calmly, if possible."

"Yes, sir." The muted alert lights began flashing, and Feared_1 could hear the sound of the klaxons baying faintly outside the room. "Sensors are picking up four Scion Assault Frigates," Fireblade continued, his voice tense but under noticeably better control. "Plus at least three wings of fighters. Symmetric cloud-vee formation, coming in on our scoutships' vector."

Feared_1 swore under his breath. A single ISDF Carrier, with a largely inexperienced crew, against four Assault Frigates and their accompanying fighters . . . "Run engines to full power," he called toward the intercom. "Prepare to make the retreat." He took a step toward the door-

"Belay that order, Lieutenant," Sly said, still glacially calm. "fighter crews to their stations; activate shields."

Feared_1 spun back to him. "Admiral-"

Sly cut him off with an upraised hand. "Come here, Captain," the Grand Admiral ordered. "Let's take a look, shall we?"

He touched a switch; and abruptly, the art show was gone. Instead, the room had become a miniature bridge monitor, with helm, engine, and weapons readouts on the walls and double display circle. The open space had become a holographic tactical display; in one corner a flashing sphere indicated the invaders. The wall display nearest to it gave an ETA estimate of twelve minutes.

"Fortunately, the scoutships have enough of a lead not to be in danger themselves," Sly commented. "So. Let's see what exactly we're dealing with. Bridge: order the three nearest sentry ships to attack."

"Yes, sir."

Across the room, three blue dots shifted out of the sentry line onto intercept vectors. From the corner of his eye Feared_1 saw Sly lean forward in his seat as the Assault Frigates and accompanying fighters shifted in response. One of the blue dots winked out-

"Excellent," Sly said, leaning back in his seat. "That will do, Lieutenant. Pull the other two sentry ships back, and order the Sector Four line to scramble out of the invaders' vector."

"Yes, sir," Fireblade said, sounding more than a little confused.

A confusion Feared_1 could well understand. "Shouldn't we at least signal the rest of the Fleet?" he suggested, hearing the tightness in his voice. "The Death's Head could be here in twenty minutes, most of the others in less than an hour."

"The last thing we want to do right now is bring in more of our ships, Captain," Sly said. He looked up at Feared_1, and a faint smile touched his lips. "After all, there may be survivors, and we wouldn't want the Scions learning about us. Would we."

He turned back to his displays. "Bridge: I want a twenty-degree port yaw rotation-bring us flat to the invaders' vector, superstructure pointing at them. As soon as they're within the outer perimeter, the Sector Four sentry line is to re-form behind them and jam all transmissions."

"Y-yes, sir. Sir-?"

"You don't have to understand, Lieutenant," Sly said, his voice abruptly cold. "Just obey."

"Yes, sir."

Feared_1 took a careful breath as the displays showed the Chimaera rotating as per orders. "I'm afraid I don't understand, either, Admiral," he said. "Turning our superstructure toward them-"

Again, Sly stopped him with an upraised hand. "Watch and learn, Captain. That's fine, bridge: stop rotation and hold position here. Drop docking bay shields, boost power to all others. fighter squadrons: launch when ready. Head directly away from the Chimaera for two kilometers, then sweep around in open cluster formation. Backfire speed, zonal attack pattern."

He got an acknowledgment, then looked up at Feared_1. "Do you understand now, Captain?"

Feared_1 pursed his lips. "I'm afraid not," he admitted. "I see now that the reason you turned the ship was to give the fighters some exit cover, but the rest is nothing but a classic Maq Sable closure maneuver. They're not going to fall for anything that simple."

"On the contrary," Sly corrected coolly. "Not only will they fall for it, they'll be utterly destroyed by it. Watch, Captain. And learn."

The fighters launched, accelerating away from the Chimaera and then leaning hard into etheric rudders to sweep back around it like the spray of some exotic fountain. The invading ships spotted the attackers and shifted vectors-

Feared_1 blinked. "What in the hell are they doing?"

"They're trying the only defense they know of against a Maq Sable," Sly said, and there was no mistaking the satisfaction in his voice. "Or, to be more precise, the only defense they are psychologically capable of attempting." He nodded toward the flashing sphere. "You see, Captain, there's a Slav commanding that force . . . and Slavs simply cannot handle the unstructured attack profile of a properly executed Maq Sable."

Feared_1 stared at the invaders, still shifting into their utterly useless defense stance . . . and slowly it dawned on him what Sly had just done. "That sentry ship attack a few minutes ago," he said. "You were able to tell from that that those were Slavic ships?"

"Learn about art, Captain," Sly said, his voice almost dreamy. "When you understand a species' art, you understand that species."

He straightened in his chair. "Bridge: bring us to flank speed. Prepare to join the attack."

An hour later, it was all over.

The ready room door slid shut behind the wing commander, and Feared_1 gazed back at the map still on the display. "Sounds like Mire is a dead end," he said regretfully. "There's no way we'll be able to spare the manpower that much pacification would cost."

"For now, perhaps," Sly agreed. "But only for now."

Feared_1 frowned across the table at him. Sly was fiddling with a data card, rubbing it absently between finger and thumb, as he stared out the view port at the stars. A strange smile played about his lips. "Admiral?" he asked carefully.

Sly turned his head, those glowing eyes coming to rest on Feared_1. "It's the second piece of the puzzle, Captain," he said softly, holding up the data card. "The piece I've been searching for now for over a year."

Abruptly, he turned to the intercom, jabbed it on. "Bridge, this is Grand Admiral Sly. Signal the Death's Head; inform Captain Manslayer we'll be temporarily leaving the Fleet. He's to continue making tactical surveys of the local systems and pulling data dumps wherever possible. Then set course for a planet called Myr-the nav computer has its location."

The bridge acknowledged, and Sly turned back to Feared_1. "You seem lost, Captain," he suggested. "I take it you've never heard of Myr."

Feared_1 shook his head, trying without success to read the Grand Admiral's expression. "Should I have?"

"Probably not. Most of those who have been smugglers, malcontents, and otherwise useless dregs of the galaxy."

He paused, taking a measured sip from the mug at his elbow-a strong Russian ale, from the smell of it-and Feared_1 forced himself to remain silent. Whatever the Grand Admiral was going to tell him, he was obviously going to tell it in his own way and time. "I ran across an offhand reference to it some seven years ago," Sly continued, setting his mug back down. "What caught my attention was the fact that, although the planet had been populated for at least three hundred years, both the ISDF and the Scions of that time had always left it strictly alone." He cocked one blue-black eyebrow slightly. "What would you infer from that, Captain?"

Feared_1 shrugged. "That it's a frontier planet, somewhere too far away for anyone to care about."

"Very good, Captain. That was my first assumption, too . . . except that it's not. Myr is, in fact, no more than a hundred fifty light-years from here-close to our border with the Scions and well within the ISDF's boundaries." Sly dropped his eyes to the data card still in his hand. "No, the actual explanation is far more interesting. And far more useful."

Feared_1 looked at the data card, too. "And that explanation became the first piece of this puzzle of yours?"

Sly smiled at him. "Again, Captain, very good. Yes. Myr-or more precisely, one of its indigenous animals-was the first piece. The second is on a world called Wae." He waved the data card. "A world for which, thanks to the Slavs, I finally have a location."

"I congratulate you," Feared_1 said, suddenly tired of this game "May I ask just what exactly this puzzle is?"

Sly smiled-a smile that sent a shiver up Feared_1's back. "Why the only puzzle worth solving, of course," the Grand Admiral said softly. "The complete, total, and utter destruction of the Scions."

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 Post subject: Re: 2018 BZ Narrative
PostPosted: January 27th, 2018, 12:34 am 
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Such fabulous writing, as always Snake lol. I found my part in the story to be quite hilarious, yet pleasantly surprising :-D


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 Post subject: Re: 2018 BZ Narrative
PostPosted: January 27th, 2018, 9:50 am 
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 Post subject: Re: 2018 BZ Narrative
PostPosted: January 27th, 2018, 10:19 am 
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Nice writing Snake. Don't forget the Scions become our allies when the hadeans show up.


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