Well since I couldn't think of anything specific to whinge about this week (unusual for me) and the fact that I've been dying with a cold for the past few days I thought it might be an oppurtunity to share some of the samples of writing for my English and Creative Writing Course. Here's one I've to hand in next Tuesday, and my first proper venture into science-fiction. I had a word limit of 2200 (2000 really but with 10% either way), which sucked because it meant I wasn't able to include as much as I'd wanted, but I'm still pleased with the result. Any feedback, negative or positive, is welcomed, although I should just point out that the theft/copying/unauthorised use of my story carries the death penalty, featuring a whipping, a stoning, a hanging and a furious drunken beating with a shillelagh, and not nessecarily in that order. Enjoy ^^
With thrusters blazing and exhausts glowing, the twenty-thousand tons of steel that was the BLADEFIRE steamed serenely through the stars, seemingly ignorant of the vast array of colours it left behind. So vast was the cruiser, and yet barely covered the smallest fraction of the vast and eternal sky that was space. BLADEFIRE, Queen of the Stars, Sword of the Empire. Her vast armoured hulk bristled with cannon from bow to stern, except for a clear section which formed a large hatch where the ships 300 starfighter craft could be launched. A dozen torpedo launchers ran up and down the BLADEFIRE’s bow on their side, and mounted on deck were six large-bore guns, capable of reducing any enemy vessels to a smouldering wreck with a single volley. All this power, all this strength, under the command of one man, Captain Phallen O’Kraen. But right now, the Captain stood before the assembled off-duty crew, observing the burial ceremony from the bridge. Flags and banners waved above the hundred or so honour guard who’d been turned out in ceremonial blue uniforms, as the small procession of coffin bearers paraded through the assembled guardsmen, under the tall glass dome of the main deck, the crysteel being all that separated the ship’s occupants from the black abyss of space.
“BURIAL DETAIL, PRESENT ARMS!”. A drill sergeant screeched at the assembled guard, who raised their blaze-guns as a mark of respect to the dozen coffins transported before them. Flowers and wreaths were laid before the procession as they marched stoically forwards, bearing the twelve steel caskets that contained the bodies of eleven men and one officer that had not survived the raid. More had died, O’Kraen new the number to be well over thirty, but their bodies could not be recovered. A tragedy, those men had made the ultimate sacrifice and yet their bodies could never be put to rest. But they would be remembered. The Captain would make sure of it.
The men had been marines. Some of the best men whose job it was to board other ships and defend their own as soldiers. Their enemy had been a pirate frigate who’d foolishly fired a salvo of missiles into the BLADEFIRE’s port side. After returning fire, which obliterated the ship’s engines, the BLADEFIRE had run alongside to allow boarding parties of marines to round up the crew and bring their captain to trial. The mission had been a success, but somewhere along the line something had gone wrong, resulting in the seventy or so deaths. Worse still, before the men had had time to capture the captain and fall back to the BLADFIRE, the frigate had exploded. Why it had was still in debate; many believed the BLADEFIRE’s bombardment of the enemy’s engines had caused some backlog of steam that had apparently built up until the inevitable. However, more of the crew, O’Kraen included, believed the captain of the vessel had mined his ship to stop his cargo falling into the hands of the enemy. It was not unheard of, and O’Kraen had seen plenty of action and spent too many years fighting the bastards to not know their tactics as well as they themselves did. O’Kraen felt nothing but cold hate for the brigands and criminals who roamed the galaxies, preying on lone vessels in remote, unguarded sectors, massacring all on board before making off with their loot into the unknown. And now, they had killed some of O’Kraen’s best men.
“Such a waste”, he muttered under his breath. Lieutenant Aeren looked around. The officer wore a uniform of sky blue with red and gold braiding, and a peaked cap with a gold badge of the Fleet’s crest. Indeed, his colours were almost identical to his captain’s, although O’Kraen’s featured a great deal more badges, medals and overall decoration than his subordinate’s.
“Indeed sir”, he said solemnly, “Such is the nature of battle”. O’Kraen grunted as he continued to watch the procession below. The coffins had been laid in regimented order, and now a small stream of close friends and relatives to the dead men stepped out of file to lay wreaths and messages on the caskets of their former comrades. Soon the steel boxes would be ejected from the safety of the ship’s dome and launched into space, such was the official procedure. Personally O’Kraen felt it was at the very least an insult to any man or woman who’d died in their duty, but being a mere captain of the Empire’s finest fighting vessel, he was in no position to protest.
“I see young Lysander has gone”. O’Kraen looked to where Aeren was gazing. A young officer waited at the back of the queue to lay a wreath on one of the coffins, wearing an immaculate dress uniform and bearing a wreath of black and white ribbon.
“That would be the late Lieutenant Maxlain Venn, 2nd Company”, replied Aeren, “I believe he and Lysander were close”. O’Kraen sighed. He noticed how Lysander remained oddly stiff, even as he knelt down to place his tribute. He also noticed how the young man took slightly longer than his comrades to pay respects.
“Perhaps a word from the captain would help the lad?”, suggested Aeren. O’Kraen nodded.
“Later”, he said firmly, watching as Lysander turned and stepped back into file with the other junior officers, “Let him grieve for now”.
He had not gone to the wake. Why should he? Maxlain was dead because of him, why should he celebrate his friend’s demise? A lot was on the young man’s mind as he drew his sword and stared down his opponent. Of course it made no difference; training droids were not subject to physiological combat. The drill-chamber was a wide room, with spacious floors and tall windows that looked out into the ocean of stars and planets the BLADEFIRE passed on her voyage. Usually, the deck was alive with the sounds of officers and marines practising their tactics on the firing range, climbing walls or sword training with the use of these droids, which would thrust, swing and parry by use of movement-sensing tracers placed at strategic points on the droid’s body. However, tonight there was no one other than Lysander. It suited him fine. He wanted to be alone.
The lights on the machine’s chest suddenly turned from red to green, and it launched forwards, bringing its blade in for the ‘kill’. Lysander deflected the blow and brought his sword into contact with the droid’s ‘arm’. The robot suddenly stiffened, before taking a few steps backwards to mark its defeat. Lysander adjusted his footing and prepared for another assault. He wasn’t a bad swordsman, but ‘not bad’ wasn’t good enough. Not anymore. Maxlain, and many other good men and women, had perished needlessly. It should have been him to go. By the stars is should have. The droid struck again. This time Lysander stepped forwards on the offensive, and jabbed his blade at the trainer’s middle. Again, the infernal mechanoid stiffened as though dead, before retreating backwards. It just wasn’t the same. The slightest touch and he’d won. But in the real world, in real combat, in a real fight, it was not so simple. Max had known that. Known the dangers, knew the risks. And yet he’d stayed behind. Stayed with a small section of men, bellowing for Lysander to pull back. And then of course they’d received orders to evacuate the vessel. And of course, Max simply had to hold off the counter-attack by himself. Simply had to be the hero, simply had to sacrifice himself so his comrades would live. Lysander could remember the shouting, begging Max to get out of there. But the stubborn fool had insisted. The last thing Lysander had seen of his friend had been his winning smile, brimming over with confidence and charm that had been Maxlain’s trait ever since their academy years.
Lysander stopped to think of these. They had been by far the best times of his live. Both he and Max, enrolling with dreams of glory and conquest. To fly amongst the stars and see the galaxy was something they’d both dreamed of since childhood. Max in particular. In spite of his dreams, Max always had a dedication to training and duty that saw him graduate with additional honours from the Imperial Naval Academy, having achieved top marks in just about everything.
He’d been popular as well, surrounded by a swarm of giggling, swooning girlfriends wherever he went, when he wasn’t challenging other cadets to capacity-based competitions in the academy bar. And yet, he’d always remained true to Lysander. Asked his advice, called on him in times of need, introducing Lysander to countless members of his female entourage, standing up to anyone who dared lay a finger on him. Lysander had never known a more loyal and trusting friend than Max. And now he was gone. Gone with the explosion that killed himself, at least seventy pirates and marines, and the captain whose actions had cost the BLADEFIRE thirty of its marines. There was no replacing them. On paper, yes. But each man and woman was an individual, was unique. There could be no replacing that. One of the philosophies of command Max swore by was that of camaraderie with the troopers. A soldier would fear an officer who ruled by discipline, but would go through hell and back for an officer who showed understanding. An officer who never asked you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. In short, an officer like Max. And it was theories like that which had seen Max in a ton of trouble with some officers who accused him of insubordination, such as protesting against the flogging of a new recruit who’d misplaced his dog-tag. Whereas in the eyes of men like Captain O’Kraen, had won him special mention in dispatches for displays of gallantry and logical thinking, with claims that he would ‘go far as an officer’. And indeed he had, along with several hundred tons of steel that had once been the pirate’s frigate.
“Why Max?”, he sighed, “Why couldn’t you have left with the rest of us?”.
Lysander heard the sound of approaching boots on the stairs that lead to the drill-chamber. The noise made him start in surprise. Who could it be at this hour? One of the technicians maybe? It wouldn’t be anyone else, most of the ship’s company would either be on watch or attending the wake. Max had been a popular figure on the BLADEFIRE as he had in the academy, with the men of his platoon as well as his commanding officers. Lysander had not expected to be disturbed whilst practising, no less so by Captain O’Kraen himself.
“Sir!”. Lysander sheathed his sword and stood to attention.
“At ease, Lieutenant”, said O’Kraen, “Now’s not the time for salutes to the living”.
“No sir”, said Lysander, relaxing a little, but looking uneasily around him.
“You’re not at the wake?”. O’Kraen leant against a weapons bench, looking at the young officer with kindly eyes.
“No point, sir”.
“Maxla…Venn, is dead sir. Unnecessarily as well, with a lot of other men from our marines. Makes no sense to drink until I’m sick when I could be practising sword drills”. O’Kraen raised his eyebrows.
“Should now not be a time to remember your friend’s life, Lieutenant? I’m sure he would have approved”, said O’Kraen with a smile. Lysander stiffened.
“I won’t know for sure now sir”, he replied, his voice straining, “He died because I was too much of a coward to stay behind myself”. O’Kraen stood up and walked over to Lysander. He was taller than Lysander by about a foot, but the expression on his face gave him the appearance of a fatherly figure rather than a disciplinarian. He placed a hand on Lysander’s shoulder, who looked as though he might cry.
“It…it should have been me sir”.
“Maybe”, replied O’Kraen, “Or maybe not. As you said, we can never know what would have happened had you stayed. One thing would be certain though, is that there would still be a tragic loss, and a young man minus a good friend”. Lysander looked up.
“If you had stayed, I’d have every good reason to believe that Lieutenant Venn would be just as mournful, if not more so, at the loss of a friend”.
Lysander did not speak. It was too soon, O’Kraen realised, for the young man to accept this news. But there was hope for him. Lysander had the makings of a good officer in him, but getting over the deaths of friends and comrades was something they would all face. It was a part of life after all, and Lysander would overcome this, in time.
“Now, go to the officer’s bar, order five drinks at a time and don’t leave until you’ve finished them all”, smiled O’Kraen, “And that’s an order”.
“But sir, I…”.
“Now, Lieutenant”. Lysander placed his sword on the table, saluted the captain, and walked to the exit. O’Kraen watched him leave, before turning to gaze from the porthole of the drill-chamber.
“Such a waste”, he muttered, “Such a waste”.