Friday, January 26, 2018

The Planets of Galactic Christendom

Mankind is now a mature inter-stellsr species. Its many nations are spread out across the galaxy, dwelling on many planets, and in populations that make the pre-Apocalypse world before the Azure Flames blanch. Mankind now teems in number, totally into the trillions, with many planets boasting populations well above that of early 21st century Earth. Much of this is due to the influence of the Church, and the advent of Faster Than Light technology, the coupling of which gave great impetus (in addition to a literal Crusade against the Nephalim) to spread far from holy Terra.

The initial settlement waves focused on Earth-like worlds. As terraforming technologies and acumen developed, more worlds saw settlement; the last wave coming with the ability to change the gravitation force of a planet to conform to Earth standard gravity, a power still monopolized by the Church as it required the direct deployment from the City of God. Now only the most inhospitable of planets remain free of Mankind's presence, assuming that it has been found at all.

Planetary settlement starts and ends in orbit. The pattern is summarized thus: build an orbital habitat, which is the top anchor of a space elevator to the surface. The groundside anchor is the first planetside settlement, and others branch out from that one to fulfill specific requirements. Over time, additional elevator nodes are built to allow speedy ground-to-orbit connections across a world. (Earth has one at each LaGrange point.)

Heavy industry is an orbital affair, taking advantage of microgravity conditions to maximize productivity while preserving the planetary environment. Refineries, factories, shipyards, and more such industry is routinely kept in orbit- and also automated heavily. Planetside work is more artisan or agricultural in nature, with automation usually confined to drudgery, in accordance to the Church's push for restoring Mankind to a pro-Civilizational mode of existence post-Apocalypse.

Urban planning and density, to pre-Apocalypse eyes, is pre-Modern in sensibilities; far less steel, iron, and chrome and far more stone, wood, and glass. Older, classical styles turned out to be easier to use in forming and maintaining planetside colonies than the writers and theories of the World Before would think. Commerce tends to be more local, though inter-planetary and inter-stellar trade exists in significant amounts across galactic distances. Aside from the obvious high technology, it's a world a man like Plato or Petrarch would not find too alien - but those just at the cusp of the Apocalypse would in many respects. (Think "Pre-Modern Life with Starships and Mecha", or less Coruscant and more Theed.)

Most people, once more, living in rural communities on more-or-less self-sufficient homesteads centered around the local parish and the local manor. Even the orbital habitats follow this pattern as best they can, recreating the village life in space even if the men of that village work in the habitat's docks or factories. Furthermore, mature planets have scores of orbital habitats clustered about that world's LaGrange points.

The less-developed worlds are marked by a lack of the orbit-to-surface connections, usually meaning more shuttle traffic to and from as well as the presence of more trans-atmospheric starship traffic to compensate for that lack. Garmil's Gate is one such world, and this lacking is why some disdain it.

Next time: The Apocalypse, the Church, and the City of God.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 04

The Baden-Powell passed into the upper astmosphere of Garmil's Gate, flying on a long and leisurely path at high altitude, as Sir Ramsey Hennepin and Sibley looked over a holographic globe of the planet.

"There are plenty of possible targets, Sir Ramsey. Which one is it?"

"All of them, Sibley, but not all of them equally." Sir Ramsey, "Because it's not just about piracy. The pirates are just the most obvious symptom of the overall problem."

Sibley sat back in his chair as Creton entered the cockpit. "Sir Ramsey, your baton is ready as you asked." the boy said as he handed his knight a black baton roughly a foot in length, a baton with chromed ends and a chromed split in the middle.

Sibley eyed the baton warily. "Do you think it will be that perilous?"

Sir Ramsey nodded. "I do, and you're to be armed once we arrived. This is a dangerous situation that the Mining Guild has here, if the reports I've reviewed are accurate, one ripe for exploitation."

Creton looked up at his knight, his face a mask of confusion. "Am I coming too?"

"No, you need to stay on board in case we need to get out fast."

Creton looked down, disappointed, but Sibley would not have it. "In time, lad, but you're still very much a boy. You're still too small to fight against grown men and win, and that's exactly the sort of thing we're talking about. Here, in the ship, you can best help us should we need it."

"Listen to your father, Creton." Sir Ramsey said, "He's right. You're better here, flying and shooting the guns, than at our side- for now."

Sibley pulled the boy on to his lap. "Here, lad, let's see what you make of this."

Sir Ramsey pointed out various points of interest on the globe. "The Mining Guild has its mine here, and I'm told that they're abusing the workers terribly, which means that they'e got to be ready for someone to push them into revolting." Ramsey then pointed to another place, far away from the mine. "Here is the hunting lodge where several ladies of the court are in retreat, one of which is very close to Duke Far- Lord Fang's liege." Then Ramsey pointed to an island in an ocean. "Here's a prison where very dangerous criminals are hedl, when we can't execute them." Ramsey now looked right at Creton. "If you were the pirates, what would you do?"

Creton looked at the globe. "Pirates steal stuff right? They look for treasure and take it, or take stuff to get treasure."

"That's right, son." Sibley said, "Pirates steal."

"And these pirates are smarter than other pirates, right?"

"I think they want the girls and what's the prison. They don't want what's in the mine, because it's not gold. They can get gold if they get the girls or what's in the prison."

Sir Ramsey and Sibley smiled approvingly. "Good thinking, lad!" Sibley said, "Now, who will give them gold?"

"A lord." Creton said, "But not Duke Far. He's too good to do bad things like that."

"I think you're right." Sir Ramsey said, and Creton smiled, "I think there may be more than one lord ready to give these pirates gold, but which ones and why?"

Just then, an alert came over the cockpit. "Incoming message." Sibley said, "From below. It's the Guild."

Creton got off his father's lap as Sir Ramsey answered the call. A displeased older man appeared before them. "I am Master Iser, headman of the Guild's operations here. Sir Ramsey Hennepin, I await your arrival."

Sir Ramsey nodded. "Acknowledged, Master Iser. We shall land presently. Thank you for your cooperation."

"Of course, Paladin. The Guild is always ready to ccoperate with the Speaker of the Stars." Master Iser said, and his imaged winked out. Ramsey turned to Sibley and Creton. "If he doesn't try to accidentally murder us, then he will certainly allow the rebelling workers to do so. There is plenty wrong at Garmil's Gate."

"So, we're to be the Court's cleaning crew once more then?"

Ramsey patted a golden beam sword on his belt. "With golden fire, if need be."

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Fleets of Galactic Cristendom

Those mecha need starships if they actually want to go anywhere interstellar, so you had better believe that this galaxy teeming with trillions of men across billions of stars produces and operates vast fleets of ships to transport those mechs where they need to go.

By now interstellar travel is a mature technology and that means starship designs are also somewhat standardized. Most ships carry auxiliary craft, in addition to any mecha, and they are still referred to as "boats" as a generic collective out of centuries of naval tradition dating before the Coming of the Azure Flames. Being that Space Is Big, the size of these vessels can approach or exceed that of the smaller orbital stations, yet with automation being so routinely applied even a ship a quarter-mile long can be fully crewed with a compliment small enough for the captain to know every crewman by name. Artificial gravity generation is cheap enough to be used for merchant freighters and pleasure craft. Hulls are routinely built to withstand micrometer hits and electromagnetic charges that are commonplace in the sea of stars.

It is out of convenience that all of the nations of Mankind agreed to a common classfication by treaty in the Court of Stars, one promoted by the Church as an act of good will and common sense. This includes rank structures for military and merchant fleets, and some conventions on symbols designating such. Whether you're in the Thousand Stars of the Dragon, or the Free Canton Worlds, when the destroyer on patrol calls you to heave to you know that there's a Captain in command and he'll clearly stand out as such by his uniform. How the ship, and the men, appear and operate vary significantly from one domain to the next, but one can count on that ship being a destroyer and its master being a Captain.

The basic convention is thus:

  • Scout: The smallest starship class. Its master, while called "Captain" out of centuries of tradition, is often a Lieutenant and this is either a first command for a fresh officer in a formal military or a career-making command for a dedicated scout service or similar organization (couriers, trouble-shooters, or something else focused around squad-sized teams). Boats are few, but they do have them; these are often shuttles for when no hangars or berths are available. Even civilian ones are armed, albeit for point-defense against debris and pirates, and some are reconfigured for use as a fast-attack vessel in the tradition of 20th century torpedo boats or as an anti-fighter corvette.
  • Cruiser: The smallest ship in a flotilla or fleet, and often the command of those who prove themselves in a scout, this is a ship class that splits into two subtypes: corvettes and destroyers. Corvettes are fast and manueverable, making them commmonly used as a mobile external adjunct to a battleship's defenses, usually in an anti-fighter capacity but sometimes in a more specialized role such as electronic warfare. Destroyers go the other way, focusing on firepower outsized for their class, as a way of bringing fire to bear when the line's capital ships cannot do so themselves. The last common variant is the carrier; larger than the other two, they are a homeship to a fighter or mech squadron--sometimes a wing--and otherwise impotent as they usually only have point-defense weapons- this frame is also often configured to be used for hospital and fleet tender functions.
  • Battleship: The ship of the line. Most are exactly what you expect; they are massive vessels with hull plating, shielding, and arms more than capable of reducing targets to ruin or worse. A few variants swap this to be a massive mega-carrier instead, housing thousands of fighters or mechs as if they were a hive, but most fleets eschew this option; battleships often have a squadron aboard for Combat Space Patrol duties, as they can and do operate independently on a regular basis and thus need to perform such things on their own. Configurations within a fleet vary little, but flagships can and often are the Ace Customs of fleet warfare- sometimes even wholly original designs, meant as testbeds for future fleet-wide systems.
  • Fortresses: While most orbital installations are meant to be more-or-less static, some are actually ships capable of travel; these are rarely used in fleet actions on the attack, and are often involved only on the defense, but enough incidents--inspired by historical precedent from the centuries before--have insured that fortresses have had their place in the naval annals. They are a feared presence, enough to force fleet admirals to deal with them even if they are not actively involved in a battle, as the arms and auxiliaries at their disposal makes them a fleet unto themselves. They are the Super Robots of fleet warfare, even though most are built out of massive asteroids or small moons and not just built in emulation of them.

Merchant vessels rarely go bigger than a cruiser, as it's more profitable to go with a small, but powerful ship and use that to tow bulk containers or passenger modules from place to place in the model of a train. Since merchant traffic routinely sticks to a known and well-traveled route and most destinations have an orbital station, merchant ships rarely bother with trans-atmospheric capabilities or boats since they can use the elevator or a shuttle at the station- even on most fringe worlds such as Garmil's Gate.

Most organizations have some military naval capacity, as Space Is Big and the noble families can't be everywhere, and you only find unarmed ships in space that is well-patrolled (and densely-patrolled) space. Piracy happens, but it's rarely without a shot fired, especially if the pirates are barbarian reavers or otherwise under the influence of an enemy of Civilization. Pirates, and some other groups, use flagships not only as supreme command vessels, but as a mobile base in emulation of the Fortresses; they use mobility as a security layer, forever roaming their domain, and live at sea permanently instead of spending most of their days on a planet or station- visiting static locations only as part of their tour or when need requires it.

Next time, the planets of the galaxy.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 03

At the outer edge of the Garmil's Gate solar system, the Red Eyes pirate band led by Dashing Jack hid in their hidden base- a hollowed-out asteroid. Merciless men, and worse, scurried about the interior running arms into the ship berthed therein while the ship's compliment of mecha got repaired and rearmed. In the base's headquarters, Red Eyes and his lieutenant Gori stood before their master, who called upon them from elsewhere.

"The arrival of the Solar Guardsman made our raid unprofitable, my lord." Dashing Jack said, "So I ordered a retreat before we lost too much."

"But you did accomplish your mission?" Red Eyes said, his vicious visage filled the viewscreen.

Jack bowed, as did Gori. "Yes, my lord. We found the location of the tomb, and we dropped our shipment to our allies on the surface. The Paladin's arrival only disrupted the attempt to take the bulk freighters."

"And what word does our man inside Gatewatch have on the opposition?"

Gori held up a notepad and read from it. "The Paladin met with the Fang commander. They discussed the current points of conflict, but he could not discover what the Paladin's plan of action was. He is certain to leave the station and go planetside within 24 hours, but where on the surface is unknown."

"My lord, I think we should move now. That Paladin has a reputation for trouble-shooting. I don't think we have long before he begins to dismantle our operations here."

Red Eyes looked off screen, as someone leaned in to whisper into his ear. He nodded, then looked again at Jack. "Do you require reinforcements?"

"No. I've already arranged for a complication of my own."


* * * * *

"Sir Kei, Lord Fang's flagship has arrived."

The Opulent Dragon dropped out of hyperspace on approach to Gatewatch. At a quarter-mile in length, and almost half that across, this battleship was not only the flagship of House Fang's fleet but also the mobile home of the house's master- and Sir Kei's father. Escorting this battleship was a symbolic handful of cruisers and destroyers, as Lord Fang feared no attack within his territory.

The vessels drew up alongside Gatewatch, and a shuttle left the Dragon for the station. At the landing bay inside, Sir Kei stood ready with an honor guard to receive his father and master. The ramp came down, and a middle-aged man wearing his disgust like a mask descended from the craft flanked by his own honor guard and attendants.

"Welcome back to Gatewatch, father. This visit is on short notice."

Lord Fang answered his son with the back of his hand across his son's face. "You know why I am here. Where is the Paladin?"

Sir Kei stood there, stoic and unmoving. "He departed for the surface a few hours ago, father."

"To where?"

"He did not say. All I know is that he had leave by the Guild to land at the mine."

"Fool! Recall him, immediately!"

"I cannot. He comes under the authority of the Speaker of the Court of Stars as well as His Holiness the Pope. Neither you nor I have the authority to constrain his actions. You know well what that means, father."

The mask of disgust warped into one of frustration and rage as Lord Fang walked out of the bay. "You fool. You cannot do anything right."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Mecha in Galactic Christendom

Mecha in Galactic Christendom run the gamut from the realist of Real Robots through to the most super of Super Robots.

Most pilots operate Real Robots of a basic design. The mecha is really little more than a box with a cockpit, sensors, and an engine with a pair of manipulator arms. Slapping on some basic blasters, external ordinance racks, or alternative locomotion (legs, treads, etc.) and you have a viable warmachine to mass-produce and deploy in the billions. Control schemes are now standardized to minimize time spent cross-training.

Stepping up from there are the man-like mecha. Their pilots are knights, older squires, and other officer-grade professionals. As there are billions of such men across the galaxy, these two often are fundmentally basic at their core. The same box is the torso, with a head, more mannish arms with hands, and legs with feet. Sometimes the legs can swap to an alternative locomotion mode, such as wheels in the feet and treads in the lower thighs. Few in-built weapon systems are standard, preferring externally-mounted modules or hand-held systems; point-defense guns and beam swords are commonplace as basic features. They tend to have superior speed and mobility to the basic models, as their pilots hold superior status and get treated accordingly.

Transformable models are sufficiently common to merit their inclusion, and in main military Orders of Battle they are often found in rapid-deployment units where versatility of function is a virtue; they hold a line until more specialized (and numerous) units arrive to relieve them. Fighter/Man hybrid is standard, but Submersible-Man hybrids are sufficiently popular on water-heavy worlds to get a mention here. For more powered-armor sized units, motorcycle-sized hybrids are the norm; the key difference being if the vehicle attaches to a base armored suit or not.

The Ace Custom models and Limited Production lines are where the Real/Super line starts to blur, as we see the installation of sub-systems aimed at exploiting the pilot's specific traits and abilities, the production incorporating uncommon materials and production methods, etc. all to generate a performance edge that matters at the top-end of ace combot scenarios.

But the line--while burring at times--remains present. Real Robots have to conform to the limits of what is possible within the laws of physics. Super Robots can go beyond the impossible, and the greatest of them do just that. This is why they are few in number, and the deployment of any of them--even the least among them--is a significant event. Originally developed to take the most powerful of the Nephilim and their Fallen Angel fathers on man-to-monster, they remain to this day tied to safeguards that confined their use to just a few pilots who share a culture of reluctant usage.

Unlike the Real Robots who have to rely on standard means of travel and deployment, as would any other warmachine, Super Robots can and often do circumvent this need by means of an alternative able to deploy the Super Robot where and when called for in moments. The reason is that the Super Robots are tied to a pilot, bound to it, and thereby share a connection across spacetime. The ceremony for a pilot's installation on a Super Robot is not empty ritual; it serves to forge that bond, a bond registered in the City of God, as it is ultimately a great blessing to be granted the responsibility that being a Super Robot pilot puts upon the pilot.

The basic feature of a Super Robot is the ability to call it forth by invocation. This is why a reliable tell of a Super Robot Pilot is the fire of his passion; even those seemingly quiet and reserved become thunderous storms when in battle. That call needs to be heard, so being a mouse-voiced meek thing is no asset. As many are also martial artists in one or more disciplines, the practice of battle-yelling for effect is carried over into their mech-piloting as a feature. This also accounts for why the Super Robots tend to have such devastating power, have specialized systems, and are often crafted to resemble and invoke the mythological heroes of eras long ago.

And then, overlapping both sorts, are the combiners. Elite units, with specific mission profiles, get these mecha. The reason for the combination ability is to handle top-end threats without needing to call in reinforcements, as their mission profile doesn't allow for that for one reason or another. None are more famous in the galaxy than the Church's own three-man team named for the Archangels,of Church tradition, whose ability to combine into a form named after the angel that speaks for God to Man, has single-handedly broken the backs of a Nephilim-led invasion of Earth in the time of the Great Liberation of Earth prior to Man's expansion into the galaxy- the First Galactic Crusade.

And then there are the fleets that carry these pilots and their machines into battle, but that's for another post.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 02

Orbital colonies are commonplace. Many worlds have scores of orbital habitats in addition to terrestrial populations (undersea ones included), and Garmil's Gate is no exception. The exception here is that this world has only one orbital habitat, Gatewatch, and it's a small one. At a mere five miles in length, it holds no more than a quarter-million people at any time- and often far less. This habitat is the largest population center at Garmil's Gate, and its master--Sir Kei Fang--now hosts Sir Ramsey Hennepin and his lance at his table in his private quarters.

"Your arrival proved timely, Sir Ramsey." Sir Kei said as a servant filled his wine glass, "The Mining Guild appreciates your aid, as that convoy will take their wares out to other systems."

"About that." Sir Ramsey said, "This attack was most brazen. Most of the attacks reported occurred far from Garmil's Gate, certainly not so close to Gatewatch itself. Furthermore, you had no fighters on combat patrol when this attack launched. That isn't prudent for a garrison over a vital trade route."

Sir Kei sighed. "My lord demands that I handle the matter with the meager men and material at my disposal. While the Guild has its own men guarding its ground-side facilities, control over space is my problem. It is further complicated by the warden of the penal colony and the many lords with estates on the planet."

Sibley looked at his master, and Sir Rmasey nodded in silent concurrence. Then he said "Sir Kei, is there either any notable prisoner present in the penal colony or any nobles of particular importance visiting below?"

Sir Pei Huang, Sir Kei's executive officer, entered the room. "I apologize for the intrusion, Sir Kei, but your father commands your presence. He awaits you in the meeting room."

"Duty." Sir Kei said with a heavier sigh, "Sir Pei can answer your question in my absence. Please, finish without me."

"Did you hear the question, Sir Pei?" Sir Ramsey said, directing his gaze to Kei's subordinate.

"Yes, as that was the reason for Lord Fang's call."

"That there is a prisoner of note, or that there is a noble present who would be a target?"

"Both, Sir Ramsey." Sir Pei said, and he brought up a holographic display. "The penal colony has some prisoner there whose identity is classified, and Countess Fong hosts a retreat with some peers from the Court of Stars at the Fong Lodge planetside."

Sibley nudged his son, Creton. "Sir Ramsey, the lad and I need to attend to some maintenance aboard ship. By your leave."

Sir Ramsey nodded. Sibley bowed to the knights, and he took his son with him as he left the room. While Sir Pei watched Sir Ramey's man and the man's son leave the room, Sir Ramsey slipped a hand to his shield arm and pressed a couple of keys on a bracer he wore.

"Well, that clarifies the true reason for the Speaker's request to His Holiness for the Guard's intervention. It appears that our superiors suspect a larger scheme being played at here."

"I concur." Sir Pei said, "Where will go you next?"

"Planetside, for certain. After that, I will decide after conferring with my man Sibley."

Friday, January 5, 2018

Nail That Opening!

I started a new serial this week. I think I'll stick to Wednesdays for updates.

Openings are tricky things. You need to hook that reader faster and harder than you did in previous years due to the massive array of alternative entertainment options these days. With that in mind, it's wise to consider your length and medium of publication when you craft that opening.

I went over that opening over five times. Each revision took it closer and closer to the point I chose, but also changed the lead-up to that moment- by cutting it down to the nothing I used. The reason? The medium. Serial fiction via blogposting has practical limits to readership, which is conducive to training writing habits for short story and serial fiction writing because it trains you to trim your writing down where minimal time gets spent getting to the point.

If this was the opening to a longer work, even a novelette, I would have gone with a more gradual build up; if I adapt this story into a novelette or longer then that's what you can expect. Instead of getting right to the firefight, I'd back up and open with first Garmil's Gate (specifically Gatewatch) seemingly normal activity, then jump the Red Eyes in and shift to Jack's perspective as he launches the raid upon the merchant convoy,let the fight go on and show how the Red Eyes became the pirate menace in action, before I jump in Sir Ramsey and have him make short work of the mooks before putting the fear of God into Dashing Jack in a Big Damn Heroes moment.

Now I've done all of the necessary establishing work: Hero, Villain, and (apparent) Stakes. I can get on with the plot and start layering the subplots via complications, and in the process give the supporting characters (Sibley and Creton) more to do, because I'm made my promises (This is a story of knights, pirates, and adventure on a far-away world.) and the reader wants to see how it plays out. That's what I focused on in this opening segment of the serial: Establishing Shots. That's what your opening has to do, and your circumstances in manuscript length and publication medium check what options you have in getting that done.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 01

The Baden-Powell arrived at Garmil's Gate to find a Red Eyes pirate attack upon an incoming merchant convoy.

"This is Sir Ramsey Hennipen, Paladin of the Solar Guard. All Red Eyes vessels will heave to and surrender or be destroyed."

On the viewscreen, Sir Ramsey saw several of the squat, blocky mecha sortied by the Red Eyes pirates turn about from their dogfight with the garrison at the orbital colony of Gatewatch to intercept his ship. Then, despite extreme range, they fired upon him.

"There's your answer, Sir Ramsey."

"Sibley," Ramsey said to the elder warrior sitting adjacent to him, "signal Creton to stand by on the guns. The lad's clear to fire when they come into range."

The gray-haired sergeant-at-arms keyed into the ship's comms. "Son, stand by on the guns. Fire when they're in range."

"Aye, father!" said an eager young boy, "Ready for battle!"

Sir Ramsey focused his attention outward once more. "Saint Itano, make Creton's aim true."

He threw the throttle forward, going all-ahead full to reach combat speed. Without another word, he saw the ship's secondary guns--mounted on turrets on the dorsal hull--light up, launching rapid volleys of laser-guided plasma appearing as red bolts in the void of space at the Red Eyes mechs advancing upon them. The unit in the center of the formation took a full volley head-on and exploded in a fireball, shattering the formation and leaving a hole for the Baden-Powell to fill.

"That should relieve the fighters defending the merchant convoy." Sibley said, looking at the bigger battle before them.

Creton swung the dorsal and ventral turrets about as Sir Ramsey spun the ship on its horizontal axis, allowing the turret a full sweep of fire. The Red Eyes mechs reoriented as they broke formation, bringing their cannons to bear, but Creton struck down the one trying to fire from their starboard flank before it brought those cannons about.

With that side clear, Ramsey turned away from the other two that fired from the port flank. Creton struck the lower of the two first, and as Ramsey completed the roll Creton acquired and fired upon the last one. Its hapless pilot sat there, mouth agape as the lethal volley slammed right into his cockpit, stunned that he and his wingmen went down so easily.

In the middle of the furball fought amongst the merchant convoy, a giant humanoid robot in black-and-red with a pair of red eyes cut down a defending fighter with a beam sword. Its pilot, cocky enough to not wear a flight suit, heard an entire flight of his minions scream their death cries seconds apart. He brushed a lock of hair out of his face and smirked. "The Church sent a Paladin? House Far must be desperate."

The face of a man who seemed to have been molded by repeated hammer blows appeared on a side monitor. "Captain, primary objective is complete."

"Acknowledged, Gori." the captain said, "Recall the fighters and spin up the drive. I'll cover their retreat. We're done here."

Aboard the Baden-Powell, Sir Ramsey saw the smirking captain appear on his viewscreen.

"Greetings, Sir Ramsey. I am Dashing Jack, captain of this band, and we shall neither surrender nor be destroyed. Rather, we shall take our leave."

Sibley quickly pinpointed Jack's unit and brought it on screen in another window. "He's got a knight's mech, Sir Ramsey."

"Paladin, I recommend playing to the heroic nature of your kind and choosing not to pursue today. As I am certain you can see, I am quite capable of crippling or sinking these vessels before you can stop me. I'm certain that the garrison commander will concur that you are wise to acquiesce."

A third window opened, this time showing the face of that very man: Sir Kei, of House Far's vassal family, the Fangs. "My wing is unable to pursue, but we can escort them to port. There will be another time, Paladin."

Ramsey turned to Sibley. "Time to target."

"At this speed, three minutes."

Ramsey stared at Dashing Jack, countenance stern. Jack smirked at first, but soon it faded, replaced by nervous laughter. "Until we meet again, Paladin."

Jack cut off his comlink. "He's retreating now."

Ramsey turned that face to Sir Kei. "Thank you, Paladin." Kei said, his voice betraying his exasperation, and also cut his comlink.

Sibley keyed into the ship's comms. "Stand down son. Fun's over, for now."

"Too easy." Ramsey said, "I'm certain that The Red Eyes have something bigger at play here."

"Aye, Sir Ramsey, but what is it and who else is involved?"

"We'll find out soon enough. Resume course for Gatewatch. We'll start with Sir Kei."