Fire in the Sky (1)

Castle de Havilland, de Havilland Ducal Seat, World of Mercia, Mercia System,  Sagitarriuss Arm, 3319 CE, 13 March, 6:00 hrs Local Standard Time

Edward, Duke of House de Havilland, ran his hand along the rain slick stone atop the battlements. To one side the raging waves of the Emerald Sea pounded the shoreline a few yards from the base of the castle wall. On the other two lines armored soldiers, clad in the House colors of Blue and Black, waited for their morning inspection.  He looked at the still, gray sky and waited, but no drops came forth. He made his way down the stairs to the courtyard followed by Ronald Mercer, his  Chief of Staff and Einhard  Galenon, Head of Security.

Edward walked in front of the assembled House Guard. In their powered armor they towered over his 6 foot frame. Their faces reflected years of service to House de Havilland . A crop of short gray hair here, a scar there. These men had seen action across many worlds and now stood in attention in front of their top commander a man half their age.

Edward stopped two-thirds down the line in front of one of them, “Geoffrey isn’t it?”

“Yes m’lord, Warrant Officer Geoffrey Lant. Sir!”

“How’s the wife and kids enjoying their new quarters?”

“I bit rainy m’lord, compared to Prairie Marches, that is, but otherwise doing well. My eldest, Chiarra, will be enrolling in the Academy this Fall.”

Edward smiled warmly, “Good. I’ll make sure to keep an eye on her.”

“Thank you m’lord.”

The moment the duke reached the end of the line, the Sergeant-At-Arms bellowed a command, “Alpha Company, dismissed!”

As the platoon broke up Edward spoke to the Sergeant, “Sergeant Miles?”

The ground  trembled with the footsteps of the men in their power armor, “Yes m’lord?”

“I hate to change your training schedule but I want you to run the men through a series of ship security drills.”

“Planning a trip, m’lord?”

Edward did not bat an eye at the tone of the Sergeant’s voice. He had served him and his father for the last twenty-two years and had earned the familiarity, “Could be. I’ll have Einhard give you the details as soon as possible.”

The Sergeant snapped a salute, “Will be ready, m’lord!”

A hosts of servants and officials waited just inside the main door of the keep. Edward answered questions, signed requests and gave orders on the go with his chief advisers just a few step behind. Ronald  closed the door to the duke’s office while Einhard swept for listening devices. Edward unbuttoned the jacket of his tunic and draped it over a chair.

“So, let me have it”, Edward said.

“I,” Ronald exchanged a glance with Einhard, “I mean we, don’t believe this trip is worth the risk. We will be going into the heart of enemy territory–”

“Enemy territory? has your threat assessment changed Einhard?”

Einhard ran a hand through his thinning red hair, “No m’lord, it has not, but Ronald is right. This is a very risky move, both politically and militarily.”

“You think this a ploy to capture or kill me?”

“Everything is possible. Unlikely I admit, but still possible,” Einhard said.

Edward sat down on his desk. His chin rested on his folded hands. “Yes, it is. But the price, gentlemen, the price is well worth the effort.”

Mars Jump Gate, Mars, Sol System, Orion Arm, 29 March, 3319 14:06 Local Standard Time

Seven battlecruisers emerged from the concentric rings that formed the jump gate. On the bridge of his flagship, Colossus, Duke Edward de Havilland observed  the scene before him. Mars dangled like a wet green jewel in space, a tribute to Man’s efforts to tame the planet. Tiny motes of light orbited around the planet.

A voice snapped the young duke from his thoughts, “Comm signal from Mars control. They wish to speak to the Duke.”

“Patch it through,” Edward said.

An image sprang in the air in front of him, “This is Mars Orbital Traffic Control, welcoming you to Mars. The Grand Marshall has been waiting for you. He requests permission to come aboard.”

“Permission granted.”

Edward made his way, with guards and full retinue in tow, to the shuttle bay.  They stopped and waited for their guest to disembark from the shuttle. A several men descended the ramp, one of them holding a case. Edward eyes focused on the man leading the party, Grand Marshall Shaparov. He mentally ticked off the facts he memorized about him. While he was as tall as the duke his features were broad and muscular underneath his crisp red military uniform. Shaparov stopped at the bottom of the ramp and snapped a sharp salute. Not the Imperial salute across the chest, but the conventional military salute to the brow. Edward responded in kind.

The newcomer signaled to one his aides. “I am glad you responded to my request.” He opened  the case, “A token of goodwill from me to you.” Inside the case a double edged sword, with a half moon cross guard gleamed in the light. “I’ve heard of your prowess with the blade. I for one prefer the cavalry saber, but each one has its strengths and weakness, as those everything in life.”

Edward fought the urge to test the blade, thinking it improper to brandish a weapon in front of his guests, “I accept this gift in the spirit in which is given.”

“Great!” Shaparov extended his hand. Edward shook it. His counterpart grip was firm but not crushing.

Shows strength without risking insult.

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll like to signal my forces. They must be getting very anxious by now,” Shaparov added.

“Of course, come right this way.”

They made their way back to the Colossus bridge. There Shaparov made his transmission.

The face of the Mars Traffic Controller appeared once again, “Gate unlocked. Escorts are in position.”

Edward kept his eyes on the displays as a group of warships took positions around his taskforce. The rings spun into position. “You are clear to access Mars jump gate.”

“Captain, takes us in,” Edward said.

Anything could be waiting at the other side of this jump, but we made it this far.

His perception shifted slightly, as if he had dosed off for a second.  Before him loomed a dark round object, which peeled away to reveal a blue gem with the familiar continental shapes every school child had learned across the galaxy.

Shaparov noticed Edward’s expression and matched it with a wide smile of his own, “My dear Duke, welcome to Earth.”

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  1. November 2nd, 2009

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