Monday, 14 November 2011

The Master Commander's tale

As much as I have wanted to avoid it, this blog has expired; died an all too quiet death. I have, as they say, other fish to fry! However, I have, as you have guessed, not been idle; I simply do not write a blog any more. So, in order to keep this alive for a short time at least, I will post snippets, amuse-bouches, from my masterpiece; my chef-d'ouevre. They are merely first drafts, signposts along the way, but perhaps they may amuse.

The first such is the tale told by the Master Commander to his 'regent', although she is aristocracy in name only; still she commands respect. Whenever I get around to filling in the backstory, perhaps I will.

“So, Gräfin, you wish to hear my tale,” the Master Commander said. He thought for the briefest moment about how much he should disclose but decided that anything less than the whole story would be an affront to the Gräfin and would, in any event, fail to convince her of his fealty; well, if she hates me, she hates me, he thought.

“Gräfin, you must first understand that I am from Ganth; that well-spring of the first Monocrat. Long subjugated, from the very beginning, we are a sorely impoverished people. We eke out our meagre lives by subsistence fishing supplemented by what grains the Monocrat should dole our way in his infinite mercy. It is a hard life and few sustain life beyond forty or forty five standard years; less measured by Ganth’s passage around our star.

As the youngest of my seven siblings, I could not hope that my father’s nets and that the little hovel, which we called home, should one day pass to me and there is no other way for us than to rely on our brothers to share what little we had. Should that prove insufficient then, as the youngest, I would be the first to starve; even unto death. Is it any great wonder that I should join the Monocrat’s fleet as soon as it became possible to do so?

I enlisted at the age of fourteen standard years after trekking half way around the planet, subsisting on what roots and foliage as I could gather for myself and fishing from little pools which were to be found occasionally upon the way; I was nigh on starved to death when I fell in through the door of the enlistment station. As soon as I had made known my intent to enlist, the Monocrat’s minions fed me; seldom does the Monocrat fail in his duty to immediate, and urgent, need to those who would fight for him.

I will not bore you with the long wait for a ship to arrive, nor of the horrors of the holding pen which I and the other fools occupied while we awaited transport off-planet; suffice to say that only one half of those that arrived embarked on the transport ship. Nor will I burden you with the training barracks and the long days spent learning astrogation, provender, battle systems and so forth to the lowest level. We acquired just enough knowledge that we would not jeopardise our shipmates but not enough to prevent our sole goal; to die for the Monocrat!

After two standard years, I had learnt sufficiently well enough to die for my Monocrat but little else. I was transferred to an orbiting ship, we call it a Barque, which is the least of the Monocrat’s fleet, save one; this ship. I spent the next five standard years aboard that ship patrolling the environs of Alterre. Little action did we see and even less planetfall; the Monocrat does not willingly give planetleave to those who might abscond and, believe me, we had many reasons, my fellow recruits and I, to wish to abscond. Food was plentiful but so were the beatings and the scourgings, an idiosyncrasy of the Monocrat’s minions, but little of sleep and free-time, away from duties and sleep; they were non-existent.

However, I learnt well and within five standard years, I had managed to elevate myself to Battle Systems Second aboard the Barque. I had good aim and could compute trajectories in my head faster than the Computing Engines. I do not wish to brag, Gräfin, but rumour of my prowess had spread around the ships in our small corner of space, even isolated as we were from other ships, and soon my Commander was receiving copious requests for my transfer.

I was finally transferred to Battle Systems Lead on a cruiser running escort for freighters plying their trade between the mines of Kep-Lar and the smelting works which make up almost the entire planet of Alterre. I do not know why the Monocrat felt the need for escort ships on this or any other route. In more than six standard years, I saw not even a glimpse of a ship which might have been a threat to us or the convoy of freighters. In that time, I learned to trust my Second, with whom, I am ashamed to tell, I had a brief dalliance, but nonetheless, with little real work to do, it gave me time; time to learn and time to study.

The rumours of my prowess with the Battle Systems declined year by year; I had, alas, nothing to shoot at. Finally, I applied to Commander School, much to my Master Commander’s chagrin! After passing all tests and examinations, both physical and mental, both strategic and tactical, I earned my bars and my braid.

Although I had expected a command of my own ship, however lowly, I received a posting as Second Commander on a Dreadnought, which were the biggest ships in the fleet at the time, and one which no one Master Commander could hope to command alone. In my folly, Gräfin, I was so proud, so very proud. I do not think I had ever been so pleased, so grateful, as I was that day; to the fleet, to my teachers, yes, and to the Monocrat!

Five years I spent on board that ship but, bar a few actions, mostly strikes against minor, planetary insurgents or reminders, by way of a tactical strike against a town or a city, of the ill-wisdom of rising up against, or arguing with, the Monocrat, I saw no more than I had in the previous years. My Master Commander at that time was more than satisfied with my work aboard his ship and he thought highly of me. On his recommendation, I was finally given command of my own ship; Master Commander of my very own cruiser!

It was about a standard year later, maybe a little more, when we were ordered to group up around the Portal in the Omegan sector of the galaxy. The Monocrat does not divulge his intentions to his Master Commanders, he only requires obedience, and it was not until our arrival that we realised how many ships were being marshalled in the area; hundreds, Gräfin, hundreds! Never have I seen so many ships in a single sector of space; the scopes of our scanners were simply one large, white blob; it was impossible to see each individual ship, only the read-outs gave such information. Barques, Cruisers, Dreadnoughts, Troop Ships, Supply ships and four ships, the like of which I had never seen before, although I now know what they were; one of them follows us now.

I do not remember now exactly how long we waited but eventually we were all marshalled in a single line and with our subsequent trajectories mapped out, we hopped through the Portal, each ship fanning out in a semi-circle as we reached the termination point of the Portal. We had arrived just inside an asteroid belt but before us lay a star and a small planet, perhaps three or four times the size of Ganth. The ships formed up in orbit around the planet. Then we were ordered to unleash the ‘deluge’, as it is known among the Monocrat’s navies. Such firepower, Gräfin, I hope you do not ever have to witness it. The bombardment was relentless for a whole six watches; never sleeping, never resting. I now know that the flashes that we saw through the planet’s atmosphere, hundreds of them, were the projectiles from the four largest ships but, at the time, I could not fathom what they might be. Our beam weapons do impact on the planet but they are diffuse in appearance; no less destructive but without the concentrated pinpoints of light peculiar to these other weapons.

We were ordered to remain in orbit together with three other cruisers; to guard the troopships, they told us, while the remaining ships returned via the still open Portal. We stayed in orbit for over a quarter of a standard year before the troopships were given the order to disembark and make planetfall. I watched from the small, transparent opening in my quarters as the troopship disgorged thousands upon thousands of small ships carrying the soldiers planetside. They were as a meteor shower, Gräfin, the largest that you have ever seen; a myriad of bright coals, far more than you could count, all glowing brightly as they made their way through the atmosphere. It was spectacular. Never before did I understand the words written in the ancient tomes as I did then: “Behold the might of the Monocrat and be justly afeared!”. I believe that I had never known real fear until that point in time; but I knew it then.”

The Master Commander paused and drank the remainder of his wine, swallowing it down in huge gulps as if he were attempting to suffocate flames in his very stomach.

“Väinämöinen, my friend, this does not explain all,” the Gräfin whispered. “I fear there is more.”

“Aye, there is more,” the Master Commander bellowed. “There is much more but I shall spare you the details,” he continued but was now more subdued. “I overflew an area with my little shuttlecraft, the craft that is small enough to take us down to a planet, some standard days later. There was little to be seen except ruins for as far the eye could see. It was obvious that this had been a great city and more cities, more smoking ruins, could be seen in the distance. I flew lower, keen, no eager, as I thought, to get a clearer view. There were the Monocrat’s troops in small groups moving over the rubble, stepping over the charred and broken bodies of those destroyed in the cataclysm; so many, Gräfin, o so many, beyond count they were. Occasionally, someone would appear from amidst the ruins; in answer to their entreaties, which I could not hear, they were shot, or worse. I was sickened!

I thought that I had known what the Monocrat could do; I thought that I knew what the Monocrat’s navies, his troops, could do; I thought I knew how far his lust for power, for subjugation, for degradation might reach; I knew nothing!

Is it any wonder that I made my way to your side?”