Chapter 2 – Stalled in Steinbach
The survey ship stood in the courtyard of the castle, almost filling it. De Meister nodded appreciatively.
“It’s bigger than I thought. That took some skill to land. Maybe this guy is a good pilot”.
The ship was long, with rounded curves designed for atmospheric operations. The forward section, presumably the bridge, was linked by a wasp-waist to the main body. Surprisingly, there were no windows. In the lower forward part was an opening, with a ramp leading up and in. Two guards stood at the foot of the ramp, armed with halberds.
“First, we breakfast”, said the Duke. “The Count is very strict on routine. We will meet him and the others in the Great Hall.”
“A question,” De Meister stopped the Duke. “Should you not rig up something over the ship to hide it from above?”
The Duke looked up, puzzled. “From above? Cumberland has a few balloons; but our sentries are on watch for them and have fire arrows.”
“Oh I see. Then the humans from the Bright Empire also use balloons to keep watch over their new territory. That is a comforting thought.” The Duke went pale. “You are right. Camouflage will be arranged immediately.”
In the Great Hall, servants were dishing food out to three people seated at the High Table. As they entered, a herald blew a fanfare and announced “The delegation from Her Majesty the Queen for Andrei Shvedov, Count of the County of the Stein and Herald of the Queen of Richmond”.
“Approach the table, bow and kneel”, advised the Duke. “The Count is your leader and commander of this expedition. He commands respect.”
Dr Ferring started forward; Treggs gave his huge grin and stayed put; Lady Lissia was nowhere to be seen and de Meister and Leila glanced at each other; then both drew their weapons; but held them blade-down.
The herald blew again. “Andrei Shvedov, Count of the County of the Stein and Herald of the Queen of Richmond, states that he is in command of this expedition and will be accorded the respect that his position demands.”
De Meister stepped forward. “Listen, Count Shvedov. We are under no illusions as to the importance of this mission to Queen Zoe and the kingdom of Richmond; and we are all committed to it. Nothing will be gained though this pomp and ceremony. If you are the captain; then so be it. However, I do not know you. If I think you are making a tactical error, then I will challenge it. I am here as a warrior and fighter under the command of the Queen herself.”
Leila stepped forward, staring at the Count. “I am here for the Queen. I will obey you, but I will not serve you.”
Count Shvedov looked unhappy; but then his face cleared. “I too serve the Queen. To gain our interstellar colony almost certainly will require diplomacy. That is my area; I am empowered to make deals under the authority of the Queen.”
The Duke of Kincaid stepped forward. “Let me introduce your other crewmembers. This is Professor Albert Murphy; ex-chair of mechanics at Perth University. “The balding man nodded; said “I can’t wait to show you around her; she is beautiful”, then went back to his food.
“This is Gita Chandrakala.” The young Asian woman wore the uniform of the Richmond navy. “She is the ship’s pilot.”
De Meister started forward. “How did you get to be trained as a pilot? We all know what starships are. But there has not been one here for five hundred years. Why are you so special?”
Chandrakala looked at him. “I am an officer in the Navy; I fought in the battle of Deep Lagoon. Also; I read some books obtained from the Sistema. I can fly this ship; if you have any doubts then there are coldsleep pods in one of the holds.”
The Count rose and declared that they would convene again at sundown to discuss strategy.
“Sundown? I was under the impression that this mission was urgent.”
The Count dabbed delicately at his mouth with a napkin and waved his hand. “You need to learn about the ship and I have an important hunting expedition organised with the Duke of Parun.”
“One more thing, then. Does the ship have a name?” The Count thought for a moment. “It shall be called ‘To the Eternal Glory of her Majesty Queen Zoe of Richmond’.
Leila hissed at this. “It should have a name that will strike fear into our enemies. The ‘Star Huntress’”
“How about ‘The Shuddering of Forgotten Enemies?” said de Meister.
“It already has a name – SV2305”, said Lieutenant Chandrakala.
“Why don’t we just call it ‘Glory’?” suggested Treggs.
“You cannot leave until King John holds the Great Feast. This is scheduled in five days”, said the Duke. “You have been assigned rooms in the castle. You will find everything you need there. Get yourself settled in and we will meet again in an hour, in the courtyard by …” he smiled, “’Glory’”
The personalities of the crew are beginning to show in more detail now.