Chapter 3 – Flight of Glory
Servants showed them to their rooms in the castle; the rooms were well-appointed and they were afforded a personal valet and maid, they merely had to pull the bell cord.
De Meister paced the room; then looked out of the window; down onto Glory. The castle staff had thrown a few tarpaulins over the ship; enough to break up the outline. Abruptly, he left and sought out the Duke. ‘My Lord, Sir. I am uncomfortable about this mission. None of us have ever flown in a starship; yet we are expected within a few days to be able to learn how to operate one. Our pilot apparently learnt her trade at sea. I have no confidence in our commander; the Count seems too pre-occupied with pomp and ceremony about his own importance. Finally, I am expected to work alongside a savage.’
The Duke’s eyes were cold and his tone scathing. ‘Do you think you were picked for your good looks; de Meister? The Queen was presented with several possible candidates; she picked you. You claim to be the best swordsman in the kingdom and your reputation precedes you. That is why the Queen chose you to serve her Remember; you were picked by the Queen herself.’
Sometime later, they all met in the courtyard by Glory. A boarding ramp wide enough to take a small cart led up into the ship. Lt. Chandrakala pushed past them and climbed a ladder up into the control room. Prof Murphy took charge of the tour.
‘This is the sensor bay; as far as we as we can determine the ship was designed for long-range scans. There was a ground vehicle housed here, but it was missing when the ship was found.’
‘This is the cargo hold and the fuel scoops / processing. The ship holds enough fuel for one drill; we have to refuel every time. The scoops allow us to skim gas giants or stars. It is something we haven’t been able to try as yet.’
‘Is that the pilot’s job?’ asked de Meister. Dr Murphy glanced at him; then replied ‘yes’.
‘What’s a drill?’ asked Treggs. ‘You said we had enough fuel for one drill. What does that mean?’
Dr Murphy motioned them through into the next area. ‘This is the engineering section; where the ship’s power and drive are generated.’ He pointed upwards. ‘It extends to the upper section as well.’
Dr Murphy crossed to a large panel displaying a myriad of symbols. ‘I don’t profess to understand half of this; mainly why I’m here is to gain that knowledge.’
‘So, what’s a drill?’ Treggs looked at the panel and shrugged. Dr Murphy pointed to the machines. ‘I don’t, as yet, understand how the Spike Drive works. But, when we activate it, we will travel about one parsec. That is why we must plot our course carefully, we must arrive where there is fuel available.’
de Meister scowled and thought inwardly ‘this is getting worse by the minute. Now we have an engineer who doesn’t understand his machinery.’ He looked around for Leila, but she was nowhere to be found.
Leila followed the others into the ship, but quickly became bored with stuff she wasn’t interested in. She returned back to the courtyard. In the sensor bay, she encountered a castle servant examining the panels.
‘Who are you?’ challenged Leila. The woman jumped and turned. ‘The Count wants everything kept clean. I am just a cleaner. Look, I am cleaning this panel. I have finished now.’
Leila watched her cross the courtyard and go through a door to the servants quarters.
That evening over dinner, she asked the Count who had been assigned to keep the ship clean.
‘I have assigned no-one’ replied Count Shvedov. ‘Although I have been considering taking a personal valet and maid with me. At grand occasions I must always look my best.’
de Meister rolled his eyes at this, but before he could speak the Duke stepped in smoothly. ‘My lord, there will not be room aboard Glory for any extra personnel, other than ourselves.’
‘But I do have my own stateroom surely’?
While they were diplomatically breaking the news of the accommodation to the Count; Leila slipped out of the room and headed outside. It was dark and the air was chill; a factor she barely noticed. She was about to head into the servant’s quarters when a flicker of light caught her eye. It was coming from an upper room in one of the towers. Leila wasted no time; she pulled out a knife and ran lightly up the tower steps.
In an upper room was the cleaning woman, crouched down by a window. She had a hooded lantern and was sending a rhythmic series of light flashes to the outside. As Leila entered, the woman rose and with a snarl, pulled a knife.
‘Savage! You had to interfere. Now you will die.’
A furious knife fight ensued; Leila found, to her amazement, that the spy was a competent knife-fighter. However, the spy’s lack of armour showed and although Leila took a few wounds; most of the hits she took were absorbed by her hide armour. Finally, she hit home with a deep stroke.
‘Savage,’ hissed the woman, spitting blood. ‘Your kind deserves to die out. This is our planet.’
Leila grabbed hold and shook the spy, but the life had left her body.
Outside, something caught her attention. Out on the hills to the west a light was flickering; in a similar way what the spy was doing. After a time, it stopped.
‘Idiot!’ cried de Meister, his voice filling the Great Hall. ‘Did it not occur to your savage instincts to keep the spy alive for questioning?’
Leila’s eyes were ice-blue. ‘Call me savage again de Meister and I will carve your heart out. I am Leila of the Sevatim and I demand respect.’
The Duke stepped forward. ‘Listen, please. Put your differences aside in order to consider the consequences. We must assume that the presence of Glory has been compromised. The lights that Leila saw came from the west; the Cumberland border.’ He paused and looked round to everyone. ‘Leila looked to see if the woman was carrying anything incriminating; she was not – the mark of a good spy. It is obvious that she has an accomplice, out on the hills. We must capture this person alive.’
‘Kincaid’ said the Count. ‘What relationship does have Cumberland with Rivington? Would they betray us?’
‘My Lord. Cumberland is a poor nation; they covet our riches and protected position behind the North Mountains. The air flows dried and hot across Cumberland. The promises of the Bright Empire are like mana to them and King Matthew has already signed up to their proposals.’
The discussions went on long into the night and the following day. Eventually a plan of action was agreed upon.
Leila could (just) remember a few of the sequences. She would repeat them; in the hope of engendered a response. They would then use Lissia’s Lingusitic skill to talk to the responders and keep them talking until a patrol could capture them.
The plan worked; Lady Lissia found that they were using Morse code; a signalling language from Old Earth. She kept the communication going until the patrol captured the spy out in the hills; he was taken by surprise and taken alive. Back at the castle; he was put to the question and it was eventually revealed that he had not passed on any information to his spymaster.
The following day, they broke fast in the Great Hall. The discussion revolved around the mission; due to leave tomorrow as this is when the Great Feast will take place.
‘I have to raise some … problems that I can forsee’; said Treggs. ‘The Queen has charged us with founding a colony. However; I don’t see that there are enough of us to do that. Also, we don’t carry enough supplies or basic materials to do it. So, what is our purpose?’
Count Shvedov surged up, his face black as thunder. ‘You dare doubt the judgement of the Queen!’
The Duke of Kincaid rose and made a gesture of calming. ‘It is true; the Queen has tasked us with a mammoth undertaking. However; it is not without a solution.’
He unrolled a map onto the table; it showed Essex and two other systems. ‘What we are looking for is not a Garden World, but any world that can sustain life on a long-term basis. It does not have to be permanent; it only has to last long enough to fulfil the terms of the treaty. Later, of course, it can be expanded. So,’ he looked round the table, ‘we carry tools, timber and cloth; enough to establish a basic settlement. We leave a garrison and Glory returns to collect more of the castle guards and staff …’
‘And spies,’ interjected De Meister. The Duke ignored the comment, ‘… in order to expand the colony.’
‘So, which system do we head for first?’ asked Lt. Chandrakala. ‘I need to start the course calculations today, in order to make sure they are accurate.’
All eyes turned to the Count, who gestured at the map. ‘This will be our first destination.’ ‘An excellent choice, my lord,’ said Professor Murphy, ‘a Class-F star one parsec away.’
The morning dawned cold and damp, with a light drizzle falling. They all went aboard Glory, Lt. Chandrakala and De Meister went up to the bridge; Professor Murphy and Dr Ferring went down to engineering. de Meister watched appreciatively as Lt. Chandrakala expertly powered up the ship’s systems
Suddenly, from outside, a fanfare of trumpets blew.
‘For the glory of Queen Zoe of Richmond; this expedition is underway,’ declared the Count. Glory lifted upwards from the castle courtyard, the downdraught scattering the trumpeters; then, as Chandrakala increased the power; rocketed skywards up into space.
For this third instalment I used the Stellar Adventure rules from Arion Games. They are based on the Advanced Fighting Fantasy system (as per the game-books) but are very easy to use and very detailed. The combat between Leila and the spy lasted nine combat rounds, longer than I thought it would, hence Leila’s realization that the spy was a surprisingly good fighter.