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Author Topic: Apoapsis  (Read 6675 times)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« on: October 02, 2006, 12:12:25 PM »

Palus Somni
Adamasite-registered freighter Lady Indigo
Four days southeast of Camozayo


Here they were, the edge of the world. Not literally, of course--mankind had known that Meriterra was round since the earliest days of science and mathematics in ancient Britannia. This area of the world, though, seemed to have been forgotten by civilization. The seas east of Terra Aquilla, south of the Boreal Sea. No major powers held sway out here. Lantisian and Corinturian patrols failed this far west, and Camozayo had long ago ceded responsibility for patrolling these lanes. The only civilized areas in this part of the world were a few minor, isolationist states who hadn't even advanced enough to know what Lady Indigo was.

She was, in fact, a 40,000-ton freighter, flying an Adamasite flag, one of the two dozen ships that facilitated the annual oil convoys from Corintur to Camozayo. Heavily laden with goods--mostly infantry weapons and munitions bound for Southhaven--, she had set out four days ago, ahead of the tankers still unloading in Port Smith, in the captain's hopes of meeting up with a certain Lantisian patrol that they'd be able to use as an escort for half the journey.

Lady Indigo had a normal crew of sixteen, although they were short one on this trip. Sam and Jolt had taken sick while in Port Smith and were being treated for some kind of food poisoning. They hoped to be well by the time the convoy set out again, and would hitch a ride on one of the other container ships.

The captain had tried to find replacements from the usual dock rifraff. Even though he was usually wary of finding labor in Camozayo--they didn't have a great reputation for loyalty--he had found a sailor who'd been looking for passage to Ylling for whatever reason. After a quick Q&A and tour of the Lady, he'd been welcomed aboard as a midshipman and helmsman, though not as a sentry.

The passage of Palus Somni, the sea between Terra Aquilli and the minor continent Somni, was unusually empty for this time of year. Despite the reputation of the area as a kind of pirate haven, far from police forces or friendly ports, there was usually a brisk trade between the powers of Letana and Barony. So far, though, the Lady had only encountered half a dozen ships between Port Smith and their current position.
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Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2006, 05:06:28 PM »

Kit Morales double-checked the charts and referenced with the radar, trying to make out where exactly he was in relation to the Somnian coast. He cursed the overcast weather outside the bridge, which obscured the northern stars and Merselene, the moon. Not only did the clouds make his ten-year-old GPS unit, state-of-the-art when he bought it for the ship, useless, it also rendered his sextant worthless. He hoped that the clouds cleared for a bit, or they reached some charted city, because he wasn't very familiar with this passage. Despite it being a regular trip for the Indigo Lady, the Camozayo run only went out once a year since the nation had closed up for whatever reason. Morales spent more time making trips to Soigacas and Kitimat in the spring and summer, and had never been able to get a good handle on the Palus Somni.

He grabbed a cigarette, unfiltered, out of his plaid shirt's front pocket and lit it with a thick metal lighter. Inscribed on the lighter were the words 'CNS FLINTLOCK -- EC 032'. It was a souvenier from his days in the Imperial fleet, back when Theo III was in charge and there were pirate hunts every three months. Flintlock had been one of the cruisers designed to take out the pirate cutters and frigates that were so often bothering commerce in Ashat, at least until it had been sunk during the recent spat at Corrinth. Fortunately, Morales had 'retired' almost fifteen years ago, casting off the life of a gunner for that of a captain. He'd gotten the Lady, crew and all, in Adamasite seven years ago, part of the local reward program for returning officers.

All those years on Flintlock had made him learn what a good pirate night looked like, though. Too many times, on nights like these, they'd received calls from merchantmen being attacked, and too many times they'd been too far away to do anything more than run a searchlight over the waves, searching for the bodies of resistors.

Morales took a drag from the cigarette, fealing the reassuring smoke fill his lungs. Exhaling through his nose, he exited the bridge and yelled up to the sentry post. "Josh. Hey, Josh!"

The kid, mabe twenty-two years old, stuck his head over the railing. "Yeah, cap'n?"

"Come down and take the helm for a few minutes. I'm going down to find Cork and Lewis, get another sentry up. I don't like this cloud cover, shore could come up on us any moment." The captain inhaled again and felt the nicotine get sucked out of his mouth by the ocean wind.

"Okay, cap!" Josh's boots thudded against the metal roof as he scurried over to the ladder. He clambered down haphazardly, and Morales sighed. The kid was going to go overboard one of these days unless he stopped running around like a teenager at the local pool. "Watch your feet, kid."

The youth gave a toothy grin at his elder and ducked into the bridge. Morales shook his head and turned towards the cabin door.
Logged

Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2006, 07:14:27 AM »

Cork was the second sentry; about thirty, he was a tall, well-sighted veteran of the Pragman army who had found his way over to Adamas a few years ago, after the SATO-Nuclear Republic war. He was pretty softspoken, and was otherwise quiet as a ghost. He'd been a scout in the army, and had adapted his skills very easily to the sea.

Lewis, on the other hand, was the muscle of the crew. Not skilled enough for servicing the engine or cargo hold doors, he was strong enough to help out during loading and serve as an able watchman. Morales didn't know where he was from--he'd been onboard the Lady when he'd took over--but he was a helluva shot and had, on more than one occasion, put a few holes in suspicious-looking cutters in the more seedy parts of the world.

Morales re-entered the bridge and took over the helm from Josh. The kid scurried back up to the roof, while Cork jogged forward to get up in the crow's nest. Lewis stayed in the bridge as well, cradling an old Anderson automatic rifle.

They sat in silence, watching the moonlight break through the clouds every once in a while, for twenty minutes. The coastline of Somni moved by invisibly to the north, a bare echo on the radar. Suddenly, a contact appeared on the edge of the screen.

"What do you think, Lew?" the captain asked. The radar was pretty old, and wasn't a fancy military model. The maxium range on it was only forty miles; the contact was at the edge, moving pixel-by-pixel closer, from the east.

The big man grunted. "Movin' pretty fast, cap'n. Looks like she's headed for us, too."

"This is the common sealane in the Palus, though," Morales thought aloud. "What do you make her speed at?"

"Twenty knots, maybe." Lady Indigo only made seventeen, and that was empty.

Morales looked over at the IFF screen. Most ships making this run either didn't have a transponder or didn't activate it, trying to sneak through as some heavily-armed frigate or commerce raider. It cost enough to get an false transponder these days, and was hardly worth the risk; Corinturian law meant that getting caught with a fake lost your ship and got yourself in jail for a few years.

The screen was blank. Nothing but the ACS/CCS Lady Indigo at the center. The captain looked back at the radar. "We should get a better size estimate at about twenty-five miles. I want you to join Cork up there." Lewis nodded. "Bring him one of the Andersons, too. I want you guys ready to disuade any action." The bigger man grinned and exited the bridge, heading back to the cabin door to grab another gun.
Logged

Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2006, 01:43:40 PM »

The ships closed the distance within an hour, meaning that the bogey was running at at least 25 knots--far faster than most freighters or tankers could move. Radio calls went unanswered, and Morales reluctantly made a call on the intercom: "All crew, general quarters." Didn't mean much else except "grab a gun and get on deck", since there weren't exactly any battle stations on the Lady.

Rain had started coming down lightly outside the bridge, spattering on the windows and making it difficult to see. The captain picked up a walkie-talkie and hit the call button. "Lew, come in."

Two hundred meters ahead, aloft in the crow's nest, Lewis replied. "What's the story, captain?"

"Bogey's less than a mile away and has slowed. I can't see shit out here, windshield's all wet. You getting anything?"

Thunder burst suddenly, but the response came through without any static. "Not yet. Helluva squall building up."

Morales envisioned the two men in the nest keeping watch for the past hour, probably freezing now. "You guys have ponchos up there?"

"Yeah. Cork seems like he's always got them." A laugh was cut off along with the call switch--Morales couldn't tell who was laughing, Lewis or Cork.

A dull red flash appeared in the sky overhead. What the hell? That can't be lightning....

The handset squealed. "Cap'n, we've got a flare."

"I see it. You got the ship yet?" Three figures entered the bridge: Josh, having jumped down at the flare; the cook, Jax; and the Camozayan, Nicolai. The latter two each carried one of the Andersons. Morales raised an eyebrow at the newcomer, but was interupted by Lewis' response.

"Barely. Cork says it looks like a customs corvette, maybe big enough to be a destroyer. Can't guess what make it is, though."

"Alright. I'm shifting course to starboard; if they follow, give 'em a few shots." He turned to the three men in the doorway.

Looking at the Camozayan, he asked, "You know how to handle that thing?" Nicolai nodded. "Stupid question, Emperor Alex has conscription or some such thing...." He glanced at Jax. "Where's everyone else?"

"Waking up, Kit. It's almost 0100--I was about to turn in and let you scrounge for yourself."

Morales chuckled darkly. "Josh, go grab a gun and get everyone else up. We might have some trouble."

"No kidding, cap'n?" The kid threw a mock salute and ducked back out into the rain.
Logged

Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2006, 03:43:08 PM »

It took two more blasts before Morales realized that it wasn't thunder. That ship is giving us warning shots! The old custom of shooting across the bow had given way, with the firepower of the last century, to shooting pretty much anywhere within earshot. "You guys give 'em whatever you can," he said into the walkie-talkie. Lewis barked confirmation.

Far off to port, the captain could finally make out the ship that was stalking them. Smaller than the Lady Indigo, it looked eerie in the red glow of the still-descending flare. Unable to make out any details, Morales still saw the muzzle flash of the ship's gun--probably a three- or five-inch piece--and instinctively ducked. He straightened up and addressed Jax. "We're gonna have to slow down, or they might just decide to start taking pieces off the ship. So long as they don't hit the waterline, they know they're going to get a fortune."

The cook nodded and hoisted his gun. "C'mon," he muttered to the Camozayan, walking out the door. Nicolai gave one frightened look to Morales and then turned and followed.

Far ahead, the captain heard the first report of an Anderson. Cork or Lewis--probably Cork--fired a burst at the oncoming ship, hoping to rattle a few pirate nerves by breaking a window or something more fragile, like a cranium. Not much of a chance of hitting, in this weather--the Lady was taking some pretty nasty waves, and the Anderson automatic wasn't exactly the most modern, or accurate, piece of weaponry.

Still, it'd be a lot more effective close-range. Half the crew had military backgrounds, and the other half at least knew how to fire the guns. They might be illegal in most jurisdictions, but the Imperial patrols let them slide on allied merchantmen, especially when they were making the Barony run.

The flare finally ran out, casting darkness over the sea again. The few patches of sky had been swallowed up by clouds in the last hour, and there were no lights on the coast to even indicate where land was. Morales could barely make out the light of the pirate bridge--it was completely drowned out a few moments later, though, when two searchlights snapped on.

Light flooded the bridge as they tagged the superstructure of the Lady. Morales ducked down and killed the ship's engines, preferring not to continue unguided while he was busy fighting. He crawled out the starboard hatch and stood up again. The cabin door, situated just aft of the bridge, was already open. He hurried carefully down the narrow mesh staircase into the mess, where the guns were hidden under the cushioned benches. He grabbed the top Anderson and four extra clips (each with thirty-three rounds) and turned to get back topside. Rushing out of the mess, he almost collided with Josh, who was running down the hall from the crew quarters.

"Where are the rest of you?" Morales asked breathlessly.

"Coming, coming, coming," the youth chanted. "They're coming. Lemme through, I need to get a gun."

The captain moved aside as Josh pushed into the mess. He glanced down the corridor and saw the lights on in the quarters. Reaching into his pocket, he realized that the walkie-talkie was missing. Shit.

"Get your gun and get topside!" Morales yelled to Josh as he pulled himself back up the staircase. He darted back into the bridge, grabbed the communicator, stuffed it in his pocket, and dove back out onto the starboard walkway.
Logged

Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
Pansada
Aristocrat
*

Merit: 20
Posts: 567


Corintur


« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2006, 10:53:29 AM »

The searchlight continued to shine on the bridge as the second crawled up and down the deck of the ship. It was impossible to make out any detail of the attacker--the floodlights completely obliterated any image coming from the second ship. Morales knew that it would stay virutally invisible until it turned to board the Lady; only then would the superstructure and stern be unshielded by the brightness.

Or maybe not. He hit the call button on the walkie-talkie. "Lew, can you see anything?"

"Yeah. Cork says it's an old destroyer, missing most of its guns. He says the design looks eastern, something from Barony or Camozayo. We can't see any flags or IDs."

"What about men?"

"Can't tell. Looks like it's coming in to grab us, though. There aren't any boats coming."

The captain had been right, the pirate ship was going to draw up alongside the Lady and board directly. Just like they were galleons. "Cork know what kind of crew that thing would carry?"

A pause, punctuated by another burst of gunfire from the bow. "He says a Pragman ship that size'd carry maybe three hundred. Could be run on less, though, if it wasn't out all the time."

Morales thought to himself. Adamasite corvettes and Corinturian destroyers ran a bit heavier usually, but could be kept going with a skeleton crew of less than fifty. Unless this was some local, backwards government trying to make a statement, chances were it wouldn't be anywhere near fully-crewed.

"Okay, the plan. Get down from the nest, find Jax and the new guy, find some cover. They can't have that many people onboard, and the weather will make them keep a crew to stop from drifting. I'll grab everyone else and try to cover the bridge and deck; you guys take the bow."

"Got it, cap."

Morales peeked around the corner of the hatch and looked at the oncoming lights. What, five or six minutes 'til they get here? Plenty of time.

The mesh staircase clanged, and a silhouette appeared in the doorway. "Get down, for Ulmo's sake!"

Josh grabbed the side of the hatchway and pulled himself through, the Anderson strapped to his back thumping against the metal. "Oh, there's the ship," he said dumbly.

"Yeah, kid, there it is. Get to the bow, Jax and Cork and Lew are there. You remember how Cork showed you to use that?"

The youth looked at the gun. "Yessir, cap'n. I'll be fine."

Morales saw the intent look on his face and nodded. "You'd better be. Stay behind the containers on your way up."
Logged

Matriarch Porcelina of the Shaelin Khapf
--------------------------------------------------
(Corintur;  Consul of the Meritocracy)
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