Heart Of The South – Preview

Those Who Take Control…

“Go pronounce his present death,

And with his former title greet Macbeth”

-Macbeth by William Shakespeare

 

Ogher hoisted his blaster, “Right – you guys coming?” he said looking expectantly at Tyr’uc and Slick.

Moments before Elshan had disappeared with a puff of mysteriousness, muttering something about ‘Symbols of Command’, with the capitals. Ogher knew something serious was going down. He was almost certain that, for reasons unknown to him, Magen was intending on taking command of the ship.

And then there was that comment about the navigations systems, it sounded more momentous than a mere technical fault. The way Magen had said it, it sounded like someone had deliberately tampered with the guidance systems. Ogher could deduce fairly easily, that whatever, they had been led off course for a reason. It seemed most likely that the Es’stons had a hand in this – either that or Command was attempting something funny, and Magen was attempting a justifiable coop. However, he did not have the time to spend thinking out these things to the extent that he could predict what would happen next. He would have to take it as it came, and he was fully certain that whatever was on its way, would come. Soon all would be clear, though if he wasn’t careful, it might be for the other side of the veil.

“Yeah,” Tyr’uc said unhappily, “I’m ready… What’s all this about anyway?”

“We’re going to take command of the secondary bridge of the Kuan-Aree… Right?” Ogher said straightforwardly. The he burst out of the room into the corridor. He knocked on the door of the girls’ quarters, “Come on! No time to fuss about your hair!” He hammered again impatiently.

Saar’ha opened the door suddenly. Ogher’s fist hung in the air, he quickly retracted it. “Don’t be silly,” she scolded, “You can’t put on your helmet unless you do your hair,” she continued sternly.

Ogher clawed his face in frustration, “Right,” he said shortly. He began to march down the corridor. Saar’ha followed, beckoning Curiba. Curiba stepped through the low cabin door, her sword’s pommel caught on the door frame, nearly knocking her down. Tyr’uc exiting opposite, was just in time to witness this. He couldn’t help but laugh. Curiba had to carefully angle her way out, peering up at the hilt in a hilarious manner, to make sure it cleared. The grin was swept from Tyr’uc’s face by a loathing scowl from the mortified Curiba. They fell in after Ogher then, Slick straggled along behind.

“So… why are we trying to take over the bridge – is this a mutiny?”

“It’s Magen’s orders…” Ogher grunted. He was busy trying to work out how they would get access to the bridge.

“What?! Is this just another way of saying you don’t have a baldy notion what’s going?” Tyr’uc halted, bringing the rest to a rest too.

“No – I do have half a clue…”

“Right, so you’d just blithely follow potentially mutinous orders? You can’t just go taking over ships because your centurion told you to! That’s pretty dumb.”

“Look Tyr’uc,” Ogher held out a threatening finger, “Sometimes you just have to trust your commander – and it’s not just a centurion – it’s Magen, our centurion. I’ll admit he has a few oddities, but all in all, he’s a half sensible chap. I’d trust him sooner than a bunch of protocols and gut feelings – now, you’d better get moving – or so help me, I’ll make sure you’ll not move again!” Ogher’s face glowered with wrath. They didn’t have the time for this, he was sure, otherwise Magen would have explained it to him.

“Right, right, no need to lose your temper,” Tyr’uc held his hands defensively in front of him. They marched on. Ogher bit his tongue, or more at this point restrained his impulse to thump him.

They streamed their way through throngs of other guards coming off duty. Arriving at the lift, Ogher jammed his stubby finger on the button.

“Are lifts dangerous in combat situations?” Slick mumbled.

“We’ll take the risk, it’ll be faster than fighting our way through hoards of Guards,” Ogher explained.

“Em,” Tyr’uc cleared his throat, “So – em…” He stumbled in the face of Ogher’s glare, “How are we going to get bridge access? I mean like, there’ll be security. A lock – you know, PIC reader, keypad, maybe even an iris scanner…”

“Yes, I had thought of that. It’s not a problem…” Ogher spoke more calmly. Tyr’uc was being a bit more constructive. The lift arrived, and they crowded in.

“Curiba, get your sword out of my face!” Tyr’uc complained.

“I can’t, there isn’t enough room you’ll have to put up with it.”

“Why did you bring it anyway?! You’re not supposed to use it.”

“I have to have the option of using it, otherwise I won’t be able to prove that it doesn’t use me…” She declared obstinately, quite proud of her plan.

“There’ll be a special code,” Ogher continued when it became clear that the two chief ‘bickerers’ were done. “ – For like, the engineers and fitters that built the ship. It’s quite usual. I know most of the codes used by Terranchi shipyards – just a matter of guessing the right one…”

“And what happens if it’s one you don’t know?” Tyr’uc questioned.

“Well,” Ogher shifted his blaster sheepishly, “We are carrying high energy weapons…”

“There’ll be two guards too,” Slick commented, “Y’know, one to get killed and one to raise the alarm.” Slick smirked at his own joke. Apparently it hadn’t been very funny, nobody laughed.

“Yes, I haven’t thought how to deal with that yet,” Ogher said, the problem was not killing them..

“Well y’see, the trick is – you kill them both at once…” Slick emphasised with his hands, a sort of chopping action. Still no-one laughed.

“I rather suspect Magen doesn’t want us to kill them…” Saar’ha said dryly. Somehow she seemed to suggest that she didn’t necessarily identify with this.

“Yes he very specifically ordered that…” Ogher said. It seemed a rather delicate situation, and he wasn’t sure he was really equipped to deal with it. Killing them did seem the sensible, most straightforward thing to do.

“Couldn’t we just, sort of walk up with an air of confidence. They’ll probably assume we’re meant to be there…” Tyr’uc looked around at his companions for approval.

“Hmm,” Ogher nodded. Yeah, that could work. Guards were never that sharp, it came from hours of boredom – or in some cases a strong sense of the self preservation instinct. “Yes, we’ll try that first.” Presently the lift arrived at the command section. The doors opened and the troop poured out. Ogher guided them along the corridor confidently, not bothering to study the ship layout displays (which in battle would have been disabled, or quite misleading – though at this moment they would have been perfectly usable by Ogher).

He halted…

“These are the toilets Ogher…” Tyr’uc felt compelled to point out.

“Ye-es,” Ogher said disconcertedly, “But – they’re toilets for the bridge staff! So that means we’re close…”

“How do you know that?!” Tyr’uc demanded.

“Well you see the little man and lady are standing a bit straighter,” Ogher pointed at the universal emblems used to indicate which toilet was appropriate.

“Haw, haw,” Tyr’uc said sarcastically. “Now seriously.”

“Well I do know how these ships are designed,” Ogher explained, it was ridiculous that he had to keep saying that, “You know, I worked as a chief engineer in a shipyard. Hey, I probably even designed this ship, for all I know. Now, follow me.”

He walked to the next turning in the corridor. They rounded the corner.

“HALT!” One of the two guards barked, “You are not authorised to enter this area.”

The squad froze. They had two blasters pointing at them, and next, they would be asked to explain what they were doing here. Ogher didn’t have the foggiest what he was going to say. He fingered his blaster, hanging at his waist, this could turn ugly…

One guard stood at the security console, and the other in front of the regularly sized, reinforced door to the bridge. A wider door would have been far less advantageous, it was unlikely that those on the bridge would ever be trying to fight their way out.

A tense few seconds passed, it seemed the guards weren’t sure what was going to happen either. They were faced with five fully armed Guards, and charged with the protection of the bridge. There were only two reasons why someone would come this way… mistake, or intent.

The other guard spoke, boldly and clearly, “If you’re looking for the – ehem – privy, it’s down the corridor to your left…” he pointed with his free hand.

“Right, thanks,” Ogher hailed him casually, and the squad slunk back around the corner. They retreated noisily, out of earshot of the guards as far as the ‘privy’.

“Okay, that didn’t work – but I’ve got an idea…” Ogher said. Saar’ha turned sharply, she was getting an inkling of what he was thinking. “Saar’ha, if you sort of take off all your armoured plates, and mail – you can distract the guards – you know what I mean, and we’ll…” he was cut off as Saar’ha’s gauntleted fist came across his face full force. Totally unprepared, he crashed against the wall.

“Do try and spend an extra few moments thinking, or perhaps should be more careful what you think about,” Saar’ha had drawn herself to her full height, and stood with her arms crossed, her eyes flashing in that basilisk-like manner.

“Right, right, you only had to say no…” Ogher grumbled, “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to.”

“I had more objection to the fact that you actually thought about it.”

“Well, my thoughts are my own.”

“Then just keep them to yourself in the future.”

“Okay. So anybody got any other ideas?” Ogher straightened himself up, looking around Tyr’uc.

“Well I could…” Curiba began.

“No, no, no, no. We wouldn’t expect that of you.” Ogher interrupted quickly.

Curiba stiffened, “That’s not… what I was going to say…” she said between clenched teeth.

“Oh,” Ogher began to look a bit ashamed.

“I was going to use the Sword…”

Ogher and Slick, both reasonably suspicious of the sword, exchanged looks. “I – I think Magen said that you weren’t to use it. I might not even work…” Ogher suggested. He among others, did not like the idea of the sword – it was, not right, thought control – and possibly unpredictable. Magen, had decided that it wasn’t malevolent, but Slick and Ogher weren’t so sure.

“It will work! It’s not just your imaginations! How can you kid yourselves!” Curiba protested, “It really is the Black Sword – the Singing Sword – you all heard it!” She calmed a bit, measuring her breathing, “But I won’t use it, Magen did say, and I guess this isn’t desperate enough…” She looked over at Saar’ha and back again to Ogher, “Though you seem to think it’s more desperate than that,” she said to him accusingly.

“No, no, quite right, not that desperate,” Slick stammered, “We could, like use a grenade.” He unclipped the explosive package from his belt.

“No! We’re not supposed to kill them!” Ogher chastised.

“Really?” he leaned towards Ogher, “Do you want Curiba to use that thing?” he hissed, indicating the ominous black sword.

Ogher sank back against the wall, he needed to think… The problem was non-lethality, how did one get past two armed Seaton Guards? He was sure the distraction idea had been good – but he couldn’t think of any other distractions, that wouldn’t involve getting shot. And the four remaining could have restrained the guards, but then what. They didn’t have hand-cuffs, and a guard could take a pretty severe knock behind that armour. You need some thing more serious than a fist or blaster stock.

“Okay how about this…” Tyr’uc began, “We go around the corner again, except this time, we have our blasters ready, and aimed at them – they wouldn’t be stupid enough to try it with five blasters on them…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Slick agreed brightly, then he seemed to lose his enthusiasm for the idea, “Except they probably are that stupid – one of us could even get killed…” Slick did not have to say that he suspected that that someone would be him.

“Well, maybe more dedicated than stupid,” Ogher said decently, “But that’s far too risky – we don’t want to have to kill them. They’re Seatons, for the sake of goodness. We can’t go around killing our own kind, there’s plenty enough Es’stons to do that for us. They are on our side…”

“Unless this is a mutiny,” Tyr’uc said, “Come on, what other option do we have?” Ogher was staring at a patch of wall somewhere to Tyr’uc’s left. “Hello?” Tyr’uc waved.

Yes… that would do. Ogher pounced, and lifted the bright red fire extinguisher off its hook. One needed something hefty to stun a guard…

“Right, Slick, smoke grenade. Creep up and set it off at the corner.” Ogher watched him go, “I want the rest of you to be shouting and screaming and stuff, as if there’s a fire. Tyr’uc, see if you can find another one of these…” he paused, measuring up Tyr’uc, “Actually, that won’t do at all, I’ll go myself – you stay here and scream with the girls.” Ogher didn’t doubt that Tyr’uc could lift a fire extinguisher, he was more concerned on a mechanical level, what would happen to Tyr’uc if he swung it with force. Tyr’uc didn’t have the bulk to hold him down. He get in one hit, and if he missed it would be over – and Magen would not be pleased.

Tyr’uc glowered, and was about to protest, but Ogher was off, after Slick.

Ogher stepped up softly behind the crouching Slick, not wishing to alert the Guards. Slick had just activated the smoke grenade. The others began to shout ‘fire’. It was ludicrous, there was no screaming. Apparently they noticed this.

“Curiba, scream…” Tyr’uc prompted, it was no use asking Saar’ha.

“Why don’t you…” she replied.

Ogher heard this interchange drift up the passageway. He wondered vaguely if the guards had heard their discussion. Sound appeared to travel rather well.

Slick stood up then, and turned to run, instead he bounced off Ogher, whom he hadn’t heard.

“Ahh!” he screeched as he stumbled backwards, falling into the passage that led to the secondary bridge.

“Oi!” one of the Guards, no doubt on his guard at this stage yelled. Two shots followed, but Slick was too fast for their reaction times, he sprinted down the corridor away towards the others.

One of the guards inadvisably gave chase. He turned the corner tightly – Ogher’s fire extinguisher shot out. It connected beautifully with the guards jaw. He flew across the opening, smashing into the opposing corner.

The corridor was now dense with smoke. Ogher decided to take a bit of a risk. There wasn’t much choice anyway. He charged round the corner, leaping to the far side, the guard’s first precise shot missing. Ogher ploughed towards him like an unstoppable train. The guard fired a few wild shots in his direction. The fire extinguisher swung up from under hand. It knocked the blaster out of the way, hurling it out of the guard’s hand. Then the guard was pasted to the wall, sandwiched by Ogher’s momentum.

Ogher stepped back and then ‘konked’ the guard on the head with the heavy bludgeon – he dropped…

The others were not aware that Ogher had been successful, in fact, probability dictated that the man with the gun should have shot him. They weren’t hopeless, but they were definitely worried. Well, except Slick, who always assumed the worst, it meant he was often unpleasantly surprised.

“Come on,” Saar’ha beckoned them…

“He’s dead, I know it!” Slick wailed. Which also meant, that he hadn’t dispatched the guard, he’d be around the corner in a second to kill the rest of them. He was sure he saw a shadow move in the smoke.

They walked apprehensively towards the pall of smoke. Ogher stepped out at that moment… his shoulder was smouldering, he dangled the fire extinguisher from one hand.

“It’s okay, I’ve dealt with them.” He beckoned them to follow him.

“Your shoulder is burning…” Saar’ha said sedately.

“Is that perchance an inquiry after my health?”

“No.”

Ogher grunted, and turned, heading for the security console. He keyed in the Kalhar code, on a wild guess. It involved holding down a strange combination of buttons at once. He was not surprised when the door unlocked. He opened it, and Saar’ha marched on past purposefully.

“I’ve to sort out the navigation.”

“Ogher, I thought you said mentioned something about not killing them…” Tyr’uc said holding the closest guard’s head. He let go and it lolled. Tyr’uc straightened up.

“He’s not dead surely? – It was only a little tap,” Ogher started.

Tyr’uc laughed, “No… but they’re definitely out cold, which begs the question – what do we do with them?”

“Well bring them in here for a start.” Ogher indicated for Curiba and Slick to grab the other one. Ogher and Tyr’uc dragged the guard in by the shoulders. They propped him by the door. Curiba and Slick followed shortly.

“I want you two to watch them,” Ogher said. He handed Curiba the fire extinguisher.

“You know your shoulder’s still burning?” Curiba said.

“Uh – give me a touch with that then.”

Curiba fired the extinguisher at his shoulder. He wiped off the foam.

“So – em – what do we do if they wake up?” Slick asked, darting an uneasy look at the slumbering guards.

“You’ve got Curiba with a fire extinguisher..”

“Er – right…” he looked nervously at the mute guards, “Right.” He didn’t get a further opportunity to express his concerns, Ogher’s attention had shifted.

Ogher and Tyr’uc walked around the defensive wall that stood in front of the doorway, designed to break up any attackers. Either side of the wall, opposite the entrances, there were consoles. On the right was a security controls desk, with a large multi display for the cameras situated about the ship. The console made an arc starting at the wall, and extending to near the centre of the room, leaving enough space for a passage to the rest of the deck. The other console, was Firing control, it followed the arching style of the other, though its displays were quite different.

Beyond these were two tactical display tables, much smaller than those of the Black Dragon. Chairs butted on to the walls at the sides, for buckling in, by tradition, and practicality, one would stand around the tables. To the left wall between these chairs, was the Ship Status display, a feature common to just about all Seaton military vehicles. There were other consoles interspersed, like the communications console.

On down, at the end, Saar’ha occupied the navigational station, were path-finding instrumentation, maps, and driving controls would be found. Saar’ha was already checking the instrumentation, compass, altimeter, speedometer, satellite tracking and positioning and the 3D relief map of the area, based on this information. She also had visuals from various positions on the ship, and a multitude of other scanning equipment, which was also used for ‘Observation’. Unfortunately, all this equipment, including compass, came through a computer interface, which basically meant, it was far easier for it to lie. The Seatons had a blind spot in relation to computer processing and control. Great things could be done, it was undeniable, but with it came a weakness.

“So now what?” Tyr’uc asked.

“I’m pretty sure Magen wants this place up and running, I think he intends to use it.” Ogher answered.