Call me Hashmael. Y’ken pour me a double rye and I’ll regale ye, as I’m sure ye’t’want, with news an’ stories of the Black. Yes, Yes, it’s alw’ys stories this, stories that, stories demanded for want of a drink, and can’t an old man find naught but peace in the bottom of a glass? Aye, an’ it’s always the same stories, y’want to hear of battles, and of piracy, and of grand naval manoeuvre, tales of shot and of boarders, knife to knife in spacesuits but th’truth of it is, the truth of it is and always has been, and as long as there’s drink, always will be, that shipwork is naught but dull an’ dreary routine and pomp, checkin’ thrice what’ye’ve checked thrice already that day, upon the hour ev’ry hour, but aye, there are stories, stories’ve the narrow moments of terror in that big empty black, and since ye’ll be wantin’ a story of battles, why, I’ll regale ye with the story of the first battle I ever did and was has been in.

Th’ship was the Apollo, and th’captain was called Lonsdale, Ray Lonsdale. Ran a tight ship, good discipline, rarely spoke, but had a beautiful singing voice, aye, but that’s another story, a story of storms and not of battles, aye but this story too was of a storm, f’w’had been caught in solar eddies, now, the Apollo was a Light Cruiser, Florida class, not that w’re’running anythin’ even close to a standard configuration save for the hull and the reactor cores, but a Florida class, in big enough solar eddies, y’got to have all hands on deck, batton down the hatches and ride with the wind until y’re out. It’ll knock out y’sensors  so ye blind in waves, it’ll tear up your solarsail if you ride against it, aye, but ride perpendicular and get the vectors right, and ye’ve got the smoothest sailing ye’ve ever had, and fast too, f’r no fuel. It’s lucky too, ‘cos sure as ye’d guess ye’ reaction drives will fail if ye try to drive ‘em hard and long, and the constant buffeting’ll just leave ye spinning in circles if ye don’t have a good helmsmen, aye, but the Apollo did have a good helmsmen, as ye’ll see. Another glass, my cup runneth dry!

Now, we’d been ridin’ these waves upon hours, and that’s the tedious kind of work where y’wait for the sensors to come good, look through ye’sextant and try to take a reading, adjust y’sail for however ye’ve been blown, and repeat, all the while being hurled back and forth off ye feet. T’was a few hours in that our navigator was takin’ a readin’, then gets a look like he’d seen the ghost of Jimmy Whittaker himself! On the next wave, he looks again, an’ sure enough he’s right shoutin’ for the Captain to look, aye, for in his spyscope he sighted none other than the quarry we’d been tracking, and stuck too was she in the storm!

It’ll be now that y’ll be askin’ if we was so quick to descend to piracy, and all I’ll say is what ev’ry spaceman will tell you the same: it’s complicated out there in the Black, and the line between pirate and navy ain’t always clear, and we had our letter of Marque, out of date it may be, though well too far from a port had we been, and the ship we’d been hunting wore none but enemy livery, aye, azure and gules, party per bend sinister argent, blazoned above, three meteors, and that is the device of the Andromeda Confederacy, which y’all’ve heard of, and despite their name, have never seen beyond the edge of th' Milky Way, and whose many other boasts are affront with just as many deceits.

Well, Captain Lonsdale gets a look in his eyes like an inspired madman, and none of us are sure if he had a plan or if he’d lost his mind to voidsickness, or perhaps even both, f’who would ever be mad enough to engage in a raging solar storm, aye, for by now our instruments rated the eddies as not eddies but a storm, of category two.

Captain Lonsdale, this mad glint in his eye, Captain Lonsdale begins calling orders, not barking, no, he never raised his voice unnecessarily, not even the one time I was hungover and derelict of duty, aye but that’s another story, y’see Lonsdale was calm of affect, but hasteful and direct, and he calls first to his sailors to cut the sail entirely, but to be ready to unfurl it fully dressed again on his signal, and the men go rushin’ up the jeffries tube in the centre of the mast t’make the adjustments. Then, he grabs a young boy, not older than fourteen, and this boy, not quite a stowaway, not quite a spaceman, but I suppose a sort of down-on-his-luck cabinboy, yet to develop the vices of liquor – another round, barman! – and with passion still in his cheeks, and Captain Lonsdale grabs this boy by the shoulder and demands of him ‘Run a message boy! All guns manned on the portside!” and the boy, always trying to make a good impression, especially when the Captain himself was issuing the order, turns to run off and obey it, but the Captain grabs him again by the shoulder, and the boy is pulled backwards and turned by force midstep, and Captain Lonsdale demands ‘Top deck load plasma webbing, all other decks load plasma shot!’ and again the boy turned to run, and again the Captain pulled him back by the shoulder, this time nearly bringing the boy off of his feet and he spun his arms in the air to hold balance as the Captain added ‘All Port guns fire broadside on my command, then fire at will after!’

Well the boy got runnin’, and the sailors got  cuttin’ and as the sail folded and the thrusters broke, we all were hit by naught but a fearful silence, in between each bracing rock of the ship, and plain as interstellar space ye’d see on the port side, we were listing closer to our quarry with each rock, each time we were tossed we were brought to its level, aye, but then we saw, for she was too gettin’ tossed, but not below to level as we, but instead above to level, meanin’ only as each wave broke were we level, and in between we were naught but below their sensor line.

Now our quarry was no mean feat, she were not like hunting a rabbit, nay but bein’ more like huntin’ an elephant equipped with a right rifle. We were well armed to bring her down, but she was bigger than us, more than twice the guns and twice the men, and in a fair fight we would not be a match. Our’s was the faster vessal, but only on the cornering, f’her thrusters also outmatched us by two. Yet in this storm – maybe in this storm the odds were in the favour, and surely that’s what Lonsdale was thinkin’, were he even thinkin’ and not having fallen mad to have us hunt a bigger ship in a storm.

With each break, we knew the moment grew closer, and all were silent, watchin’, as though somehow she might even hear our breathin’ and we be rattled, aye, but each fearful moment passed to another more fearful, and soon the fearful silence was fraught with exciting science, as our quarry fell in range and Captain Lonsdale called the order ‘Broadside port guns!’

Now they say that space is silent, and that may be true for any bastard lucky enough to be wearin’ a spacesuit and floatin’, but inside the ship you hear the report of cannons well echo throughout the decks, back and forth six times before stopping, albeit it’s a deadened sound, like hearing it through this empty glass – which should be filled, barman. Now the two types of report issued, for plasma webbing serves to tear up solar sails, gum reaction drive and burn out the circuits of a jump, all in all, leaving the victim stuck and floating, while plasma shot, as I’m sure y’already understand, serves only to punch through hull armour and shields. Well, as the wave broke and we were in range in sight, all guns shot true, and Lonsdale called for his sailors to unfurl, and for helm to activate th’reaction drive, and he called it so: ‘Unfurl proud! All ahead flank, thrusters, mains, tops and royals!’ then, in the next wave break, a second volley was launched from those on the portside who had the skill to be loaded again so quickly, launched blind as our sensors recovered, and then, as the wave broke for the third time, we moved away at speed, chanced just so that the way we needed to move was perpendicular to the wind, and such that from our quarry’s perspective, a wave had broken, a ship appeared from nowhere and loosed two rounds, and then by the third wave, that ship has disappeared.  

Now, the Captain went to the helmsmen and whispered in his ear, and with experience I could tell ye exactly what his next order was from what we did, but I couldn’t’ve in the time, yet it just so chanced I was near enough to hear, and he said to his helmsmen: ‘Make range, then cut engines and all about. Thrust between waves, and bring our starboard to her aft’ and our helmsmen, as I said, was good enough to make that order, then the Captain grabbed that same cabin boy by the same shoulder, for the cabinboy had been standing right beside the both of them, and the boy had learned, a quick study, and caught his balance before he was grabbed, and received a new order: ‘All guns starboard, load plasma shot and wait for the order’.

The boy got busy relaying the message, and the men got busy loading the starboard cannons, and the helmsmen fought not the storm but tamed it for as sure as I could swear it was at that moment that the storm calmed again, and indeed he brought us aft of our enemy, who could now see us plain as intersteller yet had no meaningful guns aft, not any that could rally ‘gainst our starboard broad, nor could she turn faster than our helmsmen could keep us behind her.

How did it end? The Captain ordered us to fire at will, and she hailed us a surrender before the third volley. Barman, another drink!

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