Eath Remembers - Snippet and update

16 Aug 2018

Still going, very slowly the last month or so thanks to my real life day job getting squarely in the way. However made some decent progress last few days and now hovering around the 56k mark. Not a vast amount to go, but still probably 2 months more on the first draft. 

 

Below is a decent length snippet of the third and final POV character, Dan Roebuck, a naval commander. As usual, I've done nothing in the way of editing or proofing, and it is presented "as is". Enjoy!

 

 

It was a warm, sunny morning on the Arcadian Coast, and Commander Dan Roebuck was doing the same thing he had done every morning for the past three months: spending several leisurely hours taking his breakfast on the balcony of his hotel room. 

The Martian Chronicle, one of the few League papers that anyone bothered printing on the coast, lay crisp and unread in front of him, its corners tugged at by the light sea breeze. It contained the same old news. League armies were bogged down on Venus, stymied by the horror of their opponents and the unforgiving Venusian climate. And that after all the work of the 16th and 25th fleets in comprehensively degrading the Venusian navies. The waste of time and effort galled him. 

He took a sip of his coffee. The coffee bean was one of the few human crops that the Martians made a decent go of cultivating, and the rich, acidic soil of the Tharsis Mountains to the south east provided the perfect conditions for growing it. It had proved a damnsight cheaper than importing the stuff.

He put his coffee down and took in the view. It was the longest he’d been on shore leave since the Mutiny, and while it was pleasant to have some terra firma beneath his feet, those same feet were beginning to get rather itchy.

It was a problem of timing and fashion. They were the twin principles guiding the League Navy. Timing and fashion.

Timing had always been the pole star. The size of the navy grew and shrank commensurate with the demands of the time. The League Navy had been decimated during the Mutiny, but it had still been the premier, most successful of all the League forces. Part of its success, he supposed, was its ability to withdraw to some secret corner of space and so attack from a position of strength every time it chose to face the enemy. The armies of Mother Earth were stuck on Earth no matter how badly they might have wanted to escape it. 

Timing.

All the dreadnoughts had done pretty well. All the destroyers had done pretty well. The former because everyone had gone to great lengths to protect them; the latter because they were nimble and because there had been so bloody many of them. Once the huge industrial facilities of North America had geared up, there was no stopping the production. Dozens were mothballed in huge geosynchronous marshalling yards. 

The cruisers had taken a pounding. Bigger and more heavily armed than destroyers, but still smaller and more lightly armoured than a dreadnought, they had borne the brunt of the actual fighting: the bloody, hull-to-hull exchange of tonnes of ordnance with their corpulent slug counterparts. Venusians were, in solar system terms, relatively new to the naval scene, which was odd given how ghastly their homeworld was; but they were tenacious fighters, and very difficult to kill. Their ships, lumpy, organic masses with cavity armour filled with gooey ichor, could take huge amounts of punishment, and their powerful crystal drives—more powerful than those of the League—meant that even their obese dreadnoughts could move at a fair clip.

But the cruisers had got them. The League may have had brittle, steel-clad warships with inferior drives, but human spacemanship was lightyears ahead of any of the aliens they shared the solar system with. Determinedly, doggedly, the cruiser force had weathered the slugs’ vicious fire, closed with them, and lanced them like boils. Clouds of goo still surrounded the orbit bands of Venus,  filled with desiccated slugs like chunky soup.

In the end, it had all counted for nothing.  Despite their impressive kill ratios, cruisers were seen as unfashionable—obsolete, even—and had fallen victim to the whims of the incumbent First Sea Lord, Albrecht Adonis.

They were, for want of a better word, unfashionable.

Cruisers would make a resurgence; it was as certain as the continual booming of the sea against the red cliffs of the Arcadian coast. Another war, another Admiralty Board, and they would be back in fashion, the how-did-we-ever-do-without-them? workhorse of the League Navy. Indeed, he could remember a time when the Admiralty was going to phase out destroyers in favour of the now obsolescent frigate. 

But for now Roebuck had to wait, and with a glut of old and disgruntled cruiser captains kicking about  the various human fortress cities of Mars, getting command of a vessel other than the ship he had called his own for the past four years—The Pursuit of Ceres—was going to be difficult.

The wind stole a sigh from his lungs. For all his sullen rumination—and there had been plenty of time for it—the naval world, with its byzantine system of political manoeuvrings, was still something he could navigate. He had a decent action record, a decent disciplinary record, and a few political backers yet who had enough pull to get him back into space.

What he couldn’t navigate was the end of his marriage—the news of which had reached him via an errand boy with the post from the LNS Kirkpatrick—as well as several thousands of pounds in gambling debts which had a local Martian warlord, Saung-Ak, hiring every debt collector and shark in the country, human and alien alike, to try and track him down.

He drained the last of his coffee with a vague sense of melancholy. He was sad about his marriage, in an abstract sort of way. It had been a long time coming. Neither he, nor his soon-to-be-ex-wife, had been faithful in recent years—his lengthy absences had seen to that. But still; he was not accustomed to failure in anything. He could almost feel the disappointment of the respective sets of parents, extended family, and the local society to which he belonged—had belonged, the last he’d spent any decent length of time at home—emanating from Earth. 

He spent the rest of the morning dwelling on it. He couldn’t manage to force himself to feel anything beyond a general sense of sadness—and that itself was difficult to sustain after half an hour or so. The morning was a glorious one, his breakfast had been exemplary, and he felt deeply relaxed. The process of mourning his marriage, then, soon turned into a laborious self-flagellation which he gave up on an hour before noon.  

The doorbell tinkled.

‘Enter,’ he said. He had expected it to be his third pot of coffee; instead it was a dispatch rider, a gangly bluegreen Martian with a satchel of messages. Roebuck peered over the side of the balcony to see the rider’s mount tied up to a hitching post. Humans had taken to calling them Martian horses, or just horses, for the sake of ease, but they were certainly alien, with silvery, waxy skin and thin, spindly legs much like the Martians themselves. The things were bloody quick, but no match for a motorcycle.  

‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘Message from Fort Tharsis,’ the Martian said in disagreeable English, holding out a cardboard tube.

‘Well, bring it here then.’

The Martian obliged. Roebuck snatched it from the alien’s hands.

‘Anything else?’

‘No, sama.’ The alien dawdled, hoping for a coin.

‘Then get out,’ Roebuck snapped, nodding towards the door. It left, casting a sullen glance over its shoulder. Roebuck detested the Martians as much as the next person, ever since the Mutiny had left Earth little more than an irradiated ball, and took the opportunity—of which there were many—to vent his frustration at them. Still, he was a staunch hypocrite; he was heavily dependent on the Arcadian brothels for both physical and emotional satisfaction, and could barely tolerate the touch of a human woman any more. 

He watched the dispatch rider leave. Once he might have been concerned that, without a tip, the rider would have withheld his post, or even had the temerity to burn the whole bag. But periodic public hangings kept the little shits in line.

His third pot of coffee arrived shortly afterwards, and he read the message while drinking.

 

eyes only

attn. commander daniel roebuck

carthagean hotel

arcadian coast

 

buck,

 

make with all hast e for fort tharsis. i have something for you. no promises but should get you back into space in short order. be sure to pack. 

 

i have the honour to be etc.

r. adm. caldwell.  

 

Dan smiled to himself. So, there was life in the old dog yet. He used his cigarette lighter to set the message alight, then dropped the flaming remains in the metal waste basket by his feet. He checked the time: it was just after noon. A warm, pleasant breeze ruffled his hair.

He stepped back into his room and quickly dressed into his uniform. Then he packed a bag, including his heavy blue greatcoat, and headed downstairs to arrange a cab. Within minutes an eager Martian had pulled up in a battered old land cruiser festooned with religious beads and iconography, and within a few more minutes Roebuck was being jostled around in the back of the vehicle as the alien took him, at speed, to the airport.

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