Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 11

< Chapter 10                                                                                                   Chapter 12 >
Martin has entered the spaceship’s airlock!

Seconds later, Martin dove from the airlock and rolled to the left.  A bright beam of red light lanced behind him, tracking too slowly to hit him before he was out of the line of fire.  Deep, smoking lines had been cut into the broken trees and dirt pushed aside by the spaceship.

"What was that?" cried Rupor, his eyes wide.

"It's called a laser," I said.  "For simplicity, let's just say it's a highly focused beam of light."

"Light?  Is that all?" Rupor asked.  "Why didn't Bane just wear metal armor?  Surely that would stop the light!"

"The laser would burn through the metal in a heartbeat."  I met the stare Rupor turned on me.  "Even worse, that's just a small laser.  The spaceship is armed with half a dozen much larger ones."

"And Bane thinks they may be pirates?"  Rupor turned back toward the ship.  "God protect us!"

I placed a hand on Rupor's shoulder.  "That is why you must follow our instructions in this matter.  If these are pirates, our only hope will be to infiltrate the gang and bring them down from within.  That means you're going to have to trust Martin to pull this off."

Rupor wrinkled his nose as if smelling something foul.  "You're certain they are pirates?"

"No, but we'll have to follow Martin's lead until we can learn more," I said.  "That means you keep quiet about my background.  On the other hand, it means you can continue thinking the worst about Martin."

Rupor nodded.  Before he could say anything else, the hiss of an opening airlock door came from the ship.  Footsteps clanged in the airlock, then a figure appeared at the outer door.  The situation had just gotten worse.  The figure wore military surplus powered armor!

Do our heroes face pirates?  If so, how can our heroes hope to defeat pirates with powered armor?  Find out more in Chapter 12, coming Friday!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 10

< Chapter 9                                                                                                   Chapter 11 >
Martin believes the crashed ship belongs to space pirates!

"I believe you, Bane," drawled Rupor.  "Vermin always recognize their own kind."

"You're not helping, Rupor," I said.  "If Martin is right, we're all in serious trouble."

"It's only one ship," Rupor scoffed.

"You wouldn't say that if you knew how powerful that ship is," Martin growled.

"Then enlighten me," Rupor replied.

"Whoever commands that spaceship, rules this world," Martin said.

"You must be joking!"

"Do I look like I'm joking, Rupor?  If these are pirates, our only hope of stopping them will be to get at least one person into their good graces and wait for the opportunity to strike."

"Oh ho!  Now the plot comes clear!" Rupor cried.  "You-"

I clapped a hand over Rupor's mouth and an arm around his throat.  "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but we don't have time for this bickering.  Martin, what's your plan?"

"Assuming there are survivors, I'm going to try to make contact with the crew," Martin said.  "If they're not pirates, great.  If they are pirates, I'll try to use my scout training and my old reputation as a raider to join them."

"What about Rupor and me?" I asked.

"If these are pirates, they must not learn you're also a scout, David.  A hero who can fly their ship will be too much of a threat.  They'd kill you without a second thought."

"So I pretend to be a local?" I asked.

Martin nodded.  "That includes pretending like you don't speak their language."  At my nod, Martin turned to Rupor.  "Prince, you must cooperate or these men may kill us all!"

Rupor nodded as well, so I released him.

"You two stay here," Martin said then picked his way to the ship's airlock.  He opened the airlock controls.  Seconds later, the airlock door slid open and Martin stepped inside. 

What will happen to Martin?  Find out in Chapter 11, coming Wednesday!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 9

< Chapter 8                                                                                                   Chapter 10 >
Prince Rupor, formerly betrothed to Princess Callan, commands the Tartegian expedition to the crashed spaceship!

"Awkward!" Megan sang softly.

Ignoring Megan, Callan called, "Hello, Rupor."

"Callan?  What are you doing out here?"

"Same as you, Rupor.  I'm investigating the crashed spaceship."

"I'm surprised your consort let you come to the unsettled lands," Rupor said.  "Isn't he afraid you'll be kidnapped?"

"Point to Rupor," Megan said under her breath.

"With your step mother and half-brother in exile," Callan shot back, "my husband isn't worried about Tartegian kidnapping plots."

"Ouch!  Two points to Callan," Megan added.

"Guard," I said, "take Megan below deck."

Megan's protests interrupted Callan's exchange with Rupor.  By the time Megan was below deck, the airships were within a few yards of each other.

"An interesting pair of companions you've got, Callan," Rupor said.  "I can understand traveling with your consort-"


"-but Bane?" Rupor finished.  "Isn't it ironic that I was deemed unfit to wed you because my relatives had you kidnapped but the kidnapper is deemed a fitting traveling companion for the one he kidnapped."

I changed the subject.  "Why don't we save the verbal sparring for court, Your Highnesses?  People could be injured within the spaceship."

"Thank you for reminding me of my duty, David," Callan said.  "He's right, Rupor.  How are we going to handle this?"

"An approach by a combined party is the only possible solution," Rupor replied.  "Your...husband...should be one of them.  I assume he speaks the language.  I will represent Tarteg."

"Agreed," Callan said.  "But Martin should go, too.  He also speaks the language."

Rupor thought for a moment.  "That's reasonable."

Moments later, the three of us were scrambling over broken trees toward the spaceship.  When the markings on the ship were visible, Martin stiffened.


"We could be in serious trouble," Martin said.  "Those look like pirate markings!”

What — or who — will our heroes find inside the crashed spaceship?  Find out in Chapter 10, coming Monday!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 8

< Chapter 7                                                                                                   Chapter 9 >

Our heroes aren't the only ones who saw the spaceship come down.  Tartegian warships have come to investigate!

I turned my gaze toward Tarteg, spotting the Tartegian airships easily.

"They outnumber us seven to four," Martin said.  "Seven to five if you count the Pauline, which I don't."

"Why not?" Megan asked.  "This seems like a perfectly fine airship."

"It's a splendid airship but it's not armed," Martin replied.  "If it comes to a fight, Nist will drop David and me on the command ship then take Her Highness and you back to Morda at top speed."

"Because we're women?"

Callan interrupted the argument, "Nist, I want to talk to the Tartegian commander.  Raise a white flag and then slowly fly forward."

Megan glanced at Martin and me, obviously expecting us to voice an objection.  When we didn't, she said, "I don't get it.  If we fight the Tartegians, you'll send us away because we're women and this isn't a warship.  But you're okay with this same non-warship sailing in alone to parlay with those same Tartegians."

"Tarteg is a civilized country and its navy will honor the flag of truce," I said as a Tartegian airship raised a white flag and flew toward us.

"Well, that's a relief," Megan said.  "If a fight starts, I'm sure anyone killed will die a happier death knowing their killers followed all the rules!"

"The rules of war exist to protect the living and to avoid needless loss of life," Callan's voice went icy, "because the rules insure we can talk to each other!"

"I know this situation is outside of your experience," I said, "but you asked to come with us.  Watch in silence or I'll have a guard take you below deck."

Megan's eyes blazed but she kept quiet.

"Ahoy, Mordanian vessel!" a familiar voice called from the Tartegian airship.

The Tartegian commander was Prince Rupor!

How will Prince Rupor respond to his former fiancé and her husband?  Find out in Chapter 9, coming Friday!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 7

< Chapter 6                                                                                                 Chapter 8 >

The rescue mission to find the downed spaceship is under way!

"Why must all of our escort ships be so...stately?" Nist groused.  'Stately' was Nist's current euphemism for 'slow.'

"Seven hours," called Martin.  Several guards groaned and one cheered.

"What's that all about?" Megan asked him.

"Nist always chafes at the top speed of Callan's escort airships," Martin said.  "The guards like to bet how long it will take before he voices his frustration aloud."

I tuned out their conversation as Callan came out of the airship's cabin and into the dawn light.  She and Megan had spent hours talking during the trip.  Considering how abrasive Megan could be, I'd been surprised Callan hadn't once adopted her icy, court-proper princess persona.

Seeing the direction I was gazing, Callan said, "Megan is quite passionate."

"Lucky Martin," I murmured.

"Passionate about her beliefs."  Callan rolled her eyes before musing, "Though if their relationship ever becomes romantic then, yes, lucky Martin."

"You like her?  I found her rather irritating."

"You did meet her while she was in a confrontation with an angry mob," Callan said.  "Fear rarely brings out the best in people."

"Fear?  I thought she was angry!"

"She won't admit it, but she wasn't thinking when she started playing Rupor's Lament.  Her pride kept her playing after the tavern fell silent."

"Megan told you that?" I asked.

"No, but any woman could have heard it in Megan's voice and seen it in her face."

Our conversation was interrupted by a shout from a lookout on one of the escort ships.

"Unknown object twenty-three degrees to starboard!"

Once I knew where to look, the line of broken trees was easy to see.  It extended over a mile, ending where a starship angled at least sixty yards above the trees.

Another shout rang out.  "Tartegian warships dead ahead!"

How will the Tartegian navy react to the Mordanian forces?  Find out in Chapter 8, coming Wednesday!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 6

< Chapter 5                                                                                                   Chapter 7 >
Megan the musician announces she’s going on the rescue mission!

"Whoa there, Megan," I said.  "You are not coming with us!"

"Why not?  I'll stay out of the way."  Megan widened her eyes and pouted, an effect designed to melt the heart of any man who faced it.  It certainly worked on Martin.  If I hadn't married the most beautiful woman on eight planets, it would have worked on me, too.

"We don't need inflight entertainment on a rescue mission," I said.

Megan dropped her wide-eyed pout.  "Afraid I'll find out the princess isn't nearly as sweet and beautiful in real life as she is in Rice's Rescue?"

At my raised eyebrow, Martin said, "It's the Mordanian counterpoint to Rupor's Lament.  But there could be advantages to bringing her along.  Songs will be written about this event.  Who better to write one than someone who was there?"

I sighed.  "Fine.  But if she insults Callan I'm throwing her overboard."

The palace was a swarm of controlled frenzy as pages, guards, and naval officers dashed about.  Callan was at the center of the activity, Milo and Tristan at her side.  She gave me a peck on the lips, one to Martin on his cheek, then turned a welcoming smile on Megan.

"This is Megan, a musician.  Martin thinks she should chronicle this mission in song," I said.  "Megan, this is Her Highness, Princess Callan."

Megan surprised me by dropping into a curtsey.  "Your Highness."

Callan drew Megan up.  "We don't stand on ceremony away from court.  It will be refreshing to have another woman along!  Most of my trips with David are overwhelmingly masculine."

Callan turned back to me.  "Four escort ships are already airborne.  We can leave when you're ready."

Moments later, Nist piloted the Pauline into the air.  The rescue mission was underway!

What will our heroes find when the spaceship’s location is discovered?  Find out in Chapter 7, coming Monday!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 5

< Chapter 4                                                                                                   Chapter 6 >

David tells Martin a spaceship has come through the wormhole!

At my words, Megan snorted again.  Even muffled by Martin's hand, her opinion was quite clear.

"Does she know who you are, Martin?"

"Our relationship hasn't really advanced to such personal revelations."

"That explains a lot."  I turned to face the crowd.  "Clear a path!  We've leaving."

Some moved aside but one man planted himself in front of me.  "Didn't you hear what she called our princess?  We can't forgive an insult like that!"

"Yes, I heard.  And if I can forgive the singer, so can you," I said.  "After all, I'm married to the princess."

The man's eyes widened and he stepped aside.  "Forgive me, sir!"

"Nothing to forgive."  I clapped him on the shoulder.

Outside, I began filling Martin in on the spaceship's arrival.  With Martin's hand no longer covering her mouth, Megan kept trying to interrupt with questions.  I plowed ahead with my explanation, overriding her questions.  I'll say this for her, she didn't give up easily.

"So," Megan said when I stopped speaking, "you're heading off after one of these 'spaceships' you claim to have arrived in?"

I was tired of listening to the woman and waved for Martin to respond.

"Yes, that's exactly what we're doing, Megan," Martin said.  "I must say that you're quite cynical for one so young."

"Travel as much as I have and you'd be cynical, too!" Megan replied.

It was my turn to snort.  "I've been on seven other inhabited worlds and traveled extensively on this world, yet I'm not cynical in the least."

"No doubt due to the rapture of true love."  Megan's voice was drier than the desert where I'd crashed.

I stopped at the palace gate.  "You're safe now, Megan.  Run along home!"

"And miss out on the great spaceship hunt?  Nope, I'm coming with you!"

How will David respond to Megan's demand?  Find out in Chapter 6, coming Friday!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scout's Duty - Chapter 4

< Chapter 3                                                                                                   Chapter 5 >

In a tavern, an angry mob threatens Martin and a woman!

Unable to be heard over the crowd noise, I was going to have to get to the stage before I could get their attention.  My guards were still assessing the situation when I plunged into the crowd and began worming my way toward the stage.  Then a thrown bottle smashed inches from the head of the woman.


Remembering how Martin had leapt over the line of Tartegian guards the year before, I tried leaping over the crowd.  It didn't work so well.  Finding myself about to come down in the crowd, I pushed off from a couple of sturdy shoulders, completed a flip, and landed next to Martin.  The mob fell silent and I dropped Boost.

"What is the meaning of this?" I demanded.  "How dare you attack this woman!"

A voice from the crowd called, "We was provoked!"  A chorus of voices added "Yeah!" and "Right!"

"How could a woman with a guitar provoke such violence?"  No one answered.  "Martin, care to fill me in?"

"Megan chose to sing some songs currently popular in Tarteg," he said.  "She led off with Rupor's Lament."

"Never heard of it."

"The song questions David Rice's off-world origins."  Megan snorted at this and Martin gave a half smile.  "But the real trouble started when the song called Princess Callan a rude name.  It...ah...rhymes with rich."

Even this brought mutters from the crowd.  Megan made it worse by saying, "It's true and you know it!"

I stepped between Megan and the crowd just in case another bottle was thrown.  "Martin, can you shut her up?  We've got more important matters to deal with!"

"No one shuts me-"

Martin clamped a hand over Megan's mouth and picked her up.  "What's going on?"

"Another ship has come through the wormhole!"

Can David and Martin get Megan safely out of the tavern?  Find out in Chapter 5, coming Wednesday!