Iron and Canvas – Flash Fiction Challenge

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Greed is good. The old pirate motto festered in the bilge of Captain Reid’s memory. It certainly drives men mad. Off to starboard, the corvette could be seen running toward dark waters, black flag raised in defiance. Captain Reid placed the collapsed night glass it into a deep pocket, exchanging a wary glance with the sailing master.

“The wind favors our quarry.”

Reid stared into the horizon, lips pursed in solemn reflection.

The darkened face continued, “At this speed The Eel will reach deep water before us. If they do-.” The words — decayed fish in the blazing sun. Not even a ship as well-equipped as The Crimson Blade risked navigating in the black ocean. The rumored home to beings that sail absent the wind, far beneath the waves, and can track ships from below the depths.

Reid’s eyes remained fixed on the escaping vessel. “Do you recall the range of the long guns?”

“The main’s can fire over a thousand yards — that’s a fixed-mount under ideal conditions. Mind you, to hit a moving target, accounting for wind variation, you’re looking at an effective range closer to four hundred yards give or take , depending on the target.”

The Captain peered at the young master, eyebrows arched.

The sailor’s eyes widened. “Prepping the long guns Captain!”

Reid nodded. “And order Morgan’s crew to stoke the coals. I’ll have us a warm meal tonight.”

The Navigator bared muddy teeth, barking orders after-deck before disappearing into the bowels of the ship. A riotous orgy of cheers and catcalls erupted as the crew set to work. Captain Reid gripped tight to the rail as The Blade lurched. Twenty-four piston-driven ores out-thrust along each side drove the ship to greater speed. Steam from the engine flared from nostrils in the bulls-head rostrum beneath the bowsprit. The race was on.

Below deck the navigator caught Morgan and the vessel’s boatswain engrossed a game of Deadman’s Parley, the quartermaster buried neck deep in an inventory logbook. No doubt keeping track of the goods exchanging hands. A trio of poor swabs was losing their flintlocks, a pair of fresh trousers, and a set of worn boots to the Quartermaster.

“Oy Dregg, you here for business or pleasure?” Teach, the greasy-faced mechanic called out.

“Bit of both I suppose. Captain wants the long guns.”

“Is that right?” Morgan’s eyes sparkled. “What’s on the menu then? Oysters on the half-shell?”

“Ha! More like roasted gull,” said Dregg.

“Pity that,” Teach pulled a crusted bean out of an ear and ate it. “Been ages since I had a decent meal.”

“Quit yer bellyaching and put on the fire. Back to work you lot,” Dregg waved in a dismissive gesture.

Teach grunted, heaving an oversize wrench over one shoulder and trudged off to the engine room. Morgan flashed a winning smile, gathered up the goods, and stalked towards the galley to torment the chief cook.

On the main deck, Dregg spotted The Eel, growing larger by the minute, as The Crimson Blade closed into range. At the Captain’s command, the long guns belched molten rounds of fire and cinder towards the smaller craft, twirling streams of dark smoke pinwheeling in their wake. The first volley died out in a whisper as the projectiles fizzled in the water. A second volley roared, catching wood and canvas as panicked seamen scrambled to douse the fires. With their rigging ablaze and The Blade advancing, The Eel was out of options. The corvette turned close-hauled bringing it’s small arsenal to bear, heeling hard to starboard from force winds.

The enemy cannons let loose a hail of iron shot to rake The Blade’s bow, but The Captain, quick to anticipate the move, turned the ship to absorb the blow across the broadside. Crewmen flattened to the deck as the hull splintered, but the big ship kept sailing. Crews from both sides taunted and cursed at each other, pistols firing into the air, as the two vessels passed. The Captain of The Eel has overreached; The Blade’s port-side oars replaced by bristling rows of cannons. The Eel lashes out; A desperate gesture. The Blade’s reply is decisive. Four steel whaling harpoons affixed to thick chains stab into The Eel and haul, listing her badly and spilling men and equipment into the depths. Cut off from escape, the crew of The Scurvy Eel fights to the last man.

The resistance doesn’t last long.

Heeled boots clicked against the deck, hair the likeness of fire in the cool wind. Dark lips parted in a half smile. She doesn’t walk so much as swagger. Captain Juliana Reid surveyed her pirate crew, pride swelled in her chest. Despite their youth, her girls performed valiantly today. Reid bowed before the prisoner, blade in hand, a firm grip on his chin.

“I hear tale that greed is good. Can you guess who told me that?” she breathed into his ear.
Tortile eyes stared blankly at her.

“No need to answer, I’ll tell. The man in question was my father, the irredeemable Pirate-Captain Jovan Reid, Scourge of the Salted Seas. The Blade was his ship. I renamed it when I slit his throat.”

“In this very spot,” Eve Dregg smiled at her Captain.

Reid continued, “You’ve stolen from me. It wasn’t enough you had my gold and my hospitality. What you took has more value than treasure.”

A tiny orb formed in the corner of her eye as the rouge pool trickled past her blouse spilling onto the deck.

“I’ll have back what you stole, love.”

The lifeless body collapsed onto the blood-stained deck.

“Let the sharks take him,” she said facing her navigator. “Scuttle the ship. No sense attracting the scavengers.”

The last of the treasure safely aboard, Captain Reid spared one final glance toward the sinking vessel. You were right to warn me, Father, greed is good.

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The Abregado Debacle – Flash Fiction

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A year ago, this would have been an unthinkable act.

Colonel Michael Hyatt settled into the hardened seat of his Nebulon-C Raider. His pre-flight checklist complete, he flashed a thumbs-up to the deck crewman below and angled toward the waiting launch tube. He registered the violent shove as the magnetic coils hurled him into deep space, with the ease of man midway into a bender. He shook his head as numbness crept through his arms and legs and set course towards the sparkling jewel dominating his view port.

Abregado Prime was a tiny by most standards, on the periphery of colonized territory. A series of lush tropical islands near the equator served as home to over one billion inhabitants. Women, children, workers, and tourists; Each a citizen of the Free Colonies. Full of monkey-faced creatures, and exotic — albeit tasty — fruits, it was the sole producer of the rarest and most expensive coffee beans.

In hours, nothing will endure but a life-sucking ball of super-heated magma.

Colonel Hyatt filled his lungs with recirculated oxygen and let it roll out past his lips resembling smoke from the cigar he planned on smoking later. Just another bullshit day in the line of duty.

Eight months ago the organic stardrive was a short blurb the in the history books, the science long since abandoned after the invention of the Varner Quantum-Drive. Mankind had unlocked the secrets to faster than light travel. Hyatt recalled covering drive mechanics during his first year of flight school. Under the best circumstances, reactions were uncontrollable, the worst causing a cascade failure with enough fury to crack a ship from bow to stern.

That was before the Voor’haas emerged from whatever black hole had born them and wreaked havoc across Union worlds. A race of butchers. Their blackened ships visible only by the void cast upon the backdrop of stars, in stark contrast to the fleet of shining silver beacons, each emblazoned with the emblem of the Union.

What limited intel his security access had granted left Colonel Hyatt terrified. The Voor’haas technology merged cybernetics and organics with flawless precision. The alien vessels were near invisible to normal sensors. Not that it mattered since Voor’haas could regrow entire sections of their ships mid-combat while their weapons ate through your hull plating faster than a hot knife through fhangor pie. Early estimates of their numbers counted Union forces out-gunned by more than double. The stardrive — the heart of every ship in the fleet — is where the real horror lies. Union scans showed that the drive processed organic material. Thinking of the lives it had cost to garner that vital piece of information made him shudder.

An unstoppable fleet powered by life itself.

Even now, millenniums after their discovery, the Free Colonies harvested Herillium crystals from local asteroid belts. Sleek, nimble mining ships could be seen darting in and out of the fields breaking apart the larger asteroids while others swept in to haul the smaller pieces back to imposing refining facilities. Pulverized crystal powder is super-heated to burn out the impurities and mixed with other fossil fuels to power the Quantum-Drive. More than once a vessel has overshot its target and crashed, or collided with another craft jockeying for the same rock. Hell, Hyatt recalled reading of a ship that lost control of its payload sent a massive boulder crashing into the station. That incident alone had accounted for the deaths of over five hundred souls, and millions of creds worth of damage. A loss that paled compared to what the Voor’haas had taken from them.

Military command decided it was inhumane to leave citizens of the Union to be consumed. Instead, they opted to throw out the laws of military conduct — along with their sense of morality. Bombing the civilian populace on the surface avoided direct conflict with the Voor’haas along with denying them their source of fuel. A quick, decisive strike to end the lives of a billion people. No capture, no pain or suffering, only a flash of intense light and heat. Anyone with the ability to evacuate had long since boarded a commercial liner or found other means of escape. To haul the remaining population off world required time and ships from a combat zone weakened by constant enemy incursion. Scorched-earth was a more efficient and sound use of military resources.

The Colonel took control of the stick and kicked off the auto-nav as his nimble fighter thundered into the upper atmosphere. The rickety jarring flight path smoothed out as he angled his fighter through the cloud-rack and into sunny skies. His instruments read green across the board; a textbook re-entry. A scrolling readout counted five minutes to target. The brass had been kind enough to choose targets far outside populated areas. The locals couldn’t see them coming, and his pilots avoided direct confrontation with their victims.

Twenty-three other pilots, selected by random lottery, spread out around the globe. Each was to deliver a payload of Devastator tectonic bombs to specified target. None of the pilots knew if the explosives they carried were live, or duds programmed to simulate their counterparts minus the devastation to the planet’s crust. Command told them if was for their welfare. Less accountability once back onboard. It was neat and clean.

Colonel Hyatt was career military, but he was no fool. No one returned unexpurgated from war. Not his pilots, his crew, nor his friends and relatives on his home planet. His choices affected everyone. He glimpsed his helmeted figure reflected off the glossy instrument panel, a frown crossing his lips. You’ll be the hardest to face. Echoes of this atrocity will reverberate throughout the galaxy. This deed forever changes you. You don’t come back from this.

A year ago, this would have been an unthinkable act.

The solid tone of a targeting solution echoed through the cockpit. Thumb held over the red button on his flight-stick, Colonel Hyatt closed his eyes at the approaching horror and depressed the trigger. Not waiting to see if his bombs hit the target, he angled his fighter up towards the warm solace of an icy drink.