Excerpt: Another Sunset

Nathan Pierce stopped short as he walked into the lounge car. The car and the sumptuous furnishings were lit in a ruddy glow as the sun set behind the train. He walked over to the bar, and poured a glass of water, marveling at the sight. He took a breath, and inhaled a whiff of pipe tobacco. He looked around, seeing smoke wafting up from a chair in the corner.

“Excuse me, who are you? This car is reserved for officers, and as far as I know, I’m the only officer on this train.”

A man peered around the edge of the chair back. He said, gruffly, “The only officer? What am I then, a mess cook?”

“I.. I .. I’m sorry sir. I didn’t know you were an officer as well. I thought…”

“Yes, I get it, you thought you were the only one. Well, technically you are. I’m no longer an officer. I’m retired.” He held out a hand. “Retired General Benedict Atwood.” Gingerly, Nathan shook General Atwood’s hand.

“I’m Lieutenant Nathan Pierce, sir.”

“You don’t need to call me sir. I told you, I’m retired. Have a seat, Pierce. But first, pour yourself a real drink.”

“I don’t drink.”

“You’ll drink if I tell you to drink, son.” Atwood rose, and walked over to the bar, leaning on an elaborately carved cane. He poured a glass of Bourbon and took it over to Nathan Pierce. “Here. Drink this.” He sat down again in the seat. Nathan sat down in the chair next to him.

“Beautiful, isn’t it.” Atwood said, looking out the window at the sunset.

“It is. The landscape may not be much to look at, but the sunrises and sunsets on this planet are magnificent.” He looked over at General Atwood. His short white hair seemed to be on fire in the orange glow. A deep scar cut across his face from his left ear to his chin, standing out in the harsh light.

“Never miss an opportunity to watch a sunrise or sunset, young man. In our line of work, you never know if you’ll get to see another one.” He looked at Nathan Pierce, appraising the younger man. “You’re new to command, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. How can you tell.”

Atwood chuckled. “After serving for sixty years, I can tell. You still have the stink of OCS about you.”

“I just graduated last week. I’ve been given command of an Engineering Platoon. We’re on our way to Fort Bracken with supplies. We’re to help strengthen the fort’s defenses.”

“From what I can understand, they need it. That area has seen a lot of activity lately. The Stihlz have been moving in that direction. You’ll probably see some combat before long.”

“I certainly hope not. We’re engineers, not fighters.”

“If you’re in this army, you’re fighters. You may be trained as engineers, but you will do what is required of you, whether it be building or fighting.”

“I’ve never been in combat, “ Nathan whispered.

“On this planet, there’s no such thing as a noncombatant. Get used to it.”

The door opened, Nathan Pierce’s staff sergeant entered the car. “Sir, the cook wants me to tell you that your dinner is ready. Would you like to eat in the dining car, or should I have them bring it to you?”

“Have them bring it to the lounge car, please.”

The sergeant turned to leave, but stopped as General Atwood bellowed. “Wait a moment, Sergeant!” He turned to Lieutenant Pierce. “Please? You’re an officer now. This man is a subordinate. You give orders to subordinates, not requests.”

“But sir, I…”

“But nothing. If you want to lead, you need to learn to give orders.”

Nathan looked between the two men. He cleared his throat. “Sergeant Cobb, have my dinner brought to the lounge car.”

“Very good sir.” The sergeant turned to leave, and Nathan thought he saw the hint of a smile on the man’s face.

Benedict Atwood turned his chair slightly to face Nathan. “These men are soldiers, Lieutenant. They have been trained to take orders from officers.”

“I’m just trying to be polite, sir.”

“No. Don’t try to be polite. Lead your men, give them orders. They’re in the army, and they know what to expect from their superior officers. You get to know your men. You respect your men. But you need to be firm with them. Give them orders, not requests.”

“But what if I give them the wrong orders?”

“Then you give them wrong orders. It’s their job to follow your orders as best they can. If you have doubts, or if you need advice, that’s what your sergeant is there for. It’s okay to ask him for advice. He may very well have more experience in the military than you do. But never forget, you hold a higher rank. Work with him, but don’t ever forget who is in charge of your platoon, Lieutenant.”

Excerpt: Peregrine’s Flight

The rising sun cast a blood red glow against the sky. Ahead, the Storm Rider lay silhouetted against the dawn sky.
Luther Wylde stood at the bow of the Peregrine, the sea breeze blowing through his long blond hair. He turned and raised the lantern in his hand, and waved it from side to side. In response a light flashed briefly from the bridge. Luther gazed towards the island on their starboard side, spotting another light in the crow’s nest of the Redwing.
Luther Wylde looked over his band of pirates gathered behind him, ready to board the Storm Rider.
A cloud of black smoke arose from the stacks as the Peregrine surged forward. Deftly. The pirates waited in anticipation as they drew closer to the Storm Rider.
Luther raised the lantern again, signalling to the bridge, and the Peregrine put on another burst of speed.
Shouts arose from the deck of the Storm Rider as some of the crew saw the Peregrine approaching out of the dark.
With a crash of metal, the two ships collided. Many of the Storm Rider’s crew were knocked off their feet by the collision. Luther Wylde leaped deftly up to the bowsprit and across to the deck of the Storm Rider, followed by his crew. The Redwing approached from the other side, ready to begin boarding.
Sailors of the Storm Rider were running to the deck now, with their swords and pistols drawn.
A sailor slashed at Luther, who ducked, and then parried the back stroke. He stepped into the next attack, and struck the sailor on the chin with the pommel of his sword.
Luther Wylde turned to meet the next attack. He parried, and then counterattacked, driving his opponent back towards the railing. His opponent lost his footing, and fell over the railing into the ocean below.
Pirates from the Redwing were now pouring onto the deck of the Storm Rider. Luther Wylde looked around for the Storm Rider’s captain. Spotting a man in a crisp white uniform standing at the helm, Wylde made his way through the fighting on the deck towards the captain.
“Captain Allene,” he said, drawing his pistol. “I thought I’d find you in charge.”
Captain Allene simply glared at him as Luther Wylde aimed his pistol at Allene’s head.
“There’s no need for further bloodshed, Captain.” Luther Wylde gestured towards the deck, awash in bodies and blood. “I suggest you order your crew to lay down their arms, and surrender your cargo. I’m feeling generous today. I may even let you and your crew serve me. The Storm Rider would make a welcome addition to my pirate fleet.”
Captain Allene nodded, and hung his head. He pulled a whistle from his pocket and blew it. The shrill blast pierced the noise of the skirmish down below. Some of the crew of the Storm Rider looked up, ceasing their fight. Gradually, the rest followed suit. As they ceased to fight, the pirates from the Peregrine and the Redwing sheathed their weapons, and gathered up swords and pistols from their captives.
In short order, the captain and the sailors from the Storm Rider were gathered together in a corner of the deck. A few pirates emerged from belowdecks, leading more sailors to join the group.
Luther Wylde looked over the gathered sailors. “Sailors of the Storm Rider. As you can see, you’ve been defeated. In a short while you will be asked to transfer the cargo from your ship to the Peregrine and the Redwing. Afterwards, you have the option to join our pirate fleet.” The sailors looked at each other, murmuring.
“If you choose to join us, you will be rewarded handsomely. You certainly know our reputation, and you know our success. You will have a share of all of the plunder as long as you remain with us. If you choose not to join us… Let’s just say it will be better if you do. Now, let’s get some cargo moved.”