Monday, 30 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale (part 4)

Inka crept up the steps and onto the deck of the ship. Her first thought was, Where did all the smoke come from? Her second thought was, Where did everybody go?
For some of them, the answer was to the Gods. She saw the member of the band with mechanical ears lying dead near the steps, saw another gentlemen, who she thought she recognised, in two separate pieces. There were also a host of ‘Protection Droids’ who were covered in blood. Some were dead and others were dismantled to disability. She nearly tripped over the abandoned arm of one of the droids, but in her defence it was almost thicker than her leg. 
She swept her sword through the fog in front of her, slightly worried that she might walk directly into some enemy trap. The carpet of corpses seemed to prove the suspicion she had begun; those who weren’t Protection Droids or pirates wore the regal blue of the Federation. As horrible and gangly as the pirates may be, she felt a sudden flushing hatred for the Privateers. How dare they come and kill the people who had rescued her from her dull and boring life? 
She suddenly realised, as she stared at the corpse of the boy who’d brought Robert his gun, that everybody dead on the ship at that second was dead in her name. 
She found the edge of the ship. The fog seemed to shy away from the fluxing green and blue of the atmospheric envelope, except in one place near the front of the ship. She continued walking towards it, wondering what was going on, and then saw the answer. It was a maelstrom of sorts, sucking the fog from the atmospheric envelope and to somewhere else, presumably the Federation ship. She’d heard about inter-vessel bridges but never like this. She cursed under her breath and took a very stupid risk. 
Inka László stepped into the portal. 
It felt funny under her feet, almost like she was walking on the plastic tarp that covered a swimming pool. It seemed to squelch away forever under one foot and then spring back up under the other. She found the walls of the tunnel no further solace either, as they seemed to bend and squelch away from her hands all the same. The fog cleared slightly as she walked through, so she was able to discover that the tunnel was made of a psychedelic fluctuation. She didn’t know whether to feel sick or to start dancing. Probably both.
If she’d thought walking through it was weird, reaching the other end was even weirder. Whereas there’d been a certain force pulling her along the tunnel so far, when she tried to exit it reversed and tried to pull her back in. She struggled, almost pulling a muscle in her back, but managed to heave herself into the airlock. The solid ground felt exceptionally strange under her feet, which had become momentarily accustomed to the softness of the tunnel. The result was a weird sort of space sickness, which made her feel very queasy indeed.
Something else that make her feel sick was the sheer volume of corpses in the Privateer ship, once the airlock had managed to open. They hadn’t started decaying just yet, but their spilt blood was turning black and crusty against the pristine white floors. She saw one corpse, a pirate, whose face had been half torn open, the edges scorched by the laser blast which had separated them. 
She kept walking, a hand across her mouth, trying to hold back the wail of sickness building up inside her. She noticed that her arms were shaking, and that sweat was pouring down her forehead like rain in the winter. She tried to get herself under control but it didn’t quite work. Fear was too strong an emotion to be banished at the snap of the fingers. She cursed with words that she’d heard the pirates say, and knew for certain were terribly rude. 
The immediate pair of automatic doors hissed open and revealed a scene so revolting that she was immediately sick. Her vomit joined the pools of blood in front of her. 
Knowing that it was the only way to continue, Inka clenched her eyes as tight as she could and used her hands to feel her way across the room. Her fingers grew sticky, but she didn’t want to know with what. Her feet squelched against the white floor, her heels nudging strangely soft objects.
She reached the door and flapped her hands across the areas around it. She found something that felt, ever so slightly, like a hand. She screamed, slicing her hand away from it. In the process, her feet slid in the blood and she cartwheeled backwards, smashing her back into the floor. She screamed and screamed, writhing in the blood on the floor. 
“Calm down! Calm down!” Cried the voice that belonged to the hand. It sounded strangely familiar.
She opened her eyes and saw a face staring down at her. The hand was stretching down towards her. Of course she recognised the voice; it was constantly being streamed through all the news channels. “Here, let me help you up.” Said Gaius Irving.
She took his hand and let him pull her up from the floor. Her back seemed to tear away from the sticky horror of the floor. He brushed something from her shoulder that landed with a wet squelch. “Are you okay?” He asked. “I hope those ruffians haven’t harmed you.”
Before she could speak, she heard a voice demand, “Take your hands off her, Federation scum!”
Both herself and Gaius spun to see Captain Robert Easton pointing his pistol towards the Emperor’s son. “We meet again, Captain Easton.”
“Too soon.” Robert said, stepping forwards. “Release her from your grubby mits or I’ll blow your brains out.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Captain. As if you’d risk harming your Nightingale. Lay on the floor I’ll kill you.”
Easton had no choice. He’d have to put the gun down; Gaius was right, he couldn’t risk harming Inka.
Inka, however, didn’t quite know what was happening. She felt her hand trace through the air, towards her belt where her knife waited. She felt her hand tighten around the handle, felt herself drawing it up and away from her belt. Felt herself swinging it through the air, then heard Gaius grunt as he fell back. She heard him land on the floor with an agonised scream, a heavy thud and a bit of a squelch. 
Easton rushed towards her and looked down at Gaius on the floor. The Emperor’s son spat a bitter insult, his face turning whiter and whiter as the blood oozed out of the hole the knife had created. His eyes closed and then, quite simply, he was dead.

A week later, a ship landed in a private dock on Ayzire. The pilot was taken out of the ship and thoroughly investigated for an hour, made sure to be carrying no weapons and then inoculated against every pathogen in the Cosmos. Once the guards were sure he could bring no harm upon the resident of the planet, they opened the polycarbine doors and had an armed butler take him up the steps. 
They reached the auditorium, where the Emperor was sat upon his throne. He looked quite angry to be woken so early in the morning. Only one of the three suns had risen and normally he slept into half an hour after the last sun had climbed from behind the horizon. “What do you want?” He asked the pilot, his voice not as calm and soothing as it was in the informational videos.
The pilot stuttered for a second, and then said, “I come from the Wandering Petal.”
The Emperor leant forwards in his chair. He was a thin, wiry man with eyes and wits as sharp as laser sharpened knives. He had a strange air around him that seemed to induce to start sweating. He turned to his ward, Lucinda, who was sewing by his chair. “Go and play somewhere else, my dear. Daddy has some business to attend to.”
Lucinda stood, doing exactly as told despite almost being an adult, and walked out. The Emperor stood and walked down the steps in front of his throne. He reached the pilot and said, “What news does my son send you with?”
“Er, N-n-no n-n-news, y-y-your lordship.” The pilot stumbled. “He, er, well, he, er.”
“Spit it out, for Tark’s sake!” The Emperor howled. “What are you hear to tell me?”
“The Petal was attacked, sir.” The pilot said, far too quickly. He calmed down slightly and added, “By the King of Rats, sir. They left no survivors, er, including your son, sir.”
“Then how are you here?” The Emperor asked.
“I-I hid, sir.”
“You hid? Like a coward?”
“Er, sir, er-“
“Like a coward!?”
“Yes, sir. Like a coward, sir.”
“Do you know what the Federation does to cowards?” 
“Er, yes, sir.”
“Would you like that to happen to you?”
“Er, no, sir.”
“Then you shouldn’t have been a coward!” The Emperor snapped. He turned to his butler. “Have this man given to the Spoto Company, and have Lord Ryder brought in. I need to speak with him.”
“Straight away, your lordship.” The Butler said, and grabbed the pilot by the collar, pulling him out. “The Spoto Company’ll be having you now, laddie. I’m sure they’ll find a decent buyer.”
The Emperor didn’t allow himself to cry. He hadn’t cried in fifty years, he certainly wasn’t going to start now. He cursed the King of Rats and it’s cursed Captain, Robert Easton. By the time he was finished cursing names, the doors had opened and Lord Ryder was being wheeled in. The man was ridiculously fat, to an extent that it also made the Emperor sick. If it wasn’t a case of them having been friends for a very long time, he would have had  the fat man sliced up and fed to the poor. Would have been very good publicity too.
“Laurentius, my old friend, what is the matter to have me woken at this time?” Ryder asked, one of only a few people who dared address the Emperor by his first name. 
“Robert Easton had killed my son.” The Emperor said. 
“You have my condolences, of course, although, I don’t see how I can possibly be of any help. I am, after all, only a manager of humanoid resources.” He giggled like he did whenever he made that joke, a piggish snivelling that only made him sound fatter than he already was. 
“Do you have any spies who you would think of being capable for the job of killing the pirate?”
“There are two. The boy Khan and Reeve.”
“Reeve as in-“
“As in the Reeve who assassinated the Rebel Leader, yes. That Reeve.”
“Send him. Tell him to kill everyone else but to bring me, alive, the person who killed my son.”
“It will be done.” Ryder said. He raised one of the slabs of diabetes he called arms. His fingers were like the succulent sausages he feasted upon. They completely eclipsed Laurentius’ as he held the old man’s hand and said, “Once more, you have my condolences.”
“I don’t want your condolences.” The Emperor said. “I want that murderer’s head!”

Two months passed as they always do after a dramatic event: quietly and quickly. Robert took Inka to the Pirate Coven, to be accepted into the Pirate community so that she could be protected by pirates if Federation soldiers came for her. 
Inka moved onto the King of Rats. At first, there was some confusion about where to put her. It was seen as unhealthy for her to be in the same room as so many blokes, so the Captain volunteered to give up his bed for her. About a month after she boarded the ship, he climbed back into the bed with her in it. They were married a few weeks later.
A lot of the crew had died during the battle with the Wandering Petal, which had been taken back to the Pirate Coven as a peace offering. They began a new recruiting drive, with various actors and actresses being taken from their boring lives of pretending to be adventurers into exciting lives of actually being adventurers. Inka helped convince her husband to help break down the sexism in the piratical society by inviting more and more women on the ship.
“Aren’t you worried that I’ll fall in love with them?” He asked her one afternoon. 
“No.” She replied. “How could you ever want another woman over me?”
They cruised through the Cosmos, targeting ships to steal. Under Inka’s direction, they began to only attack Federation and Spoto Company ships. They helped to free slaves and gave half of the jewels they stole to various charities. The other half were shared out amongst the crew, with the best being given to Robert Easton to give to the Pirate Coven. He’d just received a very large necklace with sparkling sapphires hanging from it, but he decided not to give it back to his bosses. Instead, he’d hang it around Inka’s neck and make her very happy. 
One of the new pirates came up to him and said, “Do you mind if we do some shooting practise, Cap’in?”
“That’s no problem. Aim true. What was your name again?”
“Philip, sir.”
“Air true, Philip. Good luck.” The Captain continued across the deck, answering some queries, referring others. He reached the door of his cabin and walked in, locking it behind him and leaning back against it, relieved to be off the deck. That was the problem with having so many new pirates; they all needed advice constantly. The only new pirate he was interested in was the one in front of him; Inka Easton.
“Hello, love.” He said, strolling over to her. “I’ve got a present for you.”
She looked up and he saw the tears in her eyes. He rushed over, dropping the necklace onto the table and felt to his knees so he was the same height as her, sitting down. “What is it?”
“I-I-I’m, I’m pregnant.” She said. She searched for sympathy, for love and hope, in her partner’s eyes. The horror and anger of old was long gone, but she couldn’t quite make out the current emotion. 
He stared at her for a few moment, his poker face unwavering, and then he cried, “That’s fantastic news!”
“You think so?”
“Of course!” He cried, grinning. He wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, my darling, I’m so happy! That is truly brilliant!”
She hugged him back, delighted that he wasn’t angry. “Can we raise him on the ship or-“
“Or will we need to go and live on a planet?” Easton finished her sentence for her. “I’m not sure but I don’t think I know anything about children. I look forwards to finding out.”
In the back ground, the gunshots were evident from the shooting practise. 
“Do you think we could take a break from pirating?” She asked. “Y’know, whilst we raise him?”
“Him?” He asked. “Do you think he’s a ‘He’?”
“Good point.” She said. She stood up to let him sit down and then sat on his lap, her arm around his neck. “What shall we call it?”
Easton rubbed his beard as he pondered and said, “If it’s a girl, we should call it Rennie.”
Inka grinned. “Yes! I would love that. How about for a boy?”
“Philip?” The Captain cried, but not in answer to her question. He was exclaiming what he could see at the door. “This isn’t a good time, Philip.”
“I am sorry to disturb you, Captain.” Philip said and stepped to the left. His action revealed the deck. 
“The shooting practise.” Robert whispered, as he saw the dead bodies littering the deck. “You killed them!”
“Yes.” Philip said. “One more person left to kill. Oh, and by the way, my name isn’t Philip.”
“What is it then?” Easton demanded.
“That would be telling.” The man said. “And telling isn’t something a spy for the Federation does. Step away from the woman, Easton, then I won’t hit you too.”
“Why are you here?” Inka demanded, standing up. Robert stood to her side.
“Your husband killed Gaius Irving, the Emperor’s son. I am here for revenge.” Said Reeve.
“No!” Inka cried.
“Inka! Stop!” Easton said through the side of his mouth.
“No!” Inka said. “I killed the Emperor’s son. Not Robert.”
Reeve turned to Robert. “This true, Easton?”
Reluctantly, Robert nodded. “Yes. It’s true.”
“Well, that is one hell of a plot twist.” Reeve said, then raised his gun and shot Robert through the head. Inka felt his hair splatter the left of her face as his head exploded.
“No!” She screamed, falling to the floor as his body hit it. “No!! You can’t be dead!”
“I’m afraid he is.” Reeve said. “But you’ll have to wait a while before you can join him.

Even to today, Arkapopolis looked like yet another star in the sky from afar. It only just glowed with the dampening phosphoresce of it’s cities. It was both literally and metaphorically a dying ideal to the rest of the Cosmos. 
It was no surprise that thousands flocked there. It was a luminary capital of prostitution, crime, gambling and alcohol. Just the sort of place that Edeners flocked to constantly. Many tourist brochures didn't have a section devoted to Oywei, for two reasons. Reason One: It made everywhere else look fantastic and would thus kill any chance of it getting any visitors. Reason Two: Most of people just kind of drifted there. To visit the Delta Quadrant and not visit Arkapopolis was a blessed relief, as if the Gods were smiling down on you. The sad truth about the Cosmos was that the Gods hadn’t smiled in a very long time.
Of Arkapopolis’ thousands of dwindling settlements, the most famous was  the eponymous Arkapopolis. It was renowned as the Capital of Ryder’s Continent. From the atmosphere by which you approached it, it was enough to make your stomach turn. The tide of dirt flecked architecture dipped and spiked like a longitudinal wave. Every tower was like a knife sticking out of a corpse’s back, steeped in incriminating evidence like the excrement of birds. Further down, if you were to trail between the feet of these structures, you would be sickened even more so. Your eyes would trace the buildings up, losing sight of them beyond the smokey clouds, your mind would become heavy with purgatory soaked images of your surroundings. During the day, the drug addicts kept to their houses, but their scent was ever present. The pavements were covered in excrement and vomit, both humanoid and animalistic,  the ships and space vessels zipping past exerted lung burning smoke, the people swore and beat each other up, their personalities repulsive at best. Every moment of contact with Arkapopolis was seared upon the memory for the rest of your life. Every tantalising whiff of an exotic drug, every snap of a foreign expletive would stay with you forever. Every sense was assaulted. But there was only one way to be assaulted by true terror. And that, was to visit the Spoto Company and it’s buildings.
The Abattoir was Arkapopolis’ premier slaughter house. A stocky building, it didn't begin to compare architecturally to the structures around it, a truly depressing statement. But it didn't need to. It held a content far more valuable than any of the interplanetary banks or vaults surrounding it did. It held the last moments of many criminal lives.
That night, the Abattoir was holding one of the most talked about executions in the Cosmos. The Cosmic Nightingale, the tabloids were calling her, was arguably the biggest scandal in the history of the Federation. Reporters flocked to every press conference like Moss Eagles to corpses. From across the Cosmos, Native and Settlers alike united to witness the final moments of the murderer. Gridded landing platforms extended from the Abattoir's roof, held aloft by well worn concertinas. Ships touched down, sometimes so heavily that the chauffeur was shouted at for spilling the owner's drink. Suited men with umbrellas escorted the customers across the roof, through the thin sheets of falling rain, towards the safety of the plush lounges above the central auditorium, to wait for the  seats to be fully cleaned.
Far below, wavering spotlights illuminated the thin rain. Men and women ran towards the revolving glass doors, their collars pulled up to keep their ties dry. Inside, they were greeted by fancily dressed slaves, as well as a fresh pump of heat and plush velvet carpet. The reception room was circular, illuminating by a hovering chandelier. The heat from the hover engines warned the room and evaporated any rain brought in. The room began to pack tightly, until eventually the auditorium had been cleaned and it was time to let the lower class in. They oozed through the wooden doors, down a brief corridor, into the main auditorium. A collective "Wow" arose.
The Auditotium was a gigantic dome, curved and stretched in every imaginable respect. The stage was in the centre, currently hosting wooden gallows. The curving wall was carved with staggered tiers, each holding hundreds of plush seats overlooking the rest. A spotlight cast it's unwavering glow on the stage. A man was reading out “the Criminal Acts of the Cosmic Nightingale.”
Finally everyone had taken their seats.
There was a beautiful silence for a moment, as the lights flickered off and then a spotlight shot down towards the gallows. “You have been found guilty of piracy and murder. Now is the time for you to say your final words.”
The reporters leant forwards, their notebooks opened.
The Culprit walked up the steps to the top of the gallows. Her voice quivered and wavered. A thin beam of white light cut down from the top of the stage, casting the source of the sound in an ethereal whiteness.
Inka László had already made a name for herself as the child star of much loved cult series 'Ginger Nut Girl.' Many had been worried that once she'd left the comfort blanket of kid's television and plunged into the dangerous universe of proper acting, she'd be left without a hope. They had been correct. She was a murderer and a pirate and, as everyone seemed to agree, a monster. “I’m sorry.” She said, and nothing more.
A noose was put around her neck, tightened and then she was asked to step forwards. The entire room seemed to go a little quieter as a deep breath was pulled. Her footsteps echoed as she stepped forwards onto the trapdoor. The Hangman stepped over towards the handle extending from the platform. Everyone leant forwards, holding their breath.
Inka felt the noose tight around her neck, felt it grow tighter and tighter. She breathed in and out, thought about the child growing in her stomach. “I am sorry, Rennie.” She whispered. “I am sorry, Robert.” 

She felt a tear trail down her face, felt the rope tighter around her neck, and then she felt the ground break away. She was falling, falling, and then her soul wrestled free of the noose of life and the Cosmic Nightingale flew.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale (part 3)

Robert Easton’s ship was big and powerful, with enough sensory overloads to make a sensitive child implode. Inka stumbled after the Captain as he ran up a series of steps towards the large wheel. To his either side, men which could only be described by the word ‘scallywag’ leapt out of the way and bowed. An acrid smell hung about them, like vinegar and lemon mixed together and ran through a catalyst of Tawny Hog’s Blood, a substance which was reputed to water a man’s eye at fifty miles. Bits of rotten food hung between their teeth if they did, indeed, have teeth. Those who didn’t were either left with bloody stumps that had never quite healed or glittering golden teeth fashioned out of stolen jewellery. Many of them hobbled out of the way, their legs replaced with mechanical stumps that pumped out poisoned gas whenever they moved. Inka felt her stomach flip a couple of times, felt her throat burn more often than not and her eyes winced so much that she was surprised they still functioned. She cursed under her breath and continued to follow the Captain up the steps. The only thing that surprised her was that the Captain was the only man who had a beard; most of the crew were just armed with blonde stubble or metal plates that covered injuries or spots. Their eyes, at least those who had eyes, were wrought with jagged veins and a certain type of hunger that she knew wasn’t holy. They followed her as she followed the Captain, muttering under their breaths and japing with their friends. She realised that she would feel less watched on a stage than on the boat.
“Air force on the rear, Captain!” Cried the skipper, as Easton approached him.
“Damn them to Niflheim!” Easton cried. He cast a look over the rear of the ship and saw the approaching Pods, small ships with wings only as long as the pilot’s arms. What the Pods lacked in wingspan, they made up in fire power. Having glanced Easton, one of the Pods let fire a steady stream of bright yellow flashes which carved through the air and tore holes in the rear of the ship. “Skipper, why aren’t the shields up?”
“We had to turn the generators off when you went ashore, Cap’in.” The skipper said. He was a big bloke with a tattoo that obscured most of his face. He smoothed a hand across his t-shirt, leaving a trail of black grime. “They’re taking a bit longer than usual to get back online.”
“Same story with the atmospheric envelope?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Keep a steady course to the ionosphere, Skipper. And someone get the guns ready.” The Captain said. He spun on his heel and began to march towards the rear of the ship, staring once more towards the Pods. Another had begun firing, each explosion against the hull shaking through the legs.
“Captain Easton!” Inka cried. “Don’t you realise that if we break the ionosphere without the envelope, we’ll all die?”
“Yes, Miss László,” the Captain said, “I do realise that. I guess I shall see you in Niflheim.”
Inka stared at him, her mouth gaping wide open. She couldn’t quite believe what he was saying. He wanted to leave the breathable atmosphere without any breathing apparatus, just to escape the planetary air force? No wonder pirates had to pay so much for insurance! 
A young lad who looked almost innocent compared to the scallywags around him, despite the three guns on his belt, chased up to the Captain with a large box. Easton thanked him and then opened the box, pulling from it an oversized shotgun. He loaded a power pack into the handle, pulling back the loader creating a magnetic ‘zoom’ and then trained it on one of the pods. Inka rushed to his side. “The pilot has a family!”
“Then I’m sure he’ll be thinking of them as he enters the next life.” Easton puled the rifle and a bolt of blue light cut through the air, slicing straight through a cloud and smashing the propellor. The ship began to spin madly through the air, until it hit another of the Pods. The two tore into each other and exploded with a deafening thud of sound. A gigantic fireball sprayed debris in every direction, tearing apart another Pod and fracturing the wing of another. Only one Pod remained, but it quickly turned on it’s tail and flew back to base. The Captain grinned a valiant grin whilst the crew cheered. The atmospheric envelope and the shields activated suddenly; a green orb flickered into life around the ship and then began to excrete fresh smelling oxygen towards them. The freshness was a welcome relief to Inka’s nose.
The thrusters on the side of the ship fought more valiantly, the engines began to pump harder, and then the entire ship burst through the cloud belt and towards the ionosphere. The Border Control Ships didn’t even get a chance to register there was ship leaving the atmosphere before it did, tearing through towards the darkness, and beauty, of space.
“Welcome, Inka, to the King of Rats!” The Captain cried. “And to the Rust Cascade through which it cycles.”

Gaius Irving didn’t so much run onto the Bridge of his ship as struggle. It wasn’t because the auto-gravity was playing up, although that was a pressing concern, but because he felt very tired after running up the stairs to László’s room, then back down then across town and then up the steps to his ship. His lungs hadn’t so much begun heaving than given up. Enough sweat was pouring down his forehead to fill all the oceans of Isherwood. And to make it all the worse, the Bridge of his ship was massive. He had to march a hundred metres from the doorway, between rows of holographic columns, to the control panels at the front, where a group of pilots and technicians were preparing the engines. One of them looked towards the angry looking Captain and nudged the others to stand and salute. 
“Stop being pretentious fools and get us in flight!” Irving cried. He ran a hand across his bright red forehead, an action which felt like he was running his arm through a bucket of water, and then dropped back into the chair that a droid was pushing behind him. He felt a deep thrumming reverberating through the floor, felt the engines coming online and notifying the other systems. He heard the docking clamps releasing, the hover pads activating to give additional thrust, the vents being opened and the fuel being digested. The ship gave a sudden lurch, then a technician entered a piece of code which removed the brakes and then they were all thrown back into their seats. Tark! They were right when they said this ship was fast.
The Wandering Petal was the newest ship in the Federation’s fleet. It was said that it could outrace an Alvis Sprinter, and that it moved so quick it changed colour as it raced towards you. There was also rumours that the engines were made of an incredibly efficient metal that could last up to five times longer than the average engine metal. For all Gaius knew, however, that might have been a publicity stunt from the Federation press force.
As well as incredible engines, it was also decked out with brand new technology. The holographic columns were rather impressive; waist high blocks with projectors in the top. The upper quarter of the ship contained hydro-technology which could rival a cyberpunk mermaid. The most impressive bit, however, were the weapons. One of the cannons could disintegrate polycarbine, the toughest material in the Cosmos. There were machine lasers which spun, slicing holes into the target. His personal favourite was the gravity anchor. It had begun as a system which was meant to land a ship, but many pilots had used it, accidentally, to destroy other ships. The boffins at the Federation labs then redeveloped it to be a weapon. He couldn’t wait to plant the anchor in the King of Rats.
There was a sudden loud bleeping as the radar detected something. “Falling debris to the starboard side.” One of the pilots announced. “Initial reports suggest it comes from Air Force Pods.”
One of the holographic columns blinked into life and a magnified image of a bit of the debris appeared, supporting the logo of the Oyweian Air Force. Somewhere, a computer was attempting to deduct more about the situation. Within three minutes, the name of the person who had engineered the gun which had shot the Pod was at Irving’s disposal. In the end, he decided the information he needed was who’d fired the shot. Apparently it was Captan Robert Easton. 
“Have that added to the Captain’s list of crimes.” Irving said. “And have the guns prepared. When we catch the Petal, we’re going to show them the meaning of Niflheim.”

The band laughed raucously. They were telling their funniest, and only, joke about how they were a one man band despite there being five of them. “But how can this be, you may ask?” One of them would say, with all the obviousness of a seven year old in a school play.
Another one would take a swig on his rum and then announce, “Because we’re all amputees, so there’s only enough parts left to make one man of the lot of us!”
Deep in the hull of the King of Rats, where the joke was being told, a raucous thundering of laughter awoke amongst the crowd. Just over two hundred pungent, sweaty pirates all laughed as one. From their beer soaked tongue, they sprayed globules of spittle and bits of food. There was a horrible smell in the air, like an intensification of the acrid smell Inka had smelt on the main deck. She huddled a little closer to the Captain, who smelt strangely more like roses than vinegar. His laughed boomed rather than cawed, and those eyes which she’d believed to be warm with the fires of hell had turned to be lit with compassion and love. He rubbed her shoulder as he laughed, flashing her a reassuring grin through his coarse beard every so often. 
When the laughter had died down to a mere murmur, the Captain stood. He raised his tankard to take a swig of the rum inside but the crowd mistook it as a toast and began cheering. Little clouds of sticky alcohol ran over the sides of the tankards and made the floor just a little more sticky than it already was. Inka felt sorry for the men who had to sleep on it.
The Captain grinned. “Gents, it’s been a hell of day for us, and I want to congratulate each and every one of you on your patience and proficiency on escaping Oywei.”
The crew exchanged glances through cybernetic eyes and holographic interfaces. One of them said, rather too loudly, “What the Thinker does that mean?”
“You can run an old ship like this,” the Captain sighed, stroking one of the wooden panels near him, “but you don’t know what proficiency means. You lot never fail to surprise me.”
One of the men, thinking this was a good thing, began to cheer. When everybody stared at him slightly bemused he soon shut up.
The Captain grinned. “Right, here’s your reward, lads. Miss Inka László!”
The pirates began to cheer, chanting and clapping. The band began to shake their heads, those with metallic facial features creating a weird jingling, and pointed at the microphone they were passing her. A few of the blokes gave out disappointed sighs.
Inka accepted the microphone and looked towards the Captain. He nodded at her, mouthing, “You’ll be amazing, my Cosmic Nightingale.”
She took a deep breath and then pronounced the first note of the song known as ‘To Become A Pirate.’ The note cut through the air with the crisp beautifulness with which it was written. That was when they heard the first explosion.
“All hands on deck!” Easton cried, his shout faster than a bullet chasing downwards. The men leapt from their seats with energy that Inka presumed was forfeited with their level of intoxication. They ran up steps and grabbed swords, preparing their FlintLockpistols as fast they could. The air was filled with murmured curses and the droning of electrical charging. Easton stood and tied his scruffy beard into a neat tuft with a bow. He straightened his red velvet jacket and his belt alike, rectifying the weight of the side holding the sword by tethering several power packs for his pistol to the other side. He looked at Inka and the compassion in his eyes was lost once more. Fury, rage and hellfire cried from his gleaming pupils, but worst of all was the devilish grin dancing across his lips. He looked almost glad for the chaos that was about to take place. 
“Stay here, Inka.” He said, drawing back his long jacket to remove one of his two pistols. “It is not safe for you upstairs.”
“It isn’t safe for me on this ship. What if there are rival pirates?” She demanded.
“Pirates would not be so obvious.” He said. He loaded his pistol and then held it before him, ready to use. “Stay. I shall be back soon enough.”
He leapt from where he was stood and raced up the steps towards the deck. Inka was left sat alone in the hull, the embers of an electrical heater to keep her company, and only the clash of swords and the fire of guns to inform her of what was going on upstairs. 
There was a terrible scream that was a mixture of too hoarse and too close. She shuddered, wondering whether it was a pirate or someone else. Another pirate, maybe, or a space bandit, or, or…
A Federation Privateer, she realised.
Her legs were cramped but she urged them to carry her over towards the weapons rack in the corner of the hull. It was just in front of the final hammock, a squashed looking affair that looked as uncomfortable as it smelt bad. There was only one weapon left and, much to her dismay, it was a sword. Anybody could fire a FlintlockTM but it took a certain level of training to wield a sword correctly. She drew it nonetheless and tried to adjust to it’s weight in her hands. The ones they used in the Orient were made of a really light metal which would snap in half before they stabbed someone. The entire cast had been sent on a two day stage fighting course, but somehow she doubted that would come in handy now. That was the thing about the Theatre of Life. When you died, you stayed dead.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale (part 2)

Easton, known most famously as the Scourge of the Cosmos. He didn't move, almost like a statue, but his eyes followed her. She could feel them boring into her.
"What do you want?" She asked.
He saw her lips move and she saw his, but neither of them could understand what the other was saying; the glass prevented any sound from passing through. He opened his mouth wider and attempted to shout something, but his words came through merely as a muffled whisper. She shrugged, no clue what he was trying to say. 
He sighed, rolled his eyes, and grabbed his FlintLockpistol, pointing it towards the window. He gestured for her to get out of the way. She ran backwards, ensuring to grab her hairbrush as she did, and took cover behind a chair. With a tentative glance every so often, she waited.
Captain Easton raised stepped forwards and pressed the end of the pistol straight into the window. His finger slid over the trigger and he screwed his eyes shut, as hard as they could. With a quick prayer to the gods, he pulled the trigger.
A bolt of red energy jumped from the gun and directly into the reinforced glass. It bounded around the electrons trapped within for the smallest percentage of a nanosecond, and then grew too big for it’s new container and tore the glass to smithereens. Inka felt the chair shake as it was bombarded with glass fragments. Other shards slashed through the wall paper and provided an unwelcoming mat for the cleaners who walked around bare foot as to make as little noise as possible. Once she was sure the storm of glass was over, she stood up and looked over her chair. Captain Robert Easton stood looking at her. He was even more intimidating stood on this side of the glass. There was a strange smell in the air, a mixture of alcohol and fuel, that tickled her nose and made her eyes want to water. She raised her hairbrush, placing it between them, and said, “What do you want?”
The Pirate Captain stared at her, his eyes the portals to Niflheim that had inspired fear in so many others over the centuries. “I saw you perform.” He said. 
“I didn’t see you in the audience.” She said. She took a step backwards and he took one towards her, closing the distance.
“I wasn’t in the audience. I was watching through the security cameras.”
“There’s a law against that. It’s-“
“Video piracy.” He said, distaste dancing across his lips. “You’d be surprised how many people have made that joke over the years.”
“Why are you here?” She demanded. She took another step backwards. The wall with the panic button crept ever closer.
“I saw you perform. You were enchanting.”
“Do you want an autograph?” Inka asked. Only a few steps away now. If he tried anything, she could get there in a flash.
“I want you to sing for me. I need to hear your voice again.”
“You’re a pirate.” She said. “A monster.”
“A monster!” He cried. For a single second, his eyes filled with such untameable fury that Inka believed she had just said her final words. The Captain stared at her, incredulous, for a few seconds before bursting out into a frenzy of laughter. His thunderclap of a laugh rung through the room, shaking the walls. His eyes seemed to cry with hilarity.  “Oh, good Thinker, that is brilliant! Me, a monster! I will have you know that I am a king of pirates! I am a hero! I am a pure romantic, leaving his life cruising through the seven systems! I am an adventurer and a hero and a legend in the making!”
Inka took another step backwards as he continued.

Downstairs, Commander Gaius Irving was reflecting how handsome he was. “Yes,” he gloated, his greasy hair shiny in the Afterparty lighting, “I am one of the richest men in the Cosmos- and not just because of my father.”
The hoard of women, all but one of whom were after his money, instantly let out an overzealous laugh, reflecting how charming and how handsome he was. “Oh, Gaius!” The woman who had been there for the longest said, running her hand down his arm. “You’re so clever.”
He let out a hearty laugh. “Anyone is clever compared to you!”
All the woman, including the one he was talking to, let out a collective laugh. They giggled and swatted their hands through the air, reflecting he was so funny. 
“Why are you here tonight?” Asked the woman who wasn’t there for his money. She was a journalist from the Oywei Chronicle, a newspaper that like to take the rip out of the Federation as much as possible. Seeing he was the heir to it all, he was the ideal place to start. “Are you a big opera fan?”
“No! Of course not! Does anybody actually like opera?” He let out another hearty laugh. “It’s awfully boring. No, what I’m doing here is beyond me. My father insisted I came, and when my father tells you to do something, you do it!”
As the other woman cried, the journalist rolled her eyes. Bloody upper class, she thought. They always think they’re so much better than the rest of us! “Does your father want to perhaps educate you in the classical arts? Hence why he sent you here?”
Gaius looked towards the other women. “This one is awfully boring. We won’t be taking her back to my place!”
The women let out another laugh, like half a dozen seagulls all fighting for one crumb of bread. 
Gaius grinned. “But in answer to your question, no. My father may be the Emperor of the Federation, and thus of the Cosmos, but he is in no way a classy man. Give him a room full of women and a pint of beer over an opera, any day.”
Like father, like son. The journalist reached for her bag and smiled. In the process she caught a glimpse of an abandoned beer glass. It was half empty, but that was more than enough to do what she needed. She picked it up and prepared to ‘accidentally’ spill it’s contents over him, but when she turned he was gone. The women were complaining to each other whilst they scouted the room for another potential client, but the journalist kept her eyes open for the Emperor’s son. 
Little did she know, one of the plain clothed bodyguards with him had pulled him out of the room and into the corridor that led towards the bar. The bodyguard was telling him some very exciting news. “Captain Easton’s ship has been spotted mooring to the top of the Orient, Commander.”
“I think you’ve had one too many, Sergeant.” Gaius said. He and his group of soldiers had been after Easton for months but the monster always seemed to elude them. He certainly wouldn’t turn up so out of the bloom.
“No sir, I’ve got proof.” He pulled a device out of his pocket and brought up a picture of the huge ship, the Inconsistent Plot-Point, tethered to the top floor of the Orient. 
“Good Tark.” Gaius whispered. He reached for his gun on his side and drew it, heading towards the stairs. “Come on, Sergeant! What are you waiting for? We’ve got a pirate to catch!”

Inka didn’t quite know what to believe. Everything she had heard about the infamous pirate before her seemed to contradict everything he was saying. Normally in such a circumstance, if ever such a circumstance could be classed as normal, she would disbelieve everything he was saying. There was, however, a manner to the lies he told that made them sound true. She found that ability of his quite worrying. She had the feeling that he would be very good at convincing people to do things.
“I have seen treasures beyond the imaginations of the average man, witnessed wonders that myself as a child would have been strangers to.” Captain Easton waved his hands through the air. “I have been enchanted time and time again, but never like I was when you performed. I need to witness that enchantment again, feel the brilliance of your voice upon my heart. I need you to sing for me.” 
“I can’t just sing for you.” She said. “I need an orchestra and time for rehearsal and the stage and-“
“You do not need any of those things. None of those things were the thing that impressed me, or made my heart swoon with a thousand different emotions. What amazed me was your voice. It was the howl of the wolf, the swash of the water, the scream of the engine; it was nature itself, but put to music.”
“Well, it can hardly be that if it isn’t put to music.”
“Gentlemen!” The pirate captain commanded. “The lady asks for music.”
Aboard the ship, a group of men with ramshackle contraptions appeared. They plucked strings and pressed buttons. The ungraceful devices made the most enchanting sound, almost more so than the Royal Oyweian Orchestra in downstairs. Inka felt herself drifting off into a realm of musical paradise, as she did whenever the music began on show night. She found the words of the song they were playing, the Death March, rising from her subconscious. The first curl of Italican formed on her tongue, she opened her mouth wide to sing. The first beautiful note leapt from her, like a bird from a nest in a tree, but she was suddenly cut off by the smash at the door.
The Pirate Captain spun and pulled his sword out facing it at the door. “Who is there?” He demanded, his voice bellowing and powerful.
“Commander Gaius Irving.” Shouted the voice from the other side. “Open up, Robert Easton, or we’ll come in.”
“Gaius, my old friend,” the Captain said, “you sound out of breath.” He gestured with his sword towards the gangplank, motioning Inka to follow it across to the ship. “Is Mrs Irving making too many cakes? Oh, hang on, you employ your cooks for making cakes, not your wives. What is it you employ them for?”
Inka didn’t know why but she suddenly found herself dancing across the gangplank, trying not to look down the humongous gaps. Her eyes were eventually drawn and she felt herself freezing. The floor was at least five hundred metres away. Her legs wobbled terribly, or so it seemed to her, as she struggled one step after the other towards the ship. She felt her body under the control of her fear. She cursed and cursed, using more rude words in the brief transition from opera house to ship than she had in her entire life before hand. She looked over her shoulder, to see if the Captain was following her, and discovered he was; backwards! He ran backwards, his sword and his gun facing the theatre. He swung the sword at approaching Federation soldiers, knocking them into the humongous gaps on either side. His gun barked again and again in his hand, smashing windows and killing the soldiers. The man she recognised as the Emperor’s Son, Commander Gaius Iriving, was cowering at the back, keeping his head down to avoid the stray shots.
She reached the ship and hauled herself on board. The musicians were waiting for her, themselves more ramshackle than their instruments. They were gangly and thin, the lot of them, their hair unwashed, their skin sweaty and their facial hair rough. Some had electronic eyes, or electronic ears, robotic arms or bionic legs. They weren’t the type of cleansed and polite company that Inka was used to. 
Captain Easton jumped after and called, “Set course for the ionsphere, lads. We’re getting off this planet!” He flipped a couple of rude gestures towards Gaius Irving and then led Inka across the deck and towards a staircase which led to the huge wheel which controlled the direction of the thrusters. As they ran, the gangplank was withdrew, dropping any soldiers stood on it into the huge gap between ship and opera house.
The engines howled, the deck hummed and the thrusters barked up clouds of orange fire. Smoke coughed from the pipes that stuck out of the sides of the ship like ribs from a carcass and the atmospheric simulators blinked and clunked into life. The ship arched slightly, but the artificial gravity kept the pirates stable. Speed began to pick up and then they were flying through the air.
Behind them, much slower, came the howled curses of Gaius Irving. “This is war!” He cried. “War I tell you!!”

Monday, 9 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale

The Opera

Back in the day, Oywei looked like yet another star in the sky from afar. It glowed with the gleaming excellence of it's illuminated cities. It was both literally and metaphorically a shining beacon to the rest of the Cosmos. 
It was no surprise that thousands flocked there. It was a luminary capital of finance, industry, art, invention and capitalism. Many tourist brochures didn't have a section devoted to Oywei, for two reasons. Reason One: It made everywhere else look dismal. Reason Two: Everybody was already going to go. To visit the Rust Cascade and not visit Oywei was to put on an oxygen tank and not inhale. Completely unheard of.
Of Oywei's thousands of enchanting settlements, the most famous was Oywei Major. It was renowned as the Capital of the Emperor's Continent. From the atmosphere by which you approached it, it was truly majestic. The tide of incredible architecture dipped and spiked like a longitudinal wave. Every tower gleamed; it's glass facade caught in the glare of the twin suns. Further down, if you were to trail between the feet of these structures, you would be amazed even more so. Your eyes would trace the buildings up, losing sight of them beyond the clouds, your mind would float away filled with paradise soaked images of your surroundings. During the day, everything seemed to shine. The permanently polished pavements shone in the Suns, the ships and space vessels zipping past shone in their beauty, the people shone in their incredible personalities. Every moment of contact with Oywei Major was seared upon the memory for the rest of your life. Every tantalising whiff of an exotic food, every snap of a foreign language enticing you to interest. Every sense was assaulted with beauty. But there was only one way to be assaulted by true sensory perfection. And that, was to visit the Opera.
The Orient was Oywei's premier opera house and Oywei Major's pride and joy. A stocky building, it didn't begin to compare architecturally to the divine structures around it. But it didn't need to. It held a content far more valuable than any of the interplanetary banks or vaults surrounding it did. It held the spark of imagination. It held the stuff of dreams.
That night, the Orient was holding one of the most revered operas in the Cosmos. The Cosmic Nightingalewas arguably the greatest masterpiece ever put to music. Critics flocked to every new performance like Moss Eagles to corpses. From across the Cosmos, Native and Settlers alike united to enjoy the three hour stage traffic. Gridded landing platforms extended from the Orient's roof, held aloft by well worn concertinas. Ships touched down, sometimes so heavily that the chauffeur was shouted at for spilling the owner's drink. Suited men with umbrellas escorted the customers across the roof, through the thin sheets of falling rain, towards the safety of the plush lounges above the central auditorium, to wait for the Royal Box to be fully cleaned.
Far below, wavering spotlights illuminated the thin rain. Men and women ran towards the revolving glass doors, their collars pulled up to keep their ties dry. Inside, they were greeted by Lobby boys and concierges, as well as a fresh pump of heat and plush velvet carpet. The reception room was circular, illuminating by a hovering chandelier. The heat from the hover engines warned the room and evaporated any rain brought in. The room began to pack tightly, until eventually the Royal Box had been cleaned and it was time to let the lower class in. They oozed through the wooden doors, down a brief corridor, into the main auditorium. A collective "Wow" arose.
The Auditotium was a giantic dome, curved and stretched in every imaginable respect. One side was taken up by the stage, currently hidden behind a cascade of Eden velvet. The other side was carved with staggered tiers, each holding hundreds of plush seats overlooking the rest. The walls, lit by a plethora of swinging chandeliers, were intricately carved with scenes from hundreds of infamous operas. A spotlight cast it's unwavering glow on a section of carvings depicting the Final Act of the Cosmic Nightingale. The people who didn't want spoilers tried to avoid it.
Finally everyone had taken their seats. The Royal Box was suddenly occupied by two wealthy oil barons. The husband commented to the wife that it was irritating nobody had stood to bow for them. The wife told the husband to shush, the show was starting. It truly was.
The heavy curtains drew apart, revealing the stage, cast in complete darkness. There was a beautiful silence for a moment, as the chandeliers in-illuminated gradually. Darkness took over and then, a piercing note of purest song. The voice quivered and wavered, a pitch so perfect and enchanting that the glasses of wine in every hand seemed ready to shatter. A thin beam of white light cut down from the top of the stage, casting the source of the note in an ethereal whiteness.
Inka László had already made a name for herself as the child star of much loved cult series 'Ginger Nut Girl.' Many had been worried that once she'd left the comfort blanket of kid's television and plunged into the dangerous universe of proper acting, she'd be left without a hope. How wrong they had been! Within her first season as a professional performer, she had released an old Earth Blues album, starred in two blockbuster films and won half a dozen awards. Some girls and some boys wanted to be her, some girls and some boys wanted to be with her. She was constantly referred to as the type of person that your grandparents would be honoured if you took her home. Her reply to that? She complained about the sexism of the subject and used it to launch her own feminist campaign. It was the first independent campaign the Federation approved in all the time it had been going so far. For a woman who'd only just entered the public eye, she was moving fast. None of those things, however, were her crowning success. Her crowning was success was, of course, the Cosmic Nightingale. And so it began.

The room was silent. That note carried on for longer than many knew were possible. Inka László stepped forwards. She looked incredible, a vision in gold and silver and a thousand other colours the eye couldn't quite comprehend. She was playing Rennie, a baroness trapped in a boring life of servitude and sewing, locked to the realms of her bedroom with nothing but the sight of the setting suns to entertain her. She dreamt of adventure. All the gossip rags agreed the role had been written for her. She declared her loathing for her solitude in the language of the Earthfolk, a strange mangle of words called 'Italican.' Her voice reached strange quivers and pitches that brought a tear to some of the audience's eyes, and an extra beat to the hearts of the rest.
She continued, turning her back to the large fake window on the right of the stage. She walked towards the left. As she did, a gigantic pirate ship swooped in. It hung on invisible wires inches above the stage, swinging back and forth with relative ease. The lights illuminating Rennie went out, and instead went to illuminate the ship. On board were a group of space pirates, rugged and angry with glorious beards and mock ups of swords which could cut through polycarbine. On their sides were mockups of the infamous FlintLock pistol, a type of collector's edition pistol that had two thousand produced but were all stolen in convoy from their factory planet to the distribution centre. They began singing, rougher and hoarser than Rennie had. Those who could speak Italican would know they were singing about how they needed a pirate clean. After a few moments, the lights cut back to Rennie. The orchestra played the same music but quieter and softer now. She sung of how she wished she could find adventure. She wandered across the stage to her desk, staring out of the window. 
The lights turned on revealing the pirates. Complete silence as the Captain and Rennie stared at each other. Their faces painted a picture. The audience burst into roars of laughter. 
Eventually, the laughter dribbled to silence once more. The conductor took a deep breath, nodded to the director and then motioned for the orchestra to began to play. Rennie ran backwards, singing of how she was scared. The pirate leapt through the window and to the floor, marching towards her and commanding her not to be scared. He sung of how he was a noble and valiant hero, of how he was an adventurer and a rogue. He lied and lied until even Rennie, who knew nothing of pirates, was sceptical. Then he invited her onto his ship.
The opera continued, with the music becoming more swashbuckling, louder and bolder. Rennie tumbled through the ship, pirates appearing from every direction. Their voices joined the chanting and soon the operatic echo was louder than the music it copied. And then, a stunning silence. Another ship had joined the already present ship, called the Cosmic Nightingale. The new ship was manned by Federation privateers, tasked with slaying all pirates with no hesitation. The pirates, thus, took it upon themselves to slay the Federation Privateers. 
As the battle took place, fake cannons were set off and signified by a splash of artificial lighting and a deep hit of the drums. Swords clashed and mockup FlintLock pistols were set off. The Captain, who had successfully wooed Rennie, swung on descending ropes from the atmospheric envelope of the Cosmic Nightingale to the other ship. The  commander of the other ship was none other than the son of the Emperor. Around him was a sea of warrior droids, played by giants from Falout. The Captain managed to take most of them out, but not the Emperor's son. He had lifted a gun and was pointed it towards the Captain when suddenly he dropped with a heavy thud. The spotlights depicting the rest of the fighting dimmed until all the audience could see were the Captain and Rennie. The orchestra flipped over their sheet music and began the next song. It was, arguably, the most famous of all the songs in the Opera. It was, of course, the song known as 'To Become A Pirate'
The Captain announced that Rennie had sworn her blood by saving his, that she had become one enemy of the Federation and thus a friend of the pirates. He made her vow and swear and give her life away. And then, in the second most touching moment of all, he kissed her upon the lips and told her that it was not all over and that she was a pirate now.
The pirates left the stage on their ships, taking the captured privateer ship with them. The Emperor of the Federation, who looked in no way whatsoever like the true emperor of the Federation, entered. He was rolled in on his throne, his court and his maids following him soon enough. The maids won the opera it's age limits with their clothing and the court with their words. In a deep tenor that threatened to carve itself into pure stone, the Emperor commanded recommence for his son. The privateers and generals in his court all bowed and offered their duties. None of their voices were near as deep as the Emperor's. As he spoke, his chair lifted higher and higher to emphasise his importance. Finally, the only line in the Eden Tongues, he announced, "Have the woman who killed him follow him to Niflheim and anyone who dare stand in your way sent with her!"
The court left the stage and the pirates entered. They were in the lower reaches of their ship, laughing and jesting and playing cards. Rennie was amongst them, every bit an equal to their merriment as she was to their occupation. She stepped forwards to the audience and allowed the men to quieten before  she began her soliloquy. She told the audience how she much preferred that life to the one she'd experienced before hand, and how she'd fallen in love. She explained that she was happy with an illegal life, as long as it was exciting. She announced that she was a free and happy woman now.
It was in that moment that the first fake cannon went off. The entire opera hall was meant to feel like it was caught in the blast, emphasised merely by the way all the actors fell to the floor. The Captain leapt back up and onto a table, drawing his sword and announcing they were at war.
Everyone, including Rennie, drew their weapons. The Empire Privateers and Warrior Droids marched on set and announced they were here to claim the monster which had slain the Emperor's son. Rennie was prepared to step forwards, but all the men stood in front of her. Their chanting voices created a shield, repeating over and over again that they would protect the girl with everything they had. And so, the fighting began.
In many adaptations of the opera, this scene was set to music known as the Ballad of War. It was, however, decided that in this production the scene would be completely silent apart from the clashing ring of the duelling swords. The ring and clash was the wood wind of scraping swords, and the explosion of guns and cannons was the percussion. The Ballad of War had never been a more fitting name.
The closing scene of the Ballad was the Captain's death. The Emperor's new heir, his daughter's husband, drew a bayonet through the Captain's chest. Rennie saw it from the other side of the stage. As the Captain fell, so did all the other pirates. The battle was instantly lost. 
The final scene was the most famous. The Death March, a famous piece of music, played at full volume as the Emperor read the list of Rennie's sins. The music grew louder and louder. Rennie was marched across the stage towards the steps up to the erected gallos in the centre. The dead of the play stepped out, chanting louder and louder. Rennie put her head into the noose. The cacophony grew louder and louder, the light brighter and brighter. The room seemed to be shaking with the build up of energy and power. Cutting through all the terrible chanting and pumping drums, Rennie's voice sang the death song. Louder and louder the music grew, but her voice piercing the veil of noise. 
The Emperor grabbed the lever, hoisting it back and then darkness, silence and the show was over.
A video camera in the corner relayed footage of the standing ovation to a ship beyond the enclosing atmosphere of Oywei. The man watching the screen smiled to himself and shouted, "Set course for the Orient."

Inka László gave the actor who played the Captain a grand hug and congratulated him on his excellent acting. "Oh, thank you, darling!" He cried in return. "Although, kissing yourself is always the hardest bit!"
She wandered one, not entirely sure whether he was kidding or not. She curved her way up a double helix staircase that ran almost parallel to the stairs leading from the Box. They circled up and up towards her dressing room at the very top of the Orient. She found it as she'd left it; a short narrow room with a dresser sat in front of the body length window. There was a button to the side of it that, when pressed, transformed the window into a mirror. She did that and began to get undressed out of her dirty costume. She picked up a tabard and a pair of leggings and pulled them on, settling into the chair in front of the mirror. She took a couple of pills from her desk to quell the headache currently forming in her. She absolutely loved performing in the Cosmic Nightingale, but the percussion did horrors to her health. After she'd quickly swallowed them, she sat back in her chair and breathed in and out, resting her vocal cords. 
She meditated for a good ten minutes, trying to rest her soul and body before she had to begin rereading her lines for the next performance. She breathed in and out, in and out, felt her blood circulating calmly. Then she stood up and pressed the button to turn the window back to the mirror. She went over to the set of drawers behind her, searching for her script. She'd read through it whilst the suns set. She found it exactly where she'd left it and went over to her chair sitting, back down again. What she saw wasn't the twin suns dipping below the horizon, but instead a pirate looking at her whilst stood on the gangplank of a pirate galleon.
She gulped.