Perched on his command chair, nestled in the undulating curves of the bridge, it did not make sense for him to be able to feel the ship. But feel it he did, his finger crackling with the contained power of the vessel. It was erotic, there's no point of avoiding that point. They had warned him, not too long ago, in the Tribunal that he would fall in love with his second command. Many, civilians probably, would imagine that the strongest love would forge between the captain and his first but that was a common misconception. You were too scared, too awed by the might which you wielded via this tool, for love. Love needs respect but also mutual deference and ships this powerful don't defer to junior captains.
No, it was the second command you fell for and fall hard he had. As it completed the subtle arc which brought it facing mid-system, Throw Your Fists Against The Wall Of Time, O Merlin! hummed with the faint, background buzz of action. He settled deeper into his crimson chair, taking in the healthy glow of activity, as the battle-cruiser was brought to full capacity in the face of oncoming action. It was phallic, there's no point of avoiding that point. He squirmed a bit in his chair, not uncomfortably, as his groin shifted with the expectation. "First Mate!" he barked, causing the woman to jump in her chair. "Bring up the main screen. I wish to survey the enemy". To her merit, the First Mate hesitated no more than a split second before performing the correct gesture and bringing up the frontal view. Good thought the captain to himself, this Tribunal reject might be worth something after all. The view displayed before him cut off his chain of thought, not for more than a moment. Arrayed before him was the infamous Bizarre Brigade in their full villainy. The panorama made him regret executing his heraldry adjutant not more than a week ago, since every manner of arms was represented. Tincture, fields, barry, indented lines, chevrony fields and all the rest paraded across his sight. He smiled slightly to himself. He'll enjoy finally wiping this rabble out of Common Space.
But every age has its way to wage war and the cultural tithes which must be paid for the pleasure of killing other humans. The captain knew, well versed as he was in the Accepted Histories, that his age was lightly taxed as violence was an every day reality. One could not offer endless posturing when the other side was armed to the teeth with FTL lances, blazing, system-killing bombs and ships so rapid they put the photons themselves to shame. In fact, there was only one rule and it was kept to religiously. Literally. "Are the gods here, First Mate?" he asked softly, his voice nearly a whisper. In return he got only a nod and the faint, almost insect-like sounds of the cameras being rotated. Sure enough, several AU's away, there sat what appeared to be a modest ship, blue in color and banner-less. Not that it needed it. "Scan it, First Mate. I would like to know whose company we are enjoying". It took several minutes to get an answer and he knew that it was only by the grace of whoever controlled that ship that any information would be allowed through. However, it seemed the grace of the gods was waxing for now as his First Mate declared "The Rune, sir. It's The Rune" with a half smile. The captain enjoyed the extravagances allowed to those in power and therefore broke into a full grin. This was good news.
"I greet The Heart with utter respect" his voice echoed across the spaces beneath space "and specifically The Rune. We have met before, erudite one. I send you greetings as the Flank Commander at Corwin's Planet!". It took a few seconds for the reply to boom out of the ship's speakers and he knew, once again, that his life and worth were measured countless times in those few moments. "Constantine Matter, The Heart recognizes you. You have been authorized for combat today. You have fought under our auspices before and with satisfying adherence to Artery Law and therefore we shall not read you The Code of Combat. We trust you remember it. Please maneuver your forces exactly 4.78 AU's galaxy-wards. We project that your enemy might fire sooner than you think on your current position and there's a higher than likely chance that Misaddress will be struck with an FTL lance in 40,000 years as a result. Comply immediately". The captain blinked once and sprang from his chair, swiftly directing his crew to the co-ordinates designated. There was no time for argument, no space for thought. If he did not comply immediately, he and all his crew would be erased, just victims of the Artery Law which held the human race together. He knew all of this since his first day at the Tribunal but it was especially etched into his mind after Corwin's Planet. He still dreamed of how the right flank, three battle-cruiser and almost twenty destroyers, simply disappeared in a blue haze. He still swore that he could hear singing behind closed doors for weeks after.
And so he complied and the O Merlin! complied with him. Now that he was at the designated location, he could see that The Heart was generous to him as it had been before. Just as it had been at Corwin's, his location was pristine. He was now perched above the Bizarre Company, their flagship displaying its bristles right at him. Just as he liked it. Turning on his commander's perch, he hooked into the ship's systems, overriding the helms, weapons control and engines. His crew stood down, already retreating into nearby escape pods and safe nooks throughout the ship. They were no longer needed. It was five-hundred years ago that humanity quickly understood that commanding a ship through a crew was possible only while travelling or banked. For combat, the singular, purposeful mind of the individual was second to none. Some whispered that The Heart employed other techniques, utilizing prayer and poetry to pilot their ships. This was always irrelevant but it was especially so now, as the O Merlin! closed space with its opponent. Constantine Matter, a man blessed by The Heart, was in love and these were the throes of ecstasy, the first steps of a coital act which decided the lives of millions. And he was an expert. Plunging into the sphere of his opponent's lines, he could already see victory arrayed before him.
From a distance, a blue ship watched on. Three blazing words adorned the space beneath the helm and above it, the white braids of its First Officer shifted softly with an endless wind. The first detonation blazed on the screen, approximately three seconds before the projection. No matter. The pieces had been played, the forces had been arrayed and everything was progressing as planned. Constantine Matter, the future and first Observer, would be forged in the plasma fires of this battle. His ship would soon be destroyed but he would be rescued. "Bring us in closer. As soon as his ship is damaged, send the Poets. Get him out of there".
From a distance, a blue ship watched on and beyond it, The Heart extended all the way through the weft and weave of humanity. Today, a nudge was needed. Tomorrow, a full reweaving might be required. But the tapestry was unfolding and the walls of time shuddered. Buckling around an ion spear, the beautiful battle-cruiser imploded.Back to Ex Nihilo