Bark: Rants about the world in general.
Byte: Rants about videogames, technical matters and the IT Industry.
Hence, Bark and Byte.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Bark: Elite: Dangerous - Requiem - Chapter Six
It felt odd
coming back to my childhood home without Laure. The last time I had been here
was on our honeymoon and I had always associated the estate with her, even
though it had been owned by my parents, Cassandra and Padraig, rather than
Laure's father, Silvano. Laure and her father had spent the long summer months
at our estate as guests of my parents in the years leading up to my mother and
father's execution: the staunchest allies my parents had come to rely upon in
the months leading up to their indictment.
As soon as Fell From
The Top(...) dropped out of
witchspace I activated the navigation computer to set a course for Summerland
6, a terraformed Earth-like world officially known as Henry O'Hare's Haven, but
more colloquially known as Summerland, the star it orbited. Despite several
centuries of work, the terraforming on Summerland was incomplete, resulting in
a hot, dry climate with an overbearing air presssure, which gave the world and
system its name. It was only the high air pressure (some six times above Terran
norms) that enabled the planet to retain the oceans it needed for a sustainable
hydrosphere, though the terraforming effort hoped to lower the overall average temperature of the planet so that the oceans wouldn't simply evaporate as the air pressure was gradually reduced. The hot, dry and high pressure climate had given the world a
reputation as a spa world and health retreat. It was hoped that in the coming
two or three centuries that the terraforming factories still dotted across the
surface of the planet would thin out the atmosphere and increase the relative
density of oxygen to bring the planet more in line with the standard atmosphere
you might find on a space station.
Even though the
terraforming was still a work in progress, the planet's minimal axial tilt and
long, 48 hour days gave Summerland a stable climate all year round, making it
one of the most popular worlds in the Empire for rich and powerful families to
build their private estates. Sited on the coast at the southern edge of the
temperate zone of Summerland's northern hemisphere, the five thousand square
kilometre Eurynome estate was
ideally placed for people who enjoyed moderate, rather than balmy temperatures.
Sea and air temperatures averaged 295K all year round, never getting too hot
for comfort thanks to the gentle breezes rippling off the coast. Pristine white
sand beaches glimmered welcomingly as I let my Imperial Clipper plummet like a
comet down through the thick atmosphere at nearly 3000 metres per second. The
sonic boom following us gradually ebbed away as I reduced speed, levelling off
my approach at an altitude of 5000 metres. Using the navigation console at my
left hand, I activated the lodge's landing beacon to provide me with a vector
towards the estate's landing pad. Coming in from the ocean allowed our view of
the estate to gradually unfold as we glided over the calm, sapphire blue waters
towards the beach and the rolling green landscape beyond. The mansion itself
stood proudly in the centre of an intimate glade, the woods behind the house
separating the house and gardens from the vineyard and downs beyond the trees.
The glade opened out before the mansion over immaculately manicured gardens, a
glass house covering almost a hectare providing the plants for the parterre and
other flower beds. Beyond the garden and lawn was a cascade from the water-meadow
leading down to the hunting lodge and the estate's private landing pad,
situated a kilometre and a half from the main house, right next to the beach. I
brought the ship in low and slow, circling the glade once to give Karina a good
view of the mansion before bringing the ship down manually on the landing pad,
the nose of the Imperial Clipper pointing into the prevailing on-shore wind.
is yours, master?"
is home. I grew up here. Until my parents were executed, at any rate. Laure
gave me the estate as a wedding present." I replied as I shut down the
engines and put the ship into standby mode. "ASTRA, you deserve a nice
rest. Enjoy the view."
"I will, my
lord. Running maintenance diagnostics."
Karina and I
changed out of our flight suits before disembarking, Karina opting for her
usual jumpsuit and boots, allied with a fake leather jacket to keep out the
wind, while I wore a thick black cotton tunic, matching naval fatigue trousers,
heavy boots and a polyester canvas tactical vest. Before leaving my stateroom,
I retrieved my flechette pistol belt and filled the pouches of the vest with
extra ammo clips, first aid kits and ration packs. After Thunda Sue's warning in the nightclub
on Sorbago, I wasn't in the mood for taking risks.
expecting trouble, master?" Karina frowned when she saw I was armed.
there are wild boars in the woods behind the house. Occasionally they go for
the vegetable garden. You don't want to get surprised by one, believe me."
I replied, using an unlikely truth to disguise my real concerns as I secured
the hatch behind us. "We could go hunting for one later. They're good
think so, master. I'd rather take a walk on the beach." Karina stared at
the waves swelling against the white sands longingly.
idea." I linked arms with Karina and walked with her down the sloping dune
that separated the landing pad from the beach. "Do you like the
"I like the
smell. And the wind. It reminds me of my parents."
settlement on Elysian Fields was on the coast?"
to take me swimming every weekend." Karina nodded, lost in bittersweet
memories, her grip tightening on my arm.
like it here, then." I said as we stepped onto the fine-grained sand.
"The water's always warm."
going to leave me here, master?" Karina hadn't forgotten Laure's threat.
walking and turned her to face me, holding her shoulders firmly. "I'm not
going to abandon you, Karina. Not ever."
your wife wants to kill me?"
"Laure was upset.
Angry. She didn't mean it."
she'll make you choose. And you'll leave me behind." Karina said, her
shoulders slumping in defeat. "I don't want you to leave me, master."
I knew she was
right. I would choose Laure over Karina if I had to. I was only delaying the
inevitable by refusing to answer Laure's ultimatum. Unable to think of anything
comforting to say, a white lie that would ease her pain, I bent down to kiss
Karina's lips. She kissed back fiercely, long and hard, her fingers gripping
the hair on the back of my head. I wiped away the tears in her eyes when we
came up for air. Karina smiled bravely, but I could see that she had accepted
that this was the beginning of the end of our affair. I held her close
for a few moments before sitting on the sand to take off my boots and socks.
"The sand feels better if you go barefoot."
We left our
boots behind at the base of the dune, letting the warm sand tickle the gaps
between our toes and heat the soles of our feet. We walked in silence for over
an hour, our eyes hunting for shells or weathered stones on the shore. I led us
closer to the shoreline, so that the gentle swell of the incoming waves broke
over our feet and ankles. Karina stopped and looked out to the horizon, the
ocean almost a perfect mirror image of the blue, cloudless sky. The sun was
already halfway on its journey from its zenith to the horizon, but thanks to Summerland's
slow rotation, I estimated that we still had a good six hours of daylight left.
beautiful here, master. So peaceful."
to be home again. I never realise how much I've missed it until I'm back."
We lingered a moment as the waves lapped around our feet before I led Karina back
to the dune where we had left our footwear. "Let me show you the house and
gardens. If you like the beach, you're going to love the house."
We followed the
path from the landing pad back to the mansion, walking beside the cascade, the
water burbling happily over the rocks as it fell towards the shore. The slope
leading up to the gardens from the landing pad wasn't particularly steep, but
it was over a thousand metres long, and both Karina and I were getting short of
breath by the time we crested the top of the hill. The view, however, was worth
it. The white marble façade of the mansion was as impressive as ever. Eurynome had been built in the neo-Palladian style,
with a tetrastyle portico framed by two symmetrical wings, each three stories
high, studded regularly with vertical, rectangular windows. The first floor
windows were taller than those on the ground and second floor, in a classic piano
nobile, the master
bedrooms easily identifiable at the end of each wing by their balconies
overlooking the glade. The hall behind the portico was topped by a rotunda that
stood proudly above the flat roof, which was rimmed by dozens of waist-high colonnades
topped by a thin marble parapet rail. The mansion stood out dramatically
against the background of trees, an arrogant statement of Man's mastery over
As we walked
around the water-meadow to the lawn, I saw the door to the house open and a
grey-haired man of average height and slender build step out from between the
four columns of the portico. I recognised him instantly as Vilko Kozel, Eurynome's estate manager. He had been employed by
my mother only weeks after she had acquired the property and he had been here
ever since, having been kept on by Laure to maintain the mansion and grounds. I
felt Karina's grip on my right arm tighten. She was still skittish around
strangers. "Don't worry, Vilko's as old a friend as I've ever had. Let me
We met in the
middle of the parterre by the fountain, and Vilko laughed in delight as I gave
him a bear hug, which the old man returned enthusiastically. Vilko had always
looked upon me as one of his grandsons. "My lord Aemon, it's good to see
you again so soon!"
worried about you after I heard what happened at Groombridge 34. You're well
again, I hope?" Vilko asked, before leading us back towards the house at a
slow walking pace.
to hear it, my lord. I see you've brought a companion. Mistress Torval said
that you might when I spoke to her this morning."
this is Karina. She'll be staying with us for a little while."
to meet you, my lady." Vilko nodded respectfully towards her and he was
tactful enough not to ask any awkward questions about the nature of our
say anything else?"
my lord." Vilko said as we approached the portico. "Just that she'd
be joining you here in a couple of days."
trust you've kept the larder and cellar well-stocked? We've had a long day and
could do with something to eat."
my lord." Vilko stopped and turned to us, his face almost apologetic.
"Just one more thing, my lord."
it, Vilko?" I asked, my danger sense starting to tingle.
"I did have
one other message for you. From Senator Torval." Vilko began to raise his
right hand. Seemingly from nowhere, a small slug-thrower pistol had appeared in
Karina screamed, stepping between us as I instinctively drew my dart gun
from the friction holster on my left hip.
The next few
seconds passed in slow motion. I saw the muzzle of Vilko's gun flash once,
causing Karina to stagger back against me. I returned fire without thinking, my
aim guided by my combat training, delivering two quick rounds to the chest and
a third to Vilko's forehead. I caught Karina, feeling blood beneath my hands as
Vilko's body slumped, lifeless, to the floor.
No... oh, no." I whispered, setting her down gently on the gravel path,
pressing a hand hard against the wound in her chest to try and stop the bleeding.
Karina looked up at me distantly and coughed once, crimson spittle coating her
lips. "Don't try to talk."
I glanced over
at Vilko's body. He definitely wouldn't be getting up again. A closer
inspection of his gun revealed that it was the latest model Manticore Munitions
hold-out pistol. The lack of rifling in the barrel indicated that it had been
designed to fire 'tumbler' slugs, containing a tiny explosive charge to break up the slug inside the body and cause
massive internal injuries to multiple organs. At least one of Karina's lungs
had been punctured, judging from her laboured breathing and the way she was
coughing up blood. I put my head against her ribcage and heard the tell-tale
bubbling of lungs filling with liquid. But worse than that was what I couldn't
hear. I lifted my hand away from the entry wound on her chest, but no blood
seeped out. Her heart had already stopped, ripped apart by fragments from the
tumbler round. Karina was dying before my eyes and there was absolutely nothing
I could do. My first aid kit wasn't equipped to deal with internal injuries. I felt the tears on my cheeks as I tried to contain my anguish.
Karina saw the sorrow in my eyes and reached up to caress my face.
I was too slow." I kissed her, tasting her blood on my lips: a coppery
tang of failure. Karina just smiled and stroked my neck comfortingly.
"Karina, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... I love you."
I kissed her
again, holding her tight in my arms until I felt her breathing stop and her
fingers slip away limply from the back of my neck. Unable to let her go, I cradled Karina's body and