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Death’s Flag Is Never At Half-Mast

The two newest nelsons were young enough to believe that they would be the next Heroes of the Nile or Trafalgar or Ceres or Alpha Centauri. All those places were well in the future for the boys, who’d been plucked from the Portsmouth of 1771 only a few months ago.

Lieutenant “Halfacre” Nelson strode down the corridor, surveying them via the video-feed routed through his left eye. These children kept getting more contemptible and arrogant and the Zeta Alpha class was the worst. They were reading to each other from Churchill’s _Lives of the Ten Nelsons_ as if the whole thing hadn’t been crash-downloaded into them during orientation surgery.

As the cabin door dilated, the boys scrambled to attention, and Halfacre could see the way they struggled to place him. He was older than any of the nelsons in the book. Though the hundred strands of a manipulation apparatus dangled from his left sleeve, signifying the command track, he was only a lieutenant and was by far the lowest-ranked nelson for his age that they had encountered.

Halfacre snapped the ganglia towards the ensigns, making one flinch, “Looks like we’ve already found the next batch of fertilizer.” He pointed to the other and said, “Mr. Forty-Two, report to berth nine in ten minutes.” As the door closed he saw Forty-Two patting the first boy on the shoulder. He’d need to break that one quick. All he needed was another damned horatio.

It always came back to the French. The splintered remnants of the Russian and German nations had long ago reverted to their natural place scrounging at the midden-heaps of civilization. Similarly, the Americans shook off their brief bout of youthful vigor and collapsed with a decadence that surpassed the Romans.

The nations of what had been Asia proceeded, as always, on a vector orthogonal to that of the West. Their massive junks and dhows barely deigned to notice the ragged frigates and men o’ war which sparred around them. Indeed, those inscrutable peoples had long since realized that the West had nothing of value to offer them, not even in the realm of ideas.

But the patchwork French realm, styling themselves a republic, kingdom, or empire at wholly predictable intervals, dragged itself into the stars. Its territories waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of military defeat, but always remained culturally united, even when politically independent.

And they remained yoked to Its Majesty’s Empire, as allies, rivals, and mortal enemies, throughout that long span of history. The two nations were alternately attracted to and repelled by each other. Their millennia-long shared history provided fertile ground for any manner of shared enterprise or destructive crusade. And indeed, no matter their relationship, the British could flourish only so long as the French were in good health; a temporary ascendance by one was always balanced by its resulting decline.

So it was no surprise that, when the technology became available, both nations took to mining the time-streams with equal gusto. France was over-run with Charlemagnes, Joans of Arc, Marshal Neys, and De Gaulles, (and even a Napoleon or two, whenever madmen gained control of the apparatus), and whirled through governments as fast as its citizens could read new constitutions, producing brilliant military results intercut with dismal routs.

But Britain adopted a different course. Though the Isles agreed on the necessity of a few Churchills, for the speeches (though that fellow from the BBC actually did them quite a bit better), and perhaps a Marlborough or Montgomery for whenever the distasteful business of land-combat was unavoidable, there was no question as to who should fill the spacefaring officer corps of Its Majesty’s Navy.

“Get out of there,” Halfacre said, giving the green slop another dose of electricity from his ganglia. He stared at the beslimed strands and longed for a washcloth.

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1 Redstone Science Fiction #3, August 2010 | Redstone Science Fiction { 08.01.10 at 12:22 am }

[…] Death’s Flag Is Never At Half-Mast by Rahul […]

2 My story, “Death’s Flag Is Never At Half-Mast” is up at Redstone Science Fiction « Blotter Paper { 08.01.10 at 10:18 pm }

[…] the magic has begun, my story, “Death’s Flag Is Never At Half-Mast” has gone live in Redstone Science Fiction’s August issue. And it’s the cover story, which is not at all unsweet. In case you missed my previous post, […]

3 Ben Godby { 08.02.10 at 4:05 pm }

“Kiss me, Nelson.”

Nice. Nice.

Historical hilarity to the otherwise, this was a really great story. There’s nothing quite so fun as techno-augmented space-battles; and, really, what we could ask for other than a space-nelson?


4 SF Signal: 98 Free Speculative Fiction Stories by 58 Authors { 10.25.10 at 1:28 am }

[…] Rahul Kanakia: "Death's Flag Is Never At Half-Mast" […]