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Death’s Flag Is Never At Half-Mast

In his first engagement, he’d gotten no farther than a yelled, “England expects…” before the French boarders cut down everyone in his engineering station. When his implants were finally ransomed and he was resurrected, he’d learned his lesson. If only he’d had someone to disabuse him early on, he might have avoided these endless years of shame. That was his duty now.

A few days later, Halfacre dined on the French cruiser, only hours before it came to kill them. The tourville who was his opposite number played a fine game of whist, and it was their custom to idle away the hours with wine and complaints. The Frenchman had been very gracious when the pronouncement crashed through the network, even offering Halfacre one of the bottles he had brought from 17th century France, before putting the now-enemy lieutenant on a shuttle.

Within moments of arriving on the bridge, his eye informed Halfacre that war had been declared. His ganglia instantly snapped into the closest gun-ports, amphetamine flooded his system, and his neural functions were suborned by the targeting meld.

Even at such a close distance, it would be nearly impossible to destroy the other ship. The pinpricks of their laser-heads were no match for meters of spider-steel. Instead they would need to scour the surface of the ship for weak spots. First they slagged scanners, gun-ports, ion scoops, and reaction thrusters, then closed to board. The lasers could hit anything with perfect accuracy, but the surfaces of frigates were pitted with false targets: decoys, signature emitters, and the like. And even the most complicated targeting algorithm could be analyzed and beaten by enemy minds within moments.

But the fuzzy logic centers of a chemically-enhanced human mind were not so easily gamed. Halfacre’s intuition gelled with the pattern recognition circuits as he was asked to instantly prioritize thousands of objects as potential targets and determine, for instance, whether a given puff of mass was just the venting of air or the spewing of a thruster. Two other nelsons were performing the same function, and the captain was furiously arbitrating their choices, deciding on the final targeting solutions.

But one by one Halfacre’s eyes fell silent. Although they could still control most of the lasers, there were broad banks of sensors missing. The images coming to him lacked depth, and much of the accompanying data was missing. Forced to operate on less data, he knew he must be making mistakes, and it was evident from the way the number of contacts from French lasers, sharply in decline since the beginning of the engagement, had stopped decreasing.

Soon they’d be blind. The French would dispatch cutters full of grunts to slowly laser through the meters of bulkhead. They might be able to disable enough of the grunts in hand to hand combat to eke out a draw while engineers restored engine and sensor function, but that would be a lop-sided game.

Suddenly Halfacre began to receive high-resolution pictures of the cruiser’s surface. But they were from odd angles. The unusual parallax increased his odds of successful identification, and British lasers increased their rate of fire as target priorities were passed on more quickly.

But why were the images coming in bursts? Where were these sensors? Halfacre identified one of the images as… a grunt, whirling naked through space. He re-routed some of his neural capacity to investigate.

Forty-Two was in the brig, but the guard grunts were gone. He had stretched out his phantom arm and managed to jack one of his ganglia into a socket.

Holy God.

The ensign was wirelessly receiving images from the grunts that had launched themselves into space, on his orders, and was downloading the images in compressed spurts directly into the captain.

Horrified, Halfacre ordered the socket to shutdown before the boy compromised the captain.

“Belay that,” Firefight commed.

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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" […]