SS:HOR

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HORcover.jpg
"House of Reeds"
Book #2 of
"In the Time of the Sixth Sun" by Thomas Harlan
Hardcover ISBN 0765301938
Paperback ISBN 076534114X

Chapter One

An Imperial Light Cruiser
The Hittite Sector, Beyond The Edge Of Imperial Space

Chu-sa Mitsuharu Hadeishi, captain of the Henry R. Cornuelle, was sitting in the ruins of the officer’s dining room when his personal comm chimed politely. The thin little Nisei gentleman set down his cup of tea on the rust-speckled surface of a utility table covered with departmental readiness reports and tapped his comm-band live.

“This is Hadeishi.”

Bridge, kyo. We’ve picked up a Fleet message drone on long-range scan.” The ensign standing communications for third-watch didn’t bother to hide his anticipation. Cornuelle had been out in the wasteland of stars beyond the frontier for nearly nine months. The tachyon relay on the Méxica Astronomer-class light cruiser wasn’t quite good enough to punch through to the big emitters at Ctesiphon Station or Tadmor. Unrepaired battle damage to ship’s systems had further degraded their ability to correspond in realtime with Fleet. The prospect of fresh news from home would be very welcome to everyone aboard. Though we’re not suffering cabin fever, not yet.

Hadeishi thought the crew had fallen into a good routine the last six or seven weeks. Everyone was still sharp - no one was making silly mistakes or starting fights - and there was a certain confidence in the crisp way they’d dealt with the last two incidents. The Megair weren’t used to Imperial patrols ranging so far from the frontier.

“Is the drone intact?” Hadeishi reached to key up the main comm panel in the mess, but found his hand groping in an empty cavity in the wall. A Khaid penetrator had burrowed into his ship far enough to incinerate everything in the officer’s dining room and surrounding corridors. Some amenities had been restored by looting the port-side Marine ready-room, but there weren’t any spare comm panels to go around, not this far from a Fleet depot.

Hai, kyo. We’re still negotiating security protocols, but we’ll have a download soon.”

“Route anything flagged Fleet or Priority directly to my office panel,” Hadeishi said, then drained his cup. The waxy black substance in the bottom would not count as tea in the poorest inn on Anáhuac, but out here beyond the frontier? A mild stimulant in solution, the chu-sa thought in amusement, and drinkable hot. Must be tea!

Bridge-comm signed off and Hadeishi walked carefully along a pathway of fire-proof blankets laid down on jagged metal. The thought of mail cheered him - not necessarily for the contents, as Fleet would be sure to deluge him with demands for reports and reams of fresh regulations, but for the prospect of some news from the inner worlds. Mess conversation below decks would improve, he thought. Fresh zenball and tlachco scores and standings - very important - the men will have something new to wager on. Down in enlisted country, thousands of quills of back-pay were riding on games played months ago. Only Fleet security codes and operational doctrine were more heavily encrypted on outgoing message drones than sports scores. Fleet orders weren’t configured to release only onto the public shipside net, either.

Hadeishi thumbed into his quarters and could not help but smile broadly to see his personal comm panel filled with a fat list of new message received glyphs, all sorted and coded for his attention.

The chu-sa’s thin face twisted into a frown. Eyes narrowed in thought, he ran a hand pensively over his sharp black beard. A fat section of the messages on his pane reiterated a common theme - one which made his stomach churn. This is good news, he told himself, trying to be control his initial reaction of dismay. Good news. Time to break out the last of the sake and have Yejin try and cook a real meal. Time to reminisce about the things we’ve done and seen. Time to turn my ship towards home.

IMPERIAL FLEET OFFICE OF PERSONNEL, NINETEENTH FLEET, TOROSON SYSTEM: BE ADVISED THAT THAI-I HAYES, PATRICK; WEAPONS OFFICER, IMN CORNUELLE, HAS BEEN PROMOTED TO SHO-SA IN RECOGNITION OF TIME IN SERVICE AND EXEMPLARY DUTY TO THE EMPIRE. SHO-SA HAYES IS DIRECTED TO REPORT AT FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO TOROSON FLEET BASE FOR REASSIGNMENT TO THE HEAVY CRUISER TAIKO

“Such good news! Gods of mountain and stream,” Hadeishi’s nostrils flared. They’re gutting my staff to the bone! Hayes, Smith, Isoroku? How will Susan and…

His thumb tapped the down glyph for the next message and everything seemed to freeze. Two more personnel orders were in queue, each accompanied by a noted marked Personal from Admiral Hotategai himself. Hadeishi’s hand moved away from the panel controls. The churning feeling in his stomach was gone, replaced by a cold, leaden sensation. One of the personnel reports was signed for him, and one for…

His thumb moved violently and the message queue flashed red. A confirmation pane opened and he pressed his hand against the plate. A verbal counter-sign followed and Hadeishi, speaking quickly, in short, clearly-enunciated phrases, confirmed dumping the whole slate of messages.

Then he sat back, beads of sweat on his forehead, eyes closed.

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