Take three young men from a ship-of-the-line in 1804, thrust them four hundred years into the future, give them some high-tech implants and a dash of illegal gene splicing, and you have a trio with a different approach than that of their new friends and companions. Harry, Ferghal, and Danny face the uncharted waters of the bitter conflict between the organizations known as the Consortium and the Confederation; these sailors are now without a known star to steer by.
Harry Nelson-Heron is, in appearance, an ordinary young man with some special talents. Other than his friend Ferghal O’Connor, Harry may be the only man who can stop the Consortium’s plan to ruin the democratic Confederation’s economy and impose their own oligarchy. In any century, a patronizing bully of a superior can make any man’s life miserable, and for Harry, things haven’t changed in four hundred years. Fortunately, Ferghal has crafted a better relationship with his superior, who encourages him to use his “antique” skills for recreation. These same skills will ultimately play an important part in the events to come, thanks in no small part to the incompetence of one individual in particular.
It’s a desperate race for survival on an alien world for Sub-lieutenant Heron and his men. When they find shelter with a strange alien people and their even stranger Provider, things start to take a hopeful turn. Do they dare let their guards down?
Chapter 15 - Fugitives Harry faced a difficult choice. Their food stocks were dwindling fast and he had no idea what they could and could not eat among this planet’s natural vegetation or its animals. The Consortium was hunting them, he was sure. They had been dogged for several days now by recurrent sightings of enemy vehicles. They had also seen atmospheric transports making long, slow, sweeps across the terrain and knew these would be scanning for any sign of human activity. Once detected, they would be ready to guide the ground team directly to them. He was glad they had abandoned the use of all electronic equipment, but that meant they had had to find ways to make a fire and to fend for themselves without all the tools and equipment they were used to having around them. His ‘ancient’ knowledge of using flint and steel and tinder to kindle a fire had proved invaluable. So had his instinct for the changing weather – primarily because he ‘saw’ clouds, wind and water patterns more clearly than his ‘modern’ colleagues. He faced the group across the small fire. “We have to make a decision. I do not intend to surrender myself to the Consortium. Some of you may understand why I cannot accept placing myself in their hands again.” He hesitated. “I cannot ask the rest of you to follow me on a path that, for all I know, will lead only to a rather lonely and possibly unpleasant death. The facts are these.” He held up a hand as the Coxswain made to interrupt. “Let me finish please, Swain. We have very little food and must soon experiment with eating what we can catch or gather from around us. That has certain risks, as I am sure you are aware. We have few weapons and can do little to defend ourselves until we can manufacture something to meet the need – or capture some from our enemies. We will be hunted – in fact I am certain they are hunting us already. Those are the facts. You must decide for yourselves whether or not you are prepared to stay with me and try to disrupt their operations as we can and when we can – or give yourselves up and become prisoners of war.” He let his eyes sweep slowly round the group, then stood up. “I shall leave you to discuss it amongst yourselves; you may call me when it is decided.” “I’ll join you.” Rasmus stood up. “I am not a soldier or a cosmonaut, so I am not under your orders, Harry. And I go with you.” It was a statement, and he took Harry’s arm, steering him out of the firelight. Behind them the Coxswain began to address the remainder in a low voiced growl. Once they could no longer hear the men at the fire, Harry and Rasmus stopped and found places to sit. “Thanks for that, Rasmus. I appreciate your offer, but I really must tell you I do not know what to do now, or how I will survive. I did learn that the winters on this planet are extreme and I have no idea how long we may be able to keep ourselves alive and free – or even if.” “Harry, if you are to survive, you have more chance in company. You have done very well for us so far, and I think you will do very well for us in whatever we do from here.” Rasmus grinned in the gloom. “Besides, I have a fancy to see what it is like to learn to live off the land.” He broke off as the youngest Tec Rate, Rahman Watson, joined them. “Mister Winstanley’s compliments, Mister Heron. Would you please come back to the fire? You too, Mister Schulte-Lubeck.” “Certainly, Rahman.” Harry stood up and faced the Tec Rate. “I’ll come immediately.” “Thanks, sir.” The Tec Rate threw up a salute, a broad grin on his face. “We’ve decided – we’re with you all the way.” Harry led the way back to the fire. Suddenly the future seemed far less bleak. “Thank you all for your confidence, I hope I will be able to live up to it,” Harry said. “I can’t promise you anything but sweat and blisters and the chance to cause the Consortium some problems.” The Coxswain quipped, “My blisters’ve got blisters already.” The group laughed. “As I have just told Mister Rasmus, I do not have a plan beyond our immediate needs and remaining free of our enemy.” “That’ll do us, sir,” remarked Errol Hill. He looked about the group. “We’ll travel as light as we can. Swain, I want the EVA suits stripped of everything useful, then bury the remains. We’ll split everything into twelve packs so we can each carry a part of the load. Then we’ll make our way toward the area I think we might encounter some human activity.” “Right lads.” The Coxswain moved quickly. “You heard the lieutenant, let’s get started. Kemp, Hill, Maroti – with me. We’ll strip the suits. The rest of you, get to work on sorting out the packs.” “What do you wish me to do?” Rasmus asked. Harry grinned. “I suspect the Coxswain will find something if I do not. Come with me please, Rasmus. We need to try and survey our route out of here.” Privately he was far from sure of his ability to lead these men to a safe conclusion and very conscious of the fact that he was the youngest member of the party. He knew his ‘antique’ skills would certainly allow him to make use of the natural resources around them to create shelters and possibly even some weapons or tools. But without some idea of what they could and could not eat on this planet, he ran a serious risk of poisoning them all. How he wished Ferghal were with him. Ferghal steadied him and helped him work things out; often just by being a counterfoil to his wilder starts. But Ferghal was not here; indeed, Ferghal might well be dead – a possibility that he did not wish to consider. The coming days and weeks would be tough. He was worried that this placed his men in danger, could even get them killed. Sabotaging any of the Consortium systems would intensify the hunt and even evading their patrols would prove difficult and dangerous. On the other hand they had little with which to do any damage anyway. For the moment his best course of action seemed to be to stay free and tie down as many of the enemy’s troops as he could. After all, the more he could force them to commit to chasing him, the less they would have to guard the prisoners. Perhaps he could even release a few.