Read Last Measure of Devotion (TCOTU, Book 5) (This Corner of the Universe) Online

Authors: Britt Ringel

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Last Measure of Devotion (TCOTU, Book 5) (This Corner of the Universe)

BOOK: Last Measure of Devotion (TCOTU, Book 5) (This Corner of the Universe)
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Last
Measure of Devotion

By Britt Ringel

This is
a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events
or locales is entirely coincidental.

LAST MEASURE OF DEVOTION

Copyright © 2015 by Britt Ringel

All rights reserved.

No part
of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage
piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.  Purchase
only authorized editions.

K—My Love, Always

Author’s Acknowledgments

Hey,
the final book!

Thank
you to my wife for her time and devotion to this series and for her patience
that allowed its creation.  None of this would have been possible without her.

I’ve
thanked my beta readers with each book and, of course, I want to thank them
again.  For most of them, science fiction really isn’t “their thing,” but that
never stopped them from being so supportive of my efforts.  Mom, thank you for
your grammar and composition knowledge and for editing this even when it’s hard
to read.  Carol, thanks for your meticulous eye and unending patience with me. 
Derek, thank you for giving me clearer insight into what most of my readers are
probably thinking when I try to get too cute.  Law, thank you for speaking out
on behalf of the characters I might overlook or gloss over.

I
want to thank Universe Sandbox Creators for their great tool for building star
systems.  I’ve posted several systems important to the TCOTU universe on my website
and the fact that these computer developers support self-published science
fiction authors is fantastic.  Incidentally, they are coming out with a
Universe Sandbox Creators 2.  It’s available in early release.

All-silhouettes
dot com was a terrific discovery for me to keep orders of battle straight. 
Thank you guys for your generosity.

For
this final book in the original TCOTU series, we decided to commission a series
of book covers.  The covers for all five books are the work of the talented Mr.
Nathan Fisher, found on http://www.scifibookcoverdesigner.com/

Finally,
I want to acknowledge the poet Vernay is quoting in Chapter 16, Walt Whitman.

For more maps, layouts and
information regarding the books in the TCOTU series, please visit http://www.thiscorneroftheuniverse.com.

Corporate Systems Map

Prologue

The studio’s
artificial illumination brightened and immediately washed out the yellow-orange
light from Seshafi’s star shining through the window-mode wall screens.  The program’s
director waved his hand downward as he instructed, “Softer,” and the blinding, white
light dimmed to a more suitable level.

From
behind his enormous desk, Chase Fuller shot an annoyed look at a nearby monitor
and frowned.  “Shine!” he blurted loudly.  “I’m still getting shine!”  Fuller’s
attendant scampered to his desk and quickly dabbed a powder brush at the
offending bright spot near his nose.

“Thirty
seconds,” the director warned while offering his star supplication in the form
of a sympathetic nod.

Fuller
irritably shooed away his attendant and scowled.  “Doug, I want the makeup
problem fixed before tomorrow’s show,” he decreed while carefully adjusting
strands of hair at his forehead.  “These makeup technicians all need to be
fired.”  He lightly tugged at the blonde locks again before gesturing in
frustration.  “And my hair!  How am I expected to continue—”

“Ten
seconds.”

Fuller’s
pout metastasized into a dark glower as the seconds counted down.

“Four,
three, two…”

Still
seated behind the large desk, the man transformed from sulking curmudgeon into
dashing daredevil at the final second.

“And
we’re back!” Fuller announced energetically with a wide, brilliant smile.  He
held his pose, showing just the right amount of gleaming teeth for several
seconds before his countenance became that of a wise scholar.  “As everyone
knows, it was just nine days ago that our navy valiantly protected our very way
of life passed down from our hallowed founders.”  A minor but perceptible tremor
passed through the man although his blue eyes remained locked onto Camera One. 
“You’ve undoubtedly seen the amazing footage but I think the heroic actions of
our navy merit another look.”  Fuller spun to his left precisely twenty centimeters
to hit his mark exactly.  His adept shift allowed his eyes to engage Camera
Three before the director could signal to switch the live feed to it.  The
media man’s stoic face now wore a “thousand yard stare” common to a war
veteran.  His cobalt eyes conveyed the perfect mixture of despondency,
disassociation and coldness of a battle weary soldier.  He had sported this
expression countless times before, mostly in front of a mirror, perfecting it.

To
the stage’s far side, shielded from camera view, Garrett Heskan watched Fuller’s
outline in the large monitor facing him.  The dashing image of the host faded,
replaced by an all too familiar one.  The video feed showed a Seshafian war
correspondent reporting breathlessly from Admiral Cooke’s command, control and communications
ship.  The woman’s right hand swept up to her ear to adjust her earbud as she spoke
what would be her final words.

“We’re
moments away from the first hostile pass and Viscount Wallace has still refused
to concede any points in the Saden
casus bellum
despite the overwhelming
superiority of Seshafi maneuvering during the pre-runs.”  She looked quickly
over her shoulder toward Admiral Cooke.  “We’re less than a minute from
hostilities but let’s see if we can get a quick word from Baron Cooke.”  The playback
of the recording slowed as she turned.  A garbled shout was the only precursor
to the flash of light that would exterminate all life on the bridge.  The glow
started at the screen’s right but needed only two frames to cause complete whiteout.

The
scene shifted.  On the studio’s monitor, Heskan now watched a bridge crew on
another familiar ship, fully secured in their shocksuits, focused utterly on
their combat tasks.  Heskan recognized the bridge as belonging to a Colossus-class
snow but was unsure which of the Hollaran-purchased ships it was.  Over the
bridge’s main speakers, Heskan heard his own voice.

“It
won’t have to, Commander.  All ship captains execute immediate one-hundred and
eighty degree rotation.  Make your speed point-two-five-C, continue line ahead
formation.  My section is now the van.”

“What?”
the Seshafian ship captain in the recording exclaimed incredulously.

His
first officer turned to him, her high-pitched voice conveying extreme doubt.  “Captain,
that privateer can’t be serious.  He can’t match against a ship of the line;
he’ll lose his snow!”

Lieutenant
Clayton Covington turned to face the woman, inadvertently providing one of the
best soundbites of the entire battle.  The handsome young man’s face contained
equal parts fear and determination.  “He may damned well lose the entire
section but we’re going to follow him and save Seshafi, Jill.”

That’s
obviously Ravana’s bridge
,
Heskan thought as he connected the dots.  A smile began to curl his lips as he
heard Covington’s now famous line. 
I should have known they would play that
holo-log excerpt.  Not only does it portray Seshafian resolve during the
darkest time of the battle but it also originates from the only son of the
corporate system’s CEO.
  It was the perfect piece of propaganda that also
just happened to be true. 
Still
, Heskan reflected,
I noticed that
the media is conveniently not playing the complaints from the other ship
captains who fought that day.

During
Heskan’s internal musings, additional scenes played over the monitor:
Covington’s request to Heskan about fighting with corporate honor, Heskan’s own
fierce message to Wallace about no surrender and, of course, the highlights of
the actual combat passes.  Each scene played out from various angles and
perspectives taken from military holo-logs and specialized media ships.  The
visceral combat passes were painted on the monitor in such high definition that
genuine gasps of excitement laced with horror escaped from the live studio
audience.  The quality and quantity of media coverage ensured no detail was
spared.  Even the audio blurb of Vernay’s quip about “Honor” before “Fame” near
the end of the skirmish had made the montage, replayed from the perspective of
Lieutenant Baldwin’s corvette.  After several minutes, the final scene was
delivered in the form of Admiral Wallace’s assistant signaling surrender as a
voiceover to the historic footage of Viscount Wallace’s C-3 ship striking its
lights for the first time during its service.

Thunderous
applause erupted in the studio as the final scene faded away.  Fuller grinned
broadly and brought his hands bashfully to his lips as though the adulation was
his.  “Indeed!” he said behind another brilliant smile.  He held the expression
briefly but then parted his lips fractionally because he knew this made his
dimples more prominent.  After much of the ovation slowed, he announced over
the fading roar, “And today, in an IaCom exclusive, Chase Fuller proudly
presents to you, Captain Garrett Heskan!”

The
applause regained its strength as Fuller rose from his chair and joined the
revelry.  Heskan felt a gentle prod from behind but discovered his feet were
rooted to the ground.  His stomach threatened revolt in support of his feet. 
My
God, I don’t want to do this.
 Over the last week, he successfully evaded
the media with the substantial assistance of Archduke Joshua Covington and a
hectic work schedule.  However, Covington had warned Heskan that eventually he
would have to face the prying eyes of the media or risk incurring its wrath. 
Covington explained that victorious fleet commanders were expected, as a matter
of tradition and law, to grant interviews.  Even privateer contracts had such
clauses woven into them and now, as a regular Seshafian naval officer, it was
simply part of Heskan’s duty.

Despite
Heskan’s seeming acquiescence to Seshafian practice, he and Covington played it
skillfully by awarding the first interview to Chase Fuller, the star of IaCom’s
media outlet in the Seshafian system.  Although counterintuitive on its face to
appear on their enemy’s channel first, Heskan was beginning to understand how
interwoven business interests in the corporate systems were and how incestuous
the AmyraCorp-IaCom relationship was in particular.

A
second, less gentle prod unrooted his feet from the floor.  By Heskan’s third
step onstage, he felt as if he were walking almost normally.  His eyes darted
to the eager studio audience.  The sight of the hero-privateer turned Seshafian
spurred an even greater display of approval.  Ahead of Heskan waited the warm,
outstretched arms of Chase Fuller, beckoning him closer.

“Thank
you… thank you,” Fuller continued as he gestured Heskan to a luxurious chair. 
After a final, gracious nod to the quieting crowd, Fuller humbly regarded
Heskan.  “Captain Heskan, thank you for granting me this exclusive interview.”

Heskan
felt his cheeks burning bright red.  “Thank you for having me, Mr. Fuller—”

“Please,
Captain, call me Chase.”

Heskan
nearly replied in kind but remembered Covington’s warning of Fuller.  “Thank
you for having me, Chase.”

Fuller
eased back into his chair.  “So, Komandor—er, Captain, how does it feel to be a
Seshafian?”

“It’s
an honor, Chase,” Heskan stated as rehearsed.  “In my heart I’ve wanted nothing
more than a place to settle down.  I’m both privileged and thrilled to be able
to call Seshafi home and I know my crew feels the same.”

Fuller
leaned toward Heskan and smiled conspiratorially.  “Is Seshafi very different
from the Commonwealth?”

Heskan
forced his own smile but shook his head.  “You know the articles regarding the
confidentiality of privateering prevent me from answering that.”

Fuller’s
smile grew wider as he pointed good-naturedly at Heskan and chuckled.  “You
can’t blame me for reaching for the next headline now can you, Captain?  I was
just hoping that you might feel comfortable enough with Seshafi to tell us a
little about your past.”  Fuller beamed at Heskan even as the media man’s eyes
bore deeply into his guest.  He let the silence grow to uncomfortable levels
before pointing toward the monitor that Heskan used to observe the replay of
the battle.  “Captain Heskan—may I call you Garrett?  Garrett, the battle we
just watched is unlike anything in recent history.  One has to go all the way
back to the early corporate battles to find its rival.”  Fuller cast a
practiced gaze upward as he pretended to think.  “The battle between Fasecare
and Halatron in Nine Twenty-five comes to mind.”  He casually twirled his hand
as he said, “The level of intensity, the ferocity of your battle is… unrivaled in
the modern era.  In fact, McMillon Group is considering lodging a complaint
against Secure Solutions for undue levels of hostility.”

Heskan
looked impassively at the media man, expecting more.  Seconds ticked by as the
silence grew once again well past Heskan’s comfort level. 
Six-one-thousand,
seven-one-thousand
, he counted to himself, fighting the natural urge to
fill the void.

Finally,
Fuller added, “What do you think about that?”

“That’s
the first I’ve heard of it.  I’m not sure what to think, Chase.”

“But
you can understand their position, right, Garrett?  I mean, the level of
hostility you exuded.”  Fuller’s voice became a throaty baritone.  “The sheer
animalism
exhibited on the battlefield… was it really necessary to destroy Captain
Harrist’s brig?”

“Unless
you’ve been in battle—”

Fuller
spoke over Heskan’s response.  “And end her life?”

The added
phrase made Heskan clench his teeth briefly.  “Look, Chase—”

An
overpowering sneeze echoed through the studio, earning the director’s glare at
the offender.  From off-stage, Stacy Vernay raised both hands upward and shrugged
her shoulders apologetically.

Heskan
used the distraction to blow out a cleansing breath as he recalled Covington’s
warning from earlier in the day. 
We need Seshafi’s media on our side, even
those paid by the enemy.
 The thought sobered Heskan immediately.  “As I
was about to say, Chase, the loss of any sailor or marine is always a tragedy. 
But she took the same oath that I did.”  He smiled darkly at his next words. 
“I know you haven’t taken that oath so you may not understand what it means to
be prepared to die in the defense of something.  But Gael Harrist did and she
honored not only her privateer outfit but IaCom and AmyraCorp with her
sacrifice.”  Heskan turned his head toward the audience and spoke with clear
conviction.  “Just as Admiral Cooke and all the sons and daughters of Seshafi
did that day.”  He let his gaze linger over the audience before returning his
attention to Fuller.  “Are you implying that Admiral Cooke’s sacrifice didn’t
merit a ferocious response?”

Applause
threatened to drown out Fuller’s reply.  The media veteran nodded appreciatively
toward the audience even as Heskan detected a cold glimmer in his eyes.  Once
the clapping abated, Fuller backtracked, “Of course not, Garrett.  Please
believe me when I say that I am your biggest fan and I think the conduct of
Secure Solutions was above reproach.  Although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point
out that even we in the media boldly assume risks that place our lives in
jeopardy.”  Fuller cast his eyes downward and shook his head sadly.  “I
understand that you, Captain, may have forgotten our loss but Anna Dunn was an
amazing war correspondent and every Seshafian will miss her.”  He paused just
long enough to give silent memorial without taking the focus entirely away from
himself.  “You know, I was scheduled to be on Baron Cooke’s ship that day but
had to drop out due to an illness.  Even from my sick bed, I had to be
restrained by two orderlies to prevent me from pursuing my sacred journalistic
oath.”  He shuddered but then brazenly looked out into the audience while boasting,
“Just one of the many arrows of death that I’ve avoided while providing my
viewers with the best possible coverage.”

BOOK: Last Measure of Devotion (TCOTU, Book 5) (This Corner of the Universe)
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