All The King's Horses

 

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Preface

This book is being written over November as part of NaNoWriMo; the National Novel Writing Month. I will publish new chapters are they become available. Given that this is part of the NaNoWriMo competition the chapters will likely have issues with them. Please understand that you are experiencing a raw version of the story. 

Thank you and enjoy!

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1 – The King’s Horse

Those moments we chase in hope of the win. In the hope of the chance to show we are more than ordinary. That hope that lives in the lives of all of us, but is too often dashed by reality’s unfailing reminder to us that it is not fair. Not today she thought, the madness smashing itself around her as the universe, as life, tired to steal yet more hope from her. She knew already it had lost. Today the win would be hers. Today she would break out of the ordinary. At this thought, she let just the slightest of a hard smile crack her face. 

Blaring horns drove into her thoughts. The bridge came back into focus as klaxon alarms and bright mad warning lights twinkled aggressively around the deck of the ship’s command centre. 

She looked around at her crew; tension, fear and determination playing across their faces as they wrestled the ships control surfaces. They were keeping it alive, them alive. Battling their primitive need to run from the danger. But she knew she could trust them. Their eyes said it all. Sharp glints and thin reflections played as bright points across their eyes. Mirroring the crazy that faced them out there as lightening spidered left and right. Fiery, roiling clouds bubbled violently in bright pinks and dark blues. Mixing in crazy patterns as they navigated the vessel through the highly energised nebula. Behind those bright halos of light that played across the crew's vision, she saw that they knew it too. That today was their win too. That they were just as committed to beating the universe this day. 

They shouldn’t be there. In these boiling masses of smokey anger. The nebula was marked out of bounds on the star charts for a reason as it tossed and threw them about, as it damaged the Ripple shielding. She wondered for a second if they had made a mistake. Then it appeared, poking out from the raging clouds and all doubt was gone. They had finally found it. 

“I see it, Captain”

“Yes, I see it too. We finally have it.”

For a short moment, the command deck crew met each other’s eyes, soaking in the victory of finding a legend was real. 

“Yeah, but we can’t manage this nebula for long. We need to grab it and get, or we will be the first and then also the last to see it.”

Hawkins was right. The nebula would destroy them if they hung around. She nodded assent to him. 

“Can we tractor it?”

“No chance! Too much energy disruption. We’ll have to hook it.”

“Shields are failing Captain”. That was from Brady. “We are down to core plating.”

“Shit! So it’s one chance then?”

“Pretty much Captain. We have been here too long.”

“It’s going to be difficult Cap. The thing is bouncing all over the place on the Tracker. I don’t know where it really is.” Jackson sat hunch and belted to her Comms station. Peering intently at the scope and scan systems. She didn’t even look up as she said it. 

“How many hooks we got Hawkins?”

“Six Captain, but we don’t got more than one go here.” He replied backing up Brady’s assessment of the ships integrity. 

“I know. So we only take one shot … but with all six of our hooks.”

Hawkins and Brady looked up from their stations. Smiles on both their faces as they got her tactic. It was unorthodox but done right they could fire all the hooks at once. Six chances.

“Jackson, work out your best guess on its location in that crazy out there and send it to Hawkins”. Jackson acknowledged her command with a short grunt her fingers playing across the ship’s scan controls. ”Hawkins put the kinetic hooks on a wide spread around her track. We are so catching this fucking fish!”

“Yes, Captain!” She didn’t need to look at him to hear the smile in his voice. 

“Core plating won’t hold much longer Cap. We need to go and now.” That from Brady. 

“Mikkans we are leaving. Track us out of this mess. Hawkins get ready to catch our prize.”

Mikkan punched several commands into the flight surfaces and the ship accelerated hard punching across the driving cloud forms as splitting threads of lightening splayed across them. She felt herself pushed back into her seat as the ship adjusted the gravity matrix to accommodate the manoeuvre. Mikkans had them at full acceleration. The ship swept towards the black artefact before banking violently as it speared past the object at the centre of the storm’s madness. Six yellow lines spat from the belly of the research craft towards the artefact. Spaced evenly but staggered the hooks reached out to snare the Captain’s prize. 

From the command deck the Captain watch, brow furrowed and breath held, as each one reached the target. Playing out in yellow and blue graphics the tracking interface displayed red warning flashes as each hook missed the mark. She released her breathe and sagged forward, feeling weak. The ship continued its heavy ascent out of the aggressive nebula. 

“I’m sorry Captain. We’ve missed it.”

There would be no going back. Not with the ship’s current condition. As if to remind them a massive gravity wave struck the vessel and pushed it hard to the left. 

“That’s hurt us, Cap. Energy barriers are in place. But we really need to leave.”

“Are the hooks still out?”

“Yeah they are Captain, but —”

“I know. We aren’t going to try again. Just loop us.”

“But Captain. We need to go!”

“Yes, but does it matter which way we go? Loop us around and let’s go out ‘downwards’ instead of ‘upwards’. It gives us one more chance that they might grab it as we leave.”

They didn’t argue. Like her, they wanted a win. Like her, they had dreamed of the day that the artefact would become real, that the legend would be theirs to own. 

Mekkans punched new directions into the navigation surface and the ship shifted as it looped tightly around driving back down towards the artefact and out of the doom of the frenetic nebula. 

The ship hurtled wildly through the billowing pink and purple haze, the grappling hooks trailing like the barbed tentacles of a mad squid. One, two, three, four whistled past the artefacts last known position the graphics display still showing red markers. Five drove through and nothing. She looked at the last hook approached and whispered to herself. This is my day. My win. It’s my win. The hook speared through the artefacts coordinates. The graphic lit up green and bleep a pleasant sound of success. They had it. 

They all screamed in unison with cheers and whoops as the reality set it. It was done. They had found The King’s Horse. No one would believe them and yet, everyone would when they saw it. In midst of their jubilation, the ship burst from the nebula’s boiling cloudscape and into open space. 

“Hawkins. Let’s get this thing secured. Move it into cargo lock eight.”

“Yes, Captain. With pleasure.” The smile splitting his face spoke to everyone’s feeling of elation at their success.  

They had achieved the win. Now they had to see what this thing actually was. Time to open the prize. Unmask the legend. What exactly had they won today?

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2 – Tall, Black and all Mysterious

They gathered around the cargo docks viewing platform and stared out at the dark spire that filled the docks space. Kate could feel the excitement radiating from her crew as they gazed upon the large object illuminated by the bay’s bright floodlights. The object pinged and popped with lengths of razor highlights that streaked across it dark obsidian surface. It was hard to believe but there it was the King’s Horse. The alien artefact spoken about for so long in whispers and dreams. A legend forever passed around the different branches of the Determinate’s xenoarchaeology schools. Mainly by the new students who, if caught, were chastised by their professors for talking about silly myths. Every now and then a news stream would do another story on the fable and get people buzzing again about the existence of alien life. Given her known position on it, they always asked her for an interview. After the first few, she tired of it and refused further offers. They just played her old ones of course. Those in her field had called her a fool for her refusal to let it go, to believe that it could exist. Behind her back, they called her the blonde Ahab; destroying her career chasing her version of the white whale. She looked forward to seeing their faces once the news got out. Her persistent, it seems, a great weapon with which to rub their faces in it. 

“It is safe in there? What are the readings?”

“Yeah, nothing we can’t handle Cap”, replied Jackson as she completed the scan of the bay. “Some low-level radiation, but that should dissipate fairly quickly. It likely it just picked it up from its long exposure to the nebula.”

Kate nodded at her and looked back at the Horse. The first proof that humanity was not alone. The ramifications for the Determinate was obvious. Even the Sovereign was going to have to get onboard. 

“We can head in shortly. I recommend Haz suits though. We still don’t know what is inside it. Scans can’t establish whats beyond the casing.”

“Typical,” said Hawkins

“Now now, the mystery is half the fun Mark”. Replied Kate.

“Depends Captain. Is it a good mystery or a bad one?”

“Indeed. A good question. That’s why we’ll be wearing those Haz suits and following quarantine protocols. We aren’t taking any chances.” 

They all looked back towards the Horse. Kate didn’t like to admit it but the object had an ominous feel to it. The dark spire sat anchored to the cargo deck with several anchor leads. Several Kitch drones buzzed around the thick structures that intertwined around the core of the artifices spire. Pausing now and then to follow-up on some task that Jackson had set them. The artefact seemed to be withholding its secrets. It stared back at her with its dark architectural weaves. Oblivious to her questions. Now that they had found it her initial excitement was shifting to apprehension. A sense of unease was rising in her. She shrugged it off. This was momentous. Everything was about to change. 

“Organise an entry team Hawkins. It’s time to see what’s behind door number one.”

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3 – Door No.1

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4 – A Heartbeat Away

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5 – Reflections In Infinity

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6 – Yo Ho A Pirates Life For Me

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