Blue, Black, Blue

‘I wish to be a great Captain like you, father.’ 

His father rustled his hair. ‘I think you will be.’ 

His father picked him up. ‘Look how tall and strong you are, especially for someone from a feudal world!’ He looked at Hudson’s mother. ‘I suppose my genetics are showing true, as usual.’

Warm sun and an easy ocean breeze were drifting in through the window. It filled his father with light, so much that it was hard to look at him, hard to see his easy smile. 

Hudson was ten and it was the first time they had met. His mother had talked of father many times, and he seemed to be what she said: tall and regal. She had told him to expect the metal that came out of his head, to expect him to speak strangely, explained that he was not from their world but from somewhere up in the sky.

Mother had also told him to say what he had said, but when Father smiled he could see that it was the right thing to do. Father called him tall and strong, which filled Hudson with pride. All this Hudson understood. 

What he didn’t understand was what happened at the end of his father’s short stay. 

‘Will he be back soon?’ 

‘No.’ His mother had said. She looked upset. 

‘How long?’ 

‘Ten years, at least.’ 


‘Your father has to go away. There are bad things out there. He has to protect us. He can only come down to visit us rarely.’ 

‘Ten years is a long time.’ 

‘It is. By then, you will be tall and strong. Maybe you will have a ship of your own.’ 

‘A ship like father’s?’ 

‘No, you will have a ship down here, a ship on the blue sea. His is a blackship, one that goes between the stars.’ 

Hudson thought about this, it seemed hard to imagine. He thought of his father sailing between the little points of light he could see in the sky at night. What was the weather like, out there in the black?

‘Ten years. I will look different. Will he recognize me?’ 

‘Yes, he will.’

‘He will look different. Will I recognize him?’ 

‘He will look no different. Ten years will pass for us, but not for him.’ 


‘Because of the way the worlds move.’

‘I don’t understand…’

‘Hush now child, there is much to do. Your father has laid out some training he wants you to start. Work hard and you will serve the Emperor, just like him.’

Hudson Baylor remembered looking up at the sky, seeing a great black shape hovering over their city. A smaller black dot carrying his father was rising towards it. 

‘Just like him.’ He remembered saying. 

His father had returned ten years later, as promised. Days of celebration started after the ship had appeared in the sky above the city of Port Massif, festivals began, music played. Immediately, smaller craft had come down to collect the great piles of wood, food, and stone the city had gathered and carefully cut. A tithe, the people had called it. Hudson understood it was to help his father protect them, they were resources for the Emperor. 

He was twenty now and had been through the best schooling Port Massif, the largest city on the planet, had to offer. He was taught to fight with sabre and musket, the many skills of navigating and fighting on a ship of war. He had graduated first in his class, was commissioned as a lieutenant, and was set to serve his first tour. The rest of the town talked excitedly about what exotic gifts the ship would bring down for them. Hudson thought only of his father; he wanted to tell him all about his schooling and make him proud. 

The elder Baylor descended, along with some of his crewmen and a swarm of small flying objects that hummed as they flew. The whole town pressed closer to see their hero. Hudson fought through the throng, yelling his father’s name like so many others did. 

He must have not heard. Instead, his father marched right up to the Great Hall to meet with the Elders of Port Massif. Hudson was too low of a rank to be let straight in, he waited outside all day, pleading with the guards. Mother would have known what to do, but she was sick and stayed at home. 

One of the humming metal objects passed him by, they had been coming and going all day after his father’s arrival. It stopped near him, then turned. Hudson could see now, it was a skull, grinning in death and glowing with red-eyed intensity. A quiet chill crept up his spine as it watched him, making several low clicking noises. After a few moments, it hummed back into the great hall.

A few minutes later, a servant came out from the building. 

‘Lieutenant Baylor, Your father wishes to see you.’ She bowed. He followed her. 

As they walked through the great wooden hallways, she turned back to him. 

‘Is he really your father? Captain Tan Baylor?’  


‘You must be honored.’  

Hudson paused. ‘I am.’ 

He was let into a small room at the back of the great hall. It was nearly night so the room was lit by several candles and torches and the window was open so that the wind carried in the smell of salt air. 

His father sat in a leather chair, wearing a long black coat with a high collar and adorned with several medals. Metal tubes sprouted from the back of his head and ran down the back of his cloak, they reflected the candlelight in strange ways, making them hard for the eyes to focus on. He had a metal plate in his hand; words flickered quickly across it as if pages were turning that Hudson could not see. A skull hovered obediently over his shoulder, making no noise as it hung in the air. Tan looked up as his son walked in, his eyes were warm but fierce.

He stood, they embraced for a small moment, his father hunching down just a little.  

‘You are tall and strong for someone from a feudal world! As usual, my genetics are showing true!’ 

Hudson felt a little dizzy, out of breath. He was unsure of what to say, the room suddenly felt small.  

‘Come, sit. I have a few minutes before I must get on with this…’ Tan waved to the metal plate. ‘I love being back down on planet, feeling the grip of natural gravity. But these endless meetings, they will be the death of me, I think.’ 

Hudson understood little of what his father had said, but he wanted to make him proud so he nodded eagerly. 

‘How is your mother?’

‘Well, she is happy to see me graduated.’

‘You are a… lieutenant now? Off to your first ship? I remember being a young lieutenant, so long ago. You have much ahead of you… you will do the Emperor proud, I think.’ 

‘Thank you.’ Hudson managed. 

‘Do you want to know how I know? Ancestors. Our ancestors did the same thing we are doing now, though they were a lot closer to you than me. Blue water for them, black for me, and then blue water for you again. Blue, black, blue, the story of our family-‘

‘But I will be on a blackship soon, like you?’ Hudson blurted out. ‘Out there?’ 

Hudson pointed to the sky, then turned red with embarrassment. 

His father watched him, turned his head a little. ‘That is what you want?’ 

‘More than anything.’

His father smiled. ‘Then maybe.’ 

Tan Baylor turned to the window, staring out with a far-off look in his eye.  

‘Think about our ancestors…a wooden ship on a little blue ocean, exploring and fighting…Emperor’s name I wish I could go back to that. Now all I have is endless meetings about logistics and troop counts, green screens full of numbers…’ He drifted off, eyes lost watching the sea for a long moment. 

Tan Baylor focused his eyes on his son again. Hudson felt himself stir in his seat.

‘I keep hearing of this other city down here, a rival… Asper Bay?’ 

‘Yes. They have been getting stronger. Many talk of war soon to come.’ 

Tan nodded. ‘I suspect the same. I know it may seem to be a small skirmish in the grand scheme of things but… war is war. What happens here is important, don’t forget that, son. When that war comes, you do us proud, both me and the Emperor. You keep this planet safe for us.’ 

Hudson felt the world stop spinning for a moment, he answered in a clear voice. 

‘Father, I will.’  

Hudson was nearly thirty now. He had climbed up the ranks to be a captain of his own frigate, the Vesper. He had seen war and was changed. The experience had tempered him like he had seen fire temper the sabres he used, he was harder and sharper. A decade of schooling had made him a soldier and sailor, a decade of war had turned him into a warrior. He often wondered if his father had felt the same change when he fought out there in the black. 

Over the decades, conflict between his city, Port Massif, and Asper Bay had sparked, then gone out several times. Captain Hudson Baylor had distinguished himself, was told he had the Admirals’ eyes on him. He cared little for their opinion. For now, Port Massif and Asper Bay were at an uneasy peace, so he contented himself with hunting pirates and going on diplomatic missions. The two cities competed for the loyalty of the smaller towns, hoping to turn a future war into their favor. He was on such a mission now. 

Baylor looked out across the table full of maps and charts to the handful of officers who filled his quarters. Their expressions ranged from tired apathy to bright eagerness to professional politeness. In the middle of it all stood his first mate, a wide woman named Rezza Lynn. Her family was old, one of the first to settle on the planet, one of the first to build wooden ships and ply its dangerous seas. She was steady no matter how much the decks pitched, could guess the weather by feeling the wind on her face. They had served together for several years.     

He had paused, giving himself time to think. On the decks above, the ship’s master called out orders. Behind him was the sound of his clerk, scribbling away at a scroll, taking notes of the meeting. He had heard some captains give long, flowery speeches in times like this, but Baylor was not that kind of man.

‘Our visit to the Markmen did not go as planned, but it still proved fruitful. It is no secret that our presence here is not merely to protect trade but to attempt to improve relations with the Marks. This we can still do, but it has become complicated. I was informed by one of the Mark leaders that a small fleet of Asper Bay ships visited them only a few days before.’ 

‘How big, sir?’

‘Two ships: a brig of eighteen guns and a frigate of thirty-six. Apparently, they made quite a show when they landed, lots of bright colors and bands.’ His attempt to be lighthearted fell flat, not even the midshipmen laughed. 

‘Fifty-four guns, four hundred or five hundred men? That’s roughly twice our numbers.’ Someone whispered. 

‘If it turns to war, that is plenty enough to see us to the bottom of the ocean.’ Lynn said coldly. 

‘Or, if they sink us, everyone can just blame the pirates.’ A whisper again, Baylor couldn’t tell who. 

Baylor saw fear in the eyes of his crew, so he spoke up. ‘We will keep this in mind, but our orders have not changed. We will keep a steady watch and be careful when approaching other ships. I hate the Bayers as much as the rest of you, but we can’t change our behavior. If a war is to start then let them start it.’

‘Sir, if I may,’ Lynn spoke up. ‘Should we send a message, asking for reinforcements?’

 ‘We can do no such thing. If we spot the Bayer ships, then we will inform Port Massif as we always do, but we will not ask for help.’

A whisper again. ‘And we will all die for your pride…’ 

Baylor barked for everyone to leave. He put his hands flat on the table and pretended to be studying the maps. He waited until all but Lynn’s feet had made their way out the door. 

‘Yes, Mrs. Lynn?’ He said without looking up. 

There was an extended pause. ‘Sir, there are not very many thirty-six gun frigates in Asper Bay.’

‘I have had the same thought.’

‘And if it is her?’

‘We will hope it is not. If it is…’ He trailed off. ‘ We will simply tack when that wind shifts. Mrs. Lynn, are you scared of her?’

Quickly, ‘No sir.’

‘I’m glad you are not. For I am.’


In the days after, they did not run into the Asper Bay fleet, but pirates instead. Their first sign was a merchant ship fitted with every sail that it had, running as fast as it could. As they closed with it, they could see it was being chased by two smaller, heavily armed vessels. Captain Baylor steered his ship straight between the two raiders, allowing the merchant to flee, then began pounding both pirate vessels simultaneously with broadsides. For their part, the raiders had broken off their quarry and turned towards the Vesper instead, firing at its sails, hoping to cripple it. With Baylor’s passion and Lynn’s expert seamanship, the Vesper began to take the upper hand. Then the merchant turned, raised its real colors, and began to fire on them as well.

Baylor seethed at the trap. His father would have killed them all; he was determined to do the same. He wished that he had one of his father’s weapons, even a small one like the Laspsitol he carried on his hip. In a single shot, he could turn the pirates’ ships into floating pyres. But, Hudson would have to use his cannons instead. 

 He wouldn’t get the chance. Lynn preached caution and the rest of the officers agreed. He acquiesced, they steered into a bank of fog and limped away from the pirates. Hudson felt dark with shame at his defeat. He let it sink heavily on him, thinking of his father. Then he did as he always did, converted that wounded pride into determination and discipline. He became harder and sharper once again, vowed revenge. But the next set of sails that appeared on the horizon was the last one he wanted to see.

‘Got eyes on her, captain. Frigate, it looks like. She’s running up colors… damn she’s a Bayer.’

‘She’s coming around, can you read her nameplate?’

‘Aye, sir I’ll see it in a moment.’ The shipmaster paused. ‘Ar? Sir… what’s an Ar?’

‘What? Read the whole thing.’

‘Ar…. biter. That’s why I was askin’ sir. What’s an Ar and why would they want to bite it?’

‘Beat to quarters, get the guns loaded but not run out. Tell the crew to not let their guard down and be ready for a fight.’

‘The Bayers don’t seem to be readying for battle, Captain. They’ve got their negotiation flag up and are hailing us.’

The Captain seemed to ignore the comment. He spoke loudly enough so the rest of the officers could hear. ‘The name of the ship is the Arbiter. You didn’t recognize it because it is an old Terran word.’

Lieutenant Lynn took a tiny step closer to her Captain when he said this.

‘Interesting, sir. What does it mean?’ 

‘An arbiter is a judge. One who makes decisions and brings about change.’ The Captain’s voice was flat with fear. Even the midshipmen looked strangely at their leader. ‘That ship is under the command of Captain Eryn Vos.’


The two captains maneuvered their ships close enough to yell to one another. Vos desired to board Baylor’s ship and have a private conversation. Hudson hesitated for a moment but could see no immediate danger so he agreed. He took Vos down to his cabin and they sat across from one another with only a desk between them.

 Captain Vos was pointed and sharp like the predatory birds that lived in the cliffs above Captain Baylor’s home. Her eyes were too smart, her movements were too clean and her smile was too quick to form. Baylor felt nerves crawl up his spine when she looked him in the eyes. She sat down across from him in his cabin, relaxed and easy.  

Vos looked at him and cocked her head. ‘You can stop fidgeting. If I was going to kill you, I wouldn’t have gone down into the bowels of your ship alone. When I seek revenge, and I will, then you will know I am coming.’ 

‘If you still want revenge, then why not take it? You can see my ship is crippled.’

‘I would like to, but I respect that our cities are at peace, for however long that lasts. In fact, I’m trying very hard, with my tiny wicked heart, to find room to forgive you.’

She paused and a smile crossed her face. ‘And I may just have a way to do that.’ 

‘Your brother was trying to kill me. It was a battle, you know-‘ Baylor stopped as Vos held up her hand. 

‘I don’t have time for a long explanation. I need you to know that I’m concerned with more than just the fate of my own city. Here,’ She pushed an envelope across the desk, one addressed to Hudson. ‘I took this off a raider, they must have hit one of your messenger ships.’

Baylor slipped the letter from the torn envelope and skimmed it. He ran his hand over the broken seal, looked at the letter for signs of forgery. He found none. 

‘How long have you had this?’ He asked.

‘Only a few days.’

‘Why are you-‘ Baylor stopped reading and dropped the letter to his lap. ‘What do you want?’

‘Very simple. Don’t go see your father, or if you do go, keep your eyes and ears open, but don’t listen to him.’

‘My father is reliable, if he has come back early, then something urgent is happening.’

‘You have never found that strange? The ship comes down with your father every ten years, exactly? Only ever to Port Massif, nowhere else?’ She studied him, Hudson stayed silent. 

 ‘Let’s try a more blunt question.’ Vos continued. ‘Captain Baylor, I know they heavily censor the newspapers they write in your town, but do you remember why our two cities went to war in the first place?’

‘Of course, you attacked us and began raiding our merchants.’

‘And do you really believe that?’

‘Having met you,’ Baylor leaned forward. ‘With all my heart.’

‘Then you are an absolute fool.’ 

‘I would be a fool to trust my enemies instead of my father.’

Heavy silence reigned for a moment. 

Vos shifted again. ‘Do you have children, Hudson?’ 


‘And do you treat them the same way your father treats you?’ 

Hudson narrowed his eyes. ‘Captain Vos, you need to leave. Next time I see you, I hope there are several decks of cannons between us.’

She nodded, but let out one last volley as she reached the door. ‘Don’t ever forget that I tried, Captain Baylor.’ Then she was gone. 

They put up at an island nearby and made hasty repairs. They were back underway in only a few days. On the way back to Port Massif, Baylor and his crew sighted familiar sails: the pirate fleet that they had fought before. Baylor attacked without hesitation, catching them by surprise and winning a swift victory. They left only enough pirates alive to keep the ships manned to take in as prizes. He had left Port Massif with only a frigate and he returned with a fleet.  

Along the way, a Port Massif schooner intercepted them. It carried the same message, Captain Tan Baylor had landed and all ships were ordered to return to Port Massif. Baylor sent the messenger back with news of his own victory. 

His father’s great black ship hung in the sky above the city, silent and still. When Hudson pulled into the harbor with his prizes, he could hear his name being chanted in the harbor. He went ashore expecting to be paraded to the Great Hall, a traditional celebration for a great victory, one he had earned. 

Instead, he was ignored. The parade was for his father. Tan Baylor had won a terrible battle in between the stars, crushing the fleet of a group of traitors. Rather than go to the Great Hall, Hudson went to see his family, telling them nothing of the battle he had just won. He would receive a summons from his father after only spending a few days with them, a normal bout of shore leave for a captain of Port Massif. 

They met in the same room they had met in before. It was late in the evening and only a few candles lit the space, providing barely enough light. His father was not supposed to look different, but the man in front of him did. He still wore the same uniform, but he was pale now and hunched. He looked like he carried a weight that Hudson could not see. It was war, Hudson understood. He had seen that burden on others before. Hudson no longer felt nervous looking at this man, but he felt determination slowly grow in him. His father needed help.  

Tan Baylor stood and gave his son a weak embrace.

‘You are so tall and strong for someone from a feudal world.’ Tan laughed, ‘I see my genetics are showing true like they always do.’ 

Baylor smiled back, then spoke after a pause. ‘I am overjoyed to see you, Father. I can’t wait to trade stories of our battles.’

‘Yes, yes. You are a… captain now.’

‘With my own ship.’

‘I’m sure you are a great captain.’ 

‘I recently won a great victory for the Emperor.’

‘Over the other big city here… Asper Bay?’ 

‘No, father, over a pirate fleet.’

‘Ah, well… congratulations regardless.’ 

‘You are the first to say so. I am afraid that my own victory was overshadowed by yours…’

Captain Tan Hudson waggled his finger. ‘Be careful. Ambition is like fire. It can warm you and burn you all in the same moment.’

‘Yes, father.’ 

His father adjusted in his chair then looked down at the plate in his hand. Hudson’s eyes dropped down to it as well and he was surprised to see his name among the symbols and charts that filled its face. 

Tan caught him looking. ‘It’s called a dataslate, far more information than those letters and books you use down here. Others can write in it in another place and I can see it.’

‘Impressive.’ Hudson smiled. His father’s tone was as if he was speaking to a child. Perhaps he was tired. 

After a pause, Tan began speaking again, this time his tone was more serious. 

‘I will be taking a larger tithe than usual this visit. A war has started.’

‘Has Asper Bay finally declared war on us again?’ Hudson asked, leaning forward. 

His father blinked. ‘No, not yet at least. There is a war for me as well, up there. Do you remember the Emperor? Yes? Someone powerful is fighting against him and we are going to help.’

‘I have been waiting my whole life to die for the Emperor, father, to die for you. Will I be coming with you to the stars?’

‘No… Not yet…’ His father paused. ‘For you, the war on this planet and the war in the stars are the same.’ He paused again. ‘The people in Asper Bay serve a false god. They must be pacified, this world must remain stable. I know you are only a captain, but as my son, I want you to do everything in your power to see it done.’

‘In the Emperor’s name.’

His father smiled wide. ‘Yes, In the Emperor’s name.’ 

Hudson stood to leave, then paused. His father was already looking back down at his dataslate and reading. 

‘One thing Father… It’s about Mother. I figured you would ask about her.’

‘How is she?’ 

‘She passed two years ago, during a famine.’

‘I am sorry to hear that. We must think of our duty, of our devotion. It is what she would want.’

‘Yes, Father.’ Hudson Baylor left. 

The war would begin only a few days later; Baylor left with his frigate soon after. He would return from his first tour several months later, while the war still raged. The great black ship no longer hung over Port Massif. His father was gone. 

The war was fiercer than any before it. Sparks and skirmishes had brewed for ten years but now it was understood, finally, by both sides, they could not occupy the same space; this was a war for survival. All over the planet’s great ocean, ships began pounding each other into bloody splinters. Smaller cities chose sides, wavered. In both Port Massif and Asper Bay, great fleets began to gather and move inexorably towards each other, as if pulled by the same ocean currents. 

Baylor fought with all the ferocity he could muster, his father’s words foremost on his mind, while the words of Captain Vos hung at the back of it. He and Captain Vos were not fated to cross paths until several years into the conflict. Not until the great battle, the one that would decide the course of the war. 

The main fleets of Port Massif and Asper Bay had run straight at each other and the battle rapidly devolved into a chaotic mess with ships squaring off and dueling on all sides. Cannons thundered, smoke rose and the ocean ran dark with blood. But above it all, Baylor could see the flag of the Arbiter making its way, step by step closer to him. He aimed the Vesper at it like a spear, yelling for his crew to fight harder. Rezza Lyn, still with him as his first mate, followed his orders, but whispered caution into his ear. He ignored her.   

Before long, Vos was in sight and they were trading broadsides. He ordered his guns trained on the Arbiter’s deck, attempting to kill as many crew as possible. Through the smoke and blood, he tried to catch sight of Captain Vos but could not. The Arbiter seemed to be firing poorly with its broadsides firing high. Baylor laughed, he was meeting his enemy and he was winning. 

With one final bellow, Baylor ordered the Vesper forward, intending to board. His crew grabbed weapons in tight grips, abandoned the guns, and formed up on the deck. Lynn called out a warning, their sails were tattered and they were moving slowly. Baylor pushed the thought out of his mind, thinking only of killing Vos. His vision became a tunnel. He scanned the chaos, looking to where he expected the Arbiter to reappear.  

The Arbiter hove into view, guns run out. Its broadside blasted out in columns of smoke and fire, and there was a crack as several shots struck the Vesper’s mast. Baylor screamed as he watched the mast bend, snap, and then pitch into the sea. The smoke cleared and he caught a clear view of Captain Vos. She was staring straight at him. The sea thundered as the Arbiter moved towards them, its bow pointing directly at Captain Baylor’s heart.

And then the Arbiter slid past them, its crew cheering. Behind Baylor’s ship was the flagship of the Port Massif fleet, already engaging several smaller Asper Bay vessels. Vos maneuvered, fired a broadside across the flagship’s bow, and then boarded it. 

Helpless, barely able to make way, Baylor watched as the flagship was dismantled and taken in front of them. Baylor stood silent, ignoring every request from his officers. Lynn took over, organized the crew, cut the crippled mainmast away, and rerigged the mizzen. They slowly limped away at the speed of drifting wood. Behind them, the Port Massif fleet was destroyed.  

Finally, after several hours the thumping cannons of the battle had long faded. Lynn went to her Captain, putting a hand on his shoulder. He turned to her with eyes hard as stone. She did not need to hear the words he said, they were in his eyes already. 

Baylor thought only of Vos, only of his father who he had failed. He was unsure which he was more afraid of now. 


A pallor hung over the city of Port Massif. Though the war was not over, they had been defeated, and soon an Asper Bay fleet would sail into view. Hudson was now thirty-five. 

The voyage home had been long. The defeat had shifted something in his mind and this time he found it impossible to convert his shame. He went to his first mate; Lynn was practical and logical and she had helped him through many problems before. 

‘Lynn… do you remember why this war started, between us and Asper Bay?’ 

Lynn watched him, then chose her words carefully. 

‘It’s not something special, it’s about control. That’s what all wars are about, power and control, Captain. Even the ones up in the stars.’

Baylor pondered the words for a little while. 

‘Do you think then, that we’re better off under the control of Asper Bay?’ 

Lynn answered immediately. ‘No. We ain’t perfect, believe me. But I’ll take the evil I know, the one I understand over the one that I don’t. If you understand it, then you can defeat it.’

They returned to Port Massif in darkness and rain. Immediately, Baylor was ordered to repair his ship and assist the others that had managed to escape the battle. If the Bayers appeared, Baylor would sail out with what ships the city had left and do what he could. 

He took his orders with his normal energy, but not his normal determination. Lynn’s words had not helped him. He decided to speak to his father when he came back in several years and ask him the same question. 

When the great dark triangle of his father’s ship descended from the sky, Baylor’s heart dropped. He watched the shadow come closer, then slowly eclipse the sun. Captain Tan Baylor had landed, an unprecedented 5 years after his last visit. 

A jumble of emotions boiled up in Hudson’s stomach and his chest. His father would be upset at the course of the war, but he would also know what to do. The questions Hudson had been forming in his mind burned away and he became nervous and irritable. 

Rumors flew through the city’s streets: Captain Baylor had come back to save them. His father’s crew came down first, in a dozen tiny shuttles. They spread throughout the city, as the citizens watched in awe. They were tall, ghostly, and grim. They wore strange suits, carried strange objects all made of metals that Port Massif had only seen in small quantities, and only ever brought by the ship. Orders began to go out in Captain Tan Baylor’s name. The people of Port Massif set to work, doing as they were told. 

Hudson awoke in the great hall, late into the night. He had been waiting all day and as much of the night as he could for nearly a week. He hoped to impress his father with his devotion, hoped it would lessen the sting of his disappointment. His father had passed him by on the first day, sparing him only a single wordless glance. He knew he deserved it, so he had kept waiting in that seat, his shame rooting him in place. 

He blinked and tried to wipe the weariness away from his eyes. One of his father’s flying skulls was hovering in front of him. The Great Hall was empty and devoid of light besides the one red eye staring intensely at him. He shook himself. It was probably time to head home and get some real sleep. When he stood, the skull rose with him and when he stepped into the aisle of the great hall, the skull blocked his path. 

‘Come.’ The voice was metallic as if someone was whispering to him through the barrel of a cannon. But, it was unmistakably his father’s. He followed the skull deeper into the rooms behind the hall. 

His father was sitting in his chair with no dataslate in sight. There was no fire lit in the room, only just the light of the moons and the stars from the open window. They shined on his father’s face making it almost too bright to see. Hudson stood in front of him, his arms at his side. 

‘My son. I have some questions for you.’

‘Father, I am sorry I-‘

‘It is my fault. Perhaps I saw too much in you, perhaps this was beyond your abilities.’

Hudson burned, but he stayed silent. 

‘Do you think that Port Massif can still defeat Asper Bay?’

‘Maybe in a few years… we would need to rebuild many ships to get back up to strength…’

His father was shaking his head. 

‘You have disappointed me.’

Hudson took a step back, his chest heavy. ‘I’m sorry.’ 

‘This whole planet. You have no conception of what we face out there, no ability to understand what we are fighting and-‘ His father stopped, took a deep rasping sigh. 

‘This rebellion from Asper Bay must be stopped.’

‘Rebellion… against… us?’

‘Yes, my son. Against us.’ His father sniffed. ‘You once said you would die for me.’

‘Yes. For you, for the Emperor.’ 

‘Good. Would you fix this, would you fix this problem for your father?’ 

‘Of course.’ Hudson felt weak. He fell to his knees. ‘I would do anything.’   

He did not look up, but he could hear a creak of the chair as his father stood. 

‘You cannot defeat them with your ship, son. So we will defeat them with mine.’ 

There was a clunk as something heavy hit the wooden floor. Hudson looked up a little to see that his father had dropped something at his own feet, a flat metal disc like a thick dinner plate. 

‘I need you to take something to Asper Bay for me.’ Tan Baylor said. 

‘What is it?’ 

‘I have cannons on my ship the same as you have on yours, though mine fire light instead of metal. I can fire them from the sky and scare Asper Bay into submission.’

‘Why don’t you do that now?’ 

‘We are too far up, it would be hard to hit what we want. This-‘ His foot tapped the device, ‘allows us to see. We can fire right on it. Take this to Asper Bay, flip that switch and we can see the city.’

Hudson held the device in his hands. ‘Flip the switch? This?’ 


Hudson hesitated. 

‘You fear for your life?’


Tan sighed. ‘There is a ten-minute space between when you flip the switch and when I will fire. That will give you time to get away. I would not send you needlessly to your death. Only a few shots, to scare them into submission.’ His voice was flat. 

‘Will you do this? Will you win the war, for me?’ 

‘Yes, father.’ 

A diplomatic mission was announced, and Captain Hudson Baylor was put at the head of it. The Elders of Port Massif drafted a letter of peace and entrusted him with delivering it to Asper Bay. As soon as his ship was away from Port Massif, he threw the letter into the ocean. He watched the paper turn white as the ink bled away in black streams into the water. 

Lynn watched him so he reassured her and grabbed her shoulder. 

‘This is for the Emperor. My father’s plan… we can still win the war.’

Lynn nodded once. 

They were in sight of Asper Bay now. In all his years on the sea, Baylor had never been this close before. He could not take his eyes off the city and looking at it made Baylor feel as if he was standing on a slick deck in a violent storm. Asper Bay was much like Port Massif: it spread out from a natural harbor and was studded with forts and low buildings. He wondered what kind of damage his father’s cannons would do. Would they crush buildings or leave gaping holes? He found it hard to imagine. He leaned up against one of his own cannons, trying to drag some reassurance from its cold metal. 

Before they could get too close to the city, a single ship sailed out to meet him, the Arbiter. Baylor drummed his fingers against a railing. When it was close, the Arbiter hove to, then sent out a boat to receive him. He ordered Lynn to anchor the ship and await his return. He was rowed quietly to his enemy’s ship. 

Vos waited for him to climb up, then invited him to the foredeck. It was cleared of all crew so he and Vos stood on the bow alone and watched the city grow closer. 

‘It took a war to get you here, but I am glad you’ve finally made it.’ Vos said quietly. 

‘I think it’s normal to ask for peace after you lose most of your navy.’ Baylor tried not to let his nerves show in his voice.

‘I don’t mean Port Massif. I meant you.’ Vos said. 

Baylor blinked as Vos spoke slowly. 

‘I knew when it was announced that you, and only you, were coming to negotiate peace that something was amiss.’ Vos said. 

A chill crept up Baylor’s spine. The beacon was heavy in his coat pocket, within easy reach. He thought hard of something to say, but found nothing and stayed silent. 

‘You kept your eyes and ears open didn’t you?’ Vos said. Her eyes were intense with an emotion that Baylor could not decipher. 

He swallowed. ‘Yes, yes I did.’ 

‘You understand now, what I meant all those years ago?’

‘I think so… it’s all so confusing.’ 

Vos nodded. ‘It was meant to be. Your father and the man he serves want to control us, keep us in the dark. They take everything from us…it took me long to understand.’

‘The Emperor…’ Baylor’s heart was beating fast now, he could feel the blood rushing in his hands and feet. 

Vos was fully turned to look at him now. ‘Yes… the Emperor. I’m glad you see…’ There were tears in Vos’s eyes. ‘I’m glad you see His light. I knew if you, of all people, could be turned back then we had a chance to keep this world on the right side.’ 

Baylor breathed heavily. His eyes flicked to the deck, then back up to Vos’s face.

‘My loyalty to the Emperor will never be questioned, Vos.’ He began to reach into his pocket. 

Vos reached out and grabbed his wrist. Her face was confused. ‘And neither will mine. I’m glad to hear you say it.’

‘I think you are confused… I serve the Emperor.’

‘As do I, with all my heart.’ Vos blinked, suddenly understood. ‘Baylor, you fool. Your damned father lied to you, he is not on the side of the Emperor.’

‘Of course he is, he has said so himself!’ 

‘Has he? I know it to be different… he serves a man called Horus…’ 

Baylor shook his head. ‘What do you mean? You know more about my father than me, his son?’

‘Your father is the only connection we have to the rest of the Imperium; he can tell you whatever he wants. Didn’t you ever find that suspicious?’ 

‘I trust my father…’ Baylor shook, his hands were unsteady, his neck hot. His breath felt like fire in his lungs.  

How can you? You barely know the man… he is making you fight a war you don’t understand, he is-‘

‘You are asking me to choose between my father and you?’

‘I am asking you to choose between your father and the Emperor.’ 

They were close to the docks now. On all sides Asper Bay was embracing them with colourful buildings, the sounds of a vibrant city were drifting across the water. Baylor turned his back on it all and walked a few steps away from the bow. 

He thought of peace, what that might look like he didn’t know. He thought of so many years away from Port Massif and away from his own children. He had been so much like his own father; the thought struck him and made him unsteady. He looked back at Vos and saw her eyes filled with desperation and hate. Could she forgive him? What would Asper Bay do with the power they would have?

‘What do you choose?’ Vos yelled. 

The thought of his children stayed in Baylor’s mind. He wanted to protect them, do better than his father had done. Be there, raise them and love them. He could do so, he was certain, if they had peace. Peace on Port Massif’s terms.

Baylor reached in his pocket and flipped the switch. Then he ran a few steps down and heaved the disk off the bow, towards Asper Bay. It hit the muddy shore with a wet splat and sunk in a few inches. Vos watched him in confusion, a pistol in her hand. ‘What was th-‘ 

She was cut short. A red line bled down from the sky, landing near a few streets up into the city. With it came a wave of heat so intense Baylor felt he was standing too close to a fire, even though it was several ship lengths away. 

Vos raised her pistol. ‘What… what is…’

Baylor knew. His father had told him ten minutes, perhaps he had misjudged the time. 

A second line fell from the sky. Then a third. Then they began dropping all around them, increasing in brightness and intensity. Screams were starting, Asper Bay was being lit like a torch. 

Something clicked in Baylor’s mind, his father was firing more than just a few shots, doing more than just scaring Asper Bay. Baylor watched for a few moments as buildings, ships, and people were blasted away into scraps by burning red energy. The citizens of Asper Bay ran towards the ocean that was so close, but the heat was too intense and they were lit like matches before they could reach it. The crowds tumbled into the waves raising great clouds of steam, but the ocean would not save them.  

 Baylor was frozen, watching the destruction he brought to this city. Vos screamed like an animal and shot her pistol at him. The sound kicked in some kind of instinct, some little pocket of fear in Baylor’s mind. He ran across the deck, then leapt overboard. When he hit the water he swam deep. 

He looked up to see a red line burrowing its way slowly into the ocean near where the Arbiter was, the water it hit boiling and bursting into steam; all around it was red flame. He swam in the opposite direction, holding his breath as long as he could. He was lucky to be far enough away when he came up.  

After swimming for an hour, he was picked up by the Vesper. It was evening now and the sun had set, but there was no darkness. The light of Asper Bay burning created an unnatural, perpetual sunrise, burning orange tinged with red as more lines came from the sky, over and over. The colors reflected in his crew’s eyes as they watched the scene in silence. Asper Bay was no more. The whole island the city occupied was turned into a pyre, floating a little above the ocean. 

Lynn was the one to lean over and pull him on the deck.

‘What, what happened?’ She said in a whisper. 

‘My father’s ship… Asper Bay needed to be punished. Lynn… we have won the war.’ He felt a chill, deep down inside him, as if during his swim the cold ocean had finally seeped all the way in. 

‘Punished… like that? In the Emperor’s name…’ 

‘Yes.’ Captain Hudson Baylor said, his voice flat. ‘In the Emperor’s name.’ 

He was haunted by nightmares the entire trip home. He reassured himself that he had done the right thing. Vos was a liar, his father would be proud, his children and his city were safe.  

When they returned to Port Massif, his father’s ship was just about to leave. Those from the ship had taken more than they ever had before. Sacred forests had been cut down, quarries were left empty holes in the ground, and mines left tapped. They had even taken people, youths from the city and surrounding countryside, all brought up into the great blackship, all for the war off in the stars. 

It was morning and the sun was bright; the rays of its light reflected off of the blue ocean. Baylor rushed ashore; he barely caught his father getting on the last ship to leave. 

‘Father! Father… we have done it. We have won!’ 

In the calm morning light, Tan Baylor looked down at his son, his face pale and eyes dark. He smiled, put one hand on his son’s head. 

‘We have only just begun, my son.’ 

‘The war…that war?’ Hudson pointed up to the sky. 

‘Yes.’ His father slowly nodded. 

Hudson knew all at once what he needed to ask, what his father had really been preparing him for his entire life. Hudson’s city and his family would never be safe until his father’s war was won as well. 

‘Father, you have taken so many others from Port Massif…will I go as well?’

His father was quiet for a little while. Hudson steeled himself, wondered what he would say to his family, wondered what he would see in between the stars. 

‘No.’ His father said. 

Hudson breathed. ‘Was destroying a whole city not enough for you?’

‘It was a good start.’

‘I… I don’t understand.’

‘You were never meant to… all of this is beyond you. Do not worry.’

Hudson looked up, meeting his father’s dark eyes. ‘You… you lied to me. You lied to your son.’ 

Hudson felt anger pricking up his back. It was cut short by his father’s cackling laughter.

‘My son? My only son? I can barely remember your name.’ 

He laughed again. ‘You have helped me subdue this planet, but that doesn’t make you better than my other sons, that doesn’t give you a place at my side. At least not yet. You have a new task now.’

‘Father…’ Hudson said quietly, his voice low. ‘Who is Horus?’

Tan Baylor paused, then smiled. 

‘No one you need trouble your simple mind with, my son.’

Hudson sputtered, he tried to blink away his tears, his head swirled, and his heart beat too fast. Tan Baylor put his icy hands on either side of his son’s face and forced him to look deep into his eyes. 

‘Earn my love. Keep this planet in my hands.’ He let go, dropping Hudson into the dirt. Then he was gone, the ship lifting slowly, then meeting the great black shape in the sky. Then even that lifted, shrinking away until it was gone. 

Hudson Baylor watched it go, kneeling in the mud, surrounded by the wooden huts of his city. He could smell the salt air, hear the waves crashing on the rocky shore. He watched the ship until it was a tiny black blip in the blue sky. A few words tumbled out from his lips. 

‘Yes, father.’ 

About the Author

Matt Wix is an amateur author concentrating on sci-fi and fantasy short stories and novels. When not writing, he spends his time running, doting over his many plants, and being constantly confounded by his players as a GM in a game of Rogue Trader. He resides in Boston, USA.