The New Valuan Armada

A calm wind ruled the skies bathed beneath the lunar glow of the seven moons. Barely a flutter of pale white cloud marked the view of unbroken sky blue in all directions. A tranquil silence carried across the bridge of the New Valuan Armada Endeavour class experimental battleship, Captain Alicia Cousland stood on the raised command platform overlooking the bridge staff as they carried out their duties.

"All systems operating within normal parameters" announced the bridge engineer.

Upon ascending to the throne in the wake of the cataclysm five years ago Valuan Emperor Enrique had established a raft of reforms across all aspects of Valuan society, intended on reducing the vast social and economic gap between the wealthiest and the poorest across the empire. One of the largest reforms was the establishment of the New Valuan Armada. Built from the remnants of the previous administration its focus shifted towards technological advancement and training for civil defence and international cooperation as opposed to their expansionist predecessors.

Born into a lower aristocratic family, with neither the exorbitant wealth nor the political standing of many of the other nobles, Alicia was free to live a life away from the stifling and ever changing currents of the Valuan Imperial court. After graduating from the Valuan Imperial Academy Alicia had been inducted as a ship's captain within the Experimental Engineering Corps. Within a few months of beginning her new post Alicia had found herself summoned into a one on one meeting with the Emperor himself. The Emperor told her of a new class of Battleship being developed which would outperform the current generation of ships in terms of effective range, operating efficiency and combat performance. The hope was this new class of ship, based off of the Delphinus, would herald a core of vessels able to offer unlimited travel and protection from hostile creatures for explorers searching out new lands. He continued that air trials were scheduled to be conducted within the next few days and that he had requested Alicia act as commanding officer during the exercise.

With her immediate acceptance Enrique dictated the navigation route for the exercise, a fairly simple patrol along the northern edge of the Valuan continent which while remote was considered little more than a milk run amongst Valuan navigators. What perplexed Alicia however was the Emperors insistence that the ship be fully crewed and supplied for the full duration of the exercise and the operation details of the operation be made known to only those directly involved.

Before the Rains of Destruction had fallen Alicias father had been an aeronautical engineer serving under Lord De Loco, as such Alicia had spent much of her time amongst the Valuan military shipyards which is what her father had always said helped foster her desire to serve in the Armada. Alicia knew first hand that Air Trials could be conducted by a novice captain with minimal crew. While she could understand the need for discretion the insistence for full crew and supplies was counter-productive to his requirement for absolute secrecy; however such was the emperors' wishes.

"Weather is clear, wind light and variable. Minimal cloud ahead" the navigator reported optimal conditions.

Shortly after the establishment of the New Valuan Armada patrols began reporting coming under attack by members of the Blue Rogues band of Air Pirates. Amongst them was the legendary air pirate Vyse.

"Maintaining course and speed" the Helmsman reported,

A decree was swiftly issued by the Emperor that a promotion of several ranks awaited the entire ship's crew of the single Armada vessel which bested the Blue Rouge Vyse in either ship to ship or hand to hand combat. Whispers abounded that Emperor Enrique did little to discourage, or perhaps even orchestrated, the raids against his own fleet, citing it as an excellent way to keep his soldiers prepared and his officers honest in this time of peace. The only stipulation was that no lives were to be endangered, at present the running score weighed heavily in favour of the Air Pirates. The only notable exception was a case in which during an exchange between Vyse and an Armada Cruiser a sudden storm erupted, dealing significant damage to both ships and requiring a desperate evacuation of the Cruiser. Disaster was only averted by a daring rescue conducted by the raiders which saw the crew taken to safety while their ship was eclipsed beneath the clouds. In the end the end the engagement was named a draw.

"Ship sighted!" the helmsman declared, awakening Captain Cousland from her looming daydream. "It came out from under us"

"How did they sneak up on us?" asked the navigator.

It seemed that Emperor Enrique had grown into a devilishly sly man, with little hint of self-doubt that had burdened him in his youth remaining. Perhaps his time amongst the Air Pirates had a greater effect on him than anyone could have anticipated.

The ship suddenly emerged into the view, blazing past the Endeavour on her port side. Although antiquated by the standards of Valuan ship design the wood and sails ship remained the preferred choice among the majority of sailors. The ship's hull appeared to incorporate extensive reinforcement combined with improved top of the line engine to account for its impressive speed. The main focus of the Captains attention was the flag fluttering from the ships mast, the cutlass and skull on a blue field, the mark of Vyse the Blue Rogue.

The fault of many previous Valuan ship captains had been to equate antiquity with weakness swiftly forgetting that in the hands of an experienced crew even the most basic vessel could prove a formidable foe. Such an underestimation could prove a fatal mistake, one Alicia vowed she would not make herself.

"Enemy ship is slowing" the navigator announced. "They will be in range shortly"

"Are they going to attack?" asked the weapons officer.

"No, it's a ruse" Alicia interrupted. "As soon as we attempt to pursue they will make use of their superior mobility to their advantage to circle around us"

The advantage of Valuan ship design was their swivel mounted turrets allowed for a full 180 degree field of fire. Traditional ships by comparison could only fire broadsides, requiring them to come alongside their enemy to fire. Alicia anticipated the pirates wished for them to pursue a top speed at which point they could out manoeuvre them and strike where they were vulnerable.

"Slow engines" Alicia ordered. "Load main gun with concussion shells. Prepare to fire"

"Aye aye" the weapons officer carried out the commands on the bridge console. "Main guns ready, Captain"

"Fire main guns" Alicia ordered.

A moment passed before a thunderous crash erupted, Alicia felt the report of the guns ripple through her even standing on the ships bridge. Two rounds traced towards the target, leaving a white trail of vapour in their wake as they accelerated. The Blue Rouge ship turned sharply, evading the pursuing projectiles with almost taunting ease. Endeavour continued to pursue the pirate ship, firing off a succession of cannon rounds which the enemy continued to slip past. Alicia knew this situation called for a change in strategy.

"Stop all engines" Alicia ordered. The rumble of the ships engines beneath her feet ceased, only to be reinvigorated as the reversing engine engaged and brought the ship to idle. "Launch torpedoes" The torpedo tubes opened on the deck, two torpedoes erupting from their canisters to trace across the sky towards the target. Alicia hoped that pulling back would lure their enemy into a false security, leaving them vulnerable to a surprise attack.

Before the strike could find its mark however the Blue Rouge ship turned sharply to come back on itself, the torpedoes tracing harmlessly into the distance as the ship turned to face down its aggressors.

"Enemy ship is approaching fast" the helmsman declared. "They're going to ram us!"

"Brace for impact!" Alicia grabbed the railing in front of her, her whole body tensing in anticipation of the inevitable impact. Whether by reflex or design the pirate ship made a last ditch correction, turning what would have been a head on collision into a glancing blow. Alicia watched as the Blue Rouge ship passed by Endeavour, their hulls meeting in scream of metal contacting metal. The shockwave which followed sent unsecured charts and equipment spilling across the bridge, only their firm grasp on their supports kept the bridge staff at their stations.

"Automatic fire suppression triggered on deck three" the bridge engineer announced. "No casualties reported. Hull integrity is maintained"

Even as a glancing blow any normal ship would have been torn asunder by such an impact. It was only the pirate ships reinforced hull which made such an attempt a remotely viable tactical option. Alicia still had to wonder if that had intended to be a glancing blow by design or merely the result of the daring manoeuvre being abandoned at the last conceivable moment. Regardless, it appeared their opponent had drawn first blood without even firing a shot.

"Re-engage engines" Alicia ordered.

The ships engines reengaged with a metallic roar as she felt the surge of vibrations beneath her feet. Endeavour began its slow ascent back up to speed, turning about to face their enemy before they could mount another attack. The Endeavour came out of its turn as the pirate ship continued to sail away from them, perhaps gaining distance whilst preparing themselves for another charge. As the Armada ship continued its pursuit Alicia couldn't help but notice a change in their opponent following their clash. A ship which had once soared and dived effortlessly through the air now seemed sluggish and encumbered. Perhaps the force of the impact had damaged their opponent more than Alicia had anticipated.

"Enemy ship is coming into range of our cannons" the weapons officer announced. "Concussion shells armed"

"Fire concussion shells" Alicia ordered. The crack of the main guns reverberated through the ship once more. The concussion shells trailed a white line of vapour in their wake as they approached the enemy ship. Alicia expected the pirate ship to make some other daring manoeuvre to evade the incoming attack, but with the shells fast approaching the ships course was maintained. The concussion shells struck the hull in an eruption of displaced air and shattered metal.

"Enemy ship is hit" reported the weapons officer. "They're drifting"

It was true. A ship which a moment ago had been merely trailing now appeared dead in the sky, it all seemed far too simple. A ship's Captain who could perform such a daring manoeuvre would not allow their ship to languish. At the same time she could not allow such an opportunity to slip her by.

"Prepare the boarding party" Alicia ordered. "Bring us alongside"

"Aye aye" replied the helmsman.

The Endeavour slowed to a crawl as it moved within range of the drifting ship, the boarding party assembled on the deck threw out grappling hooks to latch onto the deck of the ship. The air pirates ship was drawn alongside the Valuan battleship, once the lines were secured the boarding party clambered aboard the pirate's ship to begin their search. Protocol would dictate that the boarding party would find the commanding officer and challenge them to a duel. Alicia would then have her chance to face the legendary pirate Vyse in an honourable duel.

The minutes passed with no word back from the boarding party. The interminable silence was almost suffocating as-

"Captain, the boarding party have completed their sweep" the Vice Captain reported. "There's nobody on the bridge" That was impossible.

"Then who was flying the-" Alicia said.

"Captain" the bridge engineer interrupted. "Emergency, emergency!"

I had some doubts about writing this one. The entire story was born of an idea I had that after the events of the game Valua was rebuilding under Enrique and to keep his troops prepared (And his officers humble) Enrique encouraged competitive raids by Vyse and Co against his Armada with the current score being almost entirely in the Air Pirates favour. However even as I started writing it I found this story to be very different from what I usually write. Most of my stories are either deeper explorations or reinterpretations of events usually focusing on minor plot points and characters rather than a full blown 'This is what happened afterwards' story. The reason I've decided to write this despite my reservations is far more personal.

When I began writing this I was in the process of moving house after starting a new job. At this point I'd been moving every year due to work and University so I was pretty used to it and expected this one to be no different than the other twelve (No seriously) house moves I'd made in the past few years. The problem was that the place I was moving into was a new build which hadn't been completed when it was supposed to have been. The problem wasn't even particularly large, delays between solicitors and electricity companies meaning I couldn't technically move in despite it being ready. On top of this the flat I had been moving out of had already been rented and I had no family/close friends within commuting distance of my new job.

This left me in a state of limbo spending over a month moving between a succession of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, each with varying costs and availability of washing, cooking and internet facilities. All throughout this time there had been little word when the flat would be completed to the point where I was seriously considering looking for an alternative.

I think the most difficult part was the constant feeling of loneliness I felt and not having a place to call my own. I knew the area and I'd lived there for several years before I moved so I guess that helped keep me grounded. The other thing which helped was writing this story about one of my favourite all-time series based on one silly idea I had.

In the end though it got sorted out, I moved into my new flat and I'm enjoying Skies of Arcadia more than I ever have before.