The Line

The Line

The Holy Vessel of the Security Forces of The Line, christened Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances, cut through space and time, arriving in the Real just outside orbit of agri-world 3B-L02. The world’s planetary overseers had complained for months of pirates intercepting shipments of foodstuffs as they were being prepared for shipment from the orbital platforms. Being located in a rather isolated system, 3B-L02’s defenses were ill-equipped to deal with such raids, which had been unheard of for centuries. As the pirates never made landfall nor managed to seize more than a small percentage of goods before retreating, their incursions had been tolerated up until the costs of not intervening exceeded those of the fuel, manpower, and weaponry involved in sending a Security Forces ship to the system. The vessel Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances was dispatched within hours of this equation tipping, and emerged above the agri-world days later.

“Status report,” Seeoh Babel Gibson barked, sitting at the head of the long table on the bridge. He was dressed in the garment typical of his station, a flowing black robe with a blue sash fastened around his neck. Others wearing similar robes but with different colored and patterned sashes sat around the table, a dozen in all. The table itself, a smooth wooden surface that looked as if it had been cut lengthwise from a massive tree, stood in contrast with the otherwise drab and functional metal environs of the ship.

“All systems are operating normally after emergence, Seeoh,” a meek young man in a brown robe with a shaven head standing to the side said. “Fuel expenditure in transit slightly below projections.”

“Excellent,” Gibson replied. “This is your first time present at a negotiation, is it not, Brother-Intern Arguello?”

The boy nodded.

“Well then, keep your wits about you and you may learn something. This is valuable experience of a kind that cannot be obtained in the core systems.”

“Yes, Seeoh,” the boy hastily agreed. “Thank you, Seeoh. Blessed be The Line.”

“For it increaseth into heaven,” Gibson completed the prayer, dismissing the boy with a gesture. In truth, he was looking forward to the engagement. He would not admit it to his board of officers, but a part of him admired the boldness of these pirates.

“According to historical analysis, an attack is due to take place any moment now,” Seeto Didolis Carie, an aged woman with closely-cut silver hair said from across the table in her clear, haughty voice. “Our timing was impeccable.”

“Indeed,” Gibson noted. “And have we a report on the composition of their ships?”

“We do,” Seefo Grissel Toldervy, a stout man with a thick dark mustache a few seats down from Carie replied. “Their hulls should be compromised by a discharge of our dorsal batteries firing at 5.4% of maximum power.”

“Pirate vessels now emerging into realspace 94,503 kilometers from our location,” Carie noted. The robed figures seated at the table watched as a holographic projection of the planet and its environs indicated the arrival of a half-dozen vessels on the other side of the world, each only a fraction of the size of the Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances. Around the bridge, the crew dutifully went about their tasks with practiced efficiency, expending no more effort than was strictly necessary in the activation of targeting systems, scanning fields, and the myriad other operations required to keep the vessel in working order.

“Hail the ships,” Gibson ordered, expecting the planetary display to be replaced by an image of a representative of the pirate vessels. When that didn’t occur, he repeated the order, a note of exasperation in his voice.

“No response,” Toldervy informed him. “Pirate vessels have launched torpedoes and appear to be powering engines to retreat.”

Gibson gritted his teeth. It was foolishness, firing on a Security Forces ship of their size. A wasteful expenditure of armaments. But again, he was struck by the daring such an assault represented.

“Impact in 57 seconds, Seeoh. Payload is low-grade atomics.”

“Cost of impact versus that of deploying countermeasures?”

“A direct hit to critical systems would represent a… 1.4% diminishment in operations efficiency for this engagement.”

“And a hit to non-critical structures?”

Toldervy grinned. “Negligible impact on efficiency.”

“Very well. Activate deflection circuits to divert the torpedoes towards non-essential bays.”

Toldervy nodded and subvocally relayed the order to the appropriate department. The board of officers sat silently for a moment, then figures appeared on the central projection indicating the damage the pirates’ attack had inflicted on the ship.

“Torpedos successfully diverted from critical systems. Personnel loss estimated at 3,350. A masterful move, Gibson,” Toldervy said, stroking his mustache.

“Shall we respond?” Carie inquired.

“Certainly,” Gibson said. “Fire when ready.”

Pulses of light issued from the cannons atop the Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances, crossing the span between it and the much smaller pirate ships in an instant. As a beam struck each of the vessels, its symbolic equivalent on the projection flickered and turned red, indicating that it had been disabled.

“Blessed be The Line. Pirate vessels have been neutralized,” Carie said cheerfully. “Shall we bring them aboard for negotiations?”

“Yes,” Gibson replied, standing up from the table. “Have their leader brought to my office. I wish to meet with him personally.”


The man dragged before Seeoh Babel Gibson in shackles was no more than thirty years old, dressed in dirty clothing and in dire need of personal cleansing. Beneath the grime, though, his face beamed with dignity and purpose. He reminded Gibson of himself when he was younger, determined to make his mark on the universe and spread the gospel of the Line across the stars.

“Please, have a seat,” he said from behind his gilded ebony desk. The pirate refused to budge.

“I’ll stand,” he replied tersely.

Gibson shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said, leaning back in his own chair and pouring himself a glass of purified water from an elegant metal bottle. He took a sip, then considered the liquid in the glass.

“Have you ever been to Earth?” He asked the man, who shook his head. Of course not, Gibson thought. Few born out in the colonies ever had.

“Long ago, water was actually free on Earth,” he went on. “Oh, people paid a little to their governments for distribution, but the substance itself, perhaps the most precious in the world, was available to anyone who wanted it free of charge. It’s hardly surprising they had the Water Wars, isn’t it? I suppose it’s easy to see how foolish they were now, with the benefit of hindsight. And of course, if it weren’t for the wars, the gospel of The Line might never have become as widespread as it did. Blessed be The Line,” he said, looking up at the man and awaiting the expected response. None came — the pirate simply scowled.

Gibson sighed. “Piracy is, as you are certainly aware, an illegal economic activity. Of course, the further one gets from the core systems, the more one becomes… well, sympathetic is perhaps not the right term, but somewhat understanding of the operations of secondary and sub-markets. Were you willing to share information about your buyers, I might be able to negotiate a lighter sentence for you.”

“And my crew?” The pirate replied.

Gibson raised an eyebrow. “Your subordinates have already been reassigned as contract labor on this vessel to compensate for the losses we suffered as a result of your actions. This is a deal I am offering solely to you, as a professional courtesy towards a fellow entrepreneurial spirit, however misguided your business operations may be.”

The pirate’s grim expression cracked, and he began to laugh. Gibson had no idea what to make of it — was it some quirk of the local negotiation rituals he hadn’t been informed of?

“Business operations?” The pirate said, still laughing to himself. “This isn’t a business operation!”

“Well, not in the conventional sense of the term,” Gibson said, “but-“

“You think we’re selling these provisions? With you monitoring every trading post within a hundred light years? We’re not selling this food, you idiot, we’re giving it away.”

“Yes, but giving to whom, in exchange for what?”

“You don’t get it,” the pirate replied, clearly taking pleasure in Gibson’s confusion. “We intercept shipments off-world and drop them from orbit back down to the planet.”

“But why? What possible profit could there be in that?”

“I’m not sure if you’re capable of understanding this, but we aren’t pursuing profit. The people on 3B-L02 can’t afford to feed themselves with the wages they get producing the food that’s sent to other colonies. Ironic, isn’t it? Well, we’re helping them out. Someone has to.”

Gibson’s face blanched. He’d read the situation all wrong — this wasn’t a profit-seeking young man who’d stumbled into the wrong line of work. He wasn’t a pirate at all. He was a heretic, someone who willfully spurned the most basic precepts of The Line.

A tremor of fury swept across his body and he threw open a drawer on his desk, fishing out a low-powered pistol and discharging it into the man’s chest. He groaned and toppled backwards and Gibson leapt from his seat, firing shot after shot at point-blank range. When the holy fury subsided and he came to his senses, the man was nothing more than a heap of blackened meat.

He straightened himself up and checked the pistol’s battery. He’d nearly drained it. Disgust welled up within him as he realized that the first shot had almost certainly inflicted a fatal injury. Such waste… still, perhaps he could be forgiven for the misuse of assets in the elimination of one so vile.

“Blessed be The Line,” Seeoh Babel Gibson said aloud to himself, “for it increaseth unto heaven. Thy will be done in the infinite sea of stars. Give not to us that which we do not earn. And forgive us our imperfections in the pursuit of thy glory. Amen.”

One response to “The Line”

  1. Tubeworm Avatar

    I really liked this story. Horrifying!

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