Balance of Power & Ship of the Line

By Tiro

Here are two short pieces written in answer to a first line thought up by Amalasuntha for an exercise.  The line was “And then the gun went off” (yes, you can start a sentence with ‘and’ – or ‘but’, for that matter).  Since it was two short pieces but one exercise I thought I’d put them both here together.


Balance of Power

And then the gun went off. Atony glanced down as coloured lights flickered out, and the quiet but distinctive whine of failing electronics suddenly undermined his entire argument. He gave the weapon as sharp a shake as he dared, hoping the movement wouldn’t be too obvious. The indicators stayed resolutely dark. He looked back to the burly figures standing in the room below him. Maybe they hadn’t noticed the sudden power shift. He waved the defunct pistol as menacingly as he could.

“… So nobody better try anything, alright?” he prayed out loud.

The wreckers standing around the room looked at him as he bluffed madly from his balcony. He knew he was taking a risk: wreckers generally thought valour was the better part of valour – especially when they had the advantage of numbers and fire-power. His only chance was bravado.

It wasn’t enough. The lead man grinned, and raised his shotgun. The others followed suit. Atony dropped his pretence and threw himself down behind the parapet. But he didn’t hear gunfire. There was a moment’s pause; then a racket of swearing, thumping and rattling. Then a voice:

“What’s done thee with our’n guns, is it, boy?”

To be honest I’m not 100% sure what this one’s about. It was based on a first line that Amalasuntha gave me previously – “and then the gun went off” – which I’d originally used in Ship of the Line below. As you’ll see, the main idea was to make ‘the gun went off’ mean something other than a weapon firing. I’m not sure it worked out too well, since while I liked that basic idea, I didn’t really have much on hand to follow it up with – except to end by showing that it’s not just the main character’s weapon that’s packed up. What caused it? I dunno. Solar storm, maybe. Police turning up with an EMP emitter. Anything you like, depending on where you think the scene is set.

What I did think was interesting was the character’s name. It came into my head presumably based on ‘Antony’; but for some reason I decided to drop the ‘n’ to make it a little less familiar; and as I always do with names I make up, I googled it to ensure it didn’t have any embarrassing meanings. Turns out it means a lack or loss of muscle strength or tone. Since the scene is about a sudden loss of strength, I thought that was quite fitting. — Tiro

Ship of the Line

And then the gun went off, drowning Grover’s tirade of profanity.  The deafening crack of the discharge was followed a fraction later by the thump of the heavy weapon kicking back against its restraints.  Smoke and sparks swirled from the muzzle, chasing the iron ball out into the afternoon sunlight.  Already his men were scurrying to swab and reload the barrel and roll the cannon back into firing position, while he berated them with well-practised abuse.  Grover peered through the clearing smoke at their opponent.  The massive ship – a fourth-rate, if he was any judge – floated alongside; muffled shouts rang out between the two vessels as each crew struggled to beat the other to the next round.

Moments later, his crew stepped back and signalled once again ready to fire.  Grover grinned: he’d always said his crew were the best a gunsman could hope for, and here they proved it.  Two shots in the time it took the other ship to ready one!

“Fire!” he bellowed.  The fireman tipped the fuse, and moments later another well-aimed ball slammed into the side of their opponent’s hull, sending a shower of wooden splinters spinning down towards the hazy landscape below.

(More about Tiro)


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