Addictive New Game…!

I recently went hunting online for a new game to play on my mobile device. I noticed in the reviews that one of the buzzwords from all the people using the apps seemed to be “addictive.” Not only was the word used in a positive sense, but it seemed to be used as a benchmark: Yes! Five stars! This game is addictive! Don’t worry, this game is properly addictive! If you’re looking for an addictive gaming experience, look no further!

Now, last I checked, generally addictions were considered a bad thing. If not harmful, then at least equitable with a bad habit, or something one should probably cut back. When did this change? Especially when you consider it’s on a mobile device: something we know to be hard core marketing for you to buy more products, and more unashamedly advertising in-app purchases: e.g. offering you opportunities to purchase fake fuel for your virtual car so you can keep racing! And if you want to top the leader boards, you can believe you won’t make it by playing the free versions!

Addiction as a benchmark for a virtual experience that draws you away from real life, and deeper into a money spending exercise seems like a dangerous trend. Akin to smoking and gambling at the same time, this inauspicious little spore of a concept has crept into our society. How long before we have complete mold infestation?

To combine doomsday threats, how long until AIs are spouting out algorithms to addictive money spending activities until we are personally funding the Skynet apocalypse?

I think we should leave addiction where it is: in the bad habit category (best case scenario). Playing an amusing game while stuck on the train in commuter traffic is not harming anyone. But missing out of life and burning perpetual cash on tantalizing virtual thrills is a trend that will surely only lead to ultimate dissatisfaction. With depression and anxiety on the rise already in mobile device-using teens, I think we need to re-educate our language, and remember addictions are meant to be kicked, not lauded.

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The Last Unicorn… from here to eternity

I won’t waste you time. Follow this link to another fantastic piece by GR Stoker. What makes the Last Unicorn one of the finest modern fantasies? Why is immortal beauty something to aspire to, but nothing we can own…?

Read here…

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Episode 73: Sinking Feeling

The weapon discharges grew closer. Crimson stared at the Duklagan in his watersuit, and tried to come up with another solution. Braevel risked another glance over the edge of their slope, and immediately ducked back. “Now or never, Crimson!”

She wavered in her resolve, and it was enough for the water dweller. He crouched and sprang from the bank, slicing neatly into the pond and slipping away between the reeds and lily pads, scattering the multi-colored coy.

Her Mindframe blinked, waiting for the next command.

C://death by_

She had no answer.

Standing on both feet she rose up. The well-trained, armored hit squad scurried forward. P’Xak was huddled behind a barrel. Micron was nowhere to be seen.

C://death by_

C://death by_

Straightening her back like a board Crimson tilted, and fell backwards.

 

The water received her with a slap, then folded her into its delicious arms. The weight of her cybernetic appendages suddenly disappeared. For a moment, she was weightless. The deep gurgled of oxygen bubbles enveloped her ears, light dimmed blue, and a strange silence of mind swallowed her. The water was cold. Her pores tingled.

With a bump her machine leg and arm arrived at the bottom of the pond. The rest of her struck the soft artificial pond liner and then strangely floated.

The gun and plasma fight above her became only a series of clicks and pops somewhere above the surface. It seemed like a world away. She? She was alone.

Crimson realized she had neither bathed, nor showered, nor submerged herself in any way for… 12 years? Twelve years, 4 months, 13 days, 18 hours, and—

She silenced her Mindframe.

It was peaceful.

The pressure on her spine was gone. Her back didn’t hurt. Her joints weren’t compressed.

A fish flicked past. The lily pads were floating back to their places. Wispy algae swirled around her scalp and arm, like the brush of ethereal angel feathers.

Her lungs were beginning to ache. She allowed a bubble of air to leak from her nose, even as the stress of her foreign appendages seemed to escape through her few remaining human pores.

She could see nothing: a green haze. A few beads of oxygen clung to her eyelashes, and cheek, and arm hair.

She knew nothing. She twitched; her robotic limbs sent fiery electrodes back in response. The heavy weights were unresponsive. Her own inept movements like the unconscious spasm of a fetal child.

She could stay here.

No one would miss her. A casualty—lost in the siege.

No more whimpering colonists. No more squabbling crew. No more hunting the scum of the universe. No more vengeful bounties. No more anger. No more dark days. No more soullessness. No more memory-less days, buried under encyclopedic mountains of recorded human data. No more not-knowing: who did this to her, who was she. No more emptiness. No more weight.

No more of Keffler’s ‘universal truth’ of pain.

The pain in her lungs she didn’t mind. She leaked another air bubble, this from her lips. She pressed them together again, but felt the inviting water seep deeper in the corners of her mouth, seeking a way in.

Gator she’d miss. He’d been a best friend, for no other reason than he had found her, dying but not dead. A mechanical freak. He’d saved her. Helped her. Helped her to interface with the strange, invasive technology. He’d given her a chance at life. Wasn’t much but… he didn’t have to.

That was it, wasn’t it? This pond, like her mysterious tragedy, would either kill her, or re-make her. Either there was a reason for living or their wasn’t. She suddenly could see herself: a cold, lonely torso arm and a leg, at the bottom of a pond, in a spinning seedship green house, floating three days from a magnetic gateway, on the edge of a distant solar system, hurtling imperceptibly through an arm of the Whirlpool Galaxy, in the impossible infiniteness of space. A human torso. Alive.

Not much of a life—but more than a pond. If it ended here, at the bottom of a coy pond, her universe would culminate in a little, plastic filter.

Crimson cursed. Or she would have if she could have breathed.

Struggling, Crimson tried to move. She kicked her human hand and leg, and tried to get them under her. The cybernetic limbs groaned and protested, electrical impulses zapping and shorting in and out of water -disrupted pathways. They convulsed, but didn’t budge.

Now the fire in her lungs was fierce. Crimson tried again to push off the algae-soaked floor of the pond, and only managed to flop sideways.

Dammit. She thought, not like this…

She tried again. Pushing her booted human foot into the pond liner, and reaching across herself, she twisted. Success—she rolled over the awkward joint of her metal hip! Her lungs were desperate.

She placed her good hand and foot on the pond floor and pushed. Useless. Unable to bend, the dead bulk of her metal prosthesis might as well have been concrete. Maybe she could sit up. She arched and returned to her back with a flop.

She grunted and strained her abs—

Not enough!

If there was a God for cyborgs, it was certainly ironic. She finally decided she wanted to live and she was about to die by sucking fish pee into her lungs.

Come on! she thought.

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Episode 72: Breakthrough

The chip-chat exploded with voices, and far ahead, at the arboretum’s aft exit, weapons fire sounded. Crimson cut her connection to the chat and picked up her pace. The strange wamp of masers and the percussion of enhanced projectile weapons intermingled ahead, where the emerald bands of the Garden Panes dove in from their voluminous heights to meet at the far end of the Green House.

Keffler’s mobility chair was still ahead of her, but he pulled up to another shed, and began arranging spare wood and cargo crates to make a barricade for himself. Crimson stomped on. Ahead she could see the second Garden Pane also sported a barricade, close to the mouth of the exit, where the conflict was taking place. Mog Mog she spotted easily. Masers seemed to be keeping the pirates pinned at the mouth of the Arboretum, the defenders’ location currently circling along the ceiling, giving them a good angle to keep the interlopers back. But as the defenders moved down along the wall and dropped below the exit there was a sudden rush. Armored pirates stormed forward, one diving to the turf and fired a spray of dangerous bullets. Crimson watched as her Pane rode the ceiling and down the wall: Mog Mog took heavy fire, his rocky hide chipping and releasing plumes of sand and rock fragments. The others (Micron, Braevel, P’Xak) dove back for cover. Now they were passing up the far wall; if the Pirates kept them pinned too long they would swarm into the Green House and be impossible to corral. Crimson forced her robotic leg into a run. Her arms pumped. The conflict was half-way up the wall as Crimson surged up the path like a cybernetic rhinoceros. She felt the gravitation force of the centrifuge weaken, and she leapt!

Silently she sailed over Sky Pane2.

She leveled her maser at the closest pirate as Garden Pane 2 approached. Wamp! Wamp! Wamp! Her maser unleashed a staggering wave of stun-energy. Three direct hits sent pirates toppling in confusion. Crimson didn’t expect it to do much against combat-armored hitman, except provide valuable seconds. She dropped the turf and traction mats of Keffler’s living slope, between the assailants, and unleashed cybernetic hell. Pivoting off her heel she drove her hydraulic arm into the collarbone of a pirate and felt the brittle snap as the shoulder gave way. The devastating crush of her hand clamped around a handful of flesh and armor suit, and she lunged forward dragging the pirate body through the air and releasing it straight into another one of the boarding party. She squeezed off another furious wave of maser energy at the surprised cohorts behind, striding forwards. They fell back before her, but she caught up to them at the mouth of the Arboretum. Seizing one by his pressurized EVA clamps she mashed him left and right, crippling his compatriots. Weapons clattered to the deck from crushed hands and groaning pirates. She held her captive aloft…

The light came before the sound. Red-orange, like the sun blazing on the horizon. The buzz of raw energy sizzled around as the impact blew Crimson’s captive against her body and lifted her from the springy turf. Pain sensors registered burning on her human arm and leg, before she dropped roughly to the garden behind. She flipped heels-over-head to end face down in the dirt. The pirate body that had bruised the air out of her lungs was gone, lost somewhere in the flying tumble. Her Mindframe careened like a bumper car to find matching data to sort. She tried to pick up her head, but the electrical impulses to the servos at the base of her neck mis-fired repeatedly.

A confusion of indistinct voices shouted behind and above her. She felt muted vibrations through Keffler’s dirt, pounding, coming closer.

She struggled again to raise her head. Another sensation, grinding pebbles as wheels skidded to a halt. A cold, hard hand hooked under her pain-ridden arm.

“Get up!” Micron’s android voice demanded.

Another presence landed next to her, and a clumsy organic being took her robotic arm. The crooning voice of Braevel’s translator called, “Come, Crimson, we must go!”

The pounding rumbled passed them. Crimson, awkwardly peeling away from the turf, raised by her two crewmen saw and Mog Mog rush up the incline passed them firing his maser. His deep bellow surmounted the confusion of weapons’ discharge around them.

Mostly carried, Crimson kicked with her human leg to try and help as Braevel and Micron dragged her away. Suddenly there was another deafening crack, and a ripping explosion! Mog Mog’s voice ended suddenly, and a hail of hot rocks pelted their backs like a micro-meteor shower.

P’Xak was yelling, “Fall back! Fall back! They’ve broken through!”

 

*

 

Keffler watched the drama unfold from the corner of his toolshed. It had taken him a moment to toss some pallets together and pile a couple a crates on it to create a vantage point with enough leverage to lift the nose of his Earth I Model 70 Alaskan Winchester to look across the curving horizon lines Garden Pane 1, Sky Pane 2, and Garden Pane 2 to where the others had erected their barricade. His leathery old hands had settled onto the checkered Monte Carlo stock and hand rest, as Crimson sailed through the air in the low gravity of the Green House’s tail-end. He watched her tossing pirates like bean bags, driving them back—only to be knocked on her robotic ass as the intergalactic assassins brought up their heavy artillery: some kind of plasma cannon. Keffler swore as the crew broke cover to try and rescue Crimson. The dundering rock slide of a crew-monster, Mog Mog, blazed a trail like a linebacker, firing his maser.

“Get back you fool,” growled Keffler looking over his hooded front sight. The plasma cannon burned again, moments later the scream of its fury reaching Keffler through the oxygen rich air. Mog Mog exploded like a pent-up volcano.

Keffler hated humanoids. He hated them in his Green House.

Today he could shoot them.

He chambered a round. Borealis J. Compton had hunted mule deer with it, as had his father. And the .270 caliber bullets could stop most mammals. The heirloom was likely over a thousand years old, and possibly the only thing on this—or many other human ships—that had actually seen Earth I. Here, 30 million light years from its manufacturing factory, the simple, effective design was about to down a new kind of predator.

Chewing the inside of his cheek Keffler took peered down the flip up back sight and through the hood. Sighted at about 500 yards, he aimed a little low, of the first advancing pirate. Gravity-schmavity. He squeezed the trigger.

A solid kick. Alaska’s love tap rocked Keffler back slightly. A plume of dirt behind his advancing target told him he’d killed the floor. P’Xak was firing frenetically over his should as her and the others rushed away from the hit squad.

Keffler yanked the bolt-action rapidly and tucked Alaska deeper into his wiry shoulder.

“Little to the right…”

Blam! The pirate twisted sharply and staggered, staggered and fell.

“Space armor, my swiveling chair!” Keffler snorted. He cranked the bolt again.

His jubilation was cut short as another spout of plasma scorched across Garden Pane 2. He looked back and saw the pirate in some advanced space suit, and lumbered with a heavy backpack fuel cell and hand cannon.

Keffler shook his head and took a bead. “You’re burning my plants you back-bred, sphere hugger.”

 

*

 

“Take cover in the trees!” Micron ordered. The pint-sized android dropped back to fire of a maser round.

Braevel ran on with the grace of a child in a sleeper-suit too long for his own feet. The Duklagan’s water suit squished and flapped with dead weight, but somehow the medic managed to keep Crimson upright as he ran. Her systems were rebooting, and she managed to pump her legs into action. One of Keffler’s orchard groves were in front of them, but a good 50 meters. Before that was the fish pond. And they were now in the open.

The dirt at their feet popped and tossed as bullets struck around them.

The roar of the plasma cannon and a blast of hot air struck their backs.

“Crimson, get down!”

Braevel skidded down the bank and towards Keffler’s fish pond. Crimson dove to her robotic knee and slid down the short bank as well, as plasma energy screamed over their heads. Her maser was gone.

“Braevel, hand me your—where’s your maser?!?”

The medic was on his belly, both hands in the dirt, his reflective face mask a blank tilt of indifference. “I dropped it to get you!”

Weapons continued to fire. Crimson heard Micron buzz away to their left, clearly in reconnaissance mode. Away to their right P’Xak was yelling and firing, but the sound of the pirates’ weapons was growing more profuse, and louder.

“At the risk of sounding selfish,” Braevel said, his visor darting a wistful glance behind them, “I think we should hide in the pond.”

“I’m a diablos cyborg!” Crimson snapped.

Braevel’s translator worked quickly: “A diablos cyborg, with no weapons, on a ship overrun by pirates,” he corrected.

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Episode 71: Lash and Slash

Shaak-Rom inspirational photo

“I count fifteen pirates,” Shaak-Rom relayed, “They’re investigating the Boatman.”

“Did Clidjitt get aboard?” Crimson’s voice asked. Her breathing also sounded labored; she was moving thought the ship.

“I saw him,” Cort’s voice interjected.

Shaak-Rom grit his pointed teeth. It was still a gamble that the pirates would not think to check if the Rival’s crew had used such a simple way of keeping in touch. He watched them carefully. But the pirates did not seem to respond to Crimson’s comment. A few poked at the Boatman’s airlock and ramps, while others stood guard, waiting for orders to proceed. The hanger door was still closing like Tulperion tree sap.

The pirates abruptly called off their investigation of the Boatman, evidently not determining it a threat. They began to move towards the doors.

Shaak-Rom fell back and sucked in another dissatisfying breath of thin air. They would force the door easily. More air would rush into the vacuum of the shuttle bay. He reckoned another minute before the bay doors would seal. That gave him 60 seconds of advantage. The wind would be at his back. He would strike the first pirates within reach, and dive back into Shuttle Bay 2. If his ancestors gave him luck, he would not be shot.

He raised his Gripon baton with his right hand and tightened his grip of the maser with his left.

There was an electronic grinding noise, then a buzz. The door opened.

A critical moment passed. Wind rushed through the open portal. Shaak-Rom winced, but held his ground. His head tendrils inadvertently lifted to reach for additional air, as though grasping to keep it from rushing away. He hardened his face, and opened his teeth, to drop his white facial markings into the ceremonial war mask of his people.

A fast repeating projectile rifle dashed forward into the hall, followed by a pirate.

Shaak-Rom’s baton fell, crippling the intruder’s shooting arm!

But the professional killers made a life of seizing ships, it seemed. He’d moved into the unscouted hallway with skill. Instead of simply knocking his opponent’s weapon down and blasting the first hapless thug backwards with his maser, Shaak-Rom was instantly surrounded by three pirates who were fast at the heels of their comrade.

Instinct became reason. Shaak-Rom shouldered the surprised point-man, and fired into the closest second with the maser. He pushed the first aside with his weight and dropped to the floor whirling, cracking the knees of the third pirate. Gun! screamed his instincts. Shaak-Rom was still spinning on his knees and brought his maser round to squeeze an energy blast at the fourth pirate even as a crack of noise erupted from the pirate’s weapon. Shaak-Rom felt fiery heat stab through his shoulder. But whether it was the escaping oxygen at his back, or the spirit of his father, Shaak-Rom rose in the same movement and cracked his baton across the stumbling third pirate’s armored neck joint, even as the fourth fell back, struck in the chest by the maser blast. The fifth pirate jumped forward from the door. Left arm unresponsive, Shaak-Rom strained to rake his baton across the intruder’s weapon with his right. Its deadly discharged went into the bulkhead. The back-stroke badly stumbled the pirate.

It was all Shaak-Rom could hope to do. Scrambling backwards he fell through the open doorway of Shuttle Bay 2. Levering off the wall with his good arm the Duka-Master ran for the cover of Olper and Jumondo’s position. He cradled his dead arm as though it was someone else’s severed limb. Projectile weapons fire struck the wall behind him.

He slid behind the first barrier of their maze-like training course and crashed into the make-shift wall.

“You hurt?” Jumondo grunted, crouching so close his hairy chin nearly tickled Shaak-Rom’s horns.

Shaak-Rom gasped, and grit his pointed teeth. “I’ll be all right.”

 

*

 

Crimson was panting for air as she finally left the hard catwalks of the Rival’s interior and strode into the confusing gravity shift that was the centrifugal Green House. Light and the chaotic barrage of pollenated air and flora fragrance struck her optical sensors and face. The air was thinner here than usual, despite the growing things, telling of the massive O2 drop. Thin air and unusally bright light across the sloped field… Hastings 1066, Gravett. Crimson’s Mindframe helpfully supplied. Let’s hope we’re not Harold.

Finally the echoing step-clunk of her metallic foot was swallowed by the quiet turf and rubber traction mats of Keffler’s perpetual landscaping project. She marched down the slope of Garden Pane 3 trying to peer across the 500 meter arboretum to see where her crewmen were set up to repulse the pirate hit-squad. Shaak-Rom had counted 15 in the initial boarding party before his chip-chat signal descended into the sounds of exertion and weapons fire, followed by the heavy panting, and reassuring exchange with Jumondo he had made it to Shuttle Bay 2. Subsequent weapons’ fire followed, along with useless grunts and short exclamations by Cort and Jumondo.

“Give me eyes, someone!” Crimson snarled, still stalking across the peaceful lawn. One of Keffler’s toolsheds reared up before her, among plot of bean poles and gourd mounds.

“… Phew! Got one!” Cort chirped, “Fall back! Take them at the Pillar!”

The Pillar. Crimson didn’t join the boys on their training maneuvers, and the little playscape they’d made in Shuttle Bay 2 for their own amusement. The way she’d heard it they squared off in teams, and Shaak-Rom even gave them special assignments and missions: complete with low-charge maser exchanges that left members of the crew humorously numb and inarticulate when they came back to the mess hall. The features of their mock-city had even garnered nick-names. She refused to know what they were talking about.

After a scramble Cort replied in a quieter voice, between labored breaths, “I think we got two or three of them down, Crims… Don’t know where Olper went. Shaak is pretty bad. He crawled off to get out of the way: try and get up the Ramp and snipe—don’t know how he held onto his maser!”

“Should we help them?” P’Xak’s voice interrupted. The hammer-headed pilot from Ghrithos seemed to like a bit of a fight, almost as bad as Andross.

“Do you have eyes on the pirates?” Crimson responed.

“Nah, we’ve got barricades on Garden Pane 2!”

“Hold steady.”

“I’m down in Engineering!” Gator reminded.

“Hold steady!”

Keffler’s mobility chair appeared around the corner of his toolshed, nearly riding on two wheels in his haste. “There you are!” he ejaculated, “Thought the whole ship was goin’ crazy!”

“Just about,” Crimson replied. She stopped in her tracks. “What the diablos is that?”

Across the gardener’s lap lay what looked like an old fashioned Earth II hunting rifle.

“It’s a Model 70 Alaskan Winchester, vintage antique, possibly Earth I! I got this from a man named Borealis J. Compton on Earth II; likely dead in his tracks, the old bugger!”

“How did you get it on board?”

“Gardening supplies.”

Crimson glared. How did her crew get so many unregistered weapons on board?

Seeing her unasked question from beneath his floppy hat brim, Keffler drew a hand across his grizzly chin. “How do you deal with an infestation varmints?”

Ironic. Crimson also realized she wasn’t hearing a feedback echo of Keffler’s voice in real life and in her head. “You’re not on the chip-chat.”

“The chip—what?!?” snorted the exobotinist, as if she’d asked him to put on a second head. “Listen, you don’t let these space-crackers in my Green House with their guns! They’ll compromise a sky pane, and we’ll all get sucked through a hole the size of a tuna can!”

Her voice was flat, “I don’t think I let any guns in my Green House.”

Keffler glared back at her briefly before wheeling his mobility chair around and heading aft-wards.

“Look at it this way,” Crimson growled, thumping along after him, “There’s a 50/50 chance their bullets will only kill some of your plants.”

Suddenly a wild cry in her ear snapped her back to the real danger.

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Episode 70: It’s a Party!

Gator, sketch. –DanArt

“I’m waiting…” growled Galhaan.

“Emergency depressurization is five minutes,” Crimson whined, “Please, even so we’ll lose a third of the ship’s atmosphere!”

“You have two minutes!”

The line blinked dead.

Gator!” Crimson yelled.

“Yeah, Crims?” Gator’s baritone rumble came down the corridor from containment.

“Here! Now!”

The Megladyte grunted something affirmative, but Crimson was already slapping Shaak-Rom’s stomach—tight abs like a tortoise’s shell—“Get everybody to the shuttle bays. We have to keep the pirates away from the civilians. Go!”

Shaak-Rom nodded his rack of striped horns and dashed back towards the others.

“And voicechips on!” Crimson snapped.

The Trivven and the Megladyte squeezed past one another as quickly as possible.

Gator pulled himself up the bridge and stuck his massive yellow snout of teeth through the door. “Any brilliant ideas?”

“I need you to set up a localized chip-chat.”

Gator was grunting and trying to pull the rest of himself onto the bridge. He paused. “Uhhhhh…”

“Can you do it?”

“It would be open for anyone to hear. If the pirates tuned in…”

“Let’s hope they’re not listening!”

Gator looked like a yellow, scaly sausage role, wondering if it could escape its pastry. “Okay. Tell the guys to tune in to ‘Background Static.’”

Crimson was punching the intercom, “Good name.”

 

*

 

The command over the ship wide intercom came well before the communications hub was established.

Shaak Rom and the others sustained a forced-march run across Garden Pane 2, through the blazing, vivid life of the Arboretum. “Keffler!” Shaak-Rom called, but there was no answer from the gravelly gardener.

He followed the crew back into the barren corridors of the cargo holds and finally to the shuttle bays. They were already breathing hard from their half-kilometer run. Sweat dampened their foreheads. But as they came to the observation windows to Shuttle Bay 1 they could see that hanger doors were opening, and every loose crate and fleck of trash was rolling and rushing out with the thousands of pounds of oxygen. Shaak-Rom suddenly wondered if he would regain his breath.

Beyond the hanger doors, the looming shape of the Hunting Knife lurked like an eel waiting for a fish in a hole.

Shaak-Rom activated his voicechip again, and saw the chip-chat hub Gator had named Background Static. It was a good ruse. With a little luck the pirates would overlook a silly name like that. With a little more luck, they would have a sophisticated Linkburst connection, and not using the adolescent chip-chat’s at all.

“The hub is up!” Shaak-Rom informed the others.

“Get everybody on and listen up!” Crimson’s gritty voice rattled in Shaak-Rom’s ear. The crew obeyed. Once connected Crimson talked fast: “We cannot allow Galhaan and the others into the habitorial sections. Galhaan has demanded that we meet him outside the shuttle bay, unarmed and ready to submit. That’s not gonna’ happen.

“Shaak-Rom, take half of the crew into Shuttle Bay 2 and see if you can’t lure Galhaan and his men into your little obstacle-training course. You know the set up, and you’ll have the advantage. See if you can’t keep them all there. Cort, you’ll have to wire the door so they can’t just shut you all in and depressurize it.”

“Got it!” Cort hopped to the control panel and wrenched off the bulkhead, exposing wires to cut.

“The rest of you, with Micron. I want you to secure the back entrance of the Green House and catch them at the mouth of the Arboretum where the gravity’s thin. Everyone, stay quiet unless you have to speak. If everyone goes for one group, the other group sneaks out and takes them from behind. If they spilt up—we divided, we conquer.

“Pirates do not take the Habitorial Section. Pirates do not take the Green House. Do you understand?”

Gator’s rumbly voice interrupted, “Pirates do not take my engine room!”

There was a general murmur of amusement, which Crimson silenced. Cort asked if they couldn’t seal Engineering, and Gator replied he had. Tager chipped he was still waiting in the airlock for Andross, and they would join the Green House team when they could.

“Shaak-Rom, split them up.”

It was like choosing sparring teams. Shaak-Rom had done it hundreds of times on Zeramis, the Legacy capitol world. Make the teams even; match them to the tasks. “Cort, Krevvenar, Olper, Jumondo, with me.” His striped arms cut decisively between the men. He would miss his Grip-stone armor in the coming skirmish, but he had his baton and a maser. “Mog Mog, P’Xak, Braevel, with Micron. Everybody move. Set up barricades and make yourselves ready. We’ll try to lure them to us. I’ll provide an initial headcount, and try to reckon the odds.”

In Shuttle Bay 2 he would have Cort, the small and fast Cargo Bay Administrator, at home at the back end of the Rival. Krevvenar was solid and balanced; he would follow orders. Olper had his staff, and was fierce and dangerous in close quarters. Jumondo–large but agile—added muscle to their group. If Shaak-Rom could get an accurate head count, survive, and lure the pirates into Shuttle Bay 2 they would have an excellent chance at out maneuvering them and taking them down one by one.

With the half-sized, Andromedan police android Micron, Shaak-Rom had sent Mog Mog, the bipedal pile of living rock: impervious to most small-arms projectiles, and some energy weapons. His bulk would be a liability in the shuttle bays, but the light gravity at the edge of the Green House would make him faster, and more dangerous. P’Xak had not been around long and seemed hot headed, but there would be plenty of shooting to do at the pinch-point entrance to the Arboretum. Braevel was an excellent shot at long range, and the open spaces would suit him, and his sloshing water-suit. This group would soon be reinforced by Gator and Crimson, and perhaps Keffler—wherever the gardener had gotten to.

“Everybody move!”

A flash of sparks burst from the exposed wiring of the shuttle bay doors. Satisfied, Cort blew a hurried sign and stood up: “Door’s jammed.”

“Go, go, go…!”

The groups split up. Shaak-Rom hovered in the jammed door and pointed to his men, “Jumondo and Olper over there—the maze if tighter. Lure them close and take them down. Cort and Krevvenar there. Try to keep them busy at the door—let a few through and hit them in the open space!” A glance over his shoulder told him the others were gone, and the Hunting Knife was already settling its predator frame on Shuttle Bay 1’s deck, the slick vessel able to enter before the hanger doors were even fully open.

Shaak-Rom tried to ignore the chatter from the second group of defenders, as they established themselves in the Arboretum.

The Hunting Knife had significant damage to its bow airlock, but the inner seal was still intact. A dangerous selection of grappling and hull-punching modifications were mounted under the boarding vessel’s chin. Sleek purple wings and thrusters made it look frighteningly fast and maneuverable.

A stab of fear rammed through the Duka-master stomach. If they were equipped to board even in the vacuum of space, they wouldn’t care if the shuttle bay was opened with the hanger bays wide to space. He slammed the close sequence on the surviving control panel. Slowly the massive doors reversed their path.

Shaak-Rom was still breathing hard, and sweating from his jog. Already the effect of the lost oxygen was felt. He envied the crew assigned to the Green House, and its galactic photosynthesis. It would be an agonizing four minutes before the hanger doors were closed again. As for the pirates? Shaak-Rom waited with one shoulder against the window edge, and a sly eye towards the attacker’s craft. The Knife had completed touch down. Not 30 seconds passed before a starboard airlock must have opened: five sets of boots dropped to the deck, one after another. They pirates looked well trained; they moved quickly, wielding their firearms with precise sweeps, confirming the safety of the bay. A port airlock dropped five more.

“I count ten pirates in the first boarding party. I don’t think they are all deployed. They are securing Shuttle Bay 1.”

Andross’ cocky voice broke into the chip-chat: “That’s hardly a boarding party!”

“Andross is back,” Tager’s voice quipped.

Then, more boots dropped to the shuttle bay deck, visible on the far side of the boarding vessel.

“An aft airlock has deployed five more!” Shaak-Rom announced.

“Now it’s a party!” Andross laughed.

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Episode 69: Angry Pirates

Concept Art: Cort

The Rival shuddered and echoed with the concussion of Andross’ explosives. Crimson stumbled badly. Shaak-Rom’s perfect red and striped arms caught her. She cursed.

The depressurization alarm honked; red warning lights ignited over the airlock door. Most of the crew stood with her in the corridor to the containment room, armed with masers, and a surprising array of personal items, barely permissible under the Galactic Precinct’s self-defense clause. Olper had a spear? How’d he even get that on board?

Crimson cursed again, and pushed herself back onto her robotic leg, letting the gyroscope in her pelvis find her balance. Fifteen crewmen onboard and she falls into Shaak-Rom’s arms.

She moved on.

“Andross did it!” The rag tag crew gave muted cheers of approval.

“That sounded bad!” agreed Tager. Former Vizavian Army, the young, blue, leather-clad alien was among the few on the Rival that had formal tactical training. He dashed forward, followed by Micron, their pint-sized Andromedan police android.

Micron’s overly human eyes disappeared behind sophisticated scanning googles. He quickly inspected the airlock door. “No structural damage to the inner seals.”

Tager was looking out the tiny port hole. “Oh, they are not gonna’ be happy! They’re drifting! They were right in the process of boarding!” Tager suddenly cut his narrative short, and started making apologetic gestures out the window.

“What is it?” Crimson barked.

Tager turned, removing himself from the porthole’s line of sight. “One of the pirates is still in the airlock. They’ve got EVA suits. He must have been in the lock when it depressurized. I’m trying to tell him we don’t know what’s happened.”

“Snake spit.” Crimson spun and clanked up the grated passage to the bridge. Actually, the plan was going according to plan. She’d warned Termus Galhaan they’d sustained damage to their magnetic seals, and Clidjitt and Andross had managed to make it look and feel authentic. If the pirates had wanted an easy boarding, they weren’t going to get it. Now they’d be pissed. On the other hand, was there any such thing as happy pirates? Sinbad? her Mindframe suggested.

No.

Captain Paul Watson? Sea Shepherd?

Shut up.

She limped onto the Bridge and flung herself onto the secondary auxiliary station. She tried to mask her snide triumph with flat concern. “Hunting Knife, Hunting Knife, this is Rival Bay. Are you all right? We detected a magnetic short and lock malfunction. I told you it wasn’t safe. I repeat: Are you all right?”

There was a buzz and delay. Suddenly Termus Galhaan’s voice erupted over the com system, “That was very foolish, Rival Bay.  We will accept no more games from you. Open your shuttle bay and prepare to be boarded!”

“I told you, we lost control of our magnetic seals, the locking mechanism backfired,” Crimson tried to sound hurt and desperate. “We’ll open Shuttle Bay 2 for you, depressurization process—”

“We will board from Shuttle Bay 1!” answered Galhaan.

Crimson bit back an angry reply. She couldn’t resist any more. “Shuttle Bay 1. Copy that. Depressurization initiated. Standby for bay doors in T minus 30 minutes.”

“Open the bay now.” Galhaan’s voice was very flat.

“We’ll lose too much oxygen!” Crimson answered truthfully—well, inadvisably.

“Do it, or we will open fire on your vessel.”

Crimson’s Mindframe began calculating frantically. All the processes slowed her up. She stammered, “Uh… give us… we will… just let me get someone down there—to open it!”

She cut the channel.

Shaak-Rom was behind her. “What now?”

“Get Clidjitt in the Boatman. Now! Then have Cort open Shuttle Bay 1, immediately.”

 

*

 

The horned chieftain had clattered to a halt at the top of the grated stairs. “Clidjitt in the Boatman as fast as you can. Cort, as soon as he’s in, open the bay doors!”

“What?” Cort asked

“Now, or the pirates will fire!”

On Gobe, Cort’s home planet, there were arachnids that could move so fast it seemed supernatural. Cort had never seen Clidjitt effect such a movement until that moment. The Cargo Bay Administrator himself was scampering on three legs before he had fully processed Shaak-Rom’s orders. Awkwardly Cort shoved his maser into his back cargo pocket and added his fourth limb to the scramble for the Shuttle Bay. Clidjitt was gaining space on him as they rushed through the Circle; they barely noticed Councilman Joffs waving at them from the far passageway, where it seemed a barricade had been erected. Then down they went past the mess and storage compartments. Clidjitt disappeared into the bright spinning hole of the Arboretum long seconds before Cort arrived. By the time he jumped onto the soft turf, the insectoid was scuttling along the wall of a great Garden Pane, and Cort would have to pick his way along one of the sky pane catwalks. With a swallow, the rodentian Ilslavian hit the hard catwalk and scampered along the face of open space as fast as he dared.

As the rotating Arboretum carried him up along the wall, he heard the gravelly voice of the gardener calling to him.

“What in tarnation is going on?” he demanded.

Cort glanced left to see the exobotanist driving along the next Garden Pane in his mobility chair, trying to keep pace.

“Pirates are gonna’ blast a hole in us if we don’t blow the Shuttle bay!”

“Forty cats-in-a-bag!” Keffler barked.

“Get a maser! They’re coming aboard!”

He couldn’t hear the stream of expletives and colorful curses that erupted from the gardener as his mobility chair veered off to make preparations.

Cort turned his attention back to pattering along the narrow catwalk. Ordinarily he tried to avoid looking down if his shiply duties took him onto a sky pane. This time instead of the depthless black of star-studded space, there drifted a massive shape. The Hunting Knife slipped beneath Cort’s feet like a Leviathan under a glass-boat tour of the Zomamaz River. Clicking his rodent incisors in fear Cort redoubled his pace.

Far ahead, the spider-like form of Clidjitt scuttled down the opposite wall and disappeared through the black-hole exit of the Green House.

At last Cort himself approached the spinning hole. By now he figured he was exactly reverse of the Rival’s artificial gravity. He hurried down the last, graded, anti-slip step. The floor was above his head. Jumping onto the circular pathway beside the door, and clenching his stomach through the lifting gravity, he ran with the rotation of the Arboretum, front claws gripping the handrails. Coming level with the Rival’s deck he jumped into the standardized Artificial Gravity, and plunged onward despite the spinning sensation in his inner ears. Ahead was no sign of Clidjitt, the insectoid must already be sealed in the shuttle bay. Hopefully angry pirates would wait the full 5 minute emergency bay depressurization protocol, before they opened fire. With an atmospheric pressure of 14.7psi and the shuttle bay’s cubic volume of roughly 1, 120,000m, Rival was about to lose sixteen million pounds of oxygen. Air re-circulators could likely deal with it, but they might all feel a little light-headed if they did much more than casual walking. Especially with 300 additional bodies onboard.

“We need better extraction fans!” Cort gasped, as he scurried the last 100 meters to the Shuttle Bay 1 control panels. Through the view panes he saw Clidjitt was already closing the Boatman’s ramp. “Com’on, com’on!” he tapped his furry fingers on the panel, fully expecting the bay doors to rock and buckle under the impact of Spiker torpedoes.

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