Firefly Board Game, Custom Scenario: The Great Race

I love board games. This week, in honor of Scifi Saturday, instead of posting a chapter of Space Dust, I’ll post a custom scenario I’ve written for the Firefly board game by Gale Force 9.

Thanks Joss Whedon and co. for your wonderful scifi fantasy epic; you’ve inspired so much (including parts of my own Space Dust adventure). Thanks to my beta-testers M, K, and H. Its probably a long game (4-5hours with both Rim expansions) but I think that’s normal for games with both Rim expansions… please comment below, or contact me if any rules are unclear… happy to explain further. Enjoy!

Firefly the Board Game—The Great Race

There’s a wager that the captain with the canniest ship and crew could spin round the ‘Verse faster’n anybody else. Big betters have put up money to see if it’s true. Glory awaits the captain and crew who can complete the course first. And the prize money won’t hurt neither!

Set Up—Normal

Goal 1: Secure the Race Route. “Entrants in the Race hafta’ know the checkpoints, and it’s not what ya know, it’s who ya know.”

Become solid with Higgins, Amnon Duul, Harkin, Patience, and Niska (and Lord Harrow for Blue Sun Expansion, for an extended game) to receive a Goal Token.

Goal 2: Enter the Race. “Sure. Anybody can fly. If you got a shiny penny…”

Travel to Beylix, Pengali and use a Work Action to pay the entrance fee of $6,000. Receive a Goal token. You have entered the race.

Qualify for Victory:

  1. Reach checkpoints. Once entering the race you must proceed to the following checkpoints in order: Santo, Qin Shi Huang, Three Hills, Georgia (for Blue Sun, at Muir, Blue Sun). After declaring a Work Action at each checkpoint receive a Goal Token. First qualified player to receive 4 (5 Blue Sun) Goal Tokens wins.
  2. “Gain the Whole ‘verse, but lose your soul.” Your crew are the soul of your ship; you must finish the race with the same number of crew you began with. Unfortunately, your soul has less appetite for glory than you. If they become disgruntled on the race, they will leave you the moment you set foot to a planet. Can’t pass a checkpoint unless the referees receive the same number of bioscans as the officials at Beylix. Didn’t say they had to be the same bioscans….
  3. “Is that the same ship?” Referees at checkpoints can be mighty picky. If your ship shows any new modifications at any checkpoint, you will be penalized a Goal Token. Fix your ship, go back to the last checkpoint and re-check-in for a replacement Goal Token. Then try again…
  4. Once you’ve entered the race, you must stay solid with all required Contacts. Lose a Rep, lose a Goal Token. Regain their trust, get it back.

Additional Rules: It’s a Tricky ‘Ol ‘Verse Out There.

  • If you are solid with Fanty and Mingo, receive 2 fuel at each successful check-in.
  • If you are solid with Mr. Universe (Blue Sun), you may discard a fuel to ignore any 1 Nav Card per-leg of the race.

The Victor: The first player to receive their final Goal Token with a qualifying ship and crew is now the canniest captain in the ’Verse. And possibly the richest!

Game night! The Great Race scenario not pictured

 

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I Did Not Go to School For…

I did not go to school to be an entrepreneur

I did not go to school to be a graphic designer

I did not go to school to be a publicist

I did not go to school to be an office administrator

I did not go to school to be a personal assistant

I did not go to school to be a social media expert

I did not go to school to be a grant writer

I did not go to school to be an accountant

I did not go to school to make budgets, forecasts, and annual projections

I did not go to school to fill in endless online forms

I did not sign up to be a small business owner

I didn’t even sign up to be a “free-lancer”

They only taught me how to dance

They only taught me how to mime

I learned to choreograph and make stories,

And sculpt the space with my body

I went to school to learn mime and dance

And this week I have been working in an office

And the week before that

And the week before that

 

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Episode 66: Possum

rocket propulsion concept art

Even with her teeth clenched Crimson felt them chattering in her skull. The horrific force of 4,000 petajoules of explosions behind them rattled every screw, bolt, and soliesic seal on the Rival. Even with the inertial dampening fields providing some support, Crimson felt like she was going to be squashed into a pancake. The Rival shoved up from her cybernetic sit bones, rattling her spine, while the gravitational crush of the mag-mine felt like a powerful hand depressing her face and chest cavity.

But Crimson’s Mindframe was running like a thoroughbred.

Electromagnetism cast enough waves across enough spectrums of reality that science still hadn’t unraveled it all. Even still, their rusty instruments should have had enough sophistication to operate in a confusion of magnetic interference. The problem was the output: the mag-mine was drawing them in with the terminal force of being too close to a planet’s magnetic core. Without a core to incinerate them, though, it worked almost like a black hole. Inside its crush was a little slice of oblivion, and even light had difficulty not warping. So never mind scanners.

The reflective light that was getting to them now, and the compositional analysis of the metal object was enough to tell them they had visitors, but there was no way to know if they were about to be vaporized by energy weapons, or blasted with projectiles. The upside was that the incoming vessel was small. The downside was, it couldn’t be powering the mag-mine or the cloaking device that had hidden it until now. Either a portable power source was also floating out there, hidden, or another, larger ship. But if a pirate fleet was out there, it seems they meant to stay hidden until the magnetic toy had done its work.

Now, they caught on to the Rival’s scheme, but Crimson was gambling just a moment too late. The Rival was about to destabilize the mine, and when it did the magnetic field would collapse, and they would blast away at sublight speed. Since they hadn’t deactivated the mine remotely to preserve it—resorting to a chase—there could only be a few possibilities. They couldn’t deactivate it from that distance, or they hoped to board the Rival before it broke free. A ship that size could, perhaps be armed, but maybe it only carried magnetic clamps, and a ferocious boarding party. Alternatively, they could be an over powered gunship, about to slice off the Rival’s engines while a pirate cruiser waited nearby to pick through the bones of the vacuum-eviscerated seedship.

But they hadn’t fired yet.

Crimson shouted over the jarring, creaking rumble of the ship, “Prepare to cut engines!”

“What?” Andross challenged.

“Do it on my mark!” to herself she growled, “I’m calling their bluff.”

Clidjitt announced “Mag-mine destabilizing in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…”

“Cut engines!”

The failing point of the mine was easy to calculate. The trajectory of the Rival not so difficult either. The number of seconds Andross’ fingers would take to execute Crimson’s commands—and the engines’ combustion funnels ceased firing—a lot less scientific. But if she’d guessed right…

“Magnetic field has collapsed!” Clidjitt cheered.

Rival’s violent rattling shuttered to a halt.

“Engines dead. We’re sitting ducks—”

Clidjitt was still reading displays, “Scanners back online. The pirate vessel is closing: it’s launched a projectile!”

“Crimson!” Andross snapped, reaching for maneuvering thrusters.

“Don’t!” Crimson pushed off her cybernetic leg and crashed across the MiPie with a restraining arm.

Clidjitt continued, “Confirming: pirate vessel is a Type II Raptor Class boarding vessel, magnetic grapplers launched.”

“There!” Crimson stabbed her finger out the view screen, at the suddenly still, star-studded emptiness of space. A small glimmer of light, like a stray satellite sailed across the darkness.

“Grappler lock is a negative!” Clidjitt confirmed.

“Missed!” Crimson tensed her fist in pleasure. “Andross can you vent some fuel? Make it look like we burned out our engines!”

“Uhhhh,” Andross’s hands floated off the controls like an excuse but a few fingers descended again to poke obedient sequences. “Andross to Gator, can we vent a little fuel? We’re trying to leak for the pirates…!”

“Might not be too hard…!” Gator reported, over the intercom—background noise suggesting they hadn’t been far from such an issue anyway.

“The Raptor-vessel is attempting to reel in the grappler,” Clidjitt said.

“Now’s our chance…!” Andross whined from under Crimson’s robotic armpit.

“No. They’ll catch us.” She looked through the dorsal viewer, hoping to see the approaching boarding craft. “Play dead. This way they have to ask…”

She didn’t think there was a larger vessel out there. Just a mobile power platform. If this boarding craft was all there was, then playing dead would make them an easy victim. And maybe the pirates would try to negotiate entry, instead of blasting the Rival full of holes. If they could control the pirates’ entry point…

The control console chimed.

Both Shaak-Rom, from the Archive, and Clidjitt from the bridge reported. “Incoming Linkburst!”

“Give it to me here!” Crimson ordered, now pushing Clidjitt off his seat. Her flesh shoulder and side felt the prickly barbs of his exoskeleton, as she leaned into him. But she said, “See if you can’t make that door panel spark again!”

The holo-display fizzled to life and a strange alien, possibly a Pincho, appeared. He looked fierce, and slightly irritated, with his bizarrely shaped head-crest, and wearing a heavy armored suit. His arms were propped up as though on commanding rests, linked to dangerous weapon controls. “Merchant vessel! This is Termus Galhaan, of the Hunting Knife. Prepared to be boarded. If you resist, you will be fired upon.”

Crimson wondered if her Mindframe could read her a book on acting in 1.5 seconds. She just faked it. “We’ve sustained heavy damage to our engines and habitation decks! Please, don’t fire. You may board at Shuttle Bay 2! We are only a passenger vessel. We mean no harm!” Clidjitt, must have yanked a cable or two just then, because a shower of sparks behind her flashed dramatically.

“If you do not resist, there will be no casualties,” answered Galhaan, with a steely voice that implied no mercy.

“Please, we don’t want any trouble!” Crimson said.

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Episode 65: All At Once

Bridge concept sketch. DanArt

“Swing our tail pipe around and prepare to fire the main engines!” Crimson ordered. She pulled down the intercom panel and keyed in a direct line to Engineering again. Gator answered.

“What the heck’s goin’ on, Crims?”

“Mag mine. Suspected pirates. We’re gonna’ swing our tail around and try to melt through the diablos thing. Less than 4 minutes, full thrust.”

“Whoop-dee-do. I gotta’ tell you: every time we do this, things get a little worse!”

“You wanna’ explain to our passengers how we got picked outta’ mag-fall, crushed by a mine, and kidnapped by pirates?”

“Pirates!” a familiar but unwelcome voice on the Bridge: Amborghent Joffs.

Crimson spun around and levered herself out of the chair to face the frazzled councilman. “Not yet! If we succeed, we might yet get away! I need you and your people in their quarters and out of the way!”

Shaak-Rom was out of the Archive and standing behind the civilian leader. Joffs only took a step back, worry plastered his rotund, greenish face, but he was resolute. “I… think I should stay. At least until I know more.”

“We’re kind of busy!” Crimson snapped.

Shaak-Rom put a red hand on Joff’s shoulder and said, “Perhaps I can bring the councilman up to speed.”

“Fine,” Crimson waved her hand, “Just get him out of here!” She turned back to the intercom. “Gator! Prep the engines. I want any excess power to inertia dampeners.”

“Here we go…!”

She turned her attention to the view screen. It was still spinning, stars wheeling from one side to the other, but it seemed different somehow. Andross and Clidjitt were trading instructions:

“ …Stabilize with port thrusters.”

“Axis aligned!”

“Keep it there.”

“Are we in position?” Crimson asked, “Because I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“It’s better not to look out the window,” Andross growled. His own eyes were fixed on the navigational display. The blip of the Rival Bay sat in shrinking orbit around a central point, like a tetherball coiling around its pole.

“When will we be in range?”

Clidjitt’s two claws typed with the precision speed of a classical pianist. “T-minus two minutes, twenty-five seconds.”

Crimson was back on the intercom. “Gator, two minutes to full thrust.”

His baritone rumbled sounded out of breath. “Almost there!”

Crimson tried to ignore the spinning stars. “Clidjitt, you gotta’ spare eye for pirates?”

The insectoid deftly made adjusted to Andross’ commands, while sparing a third pincer to flick across the scanner controls. “Still no significant reading beyond the mag-well.”

“Keep looking!”

Gator’s voice came back, “Engine’s primed and ready.”

“Good. Inertial dampeners to full.”

“One minute,” announced Andross.

The seconds counted by in slow ticks. Crimson felt her Mindframe trying to push an Earth I poet’s quote out her mouth—someone called Dickinson. She managed to keep it to herself:

‘Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch,

That nearer, every Day,

Kept narrowing its boiling Wheel

Thanks, Emily, Crimson grimaced.

“Approaching optimal burn range,” Clidjitt chirped.

“Standbye,” Crimson ordered. She switched back to shipwide communications, “All hands, prepare for full thrust! Passengers, brace yourselves.” She clenched her teeth. Twice in one year; too much.  “Bring the fire!”

“Firing!” Andross answered. The Rival began to shake from the aft as the engines rumbled to life. Then, like someone had pulled back and elastic band and let it snap, the Rival bucked. Crimson cursed, and was crushed to the deck by the force of a thousand Gs. She tried to push her face and chest away from the vibrating deck. The others were properly strapped into their seats.

The bulkheads groaned and rattled. Andross shouted over the protesting structure, “Full thrust! The mine is still dragging us in!”

Crimson propped her robotic hand on her metal knee and forced herself up, feeling like the ball bearing in an aerosol spray can. Straining against the force she keyed the intercom and called to Engineering. “A little more power, Gator!”

“Safeties are off!” replied the engineer.

She felt Andross increase the throttle. Triumphantly he yelled, “Rival holding position!”

“Give it hell,” Crimson growled.

“Crimson,” Clidjitt chirped, “I’m detecting another ship. It’s appeared about 1000 kilometers outside the event horizon. Bearing 311, mark 55. They’re coming our way!”

Crimson was struggling to seat herself into the scanning station behind the insectoid. “They must have figured out our plan! Are they armed?”

“The mag-mine is still disrupting our scanners. But spectrograph indicates a metallic object of about 20 meters by 50 meters.”

“That’s about the size of the Boatmam,” Andross inserted.

Boarding craft. Could be worse. One thing at a time, though. The panel behind them at the neck of the bridge flashed with a shower of sparks. Joffs voice cried out from the back; it sounded more like surprise than pain.

“Where we at with the mine?” Crimson demanded.

“Holding!” Andross said.

“One point five minutes!” Clidjitt replied, “sixty seconds and we’re free.”

“When will the pirate vessel enter the event horizon?” Crimson asked.

“At current speed,” Clidjitt referred the spectrograph. “Roughly a minute.”

“Standby,” Crimson warned, “He deactivates the mine to try and save his equipment we’re gonna go flying.”

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Jeremy’s Farewell

Hope by Daniel Cossette. Sprung Showcase 2016. Photo: Duncan Grisby

I met Jeremy through church, and was regularly inspired by his contributions to the services despite his difficult health issues. I’m a mime artist and contemporary dancer, and when I was given some complimentary tickets to an event I was performing at (Winter Lights, Anglesey Abbey)  I thought I would offer them to Jeremy. This was the beginning our friendship.

I began visiting him fairly regularly, and quickly learned there was more to the man than the wheelchair. He was a song-writer and poet. He connected me to a local writers group he’d helped to found. He even offered me his notebook, and said if I ever wanted to dance to one of his poems I would be welcome.

As I read through his notebook I realized it was more than a compilation of his poetry, but also thoughts, proverbs, quotes and song lyrics he’d liked over the years. But I also noted the deteriorating handwriting.

Finally, on one page he simply wrote with a trembling pen how difficult it had been for him the last two years. It was so heart breaking—and yet, on the opposite page, he’d written the scripture from James:  “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way consider it an opportunity for pure joy. For we know when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when it is fully developed you will be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v 2-4)

I asked Jeremy for permission to tell this part of his story, and use these texts he’d written—I still used one of his poems for inspiration for the dance movement itself (a beautiful compilation called Take Me to the Sea)—but I felt that his faith through the extreme struggle of Parkinson’s disease would inspire many more people than myself.

Jeremy attended the premier of the dance, when it was performed for Queen’s College Contemporary Dance spring showcase 2016. He thanked me for honestly looking at what he had lost. I think it validated so much of the grief and hardship he’d been through.

In the dance I dance from a wheelchair. And while I didn’t return to sit in the wheelchair at the end, originally, I did stand by it, because the story hadn’t been completed. Today, Jeremy’s faith has been rewarded, and his hope has been realized. He is free of the wheelchair, and he has gone to a much better place.

I was honored to be given the opportunity to dance this piece for Jeremy’s farewell celebration. His funeral was small and only a few allowed to attend. But many more came to a special thanksgiving service, to celebrate his life, the inspiration he brought to us who knew him, and his new found freedom; as his close friend Greg put it in a separate tribute, “Jeremy is dancing with Jesus now.”

I was honored to dance a bit of his story here on earth. I titled the piece Hope.

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Episode 64: Scramble

rocket propulsion concept art

 

“Full scans!” Crimson yelled, “Where are they?”

“Scanning!” answered Clidjitt.

“Can we stabilize our attitude?”

“Tryin’…” Andross replied, both hands on the flight yoke.

Crimson sat at the scanning station, but the Brev—with his four arms and compound eyes—would have as many screens open and functional on his own display. She spun and barked at Shaak-rom. “Linkburst a distress signal on a broad range. See if the Gateway has any support ships to send to us.”

The white and blue stripes across the red, devil-horned, Trivven looked naturally like war paint. Shaak-Rom’s obedience was deadly efficient. He was already moving into the communication’s alcove as he asked. “What is our distance to the Gateway?”

Andross’s focus was forward on his instruments, but he answered, “’Bout three days at sublight!”

Even Crimson’s swear died in her throat. Three days. Fifteen minutes out of mag-fall. It made all the difference. Even the imperturbable Shaak-Rom had frozen, one foot and hand in the Archive.

“Go!” she shouted. For all the good it’ll do. The Duka Master disappeared into the alcove to ‘burst their distress.

“I hope you mounted some guns on this thing when I wasn’t looking…” Andross growled through grit teeth.

“Just try and shake us free!” Crimson snapped.

“You gonna’ full thrust again?” Andross challenged.

They’d broken free of a mini black hole just out of Berkatol when it had surprised them nearly a year ago. A narrow escape that she’d rather not repeat. But before she could get into a sequel argument with the hot headed flyboy, Clidjitt interjected: “We are inside the event horizon of the mag-mine’s pull. It was perfectly positioned to catch us, slingshot us out of the magnetic trade way, and keep hold of us.”

“Snake-spit, how big is that thing?” Crimson shook her head.

Clidjitt’s second right claw danced across some controls. “About 20 meters.”

“We’re not shaking it.” Andross concluded.

“Slow us down then.”

From the Archive Shaak-Rom’s voice could be heard recording their call for help, “Mayday. Mayday. This is private vessel Rival Bay, Serial Number: 8199673400Q. We are under attack. Magnetic-mine pulled us out of mag-fall…”

“Have we got any scanner info on hostile ships?” Crimson demanded.

“Negative,” chirped Clidjitt, “The strength of the electro-magnetic field is making it difficult for our sensors to take accurate readings.”

“What about the spectrograph?”

“Light reflections outside the mag-well are negligible.”

“If they’re out there, they’re cloaked,” Andross concluded, still focused, slowing their spiral.

Crimson tried to think, her Mindframe calculating the power output necessary for such feats. She shoved the scrolling numbers away. “That’s a lot of energy. A mag-mine that size and a cloaking device? There must be something big out there. Can we get a lock on any residue energy or exhaust?”

“Scanner resolution is pretty bad,” sing-songed the Brev’s translator.

“Is there any way we can break the mag-mine’s hold?” Andross asked, “We’re sitting ducks out here! When that thing pulls us all the way in, we’re definitely taking structural damage…”

The concept was simple—immaculately calculated—but simple. Fish the Rival out of mag-fall. Drag it in with a mag-mine (even an unarmed mine would smash large portions of the ship’s outer hull). Anything remaining intact was left at the mercy of mercenaries and scavengers. She could only hope the hits placed on her and her crew required proofs of death. Otherwise, if the mag-mine wasn’t armed with a warhead, the cloaking field would drop and reveal a heavily armed gunship. Only if the pirates needed proof, would they be forced to board and do the dirty work themselves. Vaporized atoms floating in space wouldn’t bring a payday capable to offsetting the cost of such an elaborate enterprise.

An awful lot of work for a grudge match. Bad losers.

“Information!” Crimson snapped. “The mag mine. Is it armed? Is it armored?”

“I’m not detecting any energy signatures that would indicate any kind of fusion device,” Clidjitt replied. “Its design suggests its primary function is magnetic field generation.”

“What if we gave it more than it asked for?” Andross said, “Throw the Boatman at it? Ram it.”

“Dumb idea,” Crimson replied, “We may need it yet.”

“What about projectile weapons?”Andross retorted, clearly on a roll. “We got anything onboard that might be big enough to crack that nut. A simple, armor-piercing round, accelerated by the magnetic field would impact the mine at 1,000 times its ordinary power.”

“If anyone does it’s an illegal personal item,” Crimson warned.

“Would be handy!” Andross rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t this rust-bucket have any anti-piracy measures?”

It should. In their line of work it would have made a lot of sense. But flying around the universe in a gutted, used seedship came without certain perks. And Crimson’s own lack of self-preservation had probably delayed her investment in customary precautions.

“Not really,” she answered, darkly.

“Snake-spit!” Andross said, tossing his hands in the air.

The pilot’s derision irritated her almost more than the pirates. “Hey! If you wanted the Nautilus you should have signed on with Captain Nemo!”

Andross gave an exasperated head shake.

Crimson’s mind kept ticking. Who knew that the remaining hitman of Qualvana would go to the effort of a space-based ambush? It was unlikely. But now 300 settlers were caught in the line of fire.

“How long until we’re drawn into the mine?”

“Approximately 20 minutes at current trajectory,” Clidjitt answered.

“Can we slow that down?”

Andross was a born pilot. Even his grumbling gave way to solving a flight based dilemma. “We can swing ‘round. Use our engines to slow the spiral—need continuous adjustments. Hafta’ be manual. But it should work.”

“How much time could you buy us?”

Andross looked at Clidjitt. The Brev was typing calculations into his display with his stickly claws. He narrated the results. “With minimal output… we could add one hour until impact.”

“Waitaminute!” Andross sat up straighter. “What if we torch that thing?”

They looked him.

“If we get close enough—angle our propulsion engines straight at it—and go for full thrust! Could we melt the sucker?”

Clidjitt went back to his controls. “Spetrographic readings indicate traditional Queriddium alloy, but I detect no special quartz or silica plating. It would probably take 5 minutes at 2,000 Kelvins to destabilize the mine.”

“Full thrust would put out at least 3,000 K,” Andross nodded.

Crimson was grabbing the intercom. She had to think for a moment to recall the code for Engineering. “Gator, prepare for full thrust!”

“What? Again?” came the Megladyte’s reply.

The cyborg turned back to her hotheaded pilot. “Not just a pretty face, fly boy.”

“Best of the best…” Andross admitted.

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Episode 63: Magnetic Personalities

Bridge concept sketch. DanArt

Five hours the Rival Bay and Hollgorrsh hurtled along at 20,000 MPH in orbit above Qualvana, touching by the fingertips of the straw-thin gangplank—the bulky generation seedship and passenger space bus momentarily frozen in synchronous ballet around the largest planetary body of the Khibarran System. All the while a sleek police cruiser hovered nearby, vigilant.

Crimson stormed like a human crutch up to the bridge, and positioned herself on the scanner array, watchful for suspicious vessels. Andross’ personality even seemed bearable compared to the bawling of children, the clamoring of useless pedestrians and their simpleton concerns on the habitorial deck. Gator, Clidjitt, and Cort managed to load all the cargo swiftly, and miraculously Shaak-Rom’s management of the waves of whimpering humanoids only took marginally more time than projected.

The intercom nearly surprised her. Shaak-Rom’s voice sounded weary but accomplished. “Airlock to Crimson, all passengers are aboard. Ready to disengage gangplank.”

“Finally!” Andross sighed, tossing his head back on the neck rest of his chair, as though his strength alone had held the two behemoth vessels intact for the entire 300 minute process.

Honestly Crimson was skeptical. “Are you sure? Are the headcounts confirmed?”

Imperturbable and without hesitation, the Duka Master replied, “Councilman Joffs has already verified the passenger and cargo manifestos. Everyone is aboard.”

“Airlock is sealed. Disengaging gangplank clamps!” Andross was forward in his seat and flipping switches.

Crimson swallowed her annoyance. She would prefer to give orders once and a while; but it was too late. The MiPie wasn’t good because he was slow. Instead she gave herself a task. “I’ll inform the Hollgorrsh. We’re pulling away.”

 

*

 

In the vacuum of space the docking clamps released and the thin gangplank withdrew towards the Hollgorrsh. With traffic control permissions obtained, and all crew to their stations, the Rival Bay fired her engines. She climbed higher angling their orbital pathway to ascend to the magnetic gateways. Qualvana had eight. With a course plotted, they rose to the highest orbital ring of traffic and joined the queue for the outbound tradeways. Ahead of them was a large shipping barge, fat and awkward, and a small passenger shuttle, bullet-shaped and made for short system jumps of under a week.

In twenty minutes the barge entered the massive ring, visible from the surface of Qualvana, if one could see through the steamy clouds. Before it had fully passed through the ring the magnetic conveyance system locked and pulled the massive load through. It disappeared with the barest of visible streaks.

Linkburst chatter from the control towers, invisible along the edge of the county-sized ring, kept them informed of progress. Within the hour the passenger system jumper was launched. Finally Rival Bay hovered into position. After the regulatory safety gap imposed by Qualvanan traffic authorities was appeased Andross fired the engines again and the Rival sidled closer. Clidjitt arrived on the bridge, his insectoid feet clicking on the metal deck. He liked to watch the ship enter mag-jump, and Crimson wondered what his compound eyes made of the event.

“Inertia dampeners to full power,” Crimson said.

“Come on, baby,” said the MiPie, watching the gateway disappear over their dorsal viewscreen.

The Rival Bay flew forward on the magnetic slipstream.

 

*

 

It was six hours to the Jump Launch site. Leaving Khibarra yet again. Andross was off duty, and Clidjitt took over. Crimson risked the journey back to her bunk; she arrived without incident. Her back and shoulder ached from sitting up at the scanner station.

Still, she was grimly satisfied. It had taken them nearly a month to finalize their journey—once signing on with Ferguis Okoullis Company. Now, after the strenuous boarding process, they were underway. She collapsed on her reinforced bunk and allowed the steel bed springs to hold her weight….

 

She had actually slept. Rare occurrence. Normally she would have felt guarded elation at actual sleep. But the hideous jerk that launched her onto the floor in a pathetic pile made her swear, even before she fully picked her stinging face off the floor. Even her Mindframe was spinning for useless references in her bottomless database without success. An emergency chime sounded before Clidjitt’s chipper voice piped, “Crimson to bridge. We have an emergency.”

Crimson groaned. She pulled her human knee and hand under her and attempted to assume a crawling position. What now? Her limbs were unresponsive.

Just dazed. With a clank she forced her robotic hand up to clamp onto the bed frame. Then, with grinding teeth, she pulled her cybernetic knee towards her and planted the foot flat. Her neural connections were still sluggish from the violent jolt. Her cheekbone throbbed as though it was already swelling from impact with the floor.

The insectoid pilot with four hands and eyes that could observe spectrums far beyond human limit was usually fastidious beyond perfection. If it was an emergency, human error (or bug error) wasn’t the problem. Something happened.

Staggering to the intercom Crimson slapped the call button. “Crimson to Andross. Shaak-Rom. To the bridge.”

Still struggling for control, Crimson wrenched open the portal and clumped out into the hall.

 

*

 

The boys were entering the bridge even as her head finally rose level with the walkway. She forced herself into a metronomic run. She arrived sweating and gasping.

Clidjitt was already explaining.

“Start again!” Crimson snapped between breaths.

The insectoid’s head spun nearly 360 degrees to see her. His mandibles clicked and buzzed. In a moment his translator announced. “We’ve been pulled out of mag-fall. Fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Approximately three lightyears from the Jump Site.”

“Diablos!” Andross said, already in the co-pilot seat and reading displays.

“What caused it?” Crimson snarled.

“Still scanning… but I’m seeing magnetic distortions across the stars.

Crimson didn’t waste time trying to see anything against the slowly spinning starfield. Clidjitt had a claw reached across to the scanning station, and Crimson batted it aside with her metal arm and took the seat. She saw the results the same time Andross did from his panel.

“Grav-well!” he exclaimed, “What is with this quadrant?!? Another blackhole?”

Gator’s voice rumbled through the intercom, “Anyone wanna’ explain what’s going on up there?”

“Grav-well. Again. Standby.”

“I thought I told you, the last one was the last one!” Gator complained.

“Cut the chatter!” Crimson barked. To the bridge crew she snapped, “I want answers!”

For a moment Crimson thought her Mindframe had found an audio file of screaming humans. Then she remembered the 300 Bulaxian sphere-huggers they had on the habitorial deck. Voices carried. Shipwide intercom—not good with passengers aboard.

“Switch to private call channels!” Onboard procedures were going to have to be looked at if they survived this.

“Correction:” Clidjit chirped, “It seems to be a magnetic well of immense power, rivalling that of a black hole. We’re caught within the event horizon, if you can call it that. We were pulled out of the magnetic tradeway like a slingshot, and are still spinning. Diameter of the horizon is much smaller than our previous encounter with the black hole by Berkotal.”

“Is there a center?” Crimson asked, sternly, “Is light trapped?”

“I can see it!”Andross announced. He pointed briefly out the spinning viewscreen, and then to his display. “I’ve got a metal center. Spectrograph confirms: Queriddium alloy.”

The bridge crew understood simultaneously.

“Mag-mine,” said Shaak-Rom.

Pirates.

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