Episode 68: Extra-Vehicular Activities

Andross’ spacewalk, concept sketch. DanArt

Shaak-Rom handed Andross a pile of door charges. Usually Micron, Tager, or one of the other formally trained crew members handled their forced-entry explosives. But today, apparently, Shaak-Rom was qualified. Andross arched a suspicious eyebrow at the tangle of platiques connected by curly wires, like popcorn on a Christmas ribbon. “Yummy.” Andross snarked, “Is this for me or the pirates?”

Shaak-Rom either didn’t get it, or didn’t make time for the joke. Probably both. He just replied with war-painted calm, “The pirate vessel is attaching to the port side airlock. You will have to escape the starboard side, and make your way over the hull to the docking clamps to do sufficient damage to keep them from attaching this way.”

“I heard, I heard!” Andross rolled his eyes. “You gonna’ lock me out?”

Just them the other crew began to arrive, clanking down the step ladder and dropping to the floor. Shaak-Rom shook his tentacle and horned head. “I must equip the crew. Take Tager. He can operate the airlock.”

Tager had only just arrived. “Hey, what’s going on?”

“You’re comin’ with me Jewels!” Andross punched the Vizavian in his leather arm.

Tager gave Andross a look and clapped his hands to Shaak-Rom. “Toss.”

The zebra-devil tossed a maser into Tager’s open palms.

“Let’s go.”

 

*

 

At the starboard airlock Andross clicked his helmet into place. The familiar hiss of pressurization almost made him nostalgic. He never wanted to be back on Talconis VII; but couldn’t help but savor the taste of his missile race winning streak. Hidey-ho. This was a different kind of race. His head’s-up display blinked to life, and the suit tightened around him as the air pressure built to keep his insides in. Feeling like a kid wrapped in too many winter coats, he pivoted awkwardly and grabbed magnetic clamps for his hull-crawl.

The airlock was open. Tager, sparkling like a tween girl’s jewelry box, stood at the control panel and jerked his chin. “In you go.”

“In I go, out I go,” Andross mumbled, waddling into the airlock. He auditory speakers relayed Tager’s final commands with a tinny finish.

“Doors closing. Depressurization in 4 minutes.”

Andross nodded. He heard the metal clank of the portal, and the hum of the magnetic seals. The airlock light went from solid green, to flickering. The head-up display warned external oxygen levels were dropping below safety limits. As they waited Andross planned. When the light flicked red, he tossed a thumbs-up over his shoulder. Another magnetic seal, a clamp vibration, and the external portal unlatched. It rolled away, into the bottomless pit of the starry void. Instantly the temperature took a noticeable dive.

“Right,” Andross waddled forward. “Shaak-Rom said over. I say under.” Less chance of being observed. Since all of space was a drop into infinity it really didn’t matter which way he crawled. Crouching he reached first one glove and then the other to attach the magnetic clamps to the outer hull. Once attached he stepped through the wavering field of artificial gravity. His feet slipped and drifted out into the void. For a moment he bobbed at the end of his own arms.  “Diablos.” He activated his magnetic boots, and tightened his abs to bring his feet back towards the ship. With a click they touched down. He risked a free hand to wave back to Tager. Then, already losing his sense of the ship’s deck, he adjusted to his new “up.” The belly of the habitorial section of the Rival Bay became his floor. Feeding off the exhilaration of his risky assignment, Andross began his spacewalk.

Only the sound of his own breathing accompanied him. After a moment or two of awkward crawling Andross risked standing to his feet. The boots weren’t as strong of a connection as the hand clamps, but for walking they were reliable. And he was in a hurry. Moving with the delicacy of a bird across lily pads, Andross picked his way along the Rival’s keel and towards the opposite airlock. He slowed as he neared the edge. Momentarily he saw the pirate’s raptor closing its approach—within 100 feet. He crouched and continued towards the edge, keeping its P4 combustion thrusters just in view. He wouldn’t have long to reach the airlock after the pirates did, and to set the charges, and escape the blast radius. Good luck to him.

A faint shudder through his feet informed the MiPie that the Hunting Knife had made contact with the Rival.  Now or never. He toddled forward, like a top heavy child, bringing himself to the edge of the Rival’s underside, and looked up at the Type II Raptor. He whistled in envy: hot new Zilvan maneuvering thrusters; the P4 combustion thrusters, clearly modded; magnetic grappling cannons; and lo and behold… they did have armaments! If they had wanted to, those torpedo hatches likely carried fusion torpedos, if not Spikers. The wings were slanted, and from the front it probably looked like a bird of prey. Purple paint on the wing and nose section made for a sporty touch. Style!

The nose of the vessel was large and round, fitted with the airlock, for fast approach and attachment.

“It’s a shame, Gorgeous! I’d like to take you for a spin….” Andross shook his head, and used his hand clamps to wriggle over the edge of the Rival. He clambered along the dingy, battered, old hull towards the sleek attack craft. He gave another quick scan of the pirate vessel to ensure no view ports were looking down on his silent assault. Satisfied, he risked a peppier flamingo march. If the pirates didn’t blow the Rival’s hatch completely, it still wouldn’t take them long to force it from their side. Time was tickin’.

Sticking his hand clamps safely on the Rival’s hull, so the pirates wouldn’t hear them clank, he awkwardly slung the coils of wires off his shoulder and over his helmet’s dome. Somehow the vacuum of space made even his own decisive movements clunky and slow. Feeling about as clever as a child playing with clay he pulled off clumps of the all-purpose adhesive plastique. Jamming it into various crevices of the airlock connection he hummed, “Make it look like an accident… make look like an accident!” with each wad he squashed into place.

His eyes flicked over the chronometer in his heads-up display. Four minutes since the pirates attached. Too long really. His breathing hissed repeatedly in the respirator function. Attaching the wires, he connected the detonator. Hand clamps be damned. He turned and toddled away as fast as he could, arms flailing slowly like seaweed in an unseen current.

It was tricky getting under the hull, around the corner from the blast, without the clamps. But after a moment of awkward crouching, the stars hanging ominously overhead, he made it.

Five-minutes 35 seconds. He squeezed the detonator.

“Fire in the hole.”

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Episode 67: Trapper’s Trap

concept art

“We have money!” Crimson added quickly, “There’s no need to any trouble!”

“We’ll see,” replied Galhaan. “We will board at your port airlock. No weapons. Any aggression will be met with extreme force.”

Crimson couldn’t let that happen. “We’ve sustained damage to our airlocks. In the attempt to escape the magnetic mine. You won’t be able to board from there.”

Galhaan smiled humorlessly. “I’m sure. We’ve detected no structural faults. We will proceed as I have said. Galhaan out.”

The hologram disappeared.

Crimson swore, “Snake spit!” and turned to look at Clidjitt and Andross. Councilman Joffs burst out of the Archive from behind the bridge, Shaak-Rom directly behind him.

“They’re boarding us?! Can’t you do anything? Why aren’t we running?”

“Get him out of here!” Crimson barked.

“Captain!” Joffs burbled, taking the stance of a cornered but indignant cow, “We agreed to this journey under the condition that every precaution would be taken! I’ll not—”

“GET. HIM. OUT!”

Shaak-Rom attempted to lay a restraining hand on the councilman’s shoulder, but the portly representative shook it off. His fingers pointed wildly. “This isn’t happening! You have an obligation to…”

Clidjitt inserted his insectoid head into the fray before Crimson and the councilman could collide. He bubbled and clicked rapidly, and the translator followed quickly. “The pirate vessel would out pace and out gun us! Any attempt to run would result in the Rival being blown to bits!” the voice was happy-go-lucky as ever, but the contradiction of tone momentarily dis-railed the councilman. “Every attempt will be made to prevent the pirates from boarding. Remember: they want the Rivals, not your people!”

“But if they take you where will we be left?” asked Joffs, nearly purple from his frenzy.

“You’ll find out over our dead bodies!” Crimson snapped, “Now get out! We don’t have time for this!”

Shaak-Rom steered the colonist representative away, with soothing instructions to prepare his people.

Crimson diverted her Mindframe back to the problem at hand. “We can’t let them board. I need to keep them off the airlocks!”

“We don’t have weapons, and we can’t fly anywhere,” Andross replied helpfully.

“What could keep the seal from being made?” Clidjitt asked.

“Likely they have their own systems to compensate for uncooperative victims. It’d have to be actual structural damage.”

“Can we close the magnetic clamps and seal them before they attach?”

“They might be able to establish their own gangplank anyway.”

“What if the magnetic seals’ polarity was on the fritz?” Clidjitt affected a shrug.

“It might be enough,” Crimson grimaced. “Can you do it?”

“I’ll have to rip off the terminal and dig around,” sing-songed the Brev.

“Do it!”

Shaak-Rom was coming back down the corridor to the Bridge.

“What about me?” Andross complained.

“That suit of yours EVA capable?”

The MiPie looked down at his armor without conviction. “For short periods.”

“You’re the backup plan. Shaak-Rom! Get the door-charges from the Armory; I want something to create enough damage to disrupt the pirates’ gang plank. Andross will rig it from outside. We can’t have them board at the habitat level! If we can get them to into Shuttle Bay 2 we can fight them there in your little obstacle course. Pass out every maser we have!”

The Trivven nodded his rack of horns, turned and ran back down the hall. Clidjitt had already departed, and Andross followed, surprisingly eager. He couldn’t resist a parting shot, though: “What are you gonna’ do?”

Crimson dropped herself on the pilot’s seat. “I’m going to keep playing nice.” As Andross trotted off, she opened a general Linkburst to the pirate vessel. “Hunting Knife this is Rival Bay. Be advised we have lost control of our magnetic seals. I repeat airlock seals are malfunctioning. We recommend you dock in our shuttle bays…”

 

*

 

Andross liked a bit of danger. He didn’t like suicide; but he liked a bit of danger. Something about tangling with an inter-planetary hit squad in the back end of a star system had a romantic feeling to it. Of course, he hadn’t tried his 1 Unit Missile Pilot suit in the vacuum of space before. MiPies, as a general rule, flew one way trips either within the atmosphere or out of it. But they didn’t usually come back. They needed to be pressurized, or else the pilots would black out and die before reaching their targets. But as a five-time champ of the Talconis VII missile races, he’d definitely outlived the average life expectancy. That was one of the reasons he left Talconis VII. Titles were worthless once you were dead. Five was enough.

Now, following the stripy devil Trivven down the corridor to the habitat level, he found himself wondering if he’d incurred any fatal scratches to the nostalgic pilot suit… and if he could remember where he put the helmet!

Unfortunately, the habitat level was an eruption of frightened and angry sphere-huggers! The din from shouting colonist was audible long before the MiPie and chief of security galloped down the step ladder from the command level. When they arrived at the Circle, it was a confusion of bodies pressing in on Councilman Joffs, as the portly colonist rep tried to wave the hordes back. A few crewmen, Tager, Olper and the furry space troll Jumondo were also trying to keep the surging crowd from advancing on the bridge.

Shaak-Rom hesitated, observing the pandemonium, and Joffs spotted him. The Trivven had been surprisingly friendly with the colonists, and Andross rolled his eyes. There would be no speedy dash to the quarters for his helmet, and trip to the Armory.

“Chief Rom!” called Joffs, a fleeting relief dashing across his desperate face, “What is happening? Can you tell us: what are we supposed to do?”

Andross rapidly bounced his leg, but he saw the white face marking of the warrior soften and knew they were stopping.

Shaak-Rom stepped forward and climbed onto one of the white pleather couches. He held his red hands aloft, and suddenly the horns, head tendrils, and red and white face rose above the crowd like a war-painted clan-chieftain.

“Send everyone back to their quarters!” He commanded, loud enough for many nearby to pause in their panic. “Have each family barricade themselves as best they can. Then any able-bodied persons willing to fight return here and wait at the Circle for my return. The Rival will fight for you, but any extra armaments or defense will be distributed to those who are willing to help defend your people!”

Strangely, the speech worked. The crowd quieted, except for a few anxious babies. Andross nodded in shocked respect. The councilman, for all his frizzyness, didn’t miss his cue: “You heard the chief! Everyone to your quarters and block yourselves in! Then if you wish to help, come back here and await Chief Rom’s instructions!” After a moment’s hesitation, and with continued shooing from the councilman, the crowd began to push and shove their way back towards their quarters.

“Nicely done,” Andross snorted.

Tager, and the other blue Vizavian Olper, trotted up as Shaak-Rom jumped down from the furniture. “What in the void of space is going on!” the leather clad young soldier with the numerous face piercings asked. Andross understood the piercings (and their positioning on the body) were ceremonial, awarded for various accomplishments. He wondered how they rewarded good sex.

“We’re being boarded. Crimson is going to try and force the pirates away from the civilians. Get the others and meet me by the Armory!”

“Right!” Tager, Olper , Jumondo nodded and dispersed into the throng in search of the crew.

“Come on,” Shaak-Rom gestured to Andross.

“I need my helmet. I’ll meet you down there.”

Andross turned and waded into the surging confusion of bodies. Fortunately he wasn’t carrying his prized possessions or a screaming baby. He turned his left side forward and knifed through the crowd as a brisk skip, shoving generously. “’Scuse me! Pard’me!” The farmers and homestead-folk were more than useless in this situation. Their helpless fear made him feel powerful. The theme song of Thunder Rockets holo-series started running though his mind. “Dun da-da-dun, da-da-dun, dun-daaaaa!” he said as he squeezed past the mob, and latched onto his door wheel. He gave it a spin and heaved it open against the pressing bodies.

Inside, in the darkness, he stepped around his chair and table piled with cold plates and old clothes. If it was anywhere the MiPie helmet was on the storage shelf in the recessed closet. It wasn’t really lost. Just hadn’t used it since Talconis. He flung the door open and in the thin light from the ajar door he saw the familiar glint across the polished face plate. “Party time.”

Seizing it, he skipped quickly out and down to the Armory.

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Book Review: King Solomon’s Mines

Every once and a while I like to go back to the classics. They’re the stories you hear referred to, but were never on your reading-list at school. Maybe they were the first of their kind, or the trend-setter to the trope we are so familiar with today! I had one such opportunity after helping family clean out old books: I found King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard.

Now, I know of this book from numerous mediums, including the Hollywood movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (based on the graphic novels) all the way to Monty Python’s Australian Wines sketch. So when Haggard’s book fell into my hand, I swept it up!

The story is written in the archaic way of rich description and thoughtful action that is representative of an older era, and probably more realistic pace of life, than today’s bestsellers. However, I like the old style, and the narrator, Alan Quartermain, a canny, risk-avoiding big game hunter in South Africa, who lures you into his tale with the attention to detail of a native guide who knows where he’s going and how to get you there.

What unravels then, at the pace of well-planned expedition—before planes and helicopters could take you places like Skull Island in a quick travel montage—is the epic journey of buying oxen, recruiting native bearers, and the long winded trek across the African landscape, through exotic animal herds, over burning deserts, up brutally cold mountains, and into the mystical Kukuanaland, where they face dangerous natives, conniving witch doctors, and navigate the legendary diamond mines of Solomon, complete with secret doors, and… is it a trap?!? It’s so well described that you feel you have actually been there, if you can handle all the walking!

I must say I enjoyed it. I think it is well written. And if you can remember that this story came before Indiana Jones, and every other treasure-hunter/archeological expedition movie you’ve ever seen–you can see the brilliance of it, and why it captured the imaginations of many people, and inspired many more stories of its ilk.

But it was horrifically racist.

And horrifically imperialist.

Set in an age when men were still impressed with themselves not only for what they could engineer, but also with what they could destroy, the book makes no apologies when its protagonists slaughter a massive herd of elephants, just in the hopes they can carry off the ivory at some later point. Also, especially Quartermain, is insulting and overbearing to his hired native servants, insisting that they cannot be as intelligent as a white man, and they should not speak to him as an equal even if they would be more noble or capable than any white man. Even to the point when a native girl who falls in love with one of his companions dies unfortunately, while Quartermain is saddened, but he is also secretly relieved because “the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black.”

Ouch.

Just reviewing this quote makes my stomach turn.

 

So while the general premise of the story is great, the action is believable, therefor the danger is believable, and the characters are compelling, I can only recommend it with the heavy caveat to arm yourself against the despicable racism, and the heartless imperialism, that is better left fully in the past. Good story; tainted worldview.

I give it a nogrometer reading of 6.

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Another Spectacular Future…

I won’t write much, because I want you to follow the link. My friend GR Stoker has done it again, unpacking the beauty and the conflict of the new Star Trek series.

Can Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a perfect society of humans ever exist? How would they have gotten there, if possible? Is it all just pie-in-the-sky? (…mmm, pie…)

Here’s a couple of gems for you geeks with a cosmic awareness…

“Because ultimately, a utopia is an ideal construct rather than an achievable location—hence its name, meaning “no place.” While I know that Roddenberry’s altruistically secular Federation will never exist, though, I am equally exasperated with the dark and gritty mentality that assumes that because ideals and virtues are never perfectly attainable, we should toss them out the airlock entirely. ”

“… And I don’t buy the exegesis that tries to define down “perfect” simply to mean “mature.” The Father isn’t “mature”—he is impeccably sinless. ”

Read on at Christianity Today

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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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