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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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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