Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Z Is For Zero Margin for Error


You come blundering your way into the Leonis Expanse: our Leonis Expanse. You manage to survive the First War by the skin of your inner eyelids. You force a stalemate in the Second War through Throgg’s own luck. You try to weaponize the Question.

Goddam I like you.

Except when you come down on the necks of hardworking pirates like myself. Piracy is a galactic convention. If you can’t defend it sell it and buy something you can defend or at least hide. If you can’t win a fight for it it wasn’t yours. The muck dwellers, the voles and the beanpoles all understood this before you affected them. You’re like the Question yourselves.

But I like you guys for all that and you have let me go a couple of times. So when I see the Tesla being hammered in a hairball of Slug ships I pile in on the side of my fellow vertebrates. Slugs define brain food differently from humanoids. I do not like the slugs.

My decision is not popular with my crew. I have to kill one before they fall into line. I am wary of those seeking my captaincy. That is a word? After all it is how I turned pirate and got my first command. But my old captain was a fool.

The Tesla is rescued. Huzzah. Korsa gets his ship in order. Huzzah cubed! One Slug ship escapes their little civil war, much bigger than Tesla or the Wanton Courtesan. We stick together and lay in a course for ‘the hell outta here’ as Tesla Captain puts it.

Which brings us to this impasse, running out of the galaxy we can find on maps. A bloated and deadly Slug battlewagon behind us. If we split up that’s one of us dead for sure. Neither of us is sure which species the slugs will prefer dining on. So we still hang together and dodge the occasional pot shot by our filmy menace. Besides, I will not break before these Space Fleet bubbleheads. I am a pirate but I have my courage to live by. Or die by. My father, the Commandant would be amazed at this state of affairs. He expected me to die in front of a firing squad, or in a courtesan’s arms or both.

After a couple hours I decide I’m heading into the system primary before us. Better to be plasma than 1 from column A. Sue me. I like Easterner cuisine from Terra.

Tesla Captain gives me the talk about soldiering on, not giving up. Calls me a deranged pirate bastard. I like Tesla Captain. Then the beanpole tech buzzes in his ear for a bit and then we start talking on tight beam. Pity it is on a comm beam. Face to face we would have to imbibe several bottles of wine to work out our plan. You cannot plan with a dry throat.

We are headed for this Sun, Tesla and Korsa. We are ramping up our acceleration. We are cutting it as close as we can to the corona. 

Maybe too close. Then one of three things happens.

We make it through and the Slugs do not. Problem solved. Very unlikely. The quality of their shields is pretty well calculated. Better than ours.

We do not make it through. Well it’s a cool death anyway. I make sure to set the black box to eject. It may last. Maybe someone will get a song out of it. Who cares if the Slugs make it or not?

Most likely we will make it and then we will have our forward shields in the full fury of a star that is far too close for sane men to control their bladders. I know not if the Slugs have bladders but their forward shields will be getting hammered as well. 

Only they are chasing Tesla and Korsa. We will be shooting at their weakened forward shielding. They will be firing on our undamaged rear shields. That will give us the edge, if we hit them together, if we cut the perigee just right. There is no margin for error. But my crew will not make errors. They fear disappointing me worse than death. I hope Tesla Captain can say the same for his crew.

 If I get out of this I need to get some Eastern Terran food. Perhaps Tesla Captain will join me for the bibimbab.


I can’t wait for you to realize you are conquerors as ruthless as my own people with your ideals. On that day we either form a great alliance that will rock this galaxy or we begin the final war for one of us.

But right now the slugs call.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Y Is for Yesterday

Chief: Captain on deck! Sir!

Captain: At ease Chief. How is he doing?

Mukh: I’m fine! I’m a little tired of this macaroni and cheese stuff though.

Chief: ’Sir.’ -’Sir!’

Mukh: You don’t have to call me sir. 

Captain: Drop the act. I watched the old Three Stooges videos a million times growing up. You do a fine Curly Howard impression. Your people wouldn’t have sent a moron for a cultural and military exchange.

Mukh: ... aye sir.

Captain: Mr. Tivk and Mr. Nok are remaining uncommunicative. But you confessed to setting the self destruct on Thule Base killing all personnel.

Mukh: I did.

Captain: There’s no way to prove this. The cybertools, your padlet, any equipment that might have had a record was destroyed after you returned from Thule.

Mukh: Yes. You had to do so to keep exposure to the Question to  a minimum.

Captain: And a one giga-boom does not leave any evidence.

Mukh: Unless you believe in ouija boards you’re out of luck.

Captain: I’ve seen trials go south with far less evidence. You said you wanted a trial didn’t you? A public trial. Your government will demand it be public. Then this whole business will be out on the open. You want the human public to know what we did. 

Mukh: I want to be heard.

Captain: I bet you didn’t even set the self destruct. You don’t look to have it in you. Your little plan was just a matter of opportunity. The Chief just happened to notice you had the means and opportunity but motive? This is pretty weak. You could have blown up our spot as soon as you stepped off the Tesla by going to any media in person or online.

Mukh: Captain ... I like your people. They treated my species right when they could have ignored or mistreated us. I know we can be annoying unhygienic eating machines. We want to work together. How would we do that if i broke my oath of loyalty? I’m ... I’m the first serving on a human ship.

Captain: ... well your carefully laid plan ran into a problem. We pulled into the fringes of the Thule system an hour ago to look for escape pods. The inner system has a half dozen Slug ships fighting it out. They haven’t seen us ... yet. So your confession is going to be disregarded. The self destruct was tripped by the Slug incursion. 

Mukh: Interesting. Some of the ships must have been exposed to the question and somehow it had a record of where it was being held? It called the infected Slugs to come rescue it and spread it further? Maybe Thule Base had a purer form than my translation or the different iterations of the Question I programmed into the Slugs are fighting for ascendency?

Chief: Good Lord Mukh ... why didn’t you just download the phonebook into the damn Slugs? Why even use the real Question if you were that opposed to it.?

Captain: Because it wanted him too. It wanted him to leave clues pointing to Thule Base  in his message to set it free. It wanted him to make up the story of setting the self destruct to have a trial with media and senior officers attending.He’s been compromised! Look out! Guards!

Mukh: Reeeee!

Chief: Clear the room! Sir, this way! Marines!! Doc!!

C.M.O.: I’m on it! Hold him boys! Ow! Take it easy Mukh. This won’t hurt!


Chief: Is he down? 

C.M.O.: Yeah. Nearly twisted my damn head off. I was wrong. It hurt.

Captain: You gave him the shot?

C.M.O.: Yes sir. Amnesia drug. Liquid Yesterday Korsa called it when he bought his freedom with it. Mukh should wake up with no memories of the last three weeks, before we started this Question business, sir.

Captain: You earned your pay today, Doc. I hope it works. We need a better way of dealing with the Question than euthanasia or nukes. This is surely going to get in the open eventually. The Fleet has already turned a explorer ship back from Quaestor-3. Our allies are demanding answers.

C.M.O.: I don’t like playing God ... sir.

Captain: You don’t act like you’re playing God or anything else, Doctor. Neither am I. I can’t speak for the Chief of course.

Chief: Sir, God is above my pay grade. That’d be impersonating a superior officer. 

Captain: ... I suppose God is a Marine.

Chief: Isn’t it obvious sir? Notice the capitalization convention used in both words.

Captain: ... you’re hanging around these aliens too much. I’m going to see about getting us out of this system without alerting our mucus covered friends out there. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

X Is for XX

Tivk: We will talk in here. My work station has enough interference from proximity to the drive core to prevent surveillance. 

Nok: I have other counter surveillance programs on my padlet. We are secure.

Mukh: Good. I brought the Vacc-Jack. Let’s all have a libation. 

Tovk: My species does not drink. But this is a perfect occasion for me to start.

Mukh: You said it, beanpole.

Nok: I’m turning the lighting down a little. I want to take my glasses off and look at you two with my own eyes.

Tivk: Be comfortable ... friend. This alcohol ... 

Mukh: You like it?

Tivk: No. Hit me again.

Nok: That makes no sense.

Tivk: I’ve been hanging around with humans, and you two.

Mukh: Rhhh. This stuff can take the sting off egg laying, I’ll tell you. 

Nok: I think far from influencing the humans they influenced us.Like right now. Why the hell are we speaking English? When was the last time we spoke in our languages or Galactic Common? We couldn’t dissuade them from their mission to use the Question against the Slugs. 

Mukh: I ... don’t remember. Well as long as we are going human ... a toast.

Nok: Go ahead froggy.

Mukh: To humans. May they never stop asking questions but at least learn when to shut the hell up.

Tivk: Good toash ... toast. Another please, froggy.

Nok: We are good to talk here? 

Tivk: There’s a slight increase in radiation here. Our primate colleagues shun it almost superstitiously.

Nok: Radiation. Pffft. They should come from my planet. Our Primary is very ill behaved at times.

Mukh: I don’t plan on laying anymore eggs. I’m good. Fellas, I have to tell you something ...

Tivk: Kidsh tie you down.

Chief: Excuse me gentlemen. May I join you?

Tivk: Chief ... of course.

Mukh: Soitenly. Want a snort? It’s good stuff. I got it from a Cat Girl.

Chief: No thank you. I’m on duty. This is not a social call.

Tivk: Is something wrong? 

Chief: Thule Base is gone. We got a an alert from them an hour ago. A giga-boom doesn’t leave much doubt. Twelve crew and four patients are gone as well.

Nok: The Question is gone too. Dark Mother be praised. 

Tivk: My people had loss-es when they encountered the Question. Hundreds of thousands. They fell away from rationality in denying it. They turned to destructive pursuits, war, tyranny. You call them the enemy now. 

Chief: Why are you all here now? In this cramped compartment. Surely there are more comfortable meeting areas for you.

Nok: I was homesick for a dark closed place with high radiation.

Tivk: We were having a private ... support group. If you must know.

Mukh: I wanted to have a drink alone ... with my friends.

Chief: The containment of the Question on Thule Base was pretty secure. But the self destruct system was relatively easy to sabotage. It was built to be quick access. We had to have safeguards ‘a course but you could circumvent them ... if you were good at intrusion ... if you were good at tech ... even if you had some high end translator and de-crypt programming skills, like a linguist.

Mukh: I have been told I’m a cunning ... ah skip it. That joke is too bad even for me.

Chief: ...

Nok: All our races had a brush with this Question and had losses Chief. Sometimes you just run back to your safe dark little world and hide there until a bunch of dolphin people ‘port down and convince you there’s a lot of good in the galaxy that you have to experience. We all took losses from it without having to blame each other.

Mukh: Think about it Chief. For decades before your race journeyed to other stars you wondered where all the aliens were? Why was the galaxy so empty? Was there a Great Filter wiping intelligent life out? Then you found the Great Filter itself and tried to turn it into a weapon. What did you think your chances of success were?

Chief: You should stop talking now. You need representation.

Nok: Fine. What was going on at Thule Base will come out. Your people have to know. 

Muhk: Go ahead blame the aliens. We’re easy targets! It’s not like my people go around invading.

Tivk: What about Carnellia 2?

Mukh: That wasn’t an invasion! We got lost ... and hungry. 

Chief: ... sixteen people.

Mukh: So what happens now? You feed us to the reactor? Let us escape in a shuttle?

Chief: I think I’ll have that drink. Then we go to the Captain and I tell him my suspicions.

Tivk: Excellent. The part about the drink firsht. Not about the Captain being told. Because he’sh going to be upshet.

Mukh: I like the Captain. 

Nok: Let’s have another round for those ... lost.

Chief: ... The crew at Thule,. 

Tivk: To the crew at T’ule Bashe.

Chief: Sometimes there isn’t enough Vacc-Jack in the Local Bubble.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

W Is for Water Run

Nok: Finally a planet with a normal level of light. I can take my shades off here not to mention walk around without fear of combusting.

Mukh: Now if you had a healthy coat of slime ... you poor mammals.

Tivk: We'll survive.

Mukh: I dunno. Take the humans: they were one asteroid strike away from living in the dinosaurs' walls and stealing scraps to survive.

Tivk: I doubt that any Tyranosaur could get the best of the Chief.

Nok: I'd be selling tickets to that fight. What's going on over there?

Trader: Step up! Be orderly, you rabble! Yes let me have a scan of that stone ... 20 carats. Very nice. That will buy you -10 liters of water! Good thing you caught me today. Tomorrow the price goes up!

Nok: This is the way it goes on tide locked worlds around an M star.  Too low a water percentage to start with and it all freezes out on the night side. My homeworld was lucky. But this ... those firestones are worth thousands!

Mukh: The dirty chiseler! Rrrrrrr.

Nok: Hey. Merchant! What do you think you are doing to these locals?

Trader: I’m selling them water, fresh from the dark side. I sold them some water ice I collected from asteroids on my flight here and that cost even more. It was imported!

Tivk: You are selling them their planet’s own water. This amoral hyper-capitalism is tantamount to extortion.

Mukh: Yeah that’s ... the hell did you say?

Trader: I prefer to term it in 'situ resource utilization'. I can charge for my labor, wear and tear on the ship and my time. I am a licensed trader and charging what the market will bear. Anyhoo this planet is in open space. The Fleet doesn’t run things out here. So hand out your brochures, conclude your cultural exchange and be on your way.

Nok: You’ve taken advantage of the low technology level here. Those locals could supply themselves easily if they had environmental suits or sealed vehicles. Why not sell them those? 

Mukh: And sell them service contracts!

Tivk: We’re trying not to exploit the locals, Mukh.

Trader: Wah wah wah. Not my fault their ancestors got stranded here and went stupid tech.

Nok: ... 

Many people have said that interstellar society will have little basis for trade because any solar system has enough resources to last a space faring race for their foreseeable. Barring luxury items or unique substances and crafts there is little to be gained with trade.

That is not always the case. As transportation methods become negligible or even just cheaper it will pay to harvest resources from some star systems where they are easier to get to. A case in point is asteroid mining in our near future. Though the earth is chock full of metallic wealth little things like depth and magma make 99% unreachable. For some precious metals it actually pays to sent a rocket with a crew of rovers.

For that matter the Earth is lousy with water. Water can be used for fuel, propellant, life support and shielding along with wet tee short contests. However that water is at the bottom of a big gravity well and we are looking at Lunar ice as a possible water source in the near future.

Imagine if the Moon were inhabited; bat people, Lunar apes, cat girls - your choice. We’d have to deal with them one way or another for that resource in spite of our apparent wealth because our transportation systems are too primitive and make it too expensive to bring Terran water into orbit.

So the bad news for space opera settings is that those evil aliens might want something your lovely world holds, if it can be mined more efficiently there. For that matter if living beings are cheaper than robotics you might wind up mining it for them with a rifle aimed at your head.

The good news is with technobabble magic warp hyper fight jumps we have a basis for trade. A system without asteroids but a prime garden world might send food cubes to those belters in exchange for titanium and iron. The garden planet might even accept belters from overcrowded stations who wanted to turn farmer. You have a basis for trade in raw materials and immigration.

Technological mismatches provide yet another facet for trade. It could be as simple as bringing cell phones to underprivileged natives (the phones are free - the contracts are where we soak ya!) It could be a matter of providing services. Those belters will be glad to mine your satellite for you for a share of the mineral wealth and free lodgingin your orbital port and they can do it a lot better than your local boys.

Again the price of robotics will either encourage or eliminate slavery. When a robot becomes cheaper than a living sentient’s upkeep your slaves are no longer necessary (and become vermin).

Trader: You ... DOGS! Swine! 

Nok: Who us?

Mukh: I’m more frog like. It is a common mistake. The Chief always calls me a sonuva ...

Trader: You gave those natives hand stunners and an electronic de-crypter to open up my ship. They seized my water AND my ship till I pay an import tax and a dozen fines for health infractions and ... they want me to unionize my market workers. You utter bastards!

Mukh: I might have explained how galactic economics worked. 

Tivk: We brought no such equipment with us besides our own gear which is registered with our ship. It is present and ready for inventory. If I were you I’d make way to your embassy with all due speed. There is a large mob of locals cresting that hill now waving said out of place weaponry and they look far from charitable.

Trader: Nyaaaaaaaaaagh!!

Mukh: Humans run funny. That serves him right. So what’d you charge the prince for those stunners and the de-crypter?

Nok: I think it came to about ten thousand credits in firestones. I’m opening an account for his government with it. 

Tivk: I had my misgivings Mr. Nok when you asked me to fabricate those stunners and the de-crypter. Fortunately the resins required were the same as those used for trade good kits. But we are pushing the envelop on allowable imports?

Mukh: Naaah.

Nok: Well here come our new friends. They look pretty impressive, do they not? They seem very proud of those stunners. Look at them wave them around!

Mukh: Yeah like the Chief that time I ... Did you guys show them the fabricator? Do they know WE have the means to manufacture stunners?

Tivk: I might have ... done a demonstration for the prince.

Mukh: Prep the shuttle!

Nok: What for?

Mukh: Prep the damn shuttle!!!

Tivk: Prepping now! Come assist, Nok! You hold them off Mukh!

Mukh: Why am I the strong  arm?! I have two PhDs!

Tivk: Your skin is 10 centimeters thick not counting mucus secretions. You can take ten hits from those stunners before being knocked silly! Try to stand in front of the lateral stabilizer. A stun discharge there could lay us up for a bit.


Mukh: You better hope they knock me silly! Dakkadakkadakkadakka!

Tivk: You do know yelling ‘ Dakkadakkadakkadakka’ does not improve your aim?

Mikh: Prep the mother loving shuttle! Ow. Ow! Did you have to give them Type 2 stunners!? ... Why isn’t my stunner working on them? ... They’re superhuman!!

Nok: You’re trying to stun them with the targeting laser Dr. Two-PhDs! 



Zen of Jenn

Dakk, Dakk. Dakk.

Chief: Marine! What in Hell are you bringing onto MY shooting range?

Marine: Chief! This is the assault rifle I was telling you about. Mr. Tivk was kind enough to help me print it in his spare time.

Tivk: What?

Chief: ...

Marine: Mr. Tivk may have gone a bit overboard printing his ear protection.

Chief: With them ears I can understand his concerns ... but the rifle!?

Marine: Chief! We checked her out in the workshop six ways from Throggsday! She’ll fire as well as Fleet approved gear!

Chief: But it’s pink! For GHU’s sake Jenn ...

Tivk: WHAT? 

Marine: Chief, let me show you what she’ll do.

Chief: She?


Marine: Hippolyta!


Chief: I bet you wanted a pink assault rifle since your 8th birthday. Go ahead. Tivk and I will clear the range. Clear the range! CLEAR THE RANGE TIVK! Oh fer GHU’s sake! C’mere beanpole!


Marine: Chief! Thank you!





Chief: ... gimme that rifle! 

Tivk: It helps to yell the 'dakkadakka' when you fire. Ms. Jennifer was telling me ... why do you make the 'shush-shush' noise? Ahh.





Marine: :D

Chief: Ask Mr. Tivk to produce five more for further testing Marine.

Marine: Chief! Permission to squee?

Chief: Negative. 

Tivk: Squeee! We are doing the squee of victory, correct?

Marine: ... thank you Chief! We’re on it! C’mon Mr. Tivk! We got work to do!


Marine: We’ll be back Chief. Thank you Chief!

Tivk: Did you tell him the color was due to the resins we had to work with?

Marine: Mr. Tivk at this moment I doubt he’d object if we used a bow for a heat radiator!

Tivk: WHAT?

Friday, April 24, 2015

V Is for ...


They sleep dry and get wet to clean themselves. They flaunt their sexual dimorphism every chance they get and deny it! They forget that though 90% of their communication is verbal the nonverbal part lets a student of humanoids read them like a book! They took the Local Bubble by storm, made it in a big way and screwed up many times in big ways too, even when more experienced and cosmopolitan species tried to warn them.

You can always tell a human but your can’t tell him much. Learn that.

Also, I like them, dizzy, oversexed, dolphin-ape-hybrids that they are. 

The Slugs are another matter. They scare me. They refuse to communicate although eating sentient brains does send a message. But using the Question against them is dangerous. 

But they scare the Fleet. They scare everyone. The Fleet officers kept a small group of victims of the Question alive just to use their query as a weapon. The Slugs were identified as sharing a type of mind link to others of their kind in close proximity. Giving one the Question would give it to all of them -most likely. Their lack of communication with other races would prevent the Question from making its way back to friendly species -most likely. 

The Question scares me worse than the Slugs. The Slugs I can understand. They want to eat me. They don’t give a politician’s promise for other sentients. The Question as far as my people could determine is a sentient toxic meme. It wants to spread. It wants to infest every thinking platform it can. It looks for ways to spread itself. It makes the Slugs look adorable.

Nok, Tivk and I took a shuttle bring the Question to our ship from Thule Base. It was a few sheets of paper in a binder. The station personnel had taken the writings of one patient using a crewman with induced dyslexia. The writings were scanned by a non-networked computer and translated into an obscure system of pictographs used by an extinct race. The printing was in a volatile ink that would decompose in few hours leaving no trace. My app was going to turn those pictographs into Sluggese. then all our  padlets, cyber tools, anything that the Question might bum a ride from would be fed into our reactor. 

Actually Tivk said that would be very foolish. You do not introduce heavy elements to a H3 reaction. We’d melt them in a forge thingy in one of the workshops.

I performed the translation and was glad I couldn’t speak a couple languages for once. The message was downloaded into three Slugs we had slain and reanimated using human cybernetics. I wonder what the Doctor was thinking when he had to do that? Did his Hippocratic Oath win out or his oath of loyalty? His body language was conflicted and impossible to read. The dead not dead slugs were left where their living brethren would find them.

I did my part to the best of my ability. My fear doesn’t matter. 


My people breed via large clutches of eggs. They’re a bitch to lay. Our young hatch and grow up in the wild, barely sentient and many do not make it. It’s our way. The Chief says the humans have something similar called public education. We are derided for not caring for these young until they develop legs and can leave the water. But I care about my young and all of my people’s young. We can’t tell who anyone’s kids are after all. I do not want Slug ships on my world blotting out the sun and feeding on them. It’s happened before.

You eat a few towelettes, speak in a high squeaky voice, change gender, give yourself a silly name like Mukh, and they dismiss you as a comic relief alien. I know 34 languages. I also know when to play the fool.

The humans run the Fleet for all intents and purposes and they are frequently wrong headed but they can be tweaked and nudged to do the right thing, even by a fool. It’s not their fault. They are young and headstrong and they do more than their share of the dying for our collective. Just because they breed like mad doesn’t make their lives any less precious. They have risen above crises time and again and they just don’t admit defeat while they are breathing.

They are very similar to my species’ young. I hope they survive to grow their legs. Like I said I have a problem distinguishing young.

This will work or it will not. Some may call it vengeance, some may call it valor. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

U Is for Undead

As I thought there was more to it than my ministering to a transgender alien's ovulation. Darned if I was going to make it easy for them to short me on leave.

I returned from shore leave to a ship still reeling from a mission against the Slugs. The mission was successful all told. The team extracted enough data from a Slug terminal to give us a grasp of their written language. 

The mission got hairy for the recon team with a firefight lasting several minutes. Fortunately there were no injuries to our side owing to excellent marksmanship by the Chief and Mr. Nok. When the Tesla returned to teleporter range the Captain committed considerable power to port the team and three enemy cadavers onboard. He then hit the installation with six torpedoes and got out of there.

We have new orders.

Thule Base.

En route there I am to use cybernetics to reanimate the Slugs after a fashion. These undead cyber-Slugs will then be replaced on the world where we found them. Apparently these gruesome aliens never leave one of their own behind and are expected to send a scout ship. Hopefully Tesla will not encounter any rescue mission.

Thule Base is supposed to provide me with specialized memory nodes for the cyborgs. Asking any further questions is above my pay grade.

We’ve never found a way to really hurt those Slugs. I’ve seen them in the last war waiting on the fringes of a battle picking up our ships and enemy’s as they were incapacitated. The battle ended by mutual agreement and very fast. The enemy can’t be trusted but they aren’t crazy and we were both vertebrates.

They are going to program the Question into these cyber-Slugs. They will then be reintroduced to their species which will then presumably find the Question and be wiped out. 

I don’t know if I have the right to do that. Does the Hippocratic Oath extend to slimy horrors who eat humanoid nerve tissue? We are on a timetable. We have to get these things up and slithering and back to that outpost with their programming. I have to do the cyborging en route. 

One slip of the electron scalpel would undo everything. One mistake. I’m dealing with several unknowns here. They couldn’t blame me. 

In the next compartment a shipmate’s eggs are awaiting transport back home. I wonder if by following orders I will endanger those innocent offspring?

To quote the Chief, sometimes there ain’t enough Vacc Jack in the Local Bubble.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

T Is for Torpedo

Tivk: Greetings cadets. The Chief has asked me to teach you cadets some facts regarding the First War. What can you tell me about it?

Cadet: We won!

Tivk: We did not win the war. The war ended in a treaty negotiated by /my/ people on their behalf ... and Earth’s of course.

Cadet: We would have won. The balance was ready to tip any day.

Tivk: From enslavement to extinction? Admittedly you had some bargaining power having allied with us. But the situation was still dire for you.

Cadet: We had the new cruisers coming into action. They already beat off the enemy at Neptune!

Tivk: And fighting a battle in your home system is the hallmark of a successful campaign in your universe? It was our alliance that saved Earth. It was the best strategic move you made in your entire history.

Cadet: We were building the new fleet up in reserve and getting ready for a new offensive. 

Tivk: And you expected it to do better than the first five fleets you built?

Cadet: We came back from every defeat! We matched the enemy ship for ship and then some.

Tivk: Yes. Blowing those ships up doubtless delayed their invasion. Your species has a talent for martyrdom that is unparalleled in the Orion Arm. I will admit your combat effectiveness improved when you began using our sensor systems. You began to find the enemy before your ships started blowing up. Not to mention your appropriating ...

Cadet: Torpedoes.

Tivk: Excuse me?

Cadet: Torpedoes. For most of the war we were stuck building frigates and destroyers, never mind we called them cruisers. They were at a huge disadvantage against the larger enemy ships and didn’t mount as much weaponry or shields. They did take a toll on enemy shipping because we had dozens of them raiding but they weren’t as good in defense. Then we built the torpedo.

Tivk: The torpedo was a clever idea, but it came into the war too late to be a major factor.

Cadet: It entered the war late because it stopped the enemy fleet cold. We had successes with them retrofitted on destroyers at Sirius. When the cruisers and battlecruisers came off the line the enemy knew they had to cash in their winnings.Torpedoes in naval history were game changers. Our smaller craft were capable of threatening capital ships for the first time in the war.

And your people said stabilizing enough dark matter to make a warhead was impossible. We found the exact machining of Geminite that stabilized the warhead and proved you wrong.

Tivk: We were not wrong. The mathematics were wrong. Other factors were not considered. We did not desire blowing up a small moon to prove our theories.

Cadet: No one ever missed Haumea.

Tivk: ... class dismissed. This is why Mukh’s  people release their young into the wild and treat them as vermin until they prove different. This class was a disaster.

Chief: I wouldn’t call it that.

Tivk: Really? What would you call it, Chief?

Chief: I’d call it one ‘a you down and two to go. Moral is: don’t mess with the Chief.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

S Is for Shoreleave

Edit: Yes, I just realized that shore leave is two words. If I change the title now it will kludge all the links up. Whoops.

Riasi: Would you care for another drink, Doctor?

Chief Medical Officer: That would be wonderful. What a beautiful sunset.

Riasi: There’ll be another along in a few minutes, sunset I mean. Weather control did a fine job today.

C.M.O.: For a species that can’t drink it, you make great ice coffee. This is the best shore leave of my life.

Mukh: Hey look! There’s the Doc! Hey Doc! Over here! C’mon guys!

Riasi: Rrrrrr?

C.M.O.: Oh copulation. What corner of Hell did you jokers crawl out of?

Nok: Actually we took a shuttle. They wouldn’t give us clearance to land. I had to land inventively a few klicks down the shore. Hey what are you doing with that torch? 

Tivk: Doctor, violence never resolved anything and we bring you a message from the Chief.

Riasi: Doctor perhaps if I lit the torch ...

C.M.O.: ... wait let me hear them out. But keep the lighter handy.

Riasi: Of course.

Tivk: The Chief’s message is as follows: Get yer ass back to the ship. I don’t give a vole’s star shaped nose if you got three more days ‘a leave. I’m done playing wet nurse to these three! 

Mukh: Always back to lactation with you mammals.

C.M.O.: You do a scary good impression of the Chief, Mr. Tivk.

Tivk: I strive for accuracy in all things. I omitted waving a hand beamer around for safety concerns.

Nok: You weren’t easy to find. It’s like the resort doesn’t want people looking through their guest registry. 

Riasi: We do not!

Nok: You should change your encryption system. Your system is a joke that an old Cray could crack.

Riasi: I’m lighting the torch, Dolphin. 

Mukh: Dolphin! I knew it!

C.M.O.: I’m a good swimmer! I liked the salmon for dinner! Don’t start that again!

Riasi: I thought I recognized you! 

C.M.O: You know Mukh?

Riasi: Worst speed date of my life. Five minutes I greatly regret wasting.

C.M.O.: Listen to me you three; tell the Chief he’s out of luck. I’m staying for the rest of my leave. Now. Go. A. Way.

Nok: Don’t be that way, Doc. We need you. Mukh is putting on a brave front but the poor  froggy is in need of your services. Hear us out.

C.M.O: Make it good. I’m hanging on to the lighter AND the torch.

Mukh: My lunch got away from me after I ate it for a change and all over a lifter, a shuttle ...  and the Chief. So I went for a check up and ... I’m ovulating all over the place. I want you to handle the fertilization.

C.M.O.: You’re a ... but we’ve been calling you ‘Mister’. 

Mukh: And I was till recently. Didn’t you read the manual on me?

Nok: I want to know how the Doc is going to handle the fertilization.

Tivk: Mr ... Ms. Mukh’s people lay their eggs in a water environment. They are then fertilized by a male. Doubtless she wants the Doctor to handle the ... particulars of the  fertilization chamber and introduction of the male genetic material.

Mukh: You make a beautiful act sound so cold. Anyway a hot tub, a bottle of Jack and some mood music and I can do my part. The male genetic whatsit I kept in cold storage for just such an emergency.

Riasi: What the hell was the point of you speed dating me?

Mukh: I get lonely, toots.

Nok: Also ... this resort is just a front to pump Fleet officers for information.

Riasi: Rrrrr ... good luck with that. All he’s done is bitch about you three for two weeks.

C.M.O.: All right I’ll go! I’ll meet you at the shuttle in an hour. Just let me pack and settle  my bill. 

Tivk: Excellent. We will prep the shuttle for take off. 

C.M.O.: So ... pumping me for information?

Riasi: You had no information we required. I determined that your second day here.

C.M.O.: Then why the wining and dining and snogging and such for two weeks?

Riasi: Cat girls like to take a little leave too ... Dolphin.

Monday, April 20, 2015

R Is for Reconnaissance

R Is for Recon

Chief: Awright. Stay alert and stay cool. This could just be a walk in the sun.

Nok: That’s a type F-star. I really hope any walking we do will be before sunrise.

Chief: Me too. Good job getting us in the base.

Nok: It was easy. Make a little cut in the door, cross a few wires.

Chief: Right. How’s the computer coming, Tivk?

Tivk: I have fabricated an input jack and am scanning the know-nodes now. Mr. Mukh will you please indicate any files likely to be of interest so I can begin downloading?

Mukh: Sure! Oh sorry. Sure.

Chief: Keep your voice down froggy. Them Brain Slugs don’t like uninvited guests. 

Nok: Though we did knock.

Mukh: I liked the way the Captain knocked ... with ten megatons if it was a kiloton. I’m amazed the joint is still standing.

Chief: That is something the Captain intends to correct as soon as possible. Hopefully after we are out of here.

Nok: Quiet. I see something. Get down!

Chief: Down is good! Throw them some dakka Nok! Call for the teleporter, Mukh!.

Mukh: I need a few moments ... reeeeeee!!!


Dungeons. Ruins. Hulks. Fortresses. Whatever you call them picking your way through a dangerous labyrinthine environment is an RPG tradition regardless of genre. What you want to do is change things up to remind people they are doing a science fiction crawl as opposed to a fantasy crawl. Here are a few ideas and hooks for your consideration.

Treasure does not have to be gold or jewels or a stack of credit chips. As in the example above the group might be after information. Information might be the equivalent of a USB drive or captives to interrogate. What happens when your information jack is not compatible with the evil aliens’ computer port?

Similarly the builders of the ‘dungeon’ might not value the same things the PCs do. they might have fittings of gold or silver (to resist their corrosive atmosphere) but stockpile volatiles for their food value.

If the group is looting ... err exploring a working or recently working spacecraft they might find a lot of readily usable tools and supplies. You really know you’re in trouble when you have to steal duct tape from the Evil Psionic Overlord to patch your own ship up. It’s possible that two ships might damage each other in combat and the crew of one might board the other to grab a vital part. The question is what the other crew is doing while you’re looting their ship.

Ancient technomagic relics are of course the most sought after treasure.

Intrusion methods will vary. If you can teleport in some fashion then there may be a number of safe points you could enter. just be sure you can port back out again. It might be a trap. Defenses might inhibit further teleportation and require you to make your way to an airlock or hangar.

I’ve covered boarding actions in an earlier post. If time and noise is not an issue PCs can get in anywhere (especially with futuristic cutting tools) unless your dungeon is built of impervium (TM). This could restrict entry points to a few well guarded choke points.

Communications are often neglected in classic dungeons. Usually monster stick to their own rooms and don’t seem to hear the screams of their colleagues as the PCs massacre them. Imagine if the orcs in your typical dungeon get walkie talkies. Most guards will have them in a modern setting and call in to control on a regular basis. 

Time is your enemy in many, many ways. In the old fantasy genre you just had to worry about switching out your torches and refilling lanterns. Supplies can be even more crucial in a SF setting. That spacesuit you’re wearing, for example has a couple hours worth of air and air tanks can be bulky heavy things. You don’t want to be running out of air exploring those Martian ruins. It’s way worse than sitting in the dark. For a little while anyway.

If the guards you silence got to yelp on their comms then you have a finite amount of time before they organize and come after you. 

On the other hand if your method of entry has time constraints then you may be in the labyrinth a while. If your teleportation method requires recharge or rest you aren’t leaving that way with half a charge are you? If you came by shuttle it may eventually be noticed. Either way time is treated as a finite resource.

Encounters can be as wild as you like in a SF setting. Robots, cyborgs, genetically uplifted or uprated guard animals. I’m particularly fond of the hyper-crabs from the computer game Buck Rogers XXVc: Countdown to Doomsday.

Traps are an order more lethal. A cloud of flesh eating airborne nanites can give the Tomb of Horrors a run for its money in my book. Some traps may be designed to hold or subdue with stun beams and electrical shock effects. They might also work to deprive a character of some gear or equipment. A psi damper could shut down your friendly telepath. An EM pulse could fry the tablet you did your mapping on. Players hate it when you take away their toys.

The dungeon crawl is one of the first adventure templates for RPGs. There’s a reason it is still with us. With the right treatment it works.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Q Is for Question

The (Ultimate) Answer is  profound, an epiphany, and also a myth. The (Ultimate) Question is all to real. I know. The archaeological dig to Quaestor-4 found the ruins, as as hydrogen. They scanned their glyphs brought them back to Station Solis for translation. The computers there were the best in the known galaxy. Unfortunately they were up to the task.

The Fleet quarantined the station after some weird distress signals. A boarding party from a frigate was ported over and never came back. The team leader kept chanting that he had to know ... had to know ...

The Fleet sent the dreadnought Zenith to Solis. It hit the station with a dozen torpedoes. Then it followed up with an attack run on the frigate. Something had gotten onto the frigate’s computers and they were going berserk working at ... something. The frigate’s AI kept saying, “Query ... Query ...”

The Zenith’s computer was removed at Fleet Com for a major overhaul. Overhaul? More like junking it. In the process three technicians came down with something. Those three are kept in complete isolation at Thule Base out on the Spinward Rim, served by dumb remotes and constantly monitored via image only cameras. The cameras do not record. The patients or prisoners or weapons have their mouths blurred to prevent lip reading. No psis are allowed within a five light year radius of the station where they are being held. The station is built around a one gigaton  nuke. It’s surrounded by jamming stations and communication is by precoded light display. 

I don’t want to know what the Question is. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P Is for Pirate

Korsa; Greetings gentle beings. You are my captives. You can expect humane treatment, rapidly giving way to homicidal fury in the face of any resistance. 

Passenger: The Fleet is going to chase you all the way back to your rat hole, you pirate scum.

Korsa: Let ‘em chase me. They’ve chased me half a dozen times. It keeps me on my toe analogs. My rat hole is a planet with no extradition treaties and a lot of financial incentive to give me alibis and whatever protection I need.

Cruise Ship Captain: I will vouch for my crew captain. We will not make any trouble as long as our passengers are unharmed.

Passenger: What if we are harmed?!

Korsa: I can expect a sternly worded letter. How much do you think passenger liner crew make?

Passenger: The Fleet will hear of this.

Korsa: The Fleet ... Let me tell you something about your Fleet. Piracy was completely uneconomical until the Fleet came along.

The Fleet gave us the deflectors that masked our IR and EM signals letting us sneak up on you. 

The Fleet created the defensive shields that let us disable your ship without blowing it to atoms.

The Fleet gave us tractor beams that let us grapple your ship instead of chasing you pointlessly.

The Fleet gave us the teleporter that let us ‘port a commando team over to secure your bridge and security station. No jumping across space. No boarding shuttles. No cutting apart hulls.

I thank the Fleet for all it has done for space piracy. You should thank it too, for picking up your ship after we set the distress signal to buy us time to slip away. But first you moneybags are going to have a short unpleasant session with our resident telepath. After we pick your brains for your pin numbers, secret accounts, and off world holding companies we will give you a good shot of liquid amnesia, a bit of psionic tweaking and you’ll wake up hungover with no memory of this conversation or the last week.

Gods save the Fleet!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Omnidirectional General Lifter

Chief: Awright, I dunno what you jokers done to the Doc; but you’re not doing anything to me. You read me on this?

Mukh: I liked the Doctor. What happened to him?

Chief: You’d know that better than me. The Captain had to give him a week of shore leave on the Cat Girl Planet to withdraw his transfer request. ... He said something about seeing you eat a box of towelettes being the last straw.

Mukh: It isn’t my fault. They’re good on you or in you, either way they’re lemony fresh!

Tivk: Perhaps we should send the Doctor a card? 

Chief: Never mind that now! I’m here to familiarize you with the D20 Omnidirectional General Lifter, also known as a hopper. This is the current model and a great improvement over the earlier versions used by the Fleet. 

Nok: Yes, it has cup holders. 

Chief: What the hell are you doing in there?

Nok: I needed something to put my mug in. Also it’s too bright out there. 

Chief: Get ... no never mind. The rest of you pile in. I will review the design features.

Tivk: Should we acquire beverages first?

Chief: Get.In. Nok, you have basic lifter certification, right?

Nok: Yes Chief. Human control layout takes a little getting used to. 

Chief: Anything in particular giving you a problem?

Nok: I’m having trouble reaching the nob that adjusts my seat. 

Chief: Right. Now this model is an improvement over previous models in that the lifter alternates between downward thrust and motive force at 300 cycles per second. Earlier models used air jets or peroxide rockets to provide motion.

Tivk: The cycling feature saves mass at the expense of energy but there are many batteries, radio thermal generators and MHD designs that are more compact than rockets and propellant.

Chief: Yes Mr. Tivk. Anything else to add?

Tivk: Terrans stole the idea from my people?

Chief: The Open Gravitics License you signed says different. Take it up with the patent office. Now as in all things the square-cube law is your enemy.

Mukh: I think the real enemy is the inverse square law. The further you get from the body you lift from the more power you have to use as the lift field spreads out beyond the hopper.

Nok: It does give birds a rest. Also if you convoy lifters you get more altitude and speed from them. The beam spill hits other lifters lightening their load a bit.

Chief: ... It is your enemy on the sense that a craft’s mass will increase by the cube of its length. Build your hopper twice and big and it weighs eight times as much ...

Tivk: Maybe you Terrans should steal carbon nanotubing technology from us next.

Chief: ... but the area for thrusters is only four times as much. This is compounded by thick armor. Earlier attempts to build lifter powered AFVs had ludicrously large lifters on outriggers. Armoring those proved impractical.

Nok: I don’t see why armor is a problem. No one can build effective armor that will stop a beam cannon. The only armor is speed.

Chief: Either way you want as big a set of thrusters as you can mount. Now this being a human design the captain wanted to make sure you fellas will be all right when we fire it up. Some people react worse than others to lifter tech.

Mukh: Oh! I know, the gravity tremors mess with your inner ears right? Poor land dwellers. 

Chief: Fortunately there are a variety of medications that will prevent illness with little or no side effects. Please fire it up Mr. Nok.

Nok: Aye Chief. Once around the hangar?

Chief: Keep her stationary we’re just seeing if you guys can take the lifter effects. Don’t forget the lift field has to thrust against something, like the deck. If a crewman gets between the deck and the lifter ... speed bump.

Tivk: Isn’t there some oscillation associated with Terran lifter units?

Chief: You got me there, Mr. Tivk. We called the earlier models ‘rattlers’. Riding in them was not fun. Everyone okay?

Mukh: .F' taugn! Uuuuuuurrrrk!

Chief: Land it! Land it! Everybody out. Get to the head Mukh. 

Nok: Watch out for my beverage! 

Chief: Wow the lad can jump when he has to! That was a close call. Well two out of three isn’t bad.

Tivk: It’s probably the subsonics. I find them disconcerting as well. I will design a countermeasure, Chief.

Nok: What do you get when you regurgitate a meal composed of cleaning materials?

Mukh: Ha. Ha. You’re funny as an empty lifeboat berth in an evac.

Chief: The additional safety features include lifter fields being projected around the hopper as a sort of crumple zone to minimize damage from collision. Your people never thought of that did they, Tivk?

Tivk: ... we have more faith in our pilots. How hard can you hit something before the lifter overloads and you fall out of the sky? It must be hard to shunt power that fast.

Chief: We have a design feature to take care ‘a that ... The hopper can only rise ten meters.

Mukh: See? A two edged sword.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N Is for Neuro Lash

Neuro lashes have recently gained in popularity in the Leonis Expanse and even among mercenaries in the local Bubble and Polaris Loop. Their appeal is simple. Most organisms have an aversion to excruciating pain allowing a lasher to intimidate or motivate reluctant minions to higher efforts. The second part of the appeal is that it is fairly hard to cause actual physical damage to a person being lashed.

A drawback to Terran hand stunners is that they do not intimidate. Being put to sleep painlessly does not deter most hard cases from making a run at the stunner’s operator. A recent equipment overhaul resulted in new stunners being built into sturdy clubs to keep assailants at bay combining the highest and lowest weapons technology in one device.

Most neuro lashes feature a 20 cm handle with an on switch and safety. The whip itself is coiled when not in use and worn in a holster on the hip. To ready it the user unclips the whip, uncoils it and hits the on switch. This instantly energizes the neuro effect along the conductive whip surface. It is strongly suggested the whip be unholstered before turning it on. To quote one user, “After you flip that switch Mr. Whip is no one’s friend.”

Most whips are 3-4 meters long and designed for fast use. Without the field activated they do little more than sting uncovered skin. With the field activated it’s a different story.

The neuro field temporarily causes nerves it comes in close proximity with to fire uncontrollably. The nerves remain highly sensitive for several minutes after in some victims. The whip will affect nerves within a 5-10 millimeters and physical contact is not necessary. Clothing and most armor does not affect a whip though heavy hides, parkas and thick skin may reduce its effect.

Most humanoid life finds itself helpless and contorting in agony when in contact with the whip. Victims have described it as being skinned alive or set on fire. Nearly every hit by a whip is stunned for several seconds. 

Skilled users can reduce the amount and time of contact to paralyze a limb or cause a target to drop an object they are holding. Some victims struck in the head report hearing voices or seeing visions. A head hit can cause brief bouts of amnesia and almost always result in unconsciousness.

Possession of and assault with a neuro lash carries harsh punishments on Confederation worlds. It sees very limited use with the Fleet. Security troops assigned to engine rooms, weapon batteries and mass driver launch systems are exposed to intense magnetic fields that interfere with beam pistol and rifle workings. Projectile weapons can have explosive results so neuro lashes are allowed in these limited areas.

OSR Stats
A neuro lash does 1-2 points of damage. A person struck by the lash must roll a save vs. Stun or Pralysis or lose their next attack/action. A user may attempt to make a called shot at -4 to hit a target’s hand to disarm. On a critical hit (a natural 20) the victim is rendered unconscious for 1-6 rounds unless they make a save. Armor with less than a +2 to AC does not count against attacks with the lash.

Robots and some exotic aliens (silicoids for example) may be immune to the lash’s effects. 

The price and weight of a neuro lash is comparable to a standard energy pistol. Black market models may be 5 times base price.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M Is for Meal

Chief Medical Officer: Good morning new crew! Welcome to the Tesla. I’ll be handling your  orientation today. How are you this fine day?

Mukh: My quarters are too dry. This entire ship is far drier than I was led to believe.

C.M.O: Right I’ll see what can be done for you. It’s rough when you do part of your breathing through your skin. Maybe we can modify your uniform further.

Tivk: Can you be more specific in your question doctor? Are you enquiring as to my physical, mental or professional well being?

C.M.O: Not really. It was a social protocol to ask a rhetorical question.

Tivk: It seems rather aloof for a physician. You let Mukh talk about his physiological shortcomings. Are you feigning interest?

C.M.O.: Very well, How are your vital signs? Does the atmosphere mix sit well with you?

Tivk: If it did not I would have appeared at sick call.

C.M.O.: Right. Moving right along ... good grief what were you doing under that desk.

Nok: I was resting. There’s too much light on this ship. We don’t all hail from a type G star system. I like to take my goggles off on occasion.

Mukh: What did you expect doctor? His species is evolved from pouncer stock. Sit and wait. They like to sit and wait and snoop. 

Nok: Fair enough mud dweller.

C.M.O.: Clamp it! Now you are all newly arrived from serving on your own local navies. The Fleet as you may have noticed is mostly staffed with humans.

Tivk: The Fleet is 78% human staff.This ship is 82% human -above average.

C.M.O. Anyway we’re trying hard to make you comfortable and keep you healthy.

Nok: Install some lighting that I do not need sun block to endure.

Mukh: Up the humidity to something bearable. 

C.M.O.: I. WIll. Work. On. It. ... Anyway the Fleet commissary branch has made some new rations they wanted feedback on. The idea is that this meal will provide basic sustenance for all of you and Terrans for at least a week. The ration comes with condiment packs that contain flavorings you will find palatable ...

Mukh: Bets?

C.M.O.: ... as well as vitamin and mineral supplements to maintain your energy levels. Here, each  of you take one.

Tivk: I find it disconcerting and misleading that these condiments are labeled with the names of our species.

Nok: Yes like you Terrans ran around tasting us.

Mukh: Maybe that’s why they always are kissing each other? You can’t trust omnivores. They’ll eat anything.

C.M.O.: Guys work with me here. Open the containers and check them out at least.

Mukh: Hey! Moistened towelettes! Good call. Give me a couple more! Ahhhh! Can I have yours Tivk?

Tivk: No.

Nok: Hey ... the ration comes with a movie! These little cards, see ... ah they’re too bright.

Tivk: I saw this movie.

C.M.O.: The /ration/ consists of carbohydrates in various tubular configurations to aid in even cooking topped with a tangy protein and lipid rich sauce made from vegetable oils  and designed to resemble dairy products .

Mukh: You mammals. It’s all about milk with you. 

Nok: Watch it toad boy.

Tivk: This is macaroni and cheese. Albeit with a movie.

C.M.O.: ... it’s more than that I assure you. What do you know about mac and cheese anyway?

Tivk: I read a lot. This stuff is a cult with you Terrans.

Mukh: Hey my macaronis are shaped like bugs. How thoughtful. It looks ... interesting but ... my kind prefers our meals to be moving. That way you know it’s fresh. 

Nok: Oh for ... (moves the ration back and forth rapidly in front of Mukh).

Mukh: Hey thanks! Omnomnomnom!

C.M.O. Good grief!

Mukh: Hey you gotta eat your food fast or it might get away ... or counter attack!

Tivik: You could replace the microwave emitter in Mr. Mukh’s ration with an agitator to move the macaroni around. Or just have someone shake it.

C.M.O.: Riiiight. Excuse me gentlemen. I’m taking a short break to ehhhh give the chef some feedback. Yeah right.

Nok: You ever notice humans sound a little like dolphins when they get agitated?

Mukh: Makes sense. They evolved from dolphins.

Tivk: Who told you that?

Mukh: This cat girl I met.