Category Archives: science fiction

Home Base

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When you play role-playing games in outer space, like Traveller, it really helps to have a home base.  For my players in the 80’s and early 90’s, that was the planet Gaijin.  Gaijin was an Earth-like planet with numerous archipelagos and far more ocean than found on Earth.  It was also given to much more tropical weather, never really growing colder than temperate zones in Fall.

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The population of Gaijin was made up of a blended race descended from both Japanese explorers from Earth and the very human-like lemon-yellow-skinned people known as the Sylvani.  The Oriental/Alien culture made it very easy for player characters to find training in martial arts and ninja skills, as well as well as the mind and body skills of Psionics that were illegal within the Third Imperium.  The original group of player characters found shelter and training in the Palace of a Thousand Years, the place destined to produce the White Spider of Prophecy.

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It was, of course, the leader of the adventuring party, Ged Aero, who became the White Spider.   He was born in the Imperium, but together with his brother, Ham Aero,  and the rogue Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda, they settled in Gaijin’s capitol, Kiro, and established a school for psionic ninjas.

Ged was himself a gifted psionic shape-changer, able to become any creature or person whose DNA he had tasted or absorbed through his skin.

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Ged’s biological daughter, Amanda would later succeed him in his role as Master of the White Spider Dojo for Psionics.  She was herself a quite gifted telepath and ninja warrior.

Many different player characters arrived on Gaijin to let their players experience the life of a space ninja.  These are just a few of them.

As I am sure you can tell by this, a lot of different kids played the game with me over the course of a little more than a decade.  Some of them weren’t terribly creative (Luke Bloodstone was going to be Skywalker until I talked him out of using that name).  Some of them liked other things immensely too (Vince Niel was the captain of the Rock and Roll Starship and had to have a crewman named Nikki Sixx).  Some characters like the idea of massive wealth on a planetary scale (hence the fact that the Marchioness was a noble and owned an entire planet that was not Gaijin).

But this particular home=base planet would become a center for adventure and eventually the inspiration for my novel Aeroquest.

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Aeroquest… Canto 5

Canto 5 – The Crown of Stars

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The docking of the Leaping Shadowcat with the station was routine, even though the station was unpowered and unresponsive.  The mission, though, would be an entirely different matter.  With only two vacuum suits on board, only Ged and Goofy would be able to perform the explore and restore.  Ged, not entirely trusting his partner, led the way, while Trav carried his precious blue box.

The airlocks were blown.  As Ged turned up the power in his mag-boots he reassured himself that he wouldn’t drift out into empty space through any hole or opening.  He proceeded cautiously with Goofy ten paces behind.

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Once inside the customs terminal, he began to find bodies.  Two frozen and partly exploded Galtorrian bodies were still staring outward with icy snake’s eyes in the same posture they had been in when catastrophic depressurization killed them.  A little further on, a snake-eyed Galtorrian entertainer in her scanty orange veils, floated dead in the middle of a café.

“Somebody murdered this outpost,” said Trav.

“More than a hundred years ago,” added Ged.  “Their style of clothing and interior decoration are like some of the oldest worlds in the Imperium.  I wonder how long they’ve been entombed here.”

“We’ll give them a decent send-off.”

Three hours work had all twenty-three of the bodies on the station rounded up and floated away for a deep space burial.  Ged located and cleared out the station’s control center, but the electronics were completely fried and not repairable.

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“Never fear, old bean” said Trav.  “I have the answer to our problems right here!”  He sat the blue metal box on a control console.  He gingerly opened the box, and carefully lifted out the alien crown.  It had three glowing crystals mounted on the front of the band, and they pulsated with glowing light.

“How do you activate that thing?” asked Ged.

Trav had no time to answer.  Greenish fingers of energy radiated out from the crown instantly.  Control panels began to melt.  Circuits fused in a pattern that was obviously not random.  Tendrils of energy and realigning circuits exploded outward through the facility.  Ged was instantly afraid for their lives.  Would the station explode?  Would they be consumed by this rampant energy?

In a matter of a few minutes, the ruined space port turned back on.  Doors closed.  Airlocks sealed.  Atmosphere hissed into empty corridors and rooms.  Lights came on.  The station bloomed into fully functional life.

“How did you do that?” gasped Ged.

“I told you we couldn’t just give this thing back to that old jester Tron.  It’s poppa’s little miracle worker.”

“We are now on line,” said a booming female computer voice.  “We are at your service, Grandfather.”

Trav took off his helmet and breathed in the fresh air.  “So, you are at my service, are you?  Who are you, then?  And how did I get to be your grandfather?”

“We are the matrix of Terris Mansill.  Also known as Grandfather of All Stars.  We are the artificial minds of the Crown of All Stars at your service, Grandfather.  Call on us, and we shall do your bidding.”

“Cool,” said Goofy smiling broadly at Ged, “just like a genii in a lamp!”

 

 

 

 

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Time Travellers

In role playing games I was always willing to go where no other game master has gone before.  Such was the case with the role-playing game Traveller and the matter of time travel.  No rules existed in the rule book to cover time travel.  But I didn’t let that stop me. I made them up as we went along.

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I got a boost when one of my players wanted to create a character based on Dr.Who.   The British series played on Friday nights on PBS in the 1980’s.  But that particular player, though very creative, was not a precisely cerebral type of kid.  He spelled it “W-H-O-E”.  So, forever after, we referred to the character as Doctor Hooey.

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Good old Hooey was always getting the group into impossible situations that took a great deal of thinking to get out of again. He had a penchant for crashing time machines.  And when he got the destination right, he would get the time wrong on the year, century, or millennia.  And when he got the time right, well, what do you know?  He got the place wrong.  The players never seemed to realize that I was taking them to planned adventures no matter what the dice rolls supposedly said.

Many such adventures would encounter weird and wild characters who would inevitably also become time travelers, whether fellow travelers for the sake of goodness and light, or as recurring villains.

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For example, Brech was a student space ninja traveling through space and time with the teacher characters among the players.  And by time traveling, they ran afoul of the Revenant, a time-traveling cyborg assassin who stalked the players for accusations of serious “time crimes”.  The cyborg turned out to be young Brech’s future self.  Which proved lucky.  Brech was able to establish a psychic link with his future self just as the cyborg was about to execute everybody, and Brech thereby turned a deadly enemy into an ally.

We tended to adapt movie characters who were time travelers into important NPC’s, and they did not all come from the Dr. Who show.  The characters shown above were Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Professor H. G. Wells.

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When I stole characters from Dr. Who, like I did with Lady Romana here, I tended to adapt them totally to my own game universe.  Romana was nothing like her TV counterpart.  In fact, only the name was the same.

We soon had so many time-traveling characters in their different time machines that we had to organize it all.  This we did by founding the organization known as the Time Knights of Gallegos.

And we needed a leader to coordinate the various initiatives through time and space.  For this we chose a specific NPC, the boy super genius, Ryan Beowulf.  He was a charming super-brained perpetual ten-year-old who worked with his own future self, the thousand-year-old Time King Beowulf.

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Traveller, it seemed,  was never more fun than when we were free to go rock and rolling through both space and time.  We had some harrowing adventures and even made use of my own vast storehouse of useless historical knowledge that can wow ’em in the moment and make them wonder why they needed to know about that upon further reflection.  Time traveling, like fez’s and bow ties, is cool.

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Aeroquest… Canto 4

Canto 4- Don’t Go Here, the Outposts

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As the Leaping Shadowcat slowed and dropped out of jump space, Ged and Ham got their very first look at a world beyond the borders of charted and well-known stars.  Don’t Go Here was a planet orbiting a spectral class K orange star.  It was a bright green-and-brown world with relatively small patches of blue sea.  The surface was cloaked in a thick atmosphere, and many cloud swirls played across its bright face.  There were two small moons and a pair of apparently lifeless space stations.  One looked like an abandoned space port with nothing docked there.  The second was obviously a Grange station, filled with greenery under glass and a few artificial lights showing on the night side.

Trav came up from the quarterdeck where he’d been tending to the Nebulon Princess and her son.  He looked out through the portal and examined the electronic overlay.

“Life signs on that old greenhouse?”
“Yes, Trav,” said Ged, “One life sign.  It appears to be canine.”

“Somebody left their doggie aboard that old wreck?”
“It appears that the Grange Station for this planet is still working,” said Ham.  He smiled, which tended to make him strikingly handsome.  “It’s probably automated, so if there’s food growing there, it could be priceless to us.”

“We will have to board it,” said Ged, “and take possession.  But we still need to talk about your treasures, Goofy.”

“Hmm, uh… well, yes.  What do you want to know?”

“First of all, the Princess and her son.  You intend to set them free.”  Ged was not asking a question.

“Yes, um… well, You know she could be a very valuable asset to us.”

“In what way?”

“There’s a very good chance we will run into Nebulons out here.  She could negotiate for us.”

“Trav,” said Ham, “she doesn’t speak our language.”

“Oh, right…  But I can teach her.”

“All right, Goof,” said Ged, nodding solemnly, “but your first task is to make her understand she is not our slave.”

“Oh.  Sure.”

“Now,” said Ham, “what about the blue box?”

“Blue… um, uh… box?” stuttered Trav, obviously faking it.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

“What’s in the box that Tron and the pirates wanted so badly?”

“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”

“Try me.”

Trav looked into Ham’s laughing eyes.  Ged could see how much of a strain telling the truth was on the little one-eyed liar.

“It’s an Ancient Artifact from the Devil’s Rift.  It’s called the Crown of Stars.

“Oh, you’re kidding me!” shouted Ham with a laugh.  “The fabled device that gives a man the power of God?”

“That would be it, yes.”  Trav cast his eye downward.

“You’ve heard of this thing, Ham?” Ged asked.

“It’s a liar’s tale from the Imperial Rim.  An archeologist apparently uncovered a high-tech site from the time of the so-called Ancients.  He supposedly found this device with three bright crystals on it.  When he put it on his head, it melted his brain and gave him Godlike powers.  He had to be killed by the Imperial Navy to prevent him taking over and ruling the galaxy.”

“So it isn’t real?” asked Ged.

“Of course it’s real!” said Trav hotly.  “It’s in the blue box in the bag I brought aboard, and I’ve seen it work without being on anyone’s head.”

“What does it do?” said Ham skeptically.

“Well, I don’t know exactly.  But it can light up a generator and create power even on a wrecked ship.  It started up and repaired the scuttled spaceship we stole it from at the Mingo Downport.”

“Well, I think if it can provide power, it will help us reclaim this old spaceport,” said Ham, still sneering at the idea of the ancient artifact.

Outside the main viewport, they were coming into docking range with the orbiting outstation.  It was a spoked wheel with four main docking ports.  The nearly obscured markings on the outside indicated the Galtorrian Colonial Service.  Everything was written in the squiggly letters of the Galtorrian script.

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Aeroquest… Adagio 2 – Nebulons

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Adagio 2 – Nebulons

 

     I am one of the few Scientist/Historians ever to make a thorough examination of Nebulon physiology and culture. It helped that I lived with some of them for a while, even helping to raise a couple of very young ones. And unlike the cross-bred lizard-Russian-Galtorrian-Human idiots who were the superior authority and dominant race of the Galtorr Imperium, I didn’t try to belittle them as mere “Space Smurfs” and take their existence as a joke.  As a participant in the destruction of the Galtorr Imperium and the rise of the New Star League, I, Googol Marou, can speak with some authority on the subject of Nebulons.

Suffice it to say, the present shape of the Milky Way Civilization in the Orion Spur owes much to the nature of Space Smurfs.  They were critical to the Imperial defeat and the unification of the New Stars.  You will see more of that in this history, well, unless I inadvertently forget to tell you that part.  I have been known to get a bit absent-minded when my mind is on superior matters of science, or the baking of pies.  But I have to admit to my great shame, that I, like most Imperials, was prejudiced against the Nebulons at the start.  We thought them in many ways inferior because of their living technologies and small stature.  What we didn’t realize is that their neotyny, their child-like physical make-up, was evidence that they were indeed more advanced than we in an evolutionary sense.  They were also environmentally friendly, living in symbiotic peace with their living technology. Instead of exploiting worlds, as the humans and Galtorrians had done, they created new living environments.

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Now, my genetic inquiries proved that Nebulons were practically identical to Earthers.  They were capable of interbreeding with us without genetic manipulations.  That makes them more like us than a Galtorrian, even a crossbred Galtorrian/Human fusion.  They also possessed a few advantages we didn’t have.  The copper-sulfate-based pigments in their skins were originally caused by diet and exposure to nebula radiation.  It gave them immunity to radiation that was deadly to any other humanoid.  The bright yellow hair was apparently also due to exotic radiation exposure over centuries.  I formed a theory that Nebulons may have originated on Earth and evolved as they explored deep space, beyond the known stars of the Thousand Worlds.

Now, as to their culture, they center it around living organisms that function symbiotically.  Their spaceships are the Great Nebula Space Whales, those strange fish-shaped balloon-beings that apparently bred in the depths of mighty gas giant planets and migrated to the gaseous clouds of nebula space.  They are much the same size as an Imperial Dreadnaught, and can easily support 500,000 Nebulons in their oxygenated inner chambers.  They even have spaces in their heads where the Nebulon pilots can live and function, tickling nerve endings to get the space behemoths to fold space and jump light years in an instant.  Manipulating jump space is the same whether you do it with a massive photon drive, or the natural glands of a space whale.  It is a matter of using gravity to fold space at a weak point in the fabric of space, making a worm-hole to another part of space, usually no more than six parsecs distant (for those who are math-challenged, that means about nineteen and a half light years), and coming out of jump space at the end of a spider web-like trail that litters space with the cobwebs of interstellar travel.

Nebulons also make clothing of living tissue that keeps the body it surrounds at the proper temperature, and absorbs and digests all dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells.  Nebulon clothing is self-cleaning!  It also grows with the young to avoid the need for ever changing it.  I can’t wear Nebulon cloth without cringing, because I know what it really is, but I am told that if you get used to it, it is like a perfect second skin.

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Nebulons exhibit a child-like love for life, treasuring each others’ presence and having fun almost all the time.  I have come to find them truly endearing.  They rarely go to war with each other, and have to be seriously goaded into fighting by any potential enemy.  It turns out that it is a sad thing that we can’t all be more like Nebulons.  And to think we wasted all those centuries despising them for their differences!

 

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Making Characters for Traveller

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When I started playing the role-playing game Traveller with a group of middle school students, one of the first challenges to overcome was the creation of original characters and interesting new stories.  You can only play for so long with characters named Solo, Skywalker, and Vader.  Then, you must get creative.

What I am going to show you today are a passel of characters so creative, lame, and craptastic, that you will probably forever after have pity on those poor kids who chose to play the game with me.

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Harry Scipio Strontium 90 was a space detective.  He and his assistant, the dwarf Quark, were necessary to the game because player characters had a tendency to kill people, aliens, and destroy planets, routinely misusing the biggest and baddest weapons in the equipment handbook.  He relentlessly pursued player characters and villains across space and time.

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The Geomancer was a deep space explorer who mysteriously never took off his space suit.  He bailed characters out of trouble when they invariably got marooned on airless asteroids, lost in dead space with no fuel for the starship, or imprisoned by cannibal plant people on an unexplored world.  In the end, it turned out that his mysterious space suit was actually empty, containing only gas and radiation, and possibly an alien spirit-entity.

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Mantis was actually a player character.    The son of the high school science teacher was one of my most dedicated game players.  He decided that he had to have an evil player character.  He said to me, “Mr. B, we will make him secretly evil so that he does things that take the party into danger and betray them without their knowing.  It will be fun as they try to figure out how to save themselves.”  Now, Mantis was an alien super-scientist who had a very big head and small body, so he removed his own head and connected it to a large robotic body.  He stood imposingly taller than all the other characters at eight and a half feet tall.  His evil plots were initially rather lame and easily defeated.  It didn’t take the players long to figure out that he was working against them, and he spent a considerable amount of time as a detached living head on the starship’s auxiliary control panel.  He went through various penances and punishments, ultimately avoiding being flushed into space through the space toilet.

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Susano initially started out as Mantis’ evil experiment.  He was an enhanced clone with super powers and wings.  He was super charming and likeable, but supposed to further Mantis’ evil agenda.  They began to plot the take-over of entire planets like Djinnistan and Vilis.  But the longer the game went on, the more he became a son to Mantis, and the more he influenced his scientist father to use his abilities for good.  They would eventually help a band of rogues create a New Star League out of the ashes of the Third Imperium.  Teacher’s kids are often the biggest pains in a classroom, but that tends to be because they know all the teacher tricks already and are invariably more creative than the average classroom clown.  The last I heard from Mantis’ creator, he was an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas, and probably busy secretly planning to take over the world.  Though hopefully he didn’t remove his own head as a first step.

That is only a small sampling of the characters we created for Traveller, but at more than 500 words already, I need to be saving the rest for another day.

 

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Aeroquest… Canto 3

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Canto 3 – A Game of “Bridge”

 

When Ged and Trav reached the bridge of the Leaping Shadowcat, Tron’s angry face already filled the view screen.  Next to him stood the flame-haired beauty known as Maggie the Knife with one hand protectively shielding their small son, Artran.

“So!  Ged and Ham both?  How could you both be so stupid as to take up with that worthless clown?” growled Tron in a gravelly voice.  His somewhat handsome face was marred not only by anger, but by a hideous laser scar that ran from the top of the left side of his forehead, through the eye socket of his artificial left eye, down to the left side of his lantern jaw.

“Tron,” said Ged as diplomatically as he could manage, “You know me.  You know I would never take up with a swindler and a pirate like Trav willingly.  You must also know that I have troubles of my own about now.  If you leave us in peace, I can promise Trav’s presence aboard this ship will result in banishment for him.  You will never see his face in Imperial Space again.”

“Ged, I respect you more than any other space man I know.  Your word is good, and you never lie.  I wish your worthless brother and I both had your integrity.  We’d be kings among men.  But Goofy stole a priceless treasure from us and both Slimeball Harris and Blue Death Jones just died trying to get it back.  Both of their corsairs were destroyed by that rotten space barge Goofy was flying.”

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“You’re moaning about Slimeball and Old Blue?” asked Trav in an incredulous voice.

“Well, those corsair ships were very valuable!” growled Tron.

“Oh,” replied Trav.  “Sorry.”

“What if we give you the treasure, Tron?” asked Ham.

“No!” cried Trav.  “You have to let me explain that to you in private, first!”

“Yes,” growled Tron.  “Give me the blue metal box and the Nebulon slave girl. You can keep the rest. And you can keep Goofy forever, for all I care.”

“Now, wait!” interrupted Ged.  “Slavery is just plain wrong.”

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“Yes,” said Tron, “but this one is a princess among the Space Smurfs.  She is the first daughter to the Sinjarac Warlord, whatever that means.  We’re not just talking slave here, but a potentially valuable hostage for the Imperial Space Navy.  They would pay well to get their hands on her.”

“Why a hostage?” asked Ham.

“You didn’t see the Imperial Scout Data we intercepted,” said Maggie softly in a musical voice.  “A coreward border war has erupted between a huge convoy of Nebulons in their Space-Whale Cruisers and the Galtorr Imperium.  Nobody in the Imperium seems to know why, but there is a massive migration of Space Smurfs going on just beyond the Imperial Border.”

“You can’t have the girl,” said Ged.  “I’d be happy to give you the box, though.”

“No!” protested Trav.  “You don’t know what’s in it!”

“What is in it?” Ged asked Trav.  His eyes narrowed.

Trav blushed furiously.

“You have to give us what we want.”  Tron seemed too confident.  “We have corsairs blocking every jump route back into known space.  Soon we’ll have a hundred of them here ready to board your crappy little safari ship.”

“Yes,” said Maggie prettily.  “We will take the treasure anyway and you’ll all be skinned alive with a dull knife.”

“Oh, great,” said Ged.

“Are you ready with our little surprise?” Trav asked Ham.

“It’s plotted in the nav computer,” Ham answered.

“It’s time to hit it, then.”

Ham leaped into the pilot’s seat and slammed down on the jump button.  The jump into lightspeed-plus was jarring.  Space began to fold around the ship.  The surprised faces of Tron and Maggie the Knife faded away into white static, soon replaced by a red-and-blue-shifting starfield in jump space.

“What have you done?” Ged asked Ham with shock on his face.

“You didn’t think I would start this leap of faith without at least one jump already planned and programmed?”

“Trav?” asked Ged.

“Oh, yes.  I plotted a course to a planet almost nobody has ever heard of.  It’s a place with the silly name of Don’t Go Here.”

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