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AeroQuest 4… Nocturne 8

Nocturne 8 – In Space, in an Egg…

The two escape pods pushed out of the back end of the Apatosaurus-shaped command starship both looked like extremely large dinosaur eggs.  Two command-level officers were being marooned in space in each pod.  Fortunately for those inside the space-dino eggs, Admiral Cloudstalker and Captain Black Fly in one, ADaB and PiP, the two Djinnistani Peris, in the other, they were still on the edge of the Don’t Go Here star system.  They could communicate with Aerobase Frieda and be rescued within a couple of hours at sub-light speeds.

“Well, I guess I really blew that one,” Arkin Cloudstalker said, referring to the theft of their command vessel while they were making their initial inspection tour.

“You really can’t blame yourself for this one, sir,” Black Fly said sympathetically.

“What do you mean?  Certainly, I can blame myself if I want to.  It’s what good leaders do… take responsibility for failures, I mean.”

“You didn’t fail.  You were taken prisoner in a very well-planned shipboard insurrection carried out by a group of religious fanatics, the very existence of which no one could’ve even predicted, much less defeated.”

“We were aware such a cult existed, weren’t we?”

“No.  We were not.  You can take my word for it as a top agent of the White Duke’s special intelligence forces.  We knew there were scholars and zealots who followed the prophecies religiously, but no one knew they had leadership with Imperial Intelligence training and a gift for military plans just like the one we fell victim to.  If you have to blame someone, blame me.  I’m the one with the intelligence responsibilities and long years of training.”

“Well, I certainly don’t blame you.  Tell me, since Black Fly is some kinda code name, do you even have a real name?”

 “My name is legally now “the Black Fly,” my mother once called me Amanda… and you can too, if you like.”

Arkin nodded.  He would certainly remember that name.  He knew that he preferred it to her real name.

“Maybe we should put in a call to ADaB and PiP.  They may have called Frieda already.  I’m sure help is probably on the way.”

“It’s part of the genius of Lizard Lady’s plan that she kidnapped us, and waited until we were at the edge of the heliosphere before she set us adrift in space.”

“How so?”

“She knew that no one could blast her out of orbit with you still on board.  You’re the Grand Admiral, after all.”

“Well, that’s something I will have a hard time living down with Tron Blastarr.  I lost his brand-new starship design the very first time I was acting as the Grand Admiral.”     

“He shouldn’t be that hard to handle.  You’re his boss now, you know,” she answered.

“Yes, that’s true, isn’t it?”

Arkin reached over to the comm unit on the inside wall of the space egg.  He punched in the code for the other egg.

“Um, Admiral… ah… um, ah, AH, AAAHHH!” said ADaB’s voice, cryptically.

“What’s happening, ADaB?  Are you being murdered?”

“Um, ah… no, Admiral.  It’s PiP.  She says we have a couple of hours to kill.  And, well…  She’s very much a female you know.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And the average female Peri is taught many years’ worth of love-making skills on Djinnistan.  And she’s… she’s… very GOOoooOOOoodddD!  Um, gotta go now, boss…”

“Hmm.  And here I thought the two of them didn’t really like each other very much.”

When Arkin looked at Black Fly Amanda, though, he noticed the evil sparkle in her eyes and the smirk on her face.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Arkin asked.

“Well, those two little imps put some ideas in my head.  And, anyway, you had to have noticed where it was always going to end up between the two of us.  Am I right?”

Arkin Cloudstalker blushed furiously.  He was a Space Knight, a hero in a white cowboy hat.  He had worked with Lady Knights for years, and never once…

And then beautiful Amanda kissed him. He reached up and switched off the lights.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 107

Canto 107 – A Group of Space Goons is Called a Goon-o-plex

The situation on Rimbaud Memorial Outstation began with a single Space Goon, as they all almost always do.  Infestations, I mean.  Space Goons reproduce asexually like microscopic amoebas do, by splitting into three parts after eating something.  And then each part split off from the original grows into a new Goon.  First you have one.  It eats a cat.  Then you have three.  They eat another cat, a plate of unattended Italian meatballs, and a decorative plant.  Then you have nine.  Six of those get into the food pantry.  One finds the last living cat on the outstation. And two more eat a small gambler who lost everything playing deep-space poker and drank himself into a coma with gargleblasters.  Then you quickly reach eighty-one.  You get the alarming idea, right?

“Mon dieu!” cried Banzai. “They will consume everything edible on my entire station!  Please, friends, you must help me round them up and herd them out an airlock.”

“But isn’t that too cruel to do to a sentient creature?” asked Dana Cole, still shivering and naked at Trav’s command.

“They are not even as smart as Goofy Dalgoda,” said Ham Aero.

“That’s right!” cried Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda.  “We must space them because they are too stupid to live.”

“No, they are able to live fine in space without space suits,” I told them all, calling upon my scientific acumen and nearly omniscient memory.  “They will just float happily out there with nothing to eat, at least until they collide with a planet or asteroid, or some other place with gravity.”

“Do I recall correctly when I remember that in a feeding frenzy, a hundred Space Goons start eating people… at least those made of flesh and blood?” asked Duke Ferrari, showing something more than just mild concern.

“Naw, I think that’s just a spacer myth told because Space Goons come from unknown space and not enough is known about them,” suggested Ham.

At that same moment, a Space Nudist serving girl disappeared in a goon-o-plex of a hundred and three Goons.  Muffled cries were heard, followed by munching sounds, and then no more serving girl was to be seen.

“How do we get them off the outstation?” asked Banzai.

“I has some middlin’ experience with Space Goon cat-nip recipes, I has,” volunteered Sinbadh, offering his cooking skills.

“What did he say?” asked Banzai.

“He says he’ll cook up some Goon-bait to put in the airlock,” I translated.  “If the smell is right, they will all follow the bait out into space and reproduce out there.”

“But Oi will needs sum special Goon grub to make it with!” announced Sinbadh.

“What do you need?”  Banzai was desperate.

“Ol’ shoe-leather, some turpentine, Samothracian onions, a dash o’ me own special sauce, and all the bar soap you can muster from every fresher on the whole outstation, me buck-o!”

Swiftly the star-dog cook got to his business.  Banzai kept the ravenous Space goons, now over a thousand strong, occupied by throwing them a few non-paying customers and one or two of his ugliest serving girls.

Then Sinbadh returned from the kitchen with a pot of extremely smelly stew.  He ran past the Space Goons to an emergency airlock, grabbed hold of a support beam with one hand, opened the air lock with his foot, and while Space Goons, outstation staff, and customers alike were sucked out into space, threw the pot of smelly goo out too.  All of the Space Goons followed it out.  As Sinbadh closed the airlock again, we could see that only about fifty percent of the people in the area the Space Goons had infested were lost to the void.  None of those who were in our party failed to secure themselves against being sucked out of the station into space.  So, the ploy was at least slightly successful.

“How did you fools manage to survive this?” cried Sorcerer 15, standing near the concourse doorway with an angry look on his white, Synthezoid face.

“You again?” Trav cried, pulling out of his hidden super-pocket that held items in an interdimensional bubble, his latest acquisition, a brand-new super-illegal Skortch ray gun.

“I’m ready for you this time Dalgoda!” said Sorcerer, pulling out a mirror-shield.

Trav shot Sorcerer 15 in the feet.  As his artificial feet disintegrated, he dropped and broke the mirror-shield.

Trav then shot him in the torso and disintegrated the rest of him.

“I hate to admit it, Trav, but your obsessions prove useful at times,” Ham said.

“You will now politely give me the illegal weapon,” said Banzai Joe. “Be careful not to accidentally put a hole in the outstation that will kill us all…”

Trav grinned.  First, he pointed the weapon at Banzai’s midsection. Then he handed it carefully to the outstation’s manager.  “Of course.  I will get it back before I leave, though.  That weapon of massive destruction belongs to me.  And you owe it to me to give it back.  After all, I heroically saved your entire station.”

“Yes, yes… But only when you leave.  I actually owe the star-dog much, much more.”

That little soiree was not the first time I had nearly lost my life to a Space Goon infestation.  And it wouldn’t be the last.  But it was easily one of the fastest and most ironically amusing.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 106

Canto 106 – Rocket-Powered Robbery

Arkin Cloudstalker had no doubt at all who was going to captain his flagship in his role as Grand Admiral.  Black Fly was a beautiful woman, a sensational pilot, and, the longer they spent time together, the more they got to know each other’s beautiful souls.  There was definitely some sense of a little naked baby Cupid thing fluttering around somewhere nocking arrows with Arkin’s name on them.

“So, this Apatosaurus-thing is a battleship and it will be the command center of this new dinosaur-shaped star fleet?”

“Yes, it is a high-tech Ancient construction created by the artifact known as the “Hammer of God” in the hands of a telepathic operator who is from Don’t Go Here and knows more about dinosaur shapes than space-fleet starships,” said smug little ADaB the Peri (short for Another Danged Boy #152).

“They should’ve consulted us on the engineering before they built them.  We could’ve done a much better job by turning them into gigantic space kittens or something fuzzy like that,” said the female Peri, PiP (short for Pretty in Patches).

“Please don’t start arguing again,” said Arkin, heading off what he knew had to be coming.  He picked up the diminutive PiP and swung her around to a position walking between Arkin and Black Fly, away from ADaB.

The crew they were walking through on the way to the bridge all seemed to be from the Bedrock culture of Don’t Go Here where everything was designed based on antique Flintstones cartoons from thousands of years ago.  The men were wearing Fredsuits, orange pull-overs decorated with upside-down black triangles.  The women all wore blue Bettypelts.

It was ridiculous to say the least, but when spaceships and space troops magically appear from nowhere due to Ancient relics, you couldn’t look gift-dinosaurs in the mouth.

The lift shaft took them up the neck of the Apatosaurus construct to the bridge of the ship.

On the bridge itself, blaring warning horns and intruder-alert flashers were going off, though the crew seemed even calmer than they had on the way to the bridge.

“What’s going on?” shouted Arkin, racing to the viewport.

“We have an intruder closing in on us in a tailed space-suit with a rocket pack on her back,” said a seemingly unconcerned Lieutenant in a Fredsuit.

“What are we doing about it?” demanded ADaB.  In a uniform clearly marked as a Commander, the little Peri out-ranked everyone on the bridge but Admiral Cloudstalker and Captain Black Fly.

“Why, nothing, sir.  That Galtorrian woman out there is our new leader.  That’s the Lizard Lady.”

“But she’s a spy for the Imperium!” said Arkin.

“Not anymore.  She’s the newly anointed Archbishop of the White Spider Cult.”

“Oh, crap!” said PiP, “just what we need.  A religious zealot.”

“A holy crusader in the name of the White Spider,” said the junior officer, displaying his White Spider amulet.

“I know Ged Aero,” said Arkin.  “He wouldn’t want to have anything to do with this kind of religious idiocy.”

“Perhaps not.  But the Archbishop comes to us as the mother of the White Spider’s first-hatched son.  She is coming to fulfill the prophecy of Zhan!”

“I thought it was the prophecy of Xian,” remarked another trooper.

“No, the prophecy of Shan!” insisted another.

Arkin said nothing, hoping these idiots would start a fight.

“Don’t you fools read your own prophecy?  Those three are all exactly the same!”  ADaB probably realized at about that very moment that he should never have said that out loud.

“Somebody who’s loyal to the New Star League needs to shoot that spy down!” ordered Admiral Cloudstalker. 

The whole bridge crew turned and looked at him.

“We are all loyal to both,” said the Lieutenant angrily.

“What will we do with the Admiral?” someone asked.

“Put him in the airlock?” asked somebody else.

“Don’t you dare even think about that!” said the Lizard Lady, entering through the airlock corridor.  She had her helmet off.  She had the largest, shiniest White Spider amulet around her neck that Arkin had ever seen.

“Wherever you’re going with this ship, you cannot take us with you!” shouted Captain Black Fly.

“That is certainly true,” said the Lizard Lady.  “These four prisoners are all mentioned in the prophecy.  They must all be in the Battle of Outpost.  Put two of them in each of two escape pods and shoot them slowly towards Aerobase Frieda.”

“You will not get away with this,” said Arkin.

ADaB pulled at his elbow.  “Actually, Admiral, I have read all five versions of the prophecy.  I think it says she does.”

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 105

Canto 105 – Don’t Nobody Bring Me More Bad News

The Outstation is a unique form of living arrangement.  It is a sealed, self-contained environment in the middle of an empty parsec.  Nothing around for many light years, no stars, no planets, no people, no nothing, and, hopefully, no black holes either.  It has to be totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

The Rimbaud Memorial Outstation was in the middle of a whole lot of nothing, and so, it was critical that it was there to provide a little something for space travelers tired of parsec after parsec of nothing. 

The crew of the Leaping Shadowcat appreciated it because it was a large gap full of nothing between the system of Farwind and the system of the planet Coventry.  But they weren’t the only ones who needed something to be there in the middle of the nothing.

Shad Blackstone in his black cape and black gangster hat wearily took a seat at the table we were all sharing in Banzai Joe’s French restaurant.

“You look like you’ve been through hell, Mr. Blackstone,” Duke Ferrari said.

“You don’t know the half of it.  Tang descended on Dancer with his whole Imperial fleet and two pirate bands besides.”

“Did they take the planet?” Ham asked, horrified.

“No.  Their target wasn’t the planet.”  The oriental man massaged his forehead with a black-gloved hand.

“What did they get?”

“The target was our defense forces.  They obliterated the Blackhawk Corsairs as a fighting force.”

“Is Razor dead?” Ham asked.

“No, but he and I are the only two ship captains that still survive with intact ships.  The rest are space debris.  And they got the White Duke.”

“Wait a minute!” I said, breaking into the conversation.  “You know the White Duke at Dancer was just a clone, don’t you?”

“Professor Marou, you didn’t know this, but he was the last clone.  The real Duke died some time ago.”

I was stunned.

“Can we rescue Duke Keyser?” Ham asked naively.

“Gravely says he sacrificed himself to buy time for the rebellion.  Tang won’t move on Tron and the New Star League until his mind-sucked every bit of secret information he can get out of the old clone.”

“Do we need to go warn Outpost?”

“No.  That’s where Razor went.  You need to complete your mission to Coventry.  That’s a high population world with a manufacturing system that can turn the tide if it is on our side.”

Captain Trav Dalgoda, his ultra-nervous first officer, Dana Cole, and the Outstation’s leader, Banzai Joe came into the restaurant arguing.

“I am just saying…” said Trav too loudly for indoors, “That if I knew there were Space Nudists here, I’d have ordered my whole danged crew to get naked before I gave them shore leave!”

“It is not necessary, Messieur Goofy.  Classical Worlders do understand that some people in some places must wear something.  But since Rimbaud’s is completely enclosed and temperature controlled, it is only natural for people with the Divine gift of perfect human form to wear nothing in places where nothing is perfectly fine.”  Banzai’s reasoning seemed sound to everyone but Goofy Dalgoda.

“You say perfect?  I saw what the Space Nudists look like.  Even the prettiest girls sag in some places and have spots and blemishes in some other places.  Even I, a perfect male specimen, only have one eye when I’m naked.”

“Captain, you actually have two eyes.  You just wear an eyepatch for no reason.” Dana looked forlorn as she reminded him yet again.

“Well, now, you see?  If I were to go completely naked, I wouldn’t be perfect because I wouldn’t have the eyepatch over the eye that I am not supposed to have because I am a pirate.”

“Messieur Goofy, why should people raised as nudists need to go clothed in a completely controlled space like this.  It is not in the nature of people who normally practice the social nudism.  And the right is established for them because this Outstation was established by businessmen from Samothrace and New Paris.  In fact… by me and my partner.”

“Don’t call me Messy-ur Goofy.  Call me Captain Goofy.  And why are we arguing about this?  I am fully in favor of Space Nudists.  The ones who are good-looking anyway.”

“You are… in favor?  I thought you were arguing against it, Captain Goofy.”

“Ah, no.  First Officer Cole, take off all your clothes right now so I can win this argument we are not having.”

“But, Trav…”

“Just do it, Cole.  You kept wanted to get naked in the shower with me whenever I was playing with my Ancient Doomsday Bomb!”

Dana Cole reluctantly got naked while those of us waiting for our French cuisine watched, some of us amused, and some of us greatly embarrassed.

“So, Goofy, won’t you join us.  We’ll order some chat vomit sur du pain grillé beurre,” said Ham with a big grin on his face.

“Oh, sounds good,” said Trav, sitting down and indicating that his naked first officer should sit next to him.

“Okay…” said Banzai Joe.  “On toast… right away… as soon as we can find a cat.”  He scurried off to the kitchen to avoid laughing in front of everyone.

“Only the best for your friend, eh, Ham?” I asked.

He just smiled.  He was strikingly handsome whenever he smiled.

“So, you will go on to Coventry now that your man Dalgoda is here?” said Shad Blackstone.

“Yes, as soon as our mission is refueled and resupplied,” said Ham.

“And we apparently need to hurry to get back to Tron and Outpost in time,” said Duke Ferrari.

“But we may get slowed down by terrorists,” said Goofy.

“Terrorist?  There are no terrorists here,” said Shad Blackstone.

“No?  They let me land here.  And I have an Ancient Doomsday device on board my spaceship.”

“You refer to the Tesserah?” asked Shad.

“Of course.  I said it was on the space ship, didn’t I?  The other doomsday device is sitting here next to me with no clothes on.”

Dana Cole turned crimson with embarrassment… pretty much all over her bare body.

At that moment we spied the first of them.  A chef chased out of the kitchen a three-legged Space Goon.

“He is a little terrorist, that one.  I was trying to make some chat vomit sur du pain grillé beurre which is hard enough when you have to get the chat to cooperate.  That little three-legged terrorist just ate the chat.  Swallowed the thing whole, it did.”

“And what’s worse, if there is one Space Goon, there will be more on the way.  Especially if there are cats to eat,” said Duke Ferrari morosely.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 104

104 – The Arrival of Goofy Dalgoda

  The many hours of time separating the arrival of the Leaping Shadowcat and the much later arrival of the First Half-Century was something no one really wanted to probe too deeply for causes.  Sometimes it is nice to be able to keep that one particularly “special” friend at more than arms’ length.

Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda was such a friend.

“First Officer Cole!  Can you explain why it took us a whole extra day to reach this Outstation?”

“No, Captain Trav… Honeypot… I have no idea why.”

Dana Cole had been working overtime trying to keep the Goofy one’s mind on romance rather than that evil Ancient artifact, the Tesserah, that he had become so obsessed with.  The device was constantly percolating with menacing alien sounds and radiating oddly unsettling colors while making everybody but Trav wonder what the evil thing was thinking about.  Trav Dalgoda was much more concerned with what he could get the thing to do.  Specifically, what he could get the thing to blow up or otherwise destroy.

“Ham, the old jester, will be wondering what happened to us.  He arrived at least twenty-three hours ahead of us.  You know I can’t leave my one truest friend alone for that long.  What if he needs me to blow something or someone up?”

“You know, Trav… beloved… we could take another shower together… or have some wine to celebrate arriving here.”

“Nonsense.  Who put you up to trying to slow me down with your evil ways?  Was it Ged Aero?  I know it wasn’t Ham.  The robot T-Bop maybe?”

T-Bop was a maintenance Metalloid.  Dana had no idea why Trav might have brought the thing up.

“Shall we take the recommended docking port?” asked a crewman on the bridge.

That was a good save by the nameless crewman in the red uniform.  Dana did not know them all by name.  After all, many of them were probably going to die in service to Goofy Dalgoda.  But she did appreciate any effort anybody could make to distract Trav from the Tesserah.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go take that shower together?” Dana offered yet again.

“Do you know where all the waste water in the fresher goes?” Trav asked, switching his eyepatch from the right eye to the left eye, which made no sense, since there was nothing wrong with either eye.

“It goes back to the molecular processors for the ship’s main material synthesizer units.”

“Exactly.  We use it to make the clothes we wear and the food we eat.  Do you know what that means?”

“No.  What does it mean?”

“It means our food is made from poo.  And our clothes we put on every day are made from poop too.  Isn’t that an icky thought?”

The Tesserah seemed to like that observation, changing its internal lighting to make it look more like a large, electrified turd.

“Oh, yuck,” said a crewman on the bridge.  Dana briefly thought about gutting him with a knife for being unhelpful, but then remembered the red uniform and took pity on the doomed young man.

“Captain Dalgoda, as First Officer, I request we dock at the designated docking bay.  We could all stand time away from the ship.”

“I am reluctant to leave my beautiful Tesserah.  But I do need to see Ham Aero again, the old jester.”

“Crewmen, please make it so,” said Dana to the doomed.

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AeroQuest 4… Adagio 19

Adagio 19 – The Last War Before Now

If you actually read that last Canto instead of skipping it to get to the good parts, especially the naked-girl parts of which I am not promising you any, like most readers do, you may have noticed that both Tron Blastarr and Arkin Cloudstalker were veterans of a war that happened in the Imperium’s Pan Galactican Rim, Space Cowboy country.  The Imperium had for two hundred and thirty-six years been expanding unimpeded and colonizing empty system after empty system.  The problem, of course, is that the systems weren’t exactly empty.  They had merely been cleansed of sentient and intelligent life by an unknown alien presence that came to be known as the Faceless Horde.

Battles took place, and planets would become empty of intelligent creatures like dolphins, whales, apes, Earthers, Nebulons, Galtorrians, Fusions, and other aliens capable of speech, culture, and organized militaries.

And the strangest thing was, the planets were simply empty after the battle.  No bodies of defenders.  No evidence of attackers.  Rumors began that the enemy ate the dead from both sides.  Of course, this was not based on the remains of cannibal cook-outs.  While there were a few of those sites with long-dead skulls and fire-pits for making barbequed people, they were all created by the usual Galtorrian and Dion cannibal cults that had been eating their own as well as other sentients since the Imperium was formed.

But then, finally, captured study specimens, mostly Earther-humans were released by the Horde to return and tell us what they knew.  The Scondians were literally faceless.  They were a race of black, eyeless, faceless creatures that lived entirely on soaked-up starlight, or more groundedly, sunlight.

I got a lot of first-hand information about them because one of Ged Aero’s most prized Psion Teenage Mutant Space Ninjas, Billy Iowa, was one of those captive study specimens returned to the Imperium. 

It was discovered that the Horde War was mostly a matter of misunderstanding.  The creatures did not need to eat because they were made mostly of coherent light energy.  Their bodies were primarily containment constructs to carry beings made mostly of low-temperature thermo-nuclear plasma.  Once killed, they simply dissolved into the air.  The Imperial forces had slaughtered billions, but didn’t know it because the bodies were gone by the time living observers were there to see them.  And Imperials didn’t find any Humanoid or allied alien bodies because the Scondian Faceless Horde were fascinated by them, needing to study them to discover why they didn’t dissolve when deceased.

Billy told me that he was only able to communicate with them when a Scondian who went by the name Rahotep invented a translation device that turned their clicks and popping sounds into Galactic English.  Nothing in Scondian society actually had a name.  “Scondian” and “Rahotep” were simply randomly chosen designations from the computer’s Galanglic database.

So, once the two very different kinds of intelligence could communicate, the misunderstanding of what the two sides each were, and what their goals were, the war ended in a flash.  The differences were great enough that no one actually was interfering with anyone else’s way of life.  Co-existence became easy.

Not so easy came the acceptance of the peace by those like Tron Blastarr, The Degenerate, Arkin Cloudstalker, Razor Conn, and Fez Amin.  They had experienced a myriad of impossible battles against the Scondian Scorpion ships, and came to deeply despise an enemy that had inflicted so much damage and pain with no apparent pay-back.

That’s when the veterans of the Horde War began moving to the border with unknown space to lick their wounds, build new fleets, and turn the act of privateering into complete and illegal piracy.

Many scientists, myself included, felt that the peace settled upon at the end of the Horde War was a mistake.  The Scondian Horde did not offer any cultural exchange or opportunity to cooperate in shared space.  They simply returned the Pan Galactican planets and properties and outstations they had cleansed of people and forbade further colonization in their portion of the Orion Spur.  That was bound to cause trouble sooner or later.  I mean, how can a greedy, acquisitive race of sentient beings like the Earthers, or the lizard-like Galtorrians, or the Human/Galtorr Fusions ever be satisfied that sentient beings with planets and a culture of their own not only forbid profiting from trade and commerce with them, basically in order to take advantage of them, or, even more galling, deny them planets, stars, and property to steal from its rightful owners?  They can’t be satisfied.  Piracy, after all, is what moves history forward.   But then came the massive influx of Nebulons in their Space Whale Cruisers, moving into Imperial range for no apparent reason.  By the billions, the little blue Space Smurfs were invading with a culture no more easily understandable than that of the Scondian Horde.  A new enemy to go to war with and exploit in any way possible made the Imperial navy and Admiral Tang forget all about the Faceless Scondian Horde.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 103

Canto 103 – Star Command

“So, Grand Admiral Cloudstalker, how does it feel to be in command of an entire Space Navy?” Tron asked, only half in jest.

“Grand Admiral?  Really?  Aren’t we being a touch pretentious here?”

“Arkin, we started a rebellion against the Imperial Order.  We have to have a new order ready in case we actually have to run an interstellar empire.”

Arkin was wearing a white cowboy hat from his Pan Galactican days.  It was pulled forward and down enough to make him look angry when he glared directly into your eyes.  Or, rather, one real eye and one prosthetic.  Tron blinked his real eye.

“I have every confidence in you, my friend.  You started the Lady Knights from scratch.  You designed and built the first White Sword Corsairs.  You recruited all the best female star pilots that the stupid Imperium wouldn’t even look at.  You fought the Faceless Horde for a decade and never really lost a battle.”

“We didn’t lose because when we didn’t have overwhelming odds in our favor, we ran away like cowards.”

“You were a privateer, for gawd’s sakes,” swore Tron with a rather lame swear.  “You never swore an oath to die in battle for old Tang when all you stood to get out of it was what money and tech you could loot from the enemy.  And those Faceless Scondians didn’t have anything we could use once we looted it.”

“You didn’t swear an oath either Tron, and you lost an eye and nearly lost your beloved Maggie.  Razor Conn lost his entire goddam home planet, along with all of his family.”

“But you do have to admit, we were all space warriors from birth.  We did it because it was what we were born to do.  Scondians and Imperials be damned!”

“Yeah, I suppose you have a point.  You designed and created Pinwheel Corsairs, and old Razor made the first Blackhawks.”

“We put together some really fine fighting forces, didn’t we?  You with Apache Scout and Tabitha Blue -Arrow, me with King Killer, Elvis the Cruel, and Scheherazade.”

“Now, right there is one of the things that worries me most.  We were in the middle of a life-and-death fight when we picked out the cream of the cream.  These alien rookie-things that are supposed to fill our new fleets… I mean, can King possibly train them in simulators to a point where they will survive a first battle with the fleets of the Imperium when we face Admiral Tang?”

“You know I believe in King Killer.”

“But these green alien troops?  Rock men?  Squid men?  Goofy-looking, big-finger men?”

“Well, if humans can do it…”

“But these alien pilots can’t.  They do fine in the simulators, but then they get into a starship made with Ancient technology, and the first thing they do is crash into each other, blow up the ships, and die a horrible death.”

“Well, the humans from Don’t Go Here…”

“…Can’t fly worth snergle poop either!”

“But the original crew of Megadeath…” 

“Have you talked to those morons in person, Tron?  They are the dumbest collection of numb-noggins in the universe!  And that Vince Niell!  He is a pilot only because his ship does most of the hard flying for him.”

“So, what you are saying is…  our rookies are all too smart to be piloting these Ancient-tech starships?  We need to be training them to be dumber and let the ships do the hard parts?”

“Hmm… now that you mention it, that is sorta the one thing we haven’t tried yet.  We need to train them to empty their minds and not overthink things.  Let the starship do its own thing?”

Both Tron and Arkin stared at each other in horror at the revelation.  They had been going about it totally wrong.  Pick dumber guys as pilots.  Tell them to think less and let the ship itself do more.  Could it really be that simple?

Of course not!  Are you dense, dear reader? They merely thought it was that simple.

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AeroQuest 4… Canto 101

Today’s post starts the next novel in the series I am making out of the disastrous novel I wrote and published in 2007. Being the part of the story undergoing the most rewriting, today’s post, as many of these posts will be, is a rough draft.

Canto 101 – Rimbaud Outstation

It was, by my reckoning, early morning when we came out of jump space at a deep-space location known only to pirates and corsairs.  The spot in deep space contained no stars or planets.  Only the huge, insanely-placed interstellar truck stop known as the Arthur Rimbaud Memorial Outstation and Weapons Storehouse.

Ham was in his usual pilot seat.  Sinbadh sat next to him in the co-pilot chair.  I was standing behind him with the cabin boy Sahleck next to me waiting for everybody’s breakfast orders.  Sinbadh wasn’t cooking for a change, so we were forced to contemplate synthesized foods from the material synthesizer that were only marginally edible at best.

“Tell me, Professor Marou, why is this thing named as a memorial to Arthur Rimbaud?  And who the heck was he?”

“If I remember correctly, Ham, he was a Nineteenth Century French poet and arms dealer who lived a debauched life, died young, and may have inspired the Surrealist movement in Art and Literature.”

We were looking out the front viewing portal at the outstation itself.  It was a brightly lit, transparent diamond shape, the central sun-source, located in the apex of the top pyramid, illuminating all the space and spaceships around it.  As we neared the equatorial docking bay, we noted that a badly damaged Blackhawk Corsair was being worked on there.

“Razor Conn, maybe?” Ham asked me, turning around to eyeball me.

“Shad Blackstone, more likely.  It has been through something terrible, though,” I said in a vast understatement.  “This is one of the safe points the Blackhawks and ships of the White Duke use when they are in trouble.”

“So, ye knew about this here place from yer White Duke connection, eh, Googol me boy?” said Sinbadh in his bad fake-pirate accent.

“Naturally.”

“Can you tell me what to punch in for breakfast?” asked Sahleck plaintively.

“Banana with peanut butter sandwich, my lad,” said Sinbadh.  “In fact, one for each of us blokes here.”

The Lupin boy scampered toward the galley.

“We can’t eat that drehk.  Why did you order that?” asked Ham.

“Yes, I thought Lupins didn’t like peanut butter on anything, because it sticks to the roof of your canine mouth,” I added.

“Ah, but it be the favored food of Elvis.  And besides, the synthesizer makes everything else on the menu taste like cattle poo.”

The Leaping Shadowcat cruised slowly into the docking bay and made a soft landing on the tarmac.

“Why does the sign over the door say Pray for him?” Ham asked.

“That’s what it says on Arthur Rimbaud’s tombstone.  I assume Banzai Joe wants you to know he is French and that he can provide wine, women, song, and bullets here, just like a dissolute poet.”

Three peanut butter and banana sandwiches later, we disembarked from the Shadowcat, the three of us plus Duke Ferrari.

When we got down from the exit ramp we were met on the tarmac by Banzai Joe himself along with three serving girls who wore only ribbons in their hair and a serving tray with drinks and aperitifs on their hands.

“Wha… why are these ladies naked?” asked Ham, blushing fiercely.

“Messieur, s’il vous plait, we are French, no?  And French spacemen are Classical Worlders, yes?  Appropriate raiment, c’est nue!”  Banzai Joe was a young-looking handsome guy with an oily manner.  He was fully dressed with a leather bomber’s jacket on with a rising-sun decoration on the front.

“We are not taking our clothes off for the sake of your silly religion, sir,” said Duke Ferrari with a rather stuffy air.

“Oui.  That is fair.  We have this station far away from the Classical Worlds.  Our staff are all nude.  But most of our guests, unless drunk or gambling and losing, they are not.”

“We are on our way to Coventry, my good man,” I said, trying to give the others room to compose themselves.

“Ah, Oui.  That will mean you are needing food and drink, and probably fuel.  A good jump six, or two easy threes, I am thinking.”

“Yes, that will do quite nicely.  And we are friends of the White Duke,” I said.

“Yes, Professor Marou.  I know you.  It all comes free for the friends of the White Duke.”

“Good man!”  I patted Banzai on the shoulder in thanks.

“Umm… I don’t know how to say this, but you all are needed in a special accommodation this fine day.  There is a game afoot.”

“Oh?  Whatever do you mean by that?”

“Friends of the White Duke, you see.  You will attend, yes?”

Ham looked at me with a questioning look on his handsome young face.  But it was obvious he knew things could not be talked about openly in a place that was not a special accommodation.

“We will find out later, I suppose?” I said to Banzai.

“Oui.  We will all find out later.”

The girls passed out drinks.

“There’s a very good French restaurant on this outstation,” I said to Ham and the Duke.  Sinbadh’s Lupin ears perked up right away at that.

“Yeah,” said Ham.  “Let’s go get the taste of bananas and peanut butter out of our mouths.”

“A fine idea, bucko,” said Sinbadh.  “A very fine idea indeed!”

I had to admit, the food sounded good, and the nude girls were beginning to look very interesting as I sipped my wine.

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Slow, But Still Progress

The new book cover, finished this morning

I have not yet finished AeroQuest 3 : Juggling Planets, but the groundwork is being laid already for part 4 in the AeroQuest Saga. The series is, after all, the rewrite of my out-of-print, 2007 novel, AeroQuest. So, the overall structure of the story already exists. I am merely expanding and revising that 350-page book into a better series of four or five books. In fact, there might have to be even more than that. I basically am too inventive for my own good, and there are just too many characters and plot threads for one book. And it may take six books to work it all out correctly.

This, then, is not so much a novel project as a hobby. Or maybe an artifact of an old hobby.

You see, AeroQuest was a story made from the notes I kept of my ongoing Traveller Role-playing game of the 80’s and early 90’s. Hamfast Aero, a main character, was a player character created by one of the first gang of players I had in the 80’s. In fact Ged Aero, Trav Dalgoda, Tron Blastarr, Xavier Tkriashav, Vince Neill (the player’s misspelling, not mine), Cold Death, King Killer, and Duke Han Ferrari were all player characters and strongly reflect the personalities and style of their original players. The plot is bizarre because of some of the creative problem-solving decisions made by the group of nerds who played the game. It had to be a comedy because we always had that over-the-top jokeability as a guiding principal of game play.

I am past page 100 in Book 3, and I have passed 27,000 words. It will end up being at least 135 pages and at least 35,000 words when it is finished. Book 4, if it ends the series, will have to be more than twice that. That’s why I am thinking five books instead of four.

The inspiration for the book was the foolish idea of combining Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wackiness with Frank Herbert’s Dune huge-book-with-many-short-chapters style. I guess the rewrite has given up on the Herbert format, if not the multitude of characters and subplots that went with it.

Anyway, I will have Book 3 published before I move on to the next writing project. The goal has never been to make money and be famous as a writer. But telling stories and writing them as novels has never been a choice. And, as painful as some of it is to give birth to, there is fulfillment to be had just from the simple act of writing.

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