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Aeroquest… Canto 10

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Canto 10 – Planetfall

      Once back at the docking port on Frieda, Ged noticed that the new space ship Goofy had asked Frieda to make was gone.  His concern spiked like an EKG from a surviving victim of electrocution.

“Calm down, Ged,” soothed Ham.  “Goofy is unpredictable, but he hasn’t gotten me killed yet.”

“You know what he’s doing, don’t you?”

“What?”

Ged Aero

“He’s going after those artifacts the alien computer was talking about.”

“So?”

“Ham!  Ancient devices with unfathomable powers?  In the hands of a pyromaniac and lunatic?  Don’t you see what comes next?”

“Well,” said Ham, looking down at his spaceship controls, “I do kinda see a disaster looming, if that’s what you mean.”

“Exactly what I mean!”

Ham Aero

“Oi believes ye need to track yer shipmate down, what?” offered Sinbadh.

In minutes the Leaping Shadowcat was docked and the three teammates were aboard Frieda.  In the main control room, they found the Nebulon Princess in a red jumpsuit, her small son sitting on the floor at her feet.  She smiled beautifully at Ham as the two brothers entered the room.

“I… am… free…” she announced in halting, yet clear Galactic English.

“Ah… Good,” said Ged.  “Goofy at least started the task I set him.”

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“I… am… love…” added the Princess cryptically, moving directly toward Ham.

“Err… What?” stammered Ham.

“Oi thinks ye have an admirer, me bucko!” said Sinbadh helpfully.

The Princess reached up to touch one of Ham’s blond curls.  “Nebulonin?” she cooed.

“Wha…?  No.  Human!  Definitely Earther.  I just have yellow hair.”  Ham pinched the skin on the back of his right hand.  “See, no blue!”

“Yes, blue…” she said smiling.

“Oh, what does that mean?”  Ham blushed furiously.

“Your Nebulon slave girl has been set free by Trav,” supplied Frieda.  “She means she is grateful.  Your on-board library suggests she suffers from something called Stockholm Syndrome.  She believes she is in love with you because you were her captors, but have been nice to her.  She was apparently violated numerous times by those who held her hostage in the Imperium.”

“Erm, thank you, Frieda.” Ham said.

“Frieda,” said Ged, as if he had at that moment realized something, “Where did Trav Dalgoda go?”

“I supplied him with coordinates to find the Hammer on the surface of the planet.  He went down there to find it.”

“I knew it!” swore Ged.  “We have to beat him to the thing!  Come on, guys!  We go now!”

“Can we leave the Princess here?” asked Ham nervously as the Nebulon girl looked at him lovingly.

“Sinbadh?  Can we trust that your corsair friends won’t come back?”

“Nah.  Them buccaneers is moighty unpredictable like.”

“Everybody goes aboard the Shadowcat, then,” said Ged.

“Dang!” swore Ham as the Nebulon Princess took one hand, and her little boy took hold of the other.

 

 

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Aeroquest… Adagio 3

Adagio 3 – Homo Lupines

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It was during the founding years of the Galtorr Imperium that genetically altered mutates, more commonly called “Freaks” were created in the laboratories of Faulkner Genetics.  The lessons of Dr. Frankenstein were completely lost on those poor doody-heads. Most artificial races were created to fill very specific slots in the colonial plan.  They first got away with monster making in the forgotten past.   When the Galtorrian lizard people and the Earther primates were both struggling to make their way into space, they somehow managed to splice their genomes together to make one race that had the worst qualities of both.  This melded race, of uncertain origin, is probably the fault of early Earther explorers who found the Galtorrian homeworld,  and scared out of their pants by the warlike reptilians, began crazy-mad experiments the way witless Earth humans do.  Having a mutual genetic link in the Galtorrian Lizard-Men meant that both the Galtorrs and the Earthers could feel like part of one people.  Well, that was the big idea, anyway.  These masters, though, having established an artificial ruling race, soon found use for slave races.

They created the tiny, elfin Peris of the planet Djinnistan to do immense computations in their overlarge heads with an edge of extreme creativity.  The winged Eagle-men, also of Djinnistan, were used for jungle warfare and air patrol duty.  They created the simian Security Beasts of the planet Karridon for obscure reasons, something about the Earther obsession with gorilla-like monkey violence.  Even the speedy Longlegs of the planet Nestor’s Palace were not a natural race and kept as work slaves.

Some science geek (not like me, I’m a nerd rather than a geek, I have never eaten a light bulb) in the days of the Gene-Splicer Renaissance thought it was a natural idea to combine the genes of Earth men with the genes of Earth dogs.  They reasoned that since dogs were man’s best friend, they would make a race of friendly, loyal dog-men.  They could then be their own best friends!  What a stupid concept!  They overlooked the fact that all dogs on Earth originated from wolves.  Wolves, if you didn’t already know, get hungry enough to eat you.

With my handy telescope I saw the Lupin Rebellion.  Waves of wolfmen turned on their masters and stole spacecraft and weapons.  Blood was shed as they threw off their collars and turned to wolf-pack piracy among the stars.  They were carnivores and totally uncontrollable.

The furry man-wolves formed fleets of corsair raiders known collectively as Stardogs and laid waste among poorly protected colonies.  Then, during the Second Unification War the Galtorr Jihad launched their war fleets against Stardog colonies and outposts, nearly making the Homo Lupines race extinct.  The Galtorrian hero, Sir Echo Saurol, had every intention of wiping them out like fleas in a flea-powder factory.  Only the Lupins who fled into deep space survived the wrath of the Galtorrians.

The first Aero-base, the sentient starport called Frieda, had originally been a Galtorrian Exploration Command Center.  A surviving pack of Lupins and Stardogs descended upon it and slew everyone in the planetary command before fleeing further into the unknown.  It had, however, been 329 years since the attack when the Aero brothers landed and claimed the base.  They knew nothing of the Stardog Freaks and their Lupin Rebellion.  All Ged knew was that Lupins were a creature he had hunted before, a very intelligent and dangerous creature to hunt.  Soon both brothers would learn more than they ever wanted to know about Lupins, especially the one that had been marooned on the Don’t Go Here Grange station.

 

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Aeroquest… Canto 7

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Canto 7 – Good Doggie

 

Ged planned the mission to the Grange station just for Ham and himself.  Trav was put in charge of the star port and given strict orders not to blow anything up or do anything stupid.  The last part of those standard orders was intentionally left vague enough to cover almost anything Trav might do.

In the Leaping Shadowcat they quietly slid a quarter of the way around the planet to the geo-synchronis orbit of the space-food installation.  It was vast.  At five miles in length and a mile in width it should’ve been feeding at least a million people in space.  It appeared that the hydroponically grown plants had grown almost completely out of control.  Greenery obscured any view of the interior through the sun-source windows.

The docking bay was large, and Ham easily steered the Shadowcat into position.  The automated systems attached to the Aero Brothers’ ship as smoothly as any starport in the Imperium.

“The power still works here.  Do you suppose someone’s been maintaining it until a short time back?” speculated Ged.

“Dunno,” said Ham.  “Somebody might be maintaining it and our sensors didn’t pick him or her up.”

“Maybe,” said Ged doubtfully.

Ged had spent ten years as a space-safari hunter for hire.  He had been successful in tracking xenomorphs on four hundred worlds and survived many dangerous encounters.  It was only natural that he led the way.  Caution had always been his hallmark as a hired big-game hunter.  He brought his customers back alive even if it meant not bagging the big xenomorph they were hunting.

Ged carefully set his medium-tech laser rifle on the stun-cone setting.  He didn’t need to kill whatever he encountered, just control it.  No telling how big a dog they were facing.  He led the way into the Grange with hand signals to Ham.

Ham had the big gun.  He carried an 80-pound MPPG, a man-portable plasma gun.  It put a stream of thermonuclear star-stuff out that could burn through planets if necessary.  It was the kind of weapon they’d kept safely out of Goofy’s hands for twenty years, since their teen years.

They were surprised to see the inside of the Grange fully operational.  Someone had recently been tending it.  Several of the hydroponic farms were operating efficiently and producing fruits and vegetables that the brothers hadn’t tasted in over two years.  Ham couldn’t resist grabbing and biting into a succulent carbo-melon from Antares One, purple juice running down his arm to the elbow.

Of course, most of the farms were thoroughly overgrown and idle.  A place like this needed a thousand people to operate completely, but someone, maybe two someones, had been very busy here.

Ged signaled to Ham.  “Paw Print!” he said in sign.  Ham signaled back.  “Dog?”

Ged signaled.  “Too big.  Only two legs.  Werewolf.  Like me?”

Ham grinned.  “Maybe you changed and got loose?”

“Not lately.”

Ged was an excellent tracker.  He followed the sign down into the artificial valley and from under cover, sighted the paw-print maker.  It had the head of an overly-fuzzy wolf or a husky dog, but the barrel-chested body was like a man’s.  Its crooked dog’s legs ended in bare paws, but it wore pants and had a tool belt around his middle.  He was shirtless and fuzzy-chested.

“Dang!” signed Ged.  “Homo Lupines.”

“Bring down,” signaled Ham.

Ged rose up from behind the foliage and fired a cone of shock-laser beam at the Lupin.  It dropped like a stone.

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Aeroquest… Canto 6

Canto 6 – Frieda

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It soon became evident that Trav Dalgoda had downloaded an artificial intelligence into the computer systems of an abandoned Galtorrian starport.  He named it Frieda after his boyhood invisible companion.  Ged laughed at him uncontrollably for several minutes.  But the whole mess worried him too.

Frieda apparently removed herself from the Crown of Stars into the mainframe, because the middle crystal in the crown now ceased to glow.  She was a very capable artificial being, and she immediately began to repair the base using all the robotic arms, cleaners, switches, routers, and computers as if they were her new body.

“Frieda, old girl, I am impressed,” said Goofy to the control systems.  “You have made this place into a home just like that!”

“I appreciate a kind and patient master,” said the female voice that was now Frieda.  “You are much nicer than my last master.”

“Who was your last master?” asked Ham, slightly concerned.

“His name has no analog in your tongue.  He was the Dark One, son of Grandfather.  He made us do terrible things.”

“How long ago was this?” asked Ged, concerned more than Ham seemed to be.

“Sixty-four million of what your computers refer to as a year.”

“Is he still around?” asked Ham.

“Grandfather slew all his children at the end of the final war.  Only unliving things remain from that time.  Unliving things like the three of us, The Crown of All Stars.”

     Ged was relieved to hear that these powerful ancient menaces were long gone.  He hoped that using this artifact hadn’t released an ancient evil on the universe in the way you always read about in story books.

“I did good, didn’t I?” said Trav to Ham.

“I have to hand it to you, Goofy.  That was an excellent bit of fortune you pulled off.”

“No luck to it, old jester,” Trav replied.  “My skills are unique.”

“That’s for sure,” agreed Ged.

The sentient station methodically set about taking care of all aboard.  She made accommodations for the Princess and her son.  She fixed up state rooms for Ged and Ham.  She prepared the finest of luxury quarters for Trav.

Frieda used her robotic cargo arms on the docking port to repair battle damage to the outside of the Leaping Shadowcat.  She soon discovered that she had enough spare parts in storage that she could build another space ship, one with two deadly rail guns aboard because Trav liked to blow things up.  Trav named the new cobbled-together ship Megadeath.  Its engines ran with efficiency unheard of in the Imperium.

“Have I done well, master?” Frieda asked Trav.

“I couldn’t ask for more, hon,” he answered.  “You give me everything I want.”

“She makes me nervous,” said Ged.  “She comes from a culture that destroyed themselves.  Maybe the power she gives is too much for us.”

“Ah, you’re just jealous.  You need an ancient artifact of your own.”

“May I suggest Grandfather’s building device?” offered Frieda.  “It is on the planet below us.  It is known as the Hammer of God.”

“Oh, no!” cried Ged.  “Not another one!  Think what could happen if the wrong people get ahold of such a device!”

“Well,” said Trav.  “I guess you just have to find it then.”

“What?”

“Ged, you are the most trustworthy man I know, and in the Imperium I know a lot of men.”  Trav clapped a hand on Ged’s shoulder.

“I guess you are right.”  Ged shook his head at the wonder of it all.  Would this adventure turn to gold by sheer dumb luck?  Ged didn’t believe in magic or luck.  He believed in making his own destiny.  If that meant making sure a moral man was in charge of these events and these ancient devices, then so much the better.  “We’ve got work to do on the Grange station first, though.”

“Oh, yes.  Rescuing the puppy!” said Trav.

“And securing a renewable source of food,” finished Ged.Aeroquest banner a

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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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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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