Chapter Three | Stuck Station

Previous Chapter is: Chapter Two

Next Chapter is: Chapter Four

Archive for the 'Chapter Three' category

3.01 - Continuing fire

Mar 21 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Chapter Three

When the flash from the missile's impact faded, Daniel was surprised to find himself still breathing.

“We’re alive,” Daniel said.

“I noticed,” said a rather confused Alitma. “Fire again.”

There was another flash. Daniel, Trak and Rachel-7 continued to exist.

“This is odd,” Alitma said. “Fire again, again.”

There was a flash … again. The missile had exploded against the hull, but the Afterthought remained unharmed.

“Just keep firing until the ship falls apart!” Alitma yelled, exasperated.


“Trak, why aren't we dead?” Daniel asked.


“Don't know. His—"Trak said.


“Weapons are—"



Flash. Flash.

“With my sensors and—"

Flash, flash, flash.

“Would you stop that?!” said Trak, who didn't like to be interrupted. “The missiles are obviously not working!”

Alitma used his battle exoskeleton to give Trak a thumbs up. Unfortunately, Alitma was using the Balakan species version of that hand gesture, which was significantly more vulgar than the ancient human one.

“Anyone want to ask me why we're still alive?” Rachel-7 said.

“No,” Alitma, Daniel and Trak said together.

“Too bad,” Rachel-7 said. "Because I figured it out."


“I said stop that!” Trak yelled.

“Fine,” Alitma said. He whispered to his second in command.

The Afterthought's viewscreens changed color.  While they still displayed Alitma's face, each screen now had a dark blue tint.

“He’s switched to energy weapons,” Trak said.  "Doesn't hurt my sensors, but the Afterthought's instruments don't like it."

“Anyway," Rachel-7 continued, "remember when I said the object that we landed on was a headlight from an Onean transport?”

“An error on your part,” Trak said.

“Shhhh,” she said, trying to shut Trak up so she could finish.

Alitma’s sigma cannons continued to bathe the Afterthought with killing sapphire-colored radiation.

“The reason I thought it was Onean—an excellent, theory, by the way—” Rachel-7 said.

Alitma ordered his crew to turn the weapons to full power.

Still no effect.

3 responses so far

3.02 - Space travel

Mar 22 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Rach, if you know why we’re still alive, just tell us,” Trak said.

Before he finds a weapon that works...” said Daniel, impatient.

“He'll be looking for a long time,” Rachel-7 said triumphantly. “The reason I thought the cannon was an Onean headlight? Because the cannon actually has an Onean headlight installed inside.”

“Ah,” Trak said, relieved.

“Ah,” Daniel said. Then he smiled.

“So?” Alitma said.

He didn’t understand why Daniel looked so happy.

Alitma had never heard of the Onean species before and had no idea why the warlike Z-klik would have merged their brilliant weapon with a flashlight.

Alitma’s science advisor leaned over and whispered into Alitma’s left ear hole. The advisor spoke for three minutes before Alitma finally understood.

“Ah,” Alitma said, as his advisor stepped away.

“How did you know—” Alitma began to ask his enemies.

“You know your weaponry … we know our garbage,” Rachel-7 said.

Here's a bit of background: traveling the universe is dangerous for a number of reasons. But one reason you may not have thought about—because it doesn’t come up that often at social functions—is that the faster you go, the more deadly tiny bits of matter become.

A pebble is nothing to worry about. Unless you hit it at 99.999999999999 percent of the speed of light. Then that rock hits your ship like a diamondglass mountain.

To defend against such collisions, starfaring species meticulously shield every part of their ship's hulls against even the smallest particles.

Many vessels have double and triple collision shielding overlapping critically important areas, like the weapons bay, the engineering section, and the food court.

Alitma knew this well.

However, until his advisor explained the matter, Alitma did not know that the Oneans considered their headlights “critically important.”

No responses yet

3.03 - Onean shielding

Mar 23 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

The long extinct Oneans had worshiped light.

A plant-like species, they believed that all electromagnetic energy was worthy of reverence and protection: they even quadruple-shielded their headlights.

Their headlights were so well protected that many species, including the Z-klik, would take abandoned Onean ships, remove the headlights, and install them inside their own vessels for defensive purposes.

It didn’t hurt that the shielding was compatible with almost every type of matter.

Once activated, the headlight’s shield would wrap around any object touching the headlight or any object that was touching an object that was touching the headlight.

In this case, that meant the Afterthought.

And that is what Alitma’s science advisor explained to him … very quickly.

“The Z-klik cannon’s auxiliary lighting doesn’t include the Onean technology,” Trak said, puzzled. “I couldn’t activate the headlight.”

“I know,” Rachel-7 said. “I could, and I did. My hacking matrices are far more advanced than yours. ... So, we now have Onean shielding,”

“And Trak, what does that mean for my former employer?” said a relieved Daniel,  motioning toward the image of Alitma with his both hands as if presenting an award.

“I know what it means,” Alitma said angrily.

“He could fire on us for years with no effect,” Trak said, stunned.

“Rach, why didn’t you say you could link with the —” Daniel said.

“Guess I’m not so forthcoming when I don’t get positive reinforcement for safely flying a garbage scow through a ship graveyard for forty-seven hours straight!” Rachel-7 screamed.

“Hmm,” Daniel said. “Great flying, Rach.”

“Don’t mention it,” Rachel-7 said.

One response so far

3.04 - A bluff come true

Mar 24 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Yes, excellent work, Rachel-7,” Trak said. “In both your piloting maneuvers and your defensive strategy."

"Thank you," Rachel-7 said, drinking in the praise.

"Of course, the Onean shielding can't protect us forever—” Trak said.

“Thankfully,” Alitma said.

“—since the cannon will explode in a few minutes,” Trak said.

“What?!” Daniel and Rachel yelled.

“I said, I’m not falling for it,” Alitma said.

“Daniel,  you told Alitma you wanted to give me “the opportunity to really link to this cannon,” Trak said, using a recording of Daniel’s voice saying that very thing. “And I have finally linked up with the firing system. It was tricky but ..."

Trak realized the crews of both ships were speechless and staring at him.

“Anyway, it’s charging up,” Trak said.

“I was bluffing!” Daniel said.

“Ah,” Trak said. “Well, you fooled me.”

Stuck On: Oneans

To most intelligent species, the Oneans were better known as the Star Seekers (first mentioned at the end of the post Hugs and Phobias).

They called themselves that because they wanted to express their desire to explore distant suns. They also thought it looked good on their business cards.

Trak, Daniel and Rachel-7 had been referring to them as Oneans because that was the species’ title in the Septaun species classification system—the system used by duster to identify extinct races.

Alitma was not familiar with the Oneans, because he had never learned the Septaun system and would have thought it a waste of time.

However, if Alitma’s science advisor had explained to his boss that the Oneans and the Star Seekers were one and the same, Alitma might have understood why the Afterthought was still standing—he probably wouldn't have needed a long-winded explanation of Onean shielding.

Most beings, Alitma included, were familiar with the Star Seeker’s technological might and their horrifying legacy.

But Alitma’s science advisor had a bit of a hangover and hadn’t mentioned it.

For thousands of millennia, the Star Seekers brought peace and joy to other species, until the hatching of their most infamous son—a brilliant and genocidal scientist—who turned against his people, murdered every last Star Seeker, and then set his sights on the rest of the universe.

He definitely won’t come up again …

2 responses so far

3.05 - Broken warning

Mar 25 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Whoop, whoop, cough, whoop,” blared the Afterthought’s older-than-dirt emergency alarm.

Daniel was surprised the alarm worked at all.

It hadn’t gone off when Alitma hit the Afterthought with a pulse blast, or with a missile, or with the high intensity energy weapons that he continued to fire upon the ship.

But whatever was happening inside the Z-klik cannon was so powerful and dangerous, it was enough to activate the ship’s antique warning system.

“Trak, you said there wasn’t a chance you could link with the cannon,” Daniel said.

“Very nice, Daniel,” Alitma said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “And believable too.”

“What are you going on about?” Rachel-7 said.

“This whole 'The cannon’s going to overload' charade!'” Alitma yelled. “Can't you just give up? You're out of options. Yes, your friend may have activated the shields, an excellent move—”

“Thank you,” Rachel-7 said.

“But it doesn’t help!" Alitma said. "You’re still trapped. The instant you exit that shield, you're mine. You can’t leave your ship. Your ship can’t leave its landing zone. And I’m not leaving until you tell me where you hid my property."

"Oh, and just so you're aware," he taunted, his voice full of hate, "I can fire on you until the stars burn out.”

“Daniel,” Trak said, ignoring Alitma’s sneering voice, “I did say I couldn’t link with the cannon, but there was a small chance it was possible."

Daniel raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"I rounded the percentage down to zero to save time," Trak said. "Remember, I always estimate when I speak with you. ... Did you really want me to say, ‘There’s .000000000007483808483048 percent chance that I could make the cannon operational?”

“When we’re facing that?” he said, pointing at Alitma’s face on the floor, a viewscreen Daniel hadn’t even known the Afterthought had. “Yes! Tell me the whole number when it’s life or death.”

“Always give exact figures during life or death instances. Noted,” Trak said, making a literal note of it in his datacore.

“Sensors, such as they are, are reporting a 700 percent increase in Belmont radiation from the cannon,” Rachel-7 said.

“Convincing,” Alitma said, still sarcastic. “So convincing.”

A subordinate leaned over and whispered in Alitma’s ear hole.

“Of course, it looks like it’s going to overload!” Alitma snapped. “It’s a trick. A trick.”

No responses yet

3.06 - Enough

Mar 28 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Can you detach us from the cannon before it blows?” Daniel said.

“Yes, but like the snake said we won’t have the Onean shield—that I cleverly deployed—to protect us,” Rachel-7 said.  

“I’m still not falling for it,” Alitma said.

“So we either  take our chances with Alitma’s cannons or we see if the Afterthought can withstand a supernova-sized explosion?” Daniel said.

"It cannot," Trak said, trying to be helpful.

“We know!” Rachel-7 said and sighed. “But yes, Daniel, that's about the size of it. Though I’m not sure—”

“Enough!” Alitma yelled, his voice echoing through the Afterthought’s cabin. “My crew may be taken in, but I refuse to listen to any more of your lies!”

Alitma took a deep breath, regained composure, and spoke more slowly.

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume the cannon can explode—which it can’t. Even if it could ignite and kill us all, I know for a fact that you will not use it.”

Alitma rose from his chair and began pacing his ship’s bridge.

“Yes, Daniel might be stupid enough to kill himself in some foolhardy attempt to be a hero. And the Aye? She’s crazy enough to go along.”

“Hmmph,” Rachel-7 said, indignant.

“But Trak is a different matter,” Alitma said.

Alitma stopped his pacing and moved closer to the viewscreen, his gaze fixed on the mechanical life form at Daniel’s side. “I am aware of your … interesting history, Mek.”

Alitma paused to let the words sink in.

Daniel stopped watching the cannon’s energy readings on his eyescreen. He knew he should be looking for a way out of their current “strapped-to-a-40-story-tall-cannon-turned-bomb” predicament, but his curiosity was too strong.

Alitma knows something about Trak’s past?

2 responses so far

3.07 - Work history

Mar 29 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“You …” Alitma said, his eyes focusing on Trak. “You used to be quite the killer.”

Trak didn’t say anything. He simply tilted his angular head downward, a human gesture of shame that he had learned from Daniel.

“It was one of the reasons I hired you,” Alitma said. “Even though you refused to participate in the messier parts of my business endeavors, I always liked having someone with your —ahem—résumé in my employ. I imagine it’s the same thrill that zookeepers feel when they add a rare and dangerous animal to their menagerie.” 

Daniel listened intently. Alitma had never mentioned anything about Trak’s past, not once during the entire two years that Daniel, Trak, and Rachel-7 had worked for the gangster.

“You were feared on many worlds. … Of course, no one fears you now,” Alitma said. “You can’t hurt anyone. We found that out at Humboldt Hospital, didn’t we?”

Trak remained silent.

Then Daniel remembered an obvious fact that, in all the tension, he had forgotten: Trak could do no violence to a living being.

Trak’s bluffing! Daniel thought. But if he’s bluffing, why do all the sensors show that the cannon’s about to explode? Sure, Trak could rig the sensors to display false information, but he’s so terrible at lying. Ugh, I need another drink.

He reached for the flask in his pocket.

“Not now, Daniel!” Rachel-7 said.

Chagrined, Daniel let his hand drop to his side.

“So yes, Trak, I know your secret. You’re harmless,” Alitma said, and returned to his seat. “Mostly harmless, I mean. I guess you could hurt Daniel if you accidentally stepped on his foot.”

Alitma chuckled, and his crew laughed appreciatively.

“So set off the cannon,” Alitma taunted. “Light up this sector. … I dare you.”

There was silence in the Afterthought’s cabin, except for the whooping and coughing of the ship’s alarm.

“He’s right,” Trak said, finally.

“Of course I am,” Alitma said, triumphantly.

Alitma’s toadying crew started to cheer.

Then the cannon began to shake.

No responses yet

3.08 - Toasteroid belt

Mar 30 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

The cannon's rumblings shook the Afterthought and knocked Daniel to the ground.

“I think Trak might have done something, Alitma,” Daniel said, pulling himself upright.

‘Nah, I’m not buying it,” Alitma said.

The reddish light of the Z-Klik cannon shined into both bridges and mingled with the blue of the dreadnought’s energy weapons, which Alitma had continued to fire at the Afterthought.

The combination of the two lights painted each crew a dark magenta.

“Getting the Z-klik cannon to shake is a nice touch though, Trak,” Alitma said.

“Belmont radiation from the cannon has increased another 400 percent,” Rachel-7 announced.

"Of course it as," Alitma said sarcastically.

The radiation began to interfere with the Afterthought’s already faulty equipment.

It blurred the images of Alitma’s face on the viewscreen, making him look like he had antlers. It garbled the ship’s music synthesizer program, and the program began to perform a mix of Altarian funeral dirges and 19th-century style human yodeling.

The depressing sounds actually fit the mood nicely.

The radiation also shorted out the timing mechanisms of a number of toasters on the ship’s hull, causing them to pop up early. As one, 54 of the small kitchen appliances shot a spray of lightly-cooked bread into space. They instantly froze solid in the vacuum of space.

In the weightlessness, the yeasty asteroids floated in all directions and bounced off the Onean headlight shield and the Afterthought’s hull.

“Wait, why did the toasters have bread in them?” Rachel-7 said.

“The little machines looked lonely without bread,” Trak said, unaware of how odd that sounded coming from a 10-foot-tall former killing machine. "I told the repair cloud to assemble some for them. That was a few weeks ago."

Daniel raised an eyebrow at Trak.

"I was bored," Trak explained.

"Ah," Daniel said.

Alitma watched as the cloud of toast expanded around the Afterthought.

2 responses so far

3.09 - Power transfer

Mar 31 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Interesting,” said Alitma, watching the floating bread shards. “But system malfunctions are so easy to counterfeit.”

“I am not faking an Afterthought system malfunction,” Trak said.

“Just sit tight, Daniel and company,” Alitma said, ignoring Trak. “Eventually my crew will find a way through that shield. Or your food forge will run out of matter to convert into supplies. Or the Star Seeker shield will exhaust its fuel. Or you will surrender. Plenty of ways for you to lose.”

“I do not think that waiting would be wise,” Trak said. “You are well within the cannon’s blast radius.”

Alitma titled his head up 30 degrees, the Rosov expression of disdain and disbelief—much like the human gesture of rolling the eyes.

“We’ve already been over this—” Alitma said.

“The cannon will indeed explode in a few minutes,” Trak interrupted.

Daniel didn’t understand. Trak didn’t seem to be lying, but Trak also couldn’t harm any sentient living creature. He certainly couldn’t end the lives of every being on the dreadnought with a massive weapon overload.

None of this makes sense, Daniel thought.

“For while it is true that I cannot fire—” Trak said.

“Oh! I figured it out!” Rachel-7 interrupted.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“—I will be transferring voice control of the weapon to Daniel,” Trak said.

That’s what I thought,” Rachel-7 said. “You’re up, Captain Wei.”

“Daniel, at your command,” Trak said, “this cannon will burst with the fire of 74 main sequence stars.”

Now it makes sense, Daniel thought.

“That’s not possible!” Alitma said. “Trak cannot kill!”

“I can’t,” Trak said, “but I don’t have to stop anyone else.”

No responses yet

3.10 - The blast wave

Apr 01 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Daniel, once you activate this weapon, there will be a brief delay before it explodes — depending on how long it takes the super-heated plasma at the weapon's core to burn through its containment shielding," Trak said with effortless nonchalance.

"It will be somewhere between two and ten minutes before the heat changes the inside of the cannon into matter soup,” he added.

Alitma sat speechless as Trak continued to explain.

“At that point, the overflow energy will break through the cannon's hull, shattering the weapon and releasing a blast wave that will expand in all directions at 99 percent of the speed of light. When the wave hits the Afterthought and Alitma's dreadnought, it will erase the two ships from existence. It will also evaporate most of the surrounding wreckage, but I am unable to guess what effect the explosion will have on the Garage.”

Trak turned to Daniel and said, “Incidentally, the activation phrase, is ‘Go’.”

“What if I accidentally say—”

“No!” Rachel-7, Trak, Alitma, and Alitma’s entire crew yelled, cutting Daniel off.

“I wouldn't really have said it,” Daniel said.

“Of course not,” Rachel-7 said.

“Hold on,” Alitma said, as if realizing something. “Stop firing on them. Stop!”

The bright blue light vanished as the energy weapons became still.

“I should have tried this at the hospital,” Alitma said. “Would’ve saved me a lot of time and a lot of employees. But I was angry.”

Daniel didn’t know what to expect next.

“Daniel, you tell me where my property is, and I let you go,” Alitma said. “I’ll even let you keep your spaceship, if you can call it that. You have my word.”

3 responses so far

3.11 - Nome

Apr 04 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“I repeat—and you know how much I hate to repeat myself—you have my word that you will go free,” Alitma said.

Alitma’s word was ironclad. Keeping promises was the only honorable thing the gangster did.

“I’ll even throw in an asteroid-sized chunk of nome,” Alitma added. “All you have to do is give back the extract.”

With that much nome, I—No, no, and no, Daniel thought, halting his train of thought.

Though tempted, Daniel knew he could never return the extract.

It's the only thing that can make up for the accident, Daniel thought.

(The accident was first mentioned in Post 2.22 - The past) .

Stuck Station: Nome

Clouds are cheap, reliable, and easy to mass-produce.

They can construct almost anything: Alitma’s dreadnought, the Z-klik cannon, and the Afterthought are all cloudbuilt.

Clouds also tell hilarious and sometimes weapons-grade “Yo momma” jokes.

Despite these admirable qualities, nanobot swarms do have limitations. Because of the complexity of the nanoscopic maneuvers involved, clouds cannot build certain types of material. These non-manufacturable materials—nome for short—are some of the most valuable commodities in the 28th Century.

Anything with an atomic number above 157 is considered nome. (As of 2713 A.D., there are 2,245 known elements on the Intergalactic Periodic Sofa.)

That means all elements above and including In-and-Out-Burgerium (a delicious element developed by a human restaurant chain in the 24th century) are out of a cloud’s nanobotic reach.

There are many different types of nome—some naturally-occurring, but most synthetic— and the higher up on the Intergalactic Periodic Sofa, the more valuable the nome.

Most post-cloud civilizations use nome as currency. The reason for this is simple: Once a species develops the cloud, the invention renders all other forms of currency obsolete—clouds can recreate, and therefore counterfeit, anything that isn’t nome.

Garna extract is 97 percent nome.

2 responses so far

3.12 - A curious thought

Apr 05 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“I am truly sorry, Alitma,” Daniel said.

And he was. Daniel would have loved to return the extract, forget Alitma , and head to one of his 13,409 favorite bars.

But what happened at Cassandra was my fault, Daniel thought. So the only thing I can say is...

"I can't give it back," Daniel said, his voice almost a whisper.

Then Alitma lost of all pretense of civility. He gripped the metal armrests on his captain's chair and crushed them effortlessly.

"You must!" he yelled.

Then Alitma stood, turned toward his throne and beat the unfortunate piece of furniture into a shapeless metal blob. Bellowing, he ripped what was left of the chair out of its molding and hurled it off screen. The muffled scream that followed indicated the chair had hit an unlucky subordinate.

Then Alitma turned to face Daniel again, his dilated pupils showing his fury.

“What will you do now, worm?!” Alitma snarled.  “You had a chance for freedom!”

As a weary Daniel mentally prepared himself for Alitma’s latest tirade, a curious thought entered his mind.

Why is Alitma here? Daniel thought. I mean why is he here in person? Alitma must have people steal from him all the time. He has thousands of employees and dozens of ships he could have sent to track me down.

Something made him make the trip in the flesh, Daniel realized. There has to be some other reason he’s here, And maybe there—

Hey, here’s something more important than Alitma’s motives, he reminded himself. Your ship is strapped to a building-sized bomb! What are you going to do about it?

One response so far

3.13 - Tirade

Apr 06 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“What will you do?” Alitma repeated, in a frothing anger. “You have no option but surrender! Every other choice is suicide. And I know you won't kill yourself … coward.”

Daniel stood still. Coward. There was that word again. His subconscious threw it at him nightly.

“And why would you kill yourself?” Alitma said, sarcastically. “You have so much to live. You are a disgraced duster turned underpaid janitor—sorry, ex-underpaid janitor—trapped in a flying junk-ship with a neutered Mek and a third-rate pilot Aye as his only friends.”

Daniel flinched.

“Third-rate?!” Rachel-7 yelled, fuming.

“Neutered?” Trak asked. He didn't disagree, he just wondered if it was the correct word.

“Actually, Daniel,” Alitma said, “maybe you will destroy yourself. I know I would, if I had your life.”

“I—”Daniel said.

“Did you know you’re still wanted for murder?” Alitma asked. “Not just everyday murder, mass murder. Even I don’t have that on my wanted feed.”

Daniel flinched again. He hadn’t known they upped his charges.

“It was just a mistake. I didn’t mean—Cassandra wasn’t—I am not a murderer!” Daniel said, but he wasn’t sure.

“Coward” wasn’t the only word his subconscious  repeated over and over. "Murderer" was there, too.

“Now that I think about it,” Alitma said, “nothing I can do to you would be worse than the life you already have, you complete and utter failure.”

“Failure” was the third most common word in the arsenal of Daniel's subconscious.

His mind fired “coward,” “failure,” and “murderer” at him every night, until he killed those thoughts with liquor or its alien equivalent.

2 responses so far

3.14 - An avatar's eyes

Apr 07 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Without warning, the Afterthought’s alarm, already loud, became deafening.

As far as the ship’s sensors were concerned, the weapon had stored up enough energy to go from very dangerous to insanely dangerous.

Still smarting from Alitma’s tongue-lashing, Daniel took a moment to think.

He could, like the gangster said, sit there until they ran out of food … or he could end it all in a moment.

Daniel knew he should make a decision. A real one, this time. (Daniel earlier postponed his decision in post 2.19 The Kep Effect).

Suddenly, a pair of beautiful green eyes replaced the image of Alitma’s face on the Afterthought’s largest viewscreen.

Two perfectly formed eyebrows at the top of the screen and the bridge of a pert nose at the bottom framed the orbs, which appeared to spark with electricity.

It was Rachel-7’s avatar, the only way she ever deigned to show herself to the crew.

She felt what she was about to say was important enough to grace the captain with her pseudo-presence.

“Just a heads up, Daniel?” Rachel-7 said. “I don’t want to die by cannon explosion. But if it shuts Alitma’s mouth, I can live with it. … So to speak.”

Fair enough, Daniel thought.

No responses yet

3.15 - Living

Apr 08 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Hmmph. Third-rate pilot indeed,” Rachel 7 said and rolled her avatar’s eyes.

“I agree,” Trak said.

“How dare you—!” Rachel-7 said.

“I meant, I agree about shutting Alitma up,” Trak said.

"Oh," Rachel-7 said.

“Daniel, I am not opposed to dying," Trak said. "Of course, ideally, I want to keep functioning ... but I've had a long life. Whatever you decide, I will support your decision."

Rachel-7 sighed and resignedly said, "Me too."

That moment reinforced what Daniel already knew: Trak, and to a lesser extent Rachel-7, would stand by Daniel's side, no matter what.

Even if it made them look stupid.

Even if it killed them all.

Stuck On: Daniel's reasons

Despite what Alitma may have said, Daniel felt he had many reasons to not overload the cannon:

1. He wanted to see Jeska again.

2. He wanted to go on living.

3. He wanted to see Trak and Rachel-7 survive.

4. He really wanted to go on living.

5. He wanted to make amends for the accident.

6. He really, really wanted to go on living.

3 responses so far

3.16 - Diatribe interrupted

Apr 11 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Alitma continued his rage-fueled rant, oblivious to everything around him.

So oblivious, in fact, that he hadn’t noticed when Trak regained control of a small portion of the Afterthought’s communication systems a few moments earlier.

Just after Alitma called Daniel a “failure,"  the Mek had muted the Afterthought's viewscreens. For three minutes, the crew couldn’t hear anything the gangster yelled.

During that silence, Rachel-7 and Trak had told Daniel they would support him if he overloaded the cannon, and Daniel had considered his reasons not to overload the cannon.

The quiet ended when Alitma took a deep breath (Rosovs only need to breathe once every 30 minutes) and noticed that Rachel-7, Trak and Daniel weren’t looking at him.

"Daniel!" he yelled.

No response.

Alitma wasn't used to being ignored. But what really bothered him was that they hadn't heard some of his best insults!

While not exactly witty, the scornful words were hurtful and accurate. In the past, the unfortunate beings who had faced Alitma's verbal abuse tended to classify his style as "very thorough."

He ordered his science officer to reestablish control over the Afterthought’s communication systems.

The science officer complied, but, because he was still hung over, he accidentally increased the volume levels far beyond those considered safe for human hearing.

“Pay attention!” Alitma screamed at the Afterthought.

Daniel cried out as pain shot through his skull.

Immediately, his internal medical nanobots surged into the wounded eardrum tissue, ready to repair the damage. Without the cloud's intervention, Daniel would have been deaf in a matter of seconds.

Certain that his enemies could hear him now, Alitma picked up from where he left off.

He had stopped right after comparing Daniel to a useless amoeba—only more unlovable—but just before he had planned to call Daniel’s garment choices "tacky" and "out of style."

He is very thorough, thought an increasingly depressed Daniel.

One response so far

3.17 - Two theories

Apr 12 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Daniel suddenly felt a whole lot better, even as Alitma continued to heap insults upon him.

The universe looked bright and rosy, and that left Daniel confused. He had been so sad a moment earlier. Now everything seemed fine.

Daniel mentally proposed two theories on his inexplicable mood change:

Theory One: The wise words of his stalwart companions had helped him transcend his mortal concerns, moving him to a higher plane of consciousness.

Theory Two: Daniel had chugged half the contents of his father’s flask while Alitma had been criticizing his wardrobe.

A very drunk Daniel—who had been half sloshed before the actions described in Theory Twoconcluded the two theories weren't mutually exclusive.

In his much more optimistic and much less logical frame of mind, Daniel decided his problems weren't that bad.

He didn't need to overload the cannon; he and his friends could wait Alitma out.

The Onean shield will last for a long time. The food forge, too. And Trak or Rachel-7 will find a solution. Or someone will show up and help us, thought Daniel. Don't need to rush into suicide.

“In fact, I bet you’re still pining away for that heiress brat!” Alitma said.

Daniel’s eyes widened.

Aaaand I can see I hit a nerve,” Alitma said. “Good. What was her name? Jeskar? Jeskal? I can’t remember, but I’ll call her what everyone else does: whore.”

Yes, Daniel had many reasons to not kill himself and everyone nearby, but his rage made those reasons evaporate.

“Set off the cannon,” Daniel said with an anger he hadn't thought possible.

3 responses so far

3.18 - Unanswered prayer

Apr 13 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

In an act of desperation, Daniel prayed to the Singularity Gods in the ancient, traditional manner—he sent a link mail message to singularitygods@universe and begged for help.

Instantly, Daniel’s augmented internal memory received an auto-reply statement from the address. It was a message the transhumanist faithful were familiar with:

“Thank you for contacting the Singularity Gods project at Torshak Enterprises. As you know, we have technologically ascended beyond the comprehension of sentient lifeforms.

"Since then, we have received a number of messages. These messages will be answered in the order they were received. Once again, thank you for your patience, and we appreciate your business.

"Your message is number 319,555,191,194,119,191,181—”  

As the number continued, Daniel recalled that much of humanity, as well as many other species, had prayed to the Singularity Gods since 2439—the Year They Ascended.

So, the number of messages in the gods' queue was understandably quite long.

After the auto-reply message ended, Daniel waited a few more seconds.

The gods didn't arrive.

He wasn't surprised. He’d never been a particularly devout transhumanist.

As a final goodbye, Daniel gave a quick nod to Rachel-7’s avatar and patted his friend Trak on the back.

Rachel-7 cocked an eyebrow in what Daniel hoped was a supportive gesture, and Trak put his giant arm around Daniel’s shoulder.

Feeling the cannon beneath his feet, Daniel braced himself for whatever comes after this life.

And nothing happened.

“Nothing’s happening …” Daniel said.

“Ha!” Alitma said. “I knew it!”

“Daniel, you have to say ‘Go,’” Trak said. “Remember?”

“Yes. Right. … Go,” Daniel said.

Then the cannon began its death throes.

As the Afterthought shook wildly, Trak and Rachel-7 sent each other rapid fire l-mails.

“I’m having déjà vu,” Rachel-7 asked. “Didn’t we just do something like this?”

“No, Daniel bluffed a couple of times, then I bluffed,” Trak said. “Now Daniel is serious. And we’re dead.”

“I know. I was being snarky,” Rachel-7 said.

“Really?" Trak said with all seriousness. "Hmm. Didn't pick up on that."

3 responses so far

3.19 - Approximate sound

Apr 14 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Rachel-7 knew she had no chance of survival … so she decided to sing.

“Stop, please,” Daniel said.

“No,” Rachel-7 replied. “And, for the record, Daniel, this is what music sounds like. Not that ‘Row your Boat’ twaddle.”

As an Aye, Rachel-7 had no problem speaking, synthesizing an orchestral score, writing a song and performing it, all at the same time.

Like the ditty that got Rachel-7 expelled from the academy, her new tune was expertly constructed. It criticized Alitma’s competence, his ability to father children, and his hygiene, all while weaving in several lyrical profanities that even Trak had never heard.

It was a beautiful hate ballad.

“How is this helping?” Daniel asked.

“It's not. If I’m going to die, I’m going to be memorable,” Rachel-7 said.

Stuck On: Approximate sound

There is no sound in space.

And humanity hated that.

For centuries, their movies, games, 3ds, and virtuals had portrayed the vacuum between the stars as a place where you could hear booming explosions, humming starship engines, and hissing laser fire.

After a few decades of quiet space travel, human explorers decided that the real music of the spheres (nothing) was boring.

They liked the movie-version better.

So, in 2614, humans borrowed an idea from the Artebani, a nomadic species that had been starfaring for millions of years.

The concept was simple: Approximate Sound.

That's right, humanity ordered their computers to fake space noises. An Aye would calculate the motion, speed, mass, and dramatic effect of the objects on screen and simulate what it thought they should sound like.

In the case of most energy weapon fire, which makes no sound even in an atmosphere, the Aye would just use its best guess.

The process is so quick that, to the non-Aye, the sound links up perfectly with the images onscreen. By the 28th century, most human starships used some type of Approximate Sound system.

Some examples of Approximate Sound:

  • A pebble impact on a ship hull creates a soft Plink.
  • A planet colliding with a moon produces an ear-ringing blast.
  • And a Z-klik cannon about to overload makes a noise like the end of reality itself.

3 responses so far

3.20 - 108 words

Apr 15 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Memorable to who? Alitma’s going with us,” Daniel said.

“No, we’re not!” yelled one Alitma’s subordinates, a skittish-looking wolf-like biped.

Fingers flying across the command deck wall, the hairy creature hurriedly accessed the dreadnought's shatterwarp engine interface and begin entering a warp path—one that would take them far from the cannon's blast radius.

Before it could input the final command, Alitma stood, walked three steps, and smashed the subordinate across the face with a metal fist.

The creature fell to the floor with a thud, dead or unconscious, Daniel wasn’t sure.

“We stay here, until I get what I came for,” Alitma said.

7 responses so far

3.21 - Alitma's revelation

Apr 18 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“We have less than ten minutes before the plasma breaches the cannon’s hull,” Trak said. “And three seconds before the cannon's reactor containment shielding fails.”

The weapon shuddered as Trak’s prediction came true.

In the cannon's core, an energy barrier, which had been holding back the equivalent energy of 74 main sequence stars, flickered and died. Finally free, the plasma began its journey to the weapon's surface.

“The cannon’s overflow system will now attempt to contain the blast. It will be unsuccessful,” Trak said.

“Do you really have to narrate?” Rachel-7 asked, still singing at the same time.

"Do you really have to sing?" Daniel said.

“We could die in silence…” Trak suggested.

"What a pedestrian way to go," Rachel-7 said.

"I actually agree with her, for once," Daniel decided. "Keep talking, Trak. Keep singing, Rach."

With the reactor shielding gone, the cannon's overflow system shunted the plasma into the emergency containment cells that surrounded the weapon's core.

Weakened by age, the cells couldn't handle the sudden surge of heat and fire rocketing through them.

All 48 cells burst simultaneously, shooting waves of light and ionized matter through the cannon's innards.  The internal explosions rocked the cannon like a missile barrage.

The Afterthought’s viewscreens, already struggling to present clear 3D images despite the interference, became almost unreadable as waves of Belmont radiation washed over the ship.

“Boss,” said another of Alitma’s lieutenants nervously. “If we leave now, we can escape the explosion.”

“I will not!” Alitma said.

Wringing its foreclaws in worry, it said, “We must leave before the—!”

Before it could finish speaking, Alitma shoved the crustacean out of viewscreen range. There was a cracking sound as it hit a wall.

"I need that extract, Daniel!” Alitma screamed. “My daughter is dying!"

“Of course she is," Daniel said.

“Send my daughter’s records to Daniel’s pilot,” Alitma said wearily.

A blur of information covered every screen in the Afterthought, replacing Alitma’s reptilian visage with the medical history of a young Rosov female.

Rachel-7 quickly skimmed the data.

“He’s not lying,” Rachel-7 said, pausing in her song for just a moment. “His daughter is very sick.”

She made a tsk-tsk sound and continued singing.

“The information has a Rel notary symbol,” Trak said after his preliminary analysis. “Daniel, the documentation process of the Rel species is next-to-impossible to fake. There is a 99.99 percent likelihood he is telling the truth.”

“Of course, I’m telling the truth!” Alitma said. “Daniel, did you think I would personally track you down for some random piece of stolen property? That I’d learn about your meaningless life and your friends and your past and your lover and your addictions just so I could reclaim a trinket?

“I did this for my daughter. She needs the extract. ... And I need her.”

3 responses so far

3.22 - A mob boss begs

Apr 19 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

The mercenaries on Alitma’s bridge looked away from their leader, embarrassed. No one wanted to see the boss go soft.

“Why didn’t you tell me about your daughter?” Daniel asked Alitma.

“Would you have cared?” Alitma said. “Given how much you hate me, I was certain you'd let her die so I'd suffer.

Still stunned by Alitma's revelation, Daniel stood still, thinking.

"What do you want from me? Riches? Honor? You can have anything. Anything for the life of my beloved daughter.”

His voice grew increasingly desperate.

“Do you want to see me humiliated? Fine! I shouldn’t have tortured you. Or attacked your ship. Or tried to murder you. I … I … I am sorry."

At Alitma's apology, one of Alitma’s subordinates, a 12-foot-tall assassin with razor sharp talons, fainted in shock.

Though Trak was certain this was an emotionally intense moment, he still felt obliged to update his friends on the status of their doom. Keeping Daniel informed was one of Trak’s hobbies.

“With the cannon’s containment cells destroyed,” Trak continued, “the only thing holding back the plasma is the diamondglass heat webbing along the weapon’s interior and the Verian armor of its outer hull. The diamondglass will begin to crack  right…”

The temperature of the cannon's outer hull shot up 200 degrees.

“… Now," he said. "Hmm. I was a few picoseconds late. I’m getting slow.”

“So, Daniel, you win,” Alitma said. “I surrender.”

And suddenly, though it surprised even him, Daniel felt compassion for the murderous alien snake in the nine-foot tall robotic exoskeleton.

“Alitma, I’m not a monster,” Daniel said. “If you had simply asked me in the beginning—”

2 responses so far

3.23 - Interruptions

Apr 20 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

“Then, as a father, I ask you now—” Alitma said.

And then Alitma did something he had never done in his entire life: He got down on his knees.

Of course, when he was not wearing his battlesuit, Alitma had no knees.

But, as an experienced criminal, Alitma had seen the “begging  for mercy” gestures of many species, including the human one he was now expressing.

This was a first for him, and Alitma did not enjoy it. Ruthless crimelords, as a rule, do not plead.

“Daniel, please help my daughter,” Alitma said.

“The … The extract—” Daniel said.

“With the diamondglass webbing shattered,” Trak said, “the internal heat and pressure is rapidly converting the rest of the cannon’s insides into slag. The Verian armor will begin disintegrating …”

A hellacious noise shot through the Afterthought.

“…now. I was definitely a bit more accurate timing that one.”

“Where is it, Daniel? Please?” Alitma said.

Daniel made up his mind.

“The extract is —”

“Aliiiiiiiiitma iiiiiiis duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummb,” Rachel-7 interrupted, loudly performing both the soprano and alto lines of the bridge of her song “The Ballad of Alitma the stupid.”

She felt bad for Alitma’s daughter, but not enough to stop the song she had going.

Stuck On: Begging for Mercy

Species                                       Manner of begging

Grebyan                                       Vibrating central crystals at  B♭ and  C

Slell                                               Deflating and laying on the ground

Prnei                                             Turning plaid

Rosov                                            Revealing soft underbelly

Xelsian                                          Writing apologetic soliloquy

Star Seeker                                  Extracting trunk leaves, then burning them.

Wandering One                           None.

21st century Humans                 Weeping, kneeling with hands clasped

28th century Humans               Avatar weeping, kneeling with hands clasped

(That kneeling thing never went out of style.)

3 responses so far

3.24 - Misunderstanding

Apr 21 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

Rachel-7’s interruption gave Daniel another second to think.

The choice was one of numbers: Alitma’s daughter or all 8,109 victims of the Cassandra incident.

Unfortunately, he knew what he had to decide: The extract would stay hidden on Argo 12.

This sucks, he thought.

He took one more swig of his flask.

“Alitma, I —"

“Sorry Daniel, com receptors are on the fritz,” Rachel-7 announced. “Belmont radiation went off the scale. Alitma can’t hear us. We can hear him though.”

“Yes, Daniel?” Alitma asked, still on his knees. “Daniel?”

A subordinate informed Alitma of the Afterthought’s technical difficulties.

Alitma stared at Daniel. Then he spoke softly as he stood to his feet.

“Even in your final moments you mock a grieving father. You send me another bluff, another lie. I know you can speak to me.”

Daniel considered defending himself, but he knew Alitma would not hear him.

“I was right,” Alitma said. “You would rather take vengeance than rescue a helpless child. You are a murderer, Daniel Wei. More than I ever was.”

Alitma sat down hard, his Mek suit clanking against his captain’s chair.

“My daughter's death is on your head… like the deaths of so many others. Add it to the heap, monster.”

Daniel winced as if he had been struck.

“The cannon’s Verian armor is breached,” Trak said. “We should see the first fissure right about …”

A three-foot-long gash opened in the cannon’s side, just a meter away from the Afterthought, venting a cloud of plasma.

“… now,” Trak said.

“Stop that,” Rachel-7 said, in a quick l-mail.

“What?” Trak said, responding in the same fashion.

“That ‘about … now’ thing,” Rachel-7 said. “You’ve done it at least three times.”

“Two times,” Trak said.

“You did it once at the hospital too,” Rachel-7 said.

“I was only counting the time on the Afterthought,” Trak said. Ayes and Meks have long memories.

"Still irritating," Rachel-7 said.

With its temperature rising, the shield that enveloped the Afterthought would not last much longer.

2 responses so far

3.25 - Alitma's exit

Apr 22 2011 Published by under Chapter Three

A plume of plasma shot toward Alitma’s ship, evaporating all debris in its path.

Watching the rapidly approaching ionized gas, Alitma turned to his injured crustacean subordinate, who had returned to its station and was now nursing a broken claw.

“Take us out of here,” Alitma said bitterly.

“Sure thing, boss,” the mercenary said, still nervous. “But … we’ll have to use the Quantum drive. Belmont radiation’s messing with our other engines.”

“Fine. Take us out of here.

Then Alitma’ science advisor spoke up—much to the relief of the crustacean-like alien who hadn't wanted to mention the problem.

“Sir … I am completely in favor of leaving," said the tall, spindly insectoid creature, who was even more nervous than the mercenary. "But … it’s just … we are near large amounts of debris. And I must remind you—you asked me to do so, after the events of 47 years ago—that our … ahem, procedure dictates that we must be … ah … twenty-three miles from large concentrations of matter, so that we can guard against Kep Effect reactions—”

“I don’t care about procedure. Take us out now!”

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir,” the insectoid science adviser said quickly and nudged the crustacean-like mercenary.

The mercenary used its good claw to input the Quantum engine's start code.

Gazing through the viewscreen, Alitma looked at Daniel with hate, one last time. Then the gangster cut off communication with the Afterthought.

Alitma's face disappeared from the walls of Daniel's ship, and Rachel-7, finally back in control, ordered the viewscreens to display images of the Afterthought's surroundings.

Some screens showed the cannon leaking plasma. Some showed the Garage. And some showed a glowing cloud of ionized matter about to engulf the crimelord's ship.

Just as the plasma hit the dreadnought's shield, the vessel entered Quantum space.

From the perspective of the Afterthought's crew, the gangster's enormous knife-like ship shimmered blue, collapsed to a single luminescent point, and vanished.

After 23 seconds, a globe of white light expanded outward from where the luminescent point had been.

The still-expanding globe—better known as the visible part of the Kep effect—mixed with the swirling plasma around it and began creating strange, impossible reactions in the cloud.

"I'm sorry to say," Trak said, watching the plasma spray from the cannon's fissure, "but this small release of pressure will not halt our destruction.

"We have five minutes. At the most.”

No responses yet