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Join the Star Arm of the L'Doran Hegemony and travel the universe meeting new and strange people. The strangest of whom may be in your crew...
by Kay Shapero
(copyright Kay Shapero, 1981)
Well, it happened like this...
We were all sitting around the briefing room conversing and generally wondering what the fates and the high command were going to send us this time for a captain, seeing as how our last one had reportedly vanished, screaming, into the night, when the door opened to admit a tall individual. A very tall individual. A fourteen foot tall Bjoran individual. With a vaguely sour look on his face. Lirarl, the biochemist, leaned over and whispered to me. "D'you suppose that's him?"
I whispered back. "If he is, I sure hope you brought enough dye..."
Sure enough, he introduced himself as Gregor Gohkra, our new commander and proceeded to explain the details of our next mission, namely taking a look at the planets, if any, of a couple of stars and checking them for anything of interest. I must say that there is one thing for which I occasionally envy those overserious vulpine hotheads the Altani, and that is their telepathy, as it would have been interesting to see how much, if any, of the annoyance our new captain was trying to hide was due to something about the mission itself, and how much was due to being picked to command a ship crewed entirely by H'Reli. I wonder what he did to deserve US.
The ship went into Jump with no problems past the usual accompaniment of urping crewmembers. Including the captain - entertaining, that, considering the legendary cast-iron stomachs possessed by the Bjora. But then, nobody ever quite gets used to Jump nausea. Once the ship was safely underway, there were a few days before anything of interest happened, thus giving Lirarl and me plenty of time to coat part of the back inside section of the captain's spacesuit with a colorless substance guaranteed to dye that portion of his fur brilliant yellow. All for naught, alas, for when we did encounter something and he ordered everyone into suits, he wore the one from his cabin locker instead. We hadn't gotten to that one, since the lock on his cabin had thus far proven impossible for me to pick.
Anyway, the emergency in question involved the presence of four other ships, one large, and the rest small. Upon contacting them, we found that they were Hegemonic, a liner and three scatterships, respectively, crewed largely by Altani. The positions of two of the scatterships as they approached our general area would have made things perfect for a slalom run, but the captain, the spoilsport, wouldn't let me try it. How am I supposed to maintain my reputation as a hot pilot if I never get to try anything interesting? Oh, well, I suppose the Altani might have decided to be obnoxious about it - they do get upset at the strangest things.
I suppose I'd better introduce the rest of us. The commander, you already know about, and the biochemist. I'm Yealurowluro, the pilot (and part-time communications officer), and the others on this trip were as follows:
Srilurow - power systems engineer
Lawaro - geologist
Aryialo - electrical engineer
Rowlaow - astrogator
Sawalaro - weapons expert
Wailuro - survival expert
Ailurowlurr - geologist and medical expert
The ship itself was designated with some long string of numbers and letters that I'm not going to bore you with, but we always called it "The Boomerang" because, as Lirarl put it "No matter how many times you throw it away, it always comes back and hits you in the back of the head... ", which, judging by the assignments we've drawn is probably the opinion of the High Command. Some people have no sense of humor.
Several days later, about thirteen silvery ovoids, each somewhat smaller than our ship, turned up and arranged themselves about the Jump drive pylons. I slowed down a bit for a closer look at which point one of them moved forward and nudged the hull (I nudged the whateveritwas back, eliciting an annoyed look from the captain), then dropped back when we sped up. So I tried to contact it and it replied with something that overloaded the communications gear and blew out part of the board (eliciting another annoyed look from the captain). We finally guessed that they were a small variety of space whale (space dolphins?) who merely wanted to ride our shock wave for a while. Eventually, they left, too fast for me to try longer range communications. To the relief of Aryialo, who had just finished fixing the gear.
And Lirarl and I had a conference.
He - "Figured out the lock on the captain's cabin yet?"
Me - "Nope. Looks like we can't get at his spacesuits, sigh."
He - "What'll we do, then?"
Me - "Lesee... What does he have, or where does he go that he can't lock up or guard?"
In unison - "The Head!"
Few crews can have watched their captain's every move quite as much as we did for the next few hours. But at last, he was observed entering the aforementioned facility, we waited 10 seconds, and I hit the gravity switch. Immediately, the 5 second warning sounded, followed by the loss of all gravity. And I waited another 10 seconds, then switched it on again, figuring that while the gravity on/off warning usually gives people time to brace themselves, in this case... Well, while none of us ever found out precisely what happened in there, he did take rather a long time to come out again.
And on to the first system, with the captain, who of course had no idea exactly who had pulled the deck out from under him, somewhat annoyed with all of us. Naturally giving all those who weren't in on the gag plenty of incentive to come up with their own.
Prime candidate for most interesting object in the system of the first star was a planet located in the habitable range, complete with plants, animals, water and so forth. Mapping from polar orbit showed a big magnetic anomaly which turned out to be 9 miles of very wrecked spaceship, so we went down to look at it, landing about 5 miles away in a forest clearing, due to the usual captainly paranoia.
Speaking of captainly paranoia, it soon became obvious that, since I was the only decent pilot on board, I was not going to be allowed to go over to the wreck with any of the exploratory teams. After being stuck inside this undersized flying object for over a week, too! The party that did go included Wailuro, as survival type, and Lirarl on one grav sled, plus Lawaro and Aryialo in another. At least they carried remote cameras so that the rest of us could see what was going on. The wrecked ship appeared to have been designed for beings considerably taller than the captain(!), about twenty feet tall to be precise, a judgment confirmed by the discovery of a humanoid skeleton in the remains of a rubberish outfit.
Not much else was around, except for one still functioning artifact - i.e. a twenty foot tall Security robot which took an immediate dislike to them. Deactivating it was an interesting experience, to say the least, but they did manage it, then asked if the captain would please send a couple more grav sleds out so they could bring the thing, and the skeleton, back to the ship.
"Captain?" I inquired, hopefully.
And he proceeded to send Sawalaro and Srilurow (the latter in scout grade powered armor), instead. Grrrr.
While they were headed out, I took advantage of a couple of free minutes and left the bridge, this time for the captain's cabin. As I hadn't managed to pick the lock, I poured epoxy into it instead. We'd see if he liked being locked out as little as I did being locked in.
They had just loaded up the robot plus the skeleton, when another robot turned up, just as pugnacious as the last one... This time, the resulting fight wrecked one grav sled, Lirarl's left arm (sliced right off), and everyone's peace of mind. It also left the captain with a problem, namely who to send out with Ailurowlurr, who was the closest thing to a medical officer we had on board.
"Look", I said, "I'll wear powered armor. I'll wear MARAUDER armor, for crying out loud. If anything bothers me, I'll personally sling it into orbit!"
"Oh, all right."
So I finally got out to the ship after all. It was marginally more interesting seen close up. And the flight out and back was no trouble at all.
Several hours out from the planet, the captain decided to go to his cabin with results that were heard all over the ship. Marvelous stuff, epoxy. I think Ailurowlurr was about to go offer him a firmer to use as a cutting torch, when the captain solved the problem by ripping the door off its hinges. Bjoran muscles are pretty good, too.
The next few hours were spent replacing the door at the captain's orders while he sat in his room so we wouldn't do anything to the contents.
Me - "Well, he's learning."
Aryialo - "Maybe. But while he's in there, he can't watch us out here. As long as he's going to go ripping doors up, let's make this one as flimsy as possible."
Me - "You do that, while I make up about a dozen duplicate keys."
After all, he hadn't said NOT to...
The first planet of the next system was a scorched bit of rock entirely too close to the primary for my tastes. We took the usual mess of pictures and departed for planet number three taking three *urp* jumps.
Having tired of physical practical jokes for the moment, I next acquired a bottle of beer from Srilurow when he wasn't looking (he was spending most of his free time bugging the captain's quarters while the latter was on the bridge), wrapped it up nicely, put a tag on it addressed to the captain, and left it on his acceleration couch. Where in due course he found it and unwrapped it with such caution that I was almost sorry I HADN'T used contact paper. Eying the enclosed bottle as though he expected it to explode momentarily, he thanked us all, patted Aryialo on the head and removed the beer carefully to his cabin. I hoped he would have great fun trying to figure out what was wrong with it since, unless Srilurow was booby-trapping his private stock, nothing was. Mind games, anyone?
The planet looked like something one might actually care to live on. Certainly someone had, for a temperature anomaly we noted from orbit proved to be a ruined city which was especially good at soaking up the sun's heat and reradiating it at night. We landed five miles away, as usual. I glanced at the captain, hopefully.
The exploration team consisted of two grav sleds; one containing Wailuro and Ailurowlurr, the other Sawalaro and a lot of equipment. All three were in scout armor (the lightest form of powered armor), while Srilurow, who wasn't even going along, was ordered to stand by in marauder armor (two more steps along the scale between suit and ship) at the ship in case of trouble. Once again, they carried cameras so we could see what was going on. There was little to see but buildings and indecipherable street signs (all duly recorded), until Wailuro spotted a car parked on one of the streets. He investigated, pulling at the door which promptly and enthusiastically came off in his hand.
I glanced over at Rowlaow. "Think the captain's been giving lessons?"
I was universally ignored as Wailuro reported a life form inside which closely resembled as twelve legged tarantula, and attempted to catch it in a specimen container. Skitter, skitter, skitter, WHAP, skitter, skitter, skitter, WHAP... it took him three tries to catch the thing, by which time most of us were betting on the spider.
A couple of hours later, they reached the center of the city, to find a building in somewhat better shape than those they'd seen earlier. It was about twenty or thirty feet tall, with huge double doors which showed no interest in opening until someone poured penetrating oil on the frozen hinges. Inside, the building appeared more like three hundred feet tall, leading us eventually to the conclusion that power sufficient to operate holographic projectors was still on.
Next morning, the exploration team went back out to the building, suited as before (with poor Srilurow still standing by in marauder armor, back at the ship) and investigated, finding inside a central dais with a head-setted chair on it, in which latter Ailurowlurr had to be prevented from sitting. General poking around located a shaft beneath the dais leading down into a lot a gadgetry associated with a power plant, as well as a lot of little thingies closely resembling robotic versions of that spider (not that there's much difference, at that). So they closed it up and continued looking around.
Something of a lull having come up, I decided that this was a good time to slip the goop Lirarl had given me (stuff starts as a powder, but absorbs enough from the air to get really slimy in a few hours) into the captain's bed. Unfortunately, the captain proved to be ON it when I opened the door with my copy of the key. Oops...
"Hi there", I observed brightly. "You seem to have left your key in the hall and I thought I'd bring it back to you."
He silently fished out his key and showed it to me.
"Well, I found this one in the corridor..."
This met with a notable lack of belief, and the captain promptly confiscated the key and started in on a rather comprehensive lecture on the subject of my perfidious doings. I stood there admiring his oratory for a while, then handed him a dagger and exposed my throat. He broke off in mid-harangue with the most beautiful double-take I'd seen in a long time, paused a second, then took the dagger, grinned, said something about that not being necessary and held up one hand. His claws, unlike the dagger, not being rubber, I thoughtfully went elsewhere.
The captain turned up on the bridge shortly after I did and insisted on being given all of the duplicate keys. I think he got most of them, at that, but it was at this point that we were distracted by what was going on out at the exploration site. Since the captain had carefully ordered that no one was to disturb, or especially to sit in the chair on the dais, Sawalaro, her curiosity finally getting the upper hand had sat ON it.
And quickly sprang back off of it again, with a glazed expression. Seems that the thing increased the psionic capabilities of anyone using it for as long as they did so, and did so exponentially for every second of operation. With all the new data being piled on her each second, she'd been lucky to keep her sanity. At least the effect did not seem to last once she got off again. Predictably, the captain ordered everyone out of the building.
Elsewhere, the explorers found a skeleton. Sort of. Well, a couple of bones. Fortunately, they also found what appeared to be a library with five paintings of the locals, who resembled six foot teddy bears (mini-Bjora?), and LOTS of books. 760 of the latter were removed very carefully so as not to let them fall apart, and brought back to the ship.
And, after debriefing, Sawalaro went straight to the brig. The captain ordered the rest of us not to smuggle anything in to her, which is probably why Ailurowlurr, having already sneaked her several keys to the brig (don't ask me where she got them snicker) promptly retired to the food facilities out of sight of the captain and concocted an entire plateful of fancy hors d'oerves, then brought them down to the brig. She was about to hand them to Sawalaro, when the captain, who'd been watching the whole thing from the brig surveillance equipment remotes hit a switch, causing the door to the next cell to swing open. Ailurowlurr took the hint, gave half of the hors d'oerves to Sawalaro, and proceeded into the next cell with the rest of them. I hope she didn't mind Sawalaro's flute practice.
We finished mapping the planet and departed, to spot something about eighteen feet long and missilish, with a stylized bird figure painted on it, falling into the system on a hyperbolic curve. Tracing its path backwards, we figured it might have come from the first system we looked at. At any rate, while we didn't know for sure what it was, it did give off rather more radiation than the background, so we settled for nudging it into a stable orbit with the tractors and left it. Let someone else try to figure it out if Fleet was really that curious.
Shortly thereafter, it became apparent that Srilurow wasn't the only one who'd bugged the captain's quarters, for the captain returned to his cabin to find a large sample of Bjoran pornographic art on one wall of the corridor, speakers inside his room broadcasting bawdy Bjoran music, plus a small, but active device squirting Bjoran pheromones into the air. The captain may or may not have been amused, but he DID promptly give his cabin a thorough going over, removing ALL of the bugs, speakers, cameras etc., etc. Sigh. He also found Srilurow's device for spreading a nice little cloud of harmless, but stenchful smoke (rather like burning insulation) which cloud was promptly gobbled up by the air filters.
We didn't see much of interest on the way back with the exception of six small ships we didn't recognize - we left them alone, they left us alone; plus an Altani armored scout with whom we exchanged howdies. It can be fun to see the expression on an Altani's face when s/he realizes there's a H'Reli on the other end of the conversation.
A few hours from our destination, the captain decided to hold suit drill, presumably with malice aforethought, for the suits smelled even worse than usual. Of course, none of us said anything, with the exception of Srilurow, who promptly asked "Captain, have you been putting air freshener in the suits? Mine smells much better than that marauder armor did."
When drill was over, it soon became obvious that the smell was going to linger in our fur for quite a while, even for Aryialo who'd noticed the stench and switched quickly into the suit in his cabin locker. So we all took to hanging around the captain until he got sufficiently annoyed to order us to go wash up. Which we did, and noticed that, thanks to the suits, everyone but Aryialo, Lirarl (in sick bay), and the two in the brig now had tails brightly colored in various shades of photographic dye (mine was cyan). Which gave me an idea, so I got hold of various dyes and, rather than try and dye my tail to match the rest of me, patterned the rest of my fur. This caught on beautifully, and the good ship Boomerang soon had the most Technicolor(TM) crew in space.
The rest of the trip was rather hectic, what with various members of the crew trying to pull something equally interesting on the captain, who wasn't venturing out of his cabin without his suit, but soon we were sufficiently busy with approach that nobody had time for anything sneaky. I did have hopes for the frictionless goop I spread on the captain's acceleration couch, but when he came out for final approach he wasn't wearing his suit for a change and managed to notice it before he sat down. Oh well. It did cause him to go back to his cabin for the landing, so after we touched down, Aryialo and I sloshed the rest of the frictionless lubricant down the hall outside of his door. I hear it took him an hour to get out...
And that, my friend, is how this fad got started. Now, would you prefer your ears pink or international orange?