31st October 2020
It's Saturday and it's Halloween, there are no trick-or-treaters so I'm in the living room, logged into Skype.
It's time for the next part of Matakishi's Lasers & Feelings campaign.
Space, the ultimate boundary.
Zaber Fluke: Mission specialist - Explorer first class.
Explorer's Log 02: Astrodate 21.2010.31.
Location: Aboard Infinite Badger, Sector 76.
Upon receiving orders from Consortium Command: We had spent the past two weeks uneventfully patrolling the Ο System in Sector 76 and futilely searching for infamous space pirate; Red Betty.
There were only two inhabited planets in the system, Ο Five and Ο Six. The system was relatively quiet. The only space traffic of note involved commercial trade between these two planets.
We had however heard a rumour that the Pirate Base was located on the outlying planetoid; Ο Nine.
It had been an interminably long two weeks and the only event of note was when a warning light winked into existence on Chuck's console. He informed us unsurprisingly, that the power banks had dropped to twenty percent of capacity. We needed Plotithium to recharge the energy banks.
Chuck set course for Ο Six, closest of the two planets.
As we closed in, Doc picked up a ship coming from the surface. It was on an intercept course.
We were hailed once we reached communication range.
The sight of a well maintained ship's bridge appeared on the viewscreen. In the captain's chair sat a slim, young man in a pristine, perfectly fitting military uniform. He smiled and introduced himself as Captain Quentin Craddock of the Ο Defence Force Ship Valiant. The captain asked us to state our business?
This required some tact, neither planet in this system was a member of The Consortium and strictly speaking; we had no authority here. Conversely, neither planet was antagonistic to The Consortium either.
We explained to Captain Craddock that we had been travelling through the more remote parts of the system, hunting the space pirate Red Betty and now we needed to resupply.
Craddock allowed himself a small smirk. "There're no pirates here," he said. "We defeated them, chased them out of the system and send them packing.".
Behind him, we heard his crew enthusiastically applauding him!
It may have been a smug boast, but there was no denying it; we had not found any firm evidence of pirate activity.
Even so, that didn't stop us having some uneasy suspicion of the man through. His crew did not have the air of the seasoned campaigners that might be required to drive off hardened pirates?
Craddock then granted us landing rights and wished us an enjoyable visit to Ο Six.
It was a typical star port for an unaligned world, dotted with various freighters and busy with workers, ground crew and immigration staff cheerfully dispensing extensive paperwork that required completing.
The surrounding neighbourhood was populated with shops that sold everything a space farer might need, as well as numerous drinking establishments with their lurid, fluorescently lit flashing name signs and seedy exteriors. Typical of dens of inequity found at star ports all across known space.
To no one's surprise, Chuck said that he knew a good watering hole here called The Sly Owl. Chuck explained that he still owed the landlord, Derek Owl some creds and hoped to avoid him.
Inside The Sly Owl it was dimly lit with weak, dirty yellow lights and a pall of suspiciously thick brown smoke stubbornly clung to the well stained ceiling.
As we entered, the staff cheered and waved welcomingly at Chuck. Chuck furtively looked for Derek, who fortuitously was no where to be seen.
We looked around, despite the time of day it was a lively place. The bar was noisy and filled with mixture of star port workers, independent pilots and space crews.
Several women of low moral fibre or negotiable affection also prowled the room.
All in all; a good place to hear gossip.
Our attention was drawn to one man sitting apart from everyone else, dressed in a dishevelled flight suit and looking mournfully into his drink, he was playing with a handful of creds.
A local told us he was Jacaranda Jones, he was widely considered to be the unluckiest pilot on Ο Six!
He was the very last person to be robbed by Red Betty before Captain Craddock drove her out of the system.
This piqued our interest, we were not entirely satisfied with Captain Craddock's telling of events.
It wasn't too hard to strike up a conversation with the man and hear his tale of woe.
Jacaranda earnt a living as a trader transporting goods between Ο Six and Five. On this particular trip that he was carrying a consignment of wine and some unexamined alien artefacts he'd gotten from a trader from the Ω System when Red Betty struck.
Jacaranda was terrified of course, Red Betty had a fearsome reputation of leaving no one alive! Except of course he had lived. Perhaps he had, despite his reputation caught a lucky break?
He went on to tell us that the pirates had cut into his hold and taken nearly everything and he was facing financial ruin. He pointed to the creds on the table and said this was all the money he had.
To make matters worse, it was looking more and more likely that his insurance company was not going to pay out due to some Act of Piracy clause in their contract.
Perhaps his reputation for bad luck was well founded!
Jacaranda told us his freighter could be found in the star port, its name was Belongs With You.
It was easy to find, one thing you could say about Jacaranda's ship was that it was one-of-a-kind.
Belongs With You was by far the most ramshackle, cobbled-together, downright-dangerous, haphazard freighter we had ever seen. The word 'freighter' applied here very loosely. As part of The Consortium, we were not used to seeing this sort of dilapidated wreck of a spacecraft.
The freighter mostly consisted of a massive corrugated steel shipping container that had been modified to make it space worthy: At one end of the container were a series of engines, thrusters and boosters. At the other end, was a makeshift barely habitable cabin.
How did Jacaranda manage to keep it flying? Love?
One side of the container had clearly been holed, the surrounding surface area had been blackened by blast damage and scarred with laser fire.
Doc scanned the breach in the container's wall with his eptacorder. The findings were consistent with damage caused by laser cutters.
We played our flashlights across the darkened interior, the container seemed empty except for for some detritus in one corner. It was a small amount of material that looked like some kind of broken, thick egg shell?
Curiously, it did not register on the eptacorders as any sort of material or bio-matter?
Back at The Sly Owl, we asked Jacaranda some questions. He told us that the eggs were part of the alien artefacts he was carrying.
Jacaranda described the artefacts as; spherical and about the size of a beach ball, they hummed soothingly and were slightly translucent. If held up to a bright light source, something could be seen inside?
He had no idea if they actually contained anything.
Jacaranda theorised that when the pirates were robbing him, they must have damaged one of the spheres, they took all the remaining artefacts, save for two of the spheres which they must have missed.
There were two intact spheres left? We asked Jacaranda where they were?
He explained that he had sold them to the landlord a couple of days ago.
We knew that Derek Owl was nowhere to be seen.
The barman was an acquaintance of Chuck's and friendly enough. He told us that he had not seen Derek for the last two days. Finally he told us that Derek resided in the apartment above the bar.
We headed upstairs, there were no guest rooms in The Sly Owl, the only door here had to go into Derek's apartment.
After knocking on the door we waited, there was no answer. We were concerned and couldn't leave matters like this.
LISA's surgical programming gave her a light touch and she managed to pick the lock.
Inside it was a fairly standard, well appointed apartment. We had entered into a open living space, with a sitting/entertainment area and a kitchen area - along with a dining table. It looked like a mess though, furniture was tipped over and personal possessions scattered across the damp floor, there must've been a leak somewhere.
From the edge of the room, we shouted out our presence, as before, there was no reply.
Next, we scanned the apartment, the results were confusing?
The eptacorders were registering a single life-sign from an adjacent room, it intermittently read this as human, but occasionally it would flick over to reading as an unknown signal?
The eptacorders could not could provide a clear result, they seemed to be all functioning in acceptable parameters, there must've been some sort of external ambient condition affecting them.
The adjacent room turned out to be a bedroom, what we found inside was quite surprising: On the bed lay a naked woman!
The rest of the room was in disarray, equally untidy as the living space.
The naked woman sat up and smiled at me.
I took a deep breath, gripped phasepistol tightly and scanned her with my eptacorder. Glancing down at the result, I saw the readout flickering erratically between human and unknown.
The woman slid off the bed and on to all fours. Keeping her eyes squarely on me, she began slinking closer, except something was off, something was wrong with her movement?
I told her to get back, but she ignored it, saying nothing. She got closer then lunged forward as if to give me a kiss!
I shot my phasepistol at her, it was set to stun (The TWRS setting.) and it knocked her back. She was however, still conscious!
She regained her balance and came at me again! Frantically, I put my phasepistol up a notch to the TWH setting and shot her again.
The blast sent her crashing against the far wall and she crumpled into a heap on to the floor, unmoving.
This was not the end of it: Her mouth opened and some colossal, slick grey worm came slithering out.
Chuck leapt forward and hit it with a stun shot from his phasepistol, the creature was knocked sideways, but immediately made for the Doc.
It immediately coiled itself one of the Doc's legs, climbing up to try and get to god only knows where!
The doc was staring at it in confusion. Was this real, or what it some sort of mental relapse?
LISA, unfazed and cool headed as always, had grabbed a large plastic kitchen container and some cooking tongs. She managed to skilfully extricate the wriggling worm and secured it in the container.
After getting our breath back, we looked at the worm creature, took a scan of it and remotely fed the data into The Infinite Badger's Xeno-Wiki database.
We got a hit, it was a Vermis Eorum Cerebrum Aliena, also known as VECA Or more colloquially Alien Brain Worm!
Now we had a better idea what we were dealing with.
The database told us that the Alien Brain Worm targets an orifice on the victim's body and then once inside, it would travel to the brain, consume it, then replace it. The worm then controlled the body's functions.
Finally, the Alien Brain Worm could reproduce in about two days.
Derek had disappeared about two days ago... We nervously looked around the room, hand on phasepistol. WE realised we could not see him? What had happened to Derek?
We began cautiously searching the apartment, who knew what might be lurking.
The woman was dead, LISA scanned the body and informed us that ninety eight percent of her brain matter was missing!
Next, we noticed that water was seeping from under a door, this was the source of the dampness. A scan revealed beyond that door was another dead body missing it's brain. Inside the room was a bathroom, the body of a man was half sprawled across the ground, his head stuffed into the toilet.
It was Derek Owl, Chuck told us.
Killed by an Alien Brain Worm, which was nowhere to be seen?
Chuck went over to Derek's computer, he told us we had going to look for some evidence of what had transpired. It was a fairly basic system and its encryption was no match for the cutting edge Information Technology of The Consortium.
Meanwhile we searched the apartment and found the remains of more thick egg shells.
I went over to Chuck and noticed that he was smiling subtly and seemed to be editing some of Derek's financial records? Chuck said he was being just being thorough with Derek's data.
Whatever Chuck was doing must have paid off! After a little while Chuck said that he might have found something. There was a record of financial transaction with a pizza delivery joint last night.
We searched the recycling compartment and managed to recover pizza delivery packaging, Derek had ordered food in last night.
We realised that this could be about to get a lot worse.
We communicated with the local authorities and explained the gravity of the situation to them. They said they'd send a top man to deal with it.
Whilst we waited, we constructed a timeline of events.
- Jacaranda was robbed by Red Betty's pirates. At least one egg was opened at that time, we had to assume that at least one person in the pirate crew was infected.
- Jacaranda sold two eggs to Derek Owl, he and the unknown woman were infected. We have captured one Alien Brain Worm, there was at least one unaccounted for.
- Derek had close contact with someone when the food was delivered. We had to assume that they were also infected.
Soon after this, the top man arrives - Captain Quentin Craddock! He explained that since we were part of The Consortium, the authorities felt it was best that he dealt with the matter.
We explained the situation to him, but he seemed disinterested and appeared to only half listen, poking around the apartment and blithely opening draws and cupboards; luckily nothing was lurking with them!
Once the Captain realised that it was Jacaranda Jones who had bought the Alien Brain Worms to Ο Six, he got on his communicator and ordered Jones arrested. He also ordered his men to impound and destroy Jones' ship the Belongs With You.
Well in seemed, Jacaranda Jones' run of bad luck was continuing.
With that, Craddock turned to us, smiled and politely thanked us for our assistance!
"Case Closed," he announced cheerfully.
The pirates were no longer in the system and as far as he was concerned did not see any problem with that.
He did not realise the potential threat of Derek's contact with pizza delivery person either.
After that, he made his exit!
Even though Ο Six was not part of The Consortium, it was left to us to follow the lead.
Derek's financial records gave us the name of the pizza delivery joint and we easily found it.
We went in the shop's frontage and spoke with the receptionist, luckily our uniforms gave us an air of authority and he happily complied with our polite requests.
When asked who had made the delivery to Derek's address last night, the receptionist told us that it had been Fred.
The receptionist said he was impressed with Fred, usually he was an average employee. Since last night however, he was a changed man: His work rate had dramatically increased and he had decided to do a double-shift over night.
The receptionist told us that Fred must have made thirty or forty deliveries in that time.
Each of these deliveries represented a potential infection. This was going to become unmanageable.
We asked the receptionist where Fred was? Out on a delivery, came the reply.
So we waited.
It didn't take too long before we saw through the frontage window, a hover-moped appear, it pulled up and parked outside.
Now that we knew what we were looking for, we had calibrated our eptacorders to filter out the conflicting life signs. We scanned the rider as he dismounted, the results now clearly showed a pair of overlaid life signs, one human, the other Alien Brain Worm.
The rider came in and we pulled out our phasepistols, the receptionist yelped and ducked behind his counter.
"Fred," We said, more of a statement then a query.
He realised that we were on to him, but before he could react, we phasered him, then phasered the Alien Brain Worm when it slivered out. It was too late for poor Fred, Fred was dead, his brain consumed.
The receptionist slowly raised his head above the counter, glancing left and right.
Turning to him, we ordered him to give us the list of all the addresses that Fred had made deliveries to in the last planetary rotation.
He was too confused and disorientated to do anything but give us the list.
Then we contacted Captain Craddock again and explained the events that had occurred and passed the list on to him.
He seemed genuinely grateful, going on to explain that planetary law enforcement was not his area of expertise.
Craddock then said he would pull in as many people as needed to investigate all the addresses.
We left Captain Craddock to it, we had one more lead to follow.
The Infinite Badger's power banks had been recharged and necessary supplies restocked. Upon our arrival, Chuck blasted us out into space.
We knew that the space pirates had been infected with Alien Brain Worms, it probably explained why they left Jacaranda alive - so he could carry the remaining eggs to infect more people!
Chuck set course for Ο Nine and accelerated to maximum velocity, the ship hummed as Ο Six shrank away to become another shining spot in the inky void behind us. Soon enough we streaked past Ο Seven's and then Ο Eight's orbit.
As we closed in on Ο Nine, the Doc executed a long range scan on the planetoid ahead.
The results showed that Ο Nine was a rocky world with a harsh climate that was surrounded by a highly concentrated radiation belt.
The Doc informed us that even at full power, The Infinite Badger's shields would not protect us from the radiation exposure.
Without having a working radiation map we could not easily pass through belt to Ο Nine.
The only way to proceed was very slowly, so that's what we did.
The Doc was hunched over his console, unblinkingly glaring at it like some oversized bird of prey, constantly tracking the paths and currents of the radiation belt and feeding that data to Chuck.
Admirably, Chuck managed to restrain himself from trying to fly through the belt at maximum thrust. Instead he gingerly eased The Infinite Badger through the invisible but deadly obstacles ahead. We even managed to avoid any scans.
It took some time, but the radiation belt was eventually behind us and we had maneuvered into orbit around the barren, grey Ο Nine.
The Doc's scan revealed a single large structure within the planet. The pirates had carved their base into the actual planetoid.
Chuck positioned the ship in geosynchronous orbit above the pirate base and the Doc carried out numerous scans.
There were no life signs here, neither human nor Alien Brain Worm.
There were no high yield energy signatures here either, this meant that there were no spaceships at the base and a visual scan showed empty docks.
The entire population had abandoned the base in all the ships. We suspected the worse - that the everyone here had been infected and had taken to their ships to spread it even further.
Now we had only one chance to find them. Doc told us that when the entire pirate fleet had departed, they would have left a faint ion trail through space.
We backtracked out of the radiation belt into safe space and scanned for the ion trail. Doc managed to find it and we followed. The Doc calculated a projection for the trail that showed us where the fleet was headed.
At the edge of Consortium territory was the Federation of Allied Intelligences. A loose conglomerate of various humanoid planets, united in their violent, warmongering ways. Whilst they bordered Consortium space, they were not aggressive towards us and kept their distance
They did however take security very seriously and patrolled their borders with Star Dreadnoughts, massive warships with fearsome destructive capability.
The infected pirate fleet was headed directly at Federation space.
At maximum warp, we followed - luckily our recently recharged power banks were were functioning nominally.
For two days we kept up the chase; then at the very extremes of the long range scans, Doc picked up a couple of warp engine signals.
Three hours later and the entire pirate fleet has come into scan range. Frigates, warships, merchant ships, container ships and shuttles all served to make up this irregular motly fleet.
Beyond this fleet at what now was the extreme range of our sensors was another ship; it was being pursued by the pirate fleet.
Our scanning revealed it was a Federation Star Dreadnought.
The dreadnought had picked up our scan and LISA hailed them.
Our viewscreen flicked over from the pirate fleet to displaying an officer on a ship's bridge.
He was thickset man with a stern scowl and a harsh, humourless looking demeanour.
He wore an ornate, overly decorated militaristic uniform, festooned with epaulets, sashes, elaborate buttons and decorated with a number of highly polished medals. There was so much glinting metal that it caused erroneous lens flare errors to trigger on our viewscreen.
He bluntly introduced himself as The Bellicose High Lord Sebastian, Captain of The Federation Star Dreadnought Nostalgia for Infinity and demanded to know our business.
LISA tried to warn him: "You're in danger," she said.
Rudely, the captain cut LISA short and told her that he was confident that this pathetic rabble of ships presented no threat to his dreadnought.
LISA once tried to warn him that he had no idea of what was the real threat.
Once again, he cut LISA off. Grandly proclaiming he could easily defeat them. With that he closed the channel down.
That was that!
As the pirates drew closer to the dreadnought, we hung back and observed.
Soon a battle was underway.
The pirate fleet had split up into two irregular flight wings and flanked the dreadnought as they approached. Then they powered up and went straight at the Nostalgia for Infinity, attacking with maximum firepower from two opposing vectors, forcing the dreadnought to split its own firepower between two flanks.
Even so, as the two groups of pirate ships charged directly at the dreadnought, they were no match for its shields and armaments. Very quickly the pirates starting taking losses, their ships would go tumbling off at some tangent, out of control, spilling wreckage and crew into the void or be outright destroyed in blazing explosions.
The pirate fleet would not last long against the Nostalgia for Infinity.
But this was not the end of the battle.
Diligently, we had been scanning the entire confrontation and discovered the pirate's tactics.
Unbeknown to anybody else, when the pirate fleet had split into two, a tiny third group had also split off. Consisting of a handful of the pirates' smallest shuttles, they would not be considered a threat by scans and with their lighting systems turned off, they were almost invisible against the inky black vacuum of space.
Only the Doc's thorough scanning had showed that they were headed directly for the dreadnought from a third vector. Not only that, they were not firing any kind of weaponry and were instead making for the docks.
The entire pirate fleet was sacrificing itself to give the shuttles a chance to infect the Federation ship. That alone would be an immense threat, but with the dreadnought, they could travel back to Federation space to infect even more victims.
We had to stop this and quickly.
To get the shuttles into our weapons range before they docked would mean flying directly between the two warring factions!
Chuck gave whoop, he was happy now and in his element! Pushing the engines to full power, he plunged into the churn of battle: Dodging between swarms of uncoordinated, buzzing pirate ships and weaving through erratic unpredictable phaser blasts.
We knew that the Nostalgia for Infinity would indiscriminately target anything that it considered a threat and that included us! The pirates were also firing wildly at the massive dreadnought and we risked being caught in the crossfire.
The Doc watched his sensors like a hawk, successfully predicting and reading the ebb and flow of battle, diverting power to whatever shields need them. The Infinite Badger only took a few hits from the intensive crossfire and they only shook the ship, unable to penetrate the shields.
When we cleared the thick of battle, I targeted the shuttles as they were closing with the dreadnought. There wasn't much time, but my spread of phase shots all hit the mark.
The shuttles were small and instantly destroyed by the phaser fire. The debris went tumbling into space or harmlessly bouncing off the Nostalgia for Infinity's shields.
Chuck bought us round and took us out of the battle's vicinity.
We watched at a distance as the dreadnought systematically eradicated the remaining pirate ships and without any communication, continued on it's way.
It was unlikely that they ever realised the risk they had been in.
Regardless: The Federation was safe, the Alien Brain worms were defeated and the pirates were no longer a threat.
End of Explorer's Log 02.
Medical Log 2
Pilots Log #2
Science Officer's Log 2
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.