The Stars Came Back -096- Visitors

Fade in

INT – DAY – Cargo Bay

Helton is standing next to Quinn, Lag and Kat. Helton is partially clad in space armor, looking like a high-tech cross between a space-suit and medieval head-to-toe articulated plate armor, and it looks like he’s trying to get the rest of it on. It looks both very serviceable and stylish. Quinn is dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, and a dirty bandage on his thigh is visible below the shorts.

Lag: Looks pretty sharp.

Helton: Thanks. Quinn pulled it out. Fits perfectly.

Quinn: Said your armor was in storage.

Helton: So you did, so you did. Hand me that arm-piece, please.

Quinn hands it too him.

Kat: Looking like a real spacer, now. How soon will you be ready to fly?

Helton: Dunno. Stenson has things pulled apart again. Raving about some sort of breakthrough on the drives, how to get all six cores synced up, and both drives at once. He was talking theory that was WAY over my head, and VERY fast. You’d think he just found out his wife has a pet unicorn with triplets.

Kat: Got a few things to send back to Plataea. Figured if you were going that way…

Helton: Glad to carry something for you, if we can. Might be a good chance to test Stenson’s drive mods. Best keep copies, though – maybe we’ll be a star someday.

Kat: Hope not.

Helton is focusing on attaching the armor, and Quinn is watching him intently. Kat and Lag have their backs to the lowered ramp.

Ship AI: (OC, pleasant male voice) Visitor.

The four of them start a bit and turn to face the ramp opening. There stands Brother Libra, the monk. He smiles and bows to them slightly in greeting.

Helton: Oh, hello, Brother Libra! Welcome! I didn’t expect you! Come in, come in!

The others look at Libra and Helton in surprise.

Libra: You are looking well, my son. How is life treating you?

Helton: You would not BELIEVE all that’s happened since we met. What brings you here? Oh, excuse me. Brother Libra, this is Col Lag. Lt Kat. And Quinn, who sort of lives on board- one of many long stories.

With each name, they exchange handshakes, even with Quinn, who regards the monk gravely. The monk squats slightly and shakes hands with Quinn with just as much seriousness.

Quinn: Are you here for Ship? Said you might be coming.

Libra makes a brief expression of surprise, and nods.

Libra: Are you taking good care of it?

Quinn nods back.

Libra: Good, good. Glad to hear that.

The monk stands up, and addresses Helton.

Libra: I received an interesting message from someone named Tajemnica. Seemed like a good time to go back into the world for a bit, and here was as good a place to go as any. So – you found the mysterious flying abbey?

Helton: And SO much more.

Libra: (bemused) So the old stories WERE true. I only remember bits and pieces, now. I will have to re-read my notes when I return. At the time I thought they were outlandish… Mysterious ways, indeed.

Helton: WHAT old stories?

Libra: Ones passed down by word of mouth between senior members, about the early days of the order. Factions within the church, the war, mission work. Time for that later. So, tell me what’s happened here? I recognize the Plataean uniforms, but didn’t know they were working here.

Lag: Anywhere there is a threat of war, at least a few of us show up. Just wrapping up this one.

Just then, Allonia and Kaminski come down the stairs together. He is in uniform and light armor, with a rifle slung across his chest, and a bag of gear in his hand. She is in her ship “uniform,” with a shotgun slung across her chest, also with a bag of shooting gear. They head for the group gathered on the ramp.

Kaminski: Headed for the range. Back in a while.

Helton: Hey, I’d like you two to meet an acquaintance of mine, Brother Libra.

They walk over, and again exchange handshakes.

Helton: Sergeant Kaminski. Allonia.

Kaminski: Howdy! Didn’t expect Helton to know a priest.

Libra: Monk, not priest. Common mistake.

Allonia: Hello, Brother.

Ship AI: (OC, male voice, urgently) We have a problem.

Helton: WHAT?!

Ship AI: (OC) Four grav tanks headed this way. Seymore not far behind, with a number of police. He has an arrest warrant for Allonia.

Allonia: OH NO! They must have found out!

Kaminski: Found out WHA- Oh, SHIT!

Helton: WHAT?

Allonia: (talking fast) Taj told me a while back. I’m genetically engineered. A prohibited person-

The others look at her in surprise.

Allonia: If they arrest me and do a genetic test, I can be executed immediately, and anyone helping me is a criminal, too! Sorry! I wasn’t TRYING to get you in trouble!

Kaminski: Don’t be silly! Stupid law, you haven’t DONE anything wrong!

Kat: If they arrest you, testing is almost automatic. Only way to avoid that is to avoid arrest.

Helton: We can’t fly. Drives are down!

Kaminski: No vehicles around here can outrun the grav tanks!

Lag: And they can eventually burn through even THIS armor if we don’t move.

Libra: Am I here at a bad time, Helton?

Helton: No such thing as a NORMAL time around here. Ideas?

Allonia: (to Libra) Can YOU do anything? Give me sanctuary, or something?

Libra: We do not normally interfere in civil matters. What have you done that is such a crime?

Allonia: I haven’t DONE anything! I didn’t pick my parents! My mere existence is against the law!

Helton: Sort of like the Massacre of the Innocents – just being born was enough to condemn her.

Kat: Only way to not be arrested and tested is to have some sort of legal immunity. Can’t do that, though, unless you are a pol or a dip-

The Plataeans all look at Helton.

Kat: Taj, what’s required for a legal marriage here?

Ship AI: (OC) A simple ceremony, presided by a judge, justice of the peace, or recognized religious figure, and registration with the local government for legal status. If anything other than the standard legal contract is desired, then that contract must be registered in advance of the ceremony and legal recognition.

Kaminski: (to Kat) Are you really proposing that?

Helton: (to Kaminski) Are you OK with it?

Allonia: Any OTHER ideas?

Kat: Taj, can you register it before they get here?

Ship AI:(OC) Yes, if you hurry.

Libra: You are asking me to preform a SHAM marriage.

Helton: I’m asking you to save the life of a good woman, who has committed no crime. I promise I will not take advantage of her, on pain of having to have a conversation with HIM (nods to Kaminski). AND her (nods to Allonia, shotgun still slung across her chest).

Ship AI:(OC, quietly) Your predecessors saved me once, when my mere existence was in violation of the law. You would be using one questionable law of men to thwart another bad law of men, being used by an evil man to extract revenge on those who foiled his nefarious plans. To save an innocent life. That surely cannot be a sin, can it?

Libra looks intently at them all.

Libra: Not exactly what I had planned for the day, and I REALLY want to know all about what’s happening when this is over.

He nods, and waves them closer.

Helton: (to Kaminski) Want to be best man?

Kaminski: (muttering wryly under his breath) Never thought I’d be the best man at my own lady-friend’s shotgun wedding, and smile about it.

Lag: Lieutenant, ever been a maid of honor?

Kat: First time for everything. Quiritis might be a bit annoyed, though.

Helton: She’ll understand, all considered. TAJ! Put out the word – folks have ten seconds if they want to attend! FINE day for get’n hitched! Got an illegal ship, may as well have an illegal wife!

Kaminski: Can’t wait for your encore.

Helton extends his left elbow to Allonia, waving with his other hand toward Brother Libra.

Dissolve to

The members of the wedding party (now including Sar and Kwon, Stenson, and a couple of his guys), with no weapons visible, are still standing at the top of the loading ramp, and Lt Kat stands at the bottom, as the four grav tanks glide up and surround it. Sitting on top of one of them, cigar sticking out of his mouth, legs in the hatch, is Lt Saber, wearing light full-body armor, helmet visor up. He nods recognition to Col Lag.

Lt Saber: What are YOU doing here, Sir?

Lag: Saving lives, Lieutenant. You have been put in a bind.

Lt Saber: (sounding uneasy) Got orders to help enforce an arrest warrant on a military target, Sir. Just got word, all hush-rush, no details. Know anything about it?

Lag: The warrant is for someone that is allegedly a genetically engineered person.

Lt Saber: Holy SHIT, Sir! Sort’a makes sense, now, but how’s that get MY ass in a sling?

Lag: The warrant is political. The person named is a civilian. The wife of a diplomat. She has immunity, and is certainly NOT a military target. Someone is trying to create an incident, and is using YOU to help make it as complicated as possible.

Lt Saber. Ah, well… uh, crap, Sir.

Lag: In fact, the diplomat in question happens to be the same man that owns this ship, saved a three battalions of friendlies, and flew you into the breach enforcement action. You can imagine how… awkward… being involved in the arrest or death of a diplomat’s civilian wife might be. The political, legal, and career implications could be messy.

Lt Saber chews his cigar stub slowly, thoughtfully, not looking happy. He nods slightly, maneuvers the cigar over into one corner of his mouth.

Lt Saber: So, who’s the supposed bad-ass?

Allonia waves to him, a small, slightly embarrassed wave. Lt Saber looks at her in surprise, snorts softly, then shakes his head.

Lt Saber: Thought this stunk. Got a bad vibe from the whole thing… Mind if we hang around, Sir? I’d sure hate to miss a party.

Lag: Not at all, Lieutenant! Not at all. Be happy to have you join the festivities. You’re even in time for the reception.

The Lieutenant grins around his stogie, then slides down into his tank, pulling the hatch closed as he disappears inside. A moment later the tanks lift up, and glide sideways, so they are more along side the ramp than facing into it, leaving a lot of room straight down in front of it. The barrels rise up to 45 degrees, and looked at correctly, they look more like an honor guard at a wedding than warrant enforcers.

Kaminski: Think this’ll work?

Lag: Seymore’s not an idiot. I don’t care HOW many cops he brings, he’s not going to try to face down four grav-tanks, no matter HOW mad he is. Only question is how trigger-stupid the rest of them are.

They watch silently as a convoy of lightly armored police vehicles roll down the road toward them. They pull up to a halt, forming a line in front of the ramp between the tanks, surrounding the ramp. Cops pile out, wearing body armor, guns drawn. Seymore gets out of one of the vehicles, slowly, impeccably dressed, with a big, evil smile on his face. He swaggers toward the foot of the ramp, where Lt Kat stands calmly, with no obvious weapons, hands visible. He is followed by a large, older police officer with bars on his shoulders, Sam Browne belt, and reflective sunglasses, carrying a folded piece of paper.

Seymore: (sneering) Hand her over, and we won’t have to kill you all where you stand. Yet.

Kat holds out her hand to the officer. He hands her the paper. She glances at it briefly.

Kat: (calmly) Your warrant is defective.

Seymore face falls for a second, then goes back to its normal smarmy display. The older cop with him shoots him a dark look.

Seymore: It’s FINE. And even if it WAS bad, WE have the tanks, and she’ll be dead before you can get it before a judge to say otherwise.

Kat: None here by that name. Allonia’s last name is “STROM.”

Seymore’s face looks surprised, and his eyes dart away from the people at the top of the ramp back to Kat, then to Helton, and back to Kat, then Allonia. The older cop’s face twists into an ugly glare as he looks at Seymore.

Kat: Helton has been hired to act as a courier for us. His legal status is C2 diplomat. As his wife, under YOUR laws she has diplomatic immunity. You can’t do ANYTHING until you get a council decree that says she’s persona non grata, and give her a chance to leave in a timely manner.

Seymore’s eyes bug out a bit, and his face flushes red, veins bulge on his neck. He sounds like he about to hyperventilate and blow a gasket.

Seymore: You… She… No… He… I’ll… D’OH!

Kat: (raising her voice, to make sure the cops here) MILITARY tanks are NOT going to help you enforce your defective warrant against a diplomat’s CIVILIAN wife! In fact, if you try to take ANYONE here by force, they will have no choice but to actively defend the ship, the military personnel, and the diplomat aboard.

As she talks, the tanks move slowly around, slewing so they are more beside the ship facing the line of police vehicles than facing into its cargo hold. Simultaneously the gun barrels lower, training down to just over the police officer’s heads, implications obvious.

Kat: (flatly) Anyone fires a shot, the remaining bits get wiped up with a sponge.

The cops start to look back and forth among themselves. This was NOT what they were expecting. A few of them stand up from their firing positions, slowly, and make a show of safeing and slinging their weapons, keeping their hands visible.

Kat: (cool and polite) When you have a valid warrant, for a person you have jurisdiction over, we can talk. Until then…

The older cop with Seymore glares at him. Kat hands the warrant back to him, and he snatches it from her angrily. Kat turns and walks up the ramp, which starts to rise up as she goes, closing behind her, leaving Seymore gasping in rage and impotence on the tarmac, staring at Tajemnica’s thick armor. The cops look around at each other uncertainly. The older cop turns and stomps back to his vehicle and gets in. The rest of the cops follow his example, slinging weapons and piling back into their vehicles, as Seymore stands and stares at the closed door, in a blind rage. The lightly armored police trucks head off in a cloud of dust, leaving him standing, alone, cursing incoherently at a closed ramp and four grav tanks that sit, silently, guns not quite trained on him.

Fade to black

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16 thoughts on “The Stars Came Back -096- Visitors

  1. Wow! That is the surprise of the year. We go from real-world genetically-engineered wheat to a suite of laws ordering the automatic execution of any genetically-engineered person, and for the observant among us, this IS very didactic.

    Now THAT’S what literature is good for.

    Rolf, keep writng, and I’ll buy you a bottle of whatever gets THAT muse cranking.

    • What? A plot twist? Moi? Naw, I wouldn’t do that, would I?
      It shouldn’t be a surprise – Quinn DID say they’d get married, shortly after he met Allonia, about the same time he said that his space armor was on Deck 5, and she said he’d need to save her from a dragon or something. Sort of like he said “man the railguns and armadillos!” Not that I’d ever do any foreshadowing in a story this long, of course.

      Wait… did you accuse me of writing literature? I thought I was just hammering out a bit of sci-fi.
      People are always looking for scapegoats to blame their problems on – whether is the Jews, Big Corporations, Big Pharma, the mother-in-law, Big Oil, Big Government, public education, or whatever. Generally, once blame gets assigned, and laws get put on the books, they persists WAY past the point of reasonableness. I doubt that will change in the next few centuries. In this particular case, as briefly referenced earlier when she found out she was engineered, it was the result of legitimately BadThings(tm) done by genetically engineered people in the Nation-Corporation wars. But, as with most things, when you criminalize things or people rather than the actual actions of individuals, the side effects are much worse than any intended direct effects.
      As for the “bottle of muse,” I’m a teetotaler, and I only drink really cheap coffee, but thanks for the offer :-)

        • If’n you don’t have the $$$pendy equippage to make ultra-coffee, here a trick you can do with an ordinary MR Coffee machine, or any of the countertop machines like it, to give you French Press quality from that ordinary drip machine.

          • Got a good coffee machine a few years ago for Christmas. It does a fine job.
            My standard line is that while my taste-buds can tell the difference between Starbucks and Army-issue coffee, they just don’t care. Money spent on high-end flavors is mostly wasted on me. I’m a guy of fairly simple tastes, both literally and figuratively. Generic or brand bulk tea. Lentils by the 100 lb sack. Home-made sourdough bread. Venison burgers. Simple stuff.
            What I REALLY need is a job.

  2. “Kat: (raising her voice, to make sure the cops *here*)” should probably be “to make sure (that) the cops *hear*”

  3. Ya know, I think this post may be my favorite of them all so far! I’d totally forgotten the whole Quinn making foreshadowing remarks earlier, until you mentioned them. Hope they can “have a falling out” later, get everything annulled, and Allonia can get properly proposed to by Kaminski!

    Know what you mean about the overpriced Starbucks coffee. I’m not a big coffee drinker myself (I’m Texan, and Southern, so its mostly about the sweet tea for me), and have tried to drink it black, but can’t stand the taste. So with some good old-fashioned bored-sailor ingenuity, I’ve found that (depending on the size of your beverage cup) if you mix one (1) package of hot chocolate, one (1) pack of sugar, and one (1) or two (2) packs of creamer, and use coffee instead of hot water, you avoid all the nasty bitterness, whilst at the same time gaining both the caffeine from the coffee and a slight sugar buzz from the rest.

    …sorta makes the hours just after lunch suck, though.

    • There’s a time for fight’n, and there’s times for good lawyering. If you got lawyers, guns, AND money on your side, it’s hard to lose, until you get to stupid over-reach levels… about where government and its pols always end up.
      Lots of foreshadowing. Go over the lyrics of Born to be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride. Most of Harbin’s “useless as-” statements. Quinn. Comments from Helton in the opening dinner scene.
      The crew knows that the marriage is a paper one, to be formally resolved eventually, and a good source of jokes in the meantime because a high degree of trust has developed between them.
      Personally, I like coffee at about half-strength. Less expensive, and it doesn’t go through quite as fast. But if it’s free, I’ll take whatever caffeine source that’s around, except colas and other sugary beverages. I like tea, hot or cold, somewhat sweet.

  4. I *like* the sticking a thumb in the eye of the sanctamoneous a-holes! You didn’t time the release of the story to coincide with recent events, didja? Or was it divine timing, like Beck’s Eye of Moloch release with all the NSA stuff?

    • Coincidental, but a possibly useful one if I can finish fast enough. Who DOESN’T like that sort of thing? Killing in revenge is OK, but leaving them standing there, KNOWING they not only lost, but got totally out-played? Priceless. But if you like this, you should really enjoy the epilogue. Had a couple of ideas rolling around in my head for a while, couldn’t find any good way to shove them in. Then, during a walk in the woods, POOF, all of them in one short scene. “Smart” guns, tech, surveillance abuse, revenge, kangaroo courts, rescue. Still gotta get through the finale, though. But that has some good stuff, too.

    • Oh, yeah, another thing. Interested in helping do a preview/edit of the last sections? I know you offered a while back, but I don’t know how much time you have to eyeball things and be picky.

  5. I love it when a plan (the “shotgun” wedding) works and the stuffed shirts get stiffed.
    Is Taj developing a more nuanced personality? He’s starting to sound like a real member of the team without having to resort to piratical accents ‘n stuff.

    Nits:
    “Quinn hands it too him.” to
    “saved a three battalions” no a (or it could be “about”)

    • Nits picked for published version. Thanks muchly. The extra “a” was right at the end of a line where it wrapped around. Easy sort of thing to miss.
      Taj is both developing (decrypting more of records Lag brought) and interacting a bit more freely, now that he’s “come out of the [electrical] closet”. But he’s been largely alone for a LONG time, so it’s not a totally developed, adroit and nuanced interface. Simple, factual information requests are easy for him, such as “marriage requirements.” Logical argument is also a strong suit, as you might expect for a computer. More subtle interactions are still a bit rough.
      A plan working is always good. An unconventional plan that’s obvious to the reader only in retrospect, and leaves the bad guys gasping, is VERY good.

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