The Stars Came Back -097- Laredo

Fade in

INT – NIGHT – Tajemnica Bridge

Quiritis, Helton, Allonia, Bipasha, Kaushik

Kaushik and Helton are in space suits, visors open. Helton at command, Quiritis at helm, Allonia is at sensors, Kaushik weapons, Bipasha at com.

Helton: -And THAT’S the checklist. Light it up!

He reaches over and flips the master switch. There is a slight hum, that grows a bit, and settles down, much smoother than ever before.

Allonia: THAT sounds different. Good or bad?

Quiritis: Good, I think.

Stenson: (OC, though com) Looking good here!

Helton: Let’s take her up, then. See what we can do.

Quiritis: Aye-aye, Captain.

Cut to

EXT – NIGHT – landing pad near Tajemnica

It’s dusk. Lights shine harshly from the nearby building, casting deep shadows about. The air about Tajemnica glows slightly as the drive fields are powered up. She lifts slowly, gently, then angles up slightly and start to surge forward, air about her lighting up more. Rapidly she fades up and into the distance of the fading sunset.

Cut to

Tajemnica Bridge

Quiritis: Feels good. Power green. Nothing in the red. A little extra drag from the damaged tank hatch cover, but nothing to worry about. No unexpected heating.

Allonia: View looks clear. Nothing we didn’t already know about.

Kaushik: Weapons secured, no red light. No target locks, no incoming, or suspicious somethings, for once.

Helton: Hmmm… Makes me wonder what’s about to go wrong.

Bipasha: At least give us time to clear atmo before you start worrying, Helton. We still have LOTS for time for things to go wrong. (teasing) No need to get your new wife all nervous.

Everyone chuckles, even Quiritis.

Helton: Point. How far does Stenson want to go before he tests things?

Quiritis: He said at least a million kilometers.

Kaushik: (frowning) Why so far?

Quiritis: Something about not wanting to be responsible for sterilizing the planet if we are too close and it goes “wrong-BOOM” instead of just “wrong-ka-thunk.”

Helton: I suppose. Turning twelve thousands tonnes into pure energy would be pretty impressive.

Kaushik: Is that what made the Kyrie Crater?

Allonia: The what?

Kaushik: Some big experimental power system accident, wasn’t it? Blew a crater clear through the planet’s crust, more than four hundred kilometers across. Destroyed all the ships in orbit, except one that was past its moons, something like a million… kilometers… away…

Everyone sort of ponders the idea of a blast that large, and their expected course.

Ship AI: (OC, sounding like a professor) No. The Kyrie Crater was caused by an experimental M38J variable-yield warhead missile test. They didn’t react as expected with planetary surfaces under certain conditions. They were discontinued, and details classified.

Helton: Uhhhh… Isn’t that what you said we have TWO of in the magazine?

Ship AI: (OC) Yes. I DID recommend against using them, if you recall.

Kaushik: So if you nuke ‘em from orbit, you’re too close?

Ship AI: (OC) Yes. Unless it’s a VERY high orbit. The surviving ship was 1.17 million kilometers, and already leaving fast.

Helton: Planet-killers. Great. I don’t EVEN want to know how you came by them.

Ship AI: (OC) They were never off-loaded. In the excitement of the event, some experimental data appears to not have been officially recorded correctly. The testers were under the impression they were all used, for some reason.

Bipasha: And THERE’S the trifecta.

Helton: (humorously sarcastic) That’s just how we roll, I guess. Live’n on the edge. Illegal crew. An illegal ship that steals illegal weapons. Sure, why not.

Quiritis: Universe is just lucky we’re the GOOD guys.

The powerfully built male avatar in armor shows up on a screen, sitting atop a tank, chewing a cigar, looking a bit like Lt Saber.

Ship AI: If anyone asks, you can honestly say you got nuth’n but personal weapons aboard. Being a ship-person blurs the line sort’a useful-like. You got YOUR side-arms. I got MINE.

Dissolve to

Tajemnica Bridge

Everyone still in place, but the sound is different.

Allonia: Got something. 250 kilometers, closing fast.

Helton: Close or intercept? Any weapons locks?

Kaushik: Nothing here.

Allonia: Ah… let me see here… OK, not quite dead on, but very close. Velocity changing to match ours when we cross. Looks to be coming along side.

Ship AI: (OC) Very good. You are learning the controls better all the time.

Helton: ETA?

Allonia: About… six minutes.

Helton: Acceleration?

Allonia: About twice ours.

Helton: Quiri, mods ready to kick on-line yet?

Quiritis: Almost, but still too close – not for another half-hour.

Helton nods in understanding.

Helton: Hail them.

Bipasha: You want to be on-screen, or just voice?

Helton: Let’s see if they’ll respond, give us anything useful. Put me on their screen.

Bipasha nods, hits a few controls, then then nods to him.

Helton: (to main screen cam) Unknown ship, this is Captain Helton Strom of the starship Tajemnica. Alter course or state your intention!

There is a pause, then on the screen appears a man in him mid-thirties. Apparently on the bridge of a small ship, he’s dressed in space armor, and guns are on racks in the background. He’s got long hair, a rakish look, and a big grin.

Pirate Captain: Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old friend Space Colonel Strom, of the Plataean 3rd Expeditionary Force. WOW. Never thought I’d see you again. Small universe, eh?

Helton doesn’t recognize the man, but knows the reference.

Helton: (to Kaushik) Time to test the BFR. Get it prepped.

Pirate Captain: You gave me a bit of a scare last time. Freaked out my crew when you popped up on the screen. Cost us a pretty penny when that ship went on its merry way. Tricks won’t work this time.

Helton: Well, howdy! Good of you show yourself, this time. It’ll make collecting the bounty easier. There may not be a lot left to ID.

Pirate Captain: Your bluffing. You were nothing but a passenger on that ship, and starship captains don’t fly economy-class on budget space-liners. Even if you only captain an ancient Meridian.

Helton: (casually) Things change… How’s business?

Pirate Captain: (looking a little bit disconcerted for a moment) Business? Oh, you mean… NOW your stalling, trying to come up with a plan. Won’t work.

Helton: Yeah, you figured me out. I’m NOT really hauling nukes, or Plataean soldiers, or flying an old warship that was recently re-armed. Not at all. Just a common freighter driver, trying to make ends meet. So, you going to board us, see if we have anything of value, rape the women and children, that sort of thing? Or just waste a missile on us?

Pirate Captain: Gott’a hand it to you, you’re a cool one. Most guys are sweating pretty good in the first thirty seconds.

Helton: Either I’ve got a psychotic killer ship, I’m crazy, or I got more up my sleeves than you do. Choice, choices, choices.

Pirate Captain looks at him hard. Helton smiles back.

Helton: Scans show much detail on his weapons?

Allonia: Checking.

Her hands work the controls a moment. Sensor readings start popping up on screens. Kaushik scans through it quickly.

Kaushik: BFR is on-line, ready. They have anti-debris beams, message drones, one missile launcher, six missiles in the magazine. Older models – ST15Rs. Reliable, but short range only, unless they do a LONG coast. Manual cycle magazine – looks home-made. One external light railgun. Numerous light weapons inside. Crew of twenty two. No, scratch that. Looks like twenty one, one android. Hmmm… Sex-bot.

On the screen, the Pirate Captain’s face falls with each correct fact stated.

Pirate Captain: How did you-

Kaushik: Those missiles won’t penetrate the armor, even if they hit. Really just a modified ground-to-ground APC missile for close range against thin-skinned targets. Micro-lasers are little more than dust-poppers. Only thing they really have is above average acceleration.

Helton: Our ship has good eyes. Or else one of your lonely guys is a mole.

In the background on the screen there is now frantic activity, with a couple of guys running past the camera, flustering the increasingly dismayed-looking Pirate Captain.

Helton: So, how’s business aboard the SS Target Drone looking now? Guess you depend on cowardice and insiders when boarding. Sure as hell isn’t weaponry. Anyone you’d like us to inform of your demise?

Ship AI: (OC) I have scavenged all personal information necessary to inform next-of-kin.

Helton looks over the text scrolling up a screen above him for a moment.

Pirate Captain: (looking confused and concerned) How… who ARE you?

Helton: Don’t tell anyone, but – we’re the good guys… Laredo? Your parent’s named you “Laredo”? Larry the space pirate. Huh. Give us a minute to see if we need to board you, or just use your ship for a weapon test target. Any history, Taj?

Ship AI: (OC) Flight logs match a pattern of reported criminal shipping activity. It is VERY likely that they have taken at least three crewed ships, a half-dozen automated cargo transports, and are likely smugglers, too.

Helton: Well, I can’t really hold smuggling against you. That’s just market economics at work. But piracy. People. That’s different. Been on the wrong end of that. Can’t very well haul you back, though – got a few folks back there that don’t like US much either, right now. So…

Allonia: Course is altering. Vectoring to miss wide.

The Pirate Captain’s image disappears from the screen. Helton looks at the star field it now displays, and ponders a moment.

Helton: Kaushik, how many were suited up?

Kaushik scans the data before him.

Kaushik: All but three of them.

Helton: Load the BFR for max accuracy, moderate power. That would be a good first test fire. Aim for the drive area. We can radio back details to have someone else pick them up. Or not.

Kaushik nods and works the controls a moment. The star-field on the screens shifts slightly.

Quiritis: Their acceleration is constant. Drives at full. Small lead, easy shot.

Helton: Fire when ready.

Everyone on the bridge shifts slightly as the recoil from the BFR moves the ship back a bit, and an odd sound resonates through the hull. On the screen there is a streak as space-dust flash-heats and glows, and a brighter flash as the small projectile converts a line of material through the pirate ship into super-fast plasma, heat, light, and death.

Allonia: Looks like… drives gone, aft hull breach, but air venting is already slowing fast, so airtight doors much have auto-shut.

Kaushik: No more main power.

Quiritis: Accel is zero. Drifting ballistic.

Helton: Call it in. Looks like the first test-shot is a success. Let’s go see what the drives can do, now, shall we?

Fade to black



13 thoughts on “The Stars Came Back -097- Laredo

  1. The M38J variable-yield warhead: Its a Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator on steroids.

  2. If Tajemnica is going to hide her status as a fully-armed ship, the crew couldn’t very well “call it in”. In fact, they’d have to board and retrieve Laredo’s AI core, or stand off and convert the hulk to dust.

    Maybe the reveal of the M38J weapons is meant to open the door to the novel’s snappy ending, a battle with Tajemnica defeating a modern enemy, with some collateral planetary damage, but otherwise, an anomaly sits in your plot, sir.

  3. Tajemnica’s hiding days are (mostly) over, and there are still a fair number of people around that DO like them (such as those that didn’t like Darch) that they could send a message to about the now drifting ship. Some sorts of news travels fast. Some seems to plod along slowly. The comment about the M38J was meant as much as a joke as to be serious about hiding Taj’s “condition”.

  4. Nits… your s.b. you’re

    Pirate Captain: ***Your*** bluffing.

    Pirate Captain: (looking a little bit disconcerted for a moment) Business? Oh, you mean… NOW ***your*** stalling, trying to come up with a plan. Won’t work.

  5. I like that bit about each having his/her own side arms. RKBA, indeed.

  6. What happened to the monk? Did he just perform the ‘marriage’, then go on his ‘merry’ way? 🙂

    • They thought about keeping him around for ceremonial purposes :-), but he’s moving on after spending a bit of time with them.

  7. Hehehehe….never bring a knife to a gun fight! Or a duct-tape-and-prayers starship to any sort of fight against the Taj. Booyah!

    Nitpicks of the day: (first was covered by Alan Rognlie, but I’m lazy, so I didn’t erase it, since there’s another nitpick that’s in the same sentence)

    Pirate Captain: Your bluffing. You were nothing but a passenger on that ship, and starship captains don’t fly economy-class on budget space-liners. Even if you only captain an ancient Meridian.

    Pirate Captain: “You’re bluffing.” Might also try switching to “Even if you’re only the captain of an ancient Meridian.” Just feels like it flows better that way.


    Allonia: Looks like… drives gone, aft hull breach, but air venting is already slowing fast, so airtight doors much have auto-shut.

    “…but air venting is slowing….” (adding the “fast” is rather ironic, since its slowing, but is also rather superfluous) “….so airtight doors MUST have auto-shut.”

    • Oops…nitpick myself: meant to add “…but air venting is ALREADY slowing….” to show how “fast” its slowing. I’ll downgrade myself to just a silver star on the chart on the fridge today, instead of the usual gold star.

    • Caught another problem in there, too. Fixed ’em for publication. Thanks.

      If you recall, Tajemnica was rather duct-taped together not that long ago. I think the message “choose your targets wisely.” Or, to paraphrase Brody from Jaws, “going to need a bigger fleet.”

  8. The real problem with the Taj was not that it was in bad shape. It just needed the right owner. It wouldn’t let itself be fixed for the wrong person.

    Wonder if/when we will ever find those missing data cores….

    • Taj WAS in pretty bad shape, and needed the right owner to get things fixed right. And yes, another set is delivered from another source in a couple of weeks worth of episodes. But that might be after it goes into “finishing hiatus,” which I’ve not quite decided on yet.

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