December 2008 Archives

Holiday

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

RS-37B glanced down at the galactic navigator situated on the dash again. He had planned this trip away from the hustle and bustle of the Galactic Empire with his familial unit for a long time. As much as it went against his programming RS had the sinking feeling he was lost.

His spousal unit JN-46X noticed the movement. "RS, maybe you should pull over at the next Ion Charging station and get directions."

"I know where we are," RS argued. "This is all part of the plan to get away from it all."

From the backseat a small voice chimed in, "Are we there yet?"

"Just a little further," RS replied in a deadpan tone for the 87th time to that same question. His offspring unit QN-78R was still learning his programming for patience. RS was really hoping that it would kick in soon before he bypassed his own patience subroutine.

"Maybe we can pick up some harmonics on the audio scanner," JN offered as she punched the appropriate button. Unfortunately, only static reached their audio receptors.

"For Assembler's sake," JN said tersely her decibel level increasing slightly. "RS we are even out of range of a good harmonics broadcasting station!"

RS cringed. He knew that JN was about to bypass her own subroutine for patience for she never blasphemed in front of the offspring unit unless she was close to burning a circuit. JN looked out the side view scanner watching the distant stars twinkle in the vacuum of space.

"It's no rust off my olfactory receptors if we break down here in the wilderness and you have to hike back to the Galactic bypass," JN continued.

RS groaned inwardly. The nagging program was just beginning and there were only two ways to stop it. One was to make JN so upset that she blew a fuse and would refuse to communicate with him. That was little better than the nagging program.

The second was to find a good place to stop here in the wilderness for a picnic. A few chrono-measures out of the SUV (Star Utility Vehicle) would ease everyone's temperament. RS looked about the galactic navigator map for anything that would meet his approval here in the wilderness.

RS sighed in relief; there only a few astro-units away were a yellow star with some planets around it. One of those rocks had to have a nice scenic place for a picnic. RS pushed the zoom button on the galactic navigator and studied the different planets.

With much relief, RS noticed that the third planet from the star was mostly aquatic. This would be ideal. There was very little water on the planets where RS lived and worked. In fact, this would be QN's first visit to an aquatic world.

"There!" RS exclaimed putting as much confidence in his vocalization as possible, "There's the planet I was looking for all along." RS lied.

"Are you sure?" JN asked her decibels returning to normal. "It looks pretty wild."

"Of course it is wild," RS countered. "That is why it is called the wilderness."

"Did you pack the hydro-protection lotion?" JN worried.

"Yes," RS said mildly annoyed.

"I don't want to experience that terrible rust we received after visiting that rainforest planet again," JN continued. Once the nagging program began, it would still need to run its course.

"I said I packed it," RS replied letting a little annoyance escape into his voice.

"I'm just making sure," JN said defensively. "Poor, QN had to miss some important programming sessions because of the rust. The instructors loaded him down with homework to make up for his missing time."

"I was there," RS stated. He did not want to hear this argument program again. RS really wished JN would just delete that memory file.

"WOW!" QN cried from the backseat his metal face pressed against the side view scanner as they approached the blue planet.

"Remember we are in the wilderness so we have to leave the local life forms alone," RS lectured like a good parental unit to QN as he maneuvered the SUV for a good parking place on the planet.

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Now that Thanksgiving is over, the real war on Christmas can begin. However, I would like to extend this holiday greeting from the Happy Tree Friends.

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The Maltese Sparrow

Chapter Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Detective D'Cheuer was reluctant to discuss the murdered person with me or the case. Thus, he was not going to get a sandwich with me. However, while the identity of the dead Larsentient was unknown to me, I now knew that the poor chap knew Maxine. Thus, I had more to discuss with Maxine, but first some sort of food.

Sadly, Manny had told the kitchen staff about me by the time I returned, and they were unwilling to give me another sandwich. Nevertheless, I went to see Manny. Perhaps he too knew the Larsentient in question. I could possibly get something to follow up with him. He also may know where Maxine was.

I made my way to the staff lounge and waited for Manny. It was not long before he showed up.

"You seem to spend a lot of time in the lounge taking a break," I said.

"I heard you were looking for me," he replied.

"It occurred to me that Maxine might have a jealous suitor."

"I am the one who told you there may be others interested..."

"You were just blindly speculating, I am dealing with facts."

"Facts?"

"Yes," I replied. "The fact that there was a dead Larsentient in my office."

"Who was he?"

"What makes you think it was a he?"

"Well, if you were looking for suitors..."

"There you go -- jumping to conclusions again. Leave that to the professionals."

"Only professionals can jump to conclusions?"

"This is not going anywhere. I was hoping you may know a name or two."

"The names I would give you would be speculation -- and I would not want to step on any professional's toes."

"I will handle the sarcasm."

"M111k%3e&@jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll* and 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll were both interested in her."

"Could you write those down for me?"

"They are spelled just like they sound."

"Please."

He wrote down the names for me and I thanked him for his time. I had a few more leads, but first things were first. It had been too long since I last ate. I made my way to the nearest place where food was served.

There was a nice little bistro across town from the hotel, which meant it was the closest place. It is one of the flukes of making people go long ways for things close by -- the far places are sometimes closer. I was given a seat at a table in the corner.

"My name is 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll, and I'll be your server today."

"Where have I heard that name before?"

"I cannot say that we have ever met, but most Earthers call me Marty."

"Okay Marty, how is the khal-khalash?"

"It is excellent today. Would you like crab juice to go with it?"

"Ew! Who would drink that? I think I'll go with a fermented goose liver smoothie."

"Very good sir."

"Hey -- do you know Maxine?"

"You mean Qx&M@x%lmmnwz^zppklIN3nnw9RL$#kkngfFF? Yes, she is a regular here, and she is sitting right there."

She gave a little wave and it appeared that she winked at me. I went over and sat down at her table.

"My eyes are down here," she said warmly.

"I was just at your place looking for you."

"With this place being so far, I spend a lot of time here. Have you ordered?"

"Yes -- thank you."

"Their crab juice is divine," she added.

"So," I began in an attempt to get on topic. "Why did you not tell me about your relationship with Daniel Butler?"

"Relationship? He's an Earther."

"He is under the impression that there is more between you two."

"What a silly thought."

"He states that it is why he gave you Mable."

"Gave? I paid for my dear bird. I spent weeks with that man."

"Did you give him anything of monetary value?"

"Time is money."

"Fair enough. Why did you not tell me that Mable was sentient?"

"Sentient? Who puts these crazy thoughts into your head?"

"The hotel where you stay has a policy against pets."

"Did Mlm3$63@nN1ekjhggH^ghjknni3 tell you that?"

"Maybe..."

"He just has to say that so I can keep Mable in my room."

"He claims it talks to him."

"That is just silly. Who can speak sparrow -- with that odd Maltese accent."

"What?"

"I said -- um -- who could speak sparrow with that series of tweets and chirps," she said with her eyes going back and forth. "I mean the idea is just silly."

"So, you are looking for your pet and not your valuable companion."

"Why -- uh -- yes I guess, and my eyes are down here."

"Have you thought about who may have done this?"

"Yes, but I just cannot think of anyone."

"Perhaps there was someone jealous of you spending all that time with Mr. Butler."

"It was just a business transaction. Why would they be jealous?"

"Do you know a M111k --- er -- uh -- 2m@..."

"Who?"

"Never mind -- it is not important."

"Your food is here. I will let you eat in peace."

"That would be a first."

That was a first, I ate my meal without interruption. Not by a client, the police, or even two giant birds. I wished that type of thing would happen more often.

Nonetheless, I had plenty to think about. I was no closer to discovering the identity of the dead Larsentient in my office or finding the location of the missing Maltese sparrow. Was Maxine telling me the truth. Her mouth was saying one thing, but her eyes were saying something else. At least, I think it was her eyes. She just seemed to be hiding something, but I do not know what.

I would have to do some research on the two Larsentient names Manny gave me. Perhaps there would be something from them. However, I felt that they were just dead ends. This case was getting more and more difficult. On the other hand, I was getting paid by the day. Thus, it could take months and months to solve and I would be happy with that.

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Holiday

Part Two (Final)

By Dwayne MacInnes

RS was able to find an ideal place near the beach to park the SUV. It appeared the planet had a lot of primitive insect life. So, it took RS longer than he would have liked to find a place where he would not disturb their hives.

The three robots stepped out of their vehicle to stretch their limbs. The cables in RS legs snapped and popped as they returned to their proper position.

"AH!" JN said in relief. "This does look like a nice place."

"I knew you would like it," RS lied. "That is why I had to drive so far to find it. Lost indeed," RS snorted.

"Maternal unit can I play in the water?" QN begged JN.

"After we put some hydro-protection lotion you may frolic in the ocean," JN said as she grabbed the tube of HP lotion. "Remember what your paternal unit told you about leaving the life forms alone."

"Yes, maternal unit," QN sighed rolling his optical receivers.

RS made busy by pulling out a large blanket and spreading it on the rocky ground. There were so many insect trails that RS had to cover some of them. Next, he removed a large container from the SUV containing their midday meal that he set next to the blanket.

After a thorough application of HP lotion QN wasted no time in wading out into the ocean. The little robot jumped and splashed to his generator's content. Occasionally he would approach some of the floating insects and study them.

Meanwhile JN sat on the blanket next to her spousal unit and watched QN play. After a while, she spread their midday meal upon the blanket and called QN to join her and RS.

"Ah, robot!" QN complained, "Do I have to come out now?"

"You obey your maternal unit," RS scolded in a stern voice.

QN, with his head down, slowly stalked out of the surf and joined his parental units on the beach. JN dried QN off with a towel before allowing him to sit on the blanket. The three then divided their repast amongst each other and then proceeded to consume it.

JN looked about them as they began to eat. "It never fails. Whenever you have a picnic the insects appear."

RS looked at the local insects gathering around them. They were no bigger than the big digit on his foot. Like most of the insects he knew they were metallic. However, these ones contain biological parasites.

QN was munching on some mineral pellets when he asked, "Paternal unit, why do these insects have parasites?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full," JN scolded.

"Well, this is a primitive planet," RS began. "Even our home world at one time in the distant past had biological parasites. They are part of the natural evolutionary cycle towards full automaton sentiency."

QN looked at the primitive insects again with renewed wonder. He would crouch down and study them closely in order to observe the parasites inside.

"Do you think we could take some home?" QN asked excitedly.

"No, I'm afraid not," RS said. "There are special laws protecting the wilderness. We cannot disturb them."

QN moaned in displeasure.

"QN-78R!" JN snapped. "You desist that now and you finish drinking your lubrication fluid."

QN obeyed JN and hurriedly finished drinking. After his fluid pouch was empty, QN tossed it upon the blanket. By this time, the insects were gathering in greater numbers. Most bothersome were the flying ones with their rotating wings.

"To bad we did not pack some repellant," JN said to RS as she shooed away a few hovering insects.

"Oh, I packed it. But you remember the directives about the wilderness," RS reminded JN.

"I remember. I was hoping you didn't."

"Maternal Unit may I go swimming again?" QN interrupted.

"No, you have to wait 30 chrono-measures before you can enter the water," JN warned.

"You know that is not true," RS whispered to JN as he waved away a couple of annoying insects buzzing near his face.

JN gave RS one of her unhappy stares. RS contained enough programs to know when it was best not to contradict his spousal unit.

QN frowned and flopped himself on his back to stare at the clouds. He at first was content to look at the different formations. He imagined he saw a foundry. Then there was a cloud that resembled an ingot that slowly transformed into an asteroid. However, his young hard-drive soon wandered and QN started to pluck at the long stemmed plants.

RS helped JN pack the remains of their repast back into the container. They were not paying attention to QN who was now drawing geometric designs in the ground next to him. After he grew bored with that, he scratched out some simple arithmetic problems into the earth.

QN sighed. Thirty chrono-measures seemed like an eternity to a young robot. Some of the insects were now making strange noises so QN went back to his studies. He crouched low so that he could look at the terrestrial insects more closely.

Many of the insects had disgorged their parasites. The parasites did not wander too far from their hosts and actually appeared to be studying QN and his parental units.

QN glanced quickly over his shoulder. An evil plan came over him. He would collect a few insects and their parasites and then take them home. Maybe he would get extra credit in his evolution class.

As QN reached out for some insects, many of the parasites ran back to their hosts who then proceeded to speed off.

"QN-78R!" shouted JN. "Your paternal unit told you to leave those insects alone."

"G-Whiz!" QN shot back. "I can't have any fun."

"That is enough out of you immature robot," JN said sternly. Between RS and QN it felt that sometimes, she was building two newly formed robots.

RS looked out from the back of the SUV where he had just stowed away the container and the blanket. "Did you say something JN?"

"No, I was just telling QN it was time to get into the vehicle."

QN stood up and angrily swatted at a flying insect that hovered near his face. He really did not want to get back in that boring SUV.

"OW!" QN shouted.

"What is wrong?" JN asked.

"I just got stung!" QN pointed to the small carbon scoring inflicted on his arm by the hovering insect he tried to swat.

RS looked over at QN as he opened the door to the SUV. "We have a long drive back to the bypass if we plan on making it to Titanium Caverns."

No further stinging took place as the family of robots climbed back into their vehicle and preceded on their journey.

On the ground, the parasites again left their hosts to study the strange scratching in the earth. It would be years before they were deciphered but they eventually led to one of the greatest quantum discoveries to ever happen on this planet that the local life forms called Earth.

* * * * *

The End

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David Letterman's new holiday tradition.

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The Maltese Sparrow

Chapter Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

I had some leads in which I would need to follow up. I had a few Larsentient names. It should be easy to find out if either name belonged to the dead man in my office. I could do that in the comfort of my office. I paid for my food, and headed across town to my office -- it was a relatively short walk.

When I arrived, I half expected it to look like two giant birds had fought over a sandwich in it. However, it was close to the same state as I had left it. The dead Larsentient was removed, and my office was back to normal. At least, it looked back to normal.

I sat at my desk and put my feet up. It was nice to have some income. I reveled in that fact for a while before getting to work. I turned on my super-video-detecto-set, which most people call a computer.

After a little bit of internet browsing, it was down to business. It was all over the news that a Larsentient male was killed. His name was on my list that Manny had given me. Thus, there may be something behind this suitor business. At the very least, Maxine knew the person who died in my office.

However, then I continued to read. The cause of death was Avian Influenza. He was not murdered at all; the guy died from the flu. How did this happen? How did a Larsentient get an infectious disease that supposedly only infected humans? Oh, and earth birds....

I decided to dig into the man's background some more. After a brief search, I found out that he was an exotic animal handler who specialized in earth birds. With his regular exposure to earth birds, he could theoretically catch this disease. However, he would have to have a great deal of exposure to an infected bird. Perhaps, even exposure to the insides of an infected bird -- the blood.

Would this be an indicator that Mable was dead? If Maltese sparrows were prone to bird flu, then perhaps this would explain how such an infection could spread from a bird to a Larsentient.

Continuing in my research I discovered that this disease was fairly rare. There had not been a reported case since the abandonment of earth. Furthermore, this particular strain could only be found in the large birds of earth. Thus, he would have to have regular exposure to a large bird -- like a Maltese blue tit.

Birds seemed to be the common thread through this entire case. Funny how a missing bird case would end up involving birds. The pair of blue tits were definitely tied up in the Larsentient death somehow, but did this case tie into the missing Maltese sparrow case?

I knew that the dead man may have been involved in the importation of the missing bird, but did it go deeper? What was he doing in my office? Was he left in my office for some purpose? Was he a clue or a distraction? Perhaps it was a threat.

I continued my research on the dead man. He was a Sagittarius. He enjoyed bowling, cycling, and kriffling on the kamblitz. His favorite movie was "Kriffling, I've Never Kriffled." His favorite band was "The Beatles." Oh, and the dead man was survived by a brother. The brother's name was the other name on my list.

The brother was a Libra who enjoyed meeting people, skateboarding, and zamploshuns. He worked at a fancy bistro on the other side of town. A bistro frequented by Maxine. Perhaps the pair had a quarrel over Maxine. However, that would not explain the bird flu. How would someone catch a deadly avian flu? There were lots of questions to be answered.

It seemed best to me that I should revisit Daniel Butler. However, it was late -- really late. Holy cow! look how late it is. It had been quite a day! I should get some sleep, but my living quarters would be quite a hike. I should not have asked to have my living quarters so close to my office.

My place was not much. It was just a comfortable bed crammed into the largest place I could afford. Thus, it was tiny. There was not much room for anything else beside the bed, but I had shelves suspended from the ceiling. It was not much, but I called it home. At least it was away from my office.

I contemplated sleeping on the couch in my office, but a dead man was lying there just a few hours ago. He had deadly bird flu. I felt I had spent too much time in the office anyway. Thus, I would make the long trek home.

There were no wingtips to catch at this time of night. Hence, it was an old fashioned walk. I took about an hour to make it to my place. My eyes could barely stay open when I reached my door.

To my surprise, my door was open. How did that happen? I am sure I closed it. I pushed the door open more. I would say that it looked like two birds had fought in there, but it was pretty much as I left it. There was nothing to throw about and scatter. Thus, if someone broke in, there was nothing to find.

I did find a sticker note on my mirror. I do not know where the note writer learned to write. It looked like a bunch of chicken scratches. With my tiredness, it seemed pointless to attempt to decipher it until morning.

I fell like a heap on the bed and was instantly asleep. I slept soundly for a majority of the night. However, towards the morning, the vivid dreams of giant birds began negatively impacting my sleep.

I dreamt that I was on old earth. I was sleeping in an open field next to a giant tree. In the tree was a sparrow flanked by two enormous birds. They were perched in the tree and were chirping, tweeting, squawking, and making all kinds of racket. How could the inhabitants of earth enjoy the sounds of birds chirping?

I could almost feel their hot breath on my neck. It seemed like they were right on top of me while I relaxed on the grass trying to sleep. Suddenly, one of them began whistling Stars and Striped Forever, and that is when I realized my phone was ringing. It was a new day, and time to get to work.

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Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
In
Ghost Ship

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

In the year 2034, the construction of the first United Nations space station reaches completion. This facilitated the construction of lunar mining bases and in the year 2050 the first of several Mars colonies. Soon afterwards, mining bases dotted Phobos and Deimos the moons of Mars.

It was in the year 2076 that a deep mining operation on Phobos stumbled upon the discovery of the ages. An ancient spacecraft buried deep under the moon's surface dated to 25 thousand B.C. Scientists studying this ancient alien ship discovered a great wealth of technological advances. However, it was not until the year 2152 that a breakthrough allowed the construction of the first successful jump-generator.

The jump-generator was too large to work on a ship. However, jump-gates using the jump-generator created stable wormholes allowing ships to cross great distances in space in a fraction of the time as tradition star travel. The age of generation and sleeper ships suddenly ended.

With the creation of jump-gates across the galaxy, an explosion of Earth colonization took place. Boom-colonies literally sprang up overnight on some planets and planetoids during the second half of the 22nd century. Lawlessness and chaos shortly followed.

In order to maintain law and order across the Federation of United Worlds the Federal Marshal Department under the Galactic Law Enforcement branch established the Star Rangers in the year 2257. Star Rangers specialize in apprehending federal fugitives, transporting federal prisoners, protecting federal witness that may be endangered and patrolling and scouting transportation routes and jump-gates. Often working alone these men and women have Federal authority to investigate any planet or solar system in Federation space. Their jurisdiction can cover anything from theft to piracy to scouting new solar systems.

In the year 2286, a Star Ranger vessel discovered a second Phobos-type craft (named Phobos-2) floating in space. This one appeared to be a large military vessel and was virtually intact. The Federation disassembled and started studying the ship's various components much as it did with the first Phobos craft.

Scientist finally cracked the language code on Phobos-2 in the year 2312. From its fragmentary records the Federation learned that the vessel belonged to a race now known as the Precursors. Many top scientists believe them now to be extinct.

Forty years later thanks to the discoveries from Phobos-2 -- and much trial and error -- ship-born jump-drives are now possible on large to medium sized ships. However, due to the delicate construction and prohibitive cost only military vessels have them. There are rumors that a few Star Ranger Long Range Patrol Crafts also carry an even smaller experimental jump-drive.

* * * * *

Date: March 29, 2352. 2304 Galactic Military Time.

Cobra Long Range Patrol Craft

Blaze Mason awoke to the loud buzzing of his navigational computer or NavCom aboard his Cobra Long Range Patrol Craft.

"What is it, TACAI?' Blaze asked the ship's central computer named TACAI for Turing Analog Cognitive Architecture Intelligence. Like the jump-drive engine aboard Blaze's Star Ranger Cobra, the TACAI was also highly experimental and top secret. The quicker and intuitive computations made this one of the first full production sentient computers. It was also essential for the delicate operation of the jump-drive. The name TACAI sounds very similar to the Earth Japanese word takai meaning expensive. It also sounds like the Donlani word T'Khi, meaning ‘Guardian spirit'. In this case, both are appropriate.

"There is a non-organic object at 34 by 82 by 156. It is on a collision course,' the calm female voice responded.

Blaze straightened himself up in his chair and began reviewing his various scanners on the instrument panel of the flight deck. The TACAI computer systems were notorious for their ability to be vague on some points. In this case, ‘non-organic' meant someone or something created the object in question.

"Scan it against known ship records,' Blaze ordered as he punched the NavCom's collision alarm override silencing the irritating buzzing.

While TACAI searched its records, Blaze altered the Cobra's course and speed to move it out of the object's path. Then he began to zoom in on the object with one of the Cobra's telephoto scanners.

As the Star Ranger watched, the small floating object grew in size as the scanner zoomed in. On recognition, Blaze and TACAI both proclaimed:

"It's the Serapis.'

"It can't be!' Blaze exclaimed in disbelief.

"The EFS Serapis launched in September 21, 2320. It carried the first experimental ship-born jump-drive. On activation the ship and crew disappeared without a trace,' TACAI's cold feminine voice replied. "Its whereabouts have been the source for many theories and even some phantom fictions...'

"Ghost stories,' Blaze corrected. One of Blaze's many jobs aboard the Cobra was to help TACAI's programming. One of her -- Blaze could not help thinking of the ship's computer as a female thanks to its voice modulator -- problems was with idioms.

"Thank you,' TACAI responded acknowledging the new program correction. "There are many well published ghost stories about the Serapis. If you want I can have them downloaded to a terminal in your quarters.'

"No thank you,' Blaze said. "TACAI, does Serapis have power?'

"Affirmative,' TACAI responded. "The engines are at full stop. However, the vessel is still generating sufficient power for full life-support.'

"They really put her together well if she is still operating after 32 years,' Blaze mused aloud.

"One of the many theories about the Serapis's disappearance is that it may have been caught in a time warp or even stuck in hyperspace between jump points. Time would be irrelevant if that was the case,' TACAI pointed out.

"TACAI, try to hail Serapis," Blaze ordered as he started preparing the Cobra to fly in for a closer look. "Maybe the crew survived.'

The black and gray Cobra slowly drew closer to the drifting Serapis. Blaze suppressed a shudder; there was something definitely unnerving about coming across a long lost ghost ship in space. The Serapis was a large spaceship, she had to be to hold the enormous jump-drives constructed thirty years ago. The crew numbered only 25 volunteers who were to only fly to Alpha Centauri and back to Earth. As soon as the ship reached the optimum power to operate the jump-drive something went wrong.

Blaze still remembered the recordings he had to study in history class at the Academy.

* * * * *
Captain Rice Jump-drive 95 percent.
Lt. Wilson: 95 percent, aye.
Captain Rice: Prepare to initiate.
Lt. Wilson: Preparing to initiate.
Commander Yang: Sir, we are getting irregularities...
Captain Rice: Ab...
* * * * *

That was it. No one ever figured out what irregularities the chief engineer Commander Yang was referring. Many believe that Captain Rice was trying to abort the mission before the Serapis suddenly disappeared in a flash of white light and into history.

"No response from Serapis,' TACAI said interrupting Blaze's trip down memory lane.

"I guess that settles it,' Blaze said unbuckling himself from the pilot's seat. "I am going to have to go aboard. TACAI take the Cobra in for a landing. See if you can line it up with an access port.'

"Affirmative,' TACAI said. "Please, remember to take along your enviro-suit and your defensive weapon.'

"No need to remind me,' Blaze said, already stepping into the black enviro-suit that went over the red and black uniform of the Star Rangers. After suiting up, Blaze buckled his belt and holster around his waist which contained the standard issue Colt M2245 Vengeance blaster.

TACAI gently parked the Cobra upon the Serapis. Blaze secured his enviro-helmet onto his suit as he made his way to the airlock over the access port.

"Be careful, Commander Mason,' TACAI said in her usual cold voice.

"Thanks TACAI,' Blaze responded feeling uneasy as he stepped into the airlock.

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This guy probably got a serious beating for this political statement, but it sums up how I feel about this administration's governance. Thus, I find the video cathartic. Thus, here is one of the many edited versions of the news conference coverage.

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The Maltese Sparrow

Chapter Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

One of the things about being a private detective is that you seldom get plenty of sleep. You stay up late following leads, and someone calls you early in the morning. It is the nature of the business. Thus, when I answered my phone, I put on my most professional voice despite my grogginess.

"Hello?"

"Is dis Dwayne Thompson -- da wingtip?"

"Who wants to know and why?"

"Lets us just say dat I'm a friend lookin' out fa his best interests."

"He doesn't have any friends like that..."

"It sounds ta me like yous is da wingtip all right."

"So what if I am?"

"I haves a message fer ya -- er him -- uh -- whatever."

"Okay pal, spill it."

"Spill what?"

"The message."

"Oh right! You should leave off da Maltese Sparrow case."

"Who told you to tell me that?"

"It was a little birdie!"

"A birdie?"

"In other woids, I ain't tellin'."

"Oh! And, if I don't stop investigating this case, then what?"

"Dare'll be serious consequences."

"Consequences?"

"Serious consequences!"

"Serious consequences."

"Dats what I said."

"Like what?"

"Like what what?"

"Like what kind of consequences?"

"Oh! Like -- um -- er -- I don't know! Dat ain't my department."

"That's not your department?"

"No. I'm in da communicatin' department. Someone else handles the serious consequences department."

"Someone else."

"But trust me, the consequences will be serious."

"You just deliver the messages."

"Dats right. I'm good at da communicatin' thing."

"And you are?"

"My name is -- hey! My name is not important."

"Okay Mr. Not Important."

"Yous a funny man."

"Thanks I try."

"Anyways, leave off da case or else."

"Okay. Thanks for calling and have a nice day!"

"Yous too."

I hung up the phone wondering what that was all about. Surely I could not be getting close. I was nowhere with the case. Why would someone try to chase me away? Was I getting close and not aware?

It was at this point that I remembered the note on my mirror. It was time to decipher the chicken scratching. I looked at it and squinted. I turned the left and right. I tilted my head right and left. I held it in the light. It was possibly the worst writing I had ever seen. However, the best I could tell it read, Stop the investigation. It was either that or Slap me in a vest you gator. It could go either way.

That was potentially two warnings to stop this case. I must be getting close, but how? What was I missing? I had to think on it, but I should not do any thinking on an empty stomach. That could be really dangerous. Thus, I showered and made myself presentable to the public. Then I headed for Rick's Café Amé ricain.

It was a popular place for my client to go, there was a person of interest there, and they served food. It was the perfect combination. It had the added bonus of being across town, so it was quick and easy to get there.

Maxine was not there, so I was given a table for one in the back facing the wall. I turned the table around so I could keep an eye out for Maxine. My server came to my table and said, "My name is 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll, and I'll be your server today."

"Hello Marty, do you have a waiter by this name?" I pointed to the name 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll on my slip of paper.

"That is my name sir. Have we met?"

"My name is Dwayne Thompson, I'm a private investigator. It is my business to know things and ask questions."

"I see. Are you going to order something? I cannot answer any of your questions unless you are a paying customer."

"I'll have scrambled eggs with bacon -- baked beans, sausage and spam -- lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce served in the provencale manner with shallots and aubergines, garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and..."

"Sir, you will have to stick to what is on the menu."

"Oh! Sorry. What do you recommend that is breakfast-ish?"

"We have a lovely crab cake and mucilage combo plater."

"Mucilage?"

"Mucilage is a gooey polar glycoprotein, an exopolysaccharide if you will. Thus, the dish is a polymer produced by most plants and some microorganisms served with goat cream and the sap of the humonkulous tree."

"That sounds good. I'll order that with a fermented goose liver smoothie."

"Very good sir."

Marty put my order in with the kitchen and came back to answer my questions.

"Your brother was in my office when he died. Do you have any idea of what he was doing in there?"

The Larsentient stared straight ahead and said, "Sir, my eyes are down here, but I do not know what he had gotten himself into."

I had the feeling he was not exactly honest with me, so I asked him, "What are you afraid of?"

"I am terrified of giant birds -- just like everyone," Marty replied with a cold stare.

"I see. Do you know how Maxine is tied into all of this?"

"Maxine? Oh! You were the guy in here yesterday looking for her."

"Yes."

"That is when we met!"

"Yes."

"That's right. Anyway, Maxine is just a customer."

"So, her and your brother weren't mixed up in any shenanigans."

"Shenanigans?"

"You know -- monkey business -- hanky-panky -- frolicsomeness..."

"Come again?"

"Were they involved in any type of scheme that would be a danger to one life or the other?"

"Is that what that means?"

"In essence."

"Huh!" he remarked with a blank look on his face and then continued, "My face is down here, but I really did not get involved in my brother's affairs."

"Why does everyone want me off this case?"

"I have no idea about which you are talking."

"I'll pretend that sentence made sense. Do you have any idea who would kill your brother?"

"Do you think it was murder? They said he died of the flu."

"I'm just spit-balling here."

"What?"

"Never mind. If Maxine shows up, would you bring her here?"

"Certainly sir. Your food should be ready shortly."

Marty left without shedding much light on my case. Hopefully, Maxine would show up so I could ask her a few more questions. Daniel Butler was known to come here as well. If I were lucky, I could get all my work done in one location with the bonus of eating something!

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Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
In
Ghost Ship

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

The government of the Federation of United Worlds has three distinct branches. The Judicial branch contains the Galactic Supreme Court the highest court in the Federation. Next are the Federal Courts, dealing mostly with inter-system crimes and crimes against the Federation. Below that are the Planetary courts and finally Provincial Courts.

The next branch is the Executive branch. This contains the President and the presidential staff whose job is to make sure that the execution of the law is within the mandates of the Federation Constitution. The Executive branch appoints the Ambassadorial Council, the Presidential Cabinet, and the Service Council. However, all must meet with Congressional approval.

Finally, there is the Legislative branch whose job is to propose laws. The Galactic Congress is comprised of the Dome of Planetary Representatives and the Senate. On the planetary level, there is the Provincial Legislature.

The Federation of United Worlds' military is comprised of many different components. There is the Galactic Navy that contains the traditional space naval forces as well as the space marines and the long-range scouts. Then there is the Galactic Army that contains the traditional planetary assault and security forces as well as space rangers.

The System Patrol Guards are under planetary control with a federal budget to maintain security within the various solar systems making up the Federation. However, during times of war the System Patrol Guards become part of the Galactic military falling under the authority of the Galactic Navy.

The Federation's law enforcement, called the Galactic Law Enforcement is a branch of the Department of Justice. It contains the System Patrol Guards, the Federal Marshals, and the Galactic Department of Investigation (GDI). Within the Federal Marshals, which is the enforcement arm of the Galactic federal courts, are the Star Rangers.

The Star Rangers primary duties are to maintain law and order along Federation space. They can supplement the System Patrol Guards in protecting transportation routes including the security of the jump-gates. They can also assist system law enforcement with Federal crimes, as well as assist the Galactic military in investigating and combating piracy.

They often work alone. However, they do have the authority to deputize civilians in order to 'form a posse' to help them in their duties. Under the Posse Comitatus Act, Star Rangers cannot enlist military personnel to act in a law enforcement capacity within the Federation. The only exception to this is the System Patrol Guards. Only the Galactic Congress has the authority to authorize military personnel to act as law enforcement within the confines of Federation territory.

* * * * *

The access port opened up and Blaze stepped into the drifting ship's interior. The only light came from the different colored buttons on the corridor's control panel. This did not bother Blaze for his helmet could automatically adjust for low light and even use infrared capabilities. The Heads-Up Display (HUD) projecting inside the facemask of the helmet told Blaze that the air inside Serapis was toxic.

"TACAI, can you read me?" Blaze asked testing the helmet's transmission.

"That is affirmative," the cold unemotional female voice of the Cobra's computer responded.

"Good," replied Blaze. "The A. G. is still functional." The Star Ranger walked down the corridor.

"The ship's artificial gravity is reading at .9896. Well within safe operational levels," TACAI offered.

"Thanks, Captain Obvious," Blaze muttered under his breath.

"I am sorry, Commander. I am not aware that there was a Captain Obvious aboard the Serapis," TACAI responded.

"Never mind, it's an old Earth expression," Blaze said as he moved down a long dark corridor. "How are the telemetry relays on the Serapis."

"They are working satisfactory. I can read the Serapis's output. However, I am unable to perform any adjustments from here. You will have to reach the bridge and activate the control override."

"TACAI can you transmit a blueprint to my HUD?" Blaze asked. He really had no clue where he was or even heading inside Serapis.

"Affirmative," TACAI acknowledged.

Blaze sighed when the outlines of a blueprint of the Serapis projected upon his HUD. Blaze turned around and headed on his new course towards the bridge. Blaze always felt he had the knack of always going the wrong direction first.

The trek to the bridge was relatively uneventful. The halls were dark except for the blinking lights dotting the various control panels on the walls. Blaze stayed way from the elevators and opted for the security of the access ladders instead. The last thing he wanted was to end up stranded on a ghost ship in an elevator stuck between floors.

The large steel door leading to the bridge did not respond as Blaze approached. Usually the doors on ships tended to activate when a person approached. Blaze figured that the sensor must have burned out in the last thirty years.

"TACAI," Blaze transmitted. "Can you find the access code for the bridge door on the Serapis?"

"I will see what is in my records," TACAI said as casually as ever.

Blaze inspected the control panel to the bridge. It appeared to be in operational order. Some of the lights blinked on and off while others just illuminated the wall that contained them.

Blaze was starting to get impatient. His unease on being on the Serapis did not subside. A couple of times he was certain he heard snatches of whispering voices. Nevertheless, that was not possible and was certainly due to his imagination.

"Commander Mason," TACAI finally announced nearly startling Blaze to death. "The access code is 4-3-0-6-4."

"Thank you," Blaze acknowledged.

"Commander, are you okay?" TACAI asked in her clinical voice. "Your heart rate has increase as has your respiration."

"It is nothing. Just got a little spooked," Blaze responded as he punched in the code. The steel door finally slide back to allow Blaze access to the bridge.

The Star Ranger let out an audible gasp as he stepped into the interior. Although, he knew there was a good chance of finding them, Blaze still was not ready for the scene before him. The bridge crew sat in their chairs still in their yellow environmental suits. Their bodies slumped lifelessly over their control instruments.

One of the crew had managed to escape his safety harness. His body now lay at Blaze's feet near the door. The man's right arm lay outstretched towards the control panel for the door while the other clutched his throat.

Blaze knelt down near the body. He turned it over and read the name badge. This was Captain Rice. Blaze looked into the faceplate and felt a chill as the grinning face of Captain Rice's skull stared back.

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Now that one of the major holidays is over, we bring you this a two part blast from the past. It is a classic! I wonder how close it is to Gone with the Wind (I have never seen that movie.) Happy Boxing Day!

Part One

Part Two

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The Maltese Sparrow

Chapter Eight

By Douglas E Gogerty

The food arrived just as Daniel Butler did. That is the usual case of things. Most private detectives miss several meals, or in this case, I was forced to share. The nature of the missing bird was unclear.

"What can you tell me about the Larsentient that died of the bird flu?" I asked him as he munched on one of my crab cakes.

"What makes you think I know anything about him?"

"Do we really have to do this the hard way?"

"Apparently so."

"I am just concerned about your health and well being."

"My health?"

"You are not concerned?"

"Should I be?"

"Large earth birds are carriers."

"And?"

"Don't you have a couple of Maltese blue tits?"

"Do I?"

"I have seen them with my own two eyes."

"Oh! Those birds -- they're gone."

"Gone?"

"You are a clever one," Daniel Butler admitted as he started in on the mucilage. "You got me talking again."

"Where are the birds?"

"I do not know. I think your Larsentient friend was attempting to get them off world."

"He was a smuggler?"

"Amateur! He got sloppy -- drat -- you're good!"

"So, it was murder."

"How else? It is a rare disease."

"Who do you suppose did it?"

"I have not one clue -- perhaps his partner."

"Partner?"

"Oh no! You cannot get that out of me."

"Why?"

"Because I do not know who it was."

"Were they trying to get anything else out?"

"Like what?" he asked washing down my meal with some of my goose liver smoothie.

"A Maltese sparrow perhaps?"

"Possibly, but a small bird like a sparrow should be easy. Nothing elaborate would be necessary."

"Has anyone contacted you about the birds?"

"Why me?"

"Well possibly because you smuggled them onto this world. You certainly would have the capacity to get them off."

"The sparrow would have none of that."

"The sparrow?"

"He will not travel in a confined space."

"So, it there is something special about this bird."

"It is not a jewel encrusted bird covered in enamel to hide its value if that is what you are driving at."

"No. I am talking it about its abilities."

"You have been listening to that hotel man -- Manny -- I can tell."

"Why?"

"Do you actually believe that the bird is self-aware?"

"I cannot say, but there is definitely something special about the bird."

"If not awareness, then what?"

"It is not my job to say, but a man is dead over it."

"It could just be revenge," he stated finishing off my meal.

"Revenge?"

"You have quite the way of getting people to talk. Perhaps someone wanted him dead for something he did, and used a convenient method to do the job."

"Who?"

"If I knew -- then -- I -- would..." he said turning an interesting shade of blue.

"What is it?" I asked, but I got no answer as he keeled over.

Detective D'Cheuer was there almost before he hit the ground. He was poisoned. So much for the Butler doing it. Since he ate my food, I could only assume that the poison was meant for me. I did ignore the warning to stop investigating the case. I knew I was getting close, but I still did not know how.

On the other hand, the police did not believe that he ate my meal. Thus, they arrested me for the murder of Daniel Butler. Someone said we were arguing and that I threatened to kill him or asked him if he was concerned for his health. Someone definitely wanted me out of the way, but who?

"This could not happen to a nicer guy," stated Detective D'Cheuer.

"Do you think Mr. Butler was so bad?"

"Not him wingtip -- you!"

"I did not kill him."

"The evidenced points to you doing it."

"It is pretty slim evidence."

"It will hold up."

"What was my motive?"

"When you are dealing with a known smuggler, it is easy to invent something."

"Such as?" I asked.

"Perhaps he cheated you on a deal. Perhaps he was extorting money from you for that mail order bride you ordered. With a little investigation, we can build a motive."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm getting close on my case. You cannot stop me now."

"Oh! I cannot can't I?"

"Please?"

"Don't tell me. You want 24 hours to clear your name."

"Actually, I was hoping for 240."

"Ten days? Are you crazy?"

"Come on detective. Be a stand up guy."

"You know the drill. If you make bail, you can continue your investigation then."

"But..."

"No buts. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up this right, anything you say can be used against you in your trial. You have the right to attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?"

"Ummm -- no."

"Shut up and put your hands behind your back."

I did as he asked, and he attached my hands together. He put me in his vehicle and took me to the police station. With the design of the world, everyone was close to a police station. Thus, it took quite a while to get to the destination.

I was fingerprinted, photographed, and had some DNA taken. It was the normal booking procedure. I was almost an old hand at it. They gave me my one phone call. Since Maxine was the only one I knew with any money, I called her.

My client came down and bailed me out. She did it on the condition that I would continue the case, and any further expenses would be counted against my bail.

I explained that I was getting close to something big.

"I am not interested in your big case," she explained. "I just want my bird back."

"But..."

"But, nothing! I am paying you to find my bird and return her to me. The rest of your investigation does not appear to be headed in that direction."

"I suppose you are right."

"I am," she said emphatically. "You solve your poisoning case on your own time. My missing Mable comes first."

"But..."

"Would you like to return to your cell?"

"No," I said as an uncontrollable shiver shook my body.

"Then find my bird!"

"Yes ma'am."

I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I needed to find out who killed Daniel Butler -- or who tried to kill me. However, if this did not lead me to the missing bird, then I should not pursue it. If I did not pursue it, I could end up in jail for a very long time. I was getting close to something, but I did not know what. The only thing I could do was carry on.

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Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
In
Ghost Ship

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

In the year 2192, a new virus originating from a fringe colony on the outer reaches of Federation territory spreads like wildfire. The virus annihilates entire colonies. The Federation is desperate to contain the virus that people are calling the moon-flu.

The Galactic military quarantines infected planets as well as space stations with the distasteful order to destroy all ships trying to leave these worlds. The Federation even goes so far as to destroy the jump-gates to the fringe worlds effectively cutting them off, as one would amputate a gangrenous limb to stop the spread of disease.

Ironically, scientists on Earth discover a cure within a few weeks of the epidemic's outbreak. It is too late to help the now isolated fringe colony worlds.

In the year 2197, the battlecruiser Nimitz on deep patrol discovers a Donlanian ship infected with the moon-flu. The Donlani are a humanoid race and many Federation scientists believe the Precursors may have taken some of Earth's human ancestors and planted them on another planet. However, the moon-flu was even more devastating to the Donlani.

Fortunately, the vaccine works on the Donlani. The Donlani Star Republic and the Federation are quick to establish trade relations. Unfortunately, the moon-flu so devastates the Donlani that they are vulnerable to attack from its aggressive neighbor the insectoid Grikla. On the brink of collapse, the Donlani Star Republic officially joins the Federation of United Worlds in the year 2201. The former Donlani Star Republic brings 16 new races and 32 planets with it into the Federation. The Grikla are easily repelled.

The Federation is surprised to discover in the year 2217 that many of its former fringe colonies it thought destroyed by the moon-flu have actually survived. Thanks mostly to the use of eugenic engineering. The surviving worlds believed that the Federation itself had created the virus and had used the fringe worlds as a guinea pig. These former colonies had established their own government after the Federation abandoned them and declared themselves the Concordant of Fringe Worlds.

The hatred and mistrust the Concordant has towards the Federation is great. The two sides patrol their borders diligently.

* * * * *

Blaze spent a few minutes investigating the bridge. It appeared that the crew had succumbed to poisoning shortly after the jump-drive engaged. More than likely Blaze surmised by the corpses grasping their throats it was in the crew's enviro-suit air supply. Blaze was at a loss to explain it; the enviro-suit's air supply is independent from the ship's. Therefore, the malfunction should not have affected them.

"TACAI, give me a technical read-out of the ship's controls so that I can activate the control override," Blaze ordered over his communication unit in his helmet.

"Affirmative, commander," TACAI responded as she instantly displayed the requested information on Blaze's HUD.

Blaze quickly found the switch and shortly after initiating the control override, TACAI had telemetry control over the ship's functions.

"Let there be light," Blaze said in his communication unit.

"Affirmative," TACAI said in her emotionless female voice.

The bridge lit up and Blaze watched as the view monitors and control display screens all came to life.

"TACAI, search the ship's records for..." before Blaze could finish a few sparks flew from his helmet.

"Commander, your communication regulating modulator has shorted out," TACAI informed Blaze in a now statically voice.

"That's damn strange," Blaze replied. "Well, I can still read you. See if you can find anything in the ship's records that may tell us what happened."

"Affirmative, commander," TACAI responded.

Blaze walked back towards the bridge door as he waited. The door now slid open as he approached. However, the digital display near the door did not show the access code Blaze had to use to get in. It read 51773808.

"TACAI, I have a strange number on the door's control panel here on the bridge," Blaze informed his ship's computer. "Can you make anything of it?"

"It was the last thing the captain punched in before he died," TACAI responded. "Maybe he was not coherent enough as he was dying to put in the correct code."

Blaze was about to return to the bridge when down the hallway he saw someone in an enviro-suit disappear around a corner. Blaze instantly drew his Vengeance blaster and proceeded to hurry after the person.

Colt Vengence M2245

"TACAI," Blaze spoke lowly. "I am not alone. I just saw someone takeoff down the corridor."

"Negative, commander," TACAI said. "Ship's sensors show only one life-sign and that is yours."

"Can you see anything on my helmet's camera?" Blaze inquired.

"Affirmative, you camera is operation. The image from the camera appears to be a blur," TACAI informed Blaze blandly. "Enhancements fail to show anything humanoid."

"I'm going to use the infrared scanners," Blaze said.

The HUD bathed the corridor in a spectrum of black and blue for the colder areas to yellow and red for the warmer. Blaze continued to jog after the person he saw a few moments before. At the end of the long metal hallway, Blaze stopped short at another door. Like the door to the bridge, this one did not open as well.

Blaze was about to punch in the code to open the door when he noticed the numbers 51773808 on the display.

"Commander," TACAI's statically and stoic voice intruded Blaze's thoughts. "I am picking up some strange unfiltered noises from you communication unit."

"Can you make anything out of it?" Blaze asked TACAI as he punched the numbers 43064 in the door's control panel.

"Affirmative," TACAI responded. "I will play it back."

The door slid open and Blaze cautiously entered the room. There in front of him stood the person. However, Blaze stopped cold as the expected red or warm for a living being displayed only a blue silhouette before completely disappearing simultaneously as the word "Sabotage" whispered through Blaze's helmet.

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June 2013

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Recent Comments

  • Douglas Gogerty: Thanks for the kind words Kerry. I too am very read more
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  • Christian: A great story, i remember my first computer with DOS read more
  • Kerry Glasscock: Good story. I love that Dwayne. nice work! read more
  • Douglas Gogerty: Thanks Susanne. You are correct, the OS of computers has read more
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