I don't know what is more frightening -- the fact that someone wrote this song and got it recorded -- or that they made a video of it. Brace yourselves!
January 2009 Archives
The Maltese Sparrow
By Douglas E. Gogerty
A great detective (perhaps fictional) once said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
I would have to take that to heart with this particular case. I had to start eliminating things. I was clearly getting too close for someone's comfort. However, I had not one clue as to how I was getting close. It would take all my brain power to come up with the solution.
That is when I thought of it. Perhaps, there was some sort of earth cat on the planet that had taken the bird. Everyone knows cats and birds are mortal enemies. The cat wanted to conceal his or her crime and was removing all obstacles.
Everyone knows that cats are ruthless killers. They would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. The only problem with this theory was that there were no cats on this world. In fact, cats were thought to have been wiped out by the Maltese blue tits before these birds went after humans.
However, no one could be sure they were extinct. They could be like the ivory billed woodpecker or the coelacanth. They were thought extinct only to kill a human before they finally disappeared for good.
Perhaps that is not the best way to go about solving this case. There were plenty of improbable scenarios to be found. How would I determine which ones were actually impossible?
Naturally, my thoughts returned to the most logical course of action. There was only one thing to do now. My next move was clear. It was time to go to Rick's Café Américain. It was true. I was really hungry.
My last meal there was less than satisfying. This was probably due to the fact that someone else ate it. Since that person was no longer with us, I could potentially eat this one. A thought occurred to me that perhaps someone would attempt to poison me again. Nevertheless, my stomach overruled any objections my brain had.
It did not take me long to arrive at the restaurant. My stomach grumbled and growled the entire way. Perhaps my stomach was responsible for the disappearance of the Maltese Sparrow. It was certainly trying to do me in.
I was seated and a waiter I had never seen before came to my table.
"Hello, my name is Joachim and I'll be your server today," he stated flatly.
"Where is Marty?" I asked.
"Marty, he normally waits on me."
"Oh! You mean 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll."
"Yes -- I guess so."
"If you find him, would you let me know. Apparently he did not show up for work, and I have to cover for him. What can I get you?"
"What do you mean he did not show up for work?"
"Well you see, he has this job waiting tables at this place. It just so happens that when he was scheduled to work, he did not show up!"
"Where is he?"
"If I knew -- he would be here returning your inane questions instead of me."
"Do you mean he just disappeared?"
"That would be a cool trick, but it is just that no one knows where he is. Are you going to order something?"
"I'll have the special with a fermented goose liver smoothie."
"Very good," he said walking quickly from my table.
"Could I get that with extra lima beans?" I yelled after him.
"Certainly" he replied without stopping.
As if it was scheduled, Detective D'Cheuer arrived just as the food did. Perhaps I should stop eating at this café. Rarely do I actually get to eat my food when it is ready.
"May I join you?" asked the detective.
"Why? Am I coming apart?" I laughed because I really love that joke.
"You are awfully jovial for a murder suspect."
"Gallows humor I suppose. What do you want?"
"What can you tell me about 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll?"
"Never heard of him -- or her -- or whatever..."
"He was your waiter here on a couple of occasions."
"Oh, you mean Marty!"
"Yes. Marty. What do you know about him?"
"He was my waiter here on a couple of occasions."
"Still with the jokes. I think you missed your calling. Anyway, he is wanted for questioning in your murder case."
"He was here that night. He could have seen you put the poison in the food."
"He could have poisoned the food himself," I asserted.
"Yes, he could have been an accessory to your crime," Detective D'Cheuer replied.
"He could potentially clear my name!"
"Possibly ... but only if he is around to testify. However, no one knows where he is."
"How could you let a material witness get away?"
"We were tailing him. He just gave our guys the slip."
"How did that happen?"
"Let just say a couple of birds helped him fly the coop."
"What kind of birds?"
"It is just an expression."
"So, you have not seen him."
"Sadly no. Have you seen a Maltese Sparrow around?"
"A Maltese Sparrow? What is that? Is it some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable?"
"No it is just a regular earth type bird."
"That type of thing is illegal to have here. If we found such a bird, we would have to take it back to earth. Why are you looking for such a thing?"
"It was a joke -- ha ha," I lied. "I am still cracking the jokes."
"That one -- not so funny. If you see Marty -- and if you are innocent -- it is in your best interest to let me know."
"Whatever," I replied curtly as Detective D'Cheuer left.
As a private investigator, I was not savvy to the ins-and-outs of law. Thus, the illegality of owning a Maltese Sparrow put an entire new spin on the case. I would have to figure out how to spin this in my favor.
Nonetheless, first things first. The interview did not last long, and Detective D'Cheuer did not partake in any of my food. Thus, I could eat in peace. Unless someone else came along. Oh, and that waiter forgot my extra lima beans.
Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
By Dwayne MacInnes
The Martian colonies become self-sufficient in the year 2084. By the year 2108, Mars petitions for self-government. It takes two years before Mars becomes a sovereign world in the year 2110; this is the birth of the Federation of United Worlds.
An Earth sleeper colony ship first enters the Alpha Centauri system in the year 2115. The ship establishes some colonies on the more hospitable planets and moons. The first jump-gate system is set up between the Alpha Centauri system and Earth in the year 2159. The next year Alpha Centauri becomes a sovereign world and joins the Federation.
In 2207 the aggressively insectoid race known as the Grikla attack a Donlani space station on the border of the Grikla Empire and the Federation. The destruction of the space station and the Federation patrol vessel Andassa starts the Grikla wars.
The Grikla sue for a peace treaty in 2215 after their ancestral enemies the Dehdan declare war on the Grikla. The reptilian Dehdan of the Dehdan Confederation will not stop short of sheer annihilation of the Grikla. The Federation is happy to end the bloody eight-year stalemate. The Federation and Grikla establish a neutral territory.
In 2218, the Federation sends emissaries to the Dehdan Confederation with a peace-treaty in mind. They return home with the message that as soon as the Dehdans are through destroying the last Grikla it will then bother with destroying the Federation. The Federation increases border patrols near Dehdan space.
The Federation encounters the Theocracies of Sen in the year 2220. The Theocracies is a religious state formed from many races including a large portion of Earth humans. The Theocracies of Sen not being interested in war, but in galactic harmony sign an alliance with the Federation in 2221.
The ongoing Grikla/Dehdan war spills over into the Theocracies' territory in the year 2230. This starts the Triangle war. The war ends four years later after the Theocracies and Federation forces ambush and destroy all Griklan and Dehdani ships in the Theocracies' space. Both Grikla and Dehdan governments recognize the Theocracies of Sen's and the Federation's borders.
"What the hell?" Blaze asked still stunned from the sudden disappearance of his quarry.
"That was the unfiltered noise," TACAI replied, not knowing that Blaze was speaking to himself.
"Uh, right," Blaze lamely said. The Star Ranger looked around the room. It was obviously set up as someone's quarters. Blaze sat down on chair next to a desk to sort out what was going on.
The more Blaze thought about it the more the hairs stood up on the back of his head. This was not possible. A haunted space ship was something told to scare children.
The monitor on the desk suddenly flickered to life sending more chills up Blaze's spine. An image of the crew preparing for the jump-drive test played out on the screen. Blaze watched in stunned fascination.
The bridge crew went about their business. Blaze fiddled with the volume button, but only silence greeted him. The show on the screen continued and Blaze watched as Captain Rice silently prepared his ship for the first ship-born jump-drive to go into action.
All of sudden the crew started to scramble at their controls. Captain Rice yelled something and then a flash enveloped the screen for a split second. Blaze could see the Serapis' view screen in the background change from the familiar constellations near Earth to another unfamiliar one.
Unfortunately, for the crew as the Serapis exited hyperspace they all began clutching their throats. Standard practice had all crewmembers on launch of an experimental spacecraft tied into their enviro-suit's air supply in case the there was a breach in the hull.
Captain Rice undid his straps and staggered towards the bridge door. Smoke started to fill the interior of the bridge. The captain still clutching his throat rapidly started to punch numbers into the control panel. Blaze could see the numbers clearly, 51773808.
As quickly, as it came to life the monitor suddenly went blank. Blaze stared at the screen. Did he just hallucinate?
"Commander," TACAI's cold scratchy voice reverberated in Blaze's ears. "Your heart rate is up again as is your respiration. The biosensors in your enviro-suit are telling me that you are also experiencing a rise in your adrenaline level. This corresponds with a sudden encounter with fear. Are you alright?"
Blaze took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. "Yes, I am alright. I am at a loss at what is going on here.
"Did you perceive a vid showing the prelaunch preparations of the Serapis?"
"Negative," TACAI responded.
"TACAI, have you been recording the unfiltered noises from my communication unit?"
"Affirmative," the computer replied.
"TACAI, continue to record and instantly play it back so I can hear it," Blaze instructed the Cobra's computer.
"Affirmative," TACAI responded. "Commander, there is another unfiltered noise coming through now."
"Engine room," whispered into Blaze's ears.
Commander Joe is back! Last time we saw him, he was chasing the kidnappers of Barb. A grenade was thrown, and an exploding car was the result. What happened? You'll have to watch and see!
The Maltese Sparrow
By Douglas E. Gogerty
Boy, do I love eating! I guess if you ask anyone that knows me, they will tell you it is true. It is too bad that whenever I am on the job, my eating become erratic. Thus, after Detective D'Cheuer left me, Maxine walked up.
"How is it going wingtip?" she asked.
She had a sorrowful look upon her face, so I told her, "I am getting close."
"My eyes are down here," she replied.
"Please... join me," I insisted.
"Why? Are you coming apart?" she asked but did not laugh.
Unfortunately, I laughed hysterically.
"How can you laugh at a time like this?" she asked.
"I am sorry, but I love that joke!" I laughed.
"Daniel Butler is dead! 2m@3R&t4jJnsp^82jioljidf348lll is missing..."
"Who? Who is missing?" I asked attempting to suppress a chuckle.
"The waiter here."
"Oh! You mean Marty."
"Yes," she sobbed as she sat at my table and began eating my food.
At that point I stopped laughing. "Take it easy," I asserted.
"What is this? It is delicious."
"That is my fermented goose liver smoothie," I replied as I started to sob.
"I wish I had tried it earlier."
"You know -- the last person to eat my food died a short time later because of poisoned food."
"Is that so?" she asked without stopping.
"Yes. Daniel Butler."
"That is a sad thing," she said after she drank more of my smoothie.
"You know it is against the law to have an earth bird here," I stated sternly to change the subject.
"Your human laws do not apply to us," she retorted after more of my food.
"I had not thought of that."
As she finished up she asked, "Did you say you were close to solving my case?"
"Yes, I am close," I sobbed.
Once my plate was clean, she did not fall over or anything. She simply smiled and wiped her mouth off with a napkin. "Thanks for the food and the conversation," she said as she arose. "I do feel better now."
She left me there hungry and with an empty plate. Shortly afterwards, the waiter, who was not Marty, gave me the check. It is times like that where I am in a less than agreeable mood about my career path choice.
I paid the bill and decided to get a sandwich on the run. If I am moving, no one can take my food from me. Unless, of course, I run in to a pair of enormous Maltese blue tits. I would think twice about giving them my food, but I think in that circumstance I would relinquish my sustenance.
I ate my sandwich and went over the facts of this case. First, we had a missing bird -- the Maltese sparrow. It was not a jewel encrusted bird coated in enamel to hide the fact that it is very valuable, but a living bird. Supposedly Manny, part of the hotel staff where the bird lived, could communicate with her. However, the owner was willing to pay large amount of money to get her back.
Second, we had a dead Larsentient who died in my office. He was the brother of the now missing waiter. I had heard he had some sort of relationship with the owner of the missing bird. Also, the dead man may have been involved in the smuggling of illegal birds onto our world.
Third, there was the trafficker Daniel Butler. He gave the bird to my client. He thought he had a relationship with my client, but she denies it. Perhaps he was spurned and took his gift back. However, before I could make the joke that the Butler did it he died. I do not understand that joke, but it is an ancient joke in mystery stories, and when possible it must be used. However, Mr. Butler was poisoned from eating my food, and while not a joke, it served him right.
Finnally, there was the aforementioned missing waiter. While he had a steady job, he may have been involved with his brother's nefarious activities. He knew my client, and by his disappearance, must be involved somehow.
How they all fit together was still a mystery. It was a jumble of incidents that somehow involved a missing bird. I needed to put the puzzle together in order to find said bird and resolve the case. I had just spoken with Maxine, and that left the only other person who knew anything about the bird -- Manny. I should go see him.
I went without a much needed nap to to Maxine's hotel. Since it had worked on several occasions before, I just went into the staff lounge. I waited. I sat there for quite some time. Manny had never left me waiting this long before.
After quite a long wait, a security guard entered and said, "Dis room is for da hotel staff only."
"I am here to see Manny," I replied coolly.
"I don'ts knows any Mannys. Yous'll have ta leave."
"Save it fer da funny papers Mac. Yous is leavin' now."
The huge security guard grabbed me by the collar and lifted me out of my chair. He threw me over his shoulder like I was a rag doll and carried me out of the hotel. He casually chucked me into the tube and said, "Staff only means staff only!"
I got up and walked towards the door, but the mountain of a man would not move. He glared at me with a pair of dark beady eyes. I thought about challenging his authority, but I decided against it. I grabbed a wingtip and headed to the next tube.
I walked into the next facility and asked to use the phone. They looked at me like I was crazy. On this planet, if you wanted to talk to someone you had to walk to where that person was and speak to him or her face to face. They were serious about us not getting fat.
Thus, I grabbed a wingtip and headed back. The behemoth of a guard had left the doorway, so I shyly walked into the building. Carefully looking around for the guard and as casually as I could, I went to the front desk.
"Could I speak to Manny?" I asked the attendant.
"Manny? Oh, he is on vacation. He will not be back for about a week."
Manny was gone too? With the security guard's voice sounding familiar, something happened. That is when all the pieces to the puzzle fell into place. I knew everything about the case. I knew what happened to the bird, and what happened to the now dead people. I just had to gather everyone up, and present my case.
Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
By Dwayne MacInnes
The Federation has made cloning entire beings illegal. However, it is allowable to clone individual body parts for replacement. The vast majority of the population of the Federation feels it is immoral to clone entire living beings for the sole purpose of body part harvesting. Creating clones for the purpose of increasing the population is also repugnant to most of the Federation's citizens.
This is in direct opposition of the Concordance's philosophy. In order for the fringe worlds to replenish its population quickly it underwent a great eugenics program. The Concordance had the populace's genes altered to make them physically and mentally superior to the average human of the Federation. At least this was the case in the minds of the Concordance, there is no actually proof of this.
The Concordance manufactured clones for warfare as well as to replace aging or ailing leaders of the Concordance. When the first Fuehrer Jonathon Kesselman died due to assassination in 2223, the cloning procedure still needed perfection. Therefore, the Fuehrer died without continuing to oversee his empire's development.
The second and current Fuehrer Thomas Irons is a third generation clone. By his will and laws, any non-human races either become forced labor and/or are exterminated.
The citizens of the Federation are fearful of fully sentient robots. Many feel that it is possible for these thinking mechanical beings to rise up against them. Because of this, it is illegal to create fully sentient robots or computers in the Federation. Pre-sentient computers and robots are favored. Therefore, the sentient computers used by the military are strictly top secret.
President Edgar Mayors and vice president Robert Ellis have been fighting with congress for a change in this law. Especially since the Concordance does not feel the same way. Many of the Concordance troops are sentient robots. However, in most cases the self-awareness of the Concordance battle-bots is nominal only.
At this point and time, the Federation holds several advantages over the Concordance. The main advantage is in technology. The advantage in population the Federation has over the Concordance is offset by the latter's use of clones and robots.
Blaze followed the blueprint map on his helmet's HUD to locate the engine room. He was relieved that he did not encounter any more phantoms roaming the Serapis' halls. When the Star Ranger reached the door to the engine room, he was not surprised to see the numbers 51773808 on the digital readout of the control panel. Blaze just typed in the access code and the door opened for him.
Inside the large room, Blaze found a jumble of shredded enviro-suits mixed with the white bones of their former occupants smashed against a wall. One of the engines was a completely ruptured, burned up wreck. Obviously, shortly after the jump one of the two engines of the Serapis had exploded.
The other engine was still operating, even though sparks and bolts of electricity shot dangerously through the room. The grinding hum of the engine sounded ominously like it was about to join its neighbor in exploding. Blaze was about to turn and exit the Serapis and return to his Cobra when suddenly the room changed.
The engines were both in pristine condition. Several members of the crew were now moving back and forth doing routine checks on their instruments. Blaze started to walk backwards his heart was pounding hard in his chest.
A wall behind Blaze prevented him from moving any further away from the spectral scene playing out in front of him. The Star Ranger noticed that the threatening grinding engine was no longer making any noise. In fact, the room was deathly silent except for his heavy breathing.
One of the helmeted crewmembers looked up at Blaze. Blaze's blood turned to ice as the crewmember just stared at him. Then the phantom crewmember looked towards the engines and Blaze could only follow his gaze.
Another crewmember standing at a control board near the engines started to frantically push buttons and flip switches. The readings on the control board were fluctuating wildly. Instantly the room filled with a bright flash before returning to normal.
Crewmembers began to scramble about the room. Suddenly an explosion threw everyone against the wall near Blaze smashing and tearing them in the process. A fireball expanded and filled the room. Blaze covered his head protectively with his arms. However, there was no heat or concussion from the blast. When the fireball died out, mechanical and human wreckage filled the room. Most of the debris was against the wall next to him.
"Commander Mason, are you alright?" a cold unemotional female voice brought Blaze back. The room was again as it was when he entered it. Except that, the lone operating engine no longer sparked or groaned dangerously. Instead, it purred like a well-maintained machine.
"Yeah," Blaze gasped. He was still panting uncontrollably.
"Commander, I have been trying to get in contact with you for the last five minutes," TACAI informed Blaze. "You are in great distress. I fear that you are close to hyperventilating. Maybe you should return to the Cobra."
"TACAI," Blaze panted. "Did you record anything unusual from my helmet-cam?"
"Please specify," TACAI responded.
"Did you not see any sparks, or ghosts, or an explosion!" Blaze yelled.
"Negative," TACAI responded calmly. "However, I did discern several localized areas of cold air moving about the room on the infrared sensors. Would this be considered 'unusual' Commander Mason?"
"Yes," Blaze said finally regaining his composure. "Maybe you are right -- I should return to the Cobra," Blaze stated. He had about enough with ghost ships and its ghost crew.
Before Blaze could turn to leave, he heard someone whisper "Airlock" in his communication unit.
While chasing Barb's kidnappers, Commander Joe narrowly escapes an explosion caused by a grenade. What will he do next?
The Maltese Sparrow
By Douglas E. Gogerty
I believed that I knew where the Maltese Sparrow was, but I could use more evidence to persuade others. With two people dieing during this case, I also knew what happened to them. The bird flu death was not just one of those things. Also, the poisoning of Daniel Butler, which was supposed to be me, was clear.
Further, the missing waiter was no mystery to me. I knew he would show up soon. All the pieces fit together. The only problem was that I could only prove bits and pieces of it. Thus, I had a week or so to gather as much evidence to prove what I could.
I began with the threatening note that I received. I had a friend, who was in the forensics business, check the paper for me. She could compare samples and other properties to possibly determine its source. In any event, she confirmed that the paper matched the paper from the hotel where Maxine was staying.
Her friend was a handwriting expert. That expert said the handwriting was from someone unaccustomed to writing. Perhaps the individual was just beginning to learn to write. That is how she explained the illegibility of it. She stated that she believed that it could have been someone writing with their off hand, but she had never seen anything like it. She stated that the strokes were short, unsure, and very off-balance. She would love to meet the individual who wrote the note.
After the note investigation, I turned to another easy aspect of the case. With so few phones on the world, it was easy to determine where the threatening phone call originated. I had a friend at the phone service go over the records for me. It came as no surprise to me that it originated from Rick's Café Américain.
I just had to place the person I believed to have made the call at the location at the time. I asked around, and indeed the hotel security guard was at Rick's at the time. Thus, the who, what, and where of the phone call was solved. I also believed I knew the why of it. I could get that from the guard at the gathering of everyone.
Those things went very quickly and easily. If the rest of the investigation went that smoothly, I would be in good shape.
The next order of business was to get into the dead brothers residence. Like so many places during this case, it looked like two giant birds fought over a sandwich in it. Actually, it looked like they had fought for several sandwiches for several days. I took a few pictures and gathered a few feathers. All of it was going to help me make my case.
That was the kind of thing that I looked into while Manny was away on his little vacation. I attempted to find out where he went, but rather than flying commercial, he had chartered a spaceship. Thus, he could have filed a bogus flight plan. He may not have indeed gone to the Planet Risa, but he could have gone anywhere. To me, the charter, the flight plan, and all could only mean one thing -- smuggling.
With the length of his trip, I calculated where he could have reached in his week. There were plenty of destinations, and a few, I found quite fascinating.
Further, all of the evidence I gathered confirmed my suspicions. The more clues I followed, the more it all made sense. However, I could only prove some things, but it was not enough to prove everything. I would need a few confessions. That is what the meeting was all about. I would confront the ne'er-do-wells with the evidence, and hope they confessed to the crimes.
In any event, it was a great week. I felt like I accomplished a great deal during Manny's time away. Furthermore, most of my meals went uninterrupted. When Manny returned from his trip, I had gathered as much as I could. However, there was the problem with the missing waiter, Marty. He was just as much a part of this case as everyone else.
I did investigate his sudden disappearance, but it seemed he did not tell anyone he was leaving. No one knew where he went or why. To his friends, it was a big mystery. However, just as I calculated, he showed up at about the same time as Manny.
Hence, I had all the pieces gathered, and all of the individuals were available for questioning. Thus, I invited everyone involved to Maxine's room. Perhaps, some of them were lured under false pretenses.
"I know you are probably wondering why I invited you all here this evening," I began.
"I thought Maxine invited me here -- what is all this?" asked Marty.
I ignored him and went on, "The Maltese Sparrow case has been my most difficult case, but now we come to its conclusion."
"You have had other cases?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
I did not let anyone distract me, so I continued. "From the beginning, there were forces attempting to persuade me from stopping my investigation. However, I persevered."
"Where are da strippers?" asked the security guard.
"I was hired to find a missing sparrow, and this was not some sort of jewel encrusted bird coated in an enamel to hide the fact that it was very valuable. No it was a living animal."
"You know where Mable is?" asked Maxine with hope in her eyes.
"I do, and others in this room know too" I replied.
"My eyes are down here," she responded.
"Before I go into the whereabouts of Mable, I would like to point out some interesting facts about this case. After I began, this case quickly changed from a missing bird case when some people involved began dieing from mysterious circumstances."
"They call it murder where I work," explained Detective D'Cheuer. "When is your trial?"
Again, ignoring the comments from the peanut gallery, I continued, "So what is important about a missing bird? Was it just a pet gone lost? Or, was the bird valuable in other ways?"
"Is this going somewhere?" asked Manny.
"My first clue that there was more to this was when Manny confessed that he conversed with the bird," I stated staring into his fearful, unblinking eyes.
"His eyes are down there," asserted Maxine.
"Maxine hid this fact from me," I stated. "About the relative intelligence of the bird, not the location of Manny's eyes. Why did she not want me to know this? Who else knew?"
"What on Seti-alpha-five are you talking about?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"Detective, you are the only one in this room that did not know about the sentience of the sparrow."
"What?" the detective asked.
"So, no strippers den?" asked the security guard.
Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
By Dwayne MacInnes
In the year 2192, the Federation quarantines the fringe colonies in order to stop the spread of the moon-flu. The Federation destroys many of its jump-gates to the fringe in a desperate measure to contain the deadly virus. Entire cities, space stations, and bases die off. Many military vessels and their crew cannot return to the Federation.
The moon-flu moves quickly and by 2193 it had run its course. Of the inhabitants of the fringe colonies, 60% are now dead. Regional governments collapse, military garrisons are abandoned. Either star ships are abandoned or they begin a hopeless search for a way back to the Federation.
The "Time of Anarchy" ran from 2192 to 2194. Warlords and despots rule various cities on devastated planets. These petty dictators often fight each other for meager resources or control for star ships, bases, and/or space stations.
Jonathon Kesselman of New Berlin on the planet Hindenburg unites the world under his leadership. Kesselman accomplished this by using 20th century Nazi Germany as his guide. Soon afterwards, propaganda spread that the Federation manufactured the moon-flu and used it on the fringe colonies to test it. This further helps Kesselman (now called the Fuehrer) consolidate his powerbase.
During the years of 2194 to 2196, Kesselman successfully uses abandoned Federation star ships and military equipment to either conquer or form alliances with the other fringe worlds. This is the creation of The Concordant of Fringe Worlds. Kesselman also institutes a program of genetic engineering to strengthen the survivors' already hardy gene pool.
The Fuehrer Kesselman institutes ambitious programs to advance science, increase population, and find new planets to colonize in the year 2197. The fringe worlds are quickly rebuilding and becoming prosperous again. The Fuehrer is very popular.
In the year 2203, the Concordant is ready for expansion. Although the population is still lower than it was 11 years previously, it is still able to conquer or colonize new planets. All non-human sentient beings are either enslaved or exterminated. Any Concordant citizen that protests these harsh actions simply disappear.
The Federation in the year 2217 creates new jump-gates to the fringe and discovers that not only have their former colonies formed their own government but that the Federation is not welcomed. The Concordant declares its independence and destroys the newly made jump-gates. The Federation is in no position to fight a new war, and so agrees to the Concordant's demands for independence.
The Concordant discovers a small alien star empire. During the years 2218 to 2223, the Concordant fights a war to conquer this threat. They are victorious. However, before Kesselman can savor his victory a dissident band of Concordant citizens assassinate the Fuehrer. Kesselman becomes a martyr. Mobs of angry people round up anyone believed to be a dissident or a traitor and kills them. Deputy Fuehrer Thomas Irons becomes the new Fuehrer.
Blaze felt compelled to follow the voice's instructions. Someone or something was showing him what had happened to Serapis shortly after the jump-drive engaged. However, many questions remained. Was it an accident? If so, what went wrong? Alternatively, as the voice indicated was it sabotage? If so, who was responsible?
Blaze stepped into the main corridor again. Blaze's HUD guided him down the hall towards the airlock. However, before he could get far, the scenery spontaneously changed again.
The Star Ranger found himself now in the middle of some type of reception or tour. Many men and women in business suits gathered around, shook hands, and talked to each other. Again, Blaze did not hear anything that was going on. Everything was purely visual.
Blaze recognized Captain Rice pointing out various parts of the vessel to those gathered in the hallway. One man struck Blaze as strangely familiar. However, he could not pull his name to mind.
The group moved down the corridor and Blaze started to follow. The man Blaze desperately tried to recall from history of thirty years before fell back from the crowd. Blaze decided he would follow this apparition.
The man looked over his shoulder at Blaze. The Star Ranger unconsciously ducked behind a reinforcement beam before he realized the man was not looking at him but at the receding party. The man, assured no one missed him, continued on his trek down the corridor.
Blaze followed the man back to the engine room. The strange man punched in the access code and the door slid open. Blaze followed the man in.
From the doorway, Blaze observed the man approach the first engine. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small device. The man kneeled down on his hands and knees and slid the device underneath the engine. Then he proceeded to jog out of the engine room.
"A bomb!" Blaze thought to himself. "So it was sabotage."
The Star Ranger continued to follow his prey down the corridor as the man rushed to return to the main party. The group of men and women was now in the airlock, again Captain Rice was pointing out various features of the ship. He even pulled one of the crew's enviro-suits off its rack. He began pointing out various features of the suit.
Rice then placed the enviro-suit on a bench and started to lead the men and women out of the airlock. However, two things went unnoticed by Captain Rice. The first was that the strange man who just planted the bomb did not follow. The second was that Rice had accidentally turned on the enviro-suit's helmet camera. The red recording light was on.
Evidently, the saboteur also did not notice the camera was on for he proceeded to attach a very small bead-size object to every enviro-suit's airtank regulator. "That was how the poison was administered!" Blaze thought.
The saboteur then left the room. Something made Blaze stay behind in the airlock. The Star Ranger unconsciously reached for the helmet before he realized it would only be a spectral image. However, Blaze's hand actually encountered the helmet. Blaze reached inside and pulled out the memory chip. He lifted it up to his faceplate and contemplated it before shoving it into one of his pockets.
Suddenly the ghostly image vanished and Blaze found himself alone in a dark room. His lowlight amplification and map on the HUD told him that he was in the airlock. The Serapis then began to rock and shake and Blaze stumbled around. His hand must have hit the airlock button because before he knew it he shot out the airlock's door into space.
The Serapis tumbled before him. Blaze was stunned and could do nothing but watch as the ghost ship trembled before disappearing in a flash of light.
"NO!!!" Blaze shouted as he realized that he was now alone adrift in space. His Cobra still attached to Serapis must have accompanied it as it jumped. This final shock was too much and Blaze blacked out.
Commander Joe has lost the Mysterious Man in black who has kidnapped Barb. Thus, he must turn to the XJP-2 to continue his search.
The Maltese Sparrow
By Douglas E. Gogerty
"Bare with me now," I told everyone gathered in Maxine's room. "It is very important that we accept the idea that Mable was sentient to arrive at the proper solution."
"If we have to accept this," muttered Detective D'Cheuer "then perhaps the solution is wrong."
"I said bare with me, and it will all become clear as to what occurred in the investigation of this case," I repeated.
"Where is my Mable?" asked Maxine.
"I will get to that in time," I assured Maxine. "It is just one piece in this puzzle of a case."
"I'm outta here if'n dare ain't gonna be no strippers!" explained the security guard.
"Currently, they are caught in traffic," I lied. "They'll be along shortly. I hope you like Chippendales..."
"I don't really care for chipmunks," muttered the security guard as he sat back down.
"I do not have to stand for this!" stated Manny boldly.
"Then by all means, sit down," I stated even more boldly with an icy stare to go with it. "You are not going anywhere."
"Let him continue," insisted Detective D'Cheuer.
"Are these disruptions out of your collective systems?" I asked. "Can I continue? To use an old earth phrase, this all began when the Maltese Sparrow flew the coop."
"He means the bird went missing," explained the police detective.
"Right!" I added. "That is when I was hired to find her -- the bird that is. However, this particular world may be small on a grand scheme of things, but it is still a big place. Further, the bird in question is quite small."
"And intelligent," interjected Detective D'Cheuer.
"Can I tell this?" I asked.
"Sorry. Please continue," he said with a flourish of his hands.
"Daniel Butler was going to be my first stop in my investigation, but his place was guarded by a pair of enormous monsters."
"Monsters?" everyone asked in unison.
"Maltese blue tits are a ferocious beasts that rule my home planet of earth," I explained.
"Is'n yous afraid of a little boid?" asked the security guard.
"These are two meter tall feathered fiends with razor sharp beaks that eat anything that they catch," I said defending myself.
"All's yous have ta do is trow dem a samwich," replied the security guard.
"I know that now," I replied. "However, these boids -- I mean -- birds provided a big clue. Daniel Butler was a smuggler. Moreover, he brought illegal birds onto this planet. This included the monsters and Maxine's friend Mable, for whom I was looking."
"And for that you killed him?" asked the police detective.
I just glared at Detective D'Cheuer, and he withdrew his question.
"Anyway... Since I was not going to get anything from Bulter's office, I went to Maxine's hotel to ask Manny here a few questions. He explained to me that the hotel did not allow pets -- only companions. He talked about how smart Mable was and how the two of them used to converse. He also informed me that lots of people came and went into Maxine's room. Thus, anyone could have taken the bird."
"That is not true!" protested Maxine.
"I know," I replied.
"His story was a lie," surmised Detective D'Cheuer. "He was covering something up."
"Exactly," I asserted. "It was quite early on the case, and I was already getting too close to the solution. However, that solution eluded me for quite some time."
"So, the man who died of bird flu in your office was a threat in order to get you off the case," asserted Detective D'Cheuer.
"Yes," I replied. "The Maltese blue tits are carriers of the lethal flu. It could have been easily obtained from these vicious birds and injected, ingested, or inhaled by the victim. However, that was not the only threat I received. There was also this note."
"Let me see that," demanded the policeman.
I passed around the note for everyone to see. Like me, many had difficulty reading it. However, Manny did not even look at it.
"What does it say?" they asked.
"My guess is Stop the Investigation."
"Oh! I thought it said, Slap me in a vest you gator," replied Detective D'Cheuer perhaps with a bit of sarcasm in his voice.
"I also received a call from our security guard here telling me to halt my investigation," I said as I pumped up my chest.
"Is that true?" asked Detective D'Cheuer.
"Who wants to know and why?" replied the security guard standing up.
"He does," I asserted bravely and pointed to the policeman.
"Who told you to make this call?" Detective D'Cheuer said in his best policeman's voice.
"A little birdie told me," replied the guard in his most feminine voice.
"That is what he told me! That could only mean Mable," in a triumphant voice I said to the doubtful detective.
"In other woids, I ain't tellin'," resumed the security guard.
"We have ways of making you talk," returned the policeman.
"I ain't afraid of yous copper!"
"What are you afraid of?" I asked. "Because, that would really help us out a lot."
"It is all right," Detective D'Cheuer said. "If we need that information, we can get it. This has been most enlightening -- please continue."
"In any event," I continued. "I was getting these threats of my life if I did not stop my investigation, but Maxine was pressing me to find her boid -- er -- bird."
"Do you think this explanation will get you out of your murder charge?" asked the detective.
"I am just saying that I was being threatened," I replied. "I assume that the poison in my food was an attempt on my life or simply another threat."
"And you expect me to believe that?" retorted the detective.
"You can ask Marty here," I replied. "He is the one who brought me my food."
"Okay Marty," the detective said as he turned to the waiter. "You have been awfully quiet. What do you have to say about this? Marty? Marty?"
Marty looked like the dead man in my office. After all, they were brothers. However, like his brother, he was also dead. It appeared we had another death from the bird flu. This case was hazardous to people's health.
Blaze Mason: Star Ranger
By Dwayne MacInnes
Blaze spun clockwise around in a void. He could see the ghosts of Serapis gather around him. Each specter had a grinning skull behind the faceplate of his or her helmet. There was no sound. Otherwise, Blaze would have been sure they all were laughing at him.
A red digital read out of 51773808 spun counter-clockwise. The saboteur's face looked over his shoulder straight at Blaze. Then like magic, the numbers rested upside-down below the face of the saboteur.
Blaze bolted straight up. He hit his head on the shelf above his bed. A few cuss words filled the room. Rubbing his head, Blaze realized that he indeed was not dead and was in his bunk aboard the Cobra.
"It was only a damn nightmare," Blaze sighed although it felt all too real.
"Good afternoon, Commander Mason," The cold female voice of TACAI said from the monitor on his desk. "We are just landing back at headquarters."
"Headquarters?" Blaze said still rubbing his head. "Why are we here?"
"I thought it wise after rescuing you from the Serapis," TACAI continued.
"So it was real after all," Blaze sat back down on his bunk. "How did you rescue me? I thought for sure the Cobra went with Serapis when she jumped."
"Your biosensors were showing you were in a great state of distress. When you entered the Serapis's airlock, I had one of my remote maintenance-bots waiting outside when I overrode the airlock's door.
"Of course, I had the Cobra maneuvered close by," TACAI continued. "Otherwise, I am afraid your life functions may have ceased."
"Thanks TACAI," Blaze said with genuine gratitude.
Blaze saw his enviro-suit lying on a table next to him. He reached inside the pocket and produced the memory chip. Blaze put the chip in his computer and watched in horror and excitement as the saboteur went around planting the device on each helmet's air supply.
Retrieving the chip, Blaze got dressed. "TACAI?" Blaze asked after dressing. "Did you manage to retrieve anything from the ship's memory about the accident and anything happening before launch?"
"Affirmative," TACAI responded. "I have it all recorded on a memory chip for you."
Blaze sat in Colonel Redgrave's office. Colonel Redgrave was the regional chief for the Star Rangers. Even though the colonel was no longer in the field, he still looked like he could bend steel bars despite his gray hair.
Blaze explained the best he could about the Serapis. He presented his evidence all supporting his claim that the Serapis was lost due to an act of sabotage. He even had the name of the saboteur. When he concluded, the colonel just leaned back in his chair for a while. Finally, after a couple of agonizing minutes the colonel returned his gaze back towards Blaze.
"Hmmm...pretty damning stuff," Colonel Redgrave finally said. "This is dynamite, Commander. Pure dynamite and if we are not careful it could explode in our face."
"Yes sir," Blaze responded. "He was only a congressman at the time. However, he later became a lobbyist for the rival company that now makes the ship-born jump-drives we use today. His stock alone for this must be in the billions."
"Look, I believe you," Colonel Redgrave stated before hitting a button on his desk. "You've been unconscious for a couple of days according to your TACAI unit. So you probably did not hear."
Blaze spun around in his chair so he could look at the huge monitor on the colonel's wall. There was a reporter talking in front of the capitol building.
"Official reports say that there was a small explosion on Space-force 2. Vice president Bob Ellis was instantly killed.
"Sadly, some people are claiming that he was actually abducted by a 'Flying Dutchman'..."
The image went blank as Colonel Redgrave turned off the monitor.
"Officially he did die due to a small explosion on Space-force 2. Unofficially this is what happened," the colonel said before hitting another button.
The image was aboard Space-force 2 near the vice president's quarters. The colonel hit another button and the infrared scan revealed about 20 or more blue or cold spots moving towards the room. "We had this filtered," Colonel Redgrave said. "Damnedest thing I've ever seen."
The cold spots moved into Ellis's room only to reappear with the vice president walking in a daze between them. The power flickered a bit and lights in the corridor fluttered. Then the scene changed to an exterior shot of Space-force 2, the ship had obviously lost most of its power. It was helpless when a ship jumped out of hyperspace next to it.
Blaze gasped. It was the Serapis. A man in an enviro-suit floated over to the Serapis and entered her airlock. As soon as the outer door shut, Serapis flashed again out of existence. Blaze stared dumbfounded.
"What you just saw never happened," the colonel warned. "We will put your evidence in the records where they will be seal for twenty years. After that, if someone wants to make a flap about it they can.
"Until then this case is closed."
Blaze returned to the Cobra and sat in the pilot's chair. TACAI flew the ship off towards their patrol zone. Blaze started to doze off when TACAI woke him up.
"Commander Mason," she said. "You have a message. Shall I put it on the screen?"
"Yes," Blaze responded as he pulled himself up straight. It could be the colonel giving him an important mission.
The monitor flickered for a second before the image of a flight crew appeared. Blaze sat stunned as he recognized Captain Rice and the bridge crew at their posts on the Serapis.
No one was wearing his or her helmet. They were all smiling at Blaze, Captain Rice stood up and said, "Thank you."
Before the message ended, Blaze was sure he saw the crew disappear only to see their skeletons in their enviro-suits. A shiver ran up Blaze's spine.
"I believe you might call that a Floating Netherlander," TACAI said in her usual deadpan voice.
"Flying Dutchman," Blaze corrected.
"Thank you," TACAI responded.
"It was time the legend was updated anyway," Blaze mused aloud.
Barb has been kidnapped by the mysterious Man in Black. He takes her back to a mysterious lab, and Barb discovers who is behind all this scheme. Who is this mysterious person? What will happen next?