display | more...

"I had very much hoped that we would be able to get in quickly," says Aristede.

Ramon swerves the car down as a bolt of plasma passes over us. The autocannons are having a hard time tracking our vehicle, give credit to Ramon's driving skills, but we've been tagged a few times and plasma hits harder than lasers. 

"I had hoped to get in without any trouble," says Aristede. "We're burning in atmo here. It's tricky enough doing that just to get into space. Flying around a heavily defended mining station will create significant wear on the engine."

Ramon swerves us up to evade the fire of the autocannons. "You think I don't care?" He says. "It's my car!"

"That's still a matter of debate," says Klunk, "but no worries. If the engine has trouble I'll just get out and fix it."

Ramon flies the car underneath the mining station. Presumably he is hoping to get out of range of the autocannons. Unfortunately whoever built this thing was smart, and there are cannons down there too. As well as massive anti-gravity engines. Ramon has to serve around the fire of the autocannons and avoid getting smacked down to earth by one of the engines.

"I don't understand this situation at all," says Sword Lesbian over the radio. "We were sent to check on the mining station. We are representatives from the organization that pays these people. Our potential hosts are being most inhospitable to guests they should be accepting."

"We didn't get a chance to say anything before they started shooting," I say into the CB set. "I don't even know how to get them on the horn. Ow!" I jerk right as Ramon swerves the car hard left and hit my head on the window. Blame me for not wearing my shoulder strap. "Aristede, are any of the buttons back there something that will aid our communication?"

Aristede is fumbling his tablet computer as we zig this way and zag that way. "I think I've got something," he says while typing on the keyboard. 

"I have no idea what your vehicle can do," says Sword Lesbian, "but I have the opportunity to be direct about this whole matter, and I daresay the mining station deserves it. Wish us luck."

The tiny VW bug flies away from the safety of our forcefield and back up the sides of the great floating station.

"Sword Lesbian!" I shout into the radio. "What on earth are you doing?"

"Something that we have been discussing," says Tikreelkara. "More in the sense that I'm less willing to risk the lives of my people than she is, but I'm not the one at the controls, and everyone else appears to be on board with this."

"The autocannons are going to splat you like a clay pigeon -- "

"Direct link established," says Aristede. 

"What on earth are you talking about?" says the voice of an older woman. "Clay pigeon? Who is this? Is this the vehicle that is attempting an unauthorized entry into this facility? What are your credentials?"

"We're, uh, coming from the Space Slug," I say. "Checking up on the state of the mining station. Said you were running out of Spelunkium or something? Attacks? Garbled reports?"

"Oh god, you're from those morons. I assume that your intentions are peaceful? I will shut off the autocannons but you're not coming in."    

The fire from outside ceases. Ramon flies the car back up to the side of the mining station, and we hover in front of the big bay door. Now that we're floating in palce, it's easier to get a look at the massive edifice before us. The structure is composed of tall yellow walls attached to the top side of a big rock. Above the walls rise a tangle of pipes, smokestacks, and scaffolding. The facility is belching smoke and steam into the atmosphere. 

"Is there no way for us to send a negotiator in?" says Ramon. "Like, some way to discuss the matter face to face?"

"No," says the voice, "I'm afraid there is no way to -- wait what is that little -- GYAHHHHHHH!"

"it sounds as though our negotiators got in anyway," says Klunk. 

"Red Barrracuda crew," says a familiar voice, "come in Red Barracuda crew. This is Sword Lesbian."

"How did you manage to get in?" says Ramon.

"Intake pipe."

"Unhand me and the station crew!" says the voice of the station manager. "I should never have shut off the autocannons! This is unbecoming of a repreasentative!"

"I am opening the doors now," says Sword Lesbian.

"Don't you dare open those doors!"

The great bay doors before us rumble and groan as they slide open.

My head whips forward as something strikes the car from behind.

"Sword Lesbian!" says Ramon. "Shut the doors now!"

"But -- "

"I'll handle it!" says Ramon, as he flies us straight toward the closing doors.

Another blast hits us from behind. The "Check Engine" light comes on.

The gap betwwen the doors is getting too narrow now. Ramon hauls the wheel left and the car turns on its side. We shoot through the doorway just before it becomes too narrow. 

Ramon rights the car and sets it down in the bay. "I've never actually tried that before," he says.

We hear thumping boots behind us. Suddenly the car is surrounded by a gaggle of people holding laser rifles and flamethrowers. They have on helmets with shiny reflective visors, which might look intimidating if not for the fact that their uniforms are clearly ill-fitting and old, their helmets are scorched and scratched, and their hands shake as they hold their weapons. "Come out of the car!" one of them says, and waves a flamethrower in the direction of Ramon's window. "This vehicle is now the property of the Resistance!"

"Oh no it isn't," say Klunk and Aristede at the same time. Before I can object they've opened their doors and laid into the gaggle of Resistance fighters. I had expected Klunk to be unable to move toward them, but she takes advantage of someone grabbing her pole to pull herself toward them, and starts smacking the poor sod around. Aristede, meanwhile, is trying to wrestle someone else's helmet off. Nobody else among the resisters has managed, in these split seconds, to understand what is going on. I decide I ought to defuse the situation.

My way.

I open the door and step out.

I have been told that my presence frightens people. I try not to look mean. I dress nice, I comb my long hair, I put on a smile. Still doesn't work. I don't know, maybe being tall has something to do with it. Maybe being fairly broad has something to do with it as well. Whatever. People tend to stop fighting when I show up. They also tend to stop talking. It was always embarrassing in college, you know, to walk into a classroom and have everyone shut up like I was the professor. Doubly so when they didn't even bother to shut up for the professor. 

These folks, some of them shrink before my presence, some of them don't. Either way, they're all paying attention.

"Aristede," I say, "Klunk, if you would be so kind as to stand down."

Klunk and Aristede let go of the people they were fighting.

"The rest of you, if you would be so kind as to tell me what you're doing, and why you decided to attack us."

One of the Resistance members swings a rifle up to point at my face. Not that their stance is very well-practiced nor steady. "Did -- did you not hear us the first time?" says the twerp withh the rifle. "This vehicle -- this vehicle is -- is now the property of the resistance! Step back from the vehicle and surrender!"

There's six twerps with weapons whose body language is wavering between following their brave comarade's lead, and dropping their weapons.

"Surrender nothing!" says Klunk. "Your grubby hands do not belong on the holy relic of my people!"

"It's a sight better than what we've got," says one of the Resistance. They jerk a thumb at the vehicle that followed us in. It's a small shuttle, scorched and scratched like the helmets of these poor jerks, small enough that it looks like having six people in it would be a tight fit. "Maybe the car would have trouble holding us, but we could ride it at least far enough to seize a better vehicle somwhere."

"So you're a bunch of joyriding hijackers?" says Aristede. "You're not making a good case for yourselves here."

"Well," says the particular Resistance member, "We've got the rifles, and you don't, so unless you've got something up your sleeve I think we're in a much better bargaining position here."

"There's six of you," I say. "My friend here as six swords." 

I point to the tall, chitinous person behind them, who is holding a sword in each hand.

"A Betelgeusean," says one of the Resistance members. "Alright, I suppose that counts. Everyone stand down." The resistance members lower their weapons.

"Sorry to be so late," says Sword Lesbian. "Tikreelkara and I had to learn how to lock the door from the instructions of our captives. Now, what is going on here? Who are you people? You have been pointing weapons at my allies. Does that mean you wish to be my enemy?" She held the swords in a threatening stance. "I daresay you would not be for long."

"Enough with the weapons!" I say. "Can everyone just lay their weapons down for a second?"

"It is impossible," says one of the Reistance members. "A Betelgeausean can have anything up their sleeve. They count as a weapon."

"Now that's a stereotype that isn't going to help anyone," I say, "but I can see you are frightened. Fine. Do something else for me, then. You can see my face. Can I see yours? Can you take off your helmets? I'd like to be able to talk to you as people, not as faceless soldiers."

One of the resistance members, the one who's been giving the most rational suggestions, shrugs. "Fine. It's not like these cheap helmets are useful anyway."

And so the various members of the Resistance reveal their faces. Two of them are Crystallines, one rosy and one smoky, whose heads still bear the unmitakeable signs of having been separated from their parent rocks recently. Two of them are Gworbs, one aquamarine and one lake-blue, whose heads are the shining liquid spheres that Gworbs have before adulthood has their heads congeal. And two are humans, one with short black hair and one with short yellow hair, whose faces bear no hint of the lines of age, but plenty of hints of acne.

"My God," says Klunk. "I've been fighting children. We were shot at by children. Where are your parents?"

"Not sure," says the lake-blue Gworb. "We tried to reach them on the radio, but either they lost their radio in the attack or ours is terrible. Either way, we had to run. There wasn't time to go back for them."

"A gaggle of misfits on the run," says Ramon, as he steps out of the car. "That sounds familiar. Although you look like you're on the run from something important. Robin and I, we're just on the run from the Student Loan Company. Seems kind of petty in comparison, but, hehe, here we are mixed up in an increasing mess. Do you kids want to talk about it over beer somewhere? Sword Lesbian has a vehicle that can fit all of you guys."

"Ahem," I say, nodding my head toward the hallway that Sword Lesbian just came from.

"Oh," says Ramon, "Right. There are angry people waiting for us. Come on."