Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book 1, Chapter 3: Oh #%^@$


After their experience on the dark planet, it took more than a month of further travel to find anything interesting. In fact, it was the 100th day of leaving Earth, and the good Captain decided to throw a party. It was hardly started before Frosty challenged the Captain to a drinking contest. The Captain, after a moment's thought, agreed; loser buys the drinks. There was a Spin-the-Wheel-of-Drinks, at $5 a spin; the Captain had spun and guzzled two glasses of Sex On The Beach, a Beertini, and a glass of cheap wine; Frosty tossed back two glasses of cheap champagne, a shot of black-label whiskey, and a shot of Snakebite, a mix of alcohol and snake venom. The Captain was actually winning, being slightly less drunk than the insectoid... at least until he spun a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. He chugged the drink and promptly passed out. And then a med tech had him moved to the med bay where he got his stomach pumped.

Oh #%^@$ (a.k.a., the Burning Planet)

Tina got a ping - something was up with navigation. Then, in rapid succession, Frosty got an alert telling him there was a containment issue with the jump drive, and the android got a warning from the science station. They barely had time to make it to the bridge before NOA, the ship AI, came over the shipwide PA, preceded by an alarm: "Collision threat, jump terminating. Collision threat, jump unable to terminate. Collision... coll... threat... safety parameters have been exceeded! Safety... exede... Offline offline offline good night morning afternoon evening. Unscheduled command at routine SafeBreak line 14 dash 11 dash Wisconsin."

And with that, the lights dimmed, and elevator music started playing quietly over the entire ship. Nothing moved; the familiar hum of the engines was gone. There were no stars outside the windows; just an inky blackness, and a dim orange glow. The ship had just stopped in jump space.

Frosty managed to go for "fight" over "flight"; everyone else was shaken, except the android, who was probably the only one who realized had mind-blowingly bad this was. He actually blew a circuit, lowering his already bad Charisma by another step, and frying some of his hair into a permanent scar. Finding another object in J2 jumpspace should happen about once before the heat death of the universe. The fact that it was this ship that found something, and that the thing they found was something that slowly grew more disturbing as time went on.

Frosty attempted to repair the AI, or at least the jumpdrive, but failed, even with an amazingly awesome roll. The AI was out of the picture, and the computer just wasn't smart enough to get the ship out of jumpspace on its own.

If not for it's grim, hellish appearance, the view from the bridge might have been an awe-inspiring sight; the only thing in view (indeed, the only thing in the universe, at least according to the instruments) was a single, burning planet. Half the planet was in raging flames; it almost looked like a star. Something along the equator halted the progression of the immolation; surface temperature of the bright side of the object were roughly Sun-like, while the dark side of the object was about 110 degrees F. There was no atmosphere. Scans seem to indicate life signs at the south pole, but while there were signs of recent life and atmosphere on the planet, little was left intact. The rest of the instruments were completely black; the ship was dead in space.

Julian took the fighter out, realizing quickly that flight in jumpspace is... freaky. Inertia, it seems, doesn't really apply. He managed to sort things out, and was followed by Tina in the shuttle, carrying Frosty and the android. The shuttle landed first, realizing that gravity only kicked in about 30 feet above the surface. The area they landed in looked like the apocalypse has come and gone; buildings are gutted, ash and trash cover the streets, and a dull, angry, red glow illuminated the horizon. All it needed was a couple fellows with horns and pitchforks to complete the scene. The group followed footprints to a large, sealed door; Frosty stepped forward and gently pads his fist against the door. Nothing happened. He tried the big, red button beside the door, and after a short pause, the door flew open with a puff of air. A powersuit-clad figure motioned them inside, and once they matched communication frequencies, began jabbering questions: "How did you survive out there? Who are you? You can't be from here - are you a rescue mission? Where are you from? How did you find us?" and so on. The crew were hesitant to answer.

Once inside, a crowd of people rushed out and started asking the same sorts of questions, one after another. Julian, meanwhile, caught up; by the time he made it out of the airlock, an older woman pushed her way through and shouted over the din. "Quite! If they are a rescue party, you want to scare 'em off? Come on, people, make a hole, there's plenty enough time for questions later."

She escorted them to a vacant office, and convinced Tina to remove her helmet - an act which resulted in a lungful of the local air. Ash, sulfur, sweat, and terror, all rolled into one. The only-slightly-apologetic woman shrugged. "Eh... Mostly breathable. Sorry. I just... I needed to see that you're... human. Are you... can you get us off this God-forsaken rock?"

Frosty and Tina were fairly cagey, trying to find out more of what happened. Julian noticed the woman was hiding something, and eventually got her to spill the beans - she did know who was responsible for the planet going missing. In fact, this planet used to be Sci-37.X, a research planet that went missing 48 years before. She had been protecting the lead researcher, who was responsible for their predicament; no one else, apart from one or two trusted guards, knew he was alive.

She lead the group to him, where Frosty managed to quickly get on his good side with his mad scientist knowledge of jumpspace. Frosty's suspicions were proved correct when the scientist explained the reason for the "accident" was a test, attempting to weaponize jumpspace. Missiles that suddenly arrive in the middle of a ship? Jumpspace black holes that suck in whole planets? Oh yeah. That's probably bad.

Eventually, they decided to evacuate everyone present: 47 people, 3 dogs, and 4 songbirds thought to be extinct. They managed to smuggle the scientist off the planet without anyone knowing (and getting 1 XP for that in the process), and also managed to get every living soul off the planet, without so much as a scratch (gaining a second point of XP).

The scientist managed to get the ship out of jumpspace (and somehow four days earlier in time) after being promised to be left alone and allowed to continue his work. Once in realspace, the scientist was placed in solitary confinement with a permanent guard and the AI monitoring him. Frosty furnished him with a copy of his own notes, but kept the originals to study (I bet those will come in handy later!).

While the remaining population of the planet was treated and allowed to wander through the civilian area of the ship, our heroes met an unlikely acquaintance: Hui Chao, a 100 year old Chinese man. As it turns out, he was the son of the couple on the dark planet! He had actually had a wife when he left the planet, and while she died on his travels through jumpspace, she left him in care of his son. Father and son traveled jumpspace for 12 years, finally landing on the research planet. While he had spent many years on the planet Placidia, the 350-some years between when his parents left Earth and he arrived on the planet were unexplained. Months later, when the lead scientist had plunged the planet into jumpspace, he and his son managed to join the survivors; his son married, and had a daughter, who is now 32. Both his son and daughter in law perished during a rescue mission.

Join us next week for Chapter 4!

PS - a bit of a freebie: read a bit of the scientist's research.

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