Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 5

The alarms went off at six thirty, the way they had every day for the past three years – and probably since the day Facility had opened its doors. Ryan groaned and rolled over, already regretting his decision to stay up late the night before. Maybe he could catch just a few seconds more…

“I would like to inform you that you are doing this to yourself Gigabyte,” Jeremy Tyler’s voice made its way to Ryan’s sleep-fogged brain a half-second before the blanket was unceremoniously yanked away. Ryan’s feet hit the floor almost before his brain registered what he was doing.

“I suppose I should thank you,” Ryan said as he shoved his legs into uniform pants.

“You should, but you won’t,” Jeremy answered. The dorm room was full of the muffled sounds of a dozen adolescent males waking up and rushing to the hallways. Ryan pulled his mask over his face – he was one of only half a dozen or so who ranked high enough to wear one – and joined the throng. Jeremy stayed close beside him, the breaker’s biceps and reputation providing protection for the much smaller and scrawnier Ryan. Jeremy was the strength to Ryan’s brains, and one of his few friends in this place.

“Anything of interest on the interwebs?” Jeremy asked quietly.

“Same old same old. Your parents bought a new car – 1968 Honda.” Ryan walked almost blindly, relying on Jeremy to guide him as he mentally flipped through zillions of bits of information coming at him through the wifi.

“I bet Dad was happy about that. Here, food.” Jeremy handed Ryan a tray of breakfast – waffles and fresh fruit – then guided his friend to a corner table in the gargantuan cafeteria.

“Don’t forget the assembly in an hour,” Jeremy said.

Ryan nodded. “Have fun punching things.” He waited till Jeremy had moved away before pulling out his datapad. He had an hour to cause chaos in the outside world. Ryan smiled as he logged into the message board for Operation Hide and Seek.

There once was a boss-man named Byte

who thought he was all goodness and light

but though he pled and cajoled,

I will not be told

that I should ignore my own plight

Byte had to laugh at the limerick that greeted him in his urgent mailbox. Sparrow was a good codename for the impetuous operative – she was constantly moving and could never suffer in silence. But somehow she still made a perfect undercover agent; her natural innocence perhaps.

Byte set up his spider to scan incoming traffic while he opened the rest of Sparrow’s message. She was lengthy, as usual:

“Day 329. My cover is holding, although next time can I please not try to play somebody so brainy? It feels like my grey matter has been stretched and folded and stretched again like taffy in my effort to sound like I know anything at all about latent inferiority complexes, narcissism, or sociopathology. I languish inside these sepulchuric walls like Antigone, buried alive amongst whitewashed corpses. Give but the word and I shall open fire on these bastions of manners and culture so a to make the corpses blush with color before returning to the earth from whence they came and from whence they refuse to acknowledge they have come.

“Seriously, everything is white here, and I’d almost welcome a bit of bloodshed. Can I sneak off for a weekend and run a breaker across the border? I want to feel the dirt again, instead of this concrete tomb. This is where dreams come to die – you can almost see the shattered remains glittering in the stone. And the Dreamers. Shuffling corpses, gazing blankly ahead, lost from the world, trapped inside an imagination not their own. They do mechanical labor, anything that requires mostly muscle memory. How can someone choose to live like that? With a pasted on smile because the dream is so wonderfully shallow.

“The tigress will die in here if you don’t get her out soon. The sparrow will suffocate in here if you don’t get me out soon. Inferno est!

“Sparrow.”

Byte wrote back a three word answer: “He’s coming soon.” That dealt with, he spent the next 45 minutes putting out fires in half a dozen other locations around the country – fudging a transmission here, warning a sleeper there – in other words, a day in the life.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 4

Drey pulled into the back lot of Kitty’s Coffee and powered down the Pursuer. Friday night, the place was packed. Not the public place, of course. That would be foolish – nothing broke up a party like the authorities. The basement though, where things were a little more hidden and a lot more relaxed, was where the action happened. Drey palmed in her biometrics and entered the Breaker underground.

A blast of smell, sound, and light greeted Drey as she entered. Drey maneuvered through the converted storeroom and the crowd, toward a table in the back where a lively card game was going on. She hooked an empty chair with her foot and swung it around to join the table.

“Deal me in Jack, double or nothing,” she said. The dealer gathered his cards quickly out of her reach.

“No deal Drey, You cheat too easy,” Jack said. Drey smirked, grabbed four cards from the top of the deck, and flipped them over to reveal four aces.

“You just make a rotten dealer.” She tossed the cards back at him and they landed as a king, two fours, and a seven.

“I didn’t think you were still in town,” Tommy, sitting across the table, said.

“I got a steady job now, bring in what I can for the cause,” Drey replied.

“Yeah, and we spend it all on booze,” Kirsten said as she drained a bottle of Coors Light. Drey shook her head, smirking.

“And to think – an outstanding citizen such as myself supporting a bunch of lowlife money grabbers.”

“Speaking of which, you owe me two hundred Tommy,” Jack said. Tommy grimaced as he dug a handful of cash from his pocket.  The card game started back up, people making bids and bluffing money nobody really had. Kirsten tossed her losing hand down on the table with finality.

“I still suck at cards. By the way Drey, Danny’s sick, and we could use a gunner on mission tomorrow if you’re missing action,” Kirsten said.

“You know me, I’m not much of a team player,” Drey answered.

“Me and the boys aren’t much of a team.” Kirsten popped the top off of another beer. Drey laughed as she reached for the neon blue electric guitar which was leaning against the wall.

“If this is another attempt to get me laid, no. Out of curiosity though, where are you headed?”

“Out towards Boulder. Byte has us running a mark down to San Antonio,” Kirsten answered.

Drey nodded absently, busy tuning her guitar. It was always a little sour on the e. She strummed a couple of cords, adjusting the volume and distortion on her amp.

“Play Freebird!” A random voice from the other side of the road called. She probably knew him, but didn’t feel like coming up with a name.

“Kirsten, are you going to play or not? I was beating you,” Tommy said.

Kirsten turned back to the game. “Deal us Jack, I need to teach the pup a lesson.”

“I’ll run interference if you need it Kirs, but I’m not leaving the state,” Drey said. She started strumming, playing with the distortion because she could. She played a couple of scales, then launched into a full-blown rendition of her own take on the cover of an old eighties song.

In a different time she might have sung, making up words to fit the notes that flowed from her fingers, but not tonight. Instead Drey played, taking requests when she knew the song, playing to someone’s voice when she had a singer. It was fun, especially when people started to feel generous and left money in her jar.

Eventually the night grew stale. People wandered off, left singly or in groups through the secret ways, people with something to hide and everything to lose if the wrong people saw them at the wrong time. Drey eventually hung up her guitar. When she turned around Blaze Hopkins was waiting.

“I thought you swore never to come back,” Drey told him.

“Byte sent me. It’s about Meg,” Blaze said. His hands were in his coat pockets as usual, his stance was keyed up, the way it always was, his voice caught when he said “Meg,” the way it had ever since everything had fallen apart.

“Meet me outside.” Drey turned back to the guitar to hide how much her hands were shaking.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 3

Ryan fired one last shot and the mother ship exploded into pixelated wreckage. He smiled. Somehow that was still ridiculously satisfying. Meg used to get so annoyed by the old eight-bit style, but there was something about the blatant unreality of it. In a world where the lines blurred, eight-bit seemed like one of the few honest programs left. Still, they’d had some violent arguments about it – each twin dedicated to their own views. Meg, always dedicated to making things better. Himself, wondering if they’d already reached the best at some point in the past and foolishly lost it. The world was spinning out of control, a repeat of history – of a history where the only end had ever been blood. Right and wrong… maybe Meg was right, maybe it would be better just to let Management have final control. Maybe utopia was worth everything Management and Facility had done. Were doing.

Ryan sat back and attempted to rub the thought out of his head. He knew better. Maybe. Utopia always ended badly in the books, but maybe Hobbes was right and peace was better than liberty. Maybe real life was different from the books, maybe people really didn’t care about freedom, not really. Management did provide safety – freedom from war, crime, hunger, illness… did he have a right to destroy all that like some toddler knocking down a block tower?

“Dear God.” Ryan powered off the computer. The room was thrust into pitch black. Light wouldn’t come on till six thirty am. The start of another day in hell. “Dear God, why can’t things be simple?” Like the thousand times he’d prayed that line before, there was no answer.

 

It was late when Megan finally left the lab – probably close to 1 AM. And in the end she only left because she ran out of coffee and was having trouble keeping her mind focused. She half ran the two blocks to the staff apartment complex, her coat wrapped tight around her against the cold. The apartment wasn’t much better – her roommate must be half polar bear. The psych expert was sprawled across the couch, a blanket mostly sliding on the floor. Megan dumped her coat, kicked off her shoes, flipped on the light in the kitchen and searched the fridge in the vain hope that there was something edible inside. Only two half-empty bottles of beer and a week-old takeout carton filled with something unidentifiable. Megan chugged one of the beer bottles simply to keep Dr. Becky Summers PHD from it and headed for the bathroom.

“You’re late again,” Becky said. Meg glanced in the mirror to see Becky sitting up on the couch, blanket wrapped around her, staring bleary-eyed. “You keep doing this I’ll have to send in a report.”

“I’ll be useless on drugs and Management knows it.” Megan leaned toward the mirror to ensure that each tooth was brushed with the greatest care.

“Well if you’d talk to me maybe we could work out your latent inferiority complex.”

“I’m tired. I am going to bed. Good night.” Megan shoved her way out of the bathroom. Becky attempted to follow her into the bedroom, but Megan slammed the door and locked it.

“Latent inferiority complex my foot,” Megan mumbled under her breath as she dug through her hamper for something vaguely clean. She knew exactly what was wrong with her, and there was no way she’d ever tell some stuck-up half-drunk so-called expert. No, the problem was Ryan – nobody else could get under her skin like her twin brother could. Why did he have to be the special one? The one with a power she’d practically kill for? He could do this crazy cyber-space manipulation thing, and all she had was a brain that wouldn’t shut up. She couldn’t keep up with people like him. She had tried the whole “I’m practically Batman, I don’t need superpowers” thing, and it had nearly gotten her friends killed. Friends who were infinitely more powerful than she was. No, this chance to do science at a real lab, where her ideas could actually be recognized, was much better.

Megan flopped into bed and stared at the pills that lay on her bedside table. They’d put her out for at least eight hours, which put her at… 10am wake up time.

“Its the weekend.” Meg downed the sleeping pills and flopped back under her covers.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 2

Drey ran her finger across the edge of the last crease and flipped over the tiny origami crane. Yes, the drive through was that slow today – reduced to folding up unwanted receipts to keep from losing what little sanity she had left. The kid’s meal bags were already folded, stuffed with cheap plastic toys and stacked floor to ceiling. The dishes were all washed, the floor had been mopped twice, the walls were even scrubbed. Drey blew her hair out of her face and watched the electric blue highlight hit the brim of her visor in the dark order screen. Only ten more minutes left of shift. Then… freedom. For another night.

Bing. Drey turned on her mike.

“Welcome to Burger Bell, what can I get for you tonight?” she asked, working hard to keep her voice cheerful.

“Yeah, thanks, I’ll have, uh…” Drey waited while the nameless, faceless customer placed their order, waited while they drove up to her window, took their money, and sent them on their merry way. The customer was gone when Steve, her manager, came to clean out Drey’s cash drawer.

“Got any plans for the weekend?” Steve asked. He punched in his code and the drawer slid open.

“Nah. Maybe watch a movie, nothing exciting,” Drey answered. She took off her headset and reached around Steve to punch out. “See you Monday.”

“Night Drey,” Steve answered. He gave a wave as Drey headed to the crew room. She spun in her locker combination and pulled out a padded blue motorcycle helmet. She paused a moment to wipe a squished bug off of the painted blue morpho butterfly.

They’d been three – Sparrow, Tigress, and Butterfly. Now she was the only one left – Sparrow with another team, Tigress gone. The last one, with a price on her head too big to ignore, a magnet for any bounty hunter’s bullet. What on earth was she still doing out here? She smiled. The adrenaline was still too much of a pull. She’d always been a fool.

Drey tucked the helmet under her arm and headed outside. The pursuer was in the back lot, behind the building and half hidden in the shadows. Drey swiped her hand over the console and the machine purred to life. A magnificent machine, Meg’s baby, abandoned when she’d bailed. Drey had inherited it, and it was the one thing she still kept kept from their time together. Drey straddled the thousand horsepower engine and took off into the night, whooping with the joy of being young and alive and free.

Operation Hide and Seek

Megan Cooper slid down the wall till her forehead could rest against her knees. This was one of the few unwatched corners of the lab, and thus her only privacy. Three years – God, had it only been three years? – and she had a sense for where cameras would be, she knew where to look for the tell-tale gleams, and she could map out in her mind’s eye every single blind spot. It was a skill she didn’t need anymore, except to fulfill the longing for privacy. Most of her life she’d shared everything with someone – Ryan first, later Sonia and Drey – but now that she was alone, she wanted desperately to BE alone.

Megan hugged her knees to her chest, adjusting the white lab coat to get it out of her way. Hair escaped from her ponytail, her bangs flopped forward over her face. She couldn’t remember what color her hair was now, she didn’t want to look. It didn’t matter anymore, her face didn’t show up on watch lists anymore. She knew, she’d checked. Management had been as good as their word. She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, images of steel at the molecular level dancing behind her lids. There had to be an answer, there always was. Something that could stand up to the stress of flight and still be light enough to efficiently scale up bird wings. The answer was there, floating deep in her subconscious, she could feel it.

Megan’s pocket buzzed gently. She barely moved. She knew who it was – only one person could have tracked down the number and disabled her firewalls. Maybe if she ignored him he’d give up. Yeah right. She’d been ignoring him for a week now, changed the number twice, and rebooted her firewall three times. She really should just get rid of the phone – all her files would transfer easy enough – but she couldn’t seem to let go of that part of her life yet. Megan fished the bulky customized iphone out of her pocket and slid her finger across the screen.

“It’s about time you answered your phone,” Megan’s twin brother Ryan said. A blue holographic computer materialized above the iphone’s screen. Megan smiled. It had been too long.

“It’s hard to stay in touch once you’ve gone dark,” Megan answered. She checked the hallway to make sure she was still alone.

“I already have control of the security systems, we’re safe,” Ryan said.

“It’s supposed to be a closed system, how’d you get in?” Megan shifted to sit on her heels and brushed her hair out of her face again.

“Closed systems don’t exist when you’re using wifi. Least not for me.” The holographic computer flexed spaghetti noodle arms that suddenly popped into existence.

“Forgive me oh mighty internet god, some of us are stuck doing things the long way round.”

“We miss you out here Tigress. Please come back.” The hologram folded its hands and made cartoon puppy-dog eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about it Byte,” Megan brushed her hair back and sighed. “Besides, I went dark for a reason. I fit here.”

“Fine Tigress, be Management’s lapdog. I thought it would take more than six months for my sister to be eating out of their hands though,” Ryan said.

“Not going to work Ryan. Anything you can say I’ve already thought of. Just leave it.”

“Fine. Can I at least send you some problems to work through from time to time? I’m swamped.”

“You realize where I am, don’t you? Too much illegal activity and I’ll be forced to run again. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s a decent life Ryan,” Megan said.

“You’re bored. You miss the adrenaline Meg Ryder,” Ryan said.

“Meg Ryder is dead. Listen Ryan, I gotta go before they start looking. Talk to you later.” Megan hung up before her twin could convince her otherwise. Much as she hated to admit it, Ryan was stronger than she was. Deep in enemy territory, his life hanging in the balance with every move he made, seeing people die daily – having to dispose of the bodies even. Herself? Megan had spent three years running circles around incompetent fools. When the game had changed, when it had started to get dangerous, she’d bailed. Meg Ryder had turned back into Megan Cooper. Management had offered her protection, on the condition that she work for them. That they be able to use and abuse her genius. That she remain dead to her family. She couldn’t go back – she’d burned that bridge the day she’d forged her own death certificate three years ago. No, there was nothing left for her out there, not when her lack of power only made her a liability to any team she was on. Meg stuffed her phone back in her pocket and started back down the hall to work.

Hercules Chapter 3: The Moon

Chapter 3:  The Moon
As the ship arrived at its destination in a far off solar system, Rick turned in his chair and said to the black haired guard behind him, “So, I put in the coordinates, and I feel I owe you an apology.  We didn’t explode, even though you wouldn’t let me verify the trajectories or even look at the map and in fact, wouldn’t even let me near my own desk until you had finished doing what you were doing.  I for one am glad you got lucky.”  With that, Rick spun around back to his keyboard while the guard replied with indignation, “Lucky?  I have been working on-board vessels as a navigator for years!  I know how to plot a jump, and this is a secret location!”  Dan grinned slightly as he looked at his screen and muttered, “Not anymore.”  Just then he felt a large, rough hand on his shoulder and heard the blonde guard saying, “The device we put on your ship also deletes all files the moment it is removed, so all those numbers will be gone whether this ship explodes or whether you somehow actually manage to pull this off.”  Dan slumped in his chair for a moment before suddenly staring at the screen, muttering numbers to himself.  Kaleb wandered over and asked, “Is he actually trying to memorize the coordinates?”  Karl blinked a moment before yanking Dan from his chair and answering, “He was.”  He then drew his pistol and said, “Alright.  Make for the small moon.  The blue one, dead ahead.  That is our objective.”  Rob steered the ship straight where Karl had directed while replying, “Alright, but only because I want to see what’s so important myself.”  Jess added, “And perhaps we WILL get rich on this?  Wouldn’t that be a great turn of things?  From death sentence to filthy rich, just like that!”  Karl Shook his head and motioned to Kaleb, saying, “Come on, let’s get our gear ready for the landing.”  With that, they left the bridge.  The moment the door closed behind them, Rob jumped up from his chair and said, “Alright guys, I need a plan to get rid of our trackers, the ship tracker, and the two goons which also lets us become rich.  Any ideas?  After a short pause with all the crew racking their brains, Jess let out a small grunt as she threw her hand in the air and said, “What if we hold the goons hostage until they get the trackers out?  I’ve always wanted to tie someone to a chair!”  Dan shook his head and replied, “They can just push a button and boom, tracker explodes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had a voice command or a timer or some other back up for the trackers.”  Rob stroked his chin and replied, “ok, what if we just remove our own trackers first, throw the goons out the airlock, then hop on the top of the ship with a crowbar and wedge the ship tracker off?”  Rick replied, “Yeaaah, if these things get tampered with too much, they go off even if they didn’t get a signal to, so I’d say no.  The ship tracker should be the least annoying one to do though, so we just have to focus on the goons and the trackers in our arms”  Michael shrugged and said, “What if we cut our arms off?”  The rest of the crew looked at him, stunned, causing him to raise his hands defensively in front of himself and add, “It was a joke!  It was a joke!  Although, let’s be honest, it would remove the tracker.”  Dan replied, “True, but it just adds a whole bunch of new problems.”  Jess let out an exasperated sigh and replied, “Ok, we can figure it out eventually, it’s not like we need them out now or anything.”  Rick rubbed his arm where it had been put in and replied, “Easy for you to say.”  Right then, Kaleb and Karl reentered the bridge, each one carrying a surprisingly large blaster rifle that, in all honesty, was only a few small steps beneath being a handheld cannon.  Rob took one look, blinked rapidly for a moment, and asked, “Where did you get those, and where’s mine?”  Kaleb pressed a button, causing his gun to make a slight buzzing sound and replied, “This is mine, that is Karls, you don’t get one.”  The crestfallen look on Rob’s face would have made a small puppy cry, but neither of the soldiers were small puppies, so it had no effect on them other than making Karl raise an eyebrow in mild amusement before replying, “Get your gear and meet us on the exit ramp.  Be ready to fight.”  As they turned to leave, Rick let out a small moan and asked, “Fight?  Fight what?”  But the only reply he got was the door closing behind the two.  A few minutes later, at the exit ramp, Karl and Kaleb looked over the crew in shock for a moment before asking the entire crew, “This is a joke, right?  Please tell me you’re joking.”  One could understand his distress because other than basic outdoor survival gear, none of the crew was especially well armed, each one having just a single pistol at their side and each with something unusual.  Rick was wearing a electronic monocle, Jess was wearing a device on her wrist that looked like a mix of a watch, phone, mechanical pencil, tape measurer, pedometer, and a stapler, none of which seemed to be working.  Rob was wearing a belt with more flashing lights and spinning gears than any device had any right to have and Dan was carrying a staff.  Not a fancy, electronic staff or one made out of glued swords or something, just an ordinary wooden staff which he was busy sliding a smoking pipe into as he entered the cargo hold.  Michael had slightly better looking armor on and a sheathed Katana on his back, making him look the most prepared to Karl and Kaleb, but only in comparison to the rest.  As the crew looked at the guards, then at each other, Rob smacked his forehead and replied, “Of course!  What were we thinking!”  With that he ran to the side and grabbed a small cooler, saying, “Almost forgot lunch.”  Kaleb looked at Rob for a moment, speechless, before replying, “Well, if nothing else, you’ll make an adequate meat shield when the creatures attack.”  With that, he hit the button to open the door while the entire crew in unison asked, “Wait, creatures?”  As the ramp reached the ground, Karl and Kaleb moved out, sweeping the area and giving shouts of, “Clear right!  Nothing on scanners.  Thermals clear”  And other military jargon while the rest of the crew timidly stepped out quietly muttering among each other;

Creatures?  What kind of creatures?
Maybe they’re just trying to scare us.
Well, it’s working!  I wanna go back on the ship!  I’ve always wanted to escape guaranteed death, you know, add it to my resume.
Yeah, good luck with that.
Hey, I can talk to judges, I can’t talk to creatures that want to eviscerate me.
Don’t worry, most creatures just want food.  Give them that and they’ll leave you alone.
And if they decide I’M the food?
Then I can get away safely.
Har har.  You’re hilarious.

With that, Rob yelled out to the two guards, “So what exactly are we looking for?”  He bent down and grabbed a rock off the ground, held it aloft and asked, “Is this it?  Can we go home now?”  Kaleb pulled out a small scanner, scanned the rock and replied, “No.  That’s Andesite mixed with Dunite.  We’re looking for pure Leonium.  Rick straightened up at that and replied, “Leonium?  I’ve heard of that stuff.”  Michael looked at him and asked, “What is it?”  Rick replied, “Well, for starters, it’s supposed to be the stuff of legends, but according to the legends it’s virtually indestructible.  Stories talk about a famous ship that could survive a direct hit from a Mark 5 Hull Breacher missile unscathed.”  Rob whistled and said, “Wow, our ship couldn’t survive even a Mark 1 version of those things.  So is this moon supposed to be where it comes from?”  Karl looked at his scanner and replied, “Yes.  Now let’s get moving, we should be able to get more supplies about 5 clicks in that direction.”  Jess angled her head quizzically and asked, “Why?  Is there a store over there?”  Kaleb grinned and replied, “No.  It’s where the last ship we sent here should be.  They landed, started searching, and then were never heard from again.”  Dan jerked his head around to look at Kaleb and said, “You know, this mission is sounding less and less fun the more you talk.”  Jess added, “Maybe he shouldn’t talk, it feels like he’s causing all the bad stuff just by saying it exists.”  Michael silently nodded his agreement as the whole group made their way in the direction Karl had indicated.  Rob made his way over to Rick and quietly asked, “Anything?”  Rick tapped his monocle and replied, I’m not getting anything unusual on thermal, backscatter, motion, sonic, UV, or Pheromone scans.  For now it seems safe enough other than the two goons we’re stuck with.”  Rob nodded and turned to Jess and said, “Be ready to deploy the moment Rick gives the word.  Dan, be ready if she fails and Michael…”  Michael interrupted, “No worries, I’ll take care of it if everything else fails.”  With that, they made their way towards where the ship was supposed to be with Karl and Kaleb leading the way and everyone else chattering absent-mindedly in the back.

Hey, maybe there will be Military food supplies on the ship!  Our supplies are running a bit low.
Military food?  I think I’d rather die, or eat the cables from the engine room.
Don’t you dare!  I finally got most of those fixed and in more or less the right place!
It was a joke.  Don’t panic Jess
I’m more interested in seeing their weapon reserves.
If they disappeared without a trace, they probably used up their weapons.
Hey, you never know, maybe they disappeared very suddenly?
Yeah, not boosting my moral here.

The chatter continued until Karl turned around and glared at the group, shushing them into silence for the remainder of the Trek across the rocky terrain.

Hercules, Chapter 2

Chapter 2: the trial

“Rick.  You are charged with forgery, bribery, extortion, and attempted obstruction of justice.”
“Jessica.  You are charged with smuggling, black market dealing, bribery, and insulting an officer of the law.”
“Robert.  You are charged with unlawful entry, forgery, black market dealing, and assaulting an officer or the law.”
Daniel.  You are charged with bribery, extortion, stealing secure knowledge drives, and insulting a military officer.
“Michael.  You are charged with desertion, owning illegal weaponry, bribery, and attempted assault of a military officer.

“How do you all plead?”

With that, the five people in trial all stood up and Robert said, “I speak for us all when I say.  I still think you have the wrong guys!”  Rick mumbled under his breath, “Besides, they didn’t even mention that time I snuck aboard a Fleet Mothership and stole a fuel cell.  I mean, if you’re going to charge me, at least have my crowning achievement on there!”  Dan nudged him in the side, causing Rick to squeak and collapse back into his chair.  The other crew members could not control themselves as they all broke out into grins.  The judge thought it was less funny, “Stand up.  You can collapse after your sentence is carried out” He said quietly with malice dripping from every letter.  With that, he straightened up in his chair and continued, “Under the circumstances, I could have you all shot, hung, and starved.”  Michael interrupted here and asked, “Don’t you mean shot, hung OR starved?  Seriously, you can’t starve a corpse.”  The judge just glared at Michael before continuing, “However, I have a much better idea.  For your punishment, you, and your ship, will be sent on a special mission to gather resources that our fleets could use to great advantage.  I’ve sent other men to do this and so far, no one has come back, so as far as I’m concerned, this is a death sentence, but if you succeed, I’m willing to forget your crimes.”  Rob looked at the judge and said, “I’ll need a moment to discuss this with my crew.”  With that he turned around, looking expectantly at the other four crew members and waited for their response.  After a second, Rick spoke up, saying, “Well it seems to be either guaranteed death or certain death, and we’ve escaped certain death before.”  Jess nodded in assent and added, “Yeah, like that time we were eaten by a Cave Worm or when we had that mine lodged under the wing or that guy who was trying to backstab us or…” Dan cut her off and said, “Yeah, let’s go for it.”  He also added, “If we succeed, will we get paid?”  The judge rolled his eyes and muttered, “Mercenaries, I have no idea how you’ve survived even this long.”  He then turned to two guards and said ,”Take them to get beacons and then to their ship.”  Jess spoke up timidly and asked, “Can we skip to the ship?  I’d rather just go to the ship.”  The judge moaned and added, “Quickly.  Before I change my mind.”  With that, the five crew members were escorted out of the room.   As they entered the next room, Rick stopped dead in the doorway.  Looking around, he saw medical equipment, chairs with restraints, and worst of all, needles.  He stood there saying, “Oh no.  No way.  I am not going in there, take me back to the judge guy, I’ll take the firing squad.”  One of the guards grabbed him and shoved him into the room, saying casually as Rick hit the far wall in a clump, “Too late.”  Rick got up, wincing a little as he faced the guard, trying to look as intimidating as possible, which was not easy since Rick was 5’6 and the guard was almost 7’ tall.  After the short contest, Rick wandered meekly to where the rest of the crew had huddle, much like how a herd of animals huddles when it senses a storm coming.  The black haired guard rolled his eyes as he grabbed a small, pistol-like device off of a tray and said, “Alright.  We are going to put this tracer in your arm.  If you attempt to flee, overpower me and my associate, tamper with it, deviate from your mission, or annoy me in any way, it will release a neurotoxin into your bloodstream and you will be dead in minutes.  Understood?”  Rick Raised his hand, causing both security guards to raise an eyebrow before asking incredulously, “Uh, do you….. Have a question?”  Rick put his hand down and answered, “Yeah, is there any way I could just get a bracelet or a necklace, maybe a ring that does that instead?  I mean, do we have to put it inside me?”  The dark haired guard grinned and replied, “Actually, I think I do, come on over and I’ll put it on you.”  With that, Rick timidly walked closer, and before he could utter a word he was grabbed by the blonde guard who pinned his arms to his sides while the dark-haired guard quickly injected the tracer.  “There” Said the blonde guard as he released Rick, “Now get back with the others.”  Rick couldn’t respond though, because he was passed out cold on the floor.  Jess spoke up quickly saying, “That was mean!  Do you have any idea how long he could be out?”  The blonde guard shrugged silently, grabbed his own injector, and within a few minutes had a tracer inside everyone.  The crew was then escorted to the docking bay, with Rick still out cold and being carried by Dan and Rob who asked, “Hey, nameless guard guys!  You want to carry him?  After all you knocked him out and where I come from, we clean up after our own messes.”  The black-haired guard pointed first at himself, then his associate and said “Kaleb.  Karl.  No.  Keep walking.”  Rob shifted his grip while muttering under his breath.  About halfway down the hall, Rick awoke with a yelp and a sudden sporadic jerk, which caused several events.  First both guards had their pistols drawn within a second to deal with the unexpected noise.  Second, Rob and Dan lost their grips, causing Rick to experience gravity, first-hand.  Third, Rick’s head hit the ground first, sending his glasses flying and causing Michael to lunge with surprising speed to catch them in mid air.  Seeing the catch even with his blurred vision Rick said, “Thanks!  I really wasn’t looking forward to ruining another pair of those.”  Kaleb sheathed his gun and replied, “Another?  How often do you break them?”  Rick simply shrugged as he put them back on and replied, “Hey, it’s not like I can glue them to my face.”  Jess spoke up and said, “Although that idea has been tossed around almost as often as his glasses.”  Karl simply shook his head and answered, “Let’s just get to your ship.  As soon as they arrived in the hanger and saw their ship, Rob stopped dead in his tracks and said in an quiet, but annoyed whisper, “What are they doing to my ship?”  Several uniformed engineers were standing on top of the craft, affixing something to it and sending sparks flying.  Kaleb answered calmly, “They’re attaching a tracer to your ship as well.  It also opens a direct line of communication to our base here so we can inform our boss of anything going on without it being intercepted.”  Rob just stood there, mouth open as he stared, looking like someone had just hit the Mona Lisa with a paintball.  Karl, looked at Rob for a moment in mild amusement before giving him a quick shove and ordering, “Alright, enough gawking.  Inside.”  The crew went on board and immediately dispersed all over the ship, faster than either of their guards could track them,  Suddenly the internal com system was abuzz with chatter.
“Engines seem to be in order, Oh!  And I found that die I lost a few days ago!  It was lodged in the manifold.  That actually explains a lot!”
“Well, other than that abomination on our roof piggybacking on our signals, the comms seem to be in good order.  Also, who ordered pizza?  I’ve got several missed calls from The Moon Pie, looks like they want an address for delivery.”
“Heh, they didn’t find all the secret compartments…. I mean, cargo hold is… Holding.”
“Someone clearly went through my locker, my stuff is all over the place!  Have they no respect?”
“Oh, actually, that might have been me.  I couldn’t find my hat and someone hinted that it might have been hidden there.”
“Hey!  I didn’t take it!”
“I know, but SOMEONE *cough* Jess *cough* said that was where it was.”
“Hey, I said it was in a locker, not necessarily his.”
“Wait, did you go through all our lockers?”
“….No comment.”

As this chatter continued, Kaleb looked at Karl and said, “If we don’t die on this trip, it’ll be a miracle.”  Karl shrugged and replied, “Hey, if it gets rough, we leave them, simple as that.  No need to get attached to a bunch of prisoners.”  Kaleb nodded and headed to the comm, turned it on, and said, “Hey!  Where’s the bunks?”  “Oh, go to your left, third door on your right down the hall.”  Kaleb replied, “Great, now get this thing ready for liftoff, on the double, I don’t want any delays!”  He went in the direction he was directed and opened the door, only to find himself staring at a small, one-person bathroom.  His yell could be heard throughout the ship, almost as clearly as the snickering coming over the comms.  Turning to Karl, he sighed and said, This is going to be a long trip.”