OtherSpace Reboot: Ulm Station

Omar Panderyn walks in from the west corridor, accompanied as usual by Crumpton, who says, “Well, I’ll make sure the next installment is transmitted to your station terminal by the time your shuttle arrives.”

Panderyn just frowns at Crumpton, saying, “I don’t know why you bother. I’ve made clear that I can’t abide the clear abuse of multiuniversal physics involved in the existence of creatures that can just make themselves out of nothingness and bounce around from place to place like the quantum equivalent of a dandelion.”

“Fortunately not too badly, and I gather it was quite accidental.” Tilsworth says. “A risk when one runs a test using live ammunition.” he says, as he opens a carrying bag that is in his open suitcase an unzips it. Inside is a brand new Dell laptop, complete with cryo-cooling. He checks the accessories before re-zipping it.

Kinako bows politely as the other two men approach. “Panderyn-sama. Crumpton-san,” she says, before returning to checking the medical supply crate. “It is always better to be safe, Lionheart-san. If I may ask, what is the nature of your survival kit? Is it rated for out of atmosphere environments?”

Maxwell nods again, satisfied that his luggage still contains his laptop, and assorted personal things, closing it again. “Afternoon.”

Omar Panderyn clasps his hands behind his back as he regards the group. “Afternoon, all. No funny-looking dolls in your luggage this time, I hope?”

“I’d seen enough of them during our last voyage.” Tilsworth says with a chuckle. “No, simply clothes, medicines, writing utensils, paper, my computer and PDA, and my classical music.”

Raynaldus nods to Kinako. “It’s a standard Vanguard survival kit miss Kinako. And yes I made sure it’s rated for out of atmosphere envirements. Everything I have with me is double checked to work or function on the spacestation.”

“Mr. Crumpton, proceed with a scan of each piece of luggage,” Panderyn says. He smiles faintly at Tilsworth and the others before adding, “Nothing personal, but we don’t want to wind up on Ulm Station with a bomb, gun, or some other nastiness in our cargo, do we?”

Kinako doesn’t look like she’s going to dignify Omar’s commentary with a response.

Maxwell nods, fairly secure in the knowledge that a laptop, a few notebooks, pens, clothes, and a couple puzzle books are unlikely to cause much alarm. “Quite.”

Panderyn’s assistant nods curtly to the group, then takes out a handheld device that allows him to scan each suitcase and cargo crate assembled for the journey to Ulm Station. He’ll pause if he gets to a point where the device bleeps annoyingly.

Tilsworth opens up both his suitcases for Crumpton to scan them. “I must admit I am getting rather excited for this voyage. It has been some time since I have been in space and I do enjoy the trip.”

Raynaldus has a set of four heavy duty crates, each are hand crafted and made of a strong and light synthetic material. There also water proof, air tight sealed and made to withstand heavy impact hits. Each crate has the heraldry of the Lionheart Royal family on it. Despite their solid appearance each would be easy to scan without much trouble. In the first crate the scan shows there are clothing in it as well as 2 bulletproof vests and an atmosphere Suit. In crate 2 the scan shows different types of tools like one can expect to find in the tool chest of an all-round engineer. In crate 3 it shows a humanoid robot with 3 brand new alienware laptops with backup drives and holographic display and control units. Crate 4 however might set of the alarm or it might not since this crate contains one modified vanguard Sniper rifle, a .45 handgun and a set of none lethal ammunitions. Last would be Raynaldus’ hand baggage which is a lightweight backpack version of the crates and contains a pair of PDA’s basic medical kit and standard issue vanguard survival kit.

Kinako stands beside her luggage, hands clasped loosely in front of her. The mid-sized piece of luggage contains clothing, feminine hygiene/personal care products, a tatami mat, and a foldable holo-go board. The medical case has several compact design devices in it, all set in individual foam recesses. The inventory includes, along with the standard Western medical loadout: a low-to-zero-gee rated electroacupuncture kit, a kinesiotherapy print-scan device and accompanying stock cartridges, rolls of silver-infused hydrocolloid bandage, a pre-loaded and sealed Kampo medicinal dispensary, collapsible ultrasonic diagnostic scanner, and a sterile hot-stone warmer with conductive silicone grip pads. Her purse contains… purse things. Keys, PDA, small first aid kit, wallet, prayer beads, et cetera.

The scanner bleeps in alarm as it passes over the fourth crate with Raynaldus. Crumpton arches an eyebrow and orders the engineer: “Open it.”

Tilsworth raises an eyebrow as the scanner beeps. Meanwhile he re-adjusts the inventory of his luggage, which in detail includes: A laptop computer, a PDA, two spare sets of glasses, a cane, five sets of clothing, 10 reams of writing paper, a clipboard, a large pack of pens, a dozen disks of classical music, and a 2 year supply of his various medications.

Raynaldus nods and walks to his fourth crate. He opens a small compartment which contains a number pad and a keyhole. Puts in key and types in a long number which he hides from people as best he can. Then he turns the key and as he does, locks all around the crate open up alowing the lid to be opened. He opens the crate slowly, allowing Crumpton to see its content. “Just my sniper rifle and handgun along with some non-lethal ammunitions I thought I’d take along in case any big trouble comes knocking on the door. So to speak.” He says. “After what happened with the test I’d rather not take any chances. What we’re going to do up there is important I don’t want anyone to take it away and abuse it.”

Omar Panderyn strides over to peer into the gun-infested luggage. His brow furrows. He fixes his gaze on Raynaldus and asks, as bluntly as one might expect: “What the actual fuck, sir? Are you working on a faster-than-light drive or taking on invaders from Mars?” He gets a closer look at the handgun. “Slugthrowers? In a cramped and delicate orbital habitat?”

Maxwell raises an eyebrow as he transfers his pda from a pocket into his luggage. “Expecting gremlins?”

Tilsworth raises both eyebrows at this. “My good sir… I have no doubt your intentions were innocent, but alas, your choice of protection is quite dangerous in both an enclosed, and high oxygen, environment… indeed, if one were to ignite an oxygen line, or even the pressure of the powder carge were to break a window, we would be subject to a very quick death by sudden decompression.”

Kinako makes a tiny little scrunch of her face at the guns and language, but otherwise reserves comment.

Raynaldus nods to the comment. “I Understand what you mean. But what if we get intruders. Do you think they will come in without any weapons? They can do the same thing.”

“Mr. Crumpton, confiscate the weapons and re-pack the crates,” Panderyn says, crossing his arms. He favors Rayndalus with a grimace. “We will discuss this more, at length, aboard Ulm Station. On the way, perhaps you would be wise to ponder such concepts as chain of command and proper clearances.” He grunts, then says, “To the orbiter, people. We launch soon.”

Tilsworth re-secures his luggage and begins to wheel it through the gates. “Onwards and upwards. Destiny awaits.”

Maxwell secures his luggage and follows along, still with that bounce in his step.

Kinako takes the handle of her own small luggage cart in hand, and pads along silently behind the group.

Raynaldus nods and watches the crate and weapons be confiscated. “My apologies for the inconvenience, I should have talked with you about security on the station before taking this crate along. I just hope we won’t get a moment where we wish we had them anyway.” He says and then follows along with the 3 remaining crates and his hand baggage.

Omar Panderyn appeared content to let the topic drop for now, clasping hands behind his back as he walked toward the terminal gates. But the subordinate’s insistence on a back-handed apology gets the wrong kind of attention. Panderyn stops, squares his shoulders, and turns to glower at Raynaldus. “Non-lethal ammunition, yes? Rubber bullets? That’s what you packed with your guns?”

Tilsworth stops as Omar stops, looking back to Raynaldus and quietly shaking his head.

Kinako also stops, blinks, and takes a moment to rummage a long string of polished stone beads from her purse. These she presses, one at a time, between forefinger and thumb, murmuring quietly to herself as she waits.

Maxwell stops, not wanting to bang into Tilsworth. An eyebrow raised further as he does.

Raynaldus thinks for a moment at panderyn’s question. “Rubber bullets and sleeping darts.” he replies. “The rubber bullets shouldn’t damage the station. But I’m not sure what the darts will do. They shouldn’t be able to penetrate metal thought, but I’m not sure about glas.”

“So as long as our invaders come in naked and unarmored, you’d be all over them? Yes, I do hope we never come to regret not going along with *your* wisdom,” Panderyn replies with a smirk. “Lionheart, maybe. Stonebrain, to be sure.” He turns toward Crumpton and says, “I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

Kinako bows to Mister Crumpton as they turn to leave. “Sayonara, Crumpton-san.” She looks over the motley crew led by its overseer, who has somehow managed to be motley even in a solitary capacity. “Kami wa watashitachi o tasukeru.”

The group is led to a Mark VII orbital shuttle, comfortable, yet functional. The terminal gate is flush against its side and the luggage is secured inside the shuttle’s rear cargo area. The seats are cushioned and well secured. Tilsworth finds a seat and belts in.

Maxwell plops down in a nice window seat, and buckles in. He looks far too excited.

Raynaldus doesn’t respond to Panderyn’s last words and instead follows along towards the shuttle. He then sits in one of the back seats also near a window and buckles in. He looks outside but seems to be in thoughts.

Kinako also seeks out a window seat and buckles herself in before clicking the prayer beads between her fingers a few more times, then stowing them carefully in her purse.

The shuttle rumbles slightly as the ground maneuvering engines start up. A slight jolt as the shuttle backs up from the gate and begins to taxi to the orbital launch ramps. As it approaches the ramp, the pilot carefully steers it until a soft thump is heard as the front landing gear locks into the launcher’s catapult. The shuttle then gets quiet as the ground manuevering engines are shut off.

Tilsworth settles himself securely in the seat in anticipation of what comes next. “Now comes the fun part.”

Omar Panderyn settles into a seat directly across the aisle from Raynaldus. He fastens his buckle, then glances over at the engineer and says, “That Everglades thing was just a drill, you know. It wasn’t real. Vannie soldiers played the Swampers. Our danger won’t be from someone trying to bust in the front door of Ulm Station. It’s going to be hackers trying to uplink bad things to our systems.”

Maxwell leans back in his seat, and shifts his gaze to the window.

Raynaldus snaps from his thoughts as Omar speaks to him and nods. “Not real, eh? Had I known that I might have had second thoughts about taking that one crate along. Sadly I can’t help you against hackers. That’s not my field.”

The quiet in the shuttle is then interrupted by a tremendous surge of acceleration that reaches 12 Gs as the shuttle is accelerated down the launch rail. The trip is thankfully short as the shuttle reaches the end, angles up and is catapulted free from the rail. However, the respite from the high G forces is over quickly as the shuttle’s main engines engage accelerating the shuttle upwards to break free of Earth’s gravity and head to orbit.

Tilsworth is slammed back into the seat cushion, struggling hard to keep his eyeballs from sinking into his head as the shuttle is launched.

“Always. Hate. This. Part,” Panderyn slowly spits out as an invisible fist shoves him hard toward the back of the shuttle.

Maxwell doesn’t look to appreciate this particular section, but he’s still got that smile.

Kinako closes her eyes, gripping the armrest with trembling hands. No checking out the view right now, that’s for certain. Her lips move with some effort, working laboriously through the syllables: “Gyatei. Gyatei. Haragyatei. Haraso-gyatei. Boji Sowaka.”

“What the….” Raynaldus says as he is pressed back into his seat as well. He looks as surprised as anyone having their first ride into space.

Within a few minutes, however, the intense trip is over as the clouds thin and give way to the darkness of space. Now free to maneuver, the shuttle alters course and begins to head towards the orbiting Ulm Station, the engines shutting off as the shuttle switches to maneuvering jets. Halfway towards the station, the shuttle turns around so that the engines are facing the direction of the station, and begins firing short bursts as it decelerates to prepare for docking.

Omar Panderyn adjusts himself in the seat once gravity stops thrashing him like a fat mugger. “Gonna need a nap.”

Raynaldus takes a deep breath onces the gravity stops and the rought part of the trip is over. “Did I miss a message or briefing where they warn you for the roughness of the ride?”

“Ah, the simulator at the university had moderately less pressure,” Kinako murmurs, taking a while to open her eyes again. “The, ah, real thing? More uncomfortable.” There is a long pause. “Is it safe to move?”

Maxwell shifts in his seat to look out the window better.

Before much longer, the shuttle has completed docking with Ulm Station’s port. A woman’s voice comes across the public address system – those who were aboard the bus to the Everglades should recognize Zarapella. She says, “All right, folks, it’s safe to unstrap, grab your belongings, and transfer to Ulm Station. I’ll stay docked for the night, make sure you’ve got all you need, but then I’m back to Earth in the morning.”

Raynaldus nods hearing the voice and unstraps himself. “I wonder where we can put our belongings. Will we have our own rooms to put them in or not?” He says carefully standing up and tries to move around to see how the gravity is affecting him up here. If at all.

Kinako carefully unstraps herself, keeping a one-handed grip on an armrest until she, too, can gauge the gravity. Once things have ‘settled,’ she moves back towards the luggage compartment to make sure that their luggage made the trip safely

Omar Panderyn laughs as he unbuckles and starts drifting forward. No artificial gravity at this point. “Our own rooms? That’s adorable.” He opens the hatch leading to the station airlock and proceeds through.

Maxwell undoes his belt and drifts along as he gets his bearings..

Raynaldus nods to Omar. “That’s a no then, I figured as much. Then where do we store our luggage?” he asks staying near his seat letting the others take their luggage first. Clearly he is not worried about the condition his luggage is in.

“Come aboard and get a look for yourself,” Panderyn says. He activates the inner airlock door, granting access to Ulm Station, and pulls himself through. Omar Panderyn floats through the main cabin, then maneuvers himself into one of the console seats and straps himself in for at least a modicum of normalcy. He starts perusing the controls. “I have a vague idea what about sixty percent of these buttons do.” Panderyn jerks his head toward the fore hatch. “Crew compartment’s that way. Cozy and small. I’ll let you pick bunks before I do.” Next he nods toward aft. “FTL lab’s in there. Get a look around. Make yourselves at home.”

Time for the MUSH to go?

It’s been a pretty good decade and a half, but I’m slowly coming around to the view that the MUSH is done.

Before I go any further, I’m not saying the OtherSpace story is done. I’m not saying we’re through building a collaborative space opera.

I’m saying the MUSH-as-RP-platform is done.

On days that don’t feature events run by me or Colchek, you’re not likely to find anyone on the grid and in-character.

On staff-run event days, you’re going to find the same two or three people participating. And thank God for them.

But. We may have 10-15 people lurking online and that’s all they do – lurk. They log on. They don’t necessarily even talk on channels. The MUSH turns into something like another Skype window, but without anyone really talking.

Telnet’s a dinosaur. Fewer people want to hunt down and install software (even when we provide easy links) to connect to OtherSpace.

So, I’m spending $260 a year with minimal outside support for…what, exactly? I’m responsible for bills at home now that include a mortgage, day care for the baby, veterinary bills for the dog. No, $260 isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’ll fix the air conditioning in my car. Or put more diapers on John Michael. Or go toward yard projects.

Look at the cost-benefit for keeping the MUSH alive. If we’re realistic, the only real benefit is to give a couple handfuls of people a different virtual hangout. Another window to keep open while they don’t do anything. Yes, I sometimes get to tell a story in real-time, but that audience grows smaller and smaller. I could offer similar opportunities in the freely available public activity feed on my Patreon page – for no overhead cost.

I’m due to renew the cost of hosting the MUSH and website on Nov. 1. Folks have until then to show me that it’s really worth the expense. Get engaged in the story. Make things happen on the MUSH. Put simply: Use it or lose it.

OtherSpace Reboot: Room With a View, Part 4

When last we left the souls aboard the bus, Kinako was trying to keep Crumpton alive as he bled from a neck wound on the floor. The driver set the vehicle on automatic, with a slow upward slope, and stalked back toward the restroom with her pistol. The Swampers remained in pursuit and started closing distance. Every once in a while, they fire another shot at the bus.

With the gunfire beginning to wither from the initial volley, although still quite deadly, Tilsworth grabs his cane and with some effort manages to get up to a more vertical position, but still keeping himself crouched between the rows of seats in the hope that their cushions will provide some measure of stopping power. Taking stock of the situation, he mutters to himself. “Perhaps this bus may be capable of more than the designers intended…” he says, looking across the floor for some sort of access panel, but at the same time watching the current ‘master of the ship’ and not making any moves unless he gets the blessing.

Maxwell grumbles from his crouched position “Yes, being attacked by deranged people in a swamp is JUST like solving equations on a space station…”

The old lady with the eyepatch tries to line up a shot on the Swampers through a small porthole in the back chamber, legs straddling the toilet lid as she braces herself against the bulkhead with one hand. She’s just about got a bead on one when the hoverbus levitation modules sputter and fail. Apparently, the bus isn’t capable of *much* more than the designers intended. “Well, shit,” she growls as the vehicle deactivates autopilot and starts nosing downward.

“Well… as the youth would say… ‘Fuck it’.” Tilsworth says, and looks for the nearest access panel he can find.

Maxwell lurches a bit as the hovering becomes less steady “Well put… lessee if we can find something to poke around in…”

The old lady lopes over Kinako as the young woman continues tending to Crumpton. She holsters the pistol and takes her seat behind the wheel. “Well, boys and girls, this bitch is more brick than glider. We’re going down. I’ll angle for one of the deeper areas of the swamp. Maybe we won’t just, y’know, slam into the shallows and explode.”

Tilsworth grabs the access hatch and wrenches it open, knowing the seconds are counting down. “I may not be able to keep this brick from reaching the ground, but I’m going to try very hard to make it a soft landing.” he says, drawing on quite a few years of working with field coils to attempt a reroute of the bus power source to the coils. “If I can boost the power flow and keep the field frequency steady, we may be able to achieve a braking effect…” he mutters as he pulls a couple of micro tools from his shirt pocket and gets to work. He offers another to Maxwell. “See if you can’t keep the controls steady, I’d like to give our pilot the best chance of finding those shallows.”

Maxwell nods as he takes the tool, and starts to poke about in the spots that look most likely to him to keep the bus going steady. Noone likes an instant submarine.

“Oh, hey,” the driver says, perking up as the hoverbus – while not exactly stopping its descent, at least reactivates the coils soon enough to create a cushion beneath the vehicle so that when it reaches the swamp below, it does so much more like a glider. She weaves along one snaking stretch of brown water between stands of cypress trees, looking for a likely hiding place to duck into. On occasion, she glances at the sensor display. The Swampers are still out there, descending in pursuit. “I see them on here, that means they see us. Gotta find a hidey-hole and go dark.”

“Indeed, madam, as dark and deep a hidey-hole as possible.” Tilsworth says. “We have wounded… we must find it soon.”

Maxwell nods “Yeah, somewhere we’re not being shot at would be great.”

As some of the dust settles, Kinako cranes her head as far upwards as it can go without neglecting to keep pressure on the unfortunate Mr. Crumpton’s neck wound. “…ah, we appear to be still alive. Is there anything left of the aid kit? Without bullets. Preferably. Everything is preferable without bullets, please.” She blinks, blearily.

The old lady behind the wheel banks hard to the left and kills the power, with just enough inertia to get one side of the hoverbus angled up on the grassy bank of a creek. This has the unfortunate result of making Kinako and Crumpton victims of gravity, tugging them toward the other side of the aisle.

Tilsworth braces himself as the bus inevitably finds land. “Saints preserve us…” he says as the bus banks and starts to slide in.

Maxwell doesn’t manage to brace himself in time, and groans a bit as he slides into the wall. “Ugh… everyone okay?”

“Help! Please!” Kinako becomes somewhat shrill in her expression of alarm. “Movement is very bad please help!” Desperately, she tries to brace her legs against the seats in the opposite row while still applying pressure to Crumpton’s wound. “Please!”

“Okay,” the driver says. “We’re off the map. Unfortunately, so’re the Swampers. Y’all see to your wounded. I’ll peek outside, see if they tracked us.” The side door hisses open. She climbs toward it, then down the steps and hops onto the shore, unholstering the pistol as she goes.

Tilsworth retrieves his cane and pushes himself off the side of the bus. “I can only hope those malcontents no longer have us in their sights…” he says as he starts to make his way over to Kinako and Crumpton.

Maxwell gets himself off the wall and starts making his way over to the medic lady.

“Need to keep pressure on the wound. Can’t move. Having trouble supporting us both. Kami wa watashitachi o tasukeru,” Kinako says, panting with the effort of preventing herself and her patient from tumbling in a possibly critically ungainly heap onto the other side of the bus. “He is bleeding badly and soaking through. It is not safe. I need someone to help me hold him steady and someone to -please- check to see if anything is able to be salvaged from the medical kit.”

The medical package on the wall looks entirely ruined. Maybe something in the luggage compartment?

“I’m afraid those swampers did quite the number on the medical kit, young lady.” Tilsworth says. “There may be something in the luggage area. Besides, we will need to get what I packed, for it may help us.” Taking his cane, he makes his way along the seats to the door of the bus, looking outside for as far as he can see before stepping outside the bus.

Maxwell gets himself over to a good spot and helps hold folks steady. “Hopefully that nice gent gets back with proper supplies soon…”

“Watch your step,” the driver grumbles at Tilsworth, gazing up as the burbling hum of another hovercar dopplers through the canopy. The Swampers are seen mostly in silhouette, side lit by the tangerine hue of the setting sun to the west. She takes aim, slowly tracks from right to left, then squeezes the trigger. POP-POP-POP. Two shots strike the Swamper driver. The third takes his companion in the chest as their vehicle descends toward the swamp, off to the south. “Thanks for stopping by, gator bait!” In the distance, there’s the crunch of breaking cypress tree trunks and a violent splash as the Swamper car comes down.

“Exquisite shooting, madam.” Tilsworth says, obviously impressed as he steps down off the bus and heads towards the luggage compartment. Reaching a bit to get to it, he opens it. The first thing he notices is his suitcases are not there. Some rather colorful language joins the chorus of swamp noises. “‘I want to make sure you won’t die on me.’ Well Mr. Panderyn, you’re giving it a very good try, aren’t you?” he says, then starts looking through the compartment and any others on the bus for anything he can find.

Actually…there IS luggage in the compartment. Perhaps it shifted during the crash, but it is on the other side of the bus down there.

“If you could reach, and there is anything left clean, tear another piece from my coat,” Kinako murmurs, remaining focused on keeping pressure on the wound, the best (and only) option it seems, under the circumstances. “Please, stay with us, Crumpton-san,” she implores, as steadily as she can. “Please, your spirit would not rest if you passed in such a terrible place.”

Maxwell makes a quick assessment of Kinako’s coat, and tears off a decent strip that still looks clean, quickly folds it neatly, and gets it ready for her to grab soon as she’s ready. “I think I’d have preferred the penguins…”

“Find what you need and shuffle back aboard,” the old lady urges Tilsworth. “I’ll see if I can get us mobile again.”

Tilsworth continues to search through the compartment, leaning as far in as he can, and in the fading sunlight, feels something like a suitcase. “Hmm… could this be mine?” he says, running his hands around it looking for a large tear that he stitched back together a few years back. “Even if not, anything is going to come in handy at this point…” he mutters, and after examining the outside, gathers it and any others he can find and pulls them out to take back aboard for an inventory.

No sign of the stitch. But when he opens a suitcase, he finds that it is full of small smirking pink dolls with tufts of purple hair.

Kinako takes the new piece of cloth and just adds it to the pile. “I do not feel safe removing the dressing as of yet. We have nothing? No cauterizer, no hydrogel, no packing, nothing? This is dep…” While most of her focus is still on her patient, and nearly all of what remains is focused on finding a solution to the calamity, she does see the dolls. “…nani?”

The old lady’s commlink crackles. She pulls it from a pouch on her hip and says, “Zarapella here. What took you so goddamned long to call?” She growls into the commlink for a little while longer, then calls over her shoulder at the bus: “Canaveral’s sending emergency crews. They got a little itchy when we went off scope. They’re homing in on my signal.”

Maxwell raises an eyebrow at the doll. “Um…”

“Not exactly what I was expecting…” Tilsworth says. “At least we’ll have something to fuel a fire if it really comes down to it.” he says with a bit of frivolity in his voice, before looking up to the driver’s announcement. “That is good news, madam, but I hope they are the only ones homing in on it.”

“I still have a pulse,” Kinako says, “But there isn’t much else I can do at this angle other than hold him steady. It is not safe yet to remove the bandage, it could reopen the wound. This is very bad. Will they be able to get through the adversaries?”

The darkening sky goes bright to the east as a big chunk of swamp erupts in a chaos of fire and concussive energy – a Vanguard fighter torpedo. A medical extraction vehicle hovers in and starts setting down next to the bus. “Aw, yeah,” Zarapella says. “Cooked Swamper. Nothing tastier.”

Maxwell blinks a few times “Sounds like help’s arrived.”

“Indeed… at least we are within range of the ‘port for them to arrive fairly quickly.” Tilsworth says. “And it seems they are indeed getting through the adversaries.. at least what is left of them.”

“Kamigami o arigato-gozaimashita,” Kinako says, adjusting her other leg to keep herself propped up and holding the soaked scraps of fabric against poor Mr. Crumpton’s throat wound, careful to not let her blood-slick finger slip.

“God, I thought they’d *never* get here,” Crumpton grouses, unbuttoning his shirt and yanking the nearly exhausted blood pouch loose. He wrestles the fabric scraps off his throat and pulls off the grim decal that had previously been applied there. “Good work, all.”

Maxwell raises an eyebrow.

Tilsworth figuratively picks his jaw up from the floor, and re-adjusts his glasses. For a few moments he is speechless. “A… rather unexpected twist. Bravo, young man.”

Kinako slumps back as the ‘patient’ removes himself, judging from her expression -extremely- unexpectedly, from her care. “Nani? Sore wa do iu kotodesu ka? Nani?” There is a pause, where she blinks very slowly and somewhat grittily, before remembering to speak English. “…what?”

Outside, two men in grubby wilderness gear – coveralls, caps, hip boots – wander up with rifles slung over their shoulders from the south. They approach Zarapella, and one of them says, “Two of those shots were actually live ammo, Zara. You winged Pegman.” His companion lamely motions at a bandaged arm. She shrugs with a sheepish grin and says, “Oops!”

Aboard the bus, Crumpton says, “I apologize for the charade, but it was the entirety of the test. Suffice it to say, you are all accepted into the Ulm Station program. We’ll get you back to base. You can start prepping for departure in a week’s time.”

Maxwell takes a deep breath and sighs, before nodding.

“Indeed… that is good news. I shall begin packing as soon as we return… provided that my suitcases are indeed available for retrieval.” Tilsworth says, adjusting his glasses and offering up a sly grin.

Kinako continues looking completely puzzled out of her mind. She even shakes her head a couple of times, as if to clear it. After a few more querulous utterances of “Nani?” she makes a very ineffectual attempt at re-taming what is now a rather impressive tangle of hair, gives up, and totters over to the bandaged Pegman. “Have you been taken care of? I apologize, I am disheveled, but we’ve just been through an exercise.”

OtherSpace Reboot: Room With A View, Part 3

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And now, at Cape Canaveral in the year 2550…

Crumpton, aide to Omar Panderyn, waits near the archway leading to the tarmac for the shuttle to Antarctica.

Tilsworth appears from the direction of the East Corridor, pushing a cart with one squeaky wheel towards the departure gates, loaded with two large suitcases. He himself is dressed in a thick dark blue parka with a large furred collar, the hood of which is currently down. His cane is perched on the suitcases as the cart itself provides him support. He puts on a smile as he approaches Mr. Crumpton. “Ah, good to see you again, young man. I’m ready for my trip to the polar regions.”

“Oh, very good, sir, very good,” Crumpton says, clasping his hands behind his back. “But, uh, the hoverbus is waiting out in front of the terminal to take you to the Everglades.”

Kinako, having found herself with a surplus of job opportunities since the terrorist attacks, is padding around the Promenade in her sensible shoes and a white coat over her usual loosely-tailored suit. Sighting both Tilsworth and Panderyn’s aide, she beelines in that direction just in time to hear the latest change in plans. She approaches Crumpton, stops a polite distance away, and bows. “Kon’nichiwa, gentlemen,” she says, in warm, kindergarten-teacher tones. “Is something amiss?”

Maxwell comes strolling in from the lounge, looking fairly chipper, and occasionally munching a honey roasted peanut. Heading towards the ever embiggening crowd, naturally.

Raynaldus comes walking in from the lounge, not far behind Maxwell and watches where he is going. Then he notices the crowd and heads into that direction.

“Doctor,” Crumpton says with a smile to Kinako. “The bus is ready for you, as well. Tilsworth won’t be alone on Ulm Station. Might as well see if he can survive in the wild among friends, yes?” He glimpses the approach of Maxwell and Reynaldus. “Well! All aboard, yes, indeed.”

Tilsworth is rather unable to hide his shock at this turn of events. “Ahem… indeed. Perhaps I misheard. No matter… I am sure these provisions I have brought can be adapted for the new environment. I never travel without a sewing kit, you see.” he says, bringing back his smile. “Well then, young man, let us not waste time.” With that, he begins to push his cart towards the doors and to the hoverbus beyond.

Kinako blinks twice, and then carefully arranges her features into a -very- polite smile. “…ah, I should be more surprised at this development, perhaps, than I am. Kindly give me a moment to retrieve my luggage. You did not mis-hear, Doctor Tilsworth-san,” she murmurs, reverting to more formal language in the face of what is apparently a surprise ‘family’ camping trip. “I shall return momentarily.” She pads off.

“That won’t be necessary,” Crumpton assures Kinako. “Your luggage, that is. You’ll all have to make do with whatever Tilsworth has packed, you see.”

Maxwell nods “Well. I guess let’s be off, then.”

Raynaldus looks a bit surprised. “Wait, we’re going where? Did I miss a message? I can’t recall mentioning of a trip? I thought I was going to get a test first?” He then hears Crumpton talk about Tilsworth’s luggage and smiles. “Aahh… a survival trip. I should have known.” He says with a smile. “Thats been a while to be honest.”

Kinako purses her lips, and turns to face Mister Crumpton. “Then you will, at the very least, kindly allow me to retrieve my overnight bag, as Doctor Tilsworth-san and I are of vastly different professions and it would be impolite to deprive me of the necessary implements of my station. Not to mention a change of clothing.” Her vocal tones remain calm and polite, but the words are delivered as a statement, not a query.

“Can’t do that,” Crumpton replies to Kinako as a redcap arrives to haul Tilsworth’s bags to the bus. “Rules of the exercise. Expect the unexpected. Work with what you have. I’ll ride with you as far as the dropoff point, then I’ll bid farewell.”

Tilsworth pauses a moment as the rest are recruited to join him for his trip to his new destination of the Everglades, looking at his suitcases, and back to them, and the look on his face is one of confusion and perhaps a bit of shock.

Maxwell raises an eyebrow.

Raynaldus nods and looks to Kinako. “I understand if these rules for the exercise are annoying. But in the end there meant to for us to learn to survive with what we have. When where on the station in space, we’ll have to make do with what we have as well. We can’t just go to a store and buy what we need, or order something.”

Kinako sighs quietly, and folds her arms across her chest. “If the -station- is ill-equipped, Lionheart-san, I will very firmly decline further employment,” she says, with all of the force of a ball of feathers bound together with slightly dampened talcum powder. She pads quietly back over to Crumpton, frowning again. “If anyone on this trip is harmed because of a lack of adequate medical supplies, unpleasantries shall be exchanged. Kajuaruna amerikan’nansensu.” She straightens her white coat, shoulders her purse with a look that openly challenges anyone to try and take it from her, and walks towards the awaiting bus without a further word.

While the redcaps manage Tilsworth’s bags, Crumpton asks the older man, “Ready to go, sir?”

Tilsworth has managed to recover himself, taking up the cane from the cart as the redcaps gather up his luggage and returning his support to it. “Yes, young man, I’m ready to go. No sense wasting time, let us get to the task set before us.”

Maxwell munches the last peanut from his packet and nods. “Indeed.”

Raynaldus nods and watches Kinako walk with an understandable amount of possible anger in her about the task at hand. “I shall hope the station is not ill equipt m’lady. If it is, then some people messed up badly.” he says then walks towards the waiting ride.

The redcaps lead the way, then get to work loading the bags into an open compartment on the passenger boarding side of the hoverbus. The bus driver is a gaunt woman with stringy white hair worn under a blue baseball cap emblazoned with a green letter Y. She’s got an eyepatch over the left eye and a shoulder holster with a slugthrower tucked into it. “Piss now if you gotta,” she informs the group. “One on board’s out of order. Blame that raw chihuahua they passed off as ropa vieja last night. Holy Jesus. And maybe sit in the first three rows, unless you’ve got a filter mask.”

Kinako selects a seat towards the front of the bus, lips pressed into a thin, almost bloodless line. She smoothes her white coat across her knees and rests her hands in her lap, fingertips together. “Namu myoho renge kyo,” she murmurs a few times, between slow, deep breaths.

Tilsworth looks up to the.. eccentric bus driver, and manages a smile. “Rest assured madam my bladder is fully evacuated.” he says as he steps aboard the bus and finds himself a seat in the second row back.

Maxwell sighs slightly before boarding the bus and finding a seat across the aisle from Tilsworth

Raynaldus As he arives at the bus he waits for the rest to step in first, making sure they get to choose their seat first. Then he steps in and picks the seat across from Kinako in front of the bus.

Crumpton climbs aboard, settling into a seat in the third row, opposite the driver’s side. She settles into her seat in the front and starts final checks on the bus for travel status. “Hydraulics, good. Solar cells, full charge. Electrolytes, on the mend.” She picks up a cylinder of orange liquid, takes a gulp. Then she pats the gun. “Security officer, present.” She glances into the rear view and tells her passengers: “Buckle up, pilgrims. We’re rolling out shortly.”

Kinako opens one eye and checks to ensure that her belt is properly buckled.

Maxwell takes a moment to untwist his belt, and secures himself in.

Tilsworth settles his cane to where it won’t fall, and buckles his belt securely.

Raynaldus buckles up and checks to make sure it’s secure. Then he looks up and thinks to himself a bit outloud. “If we get back from this I should start making a bakcpack of sorts with important survial stuff in it. Just in case.”

The doors hiss shut. The driver checks the luggage status light. Still yellow. She flicks on the comm and says, “Let’s get a seal back there, boys.” A clunking sound, then the light goes green. “All right. Off we go.” She engages the drive and the hoverbus eases forward.

Crumpton glances back through his window to see Omar Panderyn standing with the redcaps and a pile of suitcases.

“Told you no one would get out and check,” one redcap says to Panderyn.

Panderyn nods, then offers a credit chip to the redcap, saying, “Per our agreement.”

“We -will- get back from this, Mister Lionheart-sir,” Kinako says, in between cleansing breaths and murmured invocations of the Lotus Sutra. “If only to lodge a very strongly worded complaint with station authorities regarding the severe lack of honorable protocol.”

“I’m sure we shall be fine, my dear. In fact this is rather exciting… I do enjoy a good puzzle.” Tilsworth says.

Raynaldus nods to Kinako. “Good point, m’lady. We will get back from this indeed. Such positive thinking is a good start.” He says and looks to Tilsworth. “Puzzles? Thats one way of lucking at it. Your a fan of solving puzzles, sir?” He ask kindly.

Maxwell nods “Puzzles are nice, but I confess I prefer abstract puzzles than a sudden swamp vacation.”

“Indeed… but a puzzle is a puzzle, and this is a puzzle nonetheless. We have been given a playing board, the pieces are arranged, now our time to plan the solution is approaching.” Tilsworth says.

Kinako takes another slow, deep breath. “It is not the challenge that unsettles me, Doctor Tilsworth-san, what I am upset by is the lack of respect, and generally cavalier and dishonorable behavior. If it is simply too much to ask that team members be notified in advance of where they will be required to be at a given moment, that bodes very poorly for the performance of this project.” She takes another breath, and exhales. “Coddling is not necessary, but a good team should at least feel moderately valued.”

“Team needs to be a team before value can be judged,” offers Crumpton from his seat further back.

“Quite true, young man, and I do see the value in what you are trying to accomplish. We come from different backgrounds, different cultures even. How will we work together? It is true, in space, on a station, if critical situations occur, we must know we can rely upon one another.” Tilsworth says. “Such situations can occur any time, from anywhere, and perhaps may not meet our preset expectations… we must be able to adapt.”

Raynaldus nods agreeing with Crumpton and Tilsworth. “And thats just the thing I already learned years ago. I’m actualy curious to see what this situation will do for this team.”

The hoverbus starts whirring speedily down an upper tier of Interstate 95, southbound, in a commercial transport traffic lane marked by purple guidance lights.

“We should reach the dropoff point in about fifteen minutes,” the driver announces, before taking another swig of orange liquid. “Want any tunes? Stereo’s shit on this thing, but I know a few Joplin tunes.”

“Kindly be mindful of the fact that my presence has been unceremoniously required,” Kinako replies matter of factly, “Twice. I apologize for my present state of displeasure but will not dismiss it until the situation merits. Intent does not excuse dishonor, and dishonor does not inspire loyalty.” She fixes Crumpton with a mild Look before returning to her meditative breathing.

“You want off, Dr. Kinako?” Crumpton inquires. No malice in the tone, just simple matter-of-fact inquiry.

Maxwell idly hums a vaguely hopeful sounding tune while watching the passing scenery.

Raynaldus is about to say something but then Crumpton speaks and Raynaldus desides to remain quiet for not.

“So, I guess that’s a big fat no on the Joplin tunes,” the driver mumbles grumpily. “Y’all bitches are missin’ out. Whatever.”

Tilsworth patiently waits for the bus to arrive at its destination, adjusting his glasses as he looks out the window.

Kinako exhales. “Not as of yet; I will not leave these gentlemen without medical assistance,” she replies, without opening her eyes.

Raynaldus smiles to kinako. “glad to hear it miss.”

Maxwell nods “It’s appreciated.”

“Good,” Crumpton offers simply, shortly before a bullet cracks through his window and strikes him in the neck. He tumbles over into the aisle, gasping as blood spills from the wound. More salvos strike the hull of the bus, spanging off metal and shattering glass – mostly toward the rear.

“Shit!” the driver proclaims. “Swampers! We got Swampers!” She’s watching on sensors as a hostile target ascends from below and to the right, closing distance and trying to match altitude.

“Ten to ji no kamigami!” Kinako blurts, opening both eyes and pulling herself over the aisle by grasping the tops of the seats. She drops low and approaches the fallen Crumpton, yanking on the hem of her coat hard enough to tear it. “Is there an aid kit on board please. I need a pressure bandage!” She finishes tearing away a section of coat and folds it into a square, moving to press it to Crumpton’s wound.

Tilsworth quickly attempts to get to the floor, cane forgotten as he attempts to protect his head as best he can. “My word!”

Maxwell struggles for a moment to get his belt undone, and more or less falls onto the floor. “Well, I’d say we’re probably well united in not enjoying this trip…”

Raynaldus quickly takes of his belt and gets to the floor as well and looks around. “Any weapons on this vehicle?”

“Was a first aid kit,” the driver reports, jerking a thumb back toward the rear of the bus. The rectangular container mounted on the bulkhead is now peppered with bullet holes, coagulant fluids and synthblood spilling from within. She aims the bus toward a higher altitude, clear of the marked interstate lanes and toward commercial air traffic, where it may become dangerously cold and hard to breathe. “Hillbillies ain’t gettin’ my other eye.” She locks the autopilot into position, then yanks the pistol from its holster and stalks down the aisle, stepping over Crumpton on the way toward the restroom.

OtherSpace Reboot: Room With A View, Part 2

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And now, at Cape Canaveral in the year 2550…



 

Omar Panderyn is standing near the terminal gates, PDA in hand, speaking to his aide, Crumpton. “So, yes, I kept reading. Why am I even listening to your advice? You’re basically nothing more than a tadpole on two legs. It’s more ludicrous than I imagined. A society of evolved bipedal cats that manages to reach the stars? Seriously. You’ve heard of cats, right? Seen them at work? Recognize their modus operandi? They’re lucky if they can evolve to reach their crotch with their tongues.”

Kinako has been sitting on one of the benches by the impressive fountain, hands resting loosely clasped upon her knees. At the sound of Omar’s voice, she looks up. She rises smoothly, and carefully straightens the fabric of her loosely tailored suit. The sound of her sensible shoes upon the floor is barely audible over the station’s general noise level. After approaching to a polite distance of Omar, she clears her throat. “Ah, sumimasen, pardon me, Mister Panderyn-sir?”

Crumpton appears ready to rise to the defense of whatever work of literature Panderyn is criticizing, but the older man cuts him off with a wave and faces the young woman with a faint smile. “Ms. Kinako, right? Ready for your testing?”

Kinako clasps her hands together and bows, bending straight forward at the waist. “I apologize for any misunderstanding that may have occurred, Mister Panderyn-sir, but I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to be summoned for this testing, as, ah, I did not apply.” She straightens, and then tilts her head to the side. “…again, I offer my sincerest apologies for any mistaken applications that may have been accidentally filed on my behalf…?”

Tap… tap… tap… the sound of a cane against the floor of the promenade once again announces the arrival of Tilsworth. Spotting some familiar faces he turns to head towards them near the gates, adjusting his thick glasses on the bridge of his nose as he does so.

“I had a Chinese nursemaid when I was a little kid,” Panderyn replies. “Fantastic lady. Terrible wonton. You’ll fit in just fine.” A confident smile from the physicist.

There is a long, long pause, as Kinako’s facial expression cycles through varieties of puzzlement. It is almost as though she isn’t sure what to be offended by first, and over-fogged with confusion as to what exactly is going on in this conversation. Gently, she corrects” “I am from Japan, Mister Panderyn-sir.” Her tone remains polite, although the usual serenity in it is somewhat frayed. Ahem. “Are you in need of the services of a -doctor-, sir? If you are, I would be willing to hear the terms of the assignment and provide due consideration.”

Tilsworth steps up to the pair. “Good to see you again, my dear.” he says with a nod to Kinako, then a look to Panderyn. “And the same to you, Mr. Panderyn. A lovely evening, is it not?”

“We need a doctor,” Panderyn confirms. “Bob Busby insisted that I take you aboard. The terms are simple: You join the team on Ulm Station and keep everybody alive while they try to make history. No pressure, right? I assume they don’t have space allergies or anything in Japan. Mr. Busby reported that you did a bang-up job during that Ebola crisis. Could be we’ll need your know-how.” He waves to Tilsworth. “You’re up past your bedtime, aren’t you, sir?”

There’s that expression again, where Kinako’s trying to continue smiling and be serene in the face of mind-boggling… well… America. Her mouth finally works itself back into a position that allows it to speak. “We have the same allergies as found in other humans around the world, Mister Panderyn-sir,” she says, reclaiming a bit of calm and sounding more and more like a kindergarten teacher by the moment. “I very much appreciate Mister Busby-sir’s glowing recommendation and would have greatly appreciated a request for consideration prior to the public announcement, yes? Ah, how long will we be on the station?” She pauses to incline her head and offer a “Konban wa, Doctor Tilsworth-sir.”

Tilsworth chuckles. “Perhaps.” the old scientist says. “Though I do try my best to keep up with the youngsters that come through these labs.”

“At least six months to get everything up and running,” Panderyn replies. He hands the PDA over to Crumpton, then clasps his hands behind his back. “Let’s be clear, though. It’s unclear how long it may take to achieve our goal aboard Ulm Station. We want to break the light speed barrier. Humanity has struggled to do so for centuries. It is within the realm of possibility that the effort will go on for millennia. However, your boss and mine is banking a significant amount of money on the prospect that our team aboard Ulm Station will succeed where so many others have failed.” He shrugs. “You don’t like being drafted. I get that. I figure you’ll forget that inconvenience after they put your name in the history books with Armstrong, Ride, Young, and Gagarin.”

Kinako cants her head slightly to the side. “I will assist because assistance is needed. Glory, Mister Panderyn-sir, is for young men and souls uncertain of their value.” She says this in an absolutely gentle, earnest tone, clearly without sarcasm or malice. “Will we be expected to remain upon the station until the mission comes to its terminus, or will return trips be periodically allowed? Mister Busby-sir is not, after all, my only responsibility at this time.”

Tilsworth listens to the conversation patiently.

“We’ll work something out, certainly,” Panderyn says. “Still, expect to be onsite for at least a few weeks at a time.” He turns toward Tilsworth and crosses his arms. “You’re old. Not much I can do about that. But you’re a theoretical physicist. I’m going to have Crumpton take you to an Antarctic monitoring station and leave you there in a few days. Settle your affairs here, then drop me a note when you’re ready.”

“A few weeks at a time is more than acceptable, Mister Panderyn-sir, and I appreciate your team’s recognition for the need for my assistance,” Kinako replies, bowing again. “You will kindly send me the remainder of the details, provide the requirements, and set an appointment for any necessary testing, yes?”

Tilsworth raises an eyebrow, but shows no other sign of reaction at the statement. “Very little to settle… I have a communique to my current superiors prepared announcing my resignation. I have already notified my family of my decision, thus I am ready to depart at any time. Once I procure a supply of heated long johns.” he says, offering a grin. “I would presume this is intended to test my endurance?”

Omar Panderyn nods. “Crumpton will see to it, Ms. Kinako.” He offers a tight smile, then a nod to Tillsworth. “It’s intended to prove you won’t die on me. Good luck with that.” He then leads his aide through the terminal gates, saying, “Don’t even get me started on the matriarchal lizard people who want to conquer the galaxy. Women on the warpath? They wouldn’t need a fleet. Just a PDA and a book club.”