Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode II: A Bounty on the Mutant

     A very short time ago we watched as Dame Astrid Shaam arrived on Moab III in The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode I: Rockabye Baby. What, you say? That was fully a year ago? Nonsense! The vagaries of trans-temporal and hyper-dimensional communications might have scrambled the signals, but Dame Astrid arrived but the day before yesterday local time.

. . . . .

     With the dawning light the scene slowly fades in on the mysterious Gordon Frei; tall, gaunt, space pale, completely bald, and wearing a battered orange enviro-suit.


     As he looked onto the waking streets of Logansport he realized that he needed to find shelter and fast. The hunters would be almost certainly on his scent by now. Talking to the locals would be a risk, but perhaps it was unavoidable. He'd need information. And food, really. Food first. Frei spotted a rice seller walking down the street. She seemed a likely target.


     Later that very night Blake Walker moseyed up to the bar next to Jackie Chu.
     "Evening, Jackie. I have news. Seems Colorado has a job for us."
     "Oh?" replied Jackie, casually interested. "Is this a rush job?" Jackie nursed his drink, a local sort of fire water called bunker charlie that both looked and smelled like waste oil, as he pondered the news.
     "First thing in the morning. There's a bounty out on a spacer named Gordon Frei." He passed Blake a flimsy with a picture and some official looking copy. "Stan smuggled the lady a dupe and she wants us to find him before someone renames him Gordon Verhaftung."
     "What?" said Jackie confused.
     "Bad joke. Frei means free. We need to find him before he becomes Gordon Arrested." At this Blake paused a moment. "Or dead."
     "Well, I have to abandon this fine aperitif, but I suppose I should hurry this process along and find my rack before  it gets any later. Sounds like we have an early morning."
     "Indeed," said Blake.
     "I'll round up the gang. Meet us at half to six by the spaceport. We'll head in from there. Hopefully someone will have a real lead. More than this mimeo you've got here, anyway."

. . . . .

     The next morning dawned cool and grey. The heat of the midday sun would clear the street of witnesses as surely as a rare rainstorm would wash away tracks out by the loganite mines. As the gang arrived in town and surveyed the drag it looked like it was going to be a long morning.


     "Well folks," Jackie said. "Let's fan out. There's a lot of ground to cover. But be careful. I'm not really quite sure who this bounty hunter is."
     "Assuming there's only one," said Shorty McMasters, ever the optimist.

. . . . .

      At this point please allow me, your narrator, to briefly interrupt. This is, after all, a play of more than one sort, so I should give some props to those as acted it. The first run went to the fine folks of Big Muddy. Terry was so kind as to play the gang and Steve handled the bounty hunters. (Wait, what?) In the second game my friend Joe played the protagonists and I took over villains and bystanders alike. (Isn't everyone a villain in a bustling hive of scum and . . . well . . . villagers? Yeah, never mind. Dumb and rather dated joke.)
     This narrative follows the sequence of events in the second performance, but the first was in many key ways similar. (Though it needn't have been.) So if you think you might want a role in this performance or one similar to it in the next week or so then you might wait to give this a read. The details and even the ending can change. Reading won't truly spoil the game.  But the story might be funnier after.

. . . . .

     Meanwhile, back in Longansport . . .


     No sooner had the gang set to asking around than one of the local friendlies decided to brush Shorty and Lorita back a bit with some high speed harm.


     "You okay dear?" Lorita asked as she helped Shorty to his feet.
     The dwarf thought a moment and replied "Nothing harmed but my ego."
     "Good. That might be the only part of you no one has managed to break yet." Lorita paused a moment. "I sure hope Kitty's having more luck."


     While the rest of the gang made their way along the gilsonite glory of the drag Kitty kicked up dust on the edge of town. She was off to talk to old Maxim Wilder.
     "Hey Max. Any news?" she asked as she reached down to gently pat his constant companion, the great wolf Stella.
     "Nothing that I've heard," he replied.


     Meanwhile Musetta sidled her way around the new peace bot to talk to a pair of visiting actors.


     "So what brings you folks to our town?" she asked.
     The first elf replied "We're here to entertain . . ."
     ". . . and educate," the second finished in turn.
     Musetta pressed on. "What sort of show will you have?"
     "Oh, it will be comic . . ."
     ". . . and tragic," the two continued, in the same manner as before. Each finishing the others sentences as though they were a single entity.
     The shorter more masculine elf began brightly "We specialize in the great myths of creation . . ."
     ". . . and destruction," finished the taller and more feminine elf quietly.
     Musetta paused for a moment, not quite sure how to continue. "You look hungry. Are you hungry?" she asked suddenly.
     "Why . . ."
     ". . . yes," they said in sequence.
     Feeling sheepish Musetta reached into her pocket. "Here, let me offer you this cake. It's not much, but it's a hot day and you've a lot of work. My friend van Erikson made it. It's a honey cake. His own recipe."
     "Thank you," said the tall elf, apparently speaking for both of them as she divided the cake and passed half to her partner.
     "Did you drop in to the space port? Did you happen to run into a spacer in an orange vac suit?" Musetta asked gamely. "He's an old friend of mine and I'm expecting him."
     "Odd that you should say that," the taller elf said.
     "You aren't the only friend expecting a spacer in an orange suit," the shorter elf continued.
     "And no. We haven't seen him."
     "But you have a much more generous aura than the last fellow, even if you are lying," said the shorter elf again.
     "We bought an orange glove from the rice seller this morning," said the tall elf.
     "Talk to her," commanded the short elf.
     "I will," said Musetta. "And I'm sorry."
     "About lying?" asked the short elf?
     "Don't be," said the tall elf. "It's part of the job."
     With that Musetta wandered off to find Jackie.


     Talking with the peregrine peddler was easier. She came past directly, a case of hot steamed rice balancing out a container of quite delicious smelling pork.
     "Yes, I sold him some food in trade for the glove," she said. "I'm not quite sure where he ended up, but when I last saw him he was talking to the nun down at the temple. Talk to her. She might know more."
     Jackie contemplated this bit of advice as a group of spacers and adventurers slowly filed past towards the port.


     Jackie began to quietly issue directions for the rest of the gang to assemble over by the temple when Kitty tapped out a brief coded reply that asked him to wait a moment.


     "Sorry about that," she said. "I had to sneak past the same bunch of greenies that held me hostage last season after the business out at the Graceful Ghost. Fortunately, they're all busy listening to a bagpiper . . . and boy is he loud."
     "Oh! Is that where that's coming from," Jackie said.
     "You can hear that?" she asked.
     "Oh yeah."
     "Wow. We've got to be a half a klick, away," she said surprised.
     "Don't worry about it. Can you get to the temple?" he asked.
     "Sure. I'm almost there," she said. "I think it's just past this machine shop. Let me head over there quiet like."


     Quicker than you can give out free drinks at a mining camp the gang coalesced around Jackie over by the temple. Unfortunately, they weren't entirely alone.


     "Hey Kitty, you think you can work your way behind that mandroid?" he asked.
     "Sure thing," she replied. "I'm going off the voice channel. If you need me to drop him click twice on the e-channel. Three clicks and I'll break off and go to voice soonest."
     "Got it," he said.
     Since it was getting on into the late morning, the town slowly started to clear out.





     "Well, that should make things a little easier," thought Jackie, as the gang slipped into the temple with the saffron robed nun. Upon learning that they worked with Rex-Avis the nun was only to happy to introduce Gordon.
     "He'll need escort someplace safe," she said.


     "And how are we supposed to do that?" asked Harry, as he stepped through the door.
     Kara Mason thought a moment. "Do you think you could disguise him?"
     "That might work," the nun replied.
     And soon an orange suited spacer . . .


. . . emerged as a green robed priest.
     (Oh, for a muse of fire! Imaginations please. They're still inside, but our crude platform must suffice as the whole of France. Or Moab III, anyway. And the scenerers do good work, but on a limited budget. And they are but one, so corners are sometimes cut. Anyway . . . )


     "A last request," Erikson began. "Would you mind accompanying us? Our pursuers might be more loathe to strike a woman of the cloth."
     The nun pondered a moment and then nodded her assent. "Very good. Would you have me lead the way then?"
     "If you would be so kind," he replied.
     "Follow me," she said. And one after another the little squadron filed out of the shrine in tight formation.



     Kitty held her position behind the metal man, but almost as soon as the gang came into sight he grew restless. It wasn't long before he moved and she got her two clicks. The coast was clear. The cops were looking the other way, about like they usually did. Kitty drew her needler hoping there was enough meat left in her target for the agent to paralyze him at least temporarily. And then . . . 
     Behind her a large lizard darted under a tractor, knocking over an empty oil can. The racket was deafening in the sudden quiet. Why did the piper down the block choose that moment for a break? Kitty jabbed at the mandroid, but he'd already begun to spin and her shot glanced off his bulky jacket. His hand, however, connected squarely with her jaw and she lurched back stunned.
     Blake and Jackie, seeing the miscue, quickly rushed to her aid. The bounty hunter, Max Engel registered on Koutosopolis Two, coreward beyond the Tartarus Gate as Blake would later learn, was tough with his integrated circuits and finely tuned muscles, but he was no match for the three of them together. He took a few jabs from Jackie, but Blake worked around behind him and he went down. And the phalanx of desert rats worked slowly down the drag towards the spaceport and freedom, however temporary.
     As Blake and Jackie checked on Kitty the steaming, sparking lump began to stir. Musetta was watching the whole enterprise from a perch in an upper story window overlooking the scene. The noise would attract trouble, but there was no choice. She took her shot. Just as the human bulldozer tripped. Her shot passed harmlessly above him.
     His return fire was little more effective, but the sounds found a mark, even as the bolts and bullets did not. Jackie, Blake, and Kitty spun in alarm. With his back to them as he to fired on Musetta the mandroid stood no chance at all. The three of them struck as one and he fell again. They scuttled past quickly as the constable finally turned and began walking towards the manlike thing lying prone on the pavement.


     Parade like the whole of the Lace Rock gang moved. But so too did a new audience, awoken to the festivities by the magical sounds of explosions.


     To an orc a good firefight is the Fourth of July wrapped in Tet and chased with an earthy red Bastille Day. Funfire. There's simply no other word for it. Intrigued, the green tide surged down the narrow alley to the street.



     . . . Effectively, if accidentally, separating the rearguard from the van. 


     In very little time at all a general melee had ensued. Constables, guardsmen, townsfolk, gangers, and even spaceport dicks found themselves involuntary pugilists trading blows with enormous muscle-bound orcs and short, but extremely eager goblins.


     The orcs, outnumbered as they were now, fought valiantly but fell like grain at the harvest. Along with Kitty, who once again found herself temporarily insensible.


     But mark this well, for on this day when many fell the goblin piper, Squigpipes himself, short but doughty, did best the towering space pirate in his ceramite cuirass with all the benefit of his electroplas musculature, his rebreather, flash visor, targeters, combat reflexes, and squire-sized brain. Low even if all the other orcoids failed, Squigpipes came through . . . yet . . . again.


     Knowing a good opportunity when they saw one, and what with those standing now numbering fewer than fingers let alone toes, the chiefmost of the greenskins scarpered off, squigpipes among them.


     This still left Logansport's finest with quite a haul once the wooziness of too much excitement and a dozen or more rung bells wore off.


     Meanwhile, Colorado Rex-Avis looked down on the whole episode rather satisfied. That had gone . . . better than she'd expected. She had been worried about Kitty for a bit, but she'd borne up well in the end. Hopefully the gang would have Frei out to their hidey hole in short order and she could go find out why it was Holy Terra had such an interest in one rather care worn spacer.

. . . . .

As always, thank you dear readers for joining me in this whimsy. I hope you have enjoyed it half so much as I. And if so, please do tune in next time for epsisode III of the Sentinel Gate Affair: Where is Your Ambassador?

Sincerely,
The Composer

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poetry for Springtime

My lover is the storm tossed sea

My lover is the storm tossed sea
And the calm after.
She is waves
Cresting and falling in nearly
Rhythmic succession.
Each mounting taller,
The sea spray
Broken from her by
Wind that curls her peaks
Down onto my decks,
The troughs between, so deep
They bear my keel,
Threaten to break me,
Bow unsupported as I
Steer my course into the
Swell.


My lover is the oasis
And the mirage.
I am mad, dehydrated,
Sun blind from her brilliance,
Thirsting for the water
She shows me lying after the next
Slipface, down the next
Dune, in the secret garden
Nourished from her hidden
Seep.


My lover is the winter mountains
And the avalanche.
She is granite feet,
Cedar thighs, obsidian
Glances, sharper than knives,
Snow and the sunlight on
Snow, movement like
Glaciers unstoppable,
Carving my world,
Cutting me asunder and
Lifting me up, her springtime
Waking my desert and filing my
Sea.

21 March 2017


Friday, April 7, 2017

Morning in the Sun and Other Distractions

So it seems that in the midst of all the hubbub of the new year there were a few things I'd meant to post and never did. And now it's April.


Wherever has sweet time gone while I wasn't looking?

I've posted these one or two other places, so if you've already seen them I beg your indulgence. All are motion picture experiments of one sort or another. All are accompanied by music I've written and haphazardly recorded after a fashion. Two use my toys. One video was even intentionally designed specifically to go with that music, in that MTV way . . . if rock bands had no budgets and stood an inch and a half tall. All tell a story in one way or another. So, hey, they fit, right? Anyway . . .

Let there be video!


I call this first one Christmas on Tartarus. The toys you'll have seen. The over-scale tree in the middle of town? What was that about sweet time? The two piano pieces aren't particularly recent, both hailing from the early aughts. But the video was from last December, so it's new enough.


This next one is more of a story, and less "classical", save possibly in the rock sense. And hey, that's 28mm me and my 28mm sweetheart, so maybe it's a love story.


(Word of warning: this one's a little longer and starts out slow.)

This last one is more of an "art" piece. It's really just a Koyanisquatsi reference if it were a video for Short Ride in a Fast Machine. (Which . . . has been done, of course.) But hey, I think of this as Rachmaninov meets Glass, so maybe that's not altogether inappropriate. The piece probably owes something to both.

Anyway, thank you for watching. And listening.

Sincerely,
The Composer

(See? I really do compose. Honest.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The TransRim MB-1210 Starshuttle

All good space games need space ships to get folks on and off planets and from one star system to another. To that end, I've found myself contemplating what to do to give myself some usable models. This is one possible solution.

It's probably not a huge shock that I'm an aviation enthusiast in my off time. (By which I mean time not spent gaming or pursuing other oddball hobbies. It's all off time from one perspective or another.) So I wanted something that could combine this . . .


with something more like this . . .

(Credit to NASA both for the ship and the shot.)

Of course, "bathtubbing" something for a 28mm table means you end up with something more along the lines of a Learjet than an L-1011, but hopefully I've managed to suggest most of that. Honestly, I'd set out to build a sort of Learjet shuttle, but as the thing shaped up in my head it started to look a little beefier and more businesslike and somewhat less luxe. 

I started out with a transformers toy I picked up on clearance for a few dollars. Can't even quite tell you what it was, but you can see some of the pieces below. It was a short, stocky thing: all nose and tail and no body. The wings were originally forward swept in a way that was popular in 70s experiments and 90s sci-fi, so one of my first surgerizings was pulling them off and reversing them. The intake grills became . .  . acceptable if odd exhaust nozzles. (Honestly, it was a weird dang little "aircraft." It also had two giant arms and legs that paired up to become a sort of jet fan disk and exhaust section. I left those on the cutting room floor for a future project.) 


Next I took a plastic tube that had originally contained some concentrated fruit juice and test fit it to the newly divorced bits of transformer. The fit wasn't great, but the size was about right. So I (mostly) sliced the ends off the tube and cut out a part of one side so I could give it a flat  bottom. And then I drilled a bunch of holes into the front of the tail and back of the nose and inserted some brass rod pins to form my juice fuselage around. I've lost the pictures of that process, but you can see the results below as I hold the tube in place to dry.


A couple of pieces of cardstock became the belly and part of the underside of the tail. All of this was coated with spackle a few times and sanded smooth. I also filled the odd waffle texture of the bottom of the wings with spackle. Who ever heard of waffle wings? It gives the bottom of the shuttle a suitably ceramic texture, perhaps suggestive of an ablative heat shield. (All those bricks on the bottom of the space shuttle were, after all, made from good Missouri clay of the sort mined from quite near my house at one time. Still mined a little further west, in fact. You want some refractory brick? We got it for you.)


The landing gear was a bit of a kludge, in the end. I couldn't really convince myself that a shuttle would ever have spats or fixed gear, so I'm sort of pretending that somehow those gear pivot horizontal right at the wheel and then telescope back into the wings. Goofy, but mostly I'm just ignoring it. It was a practical modeling problem I couldn't solve quickly or easily enough for my taste.

Of course, that left the top of the shuttle an undifferentiated cylinder. Which had seemed fine nitially, but I decided it wouldn't do. I pulled a bunch of drop tanks and radiator cowlings out of the bits box (I have dozens from an assortment of WWII models) and found a couple that seemed suitable. I figure the drop tank covers some coms antennas and the radiator cowling protects a sensor array containing the spacey equivalent of pitot tubes and the like.


The reinforcing strip for the portholes was the plastic guide from a brand of fastener called a "toggler." The toggle attaches to the plastic. You push it into the wall, where it pivots vertical. You then pull it back and snug it up to the inside of the wall and break the plastic strips off at a little collar that snugs to the outside of the wall and guides your bolt in. So I had these odd curvey bits of plastic handy. (I save all manner of odd stuff if it looks cool and structural. Coworkers used to make jokes about this calling things "robot parts" and "bunkers.")  Anyway . . . after setting up an improvised jig and drilling some small regular holes into the things with my handy drill press I ended up with what you see below.


A piece of cardstock provided a crude door. Should really have engraved that into the tube somehow, but at least it has a door.


At this point all that remained was slapping some paint on the thing. During most of my youth the local terminal was the main hub for a certain defunct airline, which meant about every plane you saw in town was the same color. And there were lots of them. (At its peak the airport saw around 40 million passengers annually.) Not too surprisingly, the first plane I ever rode belonged to that airline. (You can see it pictured above.) I was disappointed at the time that it was a "lowly" L-1011 and not a sexier 747. Now . . . I can't complain. How many other folks can say that the very first bird they ever boarded was a TWA L-1011? That would carry them a quarter of the way around the world to places exotic? (By way of a Minoru Yamasaki terminal from 1957 and Eero Saarinen's iconic JFK T5. And I hit Dulles on the way back, too. All the truly classic modernist terminals in one trip. And the return was aboard that 747, so I got my big bird experience as well. The only thing I really missed was a DC-10, and TWA never bought any of those.) Anyway . . . there was really only one possible inspiration for the livery. I simplified it, added the obligatory black belly for inter-atmo ops, and took the "world" and "airline" parts out, replacing them suitably and making my poor bird think it's a Tandy computer. But hey, we had those too! :)




Isn't that thing almost mean looking from the front? Yeah. I can live with that.








So it's an odd little bird, but I think I like it. :)

Thanks for coming along for the flight.

Sincerely,
The Composer

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Project Iowa, Ep. 9: Knockout Punch

This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 8: The Dragon's Lair.


No sooner had Guimar disembarked from the shuttle than he realized that the situation was somewhat out of hand. Again. Instead of a clean rendezvous with the 103rd Crimson Dragons at the . . . what kind of temple was that? Surely it was no temple. Looked more like a brothel! Rim cults indeed! . . .



 . . . instead of a nice clean meeting with brother Marines he was greeted with a gathering of pointy eared space faeries and those void blasted Rex-Avis clowns! Fortunately it looked like de Bayamon had brought a full squad and adequate support, so this might still be salvageable. The space faeries were good, but . . . not that good. There couldn't be more than a squad of them, at most. Even counting the little pop-gun they'd unpacked on the hilltop. And the Rex-Avis conspirators or . . . were those the Colores people? Who could tell anymore? In any case, they had one too. The cursed natives were dug in with field pieces everywhere you looked!






. . . . .

"Bring their artillery under fire!" Guimar barked. "We'll move out with the hostage. Cover us as best you can and maybe the they'll hold their fire long enough for us to get the warp imploder to the Crimson Dragons rather than kill one of their own!"

Captain Geoffrey and his meager squad brought the artillery under fire, but under strength as they were it was almost completely ineffective. Still, the enemy artillery didn't return fire, so maybe they could at least suppress the worst of the enemy forces for a while.



Barely had the shooting begun than some kind of aerial vehicle streaked to the heavens from behind the enemy lines on a tremendous pillar of smoke and fire.




"Well, that beats all." Geoffrey thought. "It'll be air strikes next. Please, by Holy Terra, let de Bayamon have triple A. Or something to turn that back."

The artillery remained silent, but the elves shot their bolts at the distant enemy. The invisible stars whizzed and zipped past Geoffrey's men, raising dust where they struck.


Guimar moved out unmolested with his treasured machinery and the involuntary guest he hoped would shield him. Unfortunately, he made little speed across the sands, encumbered as he was. His guardians sank into the shifting surface in their heavy armor and the hostage never moved quite as he felt she should.


In the meanwhile, Geoffrey's men continued to raise dust around the enemy artillery, aided now by fire from the Crimson Dragons.



But the Colores forces finally managed a reply. An angry cloud of gas and dust boiled up behind Guimar, where he had been stumbling through the sand bare moments earlier.



His luck wouldn't hold. Geoffrey's troops couldn't maintain the volume of fired they'd used to distract the artillery as more and more shots zinged around them. The Colores cannon woofed again. A second shell dropped bare inches behind Guimar. The sand smelled almost sweet, blowing past his cheeks, but it carried an odd bitter taste that Guimar barely registered before he passed out, frozen standing in place by his own armor. 


Meanwhile Arthur Zanzibar Rex-Avis dispensed the same agent from the rockets of an Elven Shrike fighter they'd so kindly loaned him for the occasion. Thus Geoffrey and his men found themselves in the same predicament, though some remained conscious thanks to their helmets. And several fell forward, unable to keep their balance as their suits shorted out.


With the formalities completed and the quarry stunned Captain de Bayamon and the soldiers of the 103rd ceased firing. The elves and Colores agents did likewise. And they all marched forward and surrounded the stunned imperials. Few but the oldest had witnessed their brother Marines in such an open act of rebellion, and none of those still conscious. There was little they could do, incapacitated as they were by their own equipment. They acquiesced without further violence.

. . . . .

As the day wore to a close the Rex-Avis clan gathered at the sapceport one final time to see the ambassadors from Colores off.

"You're sure you're comfortable taking the Inquisitor and his . . . psychic sidekick back to Colores?" asked Colorado.

"Absolutely. After suitable readjustment we can probably let him go on his own. I'm thinking we'll let him escape with a phony warp imploder, a false impression of what it's really for, and perhaps the idea that it doesn't work; that it's a dark ages dead end." Sophie glanced at the shuttle as the spaceport crew loaded the genuine imploder aboard. "We'll let him come to in a similar desert, give him the impression that the battle moved beyond him and a hand picked crew of special agents to shuttle him and his 'data' back to holy mother Terra from 'Moab.' There are deserts in the kingdom too. And many look so much alike. No reason to really inform him of how much time has passed or precisely where he is. And once he's in space aboard a jump ship he'll believe he's anywhere we tell him he is. Apart from navigators who really knows anyway?"

"That might almost work. We'll still have to figure something out with the 32 Marines squad," Colorado replied. "But we can question them about what they actually saw and what Guimar told them first. Knowing the Inquisition it probably wasn't much. They classify everything almost as if by instinct. They've never understood how the free flow of information can lead to innovation and discovery and how that could possibly help them. Our fortune that, I suppose."

"Sure. And maybe you can keep it to a low grade diplomatic incident and hand them off in some kind of exchange," Sophie said. "As long as they really didn't see anything. Or Guimar didn't talk in his sleep. But you know your business, I suppose."

"Oh look, there's Zanziboy!" squealed Onyxia, always more pleased to see her older brother than she ever wanted him to know. His Shrike coasted to a stop just by the control tower. He stepped out gingerly, sat down in his tank chair, and rolled quickly to join the happy circle by the Trans-Rim shuttle.



"Well, that all went alarmingly well," he said.

"Indeed," Sir Stanley intoned.

"I guess this is it," Kitty said. "The shuttle should be about ready, and everything loaded aboard. Safe journeys."

"Thank you," responded Applebeck. "We will miss you terribly, but it will be good to be home."


With that the squad of Colores soldiers, the diplomats, agent Sophie boarded the shuttle. It taxied out to the launch cat, the ground crew made the necessary connections, the mag-block shot it forward along the long, sloping track, the shuttle lit its engines, cleared the end of the track, and soared heavenward. In seconds it was gone from view, barely even leaving a vapor trail in the dry air. And with it, the final chapter in the Project Iowa saga reached its conclusion.

. . . . .

Appendix: For the interested I will say that I ran the rather one sided final battle as a solo game using my old favorite Stargrunt II rules. These are the skirmish rules from the same folks that brought us Full Thrust. 

Lately I've been playing fluffier games. Stargrunt II . . . is not that. It's more of a classic combat simulation, albeit a quick one. Individual models have few, if any stats of their own. Almost everything is determined at the squad (or fireteam) level. But even the roughly four by four space I used for the game didn't feel too crowded with a few dozen models spread out between eight (mostly understrength) squads. I played through four turns and I'd guess it took less than ten minutes a turn. (I spent far far far more time composing pictures and putting little cotton puffs around the table than actually rolling dice.) It's a fast game, but it never feels simplistic. If what you want is on the larger and grittier side of skirmish SGII is really the way to go. It's not a place for heroics or Hollywood style, but hopefully good storytelling can help. One of these days I'd like to find someone who loves it as much as I, since I think it'd make for a fantastic campaign. But a word of warning: there is no native points system and in the interest of speed the game uses counters. I kept track of things quite adequately by simply placing the counters on data cards instead of on the table. And if points are what you want, there are systems out there.

Once again, this game proved that small arms really are remarkably ineffective alone and at range in the game, no matter how skilled the troops. (And possibly also in combat. I can't speak to that, but SGII is quite well reviewed by those who would know.) So it's not too surprising that no one at all inflicted any casualties before the final artillery and airstrikes sealed the deal. In a more conventional fight Guimar and his guards would probably have gotten pinned down crossing the open terrain. (They'd attempted to run but made an absolutely bollocks roll. Twice, managing to cross a total of ten inches in two turns, which is less than they would have covered using conventional movement. On the other hand . . . tanks on soft sand with a hostage and heavy equipment in tow. Actually makes sense.) Once pinned, there they would have died, armor or no. So it's rather a mercy that the hammer Sophie, Colorado, and company brought down on them was of the soft rubber sort. Crossing open terrain is quite literally hell in SGII. Movement is closely linked to morale and command. Experienced troops tend to retain morale better. Experienced commanders can reorganize their troops and move in more difficult situations, but there's always a limit. Troops take hits a lot more in the open. Getting hit really does a number on morale. When you lose morale you cannot move towards the stuff that's causing you to lose morale until you regain morale. And so you get shot more because you're still in the open. And it's more or less impossible to regain morale when you're still getting shot. Which . . . means you get pinned down if you're lucky enough not to just break and run. Open terrain. Don't do it without a lot of help from a friend to keep Jimbo with the spam cannon from shooting too much. Better yet, just don't do it. It's not your friend.

Had the Crimson Dragons remained loyal it's quite possible they could have saved Guimar's bacon in spite of the artillery, and maybe even in spite of the airstrike. There would have been enough command and communications on the imperial side of the equation to call in some off-board help. (And the Crimson Dragons presumably even had some.) Maybe they could have kept the Colores and Eldar heads down. (Even behind cover where you're not getting hit, if you're taking too much fire you really can't move. Or shoot. Or radio company artillery for a little relief.) So . . . it's possible there was a way to get Guimar out of town. Though it's also probable that without the Dragons on board the allies would have concentrated firepower on the final objective. So he still might not have gotten home to Mama Terra. Let me say it again: Open terrain is not your friend. Fences are a right pain when your rear is hanging out to the enemy.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable game. But then . . . I really wasn't looking for Guimar to make a successful exit. Honestly, why did the kids on Terra send one schmo to do the work of an army? It doesn't work well when the other side knows you're there . . . and has an army. (Or a Marine Corps. Or a guard force, or most likely a Sheriff's department or metro police force. Might have worked against my Boy Scout troop before half the Gozer boys went through Ranger training. [The US Army sort, that is.] But that's about it.)

So the outcome was . . . predictable. But thank you for reading along just the same. Hopefully the telling made it worth the while.

Sincerely,
The Composer