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