Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Star Traveler Update - On the Trail of Ezekiel Watts: The History


"This came yesterday." Watts held the ‘Release Notice’ flyer from the Galactic Forces up to the screen. He gave Arr a moment to read it.
"It hardly looks like Billy," Arr said referring to the scars on his face.
"I checked with I.N.C. this morning, he was hospitalized for Reeves Fever this past year. The disease left him a demented psycho."
"Why would they release him?" Arr never really understood the judicial system.
"He was transferred to a hospital from the penal planet when he came down with Reeves. The hospital was hit with cut-backs and he fell through the cracks and out into society. Seems they thought it was okay seeing as they'd fit him with a sedation cuff." Watts snorted in disgust.
"That's not the worst of it," Watts went on. "This was aired this morning." He turned on the vid-cam recording of Douglas' body being found and the accompanying speculation of the investigative-journalist. "Check out that blade work on the chest," Watts pointed out. "Look familiar?"
"Unsettlingly so," Arr confirmed. His mind pulled up a picture from his memory that he had buried long ago in hopes it could be forgotten. It had not.
"Then it isn't my imagination running wild?" Watts asked.
"I would say, no."
"Then we both can make a better guess of what happened to Douglas than that lame journalist," Watts commented, as the tape finished and went to snow on the screen.
Arr was sitting on the edge of his chair aboard ship; he leaned back and nodded affirmation to Watts when his face reappeared on the screen.
"Braden wanted to know where we all were. I sure as hell would have told him whatever he wanted if he was carving on me like a Christmas turkey." Watts' craggy, old, black face wrinkled into a disgusted expression.
"Tim and Jake are gone. There's just you and me, Arr. I don't know about you, but I'm going to crawl in the deepest, darkest hole I can find and just stay there until Braden's caught. I suggest you do the same."

§

Ezekiel Watts sat aboard the commuter cruiser that shuttled the miners to a small galnon planet in the Nubula System. The shuttle had the advantage of not requiring any identification for passage – another step to masking any trail Braden could follow. Watts started his disappearing act by closing up his home and Free Riding to a remote Outpost.
If he still had his own ship he could have easily disappeared to parts unknown, but he lived high when he was younger. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved to be treated right. Part of that was buying galnon crystals by the hands full. Good quality crystals were costly and Watts never wanted to look cheap. He always bought the best for his ladies.
What was that old saying O’Malley was always spouting? Oh yah, ‘he spent his youth on wine, women and song.’ Not quite right – Watts had spent it on Tuldavian mud sliders, women and fast games of CUE. It was during one of those games that he lost the title to his ship which had stranded him on the second moon of Rigil Four.
From Outpost #68, he hitched a ride to a Trade Post on the outer rim and then to the Refitting Station where he boarded the shuttle. He formulated this plan years ago just for such an occasion. Little did he know he was going to use it to escape Braden and not the authorities.
Watts didn’t pay any attention to the other passengers around him. He blended in with them easily dressed in the clothing he had picked up off a clothesline at the Outpost. He looked like any other miner. His age gave him the advantage of appearing a bit more experienced, but that just made him a little less approachable, which was fine with him. He wasn’t here to make friends. He was here to disappear.
Watts was deep in thought remembering a conversation he had decades ago with Jake Harcourt, Arr’s human partner.
Jake told him about a mission he and Arr were on as security to Galnon Station #41. It was supposed to be an easy money job – just keep the miners from pilfering the crystals and see that the shipments were loaded and secured properly for transport to The Company.
When Jake and Arr took the security gig the Helavites, an alien race credited with the devastation of numerous civilizations, were still in the verse and doing their pirate thing. They raided any and all ships that came across their path and even invaded some worlds. They left no survivors behind. Little did the inhabitants of Galnon Station #41 know that these bugs had waylaid the supply freighter for the station. All the Super knew was that it was way overdue. They were fast running out of water on a planet with a surface temperature of 120 degrees and no natural water source.
Jake’s ship, the Calpernia, couldn’t evacuate the full complement of the station’s inhabitants, so they opted to make a run to the closest planet for water. Unfortunately, it was found after they left that the crates in the storeroom at the station were mislabeled. They contained flour, not water. Some of the miners became so desperate they tried to drink the water from the slough where they washed and graded the crystals. It was like drinking water laced with ground glass. By the time the partners returned more than half the station’s crew was dead. All the children had perished.
The original complement of miners and their families were evacuated after the incident.
The Company moved in a new crew of miners to finish the last two months of work at Galnon Station #41. A week into the new operation there was an explosion below ground at about the 650 foot level. It killed 63 miners. The mine was getting the reputation of being jinxed. When the slough ruptured eight days later and 16 more miners were drowned at the lower levels, the mine was abandoned by The Company.
The planet didn’t sit empty very long. The word got round that there were still crystals to be had – high quality rocks. The private miners moved in - the little guys with their one or two man operations. They staked their claims and started to dig. All these years later they were still getting decent crystals. They were about 800 feet down now.
It wasn’t that Watts wanted to mine crystal, although it would be a nice side benefit of this trip. It was just that Galnon Station #41 was literally the deepest, darkest hole Watts knew of where a person could hide.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Star Traveler Update - On the Trial of Ezekiel Watts: The Search


It was noon the next day and in spite of Shattuck not sleeping more than two hours in the last twenty-four, not much progress had been made on follow-up for his story on Douglas. The vid he made yesterday was aired on the six o’clock and the ten o’clock. It got picked up by the Associated News NET (ANNET) and ran for an additional four airings, but had been pushed to the end of the broadcasts by the two a.m. news feed and dropped by four. It was dead air now. The story would be stored in ANNET data base for reference, but it wouldn’t make Shattuck anymore credits for his stake.
Usually something so graphic would have a better run, but then who was Douglas? No one seemed to know and it turned out no one cared either – at least not enough to keep the vid on the U.N. If only there were another similar killing then Shattuck could put a ‘serial’ spin on it, or if there were grieving relatives. This story had neither. The landlady/mistress had chosen not to talk to him. That would have been good for extending the run at least one more air time especially if there were some tears involved, but it was a no go. She hadn’t left her apartment since Wade’s man Tommy escorted her away from the scene prior to Shattuck’s arrival yesterday.
Shattuck had prowled the N.E.T. all night for background information on Douglas. First, he checked the mercenary’s records with the Galactic Officials. There wasn’t much there – a trial years ago where he was a witness, but the records from the trial were sealed. That might be something if he could get them opened, but that would take days. He needed something now!
There was a stint with the forces helping during the Helavite War, but that was not any news, every mercenary, and half the verse, had helped in eradicating that menace. Nothing else of interest.
Shattuck was blocked again when he checked to see if he could track the man and his past associates based on his missions. He discovered Douglas never owned a ship of his own. You couldn’t track his past activity via ship records. Shattuck wasted an inordinate amount of time searching crew records and finally found Douglas. He was a member of the crew of a ship owned by another mercenary named Ezekiel Watts. Shattuck tracked Watts to a small moon in the Rigil System. He tried to contact the man, but failed. No answer.
He was coming up empty at every turn. If he didn’t hit pay dirt soon, he would have to drop this one and move on. He couldn’t be wasting time sitting in his cruiser up to his elbows in GCP when there were stories to be told.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Star Traveler Update - On the Trail of Ezekiel Watts: The Crime

     For those of you who have read Volume VI of the Star Traveler Series the story of Arr’s flight and eventual battle with Braden will be common knowledge. In that volume an old friend of Arr’s, Ezekiel Watts, warns Arr of Braden’s escape and impending pursuant of them as target for his demented anger over their part in his incarceration on a penal planet.
     I chose to follow Arr’s struggles with Braden in that volume, but I always wondered where Watt’s went when he said “I am going to the deepest, darkest hole I can find and stay there until they catch Braden.”

Here is the answer to that question: On the Trail of Ezekiel Watts

Shattuck – The Crime

            "Shattuck Rye, you can smell a rotting corpse better than a track canine."
            "I'll take that as a compliment Detective Wade." When the detective looked away, Shattuck dropped his LO discretely behind his back. The Levitating Orbit rose quietly to the ceiling giving him a 360 degree view of the crime scene through the left eye of his headset. He maneuvered in to get a close up with his right Eye Cam.
            Wade stepped between the photo-journalist and the dead body sitting in the chair behind him. "You been listening to S.Q.U.A.K. again." It was a statement, not a question.
            "No law against listening to the police frequencies." Shattuck tried to side step the detective. Wade side stepped right along with him. Shattuck lifted his EC and looked Wade straight in the eye. He wasn't ever going to get around the big guy by trying to outmaneuver him. "Look Detective, you and I both know that your police photographer is stuck in the jam up on Level Two. Why don't we work together? I'll take your vid for free if you let me in on this one." Shattuck followed the suggestion with a winning smile. "You know my work is good." Wade and he had worked as quasi partners before even though there had been reluctance on the detective's part.
            Wade rubbed his chin. "What did you hear over S.Q.U.A.K.?"
            This was the detective's way of saying Shattuck was in. Wade stepped aside to give the journalist a shot at the corpse tied in the chair. Shattuck lowered his EC and went to work. "Just that he's an old retired mercenary named Douglas Martin. No family. And you were called to the scene so it must be homicide."
            "Sounded like good money to ya, huh?" Wade asked.
            By law 50% of all money made from publicity generated by any tragedy went to the victim's family. The lion's share of the other 50% went to Universal Network. The journalist got part of the 50% that went to U.N., but not a large part. If the victim or victims had no family then the whole pot went to U.N. and the journalist’s share was larger. Finding a victim, especially such a grisly victim, with no relatives could mean a tidy sum for Shattuck.
            "I'm still working on getting my stake together for the big one." Shattuck was saving money for transportation to the next major disaster. He was a hungry free lancer without a big sub-network to finance him.
            "So what else do you know about this guy," Shattuck asked, as he walked around the corpse, slowly recording the bloated body in the chair.
            Wade answered a question with a question. "Are you on direct link?"
            "Sure," Shattuck answered, as he panned up to Wade's face.
            "Take it off," Wade ordered.
            "But...."
            "Switch to manual and I see the edited copy before transmission or no deal." Wade crossed his arms and waited.
            "Sorry guys," Shattuck said through the mike on his headgear to the men back at the studio. "Going to manual." He pressed the button at his temple to break the feed. "It's just you and me, Wade."
            Wade took the few steps needed to reach the corpse. He pulled out a pair of surgical gloves from his jacket pocket and an instrument that looked like a rubber tipped pointer.
            "Who found the body," Shattuck asked.
            "The landlady. She and he were an item. She returned from a trip to her mother's and walked in on this. Lucky lady."
            Shattuck made a mental note to speak with the landlady when he was finished. She’d add juice to the tale. Maybe she even knew some of his old buddies Shattuck could interview.
            Wade was circling the corpse like a hound on the scent as he pulled on first one glove and then the other. "Well, obviously the guy was tortured."
            Shattuck liked working with Wade even if he had to make deals to do it. Wade was not only the best detective in the city; he had been the province coroner for the last twenty years. He knew a dead body like a fly knew dung.
            "How long has he been dead?" Shattuck asked, as he continued to record the detective while he poked about with his pointer.
            "Shit! This guy's been on Tuldavia." Wade hissed under his breath. He moved back from the corpse and started to examine the area under the chair the dead man was tied to.
            "What?" Shattuck asked. "What's up?" The reporter could feel the energy in the air. The detective was upset. There was a story here.
            "Tommy!" Wade shouted.
            The uniformed officer came from his post at the front door. "Yes, sir."
            "There's a Driller in here."
            "Shit," Tommy said and immediately lowered the face shield on his helmet. He removed his riot stick and thumped it on the palm of his hand to release the concealed lethal blade that ran the full length of one side.
            "What's a Driller?" Whatever it was, Wade was really upset by it. He and Tommy were now at work tossing the room. Wade was pulling the cushions out of the furniture.
            "See that hole in Martin's neck?" Wade asked, as he continued to search.
            Shattuck zoomed in on the hole about the diameter of a pencil. "Ya."
            "That was made by a Driller exiting the body." Wade progressed from the chairs closest to the body and was now working on the couch. Tommy was carefully digging through a pile of papers on the floor with the tip of his riot stick.
            "Drillers are a parasite only found on Tuldavia. Tuldavia is full of weird critters." Wade tossed back the first cushion on the couch and probed the depths with his pointer. "Drillers are a kind of worm that enter the body through the nose of their, usually sleeping, host. They lay an egg in the sinus cavity and leave. The host very rarely knows they're a host."
            He tossed the second cushion on the floor and went to probing its crevices. Tommy moved from the papers on the floor to the open drawer of a bureau nearby.
            "The eggs don't hatch until the host dies and the body cools to a given temperature. Then the things hatch in a larva state, seek out the brain, feed for two days and leave when the body reaches the next state of decomposition."
            Shattuck moved away from the body.
            "They pick a dark place to hide while they digest their meal and then, being parthenogenetic, they find a new host to lay their egg in to start the process all over again."
            Wade tossed back the last cushion. A tube, about the size of a fire hose, lunged out at him from the corner of the couch. The mouth on the end of what Shattuck now recognized as the worm was gaping open and had a double row of sharp teeth. The head, or more rightly the end with the mouth for there was nothing resembling a head, waved back and forth like a snake, the essence of its meal visible through its translucent body as it churned in the digestive process.
             "Here it is!" Wade called to Tommy.
            "I thought you said it was small enough to enter through the nose of a man?" Shattuck said in disgust.
            "It's a worm. It can elongate itself. Besides this one’s still full. They’re smaller after digestion in complete." Wade explained. He moved back to let Tommy in for the kill.
            Tommy moved up on the Driller, his riot stick firmly in hand. Shattuck had the LO zoom in on the worms open gaping mouth. Without warning the Driller lunged at Tommy striking his face shield so hard it nearly knocked the young man off his feet. At the same time, Tommy whacked at the extended worm slicing it in two. The two pieces fell to the floor. The open end of the later part of the worm fell over the edge of the couch and disgorged the contents of the worm’s meal on the floor.
            Shattuck felt the late lunch he had consumed on the way to this story come rising to the surface.
            "You puke on my crime scene and it's the last one you're on," Wade warned the journalist. The detective had seen so much in his years on the force that he was immune to such sights, but he could see the tell-tale signs in the news reporter.
            Shattuck swallowed hard and took several deep breaths in an effort to calm his stomach.
             "I'm okay."
            Wade smiled. The young man's discomfort would be a good story for the guys back at the station.
            "In answer to your question, he's been dead at least two days. Drillers don't stay any longer than that in a cooling body."
            "You want this for evidence?" Tommy asked. He was obviously enjoying Shattuck's discomfort as well. He was holding the head of his kill as the insides oozed out the cut off end on to the carpet.
            Wade shot Shattuck another warning glance when he heard an ominous noise coming from the journalist. Shattuck turned his back on the two and their trophy. He had to close his eyes to keep from seeing the scene through the LO still busily recording from above.
            "No, just clean up the mess." Wade returned Tommy's smile with a wink of recognition.
            Shattuck tried to refocus on the body in the chair. "Looks like he struggled real hard to get loose." He was referring to the dried bloodstains down the chair arm from the victim's cut wrists where he was tied to the chair.
            Wade came back to the body and resumed poking about with his pointer. He moved upward and folded back the front of the man's shirt. His chest had been peeled of its skin. "Get a shot of this Shattuck."
            Shattuck moved in for a closer look through his EC.
            "No wonder he struggled." Shattuck swallowed the bile that once again rose in his throat. Keep your mind on the story he told himself. "You think he was tortured for information?" He asked. "Maybe he had some loot hidden from some job way back when, and his old partners finally caught up with him."
            "Could be," Wade said, still intent on the knife work done to the victim's chest. "Seems likely he had some kind of information someone wanted."
            "Have you run his known associates?" Shattuck asked with interest.
            "Detective Wade?" Wade looked past Shattuck to the woman standing in the doorway with an LO in her hand, an EC headset and a police badge stuck in her belt. "Sorry I'm late," she apologized. "I got stuck on Level Two."
            "No problem." Wade motioned her forward. "Interview’s over Shattuck. Remember I see the copy before it airs or no more Mr. Nice Guy."
            Shattuck would have argued, but what was the use? He didn't want to alienate the detective and he'd got enough to keep him on the six o’clock and ten o’clock for a night, and the midnight and one o’clock for at least another day. It would be a nice little sum to add to his stake. He retrieved his LO and headed for the door.
            As he went back to inspecting the corpse Wade called over his shoulder, "That cute sister of yours still chauffeuring around the president of Stellarlink?"
            "Ya," Shattuck answered.
            "Be sure to tell her hi for me," Wade said. He was always up to making a move on a good looking woman even if it was over a dead body.
            "Ya, I'll do that," Shattuck replied. "Next time she's in town maybe the three of us can get together and have dinner." Lena was a good sister. She wouldn't mind helping out her little brother for an evening if it meant some ‘brownie points’ for him.
            "That would be nice." Wade actually smiled without a hint of sarcasm, meanness or mischief.
            "I'll keep in touch." Shattuck pocketed his LO. A quick interview with the landlady, a few minutes in the planet runner editing the piece and he'd make the six o’clock with time to spare.

§

Shattuck all but lived in his planet runner. It was state-of-the-art. He upgraded it every time some new techie item came on the market. It was probably the fastest hovercraft on the planet. The cruiser was the one thing he spent money on – his traveling office. He installed upgrades to the engines and operating systems regularly, new vid recorders and readers, software, and licenses for enhanced N.E.T. access. It propelled him to the site of the incidents he captured on film to build the stake for that one big job. That one exclusive coverage which would catapult him to success as an investigative journalist.
You would think he would take better care of it.
He palmed the side door open and the garbage from yesterday’s stakeout on Level Three came tumbling out. He grabbed the cup and takeout tray before they blew away. There was a severe fine levied for littering in the city. Shuffling his feet to push the rest of the debris back into the cab, he hopped in and palmed the door closed. Shattuck removed his EC and placed it in the interface dock along with the LO. He swiped his seat clean in front of the control panel at the back of the cruiser. In the process his hand encountered something sticky – a melted mass of chocolate covered Red Raspberry Goo Chews he’d been scarfing down yesterday while watching the competitor’s feeds on the U.N.
He quickly scanned the cabin for the container of sana-wipes. They were nowhere in sight – probably laying under either the sleeping bag shoved up against the far wall or up in front where he had been eating before the call came in for Douglas. He licked his hand as clean as possible. It would have to do. He had to get this done.
He shoved his hands in the Gel Conductor Pockets on either side of his chair and started to submerge himself into the interface of the N.E.T. It was through the GCP that you could access the Ethinn or Ethereal Internet Interface. This was a gateway program that tapped into the ESP capabilities inherent in everyone’s brain. It allowed the user to project their essence into the N.E.T. Instead of being an observer on the outside, you became immersed in the ‘soup’ of the N.E.T., an element of the data stream.
Shattuck had been editing on-the-fly as he recorded the investigation of Douglas’ murder with Detective Wade. He just needed to fine tune it, get Wade’s seal and he would make it under the wire for the six o’clock news feed.
An edit here – he moved within the recording adjusting the images manually. His LO along with the EC he wore had the ability to capture the scene of the murder from all possible angles.
He manipulated the angle. A close up of the knife work on Douglas’ chest. The gruesome always sold. A slice here – he ripped out the piece where he almost lost his lunch on the victim’s floor.
It was ready to send to Wade for his approval. The background info would have to wait for the follow-up story. That would give him a few more credits for his stake in addition to the initial story, a win-win situation.
Shattuck packaged the vid and placed it in Wade’s box. He opened a channel to the detective’s EAR. “Wade, I just transferred the story to your flat. I need your okay-to-air in the next sixteen minutes, by 5:45 pm.”
Wade’s voice came back over the speakers in the cruiser. “Not 5:47?” he asked in a droll tone.
“Don’t jerk me around Wade or you can kiss your date with my sister goodbye,” Shattuck countered.
There was a derisive sound from Wade’s end, a slight pause while he reviewed the vid and then the detective’s seal appeared before Shattuck as he stood still submerged in the N.E.T.
“Get it?” asked Wade.
“Got it,” Shattuck replied.
“I better be hearing from you soon on that meet with Lena or you won’t receive much of a welcome at my next crime scene,” Wade snorted.
“I’m on it,” Shattuck replied. “Catch up to you later.”
He closed the channel and immediately transferred the vid to the U.N. box along with the file backup of Wade’s seal of approval. He tuned in the Universal Network with a slight movement of his left thumb in the GCP and waited to see his work on the six o’clock. He loved watching his stuff. It was food for his eyes.


§
Man tortured to death
in his own home!
Read about the horrible aftermath here or….

Experience it 1st hand
Use your interactive GCP to explore the crime scene.
Discover the terror of a Tuldavian Driller.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

Star Traveler Series - Update

Next week I will be leaving the Farloft Chronicles for a time to concentrate on the Star Traveler Series.

I have found that the story arcs are cleaner if I write one at a time, either Farloft or Star Traveler.

We will return to the Farloft Chronicles and the adventures of that land after a brief foray into space with a character from Volume VI that I left hanging. We will follow Shattuck Rye as he searches for Ezekiel Watts during the same time period as Arr's battle with Braden on the Galnon Planet (see: Volume VI - A Mear Slight of Hand).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Star Traveler Series

Volume VI - A Mear Slight of Hand is now fully posted. Print it out and travel with Arr as he leads Braden, an insane former mercenary with a grudge, away from the henu planet and into the depths of a deserted galnon planet in order to do battle to the death without endangering Arr's loved ones. Little does Arr know that his loved ones are following close behind and will be sucked into this life altering mission.

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