Friday, December 5, 2014

Distant Worlds: Transferred to Oblivion!



[Get ready for some bad fiction.  It's been some time since I wrote a bit of fanfic based on a game, but Distant Worlds, like Crusader Kings 2, is just great for such emergent storytelling.  This story is based on one such incident....]

"Come on, it's safe,"  whispered Junior Research Assistant Ile Freun.   "It's just around this corner," he added.  He determinedly pulled the dame behind him, his hand like a cuff around her wrist. Why don't people just listen to me?  I am smarter than them, after all. He indulged himself with one of his all too common sighs of exasperation that was usually triggered by the stupidity of others.

Freun peeked around the corner.  With no one in sight, he quickly trotted up to the door marked Research Lab 143b.  He swiped his free hand in front of the security lock, his sub-dermally implanted Ident-o-Chip acted as a key, and the lock released with a click, followed by a hiss as it retracted into the wall.  Freun gave the pretty blonde thing a self-satisfied smile, and again pulled her behind him.

"But I want to be up there!" she said as she gestured at the ceiling with the nearly empty Martini glass that was in her right hand, in the process splashing what was left of its contents on her arm. "With the rest of the party!" she whined.  "Not down here," she wrinkled her nose, "in some boring lab."

Freun rolled his eyes.  If this broad wasn't so attractive, he would have....


Freun let go of her wrist after the door slid closed behind them and walked between some darkened lab benches and workstations to the large wall at the far end of the lab.  He jabbed his finger into a red button and stood back.  After a momentary pause, the wall groaned and, with a muted bang! of gears engaging, slid into a channel in the ceiling.  What was revealed in its wake was a broad, perfectly clear window that looked out into space.  Despite the view port being many inches thick, the perfect clarity of the Tru-Vu crystalline lattice provided a breathtakingly beautiful scene from within the orbital space station.  "Take a gander at that," he added smugly.

The broad, who had been fussing over the giggle juice she had splashed on sleeve, now stood transfixed by the view.  A girlish "oooh!" escaped from her lips as she walked up to the view port.

"Didn't I tell you it would be worth it?  Take a look at those cue balls from here!"

Research Lab 143b was perfectly situated in the space station to view the annual eclipse where the planet Meban's two satellites, Deedid and Phobag, lined up perfectly in their prograde and retrograde orbits and covered the system's primary star in a total eclipse. This yearly event, dubbed Winter Herald,  was a cause for celebration, and seen as the kick-off for Meban's sequence of  high holy days.

As Freun watched, the blonde dame - he didn't even know her name and, honestly, didn't care - placed her hand on the chilled viewing port and watched the two moons slowly inch closer to each other, taking a bigger bite, one from each side, from the distant sun behind them.  "It's beautiful!" she exclaimed.

Freun reached into his custom made, navy blue sport coat and pulled out a gasper.  With a tap, the gasper's end glowed blue, signaling it was ready to be used.  Freun put the tip in his mouth and inhaled deeply, enjoying the sharp, menthol flavor as the vapor sought out his lungs.  "It's not 'beautiful,' it's science, babe," he replied between puffs of vapor.

The blonde only took a moment to look away from the celestial spectacle.  "Why can't it be both?"

Before he could answer, the muted racket of the party above them in the Executive Meeting Hall reached a new high as the crowd began a countdown chant.  When the two moons lined up perfectly, totally blocking out the light of their distant primary, the crowd above cheered and set off a bunch of noisemakers.  Freun took the opportunity to grab the dame around the waist and pull her close.  "Because there is no 'beauty' in this world.  Just knowledge."

 The blonde uncomprehendingly giggled and kissed him passionately, dropping the empty Martini glass from her hand.

Satisfied, he pushed her away and took another drag on the gasper, sneering at the "No Vaping!" sign that was lit over the doorway.  "In my world, the real world, beauty is what we scientists say it is and nothing more.  We are the philosopher kings of this galaxy!  Only we can truly comprehend the concept so quaintly termed 'beauty'."  Freun began to pace, his mind turning inward as he did so.  "Yet here I am, stuck on this bucket!  Trapped in a job way below my abilities!"

The dame turned from the cosmic scene with a puzzled expression.  "Trapped...here?  How could anyone be 'trapped' in such a magical place?  I love it here!  The people are nice, the geetus is more than I ever made planetside, and the view can't be beat," she added with a self-satisfied giggle as she returned to gazing at the two moons that seemed so tantalizingly close.

Freun's gaze hardened.  He grabbed the girl by the arm and spun her around to face him.  "That might be fine for someone of your...quality, but not for me!"  He let go of her arm, and she scampered off behind a workstation, rubbing her arm the whole way.  "I'm important!  I am a man of destiny!  I have already wasted too much time here as a," Freun smiled contemptuously, "Junior Research Assistant."

 "But...but where would you rather be?" the girl asked.

Freun stood in front of the viewing port and threw his arms open wide.  "Somewhere out there is where I belong.  Out on the edge of the civilization, out on the edge of science!  People like me cannot, must not!, be limited to the conventional."

The girl looked down at her shoes and answered carefully.  "But that sounds dangerous...."

Freun gave a full-throated laugh, something that brought a cautious smile to the dame's heavily painted face.  "Danger?  People like me don't concern ourselves with such small concepts.  We are only afraid of failure."  Freun took another enthusiastic drag on his gasper as he quickly warmed to the topic.  "Scientists like me care not for safety, nor comfort.  I just demand the freedom to break new barriers of understanding!"

Suddenly there was the sound of a throat clearing in the room.  The dame jumped, and Freun whirled around and faced the door.  His gaze was met by two burning orange orbs shining out from the darkened far end of the room, near the doorway.  Had some elephant ear caught them while on his nightly security sweep?  Freun was prepared to use his favorite tactic whenever he was challenged: to bluster incessantly about his irreproachable importance to this station until his foe fatigued of the tirade and backed down.  But before he could begin his foray, the two orbs left the darkness and revealed themselves to be ocular implants set in the kindly old face of Chief Research Scientist Jonah Stein.  Stein slowly hobbled over to the couple, his state-of-the art, LED encrusted walking cane supporting him the whole way.

For once Freun was taken aback.  How much did Stein hear? Badmouthing your employers was a surefire way to get canned!  His eyes shifted to the dame, who was now over by Stein and helping him make his way to the view port.   "Chief Scientist Stein!  Good to see you!" Freun proclaimed with as much warmth as he could fake.

The old man came to a halt by the view port and studied Freun with his inhuman 'eyes.'   "It's Freun, isn't it?" he asked with a basso voice that had lost none of its authority with age.

"That's right, sir.  Junior Research Scientist Ile Freun."

"Odd meeting you down here.  I'd thought everyone was gathered in the Executive Hall."

Freun smiled thinly.  "I was, but my lady friend here insisted I take her down to the labs for something more...er, intimate."

The blonde's eyes widened.  "But...that's not...."

Freun cut her off before she could blow his story.  "So what was I to do?"  Freun turned and looked out the view port.  "And it is a superior view to what can be seen out of the Hall.  My friend had a good idea!" he added, making sure that his hard stare was noticed by the dame.  She merely looked down at her shoes and nodded mutely in acquiescence.  

Stein looked from Freun to the girl and nodded.  "Indeed.  Great idea...miss?"

"Oh...Gloria.  Gloria Benoir, sir.  I'm from Administration," she added sheepishly.

Stein smiled pleasantly.  "And I am sure you are a right fine administrator, Miss Benoir.  You certainly had the right idea to come down here!  I confess to having the same idea.  I've never been one for crowds," he whispered conspiratorially while gesturing up at the ceiling with his cane.  "I think I will commend your supervisor for having such a smart person on his staff!"  He lifted the handle of his cane to his mouth and depressed a blue LED stud.  "NOTE:  Send a commendation to Miss Gloria Benoir's supervisor."  He released the stuff, and lowered the cane while winking at Benoir.  She just giggled with excitement.

Stein then turned to Freun.  "And you should be commended for having such a smart girlfriend!"

Freun smirked.  "Indeed!  I've always believed that a smart man needs to be careful about his choice of companionship."

Stein nodded in agreement. "Smart boy!" he exclaimed.  Freun beamed at the comment.  Stein paused for a bit, then added, "I must confess to overhearing some of your conversation with Miss Benoir."

Freun's eyes widened a bit and a bead of sweat formed at his hairline.  "Sir, I assure you that I meant no disrespect."  Freun glanced at Gloria and held his hand over his mouth in a conspiratorial manner.  "She likes to dip her bill quite a bit, and I confess to imbibing more than my share as a result...."

Stein continued as if he didn't hear a thing Freun said.  "I am in total agreement with your sentiments!  That is what I like to hear from my research team!  A real 'go get'em!' attitude.  'Take no prisoners' and all that!  Very rousing stuff, Mr. Freun!  Very inspiring!  No fear!  That's the proper attitude of a research scientist!"

Freun smiled broadly as the danger passed.  "Yes, sir!  That has always been my attitude!  Sadly, not everyone in my...er, our department agrees with my bold ideas, of course.  But it has always been my attitude!  Perhaps you should note it,"  Freun added with a self-satisfied smile while pointing at Stein's cane with his gasper.

Stein smiled.  "Indeed!  Perhaps I will!"  Stein walked up to the view port to get a closer view of the two moons, now comfortably separated by more than a few degrees.  The central star was all the brighter as a result, requiring the Tru-Vu crystal to darken automatically so as to spare the eyes of any stargazers.  "You know, Mr. Freun, I think I might have just the opportunity for such a hard charger as you."

"You do?"

Stein nodded, and turned to face Freun.  "We haven't announced this officially yet, but the Company has just finished construction on our first research facility outside of Meban.  Wonderful achievement!  We built the thing in orbit around Meban 10, the gas giant at the very edge of the solar system!  Wonderful research to be conducted there!  Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Freun?"

Freun's highly tuned self-preservation instincts started to twitch.  He suddenly didn't like where this conversation was going.  "Well, research is about more than locat...."

"Darn thing cost a fortune to build!" Stein continued.  "Not only did it take almost a month - one way! - to ship each batch of supplies out there, but the actual construction was very risky, dare I say dangerous, even.  Working within the orbit of a gas giant is no easy feat!  Sadly, we had more than a few injuries.  Some even after the place was built and habitable."  Stein "tsk-tsked" as he sadly shook his head.  "Explosive decompressions and such due to unexpected hardware failures."

Beads of sweat were again forming on Freun's forhead.

"And anyone assigned out there is going to need to be very focused on his work.  Not a lot to do out there, let me tell you!  Just the small interior of the station as your nutshell.  Danger, isolation, and who knows what else!  It is going to take a real pioneer spirit to make it out there!"

Freun knew it was long past time to retreat.  "Um, listen, I hate to run, but I have to...."

Stein continued without distraction.  "But isn't that what you said, Mr. Freun?  About scientists needing to be fearless in their pursuit of knowledge?  You certainly are right about that!  Anybody who is going to be posted to our new research lab is going to have to be just that!  That is why I think you would be perfect for the assignment!"

"But...but...sir, I really don't think...."

Stein tapped Freun on the chest with his cane.  "Now, now, boy.  No need for modesty!  You passed the interview as soon as I overheard you!  With flying colors!  I can think of no one who is more deserving of the job!"  Stein held up his hand when Freun tried to protest and activated another LED stud on his cane.  "NOTE: Cut Ile Freun's papers for reassignment to Meban 10's Research Facility in the morning."  He smiled at Freun once more.  "There you go!  You earned it, Mr. Freun.  The first ship out departs early next week. Get your stuff in order before then because you won't be coming back this way any time soon.  Such is the price of fearlessness.  But I am sure you are well prepared for that sacrifice," Stein added with a pat on Freun's shoulder.

Stein then turned to Gloria and linked his arm around hers.  "Walk with me, dear.  Have you ever been to the highest point on this station?  If you think this view port was impressive, wait to you see the solar system from the Command Spire!"

Gloria giggled.

*******

This story was based on this interesting celestial event:


As you can see, the two moons described in my story above really did line up in the game periodically.  And, yes, one had a retrograde orbit, and the other a prograde orbit!  So I started to think how cool that would look as seen from the space station in orbit around the nearby planet.

Lastly,  it turned out that the only good research location in my home system was indeed at the furthest planet from the central star.  Add in a randomly appearing research scientist, and I had a short story!

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