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PROLOGUE, PART THREE

Cobryn opened the throttle all the way. He'd never piloted an exploration buggy before, but the fundamental principles had to be the same as piloting a starship: faster was always better. The four-seat buggy surged forward, nearly tossing its passengers from their seats. Oops. Maybe that was too much throttle.

"Wheeee," Quig shouted gleefully over the roar of the engines and the howl of wind through the open cockpit.

Sahara was less enthused. "I thought you said you knew how to drive one of these things!"

"Obviously he does," answered Striker One. "We are already overtaking our quarry."

It was true, Cobryn noticed. The goblins were slowing their buggy down to navigate the rough-cut path – it didn't even deserve to be called a road – through the forest. They simply weren't willing to take the same risks he was. Of course, taking chances is what had gotten Cobryn into this situation in the first place.

He had taken a chance when he accepted a smuggling job for a client he didn't already know. The pay was great, but it turned out the cargo wasn't. Cobryn might be a lot of things, but he was no slave trafficker. The client hadn't liked Cobryn's change of heart. One thing had led to another, and Cobryn had lost his ship, his reputation, and his freedom. With no better options, Cobryn had taken another chance on a mysterious message. One thing had led to another, and now he was on the other side of the solar system chasing goblins with an annoyingly cheerful ysoki, a humorless android, and a lashunta woman who just might be a bigger gambler than he was.

"What are we going to do if we catch them?" Quig asked.

Cobryn scoffed, "What do you mean 'if'? I out-maneuvered that space pirate, didn't I? I think I can handle a couple of goblins in a go-cart."

"When we get close, I'm going to put this grenade in their driver's face," said Sahara.

Striker One was skeptical. "That may be unwise. Our mysterious benefactor has insisted on secrecy, but those goblins were clearly surveilling our arrival before they fled. It would be useful to know why and where they are headed."

"Whatever you're going to do, you'll need to do it quickly," said Cobryn. It certainly didn't take a pilot of his skill to catch these goblins; they could barely keep their buggy moving. Cobryn relaxed the throttle and pulled alongside them, coming eye to eye with the goblin in their passenger seat. It grinned. Only then did Cobryn notice the plasma pistol in its hand. His reflexes saved his life. (Again.) He jerked the wheel, and the pistol bolt blasted the buggy's windshield frame instead of his head.

"Decision made," said Sahara. She lobbed the grenade.

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PROLOGUE, PART TWO

Sahara twitched her antennae in nervous anticipation. Had she escaped from a noose only to face a firing squad?

"Surrender your vessel and whatever your cargo is, and I just might let you live," ordered the space pirate through the starship's radio.

Sahara toggled the radio to broadcast. "We don't have any cargo of value," she said. It was the truth. The holds were as empty as her pockets. Not even the ship itself was worth more than what a scrap yard would pay for it.

"I'll be the judge of that," came the reply. "Turn off your engines and prepare to be boarded."

An electronic signal from the ship's science station caught Sahara's attention. She looked at the android in the gunner's seat. "The pirate weapon has a target lock on us," Striker One said calmly.

Sahara looked at the ratman. "Are the shields working?"

The furry Ysoki nodded vigorously. "You can count on Quig."

"If you say so, Quig," said Cobryn, the ship's pilot. "But shields won't last forever. A pirate ship like that against a tub like this…. We'll never be able to outrun him or his lasers. Maybe we should comply and hope for mercy."

Sahara's three crew mates waited for her response. She hadn't asked to be captain of this vessel, but she wasn't a trained pilot like the human or a natural engineer like the Ysoki. And she certainly didn't have the artificial man's ability to talk to computers. That left her in the captain's chair by default. It was not a comfortable fit.

The last time she'd been the captain of a starship, it had been on a two-seat craft fleeing the slavers who had captured her and her sister. Their escape plan was Sahara's idea, but it had been her sister's beauty that lured an overconfident jailer into giving up the security codes to the ship that would carry them both to freedom. The plan had worked well, but an unlucky break, a guard's unpredictably overactive bladder, had resulted in her sister being gunned down on the launchpad. Sahara took off without looking back. She knew she would meet the same fate if the slavers ever caught up with her again.

That's why she had been willing to answer the mysterious summons that had led her into this latest pickle. She didn't know where they were headed or why, and she certainly didn't trust her crew mates. But so far as she was concerned, death was a better option than surrendering to a pirate who would only sell her back to her captors.

Turning back to the android, Sahara ordered, "Target his thrusters with our gyrolaser. Let's see if we can't even these odds."

She had made her decision. The die was cast.

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Look, maybe we would all be better off if we just stayed home and watched more movies.

45/2054. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood (2019)
I thought Quentin Tarantino was a genius from the moment I saw Pulp Fiction at Tara Theater in Atlanta in fall 1994, but ever since Inglourious Basterds I've felt he's increasingly interested only in making alt-history torture porn. Once Upon a Time... certainly has more than a little bit of that. However, I think this film transcends that limitation, creating a commentary on modern culture by looking at a time that was no better or worse than today but was infinitely better at crafting its own mythology. In other words, it's a very good film.

46/2055. Schindler's List (1993)
Hey, Randy, I finally watched Schindler's List. You're right, even though Spielberg is up to all his old audience-baiting tricks, it is an amazing movie that should be seen by every living person at least once. (In the first act, I thought, "How could they make this selfish prick into a hero?" And then the movie made me believe. Both the viewer and Oscar Schindler will come to realize that monsters are real.)

47/2056. Encanto (2021)
At last Disney finally embraced the fact that they can no longer write a comprehensible narrative in a children's film and just stopped trying. If colorful characters and catchy songs are enough to entertain you for an hour-and-a-half.... you won't feel the need for me to finish this complete thought.

48/2057. Morgan (2016)
Yeah, I watched this just because it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, and from that goal, it was worth it. That said, it is an otherwise disappointing thriller about the dangers of artificial intelligence that is terrified of exploring *any* of the questions it raises. Keep your expectations very, very low.

49/2058. Cabaret (1972)
I'd never been a fan of Liza Minelli's public persona, so I hadn't seen this film because I expecting I wouldn't like her in it. I was right. I found her character very, very irritating. On the other hand, I also found I could strongly associate the movie's central theme of societal outsiders trying to dance while knowing the world around them was burning. So... mixed bag?

50/2059. Cry Macho (2021)
The naturalistic performances might be the best example of Clint Eastwood's directorial style, but this film is not his best work, mainly because the weak script does not prove enough of a framework to support a bunch of actors standing around being their own, empty selves.

More to come.

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PROLOGUE, PART ONE

This particular starship was unknown to Quig, but he'd certainly seen its like before. Light freighters were the backbone of the solar system's shipping industry, after all. Therefore, it wasn't the unfamiliar surroundings that set the ratman's hairs standing on edge but the three strangers in the airlock with him.

Summoning his nerve, Quig asked in his high-pitched voice, "Excuse me, but is one of you the person who sent for me?" He dialed his personal communicator to the anonymous message he'd received a week before and held it up for the others to see.

The pale, broad-shouldered android raised an eyebrow in a good simulation of how other races would display surprise. "You're willing to expose your data to persons you do not know? That seems… unwise." Artificial men like this one made most sentient organics existentially self-conscious, but Quig had always found them distracting for other reasons. What made these mechanical marvels tick? He'd love to take one apart and find out.

The scruffy-looking (real) human man leaning against the starship's bulkhead smirked. "I was just about to say the same thing. Maybe I got a message. Maybe I didn't. How do I know you didn't send it?" Across the galaxy, no race was as capable of deceit as humans. Quig made a mental note not to trust this one.

"This is getting us nowhere," complained the female lashunta, her forehead antennae twitching in apparent irritation. She kept glancing out the ship's porthole at the docking bay entrance. Was she expecting more company? "Yes, I got the message. Obviously, we all did. The question is what are we going to do about it?"

The android shrugged almost naturally. "I believe we should do as instructed and take this ship to the coordinates indicated. Why else did we come here if not to uncover the mystery behind our summons?"

The human interlaced his fingers and extended his arms to crack his knuckles. "Works for me. I've been itching to get back in space."

"I think we're walking into a trap," said the woman dourly. "But as there are some… people around here who I'd rather not run into again, I don't see as I have any choice."

That was more or less how Quig felt, too. He couldn't go back home where The Families were looking for him. That was certain death. Better to take his chances with this motley crew. Besides, he'd always liked tinkering with alien technology, and if he had to walk into a trap, at least it was a trap well baited with the promise of getting his claws into an advanced starship's innards. “I'll start the engines,” he volunteered cheerfully.

The adventure had begun.

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I was recently chastised for not understanding who that Super Bowl Chevy Silverado commercial tied into the season finale of The Sopranos. "Haven't you seen one of the five greatest television dramas of all time?" No, I guess not. I don't watch dramatic television. I watch movies. Speaking of which....

20/2029. Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Some movies are badly misjudged on release. Critics in 1967 disliked this movie... and they were right. On the upside, I now understand that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a very specific parody of this movie. I'll definitely rewatch the parody again before I would willingly rewatch this.

21/2030. American Pop (1981)
This story of four generations of Americans is the first Ralph Bakshi movie I've seen that made me think he may have been capable of creating genuine art. Sadly, the narrative falls apart a bit in the third act but is still worth a watch.

Drink Coke! (American Pop)
Life is a series of downers that ends... in a hall with some Coca-Cola paintings.

22/2031. In the Heights (2021)
It took three tries for me to watch this movie all the way through, and I have to say that ultimately it was worth it. Great songs, charismatic actors, incredible cinematography: I've since watched it a second time. (How was this directed by the same man who helmed the Jem and the Holograms movie?)

Drink Coke! (In the Heights)
Doomed romances go better with Coke!

23/2032. The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
Despite the recurring themes of sex and death, this is really just a light comedy serving as an excuse to have aging stars and personal friends Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda pal around in the violent Old West. It's no classic, but not every movie has to be.

24/2033. Lovely to Look At (1952)
Think An American in Paris but with a lopsided love triangles. The good songs are all in the first act. After that, they're almost all ballads (the one exception being Red Skelton's cover of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody") which really hurts the pace. Definitely watch In the Heights instead.

More to come.

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If UGA wins a title without you going to any games, you kinda have to never go again

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What am I thankful for this year? Hmm. Let me think.

I know! Bluey. I caught a couple of episodes on Disney Junior in the middle of the night and was instantly hooked. It's a very, very charming cartoon, and I've been watching it when I can.

A cartoon aimed at preschoolers might sound like a strange thing for me to like, but I'm not exactly completely unaware of children's television shows. PBS's Odd Squad has long been must-watch tv for me. (Have I mentioned that around here? No? That's odd. I really do get a kick out of it.)

And I'm sure that a certain Randy somewhere in the world will be quick to remind everyone that I was a big fan of Lazytown back in a day I was already too old for it. Pink is still my favorite hair color.

So, yeah. Happy Bluey, everybody!

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For the record, Keith, I've found an RPG I hate more than any of The Witchers.

Final Fantasy XV suuuuuuucks.

In the mood for a story-driven RPG and a fan of previous games in the series, I picked it up on in a recent digital sale. The story setup is good. The environment is pretty. But the disappointment set in pretty quickly because those are the only two good things I can say about it. It has terrible gameplay and worse storytelling.

According to online game guides, the game has 15 chapters. I put the game down at Chapter 6. Then, a month later, I picked it back up and slogged on, much to my own detriment. Each chapter proved dumber and more frustrating than the one before it. Final Fantasy XV isn't a game but a psychological experiment in masochism. I finally threw in the towel at the end of Chapter 13 (and deleted the game and all my saves from my system) despite realizing that both Chapters 14 and 15 must be better if only because they couldn't possibly be worse.

Oh, well, they can't all be winners. At least I know that the next game I play can't be worse.

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Every time I show a picture of my lawn ornaments in the fall and winter, friend Otto teases me about the sorry condition of the yard. So this time, I'm going to give you the pic of how my latest creation looks inside the studio:

Leapin' lettuce!

That's Captain Carrot, fearless leader of the Zoo Crew!, painted just in time for Easter.

Last year's Easter painting was the chocolate rabbit. I love it so much, I'm disinclined to subject it to another round of elements. (I've never liked sharing my chocolate.) Tragically, I might love this one even more.

If the flowers come out next week, maybe you'll get a second pic of the good Captain.

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A series of murders have been committed in one of the seedier quadrants of the space station. We have been assigned to investigate.

This is my space station. My partner is Obo. My name Kesko. I carry a badge.

We were directed by witnesses to the scene of the crimes in a portion of the station which has recently seen a dramatic increase in reports of theft. A thievery ring was suspected.

We had barely entered the area when we were accosted by pair of aggressively threatening space goblins. I attempted to diffuse the situation, but they refused my telepathic communication. After goblins ignored a secondary verbal warning, my partner subdued them with force. I confiscated their weapons to prevent them from being reused.

My partner and I proceeded to investigate the corridor the space goblins had come from. The first door in the corridor was closed. We declared ourselves and our official business but received no response. My partner heard some noise behind the door, and we entered by force.

Room was a storage room occupied by a single unregistered human vagrant. Although initially rude, the vagrant (identifying himself as "Bruxo" but presenting no identification) eventually recognized our authority after a little telepathic persuasion. Vagrant claimed ignorance of any murders but agreed that goblin activity was a growing problem.

In response to further questioning, he tipped us to a creature deeper in the station which he said may be working with the goblins. Warning that the creature is "immune to fire," he offered us a weapon to aid us in subduing it. Weapon was taken from a sealed crate in the storage room. Vagrant was unable to prove ownership. I was suspicious; If he had a weapon that could defeat said creature, why give it to us instead of using it himself? When pressed, vagrant said he was "just trying to help." I declined weapon per department regulations re: accepting potentially stolen goods.

(Note: My partner did take possession of vagrant-offered grappler, a tool she judged potentially useful should we need to descend into the guts of the station. Tool to be returned to the vagrant at such time as we return for a follow up investigation re: potential weapons theft.)

We continued our search of the corridor. Corridor ended in some sort of engine room. On close inspection, I determined that the engine reactor was functioning smoothly, though I lacked the technical understanding to know what it did or exactly how. Partner and I judged it safe to proceed through the room to continue pursuit of space goblin origins.

As we passed the reactor core, we were ambushed by a previously undetected entity that had been lurking within. The unknown and unidentifiable entity appeared as a humanoid comprised of pure energy. Like the goblins, it also resisted telepathic communication. Energy creature moved to touch me. It's hand passed through my chest. I felt a chill, but was otherwise unharmed. I tried to back away. It pursued, touching me a second time again causing discomfort but not harm.

My partner moved to separate creature from me with her department-issued doshko. The doshko passed through the creature in the same manner its hand had passed through me.

I used a telepathic strike to repel the creature to no apparent effect. Creature responded by redirecting energy from the reactor into a controlled explosion aimed at me. I was incapacitated.

My partner issued a verbal warning and fired a warning shot at the creature with her department-issued rifle. Energy creature phased its hand through partner's weapon. It overheated and shorted out. Partner was incapacitated.

Energy creature was unharmed.

Add two more murders to the series.

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To be continued...

 

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