Tales of the Always Night: Chapter 12

Like I said (again), I won’t be posting every chapter of this because it’s going to be a book (and fairly soon by the feel of it). So I’ve skipped a few chapters, including basically all of the introductions of the six main characters, and am launching us into the adventure head first.

Here is a brief summary:

  • The Molran (XO): AstroCorps Commander platinum-class Galana Fen. Female. 119 years old on departure
  • The human (Captain): AstroCorps Captain gold-class Basil Hartigan. Male. 35 years old on departure
  • The Blaran (Chief Engineer): Able Belowdecksman and non-Corps engineer Devlin Scrutarius. Male. ~700 years old
  • The Bonshoon (Doctor): AstroCorps Veterinary Medical Officer platinum-class Bonjamin Bont. Female. ~3500 years old
  • The Fergunakil (Tactical): AstroCorps Tactical Officer obsidian-class and Special Weapons Division Consultant Wicked Mary. Female. 17 years old on departure
  • The aki’Drednanth (Comms): AstroCorps Bridge Officer imperium-class Chillybin. Aki’Drednanth. ~200 years old

Wump has been enjoying it. Chillybin was automatically her favourite character and every new aki’Drednanth feature (“oh, and she’s telepathic … oh, and she wears a cool refrigerator suit … oh, and she’s immortal”) just made her more excited. The Fergunakil character (I didn’t actually think very much about saying all these words out loud, and I alternate between the Finnish and the English pronunciation of Fergunakil while reading), Wicked Mary, is also a lot of fun to write and Wump suggested nicknaming her “Bloody Mary”, and that just worked on so many levels I have to give her co-authorial credit at this point.

I’m trying something hopefully new and fun here, as I launch into Parts 2 and 3 of the book which are the actual adventures (Part 1 was just getting the crew together). Basically, I have the chapter, and then a sort of “coming up next” where I launch into a sneak preview of the next adventure and then end it on a cliffhanger, and then go on in the next chapter directly where I left off. All it really means is that I take the first page or so of the next story and copy-paste it into the end of the last one.

Something I need help with, though, is how to introduce that. Because the end of one story and the beginning of the next story don’t flow automatically – you get that assumed break-between-stories that you don’t get between paragraphs. I don’t want to make it into just a new end-part of the previous story, I want it to be very clear that one story has ended and this is the beginning of the next one. Something like “Coming Up Next” or “Next Time” or “In Our Next Adventure“.

Or maybe just something as simple as a “***” line break, and then the next few paragraphs in italics?

Let me know what you think. It can be as cheesy as you like, but I’m stuck as to exactly how I should do it. Suggestions welcome.


 

Departure for Parts Unknown, and Adventure

There was little for them to do on Declivitorion-On-The-Rim once their crew was complete. They took on some more cargo and long-term supplies, confirmed their route as much as possible considering how little was known about the galaxy outside Six Species space, and made sure the Conch was running at peak efficiency.

As far as supplies went, Hartigan and Scrutarius kept themselves busy for several days collecting on a wide range of side-bets. After his good fortune with the cigars, Hartigan made a point of looking up a lot of other artisans and luxury goods suppliers to find out if they had anything riding on the success of their mission.

They were, Galana was surprised to learn, becoming increasingly famous. The journey of the Conch had captured the imagination of the general public of numerous worlds, and had of course come to the attention of AstroCorps’ higher authorities and the Fleet. A few of them had been at the disastrous party Stana Kotan had thrown on their arrival.

Reactions to the Conch mission were mixed, which was nothing Galana couldn’t have guessed anyway, but which she had confirmed during her desperate attempts to mingle and talk in the grand reception hall. Some parts of AstroCorps disapproved of the foolhardy nature of the tour, but there was little they could do to limit the mission once it was fully crewed and a ship assigned. Leaving Six Species space was prohibited by the charter and Fleet law, but when an exception was made, it was made.

Some parts of the Fleet were delighted in the bet, all for reasons of their own. Whether it was out of hope they would fail or hope they would succeed depended very much on the different groups. And the general planetary populations were even more diverse, but mostly seemed entertained and excited by the prospect.

Whether they would still be interested several decades from now, after receiving no word from the Conch and her crew, remained to be seen. Galana had her doubts that anyone would even remember them when they returned. The average attention-span of the Six Species at large was about twelve minutes, so her hopes of them continuing to care about AstroCorps and its crazy mission fifty or more years from now were not high.

All the more reason, her crewmates decided, to take what they could to make their mission a bit more comfortable. Soon the Conch’s crew cabins and any hold-space not given over to aquarium or icebox were crammed to the ceilings with storage containers. Even the aki’Drednanth and Fergunakil spaces had their share of supplies for Chillybin and Wicked Mary.

Galana took some time to travel the city and the small scraps of countryside that still existed inside it, taking in the sights and the comforting, familiar bustle of Molran and Blaran, Bonshoon and human, the occasional scuttling Fergunakil giela. She climbed Mount Arbus, the small artificial mountain at one edge of the city, and watched Taras Talga rising glorious and blue-white over the seething city.

There was an ancient monument at the top of the mountain, a wind-worn stone shape like an old-style drinking goblet. The inscription on the base of the monument claimed that mountain and monument alike had been raised to honour Rosedia, the founder of the city, and the fact that on this site he had been given a goblet of poisoned wine by a mythical trickster of some kind, and had died as a result. Whatever lesson this bit of local folklore was supposed to provide, Galana couldn’t see it.

She wasn’t even sure if there was any truth to it, but she was certain nothing of the sort had happened on this site, because this site had been a couple of thousand feet up in empty air before the Rosedia City Council had decided to build a monument here.

Still, she watched the sun rise, and watched the orbital and air traffic come and go. She didn’t have to share the space with anyone, which was nice. It didn’t look, from the run-down and neglected look of the place, as if it was a very popular tourist destination.

“What ho, Fen,” Hartigan greeted her when she returned to the Nella that afternoon. “We were just about to ping you. We’re all set.”

She glanced at Bonty, who was the only other person on the shuttle. “We are?”

“Devlin went up on the lander with Bloody Mary last night,” Hartigan confirmed, “and Chillybin went up this morning in a very swanky private shuttle with a bunch of swooning Molran fanboys and fangirls,” he gave Galana an insincere smile. “Not meaning to insinuate that your species could use a good bally cold shower when it comes to the whole wacky-wacky admiration thing,” he added.

“But I do get the impression Chilly’s going to be happy to get out of Six Species space and into some unexplored corners where people don’t worship the very ground her species walks on,” Bonty said delicately.

Galana flicked her ears in amusement. “Why do you think she keeps such a low profile?” she asked.

Hartigan gave a chuckle. “Well, she should be wrapping up her little worshipper-tour and sending them all bowing and scraping for the airlock right about now,” he said, and tapped at the console. “If you’re just about done with this big crowded stone, we can get going.”

Galana crossed to her controls and sat down. “Ready when you are, Captain.”

“There is a message from Ambassador Kotan,” the Conch reported, “but it is intended for the entire crew, with a request that I play it before we embark.”

“Sounds like just the kick in the pants we’ll need to get moving, what?” Hartigan said merrily. The Nella surged to life underneath them, and a few minutes later they were swooping into the star-speckled blackness of space where the Conch waited in orbit.

And so it was, another couple of hours later, the crew of the Conch sat or stood at their bridge consoles, fresh and crisp in full uniform. Human Basil Hartigan at the helm and command seat; Molran Galana Fen at the Executive Officer controls; giela of Fergunakil Wicked Mary at the weapons console; Blaran Devlin Scrutarius at the Engineering controls; Bonshoon Bonjamin Bont at Medical and Sciences; and aki’Drednanth Chillybin hulking massively at the Communications console.

“Righto,” Captain Hartigan said, “let’s hear this message from Ambassador Kotan, then.”

“My esteemed AstroCorps colleagues, allies of the Molran Fleet all,” Kotan’s painfully self-important voice filled the bridge. “May your journey be a testament to the spirit and tenacity of the Six Species and the dream you wish so fiercely to bring to life. Fail or succeed, return or perish, today you enter the pages of history. Today you make your mark on the ledger of your proud institution. Whether it is destined to become a cautionary tale on the hazards of disregarding the older and wiser voices flab glab gloob blub.”

Galana and Hartigan exchanged a puzzled look.

“I am so sorry, Basil,” the Conch said. “It would seem the remaining twenty-three minutes of the Ambassador’s speech have become irreparably corrupted due to a storage error.”

“Ah well, can’t be helped,” Hartigan said carelessly. Scrutarius sniggered. “Let’s see what’s out there, shall we?”

“To parts unknown,” Devlin said, and raised a cup he had resting on his console. Galana sighed. It was an ornate teacup with a Fleet Council of Captains emblem on it.

“To parts unknown,” Hartigan said, and tapped his controls.

The five overlapping armour plates on the Conch’s hull opened and the rings of the relative field generator curled out. Each one fired up in sequence, finally activating the field around the ship and projecting her into soft-space, ten thousand times the speed of light.

The ACS Conch plunged into the grey. Destination: parts unknown, and adventure.

later

Commander Galana Fen was just beginning to wonder if there were any inhabited planets at all outside Six Species space, when they dropped out of the grey into orbit above an inhabited planet.

“Atmosphere and gravity read within tolerances,” the Conch reported, “although of course Chillybin will find the polar ice caps more to her liking and Wicked Mary will be more at home in one of the two oceans. The salt content and levels of-”

“Never mind the tourist brochures, old girl,” Hartigan said eagerly. “Tell us about the aliens.”

“Giant bugs,” Scrutarius said in an undertone to Chillybin. “I bet you. Googly eyes and slimy mandibles, you mark my words.”

“I am not finding any sign of giant bugs,” the Conch said, “or advanced civilisation, for that matter.”

“Oh really? Then what was that signal we followed here from our last stop?” Hartigan demanded.

“Give me a moment, Basil,” the Conch replied.

“There is sentient life down there,” Chillybin confirmed, her great gauntlets moving easily over her controls. “Intelligent, but not advanced. The signal…” the Comms Officer paused for a moment as the ship relayed the data. “It has a number of sources.”

“Let me guess,” Scrutarius raised his upper hands and spread them dramatically. “An assortment of derelict starships, none of them native to this planet, almost as if they’ve been lured here by something. The crews, killed by giant bugs, left their ships behind to send their forlorn messages into space…”

“There is still no sign of giant bugs, Chief Engineer Scrutarius,” Chillybin said, “but the signals do appear to be emanating from three vessels on the surface, none of which seem consistent with the local life-forms and their level of development.”

“There are seven ships, or at least something like ships, all within a small area on the surface,” the Conch added. “Only three of them are emitting a signal. They seem to have been doing so for some time, judging by the distance from which we picked it up.”

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