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"... I'll gather melodies... I'll gather melodies... I'll gather melodies from birdies that fly."
Alarms blared in the cockpit as Joe desperately tried to level his ship, his hands and feet in a heated battle with pitch, yaw and roll. The blast had destroyed most of his thrusters, leaving his ship at the mercy of the shockwave and the gravity of the planet below.
"... on the Milky Way, if that don't do. I'll have to try something neeeeww."
Twenty-five hundred meters separated him from the icy world's burn-in altitude. If he didn't slow down he would disintegrate, if he didn't get his angle of attack right his ship would bounce off the atmosphere back into space. Eighteen hundred meters. Biden cursed as he pulled the yoke with all his weight, kicking the pedals at his feet and keeping his eyes fixed on the data scrolling on his screens. Gravity, density, surface conditions, he instinctively picked out all relevant numbers, using them to command his immediate actions. Nine hundred meters. Joe stopped the ship's spin with one final push on his pedals and was now able to hold it, barely. In front of him debris from the space station lit up like flares as it crossed the planet's Kármán line.
"... you will be King of the Staaaars!!!"
"Shut the fuck up!"
The music abruptly stopped and he eyed the countdown as it crossed five hundred meters. He checked his angle: somewhere between adequate and perfect. Speed: somewhere between too fast and a sure death. Realizing he wouldn't be able to slow down before hitting the atmosphere he strapped himself in. As the nose of his ship slowly ignited in an array of brilliant, red flames he gripped his controls, keeping both of his thumbs on the airbrakes and parachute, now only able to sit, wait and hope.
The Run -- Drop
Joe awoke to cold metal on his face, pulsing red lights and blaring alarms. Groaning he slowly turned on his back and a pain in his head and abdomen immediately grabbed hold. It overpowered his senses, leaving the alarms muffled and the cockpit a blur, the only clarity being his heartbeat and heavy breathing. Lying on the floor he tried to piece together what had happened, his eyes moving across the cabin.
His seat was no longer in the center of the cockpit, but instead lay completely mangled in the corner.
Outside were no stars, only a thick layer of snow blocking any light from coming in and his screens showed no vectors or wind speeds, just a collection of red warning signals and static.
"Heh... nice one Joe." He awkwardly laughed as he sat up and slid himself backwards. His right arm felt oddly strained as he pushed his back against the hull. Slowly he pulled his sleeve up, finding several cracks in his skin reaching from his palm to his elbow, revealing layers of glossy black artificial muscles and tissue. He formed a fist, the cracks widened as he tightened his grip.
"Ah, great." His arm was damaged, superficially, but damaged all the same. He would need to get it repaired. That would put a dent in his payment.
"Right, payment..." He wouldn't get any, seeing as he completely failed to deliver his goods. He pulled himself up, grabbing hold of the center console and got to his feet. Carefully, he tried to walk, much to Joe's surprise though this went reasonably well. Perhaps he wasn't hurt as badly as he thought, or maybe he was going insane from blood loss. Was he bleeding? He looked down to check as he set foot outside the cockpit, only to lose his balance and stumble through the doorway.
"Ooh... I'm okay... I'm okay." He grabbed the sides of the corridor and got himself up again.
The ceiling oddly bulged above him; his ship had taken quite the hit. Station debris maybe, or a result of his landing? Either way it explained a lot. Slowly he moved toward the portside hatch, trying to keep himself in a straight line. His damaged hand reached for the keypad, the other for the handle.
Alarms still screaming, he heard voices... He waited, but they were gone as soon as he tried to listen. Was he now imagining things? Maybe he hit his head harder than he thought.
Suddenly the locks were released and the door swung open.
Muzzle, barrel, sight, gun. Joe's pain subsided as his mind processed the information in front of him. His eyesight sharpened as his heartbeat accelerated. He grabbed hold of the rifle, pulling it towards him and plunging his right elbow in the visor of the unfortunate soldier carrying it. The orange plastic cracked at the impact. Disarmed and unconscious his limp target fell to the ground, Joe pointing the weapon at him, ready to fire. With the immediate threat neutralized his heart slowed down and his breathing followed. Aiming down the sight he realized he was surrounded by two other men. His eyes danced across dark military grade armour with no visible markings and rifles modified for arctic operations. Looking around he could feel his combat stance slowly weakening his muscles. Mouths moved under their visors, but all he could hear was a constant ringing in his ear, slowly increasing in volume. What focus his eyes had left now faded, his heart unable to keep them going and he started to gasp for air. He looked down, his neck trying to keep his head straight: blood dripped from his body. A lot of blood. He dropped the weapon, his palms stained in red.
"Ah... shit." And he collapsed in the snow.
An itch, crawling on his forehead just under his hairline. Joe raised his hand and tried to scratch it, only to feel bandages wrapped around his head. He opened his eyes and found himself in a room lit by a pale blue light and covered with metallic tiles. He could see a reflection of himself in the ceiling, along with someone else's. To his right was a dark haired woman, busy packing equipment. She didn't wear any armour save for a pair of knee and shoulder pads, the latter of which emblazoned with a red cross. There was a first-aid kit next to his bed, with a half empty shot of morphine lying on top. That explained his lack of pain, and provided a possible weapon. He saw no other medical equipment, which hopefully meant he wasn't too badly hurt.
Yet he wasn't tied to his bed, nor did he see or hear any guards. This could've meant two things: they were extremely dimwitted and didn't see him as a threat, or there was an entire battalion waiting just outside the doorway. Though given his injuries, lack of a ship and no idea where the hell he was, an escape was unlikely either way. So he simply sat up, careful not to hurt himself,
"Hello." and he greeted the medic, who promptly dropped what she was holding with a loud clatter. She turned around and an awkward silence followed. A pair of youthful, if not naive eyes stared at him, immerged in a lightly coloured, round and soft face. She wasn't a soldier.
"Charmed." Joe said, nearly letting out a snort.
Gathering her composure the medic left the room, not saying a word. Surprised, Joe figured she was off to get her superiors. He could hear her pace quicken as she turned a corner. Very well, he would patiently wait and allow his curiosity to reign free. His eyes darted around the room: its walls were coloured in a joyless black and white, topped off with a clear, dark gray trim which seamlessly carried over to a pattern of plates making up the ceiling. Every inch of the room was free from as much as a speck of dirt; completely sterile, with a smell so neutral it made him queasy. He leaned to his side to see a corridor leading to several other rooms, all looking exactly alike. This was an outpost: a dull, cold modular base designed to depress anyone inside.
Three sets of footsteps marched towards the room and Joe sat back, not knowing what to expect, yet curious.
Two men entered, wearing dark gray military armour, though lacking any helmets. The medic followed. Biden looked at his captors: blonde and brown and in many respects polar opposites. 'Blondie' was buff and had a stern look in his eyes, complementing his confident stance. 'Brown' was a few sizes too small for his suit and nervously crossed his arms. Topping off his uneasy appearance was a big, fresh black eye. A grin slowly formed on Joe's face.
"Hello Mr. Biden, I'm Commander Warren Summers and on behalf of the First Snakes, I apologize for the destruction of your ship. We didn't expect you so... soon."
'Blondie' introduced himself with carefully chosen words and a serious tone. Joe checked his pockets for his PDA... Gone. They had come prepared, awaiting his arrival, yet didn't come across as hostile. Their leader didn't make any demands either. Peculiar.
"Well, Mr. Summers. I apologize for messing up the kid's face."
Playing it safe, Joe replied with a touch of humour.
"Name's Oswald and... apology accepted."
The 'kid' spoke, albeit with thinly veiled annoyance. Nevertheless this left Joe surprised.
"So, the First Snakes? What are you, terrorists?"
He fired off his first question.
"Heh no, we're not."
Warren toned down his seriousness.
"Then what are you?"
Biden had a hunch, though figured it was quite the stretch. Hacking traffic control of three different planets required careful planning, coordination and a lot of manpower. Characteristics he didn't readily associate with these 'First Snakes'.
Warren didn't answer right away, instead looking at his associates as if he was asking for their permission.
"We... are on a mission to expose Brahma for what they really are."
Joe had been caught by a pair of boy scouts. Great.
"Really now? And blowing up space stations is the best way to do that?"
The immediacy of Warren's answer bordered on humorous, yet worried Joe. A troop of inexperienced would-be soldiers expected his arrival, blew up a station in orbit and went to great lengths to find him and patch him up. Would-be soldiers wearing high tech gear and carrying highly explosive ordinances. What exactly did they want from Joe?
"Ok..." Joe nodded, "Well, thanks for taking care of me," passed a wink to the medic, "I think I'll be going now." and rose from the bed, trying his luck.
"I'm afraid I can't let you leave."
Warren blocked his path and Oswald reached for his sidearm. Joe glanced at the syringe which was just in his reach. He played all possible scenarios in his head. Half of them though ended with him getting killed, the other half left him seriously wounded. An escape was indeed unlikely.
"How so?" He sighed at his conclusion.
"You are going to help us."
"Help? With what?"
Joe didn't like where this was going and his grin slowly faded, turning his face into a restrained worry. Warren meanwhile allowed the corners of mouth to curl up.
"First you're going to help us open those containers of yours and then you're going to tell us who your supplier is and where we can find him."
Joe's dislike was well placed. Handing over the identity of his contact would mean his reputation would be destroyed and his days as a Runner would end. Then there was the chance of him being chased throughout the galaxy and subsequently killed.
He let out a feigned chuckle,
"Heh, you want to know what's in those containers? Body parts."
and tried to prevent the worst from happening.
"Body parts?" Warren wondered.
"Yes! Hands, arms, legs, feet, kidneys, spinal cords, lungs, boobs, big..."
Joe explained his last example vividly using his hands. "... Really... really big."
Warren remained unconvinced.
"Follow me." He said, beckoning Oswald to stand down.
They entered the outpost's storage facility: a large hall with numerous crates stacked against its high walls. Warm, natural light came in through the roof, giving it a much more inviting look than the dreary blue corridors.
In the corner, near the containers from Joe's ship were four scientists huddled together. Another member of Warren's team closely watched them, rifle in hand.
"You've already met Nika, our medic and Oswald, our technical expert. This is Keith,"
Warren approached them, "reconnaissance." Keith greeted with a nod.
"If you've got an 'expert', why do you need me?" Joe asked, catching Warren off guard.
"Brahma's locks aren't easily picked," Oswald quickly stepped in, "their security is... the best I've ever seen."
Joe snapped at him with a mixture of disdain and disbelief. His arrogance though left the ball in his court and seeing the looks on everyone's faces he realized he had to prove them otherwise. He searched his pockets for his datastick, coming up empty once again.
"You got my stuff somewhere?" He sighed.
Nika grabbed a duffel bag, opened it and presented it to Joe. He searched through his things, finding out some rather personal items had been taken from him: a pack of old condoms, a Purple Heart, cigars, his golden ring.
Scraping his throat he found his datastick and walked up to one of the containers. He inserted it, let the program boot up and soon after metallic clicks sounded from within. Cold air hissed through the cracks as the container's innards decompressed. Joe impatiently tapped his thighs, creating a beat of sorts as the mechanisms continued their sequence. The lid slowly rose and he built a crescendo with his hands.
"And here we have..."
Clouds of vapour dissipated, revealing the container's contents. His tapping slowed, then stopped altogether as his eyes widened, settling on the organic shape lying in front of him.
The blue light coming from underneath lit up a silhouette, a body, slightly smaller than a human. Its skin was smooth, elastic and nearly transparent. It had two long, thin arms and legs with four digits each, along with a tendril like limb attached to its chest. Attached to a slim neck was a small, rounded head with a pair of dead eyes looking back at Joe.
"Wh-what the hell is that?"
He stepped back, turning his head in shock. Warren came forward, inspecting the lifeless body.
"This... is what we're after."
Blowing his coffee, Walt stared through the glass panels which made up his office's outer wall. Their edges lit in green, they provided a complementary frame for Hipparchus' skyline; its buildings drenched in a deep crimson.
The view was nice, beautiful even but sadly that was the only likeable part of the Bureau's fancy new building.
"An exercise in vanity."
He had called it and tried his coffee: horrid. He was about to continue his train of thought when he realized now wasn't about complaints, it was about shutting up and enjoying the moment. Weekend was starting in a few hours and the next two days he would have peace of mind.
Rob was meanwhile busy processing the rest of this week's paperwork. Walt turned his head to see his partner conducting his holoscreen like a maestro.
"Found something?" After turning up little so far, Rob's whiff sounded just like what this investigation needed.
"I think so, but I'm not sure if it... hold on."
Rob moved a few images and pages before flipping the screen, showing his findings to Walt.
"That Joe Biden we spooked earlier this week?" he continued, "turns out he's lying. His real name's Joe Donahue. Joseph Donahue in fact."
Walt walked up to the hologram, reading a slew of headlines revolving around one and only one thing: '...Keppler Incident...', '...Five Dead...', '...Scandal...', articles which all dated back just over six years.
He brought up photos of a man being escorted out of a court building. Though looking completely different, cleanly shaven and sporting a military haircut, it was definitely the pilot they met a few days ago.
Walt sat down and with a few gestures moved the files over to his own workstation, just when a call labeled 'Chief' popped up. Walt let out an annoyed sigh.
"What can I do for you ma'am?" Nevertheless he greeted his superior with genuine enthusiasm.
"Walt, we have a situation and it needs to be handled delicately."
Immediately she went to business even though she was calling from a rather usual place. Seeing his superior in a black evening dress and a musical ensemble in the background Walt figured it was a fundraiser of sorts.
"I'm listening." He leaned forward.
"Check your inbox and you'll find reports concerning a Brahma research station which disappeared from the grid a few hours ago." Despite her noisy surroundings her voice was easily heard.
Walt opened up a second window and found the reports she mentioned.
"From the grid? How?"
"We don't know. Oddly there's no data from the last four hours, but logs show at least one ship had docked before the facility went dark."
"Sounds like it could be anything." Walt skimmed the intel. The ship which had docked had a Brahma signature.
"I know, but Brahma already sent their own security force and now UnSys wants us to follow their lead, 'keep an eye out'."
"... And lick their heels while we're at it."
Walt sighed, seeing his plans for the weekend crumble.
"Look, I don't like this either Walt..."
"It's... fine, really."
He stopped her from apologizing and straightened up, accepting his new assignment.
"Alright, I've already dispatched a car which will pick you up in front of the lobby. Good luck Walt." With that she closed the call.
Walt chuckled, once again realizing just how well she knew him. He looked at his partner, who was already putting on his coat.
"Duty calls?" Rob passed Walt's coat.
(To be continued)
It didn't contain anything mechanical, as it had some heavy duty cooling systems, nor could it be chemical, as the light blue display on the side lacked any relevant read-outs besides temperature. Chemical packages usually required careful monitoring, instantly readable to ensure safety.
He leaned to the side, resting his shoulder on the open hatch, rolling a datastick through his fingers.
He was playing a game, with a only a few simple rules: every time he moved a 'don't ask, don't look' package he would do the exact opposite: ask himself what it could be and look if he was right.
There was one thing he had to take into account: Brahma Innovations, his contractor. Even though the company's research encompassed a dozen or so fields, they specialized in medical, genetic and biological applications. Illegal implants? Genetically altered animals? Specially engineered bodyparts?
He kept pondering, keeping his mind occupied, occasionally smiling at what he came up with.
Two short bleeps echoed through the ship, reminding him he would arrive at his destination in five minutes. He let out a sigh, stepped forward and placed the datastick in one of the slots underneath the screen. It flickered on and off a few times before settling on 'OPEN'. The locks inside moved with a firm, metallic click and he slowly opened the container, vapour enveloping his face.
He whiffed with a satisfied smirk, his eyes going over an assortment of organs and limbs, all appearing well preserved and particularly shiny in the bright blue light cast by the cooling apparatus underneath. They were probably meant for wealthy fetishists, crime lords with missing limbs or doctors of the unprofessional kind. Feeling satisfied with his win he closed the lid, removed the stick and paced to the cockpit.
Control panels and holographic displays sprung to life as he sat down on the pilot's seat, dimming all lights to an orange hue. His hands danced from left to right, initiating all pre-land checks; approach vector, relative speed, shielding priorities. Even though his new navcom would make sure everything was fine, he was more comfortable doing it all himself. Call it a habit, picked up along the way.
With a noticeable tremble the ship jumped out of FTL travel, immediately slowing down for the final approach.
His destination came into view: Hipparchus, a terrestrial planet not unlike Earth, though slightly smaller and shrouded in the dark red nebula covering this sector.
He waited for the light to catch up to his ship, counting down in his head and opened a channel:
"Hipparchus Control, this is Rho J-dash-17B, requesting clearance to land." He steered his ship closer to a group of freighters, slowing to a halt. They were taking an unusually long time to answer, but judging from the few dozen or so ships orbiting the planet he wasn't the only one waiting for a response.
"Odd." He said to himself as he positioned himself underneath one of the larger vessels.
"I repeat: control, this is Rho J-dash-17B, requesting clea..."
"Eh... thi-... archus Control, sorry... -lay, we're expe-...-cing technical difficulties... you ha- ...clearance... land." Control responded, the voice riddled with static, barely discernible.
Usually his request would be handled instantly by a virtual intelligence which tracked hundreds of ships at any given moment, not some forty-something human operator.
"Not a problem, J17 out." He pushed the controls forward, descending into the red clouds.
Something had them rattled.
Fresh air filled his lungs as he breathed in deeply, air he had missed for three days. The loading ramp touched down on the landing pad and he casually walked out of his ship. Two men approached, not the huge security guards he would usually meet, but scientists, doctors probably. They met halfway, he greeted them and stopped for a moment to stretch his back. Dark silhouettes with hundreds of brightly lit windows broke up the horizon; huge, smooth skyscrapers lit up by the rising sun. He took in all the air he could, closed his eyes and relaxed his muscles. From up here he could make out the sound of music coming from the clubs in the distance, he hummed along, tilting his head up, smiling.
"Name?" A firm female voice came from his right.
He turned around to see a short and slightly overweight woman. To be honest he had expected a prettier face to go along with her British accent. Her fancy digital glasses slightly remedied that though, intriguing as they were. "You already know my name." He answered.
"Vocal recognition, full name please?" She didn't seem particularly happy with his wit.
She looked at him quizzically, updates being added constantly to the screens in front of her eyes. The play of colours and shapes far more interesting than this silly routine.
"Were the cryo containers at any time opened, shut down or otherwise compromised?" Again she fired off a question, by now Joe had likened her to a dog: a tiny, fat Chihuahua, constantly scratching the door and squealing every time something moved past it. He chuckled at the thought.
"Err... No." He collected himself, not blinking, looking away, fiddling around or allowing any part of his body to move. All was well, they hadn't been opened. He gazed into her eyes, for added effect. For a moment she was sizing him up, raising her chin in an effort to appear more intimidating. It didn't work.
"Hm." She pushed on the right side of her glasses, one by one all the icons turned green and he could make out a blinking 'Clear'. She didn't trust him, they never trusted him, perhaps for good reason. But computers never lied. He did, though.
"Your payment has been transferred to your account, good day." It took her considerable effort to utter those words. And with that she left, following the other two men off the deck into the adjacent tower.
His first actual talk in days, a few sentences and a nice two grand, not bad. He closed the ramp using his remote and headed to the nearest bar.
Smoke. Thick, ashy cigarette smoke with a slight hint of alcohol, that's the first thing Joe noticed when he entered 'Caroline's'. He sat down next to the bar and lit one up himself, signaling the bartender.
"Hi, I'd like... scotch."
"Smooth run, pilot?" The elderly man asked, placing his order in front of him.
"Sure thing, Caroline." Joe answered, trading his nicotine for the alcohol.
The bartender laughed, Biden held up his drink, toasting and noticed he was starting to feel a little strained now that he'd finally sat down. He rubbed his eyes, blaming it on a slight jetlag, or maybe a lack of exercise.
"Where're you from, pilot?" A different voice came from behind; a clear, steady drone that immediately caught his attention. He looked to his left and was immediately greeted by a United Systems Intelligence ID, belonging to a Walt Conroy. Joe lay down his cigarette and turned around, Walt sitting down right next to him, his associate taking a seat by the table to Joe's left.
"I'm Walt Conroy, UnSys Intelligence Division, and this is my partner Rob Nilson."
Joe was taken aback by the sudden appearance of two agents, though kept his cool, leaning back. He accounted it to the lack of courtesy on Conroy's part. Despite the age difference, these two men looked remarkably alike: both wore a gray government issue suit, red government issue tie and sported a dark government issue haircut. They didn't make an effort to cover up what they were doing.
"So I've noticed. Joe Biden... Herschel, I came from Herschel."
"Did you make any stops along the way?" Walt continued while Rob took notes, keeping his eye on Joe.
"One, at Junction 11, why are you asking?"
"I'm sure you've noticed Hipparchus' Flight Control being... tied up today. There's been an attack: hackers broke into their system in an attempt to disrupt the flow of traffic. We think they might've tried to stop a ship or ships from landing or maybe... open a window for someone to land."
"An attack? By who?"
"I'm afraid that's information I can't disclose." Government issue talk for: we don't know. Joe had expected a power failure at the most, not a full scale attack. Though he felt relieved to know the two suits weren't there specifically for him. He drank his scotch to that.
"So, what do you want from me?"
"We'd like to know what you were carrying."
Joe put down his glass and glanced at Conroy and Nilson, both waiting in subdued anticipation. He noticed the sidearm tucked under Nilson's shoulder: A SIG MR-9, probably holding a clip of sixteen jacketed hollow points... government issue.
"... Alright." Joe pulled out his PDA from his back pocket, danced over the screen with his finger and synched it with Walt's. "Here's my license, registration, contract, the whole nine yards."
"Hm, stem cells for Brahma," Walt checked the files, "must pay well."
"It should all be fine." Joe said, not responding to Walt's claim.
"And it probably is. Well," the agent rose from his seat, beckoning his partner, "thank you for your cooperation, that's all we need for now." Walt reached into his coat and handed Joe a business card. An actual, physical business card.
"Call me if you hear anything."
Biden took it, surprised at Walt's low-tech solution.
Joe held of a relieved sigh until the door closed behind them. This run turned out to be more interesting than he had thought. The bartender filled his glass: "On the house."
"Heh, thanks." He gladly took it and began his usual pondering. There were three organisations who could pull such off such a stunt. Three that he knew of, at least. Though he didn't think any of them would have any business here. Hipparchus wasn't a Fringeworld, it was tightly secured, or so he'd thought, and well within UnSys space. Then again he had only made runs for two of them, so it wasn't like he knew all the ins and outs. Perhaps he shouldn't worry about it.
"You know, Hipparchus wasn't the only world hit today." The bartender spoke.
"Really? How do you know?"
"This morning my wife had a couple of jockeys here complaining about a complete jam around Messier. Later on a few were talking about Keppler having the same problem."
"The plot thickens..." Joe replied, finding a hint of irony in his previous stress. This was a lot bigger than body parts on ice.
"Those agents will have a tough time finding out who made that happen."
"Heh, I'll drink to that."
Two beeps awoke Joe from his daydreaming. He yawned loudly, cracked his neck and checked the time. He was still thirty minutes ahead of schedule, something he took great pleasure in. To celebrate he would make himself a nice cup of coffee, so he got up and went for his bunk.
"Com, play music... continue playlist, volume seventy percent." As he mixed hot water with instant coffee a fast beat broke loose. He stirred his drink, threw the plastic spoon away and moved to the cargo hold, his shoulders and hips moving to the rhythm
"...You will be King of the Staaahaarrrss." Joe sang along, not that he actually could, but since no one was around he did it anyway.
"... you will give me three and a half graahaaand!!" He was referring to the two containers. Joe set his coffee down and started a more elaborate dance routine. Sadly though these were exactly the same containers as his last run, temperatures and locks included, so playing his game was time wasted.
Still, now there were two of them, which meant "One hundred and seventy five percent paaahaaay."
But that wasn't the only thing that made him happy, his destination was different as well: a lone outpost orbiting an icy wasteland of a planet. Apparently Brahma didn't take last week's incident lightly, so now they sent their meat to more remote locations.
The run was longer, but it meant no traffic, no waiting and no suits. It was likely he would have to deal with some other frigid Chihuahua, but he honestly didn't mind.
The ship shook as it jumped out of FTL.
"Oh yes!" And he walked back to the cockpit, forgetting his coffee. He sat down, glanced at the sensors, got his bearings and set off towards the station.
It was only a bright speck at first but as he approached it, it slowly became a medium sized research outpost. Its design was old, decades maybe and it was originally towed here by UnSys to determine whether mining operations on the planet below were viable. A fruitless venture seeing how Brahma had retrofitted it for other uses. Uses Joe probably wouldn't ask about after he would board it.
"Station Control, this is Rho-J17B, requesting permission to dock." Joe opened up a channel, already initiating docking procedures, his voice sounding particularly pleased for a mere hail.
He fired reverse thrusters, slowing the ship and aligning it to the station's docking port. Just a few degrees to his left and he was ready to disembark. All he needed now was a response, which he should've gotten by now. He held his breath for a moment, music still playing. His eyes darted around the station's hull. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.
"You will be king of the staaahaaars!!!"
"You're joking..." he sighed, "contr..." A bright, blinding glow came from his left. Before he could realise what was happening the cockpit was engulfed in an explosion ripping through the station. The shockwave threw Joe out of his seat and he slammed headfirst into the bulkhead.
A Sci-fi Story Series
'The Run' follows Joe, a Runner, as he smuggles questionable goods in a future where mankind has embarked on its venture into the stars.
With the Second Age of Discovery blooming, making Runs for humanity's megacorporations has become a lucrative, though tricky business.
At ease with his life, Joe is offered doing Runs for Brahma Innovations, a company on the forefront of biology, medicine and genetics. His cargo will however thrust him in an increasingly thick web of corporate intrigue, spun by the most powerful men in the known universe.
With no other options left, Joe finds the only way to be forward. Wherever that may lead to.
Like the title says, this is an ongoing series and as it stands now an installment of 4-5 pages will be released every two weeks. Though 14 days between episodes is the absolute maximum.
Along with these, I'll include some writer commentary as well to provide additional insight of the story's development.
Below I've included links to each chapter and Development log for easy navigation through the series.
... and beyond.
1 -- [Expected when I have enough to tell]
If you have any questions regarding the project, don't be afraid to step up.
In addition to asking in the comments, you can find me on formspring where you can get all you need to know.
You can also follow me and the Run's progress via my Twitter.
It's likely that the layout of this post will change depending on the story and whatever might come out of this.
I think I've got everything covered now,
It's over, it has ended, it's time done, curtains are closing and towels are tossed into the proverbial ring.
You're either aware of what I'm talking about or... not. Well, this concerns Balance, our entry for the Storybook Collab.
We've come to a point of 'no more', so to speak. Anyone who has fallen flat on their face with a big project should recognize this and while this isn't the first time to happen to me, it still sucks balls.
Big, salty, hairy balls.
Thing is, we've gotten incredibly far. We've accomplished more than I had hoped we even could and have managed to produce roughly 70% of the entire thing.
Voicework, sound effects, artwork, the prototype, it was all quality and I'm forever grateful to all the people who chipped in and contributed their skills.
Snowfender for providing the voice of one of the main characters and getting her just right along with getting two additional VAs,
voicegirl for giving me her voice and filling the biggest part, for free (holy shit),
joeymofo for contributing amazing sound effects,
Vert for being awesome,
sucho for being amazing,
Renaenae for setting it all up,
and the whole lot I forgot to mention.
It was a life-changing experience, it really was and even though it has ended, I'm glad this happened and that I met all these great people.
It has made me stronger and more confident. We got to 70% on the first run, who knows what will happen next?
One thing's for sure though, it's not completely dead. I'm still working on it and it will be expanded upon.
We got this far, I'm not gonna let this slide.
Well, I suppose that's it. I take one last bow to all the awesome people who helped out.
I'm humbled by it.
'Writing, Motivation and People'
Here we are again, another week, another dev blog. I'm not sure how long I should (or could) keep this up considering we might be back in full production in two weeks.
School does have top priority right now and particularly this very week is excruciatingly busy.
But enough 'no', I don't like 'no', I'm more a man of err... 'Yes, I can' kinda guy. That same thought is what brought me here, that same thought will be propelling me into the future.
It's often that kind of thinking that will kill your project: 'Can I really do this?' or 'what if I fail?'.
You know what I like to call that? Noise.
Noise is your mind working against you, or rather the 'thinking' part of your brain. While you wonder if that girl will decline if you ask her out, your sub conscious is out there climbing K2, sailing through space in a starfighter and battling the Dragon demon from the depths of Antakuze!
Do you draw random things whether you should be doing algebra? Do you stare out the window and imagine what it would be like to rather than listening to whatever the teacher has to say? Can you watch for countless hours at the starry nightsky instead of 'Oh my god, he's SO hot!"?
You should. That's your subconscious and it's an infinitely powerful tool you can learn to use. It's actually rather simple.
Whenever you get into a project like this, you're always super excited about it because you can do ANYTHING. That's you believing it, utterly convinced of yourself that you can do whatever you want to do, and let's face it... there's no reason you can't.
Further down the line however, you start losing faith for whatever reason. You start the dreaded 'thinking': what if you can't do this? What if the other projects are way cooler? The most useless and demotivational thoughts cross your mind, kicking you off the path you had initially chosen and stopping you from doing what you wanted to do.
I'm not really sure what causes it and even I still have this problem sometimes, but I found that working with other likeminded people provides a huge motivational boost.
Enter the Storybook Collab (god, took me long enough to get to that bridge).
I played around with the tale in my head a few weeks before I came across this project.
It always starts with one thought, this thought can be anything and can be triggered by anything. Suddenly it just hits you. In my case it crossed my mind while walking the dog around 10 in the evening: a man who has a certain gift, or maybe a curse.
A snowball effect occurs; from that tiny speck going down the hill eventually an entire world is born.
Of all things creative, writing is the one thing I consider myself truly adept in. It's hard to explain really, but it's something I do automatically. You 'feel' your way through it, so to speak. You have this flow you can instantly jump into and ride to wherever you want.
For the rest however... I kinda suck haha, though I'm on my way on developing myself in various areas.
But that's not the point...
The point is that this particular collab brings together people who can 'feel' their way around their respective expertises. The first issue which comes up is: how do you convey your feel to on entirely different medium?
This isn't your average story, due to its mixture of voice acting, illustrations and music its more a cross between graphic novel and audiobook. Film is what comes to mind as well.
It was that question which led me to writing my story out as a script, rather than a straightforward short story. Along with it I wrote up documents detailing character backgrounds and characteristics and one where I laid out my rough vision of the world it took place in. Everyone was free to interpret it all their own way and even come up with their own ideas.
That's I think the most beautiful thing there is, people who take your stuff, play around with it and come up with something you hadn't thought possible.
It was truly overwhelming and I still get goosebumps listening to the voice-overs or looking at the artwork sucho has made.
I couldn't begin to imagine this would come out of it, and I'm truly grateful for everything that has happened *sheds a tear*.
It's more than the sum of its parts. The combination of creativity and the best people have to offer creates something... beyond numbers.
The script called for a relatively big cast of characters: two main characters, two supporting and I personally believe most importantly, one narrator.
No, don't kill me D:, I'm not playing favourites! It's just that because of the nature of the script the narrator is the one who strings together the entire story and signifies certain important elements, and she (voicegirl) does that with absolute grace and brilliance.
Initially she offered her voice for a discount, to which I sent a reply explaining this didn't involve money, to which she then replied 'I'll do it for free.'.
To me... that's the biggest compliment you can give and I am... still speechless about that.
Even so it's a relatively big tale: twenty pages. Taking the unwritten rule that one page roughly equals one minute... Yeah, that's a lot of work. The voice over of the narrator alone clocks in at over sixteen minutes...
Initially I had planned the story to be even bigger (I'd estimate an additional ten pages) and have it end with a huge chase scene but obviously that wasn't going to happen, the artist is a human being too :P
So when a choice had to be made, I opted for an alternative: breaking it up. It wasn't really a difficult choice to make, but at first I didn't know what to do. Perhaps I wanted an answer from someone higher up the chain, but since I was the highest...
The cut was made and the story was divided in... I don't know how many parts, actually...
I'm actually happy I had to do it, as it allowed me to further expand the story and the world (I already have the first few scenes of a possible sequel roughly sketched out).
It's a strange but at the same time liberating realization. I don't see myself as an all-controlling manager type person, yet I call the shots. It doesn't feel like I assumed control and directed everything, but I was more or less... elected or something.
Whatever it is, I set out to make something beautiful and I think I did and this wouldn't be possible without everyone who involved.
Hmm, looking back this post doesn't really elaborate that much on writing at all, haha.
If you have any questions, don't mind to ask.
They fight! And bite!
They fight and bite and fight!
Fight fight fight! Bite bite bite!
The Itchy and Scratchy Show!
Also, new Storybook dev blog thingamajig coming soon-ish.
Hey there, I've been thinking about doing a series of dev blogs covering the chronicle of our Storybook submission. Mind as well do something useful while it's on a short break =D.
If you didn't know already, I'm the project lead and writer of 'Balance', closely working with an exceptionally talented crew to make the most awesome thing ever.
Here I'll tell you about the workings of the project and answer why and how I did things the way I did things. Note: I'm not telling you how you should do it, as every team is different and has a different workflow, you yourself need to find a form that works ;)
This is more of a look at the inner machinations, providing a more in-depth (and fairly unique) look at a creative process which you can hopefully learn something of.
Now we have that out of the way, let's get cracking!
I've been writing for 7 years, starting out with truly the crappiest stories known to man, through the years I picked up things from everywhere and grew as an artist. Only recently have I really begun branching out and exploring new ways to bring my writings to life, so when our dear sweet and fair maiden ReNaeNae announced the Storybook Project, 2+2 became 4 and I saw an opportunity to further develop myself.
As a writer I usually find it harder to find an audience who appreciates my work. The advantage an image has for instance is that it becomes clear what it is the very first moment you lay eyes on it.
I'm a very visual person and I actually always wanted to make something more of my stories; combine it with something else to make it infinitely more powerful.
That's exactly the aim of this project: to bring together artists from the fields of fiction, art, music, sound to create something truly extraordinary. Synergy is what comes to mind and is synergy is what I got.
A short explanation: synergy is what you get when you get a couple of people who all share the same goal in a group ... and magic happens.
It's what separates a bunch of people just doing stuff from an awesome team with a plan and it's usually the driving force in a project such as this one.
Early on I knew I had to accomplish that, though as this was the very first time ever I would undertake something like this, I was still very green and unknowing.
Fortunately I had experience working in an autonomous group, but never with the responsibility that comes with being a leader.
But I had a vision, a goal, a place to put it and faith, lots of faith. This would be a huge challenge and would be very demanding, but I had faith I could do this and the knowledge I would learn a whole damn lot of this. That was the starting point: learn and improve. Learn how to manage a team, improve on my writing, get in touch with new and interesting people.
But, in order to do that, you need tools and services that aid you in accomplishing your goals.
There was the forum thread (which I've been whoring with updates), the PM system (which was used for initial contact), email, and for direct communication MSN. A central point for all this would be a newspost with all the relevant info and news.
I had used Dropbox prior to this in a school project and it proved to be an invaluable tool keeping everyone's work organized and in synch.
It was a bit of a no-brainer for using it and it has proven its worth once again, keeping the show on the road and providing an excellent place to store everything.
The stage had been set, using everything at my disposal to make communication as fluid as possible.
Now a tale had to be written and likeminded people had to be found.
Stay tuned for the next installment where I'll be covering the story itself and the early pre-production stage.
Snazzy new banner at the top, shouts have to go out to voicegirl who proved invaluable for helping me coming up with a name.
Gizmostudio is the name of my 'production company' (notice the apostrophes) and was actually chosen since voicegirl asked for one to put on her website xD.
So here we are thinking of something and whammo, my cat jumps suddenly calls for my attention by jumping on my desk.
My cat's name is Gizmo, 1 + 1 = 2, cosmic coincidence... Gizmostudio is born.
I liked it, she liked it.
Whenever I have time, I work on the graphical site of my soon to be website, which is in the style of the banner.
It'll be my personal site and will host a blog, images, links to projects and all other kinds of spunky stuff :D
Still have my school project to finish though, so that's priority numero eins, but after that I have two weeks 'off', so I should have a semblance of a site running by then.
For now I leave ye with the 'company's' mascot:
Oh... crap, this is awesome. I've been getting sooo many offers lately from voice actors and actresses.
Thanks a million! Much appreciated!
I can't keep up any longer with who I PMed, who I didn't, who's who, etcetera, etcetera... and while I prefer the personal approach, that just doesn't work any more.
Therefore this newspost.
So, here's how it's going to be:
At the moment there are 2 major, male roles available and a few minor/extra roles.
If you want to audition for any of the above, read the details below, record your voicework and PM me your audition.
!!!THIS DOES NOT CONCERN VA's ALREADY ATTACHED!!!
So the Major Roles were filled, that leaves only the minor roles. These consist of only one or a few lines each.
They're not in any particular accent.
Several takes much appreciated!
Preferably in MP3 format.
"Hi there Brad!"
Pedestrian_1 is very happy to see 'Bradley', so greets him accordingly.
Can be either male of female.
MAN ACROSS STREET
"Hello there BRAD, pleasure seeing you here."
Same as PEDESTRIAN_1, except male of course.
"Where do you think you're going, 'citizen'?"
"The general's daughter doesn't talk to anyone, unless told so."
GUARD 2 (moving closer)
"How. About. No?"
The guards are cold, strict almost machine like individuals with a condescending attitude.
VOICE OVER RADIO
"Unidentified aircraft, you are hereby ordered to slow down your vessel and follow us. Any attempt to escape will result in the destruction of your plane."
This is said in a demanding, almost threatening tone. Preferably male.
Damn, looking over that, it does seem like a lot...
So, anyway, lately I've been dipping into music.
Misdirected is the product of said dipping.
It's gnarly, if I may say so myself... and perhaps not bad for someone having no musical experience besides drumming, hehehehehe. *Ahem*
It's made entirely in Reason and arranged in Sony ACID, as I can't for the life of me figure out how to place the individual parts so that it actually sounds like something...
Therefore I've simply exported all the individual parts as loops and put the song together in ACID.
If you want a comparison of what kind of stuff I made before I made Misdirection, check out my other submission 'Break This Loop' for shits and giggles.
That's it for now, up next is... working on the second draft of the Balance script,,,