This was something like my fourth attempt at writing a novel, and the second one on computer. I'm not sure when I started this, but it can't have been later than 1996, because I know I stopped well before I got to university. I think the problem with this one was that it was essentially a boring story if you didn't know the backstory, and at the time I didn't have the skill to make the backstory interesting.
Most people do not realise that they are figments of their own imagination. This is in fact true, although it is not widely advertised in case civilisation suddenly ceases to exist. There is one thing that the plant kingdom needs more than sunlight - an animal kingdom including hairless bipeds to eat it.
It was a spectacular display of piloting skills. The tug had to guide the warp mini-ship into the back of the assembled bulk of the Federal Starfleet's latest design of starship, and then release the towing cable at the right moment, so that the warp mini-ship connected with the rest of the FSS-500 Nassaransu in exactly the right place. The tug pilot showed off his superb skill and released the ship at exactly the right moment. Then it went horribly wrong. A sudden low-level blast of turbulence sent the mini-ship into a nose dive only fifty feet above the runway.
The transporter plunged down towards the surface of the planet at a velocity that could be described with reasonable accuracy as "terminal". The huge bulk of its body was barely supported by the tattered remnants of its wings in the atmosphere, and the bridge at the front of the extended neck looked as though it wouldn't be in that location much longer. Some people would have assumed the yellow glare coming from the rear bulkhead was rocket flare, but no-one like that was here. The only engines on a transporter were on the wings, with steering and auxiliary engines mounted on the control head. The people on Xlem Three could only assume that it was fire.
The ambulance pulled away from the wreckage with a roar of its engine. The onlookers pulled back to let it through. The badly dented warp mini-plane was stranded a mere ten feet short of its target. The bloody body of the still alive pilot was in the back of the ambulance, along with his commanding officer, Commodore Carl Masterson. Two of the other crew members were already making arrangements to follow him - the third had to stay and back the main body of the starship on to the warp-drive section. The starship was barely off the production line, and already it looked like one of the crew would be registered as "Killed in Action". What made it worse was that the injured man wasn't from Earth, but from one of Earth's friendly planets, Emtrite, and was a member of the special detatchment of Emtrite forces allocated to the Earth Federation.
The landing port manager knew it was fire, and already had yelled blue murder at the Fire & Rescue team over the vid-com. He was now watching the stricken vessel trying not to land nose-first. The first thing he had done when the message of attack came in from the transporter was to scramble as many fighters as possible - it took a lot of fire-power to do that much damage to a Class 1 Medium Distance Transport Craft - and these had now long gone into orbit, hunting for the Corslan ships that perpetrated the assault. He turned away as three more fighters roared overhead.
"Well Ambassador, that's all we're going to see for a while. What was it you wanted?" he asked.
On the bridge of the starship, Lieutenant-Commander Ray Petersen sat down at his control panel. Only minutes before the crash, he had been piloting the main gun turret section into a docking position with the main vessel. Now he was piloting almost the entire ship. He looked at the two circular systems screens on the left of his panel. On the right of them was a nine-button keypad that controlled the ship's direction, with a three-button thrust control pad below it. On the right of that was the speedo and thrust direction controls for the ship's powerful engines. He pressed the buttons for reverse thrust, turned the power distribution dial to 1/3 All, and pressed the "+POW" button. There was a fizz, and the rockets ignited. The battleship began to crawl backwards, gradually getting faster until Ray pressed the "N-THRUST" button. He leaned over to the ops panel on his right, from now on the post of Lieutenant Markus Halliday, and searched for the switch which would connect the main hull to the warp mini-plane.
The Xlemin Ambassador to the Earth Federation sat back in his seat and smiled. The landing port manager noticed that the ambassador still had all 300 teeth. "Well Morttttttt... I'm sorry, even our translators make mistakes some times. Mortimor, I've come to ask you to arrange a special crash-zone for all these transport craft that keep arriving half-demolished. The citizens, in your terminology, are getting worried that one might hit them at some point," said the ambassador, in the well-educated upper-class voice of the Xlemin-style RTT. He grinned again - he knew Mortimor disliked the effect.
"Most of them do manage to crash in round about the same place, Ambassador."
"I'm sure they do, but..." The Ambassador never got to finish his sentence, because both their translators chose that moment to self-destruct. The Ambassador shrugged and apologised in his own language, then left.
In the intensive care unit of the Nevada Central General Hospital, ten miles from the abruptly halted launching ceremony, Ensign Hurder of the Emtrite special detatchment to the Earth Federation, was dying, watched over by Commodore Carl Masterson of the Earth Federation Starfleet Arm.
"I'm sorry sir," he managed. "I was a bad pilot."
"Nonsense," said Carl. "You just hit a bit of low-level turbulence, it could have happened to anyone. Not even Mikhail Stringer could have prevented it from crashing at that height."
"I failed..." started Hurder, but was cut off by the entrance of a young woman. She was also wearing the Emtrite special detatchment uniform, but she had the black flashings of a commander on her sleeves.
"Commodore, I have been sent to perform the death ritual of our people with this man. It requires privacy," she said.
"I'll leave. Make sure he knows he couldn't have prevented it," said Carl and left the small room.
"Bloody translators," said Mortimor, removing his own and rooting through a drawer for a new one. "The most complex, safe and accurate piece of machinery known to any sentient race, and they still break down every five minutes!" He found a new one and attached it to his collar. "Callahan!" he yelled, and a secretary dashed in. "Why did the RTT's explode?" he asked.
"Fighter squadron reports mass destruction of Corslan attack vessels directly above these co-ordinates. We caught them as they were jumping to hyperspace, which explains the electrical overload," explained Callahan.
"Has Elgran gone, or is he outside?"
"He's gone. You know the Xlemin people, and just about the rest of the galaxy, have RTT's fifty years ahead of our own. He wouldn't be seen dead without one of his own brand on his neck bone," explained Callahan as Mortimor turned back to the window. The two couldn't have been more different. Mortimor was a healthy, reasonably intelligent, aggressive army officer who liked hitting people, and had the physique to match. Callahan was almost consumptive, incredibly bright, was enormously shy, and only resorted to violence when it was against things that couldn't hit back, like flowers. Not that are any in this god-forsaken place, he had thought when he first arrived. He had tried getting some imported, but they couldn't survive in the salty soil. The native variety of plant life was a tree with a disturbing tendency to drop branches on your head when in danger of being chopped down.
Carl listened to the howling coming from inside the room. He didn't know what purpose it served, but it seemed to be helping everyone in earshot about the iminent death of Ensign Hurder. Suddenly, it stopped, and the Emtrite woman let out a yell. After a few seconds, she appeared in the doorway, drenched in sweat. Carl stood up and helped her to a seat.
"I take it he's passed on?" he said.
"Yes," gasped the Commander. "He went peacefully. The body must not be touched for five minutes if his soul is to leave with the proper escort."
"Everyone in Nevada is familiar with death rites of the Emtrite people. Why were you sent? There aren't any Emtrite Commanders within a thousand miles."
"My name is Janice Tarleena, Commander in the special detatchment of Emtrite forces to the Earth Federation. I was sent to replace the Ensign as communications officer."
Carl offered a quick salute, which was returned feebly, and said "Congratulations on your posting. Have you ever worked on Comm before on an active starship?"
"No sir," was the reply. "I have worked on Comm at launch control on Emtrap Station Seven though."
"Then you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like in combat," said Carl- Emtrap Station Seven was a notoriously busy starport. He stood up. "I'll buy you a coffee."
"Why, in all the galaxy, did I have to choose this planet to work on?" demanded Mortimor. There's hundreds of worlds out there, several of which we've got outposts on. So why, in the name of sanity, did I choose to come to a lump of black rock with a sky the colour of fire, that's always under attack? I could have gone to Remus, the Pleasure Planet, or Gibralta, the Last British Outpost. Or even Golman, the Planet of Universal Boredom. Anything would have been better than this!"
"Bear in mind that since those are all in the asteroid belt, they carry little or no authority. Anyway, you said originally that you wanted some peace & quiet. Unfortunately, you said it to the wrong man. To someone with such a military background as General Gaudan, being attacked every day is peace and quiet," pointed out Callahan.
At this time of night, the bridge of the FSS-500 Nassaransu, the Earth Federation's latest and greatest addition to the Federal Starfleet, should be empty. It is.
The dull throb of the forward power-lift's engine erupted into the small room. Carl and Janice stepped off the platform, down the short ramp, and surveyed the scene. The large computer screen at the front showed the scene directly in front of the ship - two-and-a-half miles of spacecraft runway in the middle of the Nevada desert at night. There were only four other light sources. The light from the food dispenser showed some of the layout of the bridge, but not much. There were only two LED lights coming from the Conn panel, and the fourth light source was the security scanner screen, which shed a green glow over the Security station.
"It's a beutiful view," said Janice.
"Lights!" ordered Carl, and the bridge was lit up instantly. For the first time, Janice saw the bridge properly. It was a twelve feet long by twenty feet wide room, with a food dispenser and alert status lights in the right hand wall. The main stations were in a T-shape - Vessel Control (Conn) on the left and Essential Operations (Ops) on the right of the cross, Security immediately behind them, and the Captain's raised seat and master control system behind that. The communications station (Comm) was to the left of security, and looked as though it was an afterthought. Behind it was the weapons rack, at the moment, empty. Carl walked round to Conn and pressed the "BAY CLOSE" button.
One of the LED lights went off, and in the background, there was a hum, indicating that the cargo bay doors were closing. He turned back to Janice. "That's the Comm panel," he said, pointing to it, and Janice sat down. "The controls may look simple enough, but they're hard to master."
"Nothing is hard to master," she said. "Tell me what everything does."
Sighing, Carl began. "on the extreme left are the internal communication channels. The black buttins let you transmit, the red ones let you receive. The two below them are the backup channels if the main ones fail. To the right is the beam direction selector. You must use this touch-sensitive screen to determine which direction you want to transmit in. Each line is the centre of a 67½° beam arc, through a 180° vertical cone. Above the central panel is a radioviewer with frequency and wavelength controls. The central panel is for silent messages. Type in the message, press send, and after a while you get a reply when the keys light up. You should be able to work out how the system works. The right-hand panel is for external communications. The beam direction screen is exactly the same, but it emits the broadcast beam outside the ship. Again, transmit and receive buttons, with backup channels for each. The same procedure applies for external as well as internal messages."
"So, really quite simple."
"Oh yes, I was forgetting us humans are behind other races in many forms of technology," mumbled Carl.
"Excellent news!" cried Mortimor. "Callahan!"
Mortimor's long-suffering seceratary rushed in. "Yes sir?"
"Read this," said Mortimor, thrusting a piece of paper under Callahan's nose. "This is a despatch delivered on that transport yesterday."
"The one Elgran got worked up about?"
"Yes. It's detailing the arrival in the fleet of a brand new design of battleship, and the first one is coming here. A crew of five, a multiple section design, with multiple medium capability. Fast, manoeuvrable, armoured, with a large arsenal and a cargo bay simply designed for launching fighter shuttles. There's even guest quarters on board, so we'll be able to invite Elgran and some of his cronies on board for a tour of duty. And we'll be able to dispose of any marauding Corslan vessel without problems," he grinned, rubbing his hands together. "Where's Murphy?" he finished.
"Murphy's gone down to the bar again, trying to drink under an Xlemin," said Callahan. Mortimor sank bank into his chair, his face a mask of depression. The show-off on Xlem Three on behalf of the Earth Federation was Murphy Mushnik, an Irish-Russian surveyor by trade, and an idiot by nature. "Shall I go and find him?" he asked, putting the paper back on Mortimor's desk.
"There won't be much point if he's already started. Send his girlfriend, he might not have drunk enough to disobey her by the time she gets to the bar."
"We really do need a name for that place, don't we?" said Callahan.
When an Xlemin bought a drink of glynnen for someone, they were challenging that person to a drinking contest. Three hours ago, Murphy had been bought one. Glynnen is made from the boiled sap of the native tree, mixed with the local version of ethanol - resulting in a fairly mild, but bitter, concoction. The indiginous species from the first four of six planets orbiting the star Xlempt, were not only notorious for their large number of teeth - which enabled them to chew through tin alloys and softer metals - but also their amazing ability to absorb "human" alcohol. The accepted drink for contest purposes was the most volatile lager kept in stock, the winner having to stay upright more than 20 seconds after his opponent has passed out.
"So what's Xlem Three like, sir?" asked Captain Michael Arrondino, security officer for the Nassaransu, as the ship blasted into space on her maiden voyage, closely following the FSS-151 Terran Class 1 medium distance transport craft. Fresh from a cadet training post at the Italian Fleet Acadamy Base, Michael was keen to learn about the places he had only been in the simulator.
"All I know is that it was discovered when some ancient nuclear devices were shot off into space and destroyed a black hole, creating a wormhole in 2729," began Carl. "As it's only six light-months away, Starfleet proposed exploration to the Xlemin system, consisting of four inhabited and two uninhabited planets, and the nearby star systems. Corslarsol, two-and-a-half light-months from Xlempt, only has one inhabited planet, and for a historical reason, we're at war with the inhabitants. A further light-year on we found the binary system of Anthrace and Emtrace, at war with each other, also for historical reasons. Xlem Three itself, the only planet in the Xlemin system where we were allowed to site a base, has a hot, humid atmosphere, a salty soil, a yellow sky, and one pub. I don't think we'll like it there much."
After eighteen pints each and 1½ hours, both were still upright. After 3 hours and a total of 62 pints consumed, the Xlemin began to sway slightly. Two pints later, Murphy was swaying more than the Xlemin. After 35 pints each, Luser, Murphy's girlfriend, entered the bar, and both contestants were swaying equally. The whole bar was watching them. Normally the furthest anyone got in a drinking contest with an Xlemin was 25 pints each, but Murphy was going strong, and slowly, the pints were drained. Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight. Halfway though the 39th pint, Murphy swayed dangerously. On the 40th pint though, the Xlemin collapsed. Everyone began counting. Murphy slowly finished his pint. The crowd counted the seconds "16, 17, 18...". Murphy staggered. "19, 20!" The cheer from the humans swept the bar, and was nearly drowned out by the gnashing of teeth by the assembled Xlemin people. Before they had barely started the celebration though, Murphy keeled over and smashed a table - made of iron and bolted to the floor to prevent it being used as a weapon in the frequent brawls that took place, normally started by an Xlemin accusing a human of palming aces at poker (something an Xlemin couldn't do because they didn't need clothes. hence had nowhere to hide the cards), and usually joined in by anyone in town with nothing better to do. If you were thrown out you went back in again, and if you were thrown in the cooler at the landing port, within ten minutes some friends would get you out because the human side was now short-handed. Xlemins never got as far as the cooler - they simply bit through the handcuffs and ran back to the fight. It was common courtesy not to use any weapon except the occasional broken bottle or lampshade, and no-one ever got really hurt, except when a human risked punching an Xlemin in the mouth, or an Xlemin risked striking a "bovver boy" (a special detachment of fighter pilots who were trained to be superb pilots, and turn into homocidal maniacs when attacked physically). When an Xlemin hit a bovver boy, the bovver boy would start hitting the Xlemin until it started spitting blood. The bovver boys had therefore been confined to barracks since the second week after their arrival, to prevent anger from the Xlemin people. It didn't seem to matter when there was a fight anyway, because after ten minutes the bovver boys turned up and joined in. It was a messy business cleaning up after a pub fight, and the bovver boys were made to do it, since they usually caused most of the damage. This looked like being a worse situation than a bovver boy being struck by the Xlemin Ambassador. The first defeat of an Xlemin in a drinking contest was something to avoid. Luser and two of Murphy's friends quickly removed the two causes of the imminent brawl to the landing port, and told Mortimor. It was too late though, as he could hear the yells from inside his semi-soundproofed office, a mile away from the bar.
"Message from the Terran, sir. They've just left the Solar System, and are entering warp," reported Janice.
"Thank you Commander. If we go to warp as we pass Saturn, how long will it take us to catch up with them?"
"Not long," said Michael. "We should only take a little over 35 minutes before passing them."
"Twenty seconds to Saturn's orbital path," said Ray.
"Let's see what she's got..." murmured Markus.
"Okay," shrugged Carl, grinning widely. "Prepare for warp! Fifty-fifty E-S! Manual control!"
Ray diverted the power from the idle weapons systems so that the engines and shields got it equally. He pressed the "AUTO" button, and it changed from yellow to opaque instantly. "Ten seconds to Saturn's orbital path."
"Send message to the Terran. Say 'we're coming'."
"Three, two, one, now!"
"Warp speed, NOW!" Carl bellowed the last word, and Ray stabbed his finger to the button.
The two huge discs on the tailplane hummed into life. Each one projected a ten foot high pillar of electric green light, which grew until it was twenty feet in diameter. The space between them crackled and sparked, then suddenly seemed to be a lot further away. The Nassaransu seemed to elongate slightly, then its' image blurred and continued normally. The ship itself, though, had jumped 22 light seconds, then continued at eight times the speed of light, as photons were spun round the pillars of light and launched behind the ship at huge velocity. In 10 minutes they had passed the orbital path of Neptune, which would have taken another 8 days at cruising speed.
On the bridge of the Terran, the comm officer received a message. "Message from the Nassaransu, sir. It says they're coming!"
"Masterson's mad!" said the captain, leaping instantly to the right conclusion - he'd known Masterson a long time.. "He knows it's dangerous to warp inside the Solar System! How does he think he can get away with it? He could collide with anything - asteroids, comets, ancient probes. Anything!"
"He's not using our warp technology. To the universe, we're a just a photon that has to travel in a straight line. To the universe, the Nassaransu is a very fast-moving ship, with all its nav controls working normally.."
" I still don't get it. How long to intercept?"
"About ten minutes," reported the pilot.
"Release a spread of two tons of lime dust. Let's see how good his pilot is. Then tell Commodore Masterson I want to ask him some questions."
"Dust cloud ahead sir," said Ray. "Two minutes to intercept."
"Will the shields be enough to get us through safely?" asked Carl.
"No sir. One minute fifty-five."
"Take us round it then," said Carl, shrugging. "We're too close sir, we'll clip the edge."
"Damn! Okay, at one second to intercept, drop warp and go to full reverse thrust."
"Yes sir. One minute forty-four to warp exit."
Next morning, Ambassador Elgran visited Landing Port Manager Mortimor. "I understand that there was an altercation last night," he said.
"Er, yes. I'm afraid Murphy likes showing off, and there's practically no stopping him," replied Mortimor.
"Indeed. Unfortunately, this Murphy is your architect, and it will be hard for me to ask you to design a self-containing crash site away from any residential areas, with him recovering from that huge amount of consumed alcohol."
"There won't be any need for the crash site, ambassador," said Mortimor. "This is a communication detailing the arrival of a new type of battleship. Any Corslan vessel in the area is going to be destroyed by that battleship within ten minutes of its arrival. The battleship is equipped with guest quarters, so if you want to go on a tour of duty, you're welcome to. It arrives tomorrow, escorting a transporter."
"What if there are several attackers? Will it be able to cope?"
"It'll detach a gun turret to guard the transport, and the rest'll blast the Corslans. Nothing to it. What we will need is a longer landing strip. It needs two miles to safely take off and land. I need your permission to extend the runway by 800 yards towards the town, and 960 yards away from the town. We also need a new hangar. Starfleet gave us the designs, all we need to do is build it. All I need to do is get your permission to build the extension and the hangar. I've arranged a form, all you have to do is sign. Here's a pen."
"What if I don't agree? And how are you going to build it with your architect in a drunken stupor?"
"An architect is not necessary for construction work, but his signature is. Corporal Mushnik signed the document already." Mortimor leaned forward. "You will sign, Ambassador, otherwise that ship turns round and you still don't get a crash site."
The slightly shaken Xlemin picked up the pen and signed the form. "I hope this won't become a habit," he said.
"Either you signed that form, or that battleship goes back home, and I've no intention of building you a crash site," repeated Mortimor. "Good day, Ambassador. Don't hesitate to drop in when the Nassaransu arrives." Elgran left. Mortimor called up the duty engineer on the vid-com
"Start building to the designs I gave you. They must be done by tomorrow."
An observer from the edge of the lime-dust cloud would have been well placed to see what happened when the Nassaransu dropped warp. First there was nothing, then nearly one-and-a-half million miles from the dust cloud, the Nassaransu appeared, travelling at lightspeed. Then, the huge engines flared from their forward outlets, and the rear outlets suddenly became covered in ice. The result was that the Nassaransu decelerated from lightspeed to 1/60 th of lightspeed in under a second. Eight minutes later, the Nassaransu, now on forward thrust, reached the dust cloud and went through it.
"Dust cloud penetrated, sir. Terran now two hours ahead," reported Ray.
"Take us back to warp," said Carl.
"Wait!" ordered Janice. "Incoming message, transferring to screen."
"Hello Commodore," said Captain James Beol of the Terran.
"Captain," responded Carl.
"I've got a question to ask you, Commodore. What do think you were doing warping in the Solar System? That's risking Starfleet property unnecessarily! If it happens again, I'll have to releive you of command, no disrespect meant."
"Captain Beol. I have overall command of this convoy, and it will therefore be Captain Arrondino who assumes command if I exhibit signs of madness. I have a good mind to send him over to your ship and releive you, unless you can give me a good reason for dropping a dust cloud in my flight path."
"I wanted to talk to you about..."
"Risking Starfleet property. Thank you. I'll not speak of this again, but if it happens again, ever, I will take great pleasure in getting to where you are and personally releiving you of command. Clear? Masterson out.". Carl mimed slitting his throat with his hand, and Janice cut the transmission.
"How did you know it was him that dropped a dustcloud in our path?" asked Markus.
"It was obvious. When we get to Xlem 3 we can just blame him for losing whatever it was he used on the way. Engage warp drive. I want to scare him into knowing I mean business."
"Warp drive on line. Entering warp," said Ray as he adjusted the power distribution dial and hit the red button that activated the two pillars of actinic green light. The Nassaransu leapt forward, and was gone.
Nearly six months later, the two blobs on Xlem Three's long-distance radar were visible. By midday they were on the close range radar, and had dropped out of warp. By three in the afternoon Earth-time (17 o'clock Xlem 3 time), the transport had landed. An hour later, the large shape of the Nassaransu was seen gliding in on minimal thrust, at 12,000 miles per minute. As it neared the surface, Mortimor began to worry that something was wrong - he didn't know that the crew of the Nassaransu prided themselves on their ability to pull off difficult manoeuvres. He radioed the ship, and was told that everything was A-OK. With a final swooping turn, the Nassaransu aligned itself with the runway, and fired its main engines on full reverse. The noise was deafening. The huge aeroplane had actually landed by the time the observers heard it, but it was still deafening. As the Nassaransu's speed dropped from over 900 times the speed of sound to just under 500 miles an hour in 20 seconds, the trajectory of its flight didn't alter an inch. The craft landed at the very end of the runway, and the sonic wash hit the assembled officials. By the time the Nassaransu had halted at the far end of the runway, the noise had only just died down, and frost was forming on the engine housing where the heatsink was. The rockets started up again, and the watchers were subjected to another blast of sound, as the Nassaransu slowly began taxiing towards the hangar. When it arrived, Mortimor and his retinue were in for another shock. With painful mechanical slowness and complications, the wings and engines swapped places, lowering the body of the Nassaransu onto the ground. The final surprise was saved to last. When everyone was watching, the cargo bay doors opened slowly, to reveal two small attack shuttles, as well as a huge block of metal with a cannon mounted on top - the latest in tanks. Capable of nearly 300mph on its half-tracks, it could fire ten shells a minute, each one capable of putting a hole in a freighter's hull whilst going up a 65° slope. The tank was driven out by its crew, so only the small attack shuttles remained, with no sign of the crew. Suddenly, the five-strong crew of the battleship FSS-500 Nassaransu transmatted into existence in front of them, in full battle-dress.
A man in a plain white uniform ripped off a perfect salute. "Commodore Carl Masterson and Crew, reporting for duty, SAH!"
"Er, er, er, yes. All right then," was all Mortimor could manage. Elgran came to the rescue.
"Could you introduce yourselves please?"
A man in a blue uniform with a white frontage stepped forward. "Captain Michael Arrondino, security officer, SAH!"
The next to step forward was a woman in the white uniform upper and red uniform lower of the Emtrite special detachment, with the black flashings of a Commander on her sleeves. "Commander Janice Tarleena, Emtrite special detachment, communications officer, SIR!"
The next two were men in standard Starfleet uniforms, with the white frontage. The first was in yellow. "Lieutenant-Commander Ray Petersen, pilot, SAH!"
The last was in red. "Lieutenant Markus Halliday, vessel operations, SAH!"
When everyone had recovered from the effrontery of the arrival of the Nassaransu, Mortimor and Elgran had a private meeting with Carl. The aides spent the time trying to entertain the rest of the crew. After some time,
It was Mortimor's idea that the crew of the Nassaransu should take a stroll around the town to sample the local life, and that evening he led Carl and his crew into town. They were no longer in full battle-dress, but they were still carrying their guns. As they were passing the bar (which no-one had yet thought of an appropriate name for), an Xlemin passed them at high velocity, two feet above ground level.
"Don't worry about it," said Mortimor, walking past, and trying not to notice that the Xlemin had levered a brick out of the pavement edging and was weighing it thoughtfully. "It's like that every night."
"Like that every night, eh?" asked Carl.
"Like that every night?" repeated Markus.
"Like that every night?" said Ray, as he calculated the distance to the door of the bar.
"It's like that every night," said Michael.
"Do you think we ought to do something about it?" asked Janice.
"Don't go in there!" yelled Mortimor, but it was too late. Ray had launched himself at the glass doors and had smashed through them, colliding with an exiting fighter pilot. Carl followed, and butted the pilot before wading in. Michael and Janice went in together, and headed straight for the first group of contained fighting they saw - the bovver boys. Markus took a long run up, and launched himself through a window, taking out two Xlemin people as he landed. Mortimor shook his head and winced as somebody screamed. He walked slowly to the door, ready to dodge any people or missiles that came out. He winced again as he heard a body hitting the wall stacked with bottles behind the counter, and looked in. He ducked as a bovver boy was thrown out. This was a first, no bovver boy ever got thrown out. He looked in again, and saw Carl and Michael double-punch a bovver boy in the face, and turned round to do the same to an Xlemin. They were lost to view as Janice pirouetted past, kicking people and aliens under the chin as she passed. When she was gone, Ray was where Carl and Michael had been, brandishing a table lamp in one hand, and attempting with reasonable success to rip someone's arm off with the other. Markus ran across his line of vision, closely following a bovver boy, and preparing to floor him. Carl dropped from a chandelier onto an Xlemin's head, fell off, and hurled it out of the door, narrowly missing Mortimor. When he next looked, Ray kicked a bovver boy in the groin and delivered a double handed uppercut at the same time, the result of which was the bovver boy's head jammed in the ceiling. Markus was having a private scuffle with an Xlemin, and when another tried to butt in, he floored the interloper with barely a glance, before turning back to his opponent, who was doing his best to flee. A bovver boy tried to hide behind the counter, but Michael stood up and punched him back over, then followed and started beating seven kinds of Hell out of him. Janice spun past again, this time building up speed to fling an Xlemin. Just then, a carelessly flung fighter pilot hit Mortimor in the chest, and he was thrown into the street unconscious.
The next day, in Mortimor's office, the crew of the Nassaransu were standing sheepishly in front of Mortimor's desk.
"Where in God's name did you learn to fight like that?" he demanded.
"Special forces training," Janice replied.
"And you taught the rest of them?"
"Oh yes. Well, there wasn't a lot to do on the ship during the flight..."
"So I thought we'd better get some exercise," finished Carl.
© Brian Wakeling