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Lost and Found by Lisa Marie Plant

June 28, 2011

((Warning: Some swearing present in text))

Then…

 

June 17th 2011 at the Phoenix Square. Creative Writing night for Star Base Leicester. The task; think of a character, write a short description, and then answer the following questions in the form of a story.

1. How would the character hold a baby?

2. What type of shoes do they wear?

3. How many birthday cards did they receive last year, and from who?

4. Would the character buy The Big Issue?

5. What would the character say if asked “Do you dance?”

6. What do they keep hidden in their underwear draw?

7. Do they stay in contact with their friends?

I chose the character of Dean Winchester from Supernatural. Supernatural is

the story of two brothers, the aforementioned Dean, 26 when the series began in 2005, and Sam. Dean pretty much raised Sam from the age of four, when their mother was killed by a demon on the night Sam turned six months old and their father became a hunter of all things supernatural (and in this particular universe, Supernatural usually means evil). Two decades later and the boys are now working the ‘family business’…

 

Now…

 

The Impala rolled to a stop outside the motel. Dean sighed with relief, finally, he could get inside and wash off the vampire blood and a whole bunch of other crap. Right now he looked like he’d gone mud wrestling with the Thing from the Black Lagoon… Which wasn’t an impossibility in his line of work. ‘Just another perk of the job.’ he thought to himself.

“Sam! Wake the hell up Sleeping Beauty!” he yelled, slapping his younger brother on the shoulder and sending a startled Sam’s head on a collision course with the car window.

“Ow! Dean! What the-?”

“We’re home.” Dean said. Sam blinked himself back to consciousness, hearing the driver side door sqeak open and clunk closed.

Sam made no move to exit the car, hoping by the time he made it into the room Dean would be in the shower, allowing Sam to go to sleep and avoid his brother until morning, when hopefully, his mood would have improved. Although Sam was busy trying not to be a vampire’s breakfast at the time, it was still somehow his fault that Dean had ended up hip deep in crud. Sam had a sinking feeling it’d be him who wound up washing down the interior of Dean’s precious baby before they left this particular ‘middle of nowhere’ hick town.

Sam squinted through the window to try and gage whether enough time had passed, only to find Dean standing completely still, staring at something in the shadows that Sam could not hope to see from his position.

Alert again, now that his brother was possibly in danger from some nasty that had followed them home. Sam silently left the vehicle and warily approached his brother, who still had yet to move at all.

“Sam…” Dean’s voice floated back through the darkness. “Is there maybe something you forgot to tell me?”

Hearing not danger, but bafflement in Dean’s voice Sam quickly closed the distance between them and peeked over Dean’s leather clad shoulder… And directly into the sleeping face of a newborn baby.

 

It amazed Sam that something that tiny could possibly make so much noise. Having accidently jarred the infant whilst moving him or her inside the rented room, the tyke had started to make it’s presence known by crying… loudly… very loudly…

The boys stood by the bed that they had placed the baby on, slightly horrified by the situation that they seemed to found themselves in.

“You know,” said Sam, eventually. “I think you’re supposed to pick them up when they do that.”

“You pick it up.” Came Dean’s immediate response. Sam turned towards his brother, who, Sam saw, was eying the baby with a nervousness usually reserved for Hell Hounds… or aeroplanes.

“Why me, Dean? I’ve never even been near a baby before.”

“Cause I said so.” This was Dean’s standard response, when he didn’t actually have a good reason but was choosing to exercise his big brother card.

Sam sighed his patented ‘put-upon-little brother’ sigh, which just caused Dean to smirk because this signalled victory, and bent down to pick up the screaming infant.

Sam brought the baby up to his shoulder, and to both the boys surprise the baby immediately stopped crying. Dean raised and eyebrow, and shot his little brother a grudgingly respectful look… which is when the baby spit up… right on Dean’s boots…

“Kill it Sam, it’s definitely evil.”

 

Three Days Later…

Sam sat on one of the beds, feeding formula to the baby, who Dean had taken to referring to as Damian, whilst Dean was out chasing down a lead as to the baby’s identity and how the hell, he had ended up on their doorstep. Sam could only hope he was successful. Not that he didn’t like Damian, the name had kind of stuck, but there was no way the kid could stay with them. Family and ‘the life’ didn’t mix. Dean and Sam had lost their mother, father, grandparents, Jessica… Pretty much anyone either boy had ever loved to one monster or another, hell both Sam and Dean themselves had died more than once. You could either be a hunter or have a family, not both.

Of course, the brothers themselves were exceptions to this rule, having been raised to be hunter’s by their father. But, as much as Sam loved his brother, and father, it wasn’t much of a family. Not in the lack of love, John Winchester had died to save Dean, and Dean had sold his soul and gone to hell to save Sam, and, Sam knew, would do it again if he felt he had to. It was more that they just didn’t do the ordinary things that families did. They didn’t celebrate holidays, or even birthdays, not since before Sam took off for college anyway. Hell, he’d never even bought Dean a birthday card, not once. There just wasn’t money for frivolities like that when there was rock salt and holy water that needed buying on a regular basis.

After being stuck in the motel room play nanny for several hours, Sam was starting to get antsy, and so decided to call Dean and see what he’d managed to discover about their new roommates origins.

Sam felt his blood pressure begin to rise as even through the phone and before Dean spoke Sam recognised the familiar sounds of a bar.

“Yeah, Sammy?” Was Dean’s greeting.

“Dean? Why are you in a bar?” Sam asked through gritted teeth. If Dean was slacking off and leaving him at the mercy of the poop machine, Sam swore the kid emitted at least twice what they put in, he was gonna kill his beloved brother in the most violent manner he could think up.

“Taking a break Sammy, union rules.” Dean listened to the ominous silence coming through the phone. “You’re so totally giving me that bitch-face of yours right now, aren’t ya?” He asked with a smirk, managing to give the sexy bartender a suggestive wink at the same time.

“Dean…”

“Oh, calm down Sam, I think the Omens mother might work here, okay, I’m working the case, is it my fault the clues led me to be surrounded by really hot women in a fine establishment like this one?”

“…”

“Yeah, see? I’ll be back soon. If you’re good, I might even pick up dinner on the way.” Dean disconnected the phone before Sam could explode, and turned to the pretty brunette working the bar.

“Sorry about that, just my partner checking in, he’s following a different lead on the case.” He said, whipping out one of the more devastating smiles in his arsenal. “You were telling me about this girl, went missing last week?” He asked, waving away someone selling a magazine.

“Uh-huh. Hadn’t worked here long, kept to herself, kinda stuck up, if you asked me, crappy dresser too, always wearing these really baggy sweaters… Say I get off in about a half hour, do you dance, detective?”

Dean looked up from his notepad, with a slow smile. “No, hell no. Unless you’re referring to the horizontal-mambo, sweetheart?”

The girl, Victoria, Vanessa, Veronica, something like that, let out a loud laugh and went to pour a drink for one of the regulars.

 

Later that evening, after experiencing an epic hissy fit courtesy of a supremely pissed off Sam, Dean had filled his little brother in on the case, which was now starting to come together. Dean was beginning to think that they actually had a chance of reuniting the noise-maker with it’s mother.

Sam was sleeping on one of the beds, when Dean heard the gravel outside the motel crunch. This wouldn’t have usually set off his internal alarms, but rather than a series of crunches, which would be the sound of one of the other residents returning to their rooms, this noise was singular. Most likely someone, or something, was attempting to sneak up to the door and had made a mis-step.

Dean stood silently, and crept over to the chest of drawers, he quietly opened the top one, pushed aside several pairs of boxers, and pulled out an absolutely wicked looking blade, that was actually more of a short-sword than a knife. He eased around his bed, which the baby currently slept on, and passed a now wide awake Sam, woken by the tension in the room, Dean guessed, and approached the door. Sam rose and placed himself behind Dean, between the door and the baby. Dean smiled, damn it if they hadn’t already both started to get attached to the little tyke.

Checking again that Sam was ready, he was – gun in hand, Dean grabbed the door handle, threw the door open, lunged at figure on the other side, and pushed it against the wall, blade to jugular…

Only to find himself eye to eye with an absolutely terrified young woman.

 

Two Day’s Later… Singer’s Auto Salvage Yard

Dean stood outside gazing at the scenery, but not really seeing it, he raised the beer bottle to his lips and took a healthy swallow. He heard the door behind him open and his sasquatch of a brother ease up beside him.

“So… Tricia and Bradley are about to leave.” He said, as though stating the weather, and not giving his big brother a verbal nudge.

“Good. About time we got back to business as usual.” Dean said, refusing to acknowledge Sam’s sidelong glances and unasked questions. For a while, they both stood in amiable silence, Dean taking occasional sips of his drink. “Bobby’s got ‘em sorted though, right?” Dean eventually ground out. Causing Sam to smile indulgently, something Dean absolutely did NOT see happen.

“Yeah, they should be safe now.” It had turned out that Bradley, the aforementioned poop-machine, and his mother Tricia had been on the run from a demon-worshipping cult, Tricia, certain that the cult was closing in on her had left her little boy outside the brothers room, after watching them arrive at the motel from one of the upstairs rooms. Determining that they looked strong enough to protect her son and feeling desperate, she abandoned her child and attempted to lure the cult away.

Failing abjectly, she had returned to warn the brother’s before the cult could descend en masse. Upon hearing this, and deciding there was no way that they could fight off an army of fanatics single-handedly. The boys had turned to their one real friend and surrogate father figure, Bobby Singer. After telling them that they were both idjuts several times over, Bobby set about using his contacts to get Tricia and Bradley safely relocated and protected.

“Admit it, Dean, you’re gonna miss him.” Said Sam with a chuckle.

“Am not.”

“Right. Sorry forgot who I was talking to for a minute.” Sam muttered rolling his eyes in exasperation at the man, who wouldn’t admit he was anything less than fine even if all his limbs had just been torn off.

“Well, why would I? All it does is cry, eat and crap, sometimes all at once, and well, I got you for that.” Dean said with a wicked smirk, before turning and walking back inside.

“Jerk.”

“Bitch.”

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L.A. Noire

May 24, 2011

Hi, shameless plug here for my own blog but we’re very keen to get regular reviews here at Avatar so I hope that by posting this link to my review of L.A. Noire some of you will feel inspired to write and send in some of your own!

Let’s Never Do That Again

May 2, 2011

Starbase Leicester goes to Con-Quest & Friday Night Gaming

Two great events in one day. It sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? What could be more perfect than a day at the annual Roleplaying convention Con-Quest 2011 in Derby followed by an evening in Loughborough at the monthly Friday Night Games Club (which for reasons which are unlikely to become clear anytime soon was on a Saturday).

The first challenge with any convention of course is getting everyone there, but we had that covered. Usually it’s a squeeze to fit everyone in one car since for many years SBL has had only one designated driver, namely myself. This also has the effect of limiting attendance to any event to just 5, unless anyone’s brave enough to go by train. But this time we had another car driven by Kaltak, who has recently renewed his licence.

The problem was that having been a pedestrian and bus passenger all these years, the one skill he’d forgotten to brush up on was navigation. Knowing where you’re going is often the hardest part of driving and I’m sure it’s the reason sat nav has become so popular over the years. So having collected Jaffa and proceeded to the ren-dez-vous point for the planned 9.15am meeting, we found that we were more than a little early. About 9.30 we got a call that Kaltak had just left town and was now on his way – so not much chance of getting to the convention for 10 o’clock then.

Eventually we did meet up, and got ourselves to Derby, but not in time for the morning slot. I found my old RPG friends from Leicester with their game already in full flow and decided to break out one of the board games I’d brought along since we now had some time to kill before slot 2 at 3.30pm.

As so often happens with gaming conventions, we quickly found ourselves playing a board game in a corner, in this case the excellent Formula De, with ourselves. We did manage to attract one guy wandering past into the game though, and everyone had a great game.

Then, when that was over, it was time to wander around for several hours. I didn’t want to spend any more money so tried to avoid the many stalls and ended up going out for lunch with my old gang.

Then it was time to go to the pm game. I had picked Ghostbusters, but pretty much everyone else had picked something different (you’ll have to read their accounts to find out what). There was a huge choice of games on the day and there really was something for everyone. The Ghostbusters game was great fun as I had hoped it would be, but my only gripe was that everyone else in the game was part of the same group, they were all friends, so I felt like I was a little bit of an outsider, though I didn’t let that hold me back (quite the opposite). I do like going to a con and playing in games where there’s a good mix-up of people who haven’t played together before. I don’t know, it sort of makes everything a bit more about the game and not about the individuals.

After all that was over there was some more waiting since GB had finished early and almost everyone else was still playing. Eventually, by about 7pm we all went back to collect the cars (the parking cost more than the convention had!) and started on the second leg of our excursion.

We rolled into Loughborough and sorted out some food for ourselves. Then we played Formula De again, and with ourselves again! I’ve noticed that Friday Night Gaming tends to be mainly about Magic and Dominion and nobody seems to be interested in board games. By now most of us were getting pretty tired and after a spirited game of Dixit someone decided it might be a good idea to explain ‘Humans’ to me.

I have written extensively in the past about the simple versus complicated idea in gaming. It’s true in both video games and board games, but the simpler games tend to be more fun for me than the ones with endless expansions (Munchkin) or pointless tinkering with an already perfect rules system (Fluxx). Humans is another great example. They have taken a very simple game of Zombies and added a load of new rules, taken away the nice 1D6 to kill mechanic and made something which used to be relatively quick and fun into a headache, which takes too much effort to explain. Or maybe it was just because I was tired.

Eventually it was time to go home, and I was longing for my bed, but knew that it was several hours away since I had to drive back to Leicester then Rugby. I still had one more video game style ‘Escort Mission’ to perform, guiding Kaltak back to the city as he didn’t know the way. This seemed to involve driving over more badgers than your average driving game though, but we eventually made it, parting ways at St. Margarets bus station. It was fun having a wing-man for the day Kaltak!

So what have we learned? Well, next time we need to be on-time (I am as bad at this as anyone, so I can’t blame Kaltak for being late). We could have maybe got more people since we ended up with a few spare seats in the car. Kaltak needs a sat-nav or at least some people who can read a map. Conventions are always disappointing and you never really meet anyone except the people you went with. Trying to do 2 events in one day is a very bad idea unless they are in the same street, near a cafe and you have somewhere to sleep before driving back home.

So would I do it again? Maybe, well no.

Mark E. Cotterill

Scorpius Episode III: Back in Black

April 13, 2011

by Mark E. Cotterill

Read Episode I

Read Episode II


The Firefly class ship hovered briefly like its insect namesake, gathered up her landing gear and floated skywards. She cleared the Spaceport boundary and rotated as her pilot Kurza Kitosa throttled the engines up to maximum. The Spaceport, the City and the land mass it stood on, all fell away behind them as the Scorpius returned to ‘The Black’.

When Kurza left the cockpit several minutes later everyone else on board was in one place and completely focused on one thing; the door to the Captain’s quarters.

“It’s tough alright,” said Cobb, from behind a welding mask. At his side Kaine was diligently tracing the burning torch around a seam in one of the hinges. The ceramic-metal alloy was starting to glow, but showed no signs of melting. “Kaine’s been at it for about ten-minutes now an’ aint barely made a scratch.” Scott, who would be doing this himself if he wasn’t strapped to a medi-bed, looked on. He was conscious enough to give occasional instructions, but Dr. Whiteman had forbidden him to move until he’d had more time to recover.

The newest addition to the group was Margaret Wolff. She leant back against the bulkhead and looked on passively, apparently uninterested in the scene in front of her, yet clearly not willing to wander around the ship on her own. Kitosa kept looking at her, scarcely believing his luck that she had asked to join them for this trip. She was a fine looking woman and, despite her argumentative and threatening demeanour on the planet, Kitosa could tell that she liked him. He’d lucked out with the ship too. Here he was, with his own vessel, a crew and all the Sky before him. The only thing that stood in his way now was this stubborn door, behind which was probably a safe containing a large fortune.

“Couldn’t we try a plasma torch?” Kitosa shouted above the noise. There was a sucking sound from one of Scott’s tubes and his voice croaked,

“Nah, plasma’ll be nae use here. Needs a vacuum.” Even saying that much had taken him all his strength.

“What about that security access panel?” Asked Margaret, pointing to the complicated looking key and code-pad interface.

“We tried that first, the Captain must’ve had the key on him when he was picked up. When we bought the ship all we got was the main door seal and some paperwork.”

The key and code system was a panel at about shoulder height recessed into the door. A square key slot, a number input pad and simple four digit display. It was a sophisticated system and in all the time they’d been aboard nobody had ever managed to get into the Captain’s room. As soon as they had been allowed back on-board following the sale, one of the first things they had done was investigate the section of hull around the Captain’s room trying to find a way in. It was hopeless, the whole room was one solid container slotted into the superstructure. All six sides were made of some carbon-ceramic poly-alloy, it was even tougher than the ship itself! It all just added to the mystery about Captain Eastman and the Scorpius.

“Keep at it, looks like it’s the only way in, but we got plenty of time. Come on Margaret, I’ll give you the tour.” Kitosa and Margaret walked off and left the work detail to get on with their job.

Over an hour passed and still Walter Kaine and Jake Cobb had made no progress. They swapped over at regular intervals as the heat got more intense, but so far it looked like their gas supply would give out long before the door would.

“I can charge this bottle down in the engine room and load the spare if Scott talks me through it,” said Kaine, at last turning off the torch and hauling himself up from the short ladder which was set in a little well in front of the doorway. Everyone was relieved to have some quiet for a few minutes after the deafening roar of the welding torch, and that was when they noticed the faint beeping alarm coming from the bridge.

Cobb was through the door first, he saw the red flashing light on the communications board to his right, but had no idea what it meant. Kaine knew it was some sort of message alert, but didn’t know what kind. He found the pilot in his quarters to the rear of the ship, in his bed which now had two human sized lumps concealed beneath covers instead of the usual one. He ducked back out of the doorway and heard Kurza’s voice call after him,

“What?”

“There’s something on the comms board, looks important.” Kaine heard some mumbling and a rustling sound and the muttered phrase,

“I got to do everything myself around here?” Kitosa appeared at the door in shirt and trousers and pushed Kaine out of his way as he made his way to the bridge. Kaine sneaked a glance into the room and noticed Margaret’s distinctive grey suit and boots scattered on the floor.

“It’s a distress call,” announced Kitosa as soon as he entered the cockpit door. He jabbed at the panel and suddenly the external speakers wailed with a cacophony of klaxons, shouting and loud bangs hitting the hull of some poor ship somewhere.

“Please, this is an emergency! Anyone out there who can hear this … we’re under attack. Don’t know how much longer we can hold out. Please! Help us!” The voice sounded measured and, not exactly calm, but this wasn’t the incoherent screaming of someone who’d never been attacked before.

“Pirates?” Said Kaine.

“Could be a trap!” Said Cobb as soon as the thought entered his head. Everyone else looked at Kurza.

“Maybe.”

“More importantly, we don’t have any weapons,” said Kaine. The pilot was already transposing the coordinates onto the astrogation chart.

“It’s right on our course anyway, if these pirates are real and they finish with that ship, we’ll be next. Two ships together might stand a better chance of doing something,” he sat back in the pilots chair and changed course. “Besides,” he smiled, “we do have weapons; there’s two homing missiles crated up in the cargo bay.”

It took them only a few minutes to burn into the area where the attack was taking place and it looked like they had arrived right on time. A small freighter was ducking and weaving its way around a larger frigate, which was constantly trying to achieve a target lock with its beam weapons. It was almost a stalemate, so long as the small ship kept turning in circles around the bigger pirate vessel, she stood a chance, but as soon as she tried to run away it would only take one good hit to knock out her engines or power core and then it was all over.

Kitosa clicked to an open channel and spoke,

“Now listen up, I’m giving you one chance and one chance only to break off your attack and leave this area. Otherwise, face the consequences.” It didn’t even sound convincing to Kurza, he knew they wouldn’t listen to him, but he had to say it anyway. They let him eat static for a long minute before they came back on the same channel,

“Hahahaha! You’re very funny little man. Why don’t you take your best shot, we ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“Fine, have it your way, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He switched the channel over to the helmet comm of Cobb’s vac-suit. “Cobb, you got a target lock yet?” The huge missile, about 3 metres long out of its case, rested precariously on the open ramp at the front of the Scorpius. Its display blinked slowly with its horrible little ‘scanning’ icon spinning round. It had found one radiation signature already, that of the Scorpius itself. Cobb had tagged that as ‘friendly’ and double checked it.

“The ruttin’ thing ain’t working! Just keeps finding us!”

“Hold on tight,” called Kitosa.

Cobb grappled with the tether line while holding on to the missile with it’s large handle. The Scorpius swung around the pirate ship and cut her engines. She was so close that Cobb felt like he could have lent over and kicked in the windows, but the manoeuvre had done the trick. The missile got a good strong signal from the pirate’s reactor core and armed. Quickly, Cobb yanked out the wrench which was wedged into the missile’s control interface panel and gave it a push. The trigger circuit, which ordinarily would be attached to a ship’s missile housing, snapped shut and the rocket motors burst into life.

“IT’S AWAY!” Shouted Cobb, shielding his visor with his arm just in time. The blast from the exhaust knocked him back into the door and he bounced off, but the tether held him as Kitosa threw the ship into a full burn away from where there would hopefully be a huge explosion in a couple of seconds.

But it never came. The pirate frigate must’ve detected the incoming missile and they instantly pulled the same move, blasting away in an attempt to outrun it. The small freighter was left on its own, its engines overloaded and its hull leaking vital supplies of oxygen. The Scorpius quickly circled back and moved in for a hard-dock. Cobb was through the door just in time to cycle the airlock once more and shout into the smoke and sparks of the freighter’s cargo bay.

Dr. Whiteman was there just moments later as one, then two, then three men emerged from the hell beyond.

“Is there anyone else?” Asked the Doctor as the third man off flopped down on the deck.

“One more,” he coughed, before collapsing. A muscular, heavily built man, ran at full tilt through the hatchway, slamming the release valve as he leapt forward.

“That’s it, let’s go,” he called. His voice was the one from the emergency message.

“That’s all of ‘em,” called Cobb through the ship’s intercom. The Scorpius sped away from the freighter as its reactor finally overloaded.

* * *

It took a good half an hour before Kurza was convinced that the pirate raider hadn’t followed them. He imagined that they had either got hit by the missile or evaded it and decided not to come back for more. When he stepped out of the cockpit after setting the auto-pilot back on course for Bellerophon, he knew exactly what he was going to do next; get an unopened bottle of whiskey, start drinking it, then find out who his new passengers were – in that order.

The group of four men were already seated around the table. Kaine was talking to them as Kurza took his drink and sat down.

“Kaine, you think you could get back to work on that door?” Kaine looked up, and nodded.

“Yeah, of course,” and he left.

“Always tough to lose a ship,” Kurza offered the bottle to the larger of the men, he seemed to be in charge.

“Yes, and we was so close to Muir too.”

“That’s where you’re heading?” The big man nodded.

“Yeah,” he looked at the other three as he said it. Almost like he was waiting to be corrected, but he wasn’t. “Name’s Frank Bishop,” he stood and offered his hand, which Kurza shook. “This here is my co-pilot Ritter, engineer Castillo and security chief Koenig.” Each crewman in turn mumbled some greeting, none too enthusiastically for folks who’d just been rescued.

“Well we’re headed in the opposite direction, away from Blue Sun. If that’s a problem then there’s nothing I can do for you ‘cept maybe put you back outside.”

“No, Bellerophon will do fine,” Kaine had obviously told them where they were going, “there’s a small industrial moon, Parth. That’s where we set out from. We need to go back there if you’d be obliged.” Frank looked around the room. Kitosa kept drinking. “Is there any way we could get a message to our base, tell them what’s happened?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” The air between them lay dead for a while then they heard the blast of Kaine’s burner starting up.

“What’s up with the door?” asked Castillo.

“We lost the key to our guest cabin, you any good with locks?” Castillo seemed to be looking anywhere but at his Captain. Frank fumbled with the bottle and slid it back across the table. “Never mind, we have a few passenger cabins free.” He pointed to the rear of the dining area and noticed Margaret standing in the hatchway.

“I’ll show them shall I?” She said, seeing that Kitosa was rapidly rendering himself incapable of finding his own quarters, let alone anyone else’s.

The shipboard equivalent of night rolled around and everyone took this to mean that, whatever they had been doing, it was now time to stop and get some rest. Everyone, with the exception of Kurza who was now too drunk to notice. Kaine and Cobb decided between themselves that they should take turns watching the new ‘guests’, and agreed to sleep in shifts down in the one remaining spare passenger cabin. Dr. Whiteman had rigged up a makeshift bunk in Scott’s room on the upper deck so he could keep an eye on him should he need anything. He’d much prefer an infirmary, but the Scorpius didn’t have one and doubted it was high on the list of priorities for everyone else.

About a half an hour after Jake Cobb had taken first watch, he heard some kind of argument going on inside Bishop’s room and unclosed his eyes. The disagreement had seemingly sprung from nowhere and just as Cobb was thinking of making a move towards the door, it burst open. Two of the crewmen were in the middle of a stand up fist-fight. Bishop was behind them, trying to pull them apart, but he got hit back. Cobb moved to intervene and got smacked on the jaw for his trouble. The melee was awkward in the tight space of the corridor beyond the passenger quarters and as Kaine, who hadn’t been asleep anyway, joined in it became harder and harder to tell who was hitting who.

Frank Bishop waited for his moment and slipped unnoticed away from the fight. He made his way through the dining room and up to the corridor to the Captain’s door, still firmly locked with its key-lock and number input just as had been described to him. He slid quietly down the small steps into the recess and took out the key.

To be continued …

The Avatar Issue 3

March 19, 2011

The Spring 2011 Issue of The Avatar will be available at the next meeting!

Issue 3 of our print Fanzine has regular features such as Geek Girl and an Interview with one of our members. We’ve also got 3 brand new short stories; A tale of a perfect little world from Daniel Ribot, the adventures of a visiting alien from Douglas Rudman and our featured story from David L. Smith, an apocalyptic story about a man trapped in a nuclear bunker.

David also comprehensively reviews one of the worst films ever made, Battlefield Earth and asks the question, is it really as bad as he remembers? Andrew Clarke’s series on the Movies of Horror Director John Carpenter reaches its conclusion with a review of his two best movies!

And not forgetting Chris Burnham’s guide to buying Budget Comics (can you really buy 6 great comics for £2.50?)

All this, plus my own guide to the Remastered Star Trek and what it teaches us about the current state of CGI. All this for £1!

So pick up your copy at one of our meetings. We’re also hoping to bring you PDF versions of Issue 1 and 2 of The Avatar, so watch this space.

Issue 4 will be out in October 2011 and we’re totally out of submissions at the moment so please send them in! Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, we’d love to have your feedback, it might even make it to our first ever Letters Page (there’s a prize.) It’s great to have so much wonderful stuff in our Fanzine, but we want to know what our readers think of it, good or bad. Tell us what you’d like to see or maybe just give our authors some encouragement to keep doing what they’re doing.

-The Editor

Starbase Leicester goes to Sabrecon

February 7, 2011

By CHRIS BURNHAM

We originally got invited to this event when a group of us were at ConQuest last year. In amongst the stalls selling games, magic cards and warhammer figures was a small stall selling tickets to another convention. It was being run by the Leicester University’s Games Society (also known as the Leicester Sabres) on 5th of February and “Would I be interested in purchasing a ticket?”. So, after  perusing their flyers and posters, I handed over my cash and got my shiny new ticket #1 (do I get extra Geek Points for getting the first ticket?)

So, eventually the big day arrived and I made my way towards the foreboding towers of Leicester University. It was still early in the morning and I was suffering a little from the night before. I’d only found the SabreCon forum the night before and did a little digging to find out just what I should expect. So I was a little weary and had forgone my morning ritual of coffee and cereal, in favour of getting there at the very start of the convention. There was a talk I wanted to go to about ‘How to make a Boardgame’, which appealed to me because I’ve recently gotten back into boardgaming and I was always after new ideas for stuff to do at SBL meetings.

I’d been told previously that the Percy Gee building, where I had to sign in, was a new addition to the university, but I was still surprised that after entering through a humble entrance, it opened out dramatically into a large cathedral-like hall. Even though it was still early for me, it wasn’t long before I noticed that there was a Starbucks cafe right in front of me (lucky students :D). Just what I needed to perk me up and get ready for the next twelve hours of gaming.

After quickly grabbing a beverage, I went to sign in for the event, only to find that my intended talk had been cancelled due to illness, so I worked out that I had a few hours to kill before the next one. Jaffa was a welcome distraction, mysteriously showing up, quite literally, from a nearby balcony. But as soon as he was there, then he was gone again. So, I wandered over to the nearby noticeboard and tried to find a roleplaying game to play. A few of them were starting soon and I decided on a Stargate SG1 roleplay.

My GM for the game was called Evil Dan, according to his Leicester Sabres polo shirt and after a short introduction to the game and my fellow gamers, we began a mission to find out the origins of a coded message. After only about 5 minutes into the mission, I had fumbled a spot check, then fumbled the resulting combat and shot one of my team mates. Then we got ourselves outnumbered with an invasion of Jaffa troops, so we did what any other SG1 group would do. Instead of taking on the enemy face-to-face, we used the rings system to board their pyramid base ship and attempted to take it over for ourselves. We attacked the bridge with Stun grenades, but I fumbled another one of my throws and almost accidentally knocked out their leader as my grenade hit him square in the forehead. Soon after we were victorious and out-of-character I was back in the main hall looking for the next thing to do.

I decided to stop for a spot of lunch between activities and sat myself down next to Garak, who’d turned up an hour into my Stargate game. He’d been playing a few of the game demos that were scattered around the hall and was currently embroiled in a Cowboys and Indians roleplaying game with a selection of opponents (it was 6D6 – Garak). I decided soon after, still with an hour before the ‘GM’s Worst Nightmares’ talk that I’d check out both the Traders Hall and the Boardgame Library (one of the main reasons I was at the convention in the first place). The Traders Hall consisted of three shops, one specialising in Warhammer and Magic, a second that had a large selection of roleplaying books and a final one with a plethora of card and boardgames. I walked out with a new game called ‘Gloom’, which I’d only ever read about before. But from what I’d read, I already liked it. That and the transparent playing cards added an extra spin on things. Next up was the Boardgame Library, which was confusingly located in another of the University buildings. Like I said, I’d particularly been looking forward to this, the chance to play games without having to buy them first, but even though there was an impressive amount of games available, I ended up showing someone how to play my ‘Icehouse’ and ‘Back to the Future’ games.

Before long, it was time to dash back across campus, to get to the ‘GM’s Worst Nightmares’ talk, which was being hosted by one of the Traders, Big Bad John, who’d been a GM for the past 20 years or so. He’d written a book about how the most unpredictable things can happen, when you add playable characters to any reoleplaying system. It was mostly an informal chat about misdirected plots, annoying characters and the best laid plans of a GM being thwarted at every turn. Most of the scenarios that he told us about ended up farcically going wrong, often with characters dying due to their own stupidity.

Afterwards, I met back up with Jaffa and Garak and we tried out some of our purchases between us, in the short gap before our final roleplaying session, which was ‘Ghostbusters’. We weren’t playing long, until I realised that the Magic players had emerged from their room. They’d been playing a pre-release of Magic:The Gathering(Mirrodin Besieged, for anyone that’s interested) for the last five hours, almost since the very start of the day and had missed the majority of the activities. I felt slightly sorry for them, because I’d enjoyed so many different treats by then and all they’d done had was play in one game.

Eventually, four of us turned up for the game and we were all playing Victorian ghosts. Not a proton pack in sight. But we carried on regardless, slightly curious about the game we were embroiled in. It turns out that we were haunting a house of our descendants, which had been ‘invaded’ by a new family, consisting of a man and his wife, plus their two children. Our job was to scare them away from ‘our’ home and we did so with ghoulish delight, making sure that we tried as many of our ghostly powers out as possible on them. We inhabited objects to make them move, possessed members of the family and even convinced one of the children that they had killed another child(secretly a ghost). Eventually we won and they fled, only to be replaced by a group of embittered adventurers. The Ghostbusters had arrived and as ghosts we were more than a little worried(plus a little surprised). But by this point, we’d got a bit more used to being ghosts and proceeded to use our powers to take them out one by one. Ray was first, finding himself teleported from the master bedroom of the house to 20 feet in the air above the garden. With his proton pack weighing himself down, he was lucky to survive the fall, even though he broke both legs in the process. The rest were thrown off a nearby balcony in one way or another and in the end we left them all incapacitated and because we were particularly vindictive, we also managed to discredit them and possibly put them out of business altogether. After a successful game, and with SabreCon officially over, we retired to a nearby pub and continued playing yet more games late into the night, including a trial run of my new storytelling game of ‘Gloom’.

My overall impressions of the event were good, considering it was the first time they’d ever run one, but a couple of things didn’t go as well as they could have. The constant moving between buildings for games, was annoying for most of the roleplayers taking part, especially considering we were all directed to the sign-in desk inside the large hall of the Percy Gee building. There was also some time spent procrastinating, with us waiting to get into the rooms for the pre-arranged games. Next time, and I hope there is a next time, I think that they should make more use of the rooms in the Percy Gee Building. One of the talks I went to, was in one of the many rooms in the basement, which were otherwise empty and would have been ideal to hold most of the scheduled games, if not all of them. This would have been an ideal solution in my eyes. But apart from that, I liked the convention because of all the gamers I managed to meet, I didn’t play any games which ended up as a rubbish waste of time (it’s really annoying when it happens) and I even managed to find a game that I was after prior to the event. So it might not be a surprise that I spent most of the day smiling laughing and generally having fun. Shame I’ll probably have to wait another year to experience it again. – Chris Burnham

Scorpius Episode II: Down and Out

February 4, 2011

By Mark E. Cotterill

Read Episode I

Stranded on the Blue Sun factory world of Meridian, Kitosa Kurza, Scott Wilson, Dr. Whiteman, Walter Kaine and Jake Cobb have lost their Captain and their Ship. Retreating to the spaceport bar, they witness the execution of their former Captain live on TV and meet an attractive and mysterious woman…

The service corridors between the spaceport and Quing Long City were even more complicated on foot than they had been in the Mule. Margaret Wolff, the woman Kurza had met in the bar, had told them which way to go and given them her word that the surveillance systems would be looking the other way providing they stuck to the route she’d given them.

It seemed so wrong to be going away from the ship, but the Scorpius was locked down and the docking bay was off limits. With the Captain gone they had no more claim to it than anyone else and once he’d been executed it had been put on Blue Sun’s own cortex auction service almost immediately. The only chance of getting it back now was to raise enough money to buy it back.

The computer was now stuffed into Scott’s bag and according to Margaret, it was worth about 10,000 credits to them if they could successfully smuggle it inside the City and give it to her.

“But can we really trust her?” asked Jake, for about the dozenth time.

“Look, if she wanted to get us locked up…” began Kurza, but Jake interrupted,

“She’d tell us to smuggle a computer stolen from a dead Blue Sun IntSec Officer into the city?”

“Maybe,” said Kurza, “but, it’s not the way they operate. If they’d known about us they’d have marched a squad into the spaceport and arrested us there.” They stopped at yet another intersection while Kaine looked at the map. “She’s a journalist, working on a story. You didn’t spend so long talking to her as I did,” said Kurza.

“Yeah, we all know what you were doing. Why don’t you start thinking with your brain instead?” The pilot didn’t rise to Cobb’s insult, instead he looked around at the pipes and overhead compartments which lined the narrow passageway.

“We’re nearly there,” said Kaine.

“I know,” Kurza replied, “Scott, hand me the computer.”

“So ye still dunnae trust her after all, eh?”

“Just playing it safe.”

They waited while Kurza pushed the computer into a dark recess in the ceiling and noted down the numbers on a nearby conduit. A few metres further on they found the exit into a side-street. Stepping through they checked to see if they’d been spotted. Scott looked carefully at the locking mechanism and with a few minor adjustments jammed it open in such a way that no one would notice from the outside. Then he closed the door.

The City was spread out before them and it looked to be made almost entirely of cheap plastic. Every surface was made of this dull, soft material and scathed by years of wear. The design of everything was uniform, all the same shapes, all the same colour. The place was definitely not shiny. What few new structures there were stood out like a Companion in a Marine Corp.

It was evidently quite late by local time and there was nobody else on the streets. Dr. Whiteman, who up until now had displayed a commendable about of patience with the whole misadventure, spoke up,

“Well gentlemen, I’ve had quite enough of this for one day. I don’t care where you might want to spend the night, I’m booking into a hotel.” It appeared that, with one thing and another, nobody had even thought about what they would do for accommodation. Looking at the perfectly engineered lawns and spotless light grey plasticrete pavement they all guessed that the city had a fairly strict policy on vagrancy.

The big ‘Blue Sun Inn’ sign was visible from several blocks away and as they walked Kitosa checked the auction where the ship was being sold.

“How’s it going?” Asked Kaine, trying to get a look at the screen on Kurza’s hand-held.

“Still fairly low. I put in a bid of ninety-eight credits, that’s all the money I’ve got right now.” The hotel looked every bit as old and worn-in as everywhere else, but there seemed little point in shopping around. They all walked into the lobby.

Whiteman approached the desk clerk and smiled. Even after almost twenty-four hours the Doctor still looked reasonably smart in his tweed suit, bow-tie and sun hat. The clerk looked up and met Whiteman’s smile with his own, but this rapidly changed when he looked at who was standing behind him. There was a momentary pause before they slammed a button under the desk and screamed,

Hwai! No weapons, NO WEAPONS!”

A heavy ballistic screen dropped across the front of the whole reception kiosk, knocking Whiteman back. A loud alarm blasted out. Everyone dashed outside to see the flashing blue lights of a patrol car stopping at the end of the street. Scott was nearest the steps and the voice booming out seemed to be directed solely at him.

“Drop your weapons and get down on the floor!”

Scott immediately drew his shotgun, but didn’t get a chance to drop it as automatic fire split small sections of the wall into dust behind him and he felt a deep pain in his shoulder. Now, rather than dropping the gun as he’d intended, he raised it and began pumping off shots towards the car. Glass and cheap alloy exploded around the IntSec officers as they ducked for cover, but more units were arriving.

None of the others could do anything to stop what came next, the inevitability of it was apparent to all of them except Scott, who for some reason thought he’d be able to take on the whole of the local security force alone. Blinded by rage he kept firing until shot after shot pierced his body and he finally went down, squirming in pain on the blood-soaked steps.

The Doctor had to fight every urge to keep from rushing to help him, but he knew he’d never make it and live. Without immediate medical aid though, Scott’s prospects looked bleak. When the shooting stopped the others threw out their guns and lay down on the ground as instructed and just hoped the Blue Sun medical services were as efficient as their Security.

* * *

The next six hours went by excruciatingly slowly. All of them except Scott had been taken to the nearby IntSec Office where they were all thrown together into one cell. They assumed, rightly, that they were being watched, but none of them felt like talking anyway. They knew how each other felt and there was really no point in saying so. Even Kitosa seemed at a loss for words.

One by one they were dragged off into a small, dingy, malodorous interview room. Each of them told roughly the same story; they’d been brought here as crew aboard the Scorpius and then taken outside the City by Captain Eastman. They’d found their way back somehow and must have got inside without going through the usual checkpoints. There was no other explanation any of them could think of, mostly it was the truth, but naturally they all left out the part about the dead IntSec officer and the computer.

As the last interviewee, Walter Kaine, was bundled back through the door into the holding cell by the guards, there was, at last, something to talk about. News that Scott had been taken to hospital, was in a critical condition but was alive. They all forgot their troubles for a moment, but as the blueish white disc of light rose in the morning sky, none of them dared to wish for any more good news.

They were amazed when, less than an hour later, a senior looking officer cranked open the cell door and told them that they were being let out.

“What d’ya mean ‘let out’?” Asked Jake, “you mean like, as we ain’t done nothin’ wrong? Or what?” He seemed genuinely confused, after all he’d been forced by circumstances to tell the truth, and that had always landed him in trouble in the past.

“Don’t argue with the man Jake, let’s just get out of here,” said Kurza.

“You’ll be taken to the customs officers at the spaceport and processed. Your weapons will be returned to you when you leave the planet,” then through gritted teeth the officer added, “we’re sorry that on this occasion our security process was not sufficiently clear to you and your ‘misunderstanding’ led to these unfortunate consequences.”

They scooped up the flimsy boxes containing their possessions and followed the officer out to a waiting ground car. It was a short trip to the customs desk adjacent to the spaceport and on the way Kitosa checked first with the hospital to get the latest on his friend’s condition, and second with the auction on the ship.

“Good news is Scott’s going to be ok, but not so good news on the ship. I got out-bid.”

When they got to the customs office they faced another long morning filling out forms, disclaimers and identity checks. Being the most ‘schooled’ of the bunch, Dr. Whiteman finished his pile of documents first, and even had time to help the others a little, before excusing himself and making the trip to the hospital.

Scott was surprisingly conscious and lucid, but then Whiteman reminded himself that this was Blue Sun. Their medical research was years ahead of anything else in the Alliance, even in this small hospital. The engineer had lost a lot of blood and was very weak, but they had taken out the bullets and patched the wounds and now he just needed rest. Whiteman sat down beside his bed.

“The nurse says you’re going to make it, just hang in there and you’ll be fine.” Scott struggled to say something, but only managed,

“Wha, what about…”

“The others?” Scott managed a nod.

“They’re ok, everyone’s going through customs like we should have done the first time. Hey, we might even get the ship back. You just relax.” The last part was what seemed to cheer him up the most. The Doctor told himself that a small lie was worth it to get Scott well again. Even though he’d only known these people for a few weeks, it already felt like they’d been through a lot together. Like they were a proper crew now, not just a collection of folks who happened to be on the same ship at the same time.

* * *

For Kitosa, fixing up this meeting with Margaret and somehow avoiding getting ripped off now meant the only chance to turn a profit and leave this corporate hell-hole. He’d never been happy being planetside anyway and once he’d had a few lungfulls of air on a world he was ready to climb back behind the controls. Now, if things worked out, he could be working for himself for a change.

Margaret showed up as arranged, at the far edge of the small park which looked like nobody ever used it.

“Did you bring it?” She whispered, though still with great urgency in her voice.

“Show me the money first,” he grinned. He liked Margaret, more than he had realised at first, and he wondered if she would notice and try to exploit the fact.

“Look, I don’t have time to play games Kitosa, we have about two more hours if we’re lucky before the Bugs find us.” Kitosa gave her a blank expression. “You know, Bugs? IntSec’s?” He got the reference, but not the reasoning. “The systems in that computer are rigged to soft-destruct in a set time if they’re not code activated, then it’ll be useless to me.”

“So you know how to unlock it? How to deactivate these systems?” She’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble. Kitosa wondered what dark secrets she had on Blue Sun.

“I have contacts, I’m a journalist, remember.”

“Was it you who got us out of jail?”

“Yes! What else do you need from me before you’ll trust me? Where is it?” She looked him over and could see there were no pockets big enough and no bag which could have the computer in it.

“Can you help me get my ship back too?”

“Yes, yes anything, but tyen-sah Kitosa, get me that computer, okay!” She grabbed him by the collar and shook him. He rather enjoyed it.

“Ok, I’ll bring it to your place.” She muttered the address then hurried away. Kurza waited until she was out of sight then signalled to Kaine and Cobb to come out of the trees where they’d been hiding.

Doc Whiteman was back with them by the time they had detoured around to retrieve the computer and he was wheeling a large trolley stuffed with grubby looking boxes.

“Freebies!” He announced, “they’re giving them away to everyone, Fruity-Oaty bars, a new flavour apparently,” he chuckled. The others could tell that this meant Scott must be doing ok, the Doctor had seemed the most worried out of all of them. Kitosa meanwhile checked his hand-held computer and saw that the auction price for the Scorpius was now approaching 980 credits.

“It’s just a heap of junk to anyone else, it ain’t worth that much to nobody,” said Jake, who obviously had his heart set on winning it back as well.

“Maybe they know it’s not really a piece of junk,” said Kitosa, making sure they were still heading in the right direction. He knew time was short now, if Margaret was telling the truth about the timer.

They found her apartment in the sub-level of an old block which looked like it was originally built for factory workers, probably the same ones who used to commute out to the abandoned city they’d been in the day before.

“This is it,” said Kurza. They descended the steps into a narrow corridor, the entrance was open and Margaret’s door was first on the right. They knocked and she quickly appeared and pulled them inside. The place was neat, non-descript and with nothing about it to give away anything about the personality of the occupier. On a simple table at the other end of the room was a screen linked into the local cortex and some electronic gizmos.

“Right! Money up front, I’m not messing around this time,” demanded Kitosa. He felt naked without a gun, it was the one thing he knew he could rely on to fix a deal, things weren’t serious enough when you couldn’t threaten someone’s life.

Margaret closed the door and made sure it was locked. She took in a measured breath.

“There’s no money,” she confessed, “I have about 2,000 credits in the whole ‘verse, but not here, not now.”

“You ji nu!” cussed Jake.

“That doesn’t matter, you’re only hope is to give me that computer and let me work on it right now. Or else there’ll be so many ‘Bugs’ coming down on this building your visit to the IntSecs last night will seem like a school trip.” They all looked at Kitosa, if he’d had a gun he would have shot her right there and then, but a big part of him was glad he didn’t have to. He could see no other option. He gave her what she wanted and followed her to the desk.

She wasted no time and hooked it up to about half a dozen leads and wires. Monitors came to life and showed inputs and logic states in the machine. It switched into a setup sub-routine. Margaret was lost in the moment and seemed to have forgotten they were even there. Then a full screen display popped up on the terminal and she leant back in victory.

“Is that it? Is it safe now?” Said Kaine, looking to the others for any clue.

“It’s safe.”

Nobody seemed quite sure what to do now. Here they were sitting in Margaret’s apartment with no more to show for their days and days of trouble than a cart-load of fruity-oaty bars.

“Look, I need a few hours to pull up the evidence I’ve been looking for. This thing is good for a while but I’ll get shut down once they realise what’s going on.” She didn’t stop typing and seemed to be frantically connecting up memory pods to the purloined computer.

“What about afterwards?” Asked Kurza, realising that he might never see her again.

“Afterwards?” She looked at him, and smiled. “I’ll need to get away from here, quick. That ship of yours?” Kurza knew what she was thinking. “Wait, I’ll disqualify all the other bids from the auction using a Blue Sun admin pass.” She tapped out a few simple commands, “there, the ship’s yours. Go and get her ready I’ll be with you in two hours, maybe three. Don’t leave without me!”

To be continued …