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Circular Logic
By Bill Rogers


Lieutenant Lance Steele of the Galactic Patrol scowled with grim determination. His airship’s engines didn’t behave like diesels, the weather was implausible, the sentence structure was a nightmare, and his characters wanted to pitch the obvious Russian spy overboard, abandon the expedition to the North Pole, and set course for Florida!

He squared his shoulders and narrowed his gray eyes. Picking up his favorite editing stylus, he approached his comp-o-pad, resolved to defeat the demons of passive voice or die trying!

The lights flickered. “What the hell?”

And then, just like that, he was flying. In that insanely long instant before impact Lance looked down upon his narrow, steel-walled cabin and thought “Damn! This is going to HURT!”

But the artificial gravity system’s safety field grabbed him and set him gently on the deck.

Lance growled and got to his feet. He was already opening the airtight door when the tannoy barked. “Lieutenant Steele to the bridge! Captain to the bridge!”

He rushed to the bridge. It wasn’t far; Stiletto was a small ship. “Ensign Bimbeaux! What happened?”

His second in command spun to face him, managing to stop herself before the inertia of her breasts pulled her around in a complete circle. “Lance!” she breathed, wide-eyed. “Something happened!”

“I gathered that,” Lance said very gently, cursing to himself silently. “As science officer, do you perhaps have any idea what?”

“I don’t know, Lance! All I can think is that we hit an area of locally positive spatial curvature, which as you know would overload the hyperdrive, causing the plasma shunts to pop open so as to prevent damage by overheating and overloading critical systems! And I broke a nail!”

“That’s not too serious,” Lance said.

"But Lance!" Linden breathed. "It was on my index finger!"

Lance sighed deeply, sat down in the command chair, and twisted the tannoy control to the engine room position. “Chief? Any damage back there? Can you get us up and running again?”

“No problem, Lieutenant Steele. Everything popped off and shut down back here, but I’ll have us up and running in twenty minutes.”

“Lance?” Linden turned toward him, chest heaving. She had paled all the way to her sensuous pouting lips. “Listen to this!”

She switched the ultrahyperniftycom to the overhead speakers. “Mayday,” it said, in a familiar voice. “This is Lieutenant Lance Steele aboard Stilleto. All power systems are offline. Life support is reduced to critical levels. Any ships, please respond. Mayday!”

Lance paled too. “A message from ourselves? That’s impossible!”

“It’s so scary, Lance! But it couldn’t happen! The only possible way for us to travel back in time and send ourselves a message would be to hit a speed within quantum uncertainty of lightspeed just at the very instant we crossed the event horizon of a black hole!”

Lance looked at her for a moment. Then he grabbed the tannoy knob. “CHIEF! I think we’re in the neighborhood of a small black hole, maybe Class B.”

“That would explain why the hyperdrive shut down.”

“Yeah, but I think we’re about to fall into it. We need power right now! Is there anything you can do to get things going right this instant?”

“I can try to implosion-start the main reactor, but it’s dangerous!”

“Do it!”

#

“Your majesty!” Redbeard the Unlucky shouted, spinning in his seat so he could see her with his one eye. “Passive detectors have recorded an antimatter explosion, bearing 115 down 39, range three light-minutes!”

Dyspepsia the Third, Leather Queen of the Pirates of Orion Alpha Beta Zeta Three, shifted slowly and seductively on her leopard-skin command couch. She managed a sexy smile, hiding her pain with long practice. Damn, if the Pirate Queen’s Handbook (third ed.) had mentioned anything about how badly chain mail bikinis can pinch naked flesh, she might have stayed in the wholesale flower trade!

“Is it the Galactic Patrol?”

Redbeard tapped on his keyboard with his hook. “The radiation spectrum matches detonation of a Type 13 reactor, the kind they use in their Stiletto-class couriers. But whatever it was, it’s dead. Nothing could have survived that blast. From the harmonics, I think some idiot tried an implosion-start.”

“If a Patrol ship blew up, so much the better.” She struck another sultry pose, trying to turn her wince into a come-hither look. “Keep broadcasting the distress call. I know it's an ancient trick, but if we keep at it long enough, sooner or later, somebody's going to be fool enough to fall for it.”

--end--



Copyright Note:

The original copyright owner was me, William J. Rogers Jr. However, I have released copyright of Lance Steele to the public for any noncommercial use. This includes Lance, his companion characters, and his world. You may copy and distribute the Lance Steele stories as you will, and you may write your own.
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[livejournal.com profile] dewhitton said that Lance Steele would be useful in a story he's writing.

Lance is a little unusual among my characters in that I've released his copyright to the public-- not just the Lance Steele stories themselves, but the character, his friends, his enemies, and his world. I guess I had some vague idea of an open source SF universe.

Rather than just send the info on Lance privately, I think I'll post his stories here. The last one I already posted here in LJ, on April 26, 2004. But for those who haven't met him, I'll post his other stories here over the next few days.

The Bible on Lance is pretty simple. Here is Lance, here are the other characters-- or they'll all be here in a week or so. The stupid things they do that should get them killed in Star Trek DO get Lance killed. Lance is not an idiot, but he is not able to see the fundamental joke of his existence. Linden is frightfully competent, in spite of-- well, you'll see. And any time something major goes wrong with Lance's starship, the technobabble explanation is always exactly the same.

"Tubes loaded? FIRE!" "One fired electrically, Captain!"


Cold Boot
By Bill Rogers

Stiletto tumbled helplessly, dark and powerless, lost between the stars, so far from home.

In the courier ship’s cramped cockpit the emergency lights flickered and came on. Lance shook his head, groaning. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Report,” he croaked.

“This is the damage control backup computer. What report do you wish, Lieutenant Steele?” a computer asked, in its gratingly calm voice.

Idiot computer! “Where are we? What happened to my ship? Start with ship’s status, malfunction report, critical systems only.”

“Certainly, Lieutenant Steele. Processing. Hyperdrive is shut down. The navigation system is offline, therefore our location is unknown. Life support is failing. The hibernation cylinder doesn’t respond to my signals. Fusion generator offline. Main computer does not respond to commands, reason unknown.”

“Great,” Lance said, his voice full of sarcasm. “Just what do I have left?”

“Emergency locator beacon operating. Emergency batteries, reserve life support, thrusters with manual control subsystem, and sublight drive are all fully operational.”

“And just what use are those to me now?” Lance growled.

“The emergency locator beacon sends a signal which…”

“I was talking to myself!” Lance shouted. "Shut up, you worthless--"

"Command understood."

Lance sighed. "You have no idea how comforting that is to me, computer." It didn't reply. That was good.

Lance watched the stars outside as they rolled by slowly. What could he do? There were always alternatives. Think, man, think!

He had life support for an hour or two, if he was lucky. It would take him longer than that figure out which, if any, of the stars he saw had human colonies. The emergency beacon wouldn’t help him. Its signal would take weeks, months, maybe even a year or two to reach a human colony, depending on where he was. He didn’t even bother to consider trying to reach one of those stars using the sublight drive. With the distances between the stars, humans would probably have evolved into another species before he'd reach them.

"Damage control. What caused all these failures?"

"The best hypothesis is that Stiletto encountered a local space curvature inversion, overloading the hyperdrive. The snap shutdown of the hyperdrive sent shockwaves through all plasma conduits, causing other ship systems to shut down as well. Given my limited computing ability, this hypothesis is only grade B, seventy-five percent probability or less."

"But that shouldn't have destroyed any of the systems."

"Agreed. Plasma dumps should have opened, preventing damage to critical systems. However, with main computer offline there is no way to be certain if this occurred. Nor is there any way to reset the emergency dump valves."

"Give me my options for repair."

"First option. EVA. Shut plasma dump valves manually. Restart main computer using warm boot procedures. Estimated time for completion, three to four hours. I recommend this option."

“You stupid computer! Life support will be exhausted long before I could complete those repairs."

"Failure of life support systems is unimportant. It will not affect ship operations in any--"

"Not important! The lives of the crew don't matter to you?"

"Preservation of human life is my prime priority. However, human life is not--"

"Shut up, shut up! What's the next option?"

"Perform a full cold boot of the main computer. With the plasma power system shut down, there is less than a twenty-five percent chance the main computer will have enough power to reboot. In addition, I have no way to determine whether the main computer is damaged or not. However, if it does reboot, it can probably close the plasma shunts and restart all shipboard systems.”

"I have no choice," Lance growled. "Perform the full cold reboot."

"Warning," the damage control computer said, flashing red lights and frantic text at him. "A full cold reboot will shut down and reboot all, repeat, ALL, computer systems aboard ship, including the Autonomous Piloting and Executive System. Shutdown of the APEX System will result in..."

"Just do it! Command priority alpha!"

"Command understood. Commencing cold boot."

#

Stiletto tumbled helplessly, dark and powerless, lost, so far from home.

In the courier ship’s cramped cockpit the emergency lights flickered and came on. Lance shook his head, groaning. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Report,” he croaked.

#

Fisher turned off the cockpit log tape they’d recovered from the derelict courier ship. “Lieutenant Lance Steele,” she said, sarcastically. “And how many times did he do this?"

Stuart just shook his head. "Approximately three thousand six hundred. Until all battery power was exhausted."

"BLAST the APEX procedures manual! Why can't we just tell them they're androids?"

--end—
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Stardate 17.5EEE, Courier Boat Stiletto, Captain Shames T. Jirk in temporary command. We are on a top-secret mission to Outer Twaa. Recently a new source of the rare bisexulum fellatiate crystals has been found here. It is the only substance in the galaxy that can instantly shift between AC and DC graviton flow without the slightest hesitation, as necessary for our hyperspatial.. as needed for the reactors to, um.. as needed to make our ships go real real fast. It is imperative that this new source of bisexulum fellatiate be secured for the Galactic Patrol, and immediately!

###


"You understand, Mister, the fate of the Galactic Patrol rests on you! Without those crystals, our ships won't be able to go real real fast any more."

Lieutenant Lance Steele of the Galactic Patrol stood at ramrod-straight attention, the ornaments of his space-black and silver uniform gleaming in the sun. "I understand the general principles, Sir."

"And remember, these molluscoids are big and dangerous. Very dangerous. Exercise supreme caution, but GET THOSE CRYSTALS!"

Lance saluted. "I'll give my all for the Patrol, Sir," he said, his gray eyes flashing with grim determination. "Will you infiltrate the town with me?"

"No. Somebody has to stay here and guard the landing pod. Good luck, Lieutenant!"

Lance saluted again. "Thank you, Captain Jirk." He turned and crawled through the jungle foliage, the hoverbarrow following exactly in his path.

He dodged from bush to fern to vine, staying under cover, looking around for danger with the utmost care. He looked behind him. Captain Jirk was nowhere to be seen.

Lance shrugged and stood up, put his hands in his pockets, and strolled toward the gravel road. It wasn't a good one, by the standards of this planet, but at least it was on a causeway a bit above swamp level.

He walked the mile to town, the hoverbarrow following calmly behind, waving now and again to a mollusk he knew, or stepping aside to sniff a flowering bush or vine. There were many such on this world, and their colors were stunningly bright. Probably had to do with the high concentrations of heavy metals in the soil, he thought.

In to town, he stayed carefully on the sidewalks. The inhabitants of this world, being sluglike, couldn't walk fast, but their driving made up for it. A few blocks in he turned into a neat little shop whose sign, he knew, would translate as "C. Nanaslug and Co., Custom Ingestion and Excretion."

"Hi, Chauncey."

The huge... thing... that ran the shop put down his copy of Slutty Slugs and extruded a half-dozen arms so he could rest elbows on the counter. "Well! Lieutenant Steele! It's a few days early for you, ain't it?"

"Sorry about that, Chauncey. Got our high-ranking brass interested in the crystals, and so the famous Captain Shames Jirk had to take command of Stiletto away from me for this voyage, so he could come along and do a "management logistical study" or whatever he called it." Lance shook his head. "Gods save the Galactic Patrol from that man. Captain Jirk has his head up his ass."

"I didn't know that was possible for your species."

"It's just a figure of speech. It means... say. Bright yellow-green? Isn't that a new color for you?"

"Yup. Pretty, isn't it? I got a hold of some chrome plating waste from off planet. Tasty stuff, that."

Lance growled. "I wish you'd stop drinking that. It makes the crystals smell like... well, like what they are, actually."

Chauncey extruded something mouthlike so he could grin at Lance. "I know that, so I made sure to excrete and wash your crystals for you before I indulged. Got a good load, too, if you pardon the pun; nearly two hundred pounds of the stuff."

"Why, thank you. Usual rates?"

"Two Galactic Credits per pound, sure. Did you bring anything else, anything special, for me?" It wasn't really possible for eyes on stalks to assume a greedy expression, but Chauncey's seemed to.

Lance grinned as he handed over four hundred credits in "incidental expenses," Patrol bureaucratese for bribe money, or so they thought. "Six-pack of vintage Drano, still in the original cans."

"Oh, thank you!" Chauncey said, lifting the slightly corroded cans out of the hoverbarrow with a couple of hands he'd extruded for the purpose. "It's always such a pleasure doing business with you. Until next time?"

"Until next time. Oh, yeah, one last thing. I should look like I crawled through the swamp for a mile each way. How much for that?"

"For you, it's free. But are you sure?"

"No, but we'd better do it."

"Close your eyes, then."

SPLORK!

Lance took a deep sniff and nearly gagged. "Gee, thanks, Chauncey. I think."

"Any time, Lieutenant." Chauncey waved a dozen hands or so and popped the top off one of the cans of Drano.

Lance whistled a little tune as he walked back out to the landing place. Getting close, he sighed deeply and dropped to the ground. He made a big show of being inconspicuous.

"Lieutenant! Lieutenant, is that you?"

"Captain Jirk?" The captain wasn't where he was supposed to be, and he looked scared. "What happened?"

"Slugs! Half a dozen huge slugs. They came out of the jungle and they ate the landing pod. ATE it!"

"And you didn't ask them to stop?"

"What?"

"Never mind."

"I fought them as long as I could, but there were too many of them, and my blaster had no effect."

"I wouldn't presume to contradict you, sir." Lance sighed. "I guess we'll have to use the transporter then."

"What?" Now Captain Jirk looked really scared.

"Transporter. Stiletto doesn't have a spare landing pod to send down for us."

"Oh. Oh, well, you go first and take the crystals with you, Lieutenant. I'll stay here to, um, and protect you if those slugs should come back while you're transporting."

Lance sighed. "Very well, sir." He pulled out his phone and punched General Call. "Lieutenant Lance Steele, with cargo. Beam me up."

He took a deep breath as the world dissolved around him and Stiletto's tiny transporter room faded in. "Park," he ordered the hoverbarrow. It swept out the door and headed aft.

"Oh, Lance! Where's Captain Jirk?" Ensign Linden Bimbeaux asked from behind the transporter console.

"Guarding the landing zone." Lance shrugged. "I'm heading for the cockpit. Recharge the capacitors and beam him aboard, pronto. Wouldn't want him to wet himself if another molluscoid wandered by..."

"What was that, Lance?"

He shrugged. "Never mind."

#

Chief Campbell swore as the welder sputtered. Just a bit more and.. there! Done!

Smiling with pride, he pushed the third stud from the left and the hidden door in the bulkhead slid up, revealing his new MicroFryguy automatic microwave deep-fryer-boiler.

Sure, Lieutenant Steele and Ensign Bimbeaux were a braw lad and lassie, but could they cook? They didn't even know what good food was! Eagerly, he got out his feast and put it in the proper compartments in the tray; marrow-processed canned peas, a beer-battered deep-fried Mars Bar, and his masterpiece, Highland Cajun Haggis! And oh, of course, a large Pepsi.

Now.. tray goes in here. Program the heat and chill systems, throw this switch, and wait for the best dinner this side of New Edinburgh! Greedily, Campbell threw the switch.

The 'oven' hummed, performing its task of ridiculously overcooking everything to perfection. In a few minutes--

And then the haggis exploded. KABOOM! Mutton-oatmeal shrapnel cut a deadly path of-- well, not destruction, exactly-- across the engine room. What was left inside burst into orange flames. Fuses popped. The lights went out.

#

"Chief Campbell!" Ensign Bimbeaux breathed, urgently. "Chief, what's wrong? Lance! Lieutenant Steele, emergency in the transporter room!"

Lance dashed in dashingly from forward. "What's wrong, Ensign?"

She didn't answer him, her hands flashing madly across the 32,438 unmarked backlit colored plastic rectangles that made up the control panel. Finished, she spun to face him, then impelled by her tremendous rotational momentum kept spinning past her intended stop point, right out of control, falling over to her left. Fortunately her breasts impacted the wall and rebounded, spinning her back onto her feet and facing him.

"Oh, Lance!" Linden breathed. "It was so horrible! We had a power failure just as I was beaming Captain Jirk aboard! I was so afraid without my big strong Lieutenant Steele to tell me what to do! So I set up resonant waves in the memory buffer while I solved a triple integral of the local gravity field-- silly me, I had to do it in my head, and it's SO scary-- to calculate a hyperbeam trajectory, banking off three black holes and Relay Omega Twelve, to send Captain Jirk's transporter signal to the Galactic State Insurance Company main headquarters on Sanden Prime! But I broke a nail!"

"Ensign Bimbeaux! That's horrible! He'll be lost in the Gallstate Insurance voice mail system for all eternity!"

"Oh, no, Lance! After being bounced around and not answered at approximately 150 desks, calls to Gallstate always drop out of the system! But we must have the transporter working by the time it does, or he'll be lost forever!"

Lance glared aft with steely determination. "I'm on it," he said grimly.

#

"CAMPBELL!" the squawk box yelled.

"Engine room here, Lieutenant!"

"We're losing Captain Jirk in mid-transport! What happened down there?"

Campbell looked at the charred remains of his 'oven,' and the breaker box. He looked around frantically. "Uh.. t'was tha crystals, sir! The bisexulum fellatiate crystals went flooie again!"

"Right! I'll be right down there, and I'm bringing more crystals!"

"Uh, Lieutenant, dinna fash, I'll hae her up and running in..." But it was too late. Frantically, Campbell closed the cover over his oven, ran over, pulled the inverter crystal assembly from its socket, shoved it in the drawer beneath the coffee machine, and raced back to close all the circuit breakers.

Lieutenant Steele dashed in, carrying a chunk of rock in his right hand. He stopped in the door, one foot over the coaming. "Why does the engine room smell like an oil fire in a week-old road-killed goat?"

Campbell glowered. "Ye wouldnae know a good dinner if it--" He swallowed, guiltily. "Later. Ye dinna hae time for that now, laddie!"

"You're right. Captain Jirk's life hangs in the balance. Here."

"What's this?"

"A crystal. A bisexulum fellatiate crystal. Get it into the inverter. Hurry, man! We don't have much time!"

"But Lieutenant! 'Tis a wee unfaceted, unfitted crystal she is! Ye dinna ken what that will do to Captain Jirk when we power up the transporter!"

"We have no choice. Just do it."

Shrugging, Campbell took the crystal and jammed it into place. Little flakes chipped off. He closed the inverter's cover. The lights came on.

"Just in time, Lance!" Linden breathed over the squawk box. In the background Lance heard a computer voice nattering on about press one to speak to someone who gave a damn, or words to that effect. And then, a dial tone!

"He's coming in!" Linden breathed. "We have him!"

"Good work, Linden!"

"Lance! It's.. it's.."

"What? What's wrong, Ensign Bimbeaux!"

"Captain Jirk has his head up his ass!"

"Ensign! That's no way to speak of a superior officer!"

Silence.

"Ensign Bimbeaux! Linden!"

Silence. Lance began to have a horrible suspicion. "I think I'd better go to the transporter room." He ran forward.

"Aye, that ye should," Campbell said, wondering how Lieutenant Steele had failed to notice the meat and oatmeal festooning the wall opposite the hidden oven. Best get out the cleaning bot and dispose of the evidence!

#

Lance dashed into the transporter room, took one look, and sat down flat on the deck. He winced. "Oh... my... gods. That has GOT to hurt."

"Mmmmm mm armmmmm mmm ammmmm!" Jirk said, angrily. He looked rather like an ill-tempered beach ball with arms and legs sticking out of about the same point, somewhere on the underside. The only trace of his head was a huge bulge in his abdomen.

"Oh, Lance! Captain Jirk has his head up his ass! I shoved an air tube up there, so he'll survive, but what do we do now?"

"Nothing. This is beyond our ability to treat. Call Sirius Medical and tell them we're bringing in a case of third degree cranial rectitis. Get us clearance. I have to ready Stiletto for an emergency jump to hyperdrive."

#

Lieutenant Steele was rather surprised to notice that somebody had sent flowers to Captain Jirk.

"I'm glad you're feeling better, sir."

"Mmm mm mmmm mm MMMMaaamm mmm mmm," Jirk said. His translator, strapped to his belt (which was the highest point on his body now) said "Thank you, Lieutenant. My new posture was uncomfortable at first, but after a while it ceased troubling me."

"It always does cease troubling them, if they ever knew they had their heads up there in the first place."

"What? I don't understand, Lieutenant."

Lance blanched. He'd forgotten the new microphones, almost as sensitive as Jirk's ears had been before his unfortunate accident. "It wasn't important, sir."

A green light on the translator blinked "smile...smile... smile." Jirk said "Of course what you said wasn't important. It couldn't be. You're only a lieutenant, Lieutenant."

"As you say, sir. So what are you going to do when they release you from this hospital?"

"Well, I can't occupy the command chair of a Constitution-class battlecruiser any more. Sad. Fortunately they've found a position perfect for someone with my unique qualifications."

"Oh?" Lance said, politely. "And what would that be, sir?"

#

"ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET? ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR FRICKING MINDS?"

Lance blinked, and.. smiled. Ensign Linden Bimbeaux could actually say something without "Oh Lance" or "brave Lieutenant Steele" in it! And she could even swear. How wonderful!

"Well, you have to admit that his unfortunate accident left him uniquely qualified for a high management position."

"But Lance! What will happen to the Galactic Patrol? How will we ever capture Dyspepsia III, the Leather Pirate Queen of Orion Alpha Beta Zeta Three, under the command of Fleet Admiral Shames T. Jirk? We're doomed! Not even my brave Lieutenant Steele can save us!"

Alas, no good thing lasts forever, Lance thought. "We won't have to," he said with a grin. "I took care of that."

"What did you do?"

"I suggested to him that he could make more money in advertising."

"Advertising?"

"Of course. What career could be better for him? And as I predicted, so it happened. The Direct Marketing Association took one look at how far his head was stuck up his ass and hired him as their President, at a high-seven-figure salary."

"Oh, Lance!" Linden breathed, clasping her hands together as far as her breasts would let her. "You've saved the Galaxy again!"

"Shucks, ma'am," Lance said with a self-deprecating smile. "It was nothing. This was all in a day's work for Lieutenant Lance Steele of the Galactic Patrol."

January 2015

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