The Setting

As I get closer to publishing the next book, I’ll be writing some posts describing the world in which the story takes place. Mostly because when you create a really cool sandbox, it’s fun to play in it.

Chicago. Somewhere around the year 2100, though most people can’t believe how little’s changed. They’re still working, still buying food from a store, and robots haven’t infiltrated every corner of life. In fact, if you manage to listen in the right corners, you’ll hear whispers about how much better things used to be. How perfection has become anything but.

Promises were made, and those promises float overhead every day. Mechanized overseers, doing the bidding of a new aristocracy chosen not by wealth, not by (as if) popular vote, but by random chance. The drones hover like clouds, cataloging everything – metal angels for the Paragons.

Roll a dice. If the number comes up six, roll it again. Do that four more times and, if you nail that six every time, then you’ve found the odds that’ll place you above everyone else. Anomalies began arising decades ago, and with them came at first the accolades pitched in every superhero story since the dawn of time. At first that’s what they were, too – leaders and champions, guardians of society. 

Humans, though, have a way of spoiling their strengths. The anomalies began to feel used. Yanked around by politicians who needed a smile next to their election campaigns, forced into service by grubby dictators who saw them as another tool, pushed into servitude by normals who saw anomalies as de facto public servants, whatever the anomaly’s own desires.

Play with fire, the saying goes, and you’re going to get burnt. Normals see the evidence in front of them all day long. In Chicago, the Paragon’s tower dominates downtown. Would-be heroes meander, tasked according to the precepts of a world designed to maximize productivity and minimize suffering and that truly succeeds at neither. Greed has changed its stock market for a super-suit. Ambition, like a river, flows around the dams constructed by the original Paragons, those Champions who wrested the world from its discordant dance and froze it in their invincible grip.

Now, that grip thaws. Both normals and anomalies begin to sense, as the Champions grow old, that change is coming. Chicago hums with a new energy, and many hands, normals and anomalies, Paragons and humbled companies, move to use it. The world order doesn’t change often, and there’s only room for one at the top.

Container: A pure economic simulation with boats

The games I grew up with had dice and cards. Lots of random chance that had us yelling in either joy or rage, blaming callous deities for the slight miss of a Yahtzee or the color in Candyland that sent you moping back to the beginning. No amount of pleading would get Princess Lolly to intervene.

Yet, along with my opinion of chaos in life, chaos in board games soured. What had been an opportunity for hilarity, for luck to obliterate skill like the jester executing the judge, seemed instead to be an easy crutch for game design that didn’t want to take the time and craft an intricate dance for its players.

Container does take that time, though the dance is a brash one, full of big molded ships and weighty pieces. There are no dice to be found here, and the one piece of chance, the dealing of secret points cards and the choosing of an opening type of production, are both dealt with randomly and equally. Which leaves the players, upon the opening round, with their own wits and nothing more.

Trades commence. Deals wheel. Production fills the game space with more colored containers while the ships themselves drift from port to port in search of the best deal. If you’re the only person making purple, maybe you price them high. But not too high, because then nobody’s going to be able to afford your luxury goods. Or maybe you want to discount them, try to get them sold off in bulk and make your profits through volume.

When you get those profits, do you spend them upgrading your harbor to store more of those pricey containers, or do you hold it because the Blue Player’s got a full ship and is heading towards the island, full of valuable cargo you want to bid on?

Container is a game of relatively few rules. Within a single round, most of the concepts are clear and strategies emerge. Table talk abounds as the whole game is interaction, though rarely of the negative sort. Most of the time, players won’t know who won or lost till the very end, which keeps everyone invested in shuttling the containers around.

If there’s a negative, it’s the game’s greatest strength. Container is pure economics, and people who don’t have a head for supply and demand, or who have lust for playing price games or trying to cajole someone to please, please, just buy something already are going to find themselves mired in debt and missing out on some of the action. No dice rolls to save you here.

Also, the boats. They’re fantastic. You actually load the containers on them. Talk about killing it with theme. Some nights, all you really want is a perfect distillation of a micro-economy that runs on boats. Container‘s there for you, no doubt about it.

Anniversaries

Time, by virtue of marching forward, gives us the opportunity to look back throughout the year and celebrate what came before. In writing, there are all kinds of anniversaries to toast – a first book, a first fan, a first sentence that took you into your own world for the very first time.

I wish I’d marked more of those for myself, if only because those dates would serve as mile-markers on the journey – not that you can’t turn anything into a journey if you try, but work with me here. Point being: it’s hard to measure progress if you’re not sure where you began. So, note it.

Anyway. I’m writing this from a hotel half a country away from my wife, Nicole, with whom the date of August 26th, 2017 went from a random dot on the calendar to the pinpoint moment in all of cosmic history the two of us joined hands in front of people we loved and said we, too, would love each other. It’s the kind of sentiment that conquers physical distance, the kind of promise that keeps a lonely evening from getting too chilly, the kind of dedication that prompts posts like this one because you want to take some time to write about the one who means so much to you.

It’s so easy to mark our lives with moments of change – the new house, the job change, the meeting of that special someone – but harder to recognize how those moments actually changed us. Personally, I know these words wouldn’t be here, those books wouldn’t be out there, if not for Nicole. But more than that, it’s the every day constant of her being that suffuses me with confidence, courage, and the determination to keep on, well, keeping on.

We celebrate our anniversary on August 26th. I love her every day.

Insertion Part Six: Into the Fog

Aurora heard Rovo’s warning call and responded with habit, “Set them up and let them loose.”

Three Severs sat at the back in their crash harnesses, and each of them pressed a small button under their right hand. The ceiling of the shuttle held drop-down screens hanging from metal bars. The displays swung right in front of the Sever’s faces, each one perfectly aligned thanks to micro-cameras measuring appropriate eye level. Each screen flipped to show a cannon’s feed. Two on the bottom – split to the bow and aft of the shuttle – and one on top, all charged and ready to fire.

Aurora’s snapped on first, giving her the front-facing lower cannon. Showed the world of stormy, musty yellow-gray fog they were descending into as the shuttle went lower and lower. Nothing appeared on her scopes. Who knew whether Dynas had any kind of defense, but survival dictated acting as if the planet bristled with death.

“I’m picking up a heat signature, looks like energy use,” Eponi said through their transponders. “Gonna land on top of it. Feel it’s as good a spot as any.”

“Just don’t get us killed,” Sai said.

“Do I ever?”

“Any sign of threats?” Aurora snapped. She had no problem with squad banter, so long as it didn’t distract in a dangerous moment.

“No,” Eponi replied, but her voice trailed even as she spoke. “Wait—coming behind. A pair of Darter-class skiffs.”

Skiffs? If they flew open top craft like those here, Dynas had a thick atmosphere. Breathable. Skiffs also meant Dynas didn’t understand who they were dealing with. Sure, not having a plated hull or windshield might make for pretty views, but it also made for an easy target. Couldn’t shield open space. Aurora would have loved to trigger a few shots and let go the tight knots always forming in her muscles as missions began, but Gregor had the rear cannon, and the first chance to speckle Dynas’ fog with bits and pieces of an enemy.

The drop ship didn’t shudder when Gregor fired his cannon, a total lack of feedback Aurora should have been used to by now. No projectiles, like in the old models, so no recoil. Just a hum. The whine of a battery being drained. As battle went, lasers made the whole thing feel artificial, like they were playing a game. Aurora knew that feeling would vanish with the first casualty showing what a laser’s direct strike could do to a person, and Gregor’s fire didn’t deliver that absolution.

“They’re splitting their approach. Lightly armed,” Gregor said after his initial volley. “I see two cannons on each one, mounted bow and aft. I’ve already neutralized the front cannon on mine.”

“Only because your pilot doesn’t know how to dodge,” Sai added. “Mine at least understands the concept of a maneuver.”

The soupy fog broke as Eponi soared the shuttle down. Lush deep green poked through, caught by the drop shuttle’s lights, which Eponi switched on as the clouds now above consumed any light daring to try and get this far. If Aurora had to guess, the reason Dynas had life at all came down to its heat trap of an atmosphere boiling up biologic sludge from whatever unlucky collection of rocks collided to form Dynas in the first place.

“Keep your eyes open for ground defenses,” Eponi said.

The shuttle rattled as Eponi finished. Something popped and smoke flooded into the cabin. No, not smoke. Fog from the outside.

“What was that?” Aurora snapped.

“The skiffs.” Sai replied. “Not the main cannons. Something weird. From handheld rifles. My guess, homing drones with explosives attached. Can we move any faster?”

“This is a drop shuttle, Sai. We’re basically falling.” The cocky sass vanished from Eponi’s voice, signaling a pilot focusing on her flying.

Which meant a serious situation. Aurora cut off her own urge to ask Eponi for details — one of the hardest parts about leading Sever lay in trusting the crew, holding off the urge to question their every action, ask for and approve of every detail.

“The second skiff is cutting overhead!” Gregor yelled.

Aurora didn’t need to hear anymore. Her view screen flashed bright yellow in the upper left corner; the shuttle’s scanners indicating a target. Aurora used her eyes, dragging them to the target’s position. The move aimed the cannon, and she stared back up into that fog. Waited. The active contact between Aurora’s eyes and the screen kept the feed active, the cannon primed.

A long dark shadow cut across the screen. Aurora blinked both eyes and the cannon fired a bright green bolt into the ether. Aurora blinked again and again and again, sending a series of shots towards the shape, which flared into a beautiful orange and red rose. Skiff down.

“Took care of it,” Aurora said.

But the fog kept flowing into the drop shuttle. Aurora couldn’t see the hole, and unstrapping during a potential crash landing scenario would put Aurora on the wrong side of every DefenseCorp guide. And common sense — the drop shuttle still continued doing what it had been made for: dropping. The ship wouldn’t have to hold up for much longer.

“Sorry, Sever, seems like that shot killed my coolant. Engines are overheating. Going down here because, uh, otherwise we’re all getting cooked.” Eponi said. “Brace for a wet landing.”

Aurora aimed her cannon down in time to see massive branches, trees, and vines snag the shuttle and swallow it up. The cannon feed held, then shook and went dark. The shuttle filled with roaring, wrecking, tearing as Sever shook in their seats. Seats that didn’t break, because DefenseCorp bolted every drop shuttle chair to the floor with heavy metals. Meant to handle an impact, and to stop a sharp object from piercing through the floor and hurting its occupant.

Aurora had been in plenty of crashes — a standard hazard in this line of work — but most had been on land. One on a beach, as part of a rescue in a resort overtaken by discontent alien tourists. But none into a swamp. So when the shuttle smacked into the water, bounced forward, and settled into a noxious mix of slimy water and terrible gasses, Aurora had a new candidate for worst place ever. She unclipped, clocked the power readings on her suit (all greens) and made for the shuttle’s opening sides. Swamp water had the same idea, flooding into the ship to greet Aurora with frothy filth.

“Pop out!” Aurora said the words that nobody needed to hear. Gregor and Sai, following her, scrambled out through the open door in the left hull, made larger courtesy of a now-downed tree that’d taken its final stab through the drop shuttle’s side.

Eponi and Rovo were already outside, having climbed out through the shattered cockpit window. Rovo looked towards the sky, hunting for any further skiffs, while Eponi leaned back into the cockpit, swatting at buttons. Protocol said it’d be best to shut down the drop shuttle’s systems, drain the batteries in the event of a harsh landing to prevent bad things like enemy scavenging and random explosions.

“What happened?” Aurora yelled to Eponi when the pilot settled back on the drop ship’s nose. “You didn’t make the hit sound serious?”

“Whatever was they fired at us?” Eponi shot back. “It kept going. I lost systems one by one. Had to take us down fast or we would have run right through these trees going a thousand kilometers an hour.”

Aurora looked out over the desolate swamp stretching as far as she could see, which, given the dark, misty conditions, wasn’t all that far. Their attackers, whomever lived on Dynas, weren’t looking for visitors. They were ready to kill keep their world quiet, but they’d missed their chance.

Sever wouldn’t give them a second one.

Pandemic Legacy (S1) – A Midseason Report

Before you get worried, don’t. I shall not spoil this board game, which, arguably, began the increasingly popular trend of turning tabletop entertainment into TV series. Rather than a repeatable setup meant to tell a new story every time, Pandemic Legacy and its ilk instead endeavor to tie some measure of every game’s actions to a continuing narrative. It’s great fun, provided you can get the same group together.

And, most important, you’d better like the base game.

Because that’s the biggest critique I have with Pandemic Legacy, some 7 months into its 12 month campaign (each month contains a max of 2 ‘games’). Pandemic is a very specific type of cooperative game, played under a tight time limit and with a heavy vulnerability to ‘quarterbacking’, where one player can, more or less, tell everyone what to do. Sometimes it feels like some sort of Soviet ideal – everyone works together to determine everyone’s turn, and only through communal effort can the group survive.

Of course, fighting global disease requires this sort of cooperation, but we’re moving chits across a cardboard map of the globe here. What matters in a board game are the stories the players tell, both during and (crucially) after the game. If Pandemic Legacy strips players of individual agency, it repays that with cruel twists and sighs-of-relief that come with insane frequency.

I waver on whether it’s enough, and that’s why I’m thankful we’re not playing only this game, or bringing it out constantly. The luck-based pieces of Pandemic are frustrating enough that, combined with the feel that you’re not really getting turns because the group is making every decision together, immersing myself too often in the game would drain my enthusiasm.

So, midway through this adventure, I can say this: the story is rollicking, the additions seeping through are great fun and present true strategic dilemmas for the team to puzzle through. You’ll feel unstoppable one game and then get wrecked by those nefarious pathogens in the next.

My advice, though, would be to mix it up. Play some other games in between Pandemic sessions. Exorcise your disease demons by rolling dice or slapping cards down in another cardboard kingdom. Then, when it’s time to once more strap on the hazmats and start the long laying out of actions, trades, and cures, you won’t reach for the bottle. At least, not till the outbreaks begin to chain.

The Current Reading List

Books find their way to my shelf (both virtual and physical) through a combination of random bookstore visits – supporting independent shops I encounter on my travels is a compulsive habit – and donations from friends and family who shovel hordes of pages my way as if they get a tax write-off for the act.

At any rate, here’s the books I’m looking at in the near-term and what I know about each of them (answer: not much):

Currently Reading: Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy – an enthralling account of WWII that generally takes a narrative perspective, zooming out to give you the lay of things and then zooming in to give you the human take. If high school history courses taught these books, I don’t think we’d romanticize war nearly so much.

Books to come:

  1. Anthony Ryan’s The Draconis Memoria trilogy – It’s been a long time since I’ve dug into a big ol’ classic fantasy march, and this one has dragons on the cover, so I feel it’ll fit the bill. Sometimes you just need some spells, some ships on the high seas, and some cryptic prophecies to fulfill.
  2. Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside – Another fantasy? Maybe with some steampunk elements to it? I dunno but the title evokes all sorts of metal and rivets, with a side of mystery. Normally I’m hesitant to pick up books beginning series that aren’t completed yet – blame Robert Jordan – but I’m taking a chance here, because I’m a wild man. Or something.
  3. S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass – I’ll admit to having this one on my pocket, secret list for a long time but never being in a position to buy it. A lot of my book browsing comes when I’m traveling, and squeezing something this size into the bag requires not only Tetris skills, but also a willingness to haul its weight around. And yet, on this last trip, I found myself with some extra space and the book was right there, staring at me, saying now’s your chance. And, guess what, it was.

So that’s where I’m at currently – I don’t like listing more than three because then things tend to get wobbly, with too much room for a rogue, insurgent title to knock others off. I’ll post back on these as I go, because why not.

Also, a random side shoutout to Dreyer’s English, which isn’t really a novel/narrative, but more a collection of musings and tips around copy-editing, which ought to be boring as dirt but which is, instead, a fun romp through all the oddities of the English language. A great pick-up/gift for anyone into the fiddly bits of words.

The Quaint Oasis – an ode to small town cafes

Arriving at a picturesque, rural haven for us entails the following, in this order:

  1. An increasingly frenzied search for parking in a place determined to never have enough, leading to a desperate parallel parking job halfway into some random yard while dodging oblivious tourists (which we soon join).
  2. Finding the one real restaurant amid the hordes of shacks and shops, getting told of some unfathomably long wait, bailing to one of the shacks for delicious, greasy fried things only to, upon sitting on a bench with our sloppy gains, get the phone call that our restaurant table is now ready.
  3. While the food coma processes, Nicole and the others declare the incredible cuteness of, well, every little shop around. This, I am forced to admit, is an accurate characterization. Following this judgment, the shopping commences.

And here, friends, is the instant of mortal terror I face every time we find ourselves in an idyllic slice of paradise. Do I join them in their perusal of handmade charms and seashells plucked and polished?

My stamina for such things drains faster than an old phone’s battery, and before long I’ll be standing near the entrance, a look of such resignation on my face that random passersby will ask me if I’m in need of medical attention.

Or… the cafe. A miraculous place, usually small and with some fun name like ‘The Peach Tree’ or ‘Breezy’s Teas and Coffees’. It’ll have fresh-baked scones, espresso and a variety of locally-sourced thingamabobs. Wifi will be there, almost always teetering from the weight of other desperate urbanites trying to LTE in a land of 3G.

If I can, I hide there. Pull out a book, chat with a fellow non-shoppers, or even pull out a computer and tip tap away, leveraging the background scenery for inspiration. Every one of these cafes is special, a Shangri-La in the harsh crags of tourist-town stores. And I love them all.

So next time you’re going somewhere and you’re dreading the souvenir shopping to come, bring that novel, or a notebook, and keep your eyes open for the sanctuary that is the small town cafe. It just might save your day.

Tool Troubles

Living in our techno-age where miracles seemingly arrive in the palms of our hands every morning and get yearly refreshes, it’s awful easy to fall into a zen-like state of belief that nothing will ever fail. Writing, a process that spent millennia vulnerable to drops of rain or a wayward breeze sending sheaves of paper flying through the sky, has seen plenty of those miracles. You’re reading this on one of them right now, and I’m writing through another.

What’s more, I often (however strange this may seem) do this writing on multiple devices and in multiple locales. Perhaps I want to compose a blog post on the phone, or jot down a quick note to myself when I’m using my desktop Mac that I’ll want later when I’m editing dictation on my laptop. The option to have documents available simultaneously across these devices used to require all sorts of tricks (who remembers emailing themselves different versions?). Now, we have things like Google Docs (among many) that sync automatically in the “cloud”. I turn off my phone, turn on my computer, and my work’s right there, waiting for me.

My two primary writing tools are Scrivener and, because I find it easier to organize plots and characters in grids, Google Sheets (its version of Excel). I do try to keep a look out for new miracles, though, and Storyshop, an online app I dabbled with in the past, has been making a lot of effort to build in features and improve usability.

To that end, I figured I’d try typing out my next novel in Storyshop, using the free option, and see how it went. If things went well, the cost for a pro subscription would be minimal compared to the across-all-devices syncing of my full work. Scrivener, for example, doesn’t do this and its file structure makes it uniquely weird to shuttle between devices.

Anyway, things were generally going well until this past week, when Storyshop went into some downtime. I have no idea how long this will last (it’s been a couple of days already). But until they come back up, I have no access to the latest version of my work. On its face, I accept this. Software and servers need updates. In my IT work, systems will go down for hours at a time to get new versions installed.

There are, however, two key differences here:

  1. Communication. Storyshop should have warned us about the downtime – if they did, I may have missed it, but I definitely saw the email notifying me that the site was down. With a bit of a heads-up, I could have downloaded/copied off the latest version and kept on going with another program. Also, being clear about when we can expect the service to return, or why the downtime’s going on would be nice so I can stop having nightmares about the entire file structure falling apart and my beautiful story disintegrating to digital bits.
  2. Writing is a creative enterprise (duh). Getting cut off mid-scene for days is worse than, say, losing access to email. When you’re in the flow, when you’re in a character’s mind trying to figure out how they’re going to save the world and suddenly you’re not allowed back in? For days? It takes time to rebuild that place, to recapture that tone. And, you know, it’s fun. I like having fun and miss it.

That’s the crux here. The future’s brought us lots of awesome things, and Storyshop seems like it’s heading in the right direction, but for now? I might keep using it, but I’ll be saving off every day’s version so I can keep on going elsewhere if it drops down again. Scrivener, locally installed, is always ready for action.

Sometimes, the old ways are better.

Where does the time go?

I started with the weekly Blast’em chapters as a way to keep a side story moving while devoting time to the bigger, shinier project that’s cocooned me since THE SKYWARD SAGA ended this past spring.

Blast’em, though, fell victim to that most frustrating of assaults – time and space.

Time flies is the expression, though summer and its endless demands (yards, I feel, are the true leeches of one’s freedom) make days feel more like sieves, with time bleeding through a thousand tiny holes and leaving you with nothing left for the extra bits. The extra bits in this case are not the words, really, but the pieces that go along with them – formatting, header art, putting it all into WordPress and hitting submit, that sort of thing.

If Time delivered the opening blow, Space swept in for the finisher, using the brutal realities of a screen over a smaller printed or ebook page. Blast’em, composed with generally shorter chapters, lacks presence on a bigger screen. Taking, say, five minutes or less once a week to read a piece doesn’t give the audience much time to get into the story, setting, or even the font of the thing before it’s done.

So, with that in mind, further changes are afoot. Chapter lengths for online pieces like Blast’em will be increased (or merged, such that two or three 1000 word chunks will come at once, giving folks a bit more story goodness in every bite). Additionally, I’m exploring some other ways to format the story so that you can view it in something approximating viability.

As for time, well, that’s a sticky beast. Like cleaning one’s room, every so often it pays to step back and sweep away the dusty habits whose moldering infections slow down or distract from the important tasks of the day. This takes longer, takes honest reckoning, and rarely seems pleasant in the near term, even if, from the heights of future accomplishment, the act is clearly worthwhile. Snip away at the inessentials, diagram out what really needs doing so that it gets done.

And mow the lawn, because the grass is ready. It always is.

Insertion Part Five: Rovo

The problem with words was that there’s so damn many of’em. And all the languages just multiplied the number. Which meant Rovo had a lot of learning to do. He tried, too. Right there, sitting by Eponi in the cockpit, he poured over the next lexicon: Casparian. More a series of tones and inflections than actual words. Once Rovo had learned to twist his tongue into all sorts of shapes, thus altering the ways his r’s, q’s, and p’s came out, Casparian began to make some sort of sense. Common had trampled most other languages, but, like so many other cultural artifacts, tongues lived in their niches across the stars, carried on by those who refused to let them die.

Speaking of tongues, Eponi was saying something. She always spoke rapid-fire, like her words were racing each other. Which, apparently, Eponi had done in the past. Fascinating what Rovo could learn from someone by how they spoke.  

“Hey, new kid,” Eponi said again, and this time she hit him on the arm with her hand. The suit blunted the impact, but the jolt knocked aside his little reverie. “You’re handling communications, right?” 

“Uh, yes?”

“Then why don’t you communicate?” Eponi pointed towards a blue cast coating his co-pilot terminal. 

An incoming transmission. Which made sense – Dyna’s green dot had grown to take up most of the viewport. They’d be in range of short-band messages, the sorts of things that’d scramble or take too long to transmit longer distances. The sort of things someone hidden away with a low-powered communicator might manage.

“Maybe. What if I don’t?” Rovo replied.

When his DefenseCorp Resource Officer told Rovo he’d be going to Sever Squad, the officer had recommended growing a spine and some swagger with it. Sever had a reputation of eating those who didn’t. Sometimes, so the rumors went, literally.

“I’ll kick your ass. Then Aurora will join in, and then Gregor will- finish you up.”

Rovo knew Eponi couldn’t see his face, but he grimaced anyway. The thought of Gregor laying into him? No thank you. So he pressed the console. Stared at the strange face looking back at him.

It was human, definitely. But not only that. The man’s skin sported green and black splotches, as if he’d been injected with mold. Wrapped up and left to rot for a while. Then taken out, steamed and oiled up. Not an appealing picture.

“We read your approach,” the man said, his voice watery, like he had a bad cold. “What’s your purpose on Dynas?”

“Just stopping by,” Rovo said. “Wanted to see the sights.”

There are some planets, ones with city centers, with grand natural wonders. There you could pretend to be a tourist. You could show some real, honest affection for what the planet had and land without a lot of hassle. Places like Dynas? The bumbling tourist act probably wouldn’t fly. Rovo checked the scanners – no visible ship traffic. No easy commercial excuse.

You needed a reason to go to Dynas, and Sever didn’t have a good one.

“What sites are you talking about?” The man said.

“Well, what sites do you have?” Rovo replied. 

He had one job on missions like these. Keep the people talking. Keep them confused, off-balance. Then, once Eponi got the shuttle below any defenses, he could fling as many insults as he liked.

Really, it wasn’t the worst job.

“None. Turn around and abandon your route.”

“We don’t have the fuel to do that. Have you got a place we can touch down? Refill?”

Not that the drop shuttle could. The craft operated on batteries, which could only be recharged given the right infrastructure. A thing Rovo didn’t believe Dynas had, going by hideously low energy readings, planet-wide commerce stats, and its nigh nonexistent population. On the consoles, readings sprang as the drop shuttle sensors pressed out. Giving locations to those meager stats. The overlays appeared on the front viewport. And they were few. Whatever settlements Dynas had, they were small.

“Your problems are not our problems. Turn around, or we will defend ourselves.”

“Doesn’t seem like you and I are getting along. You have a manager? Someone else I can talk to?” Rovo said. He muted his side of the call, pressed the suit’s transponder – already patched into the squads short-wave frequency. “Hey guys, get ready. Looks like a rocky entrance.”

“We always have rocky entrances,” Eponi said.

“Don’t lie,” Rovo said, after he’d released the transponder. “You like’em.”

Eponi didn’t say anything, but Rovo would’ve bet everything he had she was smiling under that armor. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone liked Rovo.

Dynas and its foggy green filled everything they could see. The shuttle began to shake as it hit atmosphere and heavy air. Rovo grabbed a pair of handles, then realized he hadn’t actually closed the call. On the other side, the strange looking man yelled at them, his splotched mouth opening, closing, and his face red. If anything, those spots looked larger, wetter than before.

Rovo touched the screen one more time. Figured there’d be an opportunity to score one last insult.

“You’re all going to die. Do you hear me? Every last one of you.” The man cut the call then. 

Rovo didn’t even get in his shot. 

He’d just have to deliver it in person.