Runaway Urashima

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Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Oct 28, 2015 4:07 am

Okay, so I'm planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year, and it's going to be set in the Solar Union. Actually, I'm kind of cheating, because I've already started writing, and you're supposed to wait for November 1st, but whatever. I'm just going to use NaNoWriMo as motivation to keep my word count up, and just count the words I write in November for scoring purposes.

I also thought it might be a good idea to post sections of it here as I finish, as a bit of extra motivation for me.


Here's the teaser blurb text I wrote for the story on the NaNo website:

The year is 0247 on the Solar Calendar, and spacefaring civilization depends on Mobile Frames--giant humanoid mechs that allow one human to do the work of six. Along with the spacetime-bending Transit Gates, Mobile Frames made the creation of the interstellar Solar Union possible, as well as forming the military units that enforce the uneasy peace that holds it together.

Gaspar Rojas Soto is a humble Mobile Frame Salesmen with an assignment that is way above his pay grade--convince seasoned veteran frame pilot and current frame sports superstar Yoko Reinhart to sign an endorsement deal with his struggling company, while they're both journeying on the massive interplanetary cruise ship, the Urashima.

But, unbeknownst to the two of them, a conspiracy is afoot, a terrible plan that could kill every man, woman, and child aboard the Urashima, and plunge the entire Tau Ceti system into a bloody civil war, and only the two of them have the means to stop it.



So, would anybody be interested in reading this if I posted it?
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby spacemonkey » Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:11 am

Sounds like you have a great story concept; I would be interested in reading more. :geek:
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mantisking » Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:18 am

spacemonkey wrote:Sounds like you have a great story concept; I would be interested in reading more. :geek:

Me too.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Zero Revenge » Wed Oct 28, 2015 1:48 pm

spacemonkey wrote:Sounds like you have a great story concept; I would be interested in reading more. :geek:

Seconded!
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Oct 29, 2015 1:25 am

Cool. I'll start posting sections of it starting November 1st. Hope you guys like it!
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Mon Nov 02, 2015 12:03 am

Gaspar shifted from foot to foot and tried to stay calm. He was about to have the most important meeting of his life and he really wasn’t sure he was in the right place. He double-checked the note on his e-tablet—Southern Quadrant, Prosperity Avenue, #417, restaurant name: Banh. And that’s where he was. Meet up at 14:00, local time. His tablet said 13:55. Should be no problem. But it didn’t seem right. The “restaurant” behind him appeared to be a cheap hole-in-the wall sandwich shop, which wasn’t the type of place you’d normally go to negotiate a high-profile endorsement deal. Which meant that either he was somehow in the wrong place, despite all his double and triple-checking, or this choice was some kind of message, perhaps even a calculated insult, by his prospective client. And he had no way of knowing which it was until his client got here.

Unease gnawed at his guts. This was no good. He would have been nervous enough just meeting at his suggested restaurant, La Belle Terrasse, and now he had this added stress on top of it. All too typical of his life these days. And this could be his last chance to change that. But no pressure.

Deep breaths. Look at the sky. Actually, the sky of Urashima really was an incredible sight, given that it was also the ground. The Urashima was a gigantic ship, a huge megacity wrapped up into a cylinder, with even more massive propellant tanks bolted to the back of it, set out from Sol system over four hundred years ago, at a time when warfare and deprivation in humanity’s home system were at their most unbearable, such that escape seemed like the only sane option for the ancestors of the Urashima crew. But when they reached their destination in Tau Ceti, the Urashima crew found it already inhabited, for in their absence, the planets of Sol had settled their major squabbles, formed the Solar Union, and created the Transit Gates: city-sized rings constructed in space that could bend the laws of physics and transport anything across the galaxy instantaneously.

You might think that being beaten to their destination might be a blow to the Urashima crew, but the opposite was true. The builders of the Urashima knew of the possibility of being beaten by an FTL drive, but considered it to be the most overly optimistic event possible. It meant that humanity hadn’t destroyed itself, had continued to make progress, and achieved the impossible. And it meant that the people of Urashima weren’t alone in the universe.

But the upshot of all this was that the Urashima was completely unlike all other spacecraft in the Solar Century—utilitarian things meant for relatively short hops between planets or Transit Gates. The Urashima was meant to be self-sustaining for thousands of years: a space colony with boosters. And its designers had understood something even more fundamental: the most unpredictable and unreliable elements of their grand system was the collective mental health of the human beings living within, who would need to maintain that system. They needed to be sane and comfortable for generations to come, and their environment had to make that possible. So unlike any other space ship in the Solar Century, the interior of the Urashima was beautiful.

The first thing you noticed was all the green. The Urashima made extensive use of vertical farming. High-tension wires stretched from the supporting axle in the center of the sky down to the ground like the spokes in a bicycle wheel. As the spokes neared the ground they split out four ways to support huge aquaponic rings, supplying food, both from the crops and the fish, natural air filtration and recycling, and beautified the ships interior. The designers even had the foresight to stagger the spacing of spokes so they didn’t feel too obviously engineered, more like a real forest. And on top of that, the aquaponic rings set aside some of their space for purely decorative flowers, vines, and similar plants, especially around the outer edges, carefully arranged to make colorful patterns that could be appreciated up close, or a great distance away. The miraculous Hanging Gardens of Urashima dotted the land and sky-scape, a sight that you couldn’t find anywhere else in the universe.

Fu and May would love this. It was a shame he couldn’t bring them along, but he was here on company business, and Rahul had made it clear that Icarian Heavy Industries would be paying for his ticket and travel expenses and no-one else’s. Really, the ticket itself was not the problem, and the expenses were significant, but not a deal-breaker. The issue was the travel time. For the Urashima had been converted into a Cycler—set into a specific orbit that intercepted both of Tau Ceti’s inhabited planets, Jiguang and Alicanto. Once set into the orbit, the Urashima would no longer need to use fuel, save for the occasional minor course correction. Ships at each planet could intercept the Urashima to drop off and pick up passengers and cargo, only paying the energy cost for those short trips, rather than the entire interplanetary distance. A perfect arrangement, except for the fact that it was so very slow. Gaspar would be on this journey for another one hundred and ninety-one days before setting down at Jiguang. Not the the sort of trip one took if one was in a hurry. But if the Cycler was the Urashima—a one-of-a-kind artifact of pre-Solar Union interstellar travel, full of its own wholly unique space-faring history and culture, and the most comfortable, even luxurious trip possible on a spacecraft, then one just might take that trip. Assuming, of course, one was the sort of person who was able to leave one’s job for the six months or more it took to make the journey. Fu certainly couldn’t—she was the one paying most of the bills lately, and May had school.

Gaspar sighed. He was missing his wife and daughter already. Not that he’d had much time for them, lately. He’d been pulling longer and longer hours trying to make his sales quota, and now he would be having nothing but free time and no-one to share it with. Fu had been supportive, as she always was, despite the ridiculously short notice, but May was furious with him. He was going to miss her sixteenth birthday, breaking his promise to take her to Jet Coaster Adventure Park, which she’d been looking forward to all year. Of course he felt bad about it, but there was nothing he could do. He was on shaky enough ground at work as it was. Despite all his long hours, he was not on track to meet his sales quota. Well, no one was, but his numbers were the worst by far. He could have refused this assignment, but if he had, he just knew that would be just the excuse Rahul needed to cut the dead weight.

But that wasn’t the sort of thing he was going to explain to his daughter. A teenager shouldn’t have to worry about such things. So of course she didn’t understand. He’d promised to make it up to her, but he honestly didn’t see how. The only thing she wanted more than that trip were those ridiculous mechanical cat ears. He remembered when she’d first shown him the ad for them. “Nyan-Nyan Nekomimi: Totally Lifelike Cat Ears that Actually Respond to Your Thoughts.” The ad featured a very pretty young woman in a brightly-colored costume making a series of cute, exaggerated expressions: Surprise—the ears stuck straight up; Sadness—the ears drooped down; Irritation—the ears lay flat, and so on. Gaspar had to be impressed with the engineering involved, even as he was baffled that it would be put to such a frivolous purpose. But to May, these ears were obviously the greatest invention of all time, which she desperately needed to make her life complete. Something to do with some TV show she was obsessed with. At first he’d figured it for a phase, but May’s Nekomimi Campaign had been ongoing for months now. He’d taken a look at prices—expensive, but not ridiculously so. He’d thought about consulting with Fu, perhaps May could have these ears for her sixteenth birthday, and nothing else, if she still wanted them by that point. Then he looked at the shipping costs. The ears were manufactured in Sol. To get to May, those ears had to go interstellar through the Jiguang Transit Gate, then interplanetary to Alicanto. By that point, there were budget labor frames you could get for cheaper. He’d explained this to May, but she still tried to bargain. She’d forgo her allowance for the next two years! (That wasn’t the purpose of an allowance.) She’d pay it back herself! He could treat it as a loan and even charge interest! (As if he’d let his daughter start her young adult life in debt to her parents over a toy.) Still the Nekomimi Campaign continued. When he reached Jiguang, he was going to search around, see if a store there might have them at a reasonable price, not that he had much hope of that. The Transit Gates could defy the laws of relativity, but they didn’t do so for cheap. The stores in Jiguang would have to recoup the transit tax like everybody else. Still, he could hold out hope for a miracle. Things with May had been so strained lately. It seemed like on all the too-infrequent times they’d had time to talk, he was always saying “no.” It didn’t help any when he’d let slip that he was meeting Yoko Reinhart and she wouldn’t be able to come along.

Gaspar looked back to his tablet and opened Ms. Reinhart’s file again. He’d been over it multiple times, but another sweep couldn’t hurt. This was the whole point of everything. Yoko Reinhart was one of the most popular athlete/celebrities in known space, and his one and only job was to get Yoko Reinhart to agree to an endorsement deal for Icarian Heavy Industries, for their newest top-of-the-line military mobile frame, the Shogun.

Normally, this would have nothing to do with his job. Endorsement deals were way above his pay grade. This assignment had come down from on high, in response to some "insider information." Who knows how they'd got it--they weren't telling him. But it said Yoko wasn't getting along with Jovian Dynamics, her current sponsor, and was about to terminate their agreement. Yoko had been visiting Alicanto doing charity work, and had suddenly switched her travel plans to take the Urashima back to the Jiguang Transit Gate, meaning she'd be at least a week late to training camp, which supposedly wasn't like her. But that left an opportunity for IHI to jump on. Someone in PR had managed to pull strings, gotten one of their brand-new Shogun models loaded in an empty hangar, set up a meeting through a friend of a friend of a friend or something. And they needed someone from the local Alicanto branch to make the pitch, while Yoko was on the Urashima and had the time to meet. And the pitch was unusual, because Yoko was unusual. According to his file, she was extremely picky about her personal brand. She wouldn't endorse a product unless she personally liked it. So all he had to do was convince Yoko Reinhart that the Shogun was a cool frame, and to agree to discuss terms with PR at her convenience when her vacation ended. They'd also given him three numbers--rough amounts of what the company might be willing to pay her per year for her endorsement. The first number was more money than he'd ever expect to see in his lifetime. The next number was even higher, in case the first didn't impress her, and the third was a last resort. It was obscene. PR really, really wanted this deal, no matter what.

So no pressure, ha, ha. Gaspar wiped his brow for the fifth or sixth time in the last five minutes. His handkerchief was in danger of becoming sodden. Spaceships always had a problem getting rid of heat, and the Urashima builders had decided not to make things harder than they needed to be, so the weather here was eternally sub-tropical. He was the only person on this street wearing a suit. No helping it, though. Had to make a proper impression. For right now, if he could manage to greet Ms. Reinhart without visible armpit stains on his suit jacket, he would consider that a success.

Gaspar checked his e-tablet again. 14:01. She should be here any moment. The woman worth millions of Wulongs. Amazing how that worked. Gaspar flipped her file open again, bringing up the earliest known photo of her, from when she was staying at the Reinhart orphanage on Amritsar, right before funding issues forced it to close down. She wasn't the center of the picture. About a dozen young adolescent faces crowded into the frame, some looking eager, some shy, some trying to look cool. Yoko was in the lower left, a skinny girl with a jet-black ponytail and a huge grin. She had her arms wrapped around a blonde boy, who held both his fists straight out at the camera, the words SHOT HARD spelled out on his knuckles. He'd have looked like a much tougher kid if not for the blush and sheepish grin on his face from the mugging he was getting. Still Gaspar couldn't believe this kid had managed to get knuckle tattoos. Was that a thing on Amritsar? Hard to keep track of all the local customs in the Solar Union. Gaspar tapped the boy's image. Kostya Zhukov. Disappeared when the orphanage went under. This had been a big media story a few years ago--the search for Yoko Reinhart's lost childhood crush. Nothing had ever turned up, and the fervor died down.

Yoko had lived on the streets for about two years until she'd somehow managed to convince a United Mars Foreign Legion recruiter that she was really eighteen, and so began her military career, two years with the UMFL until her unit got called to a joint mission with the Terran Expeditionary Marines, where she impressed the TEM commander so much that she was given the option to transfer, which she did. Yoko then proceeded to rack up an impressive set of military honors over the next five years, when she suddenly quit, for reasons that weren't clear. In interviews, she said vague things like, "it was time," or "I needed something new." That new thing turned out to be smashball. Gaspar didn't keep up with sports much, and he'd tried to give himself a smashball crash course, but he'd ended up more confused than when he'd started. The best he could figure out was that it involved two teams of five frames on a figure-eight track, a big motorized ball, and lots of, well... smashing. Yoko had walked into open tryouts for the practice team for the Southport Furies on Mars, and, somehow, managed to claw her way to starting passer just six months later. The Furies narrowly missed the playoffs that year, an experience Yoko didn't much care for, because the next year, and every year after that, the Southport Furies have taken the Galactic Cup, dominating every other team on the track, primarily due to Yoko's play.

Gaspar didn't really get it, but all the sports critics just gushed over her, calling her a once-in-a-generation type athlete, transforming how the game was played. She forced other teams to develop specific strategies just to deal with her, none of which ever worked, apparently, since the Furies kept winning. 

And not only was she a mega-talent, but the cameras loved her. She had a natural charisma, was great in interviews, and would steal the show in whatever cameo appearance you could fit her in. Ad that all together, and you had a media superstar, courted by all the major corporations. Yoko Reinhart had swarms of PR suitors tripping over themselves trying to catch her attention, but somehow he was going to win her over.

The “how” was the big problem here. Really, it shouldn’t be any different from a normal sale. He’d asked the top sellers at IHI for tips, back when his low numbers had started becoming A Problem, and they usually said that most of their client interactions had nothing to do with selling—most of it was hanging out and building friendly relations with their clients, and the selling would naturally followed. He’d tried that, and all that happened was he got a bunch of new drinking buddies who had no interest in buying frames from him, and all he had to show for his efforts were a series of hangovers and time spent away from his family in favor of a group of people who he actually didn’t like all that much. Like now. Their eighteenth anniversary was next month. Another miss. Why couldn’t they have sent someone else on this mission, if it was so important? Why send him? Gaspar immediately regretted asking himself that question, because he was sure he knew.

The directive to woo Yoko Reinhart came from upper management. Gaspar sensed that Rahul did not much care for it, possibly saw it as a waste of time. He was not going to send any of his top sellers away on a space cruise for six months on a pointless mission. Instead he would send the dead weight, the saleman he could most afford to lose. Gaspar felt it in his gut—he was being set up to fail. It would be the final nail in his coffin, and he could expect to not have a job when he returned.

No! He couldn’t think like that. That would not happen. He would make this sale. Just make it happen. He just needed to find an in. Perhaps one of the media interviews in his file, one of the ones he hadn’t read yet, might have something he’d missed, something important. It was rather frustrating, though. Most of the interviewers asked incredibly superficial questions, and even when they didn’t—

“Hey, yo! Gaspar! Your name is Gaspar, right?”

Gaspar started and looked up from his pad, and then down a bit. She was shorter than he’d expected.

“Ah, yes! That’s m…” And then he found himself unable to finish whatever it was he was about to say as the full appearance of his client registered in his brain.

Yoko Reinhart was wearing loose gunmetal-gray military-style cargo pants with a web belt, slung low around her hips and rolled into loose cuffs that covered the tops of her cheap black canvas sneakers. She had odd red and black striped skintight sleeves on her forearms that covered them up to her palms, with a hole for her thumbs to pass through. She had a silver chain around her neck with her dog tags and a heavy, rather gaudy gold ring. Her sleeveless t-shirt, cut off to expose her midriff, was black with a riot of iridescent pastel firework patterns exploding out from some excessively feminine script in the center, which read “GONNA STARSHINE MIRACLE YO’ ASS!” But the biggest surprise was up on her head, exclipsing even her hot pink hair.

Because up on her head, Yoko Reinhart was wearing the “Nyan-Nyan Nekomimi: Totally Lifelike Cat Ears that Actually Respond to Your Thoughts.”
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 6:51 am, edited 3 times in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby spacemonkey » Tue Nov 03, 2015 12:49 pm

Wow, fantastic opener, Mark! I really like the setting you're building up here as well Gaspar's characterization. I really look forward to reading more of this! :geek:
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Nov 04, 2015 4:31 am

“Like my ears?”

“Oh, sorry!” Gaspar made an effort to bring his gaze back to her face. “I didn’t mean to stare. My apologies—“

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Everybody does that. Kinda what makes it fun. I’m Yoko, by the way. Pleased to meetcha.” She held her hand out for him to shake, which he did.

“Gaspar,” he said. “Sorry I didn’t recognize you. I wasn’t quite expecting… ah… Did you get your hair dyed for your vacation?” he blurted out.

Yoko grinned at him. “Nope! It’s a wig, see?” She reached underneath her pink bangs and tugged them upward until he saw her black hairline hiding beneath. She let go, and everything snapped back into place.

“Ah, of course,” he said, and searched for something to add onto that couldn’t be construed as rude or potentially inappropriate. Surely there was a thing to say in this situation that would fit that situation, but he’d be damned if he could think of it.

“So, you hungry?” Yoko said. “‘Cause I’m starving.”

“Yes, lunch sounds nice.” Gaspar followed Yoko into Bahn. So this wasn’t a mistake? This was really the spot she picked? Not much space in here, just a handful of simple rattan tables and chairs, though everything looked clean and well-maintained. It was a bit noisy, too, because most of those tables were occupied. Looked like locals, having animated conversation in the local dialect, a pidgin of several dialects of Chinese, some English, Japanese, combined with three hundred years of linguistic drift in isolation.

“Sorry if the late lunch was too rough on you,” said Yoko, “But I like coming here at fourteen hundred, ‘cause if you come here at normal lunch hours it’ll just be packed. Line out the door.”

“This place is popular?” asked Gaspar. “It’s that good?”

“Oh, hells ya,” she said, as they got into line behind two other people. “I do a lot of travelling, and I’ve always found that the best way to get a meal is to avoid the big-name touristy places and find out where the locals eat. Way more fun that way, and you don’t blow a ton of money. And since you were interested in French-Vietnamese cuisine, Bahn Mi is the way to go for that.”

Gaspar smiled, in a way he really hoped did not look like gritting his teeth. He actually hadn’t been worried about saving money, because he had a corporate expense account that he could charge his meals to. And, if it was done for the purpose of treating Yoko Reinhart, he could charge as much as he liked from the most exclusive, most expensive restaurant he could find, and only then. He’d successfully made dinner reservations for two at La Belle Terrasse for the day after tomorrow, no easy feat, on a confirmed Real Beef day, to boot. He’d felt so fortunate, like the Universe was giving him a blessing, for once. But it was not to be.

You see, the thing about cattle ranching is that it’s horribly resource-ineffcient. And if you live aboard a completely isolated, self-sustaining spaceship, proper resource management was vital. There were so many better ways of producing meat. Insects and grubs required far less food and energy, and could be processed into perfectly edible ground meat substitute. Or, if you wanted steaks, you could get those from cloning vats—real-ish beef obtained without having to sustain the life of a real animal, and then kill it. And if you use aquaponic farming, you always have a steady source of fresh, real fish. So the idea of cattle ranching on the Urashima was just ridiculous.

And yet, it had happened anyway. One hundred and fifteen years ago, one man, Joichiro Totsuki, after years of research into the ship’s data archives about Old Earth ranching techniques, became obsessed with trying out cattle ranching himself, all to provide a truly unique ingredient for his own restaurant. He did all the math, ran all the numbers, and presented the ruling council of the Urashima with a proposal to create a terraced grazing-tower, for cattle ranching, built mostly out of a bamboo framework and supported by wire tension from the Urashima’s central axle. After multiple attempts and rejections, he finally got approval, on the understanding that the whole thing would be torn down if it ever became an enviromental hazard. The grazing-tower could never support a huge number of cattle, so Joichiro and his descendants compensated by paying special attention to those cows, using Wagyu beef techniques first developed in the Kobe region of Japan. The terrace cows were fed beer on a daily basis and given massages. Can you feed beer to lump of flesh in a vat? No! It has no mouth. Could you massage a bunch of insects? You could try, and get a sticky mess for your troubles! And the fields on the terrace had one more feature that Kobe lacked. The gravity on Urashima was actually an illusion created by the spinning of the cylndrical hab unit. And as you climbed up to the central axis of the cylinder, you’d be spinning slower and slower, until finally you’d be in zero g at the center. So the ranchers of La Belle Terrasse always planted grass and drove their herds from the bottom of the terrace at the start of their lives, up to the top, where the apparent gravity was the weakest. Those blessed creatures ended their lives as the laziest, most pampered creatures in the known universe, and their beef came out tender and marbled in fat.

This was the legendary Urashima-Wagyu beef, and you could get it only one place in the known universe, and not every day either, due to high demand and limited stock. Gourmands from across the galaxy made pilgrimages just to eat there. Food critics went rapturous about the place, called it one of the essential experiences every carnivore should experience at least once before they died.

Or, you know, they could just get sandwiches instead. Sandwiches were also a thing you could eat.

Yoko jolted him out of his reverie. It was his turn to order. Hastily he scanned the menu, which didn't seem to have anything French about it all, except--was it because the sandwiches were all on French rolls? Was that it? Oh, whatever. Did they have beef? Shaking Beef sandwich, fine. And some tea? Tea was calming. Thai iced tea? Well, whatever that was, as long as it was tea.

He sat down with Yoko to wait for their sandwiches. "Next time you come here, you should get the fish," she said. "I mean, the beef is okay. They season it up pretty well, but it's still vat beef. The fish is fresh."

Gaspar nodded, and realized that he'd barely been paying attention to his most important client. This was not good. He needed to fix that, to banish the visions running through his head, visions of fat, tipsy cows, joyously mooing as they bounced about in microgravity at the top tier of their grassy paradise. But when he looked at her, all he could see were those hutching cat ears. 

As bizarre as the whole thing was, he had to admit they were technically impressive. Even more so in person than on the promotional videos. Whatever material they used was incredibly lifelike. Thin, downy black and grey fur covered the outside, with fleshy pink material on the inside, partially covered with long white hairs extending from the base. Light shone through the shop window, revealing the ears to be slightly translucent, with red lines for fake blood vessels. Whatever tie or band Yoko used to attach them to her head, they were hidden by her wig, nor could he see the motors used to animate them, though they must exist, because they twitched and flicked in response to the various noises coming from the other tables, and from behind the sandwich counter.

"You really like these ears, huh?"

Dammit. "Sorry, I just..."

"I told you, I don't mind. I just think it's funny, is all. Like, they're pretty comfy, so half the time I forget I've got 'em on. It's hilarious watching people's faces as their eyes go up and they do a double-take."

"I see," said Gaspar. "May I ask where you got your pair? Was it a shop on the ship?"

"Oh no, these were a gift," she said. "From the manufacturers. It's crazy, but it's something that happens when you get famous. Strangers just send you free ****. When I was a kid I would've killed for a toy like this. Now I'm rich and could buy a dozen of these, no problem, and I get them for nothing. Weird how that works, huh?"

Gaspar sighed. "Ah, I see. Actually, I've been looking for a pair myself, you see--"

Yoko perked up. "What, really? Wanna try 'em? Here..."

Yoko yanked the ears off her head, and before he could react, Gaspar felt the slight pressure of thin wire band across the top of his head, and of Yoko's arm around his shoulders as she flipped open her cell and pointed it at the two of them. He heard the click of a digital shutter go off, several times before he could recover his wits enough to untangle himself, and pull the offending ears off his head.

"Ah, no!" he sputtered. "I didn't mean I wanted them for myself. They're for my daughter. I have a teenage daughter. She's the one who wants them. I was asking for her."

"Awww..." said Yoko. "You sure about that? I think they look pretty good on you..." She flipped back through the images on her phone, and the corner of her mouth twitched up. "...Grumpy Cat."

Gaspar took a deep breath, reminding himself that, while he'd never run across any passages in his sales training manuals that specifically prohibited strangling sales clients, that didn't mean it was a good idea. Also, this woman was a seasoned special forces veteran and could probably kill him with her pinky. Stay friendly. We want to make friends here, yes?

"Th-thank you, but I think they look much better on you," he said.

"I dunno, check out these pics." She showed him her cell phone, one of the latest trendy new designs. It was shaped like an old-fashioned folding fan, with a flexible screen that rolled up inside the body of the device instead of folding up. The image of the two of them of them had a blinking rectangular outline superimposed on top of them. Presumably that was how the image would be cropped on regular, non semi-circular devices. Gaspar noted the ears did indeed do an excellent job of reacting to his emotional state, which in this case would be shock and mortification.

"Hah, very funny," Gaspar said, hoping he sounded convincing. "But I just don't think I can wear these without looking ridiculous."

"Everybody looks ridiculous in these things. That's why they're fun," she said. But she did take them back, snapping her fan-phone closed so it was a gleaming silver rod, which she jammed through her belt loop.

But that's not true, thought Gaspar, as Yoko reattached her cat ears. She should look ridiculous, but she really didn't. Somehow Yoko made that outfit work for her, ears and all. Normal rules just didn't seem to apply to her.

"Well, the ears look nice and all," said Gaspar. "But one drawback is they're actually for a kid's TV show. Nyan-Nyan something. My--"

"Nyan-Nyan Neko-Chan to Hoshizora Senshi!" said Yoko, beaming.

"What?"

"Best hutching show on TV, am I right?"

"Err..." Gaspar tried to recover his bearings. Wasn't Nyan-Nyan... whatever a kid's show? Honestly, he'd though May was being more than a little silly for getting obsessed with it. "You're a fan?"

Yoko got a weird grin on her face and her voice came out in a high-pitched squeak. "No, no! I'm just a cat. Da nyan!" And she brought her hands up by her chin like exaggerated cat's paws, while tipping her whole body to one side.

Gaspar really had no response for that at all. Well, actually, he had a bunch, but the nicest one was "do you need medical attention?" which he was sure was not the right thing to say here. Fortunately, Yoko didn't let the silence go on too long.

"You don't watch the show?"

"Ah... my daughter is the fan. I just--"

"You don't watch it with her?"

Gaspar felt a bit of a twinge. "Well, work has been hectic lately, and--"

"Eh, your loss then," she said, shrugging. "Just so you know, that's a catchphrase. The response is, 'Moe desu.'" The way she said it made it sound like “Mo-ay.”

"I see." he said.

Yoko pursed her lips and her cat ears flipped at a quizzical angle. "Well, I guess it doesn't make any sense out of context. Trust me, when they do it in the show it's hilarious."

"I see." he said.

"Really, you should give it a chance. Actually, I bet you could catch a few episodes tonight or something. I'm pretty sure most of the media services on this tub have it."

"I see," he said, and realized he was starting to sound like a broken record. This is a chance to connect with your client around one of her interests, you idiot, came a voice in his head.

"So, this isn't a kid's show? I thought it was, but..."

"Oh, well--technically it's aimed at kids, but it's so smart it's attracted viewers from all demographics everywhere. Ever since the Kenmushi rap from the end of the second season went viral, the viewership blew up like you wouldn't believe. It's just huge now."

Gaspar blinked. "I had no idea."

"Oh yeah," she said. "Honestly, if you start watching the first season, you might not get the fuss. The second season is where the show really picks up, though if you start there you might find some of it hard to follow... I'd recommend starting at the beginning, though there are a couple of later episodes that kinda work as standalones, and aren't too spoiler-y. "Tanuki Fusion" is a really good one, and I'm not just saying that because I was in it. That's where--"

"Wait, you were in this show?" said Gaspar. He hadn't seen any of that in her research file.

Yoko beamed and her ears twitched excitedly. "Yep, I got to do the voice for the Tanuki--the fusion between Neko-Chan and Urfu-Chan. That was huge. Seriously, I was so psyched when that came out. I couldn't even--"

"Fusion?" he said, repeating the one word that he halfway understood.

"Oh yeah," she said. "All the Senshi can do fusion--combine--for short times, anyway. See, they're friends, but they're constantly bickering--and the point of the show is that they need to work together. Here, let me show you..."

Yoko whipped out her phone and loaded up a page showing a roster of brightly-colored cartoon characters with huge eyes and various minor animal traits. "See, here's Neko-Chan, along with all the other Senshi that have been introduced so far. But the most important ones are Neko-Chan and these two--"

She pointed at a cutely grouchy girl with a dog's ears and tail, and a pale, shy girl with silver hair and antennae. "Tsun-Tsun Urfu-Chan and Beta-Beta Kenmushi-Chan. See, Urfu cares a lot, but she's pretty standoffish, like the name wasn't a tip-of, so she's always getting into it with Neko-Chan, 'cause the thing about Neko-Chan is she really wants everyone to get together, but she can be a bit overbearing and bossy about it..." Gaspar tried to follow as best he could, but it was surprisingly complicated, and she kept dropping in all these Japanese terms like he was supposed to know what she meant. Really, maybe he should've begged off this assignment and sent May instead. She'd probably be following this much better than he was. Gaspar noticed a flicker of irritation cross Yoko's face, and her ears went flat for a second. Had he not been paying enough attention? But she shook it off and continued.

"...and the main thing about Ken-Chan is she's insecure, which makes her super clingy--like she hates to let people out of arm's reach. In fact, she constantly glomping onto people, which is kind of a running gag--like, 'Hey, personal space," but... ummm..." Again, there was that odd, guarded expression, and the flattening of the ears. Like a nervous feral cat hiding in the bushes.

"Uh... hang on a second," she said, flipping her phone around, like she was going to take a selfie. The flexible screen wasn't completely opaque from the back. She had the camera app open and was actually aiming it over her shoulder. Framed in the camera were three teenage girls sitting at a nearby table, sneaking glances at them and giggling amongst themselves. Gaspar craned his head around to get an unobstructed look and they all stifled shrieks and hunched down over their plates.

Yoko closed her eyes and let out a long breath. "Ah, no helping it, I guess." She shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "I'm going to be a few minutes. If you don't mind, could you tell them to switch our order to go? And call us a coach to take us to the hangar."

"What?" said Gaspar, and then realized she meant the hangar where the Shogun and IHI's other mobile frames were. 

"Right, will do," he said, and watched Yoko saunter over to the teen's table. All three of them sat bolt upright, frozen like frightened deer.

"Heya," said Yoko, grinning. "You guys come here often?"

Two of them were frozen, speechless. But the third had a bit more fortitude. "Oh, um... are you... uh, ohmigod... we don't want to be rude..."

"Don't worry, you weren't. And yes, I'm exactly who you think I am. What's your name?"

"Ohmigod... ohmigod..."

"Hi, Ohmigod. How you doing today?"

"Eee! No! I'm Trini! Trini..." she said, turning bright pink.

"Trinitrini? That's a cute name. Unique, too."

"Nooooo!" she squealed. "Ohmigod, I can't even... can't believe... um... I love you!" she blurted out, and turned even redder. "Ohmigod, I don't mean..."

"Hey, that's a cute phone you got there," said Yoko. "Mind if I borrow it for a second?"

"Uh, sure... but--EEEE!"

Yoko had already thrown her arm around Trini's neck and snapped a couple selfies of the two of them, cheek-to-cheek. Yoko returned the phone, only the other girls snapped it up to look at the pics, while Trini hyperventilated.

"You two have names?" said Yoko.

"Oh! Um... I'm Isabel, and this is Pia," said Isabel, the tallest and (relatively) calmest of the three. "Um, I love your ears. They're super-cute."

"Thanks. Here, try 'em out." And before Isabel knew it, she'd grown an extra pair of ears, and was getting visual documentation of that fact, with a superstar hanging off her, to boot.

So it went along like that for the next couple of minutes, with a lot of pictures, and ear-testing, and a lot of breathless, overwhelmed chatter. Gaspar just hung back and watched while he sipped his tea, which was cloudy, overly sweet, and had these weird, tasteless, chewy black balls inside. What kind of tea was this supposed to be? Anyway, he was thirsty enough to finish it, and it was something to do. He doubted he'd add anything to the girls' conversation. They certainly wouldn't care who he was. Why would they?

They called the number for their orders. Separate orders. He realized he'd forgotten to pay for Yoko. This should've been his treat. But, on the other hand, these sandwiches were so cheap that the offer would've made him feel ludicrous even if he had remembered. Gaspar sighed and wondered which would look worse on a review, expensing frivolously, or not spending anything on his client? He'd just better make this deal, then. Nothing needed to be forgiven about success.

Gaspar picked up the sandwiches and walked over to the teen's table. Yoko looked up from where she was signing Trini's photo. "Ohmigod! Sooooo cute! --Yoko," was scrawled on the touchscreen.

She saw him coming and called a reluctant end to their powwow, concluded with a round of hugs and lot of waving. They tried to head out, but had to make another stop for a couple, politely asking if they could have photos as well, and a bit of a chat. They made it out to the sidewalk when another guy accosted them, also more photos. There might have been more, but their coach had just pulled up.
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Wed Oct 19, 2016 6:40 am, edited 3 times in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Sat Nov 07, 2015 3:51 am

This was the main transportation system for most people inside Urashima: a distributed network of self-driving open-top electric cars, retrofitted to work with modern phone OS's. The coaches looked a lot like white giant tea cups with wheels. They didn't go very fast, but they didn't need to. Urashima was gargantuan for a spacecraft, but it wasn't that huge for a city. Yoko hopped in, but as Gaspar moved to enter he felt someone shove him hard from the side. He whirled around to confront the pushy autograph hound, only to find… no one. The fans had already retreated back to the shop. One of them was still in the doorway, looking very confused.

“Whoa, Grumpy Cat,” said Yoko. “Don’t tip us over.” He thought to protest, then decided to just shrug off… whatever that had been. The coach took off, and Gaspar felt a pleasant breeze as the vehicle cut through the still air. It blew Yoko’s hair around her face. She tucked it behind her ears, flipped her phone open, fiddled with the screen a bit, and her entire wig shimmered, going from hot pink to a deep reddish-purple, with electric blue streaks. Gaspar remembered hearing of programmable multichromatic "smart wigs" somewhere, but he’d never seen one in person.

Yoko let out a deep breath, then tore open the cloth napkin her sandwich was wrapped in. "Finally!" she said, and began to devour her sandwich. Half of it disappeared before he could even blink. 

"Ah, so good," she said, taking a break to chew at least some of it. She noticed him staring at her. "Hey, dig in. Don't let yours get cold."

He complied, though he was finding that managing the sandwich in a moving coach harder than she did. The sandwich was stuffed so full that every time he bit into it, all sorts of bits squished out the sides, and he found himself doing a frantic juggling act trying to keep everything inside the napkin. Though he had to admit it was a good sandwich, with a whole bunch of crunchy vegetables mixed in with the slightly crispy beef strips. Then he took another bite and nearly choked, as the inside of his mouth caught on fire.

“Got a kick, don’t it?” said Shiori. “That’s a real Banh Mi, right there. You got the sweet meat filling, then these tangy pickled carrots and cucumbers, and it’s all nice and fresh, and balances out great, and finally you got the cilantro and jalapeno for that great fire, though of course the french roll can kinda absorb that, so it’s all good.” She beamed happily as she went on to extol the value of great street food, and how doing simple things well was so underrated. Gaspar had to listen more than look, because his eyes were tearing up. He could actually feel the throbbing pulse of his blood vessel through his lips and jaw, silently screaming at him, “Why, brother? What did we ever do to you?” People did this to themselves on purpose? He watched Shiori finish devouring hers, pausing only to praise it some more. Well, at least he was having appropriately balanced pain.

Gaspar finished his sandwich, mainly by discreetly allowing the jalapenos to escape the roll and fall into his napkin, along with quite a bit of its bretheren bits of carrot and beef shniblets. Though it turned out a tiny little pepper had chosen to hide, rather than escape, and he had a relapse of tears and burning jaw. If the french roll was supposed to absorb the spice, it was failing its job miserably. With the roll gone, he actually had a small beef salad left in his napkin. It bugged him. He hated wasting food that wasn’t jalapenos. “I should’ve grabbed a fork on the way out,” he muttered to himself.

Shiori grimaced. “Yeah, sorry. Had to get out of there. You give one person an autograph, then another person wants one, and then another, and then you’re running a goddamned signing session with no security. And—oh, damnit!”

“What?”

“I just realized I’m going have to avoid that place for a bit. Two weeks, at least, before I can get another sandwich there,” She sighed. “Gonna have to find another lunchtime spot.”

“It’s that bad?” Gaspar said. “I thought you were having fun.”

“I was. They were fun. Fans are fun. When it’s just three of them. That’s manageable.” She slouched low in her seat and rested her chin in her palm. “Those three had a really fun experience, and they’ll probably tell everyone they know about it. And probably some of those people will want that experience for themselves. They’ll be asking Trini, Isabel, and Pia to introduce them to their new friend. And it just balloons from there, and next time I walk in, there’s like, twenty people or more, and I just want a goddamned sandwich.”

“Really?” said Gaspar.

“Well, maybe,” she said. “It’s not always that bad. But sometimes it is. Anyway, usually if I don’t show up somewhere for two weeks, most fans will get bored and do something else. And if not, like if someone seriously camped that place out for two weeks—hey, you win, dude—I can respect that level of dedication.”

“Couldn’t you just have somebody bring you a sandwich from the shop?”

“Nah, they don’t deliver.”

“No, I mean: couldn’t you just send someone to the shop to buy a sandwich?” said Gaspar. “Honestly, I’d have thought you’d already have someone on your staff for that. Like, you must be—

Yoko recoiled and her ears went flat. “What, you mean like an entourage?” The way she spit the word out made it sound like 'rectal cancer.' “No way! I’m not going near that hutching mess.”

Gaspar froze. What had he said wrong? “Ah, sorry…” he managed. “I didn’t mean—“

“Oh, crap,” Yoko sighed. “No, don’t worry about it. It’s just… I’ve seen this happen. You go around the smashball circuit, and you get invited to the big parties, and you run into it all the time.”

She leaned forward, a grave expression on her face. “Free advice: if you ever become famous, never let anybody become your entourage. Buncha spineless little weasels crowding around you, competing to see who can be the biggest brown-noser. They’ll feed your ego and suck out your soul, just so they can bask in the fame and money without doing a thing to earn it for themselves. And you don’t even need ‘em. Fame is… well, it’s super overwhelming at first, but it’s like anything else. You can manage it. There are tricks.”

“Like avoiding that sandwich place for two weeks because some fans saw you there?” asked Gaspar.

“Yup. And really, that’s hardly anything to worry about, right? Two weeks isn’t so long. Like it’s so hard to find a decent lunch in Urashima.” Yoko leaned back and seemed to perk up.
“Like seriously, if that’s the worst thing that happens to me on this trip, I’ll be a lucky woman. Sometimes I forget I used to wake up and not even know where my next meal was coming from. Like, that was what my whole day was about; How do food. And I’m bitching about sandwiches? Hah! I got no right to complain. It’s not even a thing. No big deal.”

“I see,” said Gaspar, tossing his sandwich napkin into the reuse hamper conveniently located in the coach. He supposed, when you put things in that perspective, most of his worries were trivial. Like missing out on La Belle Terrasse. He’d thought of going anyway, but the restaurant had been insistent that making a reservation was impossible on such short notice—until he’d let slip that Yoko Reinhart was going to be his guest. All of a sudden, a table was found! How could they have missed it? Showing up without her—he did not have the stones to pull that off without feeling like a sorry little toad for the whole evening. But, at least he wasn’t a starving street kid in Amritsar, so no big deal.

Also, even after Yoko’s explanation, he didn’t see how paying some local kid to run as a gopher would make an “entourage,” but he didn’t feel like pressing what was clearly a touchy subject. Something else was bugging him about the whole thing, but it took him a second to figure out what it was.

"You know, I think those girls might've have been too intimidated to come up and talk to you," he said. "But you walked up to them. Introduced yourself. They might've left you alone if you hadn't done that."

Yoko blinked, ears straight up. Then she shrugged, favored him with a rueful grin. "Yeah, good point. Kinda brought that on myself. It's just... It's weird, but having a bunch of kids hovering around behind your back working up the guts to ask for autographs feels really similar to having someone hovering around working up the guts to huck a grenade at you. Gives me the willies."

Gaspar's first reaction was to laugh, but then he realized in time that she wasn't kidding. At least, she didn't seem to be.

"I mean, either way--just get it over with, please!" she said, in the same tone, like she was complaining about traffic, or the weather. "Because the waiting just drives me bonkers."

"Ah--I see," said Gaspar. "But, surely you'd never need to worry about a grenade here. And those girls would never--"

"Yeah, yeah," she said, waving him off. "But old habits die hard. And--I dunno, I guess I keep flashing back to the last time I was here. Wasn't nobody happy to see me then. Definitely nobody wanted my autograph."

Gaspar blinked. "Last time was..."

"You know, man. The big blow-up. That was, what? Ten... no--"

"Eleven years ago. The Trapananda Revolution," Gaspar breathed. "You were here for that?" That definitely hadn't been in her file, but then, Yoko was known for being stingy with specific details about her service and her many, many medals and commendations.

"Yeah. That was my last mission in the UMFL," she said. "Man, I jumped at that TEM transfer. No more risking my ass and getting spit on for it. Screw that peacekeeping bullshit."

Tau Ceti had two planets in the habitable zone: that magical "Goldilocks" distance from a star, where the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. But there was a significant difference between "habitable" and "comfortable," and the outer planet of Jiguang was a much more comfortable place to live than Alicanto. Per the colonization contract, first choice went to the group providing the bulk of the funding for the venture, and it set a precedent for a lopsided distribution of resources that continued to this day. The Trapananda gold mines had been a tipping point. Gross negligence on the part of management had led to an explosion that killed thirty-two miners and injured countless more, capping off a long history of neglect, exploitation, and outright abuse. The rest of the workers rose up, seized control of Trapananda, and began running it themselves--doing a far better job than the old, corrupt Jiguang bosses ever had. But those bosses were none too pleased about this gross violation of their property rights, and responded with force in turn, with disastrous results. Extraplanetary UMFL divisions had to be called in, given the rampant desertion and defection among the Alicanto division, and then UMFL divisions from other systems, and finally the TEM.

"Well," said Gaspar, trying his best to find the most diplomatic phrasing. "To be fair, a lot of people here were very upset at the time. There was a perception that the Solar Union forces were overly concerned with restoring order, at the expense of the workers, without paying any mind to the circumstances that caused them--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know the deal," she said, waving him off. "Though, at the time, I don't remember anybody giving me such a nice explanation. I remember them screaming, 'Go home, chink ****!'"

Gaspar winced. That was an unfortunate side-effect of the whole situation: anyone who looked like they were from Jiguang was assumed to be one of the Bosses, regardless of where they actually born or where their sympathies lay.

"Ah, I am sorry you had to hear that," Gaspar said. "But, you should understand that the revolution wasn't really about--"

"Well, it was the part I had to deal with," she snapped. "You know, I've seen some pretty nasty corners of the galaxy, lived in some real hellholes. But never in my life had anybody called me a chink until I came to Alicanto. I actually had to look it up to figure out what the hell they were talking about. And then I'm like: uh, hey--that's not even accurate, you morons."

"I'm sorry," said Gaspar. "My wife's name is Fu Chen, and our daughter resembles her strongly. Sometimes we do have to deal with bigots, though Fu says things now aren't nearly as bad as they were then." Though, unfortunately, they were far from perfect. Especially with all the tensions around the Independence movement, and the hard line taken by Jiguang in response.

"Oh, yeah--everybody loves me now," said Yoko. "It's night and day now that I'm famous. And donating to orphans. And out of uniform. Everybody's nice as pie."

"Yes," he said. "You know, Fu told me once that the Chinese here also have their own names for the Chileans, and the other Alicanto peoples--"

"Yeah, sure," said Yoko. "Morons are everywhere, and they call people names. It's stupid, but it's just a buncha words. And I'm a big girl. I've dealt with worse. No big deal."

Gaspar nodded, but he wasn't inclined to agree, not after spending a long evening years ago trying to soothe an inconsolable five-year old because some of her kindergarten classmates had learned to sing "ching chong chinaman" to her. And what's more, though Yoko's tone was light, and her expression neutral, her electric cat eats were flat and angry.

This was no good. How did he get sucked into discussing politics with a client? That never went well. He was blowing this deal. He tried switching to a safer topic, asking what made her interested in an Urashima vacation.

“Eh, I dunno,” she said, ears twitching. “Just felt like a break, I guess. Sometimes, you get so caught up in everything—all the appearances, the charity work, training camp, y’know—you forget to just chill and enjoy things. While you’re still young and you can, k’now. Say, we’re heading pretty far aft. I thought most of the frames were foredecks.”

“We’re not part of the Galactic Custom Frame Exhibition,” said Gaspar. The act of booking a spare hangar for all their product had been a last-minute scramble. Fortunately, the Urashima had lots of unused cargo holds—something otherwise unheard of in space travel, though relatively few of them were large enough to accommodate Mobile Frames, which hadn’t existed when the ship was built. “We’re at the far aft.”

“Really? Too bad. I’d think those big-ass diesel monsters of yours would go over pretty well with an exhibition crowd.”

Gaspar’s stomach sunk inward, and all his sweat from the heat turned ice cold. He’d had this conversation before. It never, ever ended well. He had a terrible premonition that he knew exactly how the rest of the day would go, and he absolutely could not let that happen.

No, he couldn’t panic. It was just one comment. He couldn’t let one bad comment break him.

“Actually,” he said. “While it’s true most of our frames use hybrid internal combustion engines—with diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, and other fuels, the Shogun uses fuel-cells.”

“Uh huh.”

“It’s all part of a major new direction for Icarian Heavy Industries. New frames, new markets, new image—and we’d love to have you be a part of that.”

“You would, huh?”

“Yes, yes,” he said. “The Shogun is very different from the Longhorn and and the Warthog. It’s elegant, high-end, precision-engineered—“

“Not huge?”

“It’s…” Gaspar paused, trying to figure out the best way to put this that wouldn’t make him look like a lying weasel later. “It’s smaller than our other frames.”

“That’s not hard,” said Yoko. “Got specific dimensions? Height? Weight?”

“Ahhh…” Not good! Why did she go right to size? The Shogun was not a small, nor medium-sized, frame. And her tone was making it sound like a deal-breaker. He’d been worried about this from the start. “Well, actually I can’t remember the exact dimensions off the top of my head,” he said, which was true enough. “Though, really, I think you need to see it in person to really appreciate it. Just numbers don’t really convey the real user experience. It’s a whole lot of subtle engineering touches, that add up to—“

“Yeah, okay,” said Yoko, stretching and yawning. “I can wait ’till we get there. It’ll be a Total Brand Experience.”

Gaspar was glad he’d forgotten to grab a fork on the way out of the restaurant. If he had one, he’d have killed himself by jabbing it through his ear. Those were not positive buying signals.

He'd seen enough of them to know when someone was not interested in buying his frames. And he couldn't help but feel like a lion's share of the blame had to go to the types of mobile frames he'd been tasked with selling. Mobile frames were huge robotic machines, typically humanoid-shaped, operated by a single pilot. While the space-bending transit gates made interstellar travel possible, colonization relied on the existence of mobile frames. With a mobile frame, one human colonist could do the work of six, and so small, remote colonies could become self-sustaining and profitable in a fraction of the time it otherwise would. And likewise, an armored and weaponized mobile frame was six times more effective, if not more, than any single soldier.

Mobile frames worked though the application of "muscle cylinders" attached to a metal skeleton, much as a human moved with organic muscle attached to bones. The muscle cylinders contracted in response to an electric current, but the source of that electricity could come from anywhere. For most frames, that was a battery or a fuel cell. But for Icarian Heavy Industries, that source had been an internal combustion engine.

There were advantages to such an approach, primarily for colonies that cherished their independence, or at least preferred a bit of local control. The Transit Gates could send any product anywhere across their network--as long as you didn't mind paying the exorbitant shipping fees. What's more, all of the Solar Union Transit Gates were owned and operated by the Terran Transit Authority, an unelected corporate oligarchy that cared primarily about profits and maintaining their own position of total control of interstellar shipping and transport. Really efficient solar panels and high-capacity batteries required highly advanced materials and manufacturing techniques, but an internal combustion engine could be built by a competent blacksmith, if need be. Very useful if one wanted to scale up local production of mobile frames and the TTA decided to put an extra tax, or even embargo, on frame-scale batteries going to your system.

The planet Icaria had taken such a tack, being one of the few colonies to be set on a planet with an ancient and complex ecosystem--ancient enough to have fossil fuel deposits, which the colonists were able to tap into, refine, and use as their primary fuel source, with the resulting greenhouse gas effects welcomed as useful terraforming for frigid Icaria. IHI were justifiably proud of their locally-manufactured diesel-powered frames, and figured there could be a market for their unique products elsewhere in the galaxy.

And they were right--there was, but it was a niche market, and that niche was shrinking. Faced with the prospects of paying high one-time purchase costs for frame batteries vs. the time and expense with setting up industries for producing and refining liquid fuel, most colonies picked the first. And the TTA rarely set up trade embargoes, since most colonies were run by corporations or elites whose interests usually aligned with the TTA. The breakaway Free Colonies were a potential market, greatly interested in energy independence. However, they also tended to be dirt poor, preferring to scavenge, refurbish, or outright steal their frames, rather than pay full price for something straight off the assembly line. And doing tons of business with breakaway rebel colonies wasn't great for your corporate image in the Solar Union. IHI had to tread carefully.

Alicanto seemed like a good fit for them--a local economy based on resource extraction, including some petroleum, with simmering resentments against the TTA and SU, an active and popular secession movement, so there should be plenty of locals with concerns about energy independence, as well as a growing amount of general prosperity, with a new entrepreneur class, that wasn't necessarily beholden to the interests of Jiguang and the TTA. A perfect match, surely!

No, not so much. And the main complaint was the size. A standard model HCF-04 Longhorn stood nearly twice as tall as a standard ST-07 Chub or ST-02 Commissar. The company had a lengthy list, generated from Management and Engineering, of why the frames were made that size, along with talking points for overcoming objections with client, most of which never worked. On the battlefield, being bigger mostly made you a bigger target, and that ended the discussion. His most reliable sales were to the various mining conglomerates, and those were the stripped-down "Bull-neck" civilian frames, used for the heaviest labor. And even those were drying up, as those customers had all they needed. He'd hoped the solid, reliable performance of the Bull-necks would lead to Longhorn sales for their security teams, but that was not to be. The other problem that plagued him was that the massive IHI engines were all air-cooled, developed in frigid Icaria. But in the hotter Alicanto climate, they didn't run so well. The solution the engineers had come up with was to cut off the frames' midsection armor plating, leaving the engine exposed. And the engine did run fine that way, but it made the Longhorn look horribly vulnerable. He had videos demonstrating the durability of the engine, how it could keep running after getting hit with cannon rounds, (sometimes, if you were lucky) and even if it did fail, the battery could keep the Longhorn running for an hour on only slightly reduced performance. Clients were never impressed by these arguments.

Gaspar sighed and watched the scenery pass. The coach was taking them on an nice sightseeing path through Urashima's southern quadrant. Right now they were passing through Wanderer's Oasis, a gorgeous plaza of earth-toned ceramic tiles laid out in mosaic patterns surrounding circular pools with central fountains shaped like goblets. Very calming. At least upper management had recognized the need for change, which was what this whole venture with the Shogun and Yoko and their proposed new PR campaign was supposed to be about. If they could really get any of it off the ground.

"I love these fountains," he said. "Very peaceful. Have you seen these before?"

"No," said Yoko, then frowned a bit. "Kinda weird, though, how they're all spilling out to one side. They supposed to do that?"

Gaspar looked again, and she was right. Curtains of water spilled over the edges of the circular bowls of the fountains, but the side facing the direction they'd come from was bare, the curtains parting ever so slightly, as most of the water spilled out the sides and back. Odd, that. He'd have expected the water to spill out evenly in all directions.

He admitted he had no idea, and after that the conversation kind of died out. He felt like he should be talking up the Shogun, but was afraid they'd get back to the size question, and he didn't want to prejudice her against the frame until she'd had a chance to see it in person. In desperation he tried to ask her more about that Nyan-Nyan show, which got him through a couple minutes of nodding and pretending to understand what the hell she was talking about, until she concluded that she couldn't say more without "spoilers." Gaspar spent the rest of the trip running through his pitch in his head, thinking of all the possible size objections, as the coach transitioned into what passed for the Urashima's industrial district at the aft of the ship, the final stages of the artificial terraced swampland that acted to purify the majority of the ship's water. The earlier stages were sensibly closed off behind bulkheads, or else the sewage stench could permeate the entire city.
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Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Nov 12, 2015 9:34 pm

The coach glided to a halt. They'd arrived.

"So," said Yoko. "Finally you're going to show me--"

A shrill whine cut her off as the sun started flashing. But it wasn't the sun, it was the overhead lamps, dimming and returning to full. Over the wail of the siren came a calm, authoritative voice. "Warning. Warning. Incoming proton storm. Please proceed to nearest biowell immediately. Lockdown will complete in... fifteen... minutes. Warning. Warning. Incoming proton storm--"

The same message repeated over and over, first in English, then Chinese, then Spanish, and back again.

"Well, hutch me," said Yoko. "That's a pain in ass, isn't it?"

Gaspar sighed. Well, that was perfect. Of all the times for something like this. "Did you hear anything about this on the news?" he asked. "Don't they usually have more advanced warning if there's going to be a solar flare?"

"Let me tell you, if there's one constant in the universe, it's that weathermen never know what they're talking about." Yoko flipped her phone open, and started when her screen flashed bright red, with bold gold letters reading "Emergency!" in three languages, then: "Tap Here for Further Instructions."
"Well, that's convenient, I guess," she said. "They really don't mess around with this."

Gaspar nodded. Radiation was always a concern when traveling through space without the natural protection of a planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In most cases, the shielding of the outer hull was more than enough, but every now and then a flare-up could send everyone in the ship scurrying into biowells: specially designated storm shelters with double-layers of shielding. He remembered the presentation from his new passenger orientation when he'd gotten on board. He hadn't expected to actually use any of that information.

Yoko tapped her phone, which rewarded her with a route to the nearest biowell. "Whoa, ours is really close. Lucky us."

Gaspar recognized the location. "That's the frame hangar! That's where we were going."

Yoko gaped. "They shielded that?"

"I remember now," said Gaspar. "It used to be a warehouse for DNA stores. It makes perfect sense."

The Urashima had been originally intended to create a new civilization on another world. In successive layers beneath their feet, cargo rooms had contained all sorts of stores necessary to that purpose: DNA samples, seeds, embryos, heavy construction equipment, terraforming devices, industrial 3-D printers, and such. A few of those rooms had been converted into museums of pre-Solar Union tech, but the rest had been cleared out for regular cargo use.

They headed to the elevator. As they were waiting, Gaspar looked back over the odd Urashima land and sky-scape. Black skirts were rising up around the hanging gardens as the whole world flashed light and dark. Of course the food stores would need to be protected. Gaspar felt a moment of panic. What about the cows? Was anyone going to evacuate the poor cows? Then he let it go. It's not like he was going to La Belle Terrasse anyway. Dinner was pre-ruined.

They descended several levels to hit the warehouse floor level. Entering brought a relief from the droning whine of the sirens. "Ah, thank goodness," said Yoko. "I think I was going to die from irritation. Air raid sirens aren't that annoying. I'm being literally serious; they aren't."

"Maybe that's intentional, to make sure everyone gets to a shelter as soon as possible."

"People should be smart enough to follow orders on their own," Yoko griped. "And if they think dying of radiation poisoning isn't worth taking seriously, that's their problem."

After that there was nothing left to do but wait for the countdown to finish. The shelter doors would stay open until the very last second of the countdown announcement, to give everyone a fair chance to make it inside. Yoko distracted herself by locating the emergency supplies: water, dehydrated food packets, toilets, blankets and inflatable mattresses. How long were they going to be in here? Gaspar checked his e-tablet, and it only said: indefinite, which was odd. Proton storms could last for days--a little more info would be helpful.

Gaspar stared at the open door, wondering if anybody would be coming to join them. He'd seen fewer and fewer people the further aft they'd gone. These sections were largely automated or abandoned now.

"Final Warning," said the announcer. "Lockdown commencing. Doors will close in thirty seconds. Please stand clear of the doors. Obstructing the doors may result in property damages, serious injury, or death. Final Warning..."

Gaspar shuddered. That had been the most memorable part of the orientation video: a staged demonstration of what happened to anyone foolish enough to try to hold a radiation door open, despite the pleading of everyone else in the room. The video producers had the good taste to cut away from the final moment as the vault-heavy door slammed shut like snapping jaws, instead switching to the horrified expressions of the onlookers as they were spattered with red paint, while the FX department played the most sickening bone-crunching, organ-burst sounds they had, along with a really committed gurgling scream. Afterwords, one of the onlookers, still dripping blood, and a few tiny, unidentified pieces of meat, turned to the camera and delivered a grave speech about the seriousness of space travel, even on a cruise ship, and how one person simply couldn't be allowed to endanger the lives of everyone else. It was gruesome, and halfway played for laughs, but it definitely got the message across. 

The announcer began counting down from ten, and Gaspar took a couple steps away from the door, even though he was nowhere near it. The door slammed shut, and no-one got decapitated trying to make a last-minute dive through the doorway. They were in Lockdown, unable to leave until the proton storm was finished.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Sun Nov 15, 2015 9:05 pm

After all the announcing and constant wail of the siren, the cavernous warehouse was eerily silent.

"Oh, hutch it all, the TV's on the fritz," said Yoko. She was staring at the large info panel built into the wall over the ration station, which was stuck on a test pattern of multicolored bars. She flipped her phone open, and her eyes went wide. “No connection! What the—I thought these shelters were all supposed to have signals! So people stuck in them for days don’t hutching kill each other.” She delivered the last line through gritted teeth and flat ears.

Then she sighed and shrugged. “Oh, well—it’s not like I haven’t been through worse on deployment.” She looked his way. “Hey, since we're here, I might as well see this new frame of yours."

Gaspar felt his stomach flip over. This was it. Everything rode on this. "One second," he said, as he walked over to the security locker. It took him three tries to key in the combination properly. He pulled out the Master Remote, a palm-sized glass slab covered in a heavy-duty metal alloy case, with military-grade grippy rubber covering the corners and points along the edges.

He called up his presentation program on his e-tablet and made sure the right macros were enabled on the remote. He could do this. Just like he’d rehearsed. He could do it.

Yoko was staring at him. “Hey, dude—you okay?”

Gaspar blinked. “Y-yes. I… uh—“

“You sure? ‘Cause you look like you’re gonna hurl.”

“Uh…” Remain confident. Project confidence. “There’s no need for—“

“You want some water? We got tons of water in with the rations.”

Gaspar gave up. “Yes, please.”

Yoko brought it to him in a refillable bottle that was standard issue all over the Urashima. Many of them were hundreds of years old. He took a sip and—well, okay, he guessed he had been really thirsty. So that was a plus.

“Are you ready?” he asked Yoko.

“Sure, anytime,” she said, shrugging.

He took a deep breath. Wait, how had he planned to begin this? He was drawing a complete blank.

“Dude, relax,” said Yoko, looking more than a little worried. “I swear I’m not gonna bite your head off, no matter what you say.”

“It’s the ears,” he said, before he could censor himself. “They make you look feral.”

Yoko guffawed. “Good one!”

Gaspar glanced at his tablet, and his memories came flooding back.

“Icarian Heavy Industries has always prided itself on quality engineering and innovative thinking,” he began. “And, three years ago, it was with these goals in mind that the top minds of our product team began a new project, a project that would redefine IHI and advance the concept—“

“Oh, yay product team!” said Yoko, clapping her hands and totally throwing off his train of thought. “Way to go, guys! That’s impressive. In fact, I’m so impressed that I think we can go ahead and skip the rest of whatever you were about to say and show me the frame already.”

“Uh…” Gaspar thought to protest. He’d worked hard on that pitch, and a good portion of it was suggested copy from the PR department, who were quite insistent it be incorporated to build up the proper anticipation. Still, none of them were here, and the customer was always right. He had to do a quick fast-forward of his spiel in his brain, until he reached a good spot towards the end.

"So, finally, it is my esteemed honor to present to you, the future of high-end frame combat, the ECF-S1 Shogun!"

He tapped a button on his remote, and the service drones whirred to life. This was another special add-on the engineers had created for the Shogun: remote-controlled robots for running fast maintenance and re-equipping on the battlefield. The majority of the drones' weight lay in their six-wheeled bases, allowing an octagonal central spire to rise up to nearly the height of the Shogun itself. Each face of the octagon had a vertical track that allowed a thin-but-strong multi-jointed arm to adjust itself to any height, making each drone resemble a gigantic animated coat-rack. He'd positioned four of them in front of the Shogun, each pair holding a corner of a red velvet movie-theater curtain Gaspar had managed to get a hold of. This had been his major original idea for the presentation, and he was just a bit proud of it, especially since he'd had to teach himself a bit of the drones' scripting language, which had been an ungodly pain. Originally he'd hoped to use just two drones, and have them yank the curtain back with a grand flourish, but trying to program the arms to do anything they hadn't already been set up for was beyond him. He'd ended using four drones, convinced each one to grab a corner of each curtain, and made a script for the center two to just roll out to the sides. It was way more work than he'd expected, but it ended up with the "pull-back-the-curtains" effect he'd wanted.

Except this time, one of the drones managed to get its tire caught in its section of the curtain, but continued implacably on its way regardless, and the sound the ripping velvet echoed across the warehouse as half of one of the curtains was torn away to become a mangled, trampled mess under the drone's wheels.

"Ta-daaah!" Gaspar swept his arm up in what he hoped was a grand gesture. Play it off. The curtain tearing shouldn't be a huge deal. The important thing was the frame. And if there was one thing Gaspar had to give to the designers, they hadn't missed a trick with the Shogun's aesthetics. The Shogun was all sleek, sweeping curves of black armor plate, with silver and gunmetal grey accents. The design of the head was especially distinctive. The main optic array was covered in front by a smooth armored black glass plate that blended seamlessly into the rest of the head armor, framed by composite alloy shutters to each side. It really gave the frame its own flair, like it really embodied the spirit of a medieval warrior.

Gaspar checked for Yoko's reaction. She was nodding her head slightly, hand on chin, expression studious. She stayed like that for several seconds. Gaspar was about to ask her what she thought, but before he could say anything, her control broke and she doubled over laughing.

"Ahaha... I'm sorry," she said, struggling to regain her composure. "I'm not trying to... I know you worked hard and all... it's just... it's just so HUGE!" And then she was doubled over again.

"It's not that big," Gaspar said woodenly. "It's smaller than the Longhorn." She should be able to tell that much. They'd even brought one along in the warehouse, standing next to the Shogun.

"Not by much," she gasped. "I think it could EAT my old Rumble Monkey."

"But you, um... you pilot a Superchub for your smashball, right?" he said. "It's only a head taller than a Superchub."

"What, really?" she said, cocking her head at it. "That's a big head, then. And it's not just height, it's bulk, too. That thing is a monster. Nice styling on it, though."

"The interior is really nice, too," said Gaspar, clutching at this thinnest opportunity. "If you'd like to--"

"Nah, I think I'm good," she said. Gaspar recognized that dismissive, disinterested tone. He'd heard it so many times over the past year. This was the one time that could not be allowed to happen.

"Are you sure?" he said. "You don't even have to get into it. See, you can do a lot with just the remote. See, I can even get a feed from the external cameras from here. And--"

Yoko sighed. "Listen, dude..."

"Well, why not?" said Gaspar. "It's not like we have anything else to do while we're stuck here, right? Weren't you just complaining about being bored?"

Yoko stared at him for a second, then shrugged. "Okay, that's a point, but let me just get this out of the way first. I can look it over, but you can give up trying to pitch me on this thing. Just save yourself the hassle. It doesn't matter how good it is, or what amazing features you guys've packed into it--I can't stand big honkin' bulky frames. Not my style."

It was like she'd punched him in the gut. "Does it even need to be your style?" he pleaded. "All we want is for you to appear in commercials. IHI is willing to offer a substantial amount of--"

"Yeah, that's not the point," she said, waving him off. "Okay, look--You seem like an okay guy, so I'll explain this, which I don't normally do, and 'cause it's this thing that apparently I'm the only person in the whole universe who does. I don't like doing endorsements in general, but that's where the money is, so I've gritted my teeth and gone along with it, especially when I was an up-and-coming rookie. And if it's for something that's actually cool, that's not so bad. But standing up and staying 'I like X,' when I hutching well can't stand X--it just makes me feel like a fake, phony asshole. Don't ask me why--it just does. And one day, I was dragging myself to one of these things, some photo shoot or something, feeling like an asshole, and I said, 'Wait a second--I'm rich now. Why am I making myself feel like an asshole for money? I've got money. Tons of it. I'm set for life, as long as I don't do anything stupid. And, yeah, I could donate it all to my charities, but I already donate a ton to them. Sometimes you gotta draw a line in the sand for you, is what I'm saying. So that's it."
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Nov 18, 2015 4:32 am

Gaspar found a seat and put his head in his hands. "That's it," he repeated.

"Whoa, hey," she said. "You don't have to take it personal. I'm not--"

"ATTENTION! ATTENTION ALL!" 

Gaspar and Yoko both jumped, turned around to find the wall display activated, with an intense, dark-eyed young man addressing them. He had a black bandanna tied around his head, and was wearing an olive-green shirt. The rest of him was cut off by the camera frame.

"All of you listen up. This ship is now under the control of the Alicanto Planetary Liberation Front--Contreras. We have done this because the filthy, corrupt oligarchs and their pet toadies in Jiguang have left us no choice. For too long now have they delayed the Independence Referendum, and labeled as criminals those of us who..."

Gaspar just stared at the screen as the terrorist droned on and on about politics, only letting the crucial details filter through: they were hostages, to be held until a long list of demands were met, the big ones being the release of a number of their jailed compatriots, and for a full popular vote on Alicanto's secession to the Free Colonies be held--not scheduled, held--before any of them would be set free of the ship. It gradually began to filter into Gaspar's brain that this was real--that terrorists had just used the opportunity provided by the proton storm to seize control of the largest ship in the known universe. And they'd done it while he was aboard. Then the political implications of the whole disaster began to sink into his brain, and her realized that on top of everything else, these hijackers were complete hutching idiots. This was the last thing the Free Alicanto movement needed! Of course there would be no legitimate vote now, thanks to these morons. The Jiguang government had a brand new excuse to stall the vote--they couldn't give into terrorists! Perfect! This day was just so hutching perfect he couldn't believe it.

And in the middle of all this, Yoko's phone went off, playing some surprisingly bouncy music with odd, squeaky vocals. The wireless signal must have come back along with the TV. She flipped it open, stared at it a second, and stalked to the other end of the warehouse, taking the hushed conversation away from the blare of the TV. The terrorist on the screen was now informing him about the APLF-C's good intentions; they had no desire to harm anyone here. However, their continued health and survival depended on the actions of the Jiguang government, and their own good behavior. Resistance or escape attempts would not be tolerated. The terrorist went on about how they had control of all the ship's systems, and could do all sorts of things, like cutting off the air supply to certain biowells, or raising the temperature, or--in a worst case scenario, detonating the bombs they'd placed in the ship's reactors.

Gaspar wondered at all the concern here--it wasn't like anybody would be lunatic enough to leave the biowells during a proton stor--

Oh. Of course there was no storm. Obviously that had been a lie, started by the terrorists to get the whole ship locked down. At least the cows would be okay.

Now the terrorist was going on about the vast emptiness of space, and how it was impossible to cloak or hide a spaceship in any way. Any rescue attempt would be spotted coming from hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. Hostages would be released only when the APLF said so, period.

Finally, the terrorist finished his rant, fist raised and chanting slogans: "Up with Alicanto! Down with the TTA and their puppets in Jiguang and Alicanto! Long live the APLF-C!" And so on.

The image of the young man cut out, to be replaced by the test pattern again. Gaspar just sat and stared at it for a while. What did this mean? What was going to happen to him now? He tried to reason it out in his mind, but it was so difficult. Thoughts seemed to slip away from his mind. It didn't seem real. This must be some type of prank, yes? Like, at any minute the screen would re-activate and the young man in the black bandanna would be smiling, saying, "Gotcha, Yoko! You've been fooled by 'Prank the Superstars!'" Gaspar let himself entertain that for a while, until he realized that if that were really the case, they'd had let him in on it, too.

This was really happening. This was horrible.

Yoko sat down next to him. Her face was stony. Her cat ears drooped low. Gaspar felt his despair deepen. This was a decorated elite soldier, and she didn't look any better than he felt. The implication of this did nothing to reassure him. They must really be screwed.

"You were on a call," said Gaspar. "Did you hear all of that? Do you need me to repeat everything."

"Oh, I got the gist of it, I think," she said. "Chuckles sure is pleased with himself. These assholes always love to go on and on with their little speeches. They must be total drags at parties."

"Drags? They're insane!" Gaspar yelled. "They're completely hutching certifiably balls-out lost-their-minds insane! And they're running things! We're stuck in the grip of madmen!"

Yoko let out a long breath. "You think so? I almost wish that were true. Unfortunately, that's not the case. These guys know exactly what they're doing."

Gaspar whipped around to look at her. That wasn't what he expected. "Their demands are ridiculous. They're ridiculous on their face. They have to be nuts if they think Jiguang would agree to even one of those conditions, let alone the TTA. All they're going to do is screw things up and set the legitimate independence movement back decades, at least!"

"Yeah, um--about that," said Yoko. "I've got good news and bad news."

"You have news?" said Gaspar. "Did you get news on your phone? Who were you talking to, anyway?"

"That was Bibi. You know her, right?"

Gaspar blanked for a second, then it came to him. Bibi Azoulay was the contact who'd arranged this meeting--a mutual friend of Yoko's and... someone in IHI's PR department. She was also ex-military, knew Yoko from her early TEM days. And now she was--

"She's part of Urashima security!" said Gaspar. "High up, isn't she? What does she say? Is she captured? What--"

"Hang on, Grumpy Cat," said Yoko, holding up her hand. "They didn't catch her. She got away somehow. She didn't say how, or where she is right now. Less said the better."

"Just what's going on? How did this happen?"

Yoko sighed. "Don't know the fine details, but apparently they'd infiltrated the Custom Frame show. Used it to smuggle actual military hardware in. They had ten of the more armored-up frames ready to go. Busted through the front bulkheads and pointed a cannon at the bridge. Locked up the crew, then sent the radiation alert. Now they're all clustered up there, armed to the teeth."

"But your friend escaped. Does she have a plan?" Gaspar felt his spirits lifting. At least this gave them hope. But why didn't Yoko look more excited?

"She's got a plan," said Yoko, flatly.

"Excellent! Does she need our help? What do we do?"

"Well, we..." Yoko trailed off, staring into space. Why were her ears so floppy? What was going on? "I guess I should get back to good news and bad news. Bad news first. Y'know that whole message, about list of demands and whatnot?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's a bunch of horseshit," she said. "They're not serious about any of that. The only real point of that message was the 'Resistance is futile, we can cut life support" bit. And it was aimed at Bibi. They can't find her, but they know she's somewhere, hence the broadcast. And Bibi said she's currently got them locked out of life support control, so that's more horseshit."

Gaspar let out a breath, then drew it back in. More good news, but it didn't explain Yoko's mood. He was feeling a growing sense of dread. What was the bad news here?

"What about the bombs?" he asked.

"Those are real, but they haven't been set yet. They need to be placed at the reactor for max damage, and they haven't had time for that yet." 

Gaspar thought back to his orientation. It made sense. The reactor was at the aft-most location of the Urashima. It was easy to forget that, as massive as the hab section of the Urashima was, it was actually the smallest part of the entire ship. Behind the spinning hab cylinder were titanic propellant tanks arranged in clusters, many times the size and mass of the hab, with the nuclear reactor powering everything located further beyond. The sheer scale of it boggled the mind, to think that humans had built such a thing, and what was more, that originally the Urashima had twice as many of those tanks, only to be used up and discarded on the first half of her interstellar journey, hundreds of years ago.

"Yes, well--we have to stop them from setting the bombs, then," said Gaspar. "We must have some time. They'll--oh! Of course--they'll need to shut the reactor down, won't they? Otherwise, they won't even be able to get near it--"

"They're not shutting anything down, Grumpy Cat," said Yoko, with a hard edge in her voice. "In fact, it's the opposite. The reactor's on full, and it's going to stay on."

"What?" said Gaspar. "Full power? This thing hasn't been on full power for the past fifteen years. Not since it was put in orbit. You'd only need full power for firing the thrust--"

"That's right. They're firing the thrusters. All-out, continuous burn. Remember how I said their list of demands were bunk? They've turned this ship into a huge mass-based weapon. And they're going to slam it into the Jiguang Transit Gate. We've got eight hours to stop them. After that, no force in the universe will be able to save this ship."
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby spacemonkey » Wed Nov 18, 2015 12:01 pm

Dun, dun, dunnnn! What will our intrepid heroes do next? :)

I have to say I really like how this story is coming along. I have a quick question: the eight hours they have to save the day represents how long until to the "no stopping" point and not the actual collision with the transit gate, correct?
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Nov 18, 2015 8:07 pm

spacemonkey wrote:I have to say I really like how this story is coming along. I have a quick question: the eight hours they have to save the day represents how long until to the "no stopping" point and not the actual collision with the transit gate, correct?


Yep. That's right. Glad to hear you're enjoying the story so far!
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Sun Nov 22, 2015 1:59 am

"Wha..." Gaspar goggled at her. Her expression didn't change. She was serious. "That's... completely insane. Destroy the Transit Gate? Do they even..." A thousand different thoughts scrambled across his brain, pushing and shoving in their fight for his attention. "Wait, what do you mean, 'eight hours,'" he said, selecting one of the easier ones. "This journey takes months. Even with the thrusters on, it shouldn't--"

"Oh, we won't get there in eight hours," said Yoko. "That's just the time it'll take to dump enough propellant so that there won't be enough left to slow us down. At that point, this thing will be unstoppable. Jiguang will see us coming, but they won't be able to do a thing about it."

“What? No, there must be…” Gaspar started to object, but then his mind caught up with his mouth. The Urashima was the biggest spacecraft in the known universe. To stop it, other spaceships would have to expend enough propellant to catch up to it, match relative velocities, and still have enough left over to somehow slow it down enough—even an entire fleet couldn’t do it.

“Could it be deflected?” he said. “Nudged to one side, so it doesn't hit anything? Like if—“

“If the terrorists are in control, no. They’ll spot any approaching craft and detonate their bombs. They weren’t bluffing about that. But even if we set that to the side, assume a scenario where station security re-takes control of the ship after the eight-hour limit expires…” She paused and thought it over. “They could deflect it so it doesn't crash into anything, but what happens after? Maybe they could steer it into a long elliptical comet-type orbit or something, but probably it’s headed into deep space forever. And Bibi mentioned it--this ship isn't self-sustaining any more, not totally. It's gotten used to regular resupplies. There's a bunch of systems and equipment it needs for long-term deep space travel that they ripped out when they turned this thing into a cycler. And there are what, half a million people on this thing? Maybe? Don't see how you'd evacuate them all in time. Be really ugly if they couldn’t take everyone. That’d be a dire scene at the airlocks. We need to win before then.”

“Ahhgh! This is so senseless,” Gaspar started pacing. “What is the APFL thinking? I thought they were smarter than this. They just signed a cease-fire last month. They’ve even started negotiating—“

“No, no. You’ve got it wrong,” said Yoko. “This is the APFL-C, not the APFL.”

Gaspar stared at her. “What’s the difference?”

“Well, I’d guess that the C’s are the ones who didn’t like it much when their leaders started negotiating, what with their kamikaze plan all ready to go. I can almost sympathize. You spend years prepping for an op, and the desk jockeys scrap it at the last second? So now they’ve got their own little group. That’s the difference between them and a real army. Don’t like your orders? Just add a letter and you can do whatever you want! That’s how it works—these rebel groups are constantly adding letters, splitting off, and fighting with each other. You go in and you’re in the middle of seventeen different flavors of Asshole Alphabet Soup.”

“This is senseless,” Gaspar repeated. “It won’t work. The TTA will just move the gate.”

“Gate’s pretty big,” said Yoko. “Almost as big as the Urashima. I wonder if Jiguang has the resources to even move—no, scratch that. The TTA can pull the resources from off-system. But even so, something that big is going nowhere fast, and where they gonna hide it? The terrorists can hold onto enough propellant to make small course corrections, enough to hit the gate regardless, I bet.”

Gaspar thought it through, trying to find a flaw. He found it, but it was worse than he thought. “The TTA is going to kill us,” he gasped. “They’re going to kill the ship and move the gate. The terrorists can’t steer the ship if they’re dead.”

“That’s what I figured on,” said Yoko. “And so have the terrorists. Right now the ship is aimed at Jiguang itself. Their plan is to hold that course until the last second before course-correcting to strike the gate.”

This just got worse and worse. Blowing up the Urashima wouldn’t stop it—it would simply transform it into a more dispersed shotgun blast of hypervelocity debris causing vast devastation all over Jiguang.

“The TTA’s only move is move their gate ASAP, far enough that the Urashima has to course correct early, get it away from the planet. Then they blow the ship or force the terrorists to do it, and hope they can pull the gate out of the debris field,” said Yoko. “If that’s possible. I’m not a rocket scientist, you know. And there’s another problem. Since the terrorists can see any attack coming, they’ve got time to dodge at this distance—well, they might decide to give up on the gate and redirect back to the planet, and then that’s it. They win no matter what happens."

"But they don't win anything!" Gaspar yelled. "Do they seriously think this... this atrocity will convince Jiguang or the TTA that they're right? Make them back down? No! The opposite will happen. This will be just the excuse for Chiang and his hardliners to crack down. It'll be a disaster! The referendum will never happen now. They're lunatics! Idiots who understand nothing."

"Oh, if we were only lucky enough to be dealing with idiots," said Yoko. "But unfortunately, they know what they're doing. The crackdown is what they want."

Gaspar just stared at her. "What? That doesn't--"

"Hey, Grumpy Cat," said Yoko. "Tell me, what do you think about this Free Colonies secession idea?"

"What does that have to do with--"

"Just humor me."

Gaspar gathered himself. Yoko's tone gave him the impression that she didn't think much of it, and discussing contentious politics with a client--wait. She'd said no already. So what the hell did he care what she thought anymore?

"I think it's a good idea," he said.

"Really? Lotta benefits to Solar Union membership. Stability, common currency, a bunch of stuff," she said. "And you work for an off-planet company."

"IHI is politically neutral," said Gaspar. "We are happy to do business with both SU and FC worlds. And SU membership would be wonderful, if we were being treated as equal partners in this system, which has never been the case. And unified currency is actually a problem, or it has been here, because the local government can't make needed adjustments to local economic conditions--"

"Yeah, okay. That's fine," said Yoko. "So you agree with the APLF, then."

Gaspar felt his face grow hot. "I do not agree with terrorists. I believe in democracy. I believe in holding a popular referendum, which will surely come to pass eventually. Jiguang can only stall for so long, before they--"

"Yeah, you're a patient guy," said Yoko. "But the APLF-C isn't so patient. You know what their biggest problem is? Their number one enemy?”

Gaspar thought for a second. "Probably the TTA. They're the ones with the--"

"Bzzzt! Wrong!" said Yoko, crossing her forearms in front of her. Then she pointed at him. "Their biggest problem is you."

Gaspar goggled at her. "Me? Why would--"

"Because you want independence, but you're not willing to fight for it," she said. "You and people like you--most of Alicanto, if the polls are right. It drives them nuts. If everyone on the secession side picked up a gun, things would start moving way quicker, is what they're thinking. And a lotta nations have had to be born from armed rebellions. I mean seriously, tell me--if you want independence, why don't you join one of these groups and start fighting?"

A million different reasons presented themselves, but he picked the most obvious. "My wife would kill me."

Yoko snorted, and her ears un-drooped for a second. "Okay, that is a good reason. You've got a wife and a kid and a job and generally you've got other **** to do." 

Then Yoko's grave mood returned. "But lets say you never came on this ship. You're back on Alicanto when this thing crashes into Jiguang or the Transit Gate or whatever, and everybody left just loses their minds. They send everything they've got into Alicanto to wipe out the APLF or anybody else who might pull this kind of stunt again. And some TTA unit looses an artillery bombardment at resistance fighters and instead they hit your house. Your wife and kid are dead now. Can you imagine that?"

Gaspar sucked in a breath. The very thought of it--what his life would be like without them. No, he didn't think he could imagine that--not really. He didn't want to try.

"So now you've got no family and no house," she continued. "And, oh--the SU put economic sanctions on Alicanto, so IHI had to close their local offices. And the chaos has tanked the economy, so nobody else is hiring either. So now you've got not job, no house, no family, and someone walks up to you and they say, 'Hey--I know where you can get an armed frame. Come with me and I'll help you get revenge on the bastards who did this to you. What do you say then?"

"I... uh... I don't..." Gaspar couldn't wrap his head around the question. What would he say? How could anyone answer that, answer in the hypothetical, when the answer depended on an emotional state that he couldn't... didn't want to...

"Ah, don't torture yourself," said Yoko. "My point is, you had to think about it, where before it was a complete non-starter. And that's what they want. They want things ugly. They want things stark, us-versus-them. They want to force the issue. They want to make the TTA chose between endangering their precious gate or endangering everyone on Jiguang. They want to force the TTA to be the ones to press a button and kill half a million people, so they can point and say, 'look what these murderers did to save their own necks.' Get everybody frightened and sad and defensive and angry, so everybody acts stupid. And at the end of it all, they see a defiant and free Alicanto, which they get to rebuild from the ashes. That's the plan."

Gaspar had nothing to say to that. It was all so perfectly awful. They sat in silence for a while.

Finally he said. "Did they teach you this level of political analysis in the TEM?"

Yoko snorted. "Hell, no. Back then I was all, 'storm that hill, break that bunker, Oo-rah! I hate politics. This is all from charity work."

"Charity? You donate to orphanages and foster programs. How could--"

"Yeah, you'd think that would be neutral, right?" she sighed. "But a lot of what I do it set these up, in rough places where there wasn't anything before. And I swear, you give money to the wrong people and suddenly either you're an imperialist lackey or a front for subversives. Learned that the hard way. So I end up doing all this extra research. I have to. And I really hate it. Politics sucks."

"You couldn't leave that to a consultant to do it for you?" said Gaspar, kind of idly.

"Tried that," she said. "That's how things got screwed up the first time. Trust me, you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself."

Yoko's phone beeped again. She flipped it open, checked the text. "Just about showtime."

Gaspar felt his stomach flip. "What does that mean? Is that from Ms. Azoulay?"

"Yeah, the terrorists are drawing straws or something. Three lucky losers get to set the bombs. Fortunately they'll take the shortcut through the hab."

"We have to stop them? Wait, they can't approach the reactor while it's on."

"Sure they can," said Yoko. "Think about it."

Gaspar thought about it. Of course. A person could get a lethal dose of radiation in an instant, but still live long enough to set a bomb.

“What do we do?” he said.

“Well, that’s the good news,” she said. “You will get to show me all the wonderful features of your new frame, after all.”

“We’re going to fight them?” he said, then steeled himself. “Yes, we have no choice, do we? But you have a plan?”

“Bibi has a plan,” she said. “She’s got the security feed in this warehouse running on a loop, and she’s unlocked the ceiling hatch and the freight elevator. I set an ambush for the three bombers. Hopefully I can take them out, or send them running for reinforcements. If all goes well, I’ll draw most of the stolen frames away from the bridge, and Bibi does her thing, whatever she’s got planned, and hopefully that’s enough to save all our asses.”

“Yes, and what should I do?” said Gaspar, glancing over at the Longhorn. It was the frame he used for demos, so he did have some experience piloting it, though he’d never expected to take it into combat—

“I already told you,” she said, flatly. “You show me all the features. And then you stay here. And maybe pray, if you do that.”

“What?” he said. “But at the end, you could be fighting seven frames at once. Can you beat them all—“

“Weren’t you listening? I don’t need to beat them. I just need to draw them away from the bridge.”

Gaspar was about to ask her if she intended to somehow run them all over the Urashima until help could come, but he managed to stop himself when he met her eyes. Now he understood it: her stony face and her sad, sad, droopy ears, ever since the call from Bibi. She didn’t need to win. She didn’t expect to win. She expected to die. And she was going out anyway.
Last edited by Mark Sakura on Sun Aug 13, 2017 2:53 am, edited 2 times in total.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Tue Nov 24, 2015 5:04 am

“You plan on dying?” he said. “No. No, surely there must be—“

“There isn’t,” she said. “I get one good ambush, and then that’s it. I can stretch it out, maybe take a bunch with me, but they’ve got numbers that I’m not gonna beat.”

“That’s why you need my help,” said Gaspar. “I can…”

“What’s your combat experience?” she snapped. “How many battles have you seen?”

“Uh…” he said. “Alicanto has a compulsory citizen militia. I have training, and every six months we report for drills—“

“So that’s a ‘No,’ right? A big, fat ‘No.’ You stay here.”

“But… I can help,” said Gaspar. “Why won’t you let me help—“

“Because you’ve got a wife and you’ve got a kid and this plan will work fine without you dying, too. Just me. I can do this on my own. And when it's all over, you go home to your family.”

Gaspar let the words sink in. And he thought about giving in. She was right. He wasn't a soldier. He knew he wasn't the best pilot, even among the other salesmen.

Sometimes the company ran tournaments in the VR simulators. He rarely won. Wouldn't it be easier to stay here, let the trained commando do the fighting? He wanted to see his family again, so badly. He regretted all the time spent away, regretted coming on this trip. He didn't want to die before seeing them again. And he didn't have to. Yoko would do it for him. She was insisting on doing it by herself. He looked at her face--calm, composed. This was a professional, preparing to do her job. Another day at the office. But then he noticed her ears--those ridiculous electronic ears from a ridiculous children's TV show that responded to her thoughts. They were not composed or professional. They were the saddest things he'd ever seen.

No. He wasn't ducking this. He had to say something. "But... but that's so lonely," Gaspar protested, "There must be something... some other way of--"

"Well, there hutching isn't! All right!" she snapped. "If there was, I'd have thought of it already! What do you think I've been doing for the past half hour? I'm outnumbered! You think I'm going to be able to run asymmetrical warfare in a closed tin can? Huh? And in some unfamiliar hulking frame, too? I'll be lucky if I'm not falling flat on my face half the time."

"What, you fall on your face?" Gaspar said. "But--you're a genius pilot. Smashball teams have to focus on stopping just you--with three people at once, or--"

"Oh, Smashball? Smashball is a sport. It has rules. It's nothing like combat." Yoko growled. "Anyway, this isn't a discussion. I'm taking your Shogun and you're staying here."

"That's..." Gaspar grit his teeth. "No, I can't let this happen. I can't let you rush off to die alone--"

"Rush off?" she said, giving him a look that he didn't expect--offended, almost hurt. "What, you think I want this?"

Her ears went flat, and she gave him a murderous glare that made him back up a step, but she advanced on him, closing the distance. "Do you have any idea of what I went through to not die a hero. Do you have any hutching idea how hard that was? To walk away? When I left the TEM I had..." Some unnamable emotion struck her, and she screwed her face up as she fought it off.

"But I did it!" she yelled, regaining some control. "I hutching well did it. I pulled myself together! I figured it out. I was doing better than most people ever could. More than you! I was... Goddammit--I WAS OOOUUUUUT!" Yoko let out a primal shriek, and Gaspar jumped back, sure that she was going to lunge at him, but instead she whirled and lashed out with a kick at the heavy rations container. The metallic boom echoed throughout the warehouse, and there was a sizable dent in the steel container when Yoko pulled her foot away. She squatted down on her haunches, crossed her arms, closed her eyes, and spent a minute taking long, deep breaths.

"Okay, I'm good," she said, opening her eyes, standing and stretching. "Got that out of my system. One meltdown per mission is allowed. Just gotta vent a little sometimes. No big deal. Lucky I didn't break my damn foot, right?"

Gaspar wasn't fooled. She couldn't lie to him while she was wearing those ears. Those were the saddest ears ever. But what could he do about it? He had to do something. He had to say something.

"I... uh... I really think you're underestimating the capabilities of the Shogun," he blurted out. One part of Gaspar cursed himself as an unfeeling clod, but the rest of him pressed forward out of sheer desperation. "I'm not saying this for my job anymore. It really is a top-of-the-line frame, with numerous advanced capabilities that can--"

Yoko made a noise that sounded a lot like a bark, and started shaking. It took Gaspar a second to realize she was laughing. Was that an improvement?

"Ah... you and your precious frame," she gasped. "That's what you're upset about? Look, it's nothing to do with the Shogun whatever--mobile frames need to be broken in. You should know this. You know how it is when you jump into a brand new frame. It's like wearing a different shoe on each foot with no socks with pants that are three sizes too tight and--"

"But you still have your dog tags," said Gaspar. "Won't that help?"

Yoko looked down at the bits of metal dangling on their neck-chain, next to her championship ring. A dog tag for a mobile frame pilot contained a data chip, which held a detailed profile of all the pilot's biometric data, and how they moved. And the Shogun had a socket to accept such a chip.

Yoko stared at it. "These? These are old. It's a memento. This isn't actually me any more..." Her voice trailed off, and she grimaced. "Or, I guess it is. Guess I was just kidding myself, thinking I'd left it behind. Huh. Well, at least it won't have any Smashball crap on it."

"That's good?" said Gaspar. It looked like maybe he'd demotivated her? Not what he was going for.

"Not by much," she said, standing up and walking over to the Shogun. Gaspar sensed he was running out of time. "The main issue is the muscle cylinders themselves. They've got a physical memory--"

"The Shogun has a calibration feature!" said Gaspar. "You can adjust on the fly. You can adjust everything! Even major equipment loadouts. Look--we have a huge selection of weapons and equipment here." It was true. Management had loaded up this warehouse with doubles of everything, in an effort to impress Yoko.

Gaspar grabbed the Shogun's remote and pressed a button. The service drones re-activated, dropped their curtains, and gathered up the weapons, armor, mobility-boosting systems, and supplemental sensor equipment they’d been designed to carry. Gaspar noted, with some relief, how quickly and efficiently they worked when running their standard programming, instead of his clumsy scripting. Two more drones trundled up from the sides, each bearing their own load of war materiel.

“See?” he said, pointing to the extensive armory that had just materialized in front of them. “Practically any configuration you can think of. And with these service drones, most equipment swaps can be executed in no time—thirty seconds or so. So, really, you’ve got a lot—“

“Wait, wait! That’s what those curtain-robots are for?” Yoko’s eyes were wide, and her ears were standing straight up. “What’s the range on those drones?”

“Range? What?” said Gaspar.

“Range, range! How far can they travel?” For the first time since her phone call from Bibi, Yoko looked engaged and alert. Because of the service drones? No-one ever asked him about their range before.

“Um… er… Their batteries have eight hours of normal use, and their top speed is about forty kilometers per hour, so—“

“And you control them with this remote?” Yoko grabbed it from him and started tapping at the screen. “Okay, so the movement controls are here, so are there any automation functions?”

Gaspar pointed over her shoulder. “That’s the ‘paths’ menu. You just—“

“Got it,” she said, fingers flying over the screen, bringing up each option and dismissing it in turn. “And you set thirty seconds to do a full re-equip? That’s not some PR bullshit, is it?”

“Try it yourself,” he said. “Our user interface is very intuitive. Just back out by tapping here—“

“Yeah, okay.” Yoko found the equipping interface and tapped a sample configuration. The service drones whirred in response, single-minded, devoted vassals attending to their lord. Yoko checked her watch as heavy missile pods were mounted onto the Shogun’s shoulders, the default sensor dish was replaced by an enhanced long-range version, the dedicated heat-sinks were removed from the calves, and three bulbous frame-scale “hand grenades” were magnetically attached to the Shogun’s hip armor, within easy reach for throwing.

“That’s the ‘Rear-Lines Commander’ loadout,” explained Gaspar. “Which is—“

“Twenty-two seconds. Huh,” Yoko said, and tapped another button.

Again the service drones fussed and prodded at their master, and when they rolled away, the missiles and sensors were gone, but now the Shogun wielded two straight-edged obsidian blades, with a matte finish that seemed to eat all the light that touched it.

“Twenty seconds,” said Yoko. Then she cocked her head a bit before looking back at him. “Vibroblades? You’re going with that, instead of fusion edges?”

“Our engineers like vibroblades for the energy-efficiency, plus the glow from a fusion edge can draw added attention on the battlefield—“

“Now they’re worried about attention? After building a honking huge black-and-silver monstrosity?” she said. “And fusion edge blade won’t break.”

“Oh, I assure you, our blades are made of composite ceramosteel that is both magnetically shielded and virtually unbreak—“

“Virtually? What if it got hit by a heavy armor-piercing shell? And the whole thing is already vibrating, so I’ve got ceramosteel shards flying every which way?” she said. “Including up my nostrils?”

“In the highly unlikely event that the blade shatters, the material is structured so that any shards should fly away from the hilt.” In a way, Gaspar was glad he was actually getting to use his sales training. “Also, unlike most generic melee frame weapons, the hilts of our vibroblades are electronically coded to only respond to your frame, in case it were to be dropped in combat—“

“Yeah, because that’s a thing that totally happens all the time,” said Yoko, in a tone that implied that any idiot dumb enough to lose their weapon deserved to be skewered with it. “What I’m saying is—“

But whatever she was going to say was cut off by a beeping noise at her waist. She flipped her phone open. "Yeah? Okay, we're on it. Yeah, that's no problem, we've got just the thing for that. Over and out." She snapped her phone shut, and turned to stare at him.

"Was that--"

"Tell me, Grumpy Cat: can you follow orders?" she asked, looking him over. "Can you run your frame where and when I say, point and shoot your gun in the general direction I tell you to, without any back-talking or drama?"

"I can do that," he said. Honestly, that was such a basic request he felt a bit insulted.

"Great, then you've mastered the majority of soldiering," she said. "Suit up. We're moving."
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Sat Nov 28, 2015 11:20 pm

Gaspar hunkered down, as best he could in his massive Longhorn frame, and kept his sensors trained up at the central spindle of the Urashima, looking for any heat signatures in the night sky. The hab module of the Urashima was still in lockdown mode from the fake proton storm. The main sunlamps on the central spindle had been switched off, with the only light coming from the emergency streetlights. This was night on Urashima, and it was a darker night than usual. Normally there'd be all sorts of decorative LED chains, lights from houses, clubs, restaurants, arcing up into multicolored streamers across the sky. Now, with just emergency lights, the stars above were a pale, sickly yellow, too evenly spaced and ordered, like the sky above was some black fabric draped over the world, with the light of the true sky leaking through the gaps in the weave.

Normally the Hanging Gardens would be lit up as well, like titanic Christmas trees, but they were covered up now. Giant black inflatable carbon-composite tubes filled with water surrounded them from all sides. They looked like small mountains made from inflatable pool rafts. This was how the Urashima would protect its primary food source from being irradiated in a real flare event. Yoko was using the edge of one of the black mountains as cover, further aft of him. He had a live feed from her main optical sensor in a corner of his HUD. It had a wide angle of the sky, only partially cut off by black carbon on the right of her screen. The image was bisected by the long barrel of her armor-piercing artillery cannon, which she'd picked out for this mission. Essentially it was a frame-sized sniper rifle, perfect for an ambush. He was crouched down behind one of the taller buildings, though, as cover went, this was pretty precarious, particularly since the enemy would be passing overhead.

Gaspar kept his sensors trained on that central spindle, peering intently at his displays, making sure he didn't miss anything. That was his one job, to spot the terrorist frames coming down the spindle early, and relay that targeting data to Yoko. She had her own targeting systems as well, but the effect created from linked triangulation from two or more systems was so much more effective.

Gaspar's finger tapped at the trigger on his joystick. Very soon he was going to pulling that for real--not at dummy targets, but at real frames, with real weapons, who would really be firing back at him. He hadn't armed it yet. Yoko's orders were very clear: he was to relay targeting information to her only, and not open fire until she gave the order. He'd practiced the procedure several times now--arming his AG-01 assault gun and getting ready to fire, then disarming it again, because the biggest screw-up he could possibly do at this point was to accidentally discharge his weapon and ruin their ambush. 

His hands were sweaty. He wiped them on his pants legs, one of the few bits that wasn't covered by his harness. At least he'd thought to ditch his suit jacket, and his best hand-painted necktie, which he'd discovered had a big gob of mayonnaise on it from that torture-sandwich from earlier. No time to think about that. Focus on the monitors. As much as he dreaded the start of the combat, a larger part of him was getting angry at the terrorists for being late. Let's just get this over with! The wait was killing him. How long had he been waiting here? It felt like forever. One of his heads-up displays had a clock. Two minutes. Gaspar felt like screaming. Then a bit of motion caught his eye.

There they were--three humanoid figures, encased in metal--backs weighed down with heavy booster packs for operating in space. But the weight bothered them not at all. They were languidly floating in midair, coasting parallel to the spindle. Occasionally they reached out to grab the spindle, lazily tugging at it to control their speed and direction. It was an unnerving reminder that all of the gravity on the Urashima was nothing more than an illusion created by the spinning of the hab cylinder. In the center of the sky, gravity didn't exist.

"I see them! I see them!" His voice sounded strangled and shrill over their radio. "Um... uh... Acquiring target!" He tried to put his targeting reticle over the lead terrorist frame. At first, it raced wildly all over his screen before he got it centered and matching the velocity of his target. Then it seemed to take forever for the computer to complete the lock as the enemy frame drifted closer and closer. Finally, a steady tone sounded as the head frame--some type of OMF mod--was outlined in yellow on his display.

"Target acqui--" he started to say, but Yoko was already firing. Gaspar heard the report from her sniper cannon. The sound from his external mics was toned down to protect his hearing while giving him the type of directional information humans instinctively relied upon for survival.

"PAFF! PAFF! PAFF!" went Yoko's cannon, and the lead frame jerked as all three rounds struck it center mass. First shot to crack the armor, second shot to rip through the cockpit and kill the pilot, third shot to make sure. The terrorist frame had been struck just as it was tugging at the center spindle. The frame's limbs went rigid, and it rotated around that one tenuous finger-grip, until its head smacked against the spindle structure, and it ripped free, tumbling head-over-heels on its way, still traveling more aft than down, and Gaspar remembered he still had a job to do.

He looked for the second frame. He needed to paint that up for Yoko as well. The other two frames were looking about, waving their guns around wildly. Mobile frames worked by responding directly to motive input from their pilots. It was eerie how much body language got conveyed along with that. He should see their panic and confusion reflected in their metal forms. He pulled his targeting reticle over the second terrorist, but before the lock could finish. Yoko's cannon sounded out. Again the frame shuddered thrice as huge holes opened up in its chest, and then it went still, gently drifting midair.

Gaspar turned to the last frame, just at about the same time it spotted him. It kicked off from the spindle and fired a quick burst from its jump-jets, gun raised up and pointing right at him. Gaspar felt a weird lethargy take him, as the target computer slowly confirmed the lock. He noted the odd design of the frame--kind of like a Commissar, but with all sorts of extra modifications done to the body--it really must have been stolen from the Custom Frame Exhibition, and the flash of the gun muzzle pointed at him. Tracer fire streaked out--who still uses tracers these days. The target lock hummed completion, and it occurred to him that maybe he should arm his own gun and shoot back, but Yoko hadn't given the okay yet. But another part of him realized that it was already too late, as he felt the shudder as the shells impacted.

Then he realized they weren't impacting on him. A miracle happened, as the streaks of tracer fire showed the rounds streaking towards him, only to magically veer off at the last second to blast chunks out of the ground to his left. He flipped the switch to arm his gun, but his target was veering off to the left as well. At first he thought it was fleeing, but it thrashed about like it was caught in the grip of an invisible giant yanking it to one side. The terrorist frame fired its directional thrusters again, breaking free of the giant, and bringing its weapon back to bear on him, but a loud whoosh came from behind him, as a guided rocket flew overhead and blasted into its side. The enemy frame dropped from the sky like a stone. Or it did at first, but as it neared the ground it started to tumble off sideways again, its path taking close enough to one of the black mountains to tear a hole through the material. Water blasted out as if from a fire-hose, tossing the heavy war machine around like a leaf. It crashed beneath the skyline of the buildings, black smoke from the burning frame turning to steam under the torrent unleashed as one black tube of the Hanging Garden's radiation shield slowly deflated.

Gaspar stood there dumbly, marveling at the divine providence that made bullets curve around him, until he looked back up at the corpses floating overhead, and his rational mind caught up to him. The bullets hadn't curved--they'd flown perfectly straight, as bullets do. It had only looked like that because he was the one who'd been moving, as all things did in the Urashima hab did--constantly rotating to simulate gravity. It would barely affect Yoko, firing from the edge to the center, with the sophisticated targeting computer compensating for it, but it would be disaster going the other way. It was an easy thing to forget, and he was lucky the terrorist had forgotten it as well. Otherwise, he'd be dead now.

"Gaspar!" Yoko barked at him over the com. "Third frame's still active. Move! Move!"

"Yessir!" He snapped out of his reverie and gunned his Longhorn's diesel engine, sprinting to the location where he'd seen the terrorist crash down.

His footsteps turned to splashes as he approached the crash side. The streets were flooded with the water from the burst tube of the radiation shield. What a mess! It occurred to Gaspar that this could be a really big problem. Did the water have anywhere to go? It never rained on Urashima, so why would there be any storm drains? Plenty of houses here had no real roofs--just basic framework for structural integrity, and privacy blinds to keep your neighbors on the opposite side of the sky from looking in on you. But he didn't have time to worry about that now.

He ran through cramped streets until it opened up into a wide, paved plaza. There in the center of the plaza, he came up upon the not-Commissar, as it was struggling to drag itself to where it had dropped its weapon, which was sticking halfway out of some poor souls’ wrecked, flooded apartments. It didn't look like the wounded frame was going to make it. Its left arm and leg were gone, and the armor panels on that whole side of its body were a twisted ruin, trailing hoses and wires, as it vainly tried to push itself along with its mostly intact right arm and leg. Both those limbs were behaving erratically. In fact, they appeared to be on the brink of failure. This enemy was no threat any more.

Gaspar tried to remember back to his militia training. Hadn’t they run this as a drill at one point? Gaspar activated his shoulder-mounted searchlights, shone them on the struggling mech, and leveled his assault gun at the enemy.

“Listen up,” he said. “This is a ctitzen’s arrest. You are now in the custody of the Alicanto Militia, 78th regiment, New Santiago. You are to exit the frame now. Keep your hands where I can see them. Surrender and you will not be harmed.”

The downed frame seemed to ignore him. Then Gaspar realized that this would probably work better if he switched on his loudspeakers. He did so, and repeated his warning.

The enemy frame went still. It lay there in the swirling waters, propped up on one side. Gaspar waited for a response, and none came.

“I repeat,” he said. “You will open your cockpit and keep your hands where I can see them. You have ten seconds to comply. Ten… nine… eight…”

He got down to four when there was a pop and a hiss, followed by a groan of stressed metal, as a panel on the enemy cockpit opened up a crack, then stuck before it got more than a quarter of the way open. Well, that was inconvenient. Gaspar stopped his count. He saw two hands appear from behind the edge of the panel, start shoving at it. The stessed metal complained audibly, and the whole frame rocked back and forth a bit, until finally the panel swung outwards, and—

“PAFF!”

Gaspar got a brief impression of a human outline before it exploded into a fine red mist. He turned to Yoko as she shouldered her rifle, businesslike.

“W-wha…” he stuttered. “You…”

“Yeah, you’re new at this,” she said. “Here’s a lesson: when dealing with suicidal terrorists armed with bombs, never give them the opportunity to arm those bombs. Or get close enough to give them a chance to hurl them at you. Actually, we had better step back for a minute.” She grabbed his Longhorn’s shoulder and tugged. There was no sensation of touch, but he felt his frame being rocked, and he staggered backward.

“Yes,” he repeated. “They all have bombs.” Another thought occurred to him. “Are they going to explode?” He shivered, as his skin turned cold and clammy, and he had to take deep breaths.

“That’s the million-wulong question, isn’t it?” she said. “These guys seem pretty well-put together, as mass murderers go. Took a lot of serious planning and smarts to put this scheme together. I’m betting they’ve got something way more high-grade than pipe bombs and molotovs.”

“Y-yes,” Gaspar was finding that breathing was taking a lot of his concentration.

“So, I’m guessing that they’re stable… hey, dude—are you going to hurl?”

“Uh… I’m… I’m not…” his guts were not giving him a yes or no answer, but they were not happy with him. He looked around the cockpit, and he didn’t see any sick bags. He couldn’t remember ever stocking them. He never got framesick.

“Better pop your hatch, if there’s any doubt,” she said, sagely. “You do NOT want to get sick in there. You’ll be trapped in the stink and that’s no fun at all. Take it from someone who’s been there.”

“Oh, god,” Gaspar muttered, and suddenly it was very clear that he needed to get out of his frame right hutching now. He slammed down on the “Open Hatch” button and frantically fumbled at the quick release for his pilot’s harness, which didn’t seem to be acting quick enough for his tastes. He barely managed to heave his torso over the side as the Shaking Beef staged a full-blown Chinese rebellion.

He saw his sick splash into the water below, and slowly drift away to a nearby whirlpool. It seemed like the Urashima did have storm drains after all. Of course they must—they would have to have a contingency for structural failure of any of the aquaponic gardens, even if it never happened. You didn’t get to design a spaceship to last for three-hundred-plus years by being an idiot. Gaspar grabbed his water bottle and rinsed his mouth out, spitting over the side. He noticed Yoko slogging over to the enemy frame, and pry the cockpit panel.

“What are you doing?” he croaked.

“Bomb retrieval,” came the reply from his helmet speaker.

“You’re trained in that?” he said.

“Eh, kinda,” she said. “Figure I’m the most trained person available right now. Hey, where’s the… Oh, nevermind. I found it.”

The Shogun poked out its index finger, and a panel slid back, allowing two human-sized arms, with fully articulated hands, to unfold. Yoko poked them into the red mess that was the terrorist’s cockpit, and started rooting around.

Gaspar looked away, somewhat relieved that he’d already thrown up his lunch. Something was bugging him about Yoko’s explanation. He’d seen both of the terrorist’s hands. It really seemed like he was surrendering. Was there really a bomb?

“Found it,” said Yoko, pulling a metal attache case from the wreckage. She paused a second to dunk it in the water, washing off most of the blood. She pried it open, examined the contents, and let out a low whistle.

“Is it safe?” said Gaspar.

“Yeah, this is high-grade stuff. Check it out.”

Gaspar leaned back into his seat and walked his Longhorn over to her.

Yoko held the case open for him. He saw a rainbow of plastic-wrapped rectangular bars, each with its own smaller paper wrapper, emblazoned with stock photos of smiling children playing with little multicolored blobs.

“Modeling clay?” said Gaspar.

“That was the cover,” said Yoko. “But this is actually CDX-10. This stuff is amazing. Drop it, shoot it, throw it in a bonfire—it doesn't matter. Unless you activate the chemical detonator, it’s just like ordinary clay.”

“Detonator,” Gaspar repeated. “The detonator is missing.”

"Oh, yeah--good call." Yoko turned back to the downed frame and rooted around in its cockpit some more. 

"Found one," she called out, pulling (and rinsing) a device that looked a lot like a digital thermometer. "You just stick one of these in, and either set the timer, or sync it up with a mobile transmitter for manual detonation. You can even use it with a cell phone."

"You have to stick it in the clay," Gaspar said. "It wasn't there already. That man--he wasn't trying to set it off. I saw both his hands. He--"

"Not trying to set it off yet," she said. "But he was up to something, you can be sure. These lunatics are all suiciders, remember?"

Gaspar's head was swimming. Something felt very wrong. "Wait--I thought they weren't lunatics. Their strategy makes sense, you said. You said they weren't crazy."

"Yeah, well--that's talking broader strategy," said Yoko, sounding irritated. "This is... look, this a hostage situation. They've got the ship hostage. You don't give the bad guys any extra chances to harm the hostages."

"Yes, but--"

"Look, it was a judgement call," she said. "You make those in combat, and you make them quick, or else you're dead. And if it's a choice between one of mine and some terrorist asshole, I'll make that call every time. You get me? And what would we do with a prisoner anyway? Throw him in our brig? We don't have one!"

"Okay, okay," said Gaspar. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

There was silence on the other end of the com. "This is nasty business. I forget you're not used to it." The hatch of the Shogun opened to allow Yoko to grab the bomb and stow it in the cockpit, by her feet. She looked at him directly. "It's not too late to back out, if you don't think you can handle it. I can--"

"No," said Gaspar. "I'm in. I just--"

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a loud echoing clanging rang out behind him. He whirled around to see what it was, but the weird twilight of lockdown Urashima didn't make it easy. The Longhorn reacted better than he did, for its sensor "horns" included directional microphones. Automatically, its spotlights picked out a spot on the aft bulkhead, far away and halfway up the sky. Gaspar saw a mobile frame tumbling about in a wide arc, bouncing against the aft bulkhead wall a fews times before sticking there like a squashed housefly. He recognized it as the second frame that Yoko had shot--it had hung midair by the spindle, floating about in a gentle orbit, frozen in a gesture of panicked surprise. Then Gaspar realized that the center of the ship actually wasn't zero gravity after all. The ship was accelerating--not by a lot, but little bits added up over time. He realized what had seemed so odd to him about their approach. It hadn’t just been the fact that they’d been floating midair—their motion had been odd, too. They hadn't been pulling themselves along--they'd been pushing against the spindle to control their velocity--to keep themselves from "falling" out of control. Like the Urashima was; bit by bit, faster and faster, until it became unstoppable--a runaway ship.

“Huh,” said Yoko. “Never seen that before. But you know what they say: you live long enough, and ev—“

"Guys--close your hatches, pronto!" A strange woman’s voice came in over Gaspar’s earpiece.

"Copy," said Yoko, as the Shogun's chest plate slid shut.

"Who--" said Gaspar, even as he closed his own hatch. "Is this Ms. Azoulay?"

"Bibi is shorter," she said. The voice was warm and a bit musical--even though she was clearly rushed. “But never mind that. Here's the rundown--they've gotten control of the security cameras and media again, but they're still out of life support. But they know what's up with bombers, and they aren't happy. They're arming all seven remaining frames..."

Gaspar shuddered at the thought of more combat, and worse yet--what might happen in the aftermath. Truthfully, he still didn't think Yoko was right about what had happened, but she'd been getting so worked up about it--and what could be done about it now? She was the expert, and he was reliant upon her. He had been certain that enemy pilot was going to surrender, though that was odd for someone who's plan involved certain death. Although, perhaps, there was a more romantic appeal in dying in a sudden fireball of an explosion than in dying from extreme radiation poisoning before that could happen. Perhaps the prospect of that took the luster off of martyrdom, just a bit. Might make someone re-evaluate their life choices. Or perhaps Yoko had been right, and he'd simply been trying to get an opportunity to backstab them, somehow. All he knew is that suddenly he didn't quite feel like one of the good guys anymore.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Wed Dec 02, 2015 2:43 am

A sudden flicker of light from all around him as all of the public display screens switched on, showing the face of the terrorist leader. "Attention! You there--you murderers in the black and the white frame--I don't know what you think you can accomplish, but this will end now. Your element of surprise is gone. You have no chance against us. But I will not risk the lives of any more brave revolutionaries to indulge your nonsense. You will surrender now our we will begin executing hostages. The smallest biowell contains thirty people. The next largest contains fifty-four. After that, they go up to the hundreds, or even thousands. And we will pump the oxygen out of their shelters until you surrender." The leader leaned in to the camera, his tone icy. "And, rest assured, we will treat you far more decently than you treated Diego."

Gaspar winced at that, but the young man wasn't finished. "You will shut down and exit your frames. You will then walk until you reach the intersection of He Ping Lu and Ninth Street. You will wait there to be--"

The terrorist droned on, but Gaspar got distracted as Yoko piped up in his ear. "He's bluffing, right?"

"Yep," said Bibi. "He's still shut out of life support, and I've overridden the locks on the doors where they're holding the surviving bridge crew."

"Hah! They should give you a medal for your hacking skills."

"They gave me three."

"Hey, I got an idea," said Yoko. "Can you hack his feed? Like, give me a video chat line through my phone?"

"Uh... sure, but--"

"Ooh!" said Yoko, sounding almost cheerful. "Set it up!"

Gaspar wasn't sure, but he thought he heard a sigh on the other end of the line. "Right, hang on."

The line went quiet, but the terrorist leader was still droning on. "...many lives are you willing to sacrifice for your idiocy. You have one minute to comply."

The young man sat and glared at them contemptuously, and the timer clicked down. "Thirty seconds," he said, sounding almost bored. He called out the time again at fifteen seconds, and began counting down at ten... nine... eight... and got all the way to three, before the display screen split in two, with the left side taken up by a glowing silhouette in a black star field. Bouncy pop music with orchestral undertones began playing, as the silhouette unfolded into an elegant feminine silhouette and began to slowly twirl about.

"She's the guardian of justice throughout the galaxy," proclaimed a girl's voice, one that Gaspar hadn't heard before. Bright pink-tinged streamers of light, trailing off cartoony hearts and stars, appeared and began to orbit the central glowing figure as she began to move through a series of balletic poses.

"Defender of the weak! The one who protects the smiles of little children everywhere." One by one, the glowing streamers wrapped around parts of the woman's body, resolving into bits of a frilly white and pink outfit--boots, gloves, skirt, blouse, tiara. It was here that Gaspar recognized the outline of two twitching cat ears. The music reached its crescendo, as the glow disappeared in a final, explosive flash, as the figure stood revealed in full detail, posing heroically.

"She's here--the Solar Princess: Nyan-Nyan Neko-Chan!" The voice had suddenly become much squeakier and higher-pitched. "I've come to right what's wrong and to punish evil. And that means you, Mr. Terrorist-san."

The figure put one hand on her hip and pointed at the camera. It was an obvious 3D cartoon avatar, shaded to resemble a two-dimension drawing.
Gaspar actually though the young man did a decent job maintaining his composure, all things considered, though he was clearly enraged. With exaggerated slowness, he pressed a button offscreen. 

"I just evacuated all the oxygen from Biowell Sixty-Seven," he said, with a cold menace. "So I hope you think your pathetic joke was worth thirty lives, because--"

A peal of high-pitched laughter cut him off. "There's only pathetic joke here, and Neko-Chan is looking at him, da nyan!" With the conclusion of that flashy transformation sequence, the Neko-Chan avatar had shrunk down into a much tinier version of itself, with a huge head and a tiny body, and its animations had gotten much cruder, with simple gestures playing over and over in loops.

"Biowell One-Oh-Nine," said the terrorist, through gritted teeth. "That's fify-four more citizens of--" and the young man's eyes went wide as the screen split a third time, showing a group of people in a drab, unadorned room, sitting clustered around thin mats and blankets laid out on the floor, looking either bored or anxious. Nobody was gasping for air.

"Dirty lies make Neko-Chan cry," said Neko-Chan, as a sad-face animation played, her eyes growing huge and watery as she wrung her hands together.

"You..." said the terrorist. "How are you--"

"Neko-Chan can do it because Neko-Chan is a Solar Princess, blessed with the powers of love and friendship." The avatar produced a wand with a stylized sun symbol on it and traced a giant rainbow heart in the air. "That, and Icarian Heavy Industries ECF-S1 Shogun, with the newest and bestest communications and electronics warfare sensor package in the whole wide universe, da nyan!"

Gaspar winced. Well, he'd gotten an endorsement, finally, but somehow it didn't make him happy. He was pretty sure this wasn't what PR had in mind. The terrorist didn't look thrilled either.

"So, you're the one," he said. "No matter. We hold navigation and the bridge, and therefore the entire population of the Urashima. It's only a matter of time before we clear you out of our systems. And until Jiguang gives into our demands--"

"Your demands are complete hutching horseshit, da nyan!" Neko-Chan assumed a stern look and wagged a finger at him. "That's not your real plan. Neko-Chan knows: you're going to crash this ship and kill evvverybody." The avatar smiled and spread its arms wide. Gaspar thought the gesture looked more like, "give me a hug."

"You're a well-informed little brat," said the leader. "You see the simple genius in our plan? We will strike a blow that the bastards of the TTA will never forget. If they will not learn respect for the oppressed peoples of Alicanto, we will teach it to them--in a blow to their bottom line; the only things those greedy slimes understand."

"And so, you're going to murder half a million people." Neko-Chan's voice sounded almost somber. "Neko-Chan has faced down the forces of darkness, but never has Neko-Chan met a true monster until today. It's so very, very sad that evil like you exists in this world, da nyan!"

Gaspar expected an explosion from the terrorist leader, but instead he got very quiet, almost amused. "You think I'm the monster? You think I'm evil?" he said. "I am a person, and my name is Vicente Castillo Torres. Let me tell you about true evil. Both of my parents were miners at Trapananda. I was lucky to see them for an hour a day. The rest of the time they were in the pits, hauling ore, from dawn until dusk, and beyond. The mines never stopped, and neither did the workers. The shifts changed constantly. Their supervisors couldn't be bothered to match their shifts, and they hardly ever saw each other. The bosses paid them in company scrip, to be used only at the company store. They were given strict quotas, and their pay was docked if they failed to meet them. They had to pay an exorbitant sum for their passage to Alicanto, and another exorbitant sum for their training. They were sunk in debt, and had to work longer and longer shifts to dig their way out. 

There are those who claim hard labor doesn't exist anymore, because of mobile frames. "The machine does all the work," they say. These idiots know nothing about the hell of repetitive neural feedback, what spending nearly all your waking hours shackled to a labor frame will do to a person? As the years dragged on, my parents began to lose control of their bodies: they developed nervous ticks, which became repetitive twitches, which became spasms. Occasionally, my mother would have full-blown seizures. Do you know what that's like, as a child, to see your mother go through? To fall to the floor and thrash about, screaming gibberish like a demon had possessed her, and sobbing helpless when it was over. Of being constantly afraid, never knowing when it might happen again?

"My father did not develop seizures. He drank instead. Growing grain on Alicanto has a subtle effect on it--alcohol distilled from it is far more potent than on Sol System. Liquor was the cheapest thing you could buy from the company store, along with sober-up pills, because you couldn't be drunk on the job. But sometimes you could get so drunk that no amount of pills were enough to pass inspection. My father found it was cheaper to bribe the inspector than to miss a shift. One day there was an accident. There was a shaft cave-in and he was killed. The company performed an autopsy and tested his blood. They blamed him for everything. The damage to the mines, the frames, and all the other equipment, all assessed to him. All of his loan had been taken jointly with my mother, so it was now her responsibility to pay back all of it. The inspector who'd let him work drunk was given no punishment.

"By then, word of the conditions at Trapananda had leaked, and the company was finding it harder and harder to sucker fresh people into their contracts. So instead they made do with what they had. I was twelve, and I'd grown large enough to be stuffed into a mining frame myself. And I do mean 'stuffed', because they had to take straw-filled sack-cloth and jam it in the pilot's seat, all around me. They had to place extensions on some of the pedals so my feet would reach them. The straw was unbearably hot in the mines, and stank, since they didn't give us enough time to make bathroom breaks, not if we were behind on their impossible quotas, which we always were. But what choice did I have? My mother would never clear our debt by herself.

"Later I learned that the Solar Union had things called 'labor laws'--reading them made me laugh. The Trapananda Company broke every single one of them as a matter of course, and those high-minded lawmakers looked away and did nothing about it. Then the revolution came, when the workers rose up, seized the mines, and gave the chink bosses and their bootlicking lackeys what they had coming. Those were the happiest days of my life. The revolution set me free from my frame and put in a school, run by the workers. When I came home, my mother was waiting for me, because no-one was allowed to work more than six hours a day. The injured were allowed to rest and get treatment until they recovered. The revolution found lawyers to examine all the old contracts, found them all illegal, and declared them null and void. They swept away all the old graft and corruption, paid everyone fair wages for their work, and you know what? Under the revolution, productivity more than doubled from what it had been under the old bosses.

"When the Solar Union troops came, some among us had hope. We actually thought they might punish what was left of the company management for all their deceit, illegal contracts, exploitation, and gross negligence. Imagine our horror when we saw them come down on the bosses' side, opening fire when we protested. My mother was shot dead by those UMFL goons--

"Awww--that's so sad," said Neko-Chan, wide eyes dripping huge cartoon tears. "If only your mommy was here, then she'd get to watch you murder over half a million people! I bet she'd be soooo proud of you."

The terrorist--Vicente--flinched at that, and his face flushed red. "You dare talk to me of murder? What of the murders in Trapananda? What about the slow deaths, from those who've had their labor, their day-to-day existences, stolen from them--all in the name of profit for the wealthy few. And they can just wash their hands of it, look away and pretend it's not happening. Well, they won't ignore this! They need to understand what it's like when the suffering happens in their backyards, when it happens to people they care about. Then they'll see--"

A long, rude sound cut him off. Neko-Chan had her tongue out, blowing a big wet raspberry.

The terrorist sneered, "Pathetic. Is that all--"

"Sorry, but Neko-Chan has a strict quota on the amount of whining Neko-Chan's gonna listen to, and you've gone way over, da nyan!" The catgirl avatar resumed its crying animation. "Waaaaahhh--my parents are dead! Waaaaahhh--life is sooo unfair. It's enough to make poor Neko-Chan wanna puke up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, da nyan!"

"You think that's--"

"Now, normally Neko-Chan might feel kinda sad for poor Uncle Boozy and Aunt Twitchy, but since they managed to produce a nasty little [BEEP] like you, Neko-Chan's thinking they probably weren't all that great to begin with! The galaxy's probably better off without a bunch of [BLEEP]-ing failures like them anyway, da nyan!"

Gaspar turned white as a sheet, horrified at this turn of the conversation. He didn't doubt the ter--no, Vicente's--story one bit. The nepotism, incompetence, and inhumanity at Trapananda were well-known to all but the most closed-minded on Alicanto. Potentially, that could have created some common ground, but Yoko had gone and blown it away. At least whatever program she was using for that avatar had a language censor on it.

The look in Vicente's eyes was simply terrifying. Gaspar had never seen such raw hatred in a human being before. He shrank back in his cockpit, though it was just an image.

"You think you're funny? We will see how you laugh, when we drag you from your cockpit. We are--"

"You're gonna do what, now?" Neko-Chan giggled. "Silly terrorist, you aren't that tough. Neko-Chan can tell by the way you whine!"

"Keep talking, you little ****! We have seven fully equipped combat frames--"

"But what about those seven pilots?" enquired Neko-Chan, huge liquid eyes filled with concern. "Do they suck as hard as the last three? Because those idiots looked like a bunch of monkeys trying to [BLEEP] a bucket, da nyan!"

Gaspar tried very hard to tune out the rest of that brief conversation, as it got even more unpleasant, with Vicente describing various torture methods while Neko-Chan merrily gamboled about and beeped a lot. Vicente got into a really involved tirade, and Gaspar heard Yoko's regular voice over his headset. "Okay, I think we're good here. Hey, Bibi--this whole place is on power from the main reactor, right? There a sub-station nearby or something?"

"Uh, yes--hang on," said Bibi, and then, a few seconds later. "Sent you the coordinates."

Gaspar saw a map with a bright blip appear on his screen, as well. It took him a second to orient himself, but the blip was only a few blocks away. Vicente was still snarling on all the screens outside. "...your death will come with no honor, no dignity. You will beg us to finally kill you. Do you hear me? You will die like a pathetic, sniveling dog!"

Neko-chan just giggled. "No, no, silly. I'm just a cat," she said, before putting her paws up to her chin, and flouncing her whole head to one side. "Da nyan!"

"PAFF," went Yoko's rifle, and a shower of sparks exploded out a few blocks away, and a wide blanket of darkness covered the whole neighborhood, as all the lights, including the display screens, went dark.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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Mark Sakura
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby spacemonkey » Wed Dec 02, 2015 1:24 pm

Just wanted to chime in and let you know I'm still reading and enjoying every new installment. :D
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Re: Runaway Urashima

Postby Mark Sakura » Thu Dec 03, 2015 1:57 pm

spacemonkey wrote:Just wanted to chime in and let you know I'm still reading and enjoying every new installment. :D


Thanks. I really appreciate it. I should have some more for you late tonight.
Runaway Urashima: A short novel set in the Mobile Frame Zero universe.
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