2946-08-21 - Tales from the Inbox: Sojourn on Seyria

After the favorable response both Nojus Brand and I got for posting his last submission some time ago, Nojus has been inundated with requests to send me what he can about several other adventures which did not result in usable footage, and I've been bombarded with requests to put them at the front of the queue. I was not aware that every second expedition (on average) that Mr. Brand embarks on produces insufficient footage to produce a program he's satisfied with. He must be all but buried in stories he couldn't tell in the format of his well-known program.

While Nojus's program and Cosmic Background are not affiliated, we've reached an arrangement that will hopefully make everyone happy. We'll review his tales as they come, on a case by case basis. As Mr. Brand is not a very articulate person in long-form written world, he has agreed to send a recording of himself telling the story and any corroborating evidence he has, and I have agreed to condense these tales down into something appropriate to this text feed. In addition to this, he requested (and received from Ashton) a semi-regular guest spot on our vidcast program. His first appearance should be some time early next month.

I make no attempt to establish the veracity of Nojus Brand's stories; I will however only publish those that are both interesting to this audience, and that seem reasonably likely to be true. We all know that the source of these stories is given to embellishment; even so, many of his most well-known exploits are indisputable, as there is plenty of evidence in the form of drone and camera-pod footage.

In the tale he sent in for this installment of Tales from the Inbox, Mr. Brand explains what actually happened on Seyria, one of the most toxic (to humans) worlds to still sustain macroscopic life yet discovered. It comes to life because, while he returned with plenty of footage, it was not usable to form a clear sequence of events for a vidcast episode that he could be satisfied with.

Nojus hated that Seyria’s atmosphere was toxic. He much preferred to post footage of himself wearing nothing but perfectly mundane clothing, braving the dangerous wildernesses of explored space armed with nothing but his trusty Reed-Soares Portable Survival Utility. Still, hundreds of his fans had requested a trip to Seyria, all of them knowing he’d need to use an environment suit; they wouldn’t mind the change of equipment much. The suit Nojus had chosen to bring was intentionally as minimalistic as possible; that would get him as close as he could be to an unprotected adventure under the canopy of the poison planet’s equatorial jungle.

Seyria had already claimed all four of the drones he’d brought with him. All he had left was a microcamera pod, a hardy little device the size of his thumb which had been recording since he arrived, albeit often from most inconvenient angles. When he didn’t need it for other things, which was rarely, Nojus tried to use his survival utility as a camera monopod, providing the occasional drone-like view of his situation, but such shots were few and far between. Editing his new adventure, Nojus knew, would be a serious chore for his team of underpaid but reasonably competent video technicians.

The viewers had demanded Seyria because, though toxic to humans, it was teeming with life to which the acrid chemicals in the atmosphere were no obstacle. If one could forget such things, Seyria was a verdant, lush place, its warm, humid air containing twice Earth’s percentage of oxygen and ten times its carbon dioxide. As a result, the world was a hothouse, almost permanently clouded and insulated from the cold of space. Seyria was well-known in the Core Worlds as a planet of poisonous air and hideous creatures, and it was to face such monsters Nojus had come.

Despite this goal, so far, the explorer had found little worth the effort. The critters which had made off with his drones had been smaller than himself, and though they’d been brightly colored and covered in an exotic, horned carapace, he’d gotten no usable footage from either the drones or the microcamera. He had spied a few larger beasts in the distance, but they were in each case gone before he could get close enough for a good camera angle. In general, the trip had been, though far from dull, somewhat disappointing.

Nojus reached the lee side of a large rock outcropping, dropping his hard-sided pack of tools and supplies on the only surface he’d seen in hours that wasn’t covered in soft, engulfing moss or hip-deep in muddy water. His suit readouts still showed green, and he had days of nutrient slush left, but he resolved never to agree to suit-only planets ever again. There was something impersonal about taking on the elements of Seyria from the inside of even the flimsiest armor. He was used to doing things the old-fashioned way, the way it was meant to be done.

Changing his survival utility from hiking pole configuration to serve once again as a camera mount, Nojus clipped the microcamera into its tip and set it up on the outcropping. It was always recording, so he adjusted its angle to focus on the lush, riotous jungle behind him. “Day three on Seyria.” He said, without using the radio. The muffled sound of his voice would need to be touched up, but that wasn’t his problem. “Nothing too bad since the drones. Really, this place is not living up to its reputation, and if it weren’t for this suit, I’d feel right at home.” He chuckled, for the benefit of the audience. “Hopefully, those of you ingesting the feed will not be quite as bored as I have been today, after my team has fixed up the footage. Sure, this planet is...”

Nojus trailed off, noticing motion behind the camera, in the shadows cast by the outcrop of rock. He held up one gloved hand to the camera, excited. The movement had looked like something big. “Wait just a minute!” He exclaimed, for the benefit of the audience.

At the sound, the thing in the shadows moved again. A long, chitinous limb reached out to find purchase on the rock, not far from his pack of supplies, and a pair of long, trembling antennae unrolled and hung over his head. This, clearly, was one of the monsters Seyria was known for. Nojus hurried forward to grab the camera and survival tool, holding up one hand toward the beast as its triangular, many-eyed head cautiously peeked out of its hole. “I’ll be right with you!” He said, quickly detaching the camera from the multitool and configuring it into a barbed gaff. 

Hefting his newly configured weapon in one hand and pointing the camera with the other, Nojus stepped toward the giant creature, just as it unlimbered its multitude of clicking mouthparts. It was, he could see, undoubtedly predatory, and though it didn’t seem especially hungry, Nojus was right in front of its lair, and not running away; it could almost certainly be goaded into conflict. “Hello there, lovely.” Nojus shouted up at it, as its head rose above him. “You have no idea how glad I am to see you!” 

2946-08-20 - Special Announcement: Ashton Pesaresi Interviews Nojus Brand

On 7 September, Nojus Brand will appear on the Cosmic Background vidcast program for a full-length interview and discussion of the things he saw during his nearly six-month tour of some of the more dangerous worlds of the Coreward Frontier. Nojus is not based here on Centauri, but we hope to have him sit in our studio for interviews in the future whenever he is in the system.

Ashton will be interviewing Mr. Brand, and he has requested audience suggestions as to the topics he should cover. All topics will be cleared with Mr. Brand's media team before the interview.

Nojus Brand is best known for his vidcast program, in which he tackles some of the most hostile and forbidding regions on explored planets. His audience and the audience of Cosmic Background overlap to a large degree, and after the positive reviews that reached both programs concerning his recent unplanned appearance on this text feed under the Tales from the Inbox metatag category, our two programs have decided to establish a more regular collaborations.

A second Tales from the Inbox episode featuring Mr. Brand's escapades will enter the text feed tomorrow at the usual time.

2946-08-28: Tales from the Inbox: Finn's Heist

Euphrasie H. submitted this story, and though I can't prove it, I can't disprove it either. She read a story on this feed a few months ago about a mystery ship calling itself KR-122, spotted tailing a convoy to the Frontier before disappearing without a trace shortly after it was challenged, and proposes that it was engaged in some sort of criminal enterprise and merely following the convoy for safety and convenience. She provided her own account as well as several news articles about this phenomenon in general: while they would never attempt to steal from the Navy, certain underworld elements are engaged in regular and widespread attempts to defraud the Survey Auxiliary. What they do with the materiel acquired by such efforts is not clear, but the ships and other equipment so stolen seems to be funneled toward the Coreward Frontier for an unknown purpose.

Euphrasie's story supposedly took place a few weeks before the departure of the convoy in which Quetzalli traveled to the Frontier. KR-122 might not have been related to her story in particular, but I can't dismiss her theory that it was part of a similar enterprise out of hand. As always, the audience is encouraged to make up its own mind on this connection, and to be careful with people one meets in strange spaceport bars; even those who seem to be friends might turn out to be something you didn't expect.

The drinks came, and Euphrasie stared at hers a long time before picking it up and sipping it thoughtfully. The young man across the table, meanwhile, upended his own small glass of liqueur as soon as it was set in front of him, then slammed the empty container back down vigorously and punched an order for a second into the smart table's menu.

As he paused indecisively over the confirmation button, Euphrasie snuck a look at him. His loose, sandy hair hung in front of eyes whose red rims and rapid, haunted flicking to every source of motion the club's poor lighting couldn't quite conceal. His formerly easy smile had evolved into a perpetually strained grimace. Finn had never been a large person, but his hunched, beaten posture made him look even smaller.

Still insistently jabbing the tabletop display, Finn looked up to Euphrasie. "You know, Frazi." He said, reverting reflexively to the diminutive name he'd coined for her when they were both children. "The worst thing you ever did to me was save my life."

Euphrasie shook her head. Their meeting now was purely by chance; they had fallen out of contact ten years before, when they were both barely teenagers. Now, she was heading out to the Coreward Frontier with a Survey Auxiliary commission, and he was... Well, she preferred not to think about what Finn did for a living since he’d disappeared.

"Was I supposed to let you go to the atomizer, Finn?" She replied. "You didn't kill that man." After all these years, she didn't know what she had expected. She'd waited for him, hoping that some day, he might be able to clear his name and return, but he never sent even a cryptic text-only message that told her he was all right. She'd given up and signed up for Survey on her twenty-first birthday, the way they'd always dreamed of doing together, and now, with her freshly printed commission in hand, she was leaving Herakles space forever. It was just like Finn to literally bump into her as she was preparing to pilot her new Idril Yara through its first interstellar voyage.

"I could have fought the charge, Frazi. Cleared my name." He told her. "Instead, I was scared, and I ran. You helped me keep running, and by running I was condemned." The second drink arrived, and Finn glanced hurriedly to both sides. "Can't stay long." He said, staring long and hard at something over Euphrasie’s shoulder. She turned to look, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary that might be keeping his attention. Perhaps, the pilot decided, her old friend was seeing ghosts. "Boss doesn't like me to hang around too long before a job."

"I can't stay long either." Euphrasie confirmed, as she returned her attention to Finn. "My departure window is in three hours, and preflight takes almost an hour." That was it, then. She was leaving, the agent of the Naval Survey Auxiliary, and he was staying, the pawn of the system's most unsavory syndicate, who would keep him around only as long as he made himself useful.

"It's still good to see you again, though." He told her. "One last time, I suppose."

Euphrasie shook her head sadly before draining her glass. "Come with me, Finn." She urged him. "By the time they know you're gone, we'll be halfway to the Frontier." Survey ships were small, but there was enough room on Yara for a crew of up to three – and Euphrasie was slated to pilot it alone. She could pick up another carton of nutrient paste before she boarded, and Finn’s presence would cause no trouble.

"I can't." He told her. "You don't understand. Boss has too many friends. They'll find me."

"Hell with them." Euphrasie slapped her palm on the table, feeling oddly buzzed after the single drink. "The Frontier is a big place."

Finn shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry." He said. "For not going with you, and for everything else."

"Everything else? Finn, you were always kind..." She shook her head, feeling somewhat unsteady. A foggy realization bubbled up from somewhere below her conscious thought. One drink shouldn't have made her feel like that. She’d turned around so breifly, but it might have been enough time for Finn; he’d always been quick. "You didn't."

"Boss needs your ship." Finn shrugged. "Survey will get you a new one, don't worry. They have spares of everything."

Euphrasie tried to stand, but her legs were wholly nonresponsive. She steadied herself against the table, but it was a losing battle. "Finn..." She tried to snarl, but it was barely a whisper. Losing a ship before she even left port? Her new Naval Survey Auxiliary commission would be torn up on the spot.

Finn winced, then shook his head and stood. As he leaned down over her shoulder to rifle through her pockets for the activation token that would lead him to the survey ship, he put his lips close to her ear. Even over the pounding music of the club, she could hear him whisper. "Goodby, Frazi."

As he left, she tried to follow him, but succeeded only in slumping down on the table, watching with unfocused eyes as Finn walked out the door. 

2946-09-04: Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Raiders

We prefer to see the problem of outlaw raids, especially by Rattanai operations, as a thing of the past, but in some areas of explored space, they are still a very real threat.

The Frontier is, despite its reputation as a wild, freewheeling frontier, relatively safe in this respect; settlements are rarely raided by any belligerent force. Confederated space, thanks to the efforts of the Navy, is even safer; with the exception of the dubious events which took place at New Rheims, there has not been a serious colony security incident in main Confederated space since the Campfire War.

Where raids are still a real concern to the lives of settlers is the treaty-demilitarized zone, comprising the Silver Strand region and the coreward part of the Baiphus stellar group. Since neither the Confederated Worlds nor the Rahl Hegemony can patrol the region, small bands of Rattanai holdouts, who are by now second- and third-generation fanatics, still operate against the region's Terran-dominated settlements, both within the demilitarized area and in Hegemony systems within a few jumps of the boundary.

This submission comes to us from Jaska N., who reminds us why vigilance is the watchword of the Hegemony's outlying settlements. Statistically speaking, Hegemony settlements are still very safe - but attacks are common enough that it pays to be prepared. We'll be seeing more from Jaska in the future; his message contained enough material for at least two Tales from the Inbox episodes.

The support gun clicked loudly and spat out its empty magazine. Jaska watched it drop into the mud, wondering how many of the three hundred ferroceramic slugs it had contained a few minutes previously had found new homes in the tough flesh of Rattanai raiders. The fanatic xenosapients had made the mistake of leaving half the population of Vlastos Outpost alive the first time they’d come to kill, steal, and destroy – now, they were paying the price. A half-dozen of their number lay unmoving on the crushed pseudo-grass of the landing field, and several others, taking cover in the drainage ditch between the field and the settlement’s close-huddled structures, were surely wounded.

“Get me a new magazine at number two.” Jaska whispered into his comm. Someone had decided that, rather than leave ammunition with the tripod-mounted guns, that the bulk of it would be stored in the central armory and run out to the muddy earthworks by hand as needed. Supposedly, Mayor Stefano had worried that the raiders might seize the rapid-fire weapons and turn them on the defenders. Grumbling at the inefficiency of the process, Jaska picked up his carbine from the mud at his feet, shook the worst of the dirt off the weapon, then aimed it over the top of the larger, emplaced gun, watching for movement.

“Karley is coming out to you, two.” A cool voice from within the compound announced. Fortunately, the gunner at number three was still firing away, and the raiders were keeping their heads down. Jaska turned around to see a door open and a slim youth tumble out, carrying an oversized satchel. Karley was barely twenty, and Jaska was glad that the most critical task she’d wheedled her way into was the role of ammunition runner. She was Mayor Stefano’s daughter, unfortunately; nobody had the heart to tell the boss that his only child was a spoiled brat who couldn’t be trusted with even the simplest tasks.

Karley got to her feet and began sprinting – toward the number three earthwork bunker. “Wrong way!” Jaska called, shouting and using his comm simultaneously. The youth skidded to a halt on the muddy ground and turned around, sachel bouncing wildly against her side. Fortunately, boxes of ferroceramic slugs were far from fragile; even Karley would be hard-pressed to damage the ammunition.

Unfortunately, when the young runner was almost to Jaska’s position, the number three gun stopped firing, likely as out of ammunition as Jaska’s. Cursing, he hurled himself flat as a pair of bright green beams cut through the air above him. Scrambling up to the rough parapet of his muddy emplacement, Jaska fired back with his carbine, trying to keep their attention on himself, so the Rattanai wouldn’t focus their attention on Karley.

It wasn’t enough. One of the Rattanai started shooting at the mayor’s daughter. The first shot boiled the mud near her feet into a scalding blast, and Jaska watched her lose her footing, skid to one side, and fall flat on her face. Cursing, he fired a few shots at the attacker who’d downed her, though it was impossible to know whether or not he’d scored any hits. “Come on, Karley.” Jaska urged quietly into his comm. “Just make it here and they can’t hit you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jaska saw the young woman rise to her knees, then fall flat again as another beam passed nearby. Scrabbling against the mud, she clawed her way toward the bunker, and Jaska did his best to force the raiders to keep their flat, wide heads down. A second ammunition runner leaped out of the compound and headed for the number three gun; Jaska saw him hit almost immediately by one of the Rattanai gunmen. He winced, wondering who it had been, but it wasn't the time to ask.

Finally, Karley rolled into the bunker, gasping. Jaska fired the last few rounds from his carbine and then turned back to lift her to her knees. “You’re not dead.” He observed, with mixed feelings. “Hand me a mag, and I’ll cover you for the run back.”

“The… sachel.” Karley whispered, terrified. Jaska realized too late that she didn’t have it anymore; she must have dropped it when she fell.

“You forgot the bag?” He hissed, then tossed her aside to peer over the parapet to where she’d fallen. Sure enough, a brown-grey lump sat in the mud, hopelessly exposed. “You’ve doomed us, you stupid girl.”

The Rattanai, sensing the slackening resistance, began to climb out of the drainage ditch, advancing cautiously through the persistent drizzle. Jaska wanted to shoot the mayor’s daughter right then and there, but of course he was out of ammunition.