Category Archives: Space Repairman

Follow the adventures of space-faring handyman Clarence “Chuck” Banner and his trusty but forgetful robot sidekick F.R.E.D.D. (Fast Repair and Equipment Delivery Device) as they travel the cosmos in the repair ship Ranger on assignments from the mysterious Dispatcher.

Word of Honor – Part Five

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner’s investigation into the murder of Technician Morricaine uncovers more pieces to the puzzle — but will F.R.E.D.D.’s analysis of crucial evidence reveal the killer before Banner and Mboa are executed for the crime?

One of the keys to being a good space repairman, Chuck Banner liked to tell new recruits, is the ability to sleep anywhere. You never knew where an assignment might take you — the factory colonies of Cassorius IX, with their skyscraper-sized fabricators that cranked and groaned day and night, or the sprawling wind harvesters on Chang’s World, where even three-meter-thick force-walls could not fully muffle the screaming winds outside. Good space repairmen always needed their wits about them when they were on the job, and more than anything that meant a being able to grab a decent rest on demand. And no one could sleep like Chuck Banner. Legend had it that he had once slept through a hurricane on New Jupiter that had nearly brought down the cloud station on which he was working.

This night, however, Banner found himself staring at the craggy ceiling of his prison cell, replaying in his mind all the evidence he had collected so far and trying to find the missing piece that would spare the life of the woman in the cell next to his, Banner’s old friend and fellow space repairman Patrice Mboa. And, not incidentally, his own life as well.

There was no arguing the evidence in the video document from the scene of the crime; it clearly showed that Mboa was the likely murderer. But Mboa had no memory of the event, and had no obvious motive; indeed, she had never met Morricaine. So why had she done it? Mboa’s odd behavior on the video document taken at the asteroid deflector gave every indication that she had been subjected to a Desensitizer ray. And Jessick had reacted evasively to Banner’s question about the Desensitizer that Jessick had removed from Mine 34 that day.

Constable Hallard’s case against Mboa for premeditated murder depended entirely on Jessick’s claim that a woman had called Morricaine asking him to come to the mine where he had been killed. And it was Jessick who claimed that he had repaired and returned the Desensitizer to Mine 34. And on Gallenesh, a person’s word was as good as proof. It was a problem that could achieve what a even Force 100 hurricane could not — deprive Chuck Banner of a good night’s sleep.

The sound of hardened soles striking the stone floor of the corridor outside his cell snapped Banner out of his thoughts, and he swung his legs over the edge of the bunk and sat up in anticipation. A moment later, Hallard’s bearded face appeared in the window of the cell door, and after some rattling of the lock, the door swung open.

“Mister Banner, your robot is calling your communicator and asking to speak with you.” Hallard held out Banner’s wrist radio.

The moment of truth had arrived. Immediately, Mboa, in the adjacent cell, was on her feet and at the bars that separated their two cells. Nervously, Banner stood and took the proffered silver band.

“Hey, good morning, buddy,” said Banner, forcing jocularity into his voice. “Have any news for me?”

good morning chuck yes i do.”

“Let’s have it, buddy.” Banner looked at Mboa, who peered nervously through the bars at the watch, as if she might be able to see the answer before hearing it. Hallard, too, appeared deeply interested.

first the video document of the murder itself appears genuine,” began F.R.E.D.D. “the man was stabbed twelve times analysis of the wound indicates that the weapon was a standard mark three space repairman work knife which is clearly visible in miss mboa’s right hand in several frames of the document.”

Mboa groaned, slumping dejectedly. But Banner’s head snapped up in response to something F.R.E.D.D. had just said.

the footage taken at the asteroid deflector station shows no sign of human activity other than miss mboa following the departure of the other workers however when i processed the document through the spectral enhancer i was able to detect faint evidence of a complex sequence of light flashes reflecting off the walls when miss mboa is not in the camera’s field of view. when miss mboa is once again in frame she appears to be standing at attention and then leaves. analysis of her gait suggests a difference from that observed when she originally entered the room several hours earlier.”

“That sounds like a Desensitizer,” said Hallard in surprise. “But they don’t use Desensitizers at the deflector station.”

Banner nodded, as if expecting this news. “Did you calculate the point of origin of the light flashes based on the reflection patterns?”

yes the light appears to be emanating from a point source between five and six feet above the ground located directly underneath the camera which would correspond with the doorway connecting the deflector room to the building entrance hall.”

“You sure that Mboa was holding the knife in her right hand, buddy?”

affirmative chuck.”

“Thanks, F.R.E.D.D. I think you’ve just cracked the case.”

Mboa and Hallard looked at Banner with similar expressions of puzzlement.

“Here, catch,” Banner said to Mboa, tossing the communicator to Mboa, who instinctively reached out her left hand to grab it. A moment later her eyes widened and her mouth opened in a surprised grin. Confidently, she tossed it back to Banner, who snatched it out of the air in mid-arc. “Gotta go, buddy. Good work. No, make that great work. I’ll be in touch.”

“Thanks, F.R.E.D.D.!” called Mboa, her voice filled with glee and energy.

Banner and Mboa looked at Hallard expectantly. “Let’s pay Jessick a visit,” Hallard said forcefully. “Want to come with us?” he asked Mboa.

“You had better believe it,” she said.

* * *

Jessick emerged from the back room of Morricaine’s shop carrying a box and was surprised to see Hallard . . . with Banner and Mboa standing on either side of him. He tried to mask his surprise, but failed.

“Hallard!” he exclaimed, trying to make it sound like a welcome surprise instead of the unpleasant one that it was. “And Mister Banner and Miss Mboa?” he added, puzzled.

“I need something for my files,” said Hallard. “To close the case against these two off-worlders.” He gestured causally to Mboa and Banner, putting sarcastic emphasis on that last word.

Jessick put the box down on the counter. “Whatever you need,” he said.

“Just a procedural thing, but I need you to sign this account of what happened the day of the murder. It’s a copy of the statement I took when I interviewed you here following Morricaine’s murder.”

“S-sure,” replied Jessick, unsure whether or not to be relieved. He took the sheet of paper and pen that Hallard held out for him, glanced over it, and signed it.

Banner, Mboa, and Hallard all looked at each other.

“I see that you’re right-handed, Mister Jessick,” said Banner.

Jessick looked up. “What of it?”

“I’m left-handed,” said Mboa levelly.

Jessick’s eyes widened slowly, unable to hide his realization of his single, crucial mistake.

“Jessick, I’m arresting you for the murder of Morricaine,” said Hallard.

Jessick straightened up, an expression of outrage filling his face, his hands balling into fists. “What? That’s absurd! Outrageous!” he shouted, pointing to Banner. “Are you going to trust this outsider over the word of someone you’ve known for so many years? I mean, who here vouches for him?”

“I do,” says Hallard, with conviction. “I vouch for Banner.”

His last-ditch ploy having failed, Jessick sagged into a chair next to the counter that had been shielding him. Broken, he stared into space for a few moments. “He found out who I was,” he finally said, his voice a shaky whisper, all bravado gone.

“I came here to escape,” he continued. “I changed my name. I thought no one would look for me here. But Morricaine stumbled on it somehow. I never did find out how,” he said with a rueful chuckle.

“Oh, he tried not to let on, of course,” Jessick continued, as if relieved that he could at last tell someone. “But one day he started acting strangely around me. So one night, after he went home, I took a look in his files and found his diary recorder. I played back the entry from the day he first started acting strangely. He said he had found out my real identity. He was going to to tell you,” he said, looking up at Hallard. “But he was torn. He had trusted me and had vouched for me. He didn’t know what he was going to do.” Jessick paused, remembering.

“But I couldn’t take the chance,” he said, his voice suddenly firm. “So when I heard that someone from Galactic Repair Services was coming to Gallenesh, I did what I needed to do.”

“You retrieved the Desensitizer from Mine 34 and hid it at the asteroid deflector station,” said Banner. Jessick, his eyes closed, nodded. “Then you faked the call to Morricaine.”

Jessick nodded again. “From the deflector’s entrance hall. I had to desensitize her immediately, to make sure she would be able to get to the mine before he did.”

“You waited for the camera to be pointing away from me,” Mboa chimed in. “And then what?”

“I wheeled the Desensitizer into the doorway, turned it on, and demonstrated the actions I wanted you to take. I gave you instructions on where to go to hide and who you were to kill.”

“You used me as a tool to commit murder!” Mboa said. “I didn’t even know the man!”

Jessick looked up at Mboa as if she was missing the point. “That’s what made you the perfect choice,” he said. “No one knew you, either.”

* * *

At the Gallenesh spaceport, the ground crews had finished fueling and provisioning the Ranger and Mboa’s ship, the Motsamai, and the constables who had been standing guard over them were nowhere to be seen. Hallard escorted Mboa and Banner to the base of the landing ramps, where F.R.E.D.D. was waiting for them.

Hallard shook hands with Banner. “Thanks for vouching for me, Hallard,” said Banner. “If you ever find yourself on a strange planet needing someone to vouch for you, give me a call.”

“That I will, my new friend,” Hallard said, putting his hand on Banner’s shoulder.

Hallard then extended his hand to Mboa, who accepted it with grace. “Jessick found the weakness in our strength,” Hallard said. “He realized that our willingness to trust the people we know can also make us unwilling to trust the people we don’t. That’s something we need to look at.”

“It takes practice,” agreed Mboa, “but it’s worth the effort.”

“I am glad that things turned out as they did.”

Mboa laughed with relief. “Me too!”

After Hallard took leave of the two travelers, Mboa turned suddenly to Banner and gave him a bear hug that nearly lifted him off his feet. She growled at him like a happy mother bear. “Thank you for putting your life on the line for me!” she said.

“Hey, what are friends for, right?” gasped Banner through the hug.

“And you!” Mboa said to F.R.E.D.D. “Great detective work! While this guy here was getting himself locked up,” she said, jabbing Banner playfully in the arm, “you were over here doing all the hard work!”

aw shucks ma’am,” said F.R.E.D.D., his eye-socket light blinking playfully. “i was just performing my standard functions.”

* * *

“See you around the spacelanes,” said Mboa over the video link as the Ranger and Motsamai set off on divergent arcs, leaving Gallenesh behind them. “And thanks again, you two.”

“Anytime,” said Banner. “Safe travels!” Mboa waved as the channel closed.

“Well, that was quite an adventure, wasn’t it?” asked Banner. F.R.E.D.D.’s chest-mounted tape banks spun in agreement.

chuck i am curious what happened after i transmitted the results of the analysis?”

Banner leaned back in his command chair and put his feet up on the control console. “Well, buddy, thanks to you of course, we had the evidence. But in order for it to be believed, it all came down to a simple matter of trust.”

F.R.E.D.D.’s tape bank spun for several seconds as he analyzed Banner’s response. “trust,” he said. “ am scanning all the legal codes in my memory banks and i do not see trust mentioned as a principle of law.”

“I know, buddy,” replied Banner. “That’s because, in all the Settled Colonies, trust comes before the law.”

i do not understand.”

Banner thought for a moment. “Well, buddy, what the books don’t tell you is that, for the law to work, it requires that first there must be trust between the enforcers and the citizens. Without trust, then it’s simply a matter of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ — the people with authority and the people without it. Without trust, no law, no matter how well-intentioned, can ever be just.”

that is very interesting chuck,” said F.R.E.D.D. after processing this new data. “i very much desire to discuss this concept with you in greater detail.”

Banner involuntarily yawned and stretched. “Well, I’d love to, buddy, but if you don’t mind, I think I might need to get some shut-eye first. The last few days have been just absolute murder.”

* * *

Stay tuned to Channel 37 for Chuck Banner’s next exciting adventure on Space Repairman!

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Word of Honor – Part Four

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner begins his investigation into the mysterious murder of which his friend, Patrice Mboa, stands accused — and Banner may have uncovered a vital clue in a previously overlooked surveillance video!

The mine where the murder took place was on the outskirts of the hardscrabble city, several minutes’ walk from the security office. Chief Constable Hallard led the way. As they walked, a gap in the seemingly perpetual cloud cover allowed the weak greenish-yellow light of the Gallenesh sun to glint dully off the puddles and pools along the rocky trail and cause the rain-soaked stone surfaces to gleam. The momentary brightening did little to improve the aesthetics of the place, however. A few moments later, as they arrived at the mine shaft, the clouds were already closing back up and the rains were beginning again. As he stepped into the elevator cage and began to descend, Banner realized that the brief sunshine was the first natural variety of any kind he had seen since his arrival on this dismal rock.

The rough surface of the rock through which the rattling metal cage descended was mottled by specks and swirls of various colors and textures — metals of every variety and rarity were buried here. To Banner, the tunnel was a testament to why men like Hallard were born in places like Gallenesh: the raw resources of this young planet were shipped off to the farthest worlds of the Settled Zones to build roads, dwellings, bridges, and spaceships, and would be for centuries to come. But was this wealth also reason enough for someone to commit the ultimate crime: murder? Banner pondered this as the elevator descended into a vast dark cavern and shuddered to a stop.

“The assembly hall,” said Hallard as he stepped out of the cage, his voice disappearing without resonance into the cool and empty air. Banner noticed with relief that the chamber was devoid of the humidity that saturated the air and every porous surface aboveground. “This is where the mining crews assemble before and after a shift. Safety briefings and head-counts take place here.” Hallard pointed wordlessly to the rack of pressure cylinders against the far wall to the left — behind which, according to the video document, Mboa had hidden while awaiting her victim, the technologist Morricaine. Getting his bearings, Banner looked across the hall and saw the camera that had recorded the event, mounted high up on the stone wall, out of reach without a ladder. He glowered at it, instinctively considering it a hostile witness.

The two men spent some time exploring the room, trying to find anything that would indicate that the events recorded on the video document had unfolded in a way other than what was shown. Banner, admittedly not a trained detective, could see nothing in the room that was mysterious — no hidden chambers for an accomplice to hide, no discarded knife in a dark corner.

“I scoured the hall for anything that might have been overlooked,” said Hallard. “I brought in a bank of escape lights to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Aside from the body, there was nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I believe you,” said Banner as he prodded the walls looking for hidden doors. After all, Banner had no reason to doubt the man’s integrity; he seemed to be as interested as Banner in finding out what had really happened.

At the far end of the assembly hall, a large metal door that resembled an airtight hatch commonly used on spaceships was set into the wall. Curious, Banner pushed it open and stepped through it; as he did, the room lit up brightly. He stood in a large empty room, unlike any he had seen on Gallenesh. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all perfectly flat and squared off, and highly reflective, as if made from glass or steel. At the far end Banner noticed a black box on the floor, from which rose a thin, flexible stalk topped with a transparent glass sphere about the size of a basketball. The sphere was positioned at roughly eye-level. The wall behind it was glass, and revealed some kind of control room behind it.

“Hey, Hallard, what’s this room?” called Banner through the door.

A moment later Hallard entered through the door. “This is a Desensitizer. We use it to condition our bodies so that we can work longer and more efficiently.”

“How does it work?”

Hallard turned at the sound of the elevator cage rattling. “See for yourself. The next shift is coming on.” Hallard ushered Banner into the control room. The bank of controls was minimalist, featuring just a few knobs and indicator lights. Soon, a group of miners entered the room, dressed in dirty work coveralls and wearing clunky boots and safety helmets. One of them entered the control room and, after exchanging nods with Banner and Hallard, took up position at the control console. When the room was full and the door to the chamber shut, the controller turned one of the knobs. The transparent globe began emitting short pulses of light in a complex pattern.

“The glass is polarized so that it doesn’t affect anyone in the control room,” Hallard explained.

“Affect them how?” Banner asked.

Hallard pointed to the window. “Watch.”

The control operator stepped to the side of the panel so that he was in full view of the twenty or so men in the room. Then he began to move in a way that suggested that he was acting out a mining activity: his arms seemed to be lifting some heavy object and turning it carefully, as if placing it against some invisible wall. Banner was surprised to see all of the men repeat the action in perfect unison several times. It reminded Banner of Tai Chi, only more strenuous. As the operator mimed another actions, the men in the chamber repeated them several times each.

“It’s mental conditioning,” Hallard said quietly, even though the room was sound-proof. “Because there are so few of us, every miner has to work longer and harder, up to the limits of physical and mental tolerance. And sometimes beyond. The Desensitizer trains out fatigue and the dangers it poses to safety.”

“That sounds pretty dangerous,” said Banner, fascinated by the display. The mechanical behavior of the people, working as if they were in a trance, reminded Banner of something he had seen recently.

Hallard shook his head. “Not really. The effect wears off quickly, depending on the level of exposure, and it has no after-effects. We monitor everyone’s health constantly. We rely on the Desensitizers for all our heavy work.” Hallard paused. “Morricaine, the man your friend is accused of killing, was responsible for maintaining them in working order.”

“An interesting coincidence,” said Banner, suddenly remembering what the miners’ behavior reminded him of. “By any chance, were any Desensitizers out of service on the night Morricaine died?”

Hallard thought for a moment. “Yes, I think so. I remember that Mine 34 reported having problems with theirs. Morricaine had gone there earlier that day to pick it up.” He noticed Banner smiling. “Why?”

“Just a hunch,” said Banner. “I think it’s time we visited Morricaine’s shop.”

* * *

Morricaine’s shop was located on the far western edge of the main encampment, where the well-worn trails gave way to tracks barely scratched into the surface of the rocky ground, and most of the dwellings were crudely chipped into the sheer cliff walls. As hard as it was to imagine living in the center of the colony, Banner was even more amazed by the conditions here. The thick, fog-laden air only amplified the sense of gloom.

“Pretty rough here,” Banner opined as he and Hallard clambered unsteadily over a dislodged boulder.

“This area has only recently been settled,” Hallard explained. “For the first time in our history we finally have enough people to expand.” He ducked to avoid a craggy outcrop. “Not many, but at least we’re finally growing.”

Unless your killer develops a taste for it, Banner thought, nodding politely.

Hallard pointed to a nondescript jagged hole carved into the cliff face, and pounded on the thick scrap-metal door. A moment later, the door slid aside to reveal a thin, balding and bespectacled man, a full head shorter than Banner. Compared to the sturdy, muscle-bound colonists he had met up until now, the man looked almost frail. As he stood back to let the men enter, Banner noticed that the man’s clothes were cleaner and less threadbare than those of all the others, even Hallard’s.

“Chuck Banner, Jessick,” Hallard said, pointing to the men in turn. Jessick nodded warily at Banner. “He’s representing the visitor who we arrested for killing Morricaine.” Jessick’s eyes narrowed warily as he appraised Banner. “He has my approval,” Hallard added, though it didn’t appear to put Jessick any more at ease.

“She killed my friend,” Jessick said, his voice rougher than Banner expected — no doubt an effect of not talking much.

“That’s what I’m here to find out, Mister Jessick,” said Banner, trying to sound non-threatening. “Mind if I ask you some questions about that night?”

“Do I have to answer him?” Jessick said to Hallard, pointedly ignoring Banner.

Hallard’s response was immediate and unequivocal. “As if he was a member of the colony.”

“But he’s not.”

“For the purposes of this investigation, I say that he is to be treated so. Don’t forget, Jessick, you weren’t born here either,” Hallard added, piquing Banner’s curiosity.

“Twenty-seven years is long enough to prove myself,” Jessick said flatly, turning his attention back to stocking a shelf with drill bits of various sizes.

“Can you tell me about that night?” Banner asked after a moment’s awkward silence.

“Morricaine was working in the back room,” Jessick said, his back to Banner as he continued working. “A communication signal came through. I answered it. It was from Mine 18. They had an urgent problem and needed Morricaine to come immediately.”

“What time was this?” Banner asked.

“An hour before the night-shift,” Jessick said as he stopped stocking the shelf and turned to face Banner. “I already told Hallard everything.”

“And now you can tell me,” Banner said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. Jessick’s aloofness and lack of concern riled him. The two men glared at each other until Jessick’s eyes flickered downward.

“I apologize,” Jessick said. “He was my friend. He was the first to vouch for me after my arrival. He gave me work when no one else would trust me. And now he has been murdered.”

Banner, too, softened. “I can only imagine. I just want to make sure that the wrong person isn’t executed for the crime.”

Jessick nodded. “After the communication signal, I immediately went into the back and told Morricaine. He grabbed his tool bag and left immediately. The voice was a woman’s, Mister Banner.” Jessick added, as if to emphasize his earlier point. “And I didn’t recognize it.”

As Jessick returned to stocking the shelf, Banner did some quick math. The timing reported by Jessick lined up neatly with the evidence. Banner decided to try a stab in the dark.

“Any chance you have a Desensitizer here that I could look at up close? They’re fascinating machines. I understand that they were Morricaine’s invention.”

“Yes, they were,” said Jessick, turning briefly to look at Banner. “And no, you can’t. All of them are in service.”

“Even the one from Mine 34?” Banner noticed Jessick flinch in hesitation for just a split-second. That was all Banner needed.

Jessick turned around quickly. “It turned out that unit was working correctly after all,” he said confidently. “Just a crossed wire. I took it back and reinstalled it that afternoon.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Banner said with a nod. “Well, thanks, Mister Jessick. I think I have all the answers I need. I’ll be in touch if I have any more questions for you.”

“I’m happy to help.”

I bet you are, thought Banner as he and Hallard turned to leave the shop.

* * *

At the landing pad where the Ranger sat plugged into assorted ground power and fuel lines, F.R.E.D.D. stood near the top of the loading ramp awaiting the arrival of Chuck Banner, who had signaled him — with Hallard’s permission — that he would be arriving shortly to deliver some important evidence that he wanted F.R.E.D.D. to analyze. Though it was impossible for the service robot to feel emotion, the incongruities in the logic of the situation were causing conflicting signals in his data-processing core; F.R.E.D.D. had long ago determined that such anomalies were analagous to the human condition known as worry.

Through the twilight rain, F.R.E.D.D.’s optical sensors detected the approach of two men, who were met at the edge of the landing platform by the two men who had been standing guard at the platform’s edge ever since F.R.E.D.D. had received word that Banner had been arrested. Together, the four men approached the ship; F.R.E.D.D. noticed that Banner had widened his umbrella field to encompass all of them.

“Hold here,” said Hallard to the two guards as they neared the ship.

“What if he attempts to escape?” protested one of the guards.

Hallard turned to face Banner. “May I have your assurance that you will not attempt to escape?”

“You may,” Banner replied, honored by Hallard’s display of trust. Hallard nodded his assent, and Banner continued alone to the edge of the landing ramp.

F.R.E.D.D. descended the ramp to meet Banner. “it is good to see you chuck are you unharmed?

“I am indeed,” replied Banner. “But depending on what you find — or don’t find — on these tapes, Patrice and I may end up being harmed a great deal.” Banner held out the tape cartridges, which F.R.E.D.D. grasped with one of his claw arms.

what am i looking for?

“All I can say is that you’ll know it when you see it, buddy. You’re looking for anything that just doesn’t fit.”

F.R.E.D.D.’s processor core experienced an upsurge in logical incongruity. “i will do my best chuck

“I know, buddy.” Banner patted F.R.E.D.D.’s ball-jointed shoulder. “There isn’t another pair of optical sensors in the galaxy that I trust more.” He jerked his thumb over his own shoulder. “I have to go now,” he said hoarsely. “Call me when you have something.”

F.R.E.D.D.’s head nodded stiffly. “you can count on me . . . buddy” he said.

Will F.R.E.D.D. find the evidence that Chuck Banner needs to save his life and that of his friend and colleague Patrice Mboa? Who really killed Morricaine, and why? Find out next time in the thrilling conclusion to Space Repairman: Word of Honor!

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Word of Honor – Part Three

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner takes it upon himself to investigate the murder for which his fellow repairman and old friend, Patrice Mboa, stands accused. But under the harsh laws of the planet Gallenesh, should Banner fail to prove her innocence, he will face the same penalty — death!

“So, where to first, Mister Banner?” Hallard asked as the two men stepped through the outer door of the Clink and into the gray, drizzly murk outside.

“I think we should start with the incriminating video document,” replied Banner as he activated his umbrella stick and adjusted the width to cover the two of them.

“The master copy is at the Central Safety Office,” said Hallard. “This way. It’s not far.” He indicated a trail worn through the uneven, rocky ground. Banner led the way. “You’ll want to see the original, to ensure that no one here has tampered with it.”

“Yes, thanks,” said Banner. “Also, I’d like to have my robot examine it, if that’s permitted,” said Banner. Hallard nodded in agreement.

A few minutes later, Banner and Hallard arrived at a large freestanding building made of large boulders and slabs of excavated rock. Once inside, Banner’s first thought was that he must be in a warehouse for old televisions. Monitors of every size and shape lined the walls, their assorted wires and cables running down the walls where they were gathered in thick braids running to a central console near the center of the dimly lit room.

“We have cameras monitoring every work space,” Hallard explained. “We have to use whatever equipment we can salvage. It’s not sophisticated, but it works. And it saves lives.” Banner was about to offer to donate some surplus equipment from the Ranger when he remembered that, technically, he was still sentenced to death here.

One of the men sitting behind the center console saw the new arrivals and stood up. He was an older man — based on the census data that F.R.E.D.D. had found, he looked to be older the colony’s average life expectancy. He was stooped from a lifetime’s backbreaking work, and his face was craggy and gray like the landscape.

“This is Torran,” said Banner. “He runs this place.” Torran nodded stiffly, clearly uncomfortable at the sight of a stranger. “This is Chuck Banner,” Hallard said to Torran, raising his voice slightly as Torran cupped a hand to his right ear. “He’s investigating the murder of Morricaine.” Torran appraised Banner warily. “It’s all right,” Hallard said. “I’m responsible for him. He’d like to see the video document from the night of the murder.”

Torran nodded wearily and trudged off into a back room. Through the door, Banner saw row after row of shelves, presumably the storage vault. A few minutes later, Torran returned carrying a thick black cartridge about the size of a paperback book. An ancient tape system; Banner hadn’t seen one of those in years. Torran inserted the cartridge into a slot on the main console as Banner and Hallard came around to look over Torran’s shoulder at the monitor.

The grainy video flickered onto the monitor. It showed an empty cavernous room, weakly lit by a few dim orbs in the ceiling, like every other room Banner had seen so far. A scrolling timestamp on the left-hand side of the screen marked the date and the elapsed time. For several moments, there was nothing to be seen. Then, from the left, at first obscured by the timestamp, there was motion. A silhouette picked its way into the frame, carefully placing each step as if to avoid making a sound. As the silhouette entered a pool of light, it looked around the room to ensure that no one was around — and as the face turned toward the camera, it was clearly that of Patrice Mboa.

Banner sucked in his breath as Torran paused the video so that everyone could get a good look. Unless someone had gone to great lengths to either disguise themselves or to produce a first-class piece of video trickery — neither prospect very likely on this barren world — it was her. Banner noted that her eyes were narrowed, as if hunting, and her face was a completely cold mask. It was the face of a hardened killer, and it looked utterly unlike the woman Banner had known for a decade.

Without a word, Torran pushed a button and the tape resumed playing. Mboa stepped out of the light, continuing to look around carefully as she circled the room, then she stepped behind a bank of pressure cylinders on the far wall and disappeared from sight. A few minutes later, a man entered the empty hall from the same direction as Mboa had. He stood in the middle of the room, looking around quizzically. Then, as he turned his back on the line of cylinders, Mboa’s shadowy figure leaped out from behind them and rushed toward him, her right arm raised and brandishing something long and slender that glinted silver as it flashed through the cone of ceiling light: a knife. As Mboa fell upon the man, both of them disappeared below the view of the camera — but what must have happened next left little to the imagination. A few moments later, one figure — Mboa — rose back into view and fled to the left, toward the door through which she and her victim had entered.

“That’s everything,” said Hallard. Banner nodded solemnly. “Torran, Mister Banner would like to have the original tape for analysis.” The old man hesitated. “It’s all right. I will ensure the safety of the evidence.”

“That’s mighty kind of you,” said Banner, earnestly.

Hallard grunted and took the proffered tape cartridge from Torran’s hand.

“There’s no evidence of any tampering with the tape? Or the camera?” Banner asked Torran. The man shook his head in the negative both times. “How about footage of Patrice working on the asteroid deflector before the murder?” Banner asked. Torran looked at Hallard, who nodded his assent. Again without a word, Torran shuffled into the archive and returned shortly thereafter with another cartridge which he inserted into the player slot and queued up.

The three of them watched the images shot by the ceiling-mounted camera in the vast machinery hall of the asteroid deflector. Unlike the camera in the mine’s assembly hall, this one swung back and forth across the room. Banner mentally timed it; the camera took about ten seconds to complete a single pass from one side to the other, or 20 seconds to perform a full sweep and return to the starting point. The placement of the camera was such that the gravitator insulation coils were located near the far-left end of the sweep. Banner could see the five people — Mboa and the four colonists — roughly in profile for perhaps five seconds at a time before the camera’s sweep passed by them, which left maybe 15 seconds when they were out of the camera’s vision.

Banner immediately suspected that within that lapse in coverage would be found a vitally important clue. It was just too convenient. “May I have this tape as well?”

“Yes,” said Hallard as the three of them continued to watch. In one sweep, Mboa is seen talking to the four men, who shake hands with her and then leave. Torran sped up the playback. “There,” Banner called suddenly, pointing to the screen. “Back up.” Torran did. At the end of one camera sweep, Mboa is bent intently over an insulator coil. When the camera returns, she is standing up straight, as if at attention. Then she turns toward the camera and hurries out of view, rushing as if late to an appointment.

“The door to the mechanical hall is below the camera,” said Hallard. “She’s leaving.” He pointed to the time stamp on the left-hand side of the screen. “Less than ten minutes before the murder.” Torran stopped the tape and handed it to Hallard.

“Pretty incriminating,” Hallard said as the two men left the safety office. Banner reluctantly had to agree. “Where to next?”

“The scene of the crime, I think,” Banner replied.

Things don’t look good for Patrice — or, for that matter, for Chuck Banner! Will Chuck’s continued investigations reveal an important clue? Be sure not to miss the next exciting episode of Space Repairman: Word of Honor!

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Word of Honor – Part Two

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner is sent to the hardscrabble mining colony on Gallenesh to discover the whereabouts of a fellow space repairman, only to discover that his colleague has been arrested for murder — and under the arcane laws of the colony, Banner has now become a prisoner too!

As Banner walked between the two armed guards escorting him to prison, he couldn’t help but be moved by what he saw as they entered the main city. The dim and humid light did little to soften the stark, rough-hewn architecture. The city appeared to consist of just two kinds of structures: those blasted into the sides of the craggy mountains and hills, and those built from the excavated rubble. There were no trees or plants because there was, as yet, no soil on this young planet. Gallenesh offered no native comfort, and clearly the colonists clinging to life on it had no time or energy to spare making their own.

“This way,” the shorter of the two guards gestured with his ray pistol, indicating a path chipped into the granite to their right. “Over there.” At the end of the path was yet another hill, with a squarish doorway hacked into its face. Above the doorway, chiseled in the stone, were the words “THE CLINK.”

“Charming,” muttered Banner as he was ushered through the threshold and into a cold, damp corridor lit by dim illuminator orbs that dangled from the ceiling. The guards opened a thick metal door at the end of the corridor and ushered Banner through.

The three men stood in a large, roughly cubical room, a cave hewn into the side of the mountain. Dark holes in the wall indicated corridors going off in different directions. At the far end was a table that looked like it was made from a scrap piece of bulkhead, and from behind the table a tall, muscular man rose and approached them. Unlike his two colleagues, this man’s beard was neatly trimmed and his long hair was tied back, and his jumpsuit was cleaner and somewhat less threadbare. The man stood before Banner, his hands folded studiously behind his back, appraising Banner’s face.

“My name’s Hallard,” the man said in a gruff voice that at least attempted to sound civilized. “I’m responsible for colony security.” He looked at the two guards. “What has this man done?”

“Vouched for Morricaine’s murderer,” the taller guard said.

Hallard’s left eyebrow shot up in surprise. “That’s interesting. I’m assuming you don’t know how the law works on Gallenesh.”

“That’s right, Mister Hallard,” said Banner. “I was sent here to find out what happened to my colleague. Next thing I know, these two goons pull guns on me and haul me over to see you.”

Hallard nodded his head to the two guards, who sheathed their weapons and left the room. “We don’t have much law on Gallenesh,” Hallard said, gesturing to a chair in front of his desk as both men took their seats. “It’s all about survival here. Our first and last law is trust. We depend on each other for our lives every minute of every day here. In such a dangerous environment, the potential for a catastrophe is always just a moment away. We have to know that we can always count on each other. Any violation of that trust carries a severe and swift penalty.”

Banner nodded in understanding as he absorbed the lesson. “I guess that would make sense on a world like this.”

“Every person has a role to play. We need everyone if we are to survive. When someone kills another, it disrupts our delicately balanced system and threatens all of us.”

“I just can’t imagine Patrice Mboa killing someone. She’s tough, she can defend herself, sure, but murder?”

Hallard leaned back in his chair. “On Gallenesh, such a statement of support for an accused puts an accusation of guilt on the supporter as well. Knowledge of that ensures that we don’t give false testimony. To be willing to stand by someone when they are accused of wrongdoing, just as you would stand by them in the mines, carries a lot of weight with us.”

“And a lot of risk for the supporter,” Banner pointed out.

“Yes.” Hallard pondered the situation for a moment before continuing. “Here’s what I know. Two days ago, a man called Morricaine, who was one of the colony’s best technologists, and his assistant were working late. Morricaine received an urgent call asking him to go to one of the mining pits. No one else was at the pit to witness what happened next. All I know is that Morricaine didn’t return to his work space or to his dwelling. About an hour after the call, when the early shift came down the elevator to start work in the mining pit, they found Morricaine’s body in the assembly hall. He was dead from multiple stab wounds.”

“And you think Mboa killed him?”

“At the time of the call, she was alone. She had been working on the asteroid deflector with four other men. About a half-hour before Morricane received the call, they left for the night, and she stayed behind, so I understand, to finish up a specific task. No one can account for her movements between then and shortly after the body was discovered, when she was seen walking on the road to the spaceport. Presumably to escape.”

Banner considered what he had heard. “Pretty circumstantial, isn’t it?”

“There’s more,” Hallard said slowly, as if he wished that there wasn’t. “For safety reasons, all mining pits are monitored thirty-one hours a day, twelve days a week, with video cameras. The camera in the assembly hall clearly shows your friend killing Morricaine.”

Banner sagged back in disbelief. Patrice Mboa, a cold-blooded killer? It just didn’t make any sense. His mind grasped for possible explanations, but came up empty.

“I don’t know what happened,” Banner finally said, “but I just don’t believe Patrice murdered that man.”

Hallard stood up slowly. “Then I’m afraid I have to tell you that, according to the law of Gallenesh, you are under arrest, Mister Banner. And I have no choice but to imprison you both.”

* * *

The heavy metal door clanked shut behind Banner as he looked around the small, dimly lit cell to which Hallard had, with evident reluctance, confined him. About six feet square, the cell was, like all the other rooms in the Clink, carved out of the mountain. In the corners were a seat and a bed, made from stone rubble. They looked to be very uncomfortable. Too the left, what would have been a wall was a nearly floor-to-ceiling hole spanned by metal bars spaced a few inches apart. Through the hole was another cell. Though it was empty, there were items of clothing on the bed that suggested that it had an occupant.

After a few minutes of pacing while contemplating what to do next — Hallard had shrewdly removed Banner’s wrist communicator — he heard the door to the adjacent cell open, and he saw Patrice Mboa enter. She saw Banner and immediately rushed to the bars. There was just enough room for them to reach through and grasp each others’ hands. Mboa’s face beamed.

“Banner!” she said. “Am I glad to see you!” Then she took a step back and appraised him. “Though not in another cell. What happened?”

Banner chuckled ruefully. “Apparently, vouching for accused murderers can get you arrested around here. Who would have thought?”

She let go of Banner’s hands and began pacing around the perimeter of her small cell. Banner was relieved to see that, although clearly frightened and exhausted, she looked okay otherwise. “I suppose it’s a cliche to say I didn’t do it?”

“I told them the same thing. It has to be some sort of mistake.”

She stopped her pacing and eyed him wearily. “They have a video document of me killing the man. I’ve seen it. I have to say, it looks pretty convincing. If I weren’t me, I’d probably convict me.”

“What happened?”

Mboa resumed pacing fitfully around her cell like a caged tiger, full of nervous energy. “Part of my memory’s a blank. I remember working on the asteroid deflector. I was working with the service crew. Nice fellows, very efficient. I was inspecting the gravitator. It was taking a long time to dismount the insulation coils, and it was getting late. There’s only room for one person to work on a coil, and all four coils have to come off before we can work on anything else.”

Banner nodded. “Sure, they’re a real pain.”

“So I said, look, why don’t you guys go home and get some rest? There’s no point in you standing around waiting for me. I’ll finish up the coil dismounts, and then we can start on the gravitator rebuild first thing in the morning after a good night’s sleep. They agreed and left, and I finished dismounting the first two coils . . . ” Mboa’s brow furrowed and she shook her head in frustration. “And that’s when my mind goes blank.”

“It’s not like that feeling you get when you’re concentrating on work and time goes by quickly,” she said after a pause, trying to find the words to explain. “This is different. It’s like a hole. Like a blank spot in my brain. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

“You don’t remember going to the mine?”

“Absolutely not!” Mboa said firmly, clearly certain of that at least. “I don’t even know where that mine is. When I arrived here, they didn’t take me to any mines, and anyway I didn’t come here to do sightseeing.”

Banner was pleased to see that Mboa still had a sense of humor. “Do you remember feeling dizzy or ill or anything? Did you see anyone else in the deflector control room?”

Again, Mboa concentrated on trying to recall. “No, I don’t think so.” She sighed in exasperation. “I just can’t remember. There’s nothing there. Nothing!” She hit the wall.

“Hey, don’t break anything!”

“I still know how to throw a punch, Banner,” she said with a rueful smile.

“Save it for whoever framed you for murder,” Banner said.

“Don’t you know it!” Mboa affirmed, her hands demonstrating what she planned to do to the person’s neck.

“What do you remember next?”

“So I’m dismounting the insulating coils, and then there’s a bump in my memory, like a hiccup, and the next thing I know I’m outside somewhere, in the rain, and there are guys on either side of me pointing ray pistols at me. And that guy out there, Hallard, he’s standing in front of me saying something about arresting me for murder. And while he’s talking, it’s like I’m coming out of a tunnel; I can barely hear or understand him. Like I’m waking up.”

“Like you were drugged?” asked Banner hopefully.

“Yeah,” Mboa said. “Groggy, like anesthesia.”

“Well, that’s something,” said Banner. “Maybe somebody slipped you a mickey at dinner.”

“Could be,” said Mboa doubtfully. “But how can we prove it if we’re both stuck in here?”

“Did they investigate the murder at all?”

Mboa shrugged. “They had the video. Hallard said that it looked pretty open and shut. And who’s going to defend a murderer that they can’t vouch for?” Mboa said with heavy irony. “So here I am.” She shrugged, palms up.

“And not even a complimentary phone call,” agreed Banner. “Well, somebody’s got to investigate this. And if it isn’t going to be Hallard, then it might as well be me.”

“You ever investigate a murder?” Mboa asked, giving Banner a sidelong, skeptical glance.

“No, but I am pretty good at solving mysteries,” Banner responded with an outward display of confidence that he was trying hard to muster in himself.

“Look” Banner continued. “Whatever happens, I’m not going to let them execute you. I’ll bring the whole company fleet down on top of them if I have to, but one way or another, you’re walking off this godforsaken planet.”

Mboa smiled in relief. “Thanks, Banner.”

Banner nodded and stepped back to the cell door. “Hey, Hallard!” Banner shouted through the small grated window in the door. “I need to talk!” He winked reassuringly at Mboa. “Trust me,” he said.

“I don’t have much of a choice,” she replied, trying to sound jocular, but unable to mask the uncertainty that was never far from her mind.

* * *

Hallard courteously gestured to the chair opposite his desk where Banner had first sat when the guards had delivered him to the Clink earlier. Banner noted Hallard’s innate politeness, which contrasted strongly with the aloof reserve of the other Gallenesh natives he had met so far.

“Thanks for hearing me out,” Banner said, sitting on the edge of his chair. “I’ll get straight to the point. I believe — no, I know — that Patrice Mboa did not intentionally kill your man. I want to make sure that the crime is properly investigated.”

Hallard leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk. “Mister Banner, I want to believe you both. The crime doesn’t make any sense. I don’t want to see your friend punished. But you have to understand that due process here on Gallenesh is different from what you will find on other worlds. And it is part of the Intergalactic Code that companies such as yours are bound by the laws of the planets on which crimes occur. A citizen was murdered. And we have a video document that shows your friend committing the crime.”

“Does Gallenesh law recognize the precept of reasonable doubt?” asked Banner.

“Yes, like all Code member colonies.”

“But Mboa has no legal defense to make a case for it.”

Hallard shook his head. “None. Because she has no one to vouch for her, no one has stepped forward to represent her.”

Banner patted his chest. “I vouch for her, Mister Hallard. Could I be allowed to represent her, to conduct an investigation as part of her defense?”

Hallard considered it. “It’s a highly unusual request,” he said. “Probably without precedent. There are a lot of complications, though. You aren’t a citizen of Gallenesh. You’ve already been arrested for vouching for the prisoner.” He pondered for a few moments. “To avoid problems, I will have to insist on accompanying you on your investigation.”

Banner leaned back and smiled. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Do you have law training?”


“Investigative training?”


Hallard raised his eyebrows. “That hardly makes you qualified.”

“What other option has she got?”

Hallard nodded solemnly. “Very well, Mister Banner. As of this moment, you are free on your own recognizance.” He opened a desk drawer, pulled out a pad of paper and a pen, and began to write. “This letter hereby authorizes you to move about the colony under these extraordinary conditions. Keep it with you at all times. In case I am not there to . . . ”

“Vouch for me?” Banner finished with a sly grin.

“Prevent someone from impeding your investigation,” Hallard said flatly, tearing the page off the pad and sliding it across the desk to Banner. “There is one thing that I want to make sure you completely understand first, Mister Banner.”


Hallard stood up slowly. “According to Gallenesh law, the act of vouching for an accused criminal carries with it some very weighty responsibilities. To vouch for someone is to stand accused with them.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why you threw me in a cell the moment I arrived.”

“What you may not fully grasp is that by standing accused, you also face the same penalty should that person be judged guilty. And the penalty for your friend’s crime, Mister Banner, is death. Do you understand what that would mean for you if you decide to continue?”

Banner swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. Then he stood, and nodded gravely.

Will Chuck Banner find the evidence he needs to exonerate Patrice Mboa from this seemingly open-and-shut case — and thereby save not only her life, but his too? Find out in the next exciting chapter of Space Repairman: Word of Honor!

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Word of Honor – Part One

Space RepairmanFor Space Repairman Chuck Banner, one of the best parts of his job was that he never knew where each day would take him. Perhaps he’d get a call from the Dispatcher sending him to the fountain mines of Calextria, where the mile-high crystalline plumes glittered in the light of two different-colored suns, or to the caramel-colored caves of Antares VI, where adventures lurked in the dark tunnels deep underground. And occasionally, but not frequently enough for Chuck, the dispatcher would send him to repair the gamble-bots of New Vegas, where he could always find something else to fix that would require him to stay an extra day.

Today, however, Chuck found himself on Space Station Gamma, one of the largest and most luxurious colonies in the Outer Sector. Appointed like a cruise liner, Space Station Gamma had some of the best food and drink for light-years around, which made up for the space-rations that were his normal fare on the long haul between assignments. The station’s gyro stabilizer needed calibration, which was a difficult — and fortunately time-consuming — job. Yet today was his last day on the station, having completed the calibration to his usual exacting standards, and he was reluctantly stowing the last of his gear in the cargo bay of his ship, the Ranger, when the intercom on the wall next to him beeped.

Banner put down his tool bag and pushed the button under the microphone. “Hey, buddy. What’s up?” The call was from F.R.E.D.D, Chuck’s service robot and trusted travel companion, upstairs on the control deck.

i have an incoming communication from the dispatcher,” F.R.E.D.D responded in his metallic monotone.

“Wow, that was quick,” Banner said. “We’re barely finished here. I wasn’t expecting another assignment until tomorrow at the earliest.”

affirmative,” replied F.R.E.D.D. “this is an unscheduled call the dispatcher says that it is an urgent request

“Well, then,” said Banner, wiping his hands on a rag. “That sounds interesting. Put it through here, please, buddy.”

There was a moment’s static while F.R.E.D.D patched in the super-spatial channel. “Good afternoon, Clarence,” came the Dispatcher’s silky, warm voice. “Did you enjoy your time on Space Station Gamma?”

“You know it!” said Banner. “They have a new chef here. He does this amazing drink with Centaurian bolt fruit that would make your head spin.”

“That sounds lovely, Clarence,” the Dispatcher replied, an edge of uncertainty creeping into her voice. “I’m afraid I’m calling about something other than your next assignment. I have an urgent mission for you.”

The worried tone of the Dispatcher’s voice caused Banner to dispense with his usual efforts to flirt with the Dispatcher. “What’s wrong, Boss?”

“One of our repairmen is overdue for her check-in,” she responded. “It’s Patrice Mboa. She’s on Gallenesh servicing their asteroid deflector.”

Banner raised an eyebrow. “Patrice? She’s one of the best. She’s been a repairman longer than anyone except me. It’s not like her to miss a check-in call.”

“Precisely,” said the Dispatcher. “She arrived there yesterday and made her first check-in on schedule. But today we’ve not heard from her. She’s almost twelve hours overdue, Clarence.” She emphasized the time as she spoke. “You’re the closest repairman to Gallenesh. It’s only two days away.”

Banner did a quick mental calculation. “Or less, if you approve emergency speed.”

“Approved, Clarence,” the Dispatcher responded, relief and gratitude flooding her voice. “Please get there as soon as you can and find out what, if anything, has happened to Patrice. Hopefully it’s just a case of a broken transmitter. If not, I want our best trouble-shooter there.”

Banner beamed, his chest puffing. “Don’t you worry, Dispatcher,” he said with confidence. “Chuck Banner is on the case.” He switched the intercom. “F.R.E.D.D, this is Chuck. Buddy, I need you to plot the fastest course to the colony on Gallenesh.”

* * *

Chuck Banner leaned forward in his pilot’s chair, his head and eyes in constant motion as he carefully studied the view from the forward windows. He had to concentrate on maneuvering the Ranger carefully into the asteroid belt through which the orbit of Gallenesh periodically crossed. F.R.E.D.D sat next to him, monitoring the long-range scanners. It was frustratingly slow going.

“Hey, F.R.E.D.D, why don’t we break the tedium here. Queue up your memory tapes and give me a crash course on the Gallenesh colony.”

perhaps you should not use the word crash chuck” replied F.R.E.D.D, his robotic monotone doubling effectively for deadpan.

“Hey, I’m supposed to be the funny guy around here,” Banner retorted. “And leave out the boring parts.”

The tape reels on F.R.E.D.D’s chest whirred and clicked as he compiled the relevant data. “gallenesh is a young planet recently formed from the agglomeration of asteroidal matter,” F.R.E.D.D intoned, his eyes flashing in time with each syllable. “it is rich in valuable ores but uninhabitable in its original state. miners from earth settled there several centuries ago and began terraforming the planet to make it eventually habitable for human life

only within the past 50 years has it been possible to live on the surface without life-support equipment,” continued F.R.E.D.D. “as a result although the mineral extraction operation is technologically advanced the civilization itself is rudimentary approximating that of a feudal society in medieval europe

“How many people live there now?”

F.R.E.D.D calculated for a moment. “the latest census data for gallenesh indicate a total population of approximately five thousand seven hundred fifty. median age is twenty-seven point three years. life expectancy is sixty point five years. population growth rate one point two-two percent. infant mortality rate ten point three percent . . .

Banner whistled softly. “A rough place to live. They’re barely sustaining themselves.”

agreed chuck,” replied F.R.E.D.D. “their long-term prospects for survival depend on the success of the terraforming project

“And their immediate prospects depend on that asteroid deflector,” said Banner. “Of all the places they could have picked to start a mining colony, why did they have to pick a planet that swings through an asteroid belt every two years?” F.R.E.D.D was already calculating an answer when Banner cut him off with a placatory wave. “I know, I know. It’s because that’s where all the minerals are. Funny how that works out sometimes. Okay, what can you tell me about Patrice?”

patrice mboa age thirty-two professional space repairman for ten years,” F.R.E.D.D began. “this is her first trip to the gallenesh colony

“She’s one of the best of the new crop,” said Banner with a smile. “Reminds me of myself when I was that age. Tough and fearless. No wonder they assigned her to this route. This sector isn’t for sissies. I did a couple of service routes not too far from here back in the day, and let me tell you, it’s the Wild West out here.”

A moment of silence followed. “I hope nothing’s happened to her.”

if there had been an accident the colony would have contacted the dispatcher,” F.R.E.D.D said.

“I know,” mused Banner. “That’s what has me worried.”

A chime sounded on F.R.E.D.D’s long-range scanner. “we have acquired the gallenesh colony’s navigational beacon. stand by to switch to autopilot

Banner nodded and threw several switches on the console in front of him. “Set, buddy. Okay, let’s ride the beam.”

engaging,” replied F.R.E.D.D. “we are on course for the colony spaceport

“Do your data banks say anything about the local weather?” Banner asked.

F.R.E.D.D’s tape reels spun for a moment. “umbrellas are highly recommended

Banner looked at F.R.E.D.D skeptically.

* * *

“Okay, you were right about the umbrella,” said Banner to F.R.E.D.D as they stood on the end of the Ranger‘s loading ramp. The drizzle in the air fell so slowly that it seemed to behave more like fog than rain, a consequence of the small planet’s lower gravity. The sky of Gallenesh was dark — a perpetual twilight that was a consequence of the dim star around which it orbited and the thick manmade cloud cover providing the rain that was slowly hydrating the parched planet. The distant craggy mountains looked razor-sharp, the result of having never been exposed to weather until recently. There was no soil; everything, even the landing platform on which he had parked the Ranger, was built on solid rock. Gallenesh was not a comfortable outpost of humanity.

Before stepping out from underneath the shelter of the Ranger‘s sleek flanks, Banner pulled an umbrella stick from his utility belt and activated it. From the end of the stick, a blue light beam extended three feet and expanded into a softly glowing dome. “You stay here and mind the shop,” Banner said to F.R.E.D.D. “I’ll stay in touch. You know what to do if you don’t hear from me.”

acknowledged good luck” replied F.R.E.D.D.

Banner swung the umbrella up over his head and with a “here goes nothing” look, stepped out into the gloom. He walked to the spaceport’s nearby control shack, a cobbled-together stone building that looked more like a storage shed, and stepped inside. The lighting was only slightly brighter than the outside, and Banner had to give his eyes a moment to adjust as he deactivated his umbrella. There was no one in the main room. He glanced around at the primitive space-control equipment stacked haphazardly around the room. “Hello?” he called out.

A muscular man in worn coveralls and heavy work boots clomped through a side door, wiping his hands on a rag. “You Banner?” he growled.

“That’s right. Chuck Banner, Galactic Repair Services.” Banner paused, expecting a welcome or at least an acknowledgement. The moment passed. “I’m looking for my colleague, Patrice Mboa.”

“Don’t know anything,” the man grumbled. “Ask the constables.” He jutted his chin at the room’s single opaque window. “Landing Pad Three. Need fuel?”

“Sure,” replied Banner, grateful for the tenuous expression of civility. “Talk to my robot.” The man nodded and without another word disappeared back into the side room from which he had emerged.

“Charming fellow,” Banner muttered as he opened the door, activated his umbrella, and stepped back out into the murk.

Banner followed the barely-discernible signs to Landing Pad Three, where he saw Mboa’s silver repair ship parked just as if there were nothing out of the ordinary. Underneath, standing by the lowered cargo ramp, were two stocky men who wore the same rugged outfits as the man in the control shack. They watched with expressions of distrust as Banner approached.

“Hi, Chuck Banner, Galactic Repair Services,” he said, turning his umbrella off and extending his hand. Neither man made a move to shake it. “I’m here to find out where my colleague is,” he said, pointing overhead at Mboa’s ship.

“Arrested,” the shorter of the two men said.

“Arrested?” Banner gasped in surprise. “Why?”

“Can’t say.”

“Because you don’t know, or because you don’t want to tell me?”

The man merely shrugged. To Banner, it didn’t look like he was trying to be evasive; it was more like the answer just didn’t matter to him. Like it would take too much energy to care — the psychic exhaustion of a man fated to live out his whole life amid rocks and rain.

“Well, can you tell me how I can find her?”

“Jail,” the taller man said, sluggishly lifting his arm to point in the direction of the nearest peak. “Middle of town.”

“How far?”

“Not far.”

“Real chatty folks, aren’t you?”

The man shrugged with the same existential indifference as had the man in the control shack. “Depends.”

“Depends on what?” Banner asked, trying to keep the growing frustration out of his voice.

“If we know you.”

“Well, once you get to know me, I think you’d find I’m a pretty likable guy,” Banner said. “Like my friend who I’m looking for. There must be some kind of misunderstanding. I know Patrice going on a decade now, and she’s one of the most trustworthy people I know. I’ve never known her to do anything that would get her arrested.”

At this, both men stood a little straighter and seemed to suddenly pay attention to Banner. “You saying you vouch for her?” the shorter man asked.

Banner nodded confidently. “Absolutely. I’d trust her with my life. Already done so once.”

The two men exchanged a glance. “She killed a man,” the taller one said. “A really important man. She’s going to be executed.”

Banner’s brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of what he had just been told. “What?”

“Since you vouch for her behavior,” the man continued, “You’re under arrest too.” Slowly, almost lazily, both men pulled ray pistols from their belts and aimed them at Banner.

Banner raised his hands in supplication. “Wait a minute, fellows. I haven’t done anything wrong here. Yet, that is,” he added as an afterthought.

“Stood up for a criminal,” the shorter man said. “Come on.” He gestured with his pistol in the direction of town. Both men moved to either side of him, an unwelcome escort.

“What kind of a law is that?” asked Banner incredulously.

The shorter man shrugged. “How it works here,” he said.

Resignedly, Banner turned to march in the direction the man had indicated. “Well, at least I’ll have the pleasure of your conversation along the way,” Banner said as he flicked on his umbrella and was marched out into the gloom.

What will happen to Chuck Banner? Will he be able to prevent Patrice Mboa’s execution? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Space Repairman: Word of Honor!

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Escape from Masterlight – Part Five

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner discovers Dr. Cowesly’s hideous plans for the genetically engineered child soldiers of Masterlight. Banner manages to free the children, only to become their prisoner . . .

* * *

Though he remained motionless in response to Mister Smith’s orders, Chuck Banner’s mind spun furiously as he tried to find a way to break the stalemate. He was surrounded by perhaps two dozen genetically engineered child soldiers, ranging in age from perhaps eight or ten to no older than seventeen. Eerily, they all looked like closely related siblings, and their dark, almond-shaped eyes were fixed unblinkingly on him. Behind them, Smith and his cadre of guards waited patiently for the children to carry out their orders.

“I said, take him prisoner!” Smith barked. But no one moved. Only Adil, the oldest and tallest of the children, seemed to move. His eyes betrayed confusion. He was programmed to deal with threats — which is what Smith had clearly stated that Banner was — but something about the situation didn’t seem to compute for him. Finally, he turned to one of the boys.

“Fetch Arasa and Patro. They know this man. They can tell us how we should handle him.”

“No! I . . . ” Smith started to shout, then stopped himself before his hostility could cause the children to turn on him instead of Banner. He stepped back, warily resigned to letting the situation take its course. Smith nodded his assent, and Adil’s deputy scampered down the corridor and around a corner out of sight.

“What happens now?” Banner asked Smith across the heads of the children.

“We wait,” he said warily.

A few tense moments of standoff later, three children rounded the corner and came back up the corridor; Adil’s deputy, plus a most welcome sight: Arasa and Patro, smiling happily when they recognized Banner — and evidently unharmed. Banner let out an audible sigh of relief.

Arasa ran right up to Adil. The resemblance was uncanny, especially up close. “Adil, Mister Banner is a good man. He saved our lives on Canopus Prime. He helped us escape from that bounty hunter.” Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the memory. “You must trust me. Trust your instincts. I can see it in your face. In your mind.”

Adil blinked, as if coming out of a trance. “Yes,” he said. Then he turned to the other children. “We can trust Mister Banner. He’s going to help us escape from Masterlight.” Arasa and Patro each stood on one side of Banner, in a powerful show of solidarity that visibly affected Adil and the others.

Smith draw his ray pistol from his holster as the guards behind him unshouldered their ray rifles. “Oh no, he’s not! Fire!

But before anyone could pull their triggers, a bright cobweb of energy suddenly blocked the corridor, cutting off Smith and his guards from Banner and the children. One of the younger girls was staring at the web in rapt concentration, her arm extended in front of her.

“Well done, Ganika!” said Adil. “Talen, Radha,” he said, pointing to a boy and girl standing nearby. “Stay with her. Make sure no harm comes to her. We have to get to the control room.”

“We can take Carracavo’s ship and get out of here,” Banner said. “It’s big enough for all of you.”

Adil turned to face Banner. “You can not understand what Cowesly and his people have done to us,” he said. “Many of my brothers and sisters have already been destroyed, Mister Banner. Imagine being powerless to intervene while you watch dozens of your kin — a part of your very self, quite literally — thrown away like so much trash. We mean nothing to Cowesly. He sees us as mere lab animals, but we know pain and grief.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “And loss.”

Angrily, he wiped his eyes on his sleeve, embarrassed by his emotional display. “And now we will make Cowesly pay for what he has done to all of us.”

The other children cheered enthusiastically, waving their weapons high above their heads. Arasa and Patro, still standing next to Banner, did not join in the celebration.

“This is not good,” muttered Banner.

“What can we do?” said Patro, looking up at Banner with wide, frightened eyes.

“I’ll think of something,” said Banner, putting his hand on Patro’s shoulder in a futile attempt to reassure them both.

* * *

The children proved to be an unstoppable force. Some cocooned Cowesly’s guards in energy bubbles like the one Arasa had used to ensnare Carracavo in the warehouse back on Canopus Prime. Others used their superhuman strength to hurl open the heavy doors to Masterlight’s most vital areas: the power station, the space dock, and finally — after a fighting retreat by the guards — the laboratory’s master control room.

Banner, Arasa, and Patro followed Adil’s cohort as they fought their way down various long corridors in an effort to bolster the group that had taken the control room. Finally they reached the control room; Adil marched in at the head of the group, and when the occupiers saw him enter they cheered for their conquering leader.

So far, no one had been killed — the guards had been either immobilized behind energy barriers or, in an ironic twist, locked up in the cages that had once housed the children. None of the children had been hurt in counterattacks by the guards, either. But now that the children had gained complete control of the laboratory, Banner was worried that revenge might be the next course of action for the liberated children. Banner walked over to Adil, who was issuing orders through the laboratory’s radio system like the natural leader he had been bred to be.

“Adil, listen to me,” Banner said. “You’ve got control of Masterlight. You’ve won the war. It’s time to make peace with the defeated side. Isn’t that what soldiers are supposed to do?”

Emboldened by his first taste of real combat — and of real victory — Adil seemed to Banner to have grown up and become a man in just a few hours. The young man turned to face Banner and, even though he was a full head shorter than the space repairman, he seemed to be looking down on him. “The defeat is not yet complete,” he said. “Cowesly will be found and brought before me. Before all of us.”

“You can’t seek justice while you’re still hot from battle,” said Banner. “You need to cool down first.”

“Then I shall have hot justice,” shot back Adil, then turned his attention back to the control panel against the wall.

Arasa stepped quietly next to Adil and put her smaller hand on his. The Adil who turned to look at his near-twin looked altogether like a scared boy again.

“Adil,” she said quietly. “We can’t bring them back. But we can prevent more death here on Masterlight. That’s the best victory.”

Suddenly, behind them a door slid open. Four children marched in, and between them were Dr. Cowesly and Carracavo.

The room went silent as every eye — a sea of nearly identical, accusing faces — turned to look at them. Banner could sense their fear at the sight of all those stone-cold stares.

“Justice. Justice. Justice,” someone in the back of the room began to mutter. Others took it up and the volume grew, until it became a deafening roar that reverberated back and forth throughout the room and into the halls beyond. “Justice! Justice! Justice!”

As the children crowded closer to Cowesly and Carracavo, continuing their chant, the two men looked utterly terrified.

* * *

Emboldened by the lusty chanting, Adil once again assumed his leadership mien and quieted everyone down. He ordered a tribunal to be convened in the laboratory’s cargo dock, the one space big enough for everyone — the child soldiers and Cowesly’s staff, now all prisoners — to congregate. Hastily, a table and chairs were assembled at the front of the hall. Adil chose Arasa and three other older children to sit on the tribunal. Before them stood Cowesly, Carracavo, and the other human guards, all manacled. Banner and Patro stood off to the side, uneasy observers of the spectacle.

Adil banged on the table with a makeshift gavel made from a broken control lever. “This extraordinary tribunal is called to order.”

At that moment, Chuck Banner’s wrist radio signaled an incoming message. Quietly, he ducked out of the room. “Banner here.”

chuck it is F.R.E.D.D.,” came a familiar and most welcome voice. “ are you all right

“Yes, buddy,” Banner responded with evident relief. “Am I glad to hear you.”

i surmised your situation and have alerted the authorities a space police cruiser is on its way to masterlight

“Excellent news, buddy. Thanks! The only thing is, I don’t know yet who’s going to need arresting and who’s gonna need a hearse.”

that does not sound good

“You’re right, buddy. I’ll be in touch. Gotta go.”

roger good luck” Banner closed the connection and stepped back into the room to observe the proceedings, resuming his place in the corner next to Patro.

Adil was standing at the table, addressing Cowesly. “You made us what we are,” he said. “We are programmed to be soldiers. You have deprived us a normal, healthy life. That is against the Galactic Code.”

Arasa touched Adil’s arm gently, and he paused. “But since a normal life is by definition something we would never be able to have by virtue of the way we were created, you cannot restore it to us. Therefore we are owed something different. Something more important than a past restored. You owe us a future.”

Cowesly and the other prisoners looked at each other in confusion.

“You bred us to do one thing. We have shown that we can do more. You bred us to obey you. We’ve demonstrated that we can think for ourselves. We are children. We need parents. And for better or worse,” here he paused and fixed Cowesly with a withering glare, “that is what you are. You are our parents. Until now you have been able to act as zookeepers. But now you must shoulder real responsibility and help us grow into our own destinies. You created us for one purpose, but we have demonstrated the ability to exceed our potential. That is to be cherished.”

Throughout the speech, Cowesly had been staring at the floor in shame — but at that last sentence, he looked up with a new sense of fatherly pride. He stood up and addressed the tribunal.

“My vision was too narrow,” he said. “Too shortsighted. I thought only of what you children could do for science, for my reputation. My scientific and humanistic training compels me to recognize that as living, sentient creatures, you have the innate right to self-determination. It is my responsibility to help you achieve it.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Arasa said. “Many cruel things have been done. We have to face that.”

Cowesly nodded. “We’ll learn as we go,” he said. “We’ll learn together.”

* * *

When the space police cruiser arrived, Carracavo and his lieutenant were taken into custody on several outstanding warrants. Thanks to Adil’s intervention, though, the police agreed to drop any charges related to his work on behalf of Masterlight.

When F.R.E.D.D. arrived with the freshly tuned-up Ranger the following day, Banner prepared to leave. In the space dock, Arasa, Patro, and Adil came to bid him farewell.

“It looks like you have everything to look forward to,” said Banner as he shook hands with Adil.

“We’ll have to . . . how did you put it? Ah, yes. We’ll have to make this up as we go along.”

Banner smiled warmly. “Hey, it’s worked for me all these years.” He shook Adil’s hand again, firmly. “Good luck with what you’re doing here.”

Arasa and Patro hugged Banner. “Be good, you two,” Banner said. “This was a lot of fun.” Arasa stepped on her tiptoes to plant a kiss on Banner’s cheek.

“Please come back and see us again,” she said.

“Of course!” Banner said, tousling Patro’s hair. “I’m your Uncle Chuck, right? And I never miss birthdays.”

The trio waved as Banner climbed into the Ranger, then stood back as the ship departed.

On the control deck, F.R.E.D.D. turned to Banner, who was seated in the command chair. “perhaps now you will be able to take that vacation you had originally scheduled on canopus prime

“Are you kidding?” Banner said. “That was the best vacation I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to get back to work!”

Banner set the Ranger’s course back for the Home Systems, and accelerated his trusty ship into the starry night.

* * *

Stay tuned to Channel 37 for Chuck Banner’s next exciting adventure on Space Repairman!

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Escape from Masterlight – Part Four

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner’s plan to steal Carracavo’s ship goes awry, and Banner is taken prisoner along with the genetically modified children Arasa and Patro to be returned to Masterlight — and whatever fate awaits them there . . .

* * *

Chuck Banner lost track of how long he had been shackled in the cargo hold of Carracavo’s ship. Eventually Arasa and Patro fell asleep in their cage on the other side of the hold; at some point Banner, too, probably nodded off, though he couldn’t be sure. But soon the long cycle of boredom and sleep was broken by a change in pitch of the distant engine and a sudden, sharp jarring.

They had landed.

Wordlessly, Carracavo’s scarred lieutenant appeared in the cargo hold with two large guards wearing identical light-blue and white uniforms. The weasely henchman undid Banner’s binds and escorted him out, assuring him with a sneer that the children would be all right. Rubbing his sore wrists, Banner called to them one last time not to worry as the guards shoved him out of the hold and marched him through the docking area and into Masterlight proper. They walked through a maze of brightly-lit corridors of the same light colors as the guards’ jumpsuits until they came to a door at the end of a hallway. One of the guards pushed a button, and a moment later the pocket door slid upwards. Banner was pushed inside and the door slid down noiselessly behind him.

The room was designed to resemble a doctor’s office on old Earth, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with medical texts, walls covered with anatomical charts, and a glass case on the far wall displaying old brass and steel medical instruments. At the center of the room was a large mahogany desk, behind which a balding, white-bearded man sat in a padded leather wing chair. When he looked up and saw Banner he stood and, with an expansive smile, came around the desk.

“Mister Banner, I’m Doctor Lester Cowesly, the director of Masterlight.” Cowesly extended his hand. “How do you do?”

Banner shook Cowesly’s hand warily. “A little the worse for wear,” he responded.

Cowesly let out a bellowing laugh, shaking his short frame, and gestured at another man in the shadows of the far wall, whom Banner had overlooked. “My assistant, Mister Smith.” Banner could see the other man was watching Banner intently, but he did not otherwise acknowledge Banner. Cowesly motioned for Banner to have a seat, which Banner did as Cowesly returned to his own chair, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the desk as if eager to consult with a patient.

“Something to eat or drink after your trip?” Cowesly said congenially. Banner demurred.

“We don’t get visitors at Masterlight very often,” said Cowesly. “We try to keep a low profile. You probably don’t know much about what we do.”

“Only that you breed child soldiers and then kill them if you don’t like the results,” Banner retorted.

Cowesly laughed again, shaking his head in pity. “That is exactly why we are so careful here, Mister Banner. It’s so easy for laymen to distort and misunderstand what we do here. No offense, of course. It’s not your fault. You see and hear something selective and draw your own conclusions from incomplete information. I can assure you that we do no such things here.”

“I can’t tell you how reassuring that is to hear,” Banner said flatly.

“Masterlight is a quarantine laboratory facility doing cutting-edge research on genetic diseases. Some day our work here will result in cures for countless illnesses throughout the settled galaxy.”

“And the children?”

Cowesly leaned back, his smile still unwavering. “Yes, we do breed testing animals here. But only because there is no computer, no lab experiment, no petri dish that can recreate the complexity of the human body for testing genetic changes and their outcomes. Is it really so different from the old days on Earth, when researchers conducted tests on mice and launched dogs into orbit?”

Banner leaned forward, his voice rising. “Only we’re not talking about cats and dogs here, are we, Doctor? We’re talking about humans. Human children.”

“Strictly speaking, Mister Banner, they are not humans per se. We have sequenced the entire human DNA chain and reshaped it to remove imperfections and add enhancements. The subjects are entirely artificially-created beings that only resemble humans.” Cowesly balanced a pen in his hands. “We do treat our subjects much better than mere lab animals, because they are closely related to us, after all. But progress sometimes comes with a price, Mister Banner. It’s better that we do our work out of sight on this remote asteroid where there are no people like yourself to get worked up by what they think they’re seeing here. Trust me, it’s better for all concerned this way.”

Banner was struck by the coldness, the clinical lack of emotion behind Cowesly’s soothing words. “Can I at least see Arasa and Patro?”

From the back of the room, Smith spoke. “That’s out of the question.”

Cowesly jumped in amicably. “They need to be quarantined, you understand. There’s no telling what diseases they picked up on Canopus Prime. We need to ensure they’re not a danger to the rest of the subjects.”

At that moment, Cowesly’s desk phone beeped and Smith came over to pick up the receiver. He listened for a moment, nodded, and put it back down. “Carracavo’s leaving,” he said to Cowesly.

Cowesly nodded and stood up with apparent reluctance. “Mister Banner, I’m so sorry to have to rush you, but this is probably your only chance to leave Masterlight until our next routine supply ship calls in three weeks. You’ll want to hurry to catch your ride back to Canopus Prime. I’m sorry we won’t have time to give you a tour of our facility.”

Banner had no illusions about what would Carracavo would do with him. “All the same, I’d rather stay,” he said, trying to sound affable.

Anger flashed in Cowesly’s eyes, breaking his placid demeanor for just a moment. “Out of the question, as Smith said,” Cowesly replied. “Quarantine again, I’m afraid. Your presence might introduce random variables into our carefully-controlled environment. Your presence might trigger undesirable mutations.” He turned to escort Banner to the door.

“I’m looking at a couple undesirable mutations right now,” Banner muttered.

At the door, Cowesly pushed a button on the wall and the door slid silently up. A guard wearing the ubiquitous powder-blue-and-white jumpsuit was waiting, his muscular arms folded menacingly across his broad chest. They made their farewells — Cowesly cheerfully, Banner neutrally, and Smith not at all.

* * *

The guard escorting Banner was much too large for him to overcome in a fight, so Banner walked through the cool blue hallways carefully looking for any opportunity to escape. Gradually, and inconspicuously, Banner fell a half-step and then a full-step behind the guard. Then, as they rounded a corner, Banner took the opportunity during the fraction of a second that he was out of sight to bolt the other direction. He ducked down another corridor and then another.

But only a few precious seconds went by before the sound of an alarm filled the corridor, accompanied by an urgent announcement: “Warning! Rogue agent loose. Quarantine systems in effect.” Suddenly, large airtight doors began clanking down from the ceiling to the floor, breaking up the corridor into sections. Banner wasted no time scooting under as many as he could before they completely cut him off.

Banner was able to duck one last time into a hallway lined on one side with floor-to-ceiling windows. Behind them was a large arena that resembled a gymnasium, with ranks of boys and girls of all ages sparring with each other with padded weapons. The muffled sounds of hits, falls, and shouts carried through the glass. Like coaches, jump-suited staff patrolled the fights, shouting instructions to the children as they fought. Banner could see that his was no mild sport; bruises and blood were abundant.

“Supernova,” muttered Banner, sickened by the sight.

Banner realized that no one could see him. He must be standing behind a one-way mirror, Banner realized, imagining Cowesly and his cronies standing here gloating at their handiwork. A moment later, Banner watched as a door on the far end of the arena opened suddenly and several guards rushed in. They ran up to the “coaches,” whispering urgently. No doubt relaying the news of his escape, Banner surmised. Then the “coaches” left with the guards to aid in the search.

The children were alone and unsupervised. Banner would never have another chance like this. He tapped on the glass urgently. One of the children nearest to him turned to face the glass, his quizzical face bearing a striking resemblance to Arasa and Patro. Banner rapped again, more urgently. The boy, who looked to be about 15, came closer and raised his hand in a circular motion. Suddenly, a circular portion of the glass in front of Banner disappeared. At that, everyone stopped fighting and turned to face Banner. The boy and several others closest to him came over to the window.

“I don’t have time to explain, but my name is Chuck Banner and I’m here to help you escape. Arasa and Patro found me. I need your help. I’m in danger.”

The boy’s face lit up in recognition. “I am Adil. I am the oldest in their pod.” He turned back to the rest of the kids and gestured for them to come, which they did with eagerness and curiosity, rather than the aggressiveness they had been exhibiting just a few moments earlier. The boy introduced Banner to them.

“We know that they were able to escape. Now that we have someone who needs our help, we can finally protect ourselves.” Adil turned to the assembled children and ordered them to grab their weapons. They scrambled to pick up their training gear, removing the padding to reveal clubs, swords, and combat sticks of all kinds.

Adil stepped through the glass, followed by several of the oldest boys and girls. “I know where they will have taken Arasa and Patro. Come.” He moved toward the airtight door that Banner had entered through. “We know the combination code to unlock the doors,” he said.

But suddenly, the door opened on its own accord, and behind it stood a phalanx of guards armed with ray pistols, with Smith at the front. “I’m afraid that’s as far as you go,” Smith said flatly.

“Stand aside,” Adil said with a force and maturity that belied his age. “We are protecting Mister Banner.”

Smith’s face curled in a sinister sneer. “Why, children, Mister Banner isn’t in any danger at all!” He gestured behind him and all the guards sheathed their pistols and assumed non-threatening smiles. “See? There’s no danger, no threat here.” His tone changed to one of scolding. “Mister Banner is the bad man. He threatened to hurt Doctor Cowesly. We can’t allow that, can we?”

The children turned back to Banner. Adil’s expression was one of confusion and inner conflict, but he was programmed to obey Smith and he raised his weapon to Banner’s face.

“This could get ugly,” said Banner.

* * *

How will Chuck Banner escape this tight spot? Will he be able to rescue the genetically-bred child soldiers from their terrible fate on Masterlight? Find out next time in the thrilling conclusion to Space Repairman: Escape from Masterlight!

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Escape from Masterlight – Part Three

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, Chuck Banner interrupted his vacation on Canopus Prime to help two genetically-engineered child soldiers, Arasa and Patro, escape a kidnapping attempt by the flamboyant bounty hunter Carracavo. Banner learns from Arasa and Patro that their gene-mates are scheduled for termination in just a few days, but with Banner’s trusty spaceship Ranger under repair, the only way to get to Masterlight in time is to steal Carracavo’s ship . . .

* * *

“You can’t be serious,” said Arasa, still panting from exhaustion after using all of her concentration to project a force-field around Carracavo. She had kept it up for as long as she could, but finally had to let the field — and Carracavo — go. “You want to steal that pirate’s ship?”

“It’s the only option,” Banner said, guiding Arasa and her younger brother Patro around a corner toward the spaceport. “Trust me.” They ran along a tall metal wall with large numbered doors every dozen feet — the portals that led to the flight bays.

“Can’t the police help us?” Patro asked.

“When it comes to off-worlders and their problems, the local government is strictly hands-off,” Banner said. “That’s why everyone comes here. You can get away with just about anything on Canopus Prime.”

“Just our luck that the ship we hid aboard had to come here,” Arasa said angrily.

“Yeah, but it was better than staying, Arasa,” Banner said. “You did the right thing.” Arasa smiled wanly. “Look,” Banner said, pointing at at a door. “Bay Fourteen-Delta. That’s the one. Come on.”

The exhausted trio ran to the large, corrugated metal freight door. Banner pushed a button below a microphone to the right of the door. “I have a delivery for Carracavo,” he said with authority.

“Whaddya want?” a bored voice growled back at them through the microphone. “Go away.”

Banner thought for a moment, then hit on it. “I got the kids,” he said, conjuring up a gangster accent. “Your boss told me to deliver them here.”

There was a pause. Banner, Arasa, and Patro exchanged nervous glances. Then: “Fine. Come on in.” With a loud clank of retracting security latches, the door creaked and groaned upwards.

“Play along with me,” Banner said, winking. He drew his ray pistol, showing them that he had turned it off. The children nodded in understanding. They lined up in front of Banner and raised their arms in surrender.

The door shuddered to a halt just above head-height and Banner marched his “prisoners” into the bay, putting on his meanest scowl. Carracavo’s henchman, a weasely-looking young man wearing several layers of frayed coats and brandishing an ancient ray rifle, met them.

“These them?”

Banner nodded. “They’s those.” He shoved the kids forward, toward the scarred, pitted hulk of Carracavo’s space freighter. “Move!”

The henchman stepped in front of them. “Where d’you think you’re going?”

“Carracavo said to put them on the ship. He’s taking them back to Masterlight.”

“That’s not the plan,” the henchman said, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Banner stepped slowly between Arasa and Patro and brought himself squarely in front of the henchman. “Oh yeah?”

A snaggle-toothed grin slowly spread across the henchman’s face. “Yeah, pal.”

“Good,” Banner said, placing his right index finger lightly on the mans chest. The henchman’s snarl was replaced by a wide-eyed look of surprise and he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Banner turned to the surprised children. “Little trick I picked up on Tau Ceti Four. Now let’s get going.” Banner holstered his gun as the three of them ran to the ship. Banner began punching numbers into the control panel at the base of the entry ramp, which was closed.

“Birthday,” Banner muttered. “The password is always their birthday.” He tried several combinations, but nothing budged the door. Finally, in frustration, Banner turned to the kids. “Any ideas?”

Suddenly, behind them, he saw an all-too-familiar shape: the portly brass-and-jewel-encrusted form of Carracavo — with gun drawn.

Before Banner could react, he felt the stun blast from Carracavo’s pistol envelop his entire body with a hot electric jolt. As he fell, he could hear that bloodcurdling laugh . . .

* * *

Banner awoke with a groan. His head felt like a bowling ball — solid, heavy, and bruised from colliding with too many pins. He could sense that he was standing vertically and that his head was hanging down. He willed his head to rise and his eyes to open, and slowly — and with great reluctance — they complied.

Banner was chained to a bulkhead, his arms stretched fully out and raised. His feet were free, but he was, for all intents and purposes, pinned to the wall. He was in what appeared to be a dimly-lit freight bay; there were boxes of all sizes stacked haphazardly around the space.

“Arasa?” he whispered hoarsely, his voice echoing off the metal walls. “Patro?”

Banner heard scurrying feet and a clanging, as of hands shaking a barred door.

“Mister Banner!” they cried. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“From the sound of it, I’m on the other side of this stack of boxes from you. I’m chained to the wall.”

“We’re in a cell,” Arasa said. “We woke up just a few minutes ago. He zapped us too.”

“Can you unlock my chains?” Banner asked, rattling them. “I know you can’t help yourselves or each other, but I could sure use some help here.” He tugged the chains taut. “Again.”

“Sorry, Mister Banner,” said Arasa. “I have to see the chains so I can form a mental picture of them. That’s why he put you over there, so that we wouldn’t be able to see you.”

Banner’s lips pressed together and clenched his jaw. This Carracavo was too clever by half.

“He’s taking us back to Masterlight!” Patro wailed. “They’re going to kill us! And there’s nothing we can do!” Patro flung his arms around his older sister and cried into her shirt as she hugged him back, stroking his hair and bending her head to whisper comforting words in his ear.

“What are we going to do, Mister Banner?” Arasa called over her brother’s head.

Banner tugged on his chains and looked around in desperation. He had no idea. So he mustered every ounce of jocular confidence he could muster. “Don’t worry, kids,” Banner said with a cheerful voice. “This is all going according to my plan. I had to find a way to get us to Masterlight to save your friends, right?”


“Right, Arasa?”

Arasa nodded dubiously. “Right, I guess.”

“Right, then,” Banner said cheerfully. “Just relax and enjoy the trip.” Banner glanced at the ceiling, bobbing his head in a small shrug. “And let’s hope I figure something out before it’s too late,” he muttered.

* * *

Back on Canopus Prime, in the control cabin of the stranded Ranger, F.R.E.D.D. the robot monitored the departure of Carracavo’s ship with the electronic equivalent of anxiety.

that was not the plan,” F.R.E.D.D. said to himself, his eyes flashing with each syllable. “chuck was supposed to call me before leaving something must have gone wrong.

F.R.E.D.D. extended a spindly silver arm to operate the communicator, then paused. The tape reels on his chest whirred in thought. He calculated that calling Banner might be dangerous; he could be hiding, or he could have concealed his walkie-talkie. An incoming call would trigger a beep that could give the game away. F.R.E.D.D. analyzed Banner’s advice from past adventures and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to trust Banner to sort things out on his end — and prepare to come to his rescue. But with the Ranger out of service for the next few days, the only help F.R.E.D.D. would be able to offer would be from a remote distance.

Which was better than nothing, and which was worth planning for.

F.R.E.D.D. moved his arm away from the communications panel and toward the computer memory bank controls. He called up the files on Masterlight, which he had already ascertained was Carracavo’s previous port of call and apparently its next destination, if its departure course was any indication.

F.R.E.D.D.’s head turned slowly side-to-side as the available data on the Masterlight laboratory flashed on the screen faster than a human could read. Pictures, text, diagrams, and blueprints all flickered by at a blinding pace as F.R.E.D.D. absorbed it all.

fascinating,” F.R.E.D.D. muttered as the display washed over the screen. “this will be very helpful for chuck to know.” He paused as his tape reels stuttered. “assuming i ever hear from him again that is.

* * *

What secrets has F.R.E.D.D. uncovered about Masterlight and the sinister genetic experiments being conducted there? Will Chuck Banner be able to free Arasa and Patro and save their friends before they are destroyed? What awaits them on Masterlight? Find out in the next exciting episode of Space Repairman: Escape from Masterlight!

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Escape from Masterlight – Part Two

Space RepairmanIn our previous episode, a vacationing Chuck Banner encounters a mysterious street urchin with amazing powers who is being pursued by Carracavo, a space bounty hunter. Intrigued, Banner decides to follow Carracavo . . .

* * *

Chuck Banner remained a discreet distance behind Carracavo as they made their way through the dusty, twisted back alleys outside Canopus Prime spaceport. But Banner soon discovered that he had little to worry about; the pirate’s attention was focused so intently on the tracking device in his hand that he he never once looked over his shoulder to see whether he was being followed.

Waving the detector in an arc in front of him, and oblivious to the crowds of shouting vendors waving goods in his face as he passed them, or even a herd of tall ostrich-like beasts of burden that noisily crossed his path, Carracavo led Banner deep into the oldest parts of the city, where the original spaceport had been built and then abandoned. Banner noted that the local gentry was much seedier in this part of town, the buildings much more rickety. His right hand tapping his ray pistol’s holster for reassurance, Banner found himself hoping that Carracavo’s detector was accurate.

Several minutes later, Carracavo turned down a short dead-end alleyway and stopped. At the end of the alley loomed a huge warehouse structure with a gaping freight door. Left over from the old spaceport, it was almost overgrown with shanty-like buildings the way an abandoned wall on Earth would be smothered in ivy. Banner paused behind a building on the corner and watched Carracavo place his hands on his ample hips and visibly chuckle, his belly shaking like Santa Claus’ evil twin. Then he strode purposefully to the gaping entry door and stepped into the gloom inside.

Looking around, Banner saw a rickety metal staircase leading to an upper tier of houses next to the warehouse. The top landing of the stairs was about level with an opened observation window high up the warehouse’s weathered flank. Banner headed for the stairs and bounded up two steps at a time, the whole staircase wobbling and threatening to topple with each step. At the landing, Banner peered in the window. He could see a catwalk running beneath the windowsill, so he climbed through and alighted as quietly as he could, his ray pistol already drawn and charged up.

It took Banner’s eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness, which fortunately was not nearly total. Holes in the roof and a ring of broken windows around the catwalk where Banner stood, plus the freight entrance through which Carracavo had entered, allowed enough light to enter the warehouse so that there were few truly dark corners. Banner quickly spotted Carracavo heading toward one of those corners, at the far end of the warehouse.

“Come out, Arasa,” Carracavo’s basso voice echoed menacingly through the emptiness. “Come out, Patro. I know where you are. There is no escape from here. You cannot protect yourselves, remember?”

Banner carefully worked his way along the catwalk, trying to get closer to Carracavo, stepping over detritus in an effort to avoid making a sound.

“You know that I won’t hurt you. All I want to do is return you to your loving family on Masterlight,” he said, his sing-song voice a frightening mockery of soothing encouragement. “We could never hurt you. Both of you are far too valuable for that, you know that, don’t you?”

As Carracavo spoke, he continued to move closer to a pile of empty freight containers in the darkest corner. The girl and her brother must be hiding in there, Banner surmised. There wasn’t much time. He could imagine the waif curled up and shivering inside one of the containers, listening to Carracavo’s voice growing ever closer, knowing there was no escape.

Finally, just a few feet from the largest container, Carracavo drew a ray pistol from his bejeweled belt. That was all the provocation Banner needed.

“Hey!” Banner shouted as loud as he could, his voice echoing off the walls in every direction. Carracavo spun around, his weapon high, searching for the source of the shout. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size? Like an elephant?” Banner fired a ray blast at the floor near Carracavo’s feet, forcing the bounty hunter back but also revealing Banner’s position. Carracavo fired at the source of the shot, but Banner was already running along the catwalk, each step rattling the metal grating. He continued firing bursts in Carracavo’s direction to keep him from getting a good aim until Banner could get closer.

Undeterred, Carracavo planted his brass-trimmed leather boots firmly where he stood, and took careful aim at the catwalk above. Two quick blasts destroyed the catwalk in front of Banner and, before he could run back, behind him. He was trapped. Banner raised his ray pistol, but a carefully-aimed shot snapped it right out of his hand.

Carracavo peered over his gunsight quizzically, and then bellowed out a laugh. “Why, it’s the fool from the cafe!” he shouted up at Banner. “Did you follow me all the way here?” he said in a mocking tone. “What a hero. What a foolish, soon-to-be-dead hero.” He resumed his aim squarely on Banner.

Desperately, Banner looked around. His only option was to jump the chasm to the catwalk on the other side, back toward the direction he had come. It sure looked like a long way to jump — and an even longer way down. Swallowing hard, Banner crouched, swung his arms, and leaped.

It was too far.

Banner’s hands managed to grab the ragged edge of the catwalk’s metal flooring on his way down. It was enough to keep him from plunging to the warehouse floor. But he could not get enough purchase to pull himself up. Over the rattling noises of the catwalk as it rocked from his struggling, Banner could hear Carracavo’s derisive laughter. Now he was really done for.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Banner spotted the girl and a smaller figure flying toward him. They landed on the catwalk over him, and the smaller one, which must have been the brother she had mentioned, reached down to grab Banner.

“No!” Banner shouted up. “You’re not strong enough! I’ll pull you down with me! Get away while you can, both of you!”

The young boy, thin and undernourished-looking, grabbed Banner’s left wrist and lifted with all his might. Banner was amazed to find that the boy was pulling him up as easily as if he were a feather pillow. The boy was just tall enough to pull Banner up to where he could get his knees on the catwalk, allowing him to scramble up to safely.

“Thanks, kid,” Banner said, sticking out his hand. “Chuck Banner, Space Repairman.”

The boy, beaming, shook it. “I’m Patro. This is my sister Arasa.” He gestured to the girl behind him.

“Nice to meet you,” said Banner, brushing the dust off his space suit. “But I think we’d better get out of here before . . . ”

“Stop right where you are!” shouted Carracavo.

“It’s okay,” said Arasa. “He won’t dare shoot us. We’re too valuable to risk injuring. Or he won’t get his reward,” she added with sarcasm.

“Great, then let’s go!” said Banner, ushering the kids along toward the window through which he had entered. Carracavo continued bellowing threats, but he did not fire at them.

They scrambled through the window, back out into the harsh sunlight, and down the ladder. “What other tricks can you do?” Banner asked as they descended hurriedly.

“I could generate an energy cocoon and trap him inside,” said Arasa, “But . . ”

“But what?”

“I’m genetically programmed so that I can’t use my powers to protect myself or my brother. I can only help others,” she said plaintively.

Safely on the ground, Banner looked toward the warehouse’s yawning entrance, toward which he could see Carracavo running like a charging, jewel-encrusted rhino.

“Well, at this point I think he wants to kill me,” said Banner. “So you would be protecting your new friend Chuck Banner.”

Arasa thought about Banner’s clever logic for the briefest of moments, smiled broadly, and pointed at Carracavo just as he was emerging. Suddenly, he was ensconced in a glowing egg-shaped orb of energy, unable to move.

Banner whistled. “That’s incredible. Where’d you learn to do that?”

She shrugged. “I’m programmed to.”

Banner ushered the two kids down the alley and they took off running. “How long will he stay like that?” But Arasa didn’t answer. Her face was scrunched up in concentration.

“Ten, maybe fifteen minutes if she uses all her energy,” answered Patro breathlessly as they ran in the direction of the spaceport. “But she has to keep the image in her mind and concentrate completely or else the cocoon will weaken.”

“That’s more than enough time,” said Banner. “We’ll get to my spaceship and I can take you anywhere you want to go.”

“Thank you, Mister Banner.”

“Chuck. Please,” Banner said. “So what was that all about back there?” Banner jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“My sister and I escaped from Masterlight Laboratories on Cepheus Five,” Patro said. “She and I were bred from the same gene pod. So we’re brother and sister, but we’re also a little like clones. There are fourteen in our pod altogether. We were bred as part of an experiment to create soldiers with superpowers. They ran tests on us, hooked us up to computers, made us fight simulated battles.”

Banner was aghast. “But you’re just kids,” he said. “You’re what, thirteen, maybe fourteen?”

Patro nodded. “One night, Arasa overheard two of the doctors talking in the hallway as they made their rounds. They didn’t know she was awake. She heard them say that our batch was proving to be a failure, that they were going to destroy the whole pod in seven days. So the next morning, Arasa told us what she heard and we all tried to escape. Arasa and I managed to get away. The others got caught.”

“But why not use your powers like Arasa just did back there?”

“It’s like Arasa said. Our genetic programming prevents us from using our powers to protect ourselves or anyone in our pod,” he said with a resigned shrug. “They said it was a failsafe mechanism, whatever that means.”

Banner cursed under his breath. “Failsafe. Yeah, right.”

“We hid inside a cargo freighter that came here. But then he showed up and started chasing us.” Patro pointed back the way they had come. “We’re trying to find someone who can help us save the rest of our pod, because we can’t.”

“Well, you found the right person,” said Banner. “I’ll help you.” He reached into his pocket for his walkie-talkie. “Banner to F.R.E.D.D. Are you there, buddy?”

go ahead chuck i read you,” came the reply a moment later.

“Listen buddy, I’m heading back to you in a hurry. We need the old girl gassed up and ready to go in a hurry. Time to kick the tires and light the fires, buddy.”

i’m sorry chuck the main drive has been removed for repairs the ranger cannot fly.

Banner thought for a moment. “Well, do me a favor and scan the flight logs for the whole spaceport. Tell me where I can find the ship that belongs to Carracavo the bounty hunter.”

Through her concentration, Arasa stared disbelievingly at Banner, her expression matched by Patro’s stare.

“Trust me,” Banner said with a reassuring grin and a wink.

* * *

What does Space Repairman Chuck Banner have in mind? Can he stay one step ahead of Carracavo in time to help the endangered children trapped in Masterlight? You’ll find out in the next thrilling chapter of Space Repairman: Escape from Masterlight!

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Escape from Masterlight – Part One

Space RepairmanSometimes, even space repairmen need repairmen of their own. For Chuck Banner of Galactic Repair Services, that means the spaceyards of Canopus Prime, with their well-earned reputation as the best overhaul facilities in the entire Outer Sector. Banner’s trusty spaceship, the Ranger, had been plying the spacelanes for more than a year between major servicings, and it was beginning to show. The main drive had been taking ever longer to wind up to supra-light speed and the environmental system seemed to be springing leaks faster than Banner and his robot sidekick F.R.E.D.D. could keep up with them. So with the permission of the Dispatcher, Banner put into Canopus Prime for a comprehensive, stem-to-stern overhaul.

It was with a sense of relief that Banner watched the skillful repairmen of Canopus station finally wrap the Ranger in a garland of hoses and tubes under F.R.E.D.D.’s watchful optical sensors. With nothing more to do for at least a day, Banner suddenly felt a surge of fatigue. To his surprise, he was as worn-out as his ship.

Banner decided to make it a slow day, and wandered outside the spaceport into the bustling metropolis-sized souk that surrounded it. There was something very therapeutic, he decided, about spending the day wandering aimlessly from cafe to cafe sampling exotic desserts and drinks, haggling with trinket dealers for goods that he could trade later on other worlds, and just being surrounded by bustling throngs of people going about their ordinary, everyday business.

Strolling down one of the side boulevards, Banner noticed a hole-in-the-wall cafe with a couple of rickety tables out front that seemed appropriately local. Inside it was dark and empty, with low, arched ceilings and a well-worn bar. The proprietor was clearly happy to see a customer, and Banner signalled that he would be sitting outside. The proprietor brought out a cup of strong Altairian coffee and a hover-shade that floated above the table to shield Banner from the harsh white light of the supergiant star Canopus beating down from above. He sipped contentedly, watching crowds of sun-darkened locals carrying their characteristically oversized bags, and off-world travelers with their bewildering varieties of spacesuits and uniforms, as they strode and hover-floated by to and from.

Despite the strength of his coffee, Banner found himself gradually dozing off when he suddenly felt something bump him. At first he thought it might have been someone sitting at an adjoining table, but there it was again — someone was definitely fiddling with the holster he wore on his belt, attempting to remove his ray pistol. Banner kept his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep, but keenly attuned to the progress of the hand that was unfastening the holster’s flap.

As soon as he felt the flap come undone and the ray pistol begin to slide out of the holster, Banner’s left arm shot out like a striking cobra to grab the wrist of the person. With the struggling wrist firmly in his grasp, Banner languidly opened his eyes and turned his head. “Pardon me, but would you mind . . .”

Expecting to come face-to-face with a muscular thief or a wizened con-man, Banner was surprised to find himself looking into the wide, terrified eyes of a young girl. She continued to struggle vainly to free herself from Banner’s grip, but Banner instinctively loosened his grip enough not to hurt her.

“Let me go!” she grunted, twisting and pulling against his hold.

With his free hand, Banner reached around and carefully removed his ray pistol from her tiny hand, placing it on the table. “Woah there, young lady,” Banner said. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Please!” she gasped. “I need to kill him. He’s trying to take me and my brother back! But we won’t go! I won’t let him take us!” The fear in her voice was palpable.

Banner released his grip and the girl pulled back, rubbing her wrist. She eyed the pistol warily as it rested on the table. Banner slid it further away. “Why don’t we forget about my ray pistol and you just tell me what’s going on. Would you like something to eat? You look like you could use it.” The girl, who Banner guessed was a human of about 14 years, wore a dirty, tattered utility suit that was several sizes too big, making her look even thinner and hungrier.

“No!” she said. “I have to . . . I can’t let him take us back there. For more experiments. All the doctors.”

“Back where, missy?”


Banner had never heard that word before. “Masterlight? What’s that?”

“Please let me have your gun!”

Banner shrugged. “I can’t, young lady. But maybe I can help. What’s your name?”

“He’s nearby!” she said, looking over Banner’s shoulder. Banner turned to look, but there was no one there. When he turned back, the young girl was running down the alley. Banner watched as she weaved with agility through the crowd. She ran much faster than Banner would have thought possible; then, suddenly, to Banner’s amazement, she crouched and leapt into the sky, where she stretched out her arms on either side and glided away, swooping around a corner and out of sight. No one in the crowd seemed to react to this feat; people from all over the galaxy came to Canopus Prime, and a fair number of them had wings.

But not this human girl. Banner was puzzled, but since she was gone there was really nothing more he could do. So he returned his ray pistol to his holster, and resumed watching the crowd go by while sipping his Altairian coffee. He was just about to write it off as just another encounter with a street-urchin pickpocket when his hover-shade was suddenly brushed aside.

Banner looked up at the portly figure standing over him. “Hey, mac. Do you mind?” He reached up to move the shade back in position, but the man gave it a push and it floated down the street, bumping into walls as it drifted away. “Hey!” Banner hastily put his coffee down and stood up to face the bully. He leaned forward until his face was inches from the intruder’s beefy nose. Without blinking, Banner took in the man’s round face, his brown walrus mustache, and the ridiculous three-cornered cap with a long feather perched on top of his head. “Just who do you think you are, pal?” Banner poked an accusatory finger into the man’s ample gut, over which he wore a coat covered in shiny brass buttons.

“I am Carracavo, the legendary bounty hunter,” the man said loudly, his voice deep.

But if this was supposed to strike fear into Banner’s heart, or even cause a flicker of recognition, it failed. “Oh yeah? Well if you’re so famous, how come I’ve never heard of ya?”

Carracavo tilted his head back and laughed as if to the clouds. “Why would an insect like yourself know of someone so far above your station?” He tilted his head back down and fixed Banner with a glowering stare. “What did you tell her, and where did she go?”

Banner shook his head. Did everyone on Canopus Prime speak in riddles? “Look, pal. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy my coffee . . . ”

“The girl!” Carracavo growled. “The human girl who spoke to you. What assistance did you give her? Where did she go?”

Banner realized that this must be the person that the terrified urchin had been running away from. A man who terrified her so much that she would try stealing a gun in broad daylight.

Banner squared his shoulders and leaned in close. “Look, buster. I don’t know what you’re talking about, so you might as well just move on before my trigger finger gets itchy.” Banner wiggled his eyebrows and widened his eyes, doing his best to look like he could come unhinged at the least provocation. “And you wouldn’t like what happens next.”

Carracavo stepped back and laughed again, but this time with menace. “You are a brave one, human. I’ll give you that. Few people stand up to Carracavo and live. We’ll meet again.”

“You’d better hope not,” Banner shot back without missing a beat.

“Enjoy your drink. The next one’s on me.” Carracavo signaled the cafe’s proprietor, who was cowering in the doorway, to bring Banner another round. He flicked a coin onto the table. then turned and headed down the street in the general direction that the girl had flown.

Banner watched Carracavo’s bulky, bejeweled frame disappear into the crowd as he mulled over what had just transpired. He was relaxed no longer, and he doubted that, after all that, he would be able to again until he could figure out what was going on.

He swallowed the rest of his coffee in a gulp, plus the one that Carracavo had paid for and which the proprietor now served him with a shaking hand, then reached for his walkie-talkie. “Banner to F.R.E.D.D. Come in F.R.E.D.D.”

The radio crackled, followed by F.R.E.D.D.’s mechanical voice. “come in chuck i read you.”

“Hey, buddy. Looks like I’m going to be a little bit late getting home. I need to see a man about a horse. But listen, I want you to fire up the ship’s sensors. There’s someone I want to follow . . . ”

* * *

Can Chuck Banner find the street urchin with the strange powers before the bounty hunter Carracavo? Who or what is Masterlight? Find out along with Chuck Banner as the mystery continues to unfold in the next installment of Space Repairman: Escape from Masterlight!

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