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.

The Vermilion Gambit – Part One

Space RepairmanDawn on the ecliptic. In terms of the physics, it’s not the same as a terrestrial dawn, but the effect on the mind is the same. Planets large and small — pale and cratered, large and colorful, elegantly ringed, or simply unadorned — swing by. Countless stars shine, as featureless as if poked through a black curtain. Just another stately cosmic morning, until off in the distance to the left a tiny moving speck appears. Gaining speed, it grows as it approaches, resolves into a finned silver rocketship leaving a teardrop of exhaust in its wake. As it approaches, the lettering on the side becomes clearer: Galactic Repair Services. And on the nose, below the curved window: Ranger.

On the other side of the window, Chuck Banner sat in his padded command chair, his feet up on the console, contemplating the dawn. He yawned and stretched, clearly uncomfortable in his silver space suit. Idly, he reached overhead and flicked several switches.

Behind him, a spacetight door slid open. A clunky service robot waddled in carrying a large thermos in its right claw. It stopped next to Banner and turned its cylindrical head toward him.

would you like your coffee chuck,” the robot spoke in a metallic monotone, his light-bulb eyes flashing with each syllable.

Banner casually reached over to take the flask. “Thanks, F.R.E.D.D. How long until we reach our next delivery?”

we are scheduled to arrive at space station x-9a in two hours forty-seven minutes at present speed.”

Banner took a sip of the coffee. “Still no word from the Dispatcher on what our cargo is?”

The tape reels on F.R.E.D.D.’s barrel chest whirred and clicked for a moment. “negative.”

“Ever since we picked up that container on planet Chartia Three I’ve been a little spooked. I like knowing what I’m delivering. But the Dispatcher was pretty good at avoiding the details. Except for the part about ‘Don’t open the container under any circumstances.’ She was explicit about that.”


On the console in front of Banner, a yellow light blinked, accompanied by an insistent beeping. The small monitor speaker next to the light began to glow.

incoming message from the dispatcher,” F.R.E.D.D. said.

“Maybe now we’ll find out what our little secret mission is all about.”

Banner swept his feet off the console, ran his hands through his close-cropped black hair, and ran his hand over the stubble on his sharp chin. “Do I look okay?”

the dispatcher cannot see you chuck i do not understand the relevance of your inquiry.”

Banner waved dismissively. “It’s all about making a good impression, kid.” He pushed the button next to the winking light. “Good morning, Dispatcher.”

“Good morning, Clarence,” replied a sultry woman’s voice, its liqueur-smooth tone unbroken by the millions of light years of space static through which it had traveled. “I hope you slept well?”

Banner cleared his throat in embarrassment. He hated being called by his first name. “Yes, thank you, Dispatcher. How are you today?”

“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” the voice purred. “I don’t mean to disturb your morning coffee and paper, but since I see that you are getting close to your destination, I thought I’d give you some more details about your cargo.”

“I appreciate it, Dispatcher. You know how I don’t like to fly blind.”

“Hmm,” the voice cooed. “Indeed I do. You prefer keeping your eyes open. Well, I can tell you this. You’re delivering a brand-new Mark Six ether converter.”

Banner raised an eyebrow. “That’s a pretty expensive piece of equipment.”

“Don’t worry. Space station X-9A has already paid for it. Your job is to install the ether converter in the engine room of a new space cruiser that the station’s owner is building. It’s quite a special ship, I understand.”

Banner rubbed his chin. “Ether converters are standard equipment in vermilion drives. You know how dangerous those things are.”

“That’s why I’m sending him our best repairman.” The smile came through the speaker quite clearly, and it nearly melted Banner’s resistance. “You won’t disappoint me, will you, Clarence? The Company has a big stake in the success of this new ship.”

Banner hesitated, then nodded. “Sure, I can install it.”

“Good. Thank you, Clarence. I promise to make it up to you. Someday.” The speaker went dark.

“I hate it when she calls me that,” Banner muttered. He turned to F.R.E.D.D. “How good are you at installing ether converters?”

Whirr. Click. “i have a type alpha certification.”

Banner nodded, then turned back to the command console and began operating the controls. “Good. We’ll need them. I’m a little rusty.”

that is not possible you are a human you do not have metal parts.”

Banner laughed heartily and slapped F.R.E.D.D.’s back.

* * *

As the Ranger approached the doughnut-shaped space station X-9A, three spindly landing legs deployed from beneath the curving, steel-colored hull. The ship made a smooth approach to the landing pad on the station’s spherical central module, positioned in the center of the doughnut and connected by four large spokes. A moment later, the landing pad began to descend into the module and a covering panel slid into place.

Once the pressurization had been equalized, Banner opened the main passenger door right behind the cockpit window. Below the door, a ladder slid down from a narrow opening, settling on the floor of the hangar. Banner stood in the door and looked around the hangar; it was a typical space habitation, with pipes and conduits running along the bare-metal ceiling and walls, smooth tiled floor beneath. Banner’s eyes were drawn to a contingent of four men walking briskly toward the Ranger. Banner climbed down the ladder to meet them.

The short, stocky, bald man in the lead extended his hand as Banner reached the bottom of the ladder. “Welcome to space station X-9A. I am Jules Ferguson, the station master.” Banner shook his hand, noticing his bland gray business suit — unusual attire for a space station.

“Chuck Banner. I’ve never been out this far before. It’s a pleasure.” He kept his voice light, despite noticing that the other three men behind Ferguson were well-armed guards — with their firearms already out.

“You are alone on your ship, yes?” Ferguson asked.

Banner was about to mention F.R.E.D.D., but something about the way Ferguson asked the question made him reconsider. “That’s correct.”

“Good.” Ferguson raised a hand and flicked a finger in Banner’s direction, and the three guards swiftly moved to either side of Banner and behind him. “I’m afraid there’s been a change of leadership on the space station since you were instructed to come here,” Ferguson said, his voice level, almost bored. “I am now in charge, and the cruiser with the vermilion drive now belongs to me. Once you install the ether converter, I will be able to carry out my plans. Take him.” Ferguson turned and began to walk back the way he had just come.

The guards on either side of Banner grabbed one of his arms and began to pull. “Where are you taking me?” Banner struggled but the guards’ grips were too tight. The guard behind him shoved him in the back with his rifle to get him moving.

Ferguson didn’t stop or turn around. “Not to worry. You’ll be well taken care of.” He chuckled. “For as long as you’re useful.”

Back on the Ranger, F.R.E.D.D. slowly and carefully raised his head until it was just above the bottom of the window, enough to observe the guards shoving Banner through the door out of the hangar. Then just as carefully he lowered his head again.

The tape reels spun furiously as he calculated what he had just seen.

this does not look good.”

* * *

Want to read the rest of this serial?

Then buy the Season One anthology paperback! You’ll get four complete feature-length serials and the complete seasons of The Event Horizon and Space Repairman, and much more, for just $14.95!

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The Slaves of Ancius – Part One

Space RepairmanThe space repair ship Ranger was always sluggish on auto pilot, exhibiting a puzzling tendency to drift back and forth across its course in a gradually-increasing arc as if sniffing a fading scent trail. And try as he might, Chuck Banner — reputed by many (not least of all by himself) to be the best fix-it guy in the sector — could not solve it, even with the help of his trusted companion, the cylindrical steel-cased robot Fast Repair and Equipment Delivery Device, or F.R.E.D.D.

As the Ranger waddled its way through the wispy train of a comet, Banner was too busy frowning at the central display monitor to notice the silvery wisps streaming by the cockpit window, fluorescing in colorful cascades as the electrically charged matter in the comet’s tail interacted with the passing ship’s electromagnetic field. Instead, he punched several buttons, grunted in displeasure, and picked up a multi-headed wrench from the console.

“I think the problem might be in the BF-46 junction,” he said, tapping the wrench meditatively against his chin.

The tape reels embedded in F.R.E.D.D.’s chest whirred and clicked for several seconds. “negative chuck,” he said, his eye lights flashing in sync with his words. “we dismantled and cleaned the entire bravo foxtrot series last week do you not recall?”

Banner waved the wrench at the screen in disgust. “Yeah, I know, but look at that spike. That’s where the autopilot servo signal dissipates, between 45 and 46.”

that is not the behavior we observed last time,” F.R.E.D.D. commented in his metallic monotone.

“Well, that’s where it’s coming from now.”

that would suggest the presence of multiple system malfunctions.

Banner let his head drop into the palm of his free hand. “But I’ve already gone over the entire autopilot system from top to bottom.”

perhaps we should put into a space dock and request the services of a space repairman.

Banner looked up and waved the wrench at F.R.E.D.D. “Why you little pile of rusted . . . ”

ha ha ha ha ha” F.R.E.D.D. intoned. “i have been recompiling my humor tapes. i have one million of them.

Banner rolled his eyes.

take my assembly line companion please.”

Banner was about to fire back a zinger of his own when the main speaker emitted a two-tone beep.

incoming signal from the dispatcher.”

“Saved by the bell,” Banner said, swiveling his command chair to face the speaker on the console. He cleared his throat before flicking the microphone switch.

“Good morning, this is the Ranger, you nix ’em, we fix ’em,” Banner said in a cheery sing-song.

“Good morning, Clarence,” the Dispatcher’s sultry voice floated through the cabin like a puff of wood smoke. “I hope you slept well.”

“Like a baby, Dispatcher. I just want to thank you again for sending me to fix the gamble-bots on New Vegas. That was the best repair job I’ve had in a long time.”

“Did you win anything, Clarence?”

“Just the heart of a beautiful showgirl,” Banner said, fluttering his eyebrows suggestively. “But I told her that I had to get back to you, Dispatcher, so I left her behind.”

“That’s a sweet story, Clarence.” The Dispatcher lingered over his given name — which Chuck hated, and which only the Dispatcher used. “And as much as I would like to hear all about your escapades on New Vegas, I have a job for you.”

“Sure, but maybe next time you’ll meet me there? Let me swing you around the dance floor a few times.”

“I’m sure that would be lovely,” the Dispatcher replied in a voice that managed to sound both coy and cooled. “But first, your new job. I picked you especially for this one.”

“A tough one, huh?”

“Let’s just say it requires your particular talents.” Banner leaned back in his chair, propped his feet up on the console, and laced his fingers behind his head as the Dispatcher continued. “You’re going to the Ancius Colony, at the outer edge of the sector. The capital city’s power station is starting to break down.”

“Ancius, huh? I’ve never been out that far. I thought they were mostly a farming colony.”

“The central continent is mostly agricultural, yes. But the colony has several small industrialized cities. The capital city is quite technologically advanced. That’s where they process their harvests for shipment to other colonies. Did you know that the nickname for Ancius is ‘The Breadbasket of the Sector?'”

“I’ve heard that.” Banner nodded appreciatively. “Sounds like they have quite the successful little operation over there.”

“Indeed, they are one of the most economically successful of Earth’s colonies. Their feat is even more impressive when you consider they were established only three generations ago and that their human population is among the smallest of any colony. Their remote location allows them to continue living the way they like with few administrative restrictions and even fewer visitors.”

Banner arched an eyebrow. “I know that tone in your voice, Dispatcher. You sure you just want me to stick with the repair job? Or would you like me to do a little . . . ” he narrowed his eyes, ” . . . looking around too?”

“Clarence,” scolded the Dispatcher. “You’re to land at the central space port in Ancius City. There, you will meet with George Cannie, the director of the central power plant. He’ll show you around.”

“That sounds fine, Dispatcher. I’ll change course right away.” Banner sat up and happily disengaged the balky autopilot. “I can’t wait to find out all about this economic miracle planet.”

* * *

The Ranger set down on an empty landing pad in the busy central space port near the heart of Ancius City. Banner left F.R.E.D.D. to supervise the refueling while he went to meet George Cannie, who was waiting for him near the edge of the platform.

“Chuck Banner,” he said, extending his hand as he walked toward Cannie, slinging his tool bag over his other shoulder. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Cannie, who was a full head taller than Banner with a wrestler’s physique. He wore plain dark coveralls. The man clearly spent his days moving machinery. “Welcome to Ancius. I’d like you to meet my daughter, Liz.” Cannie gestured to his left, to a young college-age woman in coveralls similar to her father’s, her brown hair tied back in a severe knot. “She’s studying engineering in school and apprenticing at the power station.” Liz appraised Banner neutrally with her cool grey eyes.

“How do you do,” she said, shaking Banner’s hand. Banner was surprised how rough her hand felt; she, too, worked for a living.

“Right this way,” Cannie gestured to the flight of stairs that descended along the side of the landing ramp. “We’re glad you could make it on such short notice.”

“I’m always happy to help. It’s certainly a beautiful colony you have here. I was admiring it as I was landing. This city is certainly impressive too.” Banner looked out to the skyline of gleaming skyscrapers, spread out uncluttered for miles. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but when people think of Ancius, they think of rolling farms and horse plows, not this.” He gestured to the skyline.

Cannie laughed. “Most of the human settlers on Ancius Colony are farmers, it’s true. But we have ample mineral and material resources on the other continents to build whatever we need. We believe that we can cluster the technology into one or two large cities and leave the rest of this temperate continent unspoiled for farming. And so far it seems to be working. Plus, the younger generation like my daughter here, they want a more exciting lifestyle. Farming isn’t for everyone, you know.” Cannie reached out to pat the shoulder of his daughter, who was descending the stairs ahead of him. She didn’t react to the touch or respond to the comment.

At the base of the stairs, Cannie turned and pointed to a circular, open-topped hovercar parked on the curb of a busy thoroughfare. Pedestrians bustled purposefully by in every direction.

“Our ride.” The driver hopped out to open the trunk, and Banner thought at first the driver was a teenager. But then under the chauffeur’s uniform he saw the driver had pale grey skin and eyes much larger than a human’s. The driver walked up to Banner and without a word took his bag and put it in the trunk, then gracefully returned to the driver’s seat.

“I see from your reaction that you’ve never seen a tharnallu,” Cannie said with a chuckle. “They’re native to Ancius. Remarkably intelligent but lacking any technology. They’re pastoral herders. Gentle but strong, they learn fast, and they’re tireless workers.”

“Interesting,” said Banner as he hopped into the car, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Liz Cannie was scrutinizing his reaction to the tharnallu driver.

“Coming, Liz?”

“No, dad. I have to pick up those replacement points for the condenser unit first. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

“Fine, see you there,” Cannie said with a breezy wave. “To the power station, driver.” The hovercar accelerated smoothly with an electric hum and merged smoothly into the busy traffic.

When the car was safely out of sight, Liz stepped back into the shadow of the landing pad and looked at the watch on her right wrist. She extracted a small ear plug attached to the watch by a thin cord, placed the bud in her ear, and tapped a button on the side of the watch.

“It’s me,” she said in a low voice as she looked around cautiously, even though none of the people hurrying by spared her even a passing glance. “The repairman has arrived.” She listened for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I’m sure he’s the one we want. He will be suitable for our purpose.”

Liz listened again for a moment. “Tomorrow morning, before the car picks him up to take him to the power station. He’ll be alone. No one will see a thing.” Liz paused, then nodded. Then she removed the earpiece and retracted the cable into her watch, and after another quick look around disappeared into the crowd.

* * *

Want to read the rest of this serial?

Then buy the Season One anthology paperback! You’ll get four complete feature-length serials and the complete seasons of The Event Horizon and Space Repairman, and much more, for just $14.95!

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Audiobook: “Space Repairman: The Vermilion Gambit” by Paul Lagasse

This free audiobook is provided with the compliments of Channel 37. Enjoy!

# # #

Space RepairmanSpace Repairman: The Vermilion Gambit
by Paul Lagasse
Read by the author, with Veronica Giguere as “The Dispatcher”

In this inaugural Space Repairman adventure, Clarence “Chuck” Banner of the Galactic Repair Services ship “Ranger” and his trusty but forgetful robot sidekick F.R.E.D.D. (Fast Repair and Equipment Delivery Device) must stop a disgruntled bureaucrat from stealing a powerful spaceship to seek vengeance against his employers.

Read the story here!

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The Secret of the Prodigals – Part One

Space RepairmanSpace plays tricks on the senses. In the absence of gravity, a person can easily be fooled into believing that they are standing still while the entire cosmos spins around them. Even experienced space travelers have to remind themselves to distrust their senses when stepping outside the comfortable artificial-gravity environment of a spaceship and floating into the void. However, there are times when even the veterans willingly allow their senses to trump their rational mind in order to enjoy the sheer poetry and majesty of the experience.

For Space Repairman Chuck Banner, however, this was not one of those times. As he walked carefully along the silver outer hull of his sleek ship Ranger, it didn’t matter to him whether it was the gas giant Felora XIV that was spinning outside his clear glass bubble helmet, or whether it was he who was the one in orbit. Either way, in less than an hour he would be crossing the planet’s terminator into night. Banner needed the natural light from the Feloran sun reflecting off the planet’s yolk-colored clouds to help him spot the problem with the Ranger’s turbo-encabulator, which was only accessible by a spacewalk.

The magnetic soles on Banner’s oversized spacesuit boots held him firmly to one of the ship’s curving fins as he opened a hull access panel to expose the complex machinery of the device. The turbo-encabulator’s function was something of a mystery even to such an experienced technician, so before attaching his space spanner to the first of the visible lug nuts, Banner paused.

“Banner to F.R.E.D.D.,” he called into the microphone at the base of his space helmet. “Do you read me?”

affirmative chuck i read you,” came the reply, the metallic sound of the speaker filtering F.R.E.D.D.’s robotic voice. “what do you require?

Banner chuckled ruefully as he studied the complex piping and wiring before him. “How about a nice Class Three repair facility?”

Through the silence, Banner could imagine the tape reels on F.R.E.D.D.’s barrel chest spinning futilely in search of an answer. “unable to comply,” came the reply at last.

“Sorry, buddy. I know. I’m just making small talk.” He unclipped the flashlight from the chest pocket on his spacesuit, turned it on, and aimed it into the dark square space. “I can see the pentametric fan, and it looks like both spurving bearings are aligned properly.”

understood. the gauge still indicates excessive sinusoidal depleneration.

“I wonder if the bolling shim has managed to untanker itself,” Banner muttered as he played the flashlight beam around the device’s dark-gray innards.

that would explain the readings we are seeing,” F.R.E.D.D. responded.

Banner let out a low whistle. “The trick is going to be to alleviate the quasipiestic stresses without snapping the gremlin studs clean in half. Do we still have that old metapolar pilfrometer?”

i will consult the tool manifest.” There was a pause. “stand by chuck i have a call coming in from the dispatcher.

Banner nearly fumbled the flashlight. “Oh. Er. What? I thought we weren’t due for another service call for at least 48 hours.”

correct this is an unscheduled call. the call is coded alpha-alpha-gamma.

Banner’s eyes lit up. “Alpha-alpha-gamma? We get double overtime for those jobs. Pipe the call to me out here, will you?”

affirmative. stand by for the dispatcher.” A half-second of static followed.

“Good afternoon, Clarence,” said the velvety voice of the Dispatcher. “I’m sorry to call you ahead of schedule. I trust I’m not catching you at a bad time?”

“Not at all, Dispatcher,” Banner replied, trying to untangle his arm from within the bowels of the turbo-encabulator. “You wouldn’t happen to have a metapolar pilfrometer handy, would you?”

“Of course I do, Clarence,” she said sweetly. “Anyway, we’ve received an urgent towing call and you’re the closest company ship.”

“What needs towing?”

“A freighter on the Alpha Centauri run reported a derelict craft of some sort drifting into the spacelane. It’s large enough to pose a serious navigational hazard unless it’s towed out of there immediately.”

Banner whistled. “That’s the busiest spacelane in the Inner Sector.”

“Precisely,” the Dispatcher said, her voice warming up. “We’re fortunate that you’re in the area. Of all our repairmen, you have the most skill with lasso beams.”

Banner’s eyebrows wiggled suggestively. “There’s no object too large that I can’t get my lasso around and pull in close. Or too small, for that matter. Like say, a certain dainty Dispatcher.”

“Yes, Clarence. I know you have plenty of experience handling small things,” the Dispatcher responded levelly, not missing a beat. “But the derelict is probably the largest object you’ve ever towed. The freighter estimated that it’s at least two miles long.”

Clarence’s cheeks burned red. “Where did something that big come from?”

“That’s something you can investigate once you clear the spacelane. I’ll transmit the coordinates to F.R.E.D.D. Can you leave immediately?”

“I’m on it, Dispatcher.”

“Good boy.”

* * *

The Ranger arrived at the coordinates less than two hours later. In the cockpit, Banner saw the derelict while the were still several minutes away. He pointed it out to F.R.E.D.D.

“Look at that. It’s huge!” The derelict looked like a gigantic gray oil drum, two miles long and at least a mile in diameter. As they approached, Banner could see from the faded markings on its hull that the object was rotating slowly along its cylindrical axis. Banner did a quick mental estimate and concluded that the rotation was nearly one revolution per minute, which was slow enough to allow the Ranger to approach and clamp on if necessary.

i am unable to analyze the interior of the vessel but based on its apparent motion i estimate that it is not solid, said F.R.E.D.D., seated in the co-pilot chair next to Banner.

“Good, that will make this easier.” Banner steered the Ranger into position. “Okay, buddy, let’s do this.” Banner pushed the lever to activate the lasso beam.

From an emitter on the top of the Ranger’s hull, a thin beam of glowing blue light extended into space until it reached just ahead of the derelict. At the end of the beam, a circle appeared and steadily grew until it was wider than the circumference of the derelict.

“Steady, steady . . . ” Banner called as he played the controls delicately, keeping a watchful eye on the beam’s progress and the motion of the object. “Just a little bit more . . . ” Banner guided the circular lasso beam over the derelict until it was centered perfectly halfway down the length of the cylinder. “Got it!” The blue light of the lasso beam pulsated brightly as its magnetic field intensified, ensnaring the object safely.

Banner breathed a sigh of relief. “That was the easy part. Now let’s fire up engines three and five. Forty percent power.”

forty percent acknowledged.” F.R.E.D.D.’s spindly metal arms reached out to the engine controls and pushed several buttons with his claw hands. The Ranger began to move slowly. The thin blue beam that connected the ship to the energy circle surrounding the derelict began to stretch, then moments later began to contract like a rubber band, pulling the object off its course and in the direction of the Ranger.

“There we go,” Banner said with a smile of triumph. He patted the side of the control console. “Way to go, girl.”

Tied by the lasso beam, the Ranger and the gigantic object slowly departed the Alpha Centauri spacelane. When they were well clear of the traffic corridor, Banner powered down the lasso beam and F.R.E.D.D. brought the ship alongside the slowly spinning object. They glided up and down the length of the object in search of anything that would identify it.

“Wherever it came from, it’s been out here a long time,” said Banner. Close up, they could see that the hull was deeply scarred and pitted from space debris of all sizes. The metallic surface looked burned and fried, as if it had been exposed to the light of thousands of suns — or of a few suns for thousands of years.

Banner pointed to a circular dimple in the object’s hull. “There. Does that look like an access hatch?”

F.R.E.D.D.’s tape reels spun as he analyzed the shape. “agreed it appears to be a portal of some kind.”

“Bring her in close right above there. I’m going to go take a look.”

perhaps we should await the arrival of the salvage authorities,” F.R.E.D.D. said, his monotone metallic voice nonetheless conveying a sense of unease.

Banner reached out and slapped F.R.E.D.D.’s metal back. “Come on. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

i am not programmed to detect adventure.

“Well, I am,” Banner said eagerly as he got up from his chair and reached for his silver spacesuit and bubble helmet on the wall behind him.

* * *

The hatch proved to be easy to open, and Banner cautiously stepped down through the circular hatchway. Before he did, he gave a confident wave to F.R.E.D.D., who was observing Banner’s progress from the Ranger as it orbited the derelict at the same rate of rotation. That way, the ship would appear to remain stationary above the hatch, in case Banner needed to leave in a hurry.

As Banner descended into the dark, a light suddenly flickered on and Banner found himself in a small five-walled chamber, about large enough for three people to stand comfortably. A hatch, similar to the one through which he had just descended, was on one of the walls. “I’m in an airlock,” Banner called to F.R.E.D.D.

From the indicators and controls in the room, Banner surmised he was upside down, standing on the ceiling of the airlock. Lifting his electromagnetic boots one sticky foot at a time, he made his way down one of the walls to the floor. “The rotation provides the cylinder with artificial gravity,” he reported to F.R.E.D.D. When he reached the floor, he switched off his boots. “The gravity is close to Earth normal.”

Banner reached out a gloved hand to operate the largest control on the wall by the inner door. The outer hatch, now above him, closed. He heard the hiss of pressurization and felt his spacesuit tighten around him from external pressure. A gauge on the wall moved steadily upward. A light on his wrist control panel flashed green. “The atmosphere has oxygen,” he reported. “Sufficient to sustain human life.” He cautiously unlatched his glass bubble helmet and slowly lifted it. He took a breath and nodded. “Breathable. I’m going to open the airlock.”

be careful chuck,” called F.R.E.D.D.

“Don’t worry, buddy. I will.” He operated a control that looked like the most logical choice, and sure enough the inner door began to swing open.

Banner stepped out of the airlock into a narrow corridor that extended as far as he could see in either direction. He could see other corridors branching off in either direction at regular intervals. Everything was lighted, if dimly, by overhead lighting panels. There wasn’t a sound, not even the hum of ventilation.

“Hello?” Banner called out, his voice echoing and disappearing down the empty corridors. He shrugged and picked a direction at random to begin exploring. As he walked down the corridor, his footsteps the only sounds to be heard, Banner carefully noted details in an effort to identify the object. It was clearly a spaceship of some sort. He noted that the control banks along the walls had writing above them, but the symbols were completely unfamiliar.

Banner stopped to study one of the control panels in an effort to identify their purpose and decipher their markings. He was so intent on his task that he didn’t notice the shadow on the wall behind him, slowly moving toward him. As the shadow got closer, it resolved into the shape of a humanoid — and in one raised arm was the unmistakable silhouette of a ray gun.

* * *

Want to read the rest of this serial?

Then buy the Season One anthology paperback! You’ll get four complete feature-length serials and the complete seasons of The Event Horizon and Space Repairman, and much more, for just $14.95!

Channel 37 Season One! Cover

Posted in Space Repairman, The Secret of the Prodigals | 2 Comments

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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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 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 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 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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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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