Well, I’m not off to a good start with my 2021 Resolutions. I’m already a month behind on my Character of the Month. For Fem-bruary’s character I chose a to paint a fighter; and here she is, better late than never. Nevertheless, being late doesn’t get me off the hook for another character this month, so watch this space for my official submission for March. In the meantime, this miniature is Rhaine, Rogue; from Reaper Miniatures, sculpted by Werner Klocke. At least, that’s what she’s called now. My blister said “Rhaine, Duelist”; so I decided to stick with that concept for her backstory.
Among the rich and powerful nobility of Evalaux, disputes are often settled at swordspoint. Despite this, most nobles barely know which end of a dueling saber or pistol to hold, never mind how to employ one for its intended purpose. The richest noble houses have fencing masters on staff, ready at a moment’s notice to avenge an insult or satisfy the slighted feelings of their patrons. If, however, yours is not one of the richest houses; or if you have recently suffered the inconvenient (yet permanent) loss of a fencing master due to poor job performance, then you must hire one; else be at the mercy of the social jabs and thrusts of the aristocracy.
Aramise Del’Arco is the most sought-after duelist in Evalaux. She has been offered fencing master positions at the most prestigious and wealthy houses; positions she has declined. Some of the masters of these houses saw her refusal as an insult and made the poor decision to hire a duelist of their own to seek redress. Aramise Del’Arco killed every one without compassion or apology. Thus, the nobility of Evalaux must content themselves with never having the best duelist under permanent retainer; and they must fear that Aramise Del’Arco may one day show up on their own doorstep in the employ of a rival.
Aramise Del’Arco does not work solely for the nobility. In the crowded streets and back alleys of Evalaux, crime lords, cults and other nefarious organizations have all used her talents. Provided you can afford her, Aramise Del’Arco is for hire. But be certain you pay the bill when it comes due.
You may ask why. An illustrative example: before he was known as “No-Nose, One-Eared, One-Eyed Rickard”, Rickard the Butcher was a man to be feared in the dark underworld of Evalaux. When he decided to send three bravos after Aramise Del’Arco rather than pay her fee for her elimination of a rival, Aramise Del’Arco gave him the visually-appropriate nickname he enjoys at present.
As for the bravos, they didn’t get nicknames. They just got dead, and Aramise Del’Arco got her money.
Aramise Del’Arco is a mystery. No fencing master in Evalaux can say she was their pupil or their classmate. No one knows where she came from or how she became so skilled with a blade. All that is known about her is that she is quite possibly the finest swordswoman alive; and that she will work for anyone who meets her price. Once hired, she will work until the terms of the contract have been fulfilled. She cannot be bought off or bribed; but make no mistake: she is no assassin. If an opponent dies in the course of a lawful duel, then so be it; but she will not murder for hire, and sad indeed is the person who would make the mistake of assuming so.
I instantly fell in love with the “unofficial” duelist character class when I saw it collected in Best of The Dragon (magazine) Vol. 4, and promptly made one of my longest-running AD&D characters ever: a half-elf duelist who constantly found himself embroiled in political games with players much bigger than he. I used him as an inspiration for this Character of the Month.
“HULK…SMASH…HULK…SMASH…” The robotic Hulk grabs a nearby crate and hurls it at the heroes.
“I’ll say one thing for Machinesmith,” says Hawkeye, ducking, “he really nailed Hulk’s personality.”
“Relax,” says Spider-Man. “It could be worse. We could be fighting the actual Hulk.”
“You fought the…?” asks Power Man, circling the green behemoth, awaiting an opening.
“Yep,” says Spidey. “It was very un-fun.”
“Time to introduce this robotic wannabe to my steel-hard skin…” begins Power Man.
“…and 300 lbs. of solid muscle,” finishes Cyclops, distracting the robot with a full-force optic blast. “Yeah, we know. Go for it.”
Power Man charges the Hulk robot, giving it his best Sunday punch. He connects solidly, knocking it back a full ten feet, splintering crates and dropping it to its knees. Sparks fly from the exposed robotic “brain” as it slowly stands upright. “Nope,” says Hawkeye firing an incendiary arrow. “Definitely not the Hulk.”
Daredevil’s radar sense reveals something odd. “This room is a lot bigger than it looks,” he says.
“One thing at a time,” says Cyclops, firing at the Hulk robot again. The green machine seems to be shrugging off most of the damage, until Spider Man decides to attack the head directly. Unshielded, the delicate mechanisms that animate the robot begin to fail. All five heroes concentrate their attacks on the head, until a few minutes later when the robot suddenly stops moving and falls over stiffly, managing a final “HULK…SMASH…” before falling permanently silent.
With the help of Cyclops’s optic blasts and Power Man’s fists, the heroes break through a series of false walls that lead into what was, until recently, the Machinesmith’s secret lab. Scattered among robotic schematics and diagrams are several unfinished robotic frames and one robotic head bearing the likeness of Machinesmith himself. Hawkeye picks it up and stares at it.
“Alas, poor Machinesmith…” he begins, before Cyclops snatches it from him irritably. “There’s a camera in here, recording everything, ” the X-Man says.
“That explains why they were watching us,” says Power Man. “Machinesmith is making movies. Why would he do that?”
“Someone paid him to, it seems,” Daredevil says. “Stands to reason it would be the same person who hired the Circus of Crime to attack you and Hawkeye. Machinesmith is long gone now. His consciousness could be anywhere, in any robotic body. How are we going to find out who’s really behind this?”
Spider-man, hanging upside-down on his webbing, slowly descends into the midst of the group. “I think I know where to look,” he says, holding up a map of Coney Island, circa 1945.
“Coney Island?” asks Cyclops. “Why there?”
“Because some fool circled a warehouse here with a big, fat, red magic marker,” says Power Man, pointing at the map. “Looks like a clue to me, Scoob.” He turns around, coming face to upside-down face with Spider-Man. The two stare at each other for a moment.
“You want to kiss me, don’t you?” asks Spider Man. “It’s ok. I get that a lot when I’m in this position.”
Cage grins. “It’s gonna hurt real bad when I hit you, wall-crawler.”
“Coney’s not that far away,” Cyclops says. “Let’s go.”
About half an hour later, the heroes arrive at the address in Coney Island to find yet another warehouse, one that was once converted into a factory. It looks to be condemned, but some bricks have crumbled on the facade, revealing an old faded marquee for Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show. Seems the Circus of Crime used the name deliberately.
“Should we knock?: asks Hawkeye. Power Man tries the security door. It opens easily. Inside, all is in darkness. Daredevil senses mostly open space. Hawkeye is about to fire off a flare arrow when the lights suddenly come on, revealing the main factory floor has been converted into a three-ring circus ground! A series of raised catwalks crisscrosses the floor, forming a mazelike upper level.
Cyclops barely has time to notice that his portable Cerebro unit is active; indicating there is a mutant of significant power nearby, before a gravelly voice comes over a hidden loudspeaker. “Hawkeye. Power Man. Good to see you again. I have been watching your performances with great interest, as well as that of your friends. But I have friends too! Meet my star performers!”
One by one, a spotlight illuminates each of the rings, revealing a figure standing within.
“Blacklash! Master of the bullwhip!“
“Huh.” Power Man cracks his knuckles. “I slapped this fool silly once already,” he says.
“I did it first!” says Spider-Man.
Oddball! The deadliest juggler in the world!
“The ‘deadliest juggler in the world’? Seriously?” says Cyclops. “You know I’ve fought Magneto, right?”
“And last, but certainly not least:Trick Shot! The greatest of all archers. But wait…isn’t that supposed to be you, Hawkeye? Ha Ha Ha!”
“Friend of yours?” asks Daredevil. Hawkeye scowls at the sight of his former mentor, but says nothing.
Suddenly, another spotlight illuminates the catwalk network above. Standing high overhead, the skull-visaged face of Taskmaster leers down at the heroes in triumph. “By all means, fools, let us fight,” he says, “as gladiators did in circuses of old. This whole arena has been wired with cameras. Upon your defeat I will be able to study every move you make, so that my photographic reflexes can ensure that your skills become mine!”
“You have to beat us first,” says Hawkeye, nocking an arrow. Before he can fire, however, he is struck by a razor-tipped arrow fired from Trick-Shot’s bow! A few inches to the right, and it would have been curtains for the Avenger! Spider-Man bounds up to the catwalk to face Taskmaster while Power Man charges Oddball!
Daredevil leaps into action, hurling his billy club at Blacklash and following up with an acrobatic flying kick that knocks the villain clear out of the ring and into the darkness beyond. Some would hesitate to pursue; but darkness is no hindrance to a blind man, and so Daredevil follows him as he does all things…without fear!
Power Man doesn’t quite reach Oddball before the evil juggler tosses an explosive ball directly at him. Not missing a beat, Cage catches the ball and hugs it close, containing the blast as best he can. It stings, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. A moment later and he has hold of Oddball, crushing him in a bearhug that robs the juggler of his breath! He collapses, colorful balls falling to the ground around him like…well, like a lot of balls falling to the ground at once.
Spider-Man takes a swing at Taskmaster, but the mutant mercenary easily avoids it. “You forget, Spider-Man…I’ve studied you already. I know your every move. Much like Captain America!” He hurls his steel-alloy shield at the wall-crawler, who manages to catch it. “You can’t possibly beat–ARRRRRGH!” Taskmaster screams as Cyclops opens up with an optic blast from the ground floor. He wasn’t expecting it, and that leaves him vulnerable. Spider-Man promptly smacks Taskmaster with his own shield!
Meanwhile, Hawkeye decides it’s time to put down Trick Shot for good. Unfortunately for him, Trick Shot thinks the same about Hawkeye. The two trade explosive arrows, and both hit! If Hawkeye wasn’t already wounded, he may have been able to withstand the blast; but instead both hero and villain are knocked unconscious! Somewhere in the darkness, Blacklash is trying desperately to see Daredevil. But he can’t whip what he can’t see; and he soon falls beneath the merciless fists of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen!
That leaves Taskmaster alone, and quite outnumbered. The canny mutant knows he has lost, and knows the time has come to flee. He whips out his sword and lunges at Spider-Man, hoping to force the web-swinger to retreat. It doesn’t work. Spider-Man dodges easily, and, still holding the Taskmaster’s own shield, uses it to knock the villain out cold and off the catwalk in one smashing blow!
Later, after the NYPD has been called and the villains have been carted off, the five heroes regroup outside what was once Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show.
“Not bad for a day’s work,” Hawkeye says, sighing.
“Yeah?” asks Power Man. “I get paid when I work, Avenger. Doesn’t look like anyone’s paying me today. Only one who looks happy is web-head over there.”
“Wealth and fame, he’s ignored,” says Daredevil. “Action is his reward.”
Cage nods. “To him, life is a great big hang-up.”
And wherever there’s a hang-up, True Believers, you’ll find the Spider-Man!
“Ok, fellas,” Spider-Man says, “I’m gonna see if I can get a fix on our bearded, junk-food loving friend. Try to keep up.” Spider-Man leaps a full 30′ straight up, then fires a web at a nearby flagpole, zip-lining across the street.
“Sweet Christmas!” says Power Man. “How are we supposed to keep up with that?”
“Easy,” says Daredevil, grinning. “I’ll follow him, and you can follow me.” Without waiting for an answer, he nimbly scales a nearby fire escape, landing on the roof seconds later.
“I knew I should have brought my skycycle,” Hawkeye sighs.
Meanwhile topside, Spider-Man quickly homes in on the buzzing of his spider-tracer. A few minutes later, he catches sight of his quarry: the same bearded, trenchcoat-wearing man he saw earlier, still holding a stick of what was once ice cream in his hand, now-completely melted. The man is walking away from the CTB Center grounds; not rushing, but definitely moving with purpose. Spider-Man follows for while, keeping out of sight on the rooftops. Daredevil uses his radar sense to keep tabs on Spider-Man while keeping in sight of the other three heroes, who follow along on the ground as fast as they can.
After a few minutes, the man suddenly stops, turns and stares directly at Spider-Man; then takes off at a speed far beyond that of a normal human. Were it not for his spider-tracer, Spider-Man would be left in the dust. The mysterious man makes a beeline southeast, quickly reaching speeds of almost 40mph at a run with no sign of tiring. It’s all Spidey can do to keep up as the man runs parallel to FDR drive, heading through Midtown to the Lower East Side before crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn some 20 minutes later.
“I guess you can travel faster on foot than I thought,” says Spider-Man, coming to a rest on one of the bridge pylons to wait for the others. Once they are all together again, Spider-Man follows the tracer to a warehouse in Red Hook, where the heroes find the man and three others who look just like him awaiting them on the roof of a warehouse that looks to be abandoned. All of the men remove their overcoats and hats, revealing one-piece coveralls underneath.
“Check out those beards. Those are serious facial accessories,” Hawkeye says aloud. Daredevil has no comment. Three of the men spread out in a triangular pattern, each fixating on one of the heroes, while the fourth moves quickly to the rooftop door into the warehouse. “We’ve got a runner!” Cyclops says.
“I’ll head him off at the pass,” Spider-Man replies, bounding off the side of the building.
“I don’t like how they’re just staring at us,” says Power Man. “Gives me the creeps.”
“I’ll lay down some modesty for you, big guy,” says Hawkeye, loosing a smoke arrow.
As the purple vapor begins to billow throughout the area, Daredevil notices something peculiar with his enhanced senses: none of these men have a heartbeat! “They’re not human!” he exclaims. “They’re robots!”
“Then that makes things a lot easier,” says Cyclops, adjusting his visor and letting fly an optic blast.
“Time to introduce these turkeys to my steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle!” says Power Man, moving towards the trio.
Behind his hand, Hawkeye theatrically whispers to Daredevil: “He really needs to work on that battle-cry.”
The battle on the roof is brief, and the heroes pull no punches. Daredevil accounts for one, while Luke Cage and Cyclops both battle the others before Hawkeye puts them both down for good with electro-arrows, short-circuiting their systems. Once again, Daredevil’s senses alert him of danger just in the nick of time; and he exclaims “They’re going to explode!” mere seconds before they do…
Meanwhile, the fourth man rushes into the rooftop entrance to the warehouse and down the stairs, barely having time to reach the second floor catwalk before Spider-Man crashes through a boarded-up window on the side of the building!
“Hiya, Baldy!” Spider-Man says, “Miss me?” Inside, the warehouse looks disused and mostly abandoned; although there are crates and boxes covered with dusty tarpaulins scattered about the ground floor, some of them quite large. Both Spider-Man and the mysterious man face each other on a second-story catwalk that runs the perimeter of the interior. Spider-Man’s spider sense warns him just before the man lunges at him. Spidey evades him easily and gives him a light smack in return, which is when he notices the man’s skin is harder than normal; in fact, it’s completely artificial.
“Heeyyyyy….” he says, “you’re one a them there robots, a’int ya?” Armed with that knowledge, Spider-Man makes quick work of him, putting him out of commission just as a huge explosion blows a whole in the ceiling, tumbling The remaining four heroes inside. Sizing up the situation, Cyclops blasts the prone body of Spider-Man’s opponent, reducing it to debris before it, too, can explode.
The heroes barely have time to catch their breath when a mechanical voice is heard from a hidden loudspeaker:
“Well, well…I must commend your resourcefulness, heroes…I truly didn’t think you’d make it this far. But where others may panic, I see further opportunity for profit!”
“The Machinesmith!” Daredevil exclaims. “I recognize the voice!”
“I remember, now,” says Hawkeye. “He’s in the Avengers’ files. Captain America told me about him. How come you didn’t recognize him from all his robots?”
“I…uh…didn’t get a good look at him,” says Daredevil.
The voice continues. “Unfortunately, I must depart, as my benefactor now has his merchandise. In the meantime, I’ve arranged to broadcast this bonus material to him, so be sure to put on a good show! Mu hu ha ha ha ha ha!”
Suddenly, one of the large crates bursts open to reveal the unmistakable form of the Incredible Hulk! Or it would be unmistakable, if it had an actual head instead of two visual diodes suspended on a robotic frame. Apparently this particular robot is unfinished. A bestial roar erupts from where the green giant’s throat would be as he lunges to attack!
It’s a bright, sunny July day in Manhattan, a good day for a celebration. The Cyrus Theophilus Bartlett Community Center is finally open. Made possible by a grant from the Rand-Meachum corporation, the CBT Center promises opportunities for growth and outreach among those residents of Harlem who most need the services. The CBT will offer adult education classes, child care and social services; as well as a free clinic that will provide the uninsured access to health care and preventative medicine. Nelson and Murdock, PC will also offer pro-bono legal services to those who qualify. The residents of Harlem have turned out in droves for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which features music, free food, entertainment and appearances by prominent community professionals, including Hero-for-Hire Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man; lawyer Matt Murdock; and Daily Bugle editor and Harlem native Joe “Robbie” Robertson; who is the featured keynote speaker.
To keep the crowd contained, an entire city block has been cordoned off; the perimeter manned by NYPD police, some from on horseback from the mounted division. Most of them are holding coffee cups, munching on fried dough and street food. It’s a festive atmosphere, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
Much of the entertainment is being provided by Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show; which has erected a scaffolding and a makeshift Big Top on the main stage. It features aerialists, a fire-breather, a strong man (who seems a bit self-conscious with Power Man here), and, of course, Cheezo the clown himself. But the real main event of the day is an appearance by the Avenging Archer, Hawkeye; who has promised to entertain the crowd with his amazing marksmanship, and even sign autographs afterwards!
Both Luke Cage (in costume) and Matt Murdock (not) share the stage with “Robbie” Robertson and the Reverend Placide Puree of the 138th St. Baptist Church. Robbie is supposed to be the keynote speaker of the event, as he is the only one who actually knew community activist Cyrus Bartlett; but the Reverend Placide Puree and his epic jheri curl has hijacked the dedication for his own self-aggrandizing purposes. Meanwhile, Cheezo the Clown and his Coney Island Circus Show await backstage with Hawkeye, going over their plans for the entertainment soon to follow. Hawkeye will dazzle the crowd with some trick shots, while the aerialists, the cowboy and the strong man all do their thing. Cheezo himself will juggle while riding his unicycle; he’ll throw some bowling pins high in the air so the Avenger can shoot them and make the kiddies laugh.
In the crowd, meanwhile, Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, regards his portable Cerebro device. Professor Xavier told him there was a good chance Angela Ivers, a teenager who has recently demonstrated some mutant abilities, may attend this event. Professor X knows her newly-manifested powers have frightened her and he wants to be sure she receives some guidance and support from the X-Men. So far, Cerebro has been quiet. (Unbeknownst to Cyclops, Angela got grounded yesterday and has not been allowed to attend the ceremony.)
Peter Parker is also in the crowd, on assignment from the Daily Bugle to get some photos of the opening of the CBT center and his editor Robbie’s speech. A man jostles him, ruining his shot. The man heads off into the crowd with a mumbled apology. Since Peter failed his Intuition roll, he takes no notice of how the man is dressed in an overcoat and hat; odd considering the warm weather; or how he’s holding an ice cream bar that has melted all over his hand, and doesn’t seem to care. He does notice the man’s old-fashioned facial whiskers, but quickly forgets about them.
The Reverend Placide Puree introduces Hawkeye while back-handedly apologizing for the absence of the Human Torch, who was the first choice for the event’s headliner. The Human Torch along with the rest of the Fantastic Four is busy, says the Reverend, but Hawkeye the Avenger will certainly do his best to entertain the crowd.
And entertain them he does; briefly, at least.
Spider-Man’s spider sense barely tingles before suddenly, the cowboy dazzling the crowd with rope tricks loops his lariat over Power Man, pinning his arms to his chest! Power Man has just enough time to chuckle in surprise, thinking it’s all part of the act, before 40,000 volts of electricity surge through the cable. If it wasn’t for his steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle, Luke Cage would be toast! Meanwhile, the twin aerialists leap from the scaffolding and maneuver a huge cannon to point at Power Man, while the clown blows a comically-large horn, discharging a cloud of high-potency knock-out gas directly at Hawkeye! The Avenging Archer begins to sputter and cough; but manages to fight off the effects of the gas as the Strong Man heads towards him with malicious intent and the clown follows up with a weighted tenpin, beaning Hawkeye off the noggin!
Peter Parker’s spider-sense is blaring klaxons now; so he takes the opportunity to duck under the stage to change into his Spider-Man costume. Cyclops likewise finds an out of the way corner; but Matt Murdock, on stage with Power Man; has nowhere to go. Instead he “accidentally” blunders into the cowboy, smacking him with his blind-man’s cane hard enough to hurt!. Power Man is shocked again by the electric lariat; but he soon has bigger problems than that: the cannon booms, and a brightly-costumed man with a bullet-shaped helmet rockets into Power Man with incredible force! Sadly, the Human Cannonball didn’t reckon on steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle. He ricochets off the Hero-for-Hire, barely managing to budge him. but definitely making him mad!
The Strong Man tries to grapple Hawkeye, but the Avenger evades him long enough to put a blunt-tipped arrow directly into the clown’s breadbasket at point-blank range, knocking him clear off his unicycle! Power Man flexes his muscles, loosening the lariat and slipping free! Matt Murdock swings his cane wildly, “accidentally” knocking the cowboy completely out cold as Power Man charges the Human Cannonball and grabs hold of him! The twin aerialists leap once again into the scaffolding above, as Hawkeye fires an explosive arrow at the Strong Man’s feet. The resulting blast puts the Strong Man down for the count! Matt Murdock takes the opportunity to slip offstage, but not before he notices that someone in the crowd is acting strangely: his radar sense picks up one man standing stock still, watching the action; while all around him, a sea of spectators is milling about in excitement and the beginnings of panic as they realize what they’re seeing on stage isn’t mere entertainment!
Luke Cage swings the Human Cannonball like a club, connecting solidly with one of the aerialists. Both villains careen wildly offstage, while the remaining aerialist reaches the rafters. Spider-Man and Cyclops emerge from their hiding places just as a disturbance parts the crowd. A sultry woman throws off her cape, revealing a slinky costume that barely covers enough to keep this event family-friendly. Coiled around her as she undulates towards the stage is an enormous, 20′ long python! Standing next to her, a man in an old-fashioned, vaudeville suit with an oily, handlebar moustache places a large top hat on his head…
“Wallopin’ Websnappers!” exclaims Spider-Man as he leaps into the rafters after the remaining aerialist. “This is no Coney Island Circus Show…it’s the Circus of Crime!”
“The Circus of what, now?” asks Cyclops. At least the villains the X-Men face usually have cooler names, he thinks, as he notices a red-whiskered man in the crowd staring fixedly at him, loosely holding a bag of popcorn, almost as an afterthought. In fact, most of it has spilled on the ground in front of him.
“The Circus of Crime,” says Daredevil, seemingly appearing from nowhere. “Ringmaster, Princess Python…and, uh…the rest of them.”
“Buncha low-life turkeys!” says Power-Man. “Picked the wrong party to crash!”
Hawkeye wastes no time and fires a bola arrow at Princess Python, completely entangling her and her snake; while Cyclops unceremoniously optic-blasts the Ringmaster, blindsiding him and knocking him out before he can even fit the hat on his head. Faced with overwhelming odds the remaining aerialist, Luigi Gambonno, surrenders.
While the NYPD rounds up the Circus of Crime, the five heroes meet in the midst of the trashed stage amidst resounding cheers from the crowd. Before he can protest, Hawkeye is quickly led away on the arm of Reverend Placide Puree to sign autographs. Spider-Man waves to the crowd and begins bowing theatrically, but stops short when he sees that same red-whiskered man in the crowd that jostled him before, still holding a melted ice cream bar, staring directly at him. His spider-sense is quiet. Still, he decides it might be a good idea to see what’s up.
A leap and bound later, and Spider-Man stands in front of him. “Hey, buddy,” Spidey says, “a bit warm for a coat, don’t ya think?” Immediately, the man turns and begins to walk away. Spidey watches him go, but not before he tags him with a spider-tracer. Best to keep an eye on this guy.
Back onstage, the heroes interrogate the Circus of Crime, now handcuffed and awaiting the paddy wagon. A hatless Ringmaster, hands cuffed behind his back, stares with unconcealed hatred at Spider-Man.
“You,” he spits. “Always it’s you, wall-crawler.”
“Oooo,” Spider-Man says, “you really should twirl your moustache when you say that, Ring-o. It’s so villainous! Here,” he says, “lemme get that for you.” He reaches out and twists Ringmaster’s moustache, while Daredevil, casually leaning against the scaffolding nearby, chuckles audibly.
“Curse you!” sputters Ringmaster. “You weren’t even supposed to be here!”
The heroes exchange looks. “Who wasn’t supposed to be here?” asks Cyclops.
Ringmaster stares defiantly at Spider-Man, ignoring Cyclops. “I’ve got nothing else to say.”
Luke Cage steps closer, loudly cracking his knuckles. “Hey, web-head…how many punches does it usually take to get this pigeon talkin’?”
“He’s a stubborn one,” says Spider-Man, sighing. Ringmaster stares at Power Man in abject terror. “Might take a few. Plus, once you start, you just can’t stop.”
Ringmaster slumps in defeat. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, we already know you’re an idiot, Ringmaster,” Daredevil says, ” so you can skip that part. Someone put you and the rest of these clowns (pardon the expression) up to this. Who was it? And don’t lie. I’ll know.”
“I don’t know who he was. We were just supposed to attack Power Man and Hawkeye, then leave after a little while. He never said anything about three more heroes! It’s his good luck we got caught. Now we can’t collect, and I’d demand more money now!” Daredevil listens for the telltale skip in heart rate that would indicate a lie, but there isn’t one. Ringmaster really doesn’t know.
“You mean you ain’t even been paid yet?” Power Man says, laughing aloud. “Man, you’re just sad.” Ringmaster flushes scarlet, but stays silent.
“What did he look like?” asks Cyclops, scanning the crowd.
“Bald. Red whiskers,” says Ringmaster. “But not a full-beard, just side-whiskers. He looked ridiculous.”
“Listen to Oil Can Harry with the handlebar moustache, here, giving out fashion advice,” says Hawkeye, having disengaged himself from Reverend Placide Puree for the moment.
“I saw that guy,” says Cyclops. “He was standing over there, just staring at me. Stared so hard he spilled his popcorn everywhere. Guess I’m an interesting fellow.”
“I saw him too,” says Spider-Man. “But he was over there, and he had ice cream. It was melting all over his hand.”
“The same guy can’t be in two places at once”, says Power Man.
“Make it three,” says Daredevil. “I noticed someone watching me too, but I didn’t get a good look at him.”
“Let me guess,” says Power Man. “Funnel cake?”
Daredevil grins. “I didn’t notice.”
“So someone, probably these guys, hires these idiots to attack me and Power Man,” says Hawkeye. “Why? I never even met you before today.”
“It ain’t like we travel in the same circles, Avenger,” agrees Cage.
“I think we can find out pretty easily,” says Spider-Man. “It looks like the NYPD can handle things from here. I can follow Ice Cream Man’s trail. You all can follow me.”
“That’s if you’re done signing autographs, archer,” Cyclops says with a smirk.
Hawkeye glances apprehensively at Reverend Placide Puree, who is looking in his direction, and nods. “Let’s get out of here.”
As faithful readers of this blog know, during the pandemic, I have been a regular player in a friend’s D&D 5E game over Roll20. I’ve also managed to run some Star Trek Adventures, too. But Star Trek Adventures, while a lot of fun, is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. I love running it, but it takes some preparation to do so. So when my friend unexpectedly said he needed a couple of weeks off from running D&D, we needed something quick and easy to fill the gap. It wasn’t gonna be Star Trek.
I suggested TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes game. Why, you ask? First of all, I love it. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Second, it takes little preparation to run, as everyone takes the role of an established super hero. Third, even though it was last in print in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it’s quite accessible to everyone. You can get the Basic and Advanced sets, as well as pretty much everything ever published for them, at Classic Marvel Forever for FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! Last, we’ve all played it before. Sure, it was decades ago, when we were in high school; but who cares? It’s not a difficult system to learn, or in our case, remember.
It’s not a particularly great system, either; but neither were any of the old TSR percentile-based boxed games. Still, I was eager and willing to jump back into the four-color comics of my youth. I hastily wrote a quick adventure for some low-power heroes (no Thor or Hulk here, sorry). Although I gave them a choice of several heroes including Black Cat, Iron Fist and Dazzler (one of my friends insisted on her, don’t ask); my friends chose to play Spider-Man, Daredevil, Power Man (Luke Cage), Hawkeye and Cyclops.
It’s set in the early 80’s comic book continuity; so Luke Cage is wearing a yellow, open shirt and a chain belt; Peter Parker carries a camera with actual film in it; Hawkeye is just thinking about starting an Avengers team on the West Coast; Matt Murdock is a lawyer and Cyclops is sad that his girlfriend turned into an evil super-powerful cosmic entity and then died; and then he then fell in love with a clone of her that was really a demon queen; and that he has a really shitty relationship with his brother; and that his father would rather jaunt around the galaxy with a bunch of misfits rather than spend one minute with his kids; and that maybe that it would be nice to take his friggin’ visor off every once in a while without blowing big holes in anything he looks at. (He doesn’t know that his own son from an alternate future timeline is a cyborg who is also a colossal douchebag. Not yet, anyway.)
So, gather ’round, True Believers, and get ready for the first Marvel Super Heroes game I have run this millennium, and probably (but hopefully not) the last: Taken to Task! In two days!
Today, I thought I’d try to get things back to whatever passes for normal around here.
Usually I would do a post like Mark A. Morin and many others did; where I first rate my performance against last year’s resolutions before making new ones. I did that last year, but when I went back and looked, it doesn’t seem like I actually made any resolutions for 2020. I think I forgot to; but somewhere along the way, I must have silently resolved to finish all my Star Trek miniatures, because that was one thing I did manage to do!
Mostly, anyway. I would have succeeded completely, if it weren’t for that meddling Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop, who just had to make some awesome Trek-themed computer consoles and bridge chairs which of course I just had to buy. They’re not done yet. Bummer.
Anyway, this year, I’ve decided not to focus on too much. That’s because every year I resolve to start a new project and/or army, and that never gets done. (I’ve been saying I would start my Old West scenery for years now.) I think in 2021 I will keep it manageable and realistic. I’m going to paint whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want…with some minor guidelines. With that in mind, here are my plans for Dead Dick’s Tavern in 2021:
1: More Roleplaying Stuff. The response to my RPG write-ups has been pretty positive, both on and off Dead Dick’s Tavern. I have some Instagram followers who particularly seem to enjoy them. They correspond with me about my blog, but never leave comments here. (You can do that, guys. Really!) Anyway, expect to see more exploits of the USS Adventure, as well as some other games I run. Expect to see something new soon.
2. One character a month. I came to miniature gaming through roleplaying games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons. With this in mind, I’m going to set a fun challenge for myself: each month, I’m going to paint one model based on a classic character class from Dungeons & Dragons. So, I may do a cleric in January, a fighter in February, etc… I’m not going to officially limit myself by assigning classes to months (whatever I feel like painting, I will paint, remember?); but by the end of the year I should have 12 different characters painted. This will give me an excuse to paint some of my Reaper miniatures that have been sitting around for years in their blisters. Watch for the first one soon!
3. Painting challenges. I like them. In May, I’ll be hosting Monster May(hem) again (blame Roger for the name); so get your monsters ready by then if you want to take part. I will most certainly be participating in Forgotten Heroes again in June, because it’s so much fun. (I expect to see Big Wheel, Jeremy.) If Dave hosts the Summer of Scenery again, I’m in; I never would have got my sludge pool done last year if it weren’t for him. I’d also like to do Fem-bruary for the first time this year, after learning of it by listening to the Imperial Rebel Ork podast. I gather it involves painting at least one female miniature in February; I’ll go one better and paint ALL female miniatures in February (I have a lot of them to paint).
4. More After Action Reports. I love playing games, and I love blogging about them. Expect to see more; a pulp game that’s been set up for months (but sadly unplayed as of yet); and likely more Star Trek games down the road (which should please Dave).
Santa brought me this stuff, and I just wanted to share it with you all. First, some 5/64″ wire, perfect for pinning pesky models that don’t want to cooperate. I was running low, and it’s amazing how St. Nick just seemed to know what I needed. Second, some Gorilla Glue gel; a perfect stocking stuffer for any miniatures enthusiast. Lastly: this magnifying visor that has CHANGED MY LIFE.
I’ve been using reading glasses to paint for a few years now, as I can’t seem to see shit anymore. This visor is so much better. First, it has a selection of magnifying lenses you can swap out or flip up, which is quite helpful. Second, it has a two-setting LED light right on the front, which illuminates areas on the miniature like the face, which can be problematic to paint when you can’t see shit. Third, it doesn’t take batteries: it’s rechargeable with a USB port. Last and most important, it’s comfortable. It fits snugly around my head, and doesn’t annoy me. I love this thing. I recently used it to help me assemble some Cruel Seas ships (I hate assembling plastic models).
Although I don’t ask Santa how much she pays for stuff (that would be gauche), I found these on Amazon for $30. (Worth it!)
That’s about it for now. I’m off to choose my first character class for my new challenge!
The term “grognard” has traditionally been used to denote an “old soldier”; but has become a pejorative term that, until recently, was used (usually in a good-natured manner) almost solely in the wargaming hobby. It means a “crusty old wargamer-type”; someone who is likely to grumble and complain about new versions of rules and/or miniatures; or about historical accuracy (or more likely, lack thereof); how much better things used to be, like when H. G. Wells’s Little Wars was the only wargame rules in town.
A grognard is a stereotype. This is important to know, because like any stereotype, it is never universally accurate. Most grognards likely arrived at miniature wargaming via the old cardboard counter-filled, massive bookshelf wargames like those put out by Avalon Hill or Victory Games; games that could (and did) often take days or weeks to play. They will happily argue ad infinitum about the brilliance or stupidity of the tactics and strategies of historical generals; or about the differing outcome of historical battles had the terrain or force composition been different, or if something like dysentery hadn’t played a part; or about the correct color of the straps on the uniforms of Hessian mercenaries employed during the American War of Independence (I said the correct color, not the one you painted on your miniatures). They’re also stereotypically frugal (i.e. cheap), especially where miniatures are concerned; most favor the smaller scales (10mm-6mm) because of the relatively low-cost of the miniatures, and also because to a grognard, the actual miniatures are far less important than the game itself. Grognards will play the same historical battle over and over and over again, with little to no variation. They consider this fun. They are notorious gatekeepers to the wargaming hobby, so as you would expect, grognards really only get along with other grognards.
So: am I a grognard? No. Not in the wargaming sense, anyway. (Although I will admit to some frustration at the “new rules every two years” trend in wargaming. But I don’t bitch about it much. I just don’t buy the new rules. I don’t get to play wargames very often nowadays anyway.) However; lately, the term “grognard” has been broadened to include roleplaying gamers. It has been applied in this manner by younger, newer gamers; and it is most certainly meant to be insulting.
This week I’m turning 48. You think I’d have a thicker skin by now, but no. I recently listened to a Technical Difficulties podcast (or perhaps it was The Roleplaying Exchange; they are pretty closely enmeshed with regard to rotating players), and one of the regulars used the term to generalize gamers older than he, implying we were all cut from the same cloth. I felt a knee-jerk resentment to being categorized as a roleplaying grognard because of my age. That’s because I still associate the term with hobby gatekeeping, and I’m not a gatekeeping kind of guy. I like to think I encourage everyone I can. The fact that I find this particular guy smarmy, annoying and a colossal douchebag at the best of times is only part of the reason I immediately wanted to punch him in the fucking face (a sure sign of grognardism if ever there was one).
As near as I can guess, to assholes like this genius, a RPG grognard is defined as a combination of any and/or all of the following:
a gamer that was born at any point in the prior millennium; and/or
a person who has run or played in a roleplaying game that was published prior to 2010; and/or
a person who is old enough and/or educated enough to know the actual definition of the term “grognard”; and/or
a person who is aware of who E. Gary Gygax was, who understands that roleplaying games were a thing that existed prior to Critical Role, and that (despite his admitted awesomeness) Matt Mercer didn’t create them; and/or
a gamer who remembers a time when roleplaying games, comic books, science fiction, action figures and miniature wargames were all considered nerdy, and it was far from cool to be a nerd; and/or
a gamer who remembers there was a time where there was no such thing as the Internet, and rulebooks existed in a form other than pdf, and who perhaps still prefers physical media to electronic; and/or
a gamer who doesn’t want anyone new in “their” hobby, because anyone new isn’t doing it right.
I meet all the above criteria except for the last one, plus I want to punch that guy in the face so fucking bad; so I guess, by his standards, anyway, I’m a roleplaying grognard.
But…with a little word-switching Hocus-Pocus, I’m gonna blow your mind and show that gatekeeping isn’t solely a grognard thing to do. (Fun facts: Hocus-Pocus is an olde-tyme word magicians used to use when pulling off tricks, and also the title of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Also, Kurt Vonnegut was a brilliant and transformative writer, in case that wasn’t apparent for all the young’uns out there. See? I can be a dick, too.)
Let’s look at that last criterion there, and let’s switch the word “new” with “old”. Anyone “old” in the hobby isn’t doing it right; so say those new gamers in the hobbies we enjoy who complain most vociferously of grognardism. Hypocritical? Yes. Ironic? Indeed; certainly by Alanis Morrissette’s dubious definition, anyway (Alanis Morrissette is a musician who actually plays musical instruments in addition to singing her own songs, for all you young’uns out there). Gatekeeping? You bet.
So, I’m not doing it right because:
As a GM, I prefer roleplaying to roll-playing; but I most often run games in which players roll actual dice to determine the success or failure of their characters’ actions; in other words, there’s a definite game mechanic;
As a GM, I will apply appropriate consequences to stupid or ill-considered character actions (e.g. “I kill the wizard’s cat to show him I mean business”);
As a GM or a player, I don’t want your ambiguously-aged (but probably too fucking young) anime-inspired “cat-girl”; your sparkly vampire; your over-the-top evil psychopath; your personal kink proxy or your stupid homebrewed were-scorpion character (yes, that actually happened) in my group, regardless of whether you believe it limits your personal expression;
As a GM or a player, I will never, regardless of your gender or the gender of your character, roleplay a sex scene with you, whether you think that makes me inhibited and/or intolerant or not (again, yes, that actually happened);
As a GM, I prefer you put your fucking phone or tablet away for the duration of the game session; checking it only during breaks or in emergencies, because I consider it rude and disrespectful to your fellow gamers (I know, crazy, right?);
As a GM, unless it’s a one-shot or the first time in a new system; I expect you to be somewhat familiar with the setting, the basic rules and your character’s capabilities (e.g. you don’t need to know every episode of Star Trek, but you should at least know what a Klingon is).
The above list is by no means exhaustive. It’s just what I could think about before my Zoom meeting. To the “new” gamers who subscribe to this viewpoint, i.e. that all the above means I’m doing it wrong and therefore am a grognard (especially that asshole on the podcast), I say, loudly and proudly:
This whole COVID-19 pandemic really sucks. I am extremely fortunate. I know this. My pandemic experience is not typical; here in the US or around the world. Throughout this crazy time I’ve been getting paid. I have a personality that does not suffer much from isolation. I have hobbies and interests that keep me occupied. I am lucky.
One of those hobbies is gaming, specifically roleplaying games. Back to the irony: I have played RPGs with friends more often during the pandemic than I did pre-COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, I couldn’t get my friends to commit to a game night if I gave them three months advance notice. Now it seems when everyone is stuck at home, they have more free time; or at least more discretion in how they use it. We’ve been using Roll20 and other free apps to run roleplaying games over the web, and it’s worked well, for the most part. It’s even allowed me to reconnect with one of my oldest and best friends who lives all the way across the country and play games with him, which is a very good thing.
The upside: since March, when everything started to shut down (at least where I am, in a state with a governor who isn’t a spineless suck-ass who puts loyalty to a fucking political party above a public health emergency…sorry, don’t get me started), I’ve run Star Trek Adventures and Slasher Flick, and I’ve been a player in a steady D&D 5th edition campaign. Like clockwork, I have played a game every week with 4-5 friends with no problems. We made a schedule and stuck to it. You know: like adults do, when apparently they don’t have the freedom of not being in lockdown to hold them back.
I hear you. Shut up, Piper. You’re getting what you want: you’re playing games, right? Why are you still complaining about it?
Because I miss gaming more than ever. Real gaming. I miss being around a table with my friends. I miss rolling dice. I miss passing the potato chips and ordering pizza. I miss the digressions and the jokes, and the bullshitting and catching up that takes time away from the game. I miss the pantomimed actions and the facial expressions, neither of which really come through well over a webcam. I miss a game free of technical difficulties. I miss having the need for a GM screen.
I miss my friends. Don’t tell them I said that. I’ll deny it. None of them read this blog anyway. But it’s true. I miss those fucking assholes with all my heart.
Because I am old, we have traditionally played games that are more “theatre of the mind” than actual map-and-miniatures games. Again, ironic; considering I’ve collected miniatures since I started playing rpgs, and since I (at least) am certainly a full-blown miniature wargamer as well. However; when running or playing in a roleplaying game I prefer to imagine the action and the setting, only resorting to hastily scrawled maps or pictures should they be needed to convey vital information or remove confusion.
Why do I prefer this? Because theatre of the mind forces things into a first person perspective. Things are happening to and being imagined by you, the player, not observed from a godlike, top-down strategic map that shows exactly how many 5-foot squares are between you and that bandit over there and what his initiative score is.
Let’s talk about that bandit. The bandit scowls at you, gripping his hand axe, his knuckles white. The once-fine weapon has been used as a tool, its blade notched and worn.He is lanky, malnourished, and unwashed; and does not have the look of one who enjoys his work. His leather armor is surprisingly-well cared for save for a shiny patch on his left forearm, where it is obvious he has often stropped his knife. Perhaps he, like so many in this war-ravaged land, was once a guardsman or soldier; now reduced to the life of a road agent, robbing and stealing to survive. The bandit stares through the eyes of a man with nothing to lose, for he has lost everything already.
I’d be willing to bet you have a pretty good idea of what that bandit looks like in your mind now. Guess what? I bet it’s not exactly the same as what MY bandit looks like. Sure, I provided all the necessary details (perhaps too many) to form a picture, but the picture was YOUR formation. What colors is he wearing? What color are his eyes? His hair? His skin? How long is his hair, if he has any? Does he have any scars? I never described any of those things.
In the tactical environment of online roleplaying, none of that matters, because as soon as you encountered the bandit the DM plopped down a virtual token with a generic picture of a guy who likely looks nothing like what anyone pictured from the description; but now becomes what the bandit looks like for everyone. Congratulations. Your menacing bandit has been reduced to a crappy piece of clip art. (And yes, I know you can make your own tokens and you’re not reduced to clip art; but once again, a token is a token; not a bandit, or a Deep One, or a dragon.) Your thrilling, imaginative combat has now degenerated into a strategic, turn-based board game. Which would be fine for me, if I was playing a board game.
My gripes are in no way reflective of the quality of the games I have participated in. We’re all working with what tools we have. I miss being around an actual table, although I would much rather play over Discord than not play at all. I’m playing in a few hours, as a matter of fact.
I just can’t wait until we’re all back together again.
The crew returned from the Shakedown Cruise of the U.S.S. Adventure two months ago. Since then, the vessel has been docked at the Denali substation at Outpost 51 pending an inquiry into the loss of Captain Boardman and the subsequent actions taken by Commander Logan, particularly those that caused a diplomatic incident with the Cardassian Union and the Ferengi Alliance. The ship received minor repairs, mostly cosmetic; while the data collected on the mysterious alien vessel was analyzed and processed. The Maquis agents discovered at the mining colony were sent to Security for interrogation.
The Adventure‘s captain’s chair remained vacant while Starfleet conducted an inquiry. Over the next few weeks, all senior staff and department heads were interviewed by a panel of four of Starfleet’s top brass. The panel was chaired by Admiral Alynna Nechayev, and consisted of Fleet Admiral Shanthi, Admiral Owen Paris, and Captain Tomek.
It was not a trial, at least officially; but it sure felt like one. One by one, the officers were all called before the panel to give statements on their role during the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Adventure. They faced some hard questions, particularly from Admiral Nechayev, who lived up to her reputation for being no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, and–quite frankly–scary.
“So, to be clear,” she said at one point, “On her very first mission, the Adventure lost her Captain and her Chief Science Officer, both of whom seem to have been mentally unbalanced; and managed to provoke and antagonize both the Cardassians and the Ferengi, both of whom are demanding concessions and satisfaction from the Federation. Sounds like a resounding success.”
Despite this, Admiral Nechayev seemed mostly concerned with the Cardassians; what they were doing, why they crossed into the Neutral Zone, and what the crew’s opinion was of the Cardassian officers they interacted with: Legate Jabrel and Gul Drazel. Fleet Admiral Shanthi and Admiral Paris questioned Commander Logan’s decisions and the decisions of Captain Boardman, up to and including his rash decision to abandon ship on a seemingly suicidal mission. They asked if there was any warning of Boardman’s tenuous mindset beforehand; any indication that he should have been relieved of duty by his First Officer ( Commander Logan) or by the Chief Medical Officer. They also asked about Chief Science Officer Shazak Fulexian; wondering aloud how anyone so unstable could be tapped to lead the science department on a Federation starship.
Throughout the proceedings, Captain Tomek said very little. In fact, he seemed to accept the official version of events presented at face value.
Eventually, the discussion turned to who would captain the Adventure now that Boardman was gone. As a new, Akira-class vessel; the Adventure would need a strong captain. Although Commander Logan assumed command under dire circumstances, was she the right person to sit in the captain’s chair permanently?
Admiral Nechayev made the case that Commander Logan is known to the Cardassians now; that putting her in command of the Adventure may be sending a message to the Cardassians that “cowboy diplomacy” is an option that is on the table, should it be required. This term elicited a collective chuckle from the three admirals; but predictably, Captain Tomek, a Vulcan, showed no reaction. Rather, he began to speak.
“I feel it is necessary to remind everyone that I never supported the decision to give Captain Boardman command of the Adventure.”
Fleet Admiral Shanthi sighed. “Gloating doesn’t become you, Tomek.”
“Gloating is something humans do,” said Tomek. “It is illogical to take pleasure in the knowledge you were correct when your counsel went unheeded, nonetheless. Rather, it is more productive to consider a future course of action in light of past lessons. I merely state that I believe now, as I did then, that there are better candidates for command of the Adventure. Commander Logan has exhibited sound judgement and has performed her duties competently. But she is not the best choice.”
Admiral Paris spoke up: “I feel like we’ve discussed this before.“
“That is because we have discussed it before,” Tomek said. “Ronan Lyko should captain the Adventure. It is only logical.”
“Captain Lyko commands the Ostrander,” said Admiral Nechayev.
“An antiquated, Cheyenne-class vessel, well past its prime,” said Tomek. “His abilities and experience would be better utilized in command of the Adventure.”
Fleet Admiral Shanthi cleared her throat. “After Wolf 359, Captain Lyko was offered his choice of vessels. He has made his feelings on the matter clear. He wishes to remain in command of the Ostrander.”
Tomek looked at each of the admirals in turn. “It is my understanding that Captain Lyko’s is still a Starfleet officer, and thus subject to assignment, regardless of his personal wishes.”
“Might I suggest we table this conversation for now?” Admiral Nechayev rang the bell to adjourn the inquiry. “This inquiry has concluded. You will be notified of our findings within a few days.” Everyone slowly filed out of the room.
The Adventure was docked for the duration of the inquiry; thus the senior staff was assigned to other duties around Outpost 51 and the Denali substation until it was concluded. Lieutenant Kl’rt Beta, Helm Officer, had to content himself with piloting shuttlecraft between the outpost and the substation, carrying personnel and cargo back and forth. It was a big step down from being at the conn of an Akira-class starship. Since all he really did was pilot the Adventure, his actions weren’t in question as far as the inquiry panel was concerned. His testimony was brief, merely verifying the version of events as presented by Commander Logan and the ship’s own combat data.
Chief of Security Daris Pak had a bit more to account for. She was in charge of the tactical station; so it fell to her to explain every phaser blast and photon torpedo launched during the course of the Adventure’s clash with the Cardassians and Ferengi. Until the Adventure was flying again she was assigned to menial duties aboard the Denali docking substation; cargo inspections and routine security details: a complete waste of her talent and ability. She supplemented her time by teaching self-defense classes to enlisted personnel who would likely never have need for her training. One of her classes was disrupted by a few rowdy Klingons who scoffed at Starfleet security training, since it emphasized de-escalation and non-injurious conflict resolution. Commander Pak took the opportunity to instruct one Klingon in particular about the danger of underestimating an opponent.
Chief Engineer Suvak was most worried about retaining his post aboard the Adventure; not because of anything he did or failed to do; but rather because he never would have been assigned to the Adventure in the first place if it wasn’t for Captain Boardman. Boardman was a strong advocate for the Vulcan, despite the fact the Suvak had spent decades in an alternate dimension. As a result of a transporter accident, he was now somewhat behind as far as current Starfleet technology was concerned. Nonetheless, Boardman saw something in Suvak that made him pass up more qualified candidates in favor of the Vulcan. In light of his obvious mental instability, would Boardman’s favor ultimately harm Suvak?
Suvak decided to spend his time as productively as possible. He proposed some modifications to the Adventure: remove the extensive shuttle bays in favor of improved power systems. After all, the Adventure didn’t need two runabouts and six shuttlecraft. It seemed destined for a more martial role; improved power systems would ensure the ship had power to phasers when it needed to fight, or power to warp drive when it needed to flee; and it would still allow Adventure to carry one runabout and three shuttlecraft. HIs proposal was accepted. He and Chief Station Engineer Malcolm Khofi spent most of the two months overseeing the modifications.
Commander Logan, meanwhile, was temporarily relieved of command duties while the Inquiry was ongoing. When not answering the panel’s questions, she spent most of her time in her quarters, wondering if she made the correct decisions in light of what had occurred. She was confident she had; in hindsight, she would not have done anything differently. She did not know either Captain Boardman or Commander Fulexian well, nor was she a counselor. She had no way of predicting their aberrant behavior.
She received an unexpected visit from Captain Tomek, who came to her quarters to inform her that the Maquis operative, Hoddek, had finally cracked under interrogation and was giving up some valuable information. Tomek was on his way to the Denali substation to meet with Kalar Duren, the Betazoid interrogator who was questioning Hoddek, and wanted Logan to accompany him. Duren was both Counselor and Chief of Security aboard the substation, dividing his time between the two positions as needed. Tomek seemed to hold him in high regard.
Tomek and Logan met in shuttle bay 3 an hour later to find Lieutenant Beta awaiting them. It was the first time Logan had seen her helm officer since the Adventure’s return. Beta flew the two senior officers to the substation, where he left them to pass some time playing dom-jot with Master Chief Engineer Holt Belmont, a likeable enlisted man whom everyone–including Beta–seemed to owe a favor. Along the way to the interrogation room, Logan picked up Commander Suvak, who took the opportunity to brief Logan on the modifications to the Adventure as they walked. All three arrived at the Security Office to find Lt. Commander Pak was there already, checking her duty roster.
Suvak, Pak, Logan and Tomek met with Kalar Duren to hear the results of the interrogation. Hoddek revealed that a high-ranking individual operating around Deep Space Nine was a key Maquis agent. He claimed not to know the person’s identity, and Duren believed him. Still, it wasn’t long ago that Lieutenant Commander Calvin Hudson had deserted Starfleet to join the Maquis; causing a significant amount of damage and security risk. Tomek recalled that Hudson was a personal friend of Commander Benjamin Sisko. Now, news of another high-ranking Maquis operating around Deep Space Nine was of great concern, and a bit too coincidental for the Vulcan’s liking.
Upon leaving the Security Office, Tomek pulled Logan aside. “I see no need to draw this out. The panel has decided that you are to retain command of the Adventure. Congratulations, Captain Logan. Unfortunately, there will be little time for formal recognition. Please ensure the Adventure is ready to depart, and make any changes to your personnel as you see fit. We leave for Deep Space Nine in three days.”
Logan saluted Captain Tomek, who returned the gesture solemnly. “Thank you, Captain.” She said. It sounded odd to her, not having to call him “sir” any longer.
Word of the Adventure’s destination spread rather quickly as Logan assembled her crew. Over the dom-jot table, Holt Belmont grinned at Lieutenant Beta. :So,” he said, “I hear you’re back behind the wheel, headed to DS9.”
“That’s what they tell me,” said Beta.
Belmont’s smile widened. “Beta, buddy…I was wondering if you could do me a favor…”
After a brief hiatus to play some D&D 5th edition, I have started up my Star Trek Adventures campaign again. While preparing to document the continuing adventures of the U.S.S. Adventure, I realized I had left the story hanging several months ago, and never returned to it. Sure enough, in my unpublished WordPress posts, there was this account of our last gaming session: the end of the “Shakedown Cruise” of the U.S.S. Adventure, The Big Sleep: Conclusion. If you need a recap, the story immediately preceding this can be found here.
So, to resume:
Aboard the alien cylinder, Commander Fulexian was losing his patience. Despite his best efforts, the hatch to the interior of the object remained inaccessible. To make matters worse, the Cardassian boarding party was on its way to the away team’s location. Soon they would be trapped between them and the hatch. The Andorian was the Adventure’s science officer, not security chief; but even he could see that this was not a strategically advantageous position to maintain.
He ordered the team withdraw to avoid contact with the Cardassians. They would likely have no more luck accessing the hatch than he had, anyway. The Cardassians pursued the away team, pausing just long enough to vaporize the helpless Ferengi salvage crew in retaliation for the attack on their ship, when a stroke of luck occurred: the outer walls of the cylinder shifted suddenly, cutting of the Cardassians from the away team. With a little more room to breathe, Fulexian ordered his team to resume their exploration.
Meanwhile, aboard the Adventure, Lieutenant Beta informed Commander (now Acting-Captain) Logan that the Cardassians had some reinforcements on the way…three Hideki-class cruisers were entering the system, course uncertain but probably bound for the cylinder. The odds were changing, and Logan knew she needed to protect the science outpost as her primary duty. She ordered Beta to lay in a course to intercept the Sindral before Gul Drazel could reach New Coriolanus.
The conflict was swift and decisive. Gul Drazel was not inclined to further discussion, especially since once the Adventure gave chase, the Ferengi took the opportunity to destroy the helpless Cardassian ship. The Sindral fired on the Adventure, but the shields held. In response, Lieutenant Commander Pak targeted the Sindral’s weapons and engines with the phaser arrays. The shots blew through the Cardassian shields, disabling the vessel and leaving it adrift. Commander Logan berated Daimon Nogrix (who had returned to the bridge) for the cowardly actions of his crew and banished him from the bridge once again, while the crew of the Adventure took the brief respite to restore power and repair the shields before the Cardassian reinforcements arrived.
It was then that Lieutenant Beta informed Commander Logan that there was another Cardassian vessel on a course to the system, Legate Jabrel’s ship: the Ma’bran, a Keldon-class destroyer, bigger and more heavily-armed than the Sindral. To make matters worse, some kind of dimensional disturbance was forming several million kilometers away from the cylinder’s present position, directly in its path.
Aboard the cylinder, the away team discovered a strange anomaly of thier own. There was some kind of portal opening in the very corridor they were presently exploring. Wasting no time, and in accordance with his value “Defeat Ignorance”, Commander Fulexian ordered the away team through the portal. They arrived in the vast expanse of the interior of the cylinder, somehow separated from where they were by a dimensional barrier.
The away team found themselves surrounded by crisscrossing lattices and struts containing row upon row of smooth, ovular pods made from the same alien metal that seemed to defy tricorder classification. Although there were no life signs present, both Lieutenant Suvak and Ensign Tamral could sense the pervasive presence of a great many consciousnesses, all utterly alien and incomprehensible. Scans of the pods revealed there was indeed organic matter inside; but matter that showed no signs of life or decomposition. After several more scanning attempts, they were able to determine the pods contained vaguely humanoid forms, roughly 2.5 meters tall, with long limbs and featureless faces.
There was no power to any of the pods; or indeed, to anything in the cylinder, so far as they could tell. If these were stasis pods, they were not being maintained by any conventional means. The away team was metaphorically and literally in the dark.
Repeated attempts to reach the collective consciousness, either telepathically or empathically, had failed. Commander Fulexian, thoroughly frustrated, made the decision to open one of the pods, heedless of the possible consequences or ramifications. He simply had to know…
Meanwhile, the Adventure’s readings of the alien cylinder showed something alarming: it was beginning to accelerate, heading straight towards the now fully-formed dimensional rift. It would pass through it in a little under ten minutes, taking the entire away team with it unless Commander Logan could get them back aboard Adventure in time. The Sindral was disabled, and the Prized Possession was soon to have its hands full with the Cardassian reinforcements. For the time being, New Coriolanus was out of danger. She ordered the Adventure to close with the cylinder and beam the away team back, once they were in transporter range.
“Open it up,” ordered Commander Fulexian. The rest of the away team exchanged glances.
“But, sir…” protested Ensign Tamral, “we don’t have enough information..”
“I said open it!” yelled Fulexian, his Andorian antennae quivering. But before anyone could do anything, the entire away team was beamed back aboard Adventure to be met by the smiling face of Transporter Chief O’Malley.
“I got ’em, Commander..er, I mean, Captain,” said O’Malley.
“Good news,” said Logan. “Away team, report to your posts.”
The away team filed out of the transporter room. All except Commander Fulexian. He pulled his phaser and shot O’Malley, stunning the hapless transporter chief. Then he hurriedly set the transporter controls to beam himself back aboard the cylinder.
He had to know.
By the time Commander Logan got word of Fulexian’s actions, it was too late. Defying physics and logic; and seemingly without any known propulsion system; the cylinder accelerated to warp speed and entered the rift. It closed seconds later, taking both the alien cylinder and Chief Science Officer Shazak Fulexian with it.
All that was left was to mop up. Daimon Nogrix was beamed back aboard his ship, the Prized Possession. Since there was no profit to be had now that the alien cylinder was gone, and since he was soon to be facing three Cardassian corvettes and a Keldon-class destroyer on his own (Commander Logan made it clear he could expect no further assistance from the Adventure), he made the tactical decision to withdraw, vowing to report the actions of Captain Boardman and Commander Logan to his government. Legate Jabrel’s ship, the Ma’bren, went to the aid of Gul Drazel’s ship, the Sindral; while thethree corvettes pursued the Ferengi. The Adventure took up a protective position around New Coriolanus, warily watching the Cardassians; but once repairs were complete, the Cardassians left the system without a word. Strange.
The Adventure remained in orbit around New Coriolanus until a small detachment of Federation ships arrived. These ships would maintain a presence in the system to ensure the Cardassians didn’t return. With the safety of the science outpost sorted, Commander Logan ordered the Adventure to break orbit and return to Outpost 51.