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Terran Interceptor — A StarCraft 2 custom map

First off: What is Terran Interceptor? 

TerranInterceptor-Screenshot3.png

Terran Interceptor is a custom StarCraft 2 map where players fly a light air unit to accomplish a series objectives. The player’s fighter climbs and dives to avoid buildings and other obstacles, sporting heat-seeker missiles, a small cannon, afterburners for a burst of speed, and flares that confuse its enemies.

This map uses custom scripts to simulate physics. This means that the units bank to turn, fight g-forces, and convey a sense of the power of the machines depicted. Players, then, are not commanders; they’re pilots.

My intention with this map, and others in the series I’ve been working on, is to offer tactile gameplay. Not quite arcade-y action, not quite simulation, but somewhere in the middle of the two.

This map in particular is supposed to be an introduction to this kind of gameplay, teaching the player how each mechanic works. Each aspect of the light fighter is explored, and given context with various challenges the player has to overcome. The challenge for me there was to structure the mission in such a way that it wasn’t a lecture, didn’t hold the player’s hand too much, and yet wasn’t prohibitively difficult.

Time-to-fun was actually an important metric for me when I was considering the map’s flow. During the iteration process I had to restructure the mission several times to bring that number as close to 0 as possible, while still teaching players everything they needed to know.

TerranInterceptor-Screenshot2.jpg

There are a handful of unit types in Terran Interceptor:

  • Fighters
  • Drones you shoot down
  • Probes you chase after
  • Turrets that shoot at you if you fly over buildings
  • And a Big Bad corvette that plays the role of final boss.

TerranInterceptorCorvette.png

Each one has different physics characteristics and abilities, showing the player just how far the rules of the playing field can flex. Some, like the turrets, are meant to shape the landscape and force the player to actually care about the terrain, offering an increased skill challenge.

One of the harder lessons that I had to learn during the development of this map, and other maps that use this type of custom gameplay, was that ff you change basic behavior, like movement as I did here, you will have to change everything else around it. The AI had to change, the UI had to change, the way the camera behaves, the way maps are laid out, etc.. I ended doing a fairly deep dive into the inner workings of the Galaxy engine as a result. It was a good experience to have since it made me more comfortable learning complex systems in game engines, but it did slow down development considerably.

Along the way, I ended up learning quite a bit about how physics engines in general work, along with some math I somehow glossed over from my school days. As it turns out, making games isn’t easy.

Another hard lesson is that this type of gameplay will never be perfect in the Galaxy engine. The way that it handles controls, the way that the scripting is executed present obstacles that are quite difficult to get around of.

TerranInterceptor-Screenshot1.png

Even so, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished here, and I’m going to continue working on more of it in the future.

The map is available in the StarCraft 2 custom tab. Just search for Terran Interceptor.

Barrel Blast Design Breakdown

In this post I’ll be breaking down some of the approach I took and lessons I learned from working on the design for a GameJam project called Barrel Blast!

You can download it here. (25meg RAR file. Just extract it and run)

This was a project developed over 48 hours using Unity 5 by a team of 5 people. Misti, Thomas, Carson, Rim and myself. I did the gameplay and puzzle design, along with a chunk of the gameplay engineering, but everyone contributed in equal measure to the final product as a whole.

BarrelBlast

First off, The premise!

You’re aboard a massive freighter that’s adrift on rough seas. Bad dudes are trying to find you in the dark, cavernous hold below-deck. And you’re a… guy who can make certain oil drums explode at will, with a little delay.

It’s a puzzle game that was birthed by the theme “Chain Reaction”. The ship tilts back and forth, making some barrels roll along the floor. You can click them, and after a moment or two, they detonate.

You clear a level by killing all the dudes, which you do by exploding barrels next to them. Since only some of the barrels are clickable, you have to create chain reactions. The image above is the first level where the mechanics are tutorialized.

BarrelBlast2

This is level two. Note the splitting paths. The idea here is to illustrate two things: The position of other elements in the level matter, and a single explosion can lead to more than one chain being triggered.

This level, like the first, is simple in the sense that detonating the barrel in the right spot is all that matters. But, there is another element to consider here, phase.

BarrelBlast3.png

Rolling barrels actually have two characteristics to their patterns: position and phase; where they are and whether they’re moving left or right. Level 3 introduces this element to the player. The first barrel will be in the correct spot twice during its pattern, but won’t trigger both the cascading chains when the barrel is detonated while rolling to the right.

BarrelBlast4

Level 4 makes the player consider both concepts, but on a longer level, and from a different perspective. It also introduces the idea that walls block explosions. The player’s margin of error for an “optimal” solution on this level is very narrow, but they have additional barrels for a less-than-perfect clear.

BarrelBlast5.png

With Level 5 we introduce a new type of barrel has a completely different mechanic: it’s steerable, but doesn’t have any power of its own. So, the player has to navigate through the level, using the tilt of the ship to give it them momentum to get where it has to in order to start off the chain.

This gameplay is more tactile and less about puzzle-solving. Note the affordance of the solid-red spotlight, which was introduced in level 3, guiding players to the optimal detonation location.

Levels 6 and 7 are explorations of that same idea with different layouts and more labyrinthine paths.

I enjoyed the experience of making this game as a while. Here are some conclusions I reached.

The Good

  • For a quick project, the team was able to present something quite polished! 48 hours really isn’t that much time.
  • The gameplay quickly becomes intuitive, with the feedback and payoff being quite clear. Players engaged with it rather well, became frustrated at the right points and with the right intensity — more “grrr, gonna get it right this time!” instead of “meh, too hard. Laters.”
  • The combination of elements leads to a surprisingly wide design space. There are a lot more possibilities for new entities that detonate and can be detonated.

The Bad

  • In order to allow the player to consider more than one rolling barrel, they need to be able to always see it in relation to all the others. There is only so much depth a level.
  • Furthermore, the only real effect of additional rolling barrels is to narrow down the “optimal solution” window without really increasing complexity. This leads to the wrong type of frustration — the one that comes from mechanics rather than puzzle-solving.
  • Phase and position are questions answered quickly. The depth of the complexity of rolling barrels on their own is limited.
  • Didn’t have time to explore the whole design space.

Whut I durn learned

  • Experimenting leads to unexpected results. The steerable barrel, for example, was a bit of an accident.
  • Design aids, like a display that shows a designer the radius of a barrel’s explosion speeds up design and iteration considerably. (Thanks Carson!)
  • Good versioning is absolutely crucial for good collaboration.

 

 

Lofty Pig – Pathfinder encounter design

This is a diagram of an encounter I ran for my current Pathfinder campaign. The party ventured into a mangrove swamp to find a lost artifact, on-board a dead pirate’s ship. Turned out pretty well!Lofty Pig

Heavy Gear — The Ending

This is the final writeup I did for a Heavy Gear campaign. We got lost in the scheduling muck of the end of the year and lost the thread of the campaign…

Still, I can’t overemphasize how much fun I had running it. Alas, this is likely going to make ZERO sense to anyone who wasn’t one of my players.

They were Mekong Dominion Peacekeepers.

Their unit was called “Experimental Squad 16”

This is the ending to their story

XxFireDog1913xX writes: I don’t know if this address is still going to reach any of you, but I found something interesting for all of us.

 

RECORD TYPE: ADMINISTRATIVE-LEVEL INCIDENT REPORT — DEBRIEFING TRANSCRIPT
SUBJECT: ATSI INCIDENT REPORT #12-42016
OFFICERS INVOLVED: CHIEF CONSTABLE AMARANTA YUE

(ATSI GARRISON CHIEF)– SUBJECT OF INQUIRY

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER CRAIG ENNIS

(INQUIRIES DEPT. INTERVIEWER)

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER ZAE YU FUNG

(INQUIRIES DEPT. INTERVIEWER)

CHIEF CONSTABLE BARLOWE

(HEAD OF THE MEKONG DOMINION PEACEKEEPER FORCE — OBSERVER)

— NAME REDACTED —

— TITLE REDACTED –

— NAME REDACTED —

— TITLE REDACTED –

— NAME REDACTED —

(GUEST)

LOCATION: LO-YANG CENTRAL CONSTABULARY OFFICES.

 

INTERVIEW PT. III BEGINS: 14:55

 

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

So we’ve been talking for some time about the activities of Experimental Squad 16…

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Yes.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

And we have discussed how their practices mostly led to the destruction of property, destruction of evidence and so forth…

— **REDACTED** COUGHS IN BACKGROUND —

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Yes, we have been discussing that.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

Now, as you well know, we’re not here to assign any blame or responsibility for the actions of the experimental squad in the past–

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

We’re interested in just what happened on the night of Summer 15th.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

The “Ballroom Blitz” incident.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

I understand that the rank and file have taken to calling it that.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Effectively beheading half the major criminal organizations in the hemisphere, exposing a corruption ring and dismantling the Atsi Red yakuza family would make an impression on–

— LT. CMDRD CRAIG ENNIS INTERCEDES —

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

We’re not arguing about results here, or what junior constables think. The number of suspects and constables killed alone during this fiasco is unacceptable.

CHF. CONSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I’m sure the lieutenant commander knows that the squad was facing opposition armed with military hardware, and that the first part of the operation was carried out without incident.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG.

Two dead suspects by beheading, inciting a riot and then using an unapproved chemical agent hardly seems to be without incident. Those people–

— CHF. CNSTBL BARLOWE INTERCEDES —

CHF. CNSTBL BARLOWE

Move on.

— **REDACTED** SPEAKS. MASKED DIGITALLY —

 

 

 

— **REDACTED** SPEAKS. MASKED DIGITALLY —

CHF. CNSTBL BARLOWE

(to the unnamed guests)

You’re here as a courtesy, not as part of the proceedings. Don’t try my patience.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

We have some gunsight footage from Constable Guzman’s equipment… Are you familiar with this footage?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I’ve seen it, yes.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

Let’s take another look…

— FOOTAGE BEGINS —

The video is grainy, with just a handful of colors. An overlay displays the time and location, along with Constable Guzman’s name and vitals. His heartbeat is spiking. The scene is a set of blast doors, half-open. Whorls of condensation roll out from the chamber on the other side.

“This is bad”, a heavily digitized voice says. “We’re all exposed.”

Guzman walks through the opening, stepping over the legs of another constable who is propped up against a wall. Inside the chamber, there is a gruesome collection of body parts, some of them sliced clean, others ripped by gunfire, all of them bleeding something the camera can only register as a dark gray. Guzman can’t look away from a hand, its trigger finger is still twitching, even though it’s chopped out at the wrist. The rest of the arm is in the maw of a metal and muscle nightmare that is collapsed next to the corpse it bit into.

“How long will it take to make?”, another voice asks.

“Couple of hours should be enough…”

Guzman looks up at the voices. It’s Doctor Rokka, barely distinguishable in the low light, and Sergeant Gramm Lumox, who is unmistakable. His prosthetic robot body casts a very particular silhouette. On the floor around them there are dozens of smashed glass tubes. Past them there is a container-sized box. Its smooth walls open up at one end, revealing racks of even more tubes. All of them are broken. There is a hospital bed next to the crate, bloody sheets still on it. Gramm and the doctor turn to look at Guzman. The video cuts out suddenly.

— FOOTAGE ENDS —

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

It seems like two members of the Experimental Squad were discussing something very specific. You’ve said before that you don’t know what it is.

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

Do you stand by that?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I do. I have no knowledge to share of what transpired in the third basement level of the compound.

  1. CMDR ZAE YU FUNG

And just what do you make of the footage we just showed you? Or the fact that that was the only evidence about that phase of the operation in existence?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

All my constables submitted the requisite reports. Any details…

— LT CMDR CRAIG ENNIS INTERCEDES —

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

None of those reports mention the last chamber. And all the reports from the experimental squad are missing. You know this already, Chief Constable. Aren’t you responsible for that omission?

CHF CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I am. They were removed from our records for security reasons.

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

Are you saying you knowingly deleted the reports yourself?

CHF CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I am saying that they were removed for security reasons.

  1. CMDR ZAU YUN FUNG

Under whose —

— CHF CNSTBL BARLOWE INTERCEDES —

CHF. CNSTBL BARLOWE

Move on, lieutenant.

 

  1. CMDR CRAIG ENNIS

Sir, the inquiries department has the directive AND the authority to —

— TRANSCRIPT ENDS —

XxFireDog1913xX writes: No clue who the guests were. They’re gone for the next part of the transcript I was able to pull. Being talked about like this feels weird.
INTERVIEW PT. IV BEGINS: 16:08

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

Seems like we’re set so I’ll just go into it. Chief Constable, let’s talk about the third floor.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

What do you want to know?

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

Experimental Squad 16 was given the directive to arrest “Ghenghiz”, the leader of the Atsi Reds yakuza family, who was reportedly on that floor. Is that accurate?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Yes.

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

The squad requested back-up when it became apparent that they would face unusually stiff resistance. That request was denied. Why?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

All our resources were invested in other operations, as well as on the perimeter of the compound.

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

This is a team that routinely took on seemingly overwhelming opposition head-on. What prompted them to ask for back-up?

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

All the information I have is in the reports.

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

That information isn’t in any of the reports the inquiry department received — but it doesn’t matter.

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

We have footage of that floor as well. Shall we?

— FOOTAGE BEGINS —

The image jumps to life abruptly. It’s still footage recorded from Constable Guzman’s equipment. He’s with at least half a dozen other officers. They’re in a stairway. A digitized voice starts counting down.

“In Three… Two… One!”

The image shakes, pixelating. Gunfire in the dark. Flashes. Screams. A blue glow swipes across one side of the screen and the image begins to settle down. Guzman’s vitals are spiking and his breathing is a fast hissing down in the background. He’s around a corner, looking down a wide open space. The body of another constable is in the middle of the floor, still bleeding. Figures move in the dark, punctuated by flashes of yellow and blue light. Guzman crawls over to the wounded constable, turning her over. She is still breathing. Guzman’s gloved hands press down on the oozing wound. A hissing voice is barely caught by the mic.

“Help… help…”

Guzman looks up suddenly, shifting the perspective of the image.

A statue of a young woman is standing over the two of them on a pedestal, lifting her hands in a quasi-religious pose. The statue is standing in the middle of a frame made out of metal tubing, held like a puppet by steel cables attached to its joints. The statue is bone white, except for where the wires dig into its flesh. The wires are surrounded by bloody scabs.

“Help me…”

Guzman looks down at the constable he’s keeping alive with his hands for a moment, then across at the rest of the room. There are at least a dozen statues there, all of them different. All of them are striking poses that contort them into something akin to prayer. The firefight continues down the hallway

Guzman stammers into his radio.

“I – I need medical over here!”

FOOTAGE ENDS —

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

There are no victim debriefing reports, no names collected of possible survivors, no suspects or charges, for anything that was going on on the third floor.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Is there an issue you are trying to raise here, lieutenant?

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

The absolute lack of a paper trail is an issue. The lack of charges for the crimes we just saw on the screen is an issue. Or do you disagree?

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

Let’s move on from that. We have some autopsy reports, as well as some medical logs…

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Those were leaked to the press, weren’t they?

XxFireDog1913xX writes: I added the news clip she’s talking about here. Still no clue who the actual leak was. I’m betting it was the quartermaster, Sgt. Bolton. That guy always had way too much cash.

FOOTAGE BEGINS —

The music sting of “Atsi Action News Report on Channel 52” plays as the shows logo spins into view in tri-dimensional video. Sarah Vikkers comes into the foreground.

“Good evening Atsi, and welcome to your Action News Report on Channel 52, the most trusted source of up-to-date news that matters to you. Our top story tonight…”

An image of the Atsi Red’s compound fills most of the screen. It’s a dark silhouette with the glow of a blazing fire in the background.

“A public disturbance call on one of Atsi’s most notorious gangsters leads to a pitched battle and a strange discovery in the home of Yakuza Gang-leader “Ghenghiz”.

An image Ghenghiz is displayed. He is a wide-set man in his early forties, sporting a thin Fu-Manchu.

“The Mekong Dominion Peacekeepers report that when answering a noise complaint, they discovered that several dozen guests at the home of notorious Atsi Reds leader “Ghenghiz” were intoxicated by a gas leak and in need of medical assistance.”point

A shot of police officers in gas masks carting out unconscious bodies replaces Ghenghiz’ face.

“While searching the premises for more victims, MDP sources tell us, they found evidence of several felonies and started conducting arrests. Several gang members resisted, according to the MDP, and were neutralized without incident.”

The logo along the bottom of the screen changes to “ACTION NEWS EXCLUSIVE!”

“But here at Action News Report we are prepared to state that there is more to this story than what MDP sources tell us. In tonight’s exclusive, we shall have a closer look at medical reports tied to the incident.”

A photograph of a corpse is brought up, with its face and crotch censored. It has gaunt limbs, with barely any skin on the bone. Thick cabling comes into view from whatever is censored on the corpse’s face.

“Autopsy reports acquired by this station list at least fifty dead, plenty of whom were members of the local Peacekeeper garrison, and scores more wounded. Amongst them, though. One stands out. It is an autopsy that says its subject was, a two-year old, who was 60 pounds, and five feet tall.”

The camera pans to a middle-aged, well-coiffed man sitting next to the anchor.

“To discuss this report we turn now to our medical correspondent, Dr. Arnjan Vonderwalde. Doctor, what can you tell us about this remarkable report? Is it a fake? A series of errors?”

“Well, Sarah, if you read the report you’ll see that it addresses all of those discrepancies itself. The subject, according to the report, was a clone.”

“A HUMAN clone?”

“Precisely, Sarah. A human clone. The subject appeared to be a thirty year old eunuch, but testing by a member of the MDP medical staff proved that this was, in fact, a two year old clone, deformed by an aggressive growth acceleration treatment. We can’t really tell who was cloned — but we do know that they were likely not a functioning individual.”

“How can you tell, doctor?”

“Well, Sarah, according to the report, half of the clone’s brain was atrophied. It had some sort of mechanical device that seemed to relegate higher intellectual functions to a computer over a network.”

“Remarkable. How does this tie into the events at the Atsi Reds’ compound?”

“The report tells us that the corpse was found in the personal chambers of “Ghenghiz”, the leader of the Atsi Reds, the night of the incident.”

“How did the clone die?”

“A massive heart attack, if the report is to be believed. It lists a number of lacerations and other wounds, but it states that the clone went into grand mal seizures when the network connection was forcibly cut.”

“Thank you, doctor. Let me bring the conversation now to our security specialist, Mr. Lucas Arppaio.”

“Good evening, Sarah. What an eventful few months we’ve just had in our fair city!”

“Yes, it’s been a very busy time for us here at Actions News. Especially for you! Tell me, what do you see in this incident, with your expertise as a retired intelligence officer?”

“Sarah, I see a culmination of a long string of incidents, where there was a single common thread…”

The image focuses on Lucas Arppaio, a portly man with a shaved head and a wide, predatory smile. An image of Gramm, Willow and Yasuhide at the Atsi Maglev station appears next to him.

“The special Peacekeeper unit known as Experimental Squad 16. They have been at the center of the riots that shook our city earlier this year…”

The image changes to one of Doctor Rokka standing next to Yasuhide in the middle of a city street over a corpse covered with a plastic sheet. Red Rum’s silhouette is nearby, stalking out of view.

“The dismantling of one of the biggest smuggling rings in our city…”

The next image is one of Gramm leading uniformed constables while they search the rubble of a building. Langstromm is standing next to him with his rifle.

“And this latest incident. They are all connected by this special unit that was, I might add, also the unit that stopped a mercenary takeover of one of the maglev train lines. They are the best of the best of the MDP and I am sure they were hand-picked for this mission.”

“So you’re saying that all of this was planned, Lucas?”

“Absolutely. I believe the capital has had it with the corruption in our city and has sent this crack team to clean up the mess!”

“While their achievements may be impressive, the amount of collateral damage…”

“That is a symptom of just how deep-rooted the problem is! Even the best surgeon amputates when the whole limb is diseased.”

“Well! That’s quite a statement! Based on your experience, can you speculate what this specialized team will do next? Storm city hall?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, Sarah! I wouldn’t be surprised… Though, I did have a question for our good doctor. Arjan, my friend! What do you make of an entire MDP garrison being scheduled for “vitamin booster shots” immediately after last night’s incident?”

“Well, it sounds fairly innocuous. It’s strange that the entire garrison was scheduled to get an injection the morning after, but with bureaucracy being what it is –“

“I’m sorry gentlemen, but that’s all the time we have for that story.”

The image focuses back on Sarah, the anchor.

“As a final note, “Ghenghiz” was amongst the arrested during last night’s MDP operation. Our requests to interview Ghenghiz have been denied by MDP officials, stating that “Ghenghiz” is currently indisposed due to an acute case of complete catatonia.”

The image shifts to another camera angle. The anchor glances that way with a smile.

“Let’s move on to sports news. The Charioteers continue to dominate this season as –“

— FOOTAGE ENDS —

XxFireDog1913xX writes: That’s the end of the segment. Maybe I let it run a little too long. Back to the transcript…

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

The leak is irrelevant to the current inquiry. But yes, I’m talking about those medical reports.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

What about the reports?

 

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

We see a few things that made us curious. Constable Langstrom is listed among the casualties. And there is a lot of “salvage” listed that matches components of Sgt. Lummox’s prosthetic body, and of the xenocyborg projects “Cujo” and “Red Rum”.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

Your point?

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

This is the last time any members of Experimental Squad 16 are listed anywhere.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

I still don’t see how —

— LT. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS INTERCEDES —

  1. CMNDR CRAIG ENNIS

It just leads us to one question, Chief. One which we think only you could answer.

CHF. CNSTBL AMARANTA YUE

And that is…?

  1. CMNDR ZAE YU FUNG

Where is Experimental Squad 16, Chief? Where are they now?

 

XxFireDog1913xX writes: I guess they’ll never know.

Some experimental things in the Heavy Gear universe

So, the following are images I created of some of the most significant documents that would affect the lives of young people throughout the southern hemisphere of Terra Nova. I attempt to portray something specific and essential of the culture that created them.

The one that is most unlike the others is the Eastern Sun Emirates one; it’s a poster in the barracks of an Ethereal Guard training facility. The rest are fairly self-explanatory.

Aaand this document that I wrote to go along with these:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1aUWnEes3e0mU7_6rKtqyKuNx_pyTmzYTbPsFddz4Yu0

I used these as an intro to the world for my current RPG troupe. We’re getting deeper in the world now. Some of the recaps for those sessions may end up here as well. We’ll see!

A father’s letter

This is some stream of consciousness I wrote while trying to ‘clear my throat’, so to speak. It’s related to something else I’ve been working on for a while. This entirely unedited; I’m sure I’ll be mortified in the morning. 

Let me just write about you for a while, about those dreams you had when you were younger.

They were unpleasant dreams, but not quite nightmares. The horror in them didn’t seize you like that, did it ever?

You tossed and turned in your bunk-bed, distracting me from whatever it was I was trying to do. Every time, I hoped you’d mumble something, remember something, give me some hint of what was troubling you. You never did. Every morning after that, I’d ask you how you slept and you’d always say “fine”.

I wanted to know what your unpleasant dreams were, in hopes that you’d say something, anything, about the last night your mother was with us. What do you remember? What could you possibly remember? But you do remember her. What’s more, you remember specific things about her, like that lullaby she used to sing. You remember it better than I do.

I’ve heard you humming it sometimes, late at night, when we’re crossing somewhere beautiful. You’ll sit by the porthole, brush your hair, and hum that song. One time, while we were passing through a nebula, you hummed it from beginning to end. I watched you. I wanted to ask so badly it physically hurt when I stopped myself.

You remember that song better than I do.

Do you remember the house we used to live in? The house on the hill looking over the valley? Your room used to be in the corner, and we had a little porch swing you used to try to swing for real, like you do on the kind in the playgrounds.

You have to remember. You were holding the brush your mother used, while the two of you would sit in the window. You’d talk about something, anything, and she’d brush your hair and look out over the valley. Do you remember?

Do you remember the night they came, when I wasn’t there? Do you remember anything, anything at all? Did your mother say anything? Did she tell you to hide? I need to know. I need to know how she lived the last few moments she had in this universe. But I can’t ask you. I can’t even show you this letter.

What if you do remember?

What if you know exactly everything I want to ask and that’s still not enough? Is it better that I don’t know at all what they sounded like? Did THEY say anything? Did they find you and let you live? Or did you run away so far that you didn’t see anything or hear anything of what happened? What if you know their names? What if it was all a big mistake and they tried to explain it all away to you?

What if you don’t remember? What if I remind you of everything that happened, everything you locked away because you’re just too young to deal with it? You still are. I can just imagine you arguing that you’re not, but you are.

That’s why I’m writing this, because I’ve got to get rid of these questions before we get to the waystation. They’re making me sick, and I need my mind to be clear when we get there. You don’t want to be alone anymore, you don’t want to drift anymore, but the moment we meet other people I don’t know what it’ll do to me.  I don’t know how I can look anyone in the eye when they ask “where is your wife?” and “where is her mother?” And they will ask. They will see you, and for one of the millions of different reasons they could have, they will ask.

“Oh, you’re teaching her how to use a gun? What does her mother think?” “Are you two been traveling a long time? Oh, she’s your daughter… Really? Where is her mother?”

I can’t blame them for asking. I can’t stop them from asking, but I don’t know how I’ll answer. I don’t know how I’ll even look at anyone’s face after they ask.

Al I need to know is if you remember, and I never will. I’ll never ask. I can’t. I won’t. If you ever find this, don’t tell me. Don’t bring it up at dinner. Just say you’re “fine” like you always do. Burn this page, forget you ever saw it. My heart broke when I realized I lost your mother. I don’t think it can take you finding out your father is not as strong as you need him to be.

Tonight we’ll be crossing through the plasma flare of a star that died long ago. I know you’ll sit and watch its dying light. I know you’ll brush your hair and you’ll hum that song. I’m going to be sitting there, pretending to navigate, while all of me just wants to ask “What do you remember? Did she say anything for me before she died? Did she say anything at all?”

What do you remember?

Stories

Another section of the story “The Chiron” kicks off.

“Alright, how about this one,” Odie started as he leaned over the back of Jane’s pilot seat in the cockpit of the Vespertina.  “Military police gets called into a factory after a grisly murder…”

“Malfunctioning adjuntant killed him”, Jane interrupted. She didn’t even look up, speaking in a theatric monotone.

Tau Bellum was slowly rising up to meet them as she banked the left edge of her salvager ship’s wing into the atmosphere. “Really, you don’t have any stories left. Face it, you’ve told them all ten times over.”

Odie, deeply offended, straightened with a harrumph. He was heavier set than most S.C.V. operators, thicker without being altogether round; a brawler if there ever was one. A harrumph like that moved considerable mass around.

“I think I still have a few”, he protested, sticking out his curly-bearded chin out. “There’s one about the ship that jumped and jumped back with all its crew–”

Jane, again, didn’t let him finish. “Dead,” she stated, “The crew went insane and everyone killed each other while they hallucinated they were–”

“Fine!” Odie grunted as he responded to an interruption with another, “Waaay back, there was an explosion on Terra’s moon, because–”

“Mad scientist broke into another universe, invented a quantum reactor”, Jane replied. She let out a full-lunged sigh as she eased the Vespertina into a sharper dive. “Just quit before you strain something, like my nerves.”

The edges of the shuttle began to glow.

Odie glared down from Jane’s shoulder while the glow illuminated the silhouette of her tiny nose and her tinted visor reflected the planet’s fierce shine as they punched through their atmosphere. “I haven’t told you the one about how they finally built the first orbital elevator at the site of an old temple on Terra, have I?”

“Butterflies blew into the temple and forced the monks to leave”, Jane replied, her nonchalance cracking into a mutter.

She smirked when she heard Odie choking on his displeasure. “Do you really expect me to believe that all these stories?” Jane asked. “Half of them seem to involve some kind of superstition, and the rest has some incredible technology.”

“Oh, they’re all true, in their own way!” Odie replied over the noise. The Vespertina began shuddering violently while topographic details of the surface started to become distinguishable. It was desolate, but varied enough; a salt-desert plain, shattered by thermal shifts that formed peaks. Some were several miles high.

“I still kinda want believe some of them were real!” Jane yelled back as she pulled gingerly on the controls, leveling their flight-path to be parallel with the gently curving horizon. The world kept getting bigger, and the edge of their wings became white-hot.

“There’s one I know I haven’t told you yet!” Odie yelled back.

“Not now, Odie!” Jane tapped on her ear. Odie let the momentum force him back into his seat, harrumphing one last time.

“Tau Bellum approach, Tau Bellum approach, this is the D.S.S. Vespertina checking in, do you read? Over” Jane’s tone of voice became all business, speaking into the microphone over the sound of every panel, nut, bolt and wire trying to shake itself loose.

Below them, after the ship’s quaking eased and the engines bit into the sky, counteracting their fall, mountains and valleys rolled past. A metallic gleam flashed over the horizon; it was the highest spire of the Tau Bellum research station.

“Copy that, Tau Bellum approach. Bay Seven. Vespertina will be on manual approach. See you in a few minutes. Over and out.” Jane cut off the connection before any reply could come through.

“Manual approach?” Odie asked.

She replied with a grin over her shoulder, which he could hear in her voice as clearly as having seen it. “You don’t want it to be a boring landing after all that time in transit, do you?”

Just try not to get us shot down, okay?” Odie shot back. He tightened the straps holding him into his seat.

“If they tried to, you’d have a new story to tell!” Jane shot back as she tightened her grip on the throttle and gradually loosened the engines’ reins, which responded with a blue-flamed roar.

“As long as I get to live to tell it!” Odie managed to force out, before the sudden negative gravity from their sudden dive knocked the breath out of him.

The Vespertina tumbled like a leaf out of the overcast Tau Bellum sky, shrieking as it went.