• Martin Parece

Rule of Robots - An Alien RPG Cinematic Scenario - Prologue

Marshall Mike Jones leaned his chair backward on its hind legs as he considered his hand carefully. “No cards,” he said as he threw a dollar into the pot as his bet. Jones was tall enough at about six feet and not overly wide of frame, but he was a good cop, a strong investigator. On the far side of the spartan metal table that separated them sat his best friend and deputy Heath Hobbs, a bear of a man who had always been there with him since they were kids. Heath wasn’t quite as savvy as Jones, but he was good for bashing heads, a different kind of cop talent that wasn’t quite Jones’ forte.

“You’re bluffing,” Heath muttered with a squint. “You always lean back in the chair when you’re bluffing. Here’s your buck. Call.”

Jones’ chair skidded slightly on the metal decking and slammed back down on its front legs as he revealed his hand, laying the cards down on the table to show three queens and a pair of tens, easily destroying Hobbs’ own two small pair. Jones just smiled.

“Son of a bitch!” Hobbs swore as his partner cleared the whopping two dollar fifty cent pot. “How do you always win?”

“Stick to what you’re good at, buddy,” Jones gloated, but he thought better of it with a glance up at Hobbs’ stone cold face. “I’m just kidding, man. Oh, come on, you know I’m kidding.”

Hobbs held his glare for a moment as his mind went back through all of the things in both of their lives that Mike was always better at – sports, school, girls and then the academy. After a moment, he relaxed and adopted a friendly smile, replying, “Don’t worry. I’ma get you one of these days.”

“I’m counting on it,” Jones replied as he took the deck and began to shuffle.

A canned voice echoed through Roanoke Station’s intercom, “Marshall Jones, Deputy Hobbs, Dr. Willa Tomanski, Pilot Jimenez, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Wagner please report to admin immediately.”

“Well, that’s different,” Jones said with a raised eyebrow, standing as he put the cards back on the table.

Jake Robertson was down in the bowels of Roanoke Station, on Sub Level One, when the intercom sounded, calling for him to come up to admin. He almost ignored it as he was up to his elbows in the station’s environmental circuits. Station Supervisor Olefsen had been complaining about it being always hot up there, but as far as Jake could tell, everything worked just fine. The call came again, and he complained, “What now? Probably just wants to bitch me out in front of everyone about the heat,” as he righted himself and clamped the cover back over the exposed circuits.

He turned to leave and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the android just standing there, seemingly staring at him. After three months, these things still gave him the creeps, what with their pale, bluish skin, lack of hair and sagging “flesh” around their necks. The lack of lips and eyebrows didn’t help, nor did the off whitish-yellow light that cast from their eyes.

“Jesus!” he exclaimed, “What are you doing there?”

The Working Joe cocked its head sideways slightly and replied robotically, “I am not Jesus. I am Working Joe number one two four one. I currently have no task.”

“Just, get out of my way, okay?” Jake said as he brushed by the android.

“I am sorry, Mr. Robertson, I am not in your way.”

“My name is Jake,” he called over his shoulder as he headed toward the door leading out of Environmental into Sub Level One’s maintenance hall.

“I will update the network with that information.”

“Whatever,” Jake shouted over his shoulder as he left the robot behind.

Klaus Wagner pressed the up button on the elevator just outside the Seegson company store in the Main Promenade. This section of the station should be bustling with persons going from one ship to the next or perhaps visiting the Seegson or general store to resupply their vessels. Instead, only two Working Joe androids stood in the desolate, empty walkways as they awaited their next instructions. Roanoke Station was supposed to be the next great jumping off point for exploration into the frontier when Seegson built it five years ago. Instead, it sat shiny and unused as tensions between the UPP and United Americas grew to new heights and as rich worlds were found elsewhere. Seegson had spent the last three years moving most of the human crew off.

It was okay. Some time away from a lot of people was exactly what Wagner wanted, at least it was exactly what he thought he wanted after Kathy decided she’d rather be with some smelly, French pastry chef. Six years of blissful marriage down the drain. He had thought it blissful. Apparently, Kathy had been perfectly happy with Klaus working all the time so she could bliss the chef.

The door opened, revealing Jake and Miss McAfferty. Wagner’s eyes narrowed at the latter person, but he tried to show no emotion as he stepped into the car, the destination light for Level Two lit up. Grace McAfferty was a pretty redhead, a woman who was so perfectly put together and with such a perfect smile, she could only work for a company like Weyland-Yutani. For some reason, the company had chosen to rent space from Seegson some three months ago and sent this woman to “man” the office. Wagner didn’t know why she was here, but as a Seegson company man, he knew she was up to no good.

“Jake,” he nodded as he turned his back to her, not even acknowledging her presence, and the door shut in front of him. Only a few seconds later, the elevator stopped again, having made it to Level One. The door opened to admit Marshall Jones and his muscular deputy Hobbs. “Gentlemen,” Wagner greeted them as he moved sideways to allow them entry.

“Wagner,” Hobbs rumbled not impolitely. The man insisted on pronouncing it the German way, even though Klaus had always made a point of using the English pronunciation, as he tended to work in United Americas space. Klaus didn’t know if it was meant to be respectful or insulting.

“Any idea what this is about,” Jones asked with an appraising glance.

Even if he did, Klaus surely wouldn’t have said so with Mcafferty there with them. “I do not.”

“Hold the door!” called a female voice, and Hobbs shot a meaty paw out just as it began to close.

A bespectacled brunette woman, tallish but narrow of frame, popped into view, her white lab cat fluttering behind her. Doctor Willa Tomanski smiled thankfully as she crammed into the elevator with all the rest of them. The smile widened momentarily as she caught sight of McAfferty; her friendship with the only other woman on board was no secret.

Klaus thought Tomanski was pretty, kind of understated and bookish, but pretty all the same. She was actually a warm human being who truly cared about people, which made her compatible with both he and Seegson. After all, Seegson was doing great things for the people of the galaxy and finding a way to make a profit at the same time. So, he asked her out to drinks at Dottie’s Cantina. Apparently, she preferred to read.

The elevator door opened at Level Two, revealing a small room with three security doors. Command was straight ahead and Comms to the right. The group filed out one or two at a time and turned left for Admin. Wagner punched in a security code to open the door, and a wave of heat blew outward into the reception room. He turned to watch everyone enter, and again his eyes narrowed on the lithe form of Grace McAfferty as she exited the elevator last.

“What are you doing here, Grace?” he asked directly. “You weren’t called.”

“Actually, I just need access to Comms to send a message back home to my Dad,” she replied, her perfect smile framing perfect, white teeth.

“No, I don’t think so. Someone can let you in later. Go on back to your office.”

Her green eyes blazed for just a moment, and Klaus was sure the wrath of an Irish descended redhead was about to engulf him, but he held his ground. Most of the others, with the exception of Tomanski, had simply entered the uncomfortable warmth of Admin, preferring it to the suddenly uncomfortable tension in the room outside. The doctor stood uncertainly for a moment before shooting Grace a consolation smile.

“Not a problem,” Grace McAfferty replied, her smile never wavering as she turned and went back into the elevator.

“Come in and secure the door, please Mr. Wagner,” called the voice of Sven Olefsen.

Klaus did as he was asked, entering a security code into the door before he turned to face the room. Admin was indeed hot and stuffy, probably running about thirty degrees Celsius, which added large, wet stains on Supervisor Olefsen’s white, button up shirt. He was a huge man, well over six feet and as wiry and Swedish as they came, and Klaus always thought he’d look more at home on a Twelfth Century Viking ship than a Twenty Second Century office, despite his blond business haircut.

Admin consisted of a single twelve by eighteen meter room and about a dozen desks that were, of course, completely unused. Who needed a dozen suits to run a station with only about ten people aboard, excluding the dozen or so Working Joes? One of the androids, nineteen eighty-one to be specific, stood in the far corner awaiting instructions. A security door on the left side of the room led to Olefsen’s quarters.

“What is going on with the environmental control, Mr. Robertson?” Olefsen asked.

“They’re fine,” Jake replied through his bushy brown beard.

“They most certainly are not fine. Check them again.”

“I will as soon as we’re done here,” Jake promised.

“Well, it’s not a priority right now,” conceded the Swede. “Wait, where’s Jimenez?”

As if on cue, the door behind Klaus buzzed with a query. “Anybody home?” came a staticky representation of Roberto Jimenez’ voice. At a nod from Olefsen, Klaus allowed the man entry and then resealed the door after a cursory glance out into reception.

“Thanks. Sorry if I’m late. I was way down in Tubgoat,” Jimenez explained quickly, receiving puzzled looks from almost everyone, puzzled looks that he completely ignored. He had light brown skin and short, spiky black hair. He constantly wore a pair of aviator sunglasses, a short sleeved Hawaiian shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. He scanned the room, and his eyes came to rest on the android. He asked it, “What’s cookin’, Joe?”

The Joe cocked its head slightly to the left and replied, “There are no meals being prepared currently in this room. Are you hungry?”

“Haha! No, its an expression! You kill me, Joe!”

“Negative. It is impossible for me to harm a human being.”

Jimenez laughed again, bringing pained looks and sighs from those around as he said, “No, its… never mind. I love these guys.”

“It is illogical to love someone who kills you.”

“Shut up,” snapped Olefsen at the android, and he turned toward Jimenez. “Are you done? Can we get on with this?”

Jimenez suddenly stifled his good humor, adopting the most serious of stances as he cleared his throat a few times. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Olefsen sighed and rubbed his eyes for a moment. “All right, we have a problem. We’ve picked up a vessel on course for Roanoke. She’s broadcasting a general distress beacon, but we’ve had no…”

McAfferty waited in the elevator for about twenty seconds, until she was certain she heard the security door to Admin close. She stepped back into Reception and considered her situation. Certainly, she couldn’t just stick a glass up to the six inch thick, nearly soundproofed security door. Instead, she turned toward Comms and entered the door’s access code supplied by Willa a couple of months ago. She stepped inside and pushed a chair from in front of one of the access terminals, her fingers flying across the keyboard in a frightful ecstasy of clicks and clacks.

Within two minutes, the words “Access Granted” blinked across the tiny screen, and the tinny, piped in voice of Olefsen said, “…problem. We’ve picked up a vessel on course for Roanoke. She’s broadcasting a general distress beacon, but we’ve had no direct contact with her. We don’t even know if she’s receiving. She’s running on conventional thrust, about a tenth of a parsec out.”

“Not FTL?” Jimenez asked, a “they must be idiots” look crossing his face. “On thrusters it would take them…”

“About three years to reach us,” Klaus offered, completing the calculation. “Do we know who she is?”

“The transponder’s working. It’s the USCSS Midas, a deep space survey ship that stopped through here about six months ago.”

“What do we know about her and the crew?” Marshall Jones asked.

“Very little. She’s a small M-class, smaller than our own Bison tug.”

Tubgoat,” Jimenez supplied, again receiving a mix of pained and confused glances.

Olefsen continued as if he hadn’t heard, “She stopped in for basic supplies. They also picked up a few things from our store – a Working Joe and various small electronics.”

“Why a Joe?” Hobbs asked.

Olefsen merely shrugged, “I guess they needed some muscle.”

“Crew complement?” Jones had a quaint yellow pencil and a small notebook in his hands.

“Manifest says four – a Captain Goolsby, Dr. Askew (a geologist), a medic named Stroud and one Technician Leslie. I don’t think all of them even disembarked Midas. They were only here a day or so."

"Did they file a flight plan?"

"They were headed into unexplored space, expected to return in a year. You’re going out there to tow Midas in, Jimenez will pilot. Marshall Jones, Deputy Hobbs, I am sure your presence there is obvious. Dr. Tomanski will join in case anyone on board is injured.”

Grace McAfferty’s hands began to fly across the keyboard once more, severing the connection to Admin’s intercom. She had been in dozens of meetings and briefings, and she knew when they were about to come to a close. That meant it was time for her to go. With the work of another thirty seconds, she had completely erased any computer records that anyone had accessed the comms system within the last few minutes, and she made her way back out the door and to the elevator.

“Mr. Robertson,” Olefsen continued, “will handle connecting the docking umbilical and towing rigs.”

“Why is Wagner coming?” Hobbs growled aggressively.

Mister Wagner,” Olefsen replied with forceful emphasis, “is there to protect Seegson Systems interests. I understand that the U.A. still holds jurisdiction in this part of space, but this is a Seegson operation. If there are no further questions, I want you all ready to leave in an hour. Is the Bison stocked?”

“She is. Plenty of water, gourmet prefab meals and all the cans of ground up bugs you want!” Jimenez nodded enthusiastically. He was the first out the door, “I’ll be warmin’ her up!”

Act 1 will be next! If you enjoy these posts, please consider checking out my books found on Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks and more!

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OPENING SCENE: Blackness fills the camera for a few seconds. It is pierced by a screech, a scraping of metal on metal as if something heavy is slid out of the way. As this happens, pale bluish light