Star Troupers

“All who love are damned
Those who love actors. . .
doubly so”

~ Draven Chandler, Character Actor, Thespian Star Troupe Initiative

Chapter One ~ the Company

I suppose that in every story there must be a dramatic question. For Instance, ‘Can a troupe of re-purposed metamorph assassins effectively bring Central Human culture to the backwater planets of the Inner-Rim?’ Some of the auxiliary questions could be: ‘Can they do this better than the Droid Theatre troupes on Central?’, ‘Can they do this without being shot from the sky?’, ‘Can they do this without killing each other after months of ship time?’, or perhaps, “Can they do this without picking a random star and sailing off into the Vasty-Void, never to be seen again?’
Of course there was always the question of “Would it be a good idea to get these actors away from the centers of civilization? And then there were those unsubstantiated rumors that our troupe was nothing more than cadre of shape-shifting spies for Central. But I digress.
~
As we emerged from Geodesic Space the Citizens Armada of Eljera made its presence known in the form of planetary gnats swarming the IGS Parnassus, our ship.
I was allowed on the bridge to speak with the aboriginals, provided, of course, I didn’t touch anything or distract any of the crew who were engaged in the ‘important’ tasks.
Dwight Ikewater (ship’s Go-captain) was not involved with any of the important activities as we plunged toward the primary star. He leaned against the communication console while I dialed in the lead hornet in the swarm.
The ruddy face of the wing captain rezzed into view on the display. Our escort was of a stocky build with very odd hand manners, weird exaggerated mouth and lip movements, sneaky slit eyes and a mop of unkempt hair.
Dwight whispered, “It seems hygiene is something of a lost art on the Rim.”
I said, “Salutation and regards from the IGS Parnassus. We are pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Now, just you hold back there a second, Mack.”
“Yes, I am holding.”
He seemed to be ruminating, then said, “We don’t need you here messing with our people.”
“Is there a problem?”
He said, “Yeah, we don’t want Central here.”
“OK. What do you suggest?”
“Turn around. . .”
Dwight nudged me aside and I slid out of the seat. Dwight paused a moment to be certain wing captain could see him. “Wing Captain, I need to speak with your commander.”
“Commander don’t need you. . .” and Dwight broke the link.
He called up several files and dialed two other numbers. The second one pulled in a man who looked very much like a retired Marine Corps commander, which in fact, he was.
Dwight smiled and the man on the screen did much the same. The man said, “How may I assist you?”
“Commander, it is my understanding that the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative has been negotiated with the regional government of the Eljera system. Imagine my concern when I am instructed to ‘turn around’ and go back.”
The Commander leaned closer to his pickup, “I’ve met you, haven’t I?”
“Commander, I am Dwight Ikewater, ship’s Go-captain for the IGS Parnassus.”
“Ikewater. . .? the New Gaelic Dragoons?”
“That was during the Fell Wars, sir. I served under General Marzet. I’m a pilot on civilian craft now.”
“Local color doesn’t care much for Central.”
“Sir, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative is an NGO. They do not answer to Central. Here is Draven Chandler the alpha of the theater troupe we are transporting. He can explain it better than I.”
I slid into view, said, “Hello. We are a band of traveling actors with no political agenda. We won a grant to do Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the Inner-Rim and we would like to present a few shows for you before we head on to our next venue.”
“What did you do during the war?”
“Nothing sir, I am an actor.”
The Commander asked, “Metamorph?”
“Yes, not all actors are metamorphs, but all metamorphs are actors.”
“You a changeling? Show me something.”
“Don’t believe the chatter, morph-transformation takes several days and we can’t change things like our height and weight.”
“You have been briefed on local protocols?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ikewater, I’ll reign in the hounds of war and we’ll pass approach vectors to your ship’s Stop-captain. Gentlemen, Eljera can be a nice place once you get to know it.” The screen went blank.
Anouk (ship’s Stop-captain) spoke up from her harness, “Ike? What’s the call?”
“Planet traffic control will be feeding you approach vectors in a moment.”
“Are we good, Ike?”
“Yeah, we’re going in.”
~
After the Fell Wars of 2347 it was decided that the Metamorph Assassin Corps, developed by all parties, might be reintegrated and re-purposed as actors. Hence, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative was set up as a Non-governmental Organization and home for some very cranky metamorphs.
Shakespeare productions were often the most popular choices of our planners. To this end our trope was assigned the play Julius Caesar.
Why did it have to be the Julius Caesar? What in the Seven Heavens would a dirt-grubbing pack of Inner-Rim rubes in the Eljera system get out of one of Shakespeare’s Earth-history plays? I’ve always felt the play should have been named after my character, after all Brutus has four times as many lines as Caesar; and the central drama of the play my character’s struggle with the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship. The Tragedy of Brutus, catchy, no?
On a totally different vector, I’ve often heard it said that nothing good ever comes from putting on the Scottish Play, but you have to love the characters. . . Of course there isn’t anything wrong with doing Brutus; what’s not to love? (Could’a been worse, could’a been Romeo and Juliet)

Chapter Two ~ the Incident in the Welcome-bay

Jennifer James (Troupe Director), Chy 9 (Alpha Droid & Stage Manager) and 01010111.0100001 (57.42, Fifty Seven Forty Two or Forty two {his nick-number}, Gaffer) and I were summoned into the Welcome-bay. The Eljera Land-captain seemed pleased to see us. As the alpha actor I was only there as a courtesy, but Forty-two, Chy and I had become friends on the voyage.
Fairly standard port protocols and lots of moderately interested local folk. . .
An overweight, light haired curmudgeon (the Elected President) surrounded by lilliputian sycophants wadded into the Welcome bay. Being a metamorph I immediately noticed the dissonance between everyone’s expression and their body language. These people were terrified.
The Bay-captain’s eyes told a tale of loss and horror within a face that sought to show happiness. Not for the first time I realized that every human living in a civilization is some kind of metamorph. Sad.
“What, ever, you, do. . . never play cards with him,” the Bay-captain interrupted my reverie.
“?”
“He’ll trump you every time and have your head if you point out the cards up his sleeve. No, he literally has cards up his sleeves. . .”
“I shall bow to your wisdom Captain. However, I’d thought Eljera to be a democracy.”
“Democracy doesn’t work if the population is too lazy and afraid to do anything to maintain it.”
“Yeah, history has a way of repeating itself. Perhaps our show might be something of a revival. . .”
And the Elected President spoke through a sound system attached to the back of one of his people, “This is the biggest crowd to meet the messengers of Central – Ever! Everybody, let’s show these guys just how – what are they doing again?” One of his circle turned the system off and there issued a short, silent, animated discussion. The President turned the system back on, “And I am so pleased that this William Shakesbaby fellow has come all this way to see how we do it on the Inner-Rim. By the way, all that stuff you heard about the problems with the gladiators on the moon of Nambia – that’s all fake. That will be all.” And the band blared out the recessional.

Chapter Three ~ the Show Must Go On

I love opening nights.
Earlier, as I ate lunch, I watched Crew Droids 27 thru 79 and the Droid Lifters 0 thru 21 assemble our set and stages. Director Jennifer decided to set the play in ancient Rome, with togas, short swords and Roman shields, fluted columns and Latin inscriptions. Unimaginative perhaps, but solid.
The synth-wool costumes are durable and kept us actors warm and safe when we’re covered with liters of wet blood, some for over half an hour. The set was open to the sky and the nights get a bit frosty on Eljera. I welcomed the warmth though I’ll never quite get used to the texture of the cloth.
Under a clouded sky the color of an old man’s urine, the mechanical-spiders wove their filament-fibers into the most incredibility detailed Roman architecture. . . I could watched those guys for hours. There is always a kind of music in their movements.
People from all over the Eljera system had arrived and taken seats surrounding our improvised thrust stage protruding from the lower half of the Parnassus. They were eating and snoozing while waiting for the show to start. Our arrival provided them with a holiday and they appeared to be very serious in their pursuit of leisure time.
Chy 9 was whispering through the tocsin in my ear, as it is prone to do to all those in any production, “Places, actor to places. . . Cue the smart-paint. . . Holografitic arrays to full and . . . Lights. Sound? Music on my mark. . . Start.”
ACT I, SCENE I. Rome. A street. The play opened with two tribunes finding the common-folk celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumphant return after stomping Pompey. The tribunes insulted the crowd for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar and promptly attempted to end the festivities, not to mention the drinking and debauchery.
The audience, several hundred common-folk in their brown work-uniforms and maybe twenty group leaders in their gray suits, laughed hard and applauded and cheered frequently as the play progressed.
ACT I, SCENE II. A public place. Draven made his entrance as Brutus. Christopher (Julius Caesar), Thompson (Mark Antony), Phaedrae 437 (Soothsayer) take the stage and we’re nailing it.
Soothsayer ignored, check.
And out of nowhere, a forty-foot-long heavy lifter carrying a platform, entered from the back of the house. The Elected President and his sycophant suck-ups dressed in full regalia were prominently displayed for all to see. Commoners and management scrambled to get out from under the massive, flat-bottomed lifter but the platform was not lowered. Instead, it was lifted to a point just above the level of the stage so that the Elected President could look down on our little drama. Those who’d fled found places in the aisles and their attention drifted back to the stage.
Professionals all, we didn’t miss a beat.
That is until the President’s sound system blared some kind of message. It took Hazen Ames (Ship’s Engineer) about twenty seconds to mess with the electronics of the President’s sound system and all messages from the house were silenced. To his credit the President sat down and the play resumed.
Actors back on marks, everyone back on script and we stabbed Caesar.
Boom! Mayhem, pandemonium and melee. . . The Hounds of Chaos ran through the audience and Forty-two lifted me bodily from the stage, used its carapace to shield me while it carried me back into the ship’s cargo hatch. I ran back to the opening as other actors were likewise dragged to safety.
Parnassus is a civilian ship so it carries no heavy armament but its defense servos could be used to drive back a contingent of unarmored aggressors. I later found out both captains had anticipated some kind of incident. They had aimed the servos into the air and when the first round of servo-cannons fired a warning shot the crowd went silent. Then the mob collectively decided that it was best to leave the area of the ship by the nearest exits.
Everyone was running every-way and the launch warning-bells only contributed to the bedlam. The Droid Lifters and the Crew Droids were cutting the connecting fibers to the set. We were about to cut free and run for the sky.
The Elected President tried to step through the hatch. “They want to kill me. You guys have to save me.” Everyone in my area simply stopped to gape at the disheveled political bully as he tried to push his way into the ship.
“You’re that Raven guy. . .”
“Draven. . .”
“You Central guys can get me out of here.”
I laughed out loud. “I’m sorry, but there is really nothing we can do.” Forty-two was holding him and was not being very gentle in the process.
“You guys, assassins, metamorphs, one of you can change to look like me and be a decoy!”
“So, let me see f I have this right. You game the political system to get elected by a mob, make a total mess of the Eljera political system and now that the mob has turned on you, you think one of us should draw them off so that you can sneak out and save your sweat-soaked skin?”
“Yeah, you Central guys are so smart. . . “
“NO.” Forty-two picked the man up so that his feet no longer had traction.
“Don’t throw me out there with that bunch of losers!”
“Mister President. . .”
“Yes?”
“I believe that your concern for your people will mandate you to leave this ship and get any of your people three hundred meters away from the blast area of this ship. Three hundred meters. . .”
“I don’t care about these stinkin losers. . .”
“Stop, just stop.” and Forty-two carried the crazy demented Elected President out the hatch and returned empty handed.
The in-ship speaker paused the launch warning-bells, then Ikewater’s voice came through, “Draven? Are we ready to Lift?”
“Go-captain we are ready here.”
“Everyone to station. Strap in folks, this might be a bumpy ride.”

finis
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Dramatis Personæ of IGS Parnassus, Starship Troupe for the Julius Caesar Tour

Draven Chandler ~ Marcus Brutus
Christopher L. Irving ~ Julius Caesar
Thompson Driver ~ Mark Antony
Phaedrae 437 ~ Soothsayer
Catherine Miami ~ Portia
Anastasia Murova ~ Calpurnia – Caesar’s wife
Bella Ambra Panta ~ Portia – Brutus’ wife
Clovis Kanji ~ Cicero
Phlyn Austin ~ Cassius
Fredrick Arnold ~ Casca
Tykit Merriweather ~ Lepidus/Cinna
Aeon Orlando ~ Titinius/ Metellus Cimber/ Cinna the Poet
Zippo Leipzig ~ Lucius/Young Cato
Jon Richardson ~ Messala/ Cicero
Katy Stevens ~ Calpurnia
Droid Lifters 0 – 21 ~ Stage Crew
Jennifer James ~ Director (keeper of the Kill-codes)
Chy 9 ~ Alpha Droid & Stage Manager
01010111.0100001 ~ Gaffer (5742, Fifty seven forty two – Forty-two – nick-number)
Dwight Ikewater ~ Ship’s Go-captain
Anouk ~ Ship’s Stop-captain
Alexei Leonard ~ Ship’s Physician
Hazen Ames ~ Ship’s Engineer (agent for Central)
Crew Droids 27 – 79 ~ Crew of IGS Parnassus

Tatakai

The Lady says
“His soul drifts somewhere within the waters of stillness
Fetal curled amid clouds of billowing white
he falls through a summer sky.”

Donzela sees into his soul
it almost kills her

The Lady says
“Fear not
he is still numbered among the living
He is only sleeping.”

Donzela applies her hand
to the seared flesh across his heart
Winces as she takes the injury into her own hand
The Lady places her hand on Donzela’s
sending the injury away

They mend the burns and gashes
They straighten the right leg and mend the bones
The right shoulder is restored

Potions for fever and building blood in him are forced
Some time near noon the next day
both women fall of exhaustion

The savant lies peacefully
His breath ebbing and flowing
Yet his face is troubled. . .

In Donzela’s dream the Lady says
“He is quiet
but given the suffering of his Living Hell
one might wonder at the intent of those who would call such continuance a blessing.
Given the nature of his nightmares
perhaps it were better he snap erect
and scream till all wind leaves his lungs.”

Donzela says
“How can there be sense in this kind of anguish?

The Lady says
“Pain
For all its discussion
Tells the body to avoid something
Hit your hand
Hurt your hand
Don’t hit your hand again . . .
Simple

But there is pain
Pain that makes no sense
Unrelenting
Horrible
Gut wrenching
Everlasting PAIN

And you have to ask
Where is the wisdom in this?”

The Lady

Secret hearts and tales of sorrow
Patina of her world
Once an eon ago her eyes could see color
Could see the way the world turned in both day and night
Now she sees only darkness and sorrow

One should never cast spells of love
for such devices need something to push against
lest balance be lost
and the world spiral into the suns

She holds the pain in her abdomen
for fear of losing it
and in that
losing herself

She navigates the residence
by the increments of her pain compass
Steers herself through the passages and catacombs
by the memories of the seas in night

Alas
Something moves in the yard
and she stands in shock. . .

Something has happened and she didn’t see it
Donzela (her tyro) is bringing a. . .
is bringing a man through the wards?
What can this mean?
What can this portend?

Careless in the way she passes through the walls
the Lady enters the kitchen

Donzela is cleaning his face with a dishrag

Broken and Bleeding at the Stable Door

Donzela enters the barn
(evening duties are so peaceful )

Traveler is not in his stall
and something stinks of. . . blood?

A wizard!
(a bit young for a wizard, don’t you think?)
A savant
cut
bleeding in the bedding straw

She shrieks
Runs to him
Brushes the straw away
getting blood all over her

Two sisters arrive and scream at her to get away
They think he has hurt her when they see the blood
Donzela tries to lift him
then commands that they assist her

They reluctantly drag him through the wards protecting the residence
into the kitchen
onto the oaken planked cooking table

In a trice the savant is naked
The major injuries are staunched and poulticed
Medicines and spell parchment are sought, pilfered and applied

Donzela retrieves clean sheets and a serviceable blanket
When she enters the room the sisters are twittering like baby birds
She sends them to finish her chores in the barn
reminding them to look for Traveler before feeding the other mounts

One offers her bed for the savant’s recuperation
Donzela is not amused

Those Who Form

The clear waters of the lake form a mirror image of the shimmering scarlets and glimmering golds of the maples on the far lakeside. He always likes to walk by the lake when discussing things of import.
She reflects on the lake, reflects on the way tiny wind fairies break the sky into a mosaic of autumnal chaos and reflects on the clement day. She says, “I fear the wrong that I might do if I just let myself run wild. I am afraid of the unintended evil I might work.” She hurls a stone, skipping it further than you might expect.
He says, “For every angel created, a demon must be dealt with. This is after all, the way that balance is maintained.” He producers a York apple (her favorite) with a magician’s flair, she passes and he sequesters the apple as though it had never existed.
She says, “I want to be a good person, a creative person, creating many things of lasting beauty.”
He pulls a journal from inside his jacket and makes a big deal out of searching the pages. At last he sighs with satisfaction as he extracts, from between the pages, her schemagram, the chimera one. The creature seems to wake up when light hits it. He scratches one of its chins (he has those gloves that look like the tips have been cut off), and its purr is the rustle of dry paper. She giggles despite herself. The creature jumps off the page and runs across the lake, disappearing on the far side.
He says, “The only thing that endures is the instant that beauty strikes. This is a difficult lesson for those of us who Form.”

They walk in silence, the silence of rustling leaves and lapping waters. He eats the apple.
The westering sun explains the time and they turn back toward the transport. She says, “I’m reaching a point where I may be dangerous. I see the pathways that you spoke about when first we met, the pathways beyond number. Perhaps I take my responsibility too seriously . . .Is it ok for me to take this path?”
He says, “What? Are you running off into the woods?”
“Silly, of course not. I will be assigned soon. I will be walking the pathway of Artificer and I would like to think that I might be good at it.”
He says, “There is a terrible beauty in the way fire burns. In the way a knife cuts. In the way storms build over the oceans. For me, the real question in any tragedy is whether the actors had any real choice in the play.”
He hurls a rock and it skips out of sight. He says, “If you take this path, or if you do not, you will still be you and though there is a bitter sadness in this, it is also your greatest triumph.”
The sun has set, but the sky and his eyes still glow.
He says “Yes, it is right and proper that you seek your destiny, for it shall find you whatever you choose.”

a World Creation Table

Karl logs them into the Mox-Nix lab, a very sparse space with a World Creation Table in the middle of the room. A Kyber comes to life and greets them. Jexi walks to one of the work benches and toys with the cytometers (she’s kinda distracted), Karl and the Kyber are talking in a highly animated fashion beside portal. The Kyber relents and moves to the panel that engages the Table. The Ergon field emitters energize and the generator sounds very much like a swarm of locusts in a blender.
Karl rummages through the frig, looking for anything that might have magically appeared over the course of the last few days (it is his frige after all). He nudges her and offers the remnants of a wabe sandwich. She refuses.
He turns back to the Table. It is fully energized now, waiting. She comes up behind him.
He says, “Don’t touch me there, unless you’re serious.”
“You are everso tawdry. . .”
“I’m serious Jex, mean it or leave it alone.”
She steps away from him and closer to the Table. She says, “How can I forge a new world without destroying the old one?”
“Not sure I understand the question.”
“Is there some way to forge a new world without destroying the old one? I have no wish to destroy the world; I’m just a bit bored with its current state.”
“You are the most dangerous when you’re bored.” She shows very little appreciation for his attempt at humor. He shrugs.
The Kyber brings control-gauntlets for both of them and helps her don her pair. Ripples appear in the field as she flexes her fingers. Karl says, “Focus on the details and the under currents will take care of themselves. It is in the details that the best worlds are made.”
“If I create them and destroy them is that murder?”
“That depends.”
“I hate crap answers like that.”
He selects a world seed from the codex. Rotates it two hand widths above the table. It swells to the size of a Slag-ball while fractal subroutines add appropriate waters and land masses.
Karl says, “My studies have taken me to far an exotic places and in every one of them there is this thing called Life.”
The view zooms in so that a single oak tree fills the display field.
“Yet, no-one really knows what this ‘Life’ thing is . . . That whole particle and wave argument . . .”
The tree sprouts acorns.
“But I know one thing,” he whispers, “Life is an emergent property of the timely intermixes of matter and energy . . .and so is Death.”
The tree ages and shrivels. Barren rocks and volcanoes crop up through the vegetation. She weeps for the tree.
“You weep for the tree?”
“It was a beautiful oak . . .”
“How do you know it was an oak?”
“Acorns. Oaks all have acorns.”
“So by its fruit you know a tree?”
“Yeah.”
“OK, your turn.” He clears the table.
She lifts her hands. She says, “Are you going to get into trouble for letting me use this machine?”
“Depends on who you tell.”
“Your rivals of course.” She selects another seed from the codex. Her smile is radiant.
The seed evolves into a barren world. She discards it and tries another. This one develops a scummy layer that bathes the world in poison.
She says, “I’m doing it wrong. What is the problem?”
“You’re trying to do it with your mind and not with your heart. You have to let your hands feel as well as grasp.”
She selects another seed, pulls it into the air slowly, gently. Plasmids twine into self-replicating worms. Primitive plants rise from the land masses. She laughs.
She says, “I got this.”
“You might want to turn the tempo down a bit.”
“No, this is good. I am going to make this world perfect; no pain, no suffering. . . everything perfect.”
And everything is perfect for about a microsecond, then everything dies (horribly).
“Put it back . . . please.”
He does something interesting with his gloves and the world convolutes, twisting back and consuming itself like a virus. It turns turbid and then everything dies, again.
“You’re doing this. It not nice . . .”
“I turned it over to you.”
“Not fair, this is your machine.”
“Anyone can use this machine, but most people give up.”
“This time I’ll be more clever.”
“As you wish.”
She does something a little different and everything dies very quickly.
She says, “Shut it off, this entertains me no longer.”
“This is Art, it’s not for your entertainment, and it’s for your edification. You want to create worlds where there is no suffering but you also want worlds where there is Life. You want a top without a bottom, a Yin without a Yang. You want a wave that is a crest with no trough, a day without a night . . .”
She throws her gauntlets on the floor and storms out.
He removes his gauntlets and signals the Kyber to shut the system down.
To no-one in particular he says, “The problem when I started was I didn’t understand that the only real difference between a god and a man, is that a man knows when to quit.”