“Vicky Falls to Vegas” was an early in the Shaman Gene storyline. “A Far Traveler ended with the alien castaway, Gimish, leaving Earth. We had learned the true story of Moses (Ahmose), and how contrary to pop “ancient alien” belief, it was Moses who helped and protected the alien not the other way around.
But, I felt like my characters had at least one more adventure in them. I particularly wanted to write a story that focused more on Herman and Stephanie and less on Matt Krause. But I wasn’t sure how I would do that. So, I began to explore various ideas by writing short stories. The short stories spun off of events and characters from “The Far Traveler.” I figured that they would drop straight into the new novel which I called “Panther Watches.” The first one, called “The Barfly,” (to be presented in a future post) approached the idea that someone had seen the spaceship land to pick up Gimish. Herman, who is still here, didn’t want people to know that aliens truly exist so he worked to cover up the UFO sighting. The second idea was that maybe aliens other than Gimish and Herman have been or are still here. That short story was called “Vicky Falls to Vegas,” and, in its altered form, is a key element of the second novel which ended up being called “The Robot’s Daughter.” The story follows:
Vicky Falls to Vegas
The observation deck was deserted, as desolate and dark as the void above it. Bujitor sipped his drink and cast an apprehensive gaze up into the blackness, a blackness speckled by infrequent stars, their sparkle lost in emptiness; an emptiness so foreboding that he was alone, always alone on the observation deck.
He thought of the home planet, its night thick with stars—blues, reds, yellows, and whites—strung like lights overhead, declaring a perpetual raucous party. Home was up there now in the meandering galactic arm, so distant its cornucopia of stars faded into a wisp as ephemeral as a morning haze hanging low, shifting, thinning, disappearing; the disbelieving eye wondering if it were ever there. Home, a haze so thin it might not be there, too unsettling to contemplate, but Bujitor tried.
He gulped down the last half of his drink, one long swallow, the vanquished glass coming to the table with a loud clang. He stared at his hand, ghostly in the dark, wondering if he were becoming inebriated, misjudging distance and speed, or was it the blackness itself that made judgment difficult?
“Paying my dues,” he said, his voice cutting against the silence. “To be captain of a cruiser, one must pay his dues on the fringe.”
The intercom beeped, followed by First Officer Kale’s cheery voice: “Good morning, Captain.”
Counting, “Three, two, one,” came from someone in the background.
Then Kale continued, “We have just entered the Shaman System, Galactic Societies Patent Gimish One. Gimish’s only patent for that matter, hopefully a good one for the sake of his descendents and for us having to be here.”
“Now, now,” Bujitor teased back, “Mr. Gimish has provided us with an opportunity to serve Galactic Societies, plus GS will compensate our families handsomely while-”
Kale interrupted, breaking protocol. “Sorry Captain,” he apologized. “The sniffer just sensed an ion trail.” In the background Bujitor heard the staccato of voices barking commands and exchanging data as the crew mobilized to high alert.
“Ah,” Kale started, then paused. Bujitor could hear Herm, their intelligence seraph, speaking in the background. Although Bujitor was curious, he didn’t interrupt, not wanting to distract the seraph’s computers.
“Yep,” Kale said, again speaking to Bujitor. “Sure enough, its trail vectors to the third planet, the one with the sentient beings we’re to protect. Shall we wait for you to join us?”
“No, put it on the screen; I’ll work here,” Bujitor replied.
“Yes sir,” Kale snapped, and the dark void of the observation deck burst bright with pulsing reds and oranges as the view turned inward onto the Shaman sun, its brilliance wincing Bujitor’s eyes into slits.
“Got him,” Kale called out. “He’s flying beaconless.”
The blinding light dissipated as the view shifted to the third planet. Bujitor studied the scene and affirmed, “He hasn’t seen us yet.”
“Well he knows that he shouldn’t be here. We’ve got markers throughout this solar system saying it’s quarantined from interference,” Kale noted.
“Aren’t we lucky,” Michaelquipped. “Only moments ago, we were going to sit here for sixty years, our brains fossilizing, now we get action.”
“Easy for you to say,” Kale jibed and chuckled at Herm, a synthetic being, complaining about boredom. “Probably could sit contently spinning scenarios for centuries. Maybe even create your own galaxy if we gave you enough power,” Kale said.
Everyone chuckled, even Herm, although his sounded hollow.
“The ship could be a primitive. Maybe he’s not advanced enough to read our markers,” Bujitor suggested, not believing it.
“No,” Michaelretorted, “I’ve already run the analysis, no habitable planets are close enough for a primitive to get here.”
“So that leaves what we’re all thinking,” Kale said. “It’s a Schat. Perfect set-up for him, a remote inhabited planet, just needs to grab some slaves to set up a stripping operation. He’s beaconless so he can skedaddle if enforcement shows up.”
“Looks like we’re going to wreck his party,” Bujitor joked, then ordered, “Seer, energize. When you confirm that it’s a Schat, take out his generators.”
“Captain Bujitor, I am operational now,” the armaments seraph replied as he slid into his station, his internal computers linking between the ship’s sensors and its weapons, putting him in charge of all combat systems.
“Kale, let’s jump down there and join that Schat. Use Planet Shaman as a shield; I want it to be a surprise,” Bujitor quipped.
An instant later they sat in ambush, hiding in the shadow of the planet as the unsuspecting vessel slowly emerged from the far side of the moon. It was a medium-size transport, the type preferred by Schats for capacity, weaponary, and durability.
Bujitor waited, and when the ship was in the open and vulnerable, he broadcasted his demand, “Flagless transport, you are in violation of a GS demarcation. Make ready for a security inspection.”
The vessel surged in a dash to hide behind the planet. That move was one bit of data among hundreds funneling from the ship’s sensors to Seer’s decision matrix, but it was the last one he needed, and as the transport accelerated, he struck its main generator, sending it wobbling out of control.
The Schat’s response was seamless, kicking in his auxiliary unit as he continued the desperate drive to hide.
If nothing else, Bujitor thought, Schats are excellent pilots, and as he thought about it, there was nothing else good about them.
“Pursue,” Bujitor ordered dryly and unnecessarily.
Everyone knew what was next. With the planet as a shield, the pirates would shove their slaves into garbage containers and jettison them into the sun. They would destroy the evidence of exploitation by eliminating the exploited. If successful, Bujitor could do nothing more than escort the ship from the quarantine zone.
The Schat pirates were taking them to the game room: the woman, the teenage girl, and the female child of four. The woman had known that the girl was coming of age and had been preparing her for months.
“Vicky, they will do things that are disgusting and sometimes hurt.” Then she would explain so Vicky would know what to expect. When Vicky said she would rather be a laborer, the woman reminded her that the pirates could still do those same things, but common slaves got less food and no health care.
“Vicky, they keep their women healthy and pretty. They don’t want sex with a toothless hag.”
Vicky said, “I’d rather die.”
The women replied, “But the longer you live, the more chances of escape, the more chances for revenge.”
Vicky understood vengeance; the women of her planet were famous for it; they were feared for it.
Still the woman knew that Vicky could well go crazy when the pirates molested her. She told Vicky, “It is important for you to endure, to live, and to learn.”
Yes, learning was part of revenge, learning and sharing the knowledge with a compiler. The woman was a compiler. All the compilers were women from Vicky’s planet.
Most of the slaves had given up. For them life and death were blurred, one occasionally more preferable than the other. However, some slaves hoped to live, live a real life again somehow, and if not, then they lived for revenge.
When they worked, they watched and they listened. They watched the pirates operate the controls, remembering the sequence of buttons and levers. They remembered conversations, orders, comments, even jokes. Then, as best they could, they told it all to the compilers.
For instance, a slave might report, “Woman, today I saw the mechanic inspect the chute.” In her mind, she would see the chute door as if she were standing before it.
Then the slave might say, “I saw Drake press the keypad with his finger, up, across, down and left, and there twice,” and her mind would see Drake, how he moves with all his idiosyncrasies. To this she would add all previous information given to her about the chute, visualizing it as clearly as puzzle pieces on a table. She played with it, testing and fitting, making a movie of it, and eventually she would know everything needed to open the panel, or to operate an engine, or to do anything, and finally, to do everything on the ship.
That eventuality had come.
Just yesterday a kitchen slave had told her that a Schat had said, “The capt’n blown a marker an’ we’ll all be wipin’ clean if it’s more’n a slug spinnin’ the orbs.”
The woman knew it meant that the captain had entered controlled territory, probably Galactic Societies’, and if a patrol boat spotted them, then the crew would dump the slaves before the ship could be boarded. She knew how that would be done. The pirates previously ran evac drills where they herded the slaves toward the garbage ejectors.
If the kitchen slave were right, then their time was short.
She lowered her hand, letting the little one grasp her finger as the dark pirate eyed her, slowly, lasciviously, and said to his stringy-haired accomplice, “Aye Curly, we ought warm us wit the old one, she’s still got looks un what knows she’ll not last forever.”
He grinned at her, his eyes cold.
Curly thrust his face at her and cackled, “You ought now be sayin’ ya wants it, thinks ya so? Or want ya the missy bein’ scared and makin’ fits, gettin’ herselfs hurt without need be, thinks ya, eh?”
The woman smiled seductively. “Oh, yeah, me first would be pleasin’.” Then she turned to Vicky and reassured, “That way you’ll see what be funnin’ for ‘em, and knows goot behavin’.”
She had worked hard to keep herself pretty so not to be returned to the work pool. She did it to keep the girls’ hopes alive, and she did it for one more day, because the next day may be the day.
“Why brung er the teeny one?” Curly asked.
“Not wanted to leave it with the rabble,” said the dark one. “God know their men be vile wit’ the chillins.”
“Un ya let ‘er hab ‘er way ‘cause she be whinin’ a bit at ya,” Curly lambasted.
“Yeah, me thinks it a goot way fer the young one to learn, so’s when ‘er day come, it ain’t bein’ no surprise.”
“Uh,” Curly grunted unconvinced. “Surprise be goot. Makes ‘em frantic not knowin’ what be next.”
Even with adjusting gravity the sudden swerve threw them all off balance. The dark one stumbled against the wall, bracing himself as he searched frantically for the declaration board.
“Damn,” he spat, as he spotted the announcement. “Fuckin’ patrol be lockin’ us.”
The ship shuddered and sirens shrieked. The pirates’ faces went glum; the game room wasn’t going to happen.
Time slowed down for the woman; she focused on every twitch of their lips, the erratic jerks of their eyes.
“Haps, it be a slug,” Curly offered and they waited for the sirens to desist.
The girls glanced at each other, then to the woman, their eyes hopeful. She blinked, and in response they flicked their eyes about as if confused, then turned their heads down, portraying fright.
The escape chute, Vicky thought. On the map in her head it was just around the corner, a few steps away. Both the woman and Vicky knew the access code. They only needed a minute to get to it, to launch, to escape.
The siren pattern began to cycle short-long, over and over.
“No gamin’,” the dark one whined, “Ain’t no slug, got to be wipin’.”
They had already gotten themselves hot thinking about their play time and it affected their minds. They ogled Vicky, their minds whirling for a way to get a fast one and mixing in contrived scenarios where the alarm was just a practice drill. Lusting so, they hesitated, hoping play time might still occur in some form.
The lights flickered, went dim, then dead, as the whine of the main generator fell silent. The auxiliaries kicked in, lighting the space in a ghostly haze. Curly nodded toward the garbage dump.
The dark one raised his hand, shaking it vigorously, signaling, “Let’s wait a bit.” Curly nodded in quick agreement, and they both stared up at the lights, waiting, hoping for a change.
Seeing their indecision amid the chaos, the woman schemed to leverage it. Cat-like, she slid toward the pirates, her motion slow and imperceptible. Her eyes flicked toward the chute sending the girls inching in that direction.
As she prepared to spring, a mechanic’s wagon raced up the pathway toward them. Her mind flashed to the tool tray that they all carried and the large wrench that invariably lay beside it.
He was ten yards away when the lighting went dark again, but she already had locked in his route and speed. As the driver toggled his lamps on, he turned to look back, curious about the scrape of metal that came from his tool box. The wrench, at full swing, crushed his temple, and his body collapsed limp to the floorboards.
The fading light of the passing wagon jolted the pirates into full panic. Thinking it may be their only chance they raced to the chute, desperate to escape before darkness imprisoned them forever in the doomed hull.
The wagon continued to roll, leaving only the weak luminescence of its taillights for the men to punch in the code. Stuttering out the sequence, the dark one gripped the escape lever as he watched his partner’s fingers fumble over the dim keypad.
She slipped in behind them, measuring the distance as the chute door clicked. Nearby, the driverless wagon slammed into the pathway wall, causing a shower of sparks as it lurched to a stop. Its rumble spiked the pirate’s fear and they began to flail, trying to force their way into the escape module.
Her downward swing cracked Curly’s skull with a hollow thud. The upward return caught the dark one’s jaw, sending him limp against the wall. She finished each with a vengeful swing to the temple, their heads banging against the deck with rubbery thumps.
Gloom smothered the remaining light, light she didn’t need to open the basket lid.
“Get in,” she said.
The little one understood and resisted. “Mother,” it was the name given to all the older women of her race, “please come.”
“No, there’s only air for two,” she replied.
“Mommy, I’m afraid. You come,” the little one repeated.
The mother grabbed the child, caressing her between arms and bosom. “Vicky will protect you. All will be well.”
Then, embracing Vicky, she explained, “The planet below is inhabited, it’s a good chance. Toward the end, the ride will be rough, but that’s the atmosphere. Soon you’ll be breathing real air again.”
The Schat robots were ancient, no match for the warrior seraphim, and within minutes the Schat vessel was secure, but then the surprise came. The seraphim reported that the ship’s atmosphere had been vented. All of the mortals were dead—pirates and slaves alike. This upset Bujitor. The hit to the generators should not have done that, so he sent Michaelin to sort it out.
It took him several hours, but Herm’s report was certain: The slaves fought back rather than be herded into the garbage ejectors. Somehow, they worked their way through service ducts to the atmospheric compressor and bled it to space, suffocating the pirates and themselves.
The escape basket hurled down, bouncing through the atmosphere like a careening sled, finally coming to rest in a desert valley. Vicky and the little one indulged for a moment, taking deep breaths of the night air and squatting to run the sand through their fingers. Then Vicky took the child’s hand and pointed to the distant shimmering strip where shiny objects zoomed back and forth. An hour later, she and her sister wandered into an interstate rest stop.
A woman, on her way to Las Vegas, spied them sitting at a picnic table. They wore simple, dirty smocks, and glanced about, seemingly disorientated. She noticed that they cringed away from men, but when their eyes met hers, they smiled. She tried English and Spanish, her poor Italian, then her horrid Russian; nothing worked. However, they willingly got into her car, so she took them to protective services in Las Vegas, where they were registered as “origins unknown.”