Razorback: Uniform Concept Sketches

Yes, I know it's pretty pathetic that in a whole week all I was able to accomplish was a few more concept sketches. As always, I had hoped for more, but real life seems to continue to conspire against me with babies staying up late ...

Anyway, this week I doodled some uniforms. At least for my contribution to the Razorback series, I definitely want to go with a gritty, maculate-reality feel akin to Alien, so I took the uniforms of the crew of the Nostromo as a starting point, also looking at modern-day astronauts' getup, and input from the creator of Razorback. Here's what I came up with so far:

The trenchcoat thing is obviously not intended for when they're in space and zero-g, but Mr. Creator liked the look so I worked it in as something they might wear on an earth-like planet in cooler or rainy climes. Now these are not miners, so I tried for a bit more militaristic look, while trying not to get too traditional-looking since they belong to a sort of E.U.-takes-over-the-world sort of government.

Also, here's what the creator of Razorback had in mind for the ship, and he'll be basing his drawings off of this. I'll try to take it in a less rounded, more junky direction:

Anyway, from my discussions with him, it looks like we're going for a "Babylon 5" level of "hardness" in the series. No artificial gravity on ships, ships that behave more like space ships and less like water naval ships, no sound in space,  and so on, but no hideous lattice-work and heat radiator designs.

REMINDER: Hunger Games Radio Show This Sunday

Just a reminder that this Sunday (29 April) at 2:30 pm. Eastern/1:30 p.m. Central I'll be talking about "The Hunger Games" on Restoration Radio. Link:

Restoration Radio The Hunger Games through a Catholic lens 04/29 by Restoration Radio0 | Blog Talk Radio

The same link can be used to access the live feed, or to download an MP3 recording later if you are not able to join us live. I did a bit of a "dry run" on this topic while talking-up the radio show after Mass last sunday. I think it will be a very interesting show.

We will be taking questions via Facebook (facebook.com/swordsandspace), and phone (949.272.9417)


Why Science Fiction/Fantasy is the Best Genre

“All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it."

Gene Wolfe

After posting here for six months, I figured I'd better justify myself since many look down on science fiction/fantasy as “low brow”, “childish”, or “disconnected from reality”. It is none of these things, or at least, no more so than any other form of fiction. And it has many advantages unique to it which is why (aside from being a nerd) I love the genre and have little interest in writing outside of it.

    I thought to try to define what I mean by science fiction/fantasy, but the definition is so elusive I decline the opportunity. Instead, let me quote author Mark C. Glassy, who compares the definition of science fiction is like the definition of pornography: you don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it

    I should also point out that I can't say ALL science fiction/fantasy is great. That is absolutely NOT what I'm saying. On the contrary, the names of titles to be avoided are legion. A perusal of the annual anthology The Best of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy might lead one to believe that such perversions as sodomitic incest are the norm in contemporary science fiction. And this is true to a degree, which is why I generally prefer older works. But when science fiction and fantasy is good, it is the best, and, unlike other genres, it is more frequently "permitted" to be good (in my opinion)

Liberal/Modern Tripe Not Mandatory

    The ills of modern literature are not uncommon in science fiction/fantasy. However, the genre’s marginalisation means that "mainstream" and "LitFic" authors don't write it, and the "respectable" critics don't read it. To a degree this is true of any genre fiction (since it's all looked-down on by the LitFic crowd) but I think it may be moreso with SF/F. It also seems to be slightly more acceptable to portray religion or introduce religious themes into such works.

    It is also possible to give a positive gloss on tradition, because the societies being portrayed are generally not Christendom or its remnants. This is also true in more mainstream works that deal with non-European cultures, but in science fiction/fantasy one can encounter civilizations more familiar and reminiscent of Christendom which would be verboten elsewhere. In science fiction and fantasy, the battle of “good versus evil” is not considered passé, but is rather a standard element.

The Mythic Sagas of Our Times

    The classical pagans’ epic myths and the mediæval chansons de geste, with their superhuman characters, extraordinary events, and supernatural intercessions would be classed as science fiction/fantasy if written today, I believe. While the great works of antiquity such as the Aeneid, the Illiad, The Song of Roland, &c., are mandatory reading for any man, something more contemporary can an easier read and -- dare I say -- more “relevant” to specific issues of our own times. And it is to good science fiction that one can look if he seeks the grandeur, the sense of wonder, and lessons on humanity, that is present in the classics.

    This is why, I believe, Lord of the Rings is the best selling novel of all time. It simply would not be possible to write such an epic work in any other genre.

Use of Analogy and Extrapolation

    Which brings me to the third benefit of the genre; the creation of completely foreign places (and, indeed, worlds) gives a different perspective to the reader, and allows for especially effective use of analogy and extrapolation. It is one thing to read about why totalitarian governments or the modern world are bad or headed in the wrong direction. It is another thing entirely (and a much more powerful thing) to experience those horrors via science fiction works like 1984 and Brave New World. While other genres can do this well, science fiction and fantasy can take it to new levels by examining things that haven’t happened yet (or could have, but didn’t).


Anti-Cat Nerd Rant

Some readers know of my long-standing antipathy for cats. They are lazy and narcissistic. There are very few, if any, valid reasons for humans to keep them. A few months ago, I rewatched Ridley Scott's classic sci-fi horror, Alien. I realised this film gives validation to my attitude toward cats. In that film, the ill-fated crew of the commercial star ship Nostromo keep a cat names Jones who ...

1) Does absolutely nothing to help catch the chest burster before it grows to full size. What is the point of a cat on a ship if not pest control? He should have been hunting that little bugger while Kane (John Hurt)'s funeral was going on, inwhich case the threat could have been eradicated before it grew to full size, but no ...

2) To the contrary, he actually makes the hunt for the chest burster more difficult by showing up on the scanner and then fleeing when the crew tries to corral him.

3) Jones basically kills Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) by running right to where the alien is hiding when Brett is trying to catch him (Jones). Also watches placidly while Brett is killed -- evidence of the stereotypical feline detached attitude that “humans come and go” with him as mere observer to their drama. A dog would have tried to do something to help, even if it was futile.

4) Also basically kills Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) because Ripley (Signourney Weaver) is mucking about looking for the runaway cat again when the alien corners Lambert. If all three had been together maybe they would have lived.

5) Almost kills Ripley by being present in the animal crate near the shuttle entrance when the alien is there, thus preventing Ripley from frying the alien with her incinerator.

6) Aboard the Narcissus (The Nostromo's lifeboat), Jones does nothing to warn Ripley of the Alien's presence thus again almost killing Ripley.

Thus, Jones provides lots of proof why cats suck. And why human attachment to them costs lives.

And before the cat-lovers lynch me, I hope you realize that this post was written very tongue-in-cheek.


Aliens Omnibus Volume 1 (Book Review)

Title: Aliens Omnibus Volume 1 
Author: Mark Verheiden, Mark A. Nelson, Den Beauvais, Sam Keith 
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
My Rating: 3 stars
Summary in a Sentence: A compilation of the first wave of the Dark Horse comic series which do a good job of capturing the feel and power of the film series, packed into a high-quality and very reasonably priced anthology -- a good buy for any fan of the Alien films and comics, but probably not anyone else

I bought this mostly to give me more inspiration and ideas for my own comics drawing. I've always liked the style employed by Dark Horse comics, being a non-mainstream comics publishing house that favours a dark atmosphere. When friends have asked me how I developed my comic skills I say "from reading lots and lots of comics over the years." So, given the price of $16.49 it was going to be awfully hard to "go wrong" going in.

On the whole, I found this to be a satisfying collection. The first two series featured in the Omnibus, "Outbreak" and "Nightmare Asylum" were originally written as direct sequels to the events of Aliens, the star characters of these comics were Corporal Hicks and Newt and do a much better job than what the filmmakers decided on for said sequel (Alien 3). In this anthology they've been "remastered" and the characters renamed Wilks and Billie. I thought this was unnecessary and doesn't fool anyone given how the characters were drawn. Good stories though. Yet I have to say one big problem with "Outbreak" is that penciller Mark Nelson tends to draw everyone as the same height/build and hairstyle making it VERY difficult to tell characters apart much of the time.

The art in "Nightmare Asylum" by Den Beauvais is simply breathtaking. I have no idea what technique he used, but it almost looks like a series of oil paintings rather than comics. His characters are very well done and Hicks and Newt clearly identifiable since they look like the actors who portrayed them in Aliens.

I won't go into detail on the other stories, with the exception of saying that the third series featured, "Female War" is not very good. The story is goofy/confusing and the pencils are really sub-par. I can honestly say I could do better technically and I really did not like the style that attempts to be over-the-top with exaggerated muscles and such, and at the same time gritty. But even if we excised that collection from the anthology, the book as a whole is worth the $16.49. The stories (even including "Female War") are thankfully avoid the traditional comic book fanaticism to create new spins on the Alien mythos -- many of which are embarassing and others which are simply downright disturbing. For this reason I DON'T like omnibus Volume 3 (which I may review later and will more than likely consign to the flames or circular file rather than keep around).

I wouldn't recommend this collection as a series of general appeal. It really is only for Aliens fans. Even then, a certain level of caution is recommended as I'd recommend with the Alien films themselves. Definitely only meant for mature adults.


Razorback: The Fellowship (Concept Sketch)

Okay, so a friend of mine wants to do a science fiction comic-book series entitled "Razorback". I'd love to help out but I'm totally jammed-up, but did allow myself to be tempted into doing the short prequel story (roughly amounting to one 15-page issue) which I can do at my leisure. It's intended to be a little more "hard sci fi" than my personal norm of space fantasy. Takes place circa 2170 if I recall correctly. I don't want to risk stealing my friend's thunder, so I won't go any further than that, except to share this concept sketch. One of the ships featured in the prequel story I'm doing is the "Fellowship", an ore hauler converted into a transport of sorts. So this evening I did up a quick concept sketch. Comments and criticism welcome, especially from the hard sci fi crowd (I'm looking at you, Sophia's Favourite).

The ship was never intended to land on a planet, hence the strap-on/disposable boosters (they did get it on the ground somehow to pick up the 10,000 civilians it will carry).



I had a good idea for a post today, but, of course, I didn't write it down and now I can't remember it. So please excuse me as I indulge in a bit of "thinking out loud" -- which is what I suppose blogs are usually meant to be. Following the fine example of Sophia's Favourite (see the sidebar) I'll go in point form:

  • In preparation for next Sunday (29th)'s episode of Restoration Radio, I've been reading a few articles about The Hunger Games. One had a rather good turn of phrase concerning the nearly-mandatory warrior woman in action/adventure film and literature these days: "in occult, gender-bending fashion, a young woman performs the pugilistic feats required to defend her family". I think the writer was using the word "occult" incorrectly but I do like the phrase "gender-bending pugilism". I do not like the whole obsession with warrior women. I can handle a Joan of Arc character who's an EXCEPTION. But really, men are meant to fight and it's contrary to a woman's nature. Not to mention, as the Israeli's found out the hard way, it's just a really bad idea due to human nature. It's all the more annoying that it's omnipresent in anything action/adventure but seemingly even more so in fantasy and sci fi. At this point it would be downright edgy to do something where only the men fight.
  • Which reminds me of the trailer I saw while at The Hunger Games for this new "Snow White and the Huntsman" (apparently sans dwarves). I was initially impressed with the trailer. Upon second watching not so sure. Per my above comment, OF COURSE, Snow White herself has to don plate mail and take up the sword. Anyway, here's the video:

  • Here's another reason why I love Games Workshop's Warhammer -- they're not afraid to put fantastic mustaches on their heroes. Check out this post from their blog: Our top 5 Moustaches of the Warhammer world. For my money, Kurt Helborg wins hands-down. Almost enough to make me want to build an Empire army if I ever finish my 40K Imperial Guard ... but no, I shall stay true to Bretonnia and rebuild the army of Duke Lucien le Juste eventually.
  • Star Wars can provide occasions for philosophical discussion and teaching moments. At breakfast today my 5 year-old son and I talked about Captain Needa (the officer who gets his throat crushed by Vader after losing the Millennium Falcon in Empire Strikes back). I explained to him that Captain Needa was an honourable man and a good captain who protected his crew from Darth Vader's wrath. So then my son thought he was a Rebel and I had to explain how even though the Emperor and Vader are clearly evil, that doesn't mean every Imperial Officer and every storm trooper is evil and how they still need to obey lawful orders. A bit of a blow struck against Donatist tendencies there, I think.


04/29: Restoration Radio - The Hunger Games through a Catholic lens

Among my many diverse activities, I do a bi-weekly radio show on cultural, political, historical, and other issues with two other Catholic gentlemen, Stephen Heiner and Dr. Piers Hugill. Next week's show might be of interest to readers of Swords and Space since we'll be discussing a science fiction work. Specifically, the "phenomenon" of The Hunger Games. We'll be discussing both the novel and the film as distinct works. Show starts at 2:30 pm. Eastern/1:30 p.m. Central on Sunday 29 April.

Restoration Radio The Hunger Games through a Catholic lens 04/29 by Restoration Radio0 | Blog Talk Radio

Note that the same link can be used to access the live feed, or to download an MP3 recording later if you are not able to join us at the appointed time. As of right now, I've watched the film and am about 1/4 of the way through the novel. I think it will be a fascinating discussion so I hope you'll join us.

We will be taking questions via Facebook (facebook.com/swordsandspace), and via phone (949.272.9417)


Does and Author Have the Right to Wreck his own Work?

I read an article a while back that dealt with the interesting question of how much authority an author retains over his work, and whether if, after publication, it becomes somewhat of a public trust. I wish I could find the article, but I was thinking about this stuff the other day so thought I'd share my thoughts.

I've come to the view that somewhat straddles the two above-noted positions. I think that for the most part, the author does have full control over his property and he can do whatever he wants with it. However, on the other hand, I think that this "power" over their own worlds is not absolute. The exception being that no author has the right to introduce changes that make his work unquestionably worse.

Obviously this is usually quite subjective, so I think any doubt must be resolved in favour of the creator. But sometimes there is no ability to debate a change, such as the whole "Greedo shot first" treatment that George Lucas gave to the DVD edition of Star Wars (pictured above). It's completely idiotic and Mr. Lucas' claim that it was "always this way" and the difficulties of filming in 1977 are the only reason it appears Han shot first totally lacks credibility. Even if we set aside the arguments over Solo's character, there's no way a seasoned bounty hunter like Greedo could miss from that range. As such, all the nerd rage over this change is wholly justified.


Pandorum (Movie Review)

Title: Pandorum
Director: Christian Alvart
Distributor: Overture Films
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Antje Traue
Excellence: 4 star (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: Another pleasant surprise dug up from the depths of box-office failures; a sci-fi horror film featuring two amnesiac astronauts aboard a colony ship where things have gone horribly wrong enroute, and must find a way to survive amidst a dangerous infestation

This month's review is another "diamond in the rough", so to speak -- a film that "tanked" horribly at the box office, grossing only $10 million after a $33 million budget, and panned by the critics (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a meager 27%). Yet despite this I thought it rather well-done and certainly enjoyable. It is a European film, and perhaps that accounts for it's lack of popularity given the slower pace and subtlety not common to American "blockbusters". The I.M.D.B. synopsis is as follows:

Two astronauts awaken in a hyper-sleep chamber aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. It's pitch black, they are disoriented, and the only sound is a low rumble and creak from the belly of the ship. They can't remember anything: Who are they? What is their mission? With Lt. Payton staying behind to guide him via radio transmitter, Cpl. Bower ventures deep into the ship and begins to uncover a terrifying reality. Slowly the spacecraft's shocking, deadly secrets are revealed...and the astronauts find their own survival is more important than they could ever have imagined.
The film had a certain mythological feel to it, since the ship is treated as its own world and given the presence of a god/devil-like figure responsible for the "evils" in that world and the degradation of the humans of the colony ship, somewhat reminiscent of Milton's Paradise Lost. There is perhaps also a parallel to Dante's Divine Comedy in the path that the main characters must travel to defeat the evil in the film.

I found the film suspenseful throughout, and with a great sense of mystery as the viewer tries to figure out what's happened aboard the Elysium along with the two crew members. The acting was perhaps not Oscar-worthy but more than adequate for the type of film, and the special effects satisfying. The plot was surprisingly complex and well-thought out making for a viewing experience that was overall very good. Certainly worth checking-out for any science fiction fans.

Finally, it has one of the greatest quotes I've seen in a film in a good long while. When the main protagonist confronts the "god/devil-like figure", the latter tempts him by offering him a share in his power saying that all that holds him back is his own fear. Our hero responds:  "There will always be law...and you will pay for what you've done."


Orwellian Affair, Part 4

Finally, the conclusion of this four-part series is done. I admit that I rushed this last set of panels just to get it done. As such, readers will notice that the shading is a bit lacking and some of the proportions wrong on frame 4. Time is certainly the artist's enemy! Overall I think it turned out acceptably and was good practice, though.

Part one: http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-i.html
Part two:  http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-2.html
Part three:  http://www.swordsandspace.com/2012/03/orwellian-affair-part-3.html

With a tip of the hat to Canson for their "Fanboy Comic Strip Boards" which made this project much easier. And thanks again to Mom for giving a pad of these to me for Christmas.


Your Bi-Weekly Update #5

1. First and foremost, I'd like to wish my readers a most blessed and happy Easter. I was out of action over the long weekend to celebrate this event with family visiting from out West and hence the lack of posts.

2. Work continues apace on the Warhammer 40K army -- I will try to post some pictures of my progress later this week. I'm a bit skeptical that I'll actually get enough done to go to the tournament I'm thinking of, but it's good motivation to get it done. Of course, some would point out that this takes away from my writing but I continue to be thoroughly uninspired in that category so I'd rather do something that I am inspired to do since this is all for free.

3. Although speaking of inspiration, a friend of mine is working on his own webpage that will feature science fiction/fantasy fiction from a Catholic perspective. Unlike Swords and Space his site will feature the work of several authors in what he hopes will be a small part of a Catholic renaissance of sorts. I am very tempted to do some comics-work for this site although I know my time is very limited. If he does all the story-boarding and other prep work, I might be able to pencil at least one issue worth. I'll update on how that progresses.

4. In the interests of doing my part to try to secure the widest release possible for Iron Sky, I'm reproducing their press release (at their request) here:


Iron Sky opens nr. 1 in Finland and wins screen average in Germany

Finnish-German-Australian Moon Nazi comedy Iron Sky was released on April 4th in Finland (Buena Vista Finland) and Norway (Euforia), and the next day in German-speaking Europe (Polyband), on 340 screens, and gathered more than 250.000 admissions over the Easter weekend. The results are very promising also for the hundreds of fans who have invested money in Iron Sky.

In Finland the film was clearly nr. 1, with close to 75.000 admissions. In Germany Iron Sky made double screen average than most of its competitors, opening in 164 screens and gaining over 140.000 admissions - so much that the German distributor is upping the amount of screens.

“The opening was great”, the producer of Iron Sky, Tero Kaukomaa from Blind Spot pictures says. “This is a great opportunity to build further, and those territories who did not yet decide the final release strategy and size got some encouraging news. This opening indicates us millions of cinema admissions around the world. Our next task is to make sure this news is distributed everywhere by our fans and followers.”

Swetlana Winkel , CEO of the german distributor Polyband says; ”We are very glad that so many fans of Iron Sky went to see the film although it was easter holidays and very cold. We will increase the screens to follow the huge demand all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland and we say thank you to all Iron Sky Fans”.

Next Iron Sky is to open in Iceland (Greenlight), Sweden (Noble), Denmark (MisLabel), UK (Revolver), Poland (Kino Swiat), Slovenia & Serbia (Discovery), Australia & New Zealand (Hoytts), US & Canada (Entertainment One), France (Synergy Cinema), Korea (Zamie Pictures), Israel (Shovel Film) and Japan (Presidio), among other territories. Iron Sky team is updating a release map for all the fans to follow when to expect the film to their home territory. The map can be found here; http://www.ironsky.net/site/film/releasedates/

Iron Sky director Timo Vuorensola enjoyes the start, but reminds that the work is far from done: ”We get requests constantly from Spain, Italy and Latin America to get the film to theaters there as well, and we are working furiously to get the distributors to understand the power of the fan community and the awesome word-of-mouth the film is gaining. The best way to get the word out there is to ask to see Iron Sky in these areas, and our Demand-service is a tool just for that.”

Stealth Media Group has sold the world out apart from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Latin America and South Africa. Iron Sky can be demanded to be seen in the theater near you here; http://www.ironsky.net/demand

- Timo Vuorensola & The Iron Sky Team


Bits and Pieces

I've never been a fan of "trash talk" and other W.W.E.-inspired braggadocio that seems to have made it's way into modern culture especially in sports. Not only is it poor sportsmanship, but it makes you REALLY look like a moron when you get schooled by a liberal dilettante. On Saturday, Justin, the son of Canada's (in)famous Prime Minister Pierre Trudeu, took part in a charity boxing match with Conservative Party senator Patrick Brazeau.

I paid a bit of attention to this match because it was an interesting novelty to see politicians take to the boxing ring. That and -- though I strongly disagree with pretty much everything both of Canada's leading parties stand for -- I'm a sucker for politics and this was getting significant coverage. From the get-go it seemed like a bit of clever politicking on the part of Trudeau at the expense of (as usual) a hapless "conservative" who walked right into it. Trudeau, having the public image of the typical limousine liberal -- soft, pacifistic -- couldn't lose this matchup. If he just survived it he'd be lionized as a hero. He found an opponent who seems to have bought into the faux-conservative nonsense that being a barbarian makes you a man and a conservative. So he did the W.W.E. thing, talking about how he was going to knock Trudeau out and such was his swagger the bookies had him at 3:1 odds. Then he got an old-school whupping. And Trudeau followed that up with some old-world class in being very gracious in victory. Although for his part, Senator Brazeau seemed to take his humiliation well.

Anyway, I could go off on a whole bunch of tangents here, none of which I have time for. Just a few quick ones: I think politics should be settled this way more often, real conservatism means being a gentleman not a thug (of course, I must remind myself that conservatives have always been simply last week's liberals ever since the "left" and "right" wings were established in the French National Assembly in 1789), and amateurs are way more fun to watch than pros when it comes to boxing -- none of that constant hugging slowing things down, juts lots of punches. Anyway, part of the fight including Trudeau's T.K.O. victory is here:

Also, just because my American friends always point out (often smugly) that stuff like the nonsense I'm parodying in "Orwellian Affair" doesn't happen in the U.S., I thought I'd point this article out: http://hslda.org/hs/state/pa/201203270.asp

It's Holy Week, so the mainstream media is partaking of its own annual rite for this season: anti-Christian propaganda. In past years it's been programmes named "The Real Jesus" or something exonerating Judas or some such. Obsession with the Gnostic heretics and their scrivenings seem to be the recurring theme. This year's entry (on CNN) is a little lacklustre -- "4 myths of the Book of Revelation" rehashing all the old chestnuts about how the evil Church forced the wrong books into the Bible and kept the good ones out. Sometimes I wonder if Catholics don't need our own version of the Anti-Defamation League to be all hyper-sensitive and hyperbolic, going on a constant witch-hunt against anything perceived as insufficiently pro-Catholic to push back against this stuff? Or maybe the liberals and secularists are slowly starting to make themselves look like such fools that people will tune them out all on their own? I find younger people aren't nearly as anti-Christian as the grey-haired Baby Boomers.

Finally, something sci-fi: saw the preview for the Total Recall remake today. Surprisingly, it actually looks like it may be half-decent (see below). Also, Sophia's Favourite (linked on the right side bar) reminded me that Vin Diesel is making a Riddick 3 film. Apparently the latter is being financed independently, which is usually a good thing. Pitch Black was decent, and I rather liked The Chronicles of Riddick, so we'll see. As it stands, I'm on count-down for Prometheus. Probably missed the boat on John Carter since it's flopped so bad it won't be in theatres after Lent.


Rex Caelestis: The Sleepers, Part 2

Captain’s log, 30th June, 2217:
Lomonosov trials suspended to investigate United Earth vessel. Communication with Earth remains off-line. Last contact at 0620H. Communication problem began when Admiral Kolchak closed within 500m of United Earth ship — science officer convinced no connection but Captain doubts.  Executive Officer Ermolov leading boarding party to United Earth vessel …


A bridge between the two ships had been made with a length of sturdy cable. Along this, Dmitri led his crew across the fifty metre gap, pulling himself hand-over-hand. The United Earth ship was a dark blue apparition against the starry backdrop.

Dmitri looked about as much as his E.V.A. suit’s helmet would allow — very aware of how literally they were “in the middle of nowhere.” The nearest stars, Sol and Sirius were only slightly brighter dots on the black canvass.  He touched the gator clip linking him to the cable to reassure himself.

“It would seem they suffered some sort of engine failure,” Fournier’s voice crackled in Dmitri’s earphone.

“What makes you think that?” Dmitri asked. “Everything from visual scanning indicated no damage.”

“The radiation scan is one of the only filters working,” Dąbrowski grumbled. “The radiation levels show no lack of containment or leaks from those big jajka it’s carrying.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Fournier said. “But it would seem to me that she should be much further from Earth. That’s a fusion rocket, which should be capable of .1 lightspeed, after a three-year acceleration …”

“They may not have been able to collect enough fuel,” Dmitri said. “The United Earth regime was already collapsing when they were launching their interstellar explorations.”

“And the frozen pierogi aboard don’t care how long it takes,” Dąbrowski said.

“If it is a sleeper ship,” Dmitri said. He’d reached the U.E. ship and let out a line from his belt attached to the gator, pawing along the hull.

The landing party positioned themselves around the main airlock. Dąbrowski touched his faceplate to the small circular viewport.

“Astonishingly, all is dark. I see nothing.” He moved to the keypad next to the door and punched the buttons with his thick gloved fingers. “Panel dead.”

Admiral Kolchak, this is Erlomov,” Dmitri radioed back to the ship. “We’ve reached the airlock and are preparing to breach same.”

“Acknowledged,” Captain Kirilov said. “Proceed.”

Dąbrowski had already opened up the airlock control panel, with Fournier providing light via hand lamp. After a few moments, the engineering tech gave a grunt of satisfaction and the hatch slowly swung outward. All three Astrogators' Guildsmen were able to fit inside the airlock, wherein Dąbrowski attached to the control panel the battery and tablet he'd used to open the outer door. In another moment they were inside.

The United Earth ship had pressure and atmosphere, but the temperature was near zero Kelvin, requiring that they keep their suits on. Until confirming there were no hazards other than the cold, Dmitri would have required they keep them on in any event.  The vessel was smaller than the Kolchak, and certainly not designed with fully-suited astronauts in mind. Taking care not to bump into one another, they made a quick circuit of the forward half of the ship, which consisted of three claustrophobic modules littered with papers, tubes, wires, and other equipment. It reminded Dmitri of pictures of the ancient space vessels of the earliest astronauts centuries ago.

"How could anyone live here?" Fournier said.

"That's why they go frozen,"  Dąbrowski said.

The control cabin was at the very front of the vessel. It, too, was empty and the computer banks all black and silent.

"The crew compartment must be aft," Dmitri said. "Still nothing on the scanners?"

Fournier shook his head. "Negative, they're not even registering us."

There was a loud "clunk" from back near the airlock. Dmitri jumped. "What was that?"

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