001: The Dreaded Gauntlet of Xinpho
written & directed by Julian Mundy
produced by Julian Mundy, Mischa Stanton & Ian McQuown
sound design by Mischa Stanton
[[SFX: Bridge of the StarTripper]]
FESTON: Aha! Let’s see the levels. Yep, looking good. Well! Hello, strangers. Thank you for tuning in. My name is Feston Pyxis, and until very recently, I used to be a simple desk jockey here on planet Lorvin. Life would seem to be pretty sweet here: everybody is guaranteed employment... because everybody is a desk jockey too. Megacorporate files don’t sort themselves, after all. But it is SO BORING, folks. So monotone! Worst of all, I seem to be the only Lorvian who feels that way.
[[MUSIC: upbeat, jazzy]]
FESTON: I started to have this thought: “Things could be so much different, Feston. Reboot your life. Simplify.” Most people would take that thought, look at it for a moment, and then file it away forever. Instead, I turned around and quit my job, then I went home and sold pretty much all of my stuff. I’ll admit, losing the movie merch stung pretty bad. But with the heap of credits I made, I got one of these.
[[SFX: Feston gives the RECON recording unit behind his ear a little tap.]]
FESTON: Top-of-the-line RECON unit! A subdermal implant allowing for hands-free audio recording. But most of the cash went towards this! [pause] Oh wait, that’s right, you can’t see it. I wanted it to be this big, dramatic moment, but… It’s fine, roll with it. This is my beautiful new ship. She’s a Physiclast Systems QCS-25, Kappa Series... a total classic. You might know it as a “Startripper” like in the old Phase Gravely wave-films! She’s the key to my plan, namely: to make the absolute most out of my tiny little life! I’m gonna go find the hottest spots, the wildest sights and sounds, mix myself up in something unexpected! Just like Phase would do. Literally anything but sitting at a desk! I’m gonna grab my life by the glowing fleshy part, and hang on ‘til it bucks me off through a window! Sure it might seem a little selfish. And frivolous. And kind of crazy. But there’s an upside, too: I get to take you along with me every step of the way!
[[MUSIC: music ends]]
[[SFX: Proxy appears onscreen.]]
FESTON: And how are we doing today, Proxy?
PROXY: Weather conditions nominal, Captain. All systems green, awaiting launch clearance.
FESTON: Would you listen to that?! Didn’t I say she was a classic? Hang on, Prox. All this “captain” business, do you have to do that? Feels like you’re talking to my dad.
PROXY: This system will respond to your preferred manner of address, Captain. Awaiting input.
FESTON: Let’s just stick with calling me “Feston,” for now We’re trying something new, keeping things loose and fun!
[[SFX: Proxy beeps.]]
PROXY: Input processed, Feston. However, the parameters “loose” and “fun” do not appear in my lexicon of mission directives.
FESTON: What a surprise... Not to worry, Prox, this will be a learning experience for both of us. Well, we’ve got shipboard rations fully stocked, got my towel right here, there we go. Family photo, there it is. Already said my goodbyes. Ready for launch, Proxy?
[[MUSIC: smooth, cruising]]
[[SFX: Proxy thinks about it for a bit]]
PROXY: Request for clearance granted, Feston. Docking ring decoupling.
[[SFX: Enormous hydraulic clamps disengage, the Startripper’s docking platform rotating]]
PROXY: Platform responding all green. You are cleared for launch.
[[SFX: Powerful engines build up propulsion.]]
FESTON: [quiet, gleeful] Here we go.
FESTON: HERE WE GOOOOO! HAHAHA!
[[SFX: Bridge of the StarTripper]]
FESTON: Tell me something, though: what do you know about the Yugfall Expanse?
[[SFX: Poxy acceses her database, then displays the information onscreen.]]
PROXY: The Yugfall Expanse is a 20-parsec region adjacent to the Yug Debris Cloud, once the site of a large-scale naval battle between the Yug and Balgor Empires, both now defunct. Intergalactic law enforcement firms routinely fight over patrolling rights, effectively nullifying all attempts at enforcement of anti-scavenger legislation. An attractive destination for pirates and extreme thrill-seekers.
FESTON: Sounds perfect. This is where you start learning about fun, then. Uh, do the records also mention it in connection to the wavefilm, “Phase Gravely & The Dreaded Gauntlet of Xinpho?”
PROXY: Confirmed. The fourth in the Phase Gravely series of wave-films, holds a divisive reputation with the fanbase over the recasting of Phase’s sidekick, Krum, with erotic film star Vang-Vang Vang.
FESTON: Here’s the thing about that movie, fellow travelers: most of it was shot on a stage. They only went on location at Yugfall to get the wide shots. The real Expanse is crazy deadly: it’s a minefield and a ship graveyard all rolled into one and injected with radioactive growth hormone. So, of course, some rich fans of the movie start their own dark-site race league out there. Before I got the RECON unit, I met an old Grepnoid in a bar. He’d been telling this story to everybody, hoping someone would pick up his next round. I just couldn’t help myself, plus I felt kinda bad.
[[MUSIC: samba & synth]]
FESTON: Anyway, he told me that, years ago, he was racing at Yugfall, in the Gravely Grand Prix. At one point, he takes a bad hit, and has to start limping back to the race hub. But then, his sensors pick up a great, big, superdense something in a dead battleship. His ship is hanging on by a thread, but he gets a quick scan all over anyway, and the only thing he picks up is the faintest seam of a door. And what the old Grepnoid thinks this thing is a vault of some kind, and I find myself really wanting to agree! That’s right, my friends, we’ve got ourselves a genuine treasure hunt on our hands. You get all that, Proxy?
[[MUSIC: music fades out
PROXY: Processing. Charting a course to the Yugfall Circuit Nexus.
[[SFX: Proxy charts a course, transmits access codes and displays travel info onscreen.]]
PROXY: Slipspace junction keys confirmed, clearance chain granted, seamless route achieved. Estimated time to arrival: 1260 ticks.
FESTON: Then let’s get slippy. Engage!!
[[SFX: Feston presses a button on the console and the ship boosts forward into slipspace.]]
FESTON: Wonderful. Guess I’ve got some time to think about my first move: what do I feel like listening to on the way?
[[SFX: Feston picks a channel on the console; through the speaker, shlorping sludging sounds are followed by angry animalistic grunting.]]
FESTON: Politics. No thank you.
[[SFX: Feston picks another channels and keys in; the ars PARADOXICA theme tune plays.]]
FESTON: What, did they record this at the bottom of a well? Next.
[[SFX: Another channel.]]
[[MUSIC: funky, heavy beat, through speaker]]
FESTON: Yeah... Yeah! All right. I’ll check back in when we’re close, friends. Keep listening.
[[MUSIC: music raises to full]]
[[SFX: the music fades back to the speaker; having moved out of slipspace, Feston snores in is seat on the bridge of the Startripper; a beeping warning rouses him]]
FESTON: [snorting awake] MUP! I am UP. Prox, what’s going on?
PROXY: We have just dropped out of slip-space. Sensors register a proximity alert. One vessel, patrol-class. It is pinging us.
FESTON: Hail ‘em, would you please?
PROXY: Opening hailing frequency...
[[SFX: Proxy hails the other ship; a channel opens]]
FESTON: [a little unsure] Uh, hello there!
PATROL OFFICER (PO): Better have a good reason for being here, skuzz!
FESTON: Better than wanting to run the Gauntlet?
PO: Racer, huh? Who you here with?
FESTON: Just me. Well, me and my interface. Say hello, Prox.
[Proxy remains silent.]
PO: You ain’t got a crew? Listen, pal, you got a death wish? Take it somewheres else. There’s already plenty of debris on the track.
FESTON: No, my friend, what I have is a LIFE WISH! I am positively horny for a good race!
PO: I think I get yas. Head on through, somewhere on docking quadrant 3 should be open. Just follow the markers. Oh yeah, and welcome to the Gauntlet.
FESTON: Much obliged!
[[SFX: the comms channel closes; Feston drives the ship around]]
FESTON: This is SO much better than filing claims!
[[SFX: A busy racing complex; pit crews cart around trollies of parts and tools, folks argue over bets.]
FESTON: Wow. Pretty upscale for a death race. Look at all these ships.
[[SFX: A ship speeds past overhead.]]
FESTON: Zappo, that’s a Boltachee Seven-Series!
[[SFX: Someone lumbers up beside Feston.]]
FESTON: Hey, excuse me, pal?
[[SFX: grunting and snorting; "This area's for racers only, twerp."]]
FESTON: Yeah, I can see that, I’m looking for the signup desk.
FESTON: Nope, just me.
[[SFX: more grunting and snorting, then the creature lumbers off]]
FESTON: Thank you! “I’ll pray for you,” he says. What a nice guy!
[[SFX: another big ship passes by]]
[[SFX: Several lifeforms mill around the signup kiosk. Feston bumps into one, which hisses at him.]]
FESTON: Sorry about that, buddy. Say, was that your Farsoon Scathwing I saw in the hangar? I thought so, what a beaut! See you on the starting line!
RACE OFFICIAL (RO): [whiny, chittering, pained, buglike] Next. Next, please.
FESTON: Hello! Oh, love those brassy head-legs, very nice.
FESTON: I’d like to sign up for the next race, please.
RO: Name and company charter?
FESTON: Feston Pyxis... uh, Feston Pyxis. Just me here, I’m afraid.
RO: You don’t have a charter... No pit crew?
FESTON: Nope, just me. I’ve got the indigo Startripper docked on 3C.
RO: And you… you want to run the Gauntlet? The whole thing?
FESTON: You bet!
RO: I see. [to the group at large] Hey everybody! This guy wants to try for a Picture Perfect!
[[SFX: the gathered crowd laughs]]
FESTON: [over the laughter] What is that? Excuse me, what’s a “Picture Perfect?”
RO: Oh, nothing to worry about. Just stay sharp out there. Your confirmation here, please.
[[SFX: an electronic confirmation ding]]
RO: And the race will be called in four ticks.
FESTON: Ok, thank you so much... [to the crowd] See you all in the winner’s circle!
[[SFX: one last laugh from the crowd]]
FESTON: [whispering, hiding the nerves badly] Hey, Prox? You got anything on something called a Picture Perfect in the entry for the Gauntlet?
[[SFX: Proxy appears, though she sounds smaller, as though she were crammed into a remote terminal so Feston can take her with him (which she has)]]
PROXY: No match found.
[[MUSIC: chill, transition]]
[[SFX: Bridge of the Startripper, idle; over the comms, The MC begins her banter for the large crowd]]
MASTER OF CEREMONIES (MC): Helllllllo there, folks! Welcome to this, our latest round of the Gravely Grand Prix! We have a strong bunch of contenders out there today, including three-time survivor of the Gauntlet, Siv Vantablack! And there’s a special treat for you all today, folks, namely our newest contender, piloting the blue Physiclast Startripper, Fes-ton Pyxis! That’s a real collector’s vessel, folks, what a treat. He’s a Grand Prix first-timer who I hear is going for a Picture Perfect, so keep an eye on our suicidally-brave newbie! Give him a round of adulation, folks, he may just have a shot! Rules are simple: no weapons, no sabotage. You fly like Count Fragg has a bead on you, and you MIGHT survive! Now get ready, racers. This is it!
FESTON: “Suicidally brave.” Pff. How many other Gravely flight-sim aces do you see?
[[SFX: a counter appears onscreen; it counts down with the MC]]
[[MUSIC: jazzy, racing music, kinda Mario Kart-like]]
MC: Get steely! Get tight!... GET GONE!
[[SFX: The timer beeps; The Startripper lets loose, screaming forward.]]
MC: And there! They! Go! Vantablack takes an early lead through Shell Game, with Frinx close behind! Two early wipeouts to the Broken Sword! Someone grab a mop!
[[SFX: The Startripper interface beeps a warning; Feston shifts gears, executes a series of tight swerves, then slams on the acceleration]]
MC: And Feston clears Shell Game without a scratch on him! Good start, folks, let’s see if he can keep it up!
[[SFX: Another ship slams into the Startripper; warnings blink onscreen]]
FESTON: WHOA! Okay!
MC: Frinx is all over Feston, folks! Frinx wants to push him into the Smiling Teeth!
[[SFX: Another slam; a klaxon alarm blares, which Feston dismisses]]
FESTON: I'm alright! We're good!
MC: The middle of the pack is tearing chunks off each other! Don’t you just a-DORE it! Vantablack still has first all sewn up, but Tanser and Woon from the Opaque Network are putting those aftermarket mods to good use, closing fast!
[[SFX: Feston swoops and swerves; other ships race past]]
MC: Feston seems to have shaken Frinx on the entrance to the Snake’s Gut, but this is the part where anything could happen!
[[SFX: Feston dives and turns hard right, gunning it into a long straightaway; the popcorn of other ships exploding behind him]]
MC: And that’s not one, not two, but SEVEN KO’s in the Big Hat! The Dax Family’s Dagnus Dax has caused a chain reaction! It’s anybody’s race now, folks… as long as you’re at the head of the pack! Six racers remain!
[[SFX: Frinx slams into Feston again]]
[[MUSIC: key change!]]
MC: And there’s Frinx coming in like a vulture-lizard! He’s on Feston again! And there’s Goffard coming in from below! They’ve got him pincered! What did this guy do to piss those two off?
FESTON: Stuff these guys, we’re close! Come on now, Prox, let’s hit it!
[[SFX: Feston keys in a command and hits the boost; the ships screams forward]]
FESTON: Almost. Allllllmost. Wait ‘til you see the broken keel of the flagship... THERE!
[[SFX: Feston pulls the brake hard; the ship cycles down]]
[[MUSIC: fade out]]
MC: [gasp] It’s gone! The Startripper’s vanished after evading a sideswipe from Akracorp’s Dizzy Goffard! I don’t know what’s happening, folks, but our plucky underskag might be out of the running–permanently! Stay tuned, folks, this race isn’t even close to–
[SFX: Feston switches off the comms]]
FESTON: Enough of that, thank you. Now, Proxy, do a density scan of the immediate area. Tell me when you see a big, impenetrable–
PROXY: Object detected. Sensors indicate superdense materials involved in construction.
FESTON: Engage the mag-plates, I want us stuck to that hull like glue.
[[SFX: Magnetic docking systems attach the Startripper to the broken ship’s hull with a tactile THUNK; the magnets thrum]]
FESTON: Let's see what I almost died for.
[[SFX: the air compressor of Feston's spacesuit]]
FESTON: [tired] Okay, I’m out of ideas. The race has to be well and truly over by now, my atmosphere reserve is dipping below half, and I am officially drawing a blank. The old guy on Lorvin wasn’t jerking me around, I had to search for three whole ticks before I found the side with the door in it! There’s a seam here, but you could only tell if you ran a finger across the whole length of the thing. Proxy, any ideas?
[[SFX: Proxy appears in her remote module]]
PROXY: I lack the necessary instruments to supply a more productive answer, and historical logs make no mention of proprietary Yug security measures. The lock may be keyed to biometric signature, passphrase, or to open upon hearing a selected piece of music. Shall I list the number of possible lock type configurations?
FESTON: Thanks, Proxy, maybe later.
[[SFX: A pause, as Feston considers; he kicks it, hard]]
[[SFX: The door begins unlocking]]
PROXY: Vault interface has registered your clearance input. Clearance accepted. Seals disengaging. Please stand clear.
FESTON: [struck slightly dumb] But all I did was kick it... [collecting himself] Oh. Uh. Right, then. Phase Gravely, eat your heart out.
[[SFX: Feston rounds the door frame with more magnetic footsteps.]]
FESTON: ...Is that…?
[[SFX: Bridge of the Startripper]]
FESTON: A plushie. That’s right, travelers. A stuffed children’s toy in the shape of a Nebulid. It's not even a HAUNTED plushie, either. I KNOW! But I had a thought after I got back to the station. This thing has to be mint condition, right? I mean, locked up in a super-dense isolation vault, no danger of radiation damage, definitely zero oxidation. And it’s ancient, let’s not forget! The giant naval battle that made the Yugfall Expanse was about six hundred galactic standard years ago. This cuddly little thing could pay for my next several dozen fuel stops. Hey Prox?
[[SFX: Proxy appears]]
PROXY: Yes, Feston.
FESTON: What’s the nearest military history museum in the sector? A reputable one, if you can manage it. No gun lobbies. Because some just, like, give you a gun in the lobby, no questions asked. That’s a little intense for Mr. Squiddy here.
PROXY: Searching... Three results found, although the Museum of Interesting Battlefield Wounds has seen a steady decline in patronage in the past fiscal quarter. I also have taken the liberty of referencing known collectors of war memorabilia in the system. The planet Galvas is the nearest option.
FESTON: I think I’ll sleep on it, but thanks Prox. You really came through out there, we’ll have to try this again sometime.
PROXY: Shall I notify you, then, should your name and likeness be stricken from the Gauntlet Wall of Shame? To do so beforehand would likely harm our chances of success.
FESTON: I, uh... I think they just leave it like that, Prox. But, that’s future Feston’s problem! Today’s Feston would like to thank you all for joining me on my first steps into this big old universe you all make so vivid. I can’t wait to see what comes next. Once again, my name is Feston, proud son of planet Lorvin, and file clerk no more. We will all meet again soon, on the next transmission… of Startripper!!
CREDITS: Startripper!! was created by me, Julian Mundy, and produced by me, Mischa Stanton & Ian McQuown. This episode was written and directed by me, sound design by Mischa Stanton, with performances by:
Ian McQuown as Feston,
Giselle De Silva as Proxy,
Alex Marshall-Brown as the MC,
Daniel Manning as the race official,
And me, playing the Patrol Officer.
Music by Ketsa, for more check out KETSAmusic.com.
Check us out on the web at whisperforge.org/StarTripper, for transcripts and links to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or your preferred audio curator, or on social media, where you can find us @StarTripperHQ.
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Thank you for flying with us. And now, this week’s StarTrip Survival Tip: Always pay your debts. Unless you can turn invisible. Turning invisible is usually the better option.
A PRODUCT OF THE WHISPERFORGE: SOUND AND STORY, BROUGHT TO LIFE