008: The Free-Swimmer of Vadal

written & directed by Julian Mundy
produced by Julian Mundy, Mischa Stanton & Ian McQuown
sound design by Mischa Stanton



[SFX: The StarTripper canopy opens onto a night-time beach scene; a breeze sweeps over as waves lap against the shore, with night-birds twittering to each other. Some distance away, there are the lively sounds of a beachside bar.]

PROXY: Welcome to the planet Vadal. The temperature is optimal, humidity index low. Sunrise will occur at this location in 120 ticks.

FESTON: [yawning] I guess I’ll have to find a way to keep my eyes open! Hello travelers! My name is Feston Pyxis, and welcome back to…StarTripper!! I guess I don’t have to tell you where we’ve touched down. We’re here for a little sun and surf! Some drinks on the beach, and maybe a turtle-wax treatment for the ship! Y’know, I can’t imagine why I put this off so long.

PROXY: I am not sure I am qualified to say. That may be a question better asked to a psychotherapist, or perhaps a member of the clergy.

FESTON: (not listening) What? Oh! By the way, thanks for letting me teach you how to play Grand Helix on the way here. None of your other pilots ever played that on your interface? I’ve never had my ass kicked in such a clean and professional manner.

PROXY: To be honest, I thought it would be more efficient to simply access the video archive for the Helix Masterwork Tournament while I waited for you to explain a move.

FESTON: I mean, you could have said something.

PROXY: I did not want to snuff your excitement. I did learn something in the process.

FESTON: And hey, maybe one day, I’ll last five whole turns! Sit tight, huh? I’ll be back later with the wax. Right now, I REALLY need a drink.

PROXY: Acknowledged. Don’t get into any trouble I can’t get you out of.

FESTON: Oh, don’t sell yourself short, Prox. I’m sure I’m still just a Rookie Troublemaker. I wonder if there’s a database that keeps track of that. Please look into whether or not there’s a database for that. Alright. Later!

[SFX: Feston hops out of the Startripper onto the metal landing platform, but only has to take a few steps before he steps down directly onto the sand of the beach.]

FESTON: Oh yeah, I should take these off.   

[SFX: Feston sits down on the beach and detaches the shoes of his flight suit. Standing back up, he wiggles his toes in the sand.]

FESTON: [stress already melting away] Ooooooooo, that’s nice… Ok! Bar.

[SFX: Feston, humming a tune, walks across the beach, sounds of the beachside bar drawing closer until Feston steps up onto a boardwalk section.]

RIPPLE (RIP): Evening, friend. You come a long way? 

FESTON: Yeah, you could say that. From Lorvin, originally. Had to fly through a debris field on the way here, and my shoulders are a complete wreck. White-knuckled it all the way through.

RIP: Let me get you something for that. Sikrennian cider sound good?

FESTON: Yeah, and if you could warm it up, I’d really appreciate it.

RIP: Be happy to. So, Lorvin, huh? They call me Ripple.

FESTON: Nice to meet you! They call me Feston Pyxis.

RIP: [laughs with surprise] Ha! No kakking way! I know they do, I’m one of “them.”

FESTON: [realization dawning] No… you listen to my show?!

RIP: I play it here sometimes when it gets slow. You’re almost as cute as you sound.

FESTON: [flattered/offended/both?] Well, thank you. Wow! That’s never happened before. How’d you find out about it?

RIP: I still have a Redshift COVE.

FESTON: Oh, no way, like, the little wrist-mounted one? Those things were so stylish! Wait, I didn’t even know they carried my show on the COVE.

RIP: Yep, the fanbase handles the search optimization now, since the specs went public. People build their own homebrew ones. Mine’s seashell-plated, see?

FESTON: Wow, yep, that’s fantastic.

[SFX: Ripple taps a couple of keystrokes into a seashell bangle that displays a holographic homepage for the show StarTripper!!]

RIP: I’m all up to date, too.

FESTON: Um, wow! Well, cheers. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ripple.

RIP: I had no idea you were coming this way.

FESTON: Ya, me neither. I just looked for anything with a nice, friendly beach.

[SFX: Ripple puts down a steaming mug of cider on the bar.]

RIP: There’s that cider.

FESTON: Thanks, you just saved a life.

[SFX: Feston takes a long pull of the hot drink and sets it down heavily. A couple of bar patrons pull out their chairs and leave.]

RIP: [to the departing patrons] ‘Night, guys! [to Feston] Hey, can I ask you something?

FESTON: [shoulders unclenching] Absolutely.

RIP: Are you recording right now?

FESTON: Oh. Yeah, I am, sorry. I can turn it off.

RIP: [smiling] Doesn’t bother me. Keep it on.

FESTON: Oh. Okay.

RIP: So what brings you to Vadal?

FESTON: Well, you’d probably have a better idea than most. But I guess I was just thinking about taking it easy for a couple days. I figured I’d record a short episode, maybe, but I wasn’t even sure I was going to broadcast anything on this leg of the trip.

RIP: Sure, I get you. But listen, if you’re looking for some good material, maybe I could help you out. Some friends and I are going out on a little excursion tomorrow. If you want to come along, there’ll be some time to kick back along the way. But it does get kinda crazy sometimes.

FESTON: Okay, well, now you have my attention. (they laugh) What kind of excursion?

RIP: Just a little fishing trip. I’m almost ready to close up. Gimme a couple of ticks, finish your cider… [Ripple leans in closer to the recorder in Feston’s neck] And we can talk more about it back at my place.

FESTON: Your... [oh, this person wants to bang!] OH. Sure. Let’s— let’s do that, then.

RIP: And on second thought, maybe you should turn off your recorder.

FESTON: [hushed, into the mic] See you in a little while, travelers.




[SFX: The RECON device switches back on, taking in the sounds of the tide, with birds and other flying creatures circling overhead. We cut in on Ripple and Feston walking across the beach, laughing at a story Ripple has just finished telling.]

FESTON: [catching his breath] Oh kak, I forgot to turn the mic on for that. Hello again, travelers! Ripple was just telling me about the crew I’ll be meeting today, and some of their fishing stories?

RIP: [raising voice to be sure the RECON unit hears] Apparently SOMEBODY forgot to ask their fancy-ass ultra auto-pilot about the reasons why anybody bothers to come here—


RIP: —so I am guiding the lost little grubling in the direction of a properly good zarking time. I was just telling your splendid host about the last time we went after the Free-Swimmer.

FESTON: Which somehow ended in your friends Ni’azo and XL wearing each other’s pants?

RIP: Hey, weird kakking shit happens when the Free-Swimmer shows up. No one’s sure, but science-types think it came to Vadal from space, or another dimension, and it just sticks around because it likes the water here. It’s like a giant, segmented salamander that can phase-shift into different states of matter, pretty much whenever it feels like it. No one’s ever laid a digit on the thing, and sometimes things get… “what-iffy” around it? But only if you get too close during a shift. 

FESTON: So, “Free-Swimmer,” okay, I follow you. But that’s why I don’t follow you. Because, well, before we got all sweaty last night, you said tons of people go after it. Why would anybody hunt this thing? It sounds like it could kill everyone on board and splash happily away into the sunset.

RIP: It just sorta toys with the crews that want to hurt it. Early on, you’d hear about folks like that chasing the Free-Swimmer into their own watery graves, but that stuff settled down once everyone realized it wasn’t even taking them seriously. Crews chase it for plenty of reasons, but not so much to hunt, anymore.

FESTON: How about you folks?

RIP: I make a little side cash selling pics of it to wildlife journals, scientific periodicals, sometimes the odd crypto-zoology geek. Ni’azo is an engine freak, so she likes racing it. Makes for great action shots, so I get paid premium. XL just seems to like being around it. XL doesn’t talk a lot, but you could ask. Just let me do the talking first.

[SFX: Distant hawkers and bazaar patrons can be heard over the waves, as well as the sounds of plasma-welding from inside a ship, drawing closer with each step the pair takes.]

RIP: [calling up to the welder on deck of docked skiff] Hey ‘Zo! You remember that StarTripper!! podcast I showed you??  

NI’AZO (ZO): [from up on deck] By “showed,” you mean “forced me to listen to?”

RIP: Forced?! I’ve never managed to force you into anything. How did I force you?

ZO: Because you knew my only alternative was to jump overboard! So, what about it?

RIP: I met the alien from that show at the bar last night! We’ve got room for one more, right?

ZO: [this is like the fifth time this has happened] Oh, kak you and your z-list celebrity nightstand, Ripple! Weight distribution with him aboard? Completely wrong. My acceleration numbers are going to nosedive.

RIP: It’s a fishing skiff, not a speed-shuttle. What is your problem?

ZO: What was my problem the OTHER times? Are you trying to torture me to death? Because I consider this cruel and unusual, even for you, you… hedonist!

FESTON: [sheepish] I’ll pull my weight, I promise. I even know... more than nothing about engines! I’ve got a Physiclast {pr. Fizzih-clast} Systems QCS-25.

ZO: [as though selecting a flavor of poison] Kappa, Epsilon, or Sigma Series?

FESTON: Kappa. Like in the old Phase Gravely wave--

ZO: [to RIP] Is he recording right now?

FESTON: If that’s a problem, I can—

RIP: Yes, are you going to be a jerk about that, too?

ZO: [to Feston] You record. Don’t you stop recording. I’m testing a tweaked model today, and if you get launched overboard, I want as much data as I can get.

RIP: Hey, where’s XL?

ZO: [going back inside to her welding] I don’t know! But now you’ve got a plus-one, so I hope they decide to stay the kak home! Now shuffle off, would you?!  I’m adjusting the manifold and injection timers to ensure we don’t, y’know, overstress the whole skiff and explode? I need three ticks before we can sail!

RIP: [with a Tiger Woods fist-pump] Yes!

[SFX: Ripple swats Feston on the butt (FESTON: Hey!). Ni’azo goes back to welding. Big footsteps approach from the right and come to a halt. A huge set of lungs expel a puff of air from a large snout.]

RIP: There you are! XL, this is Feston! He’s gonna go fishing with us today!

[SFX: XL chuckles deep in their chest, and a big hand reaches out to pat Feston maybe a little too hard on the shoulder. XL’s heavy steps continue past, and onto a lift up to the deck.]

FESTON: Right, so “XL” stands for “Extra Large,” noted. Seems nice! Although the whole “swapping pants” thing is a lot funnier after you meet--

RIP: Hey.


[SFX: Ripple plants a quick kiss on Feston.]

RIP: They’re sold. Welcome aboard. 




[SFX: The skiff cuts across a vast expanse of open sea, powerful rear engine thundering at the far stern of the boat. Now and then, a sea bird or two dopplers into audible range, only to doppler out again with the sheer velocity of the boat.]




[SFX: The skiff takes a hard hop off a wave bank, causing brief but substantial turbulence.]



[SFX: In the captain’s seat, Ni’azo cycles the thruster safely down to zero and coasts the skiff to a halt. A low vibration starts up through the hull for a moment and fades from hearing.]

ZO: Hover-brake engaged. Nice job hanging on, Z-List. 

FESTON: Uh. Thank you?

ZO: Whatever.

RIP: Hey, XL, grab the fishing rods, please!

[SFX: From below deck, XL thumps up on board and hands Ripple and Feston each a fishing rod, snorting as they pass. Ripple opens a cooler with a hiss of chilly air.]

RIP: I do believe we should start drinking.

[SFX: Ripple pulls three cans of space-beer from the cooler, tossing one to Feston and one to XL. Feston and XL each pop the tabs on theirs.]

FESTON: Nice! Thanks, Ripple.

XL: Yeah. Thanks.

RIP: [delighted at XL] You’re welcome, bud! Pretty chatty today. Trying to impress the new guy?

XL: No.

[SFX: XL thumps off to their private fishing spot at the stern.]

FESTON: That was sweet, you guys were having a little moment there.

RIP: Aren’t they great? Okay star-hobo, sunglasses on, shirts off. We fish now.

FESTON: Uh… Aren’t we on alert for the Free-Swimmer?

[SFX: Ripple settles into a chair near the railing.]

RIP: Nah, we’ll hear it before we see it. That, plus ‘Zo will start freaking her shit off and throwing switches on that ballistic missile she strapped us to. Kick back, we’ve got quite a few ticks to enjoy the sun.

FESTON: Hey, did I say thanks already? Because seriously. So great of you.

RIP: Happy to have you! But I’d save your thanks until we’re back on solid ground. We weren’t going top-speed on the way out here.

[SFX: Ripple casts a lure into the water, electronic reel clocking distance with little beeps.]

FESTON: Oh! Cool! One sec.…

[SFX: Feston opens up comms with Proxy on his wrist display.]

FESTON: Hey Proxy?

PROXY: Yes, Feston. Are you enjoying the day?

FESTON: Yeah, it’s been pretty zowy so far, Prox, just had a question for you. How much lead time to my present location would you need to perform a daring sea-based rescue? Just, you know, hypothetically.

PROXY: Processing. By my calculations, I could arrive at your location in just under one tick, but I must urge caution. [changes into a sea-shanty cadence] “The waves, they shift / The storm, she crack / She lash upon the sailor’s back / With only one small moment’s change / Not a soul aboard remains.”

RIP: Creepy…

PROXY: Apologies. I did not intend to cause discomfort. I have assigned an Omnipedia subroutine to analyze sailor’s stories and tales for critical wisdom. I have learned that the sea is quite temperamental, and that this is a regular source of tension for organic life.

FESTON: Well, as long as you’re enjoying yourself, I guess. I’m in good hands out here.

PROXY: Yes, I am finding myself quite engaged. However, there are a number of indigenous birds roosting on my wings.

FESTON: Well, let ‘em be, Prox. I’m sure they’re enjoying the day, too. Oh, and hey, in a worst-case scenario, I’ll give you as much lead time as I can. Okay, Bye!

RIP: I can’t believe you’re BFFs with a spaceship.

ZO: [piping up from captain’s seat, suddenly heated] She could do so much better!




[SFX: Sea birds call out lazily from their slow glides overhead. From the stern, XL reels in a large fish, which is putting up a struggle. XL snorts in frustration.]

RIP: C’mon XL, show that thing who really wears the pants around here!

[SFX: With a mighty heave, XL pulls, landing the fish on deck with a torrent of water and repeated flapping. XL lands a mighty blow that vibrates through the hull, and the flapping ceases at once.]

FESTON: Damn. Nice punch.

RIP: Ya.

XL: Supper.

ZO: Get it on ice already! Chiller’s all set for you down there, but I had to move the knife rack.

XL: Thanks.

[SFX: XL hoists the fish in one hand and takes it, dripping, downstairs.]

FESTON: What’s their story, anyway?

RIP: Who, XL? 


RIP: They just showed up at the bar one day, looking pretty down, actually. I tried my “snappy and relatable” routine, and got nowhere. Just kept staring into their drink, until one moment, they caught sight of a Free-Swimmer shot I’d taken and mounted on the bar someplace. I wasn’t even very good with the lens yet, my rig is a lot better now. Used to have a DekMatic TORUS drone, but last year I went full Ocular Shutter System.

FESTON: Nice. Wait, so last night, were you taking pictures of--

RIP: [interrupting] Anyway, XL just stares at the Free-Swimmer’s big, doofy salamander face for a while, then looks up at me, and asks, [imitating XL’s baritone] “More?” Went through every shot in my album, even the ones I was gonna junk. ‘Zo and I took them out the first time, and then they just kept coming back. I think they’re still working on some personal stuff, seemed pretty heavy. Might involve a childhood pet.

ZO: The very definition of “nobody’s goddamn business.”

FESTON: How about you then? Mind sharing a little, for the eager listeners?

ZO: [sighs with disdain] Sure. It’s no great mystery that I’ve been saving Ripple’s ass since we were just little babes.


ZO: When Ripple wipes out on the tides of fate, I am there to cling to.

RIP: Slander. You’re slandering me in front of the whole galaxy now. 

ZO: Suits me! You leave yourself pretty open for that. You’re like a Chak Fist white belt, only with your mouth, and instead of an opponent, it’s…someone else’s mouth.

RIP: Whatever, ‘Zo. I guess it’s a shame most other people don’t vibrate. [imitates engine revving

[SFX: ZO hucks a tool in RIP’s general direction; it misses it’s target and plunks into the water.]

RIP: Here’s the thing: we were born right here on Vadal, lived across the street from each other. Same class in primary school, you name it. I thought we’d go places together! But SOMEBODY decided that every professor at her school was an idiot, and dropped out!

FESTON: [hushed aside] Wow. This got away from me really fast.

ZO: They were idiots! And so are you, because you decided to drop out too, for no kakking reason at all!

RIP: Are you—? No reason?! I wasn’t just gonna leave you here, you shrapnel-magnet!

ZO: Shrapnel-magnet?! I get fat contracts! My work is impeccable!

RIP: Okay, if these contracts are so “fat,” then why are we still using this gryff-piss little boat?

ZO: How dare you insult my professional reputation, happy-snaps?!

[SFX: At a distance there is a sound like a thunderclap escaping a garden hose, and the growing hiss of an enormous animal cutting through the water and approaching fast.]

ZO: Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit!

[SFX: Ni’azo darts up the stairs to the captain’s cabin and begins flipping switches. The Free-Swimmer emits a strange chirping cry, closer every moment.]

RIP: [calling below deck] Showtime, XL!

[SFX: There is a thud of knife into cutting board, and XL thumps quickly up on deck. The Free-Swimmer’s chirping cry comes again.]

XL: [calling to the Free-Swimmer] KHAT-NA-HOOOOOOOOOO!!

[SFX: The engine roars to life just as the Free-Swimmer’s enormous bulk sails by, half submerged. The skiff begins to surge forward to keep pace with the creature.]

FESTON: What do I do?! What do I do?!

RIP: Just hang on to something and keep your ass where I can see it! 

[SFX: While the skiff banks to the left to avoid the Free-Swimmer’s wake, Feston gives Ripple what is referred to as A Look.]

RIP: Not because of-- You know what I mean, just make sure you can always see one of us!

ZO: We have rescue equipment, but you better not make me use it and spoil a perfectly good test run! 

XL: [calling out] KHAT-NA-HOOOOO-OOOOOOO!!

[SFX: The engine roars even harder than during the trip out to sea. Spray pelts everywhere.]

RIP: [shouting over the engine] ‘Zo! Get up alongside!

XL laughs over the clamor.

[SFX: The Free-Swimmer chirps and launches itself high into the air, sending a brief rainstorm of spray everywhere.]

ZO: [splutters sea water] It’s saying hello! Brace for a wave!

[SFX: Instead of crashing into the sea, the Freeswimmer phase shifts away with a gong-like sound being swallowed by interspace.]

FESTON: Was that a shift? Were we close enough to get caught in it?

RIP: Yeah, but I don’t think we were too close. We’d probably know it by now.

[SFX: The Free-Swimmer picks this moment to shift back into existence, creating a much closer, stronger version of the distant thunderclap from before. This is followed by a wave and more crashing spray on the deck. There is a hitch in the engine’s roar during the pulse, but only for a moment, reacquiring the momentary loss of speed.]

ZO: Now that was too close.

RIP: Everybody still got their bits where they were before? Hey ‘Zo, what’s the situation with your pants?

ZO: Would you shut up?! Something’s off, we are too light!

FESTON: All the metal parts of the boat look different! Whoa!

[SFX: The engine noise grows to a crescendo, before something in the engine fails with a creak and series of quick pings. The piece clatters off the stern and into the water. The Free-Swimmer veers its length to the right, wake hissing away, chirping happily.]

ZO: Kakking damn, the manifold! Swimmy, you bastard, those welds were brand new!

RIP: I think all the metal onboard shifted atomic state! [laughs] Holy kak, that footage is gonna pay my bills for half a year!

[SFX: The Free-Swimmer breaches again, this time crashing down properly into the waves.]

FESTON: (sputtering through the crashing waves) Hard to port! Starboard! Proxy, now would be a great time for a timely and cool-looking sea-based rescue!

PROXY: Understood, Feston. Airborne in five… four…

ZO: I think it’s all aluminum…?

[SFX: Ni’azo tries to make a sharp turn, but the skiff’s frame begins to shudder with stress.]

PROXY: Three… two...

[SFX: The skiff begins to fall to pieces around the crew with pings and popping rivets.]

XL: [laughing, calling out to the Free-Swimmer] SEE YOU SOON! 

[SFX: The Free-Swimmer croons, as though in reply to XL, then shifts away.]

RIP: Feston! Hang on!

FESTON: What? No!

[SFX: The skiff breaks apart, and Feston plunges into the water.]




[SFX: Feston clings to a piece of floating skiff as the waves lap around him.]

FESTON: [splutters] Well, travelers, I think that about concludes the fishing trip for the time being. Maybe we’ll try again, you know, whenever there’s another ship Ni’azo can get around to weaponizing.

ZO: [floating nearby] Eat me, Z-List.

FESTON: Oh, hey Ripple, XL, this really sucks, but I just realized that the StarTripper only has two extra seats.

ZO: [instant pleading] Uhh what I meant was, your ship sounds super zowy, please don’t leave me here to drown, I’m sorry we almost exploded.

RIP: We did everything but explode. You okay, ‘Zo?

ZO: [sniffs, forlorn] Yeah. No. I’m a…shrapnel-magnet.

RIP: No, no, you look okay. Here, lemme see.

[SFX: Ripple splashes over to Ni’azo.]

RIP: You’re fine. We’re all okay. You didn’t kill anybody.

[SFX: Ni’azo kisses Ripple.]

ZO: I feel so stupid. I’m sorry.

[SFX: Ni’azo is cut off by Ripple returning the kiss. From some distance away, the StarTripper is finally audible over the waves.]

XL: Idiots…

FESTON: Oh, leave ‘em.

[SFX: The StarTripper arrives and comes to a stop overhead, the hover-brake engaging with an audible thrum across the hull. The cargo hatch opens. A lift begins to descend from the the ship, as Ripple and Ni’azo laugh, breaking the prolonged kiss.]

FESTON: Well, I guess we’re headed back to shore to review the footage, travelers, so this is probably farewell, for now. I’ll miss you, until next time… on StarTripper!!


CREDITS: Startripper!! was created by me, Julian Mundy, and produced by, Mischa Stanton, Ian McQuown, & me. This episode was written and directed by me, Julian Mundy. Sound design by Mischa Stanton, with performances by:

Ian McQuown as Feston,

Giselle De Silva as Proxy,

Helen Highfield as Ripple,

Julia Schifini as Ni'azo,

And L. Jeffrey Moore as XL.

Music by Ketsa, for more check out KETSAmusic.com.  Additional music this week by the Jahzzar via the Free Music Archive, find out more at FreeMusicArchive.org

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: Never fly angry. Unfortunately, flying scared is just...going to happen.