Dusk. The wind blew morosely across the barren plain, carrying away the hopes and dreams of the people who grimly clung to life in the desert. On such a desolate world as this, there was no hope...
*Oh, knock it off, Bennett,* he chided himself. *You sound like one of your bad movies.*
Gordon Bennett, creator, scriptwriter, and, of late, director of the "Ranger Danger" series, shook his head in irritation. Lately, even if he wasn't working, his brain would constantly be active, plotting future shows. Every mood he suffered, every inspiration he had, every fact he learned, ended up mutated into an episode of the show. He had forgotten what it was like to not think about it.
It was all his. The movie, all 76 episodes, the three specials, and that Godawful children's cartoon, all were are very real part of him. He had come up with the concept, written the stories (with regular rewrites from above), and come up with ever succesfull gimmick that kept it on top. No one else had so much to do with the show.
Unfortunatly. He would have liked to have taken a permament vacation from the show, but he was "Ranger Danger", even more than title actor Steven Desmond was. Langstrom Productions, knowing who was the key to the shows success, had made no secret of the fact that they would ruin him if he left.
So now he was stuck walking down a street that was more sand and gravel than pavement, on a planet that had 36 various climates, all of them extreme, trying to find the perfect location for the next day's shoot. He wished the studio would find another paid film genius, and fire him, so he wouldn't have to put up with this anymore.
It was all very depressing. He had wanted to do a true-to-life movie, about the people who defended his way of life, all that noble stuff. All he had needed was money and resources. Langstrom Productions had agreed to provide them, and produce his movie, if he would accept their editing decisions.
And so, instead of the envisioned docu-drama, he had ended up with "Ranger Danger", arguably the stupidest cop show ever made. Christ, had he gotten in over his head. He had been ready for a limited sell-out, a mediocre production, instead of a legendary one. He hadn't planned on becoming the 21st century's Ed Wood.
And he sure as hell didn't want to be here, of all places. Bad enough that the planet's environment was so bad it's registered name was "Harsh", but it was a Goddamned Galaxy Ranger training base! At best, the enlisted folks of BETA thought the show was a joke. The more typical reaction was embodied by the crate of death threats various rangers, space navy officers, and ship jockeys had sent him. It sat in his office, growing daily. The Rangers hated the show, with a vengence. And he would bet they weren't at all pleased to have him and his crew here, on their turf.
He continued stomping down the street, muttering under his breath. "'It was your idea to film on location, instead of a sound set,'" he mimicked. "'so we found you the best planet for location shots. At no little cost. You really shouldn't complain.'" "Like hell I shouldn't!" he clenched his fists. With his luck, Wally and his buddies would stop by, barge into his trailer, and carry out some of the more fantastic threats he had recieved over the past two years. The fact that Wally Hartford was most likely on duty somewhere on the other side of the galaxy was of little comfort. With the military grapevine (outclassed only by the secretarial one in sheer speed), he had to have heard about this by now. People stationed in two-man stations in the Empty Zone, with zero communtication, probably knew.
He angrily kicked a mound of sand. As if to punctuate his misery, the wind blew it right back into his face. He spent the next ten minutes coughing, spitting, and rubbing grit out of his eyes.
*Wonderful. What else could go wrong?*
"Mr. Bennett?" asked an electronic voice.
*I had to ask.* He blinked sand out of his eyes, trying to focus on the blur in front of him.
"Wha--Pink? Is that you?" he reached out and patted the cybersteed's muzzle. "What are you doing out here? Why aren't you settled in for the night?" A cybersteed left out and online overnight was almost certain to suffer a complete data crash when it's power dipped too low.
Lady, called Pink by nearly everyone on the crew, made a sound that Bennett took as a snort of disgust. "Billy left us out here while he went 'out for a drink of water'. He hasn't been back to take care of us."
"I see," Bennett sighed. Billy was one of Fowler's "admirerers", and was probably still in the actresses trailer, tanked out of his mind. "How long ago was that?"
"Three hours, five minutes, and twelve seconds. And we couldn't find anyone else to take care of us." Pink was obviously upset.
"Wonderful. Where is everyone, anyway? Why is all the equipment lying around the lot?" He pointed to the clutter behind the horse.
"They're off duty. Union rules, they've been on the clock for 10 hours."
"Figures. They're probably all in the bar by now. Wish I was with them." Pink's face took on an alarmed look. She was obviously expecting to be abandoned again.
"Relax, I'm not going to leave you out here. Come on, let's get you guys set up. I'll talk to Billy about this tomorrow, okay?" Not that it would change anything, but it would make the mechanical help feel better.
He walked next to Pink, who chattered nonstop all the way. It was irritating, but sadly understandable. She, and the other seven cybersteeds, were high-powered, complex AI personalities, who were employed mainly to walk around and look good on camera. Therefore, whenever they found a sypathetic ear, they would talk it off, trying to relieve their boredom. Bennett had learned to deal with it.
The rest of the horses were scattered in front of the mobile stable, powered down to conserve energy. They reactivated as he approached, and pranced up to him, chattering happily. He had to dodge to keep from being trampled.
"All right, all right, calm down! We'll get you all settled in. Pink first, she's the lowest on power." He walked over to the jumble of equipment with a confidence he didn't feel.
It took three hours to finish what should have been a ten minute job. Not only did he have to figure out a system he'd never used before, he had to set most of it up. Billy hadn't bothered to do more than unpack the equipment before going for his long glass of water, and Bennett was no tech. By the time the stalls were set up, and the 'steeds settled in, it was full dark.
Bennett was exhausted. He trudged to his trailer, tripping over stray ladders, unfinished platforms, and a number of crates, contents unknown. (From their weight, he was guessing rocks.) He was going to have some wonderful bruises in the morning. His legs felt like tenderized meat.
Finally, he found his trailer. He picked up a ladder blocking the door, and tossed it aside. He heard something shatter in the darkness, but he decided he didn't care. Leaning against the side of his trailer, he punched up the AI.
"Gloria, lemme in," he moaned.
The animated green eyeball popped into life. "Sure, Gordy. Password?"
"'Get a life'."
"Accepted. Welcome home, Gordy." The door slid aside, and he stumbled in.
"Any messages, Glor..." Then it hit him. He hadn't been called "Gordy" since college. Someone must have hacked his AI...oh, SHIT.
"Message playing. One moment..." There was a beep, and then, a very familiar voice sang out, "Hel-lo, Gordy!"
*shitshitshitshitshitshitshit!* "Wally," he moaned. "I should have known this would happen. God obviously has it in for me."
The prerecorded message blared on. "You're probably wondering what I'm doing on Harsh, instead of on assignment somewhere properly dangerous."
"That thought did cross my mind," he muttered.
"Weeell, let's just say, I lucked out this time. My team's here to run some cadets through their paces. And, since you're filming here, we've gotten additional orders to assist your little production. Congratulations. Did you realize that you're producing Senator Wheiner's favorite show?"
"Yes, Wally, I'm aware of that. How else did you think I got clearence to film here?" It was ludicrous to talk back to a recording, but he didn't care. He was too depressed.
"We're all real anxious to work with you. I bet that we love your little show as much as the Queen does."
"Spare me the sarcasm, Wally."
"I just wanted to tell you that you've really screwed up this time. And here I always thought that blowing up the Men's room as part of that fraternity initiation was spectacularly dumb, and would never be topped."
Bennett winced. He'd never live that one down.
"I'll be seeing you, Gordy." The message snapped off.
"I was afraid of that," he sighed, and slumped into his chair. Well, the day had just hit absoulte rock bottom. There was some mild comfort in that.
The buzzing of the console caught his attention. Frowning, he stood, and checked the controls. It sounded like Gloria had blown a circut.
When he was two feet away, the console flipped open, and he was sprayed with bright purple dye. A lot of it. Then the console snapped shut, and Wally's face appeared on the monitor.
"Gotcha." He grinned smugly.
"You son of a bitch." Bennett started laughing.
"You didn't think I would forget the blue dye in the shampoo, did you?" Doc laughed. "See you tomorrow, Gord. I think we're even, now."
Doc signed off, and Bennett sank back into his chair, ignoring the dripping gunk.
"Some things never change." He continued laughing. "'Even', my ass, now I have to get you back somehow! This is war, Wally-boy. Prepare to be humiliated."
Things were definitely looking up...