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Wrestling Observer Rewind ★ Oct. 21, 2002
- The top story this week is the staggering loss of WWE's over-30 audience. When wrestling peaked in late-1998, there were almost 6 million viewers over 30 watching Monday nights. That number is now less than 2 million. WCW always had an older audience, and when WCW folded, many of those fans simply went away. WWE's over-30 audience didn't really noticeably increase. Those fans just vanished and probably won't ever return. And over the past year, WWE has seen its over-30 audience continue to plummet, along with teenage viewers who are leaving at an even faster rate because wrestling is no longer viewed as "cool" the way it was just a couple of years ago. Anyway, the whole point of this story is that last year, Dave conducted a survey of readers over 30 who were losing interest in wrestling or who had stopped watching WWE to try to determine why (yeah that's in one of the 2001 Rewinds somewhere, I remember that). So now, a year later, with the over-30 audience continuing to vanish, we're revisiting the study to see how things have changed.
- Last year, the overwhelming reason given by lapsed fans over 30 for losing interest in WWE was the botched Invasion angle, which ran people off in droves. Dave says it will probably go down as the biggest bungled storyline in the history of modern wrestling (yup). The second biggest reason given was too much of the McMahon kids. Well, a year later, Shane is virtually gone from TV and Stephanie is in a much more reduced babyface role on Smackdown, so that's good. The next biggest reason given was the lack of big WCW stars making the move to WWE. In the year since, Flair, Hogan, Nash, and Hall all made the jump and business kept getting worse. Goldberg still may never happen because he refuses to work the schedule. Other reasons given: lack of competition (well, they tried to make their own competition, but it's been a flop). Lack of emphasis on titles (they've spent the last few months unifying various titles and trying to make them matter again but time will tell). Too much T&A (they dialed it back for awhile, but with the HLA storyline stuff, it appears to be making a comeback). Bad writing (continues to be a problem). Stale product with the same people on top (that one is worse now than it was last year). This goes on and on. Basically just Dave criticizing how much WWE sucks right now and given the collapse of business, he's clearly not the only one who feels that way.
- NJPW's latest Tokyo Dome show is in the books and ended up being a success for only one reason: Bob Sapp. Coming off a huge K-1 victory over Ernesto Hoost a couple weeks ago, he filmed an angle with Nakanishi immediately afterward. Then, 5 nights later, they did a second angle where Sapp was doing commentary for a boxing event and Nakanishi presented the winner with the belt. Afterwards, as Nakanishi was walking back, Sapp threw a water bottle at him and they had a big pull-apart. Thus the match was made and that was all it took. About 38,000 fans were in the building (announced as 50,000) and most of them were there to see Sapp. While 38,000 is a big crowd, it's still the smallest crowd NJPW has ever drawn in the Tokyo Dome but considering the way business has been, it's still a success. Bob Sapp's involvement in the show itself was kind of a last minute thing. The original match was Nakanishi v. Yoshihiro Takayama, but 3 weeks before the show, Takayama got injured in a NOAH match with Misawa and had to pull out. K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii (more on him in a moment) saw his chance and offered Sapp (who he has under K-1 contract) and the rest is history. The match was insanely heated and Sapp dominated it before getting a count-out victory. The crowd was okay with it though because it was decisive. Sapp super-stiff dropkicked Nakanishi out of the ring it made Sapp look like a beast. The IWGP title match that followed was anti-climatic and everyone realized in retrospect that Sapp should have main evented. Right now, Bob Sapp is unquestionably the biggest combat sports star in Japan. Kickboxing, MMA, pro wrestling, all of it. He's a mega-star (here's the match. If nothing else, watch Sapp's post-match comments. He's hilarious).
- Other notes from the Tokyo Dome show: FOX was there filming Chyna for a feature on her "success" wrestling in Japan. Dave figures it'll be on "Best Damn Sports Show Period" since she and Inoki were on there a few months back promoting her Japanese wrestling. The opening match was a 6-man match only notable because one team had Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask and the other had Rocky Romero....and American Dragon. So there's a fun fact if you ever wanted one: Daniel Bryan has wrestled Jushin Liger in the Tokyo Dome. MMA fighter Tsuyoshi Kosaka advanced to the finals to crown a new NWF champion (it's the belt that was the precursor to the IWGP title, the top belt in NJPW during the 70s. Inoki is bringing it back and making it a "shooters" title). Kosaka is coming off several MMA losses and made another NJPW wrestler submit in just 2 minutes, which once again makes pro wrestling look inferior to MMA, on a pro wrestling show in the Tokyo Dome. It's one of the big reasons NJPW's business is struggling. Anyway, Kosaka will now face Yoshihiro Takayama on Jan. 4th at the Dome. An MMA fighter vs. a NOAH guy to crown a "shooters" champion on a NJPW show. Antonio Inoki in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. In fact, a lot of the matches on this show were NJPW wrestlers vs. Inoki's group of shooters. They had a 10-round "European rules" match with Bas Rutten that went 30 minutes and killed the crowd. The fake Great Muta got an "endorsement" by Great Kabuki showing up to try to help get him over. Didn't work. And then there's Masahiro Chono vs. Chyna. They both had big ring entrances. Thankfully, Chono won but it was a competitive match and he sold and bumped for her throughout. Afterwards, Chyna got her heat back by beating up the TV interviewer like she was Minoru Suzuki or something. Afterwards, Chono was asked if he would give her a rematch and responded, "Only if she gets a sex change." And Yuji Nagata retained the IWGP title to close the show (here's the Chyna/Chono match, but most of this show can be found by searching "NJPW The Spiral 2002" on Google and scrolling through videos).
- So Kazuyoshi Ishii....he's the promoter of K-1 but a lot of people are calling him the Japanese Vince McMahon. He's been quietly taking over the entire combat sports world. With the two biggest draws (Bob Sapp and Mirko Cro Cop) under contract, he has a lot of leverage. He runs K-1 and has working relationships with PRIDE, AJPW, and NJPW, all of whom need him (and his stars) more than he needs them. NJPW in particular is realizing that they're kinda boned right now because they want to keep using Sapp, but he's not contracted to them and his star-power overshadows everyone else in the company. AJPW is trying to use Sapp as well. Oh yeah, wanna use Bill Goldberg? Gotta go through Ishii there as well, he's acting as Goldberg's agent for his Japan bookings. He's not a name that the average fan will know, but when it comes to MMA or professional wrestling in Japan right now, when it comes to big money moves, Ishii is the one usually pulling the strings.
- WWE's quarterly business statement is out and shows the company's first projected losing quarter since 1997. To be fair though, that's misleading. It would have been a $3 million profit this quarter. But does anyone remember a couple years ago when the William Morris talent agency sued WWE for breach of contract? No? Well they did. Anyway, it got settled out of court with WWE agreeing to pay the agency $13 million. Of that amount, $6 million is being paid this quarter, which is why a $3 million profit is now a $3 million loss. The additional $7 million will presumably be paid next quarter. So if you discount that as an anomaly, they're still profitable. But even that's tenuous. Attendance, PPV buyrates, and TV ratings are all down significantly, but Summerslam was a big success and the Australia show they did in August was a much-needed big money show. If not for those 2 events, this quarter might have been iffy even without the lawsuit settlement.
- Multiple media outlets, stemming from a story in a UK tabloid, are reporting that a deal has been struck for Brock Lesnar to face Lennox Lewis in a shoot wrestler vs. boxer match next year. This story is not true (yet) but it does have a grain of truth in there. WWE has had discussions about the idea and Vince McMahon has had two meetings with Lewis' people. But that's as far as it's gone. Contrary to the news outlets claiming Lewis would be making $7.5 million for the match, the 2 sides actually haven't had any serious money talks yet. Nor has Lewis or Lesnar for that matter even agreed to do it. Lewis vs. Tyson recently drew the biggest buyrate in PPV history, but the reality is, that was all Tyson. Lewis on his own against anyone else has never proven to be any kind of serious draw at that level, especially not so much of one that WWE would shell out $7.5 mil. Dave recaps the history of boxewrestler matches, most famously the Inoki/Ali match in 1976 which was planned to be a worked match until a last minute disagreement over Ali agreeing to do the job led to it turning into a legit shoot that went to a draw. In a shoot between Lesnar and Lewis, it would depend on the rules. If it's a straight boxing match, Lewis would destroy him. If Lesnar could wrestle, he would shoot for the legs, get Lewis down, and eat him alive in seconds. Lewis would always have a puncher's chance, but in any kind of mixed-rules situation, the odds would greatly favor Lesnar.
- The problem here is, just like the Ali/Inoki match, there would probably be huge disagreements on both sides about what the rules would be. So that begs the question of whether it would actually be a shoot. No one is going to believe a match promoted by Vince McMahon would be legit. We recap the Brawl For All tournament, which was McMahon's first and last attempt at promoting a shoot fight and that was a disaster that he has sworn to never put his wrestlers in that kind of situation again. It's a much bigger risk for Lewis though, since the general public views wrestling as hokey fake shit and boxers as the real tough guys. Getting embarrassed by Lesnar would be devastating to Lewis' persona and would make Lesnar a megastar in wrestling overnight. Dave touches on all the other examples of this stuff, especially in Japan where pro wrestlers vs. legit fighters has been all the rage for a year or two now, with Mirko Cro Cop earning the nickname "Pro Wrestler Hunter." Anyway, this is a no-brainer for WWE if they can make it happen. The thing that catapulted Steve Austin to mainstream stardom was an angle with Mike Tyson. Now imagine how much bigger he'd be if Austin had actually beaten Tyson in a shoot instead of just doing a wrestling angle. Lewis obviously isn't the star that Tyson is, but it's the same concept, against boxing's world champion. Lesnar would be a made man and instantly become one of the biggest mainstream stars WWE ever created. But as of now, despite reports, none of this has made it past early discussions so don't get your hopes up.
- WWC did a big angle on a Puerto Rican talk show called Club Sunshine that got over big. Carlos and Carly Colon were being interviewed when Konnan and Chicky Starr showed up and attacked them. They even attacked the host, who sold the beating by not returning for the rest of the show and having someone else fill in. It got a lot of publicity as it came on the highest rated segment of the show which was the highest rated show in all of Puerto Rico that night.
- Speaking of WWC, they're still not doing great, but they're doing better than they were. The Carly Colon vs. Konnan feud is getting over and Chicky Starr recently jumped ship from IWA and that helped. The war between the 2 companies is so out of control that even ring announcers are jumping ship. IWA's announcer left after he was asked to take a paycut (from $200 per week to $150) and now he's WWC's new announcer.
- Keiji Muto has made his first moves to modernize AJPW. Future Budokan Hall shows will now have big video screens for fans and will also feature some WWE-style backstage angles. In a little bit of a controversial decision, Satoshi Kojima will defend the MLW title he recently won at an upcoming AJPW show. In the past, Giant Baba always made a point of only recognizing championships from major promotions, in order to maintain the prestige of championship matches. So for Kojima to be defending the title of some tiny U.S. indie company that's only ever held 2 shows and hasn't drawn over 1000 fans combined raised some eyebrows. Needless to say, there's probably not a single fan in Japan who has even heard of MLW at this point.
- Dave has seen the video of the Mitsuhara Misawa/Yoshihiro Takayama match for NOAH's GHC title and says if they're going to wrestle like this, they might as well just shoot instead. This was all elbow strikes, kicks, and knees. The match was incredibly dangerous, with both men hitting each other as hard as they could and Takayama in particular coming out of it with multiple injuries that led to him being hospitalized afterward and he's gonna be out of action for awhile. Dave doesn't seem to be a fan of how stiff this was, but says you gotta see it to believe it. So here ya go. And yeah, even by Japanese wrestling standards, this one is brutal. Takayama's out for 3 months afterward with all sorts of different injuries.
- Dave recaps the latest NJPW TV episodes, which aired prior to the Tokyo Dome show. It featured Chyna cutting a promo on Chono saying she would touch him in places he hasn't been touched in a long time but it won't feel good. Then two horrible matches, one of which features Jushin Liger and still gets negative 1-star and a Nagata match that gets a DUD. Then Chyna came out and gave Chono a lariat that he sold like Stan Hansen. Then she took off her top and attacked him, so Chono was on his back getting his ass beat by a women in a mini-skirt and a bra. She handcuffed Chono to the ropes and she and other heels beat him down. Dave doesn't understand how this company has strayed so far from what made them so successful (I can't find any of this footage. I really wish NJPW would add more old stuff. In comparison to WWE, the library of archived shows on NJPW World isn't great. I wanna go back and watch all this old, bad Inoki-ism era stuff. I would love to be able to go back and just rewatch the entire 90s and 00s in order from show to show, while following along with the Observers. But so much of it doesn't seem to exist anywhere. However, if someone knows where I could acquire any of that stuff by, say, less than reputable means, I'm listening...)
- Good news is that Superstar Billy Graham doesn't have liver cancer but they did find an infection to go along with all his other liver problems. As a result, he's been moved up the priority list for a liver transplant, which is good because that hopefully means he can get one sooner. But it's bad because, well, getting moved up the list means his situation is more dire than ever. If he doesn't get a transplant soon, he won't last much longer.
- Almost none of you may remember a story from a couple years ago about DirecTV possibly being bought up by satellite company Echostar. If this merger had gone through, it would have turned DirecTV into the biggest powerhouse in the satellite dish market and given them huge leverage. Both UFC and WWE have had issues with both Echostar and DirecTV over money. If those companies combined, WWE would have been almost powerless in money negotiations. Well good news for WWE: the FCC blocked the merger, so it's not happening.
- TNA drew its biggest crowd yet to the Nashville Fairgrounds arena. Not to see TNA though. Turns out Chris Rock is filming a movie where he becomes the first black President ("Head of State") and they chose TNA to film a scene where Rock's character gets attacked by some wrestlers at an event. So the crowd mostly came for the chance to be in a movie (here's a clip of a brief promo Chris Rock did on TNA's show, pandering to the crowd. And then the actual scene from "Head of State").
- Reportedly a lot of tension in TNA between Vince Russo and Jerry Jarrett. In particular, there was a lot of heat over the racial scripts that Russo wrote for recent Ron Killings and Syxx-Pac (who I will be referring to as Syxx from here on out because c'mon) segments. Almost everyone, including Killings and Syxx, were uncomfortable with how it was originally written and insisted on the content being toned down. There was also a part scripted where Syxx basically buried Low-Ki as not being a talented wrestler. If you saw the show, there was another part later where they showed Syxx apologizing to Low-Ki for that comment. Syxx insisted on doing the apology part as well because he (rightfully) didn't think it made sense to be burying a talented young star that TNA can build around like that, especially right before he's challenging for the NWA title. Anyway, those who have been around Russo know that he doesn't take kindly to being second-guessed or told to tone his stuff down and he's not happy because Jarrett has been overruling so much of the stuff he's been writing. Meanwhile, Jeff Jarrett is said to be stuck in the middle.
- Notes from TNA Weekly PPV: Curt Hennig debuted, replacing Scott Hall on just 2 days notice. Hall was never mentioned on the show, so looking like he may have burned another bridge. Hennig was out of shape and asked to have a few weeks, but they needed him ASAP so he came in bigger and noticeably slower but hey, he's in his mid-40s and wasn't expecting to wrestle anytime soon. A 15 minute Ironman match ended with a botched finish. Syxx won the X-Division title in a crazy ladder match full of dangerous bumps. And that's about it..
- WWE's latest soap opera direction (Kane murdered Katie Vick, Undertaker cheated on his pregnant wife, Trish's secret past, etc.) is reportedly something Kevin Dunn sold Vince on, believing a focus on storytelling with those kinds of stories will turn things around. Anyway, as of this week, Kane isn't a murderer, but they said they found his semen inside Katie Vick, so he's either a rapist or a necrophiliac, depending on when it was left there. Guess we'll find out next week. Dave half-jokes that WWE is apparently making a storyline based on Jimmy Snuka allegedly murdering his girlfriend in the 80s. Anyway, this angle is stupid beyond words (just wait Dave!) and the Undertaker storyline accusing him of cheating on his pregnant wife isn't much better. But at least it's a plausible story you can tell. Kane murdering and/or raping a dead body is just preposterous. Anyway, if you're curious, Undertaker's alleged "mistress" is being played by Tracy Dali, a B-movie actress and Playboy model.
- The upcoming No Mercy PPV this weekend has only sold 4,000 tickets at press time, in an arena that holds 18,000. They have since scaled the arena down to only hold 12,500 but they're probably not gonna get anywhere close to that either.
- Notes from Raw: well, it was in Montreal and even though it's been 5 years, they still made constant Bret Hart references. Actually, Vince McMahon wanted to get Bret to appear on the show but it didn't happen. Ever since Bret's stroke, after Vince reached out to check on him, the two of them have gotten back on speaking terms so they're trying to rebuild the bridge. Turns out the big Trish Stratus secret from her past is Victoria accused her of holding her back when they were fitness models trying to get into wrestling and claimed Trish slept her way to the top. Riveting stuff here. Dave says Jeff Hardy is the "most stale and burned out character" on the roster looks to be about one step away from complete collapse. It's kinda awful that they kept putting him on TV in retrospect. Jeff was looking like late-2013 CM Punk at this point, even Stevie Wonder could see the dude needed time off. Kane cut a big dumb promo about how he didn't murder Katie Vick, it was an accident, after his first match 10 years ago, she and Kane went out to a party and he drove home in the rain and wrecked the car. Let's not even waste time focusing on the fact that this story completely contradicts Kane's entire origin story about being badly burned by the Undertaker as a child and locked away his entire life. Then Triple H accused Kane of driving drunk and killing her and the autopsy showed his semen inside her and accused him of raping her or doing it after she was dead. 3 Minute Warning (Dave still doesn't call them that but I'm tired of saying Island Boyz and WWE hasn't officially given them a name at this point) attacked 64-year-old Pat Patterson and he suffered a legit separated shoulder. This is by no means the first person these dudes have injured. Pretty much everyone involved in one of these 3 Minute Warning segments comes out injured, week after week, and Dave's ready to send them back to OVW. They played Bret Hart's music as part of a commercial for a new WWE music CD. This didn't air on TV but reportedly the live crowd went absolutely batshit when they heard it, believing Bret was coming out. Nope. That led to the crowd booing heavily and they spent the rest of the show with constant Bret Hart chants. Randy Orton is out with a shoulder injury they aired a purposely over the top babyface video designed to make the crowd hate him and it worked. They booed the shit outta Orton. Big Show vs. Booker T falls count anywhere ended up in the women's dressing room, in what was a not-so-subtle jab at Nicole Bass' lawsuit now that they won.
- Speaking of Nicole Bass and that lawsuit, she's getting dragged through the mud everywhere in the media. Jurors outright said in interviews that they felt she was lying and there were too many discrepancies between her testimony and her deposition. One of the jurors also said he was freaking out with all the wrestlers there and wanted to ask for autographs and managed to get one from Steve Lombardi after the trial. Dave wonders how this guy ever made it onto the jury. Another juror said Bass seemed nice, but her husband seemed greedy and came off even less believable. Former WWF diva Tori testified and said Bass was nowhere near Lombardi on that flight. Howard Stern ripped into Bass on his show also, basically calling her a liar. And if we have any other questions about Bass' honesty, in an interview after the trial with the New York Post, she claimed her body was all natural. She said she only used steroids once, for a few weeks in 1988 under a doctor's supervision, but otherwise, she's built her physique with nothing but hard work.
- There was another rah-rah, everyone needs to work harder pep rally speech backstage at Smackdown and once again, Triple H spoke and pretty much insinuated that business is down because so many of the guys don't know how to work properly. You probably don't need to guess how this was received by his peers.
- Chris Jericho was interviewed on some show and his give-a-fuck meter seems to be in the negatives lately. When asked about the Katie Vick angle, he called it the "drizzling craps" and said he's just paid to work matches, not do storylines so he can't help when it sucks. Said he doesn't go on the internet because it's too negative. Said the angle with Triple H and Stephanie's dog in the build up to Wrestlemania wasn't great and said he wouldn't do that kind of storyline again. When asked about Larry Zbyszko (who is suing Jericho and WWE over them calling him "Living Legend"), Jericho said Zbyszko sucked as a wrestler, was shit as an announcer, and he doesn't have any respect for him.
- Various WWE news & notes: Randy Orton out 3-4 months with shoulder surgery. Bob Holly out at least a year after neck surgery. Bubba Ray Dudley out with a serious concussion from the TLC match. Mysterio's knees are giving him trouble, try to hide your surprise. Little Guido and Spanky (Brian Kendrick) signed deals and will be going straight to Smackdown for the cruiserweight division.
- Tough Enough season 3, currently in production, has a stalker! Apparently there was a contestant named Lisa who decided she couldn't do it and quit. But she still stayed overnight in the house they're filming in. Anyway, the next morning, she changed her mind. But producers told her, too late, you already quit. You gotta leave. So she went home. Then she flew back and tried to come back again and they said no again. At that point, she began stalking the company, showing up at several WWE shows and even getting backstage at Smackdown. Anyway, depending on how much they've already filmed, she may end up being edited out before the show airs (turns out it was way more than that. Not sure if Dave ever covers it again, but here's the story from Wikipedia):
In the cover story from the October 5, 2002 issue of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, it was revealed that contestant "Lisa" was removed from the show after what was referred to as a "psychotic breakdown." After being left at the house while the other contestants went out to dinner, she began throwing herself against the walls of the house, eventually breaking into the hidden MTV control room and working her way onto the roof. After being talked down by producers, she was committed to a hospital facility to receive psychiatric treatment. Her parents flew in from New Mexico to pick her up, but she physically attacked them, claiming she did not know them. She then escaped custody inside LAX, shutting down a wing of the airport until she was located. Again, she was hospitalized, but she was able to check herself out shortly after. She then contacted Tough Enough producers, claiming she was ready to return to the show. Producers informed her she had been removed from the competition due to her actions. The other contestants (and, subsequently, the audience) were initially told that Lisa simply decided wrestling "wasn't the right career for her." Lisa then reemerged in Louisville, Kentucky at the Ohio Valley Wrestling training center, claiming that trainer Al Snow and producer John "Big" Gaburick had sent her for additional training, both in the ring and to learn further about the structure of the developmental territory system. At a series of shows in California in September 2002, she managed to talk her way backstage and was even allowed to assist with the pyrotechnics for the wrestlers' entrances at a TV taping. One source claimed that she had a face-to-face conversation with Vince McMahon, who was apparently unaware of her status with the Tough Enough program. Soon after, her photograph was circulated to security personnel, and she was barred from any backstage areas.
- At the latest Smackdown tapings, 16-year-old Harry Smith (son of Davey Boy Smith) worked a dark match against his cousin Teddy Hart. Word is a lot of the dressing room came out to watch this match on the monitors and afterwards, Benoit and Dean Malenko took Harry aside and spoke with him after to kinda critique him on what he did right and wrong. Word is Smith and Hart showed up to the arena just on the off chance they could talk the company into letting them work a match and it actually worked. Teddy Hart has flamed out of WWE opportunities twice before because of a perceived bad attitude. Many other Hart family members (the ones that were always on Vince's side) were there at the show also. Stu Hart was brought as well and was said to be thrilled at meeting Lesnar because he's a huge fan. Yeah, I could see Stu loving Lesnar.
- And finally, someone writes a long letter about how it's bullshit that Shawn Michaels isn't in the Observer Hall of Fame yet and the fact that he's not threatens the credibility of the whole thing. The only reason he isn't inducted is because of his reputation and being disliked by people personally, but that has no bearing on his HOF qualifications and this dude is sick of it. Dave doesn't go that far, but he agrees and says he has voted for Shawn every year he's been eligible. But he also argues that Shawn's reputation for being unprofessional behavior is relevant because it's not "off the field" behavior. Shawn has repeatedly done unprofessional things that directly impacted the product he's a part of and if enough voters feel that's reason enough not to include him, Dave can't really argue it, though he personally disagrees and thinks Shawn should be in (he eventually makes it, fear not).
Of Men and Ghost Ships, Chapter 1
Also for my regular readers I released chapter 50 of the parent series at the same time, so be sure to give that a gander if you haven't.
As usual, I welcome any and all constructive feedback you all might have to offer. I want to know what you're thinking and feeling as you read, (Good and bad) and if anything, in particular, caught your eye. All that being said, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!
Of Men and Ghost Ships, Chapter 1
Carter was having a really bad day. He'd worked aboard various vessels as equal parts security and heavy lifting for years in order to save up enough for his own ship.
As it turned out, it takes more than just owning a ship to make money as a trader. You needed to have buyers, sellers, information, and connections. All he had was an old beat-up ship that had already seen too many years of use named lucy, and a collection of bills that seemed to be growing rather than shrinking.
So when he'd finally been offered a job that paid enough to get the creditors off his back for a while, he didn't look too closely at the details. In hindsight, it turned out the details included the fact that most people don't offer an unknown beat-up freighter a well-paying job. Which was to say that all of the other more reliable freighters had already turned the job down. It also turns out that one of the things that would make a freighter captain turn down a well-paying job was when it required them to pilot through well-known pirate territories.
Long story short, Carter was now sitting aboard the lucy's escape pod, which was barely half-stocked with survival supplies, floating through a part of space that was far enough away from any decent civilization that his little emergency radio would only be heard by those who'd put him in this situation to begin with.
After a couple days of drifting, Carter picked up another ship on his sensors. He assumed the pirates had returned to finish the job but became slightly less pessimistic when it turned out to be an old derelict. While far from the largest ship he'd ever seen, it was still a big ship, spanning over one hundred and twenty meters. He was still probably going to die alone in space, just like the crew of that ship probably had, but at least he now had options other than sitting in his pod and starving. If nothing else, it gave him a feeling of having some measure of control over his destiny, even if it was mostly an illusion.
As he slowly maneuvered his pod closer to the ship, he noticed it was one of the oddest-looking ships he'd ever seen. It seemed more like some child had meshed three ships together into some unholy conglomeration than anything that had ever been designed by a sane mind. Some of it looked like a mighty warship, designed to use brute force to win in a slugfest with larger vessels. Another part looked to be a fast, sleek, luxury vessel owned by some wealthy debutante. The last bit looked more down to earth, as though it had been designed more for comfort and function. Perhaps it had been some sort of family vessel.
As he got close enough to see all of the wear and tear the ship had endured over the years, he noticed the ship's name and felt his heart suddenly gripped in the icy fist of fear. It was the Sybil. Lying dormant right in front of Carter was the most infamous ghost ship to ever grace the void.
It had been decades since the Sybil had shown up on anyone's radar, but when it did make an appearance, it was always a crapshoot about what would happen next. At one point, it had been the most notorious pirate vessel of its time. Whole shipping lanes were abandoned just due to rumors the Sybil was in the area. Other times, it seemed almost benevolent, towing stranded crews to the safety of civilization. There was one constant in all the stories though. Anytime anyone was foolish enough to set foot aboard the ship, they were never seen or heard from again.
On the other hand, Carter didn't have an abundance of options. His choice was still the same, although the odds had shifted a little further from his favor. Go aboard and almost certainly die, or stay in his pod and definitely die. Almost certain death was infinitely better than certain death, so after taking a moment to plead with whatever gods might be listening, Carter docked his pod and readied himself to go aboard.
Upon exiting his pod, Carter's first impressions were somewhat mixed. On the one hand, there was clean air and gravity, even if the air was somewhat stale. On the other hand, the sight in front of him looked like it belonged in some sort of horror movie. Most of the lights were off or broken, and the few remaining lights flickered or sparked, giving him a slideshow view of the ship. What he could see through the unreliable ambient lights and his own gauntlet-mounted flashlight was a hallway corroded with rust and mystery stains that he told himself were probably just dried oil or grease.
Carter was starting to wonder if going back to the pod and calling it a day was the better option, but somehow, a swift death at the hands of the ghost ship seemed a bit better than slowly dying of starvation while also cramped in a space not quite large enough that he could ever fully stretch out.
"Well, time to get out of the frying pan and into the fire. Let's see what you've got in store for me." Carter had hoped the sound of his own voice might bolster his resolve a little, but somehow hearing his small voice get devoured by the oppressive silence around him just made the ship seem even more malevolent. With a shrug, he unholstered his handgun, checked the ammo, and began his exploration.
Walking down yet another corridor, Carter was starting to wonder if someone was toying with him, or if his time stuck alone on the pod had mixed with the nightmarish atmosphere permeating the ship to mess with his mind. He could swear he was being followed, but the movement always stayed just off at the very edges of his peripheral vision. Every time he whipped around, gun at the ready, he was met with nothing more than another old and decaying room or wall.
Looking into yet another room, Carter was met with more of the same. A thick layer of dust covered every surface. There was a bed, a dresser full of worn, ratty clothes, and the odd personal effects, but nothing useful. That's when something caught his attention; the sound of muffled laughter coming from just out in the hallway.
Carter's first impulse was to run out and investigate, but he's seen too many bad movies to follow that impulse. Instead, he readied his gun, keeping the barrel pointed low but forward, and called out. "Hello? Is someone out there? I'm sorry if I'm intruding, but my ship was raided by pirates, and I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. I don't mean any harm!"
There was no answer, so Carter tried once again. "Alright, I'm going to come out. I'm armed, but it's only for self-defense. Again, I mean you no harm!"
Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, Carter walked back out into the hallway and was greeted by exactly what he expected, nothing. He decided to try one last, "Hello?" before shaking his head at himself. "You're letting the stories of this place get to you. Ghosts aren't real, you know that, so calm down. You're even starting to talk to yourself... and that's probably not a good sign..."
That was when the laughter returned, but this time it seemed to come from around both corners, in addition to the room he'd just left. Carter swung around, trying to keep his gun trained in all three directions at once, forgetting all pretense of appearing non-hostile as his panicked mind painted pictures of ghosts and monsters around every corner.
The laughter seemed to grow louder and louder until it started giving him a headache. Carter decided action was better than waiting, and took off running. Tearing around a corner, he slowed only enough for a cursory sweep with his outheld gun before continuing his attempt to escape from the horrendous screech. The laughter fell behind at first, but then seemed to pursue him. At times, it echoed out of corridors beside or ahead of Carter as he ran, chasing him through the maze of hallways and making him even more lost with each turn.
Carter was just starting to suspect he was being herded when a doorway slammed open ahead of him and off to his side. It was the airlock, both hatches were open, and a hurricane of wind started pushing and pulling him toward the opening. He dropped to the ground and started desperately scrabbling for any handhold to slow his egress, but every door slammed shut as he reached for them. No other surface provided enough purchase to do more than make his heart skip beats as his fingers briefly gained traction before slipping off of them again.
Soon he found himself being pulled into the airlock itself, and Carter grabbed onto the doorway with everything he had in him. Despite the adrenaline fueling his grip, Carter slowly began to lose the battle against the vacuum's pull. He was looking around feverishly for any options, but he knew that these were likely his last moments. His grip finally failed, and Carter started to fall toward the vacuum of space.
At the final moment, the outer door slammed shut, and Carter fell against it hard enough that he suspected he'd cracked a rib or two. Despite the pain, he launched himself out of the airlock and hammered the controls to shut the inner door, and only then allowed himself to slide to the ground and catch his breath.
That's when a seductively sultry woman's voice called out, seeming to come from every direction at once. "Oh look, a little cockroach has found its way into our web... You won't escape that easily, little cockroach. It's been far too long since we've had some fun. Now run along, little cockroach, scamper back into the shadows where you belong!"
Every door in the hallway flew open, and the piercing laughter returned, pouring out of every gaping room. Carter decided he'd had enough and did as the voice commanded, running deeper into the ship.
For what seemed like days, Carter hid in the shadows of an empty room. But eventually, fear gave way to boredom, and cold logic dictated that staying in this room forever would only result in starvation. Seeing no other option, and now thoroughly lost after running in circles for who knew how long, he resumed his exploration of the ship.
Turning a corner, Carter noticed an open door, from which a ghostly light was glowing. He could just make out a drunkenly sung dirge emanating from within the room, sounding for all the world as though the singer's voice belonged to an old Earth pirate.
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
Carter was just getting ready to turn and leave when the voice called out. "Quit yer lollygagging and come inside lad! I'm not going to kill you. Not yet, anyway!"
Carter thought about running again, but decided that this spirit at least seemed friendlier than the last. Besides, he really didn't have much to lose at this point.
Stepping inside the room, Carter found a feasting hall filled with torches burning an eerie green light. At the head of a long table sat a man whose visage matched his voice. He looked like an honest-to-god old-Earth pirate. He was covered in a well-worn uniform that looked like it might have belonged on a seventeenth-century sailing vessel, topped off with a tricorn hat sporting a grand feather that hung rakishly off the back end.
To complete the image, he held a mug of some suspicious drink in one hand and what appeared to be a turkey leg in the other. He gestured to Carter. "Have a seat lad, and join in my feast! Never let it be said that I didn't show hospitality to my guests!"
Looking at the long table between him and the ghost, Carter noticed what must have once been a grand feast laid out on the table. However, so much time had passed that most of the dishes were nothing more than dust and bone, and the few plates that had anything more substantial were covered in maggots and worms. Still, this seemed much more promising than anything else so far. At least this ghost seemed to want to talk.
Brushing a thick layer of dust off a seat, Carter sat down and responded to his host. "How about I meet you halfway and have a seat. While I appreciate the offer of food, what you have here seems a bit too... rich... for my stomach to handle."
The pirate reached down to a skeleton that might have been a bird at one time and tore off a bone that materialized into what looked like a piping hot turkey leg as he drew it to his lips. Tearing a chunk off the leg, he spoke through a mouthful of meat, spewing a healthy dose of saliva across the table as he did so. Thankfully, Carter was far enough away that he didn't find out if ghost spit left any stains.
"So, you're one of those weak-in-the-stomach lads, are ya? You'd better toughen up if you want to sail through the depths of the void! Still, your loss means more for me!"
The pirate took a long pull from the mug and glared at Carter with just a hint of hunger gleaming in his eyes. "Now tell me lad, what brings you to my humble abode?"
Carter debated telling a lie. Complaining about pirates might very well upset his host, but ultimately he decided that he'd always been blunt before, and there was no reason to stop now. Nodding to his host's pirate attire, Carter explained, "My ship got raided by pirates, and I barely got away in my escape pod. When I saw this place, my choice was simply to come aboard and probably die, or stay away and definitely die. It seemed like an easy decision at the time."
He had the pirate's attention now. "Tell me your story! Did ye captain a sturdy vessel with a stalwart crew?"
Carter sighed despondently. "Well, not so much sturdy as on its last legs, and I'm afraid the only crew on the ship was myself."
The pirate's face fell a little, but he tried once more. "So were ye set upon by a daring sloop, manned by a swashbuckling daredevil?"
Carter shrugged. "Well, I'm not sure what a sloop is, but their was a ship big enough to swallow mine whole. Probably crewed by between seventy and a hundred pirates."
The pirate spit a glob of meat to the ground, which mercifully dissipated before making contact. "Bah, cowardly scallywags not deserving of the title pirate! The kind of man not fit to clean me boots, let alone eat at my table!"
Looking down at a dish in front of him, Carter picked up something vaguely resembling a biscuit of some sort, topped with a writhing mass of maggots. "Oh, I don't know, this seems like precisely the type of food I'd like to feed those pirates!"
The pirate threw back his head, and heartily laughed. "Good on you lad! Good on you! You keep that fire in your belly, and you might just live through the night!"
That caught Carter's attention. "Yeah, about that. You're not the first ghost I've run into on this ship. The other one seemed a bit more... hostile."
The pirate laughed again. "And what makes you think I'm not hostile? Though I suppose I know what you mean. When the lady gets in one of her moods, she can be a real...." The pirate tilted his head to one side as if listening to something else for a moment before finishing his thought. "She can be a mite difficult to get along with." He finished with a lame grin that clearly said he'd initially been thinking of a different ending to that sentence.
The pirate startled Carter when he slammed his fists onto the table and stood up. "Well, enough, yammerin! I've got ships to haunt and weak-stomached lads to hunt. I'd best be off!"
With that, the pirate's skin seemed to slowly rot away until his very bones shown through. Eventually, the last of the skin and muscle faded, leaving the bones in a pile on the floor, which then crumbled to dust and blew away in a wind that Carter couldn't feel.
Even the torches blew out, leaving the room in a silent, oppressive darkness. Carter decided he'd had enough of the smell of rot and continued his search of the ship.
Carter had been walking along one hallway after another for a while now. It was apparent he was being herded again, although this time the ship seemed to be more polite about it. The path he was supposed to take was well lit, and every door he passed was now locked. After walking an annoyingly long while, he looked up at the ceiling and spoke to any listening spirits.
"So, you know those nutrient bars I've been snacking on to stave off starvation? Well, I'm experiencing the inevitable result of eating periodically throughout the day, and while I certainly can take care of business in this hallway, I think we'd both be happier if you'd let me use a restroom instead."
There was a brief pause, and Carter started to think the ship would try and call what was definitely not a bluff, then a door opened in the hallway up ahead. The restroom was as dusty as any other room onboard the ship, and the walls were caked in the characteristic rust and mystery stains, but the facilities worked well enough.
After checking his watch, Carter was surprised to see he'd been exploring this ship for over eight hours. Add in the time he'd been awake on his escape pod, and he realized why he was feeling so exhausted. Evidently, he'd loitered on the toilet a little too long because the lights all turned out, leaving Carter in total darkness. With a sigh of exasperation, he spoke to the ceiling again.
"Alright, alright, no time to relax, I get the message. Now could you turn the lights back on so I can see what I'm doing while I finish cleaning myself up?"
A single light turned on in the corner of the room, barely enough to see anything with, causing Carter to grumble about petulant ghosts while he washed his hands and got back to his guided tour of the monotonous hallways.
Carter was so exhausted that he'd started to think about lying down in the hallway for a nap, regardless of any nearby spirits. However, his musings were interrupted when he finally seemed to reach his intended goal. This was clearly the ship's bridge. Though it was so shrouded in darkness it was hard to clearly make out anything other than a chair and a few nearby consoles.
What little of the room he could see was bathed in an eerie fluctuating glow emanating from the few working consoles. More stains were found here, but it was harder for Carter to convince himself they were simply grease when the old crew's bodies remained lying in the widest pools of dried fluids. What was left of their old uniforms were in tatters, and the bodies seemed to have mummified in the dry recycled air.
That was when all the lights went out, and Carter found himself in near-total darkness once again. Although this time there was a sound, specifically the sound of someone softly whimpering nearby.
Looking around the captain's chair, Carter could just make out the small form of a woman with her back turned to him and crying. Her shoulders were trembling as violent sobs wracked her frame. What skin he could see from behind was blemished and deathly pale. It barely stretched itself over her long, boney frame. Her hair was greasy and tangled, clinging to her flimsy blood-stained shirt in such a way that it almost hid her long, spindly fingers tipped with jagged fingernails wrapped around her shoulders.
Carter took one quick look at the woman before saying, "NOPE! Not playing this game!" He then raised his gun and shot the woman clean through her head.
Just as he'd expected, the bullet passed through, leaving only slight digitization in its wake.
The woman had turned around and was glaring at him accusingly. "I can't believe you shot me!" Carter couldn't help but notice she now looked a bit older and a lot healthier. She was pretty, in a girl-next-door sort of way.
Holstering his gun, now that it was apparent what he was dealing with, Carter countered her accusation. "I didn't shoot you. I shot through you, the bullet never made contact, so it doesn't count!"
The woman was now flailing her arms about in exasperation. "What if I'd been a survivor? I could have been your only hope of surviving on this ghost ship, and instead, I'd be dead, lying in a pool of my own brain matter!"
Carter just waved her off. "But you're not dead. You're an AI, just like the rest of the ghosts on this ship! Seriously, what's wrong with all of you?"
That's when a familiar sultry voice drew Carter's attention to his left. "I warned you that you were overplaying your hand. Now look, you've spoiled our fun. He's not playing along anymore..."
The voice belonged to a red-headed bombshell of a woman. She was wearing a back button-down overcoat with thigh-high leather boots. The glare she directed toward Carter was one of disdain and contempt. "Not that he would have lasted long anyway. This cockroach hardly seems worth the effort to avoid stepping on."
The first girl now wore her hair in a ponytail and sported an oversized pair of glasses, giving her a very bookish appearance. "It's not my fault! What kind of a madman just up and shoots a lone, vulnerable woman, without any warning?!"
Another familiar laugh came from Carter's right. "I told ye the lad had a fire in his belly! That's what ya get for underestimating him!"
Carter looked back and forth between the three spirits turned AI. "So what, you three run this ship?"
The girl answered, pushing her glasses higher up onto her nose. "Close but not quite."
Suddenly all three AI started moving and speaking in perfect sync. "Welcome aboard my ship. I am Sybil!" Finishing with an identical, formal bow.
Carter looked at the pirate with one raised eyebrow. "Sybil?"
The pirate looked particularly glum as he answered. "Aye, two to one vote..."
Carter was trying to understand what was going on, but the lack of sleep being compounded by physical exhaustion wasn't helping any. "So let me get this straight. All three of you are named Sybil?"
The vixen's voice dripped with scorn. "He's not very quick, is he?"
The girl next door picked up where the vixen left off. "Of course not, since this barely makes sense to me. How could he be expected to understand it?"
Turning her attention back to Carter, the girl continued. "There is no we, only me. One AI, three faces."
Carter had had enough. "Wait, wait, wait... You mean you're an AI with multiple personality disorder? How is that even possible? Also, wasn't this ship haunting space long before AI's were even a thing? The more answers I get, the more I'm convinced I'm still aboard my escape pod and having a psychotic break!"
The pirate spoke up this time. "Ye better have a seat, laddie. This is going to be a long night for ye!"
At first, Alen had thought the captain of the Magpie was showing him respect by entrusting him with finding more crew before their next voyage. In truth, Alen now suspected he was given this "honor" because the captain didn't want to waste any time on such a fruitless venture when he could be out drinking instead.
Alen was sitting out in front of the ship with a sign saying, "Help Wanted, No prior experience required." There were always people looking for work at a station like this one. People who'd gotten off on the wrong side of the galaxy and needed to scrape together enough cash to afford a trip back to civilized space.
However, this old beat-up ship wasn't drawing the best crowds. Alen was just thinking about giving up for the day when an alien whose species he'd never seen before walked through the crowd before stopping and looking at his sign.
This alien certainly stood out in a crowd. He looked like some lizard, cat, viking hybrid, covered in boney armored plates, and standing a towering eight feet tall. As Alen's gaze traveled from the ground upward, he couldn't help but notice the dangerously sharp claws on the alien's feet, hands, and even elbows. The face staring down at him was grinning in what it probably thought was a friendly manner, but all the extra teeth, and spindly tendrils in the place of hair, made Alen feel like he was being sized up for a snack instead. His voice came out in a guttural accent, as though his throat had never been intended for English. "Got room for two?"
It took Alen a moment to puzzle out what the alien had said, but playing the voice over in his head, he could just make out the words. He wasn't sure if this was a good idea, but he was running low on options. "Uh, yeah, sure, I mean yes, sir! Two would be perfect! Is your partner like you, or is he human?"
The large cat/lizard/viking's grin grew slightly wider, somehow displaying even more teeth than before. "Let me introduce you. Vanessa, get over here!" As the person he'd been speaking to came into view, Alen let his jaw drop in surprise.
She was a walking nightmare. Standing six feet tall with her abdomen relaxed, she had a body like a spider, with a torso that could be mistaken for humanoid...if you squinted hard enough. However, in the full light of day, it looked like a praying mantis with an additional smaller pair of manipulating arms. This was a vestant! But what was one doing this far out in the middle of nowhere? They couldn't survive long outside the range of their queens, and the nearest queen was thousands of light-years away.
As she approached, she addressed the cat/lizard/viking alien. Despite speaking through a mouth filled with mandibles rather than teeth, she spoke perfect English. What made it more surreal was the fact that she spoke with a proper English accent!
"Yes, my lady! How may I serve?"
Alen looked back at the cat/lizard/viking alien, his eyes wide and his mouth moving before he realized what he was saying. "My lady? I didn't know you were female! Sorry about that, I'm not familiar with your species!"
The cat/lizard/viking looked down at Alen. "I'm not, and there's no reason you should know my species. As far as I know, I'm the only one!"
Alen was scratching his head in confusion. "You're not female? Then why did the vestant refer to you as 'my lady?'"
The cat/lizard/viking heaved a sigh before responding. "Rather than wasting time explaining, watch this."
Turning to the vestant, the larger alien commanded her. "Venessa, stop referring to me as 'my lady!'"
The vestant bowed differently. "Yes, my queen!"
The cat/lizard/viking again commanded. "And don't call me queen!"
The vestant bowed again. "Yes, mistress!"
The bigger alien was practically growling more than talking now. "And don't call me mistress!"
Another bow. "Yes, my lady!"
Another growl. "Just call me, Erik!"
Another bow. "Yes, lady Erik."
With another exasperated sigh, Erik gave up. "Just call me whatever you wish..."
This bow was lower and more formal, and the vestant's voice conveyed deep gratitude. "Thank you, my lady!"
As Erik turned to Alen, he had the look of someone who'd suffered under a terrible burden for far too long. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure she's biologically incapable of addressing me in any other way. But Vanessa here has been by my side for as long as I can remember, and she's always done right by me, so I put up with it."
Alen had begun to grin, thinking that maybe this giant alien wasn't so scary after all, but that thought faded when Erik directed a glare toward Alen that could wither far braver men than himself. "Don't misunderstand me, she's the only one who gets a pass calling me that. Anyone else who tries to call me a lady had better be faster than I am, and just so you know, there isn't a human alive faster than me!" Erik's glare softened somewhat, enough that Alen thought he might be joking, but not enough for him to test that theory.
Alen's mind was spinning. This was all too much to take in. Looking up at the giant alien, he said the first thing that came to mind. "Your name is Erik? Really? I expected something more... I don't know... exotic?"
Erik glowered at Alen a moment as if making up his mind about something before responding. "Yeah, well, I was raised by a bunch of pirates to be a pit fighter. Same with Vanessa here, and they named both of us. Eventually, we fought our way free and killed a bunch of pirates in the process! If you want to know more than that, you'll have to get me good and drunk first, but I should warn you, there isn't a human alive who can drink anywhere near enough to put me under the table!"
This very well might be the worst decision of his life, but Alen simply had to know more about this impossible duo. "Well, Erik, Vanessa, welcome aboard!"
With a shake of Erik's massive hand, the deal was struck. As Alen watched Vanessa carry both sets of luggage aboard, he decided he needed to stock up on extra alcohol for this trip. If not for Erik, then certainly for himself!
As mentioned, this is a spin-off of "Of Men and Dragons," though it's gonna be a bit more sci-fi with a bit more action than tech development and politics.
This was released as a celebration for reaching 50 chapters in its parent series, which will remain my focus for now. But if this whets your appetite at all, keep an eye out because there will be more coming eventually.
So what did you think of this cast? I wanted them to a bit more complex in nature. If Jack is Willow Ufgood, then Carter is more of a Madmartigan. A bit more selfish and egotistical, but still a decent guy if you dig down far enough. The AI is interesting for obvious reasons... Erik is obviously an argu'n, but how'd he get into space?... And Vanessa is an introduction to a new species. Alen rounds out the cast as the wide-eyed kid in over his head.
If this makes you want to go back and read it's parent series, just try and give the first 10 or so chapters a bit of a break. It was my first attempt at writing fiction, and it was definitely a bit rough getting off the ground, but I'm pretty proud of what it became.