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Literature / Pay Me, Bug!

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Pay Me, Bug! is a series of Science Fiction web serial novels by Christopher Wright, set in a shared universe informally known as "The Foldspace Universe." It follows Grif Vindh, captain of the Fool's Errand, and his crew as they get into trouble, get into more trouble, and maybe occasionally get paid for their trouble.

The first novel (now complete), also titled Pay Me, Bug!, starts off just after Grif managed to pull off the crime of the millennium. He's stolen a shipment of anagathicsnote  from Ur Voys — The Empire of the Radiant Throne's most secure facility — and smuggled it out under the very noses of The Radiant Throne's Swords. This one job has has earned him more than enough money to retire. Not that he wants to retire, mind you. He'd rather put that money into getting the very latest equipment for his ship.

It's a good thing, too. The Alliance of Free Worlds has heard of his little adventure, and as it happens, they also want to steal something from The Radiant Throne — something that is currently stashed in Ur Voys. And since they've been unsuccessful in stealing it themselves, they decide to blackmail Grif and crew to break in to Ur Voys again and get it for them.

The only problem is, Grif might not have told the whole truth about the first break-in...

The second novel (in progress), A Rake by Starlight, begins a year later. It's a typical day for the crew, illegally siphoning hydrogen from a gas giant to use as fuel, when they notice two Tylaris ships doing their level best to destroy each other. Grif's curiosity gets the better of him, and their investigation leads them into the middle of a massive plot to usurp power from the new Baron Tylaris. As if that wasn't enough, the closest thing to an ally they have, Baron Tyrelos, is facing a coup of her own.

The series as a whole provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Commodore Mavis. Grif once bemoaned the fact that they were on opposite sides, when they could have been friends.
  • Alien Food Is Edible: Averted. It's specifically mentioned that, while every known race can get drunk, the intoxicating substance varies from species to species. So, when you're getting drunk with other species, you need to be careful not to grab a bottle of something lethal to you. Carumjack is specifically mentioned as a popular beverage that's toxic to humans, but Morgan can't get enough of the stuff, so they're either drastically overselling its lethality or Morgan's built up a tolerance.
  • All Atmospheres Are Equal: Well, all atmospheres other than the cold vacuum of space, that is.
  • All Nations Are Superpowers: There's The Alliance of Free Worlds, The Empire of the Radiant Throne, and a collection of small "Free Trade Baronies" that only remain independent through economic power. That's it.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The Radiant Throne believes that Telepathy is a gift from God, and comes with a mandate to rule over non-telepaths.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Surrounds Tyrelos Station. It's a lot sparser than most examples of this trope, and justified by being the remains of a recently (in astronomic terms) destroyed moon, but still there.
  • Bad Guy Bar: Dyorbid's.
  • Bar Full of Aliens: Again, Dyorbid's
  • The Battlestar: "Battlecarrier" class ships.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: A routine part of any plan to avoid being killed.
  • Church Militant: The Empire of the Radiant Throne is solidly theocratic, and completely authoritarian.
  • Cool Starship: Grif's ship, the Fool's Errand.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Grif Vindh.
    "Hello Morgan," Velis said. "You look well."
    "Velis," Morgan said. That was all he could manage; he abruptly turned in his seat and devoted his attention to his station.
    "This is going to be the best trip ever," Grif muttered.
  • Deflector Shields: Part and parcel for the setting. Unusually for this trope, they're described as blocking all energy, including visible light and sensors, in both directions. Fortunately, there are systems that automate the process of dropping a single segment of the shield, firing through it, and bringing it back up. Also, a big part of space combat is deciding, moment to moment, which shield segments to have down (for visibility), which to have up (for protection), and which to "pulse" on and off (for a little of both).
  • The Empire: The Empire of the Radiant Throne. It's right there in the name.
  • The Federation: Despite its name, The Alliance of Free Worlds is closer to being The Federation than being The Alliance.
  • Future Imperfect: Most of the people who grew up on Earth like to claim that Earth is the original homeworld of humanity, but nobody takes them seriously.
  • Gravity Screw: Part of the standard procedure for repelling boarders aboard the Fool's Errand is to turn the gravity on and off according to a prearranged schedule. Since any boarders wouldn't know the schedule, they would be unprepared for the sudden shifts in gravity. In addition, individual crew can have the bridge change the gravity in their specific section as an additional weapon.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Each of Ktk's three tails are strong enough to pick up a full-grown human. That's right — Ktk can triple wield people.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Routinely, with Grif being the most common offender.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: Every chapter.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Ktk, the titular "bug," insists that everyone call it "it," because that's just the logical thing to call a hermaphrodite.
  • Mad Libs Catchphrase: Grif likes to take a word or phrase he just said, and... "clarify" it by adding "and by X, I mean Y," where "Y" is a short rant that includes "X."
    Grif: Pure evil ... molded into the form of my dear sister. And by "dear" I mean "dear God, run away!"
  • The Nicknamer: Ggrlsha have a tradition of nicknaming everyone they know. It's supposed to be an attempt to "know the essence of another's soul."
  • No Gravity for You: Because the Fool's Errand uses older gravity technology, they can't have the artificial gravity on while they're in tach. Well, technically they can, but it would be dangerous to do so.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: According to the Foldspace Guide, the Free Trade Baronies started off as this. With the passage of time, they've evolved into standard governments, but most still have some of the trappings of their corporate past. For instance, most have powerful "executives" that that can, if need be, vote the baron out of office.
  • Perma-Stubble: Grif is described as having "a fine layer of stubble that never quite coaxed itself into a beard."
  • Precursors: The Prometheans were a species that predated every known civilization, only known by some ruins they left on Mars. Some people believe that they were just ordinary people who's civilization happened to die out. Others (especially "Terrans", people from Earth's solar system) believe they're ancient all-powerful god-like beings that created some modern races and engineered entire solar systems. The fact that the mysterious and ancient artifact they're trying to steal has the same markings as the Martian ruins suggests that the latter explanation is more likely.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Ktk's full name is "Ktkt'tkkt'kktt'tkkk'tktk'ttkt'tkkk'kktt'kktk'tk." His race's language is an encoding of binary.
  • Royal Mess: The Free Trade "Baronies" are actually independent states.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Zig-zagged. Most of the time, the author writes space very realistically. However, that all gets thrown out the window during combat, as ships fight each other at a range that's too close to even be considered "spitting distance."
  • Shared Universe: Known informally as "The Foldspace Universe."
  • She Is the King: The leader of a Free Trade Barony is always referred to as "Baron", regardless of their gender. Similarly, the Radiant Throne currently has a female Emperor. The Alliance's leader's title hasn't been revealed, but based on the other titles, it's probably "President" or some such.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Grif Vindh is a smuggler, thief, and general ne'er do well. His sister, Velis Enge, is a high ranking officer in an Alliance black ops division.
  • Side Bet: The title of the book is a reference to Cyrus and Ktk's continual bets with each other. The entire crew place bets on all kinds of things at the drop of a hat, but Ktk is specifically known for always betting against the captain - whether about the outcome of the mission, how long it will be until they wind up in trouble in this particular portnote , whether they will survive their current screwup, etc. Ktk almost always loses, which would be more remarkable if he wasn't usually betting on the death or capture of the crew, which would end the story if he won. In the sequel, he explains that he considers it a tax on survival, and Grif mentions that with his gunner leaving the crew, he's worried he won't have anyone who's willing to bet for the captain, and therefore will lose track of which things are good ideas and which are bad.note 
  • Starfish Aliens: Ktk is described as a 2.5 meter hermaphroditic centipede with three prehensile tails.
  • Starfish Language: "Bugtalk" is "a binary language that starts with the total sum of all knowledge and drills down through it until it isolates the specific thought or concept the bug is trying to say." This is emphasized in the story by the fact that Ktk is never quoted directly.
  • Telepathy: All the Radiant Throne's Swords are telepaths. Grif winds up hiring a telepath of his own.
  • Time for Plan B: A running gag throughout the series is that Grif's Plan B's tend to suck, so the phrase "time for plan B" is just another way of saying "start updating your will."
  • Title Drop: Ktk and Cyrus will bet on anything and everything. When Cyrus wins...
  • Tractor Beam: Called a "gravlock."
  • Training the Gift of Magic: Telepathy is an innate ability of a small percentage of humans (and possibly other species), but telepaths must receive special training during their early adolescent years or their power could break their minds.
  • The Unpronounceable: Again, Ktk's full name. Even the abbreviation of its name can be hard to pronounce. We are told that its species' name and home world's name are even worse.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: We never see any actual slaves, but there are slavers, which would tend to imply the existence of slaves.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: A telepath's power can drive them insane if they aren't trained to handle it early enough. The Radiant Throne's Swords are continually referred to as insane, but it's more that they're telepathic knight templar church militants.

Tropes specific to Pay Me, Bug!:

  • And the Adventure Continues: The crew ends up having to take another job to pay for the damage caused by this one.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Of course, all that comfort comes at a pretty hefty price. Ruled by telepathic religious zealots, immediate execution for daring to say anything that might be construed as treasonous... church on Sundays...."
  • Bar Brawl: Some time in the past, some Cyborg slavers tried to kidnap Grif's nephew. Grif objected, rather strenuously, causing some damage to their ship. They catch up to Grif in Dyorbid's Bar, and, well...
  • The Caper: The main plot of the story.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The mutiny mentioned below is an example. Final score: Grif and crew eleven, Velis and squad zero.
  • Cyborg: The above-mentioned slavers.
  • Embarrassing Old Photo: Grif finds some of Doma doing something on Grenaris.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When The Viceroy wants to destroy every Maximilian class ship on Varkav, because they believe one of them is the Fool's Errand, Mavis talks him out of it.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: The anagathics Grif "stole" from Ur Voys literally fell off the back of a truck. Of course, this truck was in the process of crashing and bursting into flames, so it makes sense that stuff would be falling off of it.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: A more realistic example than most. The bottle doesn't break, despite being swung with a human's full strength. It also does some serious damage to the target.
  • Hero of Another Story: There's some kind of coup in progress against Baron Minerva Tyrelos. Whoever is responsible gets nervous about the fact that Grif has figured out about Baron Tylaris' assassination, so they try to have Grif handed over to The Throne. In the first book, we never learn anything more about who's behind it, what their ultimate plan is, or whether the Baron's plan to have her brother publicly take the blame worked. In the sequel, we learn that It was exactly who the Baron suspected, Evil Uncle Lord Sonim Makar, and the brother plan worked well beyond expectations; he would prefer to be Idle Rich, but has risen to the occasion, stayed in (highly secret, highly secure) contact with his sister the Baron, and become a shockingly competent spymaster. If the sequel is ever completed, it's likely he would, on his return to his home Barony, become a classic do-nothing aristocrat. Assuming he's on the winning side - Lord Sonim stages an assassination in book 2 and Baron Tyrelos has to rely on Grif to get her into position to retake her position.
  • If I Had a Nickel...: If Grif had one standard for every time someone explained a coincidence by saying "Promethians did it"...
  • I Know You're Watching Me: The Viceroy manages to pull this on the heroes, who are using his own security cameras to spy on him.
  • Infraction Distraction: Grif sacrifices their cargo of fine Varkavian whiskey to keep Mavis from looking closer, and maybe finding the anagathics. Of course, since none of the crew know about the anagathics, they all think he's gone crazy.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Doma, the communications technician (and Grif's nephew), manages to accidentally broadcast the crew's impromptu strategy session to the ship they were running from at the time.
  • Just Like Us: The Alliance covert infiltration team gets a dose of this during the mission. It's also heavily implied that they've infiltrated the Radiant Throne before, so they really should have already known.
  • MacGuffin: The artifact.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: This is how the crew plan to infiltrate The Radiant Throne again, so soon after their last heist landed them on The Throne's "most wanted" list. Justified by future medical tech.
  • Mars Needs Women: Discussed in Chapter 15.
    "It's about time Dyorbid actually hired an attractive waitress," Morgan said. Grif laughed.
    "Well, hold on," Grif said, "let's be fair. The Murdec who worked here a few months back was very attractive... to other Murdecs."
  • Miles Gloriosus: Grif may have exaggerated the story of his break-in to Ur Voys just a tiny bit.
  • The Mutiny: Velis Enge organizes one against Grif. It... doesn't go so well for her and her team.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Viceroy. That's not a title, that's his legal name, which he chose himself upon becoming a Sword.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A little one, during the escape from the hospital on Tyrelos Station.
    "Well I can't hold these guys off much longer." Grif tried to peer over the lip of the stairwell without exposing himself. "Sooner or later they'll realize it's just one pistol..."
    From below someone shouted "It's just one pistol!"
    "Damn it all to hell," Grif muttered.
    Amys rolled her eyes. "Nice work."
  • Noodle Incident: Just what happened between Grif and Velis on Kinnar?
  • Oh, Crap!: "Holy hell, that's a Battlecarrier!"
  • Overt Rendezvous: Getting Meaghan Sythe out of Ur Voys requires a meeting in a bar. Unfortunately, someone remembers seeing her there, which allows Mavis' agents to connect the break in with the Fool's Errand, and sets up the climactic battle.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: As Grif is breaking out of the aforementioned hospital, he has to steal some clothes and a pistol. He doesn't have the chance to steal a holster.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: One of the dangers of having your mind read by a Sword.
  • Technopath: An (extremely rare) ability of certain very strong telepaths.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: It should come as no surprise that Dyorbid, as the proprietor of a Bad Guy Bar, keeps a plasma rifle handy. It's just as useful for bar brawls as it is for people who ask to run a tab.
  • Vibroweapon: Amys' weapon of choice.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Grif and crew have a huge celebration with several of the other crews in port. They all get so smashed, the next morning, they can't remember what happenednote . This isn't the first such party, either: They've had to institute The List, a computer record of everyone's possessions that they had entered the party with, bets that were made, and the winners and losers of those bets.

Tropes specific to A Rake by Starlight:

  • Body Double: The Baron has one. Rather, she had one; the unfortunate woman was vaporized by a nuclear bomb during a speech while the Baron herself was on the Fool's Errand.
  • Cloning Blues: Stebil Tanz admits to being a little bit defensive about not being the original, even though, legally, he is the same person.
  • Hero of Another Story: The coup against Baron Tyrelos, which only tangentially affected the plot of Pay Me, Bug!, is a much more important factor in this story, especially once the Baron's body double gets offed by a small thermonuclear device while the real Baron just happens to be on the Fool's Errand.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Baron Tylaris knew that his son was an idiot, so he planned to have someone else take over once he died: himself, via cloning.
  • Inheritance Murder: There's some speculation that Rolis Tylaris murdered his father, Baron Mogra Tylaris, in order to take the throne. Given how quickly he then joined The Alliance, there's speculation that he had their help to do so. (Both of these speculations are exactly right.)
  • Word Salad Title: If there's any deep meaning behind the phrase "A Rake by Starlight," it has yet to be revealed.
  • The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Rolis is lazy and borderline incompetent (although he is smarter than he appears, that's not saying much), not to mention that he murdered his father. In an interesting twist, the rebels plan to create someone who actually has a better claim to the throne.