Orbital book 4: Ravages


By Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-088-7

Serge Pellé & Sylvain Runberg’s mismatched pair of Diplomatic Peacekeeper agents return in the conclusion of the sinister saga begun in Orbital: Nomads, subtly tweaking and deftly twisting that cunning epic of far-flung, futuristic political intrigue into a full-on horror story of relentless alien terror…

What you need to know: After decades of pariah-status and exclusion, 23rd century Earth finally joined a vast Confederation of interstellar civilisations, despite grave and abiding concerns about humanity’s aggressive nature and xenophobic tendencies shared by many of the member species. On Earth the feeling was largely mutual…

Prior to the humanity’s induction a militant “Isolationist” faction had graduated from politics to horrific terrorism: committing atrocities both on Earth and distant worlds where mankind had already developed colonies and bases. Ultimately they failed to prevent humanity’s inclusion in the pan-galactic union and were sidelined in global politics.

Neither they nor the ill-will they fostered really went away…

One particular Confederation worry was the way humans had treated the alien civilisation of the Sandjarrs, whose world was invaded in Earth’s all-consuming drive for territory and exploitable resources. The subsequent atrocities almost exterminated the stoic desert dwellers…

The vast bureaucracy of the Interworld Diplomatic Office works through operatives assigned in pairs to troubleshoot throughout the galaxy, defusing crises before they can become flashpoints of violence, and recently IDO’s first human recruit Caleb Swany had been surprisingly teamed with Sandjarr Mezoke Izzua: a situation clearly designed as a high-profile political stunt.

So was their initial mission: convincing an Earth mining colony on the moon Senestem to peacefully surrender a profitable planetary industry to the aliens who actually own the satellite it was situated on. Overcoming outrageous odds and problems, the unlikely team of rookies resolved the issue in true diplomatic manner with a minimum of casualties and nobody really happy or satisfied…

Released in France in 2010, Orbital: Ravages is the fourth album released by Cinebook and picks up as Caleb and Mezoke find a simple state function is rapidly devolving into an interspecies crisis…

The Galactic Great-and-Good are on Earth to confirm the end of Human/Sandjarr hostilities in a series of spectacular Reconciliation Ceremonies, but the political glad-handing is in danger of imploding after Kuala Lumpur’s human fisherman clash with a hitherto unsuspected enclave of star-spanning cannibalistic alien gypsies known as the Rapakhun

One of the greatest benefits of induction into The Confederation has been the infusion of alien technologies which have cleansed and reinvigorated the gravely wounded ecosystem of long-abused and much-polluted Earth. Now, however, the newly restocked, abundant seas and mangrove swamps around Malaysia are blighted by the mass extinction of millions of valuable fish. The humans blame the uninvited aliens, requiring Swany and Mezoke – accompanied by Caleb’s old mentor Hector Ulrich (instrumental in brokering Earth into the Confederation) – to forcefully intervene; promising all aggrieved parties that the truth will be found and shared.

This might be tricky: much of mankind is still anti-alien, and local economies are fragile, whilst the Rapakhun are apparently no innocent angels. Many space civilisations despise them. The stellar nomads are flighty wanderers who go where they please and refuse to be represented in or on Confederation Councils.

Moreover, all the cosmic bigwigs on Earth are only concerned with their precious Reconciliation Ceremonies, looking good and validating their controversial decision to admit Earth to the Civilised Worlds of the galaxy…

Whilst Caleb and Mezoke are fully occupied with the freshly-arrived delegation of Sandjarr dignitaries, fish are still dying and when human fisherman get too close to the agreed-upon neutral zone they are suddenly exterminated, outraging many watching members of the Malaysian Navy.

Although Caleb attempts to downplay and even suppress the concatenation of bad news in hope of keeping the Ceremonies alive the slaughter of fishermen provokes a “patriotic” clique in the Navy peacekeeping force to look the other way when the locals decide to deal with the nomads once and for all…

The riots and bloodshed are appalling and the IDO agents realise they need to know more about the Rapakhun: someone needs to visit their last port of call and see what the nomads are really capable of…

The story resumes in the grimily cosmopolitan Shah Alam district of Kuala Lumpur where impoverished human and alien scrap-merchants work, salvaging materials and tech from defunct starships. As tensions rise everywhere, one of the greedy toilers makes a grisly discovery and dies horribly in exactly the same manner as the fishermen in the swamps…

Caleb meanwhile, over Mezoke’s protests, is in full-spin-control mode; weaving a pack of placatory lies to the journalists of uncounted watching worlds. Unable to leave Earth mid-crisis, the IDO agents have recruited enigmatic human star-pilot Nina and her secretly-sentient Neuronome ship Angus to canvas the distant world of Dehadato, last port of call of the nomadic Rapakhun, but before they can report anything a vast riot breaks out in the Shah Alam.

The Fishermen’s Quarter is ablaze, a war-zone rife with scared and angry humans and aliens, but when Caleb, Mezoke and Hector fly over the scene of destruction and looting they are brought down by rioters and have to fight their way out…

Thanks to IDO intervention, canny bargaining, judicious bribery by city officials and an unlikely detente between the extraterrestrial scrap merchants and ambitious new spokesman of the Fisherman’s Federation, the situation is soon damped down and all sides again tensely wait for answers…

On Dehadato Nina and Angus are exploring the Rapakhun’s last campsite and uncover scenes of horrific devastation, even as in Kuala Lumpur Confederation leaders are thinking about cutting their losses and cancelling the Reconciliation Ceremonies, terrified that the situation is fast becoming politically untenable.

It takes all of Caleb’s strident persuasiveness to convince them – and Mezoke – to continue the itinerary of events. However he only gets his first inkling that they might be right when he’s informed that a body as been found in the city, butchered in the same extreme and inexplicable manner as the fishermen in the swamp…

Back on Dehadato, Nina and Angus have rescued a poacher from the folly of his actions in pursuing monstrous, colossal and protected Nargovals. As the Sülfir recovers he imparts snippets of information about the stellar nomads and an incredible beast which was here before the Rapakhun left.

The doughty hunter only tried for the unstoppable leviathans which killed his entire poaching team after first ensuring there were no more Varosash on the planet. They had apparently departed with the gypsy cannibals…

Caleb has already concluded that the Rapakhun are behind all his problems, but as he stalks them in the Mangrove swamps, word comes from Nina that stops him in his tracks. It may already be too late though. At the biggest sports arena in the city, thousands of avid Speedball fans – human and not – are packed together and reaching a fever pitch of excitement, unaware that a hideous invisible killer, the very essence of all mankind’s fear of alien monsters, is about to consume them all…

Can the disunited Caleb and Mezoke with the pitifully few allies they can call upon end the invisible and rapacious threat before it ends humanity?

Nina and the Sülfir think they have a plan. Risky and probably fatal, but a plan nonetheless…

Fast-paced, action-packed, gritty and spectacular, Ravages is pure space-opera, with delightfully complex sub-plots fuelled by political intrigue and a vast unexplored canvas tantalising readers at very moment.

One of the most beguiling sci fi strips of all time, Orbital is a delight every fan of the future should indulge in…
Original edition © Dupuis 2010 by Runberg & Pellé. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.