Friday, May 24, 2013

Captain's Log, Day 108: A New Frontier?

          Hmm, I seriously think we should put more effort into trying to explore the universe, and putting people in more non-terrestrial areas.
          Sadly, that's probably not going to happen for a while...but that's why we had science fiction!!
          This the the sequel to Indestructible (formerly called Wizard's Discovery, from which I posted an excerpt in Captain's Log, Day 80: Preview of a Book--the Club). I've already tried to write part of the sequel before (see Captain's Log, Day 91: The Sequel!) but I really didn't like the way it was going, so I decided to fast-forward a few years in the life of the protagonist and start over. Those of you who are bored enough to actually read both versions of the sequel, which I plan on calling Stargazer for reasons I plan on NOT revealing at this point, please give me feedback on your thoughts--is my new version better? Is the old one better? Are they both worth turning into books? (I did skip a few years, so I could do that...) Is my writing so horrible that it burns the retinas? Could you pull someone out of a black hole with a rope? Does the drag coefficient of those little rat-dogs improve if you shave racing stripes down their sides?
          Ahh, the questions that plague a writer.
          Anyhoo, here's the beginning of Stargazer. Good luck!

          There comes a time in every rightly constructed human boy’s life when he has a raging desire to be a soldier, or to fight aliens from another. That boy would be incredibly envious to see the line of armored, four-limbed soldiers marching down the hill towards him.
          For me, it was a huge security issue.
          My visor lit up with specs as I snapped target locks onto every vulnerable spot I could find with the oncoming Scorics, hands clenching into fists. I’d fought these beings on several worlds across the Milky Way, humanity’s galactic domain, and I had a great respect for how deadly they were. I was one of the few soldiers who had managed to survive the battle at Sorro’s End, so here I was, honor guard for a parley.
          “This is ridiculous.”
          I grinned, full-face visor shielding my expression from the oncoming aliens. That was Hyatt, my second-in-command and best friend, voicing my unspoken opinion. “Yeah, I was more comfortable back on Kora,” I agreed, glad the facemask also hid our rather unprofessional chatter. “At least then we had our weapons ready before they attacked.”
          “Soldiers, can the small talk,” Sergeant Wilcon barked.
          I rolled my eyes, as I’m sure Hyatt did. Sergeant was a self-important weenie who had never seen battle and enjoyed throwing his weight around. “Stuff it, Wilcon,” I retorted. “You don’t want to hear it, get off our private freq.”
          “Hey, did Leftie there power something up?” Hyatt broke in.
          I zoomed in quickly. “Oh, nah, he’s disengaging his overarmor. Must be the delegation leader, or whatever the equivalent title is in Scoric.”
          “I hate having to stand like this,” Hyatt muttered. “I’m all jumpy.”
          I silently agreed. Being in parade-ground formation looked impressive, but it was about as useful as a stop sign as far as effective fighting went. All the commanders and delegates insisted on armor locks, which make all the soldiers ramrod straight and still as a bunch of rocks, but should anything go down, it would take a few critical milliseconds to disengage everything and power up. Right now, all ten of us soldiers were in passive sensor mode only, which ticked at least two of us off.
          The delegation from Earth passed between us to sit at the table in the middle of the field, joining the Scoric leaders. Both parties of soldiers, human and Scoric, stood rigidly at attention, staring each other down.
          “Greetings,” one of the Earth delegates began. “We appreciate this truce—“
          [May we skip the formalities?] a Scoric demanded. [We are met to end this senseless violence, not bandy words like little] shransn.
          “Shransn?” I muttered, trying to remember what that meant. I’d learned scorachatt, but that word was a new one on me.
          “I think the equivalent word is children,” Hyatt informed me. “Specifically, those just gaining sentience. I’ve heard they can talk your ear off.”
          Our delegates managed to find their voices. “Of course,” Devonius assured him smoothly. “Maybe you could start by explaining why you started the violence in the first place.”
          He should talk. I gritted my teeth. Caught up in the Scorics’ presence, I hadn’t even noticed him at the table. He’d led two bloody revolutions, then claimed to only be trying to promote defense of Earth. His warning and leadership had led the Earth leaders to give him a pardon and a place in the delegation, but that didn’t mean that I had to trust him.
          [Do not play us for fools,] the Scoric said contemptuously. [Your forces fired the first shot.]
          “When you invaded our galaxy,” Devonius pointed out.
          [You have no use for it.] The alien waved a hand, a gesture he’d obviously been practicing for the express benefit of human interaction. It came off as rather robotic. [Your people have not yet begun to branch out, perhaps never will. We need the territory as an expansionist race. We will have it.]
          “Galactic law states that home galaxies are off-limits to expansion,” Devonius reminded him.
          [Exceptions will be made.]
          “No, they shall not. We have a right—“
          [You shall die defending a non-existent right.]
          “Our forces have been holding yours off quite well so far.”
          [They shall fall. We have come here to spare you unnecessary death, and you think to threaten us?]
          I snapped on my speaker, clearing my throat. [Thirty-five eighty point five hundred and sixty three by forty-seven point oh-one by twelve hundred and thirty-two clicks, delta-v point five light on seventy by sixty by five point five.]
          Everyone (well, except the human soldiers) turned to look at me. [What is the meaning of this?] the Scoric demanded.
          “Spatial and vectoral numbers, from this plant’s coordinate system,” I clarified. “3580.563 by 47.01 by 1232 clicks, delta-v .5 on 70 by 60 by 5.5.”
          The Scoric snarled. [Do you thus allow your soldiers to presume to address us?]
          “Stand down, soldier,” Devonius ordered, voice laden with threat.
          I ignored them both, unlocking my right arm. “You want territory,” I mused, pointing at the Scoric. The alien’s troops immediately locked all their weapons on me, causing the Earth bodyguards to unlock themselves and train their weapons on the Scorics. I rolled my eyes, my expression lost behind my visor, and continued, “And we want to keep it. So check out the territory I just gave you and get out of our galaxy.”
          The Scoric leader eyed me, if such a thing could be said to be done by a being with multi-faceted eyes. It was usually hard to tell what they were concentrating on. [How do you know this place is unoccupied? You could merely seek to lead us into a trap.]
          I shrugged, a futile movement with my armor locked. “I wound up there on an equipment malfunction, flicking out of the Kora system. I had enough time to scan it before my return. It’s unoccupied, probably leading out past what we call the Andromeda Galaxy. Gives you a bit more room, and you can leave us alone while you explore out there.”
          [But your galaxy, it goes to waste.]
“Right,” I agreed. Devonius shot me a look that could have frozen a supernova (figuratively, anyway; the wizard wasn’t that powerful). “Which is why we need to determine who on our planet is ready to receive the truth about the universe and move off Earth, set up some interstellar trade, et cetera. But—“ I pointed to the Scoric again, “that means you guys need to get your butts out of here.”
          The Scoric had gone oddly still. [Who are you?]
          I dropped my arm. “I’m Captain Ryan Phoenix of the 567th Tactical Squadron.”
          [Ah, the True Human Leader.] The Scoric stood, gesturing to his troops. They all lowered their weapons.
          I blinked. I wasn’t a xenolinguist, but I was pretty sure he had just said that in capital letters. “What?”
          [The True Human Leader,] the Scoric repeated, now completely ignoring the diplomats (who looked about as confused as I felt). He began walking around the table.
          “All units, keep your weapons off,” I ordered, briefly switching frequencies so the aliens and diplomats couldn't hear me.
          “He’s coming at you, Cap,” Hyatt protested.
          “With no weapons of his own—you saying I can’t take on a lone Scoric? Especially after Kora? I didn’t even have armor there.”
          “You’re going to be in some seriously hot water for this, Phoenix,” Wilcon growled. I ignored him.
          The Scoric stopped in front of me. [In our culture, our leaders—I believe you call them diplomats—indeed begin wars, as yours do. However, they must also direct that battle, as your generals do, and fight on the front lines with the soldiers they command. This keeps them honest and less ready to start futile conflicts. It was interesting to see that your leaders are distant, treating their soldiers as pawns.] He paused, contempt obvious in his voice. [But in monitoring your communications, we noticed a warrior on the front lines, who reprimanded his commanders and bravely led his forces into battle.]
          I almost laughed. I had yelled at my commanding officers for their stupid decisions and usually ignored most of what they said. Ironically, it was the only reason I had a command—my methods resulted in huge successes, and the top generals figured the best thing to do with me would be to stick all of the troublemakers into one group with me and turn them loose with vague objectives. That way, we could keep scoring victories, and if something imploded on us, they’d only loose the non-conformers. Win-win.
          The Scoric continued. [That was true leadership, and showed a brilliance that gave us pause. After the battles of the Fifth Quadrant and our subsequent losses, we agreed to this conference in the hopes of sparing such an admirable leader. We surely would overrun humanity, given time, but your loss would be a sad blow to the universe.] He gave me a Scoric-style salute, arms crossed over his chest and tilting his head. [It is my honor to meet you. I accept your proposal, and look forward to better relations with the human race.] He turned back to the diplomats before I could respond. [Use your resources well. Procure a treaty and I shall sign in blood here.]
          “Sign in blood?” Hyatt muttered.
          “Scoric thing,” I responded, still trying to process what the Scoric had said. The only thing that kept running through my mind was Devonius and the diplomats are gonna be mad.
          “You have more chutzpah than anyone I’ve ever even heard of,” one of the soldiers from Wilcon’s unit told me.
          “Can it, Kirra, or you’ll be on KP for a month,” Wicon barked.
          The treaty was finished and signed an hour later, officially ending the war. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Captain's Log, Day 107: "Mission Improbable"

          It started like any normal evening...dinner, random games, threat of violence from the parental unit unappreciative of food fights...but then Nemesis and I went downstairs to look for something to do, and I stumbled across the 30 small mirrors that I had left over from a school project (long story) and had a brilliant idea.
          Not that Nemesis could recognize brilliance if it walked up and kicked him in the rear, of course.
          "You want to do what with your laser?"
          I sighed. "Make a laser obstacle course!"
          Nemesis frowned. "How?"
          I held up my giant, 1-watt laser. (For those who don't know the capabilities of such, it is powerful enough to burn through most objects on the "full power" setting, leading to some interesting incidents with both my clothes and my hand; my clothes, because I forgot that it was on, and my hand because 30 seconds after I received the laser, I doubted its capabilities and tried it out on myself. Let me to be the first to announce that yes, it works perfectly.) "We use this and the mirrors to bounce the laser beam back and forth across the area at the base of the stairs and have the beam terminate in a light sensor--uhh, you still have that electronics kit, right? I destroyed my light sensor last summer."
          Nemesis nodded, warming up to the idea. "Then we try to get through the laser maze..."
          "And if one of us breaks any of the laser beams, an alarm goes off!" I added happily. "It will be like breaking into a bank!"
          Nemesis started humming the "Mission Impossible" theme music, then paused. "Doesn't that laser burn stuff, though?"
          I rolled my eyes. "Despite the amusement factor inherent in having you run around with your pants on fire, I promise that I'll leave the laser on low power." I thought for a moment. "Besides, on high power I would probably burn out the sensor."
          "Excellent! Now, to work," Nemesis announced, sounding spookily like Megamind.
          I started taping mirrors to the walls, floor and ceiling at various angles while Nemesis began working on the light sensor apparatus, wiring it up to an alarm while following schematics from a book. Things went smoothly for about the first five minutes, at which point Nemesis discovered a problem. "Uhh, Radar?"
          "Kinda busy here, what?" I grunted, trying to hold up a mirror while simultaneously cutting tape, trying to reach for a piece of cardboard and wishing I had more hands. Like, six of them.
          "This circuit board design only turns the alarm on when light hits it," Nemesis announced.
          Down went the tape, cardboard, and myself. "Well, that could be annoying," I agreed, scurrying over to the circuit board and studying it. "Oh, wait, it's not that bad--we just move the speaker hookup to the other terminal on the relay and we're set."
          "Oh...well, but if we do that, the speaker will just click," Nemesis pointed out, studying the manual. "This circuit was designed to turn on a light when it gets dark--running a constant circuit through a speaker just makes a click when it turns on and off. We'll need to add this sound unit in somewhere, but I don't know how to--"
          I snatched the unit and plugged it in, using guesswork to determine where everything went. Immediately, a loud wailing split the air. "Hey, nice," I yelled.
          "It shouldn't be on, though," Nemesis yelled back. "What if we moved this terminal over here?"
          "That might work--wait a sec!" I grabbed Nemesis's small laser pointer and shone it at the light sensor. The wailing cut off abruptly. "It works! See?"
          "Ahh yes," Nemesis agreed happily. "Now what's left?"
          "Hand me tape," I ordered, throwing the roll at him. "I don't have enough hands."
          A few minutes of taping and calibration later ("WHO KNEW MIRRORS WERE THIS FINICKY??" I freaked out at one point), Nemesis and I flipped off all the basement lights and prepared to test our genius...and Dad wandered down. "What's this?" he asked, in the same tone reserved for little kids experiencing eggplant Parmesan for the first time. (Yuck.)
          "It's a laser obstacle course," I explained. "You have to get through without breaking any of the beams or else--"
          Dad walked straight through it. The alarm flipped out. WAAA WA WAAAA WAAAAAA!!!!
          "Right. That," I finished.
          "Hey, nice," Dad nodded. "Light sensor?"
          "Yeah, wanna try?" I offered.
          "Your loss." I started to make my way through the maze (with Nemesis humming "Mission Impossible" in the background), but forgot about a low-level laser beam and broke it with my foot. The alarm startled me so much that I sat down on the beam, which didn't help much with the overall noise level.
          "Couldn't break into the vault?" Nemesis inquired teasingly.
          "Shut up," I informed him. "Like you'll do any better."
          He didn't, ending up headbutting one of the higher beams. I hummed "Mission Impossible" for him, joined at this point by all the female members of the family who had wandered down to find out what the air-raid siren was about. Quill and Squirrel were eager to try, but I insisted that I have one more go at it first. This time, I made it through.
          Squirrel went next, duplicating my first attempt by sitting on a laser beam. Quill went second, did some sort of fancy dance as she lost her balance, and fell through most of the beams. Nemesis almost made it, but forgot about his left knee and dragged it through a beam. Anyone not currently attempting the course offered helpful (or not-so-helpful) advice about what to do or hummed "Indiana Jones" or "Mission Impossible" theme music. Mom even got into the act, taking her own turn through the course. She broke three beams, but we let her finish anyway; it was entirely possible that having four kids and a husband yell directions and hum theme music might be a little distracting and counter-productive. I demonstrated the "easy" way to get through--I locked a laser pointer on, aimed it at the light sensor, and just walked though the maze, to which Nemesis cried "Cheater!" and threw cardboard at my head.
          Eventually, everyone made it through the maze (except for Dad, who was adamant in his refusal to try--he preferred the spectator's position). Nemesis and I were ordered to remove the tape and mirrors from the walls without damaging the paint, under pain of death. We got to work with a will, discussing and laughing over attempts made. and joking about protecting our rooms with this technology. Then...
          "Hey Radar!"
          "We should do this again! Like, make it go across the whole basement this time, and around the pool table, and then try to play pool!"
          "Good gravy, Nemesis, why don't we just play Nerf Wars in the maze then?"
          "That's another great idea!!"
          "Well, I was kidding, but now that I think about it..."