Lonely Rolling Star (SWC)

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    Default Lonely Rolling Star (SWC)

    A glossary for non military science fiction readers: (spoilered for neatness)


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    LONELY ROLLING STAR
    a SWC entry

    Ninth Fleet was on a routine patrol run one and a half astronomical units outward from Asteroid 10 Hygiea when the forward sensor pickets first detected it.

    Data passed from sensors to readouts to technicians to officers, being collated and refined at each stage. The officer at the end of the chain, Lieutenant Brown, walked up to the admiral's cabin with the final report in his hand not five minutes after the first detection. The Syrtis Major Republic prized efficiency, after all, especially in its military. Brown took a second to adjust his clothing; having just come out of a zero-gravity zone, his uniform had gotten all wrinkled and crooked as it settled back on his body. The designers had been considerate enough to make his navy blue uniform out of synthetic silk for just this reason; changing gravity meant constant clothing adjustments, and smooth fabric was most comfortable for such things. He also shifted his cap and pulled its buckle tight against his short-cropped red hair to keep it on. That done, he knocked on the admiral's door.

    The admiral came out a moment later. Her gray hair was disheveled, her uniform wrinkled, and sleepiness and annoyance warred for dominance on her lined face. "It's my rest period. You woke me up, Brown... what is it?"

    Lieutenant Brown saluted. "Sorry for waking you, Admiral Goldfarb, but something's up. The forward sensors have detected an anomaly. Here's the report."

    She groaned. "I'm too tired to read anything, Lieutenant. Summarize it for me."

    "Yes, Admiral. Complex patterned electromagnetic signals and gravity waves are being detected from a point source ahead of us. These signals don't match with any fleet transmission protocols, Syrtis Major or foreign. If there's data encoded on the waves, we can't decipher it. The emission source... it's blueshifting, even after correction for our own velocity."

    The admiral frowned, wrinkles etching deeper into her face. "You're saying that some weird unidentified transmitter is heading straight for us. Possibly somebody else's ship. Or it might even be little green men, for all we know."

    "That's about it, ma'am."

    "You're sure we can't identify it?"

    "It's like nothing else we've ever seen, Admiral."

    She snatched the smartpaper from his hands. "Guess I'm reading this after all."

    Goldfarb tapped the smartpaper, alerting the electronic ink display that someone was about to use it. She read through the data, the electronic ink giving the illusion that the text was scrolling. After finishing the entire thing, she bit her lip. "Well, if that isn't something. I'm going to the bridge immediately. Return to your post and prepare for action."

    She returned the smartpaper, shut the door to her cabin behind her, and hurried down the hall. Lieutenant Brown went the other way.

    The corridor ended in front of him in an open hole. There was a dull roar of rushing air. Brown stepped through the hole and into an open space. Two thin rings flanked either side of the Aldrin's rotating section. Although they shared the same air, they didn't spin like the ring they sandwiched. This meant no more centrifugal force-simulated gravity once you stepped into one of them, providing a handy transition zone from the spinning to the zero-gravity part of the ship. The very concept of "floor" disappeared once he'd acclimated himself to freefall. He floated to the outermost bulkhead and got rid of the momentum he'd picked up from the rotating section by sliding against it. A few other officers floated past, the chromed rank insignia on their shoulders polished to a mirror sheen.

    Only the high-ranked officers and the bridge crew got to live in the gravity-enabled compartments of the Syrtis Major Vehicle (Heavy) Aldrin, and the rest of them only got to go there for their mandatory bone-strengthening exercises. Bone strength was important. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to survive when they went planetside for leave. The planetary-strength gravity would snap their brittle bones. Since they spent so much time floating around, these bones were brittle indeed. Brown himself floated through a hatch into the central corridor of the SMVH Aldrin. As he drifted to the wall of the long cylindrical space running through the long axis of the ship, the lights dimmed to red.

    "General quarters, general quarters," a voice announced over the intercom. The admiral was already making things happen. A klaxon sounded once and all the crewmen he could see suddenly sprang into action and rushed for their duty stations. Brown grabbed one of the wall-mounted handholds and did the same, swinging himself from handle to handle with the practiced ease of an experienced spacer.

    The main signals processing room was only two compartments down. The hatch was already closed by the time he came up to the familiar bulkhead, and Brown had to manually open it to pass. This took some straining and some swearing— it was difficult to pull handles in the absence of gravity. The hatch eventually opened, allowing him to reach his destination. He immediately went back to his duties, helping to detect and analyze the myriad incoming signals that any space fleet had to handle.

    At the other end of the ship, Admiral Goldfarb was running along one of the main corridors in the gravity-enabled sections of the ship, calling the rest of her command staff to follow her to the hatch marked "Battle Bridge." It opened, allowing her and the rest of the command staff to spill through.

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    "Visual," Admiral Goldfarb ordered as she entered.

    Lieutenant Hong, a pale young man wearing augmented-reality goggles, saluted. "Stand by, ma'am. We're correcting for blueshift and distortion."

    "Understood."

    Capital ships of the member nations of the System League were shaped like the giant metal cigars of science fiction. The main body of each vessel was long and cylindrical with missile banks at one end and thrusters at the other. A protruding ring encircled the ship where a cigar's label would be. This ring was made to rotate, providing the gravity-enabled compartments for the officers' use. The bridge of the SMVH Aldrin was located in the section of the main hull that passed through the center of ring. As such, it was a null-gravity zone like the rest of the main hull, forcing the admiral and the rest of the command staff to float at their duty stations. This also meant, though, that it was one of the safest areas in the entire ship; it was surrounded with armor and compartments in all directions, both along the hull and out along the gravity ring. The Aldrin being the fleet's flagship, the armor protecting this particular battle bridge was thicker than usual.

    There were no windows. Separating one's self from the black vacuum of space with nothing but a pane of glass was pretty, perhaps, but definitely suicidal. Instead, the bridge was a spherical chamber with smooth walls. There were some unobtrusive handholds and hatches, but the overall impression was that of simplicity. The command staff, six in number, rested against the walls with their command consoles mounted on the arms of their uniforms. Admiral Goldfarb normally only interacted with Lieutenant Hong and her executive officer, a middle-aged man with a crew cut and a moustache. The other three were there for things like damage control and docking procedures, and under normal circumstances they had little to do with her. The Syrtis Major Republic Space Navy liked its chains of command short. A large hologram hovered in the center of the sphere providing exterior views and tactical projections.

    "I'm bringing up the data now," Hong said eventually.

    The hologram flickered and showed a false-color visualization of the view ahead. A small red dot was visible with the label "Unidentified Object. Solar-Relative Velocity 8.21 km/s. Bearing TBD."

    "Vector adjustment from Lieutenant Brown in Signals Processing," Hong announced, reading the information off his goggles. "A definite course has been determined."

    "Show it to us," Goldfarb replied.

    The majority of the tactical hologram became filled with a large three-dimensional chart of nearby space. The SMVH Aldrin and the rest of Ninth Fleet showed up as blue rectangles. Green shapes representing the nearby asteroids were behind them, while a blinking red question mark lay in front of and above the fleet. Arrows overlaid themselves on the projection, showing where and how quickly each object was moving. Finally, lines appeared, showing predicted trajectories.

    The red question mark had a trajectory that intersected that of Ninth Fleet.

    "Is it a collision?" the admiral asked, not daring to draw any conclusion.

    Hong took a deep breath. "Yes, Admiral."

    "Run the time course in fast-forward."

    "Aye-aye, ma'am." Lieutenant Hong moved the tactical projection into high-speed time-lapse predictive mode. The fleet, asteroids, and unknown object moved on their respective trajectories. After a few seconds, the red question mark and the fleet overlapped. Assuming the object was the same size as one of their largest ships, the chances of a crash were over ninety percent. It was a collision course, all right.

    "ETA fifteen minutes," Hong said in some alarm, staring at a new report on his goggles.

    "XO, I want a course adjustment for all vessels in the fleet," Goldfarb ordered. "Give us a delta vee plus two celestial north immediately."

    "Aye-aye, ma'am," the executive officer said, activating the microphone pickup nestled in his mustache. "Relaying orders by Maserlink... all ships, increase velocity by two klicks northward on my mark. Three... two... one... mark."

    Maneuvering thrusters fired on the various ships of Ninth Fleet, imparting a two kilometer-per-second increase in velocity towards Polaris, the North Star. This, the admiral hoped, would prevent the collision.

    "Course change complete. Awaiting report from Signals Processing..." Hong said. "Here we are. The object has... it has also altered course. We have a vector update, Admiral."

    "On screen."

    The trajectories in the hologram shifted. The fleet's blue line moved upwards— and so did the question mark's red line.

    "Collision probable," Hong said quietly. "The likelihood's still above ninety percent. The strange thing is, we never even detected a stardrive signature. No rocket exhaust or solar sail or anything."

    The admiral clapped her hands decisively. "All right. Designate this object Spacecraft-like Anomaly One. I am declaring general quarters for all vessels in this fleet. Be sure to activate weapons and tactical sensors. We'll execute Maneuver U-Turn C."

    "Any particulars, ma'am?" the XO asked.

    "Like this." She slipped on a pair of gloves studded with reflective spheres, kicked off the wall to place herself closer to the center of the room, and stuck her hands into the hologram. Reaching out, she turned the fleet icons around and drew a trajectory straight back to the nearest fleet base. She also marked a shaded area between the fleet and the unidentified object for the fighter screen. A little tag reading "SA-1" went on the object as well.

    "Issuing orders," the XO confirmed. "All vessels, all vessels. General quarters. We are executing maneuver Uniform Tango Charlie. Stand by for severe course modification... all capital vessels, reverse direction and go to full thrust away from the target. Pickets and fighters, assume defensive formations to screen our rear and move to match velocity. Obtain and maintain a firing solution on object designated Sierra Alfa One."

    The lights in the battle bridge dimmed as klaxons blared once more.

    Hands flew to handholds all over the fleet as ship after ship flipped end over end. Hanging on was a prerequisite for making it through dramatic maneuvers without being bounced against the hull of the ship like a ball in a game of squash. The cautionary tales passed around the Syrtis Major Fleet Academy were many and gruesome.

    Meanwhile, the smallest vessels in Ninth Fleet peeled off from the rest of the formation and formed a protective cloud behind it. The fleet was now in a configuration that allowed it to flee an enemy while retaining reasonable defenses.

    "Spinal cannons to aft firing mode," the XO ordered. He deactivated his microphone pickup for a moment and turned to his superior. "How many would you like, Admiral?"

    "Let's say three."

    Central corridors on three ships filled with activity as spacers guided ammunition containers down its length. The railgun tracks that ran the length of the five Ninth Fleet capital ships could be loaded at either end, allowing the ship to fire either forward or backward. Tungsten-alloy slugs were now being brought to the nose of the ship in preparation for firing aft.

    "What can you tell me about relative velocity?" Goldfarb asked. "Are we pulling away?"

    "I think we've made it, ma'am," Hong told her. "SA-1 is showing a small but measurable redshift. We're gaining ground on it."

    "Good. Now we can prepare to approach it on our own terms. How long before we can get support from any other fleets?"

    "Fifth Fleet is keeping station at the Trojan asteroid group," Hong said. "Do you want to stop at the fleet starbase at Lagrange Point Four, Admiral? If we go to the maximum acceleration-deacceleration profile, we can make good time and match speeds with the base once we arrive."

    "Do that."

    The fleet braced itself for the one inevitability of military maneuvers in space: waiting. Space sensors were now good enough that their ranges extended to the point where relativistic effects started to become an issue. As a result, this meant that any military engagement consisted of spotting the enemy, going to battle stations, and waiting for several hours while both fleets maneuvered and feinted until they were close enough to fire weapons. Even lasers dissipated over sufficiently long distances, and the solar wind and other particles in the star system only made the accuracy problem worse. One practically had to close into megameter range to have a reasonable chance of scoring direct hits with either laser or missile weaponry. Although a true space battle had never happened before, the theory still held.

    The admiral and her staff now started to wait. Some of them took stimulant pills, the better to remain alert throughout the entire time. Spacers in other compartments were taking out boxed meals and decks of playing cards, but when one was Command, one was obliged to be focused at all times.

    "Time analysis," Lieutenant Hong said. "Upon our arrival at the base, SA-1 will be one hour seventeen minutes away, assuming it does not increase speed. Fifth Fleet will arrive at the fleet base at least thirty minutes after the target, depending on time spent in preparations and authorization."

    "Good enough," Admiral Goldfarb decided. "How long to the fleet base?"

    "Three hours forty-eight minutes, ma'am."

    She winced. "Rotate out the command staff in shifts. I'm going to get on the line with Fifth Fleet and coordinate a response."

    .-.
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    Ninth Fleet's knowledge of the unidentified object progressively improved as it slowed down for arrival at the fleet base. While SA-1 had previously been at the very outer limit of detection, the fact that the fleet was now slowing down to dock meant that it was gaining on them.

    Lieutenant Hong kept the admiral informed. "We've got a firm size and mass estimate."

    Admiral Goldfarb set aside her squeeze-bulb of coffee, taping it to her jumpsuit for future enjoyment. "What do we know?"

    "SA-1 presents a roughly circular profile of diameter just below one meter. It seems to have serrated edges, based on the way it intermittently blocks starlight. We also have a return from gravimetric scans; the object's mass is now known to be approximately 35 kilograms with an uncertainty of 0.7 kilograms. It's still maintaining that speed of 8.21 km/s."

    "Are you sure?" the admiral frowned. "It's that small? That description sounds more like space junk than anything else. The mass is quite low as well. Every spacer in this fleet weighs more than 35 kilograms..."

    "We know for sure that SA-1's the one doing the transmitting," the XO pointed out. "We also know that it can maneuver. It managed to keep after us even with our course changes."

    "Could be a space probe, then," the admiral said, "but there are no probes of this type registered for use by any System League members."

    "Another report from Signals Processing," Lieutenant Hong added. "The signal we've been detecting has been analyzed on one of the shipboard computer clusters. They've found definite signs of some kind of grammar. In other words, it might be a language. There's no progress on translating it yet, though."

    "Well, keep at it," the admiral said. "Farm it out to the computers of the rest of the fleet if you have to."

    "Aye-aye, ma'am."

    She turned to her executive officer. "XO, you and I are getting some rest. This is turning out to be one of those Interesting Situations, and I want both of us at maximum readiness and alertness when whatever happens, happens. The rest of the fleet crew should also keep switching out for rest."

    "Aye-aye, ma'am," the bridge crew chorused.

    "Wake me when we arrive. I think there's half an hour left."

    She leaned back against the wall, strapped herself down, and closed her eyes. With the ease born of experience, she drifted off into a light doze.

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    "Admiral?"

    Goldfarb slowly emerged from her doze. "What is it?"

    Lieutenant Hong saluted. "We're on final approach to Fleet Base Lima Four Alfa, ma'am."

    The hologram's tactical display now showed a large ring near the fleet. Fleet Base L4A was a ring-shaped structure set to spinning so that the entire base had gravity. Spokes ran inward from the ring to a central spindle where the docking ports were. Some of the smaller vessels of Ninth Fleet had already received docking clearance and were sidling in.

    "Put us last in the docking queue," the admiral said, unstrapping herself from the wall. She floated away from it for a second before snagging a handhold and waking the computer console mounted on the wrist of her uniform. "Has anything major happened so far with SA-1?"

    "Not really, admiral, which is why we've only just woken you up. Would you like to see the latest sensor data?"

    "Show me."

    The lieutenant did his magic with the hologram projection and an object appeared.

    "There we have it, ma'am," he said. "Our current best imagery for SA-1. Several rather broad rays equally arranged in a circle. They seem to be arranged in two pentagonal groups of five that can rotate freely about a central axis. Each ray seems to be faceted such that it has a central edge presented towards us, with two other edges further away. The albedo of the whole thing is quite low— it's not very reflective— so we've had to go to high-power interferometry to get enough reflected light for a decent image. We were able to figure out its color, though: it's dark purple. Now look at this, Admiral..."

    He zoomed in on the image of SA-1, giving her a close-up look of the tip of one of its rays. It was pitted and rough.

    "This object seems to have been in space for a while. We're seeing all sorts of chips and grooves that suggest intensive micrometeorite bombardment. However..."

    He placed two images side-by-side.

    "The image on the left was taken when we first started to get reliable interferometry returns about forty-five minutes ago. The one on the right is live."

    Admiral Goldfarb could see that there was slightly less damage in the image on the right. Some of the grooves looked shallower, and one hole had completely disappeared.

    "It's self-repairing," she breathed.

    "We suspect that it's either a cutting-edge nano-repair system or... or that it's a lifeform."

    "I can see why you're hesitant to say something like that," Goldfarb agreed. Aliens! It still wasn't likely, but she was gladder than ever that she'd pulled the fleet back to Lima Four Alfa and called in Fifth Fleet as well. If this was a first contact, they'd need to approach it from a position of strength. It was also providence that Lagrange Point Four was a sixth of the orbital circumference behind their planetside bases at Syrtis Major Planum on Mars. If a disaster happened at Lima Four Alfa Starbase and whatever was left stayed stationary relative to the sun, it would take more than five hundred fifty standard days for Mars to sweep through enough of its orbit to encounter it.

    "Say," the admiral said speculatively, "have we gone about getting a rear view of this thing? I wonder if it's more of the same."

    "Admiral, I took the initiative of having disposable probes dropped along our path when I woke up first," the XO told her. "They've arrived at their designated destinations but we're still waiting for the image processing to complete. The other side is pointed away from the sun, so it's really dark. We're having to collect a lot of data to see things like details and color."

    "I can give you a preliminary low-resolution image, Admiral," Lieutenant Hong said. "The folks in Signals Processing cooked it up when they heard we were waking you."

    Goldfarb smiled. "It's nice to have such a considerate crew."

    "You're welcome, Admiral." Lieutenant Hong cued up a new image. "Let's see..."

    "Oh, my," Admiral Goldfarb said.

    This image was monochrome, but there was enough detail to see it fairly clearly. The back was much like the front, but mounted in the center of the ten-pointed star was some kind of circular object.

    "Improving resolution."

    As new data from the probes streamed in, the blurry star started to come into focus and colors started to appear. First they saw a red circle in the center surrounded by a golden ring with what looked like eight spokes. As it resolved further and the computer-operated color-enhancement filters kicked in, they started to see textures and details. The ring glinted dully as if it were some kind of metal. As for the center...

    "It's beautiful!"

    They now had a clear look at the faceted gem lying at the center of this mysterious object's backside. Although it had looked red at lower resolutions, when they got a close look at it they could see that all sorts of colors were shifting and shining inside. With the image sensitivity turned up to maximum, it was nearly dazzling. Lieutenant Hong had to dial down the image fidelity.

    "I've got to say, though," the XO remarked, "how does a jewel move a spacecraft? That's the weirdest stardrive I've ever seen. We still haven't been able to detect any exhaust or heat generation, either."

    "No idea. The rest of us should see this, though. Repeat this image on all the tactical displays in the fleet," Admiral Goldfarb ordered. "Then put me through on the general address Maserlink channel."

    "Aye-aye, ma'am."

    An indicator on her wrist computer started to glow, telling her that she now had the ears of the entire fleet. Thin microwave beams shot out from emitters on the Aldrin towards receivers on nearby ships. The nearer ones repeated the broadcast to ships further away, completing the Maserlink system.

    "Patch me through to Lima Four Alfa as well," she ordered.

    "Done."

    "Now hear this, now hear this. This is Admiral Ruth Goldfarb on the SMVH Aldrin, flagship of Ninth Fleet. The images I am sending you are of an unidentified object on a vector to intercept us. This object, Spacecraft-Like Anomaly One, has already demonstrated the ability to maneuver in space, transmit an electromagnetic signal, and regenerate itself. In the worst-case scenario that SA-1 is an alien lifeform, I want all of us to be ready. We shall assume a defensive formation about Lima Four Alfa and await the response from this object. Fifth Fleet will be arriving soon, although I sincerely hope that this isn't the kind of situation where we'd be glad to see reinforcements. I'd like to remind all of you that we need to be extremely careful in the face of the unknown. We may feel after these few generations of exile from our homeworld that we are masters of space and all its possibilities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. So if I see any rash actions from any of you, you'll be facing a court-martial if you're not institutionalized for mental disease. Let's not let it come to that. Make Mars proud. I want all captains in Ninth Fleet as well as Lima Four Alfa in a teleconference immediately. Goldfarb out."

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    It came.

    Through the darkness of space it came, a patient questing mind. The starlight glinted dully off its quiet mass. Its rays might glow with power when it changed course, to say nothing of the brilliant jewel at its core, but for now it glided on without effort or thought and its body was dark. It came with its jewel pointed backwards, and thus shielded by the rest of its bulk, to avoid the effort of having to repair micrometeoroid damage.

    As befitted a creature with very few moving parts, its strengths lay more towards mind than matter. The creature's mental faculties were developed to the point where it could move things with a mere mental push. It was with such powers that it had placed itself on its present course. There was very little to push against in space, but with enough mental effort it could pull itself along without worrying about that.

    It did not think. There was nothing to think about. All was emptiness and cold and, yes, stark beauty, but there was no novelty in it. There was nothing it hadn't seen before. Its mind was as quiet as its body until such time as it reached its destination. Then, there would be thoughts aplenty. Perhaps even a conversation. It would like that.

    .-.
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    "Ma'am, we have an encrypted datastream for you from Deimos Command."

    Admiral Goldfarb blinked. That, while not entirely inconcievable, was certainly unexpected. If she was getting a message from one of the Martian moon bases, that meant the System League was getting involved. The international entity with a mandate over all the allied states of Mars, and thus all humans— what did it want with her fleet? It was certainly something to do with the strange star-object, now fifteen minutes out and decelerating to meet her, but she couldn't think of a definite reason.

    Well, encrypted meant for her eyes only. She entered the decryption password on her wrist computer, subjected herself to a retinal scan, and slipped on a pair of augmented-reality goggles like the ones that Hong was always wearing. A progress bar appeared before her eyes, filled, and was replaced by a formal-looking report. She frowned as she read it, her confusion quickly giving way to surprise.

    "INFORMATION FOR HIGHEST-LEVEL OFFICERS ONLY. IF YOU COME ACROSS THIS DATA IN DECRYPTED FORM, CONTACT THE SYSTEM LEAGUE FOR DEBRIEFING.

    {SPECIAL RELEASE This data is authorized for one-time release to Ninth Fleet/Fifth Fleet/L4A command personnel at the discretion of Admiral Rachel Goldfarb.}

    =OUR CURRENT STATE OF KNOWLEDGE CONCERNING THE HOMEWORLD AND OUR EXILE=

    Much information was lost in the evacuation of our planet of origin, some of it deliberately. What we have been able to discern from remaining scraps of data and telescopic observation of our homeworld is barely enough to fill one page. This report, accordingly, is one page long.

    =OUR HOMEWORLD=
    The name of this planet has been (deliberately) lost to history. An old nickname from the time of the evacuation, "Terror," is suspected to be a corruption of the planet's original name. We now refer to it generically as "homeworld" or "blue planet." All we know now are its orbital parameters and the general outline of its appearance: vegetation-covered land, oceans, and the weather systems known as clouds. The best achievable resolution is approximately two kilometers. Closer examination is prevented by the Lunar Gravitic Phenomenon (LGP) which uncontrollably silences and draws all spaceborne objects towards Luna, our homeworld's satellite. As the radius of the LGP field is significantly larger than the lunar orbital radius itself, this prevents any close-in observations of the homeworld. Much equipment and a few lives have been lost in attempts to breach the LGP, and it is because of these losses that homeworld space is now a restricted zone. It is postulated that there is a sentient or sapient entity in charge of the LGP, as attempts at very-large-array interferometric studies have also been consumed by the LGP even when outside its predicted zone of influence. We shall have to await advances in sensor technology that allow us to closely and unobtrusively observe the homeworld at safe ranges; this may take a while as there has been little progress in this field since the exile.

    =THE EXILE=
    Five hundred years after our exile from the homeworld, no information remains on the causes or means of having done so. We speculate that this was the single most important target for the historical censorship event. We also speculate from contextual clues, along with what little data has been gleaned from the present condition of the homeworld, that nonhuman sentient entities may have taken over the planet and Luna and forced the evacuation. Less likely possibilities include rogue artificial intelligences, a nanomachine plague, or other more esoteric ideas. A decrepit segment of nanotube cable at the Utopia Planitia Republic habitat is conjectured to have been part of a space elevator used in the evacuation. Little more is known; extensive and cautious observations of the homeworld will have to be made in order to assess the possibility of the return of these nonhuman sentients as a threat.

    ==END REPORT=="

    There was a small note added at the bottom: "Determine immediately whether the anomaly you are tracking is sentient."

    A cold feeling gathered in the bottom of Admiral Goldfarb's stomach and the lights suddenly seemed much brighter. She had to shake her head to clear it of her sudden dizziness. She uploaded the document to the hologram projector for the rest of the bridge crew to read and sent it out on the command channel to everyone else.

    Her bridge crew had much the same reaction as she had had once they'd connected the dots. She imagined that faces were paling, hearts pounding, and hands trembling across the entire fleet. She'd probably have to call another captains' conference in a minute.

    "Are— are we going to have to evacuate Mars, too?" Lieutenant Hong said eventually, his voice trembling.

    "Don't jump to conclusions," Goldfarb snapped. "We need to stay objective about this. We'll follow the order immediately. XO, what measures do we have in terms of determining whether something is intelligent?"

    "Well, there's the Turing Test, ma'am," the executive officer said speculatively, "but that's for testing artificial intelligences. I do seem to remember that pre-exile humanity included intelligence tests on their interstellar probe missions, though."

    "I've found something in the ship's archives," Hong said, his augmented-reality goggles flashing. "The Arecibo message. It's a pre-exile radio transmission that demonstrates that humanity is sentient and tells where the homeworld is."

    "Send that," Goldfarb decided. "What guarantee do we have that it will respond, though? It hasn't responded to any other radio transmissions that it happened to catch, and we definitely haven't been keeping radio silence."

    "Almost everything else was encrypted," Hong explained. "The Arecibo message is designed to be intuitively understandable, with no requirement that you understand any specific human language. This would also be the first message directed specifically at SA-1."

    "Because we never thought of the idea before..." the admiral said darkly.

    "Well, that's what Deimos Command is for, ma'am," Hong said brightly.

    .-.
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    It was roused by a pulsing on the edge of its awareness. A tight and coherent signal was being sent to it from its destination. A radio-wave transmission; radio meant that it had come to the right place.

    Now awakened, it turned its attention to this mystery. It would need to decipher it and determine what its intended meaning was—

    No decryption was needed. It had seen this before. It was... appropriate. It made some modifications and threw the transmission back at its source.

    .-.
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    "We're recieving a strong signal from SA-1!" Hong exclaimed.

    "What is it?"

    "Signals Processing says it's short and repeating. It's... in the same format as the Arecibo message."

    "Put it up."

    The Arecibo Message was a series of pulses that were supposed to be interpreted as a two-dimensional image. A pulse stood for a filled pixel, and no pulse stood for an empty pixel. There were various scientific constants and genetic information represented in the image along with drawings of a man, the double helix of DNA, the solar system, and the Arecibo radio telescope itself. Due to the nature of their civilization, Hong had modified the drawing of the solar system so that the fourth instead of the third planet was highlighted. The version sent back by the anomaly had replaced the human stick-figure with a ten-pointed star, increased the parameter denoting the amount of DNA in the genome, and modified the height and mass parameters to match its own body. The radio telescope had been replaced with an odd symbol: a circle with a line dividing it into two halves, one shaded and the other not. A smaller circle lay on the middle of the line. More interestingly, a pixelated "Hi!" had been shoehorned into some of the scant empty space.

    "It's sentient. It's... also got a sense of humor," Goldfarb decided.

    "It's even claiming to come from Earth," the XO said. "Look at the solar system model. It fixed it; the dot for Earth is raised above the others, just like it was in the original."

    "Hm..." Goldfarb said. "And it knows a word of English. Let's try something. How about Morse code? Transmit the following: 'Greetings. Are you friendly?'"

    "Sent," Hong said.

    A moment later, "Reply received."

    "What's it say?"

    Hong frowned. "It's not in Morse code, but it looks really similar. Wait... Signals Processing thinks the first few bits of that message flag it as an obsolete pre-exile signaling system. It seems to match with one of the foreign-language Morse variants we've got in the ship's archives. They've identified it as the 'Wabun' Morse-type system for the Japanese language."

    "Japanese..." the XO groaned.

    Japanese was a dead language among spaceborne humanity to the point where no computers were programmed to display or translate it any more. From what historians could tell, practically none of the people who had spoken the language were among those who made it off-planet. Some even speculated that the country of Japan was somehow involved in whatever event had forced the exile.

    "What use is it if it's in Japanese?" Goldfarb asked.

    "We might as well forward it to Deimos Command, Admiral," the XO shrugged. "If anyone keeps a dead language like that around, it'll be someone in the System League."

    "I'm just surprised that this object knows any human language at all," Goldfarb remarked.

    The star arrived at the edge of the fleet and slowed itself to a stop, still transmitting in Wabun. There had quite a lot of tension as the star drew nearer, with railguns and missile ports trained on the mysterious entity. When nothing had happened after a few minutes, though, the fleet stood down.

    They were waiting both for Deimos Command to translate and for Fifth Fleet to arrive. Until then, they amused themselves by watching SA-1 fly around outside. It seemed to be content to circle the fleet in slow loops, occasionally doing fancy maneuvers and barrel rolls. The jewel in its center, now pointed forwards, had lit up and was flashing all kinds of colors in time with its continued attempts at Wabun Morse code. Admiral Goldfarb had been interested by the way light danced off its many rays as it decelerated. If it was using this acrobatic display to dispel tension, she thought, it was definitely succeeding. If it wasn't going to do anything crazy, neither would they.

    "Translation received from Deimos Command: 'I am sorry, but I do not understand English.' The System League is now preparing for an evacuation of planetside colonies," Hong said.

    "We're bracing ourselves for the apocalypse... because of a language barrier," Goldfarb said resignedly.

    "It would have to be because of something like that, wouldn't it?" the XO agreed.

    "Admiral! I've got a message from Psionics Detachment," Hong announced. "They say that they're picking up some strong emissions."

    "Psionics? It had better be important." The human ability to practice psychokinesis had only been discovered in the past few years, and the integration of psionics specialists into space patrol fleets still wasn't quite complete. Some researchers suspected that the discovery of psionics was more of a rediscovery; genes conferring psionic ability, the hypothesis went, had been rare in the population that had escaped the homeworld. Only after centuries of survival and slow expansion had they reemerged.

    "They're not wasting your time, Admiral. They're saying... SA-1 is psionically active. They think it's trying to open communications to them."

    Goldfarb silently wished for aspirin. "Put me through to them immediately."

    A Psionic wearing the insignia of a petty officer floated through the battle bridge hatch a few minutes later with a small support staff following her. She turned heads. Psionics always did. Since they were semi-independent of the space navies of the various states of Mars, psionics had their own dress and cosmetic traditions. This meant that, compared to the bridge crew, the Psionic before them looked like some kind of elf. She wore her black hair in a long tight braid instead of the short crop favored by most spacers, and wore clothing rather more looser and more decorative than the SMR Space Navy standard uniform. Constant deployment and training in low gravity since childhood had left her tall and thin, and the compact psychic-emanation antennae clipped over her ears only intensified her elfin appearance.

    "Be careful not to snag yourself on anything," the XO told her, but he had a smile on his face. Female Psionics had invariably been the most popular members of a space fleet since their introduction a few years ago. Psionics in general were quite popular This only somewhat made up for their unpleasant duties: secure communications and station-keeping. A Fleet Psionic could expect to find him- or herself obligated to send the mind questing across immense distances, whether to seek out fellow minds to deliver secure messages or to use them as beacons to determine present position and velocity. On top of all this, it was not unheard of for psionics to have to use their telekinetic powers for random favors. It was undeniably hard work, so nobody begrudged them a few privileges.

    "I'm ready to accept the contact attempt, Admiral," the Psionic said, saluting. A nametag stitched into her clothing identified her as Petty Officer (Psionic) Rosa.

    "Go ahead, Rosa. Establish contact," the admiral ordered.

    Elsewhere in the cramped bridge, the medical and security staff who had come along tensed up. They had to be prepared against the possibilities of both medical harm to Rosa and her being subverted by the alien to attack the command staff.

    Nothing of the sort happened. Rosa closed her eyes and simply floated there limply for a moment. The medical sensors a corpsman had quietly stuck on her reported nothing wrong with her heartrate or breathing. The brainwave readings were going haywire, but that always happened during psionic activity.

    Then she opened her eyes. They were glowing purple. The others recoiled

    "I hear a voice in my head," Rosa said faintly. "That is all. The voice says: there is no translation required in a meeting of minds. The entity says that it is happy that it can now communicate almost directly."

    Goldfarb decided to ask the most important question first. "Ask it what its intentions are towards humans."

    "We could just talk directly, too, you know," the psionic replied, her voice taking on a different tone.

    Goldfarb gave her a sharp look. "Rosa, are you still in there? Are you all right?"

    "Yes," Rosa said in her original voice. "We decided to share control over my voice for the sake of convenience. I have to say that I'm learning a lot about psionics from this, Admiral! There's nothing like learning by doing."

    "If you're all right," Goldfarb said, "then I guess I can't object. Um, unknown entity. ...who are you?"

    They'd already botched any chance at having some sort of pompous and formal first-contact speech, so Goldfarb decided to be practical.

    "My name is Starmie," Rosa said in the different voice she'd just used. "Greetings, Martians. Take me to your leader."

    "Well," the XO muttered, "there's that sense of humor again."

    "I've been around since before your ancestors left Earth," Rosa|Starmie said, having heard the XO, "so I know some of your old jokes."

    "'Earth,' huh?" the XO muttered. So that was what its name was.

    "You were there for the exile?" Goldfarb asked with a sinking feeling. "Were you... were you responsible?"

    "Oh, no," Rosa|Starmie protested, "I would never have done anything like that. I was once a productive member of human civilization myself! If I'd come along with the evacuation fleet, I would be on Mars right now! I'm sure I'd have made myself useful somehow. I'd probably be purifying water or something; I'm good with water. I might have been able to help with terraforming, too."

    Hong blinked. Everyone knew that terraforming was impossibly difficult with their present resources, which was why everyone planetside still lived in domed cities with one nation per dome.

    "A productive member?" Goldfarb asked. "What was your role?"

    "Professional athlete," Rosa|Starmie said, surprising her. "It's a long story, but it was a culturally-acceptable thing for Pokemon to do. I had a League Gym position, in fact..."

    "Pokemon," the admiral mused. "What's that mean? And what is a League Gym?"

    "I think there's a lot of things I'll have to explain," Rosa|Starmie sighed.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    Goldfarb learned a lot in the next hour or so. So did the rest of Ninth Fleet, Fifth Fleet, and the starbase— security regulations or no, the origins of mankind were a mystery that had eaten at everyone's minds for centuries. Goldfarb wasn't about to deny any revelations to her loyal spacers. When asked to come up with another way to rationalize the decision, her XO remarked that if it turned out that some sort of military action was required, it would be best if as many people in the fleet as possible understood what was going on. Executive officers were so useful.

    Rosa|Starmie spoke at length of the old world, the planet called "Earth" and "Terra." Goldfarb now knew where the "Terror" name had come from. Humanity, Rosa|Starmie told them, had not been the only sentient race to arise on Earth. There were hundreds more, all of the type called "Pokemon." Starmie was one such Pokemon who had taken part in one of the great pastimes of the old civilization: the Pokemon League competitive martial-arts organization. Goldfarb learned about the seventeen Elemental Types, Poke Balls and Pokemon Rangers, and of the adventures that many children enjoyed out in the wilderness with their faithful companions. At the admiral's request, Rosa|Starmie also spent several minutes describing what oceans were like. There was real emotion behind her description of rolling waves and the sunlight on the water; as she'd once been an aquatic Pokemon, the ocean was an old friend. She and her Trainer had spent many happy hours there.

    After Goldfarb asked why Starmie described itself as a professional athlete, it also launched into a lively explanation of what the Pokemon League had once been like. It went on to entrance them with stories about how it had once been one of its Trainer's most powerful Pokemon. Its Trainer had been in charge of a Gym that governed Pokemon-training throughout an entire city. Since ambitious young Trainers were always coming forward to challenge her, Starmie's Trainer depended on it to win a lot of fights for her. The old Water-Type Pokemon talked about how its old standby was its Water Gun attack, and about how difficult it was to fight Trainers who specialized in Grass- or Electric-Type Pokemon. There was a lot of strategy involved as well, it said. Since only four types of action could be used in any given battle, Starmie and its Trainer had to confer about which set of moves would work best. Powerful attacks like Giga Impact, Thunder, or Surf were to be used only on the highest-ranked opponents. All this talk about battling, Starmie concluded, made it quite nostalgic.

    "It sounds like the old world was a wonderful place," Goldfarb said eventually. Some of the crew had tears in their eyes, especially after Starmie's nearly poetic description of the open sea.

    "It seems even more wonderful to me, now that it's passed on," Rosa|Starmie sighed. "I still miss Misty. Now comes the unpleasant part, though. I must tell you how our world ended."

    The spectators instinctively secured themselves tighter against the battle bridge walls. If they became overwrought in zero gravity, it was best to prevent themselves from being able to move.

    "In the decades before the evacuation," Rosa|Starmie said, "humanity discovered how to create artificial life in the laboratory. Two families of Pokemon had come into existence thanks to the effects of human civilization; life arose by itself from toxic sludge and Poke Ball manufacturing plants. Taking inspiration from this, scientists went on to create three more families: the Porygon series, a family of computerized Pokemon; Castform, a meteorological Pokemon; and... and Mewtwo."

    She paused a few seconds. "Mewtwo was the product of a rogue cloning operation bankrolled by the Team Rocket gangster organization in Japan. The project was an attempt to recreate and improve the species of Pokemon believed to have been the very first to exist. Mewtwo's original purpose was that of a super-soldier, a job at which it was lethally effective. My Trainer encountered it once. She told me later that it had been one of the most terrifying experiences in her entire life. This particular Mewtwo eventually went its own way in life, not wanting to bother anyone. It was never heard from again; the world had more or less been saved."

    Goldfarb could see in the hologram that Starmie was spinning back and forth, apparently steeling itself for whatever it was going to say next. "However, it is much less difficult to conduct an experiment a second or third time than it is to be the first one to conduct it. More Mewtwo were created, some by the original creators and others by other organizations, both legal and illegal. Unsurprisingly, this led to Mewtwo-on-Mewtwo battle. Unfortunately, the cloning process resulted in individuals who were neurotic at best, so it didn't take long for the cloners to lose control of their creations. The worst out of this group was a Mewtwo version 2.3, produced by Team Rocket. Ironically named 'Catherine' by one of the scientists after his ex-wife, it destroyed the rest of its 2.3 production run and went on to assault anyone it could find. Version 2.3 was designed with massively increased psychic strength, aggressiveness, and sensitivity, making Catherine almost impossible to even slow down in a fight. Japan, as the home of Team Rocket, was completely destroyed. In the end, the remaining governments of Earth declared the planet a total loss and sent up an evacuation mission through the single operational space elevator at the Hawaiian islands. There was a large hollowed asteroid that was originally going to be used for a space station; it was hastily converted into a colony ship and sent to Mars. As you might be able to tell, no Pokemon were brought along."

    "Our ancestors just left you behind?" Goldfarb asked. "Even when you were also intelligent? That's not very civilized."

    Rosa|Starmie hung her head. "It wasn't your fault. Mewtwo had developed the ability to mind-control any nearby Pokemon, and it was feared that Catherine would pursue the evacuation fleet into orbit, making any Pokemon brought along a major security risk. If a Charizard were brought on board and then subverted, everyone on his or her ship would die a fiery death. The final remnants of the Pokemon League decided instead to stay behind and launch a final suicide attack. If Catherine could be somehow slowed down, the fleet could get to top speed and escape. I was on that attack force; some of the final surviving Pokemon Trainers packed me in the nose cone of an old nuclear missile and managed to put me into Low Earth Orbit before a mind-controlled Gyarados annihilated the launch facility. The intent was for us Pokemon who could survive in vacuum to pilot the missiles into Catherine and detonate them. I was one of the last to reach orbit, so I missed most of the battle. Still, the majority of them, using booster rockets and psychic brute force, managed to intercept Catherine when she and the fleet were halfway to lunar orbit. Even though she managed to subvert several of them, the fleet was too far ahead to be nuked and the first detonation was enough to destroy all the missiles. I had managed to get far enough forward to catch the very tail end of the explosion myself, wrecking my rocket and causing me massive injuries. I was too badly damaged to move myself into an Earth-bound trajectory, which meant that I was trapped in space. I finally managed to reduce my outbound velocity to zero around the time I reached the outer limits of the asteroid belt, at which point I went quiet and hid. I heard faint transmissions over the years from which I concluded that you had colonized Mars and were well on the way to survival. It took me centuries to regain my strength— it's really difficult to regain biomass by scavenging asteroids— but once I was whole again last year, I came out to look for you."

    "I hope this isn't an offensive question—" Hong began.

    "—but how did I manage to remain sane even after being stuck by myself in outer space for so long?" Rosa|Starmie broke in.

    "Ah, yes, exactly," Hong admitted.

    "To put it bluntly, I'm not human," Rosa|Starmie said. "I can slow down my mind so it's not quite so bad."

    "Tell me please, though," Goldfarb said, "why you have come to us."

    Rosa|Starmie suddenly looked far more serious. "I think we can agree that life still exists on Earth. There are definitely plants, and I think I've picked up psychic emanations that could only come from Pokemon. I have also sensed that Catherine is now living on the moon, for whatever reason. If not for Catherine, then I... I could then go home. I could see the sea again."

    "And so could we," Goldfarb said. "So that's what it is."

    "Incidentally... you're a military fleet," Rosa|Starmie remarked, "but you've also said that all Martian governments are allied through the System League, so you're supposed to have no enemies. Why do you have so many fleets, then? You're the ninth fleet from your nation, and I'm guessing there are many nations."

    "Well," Admiral Goldfarb said, "we're only theoretically military, I'd say. We have ranks and uniforms, yes, but we already have plenty to do without even thinking once about war. Nobody can afford war the way things are. We only scrounge up enough water, oxygen, and energy to survive. Funding a war effort would be impossible, and actually killing people would have severe repercussions on our gene pool. Instead, each fleet is a multipurpose unit: fighters also serve as probes and shuttles, capital ships carry cargo, and pickets are used for almost any purpose. As for what we do: we go out on patrol to provide law enforcement, transport, and shipping both in Martian orbit and in the asteroid belt mines. Our nuclear missiles and railguns are often used to crack open asteroids to make the mining easier. When we have the time, we also conduct astronomical surveys and conduct experiments for scientists back on Mars. In fact, we used their telescopic techniques to detect and image you. And, of course, we drop everything when the call goes out for a rescue mission. That's when we really shine. The military part is just to make sure we maintain discipline as a unit. Put together, the weapons carried by an entire fleet are probably only as powerful as those of one purpose-built military capital ship— and nobody has any of those."

    "You're nuclear-armed pacifists?" Rosa|Starmie asked dubiously.

    "When you're mining asteroids, explosions are sometimes necessary no matter your political beliefs," Goldfarb told her.

    She and the Pokemon watched as Fifth Fleet floated in towards the space station.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    It was quiet, out here in the darkness. Wonderfully quiet. There was no air to carry sound, but there were also no minds nearby to pollute the surroundings with thoughts, and that was what really mattered.

    It was only her and her sisters on this rock set in perfect, golden silence. Her sisters were kind enough to keep quiet for her. She loved her sisters. They floated next to her as she sat on a rock, gazing at the stars.

    Above her loomed a sphere of blue and green. There was no end of noise there. She knew that going any closer would inundate her in the agony of the blare of millions or billions of minds. It had once been much louder, but even now it felt like a pounding inside her ears. Perhaps her senses were too keen.

    That sphere would have to be destroyed, of course. It might take some time, but she would prevail. She threw giant rocks at it from time to time, whenever she and her sisters could seize the opportunity. The damage was never serious or permanent. Oh, how she hated that sphere of blue and green, and all those on it.

    Below her... other noise. Things of metal and polymer would come every so often spilling a cacophony of radio and thought. Those were easier to destroy. She particularly enjoyed bringing them up to the rock and smashing them into the surface. Whenever she wasn't able to silence them completely before bringing them in, the impact would take care of the rest of it.

    What she heard in the noise, though, could dredge up some unpleasant memories. Parts of it sounded just like what she could remember hearing when she was younger. Her childhood... there were memories of floating in fluid inside a glass tank. Minds and bodies outside, constantly flooding the space around them with noise whether they cared or not. She could remember feeling both her own loneliness and the mild scorn of others. She had had a name, given to her by someone who despised it. She had also had a designation. She might be able to remember it. What was it-? It had a number in it— a version number— meaning that she was only a derivative of something else...

    She was a duplicate. Her mind was a construct. Her life was a shadow cast by—

    No.

    No!

    Dust and small rocks were kicked up as she screamed. Her sisters fell to the ground and bounced. A nearby boulder exploded as she lashed out in her agony.

    Agony, though... agony was only a thought. Thoughts were her dominion.

    She cleared her mind. Her sisters lay there on the ground for a while before floating back up.

    It was quiet, out here in the darkness. Wonderfully quiet.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    "Is it possible to negotiate with Catherine?"

    "I don't think it's sane at all anymore, Admiral," Rosa|Starmie told her. "You wouldn't be able to say word one before it pulled you off course and destroyed you."

    "Orders have arrived from Deimos Command," Hong said. "Due to the lightspeed communications delay, Ninth Fleet is released to do whatever its commander officer sees fit. Other fleets from Syrtis Major and the other nations are being moved into remote positions to provide support. Fifth Fleet will be the first and closest backup. The evacuation of Mars has been placed on standby."

    "Are you recommending an assault on Catherine?" Goldfarb asked the Starmie.

    "I... yes, I would like that very much. Saying to your faces that I wanted to pit you against her seemed kind of rude, though..."

    "Rude? Seems practical to me. We could've saved a lot of time if you'd been more direct."

    "Well," Rosa|Starmie said lightly, "I do happen to be Japanese. We tend to do things indirectly for the sake of courtesy. Please give me some leeway when it comes to social norms."

    "Cultural sensitivity," Goldfarb chuckled. "Human standards for non-humans... well, anyway, do you think that Ninth Fleet would be able to defeat Catherine?"

    "You've mentioned your spinal cannons," Rosa|Starmie said, "and I have to say that I don't think Catherine would be able to stand against them. So long as we can cancel out the psychic part of the battlefield long enough, you'll be able to destroy Catherine's body through sheer brute force."

    "I see," Goldfarb said. "The two most important parts of our plan will then be capital weapons and psionics. XO, put me on the general Maserlink channel again."

    "Aye, ma'am."

    "Now hear this, now hear this. Ninth Fleet is undertaking a combat operation in conjunction with the Starmie entity. I request that the psionic detachments of Fifth Fleet and Fleet Base L4A transfer to capital ships on Ninth Fleet. Our pickets and fighters will remain with Fifth Fleet; we're taking capital ships only. There will be five total. Goldfarb out."

    It was the work of only a few minutes to shuttle the necessary people from ship to ship. Psionics were already used to being moved at a moment's notice. Once all the non-participating vessels were out of the way, Goldfarb picked up the communicator again.

    "Commence operation. Ninth Fleet combat group: all engines to full thrust!"

    Other ships scattered as the titanic ion thrusters at the end of each capital ship flared into life. Jets of high-velocity particles streamed out, pushing the capital ships forward. Starmie laid itself flat against the Aldrin's prow, its jewel pointing proudly forward.

    "Tell us again about the sea," Goldfarb said as they settled in for the long journey to the moon.

    Rosa|Starmie obliged, calming and soothing the spacers as they flew towards the battlefield.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    One by one, the cigar-shaped capital vessels of Ninth Fleet flipped end over end and resumed their journey, ion thrusters now jetting out in the opposite direction. It was a necessity of spaceflight; you could get to extremely high speeds if you accelerated long enough, true, but you still had to come to a stop next to your destination in the end. Long-distance spaceflight with a defined destination was therefore half acceleration and half deceleration, and it would remain so unless someone invented an inertialess or hyperspace jump drive. The laws of physics said that wasn't likely.

    The XO looked up from his console. "Orientation change complete. We are expected to slow to a stop once we reach the moon. SMVH von Braun has taken the vanguard position. ETA to moon is three hours."

    "Carry on," Goldfarb said. "Keep me updated."

    Rosa|Starmie was instructing the psionics on how to handle the assault. "Catherine will likely engage the fleet at long range with its psychic powers. How will you respond?"

    "We will feel a pushing sensation," the psionics chorused over the intercom. "We will cooperate to push back."

    "Right," the woman channeling the Pokemon said. "Remember that you're taking a defensive role. You can't possibly stand against Catherine in a direct engagement, so you're defending the fleet instead while I distract Catherine with my own attacks. Am I going to beat Catherine?"

    "No."

    "So how are we going to defeat Catherine?"

    "A railgun barrage," the psionics said.

    "Yes. Unlike at the time of the exile, you now have spaceborne capital-ship weapons. An ultra-high-velocity tungsten round to the face will hurt Catherine far more than a nuclear barrage. Only at most half of the energy in a nuclear explosion can be directed at it, and that only at point-blank range. Precise attacks are far more efficien—"

    Rosa|Starmie froze. "I'm feeling a lot of energy from the direction of the moon. Catherine's coming this way!"

    She jerked, and then Rosa was in control again, reverting to her regular voice. The glow faded from her eyes as well. "It's gone," she said weakly. "I can still feel Catherine. It's like something's pressing down on my chest."

    "Can you communicate with it?" Goldfarb asked. "We have to try, at least."

    Rosa closed her eyes and concentrated, but shook her head. "It's not listening. If I keep talking to it, it's probably going to attack me."

    "Starmie has left the Aldrin," the XO reported, calling up a camera image of the star-shaped Pokemon drifting out ahead of the fleet.

    "DEFCON One," the admiral announced. The ancient threat-determination system had been retrieved from the history archives and dusted off for fleet use, although the information of who had originally used it had been erased.

    "DEFCON One," the XO echoed. "General quarters. Vacuum suits on. All vessels, cease thrust and shunt all power to target-acquisition and weapons systems. Prepare railguns for firing in aft configuration. Damage control crews, report to your posts. Tactical awareness net to maximum bandwidth."

    As spacers scurried through corridors and pulled on their spacesuits, maser-emission nodes activated on each ship, connecting the entire fleet with tight streams of invisible microwave radiation. Orders, sensor reports, and enemy movement estimates were exchanged at the speed of light. Laser- and radio-based backup systems warmed up as well; any academy-trained officer knew that proper communications were a prerequisite for surviving combat.

    "Tactical projectors coming online," the XO said. The spherical wall of the battle bridge suddenly melted away as hidden projectors came online, turning the walls of the entire bridge into a giant screen. Admiral Goldfarb and the others could now see the stars and the rest of the fleet around them as if the walls were transparent. After a few computer cycles, data tags and vector markings appeared on the walls as well, giving live updates of fleet status and velocity.

    "The enemy's gate is down," Goldfarb intoned.

    "The enemy's gate is down," the others chorused. None of the Martian humans had any practical experience in space combat, since nobody could afford a war. A lot of their theoretical knowledge, however, came from the surviving science fiction of old Earth. One such book, featuring children simulating battles in zero gravity, had introduced the concept of imagining that the enemy was always below you. This was supposed to maximize maneuverability and readiness. The Syrtis Major Space Navy had always taken this advice to heart in their training regimens.

    The bridge crew repositioned themselves accordingly. Some of them pointed themselves feet-first toward the distant moon while others assumed a more skydiver-like orientation. The same thing occurred on bridges across the entire fleet. As the ships were still pointed rear-end-first at the moon, the officers were facing towards the aft thrusters.

    "Primary wall formation," the admiral ordered crisply. "I want all weapons on target."

    The ships maneuvered until they were in a wall-shaped formation, each ship occupying one point in a grid facing the moon. Once Catherine was in sight and in range, it would be in the crosshairs of every vessel.

    "SMVH Zarya, weapons systems ready."

    "SMVH Morrigan, weapons systems ready."

    The ships each reported in, announcing that they were ready for combat.

    "SMVH Utopia Planitia here. Something's up with our steering thrusters. We're—" The signal degraded into static.

    Admiral Goldfarb watched in horror as the Utopia Planitia started to go off course. It looked like it was going to collide with the von Braun.

    "Evasive maneuvers," von Braun's commander ordered in some confusion, and moved his ship out of the way.

    "I see! Catherine is attacking!" Rosa gasped. "All psionics, defend the ships!"

    The stricken ship managed to right itself after a few nerve-wracking minutes.

    The captain came back on the line, sounding oddly sleepy. "This is Planitia again. That was Catherine, wasn't it? Our psionics managed to fight it off."

    "Good work, Planitia," the admiral replied. "You reminded us that we have to be careful."

    Starmie abruptly rolled about its central gem and fired a beam of red energy, apparently in retaliation. It disappeared into the distance ahead of them.

    "Gravitational field detected... I think," Hong announced. "Catherine is distorting its gravitic and visual appearance. Multiple contacts inbound." Red markers appeared at the bottom of the battle bridge along with a distance estimate.

    "Multiple?" the admiral asked, paling. "Is there more than one Mewtwo?"

    "Resolving," Hong said. "I think we're about to get a clear image. Interferometric processing underway." A fuzzy image appeared in the central hologram and started to sharpen.

    There was Catherine. A slender white creature, it looked almost human. There were some differences, though: its three-fingered hands, the pair of nubs on its head, its extra neck, its kangaroo-like legs, and a greenish tail. Starmie had described it to them, but seeing it for the first time was definitely a scary experience.

    It had brought along a miniature asteroid field of moon rocks, presumably to use as high-speed projectiles. In space, stoning could be quite effective if the stones were thrown hard enough.

    Next to the rocks hovered three blocky-looking creatures. They seemed to be made entirely out of blue and pink facets in the rough shape of some kind of dumpy aquatic bird. Two small eyes were above the "beak." They glowed with purple fire.

    More shots of red energy emerged from Starmie's central gem, lancing out into space. Most of them missed, but one glanced off Catherine's tail, causing her to tumble.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    It was furious.

    It had always assumed that it had been the sole survivor of the suicide strike, but now it knew that to be false. Others had also been caught in the edge of the detonation and had suffered a similar fate to her.

    There they were: three Porygon floating in formation with Catherine, showing definite signs of mind-control.

    This was an absolute atrocity. If Catherine had captured them straight off and operated their bodies for the full five hundred years, their own minds were essentially dead. These were only puppets in the image of its old comrades, mocking it with its inability to save them.

    Catherine would pay for this.

    It readied another Hyper Beam. Even if most of them would bounce off, it would still make it feel better.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    Starmie passed another message to Rosa. There was now some unexplained strain in its voice. "Hyper Beam bombardment isn't having much of an effect. There's not much else I can do right now, though; most of my abilities revolve around the generation of water, and you can't have liquid water in space. It would either boil away instantly or freeze solid on me."

    "Tell it to get the moon rocks instead," Admiral Goldfarb said. "We don't want Catherine lobbing them at us."

    "Yes, ma'am, that's a good idea," Rosa agreed. "Oh— too late!"

    Catherine had used psychic energy to accelerate the rocks to a speeds that the Ninth Fleet railguns wouldn't consider shabby.

    "Incoming!" the XO snapped. "All ships, prepare for evasive maneuvers!"

    "Starmie says it's taking care of it," Rosa said a moment later.

    Starmie went back to firing beams of energy. This time, they were silver instead of red. Rosa said something about them being called "Flash Cannon."

    The rocks crumbled into dust before they could reach the fleet. Starmie spun rapidly to deflect any fragments that might fly near it. The five ships' armor, built to protect against much worse micrometeoroid bombardments, protected them from any damage as well.

    "Firing solution!" the XO announced as a tone sounded. "We have a target lock."

    "All ships, target Catherine and open fire with main batteries," Admiral Goldfarb said with steely calm. "One shot each to see what happens. Prevent it from retaliating against Starmie."

    Lights danced on the walls of the battle bridge as the projected images showed the ships around them opening fire. Lines of radiance shot out into space, the tungsten rounds glowing with heat as they got tantalizingly close to lightspeed. The five shots, one for each ship, converged on Catherine.

    Nothing happened. The hologram of Catherine was still visible, completely unfazed while the railgun rounds disappeared into the distance behind her.

    "Report," Goldfarb said, still maintaining her calm.

    "We've got data. Four out of five shots were on-target," Hong said. "However, they were visibly deflected before hitting Catherine. It looks like it used psionics to neutralize them."

    It would not have been unreasonable for Admiral Goldfarb to curse like a sailor. However, she had mellowed in her old age and permitted her XO to do it for her.

    "Catherine will arrive at our location in five minutes!" Hong said. "It is already maneuvering to match velocity."

    "We have to catch it at long range! Go to continuous fire!"

    The mighty railguns of Ninth Fleet ramped up to their maximum firing rate. Streaks of light flew at the Mewtwo and bounced away one after the other.

    "It's not working," the XO sighed. "If it comes close enough to get into our fleet formation, we're doomed."

    "The other Pokemon are approaching," Hong cried. "They're engaging us!"

    The blocky Pokemon, once they had come close enough, started hurling bolts of lightning and beams of purple psychic energy at the capital vessels.

    Point defenses fired back. Small machine guns and laser turrets swung out of the ships' hulls and spat fire at the marauding Porygon.

    "The damage actually isn't too bad," the XO said in some disbelief. "They can't even get a hull breach. They're obviously not as powerful as Catherine. We're not causing any damage to them, either, though."

    Goldfarb let out a breath.

    Hong paled. "Catherine has broken through the psionic defenses of the Morrigan! I think it used the other Pokemon as a distraction!"

    This time, Catherine had improved on its previous attempt. Not only did the Morrigan fall out of formation, it looked as if it was moving to point its railgun at the Aldrin.

    "Not on my watch," Goldfarb growled. "That monster is close enough. XO, teach Catherine the Kzinti Lesson."

    "Kzinti, ma'am?" he asked, startled.

    "You heard me."

    "All vessels, all vessels. Engines to full thrust. Activate the emergency reactor-exhaust thruster systems. Do it now!"

    The Kzinti Lesson was another holdover from ancient science fiction. One author had realized that any sort of propulsion method could make an equally-effective close-combat weapon and had written a story where this was used to fight aliens called the Kzinti. For instance, there was not much of a difference between rocket exhaust and the mother of all blowtorches, or between an ion thruster exhaust stream and a particle beam. When both ion thrusters and ignited fuel from the onboard fusion reactors were pointed at a target, it tended not to survive long.

    The ships maneuvered so that their thruster ports were pointed straight at Catherine.

    "Fire when ready," Goldfarb said.

    Catherine found itself bathing in heat, radiation, and ions traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

    At the same time, now that their thrusters were online, all the ships except the Morrigan were starting to move away from it.

    The psychic hold over the Morrigan was broken as Catherine screamed in pain. Nobody heard it; sound didn't carry in space.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    All was madness and fury, out here in the darkness.

    Her skin still crackled from the inferno that had spewed from the back of the ships, the cacophonous ships, but she was quickly recovering. With her powers, it was simplicity itself to close small wounds and reform burnt tissue. Mind over matter.

    She needed to deal with these annoying spacecraft, but she was kept busy with the constant barrage of high-speed projectiles. Perhaps she should call her sisters back— a shot finally got past her defenses, forcing her to move herself aside instead of deflecting it. She wasn't entirely successful either; it managed to sever her tail.

    Pain and rage increased her strength. She reached out and touched the fiery core of the nearest ship, breaking the delicate cage of magnetic fields that kept the plasma at bay.

    The entire ship exploded. The noise coming from within was silenced utterly. One of her sisters was caught in the blast, but that was an acceptable loss.

    She smiled and reached for the next one—

    A huge electrical discharge crackled past her. Although she was able to dodge it, she suffered burns all along her left side.

    It was him! The Star of Ten Points! He had never shown any sign of gender, but she knew he was obviously male. Obviously. He had been on the squadron that unleashed those nuclear explosions on her. She had seen him drift off into space as she headed to the moon to recuperate. He had been too far from her sisters after the explosion, and she had had to decide between them and him. Now, he had returned, and it was he who had brought those ships with him. She now knew how her escort of rocks had been destroyed.

    Her face twisted in rage. The Star had to die. She willed it.

    As she lashed out at him, The Star blurred into multiple illusionary images. Very well, she thought. She could merely strike all his images at once.

    A Confuse Ray smacked into her head, making it harder for her to focus on any given one of them.

    Her mind sunk into madness and fury as she strove to destroy her target. Nothing else mattered.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    "Starmie is distracting Catherine!"

    "Thank goodness," Goldfarb breathed, watching the Pokemon dance around both the Mewtwo and the railgun shots. "If Catherine had had the chance to cause another reactor meltdown..."

    "Don't dwell on that, ma'am," the XO told her. "We can mourn the Morrigan later."

    Goldfarb didn't need the advice; she wasn't an admiral for nothing. She turned her mind back to the battle and snapped her fingers, realizing something. "Our missile banks."

    "Ma'am?"

    "Have the fleet fire all missiles and have them converge on Catherine all at once. We'll overload her defenses and nuke her again."

    "Yes, ma'am. All ships, expend all missile banks and stand by for a simultaneous strike."

    Streaks of abused tungsten were soon joined by rocket exhausts. Tens of nuclear-tipped missiles shot out, turned themselves completely around, and zoomed in at their target. Catherine, distracted by her hunt for Starmie, wasn't able to divert them all. A second sun bloomed just outside lunar orbit, lighting up the night sky of Earth below.

    Once the brilliance had faded and the shaking subsided, Goldfarb rubbed at her eyes. "Is it gone?"

    "I don't know," Hong said. "Sensors are down." The walls of the bridge were now blank, and there was nothing to see in the hologram projection.

    "I can't sense it anymore," Rosa told the admiral. "I think we've won."

    "I don't know about that victory," Hong said. "Systems are down across the entire ship. Catherine may have launched a final desperation attack against our electronics."

    This time, the admiral really did curse. "I can't believe I forgot!"

    "About?"

    "The electromagnetic pulse! Nuclear explosions can generate pulses that destroy unshielded electronics. That's taught in the academy right next to things like how to move in zero gravity and how ion drives work. I guess we were close enough to Earth's magnetic field that our final attack managed to generate an EMP. I think just fried the fleet's systems."

    "Not everything's down," Hong said. "The battle bridge systems are still online, for instance, thanks to the shielding. I think I've gotten a connection to a backup sensor system. Let's see, now..."

    Images appeared on the spherical walls again, this time much blurrier.

    "Apologies for the low image quality. Let's see what we can see..."

    They found that all the ships but the unfortunate Morrigan had survived. There were burn marks on their hulls from the final explosion, and a few hull breaches, but they were still sapceworthy. A Porygon hung in space near the [i]Zarya[/i,] its assault stilled after the death of its master. It made for a sad figure as it slowly tumbled end over end, all its mind and motivation completely gone. The Zarya opened its cargo bay to capture it.

    "It doesn't look like Starmie survived, either," Goldfarb sighed, still looking at the debris field where the Morrigan had been. "After all that effort..."

    "I beg to differ," Rosa|Starmie said. Goldfarb turned to see her glowing eyes.

    "You're alive?"

    "I have the ability to camouflage myself," the Pokemon said with some pride. "This, combined with the Double Team illusion technique, allowed me to stay out of Catherine's reach long enough to get away from the missile barrage. I hid behind your flagship, in fact. Here I come."

    Starmie suddenly materialized just behind the Aldrin and returned to its spot on her nose.

    "Thank goodness," Goldfarb said in relief. "If you were human, I'd buy you a drink."

    "Now I regret not having a mouth," Starmie joked.

    "Backup communication lines are up. I have a status report," Hong said.

    "Go ahead, lieutenant."

    "Life-support and communications systems are partially functional, and a few computers are still online. Unfortunately, none of us have fully-functional propulsion anymore. Our current course takes us into Earth's gravity well. We might have enough engine power to prevent a total crash, but we are definitely going to have to land. No other units will reach us in time, and it will take ten minutes to get a message to Deimos Command in any case."

    Goldfarb grinned wryly. "So we're going home, no matter how we feel about it."

    The XO smiled as well. "Could be worse."

    They turned to look at the cloud-spangled Earth below them. It was the first time they'd really noticed it, being focused on the battle before. Now that Catherine was gone, nothing was preventing them from returning home. Nobody from the Martian settlements had ever been this close before. Who knew what waited for them down there after five hundred years of no human civilization?

    Earth was the size of a marble.

    It was beautiful.

    .-.
    (
    -o-)
    `-’


    "The stars are falling!" Bidoof squealed in panic. "All those lights in the sky must have knocked something loose!"

    Sunflora jumped in fright. "Eek! Really?!"

    Corphish scuttled over. "Hey hey! You know that can't be true! Falling stars aren't really stars! They're like rocks or something!"

    "But look!" Up in the night sky, they could see trails of fire. They seemed to be coming lower.

    The mere sight sent Bidoof and Sunflora into conniptions again. Corphish was unable to calm them down until a deafening shout came from behind them.

    "YOOM TAH!"

    Corphish was relieved to see that help had come. "Hey hey, it's the Guildmaster!"

    The jovial if scatter-brained Wigglytuff had come out of the guild entrance to see what the fuss was.

    "Oho, fires in the sky!"

    "By golly, Guildmaster, what should we do?" Bidoof asked. "Is the world going to end?"

    "Nonsense," Wigglytuff said. "Darkrai already tried that, and we stopped him good."

    "Those don't look like falling stars, though," Corphish mused. "The shape's all wrong. Maybe there's something inside them."

    Wigglytuff beamed and started jumping to conclusions. "Who knows? Those may be new friends coming down from the sky. I wonder where they're going?"

    "It'd be awful if they landed somewhere with nobody to greet them," a voice came from the ground. Diglett usually had to shout to make himself heard, since his sentry post was at the bottom of a deep shaft. Those new to the guild would wonder why a floor grate was talking.

    "Well, there's only one way to solve that problem," Wigglytuff said. "Someone must follow them so they can be there to say hello!"

    Bidoof perked up. "Does that mean—"

    "Exploration expedition!" Wigglytuff yelled exuberantly. "Fetch the rest of the guild! Let's all go!"

    "What's that?" Chatot asked, coming out of the guild. "A treasure-hunting expedition?"

    "Strange new friends are coming out of the sky," Wigglytuff explained. "We're going to meet them. If we happen on a mystery dungeon on the way and find some treasure there, that's just a bonus! There's always time for exploring!"

    "You have the strangest excuses for going exploring," Chatot muttered. "New friends falling from the sky? What's next, humans?"

    THE END

    Story data:
    I grade things for the URPG.

    New experimental grading system. Request a tier after I claim your story:
    Tier I / Basic: A quick verdict and some useful advice without much fuss.
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  2. #2
    bad wolf Scourge of Nemo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lonely Rolling Star (SWC)

    I want something long and grammatically correct. So, claiming. Also, you get to be a guinea pig for some new method of grading or another.

    EDIT: Sorry for the delay. It'll be awhile longer...
    Last edited by Scourge of Nemo; 14th October 2010 at 03:12 PM.
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    Default Re: Lonely Rolling Star (SWC)

    I'm a guinea pig! Squeak squeak squeak!
    I grade things for the URPG.

    New experimental grading system. Request a tier after I claim your story:
    Tier I / Basic: A quick verdict and some useful advice without much fuss.
    Tier II / Normal: More in-depth analysis.
    Tier III / Heavy: I WILL TEAR YOUR STORY TO SHREDS AND TAP-DANCE ON THE PIECES

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    bad wolf Scourge of Nemo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lonely Rolling Star (SWC)

    THERE WE GO. IT ONLY TOOK TWO MONTHS.

    Rundown: You have a really fantastic story here. The plot is solid and engaging; the prose isn’t all AGH PURPLE and manages to say what it’s trying to say; the ideas are really, really cool; there was this magnificent it’s-not-funny-but-really-it’s-hilarious dry humor.... There were so many elements that were just plain awesome. At the same time, it feels as if you didn’t take full advantage of all of them. SO I’LL BE RAMBLING ABOUT THAT A LOT.

    Also, you have this weird specific → general thing that I am completely un-used to. It’s like, massive textual induction, what with your imagery choices. (ie, using specific example of Brown’s clothing to demonstrate the larger idea of them being in space) It disconcerts me, and I am not sure how I feel about it. But it’s interesting, it works for you, and you should capitalize on it.

    Introduction: You have a pretty rickety introduction here. While there’s this whole “FIRST DETECTED IT” thing that makes you go all “Ooooh, what is it, and I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HOW THIS SCREWS PEOPLE OVER,” there’s also this massive load of jargon. The thing about jargon is that it means nothing. At best, it makes people think, huh, wonder what that is for a few seconds, distracting them from the story… at worst, it makes people feel annoyed, get up, and leave. That’s the opposite from the desired reaction, generally. Anyway, for phrases like “Ninth Fleet” and “Asteroid 10 Hygiea” to be useful, they have to first be assigned meaning, some sort of textually-based emotional value in the reader’s mind.

    Similar bit with the ramble about the clothing. It served the nifty purpose of introducing setting and idea, which makes it more useful, but it also hits us with a whole bunch of tidbits that don’t mean anything to the plot, the story, the character, or the ideas. One thing to consider: when you choose what aspects of odd conceptual technology or ideology to delve into, try to make them also suited to the progression of the plot, as opposed to just a digression that fills in holes. There feels to be a disconnected jolt in places, as-is. Even focusing on giving more of a “feel” to these things (as opposed to specific details) could smooth it out.

    Sidenote: While in some ways, the whole “jargon and technicalities” concept is a hallmark of the genre, I’d say it’s a detrimental one. I wouldn’t assume that this is why you used ‘em, but it’s worth mentioning. Just in case. When you’re in a setting like URPG, genre-specific ideas are something worth being really careful about, because it’s a fine line—the necessity of the “terms” blurb at the top is part of the issue with it. If I didn’t have a semi-solid background in sci-fi hallmarks, I would have spent a fair amount of time reeling. Anyway. Because of the format’s freedom, you have an opportunity to mess around with the standards, and explore pretty used ideas from a more… layman? perspective. It could be worth it.

    So, what it comes down to: Character, setting, occasion and whatnot were nicely encompassed, and it did introduce ideas/peculiarities of the story. Careful of the fact that you bogged down the story with too much information that, while necessary background information, was not communicated in a clean-cut manner that lent to the story.

    Zingy-Attraction-Interesting-Stuff: So, this is what it seems: You have a deliberate break in style between the main body and the random in-space bits with Catherine and what-not. (Correct me if the adjective is misplaced.) Assuming deliberation, I really liked that. It gave those pieces something special—set them apart from the other sections, created an air of intrigue and gloom. There were nice dashes of humor in ‘em, too. All around, good job. You’ve definitely shown an aptitude for engaging prose.

    HOWEVER. The application of some of the other, vaguer/more abstract narrative concepts could have really benefited aspects of the piece. It seemed to lack an atmosphere in many places; in many others, images of fantastic machinery were lost behind specifics and explanations. I’m aware that on many levels, the no-nonsense, clean-cut prose is a stylistic choice. I’m not suggesting that you alter that. It works for you. There are places, however, where I think you should step into a more “WOW THIS IS BIG AN GRAND” instead of a “This is a circle with a bolt and six lights sticking out of it. A very large circle.” Primarily, when you deal with things unfamiliar to the reader. (So, basically, anything that has to do with the space shuttle or the style of dress.)

    When you’re dealing with complex technology, it works best to A) not describe it at all, and just give vague imagery-based hints… or B) be abstract. Describing it flat-out has several results: it kills flow, imparts details without impact, and distracts from what’s actually happening. None of these are good.

    This is fairly similar to what I was saying about the jargon. Technicalities don’t mean anything to anyone. Writing is largely connotation-based, and technicalities, for the most part, don’t have too much connotation behind them. Specifics can be useful, but they drag down the “feel” of the writing.

    There were no windows. Separating one's self from the black vacuum of space with nothing but a pane of glass was pretty, perhaps, but definitely suicidal. Instead, the bridge was a spherical chamber with smooth walls. There were some unobtrusive handholds and hatches, but the overall impression was that of simplicity. The command staff, six in number, rested against the walls with their command consoles mounted on the arms of their uniforms. Admiral Goldfarb normally only interacted with Lieutenant Hong and her executive officer, a middle-aged man with a crew cut and a moustache. The other three were there for things like damage control and docking procedures, and under normal circumstances they had little to do with her. The Syrtis Major Republic Space Navy liked its chains of command short. A large hologram hovered in the center of the sphere providing exterior views and tactical projections.
    You have a mixture of specifics, here, with some really nice atmospheric bits interspersed (the first half of the second paragraph). I would encourage you to consider getting a bit more towards that more elusive sense reaction when dealing with description like this. Giving that image of the simple, bare deck works well; I’d consider more of that generalization. “Six people sat here, three for this purpose and three for this purpose” gives me information, but doesn’t actually strengthen the image of the command deck in my head. If you instead connect those numbers to ideas, and then tie that all back into the area being described, you’ll have yourself a far stronger description. Here, you’ve got a lot of options open. Perhaps you could step out of current temporal boundaries and describe what the dock looks like when three of those people are running about to fix whatever the heck gets damaged, or talk about what, exactly, docking procedures are. (That wouldn’t be in a, YOU DO THIS, THIS, AND THIS AND THEY HIT A BUTTON type thing so much as a Their harried voices harped away at problematic loading dock heads. Except in your style and not mine. And with the adjusted context. Point being, consider providing specific details that add to the “general impression,” rather than the specific mental image. They often get farther.) So, what they do. Or perhaps what they look like.

    The command staff, six in number, rested against the walls with their command consoles mounted on the arms of their uniforms.
    Nice appositive structure, btw. MSWord hates it, but it makes me think of Latin ablatives. A bit unwieldly in English, I suppose, but you won’t see me complaining. ANYWAY. This… where’s the image? They rest. That’s a pretty neutral verb. Is that a slouching rest, a straight-backed, militaristic rest… Do they look like a nice little row of toy soldiers, all with the same hair, the same uniform, the same mind-set showing in their face? Or are they multi-colored? Two blue uniforms, a yellow and a green… And command consoles mounted on the arms of their uniforms…. Again, I have no idea what that means within this context. I have a mental image of a duel disk with a mini satellite dish sticking out of it. Probably not quite what you had in mind. Picking out a few trends in appearance and expanding upon them can give a far clearer understanding than a set of parameters. Similarly with the paragraph previous to the one I quoted—that was actually the paragraph that made me go WHOA I MUST TALK ABOUT THIS. This one was just more convenient for analysis.

    I feel as if I’ve been unnecessarily vague and roundabout. Yell at me, if that’s the case, and I shall clarify.

    Imagery Summary: Hmmm. This was an interesting section to think about, for this story. You have a pretty distinct style. Lots of specific details—factual, not emotionally bent, pretty up-and-front this-is-what’s-happening-and-what-it-looks-like. It looks like you’re doing this deliberately, so good job—you’re succeeding.

    Even as someone who has read some military sci-fi—not a lot, but still enough to be semi-literate in it—I felt that the imagery when it came to the sci-fi-y things was inadequate when it came to picture-painting, ‘cause I didn’t get a clear image of it. Just a lot of individual parts that were stuck together.

    Characterization: There was characterization, but I didn’t really “feel” it. The most distinct characters were the Starmie and Catherine, who were only distinct because they had their own backstory and personality rambles. I’d say that if you wanted to build a strong character behind them, I shouldn’t have just seen that in the sections from their POV. It should have been fairly visible in some of their actions and dialogue, through how they speak and think.

    Other than the fact that it’s good to have strong, memorable characters that don’t all feel mechanic (unless there is some specific point being made with the sheer contrivance of the characters, which there didn’t seem to be, here), you also have some specific aspects of the tale that could have been improved by ramping up this aspect. Namely, story-telling and disbelief-suspension that could have been smoothed out. Even though this isn’t a particularly character-driven story, and there are certain elements of stylistic choice, there were character-driven decisions that felt too “oh, whatever” to make the story cohesive. IE, a poorly-funded, non-militaristic military unit attacking an unknown alien creature of world-destroying power on the word of another odd alien creature that happens to possess people (although courteously). They are kindof ridiculous, as a fleet and whatnot—a point which was stressed—but at the same time, their actions and thoughts didn’t demonstrate a depth of ridiculousness that would warrant a decision that… out of the blue. What they knew about the situation was only what the Starmie told them, and I would have expected them to be more dubious.

    Anyway. Dealing with soldiers is tough. Unless you feel like going all Heinlein on your narrative themes, you probably won’t have much of an opportunity to flesh ‘em out. This is where imagery can come into play. Differentiate mannerisms, posture, speech patterns… whatever—and in imagery terms, as opposed to narrative terms. (Weird distinction. I’ll try to clarify. Narrative is the general expository body, intended to discuss the subject matter and further the story. It can have mental images associated with it, but doesn’t always. Imagery is a deviation within that, and is specifically intended to create a mental image of some sort.) Even a subtle stress you give to some aspect of the character lends more to it. A lot of the stuff I talked about with atmosphere (and machines, baha) also comes into play when describing characters to make ‘em more substantial.

    Humor: There was a lot of this. And it was subtle. Good, very good. At the same time, though, sometimes, the little jokes got lost in the subtlety. There are ways to play up the humor without being obvious about it and without accidentally killing it/allowing good opportunities to get away. There are moments you should definitely think about “laying it on thick.” Or, at least, moreso than you did. Not too much.

    ie, here:

    "We're bracing ourselves for the apocalypse... because of a language barrier," Goldfarb said resignedly.
    I have a feeling you can imagine how hard I was laughing at that. It’s… perfect. Subtle, political, maybe just a wee bit ironic… So many layers of awesomeness. But then:

    "It would have to be because of something like that, wouldn't it?" the XO agreed.
    Kaboom. My massive titters continued, but they also kindof exploded in disappointment when I read that line. In narratives, jokes are not necessary—but when you have them, timing and followup are the keys to pulling them off. You have this fantastic moment that, while still awesome, comes plummeting to the ground. In writing, this is sort of a “delivery” thing—you can have the most hilarious joke in the world, but it won’t matter how funny it is if you say it at the wrong time.

    What seems fitting here would be… A) Goldfarb says it; no one notices; the audience snickers at how unfulfilled his awesome observation is… or B) a tweaking of the offhand brush-off you have here that maximizes the joke, instead of downplays it.

    I don’t think A works as well as B.

    The trick to what you tried to do is understatement = enunciation. But what ended up happening was understatement = understatement. Some facet went wrong here. Personally, I’d place it at the imagery level, and not necessarily at the dialogue (although that could have been fiddled with). To make the understatement successful, you have to take it all the way, so that we immediately perceive just how very understated it is. The most on-hand method: overstate the understatement. Carefully, though. Something cheesy like, “agreed the XO with a sage nod” could do it—probably isn’t your style. A narrative/piercing observation twist on the XO’s worldview, a remark upon the way that the XO isn’t actually paying any attention to a word coming out of Goldfarb’s mouth… Suggestions, intended for brain placement. I wouldn’t recommend any of those particular instances, necessarily, but themes along those lines.

    So, basically, dry is magnificent, but only when it is dry, and not slightly soggy, or brittle to the point of disintegrating. Sometimes, you err towards dusty with the delivery. SO BE CAREFUL.

    Next up on the agenda: Catherine. Again, fantastic. You did some brilliant things with the dry wording. “CAN WE NEGOTIATE WITH CATHERINE? HOW MANY LASER BEAMS DOES CATHERINE HAVE? DOES CATHERINE LIKE SOUP?” The incongruity of the name and the subject matter was <3333 in a can. I think, though, you could have done more of that without pushing the envelope. Same thing, really. You have a great joke. It’s funny. If you get the right reader (which, I think, in this case, is going to be a good 80% of the people who read it), you’ll get some laughter. But you’ll get more laughter if you manage to press it farther without going over the edge. Slightly more obvious puns, a sentence or four that just has you going LOLWUT, but is stated as if it’s the most natural thing in the world… You know the game. Consider playing it a bit more vigorously.

    The point with this massive digression is to get you thinking about what’s funny, why it’s funny, and how to make it funnier. If you’re going to have jokes, it’s important that 1. they’re awesome (which you already are good at) and 2. you take full advantage of ‘em. ‘Cause otherwise, ‘sjust like, WHY HAVE THEM?

    Plot: I think you’ve gotten the general gist of my feelings. On a whole, didn’t spot any pressing holes. Liked the concept. Enjoyed pretty much every aspect of it. Would be interested in additional world-building, if you do a spin-off of some sort. You’ve got enough of a handle on this to write a really solid story. Flow changes where it needs to. There was a bit of sag in the center, but you snatched up the slack quickly. I was highly impressed by the prose flow of the conclusion. Had a pretty traditional rising action-climax-dénouement structure, but you actually executed it, prose-wise, in that fashion. Intensified things as necessary, let them lie as necessary... Very nicely done, on a whole.

    Grammar: You use a few sentence structures that are common in Latin, but kindof unwieldly in English, and for that reason, not often used. They’re mainly weird gerund-based constructions. It’s not really a problem, but most of the clauses could be reordered for a higher degree of sentence strength. A lot of readers won’t notice them, but the ones who do will probably be distracted. Something to consider, at least. (see “Brown took a second to adjust his clothing; having just come out of a zero-gravity zone, his uniform had gotten all wrinkled and crooked as it settled back on his body.” I just keep talking about that sentence, don’t I?)

    Verdict: Capture everything, no doubt about it. This is more than awesome enough to get the captures. While, yeah, I talked about a lot of things you could consider in your writing, and while, yes, probably half of them are things that sound like [are?] ridiculous and bunny-trailed ideas, this was solid, put-together… It made me laugh, it made me curious, it gave a light-hearted feel of interest and adventure… and that’s really what it comes down to. You did what you were trying to do, and what you were trying to do worked in and of itself. Like I mentioned, there are ways you could do it better (whatever better means), or maybe just differently—so think about those. BUT REALLY. GOOD JOB.
    Last edited by Scourge of Nemo; 1st December 2010 at 12:48 PM. Reason: had something weirdly organized that I just quirked about for clarity--no additions 'r anything
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    Running Through Daisies

    kers x alaska x zak x derian x scourge x ireign

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