Acknowledging Privilege is the Real Oppression

From time to time I see people on social media and whatnot complaining about the deep discomfort of having to endure being asked to check their privilege. These people are straight white guys about 113% of the time in my admittedly hasty estimation. The complaint ranges from, “Why should I have to check my privileges since I’m the real oppressed minority here,” to, “I do understand I have privilege but I’m just tired of thinking about it, so I’m going to take a break for a while, okay?”

I’m not here to talk about that first guy. That first guy is an asshole who doesn’t deserve my attention. I would, instead, rather talk about the second guy. Assuming that the claim that they understand it but just don’t really want to think about it for a while because it’s so hard you guys, amirite, is genuine that means it’s possible for that guy to actually learn something important. In order to explain how privilege works I think the best place to go is a random aside I wrote about The Great Gatsby a few weeks back:

I read The Great Gatsby twice in high school. It became one of my favorite books in the years following and I read it several more times. It was only after I separated that book from high school English classes that I realized the book is a scathing indictment of the American upper class. Tom takes a lower class lover. Daisy ends up running her over in a car. The lover’s cuckold husband then shoots Gatsby and commits suicide, at which point Fitzgerald says, “The holocaust was complete.”

What were Tom and Daisy doing during this holocaust? Eating cold chicken in their kitchen. They retreated back into their wealth and privilege and ignored all the chaos they’d caused that started when Daisy managed to convince a poor young soldier to pursue a wealth and station that could never actually be his.

What is privilege? Privilege is the thing displayed by Tom and Daisy Buchanan at the end of The Great Gatsby where they set in motion of string of events and then when everything went to hell they just retreated and let other people deal with the fallout. Daisy, in effect, ran over Tom’s lover in her car and then said, “I don’t want to deal with this, you handle it, Jay.” She and Tom then went and ate chicken while Gatsby was shot and his killer committed suicide.

As such, we can take as a lesson that the ultimate display of privilege is saying, “I don’t want to think about this anymore,” and then not having to think about it anymore. There’s then a meta-privilege to being able to say, “I don’t want to hear about my privilege anymore, everyone just leave me alone for a while.” When the person saying that can then get away with withdrawing from the argument and even justify (to themselves if no one else) getting mad at people for continuing to try to engage them they are displaying the very thing they don’t want anyone to remind them they have.

Why is this a thing that needs to be addressed? Because white men (and, as always I offer the disclaimer that I’m a white man) control the narrative in the larger conversation of things like gender and racial inequality. What we’re experiencing now is the rise of a wider variety of voices and a wider dissemination of opinions, but we really haven’t changed who ultimately has the loudest voice in the debate. As long as white men can say, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” and get away with it they are in the privileged position.

Let us consider, for a moment, that this is a surprisingly tough sports summer in Chicago. The Bears are awful and will continue to be. The White Sox and Cubs are both terrible. The Blackhawks just won their third Stanley Cup in six years and the big story is that Patrick Kane allegedly raped a woman in Buffalo, NY. As Chicagoans we’re honestly not prepared to deal with such things, as our teams and stars have mostly managed to keep their terribleness on the field or limited it to things like that time Peanut Tillman got drunk and drove his Ferrari really fast on the expressway.[1]

Reactions to the whole mess have been surprisingly measured, but there are still plenty of people out there who are more than happy to say the victim is a lying gold digger. Because women love accusing men of rape and they love accusing high profile men who just won a sportsball championship of rape even more. It’s an easy, no-fuss recipe for instant, pain free cash money.[2] Of course there are also random assholes who just decide to go on a character assassination spree over literally nothing.[3]

The thing is that there are those who would have us believe that if a woman is raped it’s her fault. She got drunk. She went out alone at night. She wore revealing clothing. She didn’t spend her every waking moment locked in a steel box cradling a shotgun and reacting to every sound and movement. If she gets raped, then, it’s her fault for not doing absolutely everything right at all times.

Women, then, are not allowed to just take a break from their position as sexual property. Men, on the other hand, lose their shit over simply being told not to rape. This is privilege.

If we pull back from the extremes of sexual violence there’s still plenty of evidence that women don’t get the same treatment. Consider GamerGate and the women like Anita Sarkeesian who have received death threats simply for voicing their opinions. This goes far beyond leaving typo-filled comments on blog posts to people tracking down home addresses and literally forcing women from their homes with threats because they had the gall to be a woman and speak up about something.

So then let’s move over to Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and the dizzying number of black people in America who have received extremely negative treatment at the hands of the police. We have video of Sandra Bland’s traffic stop and full proof that the cop was totally outside of his jurisdiction. We have video of Eric Garner doing nothing to physically provoke the cop other than being really big. Yet we still got the talking heads telling us that all they needed to do was just be nice and respectful to the cops.

We all know on some level that cops in America treat black people differently than white people. Hell, there was a very special episode of Fresh Price of Bel Air where Will and Carlton were arrested for driving a relative’s expensive car and the cops wouldn’t let them call Uncle Phil. I can’t remember when I first heard the term “Driving While Black,” but I know it was before that episode aired. After Ferguson last year we started to get a lot of respectable black parents telling us that they have conversations with their kids about how to deal with the police.

I was having dinner at my parents’ a week or so ago and I regaled them with the tale of a traffic stop I once had. I was out at school in the last couple weeks spring semester when a woman literally just drove into me for no damn good reason.[4] I couldn’t get the car fixed until I got back home. One evening I was returning to campus after having dinner with a couple of friends when I got pulled over because one of my headlights was out. I proceeded to do absolutely everything wrong that I could have done wrong on that traffic stop short of pulling a weapon. I was a complete asshole to the cop. He wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell him that I was missing a headlight because I’d just been driven into by a moron in an SUV so I escalated the shit out of everything. And do you know how much trouble I got into? None. None whatsoever. When I started driving away my friends were both completely shocked that I hadn’t gotten arrested or, y’know, shot.

Sandra Bland was far nicer to the asshole cop who arrested her than I was to the cop who pulled me over for a busted headlight. I will tell you that right now. Even so, it’s obvious from the video that she was pretty far annoyed and had decided to take a break from that proper deference all of the talking heads on TV tell us will save the black folk from cops. Deciding to take a break ended with Sandra Bland’s death in prison over failing to properly signal a turn.

This is why I have absolutely zero sympathy for my fellow white American men when they say that they just want to have a break from thinking about their privilege. The very fact that we can say that shit and expect to get away with it is proof of our privilege. The fact that someone’s biggest concern is that someone else might remind him that other people have more difficult lives is an indication that the guy in question is a selfish prick.

I get to live my life without fear of rape. I get to live my life without fear that I’ll receive death threats just for being a woman who is involved in an industry that’s only supposed to be a boy’s playground. I get to live my life without fear that cops will throw me in jail or shoot me for doing literally nothing.

This post doesn’t even get into things like gender discrimination in the workplace. It also doesn’t discuss gay rights or the fact that we just got to witness the culmination of a decades-long battle for a right that’s just naturally bestowed on me by virtue of the fact that I’m straight. Beyond that there’s also transgender rights, the fact that Donald Trump was able to call every Mexican immigrant a murdering rapist and somehow get extremely popular.

It also doesn’t get into the fact that if a white man shoots up a movie theater he’s just a lone nut while a black man or a Muslim is representative of all of the failings of his race or religion. It seems like we have a new story of a white guy shooting lots of people every week and yet I have yet to be racially profiled. Cops aren’t pulling me over because I “match the description” of a white guy who robbed a liquor store three towns over.

Seems to me that having to occasionally be reminded that I have things way better than other people is a pretty reasonable trade off. It’s not even particularly hard. I’m aware of these things and I use that as impetus to seek out the opinions and stories of people who don’t share my privilege. That’s not exactly a taxing response.

It also says that the person saying, “I totally get this, but I want to take a break from thinking about it,” doesn’t actually get it. The notion of privilege must be internalized and the greatest irony of the situation is that the greatest privilege is the ability to say, “I’m just going to retreat to my home and eat chicken,” while everyone else is paying the price. Even at that it doesn’t recognize that simple acknowledgement is no great burden. Without that lived experience of seeing doors shut in your face you can’t realize how hard it is to get through life without that privilege.

Also, it’s truly dickish to say without any irony, “Wah, my life is so hard because I have to intellectually acknowledge that other peoples’ lives are harder.” Seriously. Grow the fuck up.

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[1]Not that I’m saying that drunk driving is good. It’s just that it’s pretty run of the mill as far as sports scandals go.

[2]The news actually did bring about one of the best articles I’ve ever seen on the subject of rape accusation of public figures.

[3]The bit about the owner of the bar just knowing there was some woman hanging all over Kane but not actually knowing who she was is potentially interesting. There was also a bit about how the alleged victim didn’t want to go to Kane’s place but went to keep an eye on her friend.  This is supposedly Rape Avoidance 101, but what if the woman hanging all over Kane was the friend who wanted to go and the cautious friend who just went to keep everything safe was the one who was subsequently raped and OH MY GOD MAYBE WE NEED TO STOP BLAMING THE VICTIM IN CASES LIKE THIS.

[4]I mean that. I was sitting at a 4-way stop in my 2004 Cavalier. She was turning left in front of me in some sort of SUV. The turn was a really basic turn at noon-ish on a sunny day. She was crossing from my right to make her turn and go back up the road I was coming down. And she just fucking drove into my car. It took out my left headlight but otherwise left the car completely driveable. While we were waiting for the police she told me that her husband was going to be really mad because she kept driving into things.

Friday Music Thingy

We haven’t talked about music in a while. Well, there was a random music blog a couple weeks ago, but, like, we haven’t really talked about music, y’know? So it’s time for a “music you haven’t been paying attention to in 2015 and also 2014 because I probably didn’t talk about it in 2014” post.

Sons of Bill, Love & Logic

We’re going to start with the 2014 Sons of Bill release. Back in 2012 Sons of Bill released one of the best albums of all time when they put out Sirens. When it came out I broke all of my rules of evaluating new music and immediately put it into my top 10. I also immediately put it into my list of albums I’d play to aliens to attempt to help them understand the human condition alongside, if I remember correctly, Harry Connick, Jr’s Star Turtle, The Beatles Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Paul Simon’s goddamn Graceland.

I have not backed down on my opinion of Sirens. Sirens is amazing. Sirens is probably the greatest thing to happen to music in the 2000s and that includes the reunification of Soundgarden.

So if you’re the Wilson brothers and their two friends whose names I currently forget the big question is, “How do you follow an album like Sirens?” The answer is that you release Love & Logic.

Not long after Love & Logic came out I went to see Sons of Bill at Schuba’s. Tawni, who is now someone I refer to as “one of my dearest friends,” was there. There will eventually be an entire goddamn post on Tawni Waters because Tawni Waters is one of my dearest friends and you should get to know her. When Sons of Bill played “Hymnsong” I held Tawni’s hand because we were in church and there was no one else on the planet who could understand how I felt about “Hymnsong” besides Tawni.

So I suppose the answer to the question of how you follow a great goddamn album is, “You release another great goddamn album.”

Also, Schuba’s sells Revolution Anti-Hero for a relatively cheap price. That may or may not have lead to me having one of those terrible drunken conversations with James Wilson that’s super embarrassing to realize you had. Sorry, James.

Idlewild, Everything Ever Written

A few years back Idlewild was set to tour the US and I had a ticket to their Chicago show. Then word came that Roddy Woomble had broken his something or other (I honestly don’t remember) and the show was cancelled. Then Idlewild broke up. I was beside myself.

Last year, or possibly 2013, we got news that Idlewild was back together. Last year I jumped on their Pledgemusic drive for the new album and immediately got access to “Collect Yourself.”

That, my friends, is a goddamn song.

The thing about Everything Ever Written is that it’s kind of half Idlewild, half solo Roddy Woomble and the whole ends up being neither. That said, who the fuck cares? It’s new Idlewild. And it contains this song:

The Dollyrots, Barefoot and Pregnant

There are few times in life I will say I’m better than other people because of the things that I own. That said, I own a translucent pink pressing of The Dollyrots’ Barefoot and Pregnant. That makes me better than you.

Sorry.

So let’s get to the two big releases of 2015.

Local H, Hey, Killer

This year marks 25 years of Local H. Seriously, read that shit. Read all of that shit. It’s basically my coming of age and the story of how one of the greatest rock bands of all time got screwed over time and time again and still kept coming back for more. It’s also about how music is more complicated than we, the consumers, can ever really understand. Scott Lucas is a rock god in my world because he’s brilliant and aware. Immediately after the release of Hey, Killer they did a weekend of shows in Chicagoland with a Friday night show somewhere, a Saturday night show in Bolingbrook, and a Sunday night show at the Metro in Chicago. I planned on going to the show in Bolingbrook. It was sold out. This is probably one of two regrets I will take to my grave.

I’m not even joking.

The story behind Hey, Killer is pretty simple. Scott wanted to write an unapologetic, kick-ass rock album. He’d been writing concept albums, both with the H and with the Married Men and just wanted to rock people’s faces off. Hey, Killer succeeded beyond all imagination.

So in 2015 we had the re-emergence of Idlewild and the face-melting goodness of Local H. There was, quite literally, only one band that could possibly make 2015 a better year for music.

Veruca Salt, Ghost Notes

Veruca Salt.

Veruca goddamn Salt.

Veruca. Fucking. Salt.

Back in 2013 rumors started up that Veruca Salt was coming back with the original lineup. And by “rumors” I mean “an official Facebook page” and pictures and shit. Veruca Salt was back. Veruca. Fucking. Salt.

Last year they released two songs for Record Store Day.

Last year I saw them at Lincoln Hall on their reunion tour. In July they hit the Beat Kitchen.

How do I explain my love of the Beat Kitchen? Local H chose the Beat Kitchen for the Seven Night Stand back in 2008. I had just lost my job so I only went to the Pack Up the Cats and 12 Angry Months shows. If I knew then what I know now I would have been at all seven without question. The Lovehammers chose the Beat Kitchen for one of their last shows. I was there. The Beat Kitchen is an absolutely fucking amazing venue.

Veruca Salt was at the Beat Kitchen in July. I wasn’t there. Why? Because I wasn’t paying attention. This is the other regret I will probably take to the grave. The following week I was listening to Ghost Notes and actually got mad at myself for being a dumbshit who missed Veruca Salt at the Beat Kitchen.

The thing about the new Veruca Salt is that it basically sounds like they never broke up after 1998’s Eight Arms to Hold You. This is one of those things that fascinates me because I love Veruca Salt for picking up where they left off.

I was genuinely worried about the Veruca Salt reunion because it followed fairly close on the heels of a different reunion that meant way, WAY more to me: Soundgarden. Soundgarden’s 2012 offering of King Animal also sounds like they never stopped making music after 1996’s Down on the Upside and I absolutely hate King Animal.

How can this be? I have a theory.

Grunge was amazing but grunge had a shelf life. That shelf life pretty much lasted from 1991 until 1996. I want to say that the fact that I love Ghost Notes and hated King Animal is some sort of indication that pop music won the battle for rock’s soul but that’s not true. Why do I know that’s not the case? Because Local H released Hey, Killer at roughly the same time Veruca Salt released Ghost Notes. Hey, Killer is an unapologetic rock album. Ghost Notes is a pop-inflected rock album. King Animal was just bad.

Nightwind Follow-Up, Chapters 7 and 8

Chapter 7 was originally supposed to follow directly from chapter 5 and, I suppose, create a sort of mini-arc in the story alongside the old chapter 7, currently chapter 8. It was, in short, an attempt to set up the main conflict of the book. So let us begin with the disclaimer: the primary problem I see now in chapter 7 is that it clearly exists in a universe that is way, way too small. But that’s not really where I want to start.

Let us, instead, start with Horatio Semmes. I created him because I loved the idea of an overly specific name and backstory and wanted to create a character who was attempting to fit that mold. I think that over the course of the original book he became my absolute favorite character. This actually kind of sucks because in his storyline he just kind of lurches from tragedy to tragedy and most of those tragedies are completely and totally unnecessary. In one part it’s even probably impossible, but we’ll get to that later. He also ended up being something of an inconsistent character because it’s really hard to write outlandishly outsized characters. I also had a hard time deciding if he was the iconoclast who kept fucking over his own career or the guy everyone loved and respected who stayed where he was to teach the young’uns. Overall, though, Horatio stays in the picture, outlandish name and all.[1]

Either way, Horatio steps into a story that’s far too small for his personality. Basically, I wanted humanity to be on the verge of a disaster and Horatio in the classic position of a man racing against the clock and human nature. The problem is that the universe I created was far, far too small for this story. So I solved and created several problems all at once in a single chapter. Because I’m brilliant like that.

The Earth Command Navy had all of 4 ships. These ships were the only 4 warships in the entire solar system. This makes setting up a convoy and getting supplies out to the hapless colonies pretty easy. So I dealt with that through the simple expediency of getting the captains of 2 of the ships out of the way and having everyone mutiny. I guess. That’s a really stupid plot point. But, hey, at least we now have tension. But Semmes is now outnumbered and outgunned, so he needs help. I solved that problem by creating so, so many more problems, starting with the pair of hookers, I mean pirates, with hearts of gold.

See, now we have smugglers and pirates. Some of these pirates have apparently armed their own ships well enough to be able to compete with the Earth Command Navy. Yet I’ve also been telling everyone that none of the Earth Command ships have ever engaged in combat. So what, pray tell, are those pirates and smugglers doing and why would they be armed to the teeth? Furthermore, if one of Earth Command’s best officers knows how to find them at the drop of a hat why wouldn’t they have been rooted out long ago? There are literally only 4 places where they can hide: Luna, Mars, Europa, and Tethys.

Also, the United Commonwealth is supposed to be some sort of idyllic, post-scarcity utopia. Pirates and smugglers don’t seem necessary in one of those. Also, half of your Navy doesn’t just up and join the pirates at the point of crisis, either.

Clearly, then, this storyline doesn’t work. It can be solved fairly easy by making the universe bigger, though. Put more colonies on the map, which would have the added benefit of requiring more shipping and creating more opportunities for pirates and smugglers.

It also creates an opportunity to give Semmes a much larger and more believable part in the story. Basically I reimagine a solar system where human colonization has reached much farther. Mars, Europa, and Tethys are now hubs allowing shorter hops to mining and research stations all across the asteroid belt and the various moons of the outer planets. We’re now at a tipping point where there are a few generations of humans who have never been to Earth and are incapable of ever heading into Earth’s gravity well.[2] Earth has been expanding the Earth Command Navy while the colonials are asking why Earth gets to be in charge.

Resentment really began to boil over with the solving of the alien language puzzle at the Deimos base and the subsequent takeover of the base by Earth officials. Mars is now arming itself. The attempts to keep the Nightwind project secret have created additional problems. So what we have now is a tense situation that could easily lead to a shooting war between what I’m currently calling the Colonial Authority and the United Commonwealth while Horatio Semmes engages in a bit of gunboat diplomacy. This also means it won’t be so bleedingly stupid for Anderson to be all, “Nah, they don’t need this giant battlecruiser.”

Meanwhile, in the book as written the Nightwind could easily solve Semmes’ problem in about five minutes. Later on the Starfire will also be able to solve Semmes’ problem in about five minutes and will also not, y’know, do that. This is one of those problems with game changing technology. So I needed to have Anderson decide to simply not head back to Earth. This is why we have chapter 8.

The problem here is one of communication. The main plot obviously doesn’t work if the Earth can’t get news of Winged Messenger’s destruction, which requires some sort of communication and FTL seems the way to go, as it’s hard to really worry about the urgency of, “20 years ago a ship we launched 250 years ago was destroyed and we just found out about it,” compared to, “Hey, everyone here is on the verge of killing each other and we just so happen to have this big-ass battlecruiser.”

Solving this problem requires a radical departure from the original story. I have a few ideas but I haven’t really settled on anything yet. The simplest, though, is that the FTL comm array is on Mars (why? Um, because the technology is sensitive to gravitational interference and when they built it Mars was the better option? Sure, sounds good) and now that Mars and Earth are on the verge of a shooting war it’s going to be rather difficult to communicate with that top-secret battlecruiser you don’t officially have. This also means that Anderson would simply head out with standing orders to figure out what happened to the Winged Messenger and return on his discretion without reporting back.

Actually, now that I think about it, that could solve a couple of plot points at once. News of the destruction of Winged Messenger gets back to Mars. Earth Command tells them to keep it quiet. Mars is all, “Naw, fuck all a y’all. The people deserve to hear about this.” Also, I think I’ve decided to change the name of the Winged Messenger. The more I write it the less I like it.

Meanwhile, in chapter 8 we also have the rather annoying introduction of Ensign Lindros. I needed a character who wasn’t a big fan of leaving Earth behind. I also basically didn’t want Anderson to really give a shit about Earth. So I introduced the shrill, nagging woman to be shrill and nag. Ugh.

Either way, I had this odd obsession with humanity nearly wiping itself off the face of the universe over the course of a single summer when I wrote the book. Why? I’m honestly not sure. Probably because it’s easier to write a lot of world destroying than world building. Also, I was setting up the tension for book 2, where a nearly extinct humanity had to come to terms with the fact that it’s now part of a much larger universe. That seems like an unnecessary step in retrospect.

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[1]Although on one level I do kinda want to change his name. I keep writing it as “Horation” for reasons I truly do not understand. I have always added that “n” on accidentally probably more than half the time. I also tend to turn “ratio” into “ration.” This mystifies me.

[2]This is where I’m forced to admit that, yes, this mode of thinking is heavily influenced by The Expanse books. I don’t really see it as derivative by any stretch of the imagination, since the story I want to tell is extraordinarily different than the story they wanted to tell. The realities of humans living off of Earth was, on many levels, the story of The Expanse and might simply be the best world building possible for the story. I don’t want to tell that story but I recognize the basic tenets of an evolutionary separation of the human race and the inherent conflict therein are spot-on.

Also, again, The Expanse books. Read them. Then read them again. Also, a new one came out in July and I didn’t realize it. So that’s exciting. Also, there’s the SyFy adaptation. Please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck.

Spoiler alert: it’s probably gonna suck. SyFy’s track record has been pretty shite of late. Also, they’re doing Scalzi’s Ghost Brigades now, since the Old Man’s War movie fell through (to which the only response is, “DAMMIT!” I mean, seriously, we’re on Fast 8 Furious 8 or whatever and we keep making goddamn Terminator movies no one is asking for).

Nightwind Wednesdays, Chapters 7 and 8

[Author’s Note: This is a novel I wrote about fifteen years ago. It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a history paper or short story. I’ll be putting it on here on Wednesdays and probably posting my thoughts about it on Thursdays. Everything is tagged under Nightwind Wednesdays. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned.]

Chapter 7

Mars Colony, United Commonwealth
May 24th, Terran Standard Calendar
1954 Terran Standard Time

The shuttle floated through the airlock of the Mars Colony’s small Transit Dome. The two men in the passenger compartment eyed the assortment of small craft and shuttles already occupying the bay.

“There,” the younger of the two men said, pointing, “Gold Brick 1.”

“You’re right, Steve,” the other man nodded. “Good eye.” He stood up and smoothed his raven hair. “Ready?”

“Yes, Sir.”

The shuttle set down on the bay floor with a slight bump. The ramp dropped to the floor on hydraulic pistons and Commander Horatio Semmes stepped out into the muted light of the landing bay. Just over two meters tall and rail thin, Semmes carried himself with a flair otherwise unseen in the Earth Command Navy. A direct descendent of the infamous Confederate blockade runner Raphael Semmes and named after one of the greatest admirals of the age of sail, he did his best to live up to the names he proudly bore. For several years he had worn a long, bushy beard in an attempt to affect the image of a warrior from times long past. Roughly two years before he had shaved the beard and instead taken to the thin goatee which better accented his severe features. He still habitually wore a saber on his left hip, however, although he knew he would be hard pressed to use it to defend himself.

Brash and idealistic, Horatio tended to get on his superior’s nerves. He knew it had stunted his career growth. At forty-two he was the oldest active crew member of an Earth Command ship and a decade and a half above the average age of his fellow ship commanders. When the Phoenix’s former captain, David Anderson, had been reassigned at the beginning of the month and Semmes took over the ship it marked only the second time in his career that he had been in command of the ship, the first having ended when Anderson took over and he was “demoted.” He did not mind switching between the CO and XO spots, however. It wasn’t a stain on his honor by any stretch of the imagination. He knew it was a sign of respect that Earth Command entrusted him to put the finishing touches on the training of younger captains.

Chief Petty Officer Steven Tandy, the Phoenix‘s sandy haired, heavily muscled head Marine trotted down the ramp and wordlessly passed the Commander. He was on hand to cover Semmes during the meeting which was about to take place. Neither man expected any problems, but smugglers were often unpredictable and capricious.

Horatio hated what he was about to do, but knew it was of the utmost importance. Europa Colony had been fighting a plague which threatened to wipe out the entire population. A shipment of medication from Earth had been dispatched just before the panic on Earth broke out. The unescorted supply ship had been intercepted halfway to Jupiter and the medication stolen. The truly disturbing thing was the ship which had pirated away the drugs; ECS Wyvern, one of the four Earth Command patrol ships.

The Zephyr, third ship of the fleet, had mysteriously disappeared on its way back from a run to Europa soon after. Horatio suspected his old ship, the Dragon, had been involved. That ship had gone rogue at roughly the same time as the Wyvern. That left the Phoenix as the only loyal Earth Command ship and Semmes with the responsibility of getting medicine to Europa and food to the far flung Tethys colony, whose stores were dwindling.

The trip to Europa from the point where the small convoy was assembling near Luna would take nearly three weeks, and that was pushing the fat, slow freighters. The Phoenix would be outnumbered two-to-one if the rogue ships decided to attack the convoy. In an attempt to even the odds he had arranged a meeting with the captains of two heavily armed smuggling ships, the Gold Brick and Morgan’s Glory. He had been attempting to stop both for most of his career, so he knew they were good enough for the job. Calling on them for help felt very strange to him, however. He still did not know if it was a good idea. He did know, however, that the alternatives were worse.

Nondescript except for his size, Steven was there to provide cover in case the meeting did not go well. Wearing civilian clothing and a hidden sidearm, he was traveling to the pub where the meeting was to take place by a separate route.

Horatio planned on drawing attention to himself. Resplendent in his dress uniform glittering with medals and symbols of rank, he assumed he would be noticed. Due to the tight passages of the Mars Colony and the possibility he would need to move quickly, he had left the awkward sword behind. He still wore his sidearm, however. It rode low in a quick draw holster on his right hip, slapping reassuringly against his thigh as he walked.

His destination was The Dock, a small, poorly lit watering hole on the edge of one of the smaller domes that catered mostly to the criminals and lowlifes of the shipping lanes. All the experienced officers of the Navy knew where it was and who frequented it. They had rarely had the time or manpower to raid the pub, however. The Dock and its clientele had become an open secret, rarely mentioned within the military and never dealt with.

Mars authorities had never seriously attempted to arrest the smugglers and pirates, either. The colony was, to a large extent, the lawless frontier of the United Commonwealth. Practically independent from Earth, the nearly self-sufficient colony had become a haven for anyone running from authority. Corrupt officials and lackadaisical security forces had allowed the criminals a place to hide. The complete loss of authority back home had only made things worse, especially since the Phoenix was the only loyal ship left.

Reviewing what he knew of the two smugglers he was meeting, Horatio weaved his way through a series of passages. Tina Morgan was the third generation captain of the Morgan’s Glory, a small, fast freighter that had been heavily modified with enough weaponry to stand up to one of the patrol ships. The Glory had come into her possession five years before when her father, Al, “retired,” smuggler lingo for a betrayed commander. She was every bit as good as her old man, who had evaded the Navy for nearly four decades. She was also far more ruthless. Horatio suspected she had been the one to kill her old man. He also knew her only concern was the bottom line, which was how he intended to bring her in on his mission. Benito Fernandez, captain of the Gold Brick, had come into the smuggling game a completely different way. Accused of stealing medical supplies from Luna Base, he had fled on the first transport. Less than a week later the transport stopped a freighter and the crew, including Fernandez, had stripped it bare. Six months later he had led a mutiny and taken the ship. For the past thirty-four years he had captained the Gold Brick with intelligence and even-handedness, gaining a loyalty from his crew never seen among pirates or smugglers.

Horatio came to the entrance of The Dock and walked into its smoky, dim interior. The conversation in the room completely stopped as the patrons turned to look at the officer. Ignoring the stares, Semmes walked to a secluded booth near the back of the room. After a moment the din returned as the people returned to their conversations. He still felt eyes following him as he sat across from a dark-skinned, nondescript man.

“You certainly know how to make an entrance, Commander Semmes,” the man said in a confident, refined tone. “I’m surprised you have not been shot already.”

“I like to disappoint, Benito,” Horatio responded, signaling for the waitress. “What’s good here, anyway?”

The other man lifted his glass full of a dark, heavily fermented substance and took a drink. “Most of it’s the local brew, but they might have some of the good stuff from home left.”

“You know for a fact they have the good stuff?” Horatio asked. “You know I won’t drink that varnish you insist on calling a beverage.” The other man laughed as the waitress approached. “My friend here informs me you have cognac,” Horatio said.

“It’ll cost, Sir.”

“I’ll pay for it,” Fernandez tipped his glass at the waitress. “He’s an old friend.” As the waitress left he smiled at the Commander. “I’m their primary supplier,” he explained.

“So you have access to the expensive booze, but insist on drinking that stuff?” Horatio asked. “You’re nuts.”

“Have to be, out here.”

“Have to be what, Benito?” a woman asked, sliding into the booth.

“Nuts, Tina,” he said to the woman. “Kind of like you.”

She shook her head. “You’re nuts, Benito. Horatio here,” she gestured to the Commander, “Is idiotic, at the very least. I’m just good.” She fixed her left eye on Semmes. The right was covered by a black patch, making her an almost comically stereotypical outlaw. Horatio knew better than to laugh, however. “So why am I here?” she asked. “Are you going to arrest us?”

“Far from it,” Horatio shook his head. “I need your help, Tina. And yours, Benito.”

“What for?” Fernandez asked.

“Europa Colony and Odysseus Basin are desperately short on supplies. I’m organizing a convoy to take food and medicine to them.”

“Why are you talking to us, then?” Morgan asked. “We aren’t pirates.”

“I know that,” Horatio said, pausing to take his drink from the returning waitress. “I need your help escorting the convoy. The Brick and the Glory are two of the most heavily armed ships in the system.”

“And you expect the rogue Earth Command ships will hit the convoy?” Fernandez asked.

“Yes.”

Morgan leaned forward. “It’ll cost you, Semmes,” she said.

“I’m prepared to offer five percent of the convoy load in compensation,” Horatio told her.

“Fifteen, our choice,” she countered.

“Ten, you can pick from anything but the essential medical supplies.”

Fernandez held up his hand to stop his fellow smuggler from making any further comment. “I agree to your terms, Commander,” he said. “And I’d suggest you do the same, Tina.”

“You’re signing our death warrants, Benito,” she said.

“Yes, Tina, I might be,” he said. “But if we don’t help him, we’re signing the death warrants of everyone on those colonies.”

“Why you insist upon being so noble, I’ll never understand,” she shook her head at Fernandez. “But you’re right. I’m in.”

“Thank you,” Horatio said, sliding a pair of disks across the table. “The convoy is assembling near Luna, this is the information on the rendezvous. Once I get back to my ship I’m heading straight for the assembly point. I’d appreciate it if you’d both do the same.”

“We’ll be there, Commander,” Fernandez said.

Petty Officer Tandy took the seat next to Semmes on the shuttle as the ramp closed. “Everything go okay, Sir?” he asked.

Semmes was silent until the shuttle lifted off. “Everything went according to plan, Steve,” he finally said. “They’re on board.”

“Excellent,” the Marine said.

The men fell silent for the rest of the trip up the gravity well. As the shuttle broke into orbit and vectored on the Phoenix, Tandy looked back to the planet’s surface. “Sir!” he exclaimed. “Look at that.”

Horatio turned followed his subordinate’s gaze. “What is that?” he asked.

“Looks like weapons fire in Dome 2, Sir,” he said. “And there is either a lot of it or those are some heavy guns.”

“This is not good, Steve.”

“No Sir, not good at all.”

The shuttle approached the blunt, bulbous form of the ECS Phoenix and entered the shuttle bay through the energy field protecting the room from the vacuum of space. The ramp at the rear of the craft dropped and Horatio pulled himself out. He immediately pushed off the back of the craft and over to the comm display on the wall. Grabbing a convenient support bar, he called up a view of the colony. A moment later the main dome of the colony flickered to life on the tiny screen. It was immediately obvious to Semmes that he and Tandy were right about the conditions in the dome.

“So what do we do, Commander?” Tandy asked.

Semmes shut off the viewer. “We have work to do,” he shook his head, “There is a convoy assembling over the Moon that needs escorting. The Martian Constabulary can handle things by itself.”

Tandy nodded. “Aye, Commander.”

“Then let’s get moving.”

Chapter 8

Tau Ceti III Orbit
May 25th, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
0645 Terran Standard Time

David watched the tactical display intently as the two attack formations converged on the stern of the Nightwind. A dozen bomber craft closed from the port side, flying straight and steady in an attempt to gain a target lock. Four larger attack craft moved in from starboard in a loose diamond formation.

“Alright, get ready, people,” David commanded. “Helm, we’ll only get one shot at this, so make it look good.”

“Aye, Sir.”

The Nightwind hung practically motionless over the great orb of the planet below. Only the slight glow of the engines and minute adjustments of the gun turrets provided any indication the ship was capable of engaging the foes at its stern.

“Ensign Lindros?” David asked, looking up at the comm officer.

“Sir?” the young woman asked, preparing to access any part of the ship’s communication suite.

“Call Wing Commander Luchenko, make sure he’s ready.”

“Aye.”

A moment later the rough, heavy voice of the fighter commander broke over the bridge speaker. “Yes, Keptin?” he asked with barely disguised contempt.

“Are you ready to launch?” David ignored the insolent tone. He had already won the battle with his subordinate in the launch bay nearly a week ago. All that remained was for the Wing Commander to admit defeat.

“Yes…sir,” he said, adding the second word as a distant afterthought.

“Can we trust him, Sir?” Commander Gregory asked.

“I don’t see that we have a choice,” David shrugged. “He’s a good pilot, and he knows we’re his only ride home. I think that should count for a lot.”

“Enemy craft have locked on!” Lieutenant Commander Templeton’s excited call ended any further speculation. “Launch in five seconds.”

“Helm…” David waited until the bombers were fully committed to launch. “Now!”

The young lieutenant at the helm reacted instantly. Her long fingers danced over the controls, pushing the battlecruiser through a series of complex maneuvers. All four of the ship’s powerful main engines kicked to full thrust. The ship jerked forward suddenly in a movement too quick for the ship’s gravitational compensators to counteract. The top and starboard engines suddenly switched to full reverse, further destabilizing the ship. Nightwind shuddered in protest, threatening to tear apart during the violent maneuver. She held together, however.

The unorthodox manuever had the desired effect. Within seconds the ship reversed its X and Z axes and ended up facing toward the approaching craft, almost completely “upside down” in relation to its original orientation. The sudden, violent flip took less than the length of the ship to perform. More importantly, however, it completely threw the torpedo locks off, clearing the threat board.

The engines kicked up to full power again, rocketing the ship between the two confused formations in a matter of seconds. The closing speed of the Nightwind and her assailants was far too great to allow even the roughest target lock, but David had not intended to destroy any of the attackers with the manuever. He simply set it up to force the enemy ships to react to him.

As the other ships fell astern, Nightwind again reversed course. This time the change in orientation was achieved with a wide, graceful arc to port rather than a violent flip.

The twelve Griffin-class fighters of Panther squadron exited their launch bay, shielded from view by the great bulk of the battlecruiser. As the ship completed its turn, the fighters swung under her hull, vectoring on the squadron of bombers.

“Sir,” Ensign Lindros called from the comm station. “We’re receiving a call from the lead attack ship.”

“Put it through, Ensign.”

“I think I need to introduce you to my old physics professor, Sir,” Chief Petty Officer Carter told David over the commlink.

“Why?”

“He’d tell you that there’s no way a ship that big can move that fast, Sir.”

“I’ll bet he’d tell me that starships can’t travel faster than the speed of light, either,” David countered.

“Maybe so, Sir. Maybe so.”

David laughed. “Alright, Tiger Squadron, Panther Squadron and shuttles, return to the barn. Get some rest.”

A chorus of “Ayes” flooded the comm channel.

David rubbed his eyes. The six days in orbit over Tau Ceti III had been busy. Deciding that it would be impossible to be over prepared for the trip to 82 Eridani, he had ordered all systems to be checked and re-checked. He had also run a series of mock engagements, using the ship’s two fighter squadrons and shuttlecraft to simulate any and every possible type of engagement. The weak-long stopover in the Tau Ceti system would be over in just under sixteen hours and David could feel the seconds ticking down.

“Call up the second crew,” David ordered. “Command crew, join me in the situation room. We have a few things to discuss. Ensign Lindros, call Wing Commander Luchenko Lieutenant MacDonough and ask them to join us.”

Without waiting for confirmation of the order, David walked off the bridge. He knew that, with the possible exception of the Wing Commander, Earth Command had assembled a superb crew for the ship. So far the problems had been few and far between, which was astounding, considering the nature of the ship and its mission. Counting his blessings, David strode down the short hallway to the conference room.

He entered and took his place at the head of the table. In short order the rest of his bridge officers took their places on either side of the table. “Before Luchenko or MacDonough get here, are there any problems anyone wants to discuss?” he asked.

He was met by silence. “So everything’s okay? Walter? Sara? Mark?” he asked each in return, receiving nods as answers.

Lieutenant MacDonough entered the room and took the empty seat next to Lieutenant Commander Templeton. “Everything alright, Vince?” David asked the Marine. For the past week the security force had been working nonstop, preparing to repel boarders, run their own boarding missions and dealing with all the general shipboard security contingencies.

“Aye, Sair. The lads are ready.”

“Good to hear.”

Wing Commander Luchenko stomped in, still in his flight suit and wearing his characteristic glower. “All fighter craft are aboard and locked down,” he said, not bothering with the formality of offering his commanding officer respect.

“Good,” David said. He began to run a quick briefing, but the conference room comm panel switched on, interrupting him.

“Sir, this is Ensign Lindros. I think you should see this.”

“Put it through Ensign, and take a break,” he ordered.

“Rome, one of Earth’s few major cities that had remained untouched in the fighting on Earth,” the anchor continued, “Was destroyed today – ” a bright flash suddenly lit the center of the city, but the Uplink cut out, leaving the story incomplete.

David mentally shook himself, knowing he needed to have composure to deal with the situation. “Okay, people. You’ve seen it, too. But we have a mission, and we need to get moving.”

Jackson looked up at the Captain. “Should we consider going back home, in light of these new developments?”

“We don’t have jurisdiction,” Gregory stood up. “Earth Command Army and police are responsible for things that happen on planet.”

“But we still have responsibility, Commander,” Jackson shot back.

David held up a hand. “More importantly people, we have our orders. Until we hear from Admiral Belden, this ship does not change its course.”

Jackson nodded. “Aye.” She looked down at the table, then straightened to face Anderson. “But how far do we go, Captain?”

“We go as far as we need to go,” David stood up. “I’m recalling everyone from Tau Ceti III now. For the next eight hours you are all off duty unless something happens. Any questions?”

The assembled officers were silent.

“Good. I’m cutting this meeting short. Any questions or issues can be brought to me privately.”

The warble of the door buzzer awakened David with a start. He looked around his quarters for a moment to regain his bearings. The lights were all on and the book he had been reading, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby sat next to him on the bed. He realized he must have dozed off while reading. The door buzzer sounded again.

“Yes?” David asked, standing up. The door, activated by his voice, opened.

Ensign Brooke Lindros, his comm officer, entered the room carrying a stack of report flimsies. “Sorry to bother you, Sir,” she said, her normally bright green eyes hooded by heavy eyelids. “But I just finished the comm check.”

“Couldn’t you have left that to Ensign Thomas?” David asked.

“I suppose, Sir,” she nodded lethargically. “But I started and decided to finish,” she said, sounding every bit as tired as she looked. She had pulled her dark hair back into a loose pony tail. Her uniform was rumpled from too many hours awake. When awake and ready Ensign Lindros was a recruiters dream. Olive skinned and willowy, she was the model of the young, attractive Naval officer, she had already gained the attention of many of the young men aboard the ship, including, David suspected, his own Executive Officer. He had no way of proving his theory and knew Commander Gregory would know better than to break protocol, but had decided to keep an eye on the situation, anyway.

He took the stack of reports. “Thank you, Ensign. Now go get some sleep. That’s a direct order.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said, turning to leave. At the door she paused, then turned back. “Permission to ask a question, Sir?” she asked, seeming uncertain.

“Of course, Ensign.”

“Well, Captain,” she hesitated.

“Go on,” David had learned right away that there was far more to the young woman than her appearance. She was dedicated, hard working and more than willing to question orders or traditions. Rather than attempting to suppress her independence, David had cultivated it. He found free thought to be a refreshing and rare commodity in the iconoclast Earth Command Navy.

“Well, Sir,” she found her courage. “I was wondering why we’re continuing on to 82 Eridani. Doesn’t Earth need us?”

“Earth needs us to do our jobs, Ensign.”

“With all due respect, Sir,” she said, “You’re wrong. I’ve been studying the transmissions from Earth. There’s far more to this than what we’ve been told.”

“Oh? Like what, Ensign?”

Warming to the subject, she called up a program on his desktop terminal. A map of the Earth appeared on the screen. “The situation doesn’t fit a panic. Several high level government officials and most of the top military brass were killed by assassins or have barely escaped attempts on their lives. Within a week over seventy conflicts have broken out, despite three hundred years of peace.” Pulsing dots now covered the map, red dots, David supposed she was right, and they were at least seventy in number, indicated open fighting. Many more amber dots showed the locations of riots and civil discontent. From the map, David could see almost no location untouched by some sort of problem. “There’s no way that this should have happened,” she continued, “Without some sort of plan. Now I’ve been looking into the Earth Now organization and it’s leader, Robert Laird –”

“But I’m a naval Captain,” he interrupted, nonplussed by the information. “Why is this my responsibility?”

“Because Nightwind is one of two surviving Earth Command Navy ships, Sir,” she said.

“That can’t be,” David responded, incredulous. “Captain Turner of the Dragon and Captain Hunt of the Zephyr are more than capable of handling things, and I left Phoenix in the capable hands of Commander Semmes. Even if Wyvern has gone rogue, as the rumors state, that’s more than enough to handle things.”

“That may be, Sir,” she said, “But Phoenix is the only reliable ship left. Zephyr has been out of contact for three days and the Dragon seems to have gone rogue.” She pulled up contact logs proving the point.

“How did you learn all this?”

“I’m a comm officer, Captain. It’s my job.”

David sighed heavily, wondering for a moment why he had allowed his subordinate so much freedom to speak. “Thank you, Ensign, for bringing this to my attention.” He put his hand on her elbow and ushered her to the door. “I’m sure the trip to 82 Eridani won’t take very long. We’ll be able to get home before things get any worse.”

“But what if we don’t, Sir?” she asked.

“I appreciate your concern,” David said, attempting to be tactful despite his annoyance. “I really do. But we have orders which haven’t changed.”

Her eyes widened. “Of course they haven’t changed, Sir,” she exclaimed. “Everyone at home is dead!”

“I’m sure not everyone is dead,” David said, refusing to humor her.

“Haven’t you seen any of the news reports, Captain? Earth is swamped in riots. Wars over centuries-old issues are breaking out all over the globe.” She stopped as the Captain shot her an annoyed look.

Anderson stared at her in silence. “Are you done now?” he finally asked.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Then do me a favor and allow me to do my job.”

“But Captain…”

“I have a job to do, Ensign, and my orders remain unchanged.”

“Fine, Sir,” she said, exasperated. “But remember: I warned you.”

“I certainly will, Ensign Lindros,” David said, closing the door and returning to his book.

Bending Towards Justice

The United States of America is falling apart. Our politicians are corrupt at worst, completely unserious at best, and have turned the nation into a circus. The civil rights and even lives of large swaths of the population are being abridged. Christian leaders have a stranglehold on the public discourse and even the government. We are divided, we are constantly fighting amongst ourselves. The end, surely, is near.

———————–

The United States of America is falling apart. Our politicians are engaged in an ongoing struggle to take our rights and are turning the nation into a prison camp. Large numbers of undesirables are dragging us down, some from within and some from without. The nation has turned away from god. We are divided, we are constantly fighting amongst ourselves. The end, surely, is near.

———————–

It’s easy to get down on life in the United States of America, especially now in the post-9/11 world. It seems as if we’ve lost something fundamentally, for a lack of a better word, American about America. America, after all, is the land of the free, the land of opportunity. Or, at least, that’s what it says in all the grade school history books.

America as a nation is an aspiration. What it aspires to has changed drastically in the two and a half centuries since we declared our independence from the British Empire. The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that every single change of aspiration has come because of a fight.

We paint ourselves in colors of blue and red in America and talk about this great fight between the Democrats and the Republicans, between the liberals and the conservatives. I don’t think that really explains what is going on too well, though. I think the big fight in America is between the progressives and the regressives.

The progressives are the ones who are always looking to the next injustice and trying to identify the next fight. They aren’t and never will be satisfied with the status quo as long as that status quo includes one person whose voice is silenced. The regressives are the ones who are always digging in their heels and saying, “Haven’t we gone too far already?”

This is far, far more complicated than the simple blue state/red state dichotomy. It’s far messier than the straight ticket party representation that seems to be the norm. It’s how a Ron Paul can walk in lock step with the Republican Party on fiscal policy but be completely against the so-called War on Drugs. It’s how President Obama can continue US policies of indiscriminate drone warfare in the so-called War on Drugs. The progressive move for the former is the realization that we’re criminalizing too many behaviors and imprisoning too much of our population for no good reason. The regressive move for the latter is in attempting to maintain this notion of the United States as the savior and policeman of the entire world and the last bulwark against any and all forms of overseas chaos.

———————-

We’re so caught up in the day-to-day battles and so focused on the incremental victories and tiny losses that we miss the big picture. American history is the story of progressive victory after progressive victory. The score sheet isn’t even close.

We need to remember that the United States’ Constitution, for all that it was a revolutionary document at the time, was ratified with one of the most odious phrases of all time. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 says, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” That “three-fifths of all other Persons” at the end is what is known as the three fifths compromise, wherein those grand defenders of freedom decided that, yes, the United States would continue to own slaves and, yes, the slaves would count towards the population so that their white owners could have appropriate representation in the House of Representatives, which would be the primary bulwark of America’s freedom. We eventually fought a war to fix that one.

Oh, and that war? That one is actually surprisingly complicated on the progressive/regressive spectrum. It’s pretty obvious that the regressives were the ones who left the country in order to continue owning other people. The progressives weren’t really in the conversation at first, though. For the first year and a half of the war the North was content to fight to preserve the Union and Abraham Lincoln would have allowed the South to come back, slaves and all at first. That he’s now known as The Great Emancipator is as much a mark of his shrewd political maneuvering as anything else.

Also, if you were a woman when the Constitution was ratified you didn’t get to vote. They didn’t get that right until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919. That’s nearly a century and a half after the Constitution was written and 65 years after the slaves were freed and instantly enfranchised.[1]

On the economic side it’s also been win after win for progressives. Unions were illegal, minimum wages nonexistent, and workplace safety a nonexistent concept as we entered the 20th Century. That was a fight that progressives fought and won.

———————–

I’m not saying that we need to look back and say, “Well, everything used to be worse, so let’s stop fighting now.” No victory is permanent, after all. No one is free until we’re all free. The fight now is harder, too, since we’ve already taken care of much of the low-hanging fruit. “People shouldn’t be property” is pretty easy to conceptualize. “Women should be allowed to vote” is, too. It’s a testament to human stupidity and the power of tradition that we didn’t allow for those truths for so very long.

We’ve moved a step or three farther back into the esoteric. It’s obvious to some of us that women should have the same education and career options as men, that black people should have the same as white. It’s obvious to some of us that women who have sex shouldn’t be disregarded as whores, that black people shouldn’t be disregarded as thugs and welfare cases, that Muslims shouldn’t be disregarded as terrorists.

The fact is, though, that we need to stop being so damn pessimistic. Progressives scored a couple more big victories this past year. Gay marriage is now the law of the land. $15 minimum wages are on the way in parts of the country. Is that enough? No. Not by a longshot. Racist police are everywhere. Crazy people are able to get guns and use them to open fire in Amy Schumer movies. Poverty still stalks the land and the poor are still beset on all sides.

History is not our enemy, however. The aspirational nature of America is not our enemy. Despair is our only enemy. We must keep pushing forward. We must keep calling out for freedom.

———————-

There is nothing new under the sun. We fret about a nation where Donald Trump is the Republican front runner. We worry that bankers blew up the economy and got off scot-free. We fear the spirit that brought us The Patriot Act. We wonder about how so many people can still think that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim attempting to take over the country with Mexican immigrants.[2] This, in truth, is absolutely nothing new.

We’ve always had unserious presidential candidates. A few of them have even made it all the way to the presidency. Andrew Jackson comes to mind. Zachary Taylor, too. Andrew Johnson was probably more disastrous as an accidental president than Sarah Palin would ever have been. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, fuck Rutherfraud B Hayes.[3]

Throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s we had periodic Panics. We would call these Panics “recessions” today. They happened because the captains of industry and bankers fucked around and nearly tanked the economy. We finally stopped them after the Great Depression because of a combination of Keynesian Economics, WWII, and the post-war boom.

Before the Patriot Act we had the House UnAmerican Activities Commission. Before HUAC we had the Know Nothings. Before the Know Nothings we had the Alien and Sedition Acts. We always came to our senses eventually.

Before Obama’s birth certificate we had Bill Clinton’s penis. Before Bill Clinton’s penis we had JFK’s Catholicism. Before JFK we had the Alien and Sedition Acts.[4]

———————-

What’s my larger point? Simply that America has pretty much always sucked. It’s always been up to Americans to make America suck less. We’d done an admirable job of that most of the time. We need to keep up the fight but we also need to look at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come and realize that we shouldn’t despair. It will get better.

———————-

[1]Erm, kinda. It depends on if you’re talking about the Emancipation Proclamation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

[2]Or, y’know, something. I still haven’t figured out what Obama’s evil plan is.

[3]I’ve decided to use this blog to carry on my beef with Rutherford B Hayes. Fuck you, guy who’s been dead for over a century and can’t defend himself.

[4]I keep bringing up the Alien and Sedition Acts. Why? Because they were breathtakingly terrible, that’s why. Basically, Jon Adams (yes, that Jon Adams) was so worried about the potential presidential handoff to Thomas Jefferson (yes, THAT Thomas Jefferson) that he passed a series of acts that would become known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. They increased residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, allowed for the deportation of people regarded as dangerous to the state, and made it illegal to speak against the government. They were also set to expire in 1800 and 1801 because Jon Adams blatantly wanted to use them against the Democratic-Republicans and didn’t want to see them used against the Federalists if Jefferson managed to win.

So, the lesson here is that the Founding Fathers were no less capable of being massive jackasses than Strom Thurmond or John Boehner.

Nightwind Follow-Up, Chapters 3-6

Chapter 3 of Nightwind is just one of those chapters that has to exist in any book, but which especially must exist in a space opera. We need to get the overview of the setting at some point and the spaceship is the central setting of any space opera, but it goes far beyond that. The ship is always one of – if not the – main characters. So the best way to introduce it is by treating it as a new character being introduced. There’s really nothing more disappointing than a sci-fi property that has a dumb looking ship or a cool ship with a dumb name, so this is a truly important part of the setting of the story.

There are a few different ways to meet this central character. In Star Trek: The Next Generation we were introduced to the newest incarnation of the U.S.S. Enterprise through the eyes of her new first officer and Will Riker then wandered around for a bit and gawks at the facilities. In Star Wars we see the Millenium Falcon for the first time through the eyes of Luke and Obi-Wan and all they can say is that it looks like a big tub of shit. Both of these are valid. It’s easy to have the coolest ship on the block and the Enterprise always lives up to its position as the Federation’s flagship. The Millenium Falcon proves that it’s far more than the sum of its parts time and time again and that Luke was both right and extremely wrong in his initial opinion.

Nightwind is, of course, supposed to be the U.S.S. Enterprise of its universe so I wanted to go with the ohmygodsocool introduction. Did it work? I mean, on some level I have to leave that up to the reader to decide, but I was never happy with the introduction. Looking back on it now I think the main problem is that I just used clunky exposition. This is one of those places where the better eye probably belongs to the editor than the author, though. The biggest problem is that I know exactly what I see in my head and I know exactly how fucking cool it is to me but that doesn’t necessarily translate.

Also, as Firedrake pointed out in the comments section of the chapter 3 and 4 post I made a classic blunder by introducing the black guy (and, really, “ebon skinned?” god was that pretentious-sounding bullshit). I wanted to have a diverse cast but had no fucking clue how to go about doing that and just tossed some random shit in all willy-nilly.

The problem with diversity in a case like this is that it’s either important or it’s unnecessary. Templeton is, for all intents and purposes, canonically black because Word of God says so, to speak in TVTropes. But does that actually matter? That opens up a whole can of worms, though, because I don’t think it matters to Anderson or anyone else on the Nightwind in the mid-24th century, but I think it does matter to me in 2015 and obviously mattered to me back in 2000.

Consider the famous story of Kirk and Uhura’s kiss on the original Star Trek. It was the 1960s and the show had already featured Jim Kirk wandering around shirtless and sexing up green-skinned Orion slave girls or whatever, but the idea of a white man kissing a black woman was terrifying. So the producers asked for two takes, the kiss take and the CYA take. Shatner mugged the shit out of the camera during the CYA take and forced the powers that be to go with the kiss take. That was groundbreaking. Fifty years later interracial nookie is not a big deal to pretty much everyone who doesn’t spend their weekends flying the Confederate flag outside of the South Carolina state capitol. So, unless humanity took a giant step back on the way to the stars, for a theoretical real Kirk and Uhura it wouldn’t have even been a think to think about.

The thing now, though, is that non-whites, women, and the various flavors of non-straight folk are still underrepresented in our media. I’m not a fan of that and think there should be more out there. But it can’t be fixed with the introduction and singling out of the token black guy, either.[1] I’m honestly not sure how to reconcile those thoughts.

So let’s move on to chapter 4.

The biggest problem with Nightwind as I wrote it back in the day is structural and those structural problems are already showing up in chapter 4. The problems here aren’t really with story or skill –  although I’d like to believe I’m a better storyteller and a more skillful writer now than I was then – but with patience and, for lack of a better word, experience. This is, after all, a raw, unedited first novel.

So we meet the big bad from the Earth-side perspective and what we get is a massive infodump. Because apparently everyone in the Commonwealth was a big happy family last week and now they’re not and it’s all because this one guy knows all the things and had the foresight to set up an organization to exploit a completely unforeseeable tragedy. This is a fundamental failure of worldbuilding that can be attributed only to impatience on my part.

Laird’s arc will, unfortunately, exhibit this particular failing of the original novel time and time again. The good news is, though, that I’m not looking at him as an, “Oh, god, why did I even have him?” character. I see it as an, “Oh, god, why did I do such a terrible job of putting him into the story?” character. He’s the biggest victim of the worldbuilding problem I made in creating a universe that’s far, far too small, but that means he’s the character who would most benefit by existing in a properly expansive universe.

On we skip merrily to chapter 5.

There are two minor problems that crop up right at the start.

First, the base on Tethys was originally on Pluto but at some point I decided that was logistically unfeasible and switched locations. I’m pretty sure I just did a search and replace, which means that, somehow, Nightwind ended up looking at the solar system’s farthest planet while somewhere in the neighborhood of one of Saturn’s moons. So, yeah. Don’t just do a global search and replace, kids.

Second, the communications with Tethys and Tau Ceti III are weirdly inconsistent. The captain of a ship on a big, important, secret mission just kinda pops in at Tethys, announces who they are and where they’re going and dismisses any questions of secrecy with a chuckle. Then he gets to Tau Ceti and just doesn’t want to talk about anything. Kinda. A little bit. This is a massive failure of characterization on my part. Anderson is supposed to be an overly serious to the point of robotic professional. But I also wanted him to tell jokes and shit. There are, of course, ways to do that. I didn’t do it right in this case.

Then we get to the two big problems in the chapter: Luchenko and MacDonough. Ugh. These guys.

I was worried that all of my characters sounded alike. So how did I, in my infinite wisdom, fix the problem? Add a Russian guy and a Scottish guy, of course. Because that’s not cliché as fuck or anything. Also, I am the resurrected corpse of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. I mean, that’s literally the only way that going with the accents thing would be even remotely justifiable so it’s a good thing it’s the truth.

Meanwhile, Luchenko gets the double honor of being a stock character. He’s the unruly subordinate who ends up shaping up, flying right, and being a valuable addition to the team. I suppose I should have put a spoiler alert in front of that, though, because I’d be willing to bet there’s absolutely no way anyone could have guessed he’d get that story arc.

And, yes, I am mad at me for, like, everything about this.

There’s also a bit of a plot point that doesn’t really make any sense here. Basically, why the hell is the governor of Tau Ceti so pissed at the Commonwealth? I would imagine that everyone has been looking over their shoulders ever since they got news of the Winged Messenger and would be overjoyed that there’s now an Earth Command military presence sitting right up in orbit. The voice I gave to Jeffries does need an outlet, but it should be coming from someone on, say, Mars.

This is yet another place where it’s really good to look back at things like this and ask, “What did I do well and what did I do wrong?” A good book is a meal. It’s obvious to me that I was aware of all the ingredients I needed but didn’t know how to put them together properly and that’s left some really odd incongruities.

This, of course, leaves me with plenty of fodder for a rewrite. But before I talk about that we need to talk about chapter 6.

So…the thing about chapter 6 is that it’s filler. I added it sometime after I wrote what is now chapter 7. I’m not entirely sure what my reason for adding it was, but I hope it wasn’t just useless padding. I think that I thought it gave me a chance to introduce 2 of the main characters earlier and also allowed for a convenient explanation as to why everything went to hell in a handbasket so quickly in the story arc that gets introduced in what was to become chapter 7.[2]

The basic structure I wanted to create was a trilogy with each book focusing on one particular ship and its adventures. Captains Turner and Hunt would have an impact on the book, but not until the tail end and I didn’t want them to just show up as a deus ex machine to save the day. So I ended up writing a bunch of chapters that are just the pair cooling their heels on the shipyard and discussing the events of the day.

There’s nothing really wrong with that, but I really didn’t make effective use of their arc in the first story and just had them as additional exposition. They could easily still be sitting on the sidelines but, like, doing any number of useful things, like training and whatnot. But this particular storyline is also victim to the larger problem of this universe being too damn small.

I suppose I don’t want to get too far into what the re-write should do just yet, since most of the important plot points come into play between chapters 7 and 10. I will say, though, that there needs to be a non-Earth counterpart for Robert Laird and Earth Now. As it is now for the plot to make any sense I basically ended up forcing poor Horatio Semmes to stumble around and just step in shit every few feet. It’s sad. But that’s what happens when you only put, like, 10 important people in the whole universe.

But we’ll have to hold off on that until next week. Or, like, a month from now. Maybe Ludwig will blow up again. Who knows?

———————-

[1]Which, now that I think about it, is probably why there was this random spate of non-white, non-straight bad guys on TV shows back in the ‘90s. While I’m sure there may have been some outright racism involved in the script writing it could easily have been one of those cases of good intentions gone wrong. Let’s say you want to add more diversity to a show that already has a bunch of straight white guys in the main cast but you don’t want to make it look like you’re just tossing a token out there. Where’s the easiest place to add that little touch of diversity? Make the baddie of the week a gay Latino drug smuggler. Boom. Problem solved…in the worst possible way.

[2]That was a really confusing paragraph to write. I hope you, dear reader, share my confusion.

Nightwind Wednesdays, Chapters 5 and 6

[Author’s Note: This is a novel I wrote about fifteen years ago. It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a history paper or short story. I’ll be putting it on here on Wednesdays and probably posting my thoughts about it on Thursdays. The Intro is here and Chapters 1 and 2 are here. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned. In this case on Thursday I will attempt to cover chapters 3-6, as the old chapter 3 and 4 stuff was partially eaten with the sudden bricking of Ludwig the Laptop. But I definitely need to talk about chapter 5, as two of the most embarrassing parts of the book start there. You’ll…you’ll know them when you see them. And chapter 6 requires a lot of ‘splainin’, too. Also, Ludwig just kinda started working again over the weekend. I still can’t explain it.]

Chapter 5

Tethys, United Commonwealth
May 18th, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1123, Terran Standard Time

The warship accelerated, slowly gaining speed. Suddenly it jerked under a harder acceleration. The screen at the front of the bridge washed out in a blinding white flash.

Automatically kicking into a self-protect mode, the screen went dark. As it cleared and the display returned to normal, the crew was rewarded with a close up view of the solar system’s farthest planet.

“Navigation, is that Tethys?” David queried the helmsman.

“Computer coordinates check out, Sir. We have reached Tethys,” came the response.

“Sir,” came the call from the communication station, “We are being hailed by Odysseus Basin.” Odysseus Basin was the name given to the Earth Command base on Tethys. It’s two thousand inhabitants were mainly scientists using the base to study Saturn and its rings. The base was built directly into the ice that formed most of the surface of the moon. The simple fact that such a facility existed was one of the greatest testaments to human engineering anyone in the Commonwealth could think of.

“Put them on, audio only.”

“Aye.”

A second later the overhead speaker crackled to life. A hesitant voice filled the bridge. “Unidentified ship, this is Earth Command, Tethys station control. Respond or be fired upon.”

“I do believe we’ve spooked someone,” David said with a smile. “Comm, if you would allow me to talk to our friends?”

“Aye,” the Lieutenant at the station responded. “You are on now, Sir.”

“Tethys control,” David spoke loudly enough for the sound pickups above his head to transmit his voice clearly, “This is Captain David Anderson of the Earth Command Ship Nightwind. We are outbound on a top secret mission from Admiral Belden. We’re just stopping for a check of our navigational array before transiting to Tau Ceti III. We would appreciate if you kept this little visit a secret.”

“Uh, Tau Ceti III?” came a slightly confused response from the planet below.

“Aye, that’s where we’re headed. And as I said, I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about this. I’m sure the Admiral would, as well.”

“Ye, yes, Nightwind,” came a hesitant response. “This will remain secret, as per your request.”

“Thank you,” David said, motioning the comm officer to cut off the connection.

“No offense, Sir,” Commander Gregory said from David’s side, “But are you sure that was the best idea? That was not exactly Top Secret.”

“Who’s he going to tell, Commander?” David turned to his second with a smile. “If a warship that isn’t listed on any rolls appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared as quickly on your shift what would you do?”

“Well…I suppose I’d ask to be transferred off of Odysseus Basin, Sir,” the Commander responded, grinning. “Now that you mention it, our secret probably is safe…”

David turned back to the navigational console. “Helm, if you could take us to the Tau Ceti system, I’m sure they would love to see a ship from home. Even one out of nowhere.”

“Aye, Sir. Setting course for Tau Ceti III.”

*   *   *

Moments later the ship’s screen cleared from the Conduit Drive’s flash and the crew of the Nightwind became only the second human crew to see Tau Ceti III.

“Unidentified ship,” the bridge speakers crackled to life. “This is Tau Ceti Control, please send appropriate IFF information or be fired upon.”

“Comm, put them on screen,” David said to the young Ensign. In front of him the viewscreen switched from the planet below to a view of a crowded command center. In the middle of the view sat a gray haired man who was obviously surprised to see a ship, especially one with a human crew. “Tau Ceti control, this is Captain David Anderson of the ECS Nightwind. We are on our way to the 82 Eridani system on a top secret mission and need to make a stopover for a final systems check.”

The man on the screen looked even more surprised than before. “Uh, Nightwind, did I hear you correctly?” He checked something to his left. “It looks like your IFF signature checks out. But…”

“How did we show up out of nowhere?” David finished with a smile.

“Well, yes. I was going to ask how that worked.”

“As I said, it’s top secret. I’d rather not talk about it over the comm channel.”

“Very well, Nightwind,” the man responded, “We’re giving you landing clearance. I’d love to hear more about how you got here.”

“We’re on our way. Nightwind out,” the screen in front of David flicked back to a view of the planet Tau Ceti III.

“Commander Jackson,” David turned to the engineering station. “How long will it take to run a complete diagnostic of the Conduit Drive?”

She calculated the time for the procedure. “Seven days, three hours for a complete diagnostic, Sir,” she said.

“Do it,” he ordered. “This could be the last friendly stop we get for a while and I don’t want any surprises.”

“Aye, Sir.”

David turned to his second in command. “Commander, with me. We’re heading down,” he said.

“Sir, shouldn’t one of us stay aboard, just in case?” Gregory asked.

“That’s a good idea, Commander. But not right now. We’re going to visit a human colony, not make first contact with a hostile species,” the captain turned and walked through the bridge access door.

“Aye, Sir.” the Commander said, turning to follow the captain.

A short walk to the back end of the arrowhead that formed the prow of the ship led the two men back to the shuttle bay through which David had first boarded the Nightwind just over an hour before. The bay could only be accessed through a set of massive blast doors. Without any current extra vehicular activity, the doors stood open, allowing the crew free access to the small ship bays. Four personnel shuttles and six cargo shuttles formed the ship’s link with planetary surfaces, as the battlecruiser itself was incapable of entering atmosphere.

“This is Small Craft Bay 1, captain,” Commander Gregory informed David as they entered the cavernous room. “There are two smaller bays in the aft section, connected to the main cargo holds.”

“And where are the fighter bays, Commander?” David inquired. “Since I haven’t had the opportunity to inspect the main section of the ship, I’m guessing they’re in the back somewhere.”

“Yes, Sir. Panther squadron is located starboard just aft of the spars. Tiger squadron is on the port side.”

“I’m told that one squadron is composed of Griffin-class fighters and the other of Longbow-class bombers. I didn’t even know Earth Command had fighter craft before Admiral Belden briefed me on the Nightwind. How do they perform?”

“To be honest, Sir, I don’t know either,” Gregory shrugged. “Wing Commander Ivan Luchenko brought the wing aboard a little while before you reported for duty. I have only had a chance to speak to him over comm channels to coordinate the rendezvous.”

David pulled out his communicator. “Bridge?” he spoke into the device. “This is the captain.”

“Bridge, Sir, this is Ensign Lindros.”

“Call Wing Commander Ivan Luchenko and tell him to report to Small Craft Bay 1.”

“Aye, Sir.”

David turned to his Executive Officer. “So what can you tell me about the Wing Commander?”

“Well, Sir, I’m not going to pull any punches,” Walter looked toward the shuttle that was being prepped to take them to the surface. He looked back to his commanding officer, “Luchenko wasn’t given the job because he was the right man for the job. He was…the only man for it.”

“What do you mean?” with a look of confusion and worry spreading across his face, David took his turn to look at the shuttle.

“Well, as you may know, the Earth Command fighter program hasn’t exactly been on the top of the priority list. The Griffin- and Longbow-class ships were designed specifically for the Nightwind program. Ivan Luchenko was the program’s top test pilot and had a lot of say in the actual designs. Earth Command asked him to personally oversee the creation of the Air Wing for the Nightwind.”

David frowned and held up his hand to stop his XO. “So far all you are telling me is that he is an accomplished pilot and designer who is respected enough by Earth Command to be given say in the deployment of his fighters.”

Commander Gregory ran his hand through his hair and began to look agitated. “Well, Sir, it’s just that Wing Commander Luchenko insisted upon leading the wing. Earth Command didn’t want him to but gave up when he threatened to tell the whole Commonwealth about the Nightwind. He was a little bit more colorful about it, though. Rumor has it that ever since then Admiral Belden refers to him as Crazy Ivan.” he paused. “Oh, he also –”

The sound of tools crashing to the floor cut the XO short. Both men turned toward the blast door as a large, red faced man grabbed the technician who had been using the tools by the collar. “What is this all over the floor, sailor?” the man bellowed. “This is starship. You don’t leave tools in middle of walkway!”

David straightened up and cleared his throat. “And you don’t threaten my men,” he said, keeping his voice calm and measured. The man slowly turned to look at David. “Wing Commander Luchenko, I presume,” David continued. “It’s a…pleasure to meet you.”

“And who are you?” the Commander asked, releasing the technician. “Some high and mighty academy boy who thinks he runs ship?”

“As a matter of fact yes, I am an ‘academy type,'” David responded, struggling to keep anger from coloring his voice. “And I do think I run this ship. I have the captain’s commission to back it up, too.”

The tall, muscular pilot took three large strides to stand in front of the captain. With a look that could have easily melted steel, he sized David up. Not willing to be intimidated on his own ship, David returned the glare. Doing his best to avoid getting involved, Commander Gregory nodded to the still frightened technician to get back to work. With a relieved look the man began to pick up his tools.

Several heartbeats later Commander Luchenko broke the uncomfortable silence. “They must be desperate at Earth Command. They’re putting babies in charge of starships,” he passed his verdict loud enough for everyone in the bay to hear. “Now, what was so important that I had to be called away from making sure my ships are flight worthy, Keptin?” the big man said in his heavily accented voice, making no attempt to hide his contempt.

“The Nightwind,” Captain Anderson kept his voice even, refusing to acknowledge the disrespect in his subordinate’s language, “is currently above the colony on Tau Ceti III. We have been invited down for a tour of the settlement. It is my understanding that we need to take shuttles to get from this ship to a planet’s surface. It had occurred to me that asking the commander of the fighter wing to pilot the shuttle would be a good opportunity to get to know him.”

Wing Commander Luchenko’s expression softened considerably. “Travelling to Tau Ceti colony? Now is worth being called from my duties.”

“It’s too bad about that,” David said. “Because I believe assaulting shipmates is against regulations. Rather than getting an opportunity to visit the colony, you will be spending the night in the ship’s brig, Commander Luchenko.”

The larger man’s face once again began to turn red and his fists clenched “Why you-”

His threat was cut short as two shipboard marines grabbed his arms and pinned them to his side. A third marine, wearing lieutenant’s bars, stepped around them. “Take the Commander to the brig, men. And don’t let him give you any trouble.” The two marines turned their unwilling prisoner around and began to lead him out of the bay. The lieutenant turned to face the captain and XO. “Lieutenant Vincent MacDonough, commander of the Marine contingent, Sair,” the wiry, red-haired man nodded to David and Walter in turn, then straightened to salute the two officers.

David returned the salute. “Captain David Anderson. And I think you know Commander Walter Gregory.”

“Aye, Sair.”

“Excellent timing, Lieutenant. That situation could have gotten ugly.”

“I was briefed on the Wing Commander,” MacDonough responded, his Scottish heritage evident in his voice. “And when Chief Petty Officer Carter called for security I thought it would nae be bad tae bring tha lads.”

Another man walked up and saluted. “Chief Petty Officer Winston Carter, Sir. I’m your shuttle pilot.”

David returned his salute. “You’re apparently more that just my pilot, Chief. According to the lieutenant you helped defuse a potentially dangerous situation.”

“I served with Wing Commander Luchenko a few years back, Sir. I know him well enough to know when I should call for help.”

“Thank you,” David said, turning from Carter to Commander Gregory. “Commander, do you think we’ll need any security on Tau Ceti III?”

“Aye, it’s possible, Sair,” the XO responded, looking slightly confused. “No telling what kind of dangerous animals they could have down there. An’ they might decide ta’ hijack the ship an’ go home, so havin’ the captain in custody would seem like a good idea.”

“Very well,” said David, turning to Lieutenant MacDonough. “Would you care to join us in our visit to the planet, Lieutenant?” he asked, allowing the ghost of a smile to his lips. “Just in case.”

“I should nae let ye doon there all by your lonesomes,” the Marine responded, turning his already easily recognizable burr up.

“Excellent,” David closed the matter, then spun on his heel and began walking to the shuttle.

“Shall we go then, gentlemen?”

The XO fell into step behind the captain and the other two men followed him. MacDonough looked over to Carter and shook his head. “Crazy Ivan, eh?” he asked.

David smiled as the Chief Petty Officer’s laugh reverberated off the bulkheads.

*   *   *

David took a bite of the succulent flesh of the Gahnor, a native Cetian beast that made up an important part of the colonists’ diet. “This,” he said, gesturing the side of meat with his fork, “Is excellent.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the gray haired governor said, “We’ve been very lucky here. The planet was far more fertile than even the original colonists thought it could be.”

As far back as the Twentieth Century astronomers had suspected Tau Ceti would be capable of supporting a planet such as Tau Ceti III. The star was smaller and cooler than the Sun, but that simply meant the planet would need to be closer, roughly two-thirds the distance from Earth to its star.

The planet sat at exactly the right place. It also turned out to be perfect for colonization, with several large bodies of water and many wide rivers, as well as a large variety of flora and fauna. Much closer to its star, however, and the third planet would be a charred rock like its companions, Tau Ceti I and Tau Ceti II. Any farther and it would have been too cold for liquid water. Although far from insurmountable, as the successful Mars colony proved, such a planet would have been too big an obstacle for the Human race to tackle without a solid supply line.

“Aye,” Lieutenant MacDonough said, pouring out his fifth glass of water. “Tae bad ’tis sae big. An’ hot.”

“I’ll drink to that, Lieutenant,” Walter raised his glass in salute. “How long was that tour? Five hours?”

“Just aboot, Sair.”

Upon landing in a small clearing near the colony, the four officers had been whisked off on a tour of the settlement and its environs. The center of human civilization on Tau Ceti III was the town of New Home. Housing some seventy-five percent of the eleven thousand people on planet, New Home serviced the surrounding farms, as well as housing the workers for the factories on its western edge. Randall Jeffries, the governor of the settlement, had been their guide. He had also set up the private banquet for his visitors.

For the entire tour David had attempted to avoid bringing up the Nightwind or her mission. For his part, Jeffries had seemed content to show off the colony. He knew the questions would soon start, however.

“Again, Governor,” David said after savoring a mouthful of plump, juicy Cetian corn, “I can’t thank you enough for setting this up. I’m sure you’ll believe me if I tell you that a lot of people from home would love to be here now.”

“Well, Captain,” the Governor said, “We’re just as happy to see people from home as you are to see us. And as I was saying, we’d be more than happy to host your crew if – ” he stopped as an aide entered the room. The young man walked hurriedly to the head of the table and whispered into the Governor’s ear. “Please, John, turn it on,” he said to the younger man, concern in his eyes.

Wordlessly, the aide hit a button in the table. A screen on the wall flickered to life with the nightly TBC Report. Images of rioting and bloody street battles played across the screen, seeming to indicate the entire planet Earth had gone mad. For long moments the room was silent except for the news report.

When the segment ended, Governor Jeffries reached over and turned off the screen. “So,” he said after a moment’s pause, “Things are getting very bad back on Earth.”

“So it would seem,” David replied. “The situation is deteriorating incredibly fast.”

“You brought it upon yourselves,” Jeffries glared at David. “Earth Command kept this secret for far too long”

“Don’t look at me, Sir,” David held his hands up defensively, “I learned about the Messenger as the same time everyone else did.”

“And your ‘Nightwind,'” the older man asked, “I suppose its development was top secret as well?”

“Yes,” David nodded, “I didn’t even know about the ship until I was given command.”

“I would think that the release of Earth’s first faster than light ship would be something to celebrate, not hide.”

“Well, Governor…” the Captain paused, looking for a way to defend the secrecy. He really didn’t understand it himself, though. Defending it would be impossible. “That’s the way Earth Command decided to play it. There’s nothing I can do.”

“And that’s why people don’t trust the military,” Jeffries nodded over at the blank screen. “You have your evidence right there.”

Anderson’s eyes narrowed. “Now, Governor –”

“I was in the project from the beginning,” Walter jumped in, “And we decided to keep the ship secret until we knew it worked. As you may know, past experiments with faster than light travel were spectacular failures. The decision was only confirmed after the first attempt to use the technology was, well, frightening.”

“Very well, Commander,” the Governor allowed after a long moment. He turned back to the Captain. “Consider the colony to be at your disposal. I’ll do anything you need to help.”

“Thank you, Governor,” David said, breathing a sigh of relief. “We’re running a diagnostic of the Drive system. We’ll be here for about a week.”

“Very well, Captain. We will be happy to host your crew while you are here, as well.”

“Thank you, Governor,” David said, standing up to offer his hand. “But now I think I should get back to my ship.”

“Yes, Captain,” Jeffries responded, shaking the offered hand. “And I suspect I need to talk to my people. They will need to be prepared for visitors.”

The rest of his officers stood up. “Well, gentlemen, let’s head up,” David said.

Chapter 6

Earth Command Shipyard, Venus Orbit
May 21st, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1317 Terran Standard Time

One of the worst-kept secrets in the United Commonwealth was the Shipyard Expansion Project. Conceived in reaction to rosy predictions of success in unlocking the secrets of the Deimos base late in 2340, the plan was to modify the old Venus Shipyards in order to be able to build the new ships waiting just around the corner. The secrets of the alien base remained hidden, but that did not stop Earth Command from pressing forward with the expansion.

In the late Twenty-First Century as the Interstellar Colonization Plan neared completion it was realized that some sort of facility would have to be built in order to house the massive colony ships. So the first stage of the Venus Shipyards was created. Little more than a collection of gantries and a small habitat at the time, the Shipyard was never intended to be a permanent fixture. Within fifty years it was, however. Studies indicated having a central production point for the quickly growing Merchant Marine would help immensely.

It also gave Earth Command an excuse to build its own Navy. The four patrol ships emerged from the slips over a five-year period between 2143 and 2148. Not only did they give Earth Command a reason to keep the shipyard, the vessels were invaluable as the test beds for the first navigational energy shields. Important in the eventual conquest of the solar system, the shields protected ships both from tiny micrometeorites that could pierce the skin of the craft and radiation without the need for bulky systems with limited life spans.

Venus Shipyard was now far different from the structure completed two centuries before.

“This thing is huge,” Captain Elizabeth Turner said, taking in the view from the shuttle bay on the port side of ECS Phoenix.

From her perspective it appeared as though an improbable dumbbell hung in silently in space. Two wheels spun slowly, habitation rings for the workers and small workshops, designed to provide gravity for the workers, scientists and engineers. A long, bulky structure was held suspended between them, motionless. It was in that area between the habitation modules where the shipyard’s four slipways were held.

The dark haired man standing to her right laughed. “And it’s where you’re going,” he told her. “This is the last stop on the Semmes Express.”

“So you’re not joining us, Commander?”

“No. You kids have fun.”

The man to Elizabeth’s left looked over. “What does the Admiral have you doing, Horatio?”

“I need to get aid to Europa and Tethys before anything bad happens.”

The trio fell silent, contemplating the situation before them. News of the destruction of Winged Messenger broke just over a month ago and the United Commonwealth already seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Riots, skirmishes and even outright warfare seemed to touch every part of the globe. Two of the four Earth Command Navy ships were not responding to calls and probably hostile for reasons no on could fully understand. Making matters far worse was the fact that Europa was battling a deadly plague and Tethys was nearly out of supplies after one of their food storage bunkers was accidentally breached, sending everything into space.

“This is a bad time for us to be taking a new assignment,” Elizabeth said.

She found the thought particularly odious as the former CO of the patrol ship ECS Dragon, now one of the two patrol ships that had dropped off the screens. Commander Semmes would probably end up pitting the Phoenix against it at some time, as well as her other companion’s old ship. Captain Robert Hunt was reassigned from ECS Zephyr at the same time. That ship was now on its way back from a high-speed emergency supply run to Europa with enough medication to keep the inhabitants alive long enough for a more permanent solution.  It had completed the journey without its captain and would probably have to make the convoy run without him, too.

Hunt’s eyes widened as more of the shipyard became visible. “Do you see what I see?”

“I think I do,” Turner responded.

The second and third of the four slipways were completely open to space and as Phoenix drew even with them it was obvious they housed two large ships.

“I think we’ve figured out the reason we’re here,” Hunt said, voice filled with awe.

Beneath their feet the deck shuddered as the patrol ship’s engines fired one last, quick burst to come to a stop. Completely transfixed by the mysterious ships, Turner hadn’t thought to grab anything to compensate for the lack of acceleration. She felt herself lift off from the deck and begin to float as the last vestiges of gravity fled the space.

A strong hand grabbed her elbow. “There you go again,” Hunt said, smiling at some assumed joke, “Trying to run off on me.”

“Thanks, Robert,” she returned the smile. “I can’t believe I just did that.”

They were the only ones in the room. Floating off into zero gravity in front of Semmes and Hunt was fine, but anywhere else it probably would have been embarrassing. A veteran captain forgetting one of the most basic lessons of spaceflight would have dealt her credibility a serious blow.

Upon exiting the shuttle from Phoenix, Hunt and Turner were escorted to a small conference room overlooking the production lines by a Navy Ensign. The young man left without a word, adding nothing to what little information they already had. Only the slight, rhythmic clicking of the magnetic seals on the bottom of the Ensign’s boots, intended to give the people working in zero gravity some amount of normal mobility, broke the silence.  Devoid of anything but a table and four chairs, the room did not help, either.

“So what do you think we’re supposed to do now?” Hunt asked.

“Wait, I guess.”

“We should be doing something, though.  Not nothing.”

“Just calm down.”

The pair fell silent and attempted to pass the time in any way possible. Elizabeth took to attempting the removal of an imaginary strand of light brown hair from her face, which she wore habitually pulled back in a tight pony tail so it wouldn’t get in her way in zero gravity. Hunt began pacing in front of the window, boots clicking rhythmically.

Finally the door opened, admitting a short man with distinctly Asian features. He wore the anchor and globe insignia the Earth Command Marine Corps took from the now-defunct United States Marine Corps at its foundation in 2214 on one shoulder and the rank of Major on the other. Obviously used to life without gravity, he floated in, slowly propelling himself over to the table.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Captains,” the Marine said, pulling himself down into a chair and engaging the light straps to stay in place,

“Some unexpected business came up. I’m Major Jason Tanaka. I’m in charge here.”

“It’s not a problem, Major,” Elizabeth said. Hunt simply stood and glowered, his dark skin completely black against the bright backdrop of the harsh spotlights below.

Tanaka took a quick, nervous glance at the larger man before sitting at the table. “Well,” he looked at Turner, “Shall we begin?

“What, exactly, are we beginning?” she responded.

“Do you know anything about the history of the United Commonwealth’s research into interstellar travel?”

Hunt sat down. “I know it’s been a failure,” he said coldly.

The Marine nodded. “That’s true.”

One of the prime reasons for the development of the Interstellar Colonization Plan was the belief that it would fuel research into building ships which could travel faster than the speed of light. At the time of the undertaking there were three general schools of thought about the topic. One group simply believed it was impossible. Within the community that though it was possible there were two basic theories. The first said that it was possible to create a wormhole, more or less taking two points in real space and connecting them with a gateway. This gateway would be physically present in both places at exactly the same time, putting anything sent through the entrance at its destination instantaneously, no matter the distance. The second theory posited that if a ship could somehow distort space and time around itself it could travel at great velocities relative to the non-distorted space around it, thereby going well past light speed.

Proponents of the wormhole theory scored something of a victory during the summer of 2076 when a stable gateway was opened at the quantum level between The University of Illinois and the Calcutta Institute of Research, founded the previous decade as a think tank and laboratory dedicated specifically to quantum theory. The feeling of jubilation wore off quickly for the team, as the drawbacks of the system were immediately obvious. Quantum level connections were one thing, but the idea of a wormhole on a relativistic level seemed centuries away. CIR and U of I researchers worked around the clock to develop a better form of the technology.

Meanwhile, the naysayers were gaining strength. Work on two colony ships, the Jove and Winged Messenger began in 2087, set for completion and launch in 2098. Several devices were included with each ship, allowing communication with Earth, but other than that the huge ships did not represent any great breakthroughs in technology.

In 2149 Dr. Jared Vance attempted to bring about the next great leap, building what was thought to be a working distortion field drive. His first tests almost cost him his life, as the test bed ship, SS Cassandra, blew up before the drive could even start. His second series of tests, nearly two decades later, yielded similar results.

Rather than follow up, however, it seemed that Humanity had given up. No studies, no advancements, no great technological leaps occurred over the next two centuries.

Elizabeth shot Hunt an angry glance. “Why do you ask?” she asked, turning to Tanaka.

“Those ships right there,” he pointed at the production line, “Are capable of faster than light travel.”

Hunt’s eyes widened. He looked at the ships, then at the Marine, then back at the ships. “You’re joking,” he finally concluded, looking back at Tanaka, “Right?”

“Nope.”

“How is that possible?” Elizabeth asked.

Tanaka smiled. “Two years ago a team of archaeologists deciphered the alien language inside the Deimos base. Earth Command kept it quiet, as it was two days after the Messenger was destroyed, but the Nightwind Project began immediately.”

“How does it work?”

The Marine offered a sheepish look. “Actually,” he said, losing eye contact with her, “I’m not entirely sure. Our scientists and engineers tell me it works a lot like the wormhole, but on a completely different principle.”

Robert leaned in. “But it works, right?”

“Hey, we got it from an alien civilization that was travelling the stars before we were building cities. I’d say we can trust it.”

“So what’s the principle?” Turner asked.

“I’m not sure. Apparently this stuff is a good millennia beyond our most recent research. We simply duplicated the tech and had to take the rest on faith.”

“Did we get any other technology?”

“Of course,” Tanaka responded as if Turner’s question was at a level somewhere below naive. “They had some fairly impressive weapons technology, which we plan on starting to duplicate after the ships are done.”

Hunt’s face lit up. “What kind of weapons?”

“They had something called a plasma pulse cannon, then there is something that fires a gelled substance which apparently can burn in space or be used in bombardment. And they had antimatter weapons, which is something we couldn’t even definitively prove the existence of until we found the schematics.”

“But they aren’t on the ships now?”

“No,” Tanaka shook his head, “We began working on the ships with any existing technology we could. Many of the systems are modular, so we can upgrade later.”

Turner raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What if we run into more advanced weapons between now and the time that happens?”

“Well, we gave the ships as much firepower as we could. If all else fails, however, they are armed with nuclear missiles.”

“Wait,” Hunt raised his palm to stop the Marine, “Nuclear missiles? Our shields can’t stand up to that kind of wave. Won’t that kill us just as fast?”

“The ships are well shielded from radiation. A thin coating of carbon nanotubes covers the entire hull. Each of the tubes is filled with helium, which deflects radiation very well. The strategy is not a new one, but it is quite effective. Unfortunately we will have to replace the radiation shielding occasionally.”

Hunt decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “So what else do you have?”

“Each ship has a fighter and a bomber squadron. We are also working on a new kind of assault shuttle for the Marines, but they aren’t out of the prototype stage.”

Elizabeth looked out at the ships. “So these are ours?”

“Yes, Captain Turner. You’ve been assigned to Starfire, which will be completed the first week of June. Captain Hunt, you have the other ship. We have not named it yet, but it will be done a week later.”

“So I’ll be the first captain of a faster than light ship?” Turner asked.

“You’ll be second,” Tanaka responded, “Captain Anderson and the Nightwind are already in the Tau Ceti system.”

“How long has he known about this?”

“Ten days.”

Hunt raised a quizzical eyebrow. “That isn’t much time to figure out how to run a ship.”

“I know,” Tanaka said, “Nightwind and Starfire were originally scheduled to launch together at the beginning of June in a public ceremony. But with the situation on Earth deteriorating rapidly that plan was changed.”

Turner stood up and looked at the ships. “So I’m guessing you called us here to make sure we had more background on the project than Anderson.”

“Exactly.”

She turned back to the Marine. “You realized this is the worst possible timing for this sort of thing.”

“I suppose,” he shrugged, “But I’m sure things will calm down soon.”

“Then why all the secrecy?”

“It seemed like the best way.”