Nightwind Future Friday, part 3

One of the strangest things to me when reading the original manuscript is that I spent absolutely no time actually describing the ship itself. It was just this giant void labeled “generic starship interior.” This is because I was being pretty damn lazy and also impatient to go do cool stuff and write about things blowing up.

This time around I’m doing things a bit differently. My decision to make the book entirely about Nightwind‘s journey forced me to come up with a, let’s call it b-plot. So I needed a new character who could be involved in that plot but who was in a different enough space from Captain Anderson to live their own life. So Corporal Katherine “Kat” Silas showed up. This is not actually the first time she appears in the book but her storyline up until this point has mostly been a travelogue/infodump about life on Earth in 2356 as she travels from Chicago (natch) to Brazil and up the Macapa space elevator into orbit. Because the original version of the book didn’t offer any of that sort of information, either. Worldbuilding. What the fuck is that?

You’re about to meet Kat. Kat is about to meet the ECS Nightwind. I hope you enjoy this little slice of my universe.

—————–

Once the shuttle was a sufficient distance from the station he brought the front end around. Nightwind appeared at the upper edges of the shuttle’s canopy. It rapidly swept across their line of vision and filled the entire view.

“How big is that thing?” Kat asked.

“Just over a kilometer long,” Carter replied. “The main section is about two-thirds of the ship and that arrowhead up front is the rest. The fore section is primarily storage and a big water shield to help with radiation shielding. There’s no gravity and, from what I heard, there was a pretty heated debate over whether or not to even put life support in.”

Carter fired a quick pulse from the main drive and headed for the prow of the massive battlecruiser. Kat stared up in silence as they swept past the ship’s prow and towards the main hull. As they passed beyond the arrowhead and approached the lozenge-shaped main section she saw a neat double row of entryways lining the middle of the main section.

“Is that where we’re going?” she asked.

“Yes,” Carter replied. “There are two shuttle bays forward, then the fighter bays, then another four shuttle bays.”

“So everything is along one side?”

“They’re on the bottom, actually,” Carter said. “Nightwind has artificial gravity thanks to the aliens we reverse-engineered the tech from.”

“Artificial gravity?”

“Yup. Funny story about that, too. The original plans for the ship called for the small craft bays to be on the sides. So we rigged up a grav generator on the Venus Shipyards and tried to land shuttles. It did not end well.”

“Why?”

“It’s really had to compensate for going from null-g to 1g in one of these babies,” Carter patted his console. “I, personally, crashed two shuttles trying to figure it out.”

“So how do you do it now?”

“Vertically,” Carter replied.

One of the small craft bay doors opened as if to illustrate his point. A grappling arm descended from the interior of the ship. Carter fired the reverse thrusters, and drifted in towards the arm. The grappler connected with the shuttle with a dull thump and pulled it up into the belly of the battlecruiser.

“Careful getting out,” Carter said. “We’re now at half a g and falling out of the command chair will really hurt.”

“I’m well aware,” Kat replied, looking back.

A dull thunk sounded from outside the shuttle and the little ship vibrated. “We’re docked,” Carter said. “I’ll go first so I can catch you if you fall.”

“Funny.”

She watched Carter intently as he leveraged himself up and out of his seat, paying attention to what he held on to and where he stepped. Once he was down the ladder and out of the way she mirrored his movements. She soon joined him on the deck of the shuttle. He’d already opened the locker and was holding her bag out for her. She grabbed it and swung it up over her shoulder.

“They say we’re going to get new shuttles specifically for these ships,” Carter said, almost apologetically, “They’re trying to figure out how to make the gravity system compact enough so we can orient everything in the same direction.”

“That would be helpful.”

“Yes, yes it would.” Carter gestured towards the door. “I’ll walk you out to the main corridor. Then you’re on your own. I have duties to attend to.”

“Lead the way.”

Carter opened the shuttle’s hatch. A collapsible airlock was attached to the outside of the shuttle. “We can pressurize the shuttle bays,” Carter said, “But in normal operations we don’t. It’s a lot quicker to go through an airlock.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

The pair walked down the short airlock. Carter cycled an airtight door at the other end and they stepped out into a small, empty room with doors on opposite walls.

“That door,” Carter pointed to the left, “Leads to the pilots’ ready rooms and lockers. We’re going to take the other one and go up the lift to the next deck.”

He reached out and hit a sensor plate next to the door and a moment later it opened, revealing a standard personnel lift. They stepped in and Carter commanded it to go up a level. The lift quickly ascended and the doors opened again, revealing a narrow hallway. The passageway was painted in a cheery robin’s egg blue. The floor was carpeted with a thin, tan, industrial carpet.

Carter stepped off of the lift. “Take a deep breath,” he said.

Kat breathed in and smelled the ship. There was a deep tang of industrial solvents and a sharp odor of coolant and the unmistakable smell of fresh paint. What mostly struck her was that everything smelled vaguely, indefinably, new. It took her a moment to realize why. Nightwind lacked the odor of sweat, piss, and blood that permeated the rest of the Earth Command Navy ships. They were old and worn and lived in.

“It’s so, so fresh,” she said.

“And it’s not particularly Navy-like in its decoration style,” Carter gestured at the walls. “Each level of the crew decks has its own color scheme. They wanted this ship to feel like a home, since we might spend months or even years on this ship, far away from Earth.”

The idea of being that far away from home for so long made her stomach hurt. “Is it too late to request a new assignment?”

Carter laughed. “This first hop is going to be pretty short. I’m sure they have plans for volunteer crews once we get the kinks worked out.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Well,” Carter checked the time on his comm unit, “I’m sorry to leave you here, but I have work to do and not a lot of time until I have to go pick the captain up,” he said. “Your comm unit can take you where you need to go.”

“Thank you, Chief Carter,” Kat said.

He smiled. “My friends call me Wince.”

“My friends call me Kat.”

“Nice to meet you, Kat. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Will do.”

“Oh, and there will be some parties tonight. Call me up and I’ll make sure you get an invite.”

“Thanks.”

Carter headed off down the corridor. Kat pulled out her comm unit and found it was already trying to direct her to her quarters. She pressed the button and a map of the ship appeared on the screen with a yellow route marker drawn on it. A yellow light lit up on the wall to her right. A moment later another light about thirty centimeters away lit up. Then another a bit farther down the wall. She realized that it was the ship itself telling her where to go.

She followed the flashing lights. About ten meters down the corridor she emerged into what the map indicated was one of Nightwind’s main corridors. It was wide and brightly lit, unlike any corridor she’d ever seen on a ship. She stopped and took it all in for a long moment.

The biggest problem with life as an Earth Command Marine, as far as Kat was concerned, was the enforced inactivity. Earth Command ships were tiny, cramped spaces. In her first tour aboard the Peacemaker she’d nearly lost her mind. There was often nothing to do but stare at the walls. The ship was often at low or null gravity so while it was possible to work out using the spring loaded weights and the exercycle  she’d actually felt her muscles deteriorating day by day. After that tour she’d been assigned to Ishtar Station. If it hadn’t been for that small miracle she would probably have been a civilian at the end of her first tour. Every day she’d run at least two laps around the inside of that vertigo-inducing, inside-out artificial world.

On her map of the ship the corridor she stood in circled most of the ship. It followed the lines of the main hull from the curved fore section down along both sides and then flattened out and crossed over along the bulkhead that separated the engineering section from the rest of the ship. It wasn’t a corridor to Kat so much as it was a long, looped running track. She already knew the first question she was going to ask Lieutenant MacDonough when they met.

The yellow lights kept blinking so she followed them down the corridor. After about a hundred meters she boarded a lift and took that up two decks. The main corridor on that deck was a light beige. She followed the lights down the beige corridor until she reached her assigned quarters. It was only then that she realized she hadn’t seen a single person since parting company with Chief Winston. On any other Earth Command vessel she would have already met half the crew and probably seen at least one naked.

Her quarters were small by civilian standards but blatantly luxurious by Earth Command standard. The room was about four meters by four meters. There was a bed along one wall and a desk mounted against the wall opposite the bed. The wall at the foot of the bed was a giant vid display.

Kat dropped her bag on the bed and stood in the center of the room. She spun around. Then she lifted her arms and saw how far the tips of her fingers were from the bulkheads that defined the room. The sense of space was almost overwhelming. She was a fairly small woman, standing almost exactly 1.65 meters and maxing out at about 73 kilograms when she was able to get enough exercise to maintain her preferred muscle tone.

When Marines were a purely earthbound phenomenon her size would undoubtedly have kept her out of the program. It was much less of an issue in space. In combat situations she had access to the latest in Earth Command power armor, complete with an exoskeletal structure that allowed her to amplify her strength by ten times. She was also an Earth native and grew up in 1g, making her stronger than her compatriots who grew up in Martian gravity or out in the wider Solar System. In noncombat situations she simply took up less space. This was a desirable quality for the Earth Command Navy’s personnel officers.

She dropped her arms to her side and stopped marveling at the space that belonged to her long enough to activate her vid screen and inform Nightwind’s computer that she had taken official possession of her quarters. As soon as she did a message popped up on her screen. The ship’s XO, Lieutenant Commander Gregory, had requested a personal audience as soon as she checked in.

Kat’s heart fell as soon as she saw that message. There was only one meaning for that meeting request. XOs didn’t just demand immediate meetings with Marine corporals.

Her comm unit was already showing the route to the XO’s office. She left her quarters and followed the yellow lights. Two minutes later she stood outside of the XO’s office. She took a deep breath and hit the panel that signaled there was someone waiting outside.

The door opened mere seconds later. Kat stepped through into a cramped office. The XO was sitting behind her desk, studying something on a tablet. The vid wall showed a giant schematic of the Nightwind. One section was blown up and appeared to include notations for work orders. Gregory didn’t look up at first.

Kat snapped to attention anyway. “Corporal Katherine Silas, reporting as ordered, Sir,” she said.

Gregory looked up. “At ease, Corporal,” she said. Kat shifted from the rigid attention stance but did not relax. “You have an interesting record, corporal,” Gregory pressed a few buttons on her tablet, “But I don’t know you. And that’s a problem.”

“Sir?”

“You must understand that I have been in on this project almost from the very beginning. Everyone on this ship is someone I have known for at least five years and worked with in close quarters. Everyone, that is, except for Captain Anderson, who was assigned to this ship at the last minute because that’s what Admiral Belden thought was best for the program, and you, a Marine corporal.” Gregory paused, staring at her.

“Permission to speak, sir?”

“Of course, corporal.”

“I have only known about these orders for three days myself. I had my leave cut short for reasons I did not understand at the time. I did not know about the Nightwind until I saw it. I have no authority over where I am ordered to report.”

“I am well aware of that, corporal. But I know something about your history that’s not in your official records. I am, after all, the XO of a top secret ship and was one of the main project managers and lead designers. I know people who can get me any information I desire.”

Kat’s heart skipped a beat. She forced herself to hold the same stance and not allow even a twitch in her facial features.

“According to my people you went through training for the Special Services Division. Got some of the highest marks in your group, too.” She paused, studying Kat’s face. “Apparently you excelled at counter-intel and something amusingly called ‘unofficial covert policing tactics.’ I’m sure I don’t want to know what that means.

“What I do want to know, corporal, is whether or not I should kick you off of my ship right here and now. I do not like the idea of having the sneaks covertly put one of their people on my ship. I do not like thinking I’m going to have to look over my shoulder all the time. I most certainly do not want anyone covertly policing my people.”

Gregory stopped speaking and stared at Kat. She felt the XO’s eyes boring through her own, drilling into the back of her skull. She forced herself to stay calm and took a deep breath.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” she asked.

“Yes,” Gregory replied, “By all means.”

“I mean, can I have your word that absolutely nothing I say leaves this room?”

“I have not told anyone what I know about you yet, corporal. I wanted to meet you before I turned you down or tainted you in the eyes of the rest of the crew.”

“I did go through the Program,” Kat said. “Special Services recruited me right after boot camp. I scored extremely highly on the secret parameters they use to measure agent aptitude on the Core Skills test. So I joined. It seemed like it would be fun and I could do a lot more as a member of the SSD to help Earth Command than I could as a mere grunt.”

Kat paused. “We got a lot of near real-time intel work. The SSD is pretty small and Mars has been making a lot of noise and they were playing catch-up at the time. I enjoyed the analysis aspect of it and was very good at the fieldwork exercises. They didn’t want me sitting behind a desk because they thought it was a waste of my talents, so they pushed me toward the counter-intel and unofficial tactics programs.

“My final exam, as they call it, was to infiltrate a base on Mars. They actually had me do it. They sent me to Mars and my job was to simulate getting into position to assassinate a Martian opposition leader who was engaging in terrorist activity against Earth Command targets. They told me it was a hypothetical scenario.

“Three months later the President of the Colonial Authority died unexpectedly in his sleep. I am convinced that they used my final exam as a dry run to see where the problems were in a real op they already had planned. Then Robert Laird stepped in to the power vacuum and I couldn’t see how that made things better for Earth Command.”

She paused and took a deep breath. “I realized that being an agent in the SSD wasn’t actually helping. Even if I was just being paranoid and it was all a strange coincidence I still couldn’t stomach the idea of actively preparing to infiltrate our own colonial bases and kill people just because they disagreed with United Commonwealth or Earth Command goals. That’s not what I stand for and it’s not what I think the United Commonwealth should stand for. So I quit. I figured that while I might not be able to help much as a regular grunt I certainly wouldn’t be able to do as much damage.”

She fell silent, waiting for Gregory’s judgment.

Gregory’s eyes had softened as she told her tale. “Thank you, corporal,” she said after a moment. “I believe that you’re being honest with me. My source also informed me that there’s no evidence you have been in communications with the Special Services Division since you returned to the Marines.”

Kat shook her head. “I have not, no.”

“In that case,” Gregory stood. “Welcome aboard, corporal. I am actually happy to have someone with your particular skillset on this mission.”

“If I may ask, Sir, why?”

“We are doing something brand new in the history of humanity, corporal. Your official record indicates you have a strong sense of duty. Your unofficial record indicates you have a keen analytical mind and the ability to get into places others can’t. Your story tells me that you have a moral compass that overrides everything else. You have also been out interacting with the rest of humanity while the rest of us have been cloistered away at the Venus Shipyards. I may need to call upon you at some point.”

“I understand.”

“Until and unless that happens, however, you are a Marine Corporal serving under Lieutenant MacDonough. You get no special privileges. You do not get to skip the chain of command for any reason. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good, then. Dismissed.”

Kat drew to attention and saluted her XO. Gregory returned the salute and immediately went back to her work. Kat turned and left the office, light headed.

—————–

You might notice some familiar names. Chief Petty Officer Winston Carter is still a shuttle pilot in this world. Robert Laird is still involved in some way, shape, or form. Nightwind Executive Officer Commander Gregory is still here, too. But while in the original the character was Commander Walter Gregory the character is now Commander Vanessa Gregory. Why? Because reasons. In broad strokes I like Commander Gregory and this version should be very similar to the original. But Walter Gregory was also represented in my head by a very specific person and, well, things change over the course of a decade and a half. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Nightwind Follow-up, ch 23-24

So, um, there’s not much I feel like talking about in chapters 23 and 24. They’re both pretty standard sci-fi space fillers for a plotline that I’ve already said I now find stupid. How much more can I say?

The one thing about chapter 23 is that I was trying to depict Anderson finally realizing he has no fucking clue what he’s doing and falling apart. On one level this is a key component to the process. On another level I don’t think I’ve really done the necessary work to have this make sense. One of the biggest problems, I have learned, is in the creation of internally consistent characters. Anderson and, to a lesser extent, Semmes suffer from this problem.

This is a byproduct of the problem I’ve talked about continually: I was paying way more attention to following a plot than actually developing the world and the characters who occupy said world. I have learned an interesting lesson through running the re-write concurrently with this critique of the original. The shorthand for the problem is this: the plots in the original version grew bloated and out of hand because I kept realizing I still needed to add more to pad the book out to actual novel length. So I rushed from place to place and jumped from character to character and end up with this weird mish-mash of random crap where I throw a mutiny plotline into the middle of the book because, hey, why the fuck not?

I feel this is probably the hardest lesson to learn as a writer, unless you’re Stephen King or someone like that. The characters and the world are central to everything and if you give them space to breathe they will fill out all the pages you need and more. This is, of course, if the characters are good and worthwhile. If the characters suck then you’d better have a really good central conceit to the whole thing and have something else you’re explaining the hell out of to your audience. This is one of those places where the fact that I really didn’t read fiction when I was writing the original draft hurt me and where having a lot of examples of how to do things well helps immensely.

So, um, let’s talk about that for a while. How ‘bout it?

My most important written influences for science fiction at the time I wrote the original draft were Arthur C Clarke, the Star Wars Extended Universe novels, and the BattleTech novels. This is a really weird combination of influences. It’s also not particularly helpful when it gets right down to it.

Arthur C Clarke never really created a memorable character. He left that job to Stanley Kubrick. What Clarke did was create ideas and places that just stay with you forever. Let’s take, for instance, his Rendezvous with Rama series. I remember nothing of the characters in those books. What I do remember is that those characters interacted with an amazing setting and I absolutely wanted Rama to show up and I wanted to go see it and be a part of the adventure. I also remember that as the first time I saw a reference to the Y2K problem, as one of the main characters had lost everything at the turn of the 21st Century because the computers were all fucked up and there was a major financial disaster.

Clarke loved technology above all when writing. His books and short stories were always thought experiments more than character-driven stories. He also had a key advantage that 19 year-old me didn’t: he’d been fascinated with space and technology and the implications of human interaction with both since before they were really a thing. He was ahead of his time and writing about things he thought would be really cool. I simply can’t do hard sci-fi like Arthur C Clarke could because I’m behind the curve and also I don’t really want to. I’m rather fond of the space opera.

The Star Wars Extended Universe and BattleTech novels, meanwhile, are a whole other can of worms. In both cases the universe was something that was already defined and the authors working in that space could shorthand the worldbuilding. If you open up a Star Wars novel you already know what hyperdrive is, you already know what an X-Wing and a Star Destroyer is, and you already have notion of the relative locations of Corsucant, Corellia, and Tatooine. You also don’t need an entire chapter developing the Force because you probably already watched the movies. Similarly, the BattleTech novels already offered a map of the Inner Sphere. They could assume that the reader knew what a JumpShip was and that it had DropShips and that the DropShips carried Battlemasters and Locusts to planets to try to blow up Marauders and Phoenix Hawks.

In both cases there was a built-in audience who was there for something. The Star Wars audience wanted to see badass fighter pilots in X-Wings blow up bizarrely overengineered weapons of mass destruction. The BattleTech audience wanted to see humongous mecha shoot PPCs and missiles at each other. They were TV shows or movies written on paper. The reader didn’t have to ask too many questions because “the remnants of the Empire found a new super weapon and Rogue Squadron has to blow it up” or “the Clans are invading Coventry and threatening to break the peace of Tukayyid” are all the reader needs. After that it was just mil-sf and heroic storytelling porn.

None of this is really meant to knock the books in question. Most of them were fun and the Michael Stackpole novels were genuinely good.[1] They weren’t necessarily the best place to learn how to be a sci-fi author, though, for all of the reasons I’ve listed above.

So what has changed since then? It all starts with John Scalzi.

I don’t really remember why I decided to read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I know that I first came across Scalzi as I was leaving Christianity because of his amazing write-up of his visit to the Creation Museum. At the time I had no idea he was a sci-fi author. Hell, I had no idea that he’d written more than one blog post in his entire life.

Old Man’s War is mil-sf through-and-through, as it its sequel, The Ghost Brigades. The cool thing about Scalzi’s worldbuilding in the Old Man’s War books, though, is the way that he moves away from mil-sf and book 3 is pretty much old-school sci-fi and then he just keeps moving on to characters existing in a vast, pre-built universe where everything is changing around them. Scalzi’s influence on me is less important for his books than it is for his blog, though, specifically The Big Idea.

The Big Idea is a series he does where he allows authors to write about their books and what lead them to write said books. I, as someone who loves writing about writing as much as, if not more than, I love writing, can’t help but pay attention to such a series. I’m always draw to authors who can explain why their books are cool. Most of my influences have come from there.

The most important is probably[2] The Expanse. James Holden is interesting. Ish. Detective Miller is definitely interesting. The world in which we met Holden and Miller is amazing. You feel like you can walk on Ceres with Detective Miller and travel the solar system aboard the Rocinante with Holden.[3]

After that we get to Mira Grant/Seanan Maguire. I first met Seanan through her sci-fi writing alter-ego Mira and the Newsflesh trilogy. It’s pretty much the only zombie property I actually enjoy, since it’s totally about how the world has changed since the zombie apocalypse came and went and people got back to their normal lives while having to acknowledge that zombie outbreaks can still happen. After that I started reading Seanan’s InCryptid series, a fairly silly series about a family of cryptid hunters who have to survive in a world that doesn’t and shouldn’t know that fantasy creatures totally exist. In both cases Maguire’s skill shines through in creating interesting characters and really cool worlds and having the characters just kind of live in those worlds.

Cat Valente is easily both an influence and a terrifyingly amazing writer who makes me feel bad about my own abilities. I actually can’t recall if it was Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed or one of “Mira Grant’s” books that convinced me to pay attention to Scalzi’s Big Idea. I do know that when I learned someone was writing books based on the Prester John myth I had to read them. They were not at all what I expected but, seriously, Cat Valente is a once-in-a-lifetime writer. Her use of the English language is masterful and beyond beautiful. Every page had a section that just leapt out and demanded to be re-read and savored.

There are others, too. Wesley Chu’s Lives of Tao is great stuff. Ernest Clyne’s Ready Player One is a fun novel that was being turned into a movie last I heard but I’m afraid that Adam Sandler’s atrocious Pixels might have hurt that one.

All of these books have taught me how to build a world. They’ve taught me that I, as the reader, need to feel like I can live in that world. The Nightwind universe really doesn’t feel that way, at least in the original incarnation. But I have spent nearly two decades living in that world off and on and I know what it feels like to walk in the hallways and talk to the people. I hope that I am finally beginning to be able to communicate that experience to others.

Tomorrow I shall be introducing a brand new character. The alternate version re-write of Nightwind is now a much tighter, more focused book and I needed a character who could walk the corridors of the ship. That was when Corporal Katherine Silas introduced herself to the world.

Tomorrow’s excerpt won’t be the first time we meet Kat, as her decidedly uncreative friends call her. It will be the first time she meets the Nightwind, though. It’s my hope that you see the ship through her eyes.

———————-

[1]Michael Stackpole wrote most of the universe defining books in the BattleTech series. He always did it really well and I looked forward to getting new Stackpole books. He also wrote the X-Wing novels for the Star Wars Extended Universe, which were definitely the most fun books in that world. They focused on Wedge Antilles leading Rogue Squadron to all kinds of heroics after Luke Skywalker went off to be all Jedi-y. I actually consider him one of my favorite sci-fi authors. One of these days I should seriously consider reading his non-other-people’s-universe novels.

[2]Definitely. There’s no probably about it.

[3]One of these days I have to write a post or twelve about The Expanse adaptation on SyFy. I was on record as saying I assumed it was going to suck. It, um, it didn’t. It was amazing. The two best shows on TV right now, without question, are Black Sails and The Expanse. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Nightwind Wednesdays, Chapters 23-24

Chapter 23

Ah’Dag System
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2034 Terran Standard Time

David slammed his fist against the arm of his chair as the audio feed from the planet below cut out.  Five of his crew members had been missing for nearly two days and he could get no information out of the people who were holding them.  He didn’t even know if they were alive or dead.

“Try it again,” he told Ensign Thomas, who had replaced Ensign Lindros as the primary comm officer.  “Get them again.”

“I’ll try, Sir.”

“Don’t try,” David rose and turned to face the young man, “Just do it.  Do it now or I’ll have you cleaning toilets for the rest of the trip.”

“Y-yes, Sir.”

“Uh, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Templeton called out from his station.

“What?” David spun, practically shouting.  “What do you need?”

“I just discovered something, but I think we need to discuss it in private.”

“Very well,” David said.  “My office.  Now.”

“Yes, Sir.”

David turned to Lieutenant Commander Jackson, who was glaring at him with barely concealed anger from the engineer station.  “You have the bridge,” he told her.

“Aye, I have the bridge,” she responded, voice icy.

David led his Ops officer back to his office.  “So what have you discovered” he asked as the door closed.

“I’ve discovered that you need to calm down, Captain,” Templeton crossed his arms over his chest.  “That explosion on the bridge was completely and totally uncalled for.”

“Oh, really?”

“Permission to speak freely?”

“You have already assumed it, so I guess you’ll know right about the time I give you kitchen duty.”

“…Right…” Templeton paused.  “Listen, Sir, I was on the Wyvern when Captain Bock blew up.  I served with Commander Gregory.”

“And your point is?”

“This isn’t good.  Ensign Thomas did not deserve the way you yelled at him.”

“He wasn’t doing his job, Lieutenant Commander.”

“That’s wrong, and you know it.  He was doing the best he could do.”

David sighed.  “Look, Mr. Templeton, you don’t understand this, but I’ve got five people stuck on that planet.  They are my responsibility.”

Mark leaned over the Captain’s desk.  “Captain, I do understand.  Commander Gregory is a good friend.  He was my direct superior on the Wyvern and on the Nightwind project.  I don’t like that he’s down on that planet any more than you do.”

“But you aren’t responsible.  I’m the Captain, if they die, I’m responsible.”

“So do what Earth Command trained you to do, Sir.”

“They didn’t.”

“What?”

“They didn’t train me in how to deal with this, Mark, I’m making it up as I go along.”

“And, with all due respect, Sir, it’s showing.”  Templeton straightened up.  “We’re doing something here that no one in the Human race has ever done.  You’re trying to do it all by yourself and you can’t.  Don’t you know that’s why we’re here?”

“Why who is where?”

“Us,” Templeton replied, “Your Command Crew.  Me, Jackson, Lieutenant MacDonough, even Wing Commander Luchenko.  Talk to us, ask for advice.  Don’t ignore us.”

David sighed, deflated.  “Alright, tell the Command Crew I want them to each come up with an idea about how to get our people off that planet.  We’ll meet in…two hours, assuming we haven’t heard anything new from the planet by then.”

“Yes, Sir.”  Templeton turned and left the room, leaving David to his thoughts.

*  *  *

“Are you sure nobody followed you here?” the young Lieutenant asked the Ensign as the other snuck into the small secondary communications room.

“Who would follow me?” the junior officer asked.  “What’s going on?”

“Heard from Ensign Thomas that the Captain blew up on the bridge, that’s what’s going on.”

“So?”

“So?  Don’t you get it?  The Captain’s got us into this mess and now he’s melting down.”
The Ensign scratched his neck and offered his superior an uncomfortable look.  “That’s not good, is it?”

“Nope.”

“So what are we gonna do about it?”

“There’s only one thing to do.  We’ve got to take over the ship, take it home.”

“We can’t do that, Lieutenant…can we?”

“Course we can.  We just need an opportunity and a plan.”

“But we can’t run the ship.  That’s what the Captain’s for.”

The Lieutenant sighed.  “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, speaking slowly.  “Commander Gregory is down on that planet, collecting dust and probably getting pretty mad at the Captain for leaving him down there, right?”

“Right.”

“So we go and we kidnap the Captain.  And then you know what we do?”

“We kill him.”

“No.  We call the planet, tell them that we want to do a swap.  We tell them that we need to get the people down there back but we’ll send the Captain in their place, y’know, a gesture of good faith and all.”

“And then we leave?”

“Now you’re getting it.  We turn the ship over to the Commander and we go home.”

The Ensign nodded.  “Wait,” he paused.  “Why do we want to go home?  Don’t we need to explore, to figure out what happened to the Winged Messenger?”

“Did you see any of the reports of the stuff going on at home before we lost contact?”

“I saw the riots.  But the Captain says that our mission is more valuable for helping stop that stuff than anything we could do if we went back.”

“Of course the Captain says that.  He wants to make the decisions and get the glory.  And he can’t do that if he’s back home taking orders from Earth Command.”

“Think he’s been getting orders but keeping them secret, Lieutenant?” the Ensign asked, understanding dawning in his eyes.

“I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“So how do we get to the Captain?”

“We need to get help from someone in the Command Crew.”

“Who?”

“Thomas told me that Lieutenant Commander Jackson did not look happy with the Captain after he blew up.  I think she’ll be the best choice.”

“Okay.  Just tell me what you need me to do.”

Chapter 24

Planet Hemdirh, Ah’Dag System
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2147 Terran Standard Time

The door of the holding cell opened and a pair of burly guards threw Commander Gregory onto the small room.  He collapsed into a bleeding mound in the middle of the room, unwilling or unable to do anything.  After their shuttle crash and subsequent capture Ensign Lindros had managed to talk their captors into allowing them to go back and get their translators.  He now found himself wishing she hadn’t, as that apparently meant they felt torture and interrogation would be a much more useful tool.

As soon as the door closed the room’s other occupant scrambled out of the corner to check on him.  Once she determined that he was, in fact, still alive she convinced him to sit up, pushing, shoving and dragging him over to the wall.

Once sitting, the Commander slowly opened his eyes and focused on his companion.  “Hey, Ensign,” he managed to croak out.

“Yes?”

“I have one question for you.”

“Shoot, Commander,” she said, using her sleeve to dab away some of the blood from his face.

“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

She shook her head.  “You’re not funny, Commander.”

“Just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

“Well it’s not working just now.”

“Too bad.”

“But it was a good try, Commander.”

Gregory struggled into a slightly more comfortable sitting position.  “Do me a favor, Ensign Lindros,” he said, sounding slightly better than the first time.

“Anything, Commander.”

“Call me Walter for now.  I don’t think we need to stand on formality right now.”

“Only if you call me Brooke,” she paused, “Walter.”

“Very well, Brooke.”  He smiled weakly.  “So have you heard anything about our Marine friends?”

“No.”

“Too bad.  I wonder how they’re doing.”

Lindros slumped against the opposite wall.  “I don’t suppose they could be doing any worse than we are right now.”

“Probably not.”

“So what are we doing here?”

“Waiting.”

“For what?”

“For the Captain to get us out of here, I suppose.”

Brooke ran her fingers in a circle on the floor, creating a swirl in the dirt and dust gathered on the cold, hard surface.  “Do you,” she stopped herself.

“Do I what?”

“Do you think he’ll actually get us out of here.”

“He’s the Captain.  It’s his job.”

“But he got us here in the first place.  Is he going to be able to get us out?”

“If he can’t we’re in a lot of trouble.”

“What if he left without us?”

“He wouldn’t do that, Brooke.”

“He left Earth behind.”

“Ah,” Walter shifted again, still unable to find a comfortable position.  “I see what this is all about.”

“What is all about?”

“You don’t trust the Captain.”

“What?”

“I know that you don’t agree with the fact that we didn’t go right home after talking to the Joshans,” Walter told her.  “I know that you don’t think he’s been making the best possible decisions.  And now that we’re down here you think that he’s going to just decide to leave us here to rot because it will get in the way of his mission.”

“Something like that,” she reluctantly agreed.

“Well it’s not going to happen.  The Captain and I decided that Earth can take care of itself without us.  But he knows that we can’t take care of ourselves down here.”

She closed her eyes.  “So am I just being foolish, then?”

“Pretty much.”

“Thanks.”

“Not a problem.”  Walter finally gave up trying to get comfortable and slid down the wall until his body stopped moving.
“You know what would make this go a lot better?”

“What?”

“Tell me a story.  A good story, something fun.”

“I don’t know any stories.”

“Sure you do, Brooke.  Tell me why you’re here.”

“I think you know very well why I’m here.  We were on our way to the planet to see if we could get some information.  Then they shot us down.  Then I believe they tortured you and probably dumped us here to rot.”

Walter sighed heavily.  “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

She shrugged.  “You asked me why I’m here, and I told you.”

“Yes, but I know why we’re in this cell.  I wanted to know why you’re in the Navy, why you’re on the Nightwind, you know, something to keep us talking about something, anything other than the fact that we’re stuck here.”

“Oh.  Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  So.  Why are you here?”

“Well…” she paused, gathering her thoughts.  “I went to the Academy, but didn’t do all that well in most of the disciplines.  But I could run comm systems, so they decided to put me into that field.”

“Where did they assign you?”

“Luna Base.”

“I’m sorry.”  Walter shook his head.  Any assignment that wasn’t aboard ship was considered to be boring duty, despite the fact that only a small percentage of the active Naval personnel were ever assigned to one of the patrol ships at any given time.  Those who graduated at the top of their classes, such as Gregory or David Anderson, tended to get immediate assignments to the ships and would usually get the option to stay aboard ship for as long as they wanted.  For those whose marks were not as high even one shipboard assignment could be considered lucky.

“Eh, it’s not your fault, Sir, I didn’t graduate high enough in the class to warrant anything better.”

“So then how did you get assigned to the Nightwind?”

“I heard that they were looking for a linguistics expert, it was for a secret project, but it was supposed to result in some sort of shipboard duty.”

“So you know a lot about language?”

She rolled her bright green eyes.  “Didn’t you read my dossier, Sir?”

“Sure, but I want to hear your story.  And, again, call me Walter.”

“Okay.”

“So what languages do you know?”

“Well, my family spoke Greek, Italian, Spanish, English and a little bit of Polish when I was growing up.”

“That’s a lot of languages.  My family spoke English and Ukrainian, but that’s all I know.”

“Well I also studied French, Japanese and learned some Ancient Greek and Latin as well.”

“Why?”

“Because I could.  I had an ear for it.”

“So they picked you for the position on Nightwind?”

“I was the most qualified.”

“Huh.”

The door of the cell opened again and they fell silent.  Two guards walked in, followed by a woman carrying a tray with two bowls.

“Eat,” one of the guards commanded.  “You’re lucky to get it…pirate scum.”  He leaned over and very deliberately spit in one of the dishes.

“I don’t suppose that’s a sign of respect here, either,” Walter quipped.

It’s Time

How young are you gonna be when you die?
I guess I never really thought about that
You’re dying when you start thinking like that
All I know is time is undefeated so far
–Alkaline Trio, “Only Love”

I knew what I wanted to be when I was in the first grade. I knew what I wanted to be in junior high. I knew what I wanted to be in high school. I knew what I wanted to be in college.

I have known every day of my life since I was six years old what I want to be. I am now almost thirty-five years old and I am not that thing. I have spent almost every day of these past three decades running as fast as I can from that one thing I wanted more than anything else to be.

Eventually you can’t keep running. Eventually you reach your limits or come upon an insurmountable obstacle. You stop. You brace yourself for the end. That thing that’s chasing also stops, waits. You turn.

The thing behind you is you. But it’s not you. It’s a better you, a stronger you.

It’s the you that you’ve always wanted to be.

——————–

The most important lesson I’ve learned over these past two years is that the universe doesn’t give a shit about me. This, really was the death of the last vestige of Christianity within me. While I no longer believed in the Bible and while I no longer believed in god as the bearded man sitting in the sky I still held on to this notion of the universe as a place with consciousness and that consciousness still somehow wanted me to be happy and healthy and wise.

The universe cares no more about me than it does a speck of dust on the surface of Mars. The universe has no plan. The universe has no outcome. The universe just is. It turns and evolves and stars and planets coalesce and stars explode out in the vacuum.

This is existentially terrifying for most. It’s why we create the gods.

For me, though, it’s not terrifying. It’s a release from the burdens of expectation. I am, for the first time, free. There is only one question that I need to ask.

——————-

So here I stand, back to the wall, my own worst fear standing before me. He, that other me, that better me, holds out his hand.

“Are you ready to do the work?” he asks.

And thus the work begins.

——————-

I am proud to announce the launch of my official website: writerbrian.com. It’s not much at the moment, just a WordPress blog attached to my own personal domain name. But it’s a start. It’s a place for heavily curated content so that when I go out into the world and say to someone, “You should hire me to write for you,” I can point to a website and say, “Go, look. I’m pretty good at putting words together.”

This isn’t enough, of course. If it were simply a matter of having a website and writing well I’d have gotten a book deal or three by now. This is where the work comes in.

This also isn’t the death of Accidental Historian. There are things on this site that I don’t want potential clients seeing, either because they’re too inflammatory, too personal, or just too bad to show in that context. This is where I experiment. This is where I try new things. This is where I fail. This is not a place from which I would send links to a stranger who might pay me to put words together for them.

There will also be things on Brian Writes that never make it over here to Accidental Historian. Soon, hopefully, I will be able to offer links to places where I was paid for my words so that potential clients can see what I’ve done for past and current clients. None of that is there right now.

For right now Brian Writes is a down payment on the future. It’s a promise to myself that I’m ready to stop running and start doing the work.

Nightwind Follow-Up, ch 21-22

So…chapters 21 and 22. Most of the reason that Nightwind Wednesday became Nightwind Thursday is because I simply did not believe I would have time to fully parse and discuss these chapters this week. There is just so much that needs to be unpacked.

Chapter 21 sets up your basic “crewmembers in captivity” plot. It adds in the “crewmembers in captivity to a technologically inferior alien race” angle in the process. Because that’s a thing that’s always necessary to add to the mix.

In terms of overall narrative arc the chapter doesn’t really bother me that much. The sudden switchover of the narrative view from Anderson to Gregory at the end is a rookie mistake, but the individual elements are interesting enough and I don’t think it’s badly written. It’s just a stock television sci-fi plot and it has no place in the book.

I did try to use it to show Anderson beginning to fully realize he’s in over his head. I attempted to turn that into a whole thing over the next few chapters of the book. So pay attention, people. There’s a whole sub-plot afoot!

What bothers me about it now is the technology, specifically the shuttlecraft. This whole thing is very Star Trek/Star Wars where the Nightwind is conveniently equipped with ships that can just kind of travel down into gravity wells and return at will. So I guess we need to unpack where these ideas work and where they don’t.

Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that the alien planet has a gravitational pull reasonably close to Earth’s. We already know what it takes to break free of Earth’s gravity using a self-powered craft. It takes a whole shitload of thrust and a lot of fuel in the form of multi-stage rockets. This is the only reliable method we have for leaving Earth and our second-best option is the as-yet-unrealized space elevator, which is simply not an option in this scenario.[1]

This is a specific Earth and planets-similar-to-Earth problem that must be considered. It would make sense that Nightwind would carry shuttles that could travel to and from an asteroid or moon or even Mars. Let us consider, for a moment, the difference between the Apollo Lunar Lander and the Saturn V rocket. The Ascent Stage of the Lander carried some 6,000 pounds of propellant mass and managed 16,000 Newtons of force while thrusting if I’m reading this right.  The first stage of the Saturn V carried almost 4,500,000 pounds of fuel and developed 34,000 kiloNewtons of force. Since this wasn’t actually enough the second stage added another million pounds of propellant and nearly 5,000 kiloNewtons of thrust to get over the final stretch into space. All of those millions of pounds of fuel, by the way, were to get a bit over 300,000 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit. Buzz Aldrin could have practically jumped off of the moon and back to Ohio by comparison.

All of this is to say that it’s impractical, at best, for the Nightwind to use rocket-powered, well, anything as small craft. Although I am now imagining the starship Enterprise traveling the galaxy and exploring strange new worlds with a shitload of Saturn V rockets attached to the saucer section. That’s pretty funny.

The thing about rocketry is that it’s a functionally dead-end technology. We can’t really make rockets better. We can make them bigger. We can sand down the edges and refine the fuels and tweak the ratios and squeeze a little more performance out of them, but the rocket is a rocket. In the end the Saturn V was just a much larger V-2 rocket. This is why Wernher Von Braun got a ticket to the United States instead of the Nuremberg Trials after WWII. He was the best in the world at making rockets. The fact is that there may never be anyone better than Von Braun at making rockets and it won’t actually matter.

So this is where the “fiction” part of “science-fiction” must come into play. We know, for instance, that thanks to their stolen alien tech humans have the ability to create gravity. If they can create gravity it’s possible they can also negate gravity. This is a sticky point, though, since under traditional Newtonian physics it is actually possible to create an anti-gravity force equation. Under General Relativity not so much. Still, if we posit a magical technology that can create gravity on a spaceship we could, theoretically, posit a reverse switch on that machine that would make a ship gravitationally neutral or cut down its effective mass enough that gravity just kind of doesn’t apply.

Alternatively we could posit a propulsion device that works like a super rocket, creating massive thrust in exchange for very little fuel consumption. This creates a physics catch-22. Anything that’s significantly more efficient than a rocket would probably achieve that efficiency at the expense of thrust. Something with significantly more thrust than a rocket would either tear the craft it’s powering apart of do horrific damage to whatever happens to be caught in the backdraft. And this doesn’t even get to all of the math we currently have to go through to get a rocket into space in terms of things like launch windows. Also alien planets probably won’t have convenient rocket gantries just set up and waiting for us.

Given what we know now, then, the trip to an alien planet is probably one-way. Unless you drop your own Saturn V[2] and launch equipment down the gravity well on your way or bring your own space elevator. Both of these options seem sub-optimal in a hostile encounter. Luckily this is one of those places where people who want to read science fiction are probably going to just let it pass if you hand wave the whole thing away. We simply don’t think too hard about an Enterprise shuttle taking a joyride down a gravity well or the fact that the Millennium Falcon can take off from Mos Eisley and then scoot halfway across the galaxy to run into the Death Star.

So we mosey on along to the not-at-all scientifically impossible chapter 22.

I made reference to chapter 22 in last week’s follow-up when I said this:

“Do you remember General Hans Schroeder? I’ve taken to referring to him as General No Longer Appearing in this Picture. He actually got an entire story arc. This arc included a chapter that I genuinely don’t remember if I’ve gotten to yet that caused me to just stop writing the book for a while. I just had no fucking clue why I was writing that particular chapter.”

This, ultimately, might end up being one of the most important chapters I’ve ever written. But, obviously, it’s not going to be important because I like it or because it’s a pivotal chapter in this story. It taught me this: “One of the things I’ve learned about writing is that if something just isn’t working and you’re avoiding actually doing the work that means the thing you’re trying to write about probably doesn’t belong. If I, as the writer, am finding it impossible to force a chapter into a book that means that you, as the reader, will probably wonder why that chapter exists in the first place.”

The thing about chapter 22 isn’t that it’s a bad chapter. It’s actually a perfectly serviceable chapter in another book. It’s far from the best example of its type in the world, but it’s defensible as a description of ground combat. The combat itself is believable and the events are competently blocked out. Even though last week I couldn’t remember if I’d even gotten to the chapter yet when I was re-reading it I could still remember where everything was supposed to be in my head when I originally wrote it. So, hey, that’s a thing. The description of the setting could be punched up a bit, though.

The big problem with his chapter, as I’ve alluded to about a thousand times now, is that it exists in the first place. Why does the United Commonwealth have a standing Army? It seems unnecessary. And yet there it is, fighting itself. Because some of the commanders decided to throw in with Robert Laird. Why did they do that? Because I apparently thought that what this book really needed was a good, old-fashioned Tom Clancy-esque tank battle chapter. It doesn’t. I don’t know what else there really is to say about that, now that I think about it.

Also, there is a really weird mistake that stands out like a beacon. While infodumping about the Striker tank I make reference to it originally being based on the M1A4/Challenger III chassis. This is just a bizarre thing to read based on the fact that the M1 Abrams and the British Challenger don’t currently share a chassis. I believe I was attempting to imply that there would be a future version of the American and British Main Battle Tank where the two countries worked together. Which is fine in concept. In execution, though, the resulting weapons system wouldn’t be called the M1A4/Challenger III because it would be a whole new design and not an upgrade over an existing design. So it would be the Anglo-American Tanky McTankerface or something.

One of the more subtle problems with this chapter, though, is how it brings to light just how bass-akwards my worldbuilding was. The part where I detail the genesis of the Striker MBT seems to imply that a big part of the reason that the world came together was because everyone started using the same tank.

That’s just odd. If sharing weapons systems is all it takes to get countries to join together then the United States, Britain, and Russia would have become a single political entity during Lend-Lease. Unless I’m really mis-remembering my post-WWII history that didn’t happen.

There are only really two points I detailed for the creation of the United Commonwealth that I can think of right now. The first is that there was a war that threatened to blow up the whole world. The second was that everyone started using the same tank. This, then, caused everyone to say, “Hey, let’s all join together, give up our national sovereignty, and sing Kumbaya. Because that’s a thing that would happen.

I’ve mulled over the inherent problems of an origin story like that and you’ll be happy to know, dear reader, that I’ve changed things around quite a bit. What I have now is what I think is a pretty workable bit of worldbuilding. I’ve even managed to keep it almost believable and within the same timeline of the original. Although I’m not at all against tweaking the timeframe at this point.

What I have now is this: it’s the mid-21st Century and the world’s resources have noticeably dwindled. We’re on the verge of oil wars and water wars and resource wars and basic self-annihilation. The solution to this problem is probably in farming asteroids but it really sucks to get up to space to send ships off to the asteroids. The solution to the problem comes in the form of a scientific breakthrough: the discovery of a material that is actually strong enough to build a space elevator.

The task of building and administering the space elevator is handed off to the United Nations because they’re the only body that can guarantee fair access. The UN possesses the moral strength but lacks the strength of arms to enforce control. The US, Russia, and China are soon vying for control of the new space elevator, which is located in Brazil. War looks inevitable until an Anglo-French led coalition of nations steps in and gives Brazil enough support to threaten to expel America, Russia, and China from any access to the elevator. Everyone backs down and gets to work on the important task of mining asteroids.

The space elevator allows technological and scientific research to leap forward. New forms of propulsion ascend the ladder for testing.[3] Scientists also send up a whole bunch of awesome new space telescopes.

Breakthroughs in propulsion technology are announced at the same time the new space telescopes confirm a bunch of hypothesized and discover a bunch of new potentially habitable planets orbiting nearby stars. A new project to create colony ships is launched under the auspices of a brand-new replacement for the United Nations: the United Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has significantly more power than the UN and at this point the world is, for the most part, actually pretty determined to set differences aside and work for the common good.

So there we go. That’s a thing that I’ve actually put some thought into.

[1]This actually presents a huge problem in any narrative in space travel. In order to be realistic about visiting other planets using technology we know is possible a ship would be required to carry shuttles capable of deploying with their own multi-stage rockets to return or carry its own space elevator with it. Arthur C. Clarke posited the latter method in Songs of Distant Earth. It’s an interesting, if impractical, solution for Nightwind.

[2]Well, I suppose you could get away with a Titan II, which was what was used for the Gemini missions. I’ve used Saturn Vs in this bit specifically for the comparison between what it took to get a ship headed for the moon and what it took to get one back. For a sci-fi scenario you might be able to get away with simply achieving low orbit and letting the mothership pick the shuttle up. But, then again, taking a kilometer long battlecruiser into Low Earth Orbit might result in the obliteration of Cleveland by raining debris from a very expensive former warship. You might need a rocket that can carry a payload up into high orbit. Although that seems somewhat unlikely, given that the International Space Station doesn’t look like it could take too many hits from a railgun before it would turn into orbital confetti.

[3]I’ve gone with a super powerful ion engine as my main stab at it for the moment. I also threw antimatter-powered rockets in because that sounds cool.

Nightwind Thursdays, ch 21-22

[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. For this week Thursday is Friday and we’ll all wear socks on our hands and hats on our feet. As an additional note, there is a whole lot to talk about in today’s chapters. Just so, so much.]

Chapter 21

Ah’Dag System
May 31st, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
2225 Terran Standard Time

David watched the shuttle sweep over the forward section of the Nightwind and begin its journey down to the planet.  The craft looked tiny and vulnerable as its form rapidly receded, getting lost in the background of the planet below.

He turned away from the screen and looked over to the Ops station.  “Mr. Templeton,” he asked, “Any sign they’ve detected the shuttle?”

“Nothing yet, Sir,” he responded, “But they can’t do anything right now, anyway.”

“Good point,” David allowed.

He knew sending a team down to the planet was a great risk, but without contacting the people of the planet he could not get any information.  If they could tell him anything about the movements, tactics or even something about the location of the pirates, it would make his job that much easier.  And allow the Nightwind to return to Earth that much faster.

“They’ve entered the lower atmosphere, Sir,” Templeton called out.  “It looks like the shuttle has been detected.”

“Magnify,” David ordered.

The shuttle reappeared at the center of the screen as the powerful magnification equipment kicked in.  It sped across a blurry backdrop of mottled greens and browns, rapidly closing in on the target zone for the landing, a clearing at the entrance of what appeared to be a small military base.  They planned to land at a military facility because that would be the most likely way to make quick contact and get useful information on the pirates.

“Two aircraft moving to intercept the shuttle, Sir,” Templeton announced.  “Fixed wing, moving fast.”

“Switch to tactical.”

“Aye, Sir.”

The screen temporarily went blank, then relit with the tactical display.  At the center a blue arrowhead labelled “Shuttle 2” indicated the location and heading of the shuttle.  Two red arrowheads labelled “Alpha” and “Bravo” moved in from the bottom of the screen, coming in on the shuttle’s left.

Stubby and slow, the shuttle had no chance of outrunning the fast moving interceptors while encumbered by the problems of maneuvering in the atmosphere.

“Order Wing Commander Luchenko to launch.” David said without turning to the comm station, his eyes fixed on the tactical display.  “I want our fighters to shadow the bogeys.”

“Aye, Sir,” Ensign Thomas, the officer filling in at the communications array while Ensign Lindros was away, said.

“Tell him not to enter the atmosphere unless I give him the word,” David added.

“Aye.”  The Ensign keyed up the comm gear, relaying the captain’s orders.

A moment later a pair of fighters powered out of the launch bay and vectored in toward the planet.  Wing Commander Luchenko always kept a pair of his fighters in “Ready Launch”condition, capable of leaving the bay at a moment’s notice.  Another pair was set at “Ready Five” status, allowing Nightwind to have a full flight of four escorts within five minutes of engaging hostile forces.  A flight of four bombers was also held at “Ready Five” status.  The Longbow-class fighter-bombers were designed in such a way that they could quickly be loaded with the appropriate munitions for any mission, whether they were needed to attack a ground target or engage a capital ship in space.  The setup was a precaution the Wing Commander developed while the ship was still in the Tau Ceti system.

“Captain,” Templeton said, “I’m showing two new bogies.  Bigger, slower aircraft.  They appear to be from the base we had picked as our landing zone.”

“What are they doing?” David asked.

“Vectoring in on the shuttle.”

“Increase the range of the tactical display to include the new hostile forces.”

The view on the screen switched to a larger area.  The original pair of hostile forces now appeared to be much closer to the shuttle.  A new set of icons now appeared on the upper left side of the screen, labelled “Charlie” and “Delta.”  They were moving slower than the original bogies, but their combined closing speed with the shuttle meant they were closing much faster than the ones playing catch up.

“Any idea of their intentions?” David turned from the screen to the tactical officer.  “Are we looking at interceptor craft, an escort or what?”

“No telling, Sir,” the Ops officer responded, shaking his head.  “They have made no attempt to communicate with the shuttle and are either ignoring or not receiving Chief Carter’s hails.  All I know is that they have not locked any weapons on to the shuttle.  But that could be because they simply aren’t in range.”

David turned back to the tactical display, helpless to affect the situation.  “I suppose we’ll know soon enough,” he said quietly.

“They’ve gone active,” Templeton said, almost as if the alien’s actions were summoned by the captain’s words.  “Locking on to the shuttle.”

“Comm, tell Carter to get out of there!” David ordered.

Before the Lieutenant had a chance to do anything the icon labelled “Bravo” flashed once.  A moment later the shuttle’s icon changed from blue to amber and suddenly veered almost ninety degrees off of its original course.

“Ops, go to visual,” David said, taking a step toward the screen.

The shuttle appeared a moment later, trailing a thick, bluish tail of smoke and quickly losing altitude.  From below the small craft a forest rose, the trees appearing to reach up toward it.  For a moment the treetops gave way as the shuttle plowed into the uppermost branches.

Then the shuttle simply disappeared, swallowed whole by the dense, green canopy.

A pair of slender, knife-edged aircraft entered the view from the bottom of the screen and turned into a lazy orbit of the site.

“Should we begin a recovery operation, Sir?” Templeton asked.

David thought about the logistics for a moment.  “Prepare two shuttles and get a flight of Longbows prepped for air-to-ground,” he said.  “And launch the rest of the fighter squadron.”

As Ensign Thomas began relaying the Captain’s orders the other two bogies entered the screen from the left side.  The stubby, wide bodied craft slowed to a stop directly over the area where the shuttle disappear and dropped straight down, disappearing into the trees moments later.

“Cancel those orders,” David said.  “Looks like they were prepared for this.”

“Aye Sir.”

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” David muttered.

The rest of the bridge crew remained silent.

*  *  *

It began as a dull throb and gradually increased in intensity.  Commander Walter Gregory embraced the pain.  The pain let him know he was alive.  He allowed it to pull him back to consciousness.

Lit by the dim glow of the emergency lighting the interior of the shuttle took on a strange, almost ominous appearance.  Dim, twisted shapes stuck up out of the gloom at odd angles, destroying the formerly clean, simple lines of the compartment.

Gradually the scene began to make sense to the executive officer.  The shuttle appeared to have come down right side up, sparing its crew from the almost certain serious injury or death that would have occurred had they been thrown against the roof or walls.  Most of the equipment compartments had opened during the crash, however, spilling their contents across the floor.  It appeared as though the right side of the shuttle had hit the ground first and crumpled, as most of the deck plating appeared to have been displaced and the bench in that side had ripped free of its moorings and now rested haphazardly against the wall.

Marine Private Nait had been sitting on that bench.  He now was leaning against the wall with his head at an awkward angle.  Commander Gregory reached over and checked the young man’s pulse.  Just as he suspected, the Marine was dead.

He next turned to the unconscious form of Ensign Lindros.  She appeared unhurt and her breathing seemed steady, so he turned to the other Marine, Private Lee.  He also appeared to have survived the crash.

A sudden noise from the front of shuttle caught his attention.  He reached reflexively for his sidearm.

“Don’t shoot me,” Chief Petty Officer Carter said, managing to find a way to make a joke even in such a terrible situation, “I didn’t mean to crash the ship.”

Walter relaxed,  taking his hand away from the weapon.  “You did as well as you could, Chief.  In fact, you might have done better than that.”

“Well,” Carter responded, stepping into the main compartment, “I kept us alive, I suppose,” he paused, “Didn’t I?”

“Private Nait didn’t make it,” the Executive Officer responded, gesturing to the crumpled form.  “But the rest of us are okay.”

Carter leaned over the dead Marine and searched in vain for the slightest hint of life.  Finally convinced of the Commander’s verdict he collapsed onto the bench next to Private Lee.  “I…I did the best I could…” he said quietly, cupping his hands over his face.  “I did…”

“I know, Chief,” Walter said, “No one will blame you for this.  But we have to see about getting a rescue down here from the Nightwind.”

“You’re right, Commander, we -” Carter trailed off.

“What we -” Walter started, but was stopped by the Chief’s upraised hand.

“There,” Carter said after a moment, “You hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That…that noise, kind of a high-pitched whine.  It’s getting closer.”

The pair sat in silence as the far-off sound gradually came closer, increasing in volume and intensity with every passing second.  It finally reached a crescendo, seemingly directly above the downed shuttle.

Then it stopped.  The silence was worse than the noise.

“I’m going to go have a look,” Walter said, standing up.  “Keep an eye on these two.”

“Be careful, Sir.”

Walter stepped over to the rear of the compartment and undid the emergency hatch.  After scanning the tiny area he could make out through the doorway he stepped outside.

He realized too late that he had not thought to bring his communicator with the language translator.  The bulky, bipedal form stepping around a tree trunk and into the clearing created by the shuttle’s landing confirmed his thought.
The sudden, barked command from his new companion did not need translation, however.      Walter raised his hands in what he hoped was the universal sign of surrender as the alien being pointed the barrel of its weapon menacingly at him.

Chapter 22

Geneva, Switzerland, Terra, United Commonwealth
June 1st, 2356
0936 Terran Standard Time

Brigadier General Hans Schroeder, senior living commander of the Earth Command military, jumped up on the roof of a low building to get a better view of the fight taking place just down the street.  The gutted remains of his command vehicle, an Elephant infantry carrier, sat in the middle of Unity Park, the victim of a hand-held rocket attack.

On the twenty-ninth of May  an irregular infantry force had attacked Geneva, political capitol of the United Commonwealth.  Schroeder had scraped together a force comprised of police, military and a few naval officers in an attempt to defend what was left of the United Commonwealth government.

The attempt was looking more and more like a failure with every passing moment.  His troops had initially held an advantage over the attacking force, as the Earth Command infantry was far better trained and equipped. Then the 4th Mechanized Battalion had arrived.

Shortly after the news of the so-called “Messenger Incident” leaked, the commander of the 4th had stopped responding to orders from command.  The 4th, along with the 8th Mechanized, another battalion, had been ordered to the old Cheyenne Mountain Complex to guard Earth Command’s Special Weapons Bunker.  Neither unit had arrived.  A few days later a nuclear bomb set off in the heart of Rome had nearly levelled the Eternal City.

Resurfacing later, the commander of the 4th Mechanized had declared himself as an opponent of the United Commonwealth government and revealed that he had ordered his unit to ambush and destroy the 8th Mechanized en route to Cheyenne Mountain.

Schroeder knew it wasn’t a coincidence.  Someone was out there, plotting the downfall of the Commonwealth.  Unfortunately he did not know who that person was, and until he could figure it out he was stuck reacting.  Hopefully there would still be something left to save when it was time for him to start acting.

Now the 4th Mechanized had found its way to Geneva.  The battalion’s three infantry companies and fifteen Striker heavy tanks heavily outgunned the capitol’s ad hoc defensive force.

Less than half a kilometer off the 4th Mechanized was about to break through his final line of defense.  When that happened, the remaining members of the United Commonwealth government would have no hope of survival.  Schroeder had seen no alternative but to call on the Navy to attempt to help evacuate the governmental officials.  He only hoped they could provide enough assistance in time.

The building shuddered as an olive drab Elephant pulled up to him, clipping the corner as it approached.  Schroeder somehow managed to keep on his feet despite fearing the imminent collapse of his vantage point.  Unsure of the allegiance of the vehicle below him, he reached for his sidearm, knowing full well it would not be enough to penetrate the thickly armored hide of the fighting vehicle.

A hatch on the top opened with a clang.  Colonel Jonathan Short, his second in command, poked his head out of the dark interior.  An oversize helmet dwarfed the officer’s thin, boyish face.

“General, we have to get out of here,” Short yelled over the loud engine.  “The Fourth is moving in, they’re about two blocks away and coming on fast.”

Schroeder jumped off the building on to the top of the fighting vehicle.  “Thanks for the ride, Colonel,” he said, undogging the other roof hatch.  He barely managed to swing his legs over the opening before the vehicle jolted and began moving.

“Just got a call from the Naval base on Oahu,” the Colonel said as soon as Schroeder was safely inside.  “They’ve got a half a dozen shuttles on the way.  Should be here in about five minutes.”

“That’s the first good news I’ve had all day, Colonel,” Schroeder smiled.  “I assume the landing platform will be clear.”

Short nodded.  “I’ve got an infantry platoon deployed at the only entrance to the governmental building.  Elephants are backing it up and antitank teams are stationed in several surrounding buildings.”

“Triangulated fire,” the General asked, “And a good old fashioned kill zone?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good work, Colonel.”

The Elephant pulled up inside the final defensive line.  Schroeder slapped the release button on the rear hatch and stepped out on to the street.  Colonel Short followed, carrying a pair of MK assault rifles.

“You might want some extra firepower, Sir,” Short said, handing the General one of the rifles.  “I’m guessing you’ll need it.”

Schroeder took the offered weapon.  “Thank you, Colonel,” he said, turning away to scan the avenue.  “Where are the fire teams?”

“Second floor of the building across the street,” Short pointed at a row of blank windows, “Parking garage down block…and,” he turned around, “I put a heavy weapons squad on the third floor of the government building.”  The Colonel turned back to Schroeder, his expression apologetic, almost sheepish.  “That’s the best I could do, General.”

Schroeder slowly scanned the hasty line of troops.  Less than two dozen men, backed by two infantry carriers and three concealed fire teams, all to hold back an entire mechanized battalion.  “All we need to do is buy time for the flyboys to get here and evacuate the government officials, Colonel,” he turned back to his second.  “They are the planet’s last hope, and they must be protected. Nothing else matters now.”

“The troops will do their -” Short’s response was cut off by a shell impacting on the capitol building behind them.

A pair of Strikers bearing the emblem of the 4th Mechanized were now moving down the wide boulevard and had Schroeder’s men in their sights.  Behind them marched a column of soldiers, approximately a company strong.

“Hold your fire, men,” Schroeder yelled, knowing the young soldiers under his command would want to start shooting too early.  “Wait until you have a good target, then take it down.”

A powerful, hot wind nearly knocked him off his feet as the Elephant directly behind him fired off an anti-tank missile.  It streaked down range, homing in on the tank to the right.

The Striker heavy main battle tank was, almost without a doubt, the finest armored ground combat vehicle ever built during Mankind’s quest to wipe itself from the face of the Earth.  Originally designed in 2056 off of the American M1A4/British Challenger III chassis, the Striker’s purpose was to replace all of the main battle tanks in the world, thereby unifying all militaries into a single equipment standard and helping ease the tension between armies that was then still very real and threatening to tear the United Commonwealth apart at the seams.

It was a smashing success.  In a field test against the dominant tanks of the world, the M1A4, Challenger III, the Chinese S16 and the Australian MA-2 the Striker won convincingly, defeating all four tanks in single combat so one-sided that there was no question as to which vehicle was superior.  Generals the world over requested the Striker, ushering in a new era of unity and cooperation between different militaries.  By the time the Rhino Infantry Carrier, precursor to the Elephant, was introduced the following decade, the process of military integration was irreversible.

Over the following three centuries the Striker was updated three times, with a fourth scheduled to come off the line in a month, just in time for the three hundredth anniversary of the original.

The current update, or the Striker 4, as it was commonly known, introduced the one and only weakness the design had ever known, a fatal flaw that was never recognized due to the lack of actual combat experience.  Unfortunately for the crew of one of the 4th Mechanized Battalion’s Strikers, that flaw would not go undiscovered any longer.

Redesign number three upgraded the turret rotor, the mechanism which spins the turret, forcing the designers to use a new type of armor alloy in order to give the same amount of protection to the newer, larger part.  The new alloy tested to all specifications, and appeared to be the quality required.  But in reality it was far too brittle.

Compounding this problem was the fact that the Striker’s turret size had decreased over the years, from the original which was nearly the size of the tank’s main body itself, creating a large overhang of armor and a very small gap, making it nearly impossible for enemy fire to reach the fragile turret ring, to the current design, with a turret just over half that size and a design which left large gaps in the armor overhang.

The missile fired from Colonel Short’s Elephant found one of those gaps and made direct contact with the brittle armor over the turret rotor.  The High Explosive, Anti-Tank, or HEAT, projectile punctured outer shell of the tank, exploding inside, right next to the tank commander’s station.  She was vaporized instantly.  Bits of white-hot metal shrapnel, both from the missile and the commander’s station scythed through the delicate instruments inside the turret, knocking out the targeting systems and the loading mechanism.  They also touched off the round in the feeder, creating a chain reaction that went back into the magazine itself, destroying the rest of the tank’s ammunition in a massive fireball that engulfed the entire tank.

The armor around the turret ring had collapsed inward as soon as its structural integrity was broken, weakening the turret’s connection to the rest of the tank.  That connection was then completely broken as the exploding magazine, located underneath the main turret in the rotator sleeve, turned into a rocket booster, propelling the turret straight up and free of the turret body.

Such a flight was destined to be very short, and this one was no different.  The turret cut a short arch through the air and landed roughly twenty meters behind the now obliterated tank body, directly in the middle of the second infantry platoon of the third company of the 4th Mechanized Battalion.  Five soldiers died instantly, three crushed by the weight of the turret and two in the explosion of shrapnel that followed.  Twenty-three more were injured, fifteen severely enough that they would have to be rushed to a hospital in order to have a chance at survival.

Still, the 4th Mechanized pressed forward.  Emerging from the fog of smoke created by the destruction of its companion, the other Striker fired a round at Schroeder’s second Elephant.  The HEAT round easily pierced the Elephant’s side, exploding in the infantry compartment and expanding through the open door to the driver’s station, killing him and ruining the drive controls.  The gunner survived, however, protected by his position in the vehicle relative to the location of the tank round’s entry.  Coaxing the last bit of power out of the vehicle’s dying systems, he fired a missile back at the tank before popping the hatch and bailing out.

This missile hit the Striker directly on the front armor, a nearly impervious protective slab, and exploded harmlessly, doing nothing more than creating a slight dent and scorching some paint.  Continuing inexorably forward, the Striker aimed at Short’s Elephant.

As the massive tank moved forward it drew even with a parking garage down the street from the small line of loyal troops and a hidden threat.  The gunner for the Adolphus Heavy Recoilless Anti-Armor Rifle Short had placed in that concealed firing position had watched the destruction of the first tank and believed he knew exactly where to place his shot.  He fired a sabot round at the gap where the armor was too weak to stop the shot.

A sabot round carried no explosive warhead.  It was simply a solid steel tube with a sharp point at one end and a rocket motor and stabilizing fins at the other.  It was designed to puncture armor and then destroy by kinetic force, rattling around inside an enclosed turret, passing through computers and flesh as it went.

This sabot round did not do that.  It pierced the turret ring armor and continued straight through the floor into the reserve magazine underneath, trailing sparks the entire way.  Three rounds cooked off as the sabot passed, destroying the rest of the magazine in the process.

The small, fast moving sabot round did not shatter the brittle armor plating as the larger, slower missile had in the first tank, so this time the turret stayed on.  Momentarily contained, the fireball from the magazine spread to every corner of the tank, killing the entire crew in seconds before finally blowing all of the hatches open and escaping to vent the last of its energy.

Shocked by the sudden loss of both Strikers, the infantry company began to withdraw.  The recoilless rifle gunner added to their misery by firing a High Explosive, Anti Personnel round into their midst, taking a few more soldiers out of the fight.

Schroeder pulled out a small Vision Enhancement Device and held it up to his eyes.  The VED served the same purpose as a pair of binoculars, but did so with a piece of equipment no larger than a wallet.  It also had a laser range finder and infrared capabilities, making it a favorite of field commanders.  The VED now revealed to Schroeder a line of Elephants, escorted by a new pair of Strikers, moving up to renew the new attack on his line.  He checked his watch.  The last attack had taken less than five minutes and the shuttles had not yet arrived.  He would have to hold the line, again, against even higher odds.  Calculating the amount of time it would take to load the government officials on to the shuttles, he decided the line would have to hold for a minimum of ten minutes.

One of the Strikers fired.  The round streaked over Schroeder’s line and hit the capitol building, shaking the ground.

Ten minutes began to look like an eternity.

The enemy infantry reformed, emboldened by the new line of armor.  They again advanced, harassed by fire from the rapid fire 30mm cannon mounted on the top of Short’s Elephant and a steady barrage of HEAP rounds from the Adolphus in the parking garage.  Still, the 4th Mechanized Battalion swept forward.

They soon drew even with the heavy machine gun nest hidden concealed on the second floor of the office building a block in front of Short’s line.  Surprised by this new threat, the troops again fell back, leaving a pair of wounded comrades on the ground.

One of the Strikers swung out of the line of infantry carriers and picked up speed, training its main gun on the parking garage.  It fired, scoring a direct hit on the second level.  From his vantage point, Schroeder could not tell if the gun or its crew had survived.  He doubted they could have and mentally recalculated the odds of completing his mission without the Adolphus.  They weren’t good.

A shadow swept over his position, then another, followed by a third.  The Navy shuttles had arrived.  The General looked up, shielding his eyes from the late morning sun.  Six aircraft now circled the Capitol building.  As he watched, one pulled out of formation, moving in toward the roof and disappearing from view.

“Just ten more minutes,” he muttered.  “We only need ten more minutes.”

Out on the boulevard the Striker opened fire the heavy machine gun nest, destroying it and taking out a large chunk of the facade of the office building in the process.  It then inexplicably stopped and let the infantry again take point.
That was small consolation, as Schroeder’s small force was still outnumbered by a margin of three- or four-to-one.  The enemy infantry advanced rapidly, reaching accurate small-arms range and opening fire far more quickly than he had calculated.  His line returned fire.  Shooting from behind cover and remaining stationary, they made much more accurate shots, taking down several of the charging troops almost immediately.

Still, they advanced.  The fight soon moved down to near point-blank range.  Punishing fire from Shroeder’s loyalists and the Elephants finally slowed, then stopped the charge just before the lead soldiers could get inside the line.

The Striker again opened fire, sweeping over the defenders with a long burst from its machine guns.  It then brought its main gun to bear on Short’s Elephant and fired a HEAT round at the carrier’s thin side armor.

It barely missed the General as it passed.  Schroeder dove for cover, hitting the ground as the Elephant exploded, slamming his face into the concrete road surface.  He rose, face covered in blood from a large gash on his forehead and a broken nose, in time to see the 4th Mechanized charge again.

This time they hit the line at a run.  The defenders rose to meet them and the fighting quickly degenerated into a bloody hand-to-hand melee.

Colonel Short ran up to his Commanding Officer and said something which Schroeder could not hear over the sounds of battle and the ringing in his ears.

“What?”

“I said,” the Colonel shouted directly in his ear, “That we need to get you on one of those shuttles and out of here.”

“I’m not moving, Colonel.  I will not run from this fight.”

“But Earth Command needs you alive.”

“I don’t have time to get to a shuttle, anyway.  And bringing one down here would be suicide for the pilot.”

As if seeking to confirm the General’s position, Short’s radio crackled to life.  “Last shuttle is landing now,” a voice informed the officers.  “We’ll be out shortly.”

“Good luck and Godspeed,” the Colonel responded.

“Thank you, Sir.”

The two officers turned back to the fight and brandished their rifles, looking for good targets.  Once again the enemy was withdrawing, but this time for good.  The Striker had reversed and was now training its main gun down range.  It fired on a target Schroeder could not see or explain.

Short’s radio again came to life.  “This is Major Willis Stevens of the 5th Armored, calling for General Schroeder,” a new voice said.  “Please respond.”

Schroeder grabbed the Colonel’s microphone.  “I’m here, Major, go ahead.”

“We heard you needed some help cleaning up the streets of the capitol, Sir.”

“Sounds about right, Major,” the General responded, smiling as wide as his injuries would allow without searing pain.

“We came as fast as we could, Sir.”

“Well, you’re just in time.”

Nightwind Follow-Up, ch 19-20

The whole existence of the Joshans[1] in this book is a problem. They’re kind of a Schrodinger’s Threat. They’re both knowledgeable and unaware, both powerful and weak. At the time I was putting them together I just saw them as a race that knew it was dying and was deeply afraid to face that truth. Their actions and motivations in that context made sense and still do.

As with everything else in this book, though, there’s a huge problem with their decision-making processes. Why don’t they just find out where the Nightwind is from, destroy Nightwind, and then go blow Earth back to the Stone Age? Why did they give Anderson their star charts and then send the Nightwind out on a crazy-ass wild goose chase? This is basically the Unnecessarily Slow Dipping Mechanism of plot points. They sent the Nightwind off where they literally could not track it and made it into a wild card and hoped the angry sea bass with lasers attached to their frickin’ heads would handle their problems for them.

Then, and Firedrake picked up on this problem immediately, they just kind of assume that Nightwind was the only form of defense humanity had and the Emperor commits a substantial portion of his dwindling resources to try and destroy Earth. These are actions taken because the plot dictates, not because they form a coherent decision matrix.

Of course it’s possible to defend this. I could say, “Well, they’re aliens. They don’t think like we do.” Unfortunately I haven’t done any of the necessary work to show that. I just made them a designated villain and had them do designated villain things.

This is one of those places where simply being older and more knowledgeable helps immensely. I have an inspiration for the Joshans now that comes from my unabashed love of the Byzantine Empire. I’ve often wondered what Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror thought when he finally entered Constantinople in 1453 and was greeted by a shrunken, nearly empty city. To me the Joshan Empire is now Byzantium in 1452.

The way Anderson and the Nightwind meet the Joshans and how the initial stages of contact goes have changed dramatically now that I have that image in my head.

Chapter 20 is just kind of one of those placeholder chapters that keep people aware of what’s going on. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It’s the base model Ford Focus of chapters. No one is excited that it’s in the book but if it wasn’t there the rest of the product wouldn’t move out of the showroom. There are some questionable physics in the discussion of the logistics of the passage from Earth to Saturn but I don’t have any major complaints.

This chapter is obviously an attempt to give Semmes a story arc. He’s fairly quiet and reserved here. Cautious, even. This makes sense, given everything that has happened. He’s the only one who really gets a character arc and I think I got it right in theory. Quality of execution, obviously, is in the eyes of the beholder.

I think the interaction with Bixby at the end of the chapter is really where I cement who Semmes is. After everything falls apart and he himself has failed on a scale he couldn’t have imagined he still realizes that it’s his job to teach. So he just does. I don’t feel Semmes should be as kind of the Dragon as he is in this chapter, though. Of course I am currently baffled by basically every bad guy’s motivation, so Semmes should be both confused and pissed rather than conciliatory.[2]

And so but anyway, I’ve been turning the re-write over in my head.

One of the things I said last week was that a book can only take so many storylines. Firedrake chimed in on the comments to echo that sentiment.

I’ve kind of hit a roadblock in the re-write.  One of the things I’ve learned about writing is that if something just isn’t working and you’re avoiding actually doing the work that means the thing you’re trying to write about probably doesn’t belong. If I, as the writer, am finding it impossible to force a chapter into a book that means that you, as the reader, will probably wonder why that chapter exists in the first place.

Do you remember General Hans Schroeder? I’ve taken to referring to him as General No Longer Appearing in this Picture. He actually got an entire story arc. This arc included a chapter that I genuinely don’t remember if I’ve gotten to yet that caused me to just stop writing the book for a while. I just had no fucking clue why I was writing that particular chapter. So when I was putting together the rewrite I just kind of forgot that Schroeder existed.

There’s a structural problem with the original that I simply cannot fix with a simple re-write. There are too many storylines. There’s the Anderson storyline, the Semmes storyline, the Laird storyline, the Joshan storyline, the Schroeder storyline, and the Turner/Hunt storyline. All I really managed to do in the re-write was consolidate the Turner/Hunt storyline and turn it over to Admiral Belden. But then I thought I still needed to have Turner and Hunt doing stuff. And I managed to add in another storyline in the process. So we’re talking, what, seven storylines? Seven or so perspective characters. That’s a lot. That’s too much.

I’ve been asking myself what it looks like if Nightwind has to stand on its own. I know that there’s plenty in the United Commonwealth/Colonial Authority conflict to create story upon story. Can I say the same about Anderson’s trip with the Nightwind? I think that question is as much an issue of whether there is enough of a story there as it is an issue of whether or not I’m a good enough storyteller.

This morning Mike Doughty put up a long-ass post on his Facebook page. In the middle he said, “As always, I feel obligated to focus on what’s new. I think it’s disrespectful to the spirit of art, which has fed me and put a roof over my head for 22 years, not to push myself, to work to the greatest extent of my creative abilities.” For me a book I initially wrote some sixteen years ago is new once again.

One of the questions I’ve asked on and off again since deciding to do a rewrite is, “Does it make sense that humanity just happened to have FTL communication at the outset?” I had considered just dropping it entirely but then I couldn’t figure out how to make the plot work if no one knew that the Winged Messenger/Zaqar had been destroyed by a mysterious, intelligent force. The existence of FTL communication facilitated this plot point but complicated the hell out of everything else. While I like the workaround I came up with in the rewrite where the Colonial Authority stands astride the lines of communication I wondered if that was really the best way to handle the issue.

This, then lead to another question. Why is everything about the Nightwind Project so secret? What happens if Earth Command launches the Nightwind in a public act of pomp and circumstance, then sends Anderson off to be the first human face the colonies have seen in a century or two? What happens when Anderson and the Nightwind get to 82 Eridani and find that it’s the ancient capital of an alien empire?

It did occur to me that if I write the Nightwind’s trip as a stand-alone then it needs a b-plot. That’s when Corporal Katherine Silas introduced herself to the world. When a new character appears that means that there’s a story to be told.

So the re-write is getting a re-write. The good thing is that very little of my effort thus far in the re-write will actually be wasted. Everyone back home still has to deal with the same problems and fight the same battles, but that’s going to be a separate book. Nightwind is back to getting top billing in its maiden voyage.

If everything goes well I might be able to introduce you to Corporal Silas next Friday. Maybe the Friday after that. She’s got an interesting story to tell.

——————

[1]I don’t think I’ve ever actually said anything about the origin of the name Joshan. Back when I was in grade school I used to draw (terrible) pictures of spaceships and starfighters and all that cool stuff. I have no idea what my inspiration was all the way back in the day but I have obviously loved sci-fi for as long as I can remember. The Joshans were simply an alien race that existed in those childish drawings. I don’t know why I decided on Joshans. Also, it’s pronounced Joe shan, with the second syllable pronounced almost exactly like chamois but with an n and without the e on the end. And it amuses the hell out of me that I could just write that sentence and know it makes sense.

The ship name Starfire, interestingly enough, also came from that time. When I first started drawing my little pictures my conception of a space carrier was literally an aircraft carrier with a big force field bubble over the entire flight deck. The first time I realized that was really, really stupid I drew a picture that was basically a long, rectangular box with a hemispherical control section sticking out of the middle of one end and extremely Star Trek-ish warp nacelles sticking out the sides. My idea was that there were eight or nine fighter bays that ran the whole length of the ship. Fighters would launch out the front and recover from the rear and everything could be sealed in.

The name Nightwind came along later, I think, and was for a spaceship created in a completely unrelated context. When it came time to write a book the ideas were already there, lying in wait.

The physical design of the Nightwind, by the way, has its origins in spaceships I drew in my notebooks in junior high. Or maybe high school. I seem to remember the idea for the four-drive system had something to do with the Starfuries on Babylon 5.

[2]This gives me an idea. Write a story where all of the bad guys are just hack villains from central casting and all of the good guys are normal people. Have the bad guys do hack villain stuff because the plot dictates. Have the good guys be completely and utterly baffled. Hope hilarity ensues.