10.16.2019

Book Review: Writing Horses

A Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right
Authors: Judith Tarr
Publisher: Book View Café
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A solid introductory reference work for the fantasy/historical fiction writer to help them "get it right", written in an accessible  by a "horse person"

As the title says, this ebook is written by a "horse person" to help us non-"horse people" to get the horses right in their fantasy or historical fiction (or maybe even space fantasy). I downloaded this affordably-priced ($4.99) ebook on the advice of my mother who is a "horse person" to help me with getting my horses right. I found it very helpful in that regard and give it 4 stars.

The book is actually a collection of blog entries, revised for the book. Chapters include "Form and Function", "Care, Feeding, and the Inevitable Need for a Horse Doctor", "The Fine Art of Horse Stowage", "Baaby Horses", "Horse Training", and "Mind and Magic" (on the psychology of the "furry aliens" that are horses). It answers such important questions as how far can a horse travel in a day? What does a horse eat? When is a brown horse really a sorrel (or a bay, or a dun)? What do tack and withers and canter mean?

Some chapters were more useful to me than others -- the first two are certainly the most important since they give the nuts-and-bolts that a writer of stories where horses are present (versus some actually writing about horses) needs with recommendations for further reading. This book is by no means meant to be an exhaustive study but more of a primer. This makes it a quick and easy read that gives a clear notion of what further study is required for the reader's particular work.

Writing Horses is written in a humourous, down-to-earth style. I found it enjoyable to read and being a "non-horse person" gave me an appreciation not just for the complex psychology of horses but of their modern devotees as well. I do think is that some of the things complained of as major faux pas on the part of writers are so esoteric that only horse people would be offended. For example, when writers have someone knee a horse's flank -- technically totally wrong, but in terms of general parlance I think most people consider the flank as, generically, the side. Yet "horse people" are not an insignificant group and they are vocal, so it seems worthwhile to listen to them. Simply from the aspect of professional pride I do think that writers should try to learn about everything the write of so that they sounds somewhat knowledgeable to those "in the know" and to that end I recommend this book.

On the whole, then, "Writing Horses" is well worth the $4.99 pricetag and is a valuable resource for any fantasy/historical fiction writer. I give it 4/5 stars accordingly.

10.09.2019

Why Science Fiction/Fantasy is the Best Genre

“All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it."

Gene Wolfe

After the better part of a year, I figured some justification should be offered for this site's very existence, since many look down on science fiction/fantasy as “low brow”, “childish”, or “disconnected from reality”. It is none of these things, or at least, no more so than any other form of fiction. And it has many advantages unique to it which is why (aside from being a nerd) I love the genre and have little interest in writing outside of it.

    I thought to try to define what I mean by science fiction/fantasy, but the definition is so elusive I decline the opportunity. Instead, let me quote author Mark C. Glassy, who compares the definition of science fiction to the definition of pornography: you don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it

    I should also point out that I can't say ALL science fiction/fantasy is great. That is absolutely NOT what I'm saying. On the contrary, the names of titles to be avoided are legion. A perusal of the annual anthology The Best of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy might lead one to believe that perversity and blasphemy are the norm in contemporary science fiction. And this is true to a degree, which is why I generally prefer older works, and that which is published here on Swords and Space. But when science fiction and fantasy is good, it is the best, and, unlike other genres, it is more frequently "permitted" to be good (in my opinion)

Liberal/Modern Tripe Not Mandatory

    The ills of modern literature are not unknown to science fiction/fantasy. However, the genre’s marginalisation means that "mainstream" and "LitFic" authors don't write it, and the "respectable" critics don't read it. To a degree this is true of any genre fiction (since it's all looked-down on by the LitFic crowd) but I think it may be moreso with SF/F. It also seems to be slightly more acceptable to portray religion or introduce religious themes into such works (to my astonishment, Ad Astra featured astronauts praying to St. Christopher, for example).

    It is also possible to give a positive gloss on tradition, because the societies being portrayed are generally not Christendom or its remnants. This is also true in more mainstream works that deal with non-European cultures, but in science fiction/fantasy one can encounter civilizations more familiar and reminiscent of Christendom which would be verboten elsewhere. In science fiction and fantasy, the battle of “good versus evil” is not considered passé, but is rather a standard element.

The Mythic Sagas of Our Times


    The classical pagans’ epic myths and the mediæval chansons de geste, with their superhuman characters, extraordinary events, and supernatural intercessions would be classed as science fiction/fantasy if written today, in my opinion. While the great works of antiquity such as the Aeneid, the IlliadThe Song of Roland, &c., are mandatory reading for any man, something more contemporary can an easier read and -- dare I say -- more “relevant” to specific issues of our own times. And it is to good science fiction that one can look if he seeks the grandeur, the sense of wonder, and lessons on humanity, that is present in the classics.

    This is why, I believe, Lord of the Rings is the best selling novel of all time. It simply would not be possible to write such an epic work in any other genre.

Use of Analogy and Extrapolation


    Which brings me to the third benefit of the genre; the creation of completely foreign places (and, indeed, worlds) gives a different perspective to the reader, and allows for especially effective use of analogy and extrapolation. It is one thing to read about why totalitarian governments or the modern world are bad or headed in the wrong direction. It is another thing entirely (and a much more powerful thing) to experience those horrors via science fiction works like 1984 and Brave New World. While other genres can do this well, science fiction and fantasy can take it to new levels by examining things that haven’t happened yet (or could have, but didn’t).

10.04.2019

Wellis Carter Space Adventure, Part 1

By Anna Blackwell (August 2019, age 11)

My name is Wellis Carter, age 18 -- year 2534. Let me tell you a adventure i had one time that will blow your mind.

The air around me felt chilly as I walked further through the forest. I slung my hunting rifle over my shoulder. It was very close to freezing season -- a time when my kind sort of carbonfreezed ourselves -- so I decided to do some some hunting before then. My eye suddenly caught a deer ;it was grazing on a patch that had not been covered in frost. I got my gun and prepared to fire. Suddenly the deer looked up and bolted as if something had frightened it. I turned around; no one was there but me.Then I looked up a Kronos space Saucer!!

The Kronos were a group of aliens that attacked our planet for the precious gem mines in the mountains. But as I watched a 2 human frigates followed after it. An explosion was heard at the end of the forest. I raced over and once I reached the end of the forest I saw some more human ships deploying a squad of justice troopers and far away were a group of Kronos.

I hesitated -- what was I to do? Should I to go to the troopers and ask it I could help or would I be better off on my own? I looked at my hunting rifle; I knew It would never hold off that many Kronos for long.But before I could do any thing a gun clicked and a heavy bolter was placed next to head.

"Don’t move, sonny. “

I saw next to me was a heavily armoured battle trooper

"Don’t shoot” I said, "I’m a Tathlan.“

But he didn’t listen; he was already on his com link: “Sir, I seem to have caught some Tathlan snooping about ... what ... oh yes right away sir.“

He nudged his gun at me. “Hand over the gun, sonny, and don’t trying and run off because I never miss.“

I gave him my gun then I started to move. He took me to a place were the humans were planning their battle plan or that's what it seemed like, for there was a map on the table next to them. The trooper took me to a human who seemed to be a battle commandant.

"Sir here is the Tathlan I told you about.“

The commandant turned around. He looked at me he could tell I wasn’t a human because of my grey skin a and white hair.

"Tathlan hmm? Well, child you better listen to me -- we aren’t on any fun trip were here to deal with the Kronos we already went through it with you leader and since your kind can’t stand the freeze coming up we are going to battle the Kronos ourselves.“

This angered me. “We can fight our own battles human!”

The commandant smirked but just then the ground trembled violently and a trooper rushed over.

“Sir, they're firing artillery at us!“ I Suddenly saw a way to get away.

“Incoming!” someone shouted.

I jumped at the commandant and we fell into a nearby bush as a blast hit the ground. The commandant looked shocked at my act to save him.

"You --”

I cut him off: “Yeah, don’t mention it."

“I’m sorry for treating you like that,” he said .”Here, if you really want to help us, do you now a way into Sarc Palace?“

I hesitated. Sarc Palace was an abandoned building north of the attacking Kronos position. But I replied, “alright, I know secret way to get in. I’ll show you were it is."

The commandant nodded and, after shouting a few orders to his men, he indicated that I should follow him. As he ran across the open ground, I followed right behind him.

"Where are we heading, kid?“ he asked.

“Around here to the right,“ I replied.

Keeping low under the shelter of the trees we traveled about a mile, 'til we came to a ruin on top of a hill. Somewhere below, the Kronos were firing their artillery missiles.

“You did well, kid," said the commandant.

I smiled. “There is a secret turbo lift somewhere," I said. “I’ll go see if I can find it."

Once I ran behind a corner, the sound of artillery made me shake in fear. Telling myself to calm down, I distracted myself by looking for the secret turbo lift. When I was younger, me and my friends played games up here, so it didn’t take too long for me to find what I was looking for. Stripping the vines off ,I was happy to see the lift was still in working order. But suddenly I heard approaching footsteps and around the corner a Kronos fighting warrior appeared!

It hasn’t seen me yet, I thought as I backed up until I pressed hard on the lift .I reached in to open the door and backed in. But the sound of the door alerted the Kronos of my presence. It started to fire it's ray gun but it luckily bounced of the doors as they closed.The lift began to descend but stopped mysteriously. Its doors opened I got out and found myself in a long dark corridor that seemed to have no end. I ventured forth, careful to keep an eye out for security measures. I soon thought it had no end til I can to another set of turbo lifts. I checked to make sure they worked, and walked in.The doors shut again and before I knew it I began to be fly upwards.

Whats wrong with the rotten thing today? I thought, then once again the doors opened and I found myself standing in front of a tall man.

"You took your time," he said, shaking my hand and grinning.

"Who are you, were am I?” I asked in surprise. “How could you know I was coming?"

“I’m Basker Nek. Now, cut the questions in til we find a proper place to talk."

I eyed him suspiciously as he hustled me down the passageway away from the lifts.I had barely got what appeared to be his office when he launched a whole conversation:

"As i said my name is Basker Nek and I used to design security systems for both government and private enterprises. I have done it for years. Not just here, but in many other different places.”

"How did you know I was coming?" I asked again.

"I didn’t know it was you, specifically, but I had sensors all along that corridor that runs along that ruin and I tracked your arrival. Then I programmed the turbo lift to bring all persons using the lift to pass to this level,” he explained. "Now I want to know what you were doing up there -- you seem too young for a smuggler."

"Smuggler!!" I said bewildered. "Of course not -- I was just hunting when a Kronos ship scared my deer…"

He stopped mean mid-sentence. "Kronos? are you sure it was a Kronos ship?”

“Yeah, sure, I saw them with my own eyes once I got to the edge of the forest.”

"Sorry please continue," he said apologetically.

"Well that's kind of it when I got to the ruins. I saw them using a kind of artillery thing, that was until I stumped into that lift and got spat out into that corridor," I said, keeping out the part with the humans, because I had a feeling that I had no need to tell him that.

"Hmm ... Kronos, eh?" He murmured . "Well, I kind of heard …uh, rumours that they are going to use your planet's gems to power up a weapon they might be making ... that can kill all life on a planet."

"But that's INSANE," I said in horror. “No weapon can kill all life on a planet and not completely destroy it -- that's impossible"

"Oh, it's quite possible alright,” he said. "But not without your planet's gems and uh …I think you and I should have a word with…uh ..my associates in, er,um criminal classes."

I froze. How can I consult with criminals and bounty hunter and should I trust this guy? I thought. My first option was to decline but I knew that if I did, he might lock me in the turbo lift and leave me to die. So I decided to give it a chance. I followed him through a long secret tunnel that seemed to go forever but when we got to the end it lead to a room. It had a curtained doorway. When I ducked through my eyes met the strangest sighting ever -- creatures from all over the galaxy. Basker Nek guided me through the crowd and waved at a lizard looking creature.

"Now stay here, I shall be back in a few minutes and for your own sake don’t talk to any one “ he said.

I frowned "I thought I was coming with you. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know the Kronos were here."

“Stay here; this place is dangerous," he said with some force and, pointing to my seat, he disappeared into the crowd. I went to my seat and sat down. There were so many species there I felt very obvious, especially since none of my kind were there. Just then a human at the next table looked at me and smiled, raising his cup. I smiled back distractedly and looked back at the surrounding mayhem. The man looked at me again and gestured for me to come over.

Who is this guy? I wondered. Is he gesturing for me to come over? I pointed to myself questioningly and he nodded and gestured me over.

"I noticed you siting there looking a bit out of place," he said. "I’m Sank by the way."

"You can say that again” I said. “ I’m Wellis Carter”.

Sank told me that he was a merchant trader. Soon we began talking like friends (despite the fact he was a human and I was a Tathlan) 'til Sank’s com bead beeped he talked to however it was in Jamaka (a type of alien language).

“That was my first mate," Sank said once he finished. "He does repairs on my ship, so I must join him. We had trouble getting parts on the Stellar Jewel -- that's my ship -- she’s a Class Jina 6."

"A Class Jina 6, that is one of the fastest ships ever !“ I said in excitement.

"You heard of it? “ he asked in surprise.

"Of course I have, my great grandfather had one.”

"Well I could take you to see her," he offered. "I can’t give you the whole tour though."

I knew I should wait for Kasker Nek, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Really? Of course!"

Then Sank and I slipped out of the bar door. The space port wasn’t very far and as soon as we entered, I saw the Stellar Jewel.

"She is beautiful !!” I exclaimed.

"She sure is," said Sank. “Come and have a look at the twin blasters but then I really have to go.”

Ducking under the wing he gestured for me to hurry up.

"I’m coming, I’m coming!" I said.

He showed me the newly installed cannon. “You can see the new position of the Solar Drive enhances its capabilities ‘’

I leaned closer to get a better look, but he suddenly grabbed me tightly and hustled me up the gangway.

"Hey Sank what are you doing?”I asked in confusion.

“You're coming with us," Sank said, tightening his grip and pulling me farther into the ship as the entry ramp closed.

“Go!” he yelled to his first mate who engaged the engines and we took off out of star port.

"W-what are you doing? Were are you taking me?’’I asked as Sank grabbed a pair of security cuffs and fastened one armlet to a bench and the other on my wrist.

"We’re going to RockBen," he said, grabbing another pair of cuffs securing my feet to the bottom of the bench. "I’m going to sell you to a mine owner I know.”

“What? your a slave trader!”

"Yes, I am “ Sank replied stuffing a gag into my mouth. "Now shut your trap you're giving me a headache."

When the Stellar Jewel landed in RockBen there was a unscrupulous mine owner waiting for me. Still gagged and cuffed, I was shoved into the back of a transport.

What am I going to do? I throught. If I try and signal for help,who’s going to believe I’ve been kidnapped, I’m sure that mine owner is able to tell numbers of lies to disprove my story. He probably had a lot of practice at it.

I felt the transport slow down and stop. We're here, wherever here is. I then heard voices.

“Do you have authorized papers?” it sounded like a security droid.

"Yes I do right here,” I heard the Mine owner say.

A security check point! Could I take this for a chance to escape? I decided any risk was worth it, I wasn’t going to become a slave, not in my life. With my hands still cuffed behind my back and the gag in my mouth, I slid across the floor of the transport.Trying to keep out of sight I hauled my body over the back of the transport. Unable to break my fall, a surge of pain hit me. Ignoring it, I continued to slug across the ground to a bunch of crates.I knew if the mine owner looked back, I was dead! So as silent as I could, I crawled behind the crates.I watched as the mine owner drove off with out even looking back.

I breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly a voice said, "well, well, well, what do we have here?”

I felt frozen stiff from my position. I couldn’t see who it was but I knew it wasn’t a security droid

“Don’t move," the voice said. "A security droid is coming."

The sound of footsteps came close “Are you Mar Iber?" a robotic voice asked.

"Thats me, have you finished ransacking my ship?” said the man who had accosted me.

“Yes you are clear to leave Bay number 2-13 “

“It better be in the same way I left it “ the man said. The security droid left.

"Easy “ Mar Iber said as he picked and unlocked the cuffs.

"Thanks," I said, removing the gag from my mouth.

"No problem. You got a lot of guts kid," he said. "You're lucky I was the only one who saw you." He grinned. “The name's Mar, as I guess you heard."’

He held out his hand and helped me to my feet.

"Well, I better be off,” Mar said. "Be careful and don’t get in trouble. "The Justice Legion probably don’t want trouble”

I watched as Mar left. The Justice Defenders were also? If they were I had to find them and ask for help.I started to walk about. The vast marketplace was crowded. Once I got to a railing to get some air, I saw a spectacular view of rocky mountains with skyscrapers perched on their sides forming a chain of cities.It was quite amazing, though it made me the want to go home back to Tarthlan.

I suddenly heard a low scream and I turned around I saw that a little girl had fallen down and if no one helped her. She was going to get trampled.

"Stop, look a little girl fell down, help her!” I shouted, but nobody listen so I through myself through the crowd I pushed forward.

"Watch it," yelled an alien as I ran past it. I was almost there when a large Ogler was in my way .There was no way past him so in frustration I grabbed a pin from my pocket and pinched him in the back. He howled and got out of the way just enough for me to get past and help the girl up but as I did so, the Ogler grabbed me.

"WAIIITTTT” I yelled and then the crowd went silent, even the little girl stopped crying. ”Please, I was just trying to help this girl before she got trampled to death, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I said.

The Ogler grunted and let go. “Fine, but if I see you again you're dead.”

Just then a figure ran over. ”What's going on here?” he asked in a stern voice.

I looked around. It was a Justice Legionary! The ogler stepped back “ uh..nothin ... “

The Legionary looked at me. “Nothing sir, just a small mishap," I said.

He looked at the Ogler. “You may go but you --" he pointed at me -- "come with me.”

I followed him but I was in a hurry to tell him what happened. “Sir wait I have to tell you something.”

He turned back to me. "I didn’t ask you to speak."

This didn’t stop me. "No, sir, please, you have have to take me back to my home planet.”

"You didn’t have perm--”

I didn’t let him finish “ no sir please it’s under attack by the Kronos you have to take me back." This time he listened. After a short while of explanation he decided to take me back. After he sent a few messages to his people I found myself in his ship on my way to home…..

10.02.2019

Movie Review: Ad Astra (2019)



Title: Ad Astra
Director: James Gray
Producer: New Regency Pictures
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Godfrey's Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Rating: PG; I'd say this rating is appropriate and I'd have little difficulty showing it to the older children (13 and 11) as there not a lot of violence or profanity, and no nudity.
Summary in a Sentence: A thoughtful and stylistic film with great potential, but which falls short of the masterpiece it could have been, due to a lacklustre storyline with some very big plot holes and inconsistencies.

This is a film that I really wanted to be able to give a top rating, since it was full of many of the things I love in a science fiction film: strong thought-inducing themes, beautiful cinematography, relaxed pacing, and a reliance on story rather than big explosions. And while it was certainly worth my return to the cinema for the first time since Blade Runner 2027, I could not help but feel disappointed and cannot give the film more than a middling 3/5 star rating. The plot synopsis from the IMDB page:

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.

Ad Astra gets full marks for style -- I really liked the retro, 1960s space-race inspired flight and space suits. The "space ships" had a realistic feel to them and the film seemed to give at least decent effort to giving a realistic look and feel to all the sets. The military won major "rule of cool" points for wearing Fallschirmjäger-style splinter camouflage on earth, and orange-red Flecktarn on Mars. This is worth at least half a star bonus in my books.

The filmmaker seemed undecided on what sort of mood to strike. Is the film an optimistic space exploration film? Dystopian future? I'm not even sure ... it was a little bit of a lot of genres, a little bit of 2001/Interstellar, a helping of Moon's paranoia, a dash of Mad Max (moon land pirates), and a pinch of Gattaca (the constant psych evaluations throughout the film). I'm all in favour of mixing things up like this but I just don't know how well it was pulled off ... maybe I just couldn't wrap my mind around the dark aspects when guys are wearing space suits that look like what the Gemini astronauts wore. Having slept on it I think it actually worked better than I felt while watching it.

And while I love "long boring space movies" like 2001, I just couldn't get into this film in the same way. It had a slow pace, but I question the choice of what time was spent on. The viewer gets a few gorgeous space vistas but they are all too fleeting, rather we spend a lot of time inside Roy McBride's head as he sorts through his "daddy issues". The film did have some food for thought, but I think it was too wrapped up in McBride's neurosis and unresolved issues with his father abandoning the family to search for extraterrestrial life and then after all that buildup the final "confrontation" between father and sone was very anticlimactic, almost rushed (perhaps 15 minutes of the 2 hour film are spend actually aboard his father's ship), and very unsatisfying.

I found the acting to be very "low key", unemotional, and flat. This was perhaps intentional (cf. the Gattaca aspect),  but it also made it difficult to connect to the characters.

There were massive, massive plot holes, and inexplicable choices made by various parties. This is mildly spoilerific, but the whole plan to take down Clifford McBride made no sense at all and had zero chance of success until Roy intervened. And it was not clear why the authorities wanted him killed for intervening when he then goes on and carries out the mission. And why is that mission done by some random civilian science vessel that can apparently travel to Neptune in 72 days yet no one had been there since McBride Sr. went (and it took him something like 20 years to get there)? The moon pirates felt random and inconsistent with what's described as a war zone over disputed moon borders -- why do they just kill everyone and wreck the moon buggies instead of trying to steal and capture?

All in all this made for a dangerously close to mediocre film. I still hope that readers will go watch it for the good aspects, because even though this film isn't perfect, it's the type of film we need more of.


9.30.2019

FLAMES OF WAR: TIGER

By James Blackwell and Godfrey Blackwell




Tank body and weathering by James, tank commander by Godfrey.

9.27.2019

D.N.A. EPISODE 5

By BarbaraBlackwell (May-June 2019, age 9)

FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
FOR PART TWO CLICK HERE
FOR PART THREE CLICK HERE
FOR PART FOUR CLICK HERE








9.25.2019

How C.G.I. Killed Sci Fi


... well, sci-fi movies, at any rate. I remember when C.G.I. was making its first appearances (I think around the time of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park) I was rather excited, thinking that there would be a lot more science fiction movies produced because it would be cheaper/easier to do so, and that this would be great for fans like me. Well, I suppose I wasn't completely wrong, but when I look at all the dreck out there these days, I certainly wasn't right.

Even today, 20+ years after the first "photorealistic" C.G.I. creatures of Jurassic Park and Babylon 5's space station, C.G.I. still, largely, looks totally fake and stupid. My children have been watching Empire Strikes Back over and over and over lately, and the ships in that (1980) film, or how about the Aries 1B Earth-Moon Shuttle from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968!) look far more convincing than, say, the ship in Avatar (2009) that transports Sam Worthington to Pandora.



This also applies to scenery and human battlescenes -- consider the future war scene from Terminator 2 which unlike the T1000 was all models, Animatronics, and "practical effects" (they actually flip the truck, for example). By 2003 with Termintor 3 we got a whole platoon of risible cartoons walking stiffly down a hill. Or even the battlescenes in the Lord of the Rings films, which was probably some of the best C.G.I. I've seen -- it still looks fake because it is.



The battlescene in T3 starts at about 2:25 of the clip below:


And don't even get me started on puppets vs. C.G.I....


And the list goes on -- guys in rubber suits (Alien in '79/Aliens in '86) make for way scarier xenomorphs than the C.G.I. nonsense in Alien Versus Predator.

The thing is, if I had the wherewithal to make a film, all I'd have to do is wander down to the local gaming store and hire all my fellow Warhammer geeks to build and paint-up a whole mess of scenery and vehicles. With less than the cost of one scene of C.G.I., they could whip-up a whole galaxy worth of stuff. Now, maybe there are some union issues or something, but C.G.I. just strikes me as the lazy film-maker's way out and it has led to poorer filmmaking. In the old days they had to actually use their heads and get creative, now they just use computers.

9.11.2019

Godfrey's Thoughts on the Battle of Endor


Well, thanks to the magic of iMovie and the ability to guard my children's eyes from the outrageous Princess Leia slave costume, my children were initiated into Return of the Jedi a few months ago (after asking me for years when they could see the conclusion of the trilogy). Re-watching it with them, I was reminded of the rather abrupt end to the Battle of Endor.

I always wondered where the heck the entire Imperial fleet vanished to after the Death Star blew up. It's pretty obvious from the film that they still heavily outnumbered the rebels and could have easily crushed their puny fleet.

But as I thought about it some more, aside from how fast they took off, it's not totally crazy. Morale and leadership is a huge part of warfare and there are countless episodes in history where vastly superior forces managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because they basically wimped out. Off the top of my head, the most obvious example I can think of is almost any battle of the War of 1812. Take the capture of Fort Detroit, for example. Sir Isaac Brock on the Canadian side had about 1000 troops, only 300 of whom were regulars. The American fort was garrisoned by 600 regulars and close to another 2,000 militia. But by being bold and preying on the fear that the American general had of the Indians, Brock took the fort with only two wounded. Even the Battle of Queenston Heights, where Sir Isaac Brock was killed early in the fighting, ended up a British/Canadian victory due to the timidity of the American generals.

So, when we consider that the Imperials just watched their prized flagship blow up (for unknown reasons -- no idea how the bridge blowing up would suddenly make it fly into the Death Star) -- and then seeing their prized super weapon carrying the Emperor evaporate, it's not too much of a stretch that they would lose their nerve and decide to fight another day, especially if the next officer in the chain of command was timid or otherwise not a great leader (conceivable since Darth Vader seemed to choke out the better officers who could think for themselves or had honour).

9.09.2019

9.04.2019

Book Review: Crusader King


Author: Susan Peek
Publisher: TAN  
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
Summary in a Sentence: [An] historical fiction novel about the unusual life of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the leper crusader king who - despite ascending to the throne at only 13, his early death at 24, and his debilitating disease - performed great and heroic deeds in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Teenagers and avid readers of all ages will be amazed at this story and be inspired by a faith that accomplished the impossible (from TAN Books' description)

This novel is geared towards teenagers and certainly reads at a lower level than my usual fare. Nevertheless, I must recommend it as a very well written tale about Christian virtue. I was inspired to study the life of King Baldwin IV after reading this novel, and overall it is reasonably historically accurate although a fair bit of artistic license is taken (as admitted by the author in her afterward). As a novel I found it highly enjoyable, full of great characters and stirring events. King Baldwin's heroic actions despite being afflicted by Leprosy and his quiet resignation to the Will of God is truly inspiring. The depiction of the Battle of Montgisard is one of the greatest scenes I've read, where the king prostrates himself before the True Cross and begs God to save his kingdom as his army of 300 faces Saladin's army of nearly 30,000 (as portrayed in the novel -- historical sources vary and some of them do offer the 100:1 odds, but others but it at closer to 10:1). The friendship portrayed between King Baldwin and his childhood friend Theodore is purely fictional, but an excellent study in a true Catholic friendship.

This is definitely a book I would recommend for any parents with teenage sons. Even adults will enjoy this book, I think. At any rate, it is a quick read -- I read it in between three or four hours total. It is a fairly light book, and therefore I don't have anything particularly deep to say about it. It's just a good, solid, Catholic book which is especially good for kids. I'd give it an 4 stars on my scale of rating.

8.23.2019

BATTLE OF THE TWO DRAGONS

By Anna Blackwell (June 2019, age 11)

     In the land of Myths and Legends ,there lived a huge bird called Garuada .In Hindu myths he was the King  of birds ,part eagle and part human.As well as being the bird of life , Garuada was a destroyer, feared by snakes and dragons. Because of his great strength, he was the supreme ruler of the sky.

     All dragons were of this but many were to scared to face Garuada. But there were two dragons who did have the fury to face him these were a lightning dragon named Strike who brought the storms and the crash of his wings brought thunder.And his sister  who was a fire dragon named Scorch who lit the sun every morning and made the deserts dry and forests burn after the stroke of lightning from here brother.Accepted a challenge from Garuada and made a agreement to meet upon the Grey Mountain the next Day.

   Upon that day Scorch did not light the sun making the sky dark so if they lost the land would forever be cloaked in black till the next fire dragon took her place.Strike crashed his wings causing a storm as he prepared to meet his apoinent. When Garuada came Light formed around him.And as he spread out his wings,he let out a soft cry that sounded like a note of music.It was a sign that meant the battle was about to begin .

   Strike attacked first,he let out sparks of lightning at Garuada da who dodged them and through a ball of light at Strike who distroyed it with a lightning stroke. Scorch was perched on a rock casting flames at Garuada but failed .Garuada through a ball of light a her, Scorch unable to dodge it was knocked out. Strike seeing that his sister had fallen launched himself at the bird King.The two fought with such violence the it caused earthquakes to occur. The creatures of the land's only light was Garuada who battled the Lightning dragon at the top of the mountain.The two showed each other no mercy soon the Side of the mountain was splashed in blood.Strike grabbed Garuada's arm and broke it. Garuada shrieked and with his beak bit the dragons neck.Strike pulled him of wailing in pain and shot lightning at him. Garuada's side burned from the bolt .Strike charged at the bird king,teeth barded,claws unsheathed hoping to shred Garuada to bits.But He was ready and grabbed Strikes  head and through it in to the mountain crushing it.Scorch who came to saw the tragic scene shot out at Garuada full of fury and anger and let down a rain of fire .Almost roasting him alive, then with flick of her tail bashed him out of the sky. Garuada through near sure death was spared and he returned to his nest and was barely ever seen again .

   After Scorch re-lit the sun,she carried the limp body of her brother and buried it at the foot of the mountain.Scorch left the mountain to return to her den and continued to light the sun every morning till the end of her days.


                                            THE END


8.21.2019

Godfrey on Private Space Exploration


It's frequently shocked me that in the 1960s men were able to visit the moon at a time when the necessary calculations still had to be done with a slide rule and pencil-and-paper, yet fifty years later we have neither visited again nor gone any further. Things seem to have stalled as governments (except maybe the Chinese) lost much interest in space exploration. And as much as I'm interested in space exploration, I'm not sure it's a bad thing for government to get out of it. Is it really something the public purse should be paying for? Perhaps, perhaps not ...  but regardless, privatization of space exploration seems to be the way things are going ...

I think the Russians, in practical non-hyper-safety-sensitive Slavic style, were the first to start with a sort of "space tourism" to help fund their space programme in a faltering economy. Starting in 2001 they sent seven fee-paying individuals into space (halting the project when the space shuttle was retired and Soyuz became the only way of getting to the ISS). For $20-35 million USD a number of wealthy adventurers were able to spend 1-2 weeks aboard the International Space Station (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_tourism)

Then there is SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, which has developed two families of space craft (including a re-usable rocket) which now routinely transport supplied to the International Space Station.

More ambitiously, Virgin Galactic (owned by Sir Richard Branson), has been preparing for years to take the first tourists into space. For $200,000 USD, 430 very wealthy people will supposedly be able to fly on a suborbital flight into space. Virgin Galactic recently unveiled its "Gateway to Space" launch centre/star port, although they still have no timelines on flights.

Then there was the Red Bull Stratos project, where stunt man Felix Baumgartner successfully sky-dived from low earth orbit -- the first time I can remember in my lifetime that a space "first" was achieved, and this one completely by private interests and for a publicity stunt.

8.16.2019

D.N.A. EPISODE 4

By BarbaraBlackwell (May-June 2019, age 9)

FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE
FOR PART TWO CLICK HERE
FOR PORT THREE CLICK HERE








8.14.2019

Book Review: Storm of Iron


Title: Storm of Iron (Warhammer 40,000)
Author: Graham McNeill
Publisher: Games Workshop (Black Library)
Godfrey's Rating: 4 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An impressive work of military science fiction, even for those unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000, which is full of tension and interesting characters, as well as a heavy dose of carnage.

Although I (Godfrey) have been a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 board game for many years, I only relatively recently delved into some of their "Black Library" titles, which are novels based in the universe the tabletop game is set in. The Black Library works have a poor reputation because I think many see them as glorified "fan fiction" and it's true that some of the works are not great. But this novel, the first I read, was a great introduction to the series and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys military science fiction. You do not need to be a Warhammer 40,000 geek like I am to enjoy this.

The novel of course takes place in "the grim darkness of the 41st millennium" which features a sprawling "Imperium of Man" centred on "Holy Terra" where the Emperor rests entombed in his golden throne after being mortally wounded by the traitor Warmaster Horus 10,000 years previous. Those who followed Horus are now known as the Chaos Space Marines for their worship of the Chaos gods (demons). They are divided into diverse legions just as the loyal Space Marines are divided into chapters. Storm of Iron features the invasion by a massive force of the Chaos Marines called "Iron Warriors" of the planet Hydra Cordatus.

Storm of Iron tells this tale from both the perspective of the sadistic, evil Iron Warriors and from that of the brave Imperial Guardsmen garrisoning the massive citadel on the planet which houses a treasure of inestimable value to both sides. I thought that one of the great successes of the author in this novel was his ability to portray the Iron Warriors as totally evil and unworthy of any sympathy from the reader, yet kept them interesting enough to hold the reader's attention.

The Imperial defenders were, of course, more interesting to me and the heroic stand of normal humans against genetically improved supermen (who've been further strengthened by demonic aid) was very stirring. It was among these that one found some very well-done characters from among both officers and regular grunts.

The plot was quick, with lots of action, but also a decent amount of story. There were many unexpected twists-and-turns that kept me guessing right until the very last pages as to what the outcome of this struggle would be. It is, admittedly, brutally violent in several scenes, but I thought this was realistic to a war novel. It may have been slightly overdone in some scenes, but on the whole was well done. There are is no foul language or sexual content in the novel. It gave the reader a very good feel for the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and did so in such a way that someone totally ignorant of that universe would not be lost. Again, I reiterate, that I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys military science fiction, not just fans of the tabletop game.

8.09.2019

ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES, Part 3

By Godfrey Blackwell

IF YOU MISSED PART ONE IT CAN BE READ HERE.
AND PART TWO IS HERE.

David’s head burst out of the water. Coughing and spitting he looked around in near panic. He was still inside the lander, but it was half-filled with water that continued to rise. He was already up to his chest. Ogumbembi popped out of the water, cursing.

Cào nǐ mā! Where are we?”

Sarin, Carter and Farro were out as well. Sarin pulled the red lever next to the top hatch and it blasted up and away from the lander in a gust of smoke and steam. “Back on Ladon, somewhere.”

“Maeng!” David sloshed over to his fireteam partner and pulled the limp form out of the water.

“Let’s get out of --” Sarin never finished her sentence as she was pulled up through the hatch, her thrashing boots disappearing into darkness.

Gàn!” Ogumbembi shouted, pulling out his sidearm and emptying the clip through the hatch.

“Sarin!” Wrapping his left arm around Maeng, David unslung his rifle and fired a burst. He sloshed towards the hatch, firing another short burst as he went. “We’ve got to go get her. Farro, take Maeng.”

“Gimme Maeng’s gun,” Ogumbembi said. “Sniper rifle’s no good out here. Careful, Wakker!”

David didn’t have to jump as the water level was now only a couple feet below the hatch. Frantically he scrabbled up onto the roof and looked about. Ogumbembi was out right behind him. The clouds had cleared and the reddish glow of the gas giant Typhon gave visibility better than any full moon back on earth. They were submerged in a lake a few dozen metres off the shore. There was no sign of Sarin, but the hull and the water around them were swarming with human shapes.

“The colonists!” Ogumbembi shouted. “Take this you —”

He opened up with Maeng’s rifle, blasting a half-dozen colonists. Then Ogumbembi’s feet suddenly flipped up and his chest slammed into the hull. David fired a burst into a cluster of colonists almost close enough to grab him then spun around. The sniper was gone.

“Come on!” He fired again then dropped down to give Farro and Carter a hand out. On his way down, something slammed into the back of his helmet and he flew head first into the water.

His gear dragged him down fast to the bottom. He slid along the hull of the lander, bashing past colonists on his way down, then he got a mouthful of sand. Frantically he clawed at the clips on his webgear. As he got his vest unfastened, he felt it pulled off of him by someone else. The colonists were on him! His lungs were burning. He flailed about to get them off. He fired his rifle, but more were on him. He desperately needed to breathe.

Oh God, please help me, he prayed. Help me, help me, help me ...

They weren’t grabbing him anymore. His gear was off. He pushed off for the surface. As he broke the surface he coughed and gasped for air. He couldn’t think. All he could do was repeat the Holy Name of Jesus over and over in his head. The colonists didn’t come near him. He got to shallow water and sat on the bottom, his head the only part of him above the surface and tried to catch his breath.

He remembered: he was somehow invisible to them when he prayed. It had happened both times with the twins -- what did they say? “We can’t hear you anymore, where did you go?” On the other hand they’d “seen” his squad in their retro-reflective fatigues. He started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and sat up. There was no one around. Where had the colonists gone? None of his team were visible either. The top of the landing craft slipped below the surface and even it disappeared.

David moved to dry land and hid himself in the undergrowth of the forest that surrounded the lake. He decided that this must be the same forest he and his team had advanced through to do their recon -- otherwise the colonists could have never reached the crash site so fast. He shivered and rubbed his arms to try to keep the circulation going. He took stock of his possessions: he still had his rifle and his sidearm. The training beaten into him in basic had not allowed him to jettison those items as he’d fought his way out of the water. His smartphone was in his pants pocket and … his rosary. His mother had made him promise her to keep it with him at all times when he left for New Parris Island. He’d done so, but not prayed the beads for a long time. Now he pulled them out.

He continued to work those beads as he set out for the colony. The sun was just cresting the horizon as he came to the edge of the forest and into view of the colony. Before emerging onto the field separating the forest and the outer buildings, David knelt and did a quick visual inspection. There were no colonists in sight, nor any sound carried on the soft breeze. Yet he somehow sensed that they were there. He clicked off the safety on his rifle and started down the hill.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …

He made his way slowly down the main street that ran through the centre of the colony, staying close to the domed habitats along the left side. He checked each gap between buildings before dashing across to the next. As he moved nearer the centre he felt a throbbing in the air. When he reached the central plaza he found the colonists. They were all arranged around a wooden platform that had been erected near a black pit that the sun’s light seemed unable to penetrate. Neither of these had been here when they secured the colony days before. On the platform stood Maeng between two burly male colonists who held his arms. Around the platform the rest of the colony had gathered, and now that they were all in one place David saw there were at least two hundred of them. They all knelt in a circle around the platform.

David found himself silently singing the Kyrie in tone VIII to himself as he cautiously stepped between the colonists. Not one made the slightest motion to indicate they were aware of his presence. Of the rest of his squad, there was no sign. He felt that they were dead, and he had an impression that one had to volunteer to join this company, as he so nearly had.

“Wakker?” Maeng said weakly from above.

“M!”

Out of the corner of his eye, David caught a flutter of movement. She was there, as always with Her brunette friend beside. He started humming the Kyrie to himself. He had to be careful. He stepped carefully forward.

“Come on, M, I’m going to get you —”

“W-wakk-k-k-k —” Maeng lurched forward, a terrible fear and confusion on his face. The k-k-k-k continued into a chattering palsy as thick ropes of bloody saliva fell from his mouth down to the ground. He collapsed to his knees and the tooth-burr became an inhuman cry of pain and his body started contorting and convulsing. His skin rippled, then talons burst from his hands, which reached to his chest ripping his torso apart.

HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE! HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE!

He could only keep shouting those words inside his head over and over. He felt on the verge of losing his sanity watching that horrible scene unfold, yet somehow he could not take his eyes off it. In the frenzy of carnage the shape of a creature took form; a hideous blasphemy against nature. David’s senses revolted against the sight, scarcely able to define what it saw — part ape, part lizard, with glowing yellow eyes in a skeletal black face. Finally, the creature sloughed-off the last of what had been Maeng in a single sinuous, body ripple like a reptile moulting on a time-delay camera. As one, the colonists rose and closed in, buffeting David and ascending the platform. They lifted the thing up on their shoulders and carried it down into the pit. David collapsed onto hands-and-knees beside the altar and was violently ill. Even after his stomach was well empty he continued to retch.

Oh dear lord, what was that? In spite of his horror, he forced himself to get up and stole down the path the colonists had followed. Heat built as he descended as did a terrible stench. He paused and heaved again as his senses were assaulted by the indescribable miasma. It was pitch black down here and his night-vision lay at the bottom of the lake with the lander. He ran back up to the surface, gratefully gulping the fresh air. He had to see what was down there, though. He had to see what was down there so he could kill all those …

He stopped mid-thought and refocussed himself. He would get himself killed that way — he had to keep praying. But the movement he’d caught this time was not from the direction of the pit, but one of the tabs at the edge of the square. Slowly, slowly, he ghost walked over, his weapon held at the ready. He darted around the corner, finger on the trigger, then nearly threw his rifle away as he violently moved it aside. A gaggle of seven emaciated children, all between five and perhaps nine years of age were huddled together there, starting at him with saucer sized eyes.

“Good Lord, there are children here?” he blurted.

“It’s been so long since anyone spoke,” whispered the oldest among them, a girl with thin, colourless lips and hair as nearly as white as her skin.

He dropped to a knee and put a hand on her shoulder. “You talk — you’re not like the others … what happened here?”

She looked at the ground, seemingly unable to speak further. David wasn’t sure whether any of the others were capable of speech at all, but they looked at him with life in their eyes. Sweet, innocent life, not the vacant stares of the adults. They all wore ratty clothes and their hair was dishevelled, unlike the perfect model-like appearance of the adults. He looked to the oldest girl — she must have been trying to raise them. Living in one of the habs, scrounging what food they could.

“Are you going to take us away from here?” the girl asked.

“My own ship … I’ll do what I can. You children stay here. I’ll be back.”

Hesitantly, he gave the girl a hug and she started to sob. He gave each of them a squeeze, and with tears in his own eyes hurried back to the platform. Gritting his teeth and praying all the more fervently, he approached the pile of clothing and shreds of meat that had been Maeng. Forcing his fingers to comb through this, he found a lighter.

“Grant unto him eternal rest, o Lord,” he mumbled. He would not wonder what chance of that Maeng or his other comrades had. For that matter, he was far from sure himself and he looked up to the sky, knowing that the nearest priest was lightyears away. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

He ran down the ramp and into the blackness. When there was no longer any light from above, he ignited the lighter and proceeded forward more slowly. The tunnel wound down ever further. He took note of the walls — they were not rough stone, dirt, or even modern tunnel reinforcements used in such excavations. These were smooth stone, laid without mortar, but with carvings and unlit sconces. After another few paces the dirt floor gave way to smooth steps. The carvings told a tale of men fleeing a great flood aboard winged craft, travelling to a moon orbiting a gas giant, and of women worshipping at altars, with things like the one that had emerged from Maeng crowned and reigning from atop ziggurats. In the flickering flame-light he spotted an arched doorway ahead. To the left of it lay rusted excavation tools. To the right, a huge slab of stone that had been moved by graviton repulsers, still attached but dead. Beyond it was a blackness darker still than that in the corridor, and a new wave of stench. He dropped the lighter and after gagging and retching anew, he had to scrabble about on hands and knees for several minutes to find it again.

Cautiously, fighting every impulse in his body to flee, he inched towards the door. He felt he was suffocating in the stink, and could barely think, could only repeat the name “Jesus” over and over. It was all that allowed him to keep his sanity in those moments and in what followed, as he enkindled the lighter again. Surely, he had descended into Hell itself — in the moment before the flame guttered out, he caught a glimpse of a chamber lined with skeletons, and the colonists kneeling round an altar bearing monstrous creatures that writhed together.

In blind terror David fled back up the stairs, caroming off the walls, tripping and staggering before slamming face-first into them. He spat blood and rolled over, firing his rifle. He burned through the magazine, dropped the now useless weapon, and ran again. Gasping and crying he strove for the light. At last he clawed his way out, scampering more like an ape than a man. The sound of feet roiled up behind him. He reached for his sidearm but pulled out, instead, his phone.

As the colonists were boiling out of the pit, he hit the play button, and Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” stopped them dead in their tracks. As the flute and violin bathed the plaza in gentle tunes, the colonists fell to the ground and thrashed about as if they’d been shot. Once David had caught his breath, he stood on shaky legs.

“You like that, you’re gonna love this,” he said, setting his playlist to have Mozart’s coronation Mass play next.

He nearly dropped the phone as a bellow of pain and rage issued from the pit. There were still the monsters to be reckoned with. He turned, and saw that the children had crept out from their hiding place, and were staring at him with wide eyes. Seeing the look on their faces, as if they’d heard beauty for the first time, made him forget the terror he’d seen moments ago and tears stung his eyes. He trotted over to them and handed the phone to the oldest girl, ordering her to hold it but do nothing else. He got his sidearm out and crouched next to the kids, racking his brain for what to do now. He couldn’t just keep playing classical music all the time, and now that they knew he was here — would prayers keep him invisible? Then there were the children. They’d survived somehow this long, but that may have been because they needed to be adults before they could be infected. He figured that was what was going on here, some sort of infection with the creatures below somehow being the source. But why didn’t all the colonists suffer what Maeng did? No time for that, he had to think … the Shackleton was destroyed. No hope of getting an evac. And his sidearm with all ten rounds it held wouldn’t put much of a dent in their numbers. But what if he could give them a taste of their own medicine? They’d used their landers as missiles, but their own “mothership” that held the interstellar drive that took them here must still be in orbit somewhere.

“Come on, kids,” he said. “We’re going to the operations centre.”

It would be easy enough to find — right below the gigantic communications dish. They hurried along, the orchestra giving way to the Latin choir. Though the colonists kept their distance, David was sure he saw dark shapes dart between buildings as they went, and he shivered. Yet even those abominations that the colonists worshipped, or were controlled by, feared it as well. They made it to the operations centre. As per the standard specs, it was actually the main command module of the ship that had taken the colony here, precisely where it had landed years earlier. From the bridge he could communicate with both UNICA and the orbiter that he would bring down upon this lost colony. It also had escape pods which were designed to blast the crew a safe distance from the engines. Surely enough to launch them well away from ground zero.

There was no time for anything fancy. He transmitted an S.O.S. to UNICA, then found the orbiter and transmitted commands for it to “link up” with the command module. It wasn’t meant to enter atmosphere, but it had enough bulk to make it … and it would hit like an atom bomb. Now to get out of —

“Oh, no,” he said. Mozart’s Coronation Mass had played through and the next track the FIDO chose was not classical. He reached to grab the phone from the stunned girl’s hand but was sent flying across the room. He slammed into the consoles and fell to the deck gasping for breath. His sidearm was knocked from his hand and he was lifted off the ground by a taloned hand that burned like ice. He was face-to-face with the abomination that had burst from Maeng. Prayers failed him as its yellow eyes bore into his — a malicious consciousness forcing its way through the gateway of his soul. Yet somehow his hand found his rosary and he thrust it forward. With a terrible shriek the creature released him and he fell to the floor. He sucked in a lungful of air, and clambered to his feet. The older girl was the only one not in the pod. He grabbed her and dove into the escape pod, slamming the hatch shut behind him. He secured her in her seat, strapped himself in, and with a quick Gloria, hit the launch button.


#


He came to still in the seat, but not still in the colony. Through the canopy he saw trees, and in the night sky ahead, a magenta glow told of a great fire burning off behind the horizon. He closed his eyes. Deo gratis. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder and a female voice came to his hear.

“Nowak David?”

It was Her. How did she make it out here? Was she on the escape pod somehow? What do I do now?


Fin.

8.02.2019

ALL THE GODS OF THE GENTILES, Part 2

By Godfrey Blackwell

IF YOU MISSED PART ONE IT CAN BE READ HERE.



David drew the middle shift for sentry duty that night. Their threat level hadn’t been upgraded by the Shackleton; they were still in ‘admin’ mode -- meaning no sentries were required -- but the colonists unnerved them, and the squad agreed as one that they’d keep regular sentry shifts through the night, rotating at three hour intervals.

David and Maeng lost the toss for the shift starting at 2 am. It was the worst time; right in the middle of the night so that one had barely gotten to sleep during the first watch before he was being hauled out of his rack, then hardly back again before reveille. Though he doubted any of them would sleep much anyway.

He and Maeng moved out of the “hooch”. Ogumbembi and Carter were standing outside waiting for them, rifles slung. Carter took a last puff on her stub of cigarette and threw it to the ground, the bright orange embers sparking in the blackness.

“Bo’, it’s even darker tonight,” Maeng said. “Where are the lights?”

As the night before not a single street light nor table lamp peeking through a hab window was on to illuminate the silent streets; the sky was overcast so that not even Typhon lit their way, nor the stars. Their own tent was blacked-out, too, since uneasy soldiers are less uneasy when they cannot be seen.

“Dunno, M,” Carter said.

“Did you do a patrol into the colony?” David asked.

“No way,” Ogumbembi spit. David heard the spittle smack into a rock in the direction of the town. “There’s something way way wrong with those boofs, I ain’t spending more time with them ‘n I have to.”

“Yeah, Farro thought maybe they found some bless drug or something,” Carter said. “But they’re not just kelping; there’s something really, really wrong with them.”

“Let’s get some rack time.” Ogumbembi said.

With a muffled swish of the blackout curtained entrance closing behind them, Ogumbembi and Carter were gone and David was alone with Maeng.

“C’mon, Wakker, Let’s go check it out,” Maeng whispered. “I wanna see what they’re up to.”

“What?”

“What’re you afraid of?” David heard his fireteam partner cock his rifle with a loud click. “We’ve got BFGs.”

“Let’s ask;” he keyed his mike to the Shackleton’s frequency. “Shackleton, this is Nowak, over.” There was only faint static in response.

“Prolly all asleep, lazy buffs,” Maeng said.

“Alright, let’s just go.” David pulled his night vision goggles down over his eyes.

By instinct borne of years of training, they moved stealthily, but even ghost-walking seemed painfully loud. David winced when he kicked an unseen can which bounced with a loud bang off the plascrete sidewalk then fell with a swish into the tall grass alongside. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He was a child again, hesitating at the top of the stairs leading down into the black crawl-space beneath the family home. His mother had asked him to get something from down there ... why did Mom have to always can all that stuff? There was perfectly good food in the megamarket. Always sending him down there ...

He shook his head. He wasn’t a child. Mother and Father had complained he was still a child when he left for New Parris Island -- but that seemed a lifetime ago; he was a trained soldier, now. But the silence was driving him loopy. He panned over to his right, and noticed a hundred metres off, in between a group of three habs there was what looked like a copse of short trees -- although in the monocrhomatic world of night vision it was hard to say. He hadn’t seen any trees within the colony during the day, though.

“M,” he whispered.

“What?”

“What’s that over there?”

They paused for a few moments, David dropping to one knee. There was no movement whatsoever.

“I dunno man, looks like a bunch of statues or something.” Maeng whispered.

“There aren’t any statues here.”

He heard Maeng fumbling with his beltgear. “Let’s use some light. We’re supposedly on level one anyway; why are we sneaking around like we’re level three?”

David pulled off his night vision and groped for his own moon beam. They activated them both and waved the almost painfully bright lances of light down the alley.

“What the ...” David exhaled slowly.

They walked closer. About a dozen colonists were standing bunched together, almost touching one another. As David and Maeng got closer, they could see that their eyes were all closed as if asleep. They were completely still.

“I thought these boofs were weird during the day, mang.” Maeng stepped right up to them while David held back, fixing his light to the upper hand guard of his rifle. Maeng shone his light right into the faces of one of the colonists without the slightest reaction. He swung the beam left and right.

“Where are the rest of them?”

“Maybe they’re in their habs.” David pointed down to the left through a gap in the pre-fab buildings. He was feeling suddenly bolder. “You check down that way, I’ll go up the street. Keep in radio contact.”

He’d moved about a hundred metres down the road when his moon beam picked out another cluster of colonists near the wall of a larger building, possibly a manufactory of some sort. Through the comm bead in his ear, Maeng whispered,

“Got another group here ... twenty of them this time. This is really loco.”

“I think I see more, too,” David said. “Let me check it out.”

When he got within a few dozen paces, he saw Her. She was on the outer edge of the clump of colonists. She was standing just off-centre of face-to-face with the other woman he’d seen with her that morning. They were almost touching, standing so close that each had a foot between the other’s. David felt his heart quickening again. He licked suddenly dry lips and moved in closer.

He detached the light and slung his rifle. Getting as close to the women as they were to each other, he shone the light first in one face, then the other. Were they even breathing? Her eyes were closed and her face and expressionless mask like death. Pulling off a glove, he touched two fingers to her throat. He couldn’t feel a pulse, but the skin was warm and soft. She did not move at all; as if she really were a statute, or she’d braced herself for even that light contact.

He was trembling now, and leaned in closer to see if he could hear her breathing. She was the same height as he with her heeled boots. The light, though at his waist, still let him make out her features; the high cheek bones, symmetrical jaw line, smooth, pale skin. He could hear no breath. Maybe something that would draw a reaction ... he closed his eyes. He was so close he had to move forward only a fraction of an inch to kiss her cheek.

He quickly stepped back a few paces. That was wrong, he thought. Like taking advantage of a habuji. Why did I do that?
He swung the light back up to her face. Still and silent as marble. So was her partner. He turned and trotted back down the street, breathing hard.

Stupid. Crazy. He chastised himself inwardly. Maybe Mom and Dad were right. Away from home, no sacraments, alone ... What am I even doing here?

He stopped at a crossroads to collect himself. Pulling out his iPhone, he checked his position with the Shackleton’s GPS. He was about to signal Maeng that they should return to the hide when he heard a clicking or a scratching sound behind him. He dropped to a knee and swung the light around, fumbling to get his rifle unslung as he did. He nearly dropped it. She was walking down the road with her brunette friend.

He stood. “Ah, look I’m sorry about ... Uh …. are you okay?”

Whereas the first time he’d encountered them, they’d seemed skittish and fearful, now they approached him boldly, and without a word, one encircled each of his arms with one of her own.

“We’re not afraid of your thoughts,” She said. “You shouldn’t be either. Come.”

“Where are we going?”

“To show you something,” She said.

Her friend reached down and switched off the light and they walked in darkness for some minutes. David couldn’t see his own feet, but the colonist curves were surefooted in the black and guided him without hesitation. They took him into a building and up a flight of stairs. He had a sense of being on a balcony that overlooked a large open enclosure, like a warehouse. They stopped and released his arms. Hands started moving over his arms and chest.

“Whoa, wait a minute,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“We can see in your mind that you like us.”

David’s heart jumped as the loud ripping sound of the velcro fastenings on his plate carrier opening reverberated through the silence. He had no idea where his rifle was. One of them pulled the comm bead from his ear. He knew he should run away from here, find Maeng. He felt his rational mind and his desires war within him.

Holy Mary, conceived without original sin ...

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“We can’t hear you when you do that.”

“WHAT?”

“Don’t leave us,” her voice was almost pleading, the first hint of emotion he’d heard in that bland voice since he first met her.

A strangled scream startled him suddenly back to himself.

“That was nothing,” She said.

“Oh, no … Maeng!” He pushed them back and scrabbled on the floor to find his rifle. Grabbing the comm bead, he jammed it back in his ear. “M, where are you?”

There was only static on the other side. He pulled a glow stick from his pocket and cracked it, casting a pale green light. He gathered up his his gear as quickly as he could, pulling his vest back on and draping the belt over his shoulder. He didn’t dare look at the two women.

Oh Lord, what did I do? He wondered. He sensed them back away as he thought that. Their boots must have been off for they made no sound. Holy Mary, conceived without Original Sin ...

He sprinted down the stairs with the glow rod lighting his path. He nearly fell down them and stumbled out into the street.

“Maeng!” Somehow he managed to get his FIDO back out and found his fireteam partner’s locator on the GPS. He pounded down the road. It said he was in a hab at the end of it. Dropping his plate carrier he kicked the door open and charged in. Maeng was on the floor ...




#




“Stand-to!” David shouted as he burst through the blackout blinds of the temp hab. “Stand-to -- Sarin, get over here!”

As the squad tumbled out of their cots and groped at weapons, David shifted Maeng off his shoulders and down onto his own cot. The glow stick he’d cracked earlier gave the only light, bathing the domed room in a green glow.

“What the blank going on?” Ogumbembi shouted, pulling his combat vest over his head.

“They did something to Maeng.”

“What happened?” Sarin was now kneeling beside Maeng, her medical bag open on the floor beside her.

“We got seperated ... I don’t know ...”

Gàn, Wakker!” Carter cursed as she dove out of the temp hab clad in only her underwear and combat vest, but with her weapon ready.

Farro was taking the time to pull her pants and boots on. “Where’s his gear?”

“I don’t know!”

“And what happened to you?”

David’s combat vest was hanging open at the sides, he’d lost his boonie hat, and his comm bead was hanging down his back. How in the ‘verse would he explain what he was up to when Maeng went down? He just grit his teeth and watched Sarin run her scanners over Maeng’s limp form.

“Bio-scanner’s still not working!” she groaned. She threw it down and pulled a stethoscope out of her kit and listened. “I’ve got a weak heartbeat -- he’s alive -- but what the --?”

Ogumbembi stuck his head back into the tent. “It’s dead out here, what’s going on, Wakker? Did the colonists attack him?”

“I don’t know ... I mean, there weren’t any around when I found him.”

“Anyone following you?”

“Negative.”

“We need to get him up to the Shackleton,” Sarin said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. But the bio’s not working and I’m hearing some weird stuff ...”

“Well, we’re not humping him all the way back to the lander,” Ogumbembi said. “Farro, get the comm pack rigged so we can bring it in on remote.”

In ten minutes, the howl of the assault lander’s V.T.O.L. engines screamed into the night, rising to a deafening pitch as Farro guided it with a laptop down onto the field separating their encampment and the colony. The Shackleton had not responded to any of their transmissions as they dashed aboard, Carter and David bringing up the rear after keeping an overwatch of the surrounding area.

“All clear!” Carter shouted as the lander’s rear ramp slammed shut. “Do we have clearance?”

“Skrag it,” Ogumbembi said. “Still nothin’ on the radio. We’re leaving.”

“We’re gonna be in quarantine forever, bo’,” Sarin said, her stethoscope pressed to Maeng’s chest.

“Yeah, thanks a lot Wakker,” Ogumbembi said. “What were you and M doing?”

“I said I don’t know what happened,” David said.

The engines roared and they rocketed into the sky.

Hùnzhàng, Wakker,” Carter said. “Look, your gear’s gonna tell the whole story when we get back.” She pointed to the communications pack on his web gear that transmitted everything he saw and heard up to the Shackleton. “You level with us. You are part of this squad aren't you? Semper fi mean anything to you? So what the gan do you mean when you say you got separated?”

It probably means more to me since I actually understand some Latin, David thought. But it was true, he couldn’t hide what he’d done, and this squad, as rough and crass as they would seem to his parents and Fr. Vinogradov, were his comrades. He quickly recounted what they’d seen in the colony.

“I was on my way back to link with M, when those two curves came at me. They took me to this building, and I was with them …”

“Huh? I thought you were an ace,” Sarin said, clearly confused.

“Obviously it was just an act,” Carter said hotly and turned her cheek to him.

“Awesome timing, bo’,” Ogumbembi said. “You know, you’re a real —”

“Recon Alpha this is Shackleton,” the radio cut-in. “You have not been recalled. Send SITREP, over.”

“Ogumbembi here — we are conducting emergency medevac.”

“Negative. You will comply with quarantine procedures.”

“‘Bembi this is Captain Ho,” the voice of their C.O. took over. “You know you need permission for that you dumb— what the?”

David could see through the canopy surrounding Farro at the front of the craft, that they had made it out of the atmosphere and were already in visual range of their mothership, a long latticework structure with engines at one end and an armoured crew area at the front. The view suddenly changed as proximity alarms sounded and Farro threw them into a roll. Now Ladon flashed past along with spinning stars. She righted the craft again and he could see a missile of some sort barreling towards the Shackleton. It missed the bigger ship by mere metres, and a second was blasted out of the sky by the Shackleton’s defensive weapons.

“Those look like colony landers,” Farro said. “Oh no —”

A third rocket slammed into the Shackleton’s engines and a flash of white light blinded David. He was thrown against his harness as the lander bucked and rolled. New klaxons sounded and he knew they were going down.

“Oh my God! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”


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