Saturday, February 13, 2016

Prologue to Tales of the Wolf Pack

This is the prologue to a tale that has been in the works since long before The Starhawk Chronicles. Originally intended to be a stand-alone series, I later decided to weave it into the larger fabric of the Starhawk universe, setting it twenty-five years prior. While not a direct prequel, it does set up locations and scenarios that take place in those later tales.

I'm think of releasing the first book in the series as a serial, and seeing how it goes from there. If it does well, then I will tell the complete story of Earth's war with the Harkonian Empire.

Like I don't have enough on my plate already...

 At the far edge of Earth’s solar system, just beyond the range of its early warning sensor net, the Harkonian attack fleet waited.
Admiral Grystall Strygar watched the activity outside the bridge of her flagship Imperial Crown, but there was not much to see. From this distance, Earth’s sun was a mere point of light in the dark void of space, only slightly brighter from the millions of stars surrounding it. The ships of the fleet around her flagship were mostly settled into their final positions, with Imperial Crown at the spearhead of the formation. The most movement came from the few sentry ships making runs around the fleet’s perimeter.
From behind her, the soft—one could almost say stealthy—footsteps of her first officer alerted her to Captain Trag’s approach. A moment later, his reflection appeared as a ghostly image in the clearsteel viewport. He stood in silence behind her, waiting for her to turn and acknowledge his presence.
Strygar waited almost a full minute before turning, letting her subordinate sweat a while longer. “Your report, Captain,” she said, keeping her voice glacially cool.
As she completed her turn, she caught the ever so faint glare of hatred in his eyes. It was not unexpected. She knew Trag despised being second-in-command to a woman. While he had been given command of Imperial Crown in reward for his exemplary service in the Harkonian starfleet, the ship would never truly be his while Strygar retained its services as her personal vessel. The fact that a female outranked him, Strygar knew, irked him even more.
He is a pit viper, she thought, as she met the steely gaze of his golden eyes. Let down my guard for a moment around him and he will sink his fangs in.
The look disappeared as their eyes met, and Trag straightened, all business now. He cleared his throat, averted his gaze and spoke.
“All ships stand ready, Admiral,” Trag‘s voice had a grating rasp that reminded Strygar of shards of glass grinding together. “The Nova Prince reported a slight fluctuation in her engine core manifold sensors, but they report the problem is minor and will cause no delay to the mission.” He handed her a datapad and waited in silence as she reviewed its information.
“Very good, Captain,” Strygar handed back the datapad and turned her attention back to the viewport. “And the crews of the Khataraa cruisers?”
“All six report ready and await further orders.”
Strygar nodded in satisfaction. The Khataraa cruisers were the backbone of the entire mission. They were tucked safely away at the rear of the formation and would refrain from jumping in-system with the rest of the fleet until the main battle line had broken through the defense net. “Are we receiving the signal?”
His return nod was reflected once more in the clearsteel of the viewport. “We are, Admiral. The signal is strong.”
Strygar stood silent for a moment, letting Trag squirm. He knew what her next order would be, but was duty-bound to stand and wait until she voiced it before carrying it out. If she felt the whim, she could have him stand there all day, waiting. But she would not indulge herself this day. The tasks ahead would be far more pleasurable.
Strygar turned her head slightly to one side, acknowledging Trag’s presence without actually looking at him. “Very well, Captain. Transmit the orders. The fleet will move in exactly one hour.”
Now Trag’s face split with a half-smile that reminded her of a snarling predator. He bowed sharply at the waist, and turned to issue the order.
Strygar watched as he departed, working his way between the ranks of consoles where Imperial Crown’s bridge crew was at work with their preparations for the attack. Her crew, despite what Trag thought. The men, with their bald heads and piercing gold eyes, and the women, with their dark hair no longer than mid-neck length, were all hers to control. They would jump at her commands, no matter how trivial; all prepared to die at her will. Strygar would have it no other way. She expected complete obedience to her command.
Loyalty, however, especially with an overly ambitious second-in-command was another matter altogether. Deceit and treachery were rules of thumb in the Harkonian military.
Any concerns she may have had about Trag were put away for now. From the way the Captain was issuing orders, it was apparent that he was just as eager for this mission to start, no matter who was in charge.
The rest of her crew felt the same way. The air of excitement that was coursing through the bridge, indeed, through the rest of the ship, was such a tangible thing that one could almost physically touch it. All were anxious for this mission to begin.
One hour, Strygar thought to herself. In one hour, we will begin to pay the damned Confederation back for the dishonors they have heaped upon us in this war.
She fought to hold back a thin smile as she watched Imperial Crown’s fighter wing exiting from the cruiser’s forward hangar bay. Forty-five fighters strong, the wing quickly maneuvered away from the Crown and joined up with the wings from the other cruisers, settling into a diamond formation in front of the fleet.
Strygar checked the countdown on the ship’s chrono.

In fifty-six minutes, the tide of the war would change.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Wormhole - Dedicated to David Bowie

 This story was heavily influenced by David Bowie's Space Oddity. Seems only fitting that I share it here, on the day of his passing.


As its umbilicals disconnected with a jolt, the prototype hyperspace starship Yeager dropped away from the support tender and floated free in space.
At the controls, Major Christi Thom surveyed her readouts. “All systems showing green,” she reported. “Everything looks good from this end, Control.”
“We copy that, Major,” The controller aboard McKinley Station replied. “You are go for pre-test maneuvers.”
“Roger that.” She threw a wave out her cockpit window at McKinley: a wasted gesture, since McKinley was three kilometers distant, but it was part of her routine.
Another voice cut in on her helmet speaker. “Godspeed, Christi. See you when you get home. First round is on me.” This was Jim Matthews, pilot of Yeager’s support tender. The tender ship continued to fill the view above her as it began to move away.
 “Thanks, Jim,” Christi smiled.  “And thanks for the vote of confidence.”
She was truly grateful for that. Her historic first flight was actually the third attempt at a manned faster-than-light spaceflight. The initial unmanned flights had gone off without incident, flying out from Earth to Saturn in a matter of minutes. Enthusiasm ran high for a future of interstellar spaceflight.
The phrase “Man plans and God laughs” once again held true. Man’s great plans were dashed the moment a live pilot was placed inside the cockpit. XP-1 exploded as soon as its faster-than-light engines—dubbed the “Wormhole drive”— were brought online. Little more than dust remained of the ship and its pilot.
Eighteen months and another successful unmanned test flight later, XP-2 was launched. This time the flight looked to be a success, until the time came for the ship to revert to normal space. XP-2 dropped out of hyperspace, and promptly tore itself apart.
That had been two years ago. Christi had trained for XP-2 with pilot Bill Chiang and was to be his backup should he become incapacitated. What still gave her nightmares wasn’t the fact that she could have been the one killed, or that Bill’s body had never been recovered. It was the fact that pilots who ran shuttles to and from the mining colonies on Saturn’s moons reported that they could still hear his screams over their comm units months after the incident.
On the eve of his flight, a reporter interviewing Bill had asked him why a husband and father of four would attempt such a risky endeavor. Bill had replied in his usual to-the-point style.
“Risk is inconsequential. Each and every one of us is at risk every moment of our lives. You could step outside your home and get struck by lightning, or slip and break your neck in the shower. The only reason people take note of the risks on a mission like this is because it’s big news to everyone watching. Risk is all around us. The only time you’re truly safe is when you’re dead.
“Without risk, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The first life on Earth took the risk of venturing from the oceans to try life on land. Columbus risked disaster by crossing the Atlantic to the Americas. Armstrong risked leaving the safety of his lunar lander to walk on the moon. The risk we take with this mission, whether successful or not, will propel us, even marginally, toward the next stage of our evolution as a race.
“Without risk,” Bill summed up, “we wouldn’t even exist. So there’s no point in worrying about the risk. It’s always been there. We just have to face it.”
By the next afternoon, Bill would be dead, and the program, already teetering on the brink of being discontinued, was put on hold once more. More unmanned flights were run, all successful, with only minor glitches. Despite much controversy, construction had begun on the third, manned hyperspace ship. And Christi had been chosen as pilot.
And so now she sat in the cockpit of XP-3, waiting to face the risk. She had christened the ship the Yeager, thinking that using a real name, other than the ship’s technical designation, might bring her a touch more luck.  In her younger years, Chuck Yeager had been her idol, and the reason she had become a test pilot in the first place. Inwardly she wondered if years from now, she might serve as the inspiration for future generations of space explorers.
As the countdown continued, she ran through her pre-flight checklist for the umpteenth time since she had climbed aboard. That damned fuel monitor light was still glowing red and she tapped it several times with her finger until it reverted to normal. “State of the art,” she mumbled aloud.
Her eyes fell upon the lenticular photo of her husband Graham and their four year old son Benjamin that she had wedged onto the instrument panel. Her checklist momentarily forgotten, Christi gazed into her son’s coffee brown eyes and had a flash of honest fear. The thought that something could go wrong and Benny would be left motherless was so great at that moment, she seriously thought of aborting the mission. To Hell with science, she thought. To Hell with knowledge and expanding human boundaries. I want to play ball with my boy.
“T-minus ninety seconds,” the voice of the controller aboard McKinley Station startled Christi from her inner ranting.
“Confirm, Control,” she replied, her voice shaky with the sudden surprise.
Despite her misgivings, she was still surprised to find her hands shaking as he brought the Wormhole Drive online, and knew it was not from the vibration of the engines. Closing her eyes, Christi drew in a deep breath. When she released it, her hands were steady once more.
The controller aboard McKinley called off the sixty-second mark. Christi’s hand unconsciously went to the crucifix she wore around her neck; the one Graham had given to her on their first anniversary. Though her flight suit and gloves blocked her from actually touching it, the pressure of it pressing against her breastbone was reassuring and gave her some degree of comfort.
At thirty seconds, the slightest tremors of panic began to set in, like the feeling of being aboard one of those old-style wooden roller coasters just as it was about to crest the top of the highest drop. This was no roller coaster; it was the real deal, and the adrenaline rush was unlike anything Christi had ever felt before. Her hands were tingling, and she could actually hear the blood rushing through her veins. She didn’t know if she would break out in giddy, hysterical laughter or begin sobbing uncontrollably.
“Fifteen seconds,” A new voice came through the speakers. It was the Wormhole project director, Samantha Dovonovich, the woman who had developed the Wormhole Drive. Christi had expected to hear from her. There was no way Sami Dovonovich would let this moment go by without saying something quotable for the history books. “Good luck and Godspeed, Major Christi Thom.”
Christi had hoped she would say something different. Sami had said those same words to the last two pilots just before their missions went awry. It was like a bad omen.
Ten seconds. I shouldn’t have eaten breakfast. Christi mentally ticked off with the countdown clock. As it struck one, she heard herself, as if from a great distance, whisper “No, wait!” Then the universe exploded around her.
Not in the literal sense, of course. The flash from the Wormhole Drive was blinding, even through the polarized cockpit windows. The ship bucked, Christi was jammed back into her seat, and the stars went from pinpricks to elongated shafts, which then transformed into a swirling vortex of light. The “wormhole” had opened.
The sensation was dazzling. The vortex changed through every color of the spectrum before it collapsed inward on itself, the starlines flattening into a single horizontal shaft of light before exploding again into the vortex.
Christi glanced at the ship’s chronometer. She was already one minute into what was to be a five minute voyage. All control lights showed green. Thus far, this test was more of a success than the two previous flights. Please, please let this be the one where everything goes right.
Then something through the viewshield caught her attention. It was a light, brighter than the starshafts surrounding her ship. It was softly strobing, or was it spinning? Then a too familiar thought piqued in her mind.
The light at the end of the tunnel. The one that calls you to Heaven.
Panic began to engulf her as the light grew larger as the Yeager closed in on it. She stabbed a finger at the abort switch, found it inoperative. Grabbing the control yoke, she gave it a sharp jerk back in her direction, realizing full well that performing such a maneuver could result in the Yeager destroying itself, much as Bill Chiang’s ship had.
Christi did not care. Every fiber of her being screamed at her not to enter into that softly beckoning light.
Her concern was futile. The control yoke responded exactly as the abort switch had. Absolutely no response.
The light was so close now that it completely filled her cockpit windows. A final image flashed through her mind, that of little Benny standing next to her empty, flag-draped casket as it was lowered into a false grave.
I’m so sorry, Baby, she called out to him across the universe as the light engulfed her, sweeping away Yeager’s cockpit. She shut her eyes, and gave herself over to it.

Her eyes opened once again, and when they focused, Yeager’s cockpit had disappeared. She was floating free of restraints, surrounded by a surreal pearlescent mist, intensely bright, yet not blinding. There was no sensation of direction or movement; no sense of up or down. She imagined the sensation was akin to that of a feather set adrift in the middle of a cloud.
Yep. I’m dead, she thought.
“No, you’re not dead, Major,” a voice replied, proceeding to answer her next, unspoken question. “And no, this is not Heaven. You are very much alive.
Christi’s sense of direction was still askew. She had no way of telling where the voice had come from. There was a vaguely familiar tonality to the voice, and something told her she knew it from somewhere, but it was different enough that she could not nail down a definite face with it.
“Who’s there?” she called. “Who are you?”
“Our true name would be quite unpronounceable to you,” the voice came back. “In the interest of keeping things simple, you may call us Watchers.”
“And you’ve been watching . . . me?”  Christi asked, confused. She had a vaguely creepy feeling up and down her spine, like someone was watching her in the shower.
The voice sounded amused. “We have been watching your people. A most interesting race, you humans are. No matter what system you are from, you all develop along the same lines.”
Christi’s head was swimming. “Are you saying that there are other humans out there already? On other worlds?”
When it replied, the Watcher’s voice sounded as surprised as her own. “Of course. There are billions of you out there, scattered like stars across the cosmos. Quite a tenacious race. You all seem to thrive on adversity. No matter how great the setback you always continue to push ever onward.”
At this, a thought occurred to her, and again the Watcher answered before she could give voice to the question. “No, we are not responsible for the loss of your other two craft. As our name implies, we merely observe. We take no action, directly or indirectly. It would be vain of us to think we have a right to interfere in another race’s destiny. Your mistakes are yours to make freely, otherwise you could never truly mature as a race.”
The voice altered, became more familiar now. “The risk we take with this mission, whether successful or not, will propel us, even marginally, toward the next stage of our evolution as a race.”
A figure came into view through the mists, spectral at first, then, like the voice, became much more familiar. “Without risk,” Bill Chiang said as he faced Christi, “we wouldn’t even exist. So there’s no point in worrying about the risk. It’s always been there. We just have to face it.”
“Such wise words,” the Bill simulacrum added after a pause, “and so true. Your people have risked much.”
Christi saw images begin to flash in the mists all around them. Columbus’ ships crossing the Atlantic. Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight. Yeager’s  Glamorous Glennis breaking the sound barrier. Armstrong stepping onto the moon.
She saw her ship as it entered hyperspace.
“And there is much more risk ahead. We see great triumphs for your people, but also great tragedy.”
More images flashed, less familiar to her now. Christi saw more starships, far larger than hers voyaging through space, their crews making contact with other races. Colonies being established on unfamiliar worlds.
A singular image caught her attention. A planet in flames. Was it Earth? The image passed too quickly, replaced by a blazing battle in space; massive starships exchanging fire with one another. Humans and alien beings fighting and dying.
“But always will you persevere.”
The first images returned, of starships of all designs leaping into hyperspace, flinging themselves far into the void.
Christi turned back to the simulation of Bill Chiang. “So it is worth the risk.”
Chiang smiled. “Now our time here is done.”
He turned as if to leave. Christi reached for his arm, her hand passing through it. “Wait,” she cried, “Is that all?”
Another smile. “We have watched you long enough. It is time for us to move on, to begin watching other, less advanced civilizations. We are pleased with your progress.”
“But I have so many questions,”
“And you will have to find the answers on your own.”
The image of Bill Chiang flickered, going out of focus, morphing. The next form the Watcher took was known to her as well, but it was not of any being she knew from experience. The gray skin. Large, dark, expressionless eyes. Skeletal limbs. Christi had seen beings like this before, in science fiction movies, on television documentaries.
In her dreams.
Now she felt the voice more than heard it. Farewell Major Christi Thom. We shall not meet again.
The Watcher disappeared in a brilliant flash of light and Christi shut her eyes against the glare.

When the flash spots had cleared from her vision, Christi found herself back inside Yeager’s cockpit. The Wormhole Drive had shut down automatically as it had been programmed to, and she could see Saturn out her port window, its rings reflecting the faint light of the far off sun. All the interior monitors were glowing their tranquil green. The test had been successful.
According to the countdown clock, only four minutes and forty five seconds had elapsed since she had blacked out. No, that’s not right. It wasn’t a blackout. It was. . .
It had to be a dream, Christi shook her head to clear away the cobwebs.
The motion made her realize that her headset had somehow slipped off and she quickly repositioned it. The McKinley controller was all but shouting through the earpiece. “Major Thom? Can your hear me? Can you hear me, Major Thom?”
Christi’s throat was suddenly dry as she croaked a response. “McKinley station, this is the Yeager. Happy to report that ship and pilot are doing fine.”
The resultant shouts of joy coming over the headset nearly deafened her, and she scrambled to pull the unit off again. As she did, she caught a glimmer of movement out of the corner of her eye. At first she thought it was her imagination – that her eyes were playing tricks on her as some residual effect of the hyperspace jump – but as she turned to look, she saw it was definitely something more than space dust.
It was a ship, kilometers distant, but still visible enough to be made out by the naked eye. It was an elongated disc, spinning slowly, and moving steadily away. It accelerated suddenly, lights flickering off, then back on briefly before streaking off into the void.
A galactic wink of the eye? Christi wondered, smiling inwardly at the notion. So I didn’t dream the whole thing.
She replaced her headset again. The ruckus on the other end had died down. “Major Thom,” McKinley control was saying. “We read you as go for the return flight. Do you concur?”
Christi paused before replying, gazing out the window to where she had last seen the Watcher ship. She winked back.
“Affirmative, McKinley station,” Major Christi Thom replied as she turned her ship onto its return vector. “I’m coming home.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - A Spoiler-Free Review

Been quite a while since I last posted a blog about anything. Sorry readers, but with the release of my latest Starhawk Chronicles novel, and all the marketing and promoting that goes with it, plus those annoying familial obligations, I haven't had much time for anything else. But I felt my newest topic was something worth writing about. So without further adieu, here is my SPOILER-FREE REVIEW OF...

In a nutshell I loved it. As much as I liked the prequels (Yes, I liked them) they just never had the same feel as the original trilogy did for me. Perhaps it was simply because I was seeing those as an adult rather than a wide-eyed youth between the ages of 7-12. Perhaps it was Lucas' reliance on CG everything, rather than practical effects and sets. Perhaps they really did just suck. I don't know. All I can tell is that right from the beginning, this one FELT right.

The cast is fantastic, especially SW newcomers John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley (In her first film role.) Unlike Natalie Portman and Hayden Christenson, thse kids can ACT! There was nothing wooden or awkward in their performances, and there was a natural chemistry between them and returning members of the cast. Boyega and Ridley especially seem destined for superstardom. Adam Driver is compelling as villain Kylo Ren, and makes him both a character you want to feel sympathy for, while simultaneously wanting to rip his lungs out. And Domhnall Gleeson takes on a chilling Hitler-esque turn as First Order leader General Hux.

By far, my favorite character was Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata, the only major CGI-rendered character in the film, a diminutive, whimsical pirate/ cantina owner who helps set Daisy Ridley's Rey on her path. With her tiny, Yoda-like stature and over-large eyewear, she is less Jar Jar Binks and more like Edna Mode from Pixars The Incredibles.

Cinematography is gorgeous in this film, in part again due to the actual physical sets and locations, and contrary to what all the J.J. Abrams haters were expecting, not one lens flare in the entire film.
Not once did I find myself cringing at dialogue, unlike the prequels, especially the supposed "romantic" scenes, where it sounded more like cheesy Harlequin romance and not like Star Wars. The banter between the characters was fun and funny. Let's admit it, any time Han Solo is involved, you know there are going to be some good lines. You believe that these characters truly believe what they are saying.

Visual effects are, without having to go into detail, top-notch as expected. The only qualm I had was the busy-ness of the aerial battles, but this could be due to my being seated in the second row, off-center from the screen. Next time I see it, I'll sit further back.

Fun, fast-paced, with lots of neat surprises, The Force Awakens is easily one of the best in the saga, up there with The Empire Strikes Back. People have been complaining that Disney would ruin the franchise, but it is clear that the future of the Force is in very capable hands.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Play Time - A Tribute to Friendship

     This one is very personal to me. That is all I will say for now.
Play Time

He stopped amongst the thickest brush, listening intently. Not far off, perhaps as close as the tree line, they were coming in after him. A dozen troopers, maybe more, and they were headed in his direction.

Being here in the woods now gave him the advantage. He could move more stealthily than the armored troops could, and with the canopy above blotting out the sunlight and the sky swiftly darkening in the West with the approach of the storm, it would soon be dark as night in the forest.

But staying hidden in the woods forever was not an option. He had to make it to town by nightfall to meet with the other resistance leaders or they would vacate, fearing capture of their own. He had to press on.

A sound to his left, the not so subtle crunching of brush beneath booted feet, gave him a start. The troops were closer now, possibly even aware of his location, and coming in his direction. He could hear their commander giving orders. Too close. He had to hide.

Dropping to his stomach, he crawled under the low hanging branches of an evergreen, pressing himself up against the trunk. Fallen needles from the tree scratched at his exposed skin, pierced his clothing in spots, but they were a minor irritation. Discovery and interrogation in an enemy stronghold would be much more of an annoyance.

He concealed himself just in time. From his hiding spot he could see several pairs of boots emerge from the bushes, stopping where he had just stood moments before. He could hear them speaking in hushed tones, could sense their nervousness. Despite their greater numbers, he knew they believed the rumors about this old, black forest. Spirits of the damned haunted these woods, outsiders were told. Even the bravest of souls sometimes failed to emerge from this dark place. Great beasts, hungry for man-flesh lurked here. Even the trees are carnivorous, one old local had told him.

He did not believe the legends, but from the whispered, urgent voices he heard, he knew his enemy believed, and that was something else that could possibly be used to his advantage. If I could ever get out from under this tree.

Blinking sweat from his eyes, he dared not move to wipe it away, lest he make enough noise to give away his position. The weather was not very warm, but the humidity pushed ahead of the approaching storm made the air thick with moisture. In the distance, thunder announced the nearing of the storm. It was echoed by the cry of some wild forest creature.

The troops seemed to start at the feral sound, and their discussion became more urgent. The commander barked an order and the group started off once more, splitting into two groups. One marched off deeper into the forest, but the other group headed in the direction of the village that was his destination.

He waited until he could no longer hear them, then waited ten minutes longer, lest they be lying in wait for him, before emerging from his hiding place. He made a cautious survey of the area, cocking his head and listening intently for any sound of the troops’ return, or of possible ambush. Nothing. They did indeed seem to have moved on.

Brushing the dirt and evergreen needles from his clothes and skin, he pulled his blaster from its holster and checked its charge. Satisfied, he then checked the rifle he carried. That too, had ample power. He took stock of the other weapons available to him.

A fight was inevitable now that the troops were between him and his destination, but their numbers were less now, and he had an advantage. They thought he was still ahead of them. Striking from behind, and playing on their fears, he had a better than average chance.

He hefted his rifle. “Play time.”

He made good time, despite his continued stealth, knowing  exactly where to go. The troops were not cautious about covering their tracks. Soon they were within his view; six of them tromping through the brush, making no attempt to hide their position.

He followed them at a distance; just far enough behind to keep them within sight. When he did make his move, he wanted to be sure the other group that had split off would not be able to come to their aid too quickly.

After some time the trees began to thin out and he knew he would have to act soon. They had paused on a ridge overlooking a valley and in the distance, the outer edge of the village could be seen. He would have to take them out before reaching the outskirts. He could not afford to fight them on open ground.

He crept up on their position, hiding behind the thick trunk of a tree, peering around its bulk to be sure that none of them were aware of his approach. They appeared relaxed, taking a break from their search before continuing onward.

Reaching to his belt, he grabbed one of the circular objects hanging there. Twisting the tab on the top, he waited for a count of five, then rolled it gently into the midst of them. One spotted it just as it came to rest, but before he could voice an alert, there was a dazzling flash of light, sending the troops scattering.

He was in motion the moment the flash bomb went off, leaping into the clearing, going into a tuck-and-roll, and coming up with both blasters in his hands. The troops, still stunned by the sudden assault, had no time to react. He made very short work of them.

As the last trooper fell, he scanned the area around him, watching for a counter attack from behind every tree and shrub. Nothing happened. The silence of the forest closed in around him once more, only the sound of the second squad leader coming through on one of the downed troops’ helmet comm systems. “Squad Six, come in! Squad Six, acknowledge! Have you engaged the target?”

He grabbed the comm from the fallen trooper, switching it on to respond. “Target has been engaged,” he replied calmly, then he grinned. “Target has won.”

He threw the comm on the ground, crushing it beneath his boot. Then proceeded down into the valley towards the village.

It did not take long to reach the village. It was quiet. Too quiet. He found the street he was looking for with little effort. Down at the far end was the building he sought.

He was nearly at his destination when another figure stepped out of the bushes and blocked his way to the steps. They were equally matched size-wise, but his adversary wore a swirling black cape and helmet that disguised his facial features.  He held out a black gloved hand. “You have gone far enough, Vance Argon. You will go no further.”

Argon leveled his rifle at the newcomer. “Who are you?”

The intruder straightened, trying to make himself look larger, and pointed a finger at his chest. Thunder cracked overhead, and the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. “My name is. . .Dave Vaydahr” He pulled an electro-sword from beneath his cape and lit it. “Remember that name, for it is the name of your doom.” Another crackle of thunder.

From behind Dave Vaydahr came another voice, one so unexpected that both of them jumped at the sound of it. “Would you two idiots get inside? You’re going to get struck by lightning.”

Vaydahr moved out of the way, revealing the speaker, a short, olive-skinned woman that glared at them both in a way that was more intimidating than if she had been wielding a planet-shattering weapon in their direction.

Vance rolled his eyes. “Mom, it’s just a thunder shower.” It came out more of a whine than he had hoped.

“I don’t care,” Mom replied, pointing to Vaydahr. “I am not going to be the one to explain to . . .Duck Nader’s mother why he got struck by lightning while playing at our house.”

Vaydahr,” Vaydahr corrected. “Dave Vaydahr.”

Mom glared at him, but refused to respond. “And you, Vance. You just got over being sick. I won’t have you missing any more school because you caught a cold by being too dumb to come in out of the rain.”

“But Mom . . .”

She held up a single finger, silencing him immediately. “Do I have to call your father?”

“No, ma’am,” he sighed.

Triumphant, Mom turned and went back into the house. Vance looked at his nemesis, shaking his head. “Dave Vaydahr? You couldn’t come up with anything more original than that?”

Vaydahr removed his helmet, revealing a round-faced boy; sweat-soaked sandy colored hair plastered to his forehead. He shrugged. “Best I could come up with.”

Rolling his eyes, Vance walked toward the house as Dave struggled to sheath his electro-sword through his belt loop. After the third failed attempt, he settled on tucking it under his arm as he followed along. “I suppose we could watch some T.V. I taped last night’s Battlestar.

Dave shrugged again. “Sounds good to me.”

Vance held the door open, allowing Dave to enter first. He rolled his eyes again.

Dave Vaydahr . . . geez.”


Across the street from where I grew up in New York, there was an old Victorian house with a yard that must have covered half an acre (A rarity in an urban New York neighborhood, even thirty years ago.) That yard was overgrown, with paths meandering among the trees, and if you knew where to look, even a hidden treasure or too. The old gentleman who owned this property used to let me play in his yard whenever I wished, and many a childhood adventure was had on these sacred grounds.

Dave Vaydahr also existed, in the form of my best friend —you guessed it— Dave. Every Saturday, Dave’s mom would drop him off at my house and we would have many adventures like the one described above. These adventures helped contribute to my life as a science fiction writer.

Sadly, both are gone now. After the old gentleman who owned that wonderful property passed away, developers purchased the land, tore down that magnificent old Victorian, and put several multiple-family units on the site, filling in every last inch of that great playground of my youth.

Dave passed away in May of 2008 at the age of thirty-eight, from complications brought on by Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was unmarried, and had no children. It was on the sixth anniversary of his passing that the idea for this story came to me. It is to his memory that I dedicate this tale. I think he would have enjoyed it

Saturday, February 28, 2015

He lived long. . . WE prospered : Remembering Leonard Nimoy

 It's difficult to put into words the impact that the death of Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy had on the science fiction community. The outpouring of love for the iconic actor from both friends and fans on social media has been overwhelming proving Captain Kirk's assessment that "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life."
Nimoy on stage, New York, Jan. 1987
For myself, Leonard Nimoy was a staple of my childhood. Along with Star Wars, Star Trek held my fascination as a young boy enthralled with all things science fiction. With each successive film, my enchantment grew to near-obsessiveness, culminating with my first time attending a Star Trek Convention in January of 1987, just after the phenomenal success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Dubbed the "Spock family reunion", Nimoy appeared at New York's Penta hotel along with "parents" Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt. The main auditorium where Nimoy appeared was packed full, standing room only. When he took the stage, it was an immediate standing ovation, and the outpouring of love that emanated from the crowd was overwhelming, an almost physical sensation. It was powerful for me, a boy just turned 16. I can only imagine what it must have felt like for him on-stage. Anyone with a camera rushed to the stage to get a picture. The closest I could get was 50 feet. Nimoy spoke for about 45 minutes, and the crowd hung on every word. One would have thought that the Messiah himself had taken the stage.
Directing Star Trek III, 1983

Over the years, Nimoy distinguished himself not only with his acting, but also as a director, producer, poet, photographer, and writer, penning not one, but two autobiographies I am Not Spock, written at the time the Trek series was still on the air, and I Am Spock, a memoir written in the late 90's, reflecting on his varied life and career. He also used his distinctive voice for voice-over work on shows such as In Search Of. . ., the animated Transformers movie, and Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

His death this past week, due to his long-time fight with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) has touched many, celebrity and fan alike. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites came alive with postings all celebrating the man and his work. Zachary Quinto, who played opposite Nimoy in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek said, on Instagram, "My heart is broken. I love you profoundly my dear friend. And I will miss you everyday. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." The entire remaining cast of the original series also had nothing but kind words for their friend and co-star. "I loved him like a brother," William Shatner told ET. "We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love."

Perhaps most poignant were Nimoy's final words to friends and fans, posted on his Twitter account just five days before his death. "A life is like a garden." Mr. Nimoy said. "Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP"

We will never see his like again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rating Rebels

 I recently watched the premiere episode of Star Wars Rebels (Subtitled Spark of Rebellion), the first effort put forth from Lucasfilm since its take over by the Walt Disney Company and I have to say I am very pleased with what I have seen so far. Set approximately 5 years before Episode IV, Rebels follows the crew of the Ghost, a not un-Millenium Falcon-esque transport as they set about the galaxy far, far away, doing their best to hamper the Empire in any way they can.

The Ghost crew seems new, yet familiar at the same time. You have a cocky pilot, an over-sized tough guy alien, a battered R2 unit, a Jedi-in-hiding, a brash young woman wearing some very familiar armor, and a young orphan just beginning to realize that he is Force-sensitive.  The story follows young Ezra, an orphan living on the Imperial-occupied world of Lothal, who gets by by stealing what he needs from the Imperials, and making them look like fools in the meantime. It is on one of these exploits that he meets with the Ghost crew, and eventually decides to join them in trying to thwart Imperial plans, which includes rescuing a group of Wookie slaves from the spice mines of Kessel.

At this time, the Rebel Alliance does not exist as a formal entity. I suspect that as the series progresses, we will see these characters meet with other rebel cells, and if the show runs long enough, we may even see the birth of the Rebellion.

I will admit that the animation was lacking somewhat - a surprise since The Clone Wars was so well done. The Wookies in particular could have been better. They looked too plastic, especially the young one who I thought had a head too big for its body. Like its predecessor, I'm sure that this will improve over time.

Having grown up on the Original Trilogy, I love that the look and feel of that series was so well replicated. I loved that certain shots were replicated from the TIE battle of A New Hope, as well as integrating cues from John Williams' original score throughout the soundtrack without making them feel cliche'd. The playful banter was also back, making these new characters already seem like old friends.

I know that Clone Wars was very well received, and was indeed an excellent series, but being a child of the 70's and 80's, my preference will always be for the Rebellion era. After a while, all the political intrigue and dark Sith dealings wore on me and I lost interest. I guess I'll always champion the underdogs. Always been more of a scoundrel and rogue myself.

I know many people have misgivings about the Disney/Lucasfilm merger, but based on what I have seen so far, I feel those worries are sorely unjustified. The fate of the Force is in good hands.

#StarWars #StarWarsRebels #TheForce #Disney #Lucasfilm

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Impression's De Comic-Con

I have been a long-time convention goer, ever since attending my first Star Trek con back at the tender age of 16. Ironically, this was only a few days after William Shatner's infamous "Get a Life!" skit on Saturday Night Live. I remember thinking that there was no way that a convention could be like that, only to find out that the SNL skit was pretty spot-on. At the end, I figured that this was a one time event in my life, a bucket list item to be crossed off, just so you you could tell your grandkids you did it.

I was wrong.

I did go back again -a lot. Over the course of the next decade, my friends and I would venture into Manhattan, sometimes 4 or 5 times a year, to feed our need to be around (and I use the term lovingly) geeks like us. For myself, the treat was seeing and meeting celebrities from my favorite shows and movies, and getting their autographs. (My favorites are my personalized Dave Prowse/Darth Vader autograph and my DC Comics Star Trek # 19, written by Walter Koenig, and signed by him as well -also personalized.)

My con experiences lasted into my mid-twenties, until I moved from New York to Wisconsin, married, and began raising a family. The idea of attending a con was put on the back burner, but the need to fill that geek-centric part of my soul still tugged at me. I needed to let my geek-flag fly.

Star Trek's Karl Urban onstage.
On August 23, 2014, I attended my first con in years, making the trek down to Chicago (Rosemont, IL, actually) for the big Wizard World Comic-Con. I expected it to be big, bigger even than the epic 3-day Creation Con held in New York every Thanksgiving weekend, but even I was taken back by the immensity of the venue. Whereas the shows I had attended previously had maybe 2 - 3 big name guests, Comic-Con had literally dozens, either appearing onstage for Q&A sessions, or signing autographs and doing photo-ops.Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Karl Urban (Star Trek), Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar (Big Bang Theory), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredble Hulk), director John Carpenter, and the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, along with pro-wrestlers, comic writers and artists were in attendance. And yes, Stan Lee was there too.

Star Lord takes aim.
One of the great attractions of cons are the cos-players, people who go to great lengths to emulate their favorite T.V., movie, or comic book, or anime characters. Costumes range from fairly simple (Wearing an ARC-reactor under your T-shirt and saying you're Tony Stark) to the complex (A full-blown Iron Man suit). The Guardians of the Galaxy made an appearance. Mal, Kaylee, and Jayne of Firefly/Serenity were there. I counted no fewer than six Black Widow's,and at least an even number of Harley Quinn's. Star Wars was surprisingly under-represented, though I did spot at least two of the obligatory slave-girl Leia's. Whovians were very much in existence, with various Doctors represented by both genders, as well as several women wearing Tardis-themed dresses. Superheroes were everywhere, including The Greatest American Hero, from the 80's T.V. show. Each and every cos-player was happy to take the time to pose for pictures, some even thanking me for taking their picture.

There were delights and disappointments. I was thrilled to see just about every toy I ever played with as a kid at some of the vendor's tables. Many were out of the package, well-worn,and well-loved, and ala Toy Story, just waiting for someone to play with them again. I was also pleased to see that the prices on these items were not ridiculously over-priced, nor were their modern day counterparts, most reasonably priced between $5-$10-a fair deal for in-package toys dating back 10 years or more. Unfortunately, I never did find the Dexter Jettster action figure I was looking for.

On the downside, I was disappointed at how Cons have changed in the last twenty years.When I used to attend, autographs were never charged for-that was included within your admission price. At best you would have to pay for a photo to get signed (around $5). This time around, I dropped $60 for a 1-day admission. Prices for photo or autograph sessions ranged between $40 to $150 or more depending on the celebrity. I don't know how people justify that kind of expense, no matter how popular the star.

On the flip-side, I should note that many celebrities were happy to allow photo-ops at their autograph tables, if the line was not too busy. Comic-Con policy forbids taking pictures from outside the autograph venues, even from a distance. Sad.

The truly great thing about cons like these is how they become a sort of microcosm of our society today. All types exist here in a Roddenberry-esque kind of Utopia. Age, race, beliefs are not as evident to con-goers. We all come together to get our geek on and celebrate that diversity amongst kindred souls.

I already plan on attending next years event. If you're there, look me up. Perhaps you'll even appear in a future blog post. Until then friends, keep on geekin' on.