New Fiction: Far Away From Home

As I work on other stuff, I still enjoy writing shorts. I started, on a lark, another short series related to the game “Star Citizen”.

Here is Part 1: “Elke Fnjor”

Elke Fnjor

Outside the viewport, the white glow of Kilian split the nebula in half and sent rainbow rays through the surrounding gas cloud. It was one of the most beautiful things she had seen in her short life. She closed her eyes and imagined she could feel the warmth of the rays across the millions of kilometers and through the thick shielding protecting Naval Station MacArthur. Where she grew up, on the edges of Empire space, to glimpse the wan local star through a rare break in the omnipresent cloud layer was considered an omen of good fortune. Not that it mattered much now. Home hadn’t been a fixed location in a long time.

“Elke,” Leslie hissed. “What are you doing?”

She turned to face the row of seats and her roommate.

“Just enjoying the sun, Les.”

“We see it all the time.”

“Yeah, but not in a window as big as I am.”

“Whatever. Get back over here. I don’t want to lose our place because you were daydreaming.”

Elke rolled her eyes and rejoined her roommate. Leslie and Elke were paired on day one of cadet training, and became instant friends. Both were the same age, nineteen when they enrolled, and both didn’t quite fit in with the other cadets. It was no secret the UEE attracted a certain personality, especially in women, when it came to prospective pilots. “Tomboy” would have been the phrase Elke’s grandmother used. Elke just viewed them as women acting how they thought men should act. And looked. Short hair was common. No jewelry. Not that Elke had much use for jewelry, either, but she did like her blonde hair long. Even if it meant putting it up for uniform regulations. Leslie kept her brunette mane shorter – just above the collar. Either way, neither fit in with the look of most of the women cadets.

And that went for their personalities, as well. Leslie was the reserved one – she answered the questions put to her by the instructors quietly, with shaken confidence, even though she was almost always correct. In over a year together Elke had yet to see Leslie initiate a relationship – guy or girl or other – it didn’t matter, every date Elke’s friend went on was initiated by the other person.

Elke, in contrast, was brash – even too forward, some might say. Not in the way her classmates were. Elke personally thought it was all an act for most of them. Telling sexual jokes, gruff laughter and rough physical contact. It seemed to her they were acting how they thought the men thought they should act to fit in. Elke also let her emotions sit on the surface – something frowned upon in the pilot candidate school. A pilot was expected to have complete control over his or her emotions, especially in battle.

But expectations rarely meet with reality. And the reality was, in the simulators, Elke was as cold as a comet at aphelion. Her instructors never failed to give her the highest marks in any scenario. Except the one. But that wasn’t her fault, even if they didn’t think so. Her wing leader didn’t listen to her, and they almost lost the entire wing because of it. If Elke hadn’t broke formation, against orders, when she did, the entire simulation would have been a failure. But, instead of praise, she was marked down for not being a “team player.”

It was a stupid way to grade, anyway. Everything was pass or fail – there was no middle ground.

“Flight Cadet Fin- Fan- uh…” The lieutenant behind the desk at the end of the lobby stammered.

“Fan-your, sir,” Elke offered, standing to attention. “Flight Cadet El-ka Fan-your.”

“Right. Fnjor. Jesus, what kind of a name is that?”

Elke shrugged.

“Old Earth stuff, I guess, sir.”

“Okay. You and Flight Cadet Nicholson, uh, Leslie, are up next. Scan in and post at the door.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

The lieutenant glared through the glas in front of him. Elke hid her smirk. Few liked the “Old Navy” phrases, but they were technically correct, even in this century. She only said them because she knew they annoyed so many of her instructors and there was nothing they could do about it. Be an overt ass, and they’d nail you. But be a smartass and the most they could do was frown upon it.

“Shut up!” Leslie hissed.

Elke rolled her eyes again. She was doing that a lot this morning.

The door slid open.

“Go in, Cadets. And good luck.”

“Thank you, sir.”

They walked into the simulator room. It was a simple affair, four pods in front of a large screen. A man and woman, both in instructor uniforms, stood by two of the pods.

“Alright, ladies, here’s the down and dirty,” the man, a lieutenant commander, addressed them. “You passed your written and oral exams. You’ve both demonstrated competence in single-seat and crew-served combat simulations. This is your final test. It is a pass or fail test; there is no grading scale. Furthermore, you will not know the pass conditions until after the simulation is completed. Do you have any questions?”

“Yes, sir,” Elke waited for the man to acknowledge her. “What ships will we be flying?”

“You find that out when you get in the simulator. Anything else?”

“How long will the test be?”

“Until you pass or fail.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alright. Get in your pods.”

Elke climbed into the nearest simulation pod. She reclined back. The woman, a lieutenant, leaned in to make sure she was properly in the harness and then gave a thumbs up. Elke responded in kind. The woman disappeared from view just before the hatch closed. She was plunged into darkness.

After an interminable pause, the disorientation of the simulation activating replaced the empty void. She exhaled and inhaled several times, as they had been taught, and blinked rapidly – to adjust to the direct neural input.

The scene before her warped with static while her brain fought the new input. Then it stabilized. She no longer felt the sensation of reclining. Instead, she stood on deck plating in a ship. Before her, to what she recognized as the bow of the ship, was a massive canopy – covering many several-meter sheets of glass – and taking up the entire bow. The view outside was of the inside of a nebula or gas giant – clouded, viscous.

“Where are we?”

She turned and saw Leslie’s avatar.

Elke grinned, “Let’s find out.”

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Update and excerpt from “Redeemer”

It has been a long few months since I last updated. The introduction of my son to my family has, understandably, had some dampening effects upon my time and ability to write. As life has resettled into a semblance of normalcy, however, I am picking back up.

I have continued working during this long break. Just not as much as I would like to. For example, I created a blog on the game I have talked about several times, “Star Citizen”, which is designed as a primer for new players. You can view it here: http://bsvcflightschool.wordpress.com. I have also done some new work in the fan fiction set in that universe, “Transitions” – not posted yet, but I have been working. The earlier works are available here: https://ariccatron.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/the-bengtsdotter-stendahl-voyage-corporation-1192-words/.

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“The Operators” (~500 words)

This is just something I tossed off for fun in reference to kids who think video games or airsoft is analogous to the real military.

Al Taqqadum was sunny that day. That might not sound surprising to you, but it was a refreshing change from the three-day sandstorm we just experienced. The sand got into everything. Our clothes, our hair, orifices we didn’t know we had. My M4 had sand in cracks Colt didn’t know they designed into the damned thing. I just finished cleaning it for the third time and cursed my luck for the fourth time – more sand. Oh well, too late now. We had a patrol to get to and I still needed to go over my truck.

My PMCS was interrupted by a commotion behind me. My fellow soldiers had stopped what they were doing and a veritable din of awe-inspired muttering arose. I turned to see what the big deal was.

There they were, strutting down the dirt path that passed for a road, heads held high. Their steely eyes passed over us as if we weren’t there. It was a fitting tribute, honestly. Compared to them, we were ants.

I had heard of these people before – the ones we just called “Them” or, when we were being really specific, “The Operators”. Today was the first day I spotted one, let alone an entire squad of them. They were easy to pick out. Their gear was immaculate. None of that military-issue stuff. No, this came from a catalog – or maybe a sporting goods store. Their headsets blended in with their forest-green camo paint. An odd choice for the desert, but who was I to argue with professionals?

One of them stopped and looked at me as they passed. Oh shit, I thought, he caught me staring.

He brushed a speck of dust from his weapon and looked me up and down.

“Teh fuk r u lookin at, n00b?” He demanded, his jowls flapping majestically around the words.

“N-n-nothing, sir.” I sputtered.

“Fucking faggit. Wat do u mean, nothing? That’s not what ur mom said last nite, lol, fag!”

“Of course, sir.”

He spat on my face. I didn’t move or flinch – I didn’t want him to have any confirmation that I was the worthless soldier he suspected. It ran down my cheek. I could smell Mountain Dew and morning breath. The smell of death.

Without another word, he turned to catch up with his squad. Fortunately for him they had become winded from the walk and were taking a breather a few feet away.

“Lulz, u rekt that fag!” One of them wheezed.

“Fuckin ezmode newbs.” Another echoed, both of his chins bouncing in agreement.

My squad leader ordered us to mount up. I jumped in the turret of my truck and prepared for another grueling day on patrol. But this day, I knew, things would be different. There was a new spring in my step. I could do it, I thought. I really could.

I wish I could find those airsoft warriors and their Call of Duty squadmates and thank them for the confidence they gave me. Just witnessing their majesty was enough to give me the morale boost I needed to survive that war.

But such is not my fate. I don’t deserve to see such prime examples of the human ideal. I didn’t deserve it that day, either, but I was blessed nonetheless.

Star Citizen: Changing the Way Video Games are Made and Played

The story of “Star Citizen” starts in 1986, when a young game developer and “Star Wars” fanatic returned to the United States from Great Britain and obtained a job at software company Origin Systems.  Eighteen-year-old Chris Roberts was already a veteran game developer, having released “Stryker’s Run” for BBC Micro while still living across the water.

The Origin Systems and Digital Anvil Years:

Origin_Systems_logoRoberts worked on two action-RPG games, “Times of Lore” and “Bad Blood”, released in 1988 and 1990.  By the time “Bad Blood” was released, Roberts was finishing up the game he wanted to make since he first watched “Star Wars”.  It was a space-based flight-sim called “Wing Commander” and would change the flight-simulation genre.

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Transitions, Part V: An Erik McKetten Tale (1,839 words)

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MobiGlas Concept Art  (c) 2012/2013 CIG.

MobiGlas Concept Art (c) 2012/2013 CIG.

Transitions, Part V: An Erik McKetten Tale

Cat stepped over the limp form of Lena. He opened the drawer Signy indicated and sure enough, amongst other odds and ends, there was a spool of wire. He pocketed the spool and was pushing the drawer closed when the ship lurched, sending him against one of the cargo doors and the contents of the drawer spilling to the deck plating.

“A little stiff on the stick, Signy?”

“I’m sorry, Cat, but I have never flown before.”

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Transitions, Part IV: An Erik McKetten Tale (1,505 words)

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Inside the 300-series cockpit.  (c) 2012/2013 CIG.

Inside the 300-series cockpit. (c) 2012/2013 CIG.

Transitions, Part IV: An Erik McKetten Tale

Cat turned and sat in the pilot’s chair. The leather groaned in protest, reluctantly submitting to the weight of a pilot for the first time in decades. Cat waited, expecting the chair to rotate and face the controls. Nothing happened. Signy really was lifeless. Only the most basic of functions worked – the secondary systems powered up to open the cargo doors and turn on the lights and life support. Everything else seemed frozen in time.

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Transitions, Part III: An Erik McKetten Tale (1,603 words)

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Concept Art: UEE Bengal Class Carrier and Escorts in orbit (c) 2012/2013 CIG

Concept Art: UEE Bengal Class Carrier and Escorts in orbit (c) 2012/2013 CIG

Transitions, Part III: An Erik McKetten Tale

Cat used his MobiGlas to contact the ship’s computer. She was in sleep mode, powered down and surviving off the umbilical connected to the hangar’s power supply, but the computer recognized his tags and opened the basic functions. The screen lit up with a schematic of the ship. He touched the canopy. Nothing happened. He frowned. The mechanic warned him they thought Signy’s computer was faulty, but she let him access her lower functions, so why couldn’t he get at the higher ones?

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