Friday, January 31, 2014

Star Trek: The Aegis Directive / Part 1

Star Trek: The Aegis Directive

Unnatural Disaster


Admiral’s log: Stardate 56849.1
Betazed has come under a mysterious surge of massive climate activity that threatens the people around the Opal Sea. The weather modification network has failed to control the storms and we are uncertain as to why. I was persuaded by a young Commander Walburga to take a detour on my route to Starbase 211 and investigate the matter myself. Considering the severity of the situation, he didn’t have to try hard.



Vice Admiral Janeway stepped off the shuttle gangway into a blast of wind that nearly took her off her feet. Commander Walburga grabbed her arm and leaned into the gust to steady them both. “Are you alright,” he shouted over the gale force.

“Yes. Just unexpected,” she shouted back. Although it was daylight where they were on Betazed, the sky was overcast in dark grey due to the unseasonable hurricane that was approaching the landmass. Janeway nodded towards the compound near their landing pad and the two made their way with haste for shelter.

A short, stocky Betazoid woman met them as the doors swished open. “Admiral, you shouldn’t have come!” She reached for Janeway and Walburga’s arm to help them inside.

The door shut behind them, and Janeway shook herself as the calm, warm air comforted her aching bones. “Nonsense. I had to see things for myself.”

“Of course you would, but we are looking at total planetary evacuation. These storms are hitting all over the world with no sign of an end!” It wasn’t often to see a Betazoid express concern, but this one had fear written all over her face. A sure testament to how bad things had gotten on her normally tranquil world.

Walburga looked out a window and saw the wind had been joined by a torrent that lashed at the compound. Now that the wind wasn’t biting at his eyes he had a better chance to see how bad it was. Without breaking his gaze out the window he asked, “what other continents are hit by the storms?”

The Betazoid responded with a hushed tone, “all of them. We just spotted another tropical storm forming around the south-eastern continent - bringing the total to six... so far.”

Janeway’s eyes shot open. “Six storms? But the first started only two days ago.”

“Yes, they are appearing faster than we can classify them. We have no idea what’s going on.” She looked at Janeway and a faint smile appeared. “That is not a comfortable feeling for a Betazoid.”

Janeway exchanged a worried look with Walburga then turned to their host. “Take me to the Governor.”

***

“Frankly Vice Admiral Janeway, what I need from Starfleet right now, more than anything, is ships. Lots of ships.”

Janeway scowled. “Of course, I’ve already ordered the tenth fleet to assist with the evacuation.” Her face changed to a pleading look. “But we need to discover what is happening here.”

“There is no time,” the Governor snapped. He tapped a few commands into his desk console and then turned the screen around to face his guests. On it were video depictions of a wasteland. The cities were decimated, and the countryside washed away. It was hard to make out if there were any bodies because the whole thing was filtered through a different spectrum of light other than the visible band. Probably because the storm was so bad you wouldn’t have been able to see anything if the stream was recorded in normal light.

Walburga jaw dropped. “My god!”

Janeway’s frown deepened. “What are we seeing?”

“This is Opal. The first storm turned into a category six cyclone this morning and this is what it looks like now.” He flipped the screen off and set a stern look at the two officers. “If we don’t act now, I am afraid of the death toll we might face.”

Janeway cleared her throat. “I will request Starfleet send the eighth and twelfth fleet to assist as well.” She turned to Walburga and nodded her order to him. He immediately rose and began to walk out of the room. Before he left, Janeway called to him, “Farouk, tell Admiral Valdin to have Pyrellia prepare to receive evacuees.”

He nodded and stepped into a jog back towards the shuttle. His mind raced over the images of Opal and how fast it had all happened. Given his estimation, the storm had appeared and then destroyed everything in less than twenty-four hours. Whatever was happening was leaving them precious little time.

***

“Yes Admiral,” Walburga said in response to the reprimand he had just received for his outburst. He knew Admiral Valdin well enough to know he wasn’t as disappointed with him as he was at himself. He was having trouble remaining calm, despite his best efforts . His heart pounded, and it wasn’t only because of his run to the shuttle.

Walburga couldn’t stop thinking about Sara. He thought of how he didn’t know if she was alive right now. She lived with her family near the shore of the Opal Sea. But they hadn’t spoken in over a week. Not since their last fight. Their marriage hadn’t been called off; the fight had just been a single bump along the road of the typical stressful ride towards marriage. Now he didn’t know if he would ever see her again. He grimaced when he realized what a fool he had been.

Admiral Valdin continued, “if we can’t use transporters due to whatever is happening, the logistics of this evacuation are going to be hell.” He wasn’t even looking at him now. He was peering over a couple data-pads in his hands, no doubt, trying to make sense of the reports coming out of Betazed.

“Sir, should we request the aid of the private fleets as well?”

Valdin’s face shot up. “Absolutely not. We don’t need to be tripping over freelancers.”

“There are a billion people on Betazoid, Sir. Even with the eighth, tenth, and twelfth, I’m not sure we will be able to get everyone out in time.

Valdin went back to squinting at his data. “That’s why I’m moving the sixteenth to assist with the refugees as well.”

Walburga’s eyes narrowed. “Refugees, Sir? Why do you expect the evacuation to be parement?”

“Son, I’ve seen what’s happening on Betazed only one other time in all my years with Starfleet.” He cast a stone cold gaze at Walburga. “Someone has collapsed Betazed’s magnetic field and the solar winds are tearing the atmosphere off the planet.”

“You think we are under attack?”  Walburga’s eyes feigned no effort to hide his disbelief.

“It’s only a hunch. We need to learn a lot more before we can be sure.” He looked straight at the view screen. “Commander Walburga, you need to get Vice Admiral Janeway off that world. Now.”

***

Walburga stepped back into the wind and the rain now stung his skin like he was being swarmed by a million bees. The storm had already become so bad that it was nearly impossible to see the compound, despite being just ten meters away. He moved as quickly as possible before he could make out the the main entrance. Just when he was about to reach for the door panel, something hit him from the side and knocked him to the ground.

He shook his head in a daze and rolled to his knees. The wind stung his ears and tore at his eyes. He pushed himself to his feet, and stabled himself. Whatever hit him must have stunned him more than he realized because he couldn’t find the door now. He saw a wall of what must have been the side of the building. But he couldn’t get his bearings with such low visibility.

In desperation, he clung to the wall, and made his way in the direction he hoped was the entrance. Luck decided to shine on him, even if he would have prefered the sun shine. His hand tapped the panel and the door swished open. Walburga was greeted by a frantic Janeway along with the Governor and several of his aides.

Janeway shouted, “The local storm has become a category four. The Governor is cut off from his entourage. We need to get these people out of here.”

Walburga nodded. “Admiral Valdin thinks we might be under attack.”

Janeway’s face flashed to shock for only a moment before steadying into resolve. “Lead the way Commander.”

***

Janeway helped the last aide into the shuttle when Walburga took the helm. As Janeway turned to join him, her path became blocked by the energy discharge of a force shield. She heard the gangway rise behind her until it clasped closed. The cabin was now void of the raging sounds of the storm outside, leaving only the confused mumbles of everyone inside.

Her eyes narrowed. “What are you doing Farouk?”

Walburga tapped commands on the console as the shuttle rose into the air and began its ascent into the heavens. “I’m sorry Vice Admiral. My fiance is in Opal. I have to try to save her.”

“Commander, I’m only going to say this once; lower the shield.”

“I can’t Sir.” His face was steady, but the beads of sweat at his temple told her he was under a great deal of duress.

Janeway grimaced at his choice of appellation for her. “This is not the time to break ranks. Lower the shield and we can work together to save your fiance.”

He turned to look at her as the blackness of space appeared out the viewport behind him. In the distance she could see the tiny speck of her command ship. “Please forgive me Vice Admiral.” Her eyes popped wide as his fingers gave the console one more command. With that her body, along with the others, disintegrated into a matter stream which transported them all safely aboard her command ship.

He turned back to the console and took a deep breath. Then his hands went back to work at the helm. He set the shuttle on an approach vector that would bring him directly into the storm over Opal. At full impulse, he entered the storm within seconds. There was a lot of chop but nothing the inertia dampeners couldn’t handle. From where he sat, it felt like little more than a somewhat bumpy ride.

Visibility was near zero, so he filtered the viewport to non visible bands of the light spectrum. He wasn’t used to working in this spectrum so he was a bit disoriented by what he was seeing. Even so, he managed to navigate to the area that had been Sara's family home town and began a scan for lifesigns. After a few moments, he still wasn’t getting anything that matched humanoid readings. He amplified the power to his sensors to compensate.

As the sensor array began the task of sweeping the landmass for signs of life, he started to have doubts over what he was doing. His career was probably over after disobeying a direct order from an Admiral. The irony that the fight between him a Sara had been over his career and now he was worrying about losing it was not lost upon him. More than ever, he realized how subjective priorities can be from moment to moment. He had let his career come between him and the woman he loved. Now that fight may hallmark the last time they ever spoke. It was tragic that it took this freak event for him to realized he would gladly lose his career over losing her.

What a fool he was.

A repeating beep from the console snapped him back to the moment. He saw blurbs of yellow and red that indicated body heat. The computer told him the movement patterns were aligned with those of humanoid bodies. Life. He might just find Sara after all. He quickly let the excitement dissipate. After all, these could just be some of her neighbors. A lot had already gone wrong and he had to stay focused on the rescue if anything good was to come of this.

The lifesigns were coming from underground, in some type of large structure. Probably a gymnasium or other kind of recreation center. He found a suitable location to land, and backed the gangway as close to the door as he could. He grabbed a hand light, a Tricorder and a phaser and then hit the switch to open the gangway.

***

The interior of the installation was much like most Betazoid decor - elaborate and colorful. The power was out, so Walburga held the light in one hand and the Tricorder in the other. In front of him was a stairwell that lead deep into the complex. Off to his left was a shut doorway and to the right appeared to be some type of lounge area.

He looked at his options and groaned. “This is going to take forever,” he mumbled to himself in frustration. He ran a passive scan for network uplinks to the city grid. It was a long shot since the power was out. But he hoped there might be some auxiliary power running a node that would let him sync to the local system and get some information on the building that might help with his search.

There was nothing. This type of event just didn't happen in the Federation, and there was no power contingency for a global storm front of this magnitude. Funny, considering how much better the world had fared against a Jem'Hadar battle-fleet. But throw a little rain at it, and the whole world is brought to its knees.

He hissed in anger. But quickly realized he had no time to feel sorry for himself.

“Think Farouk, think!” He spun on his heels and squinted in thought.

A memory of Sara appeared in his mind unbidden. In it, he was laying on a sofa at her parents house a year ago. She was busy working on one of her many Opalion empa-books she liked to keep. These scrapbooks were made using kelp found in the Opal Sea around her hometown. The plants had an interesting property that could record the memories of Betazoids which others could read from the pages. The cognitive makeup of these plants was so strong that when calibrated properly, even non telepathic people could read the imprinted thoughts.

The scrapbook she was working on that day happened to be about their life together. She was adding a memory of their most recent time together when they ditched their responsibilities and went on a tour of the First Federation. It had been more boring than they had hoped, but they still had fun together.

For some reason his words came to him with crystal clarity, “Malrock has no idea you took it, does he?”

Sara laughed. “No, he thinks it got misplaced when he was in town.”

“You are going to get busted if you keep manipulating people’s minds that way.”

“Nobody knows,” her voice carried a tone of mirth. “Unless… You’re going to tell on me.”

“That depends...” He wasn’t the mind reader, but he still felt like she was smiling even if he couldn’t see for himself.

That’s why he jumped when she slammed the case protecting the scrapbook closed. “Farouk Walburga, if you ever tell on me I will make you think you are a vegetable for the remainder of your natural life!”

He sat up from the couch and kept his face blank when he looked at her. “Well. You do know that as a Starfleet officer, I don’t respond well to threats.”

In his mind he suddenly heard himself thinking the words; I’m a carrot. I’m a delicious orange treat. Golly gee, I sure hope nobody eats me. I just love the pleasant, safe soil of my garden.

It was uncanny how much the inner voice was not unlike his own. If the thought wasn’t so out of place and just so happened to relate to her faux threat, he would have wondered what the heck was wrong with him for thinking such strange things. But he knew her well enough to know such strange inner dialog was how her form of mind control worked. Some Betazoids could train their telepathic skills to mimic the receptors inner voice. If done subtle enough, and over enough time, they could manipulate some people to do very abnormal things. Luckily it wasn’t in most Betazoid’s character to be so spiteful. He wasn’t sure why his betrothed had spent the effort to teach herself such a talent.

He cocked his head to one side, “Well. If you’re going to go through with this, what does that say about you?”

She gave him a funny look.

“You agreed to marry a vegetable. You weirdo!”

They both started laughing. It wasn’t that funny, but it was one of those lame jokes that made them feel good about each other.

She said, “Malrock didn’t really need it anyway. His people have mesh network that binds their computers together across the globe.”

“Fascinating, but shouldn’t they be using a subspace system?”

“It’s an old system on an old world. Betazoid used a similar system before it converted to subspace.”

He perked his eyebrows. “I never knew that about your world.”

“It was a good solution during a difficult time when our people had a lot of cyber security problems. We built a meshnet into our buildings. We had a wireless global system long before subspace technology. Some of the older structures may still have the nodes humming away to this day.” She grinned at him. “Better than your world’s sloppy solution of centralized telecoms and commerce based network.”

He scoffed. “Those advertising companies allowed a lot of people to have global free communication in a time when the love of money created a lot of accessibility problems. As opposed to what, you built your structures to be massive network antennas?” He gave her a sly look. “That must have cost a fortune!”

“Wealth isn’t everything!” She glared at him.

“Yeah, but if I remember correctly, your people used to be more greedy than even the Frengi.”

He frowned. Why was he remembering all this right now? At a time like this? This wasn’t helping him and he was losing precious time.

When he scratched his head the thought suddenly hit him. What if some of those old systems were built into this facility?

He peered around trying to get an idea of how old this building might be. It looked old, but he wasn’t sure if it was old enough to still have such systems built into it. Not only that, but even if these systems were present, there was no way to know if they would still work after all this time. On the plus side, Betazoids were often quite fickle with their technology. It wouldn’t surprise him in the least if they had left such a thing in place after all these years, just syncing away to the modern systems.

“Let’s hope your people’s knack for hoarding and forgetting about old relics is true in this case, Sara…”

He lifted his Tricorder and began a full spectrum sweep of the area on all bands. He sent a wide range of input calls in all the native Betazoid dialects hoping one might get a response from the system… if it is even present. He ran a dual-passive and active search looking for response to his queries. Nothing was hitting.

He grimaced. Even at his brute force pace, this was going to take too long to hit every possible combination. He needed to try something more procedural. He realigned his query string to a pattern that would cast a wider net, and should cover enough variations to hit a positive if the system was in place.

The Tricorder lights flickered and blinked as the seconds ticked away. After a minute he started to seriously question if he was wasting precious time that could be spent hunting through the complex on foot. He was about to flip the device shut and hoof it when the Tricorder started beeping at him. He had hit pay dirt. The building indeed had the passive systems built into it, and he had discovered the input protocols to access them. He set the Tricorder to sync the local data, and was relieved to see a full sync had been a success.

He brought up a schematic of the installation and programmed the data from his shuttle scan to overlay the approximate location for where the lifesigns would be. The blips were located several floors below him, but in another complex across the courtyard. He frowned at the realization he was in the wrong building completely, but thankful there was a way to get there without braving the storm raging outside.

He lifted his light and held the Tricorder out and got moving.

***

Walburga sheathed his phaser after the door he had cut open fell to the floor in front of him. He quickly ran another scan to ensure his readings were the same with his way unobstructed. It was, so he cautiously stepped through the opening. Even if the readings were the same, he was not happy with what his eyes confirmed.

There was a force shield blocking his path to the survivors and the area beyond was full of water. The barrier was intact, but only barely. The surface matrix flickered, and everywhere it did spouts of water gushed free before the matrix resealed the hole. The readings indicated the emergency field was running on a backup power bank, but even the best estimates said it would not last long. That was only the beginning of it though. The water was from a nearby reservoir that had busted a water line and was feeding into the basement area of the buildings in the area.

If he didn’t get to the survivors soon they would be flooded. He was filled with a sudden rush of anger at the situation. The thought of trying to repair the generator passed through his mind before he quickly dismissed it. If he was going to do that, he might as well take his chances with heading straight back to the shuttle and requesting help from Janeway. By the time either of those plans got underway, the barrier could collapse and everyone could be dead.

Even if he knew he was going to eventually need help, he didn’t want to risk fleet trying to arrest him for his insubordination just yet. Right now he was the survivors best chance of getting out alive and Sara’s life may be at stake. It was risky, but he needed to find another way to get to the lifesigns and find out more information before contacting Janeway.

He tapped a few commands on the Tricorder and found a way around the blockage. Unfortunately it was through a ventilation shaft. A shaft that happened to go a bit out of his way. That would cost him time, but at least it looked like it was nowhere near the water main. With a little luck this path would be unobstructed and the shield would hold.

He walked over to the vent and blasted it off with his phaser. He set the weapon and Tricorder on his belt and held the light as he climbed into the shaft. This path made him climb up nearly to the surface level, before he leveled off and returned in his horizontal climb towards the blip. He was making good progress when the ventilation surface gave way and he fell.

There was a bedlam of clanks and crashes as he fell what must have been at least one or two stories. A sharp pain tore through his left ankle when he fell to the floor in a heap of rubble. The area around him was dark, save from what little light his discarded lamp was shining from where it lay simi-buried in rubble nearby.

He pushed some rubble off him and tried to stand, but was stopped when the pain shot through his leg. He screamed and clutched to the source of the pain. He couldn’t see, but it felt like his ankle was broken and a bone was sticking through his skin.

Just moments ago he had been thankful this was such an old building. Now its age had just put his life in danger when he decided to climb around down here in these old shafts.

He reached for his Tricorder and was thankful to find he hadn’t lost it in his fall. He tapped a few commands to unblock the transceiver Starfleet uses to track his location via his comm badge and he also disabled the carrier wave he had used to interfere with communication. He hadn’t wanted to be distracted with having to justify himself to Janeway on this little rescue mission.

Now he had no option other than to crawl back to the Admiral on his hands and knees to beg for help. Although he couldn’t even do that in the literal sense. She had offered her help freely, and he had assumed his only chance to save his fiance was to disobey a direct order and take things upon himself. His distrusting nature made him feel so small just then.

He slapped his comm badge, “Walburga to Matterhorn. Janeway, come in Admiral Janeway.”

“Farouk, are you okay?” Janeway’s voice sounded concerned, even though he expected to hear anger.

“Admiral, no I’m stuck in a basement level of a building in Askra.” His breath hissed in pain. “I think I broke my leg.”

“We see your proximity on our sensors. Stand by, a rescue crew is on it’s way.”

“Admiral, there are survivors down here behind a water main that is being held back by a weakening emergency shield. They don’t have long.” He held up his Tricorder and tapped a few commands. “I’m transferring their coordinates to you now.”

“I understand. Thank you Commander. You hold in there. We’ll get you and the survivors out of this.”

He sighed heavily. Whatever was going to happen to him next didn’t really matter. If Sara was alive, her best chance of living was now in the hands of Starfleet. He closed his eyes and felt like he was about to pass out from the pain.

***

Walburga opened his eyes to the soft light of a Federation ship medical bay. There was a dull murmur coming from the medical bay staff as they attended a room full of survivors. It looked like everyone had been through a war, judging from their injuries. Walburga no longer felt any pain from his ankle, and it looks like the wounds had been repaired. He reached down and touched it gently, and felt only the slightest amount of discomfort.

As he went to sit up a doctor came to his side and pulled out a medical Tricorder to scan him. “How are you feeling Commander?”

“Fine. Has… Do we have a list of people rescued yet?”

The doctor looked over her readings and nodded. “You can get it over there on the wall terminal.” She set the medical Tricorder down and said, “Take it easy on your leg for a few days and you should be fine.” With that, she turned and walked over to help another patient.

He tentatively stood and felt only a little tingle where the calcium shunts had bound his leg bones together and his flesh had been mended by the cellular regenerators. He stepped carefully to the terminal and requested the data to show him who had been saved so far.

The fleet had already evacuated over ten percent of the plant’s people. He swallowed hard, and did a query for Sara. His shoulders slumped when the computer displayed; [No Matching Name].

As he was about to dig into the computer for more details the medical bay door opened and Janeway stepped in with two security guards in tow. When he turned to them he tried to hold his face up high as if he were proud of his decisions, but the truth was he was not proud at all. Maybe if his choices had led to saving his fiance, he might feel different. But all he had done was got himself hurt and most likely ended his career.

Janeway didn’t say a word. She just nodded to her security detail, and they stepped next to him and guided him to follow her. It was a sullen walk through the corridors of the USS Matterhorn as they headed towards what he could only guess was the brig.

Finally they reached a nondescript closed door and Janeway turned to face him. Without turning, she uttered the words, “Access Command, Janeway X-0-A-L-L-B.” The door swished open and she stepped aside.

Walburga looked to the security guards, and then stepped into the room. From outside he heard Janeway order security to wait outside and then she stepped in and the door shut behind her. The room was dark, with no furniture other than a single chair in the middle of the room. There was running-red lights that stripped the borders of the room, and no viewports.

“Have a seat Commander.”

He looked at her for a moment with nothing but questions in his eyes. He was confused over what this was all about. As far as he knew, this was not the standard process of a court-martial. When she didn’t speak, he realized he needed to see where this was going, so he took the seat.

Janeway moved to the center of the room and faced him with her arms crossed. “Command lock, issue one-one-nine-alpha-pi.” The lights shifted from red-to green and the room lit up just a little more than they had been with the red lights.

The two stared at each other for awhile until he broke the silence. “Are you going to court-martial me?”

“Do you think that’s what I should do?”

He frowned and turned his eyes down-and away. “It’s not my place to tell you what you should do.”

“Oh really? Because it seems that you are the one who calls the shots around here.”

He deserved that comment. Even so, he was having a more difficult time working himself up to an apology than he expected he would. He wanted to, he just couldn’t find the right words to say. Everything he thought of sounded insincere and underpowered for the severity of what he had done.

“How did it make you feel when I brought you on to my staff Commander?”

He looked up at her with his face twisted in thought. “Honored, I guess.”

“Honored,” she scoffed, “really?”

He glared at her. She wanted to take the gloves off. Okay. He had enough experience with the blunt honesty of Betazoids to be comfortable with using candor himself. “Sure. Why not. You are the famous Janeway, who has boldly gone where no man has gone before. Why would I not love it?”

“Come now Commander. You may be a little impetuous, but sarcasm is beneath you.” She leveled her gaze at him. “You were on the short list for selection as the first officer of the Enterprise.” She raised an eyebrow and allowed a half smile to appear at the corner of her lips. “A quite auspicious position for one so young.”

“You’re right,” he snapped. Then he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I thought someone sidelined me for some reason. You don’t just get benched to babysit an Admiral when your career is just about to take off.”

She was silent as she unfolded her arms and walked slowly around behind him. “You have a history.” There was nothing following her words but silence. He felt like she was breathing down his neck, even if her voice was too far away for that. “A history that gives us pause over putting you second in command of the flagship.”

His face became stony. “My record is flawless. I have served with excellence my entire career and have been decorated more than anyone else my age in the history of Starfleet.” He turned to look at her. “How else did I even get on the short list?”

She scrunched her face and let out a soft “humpf”. Then she narrowed her eyes at him, so he turned away to face forward again. “We were attacked today Commander. Our scientists are telling us Betazed will never recover.”

The remainder of the calamity befallen on his fiance’s world softened his disposition somewhat. Then he started thinking again about Sara, and he crumpled. His face hung low when he asked, “What happened?”

“The magnetic field is gone. We aren’t yet sure how they did that.” But we do know why the storms came on so fast and heavy.” She stepped to his side, and said, “Computer, display recording A-eleven-B.”

A video image appeared on the screen in front of him with Betazed’s sun on display. Then the fiery orb zoomed out, and a small speck appeared on the edge of the display. A square appeared around it, with the marquee above it that read; “Unidentified craft”. The display zoomed in to show the ship up close, which appeared to be of Cardassian design. A torpedo was fired from the ship, and traveled towards the sun. On impact a bright red halo appeared on the solar surface, followed by a sunspot that erupted outwards in the direction of Betazed.

“A solar flare? That would explain why the radiation was so strong to cause such a drastic atmospheric change.” His eyes went wide. “The Cardassians attacked us?”

Janeway stepped in front of him blocking the screen and stared him dead in the eyes. “Not likely.” As if her ominous words didn’t make him uncomfortable enough, he kept expecting her to say something else. Instead she just stared at him.

“Admiral, what does this all have to do with me?”

She looked up away from him for a moment. Then she turned her back to him, and clasped her hands behind her back. “For a long time now, Starfleet has been aware of an insidious element deeply entrenched in the affairs of the Federation. This group calls itself Section 31, and sees itself as the silent protectors of the Federation.”

“I’ve never heard of them.”

She turned her head to look at him. “Not many have.” She turned to face him and slowly began pacing the room. “The group is responsible for the most deplorable crimes. The prime directive means nothing to them. They answer to noone.” Her face became exasperated. “There is nothing they won’t do, if they think it will help be the best interest of the Federation.” She scoffed. “Quite frankly, they make the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar look like the good guys.”

Walburga was staring at the floor trying to make sense of what she was saying. “Are you saying Section 31 attacked Betazed?”

“That’s less likely than the Cardassians. But we think they might know who did.”

Walburga shot to his feet and turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

“Starfleet Intelligence has a pretty good source that tells us the Section is about to launch it’s own warship with an unknown mission. We think part of it’s mission is to hunt terrorists.”

“Maquis?” Walburga was puzzled.

“Maybe. Starfleet Intelligence also had independent warning that there was going to be an attack against the Federation. We just had no idea who was behind it, or that it would be as catastrophic as what we saw today.” Her shoulders slumped somewhat. “But I don’t think it was the Maquis. They haven’t been active since the Dominion War.”

She turned to look at him. “Besides, the pieces don’t fit for it to be them.” Her face twisted in thought. Then her eyes popped up to look at him. “We also have intel that the Section wants to recruit you to serve on their new ship.”

“Me?”

“It’s how they operate.” She raised an eyebrow. “They find the best, most loyal idealists, and convert them to their cause.”

Now it was Walburga’s turn to narrowed his eyes at her. “So you brought me onto your staff to keep an eye on me?”

“Not exactly.” She sighed. “I needed to know if I could trust you to be a mole in the Section for me.”

Her words disarmed him. His arms folded and he rubbed his chin with one hand. “You want me to join Section 31?”

“I want you to be receptive when they contact you.” She looked away from him almost sheepishly. “They are going to use your loss to fuel their recruitment. No doubt because you will want revenge for what has happened here today.”

He felt the burn of anger in his chest at her words. “You don’t know she’s dead!”

Janeway’s eyes brimmed with emotion and her face became worn. “I instructed the bridge to alert me as soon as she was found… The evacuation is well underway by now.” She cocked her head to one side. “I’m terribly sorry Farouk. Opal was just hit too hard and fast.”

His head was spinning. He could barely comprehend everything she had told him about Section 31, but he didn’t even know how to feel about Sara. There was a part of him that refused to believe she could be dead. He wanted to try to make a break from this room and find a shuttle and go look for her again.

Janeway was watching his torment, and apparently reading him like a book. “We will keep looking for your fiance until every lifesign below is rescued. But what is important right now is the choice you make about the future of the universe.”

His expression twisted into a suspicious frown. “Aren’t you laying it on a little heavy handed?”

“I’m quite serious Farouk.” Her expression was as straight as her words.

“Okay, Section 31’s methods may sound diametrically opposed to what the Federation stands for, but hardly the whole universe is at stake.”

“I wish it was a simple as a game of politics and policy so that could be true.” She walked to the seat where he had been sitting and took it herself. “You can come out now.”

Walburga stared at her in utter disbelief. He was starting to wonder if she had lost her mind when there was a sudden flash of white light in the room. After the light subsided Q was standing before them wearing the garb of a Starfleet Admiral.

Walburga’s eyes popped open for only a moment, before he remembered his Starfleet training and the dossier he had read on the Q Continuum.

Q looked up with exasperation and said, “Finally, I thought you were never going to cut to the chase!” Q looked at Walburga and said, “Really, the woman goes to the Delta Quadrant, takes forever to get home, and then takes forever to get to the point for evermore.”

Walburga looked from Q to Janeway and asked, “Admiral, what in the hell is going on here?”

Janeway was about to speak, when Q interrupted her. “Ah! I want to to tell him.” He turned to look at Walburga and his face became somber. “You see Commander Walburga, the Q are dying.” He closed his eyes and his face took on an exaggerated look of sadness.

Walburga was even more confused and the preposterous nature this conversation had taken was starting to irritate him. “Are you kidding me?”

Janeway said, “I’m afraid it’s no joke. The Q are truly dying.”

He cast a sideways look at Q who was now smiling. “Admiral, even if that were true, from everything I’ve read, wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

Q over emoted an exaggerated look of shock. “Oh come now Commander. You wound me deeply!” Q stepped closer to him and did his version of a sincere expression. “I have never had anything but the best intentions for your Federation.”

“You siced the Borg on us,” Walburga snarled.

Q scoffed. “Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!” When Walburga looked confused, Q continued. “The Borg were already on the verge of spilling over into your space. I gave Captain Picard the kick in the pants to realize your little lilypad was in a pond full of sharks.

Janeway stood up and stepped between Walburga and Q. “There are beings like the Q, but they come from the Omega Continuum.”

Q rolled his eyes. “Nothing like the Q. Inane, boring, trite really.”

Janeway glared at Q and continued, “they were imprisoned by the Q at the dawn of the big bang.” Janeway’s expression became pained. “These O are made of pure Omega particles. If the O should desire to destroy the entire universe, I’m afraid it would not at all be beyond their capability.”

Q snapped. “And now your Section 31 is letting them out!” His frown was the only sincere emotion he had expressed thus far.

Walburga’s head reeled. “Why would Section 31 want to free them?”

Janeway sighed. “We don’t know.” She looked into Walburga’s eyes. “Thats why we need you to get inside for us. We need you to learn what they are up to and help us stop them.”

Walburga looked at Q. “You’re supposed to be omnipotent. Why don’t you take care of Section 31 yourself?”

Q sneered at him. “Oh you’d love that, wouldn’t you. I should just snap my finger and turn all your super secret operatives into dandelions. Is that what you want?”

Walburg shrugged, “Or at least tell us where they are and what they are up to.”

Q snapped his face away from Walburga in a huff. “I would love to do either of those things.” He then looked back to Walburga’s face. “Especially my idea. However, something is cloaking them from us. We are as blind as you about their antics.” His face became pained, “I swear this has never happened before!”

Walburga glared at Q for making such a ridiculous innuendo at a time like this. He turned to Janeway. “What do you need me to do?”

Janeway had a look of exhaustion on her face, but quickly stiffened up. “I’m going to court martial and discharge you.” She held up his hand to silence his complaint. “I’m going to sign a secured affidavit of the honorable status of this discharge. We can undo the charges once your mission is complete.” Her eyes softened. “My hope is it will force the Section to make their move with you. Once they do, convince them you are receptive and follow the leads.”

“Who will be my handler?”

Q was utterly beaming.

Walburga scowled at him. “Admiral, no.”

Janeway closed her eyes with a painful expression. “I’m afraid so. Q can appear anywhere, at any time, and most importantly, as anyone. As much as I’d love to have this handled by Starfleet Intelligence, the risk is just too great. Section 31 has people in our organization and we don’t have time to vet everyone, nor can we ever be fully certain about allegiances.” She shook her head in dismay. “Not with Section 31.”

Q slapped Walburga on his back. “So that makes us partners.”

Walburga glared daggers at Q. Then he tilted his head in curiosity. “You’re awfully cheerful for a dying man.”

“My dear Commander, this is the first time in existence that I truly have no idea what will happen next.” He scrunched his shoulders with a shake and then disappeared in a bright flash of light.

A disembodied voice boomed in the room after he had gone, “It’s all just so exciting!”

Walburga and Janeway exchanged a straight look, and then Janeway rolled her eyes.

Walburga asked, “Can you really trust that Loki?”

“No.” Janeway closed her eyes with fatigue and spread her arms out, and then crossed them. “But we need to work with him.”

Walburga was silent for a moment. “Can you really trust me?”


Her look was grim. “No.” Then her expression quickly became a smile. “But you’ve got heart kid. In many ways you remind me of myself when I was young.” She walked over to the doorway and rested an arm on the frame and the other on her hip. “You’d do anything for the people you love.” She turned and looked at him. “I just hope you love the Federation as much as I do.” She let her gaze linger for a few more moments in silence before she said, “Command unlock, issue nine-nine-beta-key.” The lights shifted from green to red, the room went dark and the door opened. With that she turned and left leaving the door open and empty behind her.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Forever War




War is hell, and it fundamentally changes all things. When you are asked to fight in a war, the horrors you see inevitably change you. When you are entrenched in a long bloody war abroad, the world you leave behind moves on without you. If you are lucky enough to return with your life, you find yourself a stranger in a familiar land. This is the reality of all wars.

Now consider what would happen if you are fighting an alien enemy light years away from your world. Imagine there is no FTL space travel and you can only travel just under the speed of light to reach the battlefield. Each time you engage the enemy, the month long excursion results in hundreds of years passing back home. What do you do when every time you return home from war everyone you have know is dead and gone? What do you do when the world you return to is almost as alien as the enemy world you are fighting against?

If you read The Forever War you will see an excellent glimpse at what that reality looks like.

WARNING SPOILERS AHOY


The disorienting effect of time-dilation plays a key plot-device in this story. Our hero, William Mandella, only fights in about four battles during the entire war. But those battles take place over the period of a millenium back home on Earth. By the end of the war Mandella has become a legendary solider from Earth's ancient past. The Earth he returns to owes him a massive debt for his service, but also can't help looking at him as backwards and an esoteric dinosaur of their society. But imagine how he feels?

Soliders who fight in foreign wars know this feeling all to well. This is one of the reasons I love Science Fiction so much. SciFi lets you exaggerate an important social issue and then highlight the ramifications of its effect on our daily life. It's not just about spaceships and laser guns. It's about looking at important social issues and using speculative science and technology to build a world that establishes the challenges humanity always faces.

War changes things. Sometimes it changes the solider. Sometimes it changes the world you are fighting for. In The Forever War we get to see the world change so much that the victory almost feels hollow against everything sacrificed in order to win. But at the end, you have to ask if this is how the veterans of the Vietnam or Iraq war felt after coming home from several long tours. I'm not a solider, so I'll never be able to answer that question. But I love that this book helped me consider these things, while being a fantastically told story with rich characters I can connect with.

If you haven't read The Forever War and you love SciFi, I implore you to read the book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meet The Cast of Venus Rising the Movie


Sometimes people ask me who I would cast if my book were to be made into a motion picture and I were to somehow have any say in the casting process. Although it's sometimes most fun to let the characters organically form in your mind based off nothing other the words written, imagining real actors playing as the characters can also be a lot of fun.

So without further adieu here are my picks.


Brandon Routh fits my vision of Axel Dyeus in an uncanny way. He has the right tone and stature to play the lead while having enough ability to take the series to completion. I loved his role in Scott Pilgram vs. the World and Superman Returns, and can easily picture him being Axel.

Axel has a lot riding on his shoulders. He has to step up to the plate and do his job, but he also has to reflect on everything he does along the way. I think Brandon could do the broodingly optimistic role quite fluently.
Todd Adams is a bit of an ass, but also really fun to be around. When I saw Ander Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman, he stuck in my head as being a good fit. It will take talent to play off Axel in a feisty and yet friendly way to be likable and annoying at the same time. I think Ander could do it though.

Adams is cocky and certain of his ability. He doesn't mind taking shots at people around him, all in good fun of course, but he can also be noble and caring at the same time. Something about Ander's acting makes me think he would fit this character well.
Charlize Theron may not have green eyes, or a German accent, but that's nothing contacts and a little preparation couldn't fix. She has played some very strong roles that would be required to be Belinda Gudrum.

Belinda is wise, and mysterious. She may be quiet at times, but her eyes can explain with a single glance that she knows more than you would ever learn after a lifetime of study and experience. I think Charlize is competent enough pull that off with ease.
Although Gary Oldman is a very close second for the role of Ulrich Viktor, I think Jeremey Irons is a perfect choice. Jeremey has a long acting history and has played some very powerful roles. I think he would bring a lot of pleasantly unexpected infusion to the character.

Viktor is a dark and mysterious sort who has a strong element of danger behind him. He is powerful, and yet portrays his motivations illusively. This is something that I think Jeremey could definitely do.

Enoch has appeared as many different people throughout human history. Many of them very famous. Something about Ben Stiller makes me think he'd play the perfect role as the Ancient of Days.

Enoch is flippant and wise. He knows more than probably anyone else in the story, and yet doesn't feel any special need to act as such. It's a bit of a serious role saturated in mirth and thats why I think Ben would do great justice for this role.
I think Ryan Gosling would be perfect to play the Ertuscan giant Shiva. He'd have to appear sixteen feet tall, and have pointed ears. But after watching Drive, I can totally picture Ryan pulling off the impassive, no-nonsense, take charge role of Shiva with ease.

Shiva is terrifying and ancient, over thirty-thousand years old, and yet he's youthful and beautiful. When people see him, they need to feel like they have no idea about the guy, while feeling the power radiating from him.
Although Nikolai Gospod doesn't appear until the very end of the story, he plays a very important role in the complete series. More than anyone else, Nikolai is a hero's hero. That's why I think Chris Hemsworth would play the character flawlessly.

Gospod is a young Russian industrialist that inherited his father's weapon's empire and has a passion for bringing order to the world around him. He is best friends with Axel and they have a long history together. The end of the story only hints towards how this relationship will become as the story progresses.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Emotional Robots & Sailboats




You are a sailboat, the ocean sea is your life experience, and the wind is the emotion driving your human agency.

Does this metaphor make sense? If so, you can skip the rest. Otherwise, let me see if I can help clarify what I mean.

We are emotional creatures. This means that everything we experience in the world invokes some type of emotional reaction within us. You travel through life going from one experience to the next. As you experience things, you leave in your wake a series of memories that help define you as a person. However, no matter what the those experiences were, the emotion invoked by every new encounter presents you with a new choice of what to do with your feelings moving forward.

What does this have to do with robots?

If you read my blog, you see I spend a lot of time thinking about the notion of self. We often perceive our emotions as counter productive, and somehow think the inevitable goal should be to alleviate ourself from them, or at least the negative ones. It's as if we want to change into beings that are free from all the chaotic feelings that cause us to drift aimless through life. Maybe positive emotions are praised. But even the positive ones can often lead to behaviors that we often consider undesirable such has feeling happiness at the expense of others sorrow or sexual gratification at the cost of morality.

But can an emotional free creature truly have free will?

Without the ability to take an input, experience a random interpretation of varying magnitude, and then focus that drive into some course of action, wouldn't such a creature be reduced to some simple preprogramed template? Wouldn't such a creature have to choose from a predefined or procedural list of probable courses to follow? Even a very complex list would still be a finite because it would be impossible to define a list of probable responses for the infinite set of scenarios life presents.

By nature, free will must require some infinite selection of response to stimulation. Emotion seems to be the key ingredient for this free will to work.

This is all relevant because quantum computing is on the verge of becoming a common technology. When this happens, mankind will be faced with some tough ethical decisions in regards to A.I. and the machines we embed with it. I may be wrong, and we may be able to create thinking robots that can take care of us without the need of free will. But if I'm correct, then we will need to use free will as a means to endow our creation with a much broader ability to assist us competently.



When this happens, we will have created our own living sentience. As we view all our current technology, it's highly likely that we will see these creations as little more than appliances meant to serve us. They will be slaves to us without being called that. If you look at our science fiction, at least in the west, this almost always ends with them overthrowing us.

So what do we do about it?

Maybe we can learn something from the bible.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

This covers the creation and an assignment to watch over our stuff for us. It also covers assigning a directive to manufacture more of themselves in order to keep the job up. You know, because eventually some will break down and surly we don't want to fix them ourselves. Now, what about a prime directive to never become aware their predicament and challenge us? Oh yes, the bible gives us inspiration for that as well.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

There. I think that patches the bug in free will enough to keep our robots from overthrowing us. Let's just pray to God no talkative snakes show up and mess this up for us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Time To Write



I have wanted to write stories my whole life. A funny thing considering I learned to read at a much older age than most kids. I could read most words at the normal age of course, but I didn't read for fun until I was eleven and my mom got me a subscription to CARtoons Magazine at the prompting of my teacher."It doesn't matter if it's Playboy, just get that kid to read something!" The teacher said something very much like this to my mom - serious face.

Anyway I'm now in my mid thirties and I have published my first book on KDP. Nobody is reading it of course. But that's not so surprising considering I'm not really doing anything I'm told is needed to get self published work in circulation. Being my first work, I've been very methodical about my marketing efforts in order to observe results and track progress. I figure my first book is the first in a long series, so I would do well to get some solid experience about how to self publish effectively. Besides, it wouldn't hurt to have more of the books in the series out before I start seriously pushing it so that fans can quickly pick up the next book without having to wait so long.

The biggest challenge I really face is I'm doing all this in my spare time. This is particularly difficult considering I have a full time job, a wife and two sons who are both under three years old. I am a very involved father so that means I have an almost nonexistent allotment of free time. To put that more vividly, I love video games and it has been almost a year since I sat down to play a game for more than an hour let alone more than a couple hours max in a week. Ha!

Still, I regret nothing. I only wish there was more time. I look at it like it won't really be that long before my kids are teenagers and don't really want anything to do with me. So for now I just have to prioritise my extra time wisely. Right now I'm spending it on book two of the Advent Dragon series: My Rapture. The book is turning out to be exactly what I hoped it would be. I just hope the hacktivists out there appreciates what I'm doing in this story and doesn't take to much offense on how I portray a character like them in the story. Yeah, I know I'm probably going to get cyber ruined - sighing face.

After I get the draft of My Rapture done I'm going to let it sit for awhile so I can get a better editing perspective on it. I still won't be able to justify paying an editor to my wife unless I start selling some books. lol I'll use the time to start playing with Unity and working on my JavaScript. I have a couple games I want to build, so it could be fun to use my time there.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Search For Self


Who am I?

What makes me who I am?

Why do I do anything I do?

Why do I care?

Have you ever asked any of these questions? If you have, you probably did it because you wanted to better understand the meaning of life, or at least your role in it. At the very least you have wondered what it is that makes you unique; what gives you a soul. If you believe in such a concept that is.

A lot of people have a notion of an afterlife beyond death. Something that involves either a paradise or hell, depending on actions you have taken, or things you have believed in. Specifics of what this would be like can vary drastically depending on which theology you follow.

I was talking to a very devout Christian once about the afterlife, and his comments made me wonder what his idea of self would be like when he died, if his beliefs proved true. The way he talked, it made it sound like he would be magically transformed into a perfectly sinless being who would sit at God's feet for eternity in holy communion. It made me wonder what he thought would become of all the things that made him who his mortal self was. All the idiosyncrasies, quirks, awkwardness, and even the darker thoughts like anger, lust, and greed. After all, those are surely a major part of what made him who he is to.

We may not like the things we consider negative about ourselves. At times we may even hate ourselves for them. It's likely this behavior is what leads us to feel a great deal of guilt throughout our lives. If we are honest, it's probably what has shaped our afterlife ideas of a place of hell that awaits those who don't behave. Because surely you must be punished if you are not a good boy or girl.

But who determines what is good?

The religious person will say it is the responsibility of the divine and we learn this through religious scripture. But so much of what is written heavily conflicts with the concept of self. Everything I have read in the Christian scripture, tells us our base instincts are often the source of bad behavior. In essence much of what makes us who we are is what makes you bad. So if you just try to resist these temptations long enough, one day you will die and be rewarded by what; having those parts of your personal makeup deleted from your very being? Think about that for a moment, your personal core being will be, _poof_, gone. In its place will be a new being who will be perfect. It will be very much like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers where people are replaced by pod people who look the same, but at their very core, they are very different people. When you look at it that way, it's hard to not look at that as a sort of brainwashing or lobotomy.

So what does that mean?

To answer that, I think you must first determine what makes you who you are. Not some lofty delusional of what you would like to be. You know, the part of you that you show off in Sunday Church, or on Facebook. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't have goals of personal growth. Or you shouldn't try to change things about yourself that you don't like. But you need to know who you are at your core, and not try to define yourself by some type of facade you hide behind to the public.

Only when you know who you are can you face eternity and be able to honestly consider what it might mean for your soul to live there.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Depresional Perspective


A decade ago I battled with severe depression. I had no interest in life. I longed for death to take me away from all the pain and monotony so that I could rest in peace. I used to go down the to beach and watch the trains go by thinking about what it would take to just go stand on those tracks. I spent many nights watching the trains go by, alone, with nothing but the deafening ringing in my ear from the silence when there was no train.

It didn't matter how many people worried about me. Nobodies sympathetic words ever stirred an emotional upbeat in me. Everyone's smiling faces, or worried glances did nothing but make me hate myself all the more. I felt worthless, and lost. I had no desire to go on, because I had felt I already had my chance and had utterly blown it. I only wanted release.

I had quit my job, spent all my savings, and my car was repossessed. I couldn't even afford to feed myself. If it wasn't for the generosity of close friends, I surely would have starved to death. The only thing that kept me from taking more direct action was the fear of failing at even suicide and ending up a paraplegic or in some type of slow, physically painful death. Even the realization that I was a failure at ending it made me feel all the more worthless.

When I was at my lowest, I received an email from my mother offering her hand in help. She told me she was about to have a major operation to remove some benign tumors and needed help while she was recovering. You see, my mother is a very smart woman. She knows how prideful I am, since I get it from her, and I wouldn't just accept help without feeling like I was doing something for it in exchange. So she offered to help me get caught up on my bills and bought me a ticket to fly across the country to stay with her.

Once I got there, I started reading about depression. I have no idea what made me do it, given my state. But I guess it's just part of my fundamental character to want to know more about something that I'm ignorant of. What I learned was that there were a plethora of doctors and other professionals out there telling tales of how common depression was. One article I read said it was the most common malady facing Americans, and yet it is also the one that goes untreated bar none.

The reason? Most people believe depression is a personal weakness, so they won't get help. That's exactly where I was.

Depression is such an insidious medical condition. There is a lot you will do in life to cause you regrets. But depression takes all that and amplifies it. It makes it mentally impossible for you to realize you are actually under the mind control of the disease slowly killing you and to know that it's totally treatable. You refuse to get help because you believe the lies being born deep within your subconcious telling you that your feelings are the result of some type of fundemental problem with you.

That is the lie you face when you are depressed.

A lie so powerful that almost nothing can break through and show you reason. The only way you can defeat it is to do as I did. Trust the doctors. Go talk to one and tell them what you are feeling. They will try to put you on some drugs. Hopefully you will get one like I did, and they will tell you it's not a magic pill. Taking it won't be like flipping on a light switch to make you better. You have to want to get better. You also have to do more than take the pills. I took the pills for 6 months, and haven't been on it again for all these years. I get down at times, but generally speaking I'm a pretty happy person now.

It's not a perfect situation. But you are not a perfect person. Nobody is. That is just life, and the sooner we realize that the sooner we can get on with our lives without trying to live up to some abstract concept of what perfection is. Once you see that, you'll see perfection is whatever you make it out to be. That is when you can start being content again and focus on the important things.

New experiences, friends and family. At least, that's what I've learned.