Friday, February 14, 2014

Assault on Station 39

“We have to hold out just a little longer!” Commander Moore shouted out above the sound of explosions.  “They’re almost finished.  We have to buy the enough time to get Codename Destroyer completed.  No matter the cost.” 

His men were exhausted.  Somehow word had leaked that their remote outpost was where the work was being performed.  Nobody knew how it had happened, as only the very top personnel of the military were even aware of Codename Destroyer, much less its whereabouts.  Regardless, the Kardin Fleet had descended on them three days ago, and Commander Moore and his forces had been under constant fire since then.  If he was honest with himself, he didn’t know if they would last much longer.  But, he knew that his men needed his confidence, even if it was inauthentic.

“They should be running low on energy.  They won’t be able to hold up this assault much longer – Lt. Anson, I need the shields to hold just one more hour!” 

“Sir, I don’t know how they’ve lasted this long!  It’s only a matter of time before they collapse; and if I put any more energy into them, they might take the entire station with them when they do,” Lt. Anson shouted back through the comms.

“Lieutenant, I don’t care what you have to do, and I’d rather this station be blown to bits than for Codename Destroyer to fall into Kardin hands.  Just do it!”

A high pitched whine became audible throughout the station as Lt. Anson’s last bit of fission generated power was pushed through systems that were no longer able to handle the strain.  But, as long as the troops on Station 39 were able to hear the whine, they knew that they were at least alive, so nobody complained.

“Commander Moore, we’re losing men everywhere.  When will reinforcements arrive?”  This time it was Doctor Yang crackling over the comm relays.  He had been in battle before, but it always made him sick to see this many men dying – and for what?  Some science experiment; that’s all he got to know.  That’s all any of them got to know.  Commander Moore, knowing full well that they were on their own, chose to ignore Doctor Yang’s pleas.

In the lab, the scientists were frantically trying to keep Codename Destroyer intact, while also desperately trying to finalize the last steps needed to bring the power core online.  There were so many parts that hadn’t been tested that they had no idea what would happen.  Frankly, they were throwing pieces together so quickly, that they were certain that they had made some mistakes.  And they knew that any mistake at this juncture would be fatal.  There simply was no time to fix anything.

“Shields are down, sir – and they’re not coming back up!” Lt. Anson called back through the comms.  “We’re sitting ducks; they’ll be boarding us shortly.”

Almost on cue, Kardin shock troops immediately could be heard cutting through the side of the station.  Commander Moore and his men all pulled out their sidearms.  “You – you go and protect the lab!” he shouted to all of the other men on the bridge.  They hesitated briefly, knowing that if the Commander stayed, he had no hope of surviving this fight; yet they conceded and retreated through the spiderweb of hallways that led to the lab.

Just as they were leaving earshot of the bridge, they heard gunfire.  A few targeted shots of a hand weapon followed by the repeating explosions of the shock troops’ weapons.  Then nothing but the clang of heavy boots slamming against the ground.

The Kardin troops were filing through the opening that they had made in the Station by the hundreds.  The only thing between them and capturing Codename Destroyer was the empty hallways and the small handful of troops that had left the bridge under Commander Moore’s orders.  It was only a matter of time. 

In the lab, the scientists heard a few shouts.  They were muffled through the blast doors, but they could hear enough to gather that the base had been compromised.  They continued their frantic work, and very soon the muffled shouting turned to the explosions of weapons.  Then clanging on the blast doors as the Kardin troops began cutting through the final layer of protection.  And, just as theyfirst shock troop stepped through the newly penetrated doorway, they heard a deep bass sound booming through the lab:  “Codename Destroyer online.  Awaiting orders.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

The League

I used to be a pro basketball player.  Back when there was only one league – his league.  You know who I’m talking about – Jose Rosebloom.  The owner of the World Basketball Federation – the WBF.  He’s the one that started fixing the games.  At first, he kept it secret; just paying off the refs to ensure that the more marketable teams would win.  Then, as viewership waned, he started upping the ante.  Soon enough, he implemented automatic scoring baskets and got rid of human scorekeepers.  At the time, it seemed like Jose was simply trying to keep up with technology.  Then, he got rid of most of the referees.  This was another move that he claimed would make the league more sustainable financially.  Unfortunately, more and more obvious calls didn’t get called, because the ref never seemed to be in the right position.  Still, most people were unaware that games were being fixed.  Until those finals, that is.

It was 2045; Sacramento was playing London.  London was the underdog, though they brought in drastically more fans.  Fortunately, so the fans were led to believe, they were able to keep up with Sacramento, and the finals were tied 3-3 going into the final game.  In the fourth quarter, London was losing by two points, and Sacramento had the ball.  That’s when I made my move.  I played for the German national team – it was up to me to make sure that a European team won the Finals.  So, I ran on the court while both teams were on the other end of the court, and I made a three-pointer for London.  Since the referee was on the far side of the court, he never saw what happened.  The entire crowd was in an uproar, and I can only imagine what was happening as people watched the game around the world.  How could this count?  Sure, the score was kept automatically, and so the three points put London ahead, but wouldn’t someone stop the game and arrest me?  I mean, everybody saw it!  But, nothing happened – no replay, no reversed decisions, and no arrests.  I think that’s when a few people wised-up that the game wasn’t as pure as they had always believed.

After that Finals, run-ins became more and more common; especially on televised games.  When the most popular teams played each other, there was rarely a clear-cut victory.  Between “missed” calls, players from other teams running on to the court to “get revenge” against a team that cost them a game, you couldn’t really tell who the best teams were anymore.  Sure, you could see who won the championships, but you didn’t know how good any of their players were.  But, that’s just how the league is.  Nobody really believes it anymore – well, except for kids. 

But, this story isn’t about the WBF, it’s about me.  And, a few years after the original Finals where everyone learned my name, I was scheduled to make another run-in; this time when Paris played against New York.  My team was supposed to get along well with the other European teams, and so I was supposed to help Paris win.  It was the same basic setup – Paris was up by one point in the final game of the championship.  This time, to add extra drama, I wasn’t supposed to run onto the court until there were only two seconds left – and I was supposed to shock the world by helping New York win against Paris.  So, I waited, and I did my part.  I ran onto the court, just in time, and I took my shot.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a clean swish like the last time – it bounced around the rim… until it was too late.  My shot went in, but the automatic baskets stop scoring at the final buzzer.  My shot didn’t count.  Paris won the championship, despite my efforts. 

I got fired.  Jose said that I was a disgrace, and that if he couldn’t count on me, then he had no use for me.  With nowhere else to turn, I began playing in the illegal street basketball leagues.  The ones that were run by bookies, and the ones where they actually still had multiple refs - where they actually let the skill of the teams determine the outcomes.  Once word got out that the WBF was rigged, people were looking for ways to resume gambling.  At one point, some of the leaders of the street leagues had tried rigging games to make more money, but when people got wind of it, all of the money dried up, so that didn’t last, and they were forced to let the teams actually compete.  I was forced to play the game on my own, and I only got to win if I was better than the other players.  And, as it turns out, I was better than the other players. 

When I realized how good I really was, I started to get paid better; at least compared to the other guys in the league.  But, I wasn’t satisfied.  I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who got fired from the WBF.  It seemed like no matter how well I did in the street leagues, I couldn’t shake that mental image.  And so, I started doing the stupidest thing I could think of – I started betting all of my money.  Any time I got paid, I’d bet whatever I had on my next game.  Sure, I lost a lot of money, and several times I had to start over, but we got on a winning streak that saw me actually start to make some real cash.  Eventually, I had a few million, and I had an idea.  I saw that the worst team in the league, the Bayside Ballers, had five thousand to one odds that they would win the championship.  And I bet it all on them. Fortunately, there were no real contracts in the league.  So, as soon as I placed my bet, I quit my team; and became a Bayside Baller.  I still didn’t know if I was going to lose all my money, but I had a chance to become a billionaire.  And, though it was a tough season, I made it.  I had $20 billion. 

Well, at least I was owed $20 billion.  But, in actuality, the bookies didn’t have nearly that much cash.  So, they gave me what they did have – ownership of the street league.  Now, I was the most powerful man in the world of real basketball.  My first step was to make the street league legal.  I hated Jose Rosebloom, and I saw my new league as a way to compete with him and to try to take him down.   And, though my league didn’t have the history and the fame of the WBF, I had the distinction that my league was real.  Unfortunately, the WBF had turned basketball into a joke, and so nobody would take us seriously.  We couldn’t get any news publicity.  Even though our games were real, all of the news outlets had stopped covering basketball.

My frustration with the WBF boiled over; as did the frustration of my players.  There were fights between my players and players from the WBF.  There were even occasional death threats.  Though the news wouldn’t report on any of our actual games, these stories made the news.  Everyone heard about our feud, and it escalated more and more until eventually, it happened.  A plane that Jose Rosebloom was piloting went down in the mountains, killing him instantly.  With nobody left to run the WBF, I was able to easily purchase the league and merge it with my own – keeping the best players, and forcing them to actually compete.  There were no run-ins and a full complement of referees was used in each game.  In the wake of Jose’s tragedy, interest in basketball had begun to return.  Jose’s untimely death had been a blessing in disguise for the sport that he had affected so much.  At least, that’s what the news reported. 

And as long as Jose keeps a low profile, we should be able to keep it that way. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

3 Swords, pt 2

Rone the Wanderer sat cross-legged on a rooftop watching starlings flit about a nest tucked into the eaves of a nearby building. The flight of birds was ordered, yet unpredictable. He meditated on this.
"Rone, come down," Dahlia's voice shot up. "Man wants to see you swing your pig-sticker."
Rone meditated briefly on the interruptions Dahlia brought to his meditations.
He dropped lightly onto a rain barrel, then the street. He was tall and muscular, with caramel skin. His clothes were made of a canvas-like cloth, and he wore his dark brown hair close cropped, but with a stripe like a mohawk down the middle.
He looked down on the thin man. Azurdanak held out his hand in the traditional Velden manner. "Greetings sir. Your companion tells me you are fair with sword fighting in the eastern style. I have need of blades and strong arms to wield them. May I see a sample of your skill?"
Rone drew his double bladed straight sword, thin and long, with an iron ring on the pommel, and bowed slightly to Azurdanak. "Please forgive my apparent deficiencies," he said.
Rone commenced a whirling display of swordsmanship with no apparent deficiencies whatsoever. The swirling created a hypnotic pattern punctuated with unexpected hiccups, joint locks, or muscle spasms that altered the flow, popping the viewer out of the hypnotic reverie. Even in these interruptions, Azurdanak noticed a deeper pattern that he just began to decode when the sword flew toward his face.
Azurdanak noted later that he had not seen the Wanderer slip a length of rawhide string tied to his wrist through the iron ring. He had detected no wizardy, so it must have happened quickly, when his attention was diverted.
In the moment he flinched and ducked, but to his credit, refrained from shouting. Rone flicked his wrist and the sword snapped back to his hand. A nice trick that would catch offguard anyone thinking themselves a foot out of steel's reach.
If Rone had meant to menace Azurdanak, his face didn't betray him. He continued his display with the same serene concentration.
One abrupt fluid motion returned his sword to its beaded sheath, breaking the spell of the whirling blade. Azurdanak regained his composure under Rone's placid gaze and Dahlia's smirk.
"Well you're fast. And you certainly look strong enough," he said. "Dahlia, you say he's beaten you?"
"Few others live to make that claim."
"You're hired." Azurdanak rubbed his chin. "The Urugan moot begins in two weeks."
"We won't make the Crosian border in two weeks," Rone observed.
"As I planned," Azurdanak turned to walk away. "I want them drunk-sick and worn down before I arrive. if they're fresh, that makes my job harder." He beckoned to the pair to follow him.
"What is your job, exactly?" Rone asked.
"To slay as many Urugans as possible in single combat."
Rone's brow furrowed slightly. "Intriguing. You know Urugans abhor a fair fight?"
"As do I. That's why I chose Urugans. Dahlia, please explain as I check the wagon. We'll leave before dawn."
"I can't explain, Rone, but the pay is bloody royal," she whispered.
Azurdanak's wagon was well equipped, and his horses fed and groomed neatly.
"Where did you get this?" Dahlia asked. "You came in on a caravan last night."
"No, I came in as part of a caravan. I travel a great deal to places tradesmen don't like to think about. Stow your gear in the back properly please. Either of you know how to drive horses?"
"We're fighters, not teamsters," Dahlia said.
"You'll learn a new trade then. Load up."

The trip to the Crosian border wound through green lands studded with granite boulders, gently sloping downhill all the way. Pitchwolves, fur black as a moonless night roamed the lands, as well as brigands and hungry ghosts. The trio erected mandrake effigies to confuse the ghosts at night, but the other two threats required vigilance.
As they rode, they told stories, as travelers do, and compared styles as sword fighters do. Rone demonstrated more of his wavering way technique--a purposely wobbly stance that caused Azurdanak to constantly re-evaluate his geometry. He demanded Rone repeat kata steps, and Rone obliged, but there remained offbeat about the style that Azurdanak couldn't pin down.
Azurdanak demonstrated further displays of his fencing style replete with drawings sketched in the dirt demonstrating the geometry and anatomy of humans. There are a finite number of ways that humans can do significant damage to each other, he explained. Memorize them, study them, counter them, and you become undefeatable.
Dahlia laughed at their airs. "There's nothing to show when there's nothing on the line," she said. "You both think too much. Just pull steel and fight."
Rone chuckled. "There is more to her technique than her brag."
"I know you are right," Azurdanak replied. The bruise on his arm was still black and sore. "But she'll meet a sooner end than you or I."
"I very much doubt that," Dahlia said. "Your fool's task will have me burying you by week's end, I'd wager."
"I'll take that bet," said Azurdanak.
"Not with you," she said, tossing a pebble at him. "I'll take all of your money when you're dead anyway."
"Good to know it will land in safe hands."
"I'll drink to you with a penny of it."
"A penny? At least buy a round for the house!"
"Eh... We'll see how we'll you fare in this fight you're going to pick."
"You will indeed! But let me warn you now: Do not interfere in one-on-one combat. Even if the fight goes badly for me. Only intervene when I am outnumbered... And even then, stay your blade if I seem untroubled."
"I hate to pass up a good fight, but I usually won't say no when someone pays me and tells me not to work, eh Rone?"
Rone was watching bugs on a tree branch and appeared not to hear her.
"Why are you hellbent on dying alone anyway?" She continued.
"I am not. I would rather not be here at all. But I must triumph alone or die trying. And since I plan to live, that leaves one option."