Top 10 Smart Science Fiction Films

You know what I miss – smart science fiction.  It’s so rare, these days.  With all the movies that treat science like a bitch that you can bend over a table and (insert horrifically dirty idea that your perverse mind can come up with), it’s genuinely comforting when I find films that actually get the concept right.  Or at the very least you can see there was some attempt to have science get a day in the sun instead of being treated like a beat dog.  So I decided to make a list of the films that were not only good films, but also did science right.  Maybe they didn’t get everything right, but they at least did their best to let science be a part that makes sense.

10. Ex Machina
The concept of a true artificial intelligence and people having to deal with it is older than me.  By far, actually.  But all of those films have a flaw that I just can’t look past – they don’t feel grounded in reality.  Films like AI have it where it’s a story about humanity’s prejudice against those who are different, so machines that think and feel are hated by people.  There was a game that came out last year with a similar tone that I liked.  But this film has it where they are at the very beginning.  We have a character who is brought in to be used as a kind of Turing Test for this new AI that a man has created.  It’s a very twisted thriller where we see this machine manipulating him, along with a human element manipulating things.  It’s very dark, and that’s part of why I like it.

9. 2001: A Space Odyssey
You might be wondering – what’s a film that is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made doing so low on this list?  Well, since this is all personal preference, while I do think this is a masterful movie, I don’t like it as smart science fiction as much as the others.  For starters, anyone who watches and enjoys Stanley Kubrick films knows that you have to be prepared for LONG bits of slow pacing.  It’s a meme, at this point.  This film is no exception.  HAL as the villain is pretty great, but there were times when I just couldn’t get past the slow burn pacing of this movie.  And the ending went into the realms of pretentious.  It is a great movie, from a film-making standpoint, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as other people.

8. Jurassic Park
This pick my have some of you scratching your head.  Wasn’t this some big blockbuster?  Well, yeah, but it is still grounded in the fact that it is a science fiction monster movie.  I might be biased towards it because it is based on a book by my favorite author – Michael Crichton.  While not close to the best adaptation of his work, it’s still got some of the science that the book was centered on in there.  The smart angle comes from the fact that it’s grounded in what they did to bring the dinosaurs back to life.  The film goes out of its way to tell us all about that.  What’s more, they have it come back to that with how the dinosaurs end up reproducing.  That’s pretty smart.  While it may have ended up being a monster movie, the monsters were cool, and there was grounding to the science that made it work.  I take that for what I will.

7. Apollo 13
More of you are probably wondering about this.  I mean, isn’t this based on a real event?  Yeah, it is.  But I see this film more as a dramatized piece of historical fiction rather than a straight-up piece.  After all, this was based on a book by Jim Lovell, who was one of the astronauts associated with this movie.  Telling the story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, what really sets this film apart is that the scenes in the film where they are in zero-g are actually done in zero gravity.  Part of why this film cost so much to make was due to how insane the effects were and what it took to create them.  It’s a great film where you can actually see what being in space would be like, and fear for astronauts.  Not to mention Tom Hanks is the lead.  Can’t go wrong.

6. Annihilation
Made by the same guy who made Ex Machina, this movie is one of my favorite films about aliens coming to Earth ever.  It also gets to add itself to the list of great movies that no one saw.  Telling the story of a woman trying to find out what happened to her husband, getting involved in a plot about this strange area that develops after a meteor hits earth – the Shimmer.  Inside, the laws of nature twist and turn.  Reality warps in there, and the deeper her and her compatriots go, the scarier it gets.  What I love most about this film is that even in the end, there is no explanation.  Dude asks her what the aliens wanted.  She doesn’t know.  They ask her if she knows what they are.  She doesn’t know.  They constantly try and figure a rational reason behind what the Shimmer was or anything inside, but there are none to be found.  It just was.  That’s smart science fiction, to me.  Because why would alien motives make sense to us?  They are, quite literally, alien.  The rhyme and reason we take for granted would be just as foreign to them as theirs is to us.  Not to mention the body horror in that.  This movie had one of the scariest scenes in years.

5. The Andromeda Strain
Another adaptation of my favorite author.  Far and away the best of them.  Telling the story of a satellite that lands back on Earth and is recovered by a small town, only for all of them to be dead.  What follows is an investigation by some of the best scientists in the world to see if they can isolate and then cure the infection.  This is a slow-burn film, but that works in this one’s favor, as you can fee the tension as they are getting closer and closer to understanding, and realizing that they are dealing with something that is unlike anything else they have ever seen.  The scene where they finally get an eye-view of the microscopic alien life is still scary to this day.  The effects have really held up over time.  Old movie, based on a VERY old book.

4. Arrival
I’m starting to think that there is nothing that Denis Villeneuve cannot do in terms of film-making.  His movies have run the gamut in terms content.  Suspense thrillers, crime thrillers, and then we see him do a foray into smart science fiction.  What’s more, it’s fantastic.  Telling the story of a series of alien ships that come to Earth.  The military gets the help of a woman who is a linguistics expert to try and speak to the aliens.  What follows is a fantastic movie and some great smart science fiction where they understand the language of the aliens, and see that it goes beyond just spoken words.  This film was the one that convinced me that science fiction that was intelligent could still be made in the modern age.  Also it was my favorite movie of 2016.  So there’s that.

3. Contact
This is a movie that I grew up with.  It grew on me from when I first saw it, and re-watching it a while back, it still sticks.  Another film about first contact with aliens, this one takes a decidedly different angle.  Ostensibly this film is about the battle between the need for scientific discovery, and humanity’s paranoia.  We have Jodie Foster as an astronomer who is trying to find alien life.  When she finally does, the young woman becomes embroiled in a struggle to get past the worst of our species, to be able to answer questions she has always had.  This film got some flak for the Matthew McConaughey character and how that romance wasn’t necessary.  But I think it was.  Foster believed, genuinely, that spirituality and faith were bad.  She’d seen nothing but the worst of it, growing up.  But he was like the realization that maybe there could be a meeting in the middle of the ideas. Faith was a very big theme.  Not a perfect movie.  It has its flaws.  But as smart science fiction goes, this is pretty fantastic.

2. The Martian
I recently have just fallen head over heels in love with this movie.  Ridley Scott is a great filmmaker.  He really is.  This film is so utterly amazing.  Telling the story of an astronaut who ends up stranded on Mars after his team believes he is dead and has to evacuate.  From there is a great look at all the science involved in not only his survival, but also getting him home.  This film has some fantastic performances by the entire cast.  Matt Damon is at his best in the role as Mark Watney.  Another film where he has to be rescued.  Someone should put a bell around his neck.  The effects in this movie are amazing.  The CG is really good.  There is a nice integration of practical effects.  The sets are cool.  All of the science is on point.  I love this movie.  It does the source material proud as well.  Another film based off a book.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re doing a disservice to yourself by not doing so right now.

And my favorite smart science fiction film is…

1. Blade Runner
The film that created the term cyberpunk in the popular lexicon.  A movie with a cyberpunk edge might not seem to be in the realm of smart science fiction, but I do believe this movie is.  Sure, we have flying cars, and that is silly.  But what makes this smart is the themes of the film.  It’s a movie about power relationships.  The replicants are beneath humans.  Society seems them that way.  They are forced to be in ugly places far from Earth.  Coming to Earth is on pain of death.  The test to find out if a person is a replicant or not is invasive and cold.  Deckard is a man who goes between the lower and upper world, belong in neither.  When he realizes that Rachel is a replicant, he treats her as poorly as the rest of people would.  This film is all about subtle themes that play out in a culmination of the final moments before Roy Batty’s death, are are among the most talked about in all of cinema.  The sequel was alright, but nothing can beat the original, in my eyes.  If you haven’t seen this film too, you’re also missing out.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite smart science fiction films?  Please don’t comment stupid shit like Gravity.  That film is visually amazing, but the science fiction in it is dumb as dirt.

Until next time, a quote,

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner

Peace out,

Maverick

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Fear of Light and Dark

(This is based on a dream I had that a girly-mate wanted me to write out)

Another day in the lab.  Story of my life at this point.  Since no legitimate scientific lab would hire me these days, I was stuck slaving away in place that had no windows, and piles of tech everywhere.  This was the kind of place you’d expect to find kids fresh out of Cal-Tech (my alma mater), Stanford, MIT, or the like.  But here I was, way too old for this, stuck in this labyrinthine hell of tech.  Kind of amazed me that we got anything done, what few people worked here.
The lot of us, orphans of science who were abandoned by the field after one bad day.  Still working for a project that the rest of the world gave up on, along with whatever contracts we could get for other things that could pay the bills.  It sucked, to say the least.  When I wasn’t doing the thing that actually mattered to me, I was helping do stuff like design a fool-proof security system for the most hardcore prison in the world.  Naturally, it was the private industry who still had some affinity for me.  Washington hated my guts.  They threw me out like a used condom after our last foray together.  Oh well.  If I had just had a little more time, hadn’t had them on my ass, it would have changed the world.  In a way, that’s what I’m still trying to do.
Because it was strange to see people as old as the lot of us working in a place like this, when Sara crawled out of a pile of tech rubbing her eyes, it was kind of adorable.  Red hair everywhere.  Was glad she grew it out.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“1600.”
Gave me a look.  She hated that I still used military time.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  Still had the REALLY nice watch that the Navy gave me, too.  Everyone told me to throw it out.  Was never good at letting go.  Case and point, still working on the same fucking project that they had me with in the first place.  Told myself that the day I got this right, perfected the technology behind the ZEUS Engine, I would take it off.  Because then I would have surpassed myself then.  So damn close.

“Sir?” I asked.
In a room, filled with people in uniform.  There were also people in suits.  Representatives from corporations like Lockheed Martin, DXC Technology, SAIC, and many others.  Never have I felt so small.
A man in a Naval uniform cleared his throat.  “We read your dissertation.  It was very interesting.  “The Particle That Will Save Mankind.”  You really believe that?”
Did my best not to stutter as I talked.  “I believe it could, sir.  But as of right now it’s only theoretical.”
“Why is that?” A woman in an Air Force uniform asked.
“Because we haven’t been able to definitively prove that the ZEUS Particle can be replicated on a significant enough scale.  Our facility has been able to produce a small quantity of particles, but the technology required to go bigger is way outside our budget.”
The perks of working independently was that you had nobody telling you that things were impossible.  The downside was that if you had something this big, your budget was shit.
“And what kind of budget would you require to build a system capable of generating the particle in significant amounts?” the Navy man asked.
“Gross estimate, about 13 to 14 million dollars, easy.  And that’s just for the tech itself.  This particle has unstable properties.  We’d have to have some serious safety systems in place.”  Did some quick math in my head knowing what the overhead was for the equipment I was thinking about.  “Add another 40 to 50 million for the safety equipment.  And we’d need a big enough space to build it without worrying about incurring on any outside sources.  Realistically, I can’t see this being done with the resources at my disposal.  It hasn’t helped that my team and I have been fighting with the patent office to get this particle generation system patented under our company.”  Still had no idea what was taking so long.
Murmurs around the room.
The woman leaned forward.  “Say you were given the resources you need, how quickly could you get this project done?”
Now I knew why I had gotten an invitation here.  The inner rebel from my days at Cal-Tech wanted to scoff at this.  But the realist inside told me to hold up.  Anyone with perspective knows that the military and scientific discovery have been joined at the hip since the dawn of time.  The first telescopes were used by commanders of armies to sight down on the enemy as they came.  The technology for Hubble was developed in conjugation with the Air Force, and the creator of it got pissed when the problem the satellite was having focusing in on points in space was not a surprise to the military.  In fact, they had solved that earlier with their own spy satellites that were watching the Soviets.  So if I had gotten the military’s attention, there might be potential.
“We’ve already drawn up ideas for what we want to build.  There still needs to be some fine-tuning, but if we could get the equipment and man-power we needed, six months would be a good estimate.”
A sound around the room of approval.  I had told them what they wanted to hear.  Play my cards right a little longer, and I had them.  Just a little more.
A different man in a Navy uniform.  “If we were to give you the funding for this, you understand that this would be classified, right?  Under no circumstances could you or any of your team disclose anything about the project.”
I could already hear Sara and Mark bitching about that.  Science is for everyone.  I know for a fact that’s how Mark feels.  But when would we get an opportunity like this again?!
“Yes sir.”
First Navy man.  “Alright.  Thank you for coming.  We will be in touch.”
Did my best to keep the smile off my face.  Didn’t want to show my jubilation.  Couldn’t wait to tell the team.

Looked at a picture that was sitting on my desk.  The ten of us, back when it was ten.  Standing there, in that god-awful heat, we were the happiest we had ever been.  Behind us, towering at a total of 60 meters tell, was the Model I ZEUS Engine.  Man, I looked so young there.  Now, less hair, a bunch more wrinkles, and a slight pudge later, I was a different man.
And I was still the only man who could figure this out.  The rest of the world was trying to pick up where we left off, but they would fail.  I had discovered this particle.  My team and I were the ones who had seen it first.  Before anyone else could even imagine it, we were playing with it.  Learning about it.  Seeing how it interacted with matter.  Seeing how they interacted with each other.  We spent so many sleepless hours with this particle.  Everyone thought that Corey was crazy when he said he could hear it talking, but then we realized there actually was a sonic emission when the particles were exposed to electricity.  So he wasn’t totally off his nut.  I think  Jury never came back in on that.  Among other things, for a lot of people.
We figure this out, patent it, and it will all be for something.  All of the sacrifices.  All of it.  For them.  Just a little bit more.  But there was another reason that I knew it would be me who figured it out.  See, I had been there the night that it all fell apart.  I had seen what the media called the “Rainbow Hellfire Storm.”  Or what the military called the “Olympus Site Explosion.”  What I saw that night changed me.  It drove me.  And every night that I think about it, I realize that it has to be me.  Because I know the ultimate truth about the particles – they will change life on this planet, forever.  And it isn’t gonna be a long wait for that forever to come.

Alarms blaring.  People were screaming.  Everyone running as fast as they could to the nearest VTOLs.  We had drilled the evacuation procedures a hundred fucking times, but you never really know what you’ll do in that instance until you’re there.  It was sheer chaos.  Everyone was going in a dozen different directions.  I saw Mark had run back inside to find the girl he was dating.  Some pretty young Navy thing.  I yelled at him to come back.  He didn’t listen.  No time to try and reason with him.  It’s a horrible thing to say, but it was everyone for themselves, at this point.
I got onboard, was strapped in by some guy in uniform.  More people rushed in with me.  Did I see Sara?  Yeah, she was here.  Kou was there too.  Both of them looked scared.  Could hear the harmonic resonance of the particles.  They were charged!  I looked at the man strapping people in.
“We need to go now!”
“Sir, we have to get everyone secured.”
“The particles are resonating!  If we don’t get the fuck out of here in a matter of seconds, we’re all gonna die!  Get this fucking bird moving!”
The man looked pale, but ran to the front.  To hell with the safety, we were moving.  The jolt up was harsh.  Get the feeling it wouldn’t have been this bad if they had been being careful.  No time for careful.  Saw a couple of choppers rising.  Another VTOL was powering up.  They wouldn’t be out in time.  Guess they were being careful too.  Idiots!
“Tell those birds to get their ass in gear!” I yelled.  They didn’t answer.  They probably had.  But now it was too late.  For everybody.  For everything.  All our work, down the fucking drain.  The resonance, it was a beautiful sound.  I couldn’t stop listening to it.  A shimmery sound.  Reminded me of the one you’d make with a wet finger on a crystal glass.  Memories of being younger, with the woman who I would inevitably fall in love with.  This sound, it was incredible.  But getting louder.  Would we make it out in time?

Looked at another picture.  One that was technically a violation of confidentiality to have.  But they didn’t know that the camera attached to my glasses was recording at the time.  And the image was pretty great, considering.  The image streamed into a device I had on my belt.  I pulled this section of video and took a still.  What it showed was the final end of Model I.  Where my credibility in the world of science at large died.  The Rainbow.

We damn-near crashed onto the deck of the ship we landed on.  I’m sure it has a name, but I was beyond caring at this point.  The inside of my head was like a demon bouncing around filing cabinets.  Fear for the people I care about.  Sadness that everything we worked for had just gone to shit.  Wishing this was all a bad dream.  It was strange, because part of me wondered if I could still hear that sound.
Getting out, a bunch of people in uniform came rushing over.  It was there!  I could still hear it!  This was bad.  Looking out at the horizon, there was a light.  Growing, brighter and brighter.
“Mr. Fettel!” A man who appeared to be someone in command came.  Everyone in our crew saluted.
Looking right at him, I was dead serious.  “Tell the Captain that we need to get this ship as far away from that light as possible!  However fast he can push this thing, it needs to be going it!”
“Sir, what’s going on?!” the man insisted.
“I will file a full report later, but we need to get this fucking ship moving now!  Otherwise none of us will get to hear about it later.”
Something I’ve learned is that military bravado is a mean bitch.  But I wasn’t backing down.  This asshole would get his report.  I’m sure that everyone in the Pentagon and Congress was gonna read the fucking thing.  Couldn’t want to hear about how much I fucked up.  All it took was one breach of containment.  And it wasn’t even our people who did it!  It was the Navy retards who had to go down and inspect the parts.  Nice job, you dumb fucks!  If they happened to make it out of there, and I happened to see them again, I looked forward to clocking as many of them as I could in the face before I get the shit kicked out of me.
“Alright, but I’m gonna need you to come inside.  The Captain’s gonna want to see you.”
Just then, something happened at the horizon.  The light was growing.  Not outward, like I expected, but upward.  It was strange.  This ever-growing column of light.  Was that the particles?!  How?!  If the Engine was destroyed, that meant that the particles should have stopped production.  Had they found a way to grow on their own?!  Even now, my scientist brain was coming to life.
“Sir, we need to get inside!” the guy in charge insisted.
“Go tell your Captain to get moving.”
Everyone stood there.
“Now, sailor!”
The bravado had all but vanished in the face of the absolute unknown.  Military types learn about all kinds of explosions.  Found out from some Navy people at the site that on a ship there is a ton of stuff that can blow up.  They drill and drill and drill what to do.  Saw a video from a boot camp of them having to deal with chemical smoke.  Each of the sailor held their hand under them for when they vomited.  Brutal stuff, but you have to be ready.  This wasn’t that.  This was an explosion like no other.
He looked to two underlings who had run over.  A woman and a guy.
“Stay with him!”
“Yes sir!” they said.
With that, the fellow ran back inside like his feet had a lit flame underneath.  Fine with me.  Only sound was sailors on the deck, getting various tasks done.  Guess they heard we’re about to be moving with haste.  Had to secure everything.  Safety first.  God forbid anything fall over as we get the hell away from an explosion that is guaranteed to kill us if it reaches us.
The sound.  It was growing.  I could hear it clearly now.  So could the two who were with me.  Sara and the others had gone below decks.  Couldn’t concern myself with that now.  Was still recording.  Didn’t stop from the experiment I was running.  Wanted to narrate this, but knew that I couldn’t.  Not with the two behind me.  This was probably all going to be impounded, and I didn’t want them to know I had this thing on.  Would pocket the SD card when I was alone.
Now I could see it.  The light was moving up.  It was conical.  A giant circular motion, flowing ever-upwards.  Why?  It wasn’t wind that would compel it to do that.  The breeze would blow them all in a different direction.  Up and up, with the particles like shimmering rivers of light.  Just then, fire!  The Engine must have finally blown.  Flames were also moving up the cone.  It was odd.  It seemed to be contained within it.  Like the fire wanted to burst out, but since it had nowhere to go, all it could do is go up.  Following the oxygen, as flame is want to do.  Take away the oxygen, you snuff the flame.  It’s why you seal a door when a room is on fire and suck out the air.  Or set off a bigger explosion next to an oil fire, and it snuffs the flame.
The rising tower had another quality – the colors.  It was beautiful!  Every color of the rainbow, moving and shifting and changing.  Encircled inside this cone of particles.  There aren’t words to describe it.  Just then, something even more worrying.  I saw a discharge of electricity!  Oh no!  The particles were charged!  This might explain the rising.  The particles will follow electrical sources.  Run a current through a tube and they will go with it.  It’s part of why we knew this could be a power source.  Once you charged the particles with a positive current, they would maintain that indefinitely.  You could power something until the end of time with this.  What’s more, they will generate more of that positive current and you could capture the feedback.  And if you started to lose control, all you had to do was feed a negative charge into it.  It takes out the particles, but cancels the threat.
Now we had uncontrolled electrical charges, going through free-roaming particles.  They were reacting in a way we had never seen before.  But then, this was a circumstance we had never even thought about testing.  The Navy would have been all up our ass for even proposing it.  What was going to happen next?
The worst case scenario popped into my head.  Assuming the Engine was out of control, and just spewing out mountains of the particle, and they were charged, with no way to introduce a negative charge, they could just scatter and consume the world in a Hell of electrical storms that would likely kill everyone exposed to them.  We’d constantly be trying to track a never-ending electrical storm across the surface of this planet.  And if it reached the upper atmosphere, then there goes the entire satellite network.  The military network, the Internet, all of modern civilization.  Gone in a flash.  Everyone would be back to the age of the telegraph overnight.  Was there anything we could do?  No.  At this point, all I could do is watch.
By now it was over 1000 meters high and climbing.  At this rate, it would hit the stratosphere in minutes.  How were this many particles being generated?!  Was it making them itself?  So many questions that, assuming I survived, I would spend years trying to answer.
“Sir, I really think we need to go inside.”
I looked behind me to see a rather lovely brunette standing there.  She had this look on her face of someone in absolute terror.  Reminded me of what I’m sure my face looked like staring down a moose when I was younger that crashed right out of the woods in front of me.  I felt for her.  Couldn’t imagine how frightening this must have been to the uninitiated.  Looked on her uniform.  It said – Beryl.
“Sailor, if that column collapses and those charged particles get loose and reach us, it won’t matter if we’re inside or not.  Your ship’s doors aren’t magnetically sealed.  The particles would get in and kill us all.  The synapses in your brain would be cooked.”
“Oh my god,” she whispered.  Looked like she was about to cry.
“That’s about it.  All we can do now is pray.”
Well, they could pray.  No God to pray to, as far as I was concerned.  But the behavior of my particles, that’s what I was staring at.  What was I missing?  Why were they doing this?  A thought came to me – Earth has a magnetic field.  The particles reacted to positive and negative charges.  There was a connection here, I just wasn’t seeing it.  Tried to think back to my years studying magnetism in respect to particle physics.  Everyone had an idea about in respect to dark matter.  Lots of fun debates.
Just then, as it was now like a massive, beautiful, glowing, fiery, electrical tornado was so high that it was like a massive beacon, the base of it collapsed.  The flame burst out, but the particles seemed to be rising from the base to the top.  Then, it reached the peak and light burst out with enough brightness to be like our own Sun.  In essence, a distance of the world close enough to see this got to feel daylight on their skin for a few seconds.  The chime rang out.  And then, it collapsed.  We were all blinded, as the darkness came back and we were all left speechless.
Beryl came close to me.  “Sir, what just happened?”
I looked right at her.  “I don’t know, sailor.  I genuinely don’t know.”

I’d spend the next seven years trying to find out.  The whole area was declared a dead zone.  No signals went in there.  Satellites that tried to get images could never focus, no matter what they did.  Those who braved going inside ended up getting severe headaches.  One soldier had a hematoma in his brain and died.  And so ended the glorious project that the military had flushed over $250 million on.
But for me it wasn’t over.  It would never be over.  Not until I understood.  Then, I could fix this.  Then I could revolutionize the world.  It all came back to magnetism.  It had to be there.  When you see Earth’s magnetic field visualized, you’ll see that it has forces that anchor at both poles.  From there, it goes out in a donut shape around the Earth.  The particles were rising the way I would predict magnetic fields would from the poles if we could see them.
Looking at the old pictures, feeling the waves of nostalgia washing over me, my eyes suddenly looked on to something.  Mark’s t shirt.  It had the launch of the new satellite that would be able to get clearer images of farther away then ever before.  It was a milestone in astrophysics, which we his passion.  That’s when it hit me – the particles go to where there’s a charge.  They’re drawn to it.  We made sure to select somewhere that had no human habitation for hundreds of miles.  The Engine was burst, and so the Island’s power grid would have been fried.  Hence the particles being charged.  So they were looking for a source to go to!  They were looking for somewhere for more juice!  If they can’t go out looking, they can go up looking.  Earth has charged particles of a different kind that enter our atmosphere every day from the sun.  It’s part of what makes up the magnetic field.  These particles were following their natural inclination.  Laws of physics were dictating this!
Damn, Mark, still schooling me after all these years.  Clever bastards.  When I published this paper, I would make sure to give him credit for this as well.  To all of them.  They earned it.

Until next time, a quote,

“Dead for ten years, still taking me to school.” – Tony Stark, Iron Man 2

Peace out,

Maverick

The Martian and the Desperate Hope For Smart Science Fiction

Have I told any of you how much I love The Martian?  It’s a fantastic movie.  Every performance in there is utterly perfect in every conceivable way.  It’s incredibly well shot.  The CG is incredible, the set designs are used perfectly.  I love this film so much.  But another thing I like about it is the fact that it is smart science fiction.  A horrifically lost art that hurts me inside to see what it’s become.  When I look at the big-budget Hollywood movies in the genre now, it’s typically either mediocre movies like J.J. Abrams remake of Star Trek and the abysmal sequel.  Or it’s absolute trash like the new Star Wars films.  But hope may be out there.  It’s small, but it’s there.  Let’s talk about smart science fiction.

Plenty of movies have stupid science fiction.  Like the aforementioned Star Trek remake, where Spock has this black hole machine that doesn’t work like an actual black hole does.  Or you get shit like any of the science fiction films of the 90’s and early 2000’s.  All of the alien invasion movies are the ones that rub me raw the most.  I mean, really?  Why is alien life always defeated by the lamest shit?

But in the last few years, always flying under the radar, are some really fantastic examples of science fiction.  Naturally, pretty much all of them fall into the category of great movies that nobody saw.  Just in the last couple years there have been some incredible examples.  First, we have the movie that this post ostensibly is talking about, The Martian.  Based off of an equally-great book (one of the few movies that stacks up to the book it’s based on), it tells the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and his mission to stay alive.  Listening to Damon’s character talk about the science involved makes me think of one of my favorite authors.

Next, we have my favorite film of 2016, Arrival.  In that movie, aliens come to Earth and the first people who can actually communicate with them is a language expert and a mathematician.  The process of deciphering the alien language and then being able to communicate with them on our own terms is pretty amazing.  Plus, Amy Adams is phenomenal in the performance.  She speaks like someone who knows her shit, as opposed to someone who is just acting like it.  I have the same opinion of Damon in The Martian.

Last year, we got to see the most recent – Annihilation.  That film struck such a chord with me.  You ever notice in movies that pretty much all aliens, they seem to be easily understood to humanity.  Star Trek was this way, of course.  But in this film, the aliens are something unknowable.  Telling the story of a woman whose husband is military and was deployed to an unknown location, he comes back as something else.  Now, she is on a mission to figure out what happened.  It’s one of the most intense and dark science fiction films I have ever seen, but it works.  There is also one of the scariest horror film sequences of all time that still haunts me.

With more and more of what’s made being creatively-bankrupt dreck, such as the endless sequels, reboots, superhero films, and other mindless nonsense, the future for science fiction may be bleak.  But there is hope.  Several films that have really showed off the medium have been made over the last few years.  It may not be too late to save this genre from utter obliteration.  Or maybe it’s too late for Hollywood.  I see that Disney has bought 20th Century Fox.  Another studio whose good ideas they can take and drive into the ground.  I fear for film as a medium.  I fear for a lot of creative endeavors.  But films like these give me hope for at least one medium.  We’ll see what happens next.

Until next time, a quote,

“In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option. I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” – Mark Watney, The Martian

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 10 Michael Crichton Books

I don’t know how many of you reading this know, but my favorite author is Michael Crichton.  This man had a gift at taking real world concepts and taking them to the next level.  Or finding things that were in the zeitgeist and looking at them from another way.  Then there were his books about medicine, for which he graduated from Harvard.  As well as his books about crime and corporate espionage.  The man even took a stab at historical fiction, and with the exception of the lost manuscript that just got released (I genuinely didn’t like Dragon’s Teeth.  At all.  I thought it was boring as fuck.  Perhaps there’s a reason it was a lost manuscript), he nailed it!  Crichton was a master of the craft, and while I didn’t always agree with everything in his novels (such as in State of Fear, where he makes clear his belief about climate change and what he believes in mankind not being involved in it), I could always read them and be engaged, left with things to ponder.  Here is my list of my 10 favorite.

10. The Terminal Man
It’s so interesting to read this book.  It was written in 1972, and the concepts within it are more terrifying now than they were then.  But Crichton says outright in the beginning that while these concepts are scary, they’re real.  A story about a man who has seizures that cause him to be both violent and stronger, he is brought into a hospital for a new kind of treatment.  It will put wires into his brain to stimulate the parts of his mind during a seizure to stave it off.  However, this man has a twisted psychosis that leads him to escape after the procedure, with a dark plan.  This book is violent, tense, and the concepts within it terrifying.  Mind control is a concept that people talk about today, and mechanisms that could cause it existed then.  Think about that.

9. Rising Sun
A combination book of two things that Crichton does very well – crime novels and corporate espionage.  A story about two detectives who are investigating a murder at a Japanese corporate party.  This book looks at Japanese business, in a way that is not always flattering.  You have two different perspectives on it, so you can see the juxtaposition in approaches to how people treat the Japanese.  It’s also interesting with this stuff and the time period that it was written in, vs how things are now.  The west likes to believe that we get things, but in reality, the countries that aren’t our own are often as alien to us as life on another planet would be.  This is a book of intrigue and culture, and only Crichton could get skate on ice this thin without falling through.

8. A Case of Need
It’s ironic the timing of this.  During a new Supreme Court nomination, where countless people are wondering if Roe v Wade is going to be overturned.  This book also looked at abortion, but during a very different time.  Published in 1968, this book tells the story of a man who is framed for a botched abortion which results in the death of a young woman.  He gets a dear friend to investigate and find out the truth, saving both him and his reputation.  Before abortion was legal, where unsafe abortions killed countless women, this book took a look at the concept with an eye of critical skepticism.  It’s clear that Crichton was on the side of those who wanted legal abortion for women, but he decided to give this book a hard medical approach, along with a decent mystery.  In today’s climate, this book is definitely worth checking out.

7. Airframe
A corporate espionage story through-and-through, this book holds a special place for me because of the subject matter.  Neat fact – I’m afraid of flying.  I hate it.  It ties nicely into my fear of heights.  A fact that many have sniggered at due to how unfathomably tall I am.  Yes, this fact does amuse me to some degree.  Telling the story of an airplane manufacturing company (do they even have these in this country anymore?  I figure all that shit was outsourced years ago) who is tasked with investigating the cause of a horrifying accident, it is a story of corporate greed, corruption, and why people REALLY should be more afraid of being in airplanes.  It’s mired in corporate speak, but Crichton takes you through it.  He loves to have little digressions to talk about whatever subject matter is in his books.  Partly to help you understand, and partly because he clearly wants to show off how much research he did to write them.  This book is among the best in this genre, and if you aren’t afraid of flying, it will help with that.

6. Pirate Latitudes
When I was given this book, 1st Edition, for Christmas one year, I was unsure what to think.  A historical fiction book by Michael Crichton?  I mean, Timeline was great and all, but this just seems a little outlandish.  Then I started to read, and all my doubts evaporated.  Telling the story of a privateer who is given a task to raid an island that has equal parts danger and opportunity, this story is mired in Crichton’s ability to show off his research, and the adventure factor of a great pirate story.  It genuinely shocked me how good this book is.  These characters and their adventure feels so grounded in what could actually happen.  It doesn’t have the rosy view of pirates.  No, these people are gross, immoral people.  But Crichton has a gift at making those you shouldn’t like feel so fun to get to know.  A trip to the high seas you won’t forget.

5. Sphere
This novel is a little bit different.  Instead of Crichton showcasing his research, he wanted to show off his ability to use mood and setting to his advantage.  Telling the story of a man who once made a plan on how to deal with first contact with aliens, he gets a chance to do just that as a craft has been discovered at the bottom of the ocean.  What follows is a supremely suspenseful novel about terror at the bottom of the sea, and a device that has powers that defy all comprehension.  Crichton is able to make the deep ocean seem more threatening than anyone though possible.  Telling a story with tons of The Abyss before that film was a thing, it’s a novel to make your skin crawl.

4. Disclosure
This novel really seemed ahead of its time, looking at where we are now in terms of gender politics.  Combining a VERY touchy subject with his corporate espionage style, this novel tells the story of a man who works for a computer company.  A woman is hired that he used to be involved with.  After she tries to make a move on him and he rejects her, she comes after him with a sexual harassment suit.  From there, he does something that would be ballsy even to this day – files a sexual harassment suit right back, getting a lawyer who is a big-time feminist.  Taking on the concept of gender politics in the time when this was written could EASILY have blown up in his face, but Crichton doesn’t back down from his perspective.  He shows that it is possible for women to abuse their power and sexuality as a man, along with be corrupt and vile.  He doesn’t shy away from the implications.  It’s a daring novel, and I think that it has more relevance now than it did when it came out.

3. The Andromeda Strain
The novel that helped put Crichton on the map.  The first work of his to be adapted to film, and probably the only one done right.  This story was revolutionary for its time, and it has aged exceptionally well.  It takes the perspective that what if alien life that comes to our world isn’t some big monster, but rather something so small that you can’t see it with the naked eye?  A probe crashed back to Earth after having gone to find alien life, and it came back with something in tow.  An alien pathogen that kills the entirety of a small town.  Now, a group of some of the best scientists in the world comes together to try and figure out how to stop it.  This novel is tense.  The process of learning about this infection and what it is will leave you on the edge of your seat.  It’s a mind-bender, to say the least, and I am still shocked by it even to this day, because of how it takes concepts from time gone by and takes the next step in terms of technology.  A first contact story unlike any other.

2. Jurassic Park
Definitely the most famous of Crichton’s books.  A novel that tells the story of an eccentric billionaire who used cloning to create an island full of dinosaurs.  However, there are several things about the novel that separate it from the movie and make it far better.  For starters, this novel builds up the reality of dinosaurs existing in a way that the film doesn’t.  It’s a process of the world getting hints about them, only for a small team of people to be given the full reveal.  Not only that, but it looks at the creatures themselves, and what they would be like.  This isn’t just some monster movie.  It’s a tale about animals from 65 million years ago being brought back to life, thrown in the mix with mankind.  It’s a story where survivors are trying to get everything sorted out, and learn what they are up against.  The parts of the story examining what these animals are are fascinating.  It’s a shame the film didn’t take the time to really dive into that.  But you gotta entertain the dim-witted American audience (I do like the movie, by the way.  However, my point stands).  Not nearly as violent and creature-feature as the film, with some amazing science every step of the way.

And my favorite of Crichton’s books is…

1. Prey
Some of you saw this coming if I have any readers who read my post about my top 10 favorite books.  Not only is this my favorite book by Crichton, it’s my favorite book of all time.  This is him at his best.  Him taking real science and going the next step the way that only Crichton could.  It’s a nightmarish, fascinating, tense story about a corporate that creates nanomachines and how swarms of them get out into the wild.  Now, an out of work father who wrote the code that these machines are governed by has to get back into it, to solve the mystery of what his wife was doing away from home, and to save the family he has worked so hard to cultivate.  This book is a masterpiece, plain and simple.  It has Crichton showing his research like never before.  Though, if you find that stuff self-indulgent, you will hate this book.  There are long sections where he gets into some scientific or philosophical concepts and will carry that on for some time.  It’s pretty great stuff.  These machines, how they are created, and what they become, is a story that will have you spellbound, turning pages like it’s nobody’s business to get to the end.

What are some of your favorites?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“They didn’t know what they were doing.  Sometimes I wonder if that will be humanity’s epitaph.” – Jack Forman, Prey

Peace out,

Maverick

Space Pilots Meet Atmosphere Combat

(In honor of an air show that my Navy girly-mate is helping out with)

The alarm was blaring!  From where they were sitting on the landing deck, everyone looked up.
“All hands, combat alert!  Enemy mechs incoming!”
Flt Lt Frost looked up.  “Well, that ain’t good.”  He remembered the base commander telling him about all their stationed pilots being out on shore leave.  This far into Directorate territory, no one could have imagined the enemy attacking.  It was brazen, to say the least.
Quinn sneered, quietly slipping out the door.  Kate saw her go, immediately following.
As they raced down the halls, everyone on base was moving fast.  Their defensive guns were online, but against mechs that only went so far.  Since this base was airborne, it could only be flight models coming to attack.  That meant they had infinitely more maneuverability than the guns could reasonably handle.
Busting into the hangar bay, Quinn saw what she was looking for.  Four flight model mechs, in flight mode, waiting to be deployed.  Running over to one of them, she hit the sensor to open the cockpit.  The machine recognized her biometrics as military, so it opened.  Cuing up the main computer, she ran through the system.
“Let’s see.  Fuel is full.  Ammunition is full.  Mech is in good order.”
Kate popped into the entrance, giving her a stern look.
“What the fuck are you doing, Quinn?!”
“Checking to see if this thing is fit to fight.”
“We aren’t this base’s pilots!  We’ll get in a heaping pile of shit if engage the enemy with their mechs!”
“Yeah, and if we just sit here, we’re gonna get blown the fuck up!  I’d rather take my risks in the air.  I have years of experience in atmosphere, so I say let’s do it!”  She had that look on her face that meant she was not going to be dissuaded.  In a flash, she was on her feet, stripping.
Kate blushed heavily.  “Why are you getting naked here?”
“Because I can’t fly in my uniform.”
From her bag she pulled out a flight-suit.  It wasn’t a g-suit like they used in space, but it would work for this.
“Dammit, woman!”  Hiding between the machines, she stripped down as well, grabbing her own flight-suit.
“What happened to ‘we’ll get in a heaping pile of shit’?”
Giving her a cold look.  “Like you said, if we stay here we die.”  Heading over to another mech, she also keyed up the system.  “Alright.  Ready to go.  So, smart woman, did you stop to think about how we’re going to get up to the launch deck if we’re using mechs that aren’t ours?”
Quinn frowned.  It was a good question.
A voice behind them called out.  “We get the flight crew to move the mechs up there, then get clearance from the tower to launch.”
Both of them looked to see the Flt Lt there, also in a flight-suit.  They were shocked.
“Lt!  You’re cool with this?” Kate asked.
“Like she said, we’re all fucked if we don’t do something.  You two know how to fly in atmosphere?”
The Killer Bee’s pilot got her devilish grin back.  “Hell yeah!  Years of experience.”
Her more sensible compatriot nodded.  “Not as much as her, but I did some training in sim during my time with R&D.  I know what to expect.”
“Alright.  I’ve got years of experience myself, so we should be good.”
The sound of footsteps coming in behind them.  Sojiro and Windsor came in.
“That’s crazy!” Windsor said.  “There’s a lot of them!  You all are going to get yourselves killed!”
Sojiro looked around the bay.  Something caught his eye.  Ground model mechs!  They were in transit mode.
“We can back you up in those!”
Frost looked at him.  “You have experience with ground models?”
“Yes sir!  At the start of the war I was stationed on the ground.  And these aren’t the relics that I was using.  Those things were damn-near falling apart!  Will be nice to fight in a proper mech this time.”  Sojiro took off his service shirt, tying it around his waist on the undershirt.
Looking at Windsor.  “You?”
“I know the basics.  So long as I can get me a proper gun with some range, I got this.”
Two base personnel came over as well.
“Hey!  We heard you guys are planning on going out.  If you’re gonna do that, we can get you launch clearance.  And I wouldn’t mind grabbing one of the ground mechs and backing you up.  I wasn’t cleared as a pilot, but I know what I’m doing.”
Frost grinned at him.  “Sounds good, son.”  Keying up a display on his band, he motioned for the others.
“Everyone, gather ’round!  I’m gonna go through the mission plan.”
The map showed the air platform base, with the couple airships they have on defense.
“Alright, the enemy consists of eight mechs.  We have four regular models, and four heavy armor models.  They’ve engaged with the airships in support of the base.”  Looking over at the men from the base.  “No offense to your air force, but I’m not anticipating them to last long against them.”
One of them shrugged.  “None taken.  I’ve been saying we might as well have a big sign out welcoming the enemy to attack.”
“Alright, here’s how this is gonna work.  Pierce, you and DeMills are to stay on my wing!  I don’t want any heroics.  That goes double for you!”  He was looking right at Quinn.
“Aye-aye, Lt.  I got you.” She looked annoyed.
“The enemy has us very outnumbered, and I would wager that the enemy knows what they’re doing.  Our tactic is going to be to use our own forces engagement to our advantage.  They’re attacking the defending ships, so we can use that to buy time to get in the air, and once deployed we can keep the fight there as much as we can.  Meanwhile, ground mechs, you will be tasked with taking out any who break away from the battle.  The platform has limited mobility, so you’re going to have to be good at hitting mobile targets while being pretty much stationary.  Coordinate your attack with the base guns.  Only focus your attack close range.  I don’t wanna worry about friendly fire.  Hooyah?”
“Hooyah!” They all shouted in unison.
“Then let’s get moving.”  Looking at the second guy who wasn’t going out on a mech.  “Get the command tower ready.  We can’t afford delays launching!”
The man saluted and took off running.
Kate looked at Quinn.  “Be careful out there.”
Giving her a wink.  “Aren’t I always?”

Heading over to the ground mechs, Windsor keyed up the system.
The first guy came running over.  “Hey!  Our system here can change weapons on these mechs in under a minute.  What are you two thinking?”
Sojiro immediately chimed in.  “I need artillery, and lots of it!  Enemy is gonna try and send the heavy armor mechs to hit the base, and they are armed to blast.”
“You got it!”  He keyed sensors on a tablet and overhead machinery went to work undoing couplings and moving the standard rifle and gatling cannon away.  Down came several missile pods.  “You got your choice of heat-seeking, anti-air cluster bombs, and slammers.”
The man grinned darkly.  “If you were a woman I’d kiss you.  Ready to move out!”
Looking over at Windsor.  “What about you?”
She thought for a moment.  “What do you have in long-range weaponry?”
Queuing up the arsenal on his tablet.  “We have M649 Carbines and LSDG Lasers.”
That took her by surprise.  “You can use laser weapons in atmosphere?!”
Sojiro chimed in, “you’re thinking of particle beams!  Those things can’t be used in atmosphere.  Lasers can.”
“But the weapons require pin-point accuracy.  Not joking, you have to be incredibly precise.  They will blast rockets, missiles, and torpedoes to bits, but armor is trickier.  The heavier it is, the less damage the weapon does.”
Windsor grinned.  “Sounds good.  I’ll take them both.”
“Roger that!”  Hitting more sensors on the tablet, and the mechanism got to work.
“Alright, you’re both fit to fight!  Good luck!”  He ran toward the third mech, getting inside.  All three shifted from transit mode to fighting.  They stood not especially tall.  The mechs were squat, for the purposes of being able to change direction on a dime.  On Sojiro’s mech, the missile pods were loaded on to the shoulders.  There was a rifle on one arm, but that might as well have been window dressing.  Both of the Crimson Squadron pilots knew what his weapons of choice were.
On Windsor, one arm had a large attachment that looked like a shield, while the other hand the large Carbine.  On the shoulder where the shield was stood the laser.  A strange weapon, with a very long, yet small barrel.  The power supply seemed to be connected directly to the engine.  Looking at the system, she concluded as much.  Normally that would be a bad thing, but since you couldn’t use barriers in atmosphere, her power supply could take it.  She wasn’t the type to waste shots.
“Control,” the first man said, “We’re ready to go!”
“Copy that, crewman.  Flight mechs are launching now.  Once they’re out, we’ll bring you up.”
Sojiro looked determined, cracking his knuckles.  This was the kind of battle he started this war with.  A lot higher in the air than those days, but still.  Windsor clutched her necklace, praying to the Spirits.

On the flight deck, the mechs were in position.  Kate was going through everything, as she had done before she was the tactical support for Killer Bee.  Making sure all systems were exactly where she wanted.  It had been a long time since the sims.  She took that for granted.  Quinn cracked her neck, eager to get moving.  Frost was his usual quiet and pensive self.
“Alright, pilots!”  It was Control.  “Everything is ready, you are clear for launch.  Transferring timing over to Flt Lt Frost.”
“Aye-aye, Control, I have control.”  He took a deep breath.  “Crimson Squadron, launching!”  In a blast, they jetted forward.  So much like in space, but different.  Getting to the end of the runway, they had to immediately bank up to maintain altitude.
“Let’s hit it!  Straight towards the enemy!  Remember – stay on my wing until we engage, then stay within knife-fight proximity.  And if the enemy breaks off for the base, do NOT give chase!  Understood?”
“Aye-aye!”
“Then let’s do this.”
Looking ahead, it was clear that he was right about the supporting ships not being capable of handling the enemy.  Their faster models were going after their guns, while the heavy armors were going after their engines.  All they had to do was cripple them.  Gravity would do the rest.
Bringing her targeting sensors online, Quinn cycled through her guns.  Her heart beat so fast.  This was the kind of challenge she lived for.  Wind resistance.  It had been so long since she had to factor for that.  Not since her racing days.  Some chop, no worries.  On a vehicle this small, it wasn’t a huge concern.
Frost took it all in.  The enemy was like a swarm.  They were taking on each ship one at a time.  They were putting up a good fight, but this was almost over.  Finally, they noticed them coming in.  Two of the smaller mechs broke off.
“Alright, ladies, this is it!  Keep it tight, but show no mercy!”
“Aye-aye!” Quinn shouted, shifting to combat mode.  This mech had a primary rifle with single-shot capacity, and an integrated four-barrel gatling cannon on the other arm.  Fighting with mechs in atmosphere is tricky.  While they have engines to sustain altitude, those drain fuel much faster.  Any mech pilot worth their salt knows that it’s more about the fighter battle than the mech one.  At least this far above the ground.  She took aim at the first one approaching.  This guy was smart.  Staying in flight mode, moving fast.  They kept gaining and losing altitude.  Clever boy, she thought.  Going back to flight mode, she decided to fight him on his terms.  The gatling cannon .was the primary weapon in flight mode, so she decided to come right up on him.
It was tense.  The two were continually dancing around one-another, each trying to get a bead.  She let loose a volley, but kept it short.  The enemy shifted to combat mode, but she didn’t.  It had a much larger gatling cannon on its arm, with a shield on the other.  Flying right at it, she got within its targeting straight in front.  The enemy would have to move if it didn’t want her to smack into it.  Cutting its stabilizers, it let gravity do the work for evasion.  That’s what Quinn was waiting for.  As it fell, she opened up.  Blasted through both legs, trashing the stabilizers.  When it tried to go back to flight mode, it couldn’t maintain altitude.  He was done.
Meanwhile, Frost and Kate were right on the second.
“DeMills, cover me!”
“Aye-aye!”
He hit the accelerator and went right at him.  The enemy was good, but not great.  Shifting to combat mode, it took some pot-shots at him, but with all the maneuverability in atmosphere, it couldn’t touch him.  Kate shifted as well, blasting out with her rifle.  The enemy saw it coming and moved, but it had to divide its attention.  Flying straight up and stalling, Frost shifted to combat mode and took out the heated ax that this unit had for close-range.  He threw it straight down.  The weapon was like a shot, flying straight down and smashing into the enemy’s cockpit.  Hitting his accelerators, Frost went down, grabbing it and locking it back in place.  He chuckled to himself.
“These kids are good, but we’re better.”
The air forces ships took notice of the odds looking not so grim and started firing with renewed vigor.  Seemingly realizing the strategy, two heavy armor and one regular mech cut off from the battle and went as fast as they could toward the base.
“Dammit!” Quinn swore.
“Let them go!  We have base defenses for that.  Focus on the battle here!”

Seeing the enemy coming, Sojiro locked and loaded.  As did their base support man.  Windsor brought her laser up.  Three enemies.  Not great.  Three of them, along with three gatling turrets, and two rocket turrets.  The base defenses opened up immediately.  The armored units shrugged off the gatling rounds.  They moved around the rockets.  Aligning the guns was slow.  Too slow to be a threat.
“Damn targeting sensors!” The base man said.
Windsor didn’t let herself be distracted.  The laser was her ace in the hole.  A weapon the fires at the speed of light, with a round that can blast through most small armor.  Two of the enemy were heavy armor, but they had to have a weakness, right?  Then she remembered – they can blast right through missiles!  Did that mean they could blast through them while they are still in the pods?
One of the enemy opened up its pods, preparing to fire.  Taking a deep breath, she zoomed the scope in.  It would have to be manual.  No way the system could get as close as she wanted.  A little more, just a little bit.  Then, time stopped.  She fired.  Brilliant blue, it lanced out at the enemy.  It was right on target!  Hitting the missile she was aiming at there was a split-second as it hung there.  Then it blew up, detonating the rest of the missiles in the pod with it.  Two-thirds of the mech was blown to bits, with the rest falling to oblivion.
“Nice shot!” the first man said in amazement.
Meanwhile, Sojiro was trying to get a bead on the regular mech.  This guy was daring.  It was dodging and weaving around the base’s defenses, while firing rounds at their guns.  It had taken out one of the gatling turrets, and was looking to go after the rockets.  If it took them out, they were toast.  He queued up the heat-seeking rockets.  This mech was definitely a sight better than his last time on ground.  It had so many rockets that he could cue up several at a time.  That was exactly what he meant to do.  This pilot clearly had enough skill to evade minor weapons fire.  This would take good timing.
Letting loose a volley, the enemy went back to flight mode and immediately shifted to javelin rockets.  Slammers, as they were more typically called, only firing straight ahead.  The enemy was good.  Very good.  It danced around the missiles beautifully.  He took aim.  Had to gauge how the enemy moved.  He could afford to be patient.  Watching, learning the pattern.  Finally, the last rocket exploded, but didn’t hit him.  The enemy would always make a turn to the left when it was going to come about.  That was it!  Targeting just slightly to the left, he let fly.  Predictive powers were a great thing.  As the mech came about, it shifted back to combat mode.  That proved to be its doom, as flight mode it might have had the rocket come in under it.  Instead, the round hit dead center and blew the machine to bits.
The final heavy-armor mech had its sights on the stabilizers.  Just like the other airships, the airbase was even more dependent on them to maintain altitude.  It was trying to fire missiles, but their defenses were keeping it busy enough to not be able to get a good bead.  The enemy was clearly getting agitated, as it was now being sloppier about where it struck.  There were several large holes in the hull near the engines.  Finally, it decided it had to destroy the rocket turrets if it was going to be able to do anything against the enemy.
Sojiro hit the other two up on the comm.  “Alright, here’s the plan – Heather, I need you and the other pilot to coordinate with me.  This guy is too smart to let me blast it with cluster-bombs, so I need you two to push it into a firing zone.  I’ve marked a spot on your display I’m aiming for.  Coordinate base artillery as well!  Hooyah?”
“Hooyah!”
Windsor opened up the carbine.  Its rounds were powerful, but there were only so many before the weapon had to be reloaded.  The first man had a gatling cannon on his arm, which he opened up with as well.  He saw the point to draw the enemy into, keeping the targeting matrix focused to move the enemy.  Base guns also came online.  So much artillery flying, it was a spectacle to see.
Sojiro had his guns ready.  Close.  So close.  He would have to time it so right as the enemy is going to come into his point.  When it has nowhere to run.  It made a boost up, and that was it!  He fired away with several bombs.  They were all around the enemy, seeming to clothe it in smoke.  Even more smoke after a second, as the mech started falling straight down.
“That got him!”
Everyone started breathing again.  Now it was all up to their air support.

The next enemy was blasted to bits.  Kate came from below and hit it with a rocket.  That just left two enemies left.  One heavy armor and one regular.  Quinn was already on the heavy armor.  She came in right at its backside.  The thing flew like a brick, so she had all the maneuverability over it.  It was too thick for her cannon, but she had another idea.  Pulling out her ax, she went right at the engine.  Smashing the arm right inside, it ripped the engine parts out.  Like guts out of a body.  Smoke was billowing out, but the enemy was still in flight.
While its attention was on Quinn, Kate came in from the left.  In flight mode, she went right at it.  The enemy shifted to combat mode, but that was a bad move.  Its eye-piece was right there.  With her rifle, she blasted away, blowing the whole thing to bits.  Now the enemy was blind and could barely maintain altitude.  It broke off.  Smart move.  Quinn decided not to let it run away.  She aimed a rocket at the other engine as it went back to flight mode.  She let fly and it landed.  The enemy started falling to the ground.
Frost was tangoing with the last one.  It was an ugly battle.  This guy knew his stuff, and their dance was all in flight mode.  Above, below, each trying to get a bead on the other.  Neither one appeared to have the upper hand.  Just then, there was a beam of beautiful blue light.  It came from all the way back at the base!  It hit the enemy right in one of its engines, causing smoke.
That was all the distraction he needed.  Frost shifted to combat mode, opening fire with his gatling cannon right into the backside.  It was ripped open, and time stopped again.  Suddenly, something igniting.  The whole thing then blew up in a beautiful shower of sparks and flaming metal.  The battle was over.

Heading back to base, Quinn cued up Kate on the comm.
“Admit it, that was fun.”
Breathing heavily, she smiled to herself.  Was it?  She could feel it.  Lately, every time Quinn was feeling good, it was like she could feel it too.  Like being back in Killer Bee, with their minds linked to the machine.  There were days, when they were close together outside of the machine, and she wondered if she could hear her thoughts.  This was one of those moments.  It felt good.
“Yeah, it was fun.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Okay, so it’s not dull.” – Isamu Dyson, Macross Plus

Peace out,

Maverick

The Incoming Threat

*A friend of mine challenged me to write something out based on a single picture. Challenge accepted*

The room was well-lit, was the first thing he noticed at the doors opened.  Stepping inside, he saw two screens at the front of the room, each with displays being loaded up.  There was a table that formed into a triangular shape, with chairs evenly dispersed among them.  In front of each chair was a name tag.  He saw his – RDML Conrad Mackenzie.  Taking a seat, he took in the rest of the room.  Behind the triangular table were many other chairs.  For those accompanying the people at the meeting?  Every person above the rank of Captain had an attendant or two with them.  Normally he was no exception, but he was informed before this meeting that no parties without Top Secret clearance were allowed in this discussion.  Before coming in he had to pass through a couple checks with armed personnel.  This was important.  Maybe it was just how the room was set up for general meetings.
There was a blonde woman on her tablet across the table from him.  A Navy tablet, synced to the database here.  He had one as well, but it was not a custom to be on those before a meeting.  In his experience, the most useful connections one made were waiting for these things and talking with his compatriots.  This officer, with the name tag ADM Sarah Joliffe, didn’t look like she wanted to be disturbed.  Best not to upset the vibe of a superior officer.
All of this had been so odd.  To be pulled from his command at Lagrange 2 and called back to Earth, this felt very strange.  There was an ominous kind of tone being set.  No surprise.  Things in the Colonies were getting worse and worse each passing day.  Every Colony with a UNSN posting was feeling the heat.  A couple of brushfire fights broke out in a Colony that had a Navy ship docked there.  Keeping the peace was getting harder and harder.  So why had he been called down here?
Several more people entered.  All of them had Admiral decoration on their uniforms.  I immediately stood.  Looking at all the nametags, something struck me.  Next to me sat a man who I was familiar with – Adm Masayoshi Kamina.  His face was every bit the stern, but I knew him to be a pretty amiable man.
“Sir!  It’s good to see you again.”
He nodded.  “You as well.  But please, no need to be so formal with me.”
A snort.  “All due, I think I’m the lowest ranked person at this table.”
Looking around, he nodded again.  “Perhaps.  But since you’re the commanding officer at our chief L2 base, it’s foolish not to ask you to come.”
Leaning in close.  “Does this mean you know why they’ve called this meeting?  Seems a little weird to call me in from space when they could Comm this.”
Also leaning in.  “Word is that something big is happening.  They’re talking about Fleet movement.  Maybe the 1st and 3rd.”
It hit him like a load of bricks.  That was unthinkable.  Moving the whole fleet meant combat deployment.  It would be war, for sure.
“Bullshit!  There’s no way we’d do something so openly aggressive.”
He shrugged.  “That’s just what I’m hearing.  We’ll see what happens next.”
The way that was said, so up in the air, it left him feeling the ton get even more ominous.  His hand started shaking.

After a few more minutes talking with his compatriots, the room suddenly got darker.  The lights were being dimmed.  The door opened and in walked in a woman with a lower rank.  She stood at the seat right beside the head of the table.  It was where the two sides of the triangle met, it was flat and had a space for someone to sit.
“This meeting is classified.  Ladies, and gentlemen, the FADM.”
Everyone immediately got to their fleet.  Before they even came into view in the lacking light, everyone could tell who it was.  One of his eyes was glowing red.  It was a fake.  His strong, dark features came into view.  Crisp uniform, commanding the respect of all who saw it.
“As you were,” he said, taking a seat at the front of the room.  Sitting down, the tension had jumped yet-again.  The FADM was here!  It didn’t get anymore serious.  Which had the Rear Admiral wondering again why he was at this table.  This was the meeting you have for the most senior officers in the UNSN.
Taking a seat, the Fleet Admiral hit a sensor on the console at his seat.  There was an image that came up.  It appeared to be orbit around Mars.
“This morning, at 0400 Greenwich Mean Time, one of our satellites got these images.”  He hit the sensor and it ran through a cycle.  First they saw Mars, but there were shadows around it.  Dozens upon dozens of shadows.  Maybe hundreds.  It was hard to tell.  They were around the Colony orbiting the planet.  The first stop for those looking to make planetfall.  Another image showed the objects in motion.  It was coordinated.  Then another came up showing them breaking off into various groups.  Fleets?  These had to be starships.  The last image showed the same orbit, with everything gone.
“IS believes these to be starships, and has calculated that they were leaving Mars orbit with the trajectory of Earth.”
There was mumbling around the room.  Everyone was thinking the same thing.
“At this time, we do not have an exact calculation of the number of ships.  It’s believed to be over 200.”
Hitting the sensor again, it brought up a list of names.
“Over the past year, we’ve had a series of shuttles and cargo ships leaving Earth for Mars.  Officially, they are part of an engineering team heading to the Asteroid Belt for deep space mining.  But some of the names on the manifest caught IS’s attention.  Among them are people who have been former UNSN Colonial forces from the now disbanded Colonial Navy.  There are crew members, former officers, and pilots.  After the destruction of the Agro Colony, the numbers spiked.  However, after the most recent shipment, they stopped.  There hasn’t been a single one since.”
The image changed again to the Colonial Embassy in the ANNA.  It was completely abandoned.
“This morning, it was also discovered that the Colonies have closed their Embassy in Washington, along with the EU, AUN, and Asian Confederation.  Their staff have returned to space.  All files were destroyed, all consoles wiped.”
You could hear a pin drop with how quiet it is.
“All projections lead us to the conclusion that the rumors of secret bases in the Asteroid Belt for construction of warships was true.  And now these ships are on the move.  It appears that they all did a massive boost, and then had their engines go dark.  The ships appear to be made of black steel to blend in with the darkness of space.  With no running lights to keep track of, and no way to use LADAR until they get close enough to be a threat, it is believed that their plan is to make their approach to Earth as stealthy as possible.  IS ran a projection based on what we were able to get, and said that it is going to be two to three months before they reach Earth’s orbit.  And that is why I have called all of you here.”
The lights came up again.  They could see the Fleet Admiral’s face plain as day, and it was a look of dead seriousness.
“I have called everyone here because I am going to be formally requesting that the UN give us leave to mobilize.  I have the ANNA and EU’s approval, now we just need the AUN and Asian block’s permission.  You all are in command of either the Fleets, or the central Colonial bases at Lagrange Point.  You are going to be the front line of what’s coming.  And I want you all to know what’s going to happen in the following days.  The Colonials have decided to make their move.  I don’t think it should be a shock to anyone that this was coming.  It’s been whispered about for months.”
An Italian Admiral raised her hand.  “Sir, if all of this is classified, then why are we being told about it?  This seems like something we could be open about.”
Conrad thought for a moment.  A good point.  But if they had gotten permission for mobilization and it wasn’t in the news, that meant…
“Because we aren’t going public with this knowledge.  The Fleet is mobilizing under the pretext that increased aggression with the Colonies has motivated us to move to seize control of several key sectors.  Not even a lie.  I am having the 1st and 3rd Fleet mobilize to L2 and L5, while the 2nd Fleet is going to divide its forces between the Natural Resource satellite bases and Luna.  Our statement is that this is to help keep the peace of the Colonies, as brushfire conflicts have broken out at all of those areas.  The public can think whatever they want about the actual reason.  The knowledge about the Colonial forces moving in cannot be made public.”
To keep the peace?
“War is coming.  It’s only a matter of time.  But the longer we can keep the peace, the more time we have to ready our defenses.”
The blonde Admiral looked up.  “Sir, do we have any intel on the enemy’s capabilities?  Is this gonna be another Pirate Colony?  Or do these people know what they’re doing?”
A long pause.
“We don’t know.  We have virtually no intel on the enemy, their forces, or their capabilities.  It will go down in history as the best-kept secret in all of human history.  The amount of resources, personnel, and secrecy required is genuinely impressive.  This must have taken years of work, and there wasn’t a single verifiable hole in their plan.  It scares the hell out of me, trust and believe.”
Nobody knew what to say.
“Everyone, head back to your commands and prepare to mobilize your forces.  I expect a declaration of war any week now.  But while they may have kept this from us, they will NOT catch us with our pants down.”  The man stood up, everyone standing up with him.
“That will be all.  Remember, this meeting is classified.”
As he left the room, everyone was very quiet.  It wasn’t a hustle and bustle of conversation that you’d expect after a meeting.  It was just people heading out.  The ominous tone had gone to a whole other level.  War.  Not a world war, but a war on an interplanetary scale.  The thing everyone had been fearing.  It was finally here.  In that moment, nobody knew what to say.

Until next time, a quote,

“War is fear cloaked in courage.” – William Westmoreland

Peace out,

Maverick

There Might Be Death

Incoming signals!  So many.  She couldn’t track them all.  Too much input.  This truly was a massive battle.  Protectorate forces were looking to hold their ground here.  No shock.  This natural resource satellite was central to this planet’s defense.  If it fell, their ability to defend this world would likely fall.  It was a battle of will, since the enemy had this entire asteroid fortified and was ready to fight.
Bringing the combat sensors up and her weapons online, Quinn shifted the Killer Bee into combat form.  It was time to fight!  Kate was clicking away on the shield, getting everything ready.  This was going to be one hell of a battle.  All around them, other pilots were shifting.  Vyse was already prepped to go.  No surprise.  The oldest pilot in the Fleet, but still every bit the ace he was when he was younger.  Enemy signals were off the damn chart!
“All armors, the mission is to keep the enemy defenders occupied so our bombers can punch a hole through their defenses.  Understood?!” the Flight Lieutenant asked.
“Aye-aye!” all responded.
Turning off the audio to the rest of the squadron, Quinn smiled.
“Now the fun gets started!”
“Damn right!  Enemy armors incoming!  There are enough of them where we can pick our target and go,” Kate replied.
Immediately she turned to a tight-knit group of armors.  Their proximity was weird.  Why are they so close together?  Anyone knew to stagger and keep distance to avoid not only friendly fire, but what she was about to do.  Bringing her rockets up, she locked on to the whole bunch.  In a split-second, she let loose the barrage.  Even if only 70% of the rockets hit home, they were going to kill every single one of these idiots.  This is amateur stuff.  Lancing lights into the dark void, almost every one of them hit home.  It was a beautiful spectacle that glowed, killed, then disappeared into the void.
Why would pilots be making this kind of amateur mistake?  That was too easy.
Kate could hear her mind.
“They must be desperate for pilots, so they are getting whoever can operate an armor.”
Unbelievable.  Such a senseless waste of lives.  Kids who had never seen actual combat being thrown into a meat grinder.  Looking around, that’s what it was.  Their forces were really making short work of them.  But sheer numbers were having the desired effect.  They would take down ten, only for twenty to take their place.  Quinn suddenly knew what she had to do.  Bringing her close-range blades and guns online, she blasted the Killer Bee off as fast as it would go, into the beehive they had kicked up.
It was such brutal fighting.  Cutting the enemy down, while they seemed barely able to respond.  Every time one of them would go down, the rest would try and back off.  Had they just put the kids in a pilot’s seat and told them which button would shoot?!  What made all of this more unfortunate was the fact that these armors were top of the line.  It looked like they were fresh off the showroom floor.
As before, the numbers were the biggest problem.  They had kicked up a massive hornet’s nest here, and Directorate forces were feeling the heat.  Some Protectorate forces were just rushing them knowing that most of them would be blown to bits but knowing at least one of them would get through to strike a blow on their enemy.  It led to some horrifying suicide runs.
They’re throwing their lives away, Quinn heard in her head.  It was true.  This was such a senseless waste of life.  Their processing system couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  So many enemies that being able to factor in all the combat options was impossible.  Had the enemy done this deliberately?
The view was almost beautiful for how ugly this battle was.  Lances and ribbons of light everywhere.  Rocket explosions on all sides.  The shimmering everywhere in this grim starlight was kind of tragic.

Far from the battle, Capt. Eramire and her XO watched the battle and were in awe of how horrible this was.  It was a battle that was going nowhere.  They had launched several bombardments of rockets, but the enemy just kept coming!  Their close-range guns were tasked to capacity as they had enemies making suicide runs against them.  She wanted to give orders to her subordinates, but there was nothing they could do.  Sending the bombers now would be suicide.  There was a stalemate that was reached simply because this enemy wouldn’t flee.  Nowhere to go.  It was fight or die.
In the back of her mind, she wondered what gave them this kind of determination.  Had these pilots been told that the Directorate was going to glass the planet or something?  That is ridiculous.  Whatever drove them to fight like this, she would likely never know what it was.
A signal from the D.S.N. Cold Calculation
“Are you seeing this?!” the Captain of the vessel asked.
“Yeah.  I’m not sure what to do.  If we send the bombers in now, they’ll be blasted to pieces.  The enemy doesn’t seem to care how many of their people they kill.  And I can’t move my ship in closer because that would send us even more into that maw.  We are barely keeping our weapons going as it is.”  The tactical side of her was frustrated beyond reason.
A pause.  “Alright, somebody’s gotta make the call.  My cruiser is already damaged from the lead-in with their Fleet in Operation Sledgehammer.  I’m gonna punch a hole.”
Realizing what this guy was talking about.  “That’s suicide!  They’ll send themselves right at your guns!  By the time you’re close enough to do damage to the enemy, you won’t be able to attack.”
“I know.  But I can smash this ship into the enemy and take a couple of ships with me.  That’ll open a hole in their defenses.”
It was already coming down to ships having to make a suicide run?  This battle was a clusterfuck in the highest sense of the word.
“Okay.  Good hunting.”
“You too, Violent Retribution.  Make sure it was noted how insane I am for future captains to learn something.”
She chuckled.  “Aye-aye.  Kick ass.”
“That’s the plan.  Over and out.”  The line went dead.  Everyone saw the engines on the other ship powering up and it started its approach.
“Captain, the enemy is converging on them!” the helmsman reported.
Opening a channel to their Battle Group.  “Attention all ships, one of our own is making a run at the enemy to try and open a hole.  The enemy is going right for them!  Train all your guns to clear as much of a path as you can!  Let’s see if we can at least clear some firing vector for them.”
Within seconds, all of the nearby ships were having their artillery aim right in the immediate path of the Cold Calculation.
“All armors, that goes for you as well!  Let’s clear the road for this idiot!”
“Aye-aye!”

Vyse was dealing with so many enemies.  He could barely tell up from down anymore.  It was taking all of his maneuvering skill to keep away from the swarm of enemies that were making a beeline at him.  This strategy was brilliant in its simplicity.  He didn’t have the shield of the Killer Bee.  His kinetic barrier was already falling apart.  A few more hits and it would collapse completely.
Taking a pot-shot that took down two of them, he got the call to assist a ship that was making a run to punch a hole.  How could he do that?!  His sensors were barely able to keep track of where he was, much less where this ally was.  This was madness.  Using the debris from fallen enemies and a frigate that got ripped apart in the original volley, he knew that something had to be done.  Age wasn’t helping in this battle.  Vyse could feel it catching up to him.  He was tired.  It made him angry.  I am not going to let being the oldest man out here stop me!
In that moment, he had some bravery.  Time to take a page from Quinn’s book.  Engaging his close-range blades, he stopped dodging and went right at the swarm.  Slicing and dicing right through them, he cut the remainder of the swarm to pieces.  Every last pilot in there either had their armor disabled or destroyed.  Most of them were likely dead.  Such a waste of life.
He saw Killer Bee making for their objective.  She may be crazy, but Quinn still followed orders.  She just saw fit to break ranks whenever she saw a chance to do something crazy.  The rest of their squadron was coming as well.  Ivaline, Jared, Mako, all forming up alongside them.  No sign of the Flight Lieutenant.  Their wing would have to form on him.
“Alright, we need to punch a hole!  The enemy is likely going to use the same tactics they have on us to go after the ship we’re protecting.  We’re gonna have to get a little creative.  We have to hit these guys right in front of the damn thing.  It’s speeding up, so this is gonna get hairy.  Everyone got it?”
Quinn could be heard laughing.  “This is nuts!  I love it!  Roger that, LT!”  Killer Bee blasted off.  This was going to get messy.  Why was the Protectorate throwing kids into a meat grinder?  Was there no one else to get?

Flying in, Quinn saw the huge silhouette coming towards them.  This cruiser looked so much bigger from this angle.  Her particle cannon cut down a couple enemies, then her close-range cannons blasted through the barrier of another and tore it to shreds.  She knew what they had to do.  Hitting her boosters as fast as she could, she sent the thought to Kate that she would have to make sure to feed her data on enemy position.  They’d have split-second timing to get targets as they moved.
Flying through space, dodging wreckage from armor and busted ships, their particle cannons came online.  Like gun-fu in movies, she was targeting and blasting in so many directions, all without losing momentum.  Jets of yellow light going out all over.  In front of the cruiser that looked like swiss cheese with blue lights trailing after it.  It was so quite something.
Just then, an enemy got brave.  It flew right at her, using wreckage to mask its approach or avoid her fire.  It got right within striking distance.  Kate was frantically pressing away to bring the shield up, but it was right in front of them!  At this range, there wasn’t much they could do.  The enemy pulled out their blades.  Right as it was about to strike, a lance of light went right down from their head.  Quinn and Kate both looked to above their position.  Vyse’s unit flew by.  The two heard his laughter over the comm.
“You gotta pay more attention, ladies!”
“Screw you!” they said in unison.  If this system was good for one thing, it made them damn-near finish each other’s sentences.
“It’s screw you, Flight Lieutenant to you, ladies.”
“Acting Flight Lieutenant!” they again shouted in unison.  This synchronization was perfect.  There were days that the two didn’t know if they were two people or one when they used this machine.  They could feel each other’s thoughts and actions as if it was their own.  So strange.
“Hey guys, they’re coming into range of the enemy ships!  It’s time we get out of here!” Mako said.
“Good thinking.  Everyone, we got them in.  Fall back to our ships.  Let’s see the fireworks.”

From the bridge of the Violent Retribution, Eramire watched.  They’d done it.  All of the ships had stopped firing.  Cold Calculation was out of the range of their guns.  It was headed right for a Battleship-class vessel.  It’s guns were tearing through the hull, but they kept on going.  Zoomed in on the monitor, their ship looked so beaten.  Like the kid who is going up against the bully after the bully has turned their face into hamburger.  It was admirable.
Then, for that split-second, it smashed into right into the hull of the enemy.  Didn’t even slow down.  A sudden flash of blue light, growing larger and larger.  The core was detonated!  So the plan wasn’t just to smash into them, it was to blow them up.  So he actually was talking about punching a hole in their defenses.  The explosion tore the battleship to giant chunks of white-hot metal.  Bet they never saw that coming.
“All ships!  Concentrate fire on that area!  Take out all the nearby vessels!  Let’s widen that hole!”
From there the stars lit up with huge beams of particle energy and javelin torpedoes.  The armors got out of range.  The enemy armors were falling back.  They knew that something bad had just happened.  But the fight wasn’t over.  Likely they would form a new defense line closer to the resource satellite.  It was a smart strategy.  Would give them time to regroup.  Several more ships were destroyed in the barrage.  The hole was widened.  Their defense line was falling apart.  More and more ships broke off to head inward.
Several vessels saw the chance to seize the day.  For Violent Retribution, she ordered their armors to come back in.  They had done enough.  Hours of fighting, and they had pushed the enemy back.  Time to get them back in, restocked, recharged, and then they could rejoin the Battle Group and go back into the fight.

Quinn got the order, and as much as she wanted to give chase to the dogs who had tucked-tail and ran, she could hear Kate in her mind, saying she didn’t want to stay here.  All of these kids who they killed today.  It didn’t feel right to her.  Not that she agreed, but it was time to go home.  They learned one thing today – the Protectorate was scared.  So scared that they were getting any kid who they could give basic training to, and putting them out front and center to die.  Such an ugly war.
Looking around, now the stars were littered with something else – rotting carcasses of vessels, armors, bombers, you name it.  Whole sections of vessels that still had air flowing out, showing that something inside was still alive, waiting to die or hoping to get saved.  Such an ugly war.  So much beauty in space, but these battles left it just a little less so.  Changing back to flight mode, they jetted for home.  They’d be back out to join the fight again soon enough.

Until next time, a quote,

“When you cling to life, you live in fear of death. And that fear will cloud your judgment. But once you get free of that, you can go on fighting to the end of the world.” – Rebecca “Revy” Lee, Black Lagoon

Peace out,

Maverick