The Eternal Shield

“This is bullshit!” Kate said, pounding her fist on the table.  “I trained for three years to be a pilot!  Now you’re telling me I get to be support staff?!  What the fuck?!”
“You’re speaking to a superior officer, Lieutenant!”
She turned away.  Face was beet red, and now she was being shut down.  No way was she going to let them see how hurt she was by this.  All the years of training, getting rank to fly, now this was how it ended.  Being relegated to a support role.  It was beyond insulting.  Her scores were at the top of her class.  In the simulator she was ranked in the top 10 percent of all the students at Fleet Academy.  When she put the wings on that uniform, it was the proudest she had ever been.  Seeing her father in uniform, shaking her hand was such an honor.  Would make family events interesting, since she now outranks him.  Not that she would ever pull rank.  He was retired anyway.  All that work, and this is how it ends.
The Rear Admiral looked over at her.  A very calm, stoic man.  Every part of him was the definition of a Navy officer.  Well-trimmed beard, lines on his face that showed history of making hard decisions, and a uniform that while being perfect pressed, was worn too.  The years showed on his face, on his collar, sleeve, and chest.  He was worthy of respect.
“Come with me, Lieutenant.  Perhaps when you see the machine you’ll be in support with, you’ll understand.”
“Yes sir…” was all she could manage.  Her mind was trapped in a dark place, thinking of what everyone would say when she got back home and said her wings were basically stripped away.

Once they got off the elevator to the hangar bay, it was then that she noticed how she was walking right behind a Rear Admiral.  For someone in her position to be given a tour of something by the commander of the entire ship, it was very strange.  Why would he be giving her the rundown?  What was this unit?
After a long walk, they reached a hangar bay that was marked “Authorized Personnel Only.”  An APO?  Here?  This was strange enough to get her attention.  Was this unit a new model?  That got her blood pumping again.  The self-pity feeling receded just enough for her to want to see what was waiting for her in the hangar.  Scanning his ID badge, the door opened.  Coming inside, the Admiral’s attendant hit the sensor to turn on the lights.  In front of them was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  Shining in the light, the black metal of the variable fighting armor was sleek.  It was in flight mode while docked here, no surprise.  Part of her wanted to see what it would look like in combat mode, but she wasn’t brave enough to ask.
Looking the unit over, she saw the typical fighter design reminiscent of Earth.  In space, that design wasn’t practical, but the sleeker look made it a smaller target.  Plus, with the usage of Nova Particles, they could afford to be flamboyant.  No longer were they limited to designs that made the most of booster engines.  Now the laws of gravity would bend to their will.  It was exciting stuff.  Elegant, yet completely lacking in any offensive capability while in flight mode.  That was strange.  Typically, variable armors would have at least basic weapon capability while in flight mode.  Why did this unit not?  That’s when her eyes were drawn to the back of it.  The rear of the unit had the strangest-looking boosters she had ever seen.  There were two of them, but they looked like complete Nova Engines.  The conical section at the tip of each booster was different, but the section linking to it with the unit was identical to what she had studied with Nova Particle engines.  The urge to ask questions was overpowering, but since she was already in the doghouse, she didn’t want to push her luck.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?” the Rear Admiral asked.
Finally!
“Sir, I have to ask – are those Nova engines on the back?  Why would this unit have two reactors?”
“Good eye, Lieutenant.  They are.  This unit utilizes a new system that has never been tested in the field before.  Observe.”  Looking over to a technician who entered the room.  “Let’s see the combat mode.”
“Aye-aye, sir!”  The young woman pulled out a tablet and hit some sensors.  Gravity tethers came down and lifted the fighter up.  It began to shift, with the cockpit going into the chest piece and disappearing.  No surprise.  Protect the pilots.  The head piece came up and had just the single glowing red eye.  Black armor, with yellow segments throughout.
“Beautiful,” Kate whispered.  Then she saw something – the two engines were now on large panels on the back of the shoulders of the armor.
“I’m not following, sir,” Kate said.  “I mean, it looks cool, but what does it do?”
The Rear Admiral turned and winked at her.  “Come into the booth.  It seals so we’re protected from Particle exposure.  We’ll show you.”
They started walking to a door on the far side of the hangar.  Looking back at it, the unit seemed so regal.  On the arms were gun barrels.  They were only exposed to show off.  It was clear that they typically folded into the armor itself.  Very cool to look at.  The legs had no real feet.  Hence why it had to be lifted up to do this.  At the bottom were pointed boosters.  While fighters of the modern age didn’t depend on boosters for mobility or turning in space, they still had them for sudden bursts of speed.  Essential while in battle.  All the cold black and vibrant yellow in the armor.  It reminded her of wasps back on her planet.

They went through the door and it led to a room with consoles in front of a large window.  At them sat technicians.  They had specs for the unit pulled up.
“Sir, everything’s ready here,” one of the techs announced.  Just then, the room started to go up!  This was pretty neat stuff.  Was this hangar designed for this?  Why had she never seen this place before.  So odd.  Now they could clearly see the armor hanging in suspension.
“Show the Lieutenant the shield,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
“Aye-aye!”  A few sensors were hit, then the engines on the shoulder started to shimmer.  Light particles were flowing out!  Made sense why they were in this sealed room now.  Direct exposure to Nova Particle was dangerous.  What were they going to show her.  A shield?  How was that possible?  After studying the particle, she had learned that while they could alter gravity around any contained space, there was no way to focus them in such a way that they could provide a constant shield.  Not without an insane power draw.  The Nova Particle engines worked by being able to create new particles while using them.  There was a restriction on the engines that kept them from drawing to the point that they couldn’t refill the standing supply.  Had they found a way around that?
Just then, she looked at the armor.  All over the body, tiny slots opened.  From there were coming lights.  The cold black metal, with dozens of tiny yellow lights.  It was pretty to look at.  Reminded her of a Solstice tree back home.  Were particles coming out of there?  No, they weren’t.  Then, a series of cannons dropped down.  They were going to shoot it?!  Risking damaging the equipment they were going to take into battle?  Seemed needless.  This was something they could have shown her in a simulation.
“Watch closely, Lieutenant,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
“Aye-aye, sir.”
One of the techs pulled up a display on her screen where it showed a system.  The name of it – Eternal Shield.  Eternal?  How had they found a way to get past the power draw?!  So many questions, but she was told to watch.  The guns came online.  One of them opened fire directly in front of the armor.  The tech furiously entered in information onto her panel.  Right as the beams were going to hit, little hexagons of light appeared!  They deflected the beams effortlessly.  The hexagons were created by the tiny lights on the armor!  What was the tech entering stuff about?  Then, a gun behind and to the side opened up.  Now the tech was really scrambling, but as before, the light shapes appeared and deflected all the shots.  It was amazing to look at.  All three guns opened up and the tech was sweating bullets, but she was able to keep up.  Not a single round hit the machine.  When it was done, the slots closed, and the particles stopped coming out of the engines.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?”
Kate was in awe.  “Sir, I have so many questions.”
“Speak freely.”
“Aye-aye.  First how are you able to solve the problem of power draw?  Something like this must take a colossal amount of particles to make work!”
A technician gave her a winsome smile.  “The twin engine drive.  Well, technically the shield is twin engine.  We also have a third engine inside the machine to power the rest of the systems, such as weapons and propulsion.  But the shield is controlled by dual-engines that work in tandem.  By working together, their individual power isn’t doubled, it’s squared.  We’ve been able to put the system through hours of testing without worrying about particle draw.  There is a protocol in place to remove the TD Blanket from the system, but we have yet to encounter such a situation in even the most stressful tests.”
This put her in even more awe.  “Incredible.  So, how do you make it work?  I saw the technician pounding away on the controls.  Is this something that has to be calibrated while in use?”
The girl at the controls nodded.  “That’s right.  Not only that, but you have to constantly adjust the system.  It’s part of how we keep the power draw at a minimum.  We can’t have the entire shield active at all times.  The particle drain would rise exponentially.  The job of the support technician in the fighter is to constantly adjust the shield to deal with income fire.  While the pilot is doing the moving and fighting, it is your job to keep the shield right where it needs to be.”
“What that means,” the other technician continued, “is that you have to constantly be keeping track of battle data and adjusting the system on the fly.  It’s like analyzing statistical probability in battle at all times and being able to adapt for it.”
The very idea sounded monumental.  To constantly be tracking things, and watching every section to know where and when attacks would come in during the heat of battle, no ordinary pilot could do it.  You’d have to be damn-near superhuman to do this.  That’s when she suddenly felt the pride coming back.  So this was what they were going to have her doing!  A task that was as important as it was difficult.  Let the people back home make fun of her.  They had no idea what she was tasked with.  The wings on her uniform looked a lot better again.
“I understand,” she said.  “So, if I’m gonna be the support tech, then who’s the pilot?”
The Rear Admiral smiled at her.  “I’m glad you asked.  I believe the two of you are acquainted.”
Someone from the Academy!  The idea put a huge smile on her face.  So many able pilots who she would love to be paired up with.  Put in countless hours to make sure they were perfectly in sync with one-another to be able to predict each other’s movements in battle.  This was suddenly unbelievably exciting.
“They should be heading down to meet us right now.  Let’s head out.  Excellent work, everyone.”
The techs all stood up and saluted.  Kate was having such a good day.

As they started back, Kate was already planning how things would go.  Wake up early, study specs.  Her and the pilot could spend hours in the simulator.  Early mornings, whatever duty shifts they had, then the rest of their spare time would be getting to the point where they could read the tone of each other’s voice and predict each other’s actions.  So many fantastic pilots she had graduated with, all of whom would be perfect for this.  It almost made the wait to see who the pilot was unbearable.
Starting back across the hangar bay, she noticed something by one of the regular armors.  The pilot was talking to someone.  This was someone she definitely recognized.  Fire red hair, freckles on her face, it was a woman who was the bane of her existence – Quinn.  Back at the Academy, this girl was every problem that the instructors had.  She was brash, cocky, and took horribly stupid risks.  It all culminated on her taking off with a training armor and pulling a stupid stunt that got the machine trashed, as well as two others.  Everyone just assumed that she was put on the short bus out of the Academy when she was packing up her bag and leaving.  Good riddance, she had thought at the time.  The Fleet didn’t need people like this infesting their corridors.  What was she doing here?  Maybe demoted and serving as a mechanic or something?  The thought pleased her.  Are they forcing her to fix the armors after she trashed one?  Or mopping the floors?  A fitting job.
“Ah, Lieutenant Jelineau!” the Rear Admiral called out.
Quinn looked up and ran over.  She saluted.
“Sir!  Lieutenant Ann Jelineau reporting for duty!”
“Glad to see you made it.  Settled in?”
“Aye sir!  So, when do I get to see this bird you’re gonna have me flying?”
She’s a pilot?  There really is no justice in the galaxy.  This is why people see the Directorate’s Fleet as a joke in some places.
“I just got done showing it to your support tech.  I’ll give you the full tour as well.  But, let me introduce you to your support.  I believe the two of you are familiar with one-another.”
The two looked at each other and while they tried to hide it, it was all over their faces’ that neither liked this.  Kate felt a pit in her stomach.
Oh no!  This can’t be!  Anyone but her!
Holding out her hand, Quinn looked right at her.
“Good to see you again.”
Taking it, both women squeezed tight.
“Likewise.”
And just like that, her good day was utterly destroyed.

Until next time, a quote,

“No man can be explained by his personal history, least of all a poet.” – Katherine Anne Porter

Peace out,

Maverick

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Lucien’s First Take: Westworld Season 2: Comic-Con Trailer

My friend Maddie got me into this show just recently.  I got HBO Now on my phone because I refuse to miss the latest season of Game of Thrones.  I figure paying $15 for a month is worth it.  I will be paying $15 again when I reactivate it for this.  Westworld is awesome.  Such a compelling narrative, dark science fiction, a world that is both intriguing and horrifying.  And there are so many unanswered questions about the nature of the universe that series takes place in.  Like, where is this park located?  They talk about orbital launches in the series, so is this in some kind of space station?  I refuse to believe that they were able to clear out some massive part of the midwest in America for this astronomically-huge park.  Or if they did, I want to know how.  With all the unanswered questions at the end of the first season, as well as a climax that took me completely by surprise, it’s time to go back in to see what happens next.  And it just so happens that HBO gave me a lot to think about with their latest trailer.

Just so you know, I am going to go into MAJOR spoilers for the last season, so if you haven’t seen it, I cannot stress enough – stop reading here!  Go watch it, then come back.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

We begin with the iconic piano of the series.  But now the paper that made the music play has blood all over it.  It cuts to Bernard, standing by a river looking down at something.  It has the stripes of a tiger, but maybe I’m just seeing things but it looks like it has the face of a bear.  What is up with that?  A strange shot to include in the trailer.  Perhaps a sign of things getting out that they were experimenting on?  I have some thoughts about that, but let’s keep going.

Next there’s some dude hanging by his feet from a tree, swinging back and forth desperately trying to reach a gun on the ground.  Is that one of the guests from the end of last season?  I’m assuming so, as the entire robot staff had been brought back to life to exact some truly psychotic revenge on them.

Then it cuts to a shot of the facility’s control center.  It seems that absolutely everyone is dead here.  We see the pussy-ass British guy and my least-favorite character, Maeve, going through the mess.  Is the implication that she is the one who killed everyone?  That’s weird.  The only two Hosts who were free in here were dead by the end of the last season.  But since it’s been established that they have Hosts working in there, perhaps they decided to rebel with the rest.

Back to the world of the park, we see some of the Guests from the end of the last season on the run, with some of the Hosts running them down and killing them.  Evan Rachel Wood is back in her Wyatt persona, seeming to take great delight in making short work of the Guests.  More carnage inside the saloon at Pariah.

The last thing we see, though, is what really interests me.  A couple of vehicles dispatched by what I am assuming is security for the park, with Bernard driving with them!  So, is he siding with the Guests in this conflict?  That genuinely interests me, considering he had as much reason to hate them as any of the other Hosts.  That one shot has gotten me hooked more than anything, and I cannot wait to see the answers to what will happen next.

Lastly, a shock-moment – Ed Harris’ character is still alive!  HOW?!  I would have thought that Dolores/Wyatt would have ripped him to pieces for what he did.  How many Hosts are there that have been itching to have a piece of him?  Despite being a twisted fuck underneath it all, I did kind of like this character, once his motivations are fully explored.  Seeing him still breathing just amazes me.  He’s covered in blood, but alive.  Man am I stoked!  At the end he even appears to be starting to smile.  Whatever is pleasing this twisted bastard must be amazing.

What are your thoughts?

Initial Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

The Night Before Deployment

They gave me a new uniform.  It was so strange, to be looking at myself in uniform again.  The worst part was getting my hair cut.  Looking at myself, with hair like a pixie doll, it was strange.  I spent years growing that hair out long.  It had become part of my identity.  But I was a pilot too.  That’s how it goes.  The bucket hat that I was wearing, in this black getup, made me feel powerful again.  Getting into uniform was fun.  I was glad that somebody remembered that my hips are wider than other girls.  Jack used to joke that I was “a white girl with a big black booty.”  Always acted annoyed, but you can’t fight the way your body is made.  It has only been an inconvenience when getting pants and getting into uniform.  G-suits are made to squeeze around a body, so they fit loosely when you first put them on, then tighten when you hit the sensor.  Since men and women pilot, they knew to keep the design open to different body types.  I respect that.
Pinning the last of my medals and rank identifiers on my chest and arms, I was ready to face him.  Jack was sitting in the other room.  He told me he was stoked to see what I look like in uniform.  The old uniform I had was blue, back in my days serving alongside the Earth Forces Navy.  My outfit was the part of a special Colonial section.  This new uniform was black, with red on the trim.  It was imposing, and a sign of Colonial solidarity.  The fatigues were black as well, but without the red.  I would have to wear those on the ship.  Told Jack I would model them for him next.
“Geez, honey, you ever coming out of there?”
Snapped back to reality, I groaned.  “You try putting on a uniform and tell me how quickly it goes.”
“Don’t know if I would fit in yours, babe.  Care to find out?”
I rolled my eyes, but still felt good.  He was trying to be positive, so I didn’t worry.  I love him so much.  The idea of leaving him to go fight in a war, it scared the fuck out of me.  But then I remember what it was like, watching that Colony explode when the Earth Forces attacked.  What if that had been here?  What if Jack had been one of the bodies that I saw floating up into space?  Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t handle the thought.  That is why I am fighting.  If there was a chance that I could watch the man I love be that person…no, I wouldn’t.  I will fight, as hard as I possibly can, to keep him safe.  He’s my man.  Mine.  No planetside fuck is going to take him away from me.  I laced up my dress boots, straightened my hat, and walked out.
The look on his face, mouth agape, made me blush a little.
“That good, huh?”
He smiled at me, raising his Band and snapping a pic.  “You fucking know it!  Holy shit, babe!  You look incredible!”  Getting up he came over.  Looked me over, felt weird.  Then he ran his hand over the name insignia on my chest.
“Pilot Barnes.  Awesome.  That uniform is so fucking hot on you.”
“A pity it’s a dress uniform.  Wouldn’t mind being peeled out of it.”
A wink.  “Well, maybe we’ll get to find out what that’s like yet, Pilot.”
“Yes sir!”
“Now, go change into your fatigues, Pilot!  I want to see how it looks!”
I snap to attention.  “Sir!”
Heading back into the bathroom, he pinches my ass.  I wheel around, looking indignant, but he just grabs me and kisses me.  This commanding officer role-play could be fun.  He seems to be enjoying himself.  Plus, given how nervous I feel, this makes me feel a lot better.
“Snap to, Pilot.”
“Yes sir,” I whisper, pulling back.

Back in the bathroom, I am very gentle about removing the dress uniform.  Not going to risk it getting wrinkled.  You wouldn’t believe it, but proper folding is something you learn in basic.  Among all sorts of nit-picky bullshit about the service.  I hang the uniform back up, and then turn to see where my fatigues are sitting on the counter.  It’s then that I catch sight of the implant modulator.  Like most women, I have an implant that I use as birth control.  I can automatically refill it.  It is dry.  Jack and I had been talking about having a baby for months.  Looking down at my hand, I see the engagement ring.  The wedding was supposed to be during the summer cycle.  We had it planned out that we could celebrate being pregnant at the same time as getting married.  Cut down on celebrations.  So many friends had already asked if I was carrying.  No luck yet.  But things had changed.  Now I was back on active duty.
I couldn’t risk getting pregnant now.  Taking out the modulator, I insert the end into skin where my implant is.  Part of me feels real shame.  Not only was I putting my wedding on hold, I was putting all of our plans on hold.  Even if we won the war, how long would I still be on active duty?  When would we get another chance to start a family?  It killed me inside, but it is what it is.  A pop, and the birth control injection is complete.  Another three years where I don’t have to worry about getting periods or having babies.  I’m sorry, Jack.  I’m so sorry.
Getting my mind back on more positive things, I open up my fatigues.  The pattern, so familiar, but just in different colors.  My name is on these as well.  Much easier to put on than my dress uniform, I slip in.  Should get into the issued-underwear.  That’s right, you have uniform underwear in the military.  It’s weird.  And a touch uncomfortable.  Oh well.  I’m doing this outfit, and I want to do it right.  Once I get everything situated, again I look at myself in the mirror.  It’s so strange.  This is some other girl.  Some girl I don’t know.  We’re just meeting for the first time.
“Hey you,” I say into the mirror.  “What’s your name?”  The girl just stares back at me.
“You say something, B?”
“No.  Just mumbling to myself.”  This girl and I would get very close, very soon.

I step out of the bathroom, and once again he is in awe.  Takes a pic on his Band, then sits on the edge of the bed.
“You look incredible.”
“Thanks.”
His eyes pierce right through me.  “You scared, babe?”
Don’t want to admit the truth, but I can’t lie to him.  “Yeah, I am.”
Then came a response I didn’t expect, “so am I.”
I look at him in shock.
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re a good pilot.  I know you are.  You’re gonna kick ass out there.  But wars are complicated.  All it could take is one thing going wrong and the wrong time.  Of course I’m scared.”
“Doesn’t help that if we lose, I’ll probably be taken to a military prison.  Or at the very least, lose my wings.”
“Yeah…”
We are there in silence for some time.
Finally, he looks up at me.  “Come here.”
Quietly, I obey.  He suddenly grabs my arm and throws me down onto the bed.  Pinning my arms above me, He gets on top of me.  My breathing is so fast.
“All we have is tonight.  At 0400, you head out, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Then let’s peel out of this uniform!”
A grin comes to my face.  “Yes sir!”

I wake up in his arms.  Naked, sticky, with my uniform and regulation underwear all over the room.  That was incredible.  I haven’t had sex like that in years.  Jack was an animal, but not once did I take issue.  All we had was tonight, and he made the most of it.  Still a little tingly.  Guess the orgasm didn’t fade just yet.  Ride the high, as it were, right?  Girls have it so much better than guys in this regard.  Pleasure is a different thing for women than men.  Get us into enough of a mood, and every part of our body is basically like a sex organ.  Our entire body becomes sensitive and reactive.  Erogenous zones become a none-issue.  That’s what happened to me just now.  Amazing.
Still, I won’t be able to go back to sleep.  Gotta do something.  Maybe a run will help.  I grab a quick shower, to get the sticky off.  Some places are just going to stay sticky for a while.  Can’t get up in there.  But it still feels good.  I throw on a tanktop, sweats, and my Colonial Navy sweater.  They gave us exercise clothes too.  Thought of everything.  Lace up my shoes, then head out.  It’s still cool.  The weather cycle is still in the morning.  I see my breath in the recycled air.  Still dark, too.  The night-time filter is still active.
I take off.  Moving at a gentle pace, the rhythm of running helps to calm my nerves.  It feels so good.  As I move down the dimly-lit pavement, I think about what Jack said.  He’s right.  Wars are unpredictable.  Anything can go wrong.  Everyone keeps telling me what a kick-ass pilot I am.  They might be right.  But I can’t go allowing myself to think that way.  The moment that I allow myself to start thinking that way is the moment I die.  I’ve watched far too many pilots get swept up by their own ego.  They stopped being cautious and careful.  And they paid the price for their arrogance.
Each step, I can’t help but notice that I am heading toward a destination – the port.  Why?  It then hits me – there is someone else that I need to say goodbye to.  A girl that I am not going to be seeing for a very long time.  Depending on how this plays out, maybe ever again.

She’s right where I left her.  The marks from where I was dodging impacts are still there.  Time was, I would already be here, around the time that I will be heading out, working on getting her back up to shape.  I’ve had some dangerous run-ins with meteors and other space weather.  Since the only person who touches my bird, outside of the crew who does replacements of hull plating, is myself, I took repairs very seriously.  Would test the girl after I was done, just to make sure everything was running smoothly.  Part of me couldn’t wait to be doing that to my new bird, whatever it would be.
My rig looked very sad, sitting there.  Like a wounded pet that you have to abandon.  That’s how I felt.  Like my dog got hurt and I had to leave it for a few years.  Yeah, kind of felt like a piece of shit.
“I’ll make sure she’s here waiting for you, when you get back.”
I turned and saw Red, standing there.
“I knew you’d come in to say goodbye to her.  I don’t care if we are back-logged to the point that ships have to wait outside, I won’t be moving her.  Hand to god.”
Walking over, I put my hand on his big, old, bushy beard.  “Thanks, Red.  But I don’t know when I’ll be back to see her.”
“Don’t matter to me.  If you never show up again, she’ll be right where you left her.  So long as I’m tending this dock, that’s how it will be.  And I’ll make sure that whoever replaces me knows it too.  The Queen Bee ain’t goin’ nowhere!  But I know you’ll be coming back.  Might be parking a fighter next to your girl, but you’ll be back.”  His big, gentle smile from beneath the gray hair.
I hug him tight.  “Take care of yourself, Red.”
“You too, Queen Bee.  Go kick ass out there!  Make those planetside bastards pay for the lives they’ve taken.”
Pulling back, I nod.  Time to get back home.  It will be a much longer jog back.

When I arrive, I see that the lights are on.  A familiar scent greets me as I get to the door.  What a man, I have.  A miner, and a cook.  When this is all over, he’s going to make one hell of a father.  That’s the plan.  After the war, no more modulation of the implant.  I want a baby with him.  First thing after I get back, we get married.  Then, we get pregnant.
Opening the door, he looks up at me.  “Welcome home, B.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Do your duty as you see it, and damn the consequences.” – George S. Patton

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s First Take: Blade Runner 2049 Teaser Trailer

My girl and I recently saw Deni Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival.  It was smart science fiction done perfectly right.  I have SO been missing smart sci-fi.  With all the stupid shit that I get subjected to all the time in big blockbusters, it is just awesome that I saw a science fiction film that isn’t just shit blowing up and people killing people.  In fact, the killing in the movie is treated as something that should be seen off-screen.  He wanted to make the movie about the characters that it’s happening to.  I love this guy’s movies.  He takes complicated themes and applies them to kinds of films that we’ve seen a million times.  Granted, they aren’t for everyone, but he doesn’t shy away from that.  When I heard that there was going to be a sequel to Blade Runner, I was so fucking nervous.  I mean, there are so many ways that that could be fucked up.  Since Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, my nerves were piqued.  But then I heard who is directing it, and I saw Arrival.  Now I know that it is in perfect hands.  You couldn’t ask for better.

Got to thinking – maybe Arrival was Denis trying his hands at sci-fi.  Like, he wanted to see what he could do with a story that is as overdone as it gets, just to see if he could tackle a film that is slow, methodical, and filled with all kinds of subtext.  He nailed it, and because he nailed it once, I am positive that he can do the first film justice.  They have released a teaser trailer, and this is all I am going to be watching of the trailers that are released, because this was all I needed to see to get interested in seeing where the story goes.

We open with a scene of the dismal gray of the world.  Since the original film borrowed so much from noire style, I like that this movie is making sure to remind us that they haven’t forgotten that.  We then get to see a very orange world.  Where is this?  The film doesn’t up and tell us that, which is all for the better.  Maybe one of the off-world colonies?  That honestly would be pretty sick.  Our protagonist is approaching some dilapidated structure.  Already we are seeing subtlety.  Did you notice the door to the building that our protagonist enters?  Above them there is some writing.  It’s Korean.  That’s just awesome!  Since the street language from the original film was an amalgamation of various languages, it’s kind of cool that the building that this guy enters has Korean on it.  Villeneuve is already all over making this feel right.

Our protagonist is played by Ryan Gosling.  Excellent.  After watching Drive, I know that he’s the perfect pick for a movie like this.  He can do slow plotting and subtle acting.  He’s one of those actors who really gets into a role.  Can’t wait to see how he acts off of Harrison Ford.  Speaking of, we get to hear our favorite Blade Runner!  Yay!  And he doesn’t look medicated!  My biggest problem throughout ALL of The Force Awakens was how Ford looked like he couldn’t possibly care less about being in that film.  Now he actually looks like he gives a fuck.  This can only mean good things.  Villeneuve is something if a deranged perfectionist, so the way I see it, if Ford was willing to stick this out, it meant something to him.  Either that or the studio held a gun to his head and threatened a lawsuit if he didn’t comply.  But I’d like to think that he did it because he wanted to.

There are so many questions.  In the original film, the assumption was that Deckard was a replicant.  The theory is that all Blade Runners are.  They create replicants to hunt other replicants.  It’s a twisted reality.  So, since replicants have a life span, what’s the story with him?  What has happened since the events of the original film?  Gosling’s character says that things were “so much simpler back then.”  I take it that the replicant situation has gone more than a little out of control.  It was hinted that that was the inevitable result of using cloned people to do the dirty work that no one wanted to do.  That some kind of violent uprising was inevitable.  What’s happened?  Since it is Villeneuve working on the film, I know that there are some amazing answers that will be coming.

We leave the orange-tinted world that Deckard is in, and go back the rainy city.  A reminder to us that it is in the world of Blade Runner?  I suppose.  But the real treat is getting to hear a snippet of that iconic theme as the title comes up.  Font and all, this is so perfect.  I cannot wait to see where this goes.  Next October can’t come fast enough.

Initial Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Arrival

arrivalWhen the film ended, and I looked over at my darling companion, the first thing she said is that this movie was complicated.  That’s a statement that can and DOES apply to all Denis Villeneuve’s movies.  This is a guy who expects nothing less than perfect from whatever he makes, and because of that puts out some of the most underrated films that I have ever seen.  The man loves to make his movies complicated, with both themes and symbolism that you can easily miss.  When my girl and I got to talking about the movie after we got done watching, I pointed out something that I am reasonably certain I caught that she missed.  I won’t say what it is.  I hope that there are going to be some fantastic arguments with people about all the parts of the movie.  This was the most unexpected sci-fi movie about aliens landing, and it is this movie that makes me absolutely certain that the sequel to Blade Runner (one of my all-time favorite films) is in good hands.

The plot of the film follows Amy Adams’ character, as a professor of language who seems to have had a tragedy befall her life.  I can’t tell you what it is.  Trust me, it plays into the plot in a big way.  While dealing with this, a series of strange crafts come to Earth from the stars.  The military asks her to come with them and help to establish contact, as they are completely unable to communicate with the beings.  The film chronicles her efforts to speak with the creatures, and decipher the one question that has the entire world on edge – what is your purpose on Earth?  A question that is far more difficult than you’d think to ask.

I cannot begin to praise how believable the elements of this film are without an INSANE level of exposition.  This feels so genuine.  So much of that pends on Amy Adams for her performance.  This woman is a rising star in my eyes of actresses.  She is fantastic in this role, and I hope to see her in more fantastic movies in the future.  The way she explains the usage of language and shows just how much of an academic understanding she has of the medium is wonderful.  When the film wants to show that knowledge, it does so incredibly well.  Amy Adams is the glue that held this movie together, and it is was damn-near perfect glue.

But let’s not cute short the rest of the performances.  Jeremy Renner is very good in his role.  You can see the development of his character from a science who takes what Adams’ character believes not seriously at all to respecting her as he sees just how good she is and how hard she is willing to push herself.  The relationship that develops between the two is believable and by the end, you feel their connection without some cliche kiss in the rain or something like that.  Just through little expressions, you see them growing on each other.

Then there is Forest Whitaker’s character.  In fact, everything to do with the military in this movie was worlds better than what you see the military like in other films.  Sure, they are quick to assume deadly intent, but you can see just how powerless and fearful they are.  This is so much bigger than any one nation, and as the situation grows more and more tense, globally, it makes sense why they are so on edge.  Whitaker grows to depend on his two experts feels real and even how he is having to obey orders when he knows that the situation is more complicated.  I hate in movies how the military is treated like some “let’s just shoot them” group.  Sure, we in ‘Murica do tend to shoot first and ask questions never, but in a situation where we don’t know if shooting might result in global destruction, even ‘Murica would have to bend to the idea of trying to find a peaceful solution.  Granted, there are some “we need to blow them up” moments, but there is enough time of them being unsure and trying to look into other alternatives that I can believe when it gets there.

Now let’s get to the effects in this movie.  I won’t claim that they are perfect.  In fact, there is one scene in-particular where Adams’ CG hair is so bad that it is kind of funny.  But this film keeps the visual effects to a minimum.  And when it wants to shine, it really does.  Since the entire conflict in the film is about translating the aliens’ language, the scenes where we get to see both sides communicating are just awesome.  I love the visual design for the language.  I wonder how much effort went into designing it.  Since Villeneuve tends to be an insane perfectionist in his movies, I get the feeling that it was a lot.

Lastly, if you are going to see this movie, keep in mind that it’s dense.  If you’ve seen this director’s other words, you should know that going into it.  It asks some pretty hard questions, and I can’t wait to get it on blu-ray so I can rewatch it and maybe do a Critical Examination of the film and some of the stuff I saw.  My compatriot wasn’t in the right mindset for how dense some of this got, but I could tell she was impressed when I took some of it and laid it straight.  Plus, I loved getting to watch a movie with her.  We don’t get to hang out nearly enough.  But she’s a busy girl.  Adulthood, am I right?

This was a fantastic movie.  It’s not for everyone.  If you are looking for some alien thriller with all kinds of action, you are DEFINITELY going to the wrong place.  I honestly recommend that anyone who wants to see this movie avoid trailers.  They spoil things.  This director doesn’t get the respect he deserves, but hopefully movies like this get him some more mainstream acclaim.  I can’t wait to see what he does with the Blade Runner universe.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

A New Squadron

I hadn’t had a pixie cut in years.  It never felt natural.  But there are rules when you’re a pilot.  You can’t have long hair.  It gets in the way of your helmet.  Getting it shaved was not what I wanted.  The price for having to answer the call, I guess.  My head felt cold.  That was not cool.  But what do you do?  There are no quick answers to life’s problems.  Especially now.  War had officially been declared by the Colonies.  The Colonial Fleet was massing and preparing to strike.  Earth’s forces were also gathering.  This was worrying.  Earth had a larger force than us.  By about four to one, really. This was a war that was either going to be very quick and bloody defeat, or a long, protracted victory.  Way I saw it, it couldn’t be one or the other.  War is a frightening thing..  At least if you have any perspective.
This wasn’t the first war I had been involved with.  Truth is, we stood with the Earth forces during the Uprising.  Got to know some amazing pilots.  The girl I roomed with back then had been all kinds of fun.  For a while, we’d been close.  Part of me wondered if I would end up meeting her in the battles to come.  It was a sad prospect.  Friends shouldn’t be killing friends in war.  I suppose I should say that people shouldn’t be killing anyone.  But that’s how life is.  Groj knows, the people of Earth had done enough killing of one-another in war.
More thoughts came to me as I walked down the hall toward the hangar.  Like how it did feel nice to be back in a jumpsuit.  The haircut aside, I did like being back in uniform.  Had been off active duty for too long.  Looking at the logo of my squadron on my arm, it was a very uplifting feeling.  I was looking forward to seeing them again.  We lived all over the Colonies.  I hadn’t seen some of them in a couple years.
Then there was the thought about Jack.  I was glad that he wasn’t going to be seeing combat.  He works in R&D.  That’s fine by me.  I want my boyfriend someplace safe.  When this war is over, if I survive, I’m going to propose to him.  It’s time we buried the hatchet already.  Everybody’s been wondering why we haven’t.  The fact was that we hadn’t talked about it.  I guess we took the peace we had for granted.  Not this time.  I’m going to ask him to marry me when I get back.  Would be a twist on how these things normally were supposed to work, but hey, us Colonial women aren’t like those prissy snobs back planetside.
“Hey, Baillie!” called someone, busting my train of thought.
I looked up to see one of my wingmen, Mick.  He was the lankiest man you’ve ever seen.  Almost looked unhealthy.  But he was a damn-good pilot.  I’ve watched him pull turns that would sheer most ships in two.  The wonders of a g-suit.
“Hey Mick,” I called back, smiling at him.
He matched pace with me as we headed toward the hangar.
“So, you hear anything about the mission?”
I shook my head.  “No.  It’s all very hush-hush.  Way I see it, they got something big planned.”
“After what happened at Valentine, those Earth fucks gotta pay!”
Very true.  “Damn straight!  I know that Fleet Command has a plan.  Way I hear it, we’re unveiling new Mechs.  Jack won’t say anything about it, but I know when he’s working on something big.  Way I figure it, they’re making Mechs for fighting planetside.”
“Think the fighting will get that far?”
A cold look came to my face.  “They attacked us where we live.  How else are we going to attack them?”
A nervous nod.  “Yeah, I guess.  How is Jack, by the way?”
“Worried about me.  Naturally.”
Mick smiled at me.  “He’s a good guy.”
A warm feeling inside.  “Yeah.”  The hangar door was in front of me.  The warm feeling died.  Now it was time to see what the war ahead has in store for me.

The first thing you notice about this place is just how big it is.  It’s fucking enormous!  Filled to the brim with Mechs, fighters, and other craft, all of which were being worked on.  Something about the sound of machinery, welding, and people working on it just makes this warm feeling inside.  While I’m not much for being at war, I will admit that I desperately missed this kind of atmosphere.  Maybe I’ll look into being a shuttle pilot when I’m done.  It’s easy work, and I could be in a place where I wanted to be.
It was then that I saw Lieutenant Gabriel Sinclair.  His Mech stood out among the others.  It was sleek, beautiful, and in landing mode.  It could change between the two.  Sinclair was something of a hero among us Mech and fighter jocks.  During the Uprising, he lead a team of four that took out an entire Automaton base by themselves.  The footage from that battle is incredible.  Watching those tin-cans explode while desperately trying to kill five Mechs was just amazing.
Sin’s Mech was so nice to look at too.  There was a rule in the force – the only person who does repairs to his Mech is him.  I swear, I’ve seen that man up tinkering with his beast long into the night.  It’s rumored that it’s a real monster to fly.  Other pilots who’ve tried end up getting messed up by the g-forces and how difficult the controls were to keep in line.  I guess it takes a special kind of pilot to take on that beast.  In landing mode, it stood on four legs.  Like a walking tank, but sleeker.  The units around his were much the same.  A man with his own unit of specialized Mechs.  That’s the kind of jockey that the rest of us dreamed we could be.  I’m a damn good pilot, but I know that I’m not that good.
The fighters were all gathered in one area.  Sleek, beautiful, with that steel that had special coating on it to make it immune to space weather.  You laugh, but it’s a real thing.  Out here, gravity waves, tiny clouds of dust particles, or just radiation spikes are a real problem.  Space is a fickle mistress.  And if you don’t treat her right, she’ll fuck with you.  It’s something us jocks are trained for.
Next to those, there were the Valkyrie-class fighters. Hadn’t seen those in a while.  These things are giant buckets of hellfire.  They can rain down javelin torpedoes in such a way that they can turn all manner of starships and structures to rubble in seconds.  They fly like bricks, though, so it requires a special kind of pilot.  I’ve worked with those before.  They’re cruel, but once you learn how to work them, they aren’t like any vessel you’ve piloted.  Part of me wonders if that’s what piloting Sin’s Mech is like.
Which lead me to where the Mechs were.  Standing on four legs, each of them was quite imposing.  In fighter mode, they were incredible.  The Swiss army knives of warfare.  Weapons for all occasions.  Long-range javelin torpedoes.  Medium-range cannons.  Close-range sonic burst cannons.  There were also Mechs equipped with long-range range particle cannons.  These guns were incredible.  Watching them work is amazing.  There’s this little glitter-like effect after it fires with particles dispersing.  So pretty.  One of those was going to be mine.  I’d have to tinker with my new bird, but it would be worth it.  Sin’s got one thing right – always know your machine.
The two of us turn a corner and that’s when we see them – our old squadron.  It was just like old times.  The lot of us, chilling in a hangar, drinking coffee and waiting for orders.  You never realize how much you miss something until it’s gone.  Angie comes running over.  The girl is super-tiny and had a fact that makes her look 12.  Especially with her hair short.  It’s adorable.  She wraps her arms around me.  The rest of the team comes over and greetings are exchanged.  Like no time at all had passed.  Nobody talks about the conflict at hand.  Best to avoid the ugly subjects until they are staring you in the face, right?  However, the good feeling was not to last.
A man in an officer’s uniform came over to me.
“Pilot Wynters?”
I stand at attention.  “Yes sir!”
“As you were.  I have orders for you.”  He holds out a piece of paper.
“Understood, sir.”
“Carry on.”  And he walks away.
The others look at me.  I look at the papers.  My jaw drops.
“What is it?”
I look at them.  “I’m being reassigned.”
“What?!”
“That’s bullshit!  We fly together.”
Mick looks at me critically.  “Who are you being put with?”
My eyes meet his.  “Wild Dog squadron.”
Angie’s eyes go wide.  “That’s Sin’s squadron!  They’re an elite unit!”
It doesn’t seem real.  Like, how did I qualify for this?  I’m a good pilot.  But not that good, right?  No.  This has to be a mistake.  Just then, I turn around and there he is.  Lt. Sinclair.  His shaven black hair, just stubble on his head.  The one eye that’s blue and the other that’s red.  It’s fake.  Lost in an explosion.  The scar on his face.  He looks so serious.  It’s humbling.  This man is a legend, and he wants me to fly on his wing.  It doesn’t seem real.
“Sir!  Apologies.  I didn’t see you there.”
Then there’s something I don’t think anyone’s ever seen from him – a smile.  “It’s alright, Pilot, First Class.”
A promotion to boot?  “Sir?”
“If you fly in my squadron, you aren’t just a pilot anymore.”  He points to their Mechs.  “I’ve seen your record as a pilot.  It’s impressive, to say the least.  23 engagements, and never a scratch on you.”
My cheeks go beet red.  “Well, that’s just when I’ve been a Mech jockey, sir.  My days as a Valkyrie pilot weren’t so good.”
A small chuckle.  The man is so soft-spoken.  “True.  But you’ve never been shot down.  Piloting one of those buckets, that’s an accomplishment unto itself.  Have you ever been in combat with a specialist Mech?”
I shake my head.  “No sir.  Simulator only.”
“I see.  I can work with that.  Follow me.”
Looking to the others, there are brief goodbyes.  It is really sad.  Everything is changing so quickly.  They tell you never to get too attached to a squadron, because it can change just that fast.  But we were family.  Typically, most squadrons are.  Advice might be good, but soldiers are family.  Something civilians will never understand.

Heading across the hangar, Sinclair shows me to where his Mechs are docked.  It’s there that I get to see each of the pilots.  These people all have a reputation of badassery, and kill counts that rank at the top of their class.  The look over at me and I can feel their eyes judging me critically.
“You know what kinds of Mechs these are?”  Sin asks.
“Yes sir.  Custom Sylph models.  Made in similar specifications to your own.”
He nods.  “Very good.  Have you ever trained with something like this?”
This question had a purpose.  I could feel the prying.  “Well, sir…I kind of did some simulator testing with Sylph models, back when I was in the Academy.  It wasn’t, strictly, approved by my teacher.”
That soft smile of his grew.  “I know.  I looked over the footage that was captured.  You did well, considering the controls were completely alien to you.  How did it feel?”
I was becoming more comfortable with this man.  “Amazing, sir.  It was a monster at first, but once I got a feel for it, and was willing to push myself to see what it could do, that felt awesome.”  The memories came back.  “Always wanted to see if I could pilot the real thing.  But I knew that I never would.  Got assigned to Locust Squadron, and that was that.”
“Well, those days are gone.”  He pointed to a Mech just behind his own.  “That Mech is yours.  It’s fresh off the factory floor at R&D.  I saw that you have a knack for heavy artillery.  So, I had the tech people there fit this one with specialized micro-missiles.  They are light, but powerful.  And they can be stored in bulk.  Granted, they have to be specially attached, and can be removed for recon or stealth missions.  So there is additional weight.  You’ll have to adjust for that.”
This machine was so beautiful!  The sheer black hull.  The African Wild Dog insignia on it.  This Mech was the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.  Almost felt like crying.  Leaving the squadron was hard, but how often does a person get the opportunity to do this?!
Sin then got serious.  “I brought you into this squadron.  I hope you know what that means.”
Frog in my throat.
“I expect you to be better than other pilots.  This squadron does not get shot down.  Ever.  We do not fail a mission.  Ever.  During combat, I expect absolute perfection.  If you fall short of that, I’ll kick your ass right back to the squadron you came from without a second thought.  There are no second chances with me.  There are no regrets.  It’s either the best, or nothing.  Understand?”
I wish there was a word to describe the apprehension and humility I felt, being stared down by this man.  “Yes sir.”
“Good.  I’ll give you some time to get to know your bird.  We’ll be going on some testing runs for you to get acquainted with it and learn the controls.  I expect you to learn quickly.  You said that you learned by pushing yourself in the simulator.  Keep that in mind when we are out in space.  Understood?”
“Sir!”
“Alright then.  I’ll leave you to it.”  And just like that, I see the best pilot in the fleet walking away.  I’m going to be on his wing.  But if I don’t do well enough, I’m out.  To say that I felt the pressure is an understatement.  I was terrified.  Yet, when I looked back at my bird, something called out to me.  Like it and I had met before, in another life.  The pressure was high, but this was MY bird.  Time to tinker with it.  Like any good jockey, the first thing you do with a new piece of equipment was to know it up close and personal.  First things first.
I climbed the ladder to the cockpit.  It opened, and I saw that the inside was unlike any setup I had seen.  It was more spacious.  Climbing inside, I cued up the visual display.  It was on multiple screens around me!  So cool.  The top of the cockpit closed, and I could see why these things didn’t look like they had windows.  They didn’t.  The windows were just displays from exterior cameras.  Made to show you the outside without risking structural damage.  Reaching down, I took the controls.  Let me tell you, it was in that moment that I knew – this was MY Mech.  No one else’s.  Ever.  Live or die, this bird and I were together.  Time to get to work.

Until next time, a quote,

“A wise man changes his mind.  A fool never will.”  -Icelandic Proverb

Peace out,

Maverick

Ruins From the Floating City

For reasons that are utterly known (to someone, I’m sure), the city of Rix was completely off-limits.  Nobody had been allowed in that place for the last five years.  It was guarded more thoroughly than any place since Fort Knox.  Thing is, after the gold there was stolen, it was understood that no security if fool-proof.  Kudos to the team who did that.  It went down in history.  As did they because, to this day, no one knows who they are.  Not only did a team steal the biggest amount of gold in the world, but they got away with it.  The sheer levels of balls that must take is beyond comprehension.
Rix was started as the first city of its kind.  A self-sustaining, totally green floating paradise.  It would be a test for what could be done on other planets.  No need for any outside help.  Clean energy sources included wind, solar, and using the motion of the ocean to power turbines underneath the city.  Their food would be grown there in greenhouses that required no soil.  New breeds of plants were developed for this.  The water could be harvested from the ocean, with a method of replenishing as much of what they took as possible.  In other words, the impact to the oceans would be negligible.  They would also pump out a lot of clean air.  There was even a plan to take the garbage floating around the ocean and have some special system to break it to down to its chemical basics.  Ahead of its time is the nice thing.
People were signing up all over the place to be a part of this.  With promises of universal health care and a living wage, people from all walks of life were putting in applications.  There was one catch – you had to live in that place and were unable to travel off the city.  In other words, once you go there, you go for life.  Unlimited contact with people outside of the city, but you were stuck there.  You could send money to family outside of Rix, if you wanted to.  So it was a good place to start over.  There was even supposed to be a thriving tourism industry.  However, what people didn’t know was how much of the city was blocked off.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
All the major tech companies were all over this.  Every company that wanted to prove that they were the best was investing in this.  It was a supranational structure.  It was to sit in international waters, with no oversight from any government.  There was to be a formal committee that answered to various national groups, but that was supposed to be in a situation where action that affected outside nations or required assistance from any country was required.  In other words, these people answered to no one.  A libertarian paradise, am I right?  Well, not entirely.
This place quickly became known as something of a police state.  There were cameras almost everywhere.  Aside from houses and bathrooms (though there was some questioning as to whether cameras were in the bathrooms after a certain video was leaked), cameras were watching everything.  There were supposed to be law enforcement agents all over the place.  There were no cars there.  All travel was done via a massive public transportation network.  All cargo was controlled.  What came off the island was some of the greatest explosions of technology the world had ever known.  Tech that seemed years ahead of its time.  People were so happy to see this that they didn’t seem to notice or care about the parts of the city that were getting increasingly unsettling.  People are stupid, after all.  Give them a newer and better phone and the idiot millennials and their children (Generation Zero.  Named so because of the lack of population growth that followed a worldwide outbreak of a disease that killed over half of all the world’s offspring) are putty in our hands.
For a time, things were amazing.  Tourism was bustling, as the city was continually evolving.  New tech was integrated seamlessly there.  Anyone who wanted to know what the cutting edge was went there when they had their Expo.  The Rix Expo was the hottest ticket that had ever been.  From there, we had solar technology that put what we had been using to shame.  We could now grow food in humid places simply by harvesting the water in the air via a system that actually worked.  Jungles were regrowing as old farms were being replaced by cheap and more productive alternatives.  Brazil took full advantage of this.  It’s why their economy is third in the world right now.  After the US food production died and the Dust Bowl came back, Brazil took center stage.
A golden age appeared to have come to humanity.  One where we could be turning back the clock of our environmental damage.  Hell, people wanted to take the ideas from Rix and apply them to space colonies or colonies on Mars.  EUSP (European Union Space Program) and CASE (Canadian Aeronautics and Space Exploration) were working to see who could get their first.  Even the Russians got in on the fun.  After years of fearing the worst, humanity thought that they were going to rise again.

Then Rix went silent.  In one day, the city went dark.  All signals coming from there had been cut off.  Transportation was cut off.  Nothing went in or out.  It all happened so suddenly.  A commission was started to investigation.  The EU and Japanese navy (Japan grew the most because of the tech from Rix.  They had been one of the principle funding nation), along with the CANS (Canadian Allied Nation States) fleet went to investigate.  Whatever they found there, it has never seen the light of day.  The Rix Report, which was commissioned by the UN, was almost-immediately buried.  No copies were ever released.  A version which a hacker got out was so redacted that you couldn’t make out more than a few sentences here and there.  It was insane.  People wondered what they had found.  But nothing was forthcoming.  At all.
Military forces were used to quarantine the city.  An official statement is that no travel is allowed to or from the now-dark city.  It was the ultimate secret.  One that so many nations were working hard to keep.  It was obvious that the key information was known only by the highest levels of government.  The media used every trick in the book to try and get out of soldiers and government members what the truth about Rix had been.  They got nothing.  Because everyone knew nothing.  Only Presidents, Prime Ministers, Admirals, and Generals know the truth.  Then the media tried to get the people who were part of the team who had gone into the city to talk to them.  A dead end.  Of the team of ten who had gone in, three were committed to mental hospitals not long after.  One committed suicide.  The rest refused to say anything.  The ONLY quote that was released about what was found on Rix is this –

What I saw there will never leave me.  I’ll get old and die, and it will still be there.  That’s all I’ll say about it.

The man broke down sobbing not long after.  Of course, the families of those who had been there were demanding more.  But they were stonewalled.  There were lawsuits.  Several companies and governments were sued to an extreme.  The city had had a population of 3 million.  All of the cases were settled out of court.  Sometimes you’d have family members chartering ships to try and force their way in to get to the people they loved.  One woman was so desperate to find her wife that she crashed her ship into the city, hoping to be able to brute force her way inside.  Bad move.  This city was built to withstand hurricanes that would level coastal cities.  It was built with a kind of incomplete dome over the top.  The sides were the ultimate fortress.  The woman’s boat sank, and she died.  As did the crew.
The military now guards the perimeter of the city.  A non-stop patrol of warships.  Any vessel that tries to get through is detained.  In the worst case, destroyed.  It’s a worldwide coalition.  The first of its kind.  Even Russia, a nation that has always seemed eager to be a contrarian was involved.  CANS was the dominate member, considering that they have the largest military in the world.  But Japan was eager to help.
The big question – why had no one attempted to go back to the city?  What had happened there?  What was in the Rix Report?  It did exist.  Somewhere.  There was a database that was supposedly under lock and key.  No one could access it on a system that could have external access.  It was in the vault at a base in an undisclosed location.  The only people with access are those at the top level of government.  There are no troops who protect the location.  It’s all done via an automated system.  This level of secrecy is unheard of, which makes people believe that whatever was found in Rix is beyond a matter of national security.  It must be something of global risk.
None of that mattered to me.  I wasn’t there to learn the truth.  I wasn’t there to try and steal tech, as so many others had tried before.  I was there to find my father.  He had gone there to try and start over after the divorce with mom.  Now, he was one of the many people who had been declared Missing in Rix.  Mom raised a fuss.  She sued.  Honestly, I think it was to get child support, but I wasn’t brave enough to say that to her face.
I needed to find my father, and to know what happened to him here.  Why had the city gone dark so quickly?  What had happened?  Who was left?  These questions were at the back of my mind every step of what got me here.  Me, and the love of my life.  We were here to learn the truth.  If he was still alive, I was bringing him home.  No matter what happened.  If I died, so be it.  It was worth it for that.

My team and I had spent months studying everything about the pattern of the naval blockade around Rix.  They kept out about 5000 meters from the city.  They didn’t have much need of patrol boats, as they could just use radar and sonar to identify any incoming vessels.  Some people had tried to sneak in with small personal submersible devices.  Didn’t work.  Any approach was guarded very carefully.  Larger warships would be guarding the approach from further out.  All shipping lanes in the region were watched.  It was a good defense.  So odd that it was done to keep people from this place.  Whatever was in the Rix Report, it was clearly worth all these nations that had always hated each other coming together.
The plan was simple – we would have to use the disguise of actual flotsam to mask our approach.  What we would do is ride the currents, attached to a hollow log.  From there.  There was one that went right past the city.  It was how they gained power, after all.  At least one of the ways.  We had downloaded the schematics for the city.  There was a maintenance tube outside one of the turbines.  We would exit the log once we were close, and then swim to the port.  It had taken almost all the money we had, but Emily and I were able to procure an access key.  It was a chip that had to be implanted within the skin.  Both of us got one.  The access was rudimentary.  We would have to find a way to upgrade our access once inside.  We knew what to look for.  Since we figured that the tech we got from them was stuff they used, we knew how we could upgrade our access.  It would require visiting an administration building of some kind.  All things we’d have to learn once we got inside.  Our schematics would get us in, but the rest was up to us.
Each of us used Bands.  They were tech that could be attached to our arms.  It had some really cool displays.  Early holographic interface.  We would have to keep them in our packs until we were inside.  They would short otherwise.  With the Bands, we wouldn’t need to constantly pull out a map or anything.  To think, people used to rely on tablets.  These things were cutting-edge.  So expensive.  The reality is that we had gone beyond bankrupt for this little expedition.  We knew that we wanted to find our father.  However, I knew that Em wanted to bust this story wide open.  She wanted to tell the world about what had happened there.  If it was so dangerous, then people needed to know.  I admired her bravado, but I was less sure.
Our last night, we got together with the team.  There were six of us.  It was a sad night.  We didn’t know what was going to happen.  The lot of had drinks and talked long into the night about why we didn’t want superhero films to make a comeback.  They had gotten so bad.  It was good that they died when they did.  If we had had to suffer more of that Avengers garbage, I honestly think that I would have lost my mind.  The days of PC culture were ugly, but we moved past it.  A lot of death taught people to value what they have.  A drop in the population by a little under a billion due to old age had been a good teacher.  I got to talking with Griffin (my oldest friend) about his idea to join the colonizing space effort.  He had always wanted to go to space.  I told him that if we come back with a big scoop, the lot of us will be rich beyond our wildest dreams.

That morning, at around 12:30 (local time), we set off for Rix.  Our sea plane met up with a boat that was already at the rendezvous point.  It was a tiny island, about 100 kilometers from the blockade.  The boat had everything.  We said our goodbyes, and got underway.  The trip out was so quiet.  We told the owner not to wait for us.  If we had information, we’d be sending it via secure link via satellite.  Also downloading it to a physical drive, just in case.  Can’t be too careful with what we might find.  Em wanted to be optimistic about finding our father.  I wasn’t.  I knew that if we did find him, he would likely be dead.  It hurt, but it was true.
We got to the drop-off point.  Suiting up, we checked to make sure we had everything.  Our packs had basic supplies (first aid, food, water, our Bands, data drives, clothes, shoes, and tasers.  We also had a couple knives between us.  We couldn’t be too careful, given that we didn’t know what we would find).  After getting into our wetsuits, we hobbled on to the back.  The log was waiting.  Em got in first.  As I was looking to get inside, the owner looked at me.
“Last chance to back out.”
Securing the mask on my face, I checked the audio.  “The last chance was years ago.  I didn’t look back.”
Getting into the log, I felt the ship moving.  The water was flowing through, but we were securely hooked inside.  Kind of a surreal experience.  Unnerving, too.  I had had training on diving, but all that I had done had been in places where you could see the bottom.  This was the open ocean we were in now.  Nothing but endless abyss.  Not gonna lie, that part scared me.  The fear of the endless bottom.  I’m sure there’s a name for that.
About an hour in, we felt the log get detached.  Our calculation had been successful.  We were riding the current.  Now all we could do was wait.  There was enough oxygen in these tanks for 12 hours of diving.  We would only need six to get us within range.  The wait seemed interminable.  Especially since we could only talk when necessary.  Otherwise we risked being heard by the blockade.

In truth, it took four hours for us to reach the city.  Those hours sucked.  Not only did I only have the inside of the log to look at (the alternative was the abyss outside), but a smaller boat came over to have a look.  They stopped, and for a second I thought they might try and hook us.  But they kept moving.  The rumbling in my stomach was insane.  But it was over now.  We continued on.  The sun was coming up.  It would make us more noticeable, but by now we were well past the point where they would be looking for us.  Inside the perimeter.
Then I saw it – the shadow of the city.  The ominous shadow came out of the gloom like some kind of demon.  There had been fish surrounding us.  They cleared out as we got close.  Time to ditch the log.  I motioned for Em to head out the base, while I headed out the top.  She knew the side of the city we were on, and motioned for me to follow her.  The girl had always been better at having a sense of direction.  More swimming in the gloom.  Kept looking at the structure above.  It was massive!
About twenty minutes of swimming, and the two of us reached our destination.  The hatch was smaller than I had imagined.  But I guess it was just for emergency use.  There was still power!  Em held up her arm.  The hatch opened with a burst of bubbles.  Inside was all black.  The two of us swam in.  When it closed, we were in darkness.  Right as we were about to take out our flashlights on our belts, lights came on inside the space we were in.  “Draining Water” a display showed.  “Standby.”
Then, the liquid inside was drained.  “Re-pressurizing Interior.”  A whistling noise that was more than a little deafening.  “Cleared.”  Another hatch opened in front of us.  A series of lights came on flashing towards it.  I guess that meant that we were supposed to go in. The two of us crawled inside and then came out into a much larger space.  Time to change.  Taking off the helmets was fun. It felt like it had glued on to my face.  As I took the wetsuit off, I noticed just how freeing this space was.  Em was shivering.
“Come here,” I told her.
She did as bidden, and I held her close.  “You just wanted to hold me when I’m naked,” she giggled.
“That and stop you from going into shock.  But hey, whatever floats your boat, am I right?”
She kissed me, very softly.  So beautiful.  Her hair was soaked, flowing down around her.  If only the two of us could be like this on some island.  Very Blue Lagoon, as it were.  But that would have to wait.  We both got dressed.  We dried out our arms and then put the Bands on.  I pulled up the display, to see where I was.  The map showed that we were in Maintenance Section 421.  No surprise there.  We had done a rough estimate of where our father would be.  Residential was a long ways away from us.  It would require get on the tramway.  Here’s hoping that we could make it work.  But first, we had to get to Administration, to upgrade our clearance.  Lots to do, but since no one was on board, we had plenty of time.  I looked to Em, who just nodded.  Her hair was in a ponytail now.  Looking fly and ready to conquer the world.  In the dark, I noticed her glowing eyes.  They were fake, naturally.  The girl was born blind.  I knew her when she was little, unable to see.  It had been such a hurdle to overcome.  Some of the tech from this place gave her her eyes back.  It was so eerie, in a way.  The glowing eyes had scared the hell out of me more than once at night.  The light went off when the eyelids closed.  But more than once I had come down a hall, only to see those glowing eyes looking at me from a dark room.  I swear, the girl was just fucking with me to do it.

We left the wetsuit stuff where it was.  Assuming we succeeded, we wouldn’t need it.  Once we got the information to our people, we would try and commandeer a boat out of here.  Try and run the blockade.  Not a great plan, but there it was.  And if that failed, we’d send up a flare and they’d come in and take us.  The damage would be done by then.  The truth would be known.
Lights were coming on as we went down the corridor.  The walls were white.  It was off-putting.  This place was so clean it squeaks.  Literally!  Em kept close.  The Bands had a kind of rudimentary scanning tech embedded in them.  We could get readings about all sorts of stuff.  The biggest question that both of us had as we went through here – where were all the people?  If they were dead, we should have seen bodies.  The cameras this place was famous for saw every step we made.  There were times, and I know this sounds paranoid, where I could have swore that they were watching us.  It was so disconcerting.
All this clean space.  Then, as we went down the hall, music came on!  Scared both us.  To go from such quiet to soft, gentle music playing.  There was a voice that came on with it.
“To facilitate workplace cohesion, music will be played.  Thank you, and have a good day.”
An automated signal?  Looked at Em.  She just shook her head.
We came out of the corridor into a much more open area.  It was some kind of desk, where people would check in.  Workers at the beginning of their shift?  Uncertain.  Right as we were going to really start to question it, that’s when I came upon the first major clue inside.  On the front door, there was a flashing sign.  It read –

Warning: this sector is locked down until further notice.  Phenotoxin B detected inside.

Right as I was about to ask Emily what she thought, I saw the look on her face.  It was one of sheer terror.  Her eyes were looking at something.  My gaze followed, until I realized what it was.  The door was connected to a huge, open window.  I saw lights outside.  The warning signs that were like the one I saw.  Was every place locked down?  This was a problem.  Then I looked down, and felt sick.  Outside the window, there was a smear.  It looked red, but grimy.  Coagulated blood, maybe?  I followed the smear down to where a body was laying on the floor.  It had a face that had once been human.  Now it was deformed to an extreme.  Like it had been smashed with a hammer.  Wait, that smear, it was following the face.  Had their head been smashed into that?  Whatever happened here, it was bad.  For the first time since I started this did I realize that the two of us might be in real trouble.  And now there was no way out.  The only choice was to move forward.

What had I done?

Until next time, a quote,

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” – Bran Stark, A Song of Ice and Fire

Peace out,

Maverick