Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hard Transitions: Part Two-Star Trek Fan Fiction

Art by KillaBC
(Author's note: Just for giggles here are the links to my first two Star Trek stories. Out of the Darkness and Hard Transitions: Part One.)

Douglas, Connor Edward: Captain, USS Saratoga NCC-31191-A
Birthplace- New Sucia Island on Izar (Epsilon Bootis 3)
Attended Starfleet Academy from 2360 to 2365

First assigned to the Excelsior-class USS Scott Carpenter, Ensign Douglas was tasked to ferry a Klingon delegate across Federation space in a long range shuttle to their consulate located in Shackleton Station in orbit above the planet Amaknak. While in route, Douglas' shuttle was attacked by Orion pirates and due to battle damage had to crash land on a nearby uninhabited planet. While on the planet's surface, Douglas and the Klingon, Grig of the House of K'pon, were able to at first evade then capture the ten Orion pirates still intent on killing them. After the Orions were taken prisoner, Douglas was able to hack into the communications systems on their ship. Douglas quickly learned that Grig's uncle hired the pirates to assassinate his nephew in an attempt to cover up his own involvement in the smuggling of illegal substances into the Klingon Empire.

Douglas and Grig formulated a plan to expose the conspiracy, but it required them to take the Orion's ship and fly to the Klingon world of Khitomer. After arrival there, the two sneaked onto the estate grounds of Grig's uncle and captured both the records and several personnel involved in the smuggling operation. Once exposed, Grig killed his uncle and turned over the leadership of the House of K'pon to his father.

Grig's father quickly petitioned the Klingon Chancellor to recognized his assumption of leadership of the House of K'pon to prevent any usurpers from coming forward. The Chancellor not only recognized the change in the K'pon hierarchy but had it join his governing coalition. In a show of appreciation not only did Douglas personally receive an award from the Chancellor but Grig's father honorary adopted the human as a second son.

The Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire, not quite sure what to make of this entire event, pulled some strings and had Ensign Douglas transferred back to his homeworld of Izar where he was assigned to the Saratoga, then being built in orbit around the planet. Further complicating the matter, when the Chancellor learned of Douglas' fate he threw a fit over what he perceived was a dishonor shown to the young human. This caused Admiral Sponer, Third Fleet commander, where the new Saratoga would be assigned, to promote Douglas from ensign to lieutenant jg –far ahead of usual practices-to smooth things over.

Since Douglas' major at the Academy was warp field dynamics he was naturally assigned to Engineering helping to finish construction on the ship. As chance would have it, four of Douglas' friends from his Academy class joined him on the new Saratoga: Ubiad Sallem, Mya Farias, Zhao Shih, and Pujit Kothari.

During the rush to get Saratoga launched, Douglas and Farias developed a relationship and became engaged. The actual marriage had to be postponed when positions of the new Freedom-class starship, USS Justice opened up for Farias and Sallem. Later events during the Dominion War caused Douglas and Farias to end their relationship.

Shih, Zhao: Lieutenant Commander
Chief Engineer and acting first officer of the USS Saratoga
Birthplace- Anhui Province, Federal Republic of China, United Earth
Attended Starfleet Academy from 2360 to 2364

Zhao Shih comes from a family with a long history in space exploration that predates the establishment of Starfleet. One of Zhao's ancestors was the first person from the old nation-state of People's Republic of China to walk on Earth's moon. In fact, one branch of the Shih family was part of the first group of colonists to take up residence on that planet. Later members of the Shih family served with distinction in the Earth/Romulan War and the Four-Years War against the Klingons.

All this history contributed to Zhao at first rejecting any notion of applying to Starfleet Academy. A certified prodigy in multidimensional temporal physics, Zhoa graduated from Beijing University five years early with hopes of securing a slot at the physics research center in orbit around the planet-less star, LP944-020. Zhao's talents alone guaranteed his application to Starfleet Academy was immediately accepted.

As before at Beijing University, Zhao graduated the Academy early and had a short posting on the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D), before it was destroyed.

Sallem, Ubiad: Captain, USS Justice NCC-81445
Birthplace- State of Palestine, Greater Levant Confederation, United Earth
Attended Starfleet Academy from 2360 to 2365

Always a bit of a restless spirit, Ubiad applied to Starfleet Academy to escape the boredom some associate with life on Earth in the 24th century. Having majored in studies of exobiology, Ubiad spent his first few years on the USS Charles Darwin surveying prospective colony worlds. The crisis years leading up to the Dominion War forced the Darwin back to Federation space with Ubiad jumping at the chance to serve with his best friend, Connor Douglas on the Saratoga. Ubiad was assigned to security while there but was soon transferred to the USS Justice and became one of that ship's tactical officers.

Like many others, including Douglas, combat losses at the start of the Dominion War turned into quick promotions for those with the luck and skills. Within six months after being transferred, Ubiad became the first officer on the starship Justice and later its captain after Robert Wingo became the commanding officer on the USS Lexington. Mya Farias was also reassigned to the Justice as the same time as Ubiad and the two became involved during the course of the war.

Farias, Mya: Lieutenant Commander,
Second officer and chief ship operations officer on the USS Justice
Birthplace- Rosario, Republic of Argentina, United Earth
Attended Starfleet Academy from 2360 to 2364

While born in the Argentine city of Rosario, her family moved to the asteroid colony of Asteria in orbit beyond Mars when she was six years old. Both of her parents had received their post-graduate degrees in life support systems management and the asteroid colony governments were always eager to recruit residents to replace those leaving the Sol system.

Mya attended the first two years of Starfleet Academy at the satellite campus on Asteria before transferring down to San Francisco. Graduating with a major in linguistics, Mya was initially assigned to Izar to assist the resettlement of Bolian refugees who were forced off their colony world due to massive volcanic eruptions. As the buildup to the Dominion War proceeded, she was transferred to the Saratoga where she became involved with Connor Douglas. The two became engaged a few weeks before positions opened up on the USS Justice with her and Sallem who were strongly urged by Starfleet to transfer over due to personnel shortages.

With the transfer to the starship Justice, Mya became entered a relationship with Ubiad Sallem.


Captain's Log, USS Saratoga
Connor Douglas in command
Stardate: 53269.6

We are still four hours away from reaching the Mandith system. Renegade Cardassian forces have already arrived and in far greater strength than was reported. The Federation starships stationed in the system have engaged the enemy and as of our last communications are still operational but will not last much longer. They are pursuing a highly modified form of guerrilla warfare of attacking the larger ships then jumping to warp before they can be pinned down. Once clear, they turn around an attack another group before repeating the process yet again.

The static system defenses on both the various civilian habitats and drydocks have so far not allowed any enemy forces to gain a foothold. Klingon warriors and Federation Marines along with Cardassian locals are standing ready to repel borders once they beam over.

“Connor, you still with us?” LCDR Zhao Shih asked softly while looking at his friend and now captain.

“Yes, I'm still here,” Connor said turning himself in the command chair slightly to right to look at his first officer still growing accustom to the idea he was now the captain.

Connor didn't say anything else for a moment choosing to look around at everyone on the bridge performing their duties. The Saratoga's bridge now had more in common with that of its younger Sovereign-class sister ships. The only difference being that all the duty stations were now seated positions that included the automatic safety belts that were tied into the inertial dampers. Connor's thoughts were a jumble of different subjects but he couldn't help but wonder why in the hell it had taken Starfleet so damn long to include those features.

“Zhao,” Connor finally said, “be ready to head down to engineering if Lieutenant Axor needs help once we go into battle. He's a good kid but I'm not sure he is ready to head up your department while we're engaged in combat.”

“Aye sir,” Zhao responded not quite ready to remind Connor that the very same things had been said about each and everyone one of them at some point. Deaths during the Dominion War had caused untold thousands of Starfleet personnel to be promoted far ahead of schedule. Zhao had to admit that while the Bolian, Wren Axor was a genius with the ship's systems he had much to learn about how to handle those under his command.

With the return of combat the bridge fell silent again as all the personnel retreated into their duties. While first officer Connor kept busy making sure everyone stayed alert and ready to respond when the proverbial hammer fell. Now as captain, his private thoughts and memories kept him hostage.

Delta Acuben 4, Starbase 738
Stardate: 51251.2
Earth date-May 10, 2373
Seven months after the start of the Dominion War

The view from the window of the damaged laboratory showed a motley collection of battle damaged Starfleet vessels surrounded by a swarm of manned repair pods that looked like Terran bees. Several of the massive support and maintenance ships hovered nearby all with their various landing bays open allowing what amounted to continuous operations.

Lieutenant Connor Douglas' repair team were under orders to ignore the lab itself and just repair the optical data conduits that ran behind the bulkheads as quickly as possible. The recent engagement against a Dominion cruiser and its escort gunboats and was a success but the ship had still taken some heavy blows. While the Saratoga wouldn't need any outside support for repairs Captain Boone wanted the ship ready to join the task force being assembled to try and take the occupied Kotin system.

It was while his team was replacing one of the six junction assemblies that Connor saw the starship Justice from the window. The immature part of him immediately wanted to run to the nearest communications terminal and try and contact Mya. But he knew his duty would not allow such a distraction given the current situation with the Federation engaged in a battle for its very existence. With any luck, Connor thought to himself, Admiral Carter would call for a captain's conference before the various starships left the system allowing to have a few off duty hours.

Eleven hours later that is just what happened and as luck would have it the starships Saratoga and Justice ended up in nearby parallel orbits that permitted transporter operations. Connor easily got permission from the duty officers from both ships to beam over to the Justice.

The interior of the USS Justice had the same general appearance and layout of the much larger Galaxy-class vessels and he stepped out of that ship's starboard transporter room knowing the location of his fiancee quarters. Part of Connor's mind knew it was probably a bad idea to beam over without talking with Mya directly beforehand but time was critical and the saying, “fortune favors the bold” was running through Starfleet like a bad case of Rigelian flu.

The software that automatically opens the doors on the Justice immediately recognized Connor and allowed him entrance without even announcing his presence to occupants inside the quarters. That was when he saw both Mya and Ubiad on the bed with the sheets chaotically twisted and them caught in the act. For a long second the three friends looked at each other in the same sort shock and disbelief that had heralded the end of uncounted relationships from the beginning of humankind.

Connor just calmly smiled and shook his head before turning around and leaving. Ubiad quickly followed saying something but Connor didn't hear a word of it. When Ubiad came within range though Connor quickly turn and punched his former best friend in the chest just above the heart. The blow was one of those special maneuvers taught at the Academy that gave human a chance against stronger species. Ubiad immediately fell to floor unconscious with Connor only taking enough time to make sure the man wasn't dead. By that time Mya had come out of her quarters with one of the sheets wrapped around her body, the sweat of her and Ubiad's lovemaking still gleaming on her body.

“You could have told me it was over,” was all Connor said before returning to the transporter room and beaming back to his ship.


“All hands,” Connor said returning to the present, “this is the captain, we are fifteen minutes from dropping out of warp. Go to red alert and battle stations, sick bay and damage control teams be ready to respond because this is going to be messy.”

All told Starfleet had dispatched seventeen capital ships to help relieve the defending forces. The Klingons had sent ten as well but Admiral Cartwright's original idea was to hold them in reserve. The fact that the renegades had attacked with over fifteen ships instead of the six that intelligence said would appear throw that plan out. All the allied vessels would be engaged with everyone just hoping the Cardassian IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems on the static defenses mounted on the habitats and drydocks had been updated. While it was a certainty that the newly reactivated defense systems were updated for the Starfleet vessels already in the system if the Cardassian computers didn't recognize types of ships entering the area the renegades were going to be happily surprised at their good luck.

As the minutes ticked down with the flagship, USS Destiny, started transmitting real-time tactical updates and assignments for the other ships of the emergency relief force. Saratoga was tasked with repelling two renegade heavy cruisers that were attempting breach the defenses of a cluster of drydocks holding six deactivated Cardassian warships of similar size.

“Here we go people,” Connor called out, “tactical, open up with phaser strikes on the enemy ships but hold the photon torpedoes until we're five-thousand kilometers out. And tactical, set the torpedo pattern for sierra-six, that should confuse them both. Once the photons are fired, swing the ship around and put us on a course of 331 mark 061 at full impulse. Then I want all power to shields and forward phasers.”

The helmsman on duty was the young Ensign Reid who had long frustrated Connor Douglas with his silly but bloody gung-ho attitude. “But Captain Douglas,” Reid said while laying in the maneuver, “that will bring us under the two renegade ships.”

“Exactly Ensign,” Connor said, “you wished for a glorious space battle before the war ended and you're finally getting your wish. They're aren't any civilian habitats nearby and I rather blow those enemy ships away before they have a chance to reposition.”

For the entire voyage to the Mandith system Connor and Zhao had kept the tactical display on the main viewscreen at the front of the bridge. Connor switched it to a live forward view barely five seconds before dropping out of warp. As the warp field evaporated and space returned to normal there were the two renegade ships trading fire with massive drydock facilities. Hampered by the fact that the renegade forced actually wanted to limit the damage to the unmanned ships and other facilities they could only direct their fire to weapons systems and power conduits, both heavily protected by shields.

At precisely the programmed moment the phasers on the Saratoga hit the renegade ships at their weakest points. For one renegade ship that was an already damaged shield generator protecting a power conduit leading to a energy weapons array. The tactical officer, had already instructed the computer to take advantage of any new vulnerabilities and after the first phaser hit the shield generator again concentrated fire on that point. Before the Saratoga passed by that part of the renegade ship's shield collapsed allowing another volley to penetrate the hull. The resulting explosion ruptured containment on one of the secondary fusion reactors killing over a hundred Cardassians on five decks effectively knocking it out of combat.

The second renegade ship fared far better than its partner. Saratoga's phaser strikes didn't affect its shields beyond causing a significant drain of their available power. By that time Saratoga was beyond effective phaser range but hadn't yet reached the point where the photon torpedoes would be launched. The Gul1 of the renegade ship ordered his helmsman to pursue the Saratoga and open fire with all weapons.

“Hits on port nacelle and strut, shields down to 85 percent” tactical officer Lieutenant Kinyor said from her station after the ship shuttered. Just as soon as those words were out her mouth the aft photon launcher spit out six torpedoes set at maximum charge.

The first two torpedoes detonated on the renegade ship's forward shields sending a surge of power back through the emitters the buffers were only barely able to absorb. The third torpedo overloaded the buffers and the forth and fifth exploded on the hull thirty meters from the enemy bridge. The sixth torpedo wasn't targeted for the ship trying to pursue the Saratoga but the one they had already knocked out. That torpedo detonated over the bridge causing another hull rupture and the ship to explode in a fireball that bathed the other ship in hard radiation frying numerous systems including weapons and life support.

The Saratoga was still maneuvering around for its second pass when the first renegade ship exploded. “Massive systems failure on the second renegade, Captain Douglas,” LT. Kinyor said as her hands danced over her console.

“Doesn't matter,” Connor said, “execute the maneuver and lets take it completely out of the equation. But limit the strikes to its power conduits and weapons, I'm done with killing but I want that ship barely holding on with just life support.”

The second pass did the job with Connor having the Saratoga linger in place just long enough to make sure it wouldn't be able to return to battle.

“Captain,” Zhao said looking up from the small terminal attached to his chair, “the USS Gorkon2 is in trouble. She's been jumped by two renegade battleships and all the other ships including the Klingons are engaged.”

“Helm, get us to the Gorkon as quickly as possible,” Connor said.

With the arrival of the relief force in time to prevent the renegades from making off with the deactivated ships the battle was essentially over. The only question remaining to be answered would be how suicidal were the renegades.

The Gorkon had gotten in trouble getting between two battleships and one of the civilian habitats. The shields on the habitat had collapsed and the several hundred renegades had beamed over and were attempting to take control. Tactical communications told the story of Klingon warriors and Federation Marines battling the growing number of renegade troops. The starship Gorkon, one of the more recent Excelsior-class vessels was prevented from bringing it weapons up to full power because any damage to the renegade ships would probably impact the civilian habitat that was housing over fifteen thousand individuals.

“Get the Saratoga between those battleships and the Gorkon,” Connor said to the helmsman. “Tactical, try and target the weapons systems and warp drives on the renegades. Zhao, try and raise the Gorkon, see if they can get any distance, we're all too close for comfort here.” Connor finished hoping it would be enough to save the damaged Starfleet vessel and the civilians.

Squeezing in between the opposing ships worked, but the Saratoga was being rocked by heavy weapons fire from the two renegades with no real way to respond. Things got so tight that the shields from the different ships started flaring from contact with each other. Despite the flaring shields and continued weapons fire the Gorkon was able to limp away from the area, its starboard nacelle growing red from the plasma fires raging in the warp coils but still engaging one of the renegade battleships with phaser fire.

“Captain, receiving a message from the civilian habitat,” Zhao said, “it's the Klingon general, Kartan, he says that the renegades reached the habitat's self destruct system and activated it.”

“Captain Douglas,” the new science officer, Lieutenant Sovan said from his corner of the bridge. “This civilian habitat is powered by four 500 terawatt helium-3 reactors. Given its position, the resulting explosion will not only vaporize it but at least twenty others like it, as well as most of the drydocks and unmanned ships. The renegades knew what they were doing when the assaulted this facility.”

“Alright,” Connor said, “tactical you're going to need to prevent the battleship we're engaged with from moving. Forget the weapons systems and start blasting anything that has to do with its warp drive or sub-light propulsion. This has become nothing but a slugfest.”

“Sovan,” Connor called out, “how long do we have before self-destruct?”

“Ten minutes, thirty-two seconds,” he said.

“Tactical, give me an update,” Connor said as the ship was rocked from the energy volleys being fired at it.

“Shields holding at 45 percent and I've been able to disable its sub-light engines but I'm still working on the warp drive.” Lieutenant Kinyor said from her station.

By this time many of the surviving renegade ships had heard about the impending explosion of the civilian habitat and began trying to escape. Admiral Cartwright sent many of the Starfleet and Klingon ships to hunt them down. Even the renegade battleship still duking it out with the Gorkon decided it was time to leave.

“Captain Douglas,” the ship's intercom blared out, “this is Lieutenant Axor down in engineering. What the fighom3 are you doing to my ship. I'm rerouting systems to keep you people going but even I can't keep this pace up for much longer.” Both Connor and Zhao looked at each other after noticing the arrogance of the Bolian's voice.

“No promises Axor,” Connor said, “if we don't disable the enemy ship we're engaged with in a little over nine minutes the Saratoga and everyone inside her will become super-heated plasma.”

“Captain,” Kinyor called out, “our combatant is trying to engage warp. I think its gul wants to save his or her skin.”

“Put a tractor beam on it and keep firing on its warp engines,” Connor said.

“Eight minutes, ten second before the habitat detonates,” Sovan said to everyone.

“Sovan,” Connor said, “look up the name and commanding officer of that ship. Connor said with an idea struggling to take shape in his head.

“Captain, that ship is named the Enduring Revenge and before the end of the war it was commanded by Gul Toohas.”

“Zhao, hail our friend, Toohas.” Connor said to his first officer.

“Channel open,” Zhao said.

“Gul Toohas, this Captain Connor Douglas of the Federation starship Saratoga, please be advised that you and I are going nowhere. I am the adopted son of the Klingon House of K'pon and today is a good day to die. I'm willing to hold your sorry ass right next the civilian habitat your soldiers have set to detonate. Somehow I don't think you want to die today, Toohas. Call your people and have them stop the countdown.”

There was no response from the Enduring Revenge, but two minutes later a call came out from General Kartan saying the Cardassian troopers had surrendered after deactivating the self-destruct.

“Now Toohas,” Connor said over the still open communications link, “power your ship down completely and prepare to be boarded.”

Captain's Log, USS Saratoga
Connor Douglas in command
Stardate: 53292.8

(Two weeks after the Battle of the Mandith System)

The aftermath of the battle had the ships of the task force either securing renegade ships or rescuing the crews of the three original ships assigned occupation duty in the Mandith system. Personally lucky for me the crew of the Enduring Revenge killed Gul Toohas after realizing what he had ordered the soldiers to set the civilian habitat to self-destruct.

Once the members of the Cardassian provisional government in the Mandith system took control of the Enduring Revenge I was able to move the Saratoga over to the location of the starship Justice. While Sallem and his crew totally exceeded expectations on keeping the renegades at bay until the relief force arrived, by the time I laid eyes on the ship it was pretty much a dead hulk with rescue personnel looking for survivors. Happily to my surprise, many of the crew had survive in harden section of the ship. This situation now forces me to do something I should have done a long time ago.

The deck-five, section green treatment bay of the hospital ship USS Anna Comnena4 held twenty patients all about to be released. The bio-bed display screens above the patient's head only gave the most basic of information to the various nurses and technicians on duty. Connor Douglas walked in looking for one person in particular and found her on the far end next the bulkhead. After seeing that the patient in the bed was still asleep he engaged the privacy screen and pulled out the small chair placed next the bed and began his wait. Two hours later she woke up quite surprised.

“Oh my god, Connor I can't believe it you.” Mya Farias said not quite sure what to make of her ex-fiance sitting next her bed.

“When I found out you had survived I knew I had to see last time.” Connor said looking at the woman he once thought he would spend the rest of his life with.

Mya was puzzled about what he meant, until she had a terrible thought. “It's Ubiad isn't it, he died.” Mya said with tears beginning to form on her face.

“No,” Connor said, “Ubiad survived as well but in far worse condition. He's still in the bio-tank and before he gets out will have a two new arms and a new leg. He was badly burned but his brain was intact and the doctors say with a couple of years of rehab he will at least be physically good as new.”

“Connor, I am so sorry Ubiad and I didn't contact you when our relationship turned into something more than friendship. I know we hurt you and that there is nothing I can do to make it better.” Mya said with the tears now flowing for a different reason.

“That's why I'm here Mya,” Connor said after gently grabbing her hand. “I was the one who was wrong, I never should have shown up like that. You're going to have to tell Ubiad when he gets out of the tank I'm sorry for sucker punching him in the corridor. For a second or two, I actually wanted Ubiad dead but when I saw him on the floor, I was terrified I killed my best friend.”

“Why can't you tell him? I'm sure he would love to see you again.” Mya asked wiping her face with a cloth Connor handed her.

“Mya, I'm the captain of the Saratoga now and I've requested a deep space mission. Given how my crew and I stopped the Enduring Revenge and essentially saved the civilian population of the Mandith system my reward is a seven year exploration mission into the uncharted regions of the Beta Quadrant. Making matters more interesting it will take the Saratoga a year to reach the red line marking the end of charted space. And I'm not including the time my ship will be in orbit around Mars in drydock getting refitted for the mission. I'm looking at ten to eleven years before I'll see any of the stars of home again.”

With nothing left to say two old friends whispered their goodbyes to each other and parted ways.

1Gul: Military rank equivalent to Starfleet captain or Marine colonel.
2USS Gorkon, NCC-40512 Named in honor of the Klingon chancellor who died in an effort to establish peace with the Federation. See Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
3Fighom- Bolian version of hell or hades
4Anna Comnena: Eleventh century doctor who ran a hospital and orphanage in ancient Constantinople.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Man in the High Castle--A Review

As I mentioned in a previous post it was during my junior year in high school that I took Mr. Edgerton's world history class and became fascinated with humanity's past. I have long forgotten the title of the textbook we used but there was a passage inside it concerning the period normally called Pax Romana that twisted my teenage mind into a multidimensional pretzel.

For those who don't know Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, was the long period of order and stability in the Roman Empire and nearby regions that ran from the years 27 BC when Augustus took control of Rome to 180 AD with the death of emperor Marcus Aurelius. During this time you could travel from Roman provinces on the island of Britain all the way over to Egypt in relative safety and conduct business using the same coinage and the common language of Latin. Paraphrasing of course, but the paragraph in the textbook that boggled my little mind said something to the effect that Romans of that period just assumed the good times would go on forever, that to them the stability and peace the Empire provided was perpetual.

Of course it wasn't, after Marcus Aurelius the Roman Empire started sliding downhill through a combination of internal and external factors that would ultimately lead to its division and collapse in the portion encompassing Western Europe. Yes fellow history nerds, the eastern half lasted another thousand years but with the rise of Islam was slowly eaten away until Constantinople fell in 1453. What I never could wrap my brain around was the idea that Romans thought their way of life would go on indefinitely. From the perspective of a teenager sitting in Mr. Edgerton's classroom it seemed clear as day that with all the systemic faults inherent to the governing of the Roman Empire there was absolutely no doubt it was going to fall once enough stressors combined to overwhelm its institutions and methods.

Since my one chief and longtime talent is contemplating stuff ordinary people never consider because they have normal and healthy pursuits I then began wondering if we oblivious Americans were ignoring some factor or fault that will eventually bite us in our fat asses. The answer on that one is a big, dangerous yes but my current ramblings is fixated on an exponentially more abstract concept. How could our institutions, practices, culture, in short our entire reality been different?

There is a natural assumption by many to think our reality is the only possible outcome from all the decisions and events that came before us. But like the belief that our way of life will continue on indefinitely it is just as gravely flawed. Speculating on what could have been is dangerous and imperfect pursuit since those involved tend to paint that doppelganger with their biases. Case in point are unrepentant Southerners who think the Confederate States would have been close to a paradise on Earth had it won the Civil War.

There is a sub-genre of science fiction that deals with alternate realities but those authors also tend to paint their fictional creations with broad strokes either making these different worlds to close to our own as to be boring or so different to the point they lose credibility. Good alternate reality stories have to negotiate a fine line between the familiar and the alien. The new Amazon Prime series, “The Man in the High Castle” appears to successful walk that line. 

Loosely based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, the series takes place in a world where the Axis Powers won the Second World War resulting in the United States being divided between the two. The exact details resulting in this defeat are never spelled out directly but the viewer can tease out enough throughout the episodes to realize there were a series of alternate events that eventual spelled doom for the United States and allies.

Set in the year 1962, the Nazis control the eastern two-thirds of America with it becoming a totalitarian state with an eerily similar pop culture to the one of our world at that particular time. The pilot episode opens with a movie theater newsreel extolling the virtues of America belonging to the Greater German Reich. In the newsreel there are scenes of busy workers in factories and at desks with a narrator saying everyone has a job and knows their place. This is a bit of a cheap shot, but the fact that none of the people in that newsreel were colored would warm the heart of a few Southerners lamenting their Lost Cause. Additionally in one episode there is a scene that sent cold chills down my spine where two suburban white guys dressed in Mister Rogers-like sweaters say “Sieg Heil” to each other in American accents. In this reality I have enough problems with stifling neighbors and the homeowners association already, given my inherent counterculture attitude I'm sure someone like me would have long since heard a midnight knock at the door.

The other victorious Axis partner, the Japanese, control the western third of the country and while their rule is brutal and there is absolutely no freedoms, they are the nicer of the two empires occupying the United States. One of the differences being that Japanese let those with Jewish ancestry still exist, although the Nazis are pressuring them to synchronize the laws concerning that matter to theirs.

Buffering the two empires is a Neutral Zone that is generally lawless but has numerous secret Nazi agents living undercover watching for trouble along with traveling bounty hunters looking for prewar holdouts. One scary scene has a bounty hunter character named the “Marshal” entering a used book store to question the owner about a woman he is pursuing. The bounty hunter, who looks like a badly dressed character from a second-rate western, then pulls out a deck of cards that happens to have the faces of resistance leaders printed on them. Turns out the store owner has been wanted by the Nazis for years and soon ends up hanging from a town lamppost with the Marshal instructing everyone not to cut him down until the crows have picked his bones clean.

The series centers around the characters Juliana Crain and Joe Blake who are both transporting a mysterious film from different ends of the country to a location in the Neutral Zone. These films show a very different world where the Nazis were defeated. Juliana received her copy from her sister who was working for a weak resistance network before being shot dead by Japanese soldiers. Joe on the other hand is a Nazi secret agent on orders to use his copy to infiltrate the resistance in an attempt to locate the maker of the films known only as the Man in the High Castle.

Juliana believes Joe to be a legitimate member of the resistance and the two spend a great deal of time in the Neutral Zone looking for their mutual contact to turn over the films. During that time Joe begins to develop feelings for Juliana that conflict with his assigned mission. Whether those feelings will ever develop enough to make him abandon his Nazi loyalties is an open question.

Supporting the main conflict of the series is a number of subplots and supporting characters that paint a wide and varied picture of a complicated world that is dark and unnerving because in many way it is so familiar.

The first supporting character has to be Frank Frink, Juliana's live-in boyfriend, who at first just wants to keep his head down and try and live in peace with the Japanese occupiers. That is until they take his sister and her children prisoner and threaten to kill them in an attempt to force him to reveal his girlfriend's whereabouts. This forces Frank to begin to question the way he is dealing with the world.

The character of John Smith is so utterly evil you want him to die in the most painful manner, that is until you see him as a family man. John Smith is one of the bosses of the American gestapo and totally dedicated to the world the Nazis created and maintain. When he returns to his plush middle class suburban home at the end of the day though you see him as a loving father to his children and at least a decent husband to his stay-at-home wife. In many ways this character is the most uncomfortable to watch since Smith is the epitome of the American family man. Now wait a minute you say, how can a certified goosestepping Nazi be a decent, God-fearing, Ward Clever-looking fellow that most suburban types even now would love to have as a neighbor? 

Damn glad you asked, see while very few American males go to work to torture and kill in support of a bloodthirsty regime out to suppress the most basic of human rights here at home overseas is another matter. The American government and corporations even now find ways to ignore the practices of some of the worst regimes on the planet. It's not just the usual two suspects, common Americans love their cheaply made consumerist crap we regularly buy at places like WalMart, Best Buy, Target, Apple, and numerous other retail stores. These items don't just magically spring into existence, they are often made in factories that have much in common with the way Nazis ran slave labor camps.

Oh no Mr. Blogger you say, I'd never buy items made from places like that, I'm a decent person. Well, that may be the case but Mainland China ain't a free country and that is where the vast majority of our consumerist garbage is produced. Yeah, I found it outrageously funny that certain people in the United States lost their little, hypocritical minds when President Obama began the process of restoring relations with Communist Cuba but continued their total ignoring of the worst practices of one of our largest trading partners.

Possibly the most tragic of all the characters in this series is Nobusuke Tagomi, the trade minister for the Japanese government running the occupied Pacific States. He is truly a decent and good man in every sense of the word, it's just that Fate, from our perspective, has placed him on the wrong side. Unlike many people he sees the injustice and utter corruption around him but is mostly powerless to do anything about it. He is also one of the most fascinating characters in a way I will not explain, you'll just have to watch the series yourself to find out.

In closing, this series is in NO WAY a rehash of Red Dawn or any other story that has the United States being invaded and occupied. By in large the Americans in this series have largely accepted their defeat and adjusted to living with the tyranny imposed on them. Hell, in fact in the much different book version I read back in the 1980's, I vaguely remember a passage saying the southern American states adapted quite fast to the Nazi way of life the occupiers forced on the supposed land of the free. In fact the series makes it clear that the American resistance movement barely exists at all.

Like the Romans I mentioned earlier, this series in a weird way reminded me that there are no real certainties in life. As much as some will hate this idea, and it's just my humble opinion, the reality or existence most of us know and love was not handcrafted by some omnipotent God looking out for his creation, or at least his specially chosen people. It largely came about by humans blindly bumping around and pursuing their own selfish interests. Now for most of human history this has been a bad thing causing untold suffering, death and destruction for most and a comfortable life for a very few. No matter how secure, permanent, and normal things look, change a few things and the ripple effect will completely alter how the world is ran making the kings into beggars along with the reverse. To me this suggests the best thing everyone can do treat everyone like they would like to be treated and keep a rational mind and try to shape events instead of having to react to them.

Honestly I can't really include any spoilers in this review, because I have no idea where the series is going. The last twenty minutes of the this season's final episode literally throws everything and everyone up into the air and I have no idea how it will all land if and when Amazon produces a second season. All I can say if that if Amazon does renew this series I will again totally clear my weekend schedule, cut off my cell phone, and put a sign on my front door saying unless you're delivering a pizza go to hell, I'm busy. Yeah, the series was that good!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Political Moon Rising

The conversation I found myself having with an acquaintance/neighbor last week quickly turned into one of those odd, surreal rarities that others would think you were lying through your teeth if you told them about it. However, the terrible events that took place the next day made it relevant in a way neither my visitor nor I could imagine.

Lately my wife has been beseeching me to be more open and approachable to the natives, so I felt obligated to try when this gentleman said hello and crossed over into my yard as I was raking the leaves littering the ground around me. I admit, this unnamed person was doing his best to be friendly and while I happily wrap myself in the banner of a snobbish prick who considers himself several levels above the rank and file suburban serfs I met him halfway and shook his hand. Unfortunately, while things stayed friendly and personable the conversation quickly went off the proverbial cliff.

After a few generalized niceties the guy went straight into a rehearsed spiel about how my family and I should start attending his church, a small fundamentalist place a few miles down the road from the subdivision we both live. Contrary to my wife's assumptions upon hearing this I didn't freak out and throw the guy out of my yard for wasting my time. Nor did I go into a half-assed diatribe about how it would be a cold day in hell before I ever set foot into his right-wing, Taliban-like evangelical church whose members probably gather together each Sunday to discuss when Obama will come for their precious guns. I simply told him no thanks and tried to return to my chores.

Somehow this person didn't get the hint and then proceeded to start talking about current events before telling me about on a sermon he heard on the radio a few days before. According to him, the sermon dealt with Canada's very liberal immigration policy and how it was a threat to the national security of the United States. This is where it started getting seriously weird with him spouting off points about the length of the U.S./Canada border and how it's essentially undefended. His point being that any number of nefarious individuals or even groups could leave behind their socialized health care and come south to blow things and people up.

Quite frankly I found myself dumbfounded that I was being drawn into a conversation that I didn't want to participate. Nor did I want to justify his verbal offal with a response since I considered this guy full of paranoia topped off with gobs of stupidity like icing on a cake. After totally berating Canada for several minutes I expected this person to start on Mexico but for some reason he seemed to have forgotten about our unlucky neighbor to the south. Against my better judgment though I did try to explain to this guy that securing the U.S./Canada border would require an unimaginably massive amount of personnel, which in turn would force taxes to be raised to pay for the people and material to support such a mission.

True to form this guy responded that we could pay for it by cutting wasteful spending and other programs, which I took to mean the much belittled welfare and food stamps. Somewhere in the nether regions of my brain I registered his comment to mean that while he, and probably many others, lived in abject fear of some nebulous Canadian immigrant boogeyman that was still not a reason to raise taxes.

Maybe it's because I'm married to a tax attorney with years of experience with government financing but what nearly all tea baggers utterly fail to understand is that there isn't any giga-pile of money being wasted that could be put to constructive use. Neither is there really any room to cut discretionary spending, the United States already has the highest child poverty rate in the Western world making our country an embarrassment to the rest of the industrialized nations. Further more, as much as right-wingers want to deny it, our infrastructure like roads, bridges, and electrical power grid is old and being held together with duct tape and good intentions. So the idea of somehow securing the Canadian border to prevent individuals from sneaking over wins the glorious booby prize of being so completely stupid as to defy human imagination.

Call me foolish, but for reasons I can't really define I didn't try to have a coherent conversation with this guy as to why he and his radio preacher were wholesale morons. But said something to the effect that if terrorists wanted to sneak into the country all they had to do was wrap themselves in bails of marijuana or cocaine. Because the federal government has spent untold hundreds of billions to try and stop the importation of drugs since Ronny Raygun and failed miserably. I didn't think my point was that abstract, but the look of total incomprehension on my unwanted visitor's face made him appear to be contemplating quantum mechanics instead of considering alternate routes to sneak into the country. Whatever the case, Mr. Acquaintance/neighbor, chose that moment to say he had to leave.

Of course, this conversation took place last Friday, one day before the horrific terrorists attacks in Paris. Making matters much worse, one of the ISIS terrorists involved in the attacks was carrying a Syrian passport and appears to have been masquerading as one of the thousands of refuges fleeing the ongoing civil war in that country. Not to take away the humanity of both Mr. Acquaintance/neighbor and his radio preacher, I figure it's safe to guess that both spent much of that weekend filled with righteous indignation that their favorite nightmare came partially true.

That Saturday night the already scheduled Democratic debate had the three candidates running around in circles trying not to appear soft on terrorism. I didn't see the entire debate, only segments posted to You Tube but I came away with a creeping fear far different from the possibility of followup attacks either in France or here in the United States.

Way back during the 2012 presidential campaign I compared the Republicans running for the nomination back then to the aliens in the cantina scene from the original Star Wars movie. Those movie aliens were truly bizarre creatures but quite comparable to the collection of preening rich boys suffering from delusions of grandeur and amoral, failed politicians desperate to regain power. Unfortunately, the 2016 Republicans candidates running for the nomination make the ones from 2012 look halfway normal. Things are so bad Ted Cruz alone appears more like a fictional character from a political thriller written with H.P. Lovecraft-inspired overtones than an actual person running for president. Throw in Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the current front runners no less, and you have enough material for a Constitutional nightmare. The one unifying theme all these lackluster and brain dead puppets share is that their belief the United States must be ready to bomb the living shit out of anyone who even looks cross-eyed at us.

The point in all this rambling is that the American electorate even in the best of times is a bunch of barely sentient animals that usually responds more readily to fear than hope. For all the glib assumptions that either Hillary or Bernie would easily defeat any of the Republican morons in a general election that idea is based on the current political dynamic in this country. After the 9/11 attacks the United States essentially lost its feeble mind and willingly embraced things like indefinite detention, warrant-less wiretaps, and even torture. Oh, the media and politicians wrapped those concepts in clean, justifiable terms to make them tolerable to the hazy American center who at the time were more worried about bad guys flying airplanes into public buildings. So please excuse my cynical belief that a couple of Paris-style attacks here in the United States would push the mushy American middle into electing a president who would make George W. Bush seem enlighten and thoughtful.

I once thought the 2016 presidential campaign would on the Republican side be a laugh riot. The idea that any of them, even the so-called moderates like Jeb Bush and that governor from Ohio, could be elected seemed ridiculous. Now, when your consider the conversation I had with Mr. Acquaintance/neighbor all I can say is that I'll be sweating bullets until Election Day next November.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Like Father Like Daughter

 Far more years ago than I really want to remember, there was an incident with my National Guard unit that in a way came back to haunt me this week. Being more specific with the time frame, this all started in the spring of 1999. My son, Darth Spoilboy, was almost five years-old and playing Pee Wee soccer for the first time. In fact, his first game was on a Sunday during one of my National Guard drill weekends and this is where things went south.

In the old days, ending around the mid-1990's, the National Guard use to take into consideration things like important family events and “minor” stuff like civilian jobs. Both of those circumstances, along with the birth of a child or the death of a loved one was almost an automatic “get out of jail free card” allowing a soldier to skip drill weekend. The National Guard unit would then work with the soldier allowing them make up the missed time, usually having the individual come during the regular work week and do chores for the full-time Guard staff. The other option was to send the soldier off to drill with a different unit or some sort of special training at yet another location.

For various reasons in the mid-1990's, this easygoing policy went out the door with drill weekends starting to resemble a short term prison sentence. One of the causes of the leadership becoming far more stricter was that, of course, a lot of people abused the relaxed attitude about attendance to the point they had to do something. Another reason was simple bean counting because desk bound bureaucrats were actually closing National Guard units that were understrength. There was a rumor that never quite died that the bean counters, over the course of a number of years, found several units where the attendance roster didn't match up with the people that were suppose to be wearing the uniform in the armory that weekend. The results being that the leadership and full-time guys and gals of those units were relieved of command and had their careers ended.

Such an extreme circumstance caused the people in charge to lose their minds and clamp down like the fate of Western Civilization rested on perfect attendance. This extended to even no-brainer issues like civilian job work conflicts with the unit leadership literally informing the soldier to tell their civilian boss and coworkers to suck it up and deal with it. During the last four to five years before I retired from the Guard, I had to work around this issue many time resulting in severely strained relationships with my boss and coworkers.

All that being said, my issue that Sunday in 1999 didn't amount to the proverbial hill of beans in the greater scheme of things but on a personal level it was monumental. My loving spouse, the great Dragonwife, never agreed with the part of the National Guard spousal support manual that tells the wife or husband of a National Guard soldier your significant other belongs both body and soul to them until they say it doesn't. She wanted me at my son's soccer game and there would be hell to pay if I missed it. Initially, there shouldn't have been a conflict since my son's soccer game was scheduled so late that my unit was usually dismissed before that time.

Not that weekend, just after lunch all the officers and senior NCO's came out of a meeting telling everyone that the unit had a whole shitload of stuff to do and no one should expect to get home until well after 6:00pm. There wasn't any use in calling my wife and trying to explain the situation because I knew she would hit the roof and frankly, I was rather pissed myself. I'm uncertain how many people who have never served in the military have heard the euphemism, “Hurry up and wait”, but after the declaration that every soldier would be running around like chickens with their heads cut off for the rest of the day, somehow no direction or orders as what to do ever appeared. Enlisted soldiers and junior NCO's like myself just clustered together and began waiting for some sort of guidance to manifest itself.

A couple of hours ticked by with me getting increasingly upset. My son had an important event in his life about to occur and I was marooned on the other end of town. That was when I spotted the old fashioned phone booth inside the drill hall. A true relic from a past era, it had a small bench seat and those folding doors that allowed someone to shut themselves off from the rest of the world. As I stared at that early telecommunications wonder a plan quickly formulated in my tiny and inefficient brain.

I immediately called my brother, who lives in the upstate of South Carolina, and told him to phone my unit and say he was in Columbia and had just been involved in a car accident and needed a ride to get back home. We worked a short but important back story with the major point being that he had called my house looking for me but found out from my wife that I was doing my National Guard weekend duty. Another important point was that he had to wait thirty-minutes before calling the unit because several people had seen me in the phone booth and I didn't want the wrong person to connect the sudden emergency with my curious actions.

After that, all I could do was wait while remembering that I had once asked him to drop off some army blankets to my old National Guard unit that he passed within twenty yards (a little over 18 meters) everyday while on the way to work and back home again. I somehow forgot to turn them in during the process of transferring down to the Columbia unit. A couple of months later I'm reviewing my National Guard pay statement and discover my old unit had charged me sixty dollars for those blankets. I learned that my brother had forgotten to drop the blankets off with them ending up covers for the back seats of his van.

He came through this time with some nondescript lieutenant calling me to the office and almost immediately releasing me for the rest of the day. Not before I literally bumped into the first sergeant and having to explain the situation to him. You would have to have served in the military to understand the nature of first sergeants, having worked their way up through the ranks they know every stunt or scam a soldier could possibly pull. He didn't say anything, but just as sure as bears leave steamy piles of poop in the deep dark woods I realized he knew the scam I was attempting. For reasons I never figured out he told me to haul ass but drive safely.

Luckily for me, I got out of there with enough time to make it to my son's soccer game. This is where my daughter's recent scam comes into play.

It was last Wednesday around 10:30am when my ringing cell phone woke me up. “Hey Dad,” my daughter Darth Wiggles said, “I need you to come pick me up from school, the nurse says I have a fever and I feel awful.”

Working third shift is a pain in the backside but I did the required dad stuff and made my way to my daughter's school with every intention of taking her home. When I arrived I found that the two ladies that work at the reception desk in the main office had just stepped out and left the school nurse there to answer the phone and deal with slightly dazed parents like me.

“Hi,” I said, “my daughter just called and said she had a fever and needed me to pick her up.”

Since the school nurse has to deal with dozens of children each morning she just asked me for my daughter's name and her homeroom teacher then called that classroom. After hanging up though the nurse suddenly remembered dealing with my daughter.

“Ah Mr. Johnson, I checked your daughter's temperature about an hour ago and she was fine. Not only that, I've been her at the desk or my office the entire time and she hasn't used any of these phones.”

No one will ever make the mistake and think I'm that mentally swift but it was at that moment I realized the number that was displayed on my cell phone screen was the one for my daughter's cell phone. Since she had woke me up, I didn't pay attention to the number and just assumed everything was legit. It was also then the memories of my own phone scam to get out of drill and get to my son's soccer game came flooding back. I also remembered that my daughter had an algebra test that day and that she probably didn't study enough on Tuesday and was looking for a way to get out of it.

Instead of just turning around and leaving I had the nurse call my daughter's classroom and have her report to the office. A couple of minutes later Darth Wiggles walks into the office and sees the nurse and I talking. The “Oh Crap” look on her face was totally priceless. She then immediately turned around and went back to class while I was soon driving home eager to get back to sleep.

I know it was wrong, but I couldn't help but feel a little proud of my daughter. Oh yeah, she passed the algebra test with a B-minus so I let whole incident slide without telling Dragonwife.