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Jim Lee

Orchids Of Annihilation

by Jim Lee

(Biographer’s Note: Now we present selected excerpts from the epic poem “The Orchids of Annihilation” written by Covid Michaels in Alliance Year 330—125 Standard Years after the end of The Great Alliance War.)

In the End, she would stand Resolute:

Alongside Mary-Alice Yamamoto,

Acting Battle-Horde-Leader TangGoo,

Admiral-of-Supply Ta Nie-Sss’,

And those Other Heroes.

She would stand for Victory with Honor:

For Uncommon Forbearance,

For Interspecies Solidarity,

Ultimately For Compassion,

And a More-Peaceful Future.

She would stand against the Maddened Moment:

Against Unthinking Rage,

Against Blind Vengeance,

Against Immoral Orders,

And against Outright Genocide.

ONCE BRUTALLY VENGEFUL, THEN RESTRAINT’S UNLIKELY ACOLYTE!

#

Yet in the Beginning, She was Different:

A Mere Ensign,

Serving aboard Undaunted,

A Simple Gun-Boss,

Managing two Magnetic Cannon.

She seemed typical, of her Time and Place:

A Youngster Indeed,

By Planetary Origin,

And by Chronology,

Carrying out Her Duties.

Still there was Family, Traditions to Uphold:

Her Service Lineage;

Lifetimes of Historiography,

Must be Vindicated,

No matter how Burdensome.

A middling Academy Graduate, this Morrigan O’Ree:

But Smart Enough,

But Strong Enough,

And Brave Enough.

She hoped most Fervently.

Not quite 350 Days, in Active Service:

Her record Adequate

If hardly Exceptional;

Morri’s combat Experience,

Two minor, indecisive Battles.

So much ahead, so many Great Events:

Besieged at D-23,

Defending Icklandic Space,   

Liberating New Cleveland,

The Third Offensive,

Betrayed then Self-Avenged,

Cast Aside, eventually Redeemed.

A HISTORY UNIQUE, BUT NOT YET WRITTEN!

(Biographer’s Note: Critics still divide, strongly pro and con, concerning Michaels’s choice above, breaking his own self-imposed structural pattern by listing so many—yet hardly all—of the significant later events in O’Ree’s long wartime career. In particular, omitting the series of Joint Operations alongside Yamamoto and to a lesser extent Ramirez in the middle period of the war attracts attention. To a lesser degree, glossing over O’Ree’s notorious risk-taking when given a comparatively minor assignment during the Galactic Halo Campaign is also fodder for comment.)    

#

(Further Note: The following stanzas detail the events of Day 23, Month 9, Alliance Standard Year 162. Allegedly the first indication that Planet Tir na nog and the famed O’Ree clan had produced yet another outstanding warrior.)

One Ominous day Undaunted must Fight Again:

Equal in Size,

In Defensive Lasers,

In Offensive Weapons,

And sheer Dire WILL.

Another heavy cruiser, but no Human Enemy:

Not from Republic,

Nor New Cleveland,

But fierce-some Aliens,

Hydrogen-Sulfide-breathers from Naraka Prime.

Two great Warships, fully and evenly Matched:

Neither would Retreat,

Nor imagine Surrender;

Rather each Resolved

To Devastate the Other.

Battle rages on Relentless, for Tortured Hours: 

Neither yet Winning,

Nor quite Losing,

Slugging It Out,

Like two punch-drunk Brawlers.

Magnetic Cannon Discharging, Lasers flashing in Defense:

Incoming warheads Detonated,

Targets as-yet Unblemished,

Doom creeps Ever-Closer,

Inching Progressively, Mindlessly Closer.

War of Numbing Attrition, of Grinding Combat:

Radiation Inching Closer,

Unending silent Outbursts.

On every Viewscreen:

Both sides, Wearing Down.

Success hampers both Sides, Heat-slow Lasers Falter:

Unceasing continued Pounding,

Shrapnel pits Hulls,

Radiation’s Constant Companion, 

Mental War-Fog grows Universal,

(Biographer’s Note: War veterans agree this passage accurately conveys the strange reality of ship-to-ship combat between similar-size vessels of that era. All sides in the Great War employed every weapon available. Point-defense lasers automatically destroyed in-coming ordinance with great efficiency, be it warheads fired by several types of magnetic cannon, torpedoes or full-sized AI-guided anti-ship missiles. But they derived their quickness from superconducting circuitry that needed extreme cold to function properly. The vacuum of space transfers radiant energy imperfectly, but in a long fight the system degrades. Each explosion gradually reinforces the process—increasing heat lengthens reaction time, allows the next and then the next volley to get progressively nearer the target vessel. It is true that the Narakan Empire had a marked preference for beam weapons, particularly plasma cannon, for combat in normal space. But here the Undaunted kept up a steady barrage of conventional artillery that prevented their opponent from closing to use this formidable yet shorter range weapon—until the very end of the encounter. The seemingly perverse blend of raw terror and brain-freezing boredom this sort of marathon battle tends to generate is also confirmed by experts.)

Neither ship crippled, though Both take Damage:

Both inflict Casualties,

Both suffer Casualties,

The End Approaches,

For Which—or BOTH?

Portside of Undaunted Struck, ranking officers Lost:

Dead or Wounded,     

Makes no Difference,

Now O’Ree Commands,

Now Directs Three Batteries.

Two new Opponents, Join the Once-Even Contest:

Small quick Corvettes,

Not-Close Undaunted’s Match,

Though drawing Attention,

Away from More-Urgent Danger.

Enemy Cruiser maneuvers, Closes in on Undaunted:

To Sear Ship

And Crew Alike

With Plasma Hellfire;

To Win and Live!

Only Morri sees, only O’Ree is Aware:

Three Full Batteries,

Six Heavy Guns,

A Hardened-Veteran’s Task,

Coordinating Each Gun’s Fire.

Enemies entering Effective Range, About to Unleash:         

O’Ree barks Orders,

Six Magnetic Cannon,

Spit Atom-Tipped Death,

Shall Undaunted Live On?

Morri’s viewscreen Glares, fills with Beautiful Savagery:

The Enemy Vanishes,

Amid Explosions Terrible,

Exquisitely, Silently Sublime,

Her Victory, She Witnesses.

The smaller ships Retreat, Face no pursuit:

Undaunted is Battered,

Content to Leave,

To Journey Home,

For Repair and Rest.

Morrigan O’Ree wins Promotion, First of Many:

Relief Engulfs Her,

Wonder and Dismay

All These Hers,

Now she’s SEEN IT!

The Dreaded Thing,

The Nightmare’s Source,

A Ship Exploding,

Lives Incinerated BY HER!

The Orchids of Annihilation, she’ll dub Them:

And Accept Them,

Even Treasure Them,

Their Vivid Multi-Colors,

Silently Blooming for Her.

AGAIN AND AGAIN, FOR HER THEY’LL BLOOM!

~

Bio:

Jim Lee has been a published writer since the 1980s. His recent stories have appeared in such anthologies as Smoke In Space (Hawks Barrow Press, 2021), Worth 1,000 Words (Browncoat Publishing, 2020) and Sunshine Superhighway (Jay Henge Books, 2020).

Philosophy Note:

Jim Lee believes Science Fiction should make every effort to extrapolate on known science fact to reveal possible futures, while also commenting indirectly on events or circumstances in our present world. This story is part of a series and in the chronology of my Alliance Universe, it introduces one very important character (Morrigan O’Ree) and, indirectly, the poet (who will eventually have a story of his own). A couple of previously published stories with O’Ree as a character have already seen print, dealing with events which are alluded to in Orchids of Annihilation. I wanted to do something different and thought this fictional nonfiction format would allow me to make passing references to them. I read a fair number of biographies and using such a form in a fictional context struck me as a unique and fresh strategy.

Alien Mating Habits: A Brief Overview

by Jim Lee

Author’s Introduction (Note to all Copyeditors: Color-Code this Section in Darkest Brown, for Highly Honorable, Accurate & Valuable Information):

While an unnatural peace momentarily reigns in our arm of the galaxy, The Divine Order of Things and Our Own Species’ aggressive, restlessly expansive nature make future conflicts inevitable. I won’t comment on whether such wars are desirable or not–all right-thinking beings are surely agreed regarding that!

But knowing all your enemies (potential and actual) in as thorough and wide-ranging a sense as possible provides major advantages. Also, I argue that scientific inquiry—gathering knowledge, increasing understanding of those strange beings we share the stars with—is a worthy goal unto itself.

Therefore, I present this necessarily brief overview of all the extant sentient species we’ve encountered in our centuries of space travel for your edification.

I. The Icklanders (Entry in Medium Blue, for Moderately Disgusting Content):

This telepathically-linked species never leaves their homeworld, lest they lose mental contact with the balance of the species and suffer fatal shock reactions. Nonetheless, they helped found the unnatural multispecies military agreement that presently inhibits our continued, Divinely Mandated Expansion.

They employ other species, from other Alliance worlds and occasionally elsewhere, for such tasks as interstellar diplomacy, trade and off-world military action. It must be conceded that their creative, literally single-minded condition has led to advanced and unique technologies. None among us should doubt they would fiercely defend their world upon the defeat of the mercenaries who operate their well-equipped space fleet. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Our concern today (and the true basis of our instinctive distaste toward them—or ‘it,’ since no Icklander has any individual identity) is the reproductive activity of these slug-like beings.

In Mating Season, Icklanders employ their pseudopods to climb their planetary equivalent of trees. Huddled together yet never quite touching, they unleash slimy, grotesque downpours of sperm and soft-shelled eggs (each has both female and male reproductive organs). For several local days, the surfaces of entire continents are coated with sticky reproductive muck, until hatchlings eat their way out of the seminal goo. The adults then slide down, resuming their regular activities without even a backward glance.

II. The Polygens (In Paler Blue, for Slightly Distasteful):

These suitably warlike methane-breathers come in five sexes. The lone female in each family unit bears live young and commands absolute leadership in all things. This blatantly sexist arrangement may offend some sensibilities, yet is considered natural by them.

Successful mating involves one individual from each of the five genders. Deviations occur, though severely punished when discovered—a laudable display of species-wide discipline. One interesting perversion involves having more than one of a given gender involved. However, engaging in sexual activity with less than the normal five is considered the most socially objectionable.

III. The tas’Lenka (In Red, for Mostly Honorable):

Weakened by a series of conflicts with the Polygens before our arrival in their space, these folk put up a valiant if doomed fight. Now enslaved by us for a number of Standard Years, they continue resisting in subtle ways—thereby underlining their courage, intelligence and stubborn honor.

Their mating behaviors are no more or less violent, ethical or comprehensible than our own. We respect them, even if we occasionally have to make an example of some of them—usually a few thousand at a time.

IV. The Prenn (In Yellow, for Somewhat Unpalatable):

Cold-world O2-breathers, their retractable foot-claws (think: natural ice skates) can serve for weapons-free close combat, when necessary. As in other things, they’re very loyal, stable and well-mannered reproductively—boring, in other words.

Unfortunately, they evidence disgustingly excessive levels of tolerance—going so far as to willingly share one small colony world with the most disgusting of all known sentient species (you know who I mean).

V. The Tama Ka’Mor (In Greenish-Yellow, for Slightly Unpalatable):

Another Cygnus Alliance founder, they show fighting spirit if provoked. Yet they sadly lack the drive to prove themselves in the eternal battle for survival and righteous dominance. They usually practice a form of serial monogamy not too much unlike our own—though lacking the rich “Relationship Death Ritual” symbolizing termination of a relationship among truly worthy lifeforms (that is to say: Us).

VI. The Maruts (In Very Pale Red, for Semi-Honorable):

This valiant, long-conquered species, like a certain lifeform whose tragically misguided and self-inflicted destiny is too painful to mention here, breathes fluorine. (And I boldly digress to ask: Isn’t it time that we FINALLY acknowledge to ourselves that ancient tragedy was NOT our fault? How were we to know the freakish creatures would commit species-wide Mass Suicide rather than accept rightful enslavement by us!?)

Disappointingly, the Maruts no longer give us much trouble, despite their fascinating ability to channel electrical impulses through their bodies. They did give us a good battle despite being centuries behind us, so we of course honored them by restricting our war-making tech and tactics to ones no more than a half-century beyond their own.

The result was a glorious, nostalgic struggle.

It’s too bad that their mating traditions are so free-form and chaotic as to defy easy characterization. This demonstrates the underlying lack of focus that (along with being technologically backward) doomed these courageous avians to their status as our most-senior slave race.

VII. The Khensu (In Pink, for Ambiguously Odd):

The last of Alliance’s first five members, they live in a chlorine-based ecology and are renowned as the greatest of all bio-engineers. They’re also peaceful to a bemusing fault, having never even had a word for warfare until encountering other sentients. Strange people, yes—yet their legendary commitment to their beliefs, no matter how evolutionarily inappropriate and opposed to Divine Law, command some degree of respect.

They also display no passion in picking their mates-for-life and reproduce in orderly five-year cycles. Pretty boring, overall.

VIII. The Vayuans (In Near-Purple, for Mostly Shameful):

Oxygen-breathing cowards, these avians mate the same way they spend most of the rest of their lives—in mid-air, gliding along the air currents between their homeworld’s many mountains. Yes, they were bright-eyed primitives when we met. We dealt with them accordingly, our soldiers equipped with but the simplest weapons. Yet in contrast to the Maruts, they surrendered without a fight.

So who gives a damn about their mating habits—or any other aspect of their so-called culture?

IX. The Lintonians (In Pure White, for Utterly Baffling):

What isn’t mysterious about these silicon-based, extraordinarily advanced interstellar merchants? How did they ever evolve? Or did some still-unknown super-intelligence genetically engineer them, as some suggest? They sell all manner of other information (not to mention the arcane hyperspace drives we and all other space-going species use). But even the most basic questions about them are unanswerable at any price.

So until we (or, perish the thought, some rival species!) can reverse engineer their h-drives and force an end to their monopoly on interstellar travel tech, details of the Lintonians’ culture of star-traveling, hollowed out world-ships will doubtless remain obscure.

X. The Humans (In Deepest Purple, for Absolute Maximum Shamefulness):

Finally (and certainly least), we’re forced to consider the most perverted sentients ever known or imagined. While these O2-breathers are approximately as warlike as we are, yet we can rest easily in knowing that is the only behavior we have in common.

They call us Narakans (in typically corrupted dual reference to one of the countless ‘evil’ demons of their ancient mythologies and to our prehensile trunks’ resemblance to a large quadruped mammal (the elephant) native to the ancestral homeworld they ruined in their ever-treacherous insanity). This term they dare apply to us as an ironic insult, in part because we stand quite a bit shorter than the typical human’s skinny, unarmored frame.

And while we, in our perhaps too stern yet always honor-bound view, shame ourselves for our unintended part in the extinction of our first spacegoing opponents in the Divine Contest for Dominance, these monstrous beings barely acknowledge the many lesser species they have destroyed. But the worst and most intolerable aspect of their behavior is the way they treat Each Other!

So I ask, if only rhetorically: What intelligent species makes war, even on itself?

Only one (as we all know) and in their essential depravity, humans place themselves beneath the notice of disciplined, dignified and honorable lifeforms such as ourselves!

~

Bio

Jim Lee comes from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing Olympic swim champ/early movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, pioneer rock n roll DJ Alan Freed and millions tons of coal dust. He’s been a published writer since the 1980s. To date his work has appeared in a wide range of venues in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and China. His recent sales include SF stories and non-fiction in issues of the magazine OUTPOSTS OF BEYOND and such anthologies as FANTASY FOR THE THRONE, TOTAL WAR and STRANGE STORIES Volume One. A member of his local library’s Board of Trustees, he has just volunteered to serve as that organization’s new Treasurer.

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