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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.

Segregated Peacekeeping Agreements Missing

by Richard Lau

If you asked the President of the United States, it was Russia’s fault. The Russian Prime Minister would beg to differ. Both leaders would agree that China had some hand in antagonizing the situation.

But things had grown so heated between the two nations that they had officially “ceased talking” and communicated only through impersonal, official e-mails.

The US President sent the following: “Due to the importance and precariousness of the moment, I am sending this message from my official personal account. Please immediately halt your aggressive advances in Eastern Europe, or the United States will be forced to become involved, as a beacon of democracy and freedom. As we Americans are a peace-loving people, we are eager to negotiate to avoid further escalation between our two great countries. With much hope in hearing from you soon, God bless.”

At the same time, the Russian Prime Minister sent a message of his own: “Whether subduing terrorists or enforcing stability with our geographic neighbors, Russia will always seek to protect its borders and its people. Any action by the United States or any other country to interfere will be viewed as an attack on our sovereignty and be addressed with the full might of the Russian military. However, there is still a chance to avoid unnecessary hostility between our countries. Please advise if you are interested in further discussions.”

To the consternation of both leaders, neither received a reply from her and his counterpart. And eventually, after several more iterations of unacknowledged digital olive branches, both sides sent almost duplicate ultimatums: “Respond or else we will let our nuclear warheads and space technology continue and finish the conversation.”

The threat of nuclear war did not go unnoticed by the alien civilizations who had long been monitoring the situation with equal amounts of growing concern and dread.

The Venusians contacted the members of their alliance: “For the sake of the solar system, we must insert ourselves as peacekeepers into the Earthling drama before the conflict gets further out of control.”

The Martians had a different solution: “We must destroy the Earth and its humans now before this madness spreads.”

The Martian approach dismayed the Venusians who asserted, “Mars has been wanting to attack Earth for centuries and is just taking advantage of this unfortunate point in their history as an opportunity to achieve its long-desired and self-serving goal.”

The Martians replied, “Have you seen those movies they constantly make to demean and disparage our race? Now is the right time for the right solution.”

And so, bitterness, resentment, and the threat of a new war enveloped the two planets bordering the Earth. Soon all communication between Venus and Mars had withered down to primitive e-mail as well.

From the Martians: “Any effort to help the humans resolve their conflict will be interpreted as endangering the rest of the Solar System and will be dealt with appropriately. Please let us help you reconsider what will surely be a mistake for all involved.”

From the Venusians: “Any aggressive move to worsen the situation on Earth will be taken as a justification for war. Please, let us meet and discuss a solution that will satisfy all three of our planets.”

Neither Mars nor Venus thought to communicate directly with Earth, upholding a long-held policy of keeping their junior solar-system siblings ignorant of the other lifeforms around them. And neither Venus nor Mars received a reply from the other, even though calmer multiple blue heads and oversized green heads tried to prevail with entreaties for peace.

The people of Jupiter, who naturally believed “size matters,” instructed both Mars and Venus to stay out of Earth’s conflict or face the wrath of the Jovian Empire. Neptune sided with Venus. Mercury sided with Mars. And Uranus just acted like an a-hole.

Interplanetary e-mail was the common communication platform between all of the civilizations. It was the easiest for algorithms to parse and translate. And the technology was easily developed and shared freely.

As the mushroom clouds sprouted across Earth’s surface like fungi after a damp winter, and the flaming tails of rockets arced back and forth between the second and fourth planet from the sun, pleadings for an end to the violence from the other members of the solar system fell upon blind eyes.

The rest of the Milky Way galaxy wondered, “What are they drinking in that star system?” These “outsiders” sent polite inquiries through the established e-mail system, and their missives for peaceful negotiations were ignored.

Slowly, galaxy after galaxy fell into battle, sometimes taking sides in what was termed “The Earth Conflict,” but more often avenging their own grudges. Long-festering wounds re-opened and newly perceived injuries were inflicted.

Over time, most of the older civilizations had managed to survive by tempering their aggressions, healing their pain, and developing a nonviolent method to settle disputes. But suddenly, the leaders of these peoples could not understand why no one seemed interested in being neighborly anymore.

And so, they, too, launched their weapons, which were not only capable of mass physical destruction but also able to tear and rend the very fabric of time and space.

The end of the universe had arrived. And all because no one checked their Spam Folder.

~

Bio:

Richard Lau has been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and the high-tech industry.

How to Check if Your Peacekeeper-2000 Is Loaded

by David F. Shultz

Congratulations on your purchase of a fully-licensed Peacekeeper-2000 from Interplanetary Defense Innovations, LLC. The PK2Ktactical squad assault machinegun features fully automatic plasma discharge effective to 800 meters, built-in grenade launcher compatible with the full line of IDI minicell cartridges (please see attached ordering form 2A for tactical grenade options), and the artificial intelligence SmartKill(TM) system. The PK2K is your total peacekeeping solution.

Loyalty, duty, honor, purpose. IDI understands what it means to be a soldier. For more than three-hundred years IDI has provided peacekeeping solutions, combining cutting-edge developments in military science and technology from across the galaxy. We stood with the Terrans on Ceta-Gamma. We were there for the uprising on Ares-6. We are the leading supplier of armaments for the Alpha-Quadrant Allegiance, the only manufacturer approved by both the Cerulean Empire and the Legion of the Fallen, and the official sponsor of Captain Kelly Donovan and the Freedom Brigade. We are now proud to offer the PK2K assault model as our flagship assault weapon for close quarters combat.

You need a weapon that’s as reliable as you are, that’s as much a part of you as you are a part of your people (or faction). Whether you are a brave freedom fighter defending your homeworld of Yll’Risa from villainous imperial tyrants, or a noble soldier of the empire pacifying the terrorist rebel scum of Yll’Risa, IDI has solutions for your peacekeeping needs.

The PK2K is equipped with biometric fingerprinting to ensure that your trusted weapon does not fall into enemy hands. This is your weapon—it’s a part of you. If the PK2K does not recognize its user, it will discharge the fusion cartridge through our patented KILLoWATT system, neutralizing all threats within a radius of five meters. Upon initial activation, please follow calibration procedures to ensure the PK2K syncs with your identity. In accordance with standard assault weapon good practices, please ensure that your weapon is safely secured when not in your possession. IDI is not liable for any injuries and/or deaths to owner, family, squad members, or others as a result of accidental activations of the KILLoWATT system due to negligence of the owner or failure to follow weapon protocol as outlined in the full terms of your license.

Thanks to our AI SmartKill(TM) system, you don’t even need to pull the trigger — in Kill Assist mode, the weapon will discharge automatically during sweeps to maximize tactical advantage and lethality when directed towards legitimate combatants. The AI recognizes targets, accepts strategic orders from command, coordinates activity across squads, and maximizes the effectiveness of your unit, firing when you’ve got the perfect shot. The SmartKill system automatically tracks confirmed kills, facilitating strategic planning and promotion decisions. To reduce friendly fire incidents, your PK2K comes packaged with four IDI Friendly Forces ID chips (please see attached ordering form 2C for additional squad tag options).

Owing to our state-of-the-art power system, you never need to check if your PK2K is loaded! IDI‘s microfusion cartridge revolutionizes the industry, ensuring your weapon is always ready to serve — the ideal firearm for the ideal fighter. The cartridge is to a weapon what a warrior is to their country: indispensable. That’s why we’ve designed the PK2K cartridge with a microfusion reactor for maximum reliability, providing a usage of 20+ years under proper conditions, and a life-time replacement guarantee. If at any time your fusion cartridge is operating below performance specifications, simply return the damaged or malfunctioning unit for safe disposal and IDI will provide a replacement. You never need to worry about spent cartridges again.

As a licensed PK2K owner, you are eligible for our Galaxy Hero rewards program, which awards free equipment and supplies based on individual and squad standings in the SmartKill performance ladder. Simply activate the SmartKill system, and your confirmed kills will automatically place you and your squad in the competitive ladder. IDI is proud to recognize soldiers and squads for outstanding performance in the field. Don’t just be a hero—be a Galaxy Hero!

The PK2K model is affiliated with the Trans-Galactic Bounty Program. As a licensed owner, you may opt-in to the TGBP in order to earn galactic credits and bonus rewards. Your weapon will be updated with bounty data, including locations, targets, and credit values. If the SmartKill system is active, your PK2K’s legitimate target list will include active bounties, so you can begin supplementing your income with freelance work and improve your ranking in the Galaxy Hero ladder. IDI is here to help you do what you do best.

Thanks to myriad industry and government partnerships, IDI is able to offer extended support to licensed veteran users of any series-1 IDI ground-level product, including the PK2K. If you have been afflicted during the course of your service by PTSD, loss of limbs, death, or any approved ailment specified in form 17-D, you may be eligible for credit assistance. Simply submit forms 16 A-through-D to their respective organizations’ appropriate channels or representatives. Void where prohibited by law. Additional limitations and restrictions may apply. Consult your organization’s relevant information services or human resources representative for locally applicable rules and regulations.

~

Bio:

David F. Shultz writes speculative fiction from Toronto, Canada, where he manages the 600-member Toronto Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group, and is lead editor at TDotSpec. His over-fifty published works are featured or forthcoming through publishers such as Diabolical Plots and Third Flatiron. David holds degrees in cognitive science, philosophy, law, and education. Author webpage: davidfshultz.com/about

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