Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rise! Space Battleship Arizona! (Or America Will Soon Disappear...)






A few things seemed off that day during my first visit to the U.S. Capitol; and it's strange now to think what made that trip so odd was the feeling that everything looked like the past. It's not that the capitol was as I'd imagined it, but like it'd come straight out of book, a very old history book to be exact, with charcoal drawings and paintings of the White House right before the Civil War, or as the president back then would have probably called it, the "War between the States." There wasn't that familiar-looking neo-classicist dome on top. No, the rotunda on this Capitol was not so grand.

But that's not what bothered me then, nor now, for it'd been too hard to keep time periods straight because, as history served me, and ruled me, the eras also confused me, and got all rolled up into each other, until you couldn't tell what year it was, and what you were supposed to call the Civil War, and how a modest little dome didn't just mean a smaller, less grand government, but a time in history when things were simpler.
I'm speaking of nostalgia. But such were the times of those United States in the last years of the 21st century, which I, your quisling narrator now tell you.
-Mr. Abbey? I don't see your name on the press list? Are you sure you're not under a different name somewhere? A different identity perhaps?-
The secretary at the media garages was a plump looking Inuit refugee, probably sorry she'd not stayed near the Arctic Circle like all her other ancestors who'd done well since the Thaw. But America was, and always had been, a nation defined by its population of political refugees. The price of supporting every repressive foreign regime was exile communities. She'd maybe lost everything, caught in the crossfire of the napalm of history, without even clothes on her body, as a child running down the street in fear for her life.
I hadn't even heard her name off all the other identities, stolen and otherwise, that I'd used for the last copyright-year. But as soon as she said "Barlowe," one of my more favorite guises over the year, I heard the hurly-burly of the press corps descend the marble steps as most have imagined, and a voice raised high over the pitch of yells said 'Mr. Bierstadt! Mr. Albert Bierstadt!,' and I knew my ship had finally come in.
As I drifted away from the memory of the smile of the secretary, a man sweaty and ruddy-faced shook my hand with his two. He wore a Miami Vice-esque jacket with a neon colored t-shirt underneath. He even wore loafers without socks on his feet and a sprayed-on strip of stubble on his red-burned cheeks.
-Please, excuse the outfit. It's for the Nelson Days and their tributes. Your seat, Mr...Bierstadt is this way, next to the Chief of Chiefs of Staff....-
And with that name I'd be placed and known among the dignitaries of Congress, to watch a very important States of the Union address.
***
Mr. Speaker of the House. I now give you the President of THESE United States.
My first thought that day had little to do with the appearance of President Skip Oglethorpe, though I will go into that very soon enough. I was much more interested in the people in attendance. It was strange to see the Golfshirts up close; and, as occupied the right wing of the House, their regalia really did form a solid block of fascistic colors. The old guards of the Republican-Democratic-Libertarian Party looked much more normal in their business casuals. The nativists were hooded groups in a sea of khaki and puke-green. Each to their own. Besieged.
Most Americans never saw this scene because most never cared. In fact I knew most Americans, both civilians and citizens, didn't even know about the States of the Union address anyways (it wasn't even on the TVs and the other televisions!)
I strained my neck to look over the plumage of the Firefighter Chief-generals, and was soon rewarded with the sight of President Oglethorpe. He looked like he did in all the ego-shows, with a business casual, untucked and unbuttoned except for the top button. It did more than release the snack food gut-brought-to-you by Frito Lay-Casa Sanchez. To sway the nativist hoodies, Ogglethorpe had to walk like a prison bitch. Politics were made in Lower California's prisons now.
He pressed his hammy palms with the congressional masses, within reach of his meaty paws, and, I from what I saw in the nosebleed seats, spoke his brief platitudes, then took to the podium. Framed by the 48-star U.S. flag, he turned into the college professor. Wonkery 101.
History writ with lightning. That oft-mentioned phrase has been bandied about, but no one has ever watched a chief executive pontificate with such powers-of-pretend. Now that I think about it, he did that then. And I? I was moved.
By imagination.
The flag behind the president never looked so sad; the stars on the blue field, like the blackness of space, never looked so open.
Perhaps, hearing the speech that day was really a lucky accident. I just wanted to get published, and I hadn't, even during that moment of entrapment in my seat, really thought that my meeting with the President would result in any great accomplishment. Maybe I’d get the chance to do an ego-likeness. I never thought then that I would write the epic for another American century.
The president mentioned a historic bell in his speech: this was the reason for the occasion of the States of the Union speech. It'd been brought to the Capitol from a university campus in the former sovereign state of Free Arizona; for nothing said the rebirth of American greatness than the readmission of "Confederate Arizona" to the federal union; and nothing said freedom more than the ringing of that bell, which had once been on a battleship with the same name. Arizona.
Most heard the triumphalism and exceptionalism of a twilight nation in his speech. I, a cynic then, heard a sales pitch. Oglethorpe’s magic had already convinced America. Not me, I thought briefly back then as a Cascadian boy, a child of the rebel provinces. You couldn’t have put another star on that flag and said to me everything was right. Stick a rebel in the corner of the room and make him hear the whole lecture? Any wonk could do that.
I must've known that then, for I know it now. I drifted off and thought of worlds beyond that time of decline, on my birthday and this most ceremonious of American times: December 7th, 2199, the Year of our Incorporated Lords.
***
Stars go silent because of distance. But each has life and its own civilization that dances around it. There are two kinds of worlds in the universe, and one is free.
For those spheres know that space is alive!
But on the subject of the other worlds, and one world in particular, life is dying.
Beyond the orbit of Eris and Sedna, where the Oort Cloud rains down on world-lets of the Hadean Causation, a great fleet of the human race’s last hope to stave off destruction lays parked on the edge of the solar plane. Ice is suspended between each drop of weightlessness. Sunlight dances off pieces of rocks 9 billion years old.
The SS Declaration of Independence wanders behind a destroyer convoy supported by frigates. But the armaments have already been brought up. The guns are ready to fire. And the great capital ship, the last battleship of the late, great Earth commands all for one last time.
Dread hangs on the bridge of the Declaration of Independence, the faces of crewmen lit by instruments and console lights, their young features giving the away as bare adults; the more experienced are dead, killed in the earlier space battles of the Invasion.
Admiral Jones looks at the battle-screen, just under the visor of his officer's cap, his eyes hiding beneath thoughts of the moment that will soon arrive. The crew waits for the Admiral to give the final orders to attack. The last destroyers form a line behind the Declaration of Independence.
Waiting is rewarded by yellow-hulled bullet crafts that do not end in their approach. Bigger versions take positions behind them. Waiting until the Earth Defense Forces assemble; waiting until...
Jones yells the order, and it's the first time the green crew have seen his face since leaving earth-orbit. His beard grays daily from the stresses. He believes he's all that's left between his home and the invaders.
Kinetic torpedoes shoot from the sides of destroyers, and the big guns of the Declaration of Independence score the biggest hits against the enemy fleet.
Pinpricks. Admiral Jones sees that now. Barely making a dent in the invasion forces, their weapons glancing harmlessly off the yellow hulls.
Now comes the return fire of mighty fire; and when the mysterious energy beams arrive, the first crafts to blister, bubble-up, and explode are the destroyers; and when they go, so goes the escorting frigates and cruisers.
Young men are dying. Admiral Jones knows this as the first broadsides impact his battleship. The bridge rocks. Boys fly out from their battle-stations. Lights go out, smoke fills the air, and klaxons take a long time to give up.
Admiral Jones still wears his hat and no one sees his eyes wander over the status reports. He scans the tell-tale signs of a wounded ship. The great battleship is no match. She's losing oxygen from punctures in her hull. He imagines young crewmen -- boys -- flying into outer space. Dying. No one sees his eyes consider these frightful images. They only see him stand upright, like a stonewall, the only one standing, and, with the flashes of powerful energy canons in the space-screen, he stands in the only light to hold back the darkness.
His voice comes through the dying screams of boys on the bridge.
-Communications! Hail the enemy ship!-
One boy with an eye hanging from an empty socket puts a bloody hand up and slips on a headset. Soon -- and Admiral Jones -- can tell before he even says it…
-...Sir...it...s the very same message...the same one as before...Surrender...Surrender, sir...they…-
No one can tell what he looks at. He is just a man behind a Admiral's hat and a beard; and more.
-Tell them…-- they're idiots!-
Even with one eye, the boy is aghast.
Admiral Jones looks out at the space-screen. The Declaration of Independence is mortally wounded, her big guns can no longer fire. The rest of ships? One by one, they are being blown apart. Only a few destroyers survive to cover their retreat. But he won't ask that of anyone. Every ship is valuable. This was the last fleet of free Earth. Dying Earth.
The Battle of Quaoar is lost.
-Tell all ships to make a retreat. Back to Ft. Deimos One.-
Crewmen take shaky steps back to their stations. Emergency power gives off a dim red light and electronic consoles limp back on.
Admiral Jones does not move. He watches a screen to see the remains of the Earth's last hope fall into position around him.
Except one.
-Admiral Jones…-
The one-eyed boy speaks again.
-Admiral Jones. The destroyer Hunley, sir. They...refuse to fall back with us….-
No one sees Admiral Jones pick out the spot in space where the destroyer should be. No one can tell that he knows what the boy will say in response to an admiral's next command.
-Tell Captain Westernstar to follow the fleet back to Ft. Deimos in Mars-orbit. That's an order!-
The boy's hand falls from his earpiece.
-Admiral Jones. The captain says...the captain says….-
But Admiral Jones does not listen to him. He finally moves to the window, to imagine another set of boys who are ready to give up their lives for freedom, so that others might live.
He already knows: all gave some, today. But some give all.
***
At first glance Mars' deserts are illusions, literally; ghostly illusions cover it's dead seas and mirages suggest the fall of the last tides and everything on the bottom gone belly up. There appears to be the skeletons of dead fish on the sea floors, until one notices something peculiar about the size of each behemoth and leviathan. That's no ancient station of extinct life; those are sunken naval ships. And this isn't the Red Planet.
History says that hundreds of years ago a great world war raged far above the barren sands where these craft came to lie, and naval battles took place on the surface of vast oceans that stretched for leagues and leagues. But contests  like that happened, not on Mars, but on the Earth. This is the former blue world, turned into one endless desert, and purged of its air and seas. The only detritus covering its surface are the remains of the human race. What remains of civilization hides deep underground.
A figure trundles across the blasted surface of a crater. Red clouds hover above him. One pale wisp of steam comes out of a hose connected to a backpack. The rest of his body is covered by a cloak. Its material shines, reflecting the light of a sun shining harshly through thin air. A goggled gas mask looks around one more time before catching sight of the only thing in the sky. Usually the only thing people see in the sky now, besides the ships of the EDF, belong to the cursed meteor bombs from deep space. At first the object in the sky looks like another attack by the Invaders.
Not this time.
The figure recognizes the rarest of sights: a shooting star. Since the atmosphere of the Earth is no longer thick enough to produce the long burning trails of natural meteors, the figure knows they are watching something even more miraculous. The crash landing of a spacecraft.
Before the smoke of the impact disappears in the thin air, the figure arrives at the location and peers into the crater….
***
Everytime Admiral Jones sets eyes on the Earth upon returning to orbit, he dies a little to see the reduction of his home into a scarred, mottled red ball barely holding onto some clouds. Except for the shapes of continents, all seems lost. The craters grow more pronounced and numerous every day. Like legion they spread. His home is sick, the infection is pronounced and its spreading, and pretty soon, the radiation of the meteor bombs will begin to seep underground.
That's where the last cities of the human race live.
The Declaration of Independence barely limps into space-port dragging the rest of its fleet. Admiral Jones knows it will be long time before the ship is space-worthy again. He also knows he might die before that moment arrives.
Sub-London. Sub-Moscow. Sub-Tokyo. One by one the messages from each city, grim reminders of bare survival before the Battle of Quaoar, have fallen silent, until the only voice that comes from beneath the Earth is from Sub-Seattle.
Admiral Jones heads for that city now. EDFHQ sits under the volcanic shield of Mt. Rainier, the internal tectonic fires of the Cascadia subduction zone powering its engines of resistance. But even those, too, might fail if the newest meteor bombs succeed and burrow deeper into the planet. Some planetary convection currents in the mantle have already been extinguished by the weaponry of the Invaders. The powers of the mysterious enemies extend into the geological sciences, which along with the mastery of the atom are killing all life on the planet.
Admiral Jones is a man beneath a captain's hat, seemingly secure with each careful step, as he disembarks from the high-speed elevator and enters the Central Control Room. Supercomputers and faster technicians work round the clock to coordinate the spread-out ships of the EDF. Spread much too thin for the admiral's liking. They had scraped together what they could to hold the invaders at the orbit of Quaoar. Failing that....
Admiral Jones sees the prime minister of the One-World Government, and, trying to put the thought of a defenseless Earth out of his head, concentrates on the shaking of the big walrus-looking man's hand, who has news for the admiral.
-A spacecraft has crash landed on the Earth.-
For a second the admiral does nothing to suggest he’s heard Prime Minister Seward. Then he lift his head up and looks at the prime minister from beneath the bill of his captain’s hat.
-From the enemy fleet? A scout from the battle? We’ve never captured one of their ships before.-
Seward motions to Admiral Jones, and they step out of the control center, into a long, dark hallway.
-The mystery of the invaders must continue. At least for now. But we can possibly count...an ally in our fight.-
The admiral feels old, but his curiosity is never dimmed; and his mind jumps to life with a thought.
-An ally? Who?-
-A spacecraft from a planet...148,000 light-years from Earth. Carrying a message.-
The admiral cannot believe his ears.
-How can you be sure? Is it a trick? Is it...some new plan...by the Invaders?-
The prime minister puts his hands behind his back. They are both walking slowly now. Old men getting ready to die.
-We’d considered that. But the message on the ship...and the occupant…-
-A survivor?!-
Seward puts his hand on his old friend’s shoulder.
-We...found...two people in...and near...the wreckage.-
-Two people?-
-One died. This alien was dead when we found...her...The other...the other was a Cascadian tribesman, from a band that scavenges between here and the Sandwich Islands. He saw everything. Because of that, we took him into custody.-
Admiral Jones considers this all now; the invasion by the mysterious enemies hardly fazes him to the news of alien life. He instead thinks about the former ocean bottoms, now cursed earth, between Sub-Seattle and the Sandwich Islands. The Pacific Sink, some call it. The EDF works hard to reclaim the old naval bases around the Sandwich Islands…and the Cascadians have been nothing but trouble, stealing from the work-zone of "Project Remember the Maine."
-What does the message say, Prime Minister? Can we really trust it?-
They approach the end of the hall. A door is there. They enter and things grow darker.
-It’s better if you listen to it, yourself. What’s more, you need to meet the tribesman who found the alien...he says he knows you...he says you killed his brother.-
***
Brady Westernstar continues to feel the humiliation of a dozen or more spray nozzles against his skin. He still feels the irritation of scrub brushes and his skin is raw and pink; and the tingling feeling will not go away. Now left alone in a cell, his thoughts turn inexplicably to the crash landed spaceship and it's pilot from another world. His memories fill with her long green hair and the yellow eyes -- catlike and open -- gazing into death.
With a capsule tied around her neck, the long chain gripped tight by long slender fingers that are so incredibly human. Because she could have passed for human if she hadn't been nearly 10 feet tall.
But death has ways of reducing people; and all the things that seem grand and great are more approachable and less intimidating. Like his older brother, Montana, now dead on the edge of the Solar System, left to die by his superiors, so they might live. All kinds of disappointments in greatness support his reason for leaving the EDF a few years ago. He's been eking out a life in the ruins of the Harbors of Pearls, hoping to escape the war. Now his brother's dead and he's a witness to an alien crash. Escape seems cruel now.
Imprisoned by the fascist pigs he promised never to support again, he thinks only of the lone word on the lips of the dying space woman.
Columbiana...
***
Hello planet Earth. I'm Pokiahanta, from the double-planet of Columbiana. I've peered across space and time and seen what the terrorism of the universe has done to your world. Even now the radiation from bombings is making your world unfit for human life; even now your planet has been stripped clean of its atmosphere and your oceans have been boiled off too.
Fear not, brave Earth. My twin sister, Quanniah, has brought you information that can save your world and your race.
We have the technology to reverse the radiation and restore the your world to its former perfect state. But the anti-radiation machine that can accomplish this can only be assembled and built on our world of Columbiana, and I am unable to come to you because my world, like yours, is oppressed by the same planet that's destroying your world.
For you to make the 148,000 light-year journey to my world, my sister has the plans for a special kind of engine -- a wave-motion engine -- that can power a ship and make the journey to my world in time, because time is not what you have brave Earth. If you don't make the journey soon, your race will be dead in a year, and your planet will never be as beautiful and pristine as it was before.
Hurry Earth! You have only one year!
This is Pokiahanta, of the double-planet of Columbiana. I will be waiting for you.
***
Admiral Jones watches the message of the green-haired girl disintegrate in a dying storm of photons, then moves away from PM Seward, with his hands behind his back; his head slumped against his chest. Just a man in a captain's hat now, shuffling across the floor and in the worst of moods. Hope, it appears, is in their company; and of all the times it's chosen to show, the worst time is now; the EDF is without its best crews. Green would be an improvement. Most of the current belong in school.
He shuffles some more until he arrives at the side of armed guards.
-Quick, soldier. Take me to the prisoner, at once!-
The long walk awaits the admiral and he settles into the seemingly obliviousness that an old man is allowed to enjoy. But he watches everything around him all the time, two eyes beneath the brim of a captain's cap. Noticing the work, the small changes in Fortress Hawaii. To the casual observer, the place is a bleak mountain range surrounded by the bleaker Pacific Sink. Beneath the surface lays the busy activity of excavating, and the engineers with their plans to carve out the remains of an old naval base. Inside the extinct volcano of Big Hawaii is the heart and soul of the Remember the Maine Project. But a lonelier place is always around the corner. It is with an incurable case of space sickness that one dreads the next thing around the corner; or death.
The stockades for the prisoners. One hasn't been an occupant since the days of sugar plantations. Now a hole in the ground sweats with the changes in the thin air currents that whip around the base of the king of volcanoes. Admiral Jones feels the damp air and a chill makes him pull his head deeper into the high collar of his jacket. But he sees in the dark the iron bars of a cell; and there grinning inside: the younger face of one of his old junior officers in the situation room.
-I knew you'd come Admiral.-
An old man in a captain's hat feels the young man's name stick in his throat before he says it.
-Ensign Westernstar.-
The young man's looked better than he does now; with long greasy blond hair and eyes that are angered, Westernstar sits on more than his butt with his arms hanging over his bent knees. He's a killer, or used to be as the best fighter pilot in the Screaming Demons. Admiral Jones definitely feels Westernstar killing him now.
-Bet you never thought you'd see me again, did you?-
-Not under better circumstances, no, I didn't.-
Westernstar's face transforms into an invisible laugh.
-Neither did I ever think I'd see you standing upright after your heroic defense...-
The admiral knows Westernstar won't quit; and he never disappoints; not now, not never.
-...glad to see you got back alright, Admiral....-
The words hang. But Admiral has been given things to hang himself before.
-Your brother stayed behind, against my orders, when I ordered a retreat -- and he disobeyed.-
Brady Westernstar looks through strands of hair with icey-blue eyes, and the Admiral can feel the shame of leaving so many young men to their deaths. But he hasn't lost them. If he'd felt that way, he wouldn't be here. Those men under his command -- they’ll always be with him. Nevertheless, he listens to the angry young man because Brady once, like his older brother, served on a ship under the admiral's control. So he listens to a former junior officer.
-You let him be your shield, while you escaped!-
Admiral Jones never hears more clearer words than what he hears -- or says -- now.
-Freedom isn't free, son. Someone had to make it back.-
***
Memories still have power. Running through a green grass still means something to two small boys. The moment's still happening for them, even if only one of them still lives; and like everyone on the Earth who owns one memory of wild nature, this memory means something because two boys running in the tall green grass is still happening.
Even if the moment takes place in death.
For Brady Westernstar the memory takes place every single night in his burning dreams.
The Earth burns now. Burning black beneath the radioactive fires. The world shrivels in the atomic furnace. Dreams fade again.
Again, Brady wakes, but he faces a different option this time, one he's just began to fully consider.
The Frontier Force.
He pushes the words and their mystery out of his head, straps on his anti-radiation cloak, and exits Fortress Hawaii for the barren slopes of the extinct volcano. The blackened rock's desolation actually predates the bombardment of meteor bombs by millions of years. Brady can just make out the edge where the former ocean once met the land, but the earth's misery unites the former opposites; there's only hell from the top of the volcano's peak, down to the shoals of a dried up depressions. But strange interruptions in the pit's floor catch Brady's eye. He walks down the slope, towards them, and thinking more about Admiral Jones.
You're one of the last experienced space crewmen. I need all the experience hands I can get. This might be the Earth's last hope, Westernstar.
The bottom of the dessicated harbor comes into better view. Brady can see where the EDF has been busy with the construction of a structure; a perimeter wall. A tall retainer wall. For what, Brady can't see. A smaller structure sits inside of the depression, a small, wreck of some twisted metal. A long fuselage. Ruins of concrete super structures lean against a rusted body. Nothing of value is here. Its nearly insignificant to the giant slopes of the volcano and the yawning expanse of the Harbor of Pearls.
Never has he seen this. He imagines a trace wind through his hair, and for a second, he stands on the shore of a bay, the ocean lapping at his feet. The sun shines, not with the ferocity of ultraviolet radiation through the holes in the ozone layer, but rather with the shine from off the surface of the water. This is how the world looks again, somewhere, sometime, somehow, in his mind. The wind is real.
Even in the thin, leftover air of the planet, the sign of metal wings and roaring engines disrupts the substance of sight and sound. Brady turns in the direction of a plane. At least he thinks it's a plane. It is -- it's not: the Invaders have launched a scout plane. It flies through the air as a backwards knife, carving the air in a long swooping downward motion, seemingly to stab the center of the bay. Towards Brady, but then over him, towards the mysterious wreckage. Brady can barely see the rocket-jet fire its points of hot-blue flames.
The rocket-jet enters the space just above the twisted metal, and the top-edges of the wall soon glow yellow, and the air, for only a split second, dances with strange properties of energy. Suddenly, an electrical current surges forth from the wall - nearly vertically.
Terrible energy envelops the aircraft; then before it can explode -- vaporization.
Brady can feel warmth of energy on his skin. He has never seen anything like this weapon before. Whatever the EDF is working on…
He finishes his walk down the slope of the volcano, perching himself on the last vantage point over the retainer wall, and stares for a good long minute, until the object in the center of the wall makes sense to his mind. Beneath the crust of rust, he sees the hull of an ocean-going vessel, one that sunk to the bottom of the Harbor of Pearls. The captains bridge still sits high on the deck; but its the battery of massive guns that give the dead away: an ancient battleship, resting for maybe hundreds of years, until uncovered. First by the disappearance of the sea, but also...
The wind picks up again and blasted earth is lifted from the ground and carried on deathly winds. For the life of him, Brady cannot figure out what interest the Invaders had in this sunken ship-of-old, nor why the EDF spends so much time to protect the ruins of the USS Arizona.
Hurry Westernstar. This is the Earth's last hope.
***
Plastered posters line the lice-ridden walls of Sub-Seattle's deepest catacombs; flyers choke the open sewers of every canyon of deep, deep urban pits. Voices rise and excitement grows, as Prime Minister Seward gets ready to address the survivors of the planet. Already the ranks swell with volunteers of the Earth's last fight.
Crisp white uniforms march through the streets, their stripe-n-arrow insignias stepping in time as united ranks of red, orange, blue, and green colors. More voices join the air, cheering them onward. Towards space the uniformed cadets will go before the Earth disappears.
Circuit One opens and the multitudes of the planet await, until every tele-screen is filled with the Caucasian, walrus-face of PM Seward.
Meanwhile the first of the white uniformed volunteers arrives at Fortress Hawaii and are taken to the underground chamber of the Remember the Maine Project. They're amazed by the hollowed out cavity; the effort of blasting, removing, and improving volcanic rock is not wasted on a single witness. It's a cavernous hangar built underneath the Harbor of Pearls; but the ship that it houses hangs from the ceiling of the chamber. Still partially buried by rock, the hull of an ancient battleship has been refashioned into a gleaming craft with rocket engines and battlestations for one purpose: a spaceship designed to leave the Earth.
Admiral Jones watches the first ranks of the crew assemble, as the founding officers of the newly christened spaceship assign them to their posts. Time moves quickly, even for an old man, as more of the crew arrives to board the space battleship Arizona, ready for her one year mission to save the planet Earth.
The admiral listens in to the fanfare that accompanies Seward’s broadcast, imagining the pictures that accompany his speech, the last images anyone may see of the young crew, dedicated to a mission of renewal, individual enterprise, and commitment to freedom.
The Frontier Force.
He fears enthusiasm won’t be enough.
Floodlights illuminate the fresh red paint on the hull of the Arizona. Loudspeakers compete with the PM's piped-in speech. Winches and mechanical gears whine and creak with the efforts of preparations. The admiral enters a cloud of steam and emerges from the other side.
Security men escort him to the command bridge of the ship; and on the way every rank drops their duffel bag, clipboard, or conversation, to salute the highest ranking officer on-board. A black haired man in a uniform marked by blue vertical bands and an arrow on the front walks towards Admiral Jones, and thumps his bent right arm against his chest. The Frontier Force salute. The admiral shows Science Officer Sandor his eyes.
-As you were officer. Is the Arizona's crew on board?-
The first thing the admiral notices is Sandor's precision of speech.
-Admiral, all stations at 95%. Engineering reports that the wave-motion engine is engaged. Fusion-flywheels are at full revolution, with no gravitational resistance. Fuel is nearly loaded and refinement continues apace to the schedule. Timetables are being met by every station, that is, except the command bridge.-
By now Sandor has walked Jones to the bridge, and the elevator doors now slide open. Flight-operations darkness is only lit by instrument controls. The officers on duty stand up and salute. The admiral looks around and notices an empty seat at the pilot's station.
Sandor points towards the seat, as if cued, or prescient, or both.
-We don't have a chief pilot, sir.-
Admiral Jones doesn't respond. He steps to the captain's chair; from now on he will insist he's addressed as captain, for he resigned his rank in order to command this mission. He speaks into a microphone on his captain's console; and for the first time the crew of the space battleship hears his voice.
-Prepare for launch in one hour, Frontier Force. From now on think only of doing your best. We must return in one year, or the Earth will disappear. The hopes and dreams rest in you doing your jobs.-
Jones feels the full weight of the moment, and knows it might be too much for these kids.
-That is all.-
***
During the war with the mysterious Invaders, the human race has long since lost the high ground. Outer space. The fleet that fought at Quaoar was scrapped together from surviving outposts across the Solar System. Leaving the gravity well of the Earth is much simpler than an escape from the planet's surface.
It’s the ascent to the heavens that earns the wrath of mighty powers.
The eyes watching the former blue world lord over, from high above, an imprisoned planet turning red with war and pestilence and death. They can -- they will -- strike. At. Will.
A missile materializes from a component of parts orbiting on the far side of the Moon. Spindly and grotesque, it unfurls it's warhead like an umbrella and -- blastoff -- engines ignite. Slingshot around the Earth's satellite, gravity does the rest. Falling earthward. Towards the Arizona and the Frontier Force.
***
Brady Westernstar never threw away his uniform. When he shows up at the recruiting office for the Frontier Force, he causes quite a stir and gets a few sideways looks and laughs.
A doctor gives him a checkup. He's an old man with thick glasses. A yellow cat rubs against Brady's leg.
-He seems to like you!-
The doctor, in Brady's mind, anyways, is an old coot. But the cat is cute and the doctor closes his office door, until him and Brady are drinking bourbon whiskey, and the old doctor's showing pictures of himself and Admiral Jones. They're kids in the pictures, about the same age as Brady now.
Feeling a little more emboldened, Brady throws on the brand new uniform from the recruitment office. Red piping on his arms and legs, and a big red arrow on his chest. Brady feels silly.
The spaceship's decks are filled with people who have no business in the EDF, let alone on a 148,000 light-year trip. But their enthusiasm is contagious -- briefly -- at least. A few younger ones salute Brady. He could be the oldest one on the ship.
Sirens and klaxons rise as the lights dim to red. Flashing alarms and a robot's voice: Enemy missile spotted!
Brady runs towards his battle station, on the bridge of the ship. But he only crashes into an attendant carrying trays of supplies. For a second the clattering of cups and bowls startles him into action, as he bends over to help her up.
He's startled by the same face he saw in the alien crash.
-...wa...what...I'm...sorry...miss...-
But it's not her. Just another blond haired slender space nurse -- and he's off down the hall, still thinking of her face and big green eyes; something spelled out on her name badge.
Nova.
***
-One minute 'till impact!-
Admiral Jones watches the Arizona's crew react like they might've in computer simulations. If they're afraid, they don't show it. The super overhead monitor shows more than an overview of the system diagnostics; the admiral sees the sky overhead. To the untrained it's a sea of red and limp-moving clouds; to a man trained in space warfare he knows the missile will be visible in seconds. The size of the weapon the Invaders are bringing to bear is unlike anything he's ever encountered before.
-Navigator Homer! Plot coordinates for the quickest ascent out of the trajectory of that missile!-
Computers work furiously to solve algorithms, but the admiral knows the truth lays in the thunder beneath their feet, the core system of the resurrected Arizona; so he makes a call to the co-pilot's chair, only a yell across the bridge, towards the bank of steering wheels and controls.
-Status on the power systems, Pilot Venture! Can the Arizona liftoff?!-
Venture's brusque Jersey kid accent breaks a little with the strain.
-Captain! Making the status call, now! Engineering! Engineer Orion! Is the wave-motion engine at full power?!-
A take-no-prisoner's voice breaks over the com-link.
-Wave-motion engine at full power, Captain!-
The admiral smiles at the sound of his old friend's voice.
-Pilot Venture! Begin ascent of the Arizona! And Officer Eager, keep the ship's screw at full battle stations! Prepare shock cannons tocreate a firing solution.-
Men dressed in white with colored arrows begin the furious preparations for launch; and at first nothing happens. Except for the shrillness of sirens and piercing lights -- the ship seems immobile, frozen in place. That's until a great whine of a wound up mechanical power transforms metal into shaking parts. For a second it's not clear what will give. But the sudden energy seems to work in the favor of the space battleship. The earth that's trapped the ship for hundreds of years and served as it seemingly impossible tomb -- breaks. The power of the engine, a gift from a world more than a hundred thousand light-years away, gives the ship the strength to shake off the dirt obscuring its surface; and like a phoenix, the Arizona does the impossible, and rises from death and the tomb of extinction. As it does, it’s no longer a rusted wreck. The skin beneath is new steel. The exterior shines in the brutal sun, and for a second, reflects back a second dawn.
Admiral Jones exhales. The space battleship has risen. For a second he truly enjoys the sensation of motion and the exhilaration of an inert piece of metal suddenly rising from its tomb and striking out, to go forth, and seize its destiny. But the responsibility of commanding men overrules the fascination of machine: the ship is in trouble; the admiral can feel the lurch -- as if metal screams!
-Pilot Venture! Get a handle in the level! Can't you handle the Arizona?-
As the deck begins the heave, part of the larger ship's distress, Venture grimaces with the strain of the controls, his tough-guy accent fading.
-There's not enough control on the aft-side controls, Captain Jones!-
The admiral looks in silence at the empty pilot's chair. He's just an immobile face cast in stone, looking like an immobile wall, as he can finally see the enemy missile through the space-view.
The Sun disappears in its shadow.
***
Brady Westernstar steps onto the bridge just as the Arizona pitches to the aft-side.
-Woa! Easy there cowboy!-
He takes a step towards the captain's chair and pumps his fist against the heart beneath his chest.
-Admiral Jones, Deputy Captain Westernstar reporting to duty!-
The admiral says nothing and Brady rushes to the other pilot's chair. Co-pilot Venture gives him a look of agitation.
-Let's see if you can do any better flying, bub!-
Brady straps in, grabs the steering controls, and notices the heaviness. He also feels the surge of power that comes from the throttle at his foot. The Arizona is a mighty man-o-war. The ship fights his first attempts at control, until he works with it, and the responses become smoother.
Brady hears the admiral behind him call out to other members of the crew.
-Gun Officer Eager, that missile is too close and packs too much armament to destroy it with the shock cannons. We need to disintegrate it now. We'll use the wave-motion gun to destroy it.-
Brady hears another officer, one dressed in blue-arrowed whites, add to the evaluation.
-Have we tested the screw-drive and generator-locks on the spin wheel, captain?-
The admiral just stares ahead at the approaching missile.
-There wasn't any time, Officer Sandor. Many of the Arizona's capabilities will need to be tested in-flight, on the way to Columbiana.-
Brady needs to know:
-What's the 'wave-motion' gun?-
Admiral Jones:
-It's a special weapon that's powered by the same wave-motion engine that the Columbianans gave us.-
Sandor:
-By locking the drive to an exhaust port in the front of the ship, the screw-drive essentially powers rechannelled forces into a bullet chamber, which is released in a burst of energy capable of, in theory, exponential destruction.-
Brady watches a schematic of the ship with flashing yellow lights illuminate the flow of energy from the internal engine of the ship, along a horizontal column, until the energy reaches the now of the ship and exit through a chamber that's essentially a muzzle.
The Arizona is a giant flying gun.
Admiral Jones:
-Head Engineer Orion, engage the engine to charge the wave-motion gun!-
While Brady hears parts beneath his feet begin to move against each other, he catches on that the crew is responding to the task ahead.
Ahead the missile is spiraling in, threatening to block out the sky much sooner than seems possible. Brady judges that, even from this distance, the projectile must be the size of a space battleship.
The crew puts on darkened googles. Safety harnesses automatically tighten around seated crew members. The windup of the engines sounds with the slow tightening-up of everything on the ship. Steel shudders but doesn't break.
The Arizona floats motionless in the red sky, a few bands of feeble clouds floating by it, the sun darkening with the eclipse of a roaring moment of quick annihilation.
Brady sees a target sight pop up on the console in front of him. Next, a gun trigger lifts up to in front of him. His seat automatically readjusts to the objects in front of him.
Admiral Jones' voice seems calm against the impending heartbeat of doom.
-This is your shot, Westernstar.-
Venture:
-You only get one shot.-
Brady's retort gets caught in his throat; he hears the final words from Sandor ('wave-motion chamber at 100%!), until he sees the charge of light under the space-view, knowing now the gun's ready to fire, as the wind-up sound reaches an unbearable level, and -- focus -- the missile's directly in the gun-sight.
He clenches on the trigger and squeezes, and, for a split second, swears he can hear the twang of something -- once pulled right -- now being released.
A flash of light engulfs the bridge; and racing forces charge out in a mighty stream of stampeding beastly things: flames and columns of heat and the charge of matter, igniting the air and everything around the beam of energy; a great animal has been loosed upon the universe and it cries with its painful birth, erupting everything around it.
Brady imagines a scream....
***
The Earth watches on Circuit One. An explosion occurs in the sky above the Sandwich Islands. The space battleship Arizona is enveloped by the explosion; and for a long minute nothing moves but a steady rain of burning debris.
Out of the smoke cloud comes the tell-tale shape of something, and the world holds its breath; hoping, not wanting to, but letting hope take over anyways. Anything else is misery that a dying world just can't handle anymore.
The bow of a ship moves out. It's the space battleship Arizona, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of the free world, who cries out in unison:
Hurry Frontier Force! The Earth has only a year left to live!
***
10th Annual Post-Classical American Modernity Symposium @ The Fifth Wind Lapping Dog Shrines, Neo-Persopolis, The Greater Parthia-Persi Union of Transoxiania
I want to thank everyone for showing up here for, what's turning out to be our most exciting collection of meta-oralists yet; and I'm not just talking about the special buffet afforded by our esteemed hosts: for it's truly an honor to eat in the same court of chefs that cook for the court of the Empress Shayada; and of course we thank her Consciousable-Self for not only providing her own court but also hosting this gathering of antiquarian scientists called 'historians.' We know now why the West has always been humbled by the East: it's always been the source of the greatest amount of self-wisdom, and without, the Occident would never have aspired to such heights which brought it, coincidentally, to its present lows.
What better segue can we have then for this most momentous of symposiums. For after all, the theme for this conference of sifters of the oral tale, many based from the prestigious capital in Timbuktu and Johannesburg in Zululand, is the historical word. Before you get your feathers all ruffled -- and I'm speaking to you, dear Dr. Solomon and 'Junto' -- what's brought us here to renew our interest in the findings from the past academic year in Post-Classical American Modernity isn't the "text." No rather we are as done with that as are those collectors of relics we call historians. Ha! When your laughter dies down, and yes, dear Dr. Solomon, the Californian wine is free, then we can focus on the single manuscript that's brought us here and which many of us, though unpractioned in textual sorcery answer we may be, have spent the last year courageously studying and -- ahem -- analyzing. I am speaking now of the first and original copy of the later day American Classic of the twilight years of the United States hegemon; I am referring to nothing else but the national epic that begat the American period of what the Chinese poet called the 'valley of darkness.' I speak now of Space Battleship Arizona.
What do we know of the epic: not much, really. Before the Americanists in our numbers say otherwise, pointing to the 'media aural smoke' of, what from now on we will refer to Space Battleship Arizona as 'SBA,' let's start with what we don't know: the author, who despite his introduction at the beginning, remains mysterious; the date of publication, which despite the date given, is not accurate, calling into question the whole the entire reliability of the author; the connection between the introduction, told seemingly to explain the reason for writing SBA, doesn't line up with what we know about President Oglethorpe's administration, which includes no mention of any commission for a Augustan Age-inspired national epic; lastly we also don't know why the later chapters of the story are much more circulated than the beginning of the tale; and that's where I'd like to introduce the works and panels under discussion at this year's Post-Classical American Modernity symposium: I really think they've done some amazing work to shine some light on the shadows that inhabit the stories within SBA. It appears after much study of what we know about the -- shall I call it a 'crypto-epic'? -- that the mysteries of the manuscript appear to tell us more.
First there's the issue of nation as it was remembered in the late days of the United States, before it's current incarnation as a rump state and satellites of 'pretenders.' The adventures of the space battleship Arizona are well known to most school kids, from Brazil to the Antarctic Republic to the Farside of the Moon, as encounters and battles with exotic flora and fauna -- and even more bizarre enemies and allies. Look to the panel with Ogenna Odume from Timbuktu 2-U, who tackles the nature of traveler's tales in imperial history and it's presence in the tales of the Arizona, with her important work "The Floating Continents of Jupiter: Alien Taxonomy and Orientalist Nomenclature." Another foray into the use of nature, particularly the American self-perception of its own 'naturalist' and 'preservationist' qualities, is touched on by "Imagining the Protozoans of Pluto: The American Conservationist Impulse as a Prelude to Military Adventurism," coming from the Marxist School of Cislunar Studies, by Zuer He, and her use of the Arizona's space battle on Pluto, while confronting the reality of exobiology on the 10th planet.
There are others worth mentioning; they all do a fine job with using what we know about the more, widely circulated tales of the Arizona, and connecting to the nationalist bravado that is so clearly visible in SBA. For those who've long ascertained that the creator of the Arizona intended for the ship, the crew, and it's adventures to embody the late-nationalist mood of the United States, and how fans of the adventure, many of whom might have indulged in the practice of 'fan fiction' and written the stories we know so well, the current work at this symposium draws attention to the belief that, though a crypto-epic, SBA served as a paean to the late, great ‘US of A.’ It's quite possible SBA was the kern of the genesis for the exceptionalist quality of heroes fighting evil aliens, surrounded by bizarre creatures, which they were both enthralled by and strove to protect, as if charged by a holy mission. We can now see how the destruction of the Earth, via meteor bombs, served as a major source of inspiration, suggesting that Americans might have given the climatic changes at the end of the 21st century racialist explanations of causation; and American decline was not only explained by the emergence of an Industrialized South, but also, as a direct challenge to America's perception of itself as a nation that did not belong to the causes of climatic change, and instead stood apart from industrial damage and even symbolized an alternative model of global development. Sadly this perspective, expressed by the policies Oglethorpe Administration in policy, and briefly touched on during the Great Chief-of-Staff's 'One Hundred Days,' was only paid lip service; and like the stories of a nature-loving crew of the Arizona, the idea of a 'Green American Imperium' existed only in fantasy.
How events played out in late United States history, well known to the future -- the future we inhabit -- while, unknown to Americans of the early 22nd Century, is evidenced in the stories of the Arizona, and at least partially explained by interpretations of the motivating factors in SBA. The symposium panel entitled 'Fear and Immigration among the Stars' tackles the part of Post-classical American Modernity that is informally referred to as the ‘war of demography.’ Before Dr. Solomon and his colleagues begin rolling their eyes, and yes, I can feel myself begin to do it too, let’s remember that the biggest issue that occurred in the United States in the late 21st century was, in fact, the challenge to white American hegemony over positions of power. A white minority fought long and hard to dismantle the social service infrastructure; and before the United States embarked on its military adventurism period, the federal government became a shadow of its former self, almost a rump state itself, like the remains of the ‘last of the American states’ that presently remain on the North American continent. But the first victim of white rage, a sort of counter-revolution by the white American minority, if you will, was the United States government. While many of us shine our harsh light of the Oglethorpe Administration, the dismantlement of the federal apparatus actually began much earlier during the so-called “Governors’s Revolt.” That explains the mention of the ‘48 Star Flag’ by our unknown author, pinpointing a very loosely defined period of time; after all, we can point to a number of revolts by the states against Washington D.C. But before we get to that section of this week’s symposium, let me mention that the fears of the white minority charged the dynamics of the era; and we can see their tell-tale traces in the later tales of the Arizona. The writers of this year’s symposium, part of the panel ‘Fear and Immigration,’ have found inspiration in SBA to come up with the tough choices of topics. Uyen Thuc Hunhn’s ‘Space Mexicans!’ The Perception of the Immigrant ‘Horde’ in Thought and Culture’ is as good a place to start as any, as the good work coming out of Kampuchea is instructive about the ways the Industrial North dealt with the change in global demographics. Global realignment easily positions the United States in the conversation, as the First American-Sino War and the Second Mexican-American War demonstrated for all time. Like Jacqueline Vazquez’s ‘We’re Renovating the Place’: Meteor Bombs as Metaphor for Reverse Globalization in the Twenty-Second Century,’ the audience of the panel, any panel for that matter, might find themselves connecting the dots; and I hope most will do that, because, frankly -- and this is where Dr. Solomon and I are in total agreement for a change -- this whole bifurcation of panels has gotten out of control. I, for one, am glad to see the trade off between fields of emphasis and their legion of disciplines. To be a student of post-classical American modernity, one almost has to cross the borders that, many of our subjects, were so reluctant to do, even though, like the ‘space Mexicans’ in the later adventures of the Arizona, the border had already crossed the ‘last of the Americans.’ I’m pleased to say, as students, all of us, we understand that the border, the nature of what Americans called the ‘frontier,’ and how they imagined it -- well, we should be comfortable with its power to describe our subjects and their perception of the world. They truly knew that inhabited it; after all, the author of SBA did, hence, the naming of that brave group of argonauts, the ‘Frontier Force.’ History, to use the term, was made on the border, one that Americans of the late-21st century had come to understand as their world, which they rebelled against, creating their own -- yes, Dr. Solomon, I tip my hat to you -- ‘barracks presidents' to reverse the flow of the Industrial South. Skip Oglethorpe was just the first of many; so proud to dismantle to federal government and relinquish control to the governors; pleased to act like modern emperors -- quasi-Diocletians, if you will -- even when states would rebel, like the Cascadians and, as mentioned in SBA, the sovereign state of Arizona.
Perhaps it's the state of the individual we should best turn our attention towards because, really, we see in SBA the troubled nature of personal identity in the 21st century state where issues like surveillance and the loss of freedom were contrasted with an explosion of technological mobility across borders and into the metropoles of reduced sovereignties in the nation-states. What does the view of SBA's own narrator look like then? Can we understand who wrote this troubled narrative of a fantastic time? For they hide from us, even while exposing their own prejudices about the appearances of the foes of late 21st century America.
Call me an old fashioned essentialist: There was an eternal fear in the heart of the self-proclaimed 'American,' that erstwhile personality of the United States citizen. We can make the connections from SBA and the later, more popular tales of the Arizona, and see that, yes, Americans owned a central narrative that described a besieged condition. The American was truly a lonely creature; at least that's how they chose to view themselves; and the loneliness of the wilderness of the stars? That was the genius of the creator of SBA; there are lions, tygers, and bears out there, predators ready to pounce on Americans. Look to the artifacts that distorted popular culture, like the space battleship Arizona, to see the type of battles that Americans replayed in their dreams. Nightmares to them actually: their nightmares became our dreams, our entertainment. There's an essay by Samra Jan from Persi Free University that's called, ‘Battle at the Twin Towers: American Memories and Perceptions of Betrayal, as a Prelude to the Second American-Sino War'; and it really does make me think that the author of SBA really knew themselves, really understood what lurked in the heart of the most alien concepts of our time: countrymen. Perhaps that's why we, as students of Post-classical American Modernity, make the strides our field demands. When a submission comes across our desk like ‘Mr Bierstadt! Mr. Barlow!: Identity in the Shattered Mirror of American Society,' we take notice because, like the author Brandon Terryfallen from the British Columbian Institutes of Technology points out, the turmoil of Americans at the end of the 21st century was not unique to the world; this fearful condition was part of a thing coming into being; and like the characters in the further adventures of the Arizona, maybe Kiyana Mugaddato-Kameha is right in, ‘Blue-Skinned Invaders from the Double-world of Columbiana: The Meaning of Race in the National Construction of a Post-United States White America’ -- maybe the disaster of America was the salvation of the world. And I think the author knew it too. 
Thank you, and good night.













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