Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Learning Curve: 2 of 12

            2. Space Hero

            Starbase Gandalf, Starbase Gandalf on moon Gollum, this is Lieutenant Redshirt of the SS Undertaker, lasering in report of Crowley, planet 4, fly-by recon.
            My trajectory took me between Crowley and its Ring, just inside the orbit of moon Gollum. Burn lasted 4.8 hektoseconds at high gee. Rendezvous with computed spacetime ‘keyhole’ confirmed. I am now surfing the interplanetary superhighway!
            I retracted the bolo before the burn, and have redeployed it for gravity and neutralino harvesting. The next two burns will be at Multivac and Murphy.
            Recon showed normal civilian activity around Potter colony on outer shepherding moon Dobby. Twenty-nine ice mining operations are in process in the Ring. Six of these lack proper transponder signals; possible cultist or pirate havens.
            Normal Starfleet activity around Starbase Gandalf on inward shepherding moon Gollum. But I guess you know that.
            Winds on Crowley at 0.2 k.p.s. in the Great Green Spot. Radio interference from the south polar eye-storm at normal levels.
            No enemy activity detected.
            Redshirt out.


            During the centuries in which the system was explored, terraformed, settled and exploited, class differences which had previously been purely functional now hardened into a rigid caste structure.  Crew-Bred were considered superior to Passenger-Bred and Cargo-Bred, and even differences between Inner Crew and Outer Crew grew into social gulfs.  Despite the numerous reforms of the past century this archaic class system still creates social friction today, and causes interplanetary conflict.


            It was on planet Rosie, on the polar island Morticia, in Ice Station 42 that Cliff Andover’s men were busy preparing for a raid on the Overlord Malvolio’s arctic arcology, the Ice Palace.
            Aang was there, and so was O-B-1. Ben Ten was there, and Ray Kwazaa, and  Duke Nukem; hardened warriors all. And that newbie kid Neutron was there too.
            Look, that redhead; the whispers passed.  That’s Rosemarie Vassar, the terraformer. She’s got Cliff’s guitar ‘Arlo’, but where’s Cliff? Look, that other redhead; that’s Randy Underwood, the famous inventor, Cliff’s best buddy, carrying a scan crystal. Duke Nukem and Aang nodded to each other.  Neutron gulped: “But where’s Cliff?”
            Suddenly, there he was! “Cliff! Cliff! Cliff!” the men chanted while Cliff Andover took center stage, at the focus of the spotlights. He bowed, and the men applauded.
            Cliff Andover: big, blonde, blue-eyed, broad-shouldered, cleft of chin, mighty of thew. Cliff, first among equals, rebel’s rebel, Imperial Enemy Number One.
            Cliff Andover: often slain, never defeated.
            He was dressed in a New Spacer uniform, complete with his legendary sword, ‘Cold Comfort’. Rosemarie Vasser gave him his guitar Arlo; he strapped it on, then pulled Rosemarie in too, for a grand smooch. They waved to the men, who cheered. Rosemarie slipped off to the side, and Cliff strummed his guitar.
            He played his signature tune, “The Wheel”:

                C           F                         C
There’s a wheel turning on muddy ground,
      G                           C
  Gains an inch every time it goes around.
      F                               C      G     Am
  Come on, let’s make another revolution!
      C      G      F      Am    G    Am
  *Turn, turn, turn; turn, turn, turn.
There are wheels that turn through all of our lives,
               F               G             C-- E
And we sometimes see them clear.
                 Am      G      Am                           G     Am         
When the night comes down, when the first snow falls,
                F           G          Am -- E
We can mark the day or the year.
           F                           C
  The circle’s end we can tell too easy;
           G                        Em -- E
  The beginning is hard to see.
                 Am        G    Am                     Am
  And the wheel whose seasons no-one knows
  (run)   C  (run)    G     (run)         F         Am
  Is the turn of the tide that can make us free.  (Cho, *2x)

There are wheels that turn in the natural world,
And there’s some in the heart of man.
Your wish moves them, your hand proves them,
So turn them the best you can.
  When you see your wheel, you can add your shoulder
  Or wait ‘til it’s rolling high.
  You can slow it down or speed it around,
  But you can’t make it stop, even when you die. (Cho, *3x)

(Instrumental break, 1 verse & chorus, *3x)

There’s a wheel that’s moving fast through our time
And we’ve seen the track it made.
I believe you know where it has to go
And the way that the game is played.
  So night’s come down and the turn is hidden,
  But it never stops rolling ‘round.
  So lay on your hand, ‘cause we’re coming to land.
  Just another strong pull and we’re on hard ground!


            Cliff Andover stood up and took off his guitar. Rosemarie Vassar came up to take it away, and he addressed the strike force. He said;
            “Men, the Ice Palace stands open to us! We can enter at will, and advance as far as Level Three, without casualties! Do you all have your cheat-sheets ready?” The men murmured assent. “Are they updated?”
            The men said, “Yeah!”
            “The latest update?”
            “Good!  Our objective remains the same; the Overlord himself, located in the throne room on Level 13. And we will take Level 13! I know we can!”
            The men cheered.
            Andover laughed. “Did you see those birds waddling around outside? The funny ones, all black and white? Penguins, they’re called; Malvolio had Morticia stocked with them. I say it fits him perfectly; because that’s what I think the crew-bred are! Like penguins, they’re flightless!
            The men laughed.
            Andover said, “They used to fly, but no longer!”
            The men laughed loud.
            Andover said, “What do they remember of spacer ways? We are the New Spacers! We are the pioneers!”   
            Cliff drew his sword, Cold Comfort. He brandished it and yelled, “Let’s do it!
            The men cheered.
            Randy Underwood squeezed the scan crystal.


            Twenty-three kiloseconds later, in Ice Station 42:
            Within the replicator chamber, multicolored plasma streams converged and condensed. A human figure formed, solidified, and animated.
            Cliff Andover winced, shook his head, and yelled, “Aw, fuck!
            His usual replication cry.           
            Randy Underwood rushed to his side, saying, “It’s OK, buddy, we’re all back, Rosemarie stayed behind and replicated everyone when the fail signal came in.  Hey why don’t you sit down?” and he led Cliff to a chair.
            But Cliff stayed standing. “Debrief me!” he said. He was always quick back on his feet after resurrection.
            Rosemarie Vassar was sitting across the room, at the replicator’s control panel. She said, “Playing file.” She pushed a button, and the holo lit up.
            Within the holo, the image of Cliff Andover drew a sword and yelled, “Let’s do it!” The holo showed Andover and the strike team leaving Ice Station 42, with Randy Underwood in tow.
            Randy said, “I was able to record the entire mission at low-rez on my scan crystal. Since the crystal’s quantum-entangled with our replicator here, the signal got here without interference.”
            Andover said, “Did you have time to do any hi-rez body scans?”
            Randy said, “Just once; of myself, at the very end.”
            Cliff said, “So you remember everything?” Randy nodded. “How far did we get?”
            “Level Five.”
            “Good… what stopped us?”
            “A Nessie.”
            “What?! A Nessie got us? But I can handle them!”
            Randy said, “There was a snafu... tell you about it later.” They watched the holo continue. Andover’s strike force was trudging across snow. Randy said, “This part’s boring… skip a bit, won’t you Rosemarie?”
            Rosemarie pushed a button, and the holo showed them walking down an empty corridor. Suddenly battle broke out. Cliff watched for a hektosecond, then said, “Stop!” The scene stopped, and he said, “You mean… that we got inside… and there was no resistance… the corridor was completely unguarded… and we just blithely praised our good luck and pressed on?!
            Randy said, “Well, yes.”
            “Stupid!” Cliff yelled, and slapped his forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
            Randy said, “Aw, come on, ol’ buddy, it wasn’t that bad.”
            But the look on Rosemarie’s face told a different story.
            Cliff moaned, “Who did we lose there?”
            Rosemarie said, “Half our crew.”
            “All right,” Cliff gritted, “what other bonehead moves did I make?”
            “Well...” she said, and pushed a button. The holo showed another battle scene.
            After watching awhile, Cliff said, “Oh brother.”
            Rosemarie said, “Unnecessary exposure to enemy fire. I keep telling you…”
            They watched some more. Cliff said, “Wait, stop! Play that again…” The scene repeated. “I tried to parry blaster fire with a sword?!
            Randy said, “The bolts all bounced off the blade!”
            “It’s a cute trick,” Rosemarie agreed. “Very flashy.”
            Randy said, “It’s brilliant!
            Cliff said, “It’s ridiculous!
            “That’s what I keep telling you,” said Rosemarie. “Why do you even have that sword?”
            Randy said, “But the sword’s traditional! It’s the spacer way!
            Rosemarie said, “Yes, I know that swashbuckling’s part of his image, and PR is important, but couldn’t he also pack a blaster or two?”
            Enough!” Cliff roared. “What else went wrong?”
            “Just the Nessie on Level Five,” Randy said.
            “We got eaten? By a lake monster?” Randy and Rosemarie nodded. “But I can handle them! Just distract them with some bait, then one sword-thrust through the tympanum!”
            “Well…” Randy said, “you didn’t have the right bait.”
            “What? I distinctly recall packing a gefilte! Nessies love those boneless blobs! It’s their favorite prey!”
            “Well… um… you see, we stopped for a snack…”
            “A snack.”
            “On Level Four. We were hungry.”
            “Go on.”
            “You had a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with you. And also a gefilte.”
            “I see,” Cliff said. “And I ate the gefilte.”
            “Well, um, yes.”
            “So when Nessie was bearing down on me, all I had to throw at her was a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
            “Well, um, yes.”
            “Stupid!” Cliff yelled, and slapped his forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
            Randy said, “Aw, come on, ol’ buddy, it wasn’t that bad.”
            But the look on Rosemarie’s face told a different story.
            “Anything else?” Cliff moaned.
            “No, that’s it,” said Rosemarie. “Only three lethal blunders this time.”
            “That’s not so bad,” Randy consoled him. “After all, here we are, right?”
            “And the men?”
            Rosemarie said, “We’ve already replicated them.”
            Randy said, “They’re waiting for you.”
            Rosemarie said, “They’re down the hall. You have to see them.”
            Andover said, “Arlo… Cold Comfort… the cheat sheets…”
            Randy said, “I’ll update the cheat-sheets tonight, and get them out tomorrow.”
            Rosemarie said, “Where’s Arlo? Oh, there. Where’s Cold Comfort? Oh, we need a new one.” So she went to the control panel and pushed a button. ZWEEEEENNNG; a sword materialized in the replication chamber.
            Randy took Cold Comfort out; he buckled the freshly-replicated sword around Andover’s waist and said, “They’re waiting for you.”
            Rosemarie draped Arlo over his shoulder said, “They need you.”
            He went out the door, down the corridor, through the double doors, and there they were.
            Aang was there, and so was O-B-1. Ben Ten was there, and Ray Kwazaa, and Duke Nukem, and Neutron. All had that look… that freshly replicated look…
            They whispered to each other,  “Look! It’s Cliff! He’s back! They brought him back!”
            Cliff Andover addressed the freshly-replicated strike force. He said to them:
            “Men, you look like hell.”
            The men nodded and murmured.
            Cliff continued, “You look ragged. You look weary. You look like something the cat dragged in. Every single one of you looks like death warmed over.
            Cliff said, “I know exactly how you feel.”
            Nervous chuckling.
            Cliff Andover whipped out his sword. “We are the New Spacers! We are the pioneers! And…” he resheathed his sword, “we make all the mistakes. Once.”
            His audience laughed.
            He said, “Men, this last replication, I had a vision! Yes, I had a vision… of Elvis!”
            The men murmured.
            “And he sang to me!” Andover strummed on Arlo. “So let me sing you something, taught to me by Elvis himselvis. It’s a little ditty called… Freedom Road.”
            He sang:
            G-Am                        D
           Didya think it was easy
            G    Am                  D
           To change all of tomorrow?
            G-Am                         G
           Didya think you'd never meet
             C         G             C
           Time, defeat and sorrow?
              E      Am                                   F
           Didya think all the walls would crumble,
                     C               G        E
           And you'd never lose a fight?
            Am         G               Em          E      Am
           Get back up on your feet and do it right! 

            Am          F-G                 C-Am
           Freedom Ro-ad is a long ha-ul.
            Am          F-G                 Am-G
           Freedom Ro-ad is a long ha-ul.
            G           F           C      F    C
           But it's worth the ride, even if
                    Am          G        Am
           You never get there at all.

Didya think the first leader come preachin’ down the pike, could
Give ya one big answer, as if we were all alike?
Well there’s no set salvation;  ya shoulda known all along
That Elvis, Che and your guru could be wrong!

Time comes down like thunder, and you can rise or fall, and
Let the millstones grind you ‘til nothin’s left at all.
Well we’ve got just two choices, and one’s to get home free
And second best is nothin’ ya wanna see. 

This is the lonesome valley that you’ve gotta walk yourself;
Go out and find your answers, ya can’t take ‘em off the shelf;
‘Cause we’ve got to build tomorrow from just what we’ve got today;
So get up off your ass and find a way!


            Cliff Andover said, “Then Elvis sang me a song from Lost Earth itself! It mentions Salt Lake, a port city, San Diego, an arctic island, and Maine, a mountaintop metropolis. It’s called - ”
            - excited whispers in the audience -
            “Yes, that’s right. ‘Joe Hill’.” His listeners stood rapt as he crooned:

                  C                        C7
            I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
                   F                     C
            As live as you and me.
                  Am                          F              C
            Says I, “But Joe, you're ten years dead!”
                 D       D7           G
            “I never died,” says he.

            ”I never died,” says he.

“In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
“They framed you on a murder charge,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Joe says, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.”

“From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organize,”
Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill,”
Says he, “You’ll find Joe Hill.”

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he
“I never died,” says he.

            Applause and cheers. Duke Nukem wept.
            Andover said, “I’ll see you here at kilosecond 21 tomorrow! Randy will distribute updated cheat-sheets! Maybe we’ll reach level Six this time!” The audience cheered and laughed as he left them, waving.
            He went down the hall, took the next left, and there, the second door on the right –
            His dressing room, where he would rest his head tonight: Andover Slept Here.
            Once inside, he took off Arlo and nestled it in its guitar case. Then he unbuckled Cold Comfort and threw it, scabbard and all, onto his bed. He sat down at the foot of the bed and leaned forwards, holding his face in his hands.
            The door clicked open. Rosemarie walked in, carrying a book.
            Cliff, still hiding his face, said, “I hate that song.”
            Rosemarie sat next to him on the bed. She said, “Joe Hill?”
            “What? Oh, that one too… I mean the other song.”
            “The other song? Not… ‘Space Hero’? Again?”
            “Yes, Space Hero. Again. And yes, Elvis sang it to me. Again.”
            “Poor Cliff,” said Rosemarie, leaning against him. “Replication vision blues.”
            She said, “I’ve got a cure for it,” and tapped the book on her lap.
            Cliff Andover dropped his hands and glared at her. “Not that damn book!”
            “Right here,” she said.
            “I hate that book!”
            Rosemarie said, “It’ll take your mind off the song that gets stuck in your head every time we replicate you. And you hate that song more than you hate this book.”
            They stared at the book on her lap. He read its title. “ ‘Learning Curve’.”
            She said, “Your death-lesson book.”
            They opened the book and read the first entry:
            I shall arrange my life so that it doesn’t matter if someone learns my secret identity.”
            “Those were the days,” said Cliff.
            “Oh, come on, Cliff,” said Rosemarie, “you weren’t happy with keeping secret! You like the limelight! It’s like your old theater days, only more so!”
            “Constantly on the move… a different bed each night…”
            “Cliff Andover slept here,” she said, leaning against him.
            “You like this life?”
            “With you? Yes. Now, here’s an entry I like!” And she pointed to:
            “Being captured by the Overlord is one way to learn his secret plans, but there are many other ways that are better, and they will be tried first.”
            “True,” he said, “but how about this?”  He turned a page, to:
            “When the Overlord is hanging onto a cliff by his fingertips, I will not help him up.”
            Cliff and Rosemarie flipped through the book, reading:
            “I will not keep important information secret in order to prevent widespread hysteria; it never works.”
            “When I am advised to destroy an artifact taken from the Overlord, I will do so.”
            “No capes. They can get caught in anything.”
            “I will ask the locals for help. It’s impolite and possibly dangerous not to.”
            “When the Overlord takes hostages, I will presume the hostages dead and hold a memorial service. Any promises made by the Overlord regarding their safe return will be ignored. My loved ones will be warned to expect this.”
            “I will ignore the Overlord’s arguments revolving around honor and morality. If he cared about those things then he would not be Overlord.”
            “If the Overlord tries to guilt-trip me by claiming that I’ll be responsible for something he plans to do if I don’t cooperate, then I will mercilessly quote Ayn to him.”
            “I will take no oaths of unquestioning allegiance, nor any oath of obedience to persons of unproved character.”
            “If I must choose between saving a friend and fulfilling a mission, then I will remind myself that mission failure will probably result in their death anyway, and go on with the mission.”
            “If I am captured and I escape, then I will assume that they are tracking me somehow.”
            “No matter how sincere he looks, I will never shake the Overlord’s hand.”
            “I will never assume that other rebels are as self-sacrificing as me.”
            “Anything that looks too easy probably is too easy.”
            “I will not enter any obvious traps.”
            “If the Overlord invites me to go on a hunt with him, then I will decline the offer.”
            “I will not have dinner with the Overlord. If I do, and my attention is drawn away from the table for any reason, then I will leave the wine alone.”
            “I will not needlessly expose myself to enemy gunfire, hand-to-hand combat or dogfights.”
            “I do not need to give the Overlord a fair chance. Shooting him in the back works for me.”
            “If through luck or skill I defeat a better-armed foe, I will try to take his/her/its weapons.”
            “If I am offered two explanations for a phenomenon, one logical and scientific, and the other a load of New Age claptrap, then I will accept the scientific explanation.”
            “I will never leave friends or family unguarded unless they can defend themselves.”
            “I will never let my people speak to prisoners alone, but I will sometimes seem to do so.”
            “I will always read the fine print.”
            “I will be courteous to all, friend, foe, or neutral. Especially neutral.”
            “People who whine about not being trusted are either (a) operatives for the Overlord; (b) controlled by the Overlord; (c) totally clueless about OPSEC and need-to-know; or (d) dangerously neurotic and/or immature -- and are consequently not to be trusted.”
            “I will obtain assistance from politicians by appealing to their self-interest. Any politician who appears to be cooperating with me out of the kindness of his heart is actually plotting to betray me at some point.”
            “When I am about to enter the Overlord’s hideout, I will surround it with friendly forces who can detain him if he sneaks out the back door while I kick down the front door.”
            “I will never let anyone double-dog dare me.”
            “All of my robots will be waterproof.”
            “All of my computer systems will have firewalls and virus scans.”
            “My security checkpoints will require passwords, physical keys, and biometrics: that is, something you know, something you have, and something you are.”
            “I will never say, ‘This one is mine!’ and engage in a hand-to-hand struggle with the Overlord or one of his henchmen.”
            “When the Overlord says to me, ‘we are very much alike, my friend,’ I will remember that even if we are much alike, he is still not my friend.'
            “When five seconds can mean the difference between survival and destruction, I will keep my wistful expressions of undying fealty, love or regret to a minimum.”
            Rosemarie read that last entry and sighed.
            “And now… today’s lesson,” Cliff gritted.  He wrote:
            “I will always pack as much firepower as I can. More than I think I need.”
            Rosemarie said, “Finally you learn that one!”
            Cliff said, “And now for another one.”
            Two lessons this time?” Rosemarie said, appalled.
            Cliff nodded, then wrote:
            “Never mistake bait for lunch.”

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