Week 19 of Odd Prompts

Inspiration strikes – or so goes the phrase. In reality, it’s often an accident. A misheard phrase, the incongruent juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastical, the giddy laughter that accompanies the experimental. Other times, methodical plotting, planning, and the deliberate attempt at alignment; a work in progress that’s carefully pruned and shaped before blooming into a delightful creation.

Here at more odds than ends, your odd prompts provide a mix of both, even if it’s the mere skeleton of creation, a wisp of a shape still waiting to become something more.

PrompterPromptPrompted
Cedar Sandersonthe impact could be world-shatteringAC Young
Fiona GreyThe house contained an unexpected catCedar Sanderson
AC Young“Today I shall be playing … Nemesis.”nother Mike
nother MikeThere was a railroad spike in her purse.Leigh Kimmel
Leigh KimmelA chorus of lovelorn mountain lionsFiona Grey

SPARES

SpareThe digital Green Man
SpareOn [colony planet], the evacuation was not going well.
SpareNo-one served for long on the Council of Despair. The Council of Hope had much better retention of its members.
SpareDo you hear what I hear?
SpareIt was the witching hour, but that’s not all that came out…

The creation, the development, the pruning – none possible without the idea. Have at it, odd prompters! We’ll see you in the comments.

Header image by Fiona Grey, Marginal Way, Ogunquit, Maine.

14 comments

  1. In this week’s prompt cycle Cedar Sanderson supplied: the impact could be world-shattering

    In November of last year I came up with an idea for a short story set in the world of the Imperial Commonwealth. It’s still unwritten, but this prompt reminded me of an event that is part of a secondary character’s background. I set about fleshing it out…

    What became known as the First Battle of Birmingham was in mid-engagement. The fleets had passed through each other twice, and then again. Order was starting to break down as the captains of the various warships tried to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

    Depending on the weaponry they had been equipped with, warships were firing cannons and/or missiles and/or beams at enemy vessels. Defensive weaponry was being fired by all warships to defend against the missiles and cannonballs – but some got through, especially the pure kinetic shells which couldn’t be blown up. Shields protected the warships from the beam broadsides of the enemy, but often only partially.

    Fighters from the WIC Juno (a Normandy-class carrier) were weaving through the combatant warships, doing their best to avoid the beams, missiles and shells (both those aimed at the warships, and at themselves), trying to clear the battle-space of enemy fighters, and prevent enemy bombers from targeting Imperial Commonwealth warships. Bombers from the Juno did their best to take advantage of any lack of enemy fighters to launch their missiles at enemy warships.

    The section of the contested space closest to the planet was currently clear of enemy fighters, so the bombers of 215th (B) Squadron were taking advantage of this to launch a bombing run against the Alliance Warship Styria. The missiles all ran true, and most of them struck home. The stern-end suffered surprisingly little damage, but the engines were blown apart, the associated fuel tanks flaring into flame before the vacuum of space extinguished the infernos. The bombers headed back to the Juno for re-arming, the pilots feeling pleased at a mission well-done.

    [All speech and thoughts translated]

    The Styria was a fairly minor warship in the Interplanetary Alliance fleet. It had been equipped primarily with missiles, as well as bow and stern cannons. Its missile armouries were nearly exhausted, but it still had enough offensive capability, particularly its bow cannon, to run a fourth pass through the combined fleets.

    Suddenly a shudder ran through the vessel. On the bridge, Captain Steiner turned to his Engineering Officer. “What damage did that do?”

    “Captain, we’ve lost the engines.” He didn’t know what else to add.

    Steiner turned to the Pilot. “Can we still turn around?”

    The Pilot was busy calculating what was still available to her, and what it could do. “No, Captain,” she was forced to conclude. “Without the engines we can’t avoid the planet.”

    Steiner was stunned. He knew that he couldn’t deliberately crash his warship into the planet, and he wasn’t intending to – but without the engines his intent no longer mattered. There was something about required communications in the regulations. He couldn’t quite remember – then it came to him.

    “We can’t avoid the planet, but we can delay meeting it for as long as possible. Slow us down as much as you can using the manoeuvring jets – lock them on full power.”

    While the pilot carried out those orders, Steiner turned to his Communications Officer. “Firstly, give the signal to abandon ship. Secondly, I need to make an unencrypted communication to all warships within range.”

    The emergency evacuation alert was sounding throughout the warship when Steiner was given the signal he was waiting for.

    “Attention all warships. This is an Impact Warning under Article 8 of the ICPPN. The AW Styria is on a collision course with Birmingham, and we have no capability to avoid impact. We are doing everything we can to delay impact, and are evacuating the warship.”

    In the Fleet Command Centre on the Juno, Fleet Communications Officer ap Gwynedd heard the message in clear, translating it as it went. “Admiral, we have received an Impact Warning under Article 8 of the ICPPN.”

    Admiral Henry McIver looked up from the scans. “The ICPPN?”

    Commander ap Gwynedd nodded. McIver brought up the Interplanetary Convention on the Protection of Planetary Non-Combatants. He scanned through the articles.

    Articles 5 and 6 governed atmospheric-capable craft. Article 7 governed planetary bombardment by non-atmospheric-capable warships. Article 8 forbade the deliberate crashing of non-atmospheric-capable warships onto a planetary surface. If such a collision could not be avoided an Impact Warning must be issued. The Article didn’t go on to specify what was to be done thereafter.

    “George, please confirm the planetary impact.”

    Commander George Arundel, Fleet Sensor Officer, had a quick conversation with Dewi ap Gwynedd to confirm which warship he was being asked to check. Then about half a minute later: “Sir, an enemy warship is on a collision course with Birmingham. It doesn’t have any engines left, so it does appear to be terminal. The crew are already abandoning ship.”

    “Dewi, get me a communications link with the enemy Admiral.”

    A short time later the communications link between the WIC Juno and the AW Nitra was in place. McIver was informed that the enemy Admiral was called Varga.

    “Admiral Varga, we have received notification under Article 8 of the ICPPN that one of your warships is on a collision course with the planet. I wish to deal with this problem, but every warship I assign to that task is one that I must withdraw from this battle.”

    This speech was translated on the enemy vessel. Then Admiral Varga gave his reply, which was in his native tongue and translated by Commander ap Gwynedd: “My superiors may say that I should let you do what you like and continue the battle. Yet forcing you to choose between defeat and saving the planet feels dishonourable. Shall we call a ceasefire to permit you to solve the problem?”

    “I agree to the ceasefire. I shall issue the order forthwith.”

    The order to ceasefire went out, and within a few seconds all fighting had ceased. The IA fleet was ordered away from the planet. The IC fleet were ordered to return to the planet to try to destroy the Styria.

    Admiral McIver got back in touch with Admiral Varga: “Admiral Varga, the crew of your warship are already evacuating. How long does this process take?”

    Ap Gwynedd translated Varga’s reply: “For that class, half an hour is the maximum time an emergency evacuation should take. May we pick up the survivors?”

    Under the conventions of war, during a battle both sides could try to pick up survivors, and whoever got there first determined whether they ended up as prisoners of war or were returned to their comrades. There were no equivalent conventions for post-battle.

    “Admiral Varga, any shuttles that make it beyond the IC fleet are yours. Once this problem is dealt with, we will speak again.”

    For twenty-five minutes little happened. The Imperial Commonwealth fleet knew that they would be trying to destroy the Styria. But they also knew that the crew was abandoning ship, and didn’t want to kill the enemy unnecessarily.

    Then the thirty minutes that Admiral McIver had been given as the evacuation time ran out. The IC fleet moved in. Warships with a beam broadside lined up and swept in on the far side of the planet, using their beams to damage the rogue warship. Warships with missile broadsides lined up and fired their broadsides from the other side, so that the resultant explosions would help in slowing the Styria down and delay atmospheric entry. Cannon-equipped warships fired high-explosive shells from their bow cannons at the enemy bow and stern (what was left at it). Bombers from the Juno swept in on lines that kept them away from friendly fire to launch their missiles at point-blank range.

    Even with no defensive weaponry active, and with the shields taken down, the Styria was designed to take a lot of damage, the engines being the design’s only real weak point (warship design had improved greatly over the last couple of centuries).

    The Styria approached the planet closer and closer with every minute. It soaked up the damage. For a short while it looked as if it would enter the atmosphere somewhat intact. And then, miracle of miracles, it started to come apart. But not soon enough. The warship fragments that entered the atmosphere were too large to burn up. Large portions struck the surface.

    On the Juno, Admiral McIver contacted Admiral Varga again. “Admiral Varga, what are your intentions?”

    Ap Gwynedd translated his reply: “I believe that we should call this a draw. We will retreat and leave the field to you.”

    “I have no problem with your proposal.” So that is what happened.

    The IA fleet retreated, leaving the field to the IC fleet, who picked up the remaining evacuees from the Styria, all of whom were incarcerated as prisoners of war.

    Several years later:

    It was a solemn day on Birmingham. This was the day that the memorial to the Kings Heath disaster was being unveiled. Even now large swathes of that continent were uninhabitable as a result of the effects of the warship parts hitting the planet. Many thousands died in the incident, but it could have been a lot worse.

    If the Styria had landed intact the impact could have been world-shattering, in the sense that the planet may have been made temporarily uninhabitable in its entirety. Even as it was they were lucky that Kings Heath was the least densely populated continent – if the pieces had landed on Edgbaston…

    After the memorial had been unveiled with all due ceremony and solemnity, it was time for the handing out of the medals. Following a request from the government of Birmingham, the Imperial Commonwealth had created the Prevention of Disaster Medal, for those whose actions prevented major planetary disasters. Unusually for an IC medal, this one could be awarded to enemy personnel, if the event concerned related to an IC planet and their government had given the necessary permission.

    In this case the Interplanetary Alliance had given their permission, so alongside the Imperial Commonwealth officers who were deemed eligible, Admiral Varga, Captain Steiner and the Pilot of the Styria were awarded the medal.

    While the memorial was for those whose lives had been lost, when it came to their former enemies the Imperial Commonwealth chose to focus instead on the lives that had been saved.

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    • Oh, good exploration of what happens when there is interplanetary agreement that you shouldn’t bombard a planet, but… something happens! So we stop the war and concentrate on trying to save the planet… very nice!

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      • Limited planetary bombardment is permitted under the ICPPN. Under Article 7 warships may use targetable weaponry to attack military targets – so e.g. the use of beam weaponry and certain types of missile is permissible, but the use of cannon shells (which may be diverted unpredictably from their path by the planet’s atmosphere) is not. All reasonable efforts must be made to ensure that non-military targets are not fired upon by mistake, and to restrict the resultant damage to military targets only.

        Article 5 has similar regulations relating to atmospheric-capable vehicles – they can descend into atmosphere to attack military targets, but may not be used to attack non-military targets.

        Article 6 permits the deliberate crash-landing of atmospheric-capable vehicles under certain circumstances in order to prevent the technology getting into the hands of the enemy, but the pilot must take all necessary steps to minimise the resultant death and destruction. It also recognises that, due to enemy action, pilots of such vehicles may have no choice about whether or not the vehicle crashes – if in such circumstances the pilot retains the ability to minimise resultant death and destruction the pilot must do so.

        Article 8 is the parallel for warships. The results from any planetary impact would be so severe that deliberate crash-landing during wartime is forbidden.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. AC Young intoned…

    “Today I shall be playing … Nemesis.”

    [hum, sounds like a line from a role-playing game session. Perhaps the nerd in the corner has finally gone a bit too far into the chaotic evil corner?]

    [a quick sketch]

    We all chuckled when Gary rolled a 20 during the character setup. On our character sheets, that was the extreme of chaotic evil. He just rubbed his hands together, then intoned, “Today I shall be playing … Nemesis.” Then he laughed. Almost like the Joker laughed in the Batman movies?

    From the point on, he played a strangely twisted game. It was our familiar role playing game, but somehow, he managed to guide the other characters into traps and deadfalls and other hazards. One after another, we all died.

    And when Nemesis was left alone on the plains of despair, he raised his hands and laughed long and hard.

    “I am Nemesis!”

    Then Gary twisted his head back and forth on his neck, and smiled at us. We were all kind of shocked at this game. But he smiled, grabbed the D20, and said, “Well, that was different. How about another game, with different characters this time?”

    He was surprised when we all said we’d call it a day, and play another time. But I think we all wanted to get away from the table and Nemesis…

    Liked by 1 person

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