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Friday, June 03, 2011

Bad Fan Fiction Friday! The Spell of the Moment, Part One: The Federation Chalk Circle

Many fans of science fiction succumb to the temptation to write fan fiction.  As a wannabe but unsuccessful writer of fiction, I too have plumbed the depths of the phenomenon, even taking the embarrassing step of writing myself (or at least an idealized version of myself) into the story as the main character, as you'll see below. I know this is the worst sort of solipsistic wish fulfillment, but what fan of any genre fiction hasn't imagined himself or herself as the protagonist of such escapist adventures?

90 percent of fan fiction is crap, but as Sturgeon said, 90 percent of everything is crap, including the story you'll read below. But a handful of more gifted writers have produced fan fiction that garnered them enough respect to make the leap to professional status. So I think it's safe to say that if nothing else, fan fiction gives writers practice in crafting plot, dialogue and style while they develop their own original fictional worlds.

I wrote "The Federation Chalk Circle" sometime back in the early to mid 90s, just after graduating from university, back in the days when I was just beginning to make a living as a professional writer (of nonfiction, sadly). It takes place just before the events depicted in the eighth Star Trek film, First Contact.

Here's a fun game that I hope will take some of the sting out of the purple prose: see if you can spot the pop culture and literary references embedded in the text. And if you're a friend of mine from the 80s or 90s, see if you can spot yourself as one of the thinly-disguised supporting characters!

Star Trek: Ambassador
Spell of the Moment, Part One: The Federation Chalk Circle

Stardate 50890.1
Old Earth Calendar: November 2373
At the edge of the Otranto sector

Silence, but for the sound of his own steady breathing. Darkness, but for the unwinking stars that surrounded him. Admiral E.J. Woods hung in infinite emptiness, protected from vacuum only by the thin skin of his spacesuit, alone…

…or so it seemed. With a slight movement of his wrist, Woods activated the suit’s reaction-control thrusters and spun about his vertical axis. He was faced with the stark, graceful beauty of his ship, the Ambassador. She was at relative rest; only the regular flicker of her running lights and the dull blue glow of her engines gave any indication of activity. The admiral let his eyes play over the ship’s smooth lines, the clean, graceful form that could only be truly appreciated from this perspective. He hung there like a nervous supplicant, wondering - not for the first time - of the two of them, who was master and who was servant?

He thought about that for a moment, then realized that the question was a fallacy. Ideally, he thought, it’s a partnership. Starships might not be allowed sentience, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat them like slaves. And if we don’t treat them that way…then we can’t, ourselves, be treated in like manner. He smiled, a little smugly, pleased by his observation. All right, you’re anthropomorphizing, just like you used to do back in school. But could there be a connection between-

He was interrupted by a gentle whistle that reverberated inside his helmet.

“Ambassador to Admiral Woods,” Mr. Bridge, his comm officer, said.
“Woods here. I didn’t forget to top up my air supply, did I? Urk…gak…” He made a few choking noises and flailed his arms and legs about, no doubt provoking a few rolled eyes on the bridge.

“Um, Admiral, we’re getting a Priority One signal from Starfleet Command. Commander Il-Kaur requests you return to the ship immediately.”

Woods’ expression turned serious. “All right, I’m on my way.”

The admiral activated the suit’s main thruster and sped towards the ship, heading for the dorsal airlock. A few minutes later, he was in the locker room, removing his helmet. Just as he about to take off his chest plate, Commander Il-Kaur, his first officer, entered. A worried expression marred her beautiful features only slightly.

“So what is it?” he asked.

She looked him straight in the eyes.

“The Borg.”

Il-Kaur’s mouth was pressed into a thin line, and she fidgeted as Woods finished extricating himself from his spacesuit. Woods noted absently that she was wearing one of the new grey and black uniforms, the latest Starfleet fashion.

“What’s happening, Number One?” he asked as they walked briskly to the nearest turbolift. 

“Long range sensors on Deep Space Five have picked up indications of a transwarp conduit opening about 15 light years from Ivor Prime.”

Transwarp conduits were the Borg’s preferred method of travel over interstellar distances. As they entered the lift, Woods felt his palms start to sweat.

“Bridge,” Il-Kaur told the elevator.

“Don’t we have a colony on Ivor Prime?” Woods asked.

“Half a million people, mostly humans and Andorians, with minimal defences.”

“Let me guess. We’re the only ship between the Borg and Ivor Prime.”

Il-Kaur nodded with a wry, humourless grin as the lift doors opened, revealing the bridge. Ensign Echo was sitting in the center seat; she stood up immediately, making way for the Admiral. “Captain Noor on Deep Space Five said the station would be at our disposal,” Il-Kaur continued.

“That’s a little help, anyway,” Woods said as Echo returned to her traditional place at the Ops station. “What else?”

“Admiral Hayes has ordered us to intercept any Borg vessels we encounter. The Greystoke, the Bozeman, and the Sojourner Truth are on the way, but they won’t catch up to us until about an hour after we engage the Borg.”

“Great.” Woods took a deep breath. He’d been through a lot in just eight years of service to Starfleet…but the thought of facing the Borg terrified him. And he was taking over 800 people into the fray, in an 80-year-old starship, against the deadliest foe the Federation had ever faced. 800 lives. More than that - as the highest ranking officer in the sector, he was ultimately responsible for the lives on Ivor Prime, Deep Space Five, and the three starships racing to help.

That may have been why Il-Kaur had to prompt him.

“Sir…your orders?”

Even then, it took a moment for Woods to address Ensign Thuvia, the conn officer.

“Lay in a course to the coordinates of the transwarp conduit and engage, Ensign,” he said.

Thuvia, unperturbed, pressed a few buttons and the ship went superluminal, a ghostly streak against the stars, racing Armageddon.

` ` `

Cair Paravel, Ivor Prime

Cair Paravel was the only city on Ivor Prime. A modest metropolis of nanotech-constructed towers, Cair Paravel rested on the shores of the planet’s largest ocean, the Homeric. To the west was Ivor Prime’s great rain forest. The people of Ivor Prime enjoyed the same rich standard of living as other Federation citizens; their days were spent mostly in education or creative expression or sports contests. Only a minimal amount of labour was required to keep the colony thriving; robot satellites took care of Ivor Prime’s main industry, harvesting spare energy from the planet’s sun. So far, the young colony’s main contribution to the Federation had been their excellent Go tournament, which drew visitors from all over, especially Vulcan tourists.

The Federation’s current Go champion was also the mayor of Cair Paravel and de facto governor of Ivor Prime. Her name was Dinarzad Jones. She was the youngest daughter of a Persian poet and an American archeologist, both of some repute. Her older sister had gained fame as a storyteller, and it was partly that which had driven Dinarzad to Ivor Prime some fifteen years ago. Here, she could build something completely removed from her family’s well-meaning but sometimes stifling influence.

At the moment, Dinarzad was sitting on a park bench on Echo Beach, enjoying the breeze and the afternoon sun. Her head was tilted back, her eyes closed, the universe something abstract, far away.

Someone was tugging on her dress. She sighed and looked down, discovering little black-haired Enod and his group of friends. Dinarzad leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands, regarding Enod with a bemused expression.

“Tell us a story!” Enod demanded. The other children were already sitting down in the sand.

“A story,” Dinarzad echoed, her calm tone hiding the terror she felt whenever the children asked her to do this. Her sister was the great storyteller, not her.

But then Dinarzad remembered where she was, and remembered that these innocents had never heard of her sister. She smiled.

“Very well, then. Now…listen. Once upon a time, a young woman in China bore a son, who she loved with all her heart...”

“What’s China?” one of the children asked.

“It’s on Earth,” another answered before Dinarzad could reply.

“That’s right,” she said, “And she had a friend, a very lonely and jealous friend, who couldn’t have children. And the friend grew more and more envious, until finally she decided to claim the child as her own.”

“Of course, the real mother was very sad. Her friend was trying to steal her child. There was nothing to do but to take the case before an old, wise judge. It should have been an easy case to judge, but along the way the facts had become confused, and so in the end it was the word of the real mother against that of the false.”

“What did the judge do?” Enod asked.

“The judge came down from his high wooden chair, and in his hand was a piece of white chalk. He stooped over and used the chalk to draw a large circle on the courtroom floor. And then he told the boy to stand in the centre of the circle. And the boy obeyed.”

“Then the judge said to the two women, ‘Now the two of you shall each take one arm of the boy. You shall each try to pull the boy from the circle. Whichever succeeds in pulling the boy to her side will naturally be revealed as the true mother, since the strength of her love overcame the pretender’s.”

“And so the judge held his hand high, and each of the women gripped the boy tightly by one arm. The judge dropped his hand, signaling the women to begin. For a moment, the two women struggled, and the boy cried out as his poor arms were pulled upon. But only a moment did the contest last, for the true mother suddenly released her son, who flew into the arms of the pretender.”

There was a shocked gasp from the children.

“The pretender cried out triumphantly. “See!” she said, “I told you I was the true mother all along!”

“But the judge then commanded her to release the boy. Her eyes grew round and her lips were twisted with rage. ‘But I won the contest!’ she protested, ‘My love was stronger than hers!’”

“The judge shook his head. ‘Only a fool could believe that you were the true mother of this helpless boy,’ he pronounced. ‘For in the instant that her child was threatened, this woman’ – and here the judge pointed at the boy’s true mother – ‘this woman let her son fall into the arms of a pretender rather than participate in his destruction. That is the true test of the chalk circle.’”

“And so the boy ran back into the arms of his joyfully sobbing mother, and they lived happily ever after.”

“That story sucks,” a little boy snorted.

Dinarzad suppressed a burst of anger. “Well, next time I’ll tell a story about a dragon,” she promised, her voice sharper than she’d intended.

The children ran off into the surf, though Enod lagged behind. After a moment, he returned. “Ms. Mayor, what was that story about?”

“Well, Enod, better thinkers than I have answered that question a lot of different ways. I guess it’s about the price of violence, and how sometimes fighting for something can do more damage than simply letting it go.”

“But, wouldn’t the little boy have been unhappy, being away from his mom?”

“Perhaps, but I think the point is that he would have still been alive to be unhappy.”


Enod ran off to join his friends then. After a moment, Dinarzad stood, kicked off her sandals, and made her way towards the water, intending to stroll along the beach before returning home.

That was when a great shadow passed over the face of the sun, dropping the city into sudden darkness. Dinarzad paused, looking up…

A shaft of swirling, pulsating light pierced the darkness, stabbing into the heart of the city. Dinarzad watched in horror as the city began to shake, its towers buckling, its citizens screaming as the entire community began to rise, ripped from the planet, torn from its foundations. Dinarzad stumbled back in shock, tripping and landing on her rear end in the shallows, instantly soaked to the skin. The children were screaming, she was screaming, and she felt the tide take her out to sea, away from the great catastrophe unfolding before her…

The last thing she saw before she was pulled beneath the waves was the surreal vision of her city, her friends, rising into the sky on a pillar of ugly green light.

` ` `

Ambassador dropped out of warp space just in time to see the ugly grey bulk of a Borg cube focus its tractor beam on Ivor Prime. The ship raced forward on impulse power, aimed straight at the cube and the blue-green planet it was assaulting.

“My God, we’re too late,” Bridge groaned, his eyes locked on the horrific vision on the viewscreen.

“Sound general quarters,” Woods said.

“Answering general quarters,” Ensign Thuvia said at Conn, “Going to Red Alert…”

Red light filled the bridge. Woods gripped the arms of his chair tightly, his hands sweating more than ever. Please don’t let me get them all killed, he thought.

“Raise shields, arm phasers and photon torpedoes,” Il-Kaur ordered.

“Flank speed. On my command, fire all weapons,” Woods heard himself say in a voice that was shaking just a little. The Ambassador was among the oldest ships in the fleet. Even with her recent refit, she was no match for a Borg vessel.

The ship was coming straight “down” on the cube. Woods could see the shattered remains of a city held prisoner in the shimmering tractor beam. The cube grew larger as they bore down on it.

“Transmission coming in from the cube,” Bridge said. A booming, hideous voice filled the room:

“We are the Borg. Do not attempt to interfere. Your culture will adapt to service us. Lower your shields and prepare for assimilation. We seek only to improve quality of life.”

Drea McLood, standing at the tactical station at the rear of the bridge, murmured to herself with her signature German accent. “There’s nothing like an earnest Borg, nein?”

Echo and Thuvia, their stations positioned side by side at the fore of the bridge, took a moment to look at each other. Woods watched as they extended and linked their hands, holding tightly to one another.

They expect to die, he realized. And so do I. He licked his lips and formed the words that would seal their fate:

*   *   *

That's as far as I got, though I do have a vague outline of a plot stored away in my brain. The mayor's tale of the chalk circle was meant to serve as foreshadowing to the struggle Admiral Woods and the Ambassador would soon face as they attempt to save Ivor Prime - and by extension the Federation - from the Borg. Can you save something by surrendering? That's what the characters would have found out....                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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