Tag: aliens (page 1 of 2)

Flash Fiction: Bump In The Night Raven

Courtesy Alien

From the Terribleminds challenge “Last Lines First” comes…

“Truth be told, I’m not sure any of them are actually dead.”

The mug of coffee shook in the engineer’s hands. The nails were chipped and the fingers calloused from years of cleaning, changing, tightening, and banging the many moving parts required for jump drives. The man facing the engineer, wearing vintage suspenders over a tailored shirt with an open collar, nodded slowly.

“Just… take your time, Parker. Who was the first to die?”

“Rigger. Co-pilot. He, uh… he heard something, down in the bay. He didn’t check in for hours. Mosely, he was my partner, and he went to find Rigger. He… found Rigger’s comm unit. It was covered in blood.”

The well-dressed man exchanged a look with the room’s third occupant. Nothing was said. After the engineer took a shaky sip of his coffee, he continued.

“Mosely was next, of course. He went to the head – ate too much cornbread. He always ate too much cornbread. Anyway, I heard the scream. I ran to the head, opened the door, and his toolbelt was there. The vent was hanging off of its frame. I guess… I guess whatever it was grabbed him and yanked him up through there. His toolbelt wasn’t bloody, though. There was this… goop on it.”


“Don’t know how else to describe it. Doctor Bolton took a sample, and told us later it was a ‘viscous secretion’, whatever that means. That was after two of the mining crew got snagged. We still hadn’t seen the thing. It was down to me, Captain Hammond, Akers the pilot, Doctor Bolton, Lydia the company rep, and Des the mining foreman. We were talking about abandoning ship and looking for help.”

“What happened?”

“We… we saw Rigger.”

The man in the suspenders leaned towards Parker. “Describe exactly what you saw.”

“He was standing there, in the door to the mess hall. He had… this chunk missing from his neck. One good eye. He stared at me…” Parker gripped the mug in his hands, trying to steady them. “It was like getting stared at by an animal at a zoo. There’s something there but it’s not him. It’s not the guy I used to swap dirty jokes with over moonshine on third watch.”

“Was it just Rigger?”

“At first. He came into the room, went right for Captain Hammond. We tried to fight him off. But he was so strong. Stronger than I thought he’d be. Then Mosely came in, and… I got away. I ran.”

“Nobody can blame you for that. What happened next?”

“You need two people to activate the self-destruct. Nobody else made it out after me. So I grabbed a shuttle and flew out of there. I was never a good pilot, but we were in deep space. I just headed straight towards Proxima, and that’s when the patrol picked me up.” Parker finished his coffee. “Mister Cogburn… am I in trouble?”

Cogburn shook his head. “No, you’re not personally in trouble. The Company knows that there was nothing more you could do. But I wanted to get your story first-hand.”

Before Parker could ask why, Cogburn produced his tablet and showed the image on it to the engineer.

“The Night Raven, your prospecting vessel, was spotted by patrols on a direct course for the Sol system.”

“… Earth?”

“That’s right. If they get to Earth, they can either take control of the hub of space travel for all the colonies, or head for the surface to make more… things. We’re still not sure exactly what we’re up against here, but we do know we can’t let that ship reach Earth.”

Parker looked to the other figure facing him. “Is… is that why you’re here?”

Cogburn turned to the person next to him. “At this point, the Company is asking the United Colonial Military Command for help. Lieutenant Olsen here is in command of an Expeditionary Platoon operating out of Barnard’s.” He handed Olsen the tablet. “Do you think you’ll be able to help, Lieutenant? We need to intercept the Night Raven, capture at least one of the infected subjects, and determine the origin of this… contagion. The Company is willing to give you anything you need.”

Olsen frowned. “Are you and Parker coming?”

Cogburn shrugged. “I doubt Parker would want to come along.”

“Oh, Jesus, God, no.”

“Right. So it’d just be me. I’m the Company’s liaison and work in their R&D department. They wanted to send an executive but we were able to convince them that you’d find a brain more useful than a suit and smile.”

“You know how to handle a gun, Cogburn?”

“I’ve fired one a couple times. Never at anything living, though.”

Olsen’s face did not soften. She had yet to uncross her arms or move from her position of leaning on the desk, but she looked like the sort of solider who’d be combat-ready at the drop of a hat. Green eyes studied Cogburn from under a close-cropped mop of blonde hair, and the scar on the right side of her mouth for her lip to her chin made her scowl all the more intimidating.

“Don’t expect my men to hold your hand when things get dicey. Ship invasions are tense, close-quarter clusterfucks under the best of circumstances. I don’t like taking civvies into combat zones.”

“One: I’m not your typical civilian. Two: The Night Raven is owned by the Company and they want to protect their investment. Three: If you have to scuttle the ship, you need someone who can override the ship’s fail-safes quickly, and unless one of your soldiers is a former Company employee, that means you need me.”

Olsen snorted. “That’s extortion.”

“No, Lieutenant, those are the facts.”

“If you’re lying to me, I’ll shoot you myself.”

“Fair enough.”

“Um.” Parker looked up at the two of them. “Does… this mean any of them are still alive?”

Cogburn tried to smile. “Maybe. Anything’s possible.”

“Either way,” Olsen said, “we’ll take it from here. We leave at 0800.”

Flash Fiction: The Crash

Roswell Theater

Since this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge was nothing but a title, I turned to my Brainstormer, which selected “Prey to misfortune”, “alien”, and “crossbow”.

As she came to, past the throbbing pain in her cranial cravity, she tried to assess her situtation. The crash had clearly ruined the environmental systems, given the hissing noise above her head. No klaxons were sounding, meaning the power core was intact. She gently pushed herself out of the gravity couch and looked around. The navigator was also coming around, holding his head in his upper left appendage and groaning softly.

“What in the name of Gvalix hit us?”

She clicked her mandible. “I have no idea. I was busy trying to keep us on course.”

“That course should have been free of hazards. Something definitely hit us.”

“You DO know that the cosmos is a vast and mostly empty space, correct?”

The navigator’s segmented eyes caught the flickering lights of the sputtering consoles. “If you’re trying to throw blame around, your Highness…”


Both of them turned to where the third gravity couch should have been. Their view was mostly obscured by the collapsed section of hull that had all but crushed the engineer’s seat. She moved towards it, gripping the metal with all four sets of claws, but it barely budged. She was female. Her strength was superior. No male-made structure should be able to withstand her, and yet the hull did not move.

“I will get you out of there.”

The engineer shook his head. His abdomen was crushed beneath the wreckage, and green blood seeped through cracks in his thorax. She reached down and stroked between his antennae as he spoke.

“It is too late for me, Your Highness. What is important now is your survival. With the beacon active, a rescue party will be dispatched. You must… you must live.”

“As must you. All of my mother’s children are precious.”

A cough from the engineer spattered green ichor all over the wreckage and his thorax. He shook his head again. “You will make a fine… a fine Queen someday. But you must… must survive first. Take… take our treaty and… and…”

A final cough was the last sound the engineer made. She stood, turning to the navigator. He was wringing his claws and looking away. She turned and walked towards him, her wings twitching as she tried to hold down her own emotions.

“Listen to me. We still have a mission to complete. He wanted us to complete it, and that is what we are going to do. Do you understand?”

After a moment, the navigator looked up at her and nodded. “We were pupae together, your Highness. We haven’t been apart for cycles…”

“I understand. I helped raise both of you. But we cannot stay here.”
“Where will we go? We do not know where we can find the means to repair our ship. If it can be repaired…”

“One thing at a time, Navigator. First we have to determine where we actually are.”

They slowly picked their way aft to the airlock. Its seals were intact. The navigator’s claws activated the external scanners on the door.

“Largely a nitrogen atmosphere, my lady. A large proportion of oxygen, other trace gasses…”

“But we will be able to survive in it?”

“Yes. We should be prepared, however.”

“I agree.”

They entered the airlock, pulling out filter masks, translator rigs, and sidearms. The navigator triggered the outer hatch, and was the first to climb out of the ship. He reached back and helped her emerge.

“Thank you. I will take a look.”

It felt good for her to flex her wings after their long journey. It was night, and the wildlife was quiet. They seemed to be in a rather desolate place, with the lights of a city in the distance. She looked up at the stars, at the single moon high in the sky, and down at the crash site. Then, she returned to the navigator’s side. He was looking at a holographic display on a device he held in his lower claws.

“As far as I can tell, your Highness, we are halfway spinwards across the spiral arm. This is the third planet in the seventh star system of the Xafflid constellation. We suspected it could sustain life but had not yet sortied a scout mission. It is in the neutral zone between us and the Clusters of Bix…”

“So we were on course. I apologize for my tone.”

“And I for mine. You piloted very well to set us down as you did.”

One of her antannae twitched, picking up the vibrations of an incoming craft. She turned to the navigator.

“What do you make of it?”

“Crude. Rotating wing propulsion. Likely armed.” He was aleady reaching for his sidearm.

“No. We don’t want to appear threatening. These may be a primitive species, by our standards.”

The craft cleared the bluff near their crash site, bathing them with a harsh light. Over the din of the craft’s blades, she could make out words from one of the crew within.

“Roswell, this is Crossbow. Located the site. Unknown forces present, potentially hostile. Awaiting orders.”

She turned to her navigator.

“Back into the ship, your Highness?”

“No. If we can speak with them, they may be able to help us.”

The craft landed, and the occupants emerged. They were much smaller than either of the survivors, with soft exteriors of various colors under cloth uniforms, and each carried a magazine-fed projectile weapon. The navigator began to move to step between her and them, but she held out her right arms, preventing him. She flipped her translator rig to learning mode and scanned local transmissions. In moments, it had the information she needed.

“People of Earth.” The words felt strange in her mouth, oddly shaped and clipped in their pace. But she pressed on. “We come in peace!”

The humans looked at one another, then back at her. They slowly lowered their weapons.

“You need to come with us,” one of them said. “We will take you to our base. We’ll take care of you there.”

Early Adoption, Preorders, and the PS4

Courtesy The Escapist
Courtesy The Escapist

Last night saw the big announcement and unveiling of Sony’s next generation of console, the PlayStation 4. Actually, ‘unveiling’ is a misnomer, as the console itself was a no-show. The crowd in the room and people who managed to watch the stream got a whole bunch of specs for the new device, a look at its controller, and previews of its launch titles, including a new Killzone, a racing game, and Diablo III, among others. We know it will be available for sale by the end of this year, and we know its price point will be between $429 and $529 in US currency.

Now, I am not a games journalist. I don’t have the experience or clout or wherewithal or following to adequately fill that role. Many people I admire professionally, and some I’ve met or know personally, already work very hard and often thanklessly to keep scrubs like me informed. So what follows is not so much an editorial spiel on last night’s presentation, but more a from-the-groundlings reaction to this and other recent stuff in the video games market.

To me, the hoopla over the PS4 is a lot of sound and fury signifying very little. Glimpses of the presentation left me unimpressed, and what visuals I saw looked more like a tiny step forward in graphical quality, rather than a giant leap. The integration of social media sharing and other features like friends being able to take control of your game if you let them just strikes me as somewhat gimmicky, and seems like an avenue for others to exploit the hardware. On the other hand, built-in streaming and recording are good things for folks looking to break out as pro gamers, or who just want to share their gaming experiences with others, without tying them to a PC.

It’s entirely possible that I’m somewhat biased. I’ve been building my own desktop PCs for a long time, and I’ve always done so with an eye on gaming hardware and ensuring I can play new releases for at least a few years. I have yet to build a hardcore gaming PC with dual graphics processors or liquid cooling or anything fancy like that, but this latest rig especially has been very good at putting console graphics to shame, for the most part. The PS4 does not look to be light-years ahead of what I already have under my desk, and what’s more, I have the sneaking suspicion that its new hardware and features may not work as smoothly on release day as they seemed to last night.

I only recently purchased a PS3, and it works well. It plays its games easily, and there are plenty to choose from. But this is years after its release. I did not pay the markup inevitable with a hot new product, I didn’t deal with early bugs or account hacks, and I have never felt comfortable buying something like a gaming console on the promise of what’s to come. I want to know what I’m investing in before I invest, which is why I watch MTG Salvation like a hawk whenever a new Magic set is announced. I’m sure some businesses are eager to capitalize on the early adoption dollar, but I’ve never seen the logic behind such behavior. This is especially true when it comes to video games, especially given what we’ve seen lately.

I was interested in Aliens: Colonial Marines, as a fan of the franchise and someone eager to see the days of shooters like Doom and Painkiller come roaring back to this generation of dull modern military “spunkgargleweewee” titles. But that interest has evaporated. Not only have the reviews of the game been abysmal from both professional critics and knee-jerk groundling gamers (like me!), but the demo that got everybody so hyped for the game turns out to have been entirely fabricated. And now, thousands if not millions of gamers are stuck with a game they pre-ordered that completely took them to the cleaners in promising something that it simply refused to deliver.

If I put in a pre-order for something, I want to have a decent idea of what to expect. I pre-ordered Cold Days on the merits of Jim Butcher’s previous work. I’ve put in to get boxes of Magic cards on the street date because I know what’ll be in the box, or at least what sort of mix there’s likely to be in the boosters. Video games, unfortunately, have neither the track record nor the transparency to give me the confidence I feel is required to justify a pre-order. I don’t care what DLC is on offer, I’m not as taken in as I once was by kitsch in the box, and I get suspicious when a game is hyped too much in the days leading up to release. There are games I’m interested that are coming out, to be certain, but with my age and awareness has come a growing sense of suspicion and cynicism when it comes to being sold such things. As hopeful as I am that BioShock Infinite will rock my world, the failures of BioShock 2 are enough to give me pause before clicking that ‘Pre-Order’ button on Amazon, to say nothing of what’s happened to Aliens fans and the broken promises of games like Duke Nukem Forever and Killzone 2.

The phrase caveat emptor has not gone anywhere, and it’s as true in the 21st century as it was back before the 1st. Know what you’re going to buy before you buy it, and take the time to ask serious questions about what you’re going to invest your time and hard-earned money into before handing it over to a third party who’s more interested in a fancier boat or hat than they are in delivering what they promise or ensuring you’re a satisfied customer. I’m not an early adopter, and I’ve stopped pre-ordering video games, because this sort of swindling and smoke-and-mirrors behavior has got to stop. And they only way we can really tell these people how we feel is with our wallets, by keeping them closed.

Game Review: XCOM Enemy Unknown

I may be accused of cheating on this one. Not because of my “save scumming”, mind you, as there is zero shame in doing that when it comes to XCOM Enemy Unknown. I’ll get to why in a bit, but suffice it to say the reason some may not relish the idea of me writing up a review for the game is I’ve technically done it twice already: once for its classic old-school flavor and once as a first impressions.

However, at time of writing I’ve poured 32 hours into the game, which is more than I’ve spent in some MMOs, so there’s got to be something to it worth talking about.

Courtesy Firaxis Games

The playability of the game may be tied into its emphasis on long-term goals and costs. When the game begins, after your first firefight, you’re given the choice of where to place your initial base. This is actually a crucial decision, as the bonus you get tied to the continent you choose is rather significant and stays with you throughout the game. Research takes time, manufacturing takes resources, and soldiers rarely start at a high rank, meaning each aspect of the game requires investment aimed towards a future payoff. In the case of the soliders, it’s payoff you may never see if they die in combat.

Speaking of combat, the few problems I’ve encountered with the UI during missions remain, but are thankfully not terribly frequent. Soldiers still occasionally shoot in the wrong direction, hot buttons for skills can move around which messes with you when you feel the pressure to get the Heavy out of the way of that charging Berserker he is about to go all Juggernaut on your ass, so on and so forth. But it still holds up in spite of the bugs and rewards forethought, positioning, mixed unit tactics, and not charging headlong into the enemy.

Courtesy Firaxis Games

While some of the complexity and outright terror of the original game has been lost, the current iteration of XCOM remains tense and absorbing. This is especially true of Ironman mode. When you are unable to save when you wish and cannot load a previous save from within the game, you are forced to face the consequences of every action you take. Each decision must be weighed carefully. A mistake can spell disaster, and there is no going back. I consider this the ‘proper’ way to play, but if you’re unfamiliar with XCOM, don’t enable Ironman the first time you play. It can be an absolutely punishing experience, and without the safety net of so-called “save scumming”, your only recourse is to start the entire game over.

I have long admired this game’s previous iteration for its difficulty and complexity, and I continue to do so. While it may have lost some of its depth with the loss of time units and the watering-down of in-combat options, the perfect balance between developing your resources in your anthill-like base and getting said resources by shooting at aliens is entirely intact. As frustrating as it can be to lose a high-ranking soldier, playing the game never ceases to be fun and challenging. Even if you reload the same mission half a dozen times because a would-be sniper apparently can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Courtesy Firaxis Games
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

Stuff I Like: The new aesthetic and the cutscenes have grown on me. There’s an emphasis on planning and coordinated tactics that is good to see. The way in which the challenges ramp up keeps the game tense.
Stuff I Don’t Like: The random nature of the alien assaults and the payouts for missions can be a touch frustrating. The aforementioned bugs can get in the way of a ‘clean’ gaming experience. And would more than one accent really have been that difficult to nail down?
Stuff I Love: Pulling off a mission with no casualties makes you feel like a boss. The base-building is surprisingly involving and ties very closely into mission performance, which makes the whole game flow very well. An excellent soundtrack psyches you up for your missions, raises tension when enemies are in sight, and maintains an aura of dread even when all is well. And while this may be unintentional, the knowledge of bugs and miss chances means that your soldier pulling off an excellent shot is all the more satisfying to watch.

Bottom Line: Reviving XCOM could never have been an easy sell, and the fact that Firaxis pulled it off this well is astonishing in and of itself. XCOM Enemy Unknown proves that its blend of resource management and tactical turn-based combat is viable in an environment of modern military shooters and RPG-like slash-em-ups. In spite of its bugs, it is one of the best games I’ve played all year.

Movie Review: Prometheus

I liked the first two Alien movies, and would happily watch either one again given the chance. I’m also a fan of Ridley Scott’s work in general, especially his Director’s Cuts. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron are some of my favorite actors working today. And science fiction is pet genre of mine, especially when it takes itself seriously and doesn’t go straight for space opera or overdoes the camp of the pulp sci-fi of yesteryear.

So why is my heart not jumping bloodily out of my chest with enthusiasm for Prometheus?

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The year is 2094. The Weyland Corporation has sponsored a pair of dedicated archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, to follow the evidence they’ve found that mankind was visited by alien beings in our ancient past. The starship Prometheus was built to find these aliens and discover what, if any, connection they have to our origins. Following star maps extrapolated from cave paintings, Prometheus sets down on an inhospitable moon and almost immediately finds evidence of the archaeologists’s fabled “Engineers”. They also find something that threatens all life as we know it, to say nothing of the crew of the ship.

Prometheus begins by introducing us to some very interesting themes, especially for a science fiction film involving starships and extra-terrestrials. The ‘chariot of the gods’ concept is becoming well-tread ground, from the Stargate series to recent things like Thor and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Rather than just focusing on the aliens themselves, Prometheus sets its sights on the questions inherent with such visitations. Why did they visit us? What role did they play in our development? If they had a hand in creating us, why did they do so? From my standpoint, the focus of the narrative could have been maintained on these questions rather than pushing towards familiar Alien territory.

Fassbender in Prometheus

Despite the breathtaking visuals, haunting score, and fantastic use of 3D (even in home theater settings), Prometheus suffers first and foremost from an identity crisis. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. A serious sci-fi film asking questions about faith, creationism, and the origins of life would be fascinating, the Alien franchise is desperate for a high-quality entry to redeem its dalliances with those wacky Predators, and Ridley Scott wouldn’t mind starting a new film series. Prometheus tries to do all of these things, admirably so, but fails in hitting the mark with any of them. The questions it wants to ask fall by the wayside when body horrors begin cropping up, the answers we do get tend to beget more questions, and characters, for the most part, behave more for the sake of advancing the plot than they do from their own motivations and personalities.

Consider David. Michael Fassbender is giving probably the strongest performance of the ensemble here, carefully channeling David Bowie into a soft-spoken android obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia. He doesn’t seem to be interested in being more human, regarding those around him with a detached curiosity rather than any longing, and it soon becomes apparent the Prometheus is something of a personal laboratory for him. However, his motives for his experimentation are tenuous at best, his methods make little logical sense, and what reasoning we do get seems to come in the form of throw-away lines and vague conversations on the relationship between creator and created. It’s cool that he has his own agenda, and he pulls of being a creepy facsimile of human life very well, but he, like much of Prometheus, is simply poorly explained.

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The biggest saving grace of the film is probably Elizabeth Shaw. Noomi Rapace is not just doing a send-up of Ripley. She’s also playing one of the few characters who acts in a consistent nature, uses their head on more than one occasion, and has an interesting arc complete with tangible loss, crises of faith, and a staggering amount of determination and survival instinct. It’s very difficult not to care about her after everything we see her going through, and like us, she’s still looking for the answers to her, and our, questions.

While Prometheus suffers from some pretty major problems, it’s still the best thing to happen to the series Ridley Scott started back in 1979 since Aliens. Scott does great work behind the camera and in terms of production, the actors I mentioned are all great, and the presentation is great, at times downright stunning. The problems with the plot and character motivations can’t be overlooked, though, so while it’s hard to classify it as a strictly bad movie, it’s also difficult to give an unqualified recommendation. Being a fan of this director, these actors, and this concept and its execution, I’d probably watch it again, as the parts I enjoyed outweighed those that left me perplexed or frustrated. Just be forewarned: I don’t think Prometheus is for everybody.

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