Battle at the Asteroid Belt

I have updated this story (original link, for those interested) with more details, to fulfill conditions for the Notion Press story-writing contest (link here)

Admiral Edward peered out the bridge of the Starflight into the murky blackness outside. The glass-like material separated him between the cold of the 12-degree Celsius interior, and the certain chill and deadly touch of the darkness that stared back at him.

There were rocks. And more rocks. The only features that marked the Asteroid Belt.

A smile came to his lips at the memory of his elementary school Science textbook. As a veteran of many battles in the Terran Defence Force, he knew by then that out there in the Asteroid Belt, the distance between the larger rocks were so huge that they hardly get visual sighting of the many asteroids that dotted the place. Only three types of captains got their ships struck by these rocks. Either an incompetent one, or a foolhardy one, or an unlucky one. Getting their ship struck by one of those rocks could terminate any captain’s career.

“Something to warm you, sir?”

The voice of his Adjutant, Julia, broke his train of thought. He turned to face a cup of warm coffee, its sweet aroma welcoming him.

“Thanks a lot, Julia – you are a lifesaver!”

The cup and saucer was taken over firmly and Admiral Edward turned to look out the Observation Stand again.

From where she stood, Julia could observe the image of the great hero reflected upon the armoured glass. Something must have suddenly crossed his thoughts, for he broke into a smile. The many lines and scars that showed on his smile were the tell-tale sign of the many years, both of his age and of his service in the Terran Defence Force. This was the man that had always held the crew in awe – a legend himself among the service. Julia had considered herself privileged to be able to serve under this great man.

What Julia never understood was how this great hero ended up the captain of this insignificant cruiser. He should have been out there captaining the best ships the service had to offer. He had never talked about it, and nobody dared to ask. Perhaps today, while the captain was in a more relaxed mood? Perhaps just today she could know more about the man she practically worshipped? She took a deep breath and prepared to speak.

“Contact at Sector One-Four-Sixteen, Sir!”

“Two contacts at Sector One-Four-Eighteen, Sir!”

“Jamming signals detected – we are attempting counter-measures, Sir!”

They were not expecting friendly jumps from hyperspace at this location. Three contacts, likely warships, against the one ship that the Terran Defence Force could spare in this space sector. The odds were not good for this old obsolescent cruiser. Tense faces stared into the many panels and displays, as each awaited further instructions from the man who would decide their lives.

“Radio Officer – get up on the emergency frequency and send a message to the Command Centre. Ask for reinforcements. Let the Grand Admiral know that we will take down as many of them as we can.”

The Radio Officer could not believe the captain could be so calm. They were right in the middle of possible overwhelming hostile forces – already he could feel himself shaking as he attempted to contact the Command Centre. A steady hand rested on his shoulder, and he felt the confidence return to him. It was the legend himself leading them. Everything would be alright. The hand left his shoulder, to pick up something next to him.

Captain Edward took the microphone and spoke into the ship piping system, in his eerily calm manner. His voice echoed throughout the ship

“All crew to Action Stations. The enemy is coming within engagement range. We are definitely outnumbered and most likely outgunned.”

Captain Edward paused for a moment. “But we will win this battle.”

It was what the crew needed, as each went to their stations.

“Sensor Group at battle stations and ready for orders, Sir!”

“Gunnery Group at battle stations and ready for orders, Sir!”

“Defence Group at battle stations and ready for orders, Sir!”

“Engineering Group at battle stations and ready for orders, Sir!”

The images that flared up on the myriad of displays showed him the seriousness of the situation. Three Standard class cruisers, and while they were still recovering from the space jump, it would only be a matter of time before they got their firing solution.

“The scouting squadron….”

The words left his lips silently, caught only by his Adjutant. She knew what that meant – the invasion force was going to be following behind. And the Starflight was the only combat vessel in the vicinity.

“Firing solution achieved for Contact One, Sir!”

The captain was wise to choose this sector to patrol. With the ships recovering from the space jump, the patrollling vessel had an advantage when obtaining the firing solution. They would fire first, hit first, and dish out what they could. The Starflight might be an old vessel, but their rail guns could still wreck havoc, out here in space where there were no gravity and air resistance. The Gunnery Officer awaited the order to fire. This would be his moment of glory.

“Gunnery Officer, change your acquisition for the asteroid at Sector One-Four-Seventeen. Use Neutron Torpedoes instead.”

“What? Sir – we have got a good target….”

“Trust me, Lance. Trust me.” The Gunnery Officer was cut off before he could finish. Still confused, he turned to the men and women manning the weapons. The legend could not be wrong.

“Reacquire for Neutron Torpedoes, Sector One-Four Seventeen. Target the big mean rock you see there, and get me a firing solution fast!”

Amidst the tense motion of trackballs, Admiral Edward suddenly barked out, “Defence Officer – set the shields to starboard maximum, now!”

The Defence Officer had learnt never to question the captain’s urgency. The ship rocked as multiple blasts of pulsed lasers struck it where the defence shields had just been set up. A second late and the whole ship would have been ripped apart. The pulsed lasers also made it clear who their adversaries were. The Centaurians preferred to use the newer and more unstable technology. His disturbed face was caught by the legend.

“Yes, these cruisers do not have the same sensors array they had when they were treacherously captured by Terran Defence Force traitors. The Centaurians must have somehow found a way to integrate their sensors into our ships. I have dealt with them before. You will be surprised how fast their sensors can get a firing solution. I am glad those thick-skulled heads at Command agreed to install shields on old vessels like ours at the last refit.”

The politicians who called themselves Admirals were notorious for being block-heads. It probably took a lot of strings-pulling for Admiral Edward to persuade them to spend the money on ships which should be seeing the scrapyard soon, if not for the lack of ships to be put on patrol. Nobody else could possibly have done it, thought Julia.

“Firing solution achieved, Sir!”

“Good – let the babies go”

“Let the babies go!”

Four silver fish-like objects burst out and inched painfully towards its target. Unlke pulsed lasers and rail guns, Neutron Torpedoes were still operating on rocket technology, albeit a nuclear one.None of the newer vessels were equipped to use them, only the older ones like Starflight. But these guys were powerful enough to level portions of planets.

Two more explosions rocked the ship, as the shields caught again the pulsed lasers coming at it, fired by one of the leading vessels which must have achieved its firing solution faster than its two other squadron-mates.

“Engineering report – our energy levels are bleeding. We shall proceed to turn off non-vital systems.”

Some of the crew, the ones who left their jackets in their lockers, groaned. The air-conditioning would be down, and the ship would become really cold in a while. Julia saw the smile on Admiral Edward’s face again, almost laughing – he had always warned the crew to keep their thick jackets with them at all times, and the legend himself was never without his. Her eyes followed his, locked on the Neutron Torpedoes inching its way to the target.

With the precision of 22nd Century engineering, the torpedoes hit true, destroying their target, and creating a powerful magnetic field as the explosions interacted with the magnetic ore of the asteroid it just destroyed. Now Lieutenant Lance could see why the captain had ordered a reacquisition of targets, as he gazed upon the workstations of the Sensor Group. The sensors began to go crazy as it registered contacts after contacts. An entire armada just space jumped into the sector!

And they space jumped right into a trap – the magnetic field interfered with the space jumping process immensely, and multiple explosions occurred as time and space collided with each other. Ship after ship got ripped apart by forces enough to create multiple black holes, were they to be uncontrolled rather than be part of a space jump. This was a move that was never taught in the Space Academy!

Lieutenant Lance looked away from the displays to the man he called captain. A new awe and respect swept across him, and he found himself at a loss for words. One day, he told himself, one day he would want to be like him. Just perhaps not commanding an old cruiser.

Admiral Edward caught his gaze. For a moment, Lieutenant Lance thought he saw a fatherly smile. Then the familiar commanding voice boomed out.

“Gunnery Officer, you had better prepare for a reacquisition – we have still three more targets to deal with!”

A roar of confidence rocked the Bridge this time as the crew got ready. They have just destroyed an entire armada of more than two dozen ships alone, what kind of threat would three ships pose to them?

They were definitely outnumbered and outgunned. But they would win this battle.

What is the difference between “finish” and “complete”?

A very well-written piece, on the difference between “finish” and “complete” – the former ending by exhausting, the latter ending by fulfilling.

Answer by Shreeya Dwivedi:

In many contexts, the meanings are pretty much the same, but you might hear finished more often than completed in casual conversation. The word completed can convey some sense of accomplishment. In the context of a race, it might work when the race is a major achievement. You might see completed in more formal contexts, such as a paper on education, or a course syllabus.

From wordreference :

fin•ish /ˈfɪnɪʃ/ v.

to bring or come to an end or to completion

to use completely

to overcome completely; destroy or kill

to put a finish on (wood, metal, etc.)

And still from wordreference :

com•plete /kəmˈplit/ v.

to make whole, entire, or perfect

to bring to an end ;finish

Complete is to be wholly made up. Finish is to exhaust, or expended. So in their use in a sentence, they can be used from that opposite direction to convey the same meaning: as in a cup being half filled or half empty.

One can complete his shopping when one has filled the shopping bag with all items to be bought.

One can finish shopping when one has exhausted the items in the shopping list.

What is the difference between “finish” and “complete”?

Freelance Chinese-English Translation Work

If there is something that characterises me, it is that I am always willing to try out new things, even as there are many new things that I do not want to try. I have gotten and completed my first freelancer project, a translation project.

It is not the first time I get paid for my translation services (most of the time I do not get paid). The first was when I did the book Flowing Desires for Vivian (a China-born Singaporean), who has since become a family friend. Kitten and I put in long hours to translate the novel – it was harder than we thought.

This time, I translated an 8-page brochure from English to simplified Chinese. It was a brochure on yacht ownership, and it makes me really want to own one of those yacht memberships one of these days. If the Lord be willing, one day I shall. Perhaps when the children are all flown the coop, Kitten and I can live onboard a yacht!

I was rewarded for my few hours of work with USD27 (USD 30 paid by my employer, of which USD3 goes to Freelancer), which is relatively low. I am not complaining though. At a time when I am jobless, any income counts.

Feel free to join Freelancer through this link (Freelancer) here, for those of you interested in getting some side income! They offer all kinds of freelance work, from IT jobs, to data entry jobs, to voiceovers!

A Gift and a Bribe in Oriental Societies

This was originally published when Sensei Michael was in China.

Many westerners who come over to oriental societies have to immediate grapple with one reality – the strong culture and presence of gifts-giving and even bribery that takes place in our societies. It can range from the blatant (Indonesia or Vietnam) to the indirect (China or Philippines) to the “legalised and regulated” (Singapore!).

I remembered my first encounter with gifts as a teacher – I got a very expensive book from a parent. It was very, very difficult for me to return that gift without offending the parent so I approached my principal for advice. Public servants in Singapore (of whom teachers are a part of) have very strict instructions regarding gifts (declare value, report to superiors, etc), to avoid any problems or even appearance of bribery. I decided to make that book publicly available to all my colleagues.

Over at my school, I encountered Korean parents – and I realised that Korean parents took their gift-giving very seriously. It’s something like a mark of respect or even “face” to them to present a gift of nominal value (chocolates, for example) to a teacher they respect. But since I’m no longer a public servant, I could accept them without any problem.

There was one gift I had to return though, and that really destroyed my relationship with the parent (sigh). It was a very beautiful idol of some Indonesian tribe or something, which we suspect to be a totem of some sort. I don’t think it’s very appropriate for a Christian family to have this in the house so I wrote a card explaining my position and returned the gift. That parent never spoke to me again.

I know that God has very serious instructions regarding bribery.

“And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.” Exodus 23:8

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” Deuteronomy 16:19

“A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back, To pervert the ways of justice.” Proverbs 17:23

In other words, bribes are given to blind the eyes and to pervert justice. When money is given for the judge to award you his judgement, that’s a bribe. When money is given for a person to award you the contract, even if other parties obviously gives the better deal, that’s a bribe.

How about gifts? What does the Bible say about gifts (remember that the Hebrew society is an oriental one)?

“Many entreat the favor of the nobility, And every man is a friend to one who gives gifts.” Proverbs 19:6

“A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” Proverbs 18:16

I think it is very clear here – a gift is an introduction, a means to put ourselves in good standing before a person in an oriental society (I suspect it works in western societies as well!). Herein lies the great power of the oft-acclaimed Chinese guanxi 关系, which literally means “connections” or “relations”. You can get guanxi by being a childhood friend or relative, or by being friends later in life (mostly through gifts – monetary, in kind or by being the leverage for your own personal guanxielsewhere).

What gifts have I given so far that has given me some of this guanxi? I’ve a friend who has connections with government officials – she likes me, and I’ve been a great help to her in establishing herself in Singapore. I’ve leveraged upon my network to create opportunities for the school to perform in public venues – both sides are happy in the process.

I learnt one thing though – that ultimately, we need to be discerning over what constitutes a bribe and what constitutes a gift (I suspect many of my definitions of “gifts” are considered bribes by most governments of today). I believe that as long as we are sure we are not perverting justice or blinding the eyes of the decision-maker, any gifts we give to make room for us in high places would be regarded by God as wisdom. And what is the value God has placed upon wisdom?

My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;

Proverbs 2:1-6

Why GDP Figures do not make sense in China

One of the best answers on why GDP figures do not make sense in China.

Answer on @Quora by Robin Daverman to Why is it estimated that Chinese economic growth is lower than official figur… https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-estimated-that-Chinese-economic-growth-is-lower-than-official-figures/answer/Robin-Daverman?srid=ibaJ&share=9a260348

The Evolution of English

A very good piece on how English evolved to the English we know today, using the familiar Lord’s Prayer.

Answer on @Quora by Scott Mauldin to What happened during the transition between Old English and Modern English? https://www.quora.com/What-happened-during-the-transition-between-Old-English-and-Modern-English/answer/Scott-Mauldin-3?srid=ibaJ&share=a1cfc0cf