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.

A Fantastic Karst Cave

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Sarah Zhang, currently in Grade 5.

On International Labour Day, my grandma, grandpa, mother and I went to a karst cave.

The karst cave was fantastic. It had seven layers, but only four layers were open. The first to fifth layer were dry, the sixth and seventh layer had water on it and we could go boating. The fourth layer was under the ground about 300 metres deep. It was very beautiful.

Inside the cave were some stalactites. Provided there were water, these stalactites could be longer, but they grew just one millimeter a year. In the karst cave, there were lots of beautiful artificial lights. And it had some stone waterfalls, which were unimaginable!

It had some transparent stalagmites, they looked like crystals. The curtain was called a schistose, the formations looked like harps.It was very beautiful! The best of them all was a kind of rock with some fragile things inside, like flowers, and easily broken. It was called a stone flower.

These many fantastic stalactites were all made of limestone. I thought that nature is wonderful. I learnt so many things today!

A Visit to an Orphanage

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students, Linda Huang, currently in Grade 6.

A Visit to an Orphanage

It was the May Day holiday, and I was so bored. Then mom asked me, “Would you like to go to the orphanage with me?” “Sure!” I replied heartily.

The orphanage was far from the downtown, we needed thirty minutes to get there by car. After thirty minutes, we arrived. That was my first time at the orphanage. The building was a villa, it looked very luxurious.

First I saw the playground, there were many things belonging to the orphans on it. The inside of the orphanage was pretty clean, but we also needed to wipe the floor. Mom and I worked hard there, after we wiped the floor, we went upstairs to clean the beds which the orphans slept on. This work used up much of my time. Because I have mysophobia, I could not let the bed go dirty.

After we have finished all the work, mom and I played with the orphans. They were so cute, and they were only one or two years old. I liked an orphan best, his name was Lele. He was lovely. I played with him all the time, he never cried when I was there. I felt excited when I was in the orphanage.

Soon it was time for me to go. I said good-bye to them all. I was so happy that I could help them, but sad because they have no parents. But the orphans were also happy, because now they lived in an orphanage. That day, I had a meaningful morning.

I ended the day with gladness and delight.

An Exciting Day

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Sarah Zhang, currently in Grade 5.

“Great,” my mother told me, “Linda, Jason and I are going to take part in a play!”

A few days ago, we went to Beijing by car. We felt happy we had seven days to learn drama. Our drama teachers, Durand and his assistant Alice, came from America. They were nice and ebullient. They were funny and good at drama.

Our play’s name was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Linda portrayed Quince, Jason portrayed Flute, and I portrayed Queen Titania.

The exciting day finally arrived.

The morning of the day we put up our play, we got up, and the first thing we did was to review our dialogue. Everybody did what he had to do. Our teachers were very caring, they wanted us to rest at home that morning.

When noon came, everyone’s hearts were jumping fast. After lunch, Ms Alice put on our makeup, one by one, in accordance with our role’s character. She was very careful and diligent, our dresses were different too.

Time passed slowly, the time to start the play was close at hand. Do I feel happy? Excited? Tension? I did not know, I was full of contradictions. Before the play began, we still did some exercises, so we would not hurt our body when we fall.

Soon after the first act was the second act, when I must go on stage. I went up on stage. First, I was scared, I lost a sentence. And then, I felt better. Finally, I was not afraid, and was enjoying it.

After the show, I asked my mother, “Do you know I lost a sentence?”

“I don’t know,” my mother said, “Everyone was good!”

As the play ended, we must finally split from our classmates and teachers. We were not willing. We hugged our teachers, but had to leave at last.

That day was most exciting! I knew how to act in a play, but better than that, I knew what true friendship was!

An Accident

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Jason Shan, currently in Grade 5.

An Accident

A month ago, I was on the street. I saw a car and another car collide. I was very surprised. The accident happened like this. The first car turned left, the second car went straight. The two cars went along. Then the two cars collided.

The policeman saw the accident and came to help them settle the accident. One hour later, the accident was settled. There were many cars on the road, bumper-to-bumper. All the cars could not go. The policeman came and directed these cars. Later, these cars went on their way.

I thought to myself: we should think first before we do anything. We should not do anything sloppily.

An Exciting Day

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students, Linda Huang, currently in Grade 6.

An Exciting Day

After our laborious practice, the most exciting day was coming! It was the day that we were performing our play!
We were allowed to sleep in that day, so I slept until nine o’clock. In the morning, except the time when I was sleeping, I was practising the lines with Sarah and Jason. I was so nervous about the show in the evening.

The time passed by quickly, the afternoon was already coming. Our parents sent us to the place where we always practised. Alice and Durand were there, too. These two were the teachers who taught us to perform our play. A busy afternoon was waving at us.

Teacher told us to put on our costumes for the show. After Alice reviewed our performance, we practised again and again, because Alice and Durand wanted us to be perfect. This time everyone did a good job, no one was distracted. Everyone wanted to be the best, too, including me.

Soon, it was time for supper. We ate at the canteen to save time. Then Alice put on our make-up. Many parents were in the theatre. My heart pounded with nervousness.

After a while, the play started. It was pretty quiet in the theatre. I was the first to go on stage. I could not see the audience on the stage, so I was not nervous anymore. The time passed by really fast.

Unfortunately, I was not really immersed into the play, until the play was over. When the play was over, every member of the audience clapped their hands, some even cheered for us!

It was also the saddest part. We needed to say good-bye to our partner and teachers. But we also did a great job, maybe someday we could meet again!

This experience was the best experience ever! I believed everybody had fun, learnt many things from this experience, and found a new friend!

A Most Exciting Day

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students Haylin Lu, currently in Grade 9.

A Most Exciting Day

I could still remember that most exciting day when we were running on the racing track; the early autumn wind wafted across our faces and T-shirts. It was hard to hear what the spectators and cheering teams shouted because my heartbeats were as loud as their voices. My first sports meeting in junior high school gave me the most exciting memory.

On September 28th, 2011, I got up early and packed my things 3 times. I have never taken part in any big sports meeting like this one, so I was very excited, and of course a little nervous. I was asked by my teacher to enroll in the 400m race. The opening of the meeting was grand. Flags were everywhere; every class marched to the field  in good order. Each class had chosen a slogan previously. It told other classes how united and excellent we were. When Class 10 marched by the rostrum, we shouted our slogan together. The cheering team waved their bouquets towards us.

After the speech of the principal and the kung fu performance, we could finally start the sports meeting. We sat in the auditorium and took the snacks out of our bags. But I sat there still and stared at the field impatiently.

“Would you like some chocolate, Haylin?” One of my friends handed me some chocolate.

“No, thank you. I would rather not eat anything so that I won’t feel bad when I am running.” I thanked her and gave back the chocolate.

“Don’t feel nervous, it is just a sports meeting. We are so lucky to be in this China Petroleum and Natural Gas Pipeline Bureau Middle School, aren’t we? Other schools in the city have never had a sports meeting before.” She comforted me and gave me a bottle of water.

“I am not so nervous; I am just very excited and can’t wait for my turn,” I explained. “I hope I can win the something for my class; no matter the medal is gold, silver or bronze.”

“Good luck to you, Haylin. I know you can. I will cheer for you,” she said.

We sat there and watched the meeting. Finally the loudspeaker said, “All the female students in the Grade 7 400m race, please come to the registry.”

“Come on, Haylin. You can beat them!” my classmates said. I smiled and said, “I won’t let you down.”

I leaned down on the racing track with the other girls and took a deep breath. When the referee pointed his gun at the sky, I told myself this was the time. After the gunshot, I ran as fast as I could, but the others were faster than me. I was the last one. Then I realized that I should not use all of my strength on the beginning, so I began to adjust my breath. When the others slowed down in the final dash, I ran past one after another. I heard my classmates shouting, “Come on, Haylin! Come on, Haylin!” and waved at them. At that moment, I felt so glad to be in this school and this class.

I got the bronze medal in the end. My classmates patted my shoulder and said, “At first, we all thought you might be the last one, but you really didn’t let us down.”

“That was because you guys raised me up.” I patted them, too.

It was the most exciting day in my life. For days and days we spent time studying and doing homework, but our school provided us a chance to relax and have fun. It also made our body strong and healthy. And I also saw friendship during this sports meeting. After the sports meeting, we knew each other better and the whole class became more united.

Food for the Sheepdog

Another story from the Sheep Pen series.

The winter solstice was fast approaching, and it was a traditional time for sheepdog to hibernate together with the sheep. All sheepdogs were looking forward to their final feeding time before the hibernation, but the Sheepdog had heard disturbing news on the grapevine. Apparently, the Owner planned to feed all Sheepdogs after their hibernation, instead of before.

Such things were disturbing indeed to the sheepdogs, which needed the warmth of the food before they hibernate. Further news came from the grapevine – the Shepherd had argued for food to be distributed to the sheepdogs, and the Owner had finally agreed. Only to decide that the vitamin tablets be withheld, since hibernating dogs do not need them.

The Sheepdog shook its head. Such things were not new – back two years ago, the Owner had wanted to stop feeding the dogs during summer as well, since the sheep had gone for their shearing and slaughter, and the dogs were not needed. The Owner had changed its mind, but not before shockwaves had travelled through the Pen regarding such a measure.

The Sheepdog approached a group of lesser sheepdogs discussing the matter. Speculation was rife. Why did the Owner not want to feed the dogs before hibernation? The grapevine had mentioned that the Owner was within rights to do so, since feeding time was supposed to be at the end of the day’s work, and not before. Feeding the dogs earlier was simply the Owner being generous, and the dogs had to travel to the feeding point to get fed.

The Sheepdog had once wondered why the Owner could not simply get a hireling to distribute the food to the dogs, instead of insisting on the dogs travelling to the feeding point. It was a clever dog, however, which understood very well that getting a hireling meant not only extra costs, but that someone else now knew that perhaps the meat was of low quality. The Owner would not do such a thing, even though other Pens were already doing that.

The Sheepdog could hear the cursing of the Shepherd in the distance, and knew what happened, as it walked slowly towards him. The Shepherd had wanted to hire another lesser sheepdog to watch over the sheep, and had eyed a particular one. The Sheepdog knew that one – it was a very sharp and experienced sheepdog, and would be a great asset to the Pen.

“You know something, Sheepdog?” The Shepherd spoke as it snuggled against him, “The Owner does not want that new sheepdog in because he would have to feed two more puppies. Unless the new sheepdog agrees to not having its puppies fed, it could not come in. How could I convey such a message to it!”

The Sheepdog whined, as it felt the Shepherd’s pain. The Pen really needed good quality sheepdogs – they were not easy to find, as other pens normally snatched them quickly with offers of good quality food and living. If not for the love of the Shepherd and the Steward, the Sheepdog would have left this Pen long ago.

The sheepdog’s ears pricked – it heard the howling calls of the wolves in the forest again. They had been calling out to it so many times, but they had kept their distance. The Sheepdog snuggled closer to the Shepherd, the chilly air of the winter coming at him, as both watched the fluffy clouds go by. The clouds were really beautiful – some of them looked like lovely pieces of meat.

The Third Horse

Another story from the Shang Wars series.

The courier brought another petition to the Emperor, while he was in the middle of watching a performance by his consorts. He shook his head as he realised it was from the Generalissimo again. Why anyone fighting at the border could have the time to send petitions was really beyond him, but he read anyway, before chucking it aside.

The Empress, sitting next to his royal throne, picked up the petition. It was a request for more troops, but even more urgently, a few good Generals and gold to build fortifications.

“Your Majesty,” the Empress asked, “The Generalissimo fights hard at the border. Shouldn’t we send what he wants?”

“My Empress, have you heard of the story of the General Tian Yi, who won the horse races against the princes of Qi?”

The Empress nodded. All who were learned in court would have read the works of Sun Bin, even if they were really boring to women like her.

“In order for me to win 2 out of 3 races, I would have to sacrifice a horse to be pitted against the strongest horse on a sure-lose race. Right now, all resources are needed at the royal palace. My best Generals and troops will guard this palace, and fortifications will be built here. The Generalissimo is fighting on land that used to be the Barbarians’ anyway. I will not build fortifications that the Barbarians will use for themselves later. That would be downright stupid.

“In any case, once the Generalissimo and all his troops die off, I will no longer have to deal with all these petitions. He would have done his job of delaying the Barbarian invasions, while I build up the defences at the palace.”

The Empress nodded, and placed the petition down at the table, before letting her eyes return to the dances before her.

Resolving a Family Dispute

I am going to tell another story of the Rabbit family today.

A teary Baby Rabbit hopped onto Mother Rabbit’s burrow one day and complained that Sister Rabbit had bullied him. She had shouted at him in front of the other rabbits and told him a lot of nasty things. Mother Rabbit comforted him, and told him that he was a good rabbit, and need not think too much of what Sister Rabbit had said. She made a mental note to talk to Sister Rabbit later, since she was busy with her spring cleaning.

A little while later, Brother Rabbit stormed into her burrow! He was livid, and demanded an answer why Sister Rabbit had bullied Baby Rabbit. He also mentioned that Sister Rabbit had said nasty things about him as well.

Now, Baby Rabbit was a favourite brother of Brother Rabbit, and he had taken care of him and loved him from a young age. Mother Rabbit had to calm Brother Rabbit down, and assured him she would be talking to Sister Rabbit about the matter. Brother Rabbit was muttering angrily when he left her burrow. Mother Rabbit knew that this family dispute would need resolution as quickly as possible – but the spring cleaning had to continue.

Spring cleaning was finally over, and Mother Rabbit asked Sister Rabbit into her burrow. The story from Sister Rabbit was somewhat different. She had noticed a badly-trimmed piece of fur on Baby Rabbit, and had offered to help trim it, but Baby Rabbit had refused. He wanted Brother Rabbit to trim it instead. Sister Rabbit thought it would be better for her to trim it immediately, or he would be laughed at by the other rabbits by the time he got to Brother Rabbit, but he had refused and then raised his voice at her.

Mother Rabbit knew that Baby Rabbit had never liked Sister Rabbit’s manners (she tend to handle matters curtly), so he probably did not want Sister Rabbit to touch his fur at all. Baby Rabbit did not tell her this part of the story. She would have to arrange a meeting between Brother Rabbit and Sister Rabbit in front of Father Rabbit to resolve the family dispute then.

The meeting went on well. Brother Rabbit and Sister Rabbit behaved themselves in the presence of their parents, and began to go through the events leading to the present quarrel. Brother Rabbit was quite surprised to hear the story from her, and realised that he might have been too impulsive when it came to his beloved baby brother. The two siblings made up and left Father Rabbit’s burrow, agreeing to communicate more closely with each other regarding issues of Baby Brother in future.

Mother Rabbit still had one worry – resolving underlying issues normally require great emotional expenditure and upheavals, but there was none. Both Brother Rabbit and Sister Rabbit were really cool and calm. It might mean that there was really nothing much, or that the underlying issues had yet to be settled.

Still, Mother Rabbit had to smile. When one looks at each other as family, one begins to look at things differently.