Thursday, July 24, 2014

Letter Game: Daniel

[Last week, I had an Inspired idea.

The kids need a structured writing assignment each week. I've wanted to play the letter game for years but could never find a willing partner in crime. Epiphany: Why not combine them?
I have hapless guinea pigs under my tutelage. I can MAKE them play the game with me, and call it an inviolable homeschool assignment! The idea is that Eric or Daniel would write a "persona" (in-character) letter to me. The first letter should give the setting and a reason why the characters are apart.

I encountered this idea when I read Sorcery and Cecilia, a charming book by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. It was adorable! The best thing is when they throw characters or plot points at each other with an obvious "Ha! What will you do about THAT?" challenge.

I've decided to publish the letters as we go so everyone can watch the story unfold. The boys, knowing they will be published, should (in theory) be inspired to demonstrate good writing mechanics. (
I'll edit and ask them to revise mistakes, but if they refuse, I'll just publish with an embarrassing [sic].) I get blog material. My readers get entertained. Win/win/win!

Okay, yes, it's quite possible that three months in there will instead be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Let's enjoy the initial enthusiasm for as long as it lasts, okay?]


Here's the first letter, written by Daniel, July 22, 2014:







Dear Joseph,

While I am aboard the LCS Terminator, I hear you are working nearly 24-7 as an assistant ship mechanic in my absence.

Hopefully, once you learn to act like a mindless drone, you will begin to like your boooooooooring job.

Love,

David.




Dear David,

How nice that your ship launches on Pioneer Day. You're a modern-day pioneer, heading out into space on a lunar colony ship! (At least, I assume that's what you mean. How embarrassing if you're departing on a vessel charted by the Licensed Clinical Sociopaths or Libertine Curmudgeonly Snoods.)

I don't think you fully realize what you're getting yourself in for, though. Remember the old song "Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and walked...". Has it occurred to you that you'll be on your ship for a very, very long time? Granted you'll have books to read and movies to watch, but you'll also be sharing your cramped cabin with three cranky roommates--and it's not like you'll be able to move out or find a change of scenery or get a breath of fresh air. You're stuck.

Meanwhile, I put in an eight-hour shift -- yes, I pulled some over-time last month, but nothing like your exaggerations -- fixing things while watching all the ships come into dock and leave again. Every new arrival and departure involves drama, and you wouldn't believe the trouble the tourists cause. Just today the customs officials discovered a pet monkey disguised as a baby. The monkey, understandably resisting arrest, climbed to the very top of the dome and led the authorities a merry chase for two hours. I got to watch the whole thing while working on the #2 engine of an old-fashioned chemical rocket. After they finally lured the imp down with food, they threw the owner in jail. Scuttlebut is he's facing a really heavy fine: bad enough he tried to violate the quarantine, but his animal got loose and threw biological contagions around. (You should have seen the poop splatters on the custom agents' uniforms. The monkey had great aim. Ewww.)

That kind of thing happens all the time, here. Meanwhile, you're probably discovering just how small and loud your tin can of a ship is. I bet there are young families with babies, and the babies cry all the time. Is the Terminator one of those older ships in which they make people share the sleeping bunks in shifts? Watch out for head lice.

I'm going to meet Kay and Lenny for dinner and then get some sleep. My cubicle may be small, but at least it's private and well-insulated.

At least the ansible means our letters can transit instantaneously. If I'm not too busy, I'll try to write to you sometimes. I consider it my charitable duty to help you stay entertained.

Love,

Joseph




Dear Joseph,

It is good to hear that you will have a last meal with the soon-to-be soldiers who leave for the LCS Terminator tomorrow morning if that helps you and your forgetfulness about dates. Meanwhile, I get to work with the new light converter engine and get my own comfortable, roomy, windowed, cabin with several entertainment systems, and everyone has their own cabin; your space station is half the size of the Terminator. (No wonder you’re working on chemical engines (which are three times as loud as ours).) Have fun working constantly.

Love,

David



Dear David,

You always loved to exaggerate. A ship that’s twice the size of the space station it launches from? Good grief. The economic insanity of each person having his own cabin aboard a honkin’ COLONY ship is absolutely ridiculous. Like they aren’t going to cram the humans together to make room for the heavy terraforming equipment--! Don’t get me started. I suppose that if you had been a Separatist aboard the original Mayflower (look it up on the lunar wiki), you would have claimed that the captain had graciously offered you his cabin because of your seasickness.

Let’s not argue about it anymore, though. Instead, let’s argue about you kidnapping my friends. THAT was a low blow. I can’t believe Kay and Lenny left their jobs here to head to  NewNieuwNueva Amsterdam. What good is 400 acres and a tractor if the terraforming is still 50 years away from finishing stage 2?  I know you’re an insane optimist who…well, I can’t think of a tactful way to say you lie all the time, so I’ll just say it. They ought to know better than to trust you by now, but they were always slow learners. What did you promise them this time? Shame on you, exploiting them that way! You may expect a blistering letter from your mom, by the way. She’s even more upset about it than I am, seeing as how you’ve stolen her hydroponics assistant.

I admit am jealous of the light converter engine. It still seems fantastic. Do you remember when we were kids and the latest generation of matter converter engines came online? There we were, in 7th grade recess, drooling over the specs…and the artificial gravity went out. I recall watching helplessly as the data pad floated straight into the sewage intake.

I keep wondering about the LCS Terminator. I pulled up the specs for it, and, as I suspected, your descriptions of spacious, personal cabins is exaggerated by an order of magnitude, but even so, I can’t see how the Centauri Colony Company can afford that level of luxury. I would expect you all to be crammed into cryostorage pods, to be honest. They must have a wealthy investor, but who?

By the way, I am studying for my technician’s license. I’ve done some work as an apprentice on modern matter converter engines, but as soon as I pass my test, I can work independently, as a journeyman. I’m working my way up the ladder while you’re still rattling around aimlessly. Looks like I’m on track to win our 10 year bet.

Crankily yours,

Joseph





Dear Joseph,

I don’t have much time to write this, but I’ll try to fill you in.

Our military blockade has been breached and a small fleet of battleships is headed your way.
As a beam of light, we should arrive a day before that hostile fleet. Start evacuation IMMEDIATELY when we arrive.

Spread the word.

Sincerely,

David



Dear David,

I thought your message was a joke until I saw the news reports. I had barely been following the news lately, and had been only vaguely aware of a blockade in the Gaullic system. (What the snarkle got into them? Is this like the time they rioted because they were sick of the wintry weather on their planet?)

Anyway, I’m not taking the “war” all that seriously because it looks like they have a disorganized military. I suspect they managed to get this far by surprise but will be driven back within a few weeks. Nonetheless, we’ve been ordered to evacuate the space station as a precaution. (Your mom is furious that she must abandon her plants. Apparently she’d just transplanted a rare variety of Arcanium Snaptrap and it needs hourly tending to turn out right. Now she’ll need to “plow them under” and start over. You might know that if you ever wrote to her, which is another thing she’s livid about.)

It’s preposterous to think that everyone on Lunar Station could fit on your ship. Have you even looked at the specs of the vessel you’re serving on? Don’t blame me if you get fired.

Meanwhile, those old chemical engines you disparaged have been ferrying Lunar citizens to Earth with great dispatch. It reminds me of the Battle of Dunkirk, except that one involved heroics and this is just politicians panicking.

I doubt I’ll see you when you arrive, since I should be back on Earth, “protected” from the “threat” by their orbital “defenses” by then. Still, if I do see you, I’ll also get to watch your mother greet you. I’m snorting already at the thought. Remember the time you ate her prize marsizures, which upset the delicate ecobalance in her greenhouse? I will always cherish the memory of her dumping a bucket of beetles over your head in the hallway at school, in front of Yolanda Snodgrass. Let’s just say she’s even MORE upset this time. Snicker.

Joseph




Dear Joseph,

We were attacked by a battleship and it slowed us down.

I’m sorry to hear you were captured and are in a dungeon.

I have arrived and found that your space station has been blown up.

Earth is being ruled by Sue Miller for fear of her creating a solar flare so big it consumes Earth.

Hope things improve,

David




Dear David,

Ha! The hologram of the ruined station fooled you, too! Don’t feel too bad. It worked on the Gauls, of course, but it also “got” several other ships. Of course, those were freighter or passenger ships, not–snicker—“war” ships commanded by supposed military geniuses, but that’s okay. I’m sure your captain is a lovely person, even if he’s a few neutrons short of critical mass.

I’m also glad our disinformation campaign is working. We hacked into the Gauls network a little. Not much, but enough to adjust their prisoner manifest. This is a big secret by the way, and if it got out, I could get in trouble for “loose lips”, but I just can’t resist bragging. Plus our encryption keys are so amazing, I don’t see how the Gauls could crack them.

Anyway. I am most certainly NOT in a dungeon. I’m in a “secure undisclosed location” working on an amazing project vital to solar security. Granted the d├ęcor is a bit lacking, but I’m doing such amazing work and learning so many new things about technology! I’m afraid I really can’t give you details, though. It’s well below your security clearance and I’ve said too much already.

I am sorry to report that your mom is stuck on Earth. She’s going to be very, VERY cranky that you didn’t get to us in time to defend the space station. Our evacuation went surprisingly well, but there are always hiccups in that sort of thing. Her confrontation with the pilot who wanted to use her plants as reactor mass will become legendary, I’m sure. I really hope somebody got a picture of him flying the ship with spiked gripple fronds shoved up his nose. Anyway, if she did that to him, imagine what she’s going to do to you. It was bad enough when she was ranting about paying taxes to a stupid space navy that couldn’t even protect a station a mere 3.8 x 10^5 kilometers away, but now that she’s stuck on the gravity well of Earth while Sue Miller holds it hostage? Oh, I bet she’s livid.

P. S. One of your ex-girlfriends is here. I can’t tell you which one, but I CAN tell you that she has lots of…interesting…stories about you.




Dear Joseph,

Nice try, but I saw through your act. As we approached the space station, we saw another ship fly through a large chunk of it. Later on, we also discovered remains (debris) of it.

So, I know you completely destroyed the station as “scorched Earth policy” then set up a hologram to make the station still look intact.

You must have taken an escape pod to Earth and then been captured. I’ve hacked into the records of Sue Miller and I see the rest of your party were all executed.

I also know you’re in a padded cell. Since you think it’s a secret science lab, you’re obviously crazy. When you stop denying reality, they may release you to mine coal. Sure, you’ll have laser drills but you’ll still be in a bad condition since they can’t even afford a simple mining suit.

Our fleet will be there soon and hopefully we can get you out.

Love,

David





Dear David,

You really ought to have more faith in me. Granted, I didn’t share ALL the details in my last letter, but that’s because I know better than to offer top-secret intelligence in an unsecured channel.

Congratulations on figuring out the space station “mirage.” I wish I’d had more time to program it so it was more interactive to external stimuli like ships docking. A really good program would have shown explosions if a ship had “rammed” it. I DID have time to program a docking scenario, though. As I watched from my escape pod, I saw an enemy ship approach the station, clamp on, and then begin disembarking personnel. The look on the face of the first few people who “stepped” onto the station, only to fall into the void of space? Priceless. They figured it out quickly and only lost two crewmembers, but still. I’m including a picture for your enjoyment. (Don’t worry; I also programmed a warning for friendly ships not to attempt that procedure.)

Now, as to my current status – yes, I was captured by the forces loyal to Sue Miller and placed in confinement, as were the rest of my group. And, yes, we were all slated for execution.

You may imagine my despair that night as I faced my mortality. I confess I didn’t see any way out of the situation. The thought of our friends…your mom…all of us facing death at dawn…well, it led to some bleak introspection.

You may, then, also imagine my surprise when my cell door creaked open several hours early. I looked up, apprehensively…and saw a blood-spattered monkey holding a set of security keys. The juxtaposition was jarring: she smelled like a skunk had rolled around in month-old pee and dead bodies, but she looked like a shining vision of Valkyrian redemption.

Let me back up. Do you remember the monkey? Several letters ago, I mentioned one climbing the dome, stealing stuff, and throwing poo at security guards? Well, apparently in all the confusion, she escaped custody and stowed away in my escape pod. Also, apparently she has a…Thing…about authority. Show her anyone in a security guard uniform, and she goes berserk. I didn’t know any of that at the time, of course; I’ve been trying to interpolate what happened as best I can since the rescue.

As nearly as we can reconstruct, she escaped custody in all the chaos on the station, stowed away in one of the escape pods, and hid from the guards who arrested the humans. Then she snuck out of the pod, went on a rampage against the guards, killed some, and stole their wallets, keys, personal electronics, and nose boogers. (No accounting for taste, ew.) Then she let me out. It took a lot of persuasion to get her to hand over the keys, but after a promise of the best meal she’s ever had, she handed them over. I’m still not sure how much she understands, but she does seem to have at least a receptive vocabulary of several thousand words. Anyway. I organized a jail break and rescued all the prisoners I could find. No doubt you’ll be thrilled to hear your mom is one of them; I covered for you and didn’t tell her that in your last letter you neglected to express any concern for her safety. You’re welcome, not that you deserve it.

To throw the security forces off our scent, we falsified the records to show all the prisoners had been executed as ordered. Then we snuck away and established a base. And, YES, it includes a science lab. And NO, I won’t tell you where it’s located. No offense, but I don’t trust you to be discreet. When this is all over, I’ll buy you a drink if we’re both still alive. I can tell you all about the details, and you can tell me glorious lies about your exploits.

It is good to hear from you. You may be unreliable and untruthful, but I do enjoy your letters. They give me something to look forward to. A little bit of comedy diversion is a good thing when one is working with weaponized [censored] in lethal doses.

P.S. I’ve included a super-encrypted file with intelligence on Miller. Please forward it to your C.O.: he’ll know what to do with it. If your ships really will be in range, soon, it would be nice if you could, I don’t know, bomb her HQs or something.

Love,

Joseph




Dear Joseph,

I note that you never mentoned [sic] anything after making camp. I have also been doing things. Here’s the important stuff: I got up, got breakfast, went to the engine room for a few hours, took a lunch break.

Love,

David



Dear David,

As I recall, your first letter to me mocked me for my boring life. Since then I have evacuated a space station, been unjustly imprisoned, gotten rescued by a psychopathic monkey, and then I joined a top-secret resistance cell in which I get to be a mad scientist doing awesome experiments while also fighting to Sue the Tyrant.

Meanwhile, you’re eating. Nice. So, I’m Gandalf and you’re a hobbit who stayed in the shire. Well, to each his own.

I can’t talk long; I need to go check on another lab experiment now. Hopefully the tomatoes only liquefied but didn’t actually disintegrate.

Assuming I can get the tomatoes to generalize to people, and assuming I get the settings on the death ray right, I think the war could end soon and we could return to our normal lives. Maybe we’ll both be war heroes! That should help us find girlfriends, right?

Love,

Joseph





Dear Joseph,

I find it odd that you would quote a 21st century video, but then you were always interested in past tech.

We have called in an air strike and I was surprised to see how terrible her air defenses were. (I think they might have interfered with her master plan.)

I guess she didn’t expect anyone to rise up. We have defeated Sue Miller and destroyed her machines.
I look forward to meeting you in our new base. (Sue Miller’s lair.)

Love,


David


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