Starting Point: Captain, Sweetie

This rather spiffing image has adorned my desktop for a while now, but I was unable to think of a good Starting Point Idea to match it. So, I asked Thaddeus Howze and Edgar Grunewald for help, and together we came up with this…


A perpetual thunderstorm resonated above, and the smell of O-zone filled the air. Dark clouds stretched to the horizon and excitedly flashed with lightning, even though the ground was barely wet. Dry lightning, they would have called it at home.

Dismounting from the expedition-sled, the two officers made sure their suits were properly insulated, though it was unlikely any of the substantial lightning strikes would hit the ground considering the array of taller and more tempting targets.

“You brought me down from the ship for this? It looks like a bloody tree.”

The science officer shook her head and remembered how she’d ended with this lunkhead of a captain. Together they had been to places never before visited, seen things never before seen, and done things that some people might consider impossible, but sometimes she wondered if he truly belonged out here, so far from Earth. He didn’t seem to appreciate any of it.

With her enthusiasm undampened she raised her scanner to check the bio-readings. “It’s not a tree, Captain. Look at it. It’s moving. They all are.”

Captain Mzimba fixed his eyes on one of the towering creatures, squinted, and observed. “Huh, so it is,” he shrugged. “And…”

“And first of all,” she jabbed, “it’s amazing. Second of all…”

Even Mzimba had to admit that he could sometimes be too flippant about such things, and that he sometimes took it all for granted, so he cut in before his science officer could launch into that particular diatribe again. “I guess it is pretty jaw-dropping, Honey, you’re right. So, you wanna bring a science team down here and study them?”

“Second of all,” she insisted, “I’ve already been studying them, and I’ve made two rather alarming discoveries.”

“Oh yeah?”

“One: They’re all moving in the same direction – West, directly towards the village. And two…”

“Towards the village?” A look of concern suddenly streaked Captain Mzimba’s face. “You mean directly towards the village? Do you think the natives know already? Are they dangerous?”

Suddenly he wanted all the answers, she thought, but without the patience to listen. Now that his precious negotiations were at stake, now he cared. “Captain, Cass, Sweetie, please let me finish. Two…”

How would you continue this story? What else has the science officer discovered about the alien ‘lightening trees’? What is Captain Mzimba negotiating for, and will the arrival of the trees put his efforts, and his crew, at risk?

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Thaddeus Howze, Edgar Grunewald, and Mark Ball.

Artwork by Gonzalo Golpe.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    I remember seeing this work in progress. Hmm, it could be part of the life cycle of the locals. We humans have misunderstood how nature functions before. Take forest fires. Before we knew what was going on in our forests, we thought forest fires were evil and had to be stopped. But in reality many of the conifers in forests need a fire to crack open their pine cones and release the seeds within. They also clear the ground of forest overgrowth and for the most part didn’t do that much damage.

    But with our attempts are putting out forest fires, we’ve disrupted the natural cycle and turned what was a mild fire when they occur, into firestorms, devastating a woodland instead of encouraging new growth.

  • Luckily for the villagers, Earth sent Paul Bunyan. The village was saved.
    The End

    • Haha! That looks really good Vanessa!

  • OK, so this was supposed to be scheduled to post next week. Dammit, now I’m gonna have to move everything around.

  • Christmas Snow

    “Dry lightning” is the key issue here. The creatures seem to benefit from the energy of lightnings just as plants seem to benefit from light.
    The scientists understand this. They understand that the creatures are doing nothing more than what their instincts tell them to do: Follow the storm and “suck” that energy.

    The colonists live within an area which is fire-prone due to the nature of the storm. But, no worry. They are well prepared. They have their fire-fighting airplanes which scoop water from a nearby lake just to jetty the content above the fire. And, they may have a great idea: (Never tried it before so I don’t know if that works) Rise above the clouds and release water from the tanks. The air becomes more electrically-conductive and offers a path of least resistance for the electric discharge. The tanks are emptied somewhere off the village area, diverting the lightnings and hence diverting the migration path of those giants.

    • Good idea. However dumping water above the cloud converts the water into ice and it will fall and not ad moisture to the clouds.

      But there is a method called Cloud Seeding. The most common chemicals used for cloud seeding include silver iodide, potassium iodide and dry ice (solid carbon dioxide). Liquid propane, which expands into a gas, has also been used. This can produce ice crystals at higher temperatures than silver iodide. The use of hygroscopic materials, such as table salt, is becoming more popular after promising research. Cloud seeding to increase snowfall is done when temperatures within the clouds are between 19 and −4 °F (−7 and −20 °C). Introduction of a substance such as silver iodide, which has a crystalline structure similar to that of ice, will induce freezing nucleation.

      The Sovjets seeded clouds to induce snowfall (with rockets) to keep Moscow snow free for the October revolution parades , but once it went horribly wrong and virtually buried Moscow in snow.

      In the United States, cloud seeding is used to increase precipitation in areas experiencing drought, to reduce the size of hailstones that form in thunderstorms, and to reduce the amount of fog in and around airports. In the summer of 1948, the usually humid city of Alexandria, Louisiana, under Mayor Carl B. Close, seeded a cloud with dry ice at the municipal airport during a drought; quickly .85 inches of rainfall occurred.

      Cloud seeding is occasionally used by major ski resorts to induce snowfall. Eleven western states and one Canadian province (Alberta) have ongoing weather modification operational programs . In January 2006, an $8.8 million cloud seeding project began in Wyoming to examine the effects of cloud seeding on snowfall over Wyoming’s Medicine Bow, Sierra Madre, and Wind River mountain ranges.
      A number of commercial companies offer weather modification services centered on cloud seeding.

      The U.S. signed an international treaty in 1978 banning the use of weather modification for hostile purposes.

      During the sixties, Irving P. Krick & Associates operated a successful cloud seeding operation in the area around Calgary, Alberta. This utilized both aircraft and ground-based generators that pumped silver iodide into the atmosphere in an attempt to reduce the threat of hail damage. Ralph Langeman, Lynn Garrison, and Stan McLeod, all ex-members of the RCAF’s 403 Squadron, attending the University of Alberta, spent their summers flying hail suppression. The Alberta Hail Suppression Project is continuing with C$3 million a year in funding from insurance companies to reduce hail damage in southern Alberta.

    • Bill

      I love the first part of this but then would go with the Captain comes to believe likely against the better judgment of his scientists that the walkers are threat and he therefore tries to figure out how to destroy them. The scientists wind up having to figure out either how to save them from their onw captain or convince the Captain, as usual, of his wrong-headedness.

      • Christmas Snow

        You may tell the story of a conflict between the Captain, who tries to kill the creatures at any cost, and the one who tries to save them. The scientists will have a harder time coping with their captain than with the creatures, and they are not sure their plan will work. Two dramas in one story. 🙂