Saturday, March 7, 2015

Brainstorming an ASL Story: "The Ark" - Part 1

The story I'm currently writing for the ASL Series is about risk-taking, and how organizations can become so risk-averse that it destroys them.

Long before our story starts, the main character test piloted experimental spacecraft.  He's used to taking risks, but he's also used to being the only person at risk for the risks he takes.  If he flies a dangerous spacecraft and crashes it, it's rare anyone else would get hurt.  So he's not used to ordering people into risky situations or to dealing with the aftermath when the risky situation kills the person you ordered into it.  On one level, the story's about him learning to accept that his role as captain of an exploration ship includes (to his dismay) sometimes ordering people to their deaths.

Another piece of the story is that he realizes, based on some traditions starting to take root within the space fleet he's part of, that the fleet is becoming risk-averse.  If it it continues down this path, he can see where it will end up... and it's not a good place.  He knows risk is important, and not always pleasant, but as long as it's managed and used appropriately, it's valuable.

The story focuses on Captain Paul Garrick of the Alliance starship Prospect.  Garrick had captaincy somewhat forced on him. His ship encounters an alien spacecraft of a type never seen.  Alliance directives require Garrick to attempt to make first contact.  They also require him to give aid if the crew seems to be injured, ill, or in need of assistance.  There is a lesser-known directive that requires him to acquire any potentially useful alien technology he encounters.  The alien ship has very faint life signs all over, with a slightly stronger (but still weak) cluster in one area.  They could be dead.  They could be injured.  They may just not register on the scanners due to unusual biology.  There's no way to know, as the ship isn't answering their hails.  Garrick must approach this ship to render aid, salvage anything useful, and/or make contact with the occupants.

In the list below, "Slave" is the name of the artificial intelligence which controls the alien ship, which is referred to as "The Ark" (this tells you something about how the Melkons view the AI).  "Melkons" are the aliens who created the Ark.  The Melkons on the ship are fugitives from another galaxy where their once-vast empire was (probably) destroyed.  They came here to establish a new empire from which they can someday reclaim their home.

To build this list, I tried to turn off as many of my mental filters and censors as possible.  I wanted a huge list of possibilities I might be able to use in my story.  I intentionally allowed silly and story-ending ideas onto the list.  I thought those of you who wonder where writers get their ideas might find this interesting.  Below is every idea I could come up with, from the totally nuts (the Melkons destroy the ship as soon as it's in range and Garrick dies with his crew), to the very silly (it's all a reality show), to the possibly useful.
  • The Prospect is destroyed instantly.
  • Slave lures them in by being friendly then blasts them.
  • Slave hacks their computers.
  • All the Melkons are defrosted and there is a huge fight.
  • The entire boarding party is killed.
  • Garrick has to go along because no one will volunteer among the crew.
  • Melkons get aboard the Prospect.
  • Melkons capture the Prospect.
  • Humans carry a disease that kills the Melkons.
  • Garrick gets marooned on the Ark.
  • Slave joins Garrick in his efforts.
  • Garrick chickens out and goes back to the Prospect.
  • The Melkons conquer the Alliance.
  • Garrick sends the Ark back home.
  • The Prospect destroys the Ark.
  • The Ark is marooned on a remote uninhabited planet.
  • Melkons carry a disease that kills humans.
  • Slave self destructs the Prospect.
  • Garrick uses the Ark weaponry to take control of the Alliance.
  • The Ark starts attacking another Alliance ship.
  • Garrick and crew kill all the Melkons and take the Ark as a prize.
  • As Garrick takes the Ark, Slave starts self destruct.
  • Garrick falls in love with a Melkon.
  • The Melkons surrender to Garrick.
  • The Melkons recognize Garrick as a famous historical figure in their universe.
  • Another alien race comes along to claim the Ark.
  • The Ark begins landing on an inhabited world.
  • Garrick calls in help from the fleet.
  • The Ark calls for help from the other Arks.
  • The air on the Ark is unbreathable.
  • Automated defenses on the Ark prove too much for the crew.
  • The first boarding party is killed and no one will join the second.
  • The Admiral let's Garrick resign but he rejoins when things go bad for the crew.
  • The Melkons turn out not to be so violent and only came here to dance.
  • The Alliance orders Garrick to destroy the Ark.
  • Garrick brings the Ark to Earth and the Melkons escape and take over.
  • The Melkons have a power that lets them brainwash humans.
  • Melkons turn out to be afraid of mice and Garrick uses this to advantage.
  • Garrick's pet iguana is sick and the disease is lethal to Melkons.
  • The Melkon chambers are defective and most of the crew can't be revived.
  • Turns out this was all a test on Garrick by the admiral.
  • After having into the computers on the Prospect, Slave joins the Alliance.
  • Melkons find humans sexually arousing.
  • Human weapons can't hurt Melkons.
  • Humans can't use Melkon weapons.
  • Slave is senile after too many years in deep space alone.
  • The Ark is surrounded by several cloaked fighters.
  • This is the second trip of the Ark. Melkons are already here.
  • The aliens who conquered the Melkons show up and demand the Ark.
  • Turns out all the time in suspended animation has wiped the Melkon brains.
  • Melkons see humans as food.
  • Melkons see humans as potential slaves.
  • Boarding party is captured and tortured for secrets to the Prospect.
  • Slave cuts off communication between boarding party and Ark.
  • Prospect crew thinks boarding party is dead and leaves them.
  • When Garrick defeats the Melkons they make him their leader.
  • It's all a reality show and not a real alien Ark.
  • An Alliance ship from the future arrives and wipes out the Melkons.
  • Other Melkon ships show up from a nearby colony.
  • The Ark flies into the sun to avoid capture.
  • Garrick convinces Slave to take the Ark back home.
  • The Melkons decide to join the Alliance.
  • The Melkons become Garrick's personal slaves when he beats them.
  • One of the boarding party sides with the Melkons and leads them back to Prospect.
Will any of this make it into the finished story?  I have no idea.

The next step is to sift through this list to find the ideas that I think might have merit in the story I'm trying to tell.  Then I'll do a similar exercise with these.  I'll ask myself questions like "OK, if this happens, what else might happen as a result?" and "Would it be better if, instead of this thing, something very similar (or very different) happened?"  

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