So we were discussing formats over at Writers Anonymous, and someone suggested an alphabet book, and someone else pointed out that lists aren't allowed on this site, and the plot elephant sat firmly on my head and said "but you could write an alphabet book-style story which is an actual story, not a list", and then I started laying it out and that truly bad bit of extra dub animation with the red blobby planet somehow got involved... (if you'd managed to wipe it from your memory, I do apologise)


An Arcturan Alphabet

A is for Alarm. Eleven in the morning is one of the more civilised times it could go off. We're just about to start training, or were, so everyone's right here. There won't be any complicated pickups. We won't have to wait for anyone. Spectra being convenient for once, who'd have thought it.

B is for Briefing. This one's in an actual briefing room, rather than on the screen as we blast for orbit, so it isn't that urgent. Planetary bombardment of Arcturus, under control for now. They're part of the International Federation of Peaceful Planets, which means that they get to call on us - specifically, G-Force - for help when they need it. Like now.

C is for Colleagues. That's what we tend to get called when our allies want something. It almost never means that we'll be working with anyone who can take some of the load. Which is worrying, because last time we went to Arcturus they had a pretty darn good defence force and they'd been providing security for something of ours.

D is for Disaster. Okay, that's sounding a bit more urgent. They have a missile shield - we could do with one of those, maybe we should ask them to help us build one after we've saved their butts. A failing missile shield. Not so good.

E is for Emergency launch. I thought planetary bombardment sounded a bit more urgent than that initially laid back briefing implied, and we go from a presentation with slides to "get to the Phoenix now, we'll continue this when you're in the air" in about two seconds flat. Turns out there isn't much of a continuation, either. They put the shield up and sent their planetary forces out to fight off the attacker.

F is for Fiery Phoenix. That's how we travel between planets. I don't understand the science, but it involves converting the ship, and us, into flaming plasma which doesn't obey the normal laws of physics, so we can travel really, really fast. Convert back again when we get there. Faster than light travel. It hurts like hell, and even faster than light takes minutes or hours to cover interstellar distances, and that describes most of the places we have to go.

G is for Galaxy Security. That's the military arm of the International Federation of Peaceful Planets (yes, I know, it's not a great name, we really are not that peaceful). In practice, apart from individual planetary defence forces like Arcturus has, it's us and the Rigan Red Rangers. These days, mostly us. But still, when we come to the aid of one of our touchier allies, Mark always uses the Galaxy Security name, presenting us as reinforcements of their own people. I guess "G-Force are here to save you" isn't the most diplomatic, even when it's true.

H is for Heroism. Because when Mark asks about the planetary defence forces, the reply is a stark "they are no longer communicating." No prizes for guessing why not.

I is for Injured. I've been busy flying the ship, but I become aware that there's concern, and then Mark tells me to give him the controls and go do my other job and see to Jason. Who is being evasive about why he isn't using his right hand. Yes, of course he's right-handed. Yes, I'm pretty sure that's broken. Let's hope we're not in a situation where he needs to go off ship, because I don't think he'll be shooting, driving or fighting today. There will be words about why he didn't mention this earlier, but not right now.

J is for Joking. Which is how I defuse the situation when I have to tell our commander that his second isn't fit. I'm not entirely sure Jason was joking when he suggested he was a better shot than Mark even with his off hand, but let's pretend he was, we don't have time for an argument right now. Arcturus fills most of the front viewscreen and it's time to go to work. Keyop's on the scanners, Princess is on the radio, I'm back in my pilot's seat, and we're all waiting to see what we're up against this time which has taken out most of the Arcturan fleet in the time it takes us to make one interstellar jump.

K is for Kraken. Spectran ships are almost always patterned after some sort of creature. I've have said this one was a giant octopus, but Princess called it a kraken. Actually, that's more than eight tentacles. A lot more. And a giant mouth in the middle, with teeth. Kraken it is.

L is for Large. It's not large by any sensible definition, but just about every ship we ever come up against is bigger than we are. For reporting purposes, there's a scale. Anything only the same size as us is Small. Ten times bigger is Medium. This one's ten times bigger than that. Mark can write Large on his mission report, but as far as I'm concerned this thing is absolutely freaking huge. And, I'd never admit it, but I'm really not a fan of tentacles.

M is for Missiles. Those tentacles are hurling waves of the things at the planet, one after another after another, and the shield looks like it's struggling to cope. Last time we were here, Arcturus looked like it could be Earth except that the landmasses were wrong. Now it looks like a giant red jelly, not even spherical, the shape wobbling every time it takes another barrage. At least I really hope that's the shield, because if it's the surface of the planet I don't think there's anyone left alive down there.

N is for No. Jason wants to open up with the Bird Missiles, and Mark vetoes it. "Look what it's hitting the shield with!" he shouts, and yeah, that looks a lot like IFPP armaments just like ours. And bits of IFPP space fighters, all that's left of the Arcturan defence forces. In short, it's using its enemies' armaments against them, and it's done something to stop them exploding when they were fired at it. Yeah, giving it a bunch more missiles to pound the Arcturan shield with probably isn't the greatest idea.

O is for Options. Jason suggests hitting it with a Super, but we all know that's because it's the only other weapon he has, it's for completeness, not a serious suggestion. Princess asks if we can get inside it, but that would be a no, not out here in space, and we absolutely don't want it any closer to the planet even if there wasn't a defence shield up, and even without those factors I'm not convinced Mark would be prepared to run an infiltration of something that size without Jason. So we're down to one viable option anyway.

P is for Plasma. Not a solid, can't be repurposed to hurl at the planet. We're only supposed to use Fiery Phoenix as a weapon of last resort, and we don't normally get to last resort this fast, but we're in space so most of the normal issues aren't issues and there's no point hanging about. So Fiery Phoenix it is. Not for long. Just long enough to dive right at the middle of that tentacled horror and keep going, all the way through. And then let the red flames die, and turn to look at the kraken-ship, tentacles spasming and curling like some giant dying spider. It didn't like that. Not one bit.

Q is for Quiet. That moment of calm when the universe draws breath, time slows to a standstill, and you know for sure that something big is about to happen.

R is for Really Big Explosion. Orange and green slime and tentacles in all directions, mixed with girders and walls and ducting and the sort of things you'd expect from an exploding warship not patterned after a giant marine horror, and I'm pretty sure I saw an escape pod go off in there somewhere. Zoltar always gets away. We've stopped worrying about it, much. Well get him one day.

S is for Shockwave. I know it's coming - I've known since the universe did its moment of calm thing, and I've been preparing, lining the Phoenix up, making sure that it'll catch us on the underside of the hull at the perfect angle. Not the first shockwave I've had to ride, let's hope it isn't the last. It's very much like surfing - set up in the right place, wait for it, wait for it, and then let it catch us and don't try to fight it as it flings us far into the depths of space, away from the planet we came to save. Man, I hope that shield has enough juice left in it to protect them from this, because they won't be surfing anything.

T is for Time Warp. There's literally nothing more we can do to help. The Arcturan military are struggling to disengage the shield safely and manage mass panic, and they've got just about enough spare capacity to thank us and suggest we leave rather than try to land through that fluctuating red jelly thing. I can't say I'm sorry not to have to pilot us through it. So leave is what we do. Jason, calculate us a jump back to Earth, we're done here.

U is for Underwater. Don't get me wrong, I love being a space pilot. The views from up there are just unbelievable: stars, planets, galaxies, all crystal clear. But the view I love the best is when we get back home, we submerge to access the underwater dock, and there's abundant life on all sides. This is what we do it for. Spectra is a dying ecological disaster. We have to stop our oceans, and the oceans of planets like Arcturus, from becoming like the desolate, lifeless oceans of Spectra. Every time we come back and I can see that we're still doing that, it's a good feeling.

V is for Versions. Sometimes there's more than one in a debrief, if something contentious went down. Not often. Mark's fair, he's a superb commander, and if he had to overrule someone he'll say so, and why, and what it was they wanted to do instead. That little spat about Jason wanting to fire bird missiles? Minor enough that it doesn't get mentioned. "We determined that" is one of Mark's favourite phrases when nothing's happened that a particular person should get credit for. We're a team.

W is for What if? What if they'd called us in sooner? What if we'd launched faster? What if we'd made a better jump, got there earlier? Sure we took out the Spectran attack ship, but now the Arcturan defence forces are in shreds and the shield is going to need serious work to get it back to full strength. I hate this part. I want to follow through, make sure they stay safe, that any second attempt doesn't get through either. But that's not our job and we have to leave it to others. There's more to Galaxy Security than G-Force, thank goodness. Every mission, I do this after debrief, and then I move on.

X is for X-ray. Jason's fuming that I insist he goes for one, and still refusing to say what happened. I suspect there's a race tomorrow he didn't want to miss. And yes, turns out I was right and his wrist is broken. It'll only take a couple of days to heal, but it's just as important that it heals properly as it would be if it wasn't knitting itself back together at ten times normal speed with implant-augmented healing. He knows that really, even if he won't admit it.

Y is for Yawning. Not a long or complicated mission, but two interstellar jumps and Fiery Phoenix as a weapon, which is even tougher on the human body than using it as a jump drive. It's only early evening, but I'm going to bed.

Z is for Zzzzz. Sleep, wonderful sleep. Twelve hours will be good, maybe sixteen. That's enough for a full implant recharge no matter how tough the mission's been.

A is for Alarm. Oh crap.