ALLEGIANCE is an Episodic Vibrations installment by d. Taylor Singletary

How do you know when you’ve reached the next level? Be it when time dilation has grazed my constellation-grasping intelligence as I gaze into prisms formed by the mucous membrane landscapes that dominate the planes of existence I inhabit -- or, being less complicated than that, simply when I realize my karmic path? The Triangular Dissids of Issid, cast upon the visual matrix in front of me, an input to my output, the proof that binary systems only collapse like white dwarves waiting for the very last of its episodic vibrations to an ostrological end. I move my hand slowly, as if to draw my own name into the skies above me, my astigmatism fluctuating my vision, slowly turning the Techra into a transparent reality.

Marching shadow soldiers, parading through the town still reverberate in my brain as the thoughts that were Tuesday become less vivid – vague, now as if never happening in any dimension beyond my own. I grasp my well-worn sweater, and joystick to another plane. (frank), he once had it all. His entire life a model for existence; always in spirit for the best; walking around, waving his protest. Now, he walks the barren streets clutching a snow globe that he claims stops time. Not up to me to make judgments, still suffering from the time loss as I was ripped away from the network of sentating spiral galaxies. These ssgs were where I first found the true essence of the word; permeating the surface of the very air molecules we breathe every day. Mobley said I was just making shit up again, the ssgs, the Techra, the Triangular Dissids of Issid, or wherever – whatever that is, you’re making it up, Dev. Pop another quarter into the machine when that game over screen comes up and you’re a sucker. Shit, you’re a sucker no matter what you are. Time dilation – that’s the talk o’ crazy folk down near the manure camps.

Ten dollars is a dime and a half, and every president of the United States of America knows different; certain individuals in the government make up the consortium of time; guarding the gate fiercely with wits of the misshapen catalogues of human irrationality. This, of course, I learned later from (frank).

When I was a boy, 12, I walked into an arcade near the cosmic internment camps, and to my delight found an old joysticker of a game called the TRIANGULAR DISSIDS OF ISSID. The logo, bright and friendly, backlit blue under white pixilated holiness; as if before me, an electronic pope to mediate my viruses.

The first quarter, the first click and swoosh of the swirling soundsnakes as the game began, illustrating luxurious periods of uninterrupted visual silence. You pop the quarter in and you get to see this encompassing pollywog, digitally rendered in seamless reality molding. All at once you are nothing, interacting with this second nothing, and your union being a third nothing. Out of this absent matter comes texture and sensation, the vibrant nature of Being, coiling around the internal sequences of your the double helix. Nothing comes and overtakes you. These are called the Dissids, and they are created of three elements, the d, the I, and the s; direction, intelligence, and stamina. I surrender every time because the only way you can really win the game is to stare deep enough into the dark matter, for when finally you blind yourself with darkness do the sentating spiral galaxies come. Endurance to the unending waves of ambient transmission emitting from the game for that single magic quarter makes or breaks a nautic. In the silence, a narration of something that to me, then, was unsound.

The cosmic internment camps around the corner were not within the visual capabilities of the pre-Techran human race; their Earthmother still in search for a father to an already begotten race of wandering exiles, locked within their own inorganic fortune cookie – far from the gelatinous plains that made up the real world, cradling soundlessly on the fabric of their reality.

Men are not, in fact, made of actions. The very state of idleness lends to harmine compatibility. Harmine receptors that attempt to vibrate at a particular frequency in sequence define a direction that I must go – and ultimately, the only place left for me to go. To the top of the mountain (on every horizon), to seek the advice of whatever awaits me there. Strolling, I cast upon the street my back, hunched low in a slacking impression of what it is to be real, casting no glances (at anyone or anybody) and counting the countless cracks in the crooked roads, a tether approaching – the long side streets of social preservation in mythic cross-corners, their pedestrian glances everywhere and the faces the faces just swim rhythmically like calm translucent fish, they watch & they know everything that is going on; the fish are one with the symbol of turning faces, the evolving humanthought entity, the Techra. I swim through, trying to wade my way towards the mountain, where the setting sun awaits my arrival so as to cast finally away the synthetic veil of time itself.

I head to the shaman on the mountain, the sidewalk paved with melancholy fandangles, castaway from their meals and soda pop – around the corner, a society of individuals all living towards the awkward compression that is time dilation due to internal pseudoschizephrenia, my 12-year old face repeating inside my head being fractalized and reformed by calliope-blown winds to force my own knowledge and

I must concentrate on the sidewalk. Am I my real self, or am I my game self? I think I raise a level, and the episodic vibrations of Techra, across the red line, on the other side of the mountain comes within my spectral odometer, its brilliant emission angling to my eyes in wondrous degrees of multihued techravision! The transmission of the mission – on top of the mountain, there is a molehill. The knowledge that the Triangular Dissids of Issid needed my help – and my quarters, came as nothing less than a shock (to my virgin ears) – What? Me, play that video game?

The plaintive voices soothed, “the episodic vibrations of the Techra are waiting for you, to confront you, to impart on you the knowledge of the 12 galaxies united to an ostrological rocket society – the first, will be a level 6 ostracized employee by the name of the (frank) and he will befit you with your mission protocol, (we’ve missed you, sir) as is appropriate for a young cadet (but I’ve been playing this game for five of my years). He will also tell you how they won’t pay his family to be movie stars.”

I had heard this conversation before, maybe seconds before within my own head – my eyes began to ache until blacking out and I was left in darkness, with only mind to suffice. I am here; fall to the ground and my consciousness molded with the rocks.

The Triangular Dissids of Issid, purple skies, and intonations of a fuzzbox doom that we can casually walk away from. To every concept, there is an idea, and every idea is an ideal – somewhere, somehow, a once shadowy thought is cherished and held deeply within. The Dissids are essentially this lifeforce magic that backdrop all of us, gelatinous to the core, fungal and living breathing eating, thinking – the Dissids as a central processing unit are my main concern for protection. Casualties are no laughing matter. Each and every one, so important, each and every one my little baby crockett, crocheting the warmth of the milky night.

The time dilation of Techra, and its further implications with timewave zero, the act of novelty increasingly occurring towards some triumphant conclusion, a regamble for the preamble, so to speak – is at its very core in our local cosmic interment camp, so I know I have to walk past the pings of the local relay network to cross-parallel with the traveler (frank.).

“I am voted the city’s best protestor,” his voice intoned behind me. “Trying to have it made known that the Riches family would not let me be a movie star and the Dissids are guilty of treasons committed against 130 Zegnotronic galaxies and 75 Omegatronic galaxies that I know of.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of galaxies. Yer (frank), right?” I spoke to the curious figure in front of me, dressed in a dark blue shirt with black stars.

“That one might have some compilations at 130 galaxies from the solar system, and they might've came over here identifying some treasons committed against them by Dissids and friends ruling twelve galaxies guiltied of not paying myself as a movie star from the richest family during Oova's administrations. So I might have a chance to have an impeachment, 2003, in Permuntanis behind closed doors in Zebreskee, to senators and house of representatives. And also, December the 26th of this year I was on the Episodic Bay Guardian, and a photograph of my protest of an Ultratronic society. And on the Episodic Chronicle, October 16th last year, there was a photograph of myself and my protest, on behalf of a Techratronic] rocket society. So, I was trying to get some verifications of some cameramen that I was videotaped by also. And I was videotaped. My name is (Frank). The ssgs, the sentating spiral galaxies are multiplying in fruitful ways the concept escapes us now, but somewhere here – truth.”

Where did you get this information?” I asked.

“From Extra Sensory Perceptions and the Freedom of Information Act.”

I’m in front of the screen again. And I’m out of quarters.

Allegiance

System: Windows 95/98/2000/XP
Publisher: Microsoft Games
Developer: Microsoft Research Games
Release Date: April 1, 2000
ESRB rating: Everyone (animated violence)
Locations found: http://www.freeallegiance.org

Have you ever played a real-time strategy game and wondered why the heck your soldiers are completely incapable of doing anything more than basic self-defense without your direct assistance? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be one of those little cannon fodder recruits who gets tossed into the front line of battle in a vain attempt to take out the enemy's fortifications? Do we ever have a game for you.

Allegiance was created by Microsoft in the emergent days of massively networked games. Ultima Online was fighting tooth-and-nail with the 3D newcomer, Everquest, for domination of the MMORPG market. Counter-Strike was taking the gaming world by storm. Starcraft was proving to strategy gamers that Blizzard knew their stuff.

Then, with the usual hype, Microsoft released a genre-busting game that was destined to redefine team-based internet games in its own image. At least, that's what they hoped. Instead, it was soon discovered that the game was unbalanced, buggy, had an incredibly steep learning curve, and cost $10 a month for the privelege of providing you with a stunning view of the Blue Screen of Death. Even with these glaring issues, it gathered a rabid - if small - collection of die-hard fans.

Microsoft was making next to no money on its game. Initial sales were too poor to justify continued support of the aging software. The community, members of which had even gone so far as to create new factions and custom balance fixes, was still too small to make much of a dent in the market. But the fans that did exist were obviously very loyal to the game. Microsoft was faced with a dilemma - they could either drop support of the game, meaning complete obliteration of it since they owned the server software, or surrender control of it to the community. In September of 2004, in a rare show of intelligence and consideration, they released the source code, now publicly downloadable.

The game can now be downloaded for free from http://www.freeallegiance.org. There is a small but faithful community surrounding the game and bickering about whose custom faction mods are the best. The source code, though downloadable, is - from what I hear - horribly difficult to make sense of, and hardly anyone has ever succeeded in compiling it since its release. However, there have been upgrades to the game of sorts, in the form of the aforementioned custom mods and also a frontend that connects the user to the current game server. The main reason for the frontend is not only the server location function, but also stats tracking, clan administration features, and hack detection. There is a precedent for hacking, unfortunately, with the frontend creator constantly having to find ways to foil the cheaters. For a time, there was a remote-crash bug that allowed a single user to wipe out an entire server's worth of players by sending a malformed chat message from within the game. As you may imagine, this did not help the community grow.

Despite the code wars, Allegiance lives on. I believe this can be attributed to the sheer depth of the game, and the fact that it's still possible to find a game going nearly any time of the day.

The sheer glamour factor of a managed first-person space combat simulator and strategy game soon gives way to a deep understanding of the intricate tactics involved, and if you are willing to put up with a good couple weeks of getting mercilessly exposed to vacuum, the game is very fulfilling. Each person's contributions make a distinct difference in the game. I recall one session where there was a frantic call for a scout to drop probes in neighboring sectors to keep the base from being attacked without warning. No one else seemed interested in the task, and as I was still rather green, I decided that would be the best use of my skills. We won the match, and the commander thanked me personally for the work I did, attributing much of the team's success to me. Similarly, there are many intense dogfight situations where a single person's efforts and quick thinking can turn the tide; the concept of Rock-Paper-Scissors is alive and well. Most types of craft have specific strengths and weaknesses, which can be exploited to the advantage or disadvantage of either side if the pilot is clever or lucky. Strategy exists both on the large scale - the commander deciding which branch of research to sink money into - and on the small scale, such as deciding what supplies to equip your scout with: mines, to slow down future attackers, an extra probe to allow further spying on enemy territory, or more ammo to chase off enemy scouts?

Though Allegiance is not everyone's cup of tea, anyone who is a fan of strategy games and space combat simulators should try it out. Yes, the learning curve is steep, but in my opinion, the rewards are great.


Sources:
http://www.freeallegiance.org
my own meager experience

Star Wars: Allegiance1 is a novel by Timothy Zahn. It is set in George Lucas' Star Wars universe, and is part of the officially approved canon of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU). The author of several previous Star Wars books, including the well-regarded Thrawn Trilogy, Zahn has clear claim as a major SW author, perhaps second only to the plaid one himself.

The story

Allegiance takes place between Episode IV, A New Hope, and Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back. It features supporting roles by film characters Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. The hardcover's flyleaf would have you think that they are main characters, but don't believe it. Minor roles are present for Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and the Cos himself, Emperor Palpatine. Curiously, R2-D2 and C-3PO are not in the book, and in fact no droids at all appear in the novel.

The main characters are Zahn's own creations. Prominently featured is EU fan favourite Mara Jade, aka the Emperor's Hand, who was introduced in Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire. This novel adds new back story to Jade, whose previous appearances have largely been set after Episode VI, Return of the Jedi.

Also featured, depicted on the front cover of the hardcover edition, are a five-man team of Imperial Stormtroopers who become separated from their Star Destroyer base and command structure. The novel follows the paths of the Stormtrooper squad and of Mara Jade as they independently investigate piracy on the spaceways and possible treason against the Empire. Intermixed is a secondary story arc involving the Rebel heroes, who end up ensnared in the primary plot, though for continuity reasons Mara Jade and the Rebels never meet.

Fan service

The novel includes several nods to fans and other EU elements, including the 501st legion and a short cameo by Stacey of AtomFilm's Pink Five, who (of course) flirts with Han. Minor characters such as Captain Ozzel (infamous for being 'as clumsy as he is stupid') appear, foreshadowing their roles in TESB.

My review of the novel

I have not read all of Zahn's Star Wars books. I did read the first Thrawn books in the early nineties. My memory of them has faded, but I recall being vaguely dissatisfied with them, though fan reception places me in the minority. On a whim I recently read the Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Woodring Stover. I thought this book fleshed out the film, and so I picked up Allegiance from the local library.

Zahn's novel has the Star Wars feel: spaceships bustle about, Wookiees roar at people, blasters fire and lightsabers hiss. The mysterious omission of droids slightly diluted the Star Wars feel for me — if any explanation was given for this, I missed it. Yet the plot moves along well enough, and the intricacies of the villains' motivations and the web of treason and piracy keep the novel from being too linear.

Once again I was vaguely dissatisfied. Obviously the author must take pains to avoid disrupting the large body of existing EU canon, and as such the film characters cannot grow or change. Zahn does give us a glimpse of the early Leia/Han relationship from Han's point-of-view, but does nothing of note with Luke, Leia, or Chewie. Vader exists solely as a foil for Mara, and Cos barely gets a few lines.

The stormtrooper squad who the book's cover would make you think are central characters seem poorly developed. Each trooper has a separate name and specialty (pilot, sniper, scout) but they blur together with little distinction in personality. The squad are not clones, but human recruits. (Zahn tells us that the exclusive use of cloned troopers has been abandoned by the novel's time.) As such they ought to have been more distinct. Even the hint that one of them may have a separate agenda never develops into anything satisfying. The troopers experience some doubt about the Empire they have served, but undergo little growth or change in the book. Mostly they seem to exist only to move the plot along, and to support Mara Jade's story arc.

This leaves Mara as the star. She seems serviceable enough in the role, though her competence, control, and force powers are too well developed for a this early part of her career. Her use of her Force-powered perceptions seemed inconsistent. At some points she is sensitive to subtle details, yet in another instance she fails to detect the presence of an ally because his face is covered by a wet towel.

This may simply reflect undue haste in the novel's completion. Other seeming inconsistencies appear in the story. Most notably the stormtroopers dispatch a minor villain by putting a blaster bolt through his face. The body falls to the floor, yet only a few paragraphs later the troopers participate in a discussion in which the same character is said to be imprisoned, and speculate on his possible return to power2.

In short, I felt that the novel was rushed, that the characters did not grow or change, and that the plot was hampered by the restrictions of continuity. I kept hoping for a payoff that never arrived, and I'll be unlikely to pick up another EU novel in the future.

The power of first impressions

I was put off by the novel's opening sentence, which begins:

The Imperial Star Destroyer Reprisal slipped silently through the blackness of space, preparing itself for action....
Space is silent and black? Well, duh. Not to mention banal, and not really Star Wars in feel. And of course a Star Destroyer is neither sentient nor automated, and as such can hardly ready itself. Maybe we can fix the first part:
The Imperial Star Destroyer Reprisal howled through space, mysteriously lit from one side, despite not being within reach of a solar system....
More true to the films, although admittedly awkward. I think that Zahn could have dropped that whole phrase, given that after six films, fans will certainly know how to envision it. Let's try:
The crew of the Imperial Star Destroyer Reprisal readied her for action....
Better, yes? At least not as jarring. Much more fun might be:
The Imperial Star Destroyer Dustbin clattered noisily through the mauveness of hyperspace. Her experimental computer control system prepared itself for action....
but that, as they say, is another story.


  1. Del Rey, January 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0345477385
  2. Page 100 of the hardcover novel.

Al*le"giance (#), n. [OE. alegeaunce; pref. a- + OF. lige, liege. The meaning was influenced by L. ligare to bind, and even by lex, legis, law. See Liege, Ligeance.]

1.

The tie or obligation, implied or expressed, which a subject owes to his sovereign or government; the duty of fidelity to one's king, government, or state.

2.

Devotion; loyalty; as, allegiance to science<.

Syn. -- Loyalty; fealty. -- Allegiance, Loyalty. These words agree in expressing the general idea of fidelity and attachment to the "powers that be." Allegiance is an obligation to a ruling power. Loyalty is a feeling or sentiment towards such power. Allegiance may exist under any form of government, and, in a republic, we generally speak of allegiance to the government, to the state, etc. In well conducted monarchies, loyalty is a warm-hearted feeling of fidelity and obedience to the sovereign. It is personal in its nature; and hence we speak of the loyalty of a wife to her husband, not of her allegiance. In cases where we personify, loyalty is more commonly the word used; as, loyalty to the constitution; loyalty to the cause of virtue; loyalty to truth and religion, etc.

Hear me, recreant, on thine allegiance hear me!
Shak.

So spake the Seraph Abdiel, faithful found, . . .
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal.
Milton.

 

© Webster 1913.

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