SPOILER ALERT -- Review Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by KingstonTrekker, Jul 21, 2008.

  1. William Leisner

    William Leisner Scribbler Rear Admiral

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    Thank you!
    And of course, doesn't everyone know that the Warp 5 engine was really a Russian inwention? ;)
    Glad you enjoyed it!
     
  2. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Dammit, now y'all got that Schoolhouse Rock "preamble" song in my head. Thanks a lot! :p

    *sings*

    "We the people...(of Trek Lit)...
    ...in order to write A Less Perfect Union..."
     
  3. Trent Roman

    Trent Roman Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    This collection of what-if stories is remarkably strong—so much so that it has made the third volume, coming out at some later date of which I’m no longer sure, a must-buy despite my now much-reduced Trek purchases. Collectively, I very much enjoyed all three novellas (novels?), and in particular want to praise the attention to detail in world-building present across the board. They largely struck the right balance of the familiar and the new, such that when something or someone recognizable showed up, it was just, and when someone we’d never heard of before takes on an important role, well, that makes perfect sense too. I find it curious that two of three stories here basically revolved around the consequences of humanity gone wrong, and I wonder if that was a coincidence or if they were placed in the same tome precisely because of the thematic similarities. Anyway, some more individuated comments:

    William Leisner, A Less Perfect Union: Due to S.C.E. reprinting schedules, I do believe this is the first work of long fiction of Leisner’s that I’ve read, and however abrasive he might be over the Intertubes, this story demonstrates that he isn’t lacking in authorial talent. I’ve never been a TOS fan, couldn’t ever get into the episodes, but had no trouble getting into this story, largely thanks to the Pike character. I don’t know how much he matches onscreen Pike, but he provided the humane, balanced viewpoint to make the story relatable. Which isn’t to say that Kirk’s TUC-like progression from vindictiveness to a willingness to learn didn’t also make for a compelling character arc, but I’m glad Pike was there to offset the earlier, prejudiced Kirk until the latter could find his ethical grounding. By that same unfamiliarity with TOS, I imagine there are a lot of references to characters and events that I missed, but I thought the crew of this Enterprise was nicely put together, living and diverse despite being all-human. That was an irony I much enjoyed: for all the claims of human exceptionalism sometimes put forth by Trek, particularly ENT, it is in the universe that manifests this attitude mostly concretely through isolationism and xenophobia that also puts lie to it, since a Federation-like institution develops nonetheless (albeit still with the help of Archer). It was a balancing trick to present a society where such deplorable tendencies had taken centre stage, where the Roddenberrian ethical uplift of humanity had never taken place, without also losing the reader’s sympathy, garnered through the persistence of hope through the potential socio-political breakthrough at the heart of the plot and progressive (and progressing) characters. As such, the ending is somewhat of disappointment in that it seems to quash hopes for humanity overcoming its chauvinistic attitudes, but I’m disappointed with the work, not at the work, if that distinction makes sense: in large respect, that’s how the characters themselves feel, and it makes sense from a story perspective; indeed, if anything, the extreme prejudice encountered by T’Pol the home-front (and occasionally manifest through characters like Stiles abroad) suggests something of a disconnect between the goals of the political class and the situation on the ground, that it was, as T’Pol suggests, still too early for humanity to have overcome its retrenchment.

    I do have a few niggling points, however: one, I don’t think we ever find out what happened to Carol Marcus, and why her vessel was destroyed by a Coalition ship; as the story went along, I figured it would tie in to the Romulan infiltration of Vulcan and their attempts to sabotage rapprochement, but it seems to get forgotten once it establishes Kirk’s motivations. Secondly, the Romulans themselves come off quite different, despite the fact that the ‘point of divergence’ shouldn’t really have impacted them. The absence of the Romulan Wars might account for a more peaceable Romulan society, but Romulan efforts in ENT had been directed largely at Vulcan rather than Earth, and the idea that local powers were organizing into a new power block (which happened without Earth in this timeline), so I’m not sure how the war didn’t occur here. And then there’s the remarkable convenience of the Romulan commander defecting practically the minute the ship is boarded; one wonders why someone with his sympathies had ever wound up leading such a mission, rather poor foresight by his military superiors or the Tal Shiar. Still, I was overall quite happy with the work.

    Christopher L. Bennett, Places of Exiles: Well, I’ll be damned: quality Voyager fiction. A rare breed of late, but very welcome indeed. There’s a lot to like about this novella, which achieves a nice balance of plot, concept and character, intrinsically tied together to propel the story forward in ways that, the very beginning excepted, feel very natural. The idea of Voyager being permanently stranded in the Delta Quadrant is one that comes up often in discussions and, shall we say, less official fiction; the choices made here do the speculation justice, presenting the struggles and opportunities of exile, what is lost in the break-up of the smaller unit and what is gained in joining the greater unit. It is fun to see how some of these characters, like the usually hapless Chakotay, actually wind up blooming in these circumstances; and the unexpected evolution of Kes and the Doctor are particularly interesting to track—not that pitfalls are ignored either, as a grief-stricken Torres reverts to old habits and falls in with religious fanatics. The newly sedentary setting allows for the opportunity to explore some barely glimpsed cultures in more detail, and I was particularly keen on learning more about the Voth; I’d always wondered why we never heard such a powerful and ancient before or again, and I think (what you might call) the regal indifference to younger species works well with how they’ve been characterized. The story’s overall plot feels quite edifying, precisely the kind of getting-everybody-to-work-together kind of story that Trek does so well, and never fails to leave me without a kind of visceral thrill at the sense of unity and accomplishment. Speaking of which, this story features the signature Bennett grandiose science—as with Orion’s Hounds and Buried Age, this deep, big-canvas conceptual science-fiction that gets one excited at the very ideas being put forward. In this case, it’s the manipulation of the idea of multiple realities, with the fascinating twist of Fluidic Space being removed from that kind of duplication, resulting in both the great perspective that Fluidic Space grants on the ‘regular’ multiverse, and the chaos that comes about when members of 8472 find themselves subjected to these new laws and then try to return, only to find multiple copies of themselves—eerie indeed. I was somewhat less enthused about the characters learning of ‘our’ timeline; although moderated somewhat by introducing a third, unrelated timeline, it still came across as somewhat too pat, particularly the length at which the divergences are discussed (Annika Hansen showing up produced a similar effect, but I suppose that’s a silly concern in fiction that revolves around the conceit of different scenarios producing similar assemblages of characters). But the treatment of 8472 is, as I’ve said, a high point: I always thought Voyager made a mistake by taking them out of the game so quickly, so easily; while overcoming misunderstanding and reconciling with enemies is classic Trek, 8472 was in a prime position to take over the Borg’s declining ability to be the ‘big threat’, something which was then largely thrown away. This rendition is far more satisfying, achieving largely the same end but in a more nuanced and engaged fashion that still allows for the possibility of a threat—including to ‘our’ universe, due to the 8472’s universe touching upon multiple timelines. The resolution to the overall plot and characters arcs are also satisfying; though some things, like the pairings of Kes and Neelix or Janeway and Chakotay, might seem expected, the characters and narrative goes through sufficient tribulation such that one doesn’t feel that this is just reverting to the default, but a new and stronger status quo for having been so tested. The coalescing of the Delta Coalition, the round-up of other Caretaker refugees including the always fun superciliousness of a Vorta (though no Equinox or Cardassians?), the space battles… all good.

    If I had some nitpicks, however, they would probably be as follow: while I appreciate the challenge of bringing readers up to speed while also showcasing differences, the very beginning of the story is rather bumpy, switching as it does between recapping events prior to where we enter “Scorpion”, summarizing elements from “Scorpion” itself, and more traditional narrative. In scenes like Janeway and Chakotay’s discussion and elsewhere, I thought the hand of the author lay a little too heavily across the text; although it must be said that I know Christopher’s opinions from interacting online, and so could spot them with greater ease when they came out in the text, whereas if I wasn’t already familiar with the author, I might not have found those passages remarkable. Finally, the very, very ending seemed off—the Delta Coalition petitioning for membership in the Federation? Why? The distances involved mean that the Federation could never offer anything more than information and moral support. And the Delta Coalition is, itself, already a Federation-style multi-planetary governing body, which makes being subsumed into a similar organization halfway across the galaxy seem redundant at best. I think an alliance would have been more apropos, though perhaps this was intended to have a bigger emotional impact?

    James Swallow, Seeds of Dissent: There’s nothing particularly wrong with this story, and many things which are right, but it didn’t thrill me quite in the way the other two did. Perhaps it’s a question of scale: I love the big, sweeping canvas type of story—particularly well suited to the anthology’s universe-sized premise—and this novella is a more tightly-bound, intimate kind of portrayal. A perfectly legitimate choice, regardless of my preferences, but I nonetheless finished the story feeling as though I had read the prelude to the kind of astro-political events that define the other two stories rather than the event itself. Still, I don’t want to convey the impression that I didn’t enjoy the story on its own merits, because I did. The best aspects were probably the action scenes, particularly towards the end, which were very tightly rendered, and Bashir’s inner turmoil. It couldn’t have been easy to create a character who is both the essential product of such a culture, fully incorporating the arrogance and brutality, and yet sympathetic enough to serve as an ideological battleground to counterpoint the physical fighting. With 'Truth' the stakes, both of these battles were very involving, the reader invested in the outcome. The holographic ‘Big Brother’ Khan keeping tabs on Bashir was creepy, and Bashir finally telling it to go to hell was a fitting ending for the story. Once again, there’s great attention to detail, whether it is the collection of Voyager guest-stars aboard the Botany Bay, or characters like Sarina Douglas and one Doctor Amoros (the original name for Bashir’s character, for those who don’t know) turning up on the Defiance. I also liked that the story referenced Greg Cox’s Eugenics Wars in terms of the ‘bloodlines;’ it’s one of those subtle reinforcements that would never impact somebody unfamiliar with the material but rewards those who are. Although, I must say, even with this being an alternate universe and all, I couldn’t help but be discomfited by the idea of Kira and Dukat as a couple. Yeech.

    Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
     
  4. William Leisner

    William Leisner Scribbler Rear Admiral

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    Thank you for the detailed review, and I'm glad you enjoyed my story regardless of our on-line interactions.

    In my mind, the destruction of Carol's ship was a tragic accident, due to miscommunication, navigational failure, humanoid error, all or none of the above. I equate it with the Soviet downing of the Korean Airlines passenger jet in 1983 -- a brief flare-up near the end of a long cold war, not terribly relevant in the larger scope of history, but very important on a human level.

    The thing is, we also don't how the war did occur in the main timeline. (ALPU was written before Kobayashi Maru was released.) I kept this purposely vague in the story, but my theory was that humanity's slide into xenophobia halted Earth's expansion toward the Romulan border, thus averting some heretofore unknown trigger event from occurring. And while a new power bloc does form in APLU, this alliance has an equal rival in Earth. In essence, Paxton achieved what the telepresence ship had tried and failed to do, and without a shot being fired.

    Not for nothing, but his mission wasn't to trigger a shooting war, but to covertly monitor and sabotage the Earth-IC talks. That said... okay, maybe he did too easily let his pacifistic ideas trump his military obligations.... though then again, we are never privy to his deepest thoughts during this time, or how he comes to his ultimate decision.

    Thanks again.
     
  5. James Swallow

    James Swallow Writer Captain

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    Thanks for the comments, Trent...

    Huzzah, someone spotted the Amoros ref!

    That is exactly the reaction I was aiming for. Heh.
     
  6. Emh

    Emh The Doctor Premium Member

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    Wow, I had no idea Dr. Amoros was Bashir's original name. Some Niner I am. :(
     
  7. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    A very well thought-out and interesting review, as always, Trent.

    Shattered Light will be out in December. I hope it lives up to the first two volumes! (Have you reviewed Echoes and Refractions yet?)
     
  8. Trent Roman

    Trent Roman Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Ah. Okay.

    Not sure if I'm entirely sold on this (is Earth's interstellar presence really the equal of a Federation-sized organization? My impression of Earth in this astro-political landscape was more of a minor power akin to the Tholians). But it's your alt-history; you can make it do what you want.

    Sometimes trivia just gets stuck up there.

    You've got a story in it? Congrats. I have not yet read Echoes and Refractions; I wasn't sure which one was "first" (in publication order, I mean--obviously there's no internal order), so I just picked one.

    Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
     
  9. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^ Indeed I do; Michael Schuster and I penned The Tears of Eridanus, and it'll be joined by Scott Pearson's Honor in the Night, and another story by David R. George III.
     
  10. Defcon

    Defcon Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    According to Memory Beta David R. George III's story is called The Embrace of Cold Architects.
     
  11. William Leisner

    William Leisner Scribbler Rear Admiral

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    Where is it suggested that the IC was a Federation-sized organization?
     
  12. Trent Roman

    Trent Roman Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    It was the impression I got, from the number of planets and species represented at Babel. Not quite a full house, since Earth and some related worlds weren't members, but close to what the Federation was.

    Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
     
  13. KRAD

    KRAD Keith R.A. DeCandido Admiral

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    Infinity's Prism was the first published, yeah, with Echoes and Refractions published next -- not, as you said, that it matters in terms of reading order.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on E&R... :D
     
  14. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Wow, what an epic bump! I've never read this thread before - it's quite old... I only read A Less Perfect Union and Seeds of Dissent a few months ago, and I haven't read Places of Exile yet (not because of the lack of interest, but because I've been distracted by other stuff)...

    I really enjoyed both novellas I've read. I love the concept of various alternate universes, and these ones really got the best out of it. Both of them presented very interesting different versions of Earth's future that is completely different from the Federation of the prime Trek universe. The only criticism I can see leveled against them is the 'small universe syndrome', but that goes for pretty much every Trek lit work, and alternate universes would never be nearly as much fun if they contained original characters. It's the differences between the same people in different universes that are really interesting. (Though I could live without the hint about the female Romulan Commander... though this could still be another Romulan in a short skirt...;))

    A Less Perfect Union perfectly blended ENT and TOS characters. T'Pol in particular was wonderfully written, so was Kirk, and it was great to have the Romulan Commander in the story, and interacting with Sarek.

    Seeds of Dissent was a lot like what 24th century Mirror Universe would look like if the shows had stuck to the original idea of the MU as a universe where Humans are the ruthless conquerors and oppressors. (And it's much more interesting than the post-Crossover MU which basically became about human rebels vs evil Cardassian/Klingon empire. Which pretty much defies the purpose of an alternate universe.) Only in this case we get a backstory of how and why it turned out like that, with the theme of re-writing history.

    re: if the Terran characters look the same as the people we know from the show - the novella itself makes it clear that they do not. Not only are they all supposed to be taller and stronger, but Bashir is described as having blue eyes, and all the Terrans are supposed to look not just exceptionally strong, but somehow physically more dense. I'm not even sure what that would look like. But it only makes sense that they couldn't look the same, after generations of selective breeding and genetic modifications. It's still interesting that they all have somewhat similar personalities, however - i.e. I could see them as versions of the people we know: Bashir is arrogant and womanizing but idealistic, O'Brien is a sort of everyman of the world of Augments (naturally, an everyman of that world is a lot more ruthless and hateful), Sisko is described as a man of a terrifying temper, and Picard as a man fully dedicated to his sinister duty and goals.

    The one thing that did really bother me was Ezri Dax - especially the mention of her previous hosts, which happen to be the same ones, and in the same order no less (Joran, Curzon, Jadzia). I'm not sure she even would have gotten the Dax symbiont in this universe, since she only got it in DS9 by accident. And it's quite unlikely that the symbiont would have passed from Joran to Curzon to Jadzia to Ezri, despite the vastly different circumstances. We'd have to accept that Jadzia just happened to die early in this universe as well, and that Ezri somehow happened to get her symbiont.

    While reading Trek lit, it is often fun to imagine what the novel or story would look like if it were actually filmed, with the same actors, even if it's totally unlikely, or even impossible in some cases. This is especially the case with alternate universe stories, and I had many moments like this reading SoD... imagining Kate Mulgrew and Nana Visitor arguing and exchanging experiences as Shannon and Kira, Marc Alaimo playing a good guy for once, Nicole De Boer playing a very different Ezri (from both prime and MU Ezri), etc. But then I kept thinking: wait, I can't really imagine Siddig, Meaney, Lofton as Princeps Bashir, Optio O'Brien or Jake Sisko... without the use of CGI. (Considering the 'density' comment, CGI would have to be used for all Terrans... ;))

    I had no idea! And I thought I knew a lot of trivia about DS9. :eek: I was wondering who this Amoros chap was based on. I can't believe that they were actually planning to name him "Amoros" - the amorous doctor, LOL :lol:

    Well, then you failed with me, since I wasn't discomfited by it. :p It makes perfect sense to me. The canon characters always had chemistry and a weird sort of... kinship? that seemed to stem out of some similarities between them - there were times when Dukat seemed like Kira's dark side, and one could argue that The Intendant, as originally conceived in "Crossover" (without the silliness added in the later MU episodes) was a lot like Prefect Dukat... while Dukat occasionally showed glimpses of someone who could be a freedom fighter like Kira ("Return to Grace"). Ron Moore said that Dukat had potential for goodness or even greatness and that this makes it even worse that he made the choices he did and committed so much evil. So, I can see Dukat in this alternate universe being the opposite of prime Dukat, becoming a freedom fighter in a universe where Cardassians are oppressed rather than oppressors; and I can see this Dukat and Kira being lovers and fighting together. Kira is, incidentally, the only person in SoD who is not that different from her prime universe self, it's just her allies/friends and enemies that are different, but that's due to them rather than her - but I was quite happy with that, as we've had more than enough of 'evil Kira' in the MU. (Too much, since she has rarely been written well.)

    Speaking of which, it's great that SoD complete the quadrangle of alternate universes with contrasting relationships between Bajorans and Cardassians:

    In the Prime Universe, Cardassians occupied and oppressed Bajor.
    In a parallel universe from TNG "Parallels", Bajorans occupied and oppressed Cardassia.
    In the Mirror Universe, Bajorans and Cardassians are allies, together oppressing Terrans.
    In the Seeds of Dissent universe, Bajorans and Cardassians are both oppressed by Terrans, and fighting together against the Khanate.

    BTW, I haven't read any of the Eugenics wars books, so I don't know who established that "Khan" is Noonien Singh's title rather than name, but in any case, I think it's brilliant.
     
  15. JD

    JD Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Maybe I misinterpreted it, but I had thought Kahn was taken as a title based on his name.
     
  16. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I prefer the idea that Noonien Singh chose to use the old title of Mongolian and other Central Asian rulers, which would be quite in character for a megalomaniac despot. Otherwise it's just too much of a coincidence. Unless he was given that title as a first name exactly because he was expected to become a powerful ruler right from his birth (and before).
     
  17. nx1701g

    nx1701g Admiral Admiral

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    I had thought something similar.
     
  18. James Swallow

    James Swallow Writer Captain

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    My idea was that the descendents of Khan Noonian Singh took the name 'Khan' as an honorific (like 'King' or 'Emperor') because it not only works as an echo of the old Mongol title for supreme ruler but also as a deliberate reminder of who their forefather was.
     
  19. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I finished Places of Exile a couple of days ago, and now I can say that all 3 stories in the book are brilliant. I particularly liked this one because it brought up and explained the issue of 'myriad universes' within the story. It managed to do so many things at once - character development, political issues, and interesting SF concepts. It's funny how much I've enjoyed most of VOY fiction I've read so far, even though it is my least favorite Trek show. Probably because the authors can do things that were just missed opportunities on the show. Some of the things that the novella does successfully:

    - explores Species 8472 in much more depth, and manages to make sense of their motivations (it even manages to incorporate 'In the Flesh' and makes it sort of work...)
    - has Voyager make a real difference in the Delta Quadrant, instead of just passing through on their way home
    - gives real development to Janeway, who actually changes her views; a much better role and development for Kim and particularly Chakotay; Kes has a real arc that fulfills her hinted potential; EMH has an interesting development that does not involve him becoming more human)
    - avoids the danger of turning Borg into a joke - by having them believably lose to a strong enemy, instead to a single Starfleet ship
    - it is mostly optimistic, but also has dark moments, with the early deaths of two of the main characters, and a much darker development for another main character
    - the explanations of the SF concepts behind the story are integrated into it and don't feel as meaningless technobabble, but are actually very interesting to read
    - it is also a serious discussion on the issue of immigration and integration of immigrants
    - last but not least, it offers an ingenious explanation for Seven's catsuit - I had a good chuckle reading about Annika's reactions to Seven's 'fashion sense' :guffaw:

    There's just one thing that really bothered me in the story: I've never bought the Kes/Neelix relationship on the show, and was relieved when she ended it... I find it even harder to buy that a more mature, brilliant Kes would want to resume their relationship and marry Neelix. :ack:

    I was also not quite convinced that Seven/Annika would turn out so different and human in this version of events. (BTW someone said that Annika was dull... Well, TBH, Seven was always dull on the show whenever she was made too human (the Unimatix Zero, or the Chakotay holoromance/romance, for instance)... And I suppose that being a sweet and dull makes her a perfect mate for Harry. :p )
     
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  20. WarpTenLizard

    WarpTenLizard Commander Red Shirt

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    Yo, hardcore Voyager fan here. I just finished "Places of Exile." I agree with you that it was overall interesting, but I didn't care for this version of Annika. Erin and Magnus Hanson were bold explorers and scientists, and there's no reason their daughter would be such a shrinking violet even if she'd never been assimilated at all. The Annika of Unimatrix Zero should have been a lot more grim and tragic than what we saw in this story. I also didn't like how Harry didn't seem to give a crap about much of anything. Of all people, Harry should be the most devastated by Voyager being forced to give up the quest home, and SPOILER his best friend's death. The epilogue was also rather icky, in the way that some "Harry Potter" fans think Book 7's epilogue was.

    That said, the Doctor, B'Elanna, and oddly enough Kes were well done, and took some interesting turns. (Until Kes crossed right back through the Mary Sue threshold in the epilogue.) And I LOVED this author's explanation of Fluidic Space. It's now my headcanon.

    Anyone else want to see the B'Elanna of this timeline meet the Tom Paris of "Before and After?" What would a Miral Paris born from two different universes be like? I see some potential for a cool sci-fi story here.