Today's story isn't available by the usual means, so we are providing a copy of it to read. This story is the property of Decipher, Inc., and Grail Quest Books holds the publishing rights to these stories. Decipher has given us verbal permission to post these stories for the time being, but we will remove them in an instant if they change their mind.
Summary: A lady is trying to steal stuff from her employers at XeLabs, but finds out that she isn't the only one, and the alien ship she was working on is a trap which kills her, and then keeps stealing info.
Its the 21st of October, 2004, and Evan Lorentz is now our writer for his only outing in the WARS Universe. We're coming up on a weird set of stories now, because aside from those stories written by Kallenbach or Tuttle, we get a rash of fiction by writers who write only one or who WARS stories, and this is the strangest and most egregious of the solo affairs, in that it clearly is calling out for a sequel story, which we will get to, but it won't be by Evan Lorentz. This leads to a rather strange bit of WARS, in that ultimately Tuttle, Kallenbach, and Stackpole end up defining the entirety of what WARS is more than they would if the fiction had gone on for longer. The stories that aren’t by the big three feel like interlopers, strange little diversions from the main line of tales, a stigma that is only increased by the fact that this story gets its conclusion written by someone else, and that most of the major character introductions get given to the big three. This story isn't bad, in fact its quite memorable, but its influence is hard to pin down.
It doesn't help that the protagonist of the story, Carene Goff, dies leaving the story with only a nameless Shi and a single human background character to have any chance of appearing again. After all of her development, she slips away into death. This isn't a bad thing so much, it fits the story and makes the story feel self contained and finished even as the underlying action is totally unresolved, but it also makes the story feel a bit shortchanged. After all, we haven't gotten to meet many Earthers, and so far they've all been essentially one-shots. We'll get to see Sheria and company again, but the Earthers have so far been treated with a transitiveness that no one else has. By the end of the fiction line the Earthers will have gotten more stories written about them then the Gongen, but their heroes are treated a bit more stodgily. Its not till Horatio Hicks that we really meet an Earther that is a character you can easily imagine, say, a TV show being about for instance. We'll meet a lot of them, but they often end up like Carene: characters who are destined to be one-shot and done people.
That the Earther in question is also a lying scammer manipulating people to steal their secrets doesn't really help either. The Mavericks and Gongen and been presented as flawed but honorable, the Quay as viscous monsters, the Shi as fallen gods, but the Earthers seem to just be corrupt warhawks.
While the portrayal of the Earthers will improve (most heavily notably in “Family Ties” which I will go ahead and say is the very best Earther short-story there is) they won't escape this beginning. We talked before about how even though the Gongen stop getting stories, Gongen and Maverick are basically the default fan favorites because “A Matter of Life and Death” used them to introduce the setting. In the same way even though the Earthers get more stories, they don't really escape the early negative pit they've sunk into, something which isn't helped by the egregiously small echo chamber of the WARS fandom. Its very notable that for those who started WARS off with the WARS Novella series, which began with an Earther story, the view of them is more positive.
While there is a tendency to say that WARS fans associate most with the faction they relate to most in terms of their personal beliefs, and this is certainly somewhat true, that factor of introduction shouldn't be discounted or left out of the equation. How we get our first impressions matters loads, and when everyone else gets a cooler introduction, what else can you do? It doesn't help that this story and many of the later ones weren’t easily available during WARS Wilderness Years after the game was put on Hiatus, leaving most people to read the first stories published.
But after so many words, what is this story itself? Sure, its suffered in contect outside of the author's control, but what is this story as a single message in a bottle? The answer is a really nice concise thriller. Its a pity Lorentz didn't write more WARS stories, because this tale is a very nicely done piece of work. You could show this story off at a creative writing classroom as an example of efficiency: a lot happens in this story, but because Lorentz has been smart enough to reduce the story down to its base elements, it doesn't feel bloated, and doesn't feel rushed. Indeed, two entire conspiracies to steal information run parallel to each other hear, and its all done in a way that makes logical flowing sense. Lorentz doesn't overload the story with characters, because he knows the tension and drama will work much better if he can focus on fewer ones. He doesn't waste our time showing the day to day workings of the lab the story is set in, as he knows we're familiar with this genre.
Treating the reader with respect, like they are intelligent, is always a pleasant thing, and leaving out needless clutter knowing the reader can fill in the blanks is nice as well. All of this whittling makse it so that the story actually gets fairly far into Carene's character before she dies, and allowing this development makes the death of her character actually feel like an event rather then the inevitable closure of a spy story about two spies trying to steal the same information, which it is. Despite any whining about the larger ramifications of these single stories to the larger perception of the WARS Universe, this story functions exactly like its supposed to for what it is. Its not like Evan Lorentz sat down at his keyboard and said, “I'm going to write a story that will not add a sufficient amount of stuff that could be added to a WARS RPG game or wikipedia page.” No. He wrote a story to help sell the WARS TCG, and did a pretty great job of it. For what this really is is another story you can download for free from Decipher's Website and enjoy reading. Its a little adventure, no worries, no biggie. Its not supposed to be important or matter in the long run, its only with our hindsight it takes on any larger role. Its only because the game was canceled that its role goes from slight to foundational.
But it is foundational in one keen respect: this is the first WARS story we've had to really play around with Genre. While Stackpole's stories all fit into his sort of writing, and Kallenbach's are very Cyberpunk, this is a spy story that has been shifted around to fit into the WARS Universe, and its really successful at bending that to fit into WARS. What's weird is it works so well at being a one off spy story, we're going to see a lot more of that, not just now but when WARS returns later. Stackpole already found small groups wandering around to be more interesting than armies, and Kallenback has continued that trend: we have yet to see a war in WARS. Lorentz though, shows us the cold war. This is in many ways a brilliant shift. This isn't just people fighting in a bar over information, this is backhanded back room dealing where the people working the strings are invisible to us. The paronia of the cold war works well here, especially in the post 9/11 era.
After all, so much war today has been the stealing of information, the hacking of computer networks, the destruction of Iranian machinery with computer bugs, this story feels sort of relevant, and it feels like it fits into the setting of WARS more than the cardgame itself does in some ways. The setting doesn't have infinite fleets to bash each other to bits, it seems fairly specific that the Battle of Phobos took an incredible toll on every power involved in it, and the current state of the Universe is one of crippled powers warring with each other very carefully. In this state, you can't have epic battles every week and have it feel genuine. Instead, you need to have the war take other forms, slicker forms, and to do that you have to tap other genres.
So WARS adapts and changes, and does it beautifully. Its a pity we have to say goodby to Evan Lorentz, because it would have been quite the pleasure to discover what we would have done with WARS if he'd been given more changes to tell us stories set in the universe. So we're grateful for what we have. A single piece that stands alone, hard to really work out the future from, and missing its ending but totally complete. A frustrating piece that doesn't leave us the chance to imagine more adventures, but widens our entire view to change exactly what an adventure can be.
So thank you Mr. Lorentz, you did well for so short a brief. For now, we return to Kallenbach, who will continue his contributions to WARS canon en mass.