Present Day: The Legend of Penglai Island (2)

“So, these are the American experts?”

A fluorescent light dangled rather lazily from navy blue canvas, illuminating the over-sized tent beneath. The small but tidy field headquarters housed more than a dozen senior officials of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, thought it was obviously not apparent upon first glance.

This field HQ was buzzing with activity. Inside the tent, dozens of aides scurried about with folders and documented messages. The four copiers – solid, if simplistic Chinese craftsmanship – hummed loudly in a corner as two communications officers spoke in hurried whispers into a sextet of ancient-looking phones. If the single security officer standing at the tent’s flap did not blink on occasions, he could easily have been mistaken for a statue.

A number of papers – documents, photos, and reports – lie scattered on top of a collapsible camp table. Two sharply dressed men, one in the service uniform of a PLAN field officer, the other in a dress uniform of the admiralty of the PLAN, were studying the contents intensely.

“Yes, venerable* Qu. The STEC, aiyha, Special Task and Evaluation Command, has sent us their top officers. Looks like they are taking the collaboration very seriously.”

The man in the service uniform begun. His voice was even, but his slow and deliberate pronunciation of each syllable – STEC becoming Si-tai-ke, for example – easily displayed his origins. Two stripes, along with two brightly burnished bronze stars, were displayed proudly on his shoulders. Like his forefathers before him, here was a man who, while educated, was still fundamentally a son of the land.

“It is good that you have worked so hard to prepare all this. I was not expecting Central to approve the visitation so quickly. Is this him?”

“Yes, venerable Qu. His name is Mike Yin. Admiral Yin is the current chief of operations overseeing much of STEC’s operations. From what I know he is a fairly recent appointment, but so far he has shown to have a clear head on his shoulders. The recent de-escalation of the Sweet Melon fiasco is his work as well. At the rate that he is going he will get his second star in no time.”

Qu nodded. The sixty-something vice admiral knew the significance of vitality and youth in positions of responsibility, though he was still a little surprised at just how young this particular officer was.

“If we are to focus on our common goal, it was imperative that someone reigned in the rogue NKT commanders before the situation got out of hand. Venerable Ma, I don’t know if the Americans are here for that reason, but for the sake of regional stability, they have a role to play as well.”

Admiral Qu paused, nodding again in approval as he scanned through a second prepared report. Commander Ma Yunde has been on his staff for the better parts of two decades, and his attentiveness to detail has always been impressive.

“What do you think, venerable Ma? About the current situation, I mean.”

“I have heard – belatedly – of what has happened. Personally, venerable Qu, if you want my opinion, I think Otomo’s losing control. This would not have happened even a year ago.”

Ma is, of course, speaking of the current “head” of the Nihon Kaigun Tokusentai, or the Japanese shipgirl service. The ancient Kensuke Otomo, now approaching ninety-six, has stubbornly resisted all attempts of retirement, forced or otherwise. The Japanese state media may downplay the frequencies of force in their domestic politics, but those who had eyes knew how turbulent it really was.

In no small part due to its own constitution and a series of national policies, the NKT – like everything else – was decentralized. Redundancies and inter-service cross-checks and restrictive command policies has more or less hamstring the shipgirl service, and what would have been an excellent system of checks of balances became a chafing prison. Small wonder that the vast majority of NKT commanders choose to act independently, often against the direct letter of the law.

“We’ve increased security as best as we could, but I think they’ve put him on this purposeless hunt on purpose. My guess is that that’s why STEC’s bringing in shipgirls as well. If I am understanding their reports to us correctly, even pulling one away from their mission is a considerable challenge.”

Otomo, who is currently observing the island landings, had once wryly commented to him that the current situation of the NKT resembled the Sengoku Jidai – a lawlessness period of history known as the warring states. His commanders and sub-commanders are like daimyo, and the shipgirls samurai retainers. Increasingly he is concerned that the de-centralized and de-nationalized nature of not only the NKT but the Japanese military as a whole is creating subfactions within factions, and enabling personal loyalties and connections to be made above the good of Japan and her people. Whoever had the greatest amount of vassals, or made the greatest number of alliances, would be the de-facto leader of the NKT.

“That may very well be the case, but I do not think they would dare moving on Otomo so long as Kaga is around.”

Prior to Qu’s involvement with China’s own shipgirl program, Otomo’s survival – given his fairly moderate, nationalist, but nonetheless peace-oriented views often made him a favored target of both ends Japanese politics. How the old man had evaded assassinations had always been a mystery to him. It wasn’t until he joined China’s own shipgirl program that Qu learned about Otomo’s guardian: the shipgirl named Kaga.

Laconic and seemingly emotionless, Kaga nonetheless made a powerful impression on anyone who had the opportunity to hear her speak. The carrier girl carried herself with a quiet sort of authority that radiated from her every word. Her single-minded obsession with integrity made her predictable, yes, but it’s what makes her respectable to both friend and foe. Integrity, too, was the reason why she chose to serve and protect Otomo. For whatever Otomo’s weaknesses may be, inconsistency was not one of those weaknesses. The man had a vision for Japan, and his vision was one that everyone – including the most ardent Chinese nationalists – could live with.

“Operational details are classified according to the NKT, but that’s the problem, venerable Qu. Kaga is missing in action, and has been missing in action for the last three months.”

Qu’s brows furrowed even as he continued to read the reports.

“Otomo is defenseless?”

Commander Ma shook his head.

“Not to my knowledge. STEC has CV-2 in plainclothes on that ship.”

CV-2. CV-2. Admiral Qu’s brows furrowed even more. Sounds familiar, but –

“Lexington. Likes to dye her hair blue. Fairly solidly built. Tall. Very professional and serious personality.”

The lightbulb went on. Admiral Qu’s face broke into a wide grin.

“Ah, of course! The nice young lady who bailed out that annoying tech officer!”

“Yes, venerable Qu, that’s her. The “annoying tech officer” is back too. It’s Dr. Andrea L. Lawrence. Turns out he’s ah, STEC’s “premier diplomat, negotiator, researcher, mechanic, scientist, engineer, and scholar-at-large,” and he will actually be the one instructing our own technology officers during the course of their stay.”

Qu snorted, reaching for Andrea’s folder nearby and brushing aside a stack of “Incident reports.” He had a personal suspicion that if Andrea did not accidentally blow himself up in an experiment somewhere, he would probably become a popular personality given STEC’s own recent outreach efforts within America.

“Such confidence! Dr. Lawrence will be better escorted this time?”

“Yes, venerable Qu. Admiral Yin has made sure of that.”

Commander Ma pushed a third folder forward.

“Lieutenant Colonel Leon Harris, United States Marine Corps. He currently leads the Special Operations Force based on Avalon. As I said, venerable Qu, I think the Americans are serious about this collaboration. I think the Japanese would be, too, if they can sort their own troubles out.”

“Well, let’s show them that China is serious about this collaboration too. Where is venerable Lian? He should be here by now, and we still haven’t heard back from central regarding specifics in terms of actual physical arrangements. It would be a bad loss of our face if we came across as unprepared or uneducated.”

“The Zhengwei** called about twenty minutes ago. His vehicle threw a tire and they’re trying to get it fixed.”


Qu didn’t even look up as he opened another report.

“Two, maybe three hours?”

“Then, venerable Ma, it seems that we need to work doubly as hard. Give me ten minutes and I will have a draft prepared. We should at least get the agenda done before venerable Lian gets here.”

*Venerable is a direct translation of a Chinese colloquialism, “Lao”, which is used as a sign of respect (as well as to denote closeness) between friends or colleagues that are not young people. Yunde addressing Admiral Qu, for instance, would be Lao Qu (literally “Old Qu” in Chinese), and I have chosen venerable because in English, this term conveys both age and respect at the same time.

** Zhengwei. Political officer (commissar in the USSR).

Present Day: The Legend of Penglai Island (1)

Penglai. The island of the immortals. A land that remained ever-young, shrouded in secrecy. A land of wonders and miracles, where even death held no sway. A land that captured the imagination of entire dynasties, and a land that, until recently, was thought only to be myth.

A fitting name for the anomaly that appeared one day in the center of East China Sea.

Based on assorted intelligence, Penglai is the name given to a tiny, heavily forested island that literally appeared in the middle of the East China Sea. Half-covered by mountains, the other half in immaculately maintained gardens, the island looked like something out of A Journey to the West. Certainly it must be inhabited by someone. Those beautiful pagodas couldn’t have built themselves, and the symmetrical nature of the landscape – the location of gardens, ponds, pools, waterfalls, and everything else – suggested that the designer had an eye for the classics in literature.

Yet this tiny island has so far evaded all attempts at uncovering its secrets. Formal records of  the island’s existence go as far back as 1971. However, attempts to land and formally investigate or even stake a claim went nowhere, because the island just isn’t there. Oceanographic patrols, sent out by the major world powers, combed the area – strategically important and resource-rich – with finesse and found nothing. When official satellite scans of the area came up empty as well, it was enough for both the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) and the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) to dismiss its sighting as mere equipment malfunction or accidental hallucination.

Officially, Penglai does not exist, and both sides were initially content to leave it at that. To suggest the contrary would be adding an additional burden to the already delicate situation between China and Japan. Tensions in East Asia, never low to begin with, were accelerated to an all-time high by what STEC now refers to as the Hyuuga incident. It took a monumental amount of diplomatic and economic maneuvering to avoid bloody escalation, and the resulting fallout left both local powers – China and Japan – all but politically spent. Were it not for a small cadre of far-sighted leaders on both sides, it is probable that the abyssals would not even need to invade. The world, such as it was, would have done itself in.

Of course, the world did not end, and war did not occur. And so the little island sat mostly ignored. A year later, Japanese shipgirls first noticed the unusual little island on their routine patrols. Most observed it matter-of-factly, thinking it was just one of the hundreds of rocks that made up the current territorial feud between their home country and their neighbor across the water. It wasn’t until a STEC strikeforce chasing after the latest abyssal scout wandered into the East China Sea that the NKT (Nihon Kaigun Tokusentai – the Japanese shipgirl service or STEC equivalent) first realized that there may be something more there.

Like Penglai’s conventional satellite signature, the abyssal scout suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. The world’s shipgirl agencies collectively freaked out, and for the next week every single available shipgirl was combing the Eastern China Sea, looking for clues or some proof of the abyssal’s demise (no easy feat, given the biological properties of the abyssal units encountered).

They found nothing. No anecdotal evidence, no environmental residues, nothing.

Reluctantly and with great suspicion, STEC and the other shipgirl agencies declared the abyssal scout eliminated, and the area soon returned to normalcy. After all, one does not simply allow an abyssal free reign of the oceans – the consequences would be horrifying. Simply not finding a potential threat as such was unsatisfactory, and could potentially be a great security risk.

Three months later, another abyssal scout appeared. This time, it was in the South China Sea. As it went north, the PLAN called in reinforcements. Like the previous time, the abyssal disappeared without warning, never to reappear again. Two weeks later, abyssal elements, fleeing from a shipgirl response, stumbled into the East China Sea again. Once again, like their predecessors, they simply vanished.

Needless to say, this caused no shortage of white hairs and stress in the command structure of the various ship girl agencies. Almost all countries immediately connected recent events with that mysterious island occasionally showing up as footnotes in operational logs, and opinions were charged. Roughly a quarter of the officers and strategists thought that perhaps like the shipgirls, this island thing was another opponent of the abyssal fleet. Another quarter viewed the events with suspicion, with many from the NKT arguing that there should be a permanent, possibly clandestine, garrison in the area in case this was an abyssal plot. The logic was sound. If this is something friendly, then how come it’s accessible to nobody? The Chinese delegation naturally pushed back strongly against this suggestion, with some acridly pointing out the sheer political absurdity of allowing Japan to maintain a military garrison in regions currently under heavy dispute. The rest all have theories and opinions, ranging from undiscovered technology, an unknown or unaffiliated shipgirl or other power, or simple unexplained phenomena, but virtually no one agreed on what the implications may be or how best to proceed.

While discussions were underway, the NKT, as usual, flew solo. Their methodology consisted of some very questionable tactical decisions involving overt manipulation of abyssal units and diversionary trajectories. Amid great protest by pretty much everyone (including some of their own shipgirls), the NKT managed to “conclusively” prove that the island, or at least the sea near the island, was doing something to the abyssals. The half-dozen abyssals vanishing in a later skirmish, with at least one visibly seen to be disintegrating, was enough to shift the tempo and the topic to Penglai itself.

No longer seen as a waste of precious shipgirl hours, the study of Penglai was now invested in earnest by the shipgirl agencies. Turns out, while Penglai was undetectable by conventional satellites, it burned like a blazing star on the screens of MERLIN, STEC’s own intelligence network, provided certain frequencies and parameters be adjusted. Shipgirls scanning and scouting the region report a comforting feeling, not unlike that of fairies, and so far, the readings seem to measure up with the idea that it was something neutral or even benign.

Still, Penglai was inaccessible. Reason? Unknown. Mahan suspects that it is some sort of defense mechanism not unlike Avalon’s own protective fields, something designed to obfuscate targeting on a much more localized scale. Others, such as Northampton or Mary, has put forth theories that are admittedly more divine in nature. Perhaps one needed to be of a particular disposition to enter. Certainly it’s far-fetched, but so is the very idea of an abyssal-killing island, no?

Yet determination of worthiness is fundamentally absurd. It is not a hypothesis that can be proven or disproven, nor are there even experimental conditions one could test. Other than anecdotal impressions of shipgirls and the rare fairy witness, there is nothing to go off of. If, it is as some suggest, that the island seemed to possess a mind of its own, then it is clear that whatever sentience or intelligence present is simply unwilling or unable to make human contact.

While the rest of the world experimented and studied, China took a different approach. Bereft of shipgirls or fairies, China did its part by providing the one thing it had in abundance over every other country: manpower.  Mobilizing its massive reserves under the pretext of military exercise, the PLA sent as many men as they can into the area, trying to glean its secrets using sheer, brute force. Meanwhile, party officials from the central political committee combed ancient texts for inspiration, even as their comrades from the cultural bureau scoured the countryside for monks, wanderers, and “unusual characters.”

To an outside observer, such actions seem to be nothing more than grasping at straws. The irony, of course, is not lost on PRC officials – after all, their task would have been made considerably easier if this mission was carried out fifteen years ago. Yet when straws are all that one has, one can hardly fault the attractiveness of unconventional solutions. After all, it is said that man will turn to other sources of faith should science fail to deliver.

Peiying, commander-candidate, was only the latest one out of many to try his hand at unlocking its secrets. His tiny boat creaked in protest as it inched towards what he thought was the silhouette to his destination. The twenty-something man’s brow was creased with sweat as he rowed in complete silence. Behind him, barely a few kilometers off, the engines of two modern navy vessels rumbled. One ship flew the Eight-One pennant of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, while the Rising Sun fluttered atop the silhouette of a Kongou-class destroyer of the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Ostensibly engaged in “joint humanitarian exercises” as part of a demonstration of good-will against the backdrop of escalating tensions, the truth was that two commanding officers watched the developing situation with some dread, and minimal anticipation. Neither one really expected much out of the trip today, but on rare occasions, one or two individual might be close enough to snap a few blurry photos – enough to prove that the island that they’re after is real, and enough to keep the man-powered search effort on life support.

猴年快乐! (Happy Chinese New Year!)













Hey! It’s Chinese New Year! I love celebrating stuff!

Monkey! Hey! C’mon. Help me figure out something deep to say.


No, too complicated. What does that even mean anyways?


That’s kinda trite, right? For a holiday so supposedly focused on unity and family all of these sayings are about money!


But life doesn’t work that way! You can’t just say “good luck” and move on your merry way if they actually need help!

Hey, you know, why don’t I stick to something simple? I bet you’ve got plenty of friends who want to wish you you glory, or money, or accomplishments. I’m not, not-going to wish you that, but see, I don’t get a lot of it. So, I wish that you’ll have plenty of memorable experiences!

Make plenty of great memories in the coming year! Happy Year of the Monkey!

Hey! Monkey! Can you condense that like, down, to one of those super pithy-sounding Chinese sayings? I wanna put it on the wall~

This is the same picture, just made text-less. The little “poem” in Hakuryuu’s picture is a creative little piece by Sima, written in the style and format of a popular nursery rhyme. I have typed out how the poem would sound phonetically, and followed it up with an impromptu translation into English.

Xiao bai long, bai you bai

Little adorable white dragon

Liang zhi ma wei piao qi qi lai

Twin-tails bobbing happily

Diu wan yu lei diu zha dan

Torpedoes and bombs, left and right

Ping ping pang pang zhen ke ai

Kaboom, kaboom! How adorable

Now, you might be going, waitaminute, why is this cute? Let me explain the original text where Sima drew his inspiration from. It’s called “Little white rabbit.”

Xiao bai tu, bai you bai

Little adorable white rabbit

Liang zhi er duo shu qi lai

Two (long) ears standing upright

Ai chi luo bo ai chi cai

Loves eating turnips and vegetables

Beng beng tiao tiao zhen ke ai

Hopping and running, it’s so cute!

The unique syllabic nature of Mandarin Chinese means that the usage of end-rhymes are actually pretty common. A few phonetic things (I’m no actual linguist, so please correct me, Chinese speakers) to comment. In the original poem, the term “bai” can be used to mean any number of things. The repetition of the term “bai you bai” is really for cuteness, and to emphasize to the child a “property” of the rabbit (the rabbit is called “little white rabbit” or that the rabbit’s fur is white etc). In fact, the poem frequently uses repetition to the same effect.

According to Sima, it really wasn’t too difficult. Replace something integral (ears) with something integral to Hakuryuu (twintails), and describe an action that’s connected to the character, and there you have it! A cute little poem.

Please note that Sima under no circumstances ever suggested that I gave a long, drawn-out explanation as such. I just, for lack of a better term, was really happy that I got the references after thinking about it for an hour.

The team would like to wish everyone a happy Lunar (Chinese) New Year!

2016: Results from Iowa

Love it or hate it. The results are in!


Hey, if you ask me? It turned out well. Between record turnout from the GOP and a hotly contested Democratic contest, I think it was quite something to watch. It was good.


Looking forward to some peace and quiet, too.



(Between the Trump-Cruz-Rubio threeway that’s starting (if you’re curious about Cruz, simply google “Bacon Cruz Gun” or some combination of those words) and the social media trends on the democratic side, it was really difficult for me to not turn this into an opinion piece.

Yup, hard to stay “objective” at times. Heh.



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