Wyrick Balnor

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Wyrick was Chief Technology Officer of Industrial Face Annihilators, LLC, during the mid Sixth Age, and received several accolades during his life for his substantial contributions towards increasing the company's production while decreasing failure rates. While no one factor ever wins a war, his contributions and leadership effectively doubled IFA's output and ensured there was never a shortage of high-level weapons systems.

While he spent most of his life as an uninteresting business executive, Wyrick became a minor media sensation in A.Y. 6500 when his unique history came to light. During a televised interview when he was being recognized for his contributions to the war effort, a newscaster asked him about his childhood, and the story he proceeded to tell delighted audiences. The media fervor was short-lived, but he continued to be held up as a shining example for the Foundation.

Life Story

What follows is a transcript of Wyrick's interview:

Interviewer: "So, I imagine coming this far in life must leave you a bit retrospective at times; did you ever think you'd be handling development and manufacturing for a major corporation?"

Wyrick: "No, no I can't say that I did. I didn't even ever really expect to fly in space, let alone work there. It's been... a journey, let's call it."

Interviewer: "What was it like where you grew up?"

Wyrick:(laughs) "What is it like anywhere?"

Interviewer: "Were you born on Langara?"

Wyrick: "That... would be a 'no'." (laughs)

Interviewer: "Well that sounds just cryptic enough to be interesting, why don't you tell us about it?"

Wyrick: "Sure, sure. Let's see... I guess I won't bother with any place names, you won't have heard of them anyway. Yes, I was born outside the Foundation, not exactly way outside but we didn't have off-world travel, communication, or... well, we didn't even know intelligent life existed elsewhere.

"The debate was quite hot. The mainstream scientific community believed human life evolved on my homeworld, but our archeologists couldn't seem to find any solid evidence of humans more than around five thousand years old. Then there were supposed radio signals, extra-terrestrial artifacts... Nobody could find proof of anything, but that didn't stop many--even close friends of mine--from having strong opinions.

"Maybe I'm just wise, but I was always instilled with the notion that absolute certainty was a big thing. I was a scientist, for me absolute certainty was a big ask. So I stayed out of those arguments. Still, though, the radio observations were intriguing. There was no proof--nothing 'absolute'-- but the general consensus was that there was a 'high probability' of life beyond our solar system.

"In the months leading up to it, we started getting and increase in patterned radio signals. A friend of mine was a... well, you don't have those, here, but we used to call a person who studied stars through telescopes an 'astronomer'. He wasn't exactly on the forefront of anything, but he had connections to that region of the scientific community and got to see the radio telescope data first-hand. We all poured over it, but it was weird. The signals indicated that there were a lot of transmissions, they were very powerful, and they were very close--we were picking things up that had to be artificial, but looked like they may have been less than 100 light years away. But while the emissions were definitely artificial, we still couldn't find a pattern to them, nothing recognizable, nothing identifiable... the only thing any of us ever came up with--and keep in mind none of us were exactly experts even though we were all scientists--but, to me, the emissions looked like the radio waves that were generated by sentient beings. So we looked into it.

"I won't say how long it took, but after a while someone got the idea that we should try to play them. We had some audio equipment and some stuff to help with distortions, but we didn't need it. Once you actually played the signal out loud... anyone could tell it was voices. Speach. We didn't realize that we knew the language at first, we listened to hours of the stuff thinking it was alien. It sort of was, I mean they were 'aliens' to us, but, and this is funny... we thought they were speaking a different language. It was 'common' all along, just with so many acronyms, abbreviations, and military code-words that we didn't even catch on! They were speaking a different language, they were speaking 'Crimson Blade'!

"Of course we immediately thought of sending a signal back, but it would still take a hundred years to get there, and we didn't exactly have access to a powerful radio transmitter. Still, it was an amazing discovery. People were making it at around the same time all over the world, but we still felt pretty important. A lot of people, including my friends, really wanted to try and grab credit, but honestly, I didn't care, I was just happy to be part of it.

"It was weeks before the first attack came..."

Interviewer: "You didn't see it coming?"

Wyrick: "The Crimson Blade ships made it there first, but not by much. I know now that they were trying to help, doing the best they could, but it was still terrifying.

"We picked the fleet exiting hyperspace. That alone could have been the greatest moment of my life. As a scientist, our instruments had just recorded something... just so amazing. I could have spent my entire life going over the data we gathered from that short moment, but even that wasn't as amazing as the ships. You have to understand, my people had landed on our own moon, sent robotic probes to other planets in our solar system... it was amazing to conceive of a spaceship over ten miles long, one wide, two high. A fleet of them...

"Of course, there was that very real concern that these ships were here to attack us, but I was among the minority who didn't think that was true. My faith was challenged somewhat when the drop-ships came.

"First it was fly-overs. Big, fast ships. I know now they were Harpies being used in a recon-role--it's funny, looking back on what I know now, how much of those transmissions I can understand and sound perfectly normal. After the harpies came the drop ships, first armed with loud speakers, hovering, shouting at us to stay in our homes, to go to ground. I understand a few ships landed in our nation's capitol and basically barged their way right in, demanding to speak to our leaders and trying to convince them to get the military on high alert. The attack was just nine hours later.

"It was pure chaos. The Kamians couldn't get close enough to bombard the surface with energy weapons, so they sent in bombers. The Crimson Blade fought them off. It was terrifying, harpies going toe to toe with Kamian drones in our stratosphere, full on mega-ton nukes going off. For days we couldn't even look at the sky, tens of thousands went blind.

"The Bladers established a garrison at the university where I worked, helping us use the equipment we already had to monitor Kamian movements. We never really got it down, but they thought it was important to help us gather data first-hand. I got to know a lot of the soldiers, one of them even came to my apartment a few times and just... hung out with my friends and I. He was honest with us. He said the forces they had couldn't hope to hold back the Kamians forever. I asked him why they didn't just bring in more troops, all he said was... 'that hasn't worked yet'."

Interviewer: "Of course, this was during a major Kamian push. You don't blame the Blade, right?"

Wyrick: "Didn't then, still don't now. I thought it was amazing that they were even trying to help us. He said we'd be evacuated, explained how the Kamians enslaved every world they captured, and that the best way to slow them down was to simply move the civilians. No slaves meant the Kamians couldn't expand as fast. That's why they called it the 'succession' wars, since after each expansion, the Kamians had to wait a generation to start up again."

Interviewer: "Interesting point. So when, exactly, did you know it was time to leave?"

Wyrick: "There wasn't a whole lot of warning. There were five major battles fought in our skys, and each time, the Kamians got a little closer. Our friends among the Blade warned us that an 'evac', probably an emergency one at that, was definitely eminent. I think a lot of the bladers had taken a liking to me, so they told me if I could to get my family and find a play to stay as close to the campus as possible. Our friend, the blader who spent a lot of time with us, flat out told me that if an emergency evacuation order came, he would do everything he could to make sure we got onto a ship.

"The sixth battle was bad. It was the first time the Kamian bombers broke the line. I'd been sleeping in my office at the university with my girlfriend for several nights, and I gotta say... for the first time I was thankful I got stuck in a terribly office in the basement. None of the campus buildings were damaged, but it did feel safer, being underground.

"The Kamians destroyed a hundred and forty-seven major cities that night, and killed over twp billion of my people. A third of our population. One night. Gone."

Interviewer: "But you know now it wasn't that simple?"

Wyrick: "I've had thirty-five years to reflect on events. I've been an integral part of the war-effort since then. I've shaken the hands of the people who were involved, and I've built weapons for them. I'm not going to speak out about it."

Interviewer: "But how did you feel when you found out?"

Wyrick: "How do you think I felt?"

Interviewer: "For those of you watching this not familliar with the Langara campaign, let me--"

Wyrick(interrupting): "I'LL explain. If you want it told that badly. The final attack wasn't a break in the line. The Crimson Blade forces deliberately thinned out and kept most of their ships and fighters in reserve. They waited for a probing raid, then a real attack, and then they hit the Kamian fleet with everything they had while Kamian bombers were going nearly un-checked, destroying our cities. The Crimson Blade sacrificed two billion of my people in order to destroy fifty-seven Kamian capitol ships."

Interviewer: "Doesn't tha--"

Wyrick: "I'm not mad."

Interviewer: "But weren't you--"

Wyrick: "I didn't find out until years later. Let me... let me tell it. In perspective, you'll understand.

"It was maybe three in the morning. The attack was over, we didn't know yet that the extent of the devastation. Still, the bombers had made it back and found out what we did to their fleet, so they were rallying for a counter-offensive. Thats when the blade decided to pull us out.

"It was exactly as hectic and chaotic as you'd expect. We didn't get to bring anything with us, just the clothes on our backs. All I have left of my home world is what I had in my pockets that morning. We were rushed, hustled onto one of the drop ships. My girlfriend, three closest friends, and a handful of our colleagues and associates made it out. My family lived far away, I'll never know what happened to them. We weren't exactly close, but I think about it sometimes.

"We were lucky enough to get G-seats, but some of the others weren't. If you've ever done an emergency lift-off with no proection, lying on a metal great, with six people on top of you... yeah, I'm glad all I had to do was sit in a chair and try not to die. They hurried us onto the ship as soon as we docked, I don't fault them, but the soldiers were pretty cruel. They just needed us to go so they could get the drop-ships launched again. I guess if my getting a riffle-butt to the stomach helped save another seventy or eighty of my people, I can live with it.

"We ended up in an empty ammunition magazine, basically a big long hallway where they store missiles. My friends and I just sort of found an alcove and waited. I don't know how long. Days, it felt like. There was nothing. We just found an empty crate and... sat. After a while they handed out blankets, food, water. It wasn't very good. They had enough to go around, but they didn't have the manpower to distribute it. A lot of us, refugees, they horded, so if you didn't push and shove you might go hungry. There were no facilities for sanitation, you'd have to wait hours to use a toilet. Forget washing. There was no where to wash. There wasn't even space to lay down. It was... it was bad.

"After a while, one of the ship's senior staff came down with bad news. He told us our planet had fallen--I found out later there was never a seventh battle, after that night the blade just pulled up stakes and ran--our planet had fallen and any survivors were being enslaved. We were to be taken to a re-settlement facility and given refugee status. He assured us that in time, if we could just hang on, we would some day have something resembling a normal life.

"And then he got to the bad part."

Interviewer: "...it's difficult to imagine how it could have gotten much worse."

Wyrick: "Oh, trust me. So one thing I didn't mention was the heat. It was boiling in that cargo hold. The stench was pretty unbearable, the air just felt heavy and thick. The officer told us it was because the life support systems were heavily damaged. They were piping us much as they could down to us, but right now they barely had the ability to pull out C02. That was actually what he'd come down for: they needed our help.

"The ship had taken heavy damage and wasn't out of the woods yet. We were still being pursued by the Kami, and they didn't have nearly enough hands left to effect repairs. He was there to ask if any of us were skilled professionals at... well basically anything, and who would volunteer to help repair the ship. My friends and I, all being pretty savy, of course sprang to it.

"One guy I was with was an engineer, you should have seen the look on the officer's face, relief, definitely. As it turned out my astronomer friend wasn't completely useless, either, they put him to work on the navigational system--not by himself of course, but he was pretty happy about working on it. Since I had a background in physics and was doing research with high-energy lasers, they figured I could probably help out on the weapons system. I think I was probably more excited than I should have been."

Interviewer: "Of course, not everyone got to be so important?"

Wyrick: "Yeah, you might call this our first encounter with culture-shock. My best friend was a theoretical physicist. Smart guy, brilliant, world-renowned actually... you know, on my home world. Uh, for those of you who don't know, a 'theoretical physicist' is a kind of physicist who... well... you know, I'm not really sure how to frame this in some way that anyone watching can understand."

Interviewer: "As it happens, I spoke to a few survivors from your planet and tried to get a good definition, in case this came up. You see, a theoretical physicist is someone who 'uses mathematical models and abstractions rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena'. It's something we typically do experimentally, relying on practice and observation, rather than theory. Effectively, it's a branch of science that doesn't exist on most of the worlds watching this program."

Wyrick: "Right, and I know that now. This friend of mine... he had some pretty severe psychological issues residing alongside his genius. I think being as respected as he was is the only thing that helped him keep it together. Having a low-ranking soldier on a ship look at him and pointedly say 'I don't know what that is, next' when he offered to help was jarring. When I started working with some of the others on the ship and got a better idea, I had to explain it to him... you guys, you figured out faster than light travel, clearly you had a better grasp on science than we did, but my friend still couldn't believe 'theoretical physics' wasn't considered a field. There were some tantrums, some melt-downs. It didn't help that for the first few weeks, we kept returning to the cargo hold after our shifts and telling him about all the amazing things we were seeing and learning, while he had to sit, alone, all day.

"Obviously you don't abandon your friends. We got extra rations and a few creature comforts for volunteering, which we shared. That didn't matter, though, extra food and water couldn't fix it. I think if he'd been more stable he could have gotten through it, but his fractal nature, well, I still feel for the guy.

"Anyway, I was first assigned to energy sub-systems, but weapons were a pretty high priority, so I ended up working in a turret, helping them get a giant space gun back online. Years of research and education did not even begin to prepare me for it, but I've always been a fast learner, and it didn't take me long to get a handle on the physics involved. Compressed energy weapons aren't even something my people had conceived of, outside of science fiction. A single shot from one of those guns produced more energy than the city I lived in could use in a day. And I was very suddenly being made responsible for making sure it didn't explode when fired. There was pressure, I can tell you.

"My work was soo good, that when the basic repair job was completed, they asked me to stay on and work in the turret. Did you know it takes twelve people to aim and fire one of those big huge guns? I always assumed it was just like in the movies, the captain yells 'Fire lasers!' and, you know, the guy behind him hits some buttons."

Interviewer: "Why don't you take us through the chain of command, just so people get a better idea?"

Wyrick: "Sure, why not?"

Interviewer: "This knowledge was, incidentally, integral to Wyrick's current line of work."

Wyrick: "Yes, surprisingly. Anyway, it goes like this: you have the captain at the top, he says 'fire'. His tactical officer relays the order to the battery commander--the guy in charge of the compressed energy weapons--, the battery commander relays it to the sub-commander, who relays it to the turret commander, who relays it to the gun commander. The gun commander has a fire team, who have to get a lock on the target, make sure it's good, and coordinate everything to make the shot. Typically the target's already been decided, but as you can see, there's a lot of links in the chain of command between the captain and the guy who pulls the proverbial trigger--incidentally, there is a guy, he has an actual trigger, and his sole duty is to pull it at exactly the right moment.

"Let me give you some more background. So, there's a lot that goes in to using one of those big cannons. Power is the main thing. Contrary to popular belief, they can't actually overload, you can't physically put enough power in to one to make it explode, so long as everything is in working order. On each gun, we actually have two guys who's soul duties are just to monitor everything and make all of the systems are in line. It won't explode, but there's parts that will break and cripple the whole gun. Power requirements are the biggest, you have the ship's main reactor block, usually some secondaries in combat, plus the main power buffer, the weapons power buffer, and each turret and gun has it's own individual buffer. All of those sources get channeled together for a shot. Three guys just handle the power-pathing, if a particular 'source' doesn't look reliable, they exclude it. Plus, wasting energy on a bad shot means less for the next round, so part of their job is to judge how good the shot is.

"I actually spent most of my time working in targeting. We have a ton of systems that try to tell us where the beam is going to go, but you're often firing over tremendous distances, the better part of a light-second sometimes. The beam will drift over that distance, you'll loose confienment. There's a trade-off: better confinement means greater over-all range and accuracy, but it also means less power. The guys taking care of aim both determine the probability of hitting the target, and how much confinement can be sacrificed for power. Its kind of like having a gun that changes between a sniper riffle and a shotgun.

"I worked a a station that tried to decide whether the ship we were aiming at was even where we thought it was, and whether or not the guys correcting for drift had done a good enough job making sure the shot would land. I had a display that indicated a probability of a hit at the current confinement and an earpiece with a tone reading out our target lock. My controls did calculations on changing the confinement, and I got the feedback in my earpiece. The clarity, rate, and volume of the tone told me everything, which I had to report to the gun commander.

"Best case scenario was a clear, fast, and loud tone. That meant an almost definite hit at the confinement settings I'd specified. Another guy was responsible for setting the confinement based on a variety of factors, but my report set the minimum needed. I like to think I was important, but honestly, it was a huge team-effort to make the difference between a good shot and a mediocre one.

"That's actually the biggest part of it. A lot of people ask why computers don't do our job. The fact is, there's a ton of intuition and timing, a lot of decision-making. It's been shown that having actual people run the guns, on average, results in a forty-percent over-all improvement in every category. Range, accuracy, effectiveness--computers can't hit a target outside third-radius, but a well-coordinated fire team is capable of making shots over three light-seconds, it's really incredible.

"Timing is where it gets really intense. See, all those power sources I mentioned above? Each gun only has the full output of all of them for a short time, sometimes seconds. The guns on a large battery ship fir in sequence, so your gun fires, then the next one, and so on. If you aren't absolutely ready to make a good shot, you pass priority. If you make a bad shot, then the next guy--who made have been lined up for a really good shot--has less power at his disposal. But the captain doesn't like to hear that gun 23 didn't fire because they didn't think they had a good enough shot, so there's a lot of pressure."

Interviewer: "I bet. So did you see much combat?"

Wyrick: "The first battle happened while I was still working with the repair teams. Having never been on a spaceship, being on one in battle was... that first one was definitely the most terrified I'd ever been up till that point in my life. Being in the turret wasn't actually as bad, weirdly, you're really well-shielded I guess. The Kamians were dogging us, I found in four battles while still under 'refugee' status."

Interviewer: "Of course, you didn't stay a refugee."

Wyrick: "No. The ship I was on had taken pretty heavy casualties, it took us over three months to get to the rendezvous point, so in that time I was serving in the turret. They offered me a battlefield commission.

"I wasn't going to take it, at first, but then I found out where we were going. Because of the number of evacuees, my people and I were bound for a newly-settled planet, where we would basically become subsistence farmers, possibly forever, definitely for decades. Living in tents or crude houses, no electricity... don't get me wrong, the Foundation planned to provide for us, but it was not a pleasant life on the horizon.

"Meanwhile, I was still angry over having seen my planet get destroyed, and firing the kill-shot at a Kamian battle cruiser really helped with that. It was a huge crossroads, but I took the commission. Fighting in the war, winning one back for my people... it meant leaving behind everyone I knew or cared about, but I had to do it. My girlfriend basically broke up with me, my best friend... well he was still upset that there was no place for him, finding out he'd have to spend the rest of his life growing onions or whatever was kind of the final blow. My other friends understood, they even talked about joining up themselves. We said our goodbyes, I swore I'd see them again, though."

Interviewer: "Tell me about your time on the line."

Wyrick: "I mean, who really wants to hear about the life of a soldier? It's weird the things a man will do for running water and flush toilets. For the first few months all I could do was think about how, well, how guilty I should have felt for sending me friends to that god-aweful refugee resettlement world. But I really felt was happy and comfortable, I had a comfortable bunk, PX visits, good meals... I made new friends, I discovered new hobbies... most of all, I suddenly had access to a whole world of science and physics that were millenia more advanced than anything I'd known back home. I started to study in earnest, looking for answers to all the questions I'd ever had, things that would have taken me a lifetime of study to discover, were there at my fingertips."

Interviewer: "But you were still fighting?"

Wyrick: "Oh, hell yeah. Ha. Twelve hours on the turret every day, more when we were running maneuvers. We got in to engagements two or three times a month, sometimes much more. I think on the longest single operation, I didn't leave the turret for a solid week and was working on average for 20 hours a day. All the training was so ingrained, I could still do my job after being awake for forty-eight hours. I had dreams, during manuevers, I drempt I was at my station, doing my job. They were so intense that even now, I don't know for sure which kills were dreams and which were real.

"Over the next three years, I went on nine deployments and fought in seven major engagements. Obviously I don't deserve all or even most of the credit, by my gun had twenty confirmed kills."

Interviewer: "That's a pretty impressive number, given how many battery ships go from shipyard to scrapyard without ever seeing one."

Wyrick: "I don't mind saying this now that he's dad, but my captain was crazier than a shit-house rat. Don't take that the wrong way, he was an amazing man and I have nothing but admiration and respect for him, but, yeah, he was a bat-shit lunatic who took us into hugely dangerous situations on a very regular basis. But risk has it's rewards. Over all, our ship had hundreds of kills during those three years, high-value assets. We lost a lot to get there... turret is one of the safest places to be on a big ship. I lost a lot of friends who had less safe jobs. That's kind of what eventually made me quite.

"In three years I traveled further and saw more than I'd ever have been able to, but there was loss and hardship. After three years, the staffing concerns weren't so high, and I was basically told I needed to either apply to an academy and earn my commission, or retire. They offered me an accelerated program, eighteen months, plus a promotion, but I turned them down. I was tired. My job was hugely stressful and I was tired, the fight was out of me. I thought I'd have to go to the same refugee center where my friends were sent, but I was told I'd received full Foundation citizenship for my service, a small pension, and discharge on an industrialized planet. Ok, it was the planet we were orbiting at the time, but still, it was nice of them. I asked about my friends, and leveraged what connections I had to get them brought there.

"It wasn't really that hard, I'd been decorated quite a few times and it really wasn't asking much. It cost me every credit I'd saved and there was a little quid-pro-quo, but it all worked out pretty well in the end. When I was getting discharged, my commander talked to the captain--we hadn't had a lot of interaction, but he was a nice guy. He called in a favor with the regional commander to help me get priority to have my friends found and moved, and in exchange, I had to go to work for the Foundation.

"This catch, of course, didn't bother me even slightly. I needed a job anyway, and they wanted to send me to work at a factory that manufactured the same giant guns I had spent three years becoming an expert on. I got better hours, and in a small way, I was continuing to aid in the war effort. I mean, what else could I say besides 'done'?

"It took six months to get my friends found and relocated. We'd grown apart, there had been some letters, but we hadn't really kept in touch. Still, I felt like I owed it to them to get them someplace better. The site they had been sent to wasn't as bad as all that, but you get three guys with post-graduate degrees and tell them they have to grow their own food, and, you know, they weren't happy.

"Since I'd helped them get special dispensation, all four of them had to live with me in my one-bedroom apartment at first. Still, everyone was happier. Like I said, people will do a lot for flush toilets. My ex-girlfriend thanked me for helping her get relocated, but we didn't really renew our relationship. Things were really tough for her, back home she was being supported by her parents, here she really couldn't find a job that paid well enough to support herself. Unlike the rest of us, she wasn't exactly educated... she ended up marrying some guy and having a few kids, she wasn't all that happy, but who really can be after you're whole planet get's destroyed? My story has a happy ending, most don't.

"I took my engineer friend to work with me. He's a VP now, but back then he took a pretty menial job. He didn't mind, work was work, and his background meant he could move up pretty fast. I started off as a shift supervisor, so it was kinda fun getting to order him around. My astronomer friend didn't have much trouble finding a job. While there isn't exactly work for astronomers, he still knew enough about astro-physics to get a good job in station operations, helping plot orbits and such.

"I should tell you how his story plays out, now, just because it's really neat. The guy had no trouble getting work, like I said, but there was kind of a hole in his life. He'd lost his whole family, which he was close to, and was moved to a world where his entire career, the thing he loved, was obsolete. No one used telescopes, when you wanted to know more about a star, you got in a ship and flew over to it. His entire field of expertise had become obsolete ages ago. But he liked telescopes, so he built one.

"We built one, to be more precise. It took us three years. We were all renting a house together at that point, and this just seemed like a fun project. It took us a lot of work to learn all the different skills we'd need to assemble the right pieces--keep in mind none of the components were really available--and I don't mind admitting that we stole a few things from work. Hey, who hasn't borrowed a wrench or some tape?

"Well, we ended up building a really nice, powerful telescope in our backyard. The neighbors were suspcious, so we explained what it was for. Pretty soon we were holding star-gazing parties, it was really fun. There were a lot of kids in our neighborhood who were pretty enamored, getting to see something with your own eyes was really neat to them, whether or not you could fly a ship there. Charting the stars according to old-fashioned astronomical methods was fun. My friends and I made a much smaller telescope for a kid, and pretty soon everyone else wanted one. My astronomer buddy founded an astronomy club and began making and selling telescopes. I eventually sued my connections to help him launch a few space-telescopes, just for fun--its funny, back home a project like the Stromos Space Telescope would have involved several nations working together and billions of dollars, here we just built the damn thing in the company workshop and paid a little to get it put in orbit.

"Anyway, he was pretty happy, he gets to do what he loves, and makes a lot of other people love it to. It doesn't matter that he'll never discover anything ground breaking, or that his life's work will never be more than a hobby and a bunch of toys compared to what a modern sensor grid can do. He's still getting to do it."

Interviewer: "Of course, not all your friends ended up quite so happy?"

Wyrick: "No, I guess not. During his stint at the refugee site, my other friend--the theoretical physicist?--he didn't fair well. He had to be medicated, he hated every second of it, and started suffering frequent panic attacks. They couldn't do a lot for him, and I don't mind telling you that it's kind of tough to feel for a guy who's freaking out because he doesn't have television. On that planet, my friends had to spend a lot of their time caring for him. When he got here... we didn't have much choice at first. When we all got jobs we'd leave him at the apartment, and if he had a panic attack he'd destroy the place, really methodically. Eventually my friend's moved out--this was before we got the house--and I just couldn't leave him there. I needed to work, my job was important, so I had him committed."

Interviewer: "Insane asylum?"

Wyrick: "I don't like to call it that. My best friend needed help. I sent him somewhere that could help him. His entire world had fallen apart. Not just the physical world--the world we used to live on--his whole mental world was destroyed as well. And kid with a smartphone could refute or prove any theory this guy had spent his whole life working on, and without that superiority, he was just broken. I think he spent about ten years at the aslyum. In that time I grew pretty successful, so when I could afford it, I moved him back in with me. No more one-room apartment though, so that was nice. I paid for a nurse for a while, it took him a long time, but he does ok now."

Interviewer: "Let's talk a little bit more about your planet."

Wyrick: "Let's not."

Interviewer: "You said you'd met the men responsible?"

Wyrick: "The Kamians were responsible."

Interviewer: "I mean for the demise."

Wyrick: "The KAMIANS were responsible for the demise. The men I met were the ones who saved my life. Ok, since you're so keen on hearing this story, let me tell it. Yeah, I guess it was about twenty years after that fateful day. I was pretty high up at the company, and had meetings with admirals all the time. I finally got a chance to meet the guy who was in charge of the fleet that rescued me. Since then, I had learned about the tactics employed. I admit, the first time I found out, I wasn't happy, but I'd learned so much more about the war since then.

"My world was doomed from the start. The Foundation didn't have the resources to evacuate the whole planet. They didn't even know we were there until a few months before the battle--that's right, my people discovered the Crimson Blade the Gudersnipe Foundation before they discovered us. When it came down to it, fighting a battle in our solar system was a good tactical move. Sacrificing two billion of my people, trading them for fifty-seven capitol ships... no matter how mad it makes, the trade off isn't so simple.

The trade of wasn't 'sacrifice my people or save them', it was sacrifice them for nothing, or sacrifice them for something. Those cities would have been bombed anyway, my world captured anyway. The fact that the Crimson Blade got to take out some very valuable targets... it doesn't make it ok, but it does mean my people didn't die for nothing.

"Here's what eventually went down. One night, I went to bed. My planet had six billion people living on it. When I woke up, there just four billion. About seventy-five thousand of my people escaped, the rest were killed or enslaved. The Kamians occupied the planet for twenty-five years, and when it became too much trouble to put down the slave uprisings, they razed the planet and moved on. Today there's no one alive there. If the Crimson Blade hadn't come, all six billion of us would have died. Seventy five thousand isn't much, but it's something."

Interviewer: "And out of those seventy-five thousand, at least one has gone on to make a substantial contribution to the war effort, so I suppose, in the long run, it's a win?"

Wyrick: "Nobody 'wins' a war."

Interviewer: "But you've definitely had an impact. Why don't you tell us a little about your carrier?"

Wyrick: "Ok, well, let's start with the highlights. I started out as a shift-leader at one of IFA's orbital plants. Working on a space station was kind of of a childhood dream, but commuting home to the suburbs at night was... interesting. The first few months were pretty hard. I was trying to make enough money to pay for my friend's transportation costs and taking every shift I could get, at a new job where I kept screwing up. But once I got my eye in, the promotions were fast.

"I was the only guy on the factory floor who had first-hand experience firing the weapons we were building, so it wasn't long before the hire-ups started coming to me. I think my first real innovation was calibrations."

Interviewer: "Calibrations? What did you change about the calibration system?"

Wyrick: "I got rid of it. Before I came on, every gun went through a rigorous factory-calibration routine. I pointed out to the managers that, for one, callibrating a gun without fireing it is a waste of time, and two, each gun goes through two more calibrations before it even gets its first full charge."

Interviewer: "Can you explain?"

Wyrick: "Every gun used to get calibrated once at the factory, then again after install, then a third time during the ship's shake-down cruise, and THEN once more by the first permanent crew and every subsequent gun crew. Every gun chief has his own calibrations anyway. The stuff we did at the factory was re-done a half dozen times before the gun was even fired at battle-speeds. And, since we weren't charging the guns anyway, our calibrations were literally pointless.

"So, thanks to me, we nixed that entire phase of production, got every gun through the pipeline three thousand man-hours faster, and I got a neat promotion to foreman. That lasted all of six weeks, before I was transferred to Process Engineering. I had experience both on a gun crew and in doing emergency repairs, something not a lot of IFA employees had. I think the big thing I brought to the table was an understanding of the personal connection gun crews have their weapon, and how that translated to the manufacturing process.

"We used to spend a lot of time doing testing, but every component is tested before it reaches the assembly floor, and again at the shipyard, and again by the gun crew. Everything is swapable, so even if a bad part made it through the first round of testing, they could fix it then easily. More easily, in fact. Our part of the pipeline was the most labor-intensive and the slowest, so to increase production, we needed to reduce time.

"Calibrations went, a lot of testing went. In also over-saw a heavy re-structuring of the work crews. Before, each shift had a team, and each team had a specialist. You had a callibrations guy, a power guy, a sensors guy--basically every job involved in building the gun. The idea was to make sure that at every stage of production, there was someone looking at the gun who was an expert on some part.

"The problem, of course, is that things like sensors aren't added until late in the process, so the sensors guy has his thumb up his ass for most of the production run. He doesn't need to be there while the power sub-systems are being assembled, or the casing is being checked. So, instead, I put all the sensors guys on a team, and all the power guys on another team, and so on.

"I also brought in a lot of un-skilled labor. Sure, it takes a lot of training and tallent to build a casing, but it doesn't take that much to hand people wrenches. The Foundation isn't exactly cost-averse, but man-hours matter more to them than anything else. So, I paired two un-skilled guys with every skilled guy, their jobs were anything and everything. Hand him tools, help lift things, get him coffee, whatever he needs. Sure, the unskilled guys end up standing around a lot, but the end result is that one skilled guy gets more like ten to twelve hours of work in an eight-hour day. Productivity goes up.

"Then came production runs. We used to do it like a 'run' of x-number of guns. I changed over to a pure pipeline system, similar to what they do with the entire ship. Instead of milestones and checkpoints for a factory run, each individual weapon got it's own time-table. This was less about improving production time as it was quality. Before we'd do a run of two or three hundred guns, and end up with ten or twenty that fail final inspection. Under my system, no gun ever actually failed the final, though tons got scrapped earlier on.

Interviewer: "These are all definitely fascinating improvements, and part of why you're considered such a legend over-all. But, of course, that's not what you're trully known for, is it?"

Wyrick: "Haha, yeah, you're talking about the FFG."

Interviewer: "Why don't you tell us about the FFG?"

Wyrick: "I killed it."

Interviewer: "Dead?"

Wyrick: "It had it coming."

Interviewer: "Why don't you tell us a little more about this fascinating shift in starship design?"

Wyrick: "Love to. Let's start with the basics: FFG stands for Fixed Forward-facing Gun. We had a slightly more colorful slang for them both in the service and on the factory floor, but we'll stick to FFG for now since this is a family-friendly show. So, of course, you all know about ships like the corvette, and some Harpy-variants that use a small FFG, but most people probably aren't aware of how they used to be incorporated into capitol-class ships.

"On the old-style of Battery ships, they used to build one main fixed weapon into the hull, then add eight to fourteen turrets--I worked in a turret-mounted gun during my time in the Blade, and obviously we build a whole lot more turret guns. IFA supplies between sixteen and forty-two turret guns per capitol-class ship built by the Foundation, plus replacements, fixed defense systems, orbital weapon's platforms, and all the other nations and militaries we sell to. Basically we make a whole lot of big guns.

"Not so much for FFGs. IFA only supplies FFGs to the Foundation, and only one-per-large capitol ship. Obviously, we can't pipeline those things nearly as efficiently as we can the smaller units. Sure, one FFG has about twenty times the power of a turret-mounted gun, but that's neither here nor there. They are inefficient, and this bugged me on a lot of levels.

"Let me hearken back to my military days for a moment: starship captains, Battery captains in particular, they love their FFGs. They love 'em a whole lot. The entire ship is their gun, and I totally get it. But us fire crew guys? We hate 'em. The captain loves his FFG because the fire crew for it is on the bridge. The gun commander is the tactical officer, and if neccessary, the captain an give the order to fire directly to the trigger-man. So the captain loves his FFG.

"Wanna know who else loves it? Nobody. Everyone else on the ship hates the FFG. Let's start with gun crews: we hate 'em. FFG gun crews need special training, there are a lot of pre- and -post things that have to happen, plus a lot more monitoring and maintenance. They take twice as many men to crew, and those men can't just transfer to a regular gun crew easily without having to be re-trained. FFG duty is considered a really kush job, because it also barely ever gets fired. They can't be tested as often, so FFG crews have way less actual fire experience and spend most of their time sitting around on the bridge trying to look important. Then there's the nav team and pilots. When your gun is part of your ship, you have to move the entire ship in order to aim it. There's no adjustment on the FFG, so the guys flying the ship have to do all the aiming. And trust me, those guys would rather be flying the ship! They're not gunners, they're trained to avoid running in to things, not to shoot things.

"And let's talk about the actual gun crews. The FFG requires the combined power output of the entire ship to fire. They design those things by looking at how much power the ship is capable of putting out, and make a gun that takes that much. Firing takes several minutes of prep, and when it's done, all the buffers are empty. So now we gotta wait for a recharge, and basically it means that one full-pressure firing on the FFG stops us from using the rest of the guns for ten to fifteen minutes, minimum, and keeps us from doing our on full-pressure firing for an hour or so.

"So, yeah, the FFG is maybe twenty times the power of a single turret gun. But in the time it takes to fire it once, we could fire every other gun on the ship twice. On a typical eight-turret battery ship... you can do the math. Plus, the FFG only hits the one target. I mean, when it hits. Did I mention you are basically wasting your time if you fire at anything outside first radius? Those things CANNOT hit jack. Meanwhile, during a real 'batter' operation, a ship with sixteen or twenty guns can be engaging multiple targets, changing as needed. Its better on all fronts. But I talked before about the layers of command, so captains really like the FFG. Captains become admirals, admirals get put in charge of ship design. Gunners don't tend to get a lot of say."

Interviewer: "That is, until you came along?"

Wyrick: "Yeah, I'm definitely the most highly-placed person who's ever actually spent battle-time in a gun turret. And, being a factory man for IFA, let me tell you what it's like on that side of the FFG paradigm.

"Everybody besides the captain hates FFGs. That includes the sucker's building the damn things. They are a HUGE pain in the ass. We have a fast, smooth pipeline for standard guns, but every FFG is basically a custom job. Sure, they'll build hundreds of ships on a single design, but that don't make no difference. We don't mass-produce the parts for FFGs, so every part has to be specially-made using very expensive tools. Materials are also a huge deal, since you need specialized stuff. Building one FFG takes an entire factory station.

"The whole thing has to be built, thousands of checks along the way, assembled at the factory, CALIBRATED, then dismantled and taken to the yard. There, it has to be assembled again, tested again, calibrated again, and dismantled before it can be installed on the ship. Keep in mind we are talking a gun the size of a large sky-scraper. I don't need to tell you about the man hours.

"In my entire time building FFGs for IFA, I never once saw a gun make it through the pipeline without flaws. Most of those flaws couldn't be found until it was already installed in the ship and test-fired, where they usually broke the first time. Utopia Gregaria never once delivered an FFG-equipped capitol ship on time. Not once."

Interviewer: "Utopia Gregaria is the Foundation's premier ship-building facility, that's a fairly serious claim if it's true."

Wyrick: "I don't really know what spin media relations puts on it, or if anyone even care. I just know what the reports I look at say. And, let me tell you: if you think I hate FFGs, you haven't talked to a dock commander."

Interviewer: "The dock commander is the man in charge of the star-dock where a ship is built. A bit temperamental, are they?"

Wyrick: "Did you ever have to move a piece of furnature, only to discover after dragging it through your house that it's broken, and now you have to get it all the way to the front door, back into your car, and back to the store? If you've gotten a little mad at that, imagine having to dismantle half of a capitol-class starship in order to remove a gun back-stock with a minor flaw in it. The back-stock is a single solid piece of metal the size of a small town, and the flaw means it has to go back to the factory, which is in another solar system. And then the factory is going to tell you it has to be re-manufactured, and now you've lost eight weeks while the starship sits in pieces. Those guys tend to be a bit miffed.

"Oh, and by the way, you don't just load a piece like that onto a normal cargo ship or space-tug. For FFG pieces we had to use heavy-lift ships and mass-drivers, basically a portable star-dock with it's own engines. Of course, IFA has it's own transport ships, but not anything like that. We built so few FFGs that every time we had to move parts for one, we had to borrow a heavy-lift from from the guys who build hyper drives--the only other starship component that big. Its eighteen light years between IFA's main facility and Utopia Gregaria, but the Fairview's production works is fifty light years the other direction. It takes one of those ships a few weeks to travel that kind of distance safely, and we always had to wait on availability. Yeah, those big guns were a headache."

Interviewer: "So you got rid of them?"

Wyrick: "It wasn't easy. Ever since I started working in upper management, I was pushing to end FFG production, or, at the very least, shift it to Utopia Gregaria so we weren't tying up an entire orbital factory for one gun.

"I was already a hire-up in IFA and had been gaining a lot of support for my factory re-structuring. I met with actual members of the Blind Consul who wanted to commend me on my work. I didn't think it was that much, but, really, I was getting a lot of respect. Personally, my next goal was to start looking at the entire process. Not quite back to the mines, but I wanted to go all the way to the factories planet-side where the refined materials are brought in and they first 'become' a piece of a gun. I wanted to follow it all the way through from factory to installation at the shipyard, see the entire process, and improve it at every single step. But, before I could get started on that, I was approached by Gudersnipe School.

"The Foundation was getting ready to start production on a new class of warship. A super-heavy dreadnaught. They were planning a massive, fifteen-turret, fifty-plus gun ship designed to dominate and overwhelm the combat arena. The new ship was going to have a whole new gun, and they wanted me to consult on it. The folks I met already had a solid design, but they wanted my help to streamline the production process. The new gun should be easier to build. They were actually looking at having us do a small production run of the prototype, since the ship would need so many, it made more sense to have us run off a few hundred of them, rather that hand-build each one. I got a look at their designs, and took a moment to air my grievences over FFG--since there's had one.

"Now I'd met with tons of ship designers, decision-makers, hell by then I'd submitted a report to the blind consul on the subject. Nobody listened, because the call always came down to guys who, at one time, were starship captains. And starship captains love FFGs.

"These guys were different. They listened.

"Production had been a real issue. Kamians were blowing away our capitol ships a lot faster than we could build them. More and more, any engagement revolved around the number of capitol ships we could bring to bare. Coalition forces couldn't do much, the Foundation was the only power involved capable of producing ships large enough to match Kamian forces, and we still typically needed at least two for every one of theirs. I'd done a good job improving IFA's gun production, now I had a way to improve over-all ship production.

"It was decided that they would make two prototypes, one with the FFG and one without. Whichever ship made it through the pipeline fastest and with the fewest delays would become the production model."

Interviewer: "Of course, your ship won."

Wyrick: "I don't mind admitting I pulled a few strings. The dock commander for the design I was pushing was an old friend of mine, and I impressed upon him how much it would mean to me if he got my ship done first. I also took some time out to personally over-see the production-run of the prototype guns. There were a few other things. Obviously I never did anything to sabotage the other prototype, but I definitely put my weight behind the design I wanted."

Interviewer: "And in the end, the other ship was never even finished?"

Wyrick: "You might say that. Obviously nobody throws away a half-built capitol ship, but by the time my non-FFG equipped prototype was being fitted out, the other ship was still six months behind schedule. Another three-month delay caused by, you guessed it, the FFG, made the consul's decision pretty clear. My favored design was undergoing space trials and out-preforming every expectation, so the slated it for mass production, and the first hull was laid before the competing design even went for fitting-out.

"The half-finished, FFG-equipped prototype went to Gudersnipe School for fitting out. I don't know what happened to it, but I understand it underwent heavy modification before going into service in the School's fleet. Still, after the production model did so well, the FFG died a slow death on Crimson Blade ships."

Interviewer: "I take it you weren't sad to see it go?"

Wyrick: "Ecstatic is probably more accurate. Honestly, I think it was a huge turning point in the war. Yaffers are making big waves, we're surfing those waves to victory. Killing the FFG got us there."

Interviewer: "Do you think it'll come back after the war?"

Wyrick: "Frankly, I don't give a damn."

Interviewer: "That's... a bit of a harsh response."

Wyrick: "Sorry. I think my point is proven, that when quantity is important, the FFGs are a mistake. But I also don't think we'll see an end to this war in my lifetime. So if they bring it back, well, I don't much care. Outside of war, when building a new ship can take ten years and no one is any rush, they can do whatever they want with it. Right now, with so many ships required, with victory literally being decided by sheer numbers, I think the FFG was a mistake and I'm glad I've finally been proven right."

Interviewer: "So what are your plans going forward?"

Wyrick: I'm looking forward to retiring. I've got a few more years left in me, but I'm tired of this work. I'm tired of the fight. I lost my home planet, my family. but I struck back and I think every shot we fire, every bolt we tighten, I think we're finally getting the upper hand. But this war has been going on for centuries, and winning it isn't going to happen in a generation. I've done my part. I've made my contribution. Now I think the next generation is ready to pick up the torch."

Interviewer: "So, looking back over this life you've had, what would you say is your biggest single contribution to the war effort?"

Wyrick: "My service in the Crimson Blade."

Interviewer: "You seem pretty self-assured about that. You've had a very signficant impact on production, labor standards..."

Wyrick: "But none of that would have happened if I hadn't raised my hand and volunteered to fight."

Later Life

Wyrick spent his final years at IFA focused primarily on turret improvements. He visited many active-duty war-ships and interviewed gun crews extensively, often training with them and participating in exercise shots. Those that knew him were impressed by a man that, well into his eighties, could keep up with a gun grew in their twenties. And despite having been out of the game for decades, he had things to teach them.

His last major project for IFA was a drastic overhaul of turret operations, based entirely on improvements suggested by active-duty soldiers. While such a task should normally have fallen to the Crimson Blade, Wyrick's re-design was quickly accepted and became the new standard.

He also worked to organize shooting competitions. This began in the refitting facilities near his principle factories, but he organized them wherever he went. Each crew was given full control of the turret for it's "shot", and the games were organized very much like terrestrial marksmanship events. Except in space. With giant cannons. Gun crews always competed as a whole, with no one individual given special recognition, and the events were judged by range, impact force, and "artistry", with crews firing on both moving and stationary targets. The completions spread like wildfire and very quickly became an official part of Crimson Blade training routines. In light of the moral boost brought on by these competitions, the Blind Consul gave special dispensation for Wyrick to receive one of the highest military honors, despite no longer being a member of the Crimson Blade.

Wyrick retired at the age of eighty-seven, having never married. In his memoirs, he wrote that he felt he could not "connect" with the women he crossed paths with, and that his work for IFA had simply taken up too much of his life. He did opine about "The one that got away", his girlfriend from his home world who left him in the early years after he was discharged from the military.

As for the other refugees, he little concern. The numbers were small and widely scattered. Wyrick had collected a dozen or so and had them working at his estate, but he ultimately felt there was nothing to be done for the group as a whole, that they should be allowed to assimilate into Foundation society.

"As for me, in my little corner of existence, I have re-created what little pieces of my world I need to hold on to. Let them keep theirs."

During his retirement, Wyrick published two books. The first was his memoirs, and focused mostly on his time as a gunner, but did cover his whole life and his thoughts. The second book was titled "Every Single Thing I Can Remember About My Home Planet, and Then Some", and contained exactly what the title described. Wyrick had, for most of his life, kept notes, trying to remember as much about his home as he could, and finally during his retirement he spent several years interviewing other survivors, his close friends, etc, and pieced together just as much as they possibly could. Since Kamians razed his planet, what the few survivors carried in their memories was all that remained.

Both books were published posthumously, as he worked on them until his death.

Death

Wyrick passed at the age of 107, having enjoyed a long retirement. He went peacefully in his sleep and was buried with full military honors. A year and a day later, to commemorate his life, battery ships all over the Foundation fired off their main cannons simultaneously.

Legacy

Wyrick is highly regarded among gun crews, and became informally known as a the patron saint of gunners(despite not being associated with any specific religion). It became tradition to keep a picture of him in ship's turrets, and it was regarded as good luck to salute the portrait before any battle. It also became a tradition to scream insults at the portrait and blame it for any technical problems during combat, but its said that Wyrick would have wanted it that way.

After his death, while going through his papers, IFA representatives discovered a design for a new type of weapon called a Fusion Cannon, that he had apparently designed in his spare time, for fun. Rushed into production, the weapon became one of the deciding factors in eventually ending the war.