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Six Second Memory - a review of Steel Diver 3DS as a short story. This week, a submarine recruit is sent on a range of deadly missions, while far away on land a package is carried to its ultimate destination.
The tempestuous sea rolled high above. In the depths below, unseen, the submarine BLUE SHARK edged through the dim ocean. Midshipman 'Goldie' Smith recognised from the start that this was not an ordinary commission on which she found herself. Or, more accurately, ex-Midshipman; she had left the military service some weeks before, but now she was aboard this submarine it was hard not to slip into old parlance. The rest of the crew were surely not ex-Navy. Goldie seemed to be one of the few people on board who understood the key systems for navigation and weapons. The Captain, who was an American and presumably also discharged from his own particular branch of a service, appeared to have some experience and the sonar operator was efficient. However, the briefing she had been given before coming aboard indicated that she would be running between the different bridge positions while the rest of the crew handled more basic tasks. She had to make allowances. The uprising of a rogue nation had called for the creation of a special fleet of non-military personnel. As bewildered as Goldie was by the situation, and frustrated that nobody on board had been kept in the loop about the actual identity of the warmongering country, she was experienced enough to not ask questions above her pay scale. But, as she pushed back the golden hair that had earned her her nickname into a tail behind her head, it was clear that this was a very different service than that in which she was used to serving. ***** Miles away, on land and out of the water, Victor Smith opened the driver door of his black saloon and hoisted the bag from his shoulder onto the passenger seat. He climbed into the driver's seat and reached over to the bag, unzipping it. It had been raining hard and the bag was fairly sodden. Victor cursed as he realised some rainwater had pooled in the folds of the rucksack and had now spilled over the car seats. He was about to place into the bag the item he had just acquired, but instead he paused and inspected it. "I don't want this to be the wrong one", Victor said to himself as he turned the cylinder over and around in his hands, "once this gets into the water it will be too late." He placed the cylinder inside the backpack and looked up and down the street to ensure that his parking had not drawn the attentive eyes of the authorities. Victor fired up the engine, flashed the indicator and pulled out onto the rain-splashed tarmac. ***** Goldie could feel the crew around her hold their collective breath as the BLUE SHARK slid noiselessly down through enemy territory. They had been given their first assignment. An enemy base had been detected and they were ordered to approach the harbour as quickly as they could, breach the harbour wall and assist in taking control of the base. She suspected this was the first operation of this kind on which most of her colleagues in the submarine had been. The atmosphere was palpable. There was little sound, save for the Captain's occasional barked orders and the slow, high-pitched ping of the sonar station. While others seemed to flinch at the sound of the sonar, Goldie found it a reassuring comfort. So long as the tinny cries of the sonar stayed slow and steady, she knew that they were alone in the deep blue and the enemy were far from finding them. Suddenly, the sonar beeped out of time. Goldie froze, straining her ears to hear, as though that would give her sudden insight into the change. The sound came again. And, as it came again and then again and kept coming, faster each time there was no denying it: Something was out there and it was getting closer. "It's right in front of us!" Goldie exclaimed, almost as much to herself as an appeal to the Captain, who seemed even more determined by the urgency of the sonar and gave no order to change speed or course. "Captain," Goldie protested, "those sound like mines. We should back out." The Captain shook his head, "this is against the clock, remember? We do this quickly! Load torpedoes!" Goldie blinked fast, but followed orders. The Captain continued, "angle the nose of the sub down 10 degrees and fire!" Goldie was rushing about the bridge, first to the plane control which angled sub down and then rushed back to the fire control station. Not for the first time she wondered why she was performing all of these jobs herself. The were two mines ahead of them, somehow floating in mid-water - above that an enemy sub lay in wait. Goldie fired and the torpedo buzzed away from the submarine, leaving a trail of bubbles in the water. It delivered a direct hit on the uppermost mine. "We're going too fast, we'll never hit the other two targets, Captain!" Goldie reported, urgently, "we have to slow down!" She realised that in one direction lay the remaining deadly mine and in the other sat an opposing force: A submarine of equal lethality to their own. "No time!" the Captain shouted back, "in any case the report of the explosion on the surface may reveal our position. We keep going. When I give the order, angle down a further 10 degrees and execute a full dive....now!" Goldie hit the controls, running wildly from one station to the next. The submarine responded to her touch, angling down even further and sinking fast as she hit the control to flood the ballast tanks. Her stomach lurched as the submarine dropped quickly into the depths. The sonar became more urgent as Goldie's heart raced and she braced herself for the explosion she felt must come. "The enemy is turning to face us," reported the Sonar operator, "they have fired. I say again, torpedo in the water!" Goldie waited. Nothing happened. Gradually the sonar eased back to a more gentle tone and Goldie realised they had somehow escaped, plotting an insane course between a mine and an enemy ship. The enemy must have turned to fire, but with the speed at which the BLUE SHARK had been travelling they had run the gauntlet before the torpedo had reached them and it had sailed safely overhead. Goldie let out the breath she had been holding for the last two minutes as the BLUE SHARK entered the underwater cave system - leading them undetected to the harbour wall. ***** Driving through the wet streets, Victor patted the bag next to him for reassurance. He didn't do this because his memory was bad; he knew full well he had purchased the item and stowed it in his rucksack. He simply felt better when he could feel the shape of it through the bag. It was as though feeling the solidity of it reassured him that he would complete the task he had set out to achieve and that he would personally deliver its contents to the watery depths. Perhaps he was reassuring himself because he knew that the fate of a loved one rested with the item he carried with him to his destination. But time was running out... ***** To Goldie's surprise their mission to infiltrate the enemy base did not lead on to where she expected. With new orders they found themselves suddenly in the middle of the open ocean, sitting unnoticed in the centre of an enemy fleet. Once again, she resisted the urge to question orders or to try to understand how the one mission had led to the other. It didn't matter. That mission was then and this was now. Maybe as this campaign progresses, thought Goldie, it will become clear. The Captain told Goldie, "I need you to operate the periscope and select the angles for a firing solution. We're right in the middle of these ships, so it should be a real turkey shoot." Goldie responded, "Yes, sir." He continued, "But we're against the clock, remember; you have to sink as many targets as you can in a very short period of time and then we have to get out of here before they can respond, understood?" "Sir," Goldie replied and grabbed the periscope. It had a really smooth action. She found that she could look about the ship in 360 degrees of view with great ease, but only while standing perfectly erect. The quality of the view was breathtaking. The periscope had a binocular lens, so that Goldie found she was seeing the surface of the sea stretch away in proper 3D and this provided vital depth and range information that would allow her to target the enemy. She swivelled this way and that, signaling firing commands to the torpedo station and soon the water around them was filled with the sinking hulks of the vessels she had holed with her pin-sharp shooting. One again Goldie resisted the urge to ask what this had been about. ***** The black saloon pulled into the communal car-park of Victor's apartment building. He peered out through the windscreen and looked up at his flat's window. He'd left the light on when he'd gone out. That was careless. Victor checked his watch. I still have time, he thought. The rain had persisted. Victor realised he was going to get a soaking and tied the rucksack up tightly. He didn't want the contents of the cylinder getting wet prematurely. That would ruin everything. He patted his pockets to make sure that his door key was to hand and prepared to step out into the rain. ***** Goldie studied the map with the Captain. They shared a serious glance and nodded to each other. "So this is the only way through?" the Captain asked. Goldie nodded again. In front of her there was a chart of fleet positions. She had plotted the known fleet movements and found a possible route to the target. The situation was dire. Somehow an allied supply convoy had sailed within range of an enemy fleet, who were also escorting a supply ship. The heavily armed escorts had now locked each other in a standoff and the BLUE SHARK had been ordered to sail through the enemy lines to seek and destroy the opposing supply frigates. "There's a catch," Goldie informed him, "the enemy escort will be dropping depth charges at the first sound of a submarine." "It's worse than that," the Captain replied, "we have intelligence that there is an enemy sub headed this way with the same orders." Goldie sighed, "so we'll have to balance our time between evading depth charges, reporting positions and instructing our own fleet on how to defend against the incoming submarine?" The Captain nodded, "not only that, but the hull profile of the convoy ships matches the hull profile of the enemy escort. We'll have no way of identifying which target group is the enemy until we surface and start shooting. Pick the wrong target and we'll have incoming fire within seconds." Goldie frowned, but nodded with determination, "at least we can thin out the enemy fleet while we're at it." She felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder. The Captain told her, "you've done well, Midshipman. If this were a real navy I'd promote you on the spot. As it is, the work has to be its own reward. Just remember that this game of cat-and-mouse is totally different to everything we have done so far. Just take it a move at a time, step-by-step. It's like chess. Each time you stick your neck out, the enemy will make a move, and you respond. Just approach it like that and you'll be fine." Gripping the sides of the map table with both hands, Goldie gritted her teeth and prepared for the mental challenge ahead. Suddenly the room shook and water began spraying in from cracks in the walls. Goldie attempted to plug the gap by sticking her finger over the breach but she realised this was an insane and futile gesture. "What happened?" Goldie yelled. The Captain grimaced and held onto a railing, "it must be the other submarine. We forgot to account for it - it must have attacked us directly and by the feel of it, they're a dead shot!" The room was filling with water and Goldie realised with a fatal certainty that all the display gauges were all heading down. This was it. There was no rescue from this point. "There's just something I wanted to know before we go down, Captain," she yelled over the alarm and sound of rushing water. "What is it, Midshipman Smith?" The Captain called in response. Goldie paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "Sir, it just... I don't understand what we've been doing here. I know orders is orders, Captain, but we've been motoring from location to location, through caves, along rivers, into storms and around islands... but none of it seems to tie together. One day we were heading through that tunnel to the enemy base, only to be redirected to the open ocean to sink enemy ships. Then, we're called off station to defend a convoy from an opposing fleet. It's like whoever is directing the campaign has a really short attention span and is just directing us from one engagement to the next. I think... I think I'd feel better about our current situation if I'd felt that we were doing it for something bigger - for a greater cause..." To her surprise, the Captain responded with a rueful nod, "wouldn't we all, Goldie? Wouldn't we all..." ***** Victor Smith opened the door to his flat, dropped his keys on the table and unzipped the rucksack. He drew out the cylinder and studied it, reading the accompanying instructions. He moved across the room to a large fish tank and stared into the water. It pleased him the way the different plants and ornaments in the water were layered and created an attractive feeling of depth. It was like having a little display of an undersea world in his living room. He opened the cylinder and shook some of the flaky contents onto the surface of the water. Little pieces floated down to the fish below. He tapped the glass in a friendly gesture and said to the fish, "There you are, Goldie, enjoy your food. Sorry I left it so long." Victor looked at the fish as she swam around the tank, through the imitation rock tunnel and into the sea-harbour decoration he had recently added. He noted that the toy submarine had become detached from the wire which usually held it mid-water and it had sunk to the bottom. He made a note to fix it next time he cleaned the water. Looking at the fish, he wondered what it would make of all these funny objects he placed around the tank. He said to Goldie, "I wonder what you spend your time thinking about while I'm not in the flat? I wonder..."
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: