Collaborative Writing, Etherpad, and FTL Fanfiction
I was talking with Ryan Hoover the other day and he mentioned if I’d ever considered collaborative writing, with a tool such as Etherpad.
I hadn’t, but it sounded like fun, so I ended up staying up all night with my buddy Travis writing the following piece of FTL fanfiction. I’ve sworn off games and have been clean for 110 days, but he’s still an addict and raved about this rogue-like and it sounded like fun, so we did it.
Collaborative writing did not actually turn into the shitshow I was certain it would. It worked remarkably well. Neither of us would have written this piece on our own - it was about 2am when we got started, and Travis was pretty much ready to hit the sack, but thanks to peer pressure I got him to stay on board. And at about 5am or so, I was ready to crash, but he carried us through to the end.
We also wrote much more than either of us would have written on our own. At times I could even be finishing off one train of thought and he could already be writing the response at the exact same time.
And ultimately, it was fun. It was more like playing a game than anything else, really. We played around with different colors, with multiple trains of thought, and the social aspect of the writing really made the process of writing immensely enjoyable in its own right. We had to constantly be mentally engaged and aware of where the other person was going and sync up.
Overall - highly recommended. You can try out Etherpad here.
And below is the piece of FTL fanfiction we managed to throw together. Here’s a link to our Etherpad file, where you can see how the writing came together.
Captains Log - Tach
When reality returned to us, we were in the middle of a nebula. Sensors, as little good they did us, still showed a warp beacon, so we weren’t too badly adrift, and at least no one was shooting at us. After a moment of disorientation, and now that I knew the Osprey wasn’t going to be torn to bits with beam weapons, I remembered that the engine room was on fire. I grabbed an extinguisher unit and opened the door to find Mallot fighting to keep the inferno under control. Mallot was a mercenary we had picked up a couple of sectors ago, and had been a mechanic in his youth. He had kept the engines running after Scoops died. As we put out the fire, a loud pounding on the starboard door to the engine room.
I looked at Mallot and gulped. “The boarders are still alive?” Frankly, I wasn’t sure how the starboard engine was still attached, with fires and hull breaches all along that side. I thought back to that argument I had lost with Skyler, the long haired, blue eyed first mate who had rescued me from a life of slave. She had led me out of the storage hold with her frightening Mantis friend, stepping over the bodies of my captors before we had beamed back aboard her ship. The captain, Travers, was killed by boarders shortly after, but not before offering me a spot on the crew. I will never forget her; she was killed instantly when we were ambushed at that last fleet beacon, torpedoes exploding on our shield generator. Skyler had demanded we stay at some backwater planet an extra day, even with the Rebel fleet right behind us, to upgrade our door system to blast doors. Everyone but she and Captain Travers thought this idea was stupid, and the captain later confided that he thought the idea was stupid too, he was just smart enough not to pick a fight with his strong headed first mate over this. And losing that argument had probably saved my and Mallot’s lives.
Cremity, if he was even still alive, hadn’t managed to get shields back on line.
“Judging by that pounding, I’m going to have to go with yes.” Mallot replied.
“Shit.” I said. The door wouldn’t hold them back forever. I started racking my brain for a way out of this mess. “You have your gun?” I asked.
“It’s on the bow.” Mallot grunted in an extreme display of unhelpfulness, “ We left all our rifles in the weapon’s bridge.” Past the shield generator. Which had at least two gaping holes in it which Cremity, likely being dead, likely has not repaired yet.
“Great, that helps a lot.” I pause, and tell my brain to rack some more to compensate for Mallot’s unhelpfulness. “Wait. I have an idea. Can you reach the life support systems?”
“Sure. Through that door.” Mallot jerked his tumb to the starboard door, which was still being vigorously pounded on. A troubled mechanical whirring sound joined the pounding.
“Fuck. Can you climb through the vents?” I asked as a desperate last resort.
Mallot stared at me incredulously. “Are you fucking serious? How about you climb through the vents?”
“I need to be here, can you work a Federation Crusier?”
“Fuck you. I’m not climbing through the vents.” Mallot said adamantly.
“I need to be at the door controls to vent the Oxygen.” I said.
It may have had something to do with the fact I had been captain for approximately fifteen minutes, but this did not go over well.
I sighed. It looked like there was only one option left, and that wasn’t really an option I wanted to consider.
“I guess wll have to go through the north door.”
“And if that’s on fire too? Our teleporter was taken out, that whole wing could be a blazing inferno, or worse.” Fire and a lack of oxygen was what killed Skyler. Well, that and the fact that missles hit her room and made it explode.
“We’ll just have to take that chance.” Mallot sneered.
“Fuck you, you’re saying that because you’re the one staying in the cockpit.” I have to admit, he may have had a point. But I wasn’t going to go and ruin his morale by saying that.
“Look, if you don’t go, we’re both going to end up dead here. Unless you think you can fight off an armed Mantis with your bare hands? You ever see Jiggers get his claws on a person? Or how many bloody parts that person finds themself in afterwards? Look, if you die, just remember that I’m not long coming after you.”
“Why, pray tell, does it matter that I get to the life support?”
“I need you to turn it off.”
This most probably had something to do with me being a captain for only seventeen minutes. This did not go over well either.
Silence. For once, Mallot actually didn’t have a smartass response prepared.
“Wait, what did you say?”
“I need you to turn off the life support so we can flush the aliens out of the system. It’s the only way. They have us surrounded, they have us outnumbered, they have us outgunned. We need to shut down the ship so we have a fighting chance.”
“This ship is falling apart. What if we can’t turn it back on?”
“Then I promise that if it makes you feel better, you can shoot me instead of the Mantis.”
“So let me get this straight. You’re expecting me to run out the north gate, run through fucking fires and leaks and god knows what else, get to the oxygen room, which may or may not be full of aliens monsters, turn off the life support, and then freeze my ass to death when the ship starts breathing? So basically, you want me to sacrifice myself to save your ass while you sit here and twiddle your thumbs?”
“You’ve have at least ninety seconds to get back to the cockpit, we’ll hole up there, that’s two doors they have to break down before they can get to us.”
Just then, there was a pathetic whirring sound. It was as if a system was trying to come back online, but instead had felt it wasn’t worth the effort. A panel to the side of the room (maybe this should be in the cockpit?) flickered to life; showing the ship, lifesigns, and damage readouts. The port engine and crew teleport were torn to shreds, but the north pasage was thankfully clear of fire and other hazards. Unthankfully, to the south there were a disheartening number of life forms.
Mallot and I looked at each other. This was my chance, and I seized it.
“Look at that. This is our chance - you can get through the north gate and to the O2 room, but we’re running out of time. It’s either that or fight all those aliens. What is it?” I say, looking at the sensor overlay. “Six Mantises? Seven? Have fun with that.”
For a moment, I thought Mallot was going to kill me and spare us the trouble of figuring all this out. But then his shoulders sagged, he looked at the north door, and resigned himself to his fate.
“Alright Tach, fine. I’ll do it. But if I die, my ghost is going to fucking haunt your ghost for the rest of fucking eternity. Remember that.” And with a deep breath, Mallot walked to the north door, opened it, and sprinted into oblivion. I clenched my fists and prayed.
A voice buzzed over the intercom. “Intruders on deck. Suggest strategic course of action. Likelihood of dying in direct combat is seven hundred fourteen to one.” Cremity said in a calm, reassuring voice. I hated him at that moment. More lights flickered as the weapons bay started to come online. Not that it would do any good.
There was nothing for me to do but wait. I looked at the south door. The pounding had increased in intensity, but the work was done by a careful and steady hand. The sound might have been calming if it wasn’t trying to kill me. I walked over the the control panel for the doors. The second Mallot managed to turn off the life support - if Mallot managed to turn off the life support - I would….a slight hissing noise could be heard, and the overhead lights went out. I watched the red dot representing Mallot run through the door control system and through the north passasge, closing the doors behind him. When I heard his foot hit the floor of the engine room, I opened all the doors on the stern half of the ship, venting precious oxygen out, with the exeption of the engine room, which I locked. Mallot took a moment, used his elbow to bust open a first aid kit, taking out a blanket. He ran into the cockpit, and I closed the door behind us, hoping it would hold. Mallot cut the blanket in half with his knife, throwing the smaller result at me. “I’m sure as hell not cuddling with you if we’re going to freeze to death. I’d rather die than take the risk of being frozen for eternity with you holding me in your arms.”
The pounding was fainter through both barriers. And it was no longer calm and steady. It was frantic. The fucking Artificial Gravity, which I had no idea how to manipulate, would keep the O2 in the ship precious seconds longer. Seconds passed. There was a loud clattering noise, and the sound of many, too many scrambling feet. Another moment, and the pounding was at the cockpit door. Mallot and I looked at each other. I secretly hoped he might renege on his no cuddling rule and hold me in our last moments alive. And there was a deafening boom, and the door visibly dented inward in the rough outline of a Mantis. I prepared to make my peace with the world and tried not to think about being torn to a million pieces by a very, very pissed off Mantis.
After what seemed like an eternity, the pounding slowed, then stopped entirely. I let out a deep breath. After looking at the sensors and counting exactly three life signs, I shut all the doors on the ship.
’“Tach”, Mallot asked. He looked slightly sick. “I need a clarification of your plan.”
“How exactly are we going to walk through four or five vented rooms to turn the life support back on?”
“I hadn’t thought about that. To be brutally honest, I figured our chances of getting even this far were so slim it probably wouldn’t matter.”
“You’re an asshole. Reroute power from here.”
“The circuit lines were cut during the battle! I can get the weapons online now. That does us a lot of good.”
It was getting really cold now. A little too cold to speak. I pulled the emergency fire blanket around me.
“W-ww-e-lll…Ta-ach…I j-just w-wanted to say one thing before we both f-freeze to death, I guess.” Mallot stuttered.
“Y-y-eeahh?” I stutter back.
The comm crackled again. “Expressed this to you humans before. Engi body temperature must be kept between -4 degrees Celcius to 54 degrees celcius for most operations. Otherwise most discomforting. I have repowered your life support back to reasonable levels. Do try to be more considerate and careful in the future.”
I muttered a prayer of thanks. Mallot muttered something along the lines of “Fuck you too, Cremity.”
Not that he would have heard. Scanners showed Cremity had moved forward in the ship and was repairing the Medbay. When the O2 levels equalized, I chanced opening the door to the engine room.
It was a complete fucking mess. The Mantis, in their panic, had set off some sort of grenade to blow the door open. While none of them appeared hurt by it and they were all in one piece except for a mild case of being aphyixiated to death, there were bits of metal all over the place. I looked at Mallot. “Can you fix this?”
“Yes. It’s a fucking mess, and it might not run well, but I can get it to dodge bullets and jump far enough to get out of the godforsaken sector. First I am going to the Medbay and downing as many pills as I need to to get my heartrate down and my head clear. Fuck all of you.”
After things had calmed down, Mallot and Cremity put the engine back together as I watched rather uselessly. Mallot was thinking about resenting me but I thought back at him that I was the only one who could fly the damn ship.
After waiting for along time, while trying not to be bored watching other people work and failing and being bored anyway, Cremity gave me a little Engi salute, said “Captain, the repairs we can do on the ship safely are complete. All systems are online, reminded that the hull is severely damaged.”
“Great, thanks a lot for the good work Cremity. You really saved our asses back there. Alright, now let’s get the hell out of here. We’ve lost a lot of time, and the Rebel fleet can’t be far behind us. We have to get to the next sector as soon as possible.”
“Excuse me.” said Mallot. “But Rebels? What the fuck are you talking about?”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. “The Rebel fleet that has been chasing us for days? The armada of ships that is hounding us while we’ve been fleeing to the safety of Federation space? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Why the hell should I want to go to Federation space?”
“Because that’s what you were hired for. It’s the mission.” I said, exasperated. We did not have time for this.
“All the people that hired me are dead. I miraculously lived through a hell of a beating, and now I’m going to risk my life for a secret mission? I don’t even know what the fuck makes this ship so special. I mean, they didn’t even tell me what the hell we are carrying. The cargo hold is almost empty. Maybe we’re transporting a secret supply of much needed holes for the Fourteen Fleet. Well I hope they get them. Good fucking riddance.”
“Look, it’s not like you can exactly abandon us right now. There are three of us, and I’m the captain, and Cremity is obviously with me. And I’m piloting this ship to the Federation, whether you’re on board with that or not.”
“Listen, I’m from a shithole of a planet. I’m on board for adventure, and shooting at ships full of people rich people don’t like, but you’re asking me to stand in the middle of a huge conflict between massive, galaxy warping powers. I fought in the fucking Mantis war. If I knew this was Federation-Rebel shit I wouldn’t have signed on to begin with, and my life would be a thousand times better right now. I don’t need this shit again.”
“But we have to-”
“Fuck you. Why is it so important to you anyway?”
“Because.” I said, pausing for dramatic effect. And to think of an answer. My thoughts immediatly turned to Skyler, who had saved my life. She had only been ever so slightly more affectionate than Mallot, but I had promised to pledge myself to her Mission, and I didn’t want to let her and Travers down. I didn’t want her to have died for nothing. But that wasn’t likely to convince Mallot. And besides, if I was honest with myself, Skyler wasn’t all of it. There was…almost a force, a drive deep within me to press on. I felt Cremity might feel this way, we had rescued him from slavers as well, so he wasn’t part of the original mission. Part of me wanted to agree with Mallot, tell him that this was stupid, but something at the core of my being felt a deep, inexplicable aversion for this.“…we have to.” I finished lamely.
“Listen, we’ll get to the next populated sector, have Cremity flare up a distress signal, but only as we high tail it with some other merchant or crew or fuck, we have enough scrap in back we can trade it for a small ship. Strike it out anyway but this godforsaken mess we find ourselves in.” Mallot said it, but it seemed as if he was just saying it because he felt he had to be an unsociable prick. There was, I dunno, less fire in him now.
The Engi shrugged. “Stability of the Galaxy in doubt. Violence will only escalate from here. The ship’s computers are completely unreadable to me, suggests that valuable information about the rebel fleet. Can’t break the Encryption, current methods will reveal the files in 17 galactic standard years.”
Mallot and I stared at each other, neither of us at the moment interested in what exactly the mission was. For me, it didn’t really matter at this point. I was going to fly that ship to the fourteenth fleet or die trying. But I could also really, really use someone who could fire the Osprey’s weapons. I could maybe hit the broad side of a planet with our burst lasers if I got lucky, but I was really only a pilot who was hated by targeting computers. I decided to try something different.
“Mallot, have you considered any reasons why the entire fourth rebel fleet is chosing to chase one inconsequencial rebel cruiser?”
“No, I can’t say I have. I’ve been a little preoccupied with being fucking chased by the entire fourth rebel fleet and almost being violently torn to pieces by alien Mantises to have a chance to think about that.”
“Listen, you always talk about how you want your own ship one day. Listen, if the Rebels want this so badly, the Federation must want it at least as bad. I’m sure we can be paid handomely for this shit.”
“Fine, let’s send up a distress beacon and sell this shit to the rebels.”
I felt very dumb this line of reasoning had not yet occured to me. Not that I was comfortable with it. For some reason, contemplating the idea felt akin to kicking a small, helpless puppy looking up at you and asking if you were its mommy.
“The Rebels can simply shoot you.” Cremity said helpfully. Almost absentmindedly. “They have proved more than willing to try at a suggested rate. Low probability of Rebel forces desiring this craft intact.”
Mallot put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and looked down, eyes closed, in thought. He looked me straight in the eye. “Fuck you.” A pause. “I’ll do it. But fuck you, and if I don’t get a diamond the size of my fist at the end of this I’m shooting you in the leg.”
“Well fuck then. Okay, we’re jumping deeper into the nebula. Avoid all hostile contact, we need to get somewhere and make what repairs we can afford.” And hire a new shield technican. I thought mournfully.
I didn’t want to wait around here another minute. I selected a destination, closed my eyes, and threw us into FTL.