Dealing with Pirates

Dump my cargo? With all due respect, Emissary, that simply was not possible.
Not to impugn your knowledge of interstellar economics, but given we are still half a light-hour apart I feel obliged to explain now for the sake of efficiency. For system haulers carrying bulk commodities dumping and running might be a viable strategy for dealing with pirates, yes, but for trans-stellar data traders it is less practical for three reasons.
First is mass, system haulers tend to be weighed down with several tons of fungible mass, dumping it will almost always allow them to escape. My cargo on the other hand is data stored on the ship’s computers, even if I were to encode it on a memory crystal and eject it the difference in mass would be negligible.
Second is the fungibility of the cargo and what that might mean for my crew’s survival. A shipment of ore or organics could disappear into the markets with just a couple fences and fraudulent purchase records, but not data. If those pirates had extorted our cargo and we were left alive we could contest the IP rights and back our claim up with a quick QComm to the planet of origin. Basically the only way they could make a PC off our data would be to silence us, permanently.
Third, a C-drive starship is a weapon of planetary destruction. You saw what my plasma stream did to their ship, would you want such power in the paws of such animals? Think of what they could do to your space elevator, or if they accelerated to half lightspeed and rammed it into your planet.
As I speak, my telepath is auto-writing a message to zir siblings in the Core Worlds. What shall I inform them as to this system’s policies towards piracy?
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Some Outworlds of Note

Tero Besto: During the early decades of involuntary colonization there was an experiment with altering the memories of the “colonists”. Tero Besto is one of the more notable and long-lived examples. In this case the settlers were led to believe they’d come directly from Old Earth, with no memories of the Federation, their actual homeworld of Tau Ceti, or humanity’s role in creating their ancestors. By all accounts, it was a success, the majority of the population believe that they arrived on the planet of their own free will and then destroyed their advanced technology to prevent the Destroyers from finding them. Colonists were assigned to different ancient Earth cultures and dropped in clusters around the planet, which has led to the rise of countries roughly paralleling those of Earth’s 19th and 20th centuries. 500 years after colonization they have achieved a level of technology resembling the late 20th century, but lacking a space program or radio communications thanks to the historical warnings against those technologies.

It’s presently unknown how many, if any, of the planet’s inhabitants know the truth of their origins. Traders sometimes visit but the major governments try to conceal the evidence of their visitations, passing off any offworld technology as “Kolonoj artifacts” and publicly ridiculing those who claim they’ve met envoys from a Galactic Federation. Some Federal officials have expressed concern that someone who believes the UFO stories will try to invent radio in an attempt to make contact.

Carack: One of the biggest failures of the memory alteration project. The colonists here were initially led to believe that they were natives to the planet but the inconsistencies in the fossil record soon refuted that. They had rediscovered radio and were just venturing out into space with plans to build a starship that would find their true homeworld when the Destroyers (conspiracy theorists claim the Federal Guard) detected them and razed the planet.

Cytoran: This planet’s high gravity has led the native flora and fauna to incorporate a high level of metals into their physiology. The colonists not only had their memories altered, but their excretory systems were modded to compensate for the more toxic metals and utilize some of the useful ones, this is one of the few Outworlds where the locals retain baseline hemoglobin levels. Unfortunately, the department failed to take into account the fauna’s behavior, almost all megafauna rely on bioaccumulation to acquire the metals their hardy skeletons require.

In other words, they’re carnivores, and very hard to kill without artillery.

Lacking the natural defenses of the planet’s native fauna many colonists were devoured by pseudo-saurian monsters that shrugged off their bullets. When the colonists had been reduced to a single shrinking settlement the Federation’s observers decided to intervene with a deployment of battle drones and power armored Guards. Unfortunately this intervention led to the colonists treating the offworlders as divine messengers, and one or two of the command staff might have proclaimed themselves gods.

These offworld gods only walked among their grateful followers for a few months before the Senate back on Secland finished deliberating and concluded that they could not justify an extended Federal Guard presence on a planet of Exiles, but they could provide the technology for the Exiles to help themselves, under supervision of their “gods” of course. The new official Emissary and zir “pantheon” gifted their most loyal followers with seemingly medieval weaponry that concealed stellar-age technology ranging from hull alloy blades to “flaming” axes and swords containing plasma projectors, and even some limited Fog hive implants. These devotees formed the beginning of a new class of augmented warriors called “Venturists”.

Traders arrived just a couple decades later, anticipating a new market in genuine natural “monster” parts and Venturist life stories. Every few years they would import a new set of equipment and augmentative “potions”, many cartels maintain semi-permanent presences in the towns and cities on planet just to sell their nanofabricated products to new Venturists. Over the generations the Venturists have effectively become the predominant form of government on the planet, forming “guilds” in the larger walled cities and ruling as petty kings and lords in the periphery towns.

While Venturists are usually too busy fighting off monsters to make war against one another, they can still find the free time to tyrannize their domains. Their augmentations make them difficult to dislodge, save by another Venturist, who often turn out to be just as bad as their predecessors. It’s estimated that for every just ruler there are two slaving despots and three boozehounds.

Musings on the Relationship of Superheroes and Transhumanism

Not directly related to the Para-Imperium universe, but relevant to my writing in general.

Superheroes: Individuals with special skills, equipment, and in particular, powers that they use to fight criminals both “mundane” and superpowered like themselves. They might have mutations from laboratory accidents or accident of birth, they might have been augmented with cybernetics after sustaining horrific injuries, they could have escaped from a secret super soldier project, or maybe they weren’t human in the first place.

 

Transhumanism: The philosophy that the limitations of the human body should be “transcended” through the use of technology. Specifically, technology internal to the body such as cybernetic implants or genetic modification. The hope is that such tech will make people hardier, smarter, longer-lived, potentially even immortal.

 

Now, one might be forgiven for thinking that superheroes were prime examples of transhumans, but in truth the majority couldn’t be farther from them. You see, most transhumanists see the ability to choose to enhance oneself a right that should be available, though they might disagree on how one gains access to enhancement. While very few superheroes willingly obtain their powers, and if they do they either refuse to share the source of their powers or plot happens to prevent others from following in their footsteps. Captain America’s probably the closest to the transhumanist ideal as he volunteered for the super soldier project, but the serum was destroyed after his enhancement. Iron Man and Black Panther on the other hand, could make the sources of their powers available to the world, but choose not to for fear that “the wrong people” could misuse them.

 

Of course, the main reason why superheroes can’t share their superpower sources with the world is sales. The big two comic book publishers in particular have been running their big titles for the better part of a century and they can’t risk making too many big changes to the status quo in the story, hence any world-shattering events like mass produced superpowers can’t stick. That’s also why superheroes and villains rarely stay dead.

 

The secondary reason why superhero stories are anti-transhuman is that supers are by necessity exceptional people who accept or reject “the burden of protecting the mundanes.” Writers need a reason why these particular people are fighting crime or attempting to conquer the world, and it would be much more difficult to justify their actions if everybody had superpowers. Though frankly, I think Syndrome from “The Incredibles” said it best: “…when everybody’s special, nobody is.”

 

Now, whether it’s possible to write a work of fiction with superheroes and transhumanism is another story. If just anyone can punch through a wall or bounce bullets off their skin there’s not really much point to committing or thwarting super-crimes. The most apparent possibility is specialization, in which some transhumans choose to focus on combat-oriented enhancements for good or ill. Of course, this presumes some kind of limitation is applied to the number or type of enhancements one person might possess. This tends to be more explicit in role-playing games than prose or comics, where powers are typically assigned point values that one must expend a resource to obtain.

 

In cyberpunk RPGs money tends to be the resource of choice for obtaining new abilities. Money could easily be the transhuman limiting factor in your superhero story but be wary about making enhancements too expensive. If the average person cannot afford enhancement without a governmental, corporate, or criminal sponsor the setting can get very dark very fast. Of course, post-scarcity economies tend to go hand-in-hand with transhumanist settings so maybe money wouldn’t fit as a limiting factor.

 

After money the next apparent limitation would be physical size, even nanobots take up some space in the body. It’s fully plausible that your potential superhero can’t fit their orbital calculator in with their subdermal plating and targeting implant. Related would be a limitation on how many implants the human brain can learn to control. Now, there are many settings where people can change their bodies like shirts and everybody can have access to a few dozen spare bodies, and I’m not going to try and convince you that “pattern identity” is just Cartesian dualism stripped of the overtly supernatural elements this time, so let’s try another concept. In the Orion’s Arm setting the Singularity is not an event, rather it is a threshold for brain complexity. Once a being goes through the intensely traumatic process of ascending to a new Singularity they find it as difficult to relate to their former peers as humans to dogs. Their concerns have taken on a whole new scale, a “generalist” transhuman might distribute their consciousness processes over a dozen different specialized bodies including a spaceship, but find themselves more concerned with controlling solar flares than stopping thieves with superspeed and pyrokinetic terrorists.

 

The third way to keep superheroes in a transhuman setting “super” involves the law. There’s a bit of an anarchist streak running through the transhumanist community but it would be possible for a government to approve limited implementation of human enhancement technology. In the most liberal versions only weaponized enhancements might be banned, as the setting gets more authoritarian enhancements that might cause collateral damage such as strength or speed boosts might be restricted, until finally you get a sort of “reverse Harrison Bergeron” where everyone is modded to the limits of “natural” human ability and no further. Now, superheroes have traditionally been vigilantes, breaking the law to carry out their idea of justice, so this doesn’t preclude the possibility of transhuman superheroes in the slightest. At most, you might add a bit more antagonism between the police and supers than was usual for even the more cynical eras of comic publication.

 

In conclusion, there are ways to write superhero stories that aren’t contradictory to transhumanist philosophy, but most mainstream publishers don’t use them.

More Technology

Hull Alloy: So named because they were originally developed as hull material for shuttles. A series of nanofabricated alloys that share the common property of a crystalline structure that allows kinetic and thermal energy to diffuse across the entire structure. This makes items built from hull alloys very strong but if something does manage to damage them they tend to disintegrate completely. As hull alloy items need to be fabricated in a single piece it is usually used for small shuttles or smaller items, hull alloy tools are actually quite popular among traders for sale to Outworlds.
These alloys have a variety of names in both the Federation and on Outworlds where they are traded; adatite, jinnisteel, vibranius…
 
Molecular Lock: Molecular scale welds were one of the first uses of constructor microbots, when done properly they leave no visible seam and the two pieces effectively form a single whole. It wasn’t much of a stretch to apply the technology to locking doors. After all, most conventional locks are physically weaker than the door they close by way of simple physics and materials, as are hinges. Fusing the door to its frame eliminates those weaknesses, but it can sometimes take an hour or more to finish “unlocking”. For that reason alone molecular locks are rarely bothered with save for the highest-security areas, or airlocks.

Memories in Review, Part 1

Jarlin Fairhold de Argentum a Denal woke to the sound of sheets rustling next to zir.  Alarmed, zie thrust one clawed wing at the intruder catching him on the shoulder and spinning him around before he grabbed it and thrust it away.

 

“Lights on!”  Jarlin called out, bathing the room in soft lights and revealing the other parahuman in the room with her.  He appeared to be a grey wolf at first, though his back was covered in a black “cape” that seemed to extend down over his tail.  On seeing him clearly something stirred in zir memory, a pattern, a rank, captain?  Captain who?  Of what?

 

The canid looked at her in shock.  “Jarl,” he asked, “what are you doing?”

 

Jarlin started to withdraw her claws, “I’m sorry.”  Zie searched zir memory for his name.  “Shigeto, you’re Shigeto, right?”

 

Shigeto sighed audibly, “it’s your memory again, isn’t it?”  He pressed a hand to his bleeding shoulder and grimaced.  “This was the first time you went straight to attacking me though, what happened?”

 

The chimeric fox considered, why had zie been so quick to attack this time?  To assume that a strange male in zir bed was a threat to herself and her child.  Jarlin clutched at zir belly and considered, zie hadn’t forgotten that she was in female phase and pregnant, that much had been obvious if only for the weight pressing on her ribcage.  Could the hormones have amplified her protective instincts to the point of lashing out at the father in a moment of memory lapse?  “I… I think I need some time to myself.”  She eventually concluded.

Continue reading “Memories in Review, Part 1”

Raising Capital

15.8.1798 Campaign launched:

Hi, Celia here, I’ve made a breakthrough in my study of xenolife protein sequencing.  Now, if you have followed me for a while you might remember that sequencing proteins from even a single specimen is tedious work, each test takes up to an hour, sometimes even two and often one needs to perform several hundred tests on every protein in the specimen.  To obtain test results in any reasonable amount of time I needed to run several tests on different set-ups in parallel.  But after a couple decades of this work I developed a few tricks for running several different tests from a single root experiment and by this point I believe that it may be possible to miniaturize a testing kit capable of determining whether a specimen of xenoflora or xenofauna is compatible with parahuman biology in minutes.

Unfortunately, performing efficacy tests on this kit will be expensive.  Running tests on any new product takes a considerable investment of time and resources, even more so when the product involves exostellar material such as xenoflora proteins.  As you know, there are few planets with natural ecosystems in the Federation, and since most of them are former outworlds even fewer have a gate connection, meaning that xeno specimens need to be shipped at STL speeds over distances of many lightyears.  Now, a while back I put out an open order on the quantum for new specimens and recently I heard back from a trader who can provide a dozen different Cyreteen organisms that the natives supplement their diets with, they have data on which organisms are mildly toxic and which might be safe to consume, making them ideal for this test.  However, they’re asking a minimum price of eighteen thousand Production Credits for the samples, I’m hoping I can negotiate them down based on the future utility of the kits to their profession, but to be safe and to cover the actual testing costs I am asking for loans totalling twenty-two thousand.

The trader will arrive in a little less than eight years, I have set up an escrow account with links to all the major crowdfunding sites: Hitstarter, Kira, Indcom, feel free to use any of them or send crypto directly to the escrow as detailed below.

Campaign ends: 15.6.1806

15.9.1798 Update:

First month done and we’re nearly to 8% funding, that’s amazing considering how little time has passed and how long we still have before the ship with the samples arrives.

However, most of the material I’ve read on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign says that you tend to get the majority of funds during the first month to a year on long-running campaigns.  Something about how the novelty of a new idea wears off fairly quickly or something.

So, keep on spreading the word!

15.14.1798 Update:

Okay, six months since the funding campaign began.  We’ve made it to sixteen percent, about double what we were five months ago.  I guess this is what the books meant by losing momentum.

However, the books and advice columns do also mention that one might be able to pull off a sort of “second wind” when the campaign starts to come closer to a close.  Playing on people’s sense of urgency you know.

1.9.1799 Update:

Gah! I meant to post this on the one year anniversary of the launch six days ago.  Not that it’s been going too well, just under 18% funded with seven years to go.  I may have to suck it up and start begging from the government for funds at this rate.

I’m also considering revising the rewards as written, maybe something like this “capital shares” concept I see from a few Outworlds.

10.6.1800 Update:

Okay, so I asked a few barristers and they said that it would actually be illegal to issue capital stock.  The whole thing is a bit hard to grasp, but I’ll try to rephrase what they told me.

On Old Terra and a few still independent Outworlds there was a concept called a “corporation”, it was like a person, yet not.  There wouldn’t be any actual parahuman, but contracts could be made with corporations as if they were humans, they could own property known as “corporate assets”, and they paid taxes independent of those working for the corporation, often at higher or lower rates than real people.  Income brought in by the employees of a corporation would go into the corporation’s accounts just like a parahuman employer, but after paying the employees and any expenses incurred the profits made by the people working for the corporation would be distributed among people who owned stock in the corporation.

Oh yes, stock, people could buy and sell pieces of corporations as if they were actual commodities.  These pieces were known as “shares”, not to be confused with the profit-sharing we do with our Houses and friends, though profits incurred by a corporation would be distributed among the stockholders in a similar manner.  The difference is that while House sharing distributes the income members contribute evenly among all the people of the House, and individuals may divert their income to friends as they wish, corporate profits were distributed to the shares and a person could own multiple shares in a corporation.  Meaning that if a corporation issued 200 shares someone could own 1 share and get 0.5% of the profits and someone who had 2 shares would get 1%, and it would easily be possible for one to buy 100 shares and be entitled to fully half the profits.  In addition, owning shares allowed one to vote on major decisions for the corporation, with each share granting its owner one vote, that owner of 100 shares would have as much say in running the corporation as 100 owners of one share apiece put together.  

It gets worse, in many cases it was possible for stockholders to sell their shares with no input from the other stockholders.  Corporations would issue shares and sell them to accumulate capital, then people would buy them and sell them to others when the “market” determined their shares had become more valuable, or they’d be persuaded to sell them during a bad time by someone who wanted to seize control of the corporation.  A lot of corporations would be bought by other corporations and assimilated or forced into a state of vassalage.

Now, despite these problems corporations had two advantages that made them very popular.  First, they’d allow an entrepreneuer to accumulate a great deal of capital rapidly, and second, they provided a legal buffer for the owners, if anything happened the corporation would take the fall instead of them.

But, probably because our ancestors were created and enslaved by corporations, they are illegal to create in Federation space.  Creating one would commit one of two crimes, in fact, fraud for fabricating a person who doesn’t actually exist, or enslavement for owning a person.  Eridani is a special case, their pre-Federation government was actually a corporation as described above, this resulted in the government being owned by an aristocratic caste of stockholders growing rich off the profits their employees earned.  As part of the terms of annexation however, they were required to introduce a few terms to their charter barring people who owned shares from buying or otherwise obtaining new ones or voting more than once.  This resulted in a gradual, but still not complete, shift of power from the oligarchs to the common people as they were suddenly the only people able to buy shares.

Anyways, no I cannot sell capital shares in my enterprise, however I could provide friend profit-sharing as a funding reward.  I got one of the barristers to write up a contract guaranteeing 1% of the profits for 100pc, with higher-level rewards attached to proportionally higher percentages.  Details are on the site.

5.12.1800 Update:

Whoever is responsible for that article accusing me of trying to reinstate slavery did not read the previous post very well.  However, my funding went up to 31% within hours of the attack so I suppose I have to thank them for it.

15.6.1803 Update:

This crowdfunding campaign has been running for almost five years now, with just three years to go before the deadline.  Yet, even with the five minutes of fame from the profit-share reward it is still less than halfway to meeting the goal of 22,000pc.

I have pitched my idea to both the Federal Guard and the Surveyors.  The Guard wasn’t particularly interested, claiming that it was easier to enforce discipline if the infantry was only eating their provided field rations.  Surveyors thought it might reduce mass requirements for landing craft significantly, but couldn’t provide more than 5k.  I’ve contacted every merchant in gated space but the most any was willing to part with was 1200pc if the test kit was going to be completed after they left.  I might have to see who’s in closer to the end date.

19.6.1805 Update:

Okay, as a last resort I went to my family for help.  Great-grandma Thessalia, senior of House Tardiin, was willing to fund my project entirely, on one condition.  That condition being that I enter a breeding contract with House Chelac.  You see, Tardiin is fairly large but our estates aren’t particularly bountiful, if I bear a few children for Chelac they’ll transfer a few square kilometers of land to our House.

Look, I may be two hundred years old already but I have things to do besides spend three decades raising the next generation of a family.  I’ll be busy enough with the testing, assuming I can muster the funds of course.

I asked Great-grandma if she’d be willing to wait until the ship, the Defiant I think, is within neutrino range.  With the last tracking data I have that will be sometime in month 3 of 1806.  So, please spread the word before then.

15.3.1806 Update:

Still only 60% funded, I was able to send a message by neutrino to the Defiant with details of my situation.  It’ll be a day or two before a reply arrives though.  I don’t know what I’m expecting really.

17.3.1806 Update:

Huh, I was not expecting a job offer.  Captain Terryn of the free trader Defiant said he was willing to take on a xenobiologist for the next voyage out with a 10,000pc advance on pay.  They think there might be some fauna and flora on the planet they just left that have commercial potential so it would help if they had the testing kits and someone skilled in their use with them when they set out.  I don’t know how much spacers usually make per trip but it can’t be worse than arranged parenthood.  Not to mention that I’d be able to do my work on board, no need to rent a lab and fabricators.

The downside, of course, is that it’ll be another thirty years or so before the product arrives to my backers, sorry.

Parahuman Baseline

While parahumans were based on humans and spliced with cosmetic genes from a variety of different animal species, there are a few traits that are common to the majority of the parahuman population that differentiate them from humans.

Cardiomuscular: Perhaps the most notable change the corporate geneticists made was the increase in hemoglobin and myoglobin levels to the point where their blood and muscle tissue almost appear to be black in color.  This greatly increases their oxygen retention capacity with minimal increase in internal air pressure, enabling them to remain conscious in vacuum for up to ten minutes, after that they go into a torpor in which they can survive for another hour without air.

The geneticists of Alpha Centauri, both factions, were able to maintain this trait throughout the centuries.  But in Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani many parahumans lost much of their -globins through mutations.  Some from those systems refer to Centaurans derogatorily as “blackbloods”.

Dietary: Their iron-rich blood requires an iron-rich diet.  Almost as important as the development of the parahumans themselves was the development of a series of high-iron legume and algae that could be grown on ground-up asteroid.  In modern Federation society this isn’t much of a problem, those GM crops and vat-grown or nanofabricated meat is readily available.  However, it does help explain why many Cetans and Outworlders lose their high hemoglobin levels, and it’s one of the reasons why ghuls are obligate cannibals.

Skeletal: While the skeletal structure was changed to accommodate body parts like muzzles, ears, and tails; the baseline skeletal makeup is barely different.  While the first generation were bioprinted with titanium-reinforced bones, the complete lack of biological interaction exhibited by the metal made it impossible to code the trait into the genome.  However, many parahumans, especially spacers and military, use microbots to reinforce their skeletons as adults.

Environmental Tolerances: Parahumans can tolerate a lower range of oxygen partial pressures than humans due to their blood.  However, they experience oxygen toxicity at a lower partial pressure than humans would, which would still be substantially higher than Old Earth’s when it was last inhabited.

The presence of fur helps insulate parahumans but makes higher temperatures unbearable, especially as they lack sweat glands.  Between 20 and 35 degrees Celsius the average parahuman tends to wear minimal clothes, in many places where such temperatures are common nudity is acceptable, especially for polar species.  When parahumans need to spend extended periods of time at 40 C or higher they make use of ventilated suits with coolant pipes.

See also: The environment suits worn by the uplift mission to the kershkans in A World Lost.

Torpor: As mentioned above under “Cardiomuscular”, parahumans can enter a deep torpor or hibernation when deprived of oxygen.  The idea was that a transport filled with parahumans kept unconscious at a low oxygen level would save on life support costs until they arrived at a station.  However, they still age while in torpor so it’s only useful for intra-system or gate travel.  Combined with microbots, however, a parahuman could spend centuries in a torpor, or remain alive as a severed head even.

Originally posted on Patreon July 1st, 2017

Family Ties

I wasn’t sure what was more surprising, that the Praetor himself would call upon a lowly private investigator like myself, or that he would call me the day after I saw his assassination on the evening newsfeeds.  It had been the top story for the past 20 hours, I must have seen clips of that fox’s blood boiling from his ears and staining his black and white fur a dozen times since then.  They said that his microbots had been hacked by his own doctor, instead of maintaining his brain and body against the ravages of age, they disintegrated his neural tissue.  Even the best medical science of the Federation could not repair that much brain damage.  Fortunately for my state of mind, he explained how he managed this feat of self-necromancy a second after I answered.

“I am the personality simulation of Praetor Senyan Terraformer de Argentum a Denal, carrying out my last will and testament.”  That figured, of course someone as rich and powerful as a Praetor would be capable of commissioning a personal sim, and now that I thought about it, most of the ones I’d seen before were former Praetors or other notable members of the Argentum genus.  “In the event of my death by the intent of another being, I set aside a sum of 100 kiloPCs to hire the most qualified private investigator available to determine the identity of whomever was ultimately responsible for my death.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” I replied, “but what makes you think I’m the most qualified for the job?”

The simulation perked as I’d clearly triggered some sort of response path.  “You are the private investigator known as ‘Rikel Eryn’ are you not?  Primary phenotype: Feline.  Birthplace: Ceti outcast colony #283, date: approximately 4/18/1727 Most notable profession: Detective experienced roughly 126 years?”

Pretty much accurate, I admit.  It was rather difficult to synchronize the calendars of the various outlier worlds with those of the core worlds linked by the wormhole nexus, but that was close enough for my purposes.  I had started my career as a professional finder of evidence for criminal cases before I had become an immortal Federation citizen, back on that primitive little mudball the Federation had dubbed “Ceti colony #283” but most of its inhabitants called “dirt”, having been there long enough to forget that there were other inhabited planets in the universe.  Still, there was the occasional contact with offworld traders that the government tried to keep secret.  I’d come across a group of these offworlders on one of my cases, and had no choice but to leave with them or be “disappeared” by the Emperor’s agents.

It was rather uncommon for anyone, mortal or immortal, to hold down the same career for more than fifty years by the capital’s reckoning.  Those born to the Federation grew up accepting the idea that they’d get bored doing the same thing for decades on end and couldn’t imagine keeping it up for centuries, but on my former home planet people were expected to stick with the same career for life.  To be honest, we’d only just recently moved past the species-based caste system espoused by the original colonists.

I confirmed the digital ghost’s assessment, not bothering to explain why I’d been in this job so long, and asked why it wanted my help.  “After all,” I explained, “you have the full resources of the civil forces and the Federal Guard to investigate the cause of your demise.”

“The civil forces and the Federal Guard are presently under the control of my kin.”  The simulation answered.  “And I believe one of them was responsible.”


Continue reading “Family Ties”

The Star Forge

Holding a wormhole open long enough to send anything through, much less keep it open permanently, requires threading the “throat” with a variety of matter that to anyone’s knowledge doesn’t exist in nature.  And the only known means of synthesizing it requires the energy output of a small star.
Fortunately, Alpha Centauri happened to have a couple of spares, of the three stars in the system the relatively small and distant Proxima Centauri was deemed least useful for other development and given over to the then “pie in the sky” Stargate project.
After a couple hundred residents were paid off and evicted the star’s asteroid belt and dwarf planets were disassembled and converted into solar collectors and Proxima Centauri b, too hot and irradiated to ever be terraformed, was girdled with particle accelerators and plated with more solar panels.
The inner workings of the system-wide mechanism, commonly referred to as the “Star Forge”, are heavily classified and the 13,000 AU expanse between it and the main Alpha Centauri system is heavily patrolled and laden with sensor arrays.  Any unauthorized craft that approaches within 100 AUs is targeted by at least a dozen different missiles and lasers.  What is known is that it takes several years to produce enough exotic matter for a ship-transversable wormhole.
Posted on Patreon May 13th.

The Final Battle

This story takes place before the formation of the Federation, after contact was established between Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti but before political unification was achieved.


General Shin, son of Shor, of the House of Frink, Clan Tiger surveyed the battlefield before him. On either side of the field stood a force of parahumans so utterly convinced as to the righteousness of their cause to fight unto their own demises. He fought for the glory of Queen Seria, the duly elected monarch of Schwarswelt, and his cousin. The scum facing him now were the last remnants of the rebel clans who defied the rule of the unified kingdom forged by his great-grandfather Hideo. His forces had hounded them across the continent, facing their warriors in the fields and city streets alike, his spies unveiling clever traps and turning dissatisfied vassals against their lords to join with them. The Rebels had done the same, of course, but with their inferior numbers and weapons it had barely sufficed to hold the Royalists at bay for this long.

 

Shin drew out his spyglass and sought out the line moving out of the city towards the trenches hastily constructed to slow down his forces. As he focused he noticed not only soldiers and cavalry warriors, but a significant number of siege tanks. The latter surprised him, the Rebels hadn’t acquired the self-propelled armored vehicles until long after his own clan had and conventional battle doctrine placed them at the other end of a siege. Shin replaced his spyglass and checked his own forces’ progress on building trenches, they had finished two trenches and were half done with a third, the Rebels would be here within the hour. But what were the Rebels planning with those tanks of theirs?

 

The general left his observation post and called for a messenger to find the Pallas envoy and bring her to him. After ten minutes the messenger returned, alone. “The lady’s guards say that she is busy meditating and is not to be disturbed.”

 

Shin scowled at the messenger, who wilted under his glare. “Take me to them, I wish to have a word with those guards of hers.” After a moment of hesitation the messenger headed off to the far end of the camp, the general following close behind.

 

Several minutes later the general walked up to a massive tent situated as far from the main battle line as it was possible to be without lying outside the camp’s defensive perimeter. Flanking the entrance were two massive parahumans with four legs and two arms and covered head to foot in silver filigree-laced armor that concealed their features. The nearer of the two turned to face Shin as he approached. “The envoy is not to be disturbed at this time.” The guard stated flatly.

 

“This is urgent,” General Shin replied. He was unsure of what caste these guards were, or even how the Republic of Pallas’ caste system was organized, but most taur clans in Schwarswelt were serfs, and he could not help thinking that he was being told off by a mere peasant. No matter how armored they were. “The battle will be commencing very soon and I need her advice,” his voice raised with his aggravation and indignation, “immediately!”

 

A voice came out from the interior of the tent. “Oh, fine! Let him in.” The guards held back the tent flaps for Shin to enter and he did so, with visible annoyance. Envoy Sharlin Fairhold de Argentum was a silver fox, like the rest of Pallas’ ruling clan, but her tail had some odd ring-like patterns he’d noticed a few times, and as she hastily donned her robes Shin thought he spotted something on her stomach that he could have sworn was a marsupial pouch. The envoy fastened the edge of her robe and finally addressed him. “Let me guess,” she sniped, “you want me to explain once again how to use the technology we gave you because these troublesome insurgents have surprised you?”

 

General Shin groaned inwardly, the Republic’s envoys had always been this dismissive towards the people of the Kingdom, he suspected their government felt the same and kept sending hybrids to them to show it. No matter their claims of “outgrowing” the stigma against interbreeding. He gritted his teeth and told her, “the Rebels are deploying tanks, more than we expected them to have.”

 

“Hmm,” Sharlin considered the situation, “it’s not too surprising, when you think about it.  They’ve been pillaging archaeological digs for decades, the Lostech artifacts could have easily included armored vehicles or even manufactories.  Not to mention the raids on your supply routes to capture your tanks.”

 

The general dismissed the feeling of inadequacy that the envoy tried to project on him.  Of course the Ancients would have had weapons to rival those that Pallas had gifted them, the stories indicated the Ancients were no strangers to war while the Republic ludicrously claimed to have fought only a single war in the past millennium.  “That wasn’t all,” Shin continued.  “They’re defending from a siege, why use them now?”

 

“Siege?” Sharlin seemed to barely hold herself back from bursting into laughter.  “You’ve had those things for most of a century now and you still think of them as siege weapons?”

 

“Well, what are they then if not siege weapons?” Shin exclaimed, anger rising. “Please do enlighten this ignorant savage.”

 

“For one thing,” Sharlin answered, ignoring the obvious barb, “they can scale the trenches your troops so hastily erected around this little camp as easily as the ones around the city.”  Shin nodded, he’d considered that possibility but thought the camp’s mobility diminished the effectiveness of that plan. “Secondly, they can outpace those lizards your highborn warriors insist on continuing to ride and trample more infantrymen under their treads.”

 

“I had heard something along those lines.” Shin admitted, “there was talk about using armored vehicles as warrior mounts but some thought it unfitting for the high-born to rely on common-birth drivers.” And also to work siege engines, but he kept that to himself.

 

‘Well, that’s a particularly silly move,” Sharlin added.  “Because the cannons on tanks are better suited to killing tanks than anything your troops or warriors carry on them.  You could duel each other to your heart’s content.”

 

General Shin froze as he realized what the envoy was telling him, but then his training took over and he dashed back out into the camp. “Messenger!” He called out, and a coyote youth answered. “Rouse the siege tanksmen and have them ready their machines to move out.  I’ll be there to speak with them soon.”  As the boy ran off, the tiger general considered how rapidly the face of war was changing.

 

 

Ten minutes later the first of the tanks were mobilizing out of camp to meet the enemy tanks on the field. The tank crews had met his announcement that they were to engage in the field of battle with mixed reactions. Most of them were species of the craftswork caste; rats, raccoons, foxes, monkeys, etc; rather than warriors like his own species. But while many of the tanksmen were worried about the risk of engaging in active battle there were some crews who felt that their efforts had been underappreciated and were eager to finally achieve some glory in combat. It was possible some even held a glimmer of hope that they could be granted warrior status and land rights. That was ludicrous, of course, more likely that once the frontline value of their mounts were realized some of the highborn warriors would be placed in command positions on tanks, if there were enough to fill them.

 

One of his Lieutenants, a leopardess by the name of Ayami Mercer, sidled up next to Shin, “are you sure about this, General?”

 

Shin didn’t break his view away from the tanks advancing towards each other to address her. “I know it’s unconventional,” he replied. “But how many other weapons can you name that can penetrate their armor?”

 

“I don’t know their names, but I do know that the Republic’s traders offered them.” Mercer answered. “Some traders visited my uncle’s estate when I was a child and showed off some weapons they wanted to sell. They had a rifle that could punch a hole through half a meter of steel with a single shot, and another gun with three rotating barrels that seemed to spew out bullets like water from a firehose.”

 

The general had heard rumors of similar things, but he wasn’t on the board that approved new weapons for the National Army. House Guards, however, were less uniform in armament than the Army, with the wealthier Houses arming their troops with Republic-made guns and armor, while some of the poorest Houses still used crossbows. The fact that the opposition forces were composed of the Guards of all the Houses loyal to the Rebel Clans and that he didn’t know what they had armed themselves with was starting to disturb him. He asked her, “did your uncle buy any of those weapons by any chance?”

 

“He bought one of the rifles for hunting sea-dracols, but he said that the multi-barreled gun was too ‘unsporting’ or something.” The lieutenant replied. “The multi-barrel required two men to carry and needed to be set up on a stand of some kind before firing anyways.”

 

As their tanks approached the forward line of trenches a detachment of infantry rose and advanced ahead of them to clear the way. They had not gone 10 meters when all of a sudden a line of fire erupted from the lead enemy tank, most of it went wide but still a third of the line fell backwards while the rest quickly dropped to the ground and took what cover they could. Shin focused his spyglass on the lead tank and he spied a small secondary turret below the main gun, its barrel seemed to be spinning at high speed as it spat out tracer bullets at an astonishing pace. The Royalist tanks stopped at the loss of their escort, but then one tank raised its main gun high and fired a shell into the air. The others followed suit. Shin pointed out the lead tank’s gun seconds before it was smashed by the first of the three shells to strike the vehicle.

 

“Yes,” Mercer confirmed, “that looks like the second weapon the traders showed my uncle.” The second shell split open the main turret, and the third detonated the ammo magazine, producing a fireball and shockwave that knocked the surrounding rebel infantry flat. Other shells had similar effects on the rest of the first rank of rebel tanks, stray shells cratered the landscape and scattered infantry, many in pieces. “It seems like a rather undignified way to die, doesn’t it?”

 

“You say that as if there was a dignified way to die.” Shin turned to see the Republic’s envoy approaching them, flanked by her bodyguards.

 

General Shin scowled, annoyed beyond reason. “Lady Fairhold,” he addressed her, “come to view the fruits of your Republic’s labors?”

 

Sharlin looked slightly confused by his statement. “What could you possibly mean?”

 

“This!” He exclaimed, pointing at the battlefield. “This destruction, this carnage, all wrought with your weapons.”

 

“Our weapons?” Sharlin Fairhold de Argentum almost seemed to laugh at him. “We haven’t sold you any weapons that weren’t invented by the humans nearly two thousand years ago. You would have re-invented or salvaged them on your own eventually.”

 

“Don’t you try making excuses.” General Shin retorted. “You have turned war from a honorable and glorious endeavor into a slaughterhouse. Those tanks aren’t even driven by warriors, they’re engineers!”

 

“War? Glorious?” The vulpine ambassador stared incredulously at the tiger general. “You are killing people en masse, does dying from having your guts cut out by a sword rather than a bomb make death any less painful?” She turned to face the continuing battle before them, focusing intently on the tanks.

 

Shin struggled to come up with a retort as Sharlin stood there and watched the battle. “Men deserve to face their opponent, not just be cut down like wheat or crushed by an unstoppable force.”

 

Sharlin said nothing for several minutes, then said, almost as a non sequitur, “it is fortunate your tanks are driven by engineers rather than warriors. Clearly the enemy lacked that foresight.” Shin scanned the cratered surface of the field, none of the Rebel tanks remained intact and their infantry were scattered, the Royalists hadn’t even taken to the field. “Because your new chariots are maintained by parahumans with a greater sense of ballistic trajectories than “glory”, you have won this battle with minimal loss of life on your side. Try to show some gratitude.”

 

General Shin son of Shor of the House of Frink, Clan Tiger could not bring himself to publicly admit that she was right, even though inwardly he knew it was so.