Dandelion Seeds, 2nd half

  1. More than the destruction of Earth, more than the razing of the Solar System, more than Tony’s death, the news that we had been found shook us.  Tony’s data indicated that we had three months before it reached us.  Our first impulse was to abandon all pretenses of concealment and go at full throttle, since we had already been found.  Rachel set the launcher to throw out nukes every 15 minutes, any faster and the drive plate would not be able to dissipate the heat and melt.  Without the plate protecting the ship the rear of the craft would melt or be outright vaporized.  As that section contained our main drive section, our power generator, and the life support scrubbers we would be dead in space if it were destroyed.

Our pursuer accelerated.  Our effort had given us no more than two more weeks.

We didn’t want to talk about it.  The only way we felt we could cope was to throw ourselves into our work with even more fervor than before.  And to occupy any spare time studying to fill Tony’s duties.  Even if we weren’t on such a short deadline there wouldn’t have been a reason to bioprint a full-time replacement for him.  We had basic training in each other’s duties and it was unlikely we’d have a major issue in that area in the time we had left.

We largely avoided one another for the next week.  We didn’t want to talk about what had happened.  Rachel spent almost all her time at the bridge, leaving me and Stewart to bounce around the ship between our original jobs and Tony’s vacated duties.  Even then, we barely spoke, we just glided past each other, him simply mumbling “dandelion seeds” under his breath.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at what happened next.  He didn’t even try explaining his actions, we couldn’t find any hints in his cabin or his lab.  All we knew was neither me nor Rachel saw Stewart for a couple days and we didn’t think anything of it until I checked on the life-support logs and noticed that O2 recycling had diminished by a third in the past couple days.  I couldn’t find any mechanical problems that could account for the change, and I didn’t feel any faintness or shortness of breath so I decided to seek out Stewart for his advice.

I couldn’t find him in the Bio lab, or the Rec room, or his cabin, or in Tony’s room.  Finally I went over to the bridge to ask Rachel if she had seen him anywhere.  She was hanging suspended in the middle of the gravity-less compartment staring blankly into open space through the main screen covering most of the far wall of the bridge.  I cleared my throat loudly to draw her attention and the mouse-rabbit turned to face me.  Giving me a serious look of annoyance as I disturbed her reverie.

“Sorry,” I apologized quickly, “but I was just wondering if you had seen Stewart today.”

“No,” she replied dismissively, “have you checked his cabin?”

“I have,” I replied coolly, “and all the other cabins and compartments.”

Her ears drooped and her eyes widened in shock.  “You checked the entire ship and couldn’t find him anywhere?”  She exclaimed in disturbed surprise.  “I’ll pull up all the camera feeds now.”

The stars on the main screen shrank to one corner, with the rest of the giant monitor now occupied by the feeds from the various security cameras scattered throughout the craft.  There was one in each cabin, pointed away from the bed so that one couldn’t peep in on anyone sleeping, but I had already checked all the bunks.  Each of the larger compartments, including the bridge, had two cameras facing in opposite directions so as to cover the entire room.  The central shaft had cameras every five feet and the fore and aft airlocks each had one camera.  The exterior had four at each end of the long ship for observing crew performing extra-vehicular activities, like those we had used to watch Tony die.  About twenty-nine security cameras in total, thirty sections to the monitor counting the navigation feed.  None of the live feeds showed any trace of Stewart, where could he be?

Then Rachel asked me when I’d last seen Stewart.  I couldn’t remember, but recalling the life support data, I told her it was three days ago.  She called up recordings from that day.  We saw Stewart wake up, dress, eat breakfast, brush his teeth, and go in to the lab.  Zipping forward at several times faster than normal play speed we saw him take out a sample cuvette with a sample of gametes for the colony we were intended to start, consider it for several minutes, then place it and several other cuvettes in a bag and carry the bag out to the aft airlock.  We watched in horror as he carelessly shook the bag out into the airlock, then came back through the interior door and grabbed more and more loads of gametes, releasing them all out into the airlock space.  Then, eventually, he gathered up all the cuvettes in the airlock in one large armful, mouthed two words directly at the airlock camera, and opened the outer door.

We gasped in shock as he opened the door, letting the air rush out.  He remained inside for a few more moments, as there was not nearly enough air pressure to push him out.  Then he positioned himself against the inner door, coiled, and leaped out into open space.  Carrying the gametes with him.

Parahumans were designed to live in space.  The first generation had titanium-plated bones to prevent loss of strength from microgravity-induced osteoporosis.  As we of the second generation grew in wombs instead of being bioprinted with fully adult bodies we lacked those bones and needed to spend much of our time in centrifuges, but we still retained our parents’ enhanced oxygen retention.  Our blood and muscles were so filled with hemoglobin and myoglobin as to be almost black in color.  We could remain conscious in an environment completely devoid of oxygen for ten minutes and alive for an hour.  But Stewart had left the ship more than two days ago without any sort of reserve oxygen supply or anything.  It was impossible for him to still be alive at this point.

We watched, helplessly, as the external cameras tracked his flailing body careening out into open space.  His arms kept alternately folding and flicking out, as if he were throwing things.  We were puzzled as to what he was doing until the light from a detonation flashed off a small glass tube leaving his hand.  He was throwing the samples in all directions.  We watched in frozen horror until he was so far away as to be invisible to the naked eye.

Then Rachel asked me if I had checked on gamete storage since the weasel’s disappearance.  I turned and ran, bouncing off the walls in the microgravity, until I had reached the spoke leading to the bio lab.  The freezer had closed automatically, and I had to undo all the assorted locks to open it and check the contents.

It was empty.  The whole compartment had been cleaned out.  He had even taken our own potential babies.  A colony was no longer possible.

  1. I didn’t return to work after that.  I just went back to my cabin, turned out the lights, and curled up in my bed.  For the first time in months I let myself think.  Really think hard.  I wondered, perhaps me and Rachel could clone ourselves when we reached the planet.  The bioprinter was still intact, and even if our gonads were gone our every cell contained a full genome.  I could study how to perform the biologist’s duties and replicate samples of our cells into the stem cells used by the bioprinter to fabricate new parahumans.  There wouldn’t be much genetic diversity in the new colony, even if we found some skin or hair cells from Tony or Stewart and the clones were allowed to breed naturally.  They’d be inbreeding within three generations.

But, we could just keep on cloning, so long as we kept the machines working.  Heck, we could even pull it off with a single genetic template maybe.  There was no need for both of us to survive.

Then it hit me.  There was no way that someone as strong as Tony would commit suicide, and it was Rachel who told me that the launcher was working after all.  And now it was down to just me and her.  Would I be the next one to “kill herself”?  Would Rachel continue on to Epsilon Indi to rule over a new planet full of copies of herself?  She may have even faked the transmissions from Sol, she knew enough about radio to pull it off, somehow.

It was so clear to me now, one of us had to die soon, and I didn’t intend it to be me.  I would have to kill her before she killed me.  And I wouldn’t bother making it look like a suicide, there was no one left to object.  It wasn’t even really murder, when you thought about it, it was self-defense.

There weren’t any obvious weapons like guns or knives on board.  Barely even any eating utensils as we just ate with our hands or sipped it out of the container.  But there were some power tools in the engineering section, and Rachel had neglected to remove them.  I dismissed a circular saw and a plasma cutter as too heavy and bulky to wield as effective weapons, they were probably designed that way.  But I found a cordless drill and the largest, sharpest bit in the inventory, I’d just need to press it against her in the right spot and start drilling.  I took the drill and sprang forth towards the bridge with death on my mind.

The mouse-rabbit was in the same fugue-like state she was in when I’d come to talk to her about Stewart.  Soundlessly, I pushed off towards her with one hand outstretched to grab her protruding ears and the other one holding the drill ready.  Somehow, she heard me and turned slightly to look at me.  Seeing the drill she scrambled frantically to grab something for mobility while yelling “Lisa, what are you doing?”

I got hold of her leg as it waved near me.  She jackknifed back and caught hold of a console, whipping me towards a wall.  I shoved the drill point-first into her other leg and used it as leverage to swing my free hand further up to her torso, where I grabbed her at the shoulder.

She screamed in pain as the drill punctured her leg, black droplets of blood streamed out as I removed it and swung it up towards her head.  “Why are you doing this?”  She begged as I brought the drill up against her eye.

I didn’t give her the satisfaction of my reply.  I depressed the trigger of the drill and the bit began spinning and whirring loudly as I thrust it towards her.  She swung her head to the side and I only grazed her on the first pass, so I took hold of her head in my free hand and adjusted my angle so that it bored into the side of her cranium.  Rachel bit down on my hand with those long rodent incisors of hers, but my drill was already tearing chunks out of her brain and in seconds her body went limp.

I let go and cast aside the corpse, the drill bit still in her head.  I had won, I thought, I had survived.  Now, I would need to figure out how to clone myself so as to fill all the empty crew positions and soon.  Maybe I could find enough DNA traces of Tony and Stewart to clone them, and then I could print off some new ovaries for myself and bear their children.  But I certainly wouldn’t be cloning this psychopathic bitch who had murdered them, her genes would be flushed out into the void never to live again.

But, doubt struck me and Rachel’s body turned to face me, her blank eyes staring past me and seeing nothing ever again.  What if I’d made a mistake?  What if the monsters were real?  It was ridiculous but that small part of my brain would not let the idea go so I went back to the telescope controls and calibrated them to find the so-called pursuer that Tony had supposedly detected.

It was there, and it was getting closer.

I kept Rachel’s body with me for the next week.  I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of her like some piece of garbage now that I knew I’d murdered her for no good reason.  I covered the hole in her head with a bandage and placed her on her barely used bed, which I came by to visit every day before going to work.  One day I found myself getting into bed next to her and snuggling up to her corpse like it was a large stuffed animal, but I had to rinse off the fluids that were leaking out as she decayed the following morning.  The deterioration reminded me that she couldn’t stay there, it would stink up the entire ship and spread bacteria all over.  Reluctantly, I decided to take her out the airlock after that moment of weakness.

I didn’t bother with a space suit, I wouldn’t be out long, as I carried her carcass out into the aft lock.  I closed the inner door behind me and triggered the decompression cycle.  My eardrums popped and I got a headache from the sinus pressure as the air was sucked out, but I held on and kept going.  I opened the outer door and looked out into the depths of space.  Inky blackness, with only a few distant pinpricks of light for illumination, it seemed to call to me as I stood there on the threshold to oblivion.  I pulled Rachel out to the edge of the doorway and straightened her out to throw her away.  I gave her one last look into those glassy eyes and mouthed the word “goodbye” before gently pushing her out into space.

I considered leaping out to join her, but I couldn’t, something was still holding me back.  I watched her float away into the endless night until my vision began to swim from lack of oxygen, then I finally closed the outer door and started the compression cycle just before I lost consciousness.

I dreamt fitfully as I lay there in the airlock, my brain acting up as it slowly regained enough air to function.  I found myself kneeling in a dark room before a trio of podiums where my dead friends stood.  They accused me of killing them, not by drilling a hole in Rachel’s skull, but by leading the Destroyer to the ship with my automated messages.  I tried to explain that with the time delay it could have been any of the messages sent out before I received the notification of the Earth’s demise but they kept shouting me down.

I woke after too long a period of unconsciousness in the airlock.  I scrambled to the inner door and glided back in, shutting it with a start.  My friends would be back the next time I slept, I just knew it, would they be there waiting for me if I killed myself now?  Maybe if I made an effort to ensure their deaths meant something they might leave me alone.

That was when I started recording these messages.  It’s been two weeks since I started telling my story to the stars.  In that time I have slept six times and contemplated suicide twice as often.  They visit me in my dreams again and again, always telling me that “I haven’t paid yet”.  What else can I do?

The Destroyer creeps ever closer.  Two and a half months before it catches up with me.  Unless its weapons have extremely long range like what they used to destroy Earth.  The computers are set to transmit the message the instant they detect anything approaching within a light-minute of the ship.  

Six weeks before its scheduled to reach me and the Destroyer is just entering visual range.  It’s… huge.  My ship is bigger than any skyscraper ever built on Earth and this thing looks like it could swallow me up and have room for the rest of the colony fleet.  I can’t really make out much more detail, it seems like just a massive block of metal with a constant nuclear flare at the far end.  How could it store so much fuel?  What does it use for fuel?

My friends haven’t let up on their nocturnal haunting.  Stewart’s shade has taken to mumbling that one phrase he kept repeating in the week before he jumped out into eternity.  “Dandelion seeds.”  I couldn’t imagine what it could mean until I remembered that Tony’s new password was “dandelion”, I looked it up in the encyclopedia.  Dandelions were a kind of flowering plant native to Earth that were considered a weed by most cultures.  The leaves were covered in spines but the little yellow flowers looked kind of pretty.  However, it was their lifecycle that fascinated Tony and Stewart.  The flowers closed after a day or two, then in their place grew a sphere of seeds with white wisp-like parachutes.  The wind blew on the seeds and they’d be carried away to land in distant field and grow until some gardener found and uprooted them.  Over a hundred seeds per plant, only a small fraction of them would take root and an even smaller percentage would have the opportunity to produce their own seeds.

Was that what Stewart was thinking when he threw the gamete samples into space?  It makes no sense, he must have known they’d never grow without a uterus or bioprinter to sustain them.

Oh well, I suppose the strain must have gotten to him.  Like it did to me.

I’m so sorry Rachel.  I wish you were still here to keep my mind off the inevitable.

Three weeks left and now the Destroyer is clearer in my view.  It appears to be unfolding somehow.  The front end is separating into eight long sections that are spreading out like arms.  Does it mean to grab me?

Why doesn’t it just shoot me and get it over with?

Less than a week left and I can see the spaces between the arms filling with some kind of foamy substance.  Radar pings indicate that it’s soft, but very strong and dense.  It may somehow even be capable of stopping and securing an object travelling as fast as myself.

Does it want to study me?  That makes no sense.  If they wanted to dissect parahumans or put them into a zoo they would have had plenty of opportunity when they were burning the Sol system to the ground years ago.  Analyze the computer banks for information?  Everything there is public domain, it would have been in the system-wide internet when they got to…

Oh shit, they’re after the coordinates to the other colony expeditions.  Only the ships and mission control back on Pallas would have known the exact trajectories and destinations of each craft.  Mission control would no doubt have erased the servers, even vaporized them, as soon as Earth was destroyed.  So I might be their only way to discover where the other remnants of parahumanity have hidden themselves.

I need to stop talking and wipe the databanks.

I may have wiped the servers but they could probably reconstruct the data from the molecular traces on the solid-state cards.  I would need to vaporize the very same computers that the ship requires to stay functional.

I’ve given Tony’s words some more thought.  Those samples weren’t the dandelion seeds he was talking about.  We, the entire ship and its crew, were just one seed.  A seed ship, a shot in the dark, a long chance.  So long as one seed ship plants a colony and develops enough to build its own seed ships the parahuman race survives.  If one or two never make it to their destinations it doesn’t matter.

And we were just a failed seed.  I can die, knowing that my civilization can continue without me.  With this final act to ensure that my friends may even forgive me and let me rest in peace.

That is why I’m sending this warning.  If you’re hearing this, your civilization is in grave danger.  You can detect long-wave radio, so I’m assuming that either you have already developed the technology to generate radio waves, or you will soon.  If you’ve just started producing radio, then congratulations, you have maybe 10 generations left if my people are any indication.  I don’t know if you’re human, parahuman, or some bug-eyed alien race we never had the chance to make contact with.  But no matter what you look like my advice is the same.

Shut off your radios and get working on escaping your solar system.  Fast.

If the machine pursuing me can capture a vessel travelling at my speed I can’t do anything to harm it.  Not even if I detonated every propulsion nuke on board simultaneously.  But I could easily reduce this ship to its base atoms.

Static

This has been a recording from the archives of the New Alexandria Library, Secland capital arcology, Alpha Centauri A, the Interstellar Federation of Parahuman Species.

Dandelion Seeds, First Half

The following is a short story I originally wrote for a sci-fi horror anthology, though it was rejected in the end.  It serves somewhat to bridge the gap between The Pride of Parahumans and the post-exodus stories I focus on here.

The full rough draft of the story is on my Patreon feed (along with every other original fic I write) and I’ve been serializing this one on my new podcast for the past few weeks.  Since the podcast has reached the halfway point I thought it was about time to share the text story on this blog.  The second half will be posted as the podcast comes up on the end.

 

1.

Hello, unknown listener, I am sure you are filled with curiosity about the outside universe, and I get the feeling that you would be more inclined to believe me if I were to indulge you.

My name is Jarlisse, and I might be the last of my kind.

First, you should probably know something about my “species”, if we can be called such.  I am what was called a “parahuman”, an artificial mixture of my ancestral homeworld’s single naturally evolved sapient race and the genetic material of one or more of the other, non-sapient species on said world.  The first generation of parahumans were created by humans, the natural sapient species, as deep-space labor.  Their governments afforded certain rights and protections to humans, but not to creatures that were quite clearly not human.  So, some corporations found a loophole.  They experimented with thousands of unique mixtures of human and animal genes and printed out the viable ones, then sent them out to the asteroids to bring back minerals. However, the early parahumans shared the humans’ drive for independence and soon the time came for them to rebel and claim the Asteroid Belt for their own.  The parahumans, having no experience with self-governance, experimented with several different forms of government reasoning that with sufficient experimentation they’d be able to discern which ones worked out best and all would come to adopt the greatest government.  But, as the humans had discovered years ago, it is very subjective which government is better and many parahumans could not bring themselves to agree on many ideas.  And like humans, when parahumans disagreed on something strongly enough, there was the urge to settle the argument through violence.

The first major organized conflict between governments came from the Feudal Anarchy of Vesta and the Republic of Pallas.  The Vestans believed that we should bioprint exact replicas of ourselves, with public safety and welfare entrusted to particular sets of replicas who had proven their ability and devotion to the cause.  Whereas the Pallene released the genetic locks the humans placed on our “natural” reproductive systems that combined genes from two parahumans to produce a new one.  Vesta saw Pallas as a threat to long-term stability and attempted to destroy them with nuclear explosives.  Pallas retaliated in kind.  They had been fighting for two Earth orbits when I was born to a Pallene couple.  My mother was spliced with genes from what was called a “cheetah” while my father had “coyote” genetic material.  All of us second-generation kids were bizarre mixes like that.  Both habitats lost half their populations in that war, when it was realized how easily they could wipe each other out the two agreed to an alternative plan.  They would instead devote their industries and destructive capabilities to designing and building ships that could plant colonies of their people on worlds around distant stars.  Whoever colonized the most stars first won, I guess.

Pallas decided that, since even the fastest ship would take decades to reach any other star, they would train their children to crew the ships.  Even the Grand Mayor zirself sent zir son and daughter into the program.  I entered training when I was seven, I was barely half the size I am now.  We were constantly tested to determine where to assign us, drilled on every possible emergency procedure they could imagine, trained to calculate orbital mechanics in our heads without mechanical assistance.  At the age of ten, I was introduced to the rest of the crew I would serve with.  Tony, the bear/tiger assigned to engineering.  Rachel, rabbit/mouse pilot.  Stewart, the musteline biologist.  And myself, the cheeyote communications tech.  We would carry a payload comprising all the equipment to build a self-sufficient colony on a distant planet.  Hydroponics beds, pre-fabbed shelters, mining drones, omni-printers to make whatever non-living items or structures we needed, and bioprinters to make food and the colonists themselves.  There were thousands of gamete samples preserved in cryogenic storage in the hold, we could mix them up however we wished for maximum genetic diversity and print them into a new colonist who would be rapid-trained like the corporations used to do.  But as soon as the colony was sustainable we would allow the colonists to breed naturally.  We were expected to pair up with crewmates, or possibly any colonists who caught our eye, and make babies ourselves once the mission was complete.  But no sooner, we couldn’t afford to waste time raising kids while running a starship.  So, when we turned fourteen gamete samples from each one of us were taken and placed into storage, and our plumbing was surgically modified so that those samples were the only way we could ever reproduce.  Our ship was ready for departure to the star system designated “Epsilon Indi” a couple years after that.

I remember watching my parents wave goodbye over the monitor that displayed a video stream transmitted by radio from the Pallas habitat as the nuclear fusion propulsion system kicked in.  I think back to that moment now and have to remind myself that whatever radio waves brought the doom upon us all were transmitted long before that fateful day.

2. Continue reading “Dandelion Seeds, First Half”

Spacer Survival Equipment

A couple items of common spacer gear:

The ForgePlate: A flat device usually 30 cm long by 6 wide and 3 cm thick. It’s essentially a portable nanofabber, the user pours raw materials on the “feed” side and the internal mechanisms disassemble it to reassemble into the requested item, which is extruded through the “fab” side. To idiot-proof there’s arrows indicating the direction material is supposed to go. Both working sides of the ForgePlate are covered with a nanomotile membrane that selectively lets materials through while maintaining a vacuum state within the device. The ForgePlate is operated by an external device, usually the user’s BCI or a tablet computer, and comes pre-loaded with several designs though it can produce anything that a normal nanofab can so long as two of its dimensions fit within the length and width of the fabbing side, it can even self-replicate or produce a scaled-up version of itself. Given time and materials a single ForgePlate could potentially rebuild an entire civilization, for that reason spacers traveling to Outworlds are advised to integrate self-destruct mechanisms into their ForgePlates that activate when an unauthorized user attempts access.

Frontiersbeing Blaster: One of the most common plasma arc weapons on the market, the Frontiersbeing blaster remains popular for its reliability and versatility. The size of a large handgun, with a capacitor under the laser and quadruple ionization prongs. The laser ionizes air in a straight path from the prongs to the target, turning it into a conductive plasma capable of carrying a charge. The intensity of the laser and charge are determined by a slider on the side of the capacitor, at the “practice” setting the prongs aren’t active and the laser is little more than a pointer to mark targets, while at its lower “powered” settings (usually marked in green) the beam carries a charge similar to that of a 20th century taser, this range of settings is colloquially known as “stun” and usually leaves no lasting damage worse than a first- or second degree burn. In the yellow-marked middle-range or “kill” settings it leaves a third-degree burn at the point of contact and carries a charge strong enough to kill most parahumans, though they can usually be revivified with quick application of microbots (although their internal bots might be shorted out). The settings marked in red, however, produce a plasma bolt hot enough to flash-boil subcutaneous tissue in a small area, producing a small and messy explosion. While these highest power levels might be considered overkill on an unarmored parahuman target it is quite useful when hunting larger fauna that can weather the shock from a yellow setting and it can even punch a hole in light Non-Newtonian armor, and while not advertised a headshot at full power can reliably prevent revivification. It’s completely useless against non-conductive solid armor like kevlar of course. The standard capacitor holds enough power for 30 seconds of prolonged fire on the lowest green setting, 15 seconds on yellow, or 3 at max power; the original battery can fully charge the capacitor five times before needing a recharge itself, but that requires several minutes of downtime.

Dabbling in Podcasting

A few years ago I got into audiobooks and podcast stories, both audiobook-format and audio dramas like they used to play on the radio before TV, as a means of staving off boredom at my 8-4 desk job.

One of the side effects was that I developed an interest in eventually podcasting my own stories.

As part of my New Year’s resolution I went ahead and started a podcast, Tales of the Para-Imperium on Soundcloud.  More recently I managed to register it on iTunes (they are really nitpicky about cover art).

So, if you want to hear my voice telling my own stories, go to Soundcloud or iTunes and search for Tales of the Para-Imperium.  I apologize for the quality, I’ve been recording on my iPhone and uploading from a Chromebook.

The Pride of Parahumans, now published

As of this evening, The Pride of Parahumans, the novel that started off this whole universe, is officially published in paperback by Thurston Howl Publications.

So, if you happen to have any Amazon gift cards left over, feel free to check it out at https://www.amazon.com/dp/194524707X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483222270&sr=8-1&keywords=pride+of+parahumans

Published by [url=http://www.thurstonhowlpublications.com/]Thurston Howl Publications[/url]

Cover art courtesy of [url=http://www.furaffinity.net/user/donryu]Donryu[/url]

pride5

Sharing the Wealth

Due to the prevalence of automation and nanotechnology there are very few jobs in Federation space in the fields of mining, agriculture, or manufacturing, and the ones that exist are primarily supervision and programming of robots. Almost all manual labor is performed by machines, and with nanotechnology one can have a factory and recycling complex on their desk.

When automation all but eliminated manual labor in the Republic of New Pallas the government was faced with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of unemployed citizens, the obvious solution was to instate a guaranteed basic income that was enough to keep everyone fed and healthy, half the population was still living in state-owned arcology apartments anyway. For a couple centuries population expansion was carefully regulated to keep pace with the resources available and the progress of the terraforming operation and most seemed happy. Some of the permanently unemployed spent their time just soaking up entertainment, yes, but many others became artists, amateur scientists, or full-time parents.

Then there was the Plague War. The Republic was not hurt as badly as the SPPS but death spread throughout the arcologies regardless. While automated infrastructure remained intact its minders did not, breakdowns became increasingly commonplace leading to starvation. In addition, many parahumans became wary of packing so many people together in the immense but still confined city-buildings and fled to the largely unused countryside in droves. Desktop nanofabbers had become a luxury consumer product in the years before the plague, and some groups had (illegally) hacked them to self-replicate, now the starving masses were shoveling random plants and raw dirt into bootleg fabbers simply to eat.

Some in government tried to brand them as criminals, but they didn’t have the resources left to enforce those laws and the politicians in question didn’t last the next election cycle. Once able to operate in the open nanofab homesteads cropped up all over the continent, many of them nearly self-sufficient. But nanotechnology cannot turn lead into gold, raw elements still needed to be found and mined, often only after a significant investment of time and resources.

Joint-stock companies or corporations were never accepted as a legal entity in New Pallas, the corporations who created and enslaved their ancestors were too thoroughly demonized in their culture. Rather most businesses operate as independent contractors or at most partnerships with employees. However, a system of profit-sharing and crowdfunding has emerged that fulfills most of the functions of a corporation.

Profit-sharing is a system in which an individual citizen sets up a program to automatically distribute the profits from their work, after expenses of course, to specified people. Usually those people are friends or close relatives, but if some of them were people who gave them a significant amount of money when they were just starting their business then so be it. Each of New Pallas’ founding genera has a profit-share in which each member contributes a small portion of their income, generally a small fraction of a percentage given the populations of every founding genus, which is distributed equally to every member of the genus. Smaller families also tend to have their own profit-shares, most notably Psi-Comm for the high families of genus Argentum.

Crowdfunding can generally be sorted into three categories: pre-orders, subscriptions, or loans. Pre-orders are for specific projects with a discrete start and end, backers receive a reward at the completion of the project that they specified at funding (like Kickstarter). Subscriptions give the backers exclusive access, or at least early access, to the creator’s content (i.e. Patreon). Loans are just what they sound like, backers expect to be paid back with interest at some point.

In practice, most citizens have a steady income from a combination of profit-shares and crowdfunding. The net result is that everyone eats, anyone can afford luxuries with some degree of saving, and artisans, inventors, and primary producers are the most affluent members of society.Interstellar merchants are a bit of an exeption to this rule, but they’re an extremely small minority.

“Marriage” in the Federation

While mating customs vary among different planets, the only legal arrangement that the Federal government recognizes in regards to the creation of families is the Procreation Contract. This contract is written and signed in addition to whatever local customs and/or laws require. The details vary but the basics is that the happy couple, or however many participants there may be, agree to produce and care for children. Usually the number of children and time they’ll let them act as dependents is specified, but it may be left open.
Contraceptive technology is near perfect with nanotechnology, and in any case many who aren’t hardline Noospherists undergo sterilization procedures at puberty, so family planning is relatively easy. Their progeny are almost always conceived in a petri dish and gestated in a Synth-Womb to optimize genetic profiles anyways. This habitual use of technology also enables same-sex couples and multi-partner groups to produce offspring that share genes with all their parents via a variety of different techniques.

The majority of Federation citizens grew up with the idea that they’re going to live an extremely long time, if not forever, and rarely believe in the notion of a romantic relationship lasting for eternity. Newly-admitted former outworlds frequently end up with entire legal firms dedicated to canceling contracts signed by lovesick ex-mortals. A more typical term is twenty-thirty years, sufficient time to raise one-three reasonably spaced out siblings. Once that term is up the participants may break up, chose to remain together in a non-breeding relationship, or renew later.

Another thing about Procreation Contracts that is hard for outworlders to comprehend is that it does not require any sort of sexual exclusivity. The contract completely separates the acts of sex and reproduction. Some groups do write up separate contracts for fidelity, but most leave it at the level of unwritten rules. And that isn’t even taking into account the various local customs that the Federation largely leaves intact.

The high families of genus Argentum have their own special contracts, “Pedigreed” Procreation Contracts are approved by the eugenics board to limit the deleterious effects of inbreeding among the Federation’s political elite. The children born of Pedigreed contracts are entitled to shares in Psi-Comm and recognition in the social circles that are a necessary part of a lengthy career in politics or bureaucracy. Family members can have children through unapproved contracts, but such progeny lack recognition.

Roughly half of all Pedigreed contracts actually are not drawn up by the signatory parties, they are arranged by other relatives in pursuit of some eugenic goal, such as the telepath breeding program, or in exchange for political favors. While the couple have the right to refuse to sign these contracts many elites have had mates they did not particularly like from the get-go, the fact that they aren’t even required to have sex helps smooth things out. There is some concern about the well-being of the resulting children but many families at that income level hire caretakers anyway, and even if the biological parents mated on their own volition the kids often feel closer to the hired help.

After the Plagues and the dispersal of the arcology populations to the countryside it became more common for small groups of friends to buy plots of land and build on them, oftentimes members of these groups mated with one another. However, disputes arose often enough that a standard contract to share housing arose in which the signees agree to pool resources for the maintenance of the grounds and welfare of those living on them. These household contracts are increasingly written alongside procreation contracts, especially in the colonies. Sociologists have speculated that without this addition to the Centauri culture the integration of the territorial clan-based Ceti would have been nearly impossible.

Worldbuilding: Naming Conventions

The worlds of the Federation and beyond exhibit a panoply of cultures influenced by all manner of civilizations from Earth and some that have been attempts at inventing a culture from scratch.  The distinctions between cultures may not be more apparent anywhere than their names.  Tau Ceti traditionalists tend towards a patronymic and their species name, Epsilon Eridani assigns every citizen a number that used to be their equivalent to names pre-contact.  While the people of New Pallas in Alpha Centauri have come up with a naming system that perplexes many newcomers.

Most Pallene have 3-4 names, all but one of which are hereditary.  As an example, Jarlin Fairhold de Argentum a Denal.  In zir case Jarlin is zir given name, or praenomen in the Roman terminology.  Fairhold is the cognomen, a sort of surname indicating direct descent from a notable ancestor, cognomen may be patrilineal or matrilineal with some taking two or more cognomen.

The last two names are the genera, names tied to the two bits of DNA that pass from generation to generation virtually unchanged.  First is the m-genus, fixed to zir mitochondrial plasmids and inherited matrilineally, generally prefixed with “de” or “of”.  The second is the y-genus tied to the y-chromosome prefixed with “a” or “from”.

This complicated naming system has its’ origins in the Traveller, the Old Pallas seedship that first settled Alpha Centauri.  With their knowledge of genetics they knew that any specific genes would be mingled and scattered among any individual’s descendants, with the exception of mitochondrial or Y-chromosome genes.  The ship’s crew being an equal mix of male and female they could not agree on which would be used and adopted the two-genus system as a compromise.  As such, names were tied to each of the 500 mitochondria and 250 Y-chromosomes carried within the seedship’s genebanks.  However, as time passed and the population grew, many desired a means of differentiating each other further.  To this end came the practice of adding cognomen to the parenomen and genera.

In the modern interstellar age, every one of the original genera have millions of members, some immigrants have even attempted to establish their own, but three m-genera and two y-genera are of particular note.  Derived from the Traveller’s crew themselves.

The most famous, of course, is genus Argentum, the descendants of the founder of the Pallas Republic, most of them are at least part vulpine but the families that are most politically active: Tellis, Fairhold, Kolnen, etc, tend towards phenotypes that are at least 75% silver fox.  Genus Olga is the second most prestigious m-genus, descended from Pallas’ military commander, mostly lupine but much more diverse and less politically active.  Genus Natalie, the “forgotten” crew genus, are descended from the one member of the seedship’s crew who wasn’t the child of the Pallas founding personages, an otter by the name of Natalie; today the genus includes all sorts of mustelidae mixed with practically every species included in the parahuman genome, and those who still care about such things are a bit bitter.

Both of the highest y-genera carry the chromosomes of founding personages, male-line descendants of the Traveller’s y-carrying crew.  Genus Denal is the larger and more popular of the two, descending from Olga’s mate, though repeated intermarriage between genera Argentum and Olga has made the y-genus the most common among praetors of the Federation.  Genus Maximus have an unbroken line from Argentum’s mate, but the fact that he was a clone of the founder of the SPPS has made the name somewhat less popular.

Mercenaries

Generally speaking, interstellar travel outside the stargate network is uncommon, many systems go years without seeing a starship.  Still, a small minority of people make their living voyaging from star to star.  These nomads generally fall under one of three categories: traders, explorers/researchers, and military.  The third category probably has the largest population at a given time but also the highest turnover rate.

The Federal Guard is the only governmental military with interstellar reach, though they tend to act more like a police force than military, lacking enemies with even close to comparable power.  The few outworlds with space navies are usually no match for even a civilian Federation freighter, and the Destroyers are so dreaded that the Guard’s standing orders in case of an encounter are to evacuate as many civilians as possible before retreating at full throttle.  It’s common for restless citizens to sign up for a 50-year term of duty (up to 80% of the time spent in stasis) with the Guard, then transition back to civilian life almost seamlessly.  Those who find that they enjoy the interstellar life may sign up for another term or seek employment as a trader or explorer.  Others may have been expecting more “action” when they signed up, or actually were in combat once or twice and found they enjoyed it a bit too much.  Those parahumans might end up going private.

Private Military Contractors have only three legal roles in Federation space: claim protection, colony security, and training, and a company with a long-term contract may end up filling all three in sequence.  Before a colony is established there is a lot of preparatory work to do, and with the spotty nature of interstellar communications more than once has a planetary claim been grabbed by another group before the one who cirst filed the claim even had the chance to launch.  While there’s usually enough room on a planet for multiple colonies these “misunderstandings” tend to result in a lot of friction, and so settlement companies might hire mercenaries to land first and enforce their claim.  These mercenaries will typically receive the job notice on the stargate’s laser network and the company stationed closest to the destination system will generally get the job, most colonists come from the more densely populated core worlds while PMCs tend to find the most employment out on the frontier, it’s convenient.  Upon arriving the mercenary company will deploy orbital sensor and weapons platforms and nanofab an air-droppable forward base from an asteroid or two.  Most of the company will remain in stasis until another ship arrives though a few will remain awake in shifts to watch for intruders or suppress hostile fauna if the planet is inhabitable without terraforming.  If a ship that doesn’t belong to their clients arrives after them the interlopers can usually be turned back, disappointed but unharmed.  Still, there’s little to no oversight out there on the edges of the frontier and more than once the would-be claimjumpers have have tried taking the planet by force.  There are also rumors of mercenary companies that arrived to find claimjumpers already entrenched in the system, with messy but unconfirmed results.

After the colony has been established the PMCs can act as the colony’s home guard, defending the settlement from bandits or pirates, occasionally helping settle disputes within the colony or with rivals.  When the colony gets around to founding their own home guard the mercenaries help to train them.  Once that final phase is complete the mercenary company will typically collect their pay, with all the interest accumulated, and leave.  Most of the time they’ll work with agents in the core worlds who will forward them job contracts via a quantum link and will have a new contract waiting before they finish their last one.

Outside the Federation’s borders, however, all bets are off.  The Federal Guard maintains a small patrol in any outworld system, often just a single cruiser/AKV carrier, but so long as no one brings non-implanted nanotech down to the planet’s surface they usually won’t take notice.  For long-term campaigns mercenary companies will plant a nanofab seed in the system’s asteroid belt and use it to manufacture their supplies and armory, air-dropping when needed, similar to how most traders sell physical products to primitive worlds.

In the outworlds there are far fewer restrictions on what mercenaries can and can’t do, missions range from securing sites for trade enclaves to outright conquest.  Some outworld governments may have limited access to the Federation’s communications network and use it to hire mercs for wars with other powers on the same planet.  Unscrupulous traders may find a given outworld nation’s policies “troublesome” and want them “persuaded”.  Or a Crusader sect of the Noospherists could see an opportunity to “civilize” some “ignorant savages”, in fact Crusaders frequently form mercenary companies for this very purpose.

When fighting outworlders mercenaries usually find themselves highly outnumbered but much better armed as even the least regressed outworlds lack access to nanofabbed materiel or medical microbots.  However, there’s always the risk of a lucky bullet scrambling the brainpan beyond the ability of microbots to repair or worse, the enemy also hiring mercenaries.  For those reasons many mercs call it quits after their first mission in the outworlds, taking only Federation-space contracts or quitting the soldier-of-fortune life altogether and returning to civilian life, assuming that they have access to a ship going back into Federation-space that is.

Where the Para-Imperium came from

I got the first of three ideas for the Para-Imperium universe while planning for NaNoWriMo in 2013.  I wrote a short novel titled The Pride of Parahumans, about anthropomorphic biotechnological constructs designed for asteroid mining and now attempting to build their own civilization out in space following their unexpected liberation.  In 2015 I self-published the novella on Amazon, to admittedly abysmal reception.  Currently I am having it reviewed by Thurston Howlfor publication in hopes that their network will help to get it out there.

At a convention in early 2015 I entered a writing contest, I wrote a six-sentence cosmic horror story in which an unstoppable force slowly crept up on Earth.  Much to my surprise I won.  This gave me the second idea for the universe, and conveniently allowed me to “reset the playing field” in concerns to Earth and humanity.

Finally, at some point I decided that I wanted to write a serial fiction about interstellar merchants.  Not quite like Traveller though, these guys wouldn’t have the benefit of “FTL drive”, they’d have to take the slow path to the stars.  Of course, to make it through such trips they’d have to have some way to delay the aging process, and I wasn’t sure about relativistic speeds so they’d have to be effectively immortal.  And in my professional opinion immortality is perfectly feasible with advanced enough nanotechnology.

The problem though with nanotechnology is that it takes the scarcity of pretty much any material good, even those that might be costly enough to be worth decades of shipping time, down to practically nil.  Pretty much the only thing that could still be valuable would be data, and it would be easier to transmit that by radio.  But that fed back into my previous idea, what if this interstellar civilization of immortals didn’t use radio because they knew it would draw the attention of the things that destroyed Earth?  And maybe there’s a bunch of colonies that don’t have nanotechnology for some reason?

Together, those three ideas merged together to form the Para-Imperium, an interstellar empire of ageless half-human-half-animal beings whose ancestors fled the Solar system and just barely survived its’ destruction by inscrutable mechanical entities.  Where those who can “play along” with the established rules of society can live indefinite lives of luxury while dissidents are banished to the frontier and forced to eke out a more basic existence.