Old Story: The Short Life of a Venusian Sky Pirate

I just realized I never uploaded this story to the blog. I decided to try a video recording of me reading it as a test case for a possible YouTube channel so I figured I might as well put it up now.

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Ethane Horizons

This one’s intended as a bit of a standalone story, between the larger arcs of Horizon Book 1 and 2.

Jerald shivered as he climbed into the cabin of his rig. He regretted, once again, that he’d chosen lynx biomods instead of snow leopard with its heavier fur when the Company had offered them upon his emigrating to Surtur. He’d had the impression that hydrocarbon mining would somehow be warmer, but no, the executives weren’t wasting any of the valuable gases on heating up their workers, while they stayed in their well-insulated bunker offices. He let out a misty sigh and slammed the door behind him before slotting the starter chip into the dashboard.

The mining rig began the laborious process of starting up, giving Jerald time to wonder who had driven this rig before. The colossal walkers largely ran themselves, but he hadn’t used this particular rig before, to his trained eye it was subtly different from the others. Usually the Company put a driver on a single rig until either the driver or the rig was taken out of service, however that might happen. His normal rig had gone in for maintenance the day before, and this one had been available. He wondered to himself if its last driver was still with the Company, or if they’d found some way out of the Company’s leonine contracts?

Almost automatically he reached for the throttle and set the rig in motion. Six legs lifted and set themselves back down in alternating pairs as Jerald steered slowly out of the refinery yard. The radio crackled. “Rig 23 be advised, there’s been reports of raider activity in your sector recently.”

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Book 1 Epilogue

Aboard the Resolution a wide variety of constructs skittered and rolled about the ship, delivering parts from the vessel’s printers and installing them with their arrays of integrated drills and welders. One construct in particular, though, which had not arrived with the ship from the Ronkalli system, stood waiting in the medical bay for her master to be decanted.

The transparent aluminum wall of the regeneration tank retracted into the floor and the naked lupine body of Irvine of House Lupus, otherwise known as Princeps, staggered out, dripping residual perfluorocarbon. “Welcome back boss.” Melene Corus, also known by the unwieldy name of EyeInTheSky, held out a towel for him to mop out his fur.

The wolf took it and began to wipe himself off, acting as if she was not even there. “Arch-damned scrappers.” He muttered to himself. “I should have replaced them all with robots.”

“Robotic replicas of individuals are illegal.” Eye reminded him.

“You’re one to talk.” He retorted. “Report.”

Eye would have reminded him that she was a bioprinted parahuman and not a gynoid, but she had been conditioned not to talk back to him. Instead she pulled up the summary she’d compiled and began to recite. “Repairs at 73%. Paladin Lift in stasis following severe tissue damage sustained as a result of acute gravitational stress. Paladin MechRat in stasis following tissue damage sustained as a result of damage inflicted by Paladin Lift.”

“And the pilot?”

Eye shifted topics effortlessly. “Paladin Horizon, status unknown, presumed disintegrated following catastrophic drive failure by the Dustbin in orbit over Surt.”

Princeps rubbed his temples in frustration. “And what was her cyberbrain conversion status at the time of this little mutiny?”

“49%.” The synthetic raven replied. “The conversion process should have continued during her flight to Surt, it’s probable she was near 100% when her ship was destroyed.”

“That rat was nearly 80% when he mutinied, was he not?”

Eye took a few seconds to pull up the data. “Paladin MechRat’s neural matter was 78.8% synthetic at the time, but that was largely due to his exocortex implants. 43% of his original brain tissue remained unconverted.”

The wolf snorted. “Whereas that dumb ox only needed a third of his brain converted to become a good obedient soldier. Explain that, analyst.”

EyeInTheSky took more than a minute to collate the data and present her findings while her master dressed. “Paladin Lift proved easily susceptible to the memetic programming and conversion of key motor functions was prioritized given his strength was deemed his primary asset. Paladin Horizon and Paladin MechRat’s skills with piloting and engineering were deemed important enough to retain intact.”

“Hmmph,” Princeps turned to the door, giving one last set of orders. “I don’t care about this system’s backwards laws. Begin production of robotic replica troops, randomize their cosmetic species and features. If we ever recruit any more paladins make sure they’re 100% converted while still in the tanks.”

“Like yourself sir?”

Princeps paused just inside the door, it seemed like a glimmer of fear passed over his face for a split second before he collected himself and replied. “I’m going to the stasis bays, do not disturb me.”

“Of course boss.” The raven moved into a perching posture as her attention shifted to the ship’s systems.

Princeps took an elevator down to the deck below the medical bay. The whole deck was taken up by aluminum cylinders similar to the regeneration tank above decks, but the microbots in these were different. Rather than rebuilding bodies, these were specialized for maintaining a body in a pristine state for the long voyages between stars, forming microscopic scaffolding within the body’s own cells that held them together against the ravages of time.

The wolf paused in front of one tube, containing the mangled body of what could have once been a fox, his rank insignia in gold. After a quick mental check to make sure the room’s surveillance system had been disabled he spoke, not in his usual rough Logan accent, but in careful Core tones. “My dear cousin,” he said with a glimmer of amusement. “If you had accepted cyberbrain conversion, you might have survived the trip. Good thing I had this backup plan.”

“Princeps” walked past several more Ronkali crew to three that had been empty when the ship arrived in the Tiere system. He studied the crushed opossum, metallic glints of his cybernetic spine showing through his skin. “I have to wonder if this one’s mutiny was a backup plan of your own, though. You were always opposed to Ascension. Did you plan to build up your own empire in this system? Think you could possibly compete with my power?”

His gaze shifted to another tube that held no body, just an exposed brain. “I should have thanked you for this shell,” the self-proclaimed Imperator Ronkall grinned with his stolen lips. “I have to wonder if that primitive servitor of yours would even care if it knew how your brain had been cyber-converted so quickly? I should probably upload your memories anyways, in case I ever need to trick anyone who actually knew you.” Ronkall glanced back at MechRat, “it might be useful to upload you to an isolated system too. Or just stick your head on a life support rig. Perhaps that’ll motivate you to tell me what you gave your raccoon friend.”

He turned to head back up the elevator. “And you had better be dead Ms. Loter. Or I will make you wish you were.”

This might be it for a while, I have a short story showing what Horizon is up to between books but after that it could be a month or more before the next installment is ready.

In the meantime I’ve been slowly recording the series in podcast format on Tales of the Para-Imperium, feel free to go check it out.

If you want updates the first place to go would be my Patreon, where I’ve been posting roughs https://www.patreon.com/Zarpaulus

Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 13

Horizon continued outwards, away from the outer system, away from the Resolution, away from captivity. She heard nothing else coming from the damaged starship, whether that meant the rest of the crew was incapable of sending a message, or if they were just preoccupied with their wounded she had no idea. And, she realized, she did not care.

MechRat was dead, Lift might as well be, Princeps and his secretary had caused them nothing but trouble since they’d met on that fateful day on Skadi station. She wondered how long Lift had been reduced to that state, when had Princeps decided he didn’t need the big ox’s brain? Horizon considered herself fortunate that the so-called commander had deemed her piloting expertise useful enough to keep intact, but sorry that MechRat had not lived longer than his own usefulness. Had he resisted openly? She wondered, or was his small body simply not considered useful enough to keep in a decerebrated state.

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The English name “parahuman” was invented by human political activists, in the Esperanto they learned from their corporate creators parahumanity called themselves “preskaŭhomoj”, meaning “almost humans.” Following the revolution many newly independent parahumans instead chose to call themselves “preterhomoj” (beyond humans), a term that has carried over in some form into most modern preterhoma languages.

While Esperanto is officially a dead language in the modern Federation it’s fairly common for people to know a smattering, much like Latin or Ancient Greek on 20th century Terra. The Federation’s official name is actually in Esperanto: La Federacio de Preterhomaro. As do many of the names used by its detractors.

Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 12

Be sure to check out the audio version of chapter 3 on https://anchor.fm/para-imperial-tales

Horizon spent the next week contemplating the strange orb she’d found in her pocket. She was certain that MechRat had left it there, though she’d never seen his handwriting, but still had no idea what it could be. For all she knew it could be anything from a data storage device to a small nuke, and the writing on it asked her not to bring it up to anyone who could tell her what it might be. But at the very least thinking about it distracted her from dwelling on how many people she might have killed. The thought of speaking to MechRat about it crossed her mind a few times, but if he had wanted her to keep it secret he probably didn’t want to talk to her about it either.

By the end of the week it was irrelevant anyways.

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes Ch. 11

Just as the first of the AKV sensor packages was leaving the fabricators Horizon laid down in the pilot’s chair and integrated her nervous system with the Resolution’s controls. She scanned the starscape around them, zeroing in on a cluster of small objects far from any of the system’s major bodies. She sent out a radar ping for a more detailed scan and propelled the ship forward, bee-lining for the cluster. The first reflected waves came in within the hour, a half-meter asteroid nearing their path, but with enough warning to quickly evade it. Halfway through their trajectory the radar signature of their destination came back.

A fleet of small to medium-sized ships orbiting a large metallic oblong, the whole armada traveling at speeds that were positively glacial by spaceship standards. The profile matched the most recent sightings of the Nebula Company fleet. Horizon addressed her crew, “Enemy confirmed, arrival in five hours.”

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Chapter 10

The Resolution retreated to Tiere’s Hills cloud while MechRat digested the data that he’d been granted access to by their reluctant commander. They entered orbit around a kilometer-long asteroid that had long ago been deemed too far from the star to bother mining, though it held a fair amount of rare elements that MechRat claimed would be useful for them to build his new weapon. Horizon and Lift went down to the asteroid on the Dustbin, putting the old ship’s mining equipment to its original use, supplemented with some of the latest FedTech from the Resolution’s printers.

A week of drilling into asteroid and refining trace metals later, the raccoon and ox flew back up to the mother ship. After soaring through space in a starship that responded to her very thoughts, piloting a rocket-based craft with hand controls felt clunky and inelegant to Horizon, she wondered if MechRat might upgrade the old ship with neural controls once he had the time. On docking with the Resolution she took a pallet of lanthanides once Lift had loaded it and went off towards MechRat’s workshop.

The opossum was deep in a simulation trance when Horizon entered, she shot him a message on the ship’s network.

Horizon: I’m here with the first load of your rare metals.

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 9

Princeps was showing a document on an e-paper sheet to the Stouton representatives, they looked somewhat uneasy about whatever was written on it. Elected Colonel Meline scrolled down to a particular clause in the document and tapped at it with annoyance. “What do you mean by ‘support’ here? That’s rather vague, don’t you think?”

“After you’ve rebuilt from this disaster we might at some point in the future have need of supplies from your humble station.” Replied the wolf. “We will only take what we need, and nothing you can’t bear to part with.”

Elder Mys wheezed through his teeth and spoke through his vocoder. “Those are incredibly vague terms. How do we know you won’t decide you need the entirety of our hydroponics harvest, or all our ships? The Nebula Company at least demanded specific tribute for their protection racket.”

Princeps turned to his secretary, “the Nebula Company?” He asked.

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