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.

Unforeseen Dangers of Nanotech

While there’s many perks to having integral microbots, occasionally things can go drastically wrong.  Aside from the usual glitches in template settings or programmed apoptosis, every now and then you get something a tad more apocalyptic in nature.
There is a reason why symbiotic microbots are not generally self-replicating, while having them produced by a prosthetic spleen can limit their speed it also makes them easier to control.  However some models of microbots have the capability to go into “VN mode” during emergencies.  At such times the microbots will cannibalize dead or damaged cells at the site of trauma to rapidly produce additional microbots that help to patch up the wounds until cells from less vital areas can be grafted into place and transformed into the appropriate tissue.
In and of itself, running microbots in VN mode isn’t too much of a problem, in the same sense that a cell with its’ tumor suppressor genes deactivated isn’t much of a problem.
The problem comes when a parahuman using microbots in VN mode suffers severe bodily trauma, usually around the death threshold.  At this point the auto-cannibalism routines will come dangerously close to killing the patient for real, however the microbots will keep them alive and moving, no matter how emaciated they might become.
Or hungry, so very hungry.
Has it been mentioned before that microbots can seemlessly graft living cells from other parahumans into another?  Or use dead ones to construct extra-cellular matrix and “filler”?
When microbots are allowed to go out of control in a parahuman body the results can be disastrous.  If a parahuman with VN microbots suffers sufficient trauma they may become what modern folklore has dubbed a “Ghul”.
Between the injury and their microbots breaking down their body for raw material, most develop severe protein cravings in short order.  Oftentimes the microbots may depress higher brain activity, leaving an animalistic intelligence in control of the body.  It gets worse when the brain is damaged, in which case the feral state may be permanent.  In this state the subject tends to become obsessed with absorbing additional protein to help their microbots repair them, in Federation regions the standard practice is to get them hooked up to an intravenous feed of synthesized parahuman proteins but outside its’ reach the most readily available source of the necessary proteins may be other parahumans.
The protein hunger subsides after the subject consumes equivalent protein to a pound of parahuman flesh, normal brain functions resume within the hour, assuming the brain was intact.  Unfortunately, the microbot population in the subject remains at its high level and continues to cannibalize its host to maintain its numbers.  Without a microbot reset at a Federation medical facility they feel hungry again after a day or two, starting to revert to the feral state again within the week.
Some Outworlds harbor covert infestations of intelligent Ghuls, usually initiated by a stranded Federation citizen, preying on the unwary and occasionally infecting a new convert.  “Zombie apocalypses” are rare as the microbots are carried only by blood and lymph, a simple bite isn’t enough to transmit the infection, and the Federal Guard is often all too willing to K-bomb the site from orbit.

Body Modification

Tattooing is hard enough to implement with fur, but when you add in regenerative nanotechnology, body modification in general gets a bit difficult.
By default, medical microbots are set to maintain the body in peak physical health, which includes ejection of foreign bodies.  When implants such as the microbot hive that produces and maintains the microbots or a BCI are inserted they have RFID tags that the microbots are set to ignore.  Most other discrete implants like telescoping ocular lenses or ornamental piercings can be similarly tagged but more spread-out insertions require more delicate work.
It’s fairly common for parahumans to reinforce their skeletons with titanium alloys, similar to the frames that the first generation bioprinted parahumans were built around, this requires the use of specialized microbots to implement in the first place.  Once the metals are in place the patient’s symbiotic microbots need to be updated to consider the titanium reinforcement a part of the healthy body.  Similar updates can be used to allow for artistic scarification, branding, or even to incite the microbots to alter the pigmentation of one’s fur in specific patterns.
On Outworlds, many cultures practice the body modifications that can work with fur feathers or scales for the usual variety of reasons, freeze brands  are popular on worlds that can maintain the technology.  In the Federation pigment shift “tattoos” are popular in some circles, in particular among traders who like to show off their technology to Outworlders.  Some worlds feature youth countercultures who like to adopt “old-fashioned” body mods to mimic Outworlders, sometimes even inflicting scars that look “natural” if they want to look “tough.”
Posted previously on Patreon, to gain access to this and other worldbuilding articles and stories up to a month earlier than everyone else, please pledge at least $1 a month.

Trope-a-Day: Xenofiction

Xenofiction: Honestly, most of the short stories written in this universe qualify.

 Inside the Chinese Room is told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence that doesn’t think like a human, if it thinks at all.

Of the Collective (chap 1, chap 2, chap 3) shows a collective consciousness’s multiple simultaneous points of view.

And A World Lost kind of makes the Federation look like aliens.

Well, that’s the end of the list of tropes I have on TVTropes, feel free to suggest more.

Trope a Day: Uplifted Animal

Uplifted Animal: In addition to modifying humans with animal genes, some of the corporations that created the first parahumans uplifted fairly intelligent animals that might be considered useful in microgravity. Apes were obvious with their four “hands”, octopi for similar reasons; dolphins, parrots, ravens, and sea lions were a bit less apparent due to their lack of manipulators but their ability to think in three dimensions was deemed invaluable and the corporations wanted to experiment, for IP reasons really.

Twin Telepathy

Twin Telepathy: Somehow, monozygotic siblings sometimes share entangled particles in their nervous systems that allow a degree of thought-sharing. And unlike normal q-comms there isn’t any known limit to the number of times those particles can be “used”.

The House of Silver has been known to use chemical and/or nanotechnological agents to induce twinning in embryos so as to overwhelm the market for unlimited-use FTL communication.

Trope a Day: Terraform

Terraform: The majority of planets colonized by the Federation had no native biospheres of note when discovered, including two of the three Core Worlds.  While it took over five centuries to terraform SecLand advances in nanotechnology have given shirtsleeve environments to other planets in less than a single century, often while the colonists are still in transit.

There’s some debate on whether Outworlders should be sent to inhabitable or terraformed planets.  When the program started the concern was about “wasting” inhabitable planets on exiles, now those who object to dumping them on inhabitable planets are either concerned for the welfare of the involuntary colonists or the environments they’re being inflicted upon.  After all, just because one can survive in an environment without an enclosure suit doesn’t mean its’ friendly.