Book Launch: Tales of the Para-Imperium

tales_of_the_para-imperium_cover_22-jan-2019

The compilation of the first three years of Para-Imperium stories and worldbuilding articles is finally available in both print paperback and ebook formats. For those who find it easier to read on an e-reader or phone, or on paper, than on a website. I can confirm that to be the case for myself at least.

Featuring a cover by Norman Rafferty of Ironclaw, Farflung, Myriad Song, and other RPG fame.

Amazon Kindle (ebook): https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Para-Imperium-Joel-Kreissman-ebook/dp/B07N298CY6/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548455580&sr=1-3

Amazon Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1794638458

Smashwords Ebook: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/919898

Includes such stories as:

Dandelion Seeds: The voyage of a seed ship carrying the legacy of Sol System, gone horribly wrong.

Family Ties: A detective story ala Altered Carbon, except with legal continuity identity.

Anthrophagy: The horrific account of the results of rampant nanotechnology, previously published in Thurston Howl’s Seven Deadly Sins anthology.

And FATE Core rules for roleplaying in the Para-Imperium universe.

The Kitsune

Kitne, Huli-jin, shifters, cubi, whatever they’re called, this semi-secret society strikes fear in the hearts of overbearing Emissaries and cruel heads of house. Most of the public, however, see them as folk heroes of a sort, visiting punishment on those too well-connected for the legal system to touch. Given all they’ve done it’s a wonder that the Kitsune order hasn’t been rooted out and exiled yet.


The reasoning, like so many other things in the Federation, goes back to the Silver Houses. In the century following the Gene Wars, when the silver fox phenotype was re-emerging from the survivors of genus Argentum, one young vixen discovered that her parents had secretly altered her genes in-vitro to turn her fur black and white. The exact details of the genetic fraud vary from telling to telling, as the case files were sealed after dismissal from lack of evidence, even the vixen’s true name is unknown. What the stories do agree on is that her disgust with her family led her to assume a new name dredged up from the archives on Terran mythology, Kumiho.


As the years went on, Kumiho was attributed to the public relations downfalls of dozens, if not hundreds of corrupt politicians. She learned their dirty secrets through hacking, networking, and outright seduction, wearing a different face each time. Civil forces raided bodysculpting boutiques to find her, but none of them had any record of servicing any parahumans with the looks she’d been recorded with. The obvious conclusion was that she had assistants, the secrets posted by “Kumiho” must have been actually from a number of different people. But even then facial recognition drew a blank.


It wasn’t until two hundred years later that one of her followers revealed the truth. On a live stream from a dozen different cameras a doe transformed into a male weasel with four tails in a matter of minutes. As their fur changed color and their flesh and bones warped and popped they explained to the astonished press that they were a member of a secret society of cyborgs founded by Kumiho.

 

Their body had been laced with motile micromachinery that could reconfigure to alter their appearance with a signal from their BCI. When they had first joined the society their natural skin was replaced with an artificial substitute that could extend or withdraw fur with variable pigmentation at will. As they accomplished assignments their connective tissues were replaced with micromachines that could detach or attach on command and extra tails were granted to them to show their progression up the society’s hierarchy and store spare protoplasm. Kumiho, according to them, had ten tails and had progressed to the point where, it was rumored, her neurons had been replaced by microbots.

For reasons unclear, the civil guard were ordered not to move until this explanation was complete. At that point the speaker made their escape, disappearing into the crowd effortlessly. Shortly after, a group of senators introduced legislation specifically licensing the existence of the society, which they named the “Kitsune” order on the advice of Terran scholars, so long as they refrained from committing capital crimes and policed their own, which they seem to have agreed to. The few times a Kitsune was indicated to be involved in a murder or act of terror a shredded body stripped of all micromachinery was discovered in a ditch shortly after. There are even a few cases where mercantile houses have specifically sought out Kitsune as representatives, though there is the possibility that they’re merely copycats using knock-offs of the Kitsune cybernetics.

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”

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 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.

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”

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 Thurston Howl Publications.

Cover art courtesy of Donryu.

pride5

A World Lost

Ferrikesh splayed his pedipalps across the copper wires and brackets splayed out before him on the workbench. His three arms worked fastidiously to give form to his latest idea, a longer-wave generator. His earlier wave sensor had picked up short waves of a millimeter or less emanating from the Visitors, those odd bilaterally symmetrical beings that had descended from the stars seven years ago and begun to teach some of their far superior science to the lowly kershkans, but this one should be able to generate waves of a decimeter or more in length. He was certain that the waves were some manner of communication between Visitors that no kershkan would be able to perceive, without his inventions, and he knew that the longer waves were used the further he was from a Visitor. However, he’d never seen them generate waves of more than a millimeter in length, with this he could surpass them for sure. That would show those oh-so-superior suited beings with their odd double-limbs.

Ferrikesh connected the last couple of wires, double-checked that everything was in place, then connected the final lead to the acid generator he used to power his inventions. There was a brief spark as he connected that lead and a faint hum but nothing else immediately obvious. He picked up his sensor and checked the paper scroll feeding out as the tiny needle marked it. Success! It was close to 1.4 decimeters long.

Immediately the kershkan inventor thought of applications, he could use pulses of these waves to send some sort of signal from one side of town to the other, it would revolutionize communication. And without those messy long wires the Visitors had been setting up lately for them. Sure, he might not be able to cast voices or images through these waves like they could with the wires, yet, but they could be set up anywhere, without the Visitors’ infrastructure. Ferrikesh was suddenly reminded by a loss of feeling in one leg that he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, he decided that he had better celebrate with a couple of drak-beast pies down at the marketplace and left the house. He was so intent on his goal that he didn’t even notice the flying machines swooping in on his home from all directions as he ran to catch a steam cart.
Continue reading “A World Lost”

Of the Collective: Chapter 2

# Decisions
The three of me reconvene, when in close proximity their memories synchronize more easily. I have access to the memories of all three interviews without the slightest time delay. I review them, all three brains working together to process the data. Within five minutes I am ready to start building consensus on the issues at hand.
First priority is the issue of microbots. Do I allow myself to be packed up in stasis for years if not decades, or become immortal? Even temporarily? The voyage will take a long time, yes, and there will be few experiences worth remembering on a small vessel such as this. But Engineer assures that the drive I brought along can store centuries worth of memories, and if it gets even close to filled I can delete extraneous memories. Medic would like to examine the microbots, and would not have a chance to study them while in stasis. Representative does not feel strongly either way. Consensus is formed, we will take immortality, for now.

Second priority is whether to attempt to save any data on how to replicate presently discovered Federation technology. It is known that the Federal Guard typically reacts to any sign of nanotechnology on a quarantined world with orbital bombardment. However the antimatter production technology that Henrik alluded to may prove useful and is not specifically prohibited to my knowledge. Magnetic monopoles would be prohibited but there is no means of producing them on board in any case. Engineer believes that up to 50% of local memory storage should be devoted to downloading technical data. Medic thinks that more space should be left free for personal memories, maybe 25%. Representative agrees with Medic. Consensus formed, 30% of my local memory storage is dedicated specifically to technical data storage.

Third priority is which crewmembers to interview next. Online crew profiles indicate that there are four remaining crew and three bodies. I can interview three crew now and the remaining one later. But which ones? The remaining crew are Captain Shigeto Terryn, First Mate Gudrun Korba, Navigator Rika Fischer, and Purser Adham Ricardo. Captain Shigeto Terryn and First Mate Gudrun Korba were met previously at docking, and a quick comparison of his profile image to my memory indicates that Purser Adham Ricardo was the crewman Engineer briefly encountered as she was returning from the interview with Henrik. Of the four only Navigator Rika Fischer, an uplifted sea lion rather than a true parahuman, is the only member of the crew that none of my bodies have encountered in person. Engineer would like to speak with Purser Adham Ricardo, his morphology intrigues her somehow. Medic noticed some anatomical oddities in First Mate Gudrun Korba and would like a chance to examine her more closely. Representative feels that it might be useful to communicate with this “Captain”, by my understanding the role of Captain is to act as some form of central coordinator for the rest of the crew. Why do they need to give their ideas and needs to a central source? Are they incapable of forming a consensus on their own without someone to coordinate them? I do not understand the function and must examine further. The three suggestions noted, consensus is formed and the three who shall be interviewed next are Purser Adham Ricardo, First Mate Gudrun Korba, and Captain Shigeto Terryn. Navigator Rika Fischer shall be contacted later. Continue reading “Of the Collective: Chapter 2”