Superheroes Revisited

A while back I wrote about how the concept of superheroes might not fly in a transhumanist setting where anyone with sufficient resources might rebuild themselves into a superman.

But after writing about the different legal systems in the Para-Imperium I had a couple ideas for implementing them. One “above-board” and one “below.”

Sanctioned heroes: The “memetic badass” approach, where the security forces attempt to reduce expenditures by focusing not on big police departments, but on a small group of celebrity supermen with customized augmentations, movie-star good looks, and extensively marketed adventures. Not dissimilar to the purpose of Knights in Shining Armor in Middle Ages Europe. In this case, their purpose is less to fight crime as to dissuade people from committing crime in the first place, so only those with the resources to field their own super-villains, or attention-seekers like the guy Rorschach dropped down an elevator shaft, will dare to commit crimes. Either one tends to suit the entrenched oligarchy just fine, the fights make for good publicity.

A sanctioned superhero’s jurisdiction rarely extends beyond their home planet or habitat, and they’re typically part of a planet- or star system-spanning organization of other heroes. Attempts to form a Federation-wide group like the Green Lantern Corps or their Lensmen predecessors have thus far been stalled in committee.

This approach is vulnerable to the death of a superhero, as crime tends to skyrocket until a new hero manages to build an equal reputation to their predecessor. As such superhero leagues tend to have the best medical care available, including, it is rumored, illegal brain cloning.

Vigilantes: The “shadowrun” approach. These tend to arise most often in polycentric legal systems like the Pallene or Cetan law systems, in which feuds can simmer between factions for decades, centuries with life extension. The romanticized version is a tragic figure like Batman or Zorro who has a legitimate grievance that the conventional authorities failed to address. That type of vigilante does exist, but tend to be short-lived as they right the wrong that led them to take up the cape and then retire, or die trying. The more common variety are mercenaries more akin to Deadpool, supersoldiers for hire willing to act as deniable assets for any House or company with sufficient credit.

Legal Systems of the Core Worlds

The modern Westernized legal system is by no means the only way that things have been mediated throughout human history. It should be no surprise that parahuman legal systems vary widely as well.

Pallene: The Houses prefer to handle things internally whenever possible. The House Primus is responsible for settling disputes between members of their House and is even empowered to impose penalties for misdemeanor crimes against other members. When disputes arise between people in different Houses their Primii will try to sort something out first. But crimes against another House, or torts that get out of hand, the parties involved hire an Arbitrator from the Civil Guard, paying equally. Arbitrators are also called in for every instance of a felony, and especially in the case of murder. Premeditated murder carries an unambiguous death penalty, voluntary manslaughter (“spontaneous murder”) may be reduced to a hefty fine and probation for up to a century under drone surveillance or house arrest. Conspiracy to commit murder merits exile to an Outworld. Lesser penalties tend towards fines and probationary periods that might be reduced if the convict goes to therapy. Punitive incarceration is unheard of.

Gepatrono-klientoj contracts establish somewhat similar legal relationships between patron and client to that between a Primus and their House, but with a key difference. Nobody can be compelled to testify against another member of their House save in the case of capital offenses, but a patron can be made to testify against their client while the inverse is not true. However, patrons are also required to pay their clients’ legal fees and unofficially expected to use their connections in the oligarchy behind the scenes. Simply having a client who’s been convicted of a crime is a stain on the patron’s reputation, if the patron were to break contract when their client got arrested it would be even worse. In fact many Pallene oligarchs have become known for recruiting clients from members of less-wealthy Houses who’ve been accused of a crime.

Cetan: Old system: A caste-based system, when both parties were of the same caste they were judged by a local elder of their caste. For Labor-majority villages this was typically the village headsman. However if the dispute involved members of different castes a judge of the warrior-noble caste was called in. The warriors themselves benefited from a privilege similar to the kiri-sute gomen of Japan’s medieval samurai, allowing them to pass judgement and sentence on commoners who offended them. It was uncommon but not unknown for a commoner who bumped into a warrior on the streets to be cut down on the spot.

Federated: After contact with Alpha Centauri and the formation of a central government the warrior-nobles’ relative power has steadily eroded. Judges are now certified by a central testing system, with others prohibited from passing judgement regardless of caste. More recently it became possible for judges of any caste to arbitrate inter-caste disputes, so long as the judge doesn’t share a caste with either party.

Eridani: The Eridani Directorate (Inc) relies heavily on their surveillance system to detect crimes and dispatch security officers rapidly. Officers will then subdue (if necessary) and issue fines on the spot. The accused can attempt to appeal, but usually they’ll be lucky if they’re allowed to pay gradually. Very little private property in EDI areas is not owned by the company, with residents only leasing it, and the company tends to rate crimes based on damage to its’ property first and the livelihood of residents and employees second.

I recommend looking into David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours for more information.

Political Parties in the Federation

The names, ideologies, and memberships of the various factions in Federation politics tend to change once or twice a century, but in general they tend to fall somewhere along two axes of political stances. Agorist-Oikist, and Centralist-Localist.

Oikists favor laws and legal protections for the institution of the House, in general this means a preference for allowing Houses to police their own instead of involving the Civil Police, but the more extremist forms want to institute penalties for anyone leaving their House of birth without the primus’ permission.

Agorists on the other hand hold the individual’s ability to market their own skills or produce themselves to be sacrosanct. They prefer laws that make it easier for House members to seek gepatronoj outside their House, as well as infrastructure projects to aid commerce. Some extremists have attempted to establish colonies with no government or Houses, but they’ve inevitably collapsed into feudal anarchy as members’ tribal identities coalesced around their gepatronoj.

Centralists and Localists, sometimes known as Federalists and Confederalists, are pretty straightforward. The former favor the central Federal government in Alpha Centauri and its Emissaries filling more of the functions their party wants; while the latter want to leave it to the planetary, habitat, or continental government. Their primary concern, though, has been the wormhole network and monopole distribution. Wormholes enable regular commercial links between star systems but they also bring the system into the fold of the Federation, rather than the Federation simply having a presence in system via the Emissary and their garrison. In addition wormholes are incredibly expensive to produce, requiring the output of a small star to open. Monopoles allow irregular commerce between star systems via conversion drive and can be produced by planet-side particle accelerators, but the Federation has maintained a tight grip on the technical details behind their creation and has been slow to proliferate the necessary plants.

Houses and Patronage

The clan-based economic system implied by the Federation’s profit-sharing schemes  bears further elaboration.

 

Imagine if your great-aunt or great-great-grandfather signed the lease on your home and could revoke it if you refused to join the rest of the family on a colony mission or didn’t want to mate with a member of a family they wanted to form an alliance with? And upon refusal you not only find yourself homeless, but nobody else will rent to your Houseless ass? Now imagine that you manage to find an employer who will vouch for you, but your contract with them requires you to do whatever they request, up to and including enlisting in the military or committing crimes? That’s what it means to live in a clan-based society like the Federation.

Continue reading “Houses and Patronage”

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.

Federal Bureaus

As anti-corporate as the Pallene are the Praetor simply cannot be everywhere at once. While the Federation leaves a great deal to local governments to handle anything more than a light-second outside a planet or habitat with a population of 1,000 is their jurisdiction. The Federation also maintains a starport on the most populous body in a system and in the stargate (if present). For example, if Earth were part of the Federation Luna would be under Federal control until it attracted enough colonists to apply for statehood, while Phobos and Deimos would be Martian territory.
That is a great deal of space to adminster, as such the Praetor maintains several Federal Bureaus to act in their stead. Each of these Bureaus is led by an Executor appointed by the Praetor, usually on their prior performance within the Bureau though as always there are exceptions. Bureau employees tend to start out at the bottom and work their way up, but cronyism and nepotism are not unknown and a few houses are known for their employment in one Bureau or another.
Ungated systems also have a unique quirk, the Bureaus operating in such systems don’t normally answer to their Bureau superiors elsewhere in the Federation, but to the system’s Emissary who appoints the local directors much like the Praetor to the Executors.
Major Bureaus:
Bureau of Allocation: Responsible for collecting taxes and budgeting to the other Bureaus. Since collecting taxes from ungated systems is… difficult to say the least, the standard policy for such systems is to spend collected taxes on local projects or on portable assets such as qubits or starships.
Bureau of Defense: The Federal Guard and Civil Guards responsible for defending the Federation from threats both external and internal.
Bureau of Ecology: Evaluates planets for Parahuman inhabitation and approves terraforming projects.
Bureau of Memetic Health: Monitors the emergence and spread of memes that might impact the Federation’s cohesion. Calls on the Bureau of Defense when intervention in a meme carrier group is warranted, up to an including exile to the Outworlds.
Bureau of Transportation and Trade: Licenses conversion drive starships, produces the monopoles required for their reactors, and maintains the Starforge and the fleet of linelayers that produce the stargate network.
Bureau of Xenosophont Relations: Formerly the Bureau of Xenoarchaeology. Originally founded to study the remains of extinct alien civilizations, ever since contact with the Kershkans their mandate has been expanded to encompass contact with the Federation’s non-Terran client states.

Dealing with Pirates

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

Raising Capital

15.8.1798 Campaign launched:

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

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

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

Campaign ends: 15.6.1806

15.9.1798 Update:

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

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

So, keep on spreading the word!

15.14.1798 Update:

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

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

1.9.1799 Update:

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

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

10.6.1800 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.12.1800 Update:

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

15.6.1803 Update:

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

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

19.6.1805 Update:

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

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

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

15.3.1806 Update:

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

17.3.1806 Update:

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

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

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”