Ethane Horizons

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

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

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

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

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Book 1 Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the pilot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like yourself sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 13

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

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

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 12

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

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

By the end of the week it was irrelevant anyways.

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes Ch. 11

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

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

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, Ch. 9

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

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

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

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

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes Ch. 8

Horizon regained consciousness back in the medical bay of the Resolution, a quick glance around confirmed that she was in a perfluorocarbon tube again based on the curved visuals. She brought up her BCI communications.

Horizon: I’m awake, you guys managed to catch me I take it?

MechRat: Oh that’s such a relief, we were getting a bit worried.

Lift: I flew out and grabbed you for the last leg. The ship seemed to work harder to rescue you after you got hit by that bit of scrap. Started tossing junk around to clear a path.

Horizon: Actually, that was me. I managed to integrate with the ship remotely, didn’t know that I could do that.

MechRat: Hah! I thought that was the case. Was there a lot of lag?

Horizon: Hard to tell, everything seemed to be operating in slow motion.

EyeInTheSky: Pilot, now that you are conscious you are required to be on watch. The captain wishes to leave as soon as we’ve wrapped up negotiations with the Stouton elders.

MechRat: Hold on, she’ll need to be in medical for another 14 hours minimum.

Eye: She just confirmed that she can integrate with the ship remotely, did she not?

Horizon: I did.

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Horizon: Salvaged Heroes, ch. 7

Tanya’s oxygen-starved brain was dimly aware of a sharp pain in her wrist, followed by her mask getting ripped off violently. She reflexively gasped the moment she tasted fresh oxygen, her lungs trying to flush out the rotten egg-smell of hibernation gases. Through blurred eyes she spotted somebody’s hand trying to untie her legs, though the angle made it hard to tell where the hand’s owner stood. Maybe if she lifted her arm she could see them…

The hand let go of her bindings and rose with her arm, and it suddenly clicked for Horizon. Her forearm was bent at nearly a 45 degree angle and her hand looked partially crushed. She scrambled through her implant’s menu options but as soon as she’d started thinking it her forearm grew warm and slowly, painfully, started to straighten out. As she was trying to ignore the pain from her bent arm she noticed her other arm, with a loose zip-tie still dangling from the wrist, trying to unbind her legs without any conscious effort on her part.

She focused and got her hand to pull away. Had that shadow AI somehow reactivated itself and taken control of her body while she was in torpor? As useful as it was, breaking her own arm in order to escape without her knowledge was frightening. She started looking for the AI’s control panel again in her HUD, but instead noticed a large number of message notifications.

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Serial Coming

Horizon: Salvaged Heroes just wasn’t attracting any readers on Amazon’s new episodic story reader, so I’m yanking it and posting all 14 chapters here (a week at a time I think).

Unfortunately they insist on 60 days exclusivity after unpublication before you put it on any free sites. Though if I’d wanted to package it as a Kindle ebook apparently I could have done it already according to their TOS.

Oh well, check back here in December for stories about a posthuman raccoon superheroine.

Or go to my Patreon, it’s been there this whole time (including the latest chapter which isn’t on Vella).

Project Paladin

After the nova of the 25th century the Federation’s grasp over the outlying systems was severely weakened. With interstellar travel immensely more difficult without the majority of the stargate network, local governments frequently found themselves fending for themselves. Planets and stars isolated, vulnerable to predation by pirate clans, renegade posthumans, and even other federally recognized governments, desperate for resources.

The ambitious system executor Ronkall Argentum revived the long-discarded idea of a small corps of posthuman enforcers of the peace, with an additional variation. Project Paladin would package a set of augmentations suitable for empowering paragons of Federal virtue into easily portable modular kits that would fit onto a small starship, along with VR suites specially designed for the memetic priming of these champions. Rather than attempting to transport a peacekeeping force or nakedly extort tribute with ortillery, they could convert locals into ambassadors of a greater power with the means to win over hearts and minds through shock and awe.

In several systems it proved quite successful, however, in the Tiere planetary system things went somewhat awry…

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