Aug 302012

A vast delta of tangled threads of water debouches from colorful (yellow, reddish, green) land into a deep cobalt waterway.Our first three days’ sail were slow, agonizingly so, as the craft tacked far south, out of sight of land, to pick up the Paivai Current. At midsummer, the Captain explained, the winds along that part of the coast are contrary, blowing eastward from the mouth of the Twolight Gulf. The southern swing into the Khorden Sea would save us days’ sailing, as the Paivai would carry us westward far more quickly than weary days tacking against the winds, along the coast.

Guildfolk are sometimes criticized for their unwillingness to share the intricacies of their craft with outsiders, but I found Captain Matyas pleasantly forthcoming. Perhaps, as the Lady’s escort, I received a higher degree of courtesy.  But the Captain impressed me as one justly proud of his skill and his ship, and welcoming the opportunity to display them.

His awe of the Lady tied his tongue at first, but within a few days her warmth and quiet humor restored a natural camaraderie among the crew. It was only sometimes in the fading light of day’s end, that she would walk restlessly along from quarterdeck to forecastle, face stony with inward worries, eyes traveling to the painted western sky with something like mingled hope and dread.

On the sixth day out from Port Aravas, I was standing on the quarterdeck, watching ungainly-looking greenfins cavort in the ship’s wake, bemused with their sudden leaps and rolls. Captain Matyas had explained that the ship’s passage churned the surface area in a way that took microlife from the immediate subsurface layer, and brought it to the surface. The greenfins were enjoying the bounty, passing as much mingled water and air as possible through the membranes along the insides of their lower jaws and feasting on the foamy mixture that resulted. Greenfins would follow a ship many kilometers if it crossed their path. He pointed out two whose movements seemed curiously synchronized—a newly-mated pair—and was explaining their breeding cycle to me when he glanced up.

A white flash in the sky: Small, distant. “Aahhh…” he turned, and stepped away from the rail, watching the bird’s approach. “I believe I know this one…”

Soon the sun was glinting clearly on white wings. Its approach seemed slow, for all the swiftness of its flight, for we were moving fast. Captain Matyas had tried to explain just how fast, earlier, but I still failed to grasp the conversion between sea measures and land ones. For all our speed, the bird was steadily overtaking us, flying purposefully. Finally it seemed to descend, and Matyas lifted an arm. With a final descent and a flapping flutter of broad, powerful wings, it grasped his sleeve.

The Lady was beside us, then, with Leifara, looking at the bird as Matyas gently stroked its breast with the back of a finger, murmuring something to it in the Allar dialect. After a moment, it extended one of the broad, vane-edged wings, and attached to the wing-claw was a small band. Gently, the Captain detached it, and turned his head, calling to one of the crew to bring a frame and fresh water. When the bird’s needs were attended to, he pulled the reader from his pouch, and slipped the band into it. Wordlessly, then, he handed it to the Lady.

She took the reader from him, and studied the brief message. Although the wind of our passage stirred her hair and fluttered the edge of the scarf about her throat just as ever, she seemed to grow very still, carved like stone. She read the message several times, and finally she passed the reader back to the Captain. For some moments, she watched the sea curl and heave behind us, then she turned to Matyas.

“I will be in your debt, Captain, if you will find a way for me to contact the Lyrin Chancel before we proceed up the Penryl Seas.”

Matyas frowned, thoughtfully. “Veran’s need is my compass, Lady. But the Lyrin Chancel…  The Lyoris marshes are set behind dangerous shoals—the Grinders. It will need standing off beyond those and sending the longboat in, perhaps half a day’s rowing. I can signal, possibly the marsh folk will send a punt to meet you, but it may entail a wait of up to a day or more. And the only signal that will reach them would be a firecandle—and they are easily seen from a great distance, possibly even from Gemarin Citadel, if the barbarians are there.”

Her brows drew together as she weighed this assessment.

“No signal, then. The kibri will be in seed, we may be able to flash-signal a harvesting party from further in.”

“Lady, why the Chancel? Surely it is a risk to take the time to go in person. The Captain’s bird-relays could take your message through Firemouth, and have a response by the time we pass there.” I glanced at Matyas for confirmation, and he nodded. “That is true.”

She shook her head. “It is not information I need from Lyrin.”

The color had suddenly drained from Leifara’s face. I did not understand, looking from her to the Lady.

“There is a scion of the Great Tree growing in the central courtyard at Lyrin.” All expression was leached from Leifara’s voice. She did not sound like a Herald at all. She sounded like a very old woman.

The Lady nodded. “Leirranayhafara, will you bear Veran Banner?”

I could see the Herald’s shoulders brace even as I heard the Captain’s intake of breath.

“I am Veran Banner,” Leifara responded, “until you bid me lay down, or release me upon the Starlit Road.” Expression returned to her voice, a kind of grim exultation.

Unlike the banner of the Royal House, or the banners of the Charter Cities and Great Houses and all who hold seisin of the Royal House, Veran Banner is almost never raised. Thrice in her life, a Lady of Veran will ride or walk under her banner: At her Intelument, at the Presentation of the Heirs, and at the Intelument of her own Heir. At those times, the banner is raised, designating her supreme authority to all the karils and Houses of Veran, even the Royal House itself. But they are ceremonial occasions, important but of fixed duration and significance under the Great Law.

Not in my lifetime or the lifetime of my mother has Veran Banner risen, apart from such occasions. The last time had been the opening of the Snowmarch. We’ve been dealing with the aftermath of the generations-long wars that had caught up the old Icemarch and split apart Whitewater and Bevan’s Gift in the wake of that opening for the better part of a century. But Veran Banner was not raised for any of that, wrenching as it was. There was something of the bleak ice of those far northern karils in the Lady’s face as she nodded to Leifara, and turned away to make for the ladder-steps that led to the waist deck.

Matyas looked at me, uneasily. “Does it mean what I think it means?”

I nodded. “The King is dead. The Lady will not present an Heir to the Royal House until the Banner is laid down. Until then, she speaks with the full authority of Veran, with all the Voices.”

I glanced up to the forecastle, where she had sought refuge in intermittent spray that washed the rail. Her hands were on the rail, before her chest, her shoulders bowed. She looked, not outward into the sea, but down, at her hands. I have never seen such naked terror and vulnerability in a human form. Leifara was behind her, still and silent as a statue.

Aug 292012

White priest's vestment, lined with faded red silk and heavily embroidered with scrolling figures in gold and multicolored thread.Father Rillem Oktap was holding Penitents’ Vigil in the Church of the Compassionate Sword, in the Pykalt district known as Six Under. He sat quietly in the little cubicle with its two chairs, small table holding a box of tissues, and etched-glass stele of the Warrior and His Bride, guarding the opened Gate to Eternity. He was just about to say a final prayer and darken the cubicle light when the chime sounded, and he composed his face to an expression of warm encouragement, mingled with interest.

It had been—what, nearly a year?—since he’d seen Torvin Angalt at a Penitents’ Vigil. She was a large, shapeless woman with a gap-toothed smile and straggling wisps of dull grayish-brown hair, married to the parish’s most notorious ne’er-do-well, Donkar Angalt, whose only discernable virtue was connubial fidelity. She was a devout churchwoman, though uneducated, and a conscientious mother to fourteen children.

“I-ask-the-Holy-Warrior’s-blessing-and-His-Divine-Bride’s-merciful-intercession-to-petition-the-Creator-for-forgiveness-of-sins,” she said in a breathless, adenoidal monotone, her puffy, slightly reddened eyes fastening anxiously on Father Rillem’s face.

“Be comforted in the knowledge of the Creator’s infinite love and forgiveness. What brings you to penitence this night, my daughter?”

Having gotten this far, she seemed stumped. She sat, blinking, her slightly-open mouth twitching a little as though unable to form coherent words. Which might easily be the case. He smiled encouragingly at her. “What is it, Torvin?” He kept his tone light, in an effort to head off tears, but it didn’t work. She continued staring at him for a moment, then began to heave.

Eventually, his patient questions teased it all out. His face was grave, without being condemnatory. “It is indeed a serious sin, daughter. You know that the Creator’s Providence is the only arbiter of human life—the use of contraception thwarts that Divine Providence.” Dolefully, she nodded, all the while sniffing deeply and wetly. He handed her the tissue box.

Doctrine demanded he require her to turn herself in to the Proctors. If she did, and provided the name of the person who supplied the contraceptives—something Father Rillem had carefully not asked—she’d receive only a light, symbolic penance. The supplier, on the other hand, would be routed to “assisted repentance”—which could mean anything up to and inclusive of psychochemical intervention and brain restructuring, for such a serious crime. If she refused to turn her supplier in, Torvin, too, would be “assisted” to “repent.”

He’d dealt with this dilemma before, in different ways. He didn’t condone the dispensation of contraceptives, but his first mission was the care of souls. Sometimes that required him to exercise his own judgment in the interpretation of doctrine.

“Daughter, when the Creator sends us children, we are also given access to all the resources of strength and courage and love that we will need for those children. To impede Divine Providence from fear of our own weakness or inadequacy is a failing of faith, is it not?” Another doleful sniff.

“And you repent of this lack of faith?”

“Yes, Father,” Torvin dabbed her eyes and sniffed again.

“Very well. In penance, I want you to schedule yourself for four three-hour food-prep shifts at the Mercy Center.” And she’d get to take home leftovers, if any, for her huge brood, extras to supplement their just-adequate res-class rations.

Aug 272012

Tomato plants lined up on metal racks with artificial lighting overhead.Vetkar Allis was showing the Quality Inspector from Niepach Agro around his small-cubage agronery. Civadmin regulations required each grower who supplied raw materials for food processing to be inspected annually, but since the inspections were done by the food processing corporations who held the growers’ contracts, it wasn’t much of an inspection. Unless the grower was deficient in production or the various management kickbacks that kept the contract mechanism well-oiled. Vetkar never stinted on such things, but even if he had, it would have been difficult for an inspector to find anything to cite.

“And the total cubage allocated to variety production?” the inspector enquired boredly, his datapad at the ready.

Vetkar handed him a wisp of mylar that contained a plan of the agronery, showing each production area and including measurements and statistics. “Eight point six percent,” he said crisply. His contract with Niepach allowed him to put up nine percent of the productive cubage into products other than soy, and he’d been slowly increasing the amount of other production, year by year.

The inspector slid the wisp into his datapad’s input slot, and nodded. “You’ve added dairy? That requires an additional inspection.”

“It’s already scheduled,” Vetkar nodded at the datapad.

“Oh. So it is. All right, let’s check on the storage units.”

Patiently, Vetkar showed him over the holding bins and racks, the chemical and tool storage sheds, seed storage, and the loading bays where materials were transferred to and from Niepach delivery drones. The inspector, a rotund, rather dour-looking man who’d replaced Kegan Istril last Yearturn, took a few desultory readings with a biometer and chemstrips, noting the results on the datapad.

“I notice you’re due for an upgrade on your maintenance filter hoods,” he said, scanning the readouts, “but you’ve appealed for an extension.”

“Yes, they’re well within parameters for another couple of years’ service,” Vetkar said as he led the way past the processing area and the scooter stand, to the rows of growing vats, stacked four-high and stretching, seemingly, into infinity. Maintenance racks stretched between each row, with their controls on a stanchion at the end. Vetkar went to the first one, and lifted the cover that protected its keypad from dust and chemical vapor.

He gestured to the inspector, who looked blankly at him. “You can verify the seals, first,” he suggested. “That way you can confirm that the maintenance readouts haven’t been tampered with.” The inspector blinked. “That won’t be necessary, Agronist,” he said politely.

Vetkar suppressed a grin. The man didn’t even know how to check the seals, he’d bet. He had “new employee” written all over him, and it appeared Niepach was cost-cutting in the training budget again. “Well, that’s alright, then. Do you want me to run a random select of filter hoods, so you can check their tolerances?”

“Uh, that’s alright, let’s just look at this one, and, um…” the man pointed, “the one for that row.”

And so it went. When it was over, Vetkar reflected that he ought to invoice Niepach for the time he spent doing the inspector’s job. It would be amusing, if it weren’t for the fact that this clueless git was in charge of maintaining the integrity of a good portion of Hurst Niepach’s contribution to the food supply. One of the reasons he and Gislet had decided to put as much of their cubage as contract allowed into variety products was so that he and his family could supplement their rations from the agronery’s produce.

It cost them—the yield bonuses from high-yield soy, his contract crop, would have been more lucrative than what they could get on the specialty market for their fruits, vegetables, and modest dairy output, but it was worth it. A better future for his children started with good quality food.

The thought of his children reminded him he needed to return a call to the Special Activities Coordinator at their school. He dug his comlink from a pocket as he shucked off the new coverall he’d worn for the inspection.

“Bride’s Arms School.”

“This is Vetkar Allis, Kacek and Pralet’s father? I’m returning a call from Stipendary Gavrost…”

“I’ll put you through to his comlink.”

He carefully folded the coverall and slipped it into a plastic bag, shelving it, while he waited for the connection.

“This is Gavrost.” Vetkar was startled, he’d expected to reach the man’s message box.

“Uh, this is Vetkar Allis. You called… something about a field trip?”

The man’s voice warmed perceptibly. “Ah, yes, Agronist. We’re planning a field trip for the third and fourth levels, as you know… a shuttle trip to Pykalt Interstellar Port, and a tour of the Port facilities.”

Vetkar chuckled. “I know, I know… the kids have been talking of nothing else for days. We sent in their permission vouchers, didn’t we?”

“Oh, yes, we have them. I was calling about another matter. The charter company called yesterday. They have a surface-to-orbit shuttle for us, but the pilot they’d booked has come ill. I noted on your Parent Information Profile that you have a current STO Pilot’s Qualification?”

Vetkar blinked. “I do, yes. I did a hitch in the Home Legion as a shuttle jockey. I’ve kept up the Qualification, but I don’t actually do any regular piloting, you know.”

“Yes, but your Qualification is current, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. But…”

“Agronist Allis, on such short notice we just can’t find another pilot, and if you can’t volunteer, we’ll have to cancel the field trip. I hope we can count on you?”

Vetkar chewed his lip anxiously. The kids were so looking forward to the field trip, it would be awful if the school had to cancel. But it would mean a whole day away from the agronery, he’d have to do the critical chores extra-early, rearrange his planting and pollinating schedule, throw extra work on his wife to do the dairy takeoff and processing… He hesitated.

Gavrost sensed the hesitation. “There’ll be four other parent volunteers and three school staff on the trip, to assist. All you’d need to do is the actual piloting,” he wheedled.

Vetkar nodded, reluctantly, even though he didn’t have a visual circuit on his portable comlink, then belatedly added, “Well… alright. I’d hate the kids to miss the chance.”

“Wonderful! I’ll stat the volunteer waiver and orientation to your message box right away. The children will be so delighted!”

Vetkar grinned ruefully to himself as he broke the connection. A regular softy, he was.

Aug 272012

Read me the story:
Weapon discharging into a purple night sky, with a red nimbus.
“Ah, Boss? I think trouble might be heading our way.” The AI’s voice was a pleasant female contralto, but not overtly sexy, as Hadroun V-Yenappi was not one to occupy the long solitudes between planetfalls in playing pornographic games with the AI and holosim.

Now, intent on the intricacies of microbacterial populations in his life-support tanks, he did not at first register what the machine had told him. When it did penetrate, he nearly whanged himself a good one on the back of the head as he scooted out of the tank housing, and straightened. “Trouble? What kind of trouble?” he asked, as he stripped off iso-gloves and mask, and dropped them in the recycler.

“Analysis suggests pirate attack as the most likely scenario.”

Hadroun blinked. “Pirates? Here?!?” He was already on his way to the Scheherazade’s bridge, not a long distance to travel. There were no long distances in the Scheherazade.

“It does seem unlikely, but I cannot interpret the data any other way,” the AI said diffidently. “I was attempting to send a routine transmission to the Veran exchange beacon, and receiving no bounce-ping. A routine query to Veran spaceport control yielded the information that the orbital relay sat is down. Since the relay sat is part of their planetary security system, linked to multiple redundancies and backups, it is highly unlikely that a malfunction in one part of the net could impair transmission to the exchange beacon.”

“The planetary security system’s primary function is to deter pirate raids. In attempting further query to spaceport control some one hundred and forty-eight seconds ago, I have been unable to access any comlink. Such frequencies as there are,” was there a suggestion of a sniff in the AI’s otherwise noncommittal tone? It was certain that she regarded Veran as an unpleasant backwater, with no virtual reality net, no other advanced machine intelligences to interface with—a bore, in fact—“seem to be quite efficiently jammed. So I just took a quick peek with my scanners. There’s a lot of hardware up there. Big hardware. Mean hardware.”

“What the hell?” Hadroun was in the pilot’s chair by now, looking at the readouts the AI had acquired. “Who in the name of the seven twisted space gods… woha… that’s heavy stuff. Those aren’t pirates, that’s a full-scale invasion! But who…? And why…? Yikes! Shut down all scan!” No way did he want to make anything that could be remotely conceived of as a hostile move, in the face of that firepower.

“Already done, Boss. I only ran it for seventeen picoseconds. With them right on top of us, that was all I needed. But I’m pretty sure they detected us anyway.”

“Huh? Why?”

“Because they’re hailing us.”

“Oh. Pudu. Put it on.”

“IMF Cavell-Scheherazade, this is Klaros Expeditionary Legion Strike Force command. You are required to cease all scan activity, make no attempts to contact planetary locals, and remain in your ship. Do you comply?”

Hadroun muttered something under his breath, then “Scheherazade complies. We are non-hostile, repeat, non-hostile. Cavell Fleet maintains standard trading agreements with Klaros.”

There was both impatience and a touch of amusement in the response. “Understood, Scheherazade. All traffic is currently interdicted but you will be regarded as neutral so long as you comply with directives and make no hostile action. You will be contacted again shortly.”

The transmission light darkened.

“Huh. This is a pretty tankful of neocod!” Hadroun swung the pilot’s chair thoughtfully on its gimbals for a moment, then stood up. “Well, we can’t scan, but we can watch, anyway. Let’s have a screen, Sherry.” He strode to the other end of the bridge cabin, where a small lounge area was laid out around a galley and a holotank. A portion of the wall was already sliding down, revealing a flat-projection screen. As he disposed himself on one of the galley stools, the screen in its turn slid aside, revealing a blank expanse of glasteel, black now.


“One moment. It appears advisable to apply polarizing films, as I am reading considerable heavy-energy discharge flashes in the close vicinity.”

As he watched, finally, a dim window on the Veran spaceport area opened up. The multiple layers of glasteel, with their protective coatings and retractable outer hull plate, had added considerably to the cost of Scheherazade and the indebtedness to the Family Hadroun had incurred with her commissioning, but he liked to be able to look out the window.

Ahlaveh! They’re serious, aren’t they?”

The AI had been engaging in typical machine intelligence understatement with that “considerable.” The sky around the spaceport was a sparking, splotching patchwork of weaponry displays as Veran plasma chainguns answered Klarosian disruptor missiles. Even as he watched, the film darkened further, and he could feel a rumble through the deckplates. Concussion cannon.

“What I can’t figure out is why?” He frowned in bafflement.


“Yes, why? Klaros loves to throw their weight around, sure, but what is there here for them? Besides being the tail-tip of nowhere, this place hasn’t got a thing they can use, and it’s too far from the Reveille system to make it useful even if they did!” he fell silent, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully. Another thunderous rumble shook the Scheherazade.

“Fleet Intel files rate them with high religious motivations; could this be some kind of theologically-based action?” the AI enquired.

“Yeah, they’re religious nutjobs, but that’s never stopped them from making smart strategic decisions, militarily anyway. What’s the return in force-converting twenty-five million or so backworld mudfoots without significant assets and a year’s travel from anywhere?”

“I cannot offer a more detailed analysis,” Sherry suggested delicately, “based on existing data available to me, which is only the standard Fleet Intel briefing. We have never been to the Reveille system or any of the Klarosians’ ‘protectorates.’” It was as close as the AI could come to begging for information.

“I don’t know much myself. As you say, we’ve never visited this bunch of wyzos, and there’s a good reason for that. Cavells don’t deal in arms or military hardware. Klaros doesn’t do a lot of other business in the Hub. They’re not, uh… well-liked.” He called up the screen version of the Fleet Intel briefing and scrolled through it quickly.

“Yeah, seems accurate as far as it goes. Everything else I know I picked up second hand… baysaree gossip, mostly. They’re touchy, pushy, fanatical jingoists, manifest destiny types. Not a lot of fun to do business with. They stay within the UMC, but only just, and only when they think they’re being watched. But… and I emphasize that, they are also hard-headed realists when it comes to military and commercial strategy. Everyone thought they bit off more than they could chew with that Lojau Hen thing, but so far they’ve hung on to the protectorate, and rumor has it that they’re pulling upwards of thirty teracredits out of there every T-year.”

The AI couldn’t exactly sigh. “Yes, that fits in with what’s on record. No further analysis possible, and I am not, as you know, equipped for speculation.” The last was said with an ‘I leave that up to you irrational human types’ inflection.

Another, louder rumble and shockwave shook the little trader.

“Well, it looks like we’re going to be here for awhile. And I don’t think we’re going to be buying many artifacts at the Festival of Air this trip.”

Aug 272012

Painting, abstract, female form in motion with colors streaming around her as in a dance.As the music swelled and applause rippled through the dining room, Yalet tensed her muscles, poised on her toes, and gave a last tug at the sparkling molded silicate bustier that enhanced her mammary glands. On cue, she high-kicked out from behind the proscenium, perfectly synchronized with the other eleven women who made up Dastek’s Divine Dozen Dazzlers, working their way around the arched thrust that put the stage show “right at the side of your table!”

There. That one, maybe… though he had a woman sitting next to him. Or possibly that one, although he looked half-toasted already, maybe wouldn’t be able to go the distance. Barely breathing hard, she reached the end of her promenade, pirouetted, chausee’d back two steps, then forward three, then started back across the thrust. She gave more careful consideration to the older of the two men sitting at table eighteen as she passed, making him for exec-class, possibly a junior boardsman. And the woman with him, so much younger—wife, or daughter? Hard to tell.

On the third pass she gave him the eyeball, catching his gaze and giving him a just-for-you-honey smile. Daughter, certainly. He had not the slightest hesitation about smiling back, and there was a definite family resemblance. But maybe not an exec, after all. Something about the way he sat said mil, possibly retired. Hopefully not an undercover proctor’s nark, he looked too high-up for that.

She went into a series of gliding kicks, circling the warbler as the song reached a crescendo, then sinking slowly, with exquisite control, into a full split, her torso stretched back over the extended left leg, arms extended to meet those of the dancers to left and right. Behind the show, the holscreen showed the overhead view of the pattern they made, the warbler’s swirly dress coordinated with the glittering costumes of the dancers, and there was another spattering of applause.

The music paused, the warbler went into a brilliant cadenza of vocal flourishes, and then the FX flares went off as the playback crashed back in. Yalet let her arms drift to the floor, began drawing up her left knee slightly, found her balance and lifted the front leg into a full back walkover in slow motion. As she and the other dancers’ right legs reached full vertical extension, the bows perched on the front of their flirty high-heeled shoes shot fountains of rainbow-colored sparkles over the tableau for the blowoff. An old-fashioned number, but a crowd-pleaser.

Next number was a cracker, to give the Dozen a costume change. On the way back to the dressing room, she walked past Ild Devet, one of the assistant maiters, standing in the wings watching the show. As she passed, she murmured. “Eighteen. Senior,” and he inclined his chin a centimeter, without looking at her or giving any other sign he’d heard.

The Dozen’s next number was the climax of the early show, a bravura display of acrobatic dance, posing, and special effects. Billed as a “Celebration of Beauty,” there was nothing overtly erotic about it—they weren’t in that part of the resort; Treasuredome was billed as a “family” hotel—it nevertheless gave male customers so inclined a chance to assess the physique, limberness, and energy of twelve extremely attractive young women. For those in the know, that assessment could be turned into a more—personal—encounter later, if the right palms were greased, and the girl was willing. Most were. The income from such unofficial services generally exceeded official salaries, even for the most highly-paid of the Treasuredome’s entertainers, like the Dozen.

Yalet was an old hand at letting this or that audience member know that if he were so inclined, she wouldn’t turn him down. She liked the look of the older man at table eighteen. He wasn’t getting spliffed, but that was the second ninety-credit bottle of wine in the holder beside their table. The other couple, obviously married and pleased about it, and the younger woman who might be daughter or perhaps sister, were laughing and applauding openly, clearly enjoying themselves, and he was clearly enjoying their enjoyment even while he rather sedately appreciated the show.

During the number, she eyeballed number eighteen, awarding him just the right number and intensity of smiles, and once holding his gaze quite provocatively as she was posed, in the front row, in a position that was only just this side of doubtful for a family hotel’s floor show. She was pretty sure she saw interest there, and as the number ended he was watching her as he applauded.

“Oh, mother, gonna get me a rich senior exec tonight, I am,” Lispet gloated behind her as they made their way back to the Dozen’s dressing room. “Did you see table twenty-six? Four of them. Definitely off the chain, betcha the brides and kiddies are at the lightshow bally. Thank you, beautiful Bride!” She leaned over and lifted the icon that hung from the corner of her dressing mirror, kissed it.

Yalet chuckled amiably. “Y’think? Well, don’t let Ild shake him for too hawt a room.”

Lispet nodded. If a guest had to pay too much for an extra room for the unofficial visit, the tips were likely to be reduced. And with the rake-off from the hotel, the split to Ild, and the assorted expenses—Association fees, proctor’s bribes, extra tithes to the Church—a girl already saw less than a third of the outrageous “service fees” collected. You could make a lot more going official with the Association and staking a corridor beat (at least, if you didn’t have a pop to support or a joyjuice habit,) or working the illic shows at the “adult” resorts, but the risks were a lot higher. No one wanted to collect a thirdstrike, and end up doing penance in a warren reformatory, assembling microparts and getting old and fat on res-class rations.

Yalet wasn’t surprised when, as she waited in the wings for their first number in the late show, Ild walked past, and murmured “Forty-three twelve.” But she was pleased that it wasn’t one of the “Jenny” rooms on the sixtieth level, rented by the hour rather than the day. She’d guessed right, no wife for her nice (she hoped) number eighteen to escape. She’d see he had a really nice time.

Aug 272012

Prelate's seat, with chair, canopy, and drapery around it.  A sketch showing the magnificent detail of fabric, construction, and decoration.Each day, a list of arrivals and departures to and from the Pykalt Interstellar Spaceport appeared in the current file of Prelate Lorgan Edrell’s comlink. Not all the arrivals and departures, naturally. Although the Church kept an eye on such comings and goings, routine traffic was handled by officials much lower in the food chain.

Only the names that appeared on a watch list of those tried for heresy or currently suspected of heretical intent ended up on Edrell’s comlink. For the Prelate of Avatar Kanstan’s was also a Senior Interlocutor on Doctrinal Purity.

It would have been an important office in a big downside Province. Unfortunately, Edrell had neither the family pull nor the money to qualify him for such an appointment. Avatar Kanstan’s was the second largest Seat in the Insystem Province, but if you dropped the whole Insystem Province into one of the big downside Provinces it would barely make a ripple. And it was a dead end. The Insystem Provincial was only fifty-two and not ambitious for advancement.

If Edrell wanted to continue his upward path in the Church hierarchy, there was no place to go but downside. He’d carefully schemed for the Doctrinal Purity appointment with that in mind—the Guardian of Doctrinal Purity was well-known to have the Archprelate’s ear.

Thus, Lorgan Edrell was always diligent about following up when the Spaceport monitor alerted him to a clearance application from someone on the Doctrinal Purity watch list. When the double chime alerted him to an incoming communication from that source, he set aside the quarterly tithe report immediately.

So Zarel Kerant was back Insystem. Edrell’s eyes narrowed, and he called one of his lay clerks. “Contact the Censor’s Office, and get copies of the logs and manifests from the Star Song. It just arrived today. Send them to Junior Interlocutor Garstad for analysis, and tell him I want a report at the earliest possible time.”

“Yes, Reverend Prelate.”

It was barely two hours later that the clerk announced Garstad. The older man bowed respectfully as he entered, his Fryar’s habit hushing softly around his ankles. “Reverend Prelate.”

“Please, be seated, Brother,” Edrell invited. “You have the report on the Kerant woman?”

“I do, your Reverence,” he handed over the sliver of mylar as he sat on one of the hard, armless plastic chairs across the desk from his superior.

“Hmmm…. Censor passed on the manifest without inspection, I see,” Edrell frowned slightly.

“Indeed, your Reverence.”

“Got around, didn’t she…? Vir Galan, Tawan Center… Ir Kavatti II…” he scrolled through the list of clearances from each Hub port that the ship had visited. “Oh, now this might be interesting. Auriga VI. Isn’t there a major University League institution there?” He looked up at Garstad.

The Palatinian Fryar rarely showed much expression, but Edrell picked up a clear chill in his innocuous, “That is so, Reverend Prelate.”

Edrell’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the man. “But you don’t think we should follow up on this.”

Garstad cleared his throat. “It might present… difficulties, your Reverence. If you will recall the disposition of her case…”

“I wasn’t even in Seminary yet when she was tried, Brother. Refresh my memory,” Edrell was frowning. Probably he should have been able to recall the facts of the case, but his appointment to Doctrinal Purity was recent, and all he recalled was the media sensation that had surrounded a Kerant being arrested for heresy. He’d only been twelve years old at the time, after all.

“Of course, Reverend Prelate. Zarel Kerant was arrested for heresy in two-three-twenty-six, on the basis of an accusation by Randell Tarvine, whose proposal of marriage she had rejected in terms which led him to believe that she held heretical views with particular regards to female duty.”

Edrell nodded. Everyone knew of the long-standing rivalry between the two wealthy Boardsman families.

“A Case for Discussion was opened, under the authority of the Guardian, who himself served as Interlocutor, given the, ah… potential implications.”

Again, Edrell nodded. Naturally, they’d proceeded cautiously, given the money and influence of The Kerant. “Rather surprising that a Case was opened at all, given the source of the accusation.”

“Well, the Mutiny was quite recent.”

Oh, yes. The Kerant had taken quite a hit in the purges that had followed that. Their position had been precarious, for a time. Doubtless The Tarvine had hoped to use the Church to finish off his rival. “I see. And…?”

Fryar Garstad’s thin lips tightened a bit. “I believe the Guardian was prepared to find the accusation baseless, a mere artifact of the old rivalry. However, when the Query was established, he was dismayed to find more than enough corroborating evidence of the original charge, as well as evidence of—at best—doctrinal heterodoxy in several particulars. He really had no choice but to order a full trial.”

“And the disposition?”

“I was not on the Tribunal, you understand, so I have no knowledge of how the disposition came about. The original charge was laid aside, upon representation from The Kerant that, in fact, his daughter had accepted the duties of Adlitem for the orphaned children of his cousin, Resnek. The other charges were reduced to Deviationism, and an administrative penance imposed, the terms of which Zarel Kerant has strictly abided. I believe they included the retention of a Chaplain to act as her personal spiritual advisor, and regular catechetical examinations, as well as in-lieu gratuities to a number of worthy institutions that promote the application of feminine duty.”

“There has never been any reason,” Garstad said with lips slightly twisted, “to connect the extremely generous endowment for the renovation of the Archprelate’s Chancellery, given by The Kerant in memoriam of his second wife, to the disposition of Zarel Kerant’s case.”

“I see,” Edrell said. He did see. The Archprelate and The Kerant’s accounts were neatly balanced, and the books closed. And given the current level of Kerant power and influence, unless Zarel Kerant paraded herself naked across an inverted triangle in the Glorious Revelations Basilica courtyard, the Office for Doctrinal Purity couldn’t touch her. He restrained a sigh. “Very well. Thank you, Brother.”

Aug 262012

Profile of a trooper in armor against a violet sky.He might have been any young militiaman, or even a Guardian-apprentice. I judged him nineteen, perhaps twenty. An age when a young man begins to believe he’s an adult, and that the four or five years’ experience he’s accumulated actually amount to something. A dangerous age.

And this youngster wouldn’t get any older.

We were in a windowless chamber, stone-walled and with a single entrance, protected by a heavy door whose many cross-grained wood layers and metal covering grid would not have disgraced a Great House inner keep in time of siege. Glowglobes high in the upper corners cast a pale, even light. There was little furniture—three chairs, one of which did duty as a table, holding a tray with a pitcher of water and some cups. In the least comfortable chair, the young man was slumped, unconscious, restrained by padded fiber bonds that tightened only when he struggled. It was unfortunate, but he had already demonstrated a lack of composure that made it inadvisable to afford him greater comfort.

Next to me was the member of the Crooks’ Guild who was responsible for his presence. “How did you manage the capture?”

She shrugged. “It was hard, so—not difficult.”

The Master of the Veldmeet Crooks’ Guild, also present, grinned appreciation of the quip. I merely nodded. It was not difficult to guess from the Guildmember’s appearance that she specialized in the art of using physical attraction to ensnare unwary victims for criminal purposes.

The Master of Shadows glanced at me. “They have most peculiar sexual customs. Several cantinas and wayhouses have had to put their female staff on leave for the duration.” She shook her head. “At first, some of the city’s paicai were willing to do business with them—not least in the hope of gathering useful information. But there has been some trouble, and after they murdered one, the paicai Council placed them under embargo.

The paicai were not a Guild but they operated much as one in larger cities. They provided companionship, and often sexual engagement, under agreed-upon terms for their clients. They ranged from men and women of high training, professionalism, and refinement—and cost—to semi-amateurs with an inclination for casual, short-term liaisons who scratched out a living in the city’s travelers’ quarters. There were varying levels of cooperation between paicai and the Crooks’ Guild.

“Murdered one?” I frowned, and then made a gesture dismissing the subject. It could be pursued later.

The Klarosian in the chair was stirring. The Guild Master bent over him, checking the condition of his pulse, his skin, his eyes. She carefully avoided the swelling contusion masking the left side of the young man’s face. Finally, she lifted a cup of water to the prisoner’s mouth and tilted it so that he could drink if he would.

The Klarosian flinched from her touch, but swallowed several mouthfuls of water before half-turning his head in rejection. The Guild Master returned the cup to its tray, and glanced at me. I pulled the remaining unoccupied chair around so that its back faced the man directly, and sat down astride it, my arms folded atop the back.

The function of the College of Arms is to prepare the highest level of Royal retainers to undertake the service of keeping Veran’s human population reasonably prosperous, reasonably peaceful, and reasonably productive. No one who’s had even a first-year course at the College underestimates the complexity of that task, and no one misunderstands the primary material required to complete it. Heralds learn, above all, to gauge human motives and actions, and to communicate effectively.

Veran humans, at any rate. What of Klarosians? I studied this young man.

“I am Herald-Adept Ilvren, of the Royal College of Arms,” I named myself to him. I’d been told he spoke a garbled but passable Middle Veran, and that he’d named himself, and given his rank and some rigmarole of numbers when he’d first awakened. Before he tried to kill his guards, presumably to facilitate his own escape.

He’d been collected en route from a Klarosian patrol post in the Kutala district to the Klarosians’ main compound. He’d been with two others, but a very little effort on the Guildmember’s part had sufficed to separate him from his companions, who’d made no demur at leaving him to take advantage of his apparent good fortune. He’d been eager to seek out the company of what he called, in a clumsy verbal construction, a ‘comfort woman,’ but reasonably polite withal. Until he’d woken in the bowels of the Guild House, whereupon his veneer of manners had evaporated quickly.

He glared at me now with unconcealed hostility, but remained silent.

“I understand you are called Heavy Infantry Trooper Grade Six Urzek Borstan, of the Ninth Assault Company, Second Regiment, First Corps of the Second Legion of Klaros, is that correct? Favor my inexact pronunciation.”

He nodded, slowly. “Yes. And that is all I have to tell you, gorschesc. All, understand? You understand ‘all,’ or do I mispronouncing that?”

‘Gorschesc’ I understood to be an insult the Klarosians commonly used to refer to our people.

“Your pronunciation is impressively accurate for one who has acquired my language so recently, Heavy Infantry Trooper Grade Six Urzek Borstan.” I said nothing of his grammar, usage, and sentence structure.

His eyes narrowed, and he turned his head and spat on the floor. I considered the significance of such an uncouth gesture and decided I was safe assuming it to have a negative tone.

“Yeh, so, if you gorschesc knew anything about the HCC, you will know all I have to tell you is my name, rank, unit, and tamt qav.” He apparently did not know the Middle Veran vocabulary for at least one term, but the context suggested the string of numbers he’d spouted earlier.

“It is true that Veran is not a signatory to the Hub Conflict Conventions. But it is not our practice to compel the disclosure of information from an unwilling individual.”

In spite of his stated refusal to provide information, I had already learned much from him. His demeanor, with its apparent bravado, and the reiterated refusals to provide information (although he did not seem inclined to avail himself of the option of silence,) showed a lack of self-discipline I would have found shocking in a fifteen-year-old. The simplicity and repetition, combined with his crude (and unsuccessful) physical outburst showed either a lack of imagination, a lack of initiative, or perhaps both.

It might be dangerous to generalize from this single specimen to the larger universe of Klarosian enlisted, but in combination with other observations and information, it suggested an interesting pattern.

His eyes narrowed. “Better you must let me go. And I’d, um… give back favor by making sure that you three got a, uh quick easy death and no extra retaliations by occupation rules.”

I waited to see if he had any more to ask, then shook my head regretfully. “I would not leave you so deeply indebted to us, Heavy Infantry Trooper Grade Six Urzek Borstan, nor would I incur such debt in return. But if you are concerned about the Hub Conventions you cited, you might consider those same Occupation rules in that context.”

I had seen these “Occupation Rules”, posted in an odd, squared-off version of common script, on every news kiosk I’d passed when I arrived in Veldmeet. ‘For the injury of one Klarosian, the death of five Veran. For the death of one Klarosian, the death of ten Veran.’

“Keep civil order to protect a hostile population from violence—permitted under HCC,” he growled.

I had an inexact memory of the article he cited but I was fairly sure that this novel Klarosian interpretation of its provisions would have surprised those who formulated them.

“My people will find me soon, you will all die.”

Assuredly we would all die, not even the advanced technologies of the Inner Hub have produced practical immortality, but that was probably not what he meant.

“You refer, no doubt, to the locator strand embedded in your clothing?”

This produced an expression of wary shock, and narrowed eyes. It also confirmed my hypothesis. But he did not answer, which I suppose by his standards qualified as a refusal to disclose information.

“You must understand, Heavy Infantry Trooper Grade Six Urzek Borstan, that we have no intention of keeping you so long as to provoke such a search.”

Again, his face made speech unnecessary. Relief was superseded by a kind of cocky assurance. “Time you got smart. And you do not require to address me all rank, unit, and name every time you talk to me.”

I nodded. “Just so. How may I address you without offense?”

He snorted again, a gulping laugh. “You worrying about offense-ing me? That is tobka, really tobka.” He looked at me, and when I made no reply, he said with an air of reluctance, “You are permit address me Trooper Borstan. Not that it make you any good, so I will still not tell you anything.”

“Mine the debt. You may address me as Adept Ilvren, or just Herald-Adept.”

“I do no really want to address you.”

“You are under no obligation to do so, Trooper Borstan.” I rested my chin on my arms, and watched him in silence for some moments. He stared back at me with growing uneasiness.

“What are you do with me now?”

I shrugged, not hiding my regret. “If our conversation is over, we will return you to your people.”

His brows shot up, then lowered. “Let me go?”

“Not as you hope, I think, Trooper Borstan. Rather, I will incur a life-debt through you.” I repressed a sigh, thinking of the balance of such debt I already carried. “I will remember your name, Heavy Infantry Trooper Grade Six Urzek Borstan.”

I saw realization dawn in his eyes. “Is there any necessary ritual of comfort you wish to perform? Before you set upon the Starlit Path?”

His eyes narrowed. “You know occupation rules.”

I quoted them to him: “For the injury of one Klarosian, the death of five Veran. For the death of one Klarosian, the death of ten Veran.”

He nodded, slowly, watching me.

I was curious. “Are your people so eager, then, to incur such life-debt?”

His face showed the struggle to parse that out and frame a reply. “Not Klarosian debt. You kill a Klarosian, you kill ten Veran.”

I glanced at the Guildfolk. They showed no surprise, and did not bother to hide their contempt, so I realized he might be serious. I wondered if it would be worth the time to explore the implications of this peculiar belief with the Klarosian, and whether his grasp of Middle Veran syntax would be sufficient to make it possible.

I shook my head. “We do not have such a belief, Trooper Borstan. We believe that who wills the death, bears the debt.”

“Yes, you kill a Klarosian, you will the ten Veran death. You…” his brow furrowed, he was clearly searching for Middle Veran vocabulary that exceeded his knowledge. “You know you do something, a…a result will be. You will the thing, you will the result.” Sweat had appeared on his forehead, and his respiration rate had increased.

It was an interesting viewpoint. I wished he had better Middle Veran. I pursued the abstract, to give him a space to bring his fear under control.

“But a result that is not intrinsic to the action—an unbreakable chain of consequence—is not always a result of the action. And particularly, an action that is under the control of one person cannot be a result of another person’s action. Do you understand?” I spoke slowly, watching him to see if he had enough Middle Veran to grasp the concept.

He shook his head. His respiration rate had not decreased, and his eyes were dilated now. Nevertheless, he sought for a return of the assurance he’d spoken with before. “I understand this: You kill me, you kill ten Veran. You know if I die, ten Veran die.”

“Tell me this, Trooper Borstan. You are a Trooper, a soldier. You take orders from those above you, yes?”

He nodded, warily.

“The people above you will you to obey their orders, so they bear the debt for your action when you obey, yes?”

He nodded. “Yes,” he confirmed, on solid ground now. His hands, bound to pads on the chair frame, clenched.

“But what if the person who gives you orders gives you an order you know to be wrong? If you obey, who incurs the debt?”

All Guardians knew the Hub Conflict Conventions, even though Veran is not a signatory and we have our own codes governing conflict.

His lips tightened, and he shook his head. “You kill me, you kill ten Veran. You do it, you will it.” He had to take a breath as he spoke, and his voice was hoarse.

I sighed. He was making no effort to recover composure, or he saw no need to do so. Either way, my well-intended efforts to provide him with the opportunity to maintain decorum were futile. Perhaps the only debt-favor I could grant him was to die with his beliefs intact. “No dispute, Trooper Borstan. I will remember your name.”

I took a final look to fix his face in memory, all of it—the swelling contusion, the thin-bladed nose and short, square chin, and the eyes, widening with the shocked realization of mortality. If I were a believer, I would have commended him to his god, or gods. I think the comfort of belief must have great value to believers. Sometimes, like now, I regretted that I could not share it. I nodded to him, and we all turned to leave.

Outside, the room was a narrow, dimly-lit corridor. Leaning casually against the wall were two men, not particularly large, but both very muscular. One carried a full drinkskin.

“We cannot delay,” the Guild Master said, “already that contusion is maturing.”

“Indeed so.”

“Did you get anything useful?” the Guildmember asked. I considered the question.

“Yes, I believe so. Veran is in your debt, Guildmember.”

“Veran’s need accrues no debt, Adept,” she murmured, but her shoulders had straightened and her chin lifted a millimeter or two.

At some signal from the Guild Master, invisible to me, the two men straightened up, and entered the room we’d just left. “B’naleu, stay and guide them, please,” she asked the Guildmember. The Guildmember nodded, and the Master of Shadows led me away.

I had every confidence in the ability of the Guild to fill the Klarosian’s system with ethanol, and inflict a fatal head wound that would blend seamlessly with the existing contusion and pass easily for the result of a fall. It was also unlikely that there would be any difficulty for them in arranging the discovery of the body in the Kutala canal, not too far from the area of cheap cantinas and wayhouses that were sometimes visited illicitly by low-ranking Klarosians in search of intoxicating liquors.

I had less confidence in the willingness of the Klarosians to accept an accidental death. They’d shown themselves eager to demonstrate the supposed potency of the occupation rules. It was indeed possible that ten Veran would die when Trooper Borstan’s body was discovered. I knew how poisonous it would be to accept the debt for their deaths, which accrued only to Klarosians who decreed them, but I felt the weight of my own debt-burden grow all the same.

Aug 262012

Fountain crystals from Liralt-K, in an artificial vacuum display field.Five days before her world died, Zarel Kerant, the ‘eccentric’ older sister of one of Klaros’ wealthiest and most influential commercial barons, returned from a pleasure jaunt in her private yacht, the Star Song. The ship docked at Pykalt Interstellar, along the arm reserved for the cream of the private shipping trade, and she sent her crew—except her personal maid—on leave. Most of them left for the surface of Reveille C, where two sprawling rings of expensively engineered habitat complexes circled the planet just a few degrees from each pole, providing homes for nearly half a billion people.

Zarel’s home was there, too—the vast estate of Kelarant, in the exclusive Vardry Cluster. She had no plans to return there immediately, which was fortunate, as she discovered. Almost as soon as the Star Song had completed docking procedures, her personal comlink chimed.

She accepted the incoming transmission and, just as she expected, the head of the family, The Kerant, who was also her brother Harlis, appeared on the screen.

“Well, the stray lamb returns.” His smile reminded her irresistibly of someone trying to ignore gas pains.

“As you see, Brother,” she agreed amiably.

“Profitable trip?”

She shrugged. “So-so. Gems, foodstuffs, a few artifacts.”

His brow wrinkled. “Artifacts? Nothing…uh…controversial…?”

Zarel was amused. “Nothing that will raise a Censor’s eyebrows, dear Brother. Gharren weavings, some antique Galanian ceremonial weapons, fountain crystals from Liralt-K, that sort of thing. Barely enough to cover the trip expenses, if the truth be told. But I enjoyed myself.” Did he really think she was fool enough to try and smuggle forbidden artifacts past the Censors? Or stupid enough not to know what was on the current interdict list?

His smile relaxed a little. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you, Zarel. Ranlis was disappointed you weren’t back for the Yearturn holidays.”

“I got a relay from him when we stopped off at Kitran. Is the wedding scheduled yet? I haven’t updated my family calendar.”

“No, well, you’ve hardly had time, have you? That’s partly why I called… but no, the wedding isn’t scheduled yet. Still three months to run on the girl’s Presentation Year, you know. Bad luck to schedule a wedding before that.”

Something about his manner piqued Zarel’s curiosity, so she connected to the Family network and asked for a calendar update as she replied. “It seems like Ranlis’ Drone Year just ended, too, but it’s been, what… three years? I’ve lost a few hundred hours in the time-dilation lag.”

“Three and a half. You’ll see when you check your calendar.”

And she did, as the current family calendar opened in a window on her comscreen. She also saw a clue as to why Harlis, a man who rarely spared time for family chit-chat, had called her so promptly.

“I see you’re entertaining this Tenday. A reception for the newly-installed Prelate of Five Avatars. Impressive!”

“Ah. Yes.” Harlis cleared his throat, hesitated.

It was tempting to let him squirm, but she tried never to annoy The Kerant needlessly. Especially since there were so many occasions upon which he needed annoying.

“What a shame I won’t be able to make it. I’m planning on staying at Moonstation for a few days. There’s a dealer in Ruv Denal I want to see about these fountain crystals. And I’d like to discuss some refitting for the Song with Three Stars Chandlery. This and that. I notice the Kos Centrum Ancient Music Ensemble is playing at Pykalt Conservatory, too.”

Harlis didn’t let his relief show, she noted. But then, he’d learned a stoneface from their father, who had been one of the best in that line. “Well, I’d convey your greetings, but…” he said with unexpected humor.

She chuckled. “Why spoil what the Kelarant kitchens and wine cellars will effect? Insincerity is a minor sin, but one ill-suited to the presence of a Prelate… unless it’s the Prelate doing the sinning, of course.”

His smile froze again, momentarily, but he let it go with a snort. “Enjoy your stay upside. And if you run across Jarvin, try not to make too much trouble for him.”

“Jarvin? What’s he doing here?” Zarel had never had much of an opinion of the youngest member of the Family’s senior branch.

“He’s got the Protectorate Affairs Seat on the CivAdmin Council now. He’s upside for some kind of meeting. Gotta go now…I’m supposed to be at a senior staff conference. Creator bless you, Sister.”

“Warrior guide you, Brother. Love to Sirlet and the kids,” she broke the connection.

Well, she’d better get busy finding something to occupy herself with upside for a few days. The presence of the only Kerant ever to be tried for heresy would hardly be appreciated downside just now.

Aug 262012

Experimental induction capsule in subspace modeling chamber looks like a toy silver "rocket" in a reflective tunnel.  Distortion around the tranmission rod appears as a "plume."Early History of Space Travel

It must be remembered that at the dawn of its Interstellar Migration period, Terra Prima had mastered only the most primitive form of transit, a proto-subspace drive that enabled supralight travel and allowed only the most elementary three-dimensional navigation. In addition, practically nothing was known about the shape and fabric of space itself. Our Terran ancestors hypothesized the temporal distortion of interstellar distances on a linear model. But they knew that it would be a one-way trip for the initial colony ships. Over a dozen were sent out, that we know of—possibly many more. Records from the era are fragmentary at best, even on Terra Prima itself.

The log of the second human colony ship Destiny, the oldest remaining extant document of early space travel, demonstrated one of the principal problems related to the proto-supralight drives and primitive navigation of the era:   The fragmentary log remaining from the voyage showed a relative time (RT) lapse of three years in sublight drive and nineteen years for the subspace transit. What it did not show, because at that time there was no technology capable of tracking it, was the subspace distortion—likely some variety of parabolic current—that redirected the Destiny’s trajectory and flung it far from its original course.

When the ship surfaced, there was indeed a “landmark” double star in the approximate range expected. There were variations in spectral type and rotation, and the secondary was further than expected from the primary, but the colonists had no way of knowing the actual relative elapsed time (RET) of their transit, and they ignored the variations. They were concentrating on finding the nearby yellow-spectrum star they expected to have planets, and terraforming the world they sought.

It was not until RT 384 that the Procyon engineers, seeking ever more efficient power sources, discovered the properties of stable transuranic minerals. Thus followed the first great wave of Colonial technology, enabling the development of the first truly efficient subspace drive systems and the discovery of the generators which could exploit the principles of soft-transit waves.

Concurrently, the scientists of Altair were working on mapping what they could grasp of subspace, and testing the hypotheses that would result in the Temporal Prediction Equations. They had no way to harness the knowledge, for although they had developed incremental improvements on their own primitive subspace drive technology, they lacked a power source that would enable them to apply what they had learned.

Not until the return voyage of the Homefall 4 to Procyon from Terra Prime with the surviving crew members of Altair’s Xing Hikobo did the two technologies unite to make possible viable “space travel.”

Current Space Travel Technology

Current space travel relies on several technologies:

  • Insystem sublight drives that can carry ships beyond the gravitic distortions of star systems and other navigational hazards;
  • Modified Tavis field generators that encapsulate matter (ships) and link it to the induction field that actually accomplishes the task of “translating” the ship into subspace dimensions;
  • TPE beacon navigators that enable the ship to direct its path through subspace using “wave ping” feedback loops and TPE beacon “ticks”; and
  • Induction-field drives:  The induction field is generated by a cryston lattice charged in a transuranic reaction-fuel chamber.  The field transmission rods “unpack” dimensional space to translate the encapsulated ship into subspace, then bleed off the reaction power as the subspace equivalent of Delta-v

The true limiting factor inherent in space travel as the Hub knows it, is the challenging nature of investigating subspace.  Normal-space instrumentation does not function in subspace conditions, and even the “wave ping” effect that enables navigation, though an observable phenomenon, is neither recordable by any current instrumentation technology, nor replicable by any current theoretical model.

We know that the “shape” of subspace is in a constant state of change, affecting the nature of navigation and the speed of subspace transit, which is why all interstellar transit times are given in approximate terms.  We also know that normal-space distance has a rough analog to the shape of subspace, but that there are curious anomalies–  For example, the transit between the Nira-Hoy cluster in the downeast node, and Salvados in the Ophiuchi Circuit generally runs between 300-400 hours RET, although the actual normal-space distance is nearly twice that between Salvados and the Procyon C cluster, stable at 430 hours +/- 12 RET.  These anomalies have been dubbed “wormholes” in popular conception, but bear no actual relation to the still-theoretical wormholes of normal-space physics.

Recent developments in induction-field physics have also offered clues to the nature of subspace:  The kerstan sublim field generators have opened up new lines of investigation.  Documented efficiencies in Delta-v production based on field resonance frequencies have produced an array of new hypothetical models being investigated throughout the University League.

Aug 232012

Six atoms flouresced purple with a blue beam connected to one, on a black background.Relative Time was established by the University League when it was first founded, and League historians and temporal engineers collaborated to create a timeline of human history that would make sense of the far-flung human adventure.

Terrestrial history was all but irrelevant. The Hub Civilization that emerged in the wake of the Colonial Wars is certainly a descendent of the human cultures that originated on Terra Prima, but the long detour via the Altair and Procyon colonies broke the continuity of human relationships with Terran cultures. The relationships between the various human ethnocultural groups that formed the matrix of the Hub, and their Terran forbears, are of interest only to dim historical and anthropological scholars toiling on Markadam and Allskander.

Relative Time is naturally complicated by the vagaries of planetary experience. Even in the (comparatively) closely-clustered worlds that make up the Hub, interstellar distances and the imperfect technologies that bridge them inject great ambiguity to temporal concepts. The highly-tuned mathematical models and navigation calculators that enable interstellar ships to use beacon technology to arrive more or less when they should at a given destination aren’t well-suited to describing the march of history.

Still, the historians had to have a reference point. They chose the founding of the first known viable human colony: Altair III.

It must be remembered that at the dawn of its Interstellar Migration period, Terra Prima had mastered only the most primitive form of transit, a proto-subspace drive that enabled supralight travel and allowed only the most elementary three-dimensional navigation. In addition, practically nothing was known about the shape and fabric of space itself. Our Terran ancestors hypothesized the temporal distortion of interstellar distances on a linear model. But they knew that it would be a one-way trip for the initial colony ships. Over a dozen were sent out, that we know of—possibly many more. Records from the era are fragmentary at best, even on Terra Prima itself.

Relative Time is used mainly for scholarly and historical recording purposes.  For common reckoning, a number of systems predominate in the Hub, with the most widely-used being the SD (Standard Dating) system.   As temporal distortion makes date reconciliation among member worlds challenging (to say the least,) most dates are appended with an additional prefix to identify major colony nodes that share a generally accepted dating structure.

For navigational purposes, where greater precision is required both relative to a reference point and to elapsed time, the standard hour is universally used.  This usage has spread to many common applications, particularly in the transport sector, where all transit times are estimated in hours.

Most colonies also have a local referent system of dating, usually pegged to their Charter date.

Establishment of the Hub: Timeline


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