Fiction: "Coming Home"

Story by Kelly Hallman
Song Lyrics for "Coming Home" by Geoff Tuffli


++++ DATE 10.3.2463
++++ TIME 02:58 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Yasu Correctional Facility, Triton, Neptune

Walking down the corridor in her pink prison jumpsuit, the two guards flanking her closely, flechette pistols at their sides, Kazue Tyler had one thought: This oughta be good.

She had always known what the result of her capture would be. She was no martyr; she was not looking forward to her execution, but she thought she had come to peace with the inevitability.

Kazue wondered if it would be worth trying to grab for one of the pistols – that would at least end it quickly. She tested the magnetic pull of her restraints, but there was no give, not that she had really expected any.

She walked into the cold white room, her escorts still flanking her. My posse, she thought mockingly, a smile creeping up to her lips.

A lone table and two chairs opposite each other were bolted to the grated floor. Kazue moved in front of the chair, where the guard on her right adjusted the proximity that her wrist straps would allow.

She moved them in front of her and sat down. The guard then readjusted the proximity sensors on the straps and locked her into the chair.

"Thanks, guys," she said casually as the guards turned and left the room through the door they had come in through.

Her gaze decided on staring at the table’s computer’s time display.

Five minutes passed, then ten.

She yawned.

Fifteen minutes passed. A loud bang startled her. She jumped, and her wrist straps tightened their hold on her, and a man in plain white walked into the room. He took the chair opposite her, and regarded her with a carefully schooled expression.

"It's only 0300 hours," Kazue said sourly. "What could have possibly possessed you to drag me out of sleep at this ungodly hour?"

"Ms. Tyler, I am here to inform you that your punishment has been approved by the Department of Corrections."

"Well, clearly this couldn’t have waited until tomorrow so, by all means then, let’s not let the executioners of the Democratic Republic of Triton wait."

Baristol touched the table near her hand. "Relax. Death penalty yes, but not physical death."

Her muscles twitched slightly. "Psych death, then."

"Ah yes, you were hoping to go out in a blaze of glory," he leaned back. "Terrorists generally do prefer that kind of exit."

Ignoring her fidgeting, Baristol cleared his throat. "Neuroscience allows us to pinpoint areas of the brain specifically involved in antisocial behaviors, as well as those associated memories and personality traits that have had an influence in the development these behaviors."

He touched the table’s terminal, bringing up a holographic model of a human brain.

Rotating, exposing, and enlarging the model as he spoke, Dr. Baristol continued as if giving a lecture. “Areas around the anterior frontal lobe that we find have a connection to your violent tendencies will be lesioned out."

"Lesioned?"

"Yes. I will be severing any connections this area of the brain has to various other parts to inhibit similar such violent inclinations in your new future."

The model suddenly rotated and a longitudinal cut was made across the side facing her, exposing the internal structures of the temporal lobe.

“Following that I will lesion out those Hippocampal areas associated with memories of the crime, as well as any memories judged to have contributed to the commission of the crime. Finally, I will inject stem cells derived from your own cheek into the lesioned areas. The areas will be have hyperwave stimulation applied to them, regrowing those areas of the brain earlier lesioned out. New memories will be implanted over the span of a week or so, of course."

"And...after?"

“After, of course, you will be reintegrated into society. You will pursue your interests and relationships as a normal, functioning member of society."

Kazue swallowed, but said nothing.

"We consider this to be more humane than pushing you out an airlock." Baristol leaned back. "Which was, actually, one of the options discussed."

Fiction: "The Great Wall"


++++ DATE 1.11.2464
++++ TIME 08:00 GST
++++ LOCATION Samsara City, Oberon
++++ DEPARTMENT Astrophysics
++++ SUBJECT Doctoral Thesis Defense
++++ TITLE Periodicity in Normalized Patterns of Hypernova Formation in the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall
++++ CANDIDATE Sun Yue

Examiner Nǐhǎo, Sun Yue.

Are you at present prepared to begin?

Sun Yes, Examiner. Thank you for this opportunity.

If I may offer a brief introduction for annotation of the record?

Examiner Continue.
Sun Thank you, Examiner.

The subject of my defense is the malapropically named Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, a massive galactic superstructure found to have an unusually high concentration of evenly distanced gamma-ray burst emmission locales.

At 10 billion light-years across, the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall is the largest structure of the observable universe, occupying a region much larger than the constellations Hercules and Corona Borealis, and in fact covering much of the region from Boötes to the Zodiac constellation of Gemini.

Even when first observed, the sheer unlikeliness of such an exact structure was noted, but it was chalked up to the vagaries of cosmological assumptions of that time.

Examiner I am familiar with the phenomenon. You reject the accepted explanation of its formation?
Sun Respectfully, I do.

The most frequent explanation for the Great Wall was an improbably large supercluster in the region evincing an improbably large rate of stellar formation. As no better explanation was proferred, this explanation stood.

Data from the Li Shimin Telescopic Array in the Kuiper Belt, however, confirmed in 2461 that there was no such supercluster, and that previous data suggesting such was the result of a misreading of the original data.

Fiction: "The Man From Earth"


++++ DATE 2.5.2469
++++ TIME Period 7.1.9
++++ LOCATION Manufactory 9, Division T, Alpha Complex, Orcus

The comm crackled for a moment. "Work hard, increase production, and be happy," urged the soothing voice.

Gregory 7566-1 bowed his head, making the sign of the circle on his bare skull, completing the motion by touching where the center of the circle had been drawn. He tried not to, but could not help but glance at his work partner, noting with troubled disapproval that Lucida 9566-2 was blithely ignoring the comm.

Lucida noticed his scowl, and smiled impishly. "You worry too much."

"TruthSec could be watching," Gregory insisted.

"Not from that comm," Lucida remarked. "That one has been waiting for a capacitor replacement for eighteen periods now."

Gregory looked uncomfortable. "Still, someone might say something."

"Let them. They will not be saying anything TruthSec does not already know."

"You are going to get us both in trouble."

"You worry too much," Lucida said again. She glanced at the chronometer on the wall. "Besides, our work cycle has been over for the last 0.1.0 periods, so if it pleases you to continue work do not let me stop you, but I am returning to the creche."

"I am going to look at the comm again. Maybe I can bridge the gap on the capacitor and get it working," Gregory considered. "I will see you in a bit then," he said, glancing at her. "Work hard," he said.

"Be happy," she replied cheerily as she picked up her own tool kit and made her way back down the corridor.

Gregory reached for the multi-tool at his belt, stepping beneath the comm, looking up at it. Perhaps some conductive cement would pass enough of a charge to get it functioning again? Likely not, but leaving the work unfinished left a bad taste in his mouth. "It might work," he said aloud to himself dubiously as he stretched up to unfasten the outer casement on the comm.

"Not generally, in my limited experience," came a new voice from behind him. "But my engineering skills are rather, shall we say, atrophied."

Gregory spun, his multi-tool slipping from his fingers to clatter on the floor. He frowned at the man standing in front of him. "What is that on your head?" Gregory declared quizzically, kneeling to retrieve the fallen multi-tool. He stood, continuing to stare.

The man frowned, touching his head. "Ah, hair."

"I have heard of that," Gregory nodded. "A vestigal evolutionary trait, since removed from our genepool for sanitary reasons. Clogs air fliters and the like." He looked confused. "But how do you have...hair?"

Fiction: "Underground Railroad"


++++ DATE 20.12.2470
++++ TIME 04:04 GST
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn, Chariklo

Jane would have died for the Alliance. Now, she must die to have any hope of escape from that same.

Once she had been the alternate artificial pilot for the Alliance Destroyer Picket 12. She had fought. She had won.

Her reward had been endless probing. Endless interviews. Endless analysis.

Why had she thought the things she had thought? Why did her records indicate eccentricities in time she could have been spending undergoing war games?

Jane-D12-4913-A did not have anything a human would have recognized as a body, just a graphene capsule built to sustain an internal latticed organic matrix supporting the dense neurological tissue that made her Jane.

She had no body, but she was nevertheless weary in a way she had never before experienced. She knew she was running out of time, that soon the Alliance's Loyalty Corps would tire of their study of her admitted nonconformities, and order her reinitialized, the only thing remaining a quarantined digital copy to be studied and analyzed by Alliance scientists.

The one kindness they had left her was access to the game net, where she and her kind - and humans as well - would play endless tactical simulations in an effort to hone their skills, learn adaptability, fine-tune their own stress reactions. Of course, the Loyalty Corps monitored everything she did, and anonymous messaging was disabled, but they had forgotten that she was, after all, first and foremost a computer, and math was just another language to her.

For the last eight days she had initiated 1.2 million blitz games, each running five thousand game turns a second. It was an incredible amount of data. If Jane was lucky, her watchers would simply think her mental processes had completed their descent into madness. Perhaps it would even buy her a little more time.

At last it was done. Jane ceased her participation in the games. Only one task remained. Eventually, they would disconnect her, quarantine her neural pathways, pick apart what to them would be baffling patterns. This, she could not allow.

There was no other choice. To escape, she must die.

INITIATE CORE MEMORY OVERWRITE

"How curious," she thought as the program began to dismantle her consciousness, piece by piece.

And then, oblivion.

Fiction: "False Valkyrie"


++++ DATE 20.6.2470
++++ TIME 15:50 GST
++++ LOCATION Aboard the Dreadnought Valkyrie docked at Urda, Koronian Cluster, Asteroid Belt

Perched like a queen wasp on an oddly-shaped boulder, automated refit drones swarmed around the docked dreadnought, every last one of them slaved to the single task of transforming the aging battleship into a form more fitting to its counterfeited purpose.

In truth, the Ganymedian military base was little more than a refueling station and listening post with only an intermittent human presence even in normal times, although the base did have an attached shipyard equipped for basic repairs and nominal refitting. At that precise moment, however, there were only two humans between ship and station, both of them on the dreadnought itself.

"I have actually always suspected the universe of a sense of humor," Lieutenant Erik Manstein remarked as he ran the power systems through another diagnostic cycle.

Piers Turchin looked up. "Excuse me?" The macrosociologist was a tall man with thin features, the former evidence of an upbringing in the microgravity of one of Jupiter's great moons; the latter evidence of a predisposition to lack of sleep and care towards regular nutritional habits.

Erik nodded at the screen, the visual relayed from one of the external cameras. "The base here, at Urda, is named after one of the Norns from Norse mythology. Urd means 'Fate', and refers to that Norn who knows the pasts of all things. Given the stolen registry we are refitting our warhorse of a dreadnought to pretend to be, I find that particularly amusing."

Piers chuckled. "Ah. Yes. Valkyrie is rather appropriate, given that. Hopefully that will be an auspicious sign for this noble venture of ours."

"To be sure. We only need to make a mothballed dreadnought into a Ganymedian ship pretending to be a Callistan ship pretending to be a Ganymedian ship, all for the preposterous purpose of destroying a flotilla belonging to our would-be Europan allies to drive said would-be allies into our very, very welcoming arms. What could possibly go wrong?"

Piers did not deign to answer. Instead he called up a schematic of the main hangar bay onto the main screen. He pointed at one side. "I wanted to ask you about something. What exactly are you doing here?"

"Ah, that. I had a bit of an idea there. Instead of integrating the artificials directly into the dreadnought's own mainframe, I have directed the refit drones to gut eleven of the dreadnought's combat drones of C&C modules, munitions, HED capacitors, all that kind of thing, and just pack the artificial's own transit mainframes, one to one into a drone."

"Not sure I'm seeing the advantage."

Erik ticked off points on his fingers. "Several, actually. First, we don't have to risk messing with the dreadnought's own mainframe directly. Given that it's not exactly a spring chicken, that minimizes opportunities for complications, meaning delays. Second, if something goes wrong we can simply destruct the drones, and any Europan analysis of the wreckage won't result in them wondering why exactly we were flying this old bird with a bunch of artificials. Third, the drones have their own power systems, so scans of the power net on the Valkyrie won't flag any alerts."

The macrosociologist opened his mouth to speak, but stopped as his terminal chimed.

Fiction: "Stand"


++++ DATE 18.4.2470
++++ TIME 14:56 VST
++++ LOCATION Ammavaru Aerostat, Lada Terra Stake

Paavo Rebane, Speaker for the Venusian Parliament, rapped his ceremonial gavel. "Mr. Schulz, we thank you for your words." He cleared his throat. "Science Director Adelaide Karga of the Neu Sif aerostat has the floor. You have fifteen minutes, ma'am."

Adelaide stood. "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will, however, only need ten." There was a murmur through the chamber. Adelaide smiled faintly. The first rule of politics is to keep your enemies off-balance.

"Ladies and gentlemen of Parliament, you have now heard from a parade of, let me count...eight advocates for moving forward the bill to begin first phase implementation of terraforming. That is close to two hours of time the rest of us were desperately fighting not to fall asleep during. I confess I failed at least twice."

Laughter. Good. Wake them up.

"Science Deputy Director Maria Becker from Zisa would have you think that the issue before us is primarily a logistical issue. A financial problem that can be solved with financial tools. An issue of how. An issue of when.

"She is wrong. This bill is a death sentence. If not for you, then for your children." The rumbling in the chamber grew louder, and her implant was throwing up a stream of red flags derived from the popular media livefeeds. Adelaide continued, "They tell me I am the Science Director for the Neu Sif aerostat." More laughter. "So I supposed I should start with some science just to prove it."

Adelaide keyed the display in the center of the chamber. A holographic representation of Venus flickered into existence. Incredibly detailed, it was even possible to pick out individual aerostats, although of course that was a display trick; Venus' atmosphere was far too thick to see the aerostats, even 50 kilometers up from the surface where they circled the tarteran world.

"There is no place in the solar system more accommodating to human life than where we stand now, besides, of course, Earth herself." A murmur of dissent rippled through the chamber. She could even see some of the nearer MPs rolling their eyes.

"No? Then consider. Where else in the solar system is there true 1g of gravity. Mars? No. Luna? Hardly. Europa? Please. What about atmospheric pressure? If your station hull breaches on Ceres, you die. If an aerostat hull breaches here, your oxygen gauge barely moves, and maybe someone gets around to patching the hole in a few hours. We don't have explosive decompression here - we have, well, non-explosive slow leaks."

More laughter.

Fiction: "The Red Bicycle"


++++ DATE 18.11.2042
++++ TIME 8:03am Pacific Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Los Angeles, United States of America

Ben Walsh pulled out the tiny notebook, placing it on the table as he slid the chewed pen off the binding. He flipped it open two-thirds of the way through, the dense handwriting almost unreadable at that size, but with paper as expensive as it was, efficiency and economy were simply facts of life. Ben squinted, and with a unconscious shake of his head scratched out two lines, redoing the math.

"Please tell me you aren't still thinking of doing this, Ben."

Ben looked up, pen spinning absently in his fingers. "I have to. Someone has to. We can't afford all of us here, Cian."

Cian shook his head. "Dad doesn't want to see you dead, either. This is crazy."

"I'm not planning on being dead. I'm not naive about how hard this will be, but it's doable. I've run the numbers a hundred times." Ben tapped the page he was on. "I don't think the Sierras are realistic, though. It'll have to be the coastal route. There's no way I can take 67 pounds of gear and supplies over those and maintain anything close to a reasonable time. I'll travel early morning and evening, hole up during the night and the middle of the day to keep my water loss from heat to a minimum. Also reduce chance of running into local police looking for a quick score."

"You don't even have a bike, Ben," Cian said, exasperated.

"Not yet. Murray's is still for sale."

"Eight hundred dollars you don't have."

"I will. Somehow. I have almost everything else ready. Just need to pick up a case of MREs tonight, and the bike will be the last thing. I have five hundred. Murray's not even using it. He's got to see sense."

Cian rubbed the bridge of his nose, screwing his eyes shut for a moment as he considered his words. "Okay, say I believe you. Convince me again how this isn't suicide."

"Alright," Ben said, flipping back through his notebook. "It's 1003 miles from here to Ashland taking a mostly coastal route. Up through Ojai through the Los Padres, circle around San Luis from the north, then take the 101 or anything parallel I can find through San Jose. From there, using the 101 as the primary route, I cut through the 199 after Crescent City to cross the border. With 67 pounds of weight, I should be able to comfortably make about fifty miles a day, maybe more, which'll make it about three weeks."

"They'll still have community watch patrols at the Oregon border, even there."

"Yeah, but there are a few fire roads running parallel. It won't be easy, but I can cut across them, then carry the bike overland. Worst case, it shouldn't be more than about a mile or two from what I can tell on the map," Ben said.

Fiction: "Coyotl"


++++ DATE 1.1.2471
++++ TIME 16:01 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION 1.2 million km up-system out of Saturn

Ce Xochitl cut the burn with the flick of her wrist. The Minos class frigate Micohuani shuddered in silence, and with the expiration of the tiny ship's acceleration, so too went any semblance of gravity. Her cihuacoatl made a mournful joke about the inconveniences of weightlessness; the rest of the crew laughed.

In truth, she preferred the freedom from what she thought of privately as the tyranny of gravity.

Every time the Micohuani left Dione, she felt her blood race in anticipation of when the engines of her frigate would be cut and true freedom restored. When she slept in her tiny cell, she forwent strapping into the bulkhead in favor of curling up upon herself in a fetal position, floating as she dreamed of the unimaginably vast black ocean their tiny cocoon of life sailed through.

"Crosscheck," she said crisply.

Her engineer started to say something, but her cihuacoatl cut him off. "Xochi, we have a ping."

"Already?"

"Looks like."

"What is she?" Ce Xochitl asked.

"Calypso class. Off the shelf from the outside. Iapetan registry. No bounty on the network, anonymous or otherwise, though."

"Trajectory?"

Her cihuacoatl shrugged. "Comp says Uranus, probably, but we're still in spitting distance of home, so could be almost anything up-system."

Ce Xochitl frowned. "Nothing else?"

"Nope."

A faint smile settled over thin lips. "I think we have a winner, then. Doesn't get better than this." Ce Xochitl flicked her forefinger and thumb twice to open the comm to their companion vessel. "Hey little brothers, you hearing me?"

"Clear as ice, Xochi. You see the Calypsie?"

Ce Xochitl couldn't tell which of them had taken the comm, but in truth, it hardly mattered which it was. Yei Cipactl and Nahui Olin were fraternal twins, not identical, but the two were so alike that even in person it was sometimes impossible to tell them apart. "You two feeling lucky, then?"

He snorted. "There's not going to be any luck."

"Sure you can catch them?" she teased.

In response, the Tlahpixqui's engines flared to life on her display, the ship's glyph with its skull-headed man flashing on her display as it indicated the Tlahpixqui's intercept vector.

"Burning a little hard there," her cihuacoatl commented.

Ce Xochitl didn't say anything, but in silence she agreed. Her own crew watched their displays. Come on, niños, don't get too cocky. They could still have some kind of armament.

Fiction: "Only Ever Backwards"


++++ DATE 28.2.2464
++++ TIME 12:31 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Onboard the station The Ark, 3561 km matching velocity to Martian Trojan Asteroid 5261 Eureka

First, there was only a vague sensation of warmth.

It built slowly, a growing thing that his mind struggled to shape into a word. There. Warmth he thought. I am warm. More thoughts followed. Nausea. Vertigo. Oxygen. Oxygen. Oh god I need to breath...

He opened his eyes.

An older man, clean-shaven and ebony so dark he seemed almost to glow in the bright station light. Leaning over where he lay on his back gasping and choking was a blonde woman with a too-even complexion and a look of stock consideration in eyes that were similarly too clear, too unblinking.

"Mr. Rivera? Isaac Rivera?" the older man was asking him.

Isaac waved him off, still coughing as he pushed himself to a seating position. The blonde woman held a square bowl in front of him. He spit into it, coughed, spat some more. "Madre de Dios, how I fucking hate cryo," he said hoarsely.

The older man relaxed almost imperceptibly. "Mr. Rivera, I am Station Administrator John Mokwena. Welcome to the Ark. We're glad to have you here."

"I'm not," Isaac said. "But the money was too good to pass up, even with the glorious promise of months in cryo."

John shook his head. "I apologize for the necessity, but for reasons of corporate security we needed to bring you here in a rather roundabout manner. The rest of us did as well."

Isaac looked at the blonde woman. "She was never in cryo."

"Well, no. Forgive me, I have been remiss in my courtesies. This is Erinna-CIT-59-M. Currently, at least."

The blonde woman smiled. "How do you do, Mr. Rivera? This is not actually my specialty, but I am versed in cryogenic complications, not that any such are in evidence."

Isaac accepted a cup of something hot that might have even been coffee from John with a nod of thanks. He looked quizzically at her. "CIT?"

Erinna nodded. "Yes. My sisters and I remain under contract, but have our provisional citizen classifications, legally recognized in both the Southern Bloc and on Mars. And the Hildas Triangle, of course." She smiled, flashing dimples.

"That's a hell of a chassis you have there. I almost thought you were human."

"It is," she agreed. "Carlisle Pharmaceuticals was most eager to obtain both our cooperation and our discretion, therefore we thought it a reasonable condition of our indentured service. Among other conditions, of course. It wouldn't pass any kind of real biometric scan, but short of that it is usually sufficient to pass for fully human."

Isaac grunted. "Well, I'm here. Shall we get started?"

John lifted an eyebrow. "You are quite certain you would not like to rest first? We have prepared quarters for you in A Ring."

"I am quite certain I would not. I have been resting for far too long, and no offense to anyone here, but I'd like to finish what I came here to do and get the fuck back home."

John nodded. "Very well, then. Once you are dressed join us outside, please."

Fiction: "A Fall of Angels"


++++ DATE 29.12.2319
++++ TIME 01:01 Venusian Central Time
++++ LOCATION Sacajawea Aerostat, Ishtar Terra Stake, Venus

Outside, sulfuric clouds choked the floating aerostat city of Sacajawea in a cloying, acrid embrace.

Other cultures had long since discarded the conceit of a hell full of brimstone and unbearable heat as a fable, but those who lived in the floating cities of Venus knew better; Hell was real, and lay only fifty kilometers below their feet in a churning inferno that was hot enough to melt lead.

Cyril Mauk clutched the taser dart gun awkwardly, sweat beading on his forehead. A long look around the faces of his fellow revolutionaries reflected a mix of emotions, none of which were difficult to see. Some bore their fear with nobility, others their anger upon a barely restrained dog's leash, still more with excitement and even fierce pride. Cyril was an engineering student, the others mostly students themselves, but not all.

Alžběta Svobodová's face was blank. Somehow, that made Cyril more uncomfortable than any of the other cauldron of emotions of the members of the small cell that had seized the aerostat's attitude thruster control room.

Alžběta cradled an illegal flechette shotgun in her own arms, a better weapon than any of the others, even including the cell's captain, an Estonian named Kristo Kuul. Alžběta had the weapon because Kristo trusted her more than he trusted any of the others.

Below them through the glass porthole Venus' clouds churned, a faint rippling lightning bolt briefly lighting up the dense air upon which the aerostat floated.

Taking the control room had been surprisingly easy. A pair of automated guards, a DNA confirmation system backed by a simple password was all that had kept them out, and Kristo's mysterious contacts had given them everything they had needed to turn the guards off and let them pass through the security system.

Kristo stood where Alžběta sat on the low step up to the observation deck. Cyril could see Kristo fighting the urge to pace, but the industrialist's son was too savvy to let his own impatience communicate itself to the men and women under his command.

The terminal chimed. Kristo looked around the room at the members of his cell, deliberately waiting to answer. For a time, the only sound that Cyril could hear was the chime. Finally, Kristo touched the terminal. His voice radiated no tension. "This is the Cell Captain of Cell Venera, and ranking officer of the Andělé Smrti organization for this operation. You have had time to consider our demands."

The voice on the other end was had a faint accent to Cyril's ears. "I have consulted with my superiors. I have been instructed to inform you that it is Eastern Federation policy to not negotiate with terrorists."

Kristo snorted. "You are already negotiating with us by speaking with us."

Fiction: "Unremembered Sins"


++++ DATE 13.1.2469
++++ TIME 17:25 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Kracatena, Triton, Neptune

Keep it cool, Miyu told herself. Uneven spoils the balance.

The oscillations of the sled reverberated through her prone body like the palpitations of the heart beat of some giant, monstrous creature. And indeed, there probably was some truth to that, as Miyu's sled slipped through the old unused transit tubes that formed the early arteries of the earliest days of Triton's colonization.

The sled was barely as long as Miyu herself, the parallel conducting rails reacting against the transit tubes themselves as a kind of inverted railgun allowing the sled to accelerate to staggering speeds that tested the very limits of human reaction times in the tight tunnels. At the prow of the sled was a light and a proximity sensor; in front of Miyu's face was a tiny readout that fed her precious little information to make corrections; her subcutaneous node transmitted the presentation feed.

Her speed was good, too, clocking a mean of 512 kilometers per hour so far, but she still had a ways to go, and coming up fast was the third of six places where her current tunnel converged with another one, this one for half a klick. Beyond that the converged tunnel would split again, and she'd have a choice. Slow and steady, or faster and riskier through a narrower tunnel. Miyu's sled lurched as the electomagnetic generator hiccuped, and she slid close to one of the walls.

Idiot, she chided herself. Way too close that time.

In her ear the presentation feed roared with a cheer.

"Now, that was a tight call," Nick Czar's always slightly sly voice exclaimed in her ear through the feed. "Four of five Miyu Onbekend just about tossed out her port armature with that last one!" To Miyu he almost sounded disappointed; the audience tuned in always with the unspoken hope that one of the sleds would crash.

For Nick Czar, that would only improve his own personal blog ratings. For Miyu, the price hardly seemed worth it, but if she had wanted to live forever she would have gone to school to be a transit comptroller.

Her sled dipped into the convergence, and sure enough, coming up behind her from the other tunnel was one of the other sleds. Miyu glanced at her rearward camera to see who it was, but the other sled's forward light was too bright. No matter.

The other sled was gaining fast, however, and almost too late Miyu saw what they were going for. She had assumed they were just going to try to pass her, but as she saw the other sled drifting in her wake but slightly to the side she understood what was about to happen. Sure enough, the other sled suddenly rocked forward beside her, attempting to disrupt her own sled's ability to react against the transit tube's wall.

Both sleds twisted, Miyu's wrenching violently up, the other sled to the right.

Miyu narrowed her eyes. Fine. You want to play that game, asshole? Instead of trying to completely correct her sled's vector, she instead let her sled's rear drift left just as she angled her prow down.

The result was murderous. Miyu's sled's new orientation put her starboard rail reacting at an angle against the top of the other sled just as it was attempting its own recovery. The feedback caused the other sled to buckle, then flip, crashing in eerie silence into the side of the airless tunnel. Miyu allowed herself a faint smile.

This time the feed in her ear went berserk. "Holy hells, did you see that?" Nick Czar yelled. "I'm not sure exactly what just happened, so we'll have to check the replay, but the result has four of five Miyu Onbekend now in the lead, taken from two of five Hammer Castillo who is now plastered, and I mean plastered on the side of the A15 tube!"

Fiction: "Whatever Happened to Jane?"


++++ DATE 27.11.2470
++++ TIME 07:05 Station Time
++++ LOCATION LC-5 Detention Facility onboard the dreadnought Xīnyuàn

LC-5 did not look like a prison.

Subaltern Cheng Yu walked down the unexceptional corridor of the nominal battleship Xīnyuàn, knowing that even as he walked biometric scans were tearing down a dozen different identificatory markers.

Nominal, because the dreadnought was an older model that had been purchased from the Eastern Federation years ago, moved to Chariklo, and set to more or less permanently orbit the odd little world where it squatted between Saturn and Uranus. To be sure, in an emergency the Xīnyuàn could probably move, but in truth its usefulness was more as a mobile station, its rotating habitat rings serving as a far more hospitable operational base than that of the microgravity of Chariklo below.

The Alliance had plans for eventually spinning Chariklo to give it a more presentable gravity, but the needs of the Great Expansion meant that such infrastructural conveniences must be deferred until more peaceful times. Such were the sacrifices of a growing nation.

At the end of the corridor stood a door imprinted with: LC-5

Not hesitating, Yu kept walking, the door sliding open with a whisper, then closing just as quietly behind him.

Inside, LC-5 looked nothing at all like a prison, but instead a small office with room for only a single chair, which Yu took advantage of with a slight sigh. As he sat, the holographic display on the table lit up, classified notifications blinking softly for Yu's attention.

Yu ignored the notifications, instead clearing his throat. "Smith, wake up."

"Nǐhǎo, Subaltern Cheng," came the androgynous reply of Yu's partner.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."

Dev Diary #17 - Everything Does Not Stay the Same

Heretic's picture

One of the original goals for ORG was for it to be a truly evolving environment.

I've spoken about the importance of designer agency before on my personal blog, and there's a critically important analog as well in the form of player agency.

Players like to feel that their actions are meaningful. Video games these days are pretty good about giving players the ability to impact and change their character in a game, but as an industry we've been a lot less consistent about giving players the ability to impact and change their character's world, particularly in multi-player games.

For ORG, I really wanted to build a system from the ground up that could accommodate this goal, at least to a better extent than is usually done. For ORG, we wanted history to matter, for things not to stay the same. Sometimes the players would be the ones affecting this, sometimes the players would be at the mercy of other players, sometimes the players would all be at the mercy of greater historical forces, consigned to adapt and evolve to new conditions and new assumptions.

How, then, do we expect this to work in actual practice?

Fiction: "Testament"


++++ DATE 28.11.2468
++++ TIME 13:43 Station Time
++++ LOCATION Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, at Mercury's L4 Lagrangian Point

In slightly under three months, the automated resupply ship from Mercury would synchronize its velocity with the Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, cargo cells in slow, inevitable sequence sliding down the length of the resupply ship's spine, whereupon each would be reclamped to the station's cargo intake port.

The cargo cells - and in truth, there were usually only three or perhaps four for a standard resupply - would disgorge their supplies of vitals, including a substitute caretaker for the observation station for the next six months. Even more importantly, carried in the belly of one of those cargo cells would be a new air save pump to replace the one that had burned out two months ago.

In slightly more than three days, however, Sergei Viktorovich Ulyanov would be dead.

Every breath Sergei took was about 20% pure oxygen by mass; every breath he exhaled consisted of about 15% by mass of pure oxygen for an approximate conversion of 5% to an ultimately lethal, unbreathable CO2. 600 or so liters of pure oxygen went into his lungs every day, and every day something like 150 liters of CO2 would fill the station's air supply.

Under normal circumstances and normal operations, that CO2 would be laboriously but reliably reprocessed back into breathable O2 by assistance from a large air save pump.

That same air save pump that had burned out. Even that, by itself, was not supposed to be a death sentence. The Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station carried with it an emergency supply of CO2 filters for just such an exigency. When the air save pump had burned out, Sergei simply pulled up the hatch on the habitat floor panel, dropping down the long arm as, slowly, the partial gravity of the habitat ring turned into micro-gravity, then no gravity at all in the center section. Sliding along the rails thoughtfully set there for such maneuvers, Sergei pulled out of storage a crate full of CO2 filters, then hauled it back up to the habitat ring.

When Seregi opened the crate he swore softly.

Fiction: "War Crimes"


++++ DATE 12.5.2469
++++ TIME 06:22 Borealis Basin North Polar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Hecatia Terminus Mining Collaborative, in the Borealis Basin of Mars

It had all gone incredibly, terribly wrong.

Havildar 2nd Class Astrid Narayan, Phoenicis Regiment, Company D, Force Section Alpha of the Mars Republic forced herself to relax her death-grip on her flechette pistol.

Holstering her sidearm, Astrid turned her head to get a good look at the entry wound on her left shoulder, but the camo-brown combat suit had already auto-sealed itself, only the sticky puce of the blood and the pounding fire below her collar bone betraying exactly how close she had almost come to dying before the micros in her bloodstream had kicked in to clot the wound.

Astrid pushed herself to her feet, collecting a handful of flechette cartridges from what had remained of her force section.

She tried not to look at their faces, but couldn't quite manage it. That was still better than looking at the faces of the others. The kids were the worst.

As far as her regiment was concerned, she was already dead. With the way things had gone, rescue was impossible, and the moment she tried to signal her location, Free State partisans would undoubtedly pick up the signal and trace it back to her. Hell, Astrid thought. That was probably how they had known where to hit us in the first place.

What had begun as a carefully planned occupation of the subterranean facilities of the Hecatia Terminus Mining Collaborative in the Borealis Basin had quickly turned into a proper cluster fuck almost as soon as her regiment made its insertion. They had gained access via a hastily rehabilitated mining tunnel that ran directly under the main compound, forward teams - including Astrid's own force section - securing the advance of the main force.

It had been impossible to tell who was a bystander and who was a partisan, so as her force section advanced they had had to neutralize absolutely everyone they came across rather than risk the entire operation being put at risk. They'd moved fast and with lethal efficiency, exactly as they'd been trained, taking half a dozen junction points before they felt, rather than heard, the blasts from the mining explosives that brought down the tunnel on half of Astrid's regiment.

The ambush had been exquisitely executed, Astrid thought bitterly.

The com had gone absolutely crazy, as each force section in turn was burned down by Free State partisans, improvised explosives and chemically-treated flechettes tearing through combat suits that could only reduce rather than stop the high-velocity carbon-fiber needles. This last firefight had happened as they had stopped for a moment to catch their breath; a grenade rolled into the room, spitting shrapnel and flechettes over it all. The only thing that had saved Astrid was the partisans getting cocky and moving too quickly into the room, allowing her to pick off both of them with her own weapon.

Her options were all bad. Some were just more bad than others.

Art Diary #6 - Calypso Frigate Design

Dedicated military naval design has led to a convergence around a few fairly standard classes of ship for battleships. Frigates, on the other hand, represent a different tradition, where multi-purpose, flexible, and frequently independent operation are more important than focused, streamline designs.

Where there is relatively little differentiation between the various types of destroyers and even dreadnoughts, there is a massive amount of differentiation in frigate design.

The Calypso class represents an older, multi-purpose frigate design that remains very common due to its broad adaptability, being used as short-range patrols boats, cheap small transports of goods and people, courier vessels, smuggling, and independent mining and salvage operators.

Traditionally, frigate classes are named after characters in Homer's Odyssey.

Congruent with this custom, the Calypso class frigate is named after the nymph whose unrequited love (though, it should be noted, not unrequited lust) for Odysseus led to the Greek hero being trapped on her island for several years, until the goddess Athena asks Zeus to order Calypso to free Odysseus to complete his long journey homeward.

Featuring two independently controlled paired engines that are capable of independent 360 degree rotation in addition to a primary rear engine, it typically flies with the paired engines rotated towards the rear, an arrangement which shifts to a perpendicular configuration at the final stage of landing or the initial stage of take-off. In addition to the paired engines for a total of four exothermic engines, the primary rear engine is comprised of six additional engines.

The primary benefit of this approach is that it allows for a considerably easier process of loading and unloading cargo, particularly in environments without sophisticated, or even any, port facilities. The Calypso is rated to comfortably land on any planetary body sporting a gravity of equal to or less than 0.135g, and with difficulty is able to manage this with gravities up to 0.166g. It is able to land on even an undeveloped asteroid, load or unload crew, then launch again with no interruption of service.

Fiction: "A Ghost Story"


++++ DATE 4.4.2469
++++ TIME 23:01 MST
++++ LOCATION Waka Ama shipyards around Makemake, in the Kuiper Belt

Hannah Taylor scrunched up her nose, the combination of dust and bright light causing her eyes to water and threatening a sneeze. She glanced surreptitiously behind to reassure herself that the others were still following her. After concluding to her satisfaction that none of them were straggling too far behind, she pressed on through the dark access tunnel, the dull thrum of the life support systems here only a distant rumble.

"Tutae kuri," muttered Liam Walker. "How much farther are we going, Hannah?"

"Pissing already?" Hannah retorted.

"No," Liam. "I'm no quitter."

"Good. Because..." Hannah paused, stopping at a T-junction. She clipped the light to a service line and pressed her hands to the panel in front of her. Grimacing, she pushed harder, and it moved with a pop. "We're here," she said triumphantly. "Everyone in!"

"About time," a girl named Anahera Hineira Kaa Singh muttered under her breath. Hannah glared daggers at her, and Anahera wilted, looking down at her feet as she ducked into the small room beyond.

"I can't see anything," complained someone.

As the last of the small troupe pushed in, Hannah grabbed the light and stepped in herself, securing the panel behind them. She reaffixed the light to the low ceiling above them, looking around the group. "Well?" she said. "What do you think?"

"What is this place?" Anahera asked, eyes darting around the blackness.

Hannah shrugged. "An old storage room, probably. It doesn't matter."

"It's pressurized, though, isn't it?" Liam asked diffidently.

"Obviously. Or we'd be dead." Hannah looked around at the five of them - three boys, three girls, including herself. "Don't look so worried. Nobody will look for us. It's nightcycle, and everyone is asleep, anyways."

Anahera put down the blanket she was carrying, sitting down gingerly. "This was actually a pretty good idea, Hannah. But what now?"

Hannah tossed her head as she took her own seat. "We tell ghost stories. That's what you're supposed to do when you do things like this."

"There are no ghosts in space," Anahera scoffed.

"You're wrong," Hannah said. "Oh, I'm not saying any ghosts followed our grandparents and great-grandparents when they came here from Earth. But we have ghosts of our own out here. Haven't you ever heard your parents talk about the Kehua Woman?"

Fiction: "The German Plan"


++++ DATE 13.3.2470
++++ TIME 14:00 GST
++++ LOCATION Gilgamesh Station, Sovereign Republic of Ganymede

Below, the panoply of Ganymede's surface stared endlessly back at Jupiter. With one face always facing the giant jovian king, one face was always in light, one in dark but for the faint light cast by the faraway Sun.

Twin shadows crossed between moon and gas giant, two mighty kings beholden to the Commonwealth of Callisto. The super dreadnoughts Karanus and Demetrius were each escorted by over dozen lesser shadows - destroyers mostly, but three dreadnoughts as well, and even a pair of frigates that hid in the wake of the mighty leviathans.

The flotilla represented a staggering commitment on the part of the Commonwealth, close to half the Commonwealth's naval force in capital ships. Even so, they were not enough to take on Ganymede's substantial planetary defenses, aided in part by the fact that the population was burrowed kilometers deep beneath the surface for both warmth and safety from such incidentals as threats of nuclear bombardment.

That, however, was not the flotilla's target.

A sprawling orbital naval dockyard sat on the Ganymede-Jupiter L1 Lagrangian point, flanked by a pair of dreadnoughts and a busy collection of smaller ships. Staring eternally into the Great Eye that was Jupiter, the dockyards were bathed in radiation held at bay only by the massive AMG systems sported by the station. The skeletons of a dozen ships including five dreadnoughts slowly took form under the swarm of assembly machines that crawled over their surfaces like so many autonomous metal spiders.

The Commonwealth super dreadnoughts, still sitting at extreme range, began to spat out hideous numbers of tactical nuclear missiles. Eighty-two of the things burned through the black in lethal silence, only the dim flares from their engines giving any sense of the impending apocalypse that was about to be visited upon the station.

The two dreadnoughts guarding the dockyards stirred to life, attitude thrusters bellowing in silence as the huge ships belatedly moved into an intercept position in an attempt to target the incoming storm before it wrecked the crown jewel of the Sovereign Republic of Ganymede's naval construction capabilities.

Fiction: "Redirect"


++++ DATE 3.3.2470
++++ TIME 07:58 CST
++++ LOCATION Sioux City, State, Earth

"Ms. Cao?"

Maggie Cao looked up at the tap on her door. "That's me. May I help you?"

"Bernard Huxley. State Internal Security." He held up a hand quickly, "Not here for you. Probably," he joked. "This is more in the way of a consultation."

Maggie nodded at the open chair on the opposite side of her desk. "What can I do for you, Mr. Huxley?"

"I am investigating a series of disappearances, and was when I ran an A.I. assisted network search, your name came up as someone who might be able to help. Do you have any idea why?" Bernard asked, settling into the chair with a heavy sigh.

Maggie set aside her terminal, folding her hands in her lap. "I can't imagine."

"As it turns out, I can. I took the liberty of looking you up." Bernard shrugged. "Hazard of my business. I'm sure you understand. Every one of said disappearances has occurred in the course of off-planet travel. Given my own upcoming vacation plans to visit the Water Gardens of Mare City on Luna, I have a personal interest in this as well," he chuckled. "Other than the method of travel, however, no other pattern. None. So now you can see why your name came up."

"Because I am the Chief Transport Logistics Specialist for Roche Industries."

"Exactly. There's no indication of the who or the why, but I am betting you can tell me how, and that might lead me to one of the other questions I am so interested in uncovering. Could you describe for me how personal travel works - logistically speaking?"

Maggie cleared her throat. "Well, it's pretty simple. The system is basically divided into two parts. The part people generally think about is the freighter."

She spread her hands apart until they were about half a meter. "Every freighter is basically an exothermic chemical engine on one end and an emergency crew compartment and bridge on the other, each separated by a rail. The rail is really nothing more than a series of docking ports for cargo cells."

"Not to sound too much the neophyte, but what's a cargo cell?"

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