Epistolary Experiment (6/30)

“Very well, gentlesophs. Since the main intrusion’s down coreward in the Reaches and the Expanse, the Warmain’s cleared us to go raise hell in the Vonnies’ 31st-sector backlot. We’re dividing the flight into talons by threes.”

“First Claw, under Flamefang, head rimward up through Kordal; your primary target is the fuel depot at Dantry. Blow it all t’hell. That should make sure their fleet operations stay quiet in this sector.”

“Second Claw, under Shadowstrike, straight spinward via Adesh; you’re going after the repair yards at Manar. Make it look like a raid. What you’re actually doing is planting replicant disorder in their systems. Any starship that refits there in the next year’s to have a raging case of ship-cancer, okay?”

“Third Claw, under Voidchill, down coreward, Adesh then Uinul. Commerce raiding for you, hitting up and down their main routes to the constellation. Bleed ’em white, and report to flag instantly by tangle if you observe – when you observe – military support coming up from coreward.”

“Meanwhile, Impertinence will be punching through to their colony at Vontok II. We’ll be securing local space and waiting for the Legions to arrive. Then we’ll see how they like ground fighting.”

– flight briefing, CS Impertinence, Quor (Csell Buffer) system

From: Phoebe Dracotarthius, Sheriff, Nightside Rock
To: Strategos Lucian Avaranaith, 73rd Imperial Legion (“the Apex Predators”)
Subject: Accomodations

Certainly we can accomodate you physically. This place is huge. We’ve got a fully-fitted class V star station here.

But you do realize that we have a physical staff of four – and five more-or-less helpful residents – to cover the whole of Uílel System? You’re going to have to bring your own tail, because while you’re welcome to our spare logistic capacity, we don’t have any in the first place.

Phoebe Dracotarthius

P.S. Any of your chaps in need of a warhorse?

Captain, I’ve occupied the Imperial enclave as you instructed, but I can’t hold it.

So far, I’ve lost two men to poisoned food, three to coolant leaks, eight to runaway transpods, five to runaway nanotech blooms, nine to basilisk hacks, and one has vanished entirely. We’ve had to blow out all the nanofabs to stop them from manufacturing some sort of attack spiderbots, everyone’s covered in bites from cyborg rats, and the whispering WON’T STOP.

And this is after we lobotomized the AI core.

Let’s just get clear and blow it. No way we can sterilize this.

– records of the occupation force on Ódeln (Vanguard Reaches)

Nightside Rock (2/2)

Crash.  Shit.  That would be the cerrúr

The cerrúr, unusual though it definitely was in a place like this, was arguably not the strangest of the Rock’s residents, except perhaps to the most cursory of glances.

Even the most ordinary part of the motley band was more than a little out of their element. Palyn Derres-ith-Derres and Valíë Essenye-ith-Estrey were taking another retirement from their careers – his third, if you didn’t count the children, and her fourth likewise – in Delphys’s media community.  They’d bought the license to operate the Last Gas, the old refueling station that had been incorporated into the Rock’s starport, during the brief boom times. The pair had stayed despite the slowdown as the Reach’s economy collapsed – sheer stubbornness, they said, and anyway, this was as good a place to rest for a while as any, wasn’t it?

The rest of the Rock certainly had cause to be grateful for their stubbornness. As talented an engineer as <Topaz Andante Leitmotif> was, there were certain issues with putting an ergovore in charge of the station’s hydroponics… such that everyone was delighted when Palyn gently but firmly and quite unofficially took over charge and care of the greenhouses. Certainly an irregular arrangement, but as long as he kept sharing his home-grown, home-cooked food, there was not a single sophont in the system who’d so much as blink.

mor-Tarkel Rentak and mor-Venek Issek were smugglers, an old kaeth couple who lived aboard their ship, a battered  old Sehereth-class free trader in its own private dock at the starport. Quite why they were staying docked at Nightside Rock, Phoebe wasn’t sure; rumors abounded of their being hunted should they leave by every agency in the region from the Fifth Directorate through the Vonnies’ Exception Management Group, but despite hearing ten thousand stories at a thousand dinners, that was one they wouldn’t tell.  Or, at least, never the same way twice.

And maybe one more, at least if the heat sensors were anything to go by.  The hermit had come through the Rock years ago, now, with a deed to the old Exploratory Service cache and caves, disappeared into it, and hadn’t been seen since.  The rods had been pulled on the thermal reactor and the juice was flowing, but he – or she, or whichever, given the privacy mantle that made the records less than useful on this point – was disinclined to answer signals, and the cache was an isolated system.

Still, even with its resident hiding from the rest of the Rock’s little community – and suffering from whatever horrors a steady diet of decade-old processed mycoprotein meals and algiprote ration bars visited on the digestion – so long as the heat emissions kept showing irregular variations Phoebe wouldn’t have to get a party together to go clean up the cache, and that was not nothing.

…and then there was the cerrúr. It was possible there was another star station somewhere with its very own warhorse, but despite the tone of her several dispatches on the point, Phoebe considered it unlikely that the Imperial Service, Logarchy of Procurement, Storage, and Logistics, contained two such… creatively inept executors as to, transposed digits or no transposed digits, ship cavalry resupply to a space station. Unfortunately, there also wasn’t one prepared to authorize the costs of shipping it back.

Still, despite its habit of getting into the greenhouses and helping itself to rather more than its proper rations, it wasn’t so bad to have around. Almost appropriate, in a way.

After all, it really wasn’t any more out of place on the Rock than everyone else.

Nightside Rock (1/2)

Phoebe Dracotarthius owned a star system.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true.  Her formal writ ran only to the three-mile-long rock that civilization – such as it was in these parts – was burrowed into, even if in the absence of any other authority its advisory traffic-control zone did run all the way out to system limit.  But sometimes, when she put on her suit, left the dome, and just gazed at the stars turning slowly from horizon to horizon, it was easy to forget that.

It was a pleasant thought, and when you were appointed to administer a backwater’s backwater like Nightside Rock, you needed all the pleasant thoughts you could get.

Not that it was an uncomfortable posting.  The Rock was a sprawlingly huge place by star-station standards, a waypoint build for a golden age when the Worlds were enthusiastic to have met another grand interstellar civilization, and the Csell colonies were about to boom, and the Uílel system was perfectly placed to bridge all three, and had been built to meet the demands of a roaring passing trade.

Naturally, they’d barely got the construction finished before it all went to Dark and damnation.  The Vonnies got back from their grand tour of the worlds with shock, horror, and a list of demands as long as a darcúlnó’s arm, which the Conclave was delighted to offer them some suggestions for; the abruptly-bordermarch Csell Reach was taken over by a bunch of surly self-emancipated AIs with little or no use for the Rock’s services; and the passing trade never came.

Galin Tarquelios was the first of her two subordinates, the port director of the Rock’s starport and all its acres of unused docking cradles, silent landing pads, and empty, echoing concourses.  Despite the almost complete lack of traffic – and the more so because despite his nominally lofty title he was the entire staff of the starport – Galin went about his duties with terrifying efficiency, punctilio, and cheerfulness, broadcasting status reports (“same as always”) and traffic bulletins (“none”) into the empty void and offering advisory control services to any ships his sensor arrays could pick up, much to the irritation of the motley crew of smugglers that still used the Uílel routing into Republic space.  Phoebe was uncertain whether his attitude came from a desperate attempt to earn a transfer out, or if he’d actually cracked, but on the whole thought it was best not to enquire all that closely.

<Topaz Andante Leitmotif> was the other, the disgruntled galari engineer responsible for the station’s infrastructure, who defying traditional galari serenity, had tuned vis translator to a bloody awful imitation of a south-coast Cestian drawl and learned to swear with… educational fluency.  Which would be, she thought, a reasonable enough if annoying coping mechanism if he hadn’t programmed the station AI to be just as disgruntled.  Even this far into the hinterworlds, telling any customers who did turn up to do that with their power couplings would not be the best of plans.

Laryn Katrian, manager and, like Galin, sole sophont staff of the Gloamin’ Home, their luxury hotel, had succumbed to the boredom long ago in the absence of guests, and with a full robot crew to keep the place running now occupied his days with extranet gaming and his nights with drinking his way through the entire opening stock of exotic liquor (estimated completion: 30.4 years) and sleeping in a different room every night (estimated completion: a mere nine years, with five gone, although pretty soon he’d be down to just the exotic-environment suites).

Crash.  Shit.  That would be the cerrúr