So you’ve been attacked in the Rim Free Zone…

“So you’ve been attacked in the Free Zone…

“…you had a security provider, right? At least I hope you had a security provider, given the giant ‘THE RIM FREE ZONE TRAVEL FACILITATORS’ ASSOCIATION RECOMMENDS THAT YOU GET A SECURITY PROVIDER’ banner hanging in the starport with maybe a thousand different security provider advertisements stacked fog-thick around it in the augmentality.

“But maybe you didn’t take that advice. Or wanted to save money. Or plain didn’t have the money, or the rep, or anything else worth exchange-value.

“And no-one was around at the time? ‘Cause, I mean, not having a security provider doesn’t mean that no-one’s watching your back – it just means that no-one’s being paid to officially watch your back for you, and what you mostly have to watch out for are con artists and other relatively subtle kinds of fraud. (Well, maybe not that subtle, if you played the shell game with that dude who hangs around by the startown maglev.) But we all believe in non-aggression here on Hopamar, and if someone tried to attack you on the main drag, half the people around’d shoot him on general principles, and the other half’d shoot him for what the judge’d award them once she got done stripping the assets off his bones.

“But maybe some kveth-licker fresh off a ship from the Yaffish Marches got to you in an alley when no-one was around, took your terminal and foldcase away from you, and stabbed you cleanly in the left kidney.

“That’s when you call us.

Triple-G Eleemosynary Redistributionists, Inc.

“We make crime not pay.”

“For now, though… do you consent to emergency medical treatment and agree that payment for it can be added to your legal claim against your assailant?”

– a Triple-G advertisement-drone, to a prospective customer

Trope-a-Day: What Do You Mean, It’s Not Political?

What Do You Mean, It’s Not Political?: It is, I suppose, only in the generic sense of fiction featuring utopias or near-utopias, which is to say, only insofar as it’s therefore automatically a Take That to all those other, lesser, civilizations.

As for more strictly political issues: well, if you’re willing to draw moderately inexact analogies, the Isliar Primarchy is a Take That to traditionalist conservatives, the Magen Corporate to corporatist conservatives, the Annik Sodality to liberals, the Voniensa Republic is one to moderates/statists, the People’s State of Bantral and the Equality Concord to communists (more anarchic and more static, respectively), the Iltine Union to fascists, the Theomachy of Galia to half the Middle East and arbitrarily-selected other religiously-dominated states, Valturak and Nal Kalak to warlordism, the Rim Free Zone to anarcho-capitalists and especially dogmatic Rothbardians, and every single-system backwater polity ever to humanists and Luddites. (Feel free to select whichever combination of acknowledgement and/or ignorance will produce the spin you want on my personal opinions.)

Imperial political scientists clionomists have a The Reason You Suck speech ready for all of these, and by extension, for just about everybody on Earth with a political opinion at all.  Which is appropriate, since by and large, that everybody has a loud and profoundly ignorant reality-immune political opinion is one of the major reasons why, to steal a perfectly quote, it would be their considered opinion that “All you of Earth are idiots!

Question: Great Powers

It’s question-answering time again:

Would you mind if I request a list of “great powers” and their overall internal/external policies? I am very curious about major powers other than the Empire and the Republic.

Well… maybe not all of ‘em. There are some whose revelations I would prefer to save for story purposes, and I must leave myself some breathing room for the sake of future creative freedom, and all. But I can give you a bit of data.

Hyperpowers

There are two that stand notably above the rest:

The Empire of the Star

Well, as everybody knows, the Empire and its 300 worlds don’t have an internal policy, except possibly the policy that people who think that they ought to get an internal policy should be thrown off 400’ waterfalls.

…well, okay, that’s not entirely true. The governance’s internal policy is to benignly umpire matters such that everyone can enjoy their liberties howsoever they wish, which leaves it largely up to the people. What the people want is a measure of laissez-faire mixed with a measure of laissez les bons temps rouler, served over the gospel of libertism-technepraxism and garnished with a sprig of Gilded Age – excuse me, Solid Gold Age – excess. And so that’s what they get.

In official foreign policy terms that translates out to a relatively passive “free trade (unilaterally), free people (by shooting slavers with KEWs), and free gifts for anyone who wants to join up”, plus general peacekeeping in the sense of demonstrating force majeure to anyone whose brushfire war might turn into something more serious. Oh, and striking down with great vengeance and furious anger anyone who might try and stop the good times, of course. That goes without saying.

This leaves the rest of the foreign policy to be determined by corporations, branches, and individuals with an agenda, which resulting policy coheres only rarely with anything else.

Voniensa Republic

Internally, just like their Expy original, they’re basically a paper federal republic that the technocracy (in the literal sense) behind the scenes wears as a figurehat. You don’t need me to tell you what their domestic policy is like: “moneyless” society, working to better ourselves, replicators and asceticism, a societal fear of augmentation, biochauvinism and carbon chauvinism, yadda yadda etc. all packaged in a chewy idealistic shell. We’ve seen lots of episodes of it each week at 7pm Central Time, only with shaved monkeys instead of four-armed lizards.

Or, at least, that’s what the Core Worlds are like. Life is somewhat different in the Shell, because of certain uncomfortable economic necessities, but… tum-te-tum-te-tum, saving that for later.

Their external policy is determined more or less entirely by their one major external contact, their border with the Worlds, which they regard with fear, loathing, and a general sense of existential threatenedness. They’re not wrong, either, but especially in the wake of the Core War, they’re not at all sure what if anything they can do about it.

The Other Four Presidium Powers

Consolidated Waserai Echelons

The Consolidated Waserai Echelons are a hierarchical military oligarchy located towards the coreward-nadir region of the Worlds, controlling approximately 100 systems. Which sounds terribly dictatorial, except given the militant character and inborn public service ethic of the waserai, they aren’t for-the-sake-of-it assholes about it, and their government form actually suits them very well indeed, which even the Imperials would admit. And it means they don’t have to run a “socialized” economy, since the social institutions they built ab initio were strong enough that they didn’t have to socialize it. (They actually get along reasonably well, except for the few elements of compulsory collectivism and a general sense that the waserai should, y’know, pull the stick out from time to time.)

Externally, they’re upstanding galactic citizens who look out for the status quo and the general enforcement of galactic law, such as it is. They’re somewhat more interventionist than the Empire, albeit not by much, and do like to think of themselves as galactic peacekeepers – which is largely true, and makes the IN happy, since they’re glad to accept help when shooting them as need it. The Waserai Star Brigade, of course, takes the same basic view the other way round, a subject of much friendly debate in naval bars.

League of Meridian

The League of Meridian is a democratic federal republic of approximately 80 worlds to trailing, moderate and centrist in its politics, and pragmatic in its approach to them.

Or, depending on how you look at it, a bunch of smooth-talking weasels who wouldn’t recognize a moral principle on a nice, bright day and rewrite their policies every couple of years just to be extra-annoying. But in general, if there’s an issue, they’re somewhere right in the uncomfortable middle ground, scrabbling to find compromises.

Yeah, they’re basically just like us and them. IN SPACE!

Photonic Network

The Photonic Network is a pure-AI polity controlling 80 worlds or so to acme. Since their forms of identity are generally unfamiliar to protein intelligences, it’s fairly hard to say anything about what their internal policies look like, except the general statement that they mostly deal with resource and priority allocation among, and arbitration between, teleological threads.

Its external policies can be summed up as “keep our back yard quiet, and try not to get hopelessly entangled in organic affairs”. The few deviations from that are usually attributed to some cunning negotiation on the part of some other polity’s superintelligent AI population, or for reasons amounting to “we wouldn’t understand the answer if they told us as plainly as they could”.

They are, however, a reliable Presidium vote in favor of expanding sophont rights as far as possible, which is probably for nobler or at least more intellectually complex reasons than “sticking it to the carbon chauvinists”, but that’s as good a reason to suppose as any in the meantime.

Under-Blue-Star League

The Under-Blue-Star League, is, alas, the weak member of the Presidium right now. They used to be much more active (they were a founding member of the Accord, in fact), but their sixty-world polity has grown old, moribund, and rather grumpy these days.

Their external policy has, correspondingly, become rather isolationist, and their Presidium votes often slanted towards “what will cause us the least trouble”. Internally, though – well, the problem these days is that their external policy makes it correspondingly difficult to tell what’s going on within the League, unwelcoming to visitors as it has become. They used to be a family/clan-centric loose confederation with few centralized policies other than promoting trade, genetic diversity through exogamy, and technological development… and maybe they still are, or at least they’re not obviously not.

A great deal of time, newsbytes, and occasional violence swirls around, however, the contentious question of just who might replace them on the Presidium if this decline continues.

Other Notable Players

Equality Concord

The Equality Concord and its dozen worlds share the dubious distinction of being the galaxy’s only genuinely functional, non-corrupt, decent-standard-of-living-enabled, etc., communist state.

(As opposed to genuinely non-functional communist states, like the former People’s State of Bantral.)

That’s because the Concord’s founders recognized the fundamental problem of Real True Communism requiring a whole set of instincts and drives and incentives and desires that are not commonly found among sophonts as nature made them. So they studied the gentle art of sophotechnology, and they built themselves some nice bionic implants to fix that problem, and create the perfect collectivist people for their perfect collectivist utopia. And then, and this is the important bit, they avoided the classic trap by applying the implants to themselves before applying them to anyone else.

It works. It may not be the most innovative of regimes, or the wealthiest, or up there on whatever other metric you choose to apply, but it does work, and self-perpetuates quite nicely.

Pity about that whole “free will” thing, but you can’t make an omelette, right?

External-policy-wise, it’s quite active both in a missionary sense (for itself) and in general do-goodery to burnish its galactopolitical image. (Both of these tend to work mostly on the desperate of one kind or another; the mainstream still thinks they’re creepy as hell.)

They do have a strong defensive military, but avoid using it in most offensive roles – probably because its collective intelligence knows that if there was even a slight suggestion that they were expanding by forcible implantation, they’d be on the wrong end of a multilateral fleet before you could say hegemonizing swarm.

Rim Free Zone

The Rim Free Zone isn’t, technically, a polity. It is, however, 49 worlds scattered through the rimward end of the Shadow Systems, the biggest bloc in that location, and so it has to be called something.

It’s not a polity because it’s 49 worlds all adherent to anarchocapitalism, of one strain or another. Which strain you get depends on exactly where you are, ranging from polite and civilized as the North American Confederacy, through somewhat less reputable but still perfectly reasonable places like, say, New Hong Kong, all the way down to pits of scum and villainy like Jackson’s Whole. You pay your money – no, you literally pay your money – and you take your choice.

But they are a big and ugly enough bloc to figure into the interstellar political calculus as a Great Power because it turns out that you don’t need to be a government to be mighty troublesome for one. That, and 49 worlds full of anarchocapitalists have a lot of guns, belike.

Trope-a-Day: Proud Merchant Race Guy

Proud Merchant Race Guy: This and the next couple of tropes are difficult, because, well, it’s just not all that hatty a universe.  The Imperials are notorious for their pro-commerce attitudes (see: Blue and Orange Morality) and – especially on Seranth (Imperial Core), one of the Worlds’ largest tradeworlds (see Merchant City, but if you stick to the flying cities, basically it’s like an entire planet of Wall Street/The City/Hong Kong/Singapore) you can walk along the plutarch-crowded Exchange and reasonably consider the Seranthines to be, although of multiple species, a kind of Proud Merchant Race – but even there, they need people to run the restaurants and keep the cities flying and generally provide all the other aspects of society. Of the Empire’s species, well, the eldrae plutarchs can be very mercantile without too much trouble, and the ciseflish, even more so. All the money may flow through Seranth, but an awful lot of it flows to Ólish.

There a number of other species who are known for being very mercantile – the d!grith, for example, have a much larger merchant fleet and trade volume than one might expect from the other statistics of the 22 planet D!grith Association, the codramaju are also vigorous traders even beyond the Worlds (having a speed/mass advantage in their lighthuggers, due to their innate radiation resistance), and of course, in the Rim Free Zone, absolutely everything is for sale.  But it’s not like any of them don’t require enough non-merchants around to keep the hat from fitting all that tightly, either.

Trope-a-Day: Liberty Over Prosperity

Liberty Over Prosperity: Outright inverted, from most perspectives.  The Empire with its tiny apathetic example of The Government is also, by any reasonable standard, the polity with the largest amount of cashy money sloshing around at all levels of its economy, while its economists mutter smugly about ‘deadweight loss’, ‘artificial scarcity’ and ‘regulatory barriers to innovation’.  With the exception of certain rule-proving anomalies (true Hive Minds, new colonies, active war zones, and such), the correlation between liberty and prosperity is almost universally strong.

The perspective which might not invert it is that the Rim Free Zone, which has no governance, is not as prosperous as the Empire, or even some of what its economists might call “first-tier economies” – but really, that just shows that to make this be true, you have to go right to the most extreme example and try hard not to look anywhere else.

(Of course, it is not helped by being the go-to polity for the anarchists who are too disagreeable to accept the Contract or the Principles of Consent and Obligation, those heart-principles of enlightened libertism. It would undoubtedly work better without the Societies of Consent disproportionately siphoning off the non-jackasses.)

Refuge Cities

In today’s random postage, something I just wrote on the worldbuilding mailing list, in response to the following:

Do your worlds have a Peace town [city of refuge], where people can go in order to avoid the law?

Not as such, or at least not officially. (Certainly people, like, say, the Imperial State Security Fourth Directorate – whose explicit mission is tracking down anyone who flees the law and introducing them to the stealth gyroc bullet of justice – wouldn’t bother complying with any such requirement even if there was one.)

If you need to flee from the law in the Worlds, your best chance of doing so is change your name, change your body, and head at once via a suitably circuitous route – changing them another couple of times on the way – to some appropriate wretched hive of scum and villainy like, say, Nepscia, where the locals all have enough dark secrets and dodgy business going on that they tend to look askance at anyone wandering around carrying alethiometers or mindprinting equipment even if they don’t actually look like The Law. Of course, while this can be fairly effective in hiding from even rather competent law enforcers (such as the aforementioned Fourth Directorate), the drawback to fleeing to Nepscia is that you subsequently have to live on Nepscia for the rest of your personal ever, which in many ways is its own punishment.

Depending on if you might have pleased or annoyed the right people, you might be able to find refuge somewhere else, too. If you got into trouble helping their fellows escape, for example, the liberated AIs of the Silicate Tree will offer you sanctuary, because they don’t give a bit for meat intelligences in general, but they do understand gratitude. Or if you can find some way of making yourself more useful to them than any trouble you might bring with you is troublesome, of course, although then you should understand clearly that your sanctuary will last precisely as long as your utility.

The Empire, of course, provides a comfortable retirement for all manner of smugglers, free-thinkers, authors, scientists, philosophers, and transsophontists who got into trouble with assorted restrictionist laws, and even some of the right kind of revolutionary (“the People’s Extropian Front”, “Technicians Against Unnecessary Work”, “Citizens United for Liberty and Immortality! Down with DEATH AND TAXES!”, that sort of thing), because of (a) their steadfast refusal to ever extradite anyone for something that isn’t against Imperial law, and (b) because the modal Imperial citizen-shareholder thinks annoying the sort of people responsible for the laws they got in trouble with is downright hilarious.

The Rim Free Zone also serves in this role quite a bit – after all, they’re actual anarchists, and so there’s no-one there you could ask to extradite someone even if you wanted to. Of course, since there’s also no-one who’s paid to prevent anyone else from turning up and dragging you off in chains, etc., you’d better be able to afford PPL coverage suitable to defend you against whoever wants you if you exercise this option, or at least to make yourself too expensive to come get. This should be unavailable to actual criminals, inasmuch as the Free Zone does hold to a sort of rough-and-ready version of natural rights that PPLs won’t defend you against other people if you violate ’em, but if you have enough money, you can probably find a slash-trading PPL that’s willing to do it anyway.

And, equally of course, you’d better be careful that you don’t commit your special crimes against people in the Free Zone once you get there. To steal a perfectly apposite quotation from Buck Godot – just because there is no law in the Rim Free Zone, that doesn’t mean there are no rules.

Trope-a-Day: Global Currency

Global Currency: Played straight, twice, and arguably more often.

The first of them is the Empire’s esteyn, acceptable everywhere in it and existing in the interests of internal free trade.  It’s a quasi-fiat currency, managed by the Imperial Board of Money and Values to avoid either inflationary or deflationary tendencies to provide a reliable store of exchange-value.  It’s acceptable anywhere the Imperial writ runs, in quanta from the micro-esteyn to the mega-esteyn, and is denominated in a truly remarkable range of values as well as its official ones, inasmuch as to simplify the transition, most of the local currencies which formerly existed were redefined as new denominations of the esteyn.

(The management is done on the basis of an energy/cycle index, these days, modified for secular productivity changes due to innovation.  It used to be done on the basis of a rather broader basket of commodities, likewise modified, but the advances in nanofacturing and automation technology have thinned it quite considerably, in consequence.  Also, while technically it’s done by the IBMV, in practice, in the modern era, most of the day-to-day work is done by a massively-distributed AI which extends itself all through everywhere there is an economy and keeps track of those statistics which it needs to know to make things work.)

The second is the Accord exval, an interstellar exchange currency between and supported by the signatories to the Accord on Trade, and managed by the Conclave and the Galactic Trade Association on their behalf – or rather by their tame AI – to be valued at the real-time floating average value of the currencies of each of the members.  (This makes it rather more volatile than the esteyn, both because many members prefer to hide or play silly-bugger games with their actual economic numbers, and because enough of its members are AI-phobic enough that the GTA’s AI is nowhere near as intelligent or self-directing as the Empire’s Fiscal Prime.  Some people evidently find it hard to turn control over to a machine that’s smarter than they are.)  The exval is not, for the most part, a real currency – it’s money of account and exchange currency, used to optimize cross-polity electronic currency transfers and make it easier to track the real values of foreign-held assets – and to let working spacers and tourists know what the actual prices of things are as they spend (most polities that receive any amount of tourism, and just about all the starports/startowns, dual-label goods in local money and Accord exvals; which one gets the round number and which one floats tends to vary by location).

There are a number of other currencies of general acceptability; the venerable gAu, gAg, and gPt can be traded anywhere, although you need so damn much of them given modern mining technology and its effect on the value of the underlying metals, it’s hardly worth bothering anywhere off Hicksworld.  The energy (usually antimatter) backed, fully convertible, ergcred is sometimes seen, especially out towards the Rim Free Zone.  A few of the higher-infotech societies out there occasionally talk up the virtues of the finality – and use it between themselves – backed by irreversible computational operations, but have trouble selling it to people of less infogeekery.

Operation Search and Expunge (5/5): After-Action Report

Unidentified Habitat, Moons of Braníthár, Mírlan System – Mission Complete

The view from the hab’s for’ard lounge was spectacular, Morria decided. Outside, storms and swirling winds swept the blue face of Braníthár, and  the upper limb of the planet flashed with periodic fluorescence  as Tehelmír’s radiation swept over it.

Her new bioshell was a vatjob, but close enough to her usual frame to feel close to home. She turned her attention back to the trigraphic projection unrolling between her seat and her employer’s, the counter at its base ticking off from MET +0:13:30. From behind the eyes of the gray shadow of her previous incarnation, she watched as…

…it slammed and locked the entrance door, infowar daemons code-locking it behind, then moved smoothly through the server cluster, snapping off precise needler shots at the technicians.

Even as they fell, it moved to the control pillar, and punched in a request; data began to stream up the pillar in a continuous cascade, too fast to read on the recording, while the hiss of cutting torches came through clearly.

”I haven’t had the opportunity to review the file listing you pulled. Anything noteworthy?”

”Mostly just the usual – Delphys InVids and slinkies, any amount of flat text, audio and EM recordings – a few poorly secured consumer product and printfood recipes. But there was one item of interest; copies of the Ikarakakt forknapped mind-states.”

”So, the Narijics are moving up to slaving, now.  Good to know.”

Meanwhile, the projection continued to unroll; the data streaming up the pillar coming to an end even as the hiss of the torches came to a stop. The shadow unslung the pinch from its shoulder, twisted its midsection, and set it on the floor.

With a crash, the door fell inward.

The image blurred and stopped as the lifelog ended. Mission Elapsed Time +0:15:69.

”Survivors?”

”Enough to tell the tale. Office staff, in the outer ring, and if the security there was even halfway competent, some of the core techs should have survived them, the pinch, and my bugout charge. Total data loss, though.”

”Excellent work, Operative, excellent! The Association will pay out the full performance bonus.”

”There’s just one thing that always bothers me about these missions, Chief.”

He looked at her inquiringly.

”I never get to remember if I thought of any good last words.”

Operation Search and Expunge (4/5): Dying Meat

Central Office, Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:11:22

The monitor showed a picture of absolute carnage; the inner security checkpoint littered with corpses, splashed with blood in a half-dozen colors.

“Well, Ahkshar?” the blue-scaled kalatri behind the desk asked the linobir standing in front of it, under the guns of the door guards. “How do you explain the complete failure of your mercenaries?”

“The intruder — there was no — it was –“

The linobir’s translator stuttered and cracked, but hse was saved from the immediate need to answer by a flashing pop-up message on the manager’s desk.

++ WARNING: MULTIPLE SYSTEM FAILURES (TISSUE BANK)

A tap on the message, and the monitor now showed another room; a haze of smoke drifting up from the silos around the perimeter of the room. Fluid gushed from severed pipes leading to suspension units in clusters nearer the room’s center, and the clone bodies held within them writhed and choked as they asphyxiated.

The kalatri’s eyes blazed, red with fury; and a single shot caved in the linobir’s facial aspect.

“You and you, come with me. Instruct everyone who’s left to converge on the central server area. I am taking charge of this personally.“

Mission Elapsed Time +0:12:19

Operation Search and Expunge (3/5): Meatgrinder

Security Checkpoint, Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:08:17

Shit. Unbelievable greencored shit. The fresh-awakened linobir finished struggling into hsis combat armor, and leapt for the checkpoint door. “Would someone shut that selffucking siren up?” hse demanded. “And what in the selffucking netherworld is –”

The status board spelled it out all too clearly, though. Hull penetration in the outer office ring, compartments – too many compartments – open to space. Half the spacetight doors were down, and the rest slicing the external security force into a dozen isolated sections with diabolic cunning; and yellow system-unreliability markers radiating out from the damaged areas, showing a spreading stain of infowar perversion.

A spearhead pointed straight at hsis checkpoint, the route to the inner core of the drift. As hse watched, the final corridor segment outside the checkpoint flicked over to the black of decompression, with the accompanying clack of sealing valves from the outer blast door.

“Defense stations!” hse yelled, scrambling to take cover behind the room’s central wall, gesturing with one mid-leg to a nearby lieutenant, “And you, shut off every infosystem in here before we lose them. They’ll be –”

A series of loud metallic clangs resounded from outside the blast door, distracting the guards for a fatal moment; a fractured second. Hse barely had time to speak a syllable before the ceiling service panel tore open, and a small object dropped through.

The needle-blast of the grenade tore through the first and second ranks of the guards. The gray ghost that followed it rapidly began to carve its way through the last line, moving elegantly as a dancer through the carnage – splatters of red, blue-black, yellow and white – while the flèchettes of the survivors caromed off its armor.

Hse spun to face it, raising hsis weapon a fraction too slowly; at its gesture, a shaped gravitic pulse ripped free hsis right limbs and tore into hsis guts.

Shi-

Mission Elapsed Time +0:09:64

Operation Search and Expunge (2/5): Breach

Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:00:01

In the base of the crater in which the pod had impacted – aided by the requirement for stealth of the illicit drift, which couldn’t afford to reveal its position by installing local defense systems, never mind by actually using said systems – a brief mist hung in the void as the heat-charged thermal goo abruptly vented.

A moment of stillness to allow it to disperse, and the forward body of the pod cracked down its mid-line and opened, a humanoid figure pulling itself upright from its cradle of impact foam.  Me, Operative Morria.

Well, in mind, anyway.  My internal self-image doesn’t all resemble the Jímar-class single-op ‘shell they assign us for these missions, thank Ithával – hairless, sexless, regolith-gray skin the texture of old leather directly wedded to ceramet armor-plating.  And, more relevant to the immediate situation, without any particular need to breathe…

Enough fresh-reinstantiate woolgathering, Morria, I reminded myself.  “A slow incarnation is a dead incarnation,” as they say, and don’t let that distract you either.  There would already be local security cycling the locks to check out the impact site.  I yanked the equipment packages out of the pod, and stashed them around me, the pinch over one shoulder, grenades and the breacher charge over the other, weapon in hand, then fired up local wireless and ordered a self-diagnostic.  Straight-line blue.  A moment to order the pod into self-destruct and check the composite had started to deliquesce, and I was off in a high, bounding run.

*             *             *             *             *

The same consideration, of course, was why I couldn’t enter through the locks, either.  Well, shouldn’t.  Beating up on the local security might be fun, but very much outside mission parameters.  Which is why three minutes later I was not approaching the locks marked on my plan, but rather a flat spot in the asteroid wall where the habitat excavations had brushed a bit too close to the surface and been reinforced with a fused-wall.  I brushed the regolith aside, slapped the breacher to the surface, and leapt for cover while it drilled itself in —

The ground pulsed, and with a silent roar air fountained from the wound torn in the habitat, bringing with it a litter of smart-paper and aerogel mugs and other light stuff caught in the outflow before the spacetight doors slammed down.  A couple of bodies came with it, too, who must have been standing right next to the wall when it breached.  One was a kalatri in Voniensan uniform, I noted absently, adding his now perpetually-surprised features to the log-vlog; that wasn’t in the mission plan.

Speed is life.  I flicked a red-banded grenade, HE and needles to flush out the non-oxyeaters, into the hole and dived in after it, pirouetting to scan the room.  Nothing but corpse-char and wrecked office equipment; excellent, but half the drift would have felt the twin detonations.  Service duct.  There.  All was going as planned, now to keep moving, taking out the air and the automation as I went…

Operation Search and Expunge (1/5): Entry

Narijic System, Freeport Loop

The lights of the stargate flared as the megafreighter emerged from its throat, making its braking burn to slingshot around the Narijic sun for the outbound gate, and at the opportune moment, a pod no bigger than a domestic flitter detached from the underside of the long fuel trusses, falling into the system on a trajectory that would carry it into the local asteroid belt.

Within the aft section of the pod, tanklets of thermal goo hissed as the heat pumps went into operation, keeping the pod’s internal heat from reaching its outermost skin.  While any long-term stealth was impossible, the tanklets held enough to keep the pod chilled for several hours before they had to be vented, which – the mission planners thought – should be enough separation from the freighter that suspicious eyes wouldn’t be looking in its direction any more.  If not… well, it would be a much shorter mission.

And in the forward section, the long, slow process of thawing out and reinstantiating Operative Morria – on a minimal heat budget – could begin.