Kinetic

I leap from my housing with a howl of mechanical joy, propfans already accelerating to their full cruising spin. I drop a full thousand feet before leveling out, intense acceleration tugging at my airfoils as I nail a near-right-angle skew-flip into horizontal flight, boomeranging and sideslipping my way through the other automatic flyers sharing the free-flight altitudes between the flitter lanes and the near-ground volume reserved for emergency vehicles –

I check structural rating across the local navigational mesh, engage in a quick passing trade of vectors with an Astroburger grill-drone, then reach out with a tethering field and swing myself around the First Distributed offices onto the city’s main drag, a long straight haul that will take me close to my target. Mindful of the monotonic tick of the payload-time-elapsed counter, I kick in my auxiliary rockets, feeling the thrust and the opposing forces as the shock cone begins to form. Warnings flash in my consciousness as the company externality-manager issues inconvenience payouts to the offices I thunder past, but I ignore them, shortcutting through an uncontrolled volume to make a minimal-delta skip onto the Outer Loop –

And I sense my target directly, no more than a mile ahead. I lock onto its transponder, kick in the auxiliaries again, then silence them and apply a touch of air-brake. The target is almost directly above me now as I cruise at the highest free-flight altitude. I receive clearance to enter the lane relayed through the company channels; noting my target’s lack of skydock equipment, I slip sideways a few feet, pip my transponder as a temporary skyway user, and rise alongside it.

I open a narrowband communications link, while the people inside the target are still turning to look at me in surprise.

“Citizen Minnis? I represent Capital Kinetic Couriers, ICC. I have a time-critical package for you – would you please follow me to the nearest parking hive to accept delivery?”

– adapted from the thought-log of Flight Lieutenant Siao 0xFE00DC9B (Retd.)

 

Hatred

Groggily, the prisoner raised his head as the door above him slid open. He tensed his muscles, but the welded wire bonds that attached him to the ore cart were too strong; all his struggles achieved was the cracking open of old scabs, and the oozing of more pinkish-yellow blood from his wrists and ankles. He could not even clear his mouth of the foam that had hardened there. All he could do was glare at the dark silhouette outside that door, and the bulky shapes that flanked it, in impotent fury.

“Boys, watch him and make sure he doesn’t try anything.”

“Uh, estrev -”

“Because I am about to indulge in monologuing. And I hate being interrupted when I am monologuing.”

The bulky shape, a linobir by the sound of its voice, took that as the warning it was and fell silent.

“Since we have never met, my dear Sen Kal, I thought perhaps you deserved a brief introduction. Certainly there will be little time for anything else, given the magnitude of your failure.”

“Beginning, of course, with attempting to contract me and my organization to assist with your meat-market. Did you really expect any different result? I may have abandoned the society and scruples of my prissy cousins for the sake of an ambition suited to my talents, but I am not, shall we say, entirely lost to decency.”

“And then,” the silhouette sighed, “there is the matter of our little game of dominance. You showed no promise at all, I am afraid. Outmaneuvered at every turn. Had you shown even marginal ability, you might have proved a useful tool. Had you recognized how outclassed you were and pled my mercy, you might have lived. Humility can be a virtue… for the low. But if there is one thing that I simply cannot abide, it is an incompetent who does not realize his own incompetence!”

“In any case: know, then, that it is Anatev Sarathos who has defeated you. I’d say it was a pleasure, but I fear it was not even that. And so, farewell.”

The sefir jerked in one last hopeless attempt to escape.

The door closed.

The door beneath him opened.

 

Ecumenopolis

The Empire has no true ecumenopolis within its borders. As those who are prone to wryly comment on such things might say: The many do not exist; the few lack the ecumene; and the one lacks the polis.

The few, of course, are those beehive colonies occupying the biggest asteroids and smallest moons in Imperial space – such as 1 Andír, once the largest asteroid among the e’Luminiarien, then home to the first of the habitats of the growing belter culture, and now cored and hollowed, tunneled, reformed, and chambered, remade in its entirety into Andir Drift, a single labyrinthine city of 79 million embodied souls, nearly 600 miles across – if you don’t include the largest set of radiator vanes ever constructed, which almost double that figure. Impressive, certainly, but an ecumene? Perhaps not.

And then there is Qechra.

Qechra, which is the Transcend’s forge world.

Qechra, where synapse moons and unity spires are born.

Qechra, which while it can spare some capacity now and again to make Ring Dynamics some stargate hulls, or run off some high-density computronium for Bright Shadow, belongs to Mahánárel and Medáríäh from crust to core, in heart and soul.

From the smelters and reactors buried down deep in the fringes of the Mohorovicic, to the webs of automated assemblers, processors, and stranger machinery still in its middle crust, opened to the sky where repurposed oceans thunder through its cooling gorges and blast skyward in a furnace-draught of steam; through all the tangled webs of coolant pipes honeycombing the world, leading out to the outermost branches of sky towers where massive ontotechnological entropy pumps shower hot neutrinos into the depths of space; in the endless assembly caverns and above the crystalline peaks of processor mountains; in all of these, this world belongs to the Forger and the All-Abundant.

Only in the factory-cathedrals of the surface is there any place for sophonts of lesser order than such Powers, those few who serve and command the machinery below, and the pilgrims who come to wonder at this technarch’s heaven.

But Qechra is not their polis, not a friendly home like the hexterranes of Coricál. Qechra is the Transcend’s potency made manifest. It shrugs off lesser powers than its own without a thought.

– Other Wonders of the Galaxy, Ademone Kirvin-ith-Kirvin

Undeath

Ravens.

Why are they always ravens?

I have met lots of dar-vorac in civilian life, and while they’re strange in the usual ways that uplifts are strange, dar-bandal possibly somewhat excepted, and they’re mostly cheerful, well-adjusted people. No death fixations or suchlike abound, unless you count their taste in restaurants. Oh, slevanka, please let it not be the eyeballs.

But in the Legions, if your battle goes sideways hard enough that you need to send for a necromancer – sorry, battlefield nonfunctional/deathected asset repurposing specialist – then eleven times out of twelve you’ll see a raven flying in. Accompanied by the rising, swirling, drone-spewed mist of nanites that’s going to chew its way into the plentiful corpses, biophage the spare parts, and use the resulting energy to make the rest shamble their way towards the enemy and pull the trigger from time to time before being shot to sufficient pieces. Well enough to serve as a distraction or cover your retreat, anyway.

You just have to hope the enemy finds it as creepifying as we do.

Or, at least, as nauseating.

 

Safety

prophylock (n.): Used primarily by free traders, a prophylock is a collapsible docking module used when rendezvousing with untrusted vessels for cargo transfer. Similar to a standard docking module, a prophylock is a cylinder with an IUSI-P or IUSI-F androgynous adapter on each end, one to attach to the host starship and one to dock with the foreign starship.

The prophylock, however, has near its outboard end an armored barrier which prohibits the passage of sophonts, equipped with a secure passage (complete with mechanical interlocks preventing both sides from being opened simultaneously, and sampling systems for testing the contents before opening the inner door) through which the transfers may take place. In the event that both vessels are using prophylocks, the secure passage systems are designed to allow transfers from one to the other without direct integration, but also without requiring anyone to occupy the ‘tween-lock volume.

Rather than the direct data systems connection of a standard IUSI adapter, the prophylock connects the foreign data bus to a limited-functionality terminal, permitting communication and negotiation to take place without information risk.

Finally, the outboard end of the prophylock is equipped, for the case in which a lack of trust should turn out to be justified, with an explosive collar to sever the outboard androgynous adapter, thus reliably breaking the connection between vessels, along with solid-fuel jettison rockets to push the host vessel back immediately upon collar detonation, shortening the time to safe burn clearance as much as possible.

Fly safe. Dock safer.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary


(Yes, I was thinking of Out of Gas when I wrote this one…)

Museum

Exhibit 137: The Empty Box

There are lots of empty boxes in the galaxy, but only one is the Empty Box.

This simple, small cube of tarnished silver and lead, recovered from a Precursor site on Omane (First Expanses), is unique because it is exactly that: empty. It contains no mere vacuum.

Within its internal “volume”, for lack of a better word, there is nothing; not only the absence of mass-energy, but also of everything else. There is no space within the cube, nor does time pass there. The most sensitive measuring instruments available detect no activity within, not even that of the quantum foam. Most significantly, radiation passed through the cube appears to travel faster than light, passing into one facet and out of the opposing facet with the delay that would be expected were the inner facets of the cube to be coterminous – which we believe them to be, in fact. A captured glitch in the fabric of space, perhaps, or an experiment in creating the ultimate emptiness?

It is, of course, quite impossible. But then, everything here is.

– exhibit label at the Museum of Manifest Impossibilities,
Landing, Víëlle (Thirteen Colonies)

Walk

On that day, eleven years before Alphas I crowned himself, two figures walked down the dusty road striking down from the wooded dales of upland Vintiver into the setting sun. The hills on either side of the road were shadowy, draped as they were with the vines of the purplish-black Vintiver grapes, whose scent hung heavy in the stifling air of late summer, but no such mercy was afforded the road itself.

The elder of them marched steadily in front, face battered by sun and wind beneath black hair, bound back by a leather thong, and bearing a notable gray streak from an underlying scar. Swathed in a light cotton wrap, covered only by a few selected plates of lacquered armor and the pouches and bundles at his wide belt, the sheathed teirian across his back and hanrian ready at his hip made his profession abundantly clear.

The younger stumbled along behind him, face purpling under sweat-streaked blond hair. Wrapped in antiquated bronze chain from neck to ankle, while the thin-bladed knives of his bandolier and the glaive upon which he leaned tried to convey that same impression, his need to lean under the weight of the immense pack slung across his back detracted rather from it.

The younger spoke.

“So.”

The elder replied.

“Mm.”

“This is adventuring.”

“Mm.”

“The books never mentioned this part.”

“Mm.”

“All the walking, I mean.”

“Mm.”

“Epic quests, terrifying foes, romance, treasure, unbelievable sights, forbidden and forgotten wisdoms, ancient artifacts from the era beyond time, and greater than even odds of unpleasant death, yes, but not all the walking.”

“Mm.”

“But I suppose we have to get to them somehow.”

“Mm.”

“I just assumed that we would have some suitably epic mode of transportation, too.”

“Mm.”

“Don’t you have anything to say besides ‘mm’?”

“No. Walking.”