sample chapter 2

12 Oct

And some more infodumping. I think this is going to take a while to edit, when I get down to it. Right now I have maybe two thirds, or a bit over, written, so it will take at least a few weeks before I’m even done with that, and then it’s probably a good idea to keep a short break before I go for the edits.

Chapter 2

The ships used by the Survey branch of the Corps were among the most durable ever built.

That didn’t mean they were maintenance free. Their ship started to complain about a worn jump field grav capacitor when they were two days off planet, and one day away from the designated jump point.

“How many jumps can we do?” Rahan asked the AI.

“The ship can perform one with close to a hundred percent probability of finishing it. On the second the probability will drop to about 95 %. On the third it will be about 78 %. On the fourth 60 %. On the fifth…” The grav capacitors were needed to get in and out of the FTL flight bubble.

“Yes, we are getting it,” Rahan said, sounding somewhat grumpy even to himself in spite of  trying to keep his irritation out of his voice.

“What’s the nearest place with repair facilities?” Ryn asked, his voice carefully modulated into calmness. Rahan suspected he was still fuming, and that this setback was pissing him off as much as it was him. Rahan might not be a mindreader himself, but by now he thought he knew Ryn pretty well.

If the capacitor failed they might drop out of the FTL in the middle of a jump. That was potentially dangerous in itself, although these newer ships had fail safe systems which usually meant they’d emerge in one piece. The problem was that the ship did not have a startalk station. Those needed nearly as much power as the FTL drive itself did, and were usually installed only in the largest ships.

So if they dropped into normal space, and without the ability to go back to FTL, they might be lost for years, decades or even centuries. Even that was not a death sentence because the same technology which had given humans FTL had given them reliable stasis – which did not require that much power to maintain, just to start and finish, so the occupants would be able to wait in their boxes until they were found. And the jump paths between the stars were fairly constant, so their people would have some idea where to go looking.

But it meant the risk of losing everybody and everything they were familiar with, their families, their friends, the places they knew…

Rahan’s answer to Ryn was equally professional. This was business. You didn’t play games with subjects like this. “There are three. Closest will need only one jump, of two day duration.” They were called ‘jumps’ but they took subjective time anyway. “Seems to be a class six civilization, but they have been in contact for nearly a century now so presumably they will have the necessary facilities…” Rahan asked for a new database search from the AI “…yep, they should. The system is called Wala, it has two potentially habitable planets but only one terraformed one, Madalait. One of the last sublight wave colonies, so they haven’t been there that long, probably only about a thousand standards, and the people come from two second wave colonies, Mercaro and Suzanish. Okay, looks like that means that I could for once blend in.”

Rahan had slightly curly black hair and brown eyes, but his skin was almost porcelain white and he took forever to tan when he tried to do it naturally. A bit harsher star and he’d burn rather than tan if he forgot to take the pill. If somebody described his looks, with the narrow nose and the ‘round’ eyes he’d be said to look European and since that was a fairly rare look now Rahan was used to being somebody who stood out in most crowds. There were no humans of pure anything ancestry anymore, but certain broad traits in looks still existed, and the names of some of Terran continents had lived on as a shorthand for certain types of looks: African, Asian – sometimes divided into North and South – and European, and some people also used more specialized names, like ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ or ‘Scandinavian’, although those were more rare. But they were used just for looks, now, since the mixing which had happened during the different waves of colonizations meant that some people who now got called ‘Asians’ because their ancestors had happened to have enough people with that heritage for the the looks to become dominant might have a culture which derived mostly from what had once existed in some parts of South America mixed with heavy doses of ancient Scandinavian, while some called ‘Africans’ might have recognized early space age Chinese culture with American influences as the most likely ancestor to theirs, while an other group of ‘Africans’, looking exactly the same, would have felt most kinship with the white Canadians of the mid-period slowship colonization era of old Earth.

And then there were the colonies which had developed completely unprecedented new cultures from the older blends, ones which gave an endless source of work for cultural historians who would happily spend careers trying to untangle the different threads and figure which came from where.

Mercaro was a well established and developed planet with mostly European-African people, Suzanish a considerably more backward one of almost purely European ones, and the people of Madalait seemed to look mostly like Europeans with some hints of African. Rahan might look a touch pale compared to most of them, but yes, he thought he’d probably should be able to blend in well enough.

“Looks like they had a feudal society when contacted,” Rahan then continued, “serfs and lords and all that. Well, seems they are called peons and lords…”

“Presumably still have, then. You can’t change something like that in less than a man’s lifetime.”

“I’ll look… well, not officially, but yeah, the practical system doesn’t seem to have changed much. Just names.”

Ryn played with his own com a bit, downloading most of what the ship had concerning Madalait, and after a moment of looking at the highlights sighed. “The Corps main database lists a warning.”

“What…” Rahan had done the same and now searched. “They are… okay, they will not like you.”

“And not even disguising my eyes will help. They know about the Shemasharra, they know we are usually very dark and tall…”

“And as they do not see that many offworlders they are suspicious of anyone who looks like they might be one of you, and most of them act at least somewhat hostile towards all dark skinned and taller than average visitors… Yea, that does explain some things.” More humans had darker skin tones than didn’t. The planet was in a place where it should have, just by being where it was, gotten somewhat more traffic than it seemed to be getting. But if negotiating and trading with the locals would become difficult simply for looking a bit like one might be a Shemasharra…

Yes, that would explain some of its even lower than expected traffic.

“It’s still the best alternative. So we’d have a pretty good probability of reaching the other two, they’d both need two jumps, but since the main problem with Madalait is that you will have to do most of the work outside the ship,” he turned to look at Rahan and grinned – maybe he was starting to calm down a bit for real. “We’ll go there. I can play catch up with my reports.”

Rahan grinned back. “As if you had anything left unfinished.”

***

They touched down on the main starport. Or rather, the only official one. That was on the surface, while there were a few stations in near space, and one in orbit, they seemed to be purely for entertainment and research purposes – they had hotels, nightclubs and restaurants, and/or labs, but no real facilities for ships, nor much in the way of shops, not even stores catering to ships with something like foodstuffs. There were two where the interstellar liners embarked and disembarked their passengers, but even those got their supplies and got their repairs done on the surface. The big ones, those which could not land on a planet, did not come here at all.

So surface it was.

The planet’s tilt was similar to Old Terra, and there were two moons, both small, and a third natural satellite which would not be visible from the surface except as a fast moving pinprick of light. It was in the middle of a severe glaciation, and the poles and those parts of the hemispheres close to them were covered in ice, leaving the habitable area as a wide corridor around the equator. There seemed to be no real tropics, just shift from tundra to taiga to deciduous forest to a bit warmer climate version of deciduous forest, and then back, with a few small deserts here and there, and one big one, a mostly dry sea basin sitting right on the equator and between two continental plates which were in the beginning stages of the very slow motion collision of active plate tectonics. Rahan thought there was probably an interesting story for how that basin had managed to completely dry up, for it was not only a large one, it was also a rather deep one. There was also one spot where it was walled from the nearest ocean by only a very narrow looking isthmus. Drop a big enough bomb there and you’d get a really magnificent waterfall for several decades, possibly a century or more.

He grinned when he thought of that. Maybe somebody ought to suggest that to the people in charge here. From what he had looked at so far the colony very obviously was in need of money, and also seemed to lack any obvious means to get it. Offworld tourism was something that could bring in big bucks, especially since this world was not that far off the more travelled lanes, but there’d have to be something more than just rustic charm to draw it. ‘The biggest waterfall in known universe’ might be just what the doctor ordered.

On the longer perspective, the fact that the planet did have active plate tectonics promised good for its long term viability as a living planet. The fact that it had been completely dead before terraforming also meant that it would be one of those planets where the Terran biosphere might continue to develop as a purely Terran biosphere instead of the more normal hybrid between the imported life and the original alien micro-organic one.

One celled, and smaller, life had turned out to be rather normal on the planets sitting on the Goldilocks zones of different stars. But so far no explorers had found anything which would have resembled the original Terran biosphere. Usually you’d need some microvisor system to even see any of the found aliens, at least if you wanted to see more than some sort of slimy biofilm. Most had been different enough to prevent actual merging of the two forms of life, native and imported, but even so they always affected each other at least to some extent. Purely Terran biospheres were somewhat rare, and valued.

Most of the planet was covered in oceans, roughly a 70 %, and those seemed to be well stocked with Terran life. So was most of the ice-free land. A large part of that land was too far north or south for full human comfort, but that still left a more than large enough area for the rather small colony. There was also only one as it hadn’t yet grown large enough to split into different countries, a development which seemed rather inevitable after a certain size had been reached, somewhat depending on the habitability of the planet and how easy it was for dissenting groups to go forth and establish their own jurisdictions – or what stage of technological development the colony had kept or regained, for it was always a bit easier to establish a worldwide tyranny, any sort of tyranny, at a point when surveillance was easy but the populace did not yet have easy access to efficient countermeasures.

This one seemed to be something of a tyranny, in fact.

“Be careful,” Ryn had warned when Rahan had first ventured out after their landing. “Remember the database warnings.”

“Aye aye, I will. Highly corruptible officials should be good too, though, I can always bribe my way out if there are problems.”

“If you have enough credit and they didn’t get a better offer from somebody else. Or an order they dare not refuse since they live here and the elite in power seem to have a pretty thorough grip of the system right now.

“Just be careful, okay? They don’t like the Corps much here, even the human members. Remember that. Keep a low profile.”

Rahan grinned as he thought of that discussion. Ryn could be such a handwringer sometimes. Especially when he had to delegate.

Getting out of the ship on his own was good. The business of negotiating for the repairs had been swiftly done, and not overly expensive. Although he supposed he had ended up overpaying compared to what the locals did the price had not exceeded their budget, so good enough. And it was not on his credit anyway, this was a Corps ship and a Corps mission and Corps money paid for maintenance so the fact was he didn’t particularly care.

And after spending several months on the unpopulated planets he now had plenty of saved pay to use here.

***

The man was young, and had not been working long at the spaceport. It was his first job, actually. And he rather liked it, so at first he hesitated when he finally managed to crack the code protecting the information concerning the Corps ship which had landed a day earlier.

He was comfortable enough when it came to searching for forbidden knowledge in the databases for he had every confidence in his abilities as a hacker.

Forwarding that knowledge to people who might do something with it, something which might make it obvious that there had been a security breach, was something else.

But in the end his loyalty to the movement won out.

“Kerrin?”

“Yes.”

“I may have what you asked about in the last meeting. A Corps ship. The Survey branch, at least the ship is registered to them.”

“Yes?” The voice was cold.

He had never liked Kerrin, the man was a bitch. Not a son of a bitch, but a bitch.

But he was the contact.

“There seems to be one of them onboard. And what’s more, it’s a male one.”

A silence. Then: “Tell me more.”

***

The area close to the port had, of course, been the first Rahan explored. And entertaining enough on its own to merit several days. There were bars, brothels (which he intended to stay away from – even if he did not, on principle, have nothing against the concept of buying sex, providing the prostitutes were doing the job of their own choice, he had not done it himself and felt no particular urge to remedy his worldly education, or lack of, in that subject), restaurants, all kinds of shops selling both local goods and cheap imports. And a rather interesting looking open air bazaar. He had not, so far, never seen a real bazaar in person, so he figured that was going to keep him amused for several days.

So far he had only taken some preliminary looks. This, his third free day, was going to involve some more thorough combing of a few branches of that bazaar.

He knew he had several days. The repairs were going to take a while. The job itself was not complicated, but manufacturing the necessary parts was – according to the shop foreman he had talked with – going to take days since they had to purchase the schematics for printing those parts from offplanet. And for starters the next time they would be able to contact the seller had been four days away. Interstellar communication was expensive, it took almost as much power as flying a ship between stars did, and on planets like this it was not maintained continuously. You took your message, gave it to the operators and they would send those messages as a bundle maybe once a week or twice a week, or on some places once a month or even only once or twice a year.

They had been lucky enough to be in reach of a planet where the communication happened as often as once a week. There had been some talk about trying to buy the rights to keep the schematics in the ship databases, but so far the negotiations had not gone through except for the warships, for which the Corps had been willing to pay more. Those patents would still be valid for nearly four centuries too, so it did not look likely they’d get them in the near future, probably not in Rahan’s lifetime.

And by the time those patents got old the Corps would most likely be using newer ships.

That system meant things could get difficult, even dangerous, at times, but if the ship was in no particular hurry it also meant long shore leaves when stopping for repairs for the inmates – sorry, crew – so Rahan had decided, early on, that he rather liked the system the way it was now.

So, four days until the shop send the request for the schematics, a week after that before they’d get them (if lucky), and a few days after that until the work would be done. At least they seemed to have the materials needed for printing those parts in stock.

So – he had at least two weeks. Two weeks during which Ryn would be confined to the ship, and he’d be mostly free to explore this place. Not much undone jobs in the ship, and not much he even could do there. He had done his reports, the ship needed no maintenance they could do, and he was ahead with his coursework.

So, off to the bazaar!

Rahan took a last look behind, at the ship, gave it – and the man inside it – a one finger salute, and strode off, grinning from ear to ear.

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