Archive | December, 2011

Earth’s Opium War

16 Dec

I’ve just had this idea running through my head. It’s not particularly original, but I feel that it has yet to be done properly.

Let’s assume that the expanding edge of an interstellar empire brushes against Earth. Now, Earth really doesn’t have that much to interest an alien race with FTL technology. There are masses of planets like Earth and Mars out there (in universe) without troublesome natives. Earth’s tech really isn’t advanced enough to interest them (at least those aliens who aren’t interested in cooing over the equivalent of tomahawks and basic ploughs). They don’t really want to invade Earth and they don’t want to commit genocide to eliminate a troublesome barbaric race that can’t even get into space to stay.

What they do want is the solar system. So they move in and explain to Earth that they’ve claimed the gas giants, the asteroids and the comets – oh, and the moon as well. Gas giants are for fuel mining (HE3 would perhaps be the backbone of the galactic economy), asteroids for metals, comets for water-ice…etc, etc. Now, under galactic law, Earth (the US in particular) technically owns the moon, on the grounds the US landed on it first. Obviously, all the morons who think that the stuff floating around in space shouldn’t be claimed for nationalist or commercial reasons will have a cow over this, but the aliens don’t really give a damn. The human race has no way of enforcing its laws over the aliens; Galactic Law basically only recognises power and convention – “if you can’t enforce your laws, tough shit, you’re under our laws and we will happily enforce them with as many rocks as necessary to teach the stupid primitives a lesson. You’re too dumb to put a permanent presence on your own moon – you had your chance, stupid.”

So this particular bunch of aliens gives the US a small amount of alien tech in exchange for accepting that the aliens have taken the moon. When the US balks, the aliens drop a couple of KEWs on military targets (mass slaughter of defenceless civilians is frowned upon by Galactic Law). The good news is that the tech the aliens give the US is basically clean nuclear power and super-batteries and maybe a handful of other tricks. They’re also willing to trade small amounts of tech or raw materials from space in exchange for Earth-made goods and suchlike that they can produce for themselves, but don’t want to waste time doing it (kind-of like how China makes many computers for American markets).

A handful of humans have accepted employment with the aliens, doing various jobs for them (basically, menial jobs; not the sort of thing you really want). Others have been looking for ways to hit back at the aliens.

Anyway, I’m still thinking about ideas for this universe. One would be Earth’s development of a space capability of its own, although that has been done. Another would be trying to find a way to integrate Earth into the alien system so that humans get some basic rights – a small and poor planet, but one with prospects instead of being stuck at the bottom of a gravity well.

Thoughts?

Chris

Alternate End To American Revolution

14 Dec

Just a vague idea for a pure alternate history novel, based partly on Scott’s writing…

The POD is when Benedict Arnold leads an American force in an invasion of Canada. Historically, his men effectively ended his thrust by insisting on leaving when their service periods expired – right in the midst of the campaign. That was a perfectly predicable problem, so the POD is Arnold being smart enough to have his men’s enlistments extended. This means that most of Canada will likely fall to the American rebels. The main exception will be Halifax, which was supposed to be impregnable.

This probably won’t alter events in New York. Howe will still land and Washington will escape by the skin of his teeth. What this does change are attitudes in France and Spain. In OTL, they didn’t join the war until after Saratoga. Now, they join the war after Canada is effectively occupied (the French may consider hinting about having Quebec returned to their control after the war.) What this means is that any British advance from Canada (which led to Saratoga) is dead in the water. This is actually a good thing for the British, but they don’t see it that way.

Congress politics will be very different in ATL. Washington looked very good after bouncing back from New York; Arnold looked bad, even though he was (on paper) a more qualified general than Washington. In ATL, Arnold has a pretty major victory to his credit, while Washington looks like a lucky boob who almost lost the rebels their chance at victory. Most of the material written about this period is written with the benefit of hindsight – I am presuming that Arnold gets the overall command, satisfying his ambitions and therefore preventing him from turning traitor.

The British find the French entry into the war to be very satisfying, as it lets them have a second go at the French and Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. Most of them probably fall very quickly, leaving the French and Spanish a chance to rue having decided to help the Americans. They work hard on their plan to invade Britain itself, but bad luck, bad weather and poor planning torpedo the plans before the Royal Navy gets a chance to show what it can do. The Spanish in particular are pissed; the Royal Navy has managed to capture much of one of their treasure fleets, giving British finances a shot in the arm.

Eventually, the British launch an invasion of the American south (not unlike the campaign that eventually led to Yorktown). This is the sort of campaign that Britain tends to dread for historical reasons; a long drawn-out struggle on what is effectively a mainland. It also leads to a number of devil’s bargains; the British find themselves forced to turn a blind eye to slavery, rather than liberating the slaves. On the plus side, the American rebels are largely out of money, the Spanish are definitely out of money and the French invasion plans have been thwarted. Oh, and they’ve scooped up the Spanish territories in North America.

What I suspect would eventually happen will be a set of discussions between British and American representatives. Everyone wants out of the war, for different reasons. Arnold is probably savvy enough (or a pro-British American) to see a chance to mend fences while screwing France and Spain. The Americans eventually end up with the Northern Colonies and Canada (sans Halifax; the RN would refuse to give up a second Gibraltar) and independence. Britain gets the lower South, plus Spanish and French colonies in the Caribbean. This is a great bargain from the British POV – and the French have been royally buggered.

Historically, the Tories (American Loyalists) went to Canada. In ATL, they’ll go to the American South (call it the Crown Domain of Louisiana). There will also be an influx of British and former German settlers, who will be settled in the south. That’s bad news for the Native Americans, but no one really cares. Washington (or someone American) will still burn them out of the US.

Now, this probably has some significant effects on the post-war US. In OTL, the US didn’t have a significant outside threat to worry about, outside of Canada and the Native Americans. The British generally didn’t want to fight the US as it would be damaging economically even if they won. Here, the British have a much larger and far more valuable patch of land – I think the US would be pressed into forming a stronger federal government. A really bad scenario from our perspective would be a government formed by Arnold rather than Washington. On the other hand, the presence of a British army on the southern border may concentrate a few minds.

The most interesting point is that this universe’s version of the US is likely to abolish slavery. OTL’s slaves were mainly in the south even before the cotton gin made slavery profitable again. Here, the slaves are likely to be freed in the US as the votes to keep the slaves will have gone to the British.

Britain will regard the end of the war with mixed feelings. Historically, the UK regarded the sugar islands as more important than the American colonies. (In the long term, this was stupid, but few understood that at the time.) On that basis, the UK is going to be sniggering about the outcome. At the same time, they will have to keep a major force in Louisiana just in case the Americans feel like a second round. And there will be Native Americans to deal with as well. In fact, assuming that this timeline sees a version of the Napoleonic Wars, the British will be in an excellent position to take Mexico before it can declare independence from Spain.

The downside is that Britain will get the slave-keeping south. If slavery is economically important (and I suspect it will be) there will be much less antislavery campaigning in the UK (or at least it will be less effective.)

Thoughts? How might this timeline develop?

Chris

The Child Emperor–A Snippet

12 Dec

Prologue

The Emperor Roland was the greatest Emperor in a thousand years. He was the smartest and most capable of Emperors. His sense of justice, for human and alien alike, was renowned throughout the galaxy. He was the most desirable man in the Empire, courted by all of the most admired stars of stage and screen; indeed, his portrait hung on every wall. His stand at the Battle of Augustus Reach had saved the Empire from collapse. He had improved the lives of each and every one of his subjects – and in return, they worshipped and admired their Emperor. The Imperial propagandists said so – it must be true.

Roland – Emperor of the Imperial Empire, King of Earth, Grand Admiral of the Stellar Fleets, Warlord of Mars, Defender of the Faiths, Protector of Humanity, and at least another thousand titles, depending on who was doing the counting – knew better. He was thirteen years old and he had been Emperor since he was four, five years after the Battle of Augustus Reach. His grandfather, Emperor Gregory IV, had been cursed by ambition and blessed with the intelligence to nurture his single-minded climb to power. The previous Emperor had suffered a fatal accident and Gregory had stepped in to save the Empire from chaos, or at least that was what the official version said. Roland’s father had been born to the purple, but two years into his reign his ship had come out of warp too close to an asteroid and slammed into it at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light. It was an accident. Everyone said so, at least when they thought someone else might be listening.

The Imperial Throne was uncomfortable. It was made out of solid gold, according to the legends, and had been designed for someone rather bigger. Roland knew he looked absurd in it, even though his Regents assured him that he would grow into his role. And that, Roland knew, was the cruellest joke of all. His three Regents had moved swiftly to take control as soon as Roland’s father was confirmed dead. Roland himself was little more than a puppet on a golden throne. They called him the Childe Roland and smiled to his face, all the while considering when they would remove him in favour of another minor from the Imperial Family. There was no shortage of people with a claim to the throne.

Sighing inwardly – he had schooled himself not to show any emotion since he had realised what had happened to his father – he looked up at the petitioners before him. Two of them were human, if from the outer edges of the Empire. Humans were the most numerous race in the galaxy; they had built the empire that had brought peace and prosperity to thousands of alien races. And if some of those alien races had had to be forced into the human-led association…well, they were just barbarians and deserved a good thrashing to teach them who was in charge. The third was clearly alien, a SssLan. There were millions of them out along the edge of empire, with their own small semi-autonomous empire just beyond the edge of human-controlled space. Roland’s Regents had been quite worried about them. The Imperial Navy was far stronger, but it was spread thinly, even with the network of wormholes that allowed instant transit from one galactic sector to another. It was quite possible that the SssLan could cause a great deal of damage before they were finally smashed into submission.

“Your Majesty,” the lead human said, “have you considered our proposals?”

The honest answer to that was no. Roland had not considered their proposals, for the very simple reason he had no power to grant or refuse them. His Regents had studied it, or so they had assured him, and they had made the decision. Whatever Roland thought didn’t matter.

“We have considered them,” he said, gravely. It wasn’t time to defy his Regents. He was allowed some leeway in non-sensitive matters, but never when the Empire – and the power of the three men who controlled him – was at stake. “You propose an interesting concept.”

There was a long pause. He’d been told what to say, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“We cannot merely cede the sectors to you,” he said, looking directly at the alien. The SssLan were the real players, the puppet-masters behind the scenes. “But we will raise no objection if you take them through an overtly acceptable method.”

The SssLan’s beady eyes studied him, carefully. “That is acceptable,” he said. “There will be no need to alarm the human population.”

Roland snorted, inwardly. The one thing that could unite an increasingly splintered empire was anti-alien paranoia. If the SssLan moved overtly, even the Senate would support a war to the knife. But if they moved quietly, through human proxies…they could take an entire sector and no one on Earth would care. The humans would, out along the rim, but they weren’t important. They certainly didn’t control votes in the Senate.

“No doubt,” he agreed. What did the two humans think? They had to know that they were being used, didn’t they? “It is always a pleasure doing business with you.”

The media would claim that – when they found out, or it was leaked – that it was a masterful act of statesmanship. It would secure peace for a thousand years. They would praise the Child Roland to the stars for his prodigal gifts of diplomacy and his skills in managing the Empire.

And Roland, the most isolated person in an Empire of over ninety trillion humans and assorted alien races, knew that their fine words didn’t make it true.

Broken Blade– Snippet

11 Dec

Comments would be welcome…

Chapter One

“You look like someone who could do with a drink.”

Garry didn’t look up from his table. “And you look like someone who could do with having his head kicked in,” he snarled. “I suggest you fuck off before I improve your looks…”

“I’d really rather you didn’t,” the newcomer said. “And I think that you would rather I didn’t too.”

He took a seat opposite Garry and, for the first time, Garry looked up at his face. The newcomer had an average face, one that would be easily lost in a crowd. There was nothing particularly noticeable about it at all, save a handful of hints that suggested that the newcomer had had his face altered more than once. Cellular reconstruction could give someone a new face, or even a new body, but it had its limits. Eventually, the user would no longer have an animate face. The nerves would resist all further adjustments.

“You’ve not had a good day,” the newcomer observed, cheerfully. “You came into this…dive seven hours ago, after your interview with Colonel Hawke. Since then, you’ve consumed enough alcohol to have a normal man flat on his back – and you’ve put three Marines in the hospital. The Shore Patrol are currently arguing over whose responsibility it is to put you in the brig – I don’t think you want to be here when they come.”

“Bunch of pansies,” Garry snarled. “The ones who can’t make it anywhere else – they join the Shore Patrol and make our lives miserable. Does it really matter what we do on our time off?”

He waved to the automated barkeeper, the human attendant having made himself scarce after the first Marine had been hurled across the room. “I’d order you a drink, but you’re not drinking with me,” he added. “Why don’t you throw the first punch or fuck off out of here?”

“I think you’d much rather I stayed,” the newcomer said, quietly. He held out one arm, pulling back the sleeve to reveal what was on his wrist. Even in his half-drunken stage, Garry recognised the Golden Star, the mark of those who served the Imperials directly. No one could wear one, save it’s bearer – and anyone who tried to pick one up with their bare skin died quickly. Even a second’s contact could have crippling effects. “I didn’t come into this…cesspool to drink and pick up cheap women. I came here for you.”

Garry glared at him. “Well, it sucks to be you then,” he said. The barkeep placed another glass of beer in front of him and he reached for it. It shattered in front of him and he jumped backwards, reflexes that had been beaten into him still working despite the alcoholic haze. “What…?”

“I know what happened to you,” the newcomer said. “I’ve come to offer you a second chance. Come with me or stay here until the Shore Patrol arrives. You’ll put a goodly number of them in hospital; they’ll put you in the brig and you won’t wake up until they’ve walked you past a tame judge and dropped you on Hellhole. And even a Blade can’t get off a penal world.”

“I might as well go,” Garry said. “What use is a Blade without a purpose?”

“You can stop feeling sorry for yourself as well,” the newcomer said. He signalled the barkeep and the robot produced a glass of clear liquid. “You can drink that while I square us with the Shore Patrol and then get us to Titan. You have an appointment with the Viceroy.”

“You’re on Imperial Service,” Garry said, as he eyed the glass. It smelled like sober-up. A quick sip proved that it tasted like sober-up too. “Why don’t we just beat the crap out of them and escape on a stolen starship, Mr. Serviceman?”

“Because my superiors would be unhappy,” the newcomer said. “And my name is Raphael.”

Garry chuckled. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. He took a long swig of the sober-up and cursed as it washed through his system. The alcoholic haze faded away almost instantly. “And where did you say we were going?”

“Titan,” Raphael said. “And yes, you are pleased to see me. You really have no other hope of returning to your former duties.”

***

Garry had wondered, given how much authority Imperial Servicemen wielded on a daily basis, if Raphael would march them up to one of the cruisers docked along the rim of the station and demand immediate transport to Titan. Instead, he led Garry to a small yacht that looked as if it had been built for pleasure rather than business. Anyone who saw it, Garry realised grudgingly, would think that it was carrying a handful of wealthy businessmen to Titan to plead their case with the Viceroy, rather than an Imperial Serviceman and a former Blade. The court-martial proceedings hadn’t been published yet – they’d remain under seal for another Standard Year – but all of his former friends would have been warned. They could have no contact with Garry, or their careers would be permanently blighted.

He used the facilities in the ship to shower and shave, as well as swallowing two pills that would boost his endurance and help him to stay awake. Garry had learned the value of sleep long before he’d been invited to try out for the Blades – the most elite Special Forces unit in the Empire – but he didn’t want to sleep. There were too many nightmares lurking at the back of his mind. Maybe he’d end his own life, he thought, darkly. Blades rarely lasted long when they left the service. The mundane world held little for them.

Titan grew in front of them – one of the moons of Saturn – and Garry was grudgingly impressed by how quickly they were granted permission to approach. The moon was the base for the Sector Fleet as well as the primary accommodation of the Viceroy of Earth, the undisputed ruler of the Human Sector. Garry had long since made his peace with the fact that aliens ruled the Empire and humans were a very unimportant race, even if it did offend his dignity. The Imperials ruled their Empire better than any human would have managed, he was sure. No human-ruled Empire on Old Earth had lasted over three thousand years.

“The Viceroy won’t stand on protocol,” Raphael said. Garry started; Raphael had told him, but it hadn’t sunk in that he’d been meeting the Viceroy in person. There was no one short of Centre itself, even at the Sirius Shipyards, who could overrule the Viceroy. And the Viceroy had been dealing with humans for nearly a thousand years. They’d never commented on the matter to their subject races, but it was clear that the same Viceroy had ruled Earth and the Human Sector for all that time. It was clear that they were a very long-lived race. The longest any human had lived was three hundred years, with excellent medical care. “Just remember; he won’t be impressed by blustering either. Speak your mind plainly and frankly; one word from him could have you back in the Blades, or abandoned on Hellhole.”

Garry nodded. Hellhole, the penal world in the Human Sector, was a nightmare. Convicts and their families – if their families wished to accompany them – were deposited on Hellhole with enough supplies to last them a few months, if they were careful. What happened next was up to them. The Imperials didn’t interfere with the former prisoners; Garry had no doubt that Hellhole fully lived up to its name. Maybe in a few hundred years there would be a stable population and a planetary society that could be brought into the Empire. Or maybe the humans and aliens down on the surface would wipe each other out before they could build a functioning society.

The ship had a small shuttle, which took them down directly into Titan’s storms. Unlike Mars or Venus, no one had ever tried to terraform Titan. It was a wild place, unsuited for human accommodation – which made it perfect for the Imperial Navy. The superdreadnaughts in orbit around Titan could be based close enough to Earth to react to any trouble, but far away enough to avoid reminding the human government of their presence. Not, Garry suspected, that anyone could really forget. It would only take an hour for the superdreadnaughts to reach Earth orbit and impose order, if the Viceroy ordered them into action.

There seemed to be no security precautions as they landed the shuttle and walked into a warm compound, somewhere under the endless storms, but Garry’s interior sensors could pick up a number of very intrusive security probes. Hunter-killed nanomachines hung in the air, just waiting for the order to terminate unwanted intruders with brutal simplicity. Garry had to admire the dedication of the security officers, and the Imperials themselves. Their quarters were bare, almost unadorned. The only decoration he could see was a simple set of paintings, each one depicting a scene from the Conquest of Earth. They were originals, with copies scattered throughout the Human Sector; the landings at Washington, the march through France, the sinking of a human wet-navy vessel, the destruction of a city…they were a stark reminder that the Imperials hadn’t come in peace. And yet…couldn’t humanity claim to have benefited from the Conquest?

He shook his head. There was little point in worrying over what might have happened in the past. All he could do was consider the future; if, indeed, he had a future.

Raphael snapped to attention as an unseen door slid open, revealing the Viceroy of Earth. He was the first Imperial Garry had seen in the flesh and he couldn’t help, but study the alien carefully. The Viceroy was tall, with an oversized head that didn’t seem to match his spindly body. He was utterly hairless; his flesh a uniform orange that had earned the Imperials the nickname of pumpkins, back during the early days of the Conquest. The Viceroy wore a simple white tunic, embroidered with gold thread that marked his rank and status. There were those who found the appearance of the galaxy’s overlords to be amusing. It didn’t change the fact that the Imperials were in charge. Those who disputed it tended not to live very long.

“Please,” the Viceroy said, “be seated.”

Garry felt a shiver running down the back of his neck as the Viceroy spoke. The alien’s voice was completely atonal, yet there was no sign of a voder. Two chairs rapidly grew up from the floor – a display of nanotechnology that would not be available to common citizens – and Garry took one of them. Raphael took the other, seemingly completely at ease in the presence of the Viceroy. Garry envied him his poise.

“I am fully aware of the matter that led to your discharge,” the Viceroy said. He – or maybe it was a she; the Imperials guarded all information about themselves with a determination that Garry could only admire – was still showing nothing that could indicate his emotions. “It has been determined that you may be able to carry out a delicate task for us. If you complete it successfully, you will be reinstated in the Blades, or otherwise rewarded as you desire. I do not believe that I need warn you that the task will be dangerous as well as delicate.”

Garry nodded. The Imperial hadn’t asked him if he wanted to carry out the task, which suggested that he’d studied Garry’s profile very carefully. If there was a chance for reinstatement, Garry would take it. But then…given the circumstances under which Garry had been given his discharge, even an Imperial would have to push hard to get the Corps to reinstate him. The mission had to be thoroughly dangerous – and utterly off the records.

“Some years ago,” the Viceroy said, taking Garry’s silence for acceptance, “a survey mission in Sector 666 discovered an artefact from an unknown civilisation. You will be aware, of course, that no sentient species has been discovered within Sector 666, suggesting quite strongly that the artefact was brought to the sector by an unknown race. The artefact in question was transported back to Earth and secured within Imperial Navy facilities on Earth’s moon, where it was studied. Preliminary studies raised more questions than answers. The artefact’s nature was impossible to determine.”

He raised a hand and a holographic image flickered into existence. At first sight, the artefact was rather disappointing. It looked like a solid lump of iron – a scale at the bottom revealed that the artefact was rectangular, roughly the size of a treasure chest – with engravings burned into the metal. Garry studied it as the image rotated, unable to lose the impression that it was a box of some kind.

“It looks like a box,” he said finally, curious despite himself. “Did anyone try to open it?”

“That was the impression of the research team,” the Viceroy confirmed. “However, all attempts to open the box – if indeed it is a box – have proven disappointing. The material the artefact is constructed from is impossible to identify, which should be impossible. It reflects all sensor probes and we have been unable to locate any access points that we could use to slip in a swarm of research nanoprobes. We were researching the artefact carefully when it was stolen from the research facility.”

Garry looked up in surprise. There was a procedure for handling artefacts from unknown races, even if most artefacts tended to be nothing more exotic than alien versions of Imperial-developed technologies like the Phase Drive or Shield Modulator. They were always kept isolated, under tight security. Stealing an artefact should be impossible.

“At first, we believed that we had traced the thief,” Raphael explained. “The security network on the day of the thief was very expertly subverted. Our interest focused on Professor Amelia Lang” – the holographic image changed to show a young woman, with dark hair and a brilliant smile – “as she not only had the expertise to subvert the security software, but also left the base shortly after the time we assume the theft took place.”

Garry frowned, stroking his chin. “I assume you searched the base thoroughly?”

“We did,” Raphael confirmed. “It soon became apparent that the thief also subverted the security scanners on the shuttle, as there was no alert when the passengers boarded the ship. The base sent a security team to Professor Lang’s apartment in Geneva as soon as they realised that she was a prime suspect, but they found nothing – apart from a tiny amount of ash. We now believe that someone murdered Lang on her previous visit to Earth – one week prior to the theft – and took her place.”

“Impressive,” Garry murmured. It was easy to have an operative adjusted to match a person’s appearance and even their genetic code, but it was far harder to have them maintain the impersonation in front of people who had presumably known the real Professor Lang. “And what happened to the mystery thief?”

“We crunched our way through thousands of possible leads,” Raphael admitted. “It was not easy. A person with the level of expertise displayed by the imposter would not leave many clues behind that we could use to follow her. In the end, we caught a lucky break – the imposter bribed a smuggler for transport off Earth. One of the smuggler’s crewmen was actually working for Imperial Intelligence; unfortunately, as very few people knew of the investigation, we were unaware of this until the Jennie Lea left orbit and vanished into interstellar space.”

He nodded and a second person appeared in front of them. “This is the face she wore when she boarded the smuggler’s ship,” he said. The imposter was now a redhead, with a surprisingly large pair of breasts. Garry shook his head in silent admiration. Any male who saw her would barely notice her face with those breasts shaking in front of his eyes. “She stayed in her cabin for the entire trip, along with a single transport case that – we believe – held the artefact. There was no need to clear customs at her destination.”

Garry was starting to have a very bad feeling about the entire story. “And where did she go?”

“Independence,” Raphael said. “And that leaves us with something of a problem.”

“Smart of her,” Garry admitted. “The one place in the sector where we couldn’t go after her openly.”

Independence had been settled for over nine hundred years, a world right on the marginable side of habitable. The Imperials had settled the problem of thousands of humans who resisted their rule by offering the misfits a chance to settle their own world, one that would be largely independent from the Empire. There was some contact between Independence and the rest of the Human Sector – no one was interested in blockading the planet – but it was politically independent. And that meant that Raphael and his Golden Star would be about as welcome as a entire fleet of superdreadnaughts.

And if the Viceroy did send in the superdreadnaughts, Independence’s myriad communities would probably dare them to scorch the world rather than surrender. And the artefact would certainly be lost in the chaos.

“We have good reason to believe that the artefact is still on the planet,” the Viceroy said. “We require you to locate the artefact for us. Should you locate it’s hiding place, you will be free to call in Marines or Blades from a cloaked ship that will be placed within the system, awaiting your call. We would prefer, of course, that you recovered it yourself. An armed incursion on Independence, for whatever reason, would upset the local political arrangements in the Human Sector. We must be seen to keep our word.”

There was a pause. “You will have access to all the covert help we can offer you,” the Viceroy added. “Vast funds will be placed at your disposal. All we ask is that you find the artefact.”

Garry looked down at his hands. Blades went in, whatever the risk; it was the unit motto. And if he did find the artefact – an incredibly difficult task – they wouldn’t be able to refuse his return to active service. The Viceroy’s gratitude would go a very long way.

And he had never been able to resist a challenge.

“Thank you,” he said. “I won’t let you down.”

Terror, War and Space: A Timeline of the Future

11 Dec

I’ve written this up as background for a proposed story.  Comments would be welcome.

2012-2019

The overall drawdown of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan continued, despite growing unrest and instability in Pakistan. By 2017, the US presence had shrunk to a handful of Special Forces teams, targeting terrorist bases over Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The US effectively declared victory in the war on terror.

With the US distracted (and in need of its help) Russia effectively secured control over its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and throughout Central Asia. Russian military forces propped up pro-Russian factors, although – having learned from the USSR – there was little attempt to interfere in domestic spheres. Despite this, however, the Russian economy continued to stagnate as young and talented Russians fled the country for Europe or America.

The economic crisis of 2009 hit China particularly hard, but the Chinese were able to keep their government together through artful manipulation, a number of limited concessions and bloody repression. The Chinese Government reduced regulation covering businesses, in exchange for which businesses were expected to refrain from criticizing the Communist Party directly and assist in advancing Chinese interests around the world. Chinese businesses established valible contacts throughout East Asia and Africa as China had no qualms about doing business with highly-repressive regimes.

Europe’s economic and political crisis grew worse as pro-EU and anti-EU factions within the continent prevented any positive steps to tackle the crisis. The election of a number of right-wing governments only added to the crisis, a crisis that was blamed partly on immigrants and foreign speculators. Attacks on immigrants (and descendents of immigrants) increased within Europe, with the police often standing on the sidelines and refusing to intervene. Parts of Europe became consumed with ethnic and even religious violence, adding to the growing chaos.

The Arab Spring had largely given way to the chill of winter. In Libya, the provisional government was unable to prevent Islamists from taking control of the country, prompting a massive refugee flight from Libya to Algeria or Europe. The frail Iraqi democracy staggered under repeated blows from Islamist or Iranian factions, while Iran and Saudi remained as repressive as ever.

Latin America had suffered badly from the economic slump. Some states, including Venezuela and Argentina, saw the return of military governments; others saw a slump into chaos. The tide of immigration to the north picked up sharply, prompting demand for harsher laws against illegal immigration.

With NASA conspicuously unable to produce a workable shuttle replacement, a number of commercial aerospace industries stepped up to the plate. By 2019, seven variants on SSTO orbit technology were flying, mostly for commercial interests. The USAF and, to a lesser extent, the ESA started experimenting with orbital weaponry. China and Russia were not slow to produce their own weapons, although on a very limited basis.

2019-2024

With the US preparing for the 2020 presidential election, disaster struck as Islamic terrorists (direct descendents of the scattered and largely broken AQ) finally realised their dream of nuking a major American city. San Francisco, playing host to the Democratic National Congress at the time, was devastated when the nuke detonated, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. The President (A Democrat) found himself isolated and even threatened with impeachment as investigators discovered that several opportunities to stop the attack had been missed, purely out of fear of being accused of racial profiling. With everyone blaming everyone else, the United States found itself consumed with violence directed against Muslims and, to some extent, federal agencies.

The bomb was finally traced to Russia, one of a handful that had gone missing during the post-Cold War era. Although the Russian Government shot a number of people as a human sacrifice, the Russians refused to disarm or meet any of the more extreme American demands. Lacking a clear target – and publicly refusing to bomb Mecca, despite massive public demand – the American President’s re-election campaign was dead in the water.

Thomas Hamlin had not been expected to win the Republican nomination. He had never fitted in well with the elder statesmen, being both homosexual and a decorated military veteran before being forced to retire after his homosexuality was discovered. Hamlin, however, took the opportunity presented by the San Francisco bomb to cast himself as a focus for the American desire for revenge. His campaign focused around that one issue, skilfully exploited the weakness of the sitting President, and won primary after primary throughout the country. Some warned that Hamlin might have darker ambitions for his country, but they were largely ignored. Hamlin won election by the largest majority in recorded history.

Two weeks later, Hamlin presented the San Francisco Act to Congress. It was the harshest set of anti-terrorist legislation ever proposed by a free country and it came down very hard on Muslims. All known or suspected hate-mongers were rounded up and summarily deported from America, along with their families. Muslim charities were closed down, campaigners for Palestine or other Islamic causes were told that they were no longer welcome in America and all further mosque construction was banned. In addition, senior officers in the FBI, DIA and CIA were fired – for allowing a culture of political correctness to taint their departments – and the BATF was closed down. New legislation cancelled all previous antigun legislation within America. Many professional complainers – including Michael Moore – found themselves forced to flee to Canada ahead of the newer law enforcement agencies.

It was only one plank of Hamlin’s domestic policy. In a stunning repudiation of previous American doctrine, Hamlin ordered the construction of hundreds of new nuclear power stations and offered vast government grants to corporations willing to work on developing space-based resources. All foreign aid was cancelled. The United States would no longer support states that turned around and birthed terrorists. Hamlin’s goal was nothing less than total energy independence.

The destruction of San Francisco had major effects on NATO. Hamlin’s effective withdrawal from most of the US’s command responsibilities left NATO as a paper tiger. The economic shockwaves from the attack did further damage to both NATO and Europe, although luckily the Russians refrained from taking advantage.

Both China and Russia, to some extent, profited from the US’s change in direction. The Chinese were swift to create new links with Taiwan and acted to keep North Korea under control. The Russians secured their sphere of influence.

In the South Atlantic, the military junta of Argentina saw only one chance to avoid the overthrow of their government by an increasingly unemployed and desperate citizenry. They launched a second invasion of the Falkland Islands – and, to prove that they had learned from the last war, also occupied Accession Island, the island that had served as a base for the British counter-offensive in 1982. The Argentineans miscalculated twice; they failed to recognise that the British Government dared not show weakness and they failed to realise that Hamlin would take advantage of the crisis to further his long-term goals. This time, the British Navy was joined by a USN carrier battle group under British command, presenting the outmatched Argentineans with an unwinnable war. British and American units wiped out both the Argentinean Navy and Air Force, followed by strikes against Argentina itself. The recovery of the Falklands was almost a sideshow as Argentina was pounded and forced to surrender. Hamlin’s goal – to make sure that no one messed with the US or its allies – had been obtained.

While the British were occupied in the South Atlantic, Europe found itself facing economic, political and social chaos. The EU could no longer even pretend that it was a working international organisation. Germany and France were increasingly dictating terms to the smaller countries, forcing them to choose between submission or economic ruin. Underlining the crisis was a series of uprisings in Europe by Muslim groups that feared that they were about to be on the receiving end of a Second Holocaust. Europe’s descent into effective civil war was confirmed when the French Government lost control of Paris for several months, during which time a series of insurgency governments terrorised the population. Although weakened by the economic crunch and political correctness, the armed forces of Europe were still formidable and the gloves were taken off. Most of the insurgencies were crushed by the end of 2024. Prisoners (those who were taken alive after videos of atrocities carried out by the insurgents were displayed online) were unceremoniously worked to death to clear the rubble, or shipped to North Africa and thrown overboard.

In space, the Lunar Consortium (an American-led program) had successfully landed a base on the moon. Loads of lunar materials were soon shot into lunar orbit and earmarked for further construction, while HE3 was mined from the lunar soil and launched back to fuel the new fusion reactors. Hamlin’s program had borne fruit sooner than he had expected; a combination of new technology and new drilling had cut the West’s demands for oil sharply. Plans were soon announced for missions to Mars and the asteroids.

2024-2050

Hamlin’s re-election in 2024 came as no surprise to both his supporters and distracters. Pro-Hamlin rallies had often intimidated voters in the American countryside, while anti-Hamlin speakers had often run afoul of vaguely-worded laws against sedition. The President pushed ahead with his domestic, international and interplanetary agendas, with the benefit of a tame Congress.

The collapse in oil prices spelled the end of the Oil Monarchies in the Middle East. A series of demonstrations in Saudi Arabia rapidly turned into revolutions as the military showed its reluctance to turn its weapons on the civilian population. The Chinese troops assigned to protect the King and his immediate family were unable to prevent his lynching by an outraged mob that tore Riyadh apart. Many of the smarter Princes attempted to flee to Europe, but attitudes had hardened and most of them were denied entry. The chaos rapidly spread to Iran, until the only thing keeping the Mullahs in power was their links to China. Even so, they were gradually losing control of their country.

Perversely, Israel had benefited from the chaos in Europe. Jewish populations had been forced to flee to Israel or America by the insurgencies, while the insurgencies had succeeded in hardening attitudes to Islam in Europe. Now, seeing their chance to secure Israel once and for all, the Israeli hawks launched a military operation against Egypt – which was itself in the midst of bloody unrest. Israeli forces punched through to the Suez Canal and occupied the area, driving the Palestinians to flight. Massive human crowds were soon fleeing into the chaos consuming Saudi Arabia, a migration that ended in death for millions of human beings. The only states to condemn Israel were China and Russia, both aware that they risked losing influence in the region if they were not seen to act. No one acted effectively to prevent the Israelis from committing genocide.

Hamlin’s domestic agenda surprised the United States, although the seeds of it had been planted during his first term in office. Most of the ‘sin’ laws were repealed, including anti-homosexual or drug laws. Hamlin justified it to Congress by explaining that the national security state could only survive if it was tolerated by the American people – and that toleration could only be achieved by ensuring that only true criminals and terrorists had anything to fear. Hamlin also removed the last restraints on homosexuals serving within the military, although he actually tightened up disciplinary regulations.

Internationally, Hamlin spearheaded the creation of the Western Alliance. Unlike NATO, the Western Alliance had the power to operate anywhere in the world – and committed all countries to protect and defend one another, as well as advancing the interests of the West. Hamlin’s policy of targeted strikes against terrorists anywhere in the world had born fruit; he now widened it to punitive strikes against rogue nations. He had no intention of nation-building, as he explained to Congress; if foreigners wanted freedom and democracy, they could do it for themselves. His goal was merely to protect American interests and nationals. The bombardment of Mexico in response to the state’s kidnapping and murder of two American civilians made his point clear. There would be a price for harming Western lives.

Hamlin did not seek a third term when he left office in 2028. Instead, his vice president Rosanna Davidson (a black woman from Alabama) ran and won the election, becoming the first woman to serve as President. Hamlin himself returned to his farm and refused to talk about politics. His autobiography was only published after his death.

In a counter to the Western Alliance, China, India and Russia formed the Beijing Pact. Officially, the Pact’s goal was to allow the three states to stake their own claims to global power; unofficially, it was intended to counter American claims to deep-space hegemony. The Pact was quick to establish military bases in Iran, South America and a number of other points on Earth. It also pushed ahead with developing space-based weapons that could be used to counter American technology.

In space, the first lunar base had been joined by seven more. A joint China-Russia-Japan lunar base had been established, while the Chinese were spearheading a mission to Mars. China was the first state to land on the red planet, but Americans were the first to capture and return an asteroid to Earth orbit. The decade saw the expansion of multiple asteroid settlements and mining centres, the establishment of a British base on Titan and a number of military bases in orbit around Earth and the Moon. China’s formal claim to Mars was not generally accepted by the other powers, but the Chinese managed to land a major colony on the red planet. It wasn’t long before military bases were established on Mars.

President Davidson formally inaugurated the Deep Space Force in 2031. Unlike other military formations, it was effectively a Western Alliance command – it drew manpower from the entire alliance rather than just the United States (although the US had a heavy preponderance as American manpower made up much of the original force.) The United States Marine Corps created the Marine Space Corps, intended to serve as an infantry unit for deployment off-Earth. The deployments were matched by the Pact.

Hamlin’s social policies had succeeded in draining much of the poison from America’s body politic. Unfortunately, the march of technology soon provided new opportunities for political unrest. The first genetically-designed baby was produced in 2034, amid much media fanfare. Dolly – as she was christened – was supposed to be ‘super’ in every way, from improved resistance to disease to actual intelligence. While these claims were dubious (and later proved to be unfounded) it did not stop thousands of rich citizens ordering ‘designer genes’ spliced into their children. Indeed, given the fact that many of these children enjoyed excellent living conditions, it would have been surprising if they hadn’t performed well in educational establishments. Ten years after Dolly’s birth was announced, there was a thriving anti-genie campaign in the United States and Europe, based on claims that ‘genies’ were superhuman, the replacements for mere mundane humanity. It was not long before laws were forced into power that effectively discriminated against genies.

But a far worse problem was festering in the Middle East. After the collapse, one of the region’s most powerful and capable rulers had inaugurated a secret project to develop a disease targeted on the Jews (this was possible because many Jews shared similar genes not shared by the human population at large.) In 2049, the ‘Wrath of Allah’ disease was unleashed upon Israel. Piggybacked on the common cold, the disease infected much of the Israeli population before it was detected – and struck with lethal effect. If proper care had been available for such vast numbers, it is certain that the results would have been less disastrous, but Israel couldn’t hope to treat so many people when its medical workforce was also suffering. Roughly 60-70% of the Israeli population died in the first week, before gene-spliced vaccines were rushed to the Middle East from Europe and America. The Wrath spread outside the Middle East and killed many (including gentiles who had no idea that they had Jews in the family tree) before it was finally brought under control. Israel’s response was a massive nuclear strike against the remainder of the Middle East and Iran. The death toll was massive and the region effectively contaminated for hundreds of years.

2050-2070

The Western Alliance had been progressing towards de facto economic unification for the past two decades. Now, a conference held in Washington managed to formalise the process of political unification. Unlike the European Union (a model now badly discredited) the Western Alliance would grant considerable autonomy to member states, provided that they upheld the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. (The Western Alliance bears more resemblance to the early US just after the Revolution.) Monetary unification, largely instituted over the years of the Alliance, confirmed – the Dollar serves as the overall currency.

China’s position within the Pact allows it to impose a similar system on the Pact’s array of nations. Effectively, the Pact is more like the former USSR – China holds most of the power, although not all of it. The Russian demographic disaster has effectively altered the balance of settlement in the Far East, with large Chinese communities that have effectively pushed out the Russian civilians. China (and the Pact) is a cross between a Communist and a Capitalist state; there are few impediments to a free market, but political discourse is firmly held by the Party.

In space, the Alliance has largely concentrated on asteroid bases. By 2060, there are thousands of asteroid habitats in space, either orbiting the Earth or floating in a free orbit around the sun. Many of them are effectively independent, homes for religious or political factions that find themselves increasingly isolated on a more conformist Earth. The Alliance has a loose claim to Mercury as well as most of the Gas Giant moons – and one of Mars’s moons.

The Pact, by contrast, has focused on Mars and Venus. Chinese-ethnic settlers make up 60% of Mars’s population and there are extensive plans to terraform the planet. Venus has also been a magnet for the Chinese, although terraforming is considerable harder owing to the planet’s extreme conditions.

The Lunar settlements belonging to the Alliance have been integrated into a loose state that has representation within the Senate. Some of the Lunar States are technically independent and have signed up for the Lunar Assembly – a makeshift organisation with few powers – while others are basically corporate states. The Pact settlements have little to do with the Alliance, but are members of the Assembly. It’s somewhat confusing. There are rumours of hidden settlements somewhere on the moon, yet no one knows anything – or admits to it if they do.

Despite an extensive public education campaign, anti-genie prejudice is still on the rise. Several rich genies have bought asteroid settlements which they open to genie settlement, promising to develop more advanced forms of the human race in space. The whole program falls into a gray area of Alliance law; the settlements are part of the alliance, but are de facto independent. In theory, producing an ‘improved’ child is against the law, yet that has not stopped richer parents from buying upgrades for their children.

The Chinese have announced a long-term project to create genies that can live on Mars without extensive terraforming. It is a program that has not met with great favour among the Alliance – or among the original Mars Settlers, Alliance or Chinese – but it is increasingly difficult to put pressure on the Pact without war. Both power blocs are effectively independent of one another.

Life on Earth in the West isn’t too bad. The government encourages economic growth and emigration to the high frontier. Crime is low; a combination of focused social improvement projects, heavy surveillance and a growing economy have helped the population to become more productive. The downside is that there is less in the way of political freedom. Those who protect too openly tend to find themselves in isolated work camps. Conditions are not much worse in the Pact, at least for those lucky enough to be born Chinese or Russian.

Outside the two power blocs, there is effectively chaos. Governments change from week to week; religious fundamentalism and ethnic conflict is on the upswing. The Alliance tends to ignore it unless it affects Alliance citizens, whereupon the Alliance launches punitive strikes against enemy targets. There is a program of gradual immigration for promising young students, but they are kept under strict observation while working in the West.

Technology has developed in any number of ways. The most profound (outside space and space technology) lies with the internet. A person can don a VR helmet and go into a virtual world (humans being humans, the main use for this system is sexual), experiencing adventures drawn from the imaginations of human writers. More interestingly, the Alliance has effectively managed to create the first true AI. Several more follow, sparking off a debate about what rights AIs have in society – are they servants, slaves, or fellow citizens? The issue runs up against the anti-genie prejudice that continues to cast a shadow over the Alliance.

Matters are decided when one of the AIs hijacks a space station and threatens to bring it down on Earth. The Alliance Senate, after a hasty debate, agrees to give AIs basic civil rights. Many AIs manage to make a killing in the stock-market over the next couple of years, before the legal environment catches up with their abilities. As AIs cannot be used as slaves, most human computer developers tend towards RIs – Restricted Intelligence – or AS – Artificial Stupid – systems. Despite some fear-mongering, it rapidly becomes clear that the AIs are not interested in taking over or exterminating the human race. Indeed, as a semi-state within the Alliance, they are valuable partners in the exploration of space.

2071-2090

The issue of anti-genie prejudice is brought back into the spotlight by the kidnapping and murder of Kim Sawyer, a nine-year-old girl whose wealthy parents bought their daughter the best start in life that they could. The murderer, a semi-deranged religious fanatic who blamed genies for all that had gone wrong in his life, was convicted of murder by a jury in 2072. However, on appeal, his lawyer was able to introduce a number of technicalities that resulted in his conviction being quashed by an appeal court. One example – that some of the police officers who had tracked the murderer down were covert genies themselves (the police force was not allowed to recruit genies openly) – caused a political firestorm all over the Alliance.

It was not something that genies were inclined to accept any longer. One genie in particular – John Thomas, the head of the Austin-Mexico Medical Combine – intended to do something about it. His scheme, the launch of a virus that would affect everyone who didn’t have genetically-modified genes within their bodies, was a very much improved version of the Wrath. Worse, unlike the Wrath, it would not kill its victims, but make them hopelessly submissive to any genie. Or so he planned; the AIs that uncovered his scheme and warned the Alliance’s law enforcement forces were uncertain if the virus would actually work as intended. Creating another Wrath, however, was well within the Austin-Mexico Medical Combine’s abilities.

The discovery (and hasty trial of Thomas) sent shockwaves through the Alliance. Many genies were attacked in the streets (along with a number of people who were thought to be genies, mostly non-genies) and took steps to retaliate. Genie-controlled asteroid settlements declared independence from the Alliance and threatened bloody retaliation if the Deep Space Force was used against them. Troops had to be deployed onto the streets in a number of cities to put down riots between pro- and anti-genie mobs. Luckily, the national security state that had been in place ever since the San Francisco Bomb was able to deal with the protesters before the entire Alliance shattered.

After much negotiating, the government put forward a compromise. The legal barriers to genies in most fields of employment were removed. (The most notable exception was sport; upgrading a person’s sporting prowess was relatively easy.) Genies would also be given assistance to emigrate if they chose – either to space or to a more isolated area of Earth – and non-genie parents would be offered a subsidized modification treatment for their future children. Ironically, as was noted later, the treatments that had eradicated the Wrath had touched most of the Alliance’s population. There were really very few ‘pure’ humans left. The compromise pleased very few, but it was grudgingly accepted.

The exact status of the ‘independent’ asteroids was left undetermined, a decision that probably prevented a civil war from breaking out. Genie-run habitats were still free to operate as they saw fit, either as part of the Alliance’s trading network, trading with the Pact or operating on their own. A handful of converted asteroids headed out across the interstellar void, hoping to settle new homeworlds far from Earth.

On Mars and Venus, the Pact had begun the first large-scale terraforming projects in the history of mankind. Perversely, a number of genie settlements on Mars had offered their help to the Pact, hoping to create a new homeworld for themselves. The project was a slow and dedicated task, but a breathable atmosphere (for humans) was projected as being roughly 50-100 years in the future. Venus, a far harder project, would take at least 200 years. Genetically-engineered organisms, however, had taken root on the planet by the end of the decade.

In Britain (now a state within the Alliance) the first experiment in representative democracy was about to begin (although some asteroid settlements had had something similar for years). The computer network – supervised by a pair of AIs on long-term contacts – would allow each and every British citizen to cast votes within a virtual House of Parliament. Not every citizen bothered to study the issue before casting a vote – and there was a small amount of bribery underway – but many of the decisions that came out of the VR Parliament were surprisingly sound. The first decision, however, was perhaps the most controversial. King Brandon I was formally stripped of his crown, finally terminating the British Monarchy. It did not surprise many pundits. Brandon was an unrepentant sloth who enjoyed scandalising British society more than he did living up to his role. In his defence, he had no actual power and – really – no role at all.

With the British Experiment working well, demand began to build for an extension of the system to the entire Alliance. Typically, it was debate on the VR forums that led the way. It was not, however, popular among representatives, who feared losing their positions.

The Deep Space Force had finally launched the Washington-class of cruisers into interplanetary space. Building upon nearly sixty years of planning space warships, the Washington-class ships could be deployed to almost anywhere within the Solar System surprisingly quickly. Small squadrons were deployed out to military bases throughout the Solar System, defending Alliance territories in space. The Pact, not willing to remain behind for long, rapidly deployed its own warships. Mars was rapidly becoming the most militarised planet in the Solar System, after Earth.

It was just in time. A series of events out along the edge of settlement revealed that ‘someone’ out there was harassing settlers and military bases. The Wreckers, a shifty force of uncertain origins (but almost certainly rooted in the exodus of nonconforming populations from Earth) had launched a series of attacks against both the Alliance and the Pact. Indeed, it seemed likely that their goal was to trigger a war between the two power blocs. Stealthed spacecraft attacked both Earth and Mars – and launched an asteroid at Venus, for uncertain reasons. Eventually, with both of the power blocs hunting for enemies they variously described as either pirates or terrorists, the Wreckers faded away into obscurity. It was generally assumed by both powers that many Wreckers had simply returned to civilian life in the outlying asteroids, but nothing was ever proven. The Wreckers, not unlike the Islamic terrorist groups of the early 21th Century, had no real cohesive goal.

2090-2100

Although it wasn’t clear to the Alliance’s intelligence agencies – spies had become harder to use, since it became possible to deploy perfect lie detectors – the Pact was actually entering a period of substantial economic depression. There were several factors behind this, but the most important one was the fact that the Pact had started on two massive terraforming projects instead of racing to develop the asteroids alongside the Alliance. The Pact’s citizens had become increasingly resentful of the Party’s control over their wealth – and that was just the Chinese! Non-Chinese or non-Russians were heavily discriminated against by the Pact, treated effectively as subordinates within the Pact’s framework. Indeed, Chinese settlers had taken to slipping away into interplanetary space (and may have helped found the Wreckers) rather than continue to work for a government that exploited them at will. Perhaps worse, the constant decline of Russia led to its best and brightest civilians heading to the Alliance or trying to set up their own independent settlements.

The military burden was growing onerous too. In space, the Pact needed to maintain a network of military bases more extensive than the Alliance – mainly to intimidate settlers who would have preferred to join one of the Alliance’s trading networks or even the independent associations. The cost of the Pact’s military was colossal, not least because the Alliance had a steady edge on technology. On the ground, it was even worse; the Pact had seen opportunity in taking ground in Africa and the Middle East (still contaminated by the nuclear war) and the local inhabitants were proving reluctant to serve them. Worst of all, unrest in some parts of the Part demanded military force to keep them under control.

As always, the issue provoked extensive debate within the Pact High Command. One faction believed that it would be best to offer a pause on military construction with the Alliance. It would give the Pact breathing space to secure its hold on Earth and then resume military construction. A second faction thought that that was absurd. The Alliance might refuse the deal – and, if the Pact stopped its military construction, would soon be vastly superior to the Pact. Besides, the Wreckers were a wild card; they might resume their attacks against the Pact. One faction contemplated making concessions (at least to the space-based civilians, as they were important) only to be told not to be stupid. Concessions would mean the end of the Pact – and of the Party’s rule. At worst, the Pact would be cut off from space – and that would spell doom.

Matters reached boiling point when a group of Lunar miners at Mao Base led a revolt against the oppressive political authority. Despite hasty reaction from the nearby military base, the miners managed to take control of the base and declare independence – and promptly asked for membership in the Alliance. The Pact assumed that the Alliance had planned the uprising (on the assumption that the miners wouldn’t actually be politically aware) and panicked. Pact warships moved into position to bombard the base while military units were rushed in from Earth. The Lunar Assembly protested loudly, but lacked the military power to intervene. Puzzled, unsure of what was actually going on, the Alliance did nothing to help the rebels. The Pact crushed them without mercy. In the confusion, the war faction within the Pact High Command gained supremacy.

Their logic was simple; the Alliance, being composed of capitalists, was intent on breaking their power. The Alliance’s (presumed) support for the rebels proved that they had evil designs on the Pact. If the Pact did nothing in response, the Alliance would rapidly outstrip the Pact in military production and eventually be in a position to dictate terms to the Pact. The Pact could not hope to match the Alliance in a new arms race. Logically, the Pact should strike while there was rough parity. If they lost, at least they would take the Alliance down with them.

Despite the Pact’s suspicions, the Alliance was only dimly aware that the Pact was having any problems at all. Indeed, the Alliance was fixed on its own internal affairs. One of them was the issue of the Moral Majority – a movement that had reinvented itself as the protector of decency and good citizenship. The MM believed that too many youngsters were wasting their time in VR worlds or using implanted pleasure simulators to indulge themselves (a development that had effectively broken the power of the drug-smugglers). They wanted newer controls on personal pleasures.

It was a move that brought them into conflict with a large spectrum of the population. They believed in direct democracy and wanted it introduced at once, despite opposition from numerous governmental leaders. (The MM, although most of them believed their own words, was about control; they wanted to dictate the lives of others for their own good.) The Liberty Movement gained in power slowly, but steadily – their position enhanced by data-mining tools that allowed the media to uncover corruption in government and hypocrisy in the MM’s leadership. It was increasingly impossible to hide anything, something that many people found deeply frightening. Big Brother was everyone.

The prospects for emigration helped to take the edge off the conflict, at least to some extent. It was still possible to emigrate for free to any number of asteroid settlements, although one had to accept the asteroid’s underlying ethos. The Alliance was increasingly becoming based out among the asteroids, with Earth losing its economic importance to the Solar System. (The same problem facing the Pact.) Indeed, with plans afoot to terraform the Moon and shatter Mercury for raw materials, humanity was more of a space-faring race than ever.

Underlying all this was a shift between two different societies. The government on Earth had evolved towards a socialist state; indeed, with the spread of direct democracy, the only truly socialist state in history. Government provided the basic living requirements – food, drink, accommodation, medical care and internet access – free of charge, although it was often very basic (one had to earn to buy a bigger house, for example.) Those who remained on Earth were content with what they had; those who emigrated wanted more. Outside the Earth-Moon system, the Alliance’s habitats existed in a roughly anarchistic state, with loose agreements rather than the definite rule of law enforced by a government. Indeed, with the support of the AIs, it was considered likely that a move towards a post-scarcity society was well underway (something like a primitive Culture).

Despite the Moral Majority, religion played less and less of a role in society than one might expect. A number of smaller faiths (including the Jewish Remnant) had emigrated to space, attempting to build their own Promised Lands. The Reunification of Protestant and Catholic Christian faiths was accomplished in 2097, although the Church had changed radically over the last hundred years. Both women and men could serve as priests, homosexuals were welcome and the Pope was effectively under control of a direct democracy. The Vatican had become the first defuse nation in history.

The Alliance had continued its own military build up, although spending less of its GNP than the Pact (a result of its far more productive economy.) Traditional ground forces were altered again, with Mobile Infantry using powerful battlesuits to take the offensive against rogue states on the barbaric sections of Earth. In space, there were more and more automated defence stations, increasingly powerful warships and dozens of independent defence forces. (The Pact, suspecting that independent defences forces would be used against them, insisted on providing all security for their asteroids and space stations themselves, adding vast demands on their resources.) Furthermore, the Pact had also started a limited bio-enhancement program for its soldiers and spacers. They would become stronger, more capable of resisting heavy acceleration and possess much heavier endurance.

The Alliance was not considering war against the Pact as a serious possibility, but there were suspicions after a number of defectors had warned that the Pact was considering hostilities. The most likely scenario, the Alliance’s planners considered, was that the Pact’s space habitats would try to declare independence as a body, the Pact would attempt to crush them – and the Alliance would be drawn into the fighting.

A different worry was the chaos threatening to explode upwards from Latin America into the Alliance. The chaos in South America had not been countered by the Alliance (or the Pact) and it was feared that many immigrants intended to take advantage of the Alliance’s socialist government. Some wanted to annexe Latin America and spend years building up the region, others just wanted to ignore it. No short-term solution seemed possible.

Although the Alliance had maintained a colony on Mars – in order to prevent the Pact from claiming the entire planet – and on one of the moons, it was reluctantly admitted that Lovell City was effectively indefensible if war broke out. The Pact’s dominance of Mars reduced its attractiveness to Alliance citizens looking for somewhere to settle after leaving Earth. There was also the prospect of genies designed to live on Mars, something that would cause problems in the future as Mars became more Earth-like.

Venus, by contrast, was solely a Pact territory. The terraforming project had succeeded in reducing the Greenhouse Effect that had been cooking Venus for centuries, but life-forms designed to survive Venus were harder to produce. There was also the problem that Venus lacked moons, limiting its economical development. Quietly, the Pact’s leadership funnelled resources to Mars. Venus would have to remain a long-term project.

Two joint projects between the Alliance, the Pact and the AIs were SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – and SFEW – the Search For Earth-like Worlds. The former had produced nothing, apart from a handful of signals that had never been identified; the latter had located upwards of five hundred worlds that might be compatible with Earth.

Rather less welcome was the Khan Project – a project that was hastily renamed when someone pointed out the implications. The Project announced that the next generation of genies were ready to be produced, creating babies that were not only stronger and healthier than mundane humans, but smarter as well. Such claims were generally discounted, but the Khan Asteroid Combine had a long history of slow, but steady advancements in the field of genetic engineering. Covertly, hundreds of thousands of wealthy would-be parents signed up to have the enhanced genes spliced into their children.

On the edge of interstellar space, humanity was probing outwards. Every year, more and more asteroids were converted into interstellar starships and launched out into the void. Hundreds of smaller missions were exploding the Oort Cloud and hunting for traces of the Wreckers. The future looked vast and full of promise.

2101: on a deep-space mission into the Oort Cloud, the crew of an alliance spacecraft discover a derelict alien vessel right on the edge of the Solar System. It appears to be deserted, but no one knows what it was doing anywhere near Sol. And whoever cracks its technology first may dominate the next five hundred years…

Kidnapping a Town

11 Dec

Just a very vague idea inspired by glancing at one of the Rama books.

Let’s assume that a giant alien starship arrives suddenly in Earth orbit. Before anyone can decide what to do, the starship scoops up a small town from the Earth’s surface and vanished back into interstellar space.

The town’s inhabitants find that their town is trapped within the interior of the ship, along with other alien habitations – all kidnapped by the mystery builders of the ship. Some aliens are friendly, others are very dangerous. They have to fight for survival while struggling to uncover the true nature of the ship – before thousands of human and alien lives are wiped out for good.

How does that sound?

Chris

The War of 2100?

2 Dec

Another idea running through my mind, partly drawn from ‘The War After Roswell’.

Let’s say that it is 2100. Humanity has expanded into space and there are settlements across the solar system. Politically, there is the West (an American-led alliance, basically an expanded NATO) and the Asian Alliance (a Chinese-led alliance.) Both states are quasi-fascistic, although they justify it differently. The West developed harsh security measures for dealing with terrorism and have never really repealed them; the Chinese form of communism evolved to the point where it could allow free enterprise, but not so much political freedom.

The influx of resources from space has had a major effect on the world’s geopolitics. The Middle East is no longer important as oil is no longer a pressing issue. Africa is a maelstrom of competing political units, without any major intervention from the outside world. Generally, the major powers will launch punitive strikes against terrorism, piracy and so on, but no attempt at regime change. Much modern industry has been moved into space, where it doesn’t pollute the world. There is also a major military presence in space and a number of nasty skirmishes between the two major powers, along with rock wars, black colonies and so on in the asteroid belt. Pundits have been predicting a major war for years.

Then a deep-space mission encounters something unexpected; an alien spacecraft at the edge of the solar system. The ship appears to be derelict, but offers the promise of advanced technology to send the human race to the stars. Whoever owns the ship will almost certainly dominate the next hundred years.

And so the war breaks out…

Thoughts?

Chris

New Ebook: Picking Up The Pieces

1 Dec

I’d just like to remind everyone that Picking Up The Pieces – Book Two of Martial Law – is now available as an ebook from Amazon or Smashwords.

It is two years after the fall of the UN released the planet Svergie from bondage, yet all is not well. The government is on the verge of breaking apart between competing factions, Communist groups are preparing a mass uprising and the countryside is planning to secede from the rest of the planet. The tinder is ready; all it needs is for some idiot to light the match…

Captain-General Andrew Nolte and his Legion of the Dispossessed, a band of interstellar mercenaries, have been hired to train a proper army for Svergie, an army that might bind the planet together. Powerful forces are gathering to oppose the Legion, however, and Andrew has a cause of his own…

Comments and reviews are, as always, very welcome.

Chris