Archive | May, 2012

The Price of Freedom–Snippet

11 May

Prologue

“Two minutes to landing, Commander.”

Commander Karen Hunt nodded as the skimmer crossed the North Sea and headed over Norway, angling right towards an estate belonging to one of the most powerful humans in the Alpha Empire. The invitation had been polite, but there had been an edge in it that had suggested that refusing would have been a bad idea. It might have had career-wreaking consequences.

Karen cursed herself as the mountains slowly came into view. She was twenty-nine years old, an experienced naval officer who had seen action in the border skirmishes between the Empire and its enemies, but she couldn’t help feeling nervous. Everyone knew that Admiral Ivanovo was a sexual predator, with a long list of lovers both male and female; everyone knew that the commanding officers of three battlecruisers had only received their commands after spending a night with the Admiral. Karen knew that she was on the short list to command herself, and yet she knew that mere competence was not enough to get someone into the command chair of a starship. The thought of putting out for a senior officer was horrific, but she wanted command. It was the highest position any human could aspire to in the Alpha Empire.

She looked down at her hands and shivered. Like most naval officers, she’d had the benefits of rejuvenation treatments from a very early age and it showed. Her dark chocolate-coloured skin covered a face that looked youthful, almost as if she had never grown out of her teens. The exercise routines that the navy insisted that its people use routinely, every day, had added muscle and a healthy glow that a pair of boyfriends had admired, before her career had left them behind. She wouldn’t be betraying anyone, she told herself, if she spent a night with the Admiral. And yet the thought of whoring herself – and it would be whoring – was horrific.

The skimmer dropped down towards a patch of grass next to a simple wooden hut. Admiral Ivanovo had served the Alphas faithfully for years and they were always generous to those who were loyal to them. In his case, the Alphas had deeded him five hundred square miles of Norway as a private reserve, a place where he could relax and enjoy indulging himself when he wasn’t on duty. They didn’t care that he preyed on his own subordinates, or that large numbers of junior officers hated him passionately. The Alphas only cared about results and, despite all the rumours surrounding him, Admiral Ivanovo had done much of the work in building the Alpha Navy. Only the official broadsheets from the Empire claimed otherwise.

A pair of men wearing unmarked uniforms met her as the skimmer landed and waved a sensor wand over her body, before removing her wristcom and the terminal she carried on her belt. Karen felt naked, suddenly aware of how tightly her uniform pressed against her body – and of the fact that she could no longer call for help. Not that that had ever been a realistic possibility, of course. The Admiral’s status was so high that he could strangle her without any fear of punishment. Alphas tolerated anything in their clients provided that they remained loyal.

She walked up the steps to a small wooden cabin and pushed the door open. The interior smelt faintly musty, as if the cabin was rarely used; inside, she could hear the sounds of someone shuffling wood. She stepped through a second door and into a large room, illuminated only by primitive gas lamps. A small wood-burning stove dominated one side of the room; a large bed lay at the other, along with enough chairs and cushions to seat an entire command staff. Did the Admiral and his friends ever have orgies? Rumour attributed all kinds of perversions to the Admiral, although if he’d been guilty of all of them he wouldn’t have had any time to attend to his duties. Had he really climbed high enough that he didn’t have to worry about the fall?

Admiral Ivanovo looked up from the fire and smiled at her. He looked healthier than she had expected, even if he’d spent most of his career behind a desk. But she didn’t find him attractive and the thought of allowing him to touch her, of feeling him pushing inside her, was repulsive. Even knowing that refusing him might cost her the chance to command a starship…

“Please, relax,” the Admiral said. His face broke into a sudden smile that seemed ill-suited to the moment. “You’re not here to satisfy my lusts, I’m afraid.” He smiled again at her expression. “Take a look around this hut and tell me what you think?”

“Primitive,” Karen said, feeling her head spinning. “Don’t you have any modern technology in here at all?”

“None,” the Admiral said, with a touch of pride. “This building is over five hundred years old, built by a family of hunters and fishers. Modern society never quite caught up with it even before the Invasion. Right now…”

His eyes sharpened. “Right now, no one can see or hear what we do in here,” he added. “We are completely off the grid.”

Karen had worked that out, if only because a person with the Admiral’s reputation wouldn’t want too many rumours spreading around. “I see, sir,” she said. “And why did you call me here?”

The Admiral chuckled. “Having a bad reputation is sometimes an asset,” he said. “I summon a young and beautiful officer to my cabin and everyone assumes that I intend to indulge myself with her. Our masters certainly won’t consider any other possibility. They consider the perks of power something to be indulged as often as possible.”

Karen nodded as she took one of the chairs. The Alphas loved luxury, even if some of the things they considered luxurious didn’t make any sense to their human subordinates. As an Alpha climbed up the promotion ladder, the rewards grew along with the responsibilities. Using one’s subordinates for sexual gratification was not only tolerated, but keenly encouraged. They had never evolved rules that suggested that it was a bad idea.

The Admiral took the chair facing her and looked her right in the eye. “What do you think of the Alphas, really?”

Karen’s hesitation must have shown in her face, for he snorted. “This isn’t a loyalty exam,” he said, dryly. “I need a honest answer.”

“I’m not sure,” Karen admitted. On one hand, the Alphas had introduced humanity to the stars – and created the navy that had given her a shot at command. But they were also the undisputed masters of their empire and tended to consider humanity – and all other known races – second-class at best. Very few humans reached positions of power and influence off-world. “They are our masters, are they not?”

“The Alphas have become…concerned about humanity,” Admiral Ivanovo said, softly. “What would you do if they ordered you to bombard a human settlement from orbit?”

Karen started, shocked. “They wouldn’t do that, would they?”

The Admiral shrugged. “Humans are the most numerous species within the Empire,” he said, dryly. “There are human enclaves on a hundred worlds, places where humans live while doing the work that the Alphas disdain for themselves. And there are humans outside the Empire too, most notably on Beta Four. There are Alphas who are beginning to wonder if we’re worth the risk involved in keeping us in the Empire.”

He smiled, humourlessly. “You won’t have heard of this, of course, but three months ago there was a bloody strike on Delavan,” he added. “Several hundreds of thousands of human workers, mistreated by their owners, finally went on strike. The House Military had to put them down, killing two-thirds of them in the process. That – and a number of other incidents – have been carefully suppressed in the media.

“Think about it. They gave us the shit jobs, the ones that no Alpha wants to do for himself, and expected us to be content with our lot. But humanity is never content with its lot, is it?”

“No, sir,” Karen said, slowly.

“So now we have generations who look at the Alphas, realise that we are not treated as equals, and start planning trouble,” the Admiral said. “And we have Alphas who have come to realise just how dependent they have become on human labour and believe that it is time to do something about us before we take over.”

He looked her right in the eye. “And their final solution to the human problem will be genocide,” he said. “They could wipe out the entire human race.”

Karen stared at him. “But they’d be wiping out their own labour force…”

“Not all of it,” the Admiral said. “But from our point of view it won’t matter. We’ll all be dead.”

He hesitated. “I don’t know if any of their plans will be activated, but if they are we will have to move fast,” he concluded. “And if that happens…can I count on you?”

Karen looked at him. She had sworn loyalty to the Alpha Empire; they’d all sworn loyalty to the Alphas. But she was human.

She swallowed, hard. “Yes, sir,” she said. It was funny how much she wished, now, that the Admiral had merely wished to use her in exchange for Captain’s rank. “You can count on me.”

What Next?

9 May

So…what should I do next. Got ideas, but which one?

Double Dealer (thriller/spy novel) – basically, an ex-CIA agent is recruited to hunt down a Russian officer who has gone rogue – and has a cunning plan to carry out the worst terrorist strike since 9/11. The first snippet is posted on my blog.

Flag In Exile: The Remnant (sci-fi) – humanity has lost a war with an alien race and humanity’s small network of colonies have been occupied. One starship, the most advanced that humanity has ever designed, remains free, along with a handful of human refugees from the aliens. Facing impossible odds, they become mercenaries, serving the galactic powers while building up the force to liberate Earth and defeat the aliens once and for all. Probably a series; I haven’t decided yet.

The Artful Apprentice (fantasy) – Looking for a new apprentice, an elderly mage accidentally summons a young woman from our world. His first thought is that she’s useless, but when he realises that she has some power, he starts to train her, hoping that she might be the one to break the stranglehold of the Sorcerers of Light.

His Father’s Son (sci-fi) – His father has been killed…and his son sets out to wage war on the pirates that killed him, eventually being sucked into the chaos surrounding the falling Imperium.

On the Imperium’s Secret Service (sci-fi) – Two young female space pilots have been arrested on trumped up charges and sentenced to slavery. A nobleman from the core of the Imperium snaps them up…but his foppish exterior disguises a man desperate to save the Imperium from disaster…and head off a cunning plan intended to bring down hundreds of worlds into an alien empire.

Freedom’s Price (sci-fi) – three hundred years ago, Earth was invaded. Now humanity makes a desperate bid for freedom.

I’ve also got two long-term projects under way. One, currently titled Back As Black, follows a USMC Battalion that gets sent back in time to the US Civil War. Unfortunately for all concerned, they end up in the Deep South. The second is a hell of a lot more controversial. But I won’t say much about it now.

Another vague idea is either an alien invasion story, or a riff off The Fall of Night. In that story, Russia invaded Europe and eventually crushed Britain, hence the title. The narrator would be caught up in the war as Russia invades, tries to flee home…and then gets caught up in more fighting as the British counterattack (perhaps with American help.) But if I use aliens, I need a convincing reason they were beaten.

Any thoughts would be welcome.

Chris

Site Updates

7 May

7/5/2012 – Created Short Stories page. Added five short stories to the site.

Comments welcome, of course.

Martial Law 3–Snippet

5 May

Had this going through my head…

Infiltration – Snippet

The boss tapped a key and a planet appeared in front of me. “Parkston’s Folly,” he said, by way of introduction. “Parkston was a United Nations Survey Service scout, one of their best. The UNSS was always looser than the Peace Fleet and attracted many of the weird ones who would otherwise have been dismissed or forced to spend the rest of their careers on isolated mining asteroids. Parkston found this planet, named it after himself and recommended that the UNSS develop it for itself. His superiors didn’t see the funny side, added the Folly to the planet’s name and sold the settlement and mining rights to the lowest bidder. The joke turned out to be on them.”

He smiled, coldly. “Parkston’s Folly holds the largest known reserves of Unobtainium in the entire Human Sphere,” he continued. “The Garlane Syndicate snapped it up for a song; they’d been looking for a place to ship their indentured workers and the Folly seemed like a suitable place to put them. Their directors must have creamed their pants when they realised they’d accidentally purchased a license to print money.”

That brought me up short. Unobtainium didn’t get its name because you can find it on any old asteroid. Despite its value in constructing wormhole generators – the key to FTL travel – there were very few sources within the Human Sphere. A lucky strike by an asteroid miner would leave him rich enough to buy an entire planet, assuming he lived long enough to get paid. Fleet patrolled the known sources heavily and still had problems with pirates, rogues and starships from various black colonies.

“I’m surprised the UN let them keep it,” I said. “Even a modest source would be very helpful…”

“Their lawyers earned their pay,” the boss admitted. “They settled the world and kept developing it for the following eighty years. The Peace Force took its cut – I don’t think that many Peacekeepers knew that the planet even existed – and everything looked rosy. And then the Fleet rebelled and Parkston became independent. It’s still run by the syndicate.”

He passed me a datachip. “There are currently five cities on the planet, all domed to protect the workers from the ravagers of the weather,” he said. “Someone has definitely been trying to terraform the planet to make it habitable, but it will take at least another hundred years before the weather came under control – assuming that they managed to avoid further damaging the environment. Right now, they’re strip-mining the planet to locate other deposits and ship the raw material to orbit. Given a few years, they’ll have the wealthiest planet in the Human Sphere.

“Apart from the former directors, who have become the planet’s rulers, the vast majority of the planet’s population consists of indentured workers – and the guards who keep them in line. It has been decided, at the very highest levels, that something has to be done about the planet before it becomes too important to the Human Sphere. Your mission is to get into the planet, make contact with the rebel forces and assist them in overthrowing their government.”

The Alpha Empire and Earth

5 May

Another piece of background.  Comments?

The Alpha Empire and Earth

The Alphas were not really ‘alphas’ at all. Their name for themselves translates roughly as the ‘Illustrious Lords of All,’ but a mistranslation in the original communications packet they sent to Earth (from House Alpha) left them with a nickname that humans could, at least, pronounce. Physically frail humanoids, the Alphas had built an empire that covered ninety worlds by the time they discovered Earth and, by the time of the Human Uprising, their empire included no less than four hundred worlds and fifteen different races.

Oddly (to human eyes) the Alphas had four sexes/castes, creating a confusing sexual structure that made little sense to humans at first. The first three castes (worker, warrior and thinker) impregnated the fourth caste (breeder) and the resulting progeny was determined by the precise combination of sperm injected into the breeder. Complicating matters was a ‘semi-caste’ that was considered the aristocracy of the Alphas. The gold-skinned aristocrats, unlike the other castes/sexes, never bred with the other castes in order to maintain their bloodline.

The Alpha political system can be described as a cross between aristocratic feudalism and intensive capitalism. Leading the empire is the Houses; fifteen families that between them own almost everything in the empire. The position of Emperor rotates among the House Heads, but decisions that affect the entire empire are taken by the House Council in concert. These decisions are governed more by unwritten constitution than anything else, with the effect that each House is largely independent of the others, even to the point of possessing their own private space navies. The only change towards a more organised navy for the empire came with their contact with the Sabah, a spacefaring race that resisted the expansion of the empire towards their territory. Even so, the concept of a ‘national’ space navy is regarded with considerable unease by the Houses.

Internally, House politics are bloody affairs, with the gold aristocrats constantly vying for power. These contests are also governed by unwritten laws; it is legal to force a House Head to abdicate his position under duress, but not to kill him outright. The aristocrats know that one bloody purge would probably start several more, taking out vast numbers of aristocrats as various factions take revenge for past slights. Overall politics are consensual more than anything else, but with rules that denote the proper way to commit treason it is hard to see how the aristocrats find time to actually build the empire. But Houses that find great riches in space find their position boosted on Homeworld.

The Alphas pride themselves on always living up to the letter of a contract, although they also take great pride in interpreting agreements to suit themselves. They even extend these traditions to aliens; they generally dictate terms to their subject races, but live up to them when there is no – legal – way to screw their subjects any further. That said, they have no belief that aliens have intrinsic rights and have little hesitation about opening up worlds for trade and exploitation with force.

In 2025, a starship from House Alpha stumbled across Earth and spent the next four months conducting a tactical survey of the Sol System while under cloak. Satisfied that Earth could offer no significant resistance, the starship decloaked and transmitted a demand for surrender, offering Earth’s elite positions in the empire in exchange for submission. When several Earth powers responded to the ultimatum by launching nuclear missiles at the starship, the Alphas allowed the missiles to strike the ship’s shields – doing no damage to the ship – and then repeated the demand for surrender. Realising that resistance was futile, the majority of the human governments surrendered.

House Alpha promptly signed an agreement (at gunpoint, perfectly legal in the empire) with the human race’s disparate governments. This indenture contract bound the human race to provide various services, including workers, for House Alpha. In return, human governments were given a handful of technological tricks that would help them convince the rest of the human race to submit to the aliens. Fusion power, limited counter-gravity and a number of other technological surprises helped Earth develop, although the fusion power came with a catch. House Alpha owned the only cloudscoop in the solar system and sold HE3 to Earth at a colossal mark-up, further indenturing the human race.

Human resistance was very limited. Reaching the starships (and the later orbital bombardment system put in place by House Alpha) was impossible and the Alphas themselves rarely visited Earth. The human governments found themselves in the uncomfortable position of balancing the demands from the aliens with demands from their fellow humans, particularly when the Alphas demanded colonists for newly-discovered worlds (and later mercenaries). House Alpha was content to grant Earth limited autonomy right from the start, if only because this would save them the trouble of administering a rebellious planet. They were much more involved with the government of newly-settled worlds, which promised rich rewards for their aristocrats.

Over the next 300 years, humanity slowly spread through the empire’s space. House Alpha was happy to sell humans to the other Houses (humans did not get a say in the matter) and the Houses found humans very useful indeed. Humans were good workers, stubborn soldiers and innovative researchers. A number were even on worlds taken by the Sabah during the 30 years war between them and the Alphas; later, humans became the mainstay of the Emperor’s Navy, a combined force that was intended to reduce the bickering between the Houses that cost the Alphas so much in the early battles of the war.

But humans did not have legal equality in the empire, no matter how useful they were. The Alphas had never had a concept of ‘equality before the law’ and saw no reason to grant rights to humans. And some Alphas believed that they were becoming too dependent upon human labour. They believed that humans could be pruned down considerably without weakening the empire. What the humans thought about it didn’t matter.

But some humans had been working for a very long time to overthrow their masters…

The Planters–Snippet

3 May

Chapter One

“What do we know about the Planters?”

Aisha allowed the question to hang in the air for a long moment. The audience was very quiet. Some were students, some were casual visitors…and some were considering her request for funding for a very important research program. It was them that she had to convince.

“We know almost nothing for certain,” she said. “What did they look like? We don’t know. How did they govern themselves? We don’t know. How did they get through space without the Stargate network? We don’t know. The only thing we know for sure is that they meddled in the evolution of countless worlds – and that they are still meddling in our development.”

She smiled inwardly as her gaze swept the chamber. The pureblood students found the bald statement more than a little creepy, something that she couldn’t really blame them for feeling. After all, to be told that the gods were still watching would have upset anyone. The hybrids, like herself, were more concerned. They wouldn’t have existed at all if it hadn’t been for the planters. The purebloods preferred to forget that the same was probably true of them.

“Let us consider it from the beginning,” she said. “All life discovered by the Family” – the loose association of intelligent races held together by the Stargates – “is related, closely related. Humans are closer to the other races of the Family, even the ones who look different from humanity, than they are to the other creatures that evolved on Earth. It is impossible to produce a human-chimpanzee hybrid naturally. But hybrids like myself exist and multiply. Such a development could not have happened naturally.”

They were listening to her now, even though she was merely outlining common wisdom, something known to every student in the Family. But she was living proof of alien intervention thousands of years ago, her body a mixture of racial traits from parents who had come from stars that were light years apart. Her mother’s green-tinted skin blended oddly with her father’s slanted eyes and dark hair.

“And yet evolution needed to be given a helping hand,” she continued. “I believe that the evidence suggests that the Planters not only seeded countless worlds with life, but they supervised its development and intervened when they considered it to be necessary. They must have been working within the Sol System as little as twenty thousand years ago, manipulating the evolution of life and steering it along preselected paths. All this we know to be true. Logic admits of no other possibility.

“And, outside a few cranks who never proved their theories, no one had even an inkling of the truth until human explorers landed on Mars. There, they discovered alien cities that were complex, enigmatic…and contained technology that could be reverse-engineered to help speed humanity’s expansion through space. Other worlds and moons within the Sol System offered up their own mysteries. It was clear that unknown aliens had inhabited the Sol System centuries before the human race ever realised that the stars were suns in their own right.”

She took a sip of water. “But if you visited an empty human city, even as a complete newcomer to the human race, you would quickly be able to learn a great deal about the human race. You would find pictures of us hanging in magazine racks. There would be public libraries with vast stockpiles of information about the human race, its biology and its history. Our technology would provide further clues, allowing the researchers to deduce what we needed from what we had. And yet we have been unable to do that by studying the cities on Mars. They remain…vast enigmatic structures, with a handful of technological tricks. I believe that the Planters deliberately left those cities there for us to find.”

It wasn’t a new theory, but she believed that it was accurate. “The discovery of the alien cities spurred us onwards even before we realised just how…intimately involved with us the aliens had been,” she continued. “Those governments and corporations and even private individuals who discovered and reverse-engineered a piece of technology first were the ones who gained an advantage over their rivals. We scoured the Sol System for artefacts, fighting over the ones we found, each one complex enough to require us to develop whole new theories of science to use, but almost all within our ability to comprehend. Planter technology took us to the stars.

“And yet…what’s missing? Where were the starships the planters used to travel from star to star? We have found none. The technology behind the Stargates is still beyond our ability to duplicate; where did the planters build them before they were deployed? We don’t know. If we look at what they left behind – not just at Sol, but at everywhere – we see little more than a handful of incomprehensible cities and tech left lying around for us to find. Where are the Planter libraries, or their hospitals, or their toilets? Why does their culture appear to be so limited?

“The Stargate network adds another twist to the mystery. Several other races explored through stars linked to Earth through the Stargate, but Earth’s Stargate refused to admit them to Sol…until after the human race had found and activated the device. And the reports from the research teams concluded that a complete idiot could have activated the Stargate, sending an unmistakable signal to the rest of the Family that a new race had developed spacefaring technology and discovered its Stargate.

“But it is the oddities surrounding the network that puzzled me, at first. Each Stargate leads to a system with a new race – or to a dead system, one recently destroyed by war, disease or natural disaster. Who tells the Stargates in those systems that there is no longer any need to quarantine those worlds to allow them to develop in peace?”

She smiled out over the audience. “The implication should be obvious,” she said. “Someone – or something – was keeping an eye on those worlds and, when it became clear that the race would not survive, they allowed the rest of the Family to access the system. And if the Planters are watching the worlds that destroy themselves, why wouldn’t they watch us as well?

“But that leads to an obvious question. If they are watching, why didn’t they intervene to save those worlds from themselves – or from a natural disaster the natives couldn’t hope to stop in time? I believe that they scattered samples of their technology around the Family to encourage us to develop our own technology, using their devices as hints to spur us onwards. The great cities on Mars and a thousand other worlds are nothing more than fakes, intended to point us in the right direction while leaving us few clues about their designers. And that raises the question of Buckley’s Balls-Up.”

There were some titters from the younger members of the audience. Joe Buckley had been a professor who had been in charge of the first research team at Wells City, the Planter complex located near the legendary Face on Mars. Buckley had professed to have recorded every square inch of the city, which had left him looking an idiot when a later researcher discovered an inscription that led the human race to the Stargate. But Aisha had worked her way carefully through all of the recordings and had concluded that Buckley had been right. The inscription simply hadn’t been there when he’d explored the city.

She outlined her evidence briefly and then started to wrap up her talk. “When dealing with the Planters, we have been forced to think,” she said. “Planter tech has always been easier to understand for the races that encourage innovation and freethinking. Little they have given us has been obvious and very few items were easy to duplicate. The only thing we can produce easily, it seems, are hybrids.”

There were more titters. Humanity had had problems coming to terms with the concept of aliens as sexual objects, particularly the ones who were further from the pureblood human form. But the Family weren’t really aliens, were they? They were humanity’s long-lost cousins.

“This institute stores all of the data we have been able to collect on the Planters,” she said. “I have analysed it all, looking for the piece of information that doesn’t seem to fit neatly into the puzzle. This was the policy followed by the researchers who located the complex on Venus and the artefact floating within Jupiter’s atmosphere, hidden in the Great Red Spot. I knew that something would stand out if I looked at it in the right way. And I have found it. I believe I know where the next step in unravelling the mystery of the Planters can be found.”

She smiled as the audience started to aim questions at her, each one blinking up in front of her screen. Some of them were asking the question of where she intended to look – not something she intended to share unless she ended up leading the mission – and others were asking if she really thought it was wise to disturb the Planters. If there were any Planters, of course. The evidence suggested that their race had been active for millions of years, seeding the galaxy with intelligent life. Aisha doubted that any human race could be so monomaniacal on a single subject for so long.

“We are their children,” she said, in reply to one question, “but children have to grow up eventually and come to terms with their parents. Only then can they grow into themselves.”

***

“A very interesting presentation,” the Chancellor said, an hour later. The Funding Board were seated around a table, staring at her. It felt alarmingly like being on trial. “But how many other theories have we heard that have failed to pan out?”

“I have checked my results carefully,” Aisha said, refusing to allow the wily old man to rattle her. Anyone who thought the academic world was peaceful had never spent any time in a universe where scientists competed savagely for funding, often spending as much time battling with the administrators as they did actually studying. “I have also asked independent students to follow up the same lines independently. They produced the same results.”

One of the other administrators – a sour-faced woman who had only spent a few years doing research before moving to administration – fixed Aisha with an uncompromising stare. “But you have refused to share your precise conclusions with us,” she said. Rumour had it that she had ruined more research proposals than anyone else. It makes it hard to subject your claims to…independent scrutiny.”

And for you to play academic politics with the selection of the research team, Aisha thought to herself. “I would prefer to have something to take to the other institutes, if necessary,” she said, flatly. “This is my work and I will not let anyone take it from me.”

“We are all friends here,” another committeeman said. “We will not take it from you.”

“I want a written guarantee to the effect that I get leadership over the team that travels to attempt to locate the Planters,” Aisha said. They had to believe her, at least at some level, but when they realised that she might be right, every academic blowhard would demand a place on the team. If she was its leader, at least she could keep trying to steer it in the right direction. “If not, I will take what I have discovered to another institution – or a corporation.”

That got their attention. Corporations didn’t think about academic knowledge; they wanted quick profits. And nothing was more profitable than Planter technology, even something that wasn’t immediately understandable. Quantum entanglement communications had come from a piece of Planter technology that had taken fifty years to understand and another seventy years to duplicate.

“You will have it in writing,” the chairman assured her. He was probably aware that she was recording the entire conversation. The last thing the Planter Study Institute needed was a major scandal, particularly one that could lead to hefty lawsuits and most of their academics walking away from them. “Now…please present your case and let us judge its validity.”

Aisha nodded, pulled a datachip out of her pocket and pushed it into the processor on the table. “UIS-345,” she said, by way of introduction. “It was first discovered in 1899 by the Garston as they started to explore the Stargate network. The system seemed, on first glance, to be one of those systems where the seeded race died out and the Planters unlocked the Stargates for us, the more successful races. Without an inhabited world, the system’s only real value lay in its possible use as a transit point – and that use is minimal. There are only three connections from UIS-345 and none of them are particularly useful.”

She smiled at their expressions. Each of the Stargates provided instant links to a number of star systems, ranging from two systems to twenty. The Family had charted thousands of Stargates, scattered all over the Alpha Quadrant, some seemingly useless until a new race had emerged onto the galactic stage. No one, apart from the Planters, knew just how far the network actually spread. There had been at least three cases of smaller networks of explored space suddenly linking up when a new race opened its Stargate.

“The Garston carried out a cursory survey and discovered that UIS-345 is actually a binary system,” she continued. “The primary star, the one that holds the Stargate, is nothing more interesting than a brown dwarf. That is actually the first issue I noticed when I started looking at the system more closely. There are other binary star systems in the Family, but UIS-345 is actually the only such star system where the Stargate orbits the lesser star. All of the other primary stars are G2 stars like Sol.

“The second point is that there is no Earth-like world in the system. All other star systems have either a living population or a graveyard world where the population died off; UIS-345 is unique in that it doesn’t appear to have had a population at all.”

There was a snort from the committeewoman. “They could have found another Converter, or something that tossed their planet into interstellar space,” she said. “None of what you’re saying proves anything.”

Aisha smiled. The Converter had been found nearly a hundred years ago on the other side of the Stargate network. A strange device with no obvious function, it had been discovered – too late – that it converted matter into energy and released it in a single blast. The researchers had been careless and literally shattered a medium-sized moon when they lost control of the Converter. It hadn’t been the only disaster caused by poking around at Planter tech without a clear idea of what it did, but it was certainly the most spectacular.

“There isn’t a single verified example of the Planters ever leaving a working artefact on the surface of an inhabited world,” she said, quietly. Presumably, the Planters wouldn’t have wanted one of the races they created using one of their devices before they had a technological base that could start them down the line towards understanding what the artefacts actually did. “No race discovered that their system was a goldmine of artefacts until they actually got up there and started to explore. And there are no signs that UIS-345 was ever inhabited by a spacefaring civilisation. No spacecraft, no orbital stations…nothing at all. The Garston took a brief look at the system, decided it was useless and chose to ignore it. UIS-345 remained a backwater ever since.”

She looked around the table, willing them to believe. “There are too many odd points about UIS-345 for it to be dismissed,” she concluded. “The Planters gave it a Stargate. Why? What was it about the system that they considered it so important? UIS-345 is the single known system that stands out, the only one that doesn’t fit the pattern. I believe that a mission to UIS-345 might give us the best possible chance of contacting the Planters – or discovering something new that might change the destiny of the entire Family.”

“You could be wrong,” another of the academics pointed out, “and what will the Gaston say when they discover that we are poking around in their space?”

“Nothing,” Aisha said, with a certain amount of amusement. “The Gaston have been occupied with their war against Palette for the last three years. They’re not going to make a fuss about a scientific research vessel entering one of their backwaters.”

“So you say,” the chairman said. “It will have to be considered and then discussed with the State Department. The Terran Navy will probably insist on us using one of their research vessels rather than a private ship.”

Aisha nodded. Anything that changed the balance of power – something that came out of a Planter artefact that had been reverse engineered in secret – would concern the Navy. Earth had been behind most of the Family when the Stargate had been opened and even though humanity had avoided invasion and conquest, it had been a very close-run thing. The last thing the Navy wanted was for some race to discover a superweapon, or a workable defensive shield. It would change the balance of power.

“But I get to select and lead the team,” she said, firmly. “As long as that is understood, everything should be fine.”

“Maybe,” one of the academics said, “but what if the Planters don’t want to be found?”

“I think that if that was the case, we wouldn’t find them,” Aisha said, simply. By any estimate, the Planters possessed technology that was well in advance of anything developed or reserve-engineered by the Family. A few million years of development would have made them so powerful that they would be mistaken for gods. “But if we could talk to them…just think what they could tell us. All the questions they could answer.”

The academic shrugged. “Do you think that we would like the answers?”

Website Updates

3 May

More Free Stories!

3/5/2012 – Added Disunited States and Strange Invasion to the Free Books section. Created the Posleen page. Added Dizzy Spells to the Kindle section.

2/5/2012 – Added United States Starship to the Free Books section. Added one article to the articles section.

1/5/2012 – Fixed the Second Chance link. Updated Links page. New guestbook.

Post-Alien Attack…

2 May

Just another idea.

An alien spacecraft (commanded by the alien version pirates) appears above Earth and opens fire, destroying 200 cities (and much of the satellite network) to demonstrate their power. Unfortunately for them, they underestimate humanity’s weapons and a moment of carelessness allows a human missile to strike their ship. Badly damaged, it falls out of orbit and crashes down in…Afghanistan.

The story then splits into three parts; the struggle for the government to remain alive, an ordinary family caught up in a desperate flight from a city and a multinational team attempting to recover the crashed alien ship…

Chris

Background: The Planters Universe

2 May

When humans landed on Mars in 2040, they found a surprise; ruins from an alien race. Some of the alien buildings appeared nothing more complex than Roman or Greek ruins from Earth. Others had samples of technology that could, given time, be reserve-engineers into technology that Earth could use. The next 100 years of space exploration was driven by a frantic urge to locate as many other samples of alien technology as possible. Some nations, corporations and even individuals became very rich as alien bases were located on nearly all of the larger bodies in the solar system.

This had a remarkable effect on Earth, even though the aliens appeared to be long dead. Some noticed similarities between alien cities and ancient cities on Earth and wondered if the aliens had influenced human development. New religions sprung up around the once-discredited works of Erich Von Däniken, claiming that the ‘star-gods’ would one day return to Earth. Others wondered if the ‘aliens’ were actually humans who had enjoyed a space age that had been lost to history. And still others were unimpressed. The Martians, if they were Martians, were long gone. There seemed to be no reason to worry.

The ultimate discovery took place in 2134 when a deep-space exploration probe stumbled upon the Stargate. It appeared to be nothing more than a massive hoop of metal orbiting Sol out beyond the orbit of Pluto, but unlike most of the long-gone race’s technology, it also appeared to be in perfect working order. Humanity’s hackers went to work and managed to get into the control routines, despite a suggestion from some of them that the system seemed to have been designed to allow idiots to work out how to turn on the hoop. When triggered, the hoop generated a singularity that opened a link between Sol and another star system with a Stargate – nine possible destinations in all. Carefully, the human race began to explore…

…And ran into another humanoid race almost at once, making careful first contact. The aliens were experienced in first contact and managed to build a working communications link using some of the decrypted alien languages from the long-dead cities. Humanity’s first thoughts – that they had run into the Martians – were rapidly countered. The newcomers were just as puzzled by the ancient ruins, which existed in their star system too – and that was only the tip of the iceberg. Humanity, by accessing the Stargate network, had joined an interstellar society that was looking for its gods.

The real mystery developed when one of the aliens agreed to be examined by human biologists. Some had already questioned just how remarkably human the aliens were – and when they carried out a deeper examination, they discovered that the aliens effectively were humans. They were close enough to humanity for breeding to be theoretically possible – and when confronted by this evidence, the aliens admitted that there was more than one other race out there, all seemingly descended from Earth. Their explanation of what had happened was vague, almost impossible to believe, but eventually humanity accepted it too.

Millions of years ago, something had wiped out most of the life in the known galaxy. No one knew why, although they did keep speculating. A war, perhaps, or a scientific experiment that went wrong. An ancient race had seemingly survived the incident and reseeded most of the galaxy with life they’d created themselves. And if that wasn’t enough, they’d clearly kept guiding their experiment to ensure that all of the new races developed along similar lines – and shared the same basic genetic code Indeed, the Spocks (as they became known) seemed to be largely improvements on the purebred races.

And the Planters had created the Stargate network. From what the various newly-spacefaring races had been able to determine, the Stargates only opened if someone in the system accessed their control routines – or if the native race in the system died out. Some of the races even saw that as evidence that the Planters were still meddling, protecting most of their children from outside contamination until they were ready to deal with it. There was no other way to cross the gulf of space at FTL speeds.

The discoveries created centuries of religious strife on Earth. Long-dead ‘Martians’ were one thing, but evidence of alien involvement in humanity’s development was quite another. Every major religion convulsed as unanswerable questions swept over the entire planet. Had Moses been aided by alien science? Had Jesus been a Spock? Had the Koran been dictated to Muhammad by the Planters? Or were they all fakes, delusions invented by humanity to explain a seemingly uncaring universe? And had the aliens been meddling for a very long time, even in the modern era? Were they the Greys, reputedly responsible for abducting and carrying out medical experiments on humans, the Planters? Had they stopped wars that might have destroyed the human race…or had they started wars to force the human race to develop? The questions were impossible to answer, which only made the situation worse.

Over the next 200 years, humanity became part of the interstellar society the Planters had created and, some said, shaped. There were wars with hostile races, or hostile humans, and friendly contacts with other races. Thousands of human-alien hybrids began to appear, joining a community that was diverse and truly part of the interstellar society.

And yet no one solved the mystery of the Planters. Why had they created so many new races? What technology did they possess? And where were they?

In 2423, the Family found out.

Caesar’s Starships

1 May

I may do this as a story, but never mind. Thoughts would be welcome.

Let’s assume that very few societies manage to develop technology and survive it long enough to reach the stars. A handful of races that do decide that it is their duty to help their less fortunate neighbours by giving them advanced technology and aid programs intended to teach modern science.

The year is 55BC. Julius Caesar has just won the first round of fighting in Gaul, while his allies Crassus and Pompey are sharing their second consulate, effectively making themselves (and Caesar) masters of Rome.

And then the aliens arrive, bringing the gifts of their science to the Romans.

What happens next?

Chris