Archive | July, 2012

From the Depths of History…

31 Jul

Background for a novel series I wrote years ago and intend to revise.

From the Depths of History…

Piercing together what happened in the semi-mythical era before the foundation of the Imperial Empire (Year One, IE) is a complicated task made harder by the tendency of those who were there at the time to lie, mislead and otherwise remain silent on the past. However, certain things can be said with reasonable certainty.

The species that became the Imperials and the Greys originated somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy, very soon after the galaxy came into existence. They were humanoid entities who looked out on the stars and saw a vast realm to explore; indeed, they may have been remarkably human-like for all the vast gulf of time separating their existence and humanity’s early days. This race was almost certainly alone; it is certain that they were the first in the galaxy to develop starships, and eventually discover how to penetrate hyperspace and use it for faster-than-light travel. By settling countless worlds, they precluded the existence of numerous other intelligent races; by the time they encountered their first aliens they were vastly advanced and not inclined to share conversation with their inferiors.

They passed through the singularity and became near-gods, walking through space with an ease that is barely imaginable today. Their greatest achievement was the MassMind, a giant computer (although ‘computer’ barely begins to explain what it was) that stored a copy of each entity’s mentality within a field that extended into hyperspace and allowed decision-making on a vastly more democratic scale than anything prior. Put simply, the MassMind was the sum total of their race, the shared consensus of all of them. It was capable of acting on behalf of the entities because, in a very real sense, it was the entities.

Disaster struck, finally, when one faction started to propose that it was time to upload themselves into higher dimensions and become transcendent life forms. The great debate dominated the MassMind for thousands of years; they had already reshaped themselves into all manner of creatures, but should they really give up their connection to their fleshy origins? It seemed an unsolvable paradox; the MassMind was unable to come to a decision, so representatives from both factions (those who wanted to transcend and those who didn’t) increasingly started acting on their own behalf. Eventually, the MassMind shattered under the pressure and civil war broke out.

It isn’t clear how long the civil war lasted, but it left the civilised galaxy in ruins. Entire sectors lost power as parts of their infrastructure were cannibalised to feed the war effort, while others were obliterated as the two sides sought to destroy the other. As neither side had fought a war for literally hundreds of thousands of years, no one realised just how destructive the war would be until it was too late – and, stroked by the invective hurled in their great councils, they shattered most of their civilisation. Between the impact of physical weapons, mental weapons and conceptual weapons (designed for use against transcendent entities) very few could hope to survive. It is believed that all of the other races in the galaxy were wiped out in the crossfire.

One small enclave survived. (There may have been others, but they never made it through the era of darkness that followed.) This enclave, a bastion of the conservative faction, withdrew completely into a small number of star systems and manipulated hyperspace currents around their homeworld to ensure that no one – other survivors or outside races – could disturb their solitude. They lost most of their technology and, even though they rebuilt over the following million years or so, they never returned to the high point their society had reached prior to the civil war.

In the darkness, new life began on the worlds that had survived the war. Over the thousands of years after the civil war, new races started to emerge into the galaxy. Some of them discovered artefacts left behind by the entities and used them to get into space, or were destroyed by them because they didn’t know what they were doing. On the other side of the galaxy from the surviving enclave, one race discovered a starship that had belonged to the other faction, the faction that had wanted to transcend. Unaware of the starship’s true nature, they accidentally repowered the ship and reanimated the entities inside. The unlucky aliens were merely the first to be overwhelmed and subverted by the faction that became known as the Greys. Resistance was futile.

In the meantime, the conservatives became dimly aware that the galaxy was changing. Where once they were alone there were now countless younger races growing up in the shadows of the galactic civil war. The conservatives studied the newcomers from a distance and realised, to their shock, that many of the newcomers had learned from their technology, while others had been destroyed by it (either directly or indirectly). Worse, the newcomers were advancing towards their own singularities – and towards the question that had ripped apart a society that had covered most of the galaxy. The galaxy itself might not survive a repeat of the last war.

Accordingly, the Conservatives moved to take control of the newcomers in the space around their enclave. They were unable – and partly unwilling – to show their true power, but they had no difficulty in creating a space fleet that outmatched anything the younger races could create. Once brought into the Empire, the younger races could be put to work in an association that both allowed their potential to flourish, while preventing it from flourishing in undesirable directions. The Imperials – as the Conservatives started to style themselves – told the younger races a somewhat altered version of the truth, rebranding themselves as selfless saviours who sought to prevent the younger races from destroying themselves.

Over the next four thousand years (the chronology is uncertain, because the Imperials were quite willing to rewrite the Empire’s early history to bury the truth) the Imperial Empire continued to expand. Races that were primitive when discovered were brought into the Empire (often destroying their own cultures along the way, which the Imperials saw as no bad thing) while their more advanced cousins were conquered by force and eventually taught their place. The Imperials established the Stargate Network to help foster the growth of galactic trade, the Imperial Civil Service to administer their Empire and the Imperial Navy to police, protect and expand their vast territories. All of these institutions had an undeclared purpose as well as their open missions; they were charged with ensuring that advanced technology didn’t fall into the hands of the younger races, either through the discovery of an artefact from before the civil war or through a researcher pressing the limits of explored science.

In appearance – at least the one the Imperials chose to show to their servants – they looked like tall thin humanoids, with orange skin, overlarge heads and bright yellow eyes. They were biologically immortal, a fact that contributed to the cultural stasis the conservative faction inflicted on itself during the long lonely years it spent rebuilding from the war. Primarily, the Imperials rarely acted directly, choosing to direct their servants rather than involve themselves. Their mystique was a vital part of their rule.

The Greys had a much harder task, even though it hadn’t required much effort on their part to overwhelm the unfortunate culture that discovered them. Their genetic patterns were badly damaged by the effects of the war, while their inbuilt desire for rapid change caused them to develop a version of cancer that plagued their older members. It was unlikely in the extreme that they would ever be able to perpetuate themselves like the Imperials, at least unless they managed to repair the genetic damage. Instead, they started to experiment with ‘clean’ DNA from their subjected populations, blending DNA from a hundred different races in the hopes of creating a liveable template. They also took mechanical augmentation forward at terrifying speed, often replacing damaged organs with technology.

Surprisingly, they did produce a major breakthrough of sorts. As they had hoped to transcend, they had done much more research into the exact nature of intelligence – and the soul – than the Imperials. They discovered that a Master Grey could extend his (insofar as the sexual difference mattered to the Greys, who were largely asexual) mentality into other biological structures, a definition that included their slave races. Most of the Masters spliced themselves into mechanical life support units and extended their mentalities out into vast numbers of slaves and Drones (see below). Unlike the Imperials, the Greys did not need to construct a socio-political edifice to hold their subjects in mental thrall; their subjects were, in effect, extensions of their master’s will. There was no hope of resistance.

They also created a sub-race – the Drones – to service them. The Drones were tiny creatures, barely half the size of an adult human, with grey skin, dark eyes and only limited intelligence (at least when not being directed by the Masters). Despite their size, they were inhumanly strong, fast and often enhanced with technology that included implanted weapons, making them deadly combatants in war. However, while they could follow orders exactly, they were very bad at dealing with unanticipated situations.

The Imperials encountered Earth in the human year 2030 by homing in on humanity’s radio transmissions. After a brief period of covert story, the Imperial Navy decloaked a small assault fleet in orbit around the planet, landed ground troops and demanded immediate surrender. When the human race naturally resisted, the Imperial Navy used precision strikes from orbit to obliterate most of the human defenders, shot down nuclear missiles aimed at the starships (and positions on the ground) and overwhelmed the human race’s communications system. The outcome was a foregone conclusion from the start; resistance might have continued up to 200 years after the invasion, but the Imperials held all of the advantages and were patient enough to continue with their own plans despite human stubbornness. As more and more humans chose to collaborate with the Imperials, the resistance became dangerous bandits and eventually faded away.

Earth was not the only world in the Sol System to be exploited by the Imperials. Intent on creating a new world for humanity – and a dumping ground for those who steadfastly resisted their rule – the Imperials terraformed Mars, taking the opportunity to remove a number of artefacts that dated back to their civil war (although rumours of ‘Martian’ artefacts continue to echo through the planet’s population.) Titan became a naval base for the Imperial Navy – close enough to Earth to provide reinforcement in case the garrison ran into an uprising it couldn’t handle – and numerous asteroids became later habitats.

Eventually, over a period of nearly a thousand years, humanity earned a place in the Imperial Empire. Humans entered the military, constructed businesses and settled countless worlds throughout the Empire. Indeed, humans were so good at fighting that nearly ten percent of the Imperial Navy was human by then, along with a similar percentage in the Imperial Army. The vast majority of humans considered the Empire as part of their lives. There was certainly no widespread resistance to Imperial rule.

Unknown to the Imperials, Earth actually lay on the border – insofar as such a term can be used – between the Imperials and the Greys. The Greys had actually considered turning humanity into a slave race – after visiting Earth numerous times and harvesting genetic samples from unwilling humans – and, accidentally, the Imperials saved Earth from a fate worse than death. Naturally, the Greys had kept an eye on Earth over the years since its discovery and were astonished to find that their old rivals had formed a galactic-wide empire of their own. Fearful of discovery, they pulled back (reports of little grey aliens on Earth were largely buried, or dismissed as hoaxes) and started both building up their own military power and infiltrating the empire their rivals had built.

So it was, by 3034 in human years, the Imperials discovered that their empire was running into unseen and unsuspected troubles. First, perhaps most significantly, their economic base had been badly weakened by a scandal that appeared to blow up out of nowhere. Second, their rule was encountering more resistance among fringe groups that required time and effort to squash, even though they posed little threat to the Imperials themselves. Third, more and more races were clamouring for a greater share in power and an end to technological restrictions, restrictions the Imperials believed to be vitally important to prevent a reprise of their own civil war. And there were rumours of another Imperium out beyond the Rim.

And when they discovered a Grey corpse, the Imperials knew that their empire was in mortal danger.

Background: Windows on Lost Worlds

29 Jul

Bit of background here…

In 2040, Professor Thomas Anderson was successful in obtaining the funding to discover if recent theoretical developments in temporal physics could yield practical applications. After much careful research, Anderson was successful in building the first time-space portal generator, using it – at the suggestion of his backers – to link to England in 1815. Unknown to Professor Anderson, his backer, the enigmatic Sir Charles Hanover, believed that time travel would allow a chance to save Britain from what he regarded as cultural and social collapse. Despite Anderson’s protests, Hanover’s agents flooded into 1815 and started selling 2050-era technology and knowledge to the locals, who paid them in gold. The gold was transported back to 2050 and used to fund Hanover’s procurement and political operations.

Unhappily for Hanover, the time travellers could and did change 1815 beyond recognition, but none of their changes actually affected the home timeline (TimeLine A) at all. Hanover’s frustration with repeated failures led to his operation being uncovered by the British authorities, who had become suspicious when Hanover started funding various far-right groups in the UK. Their attempt to seize the portal (operating within Hanover Hall, Hanover’s family’s seat) succeeded, but Professor Anderson – believing that the government intended to suppress his research, used the internet to send details of the portal technology around the world. The cat was thoroughly out of the bag.

Faced with considerable embarrassment, the British Government quietly put Anderson (and a number of other researchers) to work on defining the limits of cross-time travel. Anderson, who had already carried out research on natives of 1815, concluded in 2053 that the opening of a portal caused a tiny, but significant change in the timeline’s quantum signature – effectively splitting a new timeline off from the original. Millions upon millions of alternate timelines could be created and none of them would have any effect on TimeLine A, at least not directly.

Anderson’s research also noted other limitations in the portal technology. Once created, a portal could not be closed, at least not by technology available to 2053. The link between two timelines was indestructible. Second, a portal was linked to the relative position in the alternate timeline; a portal opened in 2053 to 1900 would link to the alternate 1901 in 2054. Third, it was impossible to open a second portal into the same timeline. Fourth, perhaps most importantly, a portal couldn’t be expanded beyond 5metres by 5metres. There were obvious shipping limitations on what could be sent through the portals.

Several other portals were opened up in 2054, leading to the near-disastrous Cuban Epidemic of 2056. The Cuban Government believed that it could open up a portal to 1500, defeat the Spanish and establish Cuba as a world power, but it failed to realise that modern humans lacked any resistance to contemporary diseases. Smallpox made it back through the portal and spread rapidly through Cuba; it was only through an ironclad air-sea blockade of Cuba, once the outside world learned of the crisis, that prevented the disease spreading beyond the island state. Cuba lost nearly 70% of its population and today exists as – effectively – a new American state.

Realising that the next encounter with a long-gone disease could be even more disastrous, the UN convinced most of the world governments to slap limitations on portal technology. There was no attempt to prevent the technology from spreading – which would have been futile – but instead attempts to ensure that nothing spread from the past into the present day. Furthermore, the UN also funded research programs to understand the dangers of portal technology and prepare the present for other ‘past-shocks.’

By 2060, there were no less than 100 alternate timelines known to exist (rumours of secret projects cannot be entirely discounted.) These ranged from a dozen alternate Americas, several different worldwide empires, religious worlds and plenty of others. The past was also being mined for raw materials; there was little point in buying oil from repressive regimes when it could be mined in the distant past of a thousand alternate worlds. There were even a handful of timelines that served primarily as tourist destinations, where present-day people could hunt dinosaurs or meet historical figures in person. The future looked bright and full of promise.

The Great Wormhole Universe

26 Jul

Reconsidering a story set in this universe.  What do you think?

The Great Wormhole Universe

2030: Establishment of Armstrong Base (US) on the Moon. Mining for HE3 begins.

2032-5: Establishment of comparable mining bases; Europe, Russia, Japan, China, India and Brazil. Massive deployment of Fusion Reactors (powered by HE3) on Earth, following the development of advanced power cells. Demand for oil and oil by-products falls sharply.

2037: First asteroid capture mission brings an asteroid into Earth’s orbit. The asteroid is used for building materials for additional space stations and spaceships.

2040: First colony ship departs for Mars, to be followed by dozens of others.

2041-60: The First Great Expansion. Massive settlement on Mars, Jupiter’s Moons, the outermost planets and hundreds of asteroids. Deep Space Corp, a multinational corporation with vast investments in space, claims Titan for itself.

2061: Lunar War between American and Chinese settlers, following a dispute over mining rights. The war ends in a stalemate. Naturally, each power starts building up a greater military presence in space.

2062: Treaty of Mars carves up the planet into settlement zones. Third World Congress – basically, nations not wealthy enough to take part in the space exploration program – warns that the poor of Earth will not accept being shafted any longer. Over the next decade, terrorism becomes a far more serious concern on Earth, ironically pushing more and more of the rich world’s infrastructure into space.

2062-2200: Massive expansion, including the first development of independent (i.e. non-national or non-corporate) settlements. These range from tiny asteroids to large foundations on the Moon or Mars. Tiny wars are common, particularly over Mars, where there are major political problems. A handful of asteroid settlements have even boosted for interstellar space, intent on finding a new world of their own. Deep space telescopes reveal over a hundred Earth-like worlds within five hundred light years.

Conditions on Earth are not good. Outside the West, the world is poor and starving, with little hope. In the West, there is a national security state intent on preventing terrorists from getting at the population. Anyone with the training and determination wants to leave Earth and go to one of the settlements, although Mars may have a civil war, either against the various Earth-based governments or other settlers. Western Military has united to a large degree, launching punitive strikes against poorer countries in response to terrorist atrocities – basically, butcher and bolt. There is no great enthusiasm for nation-building, nor for assisting in picking up the debris from nuclear wars within the Third World.

2201-2240: Deep Space Corporation, having been working on wormhole technology for years, launches the first interstellar starship to the nearest star with a known Earth-like world. The technology is simple; one end of the wormhole remains in the Sol System, while the other end is mounted on the starship and launched towards its destination at STL speeds. When the wormhole arrives at the far end, spaceships can move through the wormhole to the new world, which is named Terra Nova. Settlement begins at once as various governments start demanding access.

2240-2400: Other wormholes are opened, suddenly giving the human race more living space than it knows what to do with. As the wormholes can be moved into Earth’s orbit, settling other star systems is actually easier than settling Mars. Once DSC accepts an oversight role – no government trusts another government with the technology – settlement begins at once. At first, there are single-government systems; later, wormholes will be opened to newer planets that will allow ethnic and religious groups their own freedom. Further, newer wormhole chains are opened, starting new wormholes in new systems and further expanding humanity out into the universe.

With the various governments concentrating on settling their own worlds, the United Nations – effectively a pawn of the richer nations; basically, you get a vote equivalent to the proportion of the UN’s budget you pay – starts taking over more and more of the government of Earth. The new Government of Mars is allowed to form as Mars is suddenly worthless, although no one expects it to last long. The Moon, already inching towards a united government, finally gains independence from the founding nations, although the government is very weak and politically divided. The Moon lost some of its importance when the governments started mining the gas giants.

The UN starts a smaller settlement program for poorer nations. Basically, the UN will pay some of the cost of transport, allowing the poorer nations to have a chance at settling their own worlds.

2401: The UN becomes the formal government of Earth, if not the solar system.

2409: Mark II Wormhole Generators are developed by DSC. These wormholes can link into another wormhole within twenty light years, allowing far more flexible interstellar travel.

2450: Mark III Wormhole Generators are developed. These wormholes allow limited transit into systems without a wormhole on the other end. The systems, however, require massive power and can only be used by tapping the power of the local star.

2451-3007: Massive further expansion, including the development of illegal wormholes (i.e. non-DSC), pushes the human race out much further. There are over five hundred settled worlds, along with dozens of smaller settlements on less habitable worlds. The older colony worlds have upwards of three-four billion inhabitants each. There are also outbreaks of interstellar warfare, although DSC keeps a lid on it by refusing to allow warships to transit through the official gateways. Worst of all, there is considerable unrest between Earth and the colonies. Earth’s ecology has begun to collapse and the UN is trying to get as many people as it can away from the doomed world.

3009: The – accidental – development of the continuous wormhole generator breaks DSC’s monopoly over wormhole development. The CWG allows FTL flight without using a fixed wormhole, although it isn’t instantaneous; early versions of the drive only allow the starship to travel one light year per day.

3010-3030: Hundreds of starships are equipped with FTL drives.

3030: Supernova Day. Facing a complete collapse of their finances – DSC had enemies, thousands of them – the board of directors insist on pushing ahead with the revolutionary Mark IV Wormhole Generator, which will – in theory – allow truly massive wormholes to be opened, perhaps large enough to take an asteroid settlement or even a small moon. When the system is tested, tapping into the power of Sol, the result is a complete disaster. The sun flares and emits a wave of radiation and a super-powerful EMP. The Sol System is devastated. Most human installations in space couldn’t be shielded against such an EMP and their systems are destroyed, dooming their crews to certain death. Stations orbiting Earth, or Mars, or Venus lose their orbit and fall towards the planets, which are struggling to cope with the disaster. The accidental bombardment slaughters billions who might otherwise have survived. All of the wormholes leading to Earth collapse under the wave…

And that is where the stories would go.

Thoughts? Comments?

Vendetta: Final Conflict–New Snippet!

19 Jul

Chapter One

New Marseilles

23rd March 2435

“From up here,” Lieutenant Commander Sally Mínervudóttir said, as they sat together in the observation blister, “one could almost pretend that the planet is beautiful.”

Commander Janine Herald had to smile. Sally was a RockRat from one of the older habitat clusters orbiting a dying red sun. Like all RockRats, she regarded planets as wild territory and – at worst – enemy targets that could neither run nor hide. RockRats were used to absolute control over their environment and found planets rather intimidating, even if they were safer than asteroid settlements in the middle of a war. But then, the RockRats weren’t competing with the UN to settle as many worlds as possible. Even the largest RockRat settlements outside the Sol System were tiny compared to planet-side populations. There were just so many of them.

The two women were very different. Where Janine followed the standard human genotype, with black hair cut short to meet the demands of interstellar service and her body augmented by mechanical implants, Sally had been literally designed for life in space. She was so thin and slight that it seemed a mere hug would break her bones, giving her body a disturbingly young appearance, almost as if she had yet to hit puberty. But adapting themselves to space was the core of the RockRat creed and where they parted company with the United Nations of Sol. Sally wouldn’t even have been onboard Rubicon if the General Assembly hadn’t pushed for officers who could help prevent friction between the UN and the RockRats.

“You should see it down below,” Janine said. She’d taken two days shore leave after Task Force 9.4 had arrived at New Marseilles, showing the flag to the local settlers and surveying the remainder of the planetary system for pirates, hidden settlements and alien artefacts. “I spent a day on the beach, relaxing as the sun poured its rays down on me. You should try it next time.”

Sally shuddered. “None of us understand why you wish to live in such…uncontrolled environments,” she said, seriously. “An untamed wilderness where you can pick up disease, or be attacked by wild animals…how can that be safe? It’s much safer to live on an asteroid habitat where you control your own environment.”

“Apart from the rats and roaches,” Janine said, ruefully. Rats, cockroaches and rabbits had accompanied humanity out to the stars, settling on more virgin worlds than human settlers. A number of worlds had even lost their native biology to the more vigorous plants and animals from Earth. The RockRats had problems with unwanted guests on their older habitats too. “And you’re still vulnerable to someone with a nuke and bad intentions.”

They fell into a companionable silence as the planet turned below them. Captain Yu was down on the planet’s surface, attending yet another formal dinner with the planet’s governor and his council. New Marseilles hadn’t been settled long enough to build space-based industries, let alone an orbital defence network and its own starships, leaving it vulnerable to pirates, black colonists and hostile aliens. The 9th Fleet was supposed to provide cover for the planet, but with the fleet so thinly spread it was rare for New Marseilles to see more than one starship per month. Task Force 9.4 wouldn’t have visited at all if someone hadn’t convinced the First Admiral to order a heavier patrol than usual along the boundaries of inhabited space.

Janine had wondered – and knew that many of her fellows had wondered the same thing – just why anyone would want an assault carrier and its task force, including UNS Rubicon, patrolling along the edge of human-settled space. This wasn’t the Triangle, the point where the Sutra Empire and the Polis Society intersected with human space; as far as anyone knew, there were no other intelligent races from here to the galactic rim. Human expansion had been concentrated in this sector for the last hundred years and, so far, no one had discovered anything more interesting than a handful of planet-bound life forms that might have developed intelligence, if they’d been left alone for a few million years. But the French bloc in the General Assembly had links to New Marseilles and they’d undoubtedly provided the political muscle to convince the First Admiral to show the flag along the edge of explored space. Not that it really mattered that much, Janine considered. The fleets were regularly rotated throughout human-settled space and their next destination might be along the Triangle.

Her wristcom buzzed, warningly. “Commander Herald to the bridge,” the watch officer’s voice said. “I say again, Commander Herald to the bridge.”

Janine tapped her wristcom as she stood up. “On my way,” she said. The settlers hadn’t really had a chance to carry out a full survey of their star system, resulting in a handful of false alarms as the Navy’s explorers stumbled across RockRat installations in the system’s asteroid field. “Coming?”

Sally followed her as she walked through the corridors, past the Marine guard and into Rubicon’s bridge. As always, it was dominated by a glowing holographic display of local space, showing the planet, the other starships in the task force and a handful of unidentified red blips heading towards the planet at an alarmingly high speed. Janine had been reading displays ever since she’d entered the Luna Academy, but she’d never seen anything, apart from a missile, that moved with such speed and grace. But they were well outside missile range…

“Report,” she said, as she took the command chair. With the Captain down on the planet, it was her station. “What do we have?”

“Perimeter drones picked up five starships of unknown configuration,” Lieutenant Commander John McLaughlin said. The tactical officer was young; Rubicon was his first combat assignment. But he showed definite promise, Janine had seen, and she’d taken it on herself to mentor the young man. “Admiral Hanson ordered Condition Two as a precautionary measure.”

Janine nodded, gazing up at the incoming red icons. By definition, First Contact was always hazardous – and some had been traumatic. Even the relatively friendly contact with the Polis had nearly been derailed when the contact team had laid eyes upon the giant spider-like creatures for the first time. And if there was an alien race out in unexplored space, it already had one advantage; it knew where there was a human colony, while humanity knew nothing about its planets or starships. The standard set of First Contact directives – including the one about ensuring that no newcomer learned anything about the UN until the contact team were satisfied that the aliens weren’t hostile – had already been jarred.

“Set Condition Two throughout the ship,” she ordered. A moment later, the drumbeat echoed through the bridge as the crew raced to their combat stations. Condition Two would prepare the ship for battle without actually looking hostile to an outside observer. “Do we have a visual on the alien ships yet?”

“They’re vectoring a drone in towards the aliens,” the tactical officer said. “There should be a visual in a few more seconds.”

“Impressive drive system,” Sally murmured, in Janine’s ear. “I don’t know anything in human space that can move like that, apart from a starfighter – and those things are too large to be starfighters.”

Janine couldn’t disagree. The larger the ship, the more ungainly it was – with fleet and assault carriers being the largest and most ungainly of all. Even Rubicon, a mere two hundred meters long, wasn’t remotely as manoeuvrable as a starfighter. But the aliens seemed to be moving in a pattern that suggested that their drives were far more advanced than anything the human race had developed – or stolen.

“Visual,” McLaughlin announced.

“Put it on the main display,” Janine ordered.

The United Nations had never really escaped the early designs pioneered after the Traders had sold Earth the technology to establish a permanent foothold in outer space. UN starships were blocky, almost ugly, even though they were solid enough to stand up and exchange blows with their enemies in the field of battle. The aliens, on the other hand, seemed to have turned their starships into works of art. They were giant teardrop-shaped vessels, barely visible in the darkness of space, their hulls surrounded by a shimmer that made tracking them difficult, even for the most advanced sensor systems in the entire United Nations. Janine had been a tactical and sensor officer herself, on her climb up the ladder to command rank, and read the stream of data with a practiced eye. It was difficult to provide exact details on the alien ships because they were somehow shielded against sensor probes.

“Beautiful,” Sally whispered.

“The Admiral has started to transmit the First Contact package,” the tactical officer reported. “How long do you think it would take them to decipher the first section?”

Janine shrugged. The Traders had provided humanity with the basic package – but they’d spent months studying Earth from a safe distance before introducing themselves. Apart from the WE WHO ARE, the enigmatic machine race that had been discovered in 2150, all of the other races humanity had encountered had had to work hard to decipher the package, although once they cracked the first section building a common language and shared understanding had been easy. The newcomers might crack it within minutes – assuming that their computer technology was as advanced as their starships – or it might take days or weeks, while the two squadrons stared at each other in orbit around a defenceless world.

Minutes ticked by as the alien craft flew closer, entering missile range. “They’re not slowing down,” the tactical officer said. Janine heard the alarm in his voice and shared it. Showing off was one thing, but charging right at a group of UN starships was dangerous. Without any communications, it was easy to assume that the enemy was intent on attacking the squadron, prompting the Admiral to open fire first. “The Admiral has ordered Condition One.”

Janine tapped her console. “Condition One,” she said. Condition One brought Rubicon and the rest of the squadron to battle stations. “I say again, set Condition One throughout the ship.”

“Curious attack pattern,” Sally observed. “They’re already within missile range; you’d think they’d want to stand off until they knew how capable our systems were, if they wanted to attack.”

“True,” Janine agreed. UN starships used missiles as their primary armament, allowing them to engage enemies further away than the mysterious dark ships. Firing from point-blank range would make it harder for the point defences to lock on, but the UN squadron would tear them apart if they opened fire within sprint mode range. “Tactical – do we have a threat analysis yet?”

“Nothing definite,” McLaughlin reported. The Admiral had a full tactical staff on Invincible, trained analysts who would be picking at every scrap of data pulled off the unknown starships and trying to build up a picture of their capabilities. “We assume that their weapon systems are comparable to ours, but if they can operate their ships like that it’s quite possible that they have extended sprint mode missiles…”

He broke off in alarm. “Energy surge,” he snapped. “It’s coming from the lead alien ship…”

Janine watched in horror as the alien ship fired a beam of brilliant light directly towards the StarCom installation in orbit around New Marseilles. Energy weapons were rare, almost unknown, within the explored universe; building ones suitable for space combat had been beyond the UN’s researchers in a dozen hidden research installations. But the alien weapon, whatever it was, cut through the StarCom like a knife through butter, destroying the containment fields that kept the artificial micro-singularity in existence. A moment later, the entire installation vanished in a blinding flash of light. They’d be seeing it on the planet’s surface.

“Put us back to cover Invincible,” Janine snapped. No wonder the aliens had come in so close before opening fire. Their weapons were configured to allow them to hammer the task force from close range, but not close enough for sprint-mode missiles to overwhelm their defences. “Activate missile tubes…”

Invincible is under attack,” McLaughlin snapped. “Jesus!”

Janine would have reprimanded him if she hadn’t felt the same way. The impossible alien beams had targeted the assault carrier’s two flight decks, hanging down from the main body of the starship, and were slowly and efficiently tearing them apart. Invincible was armoured to withstand multiple nuclear strikes – she was a veteran of the final bloody days of the Magana War – but no one had even considered the danger of such powerful energy weapons. A chain of explosions ran through her flight deck, obliterating her complement of Hawk fighters and Eagle torpedo-bombers, the only craft the task force had had that could have matched the alien speed and agility.

“The datanet is flickering,” McLaughlin reported. “The Admiral is ordering all ships to open fire.”

“Open fire,” Janine ordered. Rubicon shuddered as she unleashed her full broadside towards the enemy vessels, joined by the remaining ships in the task force. Invincible fired too, just before another alien energy beam – a death ray, her mind whispered – sliced into her forward hull and burned through her armour. The mighty assault carrier staggered under the blow, just before the remaining alien ships opened fire themselves. All five of them targeted their fire on the assault carrier and sliced her apart. Invincible exploded in a sheet of white-hot tearing fury, taking all hands with her into death. “Reroute the datanet through Hamlin and continue firing.”

“The aliens are targeting our missiles,” McLaughlin said, grimly. Janine watched and cursed as alien energy weapons swept through space, blotting the missiles out of existence before they could home in on the alien hulls. Judging from the problems the seeker warheads had had in locking onto their targets, it was possible that the missiles would have missed even without the alien point defence. Between them, the ships of the task force had fired over a hundred nuclear-tipped missiles at five enemy ships. No missile reached its target. “Captain Slade is ordering a switch to tactical pattern beta nine.”

“Make it so,” Janine ordered, tightly. The aliens had switched back to the UN starships, burning through the heavy cruisers Admiral Geary and Admiral Hipper with ease. This time, the cruisers managed to launch a handful of lifepods before their fusion plants blew, vaporising both starships. An instant later, the alien beams wiped the lifepods from existence. Janine couldn’t tell if the unknowns had meant to vaporise helpless survivors or if they’d simply fired on radio beacons without realising that they were nothing more dangerous than lifepods, but it suggested that the aliens didn’t intend to offer quarter. Even the Magana had been happy to take prisoners! “Pull us back from the alien ships; continue firing…”

Something smashed right into Rubicon’s hull. The entire starship shuddered so violently that consoles exploded and the gravity field failed, leaving the crew drifting through the air until they strapped themselves down. Red icons flickered up on Janine’s display as the scale of the damage became clear; the aliens had blasted a hole right through the lower deck, crippling her starship. A few inches higher and they would probably have destroyed Rubicon with a single shot.

“Pennsylvania is gone,” McLaughlin said, as he fought to recover the datalink to the rest of the squadron. “Vampire has taken heavy damage and is drifting towards the planet; Jude and Ruth have both lost their drive sections and are launching lifepods…correction, Jude has been destroyed. They’re wiping out the lifepods deliberately!”

Janine saw blood droplets drifting through the air from where the sensor officer had been injured by her exploding console. “Engineering,” she snapped, slapping her console. “Can we use the flux drive?”

There was a pause, long enough to leave her wondering if the internal communications net had been destroyed as well. On the display, the alien craft were advancing forward, finishing the task of destroying the human squadron. Vampire, powerless and helpless, was vaporised before she could fall into the planet’s atmosphere and strike the surface with all the force of a major asteroid impact. Moments later, the alien craft vaporised the lifepods as well, picking off the survivors. McLaughlin had been right. The aliens intended to completely obliterate the remains of the human force, maybe the settlers down on the planet as well.

“I think so,” Chief Engineer George Phyllis said, finally. “The main core of the flux drive remains undamaged, but in our current state making an accurate jump might be tricky…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Janine said. Five minutes. That had all it had been since the alien craft had opened fire. Five minutes to obliterate a task force that would have given any other known race pause. “Prepare to jump us out on a random vector – don’t bother to pick a destination.”

“Commander…”

Do it,” Janine snapped at him. A random jump might put them in a star, or too close to a planet’s gravity well to escape before it was too late, but focusing the jump might allow the unknowns to detect them. On the display, the alien starships were closing in, firing brief bursts at lifepods and pieces of wreckage large enough to harbour survivors. Two alien ships had broken off from the main squadron and were heading towards the planet itself. “Power up the drive, now!”

“Drive online,” Sally said. The helmsman had been badly injured; Sally had taken over his console. “All systems report ready, but there are major power fluctuations in…”

The alien ships obliterated the remains of Ruth and targeted Rubicon. “Jump now,” Janine ordered, and braced herself. Using the flux drive was an uncomfortable experience at the best of times. With so much damage, it was likely that it would be a great deal worse. “Now!”

Sally pushed down on the jump key. A moment later, Rubicon, the last survivor of a once-powerful squadron, jumped and vanished from the New Marseilles system.

Dark And Dismal World

16 Jul

I have an idea for a very dark universe.

Let’s assume that it is impossible to defend a planet against attack. Starships can jump in –nBSG-style – and bombard the planet without warning. People on the surface are effectively helpless against such attacks. Even if you invest in orbital defences or planet-based defence installations, you are still at a major disadvantage against outsiders who want to smash everything you’ve built.

There are no major powers in this universe as whatever one can take others can take too. Instead, there are space-based pirates (in all, but name) that raid the inhabited planets for food, drink and women. Some of them were once crewmen in various interstellar wars before warfare was realised to be largely impossible. By now, they’re all nasty bastards. Perversely, they’re also the closest thing to an overall government for human space.

Technological development has largely halted, outside a handful of the richer worlds. There’s no point in building something if the pirates are going to take it anyway – besides, the pirates really don’t want the planets to build something that might threaten their power, so most worlds aren’t really allowed to advance past 1960s level.

How does this sound as the setting for a story?

Chris

The Vendetta Universe–Background

14 Jul

Comments would be nice…

The Vendetta Universe

Humanity’s First Contact occurred in 2025 when a Trader starship decloaked above Earth and entered into negotiations with the United Nations Security Council, eventually trading some technical items and data in exchange for a 99 year lease on Jupiter, which they intended to mine for HE3. In the following years, humanity restructured the United Nations to create a body that could reasonably speak for Earth – or at least the most powerful nations on the planet – and made a start on exploring and settling the rest of the solar system. The UN also served as the coordinating body defending the allied nations against the Wreckers, a transnational semi-alliance of the dispossessed following the economic upheaval caused by Trader technology. In doing so, the building blocks of a united human military were laid.

In 2050, humanity’s first primitive flux drive was developed (the Traders had refused to sell FTL technology, citing previous bad experiences with cultures that had purchased the technology and used it against them) and the expansion of humanity began in earnest. Thirty Earth-like worlds were discovered and divided up among the most powerful nations – leading to the settlement of Washington, New Moscow, Britannia, Edo and others. A number of worlds more akin to Mars were also discovered and largely distributed (along with basic terraforming techniques) to poorer nations, who believed – rightly – that they were being frozen out of interstellar expansion. With the mass movement of governments to their new worlds, the UN assumed overall federal authority on Earth (and Sol System) in 2070.

The next first contact occurred in 2146 with the Teechan, a peaceful and advanced race that occupied four star systems and saw no reason to expand further. Humanity opened a trading relationship with them, learning – among other things – how to produce basic StarCom units for FTL communications. As if humanity had encountered a wave of aliens, first contact with the WE WHO ARE – a race of intelligent machines, their origin uncertain – occurred in 2150. More significantly, contact with the Sutra Empire (2156) forced humanity to face up to the prospect of interstellar war for the first time, not counting pirates and rogue human factions. The Sutra were in the middle of a civil war between Royalist and Communist factions and both sides were willing to take their conflict into human space. Eventually, following a devastating Communist attack on a human colony, the UNNS entered the war and assisted the Royalists in overcoming their enemies. Once the Royalists were firmly established, a border line was marked and both sides resolved to communicate rather than face the prospect of outright war.

So far, all of the intelligent races discovered had been on an equal or greater technological level than humanity, leading the UN to believe in non-interference while frantically struggling (if necessary) to catch up. The discovery of Innocence (2367) tested that doctrine as Innocence was primitive, roughly at the same level of technology as Earth in the 1960s. Worse, they were on the edge of a world war between five factions, all armed with nuclear missiles and very basic ABM systems. While the UN observers dithered, Innocence went to war, convincing the observers to push for the UN to intervene. Unsure about the effects of contact on a primitive world, the General Assembly authorised the UNNS to prevent a major nuclear exchange, but to make no further attempt at contact. When Innocence’s forces finally launched their missiles, they were shot down in flight by a UNNS squadron that then retreated into deep space and vanished. Perhaps surprisingly, the discovery that they were not alone paved the way for a lasting peace on Innocence that would eventually take them to the stars.

Humanity could be said to have entered a Golden Age, but the same could not be said of other races. One possible threat was the Magana Empire, a little-known race on the other side of the Polis Society, one of Earth’s more friendly alien contacts. In 2375, the Magana attacked the Polis and brought them to the brink of defeat before the United Nations authorised an intervention. The UNNS entered the war, but discovered that it was woefully ill-prepared for fighting the Magana. Eventually, after several shattering defeats, the UNNS regrouped, adapted and – with a new flood of warships from Earth’s yards – defeated the Magana. Two other races were liberated as the Magana were confined to their own star system. To crown what had been a very successful century for humanity, Innocence’s first experimental flux drive spurred the General Assembly to allow First Contact to finally take place.

In 2435, the human race could justifiably claim to be the preeminent race in the local sector. The UNNS was the most powerful military force known to exist, the Conference of Luna had paved the way for several races acting in concert and humans – quite simply – outnumbered most of the other races. Humanity could look forward to a bright future.

Unfortunately, 2435 was the year humanity encountered the Trolls.

***

The United Nations serves as the federal government of humanity, with each world or nation allocated a single seat in the General Assembly and a rotating place on the Security Council. A handful of powerful planets and nations have permanent seats on the Security Council, allowing them to block measures they don’t like; in truth, the UN has very little power to intervene on individual planets. The UN is funded by contributions from member nations fees for the StarCom network and very limited taxes on interstellar shipping, although these amount to vast amounts of money.

Below the UN, each star system, planet or nation has internal autonomy, save for the inability to deny people the ability to leave if they wish to go. (A compromise between those who wanted a powerful federal authority and those who feared such an entity.) It is also generally understood that local authorities have more power over their own citizens than over visitors from other parts of the galaxy. The most powerful worlds have their own self-defence forces, although they are forbidden by treaty from building the logistics train that would allow them to threaten their neighbours. They also provide troops and equipment to bolster the ground forces assigned to the UNNS.

By 2435, there are over 300 major worlds settled by humanity and countless smaller colonies. Some of the new worlds are direct descendents of pre-Contact nations (New Washington, Edo), some were settled in line with religious or ethnic beliefs (Ramadan, Zion, Martin Luther), some were founded by corporations and a handful are built around artificial social matrixes developed by sociologists on Earth. It is impossible, therefore, to make generalised statements about human societies; some are democratic and very open, others are closed, sexually-restrictive and reluctant to risk outside contact.

Outside the UN, there are a handful of Rogue Worlds that make no direct contact with the rest of humanity. The UN generally ignores them on the grounds that they don’t pose a threat and that they may want to join the UN later on. These run the gauntlet from Williamson’s Freehold (a libertarian society) to Draka (a master/slave society).

The RockRat Association is both a member of the UN and an interstellar government in its own right, although it is difficult to speak of it as a united body. Put simply, the RockRats are descendents of the original asteroid miners from Earth, now spread throughout interstellar space. The basic creed of the RockRats is a mixture of capitalism and communism; RockRats are expected to profit for themselves, but also to refrain from harming others who didn’t ask to be involved. RockRats pride themselves upon realism and responsibility and tend to regard planet-dwellers as effeminate liberals.

Like the UN, the RockRats are spread throughout human space and beyond, retaining a determined independence from system governments. Many governments are wise enough to trade or ignore the RockRats, knowing that they can be dangerous enemies when pushed into a corner. Although the RockRats have no formal space navy, they do have vast fleets of asteroid miners to call upon, as well as a fearsome technological prowess that makes them masters of space.

The principle dispute between the UN and the RockRats lies in genetic engineering. In 2200, the UN banned genetic engineering that would eventually create a subset of genetically-superior human, believing that this would eventually lead to civil war. (They do permit modification to allow increased disease resistance or life on particular planets, something that the RockRats use to charge them with hypocrisy.) The RockRats, however, ignored the UN’s edict and continued their own programs into producing modified strains of humanity, with an eventual goal of producing a strain of humanity that can live naturally in space, without needing any form of protective equipment. Although they have yet to reach that goal, they have succeeded in producing tougher and smarter humans who are better adapted to live in space, link with computers and adapt to sudden shifts in the environment.

This has lured many UN residents with the money to seek upgrades for their children (or even themselves) from the RockRats. As the modified genes are effectively dominant (passed on through the family line, overwriting the unmodified genes) each modified person adds the modified genes to the overall genetic pool. The UN has been attempting to ban this practice, but as the RockRats completely refuse to prevent outsiders from seeking the treatments, the UN’s ban has been largely ineffective.

The RockRats also trade happily with the Rogue Worlds, whatever the UN has to say about it, and alien races, particularly the Traders. It is commonly believed that their space extends well beyond humanity’s formal borders and deep into alien-held territory, but the RockRats rarely comment on the extent of their holdings. In a sense, given the nature of RockRat society, one group of RockRats might not know what other groups are doing.

***

The United Nations Naval Service is charged with defending humanity from outside attack, policing the space lanes and surveying new worlds for human settlement. As such, it is the largest military force known to exist and has a reputation for winning wars, although in some cases it took heavy early defeats before adapting and overcoming its foes. Politically, the First Admiral reports to the United Nations Security Council, which issues the Navy’s General Orders and ROE. The First Admiral heads the Admiralty Board, which provides overall guidance for the UNNS. However, owing to the difficulties involved in commanding an operation from Sol, the individual Admirals are granted wide latitude by the Admiralty.

There are ten fleets within the UNNS, each based in a different sector, a considerable number of roving squadrons and several smaller fleets of support vessels. The fleets provide security for their home sector; the roving squadrons serve as fireman brigades for emergency response as well as a reminder of the UN’s power to alien threats.

The UNNS is based on Luna, with all prospective officers going through the Luna Academy before being shipped out to their first posting. Enlisted recruits go through smaller training facilities in the various different sectors, although mustangs (experienced enlisted men who want to become officers) are generally put through a brief course at the Luna Academy before returning to the fleet. The Admiralty has supreme responsibility for promoting officers up to the rank of Commodore before politics intervene; the worlds that provide much of the UNNS’s funding would prefer that they had a say in the men who command the big fleets.

After its experiences in the Magana War, the UNNS’s largest unit is the fleet carrier, followed closely by the assault carrier. Each carrier carries a vast number of starfighters configured for a number of different operations, as well as bristling with weapons and armour to defend itself if necessary. Most UNNS task forces are formed up around carriers, with the Admiral flying his flag from the carrier’s CIC. Below the carriers, there are missile-heavy battleships, cruisers and destroyers, designed to use missiles to finish off the enemy after the starfighters have done their work. Close-in weapons systems serve as counters to enemy missiles that might break through the starfighter patrols and head towards the targeted ships.

All UNNS starships are equipped with the latest version of the flux drive, allowing instantaneous jumps of up to five light years, followed by a recharge period of ten minutes before the drive can be used again. (Civilian ships need upwards of thirty minutes to recharge their drives.) Starships are heavily armoured to allow them to survive jumping into extremely hostile space long enough to recharge their drives and jump out, if necessary. Standard (pre-Troll) doctrine calls for defeating the enemy fleet by destroying its carriers, and then using starfighters to batter it to pieces from a safe distance before sending in the battleships.

Standard missiles carried by battleships and cruisers generally carry specialised nuclear warheads for penetration and internal detonation. An assault carrier can generally survive a number of nuclear hits on its armour, but a warhead detonating inside the ship will almost always inflict enough damage to render the ship useless if it doesn’t destroy it outright. Larger ships sometimes carry variant missiles for special operations and deployments; smaller ships tend to stick with tried and tested nukes. Monitors (starships optimised for planetary assaults) carry kinetic energy weapons (KEWs) which can bombard a planet without leaving radiation behind.

Starfighters carry basic projectile weapons for confronting enemy starfighters and nuclear-tipped torpedoes for engaging enemy vessels. The ideal starfighter attack would put a torpedo inside an enemy hanger or shuttlebay, allowing the warhead to detonate inside the vessel. Starfighter pilots may also seek out areas where the enemy hull has been damaged and fire torpedoes into the presumed weak spot. As starfighter do not possess FTL drives, they are totally dependent upon their carriers for transport from one world to another. Some SDF units have modified freighters to serve as carriers if necessary. Unsurprisingly, starfighter pilots have a reputation for being hot dogs.

The United Nations Marine Corps is limited, by the UN Charter, to a maximum force of 1’000’000 officers and men. Given its responsibilities, the Corps is actually badly undermanned and largely reliant on formations contributed by member planets to uphold its responsibilities. Once graduated from their training camp on Mars, Marines are assigned to one of the four Marine Divisions, smaller units on individual capital ships or small garrisons on newly-settled planets. Marines, unsurprisingly, have a reputation for getting the most out of anything; their support units are effectively second-tier combat units, in the few deployments where they exist. All Marine officers come up through the ranks, without exception.

In the event of the UN needing to invade and occupy a number of worlds, as in the later years of the Magana War, the member states are called upon to provide additional formations for combat deployment. This solution satisfies very few outside the political arena and the Marine Corps has been quietly pressing for the right to expand ever since the war.

The United Nations Survey Command is not, technically, separate from the UNNS, but it upholds a differing ethos that isolates it from the military. It is charged with surveying new worlds (and certifying them for settlement), locating new alien races and studying them – if possible – prior to making first contact. Although partly civilian, the UNSC takes its responsibilities very seriously, to the point where survey ships don’t carry star charts of human territory (apart from the flagship) and are designed to be completely destroyed if necessary, preventing unfriendly aliens from learning anything about the United Nations before support arrives from the UNNS.

Holding the UN together are the engineers of the United Nations StarCom Network (SCN). They are responsible for maintaining the StarCom units placed in orbit around most inhabited planets, allowing high-speed data transmission instantly across the United Nations. StarCom units are large and very power-intensive, rendering it impossible to mount them on ships smaller than a fleet carrier (and limiting the capabilities of such units).

The Path of Honour

13 Jul

Background for a world, probably for the Kat Falcone series.

The Path of Honour

Like many other planets founded in the 3rd Expansion Period, Nova Roma was founded on an artificial social construction rather than a natural expansion of a pre-existing culture. Specifically, the Founders wanted to establish a society that would provide protection for the weak, train and shape the strong for government and at the same time weed out undesirable elements from the strong caste. In the years since its foundation, Nova Roma has remained remarkably stable after its culture mutated in several ways as the idealised system confronted reality.

Viewed dispassionately, there are three separate adult castes on Nova Roma; Senators, Centurions and Citizens. (Less charitable observers call them Wolves, Sheepdogs and Sheep.) Citizens possess rights, as laid down in the Founding Laws, but no direct political power. Centurions possess great power in specific areas – the army, for example – yet they don’t have any overall power. Senators have considerable power, provided that they don’t seek to violate the Founding Laws. This system works primarily because anyone can make the jump from Citizen (or Centurion) status to Senator.

Once passing the age of maturity (16 standard years) a person is enrolled as a Citizen, unless they wish to make an immediate bid for Senatorial status. If choosing that path, they are given a commanding position in a relatively minor role; these can range from managing an office, controlling a theatre company or even a very junior role in the military. In effect, they are expected to learn on the job, a task requiring considerable mental skill and – more importantly – a willingness to listen to subordinates (specifically the Centurions, of which more below.) If successful in their first command, they will be offered the chance to move on to another, and then another. This grants the future leaders of society – assuming they make it through the Path of Honour – a wide range of backgrounds and usable managing skills.

Upon completing five different positions, the candidate is automatically enrolled in the Senate as a Senator and becomes eligible for the most important posts on Nova Roma; senior military commands, planetary government, judges and the Consulships. Once a Senator, the Senator has a vote in the planet’s affairs as well as in choosing the next senior officers, allowing them to compete for the positions. Their past often comes back to haunt them as their rivals will often examine their previous posts for signs of failure, weakness or otherwise failings that render someone unqualified for a senior post.

Although each Senator is, in theory, equal to any other, it is a basic fact that those who have completed more successful commands after becoming Senators are superior to those who have only recently been enrolled in the Senate. This isn’t always a strength; someone who failed, even if through no fault of his own, in a particular command may find himself outvoted by his former allies. A senior who is unpleasant to a junior will generally discover that his inferiors can still hamper his ability to win more posts.

At the top of the system are the Consuls, who are elected for five-year terms and then expected to stand down gracefully (seeking a lower post would make them laughing stocks). They share considerable powers, including overall military command, making them effective heads of state. However, the Senate must confirm any of their decisions or they will be technically rendered null and void. Few Consuls need to press emergency measures into existence without the Senate’s consent, as they would therefore be open to legal challenge.

Centurions occupy a place between Senators and Citizens. Unlike Senators, a Centurion is a long-serving person in a particular organisation who can be trusted to help and direct the energies of the young candidates – and protect their subordinates from cruel, stupid or unworthy Senators. In the military, they are NCOs; largely responsible for keeping the military force operating while their seniors attempt to make their mark as prospective Senators. Centurions have a reputation for being solid, but unimaginative, partly because any Centurion with an idea that would make his mark would start attempting to walk the Path of Honour himself rather than allow his superior to take the credit.

Oddly enough, Centurions serve to supervise and control Senators (and prospective Senators) in two different ways. In one, they are the advisors to young, insecure and often ignorant officers, steering their talents in the direction that best suits their organisation. In the other, they are the policemen, with powers for removing prospective senators from their position and – in the worst circumstances – the power to execute the prospective senator without referring the matter to their superiors. This is rare – most prospective senators would have the sense to back down if rejected by their Centurions – but it has happened on several occasions. In all cases, the Arbitrators conducted a full survey of the situation and determined that the Centurions had acted properly.

The Arbitrators are the ultimate expression of the Centurion ethos. Elected from long-term Centurions, the thirteen Arbitrators stand in judgement over the full Senators. They are judges, jury and peacekeepers, preventing Senators from either taking their disputes to the physical level or involving civilians in their dispute. Any complaint made against a Senator has to be investigated by the Arbitrators, although they have considerable powers to punish those who either make false complaints or the complaints are found to be in error. If found guilty, a Senator will be stripped of his position and generally pushed into exile or imprisoned. Executing a Senator is legally permitted, but very rarely seen in practice; only one example appears in Nova Roma’s history.

There is no such thing as a permanent political consensus on Nova Roma. The permanent competition for positions – and therefore political power – ensures that all coalitions break apart as positions open and close. Competition among Senators can be savage, although the Arbitrators enforce a genteel peace to prevent bloodshed and the resulting political feuds that would destabilise the system. If pushed into a position where they are hopelessly compromised, a Senator may willingly seek exile from Nova Roma (which can sometimes be nowhere further than twenty miles from Roma, the capital city, itself) or be pushed out of position by his fellows. These – called the Fallen – are physically safe, but forbidden to ever return to politics. This taint does not, however, cover their families, who may continue to seek power if they wish to do so.