Archive | August, 2012

Boxer Rebellion in SPACE?

28 Aug

Another funny little idea.

Basically, ‘five years in the future’ (or whenever) an alien race stumbles across Earth. The aliens are not hostile; they’re quite happy to trade ‘some’ technology to humanity, a list that doesn’t include (for example) FTL drives. Worse (from humanity’s point of view) they are happy to dicker with any major power, so there’s a bidding war underway between humans to earn alien favour. There’s also a desperate competition to get up into space, partly because of what the aliens did to Venezuela when Chavaz tried to hold a group of them hostage. The aliens dropped rocks on his capital city from orbit.

Obviously, this is not optimum for humanity. Some alien tech is beyond immediate duplication. The aliens have happily sold outdated (non-FTL) ships to human militaries, ships that are very difficult to duplicate. Humanity is at a major disadvantage.

Consequently, the Boxers – a human underground group intent on breaking the trade monopoly and removing alien influence from Earth. They have different motives for different people, as well as shadowy connections to world governments. This group comes up with a scheme to assassinate an alien on Earth, in the belief that his successor would be more inclined to relax the restrictions on trade. Not such a bad idea, perhaps, but it goes horribly wrong and an alien fleet arrives, intent on a punitive strike against Earth.

Thoughts?

Chris

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Trapped on a Hostile World

16 Aug

Story concept idea…

It is the year 2201 (or whenever; my working concept puts this in the early days of the Vendetta universe, but that may change.) Jimmy Caesar, crime lord of New Washington, has finally been arrested and put in front of a reasonably honest jury. Poor Jimmy, guilty of running a crime ring that wrecked the lives of thousands of people, has been sentenced to permanent exile to Alcatraz, a godforsaken marginally habitable world that serves as a UN penal colony. Instead of being executed, condemned criminals are dumped on the planet and left to live or die there without further interference. Some of them would probably have preferred to be executed.

(Or I could do it as an Imperium story. How does that sound?)

As Jimmy and his goons have considerable influence from even inside a jail cell, the judge makes the decision to exile them as quickly as possible, which means transporting them on the Paris, a luxury liner used to travel between Earth and the various colony worlds. Unlike normal operations, the criminals will be shuttled down to the surface and their escorting guards will make sure they’re down before leaving them behind.

Jimmy has plans, though. One of his operatives, still on the outside, blackmails a senior officer on the Paris. Instead of jumping into near-orbital space, the Paris arrives within the planet’s gravity well. The liner basically falls into the atmosphere and crash-lands on the surface, with the best the crew can do slowing their fall enough to ensure that most of the ship survives. There is absolutely no hope of lifting up again from the surface. The Captain and crew do what they can, but the bottom line is that 2000+ passengers and crew are stuck on a very hostile world.

Naturally, Jimmy and his men take this opportunity to escape, taking some of the passengers as hostages. His grand plan is forging a new empire on Alcatraz, eventually linking up with his allies on the outside to create the first rogue world. If he can take control of society, such as it is, on Alcatraz, he will be King – and the liner’s stocks will be the stuff of legends to the unlucky inhabitants.

The crew have to fight to save themselves, knowing that it may be years before the UN sends another ship to Alcatraz.

Thoughts?

Chris

Words of Power–Snippet

15 Aug

Comments would be very nice for this one.

Chapter One

“Are you sure you want to be abandoned here, Sir?”

Richard Swift had to shake himself before he answered. The sail from the nearest town on the mainland – the Kyle of Lochalsh – had been thoroughly uncomfortable. He disliked boats intensely and preferred to avoid them where possible, but his orders had been clear. The trip from Scotland to the Isle of Skye was to be accomplished by mundane means, whatever he thought about them. There was too much chance of attracting the wrong sort of attention.

“Yes, thank you,” he said, producing a coin from his pocket. It was more money than the fishermen would see for several months of fishing. “I should be fine just here.”

He pretended he didn’t hear the fisherman’s snort as the boat drifted in to the hidden jetty, really little more than crude steps carved into the stone. The landing wasn’t really an island – it was linked to the Isle of Skye – but one glance at the map had told him that walking overland wasn’t really an option. Cold winds blew across the desolate island, cold winds backed by misdirection spells and other tricks intended to dissuade casual visitors from visiting the castle. The mundane world had forgotten that it existed and the current owners intended to keep it that way.

The fisherman couldn’t really be blamed, he told himself, as the boat came to a halt beside the jetty. They saw nothing more than a desolate wasteland, barely touched by the works of man, fit only for grazing sheep and perhaps fishing, when the weather was good. Richard nodded to the fisherman and scrambled up the jetty, peering up towards the sheer cliff face and craggy mountains. He’d once heard that the castle’s owners used the cliff face to practice abseiling, when they weren’t pushing back the boundaries of magic. There didn’t seem to be anyone out enjoying themselves today.

He leaned on his cane as the fisherman sailed away, no doubt wondering what manner of beastie would have the rich Englishman for dinner. Everyone knew that Skye was haunted, just as they knew that there was a giant monster in Loch Ness; if they’d known the real truth, they would have fled the Highlands and never returned. Richard shrugged as he started to walk towards the river, where it was flowing down into the loch. He hated to risk damaging a good suit, but there was no choice. The absence of any messages from the Newton Cabal had alarmed his superiors. It had been deemed prudent to approach the castle by stealth.

“Richard,” a voice said, from behind him. “You’re slipping, my dear.”

Richard cursed himself as he turned around, just in time to see thin air shiver and reveal the presence of a tall, slender woman with long dark hair and a devilish smile. Like many of her sisters in the Ladies of Hecate, she wore a dark dress that matched her hair, cut low to reveal the tops of her breasts. The Sisterhood had heard of decency, good taste and elegance, but preferred to have little to do with them. Besides, their enemies tended to be men and men could be distracted by a little cleavage waved under their eyes at the right moment.

“Magpie,” he said, doffing his bowler hat. Unlike her, he looked respectable, just another civil servant making his way through the British Empire, helping to keep the Empire on an even kneel as it girded itself for war with Germany. Prime Minister Chamberlain – a mundane if ever there was one – had claimed that there would be peace in his time. The magical community knew better. “How…pleasant to find you here.”

“You’re definitely slipping,” Magpie said, her smile brightening the day. “I could have turned you into a toad before you warded yourself, Richard.”

Richard ignored the implied threat. “I must say that you’re a long way away from home, Magpie,” he said. “Is there a reason you’re here at this time?”

Magpie’s smile grew even brighter. “Is there a reason you’re here at this time?”

“I think you know why I’m here,” Richard said, sharply. “Am I to assume that you’re here fr the same reason?”

Magpie sobered suddenly, her smile fading away. “One of the visionaries saw something that suggested it would be in our interest to investigate the silence that fell over the Newton Cabal,” she said, grimly. Richard could understand her feelings. Visionaries were always granted visions of important future events, but very few visions made sense until long after they’d come to pass. “They decided that I should be send up here to find out what had happened to them.”

Her face lit up again. “And to think that dear Richard is here to help me,” she added. “I’m sure between the pair of us we will have the mystery solved within the hour.”

Richard scowled at her, feeling the impulse to lift his cane and throw a spell at her that would wipe the smile off her face. But Magpie was a capable sorceress in her own right, skilled enough to fight him to a standstill the last time they’d matched wit and wisdom under the streets of Edinburgh. It would take too long to beat her, if he did manage to beat her. She might win the fight herself and then the authorities would have no way of knowing what had happened to the castle.

“I’m glad to have you with me,” he lied, smoothly. Magpie’s smile suggested that she wasn’t even remotely fooled by his casual air. “Would you like to lead the way, or would you rather be at my back?”

Magpie motioned for him to take the lead. “I’d pay money to watch your back,” she said, dryly. Richard found himself flustered, just long enough for her to see and grin at his embarrassment. She was so unlike the prim and proper society girls presented before the King every season, a woman so bright and full of life – and dangerous. The Ladies of Hecate flaunted convention and fed off the outrage they generated. “Please, lead the way.”

Up close, the river looked dangerously unsafe, the water running down fast enough to sweep almost anyone off their feet. Under the choppy waters, Richard knew that there were sharp rocks and other nasty surprises, many blurring the line between mundane nature and the magic that was in the heart of the world. He glanced at Magpie, unwilling to admit to any fear in front of her, and lifted his cane, shaping a single Word of Power within his mind. The waters started to boil, slowly disgorging a simple metal bridge that looked as if it dated back to the days before human settlements on Skye. It took only a casual glance to spy the bite marks on the iron, where a monstrous creature had chewed it into a bridge. Richard walked slowly across the metal, expecting to see the creator at any moment, but he reached the far side without harm. Magpie followed him, glancing around nervously. She’d seen the Troll-bites too.

“I thought they had to come and eat us,” she said, more to herself than to him. “If we hadn’t known the keywords to gain admittance…”

“True,” Richard agreed. The Newton Cabal had found the Troll – one of the few left within the British Isles – and bound him to their service. Nothing could have freed him, save Words known only to the Cabal’s Master, someone who would never have freed their valuable guard. The Troll’s departure meant trouble. He glanced at Magpie and saw that she’d realised it herself. Anything that could break through the defences around the long-lost Castle of Skye was deadly dangerous. “You could go back, you know.”

Magpie shot him a deadly look and walked past him, heading up the path towards the castle in the distance. No one knew who had built the castle – it dated back to the days before Robert the Bruce, before Scotland had ever really been a unified country – but history had forgotten it, long ago. It’s original stone had long since been infused with magical wards to keep out unwanted guests, or spying magic from afar. The Newton Cabal had been theoretical magicians, ready to risk their lives to push the boundaries of ignorance just a little further back. No one wanted them anywhere near a population centre, mundane or magical.

No wards shimmered in the air to block their path; no summoned entities demanded passwords before allowing them to proceed. The castle seemed as…mundane as a castle left to the careless hands of the mundane community, rather than a place where magic had burned brightly in a world that barely cared. Richard sucked in a breath as he saw the great wooden doors, carved from wood brought back from Faerie centuries ago. They had been shattered open by a powerful force, leaving debris scattered in front of the castle. Richard doubted that the Newton Cabal had been any less paranoid than the Windsor Cabal. The magicians would have warded their sanctuary with every ward known to exist. It hadn’t done them much good.

His training as an investigator took over and he studied the debris, pushing his emotions to one side. “The doors were forced open from the inside,” he said, slowly. Magpie frowned, and then nodded. Most of the debris was outside the castle. “Something hellishly powerful was trying to break out.”

Magpie lifted her hand, casting a complex hex pattern into the air. “I’m not sensing anything,” she said, slowly. “Whatever came here is long gone.”

“I hope you’re right,” Richard said. He lifted his cane again as he stepped through the doors, peering into the castle’s interior. “I really hope you’re right.”

Like most magical dwellings, the Castle of Skye was much larger on the inside than on the outside. It had once played host to dozens of the most curious sorcerers in the world. Now, it felt as cold and silent as the grave. He risked a small charm to summon a glowing ball of light and directed it ahead of them as they walked down the corridor, pausing briefly to glance at the portraits on the walls. Each of the black-rimmed paintings depicted a man in the prime of life, just after he pledged himself to the Cabal. Many of them hadn’t survived the results of their investigations into the mysteries underlying magic.

“Someone tried to make a fight here,” Magpie said. Richard followed her gaze into a room that had once been a dining hall, large enough to seat three hundred men and women comfortably. Broken chairs and tables lay everywhere, with weapons both mundane and magical scattered on the floor. “But where are the bodies?”

Richard had had the same thought. There were spells that demanded vast qualities of human blood and bone, none of them intended for peaceful purposes. The absence of bodies was deeply troubling, not least because many of the missing magicians had blood ties with the other Cabals. Their blood and bones could be used to work dark magic against their living relatives.

“I’m not picking up any emotional imprint at all,” Magpie added, after a moment. “Whatever did this came and killed without fear or hate.”

“If it killed at all,” Richard said, although he knew that it was unlikely that they would find any of the Cabalists alive. “What sort of creature was it?”

He hesitated, and then led the way down towards the stairwell that led down to the dungeons, half-expecting Magpie not to follow. Instead, she walked after him, picking up a couple of books from the floor and glancing down at them. Their titles were disappointingly mundane; whatever the older folks in the communities thought, there was no way to escape the mundane community completely. Not unless one was prepared to go all the way to the ends of the Earth.

“They should have had their most powerful wards here,” he said, as they reached the bottom of the stairs. The original builders had intended to use the dungeons to keep prisoners; the Cabalists had turned the underground chamber into a Summoning Room. Even the merest notice in demonology knew to set wards, and more wards, until you reached the point where magic was muffled and demons couldn’t find a weak spot to exploit. “What could just cut through them so easily?”

“I heard tell that you investigators got some kind of special training,” Magpie said. Her voice was teasing, but he heard the curiosity behind her smile. The Cabals guarded their secrets jealously and rarely shared them with outsiders for free. “Could you cut through them like that?”

“I doubt it,” Richard admitted. Breaking through a ward, particularly one embedded in solid stone, was never easy. Whatever had broken loose in the Castle of Skye had simply sliced through them as though they weren’t there. “I think that…”

He broke off. “Oh,” Magpie said. “Call me crazy, but I think we’ve just found our missing magicians.”

The Summoning Room was massive, easily the size of a large playing field while still buried beneath the ground. There should have been all kinds of engraved symbols on the floor, each one designed to capture and channel magical power to summon and bind demons from the worlds below. Instead, the floor was covered in blood, washing endlessly from side to side as if it were pushed by an unseen breeze. The stench of blood – and worse – rose up to his nostrils and he stepped back, involuntarily. Magpie, he was relieved to see, did the same.

“Someone – or something – took apart all of the bodies,” Magpie said. She was casting other signs in the air, summoning her magic. “They were rendered down to blood and bone, and then the bones were taken. I cannot see who took their lives.”

Her next words revealed just how nervous she felt. “Do you think they were trying to perform a Grand Summoning?”

“I very much hope not,” Richard said. The three superior sprits who dominated Hell, second only to Lucifer Morningstar in sheer power and depravity, could only be summoned through a Grand Summoning, a coordinated process requiring a dozen magicians and a living sacrifice. A single mistake could set them loose on Earth to pillage and destroy as the fancy took them. “They couldn’t have been that stupid, could they?”

Magpie snorted. “Have you ever known a theoretical magician who actually had a sense of self-preservation?”

“Good point,” Richard agreed. “I think we’d better leave this place and call in reinforcements.”

Magpie didn’t say anything until they reached the library. It was empty; every book in the room had simply vanished. The Newton Cabal had had hundreds of thousands of volumes, Richard knew, including several that were unique. But why would a demon take books of magical knowledge when he would already have access to far greater knowledge and understanding than any mere human?

“A mortal did this,” Magpie said, flatly. “I don’t know how, but they he killed the entire Cabal and just vanished, taking the books with him.”

Richard couldn’t disagree with her assessment, not after they’d searched the rest of the castle. The vast stockpiles of potions materials – everything from eye of newt to blood samples from Faerie – were gone. So were the weapons that the Newton Cabal had devised over the years, designs that had been the envy of the magical world. Someone had broken into their stronghold, cut through their wards and then killed them all…

…Or perhaps the killer had been one of them, after all.

“I have to report back to London,” he said, finally. This time, there would be no need to take a passing boat to the mainland and then spend most of a day travelling south. He could walk the Faerie Roads now that he’d confirmed that there was nothing dangerous just waiting for the Roads before springing into action. “And I assume that you won’t be coming with me?”

Magpie leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Not tonight, handsome,” she said, mischievously. “The thought of entering the Tower with handcuffs on my wrists os not a pretty one.”

There was a flash of light and she vanished, taking the news back to the Ladies. The word would spread rapidly around the globe, probably being twisted out of all recognition in the process. He took one last look towards the stairwell leading down to the Summoning Room – and the bloodstained stone floor – before walking back towards the main door. The Master could see to have the castle cleaned and claimed by another Cabal, or perhaps it would be just left to rot in the mundane world.

For a moment, there was a very brief, but powerful sense that he was being watched. He lifted his club, ready to strike down anyone who threatened him, before the sense of unseen eyes slowly faded away. But he didn’t stop glancing back into the shadows, wondering what was lurking there. He was almost relieved when he stepped into the bright sunlight and the sense of being watched simply faded away.

Shaking his head, he mouthed the correct Word of Power and the gateway to the Faerie Roads opened up in front of him. Taking one last look at the castle, he stepped inside and let the door slam closed behind him. The castle could rot for all he cared…

…But the Newton Cabal had been pushing the limits on magical research for years. What, if anything, had they let into the world? All he knew was that they had to hunt it down before it killed and killed again. Even the mundanes couldn’t help it if their civilians died off in job lots. And how long would it be before the mundanes realised – really realised – that the world was a much stranger place than they really understood?

The Faerie Road twisted in front of him and he stepped out of thin air, near the Tower of London. His boss would be waiting for him there.

The Words of Power–Background

15 Aug

The Words of Power

Magic is real. Magic is also very ill-understood. Bear that in mind.

Magic generally comes in two flavours; internal and external magic. Internal magic refers to a specific attribute, such as Lycanthropy, Vampirism or Glamour. In those cases, the magic is instinctive and the average ‘Kindred’ (as magicians call those blessed or cursed with internal magic) has little real control over their powers.

External magic is a talent; you must have the knack for magic to use it. Most magicians come into their powers without knowing what they’re actually doing, generally by using magic to help themselves, at which point they can be detected by any nearby magical cabal with the ability and inclination to search for potential recruits. However, very few magicians can master their powers without help – and an introduction to the Words of Power. There are no doubt thousands of magicians who never really realise what they are because they are never discovered and invited to join a cabal.

People who are not sensitive, even slightly, to magic are rarely capable of acknowledging its existence. While there is no major attempt to hide magic from the mundane population, there is no large-scale awareness of its existence – certainly not of the cabals, who have long memories and historical reasons to fear mundanes who know of the existence of magic.

The exact nature of the Words of Power is hotly debated by theoretical magicians. Simply put, a person with external magic who speaks one or more of the Words can use them to work magic. The Words somehow focus the magic into a proper spell, bypassing the difficulty of working magic in one’s mind. However, the more complex the spell, the more magical talent it requires to actually power the spell. Some magicians can cast very powerful spells, or multiple spells very quickly; others can barely manage the least complex spells. Spells are classed as first-order to tenth-order, although not all the cabals use the same system.

[In our terms, the Words of Power are a way of interfacing with the computer language underpinning our reality – cheat codes for the universe. In theory, a magician with enough power would be God, able to do literally anything.]

There is no consensus on the origin of the Words of Power, either. The most commonly accepted theory, among the cabals, is that God granted some humans the talents to use magic in order to provide a defence against magical creatures. Others (particularly the White Order of Christ) believe that Satan introduced the Words of Power to mankind as yet another corruption, not least because some Words of Power (and the accompanying rituals) provide the means for summoning and bargaining with demons (and angels).

What is accepted is that each cabal has its own set of Words of Power, passed down from member to member and closely guarded from outsiders. No single magician knows every Word of Power, let alone the combinations that allow different effects to be combined into a single spell. That doesn’t stop them from spying on each other and sometimes waging a quiet war in the hopes of capturing other knowledge for their own ends. Or, sometimes, they do trade knowledge.

Cabals tend to be very different from one another. The White Order is composed of specially-selected Catholic monks, chosen by the Vatican to defend the human race against demons and other magical creatures; the Muslim Dervishes consider themselves to have the same mission, although there are several separate Dervish cabals hidden within the larger Dervish community. The Learned Men of Letters are specifically British and consider themselves to be charged with protecting Britain; they are rivals to Dee’s men, who claim to have been around ever since Queen Elizabeth I.

There are darker cabals. The Black Easter and the Ladies of Hecate are both aimed at gathering power for themselves; the Black Easter because they want to rule the magical community, the Ladies because they believe that male crimes against women have to be avenged.

Theoretical magicians are treated with a mixture of awe and fear by the rest of the community, as they try to expand their knowledge of the Words of Power. Some rituals, such as spells to summon specific demons, have been hedged around with ritual since they were first discovered, with no real way of knowing what is actually essential and what isn’t. (For example, does a spell to summon the Lord of the Flies actually need a virgin blade soaked in the blood of a newborn child, or is it just a piece of nonsense that the original discover of the spell added to confuse people?) Sadly for the theorists (if not for everyone else) experimenting to discover the limits tends not to lead to a long life.

The Words of Power are intrinsically bound up in ritual. Some cabals have developed a tradition of herbal medicine and potions that invoke magical properties belonging to specific plants, animals and minerals. It isn’t actually clear if these potions are really magic, or if they’re just a form of placebo. The darker cabals have ways to pervert these rituals; possession of blood from a victim can be used to strike them with a curse, or send a demon after them. However, these forms of magic are ill-understood (just like the rest of the magic) and results tend to be mixed.

[The important detail, from our point of view, is that the Words of Power are magic words. Imagine the magicians as someone who has memorised a few words and phrases in a foreign language – “turn Jack into a toad now” – without really grasping the underlying nature of that language, or even the concept of letters. They may know ‘teleport,’ but they don’t realise that it is spelled ‘T-E-L-E-P-O-R-T’ or that one could produce ‘teleporter’ out of ‘teleport.’ Accordingly, the only way they have to make new Words of Power is hit-or-miss experimentation, when a single mistake can cause death or worse.]

Outside the human (and Kindred) community, there are four major types of entities.

Elementals can be summed up as the natural sprits bound to the mundane world. These can be as minor as nymphs and dryads to outright river gods. They tend to be bound to one specific location and rarely have much to do with humanity, although some have been moving against humans who cut down too many trees or hunt down too many animals. These beings have their own rules and rituals; bargaining with them is possible, but they don’t always want what most humans can offer in exchange. Their worldview tends to be very blunt, quite brutal in human terms.

One particularly interesting class of elemental are ghosts. Ghosts can be seen by humans with magical sensitivity, but very few of them are actually intelligent. Generally, they are echoes of human presence permanently imprinted onto certain locations, often replaying moments of intense suffering – or death. Certain ghosts are nothing more than revenge-seeking entities – but that doesn’t mean that they should be taken lightly. They tend to be indiscriminate in seeking revenge, often killing others who were not involved with the original crime.

Faerie is a catch-all term for entities that live in the Summerland, an alternate dimension that brushes against our own at various weak points. They range from brownies (friendly) and goblins (anything, but) to beings who are effectively gods. The Summerland is a reflection of our own world, ruled by the gods – for example, the area that corresponds to Britain is ruled by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the area corresponding to Rome is ruled by the Roman gods, etc. It is generally speculated that the territories ruled by the gods changed as their human worshippers waxed and waned (the Romans, for example, had rituals to invite gods to change sides) but no one knows for sure. The gods aren’t talking.

Quite why the gods went to the Summerland is unknown. The White Order believes that Christ banished them; oddly, the Dervishes share this belief, citing the fact that the Prophet Muhammad was the first and last Prophet to be truly human. Others, more thoughtful, believe that the gods were never as involved as humans believed them to be, or that humanity brought the gods into existence rather than the other way around. The truth is out there.

The gods rarely intervene in the mortal world, but they can and do play with those who wander into their territory. Seeking their favour is dicey. They tend to stack the decks in their favour.

Demons are both simpler and trickier. As legend has it, they are the original fallen angels, cast out of Heaven after Lucifer’s failed revolt. Souls are currency in hell and so they will often bargain quite intensely for a person’s soul, particularly that of a black magician. Most cabals are wise enough not to try to bargain with demons, fearing the effects of learning more about magic from such an intensely corrupt source, let alone tasking the demon with accomplishing a task in the mundane world. Those that are foolish – or corrupt – attempt to keep their demons firmly under control. This is not easy. Demons must honour the letter of the contracts they make with the magicians, but will happily take advantage of any loophole left behind by an unwary magician.

There are some limits on demonic power, at least on the mortal plane. They can claim souls, and attempt to manipulate events so that souls fall to them earlier than expected, but they cannot simply take souls that have not been pledged to them. When directed against a target, they can be defeated by holy rituals of protection – and if their target is a genuine good soul, one of the unnoticed saints, they may be chased away by an angel. However, they can give knowledge to magicians who bargain with them – the fool who summoned them just needs to be very careful that there isn’t a sting hidden in the tail.

Angels are God’s stormtroopers, put bluntly. Most cabals approach the issue of summoning angels with a single word – don’t. Unlike demons, they have no limits while in the mortal world and the mere sight of them can kill a tainted soul. Others look at angels and see all their mortal flaws reflected back at them, an experience that can break minds and – sometimes – heal souls. The only ones who summon angels on a regular basis are the White Order and even they have problems dealing with them.

Crossroads: Planetary Background

11 Aug

For Quagmire…

Crossroads: Planetary Background

The planet the human race would eventually call Crossroads occupies a central position in the Templar Sector, but was not originally considered for direct settlement by the Imperium. Accordingly, two interstellar corporations established bases on the planet in 4325IE (Imperium Era) and formally annexed the planet a year later. It was not, however, until the highly-classified Templar Incident of 4331IE that the Wormhole Engineering Corps established the Templar Junction within the Crossroads System, too late for the Imperium to nationalise the planet without provoking heavy corporate resistance. Crossroads remains the only wormhole junction not fully under Imperium control.

Unusually for a G2 star, Crossroads-P (Primary) has only four planets; Kali, Crossroads, Minnie (named for the wife of the survey ship’s commander) and Sprat. Kali is a rocky world orbiting so close to the star that its surface is permanently molten, uninhabited and largely uninhabitable. Minnie is a gas giant, complete with two moons and a handful of captured comets and asteroids. Sprat follows a highly-eccentric orbit that takes it from the very verge of interstellar space to inside the orbit of Crossroads itself, raising the possibility that the two worlds will collide in several million years. (The Crossroads Development Corporation has seriously considered blowing Sprat into asteroids for mining purposes, but the project has been mooted as the one asteroid cloud in the system is capable of supplying the system’s projected needs for several thousand years.)

Although there is no asteroid belt, there is a large cloud of asteroids orbiting the star outwards from Crossroads. The general belief is that these asteroids were gathered by random chance, but some of the Jazzes (see below) think that this was the remains of their original homeworld, destroyed long ago by a freak accident. However, considerable study of the cloud by miners has revealed nothing more extraordinary than standard asteroids. These asteroids are now host to a small mining community supplying Crossroad’s industrial facilities with raw materials.

Crossroads is a fairly standard human-compatible world, with its own active biosphere; indeed, the one glitch, from a human point of view, is the presence of an airborne disease that is omnipresent on the planet’s surface. This disease is not lethal to humans (indeed, even baseline humans cannot be infected by it), but is known to cause itching (the Crossroads Crud) when it contacts human skins. Humans who settle on Crossroads permanently are advised to sequence a slight modification into their genetic code that prevents the Crossroads Crud from causing irritation. Standard medical nanites are also capable of countering its effects.

Geographically, Crossroads has four major continents, named Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma. Alpha, the most heavily populated continent, is actually a very strange landmass, essentially a ring of land wrapping around most of the planet, above the equator. Beta and Delta both exist in the southern hemisphere, with Delta actually turning to an icy landmass near the south pole. Gamma was heavily bombarded during the occupation of the planet and is currently radioactive in a number of places as dirty weapons were deployed by the CDC. (An investigation by the Imperium Senate concluded, after seventy years of legal wrangling, that the natives resisted purely to inflict additional casualties upon police and military units involved in pacifying the planet, rather than out of any hope of victory. Accordingly, the CDC was legally permitted to use extreme means to suppress them.) However, parts of Gamma are liveable provided that one is willing to take the risk of living there; clearing the entire continent would be a nightmare.

As is standard in systems that contain a wormhole junction, the Imperial Navy has prime responsibility for governing the star system. However, owing to the curious series of events that led to Crossroads hosting the wormhole junction, there is no overall government for the planet’s surface. There is a Planetary Council (elected by humans of class-three and above), but large strips of the planet are effectively controlled by the corporations, collaborator alien leaders – and some sections, mainly Gamma, are completely lawless. Accordingly, there is little real cooperation between the Civil Guard, corporate military and police units and what few alien policing units exist.

Crossroads is currently occupied by an estimated four billion intelligent life-forms, mainly composed of Kazak, Jazzes, Krait and humans. As is standard on Imperium worlds, the only population of political importance is the human population, but Crossroads has an alarmingly high percentage of class-four indents. The CDC manipulated the tax laws on Crossroads to lure settlers into debt, which rapidly became permanent and hereditary. Put simply, very few citizens who fall into debt can ever hope to pay off the original debt, let alone the interest acuminated since then. (The debtor laws also allow for indebted persons to be effectively enslaved if they complain too loudly.)

The Kazak are the original natives of Crossroads, but the Jazzes were already on Crossroads when the Imperium discovered the world. Quite how the Jazzes (who are not related to any other form of life on the planet) reached Crossroads is an open question; surveys of the Templar Sector have not revealed any other Jazzes, nor has any world been located that might have been their original homeworld. The Jazzes themselves have claimed that they were placed on Crossroads by their own Empire, perhaps the equivalent of a human pastoral world, but all such tales are considered myths as the Imperium hasn’t encountered any alien empire of even remotely comparable size. Nonetheless, the Jazzes hold strongly to a belief that their cousins from the stars will one day return and liberate them from the Imperium.

Surprisingly, there was apparently no major fighting between the Kazak and the Jazzes when the two races first encountered each other. (Human researchers have concluded that the Jazzes were actually seeded on Gamma, but the radioactivity left behind by the bombardment makes it hard to actually be sure.) This may not have been too surprising; the Kazak are a principally inland race, with little willingness to travel over water, while the Jazzes live for sailing and have an affinity with the water shared with many humans. It is believed that the Jazzes traded with the Kazak, then took settlers from Alpha to Beta and Delta.

The Kazak, apart from a few minor incidents, seem to have largely accepted humanity’s control of their world. (Their race is very communal; rogues are almost unknown.) However, the Jazzes did not; outmatched through they were, they fought the human invaders with a desperation born of futility. They have also been the main source of resistance ever since the humans arrived, often using their sailing ships to smuggle goods from one part of the planet to another. It is generally believed by the human settlers that the Jazzes had subdued the Kazak before the Imperium arrived, but objective studies have suggested that the relationship between the two races is more complex than that.

When humanity arrived, they brought the Krait with them. The Krait are almost completely pacifistic, to the point where very few of them will fight even to save their lives, although they will fight to protect their community. When they were discovered by the Imperium, the Krait realised that resistance would merely result in widespread devastation and surrendered en masse, asking only that they were permitted to expand into space as junior settlers on human-controlled worlds (thus protecting their community.) The Krait are widespread throughout the Imperium, serving as everything from cleaners to janitors; indeed, there is a sentiment among humans that the Krait are too stupid to be anything else. This is not so; they Krait share the same basic intelligence as most races, but are content merely to work and survive for the community. They simply do not possess the personal ambition that leads humans to attempt to rise above their station.

Apart from its location, Crossroads provides many other important benefits for the Templar Sector. It is a major producer of food for nearby colonies, asteroid settlements and passing starships. (Minnie has a cloudscoop for mining HE3, controlled by the Imperial Navy.) However, the political situation on Crossroads has been turning actively dangerous for years and may be on the verge of exploding into open violence. This has merely been made worse by the arrival of various outside political groups.

The Secessionists, although based mainly along the Rim, have been active on Crossroads for at least twenty years. Put simply, the Secessionists want to leave the Imperium and form their own political unit, casting aside the laws that bind the Imperium together. While not all Secessionists are alien-lovers, several subgroups have been reaching out to alien communities to offer them an equal place in a post-Imperium entity. They have certainly been involved in shipping advanced weapons down to the planetary surface.

The League of Alien Allies is unashamedly a pro-alien organisation. They believe that aliens and humans were created equal and, accordingly, the virtual enslavement of aliens by the Imperium is wrong. The LAA is actually split between the pro-Imperium faction, which believes that humans should grant aliens equality within the Imperium, and the pro-Secessionist faction, which believes that alien homeworlds (at least) should be granted independence. Both factions are believed to be active on Crossroads.

Opposing the LAA is the Humanity League, aka Pure Humanity. The Humanity League (which is actually a quasi-legal organisation) believes that humanity’s virility is sapped by association with alien races, therefore the best course of action (depending on which wing of the League is asked) is either to outright enslave the aliens, restrict them to their homeworlds or outright exterminate them. (Rumour has it that several undiscovered races have been exterminated by the League’s adherents in the Imperial Navy.) On Crossroads, the League is very involved in drumming up hatred against alien communities, urging the human population to push the aliens away from human communities. They are known to be supporting the creation of militia forces for the coming war against the aliens.

Finally, the Nihilists are also believed to be present on Crossroads. The Nihilists are not a political organisation in the normal sense; their core beliefs state that existence is worthless and death the one sure thing in the universe. As such, Nihilists seek to kill as many people as possible in grand gestures, often through suicide bombings and attacks launched without any expectation of a safe escape. There are relatively few Nihilists in existence, but those who make it into the organisation are fanatics, devoted to their art. It is impossible to bargain with the Nihilists and those who try often end up dead.

The CDC was largely unaware that it was sitting on a powder keg until 5482, when a series of violent incidents occurred all over the planet. Unsurprisingly, local military forces (mainly police) were outmatched by the ‘terrorists,’ resulting in a number of deaths. Since then, the CDC has been pressing for the Imperium to send in heavy military units to safeguard the human settlers and crush the insurgency. However, this suggestion has met heavy opposition in the Grand Senate, for various reasons.

A counter-proposal is for Crossroads to be effectively annexed directly to the Imperium, bringing it in line with the other junction systems. This is supported by large elements of the Imperium’s military – particularly the Marines, who would have to take the lead on counter-insurgency operations – and many settlers, who believe (correctly) that they would have more say in their own affairs as an annexed world. The CDC opposes this measure, as they would have to pay their investors compensation for the nationalised planet (and their lost investments.) Their senior management is prepared to deal if those expenses are met by the Imperium’s treasury, a suggestion that has – naturally – met considerable resistance. A deal will eventually be worked out, it is believed, but quite how far the situation will degrade before then is uncertain.

The Tree of Liberty–Snippet

10 Aug

I just had this scene running through my head.  Comments?

Chapter One

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Captain Yates said, “I give you the United States of America and President Andover.”

Zachary Lynn raised his glass, but didn’t drink. He had loved the concept of America, of a state controlled by the people, for the people, yet six months on Earth had convinced him that the United States was now nothing more than an empty shell. In those six months, he hadn’t spoken to – or seen – a single ordinary citizen. He’d seen corporate executives, greedy politicians and media personalities who read crap written for them by drunken scriptwriters, without bothering to think for themselves, but he had never met an ordinary citizen. It hadn’t taken him long to realise that he was being kept away from them deliberately.

He’d failed New Washington. Of that, he had absolutely no doubt. The Colonial Alliance had sent him to Earth, at some considerable expense, to take their words to the United States, to represent them to people who had never visited one of the colony worlds. But none of the people he’d spoken to had really cared what he had to say. In the end, money spoke louder than his words and the corporations that ruled the colonies, in the name of the government, of course, had enough money to ensure that the politicians did what they said.

There was a brief rumble as the stewards pushed in trolleys laded with food, the diners looking up in delight. Normally, even the wealthiest passengers on a starship could look forward to nothing more than reconstituted food, produced from matter grown in the hydroponic gardens, but the final night before arrival was always special. Foodstuffs that had been frozen for the three months it took to travel between Earth and New Washington were brought out of the storage holds and cooked by the chef, producing what looked like a feast, certainly after three months of little more than flavoured gruel. One of his small pleasures on the return voyage had been telling an administrator’s wife just what happened to their piss and shit after they went to the toilet. The woman hadn’t been able to touch a thing for several days!

Captain Yates stood up as the trolley stopped in front of him and began to carve up the turkey with practiced skill. Behind him, other stewards distributed potatoes and vegetables to the passengers, taking orders for wine as they loaded plates with good things to eat. Zach rolled his eyes at some of the orders, wondering – again – just how the political class could be so stupid. Lincoln might have been one of the largest starships in existence, at five kilometres from bow to stern, but even she didn’t have the storage space to carry all of their wines. They would just have to get used to drinking the beer produced on New Washington. It’s quality tended to vary sharply, yet some beers were really very good.

A finger nudged him and he glanced over at Professor Leo Cassius, a short balding man with white hair and a face that hadn’t – quite – been marked by the traumas he’d suffered over the last two years. From what Zach had heard, Cassius had made the mistake of questioning the official dogma put forward in the schools, claiming that it produced armies of obedient and unquestioning ants. As punishment, he and his family had been exiled to New Washington.

“Most of these people had proper schooling,” the Professor muttered. Zach had honestly never realised that there were different grades of schooling on Earth, let alone that most citizens never realised that there were better schools out there. “You’d wonder why they think they can bend the universe to their will.”

Zach nodded, sourly. It was hard to escape the impression that Earth was stupid or evil or insane – or an combination of all three. The last two years before he departed New Washington had seen the government – at one remove – trying to issue orders to the colonists, reshaping them into the properly obedient citizens they had on Earth. But the sheep on Earth had the luxury of a society that could take care of them from cradle to grave, one where independent thought was not only rare, but also actively discouraged. The colonists had no such luxury.

He looked over at Governor Hastings and shivered, inwardly. Hastings wasn’t a stupid man; he’d certainly been willing to play chess with Zach while chatting to him about the colonies, but he had shown no willingness to meet the colonists halfway. His mission was to continue developing the colonies as a source of wealth and resources for the homeland – and to hell with whatever the colonists might have thought about it. Legally, the homeland was in the right; morally, Zach saw trouble in the future. What would happen if – when – the colonies finally resisted. Hastings didn’t take the Colonial Alliance as anything other than a private group; how could he, when al such political bodies were hedged around with rules to prevent them actually becoming a threat?

The steward placed his meat in front of him and he started to cut it up with a knife, listening to the chatter between two other corporate representatives. They’d been sent out to maximise profit for their patrons; they didn’t care that the colonists might object to being bled to death by the corporations, as long as their term in office showed a hefty profit. Beyond them, General Williams held court in front of his officers, reassuring them that duty on New Washington would open up their chances of advancement to ranks beyond their dreams. It was impossible to look at Williams and feel that the government simply didn’t care. Williams hadn’t seen a battlefield for nearly thirty years, his career propelled forward by strict adherence to the rules and plenty of ass-kissing. And his troopers were down in steerage, eating gruel while their commander hobnobbed with the governor and his staff. He didn’t even have the basic devotion to his men that the great generals of the past had shown.

But that had been another era, a long time ago.

He took a bite of his turkey and chewed it thoughtfully. It was stringy, almost oily, the taste masked by chemical compounds laden on by the chef to disguise the meat’s true flavour , just like the entertainment pap on Earth that helped keep the masses content with their lot. Zach had eaten turkeys raised on New Washington, fed proper food by farmers who cared, and they had been truly flavoursome. This turkey was a disgrace.

And, he told himself grimly, it was a metaphor for the current state of America.

***

Governor George Hastings had grown up as corporate aristocracy before making the shift into politics, but it had taken every one of his contacts to secure the post of Governor on New Washington. Indeed, the deals he’d made might well come back to haunt him in the future, particularly when he returned to Earth and made the climb up into Congress. He had five years to turn New Washington into a success story or his career would hit a solid stone wall and come to a halt. Failure was not an option.

America had enjoyed nearly two hundred years of dominance in outer space – particularly interstellar space – but that dominance was coming to an end. The wars that had raged across the rest of the world, against terrorists, religious fanatics and people who didn’t want to sell their resources to international corporations – had kept the rest of the world nicely occupied for years, yet now they were probing their own way into space. Perhaps they should have been blocked – George’s family had been one of those demanding military action – but it had proven impossible. The future lay in space and the world knew it; they’d threatened to go to war if America refused to allow them their own colonies in space. And the Americans had backed down.

There hadn’t been any choice, the government had claimed; nuclear war would devastate the entire planet. Perhaps, George was prepared to consider, they might have been right. But now that the rest of the human race was exploding into space, it was threatening the underlying foundations of American dominance. Sure, every piece of good real estate for nearly a hundred light years had been claimed by the United States, but that wasn’t stopping the foreigners from expanding outwards. And what would happen if they made common cause with the American colonists on New Washington – and a dozen other planets?

That was the true nightmare. The colonials were dependent on Earth for everything from advanced technology to fuel. It enabled Earth to keep control over the colonies without needing to invest heavily in military force, but it was heavily resented by the colonials, who saw it as nothing more than an attempt to restrain their own economic expansion. The damned colonials were so uppity! Their cousins on Earth had been steered into gentle docility, unthinking obedience, over generations, but the colonials had been shaped by their environment, growing up into a population that mistrusted Earth and was barely loyal to America. What would happen if – no, when – the colonies started buying their technology and fuel from outside powers?

George scowled as he took another bite of his potato. Naturally, the food served to the first class passengers was excellent, but the taste couldn’t disguise the reality of the problem confronting the Navy – and its political masters. It took three months to travel between Earth and New Washington, which meant that it would take six months – if not longer – to send a message to New Washington and receive a reply. Controlling the colonies directly had proven impossible, so the colonists had been forced to develop their own political structures, even though it was technically illegal. They no longer needed the current Governor, the man that George had been sent to replace; hell, they no longer needed much of anything from Earth. Their new assertiveness had started alarm bells ringing in meeting rooms right across the homeworld, as politicians and corporate executives wondered if the colonists had already made contact with outside powers. It was illegal – the law said, quite clearly, that certain items were to be purchased from America alone – but why would the colonists care?

But their masters did care, he knew. Corporations that had grown wealthy exploiting the colonists, having used the politicians to create laws granting them effective monopolies, were not going to stand aside and simply see the source of their profits draining away into nothingness. George had his orders and he had little leeway. He was to assume control, ensure that the monopolies were not broken, and make damned sure that the colonies remained firmly within the United States. Failure was not an option. His career would be utterly destroyed by those who had backed him if he failed.

He looked over at Zachary Lynn and scowled. The colonial was one of their success stories, a fourth-generation colonial whose great-grandparents had emigrated from Earth and purchased land on New Washington. There was no mistaking his intelligence, or his genuine love for his homeworld – and his disdain for Earth. And there had been no mistaking his calm certainty that the colonies would continue to chart their own course, whatever Earth had to say about the matter. George had barely been able to refrain from asking a simple question; have you already been in contact with foreign powers?

But in the end, it didn’t matter. George had his orders – and if Lynn and his fellow colonials objected, they would be crushed by overwhelming force.

***

“And there is no mistaking the fact that the colonials have no stomach to fight,” General Williams proclaimed, loudly. “Why, they even begged us for help when the damned indents rose up against them!”

Seated five chairs away from the General, Colonel Graham Woods wanted to roll his eyes as the General chatted to the corporate executives. His ass-kissing would have been disgusting at the best of times, but Williams had his own agenda for trying to find corporate patrons. He had risen about as high as he could hope in the military and he wanted to make the switch to the corporate world, perhaps jumping into a position as a hired gun. Not that he would see it that way, of course. The corporations had to protect their interests and he – Williams – had plenty of experience in making uppity locals stop their resistance to corporate interests.

Graham wasn’t too sure why he’d been assigned to Williams anyway. Most Generals got to chose their own aides, but Williams had apparently had Graham forced on him by his superiors – and it was very rare for a three-star General to have to accept any such order without a fight. In his optimistic moments, he thought that his real mission was to protect the troops from Williams; in his darker moments, he suspected that he’d mortally offended someone very high up the chain of command. Williams had been so long out of the field – whatever he claimed – that he knew almost nothing about command. Graham had to somehow translate his vague and bombastic statements into actual orders that the military could follow, never an easy task at the best of times. And he had to do that while enduring the brunt of the General’s tongue.

But there was no other choice. It had been decided – at levels far higher than Williams, if his angry ranting could be trusted – to assign a major military force to the colonies, officially to protect them against renegades. The policy of transporting criminals from Earth to the various colonies to force them to actually contribute something useful to society had worked, by and large, but there were rebel groups in the hinterland composed of escape criminals, trying to survive by preying on the colonials. Williams hadn’t bothered to conceal the real reason from him; high command thought that the colonials were growing too independent-minded and intended to remind them of who had the power. Five hundred soldiers, armed to the teeth, made one hell of a statement.

Graham scowled inwardly as the corporate drones minced around the General, ignoring the glances of contempt they shot in his direction when they thought he wasn’t looking. What did they make of a man with his hair shaved, who wore his borrowed tuxedo like it was a uniform? None of them had ever seen combat, not outside of the movies and television shows that boasted of the glories of war, shows where no friendly soldiers died. Graham had watched one such show a year after leaving Boot Camp and he’d been revolted. The movie-soldiers had just walked across the battlefield, miraculously untouched by bullets, and killed their enemies while pumping out one-liners that the scriptwriters had pulled out of their assholes. And then they’d been greeted by kidnapped female hostages who’d promptly started to make love to them…never mind that early scenes had shown the depravity of America’s enemies by having the girls be brutally raped. The movie had shown that scene to the watchers in detail, pushing the limits so far that they no longer existed. Graham had been disgusted, both at the producers and at the civilians who had lapped it up with spoons. He’d heard that there was a disconnect between military and civilian society, but he’d never really understood until then.

“My troopers have the firepower to cow any colonials,” Williams said, loudly enough to break into Graham’s thoughts. “Is that not right, Colonel?”

“Absolutely, sir,” Graham said, reminding himself of why he had to stay in position. Someone had to protect the troops from their superior officer. “They have nothing to match us.”

On the face of it, he knew, the colonials wouldn’t stand a chance if it did come down to a fight. Williams had five hundred fighting men, armed with the latest weapons produced on Earth and trained to deal with anything from an insurgency to stand-up fighting. The colonials shouldn’t have anything to match them. But…New Washington was a planet, roughly the size of Earth. Five hundred men wouldn’t have been able to dominate a city, let alone an entire planet. The colonials could simply melt away whenever the soldiers advanced against their positions, forcing them to spread their deployments thinner and thinner…until at last there was no pretence that they were in control.

He looked away as Williams, losing interest in him, returned to his boasting. For a moment, his eyes met Lynn’s eyes and they shared an understanding. Lynn, the one colonial he’d met, had impressed him – and had told him enough about the colonial society to convince him that any fighting would be far more dangerous than punitive operations in Kashmir or riot-suppression operations in Hispania. And they needed the colonies reasonably intact. The heavy firepower they’d been able to call down on mud villages in Africa or poison gas they’d deployed against terrorist camps in Central Asia was simply unavailable on New Washington. There was no point in destroying the colonies while trying to save them.

Lynn had told him that the colonials had tried to meet Earth halfway, but that Earth had been uninterested in compromise. That didn’t surprise Graham at all; the government on Earth was used to getting whatever it wanted, even if it had to exterminate locals whose only crime had been refusing to cooperate with their own destruction. But fighting on the colonies would be very different to fighting on Earth. The army’s unbroken record of success on Earth would have convinced them that they could win on the colonies, if necessary. All they had was a hammer, so every problem looked like a nail.

He tried to be optimistic, but he knew better than to believe the crap that Williams was sprouting. One way or another, it was impossible to escape the feeling that trouble was in store. And what would happen if it really came to war?

World-Building: Tintagel

9 Aug

I’ve had a very busy day; apart from this background, there are two snippets posted below.  Enjoy – and please comment!

Tintagel

Tintagel was discovered by the Asimov deep-space telescope in 2343, when the seedship program was well underway. Settlement rights were purchased by the Camelot Society the following year and a seedship – the Lady of the Lake – was launched in 2354. It reached Tintagel in 2567, confirmed that the planet was Earth-compatible (several seedships had reached promising worlds only to discover that they were not actually habitable) and started seeding the planet with life. By Year 10, it was ready to start producing living humans from its stored genetic banks.

Like many other seedship programs, the society produced for the new children of the seedship was shaped by a socio-political matrix created by the colony’s founders. The Camelot Society believed that mankind had been dehumanised by technology and had lost the true happiness that came with being one with nature. A fairly common delusion among those who didn’t have to live in a pre-industrial society, it would have tragic results when the Lady of the Lake started laying the groundwork for a human society.

The society devised by the Camelot Society was based on King-Baron-Knight-Commoner model and deliberately deprived of any high technology beyond windmills, printing and certain metal-working techniques. In particular, there were no foundations for the development of a scientific method, which should – the founders believed – prevent the rediscovery of high technology. To underline their society, they created an ethos that drew from the ancient myths of chivalric behaviour. The aristocrats were supposed to be granted unconditional obedience by the commoners, but the aristocrats were equally supposed to be governed with justice and fairness to all. These rules were supposed to be backed by the Knights, who owed allegiance to the King, whose power was kept in check by the Barons.

At the bottom of all this was the Church. The founders believed that a strong Church would create unacceptable social strains and devised a matrix to keep it fairly weak. People with religious vocations would train in the priesthood, but would be largely independent from then onwards, although expected to maintain their duties. The priests existed to bring the word of God to the people, yet they were not allowed to actually interpret God’s word as they saw fit. There was no reason why anyone could not come up with their own interpretation; indeed, the Church was obliged to accept all such interpretations, unless they clashed openly with other interpretations.

With a system so deceptively simple, it is not surprising that the planned social development (or lack thereof) fell off the rails. What went wrong, basically, was human nature. The founders had a faith in basic human decency and goodness that was sadly lacking in the basic human stock – and no genetic improvements had been able to hardwire a sense of altruism, for example, into humanity. This was to prove disastrous for Tintagel.

Over the first two hundred years of development, everything seemed to work as planned. The settlement grew, developed techniques for producing houses, metals and ships, eventually weaning themselves off the assistance of the seedship. New settlements were established; trading ships moved from port to port, setting up trade lines. However, cracks were already forming in the social matrix, too slowly to be easily noticed. Put simply, more and more power was being concentrated in the hands of the Barons, who controlled Guardsmen who were effectively soldiers.

What the founders had missed, put bluntly, was that power tended to corrupt. Granted vast power, the Barons and their heirs made use of the power to benefit themselves. As local powers, they tended to act against dissent, suppress ‘democratic’ upswings (the founders had believed that democracy had a hand in creating what they saw as a technological nightmare) and take control of the priesthood. Ironically, measures intended to prevent the Church from developing a theocratic state prevented the Church from organising any form of mass resistance to the Barons. The local priests were already under aristocratic control.

King Lancelot IV was the first to realise that the Barons were amassing power at a dangerous rate and attempt to do something about it. Unfortunately for his heirs, he had neglected his duty to keep a reserve of Knights to deal with little problems like uppity Barons. Worse, many Barons who were not directly involved with the rebellious Barons were reluctant to see the King develop the power to compel the Barons, for fear that it might be used against them. The net result was that an uneasy stalemate, with the rebellious Barons growing increasingly aware of their own independence and contemplating plans to take supreme power. It was into this world that Prince Adam was born.

***

Geographically, Tintagel has four major continents; Arthur, Camelot, Galahad and Incognita, so called because it is largely unknown to Tintagel’s citizens. First Landing, the capital city, is situated to the north of Arthur, based around the now-defunct seedship (which used to serve as the Royal Palace before it was moved to the Mound.) Most of Arthur can be considered fairly loyal, but Camelot is wavering between loyalists and rebels, while Galahad is almost completely lost to the rebels. The main exception is Narnia, an island Barony protected by dangerous currents.

Technologically, most of the limitations engineered into the social matrix have held true, although they have slipped in many ways. The general level of technology is roughly on the same level as the Roman Empire; gunpowder exists, but (so far) it has not been used for warfare, or indeed anything more complex than fireworks. (In each town, there’s a man who produces fire-dust and fireworks, called Gandalf Wizards.) One major exception is the printing press, which is increasingly banned or controlled in the rebellious territories. A second exception is general sailing technology, which is roughly on the same level as Elizabethan England. (Logically, they will discover Incognita within the next 50 years, although they do not have the motive for world-crossing voyages that drove European explorers to America.)

Medicine is more advanced than might be expected, owing to carefully-written medical texts that were made available to the colonists. The measures for preventing infection or survey are sound, but the underlying science is non-existent. For example, the colonists know that anyone who is ill has been attacked by a demon, which can be driven out with the proper religious rites. The apothecaries who produce drugs know how to make them from well-known plants that can be found anywhere, but again they don’t really understand what they’re doing. Experimentation is strongly discouraged.

The written alphabet is basic English, although – naturally – a number of concepts are missing. This holds true all over the known world, although there are local dialects; the written word is the same everywhere and this helps to keep the linguistic scatter (the process by which two languages can separate out of one common language) down to a bare minimum. Communications systems in this world are limited to messengers on horseback.

Unsurprisingly, slavery has been reinvented in this society. Some slaves are essentially house slaves, treated almost as one of the family. Others are chattel slaves, growing crops or digging mines for their masters. A person may be enslaved though debt, criminal activity or simple whim on the part of the aristocracy. Once enslaved, they can only hope to be freed by their master or earn their freedom. Children born to slaves are slaves themselves. Slaves who run away can expect anything from a public whipping to being sold to the mines. They have no rights, save one. A slave who is given money (as a gift or payment) is permitted to keep it.

Equally unsurprisingly, women are very much second-class citizens at all levels of society. The average aristocratic woman may enjoy a lifestyle beyond the dreams of her less-fortunate sisters, but her primary purpose is to serve as a broodmare for the male bloodlines. Aristocratic titles with actual power can never be passed to a woman; except in very rare cases, they are subject to their fathers and then to their husbands in all matters. A handful of women can inherit money, if not power, and use it to carve out a niche for herself (or use it to lure a more powerful man into her arms.) Quite a few trading interests have wealthy women hidden behind the scenes, pulling the strings.

The same pattern exists in the lower levels of society. A woman is expected to be little more than a daughter, a wife and a mother. Openly intelligent women are often regarded with fear and suspicion by men; certain professions, open to women alone, are shrouded in mystery. Midwives, for example, are both respected and feared. While an aristocratic woman can be quite highly educated, commoner women are rarely given formal education. This does not, of course, make them stupid.

Education can vary widely from region to region. Some states have a policy that mandates that all male children be educated. (Female children often learn from their brothers, something which is officially frowned up.) Other states restrict education to the upper classes, believing that educated commoners make poor servants.