Category Archives: Time: Late Period

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Date: 1,995,227 A.D. (6,721 years after the Intersection Wars), P.W. 21,313 (Shango), N.A. 2140 (Qareen)
Location: RPDSR of Bhoot, Planet Power

1

#We should just invade. Smash every governmental system and seize it all by force. The people are decent, but the government – they deserve no mercy at all.#

#Prolo, would you like to at least come into the office before you start off with this?#

The QPA veteran came through the door, not aggressively, but certainly brusquely, and slapped a disc onto the desk. Naturally, the architect lines pointing to files began to slowly uncoil, but neither he nor the section leader went near it.

#We’re offering you a second mission to the Bhoot Republic. But of course, you knew that already.#

#Yeah. Every idea around the office has blabbed about it for the last few days#, Prolo replied, #let me ask, Sanger6, why do we need a third mission into those four chunks of crap again?#

The section leader sighed. Leaning forward, he looked to the disc, but seemed to think better of whatever he was going to do with it, and looked back to Prolo. #Point is this. The Bhoot claim to be a democratic country. Free and fair and clean elections. We have no reports to the contrary. And if, as you say, the government deserves no mercy, then perhaps this is where it is truly justified.#

Prolo did not seem to be persuaded.

#You want justification?#

He reached over to the disc, pulled out one image file, and tapped it. The image filled the whole desk, utterly sharp and completely clear.

#That’s your justification. That alone should be enough. And yet we don’t act.#

Sanger had seen the likes of it before; the factory-like building with an entrance but no exit. Prolo had clearly altered the image to be black and white, probably, Sanger thought, an emotive gesture, but one with minimal impact anyway; the buildings were usually white, stained with black ash, and the ground surrounding it was usually grey stone or pallid mud.

#Look, Prolo, we are not about to invade four planets on your say-so. And I’m not the one who makes the call if we do. So the question is, are you in on this third mission, or are you out? Because, like you said, there are plenty of idiots in the office who would go instead.#

Prolo scowled. Sanger knew he had caught him in a bind – he didn’t want to go, but then again, the whole Bhoot thing was, if only partly, his thing. He had been – no-one else in the office had. Sanger had always dreaded to think what the man would’ve done had he taken Weczer’s place on the first mission, but thankfully, that was a purely hypothetical thought.

#I’ll take it#, he said at last.

#Knew you would. And take your disc, you’ll need it.#

#Election coming?#

#Election probably underway when you get there. They’re meant to happen every seven local years – about three of ours. But of course, campaigning goes on for longer than a mere election day, from what we’ve heard. Apparently they’re quite different too.#

Prolo nodded. The sociologist in him would always be won round.

2

He had continued to push the invasion angle right up until he had gotten on board the Turncoat/Toerag/Terrible, at which point there was no real way of continuing. He had come up with a strategy, even, consulted as many military sources as possible, but all to no avail.

#Invasion might well free these people, Prolo, but it will free them into a world of resentment and anger. They’ll view us as the people who disrupted their ordinary way of life. And besides, we have a far better strategy. In fact – I will bind that strategy up with the ship. When you approach Power, you’ll see. Trust me.#

#Well, Sanger, I’ll suppose I’ll have to.#

Once he was on the ship – a large, highly powered and very luxurious affair, as these missions naturally called for – he found that out of the twenty-person team from the second mission, nine (including him) were going again. How nine people divided neatly by two he couldn’t imagine; all the same, he was simply glad that everyone around him had gone before. Some neophyte complaining about the place was the last thing necessary on this mission. “It’s terrible” was not enough; what they needed was “it’s terrible beyond reprieve – here’s the proof”.

They were a day out from Power – about nine hundred parsecs at their not-quite-top-speed rate – when whatever genius plan the QPA had was finally revealed. “Urgent message for Prolo3 – please visit bridge” said the message that flashed up holographically in front of the man himself as he strode down one relatively anonymous corridor on the third deck.

3

Prolo,

Sanger passed this message on personally regarding the upcoming mission. It is intended to be given to you, in order for you to disseminate to the other eight crew members – this seems incredibly inefficient, in my view, but that was his wish and I trust he knows what he’s doing.

Essentially, the open statement – to study the election – remains, but the operational specifics are different from the second mission. In particular, attached is a sub-mission, the exact nature of which was not revealed to me, named Operation Defcon Four. As for the main mission, the following prescriptions apply:

The nine people gathered are to form three teams, one for each planet except Glory.

You are not to receive the customary prosthetic jobs; instead you will be going as overt visitors from the Qareen Confederacy.

The jurisdiction you submit to is to be Confederate law, not local law. Resist all attempts at law enforcement from local authorities.

There is additional equipment onboard in Kaizener Court 6 (I note that you have, logically enough, only used Court 1) which is intended for use on the mission. Their use should be relatively obvious when discovered, and should be particularly useful for the purposes of data logging.

Expense accounts are unlimited.

The best of luck on this mission – we hope you discover the evidence that we, and indeed you, are looking for.

ETA is 93.88.04; option for top speed equates to 84.49.24.

4

“So what are those buildings about?”

“They’re for dissidents.”

“What kind of dissidents?”

“Well, the kind that trouble… the order in our society?”

“How?”

“Well, they cause trouble?”

“What kind of trouble?”

“They disrupt… the smooth flow of operations, I guess?”

“What kind of operations?”

“Well, government operations.”

“Yeah, but what does the government do?”

“Maintains order.”

“But how does it maintain order?”

“It takes away the dissidents.”

“Alright. Why are the dissidents causing trouble?”

“Because they dislike our way of life.”

“And why’s that? Why the hate?”

“Because they’re… they – they don’t – they don’t like the laws in our society. So they break them.”

“Do they have a point?”

“Well, not every law around here is a great one. But we voted in the governments that made them.”

“But if the government makes bad laws, isn’t it failing its people?”

“Yes, but we can always vote them out.”

“What if the people you vote in don’t repeal the laws.”

“Well, we can vote them out too. We’ve got that freedom.”

“What if the laws never get repealed?”

#Prolo, seriously, stop already.#

5

It was just like he remembered. Actually, that was wrong; everything was different, but only on the surface. On the surface it was a damn carnival in every city they drove through, in every street Team 1’s satellites surveyed and filmed. Underneath, though, was the same flaking, crumbling mess that had been there last time.

He was amazed, like he was last time, with how quickly he could think in terms of money. Of course, as soon as he bought every newspaper he could find. Journalistic intrigue, organically denied the route of questioning the fundamentals about the election, took the path of least resistance and concentrated utterly on the minutiae instead. Given only this, it was all he and his colleagues, Kojen2 and Alar9, could really study, and given the numbers they had to hand – 50 of the smaller local units (they had dozens of these methods of exchange on Power alone – absurdly wasteful, but no doubt all part of the plan) typically bought one of the newspapers they had to hand, which in turn explained that the election could see the spending of several billion of the larger units on either side of the divide – be it the Progressive Future Party or the Traditional Values Coalition. Of course, several billion divided by a half equated to double the numbers of billions, and if half a unit could buy so much paper – but then again, the paper itself carried adverts, which quite possibly dropped the price of it.

The three of them couldn’t agree on what the real price of the paper would be – but then again, they had no data on it, and instead went about collecting political advertisements instead, filming images and videos and grabbing as many different kinds, although the homogenous stamp of logos, liveries and slogans made duplicate specimens an ever-present hazard.

As he sat there at the end of the day, scrolling the images across the unfolded screen he had spread across the bed, Prolo realised that this was what fun had been reduced to, now he was here.

6

#I swear these assholes shake hands with just about everybody on the damn planet.#

Kojen may well have thought that, but as they examined the nano-cam feed, Prolo knew that the man shaking hands was no doubt a simulacrum, and that the security surrounding him was a masquerade. The real President (and no doubt his counterpart in opposition) were no doubt sat in palaces that put their spaceships to shame; stood in front of a huge, ultra-high-definition screen, and quite literally putting the words into the mouths of those dolls. To actually have the President meet people would be too much of a security risk, and security was, after all, what both parties prided themselves on providing to their people. You were safe in the Bhoot Republic – they could guarantee it. Only this, and nothing more.

7

The three of them had initially booked into a hotel in the centre of Planet Power’s capital city, but Alar9 had subsequently come up with a different idea for the days afterward.

#We should build a house. It’ll be less expensive over a year and a third.#

#Won’t it be three local years?# Prolo contended.

#Yes, but that’s-#

#A year and a third of ours, right, I get it. But we’ve got unlimited expenses. And we don’t have to hide away.#

#I know we don’t, but… I have a feeling about this Operation Defcon Four. I think this is part of what we’re meant to do with it.#

#So what kind of residence do we need?#

#I’m thinking a big one. Like Uyeyba Jaradicio or Sedrain7/p45. Unmistakable.#

They eventually agreed on something that looked part palatial, part pyramid; a huge, towering, slab-like pile on top of a hill outside the city. It did what, at the very least, Alar9 hoped it would do – the news quickly switched from the campaign to the mansion on the hill; confusion and unease swept first across the city, then across the planet, and the election candidates found that they had to respond to this. The media, knowing how stupid it would be to destabilise the whole republic, figured that they would bury the story on other worlds, or at the very least, speculate with no evidence that it was a new Presidential Palace. Skimming over the story quickly allowed as few people as possible to spot the large pictograms around the building that marked, in both the team’s Qareen and the local Bhoot language, “Qareen Confederacy – Third Mission to the Bhoot Planet Power.”

Around thirty days after the house had gone up, the impact finally spilt over into advertising.

“We promise to take action against those who threaten the Bhoot Republic – including those offworlders who would build a fortress just outside our very own capital,” Kojen read aloud, then laughed. “You know what this means, right?”

#Go on#, Alar prompted.

“We’re altering this election.”

#Oh shit#, she replied, #that’s probably not what we’re supposed to do.#

“Well we’ve done it,” Prolo replied, “the incumbents – the Traditional…Values…Party? Whoever they are, they know they can’t do anything. We’d have the alert signal out of there, calling for the whole Confederation, long before a single bomber turns up, and they know that. They know the opposition can’t do anything, either, but they can’t prove it.”

“So we’re probably bringing down a political party without having to do anything other than show up and explain who we are,” Kojen said, “it’s brilliant. It’s power, Prolo.”

Alar dropped the signalling. “We’d need to check the polls, though.”

8

As soon as Prolo left the building, the day after the advert, he found himself blinking at the midday sun (he and his colleagues maintained an obstinate Spaceplane schedule, and to hell with the city around them), and then blinking further at the police drone hovering above him. Said drone kept a constant shadow over him as he drove into the city. He couldn’t help but smile; he knew that said drone was, in turn, being tracked by a spy satellite of his own, primed and ready to send off the call for reinforcements. He knew that, and the people controlling the drone knew that.

His trip was simple enough, anyhow. He would grab some newspapers – paying for them, although he wondered as he did so for how much longer he would do that, and whether punishing an individual shopkeeper was acceptable in order to stick it to the whole rotten core of this society. He then drove on, seeking something of suitable importance; finding a factory owned by a suitably large local corporation would do, he thought. He understood that this was a munitions factory; not essential, but useful for what he was attempting.

He pulled the vehicle into the parking area, unfolded a screen from his pocket and searched through the image files listed. He selected one – bold red writing, he thought, would look good against the black-painted metal construction of the factory. He reached to his ear and switched on a comms unit, which he linked to the screen in his hand.

“Calling Sat Prolo slash 5,” he said, and got a beep in acknowledgement. “Proposing the following stencil.”

He dragged the image file he had selected into a small box that had appeared on the screen.

“Would this contravene regulations as you have received them?”

“No evidence to suggest as much,” was the laconic reply that he received onscreen.

“OK. Could you apply it?”

The screen blinked off, and he looked up to find the factory covered in text – in the local language, “vote neither – choose the third way and smash this corrupt system”, repeated over and over.

Satisfied, he got back into his vehicle and drove home. He’d convert nobody – he knew that much – but that wasn’t the point. A government, rolling around slowly towards an election year, no less, would feel that slowly rising sense of panic yet again as they saw this, and then feel it rise even more when they realised that crucial factor about the technology behind that graffiti.

For it wasn’t merely painted on; it was embedded in the metal, impossible to remove unless the entire factory was bombed into oblivion – in other words, if the government was prepared to turn against the very kind of big business it was symbiotically intertwined with.

9

#The polls! The polls! It’s what you went out for, damnit!#

#Wait, damnit.#

Alar9 was the most impatient, but Kojen was also hanging around the door. Prolo simply gestured for them to move aside, which they did, and then moved through to the central living room. Locating the largest table, he slapped down each newspaper in its own space, and sure enough, the polls were headline news on almost all of them.

“Traditional Values Coalition down 6… down 5… down 7… down 3… down 9,” Kojen read off each of them.

“We’d need to look at that by planet,” Prolo pointed out, “because if that’s all based on Power, then there’s still even more potential once the news escapes.”

“We’re actually taking them down,” Alar said incredulously, “aren’t we gifting these people, these other people, the election?”

“And if this proves embarrassing enough, that party’s over for good. We could be turning this into an outright dictatorship if there isn’t a third party there to step up and-”

“Thus removing a key part of the legitimacy of the system,” Prolo continued, “but of course – if we stay, after the election, then that other party will have to deal with us.”

“You think they will?”

“What do you think?”

The three of them stood silently in the room, looking to one another and, without having to speak or signal, asked whether they really were going to get away with what they were doing. But of course, Prolo thought, they were not truly doing anything. The odd prank behind the government’s back, for sure; but other than that, the biggest real threat they had posed was building the house.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Alar said at last, “we just shouldn’t. It’s not our place.”

“We’re following orders. I mean, OK, I embedded a subversive message into a factory-”

“You did what?”

“Which one?”

“Revolution Armaments up on the other side of the city. But the point is, we haven’t fired any weapons, we haven’t killed anyone, haven’t stolen from anyone. I’ve defaced property, but I haven’t destroyed it, it’s still fully functional. Even if they wanted to move against us, they’d only be able to get us under the three-people-meeting law, the communications laws, and for fairly large-scale vandalism.”

Kojen dragged some graphics across the table-screen, throwing newspapers aside as he did so. Hastily throwing pictograms together, he pushed them into a box he drew in the middle of the table, where they subsequently exploded into a mass of text in 3D projection, where shards of sentences were flung in tangled vectors from a central point at eye level.

“Apparently, all of that considered and convicted results in indefinite panopticon time. Normally. We avoid the factories thanks to Offworlder Immunity.”

“Offworlder Immunity?”

“Yeah, it’s a bit of a misnomer.”

Prolo nodded. “You see, Alar, this is the thing – this government, this complex of military and politicians and media and business, they can’t even be honest about the simple things.”

He walked towards one of the smaller tables, where campaign literature was stacked up in piles to shoulder height. A convenient example appeared at the top of the stack. He held it up to Alar, and she read the headline text, bold and all-caps: Traditional Values won’t touch that Mansion on the Hill. Progressive Future will. Vote for us in one year’s time.

“Like I said, dishonest about the simplest things. And that’ll bite them back, in a year.”

10

The results coming in proved unsurprising.

Current News: Election Update: Power [TV 3, PF 113, Undeclared 135], Strength [TV 9, PF 102, Undeclared 93], Glory [TV 97, PF 103, Undeclared 19], Destiny [TV 1, PF 66, Others 2, Undeclared 4], Total [TV 110, PF 384, Undeclared 251].

#They’ve won already. PF has the Presidency.#

#Alar > All: This early?#

It was hardly surprising to the three of them, or for that matter, the majority of the Bhoot Republic’s ten billion citizens. The Mansion on the Hill that had provided Planet Power with an inert threat had been tripled on other worlds, with the other teams, over the previous year. With Planet Glory, however, the media kept things covered up – for fear that citizens, and hence their viewership, would slip out of control, which served to provide a useful control group to the mission.

#So what’s the scenario now? I mean, what happens, exactly?#, Alar asked.

#Well, apparently the votes were counted in places that favour TV, so PF will almost certainly get more of a mandate than they have at the moment amongst the undeclareds.#

As if to prove this, an undeclared was called for Progressive Future.

The team had, along with the other two, employed an extensive network of satellites, nanobots and so forth and trained them on the electoral machine – this was, after all, what the mission was about. And yet, to Prolo’s dismay, they had found nothing. Everything at the core of the election itself was clean – no stuffed ballot boxes, no fake voters, no numbers invented from nowhere. The technology allowed for plenty of electoral fraud, but the political elite did not. Instead, it seemed, they had surrounded the clean process with a corrupt, dirtied everything-else, forming a large torus ring of propaganda and brainwashing that perfectly framed (and hence was invisible to the citizens) that shining core of decency.

So, Prolo realised, the third mission had failed. Only this Operation Defcon Four, something they still hadn’t been told the nature of, would achieve anything here, because the smoking gun simply wasn’t present.

#Got the final report on the manifestos, had it run through most of the AI support and they all concur.#

#All concur with…#

Kojen worked the graphics on the screen and found the reports amongst the files. A graphic depicting those reports shuffling and merging together followed, and finally the figures were there.

#Put simply, in word terms the manifestos are 53.4% identical. In other words, they’re more than half repeated, word-for-word, before any clever editing and rewording takes place.#

#And after?#

#99.2%.#

#Some choice.#

#I’ll say.#

The day after the election was muted; whilst Progressive Future had won, by a landslide in fact, in all Presidential and governmental elections, this was largely what the people had expected. What they had not expected was for the view of the landscape around many of their cities to change in the way that it did. A brief look up into the distance had previously revealed, around each of three planets’ capital cities, a single, ziggurat-shaped house, large, covered in the local language spelling out a message about the Qareen Confederacy – whoever they were – but nothing more. It was worrying, but it was surely containable, and the fact that the previous government had done nothing had proven to be immensely disillusioning.

Yet they had reassured themselves that they had a choice – there was one other major party, that could realistically reach power, and once they did, they would – they had, after all pledged – that they would deal with the menace.  It logically stood, then, that the house, and the mysterious people who came down to the city, would soon be leaving.

Naturally, then, it was a shock when, two days after the election, another house appeared in a city on the other side of Power, and in the days that followed, this sudden appearance proved not to be coincidental. The new government insisted that they were still formulating a plan, but to no avail; more houses appeared, and once most of Power’s major cities had been covered, there appeared two houses either side of the capital, then three, then six. The government could only splutter about how their plan would soon be in place; credulity was being stretched.

These mysterious Qareen people didn’t fire any weapons, but they didn’t have to. To see the increasing numbers, the houses going up, surrounding them, it was clear – an invasion was underway, and the government was doing nothing. Citizens wondered aloud why those police drones, so eager to swoop down on those asking the wrong questions, were not already firing at the houses. Eventually, even the media asked, and when it did, the government responded.

It transpired that the houses had some kind of forcefield around them; no weapon would work. Even as the government sent bombers and missiles, advanced laser satellites, nothing worked.

The government pointed out to an increasingly angered populace that this was not their fault; it was, after all, the offworlders who were doing this. But of course, they had been dishonest about their promises, about the simplest things.

And a desperate people acted.

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Jack

Date: 1,995,200 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 21,227 (Shango),  N.A .2132 (Qareen)
Location: RPDSCR of the Bhoot People

1

#I can’t believe Weczer7/11,191 was right. About everything.#

#Right down to the decor.#

The two men who made up Team 7 looked around their bleak hotel room – a room full of peeling walls and bare furniture that did not even pretend to have an air of comfort, let alone luxury – and at that point, both of them might have wondered why they had volunteered for such a grim task, although neither of them signalled as much to each other. Weczer had dived into the unknown, but these men had received some inkling of what they faced. Yet this atmosphere wasn’t wholly unusual for what they had seen over the past tenth of a year, moving about the world, and the living standards were similarly expected. Planet Glory was badly named, for the most part.

#I wonder#, said the commenter on decor – Retef6/575,997 – #I wonder how they cope. Unless they’re just that used to it. But surely someone wants things to change.#

#You don’t know how these people are, Retef#, his colleague, Serta1/575,996 replied, #because all you do is monitor the media and look at the government. Which is what team 9 should be doing anyway. You should be looking at how these people think, and <the sheer [x 2 with pause]> way that they choose what they see and believe. Random example, here, from the last couple of days we’ve been here, in this city. You see that place over there?#

Serta had gestured to a large complex visible from the hotel window, although Retef guessed that it was probably around a mile away, crammed in amongst the high-density low-storey housing that comprised that particular district of the city; if anything, he had a better view of it than the people living nearby.

#Yes. Some kind of factory?#

#Maybe, but it doesn’t make anything. I spoke to a man in the street about it, the other day. He said he lived next door to it. He said he always saw plenty of people go in there, but only the people with uniforms ever leave.#

Retef looked at the clump of buildings again, and saw smoke slowly drifting out of its towers, up into the clouds where it dispersed above the whole city.

#And when I asked him what kind of stuff goes on in there, he said it was no business of his.#

2

Sometimes, Kojen2/788,601 wondered if these people had only colonised four planets because the government would otherwise have run out of self-serving names. Planet Destiny itself was ostensibly that fourth planet, although it was not exactly fully inhabited as many Confederate planets were, the population probably around a hundred million, rather than the billions it took to fill a planet this size.

Still, as he waited for Alar9, the other member of Team 3, he couldn’t help but feel that he had grabbed quite a good role. Destiny seemed to be somewhat less in the tight grip of this regime, although perhaps, as a kind of outpost colony compared to the others, this was understandable. This lowered weight on his shoulders, however, combined with the fact that none of his people had explored this place before.

Of course, it wasn’t all that simple. Even as he looked out of the window, he could see the police drones hovering over the skies, no doubt scanning dozens of streets at a time. He watched as one of them shot right past the window, heading downwards in a perfect arc towards someone, or some people, who had no doubt transgressed in some unacceptable way. He hoped Alar9 wasn’t one of them; she would doubtless be fine whatever happened, but the inconvenience of another panopticon incident would have ruined the whole mission, as far as he was concerned.

In the early days here, he had studiously engaged his superconscious, recording almost everything he could see, but lately he had realised that there was a remarkable uniformity about the place, and as he ran through these thoughts in his mind, he added them to the record. In the end, it was almost all he could notice; the crazed street patterns and awkward civic design, the crumbling architecture that populated it, and the physically stunted, weary-looking populace – they were always there, and moving from city to city changed the specifics but never the broad generalisations that could be made about them. Whether the planet’s capital, or a minor backwater, it seemed to be the largely the same everywhere.

He reckoned he knew what was going on, anyhow. It was all fear, he decided; the populace feared their rulers, but the rulers feared losing grip, felt like they had too much to lose by sharing power and wealth in any way. It didn’t take a genius to know that. As he looked to the bed, he saw the election poster on it, it slogan not a promise, but a threat.

3

Being appointed to Team 1 seemed like the QPA had handed down a massive honour to Prolo3, but it turned out the honour was less than expected. Team 1 suggested that he and his fellow agent Aliv8 would be right on the cusp of discovery, prising open the exact areas of these planets that had not been previously uncovered, but as it turned out, they were merely tracing over the steps that Weczer had previously taken, over the same preposterously named planet she had wound up on, Planet Power. Apparently the capital, there was little suggestion that it carried any prestige, any improved living standards or any added urban buzz and activity. That law about no more than two people ever meeting was true, it seemed, along with all the other ones restricting various technologies. As a result, teams 2 and 9 vanished from the pair of them easily.
Aliv8 returned shortly before sunset. There was no moon around Power, and so the only light available to the city around them after sundown was what it could generate, which made her first statement as she approached the door a worrying one.

#I’ve heard there’s about to be a power dip#, she announced, and came through the door.

Of course, a “power dip” meant a complete blackout, possibly for the whole night.

Prolo consoled himself slightly, even as he sighed at the news. They had peered around the edges of Team 9’s remit, stumbling across one factory that manufactured the transportation that only business leaders and high-ranking politicians could afford to buy. He was reminded of M.E.A.C. and the occasional appearance of their ships in the galaxy, and the way that both the starship builder and the car manufacturer here on Power both had products that were ridiculously carefully styled and custom-built for every last conceivable idea that the client had. And this was perhaps the small ray of light amidst the sheer mess he felt he was witnessing here; those car-builders could have worked for several lifetimes to buy the things they made, and several lifetimes more to run them, but they took immense pride in what they did, which few others in this world could. Even so…

#We’ve seen enough. I think we should leave#, he told Aliv.

4

Zikk8 and Ewol3, of Team 5, had landed on Planet Glory along with the other teams there, but their real plan had been to secure a ship to take them to Strength.

Of course, they had assumed that Weczer’s account was an exaggerated one. It rapidly transpired that it wasn’t.

Once every form – quite possibly, they both thought, every conceivable form that the local language would allow – had been filled out, they managed to get onto the ship – the Joy of the Common Man.

#Wow#, was Zikk’s immediate reaction as he got inside. Of course, it was not what he was used to from spaceships – but that wasn’t the point. Perfectly clean, blemish-free walls and actual screens and some semblance of technology seemed amazing after the weeks of sparse, bare emptiness. Soft lighting, as opposed to the loudness of daylight, the glare of unshaded bulbs and the absolute darkness of the nights was a welcome touch of moderation.

#Wow indeed. Although it is a government ship. Apparently, this is the minimum you’d ever deal with, if you were in that power.#

As Zikk looked around the room, he wondered how anyone could possibly be so sheltered. Then again, the spaceport itself had been similar to this, but practically windowless, and certainly without any windows that didn’t point to the spacecraft themselves.

Still, even as the pair of them were on their way to join Team 6, on a planet that was previously unexplored by the Confederacy, they couldn’t help but wonder whether the state they were in was merely a different kind of suffering. The journey dragged on, for weeks and weeks, and as they watched their slow progress on inflexible screens they were reminded that they could have been at their destination long, long beforehand.

#Another thing Weczer was right on.#

#It’s OK. Soon we’ll be on a planet even she didn’t see.#

#True. But it’ll be the same shitty mess.#

It must have been a sixth of a year, Zikk realised, by the time they reached Planet Strength, the place they were originally supposed to be. Yet as the pair of them left the spaceport, parted with the diplomats and bureaucrats they had shared the journey with, and looked out across another grey industrial cityscape that managed in its haphazard asymmetry to still look homogenous, Zikk knew that the whole damn thing was probably about to be a waste of time.

5

Gold-lined walls, carpet made, probably, from the fur of something (probably several somethings) endangered, everything else made from the compounds of several elements at the far end of the Periodic Table; there was no doubt here. These were the halls of power, on a planet named Power, no less.

Team 9 were the ones who had managed to get in. Their methods had been complex and far from legal under local jurisdiction, although the QPA had more than authorised them. Thus far, their progress had been surprising to them, and the security had been apparently lax, although in truth it consisted of individuals, easily hacked surveillance and easily stumped AI drones.

#They’ll get us sooner or later#, Sadre5, one half of the team argued, #we’ll get complacent#.

#Oh sure, we’re panopticon bound, but I’ll have a message for them before we get there#, Pixa4 argued. She smiled in weird acceptance at this.

#Well they’d better be words to break chains with#.

If the two of them had calculated the whole mission well – and Sadre reckoned that they had – then today would be the last day anyhow. This was the awkward stage, however: recall. Reeling in the mass of surveillance, AI and loggers that they themselves had put in place, without tripping the surveillance and AI of the locals? A tough job, but it had to be done.

The two of them were located in a back office, a small room that the government did not truly consider worth monitoring, and so in the empty space they had various screens unfolded, various calculations running, various graphics showing independent units moving through shaded areas to avoid the glare of overlapping cameras and motion sensors.

Sure enough, the prophecy came true: one AI drifted into a motion sensor’s region that it had not accounted for, and from there, they would be traced.
All of that equipment had just about folded away when two guards burst through the office door, with guns raised. Behind his back, Sadre pushed two small buttons on the unit’s side, one to boost an ansible signal, another to send.
“What are you doing?” one of the guards demanded, “you are not authorised here. The Republic destroys all saboteurs and dissidents.”

“Maybe so,” Pixa4 replied, “but if you do, you should bear this in mind: the Qareen Confederacy is watching.”

Overcome with a nervous feeling, the guards lowered their weapons.

P.L.C.

Date: 1,995,260 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 21,417 (Shango), N.A. 2151 (Qareen)
Location: several

>GCNT
.547/2145
Pretence to Revolution?
As a new political movement arises in the quieter quarters of the galaxy, Peri6/946,788 investigates and gives his opinion on the new movement.

My invitation was a somewhat cryptic one; sent out on uniband, it asked all who could to either tune into or turn up in person to what was being described as “the creation of a new platform and a new politics.” And as it turned out, it was quite exciting: if this movement succeeds, the Qareen Confederacy will bear witness to its first economic reforms in centuries.

As we all know, the Confederacy all agreed to a complete post-scarcity settlement in the Treaty of the Confederacy in DNA 46, around one year before the Intersection Wars. Knowing that the Wars would soon occur, it was a necessary step at the time – the capability was there, and there was no need to mess around when the galaxy’s biggest conflict in thousands of years, and possibly ever, was on the verge of erupting.

Yet now, on p334,102, those measures enacted all that time ago are being questioned. Ios8/p102,355, leader of the Pangalactic Limits Campaign, argues that the time has come for the Confederacy to look backwards in order to advance.

“The problem with all Qareen, right now,” Ios8 argued as I spoke with him, “is that they live too easily. Where’s the struggle, we might ask, where is the aspiration?”

He may well have a point. Technological progress, new political ideas, the vitality of an ever-advancing civilisation, seem stagnant in the Confederacy, which arguably seems content right now to sit in its current, sub-Dharan semi-hegemony over one of this galactic pair we reside in.

Before our brief talk, Ios8’s public meeting to convene the first followers among the P.L.C. – an impressive gathering of some two hundred, more of whom have signed up since – went smoothly. With an impassioned argument, Ios8 did not shy away from criticising the status quo, and calling attention to historical fact. His audience was enthusiastic, and the word is spreading; apparently, within 0.01 of a year, some five hundred followers on p334,102 have signed up to the movement.

Five hundred may seem to be a tiny number amidst a civilisation of millions of trillions across Spaceplanes, planets and ships galore, but it is a start, and the movement already has its first off-planet follower.

The P.L.C. might well be dismissed as a reactionary group bent on taking the Qareen as a whole back into an undesired past, but this seems not to be the case. At the same meeting, Ios8 and his followers debated extensively a Charter of Beliefs, some of which included a desire to wind down the increased centralisation that has indeed been the norm since the Intersection Wars. “We’re pretty much a Federation, if not a completely unified state,” one follower told me, although I suspect this might be going too far.

Even so, their arguments have weight. Critics have been dismissive to the P.L.C., but their arguments have thus far been weak. Pinne7 of the 123,456 Network accuses the movement of “regressive, backward thinking”, which any decent analysis should refute. “An ignorant but thankfully tiny force, thinking back to an imaginary time that doubtless never existed,” argues Alak1 of Network Zenana.

This knee-jerk reaction is common amongst many pundits, but the P.L.C. are unfazed. “We won’t necessarily achieve all we aim to, possibly ever,” Ios8 admitted, “but all we’ve got to do is get enough followers, into the thousands or even the millions. Once we’re big enough, we’ll be sending a message to those at the heart of the Confederacy, that it’s time for change. That this whole galaxy needs to be shaken out of its complacency.”

And with the P.L.C. Charter, a sure method has arrived. With some ninety articles, it’s an extensive piece – this movement has emerged fully-formed. It is, quite simply, disappointing to see a new movement, the most radical in centuries, dismissed by journalists who often themselves pose as outside the establishment or mainstream. The P.L.C. are not yet a revolution, but they could easily become one. The P.L.C. isn’t about ignorance; it’s about rationality and aspiration, about driving not just their society, but all Qareen towards an even better future.

It seems remarkable that, in today’s society, trillions have accepted the by-and-large stasis that occurs on the grounds that things are ‘good enough’.  To which it must be asked: is the Confederacy, across millions of Spaceplanes and planets, merely settling? Isn’t there more, beyond this? Don’t we have a Dharan hegemony to confront, and their technology to emulate?

So, for the P.L.C., I wish them the best of luck. There’s a whole galaxy of inertia to overcome, out there, but if they can, the result will be spectacular.

>123,456 Text and Statics Network
.711/2151
In Defence of Reverse Gear
Karank9/p334,102, the second-in-command of the Pangalactic Limits Campaign, argues his case, on why the P.L.C. represent the future, not the past, and why reports of fascist tendencies have been greatly exaggerated.

“The rise of a New Galactic Order,” trumpeted the GCNT recently, snidely dismissing a movement that they had previously supported. It seems especially odd that they would abandon the movement now, as it stands to gain its billionth member, and now has some 1,000 Spaceplanes and 50,000 planets with openly declared followers. But it should not be a surprise; having, in some quarters, embraced the P.L.C., the mainstream media coalitions have decided, seemingly unanimously, to back down to the face of easy slurs on the Campaign.
It’s not clear when this unjustified backlash started. Certain critics – highly conservative-minded ones at that – have always criticised the movement’s radical nature. And of course, radicalism – however benign – is always the enemy of those too insulated by current society to see its failings.

Certainly, the backlash has emerged in the past couple of years. On .743/2149, the riots on Spaceplane 544 were attributed to the P.L.C.’s demonstration, even though a mere 44 protestors showed up and 51 restraints were imposed. Logically, for at least 7 of the restraints the P.L.C. not to blame, and given that most of them returned from the demo, almost certainly more were the responsibility of local Qareen counter-protests.

The second piece of alleged ‘evidence’ lies in supposed rhetoric spoken during 2150. One thing should be made clear: the P.L.C. is not a racist or xenophobic organisation. What we do oppose, however, is the continued welcoming into our society of members of the Shango Federation. It cannot be stressed enough that the allegedly peaceful Federation were once the organisation that caused unimaginable death and destruction during the Intersection Wars; entire Spaceplanes were destroyed and entire planets, even star systems, were in ruins. Smaller conflicts ever since should have given some clue that the Federation, as a whole, is not interested in truly lasting peace.

No, the P.L.C. is not racist; this is the easy slur thrown at us by pundits pulling dubious quotes from the media networks, as they buzz halfway around the galaxy before the P.L.C. can even respond. What we object to is the degradation of our culture and the abandoning of values that served the Confederacy for thousands of years before the Intersection Wars. We object to the flimsiness of our politicians in acting on this, and their unwillingness to talk, let alone deal, with the problem.

Perhaps the real reason for the fear of a P.L.C. galaxy is that a bold new agenda is being adopted by millions of people each day. Nearly one billion people have listened to and agreed with us over the last six  years, and therefore, come the next election in 2155, we will make an impact. Our voice is growing ever louder, and all across the galaxy, people are realising that what we speak of is not reactionary nonsense but the genuine thoughts and feelings that ordinary people – and most critically for the political class, ordinary voters – are thinking.

It’s a smart, intelligent agenda, and the mainstream media find themselves on the wrong side of the argument. For the likes of the GCNT, perhaps oppositional rhetoric isn’t the key; perhaps mere pity is more appropriate.

>Network Zenana
.713/2151
Knowing No Fear, Knowing No Sanity, and Knowing Nothing
Having argued against the P.L.C. since its inception, Alak1/976,501 argues that the P.L.C. is as misguided and repugnant today as it was six years ago.

Six years ago, I wrote an article that, to be frank, was damning of the P.L.C. and their aims. At the time, they were a miniscule organisation, but I wrote that article in a bid to argue against such ideas and in a bid to warn against the rise of such movements. I stand by that article, even now, and as I look on the last six years, I see no reason to change my mind.

The P.L.C. are a different movement, now, in some ways. Numbering a billion or so members, whose distribution is now measured in parsecs instead of kilometres, and as a result, the nature of such an organisation changes; informal discussions become formal conferences, and home-made mailshots become slick marketing and promotional operations. But just because the money for public relations is there, it does not mean that the politics and policies underneath have changed.

There are very few, if any, individuals in the galaxy nowadays who have lived under the age of scarcity, which means that such a time is now being reduced to a folk memory across large swathes of our civilisation. With this, however, comes a romanticisation of that time, and a deluge of misconceptions, of which there are regrettably also no scarcity of.

“Scarcity”, as we well know, has a mass of negative connotations, and for good reason. Starvation, poverty and a fight for resources will not create a “dynamic society”, and it is insulting and unqareen to suggest as much. Ridiculous notions such as these should be shot down with ease in our society; with the information we have in easily-accessible networks, there should be no excuse for such ignorance. Yet somehow, it persists, it thrives, it grows. It should be worrying, but indeed, plenty of those within our media accuse us, the journalists, politicians and campaigners already in the inner circle, of a sneering superiority, or worse, of outright demeaning ordinary Qareen citizens who have taken to the movement.

Yet it is arguably the P.L.C. itself that demeans. When they claim our society to be “technologically stagnant” – their words, not mine – they implicitly insult billions of scientists who, in dedicated facilities across the galaxy (or even on dedicated planets and Spaceplanes) endeavour to push for ever more understanding, and make those incremental breakthroughs that will one day produce the Dharan level of technological sophistication that the P.L.C. claim to be aiming for. Today’s scientists can devote themselves to nothing but the quest for more knowledge, free from almost all other considerations; apparently, this is not enough.

But this would be nothing if the movement did not engage in some of the lowest rhetoric any party has engaged in for the last two thousand years. The P.L.C. are keen to claim that they are not racist, that no xenophobia is afoot, but it is clear where they stand on the Shango and Bhoot diasporas. “You have to ask if these people are polluting the system with the values of their home society, or diluting our own values by adding theirs”, one member asked recently, and not any standard member of the public, but Ios8 himself, when talking about Bhoot refugees, who number in the hundreds and have worked hard to escape oppression.

Perhaps, in the end, it’s not the time before the Wars that the P.L.C. wish to return to; perhaps it’s the Wars themselves.

The Sport of Presidents

Date:1,995,266 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 21,436 (Shango), N.A. 2153 (Qareen)
Location:Spaceplane 554,091

Putting on a Storm: The Recent NKLPC Controversy
Whilst still relatively obscure here in the Intersection Zone, the sport of Kaizener has never been more popular in the centre of the Confederacy. But there is troubling brewing in the wake of recent events; Reto6/877,091 reports on the controversial game that started it all.

Sections: Sport/Kaizener, Society
74th New Kaizener League Pangalactic Cup
Coalition Reason Season from 1,909 (Winner) v. Coalition Workable Alchemy 554,091
Final Score: 1,426 – 1,425

Unlike the Fauxwar matches common in the Intersection Zone, where strategy is merely as complex as the contestants choose it to be, and even then ultimately break down at some point, the sport of Kaizener always demands tactics at every opportunity. Soft flooring and a soft ball conspire to produce slow serves, and whilst this can be compensated for with technique, it ultimately results in long and tense games.

No game in this recent NKLPC, however, has been as tense as this, the Last 256 match between Coalition Reason Season, from Spaceplane 1,909, and young upstarts Coalition Workable Alchemy, from Spaceplane 554,091, who were notable for knocking out the last planet-based team in the previous and 12th round. Reason Season risked this match by field just three players, arguing that such a move would result in a tactically tighter unit. It didn’t, or if it did, it didn’t significantly, and it was a decision they almost regretted. Workable Alchemy, however, were fielding the full four players as regulations permitted, and cycled them very effectively between main play roles, catching and resting. They also took a relative risk by introducing the android Drummer Girl into proceedings; unused throughout the actual matches, they argue that she is in fact capable of playing equally well to the rest of the team. The match itself seemed to support this, although the announcement of the team for their next match in the QKL suggests otherwise.

In the end, though, a close match resulted: one that was too close, in fact, and has resulted in many questioning the nature of the game. Some argue that the game should not have been as close as it was, and they are currently calling for a re-think of the rules. Others argue that the eventual winners were effectively given a reprieve, and argue likewise for that different reason.

Day One

Reason Season began by fielding Ranyt7, and Workable Alchemy fielded Tor9 as their initial player. Both were fairly representative of the styles of their respective coalitions; Ranyt7 favouring the “prizefighter” method of play, an attacking form that involves (relatively) fast play, low, high or otherwise extreme serves, and a willingness to move forward towards the wall. Tor9, on the other hand, was a “politician”, preferring a slower method that emphasised subtle moves and the application of topspin. Such a method resulted in a number of individually interesting moves – one shot achieved so much spin and turn that Ranyt found himself staggering into the right-hand side wall to compensate for it, losing a point and looking somewhat foolish at the same time – but overall, it only worked on these sporadic occasions and proved largely ineffective.

These competing methods with a new ball soon saw their effectiveness demonstrated, albeit highly unscientifically. Ranyt’s ability for precision jump serves – those which hit the point between floor and wall, causing the ball to leap back strangely at the opponent – caused issues, although Tor managed occasional flashes of brilliance, often forcing Ranyt to initiate and concede serves in subgames that would rack up later on.

After the midday break, the RS coalition switched Ranyt for Kalo1, but the WA team persisted with Tor. Although Tor made initial gains, Kalo1 taking some time to ease into his game, the gamble did not ultimately pay off. By the end of the day, Workable Alchemy found themselves over a hundred points down. Even the team themselves could not disguise the fact that they were now outsiders after just one day’s play, although they insisted that this now freed them from the pressure of needing to win, instead of ramping it up.

Curiously enough, the team defended Tor9’s performance, and argued that they, collectively, had made a strategic error, rather than witnessed bad play. This might well have been true, but Tor9’s rate of service faults – something not dependent on the condition of the ball – was noticeably down compared to both of the rivals he played against. Many of the pundits and commentators gathered were not slow to noticing this.

Day Two

The second day of play began with Reason Season bringing out their third player, Sarp2, and most notably, Workable Alchemy playing Drummer Girl. Whilst not a first for a Kaizener game, this was perhaps the most important match that an android had ever played in. Adopting a “philosopher” style, one that emphasised long rallies and various shots that suggested a labyrinth of directions, it proved reasonably effective, and at the very least, it stopped the increasingly embarrassing slide that occurred towards the end of the first day. Sarp2 found herself matched all too easily, and her jump serves were countered far more often than not.

What Drummer Girl had in tactical ability and stamina, however, she lost in terms of accuracy, notable by the fact that just one point was added to Workable Alchemy’s Fazi Score all day. The FAvoured Zone Impact Score calls for ten hits for every point scored on the coalition’s Favoured Zone, a small area of the wall chosen by them. Reason Season had judged this to be a distraction, and placed the zone near the top right corner; Workable Alchemy, on the other hand, placed it relatively centrally, sometimes scoring hits apparently by accident.

Incidentally, two points were added to Reason Season’s Fazi Score, and this proved to be all they would score for the whole game.

In the afternoon, the game started to shift, albeit at the rate usually associated with planet-based geology. Dragging the game closer by two dozen points, Drummer Girl managed to demonstrate an increased understanding of the game, playing with greater nuance; at 67.89.33, local time, there came a brilliant shot which presented the first genuine catch opportunity – a slicing shot in which the spin just beat a newly-rejoined Ranyt, clipping the racquet-bat and providing exactly enough of a deflection to land in then-catcher Tor9’s hands.

That, right there and then, could have been the end of the match, but with a ninety-seven point deficit and a mere sixty-four subgames under their serve, it unfortunately made no sense for the catch to be made. The graceful, brilliant move had to be squandered with a vague fumble and drop. The disappointment from the crowd, who were sensing an interesting but ultimately one-side game, was palpable, but there was far more to come.

At 71.04.11 another opportunity arose, this time the ball simply beating a fast-charging Ranyt, but he reached the wall, and hence safety, long before the thrown ball could run him out. As it was, another alert piece of play was let down by perverse incentives. Still, the game was about to ramp up severely in the next two days.

Of course, it didn’t look that way. Workable Alchemy had made progress, but an eighty-eight point gap still looked insurmountable. Workable Alchemy continued to insist at the end of the day that they were the outsiders, and that the pressure to win was purely on Reason Season.

Day Three

Workable Alchemy surprised many a punter in what had already been a match of some surprises, by announcing their desire to play one subgame – served by Reason Season – before the main game resumed. More surprisingly, Reason Season agreed, clearly seeing that retaining serve would potentially give them momentum and push the game beyond doubt. Such a gambit seemed bizarre for both teams – arbitrary for WA, and unnecessary for RS, but the logic paid off for WA when Perj3 (WA still operating on a player-per-day approach) grasped a tensely-fought 3-2 victory over Sarp2 and dropped the gap down to eighty-seven points. It proved to be a crucial moment, and the morning of day three saw a steady slide in one direction, as the gap fell from the opening eighty-eight points down to fifty-seven. As the prospect of actual competition arose, it was reported that audience figures for this previously insignificant match doubled.

All of this suggested that Sarp2 was incapable of brilliant moments, which was untrue, and every statistic, indicated that she had actually improved over her second stint compared to the first. Her serves showed astonishing accuracy, and the rates of jump serves and, especially, rolling serves were more than doubled. These serves proved tricky for Perj3, but they could only slow down his seemingly relentless march onwards. Sarp2 played excellently;  the problem for her was that she was facing an opponent even more on top of their game.

In the afternoon, Kalo1 managed to slow down the advance, although this was arguably due to Perj3’s fatigue than anything else; close analysis of the game reveals that the closest it got – thirty-six points – occurred some 10 MaU before the end of the day, and after that, some three points were dropped. Furthermore, serve percentages on the Workable Alchemy side steadily reduced throughout the afternoon.

Post-session, WA were undeniably still behind, and perhaps still not truly competitve, although neither Style Points nor Fazi Scores were released at the time. It was Reason Season, however, who found themselves on the back foot, having to justify how they had not finished the game once and for all. All the team could do was selectively pick at the facts, citing percentages and the late run of form.

They also cited their first major catching opportunity. With subgames still mounting, and the gap closing, it was becoming ever more realistically possible for Workable Alchemy to win – something that was a mere mathematic possibility at the end of day one. A catch then, ending the main game and forcing a run through all the subgames, would have been critical; unfortunately, as Perj3’s outside edge deflected sharply to catcher Sarp2’s right, and the ball further deflected off the tips of her fingers as she dived for it, sending both herself and the ball crashing into the side wall. Whilst a spectacular moment for spectators, it confirmed a fourth day of play.

Day Four

The audience figure for the fourth day were confirmed early on as being the third highest peak audience for any last 256 game in the history of the NKLPC, but this impressive achievement was about to rise even higher. As Lod9, Workable Alchemy’s final, ‘unused’ player, took up his racquet-bat and readied himself for the first serve, there was in the arena a distinct feeling of tension, of feeling that this extraordinary comeback could just occur, and that an otherwise routine tournament could yet throw up a truly classic match, or at least a classic ending to one.

So Lod9 went to work, and found himself continuing the work of the previous two days, and sure enough, after ten MaU in the morning, around 45.32.09, the lead started to come down. By midday, in fact, it was just twenty points. With each of Reason Season’s change of players, and with each change of strategy, however, that cutting of the lead slowed drastically.

Even so, Reason Season needed a breakthrough, and through the afternoon, it kept threatening to happen. At 66.44.98, Lod9’s flailing attempt at a return provided an opportunity; his similarly poor attempt to reach the Safe Zone offered a second chance. Incredibly, both of them were missed by catcher Ranyt, whose ridiculous throw missed the Safe Zone by a metre.

At 75.43.89, though, the breakthrough for RS came. Once again, Lod9 missed a return, the ball passing more than a racquet-bat’s length to his left, and Ranyt did not waste a second chance, the ball landing square in the middle of the Safe Zone before Lod could begin to respond, proving the advantage of a prizefighter’s fast play. With that, the main game was over, and the game would now shift to the 228 subgames that needed to be decided. With only 101 of those with RS’s serve, however, the game was suddenly against them: the main game had ended 1,302 to 1,291.

Another shock was to come, when the Judging Panel decided to release the Fazi Scores for both sides. With a mere two points to Workable Alchemy’s seventeen, Reason Season found the score to suddenly be, including the subgame played earlier, 1,304 to 1,309 against them. Having had a first-day lead of one hundred and twelve points, Reason Season now found themselves behind after just three days of play, with the subgame serves against them and the main game over.

Fans on one side of the contest expressed outrage, arguing that the team would not have made the catch if they knew they were behind; some pundits, however, argued that Reason Season had actually made four key mistakes: firstly, that they had squandered a sizeable lead; secondly, that they had made the catch whilst complacently assuming they were ahead, even whilst knowing some scores were off the table; thirdly, that they had actually ignored the Fazi Scores as part of their strategy; finally, that even now, the number of Style Points both sides had scored had not been released, and that fact was being ignored.

But the score stood, and it was under a storm of controversy that day four ended and day five began.

Day Five

The final day’s events were inevitably clouded by the revelations of the previous night, but Reason Season themselves, in either the conference the previous evening or in the morning pre-match, had not complained. With 228 subgames ahead of them, they were perhaps more focused on the increasingly uphill task of winning, and with the game’s audience figures now the highest any last 256 game had ever seen, and the eleventh highest for any NKLPC match in history, the eyes of the Confederacy – or at least, a large swathe of it – were watching. As the ones in the lead, Workable Alchemy had the advantage of choosing which subgames to play, and promptly decided to repeat their strategy from day three on a larger scale, allowing Reason Season to serve all of their 101 subgames first.

This was a risky gambit, and whilst RS faltered on occasion, most notably at the start of each of the three players’ stints, they nonetheless took most of those subgames, dropping a mere twelve, to give them a lead of eighty-four points. Whilst Workable Alchemy found themselves with a useful advantage – they would now never lose serve for the rest of the game – they were nonetheless otherwise in a similar scenario to the one they had been in at the close of day two.

After the break, 127 subgames lay ahead. The players in the court, now without catchers, and with the alleyways blocked off with sidewall extensions, looked very alone as they battled for a victory that, in the end, would not even necessarily put them in the top 100 coalitions in the galaxy. It was now that Workable Alchemy changed their strategy; having deployed Tor9 – much improved from her first stint on the first day – for many of the subgames earlier on, they now switched regularly between themselves. Perhaps it was this that overcomplicated their strategy; perhaps it was instead RS’s sense of momentum, but either way, the lead extended, topping out at a hundred points precisely, before shakily reducing. Even as WA gathered an unstoppable momentum, it became clear that, at best, they would win narrowly, even as their rolling serves scurried across the court floor and eluded RS’s players with increasing frequency, and almost perfectly timed drop shots hit the wall just inches above the floor.

That afternoon saw what was perhaps Workable Alchemy’s best collective performance in the tournament so far, but it was proving to be only just enough, and in a penultimate twist to the game, the scores were nominally level for the final subgame, at 1,420 apiece.

Perj3 was the man who found himself serving to win or lose the match, against Sarp2. Said subgame, far from being a complex, epic showdown, proved to be a simple matter for Perj3; a rolling serve hit with maximum force ripped across the floor, straight past Sarp2 – 2-0. A follow-up serve simply spun away, misleading Sarp right as it jinked left on the bounce – 3-0. The score was now 1,421 for Workable Alchemy to Reason Season’s 1,420.

There was, however, one final set of statistics to be released by the Style Board, and if the controversy on the fourth day was a fierce one, then the maelstrom unleashed by this was something of a supernova of contention. As the Style Board released the points allocated – four for Workable Alchemy, six for Reason Season, making the final score 1,425 to 1,426 respectively, the anger throughout the galaxy became immediately obvious through the various networked ansible forums.

Aftermath

How, various fans asked – even those supporting Reason Season – could such a match, a tournament match – be decided by style? Whilst style points had always been an intrinsic part of Kaizener, this was the first time that they had ever actually affected the result of match. The New Kaizener League suddenly found itself having to defend rules it had not seen challenged in centuries, and both coalitions that had played could only meekly state that they accepted the result, even if it was not ideal.

The resulting debate spread far and wide, consuming almost every feed in the local news coalitions in the galactic centre, although naturally, the interest has only, thus far, leaked mildly into our region, were it was met more with disdain and contempt by pundits rather than analysis.

Put simply, those of us in the Intersection Zone have perhaps wondered quite what the fuss was about; with recent rises in terrorism, an increasingly loud campaign for “scarcity politics” and Qareen-Shango tensions on the rise, along with increasingly disturbing revelations from the Bhoot regime, did this represent a dire lack of priorities among some in the Confederacy?

Perhaps, I would like to suggest, it represents the excess passions of, for one, a sport with massive interests across thousands of Spaceplanes and planets across the galaxy, and two, the simple tendency towards soft vacuousness that can occur in what is, let us be honest, a highly advanced civilisation that rarely encounters truly serious threats.

In truth, however, I find it odd that pundits have chosen to focus on this. If nothing else – and I suspect it did indeed offer nothing else – the game did offer a strong degree of spectacle, and several days of entertainment. The highly technical nature of the game meant that it was not intellectually lacking, either; the same, however, cannot be said for the rise in scarcity politics.

And with this, the article you currently read manages to finally wheel itself round to the point: perhaps it has been a struggle to convey both the excitement and complexity of Kaizener to an audience I know to be unfamiliar with it, but as a sport, it has come under attack recently from many quarters – politicians, the media, its own fans – and I feel it is a sport, and a piece of our culture, that is worth defending. Those who attack it pay no heed to the aforementioned campaign for scarcity which, though sporadic and disorganised though it is, continues to growth in strength and threatens, unlike Kaizener, to undermine all that the Confederacy has aimed for. Its quasi-religious implications are, or should be, insulting to any Qareen, although thousands continue to join the movement each day. Kaizener continues to embellish and embolden Qareen values: expertise, perfectionism, rational and strategic thought, and an unwillingness to flinch from the complex or the difficult. The NKL’s thorough and borderline unbeatable testing and scanning for drug use or extraordinary genetic or biological enhancement is rooted in a Qareen sense of fairness and justice.

These are the values that built a galaxy-spanning civilisation; the values that Ios8/p102,355 and his Pangalactic Limits Campaign espouse are the inverse, dragging us backwards, not to a simpler time, but to a worse one. The appalling conditions of the Bhoot people under their RPDSR should be not a model, but a warning to us all of the atrocities that can occur when power concentrated in the hands of elites destroys opportunities and priveliges for all but the few.

So if we’re to come together, let it be for vacuous purpose if need be, if only so we avoid overthinking ourselves into needless – and cruel – revolution. Let’s do it for friendly, honest competition, instead of brutal domination. Yes, we in the Intersection Zone could perhaps learn plenty from Kaizener.

Up

Date: 1,995,187 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 21,186 (Shango), N.A. 2128 (Qareen)
Location:
RPDSR of the Bhoot People.

1

The scene on the bridge had been a tense one, but he nonetheless allowed it to slide from lingering mindset to sepia-toned memory. It was OK. She was safe now, and the Walk-In Contradiction/Lemonless/Spaceship Plus was charging away from the whole region of space at speeds they could never hope to catch.
Crossing the bridge had been the first bit of hope in years – but Weczer7/11,191 knew even then that she was in a tentative state, one where the information she had gathered had to balance the trouble she had potentially caused, something that was not easy to judge, even as she was lying on the floor of her quarters in the Walk-In. That had been made clear on the bridge, back on the planet; across the canyon, she could see a mass of hovering gunships, ranged battalions of android troops, all ready to act if the people releasing her attempted one last gambit, and to underline that they were dealing with the Qareen Confederacy, that civilisation that had some kind of presence in – be it a full occupation, a colony, or even just regular visitors and immigrants to – almost all of the galaxy.

Naturally, they backed down.

She had kept that information, though. It had meant a complex procedure in her cell, but she had done it, and the act of doing it had made her glad to be Qareen, the bio- and genetic-engineered origins of her race before it spread across the galaxy proving a saviour. Unlike the Shango, eschewing all ideas of technology beyond that of it being a medium for otherwise impossible occurrences, the Qareen had for thousands of years felt that the personal experience as enhanced by technology and the technology itself could be, and perhaps should be, inseparable. It was the guiding philosophy of mighty intellects, the guiding philosophy of an immense civilisation, the guiding philosophy that spread across thousands of parsecs.

Not to mention the guiding philosophy that had saved her ass.

#You were heading into the unknown. You could not have known or have reasonably expected how events would unfold a priori#, she was reassured by Galan6, the other female on board.

#Well, I’m not sure. Here is what I know – unless – you have clearance, yes?#

#Sure. {clearance qpa l7} is the highest I have.#

#OK. {cognitive: qpa l5 required}, so it should be fine. {info sending} …it’ll take
a while.#

It took three minutes, which felt like a long time to be engaging one’s superconcious, especially across most of the quartersphere concerned.

#Sent. Disseminate at will amongst those permitted to view.#

She shot up from the floor to her feet and decided she would do something useful, but as her brain dipped power usage to prevent dizziness, she realised that she didn’t really have a plan. Not in the short term, anyway – long term, well, she’d return to monitoring the usual threats, bouncing from planet to planet. If the information dropped to level zero clearance, she thought, she could write some sort of piece about the whole thing. There’d be no end of public demand for that.

#This is pretty crude#, Galan6 admitted, #but my simulation says that you couldn’t have had significantly less than a 76% chance of capture, give or take five per cent either way.#

She was not surprised, but she reckoned she should have been. Logically, she assumed that Qareen technology and capabilities were responsible, because amongst the civilian population, she had never seen less than 100% rates. That was, of course, a mere shuttle-craft in the cargo bay of pain that was the life of an Bhoot citizen.

2

It had been half a Qareen year that she had been in there.

Of course, there was no risk of disease, either physically or, for that matter, mentally – a Qareen could always turn ostensibly insane, but there would always be one part of the brain that could lock itself off and perform functions separately, acting calmly underneath the storm of struggles in the conscious or superconcious.

Not that it was ever likely, but if it was to happen, it would happen here. The cell – a grey, cube-shaped space about two metres in all dimensions, was but a small component in the panopticon, yet its walls were soundproof, impregnable, and in any event, anything – and they thought of everything – that could potentially dig was taken away. Every possession she had was machine-assessed for it, which meant that anything she had in the cell was 100% likely to grind away before it made any impact on the walls.

The door was an old-style barred one, of the type she had only heard about in history classes, and of the type far easier to break out of than any potential Qareen facility. The Bhoot had countered this by making a breakout undesirable, to the tune of a sheer drop that Weczer guessed at being at least a kilometre, maybe two.

Despite the whole thing being very crude, all of it, except perhaps the Monitoring Station in the centre, the kind of thing no Qareen or Shango planet, Spaceplane or Darkworld would have utilised in thousands of years. It was, however, effectively – brutally so, although she had long since discovered that the Bhoot knew about brutality, and towards their own people, they had raised it to an artform. There was no getting out, barring the lone signal she had hoped would cut through the cell walls, or at least through the bars, and out into the reaches of Qareen space. Swallowing the amplifier would have distorted the signal, however, and not done much for her physiology either.

She reckoned that the only two actions to commit to were to protect and survive. Protect the information, which she had managed to smuggle the equipment for into the cell, and survive, which involved sitting out the sentence.
In the corner of the cell, where the setting sun struggled to reach its light into, she pulled the slim device from where it had been attached to the inside of her pocket, apparently made of fabric itself. Applying it to her head, she waited, then felt the mild jab of tiny needles engaging with the nerves in her head. Despite all the technology, there was no such thing as perfect machine-human interfacing.

In the top right corner of her vision, it flashed up: data download in progress – size 5.5 basics [unit-10]. She watched it tick slowly upwards from zero per cent. At sundown, which she made to be 65.74.09 locally and 12.07.96 in the agreed temporal measurement, the Monitoring Station began to sweep a flashlight over the cells. The thing no doubt had night vision anyway, along with thermal imaging and the like, but it naturally had to give the impression of activity.

Coming from a world filled with innovation, she tensed at the sight of the beam, assuming it was capable of all manner of scanning, analysing and other similar functions, that it would expose her plans, even as limited as they were, and instantly act in retribution.

It swept over, and her cell sunk into twilight again, the drop visible when stood close to the barred boor now in complete darkness.

100% complete, the interface told her as the beam was almost 180 degrees from her, and she felt the reverse of the jabbing from earlier, a feeling of tiny needles pulling out. She shook and bobbed her head, trying to make it look like a natural act, and the data logger flapped onto the floor. She scooped it up, shoved it into her pocket, and felt it sticking to the inside of it once again, as anonymous as it had been throughout; now, though, the disguise was unnecessary – she had all she needed, locked up within her own mental library.

The following morning, at 25.50.50 – they kept strict timetables around there – she was teleported out the same way she was teleported in, and found herself in the familiar environs of a similarly bleak-looking office, located, she had deduced during incarceration, in the tower propping up the Monitoring Station.

Uniformed, helmeted guards lined the room, all very blatantly carrying large guns in one hand and hefty spears in the other, and at last an open sign of the government’s hypocrisy. Quite what they expected from an unarmed woman, Weczer could not fathom. Even so, a vague clue was offered by the guard stood in front of her.

“We have received news from your people,” he said, “I do not know how they have discovered your presence as we did, but they are threatening war if we do not release you. Our glorious nation has decided it does not require such a conflict over one mere individual; it is not for the good of the people. Your release is therefore due at midday (she presumed 50.50.50), and you will remain here until then.”

She nodded, feigning fear and deference but secretly relieved. That message she had sent had got through, despite everything.

3

The bare, unpainted walls of the room were crumbling, but even so, the place was typical of what she had seen in her time here. Furnishing the space around her was a table and a trio of chairs, all metal, all rusting at their unrefined edges. A bare light, crude in its square glass casing, blasted light inefficiently into the area.

The two people in the room with Weczer had that same, haunted look that every Bhoot citizen had on their face; a look that suggested that had seen terrible things, that they had no words for, and that if they had the words, they would not dare speak of anyhow.

“It was too much of a risk to come here,” one of them said. He had introduced himself as Fighting Shadows At Sundown For Victory. The woman, who claimed to be named River to Glorious Destiny, did not reply, but looked as if she concurred.

“Well,” Weczer said, looking out of the murky window to see a dark country lane leading away towards the city lights, “it is done, now. We might as well do what we came here to do.”

“You’re right,” River said, and sat down on one of the chairs, which creaked. Fighting Shadows followed her, and his chair scraped a painful noise across the floor.

“Normally my job is to go somewhere, find any information I can, analyse it, draw conclusions about future events, and then leave,” Weczer explained. The two members of her audience nodded. “This time,” she continued, “it’s different. There’s nothing developing here. It’s an equilibrium, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Nothing’s going to change.”

“I want nothing to do with this,” Fighting Shadows said, getting up (creak) and heading towards the door, “our glorious society-”

“Glorious? Have you seen it?”

He said nothing, but gave a defiant look in response to the implied attack, and left. Outside, she heard a small car engine wheeze into life, and saw a flicker of shadow as it passed the window. One follower down. This awkward attempt at a resistance movement would not, she thought, impress anyone in the Confederacy. Perhaps, though, it was here motive that was lacking; it wasn’t that she was necessarily a citizen, on the inside, who wanted to change things; no, she was a relatively priveliged outsider, who had found her visit to this place intolerable, and felt that sure the citizens would agree. The problem was that she could find few who openly would.

“Are you still in, River?”

River nodded, but very hesitantly.

“The key thing here is that the people outnumber the government significantly. What they lack are the resources, which the political elite have seized with impressive totality.”

“But the government works for the people,” River argued.

“Of course they don’t, River. Why do you think that? Because they claim they do?”

Weczer knew, however, that it was only partly that. What it really was, truthfully, was that the government stated it, repeatedly, loudly proclaiming it across every medium available, and the result was bludgeoning rhetoric that worked to crush every other possible argument; not with quality of reason, but with quantity of claims. To even ask River the question she just had was to rip away reality and force her to view an utterly bizarre universe, whose principles were entirely upside-down from the assumptions she had always held.

It transpired to be irrelevant anyhow. Before she could say anything else, the door slammed open, thudding dust off the adjacent wall and rattling on its hinges, and a squad of uniformed, anonymous government operatives swept in, shoving the pair of them to the floor. Inside the hour, she was inside her cramped cell within the vastness of the panopticon.

4

The QPA could be bureaucratic, but usually for a reason – every precaution had to be taken, so precise, exact and highly detailed assessments couldn’t really be protested in such circumstances. Weczer7, though, had never seen anything like what she had attempted recently, however. She had requested a transfer from the third designated Bhoot planet (“Glory”) to the first (“Power”). The resulting paperwork – and yes, it was indeed overwhelmingly manually-inputted dead-tree format – could have filled a warehouse, she thought, and on reconsideration found it to be only a small exaggeration.

Said paperwork was nonetheless done quickly, however; a mere tenth of a Qareen year later, she found herself boarding the ship, the Revolution for Prosperity, and heading for Planet Power, which was a mere five light years distant, but even so, it would take five Earth weeks to do what it would take Qareen vessel ten Earth minutes to achieve. Still, she had got her wish, and once inside the vessel, pleasantly surprised. Spacious and relatively luxurious, certainly more so than, say, a warship, she found herself in the one area of the Bhoot civilisation that had so far even remotely suggested opulence. There were, apparently, no protocols, either; she could wake at any hour, and often did, and used the facilities at will, although she did not dare ask if there were any sports facilities she would recognise; she was already under the impression that there was some kind of catch, that a trap would be revealed. They were suspicious enough when she had initially merely asked to be there.

Five weeks later, though, the ship landed on Power – they actually landed, she realised, and did not choose or offer to beam her down. That, of course, would have meant the surrender of a level of control, and the regime would not allow it, especially to what their records marked as a recent and rare immigrant.

Still, she landed on Power, near the planet’s capital, a gargantuan sprawl of a city that was, like many Bhoot cities, oddly bare-looking even at the nominally busiest point of the day. She left the ship, accompanied by a lone guard for the length of the way into the city. He then got out of the car, wishing her a “for the glory of the Republic” standard bid of goodbye, and walked back. She examined the pile of documents on the passenger seat as soon as she was in the city and parked; they told her where her designated accomodation was, and suggested jobs she could assign herself to. The employment sheet also stated that there was a “personnel surplus due to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Republic’s economics”, which she understood to mean that she wasn’t really wanted anyway. It was when noticing things like that – which were hardly possible not to notice – that she realised what bothered her about the whole place; if only, if only, she thought, they could be honest about their intentions. But they were not, and so the whole populace was shrouded in this opaque rhetoric, this bullshit she found more crushing than the surveillance and the martial presence about the place.

She wondered whether doing anything about it was within her remit. Then she reasoned that she had an open remit anyhow – and that the billions involved across those four planets could hardly be sorry she tried.

For centuries, political academics across the Qareen Confederacy – and for that matter, across the Shango Federation with which a slow-built and, even now in NA 2128, tentative alliance had been formed – had studied the doings of their elected leaders with few assumptions at the core of their discipline. Yet there were some, and the most wide-reaching one – backed up by almost all the evidence that could be gathered on the subject, as well as more suspect claims by the likes of the Dharans – was this: no interstellar civilisation could reach or maintain such a status whilst acting as a dictatorship.

Of course, the evidence for this was, along with Dharan claims, limited to the aforementioned two civilisations and the Stoppan Republic that the Shango had long been familiar with, who exemplified the assumption perfectly.

The theory, too, was solid enough: as a civilisation prospered and expanded, it provided both a jurisdiction with monolithic gaps – the space between planets, and the thousands of uninhabited worlds within and without the civilisation – and, with spaceships a common asset, the capability for groups, if not individuals, to exploit these gaps was immense. For a civilisation to remain coherent, it had to appease those of such libertarian desires, whilst maintaining the values of the more socially conservative. Either way, the result was democracy and liberal tolerance all round.

The gap, on the other hand, was the Bhoot civilisation, which had been known by the Qareen for two thousand of their years, but had always been shrouded in mystery. Assuming that it was simply a cultural position of isolationism, the Confederacy had stayed clear, respecting such distance even during the Intersection Wars, where the Bhoot signed a formal alliance for the Fourth and Fifth wars, which simply amounted to a few spaceships tossed into the otherwise vast resources utilised.

Eventually, however, the Confederacy needed to know, and so the QPA dispatched an agent. Weczer7 knew she had no idea what to expect, but with few friends and family, she knew she was the closest to the ideal that the QPA could manage. The Walk-In Contradiction/Lemonless/Spaceship Plus beamed her to the surface of what she later learned to be named Glory from 100 local AUs, taking no chances on detection even if it resulted in teleporter failure.
Within hours of reaching the surface, though, Weczer couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong about the place, and that the secrecy existed for the wrong reasons. The place looked impoverished, and finding a local government office, the huge, imposing metallic sign at the front gave away the truth: Representative People’s Democratic Social Republic of the Bhoot People, it read, along with Freedom, Justice, Peace, Order underneath.

Such eagerness to imply freedom did not bode well, but over the days afterwards, she found the propaganda had light foundations in truth. The RPDSR of Bhoot was technically a capitalist and democratic society, and one where criticism of the government was not banned or punished per se, but that only represented a half-truth. Highly corporatist, she found that business, media and government effectively formed a dictatorial elite, a triangle of mutual interest that allowed tyranny to occur, and democracy was rendered moot by the razor-thin difference between parties. Of course, locking out the overwhelming majority of the populace would potential cause rioting, so the government had enabled a smart system of surveillance, enacting laws that were programmed into combat and police drones that hovered over the cities and towns in which the Bhoot lived.

As she first found her apartment, for example, she found no communication devices. This was part of the government’s real control: one facet was communication, of which technological devices to enable it were banned unless approved by the government and commerce committees. Furthermore, and most noticeably, no meeting between more than two people was ever permitted; the streets, even when relatively busy, were full of people whose paths never intersected for fear of it constituting a meeting; most never came within three metres of each other.

The second facet was ownership; this state-military-industrial elite possessed every spaceship she saw, and all transport for long distance, which meant no entering or leaving a local area without their permission.

Weczer7 found herself oddly unmoved by all of this; what dismayed her was that, despite them being free to do so, she heard no resentment, no anger amongst citizens in private. Even when they knew they were not being listened to (even if they were being tracked), many of them spoke of a glorious system, a great nation, and of “traditional Bhoot values.”

Perhaps, she told herself, she was looking at it from an alien perspective. Maybe this suited them. Maybe it truly was their way. But she couldn’t fathom it; there was no understanding that complicity, that rampant desire to support a system that held them back. Many of them told Weczer that they would soon be inside that elite, sharing in the spoils, but when she asked, she could not get anyone to name someone else who had achieved this feat. Their ideas had sprung not from evidence, but from the screen on their bedroom wall, which issued nightly the torrent of assurance that it was possible.

Always she asked herself whether to intervene was to raise the ugly spectre of paternalism that had dogged ancient Qareen empires. The final straw finally occurred one day when, spotting an elusive but foolishly public three-person meeting, she also witnessed its drastic termination. The grey, battered and unpainted AI drone swept down from the sky, weapons blazing, hitting the three of them with brutal accuracy and effectiveness, but of course never killing, for to kill them was to martyr them; instead, the intense maiming would incentivise them towards the truth path, to use the government terminology.

As she saw their clothes singe and their bodies writhe and their voices pierce the air with unnatural shrieks, she made her decision. Condescending, patronising, paternalistic or otherwise, she would defend the values of her culture, initiate an initiative, an uprising, a shaking off, and the first step was to strike at the heart of this alleged Democratic Republic.

5

The Walk-In Contradiction/Lemonless/Spaceship Plus was, thought Weczer7/11,191, a truly magnificent spaceship. Half a kilometre in diameter, and disc-shaped barring its two cylindrical superlight drives on support struts either side – a fairly standard Qareen design – it had a dozen decks, but the ship had everything she could have imagined – Kaizener courts aplenty, programmable matter that the crew were fond of using to the full, shifting walls and staircases so the ship was never the same from day to day, and VR simulations that were practically indistinguishable from reality. Practically, of course, because where it simulated a known environment, there were gaps in the information. Having selected Earth, another place that, like the assignment that was approaching for her, was something of an enigma to the Qareen, she found herself in an area labelled Tajikstan, and this was where the simulation and its database faltered – there was little information, and so the people in the streets were doing very little other than walking or standing.

She called up the settings and changed it again. She found herself on a narrow lane, a pair of bollards in front of her, the foliage and walls either side obscuring a crossroads busy with traffic. It was raining lightly. To her right was a large field surrounded by fencing. As she walked the length of the road, she found a sign, reading “Melbourne Avenue”. Australia, she thought, cannot be right. It was too cold for that, if she remembered rightly. United Kingdom, the ship’s computer prompted.

Well, she thought, it seems like a nice enough place. She hoped the Bhoot planet was as pleasant.

Dead Cities

Year: 1,997,977 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 29,749 (Shango), N.A. 2987 (Qareen)
Location: Spaceplane 217-D

1

The M.E.A.C. QCS Orchestral Sky/Unvector was the sort of ship that gave Seren4/235,677 an odd feeling. It was probably a daft feeling, if he was honest, and certainly an irrational one to still be having several days after boarding, but all the same, it was there: he didn’t feel comfortable riding through Qareen space on a Shango-constructed starship.

Still, he figured that said uncomfortable feelings would be easily displaced later. What mattered was not that he was on the Orchestral Sky, but the fact that it was heading towards, and, as the ship informed him, a mere hundred parsecs from, Spaceplane 217.

Indeed, as he thought about it, and left his cabin to pace through the corridors in contemplation, he realised that it was indeed all wiped away by 217.

217 – soon to be 217-D – was, as the name suggested, one of the earliest Spaceplanes in the Confederacy. It was the 217th, in fact, and it had maintained itself successfully for thousands of years, shifting its way through the galaxy over that time from the outer, brighter regions of the galaxy where rampant star formation abounded and swung upwards towards the top and centre of Qareen space. Over those thousands of years, it had handled war, terrorism and general unrest with ease. Two Confederate years ago, however, it suddenly went silent, and when the first (and pretty much only) wave of refugees landed primarily on planets, wild, bug-eyed narrations of monster attacks and stalking menaces occurred. Very little sense was actually extracted from these stories, and locally in many areas, decisions were made to put up psychiatric hospitals and units, for the first time in millenia, in order to figure out the numerous cases of apparently incurable insanity.

Whatever was really going on, Seren4 thought, it was perhaps too much for one man to deal with. And whilst he technically wasn’t sent to deal with it, he was nonetheless going to end up there, and he was meant to come face-to-face with whatever the issue was. He hadn’t taken this journey without training; plenty of combat experience in the VRooms, a few games of Fauxwar on about a dozen planets in the two intervening years, and some of this even based on the worst happenings of the Intersection Wars; that was, he had assumed, surely enough.

Now he was more uncertain. Still, he would find out soon enough.

He moved down the corridor, which had been decked out in as much luxuriousness as possible; rare metals (but almost certainly assembler-made), strange compounds, and elaborate art lined the walls and (very high) ceilings and floor. Carpets soft enough to sleep on were ubiquitous. The Mjollnir-Expanse Acquisition Coalition were always ones to treat every commission like a PR stunt, relentlessly determined to prove that they, beyond all others, could build a better ship, in whatever way that meant.

“No chandeliers,” he said to no-one in particular, and as he suspected, the ship morphed the dangling lighting into integrated strips of anonymous but equally coloured and effective lighting. He carried on through the almost-empty ship. There were three others on board, and the whole place had 16 decks and a five-hundred metre length, and those three did not necessarily share the same routine. His conversations had been sparse at best. Still, it was all in good preparation.

He found a transporting platform, stepped onto it, and shifted upwards, moving from his current deck, deck 8, up to deck 1 and the observation room. There the M.E.A.C. had found a way of rendering the ship’s material transparent; no loss of structural integrity, but perfectly clear windows all the same. No Qareen ship would ever bother with such excess.

As he reached the observation deck he found signs of other life on board; Elex7/1,899, a woman whose journey was apparently further than this, possibly, she had hinted, with a destination in Shango space.

#Seren?#, she asked.

#Yes. How’d you guess?#

#One in three chance. Plus Alag9 isn’t really likely to be around this hour, so make it fifty-fifty.#

He nodded, and made his way slowly towards the windows, where she was stood about two metres from them, watching the stars crawl across the view.

#217 will be coming up soon#, she explained, #it’s been good meeting you. Best of luck#.

#Thanks. Same to you#, he replied, then opened up to the others on board. Alag was awake; Seran wasn’t, but he had bid him goodbye beforehand anyway.

#Same to you, too, Alag#, he added, patching through the previous conversation.

#Very best of luck. You will definitely need it#.

And with that, just as it had seemingly worn off, he started to get nervous again.

2

From space, 217 looked like all other Spaceplanes, although it was slightly smaller than the average, given how later projects had grown ever larger.

Essentially, it resembled two huge snowglobes, thousands of kilometres in radii, stuck base-to-base. Halfway up or down both the transparent domes, circling around constructed tracks, would normally have been the artifical sun and moon spotlights, casting light and, well, less intense light on two regions either side of the transparent disc. Around the edge on both sides of the disc, an ice wall marked where there was no further territory.

The Orchestral Sky/Unvector approached the Spaceplane and orbited at a distance of 36,000km. From there, Seren found himself beamed into a public square in 217’s capital, P34, along with what, to human eyes, would appear to be a large tracked vehicle generally resembling a hybrid of an articulated lorry and a battle tank – and indeed, it was armed, albeit not in a manner that could handle a true military onslaught. Twenty metres long by four metres wide by three metres high inside the main area; that was to be home for as long as it took. Stood next to it, he looked around at the utterly still scene in front of him. Dim red lighting provided the bare minimum of visibility to the city streets, as the moon above was turned right down until it appeared as a vague disc-shaped presence in the sky. Beyond that, the stars were visible as if there was no protective dome at all.

After about thirty seconds of such observation, he concluded two certain things: one, that said protective dome was definitely there, and that two, there was no obvious cause; at least, there wasn’t one where he stood. There were, in his mind, two obvious things to do: one was to head to anywhere easily accesible with an AI unit – most likely a hotel – and the second was to head towards the central processor for the whole Spaceplane, but that would take some driving.

He checked the nearest hotel first, which some basic research in the truck-tank revealed to be just beyond the square. Walking in through the automatic doors, taking care not to hurry too quickly – the doors may well have interpreted anyone running towards them as potential attackers – he reached the lobby. A single projected AI zapped into existence in the middle of the mosaic floor.

“First visitor in nearly two years,” it said, “where have you all been?”

“That’s what I’ve been wanting to know,” Seren4 replied, “what about your last visitors?”

The AI nodded his head. “They were behaving… oddly. Like they weren’t quite sane. I shut the doors as soon as I recognised what was going on, and once I did, dozens, maybe hundreds of them, all piled up outside the doors, heaving to get in. Naturally I got the assemblers and beamers working, and reinforced them. If I hadn’t then this place would have been gutted by now. There’s enough damage as it is.”

He pointed upstairs, and zapped out again. Seren headed up there, and instantly the impression from the clean, sparse lobby shifted; walls were splattered with various substances, damage was embedded within them, lighting flickered, floors were filled with trails of mess. Even the worst guests wouldn’t have created such chaos. The PAI zapped back in again.

“Because of the mob outside, I couldn’t get those that slipped in, out. They just ran round the place, ransacked it, as if they were looking for something, and charged around like they had no thoughts of their own.”

Seren could only raise his hand casually in acknowledgement. “So there’s not much to work on, here?”

“My speciality is in running a hotel. I just left this stuff as it is so there’d be evidence. I assumed there would be an investigation.”

“Well, this is the investigation. I guess there just isn’t much here apart from a couple of clues.”

“You’re facing some pretty feral people. But trust me, it’s people who almost certainly caused this. Be careful if you meet any non-projected.”

“Will do.”

He headed out of the hotel again, across the public square to the truck-tank. He wondered if the power grid, having been shut down to emergency reserve, and as a result leaving the whole Spaceplane in a perpetual twilight, should be re-activated. He decided that this was second priority. First priority was the next thing on the checklist: the central processor.

He checked the truck-tank again, just to be sure. Indeed, the central processor was exactly where he suspected; in the dead centre of the Spaceplane, five hundred kilometres to the south-east and some thirty kilometres down into the disc. Choosing not to delay, he slammed the ignition button and started off.

3

Through the forests, a mist had settled and red light, sodium-like, lit the way in stages. The winding roads had enough moisture along their ultra-smooth surfaces to cause the front end of the tank-truck to twitch in search of grip.
Throughout, he saw no-one, but the signs of their possibly present, possibly past presence were ever-present. Burnt-out cars occasionally littered the path, and the houses and local villages Seren passed were often gutted and strewn with debris.

On many levels, it was an astonishing sight, to see such a fallen society. In a civilisation like the Qareen Confederacy, a post-scarcity society in almost all possible respects, Spaceplanes represented the last sign of inequality; like gated communities, they shut off an elite from the normal, planet-dwelling folk. Everyone there usually had to earn their place, be it through military service, technological or scientific accomplishment, artistic achievement, or some other, widely recognised achievement. For those in 217, however, such privelige had suddenly collapsed from under them.

Having driven for three hours, and reasoning that he was nearly at the processor – or at least, that his overland journey was close to complete – he decided to stop, get out and take a break. Having concluded that physical travel, rather than beaming from point to point, would allow him to survey the wider picture of what had happened, he couldn’t help but feel that denying himself the option completely was somewhat unwise. The view in front of him during that break confirmed his point; as he walked around the village, full of trashed, burnt houses and cars, he couldn’t help but feel that it was adding no real extra understanding in concrete terms. All this was, after all, was more devastation, exactly as he had seen for kilometre after kilometre, and just as with the rest of the route, there was no explanation here. He sighed, and as if that long exhalation had deflated him, he slumped onto the bonnet of a particularly blackened vehicle. Doing so made a panel from it clatter loudly to the ground, its sound echoing off the buildings.

And that is when Seren got his explanation.

The first one he just watched until it got within fifty yards of him, at which point he realised that it wasn’t going to stop. When he looked closer, he could see in detail the flailing limbs, the constantly-staring eyes and hear a stuttering growl of the being.

He started to run.

He looked over his shoulder and found there were now three of them. He couldn’t remember where the truck-tank was, only that he was in the right direction.

He continued to run.

There must have been a dozen of them as he reached the main road. The juddering, stuttering noises of their inarticulate throats were blending into a single, continuous groan like a jammed and primitive industrial machine.

The truck-tank was in sight.

Automatically it opened for him, but scanning both him and the chasing pack, it found only Qareen, and hence friendly bodies. He flung himself into the main cab.

“Close the door!”

It did so. As he picked himself up, got behind the wheel, and checked the systems, a series of thuds hit the vehicle. All around the cab, through the various windows and transparent panels, he could see them up close; their eyes intensely bloodshot, their faces coated in blood and grime, their fists slammed in pure aggression.

“Computer, target all weapon systems at-”

“Targets identified as-”

“Do it, do it, do it-”

The weapons opened fire, lasering each of the targets between or in the eyes.
They all dropped to the floor, and Seren suspected the cowardly bastard had probably only targeted them for stun strength or light maiming. The threat, though, was for now gone. The truck-tank autopiloted into reverse, taking care not to crush the bodies that Seren would have gladly splattered just to be rid of whatever they were. Steering around them, it built up speed gradually, and
Seren had a thought.

“Computer?”

“Here.”

“Remind us not to stop at any villages, or settlements of any kind, until we reach the processor. Unless it’s necessary, of course.”

“Noted.”

He sat back and attempted to relax. I preferred this place when nothing stirred, he thought to himself.

4

Ziggurat Fractal Encryption (local version 2987.656 update) in progress.
To: Central Confederate Office for Widescale Emergency
From: Seren4/235,177; Investigating Agent
Subject: Post-Incident Assessment Report for 217-D, Part Four

To all invested,

After three days of investigation I have ultimately located the source and perhaps part of the nature of the incident which has created the disaster that occurred at 217-D. I will hence expound on such issues below.

Cause

After several hours of driving to the central processor, and enduring several attacks (see below) from local citizens, I discovered the ultimate cause of the issue to be biological. The processor’s log, in fact, noted in detail the exact cause before shutdown, which occurred a few hours later. It would appear that the central source of the crisis was an old weapons facility in R88, some two hundred kilometres to the south-east of, and obverse of, P34. Some kind of explosion at the plant appeared to release an experimental biological weapon, a virus designed for anti-terrorist purposes (and hence the native population were not immune) known as PGEN754. Notes from the plant note that the virus is airborn, but survives for only a short time without a host. It is, however, transmissble in relatively close contact (say, within one metre), and it requires some time for the worst symptoms to become obvious to outside observers.

Whilst it would appear that the lack of new hosts in nearly two years has allowed the virus to die out, there are nonetheless still some among the native population who have not died of the disease, which does ultimately appear to be eventually fatal.

Nature

The virus is unlike those generated in other, similar facilities throughout the Confederacy, and indeed without precedent in Qareen history; from there, the confusing narratives generated by eyewitnesses are nonetheless logical. The virus would appear to generate intense amounts of aggression (and, oddly, increased levels of stamina) from the victim, and similarly, it would appear to heavily reduce the victim’s capacity for sentience and concious reason. This includes the capacity for communication; my attempts were often met with relatively feral responses, although some language was used. The victims are often willing to enact such mindless aggression on those suspected of being uninfected, detected seemingly by the victim’s subconcious observation of behaviour and body language.

Whilst there are no precedents to enlighten us from this galaxy regarding the nature of the virus, there is, by an odd coincidence, something to be found in the human database acquired during first contact, as made around three thousand years ago in the agreed Confederate Calendar. In several human cultures, there would appear to be some common folklore that shares some similarity with the incident that has occurred. Whilst we can discard many of the more supernatural aspects of the folklore, and the details are significantly different from many versions of the human stories, we can nonetheless draw much from this legend of what would appear to be termed “the walking dead” in preparation for any further outbreak.

Suggested Course of Action

There would appear to be little to suggest for most other Spaceplanes, as it was 217’s ancient design that predominantly allowed such a facility to be present on it. Almost all such facilities are now properly isolated throughout the Confederacy.

A review on regulating non-Qareen-immune biological weaponry, or at least untargeted weaponry, may well be wise.

My surveying of 217 itself, utilising scans from the central processor, remote surveyance drones and my own observation, would suggest that there are very few survivors, if any, on the Spaceplane at present. Any survivors still present are highly likely to be exposed to the virus, or else in the early stages of contraction. In the long term, it is highly unlikely that there is much in the way of Qareen citizens or material assets that can be extracted from the Spaceplane. Given that the virus has already cost several billion lives, I recommend that it would be unwise to attempt any kind of recovery of the system, and that CCOWE consider the possibility of classifying 217-D as beyond reprieve. [Receiver’s note: CCOWE agreed with this judgement and 217-D was subsequently eliminated, 2987.994].