No Fate But What We Make

Tech Infantry - Season 10


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Forum Home > Now This Ain't No Frak > Let's make a deal.

Lorpius Prime
Posts: 184

I'm starting to get very excited for a new season.


"All I'm saying, Captain, is that it's easy to underestimate the K'Nes. But it's never a good idea."


James resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but he did raise his hands to his temples and sighed a little.


"I'm not underestimating them, John. I'm just making a deal." He waved a dismissive hand at the big werewolf as they strode down the twilit sidewalk. "Even if I was dumb enough to want to screw a Cat on a contract, I don't have the means to try. We need this drive, we're stuck without it. If we're stuck, we can't work; if we can't work, we don't get paid; if we don't get paid, we don't eat, et cetera and early graves and so on. I shouldn't have to tell you this, you know the spiel."


"By heart," John said. Normally his face looked like it could have been carved out of wood, but James could detect the formation of a slight smirk. "And I'm not saying we don't need the help. I'm saying… the Cats aren't looking to help anyone but themselves. They know they've got us over a barrel on this deal; they're not going to be generous. They'll squeeze you for anything and everything they want. Are you really prepared for that?"


James stopped walking. John was a head taller and half a step behind, so he ended up level with his captain when he shuffled to a halt. The Lieutenant had been on James' ship for four years now, and while he was far from verbose, he'd never been afraid to speak his mind. Now the two men just looked at each other in grim silence.


"What do you want us to do, then?" James demanded after a moment. "Run to Hadley and sign on with the corsairs? Hijack food transports and call it freedom fighting? Or maybe we could join the Logistics Corps ourselves. They're handing out lots of jobs to tramp freighters right now, and I'm sure our background checks would be no problem." He shook his head, "If we're going to keep flying once the gates are locked down, it means selling our souls to somebody. At least the Cats are playing my sort of game. I'd rather be a smuggler than a pirate or a government stooge."


"I'm just afraid that's a choice you'll find yourself regretting. Perhaps very quickly."


"If I'm going to regret any of the choices in my life, John…" he trailed off, then sighed and waved a hand again. "Anyway, I'm not turning back before we even have the meeting. Let's just get there and hear the terms, at least."


They resumed walking. The ceramcrete beneath their feet still had the smooth sheen of new construction. The foundations for the Iztapalapa Dome had been laid in 2050, just as it seemed that the draconian economic controls under the Five Acts might be relaxed. But then the Vin Shriak invaded, and every bit of industry and labor on Phoenix was once again commandeered for war production. Then came the war with the Vulthra, followed by the grueling subjugations of the K'Nes and Jurvain, followed by the Caal and the collapse of the Federation. Only since the end of Vin Dane's "glorious ascension" had Humanity had any time to catch its collective breath. And so it was only in the last year or two that construction on the Iztapalapa Dome had resumed in earnest.


Unlike many Imperial systems these days, Phoenix was experiencing something of an economic renaissance. It had long been one of Humanity's economic heavyweights, of course, but conditions had become even more favorable to prosperity of late. Decades of warfare destroyed unimaginable amounts of infrastructure and equipment. Phoenix was one of only a handful of systems left with intact factories capable of producing such essential capital goods as nanotech replicators and precision machines which were necessary to rebuild advanced industry everywhere. To the shock of many, the first Imperial Census completed last year found that Phoenix had surpassed both Minos and New Paris as the largest stellar economy after Avalon.


The dome's skyline was a crowded forest of cranes and tubes carrying nutrient slurry to fungicrete molds. With money and people still pouring in at a frenetic pace, Iztapalapa was a good place to disappear. The half-built tower James Welthammer and John Shrak strolled into looked like it was destined to become low-rent housing, probably for mine and factory workers. The security guards who passed them through the doors didn't look low-rent, however. James and his companion were detained for a couple minutes and subjected to scans, but the guards were content to let them keep their side arms afterwards. They were escorted to the elevators and sent to the ninth floor.


The guards who greeted them when the doors opened were not human. They were K'Nes in sleek power armor and carrying heavy weapons. They only stood as tall as James' ribs, but he was disinclined to mess with them all the same.


They led him and Lieutenant Shrak a few meters down a hallway to a harshly lit room. It was unfurnished except for a single desk and a few plastic chairs. A rotund K'Nes was bobbing lightly behind the desk. Rather than power armor, she wore a frilly cloth outfit and more gold jewelry than James had ever seen adorning any Human.


"Ahhh!" the Cat purred as the two men walked into the room. And then, right before James' eyes, the alien began to shrink. He almost tripped over his own feet in shock before he remembered K'Nes biology, and that the Cats were possessed of inflatable gasbags allowing them to float. James had only seen a few K'Nes before in his life, and those only in passing. Everything he knew about them, he knew only from basic education, popular media, and the Cats' own extensive reputation.


"Please come in," this K'Nes said in a high-pitched but breathy voice, "you are just on time."


"Thank you," James said. He stepped forward and grabbed the back of a chair while Shrak did the same beside him. "James Welthammer, Captain of the Resolve, at your service madam," he introduced himself. "This is my associate, Lieutenant Shrak."


"Charmed," Shrak said.


"I am Miao K'Rowr Na'Yurr, Assistant Operations Manager for Miao Mercantile," the Cat sounded quite smug as she rattled off this title. "We've exchanged messages, before, Captain. Have a seat."


"I'm glad you had the time to meet with me," James said as he sat down.


Miao K'Rowr Na'Yurr cocked her head slightly. "I've met with several shipmasters, Captain," she said after a moment. "But I'll certainly be glad if you are willing to make this particular meeting profitable."


James did his best not to frown, but he did feel his smile droop a little.


Na'Yurr took a small computer tablet out of a pocket in her blouse, and pushed it across the desk. With the tap of a claw, a small holographic projection blinked into space in front of James' eyes, and began to rotate slowly. It showed a cutaway diagram of some fiendishly complex machinery wrapped inside a familiar grey cylinder.


"The Model Four Miao Mercantile hyper generator, Captain Welthammer," the K'Nes explained. "Creates a one-by-one-and-a-quarter klick spheroid jump point, with only a two-hour minimum cycling time between hyper- and real-space transition modes. Capacitors charge in ten minutes using external power, but it comes with an on-board fusion generator that power a jump in four hours in an emergency. And the best part," Na'Yurr's needle-sharp teeth positively glinted as she grinned, "is that, with our proprietary gravity-balanced neutronium manifold, it all fits neatly inside a standard Human 1-K cargo pod."


James had already read this brochure, but it still made him want to drool. The generator the Cat was advertising would be a terrible power hog even while idling, worked only at a sluggish pace, and opened only a miniscule port into hyperspace. But it was small, smaller than anything even the Imperial Navy operated. God only knew where the Cats had gotten the technology to build it. Either their scientists were far cleverer than most Humans assumed, or else they'd stolen it from someone even more advanced. Neither was a prospect James was eager to contemplate.


"Well," James said, attempting to hide the level of enthusiasm in his voice, "I suppose I'm interested. How much are you asking for it?"


Na'Yurr switched off the holo projection and took back the tablet.


"Fifteen million crowns," she said.


Suddenly James had vertigo. Still, he scoffed, "You must be joking."


"Non-negotiable," Na'Yurr added, unimpressed. "At that price, it's already practically a loss for us."


James felt his heart dropping into his stomach. "Standard hyper generators sell for half that amount!"


"Standard generators are ten times the size of the Model Four. And for a Human like you, require Imperial approval and monitoring to purchase and operate."


Which was exactly the reason James was here in the first place. Even so, "There's not an independent freighter captain in this galaxy that has fifteen million to spend on anything!" If James mortgaged the Resolve and sold everything else he owned, he might be able to scrape together two million crowns. Maybe.


Na'Yurr's smile vanished. She swiveled her chair to one side so that she was no longer facing James directly. "You do seem to be right about that much, Captain."


The Cat stayed silent for a moment, apparently mulling. But then she turned back towards James.


"Which is why Miao Mercantile is willing to offer a limited-time discount" she spat the word as if it was a curse, "on the Model Four in exchange for a provision of services."


"Oh?" James asked. He'd known this was coming, but it was still hard to ignore all his professional instincts screaming that it was time to walk away.


"The Nhur Llan needs a capable shipmaster to conduct a small errand within the Empire," Na'Yurr said. "It's no great difficulty, but the contractor will be required to exercise a certain amount of… discretion."


Shrak turned his head towards his captain and raised a skeptical eyebrow. But James had already made his decision. Had had it made for him, a long time ago.


"Give me the details," he said.


"I'm afraid not, Captain," Na'Yurr shook her head. She drew out another, smaller tablet and twirled it between her fingers. "Confidential until the contract is signed. Take it or leave it."


James closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then held out his thumb.


November 28, 2012 at 6:01 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 164

Well, I loved it!  Of course, I'm biased toward anything to do with the K'Nes, and the Miao in particular.  Good to see Shrak again.  I'm wondering if Freak/Jenkins will find his way onto the Resolve again.

A good vingette on it's own, but also a good start for a short story.  I'm curious now to find out what exactly the Miao want James to do for them.  Have you thought about continuing it?  Heck, Chris/Zolo might even give you some experiences points for it.

I'm ready to declare this cannon and put the world-building details into the Twiki.  Anyone got any objections?



November 28, 2012 at 11:48 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Lorpius Prime
Posts: 184

Glad you liked it, Xinjao! I was a bit worried about using the Miao for this, but thought they were probably the most appropriate clan to make this kind of deal, given their smuggling background, reverse engineering of the jump gate, and Heth's particular access to Horadrim technology.

I did have a few general ideas about the sort of task they were giving him.  But ultimately I decided not to include the details in this story (might write a continuation sometime), because the main point was just to put James deeply in debt to the K'Nes while getting a hyper drive for the Resolve.  I imagine it all proceeding like a gangster's tragedy: after you've worked for the mafia once, you don't just walk away.

November 29, 2012 at 3:14 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 164

...and you can download the podcast version here.

I needed some practice reading audiobooks, and this was short and had several voices.  Yes, I know I got John and James mixed up at once point; deal with it.  I also had to change a few words here and there for clairity and to avoid getting tongue-tied while reading it - hope you don't mind.



November 30, 2012 at 9:46 AM Flag Quote & Reply

MJ, the Original Gangsta
Site Owner
Posts: 143

Neat! I'm very curious to see where this story goes -- Welthammer rides again!


I call myself Albigensia - the once and future Storyteller.

November 30, 2012 at 11:57 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Lorpius Prime
Posts: 184

Mind?  I'm quite flattered!  You actually sound a lot like the audiobook version of The Name of the Wind that I was listening to a while ago.  Happy I could provide you with practice material. :)  Maybe I really will continue the story, if y'all really did enjoy it that much.

Only one note, and it's not something you could have known in advance: James' family is Hanoverian German and his last name is pronounced accordingly, i.e. the W sounds like an English V, "velt-hammer".  I made it up when I was still in high school and geeking out over my German lessons.  Man, and now that I think about it I should have worked in a couple lines where Na'Yurr mispronounces it and James corrects her just to clarify exactly that.

November 30, 2012 at 2:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 164

Noted!  If & when you do part two, I'll be sure to use the Germanic pronunciation in the podcast version.



December 3, 2012 at 9:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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