Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

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Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-03 10:44pm

Nothing to do with James Cameron's Avatar film.

So have another analysis thread, Baen once again, this time a decidedly unfinished duology collaboration between David Weber and Linda Evans. This series is about a conflict between two transdimensional civilizations, one rooted in magic with some magical equivalents to several 20th/21st Century technologies, the other a late 19th Century techbase with the addition of psychic 'Talents.' One is the Union of Arcana, the other Sharona.

In this series, portals exist linking many worlds, all essentially identical in geography (and all identical to our own Earth, I'll be providing Earth names as we go). Which is incredibly convenient, since things like gold, oil, iron, timber, rubber etc. are usually where you found them the first time. The portals are usually several miles across, but exist hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Until the first book, neither side has encountered another human culture, despite centuries of exploring alt-Earths. Other animals are there, but not man, and so manmade changes to the world are lacking, both shaping the landscape and selective breeding of plants and animals.

But let's get down to it.

He gazed up into the painfully bright afternoon sky, blue-gray eyes slitted against the westering sun, with his helmet tucked into the crook of his left elbow and his right thumb hooked into the leather sling of the dragoon arbalest slung over his shoulder.


The average Arcanan soldier is armed with an arbalest (steel-armed crossbow) with a magically-assisted winding mechanism. Also a close-quarters blade and sometimes a daggerstone. But more on that later.


The dragon's arrival was a sign of just how inaccessible this forward post actually was. In fact, it was just over seven hundred and twenty miles from the coastal base, in what would have been the swamps of the Kingdom of Farshal in northeastern Hilmar back home. Those were some pretty inhospitable miles, and the mud here was just as gluey as the genuine Hilmaran article, so aerial transport was the only real practical way in at the moment.


Arcana has airlift via dragons. This is awesome.

Hilmar is the Arcanan name for South America, setting this strategically crucial portal somewhere in Northern Brazil? Maybe Columbia? Depends on much north and how much east goes into 'northeastern Hilmar.'

The newcomer was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and even taller than the noncom, although much younger, and each point of his collar bore the single silver shield of a commander of one hundred. Like the noncom, he wore the shoulder flash of the 2nd ATS, and the name "Olderhan, Jasak" was stenciled above his breast pocket.


Meet Hundred Jasak Olderhan, our sympathetic Arcanan commander. In the Arcanan military, noncom ranks are weapons, Sword, Spear, Lance etc. Even a Shield. Officers, though, are ranked by roughly the size of their command. Olderhan commands a company, so he's a Hundred, with a pair of Fifties under him. Jasak's old man is a Five Thousand.

Halathyn vos Dulainah was very erect, very dark-skinned, and very silver-haired, with a wiry build which was finally beginning to verge on frail. Jasak wasn't certain, but he strongly suspected that the old man was well past the age at which Authority regs mandated the retirement of the Gifted from active fieldwork. Not that anyone was likely to tell Magister Halathyn that. He'd been a law unto himself for decades and the UTTTA's crown jewel ever since he'd left the Mythal Falls Academy twenty years before, and he took an undisguised, almost childlike delight in telling his nominal superiors where they could stuff their regulations.


Wizards are properly called Magisters. Only a very small minority of Arcanans can use magic. A larger group, about 20-30% have enough magic in them to use magic items created by Magisters.

UTTA is the Union Trans-Temporal Transit Agency, the government organization responsible for exploring and developing the portal network.


He was also, as his complexion and the "vos" in front of his surname proclaimed, both a Mythalan and a member of the shakira caste. As a rule, Jasak Olderhan was less than fond of Mythalans . . . and considerably less fond than that of the shakira. But Magister Halathyn was the exception to that rule, as he was to so many others.


From what little is shared, magic was discovered by the Mythalan Empire, which covers Africa and the Middle East and nearly conquered the world with it. But the world unraveled the secrets of magic and united against them and eventually the three superpowers formed the Union. Mythal to this day maintains a rigid caste system based on magic. Vos, the mages are the rulers, scholars and god-kings, Muls, those who can use magic items and weapons form the warrior caste, and everyone else gets to be wretched serfs.

Halathyn is sort of a Mythalan heretic, having split off their society and academia decades ago to found his own school on New Arcana.


"And how is my second-favorite crude barbarian?" he inquired in genial Andaran.

"As unlettered and impatient as ever, Sir," Jasak replied, in Mythalan, with an answering smile.


They have a world government on Arcana, but not a unified language.


A portal cluster . . . In the better part of two centuries of exploration, UTTTA's survey teams had located only one true cluster, the Zholhara Cluster. Doubletons were the rule—indeed, only sixteen triples had ever been found, which was a rate of less than one in ten. But a cluster like Zholhara was of literally incalculable value.


So much data in a tiny packet. Arcana has been exploring and expanding into the multiverse for almost two hundred years and found over 160 alt-Earths. Most worlds have just two portals, forming 'chains' of alt-Earths, but there are a few triplets where new chains start and, though vanishingly rare, the odd cluster.


This far out—they were at the very end of the Lamia Chain, well over three months' travel from Arcana, even for someone who could claim transport dragon priority for the entire trip—even a cluster would take years to fully develop. Lamia, with over twenty portals, was already a huge prize. But if Magister Halathyn was correct, the entire transit chain was about to become even more valuable . . . and receive the highest development priority UTTTA could assign.


They're 20 worlds away from home. With portals hundreds or thousands of miles apart, or occasionally on the far side of the Earth, they can make the trip in 3-4 months, relying largely on air travel. The closer they get to home, the more developed things should become, and I'd presume linking portals would be a priority.


But second, and far more important, was the patronage system which permeated the Arcanan Army, because patronage was the only thing that kept Garlath in uniform. Not even that had been enough to get him promoted, but it was more than enough to ensure that his sponsors would ask pointed questions if Jasak went that far out of his way to invite another fifty to replace him on what promised to be quite possibly the most important portal exploration on record. If Magister Halathyn's estimates were remotely near correct, this was the sort of operation that got an officer noticed.

Which, in Jasak's opinion, was an even stronger argument in favor of handing it to a competent junior officer who didn't have any patrons . . . and whose probable promotion would actually have a beneficial effect on the Army. But—


The Arcanan military is dominated by the Andaran Confederacy, and built on their model. The Confederacy is a superpower embracing North and South America in a militant aristocracy, with occasionally warring duchies and kingdoms. Jasak's family, for instance control the Ducy of Garth Showma: New York, Toronto and a bite of Pennsylvania on New Arcana, the first world they settled. The downside of a military aristocracy being the patronage system.


The portal's outbound side was located smack on top of the Great Andaran Lakes, five thousand miles north of their departure portal, in what should have been the Kingdom of Lokan. In fact, it was on the narrow neck of land which separated Hammerfell Lake and White Mist Lake from Queen Kalthra's Lake. It might be only one hour east of the base camp, but the difference in latitude meant that single step had moved them from sweltering early summer heat into the crispness of autumn.


And on the world that will be called Hell's Gate, the Arcanan portal puts them in Great Lakes region, Jasak later says about 80 klicks from where his family's land would be back home.


Garlath was supposed to be a temporal scout, after all. That meant he was supposed to take the abrupt changes in climate trans-temporal travel imposed in stride. It also meant he was supposed to be confident in the face of the unknown, well versed in movement under all sorts of conditions and in all sorts of terrain.


Some of the training the temporal scouts (the military units seconded to UTTA) receive. All very common sense.


Magister Halathyn's tone had been dismissive when he described the portal as "only a class three." But while the classification was accurate, and there were undeniably much larger portals, even a "mere" class three was the better part of four miles across. A four-mile disk sliced out of the universe . . . and pasted onto another one.


Don't hear a ton about the portal classification system. Halathyn was worried that if Hell's Gate is a cluster (and of course it is) their development of it would be bottlenecked by the small portal. Of course, four miles leaves room for a lot of road, I'd be more worried about it being in a godforsaken swamp 700 miles from anything.


A portal appeared to have only two dimensions—height, and width. No one had yet succeeded in measuring one's depth. As far as anyone could tell, it had no depth; its threshold was simply a line, visible to the eye but impossible to measure, where one universe stopped . . . and another one began.

Even more fascinating, it was as if each of the universes it connected were inside the other one. Standing on the eastern side of a portal in Universe A and looking west, one saw a section of Universe B stretching away from one. One might or might not be looking west in that universe, since portals' orientation in one universe had no discernible effect on their orientation in the other universe to which they connected. If one stepped through the portal into Universe B and looked back in the direction from which one had come, one saw exactly what one would have expected to see—the spot from which one had left Universe A. But, if one returned to Universe A and walked around the portal to its western aspect and looked east, one saw Universe B stretching away in a direction exactly 180 degrees reversed from what he'd seen from the portal's eastern side in Universe A. And if one then stepped through into Universe B, one found the portal once again at one's back . . . but this time looking west, not east, into Universe A.

The theoreticians referred to the effect as "counterintuitive." Most temporal scouts, like Jasak, referred to it as the "can't get there" effect, since it was impossible to move from one side to the other of a portal in the same universe without circling all the way around it. And, since that held true for any portal in any universe, no one could simply step through a portal one direction, then step back through it to emerge on its far side in the same universe. In order to reach the far side of the portal at the other end of the link, one had to walk all the way around it, as well.


In other words, portals are two dimensional and squareish, and either side transports you to the other universe like this.

World Blue: A||B
World Green: B||A

Go in A, come out A and vice versa. But since portals range from a couple of miles across to tens of miles, unless you keep to the very edge it becomes almost impossible to circle around and access side B from side A, and going through the portal won't help you any. Hence, the "can't go there" effect. If you do stick to the very edge, than you can access either side quickly enough, but will probably still have some walking to do to get anywhere.


Frankly, every time someone tried to explain the theory of how it all worked to Jasak, his brain hurt, but the engineers responsible for designing portal infrastructure took advantage of that effect on a routine basis. It always took some getting used to when one first saw it, of course. For example, it wasn't at all uncommon to see two lines of slider cars charging into a portal on exactly opposite headings—one from the east and the other from the west—at the exact same moment on what appeared to be exactly the same track. No matter how carefully it had all been explained before a man saw it for the first time with his own eyes, he knew those two sliders had to be colliding in the universe on the other side of that portal. But, of course, they weren't. Viewed from the side in that other universe, both sliders were exploding out of the same space simultaneously . . . but headed in exactly opposite directions.


Sliders being magic-trains, naturally. And herein is the problem, you can develop both sides of a portal, but militarily you have to defend both sides of a portal, sometimes along a pretty wide front.


This particular portal was relatively young. The theorists were still arguing about exactly how and why portals formed in the first place, but it had been obvious for better than a hundred and eighty years that new ones were constantly, if not exactly frequently, being formed. This one had formed long enough ago that the scores of gigantic trees which had been sliced in half vertically by its creation had become dead, well-dried hulks, but almost a dozen of them still stood, like gaunt, maimed chimneys. It wouldn't be long before the bitter northern winters toppled them, as well, yet the fact that it hadn't already happened suggested that they'd been dead for no more than a few years.


New portals are forming all the time, and this event is pretty rough on the surrounding area. Both because the portal slices and dices the land for miles and because both sides equalize somewhat in temperature and pressure and when the portal first forms this process is violent.


Jasak saw the display flicker to life and moved a little closer to look over her shoulder. She sensed his presence and looked up. For an instant, he thought she was going to be annoyed with him for crowding her, but then she smiled and tilted her wrist so that he could see the display more clearly.

In many ways, it looked a great deal like a standard Authority navigation unit. He quickly identified the latitude and longitude readouts, and the built-in clocks—one set to the base camp's time, and one which automatically adjusted to local time on this side of the portal—and the compass and directional indicator arrows. But there was another arrow in the glassy heart of the sphere of sarkolis crystal, and it was flanked by two waterfall displays which had never been part of any navigation unit he'd ever used.

"This one," she said quietly, tapping the green waterfall, "indicates the portal's approximate distance. And this one," she tapped the red waterfall, "indicates its measured field strength. And the arrow, of course," she grinned, "indicates the direction."


Magic PDA and GPS, made of a green sarkolis crystal which serves as the basis for all their magic items. This one has an experimental portal detector app.


"But the important thing," he continued, allowing her to drop the subject of her own competency, "is that I've never had a nav unit that pointed me directly at an unexplored portal before. It beats the hell, if you'll pardon the language, out of humping the standard detectors around the countryside on a blind search pattern. Especially someplace like this—"


How portal-finding is traditionally done. Sweep the whole damn planet with short range detectors. I imagine that takes a while, even with aerial transport. Then again, portals are miles across and high, assuming any detector is going to be better at finding them than the Mk. I eyeball, or what's the point, it's a bit less daunting. A bit.


"You may have heard that magisters can be just a little . . . paranoid about their research." She smiled briefly, and Jasak managed to turn a laugh into a not particularly convincing cough. "A little paranoid," in this case, was rather like saying that White Mist Lake was "a little damp."

"Well, all right, maybe it goes a bit further than that," she said with a reluctant grin. But the grin faded quickly, and she shook her head. "In fact, it goes a lot further than that where Magister Halathyn is concerned. Especially for something like this. There's no way he was going to let even a whisper about this project out where the Mythalans might hear about it before he was ready to publish."

Jasak nodded in suddenly sober understanding of his own.

"While I'd never like to suggest that Magister Halathyn doesn't hold you in the highest respect, Hundred Olderhan," she continued, "the real reason we're out here? It's the farthest away from the Mythal Falls Academy he could get for his field test. And—"


So, 20 worlds is the farthest they could get from home? And I somehow doubt it's just coincidence that Halthyan wound up with a commander who is a close personal friend and set to inherit the land his shiny school of magic is built on when performing this historic experiment.


"Either the thing's completely screwed up—which is always possible, however little we might want to admit it—or else there is at least a total of five portals associated with this one." A jerk of her head indicated the swamp portal. "Or, more precisely, this one is one of at least five associated with this one," she amended, bringing up the original display on the strongest and nearest of the other portals.


Size of the Hell's Gate cluster.


"You said 'at least,' " Jasak observed intently, and she nodded again.

"We never expected to hit anything like this on our first field test, Sir Jasak, so there are only a total of six 'slots' in the spellware. In theory, we could nest as many as fifteen or twenty—it just never occurred to us to do it. I suppose that was partly because the Zholhara Cluster only has six portals, and it seemed unlikely anyone might find one even bigger."


And yes, magictech works by nesting command-activated spells in the green crystals. Thus, the spells laid on a device, and thus the functions it can perform, or called spellware. Which is where that Mythalan caste division comes in. The average person can't activate these devices, and the people who can do just that are stuck with whatever spells got preloaded in, unable to cast on their own or modify the spellware.


"The Zholhara portals are as much as three thousand miles apart. The maximum range on our detector—assuming we got our sums right—is only about nine hundred miles. In fact, according to the readouts, the farthest one we've detected is less than six hundred miles from this portal right here."


Range of the revolutionary new portal sniffer. And how uncommonly close the portals are on Hell's Gate, the nearest being only 30 miles (48 km) away.


There was something . . . ominous about the officer's total immobility. That would have been true under any circumstances, but Janaki chan Calirath wasn't any old Imperial Marine officer. No one was supposed to take any official notice of that, but every member of the platoon-captain's command was a Ternathian (which, chan Yaran knew, wasn't exactly an accident), and that made this officer's petrified lack of response downright frightening.


And over to a Sharonan. I'm just going to go ahead and explain, like Mythalans, Ternathians sometimes add a descriptor to surnames. Well, mostly just "chan" for every former or presently serving member of the military. Hence, a military unit of all Ternathians will have "chan Calirath" and "chan Yaran."

A spot of Sharonan history. Ternathia, Ireland on our map, was the place where psychic talents were discovered in the Late Bronze Age, and the Ternathian Empire, a Constitutional Monarchy in the Brisith model (I sense the hand of Weber in this) effectively ruled the world from then until the early modern era. Or at least all Europe, Africa and the lion's share of Asia. In the last few centuries, the Empire has contracted to just Western Europe, plus Poland and Sicily, peacefully ceding territory to independence and home rule movements over time and retaining a stunning amount of global goodwill over it.

Ternathia has been ruled from time immemorial by the Calirath dynasty. Because they're all freaking OP precogs, able to forsee major disasters and threats to their lives. It's some weird genetic quirk, they break all the normal precog rules, but it's definitely inheritable. Which is the reason (well, a reason) the crown prince's military unit (also a British tradition, the military or diplomatic service) is manned entirely by specially briefed Ternathians.

Mostly though, it just amuses me to think there's a reality out there where the Irish conquered the world. Also that the procedure for prophetic visions is "wait it out, and get a strong drink ready for when he's done."


Unfortunately, not everyone recognized that, and the Arcanan Army's tradition, particularly in its Andaran units, was for officers and noncoms to remain within their original brigade or division for their entire careers. It produced a powerful sense of unit identification and was an undoubted morale enhancer, but it could also enhance petty resentments and hostilities.


Back to Arcana, and officers and noncoms tend to stay in more-or-less the same unit for their entire careers, so best to get used to each other.


"What makes you say that?"

"I could say it's because I'm Gifted, and that I was always good at social analysis spells. Which happens to be true, actually." Her smile had considerably more amusement in it than his had. "On the other hand, those spells have always been overrated in the popular press. They work quite well for mass analyses, like the polling organizations undertake, but they're pretty much useless on the microlevel." She shrugged. "So instead of falling back on the prestige and reputation of my Gift, I'll just say that he seems a trifle . . . sullen this morning."


Social Analysis spells, a lot of these do sound like computer programming, particularly the emphasis on math in magic.


Falsan chan Salgmun froze in disbelief, staring down at the river.

The man—and it was, indisputably, a man, however he'd gotten here—looked completely out of place. And not simply because this was a virgin world, which meant, by definition, that no one lived there.

It wasn't just his uniform, although that pattern of dense green, black, and white would have been far better suited to a tropical rain forest somewhere than to the mixed conifers and deciduous trees towering above him. Nor was it his coloring, which, after all, was nothing extraordinary. It was the totality of his appearance—the peculiar spiked helmet, covered in the same inappropriate camouflage fabric of which his uniform was made; the clubbed braid of bright, golden hair spilling over the back of his collar; the knee-high, tightly laced boots; the short sword at his left hip . . . and the peculiar looking crossbow carried in his right hand.

It was like some weird composite image, some insane juxtapositioning of modern textiles and manufactured goods with medieval weaponry, and it couldn't be here. Couldn't exist. In eighty years of exploration under the Portal Authority's auspices, no trace of any other human civilization had ever been discovered.

Until, chan Salgmun realized, today.

And what the fuck do I do now?

* * *

Trooper Osmuna stared at the impossible apparition. It wore brown trousers, short boots, and a green jacket, and its slouch hat looked like something a Tukorian cattle herder might have worn. It had a puny looking sheath knife at one hip, certainly not anything anyone might have called a proper sword, and something else—something with a handgrip, almost like one of the hand crossbows some hunters used for small game—in an abbreviated scabbard on the other hip. It was also holding something in both hands. Something like an arbalest, but with no bow stave.

It couldn't be here, he thought. Not after two hundred years! Despite all of his training, all of his experience, Osmuna discovered that he'd been totally unprepared for what had been laughingly dismissed as "the other guy contingency" literally for generations.

His heart seemed to have stopped out of sheer shock, but then he felt his pulse begin to race and adrenaline flooded his system. He didn't know exactly what the other man was holding, or how it worked, but he knew from the way he held it that it was a weapon of some sort.

And what the fuck do I do now? he wondered frantically.

* * *

Chan Salgmun shook himself. He was only a private employee of the Chalgyn Consortium these days, working for one of the private firms licensed by the Portal Authority to explore the links between the universes. But in his day, he'd served in the Ternathian Army, which considered itself the best on Sharona, with reason, and he recognized the other man's confusion. Confusion that could be dangerous, under the circumstances.

Here we both stand, armed, and scared as shit, he thought. All we need is for one of us to fuck up. And that damned crossbow of his is cocked and ready to go. I know I don't intend to do anything stupid . . . but what about him?

His thumb moved, very carefully disengaging the safety on his Model 9 rifle.

* * *

Osmuna saw the not-arbalest move slowly, stealthily, and the level of adrenaline flooding his system rocketed upward. Doctrine was clear on this point. In the inconceivable event that another human civilization was encountered, contact was to be made peacefully, if at all possible. But the overriding responsibility was to ensure that news of the encounter got home. Which meant the people who had that news had to be alive—and free—to deliver it.

And if Osmuna intended to stay alive and uncaptured, it probably wouldn't be a very good idea to let this stranger point an unknown weapon at him.

He moved his left hand to the forearm of his arbalest and tipped it upward slightly.


First Contact. It does not go well at all.

Also, we see that while exploration is strictly a government/military operation for the Arcanans, on Sharona they went with the private option.
Last edited by Ahriman238 on 2015-02-03 10:48pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-03 10:46pm

But now let's look at these Sharonans.


He had his rifle slung across one shoulder for greater ease in carrying, and a Halanch and Welnahr revolver rode his belt.

The lever action rifle and heavy single-action pistol were for protection against inimical wildlife—today, at least. There was literally no chance that they'd run into anything like claim jumpers or a gang of portal pirates in a virgin universe, but that wasn't always the case out here on the leading edge of the frontier. Shaylar was more than a little relieved that he wasn't going to need all that hardware today, but she had to admit he made a brave and dashing figure, standing there in the golden sunlight that filtered down like shafts of molten butter through the gorgeously colored leaves overhead.


Some of the military hardware Sharona has, revolvers and bolt-action rifles. And the existence of things like claim jumpers and pirates.


Jathmar's sun-bronzed face broke into a broad grin as her delight sparkled to him through their marriage bond.


Generally, people from Sharona have one or two, on very rare occasion three psychic Talents. However, often when two Talented people like each other enough, they form a telepathic bond. This is, AFAIK, somethign they've never seriously researched, it's just how it's been for literally millennia.


Since most of the universes explored to date did have cougars in this region, and since—so far as anyone had been able to tell after eighty years of constant exploration—every portal's universe was very nearly identical to every other, Shaylar didn't mind in the least Jathmar's tendency to run about armed like a proper brigand.


The wildlife is usually there, but no man. Which does make me wonder about the vast number of species we've rendered extinct and their existence in the multiverse.


The universe they'd mapped prior to entering this one had connected via a portal in the middle of what had to be one of the rainiest spots in any known universe. Back home, it would have been northwest Rokhana, near the mouth of the Yirshan River where it spilled into the immense Western Ocean. They'd been incredibly lucky in that their arrival portal and the portal leading to this universe were less than three hundred miles apart, and they knew it. Portals in such close proximity to one another were almost unheard of, and correspondingly valuable.


Southern California, essentially. Not sure what the Yirshan river is supposed to be. 300 miles from Hell's Gate portal to the one leading up-chain. across the American South West.


Despite that, and despite the guidance Darcel Kinlafia, their Portal Hound, had been able to give them, it had taken them almost a month and a half to cover the two hundred and sixty-five dripping wet miles between them, and the last three weeks had been horrible.


At least you can trade notes with Olderhan and his people on what miserable careers you've chosen and how hard it was to get here. See! Common ground already. Anyways, we have our first mentioned Talent, discounting people talking cryptically about chan Calirath's vision. Darcel Kinlafia is the team's Portal Hound. He can sense portals from hundreds of miles away, and has found a way to parlay that into a profitable career path,


Grafin Halifu had favored Jathmar and Shaylar—carefully out of earshot of the men of his command—with a piquant rendition of his opinion of the multiverse's inconsiderate ill manners in placing a portal in that particular godsforsaken spot. And since Uromathians worshiped just about as many deities as there were individual Uromathians, a spot had to be nigh well lost at the back of forever before all the Uromathian gods decided to forsake it.

For some odd reason, the company-captain had seemed less than amused by Ghartoun chan Hagrahyl's decision to name that universe "New Uromath" in honor of Halifu's homeland.


A military company is following them, and is fortifying the last portal. Uromathia is effectively China, plus a little. The Uromathians are among the very few nations to never bow to Ternathia, and are known for their canniness, ancient culture, multiplicity of gods, and their deep and abiding distrust for all things Ternathian. Actually Uromathia is more like a collection of kingdoms bound by a common language and culture than any kind of unified force, except when resisting outside invaders. There is a "Uromathian Empire" but they only actually control a bit over half of Uromathia.


Like her, Darcel Kinlafia was a Voice, a Talented long-distance communications specialist. Voices, who were born with the gifts of perfect recall and the ability to connect, mind-to-mind, with other Voices, were essential in many aspects of Sharonian society.

Governments, the Portal Authority, and private industries ranging from manufacturing to news broadcasters used Voices to transmit complex messages that were word- and image-perfect. The military used Voices, as well, for its long-range communications. But as useful as Voices were throughout Sharona's multiple-universe civilization, they were utterly indispensable to the work of surveying new universes.

Every survey crew fielded a bare minimum of two Voices. One remained at the portal giving access to a new universe, serving as a link between the field team conducting the survey and the established settlements in the universes behind them. The more portals a field team surveyed, the more Voices it needed to cover the portals in their particular transit chain. And when their team reached the distance limit of Shaylar's transmission ability, they would need to move Darcel forward and replace him with a new Voice in a game of telepathic leapfrog.


Voices are telepaths, not in the sense that they are mind-readers, but they can send their thoughts to others. Not in a way that would allow mind-control either. They communicate images, feelings and words with perfect clarity and instant comprehension.

The downsides are, they can't send through portals and they have a limited range. IIRC something like five hundred miles. On the core Sharonan worlds the Voice Network is vast and redundantly staffed. Sometimes a Voice will need to step through a portal, and often they will send Voice back and forth over oceans bearing messages. Out here, it's more like a very fragile daisy-chain of Voice relays sitting in tents and cabins waiting for a call.


During the past ten months, Chalgyn Consortium's teams had found no less than three new portals, including New Uromathia and this one, which they hadn't named yet. That had forced them to split up, trying to claim and explore them all, and that was before they crossed into this universe and started to realize what they might have stumbled across.


Which explains why their forty-man survey crew has something like a dozen people right now.


In all of its eighty previous years of exploration, the Portal Authority had located and charted only forty-nine portals. The Chalgyn teams had already increased that total by over six percent, and if Darcel was right about this portal, the consequences for their entire civilization (not to mention their own bank accounts) would be stupendous.


Sharona is kind of the junior partner in exploration. They've been doing this only half as long as Arcana with less than a third the results to show. 49 alt-Earths charted, no word yet on settling, by Sharona.


Fortunately, the Portal Authority was in charge of all portal transit traffic, which meant the units of the PAAF—the Portal Authority Armed Forces, composed of multinational military units assigned to Authority duty—built the portal forts and provided most of the personnel to man them, including at least one Portal Authority Voice. Or, that was the way it was supposed to work, at any rate. This portal was so new, and there were so many other portals along what had been designated the Karys Chain that needed forts, as well, that the military hadn't been able to bring in a new Voice, yet.


Ah, the government provides portal forts, garrisons and Voice contact with home. Some things you just can't privatize, like life-saving reinforcements and communication with them.


They could, if emergency required it, get a message all the way back to humanity's birth world, Sharona, in little more than a week. If not for the water gaps between some of the portals, which had to be crossed by ship, since no one could permanently post a relay Voice in the middle of an ocean, they could have gotten a message home in a matter of hours.


These must be some pretty short water gaps, even allowing that you guys have steam-ships, if it only holds up your mail a week in crossing dozens of worlds.


Shaylar was grateful that she would never be the Voice stuck at the portal, just waiting for someone else's messages. She wasn't merely the Voice assigned to the survey team, she was married to—and inextricably linked with—its primary Mapper. That made her not only an integral part of the survey, but meant she was critical to the team's primary mission: mapping a new universe. Jathmar could "See" the terrain around him, but Shaylar was the team's actual cartographer. It was her job to translate Jathmar's mental "pictures" of distant terrain features into the maps which would guide later exploration and settlements. Even if they stumbled across another portal, they wouldn't—couldn't—leave Shaylar there to cover it.


Jathmar's particular talent, Mapping, lets him psychically "see" the terrain for a five-mile radius. Hills, rocks, caves, streams. Since Shaylar is mentally linked to him, she sees what he sees and sits back in her tent drawing the maps while he goes a-walking to expand them. Sure, technically you could use the same maps for all planets but sometimes the devil is in the details. Besides, you need a good Mapper, an astronomer or both to tell you exactly where in the world the portal dropped you.

At least, if you're going to start claiming oil/gold/fertile land.

On the whole, Sharonian women enjoyed equal status with Sharonian men, although legal rights varied from one kingdom or republic to the next. After all, there was no question about female intelligence or inherent capabilities in a population where one in five people possessed at least some degree of Talent. That sort of discrimination had gone out with the dark ages, thousands upon thousands of years ago, during the first Ternathian Empire.

But mapping virgin universes was arduous, frequently dangerous work. The Portal Authority, whose governing members were drawn from each of Sharona's dozens of nations and city-states—not to mention the current Ternathian Empire—had decreed that women should not risk the dangers routinely braved by virgin-portal survey teams.

Shaylar was the Portal Authority's first exception to that ironclad rule, which had carried the weight of eighty years of precedent. She was very much aware that her performance was under scrutiny. She had the chance of a lifetime—the chance to blaze the way for other women who wanted to explore where no other human had ever set foot—but she was equally conscious of her responsibility to prove once and for all that it was time to set that long-standing rule permanently aside.


Women's Lib in Sharona. 20% of the population get a Talent, gender is a nonissue and it's been thousands of years since there was meaningful discrimination. But once the first Portal opened up it was decided that exploring new universes was too dangerous for girls. Kind of funny, if the greatest threat is wildlife or inclement weather, it's not like men are much more capable at this tech-level of handling these. Claim jumpers might be a thing, but enough to overturn generations of precedent? Kinda skeptical.


Any survey was always slow work, of course, but it had taken five full days just to map the portal itself. Not surprisingly, since it was by far the largest any of them had ever seen, far less mapped.

In fact, at over thirty miles wide, it was actually larger than the Calirath Gate. That made it the largest portal ever discovered, and their first task on stepping through it had been to map the actual portal and lay out the grid coordinates of what would become this universe's primary base camp, one day's journey from Company-Captain Halifu's fort. This one would be a substantial affair—a fully manned fort and forward supply depot that would house Portal Authority administrators, medical teams, more soldiers, and enough equipment and supplies to serve as the staging area for other exploration teams, construction crews, miners, and the settlers who would inevitably follow.


The Hell's Gate/New Uromathia portal is thirty miles across.


As they pushed forward, they'd built small brush enclosures at the end of each full day's travel, designed to keep out unfriendly local wildlife. They'd remained in place at each camp long enough to thoroughly map the surrounding region—which meant hiking far enough to telepathically Map a twenty-mile grid-square—then pushed forward another full day's journey and built another camp to start the process all over again.


Survey team procedure, march a day, set up a secure camp survey/map 400 sq. miles thanks to Jarnath. Repeat.


It was no accident that the Portal Authority had drawn upon the Ternathian Empire's method of expansion. Ternathia had been building empires for five thousand years, after all. That was an immense span of time in which to develop methods that worked, and the Portal Authority had borrowed heavily whenever and wherever appropriate, including the custom of building fortified camps along any line of exploratory advance through virgin territory. The fact that Ternathia provided over forty percent of the PA's multinational military contingent, and something like half of its total attached officers, might also have had a little something to do with it, Shaylar supposed.

With only twenty people on their currently understrength crew, she and her crewmates couldn't build the elaborate stockades which had comprised the Ternathian system of day-forts. But they could construct a perimeter of interwoven branches that served to keep out anything short of a herd of charging elephants. There were even tales from veteran crews of stampeding cattle and bison herds numbering in the tens of thousands, turning aside and flowing around the camp, rather than run directly into the jagged, sharp projecting branches of its brush wall. All in all, the system worked as well for the Portal Authority as it had for the Ternathians.


Where the system came from. I'm kind of curious about these improvised fortifications now.


The Republic of Faltharia, colonized long after the last real shooting war had rampaged across Sharona, had only two neighbors, neither of whom were interested in expanding their territories through conquest. Not when there was free land for the taking in unexplored universes, just waiting to be colonized. Jathmar had learned his woodcraft during his childhood, living near and honing his Talent in the trackless Kylie Forest, the greatest of Faltharia's protected state forests, which preserved the wilderness Faltharia's earliest settlers had found when they arrived from Farnalia nearly three hundred years ago.


Jathmar's ancestry. He comes from the Republic of Faltharia (also in the Great Lakes region) not from Sharona though, New Sharona. His home was colonized by Farnalians, we'd say Scandinavians.

Also important. Though there are many nations on Sharona and on it's colony worlds, the portals mean there is more or less infinite unclaimed land and resources "out there." A vast frontier, open to all through the Portal Treaty, which means there's very little reason to seek trouble with neighboring states where you both live.


They frequently toiled well past darkness to lay down their expanding grid. Jathmar didn't need daylight to "see" terrain features, and Shaylar could work by the light of the oil lamps they carried in their packs, with reflectors to give her plenty of light to fill in the charts and field reports she was responsible for creating.


Jathmar's powers work in the dark. But are they sensitive enough to keep him from walking into trees or twisting his ankle? I suppose they must be, if he goes running around at night without a light.


With any luck, their chosen direction would carry them straight toward some kind of valuable real estate that they could claim for the Chalgyn Consortium.

The consortium's main income, of course, would come from portal-usage fees. Once a survey crew discovered a new portal, the company which employed them earned the right to charge fees for every person and every load of goods that traveled through it. The Portal Authority actually ran the portals and set the fees, which were very low on an individual basis. But the cumulative totals added up to a staggering annual income for busy portals.

That was the driving force behind fielding survey crews. Any crew that found a new portal guaranteed a potentially massive income for its company. Mineral wealth and other natural resource rights simply added to the lucrative venture, and the team which found them shared in the money derived from them.


The company that discovers a portal can charge usage fees, set by the Portal Authority. Plus whatever real-estate or natural resources their survey crews can plant a flag on.


Now Jathmar offered his wife an arm, and Shaylar giggled as she laid her hand regally on his elbow. The gesture was curiously refined, in that subtle and mysterious way Harkalan women seemed to master in their cradles. For just an instant, the grubby, dirt stained dungarees and scuffed hiking boots wavered as his mind's eye showed him a vision of his wife in High Harkalan formal dress. She looked stunning in its multitude of embroidered layers, each one dyed a different, luminous color, setting her skin aglow with the colors of sun-struck emeralds and gold-flecked lapis and the rich, burgundy tones of Fratha wine.

Blue lapis remained to this day the most precious gemstone in any Harkalan culture, for reasons Jathmar still wasn't sure he entirely grasped. Harkalan mythology tended toward the complex, with layers of meaning Shaylar was still explaining after nearly ten years of wedded bliss.


Shaylar is Harkalan, Sharonan India.


Unlike Shaylar, Falsan was not a telepath, and without something like their own marriage bond, not even a Voice as strong as Shaylar could contact someone who wasn't telepathically Talented. Falsan chan Salgmun was as steady and reliable as they came, but accidents happened, and Jathmar didn't want to risk trailing a man with a loaded rifle in unknown territory.


Think we have a bit of a canon conflict here. I want to read again more to be sure, but I seem to recall anyone with a Talent can receive a Voice transmission, they just can't reply. This may be important later.


Jathmar would essentially be walking along an L-shaped path that would fill in a square-shaped area of ground. Survey base grids were always square, given the nature of a terrain scanner's Talent. This morning's first square would begin the newest section of their base grid for this day-fort. Once that grid was completed, they would decide which direction to move to begin the next grid-square of exploration. Ideally, that would depend on where they were, and what valuable resources might be nearby.

"If we can get a good look at the stars tonight," Shaylar said hopefully, "we ought to be able to place our location a little more precisely."

"That'll make me feel better, I don't mind admitting," chan Hagrahyl agreed with a nod. "It's one thing to know approximately where you are, but I'll be happier when a star-fix pinpoints our location more accurately."

-snip-

Based on the vegetation and wildlife, Jathmar was betting they were somewhere in the northern portion of what would have been his own birth country, back on Sharona. The massive oak trees, sugar maples, tulip poplars, and sycamores, coupled with the cardinals and chipmunks, and the majestic white-tail deer they'd spotted, all suggested a spot within perhaps two or three hundred miles of the lakeshore city of Serikai in his native Faltharia.

If so, the five immense lakes of Faltharia—larger than many a Sharonian sea—should lie very close to their present position. Jathmar had made a private bet with himself that they would end up fixing their position within a few days' hike of this universe's analog of Emlin Falls. Emlin was one of the two most spectacular waterfalls on Sharona—and, of course, on any of its many duplicates which had already been discovered and at least partially explored. But Jathmar wasn't thinking solely about the scenery. If they were near Emlin Falls, they wouldn't be too terribly far from some valuable iron ore deposits. Still, he didn't want to raise anyone's hopes yet, so he said nothing about his suspicion to chan Hagrahyl.


Bets that Emlin means Niagara? They know roughly where they are already, but for purposes of securing good claims quickly would like the detailed version ASAP.


Jathmar and Shaylar headed for the eastern end of the camp, passing Rilthan's tent, where the gunsmith was busy making field repairs to one of the rifles which had started jamming yesterday. The tools of his trade were spread out around him, along with pieces of the partially disassembled weapon. It was one of the Model 9's. The Ternathian Army had disposed of thousands of the lever-action .48-caliber rifles on the civilian market over the last several years. They were powerful, reliable weapons, especially with the newly developed "smokeless" powders, even if their tubular magazines made it unsafe to use the equally new (and ballistically far superior) "Spitzer-pointed" rounds. They were certainly sufficient for any civilian need, at any rate, and the Army had just about completed reequipping its active-duty formations with the newer bolt-action Model 10.


More fodder for their level of advancement in firearms. Would probably mean more to someone a lot better informed on firearms than I. Smokeless powder is relatively new, as are Spitzer-point, or pointy, bullets.


Pack animals were essential to a long expedition, and donkeys were sturdy enough to require very little veterinary care. They were also rugged enough to subsist on vegetation on which horses would have starved, although they couldn't match the speed and carrying capacity of the mules the military used as pack animals.


And they have donkeys and a dedicated driver for them. Again, eminently practical if you're heading out hundreds of miles from any road.


Shaylar's features bore the unmistakable stamp of Harkalan ancestry, as well they might, since Shurkhal had once been the cultural center of the Harkalan Empire. Swallowed up by the massive Ternathian Empire, ancient Harkala had prospered, thanks to its placement along the trade routes running east and west. When Ternathia had finally dissolved most of its empire, retreating back to its core provinces, the Harkalan kingdoms had come into their own again as independent realms. Shaylar's family wasn't part of the wealthy traders' class, let alone the ruling families, but they had welcomed him—a genuine outsider—with open arms and that worlds-famous, genuine Shurkhali welcome that Ternathian bards once had written of so eloquently.


Bit more Sharonan history, Harkala resurgent.


He'd even adopted the customary "-ar" suffix married couples from Shurkhal added to their first names once they'd exchanged wedding vows. It wasn't a Faltharian custom, but he'd told her he wanted to follow it before she could work up the nerve to ask if he might consider it.


Is there no one in any of these dozen or so cultures that don't have name modifiers?


Shaylar's mother was a cetacean translator. A very good one, in fact, employed by one of the largest cetacean institutes on Sharona. Shalassar Kolmayr-Brintal had come to Shurkhal as a young woman, following her own dreams. She'd helped found the Cetacean Institute's Shurkhali Aquatic Realms Embassy, which was—as sheer happenstance would have it—located on land the Institute had purchased from Thamin Kolmayr. Their unexpected courtship was still Institute legend.


And Shaylar's mom is the Dolphin Whisperer. A Talent, I believe.


Of course, if that black liquid seeping up through the sand in her family's ancient holding proved to be as valuable as some of the Ternathian engineers thought it might, Clan Kolmayr might just find itself possessed of more wealth than their entire lineage—stretching back nearly two thousand years—had ever possessed. That was what everyone else seemed to think, at any rate, although Shaylar wasn't so sure there was enough of the "crude oil" beneath the family holdings to make it worth the developers' while. Investing the time and machinery necessary to drill wells and pump out whatever oil might be there would surely take a hefty chunk of money up front.

And once they'd pumped out whatever was there, what would they use it for? She couldn't help feeling skeptical about those newfangled engines that used the refined products made from oil. She couldn't imagine a world where the noisy, smelly, dirty things would ever be as widespread and useful as the more wide-eyed fanatics claimed they would.


Just starting a change over to oil, coal and steam are still kings in Sharona.


Braiheri Futhai, the team's naturalist, was peering through the weeds, sketching something in his notebook. Elevu Gitel, the team's geologist, was dutifully absorbed in taking soil samples. Futhai had already laid out his collecting nets, waiting until the mist burned off and the dew dried from the grass before scooping butterflies and other insects out of the air. Both men were self-absorbed, scarcely aware of one another.


Two scientists on the team. Since it's not like there are going to be revolutionary new discoveries, I'm thinking they're also there to help quickly identify where they are. Well, the geologist is probably there to confirm any mineral wealth they find.


Barris Kasell was a former soldier, an Arpathian who'd served his time in the infantry of his native kingdom, which made him something of an oddity. Most Arpathians were horsemen, renowned for their equestrian skill and ferocity, both of which they needed to guard their borders from the powerful Uromathian kingdoms and empires south and east of them.


Mongolian.


"A black-and-white chipmunk! Gods and thunders, a black-and-white chipmunk! And look—there are dozens of them, so it's not an isolated deviant individual!" Over the course of their three-day march, that had become Futhai's favorite cry. "They're everywhere! It's not an isolated population! Black-and-white chipmunks! A true new subspecies!"


Or maybe there are new discoveries to be made.


Not that there weren't profound similarities between most of Sharona's great societies. With psionic Talents running through at least a fifth of the world's population, there were bound to be some similarities. And given the enormous territory the Ternathian emperors had once ruled, and the colonies that had spread across vast oceans from Ternathian shores, at least half of Sharona's population could claim at least some Ternathian heritage, whether it was by blood relation or the holdovers of colonial civic administration.


A mostly global empire reigned for five thousand years, and has only recently withdrawn to a single continent. That's got to produce a certain level of cultural homogeneity.


For Jathmar, the mechanics involved seemed to be a sort of looking "up" and then "out" along an invisible gridwork that registered as faint threads of light. He Saw terrain superimposed across that gridwork, like shadows glimpsed through mist. For Shaylar, the mechanics of her Talent took the form of a sudden gestalt, a totality of impressions that simply appeared, complete, in her own mind's eye. She Saw what he did as a whole, complete image—like a stage play containing nothing but scenery. Had Shaylar been in contact with another Voice, the images would have been far sharper, more like seeing it with her own eyes, rather than catching shadows that had the look of a watercolor painting left too long in strong sunlight.


What it's like to see the world the way Jathmar does, and to touch minds like Shaylar.


The farther apart she and Jathmar—or another telepath—were, the more concentration it took to make contact and maintain it. Shaylar's maximum range was just over eight hundred miles. That put her in the top ten percent of all Voices, although at that distance it took every ounce of concentration she could summon to hold contact.

Other Voices had even more limited ranges, which gave her team a distinct advantage. When she and Darcel had first been assigned to the same team, Darcel had been startled at the range she achieved. Startled and a little worried, since his own maximum range was barely two-thirds as great as hers. It was entirely possible for Shaylar to go far enough out of his range that he could pick up her transmissions, yet be too far away for him to transmit a reply back to her. They'd worked carefully together in a well-established colony world before heading for the wilderness, using the railroads in a very serious game of leapfrog to gauge effective distances at which they could both make contact. In the end, they'd found that he could Hear her at up to eight hundred miles, whereas she could Hear him at almost six hundred and fifty. Unfortunately, at anything over five hundred and eighty miles, he could Hear her only if he knew she would be trying to contact him and went into Voice trance to Listen for her, which limited their effective maximum range to that figure.


Voice ranges. Shaylar is in the 90th percentile at 800 miles (~1290 km) while Darcel Kinlafia at least is more like 600. Which dictates how far they can wander from the portal where he's stationed.


The one thing everyone wished for was a Talent that would lead them directly to new portals.

The best they could manage at the moment was to push outward with as many teams as they could reasonably field, with at least one member of each team sensitive to the still unexplained physics behind portal formation. Some—and only a few—Talented people, like Darcel, could actually sense the presence of other portals well enough to at least provide a compass direction to them, which was enormously better than nothing. Still, the task of actually locating no more than one or two portals anywhere within any given universe, when an entire planet identical to their own had to be searched, was far worse than hunting a needle in a haystack.

Shaylar shuddered every time she thought about the Haysam Portal, for example. The inbound portal from New Sharona was almost eight thousand miles from the outbound portal to Reyshar, and over six thousand of those miles were across the Western Ocean. Getting to that portal must have been an indescribable nightmare, she often thought. Indeed, she considered it remarkable that Sharonian exploration teams had managed to find as many portals as they had, even after eighty years of steady exploration.


Portal Hounds are rare, and can't usually provide more than a general direction.


The Portal Authority had already sent a full contingent of soldiers and supplies down the transit chain to build forts at each of the new portals they'd opened up. The Authority didn't conduct exploration, but it maintained absolute jurisdiction over every portal into a new universe. Private companies hired teams like Shaylar and Jathmar's to push forward into new universes, with the greatest incentive known to humanity: profit. The Portal Authority charged only "users' fees" on traffic through a portal, but it was the internationally appointed guardian of all of the other rights and commerce which passed through the portals. And the rights to land and minerals and other valuable natural resources belonged to whatever company or individual got there first and staked a claim to them.


So it's the PA that charges portal fees? Confused.

But whatever is in on Shaylar's maps and in her notes is theirs!


None of the animals in this Sharona had ever even seen a human being. They had no reason to be afraid of humans, which could be delightful, but could also be dangerous, since it meant their reaction to the presence of those humans was often difficult to predict. Personally, however charming she might find it to have wild deer willing to take food from her hand, Shaylar was in favor of having cougars or grizzly bears be wary enough of humans to leave her in peace.


Another downside to universe-hopping.


Once she was sure of her environs, Shaylar descended the steep bank and crouched down to wash smudges of graphite off her hands. The water was shockingly cold, sending an ache up the bones of her hands to her wrists. Somewhere far upstream, several miles away, from the sound of it, a distant CRACK of rifle fire split the silence.


And bringing us full circle. Back to First Contact.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2015-02-04 12:13am

It's a shame the series went nowhere after two books because before Weber went off to other projects there was indications this would be a three way accidental conflict with magic, VS psychics VS 2010 Earth. It's a series I like very much for it's settings and the overall story it was telling and less so for the characters. Since you can spot the Harrington at ten paces. A Harrington born on Grayson but still a Harrington.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby B5B7 » 2015-02-04 08:35am

A third book is coming; Weber had to get a new co-author [Joelle Presby] because Linda Evans has an illness. There will be at least two more books, the title of the third one 'The Road to Hell' , which will probably be a 2017 release. The new world will definitely not be 2010 Earth as that would be far too powerful. It will probably be an equivalent of 1930 Earth, with some variance.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2015-02-04 09:14am

B5B7 wrote:A third book is coming; Weber had to get a new co-author [Joelle Presby] because Linda Evans has an illness. There will be at least two more books, the title of the third one 'The Road to Hell' , which will probably be a 2017 release. The new world will definitely not be 2010 Earth as that would be far too powerful. It will probably be an equivalent of 1930 Earth, with some variance.

What I'm remembering from the 2009 Interview was that the 2010 earth would not have magic or psychic powers and it would be an even more junior partner with it's gate forming recently (Like in the last year recently) leaving it only two or three hops from Hell's Gate but with a divided planet and ongoing tensions about the giant gate to another earth opening up wherever it did.

Again that was 2009 with Linda Evans, the upcoming 2016 release who knows what or who the third world would be.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby eyl » 2015-02-04 09:50am

B5B7 wrote:A third book is coming; Weber had to get a new co-author [Joelle Presby] because Linda Evans has an illness. There will be at least two more books, the title of the third one 'The Road to Hell' , which will probably be a 2017 release. The new world will definitely not be 2010 Earth as that would be far too powerful. It will probably be an equivalent of 1930 Earth, with some variance.


According to a post on Weber's forum, he anticipates a Summer 2016 release (the delay is at least partially because Baen is republishing the first two books)

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-04 10:47pm

Mr Bean wrote:It's a shame the series went nowhere after two books because before Weber went off to other projects there was indications this would be a three way accidental conflict with magic, VS psychics VS 2010 Earth. It's a series I like very much for it's settings and the overall story it was telling and less so for the characters. Since you can spot the Harrington at ten paces. A Harrington born on Grayson but still a Harrington.


There are an awful lot of Weber-isms. Like most Sharonan characters and the way exposition is given. Though I can;t think off the top of my head of any character that made me think "yeah, that's Honor."

Was going to update up to Fallen Timbers, but the computer ate it. Another night.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby biostem » 2015-02-04 11:11pm

I would think that, unless the magic empire can mass produce firearm-equivalents, then they'd be at a huge disadvantage if a full-on war were to erupt. The only wildcard would be that the magic world has much more reliable air support - the psychic/tech world may have, at most, some hot air balloons or maybe simple zeppelins.

Maybe I missed it, but how does the portal company enforce fees for portal travel? If these things are 10's or more miles across, then either they have immense resources at their disposal, or they simple erect their facilities at the safe crossing points...

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-05 05:42pm

There's a few more wildcards and surprises in store for both sides.

The Portal Authority builds fortresses by portals and enforces the transit fees to the private companies. It's not impossible to sneak past them, but it's a lot more dangerous and inconvenient than just forking over a relatively minor toll. The details actually get a lot of discussion in chapter 4.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-05 09:37pm

Smaller dose, because I need to get to bed and don't want to tempt the computer gods.

Threbuch whistled the approved countersignal Garlath had failed to give, and leaves parted as Jugthar Sendahli stepped from concealment. The dark-skinned soldier who'd fled Mythal and his menial status as a member of the non-Gifted garthan caste was one of Jasak's best troopers. He was also smart as they came, and he proceeded to prove it once again. He met the chief sword's gaze and glanced respectfully at Jasak, but wisely saluted Fifty Garlath, instead.


Politics in the unit. The menial Mythalan caste are properly the garthan.


Osmuna was dead, all right. His body lay half-submerged in the boulder-strewn creek. He'd struck one of the boulders on the way down, and flies were already busy about the huge smear of blood he'd left across the luxuriant green moss which covered it. He'd rolled off that boulder, and splashed into the stream, with his entire head immersed in a deep pool between the rocks. Had he drowned after being struck by whatever had produced that much blood?

Jasak frowned and stepped cautiously closer. The Scout had come to rest on his right side, so that his chest, back, and left shoulder were above water, and Jasak could see the hole in his chest. It was a very small hole, almost insignificant looking, and Jasak's frown deepened as he tried to imagine what the devil could have made a wound like that?

-snip-

Jasak balanced carefully on the rocks, moving around to look at Osmuna's back, and froze in sudden, ice-cold shock.

Graholis' bollocks! What the hell caused that?

Jasak abruptly understood the shaken look in the men's faces.

Osmuna's back had been blown open.

Literally.

The hole just to the right of Osmuna's left shoulder blade was almost the size of a human fist. In fact, Gadrial could probably have pushed her fist deep into that gaping wound without the slightest trouble. The flesh was mangled, looking as if someone had set off an explosive incendiary spell inside Osmuna's body.


Confused by the cause of death. Later they find and puzzle over the shell casing. And, bumping against the limits of my ballistics knowledge already, a bad sign that. Small entrance wound, huge exit wound is... hollow point, right?

Oh, and we learn of the existence of explosive spells.


Horror, sudden and total, crawled down Jasak's spine and lodged in the vicinity of his belt buckle. He'd never heard of any explosive spell that would penetrate human flesh like a crossbow quarrel, then blow up from the inside, and Sir Jasak Olderhan's education had been the finest any Andaran noble's son could have hoped to acquire. He'd studied the bloody history of Arcana, including its Wizard Wars—during which hair-raising atrocities had been unleashed on helpless, non-Gifted populations—but no one had ever come up with a battle spell that would do what Jasak was looking at right now.


Bit on the Wizard Wars, culminating in the Portal War when the first portal formed and they realized what it was and meant, which ended in the present world government. But bullet wounds are new, and thus scary.


"Spread out. Look for any trace of the attackers. We're going to find the whoreson who did this."


An understandable reaction to what appears to be the senseless murder of one of his men. But definitely not the best possible reaction to a possible first contact.


Falsan was struggling doggedly to get his hands under himself, trying to stand back up. She reached him, braced him with one arm as she tried to help him up, and—

Pain struck with a brutal fist. It caught her right in the chest, robbing her of breath even as a ghastly sound broke through Falsan's lips.


Shaylar's empathic sharing of Falsan's pain. Not a great thing under the circumstances, Not really sure if that's a Voice thing or a general Talent thing considering what happens next.


"Man . . . shot me . . . stayed in . . . water . . . no trail . . . can't foll—"


Falsan's last words, and he didn't lead them back. Of course, he had no reason to hide his trail when he set out hunting in the first place....


She felt him go. Felt the unseen force that was Falsan chan Salgmun vanish like smoke in her hands, even as she searched frantically for the wound.

-snip-

Suddenly the whole stream was looping and rolling in wild gyrations. Shaylar felt rough hands on her shoulders, heard somebody saying her name, and fought the roaring in her ears and the black tide trying to suck away her consciousness.

I will not faint like a schoolgirl! a small, hard voice grated somewhere deep inside her, and she shook off the hands trying to drag her up the bank. She went to her knees as they released her, but she forced her wildly spinning senses to steady.

She found herself kneeling in a tangle of tree roots, panting and trembling, but in control once more. She raised her head, and a worried pair of dark eyes swam into focus.

-snip-

"You've had a nasty psychic shock, Shaylar, and you're not combat trained."

"Combat trained?" she parroted, appalled by the hoarse croak which had replaced her voice, and Barris nodded.

"When a Talented recruit joins the military, he's trained to handle something as brutal as combat death shock, especially at point-blank range. Nobody teaches that to civilian survey scouts."


Shaylar senses Falsan's death and it really knocks her for a loop. Apparently this is an issue all Talented, not just Voices, have and can be compensated for with training. Essential, really, if you're going to have military Talents.


Falsan hadn't been Talented, but Shaylar had been touching him, which helped. She couldn't See anything that he'd seen, but the emotions behind those gasped-out words of warning had slammed their way into her awareness, along with the words themselves. If she could just get a solid grasp on them . . .

"I don't think there was more than one when he was actually shot, Ghartoun," she finally said. "I'm not picking up a sense of 'me versus them.' It's more a 'me versus him.' I think he was just afraid that there would be others who could follow a blood trail back to us."


So Shaylar also has a very limited form of touch-telepathy that works on anyone, but doesn't convey much more than emotions and impressions.


"Contact Darcel. Let him know what's happening. Have him take the message to Company-Captain Halifu, then come back to our side of the portal to listen for additional messages from you. Then try to contact Jathmar. I know you can't talk to him, but we've got to warn him to break off the survey and rendezvous with us."


Getting the word out in a hurry, the whole point of bringing two telepaths.


"No, I do not mean return. We're abandoning this camp as fast as humanly possible. I want everyone to pack up the absolute essentials and be ready to march in ten minutes."

"We can't possibly be ready to leave in only ten minutes!" Futhai protested.

"If you can't pack it that fast, leave it," Ghartoun snapped. "And if you can't carry it at a dog-trot from now until we reach the portal, abandon it. Is that clear enough?"


The plan. Run like heck for the portal and the safety of a PA army unit that should be alerted by their SOS.


"Shaylar, send the message to Darcel immediately. Then pack your essential gear and abandon the rest. And don't leave behind anything that would let Falsan's murderers trace us beyond the portal. Carry all your maps, your notes—everything."

He shifted his gaze to include the others.

"Don't abandon any technology higher than knives and sticks, either. These people don't know a solitary thing about us, and I'd like to keep it that way. Braiheri, if it'll make you feel better, strip Falsan's gear and cover him with a cairn of rocks. Preferably in the stream, so they don't find his body and realize they've killed one of us. You can pack your notes, or bury him: your choice. And that's all you have time for."


Also a good idea to retain any maps, weapons and advanced technology. I'm pretty impressed with Ghartoun since this is coming at him cold. I feel prety conficent there was nothing like this scenario in even the most unlikely thought experiment of a first-contact contingency plan.


He fished the thing gingerly out of the weeds, picking it up by inserting a small twig into the open end. "It's the same diameter as the hole in Osmuna's chest."

"That couldn't possibly have gone through Osmuna." Fifty Garlath's tone was scathing enough to cross the line into open insolence. "There's no blood on it, and the angles are wrong, and it landed in the wrong place. If that thing had gone through Osmuna, it would've landed on the other side of the creek, not up here."

"I didn't say this had gone through the poor bastard," Jasak snapped, gripping his temper in both hands.

"Maybe whatever was in it went through him?" Chief Sword Threbuch mused, and Jasak tilted the cylinder so that sunlight fell into it as he peered inside.

"If there was anything in here, there's barely a trace of it left." He sniffed again. "Something smells . . . burnt?"

-snip-

"It doesn't make sense, Sir. Osmuna wasn't burned, any more than he was poisoned!"

"No," Jasak agreed thoughtfully. "No, he wasn't. But something was burned inside this thing, burned so completely that all that's left is a film of lampblack. And the end of this cylinder is the same size as Osmuna's wound. So there's a connection somewhere, even if we can't see it."


I do enjoy the scenes of Arcanans puzzling over devices relatively familiar to us. Here we see that neither Jasak Olderhan nor Sword Threbuch is a dummy, even as they're confused they're working things out in a logical manner.


Sir Jasak didn't understand that, she was sure. Mired in his rigid Andaran codes of behavior, he probably thought she was being callous, possibly even coldhearted. He'd expected her to stare, perhaps blink on tears and bite her lip in an emotional display, because she wasn't Andaran, and therefore didn't share an Andaran woman's set of responses to such situations. He'd expected her to display curiosity, at the least, particularly since his men hadn't let her get close enough to see the wounds that had killed the poor man.

She had yet to meet any Andaran male who'd bothered to learn the attitudes held by other cultures' women on much of anything, let alone something as rigidly prescribed as the Andarans' views on death and the proper responses to it. Gadrial, on the other hand, wasn't particularly interested in learning the proper responses to death, because she held a profound respect for the sanctity of life, and murder violated that sanctity unforgivably.

Staring at a murdered person's remains was deeply disrespectful to the soul which had inhabited those remains. Worse, that soul was usually still there, confused by the sudden, brutal shift in its state and unwilling to move on until the shock had worn off. But more important even than that, her main concern—as always—was for the living, not the dead. There was nothing she could do to help Osmuna's brutalized soul, whereas there were a number of things she could do to help Sir Jasak Olderhan and his soldiers. If Hundred Olderhan allowed her to help. Being a stiffnecked Andaran noble, he was far more likely to order her wrapped up in cotton gauze and protected like a child.


A few arcanan beliefs regarding death. A bit ironic that the Arcanans have had a world government for nearly two centuries, and really only three empires dominating the world for so long, and yet the Sharonans are far more culturally homogenous. Though we'll see shortly that it's not like every nation is Ternathia-lite.

At least one Magister, a mage and a very empirically-minded sort, believes in an immortal soul. Hardly real evidence one way or another, but it seems that belief at least is very common among Arcanans.


"There's something else you need to know about me. You know I have a very strong primary Gift, but I have two or three minor arcanas, as well. One of those may be useful before this business is done."


An arcana is a special talent or magic specialization. We hear frustratingly little about them, like whether they're inborn (seems to be the impression I get) or a matter of inclination and training.


"Thank you. I'll be glad to help however I can. And among other things, I possess a minor Gift for healing. I'm no miracle worker, mind. Not even remotely in the same class as a school-trained magistron, or even an army surgeon with a fair dollop of Gift. But I can heal relatively minor wounds all day long, if necessary. And if a man's injured critically, I might be able to save his life. At the very least, I could probably stabilize him until a real healer can take over and do a proper job of tissue renewal."


And Gadriel's minor gift is healing, which she can use to patch up bruises, scrapes and the odd paper-cut all day. Or maybe stabilize someone critically injured.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-06 04:16pm

I'm responding to the first post, the others later- I had a major thought or two in the process of looking over the first, and have no time to finish up looking at the others.

Ahriman238 wrote:
A portal cluster . . . In the better part of two centuries of exploration, UTTTA's survey teams had located only one true cluster, the Zholhara Cluster. Doubletons were the rule—indeed, only sixteen triples had ever been found, which was a rate of less than one in ten. But a cluster like Zholhara was of literally incalculable value.


So much data in a tiny packet. Arcana has been exploring and expanding into the multiverse for almost two hundred years and found over 160 alt-Earths. Most worlds have just two portals, forming 'chains' of alt-Earths, but there are a few triplets where new chains start and, though vanishingly rare, the odd cluster.
160 worlds, ten triplets to create branching chains,* and (now) two large clusters, one of which leads entirely to unexplored worlds.

With sufficient analysis, that I am neither qualified to devise quickly nor interested in taking lots of time to do slowly, one could make a reasonable estimate of the average 'length' of each daisy-chain of portals between division points.

One unestablished question (I think) is how many parallel Earths are directly accessible from Sharona or Arcana proper. It would be at least two (probably), but it might be three. One is unlikely since that would represent a 'dead end' in the portal chains and we've seen no evidence of this.

Also note that at the technology level of these societies, a 200 year old parallel Earth might well have a population in the hundreds of millions. Emigration is made easy by magical railroad-equivalents.

*[although we see an example on the Sharonan side of a case where two triplets have two separate chains of portals leading to each other, so that you have the choice of going A -> B -> C -> D or A -> E -> F -> D]

This far out—they were at the very end of the Lamia Chain, well over three months' travel from Arcana, even for someone who could claim transport dragon priority for the entire trip—even a cluster would take years to fully develop. Lamia, with over twenty portals, was already a huge prize. But if Magister Halathyn was correct, the entire transit chain was about to become even more valuable . . . and receive the highest development priority UTTTA could assign.


They're 20 worlds away from home. With portals hundreds or thousands of miles apart, or occasionally on the far side of the Earth, they can make the trip in 3-4 months, relying largely on air travel. The closer they get to home, the more developed things should become, and I'd presume linking portals would be a priority.
It really really is.

Also, note that dragons fly at roughly the speed of piston-engine aircraft. But even so, a dragon could presumably make something like two thousand miles a day at least, I would think...

If portals are located randomly on the Earth's landmasses, the average distance really ought to be several thousand miles, so having a chain twenty portals long would correspond to a distance of somewhere between 50000 and 200000 miles.

It can't be much less than fifty thousand because the odds of two portals appearing within a circle 2500 miles in radius of each other is too small- even if the portal is very far inland, a circle 5000 miles across just doesn't contain that much of the Earth's land area.

It can't be much more than 200000 miles because that's an average distance of ten thousand miles. In the worst possible case portals are very unlikely to be on exactly opposite sides of the planet- there just aren't many land spots on Earth that have land directly opposite them.

Note that the odds of two portals being on the same landmass are, strictly randomly speaking, rather bad. Roughly 57% of Earth's land is in the Old World and just under 29% is in the New.

One third of the time, the two portals can be connected via a land route across Eurasia and Africa, though for the Sharonans a sea voyage would usually be more efficient for bulk cargo, albeit slower. Most of the time, your land route is loooong. As in, Timbuktu to Delhi or London to Omsk or Johannesburg to Baghdad.

One third of the time, one portal is in the New World and one portal is in the Old, and you're crossing an ocean whether you like it or not. There are probably also thousands of miles of land travel involved, too.

One third of the time, one of the two portals is somewhere in Australia, Antarctica, Greenland, or some other godforsaken land mass, in which case there is an ocean voyage and you're probably just plain fucked because you're going to have to finish the trip by dogsled.

[I don't even know if the Arctic counts as 'land' since it's basically a big slab of ice floating on water]

Of course, portal distribution may not truly be random. We don't know. We can gather evidence on this by observing the actual mean distance between portals and frequency of having to take a sea voyage to get from one to another.

...

It just occurred to me that strictly realistically, there's no obvious reason why portals wouldn't emerge into the sea. In which case about half of all portals would connect a point on the sea to a point on the sea, 10% would connect land to other land (and experience the breakdown above).

The other 40%... hoo boy. Those portals would connect one world's ocean to a point on the land surface of another. This would result in a massive, apocalyptic, mountain-crushing transfer of seawater flooding through the portal in a titanic bidirectional gusher several kilometers wide and hundreds (if not thousands) of meters high... and under truly ridiculous pressure.

On the 'sending' end, the poor parallel Earth whose portal emerged in the sea has this XKCD what-if happen to it. And if you think that's bad, imagine what happens on the land side.

The process continues until sea levels equalize. If portals are on average centered at the altitude of whatever surface they appear on, then a land portal is, on average, 840 meters above sea level. If we take 840 meters as a typical 'reference height' for a land portal, then this flood will submerge all land below an altitude of roughly 550 to 600 meters on the land portal's planet.

[I can back up that figure with math on demand]

Moreover, imagine if the other portal(s) on that chain happen to be connected at an altitude below the new shared sea level of the two parallel Earths thus connected. Like, if one is in the Appalachians and suddenly dumps water all over the Earth, and the other portal is on a coastal plain somewhere in China.

Now water will flood into yet a third planet, although will at least reduce the total amount of flooding involved on either individual planet since the massive extra dose of seawater is being distributed across two planetary surfaces rather than one.

Results get even more ungodly unpredictable if portals can be centered below the surface of the ground. In which case they will occasionally cause massive avalanches of rock under subterranean pressure, or worse yet lava, and will easily be able to drain entire oceans while pouring thousands of meters of seawater onto hapless parallel planets. Or the center of the portal can be in the middle of the air, resulting in an almost guaranteed air pressure equalization (a possibility Weber and Evans did consider) or, again, much more extensive transfers of sea water.

Any and all of which could easily propagate down a chain of alternate Earths.

I guess it's a good thing portal distribution isn't truly random, huh.

On the other hand, it would serve handily to explain why there is no extant human life on most of these parallel Earths. Namely, because the formation of the portal network killed them all.

:twisted:

Don't hear a ton about the portal classification system. Halathyn was worried that if Hell's Gate is a cluster (and of course it is) their development of it would be bottlenecked by the small portal. Of course, four miles leaves room for a lot of road, I'd be more worried about it being in a godforsaken swamp 700 miles from anything.
Yes. That's actually much more of a problem.

You could basically move all the traffic via a four mile road. As in, all there is... assuming you could even build a big wide road through a swamp in the face of the prohibitive difficulty of draining it and building causeway pilings that can sink down to bedrock and so on.

New portals are forming all the time, and this event is pretty rough on the surrounding area. Both because the portal slices and dices the land for miles and because both sides equalize somewhat in temperature and pressure and when the portal first forms this process is violent.
HAH! You think you know what VIOLENT is... :D

[see previous commentary]

How portal-finding is traditionally done. Sweep the whole damn planet with short range detectors. I imagine that takes a while, even with aerial transport. Then again, portals are miles across and high, assuming any detector is going to be better at finding them than the Mk. I eyeball, or what's the point, it's a bit less daunting. A bit.
From a high altitude aircraft, the human eye would usually be a better choice.

So, 20 worlds is the farthest they could get from home?
If there are 160 worlds connected by, oh, a dozen or so different chains (the number you get with no more than 10-12 branch points), twenty worlds is pretty impressively far.

Mostly though, it just amuses me to think there's a reality out there where the Irish conquered the world. Also that the procedure for prophetic visions is "wait it out, and get a strong drink ready for when he's done."
They are Irish precognitives, yes?

Also, we see that while exploration is strictly a government/military operation for the Arcanans, on Sharona they went with the private option.
This seems to be partly because Arcanan societies are mainly still quasimedieval aristocratic and magocratic arrangements. Whereas on Sharona the industrial revolution is in full swing and the social ramifications of that are escalating.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-06 04:49pm

Simon_Jester wrote:160 worlds, ten triplets to create branching chains,* and (now) two large clusters, one of which leads entirely to unexplored worlds.

With sufficient analysis, that I am neither qualified to devise quickly nor interested in taking lots of time to do slowly, one could make a reasonable estimate of the average 'length' of each daisy-chain of portals between division points.

One unestablished question (I think) is how many parallel Earths are directly accessible from Sharona or Arcana proper. It would be at least two (probably), but it might be three. One is unlikely since that would represent a 'dead end' in the portal chains and we've seen no evidence of this.


Actually, I think Sharona is a dead end with one portal near their Istanbul-equivalent city I can't recall the name of at the moment.


*[although we see an example on the Sharonan side of a case where two triplets have two separate chains of portals leading to each other, so that you have the choice of going A -> B -> C -> D or A -> E -> F -> D]


This is true.


[I don't even know if the Arctic counts as 'land' since it's basically a big slab of ice floating on water]

Of course, portal distribution may not truly be random. We don't know. We can gather evidence on this by observing the actual mean distance between portals and frequency of having to take a sea voyage to get from one to another.


Apparently there are Arctic portals, but they're pretty rare. And the Arcanans have found at least one portal leading a thousand feet above the ground. They had to dragonlift people to the ground to start building a massive ramp.


It just occurred to me that strictly realistically, there's no obvious reason why portals wouldn't emerge into the sea. In which case about half of all portals would connect a point on the sea to a point on the sea, 10% would connect land to other land (and experience the breakdown above).

The other 40%... hoo boy. Those portals would connect one world's ocean to a point on the land surface of another. This would result in a massive, apocalyptic, mountain-crushing transfer of seawater flooding through the portal in a titanic bidirectional gusher several kilometers wide and hundreds (if not thousands) of meters high... and under truly ridiculous pressure.


Yeah, I thought of this just after being reminded of the aerial portal by your above comment. That would be pretty much apocalyptic.


On the other hand, it would serve handily to explain why there is no extant human life on most of these parallel Earths. Namely, because the formation of the portal network killed them all.

:twisted:


Heh. I mostly figure the odds of humanoid life emerging are pretty low on the scale of the multiverse.



How portal-finding is traditionally done. Sweep the whole damn planet with short range detectors. I imagine that takes a while, even with aerial transport. Then again, portals are miles across and high, assuming any detector is going to be better at finding them than the Mk. I eyeball, or what's the point, it's a bit less daunting. A bit.
From a high altitude aircraft, the human eye would usually be a better choice.


Depends on the range, yeah. And even so there's a lot of ground to cover. How awkward would it be to spend twenty years scouring the planet only to find the Portal was on a flyspeck island in the Pacific?


Mostly though, it just amuses me to think there's a reality out there where the Irish conquered the world. Also that the procedure for prophetic visions is "wait it out, and get a strong drink ready for when he's done."
They are Irish precognitives, yes?


Because I like you, simon, I'm going to let that one slide. It is a vicious stereotype though, there are Irish with better taste than that. Not many, granted.


Also, we see that while exploration is strictly a government/military operation for the Arcanans, on Sharona they went with the private option.
This seems to be partly because Arcanan societies are mainly still quasimedieval aristocratic and magocratic arrangements. Whereas on Sharona the industrial revolution is in full swing and the social ramifications of that are escalating.


That's true, we don't really know what the private sector on Arcana looks like. Heck, they could easily have a guild system.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby SpottedKitty » 2015-02-06 08:07pm

Simon_Jester wrote:You could basically move all the traffic via a four mile road. As in, all there is... assuming you could even build a big wide road through a swamp in the face of the prohibitive difficulty of draining it and building causeway pilings that can sink down to bedrock and so on.

"The first road... sank into the swamp."

Sorry. Irresistible straight line, couldn't help myself. :twisted:
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-07 02:24am

Ahriman238 wrote:Apparently there are Arctic portals, but they're pretty rare. And the Arcanans have found at least one portal leading a thousand feet above the ground. They had to dragonlift people to the ground to start building a massive ramp.
Well, there's a difference between anomalous things that happen one time in a hundred on a portal, and 'normal' things that happen a double digit percentage of the time.

It just occurred to me that strictly realistically, there's no obvious reason why portals wouldn't emerge into the sea. In which case about half of all portals would connect a point on the sea to a point on the sea, 10% would connect land to other land (and experience the breakdown above).

The other 40%... hoo boy. Those portals would connect one world's ocean to a point on the land surface of another. This would result in a massive, apocalyptic, mountain-crushing transfer of seawater flooding through the portal in a titanic bidirectional gusher several kilometers wide and hundreds (if not thousands) of meters high... and under truly ridiculous pressure.


Yeah, I thought of this just after being reminded of the aerial portal by your above comment. That would be pretty much apocalyptic.
Possibly apocalyptic in parallel, seeing as how one such portal could result in multiple worlds being flooded.

On the other hand, it would serve handily to explain why there is no extant human life on most of these parallel Earths. Namely, because the formation of the portal network killed them all.

:twisted:
Heh. I mostly figure the odds of humanoid life emerging are pretty low on the scale of the multiverse.
As I discuss below, if humans are rare, other species should be rare too- because they too evolved in specific ways responding to specific circumstances. If humans don't exist in one parallel universe, maybe some other creature with highly specific biological adaptations to a unique lifestyle (e.g. woodpeckers) doesn't exist in another.



And now for your second post...

Ahriman238 wrote:Some of the military hardware Sharona has, revolvers and bolt-action rifles. And the existence of things like claim jumpers and pirates.
True. Sharonan military technology is, on the whole, apparently at roughly a World War One level. They appear to have smokeless powder, but no automatic pistols or rifles.

Of course, they're lacking a few specific things like internal combustion engines (and, consequentially, trucks and aircraft).

Jathmar's sun-bronzed face broke into a broad grin as her delight sparkled to him through their marriage bond.
Generally, people from Sharona have one or two, on very rare occasion three psychic Talents. However, often when two Talented people like each other enough, they form a telepathic bond. This is, AFAIK, somethign they've never seriously researched, it's just how it's been for literally millennia.
Although just to make it explicit, psychic Talents on Sharona aren't significantly more common than people capable of using magical devices on Arcana. About one fifth or one fourth of the population, and many of those Talents are not particularly useful in a fight. Like being able to telekinetically lift a few dozen pounds- there are applications, but in a major battle it's a parlor trick.

The wildlife is usually there, but no man. Which does make me wonder about the vast number of species we've rendered extinct and their existence in the multiverse.
Ought to be there, yeah, although it'd finally let us determine for sure the role of climate change in, for example, the extinction of North American megafauna.

What bugs me is that if humans never existed in most of these parallel Earths, how are they all so similar otherwise in terms of what species exist? I mean, something like modern humans, or at least tool-using hominids of some kind, was pretty much in the process of evolving by three to five million years ago.

Unless some fluke just happens to exterminate australopithecus africanus 99.5% of the time, the point of departure separating all these parallel Earths would probably be more like ten million years ago... in which case there'd be at least superficial differences in a lot of species that evolve on parallel Earths. It wouldn't just be a case of a difference in which large primates emerge and what niches they fill.

Southern California, essentially. Not sure what the Yirshan river is supposed to be. 300 miles from Hell's Gate portal to the one leading up-chain. across the American South West.
This is staggeringly unlikely. Think about it this way- the Earth's land surface is about 57 million square miles. A circle 300 miles in radius is only about 282 thousand square miles.

Even if we totally neglect the fact that many points on land are separated by large bodies of water, even if all land on Earth were a big Pangaea... there are 200 chunks of land area each of which forms a circle 300 miles in radius. The odds that both your portals will fall within one of those circles is 1 in 200.

[And I suspect I'm being optimistic using that figure]

Voices are telepaths, not in the sense that they are mind-readers, but they can send their thoughts to others. Not in a way that would allow mind-control either. They communicate images, feelings and words with perfect clarity and instant comprehension.

The downsides are, they can't send through portals and they have a limited range. IIRC something like five hundred miles. On the core Sharonan worlds the Voice Network is vast and redundantly staffed. Sometimes a Voice will need to step through a portal, and often they will send Voice back and forth over oceans bearing messages. Out here, it's more like a very fragile daisy-chain of Voice relays sitting in tents and cabins waiting for a call.
Yes. This is an interesting counterpoint to what we would have used in real life to do the job of the Voices at the equivalent technological level- very long telegraph cables.

These would be very much more manpower-intensive. It would be nearly impossible to maintain the telegraph over more than a few thousand miles beyond the railhead. Past that point we'd have had to fall back on Pony Express riders or their equivalent.

On the other hand, telegraph operators are replaceable by a guy who can read Morse code out of a book plus a few instruction manuals. Voices are... not very replaceable.

Sharona is kind of the junior partner in exploration. They've been doing this only half as long as Arcana with less than a third the results to show. 49 alt-Earths charted, no word yet on settling, by Sharona.
In some ways this is actually an advantage- you can get from Sharona to the frontier of their exploration a lot faster than you can get from Arcana to the frontier.

For both sides, this conflict is likely to be decided by logistics. It's staggering to contemplate the difficulty of prosecuting a war at the other end of a hundred thousand mile long rail link, which is basically what the Arcanans are stuck trying to do.

Fortunately, the Portal Authority was in charge of all portal transit traffic, which meant the units of the PAAF—the Portal Authority Armed Forces, composed of multinational military units assigned to Authority duty—built the portal forts and provided most of the personnel to man them, including at least one Portal Authority Voice. Or, that was the way it was supposed to work, at any rate. This portal was so new, and there were so many other portals along what had been designated the Karys Chain that needed forts, as well, that the military hadn't been able to bring in a new Voice, yet.
Ah, the government provides portal forts, garrisons and Voice contact with home. Some things you just can't privatize, like life-saving reinforcements and communication with them.
Yeah. This is reminiscent of the American frontier- the US Army provided a lot of the muscle and built a lot of very important fortified outposts that served as the skeleton around which later expansion could move forward. But there were plenty of private companies working on railways, charting the land and surveying for resources, and so on.

They could, if emergency required it, get a message all the way back to humanity's birth world, Sharona, in little more than a week. If not for the water gaps between some of the portals, which had to be crossed by ship, since no one could permanently post a relay Voice in the middle of an ocean, they could have gotten a message home in a matter of hours.
These must be some pretty short water gaps, even allowing that you guys have steam-ships, if it only holds up your mail a week in crossing dozens of worlds.
Well, all 49 Sharonan worlds are (from Sharona's point of view) part of a single branching 'tree.' If the Arcanan experience is any guide we can expect the Sharonans to have encountered roughly five 'triplet' worlds that branch a chain, in which case the number of worlds between Sharona and any one of those chains on the frontier would be, oh... less than twenty worlds, not less than ten. Fifteen to twenty sounds about right- say, one chain of five worlds out from Sharona, which branches into two that run for another five or six worlds, which in turn start branching and running out further still.

Jathmar's particular talent, Mapping, lets him psychically "see" the terrain for a five-mile radius. Hills, rocks, caves, streams. Since Shaylar is mentally linked to him, she sees what he sees and sits back in her tent drawing the maps while he goes a-walking to expand them. Sure, technically you could use the same maps for all planets but sometimes the devil is in the details. Besides, you need a good Mapper, an astronomer or both to tell you exactly where in the world the portal dropped you.

At least, if you're going to start claiming oil/gold/fertile land.
Among other things, even with the relatively minimalist interpretation of just how much ecological damage a portal opening can cause to the surrounding area... the terrain around portals is liable to be damaged rather severely.

Women's Lib in Sharona. 20% of the population get a Talent, gender is a nonissue and it's been thousands of years since there was meaningful discrimination. But once the first Portal opened up it was decided that exploring new universes was too dangerous for girls. Kind of funny, if the greatest threat is wildlife or inclement weather, it's not like men are much more capable at this tech-level of handling these. Claim jumpers might be a thing, but enough to overturn generations of precedent? Kinda skeptical.
Kinda yeah. You'd expect this sort of thing if, say, female Talents are given equal status because of their Talent, but are still kept away from dangerous duties by lingering cultural prejudice. Which only makes sense if there are cultural prejudices to linger.

Jathmar's powers work in the dark. But are they sensitive enough to keep him from walking into trees or twisting his ankle? I suppose they must be, if he goes running around at night without a light.
Lantern light might well be good enough for that- the lantern isn't enough to let him see the surrounding land visually, but it lets him avoid minor obstacles while using his Talent to sense the general lay of the land.

Unlike Shaylar, Falsan was not a telepath, and without something like their own marriage bond, not even a Voice as strong as Shaylar could contact someone who wasn't telepathically Talented. Falsan chan Salgmun was as steady and reliable as they came, but accidents happened, and Jathmar didn't want to risk trailing a man with a loaded rifle in unknown territory.
Think we have a bit of a canon conflict here. I want to read again more to be sure, but I seem to recall anyone with a Talent can receive a Voice transmission, they just can't reply. This may be important later.
Hm... I think the role of the Sharonan Voice network as the 'mainstream media' of Sharonan international culture is an issue.

More fodder for their level of advancement in firearms. Would probably mean more to someone a lot better informed on firearms than I. Smokeless powder is relatively new, as are Spitzer-point, or pointy, bullets.
Smokeless powder rocketh because it doesn't make smoke, or not nearly as much. Thus, you don't have huge blinding clouds of gunsmoke swirling around your position, giving away your location and making it impossible to see in order to aim the next shot. Smokeless powder is also less likely to dump fouling and crud into the workings of a mechanically complicated gun. Both these reasons make it far easier to build a machine gun using smokeless powder- one using older gunpowder would jam often and frequently fail to work due to clogging.

Aaaand... Pointy bullets lose less speed at long range. "Spitzer" is literally from the German for "pointy." :D

Two scientists on the team. Since it's not like there are going to be revolutionary new discoveries, I'm thinking they're also there to help quickly identify where they are. Well, the geologist is probably there to confirm any mineral wealth they find.
There may also be subtle variations in the plant life and habitat of animal species that vary from world to world (if humans don't exist in some alternates, maybe, say, bears don't exist in some of them either?) Or the portals can make variations in both lifeforms and landforms, say by dumping a lake in the middle of a desert, or by allowing two planets with atmospheres at different pressures to equalize. Or by letting species not normally native to a given area colonize that area.

I mean, think about all the trouble we've had historically with invasive species coming from one continent over to another where they have no natural predators. In the portal multiverse that happens all the time. And given the state of real world biology in 1900-1920, frankly, the Sharonans probably aren't equipped to tell us what's going on in cases like that. Not without very careful study

Voice ranges. Shaylar is in the 90th percentile at 800 miles (~1290 km) while Darcel Kinlafia at least is more like 600. Which dictates how far they can wander from the portal where he's stationed.
Also, Voices are more sensitive when they go into a trance, but they can't do that unless they know they need to.

So it's the PA that charges portal fees? Confused.

But whatever is in on Shaylar's maps and in her notes is theirs!
Maybe the Portal Authority collects the tolls but the private companies can get a small share of 'royalties' on the tolls?

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Ahriman238
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-07 05:48pm

This chapter is all Jathmar POV, but with more insights into his particular talents, how the survey crews operate and a bit of culture back home.

Mapping was as close to flying as he ever expected to come. Oh, he'd gone ballooning, of course. That was part of every licensed survey crewman's mandatory training. But ballooning was a slow-motion, ponderous activity, and the balloon was merely pushed hither and thither by whatever capricious winds happened to be blowing. He'd heard rumors about balloons fitted with one of the newfangled "internal combustion" engines some of the more wild-eyed lunatics were tinkering with back on Sharona.


Sharona has hot air balloons. Also internal combustion engines though for the moment they're the province of "wild-eyed lunatics" rather than serious professionals. And they're even combining these into basic dirigibles, or so rumor says.


Jathmar grinned at the thought, but Mapping was a Talent only humanity possessed, and only a tiny fraction of the ten billion or so human souls in existence could lay claim to that specific Talent. Of course, that was still a pretty damned large absolute number. Nearly a fifth of the population had been blessed with some kind of psionic Talent. Given the best current estimate, that worked out to around two billion Talented people, of whom only two percent had inherited the ability to Map. That meant there were—theoretically, at least—something like forty million Mappers, but there were several subtypes within the Talent, and they were clearly concentrated in specific bloodlines.


10 Billion Sharonans. 20% of the population have a Talent, and Mapping makes up about 2% of the Talented population. Also subtypes and inheritable Talents.


Not to mention the fact that at least half of those technically Talented with the ability had Talents too weak to bother training for professional use.


Not everyone has a Talent powerful enough to make a living off of. May be something of an economic self-fulfilling prophecy. The Talents are common enough that even training only the upper 50th percentile creates a sufficient Talented workforce for most applications. Those with a weaker Talent don't get training, and so never develop.


Unlike Shaylar, Jathmar's mother and grandmother hadn't been able to join survey crews. But they'd found ways to make use of their Talents on the home front, working for the Park Service: mapping virgin woodland without impinging on it, doing geological survey work, planning new highway routes, doing the occasional Search and Rescue work for lost hikers. Mappers can't find people. Even taking on odd jobs like inspecting dams and culverts for structural soundness.

Mapping was a Talent which was always in high demand in the commercial sectors.


Possible uses for Mapping. It seems that mappers can sense things like mineral deposits and underground water, as well as structural defects in large-scale engineering projects.


Voices were always valuable, but they were also among the most numerous of all the psionic Talents, the true telepaths of Sharonian society, with nearly as much variety in potential employment as there were individual variations between Voices.


Where Mappers are relatively rare, Voices are pretty much the most common Talent. Though their society depends heavily on Voices, it can be hard for individual Voices to find work.


Jathmar could See not only the topography of the ridgeline that lay two miles due south of him, and the abrupt turn this creek took a mile northeast, frothing through a white-water staircase of rapids, but he could also See what lay under the ground. Only a small percentage of Mappers had that degree of Talent, and that was what made Jathmar so valuable to a survey crew.


Ah. So sensing what's underground is, in fact, a rare subtype of the Mapping Talent.


That magnetic field lay across his Sight of the world like a precisely cast fishnet of crosshatched lines. But the line just ahead of him was bent slightly out of true. That caught his immediate, full attention, for he'd come to know exactly what spawned that dark, massive magnetic anomaly. There was a major iron deposit in this region, big enough to warrant immediate investigation.


Mapping, or maybe just Jathmar's particular variant of the Talent, includes a sense of magnetic North/South. Which is being thrown off by the massive iron deposit nearby, hence why I think it may relate to his mineral-finding skill.


If DOMME developed the deposit into a profitable mining venture, every ton of ore extracted, smelted, and turned into tools would put finder's royalties into this survey crew's bank accounts. And if he really had stumbled across the same iron deposit as Sharona's fabulously valuable Darjiline Mines, the Consortium certainly would develop it.


DOMME being the mining/drilling division of their particular Corporate Consortium. So the survey teams find the portal and explore the far side. The Portal Authority sets up a fort and collects transit revenue, I guess they split it with the discovering company. This fort serves to recognize and enforce claims. Anything mapped or surveyed by the initial team belongs to their company, ditto for the Johnny-come-latelys, and the discovering team gets just a small taste of whatever profits their bosses see off these discoveries.

One question lingers though. I get that these people are industrializing and expanding, looking around and seeing limitless frontiers and all that. But logically, they now have access to more gold, iron, other metals, oil, rubber, furs, really any resource than is available to all of Earth for only the cost of extracting and transporting it since they already have a very good idea of where it all is. Shouldn't the value of all these things have dropped precipitously?


It was one of the conundrums of trans-temporal exploration that in a society with access to multiple, duplicate worlds, with all the vast treasure troves of mineral resources, rich untouched farmland, and incalculable numbers of wild birds and animals that implied, there were actually a limited number of key resources and all too many companies in competition to grab them. With no fewer than fifteen major corporations and consortiums—not to mention nearly a hundred smaller independent outfits which operated survey crews on a shoestring budget—contending for the riches on the far side of any new portal, prizes like the Darjiline Mines were actually scarce.


So, it's a frantic race on any new world for the low-hanging fruit, the most accessible or the richest resource areas. And competition is fierce even though, again, they already have the resources of fifty Earths and growing.


News that the Portal Authority had sent troops to construct a new portal fort would race outward through the web of development companies literally at the speed of thought, despite all that a company's Voices could do to encrypt their transmitted reports.

No telepath was ever permitted to invade another's mind without permission. Prison sentences went with that kind of abuse, not to mention massive fines and the ever-present threat of closing down any company which knowingly used or tolerated such practices. But industrial espionage tiptoed around that particular law with increasingly sophisticated ways of deducing the truth.


Encrypted telepathic messages. And I guess mind-reading is possible for Voices, but illegal? Is Shaylar going to get in trouble for reading Falsan?


Once the Portal Authority had taken the step of sending out a troop detachment to build the fort, rival teams would start sweeping into the area, looking for the fastest way to reach the most valuable tracts of land before anyone else.

Shipyards went up first, in many cases, built with surprising speed, since the only practical way of reaching many of those valuable tracts would be to sail there. The company that owned the forests and iron mines necessary to build those ships would make a ton of money selling them to rival outfits. Once they'd grabbed the best land for themselves first, of course.

It was usually a free-for-all along any portal border, which was why the Portal Authority insisted on building its forts. Portal Authority troops weren't there to fight a war, since there was nobody in any of the worlds they'd ever explored. They were there to prevent claim jumping and timber piracy and all the other uncivilized behaviors which went with the territory when multiple groups jockeyed for position along a vast, steadily expanding frontier. And, of course, to collect the Authority's portal transit fees.


Huh, making money by building up to service the next wave of explorers and prospectors. Boats are naturally the only way to reach a lot of areas, and probably a faster way of getting around a world that has never known roads. And the PA's role as a peacekeeping force in the headlong scramble to stick a flag in a grove of rubber trees.


Shaylar's terror and shock rolled across him in battering waves, but Jathmar wasn't a telepath. He didn't know what was happening. Couldn't glean the tiniest detail from the jagged emotions tearing through him. Every nerve in his body quivered with the need to run towards camp, but he bit down on the panic and remained where he was, forcing himself to breathe deeply.


Interesting. Shaylar can't send Jathmar a message because he isn't a Voice, and while she could receive detailed information through her marriage bond with him, writing down everything he saw on their maps, she can't convey to him what's wrong now. I have a few guesses why this so.

First, it's possible that the marriage bond is simply unequal that way. I'm doubtful more because this would be unsatisfying "it's magic and not to be questioned."

Second, it may be due to Shaylar's nature as a Voice, or her training to take in telepathic input. It's possible they could train Jathmar to understand complex messages through the bond but haven't until now had the time or the inclination to try.

Third, and in my opinion most likely, is that Shaylar was mapping in one of those reception trances mentioned earlier. If so, it's not mentioned directly, but it does take her a lot of focus to do what she does. It's possible that Jathmar could hear the detailed explanation of what's going on if he were willing to stop and meditate on the bond but he either considers returning to camp a higher priority or he simply forgot in the face of disaster that he could do so. If that last sounds far-fetched, he realizes halfway to camp quite suddenly that he's a Mapper and can take a more direct route to camp than following the stream.


The Sherthan Model 70 had been designed as a short, handy saddle gun, but it was still a powerful weapon. Chambered for a .48 caliber, three hundred-grain round based on the old Ternathian Army Model 9's. Its muzzle velocity was lower than the military weapon's, due to its shorter barrel, but with the new "smokeless powder," it still pushed the heavy, hollow-pointed round at over nineteen hundred feet per second, producing a muzzle energy of over two thousand foot-pounds. That gave the weapon a nasty kick, but it was also sufficient to blow a hole right through a man and lethal enough to deal with anything short of one of the huge grizzlies.


Jathmar's rifle. Caliber I get (pretty solid size) and muzzle velocity too. Smokeless powder is mentioned again and I guess hollow-point bullets really are a thing here. The grain count is Greek to me, I'm assuming it's a measure of the powder charge in each shell, but the difference between 300 grain, 200 grain, 150 grain or 1 grain means nothing to me.


He forced himself to move more slowly than he would have preferred, repeating to himself the Authority mantra that coolheadedness was both a survey scout's first line of defense and his most effective weapon. Yet the urgency in the bond tugged at him, urged him forward as it grew stronger. It felt almost as though Shaylar was shouting "Hurry!"

Which, given the strength of her Talent and their marriage bond, might be exactly what she was doing.


I guess he can also get vague impressions through the bond, though he's not at all sure of the message.


It was a cairn.


I guess their naturalist decided to bury Falsan over packing his things after all. Well, pile rocks over the corpse, anyway. Jathmar made it back to camp.


Their team was large enough, and well enough armed, to have dealt with any typical band of border brigands. But the ex-soldier had run for the portal. Run so fast he'd left Jathmar behind.

Jathmar was so rattled by the implications that he found himself wondering why he was so convinced his team was, in fact, running.

Because, idiot, his common sense muttered in some exasperation, you're married to a Voice who's trying her damnedest to warn you to follow as fast as your big, flat feet will carry you.


Again, their bond seems to operate on a very limited level for actual communication, outside of their joint Mapping sessions.


They were in over their heads, way over, and Jathmar didn't hesitate a second longer. He paused only to swiftly check the contents of his pack, nodding approval at Shaylar's selections—rations for two days, pistol and rifle ammunition, and his camp ax. Every one of their charts and notebooks was missing, undoubtedly in her pack.


It seems they left at least some ammunition at the camp, or at least in a bag for Jathmar to find when he returned. Anyways, Jathmar rejoins the group and they set a brutal pace to the portal. And now back to the Arcanans.


The palisade was strong enough to repel anyone who wanted to get inside, unless he had a convenient field-dragon to blast it down with explosive spells, which Jasak didn't. The thick wall of saplings—cut from the stream bank where there was enough open sunlight to allow heavy shrubs and saplings to grow—had been interwoven with tough brush, much of it thorn-covered, to create a high, virtually impenetrable barrier. His scouts' infantry-dragons, far lighter than the field-dragons the artillery used, would find it extremely difficult to blow gaps in it.

Despite the chief sword's comment, it wasn't quite a fortification. But it was more than stout enough to keep out any wild animals, and the number of people who could have been concealed in the area inside that high, thorny wall was dismayingly large . . . especially when those people were equipped with whatever unknown sort of weaponry they'd used against Osmuna.


The wall around the camp, which Jasak is treating as full of hostiles until he knows otherwise.


If that estimate was accurate, First Platoon had the mysterious strangers substantially outnumbered. In addition to the fifty-seven men of his four line squads, Garlath had an attached six-man engineer section, four quartermaster baggage handlers, and a hummer handler. Adding Jasak himself, and Chief Sword Threbuch, that came to seventy men, which ought to provide Jasak with a comfortable superiority.


Organic support. The company has 4 main infantry squads but also six field engineers/sappers, 4 baggage carriers/drovers and a hummer handler. Hummers are magically genetically-engineered hummingbirds that carry messages.


He caught Fifty Garlath's eye, which wasn't all that difficult since the platoon commander was staring at Jasak with something close to panic in his eyes. The hundred pointed silently toward the nearest tree, then upwards into its widespreading branches. It stood along the bank of the creek where they lay prone, and Garlath nodded convulsively, with a look of relief that would have been comical under other circumstances but managed to look mostly pathetic under these.


Jasak has a man climb a tree to look over the wall and report on the state of the camp.


A garthan wasn't legally property any longer. Chattel slavery had been outlawed two centuries ago, under the Union of Arcana's founding accords. But the accords had only limited power inside a country's national borders, which meant most local laws had remained the same. And in countries which had embraced the Mythalan culture and its rigid stratifications, those born without the ability to use magic faced lives little if any better than those of a Hilmaran serf from Andara's first age of conquest.

People born to the garthan caste lived painfully limited lives. Their employment choices were a matter of heredity—a butcher's son became a butcher, even if he was better suited to building wagon wheels—unless the whim of their shakira lords and masters willed otherwise. The magic-using castes and sub-castes, with the ruthless support of the traditional multhari military caste, still ruled Mythal and her allied colonies—including those in several new universes—with an iron hand. They jealously guarded their hereditary privileges and frothed at the mouth at the slightest suggestion of abolishing the caste system that relegated men like Sendahli to third-class citizenship and a grimly limited future.


Proper names for each of the Mythalan castes. The Union of Arcana has formally outlawed slavery, but a de facto slave society exists throughout Mythal and all it's colonies.


Much as he personally detested the shakira caste, Jasak had to admit that, historically, the majority of the great breakthroughs in magical theory had originated with the Mythalans. Which, of course, only made them even more insufferably overbearing and arrogant.


Some props to the Mythalans.


It wasn't so much that they'd objected to trans-temporal exploration, but the shakira as a caste harbored a fierce resentment for the fact that the military (which meant Jasak's native Andara) dominated trans-temporal exploration. The Mythalans had tried for years to secure control of the Union's exploration policies, only to be frustrated by Andara and Ransar. Whatever their own differences might be, the Andarans and Ransarans had formed a unified front against shakira arrogance literally for centuries, which had only made Mythal's resentment of the UTTTA's policies worse.


Arcanan global politics in a nutshell. Ransar is the Eurasian superpower of Arcana, fiercely democratic liberal iconoclasts. They naturally have their share of problems with the Andarans, but they can both set aside their differences to say "shut up, Mythal!" Which they do. Often. Gadriel is Ransaran.


Ransaran and Mythalan societies, and the religious beliefs which underpinned them, could not have been more different. Mythalans believed in the reincarnation of the soul, and that lives of virtue were rewarded by successive incarnations in steadily higher castes on the path to a fully enlightened existence. Virtually all Ransaran religions, whatever else they might disagree about, were monotheistic and believed in a single mortal incarnation and a direct, personal relationship with God.

The Mythalan belief structure validated the superiority of the shakira and bolstered the monolithic stability of the structure which rested upon the garthan's total subjugation. After all, how could someone become a member of the shakira in the first place, unless he had attained the right to it in his previous incarnations? But Ransaran theology engendered a passionate belief in the right and responsibility of the individual to take command of his own life, to make of himself all that his own God-given abilities and talent made possible. The Mythalan caste system was a loathsome perversion in their eyes, and the clash between the two cultures was long-standing and bitter.


Religious as well as cultural difficulties between Ransar and Mythal. The Mythalan faith centers around reincarnation and supports the caste system, obvious Hindu references are obvious, though I'd be amazed if there was too much resemblance to a real religion. The Ransarans have a variety of religions, but they're all monotheistic and encourage Ransar's humanism.


The discovery that a Ransaran possessed such a powerful Gift would have been gall-bitter for most shakira, and it was widely believed that the Mythal Falls faculty had a habit of washing out "unsuitable" students any way it had to. Or, if the student in question was too academically strong for that, using the requisitely brutal form of harassment to drive him—or her—away.

Jasak had no way of knowing if that was what had happened in Gadrial's case, but the towering fury of Halathyn's vitriolic letter of resignation when he broke off completely with his fellow shakira and formally joined the faculty of the academy that served the Union of Arcana's military headquarters at Garth Showma was legendary. And Gadrial Kelbryan, then a lowly third-year undergrad, had accompanied him as his protégée and student.

Over the two decades since, Magister Halathyn had assembled the staff—including Gadrial—which had built the Garth Showma Institute into a true rival for Mythal Falls and improved the UTTTA's field capabilities by at least twenty-five percent. In the process, he'd carved out his own special niche in field operations . . . and continued his ruthless demolition of Mythalan stereotypes wherever he encountered them.

It had been one of the greatest pleasures of Jasak's military career to watch the aging magister convert the suspicious garthan soldier now swarming so carefully up the massive oak—a man who'd joined the Andaran Army as a way to escape Mythal and buy a better future and higher social status for his children—into an ally and friend.

There was only one Magister Halathyn, he thought.


The story of how Magister Halathyn broke off from Mythal Falls (Victoria Falls) Academy, the most prestigious school of magic in the Arcanan sphere and built a rival school after they drove out his star pupil. Well, a version, anyway, Mythal Falls maintains that Gadriel was trading sexual favors to Halathyn for grades. This, and his full-hearted support of exploration where most Mythalan Magisters are trying to seize control of it for themselves, are why Halathyn is such a legendary figure among the Arcanans.

Oh, and Andaran-dominated army as an escape from caste-discrimination.


"You'd have made an effective military analyst, Gadrial," the hundred said, and her eyes glinted.

"One of these days, you Andaran bully boys will be civilized enough to let us ladies join your ranks. The effect ought to be bracingly beneficial."

"Ladies in uniform?" The chief sword snorted. "Carrying arbalests and throwing war spells? Ransaran democratic madness."


Bad thing to say to someone who can actually cast lethal spells. It seems Arcana lags somewhat behind Sharona in women's lib.


Gadrial's main interest in the infantry-dragons, and the heavier field-dragons of the true artillery, was in the battle spells that powered them. She'd spoken to combat engineers and knew battle spells were complex. Building them demanded intense concentration frequently under conditions that were challenging, to say the least, and not all of them were directly related to the artillery. Infantry companies included not just the dragons and their gunners, but also an attached squad of combat spell engineers with multiple responsibilities.

Combat spell engineers were among the highest-skilled and highest-paid men in the Union of Arcana's armed forces. There were never enough of them to go around, though, and they were too valuable to put at the sharp end and get them shot at if it could be avoided, so units like Hundred Olderhan's routinely carried plenty of extra spell packs for emergency use.


Arcanan artillery pieces are called 'dragons' which could get confusing seeing as they use actual dragons. The weapons are so called because they imitate a dragon's breath-weapons. They use 'spell packs' basically bricks of sarkolis crystal to provide ammo. Combat spell enginners do their thing into the crystals, providing both juice and spellware telling it what to do with that power.

A squad of spell engineers is assigned to each company to provide this and other magic needs, and are too valuable to risk in combat.


Infantry platoons were built around squads, each twelve men strong. A squad was subdivided into two maneuver teams, each consisting of three arbalestiers commanded by a noncom, and supported by an infantry-dragon. It took both of a dragon gunner's assistant gunners and two of the squad's six arbalestiers to carry enough accumulator reloads to fight any sort of sustained engagement, but in the absence of someone who could recharge them, a team had only the ammunition it could carry.


Arcanan squads. Two noncoms, 6 crossbowmen (arbalestier may be technically more accurate, but sounds silly) and two infantry-dragons for heavy weapons, with a gunner and two assistants each to hump the piece and ammo. Meant to be easily divisible into fire-teams, and Jasak has four squads.


The fact that someone had died here shouldn't have shocked her so brutally. She knew that. But as she stared down at the pile of rocks over what had been a human being, there was no doubt in Gadrial's mind that they'd found the man who'd killed Osmuna.

Dismay stabbed deep as the sickening import crashed home. There'd been only one man on the bank above the creek where Osmuna had died. Only one trail through the forest led back to this camp. Which meant that only two men knew what had happened out there in the wilderness.

And both of them were dead.


Yep.


The Union Accords, the cornerstone of the Union of Arcana, had put an end to the savagery of the Portal Wars two centuries previously. They had united the various warring kingdoms and republics into one cooperative entity, dedicated to exploring the multiple universes and giving everyone in the Union a better life. The opportunity to build something new and worthwhile in pristine universes, the chance to amass wealth in a civilization which was wealthy in a way pre-portal Arcanans couldn't possibly have imagined.

Those Accords had governed the use of portals and new universes for two hundred years. And they also laid out the rules and contingency plans for contact with another human civilization in the clearest possible terms. Every soldier in the Union's military forces was put through training on how to conduct such a first contact, which aimed above all else to be peaceful. The last thing anyone had wanted was a shooting war with another human civilization.

Yet in all the years of the Union's existence, no such other civilization had ever been encountered. The rules were still there, the troops were still trained in them, but only as a contingency. No one had actually expected to ever require them. Not really. Surely if there'd been other human beings in existence, Arcana would have discovered them long ago.

But they hadn't . . . until today. Until two total strangers had met in a trackless wood. Met in fear and suspicion, and despite the strictures of the Accords, promptly slaughtered one another. Gadrial hadn't known Osmuna, but he'd seemed a bright enough fellow, dedicated to his duty in the Andaran Scouts. He'd seemed unhappy with Fifty Garlath, but proud to serve Hundred Olderhan, and Gadrial found it difficult to believe he would have thrown the Accords into the garbage can without extremely good cause.


Union formed in the peace following the initial war over the portal, and they do have a first-contact plan, it's just something they've never had to use in almost two hundred years. And in the absence of facts, there's a tendency to assume the other side initiated hostilities.


"It is copper," she agreed. "But look here." She tapped the end. "It's not solid copper. It's more like a jacket around something else. And I think you're right about that, too. The core is lead."

"I wonder . . ." Jasak murmured as he took the mysterious object back from her.

"Sir?" Threbuch asked.

"I wonder how much force it would take to propel this," Jasak tapped the cylinder's pointed cap with one fingernail, "across fifteen or twenty feet of space and drive it through a human body?"

Garlath lost color and made a strangled sound that drew Jasak's eyes to him.

"That—that's barbaric!" the fifty protested.


Jasak figures out bullets. More or less. Still not sure what propels them.


"Go on, Chief Sword," he said, and Threbuch produced some other odd cylinders of metal. These were much larger, as broad as his palm, and six inches long.

"There's a whole stash of these, whatever they are, Sir. We found them in every tent. They don't seem to be weapons of any sort, but there something inside them. You can feel it slosh when you shake the thing."


Beer? Lamp oil? What else would the survey team have cans of?


"Their cloth is high quality," he said, holding up a length of what looked like sturdy canvas. "If this wasn't machine-loomed, I'll—" he flicked another glance at Gadrial and amended the phrase on his tongue to "—eat my shirt."

The magister just grinned, which stained the hard-bitten noncom's cheeks pink once more. Then he jerked his gaze back to his commanding officer.

"The same pattern repeats everywhere you look, Sir," he said, doggedly ignoring the humor glinting in Hundred Olderhan's eyes, despite the tension of the moment. "We found high quality leather goods sewn on a machine. Metal mess kits, with eating utensils and plates tucked inside collapsible cookpots. Personal toiletry kits with combs and brushes that look like something manufactured for a mass market, not locally produced by some village shop."


Observant. That's good, and thinking about the implications of even little things.


"Your tactical concerns are noted, Fifty Garlath." Jasak's eye was granite-hard as he bit his words out of solid ice and spat them at the older man like hailstones. "Your assessment of the situation does not tally with mine, however. It's imperative that we stop these people before they reach the portal. I don't want a damned battle, Garlath. I want answers. And I want to control the situation. Until we get those answers, until we get to the bottom of what happened out here, we don't know anything. But if these people are as confused as we are, and if they get back to their superiors and tell them we started it, it's going to change from a disaster to a godsdamned catastrophe.

"We won't get any answers if they reach the portal—and whatever base may lie beyond—before we've caught up. And we won't be able to put the brakes on this, either. Shartahk seize it, we don't even have any idea how to communicate with them if we do catch up with them! So the only option I see is to find them, stop them, and try to make some sort of controlled contact with them, just like the first contact protocols require. And, failing that, we at least need to take them into custody and return them to base where someone else, with the kind of diplomatic experience none of us has, can try to figure out how to talk to them and, gods willing, straighten this fucking mess back out. Do you read me on this, Fifty Garlath?"


Because the best way to stop them from running off with half the facts and triggering a war, is to pursue, corner and capture them? Well, I admit trying to do first contact right is important, but again, that's going to be hard after running them to ground.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2015-02-07 07:34pm

Ahriman238 wrote:Jathmar's rifle. Caliber I get (pretty solid size) and muzzle velocity too. Smokeless powder is mentioned again and I guess hollow-point bullets really are a thing here. The grain count is Greek to me, I'm assuming it's a measure of the powder charge in each shell, but the difference between 300 grain, 200 grain, 150 grain or 1 grain means nothing to me.

Grain is literally grain, it's a weight of the bullet, lower grain the smaller but faster the bullet, bigger grain slower but bigger bullet.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-07 08:27pm

OK, tackling your third post.

Ahriman238 wrote:Confused by the cause of death. Later they find and puzzle over the shell casing. And, bumping against the limits of my ballistics knowledge already, a bad sign that. Small entrance wound, huge exit wound is... hollow point, right?
Not necessarily. Bullets enter the body smoothly and create a relatively small hole, but once they run into resistance it's normal for them to start tumbling. A tumbling bullet can rip big chunks of flesh out on the way back.

Hollow point rounds are worse for this, but a perfectly ordinary bullet can do this "small entry wound, large exit wound" thing.

Also a good idea to retain any maps, weapons and advanced technology. I'm pretty impressed with Ghartoun since this is coming at him cold. I feel prety conficent there was nothing like this scenario in even the most unlikely thought experiment of a first-contact contingency plan.
Oh, I don't know. The "first contact is hostile" scenario is pretty obvious- suppose you wander into portal-hopping Mongol hordes or something?* And given the way the portal network works, it really is a good plan to buy time and avoid dangling your lightly armed band of portal explorers out to be captured and maybe tortured by the enemy.

*Oh, right. Those are the Arpathian hordes now. Excuse me. ;)



Aaaand your fourth.
Ahriman238 wrote:Sharona has hot air balloons. Also internal combustion engines though for the moment they're the province of "wild-eyed lunatics" rather than serious professionals. And they're even combining these into basic dirigibles, or so rumor says.
Yes.

Dirigibles are really, really not a good idea in combat against the Arcanans, because of long range and highly accurate lightning weapons, both on airborne dragons and as infantry support weapons.

Piston engine aircraft would be, but from the sound of it they're at least twenty years or so from building anything that would be particularly survivable in air to air combat against Arcanan dragons.

Not everyone has a Talent powerful enough to make a living off of. May be something of an economic self-fulfilling prophecy. The Talents are common enough that even training only the upper 50th percentile creates a sufficient Talented workforce for most applications. Those with a weaker Talent don't get training, and so never develop.
That certainly could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although it could also be very reasonably true- there almost have to be degrees of psychic power that range from "useful" to "parlor trick."

Where Mappers are relatively rare, Voices are pretty much the most common Talent. Though their society depends heavily on Voices, it can be hard for individual Voices to find work.
Yeah, I think the parties prosecuting this war are going to be hiring a looooot of Voices really soon. Dangerous work, but at least it solves the telepathy unemployment problem?

One of the big vulnerabilities of the Sharonan reliance on Voices in wartime is simply that you only have so many of them, and unlike a radio set you can't use the communication ability at all without the operator, because the "hardware" is physically inside the operator's skull.

One question lingers though. I get that these people are industrializing and expanding, looking around and seeing limitless frontiers and all that. But logically, they now have access to more gold, iron, other metals, oil, rubber, furs, really any resource than is available to all of Earth for only the cost of extracting and transporting it since they already have a very good idea of where it all is. Shouldn't the value of all these things have dropped precipitously?
The transportation infrastructure to exploit these resources is rather limited, at least for points far from Sharona. It's tens of thousands of miles by rail and steamship to get out to the frontier, and there are points far closer to home that will currently be under exploitation. Nobody's going to try to mine the deposits Jathmar has located for... probably a century or so. But the claims staked to that real estate are still valuable, if not as valuable as they otherwise would be.

Moreover, the cost of accessing these resources cannot drop below the physical cost of the machinery and labor required to extract them. Which is high enough that big deposits are still valuable, especially if they are conveniently close to a portal site and therefore to the "main line" trunk railroads the Portal Authority builds to connect the universes.

It's much more convenient to access an iron mine that happens to be a hundred miles or so from the portal than to convince the Portal Authority to build a two thousand mile long 'railroad spur' to link up to a remote iron ore deposit.

It was one of the conundrums of trans-temporal exploration that in a society with access to multiple, duplicate worlds, with all the vast treasure troves of mineral resources, rich untouched farmland, and incalculable numbers of wild birds and animals that implied, there were actually a limited number of key resources and all too many companies in competition to grab them. With no fewer than fifteen major corporations and consortiums—not to mention nearly a hundred smaller independent outfits which operated survey crews on a shoestring budget—contending for the riches on the far side of any new portal, prizes like the Darjiline Mines were actually scarce.
So, it's a frantic race on any new world for the low-hanging fruit, the most accessible or the richest resource areas. And competition is fierce even though, again, they already have the resources of fifty Earths and growing.
Again, part of this issue may well be that the infrastructure on newly discovered Earths is very tenuous- at most, there is one railroad stretching from Portal #1 to Portal #2, with branch lines running to anything that looks exciting and exploitable. On an Earth that is, say, ten portals out from Sharona, the vast majority of that territory is still unexploited, inaccessible wilderness as far as any Sharonan mining or logging company is concerned.

The Earth(s) that are only one or two portal hops from Sharona, on the other hand, are probably far more developed, with more extensive networks of trade and transportation spreading out from the initial point of contact.

Similar observations hold on the Arcanan side, although without industrial technology it's not clear if they engage in quite so much mass resource exploitation, and what character that exploitation might take.

Third, and in my opinion most likely, is that Shaylar was mapping in one of those reception trances mentioned earlier. If so, it's not mentioned directly, but it does take her a lot of focus to do what she does. It's possible that Jathmar could hear the detailed explanation of what's going on if he were willing to stop and meditate on the bond but he either considers returning to camp a higher priority or he simply forgot in the face of disaster that he could do so. If that last sounds far-fetched, he realizes halfway to camp quite suddenly that he's a Mapper and can take a more direct route to camp than following the stream.
Stress, bad for psychic powers is?

Alternatively, yeah, iffy plotting. I'd have wanted to let Jathmar shine a bit by just letting him run full tilt through howling wilderness because he knows perfectly well where all the obstacles in his path are and can plot a path to avoid them practically in his sleep. As it stands, Shaylar's superpower is just plain too much cooler than his. :(

The Sherthan Model 70 had been designed as a short, handy saddle gun, but it was still a powerful weapon. Chambered for a .48 caliber, three hundred-grain round based on the old Ternathian Army Model 9's. Its muzzle velocity was lower than the military weapon's, due to its shorter barrel, but with the new "smokeless powder," it still pushed the heavy, hollow-pointed round at over nineteen hundred feet per second, producing a muzzle energy of over two thousand foot-pounds. That gave the weapon a nasty kick, but it was also sufficient to blow a hole right through a man and lethal enough to deal with anything short of one of the huge grizzlies.
Jathmar's rifle. Caliber I get (pretty solid size) and muzzle velocity too. Smokeless powder is mentioned again and I guess hollow-point bullets really are a thing here. The grain count is Greek to me, I'm assuming it's a measure of the powder charge in each shell, but the difference between 300 grain, 200 grain, 150 grain or 1 grain means nothing to me.[/quote]Hand of Weber in the overdetailed numbers. Use of foot-pounds to measure muzzle energy is, in particular, just a silly anachronism and/or "no real person ever thinks like this"-ism.

The large caliber bullet is typical of firearms in the transition from black powder to smokeless powder. Black powder is relatively low energy and low velocity, so to get acceptable stopping power you have to use a large, heavy bullet. Smokeless powder burns much faster and gives the bullet much, much higher muzzle velocities, and at the same time enable you to build more reliable quick-firing guns that make it desirable to carry a lot more ammunition for military purposes. So the bullets get slimmed down.

In the transitional phase, something like a .45 caliber rifle slug is pretty normal. As an example of a rifle round in this caliber, which was made in both black powder and smokeless powder versions:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.44-40_Winchester

Here, I'm pretty sure grains refer to the weight of the bullet, not the powder charge, and matter only to firearms enthusiasts (which includes a fair chunk of the target demographic for the publishers of this book).

It was a cairn.
I guess their naturalist decided to bury Falsan over packing his things after all. Well, pile rocks over the corpse, anyway. Jathmar made it back to camp.
Cairns are relatively quick to build if there are rocks around, so yeah.

And now back to the Arcanans...
The palisade was strong enough to repel anyone who wanted to get inside, unless he had a convenient field-dragon to blast it down with explosive spells, which Jasak didn't. The thick wall of saplings—cut from the stream bank where there was enough open sunlight to allow heavy shrubs and saplings to grow—had been interwoven with tough brush, much of it thorn-covered, to create a high, virtually impenetrable barrier. His scouts' infantry-dragons, far lighter than the field-dragons the artillery used, would find it extremely difficult to blow gaps in it.

Despite the chief sword's comment, it wasn't quite a fortification. But it was more than stout enough to keep out any wild animals, and the number of people who could have been concealed in the area inside that high, thorny wall was dismayingly large . . . especially when those people were equipped with whatever unknown sort of weaponry they'd used against Osmuna.
The wall around the camp, which Jasak is treating as full of hostiles until he knows otherwise.
Also, the Arcanans' idea of a man-portable infantry support weapon is hard pressed to punch through a field fortification made out of saplings and thorn bushes. Bazookas they ain't, although they'd be extremely dangerous to soldiers trained to march in solid formations and shoot vollies the way, say, American Civil War infantry were. And as some Sharonan soldiers actually still might be, since they don't seem to have fought any major land wars since the invention of long range rifles.

You'd think weapons that literally shoot fire and lightning would at least be able to set such a fortification on fire.

Arcanan artillery pieces are called 'dragons' which could get confusing seeing as they use actual dragons. The weapons are so called because they imitate a dragon's breath-weapons. They use 'spell packs' basically bricks of sarkolis crystal to provide ammo. Combat spell enginners do their thing into the crystals, providing both juice and spellware telling it what to do with that power.

A squad of spell engineers is assigned to each company to provide this and other magic needs, and are too valuable to risk in combat.
Yes. So, functionally, the only difference between this and real artillery is that an Arcanan artillery unit can conceivably replenish its artillery ammunition in the field.

On the other hand, doing so requires highly trained and precious soldiers who cannot be readily replaced, and who can be captured by enemy action if the opposition gets lucky with a random cavalry raid.

Arcanan squads. Two noncoms, 6 crossbowmen (arbalestier may be technically more accurate, but sounds silly) and two infantry-dragons for heavy weapons, with a gunner and two assistants each to hump the piece and ammo. Meant to be easily divisible into fire-teams, and Jasak has four squads.
The infantry-dragons are the only part that are really significant, tactically speaking, against the Sharonans. However, in all honesty, we never get a satisfactory picture of how effective Arcanan and Sharonan infantry would be in a shoot-out against each other, so the question of how infantry-dragons compare to rifles is still ambiguous.

"Go on, Chief Sword," he said, and Threbuch produced some other odd cylinders of metal. These were much larger, as broad as his palm, and six inches long.

"There's a whole stash of these, whatever they are, Sir. We found them in every tent. They don't seem to be weapons of any sort, but there something inside them. You can feel it slosh when you shake the thing."
Beer? Lamp oil? What else would the survey team have cans of?
Soup? Some kind of funny canteen? Although lamp oil seems like a pretty likely one.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-07 08:32pm

biostem wrote:I would think that, unless the magic empire can mass produce firearm-equivalents, then they'd be at a huge disadvantage if a full-on war were to erupt. The only wildcard would be that the magic world has much more reliable air support - the psychic/tech world may have, at most, some hot air balloons or maybe simple zeppelins.
Their man-portable support weapons may be effective enough to make up most of the gap, but that is uncertain. We've never really seen Arcanan infantry support "dragons" in a pitched battle, so it's not clear how they stack up to machine guns or mortars.

Maybe I missed it, but how does the portal company enforce fees for portal travel? If these things are 10's or more miles across, then either they have immense resources at their disposal, or they simple erect their facilities at the safe crossing points...
Erect facilities at the safe crossing points and exercise control of the railroads linking each portal to the next. Sure, you could sneak a train of pack mules through any given portal, but even after you do, you're still thousands of miles from home, across a lightly developed wilderness.

It'll never pay to smuggle goods through the portal unless you can make an arrangement for rail and ship transport of your goods back to the homeworld... and the Portal Authority has control of those railroads and ships.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-07 11:10pm

Re: different species, the naturalist at one point earlier on was incredibly excited over discovering a new subspecies of chipmunk with black and white fur. So it seems there is some variation even if most of the wildlife they run into is really familiar.

Simon_Jester wrote:
Also a good idea to retain any maps, weapons and advanced technology. I'm pretty impressed with Ghartoun since this is coming at him cold. I feel prety conficent there was nothing like this scenario in even the most unlikely thought experiment of a first-contact contingency plan.
Oh, I don't know. The "first contact is hostile" scenario is pretty obvious- suppose you wander into portal-hopping Mongol hordes or something?* And given the way the portal network works, it really is a good plan to buy time and avoid dangling your lightly armed band of portal explorers out to be captured and maybe tortured by the enemy.

*Oh, right. Those are the Arpathian hordes now. Excuse me. ;)


This very specific scenario, where first contact is made with a force of unknown size and intention but beginning with a double-murder. I'm guessing in most first contact scenarios they either establish peaceful intentions and begin working on each others languages, or they're most likely dead. Flight seems unlikely.


Ahriman238 wrote:Sharona has hot air balloons. Also internal combustion engines though for the moment they're the province of "wild-eyed lunatics" rather than serious professionals. And they're even combining these into basic dirigibles, or so rumor says.
Yes.

Dirigibles are really, really not a good idea in combat against the Arcanans, because of long range and highly accurate lightning weapons, both on airborne dragons and as infantry support weapons.

Piston engine aircraft would be, but from the sound of it they're at least twenty years or so from building anything that would be particularly survivable in air to air combat against Arcanan dragons.


Considering they don't seem to believe airlift is a thing at first, yes, aviation will likely be a while. Aviation that won't die within moments of crossing a dragon-rider's eye, even more so.


Not everyone has a Talent powerful enough to make a living off of. May be something of an economic self-fulfilling prophecy. The Talents are common enough that even training only the upper 50th percentile creates a sufficient Talented workforce for most applications. Those with a weaker Talent don't get training, and so never develop.
That certainly could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although it could also be very reasonably true- there almost have to be degrees of psychic power that range from "useful" to "parlor trick."


I agree, I just don't think that would exclude half of all Talents.

It was pointed out to me once that professional athletes (particularly football and hockey players) are disproportionately born in the same 2-3 month period, right after the cut-off dates for youth sports. See, there's an entire world of difference between a kid who just turned seven and a kid whose nearly eight, at least as far as their size and physical abilities. So the ones born right after cut-off tend to dominate the game as kids. They always get picked first, they enjoy the most success and so are the most likely to stick with it through the years and long practices, and to get greater rewards or access to better training in a sort of upward spiral leading all the way to a draft pick. There are exceptions, naturally, people born outside the range who do quite well in sports and birthdate is far from a guarantor of success, but still something like 85% of professional athletes are born in one season varying by sport.

I think a similar dynamic is at work with the Talents. They've mentioned a few times that training and practice make a serious difference in their Talents, and the other half is mentioned explicitly as having Talents "too weak to bother training."


One of the big vulnerabilities of the Sharonan reliance on Voices in wartime is simply that you only have so many of them, and unlike a radio set you can't use the communication ability at all without the operator, because the "hardware" is physically inside the operator's skull.


They probably have millions of Voices, but not many close to the front.


The transportation infrastructure to exploit these resources is rather limited, at least for points far from Sharona. It's tens of thousands of miles by rail and steamship to get out to the frontier, and there are points far closer to home that will currently be under exploitation. Nobody's going to try to mine the deposits Jathmar has located for... probably a century or so. But the claims staked to that real estate are still valuable, if not as valuable as they otherwise would be.

Moreover, the cost of accessing these resources cannot drop below the physical cost of the machinery and labor required to extract them. Which is high enough that big deposits are still valuable, especially if they are conveniently close to a portal site and therefore to the "main line" trunk railroads the Portal Authority builds to connect the universes.

It's much more convenient to access an iron mine that happens to be a hundred miles or so from the portal than to convince the Portal Authority to build a two thousand mile long 'railroad spur' to link up to a remote iron ore deposit.


That makes a great deal of sense. You could even speculate and trade claims based on their anticipated value down the line.

Another question, is there anything in the Great Lakes area terribly worth developing? I mean, if it were you and you'd established that's where you were, where is your next destination before rival survey crews arrive?


Similar observations hold on the Arcanan side, although without industrial technology it's not clear if they engage in quite so much mass resource exploitation, and what character that exploitation might take.


Their industrialization, as everything, seems kind of lopsided. We later see casual antigrav use in a very efficient shipbuilding system, and they have things like machined clothes and tools. And yet, their best way of carrying messages is with humming birds.


Alternatively, yeah, iffy plotting. I'd have wanted to let Jathmar shine a bit by just letting him run full tilt through howling wilderness because he knows perfectly well where all the obstacles in his path are and can plot a path to avoid them practically in his sleep. As it stands, Shaylar's superpower is just plain too much cooler than his. :(


I liked his rather more the first time I read the book, mostly because it was novel and telepaths, even telepaths used exclusively for communication, aren't.

Hand of Weber in the overdetailed numbers. Use of foot-pounds to measure muzzle energy is, in particular, just a silly anachronism and/or "no real person ever thinks like this"-ism.

The large caliber bullet is typical of firearms in the transition from black powder to smokeless powder. Black powder is relatively low energy and low velocity, so to get acceptable stopping power you have to use a large, heavy bullet. Smokeless powder burns much faster and gives the bullet much, much higher muzzle velocities, and at the same time enable you to build more reliable quick-firing guns that make it desirable to carry a lot more ammunition for military purposes. So the bullets get slimmed down.

In the transitional phase, something like a .45 caliber rifle slug is pretty normal. As an example of a rifle round in this caliber, which was made in both black powder and smokeless powder versions:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.44-40_Winchester


I am familiar with the concept of both smokeless powder and Spitzer rounds. Well, the basics anyways. But thank you, and I was unaware of the evolution of caliber as it relates to the charge.

I know that muskets were often ~.50 caliber, modern rifles far less so. Usually When I see something like .45 my mind goes back to this story my dad used to tell about the Spanish American War. He'd tell me, at length, how they'd find the same scene over and over, a headless officer with an empty pistol next to an enemy soldier with a machete and six bullet holes. How the enemy would, despite being shot, close and kill the officer before bleeding out. So, according to my dad, they played around with various calibers and charges, shooting cows in the pasture till they found the smallest size bullet where the impact would knock a cow off it's feet and it would stay down. Thus was born the .357 Magnum.

This is my token bit of (kind of dubious) received firearms lore. Besides bits and bobs of historical research focused rather more on musketry.


Here, I'm pretty sure grains refer to the weight of the bullet, not the powder charge, and matter only to firearms enthusiasts (which includes a fair chunk of the target demographic for the publishers of this book).


Ah. Thanks again, simon!


Also, the Arcanans' idea of a man-portable infantry support weapon is hard pressed to punch through a field fortification made out of saplings and thorn bushes. Bazookas they ain't, although they'd be extremely dangerous to soldiers trained to march in solid formations and shoot vollies the way, say, American Civil War infantry were. And as some Sharonan soldiers actually still might be, since they don't seem to have fought any major land wars since the invention of long range rifles.

You'd think weapons that literally shoot fire and lightning would at least be able to set such a fortification on fire.


It's mentioned a bit in that while throwing around fire and lightning is impressive as hell, and it's terrible to be on the receiving end as uncovered infantry, dragons sort of lack the percussive power of cannon and mortar. This is relevant when they erect some rather flimsy fortifications that the Sharonan artillery tears apart with ease. Then again, they have mentioned explosive spells a few times.

Arcanan artillery pieces are called 'dragons' which could get confusing seeing as they use actual dragons. The weapons are so called because they imitate a dragon's breath-weapons. They use 'spell packs' basically bricks of sarkolis crystal to provide ammo. Combat spell enginners do their thing into the crystals, providing both juice and spellware telling it what to do with that power.

A squad of spell engineers is assigned to each company to provide this and other magic needs, and are too valuable to risk in combat.
Yes. So, functionally, the only difference between this and real artillery is that an Arcanan artillery unit can conceivably replenish its artillery ammunition in the field.

On the other hand, doing so requires highly trained and precious soldiers who cannot be readily replaced, and who can be captured by enemy action if the opposition gets lucky with a random cavalry raid.


If they're attached on the company level, shouldn't it be much harder to run out of ammunition? I mean, they left the spell engineers at their portal fortress for safekeeping, but weren't planning on going more than 30-40 miles from the fortress anyway. Another thing is that some sarkolis crystal devices are called 'accumulators' apparently because they absorb background magic over time to power themselves pretty much indefinitely, though the ammo packs are not mentioned in this context I'm not sure if they don't have that capability or if it just could never recharge on a practical time scale.


Arcanan squads. Two noncoms, 6 crossbowmen (arbalestier may be technically more accurate, but sounds silly) and two infantry-dragons for heavy weapons, with a gunner and two assistants each to hump the piece and ammo. Meant to be easily divisible into fire-teams, and Jasak has four squads.
The infantry-dragons are the only part that are really significant, tactically speaking, against the Sharonans. However, in all honesty, we never get a satisfactory picture of how effective Arcanan and Sharonan infantry would be in a shoot-out against each other, so the question of how infantry-dragons compare to rifles is still ambiguous.


Less sure about that. Crossbows can kill just fine, if not with the range, speed or accuracy of a rifle. Though things like fighting in heavily forested terrain, like Hell's Gate could go a long way to eliminating the range advantage.

Another thing that gets used a lot in the second book are "daggerstones" essentially handheld, short-range dragons that fill more-or-less the sidearm niche as the war progresses. They aren't really commonly used by Arcanans before then because they have a very distinctive, very visible magic signature that can be sensed easily at range by any half-competent Magister.


Beer? Lamp oil? What else would the survey team have cans of?
Soup? Some kind of funny canteen? Although lamp oil seems like a pretty likely one.


There are apparently multiple cans in each tent, canned soup would probably stay near their kitchen area. Then again, while it's possible each and every person has a private beer stash, lamp oil seems the best bet so far.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-08 03:10am

Ahriman238 wrote:Re: different species, the naturalist at one point earlier on was incredibly excited over discovering a new subspecies of chipmunk with black and white fur. So it seems there is some variation even if most of the wildlife they run into is really familiar.
Striped chipmunks are the sort of variation you'd expect on timescales of ten to a hundred thousand years, though. Whereas when it comes to humans, things are different enough from world to world that humans never have evolved at all on roughly 99% of all parallel Earths (twice in the 50+160 worlds known to Sharona and Arcana combined).

That really does seem to imply that if all these Earths are parallel timelines, as opposed to being something far, far weirder... then the 'point of departure' is before the origin of the human species. Well before, since we don't see any references to cavemen living in the Great Rift Valley on dozens of worlds.

And in the five or ten million years involved there, you'd expect some speciation a lot more dramatic than "wow, look at the chipmunk with stripes!" But again, there's no reference to this. Or to saber-tooth tigers existing on some Earths, or real-life animals not existing, or anything like that.

Which is a somewhat frustrating omission.

Simon_Jester wrote:This very specific scenario, where first contact is made with a force of unknown size and intention but beginning with a double-murder. I'm guessing in most first contact scenarios they either establish peaceful intentions and begin working on each others languages, or they're most likely dead. Flight seems unlikely.
Well, the 'first contact starts with double murder and the strangers' force is of unknown size and strength' is a special case of 'first contact with hostile force.' And if I were coming up with first contact contingencies for my guys on the ground, I'd run through:

1) This is what you do in the case of peaceful contact with a reasonably sophisticated culture. Here are your guidelines and some suggestions for how to start working on each other's languages and finding common ground for negotation.
2) This is what you do in the case of contact with a primitive culture. This would emphasize being physically secure, offering things like steel knives as trade goods, and not letting the primitives gain the upper hand in any of a number of ways.
3) This is what you do in the case of contact with an unrelentingly hostile culture. This would, for the small exploration team, boil down to "get the hell out of there."

Those are the most likely foreseeable ones from the point of view of the Sharonans

And what the Sharonan team at the portal does after the double murder is, well... a variation on option (3), the "oh crud let's get out of here" plan.

It was pointed out to me once that professional athletes (particularly football and hockey players) are disproportionately born in the same 2-3 month period, right after the cut-off dates for youth sports. See, there's an entire world of difference between a kid who just turned seven and a kid whose nearly eight, at least as far as their size and physical abilities. So the ones born right after cut-off tend to dominate the game as kids. They always get picked first, they enjoy the most success and so are the most likely to stick with it through the years and long practices, and to get greater rewards or access to better training in a sort of upward spiral leading all the way to a draft pick. There are exceptions, naturally, people born outside the range who do quite well in sports and birthdate is far from a guarantor of success, but still something like 85% of professional athletes are born in one season varying by sport... I think a similar dynamic is at work with the Talents. They've mentioned a few times that training and practice make a serious difference in their Talents, and the other half is mentioned explicitly as having Talents "too weak to bother training."
That's a good point. Although we really can't say how much of it is native ability and how much of it is training. I mean, to oversimplify, imagine if there's a "Talent gene," and having one copy of the gene makes you weakly psychic, while having two gives you serious power. In which case it'd take insane amounts of training to take a weakly psychic person and make them competitive, dealing with people who have at least twice their raw psychic 'muscle' and perhaps more.

[That specific hypothesis would probably be incompatible with other details of how Talent works and propagates through populations. The point is, there are many explanations that are possible, and "focusing training on the 'best' psychics results in a very wide gap in Talent ability between those who are singled out for training and those who aren't, even if both had almost identical power levels in childhood."]

One of the big vulnerabilities of the Sharonan reliance on Voices in wartime is simply that you only have so many of them, and unlike a radio set you can't use the communication ability at all without the operator, because the "hardware" is physically inside the operator's skull.
They probably have millions of Voices, but not many close to the front.
Yes- well, that's the problem. They could probably recruit enough Voices for their army to have a Voice for every platoon or company-sized infantry formation... and they need that desperately to maintain efficient communications, which would be one of the big advantages they can leverage against the Arcanans. Arcanan communications rely on flying couriers, and while they're pretty fast they can't manage anything like the real-time communications. Because you still have to write a message, tape it to the leg of your messenger bird, and have it flit off to the command post at 150 miles per hour. The message will still take whole minutes to arrive, even over a few miles... whereas Voices can stay in touch with trivial ease over such short distances and give you communications that react in seconds.

This lets you, for example, call back to base for artillery support.

Another question, is there anything in the Great Lakes area terribly worth developing? I mean, if it were you and you'd established that's where you were, where is your next destination before rival survey crews arrive?
The Great Lakes area contains many rich mineral deposits of iron ore, copper ore, and I-don't-know-what-else. Michigan, in particular, was host to intensive iron and copper mining starting as early as the 1840s- a time when the available locomotives and shipping on the Great Lakes were still rather primitive.

At the other end of the lake system, Pennsylvania is rich in coal (among other things, from what I recall), including many deposits that, again, were accessible using relatively basic technology.

Furthermore, the system of canals needed to interlink the lakes (the Soo Canal and the Welland Canal) were first constructed in the early 19th century as well, suggesting that the Sharonans could do the job pretty easily with modernish equipment like dynamite and steam shovels.

Their industrialization, as everything, seems kind of lopsided. We later see casual antigrav use in a very efficient shipbuilding system, and they have things like machined clothes and tools. And yet, their best way of carrying messages is with humming birds.
They appear utterly ignorant of electricity and magnetism.

The real questions are:
1) Do they mass-produce consumer goods and metal tools, rather than relying on individual craftsmanship to supply the bulk of their population? Magic use could cause this balance to tip either way.
2) Do they produce iron, steel, and other such industrial commodities in bulk quantity? Do they harvest lumber in such large amounts? Basically, are they an 18th century economy with magitech attached, or are they a 19th century economy that just happens to use magic in place of steam engines and telegraphs?

I am familiar with the concept of both smokeless powder and Spitzer rounds.
Sorry, just trying to be thorough. 'Spitzer round' really is a rather obscure term, in my opinion.

I know that muskets were often ~.50 caliber, modern rifles far less so. Usually When I see something like .45 my mind goes back to this story my dad used to tell about the Spanish American War. He'd tell me, at length, how they'd find the same scene over and over, a headless officer with an empty pistol next to an enemy soldier with a machete and six bullet holes. How the enemy would, despite being shot, close and kill the officer before bleeding out. So, according to my dad, they played around with various calibers and charges, shooting cows in the pasture till they found the smallest size bullet where the impact would knock a cow off it's feet and it would stay down. Thus was born the .357 Magnum.

This is my token bit of (kind of dubious) received firearms lore. Besides bits and bobs of historical research focused rather more on musketry.
Yeah. This is to some extent a urban legend, especially when one spices it up with stuff like 'the officer always hit his assailant six times,' obviously. Although it does seem to be true that there were complaints about pistols in the 9mm caliber range having insufficient stopping power against determined assailants.

Note that rifle calibers during this era trended down to around 7.5 millimeters or 0.30 inches, and stayed there after the 1890-1910 transitional era. Pistol calibers stayed a bit larger, probably because pistol bullets are slower.

It's mentioned a bit in that while throwing around fire and lightning is impressive as hell, and it's terrible to be on the receiving end as uncovered infantry, dragons sort of lack the percussive power of cannon and mortar. This is relevant when they erect some rather flimsy fortifications that the Sharonan artillery tears apart with ease. Then again, they have mentioned explosive spells a few times.
Thing is, the Arcanans' idea of explosive spells seems to be whatever it is they use out of their 'dragons.'

If they're attached on the company level, shouldn't it be much harder to run out of ammunition? I mean, they left the spell engineers at their portal fortress for safekeeping, but weren't planning on going more than 30-40 miles from the fortress anyway. Another thing is that some sarkolis crystal devices are called 'accumulators' apparently because they absorb background magic over time to power themselves pretty much indefinitely, though the ammo packs are not mentioned in this context I'm not sure if they don't have that capability or if it just could never recharge on a practical time scale.
Their engineer-mages may be able to recharge plenty of ammunition, but unless they operate close to the front lines, you still face the obstacle of shuttling the recharged ammunition to the front. And for Arcanan units in pitched combat, that probably means having to run the resupply in on horseback, because landing a dragon that close to the front is a good way to have said dragon killed by shelling or long range rifle and machine gun fire.

Moreover, if the engineer-mages are kept thirty or forty miles behind the lines, they are potentially vulnerable to enemy cavalry raids and so on, which can be quite mobile and far-ranging, even assuming the Sharonans don't turn out to have, say, steam-powered armored cars or whatever.

Less sure about that. Crossbows can kill just fine, if not with the range, speed or accuracy of a rifle. Though things like fighting in heavily forested terrain, like Hell's Gate could go a long way to eliminating the range advantage.
True, although the war rather promptly moves away from Hell's Gate thanks to the overwhelming Arcanan air advantage.

The thing about crossbows is that a crossbow's maximum practical range is much more limited than that of a rifle. Even if individual riflemen don't have much chance of hitting you from five hundred yards away, if they do hit you you're probably dead. With a crossbow that a human being could conceivably draw/wind/span, hitting from five hundred yards is out of the question. Even if you built one that could do that, crosswinds and aerodynamic forces would have much more effect on an arrow than on a bullet, and your fire would be greatly reduced in effectiveness.

All things considered, I'd say that the Arcanan crossbowmen do not present a major tactical threat to a prepared Sharonan force that has their weapons to hand. They're not 'effectively unarmed' or anything extreme like that, but they're at a serious disadvantage in firepower, range, and versatility.

Another thing that gets used a lot in the second book are "daggerstones" essentially handheld, short-range dragons that fill more-or-less the sidearm niche as the war progresses. They aren't really commonly used by Arcanans before then because they have a very distinctive, very visible magic signature that can be sensed easily at range by any half-competent Magister.
Although daggerstones have a very short range. In close combat they're nasty, probably the functional equivalent of a submachine gun. In an open field battle... not so much; they just don't have the range.

Beer? Lamp oil? What else would the survey team have cans of?
Soup? Some kind of funny canteen? Although lamp oil seems like a pretty likely one.
There are apparently multiple cans in each tent, canned soup would probably stay near their kitchen area. Then again, while it's possible each and every person has a private beer stash, lamp oil seems the best bet so far.[/quote]Although you'd think lamp oil would be stashed centrally too... maybe multiple kinds of canned substances are being conflated by Arcanans who don't know anything about canning? In that case, the "multiple cans" might include a can of lamp oil, a can of boot polish, a can or two of soup designed to be heated over small fires in case something goes wrong with the field kitchen, a can or two of fruit preserves or something because fruit preserves taste awesome and you need that because 1900-vintage trail rations suck...

I mean, I wouldn't bet on beer, if only because historically, nobody canned beer in 1900. Canning beverages wasn't much of a thing until rather later. There are some issues with that.

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Ahriman238
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-10 03:40pm

Fallen Timbers up.

"My guess is," Barris said as they continued to move steadily forward themselves, "that they've hit our trail and fanned out into a line. They're trying to circle around and cut off any escape attempt. If I'm right, we're going to see animals cutting across our path from the sides any moment now."

Jathmar grimaced. He drew breath to ask what he could do . . . just as a good-sized rabbit shot past, running on a diagonal path that slashed from their right to their left. His eyes tracked it, and he swore with quiet, heartfelt passion.

"We're not going to make the portal, are we?" he said quietly.

"No." Barris Kasell was watching the trees, not the rabbit, but he answered anyway. "We aren't."


Cornering people is always the best start to dialogue. It brings out the calm and reason in people, or at least firmly establishes control over what happens next.


Jathmar had already crossed this ground once, on their outbound leg, which helped. The dips and low undulating hills, masked from ordinary eyesight by the dense covering of the forest, stretched for long, unchanging miles. The land revealed to his inner eye was stark and easy to read. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single spot in any of that rolling terrain that would shelter them, or at least give them a fighting chance to defend themselves.

He blinked, returning his awareness fully to his body, and met chan Hagrahyl's worried eyes.

"Did you—" the expedition's leader began, only to break off as a magnificent ten-point buck came crashing through the trees at an oblique. Only this time, the animal crossed their path from left to right.

"Nothing, Ghartoun." Jathmar shook his head. "I'm sorry."

-snip-

A moment later, Fanthi returned, jogging straight up to chan Hagrahyl.

"There's a clearing we can use. Looks like a twister touched down at some point in the past year or so. Lots of trees down. Tangled brush, tree trunks the size of temple pillars. Good cover, as well as plenty of concealment. We won't find a better spot."


Unable to escape, and unwilling to try a suicidal rearguard delays them long enough for the rest to escape, lest it destroy any small chance of preventing bloodshed, Chartoun decides to fort up and try diplomacy when the Arcanans show up. Interestingly, the scout spots the acre cleared by a tornado where the Mapper either cannot, or doesn't consider it useful do to a lack of military training.


Tymo Scleppis took up a position to Jathmar's left, near the center of their all-too-ragged line. The Healer was opening his pack, trying to ready himself for casualties if it came to open fighting. Rilthan—their best marksman, by a wide margin—crawled in just to Shaylar's right. The gunsmith was the only member of their party armed with the new Ternathian Model 10 bolt-action rifle, with its twelve-round box magazine.


The newest Ternathian rifles carry 12 rounds. But I believe Jathmar's also had a small magazine. And a Healer with both a Talent and conventional training and equipment.


Shevan Garlath had never seen a likelier spot for an ambush.

He stared, mesmerized, at the jumble of timber a tornado must have toppled in some relatively recent storm. The entire clearing was a twisted mass of jagged, broken wood, tree trunks, and branches that jutted out like the sharp stakes of a basilisk trap.

And he had to search it.

-snip-

But Hundred fucking Olderhan—the name and rank stuck in his craw like a fishbone—was watching him. Watching, waiting with bated breath for Garlath to screw up. Regs—and tradition—were clear: a commander of fifty went out with his platoon. He had to be right on top of the action, especially in close terrain like this, to coordinate his troopers' movements and respond instantly to any change in the situation.

Garlath cursed the Regs, cursed the officers who'd written them, cursed the "follow-me" junior officer tradition of the Andaran military, cursed the judge advocates who'd established the punishments for failing to follow Regs . . . and, with a passion and a fervor which surprised even him, cursed Sir Jasak Olderhan for ever having been born to make Garlath look so bad in comparison.


Fifty Garlath's head is a strange place.


"Understand me, Fifty. We're responsible for the lives of our own people, but our overriding responsibility is to the Union. To preventing this from getting any further out of hand. You and your men will not fire unless and until you are attacked."

Garlath stared at him, face sweaty and eyes wide. Jasak could almost literally feel the protest just barely locked behind the other man's teeth.

"I understand your concern for your men's safety," he said, his voice as soft and reasonable as he could make it even as both of them knew whose safety Garlath was truly concerned about, "and no officer likes giving an order like that. But it's a direct order, and it will be obeyed, Fifty Garlath. On the other hand, I'll understand if you feel unable to order your men to obey my instructions under these circumstances. If you do, I will relieve you without prejudice and assume command of your platoon and responsibility for any casualties it may suffer."


Well, Jasak tried anyways.


Besides, he told himself, searching frantically for something to bolster his own courage, he knows perfectly well that whoever's actually in command when we finally make contact with these bastards—however it comes out—is going to be made for life. And if he has to relieve me for "cowardice" to take over command, it'll only make him look better!


?

No, really. What? Whoever is in charge is going into the history books, sure, but not necessarily in a good way.


The nearest soldier was twenty yards out, and chan Hagrahyl stood up.

Without his rifle. Without even a handgun. He simply stood up, in the most stunning display of pure, cold courage Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr had ever seen in her life.

"If you don't mind, that's far enough," he said in a voice that sounded like someone talking to his grandmother, not to a pack of armed strangers who'd already murdered a friend of his.

He held his hands out in the open, empty, nonthreatening, trying to show them he was no danger. The men in the clearing whirled at the sound of his voice, then froze where they stood, taking stock through wide eyes. They stared from chan Hagrahyl's empty hands to his tense but pleasant smile, and two or three of them turned uncertainly toward the trees behind them, rather than towards the man Shaylar had thought was in charge.

Then she realized that that man wasn't frozen in surprise.

* * *

The sound of a voice shouting alien gibberish sent terror scalding through Garlath even as his mind shrieked the word: Enemy! The jabbering stranger thrust himself violently out of hiding, ready to strike with some terrifying murder weapon, and the sorry-assed men of Second Squad weren't even moving.

Terror fluttered at the back of Garlath's throat, like a trapped basilisk, yet even as it strangled him, a sudden wild exultation swept through him, as well.

I've got him! He's mine! Not Jasak Olderhan's, not anyone else's, but mine!

Visions of glory, of promotions and the adoration of all of Arcana roared through him like dragonfire, spreading to his fingertips and toes, and his arm came up.

* * *

Jasak saw Garlath's arbalest twitch as the stranger stood up, calling out in a friendly voice. He saw the weapon start to swing up, start to track around towards the voice.

"Hold fire!" he shouted. "Hold fire, Fifty Garlath! Damn it, I said hold—"

Thwack!

* * *

The crossbow quarrel hit chan Hagrahyl directly in the throat.

Shaylar screamed under Jathmar's feet, echoing his own shock. Blood drenched the pile of wood, spraying hot and terrible over chan Hagrahyl's hands as he clawed at the shaft, choking on blood and steel. And then he was falling backwards, against the pile of wood.

Jathmar snarled and threw his rifle to his shoulder, but Barris Kasell beat him to the first shot. The ex-soldier's rifle cracked like doomsday, and the bastard with the crossbow staggered. Jathmar's shot slammed into him a sliver of a second later, and then the entire survey crew opened up.


Second meeting between two advanced, peace-loving transdimensional civilizations, each with orders not to escalate the situation. Goes no better than the first time.


He wasn't responsible for whatever was happening out there, but he was the one who'd sent them to meet it, because Darcel Kinlafia wasn't just a Voice; he was also a Portal Hound.

That wasn't the technical name for his secondary Talent, but it was the one everyone associated with the Portal Authority used. No one had yet found a way to actually detect and pinpoint the locations of portals, but a Hound had a special affinity to whatever disturbance in the fabric of creation brought them into existence. No Hound could reliably quantify what he sensed, he couldn't pluck distances and classifications out of thin air, and yet Darcel simply "knew" the compass bearing to the nearest portal. He had absolutely no way of knowing how far away it might be, but he knew which way to go to find the closest one.

Well, that wasn't entirely correct. A larger portal might appear to be closer than a smaller one which was actually much nearer to a Hound's physical location. But the Hounds, who were even rarer than Mappers of Jathmar's strength, were utterly invaluable to any exploration team.


And yes, we're going to get most of Fallen Timbers from Darcel's (the Voice/Portal Hound sitting on the portal by the fort) perspective.

Portal Hounds are apparently on the rarer end of the Talent Pool. They can sense direction to the nearest portal, but not distance. Though, I suppose if they walked perpendicular to the portal for a bit, plugged in distance traveled and triangulated, that should work right?At least if this sense is as precise as a compass bearing.

Can sense multiple portals, called this one as a cluster, so less worried about him 'seeing' only the one he came from.

So, Sharonans have a bearing to the next portal from pretty early on. Arcanans need to do a grid search of the entire planet with air-travel and detectors. Arcana has seen far more worlds but that's probably a function of how they've been doing this twice as long.


He'd already relayed Shaylar's message. Even now, it was rushing back along the transit chain, Voice to Voice, portal to portal, universe to universe, through dozens—hundreds—of telepathic Voices, all passing along the frantic message.

Warn the homeworld!


Yes, warn the homeworld. Send for help.


When Shaylar's warning had come in, he'd gone back through the portal to relay, then found Company-Captain Halifu and delivered the disturbing message to him in person. Grafin Halifu had dispatched Platoon-Captain Hulmok Arthag and half his cavalry platoon—the only one assigned to him—to find the civilian crew and escort them safely back, if they could only make rendezvous with one another in time.


The cavalry is on their way. Literally.


Three men appeared, carrying . . . something. A strange object, perhaps four feet long and two or three inches in diameter, made out of what looked like glass. No, not glass. Rock crystal? It didn't seem to be either, but it certainly wasn't metal, and—


That'll be an infantry dragon. Four feet by 2-3 inches, sarkolis crystal must be reasonably heavy if it takes three guys to move that.


Flame erupted from nowhere at all.

A huge, incandescent fireball ripped into the toppled trees. Smoke blinded him. Someone else was screaming.

"Shoot the gunners!"

It was Barris, shouting through the smoke and confusion, and Darcel's eyes whipped back to the men with the not-crystal tube. It was mounted on a tripod, now, pointed in their direction, like some sort of weird fieldgun.

"Shoot the gunners!" Barris bellowed again.


Tripod mount. Shaylar listens and kills the gunners for the heavy weapons.


"They're coming in from the right!" Elevu Gitel shouted, and Jathmar spat curses above Darcel's head and twisted around, shooting at the fresh crossbowmen coming in along their vulnerable flank. Two men went down . . . three . . .

"How many of them are there?" the Mapper gasped. A quarrel thwacked wood two inches from his cheek, buried in the tree trunk he crouched behind. "Bastards!"

He fired at them again, cursed, and ducked down to reload, shoving the cartridges into the loading gate while all the universe roared and screamed madly about him.

Another fireball erupted from somewhere. Dried leaves and twigs burst into flame. Someone was screaming—high and mindless, on and on.

"Where's it coming from?" Jathmar demanded hoarsely.

There were two of the not-artillery things out there now, and the original one had acquired a new crew. The other was fifty yards from the first one, identical to it. And pointed almost dead at Darcel. It started to glow, like eldritch fire, or the northern lights at midwinter, and—


Not good, Jasak's force should have 8 of the dragons.

Darkly amused that each side is so freaked out by the other's weapons.


Infantry erupted across the smoldering wreckage of the clearing. Fifteen, maybe twenty of them. Shaylar snatched the rifle to her shoulder, pulled the trigger. Worked the lever, took another shot . . . worked the lever . . . took another shot.

They fired the rifle dry, and the bastards were still coming. No time to reload. Darcel went for Shaylar's Polshana, but it was Shaylar who acquired the first target. She brought the gun up two-handed, centered a charging soldier, squeezed the double-action trigger. The man staggered, clutched at his chest, and then his face exploded as their second hollow-nosed slug hit him squarely in the forehead and she shot him down like carrion.

Rilthan wreaked havoc on the center of the charging line. Each time his rifle cracked, a soldier screamed and sprawled in the debris, leaving a widening gap in the middle of their line. Shaylar tracked to the side, acquiring a target at the right hand end of the charge and firing, again and again, as she worked her way inward, and Darcel knew their revolver was almost empty.

The charge wavered. Halted. Broke apart. Shaken soldiers ran back into the cover of the trees, and someone was shouting orders from back there. More men were moving into position. Gods—how many of them were there?


Civilians stopping a charge by professional infantry.


Two blasts erupted from the mouth of hell.

A fireball ripped through the fallen trees again—and writhing through the incandescent flames came a jagged streak of lightning. It slammed into Barris Kasell, who was still shouting orders. For one horrifying second, he twisted in midair, lit by blue actinic fire that burst from his very skin.


Oh yes, some of the dragons shoot fireballs, others shoot lightning bolts.


Shaylar passed her rifle to Jathmar to give him a backup weapon and fumbled for her pack. She yanked it open and started dragging out her maps, her notebooks—the records of every universe they'd mapped, with the locations of every portal in the cluster they'd been exploring, and—far worse—every portal between here and Sharona itself.

She dragged them out, snatched a branch from a blazing pile of deadwood, touched flame to each and every map in her possession. Burned them to ash. Ripped out notebook pages and fed them to the flames, as well. Rifles cracked, men screamed horribly, and still she consigned pages to the flames, destroying her work in a desperate bid to keep the savage killers from overrunning every portal they could reach. And even as she burned them, Darcel heard fewer and fewer rifles still firing, knew his friends—his family—were dying around her under the fury of those impossible, horrifying balls of flame and bolts of lightning.


Shaylar takes a couple of minutes to destroy her notes and maps.


Jathmar had realized what she was doing, and how important it was. He'd stood over her, firing steadily, protecting her while she worked. But as she tossed the final load into the flames, he jumped down to pull her back to a safer spot . . . just as another fireball struck. It caught his back, flung him against a fallen, crosswise tree branch. His belly and chest struck hard, and he doubled up around the wood, pinned for horrible seconds with flames scorching his back.

His clothes ignited. Fire crisped hair and skin.

"JATHMAR!"

This scream tore her throat. Shaylar and Darcel were scrambling forward, trying to reach Jathmar as he slid off a branch and fell to the ground. Lightning branched and slammed inches away. The concussion of thunder hurled them sideways. Their head struck something incredibly hard with bone-crushing force—

Darcel exploded back into his own body.


What happens, in detail when a red dragon strikes a person. Signal lost.


He tried to contact her, tried frantically to get through. But he found only deathly cold silence.

"She's not—" Halifu's horror-choked voice broke off, unwilling—or unable—to complete the question.

"I don't know." Darcel was shaking, unable to control the runaway tremors. "We were hit by an artillery blast of some kind. Thrown by the concussion. Hit our head on something."

He wrapped his arms about himself, gulped down air.

"Ghartoun's dead. So are Barris Kasell and Braiheri Futhai. Elevu Gitel. And if Jathmar's still alive—oh, gods, the burns were horrible—"


Maybe dead, maybe KOed. The important thing is the Sharonans have firsthand experience now of Arcanans massacring civilians, beginning with the obviously unarmed man trying to parlay.


He realized he was rocking back and forth only when someone else's arm around his shoulders steadied him and Halifu pressed something metallic against his chattering teeth.

"Drink!"

Darcel gulped, choked, wheezed as the whiskey went down. His eyes smarted . . . but his whirling senses steadied.


Is this their answer to all psychic trauma?


Halifu snarled. "I may be supposed to have a company here, but all I've got is two understrength platoons, less than a hundred and fifty men, and Platoon-Captain Arthag's cavalry detachment. And he's riding straight into a trap with half of his men right fucking now! I can't possibly meet an attack by weapons like that—not without reinforcements—and we're over five thousand miles from the nearest railhead! The column from Fort Salby's due any day, but how close it is yet is anyone's guess."


Sharonan troops in the vicinity. And 5,000 miles from the Hell's Gate portal to where the railroad home begins and ends.


"Rescue party?" Darcel choked out. "What's the fucking point?"

Company-Captain Halifu went white again.

"Surely there must be some survivors," he said hoarsely.

Darcel never knew what showed on his face, but suddenly Halifu was crouched in front of him, gripping his shoulders with bruising force.

"Don't give up yet," the Uromathian said in a voice full of gravel and steel grit. "I'm sure as hell not giving up, not until we've seen proof. If I were the commander of that military force, I'd want survivors, someone I could question—"

Darcel flinched, and Halifu bit his lip.


Awkward, that.


"Company-Captain Halifu," he said in a voice of steel-sharp hatred. "I believe you said something about needing reinforcements?"

Halifu met his gaze levelly—met and held it. Then he nodded.

"Yes, I did. If you'd be so kind as to transmit a message for me, requesting them, we'll get started on that rescue mission."


And with the wonders of Voice telepathy, not only will the detailed situation be passed on home, along with possibly the most redundant request for reinforcements ever made, but also every Voice who wants gets to share those last minutes with Shaylar.


"Cease fire! Cease fire!"

Jasak plowed into the nearest infantry-dragon's crew. He caught the closer assistant gunner by the collar and heaved him bodily away from the weapon. The gunner didn't even seem to notice . . . until Jasak kicked him solidly in the chest.

"Cease fire, godsdamn you!"


Having a little trouble throttling back there. Well, it's not really Jasak's fault.


His men lay sprawled like gutted marionettes across ground that was splashed with far too much blood. There were bodies everywhere, too many of them motionless, not even moaning, and his stomach clenched in the agony only a commanding officer could know.

Graholis' balls. Half his entire platoon was down out there. Half!


The survey crew took quite a few Arcanan soldiers down with them.


"More survivors, Sir!" another shout rang across the smoke-filled clearing. "Oh, gods! One of them's a woman!"

Jasak ran, sickness twisting in his gut. He cursed the debris in his way, fighting to find a path through it, then flinging himself down, crawling under a fallen tree trunk to reach them. There were four survivors, fairly close together. Three had been burned badly; the fourth was scorched, but the infantry-dragon's breath had barely brushed her, thank Graholis.


Survivors. Not many, and there will be less in a few minutes.


Jasak led her to them. She tested their pulses in turn, her eyes closed, whispering under her breath. Power stirred about her, gripping hard enough to twist Jasak with a sharper nausea.

"It's bad—Heavenly Lady, it's bad. I can't save them all. I'm sorry. I might—I can probably keep one of them alive. Maybe . . ."


Not good to have to make that call.


"Look!" She pointed at the woman's wrist, and Jasak frowned. The tiny, unconscious stranger wore a bracelet—a cuff of flexible metal that looked like woven gold. He'd already noticed that, but Gadrial was pointing at one of the wounded men, as well. He wore a matching cuff.

"That one," the magister said. "I'll—"


Bracelets, the Sharonan version of wedding rings. Saves Jathmar's life, as Gadriel takes that as the sign of who she should heal.


She knelt beside the man with the wrist cuff. He was broken, as well as burned. The savagery of his wounds bled back through her hands, carried by her minor healing Gift, and she moaned involuntarily in the face of so much pain, so much damage . . .

She closed her eyes, rested her hands carefully on his chest, and summoned the power of her Gift. Whispered words poured from her lips, helping her shape and direct the energy she plucked from the air about her. That energy was everywhere, a vast, unseen, seething sea that rolled and thundered like a storm-swept tide. It poured out of the emptiness between mortal thoughts and the power of God and scorched down her arms, out through her hands into the injured man. It was enormous, that sea of energy, an unimaginable, infinite boil of power flying loose and wild for anyone with the Gift strong enough to touch and take it.

But Gadrial's healing Gift was only a minor arcana. She could take only a little, only a sliver of the power someone with a major healing Gift could have taken, and even that small an amount had a price.


What using magic feels like.


Someone caught her shoulders, steadied her, and she leaned against a shoulder that took her weight effortlessly.

She needed that support—badly—as voices swam in and out of focus. The universe seemed to dip and swerve, curtsying like a ship in a heavy sea, and the start of a brutal headache throbbed somewhere behind her eyes.

Gift shock, her trained mind told her through the chaos. The strain of someone pushing a Gift far beyond its safe limits. It had been a long time since she'd felt it, and she wandered through seconds and minutes which stretched and contracted weirdly as she tried to find her way through the chaos of the backlash.


And overdoing it. Seems both Talents and Gifts can be rough on the user.


"Keep your eyes open, Chief Sword, but don't dawdle. If they've dispatched a runner, I want him—alive and unharmed."


Checking for escapees. Still trying to control the situation, even as he's reeling from unintentionally massacring the innocent. There's a reason I'm impressed with Jasak Olderhan.


"We have to get them back to the swamp portal before we can airlift them out. We can't get a dragon here in time. The nearest is at the coast, seven hundred miles from our entry portal. First it'd have to get there, then fly cross-country to meet us, and once it touched down out here—" he pointed at the clearing "—it wouldn't be able to take off again. Not enough wing room to get airborne fast enough to clear the trees. A battle dragon might be different—they're smaller, faster. They can dive, strike, and lift off again in a much smaller space. But transport dragons need a lot of wing room."


There's four dragon species. Transport dragons are the biggest, because htey have to move tons of cargo or whole platoons of men.


"What about clearing a landing zone?" she asked. "Could you burn down some of the trees with the infantry-dragons?"

Jasak shook his head and gestured at the scorched trunks the enemy had found shelter among. They were smoldering, badly scorched, but mostly intact.

"Look for yourself. A dragon is designed to burn people," he said bitterly, "not to knock down trees. We do have some incendiary charges that could bring down even a tree that size," he nodded towards a towering giant, six feet thick at the base, "but not enough to clear a landing field long enough for a dragon to take off again. We'd need ten times as many as we've got to do that.


Little light on demolition, on account of being a scouting unit and all. Dragons (the guns) again lack the power to explosively remake the landscape.


She tried to touch him through the bond, but there was something wrong, dreadfully wrong, inside her head. Pain throbbed relentlessly, leaving her dizzy and sick. And, far worse, Voiceless. She couldn't Hear Jathmar, and even though she tried, she couldn't Hear Darcel, either. There was nothing but pain. Nothing else in the universe . . .


Head trauma, not good for psychics.


Memory struck her down again. Smoke. Flame. Jathmar burning in the center of the fireball. She began to cry, helplessly, and the woman held her, rocked her gently.

Shaylar's Talent roared wide open. She couldn't hear thoughts; her wounded head throbbed without mercy, and the language would have been wrong, in any case. But the other woman's emotions spilled into her, hot as peppered Ricathian whiskey, yet gentle and filled with sorrow and compassion.

They didn't mean for this to happen.

She didn't know how she knew it, but Shaylar knew. As certainly as if the woman had told her, mind to mind, she knew . . . and knew it was the truth. They hadn't meant for the fighting, the death, to happen at all. Deep currents of someone else's emotions washed over her: bitter regret, a sorrow so deep it ached, a sense of helpless grief, smoldering anger at someone—a specific person, somehow to blame for all the agony and destruction. Shaylar felt it all, and with it came a bleak, terrible desolation all her own.


Touch telepathy is still working though.


And then her breath caught. He lay beside her. His hair was singed; his shirt—what little remained of it—was scorched; and her breath faltered at the sight of the raw, oozing burns along his back. But his ribs were lifting and falling, slowly, steadily.

"Jathmar!"

The shriek came from her soul, and she tried to fling herself at him. But the other woman caught her back, speaking urgently again. Her fear gradually seeped through Shaylar's wild need to throw her arms about her husband and protect him from further harm. The other woman had captured Shaylar's face between her hands, was speaking in a frantic tone, trying to make Shaylar understand something vitally important.

And then she did. Jathmar was badly, desperately injured. He might yet die, and Shaylar stopped struggling to reach him. The relief in the other woman was so strong it caused the slender not-Uromathian to sag and gulp in air.


I can tell we're going to have all kinds of fun learning to communicate.


She looked up dully as someone walked across and stopped in front of her. He was tall and ruggedly handsome, but his eyes were burnt holes, filled with the afterimage of what he'd witnessed. There was a huge, invisible weight on his shoulders, one she'd seen a handful of times in her life. Most recently, it had rested on Ghartoun chan Hagrahyl's shoulders. It had been there when he decided they couldn't wait for Jathmar. And again, when he stood up and faced armed men without so much as a pocket knife in his hands.

He's their commander, she realized with a shock like icewater. He was simply standing there, looking at her, and his eyes held hers the way Ghartoun's had, pleading with her to understand. To somehow refrain from hating him.

* * *

Jasak watched the play of emotions across the tiny woman's face. They were as transparent as glass, and his heart ached. He'd never felt so helpless in his entire life, but there was literally nothing he could do to erase the agony that lived behind her eyes. He didn't even dare to step closer; he didn't want to see her flinch away from him.


It's good that he's a good person, the sort of man who will be tortured by what happened here for years to come. It's good that she can understand at least that this is all a terrible misunderstanding.


What finally caught her attention was the way the surviving soldiers were standing. They were silent, helmets in hand, and then the tall man began to speak. His voice was very quiet, and Shaylar finally realized what he was doing. It was a eulogy—sacred rites for the dead.

And not just his own, she noticed, forcing herself to look again. She saw the bodies of her own companions, laid out with the same care they'd taken with their own dead. Limbs had been straightened, hands crossed over breasts, crossbow quarrels removed . . .

Her crippled, frustratingly erratic Talent was still functioning well enough to catch the emotions of the woman she leaned against, and she winced as they flooded through her. These people were nearly as devastated as she was, with guilt added to the grief. They were trying to show proper respect, according her people the same honors and rites as their own. Someone was moving among the bodies, now, laying a small object on each man's chest. Whatever the objects were, they were placed with reverence and care. Rectangular and dense, they caught the sunlight with the same odd, crystalline sheen as the terrifying weapons which had hurled fire and lightning at them.

The last one was placed, and the man who'd placed them returned to the edge of the clearing and rejoined his companions. Their commander said something further, then turned once again and looked at Shaylar, with something terrifying and almost pleading in his eyes. He took something from the pocket of his uniform blouse, looked at his men, and spoke again.

His voice was harsh with command, and every one of his men snapped to attention. Their right hands struck their left shoulders in what was obviously a salute, and they held it as the commander drew a quick breath, as if for courage, and touched something on the object he taken from his pocket.

Light flared, so bright Shaylar had to look away, her eyes clenching shut in reflex. When she got them open again, her entire body stiffened. The bodies laid so carefully on the ground were burning.


Arcanan field rites. Crystal accumulators used as firestarters, I assume that's their standard function and they just played with the settings rather than packing these specifically in case half the unit was killed off unexpectedly.


She choked, tried to whirl away, and lost her precarious balance. She was falling, dragging the other woman with her. Someone was screaming mindlessly, and a corner of her mind realized it was her. Strong hands caught her, kept her from sprawling across the ground, and she fought like a wildcat, striking out with her fists and nails, frantic to escape this newest horror. She might as well have tried hitting a mountain. The hands were strong, terrifyingly strong, yet strangely gentle, and their owner was saying something in a voice filled with raw pain.


I respect the hell out of Jasak and Gadriel, I get that they didn't want to leave bodies from either side to the scavengers and even the faint hope of helping Shaylar by letting her see them offer the same rites to her people as their. But burning bodies in front of a woman less than an hour after she watched her friends die by fire? Not smart.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2015-02-10 04:27pm

The most interesting bit about Fallen Timbers and something Ahriman238 touched on is that any Voice can relive what for all intents and purposes is Shaylar last moments complete with all senses. Any Voice (Of which there are over several million of back home) can que up a Voicecast and relive Fallen Timbers complete with the sound of gunshots and explosions, the feeling of heat and the smell of burning people. Add to that Shaylar emotions directly in the link including terror, fear, pain and those brief bits of joy when things go right for them for a brief few seconds.

And then they can feel her die.
That message in full is on it's way to the homeland. It's something the Arcanans have no clue over. Even when later explained exactly what Shaylar did they still don't understand, they still don't really grasp the fact that one in one hundred Sharonas (Rough guess) can relate everything that happened to them with perfect clarity to everyone else who has Voice ability.

Film changed war, it changed it in half a hundred ways. Likewise so does Voice ability change Sharona warfare since as I said one in one hundred (If one in five has a talent and Voice is the most common) can perfectly recall and retransmit memories. Complete with all senses and all emotions. It's not a simple image transmission when you go as deep as Shaylar did.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-10 09:29pm

Ahriman238 wrote:The newest Ternathian rifles carry 12 rounds. But I believe Jathmar's also had a small magazine. And a Healer with both a Talent and conventional training and equipment.
During the transitional 1900-era phase, firearms evolved from having no magazine (each round is loaded manually into the breech of the rifle barrel from above) to having a fixed magazine (manually load several rounds) to having detachable magazines (ranging from five to ten rounds historically).

Detachable magazines are harder to make because they have to fit very precisely into the appropriate slot in the gun, and they have to contain powerful, reliable springs that can be bounced around and carried and abused a lot without breaking. For a civilian rifle or older military model like Jathmar probably carries, a fixed magazine is likely to be cheaper and about as useful since he's unlikely to end up in a pitched battle where taking thirty seconds to reload a several-round magazine is a serious problem.

Conventional medical training is likely to let a psychic "Healer" get a lot more mileage out of his abilities assuming they don't run on pure wish fulfillment, i.e. you actually have to know what you're healing.

Fifty Garlath's head is a strange place.
Ayup. Also, he curses in his internal monologue- one of the signatures of a Weber villain from ANY setting. And you can just tell how he always blames everyone else but himself for anything that inconveniences him.

Besides, he told himself, searching frantically for something to bolster his own courage, he knows perfectly well that whoever's actually in command when we finally make contact with these bastards—however it comes out—is going to be made for life. And if he has to relieve me for "cowardice" to take over command, it'll only make him look better!


?

No, really. What? Whoever is in charge is going into the history books, sure, but not necessarily in a good way.
Yeah, he's a dimwit and he's thinking random political credit-stealer-fu instead of actually trying to comprehend the situation and what's at stake.

Second meeting between two advanced, peace-loving transdimensional civilizations, each with orders not to escalate the situation. Goes no better than the first time.
And bozo Garlath ruins it for everyone. By disobeying a direct order. And shooting an unarmed man.

Portal Hounds are apparently on the rarer end of the Talent Pool. They can sense direction to the nearest portal, but not distance. Though, I suppose if they walked perpendicular to the portal for a bit, plugged in distance traveled and triangulated, that should work right?At least if this sense is as precise as a compass bearing.
It certainly should. At least it'd give you a vague sense of the location if you traveled 'far enough' for some reasonable definition of 'enough.'

That'll be an infantry dragon. Four feet by 2-3 inches, sarkolis crystal must be reasonably heavy if it takes three guys to move that.
It may be brittle and not something you want to drop (it might explode if dropped), so having all three guys on the heavy weapon team handle it with care might make sense.

He realized he was rocking back and forth only when someone else's arm around his shoulders steadied him and Halifu pressed something metallic against his chattering teeth.

"Drink!"

Darcel gulped, choked, wheezed as the whiskey went down. His eyes smarted . . . but his whirling senses steadied.
Is this their answer to all psychic trauma?
Aside from the origin of the Caliraths...

It's the early twentieth century on Sharona. Everybody drinks.

There's four dragon species. Transport dragons are the biggest, because htey have to move tons of cargo or whole platoons of men.
Well, there's three distinct subspecies of battle dragons with different breath weapons and bred for slightly different physical traits. It's not clear whether there are one or many subspecies of transport dragons. There might well be, for the same reason there are many subtypes of transport planes.

I respect the hell out of Jasak and Gadriel, I get that they didn't want to leave bodies from either side to the scavengers and even the faint hope of helping Shaylar by letting her see them offer the same rites to her people as their. But burning bodies in front of a woman less than an hour after she watched her friends die by fire? Not smart.
Agreed.



Mr Bean wrote:The most interesting bit about Fallen Timbers and something Ahriman238 touched on is that any Voice can relive what for all intents and purposes is Shaylar last moments complete with all senses. Any Voice (Of which there are over several million of back home) can que up a Voicecast and relive Fallen Timbers complete with the sound of gunshots and explosions, the feeling of heat and the smell of burning people. Add to that Shaylar emotions directly in the link including terror, fear, pain and those brief bits of joy when things go right for them for a brief few seconds.

And then they can feel her die.
That message in full is on it's way to the homeland. It's something the Arcanans have no clue over. Even when later explained exactly what Shaylar did they still don't understand, they still don't really grasp the fact that one in one hundred Sharonas (Rough guess) can relate everything that happened to them with perfect clarity to everyone else who has Voice ability.

Film changed war, it changed it in half a hundred ways. Likewise so does Voice ability change Sharona warfare since as I said one in one hundred (If one in five has a talent and Voice is the most common) can perfectly recall and retransmit memories. Complete with all senses and all emotions. It's not a simple image transmission when you go as deep as Shaylar did.
This is true.

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Sharonans... won't.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-02-10 09:33pm

Haliyar Narmayla struggled to hold back tears as the carriage clattered through the cobbled streets of New Ramath. The cavalry escort riding in front of her cleared the way, giving her carriage absolute priority, and the port master had already been alerted to expect her arrival. The dispatch boat was undoubtedly raising steam even as the well-sprung, rubber-tired carriage swayed and vibrated over the cobbles.


Horse-drawn carriage with rubber tires, and steamship. One of those legs where a Voice needs to take a fast dispatch ship over the water to pass on the message.


New Ramath was a respectable small city—or very large town, depending on one's standards—but it was no huge metropolis. It was also out towards the end of the explored multiverse. In fact, its only reason for existence was to serve Fort Tharkoma, perched in its mountainous aerie almost four hundred miles inland, where it covered both the exit portal from the universe of Salym and also the railhead from Sharona itself. Additional track was being laid beyond Tharkoma, of course. In fact, the actual railhead was currently no more than a few hundred miles short of Fort Salby in the universe of Traisum.

But New Ramath was a critical link in the chain which bound the ever expanding frontier to the home universe. The entry portal for Salym was guarded by Fort Losaltha, almost fourteen hundred miles from Fort Tharkoma. The rail line could have been extended from Losaltha directly to Tharkoma, but Losaltha was located at the Salym equivalent of Barkesh in Teramandor, where the fist of the Narhathan Peninsula and the Fist of Bolakin closed off the eastern end of the Mbisi Sea. A rail line would have had to skirt the northern coast of the Mbisi and penetrate some of the most rugged mountains to be found in any universe. With its long experience, the Portal Authority and the shareholders of the Trans-Temporal Express had opted to avoid the huge construction costs and delay that would have entailed and utilize the water route, instead.


Translation: This world, which they've named Salym has two portals both in Spain. One about 400 miles north of Gibraltar, one in Barcelona. This sleepy port town exists because so far there hasn't been enough traffic to justify laying all that rail, so 400 miles North/South between the portal and New Ramath, then sail to Barcelona. Kind of another body-blow to the idea of random portal distribution.


She'd met Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr and her husband on their way through Salym. As a Voice herself, although never one in Shaylar's league, she'd been unable to avoid feeling the echoes of their mutual devotion. Their marriage bond was so strong that no telepath—whether of Voice caliber, or not—could spend five minutes in their company without feeling it, whether she wanted to or not. And that made the agony of Seeing Jathmar's horrible death before Shaylar's very eyes, and then Seeing—and feeling—the even more terrible moment when Shaylar's Voice went abruptly silent, even worse.


There are telepath Talents that aren't Voices? Apparently the marriage bond registers very strongly there.


The dispatch boat—an incredibly fast little vessel, powered by the new steam turbines and capable of sustained speeds of thirty knots or more—lay waiting for her, smoke pluming from its two strongly raked funnels.


The dispatch boat.


He moved carefully and gently, whispering the whole time, as he retrieved one of the ten remaining hummers from the dozen he carried everywhere First Platoon—or whichever of Charlie Company's subunits he was attached to at the moment—went.

Hummers were so aggressive they required not simply soothing handling, but also carefully controlled incantations that turned off their natural attack instinct. The bird Shulthan had retrieved was a beautiful creature, with iridescent green feathers and a ruby throat. And it was also five times the size of any wild hummingbird, with a stiletto beak that was even larger in proportion.

The Andaran Scouts, like all other trans-universal military organizations, bred magically augmented hummers by the hundreds of thousands. Incredibly fast in the air—a hummer could top a hundred and fifty miles per hour—male hummers were aggressive enough to ward off attacks by any airborne creature smaller than a gryphon. They formed the backbone of the Union of Arcana's long-distance communication network, routinely flying distances of well over a thousand miles.


Hummers. The company has one handler carrying a dozen caged birds. They're super-aggressive, I assume to dissuade anyone from trying to intercept the mail, though it apparently also helps against routine wildlife. Airspeeds of 150 mph, can fly "well over" a thousand miles on course.


The most remarkable thing about hummers, to Jasak's thinking, was how they transported messages. Rather than strap a message to the outside of a large, slow bird vulnerable to gryphon attacks, the inventor of the hummer system—an Andaran Scout, Jasak thought, with a touch of familiar smugness even now—had found a way to embed a message inside a smaller, faster bird. Every hummer in service was surgically implanted with a message crystal, wafer thin yet capable of storing complex and surprisingly long messages.


This ability of magic crystal-cybernetics is a good third of the reason I think their dragons use antigravity. Instead of written notes, the hummers have recording gear.


She tried to summon a smile, grateful that bad news hadn't actually arrived on their doorstep . . . yet, at least. Her father was a large man, as were most Ternathians. Not stocky, and certainly not fleshy, but he was built like a bull, with the massive shoulders and thick neck that were the hallmark of the Calirath Dynasty. To her private dismay, and the despair of her dressmaker, Andrin looked altogether too much like her father, and not a bit like her mother. The Empress Varena might stand nearly five feet eleven inches in her stockings, but she looked delicate, almost petite, standing beside His Imperial Majesty, Zindel XXIV, Duke of Ternath, Grand Duke of Farnalia, Warlord of the West, Protector of the Peace, and by the gods' Grace, Emperor of Ternathia.

The emperor who, at that moment, wore a look which so nearly matched Andrin's own mood that she felt herself trying not to gape openmouthed.


Meet the Caliraths, imperial dynasty of Ternathia. Janaki, the heir we glimpsed briefly earlier. Andrin, his little sister, is a major viewpoint character. Zindel chan Calirath XXIV, the Emperor and his wife, Varena. WHim I don't really remember doing much of anything.


But Zindel couldn't help it. The warning that vibrated through him when his gaze locked with his eldest daughter's was as brutal as it was unexpected. He sucked in a harsh breath, totally oblivious to the doorkeeper's frantic, last-minute grab at the door handle. He never even realized how close the door had come to slamming into him as his entire body vibrated with the Glimpse.

Something was going to smash her life to pieces. Soon.

Dear gods, no, not Andrin, a voice whispered inside his head, and his eyes clenched shut for just an instant. Clenched shut on a bewildering dazzle of half-guessed images, so fleeting, so jumbled, they were impossible to capture. Explosions of flame. Weeping faces. A powerful locomotive thundering along a desert rail line, with the Royal Shurakhalian coat of arms displayed on either side of its cab. A great whale rising from the sea in an explosion of foam. Gunfire stabbing through darkness and rain. A city he'd never seen yet almost recognized, a ship flaming upon the sea, a magnificent ballroom, and his tall young daughter weeping like a broken child . . .


Precognition is a hell of a drug.


"Now, then." He smiled at Razial, who'd just turned fifteen, and Anbessa, whose eleventh birthday had been celebrated two months previously. "How did your lessons go today?"


And two more Calirath children.


She was Talented, of course; it was legally required for any Calirath bride. But hers wasn't a very strong Talent, just a middling dollop of precognition. It was nothing like the Glimpses her husband and her older children experienced, yet it was enough to set up tremors in her abdomen which threatened to upset the balanced poise of her busy fingers. Something was wrong. She could feel it in her own limited way, and she knew the signs to look for in her husband and her daughter, but she let them think they were succeeding at hiding their inner agitation, because it was kinder to give them that illusion.


Varena is a more conventional sort of precog. And it seems Ternathian law require the royals marry someone Talented, presumably to increase the odds of children inheriting the signature family super-precog Talent.


She'd already noticed the other woman's lack of a uniform, but Shaylar wondered if she might be a civilian healer assigned to this military unit. Certainly what she'd done for Shaylar's throbbing head and her current attentiveness to the wounded suggested that might be the case, which surprised Shaylar on two separate levels.

Healers assigned to the Sharonian military were full-fledged members of that military, part of the Healers' Corps. They were also all men. Women didn't serve in the Sharonian military. Even in Ternathia, which was deplorably "progressive" by the standards of other Sharonian cultures, only a tiny handful had ever been accepted for military service, and then, inevitably, only in staff positions or as nurses well to the rear. Officers and even enlisted men could marry, of course, and their wives and children could travel with them to their assigned duty posts. But those wives and children remained in military-built and financed housing in the civilian towns which sprang up around the portal forts. They didn't accompany their men on missions, whether in the wilderness or to put down the occasional outbreak of banditry in more settled country, and not even Ternathian female nurses were ever assigned to the Healer Corps which served units in the field.


Remind me again how Sharona eliminated all gender bias back in the freaking Iron Age? Because women can be Talented and a nightmare in a fight just as easily as men?

Anyways, Gadriel and the prisoners exchange names (well, Shaylar introduces Jathmar, who is still unconscious) the one thing you can probably communicate easily to other humans at any place or time.


Gadrial tried to keep from speaking between clenched teeth, but it was hard. She wasn't at all happy in her own mind about taking Shaylar and Jathmar back as military prisoners. Surely they'd already done these people enough hurt! The thought of what Shaylar and Jathmar might face at the hands of government and military interrogators, on top of all they'd already suffered, was enough to stiffen her with rage.

It must have showed, despite her effort to control her voice, because Jasak gave her a quick, very sharp look. Then he nodded.

"Yes, they are," he said flatly. "And my responsibility."

Ah, yes—responsibility, Gadrial thought. That most Andaran of all traits. Noblesse oblige. The duty to codes of honor instilled into Andaran children—girls, as well as boys—from the cradle itself. She wanted to ask if that responsibility would protect these battered people from the military hierarchy that would want to peel their minds like apples. She had no idea what kind of magic might be brought to bear on the mind of a prisoner of war, and, frankly, she didn't want to find out. But if the Union of Arcana and its military decided that extracting information from Shaylar and Jathmar was vital to the security of the Union, there wouldn't be a single damned thing Gadrial could do about it.


Oh, it will protect them alright. Concerns over what be done to Shaylar and Jathmar for vital information.


She was Ransaran, raised in a culture where the formality of military duty, of knowing one's obligations to a stratified social order, wasn't an ingrained part of everyone's basic childhood training.


Andaran education. Not all of it, obviously.


It took only minutes to break out the collapsible field stretchers that were part of the baggage his platoons carried in the field. Jasak couldn't imagine what battle must have been like before the development of Gifts made it possible to move heavy loads with spells, rather than muscle power.

All four of his baggage handlers had survived, along with their equipment. The most critically wounded were placed on proper field litters, canvas slings mounted between poles to which the handlers attached standard spell storage boxes. They didn't have enough of the standard litters for the less critically hurt, but Sword Harnak threw together field expedient substitutes, using uniform tunics for slings and hastily cut branches for poles. They looked like hell, but they ought to do the job, and Jasak watched the baggage handlers attaching the sarkolis crystal storage boxes.


The Arcanans have casual antigrav for moving large cargoes. Or stretchers.


The storage devices were all pretty much the same size and shape. Only the markings varied, with a color coding that told the soldier at a glance whether it contained spells that powered infantry-dragons, spells that lifted baggage, or spells that illuminated a landing area to guide living dragons during night airlifts. As an added precaution, those which carried weapon-grade spells featured carefully contoured shapes which would fit only into the weapons they were intended to power, but that wasn't immediately apparent at first glance.


Spell bricks, some of the ones that might be carried. Distinguised by color-coded markings and in the case of dragon-ammo, shaped to only fit in a dragon. Not sure what else you'd try them in, unless fire and lightning aren't ammo choices but type of gun. Includes firestarters, antigrav, ammo and flares.


Shaylar had been looking down at Jathmar's face, but she looked up again, attracted by the lance's movement. For just a moment, she showed no reaction, but then her eyes flew wide and she came to her feet with a bloodcurdling scream.

Jasak flinched in astonishment as she leapt past him, snatched the box off the litter, and hurled it violently away. Then she spun to face him—to face all of them, every surviving member of First Platoon. She was a single, tiny woman, smaller than Jasak's own twelve-year-old sister, but he could literally feel the savagery of her fury as her fingers curled into defensive claws. She was prepared to attack them all, he realized. To rip out the throat of any man who approached Jathmar with her bare teeth, and he recoiled from her desperate defiance, trying frantically to understand its cause.

"Oh, dear God!" Gadrial cried. "She thinks we're going to cremate him alive! They all look alike to her—the accumulator boxes!"


*slow clap*

Come on, Jasak. You're normally more on the ball than this.


"Get that box, Wilthy!" he snapped. "Fasten it to something else—anything else. Show her what it does."

The white-faced trooper, his expression as shaken and horrified as Jasak's own, scrambled to retrieve the accumulator. He scrabbled it up out of the leaves where Shaylar had thrown it and fastened it to the nearest object he could find—a section of decaying log about three feet long and eighteen inches in diameter. The box was equipped with twenty small chambers, each with its own control button, and he pressed one of them, releasing the spell inside.


So does that mean they carry twenty uses or twenty settings? Jasak recovers quickly enough to demonstrate the different function of this spell-brick.


"It's all right, Shaylar," she said gently, reassuringly. "It's all right. We're not going to hurt him. It'll just pick him up. See, it lifts the log."

She pointed, pantomiming moving the accumulator back to Jathmar's litter, then lifting Jathmar the same way. Shaylar trembled violently in the circle of Gadrial's left arm, and the magister glanced over her shoulder at Jasak.

"For the love of God, lift the other wounded men. She's half crazed with terror!"

"Get them airborne!" Jasak barked to the other handlers, who were watching with open mouths. "Damn it, get them airborne now!"

Wilthy's subordinates obeyed quickly, lifting all of the critically wounded. Shaylar watched them, her body taut, her eyes wide. But the wildness was fading from them, and she began to relax again, ever so slowly.

"It's all right," Gadrial told her again and again. "Let us help him, Shaylar. Let us help Jathmar. Please."


Defused that one but seriously, stop doing this.
"Any plan which requires the direct intervention of any deity to work can be assumed to be a very poor one."- Newbiespud

Simon_Jester
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-02-11 01:37am

Ahriman238 wrote:Horse-drawn carriage with rubber tires, and steamship. One of those legs where a Voice needs to take a fast dispatch ship over the water to pass on the message.
This is one way in which the Voice network is at a disadvantage compared to, say, telegraph cables: messages cannot cross a major water gap faster than the speed of transport.

Laying undersea telegraph cable is straightforward given 1900-era technology, although it'd be hard to do it in the wilderness on the portal frontier, because you'd have to build a big ship in order to lay the cable.

There are telepath Talents that aren't Voices? Apparently the marriage bond registers very strongly there.
I guess it's a matter of degree- a Voice is a telepath with enough projective ability to make themselves heard over long distances.

The dispatch boat—an incredibly fast little vessel, powered by the new steam turbines and capable of sustained speeds of thirty knots or more—lay waiting for her, smoke pluming from its two strongly raked funnels.
The dispatch boat.
Again indicative of 1900-1910 level technology; the first turbine-powered ships were built in the very late 1890s.

This ability of magic crystal-cybernetics is a good third of the reason I think their dragons use antigravity.
That would actually explain a fair bit. Although when you shoot a dragon they fall out of the sky, in a fashion that apparently doesn't look counterintuitive to Sharonan observers. So while they may be using antigravity implants, it almost has to be limited to 'weight reduction,' with the dragons still having respectable weight.

That, or the cybernetics have an on/off switch and spontaneously switch 'off' whenever a dragon is seriously hurt, which is frankly the opposite of how I'd do it given the choice.

Varena is a more conventional sort of precog. And it seems Ternathian law require the royals marry someone Talented, presumably to increase the odds of children inheriting the signature family super-precog Talent.
Honestly, I suspect that various social factors almost have to be in play encouraging selective breeding for Talent in Sharonan societies.

Remind me again how Sharona eliminated all gender bias back in the freaking Iron Age? Because women can be Talented and a nightmare in a fight just as easily as men?
Clearly they didn't. Although there's a divide between "women have actual rights, aren't property, and can pursue a variety of fulfilling careers" and "women have full equality."

Another note: interestingly, very few Talents seem to have much direct combat application in terms of making you personally dangerous. We've seen a variety of Talents that real life military commanders would maim to get access to, but none of them are for blowing people up or moving with superhuman speed or anything like that.

Defused that one but seriously, stop doing this.
Unfortunately impossible.

Frankly, the Arcanans just plain seem to have a severe lack of... empathy, I guess? It's not that they don't care about other people or want to treat them right. It's that they just don't seem to have any real knack for understanding how other people think or feel until someone hits them over the head with it.


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