[Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

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[Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Zaune » 2015-08-11 06:59pm

(AKA "What I was doing while on a break from The Next Frontier". This won't make much sense unless you're very familiar with Fenspace.)

Evening. Yeah, I'm Tom Rutley, why d'you ask?

Huh. You want to hear my story? Every Fen's got one, there's not much special about mine. I wasn't really happy on Earth for one reason or another, so I acquired a bit of handwavium, built a ship and left.

Well, okay, it's a little bit more complicated than that, but...

Oh. Oh.

Now there's something special about that story, alright, and not in a good way. I don't really like telling it, and I dare say most Fen wouldn't like hearing it, if they knew enough to ask in the first place.

Classified? Hah! Not hardly; the Convention doesn't have an official secrets act, and they couldn't enforce one if they did. It's more of an unspoken mutual consensus to pretend the whole ghastly fiasco never happened. I can't speak for the laws Earthside though, I'd make some discreet inquiries about that before publishing if I were you.

I don't like the term "mundanes". Never did, even before... Well, we'll get to that.

I guess I'd best start at the beginning. You might want to place your order before we start, this is going to take some time. Oh, thanks. I'll take a double Bruichladdich, no ice.


I'm old for a first-generation Fen. Born 1970, fan of Doctor Who before John Barrowman got his Equity number, actually witnessed the first really serious Trekie/Warsie flamewar on Usenet. In 2007 I was gloomily contemplating the inexorable onset of forty with depressingly little to show for my time on Earth to date.

I'd left the Royal Air Force in 2005 after a Taliban sniper took a sizeable chunk out of both my shin bone and my helicopter's no-claims bonus (I doubt that poor farmer ever got the rotor-blade out of his living room wall), returning home with a limp, a modest disability pension and no idea what to do next.

Flying was out of the question indefinitely, possibly for good if my leg didn't heal well enough, and at the time I wasn't sure I even wanted to go back to it. I was tired of feeling rootless, of spending so much time abroad that I didn't really have a home to come back to but at the same time rarely getting to see anything of the world past the airfield perimeter fence.

But on the other hand, it was pretty much all I knew how to do; certainly the only thing I had formal qualifications for, although I was a fair hand with computers and vaguely remembered most of what I learned from weekends and summer holidays helping Dad fix cars.

Eventually I ended up splitting the difference. I got a six-month gig as a technical advisor for a small developer making third-party DLC -though the term hadn't been coined back then- for Microsoft Flight Simulator, put a card in a newsagent's window offering computer repairs and bought an ancient and non-running Vauxhall Senator on the cheap with the intention of putting it back in order. (It ended up being a bust, the chassis was too badly corroded to get it roadworthy again, but I sold off the still-useable bits on eBay and turned a small profit.) I made enough money to rent a dilapidated but characterful ground-floor flat in an old Victorian townhouse, and bought myself a decent computer for the first time in years. I became a regular at a nice local pub, found the time to go to a couple of conventions and generally made the most of having more leisure time than I'd had since I was a teenager.

It didn't take long for boredom and restlessness to set in, but before they could become unmanageable, two things happened. The first was that my godfather died and left me a small cottage with two acres of land, a large collection of mechanical bits and pieces and a pretty considerable sum of money. The second was handwavium.

I'd heard... Well, I can't go into detail because some of these people are still Earthside, but suffice it to say that scientists working for defence contractors tend to see an ex-serviceman wounded in the line of duty as trustworthy enough to bend the rules when it comes to classified information, especially when they've had a few beers. I'll tell you this much, though: I have it on good authority that the stuff existed in some form well before 2006. I expect we'll find out more some time in the next five years or so thanks to the thirty-year rule.

Anyway, the wild stories had begun showing up on the message boards by then, and I knew enough to realise there was a grain of truth in them. Vague plans began to form in my mind.

Now, you haven't asked about my faction yet. Personally, I think of myself as a generalist for the most part; I'm not picky when it comes to reading or viewing material, especially when I'm making a long cargo run. But my first real fandom... Well. Ever heard of a game called Elite? The original space trading sim, killer app for the BBC Micro...

[sigh] You really are young, aren't you? Okay, bit of background.

In the early Eighties, the educational programming wing of the BBC started getting interested in computer science. There'd been some piecemeal efforts before, usually an offshoot of the maths or science department, but now that home computing was becoming a thing they wanted to offer something hands-on.

Now in those days, there was no common standards for much of anything: Many manufacturers had their own fork of BASIC, and even on those that didn't you couldn't be sure your homebrew program would work on a competitor's machine. In order to have something that they knew would work with all their software and coding exercises, the Beeb put out an invitation to tender for a custom-designed computer for the home and classroom market. The winning bidder was a company called Acorn Computers and their design was christened the BBC Microcomputer, or BBC Micro for short.

They were expensive bits of kit, but pretty powerful for their day; they were some of the first desktop computers aimed at the home-user market with LAN capability and the ability to add an auxillary processor, for one. It also had the ability to download code from a TV signal, but it only worked properly if you had absolutely perfect TV reception and was generally more trouble than it was worth. They were a huge success in Britain and a more modest one in continental Europe, but they never took off in the US because the display hardware didn't adapt well to NTSC displays.

But anyway, Elite was the game that drove most of its non-educational sales. You know the basic formula: You start out in a very basic spaceship with a bit of cash and a huge open gameworld to explore. There are several ways of making money both legal and otherwise, occasional pirates, police who'll come down on you for anything illegal... It was the original sandbox game. And, like a lot of my generation, I was absolutely hooked on it for most of my teens.

We never became an established faction for a number of reasons. The game didn't have much of a plot, so there was no convenient polity to name ourselves after, and the nature of the game is such that the faction tends to appeal to loners and individualists. It's also partly because British Fen tend not to be in a position to home-build; we're one of the easier European countries in which to acquire a handwavium license, but with our airspace being rather crowded the authorities tend to get a bit tetchy about amateur space programs. Either way, I'm the only bloke I know who's managed to build himself a ship directly based on that 'verse.

And that's where my godfather's barn full of junk comes in.

His name was Greg Sanderson, and he was an old friend of my dad's and a lifelong bachelor who didn't get out and about much. Bit set in his ways, you know? He was a great fan of science fiction and something of a radical in his politics, and I'm pretty sure he was hoping to make it to Fenspace himself.

Anyway, the house was up in the Scottish Borders, a tumbledown little two-up-two-down affair with a bathroom added on some time in the 50s. It was permanently cold and damp, the wiring was such a haphazard mess that I had to pay an electrician twice his usual rate to set it to rights, the boiler was older than I was and hadn't been serviced since before I learned how to masturbate... The list went on. I spent just enough money to keep the place from being actively hazardous for human occupancy and decided to sell up as soon as I'd inventoried the barn.

Well, that was a revelation alright. I knew about the old Beech King Air fuselage and the jet engines, but I wasn't expecting... Well, I've still got the list on my palmtop somewhere...

  • 200 square metres of sheet steel
  • Four hundred gallons of aviation fuel in a galvanised tank
  • Eight hundred metres of copper wire
  • One air compressor, broken
  • Four expensive electronic paintball guns
  • Five thousand 17mm ball bearings (exactly the right size to be fired through said paintball guns)
  • One 4.5-inch gun barrel, ex-Royal Navy
  • One fully functional septic tank system, apparently designed for a seagoing yacht, new and in boxes
  • One 200-litre water tank, also intended for a seagoing yacht
  • One Ferranti Blue Fox aircraft radar set, broken
  • One Webley revolver, .38 S&W (which was only marginally legal in the UK at the time, being a 'trophy of war')
  • One hundred and fifty .38/200 revolver cartridges (which most definitely wasn't legal!)
  • Five tonnes (approx.) of miscellaneous scrap metal.
  • Twelve litres (approx.) of handwavium, base strain, in an old oil drum at the back of the barn
As you might imagine, the handwavium was one of the lesssurprising items in there, although I couldn't begin to imagine where Greg got it or how he even heard of it in the first place. Perhaps he didn't put it there at all; some people do claim it just turned up in the workshop one day and they only found out what it did by accident. At any rate, if he got any 'wavetech operational before he died then I never found it.

Well, I suppose that made the choice for me, didn't it? There was nothing much tying me to England; my parents had emigrated to Spain some years ago, my brother David was currently somewhere in the Yukon finding copper ore for one of the multi-nationals, and I'd written the very idea of marriage off as more trouble than it was worth a long time ago.

And I'd always wanted to travel, hadn't I?

The first thing I did was buy a secondhand laptop and a pre-paid mobile phone that could be tethered, both for cash. This was before the Snowden Documents hit the public domain of course, but you soon got a good picture of what the SIGINT people were capable of just from being part of operations that acted on the information they acquired, and it wasn't a great leap of reasoning to imagine they'd be on the lookout for anything connected to handwavium as well as terrorism.

(I had Snowden as a passenger once, you know; I was on a regular run to Ganymede at the time, and he'd just bought a house in Serenity Valley. Nice chap actually, even if he enjoys his status as a hero among Fen a bit too much for my liking. But anyway.)

Once I'd got some nicely untraceable hardware, reinforced by a few software tricks upon which I shall not enlarge here, I started reading every Beginner's Guide to Handwavium I could lay hold of and hanging out on the forums picking up tips from those who'd gone before me. After reading some of the safety warnings, I made some discreet inquiries with a relative in the construction industry about where to obtain some protective clothing rated for dealing with asbestos contamination. The supplier he found me only did bulk orders, but I figured they'd be worth a fair bit to other Fen and bought a batch of a hundred.

My first 'wavetech project was small and simple, a used 486 ThinkPad I bought off eBay for about twenty quid. I soaked it in a small amount of the base strain overnight, and the results were encouraging. It turned glossy metallic green and shrank to the size of a netbook, but when I tried various CPU benchmarking tools the ones that didn't glitch out completely came back with estimates of 4GHz. It also sprouted some USB ports and a DVI cable plug.

I put the used handwavium in a separate container and fed it a load of the scrap metal, along with a complete set of Traveller sourcebooks and a thumb drive containing copies of everything even vaguely Elite-related I could lay hold of: Copies of the first two games and the open-source remake, along with their manuals, and a load of fanfiction and the tie-in novella that came boxed with the original game. For a bit of extra flavour I threw in a couple of Arthur C. Clarke paperbacks and a pirated copy of Star Cops. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony, but it's not out on DVD.) This version would be used for the engines and flight control systems, and I'd stick to the base strain for the hull and life support.

Of course, before I got to that point I had to design the ship... Although I already had something in mind.

In the original Elite, it's known as a Cobra Mk3, and it's the ship you start off with in a new game. It's sort of low slung and wedge-shaped, not much aerodynamic lift but even less drag. I figured I'd have to modify it considerably but it seemed as good a starting point as any, if only because it was a simple enough shape to weld together. So I bought myself a copy of X-Plane, imported the model of the Mk3 from Oolite into the "PlaneMaker" utility and began the long and tedious process of hammering it into a workable aircraft design.

You might well argue that this wasn't really necessary, but like all good career aviators I'm naturally inclined to err on the side of caution. I didn't trust... Well, no that's probably the wrong word. I didn't want to rely on handwavium completely. One of the early pioneers I spoke to on the old Starbase 1 forums told me that he reckoned the stuff can't actually break any physical laws, it just knows all the loopholes, including -especially- the ones we haven't found yet. How true that is I have no idea, but it is well-established that aero- and hydrodynamics are one area where handwavium has almost no effect. (I'm told that a reader poll by the Annals of Improbable Research ranked the process of finding this out "The 4th Strangest Thing Ever Done With A Wind Tunnel In The Name Of Proper Science". I have no idea what the top three were and I don't especially want to.)

The end result of several weeks of fine-tuning was a sort of flying-wing design with a small vertical fin, still fairly blocky and angular but now capable of gliding a few miles if something went wrong while hopefully being within my capabilities to weld together. I invested in a copy of AutoCAD and a correspondence course in how to use it and set to the project with a will.

As far as I know, my ship was the first 100% scratchbuilt Fen craft to be laid down, even though the Epsilon Blade and the Toy Box were in service well beforehand. Construction took me most of a year, the first quarter of which was spent refreshing my knowledge of welding at evening classes.

The hull structure is fully monocoque, made of two layers of 1.5cm steel plate with self-sealing foam in between. (One part base-strain handwavium, one part my homebrew strain, eight parts cavity wall insulation material. Worked better than I dared hope.) I'm fairly sure I could have left it un-'waved and still made orbit if I'd been able to find a windscreen tough enough for the job, but ordinary plate-glass had to suffice in the interim.

Internally, the ship was fairly spartan. I'd crammed a bunk and a desk in around the cockpit with a tiny head and galley immediately behind it, and squeezed two tiny passenger cabins into the awkward corners between the engine nacelles, the cockpit and the cargo bay; I didn't plan on taking passengers often, but there wasn't much else useful I could do with the space and I figured it couldn't hurt to have the option.

The cargo bay itself was about twelve metres long by four wide by three high, not huge but enough to get a worthwhile amount of stores aboard. I toyed with but ultimately abandoned the idea of shaping it to accommodate an ISO-standard shipping container; the aerodynamics went wonky when I tested it in X-Plane and in any case it would have been awkward as all hell to load and unload. Still, I could get standard-sized pallets in there, and the hydraulic loading ramp I acquired from a scrapyard would do the rest.

I left the 'wavium application until last. The two old jet engines, the instrument panel from the King Air and the radar set were immersed in the special blend I'd made, and as an afterthought I tossed a spare unit insignia for my old squadron in to add the final touch. I mixed the same stuff half-and-half with the base strain for the broken compressor, an air-conditioning unit and a couple of old radiators, and used pure base-strain and a quite ordinary household paint roller for the outer hull. I left it overnight to cure, and went inside just in time to hear about the Guacoamole Incident.

Ugh... I swear to all that's holy and many things that aren't, if I ever lay hands on the reckless bloody fool who cooked up that little stunt I'll administer at least five pints of their own concoction in enema form, gift-wrap whatever they turn into and dump their sorry arse outside the Hoover Building. Not only was it a gross violation of other people's bodily integrity of a severity easily comparable to rape, it sent the United States into its stupidest and most counterproductive moral panic since Joe McCarthy's day. Damn good argument for a handwavium license if you ask me, at least if there was a snowball's chance in hell of enforcing one.

But anyway, we were a little bit saner about it in Britain, at least to the point where I was able to call in a favour from a man I'd served under in Iraq who was now rather senior in the Ministry of Defence. In return for turning over my handwavium stockpile -less a few hundred millilitres as seed stock- and giving the backroom boys from QuinetiQ (don't ask) a detailed briefing on what I accomplished with it, he furnished me with an IFF code and some other registration paperwork to make my use of UK airspace at least marginally legal so long as I promised to be extremely circumspect... and give him a lift Fenside once he collected his pension and his gold watch in a year or so. (He worked for Reaction Engines until he got fed up with Spacefleet and their "damned ridiculous Renaissance Festival take on the Fifties", as he put it to me, and I think he's somewhere in the Belt now. I'll email him your details if you like, I dare say he's got some good stories about the Experimental Handwavium Station.)

That... didn't work out quite as well as I'd hoped, at least partly thanks to a major lapse in my usually fairly good judgement of character. But the full scale of that lapse didn't become obvious until some while later...

But we'll want another drink for that. My shout this time?

* * *

So, if you knew enough to come and talk to me, you're probably familiar with the name of Frank Berquart. Even at that stage I wouldn't have called us friends, but we did correspond a lot over the year I spent building my ship. He could be abrasive and condescending at times, and I really didn't like his attitude to non-Fen, but that wasn't uncommon; like many first-generation Fen, he had a rough go of it growing up as the only nerdy kid in one of the less salubrious bits of the rural United States. He had a good deal to be bitter about, and I tried to reach out to Frank and others like him because I thought they had it in them to be something better.

Either Frank didn't, or I didn't do a good enough job of looking for it. But at least I tried, right?

Anyway, all his attempts at getting hold of something waveable had been stymied and he was getting desperate enough to consider doing something foolhardy, so eventually we struck a deal: He'd buy me certain items that were more easily obtained in the US, and in return I'd pick him up from a nearby airfield and give him a ride as far as New Yavin. This was all before the December 30th deadline so it was entirely legal: I even filed a flight plan, describing my ship quite truthfully as an "experimental long range utility aircraft".

Yes, I do mean guns. I wasn't harbouring any illusions about a new era of peace and brotherly love coming to pass through the power of handwavium.

Many people tend to draw a slightly rose-tinted picture of those freewheeling early days. Don't get me wrong, it was an incredibly exciting time to be alive with all kinds of possibilities opening up, but... Well, it's not like the Boskonians popped into existence fully-formed in 2012. This was before the Sailor Armed Militia was more than a concept, before FTL comms equipment was readily available... Hell, it wasn't until WorldCon in '09 that we had a formally agreed distress frequency. Once you were out of radar range of a station or settled body you were pretty much on your own. And space may be big, but if you know roughly what time a particular ship left Point A, what speed and/or acceleration it's capable of and that it was headed for Point B then you can narrow the search area down considerably.

(One of the first really effective anti-piracy measures, incidentally? Port control services locking down manifest information on encrypted servers so that it was nigh-impossible to target specific ships. I once met an allegedly reformed ex-pirate who claims he jacked it in when he hit a freighter he thought was carrying flatscreen TV sets only to find it full of baby formula.

Of course nowadays they're organised and professional enough to get the information by data-mining instead, but c'est la vie.)

Anyway, the practical upshot of all that is that I wanted something more impressive than a .38 revolver older than I was in the hopefully unlikely event of the 114mm coilgun not being enough to prevent my ship from being boarded in the first place.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I hold the record for the biggest gun fitted to any prewar Fen craft. I don't advertise this fact because I don't consider it something to brag about, and in any case I prefer not to have pirates targeting me specifically because I'm so well-armed I must be carrying valuable loot, but it's all on the PEPPER database and everything so it's not like it's a secret.

Things have been tightened up considerably now that handwavium is de facto decriminalised, but at the time it wasn't strictly speaking illegal for a private citizen to own a multi-stage coilgun capable of launching projectiles with enough force to put a concrete blockhouse to some trouble; for better or worse, lawmakers in this country tend not to restrict or outright ban weird and exotic weapons -or potential weapons- until after someone goes out and commits a violent crime with one. Nevertheless, my test firing was conducted well out to sea.

The paintball guns turned out to be more trouble than they were worth, incidentally: I think Greg had intended to use them as secondary weapons but the rate of fire and muzzle velocity were marginal at best in atmosphere, and when I put the test-rig in a vacuum chamber (aided and abetted by a fellow aspiring Fen studying at the University of Manchester) it experienced what British aerospace engineers call "rapid unplanned disassembly", costing me £5,000 for the damage to the equipment and several bottles of good scotch as an apology to the lab assistants who had to repair it.

I did find a good use for the ball bearings though. Combined with an accelerometer, a small pyrotechnic charge and a hollow steel casing they made for good canister shot.

But anyway, the ship's armament won't really become relevant 'til some years later. Back to my first face-to-face encounter with Frank.

I hadn't done a long-range flight test up until that point, and neither had I pushed the throttle much beyond 25% or tested the button conspicuously marked TURBO on the collective while in flight. (A ground test of the turbo button proved that it caused an 'afterburner' effect that appeared to function as an acceleration drive. Rather a powerful one, in fact; I found one of the barn doors a quarter of a mile away. This was before handwavium's innate safety features were widely known or documented, I might add, so the safety cover on the button was taped shut until further notice.) But I did have enough data to calculate that I'd just make my destination field on a full tank.

The main engines are a constant-speed type, powered by ordinary Jet-A and electrical energy from a couple of solid handwavium crystals. They're fairly standard reactionless thrusters capable of a respectable 7% of c in space, while the turbo button activates some kind of fusion torch that will get my ship up to a theoretical maximum of 21%, but I can't exceed 15% without draining my fuel tanks well below my preferred safety margin.

Performance in atmosphere turned out to be a bit less impressive by Fen standards. Cruising speed is around six hundred miles an hour, or just over the speed of sound, but when I really pushed the engines I got her up to about a thousand... at which point the vibration was so violent I couldn't read the instruments anymore, and when I made the mistake of lightly touching the rudder I got an unwanted refresher course on recovering from an asymmetric stall. I pencilled in eight hundred as the Never Exceed Speed and settled in for a long run.

On arrival, I had a brief and rather awkward discussion with US air traffic controllers that ended with no less than four F-15s escorting me as far as the small airstrip in Colorado where I was due to pick up my passenger. Their pilots were perfectly friendly though, and quite embarrassed about being ordered to hassle me like this when I was still within the letter of the law.

The airfield was some tiny grass-strip place in the arse-end of nowhere, to the point where they had to borrow a sheriff's deputy to check my passport because this was the first international flight they'd had in years. He looked like he was expecting me to suddenly manifest a biomod or pull out a death ray or something, but he signed the necessary paperwork without demur. I had a brief argument with the refuelers about whether they were insured for possible handwavium contamination ("For what I'm paying for my liability cover you'd bloody well better be!", I think my exact words were), ordered a pizza and settled in for my mandatory crew rest period.

I was just on the point of turning in for the night when someone started pounding on the hatch. Frank wasn't due until the morning, so I ended up grabbing my revolver and running aft in my dressing gown, torn between alarm and annoyance.

To my utter astonishment, I found myself face to face with a shivering and terrified catgirl in a soaking-wet hoodie clutching an overnight bag, who immediately begged me for a ride somewhere, anywhere in Fenspace.

Once I got her calmed down a little and into some dry clothes, she told me her name was Barbara, and that she'd treated her Gender Identity Disorder with handwavium after being refused insurance cover for it. The process was an overall success, but her roommate had taken it rather badly and called the police. Barbara'd managed to get away ahead of the hue and cry, and had been headed to the airfield hoping to 'borrow' a plane and make a run for the border when she saw my ship.

I made a quick phone call to Frank and got an ETA; the Greyhound he was on was due in around 2AM. I explained the situation and told him to cancel his motel room and come straight here in case we had to leave in a hurry. He agreed quite happily, apparently finding the whole idea rather exciting, and confirmed that he'd got the items I'd requested... more or less.

I'd specifically requested a couple of Browning High-Powers because they were the only pistol I'd had any range time with, unless you counted the few surreptitious rounds I'd fired into an old dartboard behind the barn to make sure the revolver actually worked. Beyond that, I wasn't very specific beyond "a couple of shotguns, preferably 12-gauge, and a rifle that's decently powerful but won't make me look like a militia nutbag".

Apparently Frank's local gun dealer had some sort of promotional deal going in anticipation of some cowboy action shooting event, which is how I ended up with a lever-action and a coach gun. They even came with a free ten-gallon hat! But they were modern replicas chambered to take modern ammunition, and I've always been quite fond of Westerns, so I was actually pretty pleased. I was almost disappointed that he'd managed to score a fully contemporary Ruger Mini-14 (albeit with wooden furniture) with a scope instead of a Henry rifle.

And yes, I did wear the hat, but I don't have the gravitas to pull off the look.

Anyway, Frank launched into another one of his rants about 'mundanes' and how we Fen could be running the planet in ten years if we dropped a few big enough rocks, then tried a couple of hilariously ill-advised Pick-Up Artist tactics on Barbara until she up-ended her coffee in his lap. He retreated to his cabin to sulk when I laughed at him, and I didn't see him again until takeoff the following morning.

The police did eventually turn up looking for Barbara, but I refused to give them access without a warrant and to my mild surprise they didn't make an issue of it; I guess they figured she'd be somebody else's problem soon enough.

Then I realised I only had two pressure suits. (Made from a pair of old RAF flight suits complete with helmets and an emergency O2 bottle, which under the influence of my homebrew 'wavium became mechanical counter-pressure suits with full-face helmets and enough air for about six hours.) We solved this problem by shutting Frank in his cabin with a fully hardtech "oxygen candle" and a CO2 scrubber and sealing the door with duct-tape.

Funnily enough, yes, this was Barbara's idea. Frank had made a very tactless remark about her pre-biomod medical condition after overhearing me talking to the cops and she wasn't in the best of moods with him. Neither was I, for that matter, seeing as he laughed off my attempt to give him a little word of advice about what is and isn't okay to call people. (My mum's Indian, born to first-generation immigrants, so I dare say you can imagine my views on the subject.)

Oh well, in about six hours we needn't ever see each other again.

The transition to space was smoother than I expected, though I had to throttle up abruptly at the tropopause. After that, it was a simple case of identifying the radio beacon for New Yavin and putting it into the autopilot.

Frank was in another one of his moods after I cut the tape on the door, which didn't bother me in the least, so Barbara and I got to know each other a bit better over a mug of tea. I learned she'd been a pilot for a small commuter airline until the economy took a shit, that her parents were divorced and her father had taken her diagnosis rather worse than her mother. She was also down to about fifty dollars until and unless she could get in touch with her bank manager.

Well, I was starting to ponder the issue of long-distance runs and fatigue; I couldn't exactly set the autopilot and go to bed, could I? But there was the thorny issue of British law to deal with: Getting her a visa was going to be all kinds of inconvenient when her passport was in the name of Robert White, assuming the US didn't outright revoke it. And I really couldn't afford to bend the rules if I wanted to keep my relatively unfettered access to European airspace...

Well, that could wait. I was in space, I was flying my very own homebuilt spaceship and I was going to have some fun!

We dropped Frank off at New Yavin, by which time he was in a much better mood. He bade us farewell and dashed off to cash in the two kilos of high-quality weed he'd brought with him. I wasn't sure if I should laugh or feel a bit sorry for him, because I doubt he made a profit. Me, on the other hand...

Now, basic hydroponics are pretty easy even with pure hardtech: Some troughs full of potting compost, some sun-lamps, a drip-feed system -which can be as simple as a low-powered water pump and a couple of dozen metres of plastic tubing with pinholes every couple of centimetres- and a dilute solution of ordinary fertiliser in fresh water will do the trick. But it doesn't scale past plants you can grow in an ordinary Earthside greenhouse without a much more elaborate setup that requires a lot of money, expertise and above all space. And root crops or fruit trees need really deep soil; they didn't become really practical to cultivate until someone got a crater on the Moon glazed over and pressurised, and they stayed quite pricey until prefabricated buckydomes hit the market.

The practical upshot of which is that I just about quadrupled my money selling four tons of King Edward potatoes and one ton of coffee beans, and made a decent profit from the hazmat suits to boot.

I remember the conversation Barbara and I had in vivid detail. I was carrying a good-sized duffel bag stuffed full of small bills, and I saw Barbara looking at the Situations Vacant board by the exit to the hangar with a rather mournful expression; there were plenty of jobs posted, but I guess not many of them called for a couple of hundred hours in a Bombardier CRJ.

"So," I said, "is there anywhere in particular you want to go?"

"I dunno," she replied sadly.

"Well, how about we start at the Moon and work our way out? You can show me how good a pilot you are too."

She was quite taken aback. "You really wanna hire me?"

"That's going to depend on a lot of things," I replied. "Not least how good you are at your job. But I'm sure as hell not leaving you stood here in the clothes you stand up in. You're Fen now, Barbara. And I guess I am too, even if I'm not a wanted felon in my home country. And this far from home, all we Fen have is each other. Now let's go find somewhere you can call your mother and I can call my friends in high places."
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin

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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Zaune » 2015-08-11 07:00pm

We managed to get Barbara's immediate financial situation sorted quickly enough once her mother understood what had happened. (And I have to say, the old girl took the whole business with truly commendable sangfroid!) The simplest method proved to having her bank manager wire her savings to my own account after I handed her the equivalent in hard currency.

Unfortunately, we also found out that the US government had indeed cancelled her passport and issued an arrest warrant; the only reason her account hadn't been frozen was at the credit union where she banked was founded and run by old-school liberal activists with ties to the ACLU and the NAACP, who were contesting the demand in court and telling any reporter who'd listen precisely what they thought about their nation's lawmakers. (Techdirt has a good writeup on the subject, including an interview with the chairman of the board of trustees. You might find it useful background material.)

Well, that complicated things a bit.

There isn't a whole lot of unskilled employment in Fenspace, and good old hardtech Earth is catching us up on this one. We Fen might be a lot more flexible about formal qualifications compared to employers in North America or Western Europe, but if the job doesn't entail at least ]some skill and training then a 'waved forklift or robot arm can probably do it faster and for longer shifts, and cheaper too if you don't wake up an AI. And furthermore, at that early stage most of the factions had yet to get around to organising some sort of formal public assistance program for refugees or the otherwise unlucky. I didn't think she would've starved once her money ran out -Fen really do look out for their own- but it didn't seem like much of a life in the long run.

Besides, she'd been through hell backwards and didn't have many friends she could call upon out here apart from the guy who supplied the handwavium she used for her biomod, who was allegedly somewhere on the surface of Mars in a 'waved camper van. I couldn't leave her to sink or swim like that.

So, after a very long conference call with someone from QuinetiQ's legal department (I don't know why they have an immigration law specialist on staff and I don't intend to ask) and a mid-rankng civil servant from the Home Office, a deal was struck: If Barbara would consent to a thorough medical examination, she'd be granted indefinite leave to remain. She wasn't exactly keen on the idea for obvious reasons, but agreed on the condition that the tests take place in a civilian hospital with the absolute bare minimum of security present.

With that out of the way, and the New Yavin ATC beginning to make urgent noises about a lack of parking, we made good our departure.

The first week was all a bit of a blur for me. We went all over the Moon and then on to Mars, where we both got hilariously smashed on the first batch of Martian whiskey served at Callahan's. I think we went to have a look at Ceres afterwards, but I was suffering from a hangover of such epic proportions that I was sorely tempted to roll the dice on a biomod so I don't remember much of that day. Apparently Barbara was one of the lucky ones who didn't trade all her alcohol tolerance for the ears and the tail, in fact it seemed to have given it something of a boost... Or maybe I was just getting old.

I'd like to say I spent this time marvelling at the amazing beauty of the cosmos, but to be perfectly honest the view stopped being awe-inspiring after prolonged exposure. It's pretty, but it's... Well, I wouldn't call it dead, but it's static. Fixed. You'll see almost the same thing every time you look out of the window. Compare and contrast with the average Fen settlement.

What can I say? I find people more interesting than places, and places more interesting than the emptiness between them.

Anyway, after seven days of wandering around the solar system playing tourist, we returned to the surface to get Barbara's visa sorted out. She had her medical (an MRI, X-rays and some blood work) done at Dorset County Hospital; apparently they were the only ones with a gap in their MRI machine's schedule at short notice. The administrators were a little irked about this, but I smoothed most of the ruffled feathers by donating some 'waved toys for the children's ward.

And yes, if it's not a foregone conclusion, she did get the job. Barbara had plenty of long distance fixed-wing experience, something I was seriously lacking at the time, but despite having no previous rotary-wing hours she took to my ship's largely helicopter-like controls quickly. She also had a marvellously dry sense of humour and was generally good company on a long flight, and had an innate knack for making really good coffee.

We repeated the fruit and vegetable runs a couple of times, but other people with larger and better-equipped vehicles were starting to catch on to the idea and in any case it was extremely repetitive, so we switched to general cargo hauling. We were a bit of a specialty outfit, bigger than the literal hundreds of 'waved cars and pickup trucks whose owners would take on some packages for beer money but not quite up to intermodal container runs like a few enterprising Fen were getting into. We ended up doing a lot of house moves after signing on with Hermes Universal Deliveries, because we had just enough room to fit a couple or young family and all their worldly goods aboard and the speed to get them to pastures new before the kids could start rioting from cabin fever.

Oh yeah. I think we might have been the ones to get the ball rolling on the ghost story about "The Big Deal". Enough of the details match that it could be an exaggerated version of our experience, anyway.

It was... early 2009, I think. We were on a run to Port Phobos with six tons of mixed cargo, when suddenly we pick up a very faint modulation on the radio at 121.5MHz, the Aircraft Emergency Frequency back on Earth. An automated distress beacon. We warm up the radar and slowly scan back and forth until we pick up a tiny contact a few degrees off our heading, and alter course to investigate and hopefully render aid.

What we found was close to what the ghost story describes: A shipping container with windows on one end and engines at the rear, badly damaged. (No name painted on the side though.) But nobody responded to our radio calls, so I got suited up and made my way over with the first-aid kit... And a pistol, because something really didn't sit right about this.

I managed to get the airlock to cycle, and found the ship totally deserted. There were bunks lining the walls for at least a dozen people but only two of them were made up. I found food on the stove in a sort of open-plan galley area towards the stern; it was cold, but hadn't spoiled. Otherwise, there was a certain amount of disorder -cupboards hanging open, a couple of items knocked off shelves- but nothing that suggested forcible boarding or any kind of fight. As near as I could tell, the crew had been taken off by another craft along with their personal effects and simply forgotten to turn the beacon off.

We towed it to Phobos and reported the incident to ATC, but in those days the sharing of information on accidents was somewhat piecemeal so we never did find out who the owners were or what happened to them. At any rate, they never came forward to reclaim the ship, which was far beyond economic repair anyway; turns out it'd been hit by something about the size of a beer can, probably some other craft's jettisoned refuse, and the engines were in so many pieces that the dockyard team couldn't even tell if they were acceleration or constant-speed. It was still airtight and the galley and the plumbing worked fine when hooked up to external power, so I donated it to the Port Lowell YMCA. It's probably still there.

All in all, things were going great. Fenspace was an amazing place to live and work; the sheer energy and vibrant human spirit in those new colonies was like nothing I've known before or since. That I was making a good living from a varied and inteesting occupation just made it even better.

Guess who popped up and nearly ruined everything for me?

* * *

I'd had occasional contact with Frank over the years, mostly by email. He was doing odd jobs and working towards building a ship with some buddies, and occasionally he'd put some work my way, usually someone Earthside looking for passage to one of the L5 stations. His people skills hadn't improved much, but Fenspace seemed to agree with him and he sounded happy enough.

But... Well, some of those fares made me decidedly uncomfortable. Some of them were quite clearly either Turnerites or other far-right crazies; one of them spent the trip handcuffed to a chair in the hold because he kicked off when Barbara told him to get his own coffee, and another I outright refused to take because he was stinking drunk and toting a loaded Armalite. Others weren't quite as blatantly sketchy, but once you got talking to them... Christ. I hadn't heard of Men's Rights Activism until then, and I could have happily gone my whole life not knowing it existed. And the ones who weren't hanging with that crowd all had massive chips on their shoulders over the treatment of people into geeky pastimes by mainstream culture on Earth.

I was starting to get a little annoyed with Frank about this, but in all fairness they did usually behave themselves. But the last straw came in 2011.

It seemed like an ordinary enough gig. Party of five, pickup at a little-used airfield near the US/Canadian border, destination Moonbase Alpha. I'd done a thousand of these runs, often for people who were in some kind of trouble and wished their absence to go unnoticed by the TSA. That was fine by me. The message board through which I conducted these transactions did their best to screen out anyone on Europol or the FBI's wanted lists, and as far as Convention policy is concerned, you start with a clean slate when you make it Up unless you're wanted for war crimes or human trafficking.

(I'm not 100% comfortable with that, to be honest. But if the US insists on vetoing every attempt at a comprehensive multinational extradition agreement through the UN and threatening economic retaliation against countries seeking a bilateral one then I'll be damned if they get to have their cake and eat it.)

But this job went sour fast, and damn near got Barbara and I killed in the process.

We arrived about twenty minutes before the agreed time, and I went over to the terminal building -if you can call a collection of prefab sheds such- to pay the landing fees and get a weather report. When I entered the office, the very worried-looking airport manager pulled me aside and explained that my passengers had already arrived, but that he'd overheard some things that made him suspicious. The nearest police station was a good twenty miles away and there was no on-site security (we'd had to touch down elsewhere to sort out transit visas), so could I please verify that the sole adult of the group had guardianship or power of attorney?

Sole adult. Yeah, this didn't quite jive with the information I'd been given. Deeply suspicious and extremely displeased, I marched into the 'departure lounge' (which was more of a waiting room) to demand an explanation.

It was as bad as you're probably imagining. Four girls, all biomodded and not one of them a day over fifteen years old, with some obnoxious-looking guy in a cheap suit and sunglasses. When questioned, he claimed to be their 'agent', and was escorting them to audition for an 'independent movie' being shot on one of the asteroids to take advantage of the lack of all those tedious rules and regulations. It wasn't hard to guess the rest.

I nailed him with a good solid jab to the solar plexus, broke his nose with my knee as he doubled over and told the airport manager to call the cops. They turned up pretty damn fast when they realised what was going on, especially once Barbara coaxed the girls into giving us their names. They were all US nationals, and there was an Amber Alert out for one of them; the rest were runaways kicked out by their parents for biomodding. Child Services turned out as well, and figured out the remaining details pretty quickly.

The moment that still haunts me was when one of them said she knew damn well what she was being groomed for, but she went along with it because she had nothing to lose. She couldn't go to the police or she'd be stuck in some prison camp and treated like a terrorist or a lab experiment.

The social workers and the police had a long whispered conference, and eventually told me to load the kids onboard and go. I suppose the mess I made of that sleazy bastard's face was considered sufficient evidence that I was on the up-and-up, and it's not like they had any better options at that point. So we loaded up, took off and made for space...

You'd think that'd be the end of it, but nope. Just as we were taxiing to the runway I spotted a couple of SWAT helicopters from the other side of the border, and the radio immediately lit up as the US cops tried to invoke right of hot pursuit. I throttled up and left them to argue the toss with the Mounties.

And then, ten minutes later, a couple of F-16s started shadowing me and demanding I follow them. I replied that that I was still in Canadian airspace, my aircraft was not legally airworthy over US territory and that I was pretty sure they didn't actually have any legal standing to even be here right now, so would they kindly sod right off.

They responded by launching a Sidewinder at me. I dumped flares, jammed the throttle as far forward as I dared and started frantically dodging and weaving while hollering for assistance on the distress frequency. Someone in the Canadian Forces picked it up, and they must've done their research because they told me I was cleared hot, so I powered up the coilgun and put a round of grapeshot downrange.

I'd only tested the coilgun a few times, and never fired it at a live target until then. The effect was... pretty spectacular. The back end of one of the F-16s pretty much disintegrated from a glancing hit, and the other caught the outer edge of the spread pattern and lost a wingtip.

Both pilots lived, though the one whose aircraft took the brunt of the shot messed his back up pretty badly when he ejected. I'm glad of that, even if they were trying to kill me.

There was one hell of a row afterwards. It turned out that the Illinois State governor had turned out the Air National Guard on his own authority and told them to bring me in as an accessory, and the first NORAD heard of this was when Canadian radar saw them cross the border. The Canadian government was furious at the violation of their territory, and the British consulate had some rather acerbic things to say about it as well, even though they weren't exactly overjoyed to find out about the coilgun. The only reason it didn't blow up into something much worse than an angry exchange of official letters was that all parties concerned wanted to screw the lid down on the incident before it got into the media. The FCC, FAA and the equivalent Canadian acronyms put out a statement saying the message was a practical joke, and everyone but the hardcore conspiracy nuts believed them.

Me? I wanted to file it under "shit that never happened" as much as they did. Even if I am the first Fen to score a kill in combat with an Earthside military, which I sincerely doubt, I don't happen to think it anything to be proud of. I'd had my fill of killing and destruction before I ever came to Fenspace and if I never have to fire that fucking coilgun in anger again so long as I live I'll die a happy man.

Sorry. It's a sore subject, especially around the anniversary of...

Well, that's the story you've come to hear, isn't it?

* * *

As you might imagine, I was bloody furious with Frank. I called him up by voicelink because email wasn't satisfying enough and gave him an almighty hair-dryer about his dubious friends and the clusterfuck I'd been dragged into on his account. He was frantically apologetic and swore up and down he hadn't had a clue what the guy was really up to... And the funny thing is, I think he was telling the truth.

Frank actually seemed to like me, insofar as he liked anyone outside the toxic little echo-chamber he'd sequestered himself in with his buddies; after all, I'd helped him get to Fenspace when nobody else had. Or maybe it was pure pragmatism on his part, recognising me as a valuable asset who shouldn't be expended lightly. Either way, he didn't strike me as having much acting ability, so I'm pretty sure he really was duped by that porn guy. (He's still in prison, by the way. The US Department of Justice can probably tell you where if you want his side of the story.) Still, we parted on the understanding that the next time he had a correspondent ask him to recommend a good charter pilot, he was to send them to someone else.

Anyway, feeling slightly better for having it out with Frank, I made best speed for the Moon Kingdom Memorial and radioed ahead to request the Sailors Armed Militia meet me at the landing pad.

There were rather a lot of them waiting for us, all ostentatiously armed and accompanied by a lady who introduced herself as Ms. Curtis and explained she'd been a social worker before going Up. That was more qualified help than I dared hope for, so I showed her through to the galley and messroom and busied myself making tea while she talked to the four girls.

Yeah, you can see where this is going, can't you? I genuinely did not catch on until they'd left, and I saw her pause in front of the cockpit window to put on her official tiara.

It was just after three o'clock in the afternoon and we had several other pickups to make that day, but my professionalism has its limits. I put Barbara in charge and went in search of a bar.

Mercifully, the next few months were relatively uneventful. Work was plentiful, with a second wave of colonisation happening in the Belt and on the moons of Jupiter and a number of new orbital stations springing up. I did a few removals for the first inhabitants of Island One around that time, and I have to say Mal Ford... or Fjord, or... Just how do you pronounce that? Anyway, I found his well-publicised and very unflattering remarks about the place thoroughly inaccurate: The reality is considerably worse!

Which isn't to say it was all smooth sailing. Lots of would-be Belters started going out there and not coming back. Some of that was likely people coming to mischief through negligence or just bad luck, but stories were circulating of organised gangs pouncing on newly-settled rocks to loot supplies, or worse. Settlers started getting better armed and more jumpy, especially when the gangs started using distress calls as bait.

It was against that backdrop that I got another email from Frank, offering me quite a bit over my usual rate to collect himself, a couple of buddies and their gear from an asteroid a short distance from 1186 Turnera. It didn't have a catalogue number, as far as I could tell; presumably Frank's party had located it by chance and not bothered to report the discovery.

Now, that wasn't incriminating by itself; uncharted asteroids are only a navigation hazard if you're flying without radar at close to the Limit, and if you're dumb enough to do that you deserve to get yourself killed, so the only real reason to file the paperwork is the bragging rights. But the location gave me a very uneasy feeling. I only took the job out of a mixture of morbid curiosity and a faint hope that I could use whatever influence I had with Frank to keep him out of trouble.

I was honestly expecting him to have fallen in with the nuttier end of the Separatist fraternity; he had exactly the right combination of persecution complex, intellectual snobbery and questionable people skills to feel right at home with them. But the thing about most Separatists is, they might talk big about how space is the ultimate high ground and all that but they rarely go beyond "civil disobedience"... which generally means making a bloody nuisance of themselves, blatantly mishandling handwavium and generally giving Fen a bad name. (Being opposed to a licensing regime is one thing; I may disagree, but it's a defensible position. But we have rules about how to store and transport the stuff because Extremely Bad Things happen when it gets spilled all over people, okay?)

Frank was... Well, a lot more proactive.

The rock he'd set up shop on was pretty small, about three quarters of a mile in diameter. A couple of 'waved shipping containers clung to one side, and as we moved closer to look for a landing site, I realised with a growing sense of dread that there were half a dozen engines embedded in the rock's surface. Big engines, big enough to potentially push something that size up to a good four or five percent of c.

There was no good engineering reason to build yourself a ship that way. If you needed lots of interior volume then you could buy up and 'wave a container ship for a lot less than what it'd cost to hollow out a rock that size. And why the hell would you strap so many engines to it? Even with a constant-speed drive, it'd steer like a drunken three-legged cow at the best of times; at full speed it'd be a danger to itself and the entire solar system.

As the airlock cycled to admit our passengers I was still telling myself it couldn't be as bad as it looked. Maybe Frank had twigged that whoever designed the thing was a thundering dolt, or worse, and hired me because he wanted out?

Yeah. Wishful thinking.

"Tom, old buddy!" he boomed cheerfully. "Good to see you again. This is Earl and this is Brad. So, can we get going soonish? I set the final countdown on the engines and..."

"What the fuck are you doing out here, Frank?" I demanded.

"Eliminating a threat to Fenspace," he replied, bold as brass. "Look, I realise it's gonna make kind of a mess and all, but do you have a better idea?"

And he launched into a long-winded rant about 'mundanes' and their culture and how it was repressing original thinkers and disdainful of truly worthy pastimes and... Christ almighty, he even threw in something about how the marginalisation of geeks was responsible for his inability to get a woman to have sex with him. Basically, geek culture gets a bum deal so let's genocide everyone who's not a geek.

"It's drastic," he concluded, "but sometimes the world needs men who are hard enough to make the hard choice."

"Like cold-blooded murder?" I replied, surprising myself with how calm I sounded.

"Yep," he said chirpily, sounding pleased that we were on the same wavelength.

And I guess a hard man did make a hard choice that day, because I drew my sidearm and I shot him dead. One of his buddies had a pistol of his own and almost nailed me, but Barbara got him with the coachgun just as he was squeezing the trigger and the shot went high. The other went completely to pieces and begged us not to kill him, so we tied him up and left him in one of the passenger cabins while we ran hell-for-leather to the container where the control systems were located to try and find a way to shut off the countdown.

Frank was pretty thorough, I'll give him that much. Everything was controlled by a hardtech desktop PC: We couldn't enter a command abort the countdown because he'd bunged up all the free USB ports with Superglue and he'd rigged the engines to trigger when the thing turned off, so we couldn't just smash it or yank the Ethernet connection. There was presumably a second system waiting to implement the command, but when we traced the cable it led through a heavy steel hatch that'd been welded shut too thoroughly to crack open in time. I was about ready to lift off and shoot out the engines and to hell with the potentially useful evidence it'd destroy in the process when Barbara pointed out that those engines had to run off something.

It was surprisingly small, a fuel oil tank about the size you'd expect for a farmhouse. It was 'waved pretty thoroughly, but the fuel lines weren't; I didn't even need the plasma torch, just a hacksaw for the hoses themselves and a crowbar to force the valve. The tank must have under a hell of a lot of pressure, because when I finally got it open the damn thing shot me backwards like I'd been fired from a cannon, and the safety tether turned out to be more elastic than we'd imagined and... Oh, I'm sure it seems funny to you, but I ended up in hospital! Cracked ribs and whiplash from the harness, then a broken collarbone, a dislocated shoulder and a concussion from being slammed back into the asteroid.

So, that sucked.

Barbara managed to raise a Belter ship, and they got word to Juno City and then the Convention. The Sailor Armed Militia were dispatched to casevac me, go over the asteroid with a fine-tooth comb and question the surviving conspirator. A search of Frank's body turned up a remote that would have started the rock's engines instantly if he'd managed to grab it in time, which exonerated me of any potential murder charges.

I didn't tell them I'd been so damned angry at that point that I never even noticed he was reaching for something in his pocket, and they didn't ask.

I had to testify to a Convention sub-committee in Crystal Kyoto. I don't remember much of what was said -I was pretty thoroughly dosed up with painkillers- but Haruhi's closing statement is still perfectly clear.

"I can tell you don't want thanks for killing Berquart. I can tell you don't want to be called a hero. But a lot of people owe you their lives, Tom. Never forget that."

There's been a lot of unkind things said about that girl, before and since, but she's alright in my book.

I don't know how much the Convention told the Outer Space Affairs bureau in New York directly, but a mostly accurate version did the rounds on the Interwave after some Belters sent the rock into the sun. They were kind enough to leave Barbara's and my names out of their statement. It would've been quite a nine day wonder in the media if the first evidence that the Sammies had a corruption problem hadn't been surfacing about the same time, and then there was SOS-Con and the war...

Basically, we had more immediate and pressing problems. But it was one of many events that forced us to acknowledge the existence of a darker side to Fenspace, and the need for an organised effort to bring it under control while we still could.

We never did find out how much of a connection this incident had to the Boskone faction itself. The survivor didn't know much; he claimed to have been hired as a camp cook while Frank and several other like-minded individuals worked on turning the rock into a missile, and that he didn't know for sure what they were doing until Frank's little motive rant. Everyone else had left in their own craft before we arrived, and the names and descriptions were circulated on the Interwave to no avail. A couple of them were confirmed killed or captured in the war, but the rest seem to have vanished into thin air.

As for our remaining witness, the part about his being hired as a cook was true enough according to his old flatmate in Port Phobos, and in the absence of any witnesses to contradict the rest of his story the Sammies let him go. I can't tell you where he is now, I'm afraid; he gave the name Thomas Baker, which was probably an alias. Last I heard he was working in a Brubek's on Venus somewhere.

As for just how much damage the rock would've done? Someone ran the numbers and reckoned that at full speed it would've shattered the planet entirely. The debris would have wiped out every orbital station and probably most of the moonbases as well. The survivors would have numbered a couple of hundred thousand, of which a third to one half would then have starved before we could bring enough agridomes on stream.

It's very unlikely that we could have prevented a total Boskone takeover of what was left of Fenspace in those circumstances. Earth and its satellites were the one region they didn't dare raid for fear of forcing NATO or the Chinese to take a side. Without that secure rear and the steady flow of arms and volunteers from the surface, we never could have got a real army organised before we were overrun.

Does that mean Frank and his buddies had help? Good question. For the most part, with certain well-publicised exceptions, the Boskones are not genocidal lunatics; I mean, dead people can't buy smack or pay protection money and it's kind of hard to pimp them out, right? The only one of the leading lights who's batshit enough to consider this a remotely good idea is Agatha Clay, but huge fuck-off explosions aren't really her style.

We do know the 'wavetech on those engines was far too complex a job to have been done on-site, though, and that there's no record of them doing business with anyone in the civilised regions of Fenspace; it wouldn't have been terribly hard to figure out what they intended to do.

My hypothesis is that they had the work done at Boskone Two on a purely commercial basis. According to 'Baker', two or three of the group were pretty wealthy, and I had a hazy idea Frank himself came from money as well. Maybe they didn't put two and two together, maybe they thought it was an extortion scheme, maybe the money was just so good that they chose not to ask any questions. I suspect anyone who could tell us for certain isn't inclined to talk.

I still wonder why Frank called on me of all people to lift him off the rock before it launched. Was he looking for my approval, some sort of endorsement or validation of his actions? He must have known I disapproved of his grudge against anyone not Fen, so I can't imagine how he'd have expected that from me; whatever Frank might have been, he wasn't stupid. Unless some part of him wanted me to stop him? Perhaps he just didn't know anyone else with a ship who'd take his money.

I guess we'll never know now.

If I regret anything at all, it's not staying in better touch with Frank; I couldn't have prevented him from falling into bad company, but I might have been a moderating influence or at least seen warning signs in time to stop him sooner. But damn it, he was a grown man of twenty-five when I dropped him off at New Yavin all those years ago. He should have been old enough to know better.

But I don't feel guilty about killing him. I took neither pride nor pleasure in it, and I still wish it could have been avoided, but it had to be done.

This place will be closing soon, and I should be getting home. One for the road?

Alright. Here's my card; do you mind emailing me a preview copy for a quick fact-check in the cold light of sobriety? Alright, thanks.

Oh, and here's a pull-quote for you: 'If you hear someone talking about Hard Men making Hard Decisions and they mean it, you have to stop them. At any cost.'

It's kind of a Fen joke. Long story.


There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby InsaneTD » 2015-08-12 07:11am

What an intriguing setting. And an excellent story. I'm going to have to have a look at Fenspace.

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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby madd0ct0r » 2015-08-12 07:20am

I enjoyed that a lot.
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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-12 10:28pm

The story delights, in my honest opinion, even more than the setting. And the setting delights.

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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Zaune » 2015-08-12 10:37pm

Well, in that case I'd better start posting the sequel as well. :D
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby InsaneTD » 2015-08-12 11:48pm

Oh yes please!

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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Zixinus » 2016-05-23 02:29am

An excellent and entertaining story so far. I like the reference to Callahan's. If you have a sequel in you, go for it!
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Re: [Fenspace] HARD FEN Making HARD DECISIONS (while HARD)

Postby Zaune » 2016-05-26 08:06pm

Zixinus wrote:An excellent and entertaining story so far. I like the reference to Callahan's. If you have a sequel in you, go for it!

I most certainly do!
There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
-- (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

Replace "ginger" with "n*gger," and suddenly it become a lot less funny, doesn't it?
-- fgalkin

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