Skyborne is a work-in-progress science fiction dramedy about war, intrigue, love, and loyalty.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Database Entry: Languages

Dear Reader,

 The sentient population in the universe of Mercs, Feds, and Tribals numbers somewhere between four to twelve trillion. Yet despite the incredible inter-connectivity of the net and the high rate of trade and travel between factions, there are millions of regionally and culturally specific languages. The following is a quick reference list for the major languages I've mentioned so far. I shall update this post as necessary.

Language Family: General description of the languages.
Common language - A little history and characteristics. (Locales / Difficulty - Assuming a native English speaker.)
Common language - A little history and characteristics. (Locales / Difficulty - Assuming a native English speaker.)

Tautoan Languages: The following are the three principle dialects spoken in the Tautoan Empire. It's debated whether they're really dialects of each other given their significant differences. The closest analogy to compare these languages would be Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew.

Kartoa - The more formal traditional language of the Empire. It's gradually dying out in common usage, though it's still spoken in the higher classes, in political speeches, in court rooms and official transcripts. It's the most common trade language, used in many regions across the universe where the Kartoan Empire once spread. It splits further into other dialects like Arkold Kartoa, and Kartoa basic. (Common across the universe. / Difficulty - Hard)

Mah'to - A close relation to Kartoa that is more widely spoken by the masses. A much less formal language. (Predominate in the Tautoan Empire. / Difficulty - Really Hard)

Darisian - A more distant relative to Kartoa, Darisian is rising in common usage and used as a trade language in several dozen systems. (Predominate in the Tautoan Empire. / Difficulty - Hard)

Coalition Languages:

Fed Standard - The enforced official language of the Federation. This nation considers the simply named 'Standard' to be the height of lingual evolution. It's widely considered by their citizens to be the core language of the universe. (Predominate in the Federation. / Difficulty - Very Easy)

Fed Common - A closely related parallel language to Standard. (Predominately in the Union of Worlds, common in the League. / Difficulty - Minor)

Aethereen - The second largest trade language in the universe next to Kartoa. (Predominate with the League of Nations, common across the galaxy. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Clan Languages:

Gahlic - The most common language in the Clans. It's very specific - like Greek - with a huge vocabulary. (Predominate in the Free Clans and Aynland, common in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Maddok - An ancient yet still surprisingly common language. There's a certain cultural art built around Maddok poetry. (Predominate with the High Rock Clans, uncommonly in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Hard)

Dahric - Maddok heavily influenced by Kartoa. A product of the Kartoan Empire's subjugation of certain clans. It's still commonly used as a trade language in some systems, though it has been banned in some sensitive circles since it's a reminder of the occupation. (Predominate with the Allied Clans, common in Aynland. / Difficulty - Very Hard)

Brython - A language spoken almost exclusively by certain clans from the Alliance. (Predominate in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate)

Gahthereen - Not exactly a language, but the vernacular given to common code switching between Gahlic and Aethereen with Clans that border the League. (Predominately in the Free Clans, common with the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Taharan Languages:
Ha'jian Tribal - A tiny moon language with barely 30 million native speakers. (Exclusively in Tahara/ Difficulty - Extremely hard)

 As always I appreciate your time and would love to hear your critiques, suggestions, observations, and predictions. So feel free to comment or message me. And if you're enjoying Mercs, Feds, and Tribals, then don't forget to subscribe!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Saturday, December 21, 2013

(4) Mercs: First Day on the Job

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3254 local time. [0454. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Specialist 11A honorably discharged from the Federation Army.



 Brock watched as dull clacks echoed throughout the cargo bay from the synthetic blades of the stun swords. Scout eagerly tore forward into Chin, delivering a rapid flurry of skilled - if not overly zealous - strikes before darting away from the much larger man’s massive swings. Chin was barely able to ward off Scout’s attacks without giving ground, let alone being able to counter effectively. Scout’s eyes were alit with the rush of competition and the mounting scent of victory, just as Chin’s were funneled into intense concentration. Chin was excellent at hand to hand combatives, but swords were unfamiliar territory. This was the sixth match, and the longest so far of them all, already past twenty seconds. Scout had knocked glancing strikes twice already off Chin’s forearms, yet ‘Weasel’ hadn’t declared a victor. In the previous five matches - four of which Scout won - Weasel only intervened when he judged a strike to be fatal. Both men were dripping with sweat and heaving with exertion, pacing every breath to their efforts and every attack to the other’s timing.

 After Scout had showed him his tiny bunk, Brock had taken just a few minutes to secure his rucksack, G3, fatigues top, and web gear in the personal chest welded into the floor below his bunk. Though he did keep the sidearm on his hip. Feel naked without something. He had then come out into the cargo bay to find the three gearing up for some sparring. ‘Weasel’ hadn’t acknowledged Brock’s existence yet, he seemed too intent on the match to notice the young alien that was invading his personal universe; at least, that was Brock’s impression. The man had pale grey hair and sun-crusted skin. He wore Disukan scatter-gravel combat fatigues and spoke Kartoa with an easy, fringer Tautoan accent through a chaw of dip. Overall the look of a man in his late sixties, yet still wiry and tough enough to be deadly. He exuded the attitude and presence of a senior NCO, a man who demanded everything from his men and gave them nothing less.

 The exclamation came from Chin as Scout weaved under a counter and lashed into Chin’s shoulder before leaping back again. “Pace yourself Scout,” Weasel drawled nonchalantly, “you don’t chop down a tree with one swing. And be aggressive Chin, you’re going to bleed out in a minute.”
Chin didn’t seem to hear, he just resumed his guard and stared straight ahead like a cobra facing a mongoose.
 Scout, however, surged into Chin, quadrupling his energy as he frothed for that final blow. And that final blow came, Chin feinted and swung his stun sword straight into Scout’s face. Even with the rubber-like trauma absorbing exterior, the impact still resounded a wet crunch that made Brock visibly wince. Scout dropped straight to the metal cargo bay floor like a rucksack soaked with sweat.

“Uády!” Weasel barked.

 Chin froze on reflex at the Gahlic command before stepping back, relaxing his stance and breathing easily.

Must be SOP for this outfit. Brock thought to himself.

 Weasel jumped to his feet and limped over to Scout’s still form. He knelt down over him and loudly bawled into his head, “Wake the fuck up princess!” Despite the volume, Brock noted how he took great - almost tender - care rolling Scout onto his back as he checked his vitals. Guess he isn’t worried about spinal damage then. 

 Scout wasn’t unconscious, just really punch drunk. A stream of blood ran from a nasty open welt across his face; Brock couldn’t be certain, but it looked like his nose was crookeder than before. He was breathing raggedly through his mouth.

 Weasel pulled a bottle from his cargo pocket and spat a black sluice into it as he turned half way to Chin. “You did good boy, kept cool and baited him toward the end there; even if he was kicking your ass the rest of the time. Now go tell MD he’s going to have a guest soon.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Chin said breathlessly before turning around and striding briskly away, setting the stun blade down before he left.

 Weasel pulled out a unusually dainty white handkerchief, then a green flask from his back pocket. What else does he keep in there? He poured a capful onto the handkerchief then - after drinking a quick swig - started attentively dabbing at Scout’s cut. Scout groaned as the liquid frothed into his flesh.
“It’s in my eyes Stárshiy.”
“Shut the fuck up bitch and take your medicine.” Weasel lightly growled as he kept cleaning Scout’s cuts. “This would’ve been Chin’s ugly face I’d be patching up if you had kept your head clear. You could’ve just done NOTHING for another thirty seconds and won. But noooo. You acted like a bitch in heat when you smelled blood and had to promptly go get yourself fucked. How’d that work for you?”
“Not well Stárshiy.”
“No… No it didn’t. So are you going to do it again?”
“No Stárshiy.”
 Weasel grunted in response, “Pizdobol, you do it every fucking time. You’re as predictable as dirt and will always be fucked by an opponent who knows you.”

 Scout was coming out of the stupor and slowly sat up, taking careful sips out of Weasel’s flask. Brock slowly approached and tried to think of something to say, but the way Weasel looked up and the calculating glare he gave tied Brock’s tongue into knots. Brock hated when NCO’s from any army did that.

 Weasel finally spoke up,
“The fuck you looking at boy?”
“I’m… I’m a new crewman Stárshiy.” He wasn’t sure if that was his real title or not, but since the other crewmen called ‘Weasel’ that, Brock guessed he should too.
“I can see that; you don’t answer NCOs’ questions in your army?”
“We do.” Brock still wasn’t sure what to say.
“…AND? What the fuck are you looking at?”
“I’m looking at you Stárshiy.” This isn’t the army, it’s a freelance crew, I don’t have to put up with this shit anymore.
“Oooh looking at me boy? You know the Chief doesn’t take kindly to sexual advances between crew.”
“I… What?”
“We’re all professionals here, you’ll just have to control yourself, even with 89 kilos of sexy standing right by you.”
It took Brock’s nervous brain a moment to realize that the old NCO was joking; fine, two could play that game.
“Can’t make any promises Stárshiy.”

 The Stárshiy’s face never broke his stern glare, yet Brock detected an amused glimmer in his eyes. “Honesty, that’s what I like to hear, now stop undressing me with your eyes and help drag Scout over to those crates.”

“I can walk.” Scout said as he gingerly got to his feet, he started to hand back the blood stained handkerchief before Weasel firmly returned it to Scout’s face. “Direct pressure bitch, how else are you going to stop that geyser?”
“Happy thoughts?” Scout groaned.
 “Chin should’ve hit you harder, maybe knock that tongue in place; now get out of here.” Weasel gently shoved him into Brock, who steadied him. “Run on over to MD and get some stitches, your nose set, stasis for that little concussion, and shoot up some regen. I’m starting to wonder if Pimp could fuck you up like this.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Scout quietly replied, it hurt Brock just to see how absolutely devastated Scout was, but apparently he wasn’t the only one.

“Scout,” Weasel called after them, “get that kicked-puppy look off your face, you’re the fourth best fighter and second best swordsman on this ship.”

 Scout’s grin returned.


“Repeat after me, shla Sasha po shosse i sosala sushku.”

 ‘MD’ spoke to Scout while he carefully drew a few milligrams of the bluish liquid regen from a vial. Scout lay slumped on a metallic exam table while Brock stood by.

 “Why? Tongue twisters are stupid.” Brock noticed the tongued lulled slur in Scout’s speech and slight disorientation. Yep, definite concussion.
“It gives you something to focus on, plus it’s hilarious.”
“As in watching a paraplegic climb stairs hilarious?” Brock asked,
“As in a double amputee trying to play soccer hilarious.” ‘MD’ clarified as he laid the vial and shot down on a surgical tray.

 Is there anyone on this crew that doesn’t have a darkly sarcastic sense of humor? 

 Scout sighed and repeated the Kartoan twister fuzzily. The superficial bleeding on his face had finally stopped at least.

 “Regen is topping eleven carats a milligram on the black net, that isn’t cheap.” MD observed as he removed a surgically sealed packet of sutures and needle driver from a drawer.
 “I have plenty saved up.”
 “Enough to keep Tashya happy?” Ok, at least one of the crew is married. 
 Scout’s face broke into a crooked grin that stubbornly pulled against the laceration at the name of his pregnant wife. “You think Chief will let me call her?”
 MD tapped the vial with a practiced flick as he turned to his patient, “I’ll talk to him, but both Nergovian cartels will be monitoring net traffic as we exit the system. Since as I understand, Chief’s grand plan is to backstab them.”

“Preemptively backstab them.” Chief interrupted as he strode into the room, casually twirling one of the stun blades in his left hand. How does he keep sneaking up like that? 
“Scout, Scout, Scout…” Chief shook his head as he examined Scout’s face. “Do you just hate safety or something?”
“Just helmets Chief.”
“Dumbass, you and Chin were just whacking the shit out of each other with these stun swords? That’s not how they work.”
“Last I checked, you hit people with swords.”
“They’re stun blades, they stun.”
“I feel stunned, how isn’t that the way they work?”
Chief depressed the pommel for a few seconds before the sword exploded into life, casting a blue tinge, emitting a low toned hum, and dripping small and strangely molten looking electric sparks.

“That’s why I got them,” Chief gave the sword a few practice swings, the movement leaving a faintly blue white trace in its wake and a fierce hiss in the air, “so you didn’t have to spend half an op’s pay on regen every time you sparred. These just leave a burn mark that’ll fade in a few days.”
Chief flicked the sword off before continuing.
“Chin might’ve improved your face, Tashya’s into giant scars and zombie porn right?”
“There’s no way that little cut’s going to leave a scar,” MD interjected, “I’ll hook him up on stasis and the brain damage will be reversed too.”
“Hallefuckinglujah, you got to save whatever little brains were there to begin with.”
Scout sighed and slowly leaned his head back onto the table, “This isn’t my day.”
“Cheer up now, Pimp just about pissed himself when I told him he had to spar with you till he scored.”
Chief placed the stun blade next to Scout on the exam table before rapidly turning away to stride out of the room again, “Brock, walk with me.”

 He followed Chief’s hulking figure out of the OR, keeping a brisk pace through the narrow hatches and walkways of the Skylark. Chief strode silently for a few seconds before he stated with his gruff voice, “So you’re a fast runner.”
He did read my PF scores. 
“So I’m a fast runner.”
“With a shitty upper body.”
All of them, damn.
“I always hated push ups.”
 “Wrong.” Chief seemed to talk out of the side of his mouth while staring straight ahead. “You started a love affair with push ups the moment you signed onto the Skylark, and they’re presses, Copy? None of those pussy Fed push ups.”
“Roger Chief.”
 “Feds that pump out 200 ‘push ups’ can’t do 100 good Tautoan presses, and maybe 20 of those motherfucking ‘fists’ that the clans do.”
“We called those marine press ups in the Fed Infantry.”
 Chief stopped in front of a closed hatch to key in a command on a wall display, when it failed to respond he muttered and pulled the manual release. “You’re not with the Feds anymore, my second in command loves push ups as much as you’re going to, you’ll be working out with him till he’s satisfied with your progress, copy?”
“Roger Chief.”
 The door slammed open with a jarring force. “This ship has several treadmills built into the floor in the cargo bay, I expect you to utilize them whenever you can. PF assessments are once every other month, and you will meet my standard, copy?”
 “Roger Chief.” Being a merc isn’t that different after all, I’ve heard this rapid fire briefing a few billion times before. 
 “One more thing,” Chief continued, “Jay and Clutch are poor runners, I want you to bring them up to your speed with the treadmills; can you do that?”
“Can’t run it for them, but they can pace off me if they want.”
“That’s all I want to hear, any questions?”

 Brock took a second to think, the envious bitching of all his comrades back at every in-unit reception and pre-deployment physicals was completely vindicated; in processing with a merc crew had no kilometer long lines, endless paperwork, bullshit exams, or exhausted and pissed off civilian secretaries. Still, a couple thoughts did come to mind.
“Go for it.”
“How do I get paid?”
 “Shit, I knew I was forgetting something important. Just stop by Pimp or Weasel later and give them the info for the account you want funded. Nothing big to remember, other than  no direct deposits. Pimp always trails pay through several ghost accounts first, security you know.”
“Feds or the Empire after y’all?”
“Neither, just a good habit to have; was that your second question?”
“Uh, anything I should know about Logan?”
 Chief didn’t skip a beat in answering, “Nope, just call him Logan and do what he says; if he wants you to know anything else he’ll tell you. You’ll meet him in a few minutes anyway, he’s finishing up a little op planetside.”

 The command room was somewhat anticlimactic, less than half the size of the galley he passed through earlier and twice as crowded with computers, holographic readouts, and other machinery. Clutch, Jay and Pimp were busy at the consoles, conferring with each other while pouring their attention over the monitors and displays that surrounded them. Just as Chief and Brock entered, Pimp called out without looking up,
“Chief, may I speak with you? I’ve two matters that require your attention.”
Chief let out an exasperated sigh, “What’s wrong?”
“I need another couple techies to run this system effectively.”
 Chief glared at Pimp, “I remember a certain techie who assured me he could get this ship operational by himself.”
“Operational sure, but not combat ready.”
“Can’t Clutch and Jay do their part to get the systems up?”
“At the expense of the engine room and navigations, yes. And they’re still not programmers.”
“Damn straight,” Jay spoke up with an irritant tone, “I’m a pilot, not a console jockey.”
 Chief rolled his eyes toward him, “You’re a fucking navigator, pilots maneuver and dodge with a joystick, you plot and navigate with a console and helm.”
 “Pimp’s right about that,” Clutch chimed in, “I feel nervous leaving the sublight engine on its lonesome on our first flight with it.” He cast a concerned glance toward the Chief before returning to his monitor.
 “I don’t suppose our new crewmember has any technical experience?” Brock was starting to figure Pimp had a thing against eye contact.
“I can usually figure out where the power key is.”
“Great.” Pimp observed monotonically.
“Ok, so you want me to hire another techie?”
“Please?” All three crewmen said at the same time.
“Fine, I’ll start shopping around, it’d be nice having all the systems operational anyway.” Chief turned to Brock, “The internal comm system’s still down, that’s why I had to go get you rather than just call you up; so before I forget, go run by Weasel later and he’ll set you up with a secure comm unit, copy?”
“Roger Chief.”
“One other thing Chief.” Pimp said, still with his eyes on the console.
“What now?”
“Logan’s messaged me that he’s in a little trouble.”

 THAT got Chief’s attention, and it turned the heads of Jay and Clutch, though Jay spoke up first, “I thought Scout was monitoring comm traf…”

 “What do you mean a little trouble?” Chief enunciated the last two words with dripping anger.
 “His words. And Scout is in the infirmary so I’m keeping a tab on comms from here.”
 “PIMP! Focus.” Chief grabbed Pimp’s chair and swiveled it about to face him. When did you get the message, what exactly did Logan say, why didn’t it come through my receiver, and why didn’t you tell me immediately?”
 Pimp looked Chief in the eye with the calm though irritated demeanor of an interrupted  multitasker, he took a deep breath and spoke in a placating tone, “Four minutes ago, “Hey Chief, their backup’s getting here sooner than expected. We might have a little trouble.” He didn’t say it was urgent, and you didn’t resign into the system when you got back.”

 Chief looked the epitome of fury as he glared at Pimp, “Listen to me fuckface.”

 Oh shit, he's actually angry now. 

 “Logan doesn’t do protocol, he has never, ever rated anything as urgent; he wouldn’t notify like this at all unless shit was totally fucked.”

 Chief swung Pimp’s chair back toward the console - probably with a little more force than necessary - and turned about to the rest of the crew, quickly and smoothly settling into the routine of his command. The others sensed it as well, Brock could feel the adrenaline rushing through his system.
 “Jay, get back up to the cockpit now, take the ship off autopilot and prep to execute an LAE.”
“Yes Chief.” He leapt toward the hatch.
 Clutch, get to the engine room and make sure that the Skylark is good for whatever Jay needs.”
Clutch tapped the console and snatched his card from a dataport while Chief was speaking, “Aye aye Chief.”
 “Pimp, loop my receiver into the comms and work on getting shields and the 20’s online. And NO, I don’t care about the other systems right now. Brock, go meet everyone else in the galley.”
"Roger Chief."

 Just as Chief was instructing Brock, Pimp signaled him that the connection was made; without a moment’s pause, Chief turned away again and keyed his receiver, “Fuchsia, Fuchsia, Fuchsia. If you’re hearing this, head to the cargo bay. Logan’s in trouble, and we’re getting him out.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Database Entry: Coalition Factions Summary

Database Entry: Major Factions Summary - The Coalition Nations

 The following is part of a short primer for knowing the Coalition factions of the Mercs, Feds, and Tribals universe.

The layout...
Faction Name: Size% (The geographic size/population of this nation compared to the rest of the civilized world.)
Intro -
Power - The nation's collective military, economic, and technological strength. (1-10, 1 being pathetic, 10 is terrifying.)
Politics - The government type.
People - The number of languages and culture types within the nation.
Intro -

Coalition Nations - The following three nations have usually been allies in the last 150 years. Though there are a loose set of treaties between the three nations, the title 'Coalition Nation' is a colloquial term coined by their respective medias, not an official designation.

Union of Worlds: 6.2%
Power - 6
Politics - Representative Republic
People - Federation common is the official language, though another few compete for recognition.
 The Union is renown throughout the universe for its massive commercial-industrial complex. Nearly five percent of the general population is in the military, yet it isn't a militarized society. The government tends to be more restrictive of speech rights and beliefs, yet allows greater private freedom than the Federation. For example, alcohol is legal in the Union, but saying "Life is better with the Tautoans" can get you in trouble. (Minor debtor nation)

The Federation: 8.2%
Power - 5.9
Politics - Parliamentary Democracy in theory, Corporate Republic in practice.
People - Federation standard is the enforced official language.
 The Federation is a relatively young (230yrs) nation undergoing a gradual social revolution. It's transitioning from a rapidly expanding mercantilistic imperialism to a more static open market Republic. The government is very ordered and strict, keeping tight but efficient regulations on the people; though some laws vary from world to world. Social programs and public healthcare are organized very well. Corporations are extremely influential within the government, The people generally have a democratic mindset, voting is commonly considered a civic duty. However, cultural and political views do differ widely from world to world. The government tends to be more restrictive of private freedom and action, yet is more protective of speech rights than the Union. For example, alcohol has been outlawed decades ago as a dangerous substance, yet you can say anything you want anywhere. (Huge debtor nation)

League of Nations: 2%
Power - 5.5
Politics - Confederation of Independent Corporate Republics
People - Arkold Kartoa is the most common language, no official, eight major languages.
 The League is a very spread out collection of extremely wealthy worlds. They've established trading ports across the galaxy and keep tightly controlled colonies over valuable resources. (The creditor nation.)

 I shall go much more in depth about each of the above factions with 'Nation Profiles' devoted to each. Other factions that will eventually be covered with further 'database entries' are:
Allied Clans, High Rock Clans, Free Clans, Tautoan Empire, Republic of Cathay, Caliphate, Shaog Empire, Democratic Republic of Disuka, Independent Worlds, and Non-government-organizations.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Announcement: Concerning Announcements...

Dear Reader,

 Before we get too deep into this book, I had better explain some of the layout to simplify matters for you; basically, there are three different types of posts that I'll put on the blog:

Chapter Posting: I’ll do my best to post two chapters - with 3000-6000 words per chapter - in the first and last week of a month with announcements and database entries in between.

Announcement: General updates regarding the posting schedule, polls and the like. Unless I get splattered across a truck's grill on one of my morning runs, I will post an announcement if a chapter will be late or the schedule otherwise changes.


Database Entry: A post that helps paint the socio-political landscape in which Mercs, Feds, and Tribals takes place. These will include character bios, culture profiles, maps, and nation histories to serve as bonus reference material.

 I value your opinion and time as a reader, so please feel free to comment with your suggestions, preferences, observations and predictions.

 And if you're enjoying Mercs, Feds, and Tribals, then please subscribe!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

(Note: The 'Tribal' POV will start chapter after next.)

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Monday, December 9, 2013

(3) Feds: A Moon Called Tahara

Alpha system - Coreworld Terra - District 38.92.14. Student Residential: 3100 local time. [0800. 2/11/2002 Omega time]
Dr. Rachel Plasse, Doctor of clinical bacteriology, recently licensed by the Federation based Board of Natural Sciences.


 She took a cautious sip of the searingly warm drink and paused to savor the moment. Closing her eyes to breath in the rich scent of pure cocoa, bathing her tired yet youthful brow in the pleasantly climbing warmths of steam; the bitter sweet taste hung upon her tongue as she swallowed and opened those light blue eyes, reluctantly returning them to the screen before her.

 Her name was Rachel Plasse… Doctor Rachel Plasse. It had already been six months since her ‘coating’ (lab coat ceremony), yet the title still felt strange attached to her name. She had practiced that signature - Doctor Rachel Plasse - ever since she first decided she wanted it seven years ago in second school. Now that the omnisciently massive Board of Natural Sciences had justified those sleepless post-university years of endless tests and menial residencies, she still didn’t quite know how to process this new found freedom. After the initial joys and familial adulations had quieted down, what had shocked her was the huge gaps of time that was hers again; no classes, no examinations or boards to study for, no instructors breathing down her cricked neck… and no job.

 Thankfully a student’s life was cheap, and her frugal living and few scholarships had alleviated the massive financial burdens. Burdens wrought by the subsistence pay the ever stingy government funded university hospitals generously bestowed, and the huge tuition rates imposed by said hospitals. She honestly never would have survived debtless without her wealthy family to rescue her. For that matter she probably wouldn’t have persevered through the residencies had her older sister not commed her weekly to encourage and drive her on. Her ’s administrative connections with the hospital certainly didn’t hurt either, or her mother’s constant scrutiny of her grades. Even in the early-soul searching days when she switched her concentration from Human Medicine to the Bio-sciences they remained steadfast.

 Though she loved her family dearly, she still loathed to admit that she would not have made it without them. Though she had inceptive difficulty, she had made those near-perfect grades, she had passed a test after analyzing samples all night long for the fifteenth time. No, she might not have the genius of her older sisters or the stunning looks and suavity of her younger brother Caiden, but she could work. She could study for days and hammer through an impossible subject. She could spend hours researching and defining some strange rimworld bacterium and recite the mandated procedures for cleansing that bacterium and the medical risks involved. She was fifteen when she got accepted into the University, and was always the youngest in her class. Her head instructor, Dr. Simms even once told her in one of his rarely personable moments that she was one of his most promising students. The vast majority of her coworkers and fellow students had been older than her; in fact, now as a licensed bacteriologist at 24 almost all of her students were a decade older than her. So sure, she had a great family behind her and the shadow of her siblings to stand in, but in the end, she could risk a moment of mild megalomania.

 Rachel Plasse sat on her favorite couch in her small apartment room, a mug of steaming chocolate in one hand and her computer lying on her lap. The room was small by common middle class domestic standards, yet relatively spacious for a single student. The room was in a state of careful chaos, with datapads and paper books overflowing past the shelves and scattered across the room in organized knee high stacks. Considering the terabytes of information that even the cheapest of these pads contained, all told her room was a ridiculous database almost exclusively focused toward bacteria. Research for the thousands of essays and profiles she had written about individual bacterium, examinations of health concerns for different colonies and outbreak studies across the galaxies. A cornucopia of compiled knowledge to whoever could navigate the labyrinth of stacks cataloged roughly by subject, species, lethality, instructor, and intergalactic system. A cornucopia that only Rachel could comprehend, and would be thrown into upheaval - well, upheaval to her - if so much as one stack was bumped; thankfully no one ever visited to risk knocking about her system. Which was just as well, for between these stacks of knowledge were a bare few pieces of furniture, the bare minimum for a single student; the fluffy couch she currently rested on, a small bed that folded up into a couch, and a small folding coffee table with clean utensils and several small plates stacked neatly. That was all the silver and dinnerware Rachel owned, the old kitchen cabinets and spacious drawers normally intended for them instead simply held more datapads. Her small netcast receiver rested on a corner of the coffee table, on the rare occasions that she turned it on, it projected a large, crystal clear display of the dozens of newscasts available on the Federation net.

 Her exacting and taciturn mother always hated this “absolutely inexcusable fault,” but no matter how much disapproval she preached on the subject, in this Rachel always allowed herself some freedom. This was her room, she knew where everything was, and there were no actual ‘messes.’ She liked her careful chaos, and as long as she lived here alone it would remain this way.

 Thankfully her father - James Plasse - was a more sanguine parent. Though he had also kept her focused throughout her scholastic pursuits, the day she graduated he started playing the matchmaker. Planting suggestions and pushing various men in her direction. The thought was nice as the men were all incredibly intelligent, if usually poor conversationalists or not downright awkward. Rachel couldn’t have that, not at all. She’d be the last to claim possession of any consequential wit or quick humor like the heroines in her novels, yet she could certainly carry a conversation. And she didn’t want to spend that much time around an ineloquent brick. It was a pity that all of her peers who spoke fluently with brilliant minds to match were also around twenty years her senior.

 Yet none of that really mattered, even with so much extra time on her hands, she didn’t want another distraction to gobble it back up. Her life was hers at last, it was time to spend it on getting experience and putting the last decade to use.

 This was the same apartment Rachel had kept throughout most of her academic career. As a creature of particularly set habits, Rachel had done her best to keep as many constants as she could. The private room, the daily chocolate comfort, the personalized surroundings, and most importantly, her precious few novels tucked away under the bed/couch. Those books remained there unless things were truly dire, only when home sickness struck, or the collective stresses of competitive academia overwhelmed her would she reach for these old books.  and artistically printed hardbacks with colors faded from reading in sunlight; pages rendered brittle and crisp, both from the original excited thumbing through of the pages to the endless later more careful and familiar turnings.

 Her chestnut hair was uncharacteristically loose and tustled about her shoulders; it might be called ‘morning hair’ if that didn’t imply sleep the night before. Rachel - already rendered an insomniac through necessity - had spent the night reading research articles and reviewing one of her dozen-plus job applications. This one that caught and kept her eye so readily was a research position with the Federation Navy; not a formal contract, nor even a one time tour assignment. The basic form aositioned that she’d be signing onto a Federation ship for 8 months as a civilian resident doing humanitarian research, and hence she wouldn’t be restricted to military regulations or requirements, “Thank god.”

 Rachel considered herself a fairly apolitical person; her job was her life after all. Her parents, however, were anything but ‘apolitical.’ Her mother - Dr. Yutah Hareensy - was a hardlining member of the Imperialist party, with a very active and vocal family; her father James was (of course!) a diametrically liberal Corporatist. They disagreed on almost every major issue that came on the broadcasts and commentators; whether it was the ‘propaganda/Public relations scandal’ back in ‘34 or the more recent kitchen knife bans spreading from the core worlds. It got worse as her siblings got older and started declaring for one party or another. She remembered the actual tears James shed after her older sister first voted for the Conservative Centralist minister that increased military spending by another percentile of the Federation’s GDP. Or how angry Yutah had gotten when Caiden went with her father to go vote against criminal conscription for the military. Or both parents’ frustration with Rachel’s bureaucratic ambivalence; she hated the endless simmering debates and those silent disapproving looks they always gave her when she threw up her hands about an issue.

 Politics was a sore subject with the Plasse family, taking a civilian contracting job with the military would not endear her to James or Caiden.

 Yet these concerns were momentarily pushed from her mind as she came across the pay description. It wasn’t the amount that fascinated her, though the position paid very well. Her entrancement focused upon a single line:

 “Contested Zone Service Compensation: 500 credits per MUTA day that the employing vessel has been engaged.”

Contested Zone

 The omnipresent international threats like the Tautoan Empire, the Caliphate, Shaog, or the Disuka constantly loom near. The Feds hadn’t actually been at war with any of them for over forty years, but that didn’t mean that billions weren’t still deployed internationally fighting Insurrectionists, pirates, fringe worlds, star lords, war chieftains, dictators, or the mercenary clans… As Yutah said many times before, “The list of Federation enemies is long.” Federation trans-system commitments were massive; trade routes had to be protected, colonies had to be maintained, vital resources had to be occupied, and humanitarian law had to be enforced… Or so Yutah told her.

 But she didn’t want to think about that right now, that’s not what was drawing her to those two words.

Contested Zone… Combat

 She let that thought sink in for a minute. Allowing the odd sensation of excitement coupled with a prickle of fear to flow through her body. What better opportunity could she ask for to see what the real world was like? What could possibly make a better - albeit sharp - transition from the purely academic and hypothetical world to the physical and result focused?

 As she continued reading, another line of the contract caught her eye.

 “You will conduct your work on a Federation Naval Vessel during an active tour to a moon called ‘Tahara.’ Once you arrive you’ll be receiving assignments to save these underprivileged peoples from weaponized diseases and native bacteria.
Save millions of innocent lives, explore this fringe world, earn excellent pay, and serve your country.”


 She knew the name, she’d read about that moon before. An apparent shocking coincidence considering the millions of cultivated and populated worlds, moons, asteroids, and stations in the universe. Yet still apparent since aside from her thousands of research essays, she had simply ‘read about’ tens of thousands more. So only a minor coincidence.

 Besides, Species 37A42/ Strain 18 was nicknamed ‘Baby Ghorta’ by the scientist who defined it just a couple years ago (Dr. Samantha Voor.) ‘Ghorta’ was a some reference to some big movie scene where lots of people died. She didn’t know or cared; what made it stick in her memory particularly well was the parasite’s durability. It was waterborne and almost impossible to exterminate or purify. Basic coagulation and flocculation and the chemicals normally associated didn’t cleanse it. The native Taharan sedimentation method didn’t work. Any form of advanced filtration completely failed. Even distillation was useless. Dr. Voor eventually developed a complex disinfection method involving repeated exposures to intense UV radiation coupled with additional chlorine treatments. Apparently the nearly permanently overcast Taharan sky didn’t allow many bright skies.

 But in the end, the process was only effective with individual samples of water. And it proved too expensive for the impoverished native population. Which honestly wasn’t that big of a deal since the natives had lived with it for the last few centuries. Every native Taharan lived their entire life with the microparasite in them. It was found even in breast milk. The infant morality rate was unusually high even for a third world, nearly a fifteenth of all local children died soon post childbirth. She hadn’t read those studies, but the link had yet to be found between the infant morality rate and the parasite, though they had to be connected. The more conclusively proved damage done by the parasite was a slight increase in hyperthyroidism; barely .03% if she remembered correctly, which she usually did. Additionally, though the natives had adapted to drinking the water, foreigners would get terribly sick for anywhere between 24 hours to a month after the smallest cup. The adjustment was sometimes so bad for aliens, that one out of sixty would die. Though there her memory failed her as to exactly why or how. Even after a person was infested with the parasite, it was nearly impossible to remove it. She really hoped that the humanitarian work did not include finding some answer for it.

 The terse tone of a call notification from her computer suddenly shook Rachel from her thoughts. She gently laid her mug on the floor beside the couch before tapping a flashing green icon on the corner of her screen.
“Hey Rachel! Please tell me you went to bed last night after our midnight chat.”

 Rachel leaned back on her couch and stretched out her arms, smiling at the familiar and eager feminine voice.
“Sleep is for pre-grads and philosophy con’s Olivia.”
“And smartmouth Doctors! It’s been forever since your coating, you need to get back on a human schedule.”
“I am on a human schedule, haven’t done anything all night except drink Chocolate and read job proposals and articles.”
“Yeah! Where will you be going? Have you picked which one yet?”
“I think so…”
“…AND? Just tell me already! Is it the Handel contract?” (Handel International was one of the giant medical research corporations between the Feds, League, or the Union.)
“Well, I’ll be going offsystem.”
“Oh! Thayer corp then!” Olivia had nearly squealed with excitement; Rachel was very fond of her friend, though she could be a little grating at times like this.
“No… Not Thayer, though it will be on a ship.”
“Just TELL me!”

 Rachel wasn’t really certain how Olivia was going to take this; politics had never really come up in their midnight chats or lunch dates.
“It’s a humanitarian job with the navy.”

  There was a pause on the other end of the line, Rachel visibly cringed as she could hear Olivia’s slight intake of breath on the other line.
“…Ohhh. That sounds… Adventurous.”
She wasn’t offended, good. Yet she wasn’t pleased either. Rachel spoke plainly,
“You don’t like it.”

“No, no, no, it sounds like fun. And I’m sure you’ll be helping a lot of people. It’s just…”
“It’s just?”
“Isn’t that sort of thing really… dangerous?”
“Yep, really dangerous. This humanitarian mission is actually a cover mission to kill Prime Minister Azarov. My scanners are actually a kind of wrist gun, and the slides are bombs.”

“Rachel!” Olivia sounded shocked, “The FSI’s going to track this call now with those three words. And I was being serious.”
“So what? They’ll know I’m joking, and I appreciate it Olivia. I really do, but you shouldn’t worry about it. Humanitarian missions don’t get into any battles, that’s why they’re called humanitarian.”
“I’m sorry for being worried, I don’t mean to rain on your parade. And I am happy for you! This job really sounds wonderful if you get to help so many people like that. Where are you going?”
“This moon called Tahara.”

 Olivia gasped again, the excited exhilaration rushing back into her voice.
“What? Tahara!? as in the Ankor border system Tahara?
This genuinely surprised Rachel, Olivia was never really one for geography.
“Yes… You’ve vacationed there or something?”
“No! Silly! You haven’t heard about Take Down Ariseny?”
“No, is it big or something?”
“YES! It’s HUGE! Even the newscasts have mentioned it a few times. It’s ALL OVER the net! Just how have you not heard about it?”
“What can I say? I live under a scholastic rock.”

 “Anyway,” Olivia continued in that rushed voice she always spoke in when talking about something she was passionate it. “Tahara is in some sort of civil war, and Ariseny is a horrible, horrible war criminal. He has killed aid workers, civilians, tortured people, burns villages. And some of his soldiers are as young as ten! The movement was started by a few aid workers that came back from Tahara and wanted him brought to justice; they’ve been legislating parliament to send an intervention force and the proposal just passed like last month. Their site has over half a billion subscribers! And I’m guessing that you get to be a part of it all!”

 Tahara was just becoming more and more interesting. It always hurt to read and hear about the suffering of others, even in the vague, academic language of her journals on the net. Her first memory of violence had been catching glimpses of syndicated adult only newscasts, showing helmetcam footage from soldiers on the frontlines or enforcers fighting crime in the streets. Yet the sounds of violence and sight of blood were always carefully censored for the standard, politically correct upper middle class audiences. Rachel guessed that partly created her distaste for blood, which was the reason she switched away from human anatomy and medicine early on. She threw up after seeing her first cadaver, and from there it only got worse and worse. Even after switching, the many symptom photos and case studies showed the first pictures of real suffering that she’d ever seen. And they still made her a little queasy. She had a weak, upper middle class stomach.

  Still, as an intelligent professional woman, Rachel hated what she saw as a superficial facade of her popular culture. How could the Federation ignore the unbridled violence going on in the universe? Though she wasn’t an activist and had simply been too busy in the last several years to develop that belief, Rachel did sympathize when her father’s party wanted to enforce international humanitarian law. ‘Order Saving Chaos’ and similar slogans to some extent resounded with her.
Yet she still replied with a sardonic pitch in her voice.

 “Courtney Wilson’s fan site has over three billion subscribers.”
 “Oh come on! It’s a lot of people to support a parliament proposal. PM’s (Parliament members) were scrambling over themselves trying to appear at Ariseny rallies.”
 “It does sound like a good cause, and it’s great people went out and actually supported it. It’ll be nice to be doing something that actually matters.”
 “Heey now! Who didn’t even now about it?”
 “Again, scholastic rock.”

 The chime of Olivia’s chuckle echoed through the apartment, “Hey, gotta go now, get some sleep Rachel!”

 Rachel sat aside her computer and stood up from the couch, looking down at her disheveled appearance. Time to get presentable.