2951-12-21 – Tales from the Service: A Conversation with the Kyaroh, Part 2 

This Feast week, we here at Cosmic Background hope that you are safe and well, and are able to spend time with your loved ones. Our embed team at Sagittarius Gate has the week off, just like employees back here at Centauri. This week’s entry will be a continuation of the interview transcript which Duncan posted last week. 

This interview was conducted in-person aboard the Sprawl station in the Sagittarius Gate system on 18 December. The wardroom of the ASWO’s office was employed as a familiar space for the interviewee. 

D.L.C. - Duncan Chaudhri is a junior editor and wartime head field reporter for Cosmic Background.     

N.T.B. - Nojus Brand is a long-time explorer, datasphere personality, and wartime field reporter for Cosmic Background.    

S.A.L. – Senior Advisor Lved is a close associate of the chief of the Kyaroh delegation to the Sagittarius Gate system, and speaks in this interview as a private individual of his people, not as an official representative of his government. Lved’s grasp of Anglo-Terran is quite good, but not perfect; in this transcript his words will be presented verbatim, without correction. 

T.B.M. – Commander Tory B. Monaghan is the Alien Sapient Welfare Officer for Kyaroh on the Sprawl. She has learned the language of her charges and in this interview will act mainly as an interpreter to smooth over language and cultural differences. 

[D.L.C.] – That is your hope, then? That after this war, that your people can learn from ours? 

[S.A.L.] – I mean not to offend, but I think it is more important to learn from the Incarnation, and why they so nearly subjugated our people. It is unlikely that your empire would do the same. 

[N.T.B.] – Wouldn’t, not couldn’t. 

[S.A.L.] – At this moment, distinction does not provide insight. Perhaps a future generation might find differently. 

[D.L.C.] – Imitating the Incarnation doesn’t sound like a good long-term development strategy to me. 

[S.A.L.] – Our people and yours are made in different images, Journalist Chaudhri. Imitation of the ways of any group of humans seems most unwise. When I speak of learning from our foes, it is not of copying their ways. 

[S.A.L.] – Perhaps the best comparison would be to how humanity learned from the Atro’me invasion. No-one could accuse that generation of copying the society of our invaders. 

[N.T.B.] – I suppose not. 

[D.L.C.] – What do you think your people have to learn from the Incarnation, then? 

[S.A.L.] – I lack the proper expertise to make such an analysis. But you wish for me to speculate? 

[D.L.C.] – Yes, if possible. We understand that it would be your best guess. 

[S.A.L.] – I do not wish even to speculate. Perhaps experts among your people are already compiling the best lessons from this conflict, but for our people, this would be unthinkable. The future must wait until the conflict’s end. 

[N.T.B.] – Is there anything more about your peoples’ future hopes that you want the average Confederated citizen to know? 

[S.A.L.] – Many things, but perhaps here we have only time for one. We will continue our fight with or without the Seventh Admiral’s aid. And we will endure. We will endure all things to their ending. 

[D.L.C.] – That almost sounded like it could come from a religious text. What gives your people the strength to endure? 

[S.A.L.] – I am sorry to mislead. It did not. Enduring troubles is our way in peace and in war. The Incarnation will someday fall, but the Kyaroh will remain. 

[N.T.B.] – And on that day, we will all find out what the new peace will mean for your people. 

[S.A.L.] – We will all find out what the new peace will mean for us all. This conflict’s ending will shape also the future of your people, since it is a war born within humanity. 

[D.L.C.] – That is true. The Incarnation has always seen us as the end goal of its conquests, even before we knew they existed out here. The Kyaroh, the Grand Journey, and everyone else native to Sagittarius are just in its way. 

[S.A.L.] – Another species might resent being “in the way” as we are, but we do not. If it were not for The Incarnation, another power might do the same to us. Or perhaps the Kyaroh would be doing the same to another people and bringing the wrath of many on our own heads. The futures that never took place are likely worse than our time. 

[N.T.B.] – I like that attitude. It reminds me of Card, one of my favorite old-Earth novelists. 

[S.A.L.] – Interesting. When this conflict is ended, if I remain living, I might research this “Card” - that is a name used among the Kyaroh, too. 

2951-12-21 – Tales from the Service: A Conversation with the Kyaroh, Part 1

I have been trying to secure an interview with one of the Kyaroh representatives residing on The Sprawl for several months, as readers of this text feed know. These efforts have finally born fruit, thanks to Admiral Abarca’s staff. The problem has been that most of the Kyaroh are not willing to speak to the Confederated media because they see this as overstepping their duty. A translator working with them also suggested to me that they do not wish to accidentally obligate their government by inference.

I can heartily sympathize with both of these concerns, and we have agreed to bound the conversation accordingly. The Kyaroh who has been sent to sit down with Nojus and myself goes by Lved, and the Kyaroh ASWO informed us that his role within the Kyaroh delegation is something like a senior advisor to the ambassador.

Expect full-capture video excerpts from this interview on the main vidcast some time next week.

This interview was conducted in-person aboard the Sprawl station in the Sagittarius Gate system on 18 December. The wardroom of the ASWO’s office was employed as a familiar space for the interviewee.

D.L.C. - Duncan Chaudhri is a junior editor and wartime head field reporter for Cosmic Background.    

N.T.B. - Nojus Brand is a long-time explorer, datasphere personality, and wartime field reporter for Cosmic Background.   

S.A.L. – Senior Advisor Lved is a close associate of the chief of the Kyaroh delegation to the Sagittarius Gate system, and speaks in this interview as a private individual of his people, not as an official representative of his government. Lved’s grasp of Anglo-Terran is quite good, but not perfect; in this transcript his words will be presented verbatim, without correction.

T.B.M. – Commander Tory B. Monaghan is the Alien Sapient Welfare Officer for Kyaroh on the Sprawl. She has learned the language of her charges and in this interview will act mainly as an interpreter to smooth over language and cultural differences.

[D.L.C.] – Mr. Lved, thank you for sitting down with us today. And thank you, Commander Monaghan, for facilitating.

[S.A.L.] – It is no trouble, Journalist Chaudhri. My people hope for much help from yours, so we should not be reluctant to satisfy the curiosity of your multitudes.

[N.T.B.] – Of the three sapient species which have become such common sights here in Sagittarius Gate, yours is the only one that has been reluctant to cross the Gap and visit our Core Worlds. You can understand why that might make people back home curious.

[S.A.L.] – This we can easily understand. But the mission which brings us to Sagittarius Gate can take us no farther.

[T.B.M.] – To clarify, the Kyaroh delegation here sees itself as being ambassadors directly to the commander of Seventh Fleet. Both Admiral Abarca and I have explained that Seventh Fleet cannot chose its own war policy, but this changes nothing, because they are duty bound to perform the mission they were given.

[S.A.L.] – We trust the Seventh Admiral advocates for us to the Terran Three. Our duty is to our masters, and his to his.

[D.L.C.] – The Terran Three being the Admiralty Council?

[S.A.L.] – We understand this council well. Our people, too, raise up three to the supreme authority. Always three there must be, to share the heaviest duty.

[N.T.B.] – I’ve heard that your people have been fighting Nate a long time. Do you remember anything of what peace was like?

[S.A.L.] – This short-hand for our mutual foe is distasteful. It speaks of underestimating a mortal threat.

[T.B.M.] – Mr. Brand and Mr. Chaudhri spend most of their time among Terran spacers, so I trust you can forgive them for picking up slang and habits.

[S.A.L.] – Prefer this not be used in this conversation.

[N.T.B.] – I will try not to.

[D.L.C.] – To Nojus’s question, though, do you remember what life was like before the conflict with The Incarnation?

[S.A.L.] – I was not yet sired when this conflict began. There are but few living who recall life before they intruded upon our worlds. That was about fifty-five of your Terran years ago. What could be saved of that time lies preserved, but I have no knowledge of it.

[N.T.B.] – You don’t know anything of that time? Of how your people used to live?

[T.B.M.] – Most of the Kyaroh worlds are occupied by the Incarnation, and have been for many years. This includes their home-world, though their government is still based there, operating underground. How they get starships in and out when the Incarnation controls the orbital space is a secret they refuse to share.

[S.A.L.] – I have heard little and will not assert it is the full truth.

[D.L.C.] – We understand, but would still like to hear what you have heard.

[S.A.L.] – It is said among the older generation that before our foes came that we did not live in peace, but had wars among ourselves. There were three great nations on our home sphere, and the other worlds were split among them. Each had a creed which centered its existence, to exclude the other two, and each created beautiful things. The appearance of The Incarnation put an end to it all. Those creations lie in ashes.

[D.L.C.] – You said some was preserved.

[S.A.L.] – The Archivists keep their secrets. I know not what was saved, and none will until we are free.

[N.T.B.] – Most likely, the Incarnation would prefer to erase all of that.

[S.A.L.] – Even this I do not know. There are those who live under the enemy and are forced to work. Perhaps to them, all that is erased already.

[D.L.C.] – What does the Incarnation want from those forced laborers?

[S.A.L.] – For this also I have only rumor to answer. The Incarnation is said to operate the old ship-yards which built our starships, and the factories on our home-world that made weapons for our wars. These could not be used without the labor of many Kyaroh.

[N.T.B.] – That makes your home-world a valid military target for Seventh Fleet.

[S.A.L.] – Of what I understand of Terran computations, yes. But that is a matter for the Seventh Admiral. We understand that our liberation is not his duty.

[T.B.M.] – And as a reminder, Lved is speaking as an individual here, not as a representative of his people.

[D.L.C.] – I remember, and will make that quite clear when this is published.

[S.A.L.] – I have heard that your people were like us, many generations ago. And that it was like us with you, too. That invasion welded many peoples together.

[N.T.B.] – It wasn’t quite that simple. There was conflict afterward. There still is.

[S.A.L.] – It is good that it was so, for your people became strong. I think it will also be for my kind.

2951-12-13 – Tales from the Service: The Unwilling Profiteer

Magda Salmon waited until the pair of traders had left Dylan Lane’s specially modified wardroom before turning to Jeb. The alien was, as usual, entirely unreadable; though his single eye was aimed in her direction, all of his mismatched limbs were still.

“You do know they belong in a psych-ward, not crewing a hauler.” Magda gestured after the pair. “People like that shouldn’t be allowed to hire mercenaries.”

Jeb did not react. He didn’t even blink – but then, Magda had never seen him blink.

“They want to hire us to pose as pirates and make it look like they fought us off, just to give them an edge in negotiating their next couple of cargo contracts. It’ll never work, because the only way to make it believable would be to actually shoot up their rusty tub of a ship, and they won’t allow it.” Magda doubted the pair’s ship could survive a few hits from proper weapons anyway, but that was beside the point. “And when they realize that, they’ll just file piracy charges against us and pretend the contract never happened.”

Jeb rose from the complex cradle that served for him instead of a chair. A human spacer would have had to walk around the long table, but he simply drifted over the top of it toward the door.

Magda dropped her shoulders. “And you’re going to make me take this damned job anyway.”

“Quite correct, Miss Salmon.” The door hissed open, and Jeb’s body began its long procession through into the corridor. “I trust you can modify your squadron’s weapons for minimal risk to the client?”

“This is a disaster waiting to happen, Jeb.” Magda stood and followed the alien out. “We’re never going to get the results they want, so they’ll never pay us.”

“That possibility has not eluded me.” Jeb proceeded toward the lift at a stately pace. “I deem it worth the risk. Prepare your personnel and equipment while I prepare our contractual terms.”

Magda seethed at Jeb’s casual use of the word “our” – he would be taking none of the risks, only reaping a percentage of the rewards. In the mercenary business, it was traditional for the chief negotiator for any mercenary company to be one of the deployment personnel of the outfit, because that person had the most incentive to bargain hard and set the proper terms of the job. Jeb would be risking nothing but his own credits – why should she trust that the terms he set would be good for her and her compatriots?

“You need not fear for your safety.” Jeb turned a few degrees to one side so his eye could fix on Magda. “The skipper must pay me even if he decides to kill you all out there, so there is no incentive for him to do so.”

Magda wondered whether any weapon that the pair of hardscrabble hauler-spacers could strap to their ship could do serious harm to any of her squadron’s strike rigs. Perhaps if they could get their hands on military-grade disposable missile pods and a half decent targeting system, but that would cost several times more than the contract fee itself.

Turning away from Jeb, Magda headed to the access shaft at the aft end of the deck. On most ships, these shafts contained a steep set of spiral stairs to serve as a backup for the lift system, but on Lane, it contained only a grid of recessed handholds, as Jeb could not use the stairs and would struggle to navigate their tight spiral in any case. Climbing from deck to deck freehand was probably a bad idea, but Magda had found it a useful way of diffusing her frustration with her enigmatic employer. Also, it was faster than the lifts, if one didn’t mind the small risk of plummeting six decks to the hard plate decking at the bottom of the shaft.

By the time Magda had gotten all the way down to the lowest deck where her company had been assigned temporary quarters, she was out of breath, but she had cheered up a bit. Jeb himself was the contracted party on this debacle, and that meant that when the sewage hit the atmospherics, he would be the one paying the bills, and her company account would remain quite static. There would be no profit in it, but perhaps seeing the unflappable Jeb learn a hard lesson would be a sort of profit all its own.

“So do we have a job, Mags?” Ted Kozlowski, her rear-seat gunner, stood in the corridor outside their barracks, leaning on the bulkhead and reading something on his slate.

“Seems we do, Ted.” Magda rolled her shoulders and wiped her brow before approaching the door. “Bastard’s found a couple of madcaps that want to pretend they’re chasing off pirates.”

“Let me guess.” Ted tucked his slate under one arm. “You’re going to let Jori paint our ride something hideous again. I swear, the last time we played pirates that paint scheme gave me cataracts.”

Magda smiled. Ted’s sense of how a strike-craft should look was infamous; supposedly he’d gotten himself booted from several mercenary companies for complaining about their heraldry and company colors and begging to re-design them. “If it wasn’t ugly, nobody would believe it was pirate markings.”

“Bah.” Ted hung his head. “We couldn’t pretend to be pirates with good tastes this time?”

Magda shook her head. “Afraid not. Could you get down to the hangar and turn at least one gun on every rig into something we can shoot at a hauler without doing any real damage? Call up to Jeb if you need spare parts.”

Ted nodded and ambled off toward the lift.

Magda was about to go in to assign tasks to the rest of her crew-mates when her earpice chimed the tone she’d assigned to Jeb. She stepped aside and accepted the channel request. “That was fast.”

“Negotiations always are, when one side fails to read all of the boiler-plate fine print.” Jeb’s voice still had no discernible tone, but from his choice of words, Magda thought she could divine a sense of triumph. “I have forwarded you the contract. Do read it all.”

Before Magda could even agree, Jeb ended the channel and the earpiece went dead. Magda called up the contract on her wristcuff and skimmed it. As suggested, most of it was very standard verbiage for this sort of work – non-disclosure clauses, terms of default, who to assign the cost of any unanticipated damage to either party, and so on. Each of these sections was short, but it carried a vast appendix of fine print.

Remembering her own recent predicament with Jeb, Magda called up the fine print for the terms of a contract default. Almost immediately, her eyes widened. True, the language followed a standard formula, but Jeb had inserted a number of key addendums. In particular, he had added sections describing the publication of the contract and payments required from employer, should that employer attempt to use criminal prosecution to avoid paying. Additional sections specifically declared that a failure to negotiate better cargo fees afterwards did not default the contract, and provided for a number of fees should the employer attempt to disparage Trace & Co. or its subcontractors within the next calendar year.

“The bastard’s hoping they double-cross us.” Magda shook her head in disbelief. “We get paid way more if they do, after everything’s been settled.”

According to the remainder of Magda’s account, the employer on this contract did indeed attempt to wiggle out of it after the fact, and are in the process of paying several times more as a result than they would have otherwise. Though she provided the name of their ship, I have omitted it, as I see no particular reason to damage their reputation.

2951-12-06 – Tales From the Inbox: The Unwilling Subcontractor

I have heard several reports that the being known as Jeb has traveled to Maribel all the way from the Silver Strand region. Jeb is a notorious and prolific arms dealer of that region, working mainly with mercenaries and small local governments under the auspices of a firm called Trace & Co. No doubt he intends to ply his trade among the mercenary auxiliaries to Fifth Fleet.

Nobody knows precisely what Jeb is, possibly not even Jeb himself. What is certain is that he is a creature of shrewd mercantile dealings. This story comes in from a mercenary who traveled with Jeb all the way from the Strand – a mercenary who possibly does not realize that her account elevates Jeb’s reputation rather more than her own. Still, at her direct request, I have used her real name in this slightly edited retelling.

“That wasn’t part of our arrangement.” Magda Salmon crossed her arms, though she wasn’t sure this closed-off gesture would translate properly into Jeb’s alien sensibilities. After all, the creature had no two paired limbs to cross, nor could they fold over its torso, because it had no torso, only a tubular body from which appendages stuck out almost at random, and whose forward end was studded with both sensory organs and electronic sensors. “My contract states that my wingmen and I get off your ship here at Maribel.”

“Your contract states no such thing.” Jeb’s smooth, baritone Anglo-Terran voice emerged from somewhere within the head-end of his form while a mechanical limb attached farther aft swung forward to display a holo-projector. “Observe.”

Magda scanned the text for the first time in several weeks. They’d hashed out the terms for protecting Jeb’s ship, the Dylan Lane, back at Cardona’s Landing. Most of it was standard merchantman-escort verbiage which Magda had seen a hundred times. Jeb had been rather quiet on the topic of who he thought might want to kill him, so no specific terms for the handling of different threat vectors had been negotiated; Magda was permitted to engage all hostiles in whatever way suited her. Since there had been no hostiles to engage, the trip had so far been quite dull.

“A clear reading of the contract states that you are responsible for protecting my vessel until the conclusion of my trade mission to this system.” Jeb reached into the hologram with a whip-thin tentacle projecting from below its single platter-sized eye to emphasize a particular section. “As I am not delivering cargo, my trade mission is not complete.”

“You want to keep us on to protect you here?” Magda frowned, then pointed back up the corridor. “Jeb, half the Confederated Navy is parked in this system. If anyone starts shooting at you anywhere near Maribel, they’ll have thirty Magpies to contend with before they even get through your shear-screens.” Magda paused for a moment. “And if you are worried about the Navy, you are quite mad.”

“I make no comment about the likelihood of danger within this system, Miss Salmon.” Jeb drifted backwards a meter and turned slightly to point its single eye directly at her. “I am only observing that if you depart now, you default on this contract, and I need not pay you. This eventuality is entirely acceptable.”

Magda raised one eyebrow. “I’d heard you were the sort to pinch every credit, but this is just low.”

“It would be bad for business to abandon value which I have already paid for.” Jeb didn’t move, or even blink. Come to think of it, Magda didn’t even know if he could blink.

“So you expect us to just cool our heels until you’ve sold everything you think you can sell here?” Magda turned away. “Good damned luck hiring mercenaries the next time after I tell that around.”

“There is little risk of needing your protection here, it is true. But that risk remains above zero.” Jeb’s mechanical arm twitched away and vanished into a recess along its body. “It was your negligence in not amending standard contract language. My intent to remain for some time was not a secret.”

“And my intent to shove off and find another contract was not a secret.” This was a weak argument, and Magda knew it; Jeb was correct in that it was her job to put her interests into the contract. She briefly wondered whether she could solve the problem by dumping the entire magazine of her Dragan heavy pistol into what passed for Jeb’s face. Probably not; the creature had been doing business in the Silver Strand for longer than she had been alive, and that meant he had to have some way to protect himself from the usual ruffians of that region and the negotiation strategies thereof. At least one of Jeb’s mismatched limbs was probably tipped with a weapon, and fast enough to blast her before her gun even finished leaving the holster.

“Indeed.” Jeb’s voice contained no hint of triumph, but it might as well have. “If you report that I am enforcing the contract’s letter in this way, both our reputations will suffer, I think. Uncertain whose interests will be more harmed.”

Magda turned back around. “Are you going somewhere with this? Because I’ll roll those dice in a heartbeat.” She hated the feeling of being at a disadvantage. Perhaps not enough to risk smashing her own career in order to break out of a few weeks of enforced idleness, but it was probably beneficial if Jeb thought otherwise.

“Absent other incentives, you mean.”

Magda scowled and jutted out her chin. Again, this gesture was probably lost on Jeb, but she felt she needed to take every moment all the same. “Sure, silence is for sale. But it’ll cost you.”

Another of Jeb’s limbs – Magda couldn’t quite tell if this one was a biological appendage or a mechanical one – flashed out holding an identity badge on a lanyard. “For the duration of your contract, I will sub-let your squadron’s services to my customers, and we will share the profit. This badge details your official standing as a Trace & Company employee.”

Magda waved away the badge. “That’s not in the terms of the contract.”

“This is an amendment we could both agree to.” Jeb waved the badge back and forth. “I have forwarded the details to your cabin terminal for consideration, Miss Salmon. You need not answer until tomorrow.”

Magda stormed away without another word. Jeb was a curious creature, it was true – if he wanted to subcontract mercenaries, he could have hired any three outfits in the Strand outright before leaving Cardona’s. Unfortunately, the alternative did not look terribly profitable. For the next few weeks at least, it was probably safe to play nice and do Jeb’s bidding on low profit margins.