Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Glass Tiger

There are two ways to expand into space: vertically and horizontally. Note I'm talking economics here, not astrogation (then we'd be talking x, y, z's, and +/-).

If a culture expands vertically it develops an entire star system then moves to another. Expanding horizontally means you grab as many star systems as quickly as you can and move on, minimally developing  each.

There's no absolutes. A culture will do a mix of both but cultures running on a vertical model will have a few well populated and settled systems in a tight little empire. Horizontal models will have a widespread empire with worlds at whatever stage of development they can achieve.

Most sf settings posit humans as fans of horizontal expansion while their fans, friends, and allies favor vertical. This explains why we haven't run into a bunch  of aliens planting their flags here and buying Australia for a string of tesseracts.

Banks favor the horizontal method. That needs ships and they can make money on loans for ships. Colonies also take a while to become self sufficient. That requires offworld capital which means more loans because they aren't exporting much of anything yet.

Some planets find a way out of debt, some resource or industry they have a talent for. This is the way they like it. they. Most don't and the banks and few select worlds keep getting richer. One of the tools to keep the debt cycle going is providing standardized technology worlds can buy before they produce it themselves. Lifter vehicles, fusion generators and starships are all things banks like to dole out to their clients.

This doesn't work when some uppity little world starts building it's own stuff. The Zaonians already became noticed when they built their own lifter tech using vacuum tubes. No on realized that was possible or knew what you could do with vacuum tubes.

Now they we;re using metallic hydrogen rocket to get to orbit. A Zaonian boomer frightened to people selling lifters and maneuver drives. MH rockets  could get you clear of the jump radius as well as maneuver drives and you could build them yourself. Coupled with the vacuum tube lifters and you had a cheap assed ship. All you needed was to buy a jump drive and odds were someone would build that using flint knapping and cured hides at the rate things were going.

The subsector bank had a lot of loans out for lifter equipment and ship construction.

More to the point, the bank had powerful investors who might not see a return on their investments. If that seemed likely they would pull their money out of the bank and a bank run would commence.

It was starting already when the Zaonians introduced their aeros. then they had to go and push pre stellar tech to the limit and create metallic hydrogen. No one even used the stuff anymore. It was dangerous. The Zaonians found the risk acceptable much as early pioneers went to space in phone booths sitting atop a huge explosive device.

It might still be cut short. Except the news was getting out.

***

"Her name is Sandoval. Not sure of the honorific. I need her, now," Luchador said deliberately. The Inerzan clerk behind the desk was not impressed. 

"You supposed to be one of those street fighter types?," the clerk asked tossing her red hair back and adjusting her face scarf. She was nearly as tall sitting as Luch was standing and clearly amused.

"I don't see what that has to do with my request. I need our navigator. She's here on a guest pass from the Captain," Luch said calmly. 

"I see. What is your Captain's name?"

"Captain ... ship ... master?" Luch mumbled.

"I see. You know Citizen Sandoval's first name?"

"... Sandy!"

"Get out. The Outreach Hostel respects the privacy of its guests. You obviously need a Vend-A-Doc. Beat it before I toss you out on your ear," the clerk snapped getting up. She loomed over Luch.

Luch waited for her to grab his shoulder then flipped her almost effortlessly. The woman lay spread eagle on a lovely rug that accentuated the rest of the lobby's furnishing. Luch thought about suggesting the Captain change the carpet on te crew and passenger decks as he sat at the desk and called up the hostel register and found Sandoval's location. Luch hopped over the feebly struggling clerk, flipped her the bird and headed for the spa entrance.

He backed up carefully keeping step with the guard sticking a pistol in his nose.

"Well played sir! Nice occupation you got going here," Luch said cheerfully. He was a dead man,

"What the hell is going on here?" the guard demanded.

"I'm looking for my navigator and that clerk got handsy with me," Luch said shrugging.

"Are you a Zaonite?" the guard asked sparing a glance at the clerk who was rolling over.

"... Zaonian is the word I think but, you're running things. No. Do I look likeI'm from around here?" The flame pattern on his mask twitched over his forehead as he did an eyebrow waggle.

"Ah ... screw it. She gets handsy with everyone," the guard snorted. "Go ahead, Sandy, right? Room three. Go on. This one is on the house. Don't do anything to make me want to shoot you. Scat!" the guard followed his warning with a mock kick as Luch headed for the door.

"Sandy!" Luch yelled. Sandoval was getting a massage. That in itself was not surprising. The towels provided adequate coverage but her skin was a bright blue. A turquoise streak in her brown hair complemented her new hide. Sandoval opened one eye.

"Get ut before I beat you to death with my slide rule," she said softly.

"The Captain wants you to move your ass, of any color, right now. Get to 'guest quarters' Ay-Sap," Luch said. He pulled a bunch of credits from his pocket and handed them to the masseuse. The lady seemed pleased and left with a bow. either the strange little man was going to be beaten to death and she could resume or she was done and paid in advance with a hefty tip. She stuck it under her bra strap and went for coffee.

Sandoval began dressing. There was no point in being modest with Luch who was a professed asexual and had already had to apply and remove a great deal of tape from her body. Besides he was hurling her clothes at her with great force. At least as much force as you could impart to a pair of undies.

"What in the name of the Last Hell is going on?" Sandoval ventured making sure her slide rule among other things was secure.

"There's a meeting of captains. All of us crew too. We're going to discuss this internment."

"About time. I don't get the Captain. We ran our asses off out of this system, got shot up annnnd he turns around and heads us back into a war zone ... and gets us interned by the same guys who shot at us," Sandoval muttered.

"Why are you telling me this? I was there for everything."

"I wanted to see if it sounded like it made any sense."

The Captain had fled the system under fire. Being part Zaonian his desire to help his people was understandable. He and the rest of Zaonia's merchant fleet had fled to regroup on Inerze. He had lost no time refueling, repairing damage and booming back out with a load of medical supplies and other items for relief and under a charter of the Outreach Foundation.

The charter was important. No one screwed with the Outreach Foundation, a humanitarian organization that would kill anyone in their way. Humanitarian relief was taken seriously by them and there were as many admirals and generals in their circles as pirates and assassins it was said.

A charter kept the the mercenaries occupying the starport from shooting them down. It didn't keep them from interning the merchants as they came in and go through their cargos for security reasons indefinitely.

On the other hand the amenities in the port were surprisingly good, as long as you didn't tick off the occupiers. Luch was treading a fine line as usual.

***

The bunker was deep below Zao Prime. There was a dampness that the bright lighting and carpet did not dispel. The Mayor, Elevator ... now Sir Eli and Dame Ranna looked over a map. Mayor Burns was looking at a laptop monitor. Some offworld tech was always necessary in a war. 

"Near as I can predict they're going to keep to the starport and its island, shore their defenses and take potshots at us with missiles another two maybe three days. That'll bring their forces to about a thousand ground troops. Plus them aero tanks and few fighters," Louie finally pronounced.

"It makes sense. You'd be a fool to attack with only part of your force and we can't get near those aero tanks. Their rocket launchers took a toll on our own aeros and your last sortie was a disaster," Sir Eli tapped his chin.

"So, dad how do we play them for fools? Got a plan?" Dame Ranna asked taking a draw from a cigarette.

"My dear ... the Tech Knights of old were the greatest heroes this world has known and ... they would find this hopeless ... though they would attack anyway and die. Fortunately they aren't here. Instead you have a criminal mastermind ... who finds this tough but doable," Sir Eli said with a grim smile. "For this job ... call me Professor Elevator!" Professor Elevator's laugh echoed in the small conference room and after a moment the Mayor and Dame Ranna shrugged and joined in with their own laughs.

***

On the command ship, Colonel Leogain looked up from his report. His aide rocked back away from him ever so slightly.

"We have the bulk of their merchant fleet here under Outreach Foundation charter and interned. The crews were removed. You had free rein to search those ships and you're telling me there's nothing suspicious?

"Sir, we've torn those supplies apart. There are no weapons, nothing explosive. It's emergency rations, water purifying gear, thermal blankets, medical supplies: antibiotics, fast drug, anti-rad ... there's nothing no listed on the manifests."

"These stiff necked barbarians just wouldn't ground their ships here knowing we'd intern them or worse. Find what they're hiding!" Leogain threw the paddlet in the aide's face, turned and stalked away.