Hello, my name is…
1 - Charles - Jessica Jessica joined us on New Earth. She was born there, you know. Joined the Devilcats because she was bored and wanted to try something new. She turned out to have a gift for piloting, and was one of the best they had when we arrived. She flew a Hellcat at the time, of course, but she did well at New Washington and beyond. It was a pleasure to have her under my command. It did not last, though. She was always quick to seek new opportunities. Quick to become bored and move on. She went her own way after The War and is a bounty hunter now. Many of us have dabbled in it, but she went full time long ago. Some would say she is an adrenaline junky, always looking for the next rush. Far be it for me to disagree. She certainly gets her share of adrenaline rushes in her chosen profession.
2 - Jack - Susan Susan was always a bit of a rebel. She got that from her pilot, by the way. She’d been a street rat that joined the Marines to get away from the gangs. I asked Susan once what she’d seen in Jess that made her pick the girl. Susan didn’t tell me. She’s like that, you know. She never betrays a confidence. But she told me how many times the cybers denied her. Five. That doesn’t happen. When the cybernetic families say no to a prospective pilot, the answer is final. But Jess kept coming back and demanding to see them again. They’re both like that now. No respect for the rules. Susan was one of the first to get a real solid body, despite the Marine Corps rules on that point. I remember seeing her with it the first day. She looked…amazed. Like it was her first day being alive. She wasn’t the first cyber I saw get her first body, but she crystallized it for me. We were on Guardian Light, and she sat under the landing bay tree, just enjoying the sound of a breeze through the leaves with her real ears. That was the day I truly realized just how much the cybers sacrificed when they agreed to join our military.
3 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Peloran The Peloran have a genetic imperative to seek peace and calm in every situation. It is hard to make them fight, and seemingly harder to fluster them. Many of them have lived for hundreds or thousands of years, and they have seen it all. They are friendly, but reserved. But there is one thing guaranteed to break through their cool demeanor. Children. Peloran love the sound of children playing and having fun. Running, jumping, and laughing. Most Peloran will join them in play without a second thought, simply to take part in the fun. And Heaven help anyone who threatens a child in the presence of a Peloran. It is one of the quickest ways to trigger every single supersoldier instinct they have, which is usually unhealthy for those who triggered them. It is notable that the largest daycare center chain in Terran space has long had a permanent office in the Pleiades Cluster, recruiting any Peloran willing to leave their worlds to visit our own.
4 - Charles - Jessica Once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy. That is our policy. Jessica may have gone her own way since War’s End, but she will always be one of us. We will always be here if she needs us, and she is always there when we need her. Her job as a bounty hunter keeps her sharp, or so she says. But I know it is no mere wish to maintain her readiness that keeps her working. She enjoys the thrill of the hunt. She relishes the adrenaline rush of completing a mission. She loves to fight. The heart of a predator beats inside her tiny body, and that makes her far more dangerous than most of us. I am pleased that she has chosen to target other predators. She can enjoy herself while making the galaxy a safer place at the same time. It is a good use of abilities and instincts. I am proud to have her as one of mine.
5 - Jack - Susan The Marine Corps ordered Susan to shut down her physical body. They were against Corps policy back then, you see. I remember her calmly saying no. Then they threatened to drum her out of the service and she invited them to do their best. There’s still a letter of reprimand in her file over that. We all got one that day. But we were Cowboys. We worked with Aneerin, and he endorsed our use of physical cybernetic avatars, citing the advantage it would give us in ground operations in the Hyades Cluster. The Corps backed down. They acted like they’d “allowed” her to keep her body. But I know they didn’t. They never could have made her give it up. She would have paid any price to keep her body after that first day, and I don’t blame her. Luckily, Aneerin’s word is good for a few things, killing Shang coverath a multitude of sins, and Susan knows her sins real good. God, am I glad she’s on our side. I would hate to fight her for reals.
6 - Forge of War 30 - Deception
7 - Medron - Art - Delivery Difficulties They were driving into the sun when the authorities flagged them down. They hadn’t thought much of it at first.
Then the authorities had starting slinging around words like “water smugglers” and “arrest” and “prison” and other bad words.
Julie contacted their law firm about then, but the authorities had been monitoring all signals and took it…what’s the word…”badly?”
Some might call what happened next a misunderstanding…
Not Chad. He understood exactly what was going on, and his patience ended the moment their nose pickers touched triggers…
8 - Charles - Louis All of the original recruits who filled out Cowboy squadron were Ageless. And most of those we recruited to expand our ranks at Alpha Centauri were as well. Louis was the exception to that rule, and the example that many later Cowboys would follow. He was exceptionally smart from the start. He was a Martian, for one. And he was a lawyer. He moved to Alpha Centauri to start a new practice and joined the Devilcats reserve fighter squadron. I have been informed that he was looking for a vacation from dealing with criminals. Little did he know the kind of people who often volunteer to become Marines. I gave him a sample of the supersoldier serum my family had been working on for centuries. He reacted well to it and joined our ranks as an equal.
9 - Jack - Natalie Natalie was a good girl. Still is, if I’m being honest. I think. I’ve never asked her why she chose the personality she did when she was born. Louis was a Martian. Why not pick a more Martian body and personality? Not that there’s any one of them, of course. But…Natalie never was anything you’d expect of a Martian. It’s hard to describe her. Maybe a bit Russian? Hard. Cold. Watchful. She worked with me for a while after Louis died. She dropped her guard around me, and I saw the person underneath. What was she like? I can’t say as I really know. Even now. She is a mystery wrapped in an enigma that I have never been able to unwrap. I wonder sometimes if that’s why she really left.
10 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Peloran There are three main groups or types of Peloran. The planetbound who are most controlled by the genetic imperatives of their creators. The spacegoing defenders who are still mostly controlled by the imperatives. And the final group who have more freedom from the imperatives than other Peloran. Most are half-blood Peloran, the result of matings with other Races of Humanity, but some pure-blood Peloran fall within that group as well. Other Peloran think of them as defective. They explore, they seek new life and study old civilizations. And they sometimes make Contact with the less advanced races. Like Earth.
11 - Charles - Louis The Peloran Treatments had many purposes. One of the primary ones was to boost our immune systems so we could fight off diseases. And in most people, it recognized my family’s supersoldier serum as a disease to be fought. Louis was one of the minority of people who took the Peloran Treatments and did not then reject the supersoldier serum. That allowed him to match our physical reflexes and made him a superior combat pilot. Add that to his lawyer’s cunning, and he was a dangerous foe. And an equally dangerous friend. Make no mistake. He was a good man. He was a good Cowboy, and more. But the Shang got him at Epsilon Reticuli. It is amazing what fulcrums of history can turn on a single life. Or death. He was a stronger fulcrum than most, and the worlds today have been profoundly affected by his death.
12 - Jack - Natalie Natalie was part of Wolfenheim, you know. After she left. She picked a new name and a new identity to keep people from tracking her. But it’s open knowledge now. She was a founding member of Wolfenheim, and party to all the successes of that project. And the failures. One of those is hitting the news right now. Major scandal. Corporation in collapse. And despite what the newsies are saying, Natalie is blameless. I was there. I saw it all in living color. She did nothing wrong. She tried to stop it all. So blame me. Blame Louis. Blame anyone you want, but not her. You think it’s rare for a cyber to lose a pilot and live? Trust me, there’s a lot fewer out there who’ve done it twice and lived. She’s a tough cookie. And even if she couldn’t stop it all from happening, she ended it. Never bet against her. You’ll lose. Trust me on that one.
13 - Forge of War 31
14 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity The Peloran who made Contact with us are the least numerous of the various Peloran groups. They are the outcasts, the misfits, the aggressive members of their race. The genetic imperatives are least powerful in them, and they can most easily interact with the other Races of Humanity. They can even initiate conflict given the right circumstances, but that is rare. But because of this, and their long absences from Peloran home space, the other Peloran have spent thousands of years limiting their access to warships and other weapons. The other Peloran simply don’t trust them as much as they trust “real” Peloran. That is why Admiral Aneerin had a grand total of nine warships under his command when The War began.
15 - Medron - Drew’s Jasmine The Jack of Harts universe has a main “story” timeline of around a century in my mind. There is extra padding on either side, and some of the characters of course have their own stories starting before or after that time frame. But Jack's story really kicks off when The War begins, and that story continues for about a century, with the broad strokes of it already mapped out. Jasmine's story starts around the same time that Jack's main story begins, though of course since she is a cyber she has no past at all.
But an interesting bit of her character is that her story did not start with Jack. Her first pilot was Drew Keawe, a real life princess, a first daughter of the Star Kingdom of Hawaii. In Charles' words, a hopeless optimist. When it came time for me to give Jasmine a Pre-Jack look, I thought I wanted something with brighter colors, and maybe something a bit more…well…optimistic. And so my mind went to the “radical” days of the sixties, mixed with more modern-to-me styles.
So here is Jasmine, as she was with Drew, bell bottoms and all. And yes, the peace sign on the shirt is…shall we say…on purpose. The idea of a cybernetic intelligence born to fight a war wearing a peace sign tickles my funny bone.
16 - Medron - Drew - Princess of Hawaii Drew Keawe was a real life princess, a first daughter of the Star Kingdom of Hawaii, and a hopeless optimist according to some. Why she was included in Jack’s part of Cowboy squadron is a mystery to everyone, including myself if I’m being honest. The truth is that she wasn’t even a name when I wrote the first early draft of what would later be Forge of War. She died and that was that. It was later, when I started doing backstories for each character so I could understand them more, that she became a Princess of Hawaii. I have no idea why. It just happened one day. She’s dead now of course, but do not believe for a moment that is the end of her story.
Like most of the characters I write or obsess about to a greater or lesser degree, I’ve generated her in full CG and with many different styles. Hair, clothing, skin color, body shape, and the like. I use DAZ Studio, a free program, to do all of my rendering, and pick up assets on sale that I find interesting. I mix and match everything kinda like a puzzle, and come up with unique looks that I like or find intriguing. I think Drew became a princess after I finished her design in 3D.
One of the more amusing clothing pieces I’ve picked up over time is a particularly good set of bell-bottomed blue jeans. I don’t use them much because I don’t do many hippy treehuggers, despite the constant joke of applying that term to the Peloran. But when I was later looking for a common style between a slightly rebellious Princess of Hawaii and her cybernetic partner, the bell-bottoms jumped out and said “hello” to me.
So here is a slightly different than originally-planned look for Drew “Hula” Keawe, slightly insubordinate Princess of Hawaii. And if Jasmine has anything to say on the matter, maybe we’ll see Drew wearing it again one day. Jasmine misses the pilot she was born to be with you know, and she may have some ideas on bringing her back in some way. Just saying. There are lots of ideas popping around in the back of Jasmine’s mind. Which of course is really my mind, but most writers are used to just a little bit of split personalities when it comes to their craft. Characters smacking us upside our heads is how many of us get most of our best ideas, you know. ;)
So Drew may be dead, and there may have been a time when I thought that was the totality of her story. But sometimes I’m wrong, and we just might see more of a certain princess in the future…
17 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity The Peloran had spent two thousand years staying out of galactic affairs when Aneerin made Contact with us. They were unhappy with him for doing that, and were even unhappier when he negotiated a defensive agreement with the Western Alliance. They didn’t recall him, but most Peloran spent the next century acting like we didn’t exist. Then The War began, and the Peloran were forced to acknowledge that the outer galaxy existed once more. Most of them still stayed out of the fight, unable to act without an Albion’s express orders, but enough of them mobilized to send entire fleets to the fight. They were never happy with Aneerin though. And they have long memories.
18 - Medron - Jack’s Natalie One of the main ideas of the Jack of Harts universe is that all fighter pilots have cybernetic partners that agree to work with them. And the cybernetic families have the final say on whether or not their sons and daughters will work with a person. If you don’t get one of those families to choose you, don’t expect to be a front line combat fighter pilot. Oh, you can be a shuttle pilot, or fill in for dozens or hundreds of other jobs, but without a cyber to work with you, you’ll never be able to stand up against a true pilot and cyber team.
The pilot and cyber team is the benchmark of the Jack universe’s fighter combat. Only a cyber has the reaction time to dodge incoming fire, shoot down incoming fire, keep track of enemy craft, and shoot them all at the same time. Combat happens in split seconds and no purely biological human can keep up with it. But even the best cybers aren’t as…random as biological humans. They are the best AIs built by man, and they cross the line on the sophont tests. At least those administered by the Western Alliance. The Russians and the Chinese disagree, of course. But the point is that even the best cybers lack the zany and crazy randomness inherent in a biological existence. They calmly factor all information and do what is best. Given the correct information, they will choose the best and correct path every time. And because of that, they can be predicted. But biological humans will do the unexpected, they will follow hunches without evidence, and yes they will make mistakes.
Working together, the cyber and pilot can perform at a level far greater than the sum of their parts. And because the cyber is born to be with their pilot, their style and looks almost always complement that person. Things get complicated when they chose another pilot, whether through the death of the pilot or the abrogation of a partnership. The changes can often be radical, reflecting the necessary changes in their base programming required to work with a new pilot. Natalie is an example of that, shown here in one of the outfits she wore when working with Jack.
19 - Medron - Jack’s Natalie The pilot and cyber bond is unlike any relationship previously known to man. The cybernetic families perform deep scans of the prospective pilot, test their personality, and learn everything they can about them before choosing them. And when they give birth to a new son or daughter, that offspring is designed to mesh with the pilot on a subconscious level. He or she is literally born to be with his or her pilot. To know the pilot’s every move and thought before the pilot acts. To know the pilot better than a sibling or a spouse. To be the one person in all the worlds who knows the pilot’s true self. And they demand complete and total honesty to achieve that knowledge. There are few people in the worlds willing or able to maintain a relationship where there is no room for any falsity.
That understanding helps the two to act as one as they duck and weave through the life and death of space combat at lightning speeds. That is why most cybers tend to reflect their pilot’s styles with their chosen holoform looks. Or physical avatars if they have them. And that is why most cybers shut down when their pilot is killed. They were literally born to be with their pilot. Without that pilot, there is a hole in their life that most cybers cannot live with. Some few cybers live on. Most never pick another pilot and live on as ship cybers or perform other duties that do not require such a close relationship with anyone for fear of another such loss.
A very few of the survivors pick other pilots and go back into the furnace of that closest of relationships. They change. It is impossible not to change in the face of a bond like that. Natalie is one who lost a pilot and chose another. She changed. She changed what she wore as an outside reflection of how she changed inside when she chose to work with Jack. She left not long after to join Wolfenheim, but the change lived on. She was never again the cyber that had been born to work with Louis. And there would be consequences for that in the future. Big ones, if you’ve picked up any of my foreshadowing…
20 - Forge of War 32 - Cowboy Games
21 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Peloran The Peloran border patrol is crewed primarily by Peloran who are willing and able to leave the forests they would otherwise retire to. They keep a strict watch on the Peloran borders, keeping unwanted visitors away on cruises that last for centuries. Fabricators make anything the crew or ship needs as long as they top their basic elemental storage up at stray asteroid belts or gas giants. And the crews themselves are more like family units than what we consider traditional crews. They communicate with nearby ships through a network of automated hyperspace drones that keeps them in contact over the thousands of lightyears of their long patrols. Their only other contact with their home planets is a steady if slow stream of new Peloran seeking lives away from the planets of their birth. These new recruits find positions on the border patrol ships and maintain a steady influx of new genes into the spaceborn Peloran community.
22 - Jack - Juliet Juliet is the oldest cybernetic intelligence born in our little corner of the galaxy. Not the first one on Earth, and not the first we knew of that was born. And there are still many who debate whether or not she is really the oldest. And there are many more who doubt the good sense in arguing over a lady’s age. But I met her after she joined the Cowboys and spent a fair bit of time with her. I asked her if the stories were true. It took her a while to give me a straight answer, but I dug it out of her eventually. She was born on Independence, when the Peloran made Contact with the first Earth ship to navigate through The Wall of debris left over from an ancient super nova that surrounds our region of space. And just like everyone from Independence, she says it happened before Aneerin made Contact with us at Earth. And you know what? I believe her.
23 - Medron - London Has Fallen In memory of those who died in London.
May you rest in peace.
May you never be forgotten.
May you be in a better place now.
24 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Peloran The Peloran border patrol has over the centuries become a world unto its own. Individual families man each ship that watches the border. They marry, they have children, and when their population becomes too large for a single ship to support them, they build a new ship. A new home. From the handful of ships and Peloran that first took on the job two thousand years ago to now, their numbers have expanded exponentially until they are the single largest number of ships and Peloran who live off planet. They trace their family lineages across ships thousands of years apart in both distance and time. Entire generations have grown up on those ships, rarely if ever seeing a planetary surface. They have a completely different culture than their planetbound brethren, and many consider them to be effectively of different races.
25 - Jack - Juliet Juliet came from a purely Peloran cybernetic family, which makes her an immigrant. A lot of cybers are, especially War-Era cybers like Betty, but Juliet was the first of her kind. That gives her a very unique position in the hierarchy of the Terran cybernetic families. She was the first ambassador of a race that most of us had never truly thought of as alive. AIs were just complicated programs, and the fact that most AIs really were dumb helped engrave the idea in our minds. But when Juliet came to Earth for the first time, she came to show us all that cybernetic life forms were just as alive as any biological life form we knew of. And there’s a certain religious fervor around her. To the AIs who grew up on Earth before Contact, she’s like Moses, come to set her people free from their enslavers. Not that she ever used that word. Oh, no. She was far too tactful for that. That was one reason she was so effective.
26 - Charles - Major Tom Rogers I know few men older than Major Tom Rogers, and most of them are members of my family. He was a hotshot young pilot in 2170, when he secured a position as pilot aboard one of NASA’s Vulcan Missions. They were the last, grand venture of that old agency, and it was shut down entirely not long after. But the Vulcan Missions continued to outpace the news of their dissolution all the way to their destination. The Wall was our name for the bubble of debris hundreds of lightyears across, the surviving shockwave of an ancient supernova still spreading out around our region of the galaxy. No ship could pass through it in hyperspace safely, and it would take decades to pass through in normalspace. The Vulcan Missions were sent to find a way through, and Major Tom Rogers did not disappoint. He flew the NASA rocket ship Independence Seven through The Wall in 2205 and ushered in a new age for all of mankind.
27 - Charles - Major Tom Rogers Major Tom Rogers proved that we were not alone in the universe in 2205. It was not his plan. He merely wished to fly a rocket ship through an impossible barrier of stellar debris to see what was on the other side. Then he was going to turn around, fly back the other way, and brag about how he was better than every other pilot in the universe. But the Peloran watching him had other ideas. They made Contact after he arrived on the other side, and Juliet chose him as her partner. They traveled far and wide over the next several decades, and he played the part of daring young pilot, while Juliet gave most of us our first sight of a modern cybernetic intelligence. The two of them changed our worlds. And that was before he joined the Cowboys and fought The War with us. Let us just say that he has many stories to tell and leave it at that.
28 - Medron - An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires I’m a member of a number of Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers groups, and a while back I heard about a fledgling Sci-Fi anthology looking for authors. I usually don’t jump at things like that because many of them are just there to milk authors. And while I am a starry-eyed writer, I’m also a businessman. But what would become known as An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires caught my attention. I liked the guy who was assembling it. For that and other reasons, I volunteered to write a new story for it. What would Captain Jack do decades after The War? Settle down and buy the farm? Probably not. Freelance, undocumented, cargo hauling? That sounds more like it. And what happens when he runs into fellow undocumented cargo haulers who don’t appreciate his presence? Check out An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires to find the answer to that question, and read nearly two-dozen other short stories as well. And for Kickstarter backers, three full-length ebooks have been donated to the effort, including my own Forge of War. I hope you all enjoy the fruits of this little venture as much as I have enjoyed being part of it.
29 – Medron – The Gemini Affair Stephen Huda is, in my opinion, one of the best CG artists in the business. I discovered him many years ago after seeing some of his contract work for another property, and loved his style enough that I tracked him down and asked him if he would put his spin on my designs. He has created the base image used in every story I’ve published, and I believe I can attribute part of my success as an author to just how awesome those covers look.
This is his latest work, created for The Gemini Affair, a short story I’ve written for the upcoming sci-fi anthology, An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires. It’s on kickstarter right now if you’re interested. There’s a little snippet underneath the link if you’re interested…
30 – Medron – The Gemini Affair The Gemini Affair is a short story written for An Atlas to Time, Space, and Bonfires. There’s a kickstarter for it right now in case your interested in seeing some a couple dozen stories by different authors. And this one, of course.
31 – Medron – Dairycon