Hello, my name is…
1 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Branan
2 - Malcolm - John Anderson Each of my pilots came to Wolfenheim under a pseudonym. John Smith. John Jones. Jackie White. All very common names, I assure you. Most common names in America, if you’re wondering. Who would ever question a collection of such fine American names? John Anderson was the fourth, and unlike the other three, I knew exactly who he was from the very beginning. He had commanded the fighters that flew off Los Angeles for years, and retired upon seeing the disgraceful court martial that ended Olivia’s career. His first step was to find a truly obnoxious new outfit for his civilian life. Then he went to a barber and got some new hair. And then he walked up to me, assaulted my poor eyes with his new outfit, and informed me he was joining Wolfenheim. He didn’t ask to be part of the project. He didn’t volunteer. He simply gave me his (new) name, showed me his absolutely perfect (faked) ID, and told me he was joining. It is times like this that make me wonder if my people truly understand who is in charge around here.
3 - Malcolm - Jewel Jewel spent most of her first life being a Hellcat starfighter. Her name was Mercedes back then, and she was the very image of an old fashioned courageous aviator. She resigned after Olivia’s court martial and let her old identity fade away. I was rather surprised the first time I saw Jewel. New obnoxious hair. New tie dyed shirt and painted on jeans. The girl that had once been military recruitment poster material looked more at home in a hippy commune when she walked up to me that first time. It was an amazing disguise. It was all the more amazing because she lived it. I remember her the way she was before. Quiet. Solid. Professional. Jewel is nothing like that at all. Jewel is loud. Jewel is flighty. Jewel is aggressively casual about everything. It’s like she decided to be someone else and just…changed everything. And that is the secret to her success. I don’t think Jewel is a disguise at all. She’s just as real as Mercedes ever was. And that brings up some interesting questions about the nature of cybernetic life.
4 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Branan The first true interstellar rocket ships the Branan built mounted disposable rocket engines that could perform a steady burn at one of their standard gravities for a few of our months. That was enough to accelerate up to nearly five percent the speed of light, which is real speed on an interstellar scale. The closest binary star system to Betelgeuse was only a couple decades away at that speed. They would turn around after their first burn period and use the depleted rockets as a meteorite shield during the decades long trip across interstellar space. Then they detached the rockets, engaged their own internal engines, and decelerated back down to match speeds with the local stars and their planetary systems. Improvements in fuel efficiency over the decades and centuries that followed allowed them to accelerate for longer periods of time until they could finally achieve one tenth the speed of light. Even their furthest star was only three decades away from home at that speed. Only. It was a good thing that the crew and passengers slept most of the way.
5 - Malcolm - John Anderson Movie star good looks. Top Gun recruiting poster material. Super hero proportions. Blessed son of the Star Kingdom of Hawaii. All of this and more has been said about John Anderson. He was the face of Wolfenheim’s fighter wing for years on New Earth. He was always the voice of the other pilots at every meeting with those outside the project. And he was always Mister Anderson. No rank given. I thought that was odd at first, but I began to understand in time. He could pull off the act of quiet confidence well enough that most people never questioned his authority, while maintaining a slight air of mystery. That encouraged speculations on who he was, and those speculations sparked investigations. The investigations uncovered his true identity. Hunter Roberts. Former commander of Captain Olivia Wyatt’s fighter squadron. Retired. He accepted those investigations and the questions they brought, courting public opinion and the press. And because they focused on him, none of them found out who the other pilots were. It was a masterful ploy of misdirection, and I heartily enjoyed watching the man in action. Almost as much as the newsies loved getting his photogenic face on their columns.
6 - Malcolm - Jewel Jewel is the cyber that most people had contact with when speaking to the Wolfenheim Project fighter squadrons. It was her way of helping the others keep their anonymity. It also did a good job of making people think the project was less organized than we really were. Think about it. A girl with multicolored hair and a tie dyed shirt calls you up. Do you think the organization she’s working for is serious about whatever they’re doing? She put a lot of hard work into making most people think we were just a rag tag group of yahoos that would never succeed at anything. Except the parties. Those were legendary. And Jewel was the self-appointed Mistress of the Balls. I have been a conman most of my life, and I can say without reservation that it was a pleasure to watch her work. We smuggled more supplies into the project under the cover of those parties than I had managed to acquire, in total, before she joined up. She had a truly glorious gift for graft.
7 – Forge of War
8 – Betty – A Primer on the Races of Humanity – Branan The Branan sent their first colonization ships to a trinary star system outside the greater Betelgeuse system at one tenth of lightspeed. The six-lightyear trip took only six decades to complete, starting with a year of acceleration and ending with another year of deceleration down to the local system speed. That’s another way of saying they spent six decades drifting through the interstellar void, hoping they didn’t hit something large enough to destroy the entire ship. It was not a trip devoid of tension. But at least they knew what they were flying into. Earlier robotic probe swarms had explored the system and told them what planets were ready and waiting for them to come. They knew what the colonists would need to survive, and they knew what they needed to bring with them. The Branan were not flying out in the great unknown in hopes that something would be there. They knew their destination quite well. It was only the space between that destination and their home that was the hurdle they needed to cross.
9 – Malcolm – Jackie White One thing that few people know is that only one of Wolfenheim’s starfighter pilots came from the mainland United States. One came from Mars and two were favored children of the Star Kingdom of Hawaii. Jackie White was one of those two, a conclusion I came to the first time she and John Anderson met. It was obvious that they knew each other, and not in the ways of fellow servicemen. They grew up together, and he was surprised to see her. He thought she was dead. That’s all I managed to hear before they realized I was within earshot and clammed up like guilty school children trying to keep a secret from their homeroom teacher. But that was enough. There was a Cowboy who died at Alpha Centauri back in The War’s first few months. She was from Hawaii. I met her cybernetic partner years after that. Yeah. I know how rare it is for a cyber to outlive her pilot. But there it is. Charles certainly recruited a unique team to defend Wolfenheim.
10 – Malcolm – Megan I first met Megan before she joined the Wolfenheim Project. Sorta. She had a different name back then. Different partner, different hair. And unlike most American fighter cybers, she had a physical body. A robotic avatar. She had a new one built when she joined Wolfenheim with an appearance subtly different enough to confuse standard scanners. But it was still her, and she still liked to carry enough firearms to overthrow a third world government. And thanks to a certain incident in which she was nearly destroyed that news accounts did not accurately depict, she tended to disregard New Earth laws when it came to carrying those firearms. It might surprise you to know that she was on excellent terms with the local police despite this. Or maybe because of it. They were very respectful when they met her while she was working. One might almost say diffident. That might be due to the odd jobs she sometimes performed for Old Man Callahan.
11 – Betty – A Primer on the Races of Humanity – Branan The greatest problem the Branan thought they had to surpass was the fact that the stars they wanted to colonize were simply so far away. The true problem was that they were actually far too close to each other. Hyperspace is affected and built by our physical universe. Our gravity holds it together. From a star to a grain of sand, every piece of our universe affects hyperspace. Betelgeuse is a massive supergiant star, and the effect it has on hyperspace is magnitudes beyond our tiny little sun. And the five companion stars it has captured simply magnify the inconsistencies for lightyears in every direction. The Branan truly did try to find hyperspace. Generations of their best scientists searched for centuries. But Betelgeuse’s chaotic nature and its effects on hyperspace stymied their best efforts. They never knew it was their home that denied them. And in one of the universe’s greater practical jokes, they chose to colonize systems with multiple stars, gas giants, and dozens of planets that further churned hyperspace to a froth. It took Albion knowledge to navigate hyperspace through their stars, and the Albion took their knowledge when they left.
12 – Malcolm – Jackie White Jackie White enjoyed dancing. If you ask me about her, that’s really the first thought that comes to mind. She grew up catering to tourists wanting to hear Hawaiian music and see Hawaiian dancing. Cooking wild hogs beneath the beach sands was normal to her way of life. Juggling flaming brands and placing flower necklaces on visitors was just part of the scenery of her youth. That and the elevator rising far above Palmyra that brought them down from orbit. I asked her what it was like to grow up there. She told me it was magical. They were no more than a few thousand of her best friends and worst enemies on a postage stamp island in the middle of thousands of kilometers of empty ocean, serving guests who had traveled lightyears to live a few days of the “natural Hawaiian life.” She said it prepared her for life on a starship better than anything else she could think of.
13 – Malcolm – Megan New Earth politics was in a state of flux while we were assembling the Wolfenheim Project, and Megan took a rather prominent position in that flux. Old Man Callahan had been one of Landing City’s leading figures since the New Earth colony landed, in a non-leading role. The Hurst Family had decided it was time to retire him. He did not appreciate the retirement plan. So in exchange for the supplies we needed to make Wolfenheim work, Megan led a small group of cybers in support of Callahan. They were very professional. They were very effective. The police called her Ms. Megan. She called them by their first names. They declined to fully investigate any noise complaints she was involved with, and everybody lived happily ever after. Except the Hurst agents. They didn’t live at all, and the Hursts finally stopped sending them a few months before we left the system. I loved watching Megan in action. From a distance. A very long distance.
14 - Medron - Jury Duty
15 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Branan The Branan were limited to normalspace by the stellar geography they lived in, so they spent centuries preparing colonization fleets that traveled a century or more across ten, fifteen, or even twenty lightyears to new star systems. They left their homeworld behind, knowing they would never see it again in their lives, in the search of new lives on new frontiers. They built powerful industrial economies in all six of the Betelgeuse stars, and then colonized six more systems with nineteen stars up to twenty lightyears away. The youngest of those colonies was centuries old when we made Contact, with a larger population, a higher industrial base, and more advanced technology than any of our colonies. There were more Branan living under their twenty-five stars than there were humans in our one hundred star systems. And then we gave them hyperspace.
16 - Malcolm - John Jones John Jones was born on Mars. Think about it. Let it sink in for a moment. Then move along. The real John Jones was a lawyer on Mars, using the hyper-intelligence that came with his particular reaction to the Peloran Treatments to study the law and weaponize it against the government. He specialized in government corruption cases, tracking down and prosecuting governmental abuse and waste throughout the Martian system. He was one of the very few lawyers with the knowledge and experience to work in every Martian colony, whether they were of American, Chinese, Russian, or other lineage. And many Martians give him credit for helping to unify the legal codes of every Martian colony, the first step in creating a united Mars. This all assumes that I have correctly deduced who John Jones was before he joined the Wolfenheim Project. I could be wrong. It’s happened once or twice, you know.
18 - Medron - The Gemini Affair Jack grew up in a world at peace. His only interests were partying and girls. Two decades of War changed the galaxy and left Jack with no home to return to. Seven decades after War’s End, Captain Jack Hart was a man at peace once again. His ship represented the freedom to live wherever he wanted. He could fly anywhere from Earth to the furthest frontiers of human expansion on a whim and a prayer. And his cargo holds could carry whatever luxuries people wanted wherever he was going.
All of that was endangered when he ran into a mysterious freighter while on a routine trip to the Pleiades Cluster. What secrets did it hold? What mysteries did it hide? Why was it skulking around the heart of the Pleiades Cluster? Why did it open fire the moment it saw his ship? And what would the answers to those questions do to the foundations of the world Captain Jack Hart had built his life on?
18 - Malcolm – Melissa Melissa is unique amongst the fighter cybers in that she joined the Wolfenheim Project before her pilot did. She’d been part of Megan’s merry little band of mayhem makers for a month before he showed up, and she maintained her membership in good standing until the day we left. Melissa was one of the heavy weapons specialists, and I think she had a bit of an adrenalin rush complex. Or whatever passes for one of those when it comes to cybernetic intelligences. She was definitely a big gun nut, and it was something else to see her whipping out her big guns as she walked into battle with another of the Hurst assassins sent to deal with Old Man Callahan. Walked. She had this idea that if they saw her hiding behind cover, they’d think she was afraid of them. So she walked into battle, guns blazing, and dared the bad guys to shoot her.
19 - Malcolm - John Jones One of the reasons I’m fairly certain I know who John Jones was before he joined Wolfenheim is what he did after signing his new name on the dotted line. He analyzed the laws in the Alpha Centauri, looking for loopholes we could use. And I mean all the colonies of Alpha Centauri. American, Russian, Chinese, and Western Alliance. Every colony, by every government, corporation, or private organization. He studied every single one of them, and while in the middle of the largest War in human history, he used those laws to give us access to resources and venues we never would have been able to use otherwise. Most people still don’t realize that a sizable percentage of our budget and colonists come from non-Western Alliance citizens and organizations. Nearly a thousand of our people are Chinese or Russians who just want out of this mess, and they never would have joined if John Jones hadn’t reached out and looked for them. I’m very happy to have John Jones on my team.
20 - Malcolm - Melissa Melissa wasn’t a one woman wrecking crew. There were several of them, but Melissa had the largest body count by far. Counting the bodies she lost or damaged, here. She dared the bad guys to shoot her, and they did. A lot. She lost more heads and limbs than I could count, and they even managed to kill her a few times. She spent a lot of time in the body and fender shop, but she kept everyone else from being hit whenever the Hurst assassins made another try on Old Man Callahan. I remember this one time she jumped into the line of fire when the assassins opened up with a couple schoolgirls in the background. The police responded first that time, talked to the schoolgirls in question, and then dropped a full bag of nannies next to her. They then proceeded to pay no attention at all as she pulled herself back together and limped away. You could say that she made some friends on days like those.
21 – Medron – The Gemini Affair
22 - Betty - A Primer on the Races of Humanity - Branan The Branan have an intense industrial society that China’s famous industrial districts wish they could match. People looking in from the outside are appalled at their lack of safety precautions and the conditions of their workers. And environmentalists fall into shrieking catatonia at the mere glimpse of a Branan industrial dump. But what few people understand from the outside is that the Branan outlook on life is very different than ours. Life as we know it is a temporary condition to them. They rarely live more than sixty years. But that is merely their first life. Every Branan is expected to work hard and build up a nest egg in that first life to pay for their second life. And the more honor and money they build up, the more resources they will have when they begin their second life. In the networks.
23 - Malcolm - Malcolm McDonnell I grew up as a cadet member of the Hurst Family before Contact. That meant I went to all of the Hurst Family schools. And yes, that meant I got to wear the Hurst Family school uniforms. Yes. I rocked the school boy uniform as a child. And I did it very well if I say so myself. One of the advantages of wearing a school uniform is that it reinforces the idea that everyone is equal. Though children are not idiots. We knew who was more equal than the others from the moment we were able to form cognitive thoughts. That is the football quarterback in most schools across America. In ours, it was the handful of true, blue Hursts in our classes. And as good as I looked in a school uniform, I never looked as good as a Hurst to those with…certain motivations. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to look better, though. And sometimes, I succeeded.
24 - Malcolm - Charles Edward Wolf I grew up with the man you know as Charles Edward Wolf. He was a Hurst back then. He was trained to dress well, because dressing well speaks well of you. He was a Family scion through and through, the chosen heir of his father’s position in the Family, and first among equals to his entire generation. Girls wanted him, boys wished they could be him, and there I was, the joker at his side. I was the Roman scribe, whispering in the ear of a conquering general that the cheering of the crowds was temporary at best. Not that he really needed the reminder. He was smart enough to know all of that, even then. And you know the really amazing thing? He was smart enough to know that he should never let it show that he was smart enough to know. And that was the most carefully held secret of his entire life.
25 - Betty - A Prime on the Races of Humanity - Branan The Branan’s short-lived bodies broke down in a matter of five or six decades at most, but while we sought to lengthen our lifespan, the Branan sought immortality through a different route. They copied their minds into the computer networks and cut the cord to their old, dying meat bodies. The Branan heroes and elders lived in the networks, where they spent two millennia traveling between their stars at lightspeed. They built major electronic presences around every star within one hundred lightyears of Betelgeuse by sending out tiny probe swarms on solar sails. Those probes built numerous fully functional computer networks at their destination stars, and those networks built physical, industrial civilizations where no flesh and blood Branan had ever traveled. Then we made Contact.
26 - Malcolm - Malcolm McDonnell There were many advantages to growing up in the Hurst Family before Contact. We were born to be kings, raised as princes of the universe, destined for immortality on the greatest and most powerful stage in all the worlds. Earth. We could do anything we wanted, with anyone we wanted, and Family lawyers were on retainer to make it all go away if someone objected after the fact. It was an amazing life for those of us blessed to live it from the inside. But nothing lasts forever. I was banished and forced to live outside the Family, which gave me a new perspective on life. And the Peloran made Contact and changed the universe for all the Families. But I have to say that I was happy to grow up in the Hurst Family. It gave me many opportunities to do things I never could have done otherwise. Wolfenheim is one of them.
27 - Malcolm - Charles Edward Wolf Charles Edward Hurst grew up in one of the most machiavellian families that has ever existed. A Great Family, one of the true rulers of the world, a shaper of men and destinies far and wide. He was their chosen successor, the future leader who would ascend to his father’s position in time. He was the figurehead for a future thousands of years in the planning. He would be the man who would lead the world into a new future, a new destiny, carefully crafted and chosen over the generations. That was the Hurst Family plan for Charlie’s life. But they made one critical error. They never realized that the boy standing in front of them and politely nodding to their every suggestion was smart enough to be a true leader of the family. He was never going to be their figurehead. I stood beside him for years as we discussed the true future he envisioned. And it was my pleasure to guide those plans to fruition.
28 - 30 - Hurrican Harvey held my attention the last week of August.