Hello, my name is…
1 - Betty - Lucas Cats The second major indigenous population center on San Lucas was further away from us than the first. It was also more united. Where the first had been a fractured amalgamation of different cultures and beliefs, the second had been a unified nation. They had slowly expanded and absorbed every other population center on the continent over the last few thousand years. Every other culture had been erased from history and a culture of stratified castes guaranteed the stability of what they thought of as the greatest and most powerful empire in the world. They might have even been right. But the conquered populations had not given up their beliefs as easily as the central government thought, and we sparked the flames of revolution. They saw our first scout ships burning through the skies, and thought they were divine messages that the time had come to strike at their oppressors. By the time we colonized their world, it had devolved into a religious and revolutionary war that was waged to the knife. They wiped out half the population of the entire continent before we realized they were there and made Contact.
2 - Malcolm - Erik Torson Torson is one of the more common Aesiran names out there. So is Erik. That makes Erik Torson the equivalent of John Smith or Jose Ramirez back home in America. It would be a mistake to think that the Erik Torson I met at Arnami Prime was as common in Aesiran circles as his name would suggest. The truth I would learn is that he has other names. A name for each job he performed. He had spent most of his life doing one job after another, losing his name with completion, and going elsewhere with a new identity. He’d only been Erik Torson a few months when I met him, but he’d already earned the loyalty of his ships and crews. He told me who he was in time. Once he learned he could trust me. The funny thing is that I’d already figured it out. I just didn’t believe it at first.
3 - Charles - San Lucas We found the Lucas Cats on two of San Lucas’ major continents. The first was a tall and relatively narrow continent reaching from the warm equator up to the cold polar regions. It has a wide range of landscapes, starting with the rain forests in the south. A vast mountain range bisects the central region from coast to coast, and thick forests run to the rainforest in the south or the arctic wilderness in the north. The mountain peaks are year-round frozen wildernesses of their own, with the last of the trees dying off far down their flanks. The only easy travel from south to north goes through the deep mountain passes under cover of thick evergreen forests. Only a few large rivers and lakes break the nearly constant tree cover, and powerful tides caused by San Lucas’ large money create wide and beautiful sandy beaches thousands of kilometers long. And the powerful hurricanes that often hit the continent’s southern half make the first hundred kilometers or so of land virtual no-go zones for the more intelligent of the Lucas Cats. We simply built hurricane-resistant buildings and enjoy the beautiful vistas as long as the planet is not trying to kill us. And even then. San Lucas hurricane parties are legendary for a reason.
4 – Medron – The Future of Jack This is a fun little cover I asked Stephen Huda to create for my next short story. It’s an early draft of the cover art, and the final one will be subtly different, but I rather love it and wanted to show it off for all of you fine folks.
The working title is “Thunderbirds,” though I’m certainly trolling around for other title ideas. It’s the first appearance in fiction of the Thunderbirds of Betelgeuse, the descendants of an old, failed Albion genetic engineering project to create superior aerial warriors. Though the eagle-eyed among you who pay attention to my daily posts may have noticed some of my past writings on the race in the diary formats. The story is complete at this time, though will probably go through another round of edits or two before it is published.
I’m also working on the next Wolfenheim story, while my muse keeps kicking me to work on A Family Affair at the same time. So I’ve been dabbling in three different stories lately, in three totally different locations in time and space, all depending on what the muse wants each day.
The Wolfenheim story takes us out of Earthspace for the first time in my fiction. Thousands of lightyears away. It will have the first appearance in fiction of the Arnam and the Aesiran, and will show how the Wolfenheim Project affects The War in unexpected ways.
A Family Affair takes place after The War, as those who’ve read the abortive attempt at a first version of that story I started years ago. It didn’t work back then. Partly because I hadn’t written enough to have a clear understanding of what the characters were going to want to do. Both Angel Flight and Wolfenheim Rising have given me that clarity on the characters. So I look forward to getting to that little gem in the future. And so does my muse…
5 - Betty - Lucas Cats One of the important things to consider about the cats of San Lucas, is that they originally came from Earth. The genetics is quite clear on that. The Albion took them off Earth many thousands of years ago and began a long experiment to turn them into loyal soldiers. They used heavy genetic modifications to give them hand-feet, and human-level intelligence. The Albion abandoned the experiments and the world when they proved unsuitable for Albion needs. I’ve often wondered why they ever thought they could take cats and turn them into loyal soldiers for the defense of Albion interests. My best supposition is that the Albion were capable of just as much hubris as Earthborn humans, and thought that their science was up to the task of making the “perfect” cat that would obey their every whim. News flash. They failed.
6 - Jack I’m not a big fan of fighting. Yeah, I know, I’ve spent a lot of my life doing it. And I must say I do enjoy doing it while I’m doing it. There’s a real rush to coming out the victor in a battle of fisticuffs and wits. But at the end of the day, I’d be happy if I never had to fight again. There’s always a cost to it. Someone always looses something important when a fight decides anything. And when it comes down to it, I just don’t like taking things from people by force. It’s hard to keep your hands clean when you spend all your time fighting. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I wear white.
7 - Charles - San Lucas The first continent humanity colonized on San Lucas was not much larger than Earth’s Australia. New Brazil had the largest population of sabertooth-descended alpha predator cats of any of the major continents, but it also had the largest deposits of heavy metals and coal in the tall mountain range that dominated most of the continent’s central region. There was a thick forest belt around those mountains where the stupid cats lived, and massive fuel reserves resided under the shallow underwater shelves that spread out in every direction for dozens of kilometers off the coasts. It was as if someone designed a continent with all of the raw materials a civilization would need to thrive, and then added an aggressive, unreasoning, natural predator the size of a draft horse who would fight you fang and claw for every square meter of ground you wanted. Humanity wanted all of it.
8 - Betty - Lucas Cats The single most and least successful species on San Lucas was based on Earth’s extinct sabertooth cats. The Albion engineered them up to the size of a draft horse, with the muscle and bone mass to support it, and a thick hide capable of deflecting any conceivable small arms fire. The stated goal of that first project was a biological tank. They were completely successful on that point. It was the attempt to graft human-level sentience into the new race that failed spectacularly. They have the brain mass necessary for hyper-intelligence, but we can’t see evidence that they use it. They are aggressive, combative, and dangerous as hell, but they lack anything like language or culture as seen in the other cats. They just don’t seem sentient, even though they should be.
9 - Jack It’s hard to wear white all the time. It gets dirty so easy. And no matter how careful you are, it will always show that you’ve been in a fight. Blood. Tears. Dirt. Scuffing. Everything shows when you wear white. And even the best smart fabric has a limited lifespan when it spends all its resources fixing up little stuff like that. I buy my outfits in bulk because I run through them, and that can get expensive. But it’s worth the cost. Because wearing white makes a statement to everyone who sees me. It says that I don’t like to get my hands dirty. I don’t like to fight. And every time I have to get into one, and come out looking like a dirty rag, it says something else. That I’m willing to pay the cost of fighting if I have to. I won’t hide it from anyone who can see. I’m willing to live with the consequences.
10 - Charles - San Lucas The South American colonists of San Lucas had a difficult road pacifying the single small continent they’d made their home. New Brazil was rich and beautiful, but it was also home to one of the most dangerous alpha predators we have found in our travels throughout the stars. A predator who enjoyed the taste of fresh human flesh. The colonists spent decades hunting, and being hunted by, that dangerous animal and slowly driving it away from every human settlement they built. It is hard to know exactly how many of the sabertoothed cats they killed under New Brazil’s forest canopies, but those hides became common decorations on San Lucas. And San Lucas made a fortune selling them and other local delicacies to the rich and famous of Earth’s upper echelons. They soon realized that a significant part of their domestic economy depended on a constant supply of the sabertooth hides. And so they created vast nature preserves to maintain a stable population for future harvesting.
11 - Medron Pryde - Digital Property Rights When we buy something, it is ours, and taking it from us is theft. That is an accepted part of society and law. Anything physical at least. But what happens when we buy something digital? Can we own it? Is it truly ours?
The companies that sell these generally contend they provide access to a service that can be canceled at any time for any reason. And some companies have recently begun monitoring our social networks to see if we are “worthy” of maintaining our “access” to the services they offer. There is a big stink right now about a certain company banning a player for life from ever playing their game at sponsored tournaments, and canceling his online account where he had both purchased items and had cash value waiting in the “bank” so he could buy more in the future.
When we are denied access to something we purchased digitally, the company that does this is currently protected by law and customer agreements drawn up by lawyers that we in general had no choice but to sign before making the purchase.
They take our money, but then enshrine their ability to take back what they sold us if they choose.
Our culture is online in a way we never could have guessed even ten years ago. I remember dialing in for internet access on a personal computer that I had to wait ten minutes to turn on. Now I can pull a tablet out of my pocket and search the compiled knowledge of mankind in a few seconds.
That capability to live online and make it part of our lives did not exist ten years ago. It was a new thing five years ago. Now it is an accepted part of life. We have phones that can bring us into virtual realities where we can interact with other people.
Do our virtual avatars belong to us, or are they services offered by companies that can be denied? Should they belong to us? When does a transfer of money imply ownership rather than mere access?
If we create something in Microsoft Word or in Daz Studio, does our creation belong to us or to the company who created the software we use? Does the avatar we create in Second Life belong to us or the company? What about the characters we create inside Guild Wars or World of Warcraft? Who gets the credit for creation? Who gets ownership of our inspiration?
This is an important question we will have to answer in the very near future. And I contend that answer must lie on the side of ownership. Property rights. Digital property rights over the things we buy or create. Because as the online world becomes more real and more part of our every day lives, a lack of ownership over what we pay money for or put our time and effort into bringing alive will be seen as inherently unfair.
As wrong. As theft. As taking away a measure of our own selves.
And woe betide us all if we pick the wrong answer and things go as badly as they could…
12 - Betty - San Lucas Cats The San Lucas sabertooth cats use primitive tools. They fashion stone knives and wood tools, much like Earth’s monkeys. They build homes and change the terrain for their convenience, much like beavers or muskrats. They move from place to place to allow their hunting regions to recover and repopulate. Many of our best scientists have spent decades studying them, writing papers on the minutia of the sabertooth’s day. Based on their studies, that is hunting, sex, building, sex, eating, sex, sleeping, and sex. Not necessarily in that order. Every family unit has many kittens running around underfoot, as well as numerous young adults on the verge of branching out to start their own families. Which they end up doing whether they want to or not after reaching adulthood and the family drives the stragglers out.
13 - Jack - Juan Jose Most of my Cowboys were Americans. Old United States. The old Mexican States had their own fighter squadrons most of the Mexican speakers tended to gravitate towards. And that’s my two-dollar word on the matter. Then there was one boy from San Lucas who joined up out at Sunnydale. He told us his name was Juan Jose and that he came from the Mexican States, but he didn’t speak a word of proper Mexican. His native tongue was Portuguese, his American was pretty rough, and I’m real certain his mama did not name him Juan Jose. But he had a knack for flying, and a powerful determination to get someplace that didn’t involve home. We all figured he had some kind of criminal past, but we didn’t mind. He wanted to fight the Chinese and we wanted to help him. The real question was whether or not the cybernetic families would accept him as a man worth being born for. A lot of eager beavers fail that test hard.
14 - Charles - San Lucas Most of the human population of San Lucas lives on the shorelines of New Brazil. They are made of beautiful, white sands that stretch out for kilometers under blue-green waters lit by a yellow sun slightly dimmer than Earth’s own. It is a paradise. And most of the indigenous life considers humans, especially humans that are still alive, to be fine delicacies. Every town is surrounded by a kilometer-wide kill zone where the jungle is first cut down and then the ground leveled so that even a snake would find it difficult to sneak up on the tasty treats nestled within them. Those kill zones are covered with thick carpets of grass kept only a few centimeters tall by the landscapers who maintain them, and entire squads of armed guards keep every gardener safe from rainforest denizens ready to come out for a quick bite to eat.
15 - Betty - San Lucas Cats One interesting aspect of the San Lucas sabertooth cats is that they do not mate with a sibling, cousin, or other close relation. Children leave the family and spend several years mixing with other wandering cats. The young cats can wander hundreds of kilometers during those years, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups. And they have an uncanny ability to recognize close relations in those travels, even cousins who have never met each other before. They will often band together for mutual protection, and coordinated hunting, but they simply don’t mate with each other. Most scientists theorize it is a genetic imperative the Albion built into them, likely meant to promote a healthy distribution of their genetic code.
16 - Jack - Isabella Isabella is one of the nicest, kindest, calmest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I’m serious. Her picture should be in the dictionary under the definition of those terms. Why she ever picked Juan Jose I will never understand. I’m not complaining, mind you, but I always figured she had to have been Saint Isabella because it took the patience of a saint to deal with all of Juan’s shenanigans. And yes, I know that’s me talking. But he said it, too, more than once. An interesting thing is that she had a physical body from the very beginning. We were still operating under American rules back then, so that took some quick talking to get approved. But they’d already grudgingly allowed Jasmine to keep her body, so what was one more little accommodation for “cultural reasons?” Especially when she meant bringing in another full Avenger squadron for the Hyades Campaign. She was one more step down the road we all took in the end.
17 - Charles - San Lucas Landscapers on San Lucas are a different breed than those seen on most other worlds humanity has settled. The indigenous, alpha predator, sabertooth cats love how we taste, and so every town near the coast must have a kilometer-wide kill zone around it. Inland towns have two kilometer kill zones. The landscapers must take sniper nests and sentry towers into account. Underground sensors and popup weapons turrets are deployed in concentric rings. Defensive bunkers and wide motes are integral parts of every design. And landscapers earn combat pay when deployed to maintain those defenses, even when accompanied by teams of trigger-happy security guards. Visitors think it is a beautiful paradise, but those who live there know that San Lucas is forever at war with humanity. And the landscapers are the first line of defense.
18 - Medron - Star Wars I saw The Last Jedi on Friday.
It was a good movie. A good drama. And it was nothing like the Star Wars I grew up with.
Some of that we expected. Disney has certainly chosen to bury most of the Star Wars stories I grew up with. They wanted to go their own way, to be free to make new stories unfettered by those already written. They also, it appears, did not wish to make Star Wars stories.
The Star Wars stories I grew up with was witty heroes with quips and fancy flying and blowing that Popsicle stand before going home to celebrate their win with a stirring ceremony and a fun after party. It was Saturday morning serials full of adventure and daring do.
The Last Jedi is none of this. It is drama. It is good drama. But exciting (and adventurous) reading it is not.
I watch a lot of movies. I enjoy most of them. I left the Prequels happy and joyful. Even the last one that was the darkest of the lot. And even if JJ Abrams can’t figure out Star Trek to save his life, I love his Star Trek movies as a different take on the whole idea. Not a one of his movies has failed to leave me happy that I saw it. Happy to leave the theatre and talk about what I just saw. I’m generally pretty easy to please when it comes to movies. Especially action adventure or sci-fi movies.
But the Last Jedi left me feeling sad. Thoughtful. Depressed. I go to movies to be entertained. To have fun. To walk out happy to have spent some time and money on something I enjoyed seeing.
I am not happy to have spent my time and money watching The Last Jedi.
19 - Betty - San Lucas Cats The sabertooth cats of San Lucas are the most widespread race on the planet. They were the dominant race on New Brazil, and had major populations on the other continents as well. They prowled the borders of the more advanced cat societies, on the edge of the lands were cats could live. Not too close to the watery shores, not too deep into the jungles, forests, and rainforests that shrouded the great cat empires. They were the monsters that ate unwary cats in the night, or overran small settlements and convoys stuck too close to the edge of civilization. Armed patrols kept them scattered, but they were always a threat to the other civilizations, especially during the wars and rebellions that waged after humanity colonized the world. And when humanity colonized the shores of those continents, the sabertooth cats were waiting for us.
20 - Jack - Happy Holidays I love the holiday season. We start out by thanking God for what we have. And the next day we have the time-honored tradition of ritual combat over the best sales on the planet. Then we cut down a tree, stuff it into our house, put ornaments on it, and light it up like a roman candle. The hope is that it will stand there for a month or two, drying out the whole time, and pray to God it never gets dry and hot enough that it actually bursts into flame. We hang stockings from our fireplaces for a fat man to come down our chimneys and stuff with gifts, and hope a stray ember doesn’t get caught in their fabric. We throw chestnuts into the fireplace, and hope they don’t scatter the flames when they explode. We place multi-piece candelabras on our pianos and hope the molten wax doesn’t seep into places we’d rather not. And I haven’t even started on the food. I gain ten pounds just looking at it. Maybe the happiest part of the holidays is somehow managing to avoid killing ourselves before we get through them.
21 - Charles - San Lucas The westernmost continent home to intelligent cats on San Lucas was originally named New Andes, after the New Andes Mountains that bisected it. We officially renamed it Gangani after the local cats made Contact with us. That is the name of their primary empire in the rainforests south of the mountains. They called the entire continent Gangani, and obviously considered it their territory in full. The cats who lived in the central mountains and the northern forested highlands had other ideas. And then there are the rather large number of colonists who refuse to accept the “new” name. They continue to call it New Andes, and dare anyone to correct them. There may be some stubborn colonists in the group.
22 - Betty - San Lucas Cats The two larger San Lucas continents were home to four other cat species that we had little to no knowledge of until one of them Contacted us decades after colonization. They were genetically modified from Earth’s panthers, with human-level intellect and hand-feet that could use tools just as well as humanity. They had dominated the western continent’s primary empire for hundreds of years, building it into what had the possibility of being the most powerful civilization on the planet. They were not the majority, though. That honor went to the jaguar-based felines that lived all over the western continent, and who had ruled for thousands of years in the past. Before the panthers took over in a bloody coup.
23 - Jack - Seasons Greetings Tis the season for Minnesotans to ask each other if it’s warm enough out there. Tis the season to decorate our houses with lights and wreaths. To cut down trees and light them up. Some of us shovel snow now. Some of us tell tales of flying reindeer and fat guys in red suits. It’s time to celebrate the beginning of winter. Or mourn it. Time to memorialize the dying year and watch a new one born to the sight of a falling ball of light and fireworks. It’s time to be thankful we survived the last year. Mostly. Maybe barely. Tis the season to make promises about how we’ll live the next year that we’ll probably forget. And tis the season to thank God for coming on down and spending a spell of time with us.
24 - Charles - San Lucas The New Andes Mountains are the tallest mountain range on San Lucas. They bisect the New Andes/Gangani continent from western to eastern shores, and even continue as underwater ranges for hundreds of kilometers into the twin oceans surrounding the continent. They are tectonically-active on their northern face, with several living volcanoes slowly encroaching onto the surrounding highlands. Extinct volcanoes and jagged mountains dominate the southern edges looking over the lowland rainforests. It is a wild and treacherous area, with deep mountain valleys the only link between the northern forests and the southern jungles. Those valleys and the roads built into them are what the Gangani used to conquer the north, and are still major highways of trade to this day.
25 - Medron - Merry Christmas From Jack of Harts to You This a season of holidays from many religions, from giving thanks to God for a good harvest, to celebrating the new solstice or the New Year. The Jews celebrate the rededication of their temple in Jerusalem, and the Muslims celebrate Mohammad’s revelations.
And in one of the most uniquely Japanese of all traditions, they celebrate Christmas by having Kentucky Fried Chicken for their family dinner. Europeans go to the movies. Many Americans go out to eat Christmas morning, and the Chinese restaurants generally do rather well to the amusement of many. But it is still a tradition to stay mostly at home in celebration of the reason for the season.
We celebrate the birth of Christ. We celebrate God coming down to dwell with us, to teach us, and to bring us a new covenant. That would all come later, of course. But today, we celebrate His arrival in a common manger, surrounded by farm animals and shepherds.
It was His way of saying that he wasn’t here for the great Kings to fawn over. He came for the common man. He came to talk with us, to attend birthday parties with us, and to drink some wine with us. That is how much he loved us. And so we celebrate his birth on this day.
And so Jack of Harts would like to wish you…
A Very Merry Christmas.
26 - Betty - San Lucas Cats The jaguar-descended cats of San Lucas originally came from the northern highlands of their western continent. They built a powerful civilization called the Uaithni Empire to rule their lands and crossed the mountain range to the south. They conquered the barbarian panther-derived cats, and held control for thousands of years. But as with all great empires of history, they became decadent and slow to respond to threats. What could threaten them after all? First they began to hire local Gangani to secure the southern lands for the empire, and then to supplement their northern troops. In time the Uaithni made up a distinct minority of their own military, though they jealously guarded the command ranks. That imbalance would prove fatal to them.
27 - Medron - Year in Review This has been a good year for me in what many people like to call our real lives. Better in many ways than last year. No appendix blowing up on me. No motorcycle accident breaking five ribs. Though I did get the joy of dealing with Obamacare. Going from a 100 dollar a month plan before Obamacare to a 700 dollar a month plan was a serious adjustment to make for one. And the fact that it denies paying for a rather large amount of “covered” expenses was another shocker. I’m left paying several thousand dollars beyond the monthly payments, to the point that I’m rather thinking I might have just been better off if I’d not gotten the plan at all and just paid off my visits as I went to them. On the plus side, I’ll be on a company plan next month that is just over 100 bucks a month. With better coverage than the State Obamacare I have now. So, things are looking up for me going into the New Year.
28 - Medron - Year in Review I’ve had a good year when it comes to my writing. I did another editing pass on my first novel, and released it in dead tree format. And I’ve gone over my other stories as well. I also was involved in a multi-author science fiction anthology that went to print, writing a short story for that. It is placed some seventy years after The War, and will be the genesis for a story I intend to get to in the future. And I recently wrote another short story for the next planned anthology, placed a mere five years after The War began. It showcases a more mature Jack, on his first meeting with a certain alien species. And of course, I’ve begun major work on Wolfenheim again. It is shaping up to be a fun story to write, and to read I hope. The characters are certainly keeping me busy with their points of view on what they should do next. Which for me, is a good clue that I’m stuck with them and wanting to let my fingers fly with their words. Writer’s block? I no. I have no issue with that right now. ;)
29 - Betty - San Lucas Cats The Uaithni Empire ruled San Lucas’ western continent for thousands of years without rival. The jaguar-derived cats who ruled it became decadent in time, and sold their empire off to the southern Gangani a piece at a time. A few warned their leaders against the policy, arguing that no matter how much money they had, they would never have enough if they couldn’t defend it. So their leaders hired more Gangani to protect the Uaithni riches. Then the day came that the Gangani started a bloody coop and killed the entire Uaithni ruling clan. Some of the ruling clan survived to hide out in the northern highlands and plan their eventual return to power, but the Uaithni became servants in their own lands for hundreds of years. Then we arrived, our spaceships blazing fire across their night skies, and they took it as a sign that it was their time to rise again.
30 - Medron - Year in Review I grew up in the 1980s. Me and my friends lived in a post-JFK and post-Martin Luther King world. The pill and easy abortions had reduced the birth rate greatly. Increased immigration rates meant that kids with non-American parents were common. Desegregation of schools had already happened, and we had no clue our mixing of races was unprecedented in America. It was normal to us to grow up with kids of different colors and English proficiencies. And it was normal for us to distrust politics in general. JFK was a womanizer, Nixon was a crook, and Ted Kennedy left a woman to drown in his car. Politics was a dirty business, and everyone had their own ideas and beliefs. Those beliefs were real, sincerely held, and important to each person. We learned to find agreement on SOME things and then work together on that to move forward. That is the world I grew up in. This year, we saw a completely different world in politics. One where people scream to the sky in frustration that a man they think is unfit for duty was elected. One where they call anyone who supports him in any way deplorable and unworthy of being American at all. One were women where pussycat hat and talk about blowing up the White House. One where to RESIST is the one and only acceptable response to the election of a politician. This has been a very interesting year in politics. I’m rather hoping we don’t see another like it in my lifetime.
31 - Medron - Year in Review The Weinstein scandal rocked our culture in many ways this year. We found out there is sexual misconduct in Hollywood. Raise your hand if you were surprised by that. What actually did surprise me is how many people suspected it but said nothing. In that, Seth MacFarlane stands out as someone who said what he could, when he could. On stage, no less. I dearly hope that Hollywood is able to clean this up. I’m not optimistic, mind you, but hopeful. That scandal hit Washington as well. Who knew there was a hush fund to protect congressmen? Who even suspected? Those in entrenched in the power structures of Washington and Hollywood use their positions to make certain they can require something most of us common people consider a clear and present evil. That a man or woman, boy or girl, can be forced to sell their body to get a job. That is wrong. That is evil. I am sorry that it has to be said at all. But this is one reason the common people detest Hollywood and Washington. We see the culture of corruption there, that claims so many who go there with hopes and dreams. We see it and we hate it, with a deep and abiding passion that many inside those gilded halls do not understand, even now.