Hello, my name is…
1 - Jack - Nightborn Peloran - I met my first openly-Nightborn Peloran during The War. No, I can’t say her name. And I can’t say where I met her. That’s classified. Seriously, I don’t have clearance to know, and I was there. My point is that there are stories about them that I know from experience simply aren’t true. Firstly, they can’t change their eyes. Those are bright red. Always. They can’t change their weight or bone structures. They’re not like shape shifters from mythical stories. They can’t mimic the looks of any one person, so you don’t have to worry about one of them wearing your face around town. But yes, that coal-black skin of theirs can mimic any color they choose to take. And they can do the same with their hair. This girl I’m talking about? Her hair and skin were coal-black when she was all natural. But give her some time to prep, and she was a natural redhead down to the freckles on her tatas so realistic that no man would question it. Yeah, there’s the eyes, but if we’re being honest, how many of us really look that high? And even if we do, contacts and shades are a thing, and they work pretty good.
2 - Charles - Nightborn Peloran - The Nightborn Peloran were designed with chameleon-like skin that defaulted to a coal-black color at most times. They fully or partially absorb nearly all wavelengths of the visible spectrum and beyond, and can convert that energy into changing the actual wavelengths they radiate back out. Their color. Their heat. Everything they radiate through the skin or hair is adjustable through a simple matter of will and visualization exercises. This was designed to allow them to blend into the environment they would be fighting from. But when they proved to be poor soldiers, it became the camouflage they wore to look like the people whose groups they were infiltrating. This, along with their quick and ready willingness to learn things and adjust their ways of acting to conform with other groups, makes them human intelligence agents without peer in all of human space. And the literal fleet of small stealth scout ships they deploy throughout human space allows them to go anywhere they need to learn things.
3 - Medron - Normandy - A fleet of hundreds of ships left Normandy in 1066 to move one of the largest troop deployments in history and conquer England for the Normans. The English would assemble another fleet of hundreds to land thousands of troops to conquer New York in 1776. And the English would help assemble hundreds of more boats to land troops on Normandy in 1944.
The moral of this story? The English have launched three of the greatest seaborne invasions in the history of the planet. Don’t piss them off. The second moral of the story? Never try to kill France. That is an honor the English reserve for themselves. If you try to do it for them, they will kill you. The third moral of the story? The Americans learned our lessens well from England. If you think they’re crazy, you’ll just love what happens when you get us involved.
Remember Normandy this week. It was a long time coming, and it will be remembered for a long time to come.
4 - Betty - Forestborn Peloran - The Forestborn Peloran are probably the most ambitious genetic alteration of the Peloran race to remain…Peloran. Others are generally accepted as different races entirely and live in their own communities, but the Forestborn are not like that. They love living a simple life in nature, you see. That earned them a level of acceptance the homeworlds Peloran don’t really give to many others. They look far more exotic than other Peloran, but culturally they’re more integrated with the vast majority of the Peloran race than most other offshoots. Of course they are part plant. Considering how much the Peloran love plants, that makes a certain amount of sense.
5 - Jack - Forestborn Peloran - The common idea about Forestborn Peloran you see in the media is that they wear little to no clothing most of the time so they can absorb the light of their natural environment. I mean, who would eat nasty food when you can bask in sunlight like you’re in some hippy socialist commune where everything is fuzzy bunnies and cute puppies? Especially when the network executives can show off a little skin for ratings and say they’re being culturally sensitive. The facts are far less exotic. They eat food like the rest of us. One mouthful at a time. Yeah, they can survive on sunlight alone, but…I once had one tell me it was like cheesecake. Just because you can survive without eating cheesecake, why would you? It’s cheesecake. They like good food as much as anyone else. It’s also quicker to eat and run than lay or sit for hours waiting for the sun to charge them up.
6 - Charles - Forestborn Peloran - The Forestbord Peloran were one of the Albion’s more ambitious gengineering projects. They wished to have all of the physical advantages of the Peloran supersoldiers with the ability to stay in the field for extended periods of time even when resupply was impossible. The Peloran’s greatest weakness is their metabolism, you see. It takes a great amount of energy to run a body capable of everything the Peloran can do, and that translates into vast amounts of food and energy supplements. Sit next to a Peloran recovering from a major wound and you will see them shovel food into their mouths as quickly as they can and never grow satisfied. They needed soldiers who could get their energy from another source. They chose to splice plant DNA into the Peloran codex, including the chlorophyll aspects. That made them capable of gaining energy from the very suns that power every living planet’s biosphere. And that is where the green color of their skin comes in.
7 - Betty - Forestborn Peloran - The Forestborn Peloran were supposed to be the Albion’s ultimate fire and forget weapon in their war against the Ennead. Someone they could send deep behind enemy lines and not worry about supporting. Most died in those long missions, which is one reason why there’re so few of them even now. Another is their low fertility rate. That’s a side effect of the plant DNA embedded in their genetic codex. They eat the light of stars to live on, but bringing new life into the worlds is so very rare for them. More rare for those who subsist only on sunlight, but even those who eat normal food have children far less often than other humans. And that is why most Forestborn Peloran are born in cloning tanks rather than the old fashioned way.
8 - Jack - Forestborn Peloran - There’s this common story idea for Forestborn Peloran. You see it in a lot of shows that come out of Hollywood. The fair Peloran maid basking in the sun on the forest floor with nothing but her green skin showing. An attractive young man walking through the forest and “accidentally” walking up on her. I’ll admit I may have fantasized about that as a teenager, but the truth is far less exotic. For one, not a lot of sunlight gets through a forest canopy. They’d starve. For another, they’d hear the young punk coming and cover up before he got in sight. And for the finale, clothing is wearable art that they love walking around in as much as the rest of us. So if you’re cosplaying Forestborn at a convention, don’t show up looking like an Orion slave girl and say you’re authentic. That’s science fiction. This is real life. And Forestborn are not Orions with pointy ears.
9 - Charles - Forestborn Peloran - The Forestborn Peloran were designed with plant DNA and chlorophyll so they could absorb energy from the sun. This was because the Peloran wished to have soldiers who could survive even when cut off from supplies for long periods of time. They also inserted a healing trance capability into the Peloran codex that could be triggered by a simple command at any time. That allows the Forestborn to sleep for hours, days, or however long it takes to heal their injuries via the energy they gain from the sun. It also allows them to go to sleep and simply remain in that position until they are needed. Days, months, or years later. Or more. Forests can and have grown up around them as they sleep. Which has led to legends of the very trees coming to life and engaging in battle. Not to worry. It is not the trees. That is the Forestborn waking up when they are called and going into battle.
10 - Medron - The X-Men Legacy - In the year 2000, something happened that revolutionized the film industry. A major studio assembled several major blockbusters actors together into an assemble film about mutants and played it straight. Big effects and a big serious story, given blockbuster previews and press. And X-Men became a blockbuster that showed to the world that superhero movies could be done big and straight and be successful.
It revolutionized the film industry and brought about a new generation of big budget superhero films. X-Men would go on to spawn two direct sequels, several indirect sequels, and several more prequels set in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. But there was one limitation that Fox could never break in their X-Men films. They couldn’t go to space. Other franchises like Fantastic Four tried it and failed to live up to their promise. So X-Men stayed rooted to the terrestrial to the point that the Dark Phoenix saga in X-Men 3 completely cut out the space-based center of that story in the comics.
But the X-Men films did revolutionize the film industry, and it did allow other film companies to bring their best foot forward with films of their own. Including Marvel with Iron Man 8 years later. Which started off the Marvel Cinematic Universe that DID go into space. First with Thor a little bit and then for real in Guardians of the Galaxy. They went into space all the way and melded it with superhero films in a way that totally worked. The MCU proved you could meld the two together and make a blockbuster.
Which allowed the X-Men to come home in the end. Dark Phoenix follows generations of X-Men stories and goes straight into space. No half measures. No slight of hand. It opens with the X-Men going into space to rescue the space shuttle Endeavor that is spinning out of control after having its systems affected by some kind of solar flare or something. Or something.
Enter The Phoenix and the movie comes back down to Earth with a truly interstellar crash landing that gains momentum all the way to the end of the movie. There are aliens. There are government hunter-capture teams and Deadpool-style anti-mutant collars. There are X-Men 3 style red trenchcoats. There are crowning moments of awesome by numerous mutants in a row from Storm to Magneto to Cyclops and many others.
Of the X-Men films, Dark Phoenix feels like it’s the most big spectacle of them all. Where individual mutants got to strut their stuff in previous movies, this one allowed all of them to show off at once in some truly amazing ways. Is it the best story I’ve ever seen? No. Was it a bit darker than I like my movies? Yes. But the X-Men films have all been a bit dour in their way. So it’s a fitting conclusion to the X-Men story.
And yes, this is a conclusion. This is the last of the X-Men films as we’ve known them for the last two decades. Dark Phoenix is the swan song of the series. And it fills the role well.
I enjoyed seeing the characters I’ve gotten to know in one more story, and that’s enough for me in the end.
11 - Medron - Forge of Wars -
12 - Medron - Angel Flight -
13 - Medron - Angel Strike -
14 - Medron - Angel War -
15 - Medron - The Thunderbird Affair -
16 - Medron - Wolfenheim Rising -
17 - Medron - The Gemini Affair -
18 - Medron - The Martian Affair - Jim Baen Short - Baen Books puts on a short story contest each year, and for 2019 they wanted a story of space exploration within the next six decades, going to the Moon or Mars, colonial habitats, and stuff like that. They wanted a hopeful story rather than something grimdark.
And so I looked at my existing Jack of Harts timeline and realized that my already written history shows humanity having settled Mars by 2080. With that the genesis of a short story began to bloom. I had a place. Next I needed a story. I scanned over the snippets I’ve written to look for something and found it. The idea I settled on was twenty years too early, but that just meant I had to build the story in such a way that it would fit into the known timeline, even if it was something I never imagined fitting into that timeline a decade ago when I first set it all down. Which proved surprisingly easy. All I needed was a hero to pull it off.
That man also proved easier than I expected to find. You see, there’s a man in my Jack of Harts story who never had a history worthy of his character. He was a blank slate in my stories, seen only in a single chapter. He didn’t even have a name. Now he did.
I wrote the story, sent it into Baen, and it did not make the final cut. So here it is. I think it is appropriate to publish it so near Father’s Day. As a remembrance that every Father changed the world in his time. Maybe only a little. Maybe a lot. We never know looking at them, in their flannel shirts and blue jeans, that many years ago they were the men who fought at Somme, Normandy, Hill 65, Fallujah, and so many other names that ring in our history. And others that nobody remembers. In honor of those real men, here is a fictional man who fought the battles no one remembers so his son could grow up in a better world than the one he was born into.
19 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - There are three bits of feedback I’ve gotten about my Jack of Harts writing that I’ve received over and over again. The first is that Jack is a bit of a ladies man. Some readers are not a fan of that. The second is their realization that the Republic of Texas somehow exists in this futuristic world. It’s one of those names that tends to catch in the mind of those reading my stories. The third and most controversial to readers is the fact that the official uniform of the Republic of Texas includes cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. That’s a real mindjob for those readers that have not yet come to the conclusion that the aggressively normal worldview Jack ascribes to the world around him hides the fact that his world is very different from ours. All three of these are purposeful motifs picked when I started writing. Stylistic choices that give Jack of Harts a unique look and feel. These are not random choices. They were picked with malice aforethought.
20 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The United States of America in my writing is not like the one we live in now. It has many similarities of course, but it has been through three centuries of changes between our time and the time of my writing. It has collapsed and rebuilt. It has expanded. From Alaska to Panama, from Midway to the Virgin Islands, it includes former enemies like Cuba, former failed states like Mexico, and expanding states like the Indian Nations. It’s a far more diverse nation than our current one, but it has a power structure many would recognize now. Literally. Many of the people alive right now in our world are still alive in Jack’s time. And for all the changes in America, that brings an interesting core of stability that many readers recognize. The similarities are not always good ones. This is on purpose.
21 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - One of the background aspects of the Jack of Harts universe can be found in modern medical research. We are working on stem cells right now that promise the ability to grow new organs for transplant that come from us and therefore will never be rejected. Imagine how long we could live if we could just implant a new fresh heart every thirty years or so? How about new lungs or kidneys or livers when they start getting old? In Jack of Harts, that and other medical advances resulted in a greatly expanding age curve for those who could afford it. The rich. The connected. Some who saw World War II survived long enough to receive these advances. More who saw Vietnam, and a very great many who lived through the Gulf Wars, Islamic Jihad, and the Cybernetic Wars went to the stars or were still on Earth to see the Peloran make Contact two centuries later.
22 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The Peloran made Contact with us a century before the main story in Jack of Harts. Aliens are normal and accepted in Jack’s worldview, and so is the effective immortality of humanity. He wasn’t even alive when the Peloran made their Treatments available to anybody who wanted them for free. They are like a superboost to the human immune and repair systems that massively slows down the aging process. Jack does not remember a time when people died of old age. It is a foreign concept to him. Yes, he has read about it. He knows it used to happen. Just like people use to get the flu. Or cancer. Or small pox. The Black Death. Addiction to drugs. Overweight. Underweight. Diabetes. They are all artifacts of the past, eliminated by a combination of Alien and Human medical sciences that have literally changed the world. Jack is healthy, and he has every expectation that those around him will also be healthy until the day they die.
23 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The United States of America has been recovering from the Second Great Depression for more than two centuries when the Jack of Harts stories begin. People are healthy thanks to medical sciences. Genetic engineering has Uplifted numerous animals to human level sentience. And yes, even smart dogs and cats still hate each other. And corruption is as rampant as it ever was. Jack likes to joke that if the Shang had limited their initial attack to Washington DC alone, the vast majority of Americans probably would have applauded them. There is far more truth in that joke than many would be comfortable admitting. And when the junior Senator from Colorado was the highest-ranked Survivor, she had a lot of work to do. Jack still says that she was the first President worthy of the position in his lifetime. Possibly the only one.
24 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The United States of America when Jack grew up was different from the nation we live in now. Three centuries had passed. Political alliances like the Republic of California, Republic of Texas, the Indian Nations, and the Confederation of Dixie had arisen. Those pseudo-sovereign alliances of States maintained many of their own policies and generally ignored the Federal Government’s wishes as long as it didn’t try to interfere with them. I draw much inspiration from Pre-Civil War America in that way, where people were Minnesotans or Texans first, and Americans second. Jack was proud to grow up a Minnesotan on the wilderness border with Canada, acting as a tour guide for rich city slickers. America was a highly divided nation in many ways, but when the Shang attacked and killed millions of Americans all over the Western half of the nation, they united the United States of America in a way that only an outside threat can. Much like after our own 9/11, America stood back up and challenged all comers to come get some. That is the America Jack grew up in, and the America he volunteered to defend.
25 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The United States of America in Jack’s time is not the one we live in now. One important difference is that they have lived through the Second Great Depression. My background has it happening when the Federal Government proved incapable of making payments on the debt. I have a detailed timeline, but don’t tend to put those dates in my stories. I’d prefer the march of time not wipe my stories out too soon, you know. ;) One of the primary effects of the Second Great Depression in America was that it basically erased any lingering trust in the Feds for most Americans, which is why the various State governments became the powers they are in Jack’s time. The States stepped up, the States brought order back, and the States resurrected the Federal Government in a far more manageable form. One that wouldn’t get out of their control again. Or so they hoped.
26 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - The American flag in Jack’s day is one that has not changed in over two centuries, even as new States and territories have been added. The reasons are twofold, and more. The first is that I didn’t want to have to make a lot of different flags for use in art. I’m lazy, cheap, and a perfectionist. Which means I wanted a single flag. But America has this policy of changing our flag every time we get a new State. And America in Jack’s day has…a LOT of States. So I did a lot of research on flags. And one day, while researching, I realized something. Forty-Nine States reformed the Federal Government in my writing. And we have a 49 star flag on record. It was a very short-lived flag, but we do have it, and it’s public domain. And so the flag that Jack knows with 13 stripes for the original colonies and 49 stars for the States that reformed the Union was born.
27 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - This part of the commentary requires a really brief civics lesson. We have three equal branches of government in our Constitution. Executive. Legislative. Judicial. But there’s an unofficial Fourth Branch of the American Federal Government that has grown up over time. Some call it the Administrative Branch, or State. Others the Bureaucracy. The Regulatory State. Conspiracy theorists often name it the Deep State. Whatever name you give it, it’s a non-elected body of Federal workers who clarify and Execute the laws written by Congress. It’s officially part of the Executive Branch of government. The issue is that Congress often writes laws that are not fully clear and leaves it to the Bureaucracy to figure out how to make them work. Or they just have the Bureaucracy write the laws for them and then vote on the text without reading it. The old “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” syndrome. Which has made for some interesting laws and regulations. One reason many consider it a fourth branch is because various rules make it difficult for the Chief Executive to manage and control the Bureaucracy. The point of this commentary is to state that the whole thing is gone in Jack of Harts. It basically disappeared during the Second Great Depression when the Federal Government collapsed. The States did not like it and did not reform it with the rest of the Federal Government. And though it had made some form of comeback by Jack’s time, the Shang literally pulverized it into ash when they dropped a missile storm all over Washington DC. As I’ve often joked, the American people actually didn’t mind losing DC that much. They were only politicians and government workers after all. No one much missed them. It was the millions of other Americans who died that pissed America off. Or so the joke goes.
28 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - There are several key differences between our United States of America and the one that Jack grows up in. The one most people would notice first is that there is no Federal Income Tax. The States had gotten sick and tired of having their money taken out of their State and then only given back if they did what the Feds told them to do. So they debated repealing that Amendment during the reformation of the Federal Government. Yes, there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth over the whole thing, but it was mostly politicians and network types who were doing the screaming. And the Americans who survived the Second Great Depression, the Islamic Jihad, and the Cybernetic Wars didn’t have many sympathies left for the sensibilities of Federal politicians or their very good friends in the national networks. So they told the Feds to go pound sand and repealed that Amendment with prejudice. They’re still debating whether or not that was a good move in Jack’s time, but the repeal has held against multiple attempts to break it, most recently during The Shang War. You will note that I don’t say exactly how many. That’s writer speak for “I don’t want to contradict myself by accident sometime in the future.” ;)
29 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - One interesting difference between our United States and the one Jack grew up in is that Senators are not popularly elected. The original Constitution had them voted on and sent to the Senate by the State Governments, but that was changed back in the early 1900s to allow for popular elections. The argument was that they would better represent their States if they were beholden to the people at large, through a direct vote. But the end result was that by the time of the Second Great Depression the Senator candidates who promised the most free stuff to the people were those who usually won. Which contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of the American economy. So when the States reformed the Federal Government, they repealed the Amendment allowing for direct elections and reassumed their natural right to appoint those they wanted in the Senate. Senators who would be properly deferential to the wishes of the State governments. It was the States’ not-so-subtle way of telling the Feds that the tables had turned and the States were going to do the telling of what was going to be done in the future.
30 - Medron - Jack of Harts Commentary - Another major difference between Jack’s America and our own America is the utter lack of gerrymandered Congressional districts for the House of Representatives. Though that is only because there ARE no Congressional districts at all. Gerrymandering is the political art of designing a voting district so it will always vote the way you want it to. It was a very unpopular but very effective political tool for centuries in America. Then the Second Great Depression happened and the States imposed just a little bit of Parliamentary rules on the Federal Government when they reformed it. American Citizens, and ONLY American Citizens, vote on a State-wide basis for which political parties they wish to represent them, and the seats are divvied out proportionate to the total votes in that State. More populace States spread their seats out into several major and minor parties, while less populace States grant their single seat to the party that gained the most votes. As you may guess, this difference has resulted in a greatly changed political landscape in Jack’s America. Some say it is better. Some worse. Your mileage may vary.