The left hand of the Corps that dissects the right hand. What began as an internal branch of intelligence gathering and preventive espionage has become a near-independent entity while still officially guided by the Corporalty Chiefs of Staff.
INT. COLONEL ANHANGA’S OFFICE. NIGHT.
The COLONEL sits cross-legged on her sofa, duty-jacket unbuttoned, paying more attention to the dozen or so work-screens in the air beside her than LT. STERANKO, standing at attention before her.
Okay. What couldn’t wait until the morning?
It’s the coded intercepts, sir. We’ve cracked them.
(looking up from her screens) You’re not smiling.
They’re digests of intelligence from three sources, tagged SOLITAIRE, TIFFANY, and GALORE. GALORE’s got to be a compromised database, but SOLITAIRE and TIFFANY are most likely aide-level staffers attached to Committee Command.
There’s a pause.
What you’re telling me is that my own damn intelligence operation has got a couple of moles here on Station Bethel. What you’re telling me is that the Bureau has started spying on the Corps.
Sir, judging from the intercepts, it’s been a long-term operation.
And when I wake up bright and early first thing in the morning, I’m going to think this is all a bad dream. But you’ll be there with a detailed report proving beyond a shadow of a doubt every wild allegation that just dropped out of your mouth. Right?
(looking down at his feet) Sir, yes sir.
And then what, Lieutenant?
After I’ve read your report. What the bleeding edge of hell do you suggest I do about it?
Sir, I have no idea…
—“Paranoid Intelligence,” episode 2, shooting script
Join the Corporalty. See the Universe.
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. “Marketing hype.” But it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re hanging off the back end of a freighter train leaving mu Herculis with 10,000 kilometers of nothing at all between the soles of your boots and the clouds of Sábana. It doesn’t feel like that when you’re the one who’s worked out the orbital arc that drives a fresh comet home to the terraforming scrubbers on Cold Mountain. It doesn’t feel like that when you spend three days straight working to bring the 61 Cygni cyclostylus back on line, restoring communications for millions of outworlders.
Moments like that, it feels like the truth.
Join the Corporalty. See the Universe.
Paid for by the Corporalty of Spacers, Surveyors and Settlers Guilds.
It’s not every day a soap celebrates its 150th anniversary. Maybe that’s why Adelaide Axeminster thought the structure for this year’s Forever Between the Light and the Dark seasonal sweep was a bold idea: why not build a buzz and celebrate the show’s long and storied history with tour-de-force restagings of some of the most famous and favored musical numbers ever produced by this misbegotten yet madly popular genre?
Why not, indeed?
Well, I’ve seen the advance cuts, so I’ll tell you.
Imagine, for instance, the percussive Savoy stomp of the Ding-Ding Song, “O Shalma Lama,” julienned into stutterpop overload. Sure, the rain-of-light visuals divebombing the Grand Canal are breathtaking—but what about the music?
Then shake your head at the heresy of putting comatose Janvier Gideon’s hipslinking theme song “Amanita Giddy” into the mouth of his number two grandson Alfaro Malone, who toasts when he should skank in front of a band that dubs when it should fug. And I’d advise you to leave the room altogether for the third night, when number two grandson’s boardroom shenanigans come to a head in a shockingly glossy reinvention of “Resolution Number 314,” from the all the way back in the dim and dusty third year. (No, I won’t spoil this eagerly anticipated plot twist; we have some standards to maintain around here. But I will tell you that they rewrote the rapscatting bridge in Varo. Does scansion mean nothing to these barbarians?)
And the grand finale? O, honey.
[Ed. note: If you are one of the seven people left in the system who doesn’t know about Ingmar Gideon’s upcoming battle royale, you might want to put down this newsfax.]
Much like the overall retro memory-lane remake idea, it might well have seemed brilliant on paper to weave together “Heroes with Odd Feet,” “Gwailoh Gringo,” and “My Mother Your Mother One Two One” with all five trumpet fanfares that have opened the show over the past century and a half and mixmaster the resulting shebang into a quarter-hour epic dancing swordfight down the Rialto and up the Esper Steps. If you’re going to think big, no use going halfway. Kick down the walls while you’re kicking out the jams. Why not?
Well, as a musical number, it makes for a halfway decent swordfight.
This is not to knock what Axeminster’s been able to do with the show when she isn’t raiding the Crepuscular boxed set. Go back to that Best of Forever Between (like I had to, to wash out the sticky traces of those godsawful remakes), cue up an old episode, any old episode, and you can see in stark relief what she’s doing well and right. Her verité visual stylings (when not divebombing the Grand Canal) remain breathtaking—a beautifully dissonant scrim of wear and tear and gorgeous natural light through which to watch what is still one of the most talented (and scrumptious) ensemble casts in all of sudsdom. Maybe Daniel Dae Kim can’t skank to save his life, but as Alfaro, he’s well on his way to locking down an unprecedented fifth Zuco for best acting—even though CJ Channey’s unflaggingly jaw-dropping performance as matriarch Ingmar keeps him running for his money. And even on the much-maligned musical front—there’s a surprise new song in the four-show sweep: “Over the Underneath,” a shimmeringly gorgeous icehouse ballad that comes out of nowhere, sung by of all people Ifa Ntobo as Captain Ajax from the crow’s nest of her dirigible, and by the time you’ve figured out it’s Ntobo, actually singing, she’s left a beautiful ache in the place of your heart. This is the song I fully expect to be the download queen, easily upstaging the brassy bluster of all the rest for the hollow, ill-advised gesture it is.
So give the girl a break. Axeminster’s moving into her third season as programmer; she needs to learn to trust herself and the strengths she brings to this 150-year-old table, which are not inconsiderable. A misstep—even one this ghastly—should not rob us of the appallingly glorious seasons I think are still to come. Just keep telling yourself: it’s only a sweep. Regular programming resumes in four weeks.
The acronym stands for Inter-Stellar Siblinghood of Streetwalkers and Masseuses, arguably the most powerful labor union in the V.C.C. as they had the fore sight to open membership to the migrant workers, in particular the power-broking Sooner families.
A key planet of the V.C.C.—some say the key—Korsevei was one of the first planets settled, and certainly the most desired, given its location and near Terra-normal conditions, needing only the slightest of nudges to allow human habitation—as opposed to the radical rehabilitation required by many other worlds.
4C112 is small and dark and cold, for a star. It doesn’t light up the nighttime sky of any planet you could stand on, and you’ll never get close enough to see it from the bridge of a starship. It’s one of the two most important stars in the Compact.
4C112 is the anchor of the Zhou Lane.
4C112, along with RX J1812-74, which anchors the Erebus Lane, is a strange star, or a strangelet. Darker and heavier and smaller than a neutron star, but not quite a black hole, it does strange things to spacetime—like allowing us to cheat the speed of light.
“Beads” of strange matter entangled with the anchor are seeded along the intended path of the lane. Ships passing a bead are able to snap spacetime in two, hingeing on that faraway anchor, forming two pseudo-asymptotes. (“Pseudo” because nothing actually snaps, or bends, or even moves at all.) By sliding along the hyperbola that swings gently from one side to the other, a ship is able to get from origin to destination by skipping most of the distance between. In this manner the ship is propelled along the course of the Lane.
Lane technology is fundamentally different than jump gates. By exploiting the unique properties of a strange star, anchoring the pseudo-asymptotes and the powerful distortions of the hinge stressors in the heart of something so dense, risks of ruptures and sargassoes are minimized. A large margin of safety is achieved, at the cost of some flexibility.
Slang for a seasonal circuit of of factories, mines and processing plants made by various Sooner Families and other migratory workers along the Lanes. There is a very organized overlap of groups or “shifts” that spreads the work evenly among the Sooner tribes as well as making sure the needs of various plant owners are seen to, thus securing this steady source of work.
light and dark
“A hobo is one who travels in search of work, the migratory worker who must go about to find employment. Being a seasonal worker she is necessarily idle much of the time; being transient, she is necessarily homeless. Workers of that sort filter hydrocarbons from the soupy atmosphere of Broken Angel, sort Sayler’s bennies on the shores of Lakuna, mine for water in a dozen comet belts, even maintain the Corps’s cyclostylic networks and calibrate our calendars. The great workings of interstellar commerce would collapse without them. By the nature of her work and not by her own will, she is precluded from establishing a home and rearing a family. Sex, poverty, habits and degree of skill have nothing whatsoever to do with classifying individuals as hobos; the character of her work does that.”
—N. Klein, On the Road in Outer Space. Sinjin’s World: Phoenix Press, 312 [local]
1 Skyl= 1/10 of a point
1 Point= 10 skyls
1 Pound= 12 points
1 Crone= 100 pounds
The basic monetary unit of the V.C.C. is the Point (Pnt). Points are also referred to as dollars, peso, pieces, marks or lira.
Large amounts of money are refered to in crones; if someone is said to be a millionaire, the reference is to a million crones.
Peh (pê), pron. (nom. Peh; poss. Peh’s (pêz); obj. Pehm (pêm); pl. nom. They ([th][=a]); poss. Their or Theirs ([th]ârz or [th][=a]rz); obj. Them ([th]êm).) The entity previously designated, whose gender is indeterminate; a pronoun of indeterminate gender, usually referring to an antecedent. Note: used as a formality when assuming or noting the gender or sex of the antecedent is considered irrelevant to the subject at hand, i.e. government documentation, news reports, etc. (Cf. it, gender neutral pron.)
Pedro Pete swears the bowls we’re sipping from are genuine Otherstuff, dug up from a midden on the backside of Token. Vacuum-packed, he says, grinning. He’s lying. The whiskey’s good, though.
So I really should have known better when I shove the rest of my chips out in the middle of the table and he looks down at the one chip pinched between his finger and thumb and says hey, you wanna buy the pot, I can’t stop you, but.
But? I say, though I should have known better.
Uh-oh, says Stella Im.
I’ll put up this, says Pedro Pete, tossing his chip into the pot, plus the answer to any question you care to ask.
Anything? I say.
Anything you ask, says Pedro Pete.
You desperate, says Stella Im. No damn way she falls for that.
Okay, I say, and Stella Im does a doubletake. You’re on your own, she says to me. And even though I got an odd nine on my sixes and doubled up my eights and tens and all he showed was a six highball, we’re rolling a Sooner variant of gig called brink. It all comes down to the monster thirty Stella Im’s keeping warm in the gigsack. Thirty sides, thirty faces: plenty of room for him to roll high and me to roll low and all my good luck from the previous rounds to go to hell.
She knows what she’s doing, says Pedro Pete to Stella Im. So go ahead, he says to me. Show me your bones.
I hold out my hand, and Stella Im drops the thirty in it. It’s round and heavy and warm and I don’t even think about it as I open up my hand and let it roll onto the table. I don’t even look.
Pedro Pete whistles. You better be thinking of a good question, he says.
It’s a twenty-eight. He rolls and gets a seventeen, but it was just a formality.
So, I say, and I try not to smile. Why are you called Sooners?
His eyebrow goes up so high and fast the rings on his ear jingle. Shit, girl, he says. You ain’t know that?
Nobody knows that, I say.
Okay, he says. Okay. We gotta go back umpty-ump years to the old home and there’s four people standing on a ball of ice and rock on the far side of the Kuyper, fuck-end of everything back then, edge of the goddamn world. And nobody remembers what they were doing, or at least accounts are confused. They were hacking out a generation rockship, or scoping a strangelet, or a gate. Running ice, somebody says, though why the fuck from all the way out there? Calibrating the first cyclostylus. Damned if I know. But what we do know is there was four of ’em, and the four that was standing on that dark ice was Mama Rafferty, and Papa Singh, Jack Venue, and the Kaloss.
Jack Venue! says White Ali, over in the corner, smoking his pipe.
The four tribes, I say, before I can stop myself.
You’re quick, he says, meaning I’m anything but, and I resolve not to interrupt him again. And it’s Jack, says Pedro Pete, and White Ali says Jack Venue! again, and Pete pumps a fist in the air, it’s Jack who’s the one turns to Mama Rafferty and says, and this is over the radio, you know? They’re wearing some bulky damn pressure suits on that rock. And so he opens up a channel, kkkt, you know, and he says to Mama Rafferty, we out here freezing on the edge of goddamn everything, sun’s so far away it’s just another nightlight and I got to sit on a nuclear reactor just to keep my pecker in working order, so I gotta ask, Mama Rafferty, why the fuck did we come here?
And Mama Rafferty just looks at ’em and shrugs, though you can’t really see it in the suit she’s wearing, and she opens up a channel, kkkt, and says right back, Well hell, boy, the sooner we get here, the sooner we can leave. And Pedro Pete sits back, and spreads his hands, and I nod.
It’s not until his face cracks and the laugh starts to bubble out that I realize the sonofabitch is lying to me again—
We are told that one of the minor constellations visible from the surface of Terra was known as Vulpecula, “the little fox.” And we know that the original outflux of colonists was loosely organized around long, thin conic sections of sky pointing toward this constellation, or that: corridors. Which is how 17 nation-states and 24 colonies and commonwealths spread across a dozen star-systems came to be known as the Vulpes Corridor Compact—though it is by no means a corridor, nor does it resemble a fox in the least.
As to how it came to be known as a Compact, when it is, in reality, a treaty organization authorizing but a single military force—the Corps—well. That’s a bit more complicated.
—Xanda Q.R. Lewis, A Colloquial Unhistory of Humanspace