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Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Debriefing / *Classified 1Nebula*: Captain Jannat Slainer, Exploration and Development branch

Officer in Charge: Captain, state your identification and rank for the record, please.

Captain Slainer: Jannat Slainer, ID FPA-ExDev 2380567, Scout Captain second class.

OIC: You understand and accept that this briefing, due to the nature of the information, will be classified to Nebula level, and discussion of any facts concerning your latest mission would constitute a level one breach of security resulting in loss of rank and privileges?

Capt. S: I do.

OIC: You and your crew were the initial contact with the humanoid population of Intelligent Life Found, 276/5346, Satellite IV. Per your report, your crew identified widespread biological and sociological anomalies resulting in a temporary withdrawal from the planet surface. Please elaborate in your own words.

Capt. S: There were no Abilities at large on the planet. No latent telepaths, none of the usual borderline empaths working with animals, no reports of people who see the dead or start fires. Given that the incidence of mental Abilities in standard deviations of humanoid is over 30%, we were concerned.

OIC: You also noted widespread presence of personal weaponry on the planet. Your report didn’t indicate that this was a primary concern.

Capt. S: It’s extremely common, in primitive cultures. Often seen as a symbol of sexual prowess.

OIC: Indeed. In any case, you and your crew briefed the contractor hired to…

Capt. S: Get shot at, sir?

OIC: …establish initial tolerance in the population. Yes. What were your impressions of this contractor?

Capt. S: …competent, sir.

OIC: I understand, Captain, that the Cortii are a sensitive subject. However, this briefing is not optional. Your full report, please.

Capt. S: *sighs* They sent a commander. Cortiora Khyria Ilan, of Wildcat Cortia, out of Corina Base. Black hair, green eyes, some scarring visible left cheek, both hands. A palm-width taller than I am, looked as if she weighed a little less. Intelligent, excellent memory, extremely high tolerance for stimulants. A very strong Ability. I’ve never met an IESRO-reg before, but quite possibly she would qualify. They put a double-squad of Interstellar Close Combat Specialists around her, and she looked…amused. She spent most of four days taunting them when she got bored.

OIC: And her interactions with your crew?

Capt. S: Professional. Clearly had to translate some of the questions she needed answering into terms we understood, but did it politely enough. Even though getting her full attention could be…powerful.

OIC: Elaborate.

Capt. S: Every so often, it felt as if she forgot to…hide what she was. Meeting her stare or drawing her attention could freeze any of us in our tracks. I put it down to her Abilities.

OIC: You think she was exerting Ability on you without your consent?

Capt. S: No.

OIC: Very well, Captain. You also attended her debriefing at the end of her mission on the surface. Your impressions of the Cortiora at that point, please.

Capt. S: She’d been severely injured, mentally and physically. She declined medical assistance, but permitted a medical scan as part of the debriefing. Beyond that, she presented as suffering from a severe level of Ability over-exertion.

OIC: You went on record earlier as stating that you believed her to be an Ability of unusual strength. What, in your estimation, would cause that level of injury?

Capt. S: Nothing I would survive meeting, sir. I have no idea. She implied that it had been caused during a meeting with the heads of the religious organisation of the planet. As I reported, this planet apparently has an Ability-backed religion based on Elemental symbolism. They had previously declined to meet with any of our people. The Cortiora reported that she was…invited to participate in a religious ritual that included the use of drugs.

OIC: You hesitated, Captain. Please clarify.

Capt. S: *pause* Bluntly, sir, I believe that they broke her. Somehow.

OIC: And yet you failed to put this observation on-record, Captain.

Capt. S: It has no basis in verifiable fact, sir. Instinct, if you like.

OIC: So your professional opinion is that the Cortiora lied to us during her debriefing.

Capt. S: No, sir. While I don’t doubt, given our relative rankings, that she could lie to me and hide it from me, I had no impression that anything she actually said was in any way untruthful.

OIC: So you were unaware of her official recommendation that the Interspecies Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation should be involved in the planet’s entry negotiations at the earliest opportunity?

Capt. S: I was not aware, sir.

OIC: What are you impressions of that recommendation?

Capt. S: That the Cortiora very likely is IESRO-level, and that she believes that the Abilities she encountered are a serious threat.

OIC: Indeed. Thank you, Captain.

*Notes on file indicate follow-up/urgent, regarding the psychological stability of Captain Jannat Slainer, Interviewing officer believed that at some level he felt obligation to the Cortiian operative.


Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

What is the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation?

Perception is strength. ~IESRO doctrine

The Federated planets Alliance definition says that it’s ‘an organisation of allied species focussing on the training and control of certain categories of mentally divergent sentients’.

In actual fact, the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation, better known in humanoid space as the IESRO, is something more like a Star Chamber for entities gifted with mental Ability.

At the highest level, it’s controlled by the Satai, the most Ability-heavy species in civilised space. Because the Satai out-gun every other known species on a purely mental level, they can’t be lied to, and they can’t be evaded. This gives the IESRO the ability to absolutely guarantee the accuracy and ethics of anyone they register. The Satai took on this role voluntarily; in human terms, they have a species aversion to a lack of order, and they see abuse of mental Abilities as a disturbance in the energies of the universe.

On the opposite side of that, the IESRO is only concerned with Abilities powerful enough to merit their attention. While humanoid populations show an average 31% incidence of individuals with some discernible trace of Ability, one of the highest for any known species, only 0.8% of that demographic falls into a range to be eligible for IESRO registration. Compared to the Artan, where an average 8% of the population carry the genes for Ability but 28% of the entities showing Ability are eligible for registry, most humanoids don’t figure on the IESRO’s scan.

At the most basic level (and the only one the Satai are concerned with) an Ability is IESRO-level if they can interact with Abilities of the other species without having a stroke. The more official wording has it that ‘to be IESRO-eligible, an entity’s Abilities must be of a strength able to survive interaction with other species’. That’s the only criteria. As humans are fond of warning signs, the Federated Planets Alliance government has come up with an elaborate testing and ranking system to help humans with Ability determine how likely IESRO registration is to be fatal to them.

Practically speaking, the IESRO is also one of the highest legal authorities. An IESRO-registered and certified Ability’s reading of a public figure or an accused criminal is guaranteed to be accurate by the IESRO – because a registered Ability whose statement is disputed can be telepathically read at any time by a Satai. Oddly enough, very few public figures or accused criminals in humanoid space actually opt to have their minds read by and IESRO-registered humanoid.

Someone’s about to ask ‘quis custodiet‘, and the answer is that indeed, no-one aside from another Satai can guarantee the honesty of a Satai. However, while as a species they’re demonstrably capable of withholding information, several millennia of evidence indicates that when they do make a statement, it’s invariably been accurate.

While the field of comparative psychology struggles to fully understand and translate what makes other species react the way that they do, study indicates that for a Satai, the only known completely telepathic species, lying as humanoids know it may not be possible for them. While a Satai can understand and explain the concept of saying something that is not factually accurate, actually doing so themselves appears to beyond them on a hard-wired level.

The IESRO show up early on in Wildcat Cortia’s career. No-one’s entirely certain what their interest in the Cortia is, aside from its (very) uncharacteristic proportion of high-level Abilities, but out of the twenty-five riders originally in the unit, eight were IESRO-eligble, and most of them were registered, including Khyria herself.

Corina (Kein System, III)

Corina (Kein System, III)

Confidential report, Corina (Kein III)

Kein (system 29-Y-54) is a mainline star with an estimated 9 billion-year viable lifespan remaining. Its system includes ten planets and two asteroid belts; third planet, in the green zone for humanoid life, was cleared for First Wave colonization, but no trace of the original colony was ever found. Second Wave expansion was successful with minimal adjustment. Amino structure is friendly, and indigenous life was carbon-based. Minimal terraforming required, gravity registers as 1.3 Standard, atmospheric mix requires intervention in 9.8% of standard humanoids.

Registered humanoid population at time of this report: 1.1 billion. Cortiian population: unknown.

Cortiian Base

The planet of Corina (Kein III) is of interest to the committee. It is home to one of the terrestrial Cortiian Bases, one of the closest Cortiian outposts to Central Worlds. As such, various efforts at rapprochement have been made, with notable lack of success. The Cortiian Councils extend their condolences on our losses through diplomatic channels.

Earliest records of this Base’s existence date back to the founding of the colony. The Cortiian Councils made no objection to the arrival of colonists; their territory is well-defined, agreed under planetary contract [file:29Y54/3-00001ct], and frequently patrolled. Remote scanning from space indicates the approximate location of the Base within that territory, but neither instrumentation nor independent research has narrowed Base location sufficiently for detail work. Three valleys of suitable size and stability have been proposed. Efforts are ongoing to confirm the site.

Cortiian territory spans an extensive region in the Equatorial zone of the planet, and is comprised of mountains (-382 metres to +7867 metres elevation range). Vegetation to the treeline is tropical jungle and undergrowth. Lower elevations include surface water and swamps. Highest elevations include minimal glaciation (0.12% planetary glaciation). Volcanic activity in the area is negligible, but seismic activity is common.

Observation indicates that this Base is one of the larger ones on record, with an estimated population of between 35 and 60 thousand.


Trespassers are found and turned back within minutes of the border area, despite all efforts. Based on recorded approaches (variance/actual of -/+ 4%), 0.6% of those trespassing on Cortiian territory do not return. Of those, 0.02% have their Federation citizenship cancelled within a month of their arrival on Cortiian territory. We are forced to assume voluntary recruitment.

In-atmosphere surveillance goes dark at the border, regardless of hardening technique employed. Efforts are ongoing.

Space-based surveillance is limited to a narrow window, as the Councils operate a geo-synch station in orbit over the Base. Approach is denied on a formal and informal level. Scans indicate that the lower two-thirds (63% of the structure) are derelict, but infiltration via this route has been unsuccessful. Upper third is heavily armed and sees frequent traffic, in system and out; theorised that some of this may be supplies for the Base. Precise shipment volumes unknown.

Requests for assistance in the immediate area are responded to promptly by Cortiian ships, usually with an escort of fighter hulls. Falsified details on these hails have been met with aggression (file: 29Y54/3GS-843AST). Mission repair files indicate that the original reported damage to the hull precisely matched the eventual repairs required.


Known units operating from Corina include (list is not exhaustive):

  • Alzan Cortia: Commander Evor Leistor
  • As’ra’tan Cortia: Commander Senja Ventiva
  • Emin Cortia: Commander Alsik id Merya
  • Ghen Cortia: Commander Baera Dalth
  • Me’s’an Cortia: Commander Verali Quha
  • Ratha Cortia: Commander Teran Monik
  • Wildcat Cortia: Commander Khyria Ilan
  • Zebrani Cortia: Commander Ashan Maklin
Spatial politics and the Cortii

Spatial politics and the Cortii

…because you really can’t call it geo-politics when it concerns a sizeable chunk of the galaxy.

Setting borders

Borders in space are tricky bastards, because you’re defining a volume rather than an area. Setting borders in space, in short, is the art of picking your battles wisely, and the Cortii have been making a very healthy income from variations on that theme for a number of millennia.

To define the problem a little more precisely, habitable worlds are light years apart. In multiple directions. Add to that the fact that the deepspace drive used by most of the species in what we’re going to loosely term ‘civilised space’ essentially bypasses normal space and goes from Point A to Point B, and ‘border’ becomes an increasingly stupid concept.

It’s all about location

It’s possible to track a ship while it’s in realspace, via any beacon or station or satellite close enough to get a ping off it. It’s possible to eyeball the thing by actually physically getting it in scanner crosshairs. Locating a ship in deepspace has long been the wet dream of various militaries, and so far no one’s reliably managed it.

This means that while spatial governments will map by sector (volume), the real power lies in the inhabited systems. No one in their right minds is going to take a deepspace jaunt to nothing, so logically, they’ll pop out somewhere. When they do, they’ll show up on a locator grid – as something. Just because the Ore Scavenger dropped into deepspace by Sector 14 Outstation doesn’t mean you won’t get the Peace of the Stars arriving in Core-Galax orbit. Juggling IDs is a favourite sport of any pilot who prefers to keep their business their business, and the more generic the hull and load-out, the better it works. As long as the various militaries are foiled in their aim to track a ship through a deepspace jump, the more they’ll focus on making a positive ID at Point A and Point B.

Snags with spatial exploration

Humanoid expansion began from what is now known as Central Worlds. There are four worlds that claim the honour of being the original human homeworld, and while it’s pretty obvious which one actually is, sharing the honour – and the expenses – has historically been the way to go. The four worlds in question are spread across three systems, all within ten to twenty light years of each other. They were all human-settled before the first deepspace colonisation wave, they’re all rocky planets more or less in the habitable zone, and if one or more of them was terraformed, it was successful enough, and long enough ago, that ruling it out of contention for the honour of being a homeworld would be tricky to prove. Also, again, not really in anyone’s best interests.

Once deepspace drive got off someone’s to-do list and into actual use, there were a series of colonisation waves. Given astronomical distances, untried tech, and an excess of optimism, most of the first Colonial Fleet vanished into the silence between stars and was never heard of again. Every so often, someone either terminally lost or scouting frontier worlds comes across a drifting wreck, a primitive humanoid settlement with no logical connection to the rest of the planet’s biosphere, or a sizeable crater somewhere with odd trace elements welded into it.

Secession and profit

The Second Colonial Expansion was a bit more modest, a lot better controlled, and formed the basis of society as it is today. From Central Worlds, scoutships were sent to most of the nearby systems, looking for habitable planets, planets that could be terraformed, or systems that were completely uninhabitable but which had enough resources to make an artificial habitat worthwhile.

Because the kinds of people willing to head out into the void and try to start some kind of settlement generally have a strong independent streak, Central Worlds stopped getting much more than lip service from a number of their further colonies no more than a few generations to a few centuries later. Their desire to do something about this led to one of the earliest interstellar deployments of Cortiian forces on record, often on every side in the conflict.

When the dust settled into a stable orbit, Central Worlds and about fifteen systems formed the Federated Planets Alliance (at that point, pretty much a cake-slice-shaped sector of space with Central Worlds at the narrow end). The Atari Sector had hung onto a deep arc of territory fanning out and down from that narrow end, and the Hejjin’in Empire had claimed a chain of systems from Central Worlds that was more a crooked line heading out at at oblique angle to Galactic core than an actual sector.

Cortiian expansion

Since exploring brave new worlds is a chancy business even when people aren’t trying to shoot your ass off, all three of the governments periodically hired Cortiian units aboard to do their dirty work. Above and beyond those contracts, the Cortii had a workable fleet, and turned the fees they made into more ships. During this period, they gained their first footholds in the various sectors, in exchange for services, or, not uncommonly, because they settled somewhere and proved far too expensive to dislodge.

Latecomers and interspecies alliances

The Nasdar Quadrant split off the Hejjin’in Empire about fifteen hundred years after the original split; in short, a do-over of the initial Sector War. The military was heavily concentrated in the outer borders of the Hejjin’in territory, and when they hit critical mass of younger offspring sent to cool their heels in the outer systems, the military seceded from the Empire – very successfully.

The Kendazi Union is an even more recent addition to the humanoid governments. It’s also the government with the strongest interspecies links, since it was an non-human species that negotiated a deal with the Atari to exchange workers able to tolerate conditions and extract resources in various systems Corewards for tech and rights to the planets.

Until the Kendazi alliance, relations with the various non-human species was patchy at best. The Atari and the Cortii historically had the best luck with establishing relationships, and this was more or less because both have a high incidence of the various Abilities in their populations. Cortiians have a mandatory telepathic minimum for anyone serving in an active unit, and the Atari, culturally, are the most receptive towards Abilities, Ability research, and training.

Very much in brief, communication is highly reliant on perception. Molecular structure may be universal, but how it’s perceived and described turned out not to be, and early attempts at communication started a number of rifts. In some instances, mental contact turned out to be equally fatal, but usually only to the participants. By and large, the success rate was notably higher, something which eventually lead to the formation of the cumbersomely-named Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation, where species is optional provided you have the Ability range in some Ability or other to deal with contact with other species without stroking out.

In short, ambition, aliens, expansion, and politics, oh my.

Character Interview: Irin Seviki

Character Interview: Irin Seviki

Interview with Irin Seviki

West stable block, Seviki Equines and Exotics – a ranch master and an author meet

Irin Seviki: …Ilan?

J C Steel: Not exactly. She said she was going to visit your horses.

IS: You’re Ilan’s mysterious friend?

JCS: Something like that. Nice to finally meet you in person. How did you meet Ilan?

IS: You aren’t going to tell me why Ilan set up this meeting, or who you are, are you?

JCS: No.

IS: Fine. In actual fact it was Ilan’s horse I wanted to meet. I didn’t realise until I’d already got myself into the situation that a Cortiian horse must have a Cortiian rider, somewhere. Happily, she decided not to shoot me.

JCS: I understand that most of the Federated Planets Alliance thinks Cortiians are dangerous. What do you think?

IS: …you have met Ilan? I know she’s dangerous. I also know she isn’t the sociopathic murderer that FPA propaganda tries to depict. She’s risked her life to save my family and my business. I count her a friend.

JCS: How would you describe her?

IS: If you see her on a horse, you realise your boots are dusty, you’re sitting like a sack of grain, and your horse probably trusts her more than you. I doubt she ever tells me more than half of what she’s actually thinking, and either half can give me nightmares, when she isn’t talking in circles for the pleasure of it.

JCS: Would you tell me a little about your business?

IS: I can give you a data packet.

JCS: …probably not compatible with my system.

IS: So I can assume you’re from somewhere Ilan wasn’t supposed to be. Interesting. All right. Seviki Equines and Exotics breeds and trains pets, mostly for the citizens of the Central Worlds. Our galaxy’s oldest and richest humanoids like to maintain a presence on ancestral soil, and space, as you can imagine, is at a premium. They also like to flaunt their wealth. I specialise in horses, with a sideline in smaller creatures. A Central Worlds citizen can be sure to attract attention if they have the space to maintain a horse for their pleasure.

JCS: Living status symbols.

IS: If you like. Do you ride?

JCS: Yes. Not, of course, as well as Ilan. What do you enjoy most about the business?

IS: I like animals. I enjoy the open spaces, and seeing the results when a new breed turns out exactly as I hoped. Do you know what percentage of FPA citizens have ever seen a horse in real life?

JCS: I’m sure your figures are more current. How do you come into contact with your clients?

IS: Less than point zero zero five of a percent, since I notice you didn’t ask. You’re quite a rarity, friend of Ilan. Actually, you’re unique. Everyone else she’s introduced me to has been a Cortiian, and you’re about a head shorter than any Cortiian I’ve met.

JCS: Mmm. Do you have to travel a lot for your business?

IS: Now I believe you two know each other; neither one of you will answer questions unless it suits you. I don’t travel unless I have no other choice, artificial gravity and my system don’t get on. I do have a couple of people who travel for me, when there’s no alternative to an in-person meeting. Most of my clients are through word of mouth, by this point, or have found our virtual presence.

JCS: How long has your family lived on this planet?

IS: We’ve been in business for three generations now, but my family colonised the planet. My mother’s father founded the stables. These days, I run it with as many of my cousins and siblings as are interested.

JCS: Thank you, Citizen. I appreciate your time.

IS: I’m not going to find out who you are, am I?

JCS: Ask Ilan.

IS: Or my horse…it might be more informative.

Colonisation fleets: Successful, semi-successful, and completely unsuccessful

Colonisation fleets: Successful, semi-successful, and completely unsuccessful

Given the generally cold (and occasionally fissionable-hot) relationship between most of the humanoid governments and the Cortii, it may not be immediately obvious that there were Cortiian units on a lot of the early colony ships. And then, if you think about it a bit more…humanoid governments had been hiring Cortii to do their dirty work since long before the colonisation waves, and dealing with new things is inherently risky. Having some heavily-armed, survival-trained, and cynically-minded mercenaries aboard to drop out of the airlock first can pre-empt so many problems.

‘A testing environment solves many problems.’~Training of a Cortiian

Ships and stations

Initially, there were the interstellar drives – sub-lightspeed, because lightspeed, increase in mass to infinity, etc., etc. From whichever of the Central Worlds was the original homeworld (no one really wants to solve that argument), exploration ships took the long trip at somewhere between half and two-thirds of light-speed to other rocky planets in the original solar system, and set up bases, experimented with air scrubbing, water recycling, and food production until they got good at it, and finally took the sideways step into terraforming – with more and less successful results.

From there, with a lot of the basic experimentation done, colony ships were sent to nearby solar systems. Since absolutely no one really wants to settle once and for all which of the four Central Worlds was ‘the’ Central World, stick a finger in the hologram on whichever you like. Those ships also had Cortiians aboard.

At some point after that, researchers stopped banging their heads on trying to solve infinite mass versus propulsion, and had a breakthrough that resulted in point-to-point travel, or as it’s more commonly known, deepspace drive.

This resulted in the First Colonisation Fleet, which would fall firmly into the ‘unsuccessful’ category of colonisation attempts.

‘In the hands of a fool are all things foolish.’~Sayings of the Wise

The First Colonisation Fleet

Given primitive humanoids and their tendency to breed indiscriminately, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that a lot of the incentive behind the development of the original deepspace drive was to solve a massive overpopulation problem. Population-wide contraception actually preceded it by a few generations, but by that point all the Central Worlds were pretty much teetering on the point of not being able to support their populations.

With the advent of the deepspace drive came another massive incentive: hail conquering heroes, go forth and be granted as much surface space as you can possibly manage. The governments of the time didn’t need to resort to deportations – they had more volunteers than they could build hulls and suspension tanks for. Private initiatives sprang up across Central space, building deepspace ships and offering space aboard.

Records of the time, given the sheer numbers of parties involved, are contradictory, but somewhere between six hundred and thirteen hundred experimental ships vanished into deepspace over a period of a hundred years, each carrying several hundred to several thousand aboard.

Even some of these had Cortii aboard, due largely to hazard bonuses and pre-payment contracts. Even the healthiest culture of cynicism is soluble in enough credit.

However, given experimental drives and the fact that the numbers of ships leaving Central Space in every direction vastly exceeded the number of planets about which long-distance research and exploratory probes had more to say then ‘we’re pretty sure there is something there’, only a fraction of that First Colonial Fleet actually resulted in stable, high-tech colonies.

Miners and scout ships in remote locations still occasionally trip over drifting wrecks, and first contact teams have discovered several humanoid populations on outer-system planets with some interesting gaps in their fossil records, a really big impact crater, or stories of ships that carried wisdom from a distant land.

‘Coincidence is the crutch of optimism.’~Training of a Cortiian

The Second Colonial Expansion

…might fall into the semi-successful category. Much better controlled, with destinations that at least rated a definite maybe on being terraformable, or stable enough to support a station habitat, twenty systems were selected for the initial wave, reconnoitred on a detail level, and finally approved for colonisation.

Not to mention, the deepspace drive had had a couple more centuries of fine-tuning. All twenty ships made it, one got blown away by defences the probes had missed, two turned out to be station prospects rather than terraforming prospects, but overall it worked. Most of those twenty ships carried one or more Cortii aboard.

In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that the defences the probes had missed were in fact Base Zero; the Cortii had a sizeable fleet of their own and substantially less bureaucracy. The Central Worlds government declined to believe that there was a Cortiian base already in the system, but their ship went in heavily armed nonetheless. In the event, not nearly heavily enough.

Those colonies, in turn, spread, and split over time into the various political factions that form the basis of current Cortiian employment – pardon me, today’s civilisation.

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